Paul's Passing Thoughts

The History of Western Philosophy and Its Societal Impact on the Church – Part 5

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 9, 2017

The following is part five of an eight-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2013 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight

I think it is important for me to make this point at the outset. Plato was a genius virtually unparalleled by anyone in human history. His system dynamics, his creativity, his ability to integrate enormous amounts of information are rivaled only by Aristotle. Now of course they arrived at two very different conclusions, but Plato is not a villain as such. He was not deliberately trying to devise a bad system of thought. He was attempting to take the arguments of his day, all of the ideas from the various and sundry thinkers we have thus far discussed, and turn it into a system of thought that is useable.

Plato is the very first thinker to successfully develop a fully comprehensive system of thought from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics to politics. His metaphysical assumptions have an enormous impact on Western thought. Plato took Socrates’ grasp of universals and then proceeded to develop a metaphysical conclusion, and since everything that follows revolves around a metaphysical foundation, we need to start at the beginning.

Universals must be knowable. Without knowable universals man is little more than an animal and less moral than the Sophists. Parmenides told us that “thou canst know what is not.” In other words, if it doesn’t exist, you can’t know it. If universals are knowable then they must be real. If universals are real, then they must exist. Plato decided that the next two questions that must be answered are where do universals exist and how do universals exist. The question later became known as “The Problem of Universals.”

Plato’s answer to these questions is that there must be two worlds (once again we see this theme of dividing reality) because the universals and the particulars are not elements of the same thing, but fully different things. Plato is taking his influence by the Pythagoreans and developing it into a primary element of his metaphysics. Plato’s conclusion was that universals are one per category, particulars are many in any given instance.

plato-dog-formNow remember the background. The conflict is between Heraclitus and Parmenides. From the beginning, everyone was trying to solve the riddle of change and multiplicity.   So the next question was how to deal with change and multiplicity and immutability? His solution was to say that universals must be eternal and indestructible. Without something that is unchanging, the world is fully unintelligible.

The logic goes like this. Think of the idea of “dog-ness”. We can say that the nature of dogs requires floppy ears, a bark, four paws, and so on. These are particulars, but there are many, many dogs with variations on those specifics, yet we understand that there is one concept of “dog-ness”. This must be an immutable law of “dog-ness”, because without immutability there would never be a law of “dog-ness”. Therefore, the universal of “dog-ness” must be eternal and indestructible.

His logic continues. Particulars are necessarily material and physical. Animals can see them, hear them, taste them, but do they grasp universals? Dogs can certainly see bones but do they see “bone-ness”? Does “dog-ness” see “bone-ness”? Plato concludes that “bone-ness” is somehow abstract and not part of the physical world, because it can’t be grasped by the physical senses. So particulars are physical, and universals are non-physical.

And what followed from that premise was that particulars were understood by the means of the senses, and universals must be understood by the means of reason. With this conclusion, Plato completes his argument about two worlds. It is the obvious necessity based on the functions of human existence. Universals, defined by one group category, exist as immutable, unchanging, and non-material world and are known only to the mind. Particulars, defined by multiplicity and change, are physical and material and are grasped by the senses.

This conclusion, of course, begs the question. If universals are somewhere outside human perception and material existence, how does man ever access the knowledge? Plato’s answer was that man gets his understanding of universals before existence. So what we have really just introduced is the concept of innate ideas. If we possess knowledge at birth, man then must have what are called innate ideas that are the product of another world, and the soul is independent of the body. This concept is central to Pythagorean mysticism.

Notice what we have. A soul/body dichotomy where the soul is eternal that is somehow intimately involved with universal knowledge that is non-specifically a part of sensory apparatus. We have man utterly divided.

Plato made many other arguments for the existence of two realms, but many of you are familiar with one that is a very popular Christian proof. It is generally called the argument for perfection. Plato asks, where do we get the standards for perfection in any category? Where do we get the concept of a perfect circle, a perfect latte, a perfect Oreo cookie? All concepts of perfection cannot come from this material world because nothing in this world is perfect. This world is made up of particulars, and particulars are always changing. If you are changing, you cannot be perfect. Change implies some kind of deficiency. Perfection requires immutability. You can hear the echoes of Christian doctrine all over this.

The most obvious example is the perfect cow. What would it eat? It doesn’t lack food because it is perfect. It doesn’t lack knowledge because it is perfect. It doesn’t need to breathe because it doesn’t lack air. If nothing in this world can be perfect, where do we get our concept of perfect? The only conclusion is that man gets it from contemplating another world, a world that hold the perfect embodiment of everything in this world, a perfect archetype of universals.

And the reason this gets so much traction is because this is exactly how we prove the existence of God. This is what we say. We have a concept of God in our thinking. And where do we get that concept? Well, it must necessarily exist because we wouldn’t have it in our thinking if it didn’t exist.

Now you know how Plato came up with the world of forms and the world of the senses. The realm of universals is the world of forms. Step by step, man is taken farther and farther away from life in this world. By incremental steps man has been taken down a path that says that he is absolutely not a part of this world. He is not able to understand it, he is not really able to interact with it, and in some instances he is not even really able to know it.

While Plato’s solution was an elegant response to the Sophists, he unwittingly sets man up for the tyranny that necessarily must follow from this progression of thought. Remember what I said: human life is defined by how ideas go together. This is the principle:

Foundational assumption (Metaphysical premise) determines…

-> Epistemological qualification, which in turn defines…

-> Ethical standards, which in turn prescribes…

-> Political culture (government force)

What you assume to be true about man determines what you think man can do. What you think man can do defines his ethical standard or his definition of value. And man’s definition of value dictates the government structure with which he surrounds himself.

How does this look when applied to Plato’s philosophy?

Foundational assumption – This world is a reflection of other-worldly forms. This determines…

Epistemological qualification – Man cannot know truth because he experiences the imperfect from a shadow world. That defines…

Ethical standards – Only select men of the highest character and longstanding study can achieve enlightenment. This prescribes…

Political force – A select few who have the right to rule over the masses.

CASTENow we’ve actually caught this theme repeatedly. It is always a select few that have the ability to understand this grand mystical truth. It is everybody else that cannot understand it for whatever disqualification they may possess. This two-world distinction ultimately creates a class society, the endless presumption that some are uniquely qualified, by virtue of some ethical achievement, to ultimately govern those who cannot arrive at that ethical achievement.

We have seen endless examples of this.   Slavery was justified for this exact reason. The white man was superior because the black man was inferior, and so the white man must rule over the slave. Our treatment of the American Indians was the same way. This two-world concept always boils down to a class society that is determined, pre-destined to rule over a sub-class.

inst-church-caste-finalThe only reason to advocate determinism and pre-destination is to establish a class society, always. There is no logical, rational reason to advocate determinism otherwise. Because if everything is determined, then why is there any argument? What are you trying to persuade? By definition, I am who I am because I am determined to be that. There is no rational appeal to achieve any other end.

So if you are arguing with a determinist, the answer is, “why are you arguing?” At the end of the day the only reason he is arguing is because at some point he believes he should be in charge of your life. It is that stark, that ugly, and that bold. If you get this point, you can unravel 99% of all determinist’s arguments.

Are you starting to get the picture of how philosophy integrates ideas? Are you starting to see how what man believes affects the existence of what he knows? Are you starting to see how what man knows affects how he thinks he should act?

To be continued…

Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight