Sunday, October 23, 2011
In the New York Times, Robert P. Crease on two different categories of measurement.
In one kind of measuring, we find how big or small a thing is using a scale, beginning point and unit. Something is x feet long, weighs y pounds or takes z seconds. We can call this “ontic” measuring, after the word philosophers apply to existing objects or properties.

But there’s another way of measuring that does not involve placing something alongside a stick or on a scale. This is the kind of measurement that Plato described as “fitting.” This involves less an act than an experience: we sense that things don’t “measure up” to what they could be. This is the kind of measuring that good examples invite. Aristotle, for instance, called the truly moral person a “measure,” because our encounters with such a person show us our shortcomings. We might call this “ontological” measuring, after the word philosophers use to describe how something exists.
I think it's notable for how the ontological difference is read back to the Greeks.
The writer seems to suggest that the greek philosophers were aesthetes--their ideas on "measurement" supposedly had some ineffable or perhaps mystic element beyond the modern quantitative mind. That isn'treally the case. Plato objects to mere..reflection or aesthetic intuition (recall the admonition against poets in the Republic and elsewhere ). He routinely praises geometry and mathematics--as far as it was known--, against mere emotional inspiration (as yr probably aware). Ergo I would say for Plato, Justice could be measured, proportioned , and was geometric in a sense--(e.g. the "golden mean"). It was not merely what the nobles or clerics thought, or plebes for that matter-- (ie, he was not a utilitarian--Ari.a bit closer to that).
Aristotle states the issues out explicitly. With Plato's dialogues it's always harder to tell where Plato himself stands, or whether he's just being ironic.

To me the most interesting (novel) aspect of this piece remains the ontological difference getting ascribed back to the Greeks. Soon everyone will understand the Greeks through MH.
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