Plato and the world of ideas

This post was written by DoctorJay on July 1, 2010
Posted Under: A Course In Miracles,knowledge,pkilosophy

A few years ago I was taking a class in Persian mystical love poetry (Rumi and Hafiz). I left after a couple of years as I thought (rightly or wrongly) the teacher was influencing the students too much and it was becoming more like a cult.

Anyway, as I had noticed that the main thrust of the teaching reminded me of Neoplatonism, I later studied Plato himself.

The teacher in the aforementioned class claimed Plato was always right and had forced us to study him. So now I was studying Plato critically.

Plato was no doubt a genius but he was a person of his own time (about twenty three hundred years ago). He could develop his philosophy based on the knowledge available to him at the time.

He did not have the advantage of modern physics, cognitive science, molecular biology and so on. In fact he had no scientific knowledge. The Greeks in fact had no use for science at all. The only thing which Plato cared for was rationality – I lie – actually he was a great mystic as well – but a superficial reading of his writings do not show this.

Plato claimed among other things that all learning is relearning. This in itself has the logical flaw that if all learning is relearning (from past lives presumably) there must have been once that the original learning took place. More importantly experimentally we see that learning follows rules which are emulated by artificial neural nets. So whether we have previous lives or not we do not remember (at least in the general case) mathematics and so on from previous lives…

In his later works Plato wrote about archetypes (original images) and ideas (ideal images) as the ultimate reality. To Plato mathematics had absolute truth, as did the world of ideas.

I have to explain what he meant by the idea or archetype. Plato wrote that say a chair may have many different implementation. But there was some aspect of “chairness” that all chairs shared. This essence of being a chair could be distilled in the ideal chair. This was the perfect chair which existed in the world of ideas. Each physical chair was an imperfect version of the ideal chair…

Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, further developed the idea theory where the ideas (archetypes or perfect prototypes) were developed from the actual specimens. IE the idea of “chairness” is the amalgamation of all the real physical chairs rather than beings a disembodied perfect prototype as imagined by Plato.

Modern cognitive science and developmental psychology shows that concept formation follows the description of Aristotle rather than that of Plato.

I am writing this not as a critic of Plato’s genius or philosophy but to show that fundamentalism of any kind is to be avoided.

Writings from many years ago may have much poetic beauty and psychological insight. However, they are not scientific truth. This applies to every piece of writing whether inspired or not. And of course it applies to A Course in Miracles.

Moreover, it may be impossible to have a mystical writing like the Bible or ACIM without self-reference and hence self-contradiction.

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