Shimer College

November 06, 2013

On “Play” in Plato

Sam Kepp on the Phaedrus

After discussing the Phaedrus in class, I went back to my dorm feeling intrigued. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read a Shimer text as playful, as openly free-spirited, as the Phaedrus, nor could I remember the last time I’d participated in a class that was as willing to embrace a text’s sillier, more fun-loving aspects.

I soon began to wonder why. Why did the Phaedrus in particular get us to talk about “play” or “fun” with the same amount of importance as philosophy? Unfortunately, this thought did not consciously preoccupy me long. I had homework to do, and I attempted to do it as best I could.

The day afterward I discovered that I had not been successful in my attempt. Normally, a failure like that would ruin my entire day, but on this occasion I had no time to sulk, because I, rather uncharacteristically, had agreed to attend a small dinner.

I have never operated under the misconception that I am good at social interaction.  Conversations puzzle me, and I find facial expressions rather confusing. Therefore, I walked to the dinner feeling appropriately timid and nervous. I rang the doorbell, gulped fearfully, and awaited whatever lay in store.

To my great surprise, I managed to enjoy myself. The people attending were nice, their conversations were wonderful, and the food was superb. I left feeling thankful that I had attended.

But the next day I felt less than joyful. I had agreed to take a group of students to a party the following night, and had also agreed to stay at the party for some time. I generally dislike parties, and avoid them whenever possible. I had hoped to avoid the party in question, but attending it became unavoidable. The day passed, and the party loomed on the horizon. Eventually, it was time to get ready and walk over.

The party was like most other parties I hadn’t enjoyed. It was loud, there were obnoxious people present, and there was too much dancing. But I found myself participating in discussion anyway, laughing at people’s jokes, and almost having fun. The same things that always annoy me still annoyed me, but I somehow felt different, maybe even better than I did upon arrival.

It was only today, the day afterward, that I realized I might have answered my own question. Perhaps the Pheadrus forced us to treat play with a certain level of importance because the Phaedrus recognizes that play is important. Perhaps it is only through the sorts of experiences that one has when “having fun” that one can truly “know one’s self.” Perhaps we can only become “beautiful inside,” the way Socrates wishes at the end of the dialogue, through our interaction with others, and our enjoyment of their company. And even if this isn’t “true,” it’s an interesting thought, and one that I will continue to explore.