Monday, January 5, 2009

Platonic Forms in the Kitchen

Olivia was holding a table knife the other day and said, “Dad, isn’t this just a ‘knife’? I mean, it's got knife, like written on it.” I looked closely at the knife and all I saw was “Made in China.” I told her, and she said, “No, I mean the word ‘knife’ is not written on it, but it’s like it is. You just look at it and all you see is knife.”

I was floored. What she meant was that is exhibited the essential nature of a table knife. The Platonic form of knife.

Here's something from Wikipedia:

But what were the forms? In Plato as well as in general speech there is a form for every object or quality in reality: forms of dogs, human beings, mountains, colors, courage, love, and goodness. Form answers the question "what is that?" Plato was going a step further and asking what Form itself is. He supposed that the object was essentially or "really" the Form and that the phenomena were mere shadows mimicking the Form; that is, momentary portrayals of the Form under different circumstances. The problem of universals - how can one thing in general be many things in particular - was solved by presuming that Form was a distinct singular thing but caused plural representations of itself in particular objects.[9] Matter was considered particular in itself.

These Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless microwaves in the world but the Form of microwaveness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them.[10] Plato held that the world of Forms is separate from our own world (the world of substances) and also is the true basis of reality. Removed from matter, Forms are the most pure of all things. Furthermore, Plato believed that true knowledge/intelligence is the ability to grasp the world of Forms with one's mind.[11]

I've got a little platonist at home.


  1. Mike Baker said...

    ...but was the "Made In China" in, with, and under the knife?

    ...or did the knife take on the nature of "Made In China", but retain the accidentals of the kinfe.

    ...or did the knife include the spiritual essence of "Made In China" through some intangable presence?

    ...or are we just to hold the knife and let it intellectually remind us that it was "Made In China"? last one. If I use a spoon or some kind of spork instead of a knife, do I still get the "Made In China"?

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    "Made in China" is clearly a particular, not relating to the Form:Knife at all. :)

  3. Mike Baker said...

    So are you saying that I can gnostically experience "Made in China" totally apart from the Form: Knife by using contemporary music, some frosty-haired and trendy (but vapid) leadership, and a really cool powerpoint display?

    What if I don't like China. Can I just say that it was "Made in Peru" and still be in fellowship with people who say "Made in China"?

    That's very relevant. Thanks.