Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Presence of the Paradigm: Immanence and Transcendence in Plato's Theory of Forms

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Presence of the Paradigm: Immanence and Transcendence in Plato's Theory of Forms

Article excerpt

DISCUSSIONS OF THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS of Plato's forms too often take for granted that immanence and transcendence are opposed to each other: if the forms are in instances then they are not separate from them, while if the forms are separate then they are not in instances.(1) This assumption is sometimes associated with the theory that there is a change in Plato's thought between the early or Socratic dialogues, in which forms are regarded as immanent, and the middle dialogues and Timaeus, in which they are seen as separate.(2) I will argue, however, that immanence and transcendence are not opposed but that, on the contrary, the former implies the latter. That is to say, precisely in that the forms are present in their instances, they are ipso facto also separate from them in all the senses which Plato claims. The idea of sensibles as images of the forms, in turn, is an expression not of transcendence alone, but rather of the conjunction of immanence and transcendence: the paradigm is at once transcendent to and immanent in the image. The movement from the early to the middle dialogues, then, is not the rejection of one position and the adoption of another, but simply the express articulation of what was implicit in the original position. Thus we find, not a fundamental change in Plato's thought from one period to another, but a single consistent and coherent theory of forms which is developed throughout these dialogues.

I

The Early Dialogues. The theory of forms, in the early dialogues, arises from the problem of staleness and difference: How can many things which, qua many, are different from each other, nonetheless be the same, and so truly bear the same name? Thus the discussion of a form begins with the observation of many different things which are the same in some respect: courageous actions (Laches); pious actions (Euthyphro); beautiful things (Greater Hippias); virtues, bees, or shapes (Meno). Socrates then demands to know what is the same about all of them, in virtue of which these different things are the same. Thus, in the Laches, he says, "Try to say, first, what is courage, which is the same in all these ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])?"(3) Laches attempts an answer: "It seems to me that it is a certain endurance of the soul, if it is necessary to say about courage what is by nature through all these ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])."(4) Similarly, in the Euthyphro, Socrates says, "Is not the pious itself the same as itself in all actions, and the impious again, the opposite of all that is pious, itself like to itself, and everything which is to be impious having some one look ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) with regard to its impious-ness?"(5) Most plainly of all, in the Meno, Socrates says of the virtues, "Although they are many and diverse, they yet all have some one same look ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) through which they are virtues."(6) An [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a form, is the "look," the character or nature, which is present in and displayed by the many instances. Hence it must itself be numerically one and the same, in order to account for the many different instances being the same: if they are in fact the same, and thus can truly be called by the same name, they must have something in common, that is, there must be something one and the same ([GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in all of them. With regard to these dialogues, then, the forms can rightly be regarded as "immanent universals." That is to say, each form is one same nature which is displayed by many different things as the property or character of each, the determination by which each of them is such as it is: courageous, pious, beautiful, a virtue, and so forth.

From this starting-point, we can immediately draw the following conclusions about these forms or universals: (1) A form is other than each and all of its instances. …

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