For What Reason Should People Do Good Things?

Plato’s Symposium details a conversation of many Greek intelligentsia which is comprised of multiple distinctive conjectures on the nature of love. Of all the speculations, it seems to me that Socrates’ was closest to transcending its theoretical nature. The concept of the desire to produce the eternal good is expressed as a central tenet in Plato’s account of Socrates’ expounded conviction.

Before Socrates makes his ultimate case on the nature of love, he wants to make sure that he delineates the distinction between what is commonly thought of as “love” and what he believes to be the true conception of love.

In recounting a conversation with a wise woman named Diotima, Socrates states that she asserted “In essence, every type of desire for good things or happiness is what constitutes ‘powerful and treacherous love’”. Socrates later says that he adopts this sentiment as well. With this, the notion that love is merely romantic attraction is dispelled and allows the positioning of the new definition in the midst of a broader and more profound philosophical statement, being that “love is the desire to have the good forever”.

There are some connotations in this statement that I’d like to address. I believe the word “have” is of particular interest to the meaning of the sentence. It implies a kind of possession and ownership. Therefore, it seems to me that nature of the desire expressed in this declaration is not for the good to exist forever for its own sake, or for the good to exist forever for its appreciation and embodiment by others, but for the good to exist forever for oneself.

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Therefore, the root cause of love, according to Socrates, is selfish in nature.

This selfishness in love further manifests itself as Socrates’ dialogue continues with Diotima, particularly when Socrates asks what the object of love is. Diotima responds with “Reproduction and birth in beauty”. The motivations for the realization of these objects undoubtedly contains the same selfishness as stated in the previous statement. Indeed Diotima elucidates this fact herself in her claim that reproduction is an object of love “Because reproduction is the closest that mortals come to being permanently alive and immortal”. According to this statement, the reason for which the agent reproduces is to extend their life into future generations, in effect ensuring that part of the agent continues to exist throughout time, ensuring immortality.

This is also why one would desire to ‘give birth in beauty’. To create is, in effect, imprinting a part of yourself onto something as no other person could. Because nobody could hope to replicate it, the creation is truly the mark of the maker alone. If this creation can be recognized as the work of the maker, and if it has influence on those who experience it, then this has also ensured that part of the agent will exist forever, immortal.

It is only themselves that they desire to become immortal, nothing else. But if this is true, is this the way we ought to love and live in general?

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explores such questions in his survey of how it is best for humankind to live. An absolutely essential axiom from which Aristotle bases his entire argument is that good is the thing at which all things aim. Particularly, Aristotle focuses on how through action, all good can be achieved. He says that the good of each goodness is “that for whose sake everything else is done” and that “In every action and choice, this is the end”. For Aristotle, in life the aims of the individual should directed at achieving a excellence in an action for its own sake or for the sake of its immediate product. This is not for the sake of realizing the good, rather goodness arises from this. That is in fact, the only way that goodness can arise.

One therefore, cannot do anything for the reason of accomplishing something other than for its own sake and expect for the act to be truly good. For example, raising funds for a charity in order to improve one’s reputation would not be good. Even though the action resulted in good things, the fact that it was done for an aim other than for its own sake is not good.

It seems to me then that Aristotle would have wholeheartedly condemned the actions and ends of love as presented in Socrates’ speech in Plato’s Symposium, as according to Aristotle they were not good at all. If one only reproduced and gave birth to beauty in an effort to make themselves immortal, then they would not be doing those actions for the purely to engage in reproduction or to create, nor would they be doing them to introduce new offspring in the world or to bring about a new creation would could be appreciated. Goodness then would not result from the pursuit of those actions for the sake of immortality. This would seem to further suggest that, according to Aristotle, love, as Plato records it, would not be a desire that is useful for producing goodness in the world or for living a good life.

It is clear that both from reading both Plato (Socrates) and Aristotle that each certainly had different conception about what ought to be the motivating force to achieve good. The question is who is right. Is it never good to act for the reason of achieving something that is neither found in the action or the product of the action? Many of us work and do not enjoy the act of working, but we do so to ensure that with our earnings that ourselves and our loved ones may afford the basic necessities of life and, if lucky, the finer things of the good life. Would Aristotle’s principle be useful, practial, or true in this situation? Should we only work if we love the work, even if it leaves us and our loved ones broke and starving?

By the same token, if we believed what Plato wrote, should we try to enact his belief by reproducing and creating what we believe to be beautiful as much as possible to feel immortal, to have the good forever? What if we cannot take care of all of the children we produce, or what if we what if the beauty we create ends up destroy other beauty in the world. Would Plato’s principle be useful, practical, or true in these situations?

In the end, we must for ourselves decide what is right in philosophy and what is wrong, what works and what doesn’t work under which circumstances. There is no prescriptive dogma, no universal law that exists and that everyone must or ought to adhere to. We can and should only follow what it is that we believe to be useful, what we believe to be practical, and what we believe to be practical.

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For What Reason Should People Do Good Things?. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

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