The Platonic Forms

Thanks to a stimulating comment by Dwig to the last post, I think we can complete the triad of the Platonic Ideals — the True, the Good, the Beautiful — with the fourth term that would complete the quadrilateral.

Now, in the last post on the Platonic Ideals, I traced their origins to the Muses of the Greek mythical consciousness. The “Ideals” were once gods which were massaged by the emerging mental-rational consciousness structure into “concepts” where they were once named entities. For this reason, Plato is often thought of as having separated the logos from the mythos, and through a double process of devaluation of values (the mythical consciousness) and a revaluation of values (the translation of the gods of the mythical consciousness into abstract qualities — archetypes, forms, ideals; the eidola). But you see this especially also in The Histories of Herodotus, who is considered the first historian, and it’s an odd mixture of reason and myth, and also of the struggle of the emergent mental-rational with the mythical.

The second thing to note about the Platonic Ideals is that they are no longer names but adjectives. Adjectives are attributes, but in this case the attributes of what we no longer know. They are purely abstract and moreover are secondary qualities that have now become primary and are considered as being things-in-themselves or what we call sui generis. But what has gone missing is the substantial to which they refer. Plato compensates for this omission by making his “utopia” — The Republic — the substance of the Ideals and of which the ideals are attributes.

The monotheistic religions made the one God the substantial to which these apparent separate qualities belonged. The True, the Good, the Beautiful were massaged by Christianity into the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and their realised unity on Earth was deemed to be in the person of Jesus as the Christ — the Logos.

And for the longest time, the unity of the godhead, and its representation on Earth in the form of “the perfect human being” called “Christ” sufficed, even though it was incomplete. And when the perspective artists came along in the Renaissance, they really believed that in the tripartite representation of space as length, width, and new dimension of depth (the “profound”, the abyss, the infinite) they had disclosed the true presence of the Trinity present in the world. In fact, their enthusiasm for the mysticism of perspectivism was such that they lobbied the Church to have perspective included as the eighth liberal art, which was something akin to insisting on adding a new planet to the solar system.

It’s probably also worth noting that what the Good, the True, and the Beautiful became represented in the medieval Trivium as grammar, logic, and rhetoric, as appropriate to a largely oral culture. And it’s significant, then, that when the mental-rational arose once again, with it’s emphasis on the eye as the organ of knowing, it devalued these as irrelevant. It’s where we get the word “trivial”.

The Good, the True, the Beautiful translate into the formal terms ethics, logics, and aesthetics correspondingly, and these were in essence united in the medieval Trivium, and under the supervision of the queen of the sciences at that time, theology. For the last 2,000 years or so, things have pretty much traveled in threesomes.

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are attributes of utopia (which significantly means “nowhere”, the insubstantial) otherwise called also “kingdom of heaven” or paradise. Utopianism has been the usually unsuccessful historical attempt to realise this triad in human and substantial terms. So, the fourth term — the missing factor — is the political, which we can add to the triad as “the Powerful”. That was already implicit in Plato’s attempt to realise the now abstract attributes in his utopia.

What we have then is a representation of “the Guardians of the Four Directions”, whereas before there was only the three. These are the four beasts that surround the throne of God in the Book of Revelation, and in their polar aspect are the Four Riders of the Apocalypse also, as well as Blake’s four Zoas. The four beasts are attributes of the godhead, and are therefore called “Guardians of the Four Directions”.

But today we have an especial problem, and that problem is “the death of God”. The Good, the True, the Beautiful, and the Powerful — or ethics, logics, aesthetics, and politics — are disintegrate, and the principle of universality is dissolving, which is why we speak today of the “multiversity” rather than the “university”. The faculties are in disarray. In effect, ethics, logics, aesthetics, and politics are Blake’s “four Zoas” in perpetual strife and conflict as long as Albion sleeps.

The disunity of the Guardians of the Four Directions — considered as ethics, logics, aesthetics, and politics — is the problem of “dis-integration” or nihilism or decoherence that follows the death of God. Blake held that politics was the “chief science”, and with good reason. It does no good if one knows the Good, the True, the Beautiful, but has no power to realise them in life and society. One merely builds “castles in the air” (or “dungeons in the air” as some also say). The Good, the True, the Beautiful, and the Powerful need each other, and they are all aspects or attributes of the One.

Nietzsche somewhat understood this when he made “will to power” the new fundamental. But that fundamental is dangerous without the others — ethics, logics, and aesthetics.

I realise that the idea of the “political” is somewhat distasteful, but that’s only because politics today is degenerate for being disintegrate also. It should be the pursuit of the convivium and of conviviality, and not the practice of “war by other means” as it appears to have become. That’s another symptom of our decline and decadence. And unfortunately, Yeats’ ominous poem “The Second Coming” seems to be more than true of our times — “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

So, it seems we will be driven by this logic to its final, bitter conclusion. We will pass through the crucible, and hopefully survive the trip.





12 responses to “The Platonic Forms”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    After posting this, I found this article on The Guardian by Timothy Snyder. Snyder has actually given voice to my worst fear for the “endgame” of the modern era, and of what Seth once stated about that, too, which I posted about in “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”. Snyder’s article is worth reading for that reason, if though lengthy. And I can’t help returning to Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” for that reason

    And for Seth’s remarks about that possibility, you might want to read also

  2. davidm58 says :

    You’re so prolific, it’s hard to keep up. But this is fascinating material.

    When I was first learning about Wilber’s quadrants, and the correlation he makes to what he calls “The Big 3” of I, We, It/Its, corresponding to the Good, The True, and The Beautiful as well as Arts/Morals/Science, I always had the feeling that it seemed forced and somehow lacking.

    In the integral community that is in the Ken Wilber lineage, there has been in recent years increased questioning around some of these concepts, such as the understanding of “We” (his lower left quadrant) as the plural of I. On this topic, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens recently presented at the Integral Theory conference on the subject of “Integral Theory 2.0

: Reframing the Quadrants,
    Expanding the Zones, and Actually Including Second-Person.” I understand he addressed this “We” question, though I wasn’t able to attend that presentation.

    And in regards to adding a fourth category to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, Joe Corbett has been relentless in arguing that Justice is the fourth category that needs to be added, which he believes is located in Wilber’s Lower Right quadrant. There is a strong parallel here I believe to your argument for Politics. Here’s just one of Joe’s numerous articles articulating his ideas – “Social Transformation: Toward a More Just Kosmos”:

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, I’ve heard of “Integral Theory 2.0” as incorporating the missing “you” and reframing the meaning of “we”. I never followed up on that, though.

      I will read your reference to corbett, too. I was just about to follow up this post with a new one that addresses that very issue — “justice” — but from a much different approach — equanimity as equilibrium. I will probably get around to posting that later today, and how Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” is actually a model of equanimity as much as it is of equilibrium.

      • davidm58 says :

        equanimity as equilibrium – I like that idea.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I think you’ll like it even more once I’ve finished with it. But in the meantime, I’m struggling with Ms Gidley’s paper, and hoping that, at some point, she gets beyond methodological considerations and her circular hermeneutics (ie, a discourse about the discourse) to saying something. So far, I’ve been impressed only by a quote she offers from Morin. But then, I’m only up to page 25 at this point, and there’s a long ways to go.

          • Don Dwiggins says :

            Keep in mind that this was a PhD thesis, and admittedly incomplete (and probably somewhat rushed). From what I’ve been able to learn, she hasn’t followed it up. She’s apparently gotten deeply into education, and I haven’t found any signs that she intends to build on that foundation.

            • Scott Preston says :

              I’ve just reached the section in the paper where she’s going to take a fourfold or “four strand” approach. That should be interesting to read. But I do notice that she’s keeping to an underlying pattern too in her selection of Gebser, Wilber, and Steiner as models of “noospheric diversity”, as they do have their own predilections (she calls them “biases”) — Steiner and ethics (his “ethical individualism”), Gebser and aesthetics (Kulturphilosophie), and Wilber as being “cognocentric” (too cerebral). Once again, it repeats itself — ethics, aesthetics, and logics, and the problem of their relationship. So how do we get from this to the fourth strand? I guess I’ll find out if she can pull it off. Too bad she didn’t know about Rosenstock-Huessy.

              There’s an interesting passage, though, in which she does recognise Rosenstock’s “four diseases” of the time and space fronts of society — intuitively anyway.

              “We live in an hour of grand transition. The tensions between rival worldviews, globally and locally, cry out for mediatory perspectives. Many perceive the current global tumult as evidence of breakdown of culture and with it the safety of the familiar. They posit their various solutions, such as: the secular neo-liberal economics of globalization, a return to religious fundamentalism, cures for emotional and psychological despair, or just plain war.”

              Do you see the “cross of reality” in that last sentence? She’s itemised the two diseases of time and the two diseases of space — the revolutionary (globalisation) and the reactionary (the return) in relation to future and past times, and for the spaces, the search for psychological repair (self-help, the inner) or warfare in the outer space.

              These are our “four riders of the apocalypse” in Rosenstock’s terms — decadence, revolution, anarchy, and war. Gidley sees them now as omnipresent — battering down all the doors of the modern social order.

              Now, because the diseases are fourfold, the correctives must also be fourfold, and this is the political problem — synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries and coordination of discordant spaces, as Rosenstock puts it — past and future, inner and outer. The “integrum” that Gebser speaks of only makes sense as Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”, and I’m supposing that Gebser’s “integrum” is the same as what we call “the convivium” or conviviality — the problem of how different people can live together in peace despite their differences — and that’s a political problem.

              And the differences pertain to their predilections towards the past or the future (trajective or prejective types) or towards the subjective and objective. Therefore “the vital centre” isn’t so much the centre of a sphere as it is of a cross or crossroads. The “vital centre” is the centre of the cross of reality.

              So, let’s see where Gidley takes it from here.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Probably the comments section isn’t the best place to discuss Gidley’s “integration of the integralists”, but I think she misunderstands the nature of the fourfold, although she cites Gebser, Wilber, and Steiner as each employing a quadrilateral logic (although I’ve critiqued Wilber’s in the past for being deficient in that respect). For example, here’s something she quotes from Steiner, and it’s quite obvious that the only way to really understand this is in terms of Rosenstock’s quadrilateral logic

              “I investigate from one particular aspect . . . and then I investigate three more aspects. . . . In walking round the topic as it were, we are presenting an artistic image of the matter. If one is not aware of this, nothing will be achieved but abstractions and a sclerotic reproduction of what is previously known. (Steiner, 1930/1983b, p. 15)

              The “four aspects” can only be considered the same four time and space fronts of Rosenstock’s cross of reality. What else could they be? They are the cardinal points of a mandala and the “Guardians of the Four Directions” also, or the four directions of the Sacred Hoop. Steiner’s methodology and logic is sound, but it’s not fully explicit. Rosenstock makes it explicit or, as Gebser might say, “diaphanous” or “transparent”. “Translucence” might be the proper word because the cross of reality is a radiant model.

              What are the arms of the cross of reality radiating into? That’s a very good question — the darkness, the “beyond”, into the “All” or into the Abyss of Nothingness. It’s an image of the aspiration of consciousness for completion and fulfillment. The cross of reality is Blake’s “more, more is the cry of the mistaken soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man”.

              That’s what the cross of reality really is — the image of consciousness attempting to realise itself fully across all space and time.

            • Scott Preston says :

              I see. Ms. Gidley wants to include herself and her own bias or predilection as the fourth term of the quadruplex or quaternity. I sort of have to roll my eyes at that. To my mind, one can’t properly understand the relationship of Steiner, Gebser or Wilber, for that matter, to each other without the forerunner and precursor of the integral consciousness, William Blake. Each of them has their predilections which distinguishes them within the “noospheric diversity” — their noetic accent, as it were. And after the fourth are recognised comes the fifth or quintessence — it’s Rosenstock-Huessy who explains in what way they are related to one another according to the ecodynamic laws of consciousness and society.

              So, what’s really going on here? Well… Blake, Steiner, Gebser, and possibly Wilber serve as the “replacements” for the roles once played by the Four Evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These were, in the Christian Era, the “Guardians of the Four Directions” and the “Guides”. But with the disintegration of the Christian Era, and emergent secularisation, these roles had to be made manifest in living human forms, according to their predilections. The accent in Blake is on the political, the accent in Steiner is on the ethical, the accent in Gebser is on the aesthetic, and the accent in Wilber is on the logical. But it’s Rosenstock’s quadrilateral logic that explains why they are essentially aspects of each other, according to the necessity to ware and ward each of the fronts of the cross of reality.

              In those respects, Blake, Steiner, Gebser, and Wilber (although i might substitute Jung for Wilber) are specific articulations of faculties inherent in the formal human structure itself — the fourfold self. In a sense you can say that they “riff off” each other, as musicians put it. What one leaves understated, another emphasises and accentuates, even though their “witness” arises from the same source called “ever-present origin” — the same well or fountainhead, which is also the vital centre of the cross of reality, and which Heraclitus called “the Logos”.

              Blake is really the first prophet of the new age, and his voice is the prophetic voice. Steiner was the voice of ‘spiritual science’ as the attempt to apply the methods of natural science (of Goethean science that is) to the the issue of ethics. Gebser largely pursued the aesthetic side — cultural philosophy, and Wilber (over)emphasises the logical, for being “cognocentric” as Gidley notes. Far too cerebral, really.

              They are all voices of the integral consciousness, but they all also have their predilections in one direction or another of the cross of reality.

  3. Don Dwiggins says :

    Re “the fourth term — the missing factor — is the political”: I’d actually thought of that, but it didn’t work for me; here’s why:

    I’m a lifelong engineer, and a lifelong lover of science; I see them as two separate disciplines. A simple way to express the difference is through the old saying “some people see things as they are and ask why; others see things that never were and ask why not?”

    Put somewhat simplistically, scientists are focused on understanding the why of existence; engineers are focused on bringing new things into existence. (Interestingly, in these degenerate times, you hardly ever hear the word “engineering” — it’s all “science” and “technology”, which are used almost interchangeably. I suspect that it’s because, in the popular imagination, science is sexier. There are famous scientists whose names most people would recognize; how many engineers have that sort of popular name recognition?)

    Notice I identified my triad as “ways of seeing” (perceiving would probably be a better word). Politics (at least as I understand it) is in a somewhat different space. If we’re going to add concepts from that space, then engineering and agriculture would have claims as well. I’d probably prefer to create a different category; something like “ways of doing”. At this point, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many such “ways” there might be.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The Sadhguru (love that title) Jaggi Vasudev calls his approach “inner engineering”. He’s an interesting and often humourous character (and he has quite a few youtube videos of his lectures).

      By your description, I’ld say the scientist is the father, the engineer is the mother. But the relationship between the two— that’s a political issue. Engineering was once associated with the arts, especially during the Renaissance when there was little to distinguish between the engineer and the artist and the scientist, Leonardo being held up as the exemplar in that respect. But the Renaissance man also had to be a bit of a politician, too — it was dangerous work in those times. Depending upon how good you were at that, you lived happily or you might be burned at the stake.

      • Scott Preston says :

        “Depending upon how good you were at that, you lived happily or you might be burned at the stake”

        Actually, I shouldn’t really say that. The “Black Bile” (Melancholia) was your usual fate in those times if you weren;t lucky enough to be burned at the stake. Today we call it “depression”, but then it was epidemic amongst the Renaissance men — the other face of Athena, as it were. Albrecht Durer made a famous etching of the mood called “melancholia”, and I even have a big fat book by Robert Burton dating from around that time called “The Anatomy of Melancholy” which was about this very social problem. Seems to be characteristic of transitional ages, too.

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