Man, stars, wisdom, intelligence, will, reason, mathematics, quarks, justice, the universe, have something precious in common: “being”. Arguably, they all have specific forms of “existence”, though very different. The diversity of their distinctive types of “being” may indeed explain their distinctive roles in the (real) world.
One could assume that the word “being” is much too vague, too fuzzy, too neutral, by allowing itself to characterize such diverse and heterogeneous entities. The verb “to be” has too many levels of meaning. This is probably a direct effect of the structure of (here English) language. For, despite an apparent homonymy, the “being” of man is not the “being” of the number pi, and the “being” of the Cosmos as a whole does not identify itself with the “being” of Wisdom or Logos.
Sensitive to this difficulty, Plato sought to analyze the variety of possible “beings” and their categories. He defined five main genres of the “Being”, which were supposed to generate all other beings through their combinations and compositions.
The first two types of “Being” are the Infinite and the Finite. The third type results from their Mixing. The Cause of the Mixing represents the fourth genre. The fifth genre is Discrimination, which operates in the opposite way to Mixing.
Infinite, Finite, Mixing, Cause, Discrimination. One is immediately struck by the heterogeneity of these five genres. It is a jumble of substance and principle, cause and effect, union and separation. But it is undoubtedly this wild heterogeneity that may give rise to a power of generation.
With its five genres, “Being” is a primary category of our understanding. But there are others.
Plato, in the Sophist, lists them five all together: Being, Same, Other, Immobility, Movement.
The Being expresses the essence of everything; it defines the principle of their existence.
The Same makes us perceive the permanence of a being that always coincides with itself, and also that it can resemble, in part, other beings.
The Other attests that beings differ from one another, but that there are also irreducible differences within each being.
TheImmobility reminds us that every being necessarily keeps its own unity for a certain duration.
The Movement means that every being has a ‘potential’ for ‘action’.
Five kinds of “Being”. Five “categories” of (philosophical) understanding. Oh, Platonic beauties!
This is only a starting point. If we are to accept their power of description, we must now show that from these “genres” and these “categories”, we may induce all the realities, all the creations, all the ideas, all the possible…
As a serendipitous thought experiment, let us conjugate these five « categories » of understanding with the five genres of “being”, in hope of bringing out new and strange objects of thought, surprising, unheard of, notions.
What about imaginary alloys such as: “Moving Cause”, “Mixed Same”, “Other Finite”, “Discriminate Being”, “Immobile Infinite”, “Cause of Otherness”, “Moving Finite”, “Infinite Otherness”, “Infinite Mixed”, “Immobile Discrimination”, or “Discriminate Immobility”?
A general principle emerges from these heuristic combinations : an abstraction piggybacking another abstraction generates “ideas”, that may make some sense, at least to anyone ready to give some sort of attention, it seems.
What do these language games teach us? It shows that genres and categories are like bricks and cement: assembled in various ways, they can generate shabby cabins or immense cathedrals, calm ports or nebulous clouds, dry chasms or acute bitterness, somber jails or clear schools, clumsy winds or soft mountains, hot hills or cold incense.
There are infinite metaphors, material or impalpable, resulting from the power of Platonic ideas, their intrinsic shimmering, and the promise of being “horizons”.