A Blog by Virgilio Rivas

Plato is not Platonism

 

This is a friendly response to darkecologies’ take on Platonism. See http://darkecologies.com/2014/12/07/the-phaedo-part-two-the-art-of-recollection/

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The chief problem of reducing Plato to an idealist is the assumption rarely interrogated that Plato is Platonism. History should be our guide. Platonism is not Plato.

The point of the reductive function of any ‘ism’ is to forge an axiomatic memory as against what preceded it—axioms being the destroyer of non-sense, of indefinability and the dark precursor out of which the present emerged.  By all means, the present is the founding temporal locus of organization, or rather, a decisionistic displacement of the past onto a memory bank forged in the now. This officially becomes Platonism when, at some point after Plato, philosophy declares (the pronouncement is more evident in Heidegger) that truth cannot be had by fabulation, by storytelling (which in fact Plato did in his theory of recollection) in terms of “defining entities as entities by tracing them back in their origin to some other entities” (Heidegger, Being and Time, 26).

The Phaedo is a case in point when Socrates talked about the origin of everything, by tracing something to another, until the story reached its culmination in death—the origin of everything.  But death is not physical death; rather it is traced to an indefinable past that memory attempts to penetrate, not without the difficulties it has to bear. But the difficulty is there to keep thinking alive, to keep it away from the reductive machination of definition, finality and organization. Recollection has the sole function in Plato to sustain something irreducible; something that would linger even after the most systematic reduction of calculative thinking is done with the most sinister intent, beginning with Aristotle. In most recent forays into this irreducible, isn’t Laruelle rehearsing Plato in his concept of Man-in-man in which “Man” (in the Man-in-man) is the irreducible in the reduction of man to animal rationale? The Man-in-man is Laruelle’s generic definition in place of Aristotle’s animal rationale in which arguably man becomes human under the protection of logos apophantikos. Plato is entirely different. The logos is not to be reached by reason alone, but also by the good beyond being, which already offers us an alternative to reason, namely, fabulation. Aristotle rejected fabulation and recollection in favor of reducing the uneasiness of imagination to the categories of reason. This is the start of Platonism proper—the reduction of Plato’s intoxicating irreductions.

In short, the greatest legacy of Platonism is the refusal of storytelling. This is strictly played out in Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s Timaeus in Physics in which Aristotle rejected the former’s concept of the chora, or the third kind that actually preconditions the possibility of being and becoming out of which the physical world emerges; the chora as the errant causality, totally indefinable, something that must be left outside of the bounds of known and intelligible sense. We must not lose sight of Plato’s point that the chora as an errant cause is the whole essence of necessity itself, namely, pace Meillassoux, contingency. Here, contingency is the avenger for the irreducible.  In the Timaeus, the cosmos is created by fabulation which the chora demands as no reason can account for it. As characteristic of recollection, fabulation qualifies as the condition of possibility of creation.

So what is Platonism? Our brief answer is: It is the being of us as animal rationale that demands we must secure ourselves against the temptation to indulge in chorology. But isn’t chorology the power of the false?

 

6 responses

  1. Interesting, my friend… but, sorry, I just don’t buy into your argument on Plato. For one you’re reading things that are outside of the very close reading I was describing in the Phaedo, thereby allowing the whole history of philosophy to reassert itself in Heidegger’s lens onto Plato which proves out my point. Platonism is the fact that one is always bound by his horizon of meaning, even if one is now diametrically against him (i.e., the old cliché of “footnotes to Plato”, etc.). You bring up the battle between Aristotle and Plato over fabulation, when in truth Plato was himself a great mythographer reciting in story after story through his figural representative Socrates and others myths out of the past to support his Orphic soterological stance. Plato was a mystagogue in disguise, an ascetic he despised the body and flesh, an antagonist of the common man of Athens and its “lovers of the body”. No wonder he never commented or even mentioned the “happy philosopher”, Democritus. Aristotle on the other hand stole many ideas and mentions Democritus over and over…

    December 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    • Hi Steven. If this conversation would mean anything, it proves that we will never resolve Plato. I would like to affirm though it is a positive limitation, at least in terms of unpacking the idea of Platonism that continues to haunt Western philosophy. Plato was never a darling in any sense in Western discourse, the proverbial straw man that he is. Perhaps because Plato never meant to be philosophical in the sense we understand the term today, or even a few centuries back when the medieval would rather acknowledge Aristotle as ‘the Philosopher,’ which no doubt he is. I would rather identify Plato as the figure of the chora (on hindsight, Deleuze would have us acknowledge the power of names); an errant causality, a figure of necessity that will always haunt any claim to categorical reduction whose goal is to suppress the errancy that lies concealed in things. Deleuze is a helpful reference: Plato’s rationalism is not the rationalism that perfectly anticipated Descartes and the whole succeeding generation of idealists, but rather one that is akin to madness, more proximate to a wayward type of creation, to the experience of vertigo.

      If we can describe philosophy today as undergoing the effect of the loss of reason’s many claims to foundationality, I would not hesitate to add that it is precisely what Plato would have always meant vis-a-vis the work of reason–the return of the repressed. And yet, there is no essential Plato that is returning to us. It is rather the affirmation that reason, as Plato saw through in his fabulation, will go back to the real power that had borne it. As Deleuze again would interpolate, reason is that very power in need of a foundation, if by foundation we mean a pretension or a claim. (I am writing this in a hurry so I will have to skip mentioning the exact pagination where this conception of Deleuze appeared in Difference and Repetition).

      Lastly, that we can never resolve Plato is perhaps his greatest legacy. P.S.(1) I too am not buying the idea that we are footnotes to Plato. That’s already a double reduction of Plato, if I may say, adding to the popular assumption that he is a champion of totalitarianism, or what have you. Plato never wrote his final words, nor did he leave anything that might have provided sure foundation to rationalism (in the same manner he never left the Republic with the final salute to the totality of reason that would have emboldened Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot). Even historians would be hard put to reduce Plato to a final, portable, essential Plato, which is of course entirely different with Aristotle who is the actual historian of philosophy (and who actually mentored a would-be dictator). What we can do with Plato is to present him as an anecdotal figure, much akin to a changeling, stolen from the gods (forgive the pun). That’s my position. That’s what I meant when I said that Platonism is not Plato. P.S (2). I do not wish to valorize Plato over Democritus and the materialists, but suffice it to say that Plato, as you have quoted from Grant, is an immanent thinker and so is the materialist. And if at some point in the history of philosophy Plato is made to represent a system of thought vis-a-vis an opposing system, it is well to note here that we have gone past that stage–the era of systems is over. And isn’t this what Plato was actually affirming when he preferred fabulation over the logos apophantikos that is greatly responsible for reducing the human to animal rationale with all the sense of privilege attached to it? We were never rational to begin with, nor can we ever achieve a semblance of it. Despite his troubled relation to Plato, Nietzsche learned so much from this Greek master of fabulation when he insisted (against the true idealists of his time) that only as an aesthetic contemplation can existence be justified. And I am happy to note that we are, one way or another, and through this conversation, actually affirming the aesthetic that Plato, I guess, was promoting through to the end. Cheers, my friend!

      Cheers, my friend!

      December 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      • Yep, I agree. I think my reason for delving into the Theory of Forms is really part of my continued work on Zizek and the Speculative Realists in their differing approaches to both the pre-ontological (Zizek) and the ontological (Harman, etc.). I’m working of a book pitting the Parmedian vs. Democritian world views. Part of a specific tendency that seems to play itself out in every generation of philosophy. Plato being an opponent of Democritus (never even mentioning him by name). etc.

        Being a materialist I still want to present the game as it is.🙂

        December 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

  2. Here is Aristotle on Plato’s Idealism from the Metaphysics:

    Here is Aristotle’s narrative (Metaph. A6, 987a32–b10):

    In his youth he [Plato] had become familiar first of all with Cratylus and with Heraclitean views to the effect that all perceptible things are always in flux, and there is no knowledge that relates to them. This is a position he later subscribed to in these terms. Socrates, on the other hand, engaged in discussion of ethics, and had nothing to say about the general system of nature. But he was intent on finding out what was universal in this field, and was the first to fix his thinking on definitions. Plato followed him in this, and subscribed to the position that definition relates to something else, and not to the perceptibles—on the kind of grounds indicated: he thought it impossible for there to be a common definition of any of the perceptibles, since they were always changing. Plato, then, called these kinds of realities “ideas,” and claimed that the perceptibles were something in addition to them, and were all spoken of in terms of them—what he said was that by virtue of participation, the many shared their names with the forms.

    Fine, Gail (2008-07-16). The Oxford Handbook of Plato (Oxford Handbooks) (p. 50). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

    This notion of imperceptible Universals (“ideas”, “Forms”) as the organizing force of perceptibles is the central tenet of both forms of Idealism: the two-world theory based on abstract Universals, and the one-world or immanent theory based on Hegel’s “concrete universals”, etc.

    December 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  3. “The power of the false;” Yes, perhaps — but power for what? This is a wager, that there is a kind of “false” which can yet be deployed for truth. Of course, these noble-sounding words (“Truth!”) ought probably to make us Nietzscheans all the more suspicious. But all too often our suspicion gets too easily satisfied with itself. When we find Plato, or Socrates, pressing an argument that really doesn’t look all that convincing, and depicting Cebes and Simmias as more or less along for the ride, this ought to make us suspicious of our suspicion. Yes, indeed, a “two world” theory is being presented. But why? If we think it is because Socrates or Plato believed that it was in any sense unproblematically, correspondence-wise “true,” we have not thought about it enough. The two-world theory is itself a provocation, a deployment of a kind of “likely story.” It is only when we get to the Hey-wait-a-minute phase that we are starting to understand what Plato is up to. The dialogue ends with Socrates not answering a question.

    December 9, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    • Yes, skholiast. That’s what I also would want to emphasize here. The Platonic dialogue is itself a provocation, which as you put it presents a ‘likely story’ that the philosophical enterprise would put down as bordering on the mythic or madness which it believes it has already transcended with the logos. Philosophy condemns storytelling in favor of rational deduction, or what Heidegger would readily claim to have described more correctly as fundamental ontology. Other Nietzscheans would in fact deploy the same philosophical argument (unaware that Nietzsche is a sort of antiphilosopher) to unpack the Platonic fabulation as a reduction of the world in a fable, a make believe. Of course it would take a lot of time to digest Nietzsche and in order to understand that he was not against Plato but rather against the tradition of Platonism. One should notice that Nietzsche would replace fabulation with gay science or aesthetic contemplation precisely where he intersects with Plato’s provocation. Thanks for your comments.

      December 10, 2014 at 3:35 am

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