Essay / Philosophy

A Marathon through Plato VII

It is Sunday. My health continues to decline. I feel sick as could be, yet my soul is strong. I love the dialectic. I love Plato. His work is so clear and inquiry is liberating. One moment of this discussion is a lifetime of television and meaninglessness in the culture.We begin with Book X of the Republic. This is the book that troubles me most. Of course, Julia Annas famously dismisses it. Yet it seems to me to be the capstone in a new (and better!) direction in Plato’s thought, a capstone to the dialectic. Let me put all my ideas on whole and be open to what the conversation may show me.Why can’t Glaucon see? At the end, even in the midst of Socrates hopeful comments about salvation (621), Glaucon says nothing. To Dr. Geier the key moment is when Socrates says (611E), “. . . our vision of the soul marred by countless evils. But we must look elsewhere Glaucon.” (Shorey)”Where,” said he.Glaucon never returns to this “where.” He becomes silent. The first act of speech, motivated by the hopefulness of the true student, brings a soul to the conversation. Story telling without speech may be dead. (But what of Timaeus?)I am hopeful about Glaucon because of the “we” of the end of the dialogue (that seems to show Plato and Socrates in a new unity) and the notion that the myth of Er might save them, if believed. Dr. Geier is less hopeful because of the reference to Glaucus (611D). Has Glaucon’s soul (and indeed all our souls) been so marred that nothing can save it?If this conversation has been a feast (end of Book I and Book X), Glaucon may have been a glutton. On the other hand, perhaps Glaucon has learned a profound silence. Silence in a conversation needs to be true listening. True listening leads “no place” for sure. It is “all ears” without being directly connected to a mouth. God teach me this lesson!Dr. Geier believes that listening need by destructive. You do not have to take it into your soul if you are speaking as friends and not lovers. Dr. Geier finds it hard to talk without a text, because he is sure the text has wisdom and he is not sure that he does. A wise man may write texts, but he would not speak without one.There was an interlude where we discussed texts. Spirited students suggested that a good teacher might make a text unnecessary. However, it seems that a good teacher, who is after all not a Platonic text, mediates to the true wise man. Even in Plato himself were here, he would simply mediate to his own text. Telling us “the truth” would simply be too much for us and not allow us to grow ourselves. This is like the behavior of Jesus in John 6 when he speaks cryptically about His Sacred Body and Blood, allowing his disciples to grow without imposing His views on them.Plato might not be to us the best expositor of his views. First, we are separated from him in space and time. Second, good writers are not always great teachers. Without a text, we are exchanging our poverty. Listening with a text in the center is rich.After a break, we turn to Timaeus. We return to an examination of the Third Kind.”Here” for Plato seems to be an undifferentiated world of Becoming.Everything “here” is simply “here.” Things here can be touched and be held.What is it that receives things? It is the “that in which.” Space is perhaps not the best term for it. (There is much to ponder here.) There is container that holds. This is a different view of space than the modern. The cosmos comes to be in the soul. Any discrete object (the cup, which actually is merely the cup-like) comes to be in the receptacle.This interlude is no longer presented as a likely story, but as a “true story.” The creation account is suspended and Timaeus pushes hard to make clear his idea of the Third Kind. He explains it many times (at least four?) which may be a record for Plato. Why is he doing his best to persuade us that this is the truth?This much is clear to me (at the moment!). The space here is not, as I once suspected, the “substance” of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. It is not “stuff” in any way. Whatever it is, it is not Aristotle.What is the “illegitimate” form of reason that allows us to apprehend or grasp the receptacle?Just before 52, Plato speaks of True Opinion and Knowledge. All men can have True Opinion. Only the gods and a small class of men have knowledge. The Greek text has had a comma inserted into the phrase “of gods, and a small class of men” (my own translation). This seems to imply (if one allows the comma which would not have been in the Greek) that the gods are essential group that one has in mind and the men are secondary. This is opposed to the “no comma” view where gods and this group of men are equal in knowledge. However, note that this are not divine men, but a genus of men. There are men who are in the class “knowers.”We ate our last meal together. The group has come together and we are making progress. Torrey has fine students, really fine. What a great thing it is to get to teach them! I miss Hope and the children, but for a short time this thirty hours of class is sweet. Is our surety of the Third Kind based on our understanding of the difference between True Opinion and Knowledge?Everything in the visible world is “in between.” The only material (so called) is the receptacle. When we point at a thing, the thing itself is not there, only the receptacle. The receptacle is intelligible (barely) by partaking of the imitation of the forms. Think of the receptacle as a white board. On the white board is drawn a circle. This drawing is not really a circle, but it reminds us of the true circle, the form of circle. To the extent that the circle-like drawing is on the board, the white board partakes in a relationship with the form of circle.The Third Kind allows Being and Becoming to be related without confusion for the first time.Just as there is nothing in a mirror when it is reflecting, so there is nothing actually in the receptacle only an image of the forms. We are dreaming and these distinctions wake us up.52D is very, very hard. It may be the hardest sentence I have found in Plato. I think it means something like this:”Reasoning leads to Knowledge. Persuasion leads to True Opinion. This different epistemological route means that Being and Receptacle will always be kept apart.”Dr. Geier points out that Being “needs help.” Why? How can anything in the phantom world help being? The Third Kind protects Being from Becoming. The Third Kind assures that the Second Kind does not block our view of the First Kind or pretend to be the First Kind. The Third Kind destroys the potential idol that is the Second Kind. (Note: the Second Kind, creation, exists out of longing to be like the First Kind. This longing could go too far and could confuse our soul.) The world is a god, but the original is a God. Because of the power of the imitation we confuse the creature with the Creator and our minds are darkened. We confuse the world with the World. In doing this, we cannot (of course!) touch the essential properties of the Forms. However, we can create an inappropriate relationship between Being and Becoming which takes away from Being appropriate “glory.”We turn to Necessity at 48. What is Necessity? It seems to be the “natural order.” It keeps the Demiurge from making the world “perfectly good.” Physical nature follows such “laws” as “like is attracted to like.” Such motion is not always rational. As a result, intellect must intervene to make this motion rational.Necessity is NOT evil. It keeps the creature from simply being the Creator. We cannot draw a perfect circle on the white board. That does not prevent us from thinking about a perfect circle. (I suppose in Heaven that we could draw a perfect circle.)The creation of the mortal is a difficulty. There exists in Plato an idea that I find appealing. All things that can be must be. There is a plenitude
of being with all possible things existing. If true, this explains the existence of the mortal. More or less. It seems that death is very bad and that the benefit of having “all” is inadequate to explain its creation. I don’t know why the immortal gods create mortality.That promising student, Matt Anderson, expressed a powerful thought. For humans, it is good to have emotions. Fear is good, but must it cannot be mastered by us. Humans should feel anger, but only when appropriate. Hard things are good, because they provide value and glory to living. They are a school for souls. But, rightly, wise Mr. Rhodes wonders if this is what Timaeus says or is it an Augustinian answer we are sneaking into the text.(Not they have done that before. . .)It is worth noting the rest of the Creator in 42E. Genesis is not Timaeus, but they do have some remarkable similarities. (Dr. Geier notes that I have a bad habit of looking for similarities, instead of noting differences. That is a good insight. I must learn to note and even glory in difference.) Why does the good god create? It seems that he creates out of his own goodness.Craftsmanship and philosophy cannot be separated. The divine craftsman uses the best model to make the best creation. 28B “But when the craftsman of any object, in forming its shape and quality, keeps his gaze fixed on that which is uniform, using a model of this kind, that object, executed in this way, must of necessity be beautiful. . .”There are several ludicrous images in this section of Timaeus. Without buying Taylor’s thesis that this is all (or mostly) a sort of Platonic joke, it is easy enough to see that some of it is. The rivets of the soul, the soul-shake (44), and the gods borrowing stuff from the cosmos they intend to return (43) are good examples of this. One can take Plato too seriously and so not seriously enough in missing his good humor.We are near the end now of our thirty hours of class. It seems to fly by now. We were tired about ten, but now have caught the great wave instead of being destroyed by it. And yet it must end. The time has passed. Bless you, Dr. Geier. Bless you students.And for these thoughts: may those impious be forgiven, may I always follow the Logos wherever it leads, and may You, Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

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