A Philosopher's Blog

Plato’s Werewolf

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on October 29, 2009
An 18th century engraving, conveying that weap...
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Put rather simply, a werewolf is a person who has the ability to transform from human form into wolf form (or a hybrid wolf-human form). The werewolf is typically cast as a monster whose taste for human flesh is exceeded only by the amount of fur that he (or she) sheds.

Throughout the years, folks have offered various explanations for the werewolf myths and legends. Some of the scientific ones point to mental illnesses. Those based in the supernatural tend to point towards vague curses. However, my objective is not to hash through these various theories. Rather, I am going to present a completely made up account of the werewolf using Plato‘s theory of forms. This is, of course, not intended to be “serious” philosophy but rather a little Halloween fun.

While there are different interpretations of Plato’s theory of Forms, the general idea is that the Forms are supposed to be eternal, perfect entities that exist outside of space and time. Most importantly, all the particular things in the imperfect realm (that is where we hang out, at least while we are alive) are what they are in virtue of a mysterious participation in the Forms. For example, take a particular being, namely me. On Plato’s view, I would be a man because I participate in the Form of man. Likewise, I am a runner because I participate in that Form as well. And so on, for all my properties.

As is rather evident, the particular things here in this realm lack perfection. For example, while I am obviously damn manly, I am not a perfect Man. Likewise, while I am, according to my mother, a handsome fellow, I obviously do not possess perfect Beauty. Plato explains this lack of perfection, at least in part, by the fact that particulars participate in the Forms in various degrees. He also seems to indicate that a particular entity might participate in “contrasting” Forms. For example, a particular person would participate in both Beauty and Ugliness (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that ugliness would be a Form). Thus, the person’s beauty (or ugliness) is a “mix” of Beauty and Ugliness. Since people can look more or less beautiful (or ugly) over the course of time, this mix can presumably shift or the degree of participation can change.

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the werewolf. Not to worry, grab some candy because I am getting to that bit right now.

So, if we assume that a thing is what it is because of its participation in Forms and that the Forms can be “mixed” in a thing (or rather, their instantiations), the werewolves are easy to explain. Plato’s werewolf would be a being that participated in the Form of Man but also the Form of wolf. As such, the being (let us call him “Lon”) would be literally part man and part wolf. When Lon is participating most in the Form of Man, then he would appear (and act) human. However, when the Form of Wolf became dominant, his form and behavior would shift towards that of the wolf.

Since Plato mentions the Sun in the Allegory of the Cave, it seems appropriate that the moon (which reflects the light of the sun) is credited with triggering the transformation from man to wolf. Naturally, I have no idea how this would work; but I also have no real idea how participation was supposed to work either. So, let it be assumed that both work and thus Plato’s werewolf is free this Halloween. Naturally, this werewolf would hunger for wisdom and not human flesh, so be sure to keep some philosophy books on hand, should you run into one of this furry philosophers.




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2 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 29, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I am Remus Lupin, and I approve this message.

  2. kernunos said, on November 2, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I am just generally hairy and I also approve this message.

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