In his treatise De Venatione Sapientiae , Nicholas of Cusa explained the Platonic doctrine of ideas as follows:
“Ideas are not separated from individuals in such a way as to be extrinsic exemplars. For the individual’s nature is united to the Idea itself, from which it has all these [endowments] naturally. Laërtius said that Plato maintained that the Idea is both one and many, both stationary and moved. For insofar as it is an incorruptible specific form, it is intelligible and one; but insofar as it is united to many individuals, Plato spoke of it as many. Likewise, Plato said it to be fixed and stationary insofar as it is unalterable and intelligible; but he spoke of it as moved insofar as it is united to movable things. Proclus explains more fully that essential beginnings are intrinsic and not extrinsic and that through the contact whereby the individual is united to its Idea, it is in contact with the Divinity by way of that intelligible Idea, so that an individual, in accordance with its capability, exists in the best way in which it can exist and be conserved. Moreover, Laërtius reports that Plato speaks of Ideas as the beginnings of those things which exist by nature, so that [because of these beginnings] those things are the kinds of things they are.”
As Cusa says, “If these [Platonic teachings] are properly understood, then perhaps they are not as much opposed to the truth as inept interpreters of Plato have suggested.”
For those who are interested, many of Cusa’s works are available in English translation at www.cla.umn.edu/sites/jhopkins .
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