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relatively destroyed (un ov). Compared with the Idea, which you regard as a poor reflection of the real world, your supposed real world is itself but an Idea in the vulgar sense which you attach to the word, that is, a shadow, a nothing. The world is the relative; the Idea, the absolute (καθ' αυτό όν).
If the Idea is the absolute, what is God, to whom Plato often refers, and, as it seems, refers in different senses, sometimes using the plural, sometimes the singular? In the Timæus,' the Creator (ó dnulovprós) is spoken of as the eternal God v ael Deos, ó Deós); his immediate creatures (the stars and the celestial spirits) are called Oeoi, Geoi Dewv, ουράνιον θεών γένος; while the sensible universe is a gol in process of becoming (ecóuevos Deós). Evidently, the god who is to be and the created divinities are accommodations to official polytheism, and the Creator is the -nly true God. But even this highest God does not seem to be absolute; in creating the universe he contemplates the eternal (rò aídlov), which serves as his model. Now, the Idea or the Good is the eternal. Hence the Creator is dependent on the Idea as the copyist depends on the pattern which he follows. In order that the Creator may be the Supreme Being or the absolute, the model must be the Idea in itself or the Good personified. The assumption of an intermediate principle is apparently a necessary consequence of Plato's dualism between Idea and matter, while the conception of the Demiurge as a workman following a pattern forms a part of the mythical element in the narrative; the Creator and the pattern of creation are merged in the creative Idea, of which the Demiurge is the poetical personification. God and the Idea are so closely identified in Plato that it seems at times as though God depended on the Idea, at others, as though the Idea sprang from God as the eternal source of
1 Timaeus, 28, 34, 41, passim.
all things. Since God is sometimes represented as below and sometimes as above the Idea, nothing is left to us but to take the middle ground and to say that the God of Plato is neither inferior nor superior to the Idea, but that he coincides with it, or that he is the Idea itself, considered as an active, plastic, and creative principle. That the Platonic school identified God with the absolute Idea may be readily inferred from the attributes which are ascribed to the Good and to the Supreme Being. A brief comparison will suffice to convince us of this fact. The absolute Idea (the Good, the One) is the lord of the spiritual world, as the sun is the lord of the visible world. It even exceeds being and essence in dignity and power. It is the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual. On the other hand, the God of gods is represented to us as the eternal cause of the good in the world; as the supreme wisdom, by the side of which all human philosophy is imperfect; as the supreme justice, law-giver, and highest law, who rules the beginning, the end, and the middle of things; as the pure reason which has nothing to do with matter or with evil. Hence, there cannot be the least doubt that the God of Plato is the absolute Idea of the good. Does that mean that because his god is an Idea he is not a reality ? On the contrary; because he is an Idea, and nothing but an Idea, he is the highest reality; for, from Plato's point of view, the Idea only is real.
Now the Idea does not exist in space proper, but in the
1 Republic, VI, 508 D.
2 Ουκ ουσίας όντος του αγαθού αλλ' έτι επέκεινα της ουσίας πρεσβεία και δυνάμει υπερέχοντος.
3 Republic, VI, 506 f.; VI, 517: Παντών αυτή (η του αγαθού ιδέα) ορθών τε και καλών αιτία ... ουσία αίδιος της τ' αγαθού φύσεως αιτία ... έν τε ορατό φώς ... τεκούσα, εν τε νοητώ... αλήθειαν, και νουν παρασχoμένη.
intelligence which is its natural and, in a certain sense, its native abode. It cannot, therefore, come to us from without, and it is a mistake to derive it from sensation. The absolute Idea, and with it all the other Ideas, are original endowments of the mind; they form its very essence. But they are at first latent in the mind, and we are not conscious of them. The senses show us their external copies, and, to a certain extent, remind us of the originals existing in us (avá uvnois). Sensation provokes Ideas; it does not produce them. Its function consists in recalling to our minds the a priori Ideas which we possess without suspecting it. Moreover, the senses are deceptive; and instead of revealing the truth, they keep it from us. Reasoning (vónois) is the only road to truth; and this springs from love (épws). The love of truth is but a particular form of universal love. The homesick soul, living in exile in the world of sense, fervently longs to be united with the absolute, to come face to face with the principle of light and truth. This pure and holy desire seeks for satisfaction in earthly emotions, in friendship and ästhetic pleasure.? But the human embodiments of the Idea, or the material incorporations of the Idea in art, do not satisfy it. It has need of the pure Idea, and this it strives to contemplate directly or immediately by means of pure thought. The enthusiasm of the lover and the artist is but a feeble beginning of the enthusiasm felt by the philosopher in the presence of unveiled truth, ideal beauty, and absolute goodness.
1 Strictly speaking, it is not even correct to say: it cannot come to us, etc. ; we should say: the knowledge of the Idea, the notion (Tóyos) cannot come to us, etc.; for the Idea exists independently of the notions of our mind; it is óvde ris Lóyos oudè érioThun (p. 85); it neither comes nor goes; all that comes to the mind, or becomes, or is formed, or is developed, is simply our concepts (évvonuata), which, like the sensible things, are but shadowy copies of the eternal Ideas. — (Alle. gory of the Cave, Rep. VII.)
? Phædrus, 242 ff.
Moreover, the philosopher need not boast of having attained this ideal goal, for absolute truth is in God alone. God, who has absolute truth because he is absolute truth, and the uncultured man, who does not even suspect its existence, do not search for truth; the love of truth (pilooopia) is peculiar to the man who is filled with light from on high.
In spite of its mystical character, Plato's method is rationalistic in the strict sense of the term. There is no contradiction between the terms mystieal and rationalistic. Rationalism and mysticism are extremes that meet. In fact, idealistic rationalism, and the deductive method peculiar to it, invariably presuppose as their starting-point the immediate and a priori perception of an absolute principle, a perception which we call mystical, precisely because it is immediate and unanalyzable. Platonic idealism, like its offshoots, the systems of Plotinus, Spinoza, and Schelling, begins with a mystical act and culminates in a religion.?
2. NATURE The transition from Idea to being, from metaphysics to physics, is not easy for Plato. If the Idea is self-sufficient, and if the intelligible world is a system of perfect beings, what is the use of a sensible reality, that must of necessity be imperfect, alongside of the Idea? What is the use of a material world that is inevitably doomed to evil? What is the use of copies by the side of the original, of copies that cannot reproduce it in its divine purity? The real world is evidently as great a source of trouble to Plato as it was to Parmenides. It cannot be explained by the Idea
1 Phedrus, 278: Το μεν σοφόν ... έμοιγε μέγα είναι δοκεί και θες μόνο πρέπειν.
2 See Hartmann, Philosophy of the Unconscious (translated by E. C Thomas), the chapter entitled: On the Unconscious in Mysticism,
alone, but presupposes a second principle, which is no less real than mind: matter. Hence, when you assume the reality of the sensible world, you abandon the absolute monism of the Idea ; you confess that the Idea constitutes only a part of reality, and make concessions to sensualism and materialism. And yet the sensible world exists; it is an undeniable and stubborn fact that has to be explained. Though full of imperfections, it is, after all, a sublime work of art, whose infinite harmonies inspire the idealist as well as the materialist with feelings of delight. The mind of man cannot wholly unravel the mysteries of the universe. Nevertheless, he should investigate it to the best of his ability, and untiringly search for a satisfactory solution of the problem. Plato finds the key to the answer in the conception of divine goodness; this enables his thought to pass from the ideal to the real. The Idea is the absolute good; God is supreme goodness. Now the good or goodness cannot but create the good. God is life, and life must create life. Hence God must create ; the Idea must reproduce itself.
Inasmuch as the Idea is the only reality, there is nothing loutside of it but non-being (un óv). But, in so far as it is the highest reality, it is also the highest activity, the being that communicates itself to non-being. Hence, the Idea becomes a creator, a cause, a will, or a plastic principle in reference to non-being; so that non-being in turn becomes like being (TOLOÛTO ti olov tò óv), and takes part in the absolute existence of the Idea (κοινωνία, μέθεξις). The non-being thus becomes the first matter out of which the Idea forms, after its own image, the most perfect, divine, and finished visible world possible: it becomes matter (can), as Plato's successors would say. According to Plato and idealism, matter is nothing corporeal; it is somet!ıing that may become so, through the plastic action
1 Timæus, 29 E.