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.