History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 8


Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 8
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Platonic Philosophy

Part 3

IV. Plato's Dualism

A. Metaphysical

1. Higher world of the Forms

2. Lower world of particulars

B. Epistemological

1. World of the Forms - reason

2. World of particulars - bodily senses

C. Anthropological

1. Body - world of particulars

2. Soul - world of the Forms

D. Plato's Use of Myth

E. Class vs. Members of a Class

1. Forms

2. The Perfect Circle

F. Plato's View of Death and Rebirth

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Dr. Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson Transcript


Open your intro text and let's go back to page 62. So since we're going back to these pages, we might as well go all the way back to page 62, because this too will be on next week's quiz and probably will be on the midterm exam. Plato's Dualism. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that most of the pre-socratic are some exceptions, like the pythagoreans. Most of the pre-socratic were advocates of modernism, a monument to someone who who thinks that he can explain important features of reality in terms of one principle. But from start to finish, Plato is a dualist. Plato was operating in terms of two worlds, two principle. Okay, Now, as I indicate on page 62 and 63, there are three kinds of dualism in Plato's philosophy. First of all, there is metaphysical dualism. Metaphysical dualism. Now, what does the word metaphysics speak to us about? It speaks to us about ultimate reality. Remember, of the five basic questions that every worldview deals with? One of them is the question of ultimate reality. That's simply another way of referring to metaphysics. Plato's metaphysical dualism introduces us to his two worlds the upper world and the lower world, the world of the forms. That's the higher world and the world of particular things. That's the lower world. The second kind of Plato's dualism is called I'm sorry, Epistemological dualism. Learn this word, the word epistemology. That's the philosophical study of knowledge. How do we know? Can we know what is truth and so on. Here we have Plato's Epistemological dualism introduces us to the two basic ways in which human beings come to know the two basic worlds.


[00:02:55] And that would be reason and experience. We know the world of the forms through reason. We know the world of particular things through sense experience. We better add that word sense experience. And then finally, we have anthropological dualism. And that reminds us that a human being is two things, two parts to a human being, the soul, which is the basis of reason, the soul, which is the basis of our contact with the world of the forms and the body. Obviously, if you know the lower world through bodily senses, then your contact with the lower world comes through your body. So a human being is basically two substances which are quite different. The body is mortal. It will die, it will corrupt. We don't want to pursue that too much today. And the soul which is immortal. And remember, I've already told you that for at least a brief time in his career, in the middle of his life, Plato did believe or did teach a doctrine of the pre existence of the soul and the doctrine of reincarnation, very similar to what was taught before Plato by the Pythagoreans. One more related point and then we'll get back to the text. I want to give you a both a warning and an explanation of Plato's use of what we call myth. I once read a term paper in which students talked about the Greek moths. The Greek moths know it's myth. And why? There are a lot of things that Plato talks about, which he does not mean literally. For example, last week we talked about the allegory of the cave. We, Plato, could have referred to that as the myth of the cave, because obviously there is no cave like that. Human beings don't exist in a literal cave like that.


[00:05:34] It's a myth. Well, there are lots of myths in Plato. And let me give you here a short definition of the word myth as it explains to play as it applies to Plato. A myth for Plato is simply a likely story. It's a likely story. Here's how Plato seems to have operated in many cases. When he comes up against a problem that he does not know the answer to. He tells a story. He does not mean that story. Literally, that story is not literally his answer to this problem. It's the best he can do at this time. I myself think I'm totally convinced of this, that the brief, the doctrine of reincarnation and the pre existence of the soul that appears in just two of Plato's writings, to the best of my recollection, the Fito, the one that we're going to talk about today and the Mino Plato didn't really believe this stuff, or at least for very long. He didn't really this wasn't really a dogma or a doctrine that he taught. It was a likely story. He said this right now, this is the best I can come up with as an explanation to this stuff. And as it turns out, in the case of reincarnation and the existence of the soul, he seems to have abandoned that late in his life. He seems to have abandoned it shortly after he wrote The Mino when the feel or so I think. Should we avoid thinking that what we read in Plato's FETO are literal doctrines? That he literally believed in the answers? Yes. I already told you last week that Socrates never taught any of this stuff that's in the fetal. These are ideas. These are Plato's ideas that are simply put into Socrates mouth.


[00:07:48] Okay. Now, you might be sitting there saying, How does national this? Well, I you know, to answer that would take us very far afield. If you want to know how I know that and how why most philosophers believe that pick up a good history of philosophy book about Plato. And I'll tell you one of the best pick up the history of philosophy. It's a nine volume set by a Catholic priest named Frederick Copleston and just read his material on Plato. The first couple of chapters about Plato, Copleston probably got 120 pages on Plato in that book. Just read the stuff about Plato's writings and how we know what Plato taught as contrasted with what Socrates taught. And you'll you'll get some support for that. Okay. And if you read my last couple of pages in the intro book, I'll tell you that there are four major issues in Plato that he never answers, never answers. And one of them is the question How does the human mind know the eternal forms? But we're going to say more about that later today. Okay. Now, beginning around page 64 and 65, I have one major objective on these pages. I really am trying as hard as I can to help you understand two things. What is a form and why must I? That is, you believe that forms really exist? That Plato was on to something. That Plato was right. And if you don't believe that there are things like forms, your life will be impoverished. Now, since some of you have not thought about forms in your entire life up to this point, I guess I'm implying that up to this point, your life has been impoverished. Okay. Now, last time we met, I made a distinction between a definition and the definition of something and an essence of something.


[00:10:17] I'm not going to repeat that. But that's the first that's the first example I give you to try and help you understand why there must be forms. Well, I will. I will say a little bit more. Last week, I said, What is the Socrates says to a young man named Youth Afro. Give me a definition of piety. And what Youth Fro does is not give a definition of piety. He gives examples of piety. Remember taking your Bible to church saying grace before those would be 20th century Christian examples of piety. And then Socrates gets very upset and he says to youth, The Pharaoh, I didn't ask you for examples. I asked you for the essence of piety. And the point that comes out of that is this the essence of piety, the essence of goodness, the essence of truth belongs to the form, this unchanging absolute that exists in the higher world. But the examples of goodness and beauty and truth exist in the lower world, the world of particular things. Okay. Now, the second approach I offer as a way of getting into the world of the forms is a difference between a class of things and a member and members of the class. Now, what is a class? You should have learned us years ago. They used to teach this in high school. Now I suppose you've got to get a Ph.D. in radical feminism to know what a class thing is. But anyway, that's a bad joke, okay? A class is any group of things that have the same essential properties. So we can talk about the class of all dogs. The class of all horses, the class of all human beings. Let's talk about the class of all human beings. All right? And what I'm doing is drawing all maybe five beautifully designed pictures of human beings here.


[00:12:38] Stick figures. Okay, We have the class of all human beings. In that class are such persons as Socrates, Plato, Nash. That's. That's a good class right here. Okay, Good class. Okay. Now, where do the particular members of a class exist? In which of our two worlds? Obviously, in the lower world. Where did Socrates live when he was alive? Where does Nash live? In the world of particular things. And each of these is a particular man. Now, we could move to talk about the class of all dogs. Here, I'll just draw X's. Where does Lassie exist in the lower world? Where does Snoopy exist? In the lower world. Where does Benji all of these particular dogs? But then the next question is, where does the class concept exist? The class concept. Now, here's how we refer to the class concept of a dog. It's dogging us. Okay? You will never find dog in us in the lower world. I am old enough to remember a pop singer named Patti Page. Great singer. Many number one hits. And What for You is ancient history. She sang Tennessee Waltz. All kinds of other things. But one of her great hits was titled How Much Is That Doggie in the Window? How many of you remember that? Yeah, one or two people raised their hand. And when Patti Page was singing that, how much is that Doggie in the Window? Woof! Woof. Yeah, the woof Woof was part of the. That's what sold the record. Okay. But suppose Patti Page had been given a different set of lyrics. Suppose her lyrics had said, How much is that doggie nurse in the window? You would not hear a woof woof, and you wouldn't see anything in the window either, because dogging us belongs to the world of the forms.


[00:15:14] Now I'm ready to make an important point here. During approximately the first half of Plato's life, he seems to have believed that there was in the world of the forms. A form for every group of objects in the world. Every class of objects in the world. I'll repeat that for about the first half of his life, Plato seems to believe that for every class of objects in the lower world, there is a class concept, i.e. a form of that class that exists in the higher world. He even talks in one of his writings about the form of a bed. He does. It's in the last book of his republic. Now, what does the form of a bed? I mean, can you sleep on that bed? No. It's the essence of badness. Okay. There it is. Now. Something happened to change Plato's thinking. And if you want to know where in his writings this change occurs, it's in a dialog called The Amenities. Be thankful I have not assigned this writing to you. Okay. Because a lot of people, most people can read the first five or six pages of the amenities. But people who try to read beyond page five of the amenities often end up in mental institutions. I mean, it's it's pretty tough stuff. Now, if any of you think that you're pretty smart, here's a special assignment just for you. You read before and I'll. You know, I should I should give an extra credit grade for this. You read Plato's Palm entities and write me a one page report of what's going on in the last half of the page amenities. Some of you will never be seen again. All right. You're going to hear ambulances coming to this campus all week long and taking people away on stretchers from the from the library.


[00:17:35] And you're just beat. I mean, the last words we will hear. Amenities. I'm not kidding. This is this is wild stuff. But in the first part of the amenities and this is fiction, Plato presents a dialog, an argument, a debate between palm entities and Socrates. And the debate is over the theory of the forms. Now, you know that's fiction, because Socrates didn't know anything about Plato's forms. But here he is, Socrates, trying to defend Plato's theory of the forms from the great palm entities. And you know what? This is the only time in Plato's writings where Socrates gets beaten, loses an argument. Now, one of the arguments against Plato's theory of the forms is this that if you really do believe that there is a form in the higher world for every class of objects in the lower world, your theory reduces to nonsense. Now I'm going to use an example like Plato uses, but it's a better example. All right. It's a better example. I want you all to to imagine that we're walking through a cow pasture right now. All right, Close your eyes. I want you to. And as we're walking through the cow pasture we're trying not to step into. Paes. Now, do you know what a cow pie is? Okay. You don't want to step in it. You don't want to step in it without shoes. You don't want to step into it with shoes. All right? Because if you do step in it with your shoes, you're never going to wear those shoes again. You know what I mean by a cow pie? Okay. Now imagine someone. Someone who was obviously heading for a bad grade in this course who says there's a cow pie and he starts giving different names to these cowboy pies.


[00:19:39] Okay. He says, there's Bill, there's Hillary, there's Al. You know, because that's one way you identify particular members of a class. You give them names. Okay. And then this student who I said is heading for a bad grade in this course, he says, Voila. That's French. He says, Voila. If there is a form for every class of objects in the lower world, then there must be a perfect pile of cow manure in the world of the forms. Well, Plato. Was repelled by that idea. Would you not? Oh. You know. All of a sudden, I got a mental picture there, and I. We don't want these mental pictures. You cannot say that there is a perfect form for every class of objects in the lower world. Dirt, mud, hair. Those are particular examples that Socrates uses in the amenities. So after wrestling with this issue, Plato finally abandons his belief that there must be a form in the heavens for every class of objects in the lower world. There is no perfect pile of cow manure. Put that in your notes and give me credit for that. There is no perfect cow pie in the world of the form. And then add any other things that you wish. All right. So once Plato is over that hurdle, the list of the contents of the world of the forms are drastically reduced. Now, there's still a large number of them, but here are the major examples of forms that Plato deals with in the second half of his life. Examples of, I mean, forms for such things as truth, beauty, goodness, justice, equality, piety, all of these things that Plato talks about in his dialogs. Then there are forms for the numbers. The number one is eternal.


[00:22:12] Universals. And what we mean by a universal is a property that is possessed by many particular things. The color red redness is an eternal form, the relationship of between us as an eternal form. And I don't I don't want to go on and burden you with examples. Just think about the following truth, goodness, beauty, justice, equality, piety, those things. Okay. Plus the numbers, the perfect equilateral triangle and so on. Forget cow manure. All right, Now the best example of a form that I can give you is perfect circle. So let's turn to page 66. And there you've got four. Putative circles. And alleged circle. Okay. But obviously, some of them are better than others. A, B, C, and D. Now let's have a contest here. Okay. How many of you think the best example of a circle? And for those listening by tape? Only an idiot would think that this is a circle. How many of you think A is the. I know. I've just given you part of the answer. How many of you think that A is the best example of a circle? On page 66? Raise your hand. Don't be ashamed. Don't be intimidated. All right. No hands. How many of you think the D is the best? Now, D is a pretty good example of a circle. I'm telling the people. Anybody. Let's let me explain what's going on here. All right? I want. I give you an argument. And it is. What's the word you used? Indefatigable. Irrefutable, right? Yeah. I give an argument here Why? There must be a perfect circle. But the perfect circle cannot exist in the lower world. Okay. Now, the argument is this. Somebody give me the definition of a circle. Somebody. Well, I'll just to save time.


[00:24:38] Where are a a circle is a closed line. Each point of which is equidistant from another point, which is the center. Okay. Now, if this were a circle that I've just drawn. Every point on that close line, the perimeter would be equidistant from the center. But of course it isn't. But let me show you why. No circle that you ever encounter. Even one drawn by a computer can satisfy the definition of a circle. Remember what we said the other day last week? The definition. The essence belongs to the higher world. The example belongs to the lower world. Here's why. In order for you to have a true circle, the line. Get this in your notes. The line that makes up the perimeter must have length, but no width in order to have a perfect circle, the line that makes up the perimeter must have length, but no width. Why can that line have no width? Well, I'll tell you. Let's take this part of the perimeter and blow it up about a thousand times so that that line looks like this. Now, if if the line has width, how many points exist between the right side of that line and the left side? How many points? An infinite number of points. E, How many radii? That is the line between each of those points and the center. How many radii then do you have If the line that makes up the perimeter of the circle has width? You've got an infinite number of radii, you understand? So if a circle is a clothesline, each point of which is equidistant from the center, you cannot have any width to that line. But such a circle cannot exist in the lower world. So that the most you can say about these pictures of a circle on page 66 is that they are illustrations of a circle.


[00:27:09] They are examples of a circle, but none of them can themselves be a circle. All right. Now, here's the point. Unless there is a perfect circle and you feel free to challenge me at any moment you want. Okay. And we'll write down your name for posterity sake. Unless there is a perfect circle, then none of us would be able to look at these examples on page 66 and say that D is a better circle than C, and C is a better example of a circle than B. Unless there really is a perfect circle you can't identify. Degrees of circularity. So there must be a perfect circle. Otherwise, all during the entire human race, we've been talking about something that doesn't exist. It doesn't exist in the lower world, but it must exist in another world. And that would be the world of the forms. Okay. So we need these ideals. We need perfect truth. Perfect. Just as perfect goodness. Perfect circularity. The perfect equilateral triangle. Because unless these things exist in some way, we can never make judgments about them in the lower world. Amen. Hey, man, Sounds like a bunch of Baptists here. Maybe only Baptists can see this. Now, let me just ask you, how many of you believe that circularity exists? Raise your hand. Okay. Keep your hands up. Now, how many of you believe perfect circularity exists in the lower world? Is your hand up or not? You're scratching your head. You're shaking your head. You don't know. Yes. You believe that? Perfect. Circular. Okay. Well, let me shake your hand here for this reason. All right. I'm walking towards the window. Are you sure are an Aristotelian. Okay. Now, a lot of these other people came in this class as Aristotelian, but they're confused right now.


[00:29:39] All right. But. Well, I'm going to try and convert you. All right? Because I'm worried about you. This is serious stuff. Not only are you an Aristotelian. This is really serious. You are an empiricist. Oh, well, you better. All right. But we're going to. We're going to. We're going to work on that. And next week, when we bring just as I am here, maybe you're going to be one of the people that comes forward. You've paid your penance. Okay. Okay. All right. Now, I'm going to skip ahead. You've made me leave the text, but let me show you where in the text we're going to turn to. We're going to turn to page 80 and 81. I'm getting way ahead of myself here, but I must deal with the question. I'm going to tell you Plato's mythological view of death and rebirth. This is precisely what Plato talks about in the Fito. He says the soul is immortal and and because he accepts for a brief time this Pythagoras nonsense about pre existence and reincarnation and all of that, we go through a a multitude of lives, earthly lives during our existence. And so let's just pick up a person's existence in life. Number 100. Okay. And then this person is going to die and going to come back in another life. We'll call that life number 101. But who knows what number is correct here. If the soul is immortal, then maybe we've had an infinite number of incarnations. Now we need to give a name to this person who dies and is reborn and is dies. Let's call her Shirley. If you want to know her last name, it's Shirley MacLaine. Did I get that right? Yes. How soon we forget? Shirley MacLaine is a Hollywood actress in this life and in this life.


[00:32:00] She's the sister of Warren Beatty, who thinks that his sister is a little out of it. She's a little out to lunch on this stuff, but she's into New Age stuff. Shirley MacLaine, of course, believes that she has lived many lives. But one of the embarrassing things you really got to be careful who you don't tell your children about, Shirley MacLaine, because in every earlier life, she was always a prostitute. She always was. All right. She was a prostitute in the days of King Henry. I mean, Louis the 14th. And how does she remember all that? Maybe she has bad dreams. I don't know. Anyway, how does life number 100 begin? The answer is the soul has been separated from the body by death. Okay. And then the soul enters this new body and surely begins a new life. Life? Number 100. But then she dies. Okay, so the body goes into the grave and it decays. And the soul makes its way up to the world of the forms. In the fetal. Socrates says, I am not afraid of dying. Why? Because. To use a paraphrase, This world is not my home. I'm just passing through. My body is the prison house of my soul. So when I die, that's not something to regret. What death does is free my soul from its confinement in this earthly material, physical body. And my soul is able to swing its way up to heaven. It Plato believed that particular souls can be in the world of the forms. He's contradicting himself, isn't he? Because there aren't supposed to be any particular things at all in the world of the forms. Therefore, the soul should lose its identity. Now it is a later platonist who moves in that direction.


[00:34:16] And again, pat yourself on the back because you see you are anticipating a later platonic heretic. Oh, you better never go to a liberal seminary friend. Okay. This guy is the name of his later Platonist is Plotinus. And we have a whole chapter in our book about him. You might want to read that Plotinus taught, although Plotinus also contradicted himself. We're going to talk about a lot of people in this course who contradict themselves. Fortunately, your teacher never does. See, there's got to be a standard by which we can judge the contradictions of these other people. And that standard is your professor Plotinus taught that souls are are are absorbed into a kind of cosmic noose, and thus you lose your identity. But Plotinus cheated. He contradicted himself. But the next thing you need to remember is that this is a myth. Remember when I told you 20 minutes ago? Plato doesn't really take this seriously, and it's a good thing he doesn't because he would be guilty of contradiction. This is a myth. It's a likely story. And what's he trying to explain with this story? How human beings know the forms. They know the forms because between death and reincarnation, our souls visit the world of the forms and their see the forms and all of their beauty. Remember the slave who leaves the cave? We looked at that last week. One of the things Plato's hinting at in the Fito is we leave the cave when we die and we there see absolute truth, beauty and goodness. And then when it's time to be reborn, guess what happens just before the soul enters the body? We forget the forms so that at when when we're born and as we go through childhood, our memory of the forms is lost.


[00:36:28] But as we go through life and have experiences, those experiences tend to remind us of the forms that we saw in the earlier life. And that leaves Plato to say that all knowing and he says this in the Fito, all knowing, all knowledge is remembering. As you go through life and have experiences, you remember what you saw in the world of the forms. Well, if if all knowing is remembering, how did we know anything during the first incarnation? Excellent question. To which the answer is this is just a myth that it's just a story. All right. Don't get carried away here. Well, if you if you want a better answer, the answer is Plato didn't know. That's the answer. Now I know you. You, too, will know. Are you excited? You get the picture. Life, Death. The soul goes to the world of the forms, then comes back. We forget the forms. And then as we go through life, we have experiences that keep reminding us of the. Of the. Of the world, of the forms.