- Does the renaming of ‘form’ as ‘look’ really mean anything?
- Why all this talk about Platonic forms?
- Didn’t Aristotle discredit the ‘forms’ or ‘looks’ about 2300 years ago?
- What kind of relevance does this have today?
1. Does the renaming of ‘form’ as ‘look’ really mean anything?
The project of recovering Platonic language from the baggage of academia was perhaps best understood by Jacob Klein, a Jewish philosopher and mathematician who emigrated from Europe to the United States just prior to World War II. As a student of Heidegger, he was trained in a school which pursued a recovery of naturallanguage in philosophy. But it was Klein, and not Heidegger, who truly embodied and brought this project to a special fruition.
Eventually, Jacob Klein found a home at St. Johns College in Annapolis, MD, where he became beloved to many of the students and faculty during his tenure. He was a man, much like Socrates, who always made time to speak to those who had questions. He often put other people’s projects and needs before his own, and he was both a father figure and an intellectual forerunner to many an individual.
Klein embodied the belief that philosophy is a human activity. That is, an activity in which all men and women might engage. This is in opposition to the belief that philosophy is a field of specialization, expertise, and jargon.
The translation of ‘form’ (the Greek eidos) as ‘look’ is a significant part of such a belief. While we sometimes refer to a body (say of a ballerina) as possessing a certain ‘form’, it is far more common to describe someone or something as having a certain ‘look’.
And it is the common, the shared participation of all humanity in language and in the possibility of wisdom, that such an approach (Platonic, Aristotelian, Thomistic, Klein) exemplifies. The term ‘look’ not only captures ordinary speech, but also the ordinary activity of ‘looking’ and so binds together the way we speak with the way we sense, and finally the way we know. Such a ‘term’ binds together the most fundamental and ordinary human activities with the highest wisdom, and binds that together with the structure of creation. Thus, there is no Cartesian rift in such a philosophy. To put it in jargon, such an analogy between language and thought, and between thought, perception, and being, suggests that phenomenology and the metaphysics naturally connected.
2. But why all this talk about forms?
Just as political history contains it repetitions, so also do the sciences. Today, analogy, difference, and intuition are hot topics within the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology and biology. But these are not new topics and were explored with greater scope, unity and precision by Plato and Arsitotle.
The nature of cognition, relationship, and the world as a whole all reflect an analogical structure of ‘difference’ or ‘same and other’ Hence the title of this site. In the current and following series, with the help of Plato and Aristotle, this blog will explore certain consequences of a hermeneutic of ‘difference’:
- recognition bears the structure of ‘difference’
- difference implies sameness (thus ‘same and other’)
- Forms will appear as part of the underlying structure of ‘same and other’.
- ‘Same and other’ will help us think about human nature and the Trinity, particulary in terms of:
3. Didn’t Aristotle discredit the forms (or looks) about 2300 years ago?
Aristotle and Plato did not see eye to on this subject. However, they both held to a conception of reality and cognition which was deeply formal. They mainly disagreed on the location of forms. For both, however, it was by the ‘look’ of a thing that that thing could be known.
Whatever your thoughts or feelings about forms/looks etc., why not suspend your skepticism or antagonism and come along for this journey. You might be surprised where we end up.
But for a slightly more thorough discussion, see tomorrow’s post (Part III.B).
4. What kind of relevance does this have today?
Finally, why this journey? Other than shedding light on human cognition and divine nature, there is another goal.
It is said that true philosophy begins in wonder. Today, philosophy begins with abstract questions, formal logic, and foreign jargon.
To take this journey is join in the great conversation, and to risk experiencing wonder. It is to risk living, not only in the mind, but to find that the life of the mind is deeply integrated with every other aspect of life. It is to risk recognizing the deep and terrible reality of man’s place in the cosmos, and ultimately to discover the roots of peace and joy.
“Cosmic Purpose”, Painting by Kit Hevron Mahoney, Available for Purchase
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