Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Plato's Theory of Vision

[This is an extract from 'Plato's Theory of Vision', a chapter in The Sacred History of Being, published November 2, 2015]

....At Tim 92c, after describing the range of creatures which have been created, Plato concludes his book by saying that:

Our Cosmos has received the living creatures both mortal and immortal and been thereby fulfilled; it being itself a visible Living Creature embracing the visible creatures, a perceptible God made in the image of the Intelligible, most great and good and fair and perfect in its generation – even this one Heaven sole of its kind.

“This one Heaven sole of its kind”. This is not an acknowledgement of a copy additional to the divine reality. He speaks of “Ouranos hode monogenes.” If it is not a copy what is it? If we look again at Tim 30c ff., we find an expansion of his argument.

We shall not deign to accept any of those which belong by nature to the category of ‘parts’; for nothing that resembles the imperfect would ever become fair. But we shall affirm that the Cosmos, more than aught else, resembles most closely that Living Creature of which all other living creatures, severally and generically, are portions. For that Living Creature embraces and contains within itself all the intelligible Living Creatures, just as this Universe contains us and all the other visible living creatures that have been fashioned. For since God desired to make it resemble most closely that intelligible Creature which is fairest of all and in all ways most perfect, He constructed it as a Living Creature, one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself.

The first of these passages contains the description of the cosmos as “a perceptible God made in the image of the Intelligible.” The second says that “the Living Creature is one and visible, containing within itself all the living creatures which are by nature akin to itself?” So one of its principal characteristics is that it is perceptible and visible, and that it is also made in the image of the intelligible. It is generated, but it is sole of its kind. The creatures which it holds are rational portions of itself.

One might argue that there is no need of a copy at all, and that the story of the copy of perfection which this is supposed to be, is a fiction, discussed only as a likelihood. For it is conceivable, and indeed necessary, that all of the things which might be perceptible as generated items are already present in potential in Being. Rather than this first ineffable reality being subject to a copy, it is conceivable that both generation and perceptible entities are equally the product of a way of seeing what is potential in Being. In other words, the Living Creature which is perceptible is the product of perception rather than the creation of a separate copy of the perfect reality which is beyond all perception.

Plato anticipated these questions, for at Tim 31 he says:

Are we right, then, in describing the Heaven as one, or would it be more correct to speak of Heavens as many or infinite in number?” His answer is based on the very Greek notion that to join two things together a third thing is necessary. He says that we must speak of the Heaven as One, “if it is to be framed after its Pattern. For that which embraces all intelligible Living Creatures could never be second, with another beside it; for if so, there must needs exist yet another Living Creature, which should embrace them both, and of which they two would each be a part; in which case this Universe could no longer be rightly described modeled on these two, but rather on that third Creature which contains them both.

So, if a copy is made of Being, it would follow according to this mode of argument, that there would need to be a third Being of which both the model and the copy would be parts. Clearly this is an unacceptable state of affairs, and so it cannot be that Plato supports the argument that it is a likelihood that there is a copy of Being in which things move, and in which generation occurs. 

[End of extract]

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