Monday, April 13, 2009

A critical juncture

Credit image: gadl

Thanks to all who participated in the blogpoll "what comes first white or whiteness?" I trust those who said white didn't say so because it appeared before whiteness in the poll ;D Actually, both answers are correct depending on the order under consideration (existence or intelligibility). In the last analysis though, the question to be answered is what comes first, existence or signification? No prizes, but a good brushing for the neuron. Please read on... :-)

The dictionary states that whiteness is the quality of being white, and sees in it a principle (what comes first) of sorts. Yet it is when we see a white wall, snow, milk, a white cat, that intelligence abstracts the noun whiteness. Yet once you abstract the "universal" whiteness it seems that you see the singular whites differently, under the light of whiteness. If you had never seen white you wouldn't ask yourself what whiteness is, and if you did not understand what whiteness is you wouldn`t recognize white so easily. But you have never seen whiteness on your daily walk. White is what you experience in the first instance, before whiteness appears in the intellect. White depends on a thing (eg wall) for its existence, but it must be isolated from the wall to extract it's meaning, through the question, "what is whiteness"? Consequently, white comes first in the order of existence, but whiteness comes first in the order of intelligibility. The crucial question is therefore what comes first, what exists or it's signification? This is where Descartes turns his back to Aristotle, for whom the first question is "does this exist?" and the second is "what is this?". For Descartes like Plato, ideas are innate...

If you understand that whiteness is the fruit of your different experiences of white, the signification of whiteness and white are one and the same, on an abstract basis for the first and a concrete basis for the second. In parenthesis, the reason why placing the idea before the concrete reality is so tempting is because the abstract mode is pure (whiteness) whereas the concrete mode is impure (a white wall).

With regards to being, the transition from "this is" (judgement of existence) to "what is being?" is analogous to the transition from "this wall is white" to "what is whiteness?". In both cases, we move from the visible to the invisible. This adjustment seems almost innocuous, quite the contrary: either metaphysics connects with the radical structure of intelligence, or intelligence haughtily turns its back to it!


  1. So neither is the correct answer and it shall remain in the subjective mind of the beholder. I can respect that.
    I have a thing for white, as well as black to be honest. 80% of the shirts I own are white and all their shades of whiteness, the other 20% are black. I'm a two color note personality~

    Thank you for your pole, and entry. I have a new appreciation for all things white.

  2. Hola Rebecca Anne,
    Either answer can be correct, depending on the order under consideration, being or intelligibility. However, in the last anaysis, being comes before meaning, in other words existence comes before essence. :)

  3. These things must be read and pondered over a few times before they sink in ;)

  4. "...must be read and pondered over a few times before they sink in" For me this is true. Again my wheels are turning but i don't know where I'm headed. To be honest I answered the poll based off a word association, not philosophy. My brain does not reflexly ponder philosophical questions, but your blog is interesting that I really want to learn and figure what I think and why. My answer is still the same but I'm thinking about it a little different.

  5. Wow, what an interesting read; what comes first, white or whiteness...hmmm? To say that is a great question is only hitting the tip of the iceberg, it is also thought provoking and, somehow, intense. Let's just say it did get my brain waves moving and I now have an incredible desire to "know" the answer (and how it came to be). Yes, this is defnitely one of those questions that I will have to re-read more than once and put some serious thought into before I come up with an answer that will (hopefully) satisfy me. Hope I come up with one soon, otherwise, it is going to be a long, long night of me picking everything apart in search of what it is I need to know, lol.

    Oh, and Harvey, you have an award waiting for you over at The Cluttered Bubble, please feel free to pop by and pick it up when you are ready and able to do so.

    Thanx for sharing your blog with the rest of us, what a wonderful, wonderful blog it is.

  6. Does Whiteness exist as a real (or really real) thing, separate from a white thing as Plato said? Yes!

  7. GS,
    Yes! Both whiteness and white exist. But the intelligibility of a reality is not ultimate - in the order of being (esse).

    Translating and writing/commenting also helps me in ordering my thoughts. "Avatar" had written the draft of a first book on the trilogy on metaphysics (Substance, Act, the Human Person). This, his forum musings, and other sources, I have read maybe 10 times, and I'll probably need to do that 40 more times before it fully sinks in. Actually, in metaphysics/first philosophy, the term sheds a light on the beginning as much as the beginning sheds a light on the term - or so I understand. A bit of neuron stretching every week can't do any harm :D Oh, "Avatar" would recommend to take one thing and rub it thoroughly until it shined, instead of dusting with a cloth every which way which ends up in producing more dust than at the start ;)

  8. @Misstfied,
    Thanks for the rave comment. As I was commenting to 3L, it's best to focus on one thing at a time. This is truly a critical juncture whuich has been metionned in pasts posts, and depending on which river you chose to go down, you enter into a philosophy of spirit/relation or a philosophy of being (as being - not in the mind, which would be "universals" or nouns). Thanks so much for the reward ;D

  9. Here's a quote from the "Table Talk" of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see I would like to read your thoughts on it.


    Every man is born an Aristotelian, or a Platonist. I do not think it
    possible that any one born an Aristotelian can become a Platonist; and I am
    sure no born Platonist can ever change into an Aristotelian. They are the
    two classes of men, beside which it is next to impossible to conceive a
    third. The one considers reason a quality, or attribute; the other
    considers it a power. I believe that Aristotle never could get to
    understand what Plato meant by an idea. .... With Plato ideas
    are constitutive in themselves.[1]

    Aristotle was, and still is, the sovereign lord of the understanding; the
    faculty judging by the senses. He was a conceptualist, and never could
    raise himself into that higher state, which was natural to Plato, and has
    been so to others, in which the understanding is distinctly contemplated,
    and, as it were, looked down upon from the throne of actual ideas, or
    living, inborn, essential truths.

    Yet what a mind was Aristotle's--only not the greatest that ever animated
    the human form!--the parent of science, properly so called, the master of
    criticism, and the founder or editor of logic! But he confounded science
    with philosophy, which is an error. Philosophy is the middle state between
    science, or knowledge, and sophia, or wisdom.

    Also this:

  10. Hi Gary,
    Thanks for this. I do not think "every man is born an Aristotelian, or a Platonist". Case in point, the friend whose musings I have translated started out being Platonian. Many artists are platonian, for what comes first in art is the idea of the artist... Plato is a great poet. In fact, 99 per cent of Westerners are Platonian.

    It seems his disciples did not understand him, who today have reduced him to a logician. Yet the summit of his philosophical quest is his metaphysics (of which there are few rigorous translations). Being (as being) is neither red nor blue, neither historic nor contemporary, neither concrete nor abstract: it is.

    More to follow.

  11. This is Blog Appreciation Day and your blog, my dear friend Quirk, is one of my favorites. I am afraid my mind wandered off and I started thing in marketing terms rather than philosophical terms. My detergent is... "Whiter than White!"..."Whiteness You Can Witness!"..."Whiter Than Whiteness!"..."Quality White
    With The Quality of Whiteness!"... "White...
    Whiter... Whiteness!"... "With the Whiter Whiteness You Want!" ..."When It's White You Want!"... Now, isn't this reality? My Best on Blogger Appreciation Day! Count Sneaky

  12. I appreciated your thoughtful reply. I have written something that is really too long for a comment box and so I have posted it to my blog.

    I look forward to your "More to follow."

  13. First, "white" requires a thing that exists in order to be white, i.e. a white wall, a white cat, etc. Second "whiteness" can exist as a concept without the presence of a thing that is white. Therefore, isn't it necessary to place them and hence ponder them in two seperate catagories that are not related? If so then the question becomes "Which comes first the reality or the concept, existence or the idea, or maybe more pertinent, what the eye knows or what the mind knows. Being basically a platonian, I would like to choose the second, but I have to admit there would probably be no concept of whiteness without the knowledge of things that are white.

    Thank you DB

  14. @Count Sneaky,
    thanks so much!


    Thanks for your input. From the abstract (whiteness) and the concrete (white) we induce a principle which is neither concrete nor abstract (Being as being - or substance/ousia). A mistake Aristotle's followers made was to consider the first substance (the subject - eg Harvey) as the fundamental determination of Being, whereas the fundamental determination is the substance-principle (which is neither concrete nor abstract - yet is at the heart of reality).

  15. I am first in the order of existence ("HArvey" or subject)but I cannot be first in the(metaphysical) order of being since I receive determinations - like man (second substance - quiddity - abstraction). Beyond Harvey and the fundamental determination of Harvey (man) there is a common denominator: metaphysical substance, or the proper principle of what is. Substance-principle unites Harvey and man into the same reality - else I would be all over the place! :)