Let’s have fun with Plato!
Back in my college days, I took philosophy courses to “broaden my brain.” (It didn’t work.) We were told Plato was always talking about “ideal forms,” of which real objects were only a shadow. Whenever my teachers dragged out these ideal forms, they were always things like circles, squares, cubes and dodecahedra. I figured out after a while that there was a bias against using shapes that could take multiple forms. Which is the ideal pentagon: the house shape, the regular pentagon or some other?
I know now they were basically cherry-picking, only talking about ideal forms us mathematicians would be likely to buy.
Lately, though, it has come to my attention that my teachers never brought up Plato’s ideal horse. Had they done so, I would have laughed raucously. The absurdity of it all was too apparent.
I think ideal forms are superfluous additions to reality. Even if you only think of a horse as a work animal — i.e., for what a horse can do for you, rather than for other horses — there are so many different ideas about how they might work for us, doing whatever, that the ideal would have to be smeared over a continuum. A better representation than the ideal horse, one which would fit the reality of horses better, is the actual discrete set of all horses living now or ever. Ideal forms living in an ideal mind space don’t add anything to one’s understanding; they only subtract from it. In order to describe them, you end up trimming away all aspects of the object that you don’t want to see, like how does the stallion see the mare? What’s the ideal foal? Is the ideal horse a wild animal? Or is it domesticated? What color is it?
Wouldn’t it be an obvious question to a stallion: what would be the ideal mare? Has no one seen “Mr. Ed”? I’ve read the short stories. Plato lived too young.
By the time you unpack all the individual instances of horses that have to make up the ideal, you might as well rest there.
While we’re at it, what’s an ideal reindeer? It has to be a magic flying reindeer that can help pull Santa’s sled.
What’s an ideal unicorn? Obviously, it adds color to parades.
If there’s an ideal horse, there must be an ideal Plato. I’d like to hear from him, because the one we had sucked.
Later, let’s have fun with Descartes! We’ll try to find the ideal Descartes in a future column. I’m sure he will both think and be. And he’ll be very Cartesian, with little grids all over the place.
But now we have to think about what Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is getting up to. Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito are telling us all that their reading of the history of guns in the U.S. must be the foundation of all the laws, just like Alito’s history of abortion here has to be the basis of abortion laws. Because he sure knows his history. He says.
I don’t trust either Alito or Thomas to adhere to well-constructed historical arguments.
Since the New York law that Thomas’s decision overrules is 108 years old, it’s hard to accept the idea that history is being observed. History has just been paved over.
As many of you may know, I have always been in favor of the Second Amendment. I believe that my right to bear arms depends on the government giving me arms. I want free guns and free ammunition. Otherwise, the right to bear arms is a cruel joke. I can’t afford guns anymore than I can afford my own attorney. Surely Thomas can grasp the simple logic behind my premise.
Thomas now says we can’t deny people guns merely because they can’t prove they need them. According to him, all their rights are fundamentally needs, therefore give them up. I want my free government gun. Send it in the mail, Clarence. I need it because I say so. I don’t have to prove anything to New York. I don’t just want any gun: I want Plato’s ideal gun with Plato’s ideal bullets. I expect a silver gun with silver bullets and a white horse named Silver. The ideal horse, as you all know.
Read more of the June 29-July 5, 2022 issue.