Being vs. ExistingJune 27, 2021
The second of the two basic acknowledgments of the doctrine of ideas, that is, the acknowledgment that ideas are separate from sensible things, makes Plato a metaphysically dualist thinker.
Plato divided the universe into two separate structures that cannot be reduced to each other. The sensible universe is of a variable nature. It is subject to time, space, decay. Due to this variability, it is not possible to obtain precise information from it. However, Ideas are unchanging, immortal structures that are not subject to time and space and represent the completeness of things in the visible universe.
Visible things are only faint shadows, incomplete copies of these ideas. For example; While individual trees have different and variable structures from each other, the idea of tree, in which all of them have a share in various sizes, is an unchanging, divine nature that represents the woodwork itself and its perfect form.
Plato refers to this essence as “being-in-itself”. For example; The idea of Beauty, which is beyond all beautiful things, is called “beautiful in itself” or “beautiful itself”. “Beautiful in itself” is the immutable being (Phaidon, 100d), which does not need anything else to be beautiful but causes the beauty of everything beautiful (Phaidon, 100d), in other words, the idea of beauty. The same is true for all ideas.
Being in itself is the being that does not need anything else for its existence, but is the cause of the existence of other things. Ideas are entities in themselves.
As it will be remembered, Parmenides argued that everything in the universe consisted of a single entity. It was a deception of our senses to think that the universe consists of different beings and that there is a phenomenon of change in the universe. Plato, on the other hand, makes a distinction between the beautiful itself, that is, the idea of beauty, and the things we call beautiful, and shows the beautiful itself as the cause of beautiful things. This acceptance is based on the idea that there is a distinction between “Being” and “existing” and that beings owe their existence to Being (Tarnas, 1991: 9-10).
Here Being is nothing but ideas. Existence did not come into existence afterwards and will not disappear. Whereas visible things, we call them existing things because they “are” afterwards. These “existing beings” owe their existence to the fact that they receive a share of the Being itself, that is, of the Ideas.
In Platonic thought, ideas carry all the features that Parmenides attributes to “Being”. The “existing”, on the other hand, constitute the variable, multiple appearances in the universe. Since they are not perfect and complete like their ideals, they always try to be like them, that is, to be complete, and they are constantly changing. Thus, by separating the realm of ideas and the visible/sensible universe from each other, Plato tried to solve the old problem of “change instability” or “unity-multiplicity” between Parmenides and Heraclitus. Here, the ideas have the immutability and uniqueness of the Being of Parmenides, and they constitute the unchanging truth and reality of the universe order. However, the beings that make up the sensible universe are of different and variable structures. They are subject to what Heraclitus calls change and are responsible for multiple appearances in the universe.
In this teaching, the ideas, that is, being, is a structure that is not subject to time and space, is immune from all kinds of changes, has no beginning and no end, does not need anything other than itself for its existence, and therefore can only be known by the mind. On the other hand, sensible objects that are in the state of being, that is, later, that is, those that exist; They are objects of sensation that are subject to time and space, constantly changing, therefore having a beginning and an end, needing an entity other than themselves for their existence, and therefore do not require reasoning (Akyol, 2004: 117-118).
By separating the ideas from the audible/visible things (aistheta), Plato actually makes an ontological distinction of “being-existing”.
The problem of the relationship between ideas and the sensible universe and demiourgos
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook