Friday, March 18, 2011
“You came here as a little girl?”
“Yes,” Clare whispered against the pillow, her tiny mouth, sweet and musty, was inches from my ear. “Daddy and Gavin’s father were both Oxford Dons.”
“What does he teach?”
“What is his specialty?”
“What kind of work did he do with it?”
“The hypostasizing temptation,” she said rather blandly.
“Hypostasizing. Making ideas into things,” she whispered.
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s a complicated subject, metaphysics. Daddy studies how impossible metaphysics becomes as an area of study because the mind always makes ideas into things. The mind always conceptualizes ideas as things, it’s the only way it can think of them.” She propped herself up on one elbow and continued. “Metaphysics is concerned with aspects of reality beyond the physical. It all started with Parmenides, three generations before Aristotle. He talked about an abstract notion of Being. He was the first one to think of a philosophical abstraction. Plato takes Parmenides’ notion in a dialogue of the same name and advances it a step further: perhaps there are other abstractions besides Being: ideas, forms, mind, for instance. But somewhere along the way the ideas expressed in Plato got into the same trouble as Parmenides’ Being: ideas became things existing alongside the physical objects they were supposed to be the copies of, if you get my meaning. The ideas are the same as the individual objects they represent, just eternal and perfect.”
“I see, I think.”
“There is an absolute house, an absolute man, an absolute health. The ideas are nothing more than eternal sensibles in Plato’s dialogues, especially the later ones. Or at least, unarguably, in the hands of his successors.”
“It would seem,” I said ineptly.
“And the problem is a mistake in apprehension and philosophers fall into it again and again.”
“You have an excellent command of this topic.”
“Not really,” she nodded vigorously, “I just grew up around these ideas. They were Daddy’s life work. He showed that there are two ways to think about abstract concepts: they exist externally, in the heavens lets say, or they exist as concepts in the mind. Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, sought to re-establish ideas as abstractions in the mind, to rehabilitate Plato’s forms as abstractions, so to speak, and not as heavenly objects. But the two ways of thinking about abstractions are constantly getting confused. Even Aristotle, who sought hard to avoid Plato’s trap, confuses the two ways.”
“I’m lost again.”
“Its really simple, actually. How do we have an idea for bed, for instance. What are the ideas as an entity? Is it merely a thought in our heads, or does it exist independently? The question is really simple. The answer is hard. As an idea it is a product of the mind, as an Idea it is independent and self-subsisting. Both solutions have their own problems.
“Aristotle wanted to solve this problem in the Metaphysics but he didn’t. Daddy showed that he split the problem in two without really answering it. There are actually two metaphysics in the Metaphysics; there is one in book lamda, and one in zeta, eta and theta. The first is the metaphysics of the Unmoved Mover, the second the metaphysics of form and matter. The first is constructed on physically transcendent conceptions in the heavens, the second on abstract conceptions, ideas we have in the mind.
“But Aristotle then screws up even further. He splits up each of these metaphysics even further. There are two kinds of matter, sensible and noetic. Form also has two varieties: material and conceptual. The conceptual form continually yields up to the temptation of hypostasization.”
“Where ideas become things?” I asked.
“Yes. We have no way to adequately conceptualize ideas non-spatially. We think of everything spatially. Ideas always become things in space. They are super-things, so to speak. Daddy always said there is no such thing as an idea.”