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Track through trees with light coming in.

Conjuring the Abstract

You know what happens to lovers when they see a musical instrument or a piece of clothing or any other private property of a person whom they love. When they recognise the thing, their minds conjure up a picture of its owner. This is recollection.

Plato (340 BCE)


As an aside, in his speculations about the immortal soul, Plato (through Socrates’ voice) considers how we come to conceptualise abstract properties in general. But we don't meet abstractions, so where do they come from? Roughly he thinks that particular things act like signposts A tree growing away from the the wind. On seeing obstacles as signposts. which prompt us to recall matters we had ‘forgotten’. So the beauty of the sunset, induces us to recollect the real and true beauty that we did know, and of which this concrete example is, at best, a poor token. The particulars Shafts of light on the landscape north of Sa Pa in Vietnam. A bit more on particulars. act like pointers The Cairnholy monument with its stone pointing at a moon. Other aspects of pointing.
to another life. However, we get hooked on the signposts, becoming preoccupied with them, and are diverted from wanting to know the way to Rafford: so absorbed in the sunset Ranges of hills away into the distance. A little on the conjuring of wonder. before us, we forget that it is important for what it conjures, not for what it is.

The quotation comes from the Hugh Tredennick translation in the Penguin Classics of the Phaedo paragraph 73d. This is part of the account of Socrates’ death and so is concerned with what will happen to the philosopher after he leaves his friends, Plato is holding out the joy of this much more 'real' world which will also console them.

The signpost in the photograph, which might well divert you from getting to your intended destination, is just south of Forres in northern Scotland.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 20th August 2022

Murphy on duty to this site