II. "History" and Fortuna
III. Christianity and History
IV. History, Imagination and Memory
V. Vico's Classical Alternative to Modernity's History
VI. Notes on Natural Time and Historical Time
VII. Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy
on Anti-Platonism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, Hegel.
IX. Evolutionism and God
X. Dialogue on the Ground of Possibility for Transhistorical Dialogue
II. "History" and Fortuna
III. Christianity and History
IV. History, Imagination and Memory
V. Vico's Classical Alternative to Modernity's History
VI. Notes on Natural Time and Historical Time
VII. Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy
VIII. Notes on Anti-Platonism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, Hegel.
IX. Evolutionism and God
X. Dialogue on the Ground of Possibility for Transhistorical Dialogue
"What is History?" is a question retraceable to early-modernity's project of overcoming Fortuna, or of conquering death. The madness or utter futily of the project is given by the fact that death is essential to birth. The difficulty of addressing our question today results in large measure from modernity's tendency to eclipse the true nature of our condition as mortals, by advertising a secularized version of Christianity's promise of salvation. (On the essential benefits and disadvantages of modern medicine, see Bks. 1-2 if Roussau's Émile ou De l'éducation.)
This page is dedicated to The Question of History singulare tantum--a question that arises through a peculiar confrontation between two mind-sets or modifications of the human mind, which for convenience we provisionally refer to as the Greek and the Biblical. The "History" announced by the XIX century German "historical school" (historicism) is supposed to synthesize, and thereby transcend, both the Greek philosophical/impersonal notion of Being and the Biblical authoritative/personal notion of a universal divine plan or eschaton. The former of the two poles pertains to "Apollonian" Reason, the way through which the human mind comes to clarify its problems; the latter of the two poles pertains to an abysmal Will that limits any attempt to clarify problems. The Biblical God asserts himself, or is witnessed as the consumate boundary of our quest for meaning. Yet, as a matter of principle, philosophical Reason or pura philosophia regards any limit as a question mark--a problem exposed to general human understanding. Here, understanding as such does not progress indefinitely (although it may do so within definite parameters), but points "back" to an intelligible bedrock of permanent problems--of general "forms" or "ideas." The human mind returns to or orients itself towards these "Platonic Ideas" on its quest for a general understanding of particular problems. Ancient or pure philosophy proceeds from particular problems to general problems, or rather from a fragmentary sense of any given problem to a deepened awareness of the problem as a whole. We may then speak of philosophy as the deepening of our awareness of our ordinary problems--a deepening that frees us from blind subjection to problems, or from compulsions in the face of our problems.
The modern rise of "History" contributed to eclipsing the independence of philosophy qua "way of life," by promising a synthesis of Greece and the Bible, of Athens and Jerusalem, or of Reason and Revelation. To this problem we shall turn philosophically, upon having brought into focus the general distinction between ancient and modern historiography.
Modern historiography is “scientific” in the sense that it wants to be knowledge (scientia) of human life in its unfolding. Pre-modern historiography is “unscientific” precisely in the respect that it does not aim at incarnating the unity of any given human experience. Such a unity was once assumed, more or less critically, to be beyond the reach of any story telling or retelling. Historians begin to aspire to unify our experience, to bind it in a unitary, if only multifaceted or even necessarily discontinuous discourse, only where the unity of experience is conceived, no longer in purely metaphysical, but in geometrical terms, as something that can be applied back onto empirical diversity. The question dividing ancient and modern historians pertains precisely to the ontological status of the unity of experience.
Reflection upon the divide between modern and pre-modern historiography is called for in particular by a crisis of identity affecting contemporary historians, insofar as they have abandoned the early modern faith in the universality of reason, or in the capacity of the human mind to free its "method"" (or itself in/as method) from its material context. The dominant trend among contemporary historians is to readily concede (if only tacitly) that the historian is a man of his times, that his writing is relative to the demands of his times, that history-writing is inseparable from particular ideologies. In short, in general the contemporary historian has thoroughly historicised his work, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for himself to account for his identity other than by appealing to established forms of authority, or to contemporary ideological trends.
Appeals to methodological rigour, as to systematicity in data alaboration, fail to save the contemporary historian from the charge of falsehood. Data are always assembled and selected according to particular choises and criteria, which the historian now concedes to be historically relative. The essential difference between an historian and a fantasy writer would then be defined by no more than the former's capacity to conform to currently dominant modes of apprehension or reception of data. The fantasy writer would fabricate stories that do not necessarily conform to contemporary dominant ways of life--stories that do not account for present-day regimes, or that are cut-off from, or at least overtly irrelevant to them. In short, the historian's work is more readily integrated in present-day life-and-order than is the work of a fantasy writer: the historian's stories make more sense to us; they do not strike us as wild or outlandish, yet not because they are based on more data, but because they gather data in ways we are used to, or according to our own conception of life and order, and so too in conformity with what our age regards as relevant or significant. The historian will gather the specific data that confirm the actuality of our age, and he will do so in such a way as to confirm that the data in question are relevant to our present situation--that, somehow, they signal the necessity of the present.
“History” and Fortuna
So ingrained is “the sense of History” in the dominant worldviews of our times that only few of us will venture into doubting it in all seriousness—into exposing its essential roots, its a-historical genesis. Yet, no extraordinary acumen in philological analysis is required to discern in the works of “early-modern” thinkers a project that stands as bedrock to the rise of historicism’s History. History as stage for mankind’s struggles to free itself from subjection to natural necessity, entails as its necessary end mankind’s conquest of Fortuna, or what, with respect to classical antiquity, is a novel or modern war against death, a collective endeavor to conquer the heavens, not by impiously extending human powers into a realm subject to other, hidden or sacred powers, but rather by channeling alien powers to serve modern man’s project—to fuel mankind’s emancipation from forces surmised beyond our own will. The fathers of modernity (from Machiavelli to Spinoza) conceived of a method enabling us to measure (i.e. to render commensurate to a standard of our making) the existential horizon of our thought. If earlier thinkers had merely thought about the world as fundamentally static, modern scientific thinkers would set out to conquer the world, i.e. to convert the world into a human determination, on the basis of a conception of the world as radically dynamic.
Unlike the Biblical “Babel” adventure, the peculiarly modern enterprise makes pre-emptive use of a foundational method by which the language of physical or divine necessity is geometrically translated into manageable mathematical symbols. “Abstracted” out of the hidden recesses of Fortuna, modern mathematical symbols could nonetheless serve as conduit—as safe or controlled environment—for the interpretation of Fortuna, and thus for divination. Modern mathematical divination is scientific (i.e. it contains its subject matter) in the respect that it draws itself and its quantifiable world out of the world of existential contingencies, but only by way of channeling “raw existence” into modernity’s constructed environment, as its propellant. The modern mathematician’s safe-haven is not merely a “laboratory” in the world, but the world itself insofar as it enters into modernity’s “laboratory,” to fuel its consolidation. The process of consolidation of modernity’s new world—what Marx referred to as “The Realm of Freedom”—is what XIX century Germany hailed as a History beyond attributes—History singulare tantum, or History as universal stage for all poetic-political histories. Yet, our History has lost much of the shine of XIX century progressivism. Today, the unity of History is no longer taken for granted the way it was, not only with Hegel, but also with Marx. Our History no longer points unequivocally to universal Freedom, but to itself as problem, as aporetic impasse, and even as dead end—an inexplicable end that forestalls any new beginning. Our History is no longer the stage of expectations to be meaningfully fulfilled, but of radical disappointments, of the destruction of meaning, or of the meaninglessness of meaning itself. Our History stands on the disquieting suspicion that upon conquering or taming Fortuna, mankind has divined our collective fulfillment, our “self-realization,” the triumph of our will, as our own demise: finally the heavens of Babel are once again unmasked as cosmic conflagration.
Christianity and History
For Christians, «History» must be the synthesis of sacred and vulgar histories. History stands as Christian History, or as a "project" to overcome the distinction between sacred and vulgar through the integration/transformation of the vulgar, as well as through the elevation of the sacred beyond political/temporal boundaries. The sacred has been raised into the heavens, or it has emptied itself of particularity (as in kenosis), or in this emptying or this dying it finds its particularity. The particularity of the sacred is found on the Cross, where the particular converts into the universal, so as to manifest its relevance even outside of the boundaries of a merely sacred history among other vulgar histories. The "Cross-conversion" is at once the door and way for the conversion of the vulgar into the sacred, as well as the door and way through which the "old" sacred--Moses' People--is freed from its limitations, or its incapacity to fulfill its divine(d) mandate. The Hebrew People is assigned a new role in the conversion of the world--a role that takes its bearings, not from any one People's ancient Law, but from the conversion of a lawful People into one ever-present Cross, or one act of kenosis/dying. The Hebrew People is to find itself in the Sacrifice of Christ, and in this "finding"--in this renewal--it finds its new mandate: to remind all Peoples of the singularity of all Peoples' mandate. The Hebrew People stands "on this side" of the cross, as the "pre-history" of the Cross--a "pre-history" that lives on thanks to the new History in which and through which the Cross lives on for all Peoples, until at last--at the End of his new History--the Heavenly Emperor will judge all Peoples. But until this End that "descends" upon the world by and as divine Grace and thus for us unpredictably, the evangelical Work of conversion of the world to and through the Cross is the ongoing mandate of the Church of Christ.
Christians are those who respond to the call to foster the conversion of the whole world to and through the Cross, so that the vulgar may be raised into the sacred, just as the sacred had descended into the vulgar, making itself "flesh" and thus grafting itself into the horizon of all "secular" histories. Christ's Incarnation is not to be understood as a mere "myth story" or "poetically," but as the injection of the sacred into the vulgar, or as the entrance of the divine name into human life: the *mythos* is "verbalized" or it converts itself into *logos/verbum.* Christians as such do not consider the Incarnation as a mere story within sacred history, but as sacred history transcending itself by dying into a "foreign" context, or by sacrificing itself in the person of a Christ born "in the flesh"--i.e. in something ordinarily "vulgar"--to purge it of all vulgarity, or to render it utterly immaculate, and thus too truly sacred (beyond contamination or desecration). This way, Christ signals the possibility that everything is Sacred, or that the vulgar, too, is subject to divine judgment. The flesh itself stands under the Law, not as under something imposed from above, as with Moses for the Hebrew People, but as something stemming from within, as Paul's faith. The New Law is the Old Law insofar as it reveals itself from within human nature, as something previously latent within all histories.
Christianity then is its History, or the historical conversion of all histories--both the sacred and the profane. All histories are unified in Christianity's universal History--a history that begins with Christ's Cross and thereupon points directly to Christ's Universal Judgment. The universal history is not one told by any mortal poet, but the one that is told by a divine poet--the creator of a world that includes all poetic histories. The universality of Christianity or of its ordained History is rooted in the twofold mystery of its beginning and its end. This rootedness of History in a divine mystery tells us that Christianity's History is a mere prelude--no matter how true--to a Truth beyond all History--a Truth that is at once the Alpha and Omega of Christianity. History is contained by its Truth, as a Letter is contained by its Spirit. The "deep significance" of Christianity cannot be "historical." The historical dimension of Christianity is merely the "literal" dimension of a divine message. Accordingly, for medieval Christianity the "historical" sense of Scripture is none other and no more than the "literal" sense, which points beyond itself allegorically to a moral and anagogic sense. Christianity's History stands as a universal legal or nominal surface for the underlying, permanent reality that both discloses it and brings it to closure. Christianity's universal synthesis of sacred and vulgar is not "substantive," but merely legal, even if this legal/nominal synthesis is to be understood as rooted in and as pointing back to Truth itself as universal source and destination--a Truth that reveals itself only provisionally, or as a promise, the token of a Second Coming, of a future at the end of time. This way, Christianity discloses itself as a mandate or mission, as the proclamation of the beginning (arche) and end (eschaton) of all Peoples--a proclamation that is what all histories have in common. In Christianity, all histories are mirrored to reflect their trans-historical ground: Christianity is the mirror of what every history is in itself. Far from resolving itself in itself, in or as History, Christianity by its very nature points beyond itself to the secret of every history--the "pre-historical," "sub-historical," and "post-historical" heart of every People.
To recapitulate: the Incarnation inaugurates the universal History of reconciliation of Athens (pagan/vulgar world) and Jerusalem (divine/sacred Law)--a History closed by the Second Coming, or by the Universal Judgment, when the hidden distinction between the Few (who attend to what is hidden in the midst of appearances) and the Many (whose attention is absorbed by appearance) is finally vindicated. The end we strive for is no longer merely a noumenal idea, but a particular: not Plato's "Idea of the Good," which is presupposed by all approximations, but the underlying congruity of
The reconciliation of Athens and Jerusalem presupposes the revelation of the sacred as the Good. Rudolf Otto (see esp. his 1917 Das Heilige) is eloquent in stressing the significance of the Bible's uniqueness. In the Bible, the Sacred reveals itself out of its fearsome or terrible guise as a loving God who is to be loved in return. The divine is finally not merely a mythical personality beyond our ordinary experience; rather it enters our ordinary experience as a manifest person--not as the product of poets' imagination, but as a poet himself, a perfect poet--the divine creator of both names and things. This God is not merely the God of and chosen by one people; rather he choses one people as witness or springboard for revealing himself to all peoples, as all peoples' God, yet not merely as a "wholly other" Will beyond question (as in the case of Islam's Allah), but a Will that invites all wills to partake in it actively or freely.
Christianity draws from the Hebrew lesson concerning the divine a further conclusion that God loves us so much that he is willing to die for us, disclosing universal access from the vulgar to the sacred, from Athens to a New or Heavenly Jerusalem. The Incarnation inaugurates a History characterized by the universally explicit inherence of the sacred in the vulgar, or by the universal proclamation of the redeeming agency of the sacred in the vulgar. Christian evangelism responds to Christ's cleansing inherence in our nature, "imitating" Christ's agency in the process of converting pagans to the Biblical God as understood by Christians, namely as proclaiming the Sacred as loving Father--a "Thou" (no longer the inexplicable or morally dubious persona of ancient myths, or the "It" of philosophical discourse) who "condescends" to our senses for the sake of raising them beyond human imagination.
What God other than the Biblical one is all loving or absolutely lovable? Not Brahmā, who, though personal and absolute Lord, remains hidden throughout his innumerable, mythical manifestations. The Christian God is manifest absolutely, or once and for all in Christ, so that the Christian revelation is understood as wholly universal, wholly true consummation of the numinous consciousness characterizing all religions. The Incarnation is at once eternal, insofar as it is not something other than the terrible/abhorrent and fascinating/attractive mystery (mysterium tremendum et fascinans) of the divine, but this very divine having come to fruition ethically, in God's supreme goodness, as Love. The Incarnation then marks the intersection of eternity and time, whereby the hidden divinity (the sacred) enters into the realm of public morality: the "beyond good and evil" reveals itself in "familiar" terms as wholly and supremely good.
Nor does the Biblical revelation find a counterpart in Buddhism, where the sacred/hidden (fearsome/terrible) is confronted philosophically, i.e. through the negation of the self. The mythical character of the divine is no longer feared, but only insofar as one identifies himself with its abyss--only insofar as we abide in mystery, making the divine nounmenon/spirit our true home. But this is not possible from the side of the divine, or universally. Buddha's awakening is not the fruit of divine Grace bestowed upon many at once, but the fruit of one man's self-negation inviting all men to tread the way leading to Buddha's awakening. Awakening is nirvāṇa, the "blowing out" of all "determinations," including that of self-identity/certainty. Buddha guides us to "the other side" of saṃsāra, if only to recognize a dialectical coincidentia of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa--the vital inherence of the sacred in the vulgar.
Nor is Buddhism's "history" equivalent to Christianity's History of salvation. Buddhism's "history" entails a cycle running from a first age/dimension when the divine is everywhere manifest so that order is rightly established or law is simply right (正法/shōbō), a second age/dimension where order is merely nominal or apparent (像法/zōhō), and thirdly an age/dimension where order declines or where it yields to chaos (末法/mappō). Yet, the cycle in question is understood as a recurring "pattern," rather than as an overarching, univocal History. After or out of the "third" age, comes the "first," so that properly understood numerical priority signals ontological primacy, rather than temporal precedence. Buddhism's "history" is an ultimately static, mythical mirror of the underlying nature of existence in general.
Nor does Buddhism tell us that the fearsome ground of existence converts into Love. In Christianity nothing is to be feared mythically, primarily because the supreme object of fear loves us: it is the Good itself, understood as manifest, free agent--as divine impersonality entering freely in intimate, moral relation with all men. The Good of philosophy no longer hides from the conventional order of things, but reveals itself to it as a "sword" cutting through all conventional certainties. Only by appearing out of the recesses of the philosophical mind onto the arena of convention (nomos) could the divine reassure us that it is fundamentally a lovable "He," or that its true nature--its mystery--is a caring someone, a public, moral, providential presence in our lives. The Incarnation in particular marks the final revelation of the divine as Love, or as loving/lovable birth of the sacred in the vulgar universe. The divine is finally the yardstick for moral/political life, the standard by which and towards which moral decisions are to be made. The foundation of right is no longer something that only philosophers have access to through rational argumentation, but something everyone has access from the vantage point of the imagination. And once retained in through the imagination in memory, the Good may inaugurate a formal tradition dedicated to it, as opposed to one of its mythical and morally dubious personae.
Whereas for Christianity, God is the positive end of political life, in Buddhism--no matter how much the mystical coincidence of divine and human may be stressed--the divine proper is the negative end of political/moral life. The divine is "beyond good and evil," or beyond any "He," even if this "beyond" is capable of manifesting itself from time to time as various personae. The true nature of the divine transcends personality. The persona or ego (ātman, or pudgala) is no more than a mask of underlying factors (skandhas), which entail an external ("physical") dimension and an internal ("mental") dimension. In plain terms, the ego is a combination of body and mind, though upon careful consideration we find that the body itself is the object of thought, and as such a mentation--a product of thought. The revelation of a divine person such as the Christian one signals the emergence of a resolution to the tension between mind and body, or between mind and its extension out of itself. Mind is no longer dragged out of itself in becoming, but resolves its "outwardness" in itself. This is possible only for a divine mind, or the mind of "the God of Nature." Or rather, the mind that is capable of overcoming all externality once and for all, or without remainder, must be supreme ruler over the physical universe. It is precisely this mind that is affirmed with Christianity, whereas in Buddhism the consummate mind hides, if only behind a mystical smile. The Good is intimated, rather than fully revealed to disclose a world progressing towards the personal sovereign overcoming of the disparity between the hidden and the manifest. Buddhism does not invite such a world. In its stead it points to an other-worldly (or "other shore"--彼岸) consummation, a Pure Land (淨土宗) that transcends any social or conventional progress. Christianity, too, admits no worldly consummation (such as the one promised by modernity), but its political success or imperial aura entails a partial eclipse of the purely eternal character of the divine. The popularization of the sacred is susceptible to translating into a vulgarization of the philosophical quest for the sacred. Accordingly, medieval Scholasticism does not dismiss philosophy, but frames it within the context of a superior mission. Christian theology places philosophy in the service of a superior way of life that everyone--both philosophers and non-philosophers--are to live beyond philosophy in anticipation of "the other world."
To be sure, in the Bible the personal aspect of the divine does not extinguish the impersonality of the divine; yet--at least provisionally--the personal takes precedence over the impersonal, whereas in Buddhism (no less than in its Vedic precursors) the impersonal holds precedence over the personal (the ethical is superseded both by the divine and, philosophically, by men). The Christian "inversion" entails the distinctly exoteric role of the Bible as political guide. With the Bible, the divine answers the question of how we are to live here and now, politically. It answers the moral problem--the problem of justice--by affirming the primacy of the personal over the impersonal, of the manifest over the hidden. The personal is revealed as inhering originally in the impersonal, so that the impersonal can no longer be the dreadful mark of the ultimate meaninglessness of the moral order. Moral choices have significance in eternity itself, so that the atheist or antinomian enemies of "law and order" are confronted with an invincible objection. Morality, the moral order of nations, is perfectly grounded and safeguarded, not in a mere "founding myth" that serves the status quo as "justification" for injustice, but as perfect guide for the correction of injustice and improvement/progress in political life and order. The Bible or biblical revelation, but especially its Christian "consummation," proposes a religious answer to the problem of legal injustice, or the problem of unjust laws--an answer that succeeds as an "unfolding" entailing the betterment of pre-existing mores. Nor is moral progress the shadow of a "cosmic battle" between Good and Evil, but the work of direct collaboration between the good God and men.
Christianity's exotericism is the religion's mark of distinction with respect to religious Buddhism, for which divine personality is explicitly no more than a mask of divine impersonality. Even in its religious-political dimension, Buddhism remains distinctively mystical. When Buddha awakens to the overlapping of divine nature and the human or moral order he returns to, he does signal the entering of the divine/noumenon into the human, but he gives no indication that the "entering" in question occurs only once and for all. For Buddhism the inherence of the sacred in the vulgar is at once eternal and eternally possible.
What is said here of Buddhism may be said mutatis mutandis of political Platonism. For Plato the Good is an Idea--the Form of desire. This Form or Intellective Image into which desire fulfills itself may be called Love, but in Plato it is not. Nonetheless it entails a mystical, blissful consummation of eros/philosophy--a consummation that is a beginning, as well (VII Letter). The fire of desire's consummation is the fire of the beginning of philosophy. For Plato, the end of philosophy is not superior to philosophy's beginning. The end is identical to the beginning. Far from being exhausted in/by its end, philosophy is born from and nourished by its end: its end is its starting point, to which philosophy itself is irreducible. The philosophical life and its ground do not exhaust, but penetrate each other. Plato's Good as Idea is not lovable and does not love us in the Christian sense insofar as it remains hidden, or intellective: it is in the mind as the good of the intellect. The same may be said of Buddha's nirvāṇa: it is a hidden Good--the ultimate hiddenness, the ultimate "blowing out" of anything "exposed" or "vulgar." The Buddha's nirvāṇa is the exhaustion of all that is vulgar, or a complete entering into the sacred, not as into something feared religiously, but as into a dimension of things hidden beneath the veil of religious fear. Though he does not destroy the veil of fear, Buddha transcends it and invites us to transcend it--to navigate below and beneath it, in the element of thought--of a thought that empties its contents into their root. Yet, the moral order is not abandoned, but "polished" as mirror of "things themselves." In this respect, Buddhism is necessarily political. Buddha would agree with Socrates that the Ideas--the essential forms of things--are not found in the heavens, but in the polis. The ethical is master key to the metaphysical.
History, Imagination and Memory
The rise of modern “History” presupposes a modern revaluation of the imagination and memory on account of which revaluation the imagination is empowered in a calculated or premeditated manner to serve as guide of reason in the constitution of its ends, while memory is assigned the overt task of chasing the beginning or reason of all things in an intuition consonant with the imagination’s mode of presentation.
In reality, memory is covertly assigned the “circular” task of chasing nothing more than the shadow of human reason—a shadow that early-modern rationalism has intentionally left behind as bait. The new imagination is in effect seduced into believing itself free to determine its own ends. This seduction is made possible through a dissembling of reason, or rather of the reasoning of modern thinkers: no sooner do they plan imagination’s future, than they hide their plan at the heart of imagination’s present. The promise handed to the imagination is handed by modern reason, or by a modern calculation intended to place the imagination in the service of the constitution of a world favorable to reason—a world in which reason is finally at home. Imagination will make it possible for reason to emerge out of its hiding place at the heart of imagination itself, as the very form of the world of the imagination.
In the eighteenth century, Giambattista Vico articulated an elaborate warning against the dream of modern rationalism, which Vico exposes as terrible mirage—a mirage bringing with itself tyrannical obscurantism. Arguing against the likes of Descartes and Spinoza, Vico invites disenchantment in the face of the Promised Land of a universal society in which we are all free from covert authority. The new society would be one in which “the reason of authority” is fully unfolded or publicly exposed: the spirit of authority would convert into authority’s letter, so that interpretation would be readily open to everyone as something ready-at-hand. In the new society nothing is constitutionally hidden from the imagination; nothing is beyond the reach of memory. Accordingly, the new society is one in which memory finally grasps its tail as an image accounting for all images—a History of all histories, of all accounts of origins. The new History is the account that coincides with the origin of all accounts.
Vico anticipates the formal rise of History by exposing its poetic nature. Vico presents History as eternal and ideated myth (underlying and presupposed by every earthly account of the world), a poetic stage for a reasoning that is invited to retain its classical link to prudence or moderation. Vico’s reasoning does not attempt to rise to overt hegemony over the imagination, if only through a preliminary dissimulation. Instead, Vico’s reasoning remains covert and cherishes its accomplishments as covert or impersonal actor in the course of human life.
By way of helping us recover the secret or sacred activity of reason at the heart of our lives, Vico guides us through an adventurous critique of the world of the imagination, deflated of all pretenses to the heavens of intellection. Or rather, Vico shows that our grasping of the heavens coincides de facto with our revolving into the scum of the earth (echoing Cicero’s faex Romuli): the verum or “true form” that is grasped by the imagination is nothing more than the certainty of the imagination, a certum that is “accomplished” (factum) by the imagination itself. The grasped certainty is a “factual accomplishment” that we no longer doubt precisely insofar as it is ready-at-hand. Yet, precisely by being vividly apparent, the “true form” of the imagination exposes itself to doubt: the imposition of appearance as hiding nothing behind itself, or as resolving its ground within its own disclosure/presence, amounts to no more than the opacity of appearance—an opacity that reason proper seeks to cut through. The new world of modernity is as “true” as it is false. For it is the product of an imagination that is constitutionally blind to the grounds of images, erroneously resolving the sacred or hidden into an obscure past—a world that would have been experienced by our earliest ancestors and that could in principle be experienced again by future generations, if only ancestral gods were to return, in whichever guise they decided to return.
How is Vico’s eternal poetic history supposed to help us understand the true nature of what our Age will come to intuit as History with a capital “H”? Is Vico’s poetic history not a universal equivalent of historicism’s History? The primary distinguishing marks between the two are the former’s eternity and ideality, but a third characteristic distinguishes Vico’s history, namely its legal-poetic character: Vico’s “eternal and ideal history” is one Constitution valid for every earthly history, not for all together. Vico’s poetic history is not a universal existential context resolving in its course all particular histories, but the root of every earthly history, independently of all other histories. Every particular historical course is rooted in one static myth, which is the physical history’s “eternal and ideal” underlying counterpart—an immutable, mythical form. This poetic foundation of physical existence is explicitly Platonic in character, marking as it does the true being of the empirical. The true history is the eternal and ideal one, which, however, is as true as it is, if only in a distinct respect, false.
The “falsity” of Vico’s poetic “true form” is not overcome existentially by any “historical actualization” (a la Hegel), but by rational doubt probing the nature of true things. The true form of every physical form is not resolved in a synthesis of ideal and “real,” or in the realization of the ideal; instead, “the true” (verum) serves as irreducible stage for the life of the mind, or the probing act of reason, insofar as reason (as dianoia) is a splitting of certainty into comparable and contradictory factors through which the abysmal ground of every certainty shines forth (as what Vico calls “the light of the true”). Here, insight penetrates the depths of being by “opening” its surface, or through a divisive procedure whereby the otherwise-blinding self-revelation of being is converted into poetic, hypothetical forms open to a logical articulation pointing back to the heart of their original coincidence.
Vico’s true and eternal myth—the ideated history he points to as necessarily presupposed by every physical history—is not a monolithic form, but a stage of poetic forms, or a communion of ideas. The “banquet” of forms underlying the course of every life is static in itself, but in its light its physical superstructure is disclosed as the myth’s rational movement or logical articulation. Precisely by being “eternal and ideal,” the symposium of forms offers us a stage for living our lives as a logical interpretation of the secret depths of the eternal, and thus too of the irreducibility of the eternal to the temporal.
The realm of ethics emerges now in the light of metaphysics as the stage of the interplay of metaphysical-poetic forms. To speak Platonically, the human world stands as theater of hidden “gods”: in our world, ideas become personal—they become gods, or men who believe themselves to be gods, or, who at least believe in gods outside of themselves. The political or personal world emerges as poetic shadow-projection of the metaphysical, impersonal world—an arena in which the immutable moves, if only within its permanent immobility (accordingly, for Dante, tying shadows—not least of them that of Virgil—back to their source is to regain certainty for them). Yet, the metaphysical bedrock of the human world—i.e., of a world the unity of which is disclosed only metaphysically—is itself poetic. In this respect, poetry does not resolve itself in political life. By the same token, political life does not resolve itself in itself, but is constituted through openness to a metaphysical or hidden dimension of poetry.
The reason why in exposing the poetic-legal nature of the metaphysical Vico does not eo ipso reduce metaphysics to modernity's “History,” should be clear. That which stands outside of particular or physical “histories” is not disclosed on the plane of physicality as the History of all histories. The quest for the consummate context in which all of our bodies move unfolds “vertically,” as a quest for Mind, not horizontally or immanently as the attempt to disclose the metaphysical in physical terms. The proper form of physical indeterminacy retains ontological precedence over its material content.
When at the beginning of his Principj di Scienza Nuova (1730, 1744), Vico distinguishes his civil things from the moral things of solitary or monastic intellectuals, he is not anticipating a Kantian separation of politics and morality, but confirming a classical (Platonic-Ciceronian) understanding of politics as the proper stage of morality: the moral universe is not a metaphysical realm beyond public strife. As both Plato and the Bible show, to ascend to the metaphysical is to journey beyond good and evil.
Notes on Natural Time and Human-Historical Time
Why is classical philosophy—we think here specifically of Greeks and Romans, but also of various Oriental arenas of debate—not concerned with “History”? Why is History a peculiarly modern preoccupation? Why is a “philosophy of history” an essentially modern invention? We have already tackled these questions in foregoing discussions. Our conclusion in brief: classical thinkers consider human-historical time as poetically escaping the “circularity” we attribute to natural time. Unlike the course of physical time, the course of human time is empirically irreversible. Human things are characterized by uniqueness—by a freedom that no physical necessity can account for. Our histories, our human lives, escape natural circularity in virtue of what makes them human, namely a humanizing principle that reveals itself properly in human/political things, though it fails to unify them into a single, overarching History.
Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy
The modernist impulse to synthesize pagan Athens and Biblical Jerusalem beyond any medieval Scholastic intent entails a turn away from the pre-modern (both ancient and medieval) distinction between sacred and vulgar histories. In Europe, Giambattista Vico was among the last great political philosophers to uphold the categorical distinction in full awareness of the contemporary drive to eclipse it in intimation of an overarching History beyond denominations. In agreement with Renaissance political Platonism (from Dante to Poliziano), Vico highlighted the irreducibility of the tension between the sacred and the vulgar to any empirical consummation. Medieval Christianity’s “failure” to overcome the distinction between “Our Sacred Tradition” and “the Vulgar traditions” of the world, stood as an open door for Renaissance thinkers to either revive an ancient civilizing, creative dialogue between the sacred/secretive and the vulgar/explicit or radicalize the medieval nominal synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem by introducing a progressive understanding of both poles. For modernity, both Athens and Jerusalem stand within the context of a “neutral” or purely “secular” horizon of possibility, enabling modern man to synthesize-and-surpass the self-understanding of both Athens and Jerusalem in the direction of a sacralization of the vulgar, or by using the sacred as fuel for the redemption of the vulgar “from the bottom up.”
The instrumentalizing of the Bible would remain unsuccessful without a concomitant instrumentalizing of paganism based on a partial acceptance of medieval Christian readings of paganism as merely vulgar. Paganism could be “redeemed” only on the basis of the assumption that it begged for redemption, or that it was flawed roughly in the manner in which Christian theology or certain strands thereof had claimed it was. Classical, pagan ethics could no longer be upheld as an end. It would have to be regarded as a means to an end. Yet, that end could no longer be identified with Christian theology or theocracy, or with its divined miraculous transubstantiation of the vulgar or physical into pure spirit. At the very least, the prospect of a final conversion of the world to the extraordinary “morality” of Christ—a morality beyond all moral codes—was to yield to a geometrical application of the Christian inspiring “Ideal” to the re-grounding of the vulgar (paganism) in art or techne. Neither pagan gods nor the Nature of pagan philosophers could stand as adequate support for a scientific sacralization of the vulgar, but a universal algebraic method that would be as “true” (verum) as the Christian Revelation and as “certain” (certum) as our common or physical experience of the world. The Nature of ancient philosophers would be conceived or grasped as “mere material”—Descartes’ res extensa—while the God or Revelation of Christianity would be hailed deistically as a sublime object of the imagination, and thus as ideal consummation or idealization of human cogitation (res cogitans).
What is sometimes regarded as modernism’s secularization of Christianity stands or falls on the idealization of Christianity, or on the purging of the Christian spirit of its flesh. But modern secularism also requires the radical purging of our common experience of things from the mysterious, not to say miraculous element of spirit (a spirit that medieval scholasticism ratifies as Providence’s original inherence in Nature). Modern Physics necessarily relies on a “mechanical” separation of material “facts” from ideal “values.” Yet, both modes of purging—that of spirit of flesh and its reverse—are exercised in the always presupposed context of a “greater synthesis” for which matter and spirit are relative states of a reality that evolves, or of “Evolution,” beyond the limits of all “states.”
Christians who adhere to the late-modern doctrine of Evolutionism are seldom aware that they are adhering to a doctrine that reduces the Christian God to an inspiring illusion instrumental to the rise of a God beyond any religious denomination—a divinity utterly incommensurate with human life and understanding. The God of Evolutionism is Evolution itself, or Being beyond all limits, or Being as pure possibility: a chameleonic Being that is as likely to manifest itself in Jesus Christ as he/she/it is in anyone or anything else, including the anti-Christ. For to accept Evolutionism is to accept that Christianity or its God is at best a historically relative shadow of the true God that is Evolution itself, or its unpredictable consummation. But Evolutionism, more or less explicitly, further calls its adherents to remain radically open to the possibility that Christianity is ultimately a distorted shadow or perversion of truth, or even a hoax, a calculated “error” that is neither truer nor more justifiable than any other “belief.”
Evolutionism’s relativizing of religious revelations presupposes a relativizing of human reason, or a dismissal of our capacity to climb a “ladder of ideas” that proceeds from ordinary speech to things themselves. Our own moral and intellective conquests are to be discounted as radically subject to refutation. What we are to rely upon is not or not primarily human virtue—were it even rooted in a divined perfection that builds on, without destroying natural hierarchies of signification—but the force of Evolution. De facto, Evolutionism indicates that the basis for human reason and religious revelations alike is to be understood neither philosophically nor authoritatively, but violently, or as a violent rupture of the fiber of both philosophical reason and religious authority. The “background” of philosophy is no longer to be read philosophically as Nature, or religiously as Law (were the Law even “incarnate” or injected into nature). The background of both philosophy and religion are no longer to be read at all, insofar as it is assumed to be the shadow of a foreground. For Evolutionism, being a mode of modern empiricism, signals the triumph of externalities and thus of fortuna over all genuine or unfettered virtue—a triumph prepared by the “Machiavellian” eclipse of classical virtue in the name of a methodological virtue the primary function of which is to channel or make expediential use of fortuna.
Evolutionism is ill understood aside from close examination of its genesis within the context of Historicism, or the teaching that Nature becomes self-conscious, or that it comes of age, in the course of a History consummated in the fully unfolded spirit of Historicism. The doctrine that Nature evolves is rooted in and is articulated within the horizon of a doctrine concerning the essential character of the absolute end of Evolution. But this historicist doctrine is in turn ill understood on the basis of its own peculiar tenets. The genesis of Historicism is ill understood historicistically, or self-referentially.
Just as in order to gain an adequate understanding of Evolutionism we turn to Historicism, so too must we turn to a non-historicist horizon of considerations in order to adequately understand Historicism, its History or its sense thereof. The genesis of History singulare tantum comes to light only in the non-historical context of essential or permanent features of reality.
In the locus of reflection that we have now recovered for ourselves, the historicist’s nominalistic critique of “essence” as originally empty, has yet to obtain credibility. Philosophy has yet to be reduced to its history, thereby exposing itself to being contextualized or framed within the horizon of consciousness of non-philosophical historians. The philosophical life has yet to be fixed or determined within the universe of historicist certainties. Nor has the medieval Christian critique of classical philosophy yet ascended to theological heavens. For here where we now stand again, philosophy comes of age as political philosophy, rather than as Stoicism or Epicureanism. A philosopher such as Cicero is not indifferent to his “historical” context, or to manifest injustice. His “Socratic” recognition that it is infinitely better to die virtuously than to survive un-virtuously—so that one is to give infinitely more weight to the cultivation of virtue, than to Grace, or the gifts of fortuna—does not depend on “narrow” considerations, or on “essentialist blinders,” but on a radical turn to the limit or form of every existence—precisely that within which, from which and back to which all historical dynamics unfold. In the light of the end of life, life emerges and is lived as essentially philosophical, or as philosophy itself. History emerges as the story or life of philosophy, though neither is History resolved in itself, nor is philosophy resolved in its own life, but in its end, the mysterious abyss of its reason (cf. concluding remarks of Dante’s Convivio). Philosophical virtue emerges finally as irreducible to its exercise or cultivation.
Once again we face “first things” or things as they are in their original constitution: “darkness” or injustice is primarily or in itself not an historical problem, but an essential problem—as is vice. Justice is first and foremost a virtue.
Though incompatible with sentimentalism, the classical Socratic-Ciceronian care for or cultivation of the soul/mind does not entail any “cold eye” in the face of suffering. Recognizing that the suffering of the world is a constant that knows of no human solution, to those in pain, the good man offers, not primarily sentimental palliatives, but his virtue—his unfettered, un-circumscribable life, his life necessarily rooted in the timeless plenitude or intelligibility of life.
(published on the 2nd of September, 2013)
on Anti-Platonism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, Hegel.
Heidegger criticized Nietzsche’s critique of all preceding thought for not being radical enough—for not yet having freed itself of the shackles of idealism. Nietzsche’s “philosophy of the future” remains an ideal to be fulfilled; the “superman” stands as the consummate hero to be incarnated. Heidegger asks that thought remain thoroughly consistent with Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics as idolatrous, by abandoning all special expectations, all progressive impulses, in favor of unconditional openness to eventuality. It is not enough to be an anti-idealist (or an Anti-Christ); one must rise (“deconstructively”) to “phenomenological” indifference to metaphysics.
Here metaphysics stands for a life dedicated to fulfilling an idea as ideal. Ideas stand as forms the content of which we ordinarily try to appropriate or exhaust in the attempt to realize the ideas. Every “epoch” is dominated by one idea or other. For instance, the present age may be said to be dominated by the “technological” idea/ideal; the Enlightenment age was dominated by the idea of scientific progress; the Renaissance, by the idea of the wisdom of classical antiquity; medieval Christianity, by the idea of the imitation of Christ; and so forth. All particular idealisms stand as instances of Platonism, so that to transcend Platonism is to no longer pursue an idea/ideal or other.
Hegel had already raised a staunch objection to old forms of idealism, which he understood as mistaking peculiar ideas with the Idea in and for itself. What is crucial for Hegel is neither one idea among others, nor the merely formal or abstract instantiation of Idea, such as the one supposedly upheld by Plato or classical thought in general. Rather, what is crucial is the historical unfolding of Idea singulare tantum through various ideas. The unfolding of Idea through various historically determinate ideas is the story of “Idea” as Geist (Mind/Spirit)—the path through which Idea gathers its contents by resolving its internal contradictions, by explicating its hidden recesses.
Niezsche objects to Hegel by exposing Geist as the consummate Platonic mirage. By “historicizing” Plato’s Ideas, Hegel has exposed Platonism to life, and in doing so, he has invited the “explosion” of Platonism. No sooner has Plato’s Idea been brought to life, than life has brutally overcome it. Thereupon, Nietzsche emerges as prophet of a “new philosophy” that is the mouthpiece of life’s final victory over all illusions. The “brutal facticity” of life has finally emerged as the ecstatic mover of all forms, the genuine force guiding all life-forms. Beyond all illusions, man can be nothing other than the mouthpiece of the absolute abyss of life.
Heidegger accepts Nietzsche’s diagnosis in the act of purging it of all acrimony against Platonism. In waging war against Platonic “idolatry,” Nietzsche is compelled to forge his own warrior, his own champion, his own idol.
Whereas Nietzsche’s “prophesy” posits itself as sign of a positive resolution, Heidegger does not know if the resolution called for by History itself is really positive, or not. Freedom beyond good and evil might be a curse. Nonetheless, we must embrace the present historical moment, insofar as it is ours to bear.
There is a striking resemblance between Heidegger’s lesson and Christianity, which calls us to embrace God’s will. Yet, there is no specifically-Biblical God in Heidegger. What we have in its stead is a Being that is one with its own historical presence. One might object that Heidegger remains deeply indebted to his reading of the Christian Gospels, or of St. Paul in particular, where Christ is God’s own presence in the world. Yet, there is no place for a single Christ/Logos in Heidegger. Heidegger’s Being’s presence in the world—the manner in which Being makes itself present—is inexplicable, unintelligible. It is not simply that we cannot make sense of the shifting of historical seasons, or that we cannot master the science of divination, but that the present as such is shut to our reason. The attempt to examine the present cannot lead us to a “place” beyond the present. We have no access to a Platonic “isle of the blessed.” This must be the case if Being’s presence is historically contingent, or if Being’s presence is History itself as inexplicable, open-ended web of events. The presence of Being is no longer—as it is for Christianity—the door and pathway to intelligibility, but the mark of Being’s utter unintelligibility. This must be the case if Being’s presence refuses to be “of this world” in the sense of pointing back to “another world.” This is not to say that the presence or “surfacing” of Heidegger’s Being is simply “of this world,” since it is this world itself as a dynamism that is the only account Being offers of itself, even and especially where Being manifests its character genuinely, or at the end of a history of “ideas.” Yet, Heidegger’s Being is supposed to make possible Heidegger’s “negative” account of a history of ideas, or of Platonism, if only as a progressive “eclipsing” of Being yielding to a return to something more fundamental than the very dawn of our History.
What allows Heidegger to decipher “the History of the West,” if only as a “sliver” of Being’s presence—a sliver begging for being undone/deconstructed? On what grounds do we gain confidence that Heidegger’s “West” is not to be understood in the light of what Heidegger fails to recognize, and thus possibly, not merely as contingent, but as permanently necessary eclipse of Being? Is it not possible that Being’s concealment or “eclipse” is the manner through which Being always invites reflection upon itself—the way our lives are constantly disclosed, oriented, ordered? And if this were the case, would we not be faced with the possibility that a Plato or a Cicero rightfully (and absolutely so) distinguished between praxis and theorein, between the life of the body and the life of the mind, or again, between appearances considered as opaque and appearances discerned in the light of a “transcendental” (or “trans-discendental”) investigation of the abyss of Being—if only beyond our capacity to gather appearances into a full account of the history of Being’s presence?
Heidegger faces the possibility of investigating the interiority of Being, but he does so only by way of uprooting classical philosophy. His “deconstruction” allows him to return to the question of Being as fundamental, forgotten question, yet the question is now considered under the assumption that Being is ultimately incompatible with classical philosophy, and that classical philosophy is blind to Being’s interiority. The question or problem of Being reemerges, but only at the price of signaling the incapacity of human thought to conserve (to guide and sustain) human life and order. The “hiddenness” of classical thought is now seen as a flaw, rather than as a blessing; the “formalism” of antiquity is no longer an “osmotic” Divided Line of communication between Being’s presence and Being’s interiority—between bodies and minds.
(published on the 2nd of April, 2014)
Evolutionism and God
Today, the dominant tendency is to approach the question of validity--of identity and truth--by dissolving it into the ancestral. Evolutionism is often invoked, though seldom is anything said to account for the emergence of a "theory of evolution". Has the theory evolved so that it is not simply true, or has it emerged *through* the past *out of* a timeless, primordial concealment to reveal a timeless truth about all things? Is the theory of evolution expressive of a truth hidden in some sort of "Big Bang" whence all evolution would take place?
One "compromise" invoked by some has it that the "Big Bang" takes place at every moment, so that truth is identical to self-creation. Thus Nietzsche's Eternal Return offers us an alternative to both Biblical-like creation and the infinite regression of radical empiricism. But only at the price of madness.
The question of origins--of truth, of "the nature of things"--we take it, remains open before us. As all mechanicists or materialists, "Big Bang-ists" fail to account for human understanding, for intentionality, for genuine freedom. Yet, does it make sense to reintroduce "God" to compensate for the sterility of a Big Bang? Is it the case that a cosmic Will was hiding behind the Big Bang? A Will that propels "star dust" to evolve into human beings, or a Will that molds "star dust" to reveal itself in human understanding, or, more specifically, in our "self-realization" *as* Will? Can our "new Christians" avoid being Nietzscheans at heart? Can they avoid madness, no matter how camouflaged?
In the face of madness, questioning evolutionism may not be foolish, after all. Unless God created man after he created the physical universe; unless a divine Will "entered the scene" at some one point (or particular segment) in the course of evolution from without it; it may be best to leave God out of accounts of meaning, truth, and validity--including those of any theory of evolution.
Perhaps Man was concealed "in the beginning," as Logos; perhaps Man is a principle of motion ordering motion to constitute a World, an Order, suitable for human life, or for the dissemination of Man. But then, Man would not be hidden merely in some Big Bang of sorts; he would remain hidden in the human World, as well: as Adamic author of a theatrical play populated by many characters made in Man's own image. However, uncreated Man would presuppose an Order, a World in which Man is alone, unique, undivided, eternal. One eternal, divine World in which Man is originally at home, a World-Form whence Man is generated beyond time, always. How else might we account for God singulare tantum?
Dialogue on the Ground of Possibility for Transhistorical Dialogue
LUCINUS: In *what* way, Euthydemus? Please understand that this is and is intended as a serious and earnest question.
EUTHYDEMUS: Why, Lucinus, are there also questions that may be intended as not serious and earnest? I was under the impression that all truly philosophical questions are ipso facto earnest and serious, but you seem to imply that there may be also trivial and inane ones. Be that as it may, it ought to be obvious to all mortals (i.e., those who re not demi-gods born wise, and living with the gods on a transcendent Mount Olympus) that to
converse with people who lived thousands of years ago (in this existential world within time and space and history, not Mt. Olympus) means to transcend the existential time and space of the hic and nunc.
As Hermocrates has suggested, a symposium can be carried on even with people one has never met; in some way they become one's intellectual friends across the ages, time and space; that is why in our symposium we always begin with a list of those wise women and men who are mentioned in the presentations and have in some way contributed to the ongoing perennial conversation across time and space.
LUCINUS: Ah, Euthydemus, but you have not answered my question, treating it de facto as a trivial and inane one.
Is it really obvious to all mortals--to quote you--that to converse with people who lived thousands of years ago means to transcend the existential time and space of the hic et nunc? Might one not fool oneself into mistaking a monologue, or an imaginary conversation in one's own mind, for a real dialogue? What tells you that your "conversation" with Plato is not simply your own concoction, in which Plato himself plays no part? My question pertains to the condition of possibility of transhistorical conversations. In virtue of what do you suppose that a conversation can transcend its "historical context"?
As for mentioning "wise women and men," one might even do so simply to give one's own words an air of importance.
EUTHYDEMUS: So, Lucinus, the myth of the cave applies to everybody, except for Plato and Lucinus who live in a transcendental world outside of time and space unconcerned with history and the existential? Uhm! So, the question arises: who is deceiving oneself, here, with concoctions of self-importance? As Plato himself said in reference as to whether or not the myth of the cave applied to him, too: "Only God knows." To his credit, Plato did not think of himself a demi-god conceived wise in his mother's womb, even wiser than one's grandfather.
LUCINUS: Fascinating attributions, Euthydemus! Yet, no attempt has been made to address my question concerning the basis for a transhistorical dialogue that may otherwise be taken for granted. Must I conclude that you give up on justifying your claims about transhistoricity, other than by appealing to special authorities? Hermocrates, would you be interested in trying to tackle the matter?
HERMOCRATES: "Nova et vetera", Lucinus! Thank you for the invitation to "tackle the matter," as you put it. My current responsibilities at the Academy and at home are such that I do not find the time to build up the background I need both in your thought and in that of Plato himself, to make a useful contribution to your discussion with Euthydemus, who has published a book and has also written a favorable review of a book by Professor Verone. I believe that both Eythydemus and Professor Verone are respected scholars in the philosophy of history.
In a word, following your discussion as I do constitutes for me a worthwhile opportunity. It certainly has stimulated for me an ongoing interest in the philosophy of history. I took a two semester course in the philosophy of history in London while working there for a M.A. in philosophy. The professor for the course was Balduin Prodicus, who contended that though there was progress in time so far as technical matters were concerned, nevertheless, "values," as he called them, following his master Dietrich von Hildebrand, were transcendent to time and place, eternal entities so to speak, which manifested themselves within time. I have a vivid memory of Professor Prodicus quoting on various occasions St. Augustine's prayer of adoration, "Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever old and ever new."
My undergraduate adviser at the University of Paris was Professor Philip Wreine, who edited The Journal of the History of Ideas for many years. He was very much taken with the thought of Professor Arthur Lovejoy. He was also much interested in the thought of the maverick genius, Charles Sanders Peirce whose ideas on "the great community of discourse," influenced thinkers as divergent as James Collins, the devout Catholic St. Louis University professor of philosophy, whose book Interpreting Modern Philosophy, influenced the editors of Cross Currents. In fact, Alfred Di Lascia, wrote a favorable review of this book for an edition of Cross Currents. As I recall, Joe Cunneen, in an editorial preface to that edition of Cross Currents, wrote that the views expressed by Professor Collins reflected his own (Joe's) outlook on what was going on in Cross Currents itself so far as selection of articles for publication was concerned.
LUCINUS: Fascinating account, Hermocrates, but the question I raised is completely independent of either Plato or myself, so why bind your eventual attempt to address the question to either man in particular? Nor is the question bound to the modern invention of a universal History (one beyond the distinction between sacred and profane histories).
The suggestion that values are eternal is intriguing. Why "so-to-speak eternal values" as opposed to "really permanent ends"? Why stop at a Kantian "virtuosity" (a formal "as if"), instead of going back all the way to Plato (a substantial reality)?
What do you make of Nietzsche's critique of Kantian/modernist idealism (as of "values") as ungrounded talk, or idolatry--"a will to power" in disguise?
Talk about a universal or great community of discourse (Pierce, Dewey, etc.) faces the objection that it may be always bound or relative to the prejudices of the times, exposing itself as entailing the universality of relativism and thus, too, of strife between contradictory relative-values. The fact that there is always some sort of discourse exposed to any and all times is not the problem. The difficulty arises where the discourse appealed to presupposes that either Hegel (History or a Hegelian State as Reason's Unfolding) or post-Hegelian postmodern pragmatism (History or the postmodern State as the irrational ground of all reasons) is absolutely right about what really counts.
A man stands facing infinite indeterminacy (apeiron). Perhaps in order to escape it, he picks up a book by Plato and begins reading it. He is now "conversing" with Plato, partaking in "the great community of discourse." Is our man hiding in words and is the community in question an arena shaped by all those hiding from indeterminacy--a radically conventional space, even a "free-floating bubble" constituted by our will to survive in the face of the unknown? Is "discourse" (logos) a web of illusions we need so as to endure, to "retain power", in the face of the threat of violent death? Is it "violent death" or an equivalent that justifies our discourse, our community?
Do you agree that there is a serious difficulty, here, and that talk of "universal values" does not solve it? What might allow for "values" to be really universal or timeless and thus independent of the particularities of human life? What could these "values" be, really, other than mere chimeras that one appeals to by way of justifying (or failing to do so) the relativity of all *concrete* values/opinions? In what way is the great community of discourse *not* a Tower of Babel?
So we say that there are "universal values" beyond time and space? So what! Do we really *need* them to keep articulating or expressing our *concrete/relative* values? Or do we need our eternal values as "carrots"--mirages inciting us to keep formulating temporal surrogates for them, as we walk/die along a valueless desert?
The question remains unaddressed, then. What makes it possible for us to really converse with Plato, as opposed to merely dreaming about doing so? Is the ground in question a matter of "eternal values" that we (might) share with Plato? Or is it "the sheer *possibility* of eternal values"? Is it ultimately "a will to attain to eternal values" that we share with Plato? A "will to power"? Or is there more (or less)?
HERMOCRATES: Well, Lucinus, since you addressed "transhistorical dialogue," I suppose the first step would be to tackle the issue of dialogue itself. What constitutes a dialogue? Certainly, dialogue is not a trading of "put downs." As I understand it Hegel's use of the German verb "aufheben" to describe the process of dialogue is quite apt. Aufheben connotes at the same time the conviction that no true statement will cease to remain true in the face of objections, but that instead it will keep whatever is true about it as a result of meeting and coming to terms with objections to it as it initially stands. Plato's Republic offers fine examples of this. In order to tell the truth, one must be aware of the objective standards for respectively healing and navigating, or in the case of a musician, the objective rules for achieving harmony. Any one who achieves a competency in a profession knows what objective truth is. He knows what he is talking about, so to speak, and he knows that such knowledge is not arbitrary.
He also has the power of commanding payment for his services, and thus he acquires the money to obtain needed services from others who have different competencies.
In this way, Lucinus, we return to Kant's original definition of justice. To be just is not just to tell the truth; it is also to detect truth and falsehood in one's own professional line. It is also the ability to pay one's debts, for one has the money one acquires from rendering needed services to others. We have come full circle. We keep what is valuable and true in our initial position through honestly scrutinizing various objections to it. In a word, Lucinus, a person who, so to speak, knows what he is talking about does not have to resort to belittling and disrespectful comments in his conduct of his discussions with others.
In an essay concerning the value of a college education, William James remarked that one of the rewards of a college education should be that the graduate has acquired the ability to recognize a good man when he sees him. Having achieved a specific competence, even as in my case, the knowledge of a foreign language, should render one capable of what he has achieved. He should also have acquired the capacity to recognize similar achievements in others.
LUCINUS: Thank you, Hermotimus, for your speech on objectivity. You seem to invite Hegelian "integrationism," though replacing Hegelianism's absolute moment in History with particular decisions concerning truth and justice.
The question concerning the grounds for transhistorical conversations is independent of my radical disagreement with Euthydemus. As for the popularity of his basic contentions, it proves no more than the popularity of trash does. Fama crescit eundo, and not everyone lusts it.
Allow me to stress that my question weighs significantly on everyone, rather than being of concern to specialists alone. Consider e.g. R.G. Collingwood's historicist argument concerning the State: according to Collingwood, Plato and Hobbes are speaking of two fundamentally different, albeit superficially related things, when speaking respectively of a polis and of a State. The same may be argued in the case of the relation between the Greek doulos and the medieval servus. There is no underlying essence/problem (such as "slavery") in virtue of which we may rationally compare the two. So we have superficial conceptual similarities fluctuating over an abyss of absolute difference. Likewise, we have no basis for rationally comparing competing "ideals" or "systems" as wholes. Each stands as a sort of "monad" without windows. My allusion here is to Leibniz, of course.
If Collingwood were right, there could be no philosophy with a capital P. Plato, Aristotle, but also Thomas and Kant must have been ultimately wrong in assuming otherwise. Their claims to the contrary must be understood in a "broader historical context" that we are supposedly more aware of than they were or could have been.
You respect Thomas Aquinas. Do you agree with him when he stands by the classical proposition that a little knowledge of matters of high importance is better than lots of knowledge of matters of little importance? Does Aquinas not stand by the primacy of truth over human consensus?
HERMOCRATES: You are right, Lucinus, in attributing to Leibniz the dictum, "There is nothing in the intellect which will not previously have been in sense experience unless it be the intellect itself." Even Plato seems to believe that sense experiences, so to speak, awakens us to the realm of ideal forms. When Kant declares: "Concepts without percepts are empty," his understanding of "concept" per se as an empty form imposed upon in themselves unintelligible sense data (Percepts without concepts are blind) is not a contention which I believe either Plato or Leibniz would reject.
As for a little knowledge of the highest things being of greater value than much knowledge of lesser things, it was first stated by Aristotle in The Metaphysics. Aquinas picked it up and applied the dictum to the the truths we acquire from Revelation - novel truths which, in great part, neither Plato nor Aristotle could have known, but which for Aquinas are more important than much (most?) of what philosophical speculation has to offer.
LUCINUS: Allow me to return to something you stated. "Even Plato seems to believe that sense experiences, so to speak, awaken us to the realm of ideal forms." Are these not your own words, Hermocrates?
HERMOCRATES: Yes, they are. Do you object to them?
LUCINUS: Well, I would say, "opinions," rather than sheer "sense experience." Not naked physis, but the realm of doxa.
As I understand things, there is a fundamental diagreement between Plato and Kant as regards the primacy of form over matter. Kant's understanding of finality is bound to his modern mechanistic understanding of nature.
In any case, what is a concept without percept? I can think of none except the God creator of nature.
Nothing is in the mind prior to sense, except for mind? But what "mind"? An empty shell? A Cartesian "ego"? A monad without windows?
"Nihil est in intellectu quin prius fuerit in sensu" is standard "Aristotle" for Thomists. Vico interprets the Latin dictum as referring to "each man in his particularity." Nothing is in the mind unless it was first sensed: nothing is inside, unless it is first outside. And yet, nothing is outside (EXISTING) unless it is first inside (BEING) man's non-particular, or indeterminate mind. For, to cite Vico, indeterminate is the nature of the human mind. The sensory world is not the primary datum for man as man.
But now, let us turn to St. Thomas. He states: "minimum quod potest haberi de cognitione rerum altissimarum, desiderabilius est quam certissima cognitio quae habetur de minimis rebus, ut dicitur in XI de animalibus"--"the slightest cognition we can have of the highest things is more desireable than the most certain cognition had of the least of things, as is said in Bk. XI of De Animalibus." Aquinas is citing The Philosopher's classical proposition. I think it would be a mistake to believe that for Thomas Aristotle's metaphysics amounts to simply "lesser" knowledge, even when faced with the Bible. Thomas stands by a natural hierachy of "knowledges," whereby knowledge of metaphysics is distinctly superior to knowledge of lesser or more "practical" subjects (carpentry, cookery, but also geography and even mathematics). The importance of a "discipline of knowledge" depends upon its proper subject-matter and somethings are simply or inherently more important than others.
HERMOCRATES: "Opinions" rather than sheer "sense experience"? But Lucinus, did not Plato in The Phaedo use "two sticks" to show how the idea of "equality" (isos) is triggered?
LUCINUS: Ah, two sticks? One can already count. Two is not sensory. What does Socrates say about trees and the like?
HERMOCRATES: In the the first part of the dialogue, The Parmenides, Plato has Parmenides asking Socrates if there is a specific form (idea) of mud. What sort of human opinion (doxa) would you interpose between the experience of mud and the idea of mud?
LUCINUS: Parmenides' question is not Socrates' answer. Is there really a perfection of mud as mud? Your take on Plato strikes me as Romantic.
HERMOCRATES: What's wrong with being romantic? I'm curious as to what you mean by the word, "romantic." As for "perfection," I believe that Plato holds that all things, ships and shoes and sealing wax are perfected in some sense by the idea of them. The idea of mud is not mud.
LUCINUS: Plato was simply not a Romantic. Aside from this, there are plenty of both theoterical and practical/political problems with Romanticism. Are you aware of none?
Ships and shoes are artifacts. Evidently, mud is not (though all that is *physical* partakes in the human world insofar as it is named by us).
We disagree, I think, on the status of the ideas. We have discussed this matter, in the past. You seem to believe that the ideas are simply "external" to the concrete, as merely conceptual entities. On my reading, they are the perfection or perfect identity (at once immanent and transcendent/"lost") of the concrete particular; in this respect, they contain all instantiations of the concrete that fall short of their perfection. Much as "actual being" (what something is simply in-itself, or eternally) contains and is presupposed by becoming. In an crucial sense, then, actual being IS becoming, albeit the latter is not the former (since it falls short of *being* in and of itself).
Now, it seems, to say the least, strange to consider the "perfection" of mud as mud. A perfect table makes sense. Perfect mud, no. Perfect imperfection reads like an oxymoron.
I think Aristotle's critique of the ideas is anticipated (e.g. in The Parmenides dialogue) and overcome by Socrates/Plato.
HERMOCRATES: The concept (idea) as such transcends space and time, but can be effectively conveyed by a word (sign) to designate, as you call them, "instantiations" of itself. Thus when a person such as Parmenides in Plato's dialogue of that name, speaks of "mud" in asking Socrates if there is an idea of mud, Socrates (and we for that matter) knows what he is talking about. What makes language and effective communication about "mud" possible is that there is an idea of mud, translatable into a word in any other language, which stands for any "instantiation" of the idea itself.
Another word about dialogue: "The inherent truth" of any definition in a dialogue is never lost as the dialogue goes from one stage to the next. When Polemarchus defines Justice as "to give each person his due which is to help one's friends and destroy one's enemies," he is dealing with an objection to the original definition: "To be just is to tell the truth and to pay one's debts." A crazed and drunken person who demands a dangerous weapon back (a sword in this case; in our modern setting it could be an addicted person who, like the prodigal son in the Gospel parable, is demanding his inheritance in order to squander it. What does one do in such a case? Well, Plato via Polemarchos is clear enough about this. Such a person is no one's friend. He is not even his own friend. He has placed himself outside of community and has lost his sense of the common good. One owes nothing to such a person.
LUCINUS: As I recall, there is a difficulty raised explicitly in the Parmenides dialogue concerning the idea of things like mud. Ideas are characterized by a perfection that we find it difficult to attribute to mud.
Yes, names stand between ideas and their particular instantiations (essentially, names gather what is below them into what is above them). Thus mud should, one should think, have its idea. Yet, what sense is there to speaking of the perfection of mud, not to speak of murder or evil? Somethings would seem to be unthinkable in themselves, and only in relation to other things (and agents). They may be named, but only as means, or relatively to other things that have their own perfection.
The doctrine of ideas faces such difficulties, I think, and Socrates/Plato are well aware of it.
Are not Socrates' typical examples of ideas those of artifacts such as a "bed"? Outside of the Parmenides and notwithstanding the Timaeus dialogue, where does S seek the idea of natural things (a tree, a flower, clouds, etc.)?
Cicero spoke of Socrates as bringing the Ideas back into the City. This, I think, means that S saw the world of ideas as the perfect counterpart of the human world, rather than of the physical/visible world as such (esp. since this one has no supernatural creator, being eternal...unless you believe that the Timaeus myth is meant by Plato as really true).
"To be just is to tell the truth and to pay one's debts." Is this what Socrates ultimately settles for on the quest for justice?
HERMOCRATES: Where does Socrates deny that there is an idea of mud?
LUCINUS: Please recall The Parmenides, 130c-d, as I recall. Parmenides asks Socrates the following question:
“And are you undecided about certain other things, which you might think rather ridiculous, such as hair, mud, dirt, or anything else particularly vile and worthless? Would you say that there is an idea of each of these distinct and different from the things with which we have to do, or not?”
The Socrates answers:
“By no means. No, I think these things are such as they appear to us, and it would be quite absurd to believe that there is an idea of them; and yet I am sometimes disturbed by the thought that perhaps what is true of one thing is true of all. Then when I have taken up this position, I run away for fear of falling into some abyss of nonsense and perishing; so when I come to those things which we were just saying do have ideas, I stay and busy myself with them.”
HERMOCRATES: A word points in two directions: a) towards the very thing (instantiation) of which it is the sign, and b) towards the universal idea of a thing as such independent of any particular place. Thus the word, "mud" whether it be expressed as "mud, la boue, or der Schlamm," points to particular pile of mud or to a universal concept (idea), its intrinsic "meaning," which can be expressed by humans via a broad range of sounds called "words."
In the dialogue, The Parmenides, Socrates raises the issue of the status of universals (ideas, concepts) with Socrates. A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues asked me for my view of the work of the American philosopher/logician, Charles Sanders Peirce. My reply in sum was that Peirce was an excellent writer with a splendid command of American English who knew how to state his version of Kant's Transcendental Dialectic. This is to say that he was good at stating antinomies, but not necessarily very good at resolving them. Thus in his celebrated essay, "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," Peirce contends brilliantly that the entire meaning of an idea is the sum of its actual physical and presumably measurable consequences. Well, can anyone be more "nominalistic" than that? We are told to believe that the meaning of a word and presumably of the concept for which it is a sign is no more than its particular measurable consequences.
On the other hand, Peirce in other writings (title long since forgotten by me) contends that he is a medieval realist as was, for example, Duns Scotus. He argues that reality is divided between what he calls, "firstness," the realm of ideas like Plato's; secondness, or brute physical facts, facticity; and then there is "thirdness," the hierarchy of ideas, the train of meanings that express scientific laws and basic philosophical truths. Thirdness for Peirce is what Whitehead called, "the ever evolving "hierarchy of eternal entities," i.e. what we get when we combine ideas in order to formulate laws of nature, or laws of reality. Peirce keeps both sides of his antinomies. Parmendides does much better in the second half of Plato's dialogue, The Parmenides.
LUCINUS: But have you not considered Socrates' own words? Speaking of “...hair, mud, dirt, or anything else particularly vile and worthless," Socrates states that he thinks "these things are such as they appear to us, and it would be quite absurd to believe that there is an idea of them”
Does Socrates not contradict your statements, Hermocrates? How do you account for his denial that there is such a thing as the idea of mud (Plato"s text has "pElos"--πηλὸς--suggesting something like Aristotle's hyle, I would say)?
Boue, feccia, Schlamm, πηλὸς, etc. are extremes of other "natural objects." On my reading of Plato, there are ideas primarily of "human things," and of natural things (trees, mountains, rivers) only *through* the human world, or to the extent they are "purified" in the *mundum* of humanity. Otherwise, all that is physical/natural has a *negative* status, as a shadow of the human/civil world, albeit one the properly human fails to resolve within itself. This is to say that a tree has no idea, no essential meaning, aside from its relation to and dependency upon human arbitration. However, it is easier for Plato to articulate a convincing argument for "mud," since no one is likely to object to the denial of "the essential meaning of mud". What would that ever be?
Consider further Augustine's argument about the ontological status of evil. Evil is real only as the absence or negation of being. Platonically speaking, there is no such thing as the idea of evil.
In short, the conceptualist's objection may be met as follows: we do not think of anything natural if not in relation to and as depending upon the human. Similarly, "evil" is thought only in relation to and as depending upon good/being--only as an absence/negation, then.
We are back to The Parmenides, where we are confronted with the difficulty of accounting for any idea of negative things.
Evidently, I do not think modern "concepts" are equal to Plato's Ideas. The "conceptualist" reading of Plato never convinced me. As for any "laws of nature," there are no such things in Plato (pace Pierce).
HERMOCRATES: Well, there is a word for it in most languages, and what the word signifies is not just this or that puddle of mud existing in a particular place at a particular time, but also the universal, "mud itself."
LUCINUS: But what could "mud in itself" ever be and why do you think Plato has Socrates reject any idea of mud?
I think your silence before this question, your apparent difficulty in accounting for Socrates' actual words, depends upon your identification of the Ideas with modern (e.g. Lockean) "abstract concepts."
As I recall, in the second part of his Logical Investigations (e.g.), Husserl reminds us that certain possibilities can have no actualization. One may rearticulate this point by saying that some particulars have no noetic perfection, no Platonic Idea corresponding to them. Likewise we can "generalize" from many sorts of things to speak of a universal "monster"--a concept or idea in the modern sense. One can imagine such monster as a figment of the human imagination, resulting from a pêle-mêle of repelling particulars. Yet, we would still not have any "Platonic Idea" of the monster--no *reality* of the monster above particulars, but only a mirage that we might otherwise all share on the basis of shared experiences and an inclination to accept a certain "blanket image" as accounting for them all.
Why does Socrates find it absurd to speak of "the idea of mud"? At the risk of repeating myself, I suggest that the answer is that it is absurd to speak of the perfection of mud as mud. What mud and boue have in common is not an essential actuality, in any case, none unrelated to our experience, a "physicality" that we feel in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, since our experience is tied to an "ideal" end, we may say that mud has a perfection *derivatively* (though not on its own).
For us to relate the terms mud and boue is suffices that we relate our experiences, possibly going as far as accepting a neologism standing for both terms. But to say that mud has its own "ideal perfection" seems absurd (unless we can find a place for mud in the perfect mind--unless there is a place for filth in "the divine mind"). However, I would go further, to suggest that, to a certain extent, the same absurdity is faced when speaking of the Platonic Idea of a tree.
Back to The Phaedrus (230b-d). What does Socrates say about trees? Why does he say that he has nothing to learn from them? Speaking of a "platanos" (πλάτανος, or "plane tree"), echoing the name "Plato," Socrates invites Phaedrus to depart from their shade and return into the city. Intra-muros. Has Socratic speech been unduly transposed out of a human setting and into a "physical" one? Has Socrates' thought been eclipsed in the shade of physical certainties?
One might still ask of the need for the Platonic Idea of Tree (or "tree-ness") to account for the development of any and all particular trees. Does the development not take place within a certain perimeter, a form presupposed by all particular trees? Now, understood Platonically, this form would be the perfection or perfect being of all imperfect trees: "the eternal tree," or "any tree" insofar as it is in the eternity of mind/nous. But where is the eternal or pure mind? Socrates seems to suggest that the eternal mind is the (mythical) perfection of human minds and that as such it is disclosed properly in or through the City (political or human life and order). The tree's "idea" will then be best *divined* from within the human world. Its development will otherwise *seem to* have its own end. Accordingly, there will be no "science of biology" for Socrates/Plato. And though an acorn may never yield a fig tree (though might it not "indirectly"?), "physical order" remains the shadow of a metaphysical counterpart that we discover properly through the human order. Ultimately, we find no God over Nature, no place for the perfection/Idea of trees, no "final redemption" of the apeiron, or of hyle. The physical or visible universe remains eternal as it is, without any overarching "plan" or "mind" bringing it to an end. For this mind, we will have to wait for Aristotle, the "father" of biology.
HERMOCRATES: Am I mistaken, Lucinus, in thinking that in the dialogue The Parmenides, Plato has Socrates allowing that he has difficulty conceiving of such things as "mud" also having status as a "form," an ideal entity, which unlike the "mud" of everyday experience, as such is not limited to a particular place or a specific time?
As I recall it, Socrates does not deny that he believes there is such an entity as "the idea of mud," i.e. a concept of "mud as such" or "mud itself" to autos mud, not limited to a particular place or time, but applicable for purposes of communication any time a specific person wishes to communicate with another about "mud" across the years and over a great distance in space as we are doing right now.
Whitehead was aware of the necessity for postulating such entities and designated them as "eternal objects," not the the things we experience in sensation and perception, but entities without whose reality there could be no communication in language between human beings.
When I teach the distinction between physical things such as water or mud to my classes, I employ the video of the movie, based on the life of Helen Keller entitled, "The Miracle Worker." The scene is quite dramatic in both versions of that play - the scene in which she makes the breakthrough by realizing the connection between physical objects such as water, and the idea of water, and the sign of water.
"Mud" is a physical entity. The idea of "mud" is a mental entity which as such cannot be found in the physical world of sensation and perception, and yet without a prior sensation of it, the idea of water remains untriggered.
Professor Schwarz liked to quote the dictum in Latin concerning the status of ideas, "Entes rationis cum fundamento in rebus" (Beings of reason with a foundation in things."
EUTHYDEMUS: Thank you, my Hermocrates, for patiently and methodically demonstrating, in this ongoing and rather circular exchange with a skeptic or sophist who fancies himself a neo-Platonist living in the realm of eternal ideas independent of natural reality and psychological realities, the crucial distinction between chronic skepticism and/or sophistry, out to win an argument or demonstrate one’s philosophical prowess, and the laborious search for truth. Could it be that more than philosophical ideas are at play here? That psychology, denied by all those elitists who live on Mount Olympus, may be much at play? Some sort of compensatory cover-up strategy that always keeps its debating cards close to one's vest? Indeed, that is a Socratic lesson of which I for one was initially made aware in your classes at our university in the mid-sixties, when Lucinus was still on Mount Olympus consorting with the eternal gods and had not entered the decadent world of historical time and space. I refer specifically to the class discussions on Plato’s Memo and the innate learning of the unschooled boy on the Pythagorean theorem which in some fashion I now repeat to my own students. Indeed the scholastics and Locke and the whole empirical school had it on target when they said that nothing is in the intellect before it is in the senses,” but so was Leibniz on target when he said “except the intellect itself”; and so was Berkley when he insisted that to be is to be perceived; both were aware that unless there is in place an organizing, innate, self-reflecting power-- i.e., the intellect-- empirical experience counts for little or nothing. The mind is not material, but it remains a reality. As far as I know no neurosurgeon has ever discovered ideas floating around when he/she operates on a human brain and yet you and I and Lucinus and the neurosurgeon know full well, when we are not trying to prove how superior our Platonic convictions (redolent of Straussianism) are, that we have them by the thousands every day and are real. My perplexity is this: have we not in some way settled this issue already since Socrates, Leibniz and Berkley ? Why reduce it to an ongoing almost circular diatribe, as scholarly as one wants to make it, not very appealing to most people with a modicum of philosophical knowledge? I remain perplexed and intrigued, but continue to follow the exchange.
LUCINUS: Here, Hermocrates, I am back with a copy of The Parmenides.
EUTHYDEMUS: Ah, I hadn't even noticed you had left us.
LUCINUS: Well, Hermocrates, and you, too, Euthydemus, allow me to show you the printed version of the passage I have been referring to. You see, here, it reads:
“And are you undecided about certain other things, which you might think rather ridiculous, such as hair, mud, dirt, or anything else particularly vile and worthless? Would you say that there is an idea of each of these distinct and different from the things with which we have to do, or not?”
“By no means,” said Socrates. “No, I think these things are such as they appear to us, and it would be quite absurd to believe that there is an idea of them; and yet I am sometimes disturbed by the thought that perhaps what is true of one thing is true of all. Then when I have taken up this position, I run away for fear of falling into some abyss of nonsense and perishing; so when I come to those things which we were just saying do have ideas, I stay and busy myself with them.”
So now, Hermocrates, you said that as you recall it, Socrates does not deny that he believes there is such an entity as "the idea of mud." What do you make of Socrates stating: "it would be quite absurd to believe that there is an idea of them"?
As far as your other suggestions go, I think you are mistaking "the geometrical" for the metaphysical proper.
EUTHYDEMUS: On Socrates and Plato’s ideas and representation, let me bold enough to contribute my two cents and then you can send me in the corner with donkey's ears. Both we and animals are in some way aware, through the senses, that everything is bathed in light by day, and therefore of the presence of the sun too. At night a human being does not see the sun but one can still conjure up the idea of the sun, even the symbol of the sun, which he does not empirically see. Pari passu, at night one does not see the mud, but one can still conjure up the idea of mud even the symbol of mud as something repellent and undesirable. Representation accrues to language (sounds that represent things) and to art (the sun or the mud, represented on a canvas by paint which represents the sun and the mud symbolically but is paint not mud and not light. Today’s artist may of course prefer a collage with real mud on the canvas, even feces, or nothing at all, and that is a sign or a symbol of the degradation and banality of some of today’s art, not to speak of the idea of Beauty.
EUTHYDEMUS: Ah, Lucinus. But look, here is an encyclodedia entry that might disabuse you of the misguided notion that there is no Aristotelian foundation in Aquinas' notion of natural law and that both Aristotle and Plato did not in some way deal with the concept of natural law even if they did not name it such.
LUCINUS: "Natural Law" is an oxymoron for both Plato and Aristotle: nature/physis is a sphere of being outside of laws/nomoi. For both philosophers, the fact that our ends are natural/necessary givens does not entail any "natural law", but a natural *right* (to an end beyond any law): it is naturally or necessarily right for us to pursue our natural ends, which are not "laws" telling us what to do and what not to do. Likewise, virtue is an end in itself, even if there is no law binding us to it.
As far as classical philosophers are concerned, there is no need for a divine commandement telling us to cultivate virtue. The God-given virtue of charity never made classical prudence and magnanimity expendable.
EUTHYDEMUS: Again you have placed words in my mouth: I never said that the natural theology of Aristotle is expandable, neither did Aquinas ever say that, for he considers it the basis of supernatural virtue: it is in fact better to have a naturally good honest man than to have a supernatural devil, who was after all an angel before he was a devil.
It remains highly intriguing to me and even amusing, that you continue to ignore the elementary notions on natural law in my Encyclopedia, which speak of Aristotelian and Platonic antecedents. No doubt Strauss would proceed likewise, but alas the truth remains like the sun (a symbol in that respect and not just a representation or an idea) outside the proverbial Platonic cave.
Hermocrates: Friends, friends, heed my word! The points taken in an egregious paper by a former colleague of mine, Professor Francis X. Slade, might be as thought provoking for you as it has been for me especially in the context of a discussion of "ends." Professor Slade writes...here, listen:
"The modern world makes little distinction between "ends" and "purposes." "Ends" mean the completeness or fulfillment (ripeness) and - in a true sense - the completion (a kind of finality) to an institution or person. Purposes refer to what 'motors' or propels our actions forward. Purposes are, thus, limited to one's ordinary waking existence or awareness (consciousness) of the world.
Years ago, I recall asking Professor Slade what he thought of one of my favorite movies, Tunes of Glory which depicted a destructive conflict between two officers in a Scots regiment, one of them played by Alec Guinness, and the other by John Mills.
Professor Slade's concise response, as I recall it from so many years ago, was, "They both destroyed each other and ill served their army and country by losing sight of the objective end of an army which is to defend the homeland against all its enemies, foreign or domestic."
LUCINUS: Is the irreducibility of ends to purposes not implied by the appeal to natural right?
Even the staunchest relativist allows for some sort of end beyond relative purposes--most notably, a deux ex machina supervening over any and all disputes to relativize them in the name of some universal peace.
Is this deus ex machina not the nemesis of philosophers standing for a hierarchy of ends? Has the deus ex machina succeeded in rising above disputes, or is it not merely the consummate mask of the (misanthropic/misologist?) denial of a (natural) hierarchy of ends?
So many loose threads remain in our conversation. Some--e.g. the Socratic rejection of "the idea of mud"--strike me as more significant than others.
HERMOCRATES: The "purpose" of our conversation is to promote the good will, the conviviality, which is always helpful, if not a necessary condition, for the enthusiasm that accompanies the acquisition of many important philosophical insights.
As one ascends Diotima's "ladder of love," like Socrates in The Symposium, one acquires a view of the changeless Good/True/Beautiful, a vision of that beauty which is ever old and ever new, a source of great encouragement. In viewing it one comes to the realization that it is a two-fold process: the upward step towards the One and a return to the things; stage by stage, beautiful bodies, the idea of beauty, the idea of inward beauty of character as opposed to mere beauty of bodies, then to the institutions, the state and family, that shapes the beautiful, good, inner character of individuals, and finally to the Good/true/beautiful itself (to kal'agathon auton). Diotima tells us that the view of beauty even on the physical level leads to the viewer's desire to compose music and sons in praise of the beloved. There is something distinctly human about such creativity. Chesterton, in The Everlasting Man, wrote that the difference between humans and other animals is truly qualitative. He wrote: "It is not as though apes wrote poor poetry, and humans good poetry. Apes simply do not write poetry."
As for the idea of mud, don't we need such an "idea" in order to communicate both the experience of mud on our shoes, and Parmenides' and Socrates' discussion of it twenty-five hundred years ago? Helen Keller had the idea of water, and the experience of water, but had to connect them through the word "water" in order to learn the secret of communication.
EUTHYDEMUS: Thank you, Hermocrates, for this excursus into the concept of Beauty or the idea of Beauty in Plato which is so refreshing because it is so commonsensical and devoid of sophistry and pomposity. It brought me back to your lectures at SFC in the mid-sixties. Vico and Croce would wholeheartedly agree. To be convivial is indeed part of an aesthetically and ethically beautiful life, the "good life" as understood by the ancients.
HERMOCRATES: Is there not a scene in Fellini's film, La Strada, in which someone exclaims, "I wonder if there is any purpose to it all" and then receives a reply, possibly from the woman who is a Christ figure of sorts, "Of course there's a meaning to it all. Even this stone (sand?) has meaning and purpose, and if it doesn't then nothing has any, not even the stars." ?
EUTHYDEMUS: Yes, I remember the scene very well, it occurs when "il matto" or the circus clown has a conversation with Gelsomina, the woman child exploited by Zampano' (played by Anthony Quinn). He picks up a stone and says (and I paraphrase): I am in ignorant man but I have read a few books, and I know this much: if this stone has no purpose, than nothing has any purpose. As the film progresses the clown is killed by Zampano' and haunts Gelsomina who loses her mind and is then abandoned by Zampano'. The most poignant scene in the movie comes at the end when Zampano' tortured by remorse finds himself on a beach and looks up and sees the stars and realizes perhaps that he too is here for a purpose.
HERMOCRATES: Well, Lucinus, I am not clear as to Socrates' age, as he is presented to us by Plato, in Plato's later dialogue, The Parmenides. In The Parmenides, Socrates does not seem, to me at least, to have the same command of the theory of forms that he displays in The Republic and in The Phaedo. As for The Theaetetus, the Socrates we get there seems to me more adept with the theory of forms than the Socrates of The Parmenides. The suggestion in The Theaetetus of the ideas swirling about in a person's head to birds fllying about in an aviary is a telling metaphor. A.N. Whitehead may have made use of it in the chapter on "eternal objects" in his (Whitehead's) Science and The Modern World.
The overarching and ultimate reality for Plato is the idea of the good which always leaves the lover of wisdom open minded and docile, but not empty headed.
In the passage just before the passage in The Phaedo on misology which you have alluded to on various occasions, Socrates appears, even admits to being a bit flustered as he addresses the metaphor presented by his interlocutor (Cebes? Simmias?)) as to whether or not the soul (psuche) is not like an old shoe which eventually wears out and perishes. In the passage to which you have alluded on misology, Socrates clearly states that he is fighting the temptation to be a "philovictor," a person more intent on winning an argument than he is intent on gaining wisdom.
Thus, though here as in other places, Socrates is on the defensive, he never loses confidence in himself and good cheer. His love of truth will not allow him to endure such a calamity. As aspect of loving the ultimate True/Good/beautiful is, so to speak, an insight into lightening up, and not losing one's good cheer. The passage towards the end of The Phaedo when Socrates speaks of his disenchantment with the teachings of Anaxagoras, Socrates brings real humor to bear, a humor worthy of Aristophanes, when he declares, "How high I soared, how low I fell."
I believe there is much humor at work when Socrates adds: (my paraphrase) "I am sitting here awaiting execution because of my decision to obey the law, a decision in accord with my committment to truth. If my bones had anything to say about it they would have long since fled to a faraway place" (Boetia?).
A dialogue in which I do not recall experiencing comic relief emanating from Socrates' overall attitude, his superb urbanity, is The Gorgias. In that dialogue, Plato has Socrates in mortal combat, a veritable "agon" with the sophist Gorgias, who is viewed there as a highly skilled mortal enemy whom he is intent on crushing.
LUCINUS: You speak of *the* purpose of our conversation, Hermocrates. *Whose* purpose is that? Yours? Or do you mean, *proper purpose,* entailing *end* proper? If so, then your claim stands open to critical reflection, which leads me to doubt your claim in favor of the classical primacy of truth over social alliances.
Your account of Plato's Symposium seems to me much in line with "self-help" ideology. Yet, the love of truth transcends charity's compulsions, often proving terribly unflattering to those for whom philosophy is but a means to feeling good.
Have you no interest in accounting for the contradiction between what you state and what Socrates states concerning "the idea of mud"? Why do you suppose that, in The Parmenides, Socrates rejects such an idea as absurd? (Let us bracket the philosopher's age, for now; in aging, Socrate might have simply "bracketed," for educational purposes, an objection he nonetheless never dismissed.)
Are Plato's Ideas really in anyone's mind? (In The Thaetetus, what is spinning in the mind, (eternal/immobile) "Platonic ideas" or "opinions"? Does Plato ever give us "a theory of ideas," as opposed to a "safe" doctrine of ideas? Consider e.g. Socrates' autobiographical account in The Phaedo.)
You spoke of Helen Keller having had "the idea of water, and the experience of water" independently of linguistic mediation. Are we sure about this?
Does language tell us that an "outward" experience is bound to an "inner" idea/form? What tells us that language does not rather gather "confusion" into "poetic forms" that have a purely noetic counterpart and perfection (eternal ideas) transcending the confines of any particular mind? Is this not the classical Platonic position?
In Plato's Cave tale, "the sensory" is not the shadow of eternal ideas, but of artifacts. There is thus no proper end or "natural purpose" (no perfection) to stones or stars independently of their relation to the human world, or "poetry."
Is it not that Helen's own experience became "of water" only as she began to define the experience linguistically/"geometrically"? Back to my earlier reading of Plato: what is it we experience independently of language? Can there be any determinate experience aside from some sort of linguistic/geometrical form, even prior to the "vocalizing" or "abstracting" of words as objects of experience?
Speaking of Vico, he stresses the inherence of speech in the mind as poetic articulation of "silent/secret/sacred" forms. In this respect, children are the first "theologians"--the first liars. The "sensory" arises for them/us as originally poetic. (Here, I think, is the basis for the contemporary--arguably erroneous--reading of Vico as "constructivist"). But what about beasts? Do they not have non-poetic sense experience? On my reading, Vico's text invites the answer that beasts are derivatives of the human, resulting from a mating of the human and the divine, so that their "sensory world" is no more than a "fallen" one with respect to the properly human world. In short, the beastly is the shadow of the human in the light of the divine.
Do these questions make any sense to you? None of them are meant to offend anyone's feelings.
Consider further the tale of The Timaeus. The empirical takes shape through the demiurge's "plasmatic" intervention, as he turns to eternal, metaphysical ideas/forms. Looking "outside" of itself, the demiurgic (poetic) mind finds no "water" aside from a natural, free impulse to account for his confusion (chaos) in terms of an eternal order. Thus does the demiurge "rise" (back?) into the empirical world proper--his own, proper world.
(published on the 10th of June, 2014)
© 2016 by M. A. Andreacchio. All rights reserved