What is Platonism?

I take up once again this notion of my friend Virgilio A. Rivas over at Kafka’s Ruminations that I reduce Plato to Platonism. But what is Platonism? Our good universal index of the universal mindset of the internet: Wiki tells us: “The central concept of Platonism, a distinction essential to the Theory of Forms, is the distinction between the reality which is perceptible but unintelligible, and the reality which is imperceptible but intelligible.” As universals were considered by Plato to be ideal forms, this stance is confusingly also called Platonic Idealism. This should not be confused with the subjective idealism (“immaterialsm”), as presented by philosophers such as George Berkeley: as Platonic abstractions are not spatial, temporal, or mental they are not compatible with the later Idealism’s emphasis on mental existence. Plato’s Forms include numbers and geometrical figures, making them a theory of mathematical realism; they also include the Form of the Good, making them in addition a theory of ethical realism. (see here).

Yet, Virgilio instead of speaking of this reduces the notion of Platonism, saying the greatest legacy of Platonism is the refusal of storytelling (see Plato is not Platonism). So for Virgilio its a battle between demythologizers and fabulists. Virgilio is interested in this conflict between philosophy and myth, reason and fabulation as central to this Platonist tradition. Tell the truth this is not what I’m describing at all. Plato himself I will agree is a fabulist. We never find Plato, except in rare instances, as a character in his own writings. Instead he hides behind the masks of his prime precursor Socrates among others, masking his own ideas and attributing them to his mentor instead. If anyone obfuscates and is a fabulist it is Plato, who uses myth, fable, story everywhere in his works to illustrate his philosophical notions, concepts, theories, etc.. Will we ever know if Socrates thought up all these notions? Will we ever know if Plato was like one of his Forms hiding in the mask of Socrates immanently? Probably not. What we have is the dialogues and his longer political and ethical tracts, etc., most of it based on discussion among dramatic characters who point to actual living beings but are in themselves Plato’s tropes and fictions: fabulations. We have his pupil Aristotle who circumspectly speaks of Plato and his ideas, of Plato’s earlier influences in Heraclitus and Socrates, etc. But this is part of the novelistic rendition or fabulist fictionalization of Plato after the fact, etc.

In fact, this is Virgilio’s whole point in describing Plato’s concept of chora:

In the Timaeus, the cosmos is created by fabulation which the chora demands as no reason can account for it. As characteristic of recollection, fabulation qualifies as the condition of possibility of creation. (here)

I want dispute this. In fact I never brought it up. This battle between Plato’s so called followers in Platonism can do what they like. Yet, Plato did define the terms of this whole tradition. This notion that fantasy gives rise to the possibility of creation, that Plato was a fabulator of possibility of what gives rise to the realm of the senses, rather than an empiricist coming to terms with what is through the senses, etc. is a part of all this I accept. No one can deny that.

Yet, Idealism grew out of many various philosophers from Parmenides, Plato, and Neo-Platonists onwards, which is a topic unto itself that I do not wish to pursue at the moment. I was not reducing Plato to this tradition, but showing how his concepts of eidos etc. do play into it, rather than reducing Plato to this tradition I was merely showing how his concepts have been used by the reception of this Theory of Forms. By its very nature we will probably never know who Plato, the man, was or is: he hid within his fabulations, his philosophical myths.

For Vergilio in the end will say: So what is Platonism? Our brief answer is: It is the being of us as animal rationale that demands we must secure ourselves against the temptation to indulge in chorology. But isn’t chorology the power of the false? And, of course he likens chorology to Quentin Meillassoux’s concepts of contingency, etc.:

We must not lose sight of Plato’s point that the chora as an errant cause is the whole essence of necessity itself, namely, pace Meillassoux, contingency. Here, contingency is the avenger for the irreducible.

Khora is a Greek term used by Plato: Khôra, a philosophical term described by Plato meaning a space, or place in space; the milieu in which Forms materialize. Vergilio mentions Martin Heidegger who refers to a “clearing” in which being happens or takes place. But others could be mentioned such as Julia Kristeva who deploys the term as part of her analysis of the difference between the semiotic and symbolic realms, in that Plato’s concept of “khora” is said to anticipate the emancipatory employment of semiotic activity as a way of evading the allegedly phallocentric character of symbolic activity (signification through language), which, following Jacques Lacan, is regarded as an inherently limiting and oppressive form of praxis. Julia Kristeva articulates the ‘chora’ in terms of a presignifying state: ‘Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be definitively posited: as a result, one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form.” She brings it into the Linguistic Turn program, etc.

The list could go on. Yet, in my two posts did I ever mention this? Did I even discuss this notion? No. Vergilio has supplemented my discussion of Plato’s Theory of Forms and the discussion of it in Idealism by way of Universals: abstract and concrete. But I was never concerned with this axiomatic notion of “clearing” etc. Not sure how discussing the Theory of Forms which is sitting there from Aristotle onwards is to discuss chora, which is another issue entirely. I’ll assume Vergilio can enlighten my ignorance with a pertinent discussion or comment?

4 thoughts on “What is Platonism?

    • Probably, but the reference is as quoted from the wiki entry… which is a little iffy at best. I should take more time in my short hand notation quotes… thanks for pointing out the obvious! 🙂


  1. On http://veraqivas.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/plato-is-not-platonism/ you comment „Platonism is the fact that one is always bound by his horizon of meaning”. Could you please expand this? Of course, the whole article is about this small excerpt, but I would really appreciate if you could find the time to take one or more hits at this „binding of one with his own meaning-horizon”. Thank you (and good job with the blog, been reading you for a while now).


    • I simplified, obviously. I mean that one is always either a proponent, neutral, or an enemy of his notion of the realism of Ideas, and whether they exist eternally beyond, within, or in nature: the central core of Idealism – a realism of Ideas. Take for instance Slavoj Zizek’s use of this tradition out of the German Transcendental movement – what he terms ‘dialectical materialism’ does not oppose this notion not of Ideas, but rather stipulates the obverse – that instead of being immortal and instigating and creative, he tells us they are mortal, that they are not sources of efficient causation, but rather the endpoint in a process of imminent production (without Ideas: forces of two vacuums, etc.): that they emerge in time and are succeeded by other ideas and die off and are replaced. Yet, even Zizek is bound by the horizon of meaning that Plato set two thousand years ago and works against this tradition of meaning of Ideas.

      The point being that we are bound to Plato’s horizon of meaning even if we oppose it. He set the terms of the debate, and no singular philosopher – not Descartes, not Kant, not Heidegger, etc. have yet to escape this circle of meaning or produce something new and outside its horizon. Can we think the other? Can we move outside or from within the labyrinth or navigate the multiplicities and produce something else: another ‘horizon of meaning’? Perhaps, not… or yes?

      Long ago I remember my university philosophy mentor used to use the example: he’d draw a circle on the blackboard and place us in it, and then draw another circle just beyond it and place certain key thinkers in it. He would suggest that what these thinkers do is revise and remap the truths of the former circle retroactively and give them a larger stamp for the mind that allows us to think new thoughts, thoughts that have shifted due to our technologies rather than our own initiatives – accidents of that intersection between mind and its creations. It’s this strange anomaly at the intersection of technology and ideas that new thought emerges in time and expands our original horizon of meaning. That notion stuck with me long ago and I’ve been studying the dialectical interactions of humans and technology in philosophers and other thinkers since that time. For me it is this dialectical interaction not of ideas in our mind, but of those processes we shape that in turn reshape us and open up possibilities for further exploration and creation.


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