Plato (The Forms) & Laozi (The Dao)

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Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 05:18 pm
I'm writing an essay right now and I could use some alternative viewpoints.

My topic is this:
a. What is the Tao? What kind of metaphysical thing is it? Be sure to quote text and give a description of what it is (or rather how it influences everything)
b. Explain Plato's two‐worlds theory. What is true reality according to Plato? Be sure to explain his analogy of the line.
c.Compare Plato's theory with Taoism.

I'm not asking anyone to answer these questions for me, for that would defeat the purpose of me writing this essay, but if anyone has any particular insights into the Dao or the Forms, how they are related or how they differ, I'd like to read them to supplement my own understanding.


It's my view that while Laozi acknowledges nothingness as a form of existence, Plato does not. The Dao, conceptually, is both substance and emptiness existing simultaneously. Nothingness is eternal and substance is transitional.
Plato, instead, supposes that there are eternal forms, like Beauty or Tableness, with Goodness being the ultimate form. Substance in his Reality is, not exactly an illusion, but a misrepresentation of the forms somehow, and if we could perceive the forms as they truly exist, we would look back on this world the same way that the man who escaped Plato's cave would look back on that existence.

While Laozi's theory implies that there is nothing beyond this world, Plato's implies that there is a realm of existence that humans are unable to perceive.

Do you think my assessment is accurate so far?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 07:32 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Isn't there a passage about the Tao giving birth to the One, and the One giving birth to the Two? Also the "Way that can be told is not the true way." ("No finite thing has genuine being."?) This reminds me of negative theology. Maybe Plato would be described as offering a more positive philosophy. I just got a good book on Plato. I need to study him more. I do think that Western Philosophy might be his footnotes. But let it said that footnotes are sometimes better than the rest of a book. Smile
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 07:39 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Now, this discussion is real philosophy! No thinking about it.

As one Englishman once said, "I think that the Order of the Garter, is the best knightly order in England. There is no damn merit about it!"
 
prothero
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 08:10 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163620 wrote:
.While Laozi's theory implies that there is nothing beyond this world, Plato's implies that there is a realm of existence that humans are unable to perceive.
I guess the comment caught my attention. Now I know almost nothing about the Dao and very little about Plato but:
Plato thought that learning was the remembrance of the soul of ideals from the eternal realm (basically the realm of forms, of eternals, of truth, goodness, beauty, knowledge). Access to this type of learning was not through sense impression but through comtemplative reason. In this sense Plato is usually regarded as a rationalist where true knowledge through the soul and reason and not from empirical study or sense impression.

The world of sense impression is a world of shadows, of copies, of imperfect actualization of the eternal realm of the forms, the eternal immortal source of being. True Knowledge comes from the remembrance of the soul before it was encumbered by matter and assaulted by the world of sense impression.

I would say Plato has a much more postive view of knowledge and of our ability to know than the Dao. I would also say Plato has a positive view of transcendent truth and value than the Dao.:perplexed:
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 08:12 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Here's what I wrote about Daoism:


Laozi is one of the first known philosophers to speak of 'nothing' in a positive light. This idea forms the foundation of his understanding of the way of the universe, or Dao. From most Western viewpoints, 'nothing' is just the absence of a thing. In Laozi's mind, however, it is nothingness that makes things useful. A perfect analogy would be a bowl - it isn't just the material substance of the bowl that allows a person to fill a bowl with food, it is the nothingness in the center of bowl that can be filled with food. When understanding the Dao, one must understand that there is both the substance of the bowl and the emptiness of the bowl working simultaneously that gives the bowl its utility.
While 'nothing' does not exist in a literal sense, nothingness, as a condition, exists as the space between things. The Dao then, conceptually, is both substance and emptiness, things and no-things, classifying both the existent and non-existent as metaphysically real. It is precisely because the Dao consists of all existent things and all non-existent no-things that the Dao can not be given any practical description. As Laozi wrote, "when the people of the world all know beauty as beauty, there arises the recognition of ugliness." (415) What he means, in saying this, is that recognition of a thing automatically presupposes the recognition of it's complimentary polar opposite. A person can not speak of 'hotness' without implying 'coldness', or speak the word 'tall' without understanding the concept of 'short'. As the Dao consists of all substance and emptiness, it would be logically impossible to call the Dao anything other than Dao (and even that seems to be pushing it).
Moreover, the Dao is without intentions. It is not an entity of any conception; in fact, the notion of god has no place in Laozi's vocabulary. Some would find this puzzling, asking questions like 'how does it operate?' or 'how did it create us and the Earth?', but these questions were unimportant to Laozi. He simply appeals to nature and says that the Dao acts without acting, a concept known in China as Wuwei, or non-action. The Wuwei of the Dao suggests that things happen without any causal intention, but that events occur naturally and cyclically, like Earth's seasons. The forces that guide these actions are known as Yin and Yang, complimentary opposites. Yin represents all things that manifest a passive or receptive force, which, in Daoism, would be emptiness. Yang represents all things that manifest an active or aggressive force, which, in Daoism, would be substance. But the line Laozi draws is not so distinct as to separate the two forces entirely - all Yin contains a small amount of Yang and all Yang contains a small amount of Yin. This cosmic balance negotiates all natural occurrences. For example, when filling a cup with water, the majority of the Yin would be with the cup and the majority of the Yang would be with the water, as the water would be actively entering the cup and the cup would be passively accepting the water. However, there would be some Yin with the water and some Yang with the cup too, as the sturdiness of the cup would actively resist the water, causing a splash, and the softness of the water would receive the resistance of the cup. Laozi supposed that the Yin and Yang of all events would be similar to the Yin and Yang of filling a cup with water. Emptiness receives substance, substance transforms into emptiness, and the cycle continues - this is Daoism.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 13 May, 2010 12:31 am
@Mentally Ill,
Even though there are strong formal differences, I can't help but find a similarity. Both are offering what is not obvious. If ordinary mind were ordinary, would we need to point to it? Of course I love the Tao & can't deny the importance of Plato. I feel there's an almost unavoidable factor that is common to all philosophy/religion. What is the one that all philosophies are divisible by? It seems to me that there is always a Good of some sort proposed, even if this Good is "evil" or an abandonment of the search for the Good.

I do love when the Tao talks about a bowl, which we value for its emptiness. I also love that music is the silences between the notes as much as it is the notes. (To exaggerate perhaps...)
 
MMP2506
 
Reply Thu 13 May, 2010 01:55 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163620 wrote:
I'm writing an essay right now and I could use some alternative viewpoints.

My topic is this:
a. What is the Tao? What kind of metaphysical thing is it? Be sure to quote text and give a description of what it is (or rather how it influences everything)
b. Explain Plato's two‐worlds theory. What is true reality according to Plato? Be sure to explain his analogy of the line.
c.Compare Plato's theory with Taoism.

I'm not asking anyone to answer these questions for me, for that would defeat the purpose of me writing this essay, but if anyone has any particular insights into the Dao or the Forms, how they are related or how they differ, I'd like to read them to supplement my own understanding.


It's my view that while Laozi acknowledges nothingness as a form of existence, Plato does not. The Dao, conceptually, is both substance and emptiness existing simultaneously. Nothingness is eternal and substance is transitional.
Plato, instead, supposes that there are eternal forms, like Beauty or Tableness, with Goodness being the ultimate form. Substance in his Reality is, not exactly an illusion, but a misrepresentation of the forms somehow, and if we could perceive the forms as they truly exist, we would look back on this world the same way that the man who escaped Plato's cave would look back on that existence.

While Laozi's theory implies that there is nothing beyond this world, Plato's implies that there is a realm of existence that humans are unable to perceive.

Do you think my assessment is accurate so far?


From my understanding, the Tao is an endless pool of consciousness, and an existence of which we could never perceive. It is the totality of everything that transcends all opposites, thus absolutely whole. As recon mentioned above, an existence which can't be understood, obviously cannot be discursively reached by talking about it, for there are no words to describe it.

Many read Plato as two-world, but I find it to be much more rational throughout his entire philosophy to consider a more one-world approach to him. He does speak of a realm of forms, but he makes it clear that these forms are manifesting within our own worlds, or lack there of. I think his view is that the realm of the forms is the only real world, and all of ours (the many) are just illusions of the One true reality. They are definitely illusory, because that is the justs of the cave allegory, as only once you get out of the cave, does true reality present itself. If his entire world rests on the this One, then its hard for me to believe he was talking of a two-world existence, as I see what would be the other world, ours, as existing of many different worlds, and I think Plato realized this.

To compare the two, I would start of with Plato's One true reality, and compare it to the nature of the Tao. The Tao transcend all opposites making everything One, thus allowing for differences to become similarities.

The other important aspect of Plato's philosophy, the forms, consisted of the One true form of everything that existed. It was away for him to intuitively grasp the differences between things, by relating himself to the thing itself. We didn't need any outside knowledge to understand things, because all things already existed in relation to us. This is very similar to the Tao idea that a things difference is its similarities. Or in other words, a boundary between two things are shared by both.

The Tao means the way, and from Plato's perspective, the Forms were the way to Truth. They were reason, which is the way to any Truth.

Also, as for Taoism, the Tao is both being and non-being. They are in fact One.

For Plato, i think his view on being would also hinge on how you wish to read him. I would think either being was the One, which meant all others were not being, or that all our worlds are being, and the One true world is beyond-being or non-being. That would make for a very interesting discussion though.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Thu 13 May, 2010 07:38 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163620 wrote:
I'm writing an essay right now and I could use some alternative viewpoints.

My topic is this:
a. What is the Tao? What kind of metaphysical thing is it? Be sure to quote text and give a description of what it is (or rather how it influences everything)
b. Explain Plato's two‐worlds theory. What is true reality according to Plato? Be sure to explain his analogy of the line.
c.Compare Plato's theory with Taoism.

I'm not asking anyone to answer these questions for me, for that would defeat the purpose of me writing this essay, but if anyone has any particular insights into the Dao or the Forms, how they are related or how they differ, I'd like to read them to supplement my own understanding.


It's my view that while Laozi acknowledges nothingness as a form of existence, Plato does not. The Dao, conceptually, is both substance and emptiness existing simultaneously. Nothingness is eternal and substance is transitional.
Plato, instead, supposes that there are eternal forms, like Beauty or Tableness, with Goodness being the ultimate form. Substance in his Reality is, not exactly an illusion, but a misrepresentation of the forms somehow, and if we could perceive the forms as they truly exist, we would look back on this world the same way that the man who escaped Plato's cave would look back on that existence.

While Laozi's theory implies that there is nothing beyond this world, Plato's implies that there is a realm of existence that humans are unable to perceive.

Do you think my assessment is accurate so far?


No. What you say about Plato seems right as far as it goes, but with Taoism, whatever you can say is not correct; reread the first couple of lines of the Tao Te Ching. Lao-Tzu took the opposite approach to what Wittgenstein said: "what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." If Lao-Tzu (if, indeed, Lao-Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching, which is not really known) had followed that one piece of advice from Wittgenstein, the Tao Te Ching would never have been written at all. With Plato, the world is essentially rational and understandable, but with Taoism, it is not.

You should expect that your teacher will disapprove of whatever you say about Taoism, unless you parrot back whatever gibberish was said in class. And, as the first few lines of the Tao Te Ching indicate, your teacher will be right to say that whatever you say about it is wrong. In fact, it tells you that what follows in the Tao Te Ching is also wrong. This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I chose to read such things on my own rather than take a class on it. I do not want to be graded on pure whim and fancy. And I would not want to be forced to keep at it for a semester at a time.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Thu 13 May, 2010 12:53 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;163848 wrote:
No. What you say about Plato seems right as far as it goes, but with Taoism, whatever you can say is not correct; reread the first couple of lines of the Tao Te Ching. Lao-Tzu took the opposite approach to what Wittgenstein said: "what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." If Lao-Tzu (if, indeed, Lao-Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching, which is not really known) had followed that one piece of advice from Wittgenstein, the Tao Te Ching would never have been written at all. With Plato, the world is essentially rational and understandable, but with Taoism, it is not.

You should expect that your teacher will disapprove of whatever you say about Taoism, unless you parrot back whatever gibberish was said in class. And, as the first few lines of the Tao Te Ching indicate, your teacher will be right to say that whatever you say about it is wrong. In fact, it tells you that what follows in the Tao Te Ching is also wrong. This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I chose to read such things on my own rather than take a class on it. I do not want to be graded on pure whim and fancy. And I would not want to be forced to keep at it for a semester at a time.


What I say about the Dao is incorrect of course, but not what I've said about Daoism and Laozi's writings. I doubt my teacher will be grading my essay on its ability to vocalize the true essence of Dao, more likely he will be grading my knowledge of Laozi's writings and my ability to compare and contrast it with Plato's writings.
But thank you, and I agree, you are right about knowing nothing of the Dao.
 
 

 
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