The First Beginning as Non-Originary


Plato is posited here initially as being the “first completion of the first beginning” of western thinking, yet Plato’s thought cannot be the origin of western thinking.  Insofar as Plato, the individual, already experienced reality the way he described that experience, the mode in which he experienced reality had to be already operative in the society in which as an individual he developed socially.

We know this via our integration of individual and societal development as historical.  Our very notion of development is already predicated on an experience of reality as historical.

What was Plato’s determination of reality?  The Platonic “ideas” are more easily understood as what we call concepts.  As such, Plato first conceptually grasped reality as conceptually determined. These concepts, since they were experienced as “always already” operative had to be a priori, hence for Plato eternal, since he did not experience reality as having a specific origin, i.e. he precisely didn’t conceptualize historicity itself as part of the conceptual determination of reality.  As a result the Platonic projection of reality is not developmental.  Yet Plato’s thinking itself developed from that of his predecessors, primarily Socrates and the pre-Socratic thinkers, as he readily acknowledges.

As the “first completion of the first beginning” of western thinking, Platonic thought is in a certain sense complete in itself, at the same time it does not produce western thinking in its full completion, precisely due to Plato’s not fully conceptualizing the historical as developmental.

Every metaphysical exchange, or epoch, is in this sense another completion of the first beginning.  However the last completion of the first beginning as modern rationality is paradoxical.  The paradox can be viewed in the following way:

Via our notion of evolutionary development as historical, we can understand the first completion of the first beginning as the first conceptual grasp of reality as conceptually determined, historically, though not grasped as historically determined, conceptually.  This already operative conceptual determination of reality, though, itself has a history.

We understand this history, as all history, via rational consciousnes, however we also understand rational consciousness itself as a natural-historical development.  This circularity is mediated through the concept of development itself, which is not random change but a progression.  There would be no necessity to Plato’s concepts being already operative except insofar as only in so being could they determine Plato’s own historical development.  What is meant by “already operative” in the sense of functionally determining Plato’s experience of reality?  In a pre-conceptual manner reality was already understood as conceptually determined.  That is, any specific aspect of reality was understood as conceptually determined, but the concept of the concept wasn’t grasped as such.  Thus Plato’s achievement was to think the experience of consciousness as an experience of already conceptually determined reality.

Thus the origin of western thinking is simultaneously not the origin, precisely because the origin was not itself thought, reality was thought through it.  Further, Plato himself did not think of origin, since his conceptualization of reality as conceptual was not conceptually historical.   Thus Plato’s “founding” of western thinking did not experience reality as having-an-origin, as historical and developmental.  The first completion of the first beginning thus failed to think beginning itself as such, and thus was not the origin of western thinking.

In terms of understanding Plato’s thought as a completion, and thus a culmination of a historical development of thought, we therefore go back beyond Plato to the historical development of the conditions under which Platonic thought could respond to a specific manner in which Plato himself experience reality.  We must also go forward from Plato to where reality and rationality were first thought historically in their full sense, to Hegel.  Yet this ‘thinking in the full sense’ means also ‘in the last instance’, since the ‘closure’  of metaphysics that Hegel experienced was precisely brought about by the thinking of history as rational and rationality as simultaneously historical.

We run up against a limiting factor, though, going back beyond Plato, in that history itself, in the sense that we understand it, as a literal interpretation of the historical record, itself has a history, and further that its history began in the very society Plato was a part of only a few generations earlier.  Prior to that we have a paucity in the historical record itself.  Since reality was not even pre-conceptually understood as historical, no such records were kept.  Worse, the understanding of reality as historical is predicated on that very historical record.

We stated earlier, as well, that the historical was not only experienced as such in the last completion, but that it was experienced as a rational history.  Only insofar as historical development is a priori rational can it be understood rationally.  This problem has led some to posit reason itself as a priori, however this would involve a reversion to a modified Platonism, one that specifically posits reason, as the concept embodied as rational consciousness, as an eternally existing concept, which contradicts the modern assumption that conceptuality was itself an evolutionary and thus natural-historical development.  For a second time the concept of historicity has been utilized while avoiding the name, qualifying “historical” as “natural-historical”.  What does “natural-historical” mean in relation to the properly “historical”?  How is it that some concepts, such as reason itself, appear to have developed “natural-historically” while others, such as the conceptual notion of reality as conceptually determined, is fully or simply historical?

The fully historical is predicated on an intentionally written historical record, but this recording appears to be predicated on already understanding reality as historical, otherwise there would be no sense in keeping a literal record.  Since we know of pre-historical societies as well as extra-historical societies that did not experience reality as historical in this sense, but instead passed on its wisdom via stories not interpreted as literal, it seems apparent that Greek society, up to a particular point, was one of many such societies.  Another problematic concept has crept in unquestioned though, that of the literal itself.  The historical and the natural-historical appear as metaphorical attributions of certain things (but not others) as “records” that display how man and nature have been, and thus how nature has developed in an analogous manner to historical societal development, and how man has developed socially in an analogous manner to?

While such societies are by no means irrational, we do not consider them rational either, precisely because they do not exhibit a rational understanding of reality, rather they exhibit a mythical understanding.  The idea that myth was understood as literal, in the sense that both science and religion in its uniquely modern form as fundamentalist, is merely a modern projection back onto societies that had no notion of the literal itself.

Since the beginning of record keeping was itself the evident event of the beginning of history as historical, exactly what does record keeping itself arise from?  The most basic and earliest records we have, historically, are simple ledgers of trade.  Record keeping, then, was not originally predicated on an experience of reality as historical (which would create a circularity in any case) but on the pragmatic task of book keeping for trade that had gone beyond simple direct barter.  The social change that led to such record keeping in Greek society specifically was the invention of currency, which as a measure of exchange could be used to create a more complex economy of exchange.  The acceptability of currency itself as measure was founded on a technological discovery, that of the touchstone.

Thus the founding of history was itself pre-primordially the beginning of accounting.  Keeping books allowed for a later accounting of many trades, a “balancing of the books” as an accounting-for the present as the result of past exchanges that permitted far more complex trade interactions.  This “later” accounting is itself what began to determine reality, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, as historical, i.e. as determined by interpretation of a literal written record of what had been.  As such the notion of literal, meaning fundamentally “having to do with writing” becomes apparent, yet contradicts what we intend with the term.  By literal we intend something like “directly related to reality”, precisely not “related to what was written”.  That rationality means “having to do with measure” becomes both apparent and problematic.  If rational, literal, and historical all refer primordially to an understanding oriented to the past insofar as it remains present as a written record, then the metaphorical application of those concepts to non-human reality as nature is indefensible beyond a certain point, without demonstrating that nature does in fact keep something analogous to such records.  This brings the entirety of the mode of understanding nature, society, development, historicity, and Plato himself and his thinking of the experience of reality into question as to whether we have any proper ground for that mode, or in what areas of experience it is grounded and in what it is not.

In a certain sense, it comes as no surprise that reason as rational consciousness, conceptuality as an understanding of reality as conceptually determined, and historicity as a conceptual grasp of reality as historically determined, could not have originated from itself, but had to develop from a non-rational, non-conceptual, non-historical experience of reality as itself non-rational, non-conceptual, and non-historical.  But our very historical, developmentalist understanding of reality appears to be limited by the fact that it cannot be originary, and thus history, reason and development cannot be assumed to have a priori determined pre-historical reality and the ways in which it changed, nor the ways in which it was experienced as such.  The first beginning was such because the intertwined means by which we make reality intelligible arose within it and as it.  The intelligibility of reality that we must assume pre-existed the first beginnng was inherently unlike what we experience, at least intellectually, as intelligibility itself.

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