Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


The Phaedrus and
The Eternal


(See also an outline of the third speech in The Phaedrus)

One of the themes in The Phaedrus is the soul's connection with The Eternal, the realm of the essences (depicted in the Plato's Cave film as that mountaintop experience).

According to Plato (and/or Socrates)

  1. our connection to physical things is by means of our senses
  2. our connection to the mental and mathematical world is by means of the mind
  3. our connection to eternal things is by means of various forms of divine madness

The most significant form of divine madness in this dialog is that of being a lover of the beautiful, which is what eros is all about. Socrates' descriptions of what it is like to be completely awestruck in the presence of beauty (whether that be beauty of a person, a sunrise, a storm at sea, a piece of art, or any other beautiful thing) clearly fit the experience of anyone who has been so struck.

It also clearly fits the experience of those who have felt the soul-wrenching power of an encounter with The Divine (about which we read in the scriptural writings of most of the world's great spiritual traditions).

Divine madness is, for Plato, one of the main avenues that human beings have for encounter with The Holy.

For anyone interested in exploring these things further, two of the many good books written on these themes are:

  • William James' classic Varieties of Religious Experience. This is a collection of the famous Gifford lectures given in England by the most renowned and beloved classical American Philosopher William James, brother of the novelist Henry James. In these lectures he collected a wide variety of first person accounts of religious experience and interspersed them with his own analyses and attempts to understand what they mean. Extremely well written.

  • Rudolph Otto, The Idea of The Holy (the English translation from the German "Das Heilige.") I think a more accurate translation would be The Experience of The Holy, since it is an analysis of those numinous experiences characterized by what Otto terms the encounter with the "mysterium tremendum."