Monday, August 21, 2006

Forms… just lying under there…

As with most things, this book is coming at me in a very subconscious way. I’m a very subconscious person; I’m just open to that.

So, I’m driving down the street today and it hits me – another way in which this book is far bigger than I originally imagined. Why? Well, you see…

I’m driving along and I suddenly hear Vicky say, “You can’t define success any way you want. Everyone knows what success is.”

Did I mention she wasn’t in the car?

This sets off the spark.

Does everyone know what success is?

“Of course.” she says. “Think about the underlying forms.”

Underlying forms.

I suppose I should mention right now that this isn’t really the right term. I mean, it is but it isn’t…

Moving on - - -

When she said this, it brought to mind Plato’s theory of forms. The idea is that all chairs represent a single, perfect chair, or that all humans represent a perfect, ideal human. And it occurred to me that this was just so much hogwash.

Wait just a second, I thought… I’m calling Plato’s theories hogwash?

Yes, but they are!

I couldn’t argue them before. After all, the theory is pretty self-evident. Think about chairs. A chair with two legs is obviously inferior to one with three, which is also inferior to one with four. The movement towards a perfect chair is self-evident.

What makes it hogwash?

Back to the chair. Take a newborn baby. Put him in a chair or have him look at a chair. Will she know that the one with three legs is, in any way, inferior to that with four? Of course, not! The whole in Plato’s theory is that it is wholly subjective, requiring a posteriori information. In other words, you need information on which to base that judgement. For something to truly be an underlying form, it would have to a priori, recognizable without any previous information.

Now, to success: Can there be an ideal success? A success better than other successes? Of course, not! Trying to wedge that concept into an ideal state, forces you to realize how open for interpretation it is!

Where the term “underlying form” came from, I don’t know. Again… subconscious. But it applies swimmingly well to a concept so far beneath our daily reference that it escapes rational thought.

It was when I hit the term “rational” that my spine began to bristle.

I mean, I’ve already defined “success” as non-materialistic in nature. Now, I am broadening the definition to include irrational.

There was a lot more swimming through my head but, by the time I got home, this was all I had and, reading it now, I’d say it’s enough…


Tony said...


Plato's theory is flawed but not for the reasons you cited. If a baby is presented with a choice between the "pefect" chair and a flawed chair, he indeed needs prior knowledge to make the correct choice as to the "perfect". He needs to test the others and will discover the the perfect through trial and error. However, this does not negate that the "perfect" was always so and the flawed was always flawed. They were always what they were (perfect and flawed) regardless of what the child knew, learned or untimately came to the conclusion of. This is not subjective at all but the absolute in objectivity. You are ascribing a subjective element because you are a subjective being. No form will ever present itself to you as the "perfect" because you do not have exhaustive knowledge of all possible material things. Having a limited view and limited knowledge you can never "know" the perfect without comparing it ti the imperfect.

Aristotle took this all a step further:

"But Aristotle argued that the theory of forms is seriously flawed: it is not supported by good arguments; it requires a form for each thing; and it is too mathematical. Worst of all, on Aristotle's view, the theory of forms cannot adequately explain the occurrence of change. By identifying the thing with its essence, the theory cannot account for the generation of new substances. (Metaphysics VII) A more reasonable position must differentiate between matter and form and allow for a dynamic relation between the two.

Aristotle therefore maintained that each individual substance is a hylomorphic composite involving both matter and form together. Ordinary predication, then, involves paronymously attributing an abstract universal of a concrete individual, and our experience of this green thing is more significant than our apprehension of the form of greenness. This account, with its emphasis on the particularity of individual substances, provided Aristotle with a firm foundation in practical experience.

Aristotle also offered a detailed account of the dynamic process of change. A potentiality {Gk. dunamiV [dynamis]} is either the passive capacity of a substance to be changed or (in the case of animate beings) its active capacity to produce change in other substances in determinate ways. An actuality {Gk. energeia [energeia]} is just the realization of one of these potentialities, which is most significant when it includes not merely the movement but also its purpose. Becoming, then, is the process in which the potentiality present in one individual substance is actualized through the agency of something else which is already actual. (Metaphysics IX) Thus, for Aristotle, change of any kind requires the actual existence of something which causes the change.

The higher truths of what Aristotle called "theology" arise from an application of these notions to the more purely speculative study of being qua being. Since every being is a composite whose form and matter have been brought together by some cause, and since there cannot be infinitely many such causes, he concluded that everything that happens is ultimately attributable to a single universal cause, itself eternal and immutable. (Metaphysics XII 6) This self-caused "first mover," from which all else derives, must be regarded as a mind, whose actual thinking is its whole nature. The goodness of the entire universe, Aristotle supposed, resides in its teleological unity as the will of a single intelligent being."(1)

Anyway, I realize that the resulting argument isn't exactly what you would like to hear. And it isn't true just because Aristotle said so. i just thought you would like to see where the ultimate "Thinker" took the argument. Perhaps it will help you in your book's direction. Perhaps not.


Jenn from WA said...

So I'm confused. Have we defined success yet?

I may not be all philosophical - in fact I can rarely be called that. But I do know that like beauty, success is in the eye of the beholder. I think we all tend to think we're not successful because of societ standards we are placing and comparing ourselves to. Are all my friends who are married with children "more successful" than me? Or my friends who have more $$?

I am a success. Just the shear fact that I can contribute to society on a daily basis and not be a burden on anyone. I am stable, I hold my own, and while accomplishing a lot in my life, I've failed too. But I am still successful.

You ask why? Its easy. Because I said so.