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Platonism – The one and the many

Platonism refers to beliefs and theories based on the metaphysical ideas expressed in Plato‘s dialogues.

These usually include Plato’s division of

  • an ideal realm of the Forms that is unchanging eternal truth

and

  • an ordinary realm of the so-called external world of change

Neoplatonist thinkers like Plotinus argued for the “One” from which all else proceeds, and which is comprehended only through mystical union. This is linked to the term “world soul” or anima mundi which depth psychologists and occultists tend to mention.¹

Platonism takes many different forms. It spans from the early Church Fathers (especially those inclined toward gnosticism like Origen and Clement of Alexandria) to the European Middles Ages² and 17th century theologians (known as the Cambridge Platonists), right into New Age philosophies, academic philosophy and maths.

In contrast to works directly linked to Plato’s ideas, small-p platonism refers to any theory that affirms the existence of abstract concepts, as opposed to nominalism.

Small-p platonists may or may not believe in Plato’s general outlook.

A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion engraving – Wikipedia

It should be noted, however, that the distinction between small-p platonism and large-p Platonism is not universally applied. A bit confusing but, considering the vast and varied influence of Plato, not surprising.

Plato’s ideas have been so incredibly influential that A. N. Whitehead said all of European philosophy is a “footnote to Plato.”³

A modern example of platonism can be found in the notion that mathematical truths have an independent existence, as opposed to being mere products of the human mind. According to this view, “Mathematical truths are…discovered, not invented.”4

¹ Sometimes in arguably muddled, undifferentiated theories about spirituality.

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma: Arenamontanus / Anders Sandberg

² S. G. F. Brandon notes that Platonism in the Middle Ages was temporarily “eclipsed” by the ideas of Aristotle.  See Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 505.
However, some like the Anglican A. E. Taylor maintain that St. Thomas Aquinas’ work, which adapts Aristotelian arguments to Christianity, is fundamentally based on Platonism. See “Platonism.” Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 1300.
Whether or not Plato’s idea of eternity is on par with Aquinas’ is open to debate. Is an ancient Greek view of eternal truth, beauty and justice equivalent to the Christian understanding of heaven? For that matter, do all Christians agree on what the word heaven means? And what about hell? How would Plato and Aquinas stack up there?

³ For more, see my highlights at LINER http://lnr.li/HTRX8/

4 See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/

Related » NeoPlatonism, Proclus

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Comte Henri de Saint-Simon – His concern for the poor shines above everything else

Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon

Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) or, more commonly, Saint-Simon is one of those figures who comes up regularly in sociology courses, especially so-called “classical” or “classical theory” courses.¹

Until writing this entry, I knew little about him. But I felt he was important because so many books and professors (the better ones, anyhow) mention him in passing.

Looking over Wikipedia this morning to update my 2009 entry, Saint-Simon turns out to be quite interesting.

Born in Paris as a French Aristocrat, he spent some time in America, fighting under George Washington in the siege of Yorktown. Back in Europe, he took up the cause of the poor, which lead his being called the founder of French socialism.

He supported the French Revolution but was put in jail during the Reign of Terror because of unwarranted suspicions that he was a counter-revolutionary. Luckily for him, he was released from prison in 1794 before literally losing his head. By this time French currency was devalued, which left him rich. But he was cheated out of his fortune by his business partner.

After an unhappy marriage that ended in a year, he wrote and tried to recover his lost fortune without success. He then spent time in a sanatorium. Ten years later, discouraged by his lack of influence on the world, he attempted suicide. According to the story, shooting himself six times in the head didn’t kill him, although he did become blind in one eye.

Nederlands: Portret van Claude Henri de Rouvro...

Portrait of Claude Henri de Rouvroy from the first quarter of the 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relatives helped him out but Saint-Simon lived his final years in abject poverty. Perhaps this had something to do with his earlier concern for the poor.²

Saint-Simon reacted against the brutality of the French Revolution and envisioned a society where science and technology would guide the workings of religion and politics. He disliked government intervention in the economy, making his approach differ from how we usually understand “socialism.”

Concerning religion, he believed in a divine power but wanted to strip away the dogmas and routines of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity to get to the core of Jesus’ message as he saw it. For him, theory wasn’t done for mere pleasure or, as a twisted professor I had allegedly once said, for a “paycheck.” For Saint-Simon, theory and practice should go hand in hand to alleviate suffering and elevate all peoples to the highest possible good.

Saint-Simon’s writings remain influential in sociology. He had particular impact on the political views of Auguste Comte (17981857), especially with regard to the concept of progress. Comte in turn influenced Emile Durkheim, now hailed as one of the founding fathers of sociology.

Tumba de Saint Simon by Cosmovisión / Juan Luis Sotillo

Tumba de Saint Simon by Cosmovisión / Juan Luis Sotillo

¹ Sociologists tend to join the dots for us, telling us what is important according to how they see things today. The word “classical” should be taken critically too. It’s full of connotations about legitimacy and importance.

² If the soul is beyond space and time, as some mystics tell us, quite possibly Saint-Simon’s future state influenced his younger concerns. You won’t find this idea among the rank and file of psychologists and psychiatrists in the 21st century, but I think it’s quite possible and hopefully an idea that future theorists will pursue.


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Fate

Fate

Fate by Tenkiki via Wikipedia

Fate is the Ancient Greek, Roman, Arabian and contemporary idea that an impersonal power or a consortium of spiritual beings determines events.

Christian theology generally prefers the idea of Providence, a term which gives precedence to God’s free will as opposed to some unavoidable patterning of events.

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