A year or so ago I read Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light, a mind-blowing book about how capital “H” History can be understood as an oscillating tension between the Platonic and Aristotelian understanding of the world. Sounds thrilling I know, but it’s a gripping biography of ideas played out across centuries and continents.
For Plato, this world is a shadowy reflection of a higher truth. The philosopher’s objective is to scratch his or her way out of the cave and bask in the unadulterated light beyond. Then along comes Plato’s greatest student who observes a few peculiarities of the mortal world and embraces the inherent goodness of the cave itself. For Aristotle, a more perfect understanding of the cave is the path to Wisdom. To put it crudely, Plato looks up, Aristotle looks around.
This is a gross simplification, but I am still shocked at how many disagreements can be reduced to a variation on this theme.
Despite my best efforts to embrace this world like a good little Aristotelian, I remain, at my core, a Platonist. I long for the transcendence of the glorious reality of which this life is a second order approximation at best. I do not despise the flesh as some neoplatonists and later Christian Platonists would. But I’ve always loved the sentiment best described by the boy who never grew up: “To die would be an awfully big adventure!”