Let’s talk about sex (and platonic love)
Is your spouse neglecting your physical needs again, since he is once again engrossed in a heap of books? Is he ignoring the fact that you have, for once, brushed your teeth tree times a day, just for him? And you are quite sure there are no dirty magazine or titillating romance novels hidden in between the Tagores and John Locks? When you ask him whether he is still interested in you at all, his reply is: “Yes, of course Jaanu. But don’t you know that the platonic love we cherish is much more sublime than this short-lived desire for sex?”
What is more important?
What does platonic love mean? Is it true that physical love is not as important as mental love?
In the book Symposium, Plato writes about Socrates who is being lectured about love by – let’s say – a fancy woman called Diotima. At one point she explains that the lover has to ascend a ladder, the Scala Amoris, in order to reach the true form of love. The first step would be for the lover to fall in love with physical beauty of the beloved. In the next step, the lover would realize that physical beauty can be found in any other body and therefore love all physical beauty. In a manner of speaking, something akin to physical-love-charity-work.
After that the lover would find even more attraction in the soul, and with it, the beauty of educating it. The penultimate step would be the realization of any kind of mental procreation. And finally, one would reach the true form of love, beauty or the ultimate good, which Plato stops short of calling ‘God’.
To answer the first question: platonic love is after Plato’s definition, not a mere non-sexual interaction, but the entire progression from physical love to the pure form of beauty. Therefore, French scholars distinguished between amour platonique or the concept of non-sexual love and amour platonicien or love, according to Plato. So, the next time your inamorata or lover insists on platonic love, you might ask him if he would mind starting at the first step of the ladder.
Allegation of egoism
Nevertheless, Diotima’s definition seems to debase physical beauty. Why? Does she want to run out of business? Maybe she is not that fancy at all? Her definition of love makes the lover seem to be quite egoistic, too. The allegation of egoism is much disputed in philosophy, but suffice it to say for now that there is no true altruism existing as long as we act in a sphere of dualism (subject and object). From a dualistic perspective, solely positive and solely negative egoism are both possible.
Now, is mental love really more worthwhile than the physical? I think, Diotima was quite an experienced woman in her profession and I do agree with her. It is not mere intellectual love, since this is not sufficient to reach the pure form of love, even according to Plato, who, as a philosopher, saw the intellect as one of the main essentials of the soul. Moreover, it is the love of and for the anima (soul) or atman. Since physical love and procreation are ephemeral – even the intellect is, although it is more persisting – it is all too natural to elevate eternal love.
In addition, Plato was an idealist who argued that most things are a less real, emulating the embodiment of a real ideal or form. Therefore, everything physical can be solely less real than the idea that contemplates the ideal or true form. This theory of forms has a propinquity to the concept of Maya. If you really love someone, would you stop loving him as soon as he is unable to fulfil your sexual urges?
We are dualistic
Does that mean physical love should be neglected altogether? Definitely not! Not only because of procreation, but because, in our present form, we are dualistic individuals constituted of both the physical and the mental. Scientists have discovered that regular sexual intercourse is an essential part of our happiness and health, since it reduces stress hormones and increases endorphins. Plato, too, never excluded sex entirely from his equation of love. Consequently, if your spouse picks his books once again over you, just remind him that he is responsible for your health.