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[personal profile] endymions_bower
Today somebody on Twitter told me that according to Some Academic, "there no *arguments* in Plato for polytheism, only *arguments* for there being One highest God," and asked "Is this true?" Here is my reply:

There is no argument in Plato for "there being One highest God." None whatsoever. There is absolutely no argument in Plato that there is only one God, or that there is one "high God" and the rest somehow of a lesser status ontologically.

The person you mentioned is most likely treating terms like the One Itself of the Parmenides, or the Idea of the Good in the Republic, as if they refer to a God, when Plato never characterizes them in this fashion.

Or perhaps he is thinking he can treat the demiurge of the Timaeus as a lone God, when in fact he is a member of an indefinite number of other Gods—and no, I am not referring to the "younger Gods" of the same dialogue, but to the indefinite number of "eternal Gods" at Tim. 37c.

He, of course, ignores the countless, constant affirmations of polytheist piety in the dialogues as if they count for nothing because they are not "arguments", which is indefensible. What is not problematic is not the subject of argument.

Let's look at Book X of the Laws, which features an extended argument for all kinds of properties possessed by "the Gods", always in the plural. At 896e, the Athenian asks whether the "indwelling soul" that controls all things is "one single soul, or more than one," only to immediately state, "I will give the answer for both of you: by more than one."

We see thus that the multiplicity of the Gods is not even an issue worthy of consideration for Plato. And this is evident from remarks further on at 899b. Here, he states that "souls good with perfect goodness have proved to be the causes of all. These souls we hold to be Gods, whether They direct the universe by inhabiting bodies, like animated beings, or whatever the manner of Their action. Will any man who shares this belief bear to hear it said that all things are not 'full of Gods'?" (Referring to Thales' famous quote that "All things are full of Gods.")

Note that the perfect goodness of the Gods here echoes Plato's criterion for poetry about the Gods at Rep. 381c, demanding that we regard each of the Gods to be "the most beautiful and the best thing possible". And lest we should think that these Gods are not the traditional Gods, we have only to look to the Phaedrus, where the Olympians are explicitly named as the very Gods whom souls follow before birth, enraptured by Their beauty for the whole of their following embodied lives.

There are many other ways that this case could be made; this was merely the first one that came to mind. Now it's my turn to ask a question: Isn't it about time that those who would make of Plato a monotheist produce their evidence, and make their argument based on something more than an arrogant pretense of "common knowledge"?

April 2019


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