Plato's Laws X, 4

So here is the argument for the divinity of the sun. It's long, so buckle up.

Step one: establish that the soul can't be accounted for by things like fire and stone. Thus, our souls are not produced by the interactions of fire and stone, but in fact it is the soul that takes the things of the world and orders them into beings like us. That organizational activity can be seen in the regular order of our bodies, and is not found in raw nature.

Ath. Well, then, tell me, Cleinias-for I must ask you to be my partner-does not he who talks in this way conceive fire and water and earth and air to be the first elements of all things? These he calls nature, and out of these he supposes the soul to be formed afterwards; and this is not a mere conjecture of ours about his meaning, but is what he really means.

Cle. Very true.

Ath. Then, by Heaven, we have discovered the source of this vain opinion of all those physical investigators... I must repeat the singular argument of those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions; they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods.

Cle. Still I do not understand you.

Ath. Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul, especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body?

Contemporary atheists and other materialists deny the existence of the soul, so the question of its priority would not move them. They would say that even we ourselves are made up of ordinary matter, things like 'rocks and fire,' i.e., carbon chains and water, salts and such that become capable of electrical activity and self-organizing. Yet the self-organizing really does precede at least most of the matter; it begins as soon as the zygote is formed, which somehow contains the patterns necessary to organize a hundred pounds or two hundred or even more of heretofore-inert matter into a functional being. The capacity to do this is realized in the zygote, but is prefigured in the two parts that come together, neither of which is functional alone and yet both of which are ideally formed for realizing this project in unity.

That's amazing, but it was unknown to the Greeks. Yet they could see that 'the thing that gives life' must precede rather than follow the creation of the body. The body is organized by what they are calling the soul, not the other way around. 

So, step two: bodies like planets and suns also exhibit organization and regularity.

Ath. Some one says to me, "O Stranger, are all things at rest and nothing in motion, or is the exact opposite of this true, or are some things in motion and others at rest?-To this I shall reply that some things are in motion and others at rest. "And do not things which move a place, and are not the things which are at rest at rest in a place?" Certainly. "And some move or rest in one place and some in more places than one?" You mean to say, we shall rejoin, that those things which rest at the centre move in one place, just as the circumference goes round of globes which are said to be at rest? "Yes." And we observe that, in the revolution, the motion which carries round the larger and the lesser circle at the same time is proportionally distributed to greater and smaller, and is greater and smaller in a certain proportion. Here is a wonder which might be thought an impossibility, that the same motion should impart swiftness and slowness in due proportion to larger and lesser circles. "Very true." And when you speak of bodies moving in many places, you seem to me to mean those which move from one place to another, and sometimes have one centre of motion and sometimes more than one because they turn upon their axis; and whenever they meet anything, if it be stationary, they are divided by it; but if they get in the midst between bodies which are approaching and moving towards the same spot from opposite directions, they unite with them. "I admit the truth of what you are saying." Also when they unite they grow, and when they are divided they waste away-that is, supposing the constitution of each to remain, or if that fails, then there is a second reason of their dissolution. "And when are all things created and how?" Clearly, they are created when the first principle receives increase and attains to the second dimension, and from this arrives at the one which is neighbour to this, and after reaching the third becomes perceptible to sense. Everything which is thus changing and moving is in process of generation; only when at rest has it real existence, but when passing into another state it is destroyed utterly. 

This 'motion that seems impossible, because the same motion imparts swiftness to one part and slowness to another' was the subject of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. It's really true; although it applies much more to the record than to the things the Greeks were observing in the heavens. There, the regularity of motion is not a function of the things being connected, like the points on the surface of the record that are held together by the record's body. Rather, they are often illusory or at least perspectival: they occur to our eyes, but the revolution is the revolution of our own planet, and the stability is produced not by the substrate connecting the stars but by the vast distances involved. Some of those stars may not even 'still' be there, yet they will for quite a while yet continue to appear to be, and to move regularly in alignment with stars that they are actually nowhere near.

Of course, if Newton's inverse square law of gravity holds something like true, there is a kind of substrate that connects them after all; and they do affect each other, even at great distance. But that is for another day.

Step three, then: since the suns and planets exhibit such regularity of order and body, we must ask if they are being ordered from outside, or if they are ordering themselves (as our bodies do).

Ath. Everything which is thus changing and moving is in process of generation; only when at rest has it real existence, but when passing into another state it is destroyed utterly. Have we not mentioned all motions that there are, and comprehended them under their kinds and numbered them with the exception, my friends, of two?

Cle. Which are they?
Ath. Just the two, with which our present enquiry is concerned.
Cle. Speak plainer.
Ath. I suppose that our enquiry has reference to the soul?
Cle. Very true.

Ath. Let us assume that there is a motion able to move other things, but not to move itself;-that is one kind; and there is another kind which can move itself as well as other things, working in composition and decomposition, by increase and diminution and generation and destruction-that is also one of the many kinds of motion.

Cle. Granted.
Ath. And we will assume that which moves other, and is changed by other, to be the ninth, and that which changes itself and others, and is co-incident with every action and every passion, and is the true principle of change and motion in all that is-that we shall be inclined to call the tenth.

Cle. Certainly.

This complexity is reduced by Aristotle, in the second book of the Physics. Things come to be by nature, or they are made to be by something else. "By nature" for Aristotle means that they have a form that is self-replicating -- like the zygote that is ordering itself out of the material of the world into, well, you. The alternative is that the ordering is being driven by something else. Note that 'by nature' as Aristotle is using it here doesn't mean 'natural forces,' e.g., gravity is acting upon asteroids to form them into a belt. That's being acted upon by 'something else,' to whit, the sun's gravitational pull and their own attraction to each other, etc. "By nature" as Aristotle is using it means the kind of self-ordering that Hans Jonas calls life, and that Plato is describing as the work of a soul.

Step four: which of these modes of ordering is really the superior one? Obviously the self-ordering principle, the soul; and by the way, Plato's Athenian notes, only such a being could actually have put the 'something else' movements into play anyway. 

Ath. And which of these ten motions ought we to prefer as being the mightiest and most efficient?

Cle. I must say that the motion which is able to move itself is ten thousand times superior to all the others.

Ath. Very good; but may I make one or two corrections in what I have been saying?

Cle. What are they?
Ath. When I spoke of the tenth sort of motion, that was not quite correct.

Cle. What was the error?
Ath. According to the true order, the tenth was really the first in generation and power; then follows the second, which was strangely enough termed the ninth by us.

Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. I mean this: when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle?

Cle. Very true, and I quite agree.
Ath. Or, to put the question in another way, making answer to ourselves:-If, as most of these philosophers have the audacity to affirm, all things were at rest in one mass, which of the above-mentioned principles of motion would first spring up among them?

Cle. Clearly the self-moving; for there could be no change in them arising out of any external cause; the change must first take place in themselves.

Ath. Then we must say that self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

Cle. Quite true.
Ath. At this stage of the argument let us put a question.
Cle. What question?
Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

Ath. I do.
Cle. Certainly we should.
Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

Cle. We must.

Now that last deduction is almost certainly wrong in the eyes of the materialist. The motion of the stars wasn't 'started' by some self-organized being acting on other things, because there was never a time when things were at rest. Time itself comes to be with the Big Bang, it may be; or there may be ways of talking about an 'arrow' pointing back through previous cycles of creation. That's a matter contemporary cosmology discusses. But the point is that you don't have to have something 'starting' the motion; there's always been motion. 

Yet of course you do need a start to the motion, and it does have to be something that lies 'in the nature of the thing' in Aristotle's sense. Uranium, for example, is such a thing that if you put enough of it together in one place, it will by nature explode. Something like that has to be true to explain the Big Bang: the nature of the stuff of reality, whatever it is, must be such that it explodes if compressed to a certain degree. This is even more true if there are cycles of Big Bangs, as some theorize; it's what drives the cycles. But it must have been present prior to any such cycles; and thus, the Athenian is correct that even if everything were together and unmoving (in the sense of the Big Bang singularity, which is 'unmoving' because there's nowhere to move), an internal principle must give rise to the motion. Aristotle, at least, is correct. The Athenian has more steps.

Step five: this 'eldest and mightiest principle' is not only a soul, but a divine soul.

Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?

Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?

Cle. Exactly.
Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

Cle. Nothing can be more true.
Ath. Do you remember our old admission, that if the soul was prior to the body the things of the soul were also prior to those of the body?

Cle. Certainly.
Ath. Then characters and manners, and wishes and reasonings, and true opinions, and reflections, and recollections are prior to length and breadth and depth and strength of bodies, if the soul is prior to the body.

Cle. To be sure.
Ath. In the next place, must we not of necessity admit that the soul is the cause of good and evil, base and honourable, just and unjust, and of all other opposites, if we suppose her to be the cause of all things?

Cle. We must.
Ath. And as the soul orders and inhabits all things that move, however moving, must we not say that she orders also the heavens?

Cle. Of course.
Ath. One soul or more? More than one-I will answer for you; at any rate, we must not suppose that there are less than two-one the author of good, and the other of evil.

Cle. Very true.
Ath. Yes, very true; the soul then directs all things in heaven, and earth, and sea by her movements, and these are described by the terms-will, consideration, attention, deliberation, opinion true and false, joy and sorrow, confidence, fear, hatred, love, and other primary motions akin to these; which again receive the secondary motions of corporeal substances, and guide all things to growth and decay, to composition and decomposition, and to the qualities which accompany them, such as heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, hardness and softness, blackness and whiteness, bitterness and sweetness, and all those other qualities which the soul uses, herself a goddess, when truly receiving the divine mind she disciplines all things rightly to their happiness; but when she is the companion of folly, she does the very contrary of all this. Shall we assume so much, or do we still entertain doubts?

Cle. There is no room at all for doubt.

So, here is the proof of the existence of gods, and that they order the universe and determine the nature of good and evil, and thus justice and injustice. Since they are the very source of these things, of course the gods must be deeply devoted to things like goodness or justice; and you are wrong, then, to think that you can lightly escape them by gifts. They've gone to a lot of trouble to establish the order of the world and the nature of justice, and they must therefore be deeply interested in it. 

I promised we'd get to the sun, so let's close with that. The sun is a body; it shows regularity and order in motion and other ways; thus, it must be ordered. If it is ordered, it must be ordering itself or be ordered by something else. Either way, the Athenian argues, the thing ordering the sun must be a god.

Ath. Every one sees the body of the sun, but no one sees his soul, nor the soul of any other body living or dead; and yet there is great reason to believe that this nature, unperceived by any of our senses, is circumfused around them all, but is perceived by mind; and therefore by mind and reflection only let us apprehend the following point.

Cle. What is that?
Ath. If the soul carries round the sun, we shall not be far wrong in supposing one of three alternatives.

Cle. What are they?
Ath. Either the soul which moves the sun this way and that, resides within the circular and visible body, like the soul which carries us about every way; or the soul provides herself with an external body of fire or air, as some affirm, and violently propels body by body; or thirdly, she is without such a body, but guides the sun by some extraordinary and wonderful power.

Cle. Yes, certainly; the soul can only order all things in one of these three ways.

Ath. And this soul of the sun, which is therefore better than the sun, whether taking the sun about in a chariot to give light to men, or acting from without or in whatever way, ought by every man to be deemed a God.

I said 'either way,' but he describes this as three ways; the first two look to me to collapse. If the sun is like us, it has a soul 'inside' its body, or that is ordering matter in such a way as to provide itself with a body (as our soul/nature/form orders matter into the shape of our body). Or, alternatively, the soul that moves the sun -- which must exist, due to the proof that the original motion of things like suns requires a soul -- somehow is wonderfully able to guide the sun through an invisible power. In either case, this is a pretty impressive soul. 

And thus, we should worship the mighty soul of the sun -- if not the body of fire itself -- as a god. 

No comments: