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platonic possibility eternal objects and the myth of er

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					                            PLATONIC POSSIBILlTY:
              ETERNAL OBJECTS ANO THE MYTH OF ER

                                                     ROBERT    S.   BR   MB.AUGH



         The purpose of the present paper is to suggest that a c1arification of the-
status of the "paradigms of lives" in Republic ;t" may oííer contemporary      Platonism
a position which meets A. N. Whitehead's             demands for creativity and open
possibility, without the drastic metaphysical reversaI he himself recomrnends ,
         The probIem is that 0f the moda lit y of the íorms . Whitehead argue that
if we take the middle dialogues as our statement of Platonism,            al! value and
actuality are given to the form, and all actual causality also is formal. The forms
are determinate and eternaI; and there seerns no escape from a limitation of real
existence to the repetition oí prefigured patterns: these timeless actualities, if they
embody all actual value, leave no room for the creation oí something both new
and valuable. And yet one of the most evident anel intrusive facts of our experience·
is that the events and occasions we encounter are unique;            we finel concrete
-reiteratiosi but never repetition; it is a series oí variations 011 a therne, not a
monotonous      eternal re-playing of it note for note that we encounter.       Further,
the future (whether we judge it by direct inspection, or by anaIysis after it has
become past) eloes contain novelty, predictabIe perhaps in broad outline, but never
in full concrete detail. Artistic creation and evolution are taken as paradigm
cases oí the "concrescence"      in which such novelty occurs .
         For Whitehead, the aelaptation needed to do justice to this aspect oí our
experience is to reinterpret      the forms as "eternal objects" which exist only as
possibility, and in their own nature have no value . Value comes from the ingres-
sion of cornplex "eternal objects" into space and time concreteness.            We thus.
find the weakening of form from the modality of actuality to that of possibility,
and the strengthening      of physical existence from the modality of potential reali-
zation to actualization.
          The elifficulty with Whiteheael's position appears to be, that all oí 01.11"-
norms of ethics, logic, and law, being "abstract",       are only possible, not actual;
and are in themselves incapable oí being evaluated except by aesthetic apprehension
of their concrete instantializations.     There is no coercive or objetive categorical
imperative; instead, we hope that vision ancl sensitivity will create by progressive·
choice a persuasion by reason of necessity. But it is, it seerns, a rather wistful
and long-range hope ; taking the beautiful rather than the true or the good as the-
central concept, we have an ideal of harmony            which excludes     nothing,    but
comprehends everything in the vision oí a beautiíul organic work oí art . Intel-
lectual analysis is remote enough from concrete apprehension         to create a doubt.
as to its adequacy to discover, predict, or recognize absolute conditions oí value .
          And yet, the main strength of the Platonic traclition has seemed to many
of its admirers to be that there are objective and actual icleals which serve as
criteria of the just and the good. The one thing that must be actual, not merely·
348       SEGUNDO CONGRESO EXTRAORDINARIO                INTERAMER1CANO DE FILOSOFIA



hypothetical, in Plato's program for dialectic is an objetive criterion of value In            o




cases of practical choice, there are situations where it seems to us wrong to say
 "in some sense, both sides are right; in some sense, both incomplete; let us be
 sensitive and tolerant and hope for greater harmony"                On the contrary, in a
                                                                        o




 case such as that oí Eichmanu, there seerns a clear line separating right from
wrong ; not merely a possible line, which a sensitive artist or saint might notice,
but a total and' actual difference which requires very modest sensitivity to discern,
 If we cannot trust our moral sense in such cases, one wonders what ground we
have for trusting in more ambiguous and novel situations to an inner awareness
of positive or negative "value'      o   The principie of respect for law, for example,
 is basic to jurisprudence      ancl to civilization;    disrespect for law is 110t merely
 a íailure of maximum sensitivity or adaptation in a creative choice, it is a positive
denial and destruction of moral value Aristotle, more empirical than Plato and
                                                 o




less addicted to vision ancl idealization, compromised on the true instead of the
good, but had a principie which was non-hypothetical                  and intolerant,   as the
 keystone of his philosophic systern        (So, at least, one can interpret his reference
                                             o




 to the law of contradiction as "anhypotheton")              o




          On the other hand, the recent findings of science in respect to evolution
 and cultural relativity make it almost impossible for us to hold any simple-minded
 notion of an ideal plan of life in full concrete detail laid up in heaven, to serve as
 yardstick of accomplishment        for every time and culture         With such a concrete
                                                                            o




 ideal, freedom would consist only in choosing whether to be good or bad, with no
 room for perplexity .
          Now, clearly, that is not our own ethical situation; nor was it even Plato's.
  In. the Myth of Er, the souls who are to choose their next lives are shown a
 set of "paradigrns of lives" which are detailed descriptions of the external events
 and circumstances      those lives will contain     oThe paradigms do not indica te the
 quality of soul of the chooser, but rather the historical role he will play and
 adventures he will undergo    o   It is not easy to know which life among these is the
 best ; and Socrates recommends to Glaucon the careful study of which patterns
 oí life will permit the soul to approach 1110Stclosely to full selí-realization           o




          In the Theaetetus, in the context oí a contrast of philosopher and lawyer
 stuclded with reminiscenses of the Republic, there is a passage which seems to
 explain the choice oí lives in the Myth as allegory , For each man is said to hold
 before hi111 at each moment of his life the paradigm of the role he wishes to
  become ; and cosmic justice operates to make each become in fact the character
 that he has .chosen The moment of choice and its irrevocability
                       o                                                         in the Myth
 seem therefore to represent allegorically         decisions which confront        each of us
 constantly within every incarnation, ami not something to be thought oí literally
 as a one-time decision made between lives N or is it impossible to improve or
                                                         o




 modiíy one' s "paradigm",       as the result of experience and education             This is
                                                                                       o




  clear enough fr0111 Odysseu's choice in the Myth of Er            o




          Read in this way, the "roles" or "paradigrns"           have a metaphysical status
 rhat is peculiar, and for our present purpose important               First, they are clearly
                                                                            o




                           c
 not the [onn. of 111<1n; leary not, because (a) they represent an external descrip-
  tion, not an inner nature; and (b) they differ in value among themselves as means
  to an end of ideal selí-realization    o Second, once these roles have been written or
  designed, they are evidently abstract and atemporal; the structural description of
  t
.. he tyrant's role, like the lines of a play, is an atemporal entity which, because
  it is abstract or dianoetic, can never vary . Third, the existence of the role is
                      22 - 26 JULIO 1961 -   SAN JOSE - COSTA RICA                       349--




the resultant of an eternal objective 110rm and a transient human agent, desiring
immortality ancl trying to achieve that clesire by the choice of actions in a theater
of space ancl time, often unaware of the true cause ancl object which makes him
clesire anything.    Fourth, the apperance of new roles as options for choice, as
history ancl society advance, must involve a genuine creation of novelty;                  no
ancient Greek coulcl have chosen to be an astronaut, however c1ear his vision oí
courage and aclventure as values, beca use in his time there existed no spatio-
temporal possibility for playing this part. 1 would therefore think, if we take
Plato's myth ancl its allegorical sense seriously-more       seriously, perhaps, tban its
author himself intended-that although the patterns of lives, once they are sketched
out, remain clefinite ancl uncbanged         íorever, tbis definiteness    applies only to
options in tbe past; the interaction oí a variable space-time field with invariant
ideas seems to result in a genuine novelty ancl unpredictable creation of the roles
that oHer choices for each mornent oí the future. There may be an indeíinite
continuum, but until a possibility i clistinctly recognizecl, it does not exist a an
eternal entity.
         Fifth, ancl finally, there is no inconsistency between these roles appearing
with genuine novelty as the result oí creativity and the existence of absolute
objective stanclarels oí the gooel ancl the true, in respect to which the roles, insofar
as they are expressions 01 au inner nature which they project, can be judged
better anel worse and given a normative order. It should come as no surprise
to Platonists that the relation of a single objective form to its associated structures
is a one-rnany relation; ancl there is thereíore no ground for denying evolutiorr
or cultural relativity within a range of relevance set by the forrn .
         But if this is so, can one not at the sarne time respect Whitehead's          clesire
for recognition of novelty ancl creativity in the universe, ancl yet r etain the Platonic
forrn , in its status of ultimate criterion of value, as an actuality? NIy hope 1S,
that when we clevise a Platonism in which creativity is given recognition by a
satisfactory interpretation     of "paradigrns'   as relevant possibilities,   we \\'i11 find
that we can.

				
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