Tuesday, 23 June 2015

tadpoles and marginalia

Though rarely presented unmediated in its direct and unadulterated form, having been glossed and thoroughly pardoned by Church and civic scholastics through commentaries, the major difficulty in reconciling the philosophies of the ancients within the framework of medieval societies was the general notion of a detached, rational (and arrived at by rational means) divinity—as opposed to a personal and intervening one—and the idea that the soul was unperishing but not in the sense of individual souls.

Thomas Aquinas (influenced in turn by the translation and commentary of Moorish thinker Ibn Rušd called Averroës, who argued that reason and received holy scripture partook of one and the same truth, and that religious symbols and rituals were more expedient means to arrive at this truth since most people did not have the time or ability to figure this out on their own) was instrumental in bringing the traditions of the classics into the fold—but the differences were not resolved exactly, nor were they ever but rather minimised and marginalised. Plato, through Socrates, was probably most suppressed and kept under wraps for millennia, due to the fact he believed in the transmigration of the soul and there was already more than enough problems to go around with heretical sects that shared this belief in reincarnation. The teacher could be safely excised from the lesson but not so much for his student, Aristotle, whose practical contributions could not be ignored and medicine, forms of government, poetry and theatre all hinged and were beholden to the overall cosmology.

Though Aristotle, departing from Plato, did not believe that contemplating the Forms (that is the perfect, idealised and immaterial abstraction that are the templates for all the imperfect, corruptible earthly manifestations of things) was all that beneficial from a political point of view, Aristotle did nonetheless think the theory had weight. Parallel to the injunction of Averroës that there was only one self-same truth that could be arrived at by different approaches, it follows (I suppose, though highly contentious and probably best left alone as it was for centuries) that souls—disembodied—will be aspiring towards one Reason, pure and immediate intellect unburdened by personalities. The same otherwise, reincarnation where one does not remember one’s past lives although choose them seems pretty much the identical argument and conclusion. Rational thought and logic is the same for all and imagination is pared away—that Form of—say—Frog, the abstraction is something absolute and unaffected by whatever figments we might entertain, be it Mister Toad from Wind in the Willows, the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County, poor frog on a dissection table or frog in the wilds. For all the variety, they all partake of Frog (except maybe the toad), and are distilled into one abstraction that would transcend and even reject the individual paths that we took to get there.  I do not know if this dispassioned, rational sort of after-life would appeal to those expecting reward or punishment.  What do you think?  Would this sort of tempered enlightenment be any different in the end?