Sunday, 26 October 2014

Why I am not, personally, a Platonist

I hope that in yesterday's post I was able to demonstrate my immense respect for Platonism, and for the achievements of Platonist intellectuals

I regard Platonism as the only philosophy with power to motivate good work, and make sense of life; nonetheless I am not now a Platonist - although I have been, at various times in the past including quite recently:


Platonism was never quite natural for me, and I always responded most instinctively and spontaneously to the Pragmatism of William James, which I first encountered in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. However, this pluralism does seem shallow, unspiritual and incomplete, especially in comparison with Platonism, so I would vacillate and oscillate.

It was only after re-reading and second-time-round grasping Sterling McMurrin's The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion that I saw the bigger picture; which was the Christianity was primary and the foundation and the framework; and pluralist pragmatism was the metaphysical philosophy secondary, built-on and located-within that framework.

From this perspective, I perceive that Platonism is so strong a philosophy (for serious intellectuals, at least - it is incomprehensible or silly for 'normal people') that it had (very early in the history of the Christian church) usurped the primacy of Christianity, and had slotted-Christianity-into the Platonic framework which Greco-Roman intellectuals already had in place before they were Christians.

(In the above and what follows, I regard Aristotelian philosophy, and Thomism, as being a sub-set of the broad category of Platonism. It is different, but the difference in in detail; Aristotle was a modification, not replacement, of Plato; and the basic assumptions of Aristotelianism are within Platonism.) 


Platonism is so strong, so satisfying - including spiritually satisfying, and so nearly-complete a metaphysical system; that it almost cannot-help but become a rival to plain, storytelling, personal relations-based Christianity as revealed in the New Testament (and the Old).

Thus, Christian theologians have generally defended Platonism as if it was Christianity, and regarded non-Platonic philosophy as heretical - failing to see that in doing so they are putting philosophy before theology.

I am NOT saying that one cannot be both a Platonist and a Christian - that would be utterly ludicrous since so many great Christians (including church Fathers and Saints and people of high holiness) have been Platonists. What I am saying is that it is hard to be this and not to put the Platonism first.

So while I, as a pluralist pragmatist, freely and happily acknowledge the real and high Christianity of Christian Platonists; Christian Platonists cannot return the compliment! Or at least they do not, but indeed do the opposite - they deny the validity of non-Platonic (pluralist, pragmatist) Christians.


The focus of disagreement between Platonism and what might be termed plain Christianity is the nature of God.

For Platonism God is primarily - and in reality - abstract, has attributes and properties; and the person-hood of God is a kind of interactive software designed for our convenience and benefit - but not the core of the matter. God is, really, a God of the Philosophers; and God as Father is seen as a metaphor, a help for weaker vessels, but not really correct. Thus the philosopher has a better (deeper, truer) understanding of the nature of God than is possible for children and simple people.

For the pragmatist pluralist, who rests on Biblical revelation, the bottom-line nature of God is that He is Our Father; a person; and the way to describe Him and the Human Condition is properly to use the language of relationships. The philosophical descriptions of God, his abstract properties, are relatively shallow compared to this; and when philosophy comes into conflict with the personal and relational understanding - it is philosophy that must yield.

Since it is children and simple people (that are Christian) who most naturally perceive God as a person with whom we have a relationship, then it is children and simple people of faith who have a better (deeper, truer) understanding of the nature of God than the philosophical description.


So this is why, despite my enormous respect for Platonism, and my experience of its gravitational attraction, I am not myself a Platonist.