“Plato, Mary Baker Eddy, and Kenneth Burke: Can We Talk about Substance?”
Zamparutti, Louise. “Plato, Mary Baker Eddy, and Kenneth Burke: Can We Talk about Substance?” Rhetoric Review 37, no. 2 (2018): 199–211.
Zamparutti claims that Mary Baker Eddy employs something like Plato’s dialectical method (question-answer, defining terms by reference to their opposites: truth/error, mind/matter, etc.) to transform the Platonic idea of ‘substance’ into a spiritual principle, namely God. Burke ‘secularizes’ Eddy by interpreting substance as the fundamental property of language he calls “symbolic action” (205). In a materialist framework, substance is the primal reality: matter or its elements. In Plato’s idealist framework, ideal ‘Forms’ constitute the original (immaterial) substances, innate in the soul, which enable us to perceive the forms of visible things, like tables and chairs, as well as the eternal archetypes (Goodness, Justice, etc.). From Platonist assumptions, Eddy re-conceives substance as the one immaterial Spirit, the God of the New Testament. And material things are the illusory counterfeits of spiritual reality. Burke, as an agnostic, developed his philosophy of language by converting some of Eddy’s ideas, learned as a child in a Christian Science household, to secular usage. For him substance is not a metaphysical or spiritual reality, but “the way meaning is enacted” in language (200), the inner workings of words as forms of action in the world. The author implicitly invites further research into the ways the idea of substance was successively transformed by “these three rhetoricians” (200).
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