The Presence of the Paradigm: Immanence and Transcendence In Plato’s Theory of Forms

Review of Metaphysics 53 (2):339 - 362 (1999)
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DISCUSSIONS OF THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS of Plato’s forms too often take for granted that immanence and transcendence are opposed to each other: if the forms are in instances then they are not separate from them, while if the forms are separate then they are not in instances. This assumption is sometimes associated with the theory that there is a change in Plato’s thought between the early or Socratic dialogues, in which forms are regarded as immanent, and the middle dialogues and Timaeus, in which they are seen as separate. I will argue, however, that immanence and transcendence are not opposed but that, on the contrary, the former implies the latter. That is to say, precisely in that the forms are present in their instances, they are ipso facto also separate from them in all the senses which Plato claims. The idea of sensibles as images of the forms, in turn, is an expression not of transcendence alone, but rather of the conjunction of immanence and transcendence: the paradigm is at once transcendent to and immanent in the image. The movement from the early to the middle dialogues, then, is not the rejection of one position and the adoption of another, but simply the express articulation of what was implicit in the original position. Thus we find, not a fundamental change in Plato’s thought from one period to another, but a single consistent and coherent theory of forms which is developed throughout these dialogues.



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Eric D. Perl
Loyola Marymount University

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