Plato’s Ideal

We all have ideas of things that sit in our minds and captivate us. It may be the perfect Christmas where it is snowing, you are inside with a roaring fire crackling with dry douglas fir wood, making the house smell like evergreen and light wood smoke. The dog is by the fire, and it is cold outside. Everyone is reading and all is right with the world. This, by the way, is my ideal of a Christmas day. It is what I see when I close my eyes and think about what I want.

Though it is a simplistic form of Plato’s idea, it stands as a working example. Plato, while trying to understand the world around him in a pre-scientific world, came to understand, or believe that all things are modeled after a single ideal version of the real. That, by extension, means that all that we know to be real are nothing more than the shadow versions of things and poor fakes for the real and ideal versions that exist in a real and ideal world.

It is kind of an interesting concept. We all have a referent for objects and items that we have experienced, or in some cases, fantasize about. The perfect trip, the perfect wedding, the perfect life, and while those are mostly abstract, we are fed a version of the ideal that we may never actually get, though we strive for. Thanks, Hollywood. all joking aside, I want you to consider an object, in class, we discussed the ideal tree. It seems silly, but consider what you view as the ideal form of a tree. What is a tree to you? What do you see? It may be based on a real-life tree, but is somehow more than real, it embodies all trees, it is the model that all trees are based off. Plato would have called this the ideal if it existed for real. It is your ideal, but ideal none-the-less.  Yours is different than mine, and mine different than anyone else, but they are all trees be they maple, cedar, fir, palm, or ironwood. Somehow we all understand that trees are modeled off of something greater than what we see when we see a tree.

Understand that this thought was proposed 2,500 years ago, and the world felt different than what we would recognize. In some places, the only writing that was meant to be kept was carved into clay and baked. That was writing, not cell phones, not tablets, not even that letter you get from your grandma at Christmas lamenting the fact that no one writes in cursive anymore. Later, Aristotle would happily debunk his former master’s ideas and come up with his own understanding of forms and the understanding of nature, but Plato’s ideas were very tempting to those who mostly lived a hand-to-mouth life. Living was very uncertain and a concept that considered something higher and better lay beyond was and remains quite tempting.

What do you view as an ideal of something, like a tree? What experience or reference do you have for that view of the world? What could change your ideal perspective of that object?

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