Socrates and Plato - Session 24 (20 February 2002)

Fine shall we repeat the arguments of yesterday just to refresh our mind, the question is of the relationship between the universal and the particular and the first argument of Plato's Theory is based upon the question whether the particular part partakes of the whole idea or only a part? And then if you say whole there is a difficulty, if you say only part there is a difficulty and therefore the question remains unanswered in that sense. If it partakes of the whole then the same thing will be at many places, if it partakes of the part only then there is an absurdity that a small thing is smaller than the small. So in either way the problem remains unresolved.

The second argument is the argument of the third man. The argument of the third man is a very important argument because you'll find this argument coming throughout the history of philosophy in the West. So I'll repeat this argument again in detail so that it is fixed in the mind quite well. The argument begins with the question of similarity. If two particulars are similar to each other then you need to explain the similarity, why two things are similar to each other. The answer of Plato is that they are similar to each other because both of them partake of the same universal idea therefore they are similar.

Now the argument says that if so then there is a similarity between the particular and the universal. Now how will you explain this similarity? So you have to posit another universal which is partaken of both the universal and the particular. Having done so there is a further question as to the similarity between this new universal and the previous universal and how do you explain the similarity between the two? So you posit a further universal and this can go on and on and if the chain were to end the argument is not finalised therefore this is the argument of infinite regress.

Let us repeat it. A cat and another cat are similar to each other. The question is how will you explain this similarity? The answer is that there is a universal cattiness and both of them partake of this therefore they are similar to each other. Now there is a question that there is a similarity between this cat and this one so you'll be required to answer what it is that explains the similarity between this and this. The only answer that could be given according to this argument is that there is another universal because of this universal there is similarity and this can be explained. So if this universal is A and this universal is B, another universal and then you ask the question what this universal is similar to this universal, A and B are similar to each other and how do you explain that similarity? So you posit a further universal which is say C and this chain can go on and on and on and on, it never finishes and therefore the argument is never complete. If the argument is never complete then the argument doesn't hold good. Any argument to hold good must act, it must have a final point and a terminus therefore this whole idea of universal Ideas of Plato suffers from the difficulty of infinite regress and therefore invalid this is the second argument,—argument of third man.

The third argument is that if everything in the world has something corresponding in the realm of ideas then there must also be a universal idea of dirt, of mud, of hair and this seems to be absurd. The universal dirt what does it mean? So this is the third argument. The fourth argument is that ideas are thoughts and thoughts always refer to something beyond themselves therefore ideas can never be ultimate and according to Plato's theory ideas are ultimate. Therefore Plato's theory is unacceptable, this is the fourth argument.

Now for the sake of exercise I should ask one of you to expound these four arguments. Devi, would you like to try? Don’t worry I’ll help you start with the first one. This is not an examination, this is only to make our mind sharper. The first argument is about the universal of cattiness, yes

cat is like if you say cat single is different from another cat but still has some yeah this is the second argument, quite. It’s all right we shall is an argument of the infinite regress that’s the one was the man. Yes, that is the two cats are similar to each other because they both partake of a universal cattiness then the question arises, How to explain similarly between that particular and this universal? You have to opposite of another universal. It has to continue… and then it continues on and on so you always have to find someone that. Therefore if the argument is never completed. Right., The first argument is, ‘the first one is that one is that if the particular part takes it's a question that is it the whole of the idea or only part of it and if it is the board then it means that the hole is at many that's places possible and then the second is that if it's the particular place only part of this, then it means the whole is invisible.

That's right,...... That the small will be smaller than the smallest which is impossible. Good. And third argument Anandmayi “you have everything in the whole cosmic idea … Good, this was observed alright. And the final argument, Shakti.. The ideas of first….. Good. Excellent all the four arguments well placed now we can move forward. This was a difficult hill to climb. You have done it. Excellent!

In future you'll come across a similar argument in philosophy. In philosophy there are many arguments. If you master these four arguments in future also, it will help to understand other arguments. That is why I took so much time only on these four arguments.

Now we come to a further elaboration of Plato. All these arguments point to the difficulty of reconciling the universal and the particular and in ‘Parmenides’ itself Plato seems to be struggling to arrive at some solution. You must remember that these four arguments are not actually ultimately unanswerable arguments. At present I have presented them in such a way as if they are unanswerable but it is not true. These arguments have defects themselves and one day we shall be able to find out the defects. It's an exercise which you have to do one day when you shall be able to reject all these arguments in fact and we shall be able to restate Plato in a more glorified form saying that Plato was right and his arguments were wrong and we shall try to do that because there is something so precious in Plato. Plato was in touch with the supermind so we have to remember this fact that Plato was in touch with the supermind that his Theory of Ideas is extremely important and there is a great truth in this theory and therefore if it is simply rejected in this fashion, it is simply a first view in which we happen to reject his argument, Plato's Theory but when we examine in more detail we shall find the arguments cannot be sustained and we shall do this exercise also and that is the greater exercise. These arguments which seem to be so soft now Plato himself in his dialogue called ’Parmendes’ he is struggling to solve this problem, to answer these four arguments. But this dialogue is inconclusive. Although this dialogue is inconclusive he at least shows the impossibility of assuming the one only although many only as the ultimate Reality. Now here in ‘Parmendes’ Plato raises another question of one and many. It is similar to the question of universal and the particular.

Now this question let us try to understand because in philosophy the question of universal and particular is an important problem. Then there is another problem of one and many. It is similar to the first problem but there is still a difference. So let me write down on the board so that key problems are fixed in the mind. Universals and particulars have a relationship of one and many. One cattiness and many cats. One ideal chair and many chairs so you can say with regard to every universal there is a problem of one and many. But this is only one illustration of the problem of one and many, universal and particular. But there is another line of thinking in which we meet the problem of one and many and that is a different context. You remember I spoke last time of Plato's theory of the Good and the theory of God. I spoke to you of the theory of the soul and its immortality and then there is a question as to what is ultimate? Is soul ultimate, is God ultimate, is Good ultimate? And I explained to you the question of ultimate, what is ultimate and what is penultimate. Penultimate is one degree below ultimate. If there are degrees like hot, hotter, hottest then hot is the starting point, hotter is penultimate and hottest is the ultimate. So penultimate is one degree remote from the ultimate it is penultimate. So now the question is that apart from universal and particular and the relationship between the two there are further problems of relationships and you have three terms—the soul, the Good and God and what is the relationship of these three?

One of the most important problems of philosophy is to relate. Philosophy is even defined as an exercise of establishing ultimate relationships, not only penultimate relationships but ultimate relationships. Science also relates, when you study science you say there is relationship between oxygen, hydrogen and water, it's a relationship that if you combine together then it becomes a cause and water becomes an effect, there is relationship of cause and effect between oxygen and hydrogen on one part and water on the other, it's a relationship but there are many kinds of relationships—this is a casual relationship. Then there is reciprocal relationship, not casual but reciprocal. Uncle and nephew is not a casual relationship, it's a reciprocal relationship. Uncle cannot exist without the nephew and nephew cannot exist without the uncle. The relationship called nephew cannot exist without the relationship of an uncle and the relationship of an uncle cannot exist without the relationship of a nephew. These two relationships are reciprocal. Even if you say one causes the other you have to say that the two cause each other, not that one causes the other but two cause each other simultaneously. So it's another kind of relationship. In mathematics you also have a sequential relationship, two comes after one, and it’s a sequence. Three comes after two, four comes after three, five comes after four it's a sequential it's not a cause. One is not the cause of two, two is not the cause of three, three is not the cause of four, and it’s simply a question of sequential relationship. You arrange things in a sequential manner and therefore the relationship is sequential. Aaron is not the cause of Devi but Aaron has a relationship with Devi in this particular formation in which Aaron precedes Devi. If I look at it from the left hand side, but if I look from this side Devi precedes Aaron, it's a sequential relationship, it's not a casual relationship; it's not a reciprocal relationship either it is only sequential relationship.

Now universal and particular also is a special kind of relationship which was our main subject of discussion for the last two days—what is the relation between the universal and the particular. Now it is supposed by Plato that all the ideas, there are so many ideas, multiplicity of ideas and this multiplicity of ideas can all be harmonised in one supreme idea called the supreme Good. The three penultimate ideas are Truth, Beauty and Goodness. They are penultimate ideas but the ultimate idea is the Good. So you might say there is multiplicity of ideas, there are many ideas and all these many can be reconciled in one idea, in one that is the Good. Now here you have to see that ideas are not particulars, it's a different kind of relationship. If you have universal and particular in one kind of relationship where one is in universal and many are particulars but in this idea of ideas you have many ideas each one of which is universal and then there is a farther universality in which all universal ideas are related into one. So it is another kind of relationship. Universal, Supreme Universal having a relationship with penultimate universals it's another kind of relationship, it's also a question of one and many but in this fashion where many also are universals and one is also universal. Now Plato introduces the idea of soul. Now the question is—is soul one or many? And his answer is that there are many souls, each one of us is a soul, and each one of us is immortal. Now the question is, these souls are many. So when you use the word many it may refer to the multiplicity of souls—many souls. So the idea of souls is the idea of many. Now what is the relationship between these many and universal ideas and their relationship with the highest universal. So you have three relationships established—many souls, many ideas, universal ideas and one Supreme Idea of the Good. And then if you want to complicate the matter further you can ask the question: what is the relationship between many souls and many particulars? This body for example is a particular body now soul also is a particular soul and what is the relationship between that particular soul and this particular body? This is a very interesting question. We shall come to it later on when you advance in philosophical thinking, what is the relationship between a particular body and a particular soul, are they both particular in the same sense? If not, what is the difference between the two? In Sri Aurobindo's philosophy there is a distinction between the individual and the particular. The soul is individual and the body is particular then what is the difference between the two? It's a very interesting question we shall discuss later on.

So on the one hand you have a question of the relationship of the soul and the particular, soul and penultimate ideas, soul and ultimate idea and then you have the problem of relationship of the soul, many souls with God. And then there is in Plato's theory also the idea of gods. Plato like the early Greeks was very much aware of the idea of gods not only God but gods—Zeus as the supreme in the hierarchy of gods and Hera as the spouse of Zeus and there are number of other gods like Apollo and Athena and Poseidon and many others like Aphrodite and many others, number of gods and goddesses. So now what is the difference between the soul, souls and gods and what is the relationship between them? And then the relation between souls, gods and God, what is the relationship and finally the question of relationship between God, gods, souls, universals, penultimate universals, particulars and series arising out of non–existent existent matter, what is the relationship? Now you can see the complexity of Plato's philosophy, so many ideas, so many terms are to be related and a good philosopher is one who can relate all of them in a systematic manner therefore philosophy is supposed to be a systematic study of philosophy is a system building activity. You build a connectivity, you build up a connectivity in which you build up a system in which all relations are understood very clearly, very harmoniously and a good philosophical system is good only if you can satisfactorily put them all together. Let anybody expound his philosophy to you and if you are a good philosopher you will ask the question: what are the basic terms of your philosophy? Like in Plato: what are the basic terms of Plato's philosophy? God, Good, universal ideas, particulars, souls and gods these are all the terms of Platonic philosophy. And then the question is has he been able to relate them satisfactorily? And satisfactorily means we again question as we did in the case of universal and particular. One simple relationship and you could see we are stumped out; we are not able to establish a relationship of universal and particular as yet. There has been a statement of Plato and Plato himself finds difficulties with it and we are quite convinced about the mistakes of Plato and we still have to find out where the arguments are mistaken, not Plato but arguments are mistaken that exercise remains to be done, we shall see. So a good philosophy is one in which all the ultimate relationships are ultimate relationships. So when you relate them ultimately then you can say you have built up a system which seems to be rationally satisfying that is how you should measure any philosophy. That is why philosophers are difficult to be convinced because they have many, many concepts in their minds and they all need to be related.

So I was now only commenting on this question of one and many and this is another relationship. Usually this is a relationship between God and souls this word when it is used God, one and many it is a relationship between God and souls. Souls are many and God is one. So the question here is: Is Ultimate Reality one or many? Plato says: we shall come back to the text.

..He at least shows the impossibility of assuming the One only or the Many only as the ultimate reality;

This is one of the propositions that he makes in his dialogue called Parmenides. That if you say one only is the reality, you have a problem. If you say many are the ultimate reality there is a problem. So he says at least I could show the difficulties of holding both the positions, either of the positions. If you say reality is only one there is a problem. If you say reality is many there is also a problem. Now I am not at present taking your time to show how he shows that impossibility of this problem but let us continue further. He says: this now we come to the other dialogue called the Sophist. Just as Parmenides is at the title of a dialogue of Plato there is another dialogue written by Plato which is entitled Sophists. Now in this dialogue he discusses the question of one and many. He started this question in Parmenides but he continues this question even in his dialogue called The Sophists. So in Sophists he attempts to show how the being and the non–being can all exist, it's another problem. You remember among the terms of Plato's philosophies there was also the question of non–being, non–existent. Non–existent that is existent which partakes into the universal as a result of which the particulars come into existence which are only partly existent, partly non–existent therefore they are objects not of knowledge but only of opinion that was Plato's theory. Now the question is non–existent. And in Sophists he tries to show how the being that is existence is a non–being, non–existent can coexist, once again it's a very difficult concept,—non–existent can exist. Existent and the non–existent can both co–exist, just as one and many can coexist, just as universal and particular can coexist; now this question of coexisting is a very important relationship in philosophy. We have discussed many relationships like casual relationship, reciprocal relationship; sequential relationship. Similarly there is a relationship of coexistence. Now on that basis I would have argued in detail on this question but I am not arguing indefinitely because it becomes too heavy at this stage. Later on when you specialise in Plato we may do in detail this question but I am only giving a passing reference to this and then say similarly Plato goes on to show how even the ideas be synthesised and harmonised into a unity. So how the idea of Truth and the Beauty can coexist, sometimes you will see in the world Truth and Beauty don't coexist together and therefore there is a conflict, there is conflict between Truth and Good also. The Truth and Good can collide together. Is it good to allow a man to kill a victim? A simple question is asked: a man who is pursuing other man just to kill him, you are on the street standing and you see that man running away. One man and this second man comes up for some time and says: did you see any man running away from here and he has got a sword in his hand and now you recognise that he wants to kill that man, what will be your answer? You know that this man wants to kill that man and if you say: yes, he went in this direction there is a clue and you'll run after him and will kill him. Then who becomes the cause of the killing? You, you showed him the way, now truth and good collide. If you say the Truth then you are not good because you become the cause of the killing of that man which is not good and of you do not tell the truth you are doing good but not telling the truth so there is a conflict between the truth and the good. So in the world there is a big conflict, they don't coexist. Truth and Good do not exist together and yet Plato says ultimately Truth, Beauty and Goodness all of the three coexist and in the Ultimate Reality Truth is Good, Good is Truth, and Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth and Beauty is Good and Beauty is Truth so all of them are co–related, coexistent and not only co–existent but united, harmonised. You can again see the difficulty of Plato's philosophy. Is it really a fact that Truth, Beauty and Goodness can coexist. What is our human experience, what is the data? In our data of human life do we really find Truth, Beauty and Goodness coexist and we find constant conflicts between the three? You want to write a story, a beautiful story and then you are told you write a beautiful story in which no character tells a lie, truth absolutely truth and then as an artist you say: you can't make a good story out of it, everybody tells the truth, without the mixture, some spice in which things are mixed up, you don't get a good story. Without Manthra can there be a good Ramayana? This is a question: if you write a good story, a good story is what, what's the meaning of a story? A story, the smallest definition of a story is an interesting account. The story is an interesting account. Then there will be no plot, there may be nothing, there must be an interesting account or anything that is interesting, that's a story. And the question is according to the artist, he only wants to create something interesting, not necessarily a story which will be a story of good people, all good people put together then it makes no interesting story. If Kaikeyi was wonderful, Rama was wonderful, Sita was wonderful, Dashratha was wonderful then there is no story. Ramayana may not be written so how to unite all goodness, all truthfulness, all beauty together and he says no, no, no I must have little mixture, little spice and I don't mind whether it is all truthful or good or everything, I need some mixtures so that the story becomes interesting. I as an artist, I am only a kind of a story–teller, story must be interesting, that's all. So the artist says if you want only truth in the story it won't be an interesting story, if all are good characters it will not be interesting story so artist collides with the people who speak of the Truth. In fact there are many thinkers who believe that stories should not be told at all because stories always involve some kind of a falsehood, some kind of mixture, you should only tell the Truth and nothing but the Truth. Children should not be told stories because they will know how to tell lies, how to be cunning and so on. In fact even Plato when he wrote he said in the education system Homer should not be taught, great story of Iliad, he said should not be taught because Iliad consists of gods who are fighting amongst themselves and children will think that if gods are fighting why we should not fight among ourselves; so the message of harmony will not come out of Iliad. So he said don't make people read the Iliad. So you see the conflict. So Plato says however there is a possibility of having all the three together and he says: In fact the best art is the art of exclusive Truth and Beauty and Goodness all the three together is the best art. The best Truth is also beautiful at the same time. The highest Good is also truthful and beautiful at the same time and that is his thesis and this thesis is very important in the whole history of mankind and his assumption Truth, Beauty and Goodness can not only coexist but they are in each other, they subsist by each other, they are reciprocal in relationships and they can be united and you go to the Good which is at once Beauty and Goodness then the distinction between Truth, Beauty and Goodness also vanishes.

I think we stop here now we shall continue this next time. In the meantime if you do find time, if you do want to glance at this next few pages have a look at these two three pages and see how far you can follow it. All right.