Reflections on Reflection

Here’s one of those cases where I’m reading two seemingly unrelated works at the same time and they end up invoking the same idea:

Magritte painting of a mirror Plato characteristically describes particulars as copying or imitating Forms, and this seems to imply that particulars resemble Forms. … But does Plato’s metaphor commit him even to this? The answer, surely, is No. … The very being of a reflection is relational, wholly dependent upon what is other than itself …. It is for this reason that, though you may call the reflection of a red scarf red if you so please, you cannot mean the same thing you mean when you call its original red. … The reflection does not resemble the original; rather, it is a resemblance of the original. This is its nature, and the whole of its nature. … It will be objected that Plato compares particulars with reflections and pictures indiscriminately; that pictures are not merely resemblances of, but stand in the relation of resemblance to, their originals; and that, therefore, the above interpretation cannot be attributed to Plato. But this objection overlooks the nature of his theory of art. The analogy is drawn, not to the picture as a picture, but to the art object … [I]t is essential to apprehending a picture as an art object that we may take it to be, not a resemblance, but the very thing it resembles, as we may mistake a reflection in a mirror for the thing reflected. Viewed as an art object, the picture no longer retains its independent character; it is assimilated to that of a reflection, which is to say that its full meaning is relational, dependent upon the nature of its original. … [Resemblances] stand to their originals as the dependent to the independent …. Plato’s metaphor of imitation brilliantly expresses a community between different orders of objects, different levels of reality; it does not, as his recent critics have maintained, collapse that order.
(Reginald E. Allen, “Participation and Predication in Plato’s Middle Dialogues.”)

Man is not something that reflects something else. He is reflection itself. … An idea or knowing is not something besides God which reflects or echoes God. … The knowing is the divine idea or reflection. Man is not a reflector; he is reflection. … Oftentimes erroneous inferences are drawn from the old theological terms, “image” and “likeness.” [“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …. So God created man in his own image ….” – Genesis 1:26-27.] To some, image suggests picture, and likeness a duplicate, so that they find it impossible to dissociate the word “reflection” from parallelism. … The word “manifestation” is not open to as many interpretations …. To illustrate this essential oneness or inseparability of Principle and idea, let us say that your friend visits you and you acknowledge his presence. Is not your friend manifested to you? When he departs, you would not expect him to leave his manifestation with you – for his manifestation is your friend manifest. Likewise, thought cannot be detached even figuratively from Mind, for it itself is Mind thinking. … The consciousness of God is not something that I have, but something that I am. … Man is not aware of something; he is the awareness – God’s awareness of His own infinite selfhood, or active reflection. … Understanding belongs to God, and while it is true that man reflects God’s qualities, it cannot be said that effect ever becomes cause or that understanding ever becomes the understander. … Man does not have understanding; he is understanding. He is not somebody doing something; he is the doing. You do not have ideas; you are idea, or God’s knowledge of His own infinite individuality.
(Arthur Corey, Christian Science Class Instruction, ch. 5.)

But there is an important difference between Allen and Corey as well:

The very being of a reflection is relational, wholly dependent upon what is other than itself: the original, and the reflecting medium. … The mirror of the Forms is of course three-dimensional: the Receptacle. … [F]or Plato extended entities are reflections, images; space, the medium of reflection, is a precondition of their existence, the receptacle in which Forms are mirrored. It is therefore absolute, not a consequence of the mirroring.

Mind, of course, is consciousness; but, in order to be that, it must be conscious of something, and since there can be nothing beyond Mind’s infinity, it is conscious necessarily of itself and of nothing else. Omniscient Mind knows itself perfectly, has a perfect concept of itself, and this is the infinite, divine idea called “man” or “manifestation.” It is the divine self-consciousness, or Mind looking back at itself, seeing itself as itself. … There is no component, factor or element involved in spiritual reflection which corresponds in any manner to a mirror, mentally or otherwise. … Mind taking cognizance of itself is its own reflector and its own reflection.

And this disagreement connects in turn to the philosophical question of whether the “third realm” or “space of reasons” is something beyond the familiar realm of ordinary mind and matter or is just that familiar realm viewed aright, as per McDowell’s distinction between “rampant” and “naturalized” versions of Platonism.

Though if the version of Platonism that denies the existence of a material substratum turns out to be the less rampant and more naturalised form of Platonism, then clearly the application of these distinctions is trickier than one might have supposed.

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2 Responses to Reflections on Reflection

  1. Anon73 March 26, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    This reminds me, I think it would be great to add a “Ask a philosopher…” section to your site. You’ve already done something similar with some blog posts (e.g. here, here, and here. You could do reader-submitted questions like “How can red appear in two places at the same time?” or “Is John Searle right about the Chinese room?”.

    At any rate, I have to take issue with your assertion in the above links that no artificial language has been invented which does not depend on being embedded in natural language for its meaning. I can’t see how this must be true for things like this or this; I can easily imagine a grunting caveman with no language being able to learn and use these languages. If you consider the counting numbers 1,2,3… a “language” then the counterargument is even easier.

  2. smally March 27, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    Anon73, there is already an Ask a Philosopherservice on the web. I haven’t used it, so I’m not sure if it is any good.

    On this topic, does anyone know of a decent philosophical discussion board that is not full of nutjobs? University courses are too expensive.

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