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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Calvin's God in Plato's Cave

Based on Michael Horton's presentation of Calvin's natural theology, it seems that Calvin was no friend of Plato or philosophy. But looking at it from Plato's point of view, I come to an interesting conclusion.

One of the things that is true of the imprisoned victims in the cave in Plato's parable of the Cave is that not only are they chained so that they cannot see behind them to see the truth about things, they cannot even see each other. Their heads are forced in one direction only - The Wall. Of course this fits Plato's scheme. We do not even see each other in experience, only each others bodies which are just part of the epiphenominal visible world. (So if you say that you had a great time seeing me at the mall last weekend, I will know that you are a charletan who probably takes money for teaching virtue -- or an adjunct philosophy professor -- D'oh!) Now, once we are free and have been goaded to the truth and back to bring justice to the darkened state, we must communicate with our enslaved bretheren (and sisteren). They must communicate indirectly to each other by talking to certain shadows on the wall. When Crito talks to Cebes, he addresses the Cebes shadow. When Cebes listens to Crito, he only listens to the echo of Crito's voice as it reverberates near the Crito shadow. And so back as forth, Cebes responds to Crito. The same is true when Socrates returns to the cave and engages poor bound Cebes and Crito but he tries to convince then that he is not the Socrates shadow they think his voice is coming from.

If Horton is right about Calvin, I take it that on Calvin's view, the whole panoply of shadows is the God Shadow, that we are apt to see an image in experience or of all experience as if it spoke like God in some analogous sense to the body of a person speaking like it was that person. This is obviously not be some inference just as there is no inference involved in thinking that when you saw my body at the mall you saw me -- its just custom that leads you to think that (although custom in a strong sense that is the presupposition for culture). Consequently, it is only custom that makes us think that the natural enviroment is the handiwork of God (just what Hume said). But Calvin is like John Lennon, he thinks that the shadows on the wall are worth more than the pilgrimage outside of the cave, even though he is aware that such a trip has often been made.

So it seem that Calvin identifies the natural knowledge of God with just this pre-theoretical awareness of nature as I suspect that Paul does too in Romans chapter one. The knowledge of God from nature is not by means of inference but by direct association of one with the other. Calvin is also probably right that as far as the Scripture is concerned, waht's important about knowledge of God is the profitable use that can be made of it.

No doubt Socrates need not bother to convince God that He is not his Shadow. He already admits it.

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