Lord, when I found myself far from thee, it was not due to a remoteness of place, it came from the unlikeness in which I found myself. – St. Augustine1
This is the beginning of a three-part series, each building off the last. This first part will principally set down some epistemological outlines, the second: a moral case study of transgenderism, the third: concerning the perfection of man.
As we explored in the first Sympoiesis post, the concept of self-ownership which runs through the entirety of modern political philosophy, especially the more extreme libertarian branches of it, presupposes, or ends up generating by necessity, a very acute form of radical dualism. It is a dualism that seems to have run as an inheritance from Descartes, regardless of whether liberals are keen to admit to it or not. Taking the hylemorphic understanding of man, as that of an essential body-soul composition that, man is self-moving unity but not one whereby the body is moved by a soul-substance or mental-substance that is over and above the body, we began to see that such grounds for the notion of self-ownership fall apart.
But let us recap. If what makes man, ‘man’, is his intellective capacity as united to a sensitive body, Aristotle’s “rational animal”, it suffices to say that his body is not accidental. Why? Because how he comes to know is through the senses, and sense is of the body. Then, if we were to talk about a man “owning himself”, self-possession as a concept ceases to make any sense because there is no radical and distinct sense whereby he is over and above himself so that he might self-possess. But the point of discussion here in this post is not self-ownership. Let’s take a quick Platonic epistemological detour to flesh this out.
Many take Plato’s pre-existence of the soul, the coming from the forms at birth and going to the forms at death that allows for recollection as we see in the Phaedo, Phaedrus and Meno dialogues, as one of the strongest points for his version of radical body-soul dualism. Primarily, this is because the myths through which Plato represents this doctrine is taken in the literal sense by such people. Many pagan Neoplatonists, like Plotinus, do similarly adopt radical body-soul dualism which ends up disparaging the body somewhat. While I’m not going to argue that Platonism traditionally does not carry this form of dualism, exploring how it functions reveals a few interesting epistemological insights.
What is often overlooked in Plato’s theory of recollection, or anamnesis, is that it is most adequately an account of the togetherness of thought and being, an account of συνουσία [synousia]. Plato’s supposed argument of our coming to know the Ideas as a recollection of what we knew in a previous, discarnate existence but forgot upon being born in the body is not a ‘theory’ or a ‘doctrine’ but a myth and is presented in such a non-deductive form in the Phaedo dialogue, amongst the Meno and Phaedrus as well. The justification for the recollection-myth presented in the conversation with the slave-boy in the Meno shows, at most, that since he did not receive his knowledge of mathematical truth from outside, he discovered it within himself.
Then if for us the truth of beings is always in the soul, the soul would be immortal, so that you must boldly try to seek and to recollect what you do not now know, that is, what you do not remember… I would not altogether rely on this account in other respects; but if we hold it necessary to seek what one does not know we would be better and more courageous and less idle than if we hold that it is not possible to find it and need not seek: for this I would altogether contend in both word and deed.2
While it is beyond doubt that Plato, especially due unto his Orphic and Pythagorean inheritance, believed in the transmigration of souls, the key point on which Socrates insists, is not upon the recollection-myth itself, but that the truth of beings is possible for us, and hence we must seek it, because “the truth of beings is always in the soul.” The real conclusion of the argument is not that the soul literally pre-exists but that “the truth of beings” is found not outside of, but within, the soul. Anamnesis is not a transcendental, or otherwise deductive argument for the necessity of reincarnation in order to possess knowledge of the things-in-themselves.
But we need not discard the myths as mere window dressing. The idea that this knowledge was acquired in a previous existence should be taken as a mythic expression of the soul’s intrinsic possession of truth, that is, the intelligible whatnesses of things. Plato never presents a deductive argument for recollection, but poses these myths as what seems like a transcendental condition for the possibility of knowledge. But his epistemological argument, unlike regular transcendental arguments, does not terminate here and so cannot be an argument of such a kind – or at least not just yet.
The intellective soul is, by its nature, out there with what is given to thought. But the same is for thought and for being. This is what we call intentionality; to think is necessarily to think of something (some-thing), that is, some being. It is not only that to intuit things in themselves apart from our consciousness is an impossible task, but that to think “nothing” would be to have no content of thought and thus not to be thinking, which is a blatant performative contradiction. Likewise, it would be incoherent to postulate an unintelligible being, a being that cannot be thought because to do so would already be to think this being in some manner and thus to commit another performative contradiction. Thus, it is impossible even to suggest that being could extend further than thought. So we might call the whatnesses of things intelligibles and how they are given to our senses, sensibles, because not only are being and intelligibility co-extensive, but intelligibility is the very meaning of being. Thinking is, wholly and solely, the apprehension of being, and being is, wholly and solely, that which is given to thought. It is with intentionality that the barriers between direct realism and idealism fall away entirely. As opposed to Rev. George Berkeley’s famous subjective idealist dictum: Esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived), we might say instead follow Aquinas’: Ens est proprium obiectum intellectus3 (being is the proper object of intellect); to be is to be given to thought. We could even adopt Kitaro Nishida’s to be is to act. The activity of knowing, which is the fuel for feeling, desiring and willing, is that which is given to such activity, and this constitutes every determinate thing that “is”. Cartesian doubt is a non-starter. Despite Nishida’s anxieties as to what might arise if we were to take the “phenomena of consciousness” as the sole reality (to take the given-to-thought as what “being” constitutive of), solipsism is nowhere in sight. Hard distinctions of noumena and phenomena need not apply due to the fact that εἶδος, often mischaracterised as noumenal, is the most given to thought, and so emphatically does not possess the quintessential Kantian characteristic of existing beyond the capacities of the intellective subject, or even his sense faculties in an absolute sense. Following Nishida once more:
From the standpoint of pure experience, this unity [of apperception] never entails absolute distinctions between itself and other such unities of consciousness. If we can acknowledge that my consciousnesses of yesterday and today are independent and at the same time one consciousness in that they both belong to the same system, then we can recognise the same relationship between one’s own consciousness and that of others.4
Returning to Plato, “the place above the sky” in the Phaedrus, “Hades” in Phaedo are both clearly mythic in the uses they have in their respective dialogues in that they represent both the soul and the forms as bodies, of which Plato could not possibly have meant literally under pains of gross self-contradiction on some of his most fundamental doctrines. The temporal location of the soul and the εἶδος that is implied by ‘pre-existence’ is as such too. If taken literally in a temporal sense, the story of pre-existence and recollection becomes quite ludicrous quite quickly: that at some point in 429BC, a year before Plato’s birth, Plato’s soul was “above the sky,” “looking at” the forms. This not only renders the soul to a corporeal object, but assimilates intellectual apprehension to sense-perception, making intellectual apprehension which a takes in of content from outside in the manner of modern subject-object dualism, whereas the whole point of the recollection-story is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is not taken in from a distinct exteriority but is “always in/with the soul” due to intentionality. What the argument for anamnesis in the Phaedo actually demonstrates is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is non-empirical in just this sense. Socrates begins by making the distinction between equal things and “the equal itself,” or the idea of equality:
We say, I suppose, that there is something equal, I mean not a stick [equal] to a stick or a stone to a stone or anything else of that sort, but besides all these things something else, the equal itself… whence do we receive knowledge of it?5
We do have such knowledge: if we did not know such a criterion, we could not identify anything we experience as unequal let alone equal. We need there to be equality itself to gesture towards and be ruptured by difference. As Damascius relates:
Socrates proves the existence of the forms more or less incidentally, assuming it but adding a demonstration at the same time: if there are many equal things, this manifold must derive its common character from one equal, which must obviously be real and obviously cannot exist in any of the individual things in which the many equals are found; it is therefore prior to them, since they are derived from it, and this is expressed by saying that they are ‘different’ from it. Then he outlines a second proof observing that equals existing in matter are contaminated with their own privation, but those existing by themselves are pure, and the perfect is necessarily prior to the imperfect.6
And so again from Plato:
When someone, seeing something, thinks that what I now see wants to be such as some other of beings but is deficient and is not able to be such as that, but is inferior, it is necessary, I suppose, that he who is thinking this knows beforehand that to which he says it is like, but deficiently.7
For that matter, without the knowledge of equality neither could we identify anything we experience as equal in any such manner. In making such judgments, we are bringing to bear an idea of equality and saying that the things perceived either do or do not display this εἶδος. On the one hand, the experience of equal things is what, as we say, ‘calls to mind,’ or arouses in us, the knowledge of equality:
From these equal things, although they are different from that equal, you have nonetheless come to think and have received the knowledge of it.8
On the other hand, sense-experience alone does not provide an adequate account for this knowledge. Since equality itself, like any idea, is not a sensible thing but an intelligible idea, it cannot come to us by way of the senses. Nor can we have arrived at it by ‘abstraction’ from what we perceive, for this would require that we first identify such things as equal, which in turn requires that we already have the idea of equality.
This insight helps dispel the notion that Platonism results in representationalism. We have already noted that εἶδος is not noumenal such that we only have access to “shadowy reflections” of the “things-in-themselves” as a popular caricature might run. But neither is the activity in which intellection is engaged in a kind of conceptualisation. We now have the tools to demonstrate this, and dispel representationalism by a general reductio ad absurdum.
If the intentional objects of intellection are other than the eternal εἶδος – restricting us to sense images and internal concepts we generate from them or what have you – then intellection will have to be able to compare the given sensibles or constructed concepts, of the corresponding intelligibles they emanate from or represent, with the intelligibles themselves in order to know that they are accurate. If it can compare them, it does not need the representation in the first place. If it cannot, then it cannot know being. The cognitive act would then have to have as its object something other that is other than being, but to argue as such would be absurd as the very object of intellect is being as we proved above. The same is for thought as is for being. So we might also conclude that sensibles allow us a real passage from them to their corresponding intelligibles, otherwise, they would not be intelligible as the determinate sense-data of “this” or “that”. Thus, representationalism and conceptualism are false.
A Plotinian account would extend this in supposing, alongside this argument, that eternal truth is not something possessed, where possession is understood as a representational state. So long as truth is agreed to be being in relation to intellect, the only alternative to representationalism is of any sort of identity. This identity, because it is a cognitive identity, of necessarily differentiated and determinate being, does not result in the conflation of the εἶδος.
Since we apply this paradigmatic idea in judging what we perceive, our knowledge of it is in some sense prior, not in the temporal sense but in ontological priority to (what is most necessary for a consequent) sense-experience. If objects of knowledge are prior to objects of sense-perception, knowledge is necessarily prior to sense-perception, and therefore so are subjects of knowledge to subjects of sense-perception. As Nishida would tell us, “pure experience” is prior to the subject and the apprehension of sense experience. Therefore so is each of us as a knowing subject, enveloped in a process of apprehension amongst that which is given to thought, in ontological priority to being a perceiving subject:
Then it must be that before we began to see and hear and otherwise sense, we received the knowledge of what the equal itself is, if we were going to refer thither the equal things from the senses…9
On the surface level, this seems to problematise the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of knowledge which is taken as a major premise for the argument for hylemorphism and for the argument against radical dualism. However, it is not fundamentally incongruent. The metaphor of recollection has a peculiar power, because of the oddity of the everyday experience of forgetting and recalling.
If I have forgotten something, or simply happen not to be thinking of it at the moment, in a sense I do not know it: I am not apprehending it. But if upon being reminded, I recall it, I do not re-acquire it as a new piece of knowledge. Rather, I discover it within myself as something that, in some sense, I knew all along. What we have forgotten but can recall, we both know, in that it is within us, and do not know, in that we are not currently apprehending it. Recollection thus serves as a fantastic metaphor for our coming to know the εἶδος, which in one sense we do not initially know but which, by using the senses, we recognise as always already at work within our cognition. Then, sense knowledge remains in no slight and humble position as a necessity to spur this recollective knowledge which we are not currently apprehending. Yet, if sensibles are intrinsically tied to the intelligibles they emanate from, there is no discordance in this understanding of recollection as to the soul’s being-there with the intelligibles.
Since falsehood only exists in the mind, successful recollection is a going-out from the experiencing self to truth which is with the self-same knowing subject, it is then more intimately together with us through this recollective process of circling back upon the self. As Nishida reminds us, while we can easily go awry when we judge or recollect a “phenomenon of consciousness”, in such an instance we are no longer engaged in intuition but are operating by inference. Since our knowledge of the εἶδος does not subsist with us by way of the senses, it is nonempirical and in that sense a priori. The common philosophical expression of the a priori is itself a temporal metaphor. Heidegger too enjoys making a point out of the temporality of the a priori. What is a priori is prior to sense only in the sense that it does not directly come to us by way of such sense-experience. The meaning of Plato’s myth is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is a priori in just this sense.
Let us start fleshing this epistemological detour out in more detail such that it stats dovetailing further with our hylemorphic account of the essence of the human. The reason why we understand is not that we are moved by intellect, but rather, we are moved by our intellect because we understand. Our sensible body allows for the spurring of recollection of which we are out there with. So as a supplement to the Aristotelian-Thomist argument, an argument against something like transgenderism would run as follows:
The transgender identity relies on a discordance between body and essentiality of the person; a mind-body split which is necessarily of a radical variant due to this opposition that it supposedly allows for. The correction required for a successful fulfilment of the transgender self-relation is whereby the mind’s construct of discordant gender is impressed from over-and-above, and then upon the accidental body. But the human person comes to understand through a recollective process. This process necessitates the spurring by sense experience. Sense experience is of the body and its intrinsic faculties. What makes the human person what it is and not some other thing is that the human is an intellective creature. But such intellection only can be spurred by sense. Yet if sense is of the body, and is necessary for the proper function of intellect, it stands to reason that the body is not accidental. With a quick refresher from Aquinas [the additions in square brackets are my own clarifications];
Because, although the action of a part be attributed to the whole, as the action of the eye is attributed to a man; yet it is never attributed to another part, except perhaps indirectly; for we do not say that the hand sees because the eye sees. Therefore if the intellect and Socrates are united in the [radical dualist] manner, the action of the intellect cannot be attributed to Socrates. If, however, Socrates be a whole composed of a union of the intellect with whatever else belongs to Socrates, and still the intellect be united to those other things only as a motor, it follows that Socrates is not one absolutely, and consequently neither a being absolutely, for a thing is a being according as it is one [that is, a thing is a being insofar as it is unified].10
Let us say that you are reading Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Sensing the words on the page through which you come to understand what Boethius is being told by Lady Philosophy involves the body, then it necessarily follows that your body is not separate from you. It is not the intellect as a motor assigned to the body, but rather your body with its biological design is you because sense is an integral part of the process of intellection and understanding. It is essential to how you come to know yourself in your united totality. Your body and intellective soul constitute the unity by which you are, it so necessarily follows that your sexed body, through which you necessarily have to use to understand yourself, together with your intellective soul, make you who you are. The sexed body is not an accident to personal identity. Likewise, what constitutes your self-identity is not a part that is radically distinct from the whole but rather is in its Body-Mind unity. Plotinus also emphasises the mutuality of the body and soul, their beneficent penchant for each other. This begins to reveal how even the Platonic body-soul dualism is also unfitting for an account of the validity of transgenderism:
There never was a time when this universe did not have a soul, or when body existed in the absence of soul, or when matter was not set in order; but in discussing these things one can consider them apart from each other… If body did not exist, soul would not go forth, since there is no place other than body where it is natural for it to be.11
Did you catch that? Even in the Plotinian dualist account, it’s only through discursive concepts, not at a level of being as such that we can set body apart from soul. But wherever the human body is, it is engendered with biological sex differences; testosterone or oestrogen fuelling bone growth, pelvic shape differences, calcium deposition differences, limb length and thickness differences, and so on. Plotinus gives us several images of the soul’s proper relationship with the body: he pictures the soul as a gardener;
…concerned about the insects lodged in [a] tree and anxiously caring for it; or we may contrast a healthy man living with the healthy and, by his act, lending himself to the service of those about him, with, on the other side, a sick man intent upon his own care and cure, and so not only living in the body but body-bound.12
The soul’s union with the body is “like a natural spontaneous jumping or a passionate natural desire of sexual union.”13 Even if one were to take Plato’s pre-existence of the soul and disincarnate after-life literally as the pagan Neoplatonists do, or even their account of body-soul dualism on its own as many Catholic theologians following St. Augustine do, the Neoplatonic account does not actually leave room for the transgender self-relation due to its moral dimension. The oppositional discordance of person and body in such a self-relation exudes a phobia, in the sense of ‘hydrophobia’, that justifies corrective violence upon the body it disparages. This is absolutely anathema to Plotinus’ soul-gardener, let alone the body and soul’s natural sexual union. We will return to the idea of violence upon the body in the second chapter. But it suffices to say for now that between the breast binding, the slicing open and inversion of the scrotum, extensive skin grafting, the body being pumped with estrogen or testosterone, this is emphatically not Plotinus’ soul-gardener at work but rather a dog digging holes in the yard, piling the dirt in another place, and hiding foreign objects in the holes it makes.
To further stress the intimacy of the body and the soul’s union let’s dive a bit deeper into their respective sensible and intelligible “objects” (concerning the words in quotations: I am using with extreme reserve – the reason why should be evident soon enough). It’s important to note that sensibles and intelligibles in the Platonic scheme are not two distinct sets of objects. “Platonic heaven” or the “realm of forms” is another one of these spatial metaphors which should not be treated literally. The passage from sensible things to the intelligible εἶδος is not a neutral turning of our cognition from a distinct set of objects to another, but a noetic ascent from one mode of apprehension to another, and so it follows that the relation between intellectual apprehension and intelligible being is not one of extrinsic duality either. Consider the following from Plotinus;
Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for hearing too, as in a combination of words and in all kinds of music, for cadences and melodies are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in conduct of life, actions, character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is a beauty of the virtues… what then is it that gives comeliness to material forms and draws the ear to sweetness perceived in sounds, and what is the secret of the beauty there is in all that derives from Soul?14
Sensibles, we might say, are portals or gateways that reveal pathways to εἶδος rather than reflections from or shadows of some otherworldly realm. Hence how Plotinus can then speak metaphorically of distinct orders but then use vectorial metaphors as he does throughout the Enneads, such as the above sweetness of material forms drawing us through to their intelligible wellsprings of beauty, here in this tractate, to describe their union. Seeing, the very ocular metaphorical use of the word “εἶδος”15 to mean intelligible whatness, or any mode of awareness implies not a separation between subject and object but rather a joining, a being-together, of apprehension and reality: συνουσία as we said before; a conjugal union of the knowing and the known. From Meister Eckhart;
While I was on the way here today, I was thinking about how I might preach so reasonably that you would understand me correctly. And so I came up with a comparison, and if you understand it correctly, then you will understand my intention and the basis of all the views that I have always preached. This was the comparison of my eye and the piece of wood. When my eye is opened, it is an eye. When it is closed, it is still the same eye. The piece of wood loses and gains nothing from my seeing. Now, pay close attention to my words: if it were to happen that my eye is one and unified in itself, and it is opened and casts a glance at the wood, both eye and wood remain what they are, and yet in active contemplation become one to such an extent that one can truly say: “eye-wood” and “the wood is in my eye.”16
Like the seeing eye that casts a glance at the wood and becomes one with the wood, man, through active performance, through seeing and loving, becomes that which he sees and loves in the mind. I see a tree. The tree exists for itself; the eye has its own being by itself in my organism. We can say that, however, only because we have cast our eye upon the tree. Only then is the tree there, by me. We retroactively separate eye and wood from the eye-wood unity. Thought and being copulate and unify; the phenomenon of consciousness that is the eye-wood unity produces something new: a being towards the wood.
To know beings, to come to intelligibles requires passage from sense in spurring the recollective process and so requires movement with the body. However, technically speaking not all knowledge involves sensibles. Knowledge that does not come primarily from self-motion in any sense, but from being acted upon from above is how we might describe something like a mystical union, revelatory experience or “the beam of spiritual light, piercing this cloud of unknowing that is between you and [God]”17 through which He reveals His mysteries in a non-discursive ascent. Such knowledge is beyond being, as God is not a “this” or “that”, God is not a being as such due to the fact of his infinitude, thus he is not an intelligible. His essence, the divine essence is not given to thought as such as a dog or a cup might be. The very statement “God exists” stated in the very same such manner as “this ball exists” is erroneous. Such non-discursive knowledge is not and cannot be given to the senses at all as it is from the infinite Godhead and not from determinate and finite beings.18
 As quoted by Meister Eckhart in his commentary on Luke 2:22-25, Sermon 20. I am using the Maurice O’Walshe translation. It is a paraphrase of a section from Augustine’s Confessions.
Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works. 2nd ed., 2009. New York: Herder and Herder, Sermon 20, 143.
 Plato, Complete Works. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett. Meno 86b1–c2, 886
 St. Thomas Aquinas, 1485. SUMMA THEOLOGICA. Holy See: Benziger Brothers. Prima Pars, 5, 2, resp.
 Nishida, K. and Abe, M., 1992. An Inquiry into the Good. New Haven, Conn: Yale Univ. Press., 44
 Plato, Phaedrus 74a9–11, 74b4
 Damascius, 1977. Commentary On Plato’s Phaedo. Amsterdam, Oxford, N.Y.: North-Holland Pub. Co., I §§ 301, 174
 Plato, Phd. 74d9–e4
 ibid., 74c7–9
 ibid., 75b4-7
 Aquinas, Thomas, and Timothy MacDermott. Summa Theologiæ: A Concise Translation. Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1989. Prima Pars, Q:76:1, 114.
 Plotinus., 1948. The Enneads. Boston: C.T. Branford Co. IV.3 § 9.
 ibid., IV.3 § 4
 ibid., IV.3 § 13
 ibid., I.6 § 1
 An explanation of the Indo-European roots of the word εἶδος, from Eric Perl’s fantastic book, Thinking Being;
As has often been pointed out, [εἶδος and ἰδέα] are related to words for ‘seeing,’ and, less directly, ‘knowing,’ in Greek and other Indo-European languages. [Footnote: Εἶδος and ἰδέα are cognate with Latin video, visio, etc; German Wissen; English wit, wise, wisdom; and Sanskrit Veda. We should, perhaps, hear distant echoes of all these words when we encounter the term ‘form’ in Plato.] Their fundamental meaning is the ‘look’ or ‘appearance’ of something, the way it shows up to the gaze. This is of the utmost importance, for it means that unlike the English word ‘form,’ these words intrinsically and immediately convey a relation to awareness: to say that things have a certain εἶδος is to say something about how they show up or appear to an apprehending consciousness. Many different things “have some one same form” (Men. 72c7) in that they all display the same content to the gaze, and so are truly identified as all pious, all beautiful, or all virtues.
Eric D. Perl., 2014. Thinking Being. 1st ed. Leiden: BRILL. 23
 Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 60, 309-310
 Anonymous, 2001. The Cloud of Unknowing. Penguin Books. §26, 52
 The following selection from the beginning of Dionysius the Areopagite’s ‘Divine Names’ is a nice summary of this apophatic attitude following on from the reality of God as beyond-being. That He is beyond intellection, but our ‘symbols’, our manners of speaking and depicting him actually gesture towards him:
We use whatever appropriate symbols we can for the things of God. With these analogies we are raised upward toward the truth of the mind’s vision, a truth which is simple and one. We leave behind us all our own notions of the divine. We call a halt to the activities of our minds and, to the extent that is proper, we approach the ray which transcends being. Here, in a manner no words can describe, preexisted all the goals of all knowledge and it is of a kind that neither intelligence nor speech can lay hold of it, nor can it at all be contemplated since it surpasses everything and is wholly beyond our capacity to know it. Transcendently it contains within itself the boundaries of every natural knowledge and energy. At the same time, it is established by an unlimited power beyond all the celestial minds. And if all knowledge is of that which is and is limited to the realm of the existent, then whatever transcends being must also transcend knowledge.
Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. The Divine Names. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1.i 592C-593A. 53.