Question from a comment on Plato and the Horizon of Meaning

Jan Cavel asked:

On 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… 

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 ideas, thoughts that have shifted due to our technologies – accidents of that intersection between mind and its creations. It’s this strange anomaly at the intersection of technology and thought that new Ideas emerge 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.

Ideas are not the immortal engines of creation, but are rather the accidents of time: and arise at the intersection of humans and technology in a dialectical relationship that over time has become so ubiquitous we no longer see this process for what it is. Technology is not the artifact of eternal Ideas, and neither is it some objectified Idea in the mind, etc. Technology is this dialectical process in praxis, an ongoing temporal interaction and negotiation of reality rather than a trace run of our finitude. Technology is the way we navigate the world, a vehicle for exploring the farthest reaches of our own horizons of meaning. As we invent new forms of technologies they open up our horizons of meaning, and those circles revise the maps of the mind and offer greater possibilities.

Language itself is the most ubiquitous technology we’ve invented so far, and in turn it has shaped our cultures and civilizations beyond the base set of relations we needed to survive on this planet. It did not come full blown, but was a slowly modulated process of give and take as we used it to forge relations with reality and each other. Language is a technology. It was developed over time, and as many linguists agree it doesn’t last (i.e., all languages change and become obsolete or are transformed through temporal processes, etc.). Words are tools for negotiating reality. As our understanding changes so do the tools, and new words are grafted onto the structure of language to shape new ideas till they too die and are once again replaced by better tools, etc. But this is only an example, not the reduction to linguistic signs of the Linguistic Turn.

I simplified, obviously. I mean that one is always either a proponent, neutral, or an enemy of Plato’s realism of Ideas: whether they exist eternally beyond, within, or in nature: the central core of Idealism; or whether there might be something else to explain this.

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 of Ideas per se, but rather stipulates the obverse – that instead Immortal Ideas as efficient causation engines of reality, he tells us they are accidents of time, that they are mortal; they are not sources of efficient causation, but rather the endpoint in a process of imminent production (not Schelling’s productivity, Ideas or not essences: rather ideas emerge from the pre-ontological forces of two vacuums in flux, etc.): that they emerge in time and are succeeded by other ideas and die off and are replaced (the main drift is Ideas exist, but only in time not outside it in some eternal sphere of immortal splendor, etc.). 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. Zizek takes his notions from Den of Democritus and aspects of modern String Theory and quantum flux, etc..

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