Plato and Soul Mates

Ryan Christensen, assistant professor of philosophy, explained Plato’s take on soul mates.

Ryan ChristensenPROVO, Utah (November 13, 2014)—The idea of soul mates is at least as old as the ancient Greeks. That doesn’t mean that the Greek philosophers believed in perfect matches, however. In an installment of the philosophy lecture series, assistant professor Ryan Christensen explained the concept of soul mates as treated by Plato, as well as his own conclusions on the subject.

“My topic today is loneliness,” Christensen said, beginning his presentation. He described loneliness as more than just the feeling of being alone and wishing you had someone there. It is the experience of being alien and unable to understand others. For many, the solution to loneliness is the soul mate, someone with whom one can relate to perfectly and vice versa, as if one person.

Plato addressed the idea of two people coming from one. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells the story of how Zeus – fearing that the powerful and physically perfect humans would rise against him – split human beings in half, creating the distinct male and female counterparts. According to Aristophanes, that is why people talk about looking for their “second half” and equate falling in love with “feeling whole.”

Within the play, Plato objects to Aristophanes’ account of the origin of the genders and the idea that one person can be half of a whole. “According to Plato, you can’t truly love something, whether half or whole, unless it is truly good. You can never be satisfied with something that is less than perfection,” explained Christensen.

Christensen agreed with Plato’s objection. In another story, the god Hephaestus offered two lovers the chance to be fused into one being, permanently repairing the separation caused by Zeus. The lovers accepted the offer, a decision that Christensen found surprising. “Love requires that the other be other,” he said. “You can’t desire something that isn’t other than you.”

In other writing, Plato described the soul mate as an immature notion, especially the idea of becoming one with another person. “A mature relationship begins with realizing that you are a radically independent individual – that you keep your independence, and you don’t get too close,” Christensen said. “That mature relationship is founded on the independence of both partners.”

Soul mates cannot solve loneliness, Christensen explained. “That doesn’t mean we have to wallow in loneliness. We can stop looking for our ‘other halves’ and instead form these mature relationships.”

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’15)