The Ladder of Love

The Ladder of Love
January 17, 2023 Love Button Global Movement
The Ladder of Love

Love evolves through personal growth

As human beings grow, we discover there are different kinds of love and ways to love. The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, was very interested in love and wrote much on the subject. One of his most famous works, The Symposium, written in 385BC, focuses on how the capacity to love evolves throughout life and that ascension to the highest form of love is one of the greatest achievements of living.

In the text, Agathon, a poet, invites a group of intellectuals, poets, and playwrights to a dinner party. The guest list includes Socrates, Phaedrus, Pausanius, Eryxmachus, and Aristophanes. After dinner, the guests engage in a speech contest to praise Eros, the god of love, and determine the nature or purpose of love. While all the guests present interesting theories, it is Socrates who wins the contest by relating the idea of love as held by a priestess named Diotima, calling it “the science of things relating to love.”

The theory proposes that there are six types or stages of love that humans must master. They are placed on the rungs of a ladder to demonstrate the ascent from love of the physical or carnal love to love of divinity or becoming love itself. This construct of the evolution of love is what became known as Plato’s Ladder of Love and less so as Diotima’s Ladder of Love since Diotima was a character in the story, and there is virtually no evidence of her existence.

The Ladder of Love
Portrait of Jadwiga Luszczewska (Diotima) by Józef Simmler

The Six Stages of the Ladder of Love

1. Love for a particular body
Love is a desire for physical features, usually those missing from one’s own body. Each person is drawn to a particular type of body, based on our individual triggers.

2. Love for all bodies
A person recognizes that all bodies possess beauty of different kinds and learns to love or appreciate those differences.

3. Love for souls
Physical features can be put aside to recognize spiritual or moral beauty in others that generates love. We fall in love with beautiful hearts, minds, and souls beyond the outer shell.

4. Love for laws and institutions
This is love for the things created by those with beautiful souls and recognizing how those creations feed our souls in return and benefit society through the arts and sciences.

5. Love of knowledge
Love for the creations that move society forward will spark a desire to acquire new knowledge for oneself. It is loving that knowledge is everywhere and the drive to acquire it for self-improvement.

6. Love for beauty itself
A person recognizes the beauty within himself and that it is the same beauty that connects him to all that is. In life, just as with looking at a beautiful horizon, he learns to love all that he beholds and not isolated things. It is the ever-present beauty of beauty in life that he loves, and in so doing becomes love itself.

An interesting side note to The Symposium is Aristophanes’ speech on love. He proposed that humans were originally created with double our appendages, including two heads, four arms, and four legs. When humans tried to overpower the gods, they were stuck down and split in half as a punishment. This left humans with a lack of wholeness and a longing to “complete themselves” by finding their “better half” or “other half” in another person. He believed this desire is what drove men and women to get married and have children. This idea was the origin of people today using terms like “better half” to refer to their spouse and saying their lover “completes” them.


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