Tag Archives: Benjamin Jowett

The Ideal

Index to this series

The noun “idea” came to English in the sixteenth century, via Latin, from Plato’s ἰδέα: so the dictionaries tell me. An older version, “idee,” came from the French idée. The adjective “ideal” came via the French idéal from the Latin ideālis, but this seems to have been a native coinage, derived from no Greek term. Leo Strauss corroborates this in a passage that I quoted in “Nature”: “ ‘ideal’ is not a Platonic term.” Nonetheless, in translations of the Republic that are still in print, Benjamin Jowett and Paul Shorey use the word “ideal.” This may blur the distinction between two activities:

  • Making something, such as a meal or a bookshelf, according to a recipe or plan.
  • Creating something brand-new.

I looked at the first creation myth of Genesis in my previous post, whose title quoted the Bible on God’s judgment of what he had created: “It Was Good.” The goodness of the world, I suggested, did not lie in its fitting a plan, since a plan would have had to be spoken into existence, and this is just how the world itself came to be.

I don’t know about God, but if we have a basis for calling something good, we might call this basis an ideal. However, I also don’t know whether this is what Plato actually has in mind when his translators use the term “ideal.”

Bookshelves on one wall, window on another
Hacıosman, Tarabya, Sarıyer, İstanbul
November 12, 2022

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