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Karl Ludwig Reinhardt -Platonic Ideas & Myths

Painting by Bo Yin Ra, ‘Begegnung Im Licht.’


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are three quotes from Karl Reinhardt’s treatise, ‘Plato’s Myths’, here in its French Nrf Gallimard 2007 edition by Anne-Sophie Reineke. Our English working translation.


Myth is the language of the soul. Since there is a Platonism, it was not understood-or it was not believed- that in Plato’s philosophy the question of the ‘efficiency’ of the Idea (meant as origin of the causal production of the sensible things and of knowledge), was missing. More precisely, as long as we neglect the soul as a category per-se, the question of the originating cause seems to be necessarily lacking. It is only when the soul frees itself from its participation to the Idea and its presence, that the understanding permeates the logical functioning of judgement and concept or to the metaphysical observation of the foundation of all things.

Throughout Plato’s literary works, the name ‘soul’ indicates something incomparably more powerful, more diverse in figures and expressions and also much more rapidly available in time than the dialectic deployment of the Idea. And we become embarrassed as soon as we try to extract ‘the soul’ from the meaning of the Idea, as it is met within Logic, the theory of Knowledge and metaphysics, and as soon as we try to assign to it its space-as necessary intermediate- between the Ideas and the bodies for instance. The soul then becomes a colorful and poetical patchwork and a stuttering of the philosophical thought-we forgive it, embellish it, we systematize it. Truly, the relationship between the two is reversed. It is not the doctrine of the Ideas that severs itself-as a consequence-from the doctrine of the soul.

Once he recognized the Idea, Plato does not bring back towards him a maximum of elements, mythic, Orphic or Pythagorean. He does not veil the doctrine of Ideas-kernel of light-with the halo of the doctrine of the souls; on the contrary, due to the doctrine of the Ideas, he rather tightens, clarifies, illuminates and articulates the powers of the ‘soul’. The beyond of the Idea is not a brisk incursion within mystical theology, it is not equivalent to a limit, in the manner of the Kantian delimitations, it is the mode of expression, from an original unity, of the ultimate origin of knowledge and creation: taken as dualities. Those two are in the soul, in the ascending movement that knows and contemplates, and, in return, in the descending movement that produces and acts; as a unity, they are in the Idea. Because the supreme Idea is not only the Beautiful, the Just and the Good: it is in synchronicity and for that reason, ‘’true knowledge’, ‘enveloping knowledge’, ‘true virtue’…It is therefore ‘progenitor’, ‘nursing’, in the meaning that she is the sole object and subject, fulfilment criteria, as she is at the same time known and self-generated. The explanation according which the Idea, original cause, would be, at the same time ‘purpose and finality’ that is when brought back to the text only a paraphrase that weakens and modernizes. If the Idea was only that, why would we need ‘mythical momentums’ to be able to speak of it?


What is the myth teaching us about the Idea? That the sensible things reflect the pure forms. But the pure forms present themselves at the same time as norms.  Not achieving to overlap within the relationship between the sensible things and the norms of knowledge, between the appearance of knowledge and true knowledge, the particular virtue and the Idea of Good, etc., the inadequate presents itself as a setback, a non-reach, a simple ‘participating’ (because participating is not having), or also as a reminiscence, a will to return, to go back to the seminal source of all things. The pure form is everywhere, at the same time a ‘must-be’ or a ‘should-be’. However, in the soul this ‘should-be’- ‘flight’, ‘birth within beauty’, ’movement by itself’ of the soul- is already a step towards myth. And the sensible thing, Man, the world and all it contains are everywhere at the same time incapacity, and in the same manner that reflection is incapacity when compared to the original light. But, within the soul, this very incapacity, as ‘bond’, ‘heaviness’, ‘stain’, of the soul, is a step towards the myth.

We only know things to the extent that they are ‘orientated’-we could say intentional- like ‘belonging’. And we only know to the extent things are in that way placed, becoming for us the link between the participant and that which he is participating. If we turn around, we are able to see with a sort of double-gaze: one eye sees things with heaviness and in a gloomy nature, as they keep appearing, while the other eye, our luminous eye, perceives the ideal edges of light: the content, the Idea’s Parousia in the thing- third step towards the myth. The announcing features of the myth can be found as much in the Idea than in knowledge, and in the object of the perception. The myth deploys itself simultaneously in the realm of the ‘soul’ (but the world and the State are finally nothing other than such a realm), which in turn cannot unfold without the myth. Entwined to the ‘soul’, the myth is heading, not only with its content, but also in its process, towards the Idea, in the manner of the dialectical and scientific knowledge. But let no one be able to say that the very Idea itself stays stuck to something mythical! If it were mythical in any manner, the myth would cease to be a myth, a symbol; and in reverse, if the idea did only have a dialectical and logical character, logic would cease to be a science gifted with meaning. The Idea opens and fills with life everything that without her would become a circle and every single dashing thing, dead within.


The myths similar to the Beautiful in the ‘Phaedrus’, are seminal reminiscences, ‘incredible to reasonable people, but making sense to the wise.’ If we believe that we have reached the limits of common sense, similar to a tree that would be only crown without any roots, we are then only nothing more than present without a future, science without a ‘reminiscence’.

For Plato, the myth has as a mission to remind us of our origins. The soul lives and dies due to the original figure, alike the tree lives and dies due to the Dryad: the myth is her spirit of growth. It was up to us to demonstrate how it was applying to Plato. But Plato himself is the copy of a model-a creational myth: the very powers of the soul have fulfilled in him their cosmogony.

More about Karl Reinhardt: 🌿 More about Bo Yin Ra:
Karl Ludwig Reinhardt -Platonic Ideas & Myths

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