Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Archetypes, Forms, & Angels

Ockham comes in for a lot of criticism around these parts, the poor honest earnest man. And not unrightly, perhaps, given his (largely innocent and inadvertent) role in the incipience of the prevalent modern nominalism that has gutted the West (he was not really much of a nominalist, as we think of nominalism these days). But in most things he was on target (this is true of all heretics, scoundrels, sinners, and fools (or else they’d die before they could do much damage, understood by their contemporaries as mere silly kooks)). Most of all, he was right in respect to his famous Razor, which more than any of his other immense contributions to human thought will surely warrant his everlasting renown – his status, shared with only five or six other philosophers, as a household name (at least among those who consider themselves somewhat educated). Even men who know nothing else whatever of epistemology or philosophy of science have some notion of Ockham’s Razor. His Principle of Parsimony is perhaps the most important operational, practical principle of thought (the Principle of Sufficient Reason, e.g., is by contrast ontological; or again e.g., the Principle of Noncontradiction is logical; and so forth). It is the whole basis of American Pragmatism, which is to say, of the philosophy of science universally presupposed in the practice of professional scientists. It is followed in its pragmatic importance – opinions differ about their proper order – by the Principle of Elegance (the more beautiful theory is more likely to be true) and the Principle of Adequacy (theories must adequate to the entirety of their proper domain). I would add also the Principle of Serendipity – as I here now decide to name it, not knowing how other thinkers might have done so: the principle, i.e., that a true theory is likely to explain more things, and they unsuspected things, than we had looked for it to explain – things that, i.e., are outside its (expected) proper domain (huge swathes of mathematics, e.g., turn out to exemplify the Principle of Serendipity).

Ockham, then, God Bless him: All else equal, that theory is best which is simplest – which postulates the fewest types of concrete entities.

So then: what about the Platonic Forms? Ockham’s Razor – a native, chthonic tendency in my thinking from infancy – bugged me about them from the first moment I read of them. What the heck are they? Are they a different sort of thing than the things of this world? What’s the Platonic Realm, for Heaven’s sake? Where is it? How does it interact with our own? If it does interact with our own, then isn’t it really integral with our own? If so, then what sets the Forms apart from their contingent instantiations here below? What does eternity have to do with creaturity?

Excursus: this is a different way of asking what Athens has to do with Jerusalem. That the two cities are bound up together in a single actual world should suffice as an answer: who created one, created the other. So, naturally, Jerusalem knows of and reckons Athens, and vice versa. Each informs the other ontologically, then; so, how might it be possible that they had nothing to do with each other doctrinally? Clearly, in an integral world, wherein everything is causally connected to all other things, they cannot but have had much to do with each other, each of them expressing as they did an apogee of human thought – and, ergo, worship. According to the Principle of Adequacy, then, each must take proper account of the other; and any adequate religious theory must take account of both of them, and in so doing understand their profound basic agreements.

Ockham’s Razor is aimed squarely at Plato. Implicitly, Ockham asks Plato all the questions of the foregoing (not least, Tertullian’s query about Athens versus Jerusalem – Ockham was squarely on Tertullian’s side, and in the camp of the Jerusalemites; for, a profound mystic of the classic English sort, he was utterly besotted with Revelation above all (the Scots generally tend per contra to Reason (as do the Gaels to Poesy resonant of the Psalms)) – and in that, he was not wrong, but on the contrary exactly correct (as also were the Scots and the Irish: for, insofar as they all succeed in their divers ways of reaching toward and revealing Truth, Reason, Poesy and Revelation cannot disagree)).

It boils down to this, says Ockham: is not the Platonic Realm of the Forms quite superfluous? What purpose could it serve, in the system of the worlds, if it were not itself concrete, as those worlds all were? If it is like them concrete, then is it not somehow in some intelligible converse with our own, in rather the way that economics is intelligible under the terms of game theory, and vice versa? Or rather, in rather the way that diplomacy is intelligible under the terms of war, and vice versa? If it is thus concrete, and therefore ineluctably particular, then how is it universally and archetypally Formal? But if it is not thus concrete, then: what the heck is it, in Heaven’s Name? What can we possibly mean in saying that a Form is not concrete, as we are? What can we mean in saying that it is not real, in some way or other alike to the way that we and the objects of our experience are real?

Aristotle – that supernal Platonist – noticed that the Forms must be properties of actual concrete entities in order to be properties in the first place, of anything whatever. So far, so good. But then the Forms could not ever have been properties of anything actual at all if they had not first been properties to which things could be proper – that, i.e., things could actualize in themselves, as fitly proper to actual things. And Forms that have never been somehow or other actualized just are not out there to begin with, as pure possibilities for subsequent actualization. What is nowise a property of something actual just *is not,* at all. So in order for creatures ever to have instantiated them, the Forms had to have been in some way actual prior to any of their particular creaturely instantiations. It has to be possible to be a man before you can go ahead and be a man. So manhood must be somehow out there and standing ready to implement, in order for there to be any men at all.

This is no very taxing problem. Saint Augustine solved it, in a great leap that in retrospect (like many such saltations) seems obvious: the Platonic Forms are all eminently actual in God. He knows that it is possible that x; so, it is possible that x. He’s necessary, and omniscient, after all; so, he can’t be wrong about x.

Augustine settles the Ockhamian worry about the ontological status of the Forms.

Excursus: once you find that your explanation terminates at last upon God, one of two things has happened: either you have stumbled upon the Truth, or you have badly misunderstood things. This is why explanations that terminate upon God are in bad odor among most intellectuals. To such men they smack of intellectual sloth, or slackness, or sloppiness – of a vicious defect of rigor. This too is why theologians so often cast a jaundiced eye upon mystics (this, even though most theologians are at some level themselves profound mystics – or else, they would be studying some other subject). It is to be sure all too easy to shortchange intelligibility altogether by a too hasty abversion to the Divine mystery. But it is equally easy to err oppositely, overlook the traces of the Eternal One, and so miss him altogether.

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Simply this: that if there were no Jerusalem, there would be nothing that Athens could talk about that would be real. There is Jerusalem, thanks be to God; so then can there be Athens, to talk of Jerusalem, and trace its byways, and parse its gates.

There is at the last nothing for Athens to talk about, but Jerusalem.

At the same time – this is a critical point, so do not skate over it blithely – the Forms had to have had always some creaturely instantiation or other, in order to be real properties of creatures in the first place, so that it could be possible for creatures to implement them in themselves. The Form of man had to be somehow real, concrete, actual, and thus out there as a possibility of repetition, imitation, participation, before men could anyhow happen.

You can’t be a man if it is not first concretely possible to be a man.

So, the Form of Man must be real – not just eminently in God, but concretely in creatura – in order for men then to eventuate.

A Form must be real and concrete, in order for it to then be the form of any real concrete.

There is a solution to this problem. It admirably meets and satisfies Ockham’s Principle of Parsimony. So also (as we ought to expect of true theories) does it satisfy the Principles of Elegance, of Adequacy, and of Serendipity.

It has two aspects: the Divine, and the creaturely.

As to the first, Augustine noticed that the Platonic Forms are all in God eternally. They are not created. They are logically implicit in Plato’s Form of the Good (which is the Formless Form of the Ultimate, the ain sof or apeiron of the Eternal One who despite that he is the Form and Bound and Limit of all things is himself Boundless and without Limit or therefore form (forms don’t *have* forms; they *are* forms)). Whatever can possibly come to pass, whatever its form, he knows about; this follows straightforwardly from his omniscience. Indeed, it is implicit in omniscience, by definition.

So, OK, so far so good. The Platonic Forms eternally and eminently exist as Ideas in the Divine mind. But, God is radically incommensurate with creaturity, in just the way that infinity is incommensurate with 5. How do the Forms work their way down to creaturity?

Notice that this is a way of asking: how do creatures (that all have some particular form) come to pass?

Well: the only possible answer is this: creatio ex nihilo. God creates actualities that exemplify the Forms eternally present to his mind.

Think now of this truth: ideas cannot have themselves. An idea *just is* a notion of some mind. You need a mind, to get an idea. So you need a mind, to get a Form; for, recall, a Platonic Form (the Latin term for Plato’s great deep apprehension) is a Platonic Idea (the Greek). Aristotle was right, then (although this did not make Plato wrong, as we shall see): Forms are real only insofar as they are the forms of actual things; of actual *minds.*

Here at last we come to the quite simple terminus ad quem of this whole essay.

The Forms are concrete eternally in the mind of God, but in him only (!) eminently. They are not actual eternally in him: God is not (among other things) eternally the carburetor of my car, nor is the carburetor of my car eternally actual in him (even though that carburetor in all the moments of its career is indeed eternally present and known to him; such is omniscience). The carburetor is not eternal. The carburetor is not God, nor is God the carburetor. Nevertheless, the carburetor could not be at all in the first place, were it not for the eternal fact of God’s knowledge of the actuality of the carburetor.

The carburetor could not be what it is if God did not know from all eternity what the carburetor is.

It gets complicated, and tricky. That’s why there is Vedanta, in all its many flavors. There is the carburetor, to be sure; but first, and in order for the carburetor to come to pass at all, there must always have been the Divine understanding of that coming to pass; so that the coming to pass of the carburetor is as it were a feature – not, NB, an irreal feature (such is the complexity of Vedanta) – of Eternity.

It’s actually very simple, nonetheless. That’s why there is Taoism. Taoism and Vedanta do not disagree.

But, anyway, and crucially, this: the carburetor could not take immediately and directly from God what it needs formally in order to take the form of a carburetor. For, God is not a carburetor! There is in God no actual carburetor that a creaturely carburetor could imitate, so as to be a carburetor.

The carburetor needs a way of imitating the Form of the carburetor, in order to go about being a carburetor. And God is not a carburetor. So, in order for any carburetors to come to pass, there must be a concrete Form of the carburetor.

And that’s why there are angels.

Angels are the primordial creaturely instantiations of the Forms. For every Form, there is an angel.

And the angels are the Jungian archetypes. Their concrete reality is the reason that the Jungian archetypes are so compelling.

Jung was hesitant to treat them as objectively real (he came *so close*!). But they are real. They could not otherwise function, in Jung’s system, or in any other. If the archetypes were not real, they would be delusory. Any behavior they informed, then, would be simply mad.

Excursus: If Ideas are not real, then they are *nothing at all.* Then all our thought (that involves them) is irreal. But this thought is not coherently thinkable, etc.

And the notion that behavior informed by archetypes is essentially mad contradicts the entirety of the Jungian paradigm. Jung then was a realist about the angels, whether he knew it or not.

My reading of Jung tells me that he did know it, but did not know how to fit that knowledge into his 19th century materialist ontology. So he reverted to an evolved and so universally given, but in the last analysis merely psychological unconscious, and pushed away recognition of the problem of how a thing might become apparent to that unconscious character of the whole human species if it were nowise real. We see light because it is real and significant; how not, likewise, angels and demons?

A compelling vision of what the angels are like to us, in their character of pure archetypal Platonic Forms, is to be found in Charles Williams’ novel The Place of the Lion. It is a hair-raising, terrifying depiction. As its story unfolds, the angels of the Forms begin to take over men and women – to possess them – with terrific, chaotic consequences for the integrity of the created order. I have not read it over again in several years, but in memory it falls somewhat short, philosophically. For, it shows the angels of the Forms as impersonal, and moreover as radically disobedient to their own Formal origin in the Logos; and, so, as destructive of the good creaturely order that, in toto, they are meant by their Master the Logos to serve.

It shows the angels of the Forms as Fallen.

I do not mean to suggest that Williams was wrong, but rather only that he was incomplete. The only angels that can be destructive are those who have Fallen. These are the angels of sins; of Falls from perfection. Logically there must be some of them, or no one of us men might ever have Fallen. But logically there must be their unfallen innocent counterparts, who as still perfect are incomparably more powerful and virtuous and good and … nice, in rather the way that we humble creatures here below would construe nicety in our incomprehensibly better and nobler betters.

Excursus: A king is not royal after all, and admirable, because he is unlike us. He is rather royal and admirable because he is more like our proper selves than we are. His unlikeness to us consists in his likeness to us as we ought most nobly to be.

Nobility is just loyalty to what is right.

So are we most heartily crestfallen at the moral failures of the King. Falling, he pulls the moral rug out from under us all, and so ruins all our own efforts to do the right thing in respect to our petty predicaments. Of such is the tragedy of all royal tragedies, from David to Clinton.

Once I realized that the Forms were primordially instantiated in angels, lots of things became clear, and simpler in a way that would have pleased Ockham (and perhaps in fact did). For every event there is an angel. For every life, every crossroad, every turn of events, there is a genius. This is what the ancients our ancestors were getting at with their notion of Fate. Everything has been anticipated; and for everything that happens, there is an angel, without whose prior actuality it could not happen. So all is anticipated, and provened.

That does not at all mean that what happens, or that what (in particular) we decide is inconsequential. That a thing is foreknown does not mean that it is not a thing, or that it does not have the causal and moral and aesthetic valences that it does have. To happen is, after all, nothing else than to mean; i.e., to have causal and moral and aesthetic valences.

Nor does it mean that what we decide is foredoomed. That a thing happens in time does not mean that it does not happen eternally. Time is a feature and process of eternity. No eternity, no time. But, also, vice versa: that a thing happens eternally does not mean that it does not happen in time; does not mean, i.e., that it does not really happen. On the contrary: what happens in and to eternity happens a fortiori.

Our acts do really happen.

So, our acts matter.

So then do the angels of acts really happen, and act. Each act is in part the act of angels. In any complex creaturely act, many angels participate. Such acts partake them, in their multitudes. Any worldly act is like that. Many angels partake it, and vice versa; for, like calls to like (of such calling is likeness in the first place).

Be careful then what angels you call upon, in and by your acts. For, they will, certainly, come; only in virtue of their coming will you be able in the first place to form your acts according to them; which is to say that, only in virtue of their coming will you be able to form your acts at all. All your acts involve the angels thereof.

This is why the demons – who are, remember, all first and primordially angels – come and infect and defect you, and pollute you henceforth, whenever you sin. You cannot sin at all without their formal participation in your sinful act. Their sin informs yours, and makes it possible. So then does yours, theirs. When you sin, you magnify them.

Take care then; take very great care. Do not let yourself be taken o’er. Do not, that is, ask them in.

Repudiate them, rather. Reject them, altogether. Such is the Baptismal Vow, in which we have repudiated Satan, and all his works. Fulfill it then. Or, having done otherwise, Fall, forever.

Excursus: returning now to the mundane political concerns of the orthosphere, how might we effect a true and righteous and good correction of the political and cultural order of the West, unless we had first repudiated Satan and all his works?

Never mind then politics or the news. Don’t ignore them, to be sure, but get to work first and foremost on your own salvation. Pluck first the beam from your own eye. That is the sine qua non.

Never doubt that the demons are real. Your sins are real, after all, no? Who then do they express? Who do they magnify? How could they have happened in the first place, did they not express and magnify something prior to themselves? You could not even begin to sin, were it not for the Forms of sin actively presented to you as lures by the demons who exemplify those sins primordially. If sin is real, then so are its demons, and their reality prior to that of any lesser creaturely instantiation, such as your own.

So when you sin do you call upon and magnify them. Aye, you embody them. That is how they come to possess your body.

Is that what you really, truly want?

Repent, then! Repent! And from old errors, turn!

Don’t kid yourself about this. There is no real confusion about it, at bottom, unless you actively want to be confused, and eventually destroyed. You know perfectly well exactly what I’m talking about.

NB: I do not exempt myself. I am first among sinners. The preacher preaches to the choir, perhaps; but only by preaching first and foremost to himself.

16 thoughts on “Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Archetypes, Forms, & Angels

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  3. My old friend Sir Arnold Trevor Bax seems to have been a good Platonist, devoting his entire life to the realization of the Absolute Beauty in the worldly realm while humbly lamenting the inevitable shortfall in his attempts at articulation. To borrow a phrase from a private correspondent who would prefer to remain anonymous, Bax went questing for pravoslavie, a Glagolitic word meaning something like, “rightly to praise.” (In his early twenties Bax chased a captivating Ukrainian girl, whom he had met in Berlin, all the way back to Kiev: His music would represent the sublimation of that lower-order Eros.) Concerning Occam and his razor – what if we applied it as praxis in the aesthetic realm? There would certainly be no Bax, nor any Bach, but perhaps we would have Glass, Reich, and Minimalism. In Bach’s Art of the Fugue or in Bax’s lavishly orchestrated symphonies, complexity makes itself necessary because the aim is pravoslavie. Parsimony is legitimate in certain restricted contexts, but is a fairly arbitrary notion in most others. We should live our lives rightly praising the Forms and not letting the injunction of parsimony get in our way.

    I come at you, as usual, rather obliquely.

    • But as usual your obliquity is fruitful. To wit: it prompts the reflection that the Principle of Parsimony is of thought only, and not of either art or of act. It is a principle, i.e., that is proper to deliberation *about* creation, rather than to creation itself. If the Razor were applied to act or being, there would be no art, nor any act, nor any creation to contemplate; nor any creatures to perform the contemplation.

      When it comes to creation, the principle fundamentally at work is the obverse of the Principle of Parsimony; namely, the Principle of Plenitude.

      The two realms – that of creation, and that of contemplation – do however intersect, for each act of contemplation (whether aesthetic, or philosophical, or moral) is itself a creative act. At that intersection, the Principle of Elegance comes into play. With the Principle of Serendipity, it covers both realms.

      Musicians and mathematicians seem mostly to be Platonists.

  4. Hi Kristor,

    As usual, you’ve gone over my head. I hope you don’t mind my prompts for clarification, since a few shy readers might have the same confusions.

    I’m struggling to see why an object needs to imitate its form instantiated in something outside itself, or how having its form instantiated “concretely” in an angel is of any help to it. If God can make an angel containing the concrete form of your car’s carburetor, why can’t He just create the carburetor directly? The chasm to concreteness must be crossed in either case.

    • Great questions. You are right, I did skip some pretty important steps. I presupposed an account of becoming under which the leap over the chasm from formal potentiality to concrete actuality – the act of becoming – has both passive and active aspects.

      It must.

      If the act of becoming were entirely passive, there would be no such thing as creaturely agency, for the act of becoming would be entirely the outcome either of the Divine creative act, or of its creaturely historical antecedents, or some combination thereof. There would then be no such thing as creatures, properly so called; for, the act of becoming of x being nowise the act of x itself, but rather only the act of its antecedents, would empty x of any causal effects of its own, so that – under the Aristotelian discovery that to be is to act, and thus to have causal effect of some sort – it would empty x of all actuality. X then would not be disparate from its antecedents. Nor would those antecedents be disparate from their own. Nothing then would be disparate from anything else; so there would be no things. The net result of this alternative would be the block universe of Spinozan monism, in which there is only one thing: God.

      If on the other hand the act of becoming were entirely active, then it could not suffer any effects of its antecedents, either Divine or creaturely. I.e., it could not know them, at all, or be affected or informed by them. This would mean that it could not coordinate with them, other than by mere happenstance (but then, mere happenstance is after all not a species of order in the first place). This alternative would have the end result of forestalling cosmic order – which is to say that it would have the effect of forestalling any cosmos whatever (for, a cosmos *just is* an ordered array of actualities). We’d end up with Democritean atomism on steroids; for, while on Democritean atomism the atoms can bump each other around and have causal effects upon each other, the elimination of passivity would prevent any atomic bumping from having any effects on atomic valences.

      Becoming must be somehow both active and passive, if we are to avoid both the Scylla of absolute monism and the Charybdis of absolute atomism.

      OK, then: how? It’s actually not too hard to see, because in each of our moments we suffer our past and act toward some future. We know how it is to be both active and passive at the same moment.

      I’ll try to sketch the process nevertheless, so as to nail it down a bit more explicitly. None of this is my stuff, by the way. It’s all in Aristotle, Aquinas, and Whitehead.

      First: where does a novel occasion of becoming originate? It can’t originate in creatures. Creatures can shape what already exists, but cannot bring new occasions into existence de novo. We don’t procure moments in our lives by our own acts, but rather find that we arrive in them, willy nilly; only then, and in virtue of the prior arrival of such a moment, can we act.

      If creatures could create, we’d be able to live forever by just forcing new moments in our lives to happen. It doesn’t work that way. We want things to happen a certain way, but wishing cannot make it so.

      Novel occasions of becoming must therefore originate first in God. This is the familiar doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. From an utter nothingness of x, God creates x.

      But he does not thereby wholly determine the character of x. That would land us back in Spinozan monism. That monism, NB, forestalls the Divine act of creation altogether. On Spinozan monism, God does not act to create any x. So, he does not create the things of this world.

      God provides the seed of the novel occasion. The occasion itself then takes over its process of final formation (whether for good or for ill). The Divine provision of its very existence is not an instance either of activity or passivity on the part of x; for, a thing can’t be either active or passive (or anything else whatever) until it first somehow exists so as to be active or passive. God creates the occasion of passivity and activity. Only then does the occasion act or suffer.

      The novel occasion first suffers its antecedents – including God – then acts upon what it has learned from them about their own characterological properties, feeling their character in and for itself, and arriving at a novel configuration of those properties that specifies and determines its own final character.

      Such is the act of becoming. Only as complete – as fully in act – is an occasion fully definite, fully and completely just what it is, and not something other. Only as completed, and definite, can it be concretely actual; and only thus can it be available for the apprehension of other occasions, so that it can in its turn exert some causal influence upon them, and in so doing take its place in a causal nexus, a cosmos, an actual world.

      So far, so good. Why then are angels needed for this process to go forward? Are they not rather superfluous? If the Forms are present eminently in the mind of God from all eternity, why could not the burgeoning novel occasion x look directly to God for guidance in its characterological formation? If it could, then should not the angels fall before Ockham’s Razor, along with the Platonic Forms? Why in that case would we need to construe either the Forms or their angels as reals in their own right, apart from their eminence in God?

      Creatures need to imitate creatures because they can’t imitate God. God is simple. So, there’s no way to imitate him except by imitating all of him. And no finite creature is adequate to that infinite task. Nor due to his simplicity and integrity can a creature pick out this or that characteristic of him, this or that formal Idea, in order to instantiate it. With God, it’s all, or nothing at all.

      This is why men are urged to put on the mind of Christ Jesus, rather than the mind of the Logos: Christ Jesus is a man, who in his manhood stands in the proper relation of men to God. Putting on the mind proper to men is something that men can possibly do. Putting on the mind of the Logos, they cannot do.

      Angels are not individuals, but species. They are types, rather than mere instances of types, as are all other sorts of creaturely occasions. So their choices are much simpler than ours. They must decide only whether or not they are going to be the type that God would like them to be, or not. The Fall of an angel consists in the his decision not to be the type that God would like him to be, but rather – this being implicit in his rejection of the Divine Will for his own character – to try to imitate God himself. To disagree with God’s will for you *just is* to assert that you know better than God. It *just is* then to assert that you yourself are God.

      Lucifer wants to set himself up as God, in that he wants to determine for himself, in his own right, what is best. This is the very same temptation he proffered to our first parents.

      You can’t be an instance of a type that is not concretely existent as a type in the first place. You can’t conform yourself to a categorical form that is not real; that is not out there to be conformed to. You can’t be like something that simply is not. To think that such a thing might be possible is the great lacuna and scandal of all nominalism. Nominalism wants things to be formed (and thus ordered, coordinate, intelligible, and so forth) without there being any such thing really as forms.

      That’s an incoherent project. The reality of the types, then, cannot in the final analysis be coherently questioned. Platonic realism of some sort is an indispensable, essential forecondition of mundane being, and so of thought. The coherent questions about the reality of the types all pertain to the nature of their reality.

      The type must be real in order to be instantiated. So God created the types to create instances of the types. The instances and their types come along as a package deal, so to speak: if you have an instance of anything whatever, you can be sure that you have an instance of a type.

      Excursus: when moveable type was invented, it was named advisedly. In ancient Hebrew angelology, the angels were forms engraved or stamped upon prime matter, which like clay took the form of readiness to take the form of whatever was stamped upon it. So letters on the printed page were instances of their types.

      … from Latin typus “figure, image, form, kind,” from Greek typos “a blow, dent, impression, mark, effect of a blow; figure in relief, image, statue; anything wrought of metal or stone; general form, character; outline, sketch,” from root of typtein “to strike, beat,” from PIE *tup-, variant of root *(s)teu– (1) “to push, stick, knock, beat.”

      Compare character:

      … from Greek kharakter “engraved mark,” also “symbol or imprint on the soul,” properly “instrument for marking,” from kharassein “to engrave,” from kharax “pointed stake” …

      The letter x does not subsist in any of its instances, but rather they in it.

      Nevertheless the creation of the types is categorically different than the creation of their instances, because the types are categorically different from their instances. For one thing, the types logically precede any of their instantiations. Nor (for that very reason) are the types temporal; rather are they aeviternal, existing all at once without passage, like photons. As aeviternal they are like God before all worlds (for, they enable and mediate the eventuation of worlds). As at no particular time in any particular world, nor are they at any particular place; so they can make themselves apparent and effectual anywhere, and everywhere; so nor do they travel (rather are they the media of all travel). Most pertinent to our purposes here, they are not imitations of anything. Each is only itself. Each is an instance only of itself.

      So is an infinite regress avoided: the angels do not themselves prerequire angels, as other sorts of creatures do. Thus angels can leap the chasm from potentiality to concrete actuality without recourse to any prior actualities than God. Thus also are they needed if any other sort of creature is to make that leap; so that the angels are not cut by Ockham’s Razor.

      I hope that answers your questions without raising too many more. On the other hand, if it doesn’t, then by all means fire away. That would be nifty; I learn a ton from these discussions.

      • Hello Kristor,

        Thank you for the detailed reply. I admit that my attempts to make senses of Whitehead have ended mostly in failure (and a book I read on event ontology didn’t convince me: I find myself unable to agree or disagree. There is a sense in which X is “guided” by or “imitates” the form-of-X, but our way of speaking tends to make us imagine these as separate entities more than they really are.

      • Dear Bonald,

        Thanks in return for your interest in these topics. You do me honor by engaging with my arguments.

        The analysis of becoming in my last comment does not require an event ontology such as that of Whitehead to gain traction or exert salience when it comes to ascertaining the ontological status of the Platonic Forms. Event ontology does not necessarily contradict substance ontology: a substance, Whitehead would say, is the outcome of an event; substance and occurrence, then, are dimensions of existence – different ways of analyzing the same sort of thing.

        He also considered that events are not necessarily restricted to the Planck scale, as many seem to think who (rightly) see in his metaphysics a congenial fit with quantum mechanics. He was open to the notion that a marriage or a war or an epoch or a human life or an institution or a nation or a large scale natural event might be actual entities, concrete substantial reals in their own rights, rather than mere aggregates: e.g., the Renaissance, the Church, the life of Julius Caesar, the Battle of Hastings, galactic mergers, and so forth.

        This is not so great a stretch, considering the integrity of the human body in the human person.

        Finally, there is in his ontology room for hierarchies of actual entities; for composition. So, then, there is room in his ontology for a temporally extensive substance such as the life of Julius Caesar to be composed of many subsidiary events, each of which in turn is a composition of multitudes of subsidiary events (each instant in the life of Caesar’s body would involve untold trillions of such subsidiary events).

        That a thing has subsidiary components does not render it inactual. To think that it does is a characteristic error of the improper reductionist.

        But, anyway: Whitehead is neither here nor there, when it comes to the ontological status of the Platonic Forms. It is just as tricky to nail down the formal causation of substances, as it is of events.

        That the Forms must logically be concretely actual prior to any of their mundane instantiations follows straightforwardly from three premises (none of which originated with Whitehead):

        1. What is not necessary must be caused by some other.
        2. Whatever is caused is caused formally, finally, materially, and efficiently.
        3. A thing cannot influence another except in virtue of what it is itself, and what properties it possesses; cannot confer to another what it does not itself have in the first place.

        From these premises it follows that any X that is caused must be caused formally, finally, materially, and efficiently by some others in whom themselves the formal, final, material, and efficient factors of X first abide, so that they can contribute those factors to the becoming – the formation – of X.

        So here’s the thing: forms not yet instant in concrete actualities of the world – such as the form of this moment of your life that is right now becoming actual – cannot arrive in the world in virtue only of the formal characteristics of their mundane antecedents. For, evidently, what is happening to you now has never happened before; so that the form of this moment of your life has never before appeared in mundane reality. Then that form was not contributed to this moment by any moment of your worldly past, for that form is not out there in that past to begin with (if it was, then this moment of your life would not be novel (which is to say that it would not now be happening (it would, rather, have happened back then))). The form of this your present moment must therefore have arrived at this your present moment from elsewhere than this world.

        New things can happen only in virtue of a formal influx from extramundane sources.

        So, angels.

      • PS: I meant also to add that, while it is true that an event ontology such as Whitehead’s fits remarkably well with QM, I’m not aware of Whitehead or any of his most important interpreters ever arguing that QM *forces* an event ontology.

        Whitehead’s ontology fits superbly with QM, to be sure, but it fits equally well also with the classical metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, and with substance ontology in general, provided we take Whitehead as spelling out just how substances come to be what they are. This is all to say that his Philosophy of Organism does not disagree with our phenomenal experience of what it is like to be and to become, or therefore with our native vernacular ontology (or, ergo, with the deep grammar of human language). Whitehead agrees with human experience in just the way that the Rutherfordian atomic theory, under which solids are mostly vacuous, and it is furthermore quite tricky to nail down the extension and locus of the particles sprinkled sparsely here and there within their relatively vast emptinesses, does not disagree with our quotidian experience of solids as … well, as solids. Latter day atomism does not refute our quotidian experience, but rather illumines it. So likewise with the Copernican revolution in our perspective. It does not refute our experience, but deepens and enriches our understanding and appreciation of it.

        A good theory explains and verifies the truth of our experience, and, rather than falsifying our very lives and refuting them, renders them more intelligible and, so, more meaningful. A good theory should then make us feel happier about things, and more encouraged. Does a theory make you feel like despairing? It is probably false.

        I’m pretty sure I’ve just this moment discovered another important principle of epistemology. I wonder what it should be called. The Principle of Harmony, perhaps. Does a theory make you feel better about life, make you feel that God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world? It is more likely to be true, than if it did not. For why? Because God *just is* in his Heaven, and from that fact all things do flow.

        In its agreement with human experience per se, event ontology is like Platonism and Aristotelianism. In that very respect it radically differs from materialism, acosmism, monism, idealism, physicalism, reductionism of the improper sort, Democritean atomism, determinism, nihilism, and so forth ad infinitum – all of which ask us to believe that we don’t experience something or other that we do in fact inarguably experience.

        One last note: when Whitehead says that it might be possible for natural law to change, what it means is that it might be possible for this cosmos to end, with another taking its place. This, in just the same way that the form of the boy disappears along with the boy, and is changed into the form of the man when the boy becomes a man. By “cosmic epoch” then, he means roughly what the Church means by “saeculum” or “aion.”

      • Hello Kristor,

        You’ll forgive me I’m sure for being exceptionally quarrelsome. I also pick fights with the Thomists over this principle that “A thing cannot confer to another what it does not itself have in the first place”
        (cf. if you’re interested.)

        I’m interested in your take on event ontology, because its advocates that I have read believed that its abolition of substance is its primary novelty. Events and their properties are all that exist; other objects being just a way to refer to some resemblance within a worldline of events. I would at least credit the position with being clear on what its entities are. (I have a devil of a time figuring out whether something should be an Aristotelian substance, artifact, or heap.) On the other hand, substance ontology seems to me a better fit for any kind of physics, quantum or otherwise, because persistent physical laws are most easily explicable given some enduring subject. (Whitehead’s own presentism is hard to square with relativity, but that’s not an issue for event ontology itself.)

        If I understand you correctly, I should read things differently, that event ontology does not deny the existence of substances but simply asserts the existence of events. And indeed, just as Aristotle granted only potential existence to the points making up a line, many–and not only Aristotle’s conscious followers–would be tempted to grant only a similar sort of abstract, potential existence to spacetime points. If events can be extended in spacetime, then we have even more flexibility in recognizing primary entities, but with the Aristotelian problem that it gets harder to know when one has done it right.

      • Dear Bonald, there is nothing to forgive. I would not characterize your arguments as quarrelsome, at all. On the contrary, they are friendly. What is more, they are well taken, and so therefore helpful. They help me think and express myself more clearly, and that can’t but help readers do the same.

        I’m not going to respond here to the arguments you set forth in the essay you link, even though I am eager to do so (not necessarily to disagree, but rather only to distinguish and clarify), mostly because doing so would tax our readers with a lot of my guff about a set of points that, however fascinating to me, are tangential to the gist of your comment. So I may respond to them in a new post.

        I share your assessment that many think event ontology abolishes substances. I did, too, when I first encountered it. But after a few years of reflection, I decided that it no more abolishes substances than Rutherfordian atomism abolishes solids. To think that it does, I realized, is to engage in improper reduction, and so to eliminate the explanandum of event ontology. So I think rather that event ontology takes us a few steps deeper into a careful analysis of what a substance is, exactly.

        It boils down to this: obviously a substance must be something that exists; so that it must have come to be. A substance then is the terminus ad quem of a process of becoming: an actual event – i.e., an event actualized. But then, if there be no such enduring substance, then nothing came to be in the first place. So, substance and event pick out and emphasize different aspects of the same thing.

        Event ontology has just as hard a time as substance ontology at figuring out what phenomenal objects count as actual entities. Heaps are pretty easy for both. But both struggle with trees, animals, even vortices (is the spot on Jupiter a thing?) And it is tough for both to steer clear of infinite regress – of the temptation to stipulate homunculi and their equivalents. E.g., is a transfer of energy a thing in its own right? Do we need a messenger particle to tell the messenger particles what its message is?

        Infinite regress is a pretty good sign that one has overlooked a boundary between reals and irreals.

        I would say that the constancy of natural law is, not just hard, but *impossible* to explain in the absence of enduring subjects (a natural law that can evolve over a history of different substances is not a law in the first place). But since no mundane substance permanently perdures, the needed endurance can be furnished only by a substance that is not mundane. The constancy of natural law then hangs together with the constancy of the metaphysical, logical and mathematical truths on the same eternal Principal as do the Law and the Prophets.

        As for Whitehead’s presentism vis-à-vis relativity, we should remember that his whole scheme begins with the perspective of the event itself – the intrasubjective phenomenal “present” moment or instance of the event – and takes that inward present as the characterological basis of its eventual outward causal status. Among the dimensions of that causal status are its location in space and time. As a logical and mathematical analysis of space and time, relativity then is not (so far as I can see) affected one way or the other by the timelessness and spacelessness of the event before it completes its act of becoming actual.

        On a related note, it has been something of a scandal to his interpreters that Whitehead takes God to be both the “chief exemplification” of temporal events, *and* that he takes the Divine event to be eternal and so changeless. They very much like the notion that God evolves (lots of them are liberals). But as Whitehead (and all his philosophical predecessors) saw, what evolves cannot be God. To think so is to commit a category error. What evolves cannot even be a Form (this is one reason that Aquinas argued that the angelic archetypes of the Forms are aeviternal). Thus Whitehead ends up at the same place that Leibniz did with his monadology: a motionless Divine monad.

        The liberal Whiteheadians don’t like that at all, because they want time (ergo space) to be fundamental. I’m not sure why they have such a hard time grasping the notion that time can be *essential* to worlds but not logically or operationally *fundamental* to them: a derivative aspect of worlds that nevertheless characterizes worlds per se.

        If events can be extended in spacetime, then we have even more flexibility in recognizing primary entities, but with the Aristotelian problem that it gets harder to know when one has done it right.

        Yeah. To some of Whitehead’s less liberal interpreters, especially among the physicists, it is a bit of a scandal that Whitehead was willing to consider the possibility that corporeal substances that are not physically basic – that are not, i.e., subatomic particles or the events that constitute their causal careers – might nevertheless be actual, with a subjective aspect, which is to say, with experiences. To admit the possibility that a storm or a star or an animal might be a thing that is not nothing but its atomic constituents – is not, i.e., a heap of some sort, and nothing more – is to open up a *lot* of perplexities about whether this or that is actually a thing, that the improper reduction of 19th century physics had seemed to eliminate at the root, to the preponderant relief of many rigorous minds.

        But, to sum up: yes, Whitehead (and I, and some others of his interpreters) take all worldly events to be extended in space and time (once they have finished becoming and so have definite properties of any sort). What is more, we take mundane events to be all in some sense compositions of aspects of other prior or subsidiary events.

        So, e.g., the French Revolution could perhaps be an actual event in its own right. This notion furnishes some concreteness to such intellectual commonplaces as “the spirit of the age,” the “national mood,” and so forth. Then also – here is where the tricky bit, and thus the dangerous bit, creeps in – it lends concreteness to the “will of the people,” “Leviathan,” on the one hand; and, on the other, to the doctrine that the Church and the consecrated elements of the Mass, distributed as they are all over the planet, are the very Body of Christ, and the analogous medieval legal doctrine that the King had two quite real (and not merely notional) bodies: his own animal body, and the body of his subject nation.

        Some assemblages of events are mere heaps, while others are concrete things in their own right. So some of our terms for assemblages of events are mere heuristics, while others are heuristics that also truly refer. It can be very difficult to distinguish between the two sorts, especially at the limina. Whitehead was acutely aware of this difficulty. So much so, that he thought a whole class of philosophical errors derived from false attributions of concrete actuality to mere heaps. He named that fallacy the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness – also called the Fallacy of Reification.

  5. So then: what about the Platonic Forms?

    If I may crudely summarize —

    Plato — “Unthought Thoughts”

    Aristotle — “Unintended Intensions”

  6. Chaos, The All, God, +- Infinity, Induction = No net information: (Ø)

    Platonic Forms, Ideas, Angels, Memes, Minds, Species (Information relative to context) = Replicators: (Life/Observer/Qualia) all information self referential: (Ø)

    Matter, The Universe, The Demiurge, Deduction = Impossible to truly perceive substrate (No net information): (Ø)

  7. Pingback: Philosophical Skeleton Keys: More on – The Orthosphere

  8. I agree with the points you made about the nominalisation of ‘Occam’ and the associated bureaucratization of the west, the way that anything to do with Occam himself or the actual details of his theory have been separated through a chain of arbitrary connections that strip things of their meaning. This is what happens when piles of red-tape are attached between manifest realities and the thought-forms that want them, which has the effect of putting certain things more out of the reach of some people and more into the reach of others.

    The razor in ‘Occam’s Razor,’ then, has a dual meaning: on the one hand, it demarcates the way a single, simple, straight-line connection from one thing another is ‘sharp’ like a razor, and on the other, it encapsulates the way the thing in itself is separated from the thought-form, which is automatically bound to happen in the process of drawing a straight line between the two things: the form is separated from it’s creatureness in the process of understanding the difference between them.

    Our bodies are in the third-dimension, and we are capable of transferring our thought-forms into the second dimension by writing them down on flat pages, which can then be read by others. But where lays the consciousness in the minds of the two people who shared this idea? It was transferred through the third-dimension from hand to paper to eyes, but the idea moving the hand came from the mind, and the understanding of what was written on the paper came from another mind. Thus there is another dimension ‘beneath’ us, our creation and subject to our collective will, in the second dimension, which is flat and has no extension, and is the dimension in which the contents of our minds exist, as they, too, have no extension.

    Presumably, then, the parts of the world around us that our human minds have played no part in shaping may have come from a fourth-dimensional mind or minds who are to us as we are to the second-dimensional cultural edifice which many great minds have constructed and maintained and improved over the ages and with which we all create our own second-dimensional constructions.

    But, nevertheless, as you say, all I am really doing here is nominalising the two things, drawing a straight line between one dimension and another, and inso doing am in fact stripping them of their meaning.

    The hermetic tree provides an analysis of the many subtle and varied levels of separation and reintegration that occur between the thought-forms and its manifest existence.

  9. Pingback: Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Yet More on Angels – The Orthosphere


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