NB: All previous chapters can be found here.
The Form of the Good was the ultimate form for Plato, from which every other form derived its goodness, but it was impersonal.
Plato gave us the Form of the Good, an abstract form that exists but not embodied; Aristotle embodied this form, and – through his Four Causes – pointed us to find the proper end, goal, or purpose of the thing in which this Form of the Good is embodied.
It leads one to ask: in the case of humans, where do we find this Form? (And for non-Christians in the audience, please be patient regarding the next few paragraphs; I will come back to you before this is over):
We know that in Platonism, God can be thought of as the Form of the Good – that is, as the ultimate Form, Ideal, Essence, or Archetype of which all good things partake, and also the Form which is hierarchically higher than the other high-level Forms of Beauty, Truth, Virtue and Excellence.
Oh, Great. God is the Form of the Good for humans? Given that He is God, that doesn’t help much.
He is omnipotent:
Psalm 33: 6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He is omniscient:
Psalm 139: 1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.
He is omnipresent:
Proverbs 15: 3 The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
These terms are incomprehensible to us, and to the extent we understand even a fraction of what these mean we know we aren’t now holding and never will hold such characteristics. What good does this do us in our quest to find the Form of the Good and therefore act upon it?
Well, thank God we have an example – in the flesh:
Colossians 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
1 Timothy 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh….
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In this verse from John, the “Word” is translated from the Greek word logos:
Logos, (Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.
The idea of logos dates back to sixth century BC Greek philosophy. Heracleitus discerned in the cosmic process a logos analogous to the reasoning power in man. The Stoics defined the logos as an active rational and spiritual principle that permeated all reality.
Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher from the first century AD, “taught that the logos was the intermediary between God and the cosmos, being both the agent of creation and the agent through which the human mind can apprehend and comprehend God.”
Jesus was this logos; He was with God from the beginning and He was God. In Him we find reason, we find the plan, we find rationality. Reason and rationality are to be found in and through this logos; it seems reasonable and rational to then conclude that reason and rationality will not be found outside of and absent this logos. It seems there is no reason or rationality possible without God.
Most importantly, we find a way that our human minds can better understand God – God, who is (among many other things) the Form of the Good. Jesus is our example of this Form. Now, for my promised return for the benefit of the non-believers in the audience:
“Jesus was a great moral teacher,” Richard Dawkins said to The Guardian earlier this week.
We nonreligious people can take the miracles as metaphors if we’d like, or we can leave them on the cutting room floor as we go about the inevitable exercise of picking and choosing the parts of the story that abide with us. The point is, we can see Jesus not as a divine savior who takes away our sins, but as an embodiment of transformative wisdom, insight, and inspiration.
“…a great moral teacher…” “…an embodiment of transformative wisdom…” Jesus is considered by many who deny His divinity as a model we can learn from and emulate – a good and wise man. Not a bad Form of the Good for the rest of you.
Jesus, who was with God and was God, came to earth and gave us humans the perfect example of Plato’s Form of the Good, and gave us a target at which to aim (unachievable as it is) when we consider Aristotle’s proper end, goal, or purpose for this thing that is human.
So, what do we learn from this manifestation of the Form of the Good? Do a search on character traits of Jesus and you will get numerous “top ten” lists – things like loving, patient, humble, forgiving, honest, obedient, possessing self-control, merciful, just, etc. He was also self-sacrificial – which, for the Christians among us, was kind of the whole point.
Not much of one yet.
Now I know that these character traits of Jesus seem to have little to do with “liberty” as we understand the term today; so, what does this have to do with my Search for Liberty? I have some thoughts about this, but I am not yet quite sure.
What I know is this: natural law in the Aristotelian – Thomistic tradition is about as solid a basis for a libertarian society as there is; I cannot explain the Aristotelian part of the tradition without recognizing Plato’s “Form of the Good” and Aristotle’s ends or purpose for the form; I cannot explain the Thomistic part of the tradition without the Gospel. Both point to Jesus, who is the best example I know of for the Form of the Good.
Jesus is the logos; in Him we find reason and rationality – two absolutely imperative characteristics if one is to find liberty. He is also the plan – and how one puts into effect Aristotle’s Four Causes without a plan is beyond my understanding. The logos permeates all reality – perhaps reality should be taken into account when considering political philosophy.
I have debated not introducing Jesus until I got through Thomas, potentially Lewis, and natural law, just for this reason – I am not quite sure how He fits in yet, in total. Yet, the previous chapter ended with several questions – as it had to, given the subject matter covered: What is the “final cause” for humans, humans who carry in them this “Form of the Good”? What is this Form of the Good that humans carry? What is the good?
So I thought I would get the answering of these questions out of the way, even if I wasn’t completely sure what to do with it. I will have to address this topic more thoroughly later in the work.