Plato – Homosexuality and Philosophy

The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza ...
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This post is meant to engender conversation as relating to several things, namely the use of the ancients to justify our ignorance of the present.

“Homosexuality,” Plato wrote, “is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”

From here, which is an essay on early views of homosexuality. It should be eye opening as we discuss the usual devoid-of-history ‘what happened before’ and ‘never has…’ statements. I bring this up because a commenter who believes that homosexuals (exclusively male, it seems) cause AIDS noted when I said that he should read more that he was going to read Plato. I haven’t gotten around to addressing it yet, but um, dude, Plato was okay with the gay.

And, both our religious (Justin Martyr, et al…) and political founders were okay with Plato. So, um, where does that leave us? Think of it this way. A good deal of Christian theology is built upon the likes of Plato as is American political ideology. Plato, as many ancient Greeks and Romans, believed that homosexuality was acceptable. I hesitate to use the word natural here, because I believe that Plato saw ‘natural’ as something relating more to procreation and less according to biological predisposition. Of course, there is the notion that Plato had different meanings for homosexuality ranging from love to simple intercourse to rape.

Ah, my friends, how difficult it seems to ensure that the working of an institution shall be as unquestionable as its theory! Presumably it is with states as it is with human bodies – one cannot prescribe one definite treatment for one subject which involves no physically injurious consequences along with its beneficial effects. For example, these physical exercises and common meals you speak of, though in many ways beneficial to a city, provide dangerous openings for faction, as is shown by the cases of the Milesians, Boeotians, and Thurians. And, in particular, this practice is generally held to have corrupted the ancient and natural rule in the matter of sexual indulgence common to mankind with animals at large, and the blame for these corruptions may be charged, in the first instance, on your two cities and such others as are most devoted to physical exercises. Whether these matters are to be regarded as sport, or as earnest, we must not forget that this pleasure is held to have been granted by nature to male and female when conjoined for the work of procreation; the crime of male with male, or female with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of pleasure. And you know it is our universal accusation against the Cretans that they were the inventors of the tale of Ganymede; they were convinced, we say, that their legislation came from Zeus, so they went on to tell this story against him that they might, if you please, plead his example for their indulgence in this pleasure too. With the tale we have no further concern, but the pleasures and pains of communities and of private lives are as good as the whole subject of a study of jurisprudence. (Laws I 636a-d)

That was exactly my own meaning when I said I knew of a device for establishing this law of restricting procreative intercourse to its natural function by abstention from congress with our own sex, with its deliberate murder of the race and its wasting of the seed of life on a stony and rocky soil, where it will never take root and bear its natural fruit, and equal abstention from any female field whence you would desire no harvest (Laws VIII 838e-839a).

Many will note that as Plato matured, he grew to call for an abandonment of homosexuality, but it seems that for him, homosexual love and heterosexual love were almost the same. I might contend that what Plato was raging against was not the act or feeling itself of either homosexual or heterosexual love, but love itself. In reading snippets of Plato, it seems that he viewed love as an unbridled beast which could not be contained, therefore it was not the physical actions of intercourse which he plotted against, but the need, if that makes any sense.  Further, if you note Laws I 636a-d, Plato is not specifically speaking about homosexuality, but about reproduction, and in a very real way, love. Note again Laws VIII – it was not about the act, which he seemingly was in favor of, but in the fear that procreation was not being carried out. We see such mentality in ancient cultures and even now in pre-modern peoples such as tribes in Afghanistan in which men are married to women, and will engage in procreative intercourse naming it love, but regularly engage in what we would deem (but they adamantly reject) as homosexuality. We know that the ancient Athenian men were married, had children, but engaged in fraternal intercourse with males younger than themselves.

In sum, you may in fact believe that homosexuality is a sin and find ample evidence in Scripture to do so, but if you tout the fact that instead of reading modern takes on the issues you will instead turn to the loftiness of Plato, then in fact, you are reading a gay man who supported the child molester Socrates as divine while proclaiming that you have pedagogical level not yet attained by the remainder of we mere mortals.

Just saying…

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12 Replies to “Plato – Homosexuality and Philosophy”

  1. I dunno. There is some ambiguity in Plato’s attitude toward (what we might call) homosexuality even in the Symposium dialogue. The advocate for inborn-homosexuality is portrayed as a drunken buffon (Aristophanes) the Socratic model for romantic love is procreative (in a Platonic way, ha ha) and the arrival of the “beautiful” young man breaks up the whole conversation. Plato was “okay” with it in the sense that boy-love was an accepted part of the culture of his day.

      1. ONE THING THAT IS BLACK AND WHITE AND DR. PLATO IGNORES IS THE MALE BODY IS NOT DESIGNED FOR MALE ON MALE INTERCOURSE. THE RECEIVING BODY PART WAS SIMPLY NOT DESIGNED FOR FRICTION AND ROUGH TREATMENT. IF THE BODY IS NOT DESIGNED FOR THAT ACTIVITY ONE HAS TO CONCLUDE IT IS WRONG ON ALL LEVELS. I HAVE STRONG FRIENDSHIP AND PASSIONATE SEX WITH MY BEAUTIFUL FEMALE WIFE. HOMOSEXUALITY IS A DEVIANT CHOICE TO MAKE WITH ONES LIFE. AS IS ABORTION. ABORTION HAS LONG TERM NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON THE WOMEN WHO ENGAGE IN THE PRACTICE. THERE ARE NEGATIVE PHYSICAL EFFECTS AT TIMES AS WELL.ONE HAS TO CONCLUDE BIOLOGICALLY SPEAKING THE FEMALE BODY AND PSYCHE WAS NOT DESIGNED FOR THE ABORTION PROCESS.

  2. that christendom would in any way say that homosexuality is a sin, particularly out interpretation of law, shows that after 2000 years christendom struggles to fully embrace the new covenant of christ.

    bottom line: being gay is of god, because gay believers live out the fullness of god in their lives, living their orientation, in the same way as heterosexual believers do in theirs.

    1. CHRISTIAN HOMOSEXUALS CAN NOT GET AROUND THE FACT HOMOSEXUALITY IS CONDEMNED IN BOTH THE HOLY OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. JESUS CHRIST TEACHES US TO REMAIN CHASTE AND KEEP SEXUALITY HETEROSEXUAL AND IN THE CONFINES OF SACRED MARRIAGE. HETEROSEXUALS CAN NOT ENGAGE IS ANYTHING GOES SEXUAL ACTIVITY AND GAY SEX IS OUT OF THE QUESTION. PEOPLE MUTATE THE THE RULES OF BEING A CHRISTIAN ALL THE TIME HOWEVER IT DOES NOT MAKE THEIR MUTATIONS CORRECT. IF ONE CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN ONE MUST ADHERE TO THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST AND THE BIBLE. TO DO ANYTHING ELSE IS TO PUT ONES ETERNAL SOUL IN DIRE JEOPARDY. GAY PEOPLE ARE VERY BRAVE THEY GAMBLE THEIR SOULS FOR AN ANTI BIBLE SEX LIFE.

  3. Odd that this author ascribes Plato as using the word “homosexual” which was not coined until the late 19th century by the German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert.

    Best get your etymology straight ( pun intended )

    1. exactly. Somthing stinks here since elsewhere he condemns sodomy: “If we were to follow in nature’s steps and enact that law which held good before the days of Laïus, declaring that it is right to refrain from indulging in the same kind of intercourse with men and boys as with women, and adducing as evidence thereof the nature of wild beasts, and pointing out how male does not touch male for this purpose, since it is unnatural,

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