Shimer College

October 17, 2012

A class discussion continues…

Most of what is said in Shimer classes is, of course, said live – and for the most part, lost to posterity. Here’s an email exchange between me and one of my students.

The student is David Brault, the course is an upper-level course called Philosophy and Theology (“Hum 3”).

The immediate context is class discussion of concepts that are sometimes claimed by philosophers or religious thinkers to be innate and to refer to transcendent realities–the concepts of God and of the Good are prime examples. The more modern idea, mostly attributed to John Locke but originally articulated by Plato, is that all ideas are derived from experience and culture.

David writes:

Check this out: these two sites trace the history of the word “good” back to its original status as a word describing something actually physical, and then applied metaphorically to get the moral senses of the word.

“THE GOOD” is actually a metaphor related to the idea of being physically complete, taken over to mean complete in other senses too–

The prehistory of the word God has little relevance to the idea of a cosmic god:

The prehistory of the word “justice,” just to round things off:

What is just is what is…. lawful. What is lawful is what… your culture’s laws are. How would this all be explained form-wise [in terms of Platonic form]?  If you believe in Forms wouldn’t there be an understanding of what these concepts are from the dawn of time, as they would not be metaphorically constructed concepts?

- David Brault


And my response:

In answer to the question at the end of your message, I am channeling Plato, who says through me that, yes, the form of justice was present in human minds before there was any law, and indeed made it possible to conceive of law, even if that happened long before anybody had a concept of justice. Justice is a form older than the concept of justice or the concept of law, and is indeed the condition of possibility for thoughts of either law or justice.

Thank you, Plato.  Speaking from a more modern perspective, what linguists call “language acquisition capability” is the condition of possibility for words or thoughts in English, French, etc. 


Until next class,

Albert Fernandez