In the Symposium, how is eros presented as similar to or different from philia?

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Without a doubt, there’s a big difference between eros and philia as defined in Plato’s symposium. Both words could be translated as “love,” but they describe different aspects of love.

The ancient Greek language used by Plato had several specific words that are all translated by the English word...

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Without a doubt, there’s a big difference between eros and philia as defined in Plato’s symposium. Both words could be translated as “love,” but they describe different aspects of love.

The ancient Greek language used by Plato had several specific words that are all translated by the English word “love.” In the most basic sense, “eros” refers to erotic love, “philia” to friendship, and “agape” to a higher, spiritual kind of love.

In the Symposium, Plato has Socrates and others expound on desire in several senses. Philia is certainly one kind of desire—the sense of affection that brings about friendship between people. Plato remarks that this kind of love isn’t based on what one person can gain from being in the company of another: it’s not about

the love of money, or of wealth, or of political power, whether a man is frightened into surrender by the loss of them ... For none of these things are of a permanent or lasting nature.

Philia, as described in the Symposium, is more about “virtue”—the goodness one recognizes in another person that might signify a part of themselves that they long to see developed. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that there’s an etymological link between philia and philosophy, the love of wisdom (in Greek, sophia).

Eros, on the other hand, is a more direct form of attraction. Within the Symposium, this generally refers to erotic love between two people. According to the discussions of the characters in the Symposium, heterosexual love is tied to reproduction and creating children who resemble their parents:

this is the character of their love; their offspring, as they hope, will preserve their memory.

Homosexual love had a very particular role in ancient Greek society that was not equivalent to its role in the contemporary world. The Symposium sees this type of eros as connected to “virtue and ... what should be.” Though certainly connected to physical love, the Symposium remarks that it leads to something else: the “next advance will be to set a higher value on the beauty of souls than on that of the body.”

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