Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Being & Logos

According to Gadamer (Truth and Method (Continuum Impacts), 405), philosophy essentially began with a nominalist move. The “earliest” view saw an “intimate unity of word and thing,” so intimate that the “true name was considered to be part of the bearer of the name.”

Philosophy “more or less began with the insight that the word is only a name – i.e., that it does not represent true being. This is precisely the breakthrough of philosophical inquiry into the territory over which the name had undisputed rule. Belief in the word and doubt about it constitute the problem that the Greek Enlightenment saw in the relationship between word and thing. Thereby the word changed from presenting the thing to substituting for it.”

This inevitably raised the question of whether language can be true at all, and the pressure of this question led Plato away from language to ideas as the locus of truth:

Having rejected the alternative accounts of language in the Cratylus, “Plato wants to demonstrate that no truth . . . can be attained in language – in language’s claim to correctness . . . – and that without words . . . being must be known purely from itself” (p. 407).

And this, Gadamer thinks, is the source of the problems of skepticism, objectivity, and truth in Western philosophy, problems that can only arise when one needs to compare what we say about a thing to what the thing is, a comparison only possible on the assumption that we have non-linguistic access to the thing to which we can compare our linguistic descriptions.

Philosophy begins not with forgetfulness of Being, but with forgetfulness of Logos, in the specific sense of language. Philosophy begins from forgetfulness of the truth that “in the beginning was the word.”

Is Leithart saying (here) that Plato was mistaken, & that his move was a nominalist, minimalist account of the power of Logos, moving away from seeing that the Word is identical to the Thing? If he is, my understanding of Plato is that this is overly simplistic to the point of error. Plato isn't saying that (for example) chanting the names of God or praying the prayer of the heart can't lead one to a realization of the divine shekinah. He is saying that one must first transcend one's own mentation and linguistics, prior to "seeing" God. This means that the "Logos" is not "wordy"or empirical. The Logos is the Divine Idea of God. Augustine canonizes this tradition, later on, and Plotinus explicates it in more nuance.

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