Implications of the Incarnation on the History of Philosophy, Part 1: Plato vs. Aristotle
I have been teaching a class at the Encore Program of NC State University contrasting the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche with orthodox Protestant Christianity. The class has been a real delight so far and I will do a series on it here in the coming weeks. Something struck me though both as I was lecturing and then later during some further over lunch…
Background and Introduction
…There are some remarkable implications of the Incarnation to the history of philosophy. By way of introduction and background, the history of (western) philosophy can be summarized as an ongoing debate between Plato and Aristotle.
In short, Plato (428-348 BC) put forth the idea that the metaphysical world is more knowable than the physical world. Following Socrates, Plato illustrates this idea through allegory of the cave, where there is a group of humans chained in a cave, facing a blank wall, where a fire illuminates shadow puppets on this blank wall (see illustration above). The idea is that this physical world we reside in is merely a shadow of a more real and more knowable world that is not physical but metaphysical. From here Plato posits the idea of the Forms. Take for example a chair that is sitting in front of you. Plato asks you, ‘how do you know that his is a ‘chair’?’ You might say something to the effect, ‘well, it has more than three legs, has a place to be seated, armrests, and backing… is it not obvious that this is a chair.’ Plato would tell us that we know that it is a chair because there exists in our minds an ideal chair and the reason we know that the thing before us is a chair, is because of its resemblance to the archetypal chair. That archetypal chair is the Form of chair. In short, we have knowledge of physical things here and now because of the resemblance of these physical things to their ideal metaphysical Form.
In contrast, Aristotle denies that the Forms exist way out there in the metaphysical realm – the Form of the chair is actually residing in the chair sitting in front of you.
So, the battle lines are drawn for a 2400 year long conversation/debate/dialogue in the West (the reason Immanuel Kant is so revered in philosophy is for his attempt to synthesize Plato and Aristotle). Is knowledge of a thing transcendent (Plato) or is it immanent (Aristotle)? Is the nature of all things Being (Plato) or Becoming (Aristotle)?
Implications of the Incarnation
The Incarnation solves this dichotomy, not with words, logic, or an argument… but with a person! Jesus is the God-man, one person with two natures (Hypostatic Union). Jesus bridges the gap between the physical and the metaphysical. In his person, he is both transcendent and immanent simultaneously. Jesus is the divine logos united with a real human body.
So, is God near to us or is He lofty and far away?
ps.I think Kant could have saved a good deal of time if he had just looked for the answer to philosophy’s greatest question by looking at his first name, Immanuel. God with us.
Written by Michael Graham
February 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm
Tagged with Allegory of the Cave, Aristotle, Being vs. Becoming, Friedrich Nietzsche, History of Philosophy, Hypostatic Union, Immanuel Kant, Incarnation, Jesus, Logos, Metaphysics, NCSU, Philosophy's Greatest Question, Plato, Platonic Forms, Protestantism, Theory of the Forms