Socrates and Plato - Session 22 (18 February 2002)

We have three important statements to be repeated, one is the distinction between perception and conception, and only ideas are conceived. This is the second statement; the third statement is that ideas are universal. The question is from where do the particulars arrive? And this is the question that Plato finds it difficult to answer, and if he finds it difficult you must see how difficult it is for us this is where the problem lies, from where do the particulars arise? What is the relationship between universals and particulars?

According to Plato there is nothing in the universal which can be regarded as the origin of the particular. There was something in the universal which could originate particulars he could have said because of this principle which is the universal particulars still arise? But there is nothing in the universal which could germinate particulars. So we cannot say particulars are manifestations of universals.

You know when we repeat philosophical statements several times we differential points of philosophy begin to be grasped that is why there is a need always in philosophy to repeat some very important statements for at least one month but it is worthwhile to spend one month repeating the statements. You must have seen that we repeated this statement three times already but once again we are now doing this and seeing more clearly where is the difficult? If particulars were inside the universals then particulars could be manifested out of universals but universals are universals.

On the other hand we do find that every particular has something universal, every particular cat, a cat has cattiness in it. So universal is in the particular, every chair has chairness in it, every human being has in him or in her humanness, every lion has lioness. In philosophy you should always keep your data before you. Data, what are the data? Every philosopher should know what is the meaning of data for without data no philosophical thinking will be possible. Data are given facts. In philosophical thinking you should always go back to the given facts because philosophy is an attempt to explain the given facts. A good philosopher is one who has before him, if possible, a totality of facts. He is possible. The trouble is that nobody in general has got the totality of facts before him, this is the problem.

If all the facts are available to you then it is easy to arrive at an explanation of all the facts but we are in possession of a few facts. What happens is that we are in possession of a few facts and then we train ourselves to find other facts even from the available facts. A few facts are available, others are not available so we imagine what will be the other facts or we infer what will be the other facts and this process of inference is central to philosophical thinking. So now what Plato does is we start actually from particular facts, there is a fact that there are particulars in this world, it is a general fact, and there are particulars in the world. What’s the meaning of particular? Philosophy should ask the question: what is the meaning of particular? Let us see if we can define it. What is a particular, how is cattiness different from a cat? A cat is particular, cattiness is universal, and how do you distinguish between the two?

Particular are part of a universal, that they …….their own. They have…… that why….Good.

Your first statement particulars are parts of universal and Plato says no, that is the important point, exactly. He said a universal has nothing in them which can originate a particular. So if you say universals are part of the particulars then there is a problem. It’s not an accurate definition but it’s a good effort you made because there is universal in the particular so it might seem that universals are part of the particular or particulars are part of the universals, they may appear to be so but Plato says universals are universals and there is nothing in them which can germinate particulars.

On the other hand it is a fact that every particular has universality in it. But why does he not simply say that every universal also has particularities in it, very easy, no, very easy answer; such a great thinker he doesn’t accept it. There is such a distinction between the universal and the particular, the gulf seems to be so great he doesn’t do it. That is the mark of a great philosopher, no concession in thinking just to overcome a difficulty as we normally do. A difficulty arises: we make a concoction, we make a fiction and we try to save on the difficulty but not a philosopher that is the greatness of Plato.

If it was possible for him to point out, look in the universal, there is a germ of the particular then you would say how did the germ come in the universal? This is the subtle point that is why it is said philosophy is a study of subtleties, this is the subtlety and this is a good example. You know Mother said: An important part of education is to train the students in thinking on subtleties; that is where education really reaches its great climax. Normally we always think in gross terms, it is black and white, big and small, these are gross thoughts. When you come to this question of universal and particular and their relationship you come to the subtlety of thought. What is the relationship between the universal and the particular when you find the universality is in the particular but is particular in the universal that is the subtlety.

Every particular has in it universality but has universal in it the particularity? And Plato says if you examine the universal you don’t find in it any particularity, universals are universals, they are independent, they have self–existence themselves. There is nothing like particularity in it that is why now he is obliged to explain the particular. It’s a fact, particulars exist there is no doubt about it, there is no doubt that universals exist. It's true that in every particular object you find universality by simple examples of cat and cattiness, universals exist. He even said that if you want to find out the further truth of universalities, he says there are only three concepts,—similarity, universality and existence.

You remember we had done it last time. According to Plato there are three important ideas which are not perceived but which are conceived. Similarity is not perceived, it is conceived. Universality is not perceived, it is conceived. Existence is not perceived, it is conceived. So this being the fact, now let us say what is the fact, the fact is that there are particulars first level, there are particulars, first fact which is perceived by us, everywhere in the world we perceive particulars. The world as we see it, this flower is distinct from this flower, this is particular, this is particular. This body is different from this microphone, this is particular, this is particular. This chair is different from this chair, this is particular, this is particular. In the whole world you see everywhere, you see only particulars they are perceived. But in the particulars you discover universals which are not perceived but conceived. Cattiness is not perceived, what you perceive is a cat. The cattiness is conceived. SO universals are conceived to be present in the particulars.

Now these are the two facts, particulars are presented to our perception and you find in particular the universals. Now when you begin to reflect on the universal it is found that universals are self–existent. What is the meaning of self–existent? They exist on their own. They don’t depend on the particulars. This cat may die, that cat may die but cattiness remains. This chair may be destroyed or that chair may be destroyed but chairness remains the chairness does not depend upon this chair or that chair or that chair or even if all the chairs are removed the idea of chairness remains therefore universals are self–existent. So universals which are self–existent and now Plato goes to subtlety, do they have in them any germ of particulars? No, that is where the problem lies. What is then the origin of the particulars? If particulars do not have their origin in universals then where is the origin of the particulars? And Plato has never answered this question satisfactorily. Then what is the answer even though the answer is unsatisfactory, what is the answer? The answer is that according to Plato there is apart from the universal which are self–existent there is what may be called matter. Universals are ideas but apart from universals there is Matter.

But if Matter is self–existent then the problem will be very easy. If matter were self–existent then you can say there is matter and there are ideas and they two come together and we see the whole world, it is very easy to explain but Plato is a very great philosopher he doesn’t want to solve the problem just by saying taking an easy recourse, no. if he had to say that matter is self–existent then he would have been obliged to answer the question what then is the difference between idea and matter because ideas are self–existent, if matter is also self–existent what is difference between the two? So he doesn’t answer simply by saying Alright, they both are self–existent, they come together and the world is produced. What you are now doing is a true philosophical exercise; you can see that after three years of our search we are now coming to the grip with philosophical thinking, it takes a long time to arrive at a true philosophical thinking, gradually, little by little we are arriving at the crux of the philosophical opening, no escape from any problem that may arise and you have to be subtler than the subtlety such as there is no lapse in your steps.

So matter cannot be self–existent. Alright, if matter is not self–existent then from where does it come? His answer is a very paradoxical answer—it does not exist. Matter does not exist but somehow exists. Now Plato is fully aware that when he makes this statement it is really not palatable. He is very, very clear, it’s not that he is putting forth something but he is obliged, he feels it is something which is not understandable. His answer is a non–existent which attains to existence by partaking of universals. Something that does not exist but begins to become existent when universals are impregnated by it by that it does not exist, an impossible statement but that is where the great Plato ultimately ends. You can see the difficulty of the problem and this problem will come back again and again when you study philosophy more and more and I hope you will continue for years and years to study philosophy, it’s a life–long study. Philosophy does not end, you can begin at a given time but you cannot end it. So it is a long programme and whenever you study philosophy it is one of the problems you’ll come across again and again.

So we repeat now. Non–existent which grows into existence by partaking of the universals because universals exist, so universals are impregnated into that which is non–existent that begins to exist. Matter which is non-existent attains to some kind of existence by partaking of the universals in it. And when this partaking of universals takes place this process of non-existent coming into existence by partnering with universals when this takes place particulars are born so particulars owe their origin to matter not to the universals but to matter which does not exist but begins to exist to some extent when universals are impregnated into the matter and this impregnation of the universal in Matter is particular. Now this matter is not understandable. Not understandable because it is the farthest attempt of a philosopher to understand something that he can understand or anybody can understand. This is the beginning and the end of Platonic philosophy basically. If you make these six seven statements you have the grasp of Plato. Plato himself is aware of the unsatisfactoriness of his own theory but he puts across the whole thing we improve upon it. I am only putting before you a problem anybody can give a better solution, I am ready. Can you give a better solution to the problem? Now in philosophical terms therefore this philosophy can be termed as dualistic philosophy, philosophy called dualism. According to which on one hand universals are self–existent, on the other hand there is a non–existent, existent matter which gives rise to particular by their interaction from where matter comes into existence one does not know according to this theory. It does not really exist so there is no question of how does it come into existence? It really does not exist. So you can see that when you try to understand the relationship between the universal and the particular, we are face to face with a very serious problem, not a solution but a problem.

You cannot say Plato has solved the problem, he has only stated the problem but in accurate terms so that you cannot explain the problem, the world exists as it is, now you have to explain the world and you can say the world is not explained by Plato. Utmost he has done is this, so this is one of the problems which will remain with us for a long time, let it remain. It’s a philosophy of dualism but a dualism of a very peculiar kind. One exists, another does not exist yet exists. Pure dualism is a theory in which two self–existent are side by side that is pure dualism. Two self–existent realities existing side by side in juxtaposition is dualism but Plato’s dualism is slightly different.

Self–existent which subsists side by side with something that does not exist, which exists—non–existent. existent matter. According to Plato it is only on this basis that you can explain the world then there are some other problems also in Plato. This is a major problem, a major fact. The fact of universality and the fact of particularity is the major fact of the world. Everywhere you go anywhere the spirit of philosophy, the philosophy can tell you the whole world is nothing but universals and particulars and when you try to explain the relationship between the two a philosopher like Plato has only this to offer. It is unsatisfactory but it is a challenge to all of us. Can you resolve this problem satisfactorily? This is one statement; one part of Plato’s philosophy, second part of Plato’s philosophy is his theory of the soul.

According to Plato there is a multiplicity of souls and each soul is immortal and every soul forgets itself in this body. This body which is occupied by the soul is condition of the forgetfulness of the soul and this gaining of the knowledge is remembrance that is to say the soul before it comes into the body knows the universals, when it falls into the body it forgets the universals and when it begins to recover the universals it gains knowledge then that knowledge becomes remembrance, he remembers. All knowledge according to Plato is remembrance and the soul goes from body to body. Now it is in one body after the death of the body it goes into another body. So Plato believes in the transmigration of the soul, soul migrates from one body to the other, there is rebirth of the soul in the body. Plato believes in rebirth.

Now there are questions. This is only a statement of Plato’s theory of the soul and immortality. Is the soul particular or universal? If it is particular then must be existent, non–existent, if it is existent, non–existent it can’t be immortal but it is immortal according to Plato, of that he is certain, soul is immortal. Is it universal? No, each soul is different from the other soul. Is it an idea by its nature as all universals are, no. Soul is not only an idea. Soul perceives ideas, conceives ideas, it is capable of ideas, capable of conceiving ideas.

It is the soul which is capable, so it is an entity. Soul is an entity; each soul is an entity capable of conceiving universal ideas and the more it conceives universalities the more it remembers its immortality. Once again there is the problem of the universals and the soul entities which are called souls, from where have they come? Have they come from the universals, are they derived from the universals, no. They are there so it is not dualism. Now you have got pluralism. There is universal, there is matter and now there are multiplicity of souls and finally Plato speaks of God. What is God? His answer is the supreme idea which combines three highest ideas, namely Truth, Beauty and Goodness. There are three great ideas, highest ideas, these three great ideas when they are synthesised then that is the supreme idea which he called The Good. The Supreme idea can be designated as the Good. This Supreme Idea, The Good is one in which Truth is good, and Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth and Beauty is Good and Good is Beauty and Beauty is Truth. And all the three are reconciled, identical. When the three become one, reconciled, synthesised that is the supreme Good. So God is that Good.

The Good is the idea, supreme Idea. So the question is now is God the supreme Idea, supreme universal. His first answer is—yes, and he is much more, he says. God is not merely the supreme Good; God is something that exceeds—essence, dignity and power. God exceeds essence; he is more than essence. God is a being not only essence which is an impersonal principle, you say that God is personal. He is a person. God is not only a principle but a person, he exceeds, he perceives, he reconciles ideas. Is he universal? Yes, but he exceeds universal. Universals are essences but he exceeds universals. Is God particular? No, particular exists does not exist but God supremely exists. Is there one God or many gods? God is one he says but that one is not particular. It is normally one which is particular, it’s not particular. He is not universal he exceeds universality, one God that exceeds universality which is himself not a particular one that is God.

Now once again you’ll find just as in the case of universal and particular, a problem, just as there is a problem in regard to the soul and universals similarly here also there is a problem—God, universality, particularity. This is the totality of Plato’s Philosophy in a nutshell. What I am telling you is a result of my study for years in books you may not find so easily this kind of statement which I am making now, in books you will find very, very perplexing statements, and difficult statements. I am making it as simple as possible. Consequently we find this large amount of writing which Plato has done so sublime, so beautiful, and so wonderful. When you analyse you find riddles, unresolved riddles. Are they unresolvable, they are unresolved, the question is, are they unresolveable? Plato has not been able to resolve them, he has presented the problem very squarely that is why from Plato many philosophies have arisen. When you have very powerful ideas, powerful facts put together but not yet reconciled then people try to reconcile in many ways that is how Plato is the source of many systems of philosophies. Many people who came after Plato have tried to reconcile these irreconcilable propositions or unreconciled propositions’ that is why it is said that the whole of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, because all that has come after Plato is only a footnote, basically all propositions are in Plato, it is the main book all others are footnotes. Today you can say it was the first philosophy lecture after so many years, so we shall continue tomorrow. Alright.