Plato, Pegasus, and the Evening Star

by Steven H. Cullinane on November 11, 1999

"Nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not? This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Plato's beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam's razor.... I have dwelt at length on the inconvenience of putting up with it. It is time to think about taking steps."
-- Willard Van Orman Quine, 1948, "On What There Is," reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, Harvard University Press, 1980

"The Consul could feel his glance at Hugh becoming a cold look of hatred. Keeping his eyes fixed gimlet-like upon him he saw him as he had appeared that morning, smiling, the razor edge keen in sunlight. But now he was advancing as if to decapitate him."
-- Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, 1947, Ch. 10

Quine's ignorance of what Plato was really driving at is appalling. Those who do not wish to share his ignorance should contemplate the contents of several bookshelves:

  1. those of the Consul in Lowry's novel (Ch. 6);
  2. those of Damaris Tighe in The Place of the Lion (Ch. 2), a novel by Charles Williams (1933);
  3. those of C. G. Jung -- as in the bibliography to Aion (1959);
  4. those of Homero Aridjis -- as in the bibliography to his novel The Lord of the Last Days (Morrow, 1995).

They should also, having read Quine on universals (op. cit.), then read Williams on divine universals (op. cit.), Jung on archetypes (op. cit.), and Paul Friedlander on Platonic "ideas" or "forms" (Plato, 1928; Harper paperback, 1964).

An excellent example of a "universal" in the sense of Williams, Jung, or Plato is Hexagram 11 in China's 3,000-year-old classic, the I Ching:

Hexagram 11

"Heaven and earth unite: the image of PEACE."
(Wilhelm/Baynes translation, Princeton University Press, 1967)

See also The Man Who Knew Infinity, by Robert Kanigel (Washington Square Press paperback, 1992): At King's College Chapel, Cambridge University, during the evening Thanksgiving Service on November 11, 1918, one observer noted that "it seemed as if Earth and Heaven were no longer divided." (p. 307)

Quine in 1948, having dealt with Plato, also wrote about Pegasus and the evening star. For more-perceptive remarks about Pegasus, see To Ride Pegasus, by Anne McCaffrey (Ballantine paperback, 20th printing, June 1991). For more-perceptive remarks about the evening star, see Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis. The novel by Aridjis mentioned above is partly about the birth of the Spanish language around 1,000 A.D. For the most beautiful word in that language, which means "evening star," see the attached pages.

[In the original version, attached pages provided some context for the meaning of the Spanish word "lucero," or "evening star." In my own experience, the meaning of this word comes from a young lady, Lucero Hernandez, who lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in the early 1960's.]

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