Platonism on T&S

February 4, 2006 | 4 comments
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In an interesting post, Julie lays out a hermeneutic approach that reminds me of Plato’s ideals. She writes:

I, too, don’t think that the doctrines concerning women’s equality are in any doubt–but often the behavior of individual church members is of doubtful quality. It is my prayer that we will all be able to separate what is true from what is said.

(emphasis added)

Now, there are many different ways to read this statement, and I don’t mean to suggest that the only way to read Julie’s post is through Plato’s lens.* But the Platonic approach is certainly one interesting and provocative way to view Julie’s statement dividing doctrines into the true and the said. For purposes of this post, I will treat Julie’s post as making such an argument, in order to briefly look at that argument.

Plato similarly conceived of a world of ideal forms, which were not always reflected in reality. Julie’s approach to applied doctrine in the church seems to adopt something similar to the Platonic dichotomy. There is Truth, an ideal which we will not see in this world. And then there is some level of Messy Reality, which is Truth filtered through the imperfect experiences and interactions and statements and cultural baggage of fallible human beings.

It’s a fascinating idea, and one which could, I think, go far in resolving some of the concerns that bedevil conscientious church members. I’m not terribly familiar with the philosophy of Mormonism literature, but the idea of viewing life through the lens of Plato’s ideals is appealing, and a new idea for me. (And Platonism certainly has its intersections with Christianity — see, e.g., Augustine).

The question that I wonder, though, is whether there is a particularly good reason to believe that a Platonic ideal version of Mormon religion exists somewhere. To adapt a line from Hawking, what if it’s Messy Reality all the way down? Are there peculiarly Mormon reasons to adopt this hermeneutic approach?

In fact, in a follow-up e-mail, Julie has indicated that she did not mean to adopt a Platonic argument.

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4 Responses to Platonism on T&S

  1. Clark on February 4, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    It seems we can consider the “true” in several senses. The Platonic sense that reifies ideas and finds truth in them. The more Aristotilean approach that moves truth into sayings. And then the perhaps Heideggarian sense where truth is in the things themselves.

    I think we can avoid Platonism yet make sense of Julies comments by arguing that truth with respect to women is women letting themselves be as they are. That changes the question to whether we are imposing on people, especially in terms of our culture, or if we are freely letting them be.

    The problem is that while many will condemn what they see as imposing on women by interpreting women in terms of mysoginist preconceptions; many women do the same thing with feminist preconceptions that may or may not be true. Both end up confusing societal expectations with letting the people be.

    So the question becomes, how to let people be. And in that it seems we have to move beyond theory into the spirit and what is harmonious with the spirit and which maximizes freedom. (Which is not the same as freedom as typically conceived since the enlightenment – freedom with lack of consequences)

  2. tracy m on February 5, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    With all due respect to the miraculous Hawking, from a position of faith, is it really possible for it to be Messy Reality all the way down? Do not we presupposed God to be perfected, and us to be living in a fallen state? If we accept this trusim, then it stands that there IS a perfected Truth, and it is one which, here and now, we can ONLY view through the veil of our fallen nature.

    That said, I wouldn’t thouch the job of deciding what is the Sistine Chapel and what is the grime, for anyone but myself. And there are indeed inherent dangers in that process.

    I really liked Julie’s post, though.

  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 5, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    With a bit of a thread jack to the bankruptcy code:

    http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2006/02/bankruptcy_judg.html

    Which reflects on how the code compares to the Platonic ideal for a code.

  4. Clark on February 5, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Tracy M., I don’t see any theological problems with it being messy all the way down. In this case God is the perfect technocrat.

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