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Language and Platonic philosophy

Here is an example where philosophy and language influence each other—namely, in that what you see with your philosophy is almost created by your language.

In Ancient Greek you can form abstract noun substitutes from the neuter of the definite article and adjective. This is difficult to convey in English, but we could roughly say that it is as if I formed an alternative word for “power” from “the-strong” (as in “strong power”). As regards Platonic philosophy, the theory of forms, which holds that there are substantial “forms” behind everything we perceive, we can see how this linguistic formulation would make it easier to accept or develop such a philosophy.

If you could use, for example, “the-strong” as a substitute word for “power” then you already have spring-loaded in your language the idea that there’s “something behind” what you say—the substantial thing is concealed in the language, and so reality itself must be like that. Hence it becomes easier to develop and accept the Platonic “theory of forms”—a theory where “the substantial thing” is behind perceived reality.

A man like Nietzsche would spring on that as evidence for the development of what he calls “nihilism”—remember that for Nietzsche nihilism does not mean what it means in ordinary language, where it usually refers, especially in right-wing rhetoric, to “the absence of values, the collapse of religion in particular”.

Rather, for Nietzsche, nihilism means “the rejection of this world for ‘another world’—such as the Platonic forms or the Christian heaven”. It’s almost the opposite to what most people mean by nihilism, especially on the right—for Nietzsche, to reject “this world” is life-denying and a degeneration. Hence, for Nietzsche, Western “nihilism” beings with Plato—with his “theory of forms”, because it took us away from this world (which is the only world). Of course, Nietzsche was wrong that this world is the only world—there is another world. *


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