Plato and the goodness of the body. Part 8. Conclusion

In conclusion, when situated within the wider context of Plato’s thought, the anti-body texts turn out not to be quite as threatening as they appear. Furthermore, we have seen that Plato’s ontology provides the basis for a positive valuation of embodiment, a valuation worked out more fully in his cosmology. Understanding the world of becoming as dependent on a higher, more real, reality is not the route to evacuating bodies of value but the precise opposite. It is a way to understand how it is that bodies can possess truth, goodness, and beauty at all. They do so by means of participation.[1] In the words of C. S. Lewis, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”[2]

[1] Dr. Paul Tyson sent me the following helpful reflections on Plato and embodiment (email dated 26th August 2014): “The relationship between the temporally apparent and the eternally real is necessary for intelligibility via sensation. . . . [T]he eternal and true being which underlies all spatiotemporal appearing can never be defined or reduced to the terms of becoming. Becoming is a window onto being, and is indeed a derivative function of being; becoming has its glory as a window onto being, a medium of participation in being, but becoming disappears if one seeks to make reality and truth demonstrably contained without reference to that which sensation and time are dependent on. So treating the partial images of eternal truth that we see shifting and changing in embodied time as if they are real in themselves, this is an impossible misreading of reality. Those who accept mere sensational immediacy, mere embodied temporality, mere culturally situated norms and linguistic meanings as real in their own right, and who treat that which provides meaning and essence to embodied existence as non-existent, entirely misunderstand reality, the body, culture, and temporality. Thinking along Platonist lines, clearly we moderns are those who do not understand reality, the body, and temporality, because we assume the reality of tangible immediacy and rational necessity defined within the bounds of material nature is true in its own right. We assume that temporal becoming has no grounds in eternal being. To us, Plato sounds as if he hates embodiment because he does not treat material embodiment as defining reality. We latch onto comments from the dialogues asserting or implying that the body is a prison and matter is evil, and this becomes our means of dismissing Plato as a body hater, and as unconcerned with embodied. . . . But this reflects our limited view of intelligible essence (‘spirit’ if you like) rather than being a fair understanding of how positively Plato approaches the body, temporality, and cultural context as necessary and good mediums of Reality.”
[2] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 117.


Tom N. said…
heavy ... but you certainly make it a bit easier to understand.
You're the William Barclay of Philosophy!

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