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A Man is Not an Ent

January 10, 2013


A paradox. When Plato talked about a tree, he was really referring to the objective Platonic Form of the tree. Then Nietzsche came along saw this as a belittling of the tree itself because, though Plato assumed he was talking about a particular tree, he was really leaving that tree out of the picture altogether by talking, essentially, about tree-ness instead of the tree itself. Nietzsche wanted to talk about the tree.

But how do we talk about the tree itself without bypassing that tree altogether, since the word “tree” really only refers to the Form or concept of the tree? In practice, we would have to have a particular name for every tree in the forest—indeed, in the world. And so we would all end up talking like Ents, with their rolling, cracking, overlong speech, barroom-hooom-hooming all over the place. It may make everything more particular, but it would also take time. Lots and lots of time. And man is a finite creature.

Assuming we could talk about the tree, we would suddenly have another problem. We might see the tree “exactly and completely with reference to leaves, twigs, color, and form,” but do we see the leaves exactly and completely with reference to epidermis, stem, veins, and their own color and form? Do we have a name for each leaf? If we’re going to have a name for each tree, shouldn’t we have a name for each leaf, as well? How far does that go? To the cells and the contingent parts of the cells, each mitochondria reduced to the things they’re made of, with special names for each of their millions of parts?

But this is impossible. And it seems the only other option is to consider names wholly meaningless. In which case, everything is metaphor and metaphor is meaningless. “Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?”

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