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Plato Today

Luc Brisson
p. 9-11
Cet article est une traduction de :
Platon aujourd’hui

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1Most of the texts collected here result from an international Conference entitled Plato Today - Platon aujourd’hui, held at the University Paris Ouest Nanterre - La Défense from March 12-14 2009. This conference corresponded to the meeting midway between two Symposia Platonica : the one from 2007, held at Dublin on the Philebus, and the one from 2010 that was to be held at Tokyo on the Republic. The last two contributions were presented at the public session that was held immediately after the Tokyo Symposium Platonicum on August 7 2010. All these texts describe the persistence of Plato’s presence, be it in metaphysics, mathematics, cosmology, politics, and even in cinema, with the last two texts investigating the appropriation of the Platonic doctrine, especially as set forth in the Republic, in Asia and in Europe.

2This collection opens with a metaphysical reflection. Frédéric Nef describes the presence of Plato’s thought in a part of metaphysics as it is conceived today, that is, analytical ontology defined as the formal study of the types and modes of existence. Since this kind of ontology is interested in all possible worlds, Platonism finds a place in it as a doctrine that accepts abstract objects, particularly mathematics, which can be grasped by means of an intuition sui generis. A distinction must be made, however, between Platonism as a paradigm and the thought of the historical Plato. The historical Plato, often denounced as an obscurantist, features the interest of thinking of particulars in a radical way from within a theory of relations (X is greater than Y and less than Z). This is the sense in which he takes his place, in the Timaeus, at the beginnings of what is called “mathematical Platonism”, and that, in the Parmenides and the Theaetetus, he inaugurates a metaphysics of the composition of individuals, that manifests affinities with a formal component of analytical ontology, “mereology” or the science of wholes and parts.

3We then move on to mathematics. Laurent Lafforgue establishes a relation between Plato and mathematics through the intermediary of what he calls a “fact of thought”, which he defines in the form of a mathematical affirmation, whether a notion or an argument, that gives the mathematician the feeling of not being fundamentally dependent on the contingent history of mathematics. This recourse to the “fact of thought” gives a whole new dimension to what Plato calls the “Form”, which thereby seems less strange and much more firmly anchored in experience. After surveying recent, concrete debates over mathematical idealities, Frédéric Patras studies the role played by Gödel in this debate over the range of Platonic questioning in this field. He ends by evoking the spontaneous tension toward knowledge and the intellectual enjoyment provided by understanding and discovery. These are constitutive of mathematical experience, an experience that is reminiscent of the finest moments of Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium.

4From mathematics, we move quite naturally to cosmology, since the current representation of the universe is essentially mathematical. This belief was mobilized by Plato in the Timaeus, but following Aristotle’s critique it remained subterranean until Galileo. Contemporary cosmology thus renews its connection with the questions of wisdom, possibility, and the meaning of knowledge, but without understanding the importance of the Timaeus in this area. The Timaeus rejects an explanatory principle of the universe by descent, substituting for it an activity, viz. a craftsmanlike fashioning with a mathematical orientation. This leads Plato to recognize the importance of sense experience in a theoretical model of the universe, and to insist on the place of the work of understanding, which constructs theories intended to explain phenomena by projecting them into a symbolic world.

5It is in the ethical and political domain, which are inseparable in Plato, that have experienced the richest posterity. Ada Neschke Hentschke rightly points out that for Plato, actual freedom is not to “be able to do whatever one wishes”, but to “wish to do everything one can, while having mastery over one’s action by means of knowledge”. This presupposition allows us to underline Plato’s realism in the face of modern ideologies and utopias, which are here set forth and criticized with rigor and lucidity. For J. Dillon, despite all that separates them, Plato tends toward what Rawls calls the “maximization of liberties”, thereby opposing the ideology of the Utilitarians, who accept the sacrifice of individual freedoms in order to increase production. In the Laws, Plato wishes to provide every citizen with an education that will enable him or her to deliberate rationally on the governance of the city, without having to sacrifice themselves to achieve this goal. Although the Platonic ontology, based on the separation between the sensible and the intelligible, has not survived critique, particularly those of Kant and Nietzsche, it is nevertheless the case that the idea of transcendence has played a considerable role in the thought of utopian thinkers, as is explained by Álvaro Vallejo Campos. We find the same ambiguity in the case of the judgment emitted on the place of women in the city by feminist movements of the 1980s and 1990s, with some activists accusing Plato of downgrading women, whereas others have seen in him a precursor of women’s liberation. Luc Brisson tries to show that both positions are excessive. Plato is led to maintain an unprecedented position on the question of women in the city, since he wants to attack the family (oikos) in the broad sense, as the source of competition that leads to war both within and without. By defining human beings by their soul, not by their body, he is in a position to attribute to women a social role other than that of giving birth to children and raising them.

6Starting out from a judgment by Rohmer, who recognized Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo as a “Platonic film”, developing a series of variations “on Being and Appearance, on the One and the Many, on the Idea and the Sensible”, Jean-Francois Mattei undertakes a reflection on the play of simulacra and appearances. Prolonging the intuitions of Jean Douchet, who traced the geometrical motifs that translate the presence of the Idea in Hitchcock, Jean-Francois Mattei reaches this astonishing conclusion : “All of Vertigo is built upon the image of the spiral of appearances opposed to the vertical of reality”. Plato thus opens the way, even today, to the perception of the ideal structures that mark the imitations of the sensible.

7Finally, Noburu Notomi and Takeshi Sasaki enquire into the possible meanings of reading the Republic, both in Asia and in Europe. In Asia, and particularly in Japan, reading Plato allowed and continues to allow a bridge between East and West. Unlike China, which never cut itself off from Europe, Japan experienced a considerable cultural shock when it was forced to introduce European science and technology, which obliged it, at the same time, to inform itself about the philosophy that constituted the basis of this culture. We can thus understand why tetsu-gaku, which was to signify “philosophy”, came to mean “Western philosophy”. In a text with a great wealth of information, Takeshi Sasaki shows how, in Europe, Plato was mobilized to serve highly divergent social and political interests. His analysis of the situation of Germany in the nineteenth century is exemplary in this regard.

8We hope that the reader, as he or she reads through these texts, will become aware of the fact that Plato is more than an author from the past of whom one becomes aware for historical reasons. In many fields, his thought remains alive and constitutes a source of inspiration.

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Luc Brisson, « Plato Today », Études platoniciennes, 9 | 2012, 9-11.

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Luc Brisson, « Plato Today », Études platoniciennes [En ligne], 9 | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2014, consulté le 26 avril 2017. URL : http://etudesplatoniciennes.revues.org/262

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Luc Brisson

CNRS, UPR 76 - Centre Jean Pépin

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