The ‘Bottomless Pit of Nonsense’

 

It is around 400 BCE. And the groves of Rājagṛiha are alive with the gatherings of the learned, the wise, the charlatans and the hustlers.

Far to the West, Socrates’ new ‘Theory of Forms’ has been getting a lot of attention in the Athens fountain circuit. So here he is sitting alongside the aging Parmenides.

Rightness, Beauty, Goodness. These high and noble things all have their essence in an intangible ideal ‘Form’, the theory said. Behind the veil of everyday blandness lay this epiphany waiting to be had.

[‘Form’: a core term in Classical Logic, later entering all English translations of the Hṛdaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra. The English word ‘Idea’ originates here.]

Perhaps, acknowledges Parmenides. But then what about the ugly, the depraved, the execrable, all around us?

What about, asks Parmenides, ‘The Hair..the Mud..the Dirt‘.

‘Oh, No!’ Socrates quickly replies, ‘They are just the things we see. It would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form‘.

And why not? Why turn back at the Cliff’s Edge?

When I have reached that point’ replies Socrates, ‘I am driven to retreat, for fear of tumbling into a bottomless pit of nonsense’.

‘That’ replied Parmenides, ‘is because you are still young and Philosophy has not taken hold of you so firmly as I believe it will someday’.

The vicinity of Shūnyam is when: ‘Philosophy..takes hold of you‘. 


This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.