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Quirk, Michael John

CONTEMPORARY ANALYTIC COMMENTARY ON PLATO'S "PARMENIDES"


A CRITIQUE

Fordham University

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1984

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FORDHAH UNIVERSITY

CONTEMPORARY ANALYTIC COMMENTARY ON PLATO'S PARMENIDES


A CRITIQUE

A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO
THE FACULTY OF
THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
I N CANDIDACY FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY

BY
MICHAEL J . QUIRK

B R O N X , NEW Y O R K
APRIL, 1984

c
FORDHAM UNIVERSITY
GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES

AprilJ6

1984

This dissertation prepared under my direction by

Mic h ae1 J . Q uir k


entitled

"CONTEMPORARY^ A N A LYTIC COMMENTARY ON PLATO' S .PARMENIDES:

A.jCBn.I.QME".
has been accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Degree of.....D.QC tor .of. Phi 1 OSOfihy.

in the Department of

(Menti

(Rei

1985
MICHAEL JOHN QUIRK

All Rights Reserved

To
Eileen

"Charity suffereth long and i s kind."


- - St. Paul

T A B L E OF C O N T E N T S
Acknowl edgements
Some Notes on S t y l e
INTRODUCTION: A THOUGHT-EXPERIMENT
I ) P L A T O N I C D I A L O G U E : P H I L O S O P H I C A L S I G N I F I C A N C E AND
DRAMATIC EXPOSITION
A) Dialogue and Mimesis
B) Historical and Cultural Bases f o r
Dialogue Form
C) Dialogue as a Philosophical Tenet
I I ) A N O U T L I N E O F V L A S T O S ' S A N A L Y S I S OF T H E
T H I R D MAN ARGUMENT
A)
B)
C)
D)
E)

Vlastos's General Position


Vlastos and the TMA, version 1 (128e-132b)
The TMA, version 2 (132d-133a)
Vlastos's Substantive Conclusions
Conclusion

I I I ) T H E TMA A S A R E D U C T I O AD ABSURDUM ARGUMENT


IV)

P A R M E N I D E S AND P L A T O ' S P A R M E N I D E S
A)
B)
C)
D)

Plato and Eleaticism


Eleatic Intelligibility
Parmenidean vs. Platonic I n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
Prelude to Plato's Parmenides

V ) A N A L T E R N A T I V E A P P R O A C H : CORNFORD
A)
B)
C)
D)

Cornford's "Phaedo-Theory"
Critique of Cornford
128e-130a as "The Atomic Theory of Forms"
Conclusion

vi
viii
1
22
25
36
47
65
65
72
84
86
89
95
114
116
119
138
148
154
156
159
167
170

V I ) S E T T I N G AND C R O S S - R E F E R E N C E S

174

V I I ) A READING OF PARMENIDES, PT. 1

197

A) Tone
B) The Range o f Forms (130 a-e)
C) I n i t i a l Objections t o Participation
(130e-131e)
D) The TMA, version 1 (131e-132b)
E) Forms as Thoughts (132 b-c)
F) Forms as O r i g i n a l s , version 2
G) Unknowable Forms (133a-134e)
H) Conclusion to Pt. 1
I ) Closing Comments

197
210
210
220
223
225
229
231
233

V I I I ) ON P A R T I C I P A T I O N AND S E P A R A T I O N

238

A) The Meaning of Chorismos


238
B) Crombie and "The Classical Theory of Forms11...242
C) Ryle's Critique of Participation
254
I X ) P A R M E N I P E S , P T . 2 , AND R E L A T E D D I A L O G U E S
A)
B)
C)
D)
E)
F)
G)

Preliminaries to Pt.2
Transition to Pt. 2 (135d-136c)
Hypotheses 1 and 2 (137c-155e)
Hypotheses 3-8
Sophist and- Theatetus
Phaedrus and Cratylus
Timaeus~and Phi 1ebus

267
267
271
273
;..286
295
303
308

X ) ON S E L F - P R E D I C A T I O N AND P A R A D I G M A T I S M

319

X I ) WHY T H E A N A L Y T I C C R I T I C I S M OF P L A T O F A I L S

375

A) On Degrees-of-Rea1ity
B) Logical Analysis and "Self-Image"
C) Analytic Commentary and the
R e a l is m / N o m i n a l i s m I s s u e
D) Some Questions Concerning Method

377
393
407
418

A P P E N D I X : V L A S T O S ' S L A T E R P O S I T I O N ON S E L F - P R E D I C A T I O N . . . 4 2 4
A)
B)
C)
D)

Protagoras 330c and the Unity of the Virtues..424


"Pauline" and "Ordinary" Predication
428
Critique: Vlastos and the Forms
431
Critique: Protagoras and Irony
439

BIBLIOGRAPHY

454

ABSTRACT

463

VITA

464

vi
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Writing a dissertation, as I have discovered, can be
an exacting and arduous task. I t s burdens are never carried
by the candidate alone: I would presently l i k e to take time
t o thank a l l those whose e f f o r t s and sympathies i n my
behalf made the present work possible:
S i n c e r e s t thanks must g o , f i r s t o f a l l , t o my
mentor, Rev. Quentin Lauer, S.J. His deep erudition and
c r i t i c a l encouragement have been an immeasurable

help in

my e f f o r t s t o understand respect the g r e a t philosophers o f


the p a s t , e s p e c i a l l y P l a t o . I wish t o extend my a p p r e c i a t i o n
t o my r e a d e r s , Rev. Robert J . O'Connell, S . J . , and Rev.
Joseph Dolan, S.J., f o r their generosity of time and the
value of t h e i r comments.
My graduate career and t h e w r i t i n g o f t h i s d i s s e r t a t i o n
have, i n large measure, been underwritten by a number of
generous individuals and organizations. From 1977 to 1979
I was the r e c i p i e n t o f a Loyola Fellowship from the Jesuits
o f Fordham; i n 1981 I was the r e c i p i e n t o f the Harry J .
Carman Fellowship o f the Educational and Cultural Fund o f
the Electrical Industry. I would l i k e to thank the Jesuit
Community a t Fordham and the Educational Fund - - i n particular
i t s chairman, Anthony Ruocco-- for their kindnesses.
Conversations w i t h many peers and teachers have
led to the ideas which I have argued f o r i n the present work.
Thanks go to the following individuals: Rev. Norris Clarke,S.J.,

vi
Dr. Robert Johann, Dr. Elizabeth Kraus, and Dr. Margaret
Coyne o f Fordham; my graduate collegues Robert Chapman and
Michael A l f a n o ; my collegues a t M o l l o y , Stephan Mayo,
Rosemarie LoSasso, and John Yanovitch; my collegues a t
Iona, Rickard Donovan and William O ' N e i l l .
Credit f o r typing and proofing the manuscript must
go to Ms. Florence Train and Mrs. Dorothy Quirk.
Deepest thanks must go t o my p a r e n t s , Michael and
Dorothy Quirk, for their sincere and patient support. Finally,
I want t o declare my indebtedness t o my dearest w i f e E i l e e n .
Her encouragement and c a r i n g gave me f o r t i t u d e when i t
threatned t o collapse, and renewed resolve when i t was waning.
I t i s to her that t h i s work i s lovingly dedicated.

viii
SOME N O T E S ON S T Y L E
Throughout t h i s work I have transliterated a l l Greek
terms into the Latin alphabet. Epsilon = , Eta = ;
O f r i i c r o n = , O m e g a = ; a n d U p s i l o n = u_.
The following two texts have been taken t o be
canonical on matters o f s t y l e : Kate L . Turabian, A Manual f o r
Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Chicago:
U n i v . o f C h i c a g o P r . , 1 9 6 9 ) , a n d W. S t r u n k a n d E . B . W h i t e ,
The Elements o f S t y l e (New York: Macmi 11an, 1982 ) .
Following both Turabian and Strunk and White, I have
adopted the following procedure for forming the posessives of
proper names: I have always added " - ' s " ( e . g . , Vlastos's),
except i n the case o f c l a s s i c a l Greek names ending i n
"s" ( e . g . , Socrates', Parmenides 1 ) .
I n my own t e x t , I have c a p i t a l i z e d o n l y t h r e e ' o f
Plato's technical terms --Form, Being, and Becoming-- to
emphasise their technical use and their difference from
ordinary usage. However, i n excerpted quotes from other
authors, I have retained their spelling of these terms even
i f they are a t variance w i t h my own s p e l l i n g . I have a l s o
c a p i t a l i z e d a few t e c h n i c a l terms o f my own ( e . g . , A p o l o g i s t ,
Revisionist), and have l e f t i n capitals the technical terms
of other authors ( e . g . , Bigger's "Constitutive" and "Regulative"))

<

CONTEMPORARY A N A L Y T I C COMMENTARY ON P L A T O ' S P A R M E N I D E S


A CRITIQUE

INTRODUCTION

A Thought-Experiment
As a prelude t o t h e r e f l e c t i o n s on P l a t o ' s Parmenides
and i t s interpreters to follow, consider the following texts:
Plato's Sophist, A r i s t o t l e ' s Categories 13b 1-35, Hegel's
Logic, part 1 , Bertrand Russell's "On Denoting", Martin
Heidegger's "What i s Metaphysics?"
A more heterogeneous and disparate collection of
philosophical works could hardly be imagined.

Yet, i f one

r e f l e c t s f o r a moment, something approximating a "common theme"


seems t o emerge.

All these texts are concerned with negation,

non-being, of "nothing".

Russell, f o r example, t r i e s t o show

how one can successfully r e f e r t o non-existent e n t i t i e s l i k e


"the present king of France" by analyzing "denoting phrases"
l i k e the one above i n t o non-denoting phrases.

Aristotle

seems s i m i l a r l y concerned w i t h how negative a t t r i b u t i o n s t o


non-existent entities can have truth or f a l s i t y .

Plato

t r i e s t o make some headway w i t h d i f f i c u l t i e s surrounding


negative existential statements, as well as with overcoming
Parmenides's tight strictures on talking of what-is-not.

Hegel wishes t o show how Being, the most general and hence
vacuous of a l l concepts, generates i t s opposite, Nothing,
and how both are dia1 e c t i c a l l y resolved i n Becoming.
Heidegger, reflecting on science's insistence that i t studies
determinate beings "and nothing else", wonders just what
this "nothing" might be.
One could j u s t l y argue t h a t there i s a l o o s e ,
"family resemblance" between a l l the aforementioned texts.
One might even go so f a r as t o draw a meta-phi1osophical
moral from the comparison; that philosophers are tempermentally driven to ask and ponder questions about negation,
non-existence, and nothingness.

But i t would be rash to

assume from a l l t h i s that the problem of "non-being" i s


a perennial philosophical problem --something which arises
as soon as we s t a r t t o r e f l e c t p h i l o s o p h i c a l l y - - and t h a t
those who e x p l i c i t l y speak o f "non-being", from P l a t o
through Hegel to Russell and Heidegger, were "essentially"
grappling w i t h the same d i f f i c u l t i e s and groping toward
the same goals.^

1My debt t o Richard R o r t y ' s Philosophy and t h e M i r r o r


of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. P r . , 1979) and Con
sequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota
P r . , 1982) i n my understanding o f metaphi1osophical and
historiographical issues i s considerable, throughout the
present work.

This assumption - - that "philosophy" marks

off a

c u l t u r a l t u r f whose inhabitants, although they use d i f f e r e n t


"conceptual tools" and succeed or f a i l to different degrees,
are engaged i n a common e n t e r p r i s e - - i s tempting, b u t wrong.
I t masks from the interpreter of philosophy the deeply
historical nature of the discipline.

One can see t h a t

history etched deeply into the aforementioned texts, i f


one takes a second look.

Although they a l l deal with

"non-being", the context of each t e x t ' s inquiry reveals


t h a t each author was responding t o a d i f f e r e n t s e t o f
pressures, both inside and outside the discipline of phil
osophy; hence, one cannot assume t h a t the sense o f "the
problem of non-being" remained constant between Plato and
Hegel, or Russell and Heidegger.
Consider Russell and Heidegger, f o r example: a l
though both philosophers are historically i i i close proximity,
i n both aims and style they are furthest apart. Russell
inherited his philosophical problematic from Frege: the
view t h a t the l o g i c a l analysis o f language was philosophy's
proper role, since most philosophical confusions were of a
logical-linguistic nature.

Russell gave this problematic

a decisively British twist: philosophy, as "the logical


analysis of language", could tackle epistemological issues
passed on from Locke and Hume w i t h o u t becoming ensnared i n

"the theory of ideas", psycho!ogism, and scepticism.

It

i s l i t t l e wonder that i n "On Denoting", "non-being" emerges


as a problem of the logical structure of language: the
grammar of "The present king o f France i s bald" misleads us
i n t o thinking that i t a c t u a l l y refers to nothi ng, when i t s
logical analysis into "There i s an such that x i s bald
and x i s king of France i s true" reveals, according to
Russell, that the denoting phrase does not actually denote
at all.3
Heidegger, on the other hand,
lematic

inherited his prob

from Husserl on the one side, and Hegel and

Kierkegaard on the other.

Although in the later stages

of his career he stressed the centrality of language i n


philosophy, he never thought o f philosophy, as Russell
did, as the "logical analysis of language".

His phenomeno-

logical inheritance gave him the inclination to see p h i l


osophy as descriptive, rather than analytic, and his
2cf.

Rorty, Mirror o f Nature, pp.165-173; Hans


Sluga, Gottlob Frege (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1980); W.T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, 2nd
e d . , revised (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970)
Vol. 5, pp. 129-199.
3

Bertrand Russell, "On Denoting," Mind N. S. 14


(1905). Reprinted i n Essays i n Analysis (New York:
Braziller, 1973)

insistance that logic i s not ultimate but a dimension of


human a c t i v i t y and concern owes not a small debt t o Hegel,
Nietzche, and Kierkegaard.

"What i s Metaphysics?" must

be seen i n the context of this dual problematic: Heidegger


i s trying to describe the indeterminacy, the no-thing-ness,
out of which our discursive knowledge of determinate beings
arises - - the "thingliness" of beings as against the
"nothingness" of Being.5
I t goes without saying that any attempt to view the
problematics o f Russell and Heidegger as "essentially" one,
or even consonant with each other, on the grounds that
they are both "philosophers", i s bound to misfire.

The

contexts of "On Denoting" and "What i s Metaphysics?" are too


different.

Any neglect of t h i s context w i l l spawn a t least

a misleading interpretation, at worst sheer silliness.


I t might generate the attitude that "What i s Metaphysics?"
t r i e s t o accomplish what "On Denoting" accomplished, but

^Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (New York:


Harper andRow, 1962) ,esp. (Ch.VI; a . v . W. B. Macomber, The
Anatomy of D i s i l l u s i o n (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. P r . ,
pp. 1-10, 30-35; Charles B. Guignon, Heidegger and the
Problem of Knowledge (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983).
^Martin Heidegger, "What i s Metaphysics", i n
Basic W r i t i n g s , ed. D. F . K r e l l (New York: Harper and
Row, 1977), pp.91 ff.'See also Macomber, op. c i t . , pp. 52 f f .

because of i t s i n f e r i o r , phenomenological hardware, i t f a i l s


where Russell succeeded.

I t might generate the contrary

attitude - - t h a t Russell did poorly what Heidegger did well.


But without insight i n t o what I have been c a l l i n g "context",
the attitudes generated will f a i l to note that, perhaps,
Russell and Heidegger a r e n ' t doing the same t h i n g a t a l l .
None of the above implies t h a t the neglect o f "context"
w i l l generate bad philosophy; i t only secures the result that,
whatever the quality of philosophizing wi thin one's
c r i t i c i s m , the c r i t i c i s m i t s e l f w i l l be misguided and poor.
There i s some sharp, impressive philosophy i n Rudolph
Carnap's "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through the Logical
Analysis o f Language"; nevertheless, he seems t o have f a i l e d
to understand Heidegger one iota.6
My reason f o r i n d u l g i n g i n t h i s d i g r e s s i v e t h o u g h t experiment i s the following: I believe that the bulk of
analytic commentators on Plato's work f a i l to place i t i n
the proper interpretive context and, thus, f a i l to understand
what he i s trying to say and accomplish i n and through the
dialogues.

What I hope t o accomplish i n t h i s work i s i ) to

^Rudolf Carnap, "The Overcoming of Metaphysics


through the Logical Analaysis of Language", i n M. Murray,
ed. , Heidegger and Modern Philosophy, (New Haven: Yale
Univ. Pr. 1978).

illuminate this context, which analytic interpreters either


ignore or misconstrue,

i i ) t o show t h a t , when the dialogues

are placed i n context, the analytic approach i s , though


necessary, not sufficient for a true understanding of the
dialogues, and i i i ) t o suggest some reasons why the
analytic project of interpreting Plato i s so gravely i n
adequate.
These are large claims, and I do not wish them t o
be misunderstood.

I am n o t c h a l l e n g i n g t h e e n t e r p r i s e o f

analytic philosophy.

I t has produced much work of l a s t i n g

value and has more than proven i t s mettle i n the market


place of methodologies or philosophical styles.

Neither

am I condemning t h e e n t i r e body o f a n a l y t i c P l a t o n i c
criticism.

I shall rely on such criticism throughout this

work, especially that of Crombie and Allen, because i t con


t a i n s many valuable i n s i g h t s ; and although I shall i n s i s t
on i t s insufficiency, the technique of formalizing Plato's
arguments i s an immeasureable aid i n revealing the logical
skeleton upon which Plato hangs his arguments.

Neverthe

l e s s , I believe that there i s something askew i n the general


d r i f t o f a n a l y t i c c r i t i c i s m : t h u s I am c h a l l e n g i n g n o t
individual exegetes but a t r a d i t i o n of exegesis, and a
highly respected one a t that .

The t r a d i t i o n i t s e l f f a l t e r s ,

I believe, i n two ways: i t s methodological craving for the

8
isolated argument, and i t s self-image as the embodiment of
proper philosophic method.
Regarding the f i r s t f a u l t , the penchant for isolated
pieces o f reasoning. The virtue of analytic philosophy i s
i t s a b i l i t y to draw razor-sharp distinctions, clear up
muddlements, present i t s case with precision, and so on.
The vice of t h i s v i r t u e i s : the seeming reluctance to admit
into one's considerations, as philosophically important,
anything vague and ambiguous, that i s , anything a t odds
with-the methodological prescriptions for c l a r i t y and ex
actitude.

As I said before, t h i s i s not intended as a swipe

against analytic phi1osophy: although I would not personally


sympathize w i t h i t , I suppose a cogent case could be made
to the effect that subject-matter not amenable to the
demands f o r l o g i c a l c l a r i t y and r i g o r i s not t r u l y p h i l o
sophical.

That might be a decent set of guidelines for

doing phi 1osophy well

(although I rather doubt i t ) .

But

i t does positively interfere with the interpretive understandi ng o f past philosophers, such as Plato.

I t does so

i n at least two ways:


i ) I t ignores, or severely underestimates, the
l i t e r a r y means whereby philosophical ideas and arguments
are expressed.

When one looks a t the s t y l e which p r e

dominates i n analytic philosophy (granting important ex

ceptions such as Wittgenstein, Austin, and occasionally Ryle),


one discovers a conscientious terseness, sparseness, an
e f f o r t to stay as assertoric and argumentative, as di rect
as possible.

Richard Rorty has chided analysts f o r trying

to be the "lawyers of language": presenting convincing


argumentative briefs, hoping to persuade the opposition and
the undecided on the basis of their dialectical aplomb alone.^
I t i s d i f f i c u l t t o see, under these circumstances, how
analytic philosophy, as written,

could be tagged as

"literature": literary technique --irony, metaphor, symbolism,


and such-- i s sublimated i n the interestes of conveying
"philosophical content" bare and unadorned.

Then again,

these ends of expression - - c l a r i t y , succinctness, e t c . - are the product of a wri t ing tradition i n philosophy,
beginning with Kant, perhaps, and consolidated i n Frege,
Russell, and Moore.

Their heirs inherited from them a

set of standards i n writing, practices which direct and


govern the philosophy they write.

Thus analytic philosophy

^Rorty, "Philosophy i n America Today, i n Consequences


of Pragmatism, p. 221.
g
Here I agree with Stanley Rosen, Plato's Sophist
(New Haven: Yale Univ. P r . , 1983) p . 318.

has not

escaped being literature: i t s literary values,

however, underplay i t s status as l i t e r a t u r e , and do much


to reinforcea distinction between professional philosophy
and what C. P. Snow has c a l l e d the l i t e r a r y c u l t u r e . ^
Whether or not analytic philosophy has managed to
transcend l i t e r a r y a r t i f i c e or simply constructed a new,
low-profile version of i t i s not what i s really at issue,
however.

W h a t i_s t r o u b l e s o m e i s t h e t e n d e n c y o f a n a l y t i c

interpreters to impose upon the interpreted text an exegetical method which might suit analytic philosophy very well,
b u t i s i l l - s u i t e d t o philosophers who embrace d i f f e r e n t
l i t e r a r y v a l u e s , who emerge out o f a d i f f e r e n t p h i l o s o p h i c a l
tradition or historical epoch.
writers proceed

Not a l l philosophical

under the assumption

that their purpose

i n writing i s to generate arguments which can be taken at


face value.

Some t h i n k e r s a r e more " l i t e r a r y " i n t h a t they

do not see the ends of their written work exhausted i n the


presentation and defense o f e x p l i c i t arguments which embody
t h e i r own views.

I r o n y , metaphor, even punning may be viewed

as legitimate philosophical techniques, techniques which


g

C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge, England:


Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1959); c f . Rorty, "Professionalized
Philosophy and Transcendentalist Culture," i n Consequences,
pp. 70-71.

do not simply "dress up" arguments which could be arranged


more f o r m a l l y , but which make a phi1osophical p o i n t through
l i t e r a r y means.

Again, for a contemporary example, the

Carnap-Heidegger dispute i s instructive.

Carnap completely

ignores Heidegger's impish, tongue-in-cheek motive when he


asks what i s this "nothing" which science claims not to be
concerned with.1^

i n doing so, he f a i l s to see Heidegger's

immersion i n a t r a d i t i o n which has a fondness f o r i n d i r e c t


ness and metaphor, and thus takes "Das Nichts Ni chtet" as
a pseudo-statement about a pseudo-object, making a pseudopredication.

One need not be a partisan o f Heidegger t o

find f a u l t with t h i s interpretive bias: even i f one feels,


with Carnap, t h a t Heidegger's thought i s so much windy
nonsense, one can hardly agree that Carnap has grasped what
Heidegger was t r y i n g t o (do. "Das N i c h t s " i s c e r t a i n l y n o t ,
for Heidegger, an object.
Much the same i n t e r p r e t i v e misunderstanding i s
common i n a n a l y t i c commentary on P l a t o , I b e l i e v e .
i s not an analytic philosopher --nor

Plato

i s he a pragmatist,

phenomenologist, process philosopher, or a member o f any


other contemporary school.11

This should be obvious to a l l ,

^Macomber, op. c i t . , p. 52 f f .
ITSee J . H. Randall's s a t i r e o f some philosophers'
tendencies to turn Plato into a contemporary theoretician
i n P l a t o : Dramatist o f the L i f e o f Reason (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1971), pp. 16-17.

and most interpreters would agree.

Yet analytic philosophers

treat Plato as i f he were an analyst, or rather, as i f his


t h i n k i n g was j u s t as amenable t o the s o r t o f piecemeal, p o i n t by-point criticism which predominates i n exchanges between
analytic philosophers in the current journals.

Plato's

"arguments" and "doctrines" are sought out and explained


12
in the analytic literature;
his "project" i s outlined from
Euthyphro to Laws.

13

This is not, in i t s e l f , without value:

Plato did construct arguments, and did have a number of


convictions stable and pervasive enough
"doctrines".

to be called

But t h i s approach assumes that P l a t o ' s c e n t r a l ,

i f n o t sole purpose i n w r i t i n g the dialogues was t o embody


these arguments and b e l i e f s .

This ignores, I believe, some

thing central to Plato's oeuvre and i t s proper comprehension:


the fact that he wrote dialogues, philosophical drama.

shall argue, at length i n Chapter I , that since Plato took


dialogue-form seriously (he never saw f i t t o use anything
else) we, as interpreters, should do likewise.
12

This means

See J . Gosling, PIato (London: Routledge and Kegan,


Paul, (1978), and I . M. Crombie, An Examination o f P l a t o ' s
D o c t r i nes , 2 v o l s.(London: Routledge and Kegan, P a u l , 1963).
13
See J . H. Findlay, Plato and Platonism (New York:
New York Times Press, 1978). Although F i n d l a y ' s own
philosophic position has drifted far from analysis, his
exegetical s t y l e retains many characteristics o f a n a l y t i c
phi1osophy.

13
t h a t we should n o t view the P l a t o n i c corpus as a vast Summa,
a treatise-in-disguise.

The aims of a dramatist are not

limited to informing the reader, or to inducing intellectual


assent: he seeks t o transform,to move, to change his audience.
He seeks n o t merely t o impart t o t h e reader h i s own views;
he seeks t o a l t e r the way the reader/audience v i ews the world.
r f we

take dialogue-form seriously, then understand

ing Plato w i l l require more of us than analyzing his arguments.


We w i l l n e e d t o s i t u a t e t h e s e a r g u m e n t s w i t h i n t h e i r l i t e r a r y
context.

We w i l l n e e d t o s e e h o w l i t e r a r y d e v i c e s - - s e t t i n g ,

characterization, metaphor, i r o n y , imagery-- a f f e c t the way


we are t o assess the argument. I t i s p r e c i s e l y these elements
i n the dialogues that analytic c r i t i c s chronically pay l i t t l e
heed.

Even while extolling the merits of Plato's w r i t i n g ,

analysts as a group tend to separate l i t e r a r y form from


philosophical content, relegating the former to the domain
of l i t e r a r y c r i t i c i s m and the l a t t e r to "professional"
philosophy.^

Hence, to adapt the t i t l e of Shorey's book,

the concern w i t h "What Plato Said" t o Ihe detriment o f how


he said i t .

But t h i s a t t i t u d e makes a major unwarranted

assumption: i t concludes that, for PI a to, literary form


i t s e l f was devoid o f philosophical
14cf.,

content, that the "what"

Rorty, "Philosophy i n America Today", pp. 223-27.

of Plato's work can be divorced from the "how".

This i s ,

I f e a r , assumed of Plato because i t i s an assumption analysts


make, with varying degrees of justice, of other analysts.
I t i s not j u s t l y made o f P l a t o .
ii)

The second way i n which the a n a l y t i c mind-set

interferes with a proper understanding of Plato i s i n i t s


tendency to think of philosophy, and i t s problems, ahistoricall.y.
Although

t h i s tendency i s n o t universal among a n a l y s t s , past

and present (e.g., Wittgenstein, Rorty, Putnam), i t i s , I


think, amply evident i n the predominance of the academic
journal a r t i c l e as the medium of expression f o r analysts,
and the tendency, i n those articles, to separate historical
studies from contemporary problems.

This view of analytic

philosophy, as being freed from more than a tangential i n


volvement with h i s t o r i c i t y , has recently been defended by
Michael Dummett.15
Perhaps, g i v e n t h e d i s c o v e r y , as Dummett c l a i m s , o f
the correct philosophical method as the analysis of language,
analytic philosophy can afford to be .ahistorical, to view

^Michael Dummett, "Can Analytical Philosophy be


Systematic, and Ought i t to Be?" , i n Truth and Other
Enigmas (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. P r . , 1978),
p. 456-8.

philosophy a t any given time to consist i n a set of de


finable "problems".

This, of course, depends on Dummett's

claim being true or false, which i s an open question,.

But

even i f Dummett i s correct i n the claims he i s making f o r


philosophy, i t i s rash to think that the same,

ahistorical

attitude i s suitable for understanding past philosophers,


such as Plato. This i s why, on p.8 , I indicated the "selfimage as the embodiment of proper philosophic method" to be
the second fault of analytic c r i t i c a l tradition.

Such a s e l f -

image interferes with the interpretive process by enticing


the i n t e r p r e t e r away from the concerns, methods, and h i s t o r i c a l
context of the historical figure, towards a one-sided iso
l a t i o n of discrete arguments and "positions".

In the process,

i t i s very easy to substitute the problematic of analytic


philosophy

- - i t s concerns and research program, nurtured

by the Frege-Russel1-Moore tradition-- for the problematic


of the historical figure.
The penchant for ahistoricality at work i n analytic
philosophy has dire effects on the task of understanding
Plato.

Analytic c r i t i c s , i n focusing i n on "what Plato

s a i d " , are l i k e l y t o miss not only how but why Plato said
what he did.

Plato writes of the Sophists, of Heraclitus,

of Parmenides. Gorgias, Protagoras, and Parmenides are a l l


characters in his dialogues.

There i s a tendency among

16
analysts, i n detailing Plato's sympathies or lack of sympathy
for another philosophical contemporary or near-contemporary
of his, to focus on, say, the Gorgias, Protagoras, or Philebus
of t h e i r namesake dialogues, rather than the Gorgias, Philebus
and Protagoras of history.

This is understandable, given

that Plato i s often our only detailed source for such


figures.

I t i s also necessary to do this --but i t i s not

suffici ent.

By viewing the dialogues as self-contained

microcosms f i l l e d with characters spouting arguments of


v a r y i n g degress o f cogency, we f a i l t o ask ourselves "Why
did Plato believe that a response on his part to, e^., Gorgias
Philebus, e t . a l . was so urgent?

What could the Protagoras

o f h i s t o r y meant t o the Plato o f h i s t o r y , given the way i n


which he provoked Plato to write what he did?

What were

the passions and controversies embedded i n Plato's time,


which generated P l a t o ' s w r i t i n g o f t h e t e x t s w i t h which we
are now so f a m i l i a r ? "

I f we d o n ' t take such h i s t o r i c a l

issues s e r i o u s l y , we f a i l t o c o n t e x t u a l i z e P l a t o ' s thought


as a product of fourth-century Athenian culture.

This

leaves a gap, into which i t i s tempting to place any other


context --especially one's own.

Throughout Chapters VII

and X I s h a l l argue t h a t many a n a l y t i c commentators, i n


failing to achieve this necessary historical awareness,
unwisely confuse t h e i r own philosophical problematic w i t h

that of Plato, leading to serious inaccuracies and misunderstandi ngs.


I wish t o accomplish my c r i t i q u e o f t h i s t r a d i t i o n
o f i n t e r p r e t a t i o n by narrowing my focus upon what i s perhaps
the most hotly contested text i n the Platonic corpus:
Parmenides,

part 1.

I n so doing I hope to appraise the

attitudes and assumptions of analytic exegesis as a whole


through the understanding of a representative part.

The

dialogue has brought about an avalanche of interpretations


and c o u n t e r - i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s , and some o f my c o n c l u s i o n s ,
most notably t h a t t h e T h i r d Man Arguments are d i s g u i s e d
reductio ad absurdum arguments, have been advanced previous
l y by Rudolph Weingartner and Colin Strang, R. E. Allen,
and I . M. Crombie.

The o r i g i n a l i t y of the present work,

however, consists less i n the specific conclusions drawn


about Plato t,han i n the way i n which i t t r i e s t o show how
most of the analytic l i t e r a t u r e about Parmeni des proceeds
on several false assumptions --i_e., that philosophical
content can and must be separated from dialogical-form,
that the dialogues are self-contained and need not be
historically contextualized to be understood, and so on.
Even when a n a l y t i c i n t e r p r e t e r s are correct i n t h e i r
particular conclusions or observations, the great majority

of them f a i l i n their overal1 project - - i n understanding


Plato and i n understanding what that understanding requires.
I s h a l l f u r t h e r narrow my focus by concentrating on
the work of Gregory Vlastos, which attempts to explicate the
argumentative intricacies of Parmenides,part 1.

Although

V l a s t o s ' analyses have given me a number o f worthwhile


insights,

I believe that both his project and the most

important conclusions he draws from i t are seriously con


fused.

Both his project and his conclusions are presented,

and are themselves analyzed i n Chapter I I .

I n the remainder

o f t h i s work, I shall t r y to show t h a t Vlastos's project


and conclusions f a i l due to serious limitations i n his
c r i t i c a l procedure

a procedure

reinforced by analytic

philosophy's self-image as ahistorical and non-literary.


Against Vlastos, and the c r i t i c a l attitudes spawned by t h i s
self-image, I shall show t h a t a proper understanding o f
Plato's dialogues necessitates taking his "literary side"
as phi1osophically important, as well as the juxtaposion
of his character "Parmenides" with the Parmenides of history
Throughout

the above, and especially i n Chapters VIII-X,

I s h a l l argue t h a t many o f Vlastos's a n a l y t i c opponents


o n t h e i s s u e o f t h e TMA make t h e same s o r t o f i n t e r p r e t i v e
errors as he does, although they may draw d i f f e r e n t con
clusions.

I n the f i n a l chapter, as indicated, I shall t r y

t o draw together the many strands o f my c r i t i q u e and


speculate on the reasons for Vlastos's failure to understand
Parmenides part 1 , and of the inadequacies i n analytic
Platonic criticism generally.
Before proceeding, I would like to inject a clarificatory note.

Throughout the present work, I indicate

three general schools of analytic criticism of Plato: the


C r i t i c a l , the Apologetic, and the Revisionists.

I base

t h i s classification on the stand each takes on the Parmeni des,


especially p a r t 1 ; i t seems t h a t the stand one takes on the
meaning and significance of this dialogue w i l l either color
one's understanding of both e a r l i e r and l a t e r dialogues,
or at least serve as a reliable indicator of that under
standing.

Because I use t h i s taxonomy so often throughout

this work, and because I do not re-explain the details of


this terminology each time i t i s used, I think i t imperative
that I give i t a detailed exposition in this Introduction,
where i t can serve as a reference-point to c l a r i f y i t s other
occasional uses. Keep i n mind t h a t , l i k e any other general
classificatory system, i t often obscures subtle differences
between members w i t h i n a given c l a s s i f i c a t i o n .
THE CRITICAL SCHOOL v i e w s t h e T h i r d Man Arguments
of Parmeni des, part 1 , as both valid and sound: they constitute
a serious, indeed " f a t a l " objection to the theory o f Forms as

advanced i n the middle dialogues.

I t follows from this

t h a t the C r i t i c a l School views the Forms as self-predicative


e n t i t i e s ; i e . , the Form F-ness i s i t s e l f an F.
t h e TMAs

Although

of Parmeni des are effective refutations of sel f -

p r e d i c a t i v e eide,Plato himself was b l i n d t o t h e i r e f f e c t i v e


ness and, i n subsequent dialogues, never retracted his
allegiance to such Forms.

The Parmenides not only reveals

a "deep seated" incoherency i n the theory of Forms, i t also


betrays Plato's i n a b i l i t y or unwillingness to acknowledge that
incoherency.

Thus these commentators are highly c r i t i c a l

of Plato's handling of the self-predication issue i n Parmenides,


as well as of Plato's basic philosophical stance.

Gregory

Vlastos and Peter Geach are perhaps the most c l e a r l y


committed members o f the C r i t i c a l School.
THE REVISIONIST SCHOOL l i k e w i s e views t h e TMAs

as

extremely damaging to a self-predicative theory of Forms,


but unlike Critical commentators considers

Parmeni des as

the Platonic watershed where Plato rejects a self-predicative


doctrine of Forms.

Revisionistic critics agree with Critical

exegetes i n assessing the Forms of the middle dialogues


(especially Phaedo and Republic) as paradigmatic and s e l f predicative, but

interpret dialogues written a f t e r Parmeni des

as either not revealing adherence to a theory of Forms a t


a l l , or to a revised theory which does not rely on s e l f -

21
predication.

I n several cases, Revisionists have questioned

the traditional ordering of the dialogues in light of


their claims about Plato's post-Parmeni des revision of the
Forms (e.g., Owen, Ryle).
THE APOLOGETIC SCHOOL, l i k e t h e R e v i s i o n i s t s and un
l i k e the C r i t i c s , interprets the TMA's as Plato's e x p l i c i t
criticism of self-predicative ei de.

Unlike the Revisionists,

however, the Apologists do not view Parmenides as signalling


a break on P l a t o ' s p a r t away from s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n i s m .

They

claim that Plato never endorsed self-predicative Forms,


even i n the middle dialogues.

Thus t h e TMAs c o n s t i t u t e

P l a t o ' s repy t o h i s c r i t i c s , those c r i t i c s who misconstrue


the nature of the Forms, and proceed to attack a conception
of Forms which he himself would never have supported.
The analyses of both Revisionists and Apologists tend to
s u p p o r t t h e view t h a t t h e TMAs a r e . r e d u c t i o arguments on t h e
notion of self-predicative eide.

Critical commentators

oppose such an interpretation on the grounds that the


TMA's would

then be designed for the rejection of the

hypothetical premiss that Forms are self-predicative.


C r i t i c s deny that the TMA's hypothesi ze that premiss,
and they deny that self-predication i s rejected i n Plato's
subsequent writings.

I)

PLATONIC DIALOGUE: PHILOSOPHICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND


DRAMATIC EXPOSITION

Plato, unlike most philosophers, wrote dialogues


rather than treatises.

This immediately opens up an

important c r i t i c a l issue: how are the dialogues t o be read?


Are they treatises i n disguise, i n the manner of the
dialogues o f Berkeley and Hume, where Philonous and Philo
serve as mouthpieces f o r t h e i r respective authors?

Are

the dialogues simply a l i t e r a r y display, a tranche de vie


phi1osophique,
o f t h e i r own?

making no substantive philosophical claims


Are they verbatim, or near-verbatim trans

c r i p t s of Socrates's own teaching, as Taylor and Burnet


held, or is the Platonic Socrates largely a stand-in for
Plato's philosophical positions?^

Or

are

there other al-

ternati ves?
The aim of the present work i s largely one o f
criticism: a respectful challenge to the interpretive work

^A. E. T a y l o r , P l a t o : the Man and His Work (London:


Methuen, 1929),. pp. 1-22.

of Gregory Vlastos, which I feel, despite the insights that


i t has into the Platonic world, i s seriously mistaken, and
mistaken for a reason closely linked to Vlastos's conception
of Platonic criticism.

In essence, I wish to take issue

w i t h the way i n which Vlastos reads Plato: I w i l l attempt t o


show how h i s c r i t i c a l presuppositions lead him i n t o forced
and indefensible readings o f P l a t o ' s ontology, how these
misreadings flow from a misconception of the nature of Plato's
e n t i r e p h i l o s o p h i c a l v i s i o n , and how t h i s misconception i s
i t s e l f a product certain arbitrary canons of c r i t i c a l pro
cedure, which are ill-suited to Plato's dialogues.

The t i t l e

of the present work could e a s i l y be changed t o "How t o


read P l a t o " , since my disagreement w i t h Vlastos centers
around his way o f readi nq the dialogues.

"How t o r e a d . . . "

i s no small issue regarding Plato.


Vlastos's approach, i n essence, i s this: treat
Plato as you would any other philosopher when you i n t e r p r e t
and c r i t i c i z e , since the dialogue form i s simply a medium
for the expression of philosophical ideas, which can be
isolated from this context and given the rigorous analytic
scrutiny they deserve.^
o

This precis of Vlastos's critical

c f . Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies (Princeton:


Princeton Univ. P r . , 1981), pp .294,359-60,374-78, and "The
T h i r d Man Argument i n P l a t o ' s Parmenides'1; r e p r i n t e d i n
R. E. Allen, ed, Studies i n Plato's Metaphysics (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p.231-64.

approach borders on a caricature: thus, I w i l l flesh out


his c r i t i c a l presuppositions i n detail i n Chapter I I .
Nevertheless I think this precis is essentially accurate
(as good caricatures are) i n that i t captures Vlastos's
conviction that i t is the philosophical content, rather
than the dialoqical-dramatic form, that counts i n a philo
sophical treatment of Plato --the philosophical critic's
task i s essentially one of anal.yzing Plato's ideas as they
are expressed i n the dialogue, usually i n the person of
Socrates, but occasionally (eg. Sophi s t and Parmeni des)
through other spokesmen.

Thus, successful philosophical

commentary would involve the separation between form and


content.

This presupposes that such a separation can be

successfully accomplished (the form/content distinction


has been rigorously challenged, i n philosophy and l i t e r a t u r e ,
by H. G. Gadamer, among o t h e r s ) , 3
be accomplished i n Plato.

0r

at least that i t can

And t h i s masks another assumption:

that philosophers, i f they are recognizable as philosophers,


t h i n k and express t h e i r thoughts i n b a s i c a l l y the same way
(thus one has warrant to view the dialogues of Berkeley,
Hume, and P l a t o as c u t from the same b o l t o f c l o t h , as they
3See

H. G. Gadamer, Truth and Method, (New York:


Continuum, 1975), esp. pp. 82-83; Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics
(Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1969), pp. 238, 246-48;
David Couzens Hoy, The C r i t i c a l Circle (Berkeley, Univ. of
California Pr., 1978).

25
a l l are phi1osophers).

Things are not quite this simple:

t h e l i k e s o f N i e t z c h e , K i e r k e g a a r d , and Camus do n o t express


themselves or their ideas i n the standard philosophical way;
wouldn't i t be f a c i l e either to dismiss them as "not real
philosophers" (as many have, i n f a c t done) on the basis o f
their styles, or to say that under the patina of their style
lurks real philosophical i n s i g h t , waiting to be liberated
by analysis?

And i f t h i s seems f a c i l e f o r the l i k e s o f the

above, why not l i k e w i s e f o r Plato?

Why s h o u l d h i s s t y l e ,

his dialogical and dramatic form of expression, be automatically


taken to be marginal, perhaps irrelevant, to the content of
what i s philosophically expressed?

A)

Dialogue and mimesis.

One way t o avoid t a k i n g dialogue f o r granted i n


Plato is to take things i n their proper historical per
spective: to determine what dialogue, and the l i t e r a r y form
of dialogue, meant to a 5th century Athenian audience.

In

this section I would l i k e to pursue this i n reference to


a Greek commonplace about a l l techne: that a r t i s essentially
mimesis.
We h a v e i t o n t h e a u t h o r i t y o f A r i s t o t l e ( P o e t i c s
1447b 9-11) t h a t Socratic conversations are o f the same

26
l i t e r a r y genre as mimes, l i k e those of Sophron or Xenarchus.^
This admission o f A r i s t o t l e does much t o j a r the preconception
that Plato's writing inaugurated a genre i n i t s e l f , philo
sophical writing.

I f Socratic dialogues are akin to mimes,

and are to be read and understood i n that s p i r i t , two questions


immediately surface: 1) what i s the precise meaning of mimesi s,
commonly understood as " i m i t a t i o n " , and i i ) what are Plato's
dialogues mimemata of?
1)

The usual rendering of mimesi s as "imitation"

i s legitimate i f one l i m i t s oneself to representative a r t


or to the written word most familiar to classical Greece;
in a sense, i t i s plausible to

view

epic, comedy, and

tragedy as imitative or representative of an action which


did, or could have happened.

Yet Aristotle, i n the second

sentence of the Poetics includes l y r i c poetry and music


among those technai which are forms o f mimesi s , 5 and i n
Politics 8.5:40a

he actually claims that music i s the most

"mimetic" of the arts.6

I f Arifctotle's Poetics is a

^The Ingram Bywater translation, i n Richard McKeon,


e d . , The Basic Works o f A r i s t o t l e (New York: Random House, 1941).
Spoetics 1447a 14-15 Cited i n Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy
and Philosophy (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968), p. 42.
6Politics

p. 42.

1340a 40-1340b 2; Kaufmann, op. c i t . ,

27
descriptive account of the production and appreciation of
the written and spoken word i n 5th century Athens, then
t h e r e i s a c l e a r breach between what we take t o be t h e
role of mimesi s i n l i t e r a t u r e and what the Athenians did.
I f Plato's dialogues are example of mimesi s , i t i s a dis
t o r t i o n t o think of them as journalistic representations of
actual Socratic conversations, or simple attempts to re
capture w i t h as much accuracy as possible the practice of
philosophy i n that day.

Mimesis i s an altogether richer

notion than that: i t is not the production of a literary


repli ca.
Walter Kaufmann suggests that mimesi s i s better
understood as pretending than imitation

--a successful

mimesi s of something would be less a l i t e r a l e i kon or re


production than i t would be a creation by the a r t i s t ,
which, through i t s powers of "pretending" provokes a certain
response.,

I quote now from Kaufmann:

The Greeksdid not distinguish as sharply as


we o f t e n do between i m i t a t i n g , c r e a t i n g , s t r i k i n g
images...and expressing. I n English i t would be a
solecism and misleading, i f not wrong, to say that
music imitates anger or courage; and i t would scarce
l y make sense to say that music surpasses the visual
arts i n i t s ability to imi tate character or moral
q u a l i t i e s . . . While no English word w i l l render the
meaning o f mimesis adequately i n a l l c o n t e x t s , we
can at least call attention to something worth noting
by i n t r o d u c i n g some words t h a t are suggestive i n
many places, both i n Plato and i n A r i s t o t l e : makebelieve, pretend, ways of pretending.

28
The apposite sense i s that i n which a threeyear-old child says, after putting a yellow block
on a blue one, "This i s a pretend sandwich." Per
haps the c h i l d ' s delight i n pretending i s even more
basic than i t s delight i n imitation. At times, the
two coincide ; but on the whole "imitation" suggests
copying, while "pretending" and "make-believe" bring
to mind the role of the imagination.7
Kaufmann i s commenting on mimesis as used i n
Aristotle's Poetics,but I believe his insights are relevant
t o an understanding o f P l a t o ' s dialogues because they show
how one can adequately understand how t o consider and read
that span of Greek l i t e r a t u r e of which the dialogues are a
p a r t . (Kaufmann's treatment o f mimesi s makes no claims, f o r
example, about mimesi s as i t i s used as a technical term
i n Plato, eg., the kosmos aisthetos as an i m i t a t i o n of the
kosmos noetos i n Timaeus, e t c . 8 ) .

One b e n e f i t o f Kaufmann's

gloss on mimesis seems t o be t h a t i t casts doubt on the


Taylor-Burnet thesis that the dialogues are records of
Socrates's own crypto-Pythagorean teachings.

I f the dia

logues are l i k e mimesis as A r i s t o t l e said, then they should


be understood as "pretend" encounters with Socrates, and
thus make no claims t o being a h i s t o r i c a l t r a n s c r i p t o f
Socrates's words.

More importantly, Kaufmann illuminates

''Kaufmann, op. c i t . , pp. 42-3, c f . F. E. Peters,


Greek P h i l o s o p h i c a l Terms (New Y o r k , New York U n i v . P r . , 1 9 6 7 ) ,
pp. 118-19.
Q

Kaufmann, op. c i t . , p. 44.

the role of imagination i n mimetic art: through the


imaginative use of paint, stone, tones, or words, the a r t i s t
creates a "pretend-world", which i n turn is contrived to
e l i c i t a response or a transformation i n an audience.

This

i s , i n e f f e c t , Aristotle's position on katharsis: the makebelieve world of the tragedian arouses the strong emotions
of eleos and phobos i n the audience, whereby the emotions
are relieved or "purged" of these (potentially harmful)
sentiments.^

The relevance of t h i s to the dialogues i s

not immediately apparent: they are certainly not tragedies,


nor do they seek to "purge" t h e i r audience of anything
- - t h e y seem designed, i n f a c t , t o perplex and bother.

But

nevertheless there is a similarity: a dialogue, like tragedy


and a l l mimetic a r t , i s a c r e a t i o n which forces some s o r t
of response or transformation i n the audience; were this
not so, were mimesi s simply copying-for-copying1s-sake,
there would be no reason to produce anything of the s o r t , no
motive for "imitation".

In a Platonic dialogue, the trans

formation intended i s one of heightened self-examination:


the dialogues (and notmerely the "aporetic" dialogues)
pose a question to the reader, and perhaps a few tentative
answers, and compel the reader to see the significance of
g

See Kaufmann, pp. 49-60; Peters, pp. 98-99.

30
these questions i n his life.^

The analogy with the

mimetic quality of music could not be more apropos: a l


though music does not l i t e r a l l y "copy" anything, i t gives
us a "pretend-world" of sounds andrhythyms that e l i c i t s a
powerful response, made a l l

the more powerful by music's

remoteness from a l i t e r a l depiction.

Mimetic art i s nothing

without i t s ability to transform i t s audience.


The "pretend-world" of mimesis i s , as Kaufmann
points out, a product of the imagination J1

This is especially

important as regards Plato, since i t reveals the inadequacy


of the interpretive standpoint endorsed by Vlastos and
others.

I f the dialogues are not reportage --even sham

reportage-- but the imaginative re-creation of a Socratic


conversation, designed to e l i c i t a personal response on the
part of the reader, then any separation between (philosophical)
content and ( l i t e r a r y ) form i s , at best, a r t i f i c i a l .

Since

the dialogues are imaginative re-creations, no single element i n


the dialogue may serve the purpose o f e l i c i t i n g t h a t response
or causing that personal transformation which justifies mimetic
art;

I f a dialogue i s a true mimesis of Socratic conversation,

then, almost by definition, i t cannot be the sort of "straightT^see PaiJl Friedlander, PIato, vol. 1 (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Pr., 1964), pp. 108-126, 154-170, passim.
^Kaufmann, op. c i t . , pp. 44-45.

forward" philosophical prose-in-disguise t h a t Vlastos seems


to take i t to be.

Such "straightforward" philosophy could

be examined i n a disinterested and impersonal way, held at


arms-length.

A treatise could suffice for this,even a

t r e a t i s e - i n - d i a l o g u e - f o r m ( B e r k e l e y o r Hume p e r h a p s ? ) ; b u t
Plato's dialogues are i n a class with "mimes" --they are not
t r e a t i s e s , but philosophical drama or 1iterature.

To ignore

the "formal" l i t e r a r y element i n the dialogues would be to


bypass i t s purpose as a mimesis of philosophical dialogue,
and to miss i t s role as an agent of personal transformation.
The a r t i f i c i a l i t y of separating philosophical content from
dialogical-dramatic form can be demonstrated by an analogy
i n music: could one separate from from content i n Beethoven's
Eroica, seeing i t simply as a work "about Napoleon", without
grievously compromising one's appreciation and appraisal
of thework?

Could one even claim t o know what i t was

"about" i f one thought that?

Likewise with a Platonic

dialogue: as an imaginitive re-creation of Socrates-in-action,


i t s meaning i s not exhausted i n the explicit ideas presented
f o r inspection and evaluation but i s also a function of
characterization, setting, and i t s l i t e r a r y presentation i n
general.
ii)

What are P l a t o ' s dialogues mimemata o f , and

how can we understand P l a t o ' s own p a r t i c u l a r concerns i n


writing philosophy i n dialogue form?
R u d o l p h W e i n g a r t n e r 1 s T h e U ni t y o f t h e P I a t o n i c
Pialogue provides a f i t t i n g starting point for answering
this question.

Weingartner outlines two c r i t i c a l approaches

which he believes to be mistaken and u n f r u i t f u l , largely


because they ignore what Plato's dialogues actually are.
The f i r s t c r i t i c a l blind alley ignores the f a c t that Plato
wrote dialogues; i n one variant i t takes the dialogues as
the embodiment of a doctrine, propounded by a "prolocutor"
for Plato (usually Socrates); in another variant, Plato's
various arguments are simply "mined" for their value i n
contemporary philosophical debate.12
gratuitous assumptions.

Both variants rest upon

The f i r s t assumes t h a t , as a

philosopher, Plato had to include i n his dialogues the


fragments of a philosophical system, and therefore a Platonic
spokesman; the second assumes t h a t P l a t o ' s arguments can be
detached and understood apart from their context i n particular
dialogue.

Weingartner1s assessment of the "doctrinal"

approach t o P l a t o n i c c r i t i c i s m i s p a r a l l e l t o my own appraisal


of Vlastos.

We b o t h a g r e e t h a t i t i s h a s t y t o a s s u m e t h a t ,

12Rudolph

Weingartner, The Unity of the Platonic


Dialogue (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merri11, 1973), pp. 1-4.

since Plato was a phi 1osopher, h i s w r i t i n g s must harbor a


docrrine per se, and that this doctrine can be pried from
i t s dramatic moorings and assessed only through logical
analysi s.
But Weingartner sees a second danger i n Platonic
interpretation: the tendency to ignore any positive philo
sophical meaning unifying

dialogue by treating them simply

as tranches de vie philosophique, where Plato i s the sole


author of a conversation, but not a participant.

On t h i s

view, Plato i s held to be possessed of Keats's "negative


capability", of being constitutionally able to avoid any
firm assertions, and to exist i n doubts, mystery, and un
certainties; thus Plato never speaks for himself i n the
di alogues.
This sheer assimilation of Plato's work into the
ranks of non-philosophical drama ignores the f a c t , Weingartner
opines, that PIato wrote dialogues, perhaps to be enacted;
that the nature of the dialogue i t s e l f leads the reader from
a depiction or "showing" of various shades of opinion to
some i n s i g h t i n t o a philosophical t r u t h J 3

The proper way

to read a Platonic dialogue, on Weingartner's account, i s


to merge the "doctrinal" and the "dramatic" accounts:
il
Weingartner, op.

c i t . , pp. 4-6.

34
Plato wrote dramatic works; but he was not a
man o f negative c a p a b i l i t y . Plato does speak t o h i s
readers through his dialogues; they are not adequately
understood unless the scholarly approach of detailed
t e x t u a l examination i s combined with those who see
Plato as remaining i n some way aloof from what he has
h i s characters say. No doubt the form i n which he
addresses his audience shows that Plato has a t l e a s t
as great an interest i n thinking as i n thought; no
doubt the dialogue i s used by him to exhibit philosophy
as an a c t i v i t y t h a t human beings engage i n . But the
undeniable significance of this aspect of Plato's
work i s no reason f o r ignoring precisely what Plato's
characters say o r f o r omitting to ask j u s t why Plato
has then follow the script he wrote for them.14
Weingartner concludes:
...Plato i s not reduced to choosing between showing
and saying: a dialogue may have a theme --even a con
clusion-- which i s Plato's and not that of his creatures,
a theme which i s upheld by the entire work, although
i t may never be e x p l i c i t l y stated w i t h i n i t . 1 5
Weingartner i s saying that a dialogue, as philo
sophical drama, need sacrifice neither i t s philosophical
seriousness nor i t s dramatic richness in order to remain
whole.

And t h i s , I t h i n k , i s precisely what a dialogue

as mimesis i s : i t does give the reader a tranche de vie


phi1osophique, but one with a meaning or a point, one
which i s not non-commital.

Mimesis i s not mere copying:

P l a t o ' s dialogues do not simply depict t h e i r characters


without any evaluation of t h e i r positions or personalities.
Mimesi s i s a creative act on the part of the a r t i s t ,

^Weingartner, op. c i t . ,
1 5 1bi d .

p. 6.

which i s presented for the purpose of transforming the


audience.

Such transformation would not occur i f the

characters of a dialogue were presented i n a f l a t and neutral


way, t h e i r positions advanced with indifference. Thus
P l a t o ' s d i a l o g u e s a r e P I a t o ' s, i n t h a t i t i s P l a t o who seeks
to effect a change i n his audience; they are philosophically .
serious.

But i t i s important to see that a philosophically

serious dialogue does not require an explici t statement of


"theme" or "conclusion", nor even a l i t e r a l "doctrine" lurking
within the conversation.

I f Plato's voice i s to be heard,

i f the dialogue i s to be understood, then one must develop


an eye for subtleties, a capacity for determining the basis
for a dialogue's thematic unity by looking to what i s imp!icit
And t h i s necessitates viewing the dialogue as a whole: both
arguments and l i t e r a r y form are important.
As Weingartner notes, P l a t o ' s dialogues are mimlmata
o f philosophy as practiced i n the concrete by some t y p i c a l
5th century Athenians.

He i s i n t e r e s t e d , perhaps more i n

terested, i n "thinking" as opposed to expressing his "thought"


Nevertheless, by showing phi1osophy-in-the-concrete Plato
gives us a basis f o r evaluating i t s worth and effectiveness:
Plato i s concerned not merely with "thinking", but with
thinking well. This i s revealed i n the dialogues by both
negative and positive examples, (e^g.Sophists and Socrates).

By showing Philosophy as i t was, Plato manages t o say what


philosophy should be --not by e x p l i c i t assertion, but by
way o f a creative example, which prompts a response i n the
reader t o take the dialogue's theme seriously, and thus to
become philosophic himself.
B)

Hi stori cal and Cultural Bases f o r Pi aloque-Form

What kind of audience would a Platonic dialogue,


as a mimetic re-creation of philosophical inquiry, have?
Such philosophic l i t e r a t u r e seems p e c u l i a r and superfluous
to contemporary eyes.

Philosophy, having become profession

alized i n the 19th century, attracts an almost exclusively


professional reading-audience.

Such an audience i s already

acquainted with and convinced o f the value of the methods


and goals of philosophical inquiry (or at least be!ieves
i t s e l f to be thus acquainted and convinced), and as such
does not need to be continually "rehearsed" i n the practice
of philosophical inquiry each time philosophical texts are
read.

Moreover, to a "professional" audience, a dramatic

treatment o f philosophical themes seems a t best superfluous


and at worst an impediment to a clear comprehension o f the
philosophical issues under consideration i n the t e x t . ^

^For extended treatments of the contemporary


"professionalization" of philosophy, see Albert William
Levi, Philosophy as Social Expression (Chicago, 1974),
esp. pp. 231-318, and Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the
Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1979).

37
Nevertheless, t h i s i s how Plato wrote; i t seems as i f only
a "pretend" example of philosophical practice would suitably
express his aims and convictions as a philosopher.

Con

sequently, one must conclude that philosophy i t s e l f meant


something q u i t e d i f f e r e n t from what i t means today, and
that i t s means of c u l t u r a l expression and educational trans
mission were likewise quite dissimilar to our own.
Thus i n order to answer the question "why dialogues?",
i t i s necessary to undertake a sort of intellectual "archaeology"
of those cultural givens which sustained, at least i n part,
a philosophical standpoint which emphasises dialogue far
more than t h a t o f our own t i m e , and which gave r i s e t o the
expression of philosophical ideas through the dramatic
mimesi s of such dialogue.
1)

The e r i s t i c moot.

One form o f

philosophical

dialogue found i n Plato i s the eri s t ic, or dialectical inter


change; as Gilbert Ryle notes:
With much o r l i t t l e dramatic or merely conver
sational relief, eristic exercises dominate, or at
l e a s t f e a t u r e l a r g e l y i n L a c h e s , L y s i s , A 1 ci b i a d e s
Euth.yphro, Chami des, Hippi as Major and Minor, Protagoras,
I o n , E u t h . y d e m u s , G o r g i a s , M e n o , a n d R e p u b lic I . T h e r e
i s a short stretch i n the Symposium; a l i t t l e i n the
Phaedo; and the short s t r e t c h . . . i n the Apology. The
bulk of the Cratylus i s not eristic i n method, but
the l a s t twelve pages a r e . . . I n the Parmenides, Part I I
...we get our one f u l l - s c a l e , undramatized, even un

38
mitigated model o f a two-way e r i s t i c e x e r c i s e . . . . ^
This eristic excercise is
. . . a special pattern of disputation, governed
by s t r i c t rules, which takes the following shape.
Two persons 'agree t o have a b a t t l e ' . One i s t o
be questioner, the other answerer...The answerer
begins by undertaking to uphold a certain ' t h e s i s ' ,
e g . t h a t j u s t i c e i s i n t h e in t e r e s t o f t h e s t r o n g e r ,
o r t h a t know!edge is sense-perception. The q u e s t i o n e r
has to extract from the answerer, by a series of
questions, an answer or conjunction of answers i n
consistent with his original thesis,i.e. drive him
into an 'elenchus!. J 8
There i s more to Plato's dialectic than the sort
of Socratic confutation which Ryle describes above ( c f .
especially the development of Plato's ideas on dialectic,
i n Republic VI and Sophist) ^ 9 Nevertheless, such argumentation
does constitute a large part of the "dialogue" i n Plato's
dialogues, and an important part, since the elenchus i s
an effective tool against positions which are deeply, yet
not obviously inconsistent (e,g., Euthyphro, Callicles i n
Gorgias, etc.).

I t i s possible yet highly unlikely, that

^ G i l b e r t Ryle, "Dialectic i n the Academy" i n R.


Bambrough, e d . , New Essays on P l a t o and A r i s t o t l e (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 50. Henceforth: "Dialect
ic..."
18
Ryle, "Dialectic...", p. 40.
19
See Richard Robinson, "Hypothesis i n the Republic,"
ch.X of Plato's Earlier Dialectic (London, 1953), reprinted
i n G. Vlastos, ed., PIato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971),
pp. 97-131. See also A. C. Lloyd, "Plato's Description
of Division" i n Allen, ed., Studies in Plato's Metaphysics,
pp. 219-30

t h i s s o r t o f d i a l e c t i c a l i n t e r p l a y was an innovation o f
P l a t o ' s , both as philosophical tool and l i t e r a r y form.

More

l i k e l y e r i s t i c was a c u l t u r a l commonplace i n 5th century Athens,


and i t s l i t e r a r y representation was n o t uncommon e i t h e r .
Some o f the b e s t evidence f o r t h e c u l t u r a l e n
trenchment o f e r i s t i c comes from Plato and A r i s t o t l e them
selves.

Ryle points to Aristotle's Topics as a prime example

of a "training manual" i n the " a r t of dialectic" for those


who wished t o become p r o f i c i e n t i n e l e n c t i c refutation.^
Sophist 230c intimates that such elenctic duels are "fought
out before an audience"; distinctions between f a i r and unfair
d i a l e c t i c a l moves are drawn i n A r i s t o t l e ' s Topics 161a 10
and 183a 25, and i n Plato's Theatetus 167a.2^

i n the latter,

Plato expresses his concern, also noted i n Republi c , bk. V


(454a) and Meno (75c-d) and echoed by A r i s t o t l e throughout
the Topics and D Sophisti ciis El enchis, that d i a l e c t i c can
degenerate into a mere agonistic wordplay, concerned with
match-winning rather than with the important issue under
discussion; hence the distinction often drawn by Plato and
Aristotle alike, between the unhealthy " e r i s t i c " and genuine
"dialectic".

22

And i n Parmeni des, p t . 2, Parmenides proposes

20Ryle,

" D i a l e c t i c . . p . 39.

21Ryle,

"Dialectic...", pp. 40-41.

22Ryle,

"Dialectic...", pp. 41-42, 55-58.

40
t o show the young Socrates "the i n t e l l e c t u a l gymnastic he
must practics i f he i s to become a philosopher", which i s ,
as Ryle says, "the most unreleived and formalized model of
a two-way e r i s t i c question-answer exercise t h a t has come
down t o u s . "

23

From t h i s Ryle concludes that

. . .there can be no reasonable doubt,then,that


what Isocrates calls ' e r i s t i c ' and Aristotle calls
' d i a l e c t i c ' i s . . . being taught t o young men i n the
academy i n or before the middle 350's; that Plato
approves of this teaching, and that Aristotle teaches
i t . . . 24
Ryle's sweeping and confident conclusions about the
Platonic academy can be and have been f o r c e f u l l y challenged.

25

Nevertheless his citation of relevant Platonic and


Aristotelian texts i s convincing enough that the practice
o f d i a l e c t i c , however t h a t p r a c t i c e may have been h i s t o r i c a l l y
expressed, was a staple item o f philosophy and i t s i n s t r u c t i o n

^3Ryle, "Dialectic. . . " , p.42.


^4Ibid. Cf. J.H. Randall, Plato: Dramatist of the
L i f e o f Reason (New York: Columbia U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1971),
pp. 11, 22-23, and Friedlander, op. c i t . , vol. 2, pp. 85-107.
Ryle himself has expressed doubts as to whether Plato himself
ever taught a t the Academy ( q . v . h i s Enc.yclopedia o f
Philosophy article "Plato", vol. 6, pp. 315,318-19l~and
Harold Cherniss, i n The Riddle o f the Early Academy (Los Angeles
U.C.L.A. Press, 1945), notes that Diogenes Laertius'
Life of Plato gives Plato's w i l l , which f a i l s even to
mention the Academy.
^5Ryle,"Dialectic. . . " , p. 43. See Charles Bigger,
Participation(Baton Rouge: Univ. of Louisiana P r . , 1968),
p . l l n l O . See also Randall, op. c i t . , pp. 22-23.

f o r Plato and A r i s t o t l e a l i k e . Ryle goes so f a r as to assimi


late this practice with the dramatic aspect of the Platonic
dialoges:

they were meant to be performed before an ed

ucated audience, as depictions of e r i s t i c contest within


the context of setting, characterization, and the conversation
per se:
Plato's dialogues are dramatic, his earlier
dialogues much more dramatic than his l a t e r ones.
Some o f these have been r e c e n t l y performed by s c h o o l
boys and s t u d e n t s and, as we should e x p e c t , t h e y a c t
extremely well. I t i s natural to suppose that their
author designed them to have the theatrical excellences
which they do i n fact posess. conversely i t i s un
natural t o suppose that Plato was r e q u i r i n g readers
t o imagine d i a l e c t i c a l mimes, who had never even had
the chance of hearing any. Divines do sometimes
publish volumes of sermons that have never been
preached; but only because their readers already
know what i t i s l i k e to l i s t e n to sermons from the
p u l p i t . Berkeley, Hume, and Landor w r i t e dialogues
for readers only; but perhaps they are trading on a
previously existent art of writing dialogues for
audiences. The l i t e r a r y simulacrum has to be poster
i o r t o and to lack the l i f e o f the real thing. I t
smells proleptially of the reader's lamp. There i s
no such smell i n Plato.26
Ryle concludes that i t i s "beyond reasonable doubt"
that Plato composed his dialogues f o r "oral delivery to
audiences" composed, by and large, of the general public;
he supports his claim by references to Aristotle on esoteric
and exoteric discourse,to Plato's Seventh Letter (exhorting
26Gilbert

Ryle, Plato's Progress (Cambridge, England:


Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1967), pp. 23-24.

42
Dionysius not to give the lecture on sunousi a to the general
public i n wri t ing or speech), to the writings of Galen and
Diogenes Laertius, and other

sources.27

^is claim that i t

i s "beyond reasonable doubt" that the.dialogues were per


formed i s , no doubt, inflated; nevertheless, i t i s apparent
t h a t , u n l i k e the dialogues o f Hume, Berkeley, and Landor,
they -are w r i t t e n s j_f they were t o be performed, and thus
to be read as possible performances.

28

One could maintain

t h a t some dialogues were performed or read aloud, while


others were not; or that while none of Plato's dialogues
need have been performed, there was an academic t r a d i t i o n o f
"reading aloud" transcripts or simulacra of eristic Moots,
which served as inspiration f o r the dialogues. Describing the l i f e
o f the Academy i s largely w h i s t l i n g i n the dark, and t h i s
compromises many of Ryle's conclusions i n P l a t o ' s Progress which
are more speculative than Ryle apparently thinks they are.
Nevertheless, Ryle establishes satisfactorily that the
practice of e r i s t i c i n e r i s t i c Moots or dramatic readings
was a commonplace i n Platonic i n s t r u c t i o n , and t h a t i t i s
from this practice, i n part, that Plato's adherence to
dialogue-form was engendered.
27
Ibid., pp. 23-32.
28

Ryle, "Dialectic...", p. 44.

2)

Li terary precusrors of the eri stic dialogue.

The history o f the " e r i s t i c Moot" stretches beyond the


efforts of Plato and Aristotle. Ryle, i n "Dialectic i n the
Academy", r e l i e s heavily upon the authority of Diogenes
L a e r t i u s , who c i t e s Zeno as the inventor o f d i a l e c t i c , a
claim echied by Sextus empiricus, who a t t r i b u t e s t h i s p o s i t i o n
to Aristotle in his lost Sophist.

29

This is implicitly

acknowledged i n PIato's Parmenides, where Socrates outlines


Zeno's method of argumentation as one of refutation.

Diogenes

Laertius also mentions Euclides o f Megara, who


...rebutted demonstrations by attacking, not their
premi sses(1emmata), but their epi phora, which...
must mean the inference from those premisses t o t h e i r
alleged conclusions.30
There i s also Protagoras, who
Doigenes Laertius says...was the f i r s t to say
that there are two opposite logoi about every subject;
and was also the f i r s t t o argue i n t h i s way, by means
o f questions (sunerota). He was also the f i r s t t o
institute logon agonas, i.e., e r i s t i c matches or duels
..31
Perhaps the most significant of the Pre-Socratic
harbingers of dialectic i s the Pi ssoi Logoi:
At the end of Diels-Krantz1 Fragmente der
Vorsokrati ker there is a l i t t l e piece, entitled
'Dissoi Logoi'
Dissoi Logoi means 'Arguments Both
29

Ryle, "Dialectic...", p. 44.

3^Ryle,

"Dialectic..." p. 45.

3^Ryle,

"Dialectic..." p. 45-6.

Ways'. The Pissoi Logoi i s , f o r the most p a r t , a


sequence of theses, generally shocking ones, about
each of which are marshalled f i r s t an array of argu
ments pro and then an array of arguments contra.32
Ryle believes that the Pi ssoi Logoi might have
been a handbook for students engaged i n actual e r i s t i c Moots.
I n any case, there i s ample reason to believe that Plato
was acquainted w i t h i t and t h a t i t might have exerted a
possible influence upon his idea of philosophy:
Among the arguments contra
the thesis that
V.i r t u e i s n o t t e a c h a b l e t h e r e i s o n e s h r e w d a r g u m e n t
which, together with an illustrative example, Plato
also employs, putting i t into the mount of Protagoras
i n his Protagoras (327e - 328c). 3 3
Furthermore, the Pissoi Logoi i s not, Ryle claims,
exemplary o f the s o r t o f anti1ogike bemoaned i n Republic VI
or the merely "agonistic" wordplay criticised by both Plato
and Aristotle.

The Pissoi Logoi, while immediately con

cerned with argument pro and contra i s concerned with showing,


i n the course of the dialectic, which thesis i s the superior
one, a concern hardly alien to Plato's dialectic:
I t i s worth noticing that the author of the
piece, speaking of himeslf as ' I ' , sides with the
arguments contra the cynical or n i h i l i s t theses.
Like the Socrates of Plato's Socratic dialogues,
he wants the arguments pro and contra to be f a i r l y

32Ryle,

33

"Dialectic..." p. 47; cf.

Ryle, " Dialectic..." p. 47.

Plato's Progress, pp. 116-17.

45
p i t t e d against one another, but he does not want the
cynical o r n i h i l i s t theses t o win. He marshals the
Worse and the Better Reasons but his heart i s with
the Better Reasons.3^
Socrates.

Plato's dialogues are not merely

matrices for eristic or dialectical dispute.

Although

sections 1) and '2) have shown p l e n t i f u l h i s t o r i c a l evidence


for the cultural background of Platonic dialogue, they have
not shown the basis f o r a l l the non-dialectical elements of
dialogue in Plato's work.

Ryle points out that much o f

Plato's work does not exhibit e r i s t i c question-and-answer


f o r m ; e . g . , C r i t o , R e p u b l ic b k s . I I - X , P h i l e b u s , P h a e d r u s ,
Timaeus, Laws.

35

What c u l t u r a l resources d i d Plato draw

upon to s o l i d i f y his commitment to dialogue i n these instances?


The answer l i e s , I t h i n k , i n the person of Socrates.
I t i s through Socrates that the distinction between dialecticas-a-battle and dialectic-as-inquiry i s drawn: Socrates sets
Plato's dialectical aims,

that of argument i n the service

of t r u t h rather than power or ambitoon.

Socrates' willing

ness to t a l k , his reluctance to terminate discussion pre


maturely, his insistence that the discussion keep from de
generating into a mere joust of words or sentiments --these
were Socratic concerns which touched Plato deeply.

^Ryle, "Dialectic..." p. 48.


^5Ryle, "Dialectic..." p. 51.

As such,

Socrates would have t o be, as Paul Friedlander puts i t , the


center of all of Plato's philosophizing:

"In every noble heart burns a perpetual thirst


for a nobler, i n the fair for the fairer...because
the l o f t y man can only r i p e n by a l o f t y one, as diamonds
are made b r i l l i a n t only by diamonds." These words,
from Jean Paul's Ti tan, Plato had experienced. In the
Academy, h i s p u p i l s came t o m a t u r i t y through him. Ad;dnessingvothers through his.written work, words alone
--even the clearest and most glowing words-- would
have seemed...ineffective without the l i v i n g embodi
ment, although the "discourse" i t s e l f meant everything,
the "speaker" nothing, precisely because "one can easily
contradict Socrates, but not the Truth (Symposium 201c).
Thus he must have made Socrates the most powerful
force i n his written work because he could not i n any
other way determine unequivocally the necessary r e
lationship between "speaker" and "discourse", because
i t seemed t o him t h a t only i n t h i s way could education
and struggle, research and construction, festival and
death - - i n s h o r t , "philosophy"-- become audible. By
placing Socrates i n the center of his philosophical
dramas, he thus erected, for a l l time, not only a
monument o f g r a t i t u d e , but the highest one of forma
t i v e power. This, to be sure might s t i l l be mis
understood as an a r t i s t i c device or a choice. Ob
v i o u s l y , t o P l a t o i t was a n e c e s s i t y . 3 6
As the central c u l t u r a l resource behind P l a t o ' s

philosophy, Socrates was " m i m e t i c a l l y " re-created i n the


dialogues not merely by his character, but through the
dialogue form i t s e l f .

No o t h e r form would be s u i t a b l e

as a mimesis of philosophy as he practiced i t ; dialogueform is a mimisi s of Socrates.

(A fuller treatment of the

place of Socrates i n Plato's thought follows, i n Section C).


^6Friedlander, op. c i t . , Vol. 1, p. 132.

C)

Dialogue as a philosophical tenet.

I have been stressing a l l along the necessity of


taking the dialogical form of Plato's writings seriously,
i f one i s to understand the meaning of Plato's philosophical
convictions.

But i t i s equally important to see that dia

logue figures i n the "content" of Plato's thought as well,


as a philosophical category i n addition to a l i t e r a r y form.
I t s philosophical significance i s often "shown", rather than
"said", by Plato's dexterity i n using dialogue-form, dramatic
a l l y r e v e a l i n g how i t i s i n d i s p e n s i b l e t o t r u e philosophy
( e . g . , P r o t a g o r a s . R e p u b l ic I , G o r g i a s , a n d E u t h . y d e m u s : w h e n
the dialogue breaks down, i t i s manifestly the f a u l t of
anti-phi1osophical strains i n the characters of Socrates'
antagonists); yet often enough Plato has much t o say, ex
p l i c i t l y , about the nature and importance of conversation,
or speech (eg., Phaedrus 271b-278b, and Protagoras 337a-e).
I n Section B). I t r i e d t o show the c u l t u r a l and p r a c t i c a l
basis f o r Plato's sympathy f o r dialogue as a form of p h i l
osophical expression; in this section I shall explore Plato's
own defense o f the dialogue-form, and i t s i m p l i c i t influence
upon Plato's philosophical positions and beliefs.
Like any author, Plato wrote for a particular audience.
The means o f expression he used needed to s u i t the a b i l t i e s
of a literate 5th century Athenian audience.

As G i l b e r t Ryle

in Plato's Progress, points out, literacy-was relatively


common i n Athens, b u t book-learning seems t o have been
limited to a small coterie of academics and 1itterateurs.

37

P l a t o , i n c h a r a c t e r i s t i c r e b e l l i o n against those who f e t i s h ize the poets and turn exegesis into a minor industry ( c f .
Republic 606 p. f f . and Protagoras 347c-348a), inveighs
heavily against this sort of overweening concern with booklearning i n Phaedrus 274b-277d, where he contrasts the l i v i n g
speech of conversation with the stasis of the written word.

3 ft

Written discourse, in the Phaedrus,is likened to paint


ing, which manufactures products that "stand before us as
i f they were alive"; but " i f you question them, they maintain
a most majestic silence.^9

The " l i v i n g speech", however,

i s "brother" to, the written word.

Because speech i s "written

i n the soul o f the learner, t h a t can defend i t s e l f , and knows


t o whom i t speaks and t o whom i t should say n o t h i n g " , i t has
"unquestioned legitimacy" and unarguable superiority over
wri ting.

37Ryle,

Pl&to's Progress,, pp. 22-23.

OO

Note Ryle's "Surprise" at the condemnation of booklearning i n the Phaedrus, i n Plato's Progress, p. 22.
39
The R. Hackforth translation, i n Plato: The Collected
Pialogues (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1961)., ed. E.
Hamilton ad H. Cairns.

There i s something vaguely paradoxical about a l l


this.

Socrates argues with both passion and c l a r i t y for

the superiority of speech over writing, yet Plato expresses


this through writing that i s a mere simulacrum of l i v i n g
speech.

I f Plato believed the philosophical advantage was

on the side o f the spoken word, then why d i d he w r i t e


dialogues?

And i f Plato i s t o be thought o f as an a r t i s t -

philosopher, then why the exclusive commitment to w r i t i n g


dialogues?
Paul Friedlander has addressed these questions
more thoroughly than any other Platonic commentator.

His

answer attempts to unravel the mystery of Plato's author


ship by close attention to the influence of Socrates on
Plato's philosophic convictions. Socrates, Friedlander
notes, generally eschewed epideixis or declamatory speech;
the Socratic profession of aporia is a hint that there is
nothing about which one can legitimately or confidently
declaim.^

Socratic ignorance is the justification for

Socratic humility, the reluctance Socrates had toward being


dogmatic or " e p i d e i c t i c A n d Plato loses no time i n re
cruiting Socrates's lack of self-display for his critique
of the Sophists: the Protagoras and Gorgias are prime examples

40priedlander ' ^ a ^ * ^ o l . 1 P* 154.

of the disparity between Socratic and Sophistic conversation


the former characterized by

i t s openness and i t s dogged

pursuit of truth, however tentative the results of this


pursuit, while the l a t t e r , convinced at bottom that there
i s no such truth to discover, ultimately retreats i n t o
dogmatic silence and indifference.

The chasm which yawns

between Socratic and Sophistic inquiry i s reflected and


transmitted not merely through the polemical content of
Plato's work ( i e . , Socrates's broadsides against sophists),
but also through i t s dialogical and dramatic form, which
i s as congenial to the Socratic idea of philosophy as i t
i s incongenial to that of the Sophists.
To quote Friedlander on the significance o f Socratic
d i a l o g u e a s a p r i n c i p i e o f in q u i r y i n P l a t o ' s p h i l o s o p h y :
I t i s foolish t o think that one can leave one's
written knowledge behind as a "doctrine" (techne,275c),
t o be learned. The w r i t t e n word i s r i g i d . Beyond i t s
structural l i m i t s i t cannot give an answer to a
questioner or protect i t s e l f against attacks. Thus
i t contradicts the basic Socratic-Platonic prinicip.le:
philosophy i s possible only as an exchange between two
people; i t i s an i n f i n i t e conversation renewing i t s e l f
constantly out of a personal question.^
The Sophists, whose conventionalism and r e l a t i v i s m
i s accepted as a given, beyond defense, speak as i f they
were speaking the written word --incapable of and beyond
a l l hope of attack or defense.
41

This i s mistakenly taken by

Friedlander, op. c i t . , vol. 1, p.113.

51
the Sophists to be an advantage; witness their over-concern
with rhetoric (q.v. Gorgias 462b,ff.) or the quest for
making a p o s i t i o n seem convincing, whether o r not i t a c t u a l l y

TS.

42

Through the medium of dialogue, Plato, through the

Platonic Socrates, unmasks t h i s pretense; Sophism i s shallow


and self defeating.

Thus Socratic dialogue i s a mimesis

- - i n the sense detailed i n Section A ) - - of the principle


that genuine philosophy i s possible only as an exchange
between people", rather than as a series of bald assertions.
And since a Platonic dialogue i s a mimesis, a "pretendworld" which succeeds only by e l i c i t i n g a response of trans
formation i n an audience, Plato himself i s t r y i n g to engage
his reader i n a conversation arising out of a "personal
question".

Far from being the author of a doctrine,or. a phil

osophical "mine", or detached observer of the philosophic


scene of which Weingartner speaks, Plato i s primarily con
cerned w i t h posing a question h i s readers, g i v i n g some
general tentative conclusions or answers, and giving the
reader the a b i l i t y to pursue the inquiry into this "personal
question" of his own.*

4 2 For a more sympathetic view of Sophism, see G. B.


Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement (Cambridge, England: Cambridge
U n i v . P r . , 1981) and W. K. C. G u t h r i e , The S o p h i s t s (Cambridge,
England: Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1971).

* See Afterword, p . 64 below.

Two questions may be p u t t o t h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n


of the Platonic dialogue as a dramatic equivalent of the
Socratic

elenchus.

i)

How much o f P l a t o ' s work a c t u a l l y

i s concerned w i t h " i n f i n i t e convefsation", and how much i s


a c t u a l l y w e l 1 - d i s g u i s e d e pi d ei x i s ?

ii)

How can t h e w r i t t e n

work, of Plato, heir to the r i g i d i t y and declamatory bent


of a l l w r i t i n g , l i v e up to the Socratic ideal o f , as J . H.
Randall puts i t , "absolute discourse"?
As t o i ) , I would respond w i t h Friedlander t h a t the
distinction between genuine dialogue and t a c i t declamation
i s not an easy one t o draw --e.g., i t i s s i g n i f i c a n t that
even at his most declamatory, Plato's Socrates s t i l l speaks
to others.4^

Furthermore, the tailoring of dialogue to

s u i t dramatic needs and a r t i s t i c economy i s something that


Plato need not ignore.

Again, Friedlander:

Sometimes a view i s h e l d . . . t h a t Plato, having


once begun to write Socratic dialogues, retained
t h i s form even i n his late period where he should
have discarded i t i n favor of writing treatises...
But i f this view i s true, would i t not apply just
as much t o Plato's Republic, the central work o f
his creative powers?...It is a conversation that,
over long s t r e t c h e s , contains ( o r seems t o contain)
nothing but straight communication or teaching by
S o c r a t e s . . . T h e in n e r n e e d c o m p e l l i n g h i m t o w r i t e
dialogues must have been so great that i t conquered
a l l possible objections and prevailed throughout his
life.44
4"}
44

Friedlander, PI a to, Vol. 1, pp. 164-5.


I b i d . , pp. 164-65

I n short, objection i ) can be turned around: at


times dialogue-form does seem inadequate or inappropriate
t o P l a t o ' s purposes, y e t i t remains t h a t Plato saw f i t t o
use dialogue form.

And i t receives an e x p l i c i t defense

in Theatetus 143b-c: Euclides insists that only the dialogue


form can capture the immediacy of the words as they were
spoken, and dispenses with cumbersome narrative (from t h a t
point on, the dialogue is oratio recta
Theatetus and Theodorus) .45

between Socrates,

pia-to were simply interested

i n the declamation of his philosophical thoughts on knowledge,


he certainly would have used t h i s opportunity to r i d t h i s
work of participants altogether; but the important remark
of Euclides stresses the need f o r dialogue and dialogueform i n understanding what philosophy j^s. Even i n Plato's
most declamatory dialogues there are fiercely dialectical
passages (eg., Republic I ) . 4 6

And even a t his l e a s t

"dramatic" (e.g., Sophist, Parmenides) Plato found a necessity


f o r a t 1east two p a r t i e s i n the d i s c u s s i o n ; t h e r e f o r e j u s t
who i s responding t o Socrates, and how he responds, can
never be completely inconsequential.
As f o r o b j e c t i o n i i ) , t h a t P l a t o made a mistake i n
r e t a i n i n g dialogue form when h i s misgivings about the w r i t t e n
45Ibid.,

p. .165.

46
Ibid., p. 164-5.

word and his convictions on the nature of philosophy would


seem t o suggest otherwise, i t may be r e p l i e d t h a t the
dialogue i s the only literary genre that can meet the de
mands o f Socratic i n q u i r y .

Convinced of the hazards of the

written word, Plato as a writer sought to develop a form


of expression t h a t would transcend i t s own l i m i t a t i o n s as
writing by engaging the reader i n 1ogos i t s e l f , an eternal
conversation:
Socrates was so completely committed t o o r a l
discourse t h a t he never thought of w r i t i n g down any
philosophical ideas, and the question i s whether he
ever gave a thought to the value or worthlessness
o f w r i t i n g . He does so i n Plato because P l a t o d i d
so himself...Yet the impulse of the creative a r t i s t
was ever a l i v e i n Plato] with a tremendous power.
He had burned h i s tragedies; y e t the new experience
--no longer Oedipus or Philoctetes, but Socrates
o n l y - - demanded creative expression. I f he was
successful i n t h i s , i f he found the means t o raise
the Socratic conversation to the heights o f a new
dramatic a r t , t h i s way of w r i t i n g would a t l e a s t
obviate the o b j e c t i o n made against w r i t t e n books
t h a t they are r i g i d and do not know how t o answer,
but only sound one tone l i k e a brazen pot. For the
written dialogue transmits i t s dialogical and dia
l e c t i c a l dynamics t o the reader. To him i s addressed
every question raised by Socrates; every aye of
Glaucon or Lysis i s hi s aye - - o r his nay-- and t h i s
dialogical dynamics continues to echo within him
beyond the conclusion. The dialogue i s the only
form o f book t h a t seems t o suspend the book form
itsel f
As an a r t i s t , Plato had t o w r i t e ; as a S o c r a t i c ,
he saw the hazards o f w r i t i n g i n the p u r s u i t o f wisdom;

471bid.,

pp. 165-66.

yet as a Socratic a r t i s t --strange as that might soundP l a t o was bound t o accommodate both demands, and d i d so
by melding his commitments t o techne and 1ogos i n the only
way possible.

Socratic a r t i s t r y demands a commitment

agai nst sheer eristic wordplay and for genuine inquiry:


by presenting a mimesis o f how such i n q u i r y might proceed,
Plato makes i t possible f o r h i s reader to take a personal
interest i n i t s question, and thus to extend the inquiry
on his own.

This would seem t o preclude the t r e a t i s e

- - o r a t least exclusive use of treatise-form-- as a f r u i t


ful style for philosophy.

Were the section concerning

rhetoric i n the Phaedrus written as a treatise, i t would


be

hypocrisy.

G i v e n t h e w a y i t i_s w r i t t e n , i t s c r i t i c i s m

o f w r i t i n g i s gently i r o n i c , b u t nonetheless a t home i n


i t s literary surroundings.
I f Plato's d i s t r u s t o f epideixis and his Socratic
desire to engage the reader personally indicates anything,
i t indicates i )

the f u t i l i t y of considering Plato's major

concern as a philosopher t o be the adumbration of theories


or consistent doctrine (i.e., the dialogues as fragments of
a system, or as a " p r o j e c t " ) , and i i )

the inadequacy of

any interpretation that neglects or prescinds from consider


ing the dialogues as dramatic conversations.
One d i f f i c u l t y , however, i n t a k i n g the above caveats

s e r i o u s l y , i s t h a t they seem t o nudge the reader o f Plato


i n t o seeing the dialogues as tranches de vie philosophique,
and nothing more than that.

As Weingartner notes, t h i s i s

surely a distortion, since PI a to speaks through the dialogues.


An " i n f i n i t e conversation" can o n l y be sustained by some
measure of aporia, which must invariably'crop up i n even the
most confident of conclusions.

But t h i s does not force

Plato into the role of a detached and disinterested creator


of characters, whose viewpoints are nowhere tangent t o his
own.

I t merely introduces a degree of tentativeness into

whatever conclusion a dialogue, or i t s participants (and


by extension, i t s reader) draws.

We c a n b e c e r t a i n a b o u t

this tentative element, this degree of apori a, i n any


Platonic dialogue: but this hardly conflicts with Plato's
conviction that answers to our philosophical questions are
to be found, and that rational, dialectical inquiry i s the
proper path for pursuing them.

Plato has h i s own ideas

however tentative-- about these answers and does not


hesitate to present them thorugh the dialogues.

But i f

that i s a l l he wished to accomplish i n the dialogues i t i s


inconceivable t h a t he would have chosen t o w r i t e the way
he did:
One o f the basic p r i n c i p l e s o f the Socratic
conversation was t o destroy i n the pupil h i s b e l i e f
that he had knowledge or t o awaken i n him the realiza
t i o n that he had none...in order to stimulate a con

tinuous mutual quest for the truth. In Plato, this


simple method manifests i t s e l f i n a tension: false
hood must f i r s t be rooted out, the opposing forces
must f i r s t be destroyed, before the t r u t h can be shown.
Plato does not conclude, as Socrates d i d , with an
a s s e r t i o n o f not-knowing. He discovered a metaphysi
cal w o r l d , and i t was h i s task t o make others see i t
through h i s own e y e s . . . Thus on the new l e v e l he had
reached, he was compelled t o carry the Socratic d i s
course beyond i t s e l f , not to a skeptically negative
conclusion, but to an answer to the questions posed
by i t and, i f possible, to a knowledge of the world
of being. Only the "dialectical path" could carry
this knowledge beyond a merely subjective and i r
responsible vision.
Socrates's philosophical quest began and ended
in an ironic sort of aporia;
nous.

but Plato's ends i n insight,

This hardly makes a dogmatist of Plato - - o r of any

body who believes t h a t i n s i g h t i n t o the nature o f Being i s


possible.

Plato lacks the irony o f h i s Socrates, who pro

fessed apori a while being the wisest of men: Plato believes


t h a t knowledge can be o u r s , b u t we must be aware o f our
own l i m i t a t i o n s i n the knowing-process.

An u n a r t i c u l a t e d ,

unjustified noetic i n t u i t i o n hardly counts as knowledge:


dialectic and dialogue alone can establish that public
forum f o r inquiry which l i f t s i t beyond the "merely sub
jective" and prevents i t from lapsing into "irresponsible
48Ibid.,

pp. 168-69.

58

vision".

49
This seems,

i n f a c t , t o be the message of the

Meno: i n t u i t i o n and dialogue are both necessary components


of epi steme,the former providing the impetus for the l a t t e r ,
the l a t t e r explicating, correcting, and amplifying the former.
That this conversation i s "infinite" - - the "explication"
process need not be terminated-- i n no way denies epi steme
to us; i t merely robs us of the pretense that there i s nothing
further to be explicated, nothing more to inquire about.
Apori a i s not antithetical to epi steme a t a l l , and i s
transformed i n the middle works o f P l a t o , when he begins
to embellish the character and views of Socrates with more
o f h i s own musings:
. . . T h e structure o f P l a t o ' s world seems t o r e
peat, on a larger scale, the Socratic structure. For
Socrates, the answer to his quest vanished i n an ad
mission of not-knowing. For Plato, the dialectical
path leads to thatwhich i s 'beyond being'. The
'beyond' (epi kei na) i s not knowable; hence not com
municable,only the way t o i t can be prepared. The
dialogue therefore, i s such a way, leading step by
step, to a goal...And just as i t i s characteristic
of the Socratic conversation to conclude with an ad
mission of ignorance, so i t i s characteristic of
Plato's dialogues to f a l l short of expressing the
f i n a l t r u t h ; instead i t i s brought i n t o view as from
a distance. This i s apparent even i n the structure
of the Republic, a l l the more so i n the other works.^0

49See

I b i d . , Ch. 1 , "Eidos", esp. pp. 10-14. See


also R. Robinson "Elenchus" and "Socratic Definition',
Ch. I I and V of Plato's Earlier Dialectic, reprinted i n
G. Vlastos, ed., The Philosophy of Socrates (Garden C i t y :
Doubleday, 1971).
50
Friedlander, PIato,Vol. 1, pp. 169-70.

59
That there can be insight into the truth without any
f i n a l , complete a c q u i s i t i o n o f the t r u t h : t h i s seems t o be
Plato's advance on Socratic philosophy.

Plato's Forms pro

vide the objective, metaphysical basis for this insight:


they make possible an escape, not only from the r e l a t i v i s m
and conventionalism of the Sophists, but from the assertion
of

Socratic apori a.

51

But t h a t apori a was never more than

ir o n i c : n o t o n l y a r e e p i s t e m e a n d a p o r i a c o m p a t i b l e : P l a t o ' s
dialogues suggest, from early to late periods, that episteme
without aporia i s impossible. Such i s the conceit of knowledge
without-need-of-further-inquiry.
Plato also inherited the insight from Socrates
t h a t there i s no ready made knowledge simply t r a n s
ferable from one person to another, but only p h i l
osophy as an a c t i v i t y , the level of which i s ^ i n variably determined by one's partner. Every phi1osophi c a l conversation conducted by Socrates i s new and
different according to the partner --this i s the
Socratic principle of education... Plato gives wis
dom and d o c t r i n e ; but t h e Socratic p r i n c i p l e i s s t i l l
so commanding within him that f o r him, too, knowledge
would be d e c e i t i f i t purported t o be the same f o r
everybody and everywhere...52
Plato's tentativeness about epi steme i s thus
conditioned by the inquiry which can only be sustained by
dialogue; this "dialogue" i s given expression not only by
what Plato says, by way o f his characters, i n the dialogue,

Ibid., pp. 23,26.


521bi

d., p. 166.

60
but i n what Plato shows through his medium of expression,
the dialogue-form itself.

I f form and content help deliver

this philosophical message, i t would be then u t t e r l y ar


bitrary to sunder form and content i n a philosophical read
ing of the dialogue: the "doctrinal" approach criticised
by Weingartner would be seriously compromised by i t s tendency
to do just that.

Therefore, i n separating "literary" form

from "philosophical" content, "Doctrinal" critics not only


misconstrue Plato's aims and convictions as a philosopher,
but run the risk of falsifying his "themes" and "conclusions"
as well.

For example, Vlastos's comment on Republic bk. V I ,

133c-l34e:
- P l a t o hopedfor a complete deduction of a l l the
forms from the form o f the good... a scheme which i s
never worked out i n the dialogue, doubtless for the
reason that i t i s unworkable.53
By glossing the "downward path" thus, Vlastos
betrays some sympathy toward the " d o c t r i n a l " approach, and
f a l l s prey t o i t s shortcomings: he assumes t h a t i f a
Platonic dialogue asserts an acocunt of dialectic as i n
book VI, i t i s a defi ni t i ve position of Plato's philosophy
at that time, rather than a tentative one.

But this ignores

the guiding metaphor of the entire dialogue --the imagina-

^Vlastos, "The Third Man", i n Allen, ed., p. 255.

tive and speculative account of an ideal state which cannot


be realized yet can serve as a model for individual conduct-which would seem t o render anything expressed therein t e n tative.

54

Furthermore, Vlastos ignores Plato's philosophic

a l conclusion about the "downward path"; as "beyond Being"


and hence super-intelligible, the anh.ypotheton i s unknowable,
which would suggest that the Republic i t s e l f acknowledges
the 'downward path' to be interminable, an endless task.55
Plato posits the downward path to i l l u s t r a t e his conviction
t h a t a l l the Forms are constituted i n the " l i g h t " of the
Good.

Were we t o grasp t h e Good by t h e t a i l , so t o speak,

a "complete deduction" o f the Forms from the Good must be


p o s s i b l e ; b u t Plato d o e s n ' t h o l d t h i s t o be a human pos
sibility.

Vlastos's characterization of Plato as a "ration

a l i s t i c metaphysician" i n the manner of Spinoza forces this


sort o f estimate of the adequacy of Plato's "downward
ii 5 6
path".

But such a conception of philosophy (again, c f .

5 ^ R e p u b l ic

IX, 592b; q.v. Randall, op. c i t . , pp. 161-171.

. 55cf Friedlander, PI ato, vol. 1, pp. 59-64; Robinson,


op. c i t . , Ch. X; I . M. Crombie, An Examination o f P l a t o ' s
Doctrines, v o l . 2, Plato on Knowledge and Reality (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), pp. 517 f f . ; J . N. Findlay,
P l a t o and Platonism (New York: New York Times Press, 1978),
p. 126.
56cf.

Vlalos's review of Crombie, op. c i t . , i n


Philosophical Review 75 (1966), pp. 526-530, reprinted i n
Platonic Studies, pp. 374-78.

Spinoza) i s utterly alien to a philosopher

such as Plato,

who views philosophy as " i n f i n i t e conversation", as d i a l o g i c a l


inquiry.

Plato's "downward path" i s not "unworkable", since

i t i s not intended to serve the metaphysical purposes which


Vlastos believes i t serves.

By ignoring the dialogical-

dramatic context of Plato's arguments i n the Republic,


Vlastos misses a very important "doctrinal" point.

Dialogic

al "form" i s ignored not merely at the peril of advancing


a "shallow" or p a r t i a l interpretation, but often enough an
erroneous one.
To sum up: I have argued t h a t t o do j u s t i c e t o a
Platonic dialogue, i t must be read i n a c e r t a i n way --as an
imaginative re-creation (mimesis) of genuine philosophic
inquiry.

As an "imaginative c r e a t i o n " , the dialogue cannot

be viewed as a treatise-in-disguise, i t s definitive doctrines


advanced by Plato's Socratic "mouthpiece"; the dialogical
interchange provides the dialogue's themes and conclusions,
and " l i t e r a r y " devices such as irony, setting, and character
i z a t i o n must be considered as possibly setting those themes
and establishing those conclusions.

As mimemata o f "genuine

philosophical inquiry", the dialogue must be seen as


essentially open-ended and tentative, however passionate
i t s convictions on i t s guiding theme o r conclusions may be.
Such tentativeness seems t o be a necessary p a r t o f P l a t o ' s

conclusions on the nature of inquiry and philosophical


writing, as "said" i n the dialogues and "shown" by his
allegiance to dialogue-form --the only literary form which
compels the reader to appropriate a philosophical question,
since i t "suspends the book form i t s e l f " .
A brief condensation of the sort of Platonic
" r e a d i n g " I am championing i n t h i s work i s e l o q u e n t l y e x
pressed by Kenneth Burke:
I n many ways, drama and d i a l e c t i c are a l i k e .
Both exemplify competitive cooperation.
Out of
conflict within the work, there arises a unitary
view transcending the partial views of the p a r t i c i
pants. At least, this i s the dialectic of the ideal
Platonic dialogue. Both drama and d i a l e c t i c t r e a t
of persons and their characteristic thoughts. But
whereas drama stresses the persons who have the
thoughts, and the dialectic of aliPlatonic dialogue
stresses the thoughts held by the persons, i n both
forms the element of personality figures.57

Much o f what follows t h i s chapter i s the presentation


of a negative thesis: t h a t , given an appaisal o f Platonic
dialogue such as Burke's above, i t i s easy t o see' how a
"doctrinal", exclusively analytic approach to any element
in a Platonic dialogue will misfire.

F i r s t , by analytically

separating an argument from i t s context, i t prescinds from

Kenneth Burke, " I , Eye, Aye--Emerson's Early Essay


'Nature'" i n Transcendentalism and i t s Legacy, eds. M. Simon
and T. Parsons, (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan P r . , 1966),
p. 6.

64
considering the important role which dialogue form has i n
generating philosophical themes and conclusions - - i . e . , that
"competitive cooperation" which prompts insights not localizable i n any one character's set of b e l i e f s . Second i t
ignores the elements of imagination and artistry i n the
dialogue, a genre akin to drama: the interplay of character
ization, setting, metaphor, irony, etc. This is not to
disparage logical analysis, but merely to qualify i t s use
fulness i n understanding Plato, and also to warn of the
f a c i l i t y with which an analytic approach to the dialogues
can s l i p into the shortsighted "doctrinal" approach c r i t i
cised by Weingartner.
I believe Gregory Vlastos's treatment of Plato's
Parmenides i s a clear expression of these misbegotten
c r i t i c a l tendencies. I now t u r n t o h i s thesis on the f i r s t
part of Parmenides, as detailed i n his 1954 a r t i c l e "The
T h i r d K a n A r g u m e n t i n P l a t o ' s P a r m e ni d e s " . S u b s e q u e n t
modifications and additions to his thesis shall be treated i n
v a r i o u s p l a c e s t h r o u g h o u t C h s . 1 1 1- X I .
AFTERWORD:In s t r e s s i n g the " t e n t a t i v e " nature o f
Plato's dialogical philosophy I do not wish to imply that
Plato drew no definite conclusions and took no firm stands.
He i s n o t , as Weingartner n o t e s , Keats's man o f "negative
capability": he i s articulating a vision of r e a l i t y i n and
t h r o u g h t h e d i a l o g u e s . I ain c l a i m i n g , h o w e v e r , t h a t i t i s
s i g n i f i c a n t t h a t Plato saw f i t t o take these stands only
through d i a l o g i c a l philosophy. Although i t seems c l e a r t h a t
Plato rejects certain theses, l i k e Thrasymachus1 power-politics
and Philebus' hedonism, as scarcely worthy of serious con
sideration by rational and moral humans, i t remains that
Plato did his rejecting through the dialogue-medium, a mimesis
of a rational repudiation of these theses. Plato's "tentativeness" consists in this:not a skeptical refusal to
commit himself, but the realization that i f a thesis i s to
be rejected as "inadequate" or even "crazy", i t must be
rejected i n the s p i r i t of r a t i o n a l i t y --one must be prepared
t o o f f e r reasons i n opposition t o the t h e s i s , and t o some
degree succeed i n one's critique. Since the thesis one es
tablishes can i t s e l f be subject t o c r i t i q u e , one's com
mitment to i t implies further rational dialogue in i t s defense.
In that sense, that rational inquiry into value-questions is
potentially endless and capable of improvement, Plato i s "tentative"

65

II)

AN OUTLINE OF VLASTOS'S ANALYSIS OF THE THIRD MAN


ARGUMENT

The center o f Vlastos's interpretation o f Plato


l i e s i n h i s important a r t i c l e "The Third Man Argument i n the
Parmenides" (1954).

Although i t is not the only source of

ideas for his subsequent writings on Plato, i t serves as


the best example of his sustained argument against Plato's
Forms and of his attitudes toward the dialogues and t h e i r
meaning.

I t i s f o r t h i s reason t h a t we t u r n t o t h i s essay

for a beginning.
A)

Vlastos on the TMA: h i s general p o s i t i o n .

Vlastos believes the long history of dispute over


t h e TMA i n t h e f i r s t p a r t o f t h e Parmenides c o n s i s t s , by
and large, i n the d i f f i c u l t y of determining (1) whether or
n o t t h e TMA i s a v a l i d argument a g a i n s t t h e t h e o r y o f f o r m s ,
and (2) whether or not Plato be!ieved i t wasJ

This gener

ates the following spectrum of possibilities:


(1)

The arguments are valid, and Plato believed

^Gregory V l a s t o s , "The Third Man Argument i n the


Parmenides" Philosophical Review 63 (1954). Reprinted i n
A l l e n , e d . , Studies i n P l a t o ' s Metaphysics (New York:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 232. Henceforth: Vlastos,

66
they were valid.

This would signal either a grave incon

sistency on Plato's part, or a radical revision of his


ontology i n dialogues subsequent to Parmenides (roughly
the position of Ryle, A c k r i l l , and Owen).2
(2)
as such.

The arguments are i n v a l i d , and Plato saw them

This would entail either a successful defense

of paradigmatism i n the l a t e r dialogues, one that would


forego s t r i c t self-predication (e.g., R. E. Allen), or a
demonstration that self-predication i s not necessarily
2

See G ^ b e r t Ryle, P l a t o ' s Progress (Cambridge,


England: Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1966); idem., "Plato's
Parmenides", Mi nd N.S. 48 (1939), reprinted i n Allen, ed.
op. c i t . ; idem. "Plato", The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(New York: Macmillan, 1967); J . L . A c k r i l l , "Sump!oke
Eidon", Bulletin of the Institut e of Classical Studies
No. 2 (1955), reprinted i n Allen, ed., op. c i t . , and G.
Vlastos, ed., Plato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970);
G. E. L . Owen, "The Place o f the Timaeus i n Plato's
Dialogues" Classical Quarterly N. S. 3 (1953), reprinted in
A l l e n , e d . , op. c i t . ; R. C. Cross "Logos and Forms i n
Plato", Mi nd, N. S. 63 (1954), reprinted i n Allen, op. c i t ;
Rudolph Weingartner, The Unity o f the Platonic Dialogue
( I n d i a n a p o l i s : B o b b s - M e r r i 1 1, 1 9 7 3 ) ; C o l i n S t r a n g , " P l a t o
and The Third Man", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society,
Supp. vol. 37 (1963), reprinted i n Vlastos, ed., op. c i t .
these epitomize the Revisionist viewpoint.

67
fatal to the theory of Forms.^
(3)

The argument i s v a l i d , but Plato did not see

i t to be so, either by believing i t invalid --unaware of


i t s potency or deliberately concealing i t - - or by not
completely understanding the argument, thus being unsure
or cojifused about i t s worth.
wishes to deferid.

I t i s this position Vlastos

G i v e n t h i s s t a n d on t h e TMA i t i s c l e a r

that his appraisal of Plato's thought i n general w i l l be


consistently critical, since the entire Platonic project,
for Vlastos, rests on logically incoherent foundations.
* * *

The exegetical remedy f o r the reigning disagreement


on t h e TMA i s , a c c o r d i n g t o V l a s t o s , "some advance i n u n d e r
standing the logical structure of the argument.

To t h i s

end I shall pursue i t s analysis further than I think any


one has yet found i t profitable to push i t . " ' *

The implication

^For statements of the Apologetic view, see R. E.


Allen, "Participation and Predication i n Plato's Middle
Dialogues", Philosophical Review 69 (1960), reprinted i n
Allen, ed., op. c i t . and Vlastos, ed., op. c i t . ; A. E.
T a y l o r , P l a t o ; the Man and His Work (London: Gethuen,1929);
I . M. Crombie, An Examination o f P l a t o ' s Doctrines, v o l . 2,
Plato on Knowledge and Reality (London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1962); J . N. Findlay, Plato and Platonism (New York:
New York Times Books, 1978); i d e m . , P l a t o : The W r i t t e n and
the Unwritten Doctrines (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,1974)
^Vlastos, "TMA", p. 232 (Allen anthology)

68
seems c l e a r : the l a c k , o r the inadequate use or conception
of a proper analytic method of interpretation has led to the
confusion surrounding the TMA, i t s meaning,
on Plato's thinking i n general.

and i t s impact

Yet there i s , I think, a

curious inadequacy i n V l a s t o s ' s own diagnosis and recommended


cure.

F i r s t , i n conceiving the possible ways t o i n t e r p r e t

the meaning o f the TMA, Vlastos speaks exclusively o f the


v a l id i t . y o f t h e a r g u m e n t , b u t n o t a t a l l o f w h e t h e r o r n o t
the arguments of Parmenides p t . 1 are sound.5

This may

appear to be a thoroughly pedantic point, since a philosopher


the calibre of Vlastos surely i s aware of t h i s distinction.
But h i s insistence on ascertaining the v a l i d i t y o f the TMA,
coupled with his assurance that logical analysis i s the only
reliable key to i t s meaning, gives the impression that the
distinction between v a l i d i t y and soundness i s being underplayed, i f not overlooked.
I n e s s e n c e , i f t h e TMA i s p r o v e n v a l i d , u n d e r s t a n d i n g
of the dialogue i s not advanced one i o t a ; deductive v a l i d i t y
does not guarantee against a false conclusion, insofar as
at least one premiss i s false.

Obviously, Vlastos wishes

t o a f f i r m both the v a l i d i t y and the soundness o f the TMA,


otherwise his criticism would not be of a Platonic theory
o f Forms but o f an argument advanced against the Forms
5Ibid.,

232-44, passim.

which may o r may not accurately depict them.

And i t would

be grossly unfair to suggest that Vlastos does not attempt


t o show t h a t t h e t h e o r y a t t a c k e d i n t h e TMA matches P l a t o ' s
own:

there are detailed references to passages i n other

dialogues cited by Vlastos to support his claims, and his


t r e a t m e n t o f t h e TMA r e f l e c t s h i s p o s i t i o n on P l a t o n i c
"degrees-of-reality", which shall be given detailed treat
ment i n Chapter XI. Nevertheless, Vlastos attempts to justify
h i s p o s i t i o n o n t h e TMA o n t h e b a s i s o f t h e l o g i c a l a n a l y s i s
o f t h e TMA a l o n e .
Which b r i n g s me t o my second, more s e r i o u s c r i t i c i s m .
Vlastos insists that logical analysis can help determine
whether or not Plato thought the argument valid.
B e f o r e one can say whether t h e TMA i s a good o r
bad argument one must determine the nature of the theory
o f Forms under attack, and whose theory i t i s .

I s i t one

which Plato held throughout his philosophical career?


i t his early theory?

Is

Socrates' , as distinct from Plato's?

That of a fictionalized character "young Socrates"?

Another

character's misrepresentation of "young Socrates'." theory?


A consciously bowdlerized version o f P l a t o ' s own theory?
The TMA may s t i l l be acknowledged a v a l i d p i e c e o f r e a s o n i n g
under al1 of the above aspects; but, as said e a r l i e r , this
doeis n o t h e l p our understand!hg o f the dialogue a t a l l .

The a r g u m e n t i_s v a l i d , and t h e d i a l o g u e ' s ' y o u n g S o c r a t e s '


stands refuted; but PI ato stands refuted only i f his views
are identical with those of 'young Socrates', and i t
appears unlikely that an analysis of the argument's formal
structure would be able to decide this issue.

Plato

himself could very well have maintained that "Parmenides1 "


TMA i s a v a l i d o b j e c t i o n t o t h e t h e o r y o f Forms p r e s e n t e d
i n the dialogue, but i s nonetheless not applicable t o any
theory he himself would endorse.
Yet Vlastos intends t o show t h a t , i n t h i s case, a t
least, formal analysis can reveal that Plato himself could
not have seen t h a t the argument was v a l i d , given suppressed
and/or unacknowledged premisses i n the TMA: thus Plato was
i n no position t o make further judgement upon the applica
b i l i t y o f the TMA, o r i t s soundness.6

On the basis o f the

discrepancy between the complete formal structure of the


TMA and i t s manner o f p r e s e n t a t i o n i n t h e Parmenides, V l a s t o s
i n f e r s P l a t o ' s own confusion about the l o g i c a l status o f
the TMA, and concludes t h a t the theory o f Forms against
w h i c h t h e TMA i s d i r e c t e d i s P l a t o ' s own.7
I believe this conclusion is entirely unwarranted,
6Ibid.,

pp. 241, 244.

7
Ibid., pp. 254-5.

71
for these reasons:
(1)

The

s u p p r e s s i o n o f p r e m i s s e s i n t h e TMA w o u l d

imply an incomplete understanding of the argument only i f


P l a t o was unambiguously asserting a doctrine about Forms
i n the dialogue and unambiguously professing al1egiance
to i t .

Yet i t remains true that i n none of his exoteric

work does Plato l i t e r a l l y speak for himself: Plato writes


dialogues, not treatises.

What i s obvious inconsistency

i n a t r e a t i s e may be ir o n i c i n t e r c h a n g e i n a d i a l o g u e , and
we cannot automatically assume i t i s n o t .

The rejoinder

t h a t , as a " l a t e r " d i a l o g u e , t h e Pa rmeni des i s n o t " d r a m a t i c " ,


and the l i t e r a r y elements can therefore be bypassed as p h i l
osophically irrelevant, can be answered by noting t h a t ,
t r e a t i s e - l i k e as the dialogue may be i n some s t r e t c h e s ,
i t i s nonetheless a dialogue, and therefore i t i s pre
sumptuous to maintain that i t s genre i s irrelevant.

As de

tailed i n chapter I , i t i s risky to take dialogue for granted


i n P l a t o , e.g. as a merely a e s t h e t i c f l o u r i s h : d i a l o g u e has
Philosophical, and not merely l i t e r a r y import.

Yet an

e x c l u s i v e l y a n a l y t i c approach, such as Vlastos's seems


bound to take this for granted.
(2)

Vlastos's approach implies that a successful

interpretation of the dialogue, through logical analysis,


would necessarily reveal to us Plato's state of mind at the

72
time he wrote the dialogue, and that only this state-of-mind
can indicate the dialogue's meaning. But this shortchanges
the importance of that which sound c r i t i c a l procedure must
take to be the primary source of the dialogue's meaning
and the best indicator of Plato's purposes: the dialogue
i t s e l f , including a l l i t s "literary" elements. This inadequacy
of Vlastos's procedure shall be examined i n Ch. XI, sec. D.

B ) V I a s t o s o n t h e T M A , V e r s i o n 1_ ( 1 2 8 e - 1 3 2 b )
The f i r s t version of the TMA, i n Parmenides 131e132b, runs thus:
I imagine your ground for believing i n a single
form i n each case i s t h i s : when i t seems t o you t h a t a
number of things are large, there seems, I suppose,
t o be a c e r t a i n character ( i d e a ) which i s the same
when you look a t them a l l ; hence you think t h a t
largeness is a single thing.
True, he replied.
But now take largeness i t s e l f and the other things
which are themselves large. Suppose you look a t a l l
o f these i n the same way i n y o u r mind's eye, w i l l n o t
y e t another u n i t y make i t s appearance - - a largeness
by virtue of which they a l l appear large?
So i t would seem.
I f so, a second form of largeness would present
i t s e l f , over and above largeness i t s e l f and the things
that share i n i t ; and again, covering a l l these, yet
a n o t h e r , w h i c h w i l l ma.ke a l l o f them l a r g e . So each
of your forms w i l l no longer be one, but an indefinite
number. 8
O

A l l passages from the Cornford translation, i n PIato:


the Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and
Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1961).

73
Vlastos paraphrases the argument through the
following two formal steps:
( A l ) I f a n u m b e r o f t h i n g s , a . b . a r e a l l JF,
there must be a single form F-ness i n virtue of which
we apprehend ,]j,and c , as a l l .
(A 2) I f a.b.,, and F-ness are a l l , there must
be another f o r m , F-ness, i n v i r t u e o f which we apprehend
, ] } , , a n d F - n e s s a s a l l F_.
Believing

t h a t P l a t o i n t e n d e d t h e TMA t o be a

s t r i c t l y deductive argument, Vlastos notes a substantial


gap i n reasoning between Al and A2: F-ness i s among those
things that express the property F only i n the protasis of
A2; i t i s absent i n Al.

Intimating that the presence of

F-ness among the class o f - t h i n g s i n A2 i s " t h e most


important single issue throughout the whole of [his] paper",
Vlastos attempts to determine certin implicit premisses
t h a t would j u s t i f y the logical jump from saying that F-ness
determines whether or not -things exhibit the character F
to the conviction that F-ness -|, and presumably an i n f i n i t e
regress o f F - n e s s n s , are needed t o account f o r the c h a r a c t e r JF.
Vlastos suggests t h a t one way i n which the l o g i c a l
d i s c o n t i n u i t y between Al and A2 can be avoided i s by
changing A2 t o
9V1astos,

"TMA", pp. 232-3

74
( A 2 a ) I f a.b.> a n d F - n e s s a r e a l l
must be another form, F-nessi, etc.10

, there

Such a reading,VIastos correctly suggests, would


cover a multitude of sins.

Under t h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , when

we a r e asked t o " t a k e Largeness i t s e l f and a l l t h e o t h e r


t h i n g s t h a t are l a r g e " we are n o t being i n v i t e d t o consider
Largeness as exhibiting the identical character of "large
ness" as evidenced i n i t s instances, but rather to view
large things and Largeness i t s e l f as instances, not of
largeness but of.a tertium quid that characterized both
the Form and i t s particular instances as "large" i n an i n
t e l l i g i b l y different way. (This assumes, however, not only
that Largeness i s large, but that i t i s a large thing.)
I n o t h e r words, when we a s c r i b e t h e c h a r a c t e r " l a r g e " t o
t h e Form Largeness, and t h e same character t o i t s i n s t a n c e s ,
we a r e drawing some s o r t o f analogy between them,and t h e
analogical relationship between Largeness and i t s sensible
instances can be ascribed to Largeness^, the Form which i s
the basis of analogical predication.

I t is the basis for

analogy because {a,b,c3 and |a,b,c,F-ness} are different classes,


meaning each class i s covered by a different form (F-ness
and F-ness-j , respectively), each conferring properties

101bi

d., p. 234.

75
that are d i f f e r e n t (since F-ness and F-ness-j .respectively ,
have something to do with the character of being " l a r g e " ) .
Vlastos views t h i s as an unacceptable analysis of
the TMA: i t i n s i s t s t h a t t h e r e are " l a r g e j " t h i n g s , when
" l a r g e j " i t s e l f makes questionable sense.

Furthermore,

i f A2a i s intended by P l a t o ' s Paramenides, i t i s obvious


t h a t t h e r e g r e s s o f t h e TMA - - w h i c h g i v e s i t i t s o n l y c l o u t - would not develop; ,Jj,and , i f , are i n virtue of F-ness
but under A2a, a..Jb,, and F-ness are not co-members o f the
class of -things, but rather exhibit the character j
--end of difficulty.

Parmenides's argument rests upon

s t i r r i n g up such a d i f f i c u l t y , so this interpretation of


t h e TMA c a n n o t h o l d .
The problem with digesting such tortuous analysis
i s t h a t i n t h e u n f o r m a li z e d a r g u m e n t t h i s i s m o r e t h a n
obvious: i t i s not what Parmenides i s driving a t .

Placed

i n c o n t e x t , P a r m e n i d e s ' s TMA s e e m s t o e m p h a s i z e t h a t i f
t h i n g s have the character they hcive due t o t h e i r p a r t i c i p a
tory relationship with a single Form, then that Form must
stand i n participatory relationship, along with i t s instances
w i t h another Form i f J_t i s t o e x h i b i t the same c h a r a c t e r . * 1
The p o i n t Vlastos i s making by considering A2a i s t h a t i f
111bi

d. , p . 233

a character is present
then

talk of another

due to the activity of a single Form,


character, shared by Form and instances

a l i k e , has nothing to do with the f i r s t one.

I n 131e

Parmenides e x p l i c i t l y affirms that a single Form i s r e


sponsible for a given property (one-over-many argument, or
the "uniqueness thesis")^: i f the proprety i s , say, "large",
Largeness i s the a i t i a of that property and nothing else,
l e s t "large" lose the single meaning i t has regarding anything that exhibits the property, even i f Largeness i t s e l f
is included in this class.^

i f this is so, then a regress

must develop, f o r the only way to provide the a i t i a o f a Form,


exhibiting the selfsame property i t confers upon i t s par
t i c u l a r instances, i s by postulating an i n f i n i t e chain of
Forms, which effectively destroys any a i t i a for the property
at all.

I t also destroys any appeal to "one-over-many",

and thus shipwrecks the s t a b i l i t y of meanings the theory


of Forms i s supposed to provide.
Presently i t would be advantageous to pause and

^From Colin Strang, "Plato and the Third Man", i n


Vlastos, ed., PIato I , p. 185.
13
See G. Vlastos, "Reasons and Causes i n the Phaedo"
Philosophical Review 78 (1969), reprinted i n Vlastos, ed.,
PIato I (Garden City, Doubleday 1970), pp. 134 - 7, f o r a
relevant discussion of the sense of "aitia"as i t i s used
by Plato.

77
survey just what Vlastos's argument has accomplished thus
f a r : i t has ruled out the possibility of analogous predication
between a Form and i t s character i n the theory under examina
t i o n , o n t h e g r o u n d s t h a t t h e r e g r e s s i n t h e TMA w o u l d n o t
materialize. (But this simply begs the question: Vlastos
a s s u m e s t h e r e i_s s u c h a r e g r e s s . )

This is a correct character

i z a t i o n o f t h e TMA a s a v a l i d a r g u m e n t ; b u t a g a i n , t h e q u e s t i o n
of soundness must be raised.

I s Plato's Parmenides, i n ad

vancing the TMA, correct i n assuming t h a t the theory o f


Forms i n question precludes analogous predication?

And i f

t h a t i_s t h e c a s e , m i g h t t h e TMA s t i l l b e u n s o u n d b e c a u s e t h e
theory i n question i s not Plato's own, at least not at the
time he authored his Parmeni des?

Might i t be the case that

"young Socrates's" theory of Forms precludes analogous


predication, or the l i k e , while Plato himself adheres to
A2a, or something l i k e i t ? ^
As I said before, A2a or something l i k e i t would
cover a multitude of sins.

I t would recognize an onto-

logical difference between character and instance, and Form

l^See R. E. Allen, "Participation and Predication i n


Plato's Middle Dialogues" as reprinted i n Vlastos, ed.,
P I a t o I , pp. 167-81, and Peter Geach, "The Third Man Again",
as reprinted i n Allen, ed., pp. 265 - 78, for discussions
of how Forms might support "analogous predication".

and particular, by not treating F-ness as an instance of the


property i t confers to F-things at a l l .

This would insure

that Plato i s not confusing general terms with proper names,


that Forms are not instances of themselves, that Forms are
not strictly speaking, instances at a l l .

I t would entail

a recognition that a Form i s of a d i f f e r e n t ontological type


from particulars:

when we c h a r a c t e r i z e them as "F" we are

not doing so univocally but analogously or metaphorically.1


Vlastos dissents from t h i s , however; he believes that
PIato could not have held such a doctrine, i n l i g h t of what
formal analysis reveals, supplemented by citations from
other dialogues.

How does Vlastos conclude t h i s from the

f o r m o f t h e TMA a l o n e ?

Essentially showing that two i m p l i c i t

premisses, the "self-predication" and "non i d e n t i t y " assump


t i o n s , are needed to generate the regress; and as Plato
never i d e n t i f i e d these premisses i n t h e dialogue we can
assume he was unaware o f them.

This said, Vlastos concludes

t h a t had Plato known about the premisses, he could easily


have refuted the dialogue's Parmenides by denying that s e l f predication (SP) or non-identity (NI) apply to the Forms;

^See Ryle, "Plato's Parmenides", as reprinted i n


A l l e n , e d . , pp. 97 - 111; also c f . Nicholas White, PIato
on Know!edge and R e a l i t y ( I n d i a n a p o l i s : H a c k e t t 19 7 6 ) . p a s s i m ,
on the meaning of PIato's epistemological "realism".
16

See Findlay, Plato and Platonism, pp. 232 - 3;


W e i n g a r t n e r , T h e U n i t y o t tTTF~P I a t o n i c D i a l o g u e , p p . 1 2 5 - 9 7 :
Allen, "Participation and Predication...", as reprinted i n
Vlastos, ed., Piato I , pp. 169-71.

79
but Plato did not do t h i s ; therefore his silence --as well
as s i g n i f i c a n t passages f r o m h i s o t h e r w o r k s - - r e v e a l s SP
as an integral yet unacknowledged element i n his theory of
Forms.^
He begins h i s argument by s p e l l i n g out the i m p l i c i t
p r e m i s s e s w h i c h m a k e t h e TMA a c o m p l e t e d e d u c t i v e a r g u m e n t .
They are
(A3) Any Form can be predicated o f i t s e l f .
Largeness i s i t s e l f large. F-ness i s . ( s e l f p r e d i c a t i o n assumption, o r SP)
(A4) I f anything has a certain character, i t
cannot be i d e n t i c a l with the Form i n v i r t u e o f which
we apprehend t h a t character. I f x i s , x cannot be
identical with F-ness. (Non-identity assumption, or
NI)
Thus, by i n s e r t i n g SP and N I i n t h e i r p r o p e r
places, the formal s t r u c t u r e i s thus (my own, more stream1inedversion, a f t e r Vlastos and Strang):

1 ft

( 1 ) I f a_,b_, a n d x a r e a l l , t h e r e m u s t b e a s i n g l e
form F-ness (one-over-many), i n v i r t u e o f which we ap
prehend ,J), and . as instancing . (Vlastos's A l ) .
(2) F-ness i t s e l f i s F (an instance of F-ness;
hence SP; Vlastos's A3).
(3) I f any x i s F, x cannot be identical with F-ness
(Non-identity assumption; Vlastos's A4)
(4) Therefore i f a,b,c, and F-ness are a l l F,
there must be another form, F-nessj, i n v i r t u e o f
which we apprehend a , b , c , and F-ness as F ( 1 , 2 & 3 ) .
17V1astos,
1^Colin

"TMA", p. 248 -50.

Strang, op. c i t . pp. 185 f f .

(5)

But F-nessj is i t s e l f F ( 2 & 4).

(6)

Therefore there must be a Form, F-riess2 (3 & 5).

. A n d s o o n , a^d i n f i n i t u r n . ^
An i n f i n i t e regress need n o t be f a t a l t o the l o g i c a l
coherence of a metaphysical theory; e.g., Spinoza's Ethics.
But i n P l a t o ' s case i t would b e , s i n c e we are c o n s i d e r i n g
a single property, and the explanation for i t s instantiation
i n a given class o f p a r t i c u l a r s and, i n the TMA, Forms.2
A regress would undermine this explanation, or a i t i a .
I n an earlier a r t i c l e , Vlastos explores the sense
i n which P l a t o ' s Forms are a i t i a i : i n Phaedo lOOd-e the
aitia for a given object's beauty i s held to consist not i n
i t s p a r t i c u l a r sensuous q u a l i t i e s - - t h i s would be questionbegging-- but i n i t s * r e l a t i o n t o the Form Beauty: "only
upon the fact that i t i s by Beauty i t s e l f that beautiful
things are beautiful

21

Later on i n the Phaedo, Plato's

Socrates distinguishes between the "safe" but "ignorant"


a i t i a such as the above (which explains the presence of a
property i n a particular by referring to i t s participation
i n the form of that property) and "clever" ai t ia i , which
19Ibi

d., p. 185.

Ibi d., pp. 186-7.


21Vlastos,

"Reasons and Causes", I n Vlastos, ed.,


PIato I , pp. 139 - 43.

81
explain the presence of a property i n an individual by re
f e r r i n g to one Form which i s necessarily related t o another,
and showing how the p a r t i c u l a r , by p a r t i c i p a t i n g i n one,
participates i n the other (Plato's examples; Three/Odd:
Fever/Sickness.

This distinction between a i t i a i w i l l be of

crucial importance i n chapter V).

Vlastos correctly in

terprets a i t i a as something other than "cause" i n the con


temporary sense (i.e., of e f f i c i e n t causality):

Forms are

a i t i a i because they explain why things happen t o have c e r t a i n


c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , r a t h e r than how they happen t o get them.22
I f F o r m s a r e ai t i a i i n t h i s w i d e s e n s e o f " e x p l a n a t i o n s "
or "reasons"

for the logical conditions of the possession

of properties (and thus, for Plato, metaphysical conditions


as well

po

) , then any regress o f Forms i s l o g i c a l l y vicious.

Each Form, F-ness, because of SP, posesses i n exalted form,


Vlastos maintains, the property F which i t passes on, as
a i t i a , t o i t s i n s t a n c e s , a^Jb, and .

But i f , given NI,

anything that i s F cannot be identical with the Form which


i s the a i t i a of that property, F-ness must rely on F-ness^.
and so on.

But then we would never terminate the search

f o r reasons or explanations ( a i t i a i ) why F-ness, F-ness1.

221bid.,

pp. 134 - 62.

23Ibid.,

p. 247.

and so on, posess the property F. The irony here i s that


NI seems t o be required by the conviction t h a t Forms are
a i t i a i ; g i v e n SP f o r m s , however, N I generates t h e i n f i n i t e
regress which makes the quest f o r a i t i a i a f u t i l e one.
I n f a c t , V l a s t o s o b s e r v e s , SP a n d N I a r e u t t e r l y
incompatible: they form a contradictory conjunction which
can be expressed as
(A5) I f F-ness i s F (SP), F-ness cannot be identi
cal with F-ness (NI) .24
f o r which the only "solution" i s an i n f i n i t e series of
F-ness,,' s.

But this contradicts the idea that "there i s

a single Form" i n v i r t u e o f which things posess a character


(131e), since anything else would undermine the Form's role
as a i t i a for that character.
Any revised reading o f NI t h a t would resolve the
c o n t r a d i c t o r y conjunction o f A5 w i l l f o r e s t a l l the i n f i n i t e
regress.

Thus Vlastos toys with another formulation of N I :

(A4a) I f any particular has a certain character,


i t cannot be identical with the form i n virtue of
which we apprehend t h a t c h a r a c t e r . I f x i s f , x
cannot be identical with F-ness when, and only when,
the values for x are particulars a,b, and c . . . 2 5
I n t h i s case, the separation between Form and
particular needed to explain the presence of a character
24Vlastos,
25Ibid.,

TMA, pp. 242-3.

p. 241.

i n particulars i s maintained; but t h i s need not be invoked,


as i t i s i n the TMA, t o explain the presence o f t h a t character
i s t i c i n the Form.

Like A2a, A4a would cover a multitude

of sins, not the least of which would be the necessit.y of a


regress.

But since Plato's Parmenides needs the "strong"

r a t h e r than the "weak" version o f NI t o make h i s argument


s t i c k , Vlastos concludes that A4a, l i k e A2a, cannot be
what was meant i n t h e TMA.

Furthermore, A4a seems t o b l u r

t h e l o g i c a l n e e d f o r F o r m s - - t h e i r r o l e a s a i ti a i .

How

would A4a account f o r F-ness's being F (assuming, as Vlastos


d o e s , t h a t f o r P l a t o F - n e s s i_s F , a n d t h a t t h i s d e m a n d s a n
account)?

By relation to i t s e l f , by "self-participation"?

This seems t o have l i t t l e explanatory value: i t i s neither


a "safe" nor a "clever" aitia since i t relates the property
F (of F-ness) to nothing else.
to anything else at all?

Is F-ness F without relation

I f s o , then we are again w i t h o u t

an explanation, since this amounts to saying that there are


no logical and metaphysical conditions f o r a Form's ex
h i b i t i n g a property at a l l --an abandonment of the search
f o r a i ti a i , i n e f f e c t , s o m e t h i n g d i f f i c u l t t o i m a g i n e i n
Plato's vision of an i n t e l l i g i b l e world.
T h e e x a m p l e s o f A 2 a a n d A 4 a s h o w t h a t t h e TMA w o u l d
b e i n v a l i d a t e d o n l y i f SP o r N I , i n t h e i r " s t r o n g " v e r s i o n s ,
are denied; otherwise i t is a valid piece of reasoning,

84
demonstrating that the. theorems entai1 a logically vicious
consequence.

Vlastos's next task i s t o show that the

second version o f the TMA, which focuses on the mimetic


relationship between particular and Form, recapitulates
the f i r s t .
C)

The TMA v e r s i o n 2 (132d - 1 3 3 a ) .

T h e s e c o n d v e r s i o n o f t h e TMA i s a n a t t e m p t , o n
Socrates' part, to circumvent Parmenides' criticism of
the Forms by re-construing t h e i r relationship with par
ticulars.

Despite this gambit --shifting the discussion

from methexi s to mimesis--

there i s enough s i m i l a r i t y

between the two conceptions of the Form-particular r e


l a t i o n s h i p t o a l l o w Parmenides t o use t h e TMA a l o n g s i m i l a r
1ines:
(Socrates:) But Parmenides . . . these forms
are as i t were patterns fixed i n the nature of
t h i n g s . The o t h e r things are made i n t h e i r image
and likenesses, and t h i s p a r t i c i p a t i o n they come t o
have i n the forms i s nothing but t h e i r being made
i n their image.
Well, i f a t h i n g i s made i n the image o f a form,
can that form f a i l to be l i k e the image of i t , insofar
as theimage was made i n i t s likeness? I f a t h i n g i s
l i k e , must i t not be l i k e something that i s l i k e i t ?
I t must.
And must not the thing which i s l i k e share w i t h
the t h i n g t h a t i s l i k e i t i n one and t h e same t h i n g
(Character)?
Yes.
And w i l l not t h a t i n which the l i k e things share,
so as t o be a l i k e , be just the form i t s e l f that you
spoke of?
Certainly.

85
I f so, nothing can be l i k e the form, nor can the
form by l i k e anything. Otherwise a second form w i l l
always make i t s appearance over and above the f i r s t form,
and i f that second form i s l i k e anything, yet a t h i r d .
And there w i l l be no end to t h i s emergence of fresh
forms, j_f the form i s t o be l i k e the thing that par
takes of i t . Emphasis mine: note the conditional,
" Ii fI "
Vlastos formalizes the above as:

26

(Bl) The Copy-theory: I f a and b are s i m i l a r


( i n respectof being F ) , there must be a form, F-ness,
i n which theyboth p a r t i c i p a t e by way of resemblance:
a and b must resemble F-ness as copies resemble t h e i r
model.
( B l . l ) I f a resembles F-ness ( i n respect of
being F ) , F-ness must resemble a ( i n the same r e s p e c t ) .
(B3) F-ness i s F; f o r i f F-ness were not F, i t
would not resemble a i n respect o f being F. (SP assump
tion)
(B4) I f x i s F, i t cannot be identical with the
form, F-ness; for i f this were not true, there would
be no reason a t a l l why a and F-ness would not both
be F i n virtue of F-ness (NI assumption).
(B2) Then i f a and F-ness are similar ( i n r e
spect of being F ) , there must be another form, F-ness^
i n which they both p a r t i c i p a t e by way of resemblance:
a and F-ness must resemble F-nessj, as copies resemble
thei r model.
As i n version 1 , the regress i n version 2 i s t h e
r e s u l t o f t h e f o r m a l i n c o m p a t i b i l i t y between SP and N I ,
which can be condensed into the contradictory proposition.
(B5) I f F-ness i s F, then F-ness cannot be identi
cal with F-ness; for i f anything i s F i t cannot be
identical with F-ness.
26Vlastos,

"TMA", pp. 242 - 3.

86
Like the f i r s t version o f the TMA, the above i s a
valid piece of reasoning, demonstrating the inconsistency
of the theory of self-predicative Forms under question by
generating the regress.

But by i t s e l f , this sheds l i t t l e

l i g h t o n h o w t h e TMA i s t o b e i n t e r p r e t e d .

T h e TMA m i g h t

reveal the bankruptcy o f P l a t o ' s own theory o f Forms


--whether o r not Plato was aware of t h i s - - but i t could also
be a wel1-formulated argument that entirely misses the point
a b o u t P l a t o ' s F o r m s : t h e s o u n d n e s s o f t h e TMA i s s t i l l a n
open question.

But given the demonstrable validity of the

TMA, and i t s manner o f e x p o s i t i o n , Vlastos believes t h a t


substantive

claims can be made concerning P l a t o ' s i n t e n t i o n s

in writing the dialogue, revealing the utter vulnerability


of Plato's entire philosophy.
D)

Vlastos's substantive conclusions

T h a t SP and N I a r e o n l y i m p ! i c i t premisses i n d i c a t e s ,
)

to Vlastos, that the validi ty

o f t h e TMA c o u l d o n l y have

been a mystery to Plato:


I f Plato had i d e n t i f i e d a l l of the premisses which
are necessary (and sufficient) to warrant the second
step o f the T h i r d Man argumentfie., the regress], he
would not have produced the Third Man Argument a t a l l ,
unless he were simply pursuing a l o g i c a l game, which
i s not what he i s doing i n the f i r s t part of the
Parmenides. I n s t a t i n g the Third Man Argument, and
i n leaving i t unrefuted, he i s revealing (a) that he
d i d not know a l l o f i t s necessary premisses, whence
i t would f o l l o w t h a t (b) he had no way o f determining

whether or not i t was a v a l i d argument.

27

Had P l a t o i s o l a t e d SP and N I , V l a s t o s c o n t e n d s , he
could have jettisoned one of them i n the course of the
Parmenides dispute, and Plato's Parmenides would not have
had so clear a victory i n the argument.

But Plato could

n o t have j e t t i s o n e d SP o r NI i n t e n t i o n a l l y , had he been


aware of them, since they are implied i n two cardinal
doctrines of Forms, separation and degrees-of-reality;
again, Vlastos believes thatPlato did not recognize the
i m p l i c a t i o n o f SP a n d N I , b u t t h e y a r e n e v e r t h e l e s s h i d d e n
elements of his ontology.
detail in chapter XI:

This claim shall be analyzed i n

s u f f i c e i t f o r now t o remark t h a t

for VIastos,.PIato1s "silence" against the dialogue's


Parmenides i s a "giveaway" t h a t he was confused about the
n a t u r e o f the TMA.

Commenting on F.M. Cornford's Plato and

. ,
28
Parmem des,
Vlastos asserts

...he (^Cornford] naively infers that, because


self-predication is 'grossly fallacious' Plato
saw t h a t i t was. Had Plato seen t h i s , he would
have said so; and f o r t h i s he would not have needed
'a long and remote t r a i n of argument' which Plato
t e l l s us (133b) would be required to defeat the
objection; the Greek equivalent of Cornford's single
sentence ( " I t confused the form...with perfect i n
stances o f the form") would have been enough. And
had he doneso, Plato would have seen what Cornford
27Ibid.,

28

o, 241.

Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato and Parmenides


(Indianapolis:Bobbs-Merri11, n.d.) p. 98, quoted by Vlastos
i n "TMA".

f a i l s to see: that his demolition of the objection


to the Theory would have demolished the Theory.29
Vlastos seems t o be saying, throughout h i s analysis,
t h a t the TMA, given i t s presentation i n Parmenides, can
l e a v e no d o u b t as t o t h e s t a t u s o f SP i n P l a t o ' s Forms,
and o f P l a t o ' s own ignorance regarding i t . Plato does not
expli c i t l y combat Parmenides's arguments, which Plato would
have u r g e n t l y opposed i f he knew o f SP and saw t h a t i t was
n o t a p p l i c a b l e t o h i s F o r m s ( I f h e s a w SP as^ a p p l i c a b l e
to the Forms, then he would be logically compelled to agree
with Parmenides and abandon or modify his theory).

Socrates'

defeat a t the hands of Parmenides i n the dialogue indicates


Plato's perplexed state of mind --he s t i l l champions the
Socratic cause, and continues to advance the theory of
Forms, but nonetheless his Socrates i s reduced to silence
by the TMA.

I quote Vlastos a t length t o show how, given

the unusual defeat of Socrates i n the dialogue, Vlastos


views the dialogue as a "record of honest perplexity"
When (JPlato^ f i r s t p r o j e c t s a new theory t h a t
succeeds i n solving to his immediate satisfaction
hitherto unsolved problems and s a t i s f i e s deep long
ings o f h i s h e a r t , d e l i g h t i n h i s c r e a t i o n may p r o
duce a kind o f rapture that leaves l i t t l e room f o r
s e l f - q u e s t i o n i n g . This i s P l a t o ' s mood i n the
Phaedo, the Symposium,and the Republic.
The Theory
o f Forms i s then the greatest of c e r t a i n t i e s , a place
o f unshakable c e r t a i n t y t o which he may r e t r e a t when
doubtful or perplexed about anything else. But as
29Ibid.,
30Ibid.,

p. 255.
p. 254.

he l i v e s w i t h h i s new theory and puts i t t o work,


i t s l i m i t a t i o n s begin t o close i n upon him. He
begins to feel that something i s wrong, or at least
not quite r i g h t , about his theory, and he i s puzzled
and anxious. I f he has courage enough, he w i l l
not try to get r i d of his anxiety by surpressing
i t . He may then make repeated attempts t o g e t a t
the source of the trouble, and i f he cannot get at
i t d i r e c t l y he may f a l l back on the device o f
p u t t i n g the troublesome symptoms i n t o the form of
o b j e c t i o n s . He can hardly make the o b j e c t i o n s
perfectly precise and consistent counterarguments to
his theory. Unless he discovers the exact source
o f i t s d i f f i c u l t i e s and can embody the discovery,
the objections are as l i k e l y to be inadequate i n
t h e i r own way as i s t h e i r t a r g e t . They w i l l be
the expression of his unacknowledged puzzlement,
brave efforts to impersonat and cope with an
antagonist who can neither be j u s t l y represented
nor decisevly defeated because he remains unidenti
f i e d and unseen. This, I believe, i s an exact
diagnosis of Plato's mind at the time he wrote
the Parmenides.31
E)

Conclusion

I t would be unfair to saddle Vlastos with the


c r i t i c i s m that he takes his 1954 essay to be the d e f i n i t i v e ,
f i n a l word on the subject o f the TMA, o r the s i g n o f a
single-minded and unwavering allegiance t o formalization as
the sole means f o r extracting the objective meaning o f
Plato's philosophy.

A l a t e r paper, "Plato's 'Third Man'

Argument: Text and Logic" attempts to s h i f t the analysis


o f t h e TMA b a c k f r o m t h e L o g i c t o t h e T e x t , a n d c o n s i s t s
i n an extended phrase-by-phrase commentary on Parmeni des

31Vlastos, "The Unity of.the Virtues i n the Pro


tagoras," i n Platonic Studies, 2nd Ed. (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Pr. 1981), pp. 259-65.

90
132a - b.

Furthermore, i n papers published i n the 1970's,

V l a s t o s changes h i s p o s i t i o n on t h e SP assumption s i g n i f i c a n t
l y , holding Plato to be "perplexed" not about whether Forms,
as "perfect particulars", necessitate by their nature an
infinite regress, but about the precise nature of our asser
t i o n s when we p r e d i c a t e something o f a Form - - i . e . , whether
we l i t e r a l l y p r e d i c a t e x o f form F-ness, o r use "F-ness"
to go proxy for i t s extension, the class of F-things.
Nevertheless, a l l of Vlastos's later work exhibits
a c o n t i n u i t y w i t h h i s e a r l i e r work on the TMA.

To begin w i t h ,

i t advocates a strictl.y analytic approach to the text.

In

"Text and Logic", Vlastos attempts to answer the dissenting


S e l 1 a r s - S t r a n g f o r m a l i z a t i o n o f t h e TMA b y i s o l a t i n g t h e
t e x t o f t h e TMA a n d s u b j e c t i n g i t t o p h i l o l o g i c a l s c r u t i n y ,
a r g u i n g t o t h e c o n c l u s i o n t h a t h i s r e a d i n g o f t h e TMA i s
the correct one.

The focus i s d i f f e r e n t , but the method

i s the same: separate the t e x t from i t s surroundings, and


dissect i t .

Furthermore, Vlastos continues to read Plato's

philosophy as pivoting around a significant logical con


fusion or perplexity: had Plato recognized the source of
that confusion, his philosophy "would wear a d i f f e r e n t
face".

Vlastos i s insistent that Plato never advocated a

d o c t r i ne o f self-predication: i t i s crucial f o r Vlastos's


interpretation that Plato did not do t h i s .

But as s e l f -

91
predication i s , for Vlastos i n 1954, implied by various
elements i n Plato's explicit thinking, i t i s nonetheless an
unacknowledged consequence of the theory of Forms, and be
cause unacknowledged, the source of the confusion and
frustration vented i n the Parmenides.

In his l a t e r work

Vlastos never retracts that b e l i e f ; and although he softens


h i s c r i t i c i s m of Plato somewhat by modifying his judgement
on the locus of Plato's confusion, there i s no reason to
believe that he reversed or abandoned his views on Platonic
perplexity.

He sees P l a t o ' s o n t o l o g y , as J . N. F i n d l a y

puts i t , as the expression of a logical mistake; an im


pressive and awe-inspiring one, but a mistake nonetheless.
This sentiment piques me f o r several reasons.
F i r s t , I f i n d i t awkward t o view a philosophy l i k e Plato's
as "a mi stake";inadequate, inconsistent, maybe even perni
cious, yes --but mistaken, no, since a philosophy like that
of Plato seeks to provide an overall interpretation of
f a c t s , logical as well as natural, rather than constitute
a theory which i s

itself

supported by facts.

Witness,

f o r example, G. E. Moore's attempts t o " r e f u t e " i d e a l i s m by


appealing to self-evident facts such as the envelope i n his
hand at least one world war having occurred i n the past.
These attempts need not worry a disciple of Bradley or
McTaggart, as they would readily assent to these facts.although

they would challenge a common sense r e a l i s t account o f them,


such as Moore's.

Vlastos's Platonic criticism misfires,

I believe, i n a similar way.

Of course, his claims of

Platonic inconsistency may well be j u s t i f i e d : the kind o f


analysis Vlastos practices i s invaluable i n revealing such
logical blunders.

Rut i t seems hardly j u s t i f i a b l e t o con

clude from an inconsistency i n a philosophy that the p h i l


osophy i t s e l f i s logically moribund.

I t would be i f pre

cision and iron consistency were the sole measures of


philosophical worth; but i t i s almost a cliche that no
philosophy - - A r i s t o t l e , Kant, Hegel, Plato and so on-i s thoroughly consistent, and t h a t many philosophers - - t h e
later Wittgenstein and Heidegger, to cite but two-- for
swear precision as a false and f r u i t l e s s goal f o r philosophy
Why should P l a t o ' s o n t o l o g y be shaken t o t h e f o u n d a t i o n s
i f a t a c i t misconception, l i k e the self-predication assump
tion, i s discovered?

Even i f the Parmenides i s a record

of Plato's genuine confusion and his unacknowledged i n


consistency, why should i t cast a p a l l over h i s other
dialogues, where the Forms function quite smoothly as
remedies to a host of metaphysical, epistemological, and
ethical difficulties?

I n s h o r t , why must Vlastos's de

mands f o r precision and consistency be used as the main


criterion for evaluating Plato's philosophy?

That they are

93
i s an assumption made on V l a s t o s ' s p a r t , f o r he never ex
p l i c i t l y defends his methodological and c r i t i c a l standards.
But then they remain untested assumptions, which can be
accepted or rejected, given their fruitfulness with regard
to what Plato wrote.
Secondly, I do not think Vlastos succeeds i n making
his case f o r reading Parmenides as a record of honest con
fusion - - h i s assumptions about Plato are not, i n the last
estimate, fruitful.

Too much i s simply taken f o r granted

in his interpretation.

I t i s a s s u m e d t h a t t h e TMA c a n b e

isolated by analysis from the rest of the dialogue, and the


rest of the dialogue interpreted i n l i g h t of what the
f o r m a l i z e d TMA r e v e a l s a b o u t P l a t o ' s " p e r p l e x e d " s t a t e o f
mind.

I t i s assumed t h a t p a r t 2 o f the dialogue i s i r

relevant to an exegesis of part 1 , since no mention i s


made i n e i t h e r the e a r l y o r l a t e r a r t i c l e s as t o how the
two parts are related.

There i s , i n both Vlastos's

logical and textual analyses, no treatment of the dramatic


element i n the dialogue, and of what effect this might have
on an i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f the TMA.

There i s no attempt to

discern any possible connection between the Parmenides


and Parmenides himself, or Eleaticism i n general.

There

i s n o a t t e m p t t o i n t e r p r e t t h e TMA i n t h e l i g h t o f o t h e r
issues i n other dialogues, save for the "degrees-of-reality"

thesis which Vlastos defends as an integral Platonic


doctrine and as the origin of Plato's d i f f i c u l t i e s with
self-predi cati on.
Vlastos's methodological assumptions allow his
reading of Parmeni des to bypass concerns l i k e the above.
Of course, i f such concerns are secondary or inconse
quential i n determining the meaning of the Parmeni des,
or more s p e c i f i c a l l y the TMA, then V l a s t o s ' s reading i s
adequate and at least plausible.

But given a proper

insight into the meaning and implications of dialogue f o r


Plato, as outlined

i n chapter 1 , such concerns are

indispensible for an interpretive understanding of Plato,


and therefore Vlastos's concerns must be f a r too narrow
to do j u s t i c e to the t e x t of Parmeni des.

95
I I I ) T H E TMA A S A R E D U C T I O A D ABSURDUM ARGUMENT
As a means o f making a c l e a r path through t h e
f o r e s t o f studies on the Parmenides I introduced, i n my
Introduction, three approaches or "schools" of Platonic
interpretation, which diverge from each other largely
on the question of Parmenides P t . 1 . The C r i t i c a l school
views the dialogue as "a record of honest perplexity" and
an unintended expose of the logical incoherence of Plato's
metaphysics. The Revisionists view the Parmenides as a >
turning-point f o r P l a t o , away from a paradigmatic theory
to a more exclusively "logical" conception of Forms.
Finally the Apologetic school sees the dialogue as an a t
tempt t o clear away misunderstandings about the Forms
engendered through the misrepresentations of Plato's
Parmenides. The d i v i s i o n i n t o these three schools i s largely
a matter o f how an i n t e r p r e t e r views and appraises P l a t o ' s
philosophy as a whole, with special emphasis on the theory
of Forms: their overall vision of Plato's work colors their
interpretation of the significance and accomplishment of
Parmeni des.
Both Revisionists and Apologists view the dialogue
as a philosophical success, although they construe this
success in completely different ways. Critical readers
view the dialogue as a philosophical fai1ure. Vlastos, f o r
example, takes great pains to praise Plato for having the
strength of character to write a record of his confusion:

96
nevertheless the reason for that confusion i s never
recognized or acknowledged. The r e s u l t of t h i s i s the f a i l u r e
on P l a t o ' s part to make the necessary logical repairs t o
the Forms.* Because Plato f a i l e d to see the incompatibility
o f t h e SP ( s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n ) and N I ( n o n - i d e n t i t y ) p r e m i s s e s ,
he f a i l e d t o make the necessary adjustments t o h i s meta
physics: thus the dialogue, which should have resolved a
real perplexity Plato had about the Forms, merely records
i t and does nothing t o remedy i t , which c e r t a i n l y makes the
d i a l o g u e a p h i 1osophi c a l f a i l u r e . On the o t h e r hand a Re
v i s i o n i s t l i k e Ryle or Strang sees Plato's Parmenides and
his successful arguments as a harbinger f o r the much-needed
revised theory of Forms, stated i n more detail i n the
Sophi s t , Statesman, and other l a t e r works. They are as en
thusiastic about the dialogue as are Apologists such as
Allen and Crombie, although the l a t t e r cheer for a different
reason: Plato's Parmenides, whose arguments are i n t e r n a l l y
consistent, continually attacks a theory of Forms which
Plato did not and would not ever hold.
In their estimate of the success of Parmeni des Pt. 1 ,
the Apologists and the Revisionists are closer to each other
than they might seem t o be a t f i r s t glance. Whatever d i f
ferences, they have with each other are largely due to
different appraisals of Plato's general metaphysical position,
especially as expressed i n dialogues written before
^Gregory V l a s t o s , "The T h i r d Man Argument i n t h e
Parmeni des", i n R.E. Allen, ed., Studies i n Plato's Meta
physics {London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 26061. Henceforth: "TMA".

the Parmenides. Revisionists see Plato judiciously moving


away from an e a r l i e r " s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e " o r "paradigmatic"
theory of Forms, while Apologists see Plato affirming that
his theory is misunderstood i f taken to be self-predicative.
But both view the dialogue as a success because o f the way
they view the Third Kan Arguments and those sister-arguments
which surround i t ( e . g . , on the range of the Forms, the
"analogy of the sail", etc.).
Any i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f the Parmenides as a p h i l
o s o p h i c a l s u c c e s s m u s t s o m e h o w v i e w t h e TMA a n d i t s
sister-arguments as comprising,together, some s o r t o f
reductio ad absurdum argument, e i t h e r i ) a g a i n s t P l a t o ' s own
e a r l i e r theory of Forms as advanced by the young Socrates
(Revisionistic), or i i ) against a "false" theory of Forms,
the theory which Parmenides outlines and refutes, which
i n e f f e c t serves as a warning t o those who might suppose
t h i s "absurd" thesis to be Plato's (Apologist). The target
o f these reductio-arguments - - j u s t who i s being reduced t o
absurdity-- i s hotly contested by Revisionists and Apologists;
t h e f a c t t h a t t h e TMA a n d i t s s i s t e r - a r g u m e n t s w o r k i n
rendering some p o s i t i o n absurd o r i n c o n s i s t e n t i s accepted
as a commonplace by both schools.
Some concrete examples: Weingartner e x p l i c i t l y
a s s e r t s t h a t t h e TMA i s a r e d u c t i o a r g u m e n t .

He maintains

that the argument's aim i s to establish ( t h a t Forms can2

Rudolph Weingartner, The Unity of the PIatonic


Dialogue ( Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merri11, 1973), pp. 160-70.
Henceforth: UPD.

98
not be self^-predicative paradigms), although this aim i s
i m p l i c i t ; the argument then assumes not- and generates
a contradiction

"disguised" as the i n f i n i t e regress,

which compels the conclusion . Ryle, writing before


W e i n g a r t n e r , d o e s n o t e x p l i c i t l y m e n t i o n t h e TMA a s a
reductio argument. Nevertheless,Ryle takes the moral of the
TMA and i t s s i s t e r - a r g u m e n t s t o b e : "The t h e o r y o f Forms
i s l o g i c a l l y vicious i f i t implies t h a t a l l or some
are instances of themselves or of other universals of the
same family w i t h themselves", o r
as i f they were particulars."

"treating universals

Ryle concludes that the '

theory of Forms does indeed "imply" the above, i s therefore'


l o g i c a l l y vicious and prompts or perhaps "mirrors" Plato's
concern with revamping his ontology late i n his career.
Apologists such as Taylor, Cornford, and Findlay conclude,
against Ryle, that the theory o f Forms implies none o f
what Parmenides says i t does. Nonetheless they agree with
Ryle that the dialogue i s an injunction against the crass
physicalization of Forms (Cornford)^, or a confusion of
predicative with identity statements (Taylor)^, or a conf i l b e r t Ryle,"PIato1s Parmenides", in R.E. Allen,ed.,
Studies in PIato's Metaphysics. pp. 103-108.
4

Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato and Parmenides


(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merri11, n.d.), p. 85.
5

A.E. T a y l o r , P I a t o : the Man and His Work (London:


Methuen, 1929), p. 355; c f . Ryle, op. c i t . , p. 102: Parmenides
confuses proper names w i t h a b s t r a c t nouns.

fusion o f the nature of Forms with t h a t o f instances


(Findlay)^, or even construing Forms as "perfect instances
(Cornford).? Taylor, i n f a c t (some t h i r t y years before
Weingartner), alludes to the argument as "an apparent
reductio ad absurdum of the "hypothesis" of "participation
and speaks of the "self-refuting" character of the hypo-.O
thesis. There i s much convergence between the opinions of
Apologists and Revisionists on the lessons of Parmenides;
what i s d i s p u t e d i s f o r whom t h e l e s s o n s a r e i n t e n d e d :
Plato or his detractors. But this is incidental to
the task of ascertaining the meaning of Parmenides Pt. 1
and the TMA. Therefore most Apologists and R e v i s i o n i s t s ,
because of their degree of consensus on the dialogue's
meaning, can be classified as pro-reductio interpreters.
On the o t h e r hand, the C r i t i c a l case r e s t s on
s h o w i n g t h a t t h e TMA a n d i t s s i s t e r - a r g u m e n t s d o n o t
c o n s t i t u t e a r e d u c t i o a t a l l . I f t h e TMA w a s a v a l i d
reductio, the dialogue could not be judged a philosophical
f a i l u r e , s i n c e SP w o u l d h a v e b e e n e f f e c t i v e l y " s m o k e d
o u t " and r e j e c t e d by P l a t o . I f t h e TMA i s a r e d u c t i o
a position i s being vindicated by assuming not- and
showing that this assumption entails contradictory con
sequences, or in this case, a vicious regress. Vlastos's
^ J . N . F i n d l a y , P l a t o and P l a t o n i s m (New York: New
York Times Press, 1978), pp. 148-49.
^Cornford, op. c i t . , p. 98.
O
Taylor, op. c i t . , p. 102.

strong conviction that Plato's failure to articulate the


s u p p r e s s e d p r e m i s s e s o f t h e TMA ( S P a n d N I ) i n d i c a t e s
ignorance of them on Plato's part i s a roundabout way of
s a y i n g t h a t t h e TMA i s n ' t a r e d u c t i o : i . e . , i f P l a t o
knew about SP he would have i n d i c a t e d i t ; P l a t o d i d n o t
i n d i c a t e i t ; therefore he d i d not know o f i t ; and i f he
d i d not know of SP, he could not have inagurated a
reductio-proof of not-SP by assuming not-not-SP. This
position i s e x p l i c i t l y advanced by Peter Geach i n h i s
Q
response to Vlastos's a r t i c l e . Thus the C r i t i c a l position
because i t must assume i n some way the philosophical
f a i l u r e of the Parmeni des, i s necessarily an

anti-

reductio position.
T h u s t h e t r e a t m e n t o f t h e TMA a n d i t s s i s t e r arguments ultimately resolves into a joust between
pro-reductio and anti-reductio factions (the one attempt
to avoid this either/or, that of Cornford, fails, I
believe; i t i s the subject of Ch. V). Which side has the
better arguments?
Although I am o b v i o u s l y i n c l i n e d t o s i d e w i t h t h e
p r o - r e d u c t i o group, n e i t h e r side- t o date, has, i n my
estimation, adequately established i t s claims. For example
comsider the anti-reductio claims of Geach:
T h e TMA i s r e a d b y u s [ i . e . , V l a s t o s a n d
GeachJ both as ' t h e record of honest p e r p l e x i t y ' .
Plato i s not making a merely hypothetical use of an
assumption ' p ' i n order to infer 'not p ' , which
Q

Peter Geach, "The T h i r d Man A g a i n " , - i n A l l e n , ed.


Studies in PIato's Metaphysics, p. 265.

would be a straightforward reductio ad absurdum; he


begins by asserting ' p ' , and then states an argument
with 'not p' as i t s conclusion --and this argument,
i f valid, reveals a hidden inconsistency in the
premisses, one never tracked down o r formulated by
Plato himself.
10
Geach seems t o assume t h a t the c r i t e r i o n f o r deter
mining whether or not a given argument counts as a
reductio must include an e x p l i c i t assertion of "not-p",
from which the hypothetical "p" can be assumed i n order t o
produce a contradiction, which i n turn necessitates the
desired conclusion, "not-p". At least I think this is
what Geach i s saying, since such an e x p l i c i t statement i s
missing from the TMA, and I can see no other formal ground
f o r concluding, as he does, that Plato does not merely
hypothesize, but asserts "p". This puzzles me, especially
i n l i g h t of what has been covered i n Ch. I concerning
Plato's style. Plato's dialogues are not treatises, they
are dialogues --philosophical 1iterature-- and thus must
be treated with the interpretive finesse which l i t e r a t u r e
deserves. Were Parmenides a t r e a t i s e , i t might be l e g i
timate to conclude that Plato i s asserting, rather than
hypothesizing, about "p". But Parmenides i s not a treatise
T h e TMA i s n o t a s s e r t e d b y P l a t o , b u t b y a f i c t i o n a l i z e d
Parmenides. I f Plato's Parmenides i s , after Plato's young
Socrates, asserting "p", i t i s far from immediately ob
vious that PI ato i s --or more succinctly, that Plato i s n ' t

102
using Parmenides' assertion as a hypothesis. Dostoevshy's
Grand I n q u i s i t o r argues cogently down the l i n e f o r the
necessity of "bread and circuses" and keeping hoi p o l l o i
a t bay; y e t no one who knows anything o f Dostoevsky would
say that, since the Grand Inquisitor asserts what he says,
Dostoevsky agrees with the Inquisitor's assertions.
Dostoevsky i s chal1enging the Inquisitor, i n no small part
through the l i t e r a r y device of irony. The r e t o r t that
Dostoevsky wrote novels and Plato wrote philosophy i s
moot: Plato wrote dialogues and only dialogues, and the
burden o f proof i s on he who wishes t o i n t e r p r e t t h e d i a
l o g u e s a s t r e a t i s e s - i n - d i s g u i s e . We h a v e t h e r i g h t t o
assume that any dialogue admits of a " l i t e r a r y " as well as
a "philosophical" interpretation (indeed, the two cannot
be separated) u n t i l i t i s proven otherwise, and t h i s can
only be established on a dialogue-by-dialogue basis. There
i s l i t t l e to lead one to think that this can be carried
o u t : P l a t o ' s d i a l o g u e s have as much i n common w i t h the
methods of "The Grand Inquisitor" as with any treatise
(e.g., the ironic argumentation presented i n Plato's characterization of Euthyphro, Gorgias, Thrasymachus, e t c . ) . * *
I f Geach's anti-reductio stand i s to be vindicated
he must advance an argument based not on the form of Plato's
presentation but a substantive argument. I . e . , he must say
what Plato's assertion "p" i s , and show i t to be a f i r m l y
**Weingartner, UPD, pp. 1 - 4 .

103
entrenched Platonic commonplace. Like Vlastos, Geach believes
that "p", in part, is the doctrine of self-predicative
Forms, t h e SP assumption b e i n g unacknowledged b u t a l o g i c a l
consequence of the way i n which Plato conceived the Forms.
The argument which Geach advances i n s u p p o r t o f SP i s t h i s :
Plato designated the Forms o f natural kinds and a r t i f a c t s
not by using abstract nouns, but by concrete nouns with
the definite a r t i c l e ( e . g . , to anthropos = the Man, rather
than Manhood; auto t o anthropos = t h e Man I t s e l f ) ; t h a t
Plato could have "invented" such abstract nouns had he
seen the need (he invented poiotes for "quality"); and i n
Parmenides 133 c-d among other places, Plato does use ab
s t r a c t nouns to designate Forms, often alongside concrete
nouns. Therefore the tendency to use the definite article
i n a "hypostatizing" way along w i t h the concrete noun
- - a mode o f expression common i n Greek-- leads P l a t o t o
confuse and conflate expressions of the "The Lion i s
such-and-so" variety with "Lionhood is such-and-so" variety.
I t seems rash t o jump from the f a c t t h a t such an
i d i o m was common i n Greek t o t h e c o n c l u s i o n t h a t i t must
have spawned that s o r t o f confusion i n Plato as soon as he
considered metaphysical questions, for the temptation exists
i n English as w e l l . Of course Geach recognizes t h i s : he
simply maintains t h a t P l a t o f a i l e d t o r e a l i z e , what we r e a l
i z e , t h a t while i t may be l e g i t i m a t e t o speak o f a natural
12

Geach, op. c i t . , pp. 266-71.

12

104
kind i n the concrete way (e.g.,"The Lion i s a ferocious
b e a s t " ) i t i s n o t always c o r r e c t t o speak the same sen
tence abstractly (since "Lionhood i s a ferocious beast" i s
not true, and perhaps nonsensical). But even this i s a l l
too u n s u b t l e . I n one sense, s u r e l y we can say "The Lion i s
a ferocious beast, has a mane, t a i l , e t c . " , referring to
a n a t u r a l k i n d . But i n another way we c a n ' t , i f we con
s t r u e the f e r o c i t y o f The Lion t o mean t h a t a natural
k i n d can make me i t s d i n n e r . I t i s t h e c o n t e x t o f usage
or utterance that determines the sense or grammatical
meaning of "the Lion": the Lion (over there) i s ferocious
(he can k i l l me), but the Lion (speaking generally),
though f e r o c i o u s , cannot k i l l me ( a l t h o u g h he can k i l l
p e r s o n s , speaking g e n e r a l l y ; o r c o u l d k i l l me as an a b s t r a c t
p o s s i b i l i t y f i t t i n g t h i s n a t u r a l k i n d ) . We k n o w t h e d i f
ference i n English; why c o u l d n ' t Plato have known the
difference i n Greek? The burden of proof l i e s on those
l i k e Geach who claim t h a t P l a t o d i d n ' t know the d i f f e r e n c e .
And the f a c t that Plato deals with l o g i c a l l y sophisticated
terms such as "the many" and "the Similar" and "the Equal"
( t a p o l l a , a u t a t o h o m o i a , a u t a t a is a ) a n d s h i f t s " i n
differently" to the abstract forms "multitude"."similarity",
and "equality" (pi ethos, homoiotes, isotes) i n Parmeni des
need not alarm us: there i s no reason to speulate that
Plato confused the concrete-noun and abstract-noun ex
pressions of a natural kind with each other, or either of

105
them with the use of a concrete noun to express a par- u
13
ticular.
A l l t h i s leads one to suppose that Plato's use
of concrete-nouns as well as abstract-nouns to express
n a t u r a l k i n d s no more n e c e s s i t a t e s some s o r t o f SP assumption
than does our own E n g l i s h use o f the same.

I f t h e SP

assumption i s to be supported, i t must be through other


textual references or through the fine points of Platonic
metaphysics.
I t seems as i f the anti-reductio f a c t i o n often
f a l l s prey t o a s o r t o f p e t i t i o p r i n c i p i i . Geach begs the
q u e s t i o n b y a s s u m i n g , l i k e V l a s t o s , t h a t i f t h e TMA w a s a
reductio i t would read like a "straightforward" textbook
reductio, and since i t doesn't, i t i s n ' t a reductio. This
presupposes t h a t the only s o r t of reductio argument is_ the
"straightforward" textbook example. Furthermore. Geach
assumes that since one can f i n d a rationale f o r a s e l f predicationi s t reading of Forms i n the Greek "hypostat i s i n g " u s e o f t h e d e f i n i t e a r t i c l e , t h a t t h i s i_s t h e
r a t i o n a l e , and therefore Plato was a s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n i s t .
This begs the question from "can" to " i s " without any
f u r t h e r j u s t i f i c a t i o n . And Ch. I I has uncovered a glaring
petitio principii in Vlastos's claim that since Plato
nowhere acknowledges t h e t a c i t premisses SP and N I , he
was unaware o f them and thus also of the l o g i c a l c l o u t o f
the TMA. I n concluding t h i s from the formal p r e s e n t a t i o n
o f t h e TMA a l o n e , V l a s t o s s k i p s o v e r t h e q u e s t i o n o f t h e
131bid.,

p. 269.

nature of Plato's authorship: is a writer of dialogues,


l i k e a writer of treatises, taken to assert only what
i s expli c i t l y asserted? this i s certainly not the case
i n . s a y , Euthyphro o r P r o t a g o r a s . Why s h o u l d one b e l i e v e
i t holds for Parmenides?
Unfortunately, the pro-reductio faction does
n o t exactly triumph over the a n t i - r e d u c t i o group. One can
c o n v i n c i n g l y r e f o r m u l a t e t h e i n f i n i t e r e g r e s s o f t h e TMA
into the contradictory conjunction around which a reductio
a r g u m e n t t u r n s , b u t t h i s d o e s n o t e s t a b l i s h t h e TMA a_s
a reductio. Like anti-reductio commentators, the proreductio commentators must give adequate reasons i n support
o f t h e i r readings as a g a i n s t those o f the o p p o s i t i o n . On
this score, the pro-reductio interpreters are less than
entirely convincing. Consider Rudolph Weingartner1s
a n a l y s i s o f t h e TMA i n T h e U n i t y o f t h e P I a t o r t i c D i a l o g u e .
W e i n g a r t n e r s k i l f u l l y f o r m u l a t e s t h e TMA a s a r e d u c t i o
argument i n the following passage:
Begin with these assumptions:
2.1 I f x i s F, there i s a unique form F-ness, such
that x i f F by participating i n that F-ness.
2.2 a,b,c are F.
from which we conclude
2.3 There i s a unique form F-ness.
I f we now introduce another assumption, namely SP,
2.4 F-ness i s F,
we can d e r i v e (from 2 . 1 and 2 . 4 ) t h a t
2.5 There is a unique form F-ness.

107
With the NI assumption,
2.6 I f x i s F, by participating i n F-ness, then
x f F-ness,
we can derive ( w i t h the a i d o f 2 . 3 and 2 . 5 ) t h a t
2.7 F-ness i n 2.3 t F-ness i n 2.5,
which, given that 2.1, yoelds
2.8 F-ness i n 2.1 = F-ness i n 2.3 and F-ness i n 2.5,
where F-ness i n 2.3 f F-ness i n 2.5, which i s absurd.
14
The i n f i n i t e regress of Parmenides i s , i n a way,
a forestalling of the contradiction that occurs in 2.7: i f
F-ness i n 2.3 t F-ness in 2.5, then F-ness in 2.5 is
" r e a l l y " F-ness^, and so on. The contradiction can be
forestalled indefinitely, but the result of a regress of
Forms (which would u t t e r l y undermine the p o s s i b i l i t y of an
a i t i a f o r property F) i s j u s t as unpalatable as the bald
contradiction in 2.7.above.
In f a c t , W i l f r i d Sellars and Colin Strang have
t r i e d t o f o r m u l a t e t h e TMA a s a d i f f e r e n t s o r t o f r e d u c t i o ,
where the contradiction i n Weingartner's 2.7 does not obtain.
Sellars and Strang believe that Plato's Parmenides does not
claim, as i n 2.3 and 2.5 above,

a unique Form F-ness

such that i f x i s F i t i s by participating i n that F-ness,


b u t m e r e l y t h a t t h e r e i s a_t 1 e a s t o n e f o r m F - n e s s . T h e
argument then goes on to show t h a t " i f there i s a t l e a s t one,
there cannot be only one" and i n fact that there muct be
an i n d e f i n i t e number of F-nessn s .

15

This reading has been

^Weingartner, UPD, p . 165.


^ C o l i n Strang, "Plato and the Third Man", i n Vlastos, ed.
Plato I ; and W i l f r i d Sellars, "Vlastos and the Third Man",
Philosophical Review 64 (1955).

hotly contested by both Weingartner and Vlastos, primarily


as a misunderstanding o f 132b2, hen hekaston

oi ton eidon

estai Nevertheless i n both the Sellars-Strang and the


Weingartner readings the end result i s the same: the
reduction o f self-predicative Forms to a b s u r d i t y . 1 6
What reasons does Weingartner give t o recommend
h i s r e a d i n g o f t h e THA as a r e d u c t i o ? He b e g i n s by c h a l
l e n g i n g V l a s t o s ' s r e a d i n g o f t h e TMA a s a " r e c o r d o f
honest perplexity":
. . . whether or not Plato was puzzled by the
TMA d e p e n d s u p o n w h a t h e t h o u g h t a b o u t t h e a r g u m e n t
and not necessarily on what i s true of i t . Perplexity
i s a state of mind and derives from belief rather
than t r u t h : o n l y i f we h o l d t h a t P l a t o c o u l d n o t
decide whether o r n o t h i s argument was acceptable
do we have grounds f o r t h i n k i n g he was confused. 17
Weingartner, l i k e Strang, sees no evidence of
such confusion i n the Parmenides. He then goes on t o ex
plore the different possibilities for interpretation,
given the lack of reasons to believe in Plato's per
plexity:
I f this [ i . e . , Plato's perplexity]
is not so,
Plato either held that the argument he put i n t o
Parmenides' mouth reached i t s conclusion legitimately
o r t h a t i t d i d n o t . I f we take t h e l a t t e r t o be the
c a s e , w e c a n o n l y c o n c l u d e t h a t P l a t o u s e d t h e TMA
t o e x h i b i t as unwarranted some c r i t i c i s m t h a t o t h e r s .
had made o f h i s theory o f forms. I f , however, we
s u p p o s e t h e TMA t o b e f r e e o f l o g i c a l p r o b l e m s . . .
the argument can be regarded as s e l f - c r i t i c i s m and
thus seen as attacking a position that Plato himself
had previously maintained,oras a criticism of an i n Gregory V l a s t o s , "The T h i r d Man Argument: Text
and Logic", i n Platonic Studies, 2nd Ed. (Princeton: Prince
ton Univ. P r . , 1981)
17Weingartner,

UD, pp. 158-60, 160n59, 160n60.

t e r p r e t a t i o n t h a t others had made o f h i s theory o f


Forms. 18
(These l a s t two alternatives epitomize the Revisionist and
the Apologist positions, respectively.)
W e i n g a r t n e r s e e s t h e TMA a s a " d u b i o u s a r g u m e n t "
a t f i r s t glance, not because i t i s invalid.but because i t s
premisses --specifically 2.1, 2.4, and 2.6 above-- are
incompatible, and from incompatible premisses "anything
whatsoever follows".

19

Vlastos argued that Plato did not

recognize this truth, because the three contradictory


premisses are never explicitly stated in the dialogue; i t
also might be argued that the tautologous character of
(p - p ) P q was not discovered u n t i l the l a t e r middle ages,
so Plato might nonetheless have found the conclusion of the
20
TMA, the regress, l o g i c a l l y uncontroversial. Against t h i s
Weingartner argues that i ) "Philosophers and others have
o f t e n used l o g i c a l p r i n c i p l e s long before someone was able
to state them e x p l i c i t l y " , therefore weakening the case f o r
Platonic "ignorance" of the nature of an implication with
contradictory premisses.

21

Furthermore, i i ) the con

c l u s i o n o f t h e TMA - - h o w e v e r v a l i d i t s d e r i v a t i o n f r o m t h e
argument's premisses-- is not merely contingently false,
i t i s impossible. I t does not merely contradict "a certain
181bid.,

p. 160.

19Ibid.,

pp. 160-61.

20Ibid.,

p. 161.

211bid.,

pp. 161^62.

theory of Forms", but says, i n e f f e c t , "the one Form


j_s m a n y " .

22

The argument i s v a l i d but unsound because one

of i t s premisses must be false; i t i s not a matter of


showing that one of the THA's assumptions ( i . e . , SP,
N I , and Uniqueness or One-over-many) just happens to be
f a l s e , but that one o f them i s necessariiy f a l s e , because
i n conjunction with the other two i t produces an absurdity.
T h e r e f o r e , W e i n g a r t n e r c o n c l u d e s , t h e TMA i s a r e d u c t i o
argument: an intentionally unsound piece of argumentation
designed t o recommend the abandonment o f one or more of i t s
premi sses.
Weingartner assures us that this i s true despite
t h e f a c t t h a t t h e TMA i s n o t f o r m u l a t e d a s a " t e x t b o o k
reductio:"
Plato i s not fond of presenting the reader
a finished piece of doctrine; his entire career tes
t i f i e s to the fact that he i s intent on having him
think things through for himself. 23
Does t h i s tour de force by VJeingartner establish
t h a t t h e TMA i _ a r e d u c t i o , o r m e r e l y t h a t i t c a n b e c o n
sistently viewed as one? His presentation, however con
vincing, invites a possible anti-reductio counter-critique
at two important points, i ) A Critical commentator, l i k e
Vlastos, would probably take issue with Weingartner's claim
that because "Plato i s not fond of presenting the reader
with a finished piece of doctrine" one can safely assume
t h a t t h e T M A t h e n i_s a r e d u c t i o . T h e f a v o r e d c r i t i c a l
ft

^
I
Ibid., p. 164.
23Ibid.,

p. 168.

reply would then be, most probably, "where's the evidence


for this?" Since the Critical interpreter believes,
usually, that Plato's dialogues harbor a definitive, i f
fragmented doctrine, they would probably want to place
stringent requirements on what would count as "evidence"
t h a t Plato was " c h a l l e n g i n g " h i s audience r a t h e r than
making a statement (e.g., "of perplexity"). Both Vlastos
and Geach stress t h i s , Geach i n his refusal to admit
anything " h y p o t h e t i c a l " about the premisses i n the TMA,
Vlastos i n holding thus, as he has said i n another con
text:
What reason have we t o t h i n k t h a t a l l t h i s
was c l e a r t o Plato? Are we going t o argue: " P l a t o
was a great philosopher. So h i s i n s i g h t i n t o the
logic of his argument could not have been less than
professors Sellars and Strang?" To our contemporaries
we a t t r i b u t e i n s i g h t n o t by s e n a t o r i a l courtesy but
on evidence. To impute comparable insight to Plato
we need comparable evidence. For t h i s I have looked
in v ain . 2 4
i i ) WGingartner's observation --probably true-that Plato's "perplexity" is a function of his state-ofmind rather than the truth of the argument leads him to
conclude t h a t " o n l y i f we h o l d t h a t Plato could n o t decide
whether o r n o t h i s argument was acceptable" can we i n f e r
" p e r p l e x i t y " o r " c o n f u s i o n " , and since we have no reason
t o suppose t h i s , we can assume P l a t o ' s s t a t e - o f - m i n d was
n o t "perplexed" regarding the TMA. But t h i s begs V l a s t o s ' s
central claim: t h a t the presentation o f the TMA, w i t h i t s
hidden premisses, i s ample evidence that Plato did not
2^Vlastos,

"Text and Logic", loc. c i t . , p. 360.

112
k n o w h o w e f f e c t i v e t h e TMA w a s . W e i n g a r t n e r d o e s i n s i s t
that, "hidden premisses" do not necessarily imply authorial
ignorance, and q u i t e c o r r e c t l y i n my e s t i m a t i o n ; nevertheless
t h i s o n l y e s t a b l i s h e s t h e p r o - r e d u c t i o r e a d i n g o f t h e TMA
as one possible way o f reading the TMA, rather than the
preferable one.
Both pro- and anti-reductio factions have ad
vanced incommensurable interpretations. Their readings
c a n ' t r e a l l y c o n f 1i c t b e c a u s e m a n y o f t h e i r k e y c r i t i c a l
assumptions (e.g., the nature of dialogue-form, what passes
as textual evidence, e t c . ) go unacknowledged yet are
radically opposed. Their words " f l y past each other" with
l i t t l e prospect of a group resolution of their differences.
Because these key assumptions are never articulates, both
camps often depict t h e i r conclusions as d e f i n i t i ve r a t h e r
than possible explications of the t e x t , and there i s l i t t l e
that the opposition can do to challenge that claim. Thus
t h e s e a o f i n k t h a t h a s b e e n s p i l l e d o n t h e TMA i n P l a t o ' s
Parmenides.
I have no ambitions toward stemming the tide of
interpretation-upon-interpretation. This is unrealistic,
and maybe even undesirable when i t i s a philosophical
t e x t t h a t i s under d i s p u t e . B u t i t seems t o me t h a t some
e f f o r t must be exerted toward making these interpretations
commensurable, so the claims o f one camp can be adequately
challenged by the other. In a general way, this can be

113
accomplished by determining the nature of Plato's philo
sophical writing, and by determining the most f a i r and
f r u i t f u l way t o read and i n t e r p r e t these t e x t s : these are
respectively the topics of Chs. I and XI, .
More s p e c i f i c a l l y , t h e THA must b e - r e a d i n t h e l i g h t o f
i ) the historical Parmenides and his relationship to Plato,
and i i ) the " l i t e r a r y " aspects of the dialogue Parmeni des,
and i i i ) the relationship between Pts. 1 and 2 of Parmeni des,
and between Parmeni des and l a t e r dialogues such as Sophist,
Theatetus, Timaeus, and Philebus. What follows i s an attempt
to accomplish this task.

IV )

PARMENIDES AND PLATO'S PARMENIDES

I n Chapter I , I argued that Plato's dialogues must


be read as philosophical 1iterature i n order to do justice
to them, and that one o f the deficiencies of Vlastos's
approach to the Parmenides i s that he views the dialogue
as an almost neutral setting for an argument,

whose

worth can be definitively determined through the technique


of formalization.

By neglecting the l i t e r a r y side of

Parmenides eg. , i t ' s status as a dialogue, i t ' s use


of characterization, setting, references to other
dialogues-- Vlastos seriously distorts the point of the
dialogue and, I fear, advances a rather contrived, a r t i
f i c i a l interpretation of Plato's Forms and t h e i r ontological status.

These claims s h a l l be supported i n my

piecemeal analyses of both parts of Parmeni des i n chapters


V and V I , and i n my t r e a t m e n t o f t h e i s s u e o f s e l f - p r e d i c a
tion i n chapter VII.

For the moment, however, I wish

to consider a corrolary concern of the proper reading of


P l a t o ' s dialogues as l i t e r a t u r e --namely, t h e i r actual
hi stori cal context.1
*Q.v. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York
Continuum, 1975), esp. pp. 153 f f .

115
I t is

somewhat mystifying t h a t r e l a t i v e l y few

commentators give to the historical context of Plato's


dialogue the attention i t merits, especially in light of
the fact that an actual historical figure, Parmenides, i s
personified i n the dialogue and his views set against those
of young Socrates.

Only one major commentator, F. M.

Cornford, attempts a comparative analysis of Parmenides's


"Way o f Truth" and P l a t o ' s Parmenides,

and he i s g u i l t y ,

i n my e s t i m a t i o n , o f several major misreadings and misunderstandings.

Vlastos mentions the historical Parmenides,

as d i s t i n c t from the Platonic character, only once i n his


" T h i r d Man" a r t i c l e , i n conjunction w i t h h i s own thesis
concerning "degrees-of-reality".3

This i s unfortunate as

well as mystifying: a t least part of the l i t e r a r y appre


ciation of a work depicting actual historical characters
involves the actual l i v e s , thoughts, and personalities
of those figures.

Could one f u l l y understand, say, Robert

B o l t ' s A Man f o r A11 Seasons knowing nothing o f S t . Thomas


2

Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato and Parmenides


(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merri11, n . d . ) . See Ch. V, sec. B.,below.
3

Gregory Vlastos, "The Third Man Argument i n the


Parmenides", i n R. E. Allen, ed., Studies i n Plato's
Metaphysics (London: Routledge and Kegal Paul), p. 247.

116
More, or Lawrence and Lee's I n h e r i t the Wind i n complete
ignorance of Darrow, Bryan, the clash between fundamentalist
Christianity and Darwin?

I wish here to plead a similar

case f o r the Parmeni des:

By reviewing how the d o c t r i n e s

o f Parmenides do and do not coincide with those of Plato,


we can determine t h a t background o f philosophical issues
agianst which Plato's dialogue arises, and can thus make a
b e t t e r estimate o f Vlastos's account o f P l a t o ' s Third Man
Argument.
A)

PIato and Eleaticism

The introductory scenario f o r Parmenides (126a 127a) has Cephalus, Adeimantus, and Glaucon, a l l "deeply
interested" in philosophy, requesting Antiphon to recount
the incident of Socrates's early discussion with Parmenides
and Zeno.

The fact that t h i s episode i s alluded to i n both

Sophi s t 217c

and Theatetus 183e strongly suggests that

Parmenides the man i s c r u c i a l t o a proper reading o f P l a t o ' s


l a t e r work, and that Plato took Eleaticism quite seriously
as both an influence and as a philosophical r i v a l (e.g.,
Sophi s t 242c and Theatetus 180e).

There i s , however, no

detailed exposition i n Parmenides of Eleatic doctrine as


expressed i n "The Way o f T r u t h " : P l a t o ' s b r i e f t r e a t m e n t
o f Eleaticism comes by way o f Socrates's challenge t o Zeno's
arguments against plurality (127e - 128b).

117
The opening of Parmenides with this preci s ,
minimal as i t i s , of Eleatic doctrine i s symbolic of the
importance of the identities of Socrates' interlocutors to
the subject matter discussed.

Were t h i s not the case, why,

then, does Socrates introduce, i n 129a, the Forms as an


antidote t o Zeno's skepticism about p l u r a l i t y ? (i.e., Forms
can allow contrary predicates--"Like" and "Unlike"--to
characterize the same p a r t i c u l a r . )t

I f Plato is not attempt

ing a comparative evaluation of the positions of Socrates


and Parmenides --i.e., i f the dialogue i s simply an attempt
at refuting young Socrates' position, followed by a dialect
ical exercise on to hen--

then why the i n t e r j e c t i o n ,

however minimal, o f the g i s t o f E l e a t i c monism.? And r e


gardless o f whether Socrates, Parmenides, and Zeno actually
did meet,

why would t h i s be a f i t t i n g subject f o r a

P l a t o n i c d i a l o g u e ? Why Parmenides?
I contend t h a t Plato was p a r t l y motivated by the
following concerns.
vocates of a

Plato saw i n Parmenides and Zeno ad

theory of Being substantially l i k e his own,

but one seriously distorted by i t s unflinching emphasis on


the 1ogical order as the only true measure of Being.
Eleaticism was beyond doubt i n f l u e n t i a l t o P l a t o : f o r
P l a t o , l i k e Parmenides, nous or thought was the t r u e measure
of Being.

Yet Parmenides' nous i s curiously spectral

118
compared to Plato's, admitting only

the intelligibility

of "Being", and systematically arguing against a l l

the

i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s that Plato's host of Forms confer upon


particulars.

Plato i s awed by Parmenides's v i s i o n ; but

he i s cramped by the Eleatic monomania about the i n t e l l i g i bilityof "Being" to the exclusion of all else, all that
i s necessary f o r a philosophical world that i s shaped
i n and by dialogue.
Like Plato, Parmenides conceives of Philosophy
as a "way" or "path"; see

t h e proem s e c t i o n o f The Way

of Truth, especially the metaphor of the "steeds" of the


soul (reminiscent of the chariot myth i n Phaedrus 246a f f . )
which leads into images of divine counsel and enlighten
ment on the f r u i t f u l n e s s of the way o f t r u t h and the
barrenness o f the way o f seeming or opinion.^

But when

Parmenides' "Way" ends i n the noetic apprehension of the


plenitude and exclusivity of Being, of " i t i s " , there i s
nothing more t o say, except by way o f admonition against
those who p e r s i s t i n using expressions which have no sense.
Thus the way o f dialogue - - P l a t o ' s way-- i s apparently

^Passages from Parmenides1 "Way o f Truth" are


ta^en from G. S. Kirk and J . E. Raven, The Pre-Socratic
Phi 1osophers (Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1957),
a i d Drew Hyland, The Oriqins o f Phi 1osophy (New York:
Putnam, 1973), pp. 139-99.

one w i t h the deceptive way o f doxa from an E l e a t i c point


of view.
I f Plato i s to defend his philosophic vision against
that of Parmenides, he must defend i t above a l l against
that charge --that dialogical inquiry i s hopelessly trapped
i n doxa and cannot win through to epi steme.

He must argue

that p l u r a l i t y i s not logically u n i n t e l l i g i b l e , and that


Parmenides's overemphasis on the logical order of Being
can be corrected by a cogent defense of the methexis of
particulars i n the i n t e l l i g i b l e Forms-- i n short, that
there i s a p l u r a l i t y of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s , and there
indeed must be, i f we are t o t a l k s i g n i f i c a n t l y .
B)

-El e a t i c I n t e l 1i g i b i l i t v

Thus Plato must confront a foreign doctrine of


intelligibility.

But the "Way o f Truth" i s not manifestly

a work about i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y : the standard interpretation,


shared by Burnet, Taylor, and Vlastos, i s that i t i s a
cosmological work, akin to the attempts of Anaximander,
Anaximenes, and Empedocles, to delineate the nature of the
(physical) k o s m o s W . T. Jones character characterizes
Eleaticism as a reductio

ad absurdum of Milesian monism:

^ J . Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (New York, 1957),


(New York, 1957), pp. 178-79; also A. E . T a y l o r , P l a t o : The
Man and His Work (London: Methuen, 1929), pp. 349 f . , and
Vlastos, "TMA", p. 247.

120
i f theMilesians were correct i n insisting one one arche
for the physical universe, then this arche, consistently
thought out, should contradict our convictions about plural
i t y movement, and change.6

On t h i s a c c o u n t , Parmenides i s

viewed as the ultimate heir to a monistic materialism, but


one whose p o s i t i o n must prescind from a l l those character
i s t i c s t h a t define the kosmos as t r u l y " m a t e r i a l " .
This received view has much t o recommend i t , but
nevertheless i t i s seriously incomplete.

The proem section

o f "The Way o f T r u t h " , as I s a i d b e f o r e , suggests t h a t


philosophy i s a quest,.a path, a way; as Drew Hyland and
Alexander Mourelatos point out, this quest imagery i s present
throughout the

proem.7

This suggests that Parmenides i s

less concerned with presenting a basis for cosmology than


with "ways of inquiry" (Fr.2)

--the proper practice of

philosophy, or i t s proper method.

The first-person narrative

structure of the proem, coupled with the reference to "wellt r a v e l l e d Odysseus" i n F r . 1 l i n e 3 , gives the poem a confessional f l a v o r : Parmenides has t r a v e l l e d down a l l the paths

6W.

T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1,


(New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), p . 25.
7Hyland,

op. c i t . , pp. 180-81. Also see A. P. D.


Mourelatos, The Route o f Parmenides (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1970), pp. 40-46.

of thought, and i s passing judgement on which paths are


f r u i t f u l and which are f r u i t l e s s .

Mourelatos points out

that the two "ways" --that of " i t i s " and of " i t i s not"-are presented not as concepts which are "conceivable or i n
conceivable" but as paths for thought which can or cannot be
completed.

The "Way o f Truth" recommends the f i r s t way o f

inquiry as the only f r u i t f u l path for philosophic reflection


the way o f " i t i s not" i s c r i t i c i s e d less as a formal im
p o s s i b i l i t y than as a methodological cul de sac.
Although the "Way of Truth" has a cosmological
p o i n t o f view, i t i s not primari l.y a cosmological t r e a t i s e .
Rather, i t i s an exhortation away from one philosophical
pathway (i.e., the bald empiricism of hoi p o l l o i ) and toward
another, where "what applies for thinking also holds for
being" (jt auto noejn e s t i n t o k a i e i n a i ) .

And here, the

relevance for Plato i s quite evident: the intelligible order


is prior to that of aisthesis, and, contra the Sophists, is
r e a l and n o t a matter o f human convention, since i n t u i t e d
by the faculty of nous.
Another advantage t o reading the "Way o f Truth" as
a document on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i s that i f i t i s taken to be
principally a cosmological treatise, i t s cosmology i s
O

Mourelatos, op. c i t . , pp. 40-47.

inconsistent. Fragment 8 , i n e f f e c t , claims that the only


s i g n i f i c a n t statement one can make i s " i t i s " : i t denies
time, the void, m u l t i p l i c i t y , and d i v i s i b i l i t y i n Being. In
lines 26-33, however, Parmenides argues that Being must
be f i n i t e and limited:
. . . Strong Necessity holds i t firm in the
bounds of the l i m i t that keeps i t back on every sidejbecause i t i s unlawful that what i s should be unlimited;
for i t i s not i n need - - i f i t were, i t would need a l l .
This seems t o c o n t r a d i c t Parmenides' previous doctrine
t h a t t h e r e cannot be. t h a t which i s n o t "what i s " . T h i s i s
made more credible i n the l i g h t o f F r . 8 , l i n e s 41-5 and
line 49:
Since there i s a furthese l i m i t , i t i s bounded
on every side, l i k e the bulk of a well-rounded sphere,
from the centre equally balanced in every direction. . .
Being equal t i i t s e l f on every side, i t rests uniformly
within its limits.
This is a blatant

contradiction: i f Being i s

s p a t i a l l y f i n i t e , t h e n t h e r e i s a n o n - B e i n g w h i c h i_s_
beyind Being's l i m i t s . I f , on the other hand,"what i s not
i s not, what i s i s " implies that Being i s aperas or l i m i t l e s s ,
Parmenides expressly denies

t h i s , above, on somewhat

Pythagorean grounds.
Now t h i s s o r t o f i n c o n s i s t e n c y can spawn a l l manner o f
philological parlor-games: i . e . , "Parmenides contradicted
himself because o f . h i s own naivete" vs. "Parmenides, no
philosophical slouch, would never have slipped that badly:

the contradiction i s .only apparent" and so on.

As Hyland

most eloquently points out, what i s of historical (or


philological) interest is not necessarily of philosophical
interest;^ no philosophical bread i s baked by musing over
the putative stupidity of Eleatic cosmology, i f indeed
there i s such a thing.

B u t i n t e r p r e t i v e p r o g r e s s j_s m a d e ,

I t h i n k , b y s h i f t i n g t h e f o c u s o f P a r m e n i d e s ' s Way f r o m
cosmology to i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y : by doing so the problems i n
volving the f i n i tude of that-which-is vanish.
On t h i s i s s u e , Hyland suggests
...that the 'finitude' in question is the finitude
of 'definition'. That i s , Being i s f i n i t e in the
s e n s e t h a t i t h a s in t e l 1 i g i b l e b o u n d a r i e s , o r a g a i n ,
t h a t i t i s capable o f a r t i c u l a t i o n . To put i t most
simply, B e i n g - i s - f i n i t e means most fundamentally,
Being-is-de-finable, Being i s i n t e l l i g i b l e , and
articulable.10
The f i n i t u d e of Being can thus be viewed as a
leftover element from Parmenides's past allegiance to
Pythagoreanism, as well as a symptom o f the usual Hellenic
g

Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 180.

10
Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 186.

124
queasiness about the irrational, identified with the l i m i t
less.^

But i f Being i s f i n i t e and one, changeless, motion

l e s s , e t c . , t h e n B e i n g c a n n o t b e i d e n t i f i e d w i t h p hu sis ,
or the material, sensible world, at a l l .

Hyland notes

t h a t h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n makes Parmenides less naive (he


i s not maintaining that the material kosmos i s one, changeless,
etc.) but with the cost of making the world of phusi s un
i n t e l l i g i b l e by definition.

Hardly the "last stand" of

Milesian monism, Parmenides1 thought challenges the very


possibility of rational cosmology.
For Hyland and Mourelatos, Parmenides i s not, as
Burnet suggests, equating Being with "that which exists"
or the "material plenum of the w o r l d " , ^ but neither i s he
denying the existence of particular things.
Fr. 3, t gar auto noein esti n te kai einai,

Hyland glosses
as saying

that Being must be present whenever thinking occurs:

^One i s reminded of the tale told concerning the


horror which i s said to have overcome the Pythagoreans with
t h e i r discovery of the i r r a t i o n a l numberV2\
For a more
balanced view of Pythagorean "rationalism" see E. R. Dodds,
The Greeks and the I r r a t i o n a l (Berkeley: Univ. of California
P r . 1966), Ch. V, and pp. 164n63 and 171n95.
^Burnet, op. c i t . , pp. 379-80.

"Being i s the immanent telos of t h i n k i n g " J 3

i t is only

under t h e aspect o f "what i s " t h a t we can speak o f a n y t h i n g ,


even that which f a l l s under the "way of seeming".
the intel1igib1e aspect of things.

Being is

Hyland perceptively

notes the l i n k between Parmenides and Plato i n t h i s respect:


...The ideas or Forms which are discussed i n the
dialogues whatever their complex nature, have a t least
this quality, that they are the intelligible aspect of
t h i hgs, t h a t which we "come'.to know" when and i n s o f a r
a s w e k n o w " p h e n o m e n a " . We i n d e e d f i n d t h e r o o t s o f
t h i s view i n Parmenides's poem. Being as t h a t which
i s the same a s , o r f o r , t h i n k i n g , as t h a t which i s the
ever-present "for-the-sake-of-which" of thinking, is
t h a t w h i c h i s in t e l 1 i g i b l e t o t h i n k i n g , t h a t w h i c h h a s
that affinity with thinking which. . . is essential to
the nature and p o s s i b i l i t y of knowledge.^
Thus nous i s the measure of Being - - a sentiment
w h i c h both P l a t o and Parmenides f u l l y share.

But what i s .

i n t e l l i g i b l e for Parmenides i s quite different than what


is intelligible for Plato.

For Plato, existent, particular

things are not i n t e l l i g i b l e i n t h e i r own r i g h t , but are


made i n t e l l i g i b l e by t h e i r r e l a t i o n t o the Forms, and are
"seen" under the i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect of Forms through nous.
For Parmenides, existent particular things are likewise
unintelligible.

Parmenides i s not so much denying " t h i n g s "

he i s denying that things are more than mere appearances,


or t h a t they are i n any way revelatory of Being:
^3Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 187.
l^Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 187.

A?6
. . . I t i s thus Being as the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of
things which i s one, whole, eternal, not created or
destroyed, and, of course f i n i t e i n the sense of de
f i n i t e . Thus Parmenides i s not denying that things
change, come t o be, p e r i s h , and move.
Parmenides i s not denying things, but he i s denying
that things are.

I f thinking and Being are one, i f the

noetic and ontological orders are co-extensive or ismorphic,


then that which changes, perishes, e t c . has no ontological
significance, and no worth as a subject for philosophical
reflection.

Parmenides denies the Being of change, multi

p l i c i t y , and the l i k e precisely because of this unshakeable


conviction that the noetic (-and, more precisely, logical)
order and the ontological order are, and must be, one; this
conviction i s symptomatic of his overriding craving for
metaphysical unity even at the expense of particularity or
di versi ty.
This perplexing view --denying the Being of change,and
p l u r a l i t y without denying them per se-understood by way o f example.

i s perhaps best

Montgomery Furth, i n "Elements

of Eleatic Ontology", concocts an imaginary Parmenidean


conversati on:
BETATHON:
BETATHON:

15

Trees are
Lizards are.

Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 187.

PARMENIDES: ( s i l e n t )
PARMENIDES: Your'e repeating
yourself.

V27
BETATHON:- I said t h a t some
thing different was, the
second time.
BETATHON: C l e a r l y , t r e e s are
different from lizards...
BETATHON:
1i zard.
BETATHON:

PARMENIDES: How, " d i f f e r e n t " ?


PARMENIDES: An example, please?

Henry, here, i s a
And i s not a t r e e .

PARMENIDES: ( s i l e n t )
PARMENIDES: Thou c a n s ' t n o t
be acquainted with what i s
not,nor indicate i t i n speech.

Furth glosses this hypothetical exchange thus:


The p a r t i c u l a r example used obviously i s quite
arbitrary, and the point can be stated generally:
given the is-not doctrine, Parmenides i s i n a position
t o c l a i m t h a t t h e s t a t e m e n t t h a t s o m e t h i n g is a s s e r t s
t h e statement t h a t ( o s t e n s i b l y ) somethi ng e l s e is ,
because the attempted specification of the alleged
difference i s unintelligible. Nor i s this conclusion
confined to existential propositions like "lizards are";
the same reasoning shows t h a t Betathon i s repeating
himself when he f o l l o w s , e g . , "Zeno i s handsome" w i t h
"Zeno i s a biped", for the two predicates involved are
no b e t t e r o f f than " t r e e " o r " l i z a r d " . And so
Betathon i s at l i b e r t y , i f he enjoys i t , to continue
mouthing statements l i k e "trees are", "lizards are", etc.,
but the idea that he has actually asserted something
different the second time from the f i r s t , or on any
occasion from any other, i s mere i l l u s i o n , stemming
from the single great i l l u s i o n , the idea that what
i s n o t . . . i s i n t e l l i g i b l e , can be thought o f , or worst
of a l l , can be.
Here i s a concrete i l l u s t r a t i o n of just what Parmenides
i s and i s not denying.

Parmenides does not complain when

Montgomery Furth, "Elements of Eleatic Ontology"


Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 6, no. 2 (1968).
Reprinted i n A. P. D. Morelatos, ed., The Pre-Socratics
(Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), pp. 264-65.
17
Furth, op. c i t ., p. 266.

12S
Betathon asserts "trees are"
telling.

--although his si1ence i s

Betathon's assertion is intelligible to the extent

t h a t i t i s a v a r i a n t o f t_i_ e s tin , " i t i s " .


unintelligible about Being:

There i s nothing

i t is purely intelligible.

But the instant Betathon invokes a contrast by asserting


"lizards are",

Parmenides recognizes a redundancy, since

t h e in t e l 1 i g i b l e c o n t e n t o f b o t h a s s e r t i o n s r e d u c e s t o t h e
t i estin, the "is".

"Lizards" and "trees" are u n i n t e l l i g i b l e ,

because the only way t o render the contrast between trees


and lizards " i n t e l l i g i b l e " i s by violating what Furth calls
the "is-not doctrine", i t s e l f the canon on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
f o r Parmenides. When Betathon does t h i s , Parmenides chastens
him: you cannot be acquainted with what i s not.
My appraisal o f the above as an instance o f l o g i c
(at least to a degree) dictating to Parmenides's ontology
i s somewhat contrary to the tone, i f not the substance o f
the Hyland-Mourelatos thesis on the "Way o f T r u t h " .
Hyland and Mourelatos are surely correct i n deflating the
p r e t e n t i o n s o f some commentators t h a t t h e Way o f T r u t h "
advocates exclusive reliance upon an axiomatic, deductive
method f o r philosophy: the "erotic" dimension of nous i n
the proem section i s ample evidence against t h i s .

Never

theless much o f Parmenides's thoughts on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


take

the cast of deductive argument from premisses which

129
t o Parmenides (and the poem's "goddess") seem incontrovertible.

18

For instance, Fr. 2, lines 3 -8, the starting


<

point of Parmenides's argument concerning " i s - n o t " :


. . . T h e o n e w a y , t h a t w h a t - i s i_s^ a n d c a n n o t
not-be, i s the path of persuasion (for i t attends
upon Truth), and the other, that what-is i s , n o t and
needs must not-be, that I t e l l you i s a path a l
together unthinkable.
This seems opaque only because i t appears so banal:
could Parmenides be saying only that

'P -P1 i s a formal

contradiction" and " 'p . p' i s tautologous"?

The meta

physical significance of these apparent truisms become clear


as Parmenides goes on to say
. . . F o r you could not know t h a t which i s - n o t nor
u t t e r i t ; f o r the same t h i n g a p p l i e s f o r t h i n k i n g as
f o r bei ng J9
Thus h i s deductive argument seems t o run as
foilows:
a) The formal properties of that-which-is
necessitate that "that which i s i s " .
b)

As w e l l as " t h a t - w h i c h - i s cannot n o t - b e " .

c ) B u t b ) e n t a i l s t h a t w h i c h i s n o t i_s n o t : y o u
you cannot know that-which-is-not nor u t t e r i t , because
i f you could, i t would not be what-is not, but what i s
(as i n a).
18

See J . E.Raven's t e x t , i n Kirk and Raven, op. c i t . ,

p. 272.
19

Here and elsewhere I have modified Raven's translation


of "jto auto noein estin te kai einai" to clearly r e f l e c t and
emphasize Parmenides's "identity" of thought and Being.

130
d) Therefore the very assertion of that which
involves non-being, negativity, etc., is logically
u n i n t e l l i g i b l e , and thus consigned to the "Way of
Seeming" condemned i n F r . 6 and 7.
From d ) , Parmenides seeks to establish the various
negative theses concerning creation and destruction, m u l t i
p l i c i t y , change, and movement expressed i n F r . 8, by arguing
e) I f any concept
involve s the (tacit) asser
tion of "that which i s not", then i t is likewise unin t e l l i g i b l e .
f ) Creation, m u l t i p l i c i t y , change, etc. are such
concepts.
g) Therefore creation, multiplicity, etc., are
unintelligible.
Thus Parmenides's "Way o f Truth" i s 1argely a series
of deductions from what appears to be a statement about the
logical parameters o f " t h a t which i s " , as against " t h a t
which i s n o t " ; G. S. Kirk and J . E. Raven i n t e r p r e t the
dialectical Fr. 8 as the attempt to dedjce a l l one can from
the positive doctrine about Being i n Fr. 2.

But Kirk and

Raven mar t h e i r s o l i d insights i n t o the deductive element


i n Parmenides's "Way" by i n f e r r i n g that Parmenides's aim
i s primarily a logical one, and given that, the extreme
conclusions o f the poem can be overcome by applying t o
them a degree of logical sophistication they lack.
For example, Raven's gloss on ,Fr. 2 and 3:

1 131

...Rarmenides i s a t t a c k i n g those who b e l i e v e ,


as a l l men always had believed, t h a t i t i s possible
t o make a s i g n i f i c a n t negative predication; but he
i s enabled t o attack them only because o f h i s own
confusion between a negative predication and a nega
t i v e existential judgement. The g i s t of this d i f f i c u l t
and important fragment i s therefore this: 'Either i t i s
right only to say of a thing, " i t i s . . . " (i.e., i t i s
so-and-so, e.g., white) or else i t i s right to think
or say only " i t i s n o t . . . " ( i e . , " i t i s not something
else, eg., Black).
The l a t t e r i s to be f i r m l y r e
jected on the ground [ a mistaken one, for Raven,
owing to the confusion between the existential and the
predicative]
that i t i s impossible to conceive of
non-being, the non-existent.^0
But Raven i s surely mistaken on the range of the
" i t " i n " i t i s or i t i s not", the usual translation of
Fr. 1 , l i n e 16, estin e ouk estin.

F i r s t of a l l , Raven

seems t o be i n t e r p r e t i n g t h i s " i t " as meaning " t h i n g s "


or particulars, as i n his examples " i t i s so-and-so, e,g.,
white".

This s t i r s up a l l the inconsistencies involved i n

interpreting Parmenides's Being as a material plenum, as


does Burnet.

Raven himself q u a l i f i e s his position:

Burnet's

thesis i s "at best premature" i n concluding that Parmenidean


Being i s "body"; nevertheless, Raven i n s i s t s t h a t , i n groping
h i s way toward the i n c o r p o r e a l , Parmenides was r e s t r i c t e d
to a corporealist vocabulary, since previous philosophical
r e f l e c t i o n was c o r p o r e a l i s t t o a f a u l t . ^

But Raven's

2Kirk and Raven, op. c i t . , pp. 269-70.


21

Kirk and Raven, op. c i t . , p. 270.

13l2
qualification also misses the point.

He assumes throughout

t h a t "The Way" i s an exercise i n cosmolog.y - - o r the attempt


to draw a cosmology from the formal characteristics of "esti n"when i t

i s f a r less forced to view i t as an exercise i n

noetics. Parmenides i s not ultimately concerned with the


question "of what does r e a l i t y ultimately consist"; i n fact,
i n s o f a r as such a question seems t o i n e v i t a b l y involve
recourse to such concepts as "Change", " m u l t i p l i c i t y " and the
l i k e , Parmenides's "Way o f Truth" i n s i s t s on the uni n t e l 1 i g i bi1i ty of such cosmological inquiry.

P a r m e n i d e s ' s _i_s_ t r y i n g

to cope with thequestion of "how must r e a l i t y be understood?"


The question "what l i e s outside Being" only makes sense i f
one construes Parmenides's f i n i t u d e of Being as a euphemism
for i t s i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , i t s de-finition. This is the only
s o r t o f l i m i t i n t e l l i g i b l e by Parmenides's own standards.
Yet Raven continues t o see "The Way" through cosmological
l e n s e s : e g . , t h a t o n e c a n s a y t h a t a p a r t i c u l a r i_s w h i t e ,
but one cannot say i t i s not black.

This presupposes that

Parmenides would admit a rational cosmology which endorses


particulars and insists on their i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y --that
" t h i s i s white" and " t h a t i s not white" make ultimate sense
to Parmenides, that they are revelatory of Being.

But of

course such cosmology assumes the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of


"plurality" --a p l u r a l i t y of particulars-- and Parmenides'

' 133
noetic doctrine does not allow t h i s .

Since Raven's paradigm

example backfires, his claims that Parmenides1 s excesses


can be corrected by more sophisticated logic also f a l l .
Raven's position concerning the predicative and existential
uses of " i s " misses the point: i t i s precisely those things
t h a t R a v e n b e l i e v e s w e c a n s a y " a r e n o t >c" ( g i v e n t h e e x i s
tential use of " i s " ) without contradiction that Parmenides
wishes to deny, on the grounds of the wholesale u n i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of any " p l u r a l i t y " of particulars.
T h i s excursus on t h e r o l e o f l o g i c i n "The Way o f
T r u t h " , has, I t h i n k , shown two things: i ) that much of the
"Way" i s a logical deduction from what Parmenides's considers
to be the logical conditions of Being; ( i n short, Parmenides
is deriving the Ontological order from the logical order),
and ii ) t h a t Parmenides i s n o t r e f u t e d by p o i n t i n g o u t a
degree of logical naivete i n h i s thesis on Being, since
such "correction" presumes that the received views of modern
logic (e.g., the predicative/existential distinction) would
be deemed i n t e l l i g i b l e by Parmenides, when they would i n
f a c t be condemned t o "The Way o f Seeming".

Both i ) and i i )

underscore the stark and uncompromising nature of his thought


the difficulty of accepting his radical conclusion about
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , the d i f f i c u l t y of piecemeal criticism
given the deductive character of much of his argument, the

1^4
difficulty of wholesale rejection given the apparent t r i v
iality of his starting-point, "what-is, is".

But up to

now, one central question has been skirted: what could


have motivated Parmenides to conclude, given his analyses
of esti n e ouk estin,

that the logical order is the only

secure basis for noetics?

Why n o t s i m p l y t a k e t h e "Way

of Truth" as a reductio ad absurdum

on that sort of monism,

a testament to the l i m i t s of logic and a prelude to grounding


one's noetics i n the "Way o f Seeming"?

This i s , after a l l ,

one way --an e m p i r i c i s t way-- to go about r e j e c t i n g Parmenides.


One must conclude, I t h i n k , t h a t the o n l y t h i n g t h a t
could have forced Parmenides's hand i n t h i s regard was a
metaphysical t h i r s t for uni t.y,

even at the expense of

m u l t i p l i c i t y . I f one i s commited to the ideas that Being i s


i n t e l l i g i b l e only as a de-finite u n i t y , and that our under
standing of i t s de-finition entails that "what applies for
thinking also applies for Being",

Then Parmenides'

p r i o r i approach t o the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f Being seems q u i t e


natural, even unavoidable.

And, from Parmenides's point

of view, at least, the chaos into which a l l talk about


changing, differentiated particulars i s thrown i s not
regre%able, nor a l l that chaotic: negative existential
propositions, such as " i t i s not so-and-so, eg. black",
have their proper p i ace - - t o paraphrase Wittgenstein,Par-

135

menides leaves the world of

seemirig as i t i s .

Yet Par -

menides does not shrink: from concluding that the world of


seeming does not coincide a t any point with the world of
Being; the way of seeming i s not the way of t r u t h ,

and

i t i s the business of the philosopher to see the deep i n


consistency i n making the phenomenal, natural world of par
ticulars intelligible, i.e., revelatory of Being.

Hence the

"elitism" of Fr. 6 and 7, contrasting the philosopher with


"mortals", mired i n doxa.

Parmenides gives doxa i t s due

i n F r . 8 lines 1-50 and F r . 12 - - a compendium o f opinions on


a l l manner of l i g h t and dark, p l u r a l i t i e s and processes.
But he carefully prefaces this with a warning: "Here I end
my t r u s t w o r t h y discourse concerning T r u t h : henceforth l e a r n
the beliefs of mortal men, listening the deceitful order
i n g o f my words."

Mourelatos masterfully shows t h a t the

"words" of the goddess are not just deceptive i n that they


depart from the way o f t r u t h , but are deceptive i n the sense
of equivocal:

Parmenides adopts the l i t e r a r y device of

a m b i g u i t y , whereby t h e words which we use t o speak o f the


temporal, sensible world o f doxa are shown t o necessarily
have double meanings.

2^a.

pp

This reinforces Parmenides' deep

P. D. Morelatos, "The Deceptive Words o f Parmenides1s


'Doxa'" i n Morelatos, ed., op. c i t . , pp. 312*.15.

1136
conviction that Being i s not grasped i n doxa:
I n thesecond part o f the poem, words occur i n
their familiar, ordinary meaning; but paradox and
oxymoron are f e l t as i n c i p i e n t , and references to
what-is-not are disguised a l l too thinly. In the
f i r s t part there i s a logical consistency and r i g o r ;
but the words assume an unfamiliar and f i g u r a t i v e
sense.
I n short, for Parmenides the break between appear
ance and r e a l i t y has become complete.

The world of doxa

i s the familiar and proper place f o r our assertions of


m u l t i p l i c i t y , non-existence, time and the l i k e , but there
i s something improper about doxa as such: the "deceptive
words" o f the second p a r t o f the poem i r o n i c a l l y r e f l e c t
this.

These extreme conclusions might have been bypassed

had Parmenides adopted a doctrine of "different senses of


B e i n g " a_ J_a A r i s t o t l e ( e . g . , t h e " i s " o f p r e d i c a t i o n , t h e
"is" of identity, the "is" of existence).

Were Parmenides

t o have done t h i s , sense-particulars could be rendered i n


t e l l i g i b l e , and appearance would be more than mere appear
ance.

But'such an admission would, i n Parmenides' eyes,

d r i v e a wedge through the unit.y o f Being.

I f Being i s

anything to Parmenides i t i s one, timeless, and changeless.


A p l u r a l i t y of meanings f o r t ojn, however, would generate
ontological degrees and/or types which would seemingly
23Ibid.,

p. 348.

137
compromise these necessary attributes of Being: because
these attributes are necessary however, incoherences
would automatically develop concerning degrees and/or types
of Being.

A degrees-of-reality ontology would imply a graded

_
24
s c a l e f r o m _to o n t o s o n d o w n t o n o n - b e i n g .
is not is not".

But: "what

A types-of-reality ontology would imply

distinction between (at least) two orders of Being.

But

B e i n g i s n e c e s s a r i l y u n i t a r y : w h a t i s j_s a n d c a n n o t b e o t h e r
than i t i s , for "what i s not is not".
T h i s d o e s n ' t mean t h a t " u n i t y of B e i n g " i s i n c o m p a t
i b l e w i t h o n t o l o g i c a l degrees and kinds: i t only shows how
uncompromising Parmenides i s concerning the necessity of
unity-in-being.

Toying with ontological degrees and/or

types would incur too high a p r i c e f o r Parmenides, too much


weakening of unity, through multiplicity-in-unity.

His

staunch metaphysical monism, f a i n t l y anticipating the


monisms of Spinoza and Bradley, rebounds i n t o an uncompro
mising epistemological dualism: appearance i s unintellig
i b l e a s s u c h , h o l d i n g n o n o e t i c c l u e s a s t o w h a t i_s^ i n
telligible --Being itself.
24

Gregory Vlastos, "Degrees of Reality i n Plato ,


i n R. Bambrough, e d . , New Essays on P l a t o and A r i s t o t l e
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 10-16.

138
C)

Parmenidean vs. Platonic I n t e l l i g i b i l i t y

How does t h e above reading o f Parmenides's "Way o f


Truth" apply to the thesis maintained i n the present work
about Plato's Parmenides?

I n t h e f o l l o w i n g w a y : i f I am

c o r r e c t i n viewing the "Way o f Truth" as a philosophical


work on the nature

o f i n t e 1 1i qibi1i t y ,

then aside from

thfe undeniable influence i t had on P l a t o ' s conception o f


t h e F o r m s , t h e r e a r e ir r e c o n c i 1 a b l e d i f f e r e n c e s b e t w e e n
Parmenides and Plato on the topic of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , and
that these differences, once articulated, are evident i n
the text of Plato's dialogue Parmeni des.

I plan t o show

i n d e t a i l how Plato does allude t o these differences i n


the following

. chapters: for the remainder of this

chapter, I would l i k e to determine the precise source of


Plato's dissent from the Eleatic master.
The positive contribution of Parmenides t o Plato's
development as a theme
of further additions.^

f o r commentators i s hardly i n need


Nevertheless, as I contend that

the "Way o f Truth" i s p r i m a r i l y concerned with i n t e l l i g i


b i l i t y , i t would be well to examine the scholarly consensus
on Parmenides' influence on Plato i n this l i g h t .
25

The best account of Parmenides' influence upon


P l a t o ' s Forms i s , i n my o p i n i o n , i n Paul F r i e d l a n d e r ' s P I a t o ,
vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1964), pp. 21-25.

1-39
F i r s t , there i s Parmenides's dictum "to auto noein
estin te kai einai",

a phrase s u f f i c i e n t l y ambiguous as

to be applicable, i n different ways, to Plato, Aristotle,


and Hegel.

Although Parmenides' appropriation of t h i s maxim

i s quite different from that of the aforementioned philoso


phers, a single general "moral" could be drawn for a l l
four: thought i s the measure of Being. Plato's antagonism
to sophistic conventionalism and relativism needed a con
vincing vehicle.

Against the idea that "intelligibility"

i s , i n a way, a sham concept since i t i s merely a r e f l e c


tion of arbitrary collective

nomos, Plato wished to main

tain that psuche had the capacity to transcend i t s e l f and


noetically grasp the character of r e a l i t y as i t actually
is.

This need for noetic grasp of r e a l i t y as i t actually

i s f i n d s expression i n the many visual metaphors f o r nous


i n t h e Republi c (518c, 519b, 527d-4, 533d), t h e Symposi um
(219a) and the Seventh L e t t e r (341c), echoing the demand
to "see with our minds" voiced by Parmenides.
centralization of
Parmenides'

26

Plato's

i n t e l l e c t , of nous, i s a descendent of

i n i t s insistence that nous alone gives us a

reliable account of the nature of Being.


Secondly, there i s the ontological characteristic

26nyiand, op. c i t . , p. 182, glossing Parmenides's


Fr. Bl.

140
of the Forms, which also characterize Parmenides'

Being.

Friedlander notes that


. . . t h e Parmenidean philosophy of being provided
him Plato w i t h the means t o anchor h i s i n t u i t i o n
i n permanent thoughts and words...It i s the very
predicates of Parmenidean being --whole, simple,
immutable-- that Plato transferred to his archetypes...
For both thinkers, being i s diametrically opposed
to absolute non-being. For both, not-being i s un
knowable. . .Compl e t e being ( p a n t e l o s on) on t h e o t h e r
hand, i s f o r Plato completely knowable (pantelos
gnSston), j u s t as there i s only one path of knowledge
for Parmenides, namely, that which leads to pure
being aridwhich bears the characteristics of this
being as marks.27
The permanence and s t a b i l i t y of Parmenidean
knowledge, grounded i n the simple immutability of Parmenidean
Being, was the major resource Plato u t i l i z e d t o counter
the g l i b reletivism of Sophism and i t s p o l i t i c a l f a l l o u t .
I t enabled Plato to speak of the possibility of a transcultural and transhistorical perspective on r e a l i t y ,
which gave shape and substance to Plato's anti-sophistic
demand t h a t i n t e l l e c t i o n has the power t o break the bonds
of convention.
Despite this considerable positive influence, a
serious gulf separates Plato and Parmenides.

This gulf

i s a consequence of what Friedlander calls Parmenides's


r i g i d i t y - - h i s i n a b i l i t y togrant any further explication
27

Friedlander, op. c i t . , pp. 23-4.

to Being other than "what i s i s " and the wholeness,


simplicity, and immutability this entails.28

Friedlander

notes a c r i t i c a l s p l i t between Parmenides and Plato on the


definition of doxa; for Parmenides

"the word refers i n

separably both to confused opinion of the subject and


confused appearance of the object" (emphasis mine).29
The inadequacies of doxa are not merely due to a defect
i n the doxic mode o f c o g n i t i o n , but are due t o the ontol o g i c a l l y barren state of the objects of doxa as w e l l .
While the objectsof doxa are f a i r l y f a r down on P l a t o ' s
divided l i n e , they nevertheless show a degree o f epistemic
reliability: the divided line i s , after a l l , continuous.
Yet Parmenides cannot be even t h i s generous to the objects
of doxa:

one cannot say they are insofar as they are

sensed particulars (recall Furth's "lizards" and " f r o g s " ) ,


one can only say"what i s i s " .

For Plato, doxa i s usually

translated "opinion", while f o r Parmenides, i t i s j u s t as


frequently rendered by the far less reassuring "seeming".
This i s no accident.

Platonic objects of doxa can be con

strued as "semblances" of a higher ontological order, as


'topiesf' o f t h e i r Forms: i t i s i n t h i s way t h a t Plato a f f i r m s
281bi

d., pp. 24-5.

29Ibid.,

p. 24.

a t least a l i m i t e d r e l i a b i l i t y f o r doxic cognition and an


"impure" yet genuine reality for i t s objects, the particulars
of sense.

But Parmenides's condemnation of doxa cannot

allow f o r t h i s : what p a r t i c u l a r s seem t o be are not semblances of a higher order of r e a l i t y , but are more akin to
i11usi ons, floating free of any anchorage i n true Being.
Friedlander shows c l e a r l y the reasons why Plato
could never subscribe to this Parmenidean attitude:
For Parmenides, who knows o n l y pure being and
nothing else, "being and thinking are one and the
same", j u s t as i n the intermediary world of doxa
the ontological status o f the o b j e c t and the mode o f
knowledge are fused w i t h each o t h e r . P l a t o , who i n
corporates the abundance of i n t u i t e d forms into his
world o f being and f o r whom, because o f Socrates,
man o r ' s o u l ' i s one o f the highest experiences,
could no longer envisage so simple a construction.^
To the extent that Plato dissents from Parmenides's
"simple construction" he must have advocated a substantially
different account of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , since Parmenides's
stance on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y revolves around his stubborn
commitment to simplicity.
Hyland recognizes this near the conclusion of his
chapter on Parmenides:
Evidently the view attributed to Parmenides has
immense d i f f i c u l t i e s . The problem o f how Being, so
understood, can be a " u n i t y " w h i l e a t the same time
being a source of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y for a multiplicity
30Ibid.,

pp. 24-5.

1-43

of phenomena, the problem of the precise nature


of the relationship between existent things and the
Being by which they are i n t e l l i g i b l e , such problems
have occupied defenders of this view from Plato and
Aristotle to contemporary phi1osophy.^
However Hyland i s subtly confused here, s p e c i f i c a l l y
i n his conviction thatParmenidean Being i s a "source of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y " f o r a m u t l ip i i c i t . y , a n d t h a t i n t h i s
Parmenides shares a common cause w i t h Plato and A r i s t o t l e .
Parmenides i s clear that the
are not intel1igible,
phenomenality.

" m u l t i p l i c i t y of phenomena"

a t least qua t h e i r m u l t i p l i c i t y and

To allude t o Furth's imaginary dialogue

once more, the most one can i n t e l l i g i b l y say about the


l i k e os "lizards" and "trees" i s that they are.

But the

second one t r i e s to speak i n t e l l i g i b l y of "lizards" of


"trees" as such - - i n d i s t i n c t i o n from other particulars
and kinds of particulars-- one runs into the absurd need
to assert "that which i s not":
negatio. In Fr. 8
be i n t e l l i g i b l e .
Parmenides'

onmis determinatio est

Parmenides deems "what i s i s " alone t o


As soon as one

departs from this, i n

view, and speaks of particulars i n their

p a r t i c u l a r i t y , changeability, e t c . , one ceases to speak


I
intelligibly.

This obviously destroys any idea of i n t e l

lection as necessarily linked to dialogue - - t h i s i s directly


31

Hyland, op. c i t . , p. 188.

144
opposed t o P l a t o ' s own t h i n k i n g on the necessary bond between
nous and dialogue, most f o r c e f u l l y advocated i n Sophi st 260a f f .
and Phaedrus 274a-278b.
illuminating: Parmenides'

Once again, Furth's example i s


responses to Betathon consist

i n a very t e l l i n g silence, charges of repetition, and ad


monitions not to speak of "what i s not".

Dialogue i n the

Platonic style can hardly get off the ground under those
conditions.

Hence Parmenides1s views on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y

must be vigorously rejected by Plato, whose love and pursuit


o f wisdom was i n v a r i a b l y d i a l o g i c a l .
Parmenides'

doctrine of intelligibility is at

odds with Plato's i n two ways: i ) i t s radical narrowing


of the range of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , ^ ) i t s ultimate denial
of discrete instances of that which i s intelligible.

Re

garding i ) : although the intelligible properties of Plato's


Forms include immutability, wholeness, e t c . , the proper
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of a Form i s not exhausted by these: e.g.,
the Form "Justice" i s i n t e l l i g i b l e as whole, immutable,
e t c . , but there i s obviously more to the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
of 'Justice' than i t s wholeness, immutability, etc.
namely, justice (reciprocity, fairness, etc.).

For

Parmenides, only such aspects of t hen as wholeness,


immutability, etc. can be ultimately understood to be
intelligible.

But f o r Plato there are Forms of Motion

145
as well as Rest, Many as well as One; there i s a t least
the suggestion of Forms of a r t i f a c t s l i k e shuttles
(Cratylus 388a)

and Beds (Republic X, 596b),

and of

natural kinds such as men and animals (Parmenides 130c,


Timaeus 39e).

There are Forms of Good, Justice, and

Holiness: i r o n i c a l l y , a l l of these are themes introduced


i n the proem o f the "Way o f Truth" which seem t o be under
mined by Parmenides's subsequent development of his ontology
i n the rest of the poem.

Like Parmenides, Plato believes

that the natural, phenomenal world of particular things


- - a world o f s h u t t l e s and beds, men and animals, good,
j u s t , and holy things, e t c . - - i s u n i n t e l l i g i b l e i n i t s
own r i g h t .

32

But Plato does not endorse Parmenides's

blanket conclusion that i t is unintelligible uberhaupt:


i t i s made i n t e l l i g i b l e i n v i r t u e o f i t s r e l a t i o n t o and
participation i n the eide, and i s grasped as i n t e l l i g i b l e
through nous.

Plato's relational metaphysics (i.e., by

methexis i n the Forms, p a r t i c u l a r s become the p a r t i c u l a r s


they are and exhibit the particular characteristics they
have) allows him to escape the "simple construction" of
37

See Bruce Wilshire, Metaphysics (Indianapolis:


Bobbs-Merri11, 1969), p. 65.

146
of Parmenides's views

on intelligibi1ity.33

Regardingii):most o f Plato's Forms are i n t e l l i g i b l e


o n l y i f one grants t h a t , i n some way, i t s p a r t i c u l a r i n stances are.

34

I n other words, an account of these i n

stances and t h e i r p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n a Form l i k e "Motion"


or "Many" (or for that matter Furth's "Lizard" or "Tree")
i s revelatory of Bei ng --an account of a real thing
posessing a real attribute due to i t s relation to a real
Form.

Parmenides'

ontology contradicts this:

there

i s nothing real or 'Beingly' ( i n the Greek adjectival


sense of ontos) for Parmenides about, say, trees or
l i z a r d s qua trees o r l i z a r d s .

Therefore for Parmenides,

there would be no need t o conjecture ei de f o r temporal,


mutable beings.

They would be a p r i o r i u n i n t e l l i g i b l e ,

so no Form could grant them i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , therefore


no such Forms are themselves i n t e l l i g i b l e .
Plato does not hold such Forms to be a p r i o r i
u n i n t e l l i g i b l e , nor the phenomena which p a r t i c i p a t e i n
i n them.

Platonic

Being cannot be restricted i n t h i s way:

33see R. E. Allen, "Participation and Predication


i n Plato's Middle Dialogues", Philosophical Review 69 (1960)
as reprinted i n G. Vlastos, ed., PI a to I (Garden City:
Doubleday 1970), pp. 167-70.
34See

Sophist 247d.

147
there must be a kind of koinonia ( c f . Sophist 257a) between
Form and p a r t i c u l a r , despite the ontological insufficiency
o f the p a r t i c u l a r . Scholars have d i f f e r e d as t o how t h i s
koin5nia of Being between Forms and particulars i s best
conceived.

Some i n t e r p r e t P l a t o ' s treatment o f i t as a

degrees-of-reality doctrine, whereby Being forms a graded


continuum, with the Forms expressing "pure Being" and
particulars partaking of Being and non-being alike
(eg. Rep. 478d.).

This i s Vlastos's position.35

Others,

like Charles Bigger, reject the degrees-of-reality inter


pretation in favor of a types-of-reality doctrine: in this
reading o f Plato, Forms and particulars both are, but i n
irreducibly different ways.36

Others, such as R. E. Allen,

endorse an interpretation of Plato as advancing both a


degrees- and a types-of-reality

docrine.3^

At the moment, however, I do not wish to debate


the relative merits of these three interpretations of the
Platonic koinflnia of being. I t is sufficient to note that
nei ther degrees-of-reality nor types-of-reality nor any
any combination of the two would be admissible to Parmenides.
35Vlastos,

"TMA", pp. 247-8, and "Degrees of Reality,

op. c i t . Possim.
36Charles P. Bigger, Participation (Baton Rouge:
Univ. of Louisiana Pr. 1968), pp. 12-13.
37

Allen, op. c i t . , pp. 167-70.

148
D e g r e e s - o f - r e a lit y w o u l d s u g g e s t t h e r e i f i c c i t i o n o f n o n being, would contradict his belief i n the necessary unicity
Parmenides1s metaphysical position i s un

of what-is.

compromisingly moni s t i c.
D)

Prelude to Plato's Parmenides

I f I am c o r r e c t i n t h e p r e c e e d i n g s e c t i o n s - - i . e . ,
t h a t the "Way o f Truth" i s concerned p r i m a r i l y w i t h i n
t e l l i g i b i l i t y and i t s metaphysical implications, and that
Parmenides's conclusions i n hte "Way" are h o s t i l e t o some
o f P l a t o ' s c r u c i a l views on t h e s u b j e c t - - then we can
reasonably anticipate the following w i l l crop up i n Plato's
Parmeni des:
1)

Parmenides's attack on the Forms i n part I

w i l l proceed from his monistic account of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .


But his attack, though perhaps victorious over the position
of the young Socrates, suffers from the inadequacies inherent
i n his monism, and this should be evident i n the text of
the dialogue.

I have t r i e d t o show how Parmenides extreme

monism i s antagonistic to the theory of Forms, regardless


of whether one takes Plato's early, middle, or l a t e r dialogues
as one's guides: Parmenides's views on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
amount to a denial of the participation of particulars i n
true Being, the source of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .

I t would be

astonishing i f Plato, i n his Parmeni des, l e t such a theory

of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y escape unchallenged.

Therefore, in light

of t h i s major s p l i t between Plato and Parmenides, i t i s


l i k e l y t h a t P l a t o ' s P a r m e n i d e s i s a n ir o n i c r e b u t t a l t o
Eleaticism, i t ' s anti-Parmenidean arguments concealed i n the
way i n which Parmenides must misconstrue the Forms i f he
i s t o remain f a i t h f u l t o h i s own philosophical program.
Thus, i n light of the views of the historical Parmenides,
i t i s far from fanciful to view Parmenides p t . I as the
dramatic tale of a pyrrhic victory for Eleaticism.
2)

The defeat of the young Socrates, however,

must be interpreted i n t h i s l i g h t as well.

I f Socrates',

defense of the Forms i s overcome by a philosophical position


as mistaken, i n Plato's eyes, as Parmenides' , then this
should be due not to Plato's f a i l u r e to see the deep
significance of his Parmenides'

argument, but rather to

serious blunders on the part of Plato's young Socrates.


the following chapters' Ishal1 show t h a t t h i s
the case: i n Parmenides ,

In

i s indeed

Socrates consistently passes

by golden opportunities f o r refutation, and continually


allows Parmenides t o d i s t o r t and c a j o l e h i s way toward
philosophical "victory".

One such d i s t o r t i o n i s the TMA,

where Parmenides, unable to grasp the cogency of different


types o f being, assumes the self-predicative character of
Forms and formulates a regress argument.

Thus the TMA,

150
i n l i g h t of the historical Parmenides, i s perhaps best under
stood as a reductio ad absurdum of the Forms as they would
appear to one u t t e r l y commited to an extreme monism, one
f o r whom types o f r e a l i t y do n o t e x i s t .

In the following

c h a p t e r I s h a l l a d v a n c e t h i s r e a d i n g o f t h e TMA a s a
reductio on a self-predicative Forms; the larqer issue of
whether this supports the Apologetic or the Revisionists
commentators w i l l be the subject of chapter X.
3)

Parmenides p t . 2

i s more or less a monologue

by Plato's Parmenides on the nature of to hen.

Likewise,

one could reasonably expect this extended dialectical


exercise t o be the place where Plato shows us what i s o f
value and what i s to be rejected i n Parmenides's monistic
ontology.

I shall contend, i n Chapter IX, that part 2

constituted a reductio ad absurdum on Parmenidean monism:


each o f the hypotheses advanced i s i n c o n s i s t e n t w i t h some
Eleatic dogma.

Plato's solution: against eleatic monism,

an integral pluralism --a sophisticated one-over-many


t h e s i s , whereby many Forms inform and u n i f y many p a r t i c u l a r s .
4)

I f the interpretation of Parmenides pt.2

as

a reductio of Eleatic monism i s correct, then there are


important parallels to be drawn with other later dialogues,
notably the Sophist.

Most of the paradoxes generated by

the eight hypotheses i n part 2 . reflect Parmenides's abiding

151
concern with non-being: namely, that i t i s not.

Plato's

treatment of non-being i n the Sophist transcends Parmenidean


monism by distinguishing between i d e n t i t y statements and
predications, thereby rendering non-being ( i n the sense
o f "not being x , but y " ) i n t e l l i g i b l e , and opening the way
for a distinction between different types of r e a l i t y .

The

Sophist also i n s i s t s , against the "friends of the Forms"


(248e), that Particulars are as well as Forms, thus under
scoring the need f o r differences of

types of reality.

And t h i s coincides p e r f e c t l y with the demands o f the r e ductio of Parmenides p t . l : t h a t Forms must be d i f f e r e n t
types of beings from particulars.

The shared concerns and

close symmetries o f these dialogues seem t o support the


views which I am endorsing here

--especially the view that

t h e " c r i t i c a l " r e a d i n g o f t h e TMA a s " a r e c o r d o f h o n e s t


perplexity" i s , at best forced.
5)

Finally, a central contention of Vlastos's

w i l l have been seriously compromised.

Vlastos correctly tags

the self-predication assumption as the troublesome premiss


i n t h e TMAt b u t because he b e l i e v e s SP t o be an unacknow
ledged element i n P l a t o ' s own t h e o r y o f Forms, t h e TMA
i s not a reductio but a "record of honest perplexity".
Vlastos also realizes that Plato never explicitly endorsed
S P , a n d c o n c l u d e s t h a t , s i n c e w i t h o u t SP t h e r e w o u l d b e

no r e g r e s s , SP must be e n t a i l e d by one o f P l a t o ' s o n t o logical mainstays.

Vlastos, i n several articles, has

t r i e d t o i n d i c a t e t h e o r i g i n o f SP from P l a t o ' s d e g r e e s - o f r e a l i t y thesis and his corresponding lack of any types-ofreality thesis.

Vlastos cites as evidence for this Plato's

putative advocacy of the "Parmenidean" view that "Being"


i s a univocal term, connoting eternal changlessness.^8
The particulars apprehended through the senses are a t
the bottom of the strata o f r e a l i t y , partaking of both
V/
Being and non-being, partly real and partly unreal.
I f Plato did endorse such a degrees-of-reality
theory, however, i t could not be thought of as "Parmenidean"
i n any way.

Parmenides1s extreme monism precludes not only

types o f r e a l i t y but degrees of r e a l i t y as w e l l , and


Vlastos's reading of the Platonic continuum of r e a l i t y as
fading off into the partly real and partly unreal would
be deemed incoherent by Parmenides, i n l i g h t of "what"
is not is not".

Plato may have believed i n the u n i v o c i ' t y

o f "Being" --although I hope to show i n Chapter XI that t h i s


i s not the case-- but i f he did he applied i t i n a thoroughly
u n - E l e a t i c way, one which grants some way i n which nonbeing i s intelligible.

Furthermore, Plato's anti-Parmenidean

arguments i n the Sophi st suggest the necessity of different


38V1astos,

"TMA", p. 246.

ontological types; and thus Parmenides p t . l , when viewed


i n the context o f these arguments, would seem t o be saying
t h a t the difference between Form and p a r t i c u l a r cannot be
merely one of degree - - t h a t i f they are d i f f e r e n t , the
difference i s one of ontological type as well as degree
i f t h e r e g r e s s o f t h e TMA i s t o b e a v o i d e d .

In short,

Vlastos's appeal to the Eleatic treatment of to on


as the source of Plato's degrees-of-reality doctrine i s
quite peculiar, since Parmenides could not have endorsed
such a doctrine.

Furthermore, i t weakens Vlastos's i n

sistence that Plato endorsed only a degrees-of-reality


t h e s i s : i f Plato was anti-Parmenidean enough t o advocate
d e g r e e s - o f - r e a l i t y , why could he n o t have been a n t i Parmenidean enough to advocate types-of-reality as well?
A more extensive treatment of this topic w i l l follow i n
chapters V-X.

153

V ) AN A L T E R N A T I V E A P P R O A C H : CORNFORD

154

In defending a pro-reductio interpretation of the


TMA, I s h a l l seek t o e s t a b l i s h , against the claims o f the
c r i t i c a l camp, t h a t Plato was well aware o f SP, N I , and
the Uniqueness hypothesis, and that his expression of this
awareness comes through i n the 1 i t e r a r y aspects o f the
dialogue. Plato, confronting Parmenides, seeks to outline
his differences with the Eleatic master through irony
and indirectness, thus drawing the reader of Parmenides
into the dispute, as an active participant, rather than a
passive spectator. That Plato's metaphysical sympathies
are ultimately non-Parmenidean has, I believe, been estab*
lished i n Ch. IV.

I n Chs. VI and VII I shall attempt to

show how Plato t r i e s t o lead h i s audience away from


Eleaticism through the dramatic representation of a fierce
Eleatic critique of the Forms, a critique which i s nonetheless
subtly misguided.
The anti-reductio stance of the c r i t i c a l school i s
guided by i t s insistence on seeing Plato's confusion on
d i s p l a y i n t h e d i a l o g u e . C o n v i n c e d ( o n t h e b a s i s o f t h e TMA
and other texts) of the incoherency of Plato's theory of
Forms, i t views Parmeni des as a curious confession of
perplexity and, perhaps, self-doubt. Nothing i s reduced
to absurdity, since Plato i s unaware of the absurdity
i m p l i c i t i n h i s own p o s i t i o n . But there are other ways i n
w h i c h o n e c a n d e n y t h a t t h e TMA i s a r e d u c t i o - a r g u m e n t ,

ways i n which Plato's perplexity can be minimized. The


theory of Forms under attack might be basically sound, the
object of Parmenides'

wrongheaded criticisms. I n t h i s case,

P l a t o i s n o t r e v e a l i n g h i s b a f f l e m e n t a t t h e T.MA, n o r i s
he revising an'older, self-predicative theory of Forms,
nor i s he chastising those who would have thought him naive
enough to endorse SP. Here Plato, or more s p e c i f i c a l l y ,
Plato's Socrates, i s an innocent victim, unfairly routed by
an overly contentious, misunderstanding Parmenides. I f this
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n p r e v a i l s , many o f the claims o f a l l three
camps o f i n t e r p r e t a t i o n are undercut, since there i s nothing
inherently wrong about the theory of Forms Parmenides
attacks.
This position i s maintained by the noted philologist
Francis Macdonald Cornford, i n his Plato and Parmenides.*
I t i s a sort of preliminary hurdle which must be cleared i f
t h e r e d u c t i o - r e a d i n g o f t h e d i a l o g u e , which I am a d v o c a t i n g ,
i s to be established. In the following, I shall attempt to
show how Cornford's reading o f Parmeni des p t . 1 i s i l l supported: one can only make sense o f the argument o f
Parmeni des i f some element i n the theory o f Forms under
discussion i s genuinely contradictory. This narrows the
i n t e r p r e t i v e p o s s i b i l i t i e s down t o two: a pro-reductio
reading of the dialogue, or the sort of anti-reductio
reading championed by Vlastos and Geach.

^Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato and Parmenides


(Indianapolis:Bobbs-Merrill, n.d.).

A) Cornford's "Phaedo Theory"

The young Socrates'

rejoinder t o Zeno i n 129c-130a

i s viewed by Cornford as a precis of the Forms which " i s


identical with the one stated earlier i n the Phaedo."
He believes t h i s i s so because

i ) i n Phaedo, the separation

o f Forms from p a r t i c u l a r s i s achieved f o r the f i r s t time,


and i s accomplished, as i n Parmenides, by denying that
Forms can indicate contrary characteristics, and

ii)because

both Parmenides 129c f f . and Phaedo 74c f f . are amenable


to the doctrine of anamnesis. I quote from Cornford:
The separation. . . of the Forms i s e x p l i c i t l y effected
i n the Phaedo. . . I would say i n no earlier dialogue
i s there a s i n g l e expression i m p l y i n g t h a t the common
character (eidos)exists apart from the many things
posessing i t . But i n the Phaedo t h i s doctrine i s s k i l
f u l l y led up to by a series of steps. I t i s entailed
by the b e l i e f i n Anamnesis. This i s shown t o involve
the separate existence of a conscious and knowing soul,
apart from the body and i t s senses, before b i r t h
--a conclusion which a l l parties to the discussion take
as satisfactorily demonstrated, provided that the
Forms e x i s t . I f a disembodied soul can know a l l
r e a l i t y and t r u t h , the objects of i t s knowledge must
exist apart from sensible things, for such knowledge
cannot come t o i t through the senses a t a l l . Thus
Anamnesis, the separate existence of the soul before
b i r t h , and the separation of Forms from sensible
things, a l l stand or f a l l together. The whole of the
f i r s t part o f the Phaedo i s designed to lead the
reader to this conclusion. 3

The nature o f the difference between Forms and par


ticulars is determined in Plato's demonstration of
anamnesis, Cornford opines. In the Phaedo, Plato d i s t i n -

^Ibid., p. 70.
3Ibid.,

pp. 74-75.

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guishes between

i ) "Equality i t s e l f . . . which i s some

thing different over and above a l l the sensible things which


can be spoken of as (roughly) equal",

i i ) things defined

(or stipulated) as equal and nothing else, which, thus


defined, cannot be unequal (nor can Equality i t s e l f be
Inequality),

i i i ) sensible instances of Equality, which

are always imperfect (74d) and which can appear equal to


one person, unequal to another (74b). Distinction i i i ) i s
reiterated i n 102d f f . , where Tallness i t s e l f i s demarcated
from tallness in a person: Tallness itself (auto to
megethos) i s never short (or Shortness), while Simmias
may be simultaneously t a l l compared t o Socrates and short
compared to Phaedo. Cornford notes that these distinctions
correspond with those which Socrates accuses Zeno o f
neglecting: the distinctions, i f true, point toward a
correspondence between s5ma and a i s t h e t a , and psuche"
and the ei de, thus vindicating the recollection hypothesis.4
After Socrates re-states the "Phaedo theory"by r e
minding Parmenides and Zeno o f these d i s t i n c t i o n s , the
Eleatics quickly forget them and launch on a misguided
critique of the Forms, according to Cornford. Almost a l l of
their efforts are marked by a tendency to "physicalize"
the Forms, to treat them as i f they were "perfect particulars".

Cornford recognizes genuine difficulties i n the

idea of methexis, but nevertheless Parmenides's objections

4Ibid.,

pp. 75-76.

51bid..

pp. 85,98.

t o the Forms do not damage p a r t i c i p a t i o n , nor d i d they


trouble Plato himself.

Parmenides p t . 1, then, for Cornford,

i s a comedy o f errors --Parmenides'

and Zeno's errors,

their f a i l u r e to understand a basically sound theory of


young Socrates' , the theory of Forms f i r s t expressed i n
Phaedo.

B) Critique of Cornford.

I find Cornford's interpretation of 128e-130a


singularly unconvincing, for the following reasons:
1) Cornford's view of the anamnesis doctrine of
Phaedo and Meno i s o v e r - i n f l a t e d : he seems t o take i t f o r
granted that Socrates's pontifications on post mortem sur
v i v a l a n d t h e p r e - e x i s t e n t s o u l a r e t o b e t a k e n 1i t e r a l l y ,
as Platonic theory, rather than as a muthos, a story which
encapsulates a deeper t r u t h . To support h i s b e l i e f that
recollection is a Platonic innovation, Cornford cites
Socrates's open-minded yet agnostic attitude toward the
fate of the soul i n Apology.^ This begs the important
question o f whether we have any reason t o t h i n k t h a t the
e a r l i e r Apology was a mere t r a n s c r i p t o f Socratic doctrine
while later works, l i k e Phaedo, are more "Platonic".
Throughout, I have stressed the need to read a dialogue as
a mimesis of living philosophical conversation, rather than
a static treatise-in-disguise. This entails the ten6Ibid.,

p. 76.

160
tativeness of any philosophical position advanced i n a dia
logue, and suggests caution i n dividing theory from
metaphor and dramatic flourish. Logos and muthos coexist
i n P l a t o . The logos o f the anamnEsi s myth seems t o be t h a t
a l l knowing necessitates a t a c i t grasp, a recognition or
intuition

o f what i s known before one can discursively

analyze what i s known. One must n o t elevate the mythic


vehicle i n which this noetic thesis i s couched to the
level of a noetic thesis itself.^
Whenever Plato uses the anamnesis myth, he takes
p a i n s t o u n d e r s c o r e i t s s t a t u s as^ m y t h . F o r e x a m p l e , i n
Phaedrus 248a, Socrates, attacking the rhetorician, insists
t h a t those who have "seen the most o f t r u t h " become i n
carnated as philosophers, w h i l e those who have seen l i t t l e
o f i t i n t h e i r f o r e - l i f e become t y r a n t s .

Given Socrates'

agenda against the Sophists, i t i s easy to see anamnesi s


as a device which reinforces the distinction between
philosophy and sophism. Socrates, i n e f f e c t , uses rhetoric
to deflate the practices and pretentions of rhetoricians.
Plato certainly had enough

rhetorical purpose i n the

Phaedo --the j u s t i f i c a t i o n of Socrates's l i f e i n the face


of an unjust death-- to warrant the implementation of

^ I n support o f my views on the anamnesis myth, see


J.H. Randall, PIato: Dramatist o f the L i f e of Reason (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1971T7 pp. 112,191-92. Also see
Paul Friedlander, PIato (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1964), vol. 1, pp. 195-96; vol. 2, pp. 282-84; vol. 3, pp. 46-47.

anamnesis to buttress his conviction of the qualitative


dignity and i n c o r r u p t i b i l i t y of a soul such as Socrates.

And even i n Meno, where anamnesi s i s used to illuminate a


more technical, epistemological issue, i t s l i t e r a r y or
rhetorical purpose i s clear: Plato's Socrates i s constantly
q u a1i f . y i n g h i s a d h e r e n c e t o t h e O r p h i c b e l i e f i n p r e existence (81a-e), and discussion of i t fades quickly with the slave boy's intense instruction on geometry. Finally,
i f anamnisis was, as Cornford claims, a central element i n
P l a t o ' s theory o f Forms, why doesn't i t receive a f u l l - s c a l e
treatment in dialogues like Republic VI-V11, Sophist,
Cratylus, and the like? Mightn't i t be the case, contra
Cornford, that anamnesis i s not a mainstay of Platonic
doctrine at all?
Aside from the face that a l i t e r a l anamnesis
doctrine has l i t t l e foothold i n the dialogues, i t has l i t t l e
to do with f i x i n g the sense of the separateness of Forms
from particulars, which Cornford takes to be a signal
aim o f Phaedo and Parmenides a l i k e . After a l l , t o speak o f
"recollecting" Forms i n an e a r l i e r existence i s to draw an
analogy with ordinary recollection (e.g., the clock on the
mantel in grandfather's house). Plato is obviously not
equating anamnesis with that sort of remembrance: Forms are
different types of reality from particulars. I t then
becomes urgent t o d i f f e r e n t i a t e between ordinaty r e c o l l e c t i o n
and the recollection of Forms, and speculation about the
f o r e - l i f e or a f t e r - l i f e w i l l do l i t t l e to aid i n t h i s
d i f f e r e n t i a t i o n . The principal separateness between Forms and

Quentin Lauer, S . J . , Hegel's Concept o f God


(Albany: S.U.N.Y. Pr., 1982), p. 191.

particulars cannot be, therefore, the gulf which separates


r e a l i t i e s grasped before incarnation and those grasped a f t e r ,
since this distinction i s parasitic upon the distinction
between noeta and aistheta as such. To r e l y , as Cornford
does, on anamnes i s as support f o r i n t e r p r e t i n g 128e-130a
as the "Phaedo theory" i s mistaken, since the anamnesis
myth does not by i t s e l f shed any l i g h t on the problems of
separation and participation considered i n Parmenides p t . l .

2) Plato's musings on "contrary characteristics"


do help i n c l a r i f y i n g the nature of chorisnips. Un
fortunately, Cornford fails to note the subtle differences
between the Phaedo and Parmenides versions of i t , and thus
mistakenly tags 128e-130a as the "Phaedo theory".
The passage on Equality i n Phaedo c i t e d by Cornford
(74b f f . ) establishes

i ) that equal aistheta are always

"imperfectly equal, and


I t also establishes

i i ) can be both equal and not-equal.

i i i ) that things stipulated as equal

and nothing else cannot be other than equal, and that


i v ) Equality i s not Inequality. From t h i s one can l e g i
timately conclude the following:
a) That p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n a Form (Equality) gives
a particular a definite, determinate character ( i t s equality)
b) That insofar as a particular participates i n one
given Form, i t exhibits only that one definite character.
c) That particulars are always "imperfect" i n their
instantiation of a characteristic acquired through par
ticipation i n a Form.

d) That particulars can, through participation i n


contrary Forms, be both f and n o t - f .
e) A Form ( e g . , Equality) i s never i t s contrary
(e.g., Inequality).
One must not j u s t what the above does and does n o t
establish. I t does explicate chorismos, or the separateness
between Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s . Particulars, f o r example, are
always "more or less" equal, and can be both equal and
not-equal. Equality i t s e l f , however, i s never "more or
less" equal, and cannot indicate contrary qualities ( i t
is not Inequality). Equality itself is perfectly intelligible
as Equality, and i s not i n t e l l i g i b l e as anything else
(e.g., Inequality). I t i s through Forms, like Equality,
Beauty (100c), Tallness (102d ) , e t c . , t h a t p a r t i c u l a r s come
to be more-or-less beautiful, t a l l , equal, etc.
Nothing i n the above e n t a i l s that Forms cannot
combine, or that they cannot combine because they are
perfectly self-predicative e n t i t i e s . I n Phaedo74b f f . ,
Socrates does not imply t h a t , since equal particulars can
exemplify inequality, and Equality i t s e l f cannot, that
Equality i t s e l f i s a perfectly and exclusively equal'
thing, incapable of being an unequal thing. In 74c, Socrates
denied that Equality i t s e l f is Inequality i t s e l f : this
means t h e i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f t h e e i d o s - E q u a lit.y i s d i f
ferent from that of the eidos-Inequal it.y --that there i s
no mistaking one for the other, since they are contrary
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s . This i s uncontroversial: an i n t e l l i g i b l e

r e a l i t y , l i k e Equality, i s distinct from i t s opposing


i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , e.g., Inequality.

164

I t i s wrong to think

that this entails self-predication, i.e., that Equality


i s a thing which exemplifies equality perfectly,
and exemplifies nothing else.

Self-predication is not

a n c i l l a r y t o the Forms i n Phaedo.


Neither is the lack of combination, or "interweaving",
among Forms.

In fact, 105b-c suggests the contrary: to

say of something, say, hot, that i t i s hot because of the


Form Heat i s to give a "safe" but "ignorant" answer.
The "clever" answer would be to say that i t i s hot because
of Fire.

Plato's distinction between "safe" but unillu-

minating levels of explanation and "clever" explanations


revolves around the possibility of "forced" participation:
e.g., i f x i s F, i t must also be G; therefore i f x participates
i n F, i t also must participate i n G.

This amounts to saying

that the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of one Form, say "Fire", i s


involved i n , or participates i n , the intelligibility of
another, i.e., "Heat".

The discussion o f "safe" and "clever"

a i t i a i i n the Phaedo i n s i s t s t h a t c e r t a i n Forms must combine.


Cornford agrees with the above: nothing i n the "Phaedo
theory" suggests t h a t Forms cannot combine, nor that they
are self-predicative particulars.

But Cornford believes tht

what applies t o Phaedo also applies t o Parmenides 128e-130a.

See Gregory Vlastos "Reasons and Causes i n the


Phaedo" i n Plato I : a Collection of C r i t i c a l Essays ed. G.
Vlastos (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971) pp. 132-166.

165
Consider the differences, however:
129b-c:

"But i f anyone can prove that what i s

simply Unity i t s e l f i s many or that p l u r a l i t y i s one, then


I shall begin to be surprised."

Here, Socrates i s not

simply alluding to the manifest fact that the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


of Unity is different from that of Plurality.

He i s suggest

i n g t h a t t h e r e i s no. s e n s e i n w h i c h One c a n b e m a n y o r M a n y
one.

And 129e: I f someone could show " . . . t h e s e Forms

[e.g., U n i t y / P l u r a l i t y , Motion/Rest, etc.3 can be combined


with, or separated from, one another, t h e n . . . I shall be
f i l l e d with admiration." I t is important to note that
the Forms he mentions i n 128e-130a - - U n i t y / P l u r a l i t y ,
S a m e / D i f f e r e n t , M o t i o n / R e s t - - b e a r k i n s h i p t o t h e summa
genera of Sophist, whose range of participation (esp.
same/different) approaches the universal. Yet he denies
that even these can combine.

Socrates' stance i n Parmenides

i s more "hard-line" and polemical.


Socrates, i n 128e-130a, i s manifestly making a
challenge to the Eleatics, a challenge which he i s confident
cannot be met.

Viewed as a l i t e r a r y technique, this

challenge can only be viewed as an ironic portent, because


i ) i n part 2 , Hypotheses 2 , 3 , and 7, Parmenides does show
t h a t One i s

i n a sense many and Many one, and i i ) i n p a r t 1 ,

Socrates'theory, so confidently maintained i n 128e f f . ,


i s demolished by Parmenides.

Parmenides takes Socrates'

challenge and reduces him to silence.

The f a c t t h a t t h i s

happens can surely not be without importance to the meaning

of the dialogue:

something must have been askew i n

Socrates' theory for i t to have been the target of such


relentless and effective attack.
I f Socrates' theory o f Forms was the genuine
"Phaedo theory", as Cornford claims, i t i s conceivable that
Socrates might have found an adequate response to
Parmenides' counter-blasts.

Against the TMA, Socrates

might have claimed t h a t the Phaedo theory i n no way


necessitates self-predication:

Largeness i s not a perfectly

and exclusively large t h ing, but rather the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


i n which large things participate.

This would also serve

to soften the arguments against participation i n 130e-131e,


as well as those on the unknowabi1ity of Forms i n 133a-134e.
Each of these arguments flow from Parmenides' mistaken
assumption that since Forms never have contrary character
i s t i c s , and particulars always do, that Forms are a perfect
sort of particular which always " i s what i t i s " with no
reference to anything else.

Cornford correctly castigates

t h i s as a misreading of the Phaedo theory.

He i n c o r r e c t l y

identifies 128e-130a as a restatement of the "Phaedo theory".


The Forms i n 128e-130a are f a r more i n d i v i d u a l i z e d .

Were

128e-130a "the Phaedo theory", Socrates could have met


Parmenides' objections; the text of 128e-130a suggests that
S o c r a t e s i_s_ d e n y i n g a n y s o r t o f c o m b i n a t i o n b e t w e e n o r
k o i n i n i a among Forms. I t i s t h i s , I contend, which sparks
the dialectic of part 1.

C)

128e-l30a as "The Atomic Theory of Forms"

Socrates' pocket description o f Forms i n 128c-130a


and their relations toward and d i f f e r e n t i a t i o n from
particulars, positively invites Parmenides' arguments.
does so by i )

It

hinting a t the atomicity of Forms (what

distinguishes them from particulars i s t h e i r i n a b i l i t y to


combine or be separated from each other, which i t s e l f
supposedly enables particulars to combine contraries l i k e
"many" and "one"), i i ) therefore suggesting t h a t Forms are
a s s i m i l a b l e t o t h e c a t e g o r y o f t h i n g s i n m u c h t h e same
way i n which p a r t i c u l a r s are also " t h i n g s " (although the
l a t t e r are mutable and t r a n s i t o r y while Forms are fixed
and eternal "things"),

i i i ) This, however, gives Parmenides

carte blanche to t r e a t the Forms as, i n Cornford's words,


"perfect particulars", that is

as self-predicative, and

to "physicalize" them as he sees f i t , since the true


difference between Forms and (physical) p a r t i c u l a r s has
not been specified.

In short, Socrates' treatment of

ch'S'rismos i n 128e-130a does not require t h a t there be a


difference i n type between Form and p a r t i c u l a r .

This

allows Parmenides to argue against the Forms as i f they were


"perfect p a r t i c u l a r s " , and t o assume i n 133a-134a t h a t such
a class of perfect beings can neither be related to nor
known i n t h i s world o f change and imperfection.

168
As i n Phaedo,

Socrates distinguishes between

Forms and particulars by way o f the "contrary character


istics" argument.

But i n Phaedo, the Forms' i n a b i l i t y

t o e x h i b i t contrary c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s was a sign o f the


type di fference which already separated particulars and
Forms.

Equal things may b e , i n another respect, unequal,

but Equality itself is not Inequality itself:

this implies

that Equality i t s e l f i s not an equal thing, and because i t


i s not an equal t h i n g i t i s immune t o "contrary character
istics".

But young Socrates, i n Parmenides, starts from

the "contrary characteristics" argument i n order to establish


a basis f o r the ontological difference between Forms and
particulars.

"Contrary characteristics" is not a sign

o f t h e o n t o l o g i c a l d i f f e r e n c e i n P a r m e n i d e s , i t i_s t h e
difference.

And, as such, i t does not guard against the

conflation of Forms i n t o the category of august, perfect


particulars.

When F o r m s a r e u n d e r s t o o d s o l e l y i n t e r m s o f

"contrary c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s " , they become "atoms o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


with no real ties to each other, differing from aistheta
only in their "refusal" to exemplify contrary characteristics.
An " a t o m i c " F o r m i s a s e l f - c o n t a i n e d , i s o l a t e d n u g g e t
of intelligibility.
else.

I t exemplifies i t s e l f and nothing

That i t would be an exemplification of i t s e l f i s

borne out by the f a c t that i t could not be understood


through anything other than i t s e l f - - e s p e c i a l l y by way o f other
Forms, since they cannot be related to i t , themselves being
"atoms of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y " .

I n short, any Form would be

169
perfectly self-predicative --a pure instance of i t s e l f
and nothing else.

We w o u l d c o m e t o " u n d e r s t a n d " p a r t i c u l a r s

i n v i r t u e o f the way i n which they l i t e r a l l y "copied" or


"imitated" their exemplar.
The problem with viewing Forms as "atoms of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y " i s that the view i t s e l f i s unintelligible.
An atomic Form would have t o be s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e (how else
could i t be grasped, other than by "seeing" i t " i n splendid
i s o l a t i o n " ? ) B u t i f i t i_s_ s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e , i t f a l l s e a s y
prey t o the TMA.

I f self-predication f a l l s , so do the

accounts of non-combining Forms, and along with that the


conception of separateness as derivable solely from the
lack of contrary characteristics i n Forms.

In essesce, by

effectively attacking the self-predicationism which


proceeds from the "atomic" theory of Forms, Parmenides
i n t h e TMA s h o u l d e i t h e r d i s s u a d e S o c r a t e s o f t h e e x i s t e n c e
of Forms or encourage him to t r y again.

Such encouragement

can be found i n 135c, where Parmenides touches on the need


f o r Forms to f i x meanings, provide f o r s t a b i l i t y i n
characteristics, and allow for significant discourse.

If

Socrates wishes to follow Parmenides' encouragements, he


wi11 have to j e t t i s o n his positions on the commingling
of Forms and the nature of separation i n 128e-130a, because,
i n e f f e c t , Parmenides has reduced them to absurdity.
The TMA, therefore, can reasonably be viewed as a
reductio on the "atomic" theory o f Forms advanced i n
128e-130a --indeed a l l of Parmenides' arguments are

170
informal, i f not "textbook", reductios on this theory.
This i s not to say that Socrates e x p l i c i t l y endorsed a
self-predicationist theory.

Vlastos is correct in

pointing out that the self-predication assumption remains


i m p ! i c i t i n the dialogue, and i s not advocated elsewhere
in the Platonic corpus.

Socrates' ignorance o f t h i s may

account for his rather feeble attempts at protest, e.g.,


the "day" analogy and his exasperation at 134e.

But

self-predication and what I have been c a l l i n g the "atomic"


theory of Forms are inextricably linked together: i f Forms
cannot partake of each other, the only thing l e f t f o r them to
b e w h i c h m i g h t m a k e some l i m i t e d s e n s e o f m e t h e x i s a n d
ch5rismos i s a set of pure self-exemplifications. Such a
state-of-affairs lacks even the limited sense i t might
appear to have.

D)

Conclusion

Cornford's analysis of the Parmenides falters i n two


respects.

First, i t fails to note the important differences

between the passages c i t e d i n Phaedo and Parmeni des 128a-l30e.


I n the former, appeal to "contrary characteristics" does not
seem t o e n t a i l s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e Forms, o r Forms which
cannot combine.

I n Phaedo 74c, when Socrates asserts t h a t

Equality i t s e l f i s not Inequality, he i s not "atomizing"


Equality but indicating the commonplace notion that the
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of Equality i s different, indeed opposed, to

171
that of Inequality.

I n Parmenides Socrates suggests

that Forms cannot combine --e.g., his "astonishment" i f anyone


could show t h a t Likeness and Unlikeness, Unity and P l u r a l i t y ,
etc. could be combined with each other (129e) and thus leans
toward an "atomic" theory o f Forms, which Parmenides r i g h t l y
shows t o be untenable.

Second, Cornford exaggerates the

importance of anamnesis for the theory of Forms.

He b e l i e v e s

that Phaedo sought t o demonstrate the need f o r anamnesis t o


explain knowledge: thus the Forms are members o f t h a t
" o t h e r w o r l d " o v e r a n d a b o v e t h i s o n e , w h i c h we n o e t i c a l l y
"saw" i n our pre-incarnate existence and the recollection
o f which enables us t o make sense o f the a i stheta among
w h i c h we a r e a d r i f t .

But Cornford neglects the tentative

and mythic status of anamnesis i n Phaedo, Meno, and Phaedrus:


i f anamnesis was n o t a f i r m , l i t e r a l doctrine f o r P l a t o ,
Cornford's "parallel worlds" depiction of the theory of
Forms i s overblown and needs t o be nuanced.

I n any event,

i t cannot be invoked to support the reading of 128e-130a as


the "Phaedo theory", since the recollection of other r e a l i t i e s
i n another world does l i t t l e to secure a difference i n
metaphysical type between those r e a l i t i e s and ai stheta, the
"furniture" of this world.

E v e n i f we d i d l i t e r a l l y " r e c o l l e c t "

Forms f o r Plato, the doctrine of anamnesis would not specify


the types of things recollected or the specific difference
between recollecting Forms and recollecting p a r t i c u l a r s .
Anamnesis by i t s e l f does not distinguish between types of
reality.

172
That i s the chief concern of Parmenides p t . 1: to
ascertain j u s t what type of r e a l i t y a Form i s .

Socrates'

theory of Forms i n 128e-130a does not specify a type difference


between Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s .

Forms might very well be a

unique group or particulars, distinguished from the rest


by their separateness, their self-sufficiency, their atomicity.
T h e y o u n g S o c r a t e s o f P a r m e n i d e s m a y o r may n o t h a v e h a d t h i s
"atomic" theory o f Forms expl i c i tl.y i n mind i n 128e-130a:
i t i s , nevertheless, implicit in his theory, especially in
his insistance t h a t Forms cannot combine.

And i t i s t h i s

imp!icit element i n his thinking that Parmenides takes


to task as an inconsistent element i n a general theory
of intelligibility.
Thus, the interpreter has two options: 1) he can,
l i k e Vlastos and Geach, view the i m p l i c i t elements i n
Socrates' theory o f Forms as i m p l i c i t i n Plato's own
thinking as well.

Unaware that his theory of Forms i s

"secretly" atomistic and self-predicative, Plato stumbles


upon some arguments - - t h e TMAs-- which seem t o be e f f e c t i v e
against the Forms, but whose effectiveness cannot be gauged
because of his lack of awareriess (of SP, NI, e t c . ) .
thus records his perplexity i n Parmenides p t . 1.

Plato

i i ) The

interpreter can view the implicit elements i n Socrates'


theory of Forms as something Plato wishes to expose by
reducing the Socratic Forms t o absurdity.

This, obviously,

need not e n t a i l the absurdity of the theory of Forms as such:


only Socrates' incoherent variant of i t .

And the reduction o f

t h i s variant to absurdity does not require the e x p l i c i t

173
t

isolation of those elements i n Socrates' theory which


caused the trouble:

Plato, as a philosophical dramatist,

can leave the reader, once drawn into the dialogue, to


smoke out those troublesome elements on h i s own.
The i n t e r p r e t e r ' s options are forced:

either

something i s being reduced to absurdity i n Parmenides


or Plato is simply recording his confusion.

I t does not

suffice to say, with Cornford, that Parmenides i s merely


misunderstanding the theory of Forms.

I n one sense t h a t may

be true (i.e., Plato's convictions on the Forms), but i n


the sense that Parmenides i s unfair to the dialogue's
Socrates, i t is clearly not true.

Socrates' Theory i s

quite vulnerable to Parmenides! objections.

Thus Parmenides'

objections to Socrates' theory undermine those implicit


elements i n

Socrates' theory which allow for self-

predication, unknowable Forms, etc.

Whether those i m p l i c i t

elements are or are not staple features o f the Forms as


PIato understood them i s the key issue which separates
the Critical school from pro-reductio interpreters.

In

what shall follow I shall endeavor t o show t h a t given t h i s


forced option, and given Plato's adherence to " l i t e r a r y "
means o f philosophic expression, the pro-reductio reading
o f t h e TMA f i n d s m o r e s o l i d s u p p o r t i n t h e t e x t .

174
V I ) SETTING AND CROSS-REFERENCES
Many strands i n the present account o f the
Parmenides are beginning to converge; therefore i t would be
a p p r o p r i a t e t o p a u s e a n d s u r v e y ' t h e g r o u n d we h a v e c o v e r e d .
Despite the inconclusiveness of the present
analytic debate over self-predication and paradigmatism,
there are a number o f t h i n g s which seem t o strengthen
the pro-reductio reading o f the TMA, and thus p r o p o r t i o n a t e l y
weaken the C r i t i c a l or anti-reductio interpretation.
Chapter IV

was concerned w i t h showing the relevance o f the

historical Parmenides to the Platonic dialogue Parmenides.


I f Parmenides' "Way o f T r u t h " i s , as I have argued,
primarily a treatise on the nature of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y ,
then i t t r e a t s the same s u b j e c t matter as P l a t o ' s own
theory of Forms. Since the Parmenidean limitation of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y to the unity and changelessness of Being
scrapes against the P l a t o ' s own " i n t e g r a l p l u r a l i s m " , one
might understand Plato, i n the Parmenides, to be posing a
direct challenge to Eleaticism, since i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
--and the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of Forms-- is the central issue
of the dialogue. Commentators as diverse as Shorey,
Findlay, Cornford, and Friedlander are a l l i n basic
agreement that Parmenidean monism i s being d i r e c t l y
p i t t e d against the p l u r a l i t y of Forms; as Friedlander
puts i t , Plato i s seeking t o define h i s Forms as the
via media between the doctrines of Heraclitus and

Parmeni des.*
I f this i s so

t h e n we s h o u l d e x p e c t P a r m e n i d e s *

views on the highly restricted nature of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


to be Plato's chief target. I f they are, however, i t i s
certainly curious that the dialogue's Parmenides wins the
day. Yet the victory of Plato's argumentation i s certainly
not the sign of any major s h i f t on Plato's part toward
Eleaticism. Given the arguments of Theatetus and Sophist,
P l a t o s e e m s t o b e m o v i n g a w a y f r o m i t . T h u s we h a v e g o o d
reason t o suppose that Parmenides' victory i s an indirect
form of Platonic attack: his victory i s ironic. But i f so,
of what does the irony consist?
I t i s here that the account of Cornford i n Ch. V
proves most valuable. Cornford, though opposed i n most
respects to exegetes l i k e Vlastos and Geach, does not
v i e w t h e TMA a s a r e d u c t i o , a n d t o t h i s e x t e n t a g r e e s w i t h
them. They read the dialogue i n a similar s p i r i t . Cornford
i n t e r p r e t s 128e-130a as P l a t o ' s own view as expressed i n the
Phaedo, and sees no serious deficiencies i n young Socrates'
"Phaedo theory". But t h i s reading f a i l s t o make sense of the
dynamics of the dialogue --why Parmenides i s so devastating,
and young Socrates so tongue-tied. I f the "Phaedo theory"
voiced i n 128e-130a i s a sound one, and Socrates i s con
vinced o f i t s t r u t h as he seem t o b e , then why c a n ' t he
respond adequately to Parmenides? Given the findings of
*Paul Friedlander, PIato, vol. 1 (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Pr., 1964), p. 26.

176
Ch. IV , one would c e r t a i n l y expect some s o r t o f counter
attack against Parmenides.
I f one examines more closely the details of
Cornford's "Phaedo theory" and i t s partial reflection
i n 128e-130a, one can see that i t invites the criticisms
directed against i t by Parmenides. I f the separateness
between Forms and particulars i s determined only by the
Forms not exemplifying contrary characteristics, then a
difference i n ontological type between Forms and p a r t i
culars has not been secured. Thus i t would be permissible
f o r Parmenides to i n t e r p r e t - - o r misinterpret-- the Forms
as atomic intel1igibles, self-predicative exemplars, perfect
instances, and so on. A l l of Parmenides' arguments --the
analogy of the s a i l , the unknowabi1ity of the Forms-presuppose such a conception o f Forms and are e n t i r e l y
successful against i t . Parmenides* arguments show t h a t one
cannot conceive o f Forms as atomic i n t e l l i g i b l e s , perfect
p a r t i c u l a r s , e t c . , a n d h a v e F o r m s do. w h a t t h e y d o . : i m p a r t
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y t o p a r t i c u l a r s and thus make knowledge
possible.Thus he i s showing the absurdity of such a
conception of Forms, revealing i t s hidden contradictions.
I f Parmenides i s misconceiving the Forms (e.g. Cornford:
by "physicalizing" them), then i t i s only because the
"atomic" conception o f Forms i s i t s e l f misconceived, a
misconception fostered by the dialogue's youthful Socrates.
The Parmenides i s a masterpiece of dramatic i r o n y ,

177

and i t i s t h i s irony which makes a pro-reductio reading


o f t h e TMA a n d i t s s i s t e r - a r g u m e n t s p l a u s i b l e , e v e n
natural. Consider a few of the ironies: Parmenides reveals
the absurdity of a certain conception of Forms, the one
advanced i n 128e-130a, yet the reductio arguments themselves
--with all their bizarre "physicalizations"-- hardly
establish Parmenides1 monistic point of view. They point
the way, not toward Eleaticism, but toward a cogent and
richer account of Forms which, i n the Sophist, i s combined
with a severe critique of Eleaticism. A further irony:
Parmenides c r i t i c i s e s Socrates' theory of Forms as i n s u f
f i c i e n t l y E l e a t i c . By postulating a p l u r a l i t y of Forms and
particulars Socrates undercuts the unity of Being, the sole
ground o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . But Parmenides' own c r i t i q u e
reveals Socrates' account o f the Forms i n 128e-130a t o be,
i n a sense, too Eleatic: the being of any given Form i s
unitary and changeless, neither combinable nor separable from
the others. The "atomic" theory of Forms i s a l e f t o v e r from
Eleatic monism, reduced to absurdity i n p t . 1 , and d e f i n i
t i v e l y overcome i n the Sophist. And a f i n a l i r o n y : a f t e r
having l a i d waste to the "atomic" account of the Forms,
Parmenides generates antinomies from h i s own t h e s i s on
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , showing that the unitary to hen cannot
be the sole basis f o r i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . After having reduced
a rather lame version of the Forms to absurdity, Parmenides
d o e s t h e same t o h i s o w n o n t o l o g y . He i s h o i s t b y h i s o w n

178
petard. In a dialogue f i l l e d with such ironies as these, the
s o r t o f r e d u c t i o I h a v e t a k e n t h e TMA t o b e w o u l d b e q u i t e
a t home.
There are other " l i t e r a r y " h i n t s t h a t the TMA,
indeed the whole dialogue, i s an extended reductio ad
absurdum on seemingly p l a u s i b l e p o s i t i o n s . One such
hint i s the co-presence, along with Parmenides, of Zeno,
an embodiment o f i r o n y and paradox, and the name most f r e q u e n t l y
associated with the reductio ad absurdum. Commentators
l i k e Cornford and Taylor are correct i n seeing Zeno, i n
Parmenides, as the loyal disciple of Parmenides, constructing
a via negativa toward Eleatic monism by systematically
refuting doctrines a t odds with Parmenides' via affirmativa.

This i s precisely how Socrates characterizes Zeno i n 128a-b,


and Zeno himself admits t h a t Socrates i s almost correct i n
his estimate in 128d:
. . . the book i s , i n f a c t , a sort of
defence o f Parmenides' argument against those who t r y
to make fun o f i t by showinf that h i s supposition, t h a t
there i s a One, leads t o many absurdities and contra
dictions. This book, then, is a retort against those
who a s s e r t a p l u r a l i t y . I t p a y s t h e m b a c k i n t h e same
coin with something to spare, and aims a t showing
^
t h a t , on a thorough examination, t h e i r own sup
position that there i s a p l u r a l i t y leads to even more
absurd consequences than the hypothesis of the One.
A b e t t e r informal summary o f the reductio ad

F.M. Cornford, Plato and Parmenides (Indianapolis:


Bobbs-Merri11, n.d.), pp. 67-68; A.E. Taylor, Plato: the
Han and His Work (London: Methuen, 1929), p . 350.

179
absurdum technique ( i . e . , to prove , assert - and
show t h a t - e n t a i l s a contradiction, - , therefore
j)) would be hard to f i n d . But Zeno complains t h a t Socrates
h a s " n o t q u i t e s e e n t h e r e a l c h a r a c t e r o f my b o o k " ( 1 2 8 c ) ,
thus making his role i n the dialogue more paradoxical and
ambiguous: i s Zeno a convinced E l e a t l c , or a mere
"controversialist"?
. . . there i s a point you have missed
a t the outset. The book makes no pretense o f the f a c t
t h a t i t was w r i t t e n w i t h the purpose you describe, as
i f deception were something t o be proud o f . What you
have pointed out i s only i n c i d e n t a l . . . I t was
w r i t t e n i n t h a t c o n t r o v e r s i a l s p i r i t i n my y o u n g
days; and someone copied i t s u r r e p t i t i o u s l y , so t h a t
I had not even the chance to consider whether i t should
see the l i g h t or not. That i s where you are mistaken,
Socrates; you imagine i t was i n s p i r e d , not by a youthful
eagerness for controversy, but by the more dispassionate
aims of an older man; though as I said, your des
c r i p t i o n o f i t was not f a r wrong. (128c, d-e)
One w a y t o g l o s s t h e s i g n i f i c a n c e o f t h e a b o v e
passage i s to maintain, with Cornford, that Plato i s
making Zeno look l i k e a "mere Sophist",
. . . a c o n t r o v e r s i a l i s t ( antilogikos),
w i t h the demagogue and f o r e n s i c o r a t o r , who can make
t h e same a c t i o n s e e m r i g h t o r w r o n g a s t h e y p l e a s e .
A l l t h i s i s described i n Phaedrus 261d as a rhetorical
a r t of deception, ignorant of the truth and going i n
chase of mere b e l i e f . 3
To substantiate t h i s assimilation o f Zeno t o
Sophism, Cornford cites the fact that "neither Plato nor
A r i s t o t l e treats Zeno as a serious philosopher or

Cornford, op. c i t . , p. 68.

mathematician." But Cornford does l i t t l e to substantiate

180

t h i s claim: A r i s t o t l e says nothing about Zeno i n either


M e t a p h y s i c s A o r t h e De S o p h i s t i c i i s E l e n c h i s . a n d o n e
might view Parmenides i t s e l f as i l l u s t r a t i v e of Plato's
respect for the power of Zeno's type of argumentation.
Nevertheless there i s reason to believe i n a "contentious"
side to Zeno, as A r i s t o t l e might have put i t . The A1cibiades I ,
p a r t o f the P l a t o n i c apocrypha, mentions t h a t Zeno was
paid highly f o r teaching the reductio ad absurdum method to
willing customers.

That would seem t o confirm Cornford's

estimate o f him as a crypto-Sophist. Drew Hyland c i t e s


other relevant pieces of information about Zeno:
. . . Zeno must not be thought o f as some
one whose purpose i s to establish a thesis. I n fact no
positive doctrine whatsoever i s ascribed to him. His
purpose was t o demolish viewpoints. I f the views were
widely believed, or maintained by a famous philosopher
or by a famous school, so much the better f o r his
sport. According to Plutarch, Zeno "treated of natural
p h i l o s o p h y i n t h e same m a n n e r a s P a r m e n i d e s d i d , b u t
also perfected himself i n an a r t o f h i s own f o r
refuting and silencing opponents i n argument; as
Timon of Philius describes i t - 'Also the tongue of mighty Zeno, who,
say what one would, could argue i t untrue.1 "
Since Timon was an extreme s k e p t i c , i t i s hardly
l i k e l y that he would have said t h i s i f Zeno main
tained Parmenides' positive doctrine. Further,
Simplicius reports that i n one argument Zeno does
away w i t h the One and allows f o r the existence o f
p l u r a l i t y . . . I f we a r e c a r e f u l we c a n s e e t h a t i t
was Zeno's purpose t o r e f u t e the m a j o r i t y ' s view o f
p l u r a l i t y , n o t t o argue f o r t h e One. As Seneca
r e m a r k s , " I f I b e l i e v e Z e n o , n o t e v e n t h e One i s

Alcibiades Major, nga.


I n Drew Hyland, The
Origins o f Philosophy (New York: Putnam, 1973), p . 205

181
. l e f t . i n . f a c t , Seneca t e l l s us that Zeno, i n con
trast to Parmenides, mainatined that "nothing
exists'.1 (Letter 88). 5
Hyland views Zeno's methods and "doctrines" as the
sign of a deep skeptical, rather than Sophistical, temperment.
T h a t a p h i l o s o p h i c a l s k e p t i c m i g h t m a k e common c a u s e w i t h
a staunch, d o c t r i n a i r e monist i s not surprising when one
considers how p l i a b l e skepticism has been throughout the
centuries: consider the u t i l i t y of skeptical argument i n
support of a l l kinds of opposed viewpoints i n postReformation r e l i g i o u s disputes. To i l l u s t r a t e h i s p o i n t
Hyland uses the apposite analogy of a f i d e i s t and an
a t h e i s t . T h e l a t t e r m i g h t s e e m t o m a k e common c a u s e w i t h t h e
former, insofar as he shares with the former a conviction
about the unreasonableness of belief i n God. But, on
closer i n s p e c t i o n , i t seems t h a t h i s differences w i t h
the f i d e i s t c u t much deeper. Thus Zeno i s a " d i s c i p l e " of
Parmenides only insofar as his negative theses might be used
to support Parmenides' positive theses. But t h i s does not
constitute a successful defense of Parmenides: "a genuine
defense would o f course require that he prove Parmenides
right."6
Plato i s exploiting Zeno's rather ambiguous
reputation (confirmed by Seneca, Simplicius, and Plutarch)
i n the service of an important point. Plato uses his
Socrates and Zeno to convey the power of the reductio
5

Hyland, op. c i t . , pp. 206-7.

61bid-,

p. 206.

argument. But Plato also suggests, especially i n that


passage where Zeno confesses h i s "youthful eagerness f o r
controversy", that sheer contentiousness --skepticism for
skepticism's sake-- never establishes any s i g n i f i c a n t ,
informative truth. Hence, perhaps, Zeno's sheepishness
about his e a r l i e r controversial ism, and the allusion to
"the dispassionate aims of an older man", i . e . , the
"search for the truth of the matter." But this too i s
ambiguous: i s Zeno now such an o l d e r man? Antiphon, i n
127b, sets his age a t f o r t y - - h i s acme. Although t h i s
would set Zeno apart from eager and impetuous youth, i t
hardly establishes him as secure i n the wisdom of age.
F u r t h e r m o r e , i f P a r m e n i d e s , whom A n t i p h o n c a l l s " a d v a n c e d
i n years'', s i x t y - f i v e or thereabouts, engages i n Zeno's
"contentious" sort of argumentation, he too w i l l e x h i b i t
t h e " i m p e t u o u s " q u a l i t i e s o f y o u t h . He w i l l h a v e s u c
ceeded i n compromising positions antagonistic to his own,
but not i n establishing h i s own viewpoint. His age w i l l
not have constituted a barrier from confusing a successful
offense with a genuine defense: he w i l l not, for a l l his
insight, have safeguarded the truth of Eleaticism.
This, I think, i s what Plato tries to convey
i n Parmenides. He needs t o convey i t i f one i s t o make sense
o f t h e TMA a n d i t s s i s t e r - a r g u m e n t s : t h e y e f f e c t i v e l y
r e f u t e one way o f construing the nature o f Forms, but not
the Forms themselves, since the arguments o f Parmenides
do not establish, of themselves, Parmenides' positive

t h e s i s . And t h i s f a i l u r e of Parmenides i s i r o n i c a l l y
recapitulated i n p t . 2 , where as W.G. Runciman comments,
Parmenides merely makes e x i s t e n t i a l statements about
t o hen and then simply denies them. The r e s u l t i s an
e n t i r e l y barren d i a l e c t i c , which makes no meaningful
contributions to a true understanding of to hen.

The ambiguous, paradoxical f i g u r e of Zeno helps


set for the Parmenides a proper balance of seriousness and
O
playfulness. I n the dialogue, a l l manner of contradictions
are generated, i n both Socrates' thesis and Parmenides'
counter-thesis. This i s the source of playfulness i n the
dialogue: there i s no e x p l i c i t resolution of the.issues
under discussion, nothing p o s i t i v e e x p l i c i t l y hammered
out regarding the Forms and the One. But there i s a serious
note i n Zeno's presence as w e l l , something missed by those
l i k e Burnet and Taylor who read the dialogue as a simple
jeu d ' e s p r i t . The reductio method has i t s l i m i t a t i o n s .
I t reveals genuine inconsistencies, but i t cannot, by
itself, establish a positive thesis-- at least not
the positive thesis voiced by Parmenides. Socrates'
version of the Forms may be r e f u t e d , but Parmenides has
yet to establish his monistic case against Forms as such.
Even Parmenides seems t o r e a l i z e t h a t Socrates' Forms may
s t i l l have a chance: e . g . , his encouragement i n 135 b-c,
that Socrates "submit to a severer training i n what the
world considers t o be i d l e t a l k and condemns as useless."
The message i s : do not give up on the Forms j u s t y e t .

^W.G. Runciman, "Plato's Parmenides", i n R.E. Allen,


Studies in PIato ' s Metaphysics, pp. 149-184.

The presence of the paradoxical Zeno symbolizes P l a t o ' s


attitudes towards Parmenides' arguments. They are :
tremendously destructive, but establish nothing positive
which can stand as an alternative to the Forms. Thus
his arguments i r o n i c a l l y support the theory of Forms, i n
t h a t they show us how not t o conceive them, prodding
his readers into thinking the eide anew.

Another interesting " l i t e r a r y " hint i n Parmenides


is

the textual cross-references with the Sophist and

the Theatetus. These references also lend support to a


pro-reductio reading of pt. 1.
A young namesake of Socrates i s introduced i n
Theatetus 147d, and i s the chief interlocutor with the
Eleatic Stranger i n the Statesman (whether or not he i s
with his friend Theatetus i n the Sophi s t can only be
surmised, a t b e s t ) . Friedlander presents some convincing
evidence for the actual existence of this young Socrates:
i n L e t t e r I X , Plato informs Leodamas o f Thasos, who was
planning to found a colony on the Thracian coast, that
n e i t h e r young Socrates nor he could come t o v i s i t and
discuss t h i n g s , since Socrates was s u f f e r i n g from "bladder
trouble". Friedlander believes t h i s t o be ample evidence
t h a t t h i s young Socrates was a member o f the Platonic
Academy. But Friedlander also believes that

185
. . . i t m u s t b e w i t h m o r e t h a n a p e r s o n a l
reference i n mind t h a t P l a t o selected j u s t t h i s name
f o r the youthful companion o f Theaitetos. The features
of Theaitetos --snub nose and bulging eyes-- resemble
those o f Socrates. Young Socrates bears the master's
name. And the discovery reported by Theaitetos had
come t o them i n j o i n t discussion (dialegomenois, 147d7)
- - i . e . , dialogue-- after their teacher, Theodoros,
had " o u t l i n e d " f o r them the problem t h a t had become
the starting point for their discussion. 9
Much i s made o f Socrates' youth i n Parmenides, and
most o f the references t o his youth are somewhat patronizing
( e . g . , 130e, 135d). Yet even i n Parmenides, there are clear
signs of something more than a "youthful eagerness f o r
controversy" (128e) i n Socrates.- There are the seeds of
philosophical discovery evident in his "analogy of the day"
(131b), which effectively overrides Parmenides' objections
to the Forms, although Parmenides imprudently brushes this
analogy aside. In short, the Parmenides reveals a youthful
Socrates(one lacking the abilities to grasp subtle dis
tinctions and to argue successfully), but also a young
Socrates: posessed of a desire to determine the truth of
things (and already, in a way, posessed of the truth about
the Forms), Socrates shows great p o t e n t i a l , potential which
even Parmenides lacks.
Theatetus and young Socrates of the Statesman stand
i n a position analogous to that of young Socrates i n the
P a r m e n i d e s . P o s e s s e d o f v a g u e , c o n f u s e d n o t i o n s , some f o r m
of intellectual "midwifery" prods them, despite i n i t i a l
Ibid., pp. 280-81; quote from p. 153.

failures, to "try again", u n t i l , at l a s t , there is a break


through t o some s o r t o f i n s i g h t . I n Theatetus. Socrates i s
the "midwife" (149a f f . ) , and although he laments that a l l
he has delivered has been "mere wind eggs" (210b), he holds
out hope f o r Theatetus' philosophical progress:
Then supposing you should ever henceforth t r y
to conceive afresh, Theatetus, i f you socceed, your
embroyo thoughts w i l l be the better as a consequence
of today's scrutiny. . . (210 b-c)
Theatetus does, i n fact, fare well i n the succeeding
dialogue Sophist where, coached by the Eleatic Stranger,
there i s a resolution of the problem of not-being, one
closely connected with the problem of false judgement
canvassed i n Theatetus. There i s also an allusion, i n
210d, to the Euthyphro: Socrates' t r i p to the King-Archon
to answer Meletus' charges, which opens the Euthyphro
(2 a-d). This i n turn reinforces Socrates' self-image as
a midwife, the fructifier of others' ideas ( i . e . , his
attempt to goad Euthyphro --and Theatetus-- into c r i t i c a l
r e f l e c t i o n ) , and draws into the foreground the need for a
"daimonic" desire to posess the Truth on the part of
t h o s e whom S o c r a t e s h e l p s a l o n g ( E u t h y p h r o ' s d o g m a t i s m
providing ample contrast to Theatetus' eros for the truth).
Again, the analogy to Parmenides i s s t r i k i n g : Parmenides
and Zeno'recognize Socrates' potential, and subject his
rather slapdash account of the Forms t o a thoroughgoing
and powerful c r i t i q u e . Just as Theatetus ends with

187
aporia concerning knowledge.Parmenides p t . 1 draws no
substantive, explicit conclusions about the true nature of
Forms, Part 1 ends, as does Theatetus, with an exhortation
to "try to conceive afresh".
This supports the pro-reductio reading of Parmenides
i n a number of ways. Theatetus, young Socrates i n the
Statesman. and the youthful Socrates i n Parmenides a l l pass
from ignorance to the possibility of insight through a
harsh dialectical critique of their convictions. For each
of them, and for us as readers, the dialectical c r i t i q u e
evokes, or points the way toward a resolution o f the
problem, or at least toward a tentative stopping-place of
insight in a potentially "infinite conversation".on the
subject.*0 The parallels between t h i s dialogical structure
i n the Theatetus and the Statesman and the Parmenides
suggest that a true - - o r a t least a more adequate-- vision
of the Forms i s being evoked i n the l a t t e r dialogue, much
as an adequate conception of knowledge i s suggested by
Theatetus and a real grasp of statesmanship by the
Statesman. This undermines Vlastos's interpretation of
Parmenides as "a record of honest perplexity". Although
Plato i s not e x p l i c i t about what i s to be rejected i n 128e130a, explicitness i s not always his distinguishing mark.
He evokes a r e a l i z a t i o n i n the reader t h a t s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n
i s to be rejected. Such evocativeness i s not found
*J.H. Randall, Dramatist of the L i f e of Reason
( N e w Y o r k : C o l u m b i a U n i v . P r . , 1 9 7 T T , PP 4 - 5 .

188
i n the l a t e r dialogues alone. I t l i e s within a l l the themes
of the e a r l i e r aporetic dialogues, such as friendship i n the
Lysis, courage i n Laches. holiness i n Euthyphro, sophrosune
i n Charmides, and so on; evocativeness goes hand-in-hand
w i t h a p o r i a . One way t o evoke a t r u e understanding o f Forms,
t o p o i n t the way toward an i n t u i t i v e grasp o f t h e i r n a t u r e ,
i s to reduce to absurdity a distorted vision of Forms, i n
much the same way i n which the aporiae o f L y s i s , Charmides,
Euthyphro show, rather than say what friendship, moderation,
holiness a r e . * 1 A reductio-reading o f P t . 1 makes sense o f
t h i s e f f e c t i v e l i t e r a r y technique commonly used by P l a t o :
the technique of indirectness, evocation.
There i s yet another interesting cross-reference
i n Plato's Parmenides. The incident depicted i n Parmenides
i s alluded to twice elsewhere i n Plato's work : i n
Sophist 217c, and Theatetus 183e. In both cases i t i s
Socrates who r e c a l l s the i n c i d e n t , and i n both cases he
expresses his profound respect for Parmenides:
SOCRATES ( ^ r e s p o n d i n g t o T h e a t e t u s ' r e q u e s t
t o discuss "those others who assert t h a t the whole o f
t h i n g s i s a t r e s t ] : A f e e l i n g o f r e s p e c t k e e p s me
from t r e a t i n g i n an unworthy s p i r i t Melissus and the
others who say the universe i s one and a t r e s t , but
t h e r e i s o n e b e i n g whom I r e s p e c t a b o v e a l l . P a r m e n i d e s
himself i s i n my eyes, as Homer says, a 'reverend and
a w f u l ' f i g u r e . I met him when I was q u i t e young and he
q u i t e e l d e r l y , and I thought there was a s o r t o f
depth i n him t h a t was altogether noble. (Theatetus 183e)
This metaphor i s Wittgenstein's. For the best
short treatment of Wittgenstein's saying/showing distinction
t h a t I know o f , see James C. Edwards, Ethics Without Philosophy
(Tampa: Univ. Presses of Florida, 1982) ,esp. Chs. I I and IV.

189
SOCRATES C t o s t r a n g e r ] : Do n o t d e n y u s ,
t h e n , t h e f i r s t f a v o r we a s k T i . e . , t o d i s c o u r s e o n
the names "Sophist. Statesman, Philosopher"}. Which
do you commonly p r e f e r - - t o discourse a t length by
yourself on any matter you wish t o make c l e a r , or t o
use the method of asking questions, as Parmenides
h i m s e l f d i d o n o n e o c c a s i o n i n d e v e l o p i n g some
m a g n i f i c e n t i d e a s i n my p r e s e n c e , w h e n I w a s y o u n g
and he a quite elderly man. (Sophist 217c)
There are a number of c u r i o s i t i e s i n the above
passages. I n both the Sophist and the Theatetus excerpts,
Socrates stresses the age-difference between Parmenides and
himself a t the time o f the Parmenides i n c i d e n t . I t seems
important for Plato to transmit through the words of
Socrates the f a c t t h a t Parmenides was o l d a t the time o f
the encounter, and Socrates quite young, and that Socrates
now posesses the age and experience once posessed by the
victor of that debate. This has, I think, a twofold effect;
f i r s t , i t s o f t e n s some o f t h e h a r s h e r c r i t i c i s m s o f
Parmenides which follow (237a, 241d ff.,258c f f . ) ; second
i t i s suggestive of Socrates' advance beyond philosophical
adolescence and his own, self-conscious appreciation of this
advance, almost as i f he were insinuating "were Parmenides
here today, the discussion would be quite d i f f e r e n t . "
Furthermore, i t i s noteworthy that although Socrates
praises Parmenides' acumen and b e l i t t l e s himself by comparison,
he s t i l l believes i n the Forms, Forms which Parmenides i s
supposed to have "refuted" i n Pt. 1. This suggests t h a t , for
Plato's Socrates, the true lesson of the earlier encounter
w i t h Parmenides was not t h a t the Forms were themselves

190
moribund (because the older Socrates s t i l l believes i n them),
but t h a t the theory i n 128e-130a was too raw, brash, and
contradictory. The older and wiser Socrates respects
Parmenides' critique of Forms, but he has not embraced
Eleaticism; he has "started afresh" and found a workable
theory of Forms.

12

The above also suggests a s p i r i t f o r reading


Theatetus and Sophist which would, on the whole, be congenial
to a pro-reductio interpretation of Pt. 1.

In these dialogues,

Socrates applies his more mature understanding of Forms to


the problems of non-being and knowledge,with the result that
many o f the vexatious d i f f i c u l t i e s o f Parmenides (e.g.,how
a Form can be a unity without being an "atom of i n t e l l i g i
b i l i t y " ) are f i n a l l y and decisively overcome.
Another c u r i o s i t y : why does Socrates r e l a t e the
method of "asking questions" to Parmenides i n the Sophi s t
passage? He himself would have been h i s own best example.
One possible way t o make sense o f t h i s r a t h e r odd choice i s
by seeing Socrates' reference to Parmenides as i r o n i c . I f
my t h e s i s i n C h . I V

i s correct, then the Parmenidean view

of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y undermines the need for dialogue as


instrumental. i n coming to know. Knowledge of true Being
i s knowledge of the changeless and i n d i v i s i b l e One; Since
dialogue thrives on contrasts and the discernment of
interrelationships between a p l u r a l i t y of beings, dialogue
12

On P a r m e n i d e s * b r a s h n e s s a n d S o c r a t e s ' n a i v e t e ,
see Kenneth Sayre, Plato's Late Ontology (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Pr., 1983), pp. 18-20.

191
seems I n e v i t a b l y t o be p a r t o f the deceptive "Way o f
Seeming". But despite a l l t h a t , Parmenides manages t o
"dialogue" quite a b i t --nowhere more than i n the
Parmenides. True, his arguments (taking their cue from
Zeno) are uniformly d e s t r u c t i v e . But i t would seem t h a t t h i s
contentious style of argument, followed through consistently
to the end, would leave one with nothing to say, not even
Parmenides. Parmenides, hardly a professor of antilogike"
l i k e t h e S o p h i s t s , d o e s w i s h t o e s t a b l i s h some p o s i t i v e
thesis, one which "limns the true and ultimate structure
of reality"

13

( i . e . , that r e a l i t y i s One, changeless, un

divided, e t c . , and that i t i s only i n terms of these that


Being i s i n t e l l i g i b l e ) . But Parmenides p t . 2 explodes this
pretense: i f to hen i s to be i n t e l l i g i b l e at a l l , i t cannot
be understood merely on the basis of i t s unity (Hypothesis 1 ,
137c f f . ) , i n which case i t i s no longer a Parmenidean one.
Parmenides, i n the Parmenides, i s h i g h l y i r o n i c . He i s
practically commited to rational dialogue i n defense of
a position which undermines rational dialogue --his noetic
monism. This might explain Parmenides' own h i g h l y a n t i Parmenidean misgivings i n 135 b-d, that without Forms to
focus the meanings o f words, discourse w i l l be impossible.
From Plato's perspective, he i s e n t i r e l y correct i n t h i s

13

The phrase i s W.V.O. Quine's. See Word and Object


(Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1961), p. 211.

observation --and entirely perverse i n his adherence to


standard Eleatic

principles i n the second half of the

dialogue.
In Sophist 216a, the Eleatic Stranger i s described
as a member o f the school o f Parmenides and Zeno. Yet
his c r i t i c i s m , beneath the courtesy and respect for
Parmenides always i n strong supply, i s often s t r i k i n g l y
caustic. Consider:
STRANGER: I t s t r i k e s me t h a t P a r m e n i d e s a n d
everyone else who has set out t o determine how many
real things there are and what they are l i k e , have
discoursed to us i n rather an offhand fashion.
THEATETUS: How s o ?
STRANGER: T h e y e a c h a n d a l l s e e m t o t r e a t u s
a s c h i l d r e n t o whom t h e y a r e t e l l i n g a s t o r y . . . ( 2 4 2 c )
The Stranger continues by making a thumbnail sketch
of the history o f metaphysics up to that p o i n t , including
i n h i s d e s c r i p t i o n P a r m e n i d e s ' c o n t e n t i o n t h a t " w h a t we c a l l
a l l things' are only one thing". His sketch i s mildly
sarcastic, depicting Parmenides, Empedocles, and others
a s p u r v e y o r s o f t a l l t a l e s , o r c h i l d r e n ' s s t o r i e s . He
sums up by n o t i n g t h a t although i t would be i n "bad t a s t e "
to fault such i l l u s t r i o u s metaphysicians and cosmologists,
each o f them shows contempt f o r "ordinary people l i k e
ourselves" by f a i l i n g to explain clearly what they mean.
This "lack of c l a r i t y " about the meaning of to on
launches a systematic critique of Parmenides' doctrines on
Being and not-Being - - i n short, his position on i n t e l l i g i
b i l i t y . This, as I have argued, i s the locus of controversy

193
i n both parts of the Parmenides: the clash of two radically
d i f f e r e n t views on the nature and scope of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .
The Stranger, i n developing h i s c r i t i q u e , seems t o v i n d i c a t e
Plato's "integral pluralism" against the sound objections
voiced by Parmenides against 128e-130a. The inclusion o f
" D i f f e r e n c e " among the megista gene (254b f f . ) allows
for an inchoate distinction between the " i s " of identity
and the " i s " of predication, thus rendering moot the
Parmenidean strictures against informative discourse con
cerning "what i s n o t " . This makes a P l u r a l i t y of Forms
( i n which a p l u r a l i t y of particulars participate) an
i n t e l l i g i b l e notion, effectively refuting Parmenides'
conviction t h a t i t i s not i n t e l l i g i b l e . The broad o u t l i n e s
of the Stranger's ontology supply the element missing i n
P a r m e n i d e s 1 2 8 e - 1 3 0 a : k o i n o n i a am ong t h e F o r m s . T h i s
e f f e c t i v e l y refutes the "atomic" conception of Forms
voiced by young Socrates; t h i s i n turn does away w i t h the
idea that what ontologically distinguishes Form
particular

from

is the lack of "contrary characteristics" in

the former. I f this i s jettisoned, the distinction between


Form and particular must be drawn i n another, more s a t i s
factory way.
The Stranger accomplishes t h i s , and thus succeeds
i n tying up another "loose end" of the Parmenides.If
particulars are as real as are the Forms (though of a
lesser degree of that r e a l i t y ) , then their distinction must
be one o f type. Otherwise Forms would be nothing more than

194
high-grade particulars, and a l l the Parmenidean paradoxes
about being and non-being would apply. For example, i f , s a y ,
VSamenessV w a s a " p e r f e c t p a r t i c u l a r " , h o w c o u l d i t b e
understood to be "Different" from anything else? Only
Difference would be d i f f e r e n t , and only Sameness the same.
This i s absurd, and the Stranger lampoons i t i n 251 b-c.

14

This distinction of type i s the ground for meaningful


attribution or predication, in distinction from identitystatements.

15

Only through a relationship with a Form can

anything - - a particular or another Form-- be spoken about


meaningfully. Because Forms are of a d i f f e r e n t order of being
(the kosmos noetos rather than the kosmos aisthetos)our
discourse can transcend the mere indication of identity
("What i s i s , what i s not i s not")and speak i n t e l l i g i b l y
about the many d i f f e r e n t a t t r i b u t e s o f many d i f f e r e n t t h i n g s .
There i s , then, a symmetry of concerns between the
Sophist and the Parmenides, the former providing a key to
the r e s o l u t i o n o f some outstanding d i f f i c u l t i e s i n the l a t t e r .

^Perhaps t h i s i s a "swipe" a t Protagoras 330c


( i . e . , I f nothing else i s beautiful, Beauty is)?
15

This does not mean t h a t Forms are predicates,


or that p a r t i c i p a t i o n i s p r e d i c a t i o n ; nor does i t mean t h a t
Plato, i n the Sophi s t , i s producing a theory of predication
which antedates that of Aristotle's Orqanon.Forms, and
the koinonia among higher and lower e i d e , aHow us t o
predicate. I support, in general, the views of R.E. Allen
("Participation and Predication i n Plato's Middle Dialogues",
i n G. Vlastos, e d . , Plato I . p. 170) that Plato had "a
theory o f predication without predicates." See also
Stanley Rosen, P l a t o ' s Sophist (New Haven: Yale Univ. P r . , 1 9 8 3 ) ,
pp. 31-35.

195
Similarly, the Theatetus raises epistemologlcal questions
which mirror the more logical and metaphysical issues of
the Parmenides. The Theatetus t r i e s --and " f a i l s " - - to
answer the question o f how f a l s e judgement i s p o s s i b l e ,
given that one's mind cannot be related to or know "what
i s n o t " . The Parmenidean overtones o f t h i s issue are un->
deniable and recognized e x p l i c i t l y i n the dialogue (180e,
183a). Yet, l i k e the Parmeni des, the Theatetus has i t s
aporiae overcome i n the Sophist: given the two ways one can
construe Being and not-being (the predicative-is and the
i d e n t i t y - i s , the is-not of difference and the Parmenidean,
absolute i s - n o t ) , one can construe false judgement i n terms
6f the mind's relation to what i s , rather than what i s not.
Error i s wrongly saying of what i s something different from
what a c t u a l l y i s . E r r o r i s made i n t e l l i g i b l e as saying
something different from that which i s the case. Again,
a problem rooted i n the Parmenidean theory of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
i s overcome by showing, as Friedlander put i t , i t s

too-

simple construction: the Stranger makes subtle d i s t i n c t i o n s


between types of r e a l i t y , which support the Platonic
view of "integral pluralism".
The references t o Parmenides i n Sophist 217c and
Theatetus 183e are, therefore, more than accidental. The
dialogues form a loose t r i l o g y . The Parmenides shows how
ap Eleatic challenge to the Forms might develop, exposing
along the way various inadequacies i n Parmenides' own
monism. The Theatetus extrapolates Parmenides' concern with
non-being into the epistemological issue of false judgement.

The Sophist rounds things o f f by articulating d i f f e r e n t


types of r e a l i t y and by clarifying the relationships between
Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s , and Forms and other Forms. The
cross-references reinforce the thematic ties between the
dialogues, ultimately focusing the reader's attention on
the Sophist, where Plato's agon with Eleaticism reaches
i t s climax. I t i s almost as i f one had to wait f o r the
Eleatic Stranger to arrive before one could "go far beyond"
Parmenides' strictures on " i s " and " i s not" --an irony,
considering that the Stranger himself is Eleatic. That
Plato i s reaching beyond Eleaticism i s beyond serious doubt
i n the Sophist: the cross references i n Theatetus and
Parmenides serve as indicators of Plato's true intentions
against Eleatic Monism. Thus, the tough anti-Eleatic stance
o f the Sophist supports a p r o - r e d u c t i o reading o f the TMA:
by discrediting a theory o f Forms vulnerable t o Eleatic
attack, Plato allows us a glimpse of what a secure theory
of Forms might look l i k e , a glimpse fleshed out i n the
Sophi s t . A rather casual literary allusion i n these dialogues
serves as a significant element i n understanding the sub
stantive philosophical position of the dialogues on the
nature of the Forms.

197
V I I ) A R E A D I N G OF P A R M E N I D E S , P A R T O N E .

In this chapter I wish to synthesize the literary


elements of Parmeni des I , elucidated i n the previous sections,
with the dialectical interchange between Parmenides and
Socrates beginning a t 130b and continuing u n t i l the end *
of the f i r s t part.

F i r s t , however, I would l i k e to make

a few comments about the overall tone o f the t e x t .


A) Tone:

by t h i s I mean the way i n which Parmenides'

arguments and Socrates' defenses are designed to s t r i k e the


reader

as e f f e c t i v e or i n e f f e c t i v e , and as r i g h t or wrong.

Within the context of the dialogue, i t is unquestionable


that Parmenides "wins" and Socrates "loses" the argument.
But a number o f oddities about the d i a l e c t i c a l b a t t l e
make i t q u e s t i o n a b l e as t o whether we should take
Parmenides' effectiveness against Socrates' Theory of
Forms to be a sign o f h i s correctness.
F i r s t , i t i s Socrates who i s reduced t o s i l e n c e . I f
Plato were simply interested i n refuting the theory advanced
by Socrates i n the Parmeni des, i t would seem t o be a f a r
more effective " l i t e r a r y ploy" to put the theory i n the mouth
of an over-confident f o i l , l i k e Nicias or Euthyphro, and
then have Socrates himself "tear i t to bits."''

depiction

of Socrates i n Parmenides, even a "young" Socrates, as


speechless before Parmenides i s hard to reconcile with the

^I.M. Crombie, An Examination o f P l a t o ' s Doctrines


(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), p.333n

198
tremendous symbolic importance the figure of Socrates plays
p
i n Plato's l i f e and work . "Young Socrates" remains,
after a l l , "Socrates. "
Second, i t i s never entirely clear, i n the dialogue,
whether Parmenides' criticism proceeds from assumptions
common t o both Socrates and h i m s e l f , o r whether he i s
proceeding from assumptions foreign to Socrates-, though they
go unrecognized by the l a t t e r .

In short, i t is unclear

whether or not Parmenides i s r e f u t i n g Socrates on h i s own


ground, as, say, Socrates does t o Euthyphro when he points
out t h a t Euthyphro's assent t o the idea t h a t " t h e Gods love
what i s holy because i t i s holy"is radically incompatible with
his previous assertion that "holiness i s that which i s dear
to the gods." (10a)

In Euthyphro i t is clear that Euthyphro's

words are "running i n circles" because of the i l l o g i c i m p l i c i t


i n his convictions about holiness; but i t i s not so clear
that Parmenides i s l e t t i n g Socrates refute himself.

The fear

that Parmenides might be putting words into Socrates' mouth


i s buttressed by his dismissal of Socrates' "analogy of the
day" (131b):

i t i s unclear whether Parmenides' i s readi nq

i n t o Socrates' theory elements which are not there and


successfully refuting them, thus successfully blinding
Socrates to the sad
or whether Parmenides
victory.

f a c t t h a t he's been made a "straw.man",


proceeds i n earnest and has an honest

F i n a l l y , Parmenides, i n 135c, makes a major

concession to Socrates' theory of Forms, holding that they may,

Paul Friedlander, PI a t o , vol. 1, (Princeton:


Princeton University Press, 1964), pp. 126-36

199
indeed, be necessary to preserve meaningful discourse.
This i s something that the historical Parmenides would not
do ( q . v . Ch IV o f the present w o r k ) , and seems t o compromise
what t o t h a t p o i n t seemed an uncompromising h o s t i l i t y
to the Forms. Hence the tone of Parmenides-, unlike that o f ,
say, Republic I or Euthyphro, i s not confident or final,
but puzzling and inconclusive --an ambiance enhanced by Pt. 2 ,
a d i a l e c t i c which seems t o go nowhere. How, t h e n , should we
take the arguments of Part 1?
Kenneth Sayre, i n his recent work PIato' s Late Onto!ogy,
gives a very prescient response t o t h i s question; unlike many
analytic commentators, Sayre does not neglect the l i t e r a r y
medium i n which philosophical argument i s expressed, and sees
b e t t e r than most commentators t h a t there i s more than one way
i n which an argument can do i t s work. Sayre speaks of
. . . a n e r r o r some commentators would n o t be prepared
to acknowledge. Simply stated, the error i s that of taking
P l a t o ' s arguments a t surface value when the context
i n d i c a t e s t h a t they should be taken otherwise. . . One
pervasive form o f t h i s e r r o r i s t o assume t h a t Plato
endorsesthe conclusion of every argument he puts i n t o the
mouths of his main protagonists. . .Another form i s to
assume t h a t Plato intends a l l arguments articulated by
his protagonists to be l o g i c a l l y t i g h t and philosophically
sound. This assumption rules out construing any argument
by a major protagonist as having primarily an elenctic
or r h e t o r i c a l r o l e , e i t h e r o f which would make i t i n
appropriate to take Plato to task for producing a
"bad" argument. . .
The most deceptive form of t h i s e r r o r , however,
i s a combination of the two above. This i s t o assume t h a t
whenever a major protagonist develops an extended argument
for (or against) a philoaophic thesis, Plato himself
a c c e p t s ( o r r e j e c t s ) t h a t t h e s i s on_ t h e b a s i s o f t h a t
specific argument. 3
Sayre goes on t o show t h a t various i n t e r p r e t i v e
positions on the Parmenides embody these e r r o r s : Cherniss.
3

K e n n e t h S a y r e , P I a t o ' s L a t e O n t o ! og.y ( P r i n c e t o n :
Princeton Univ. Pr., 1983), pp. 18-19.

200
who seeks t o explain how Plato could have continued t o
believe i n the Forms a f t e r leaving the objections of
.4

Parmenides unanswered,

and Vlastos, who seeks t o r e p a i r

d e f i c i e n c i e s i n t h e TMA i n o r d e r t o u n d e r s c o r e P l a t o ' s
"honest perplexity", both f a i l to see the rhetorical
role of Parmenides' arguments.

Sayre elaborates:

The proper interpretive stance f o r these arguments,


I suggest, should accomodate the fact that the arguments
are not at a l l conclusive, while remaining open to the
strong l i k e l i h o o d s (a) that Plato knew they are not
conclusive and did not intend them to be, but nonetheless
(b) t h a t he had r e j e c t e d or was prepared t o r e j e c t , on
independent grounds, certain aspects of the theory they
are directed against. 6
Sayre's own p o s i t i o n i s moderately R e v i s i o n i s t :
he takes Plato to be seriously dissatisfied with the notion
of participation developed i n the middle dialogues, and
with the idea of absolute separation between Form and
particular, epitomized by the Phaedo. Parmenides p t . 1 i s ,
for Sayre, Plato's explicit revision of the Theory of Forms,
away from absolute ch5rismos and towards a coherent neo-Pythagorean conception of participation, elaborated i n Phi1ebus'
opposition between l i m i t and the unlimited, which does not
require absolute separation.'7 Yet i n Ch. V, I believe I have
shown that there i s less than ample ground i n the Phaedo
t o assume that Forms

are radically separate

^ I b i d . , p. 276nl9; c f . G.E.L. Owen, "The Place of the


Timaeus i n Plato's Dialogues", Classical Quarterly N.S.3 (1953),
pp. 79-95, reprinted i n R.E. A1len, ed., Studies in PIato's
Metaphysics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul , 1965), pp. 313-338.
^Ibid, p. 276nl8; c f . Vlastos, "TMA".
61bid.,

p. 19

^ I b i d . , pp. 14-15, and Ch. I l l passim.

201
from particulars (and each other), and i n section E below,
I believe that I have demonstrated that any account of Forms
which i n s i s t s on absolute separation i s not merely trouble
some but absolutely incoherent, since p a r t i c i p a t i o n , the
f i r s t and foremost element i n understanding what the Forms
are and what they do, cannot be reconciled with i t .

But

i f Sayre's own Revisionism i s on less than adequate ground,


his interpretive advice i s , I think entirely sound, and i t
unmasks and undermines the position of Revisionists l i k e
R y l e ( w h o t a k e s t h e TMA a s P l a t o ' s " b r e a k " f r o m t h e
Forms), Apologists l i k e Cherniss, and Critical exegetes l i k e
VIastos.
I f Revisionism, as I have been arguing, has not
established i t s case firmly enough, then what i s Plato,
i n Parmenides, p t . I , "rejecting on independent grounds?"
Not h i s theory of Forms as such, nor the Phaedo-Republic
incarnation of i t , but the fictionalized version of young
Socrates, which invites Parmenides' arguments.

Parmenides

arguments are not completely conclusive against Socrates'


p o s i t i o n , and they are even less so against the Forms
as PIato understands them; nevertheless they invoke a l l
that i s i11-conceived i n Socrates' theory, and advise us
t o steer c l e a r o f these obstacles i n our own t h i n k i n g
about Forms.

This, however, does not vindicate the

Apologist position, which views Parmenides as an indirect


attempt t o discern false interpretations of Forms through
Parmenides' successful attack on them.

The Apologist,

l i k e the Revisionist, has an axe to grind: he takes i t as

202
P l a t o ' s i n t e n t i o n t o show t h a t the Forms which Parinenides
destroys are mere caricatures of Forms.

But this neglects

the inconclusive tenor of Parmenides p t . 1 , i t s palpable


lack of confidence i n any of the conclusions drawn.
The reading of Part I that I shall advance,
consonant with this indecisive tone, i s

this:

Socrates,

i n response to Zeno, postulates a theory of Forms which i s


riddled with d i f f i c u l t i e s ; Parmenides, i n response,
counters Socrates' theory with a number of arguments,
some good, some bad.

Parmenides' arguments, however

effective or ineffective they are contra Socrates are


inconclusive regarding the Forms as Plato sees them.
Nevertheless, Plato wishes t o show how Socrates' mis
understandings and u n c l a r i t i e s about the Forms i n i t i a t e d
the whole sorry episode, and he evokes i n the reader
independent grounds for rejecting Socrates' misconceptions
(e.g., as too particularized, as hard to square with
methexis, etc.).

Plato i s concerned neither with revising

nor with defending his middle period Theory of Forms:

he

i s using the misconceptions of Socrates and Parmenides


as media through which he can introduce new elements i n t o
the Theory o f Forms (e.g., new subtleties i n methexis and
chorismos, the "interweaving of Forms, and so on).

He i s

developing h i s theory i n a new, much needed d i r e c t i o n , con


sidering issues which have suddenly become urgent, which could
more or less be safely ignored given the concerns embodied
in the middle

dialogues.

203
I w i l l l e t Sayre have the f i n a l word on the overall
tone of the dialogue:
Parmenides'
arguments are highly schematic and
far from conclusive --not at a l l the kind of con
sideration t h a t would induce Plato t o make a major
theoretical revision so l a t e i n his career. For another,
they involve a number of rhetorical t r i c k s that Parmenides
pulls on an overawed Socrates, of a sort more characteristic
of the eristic dialogues of the middle period than of
the sober later dialogues. Most importantly, however, the
arguments are put forward and passed by without dialactical
examination o f the s o r t we have learned t o associate
with the solid results of the Theatetus and the Sophist.
Socrates i n Parmenides I does not have the acuity of
Theatetus, nor Parmenides the candor of the Eleatic
Stranger. A l l i n a l l , the interchange between the
aged master and the youthful novice i s a display more
of eristic than of philosophical argument. 8
The purpose o f t h i s e r i s t i c b a t t l e i s , I take i t ,
t o t r e a t new and serious d i f f i c u l t i e s involved i n a
discussion o f Forms, and t o suggest a way of. t h i n k i n g about
Forms which w i l l c l a r i f y and perhaps supercede these d i f
ficulties.
B) The Range o f Forms (130 a - e ) . After o u t l i n i n g
his theory of Forms i n 128e-130a, Socrates i s met with
"glances and smiles i n admiration" from Parmenides and
Zeno. Pythodoros, another i n t e r l o c u t o r , was n o t expecting
t h i s , nor the praise by Parmenides of Socrates' "eagerness
f o r d i s c u s s i o n . " On t h e one hand, we m i g h t t a k e Parmenides"
amd Zeno's a f f e c t i o n f o r Socrates' i n q u i s i t i v e v i g o r as a
sign of ordinary, commendable i n t e l l e c t u a l courtesy - - a
perception that in philosophical matters, questioning,
rather than answering, i s what matters. But there i s a

81bid.,

pp..22-23.

204
slightly patronizing halo surrounding their smiles:
Socrates

i s , after a l l , young and inexperienced, and

P l a t o ' s readers f a m i l i a r w i t h the dialogue know t h a t a


merciless romp against Socrates' Forms w i l l follow.

The

irony i s undeniable, as i s the irony that Parmenides and


Zeno did not react as Pythodoros anticipated:

i f my

analysis i n Chapter IV i s c o r r e c t , Parmenides and Zeno


should not champion discussion on the issue of i n t e l l i
g i b i l i t y , since Parmenidean monism, with i t s insistence that
the issue of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y has been settled with the
i n t u i t i o n "what i s , i s ; what i s not, i s not", undermines
the very idea of effective dialogical inquiry, along with the
idea that there are intelligibles other than to hen.
Nevertheless, Parmenides speaks: what sorts of
Forms are there?

Socrates agrees that there are Forms

of general, categorial notions, of Likeness, Unity, and


P l u r a l i t y , "over and above" the likenesses, unities, and
p l u r a l i t i e s we possess.

Parmenides secures Socrates'

assent to value-Forms, such as Rightness, Beauty, and


Goodness.

About natural kinds Socrates i s skeptical

(Man, F i r e , Water), and concerning t r i v i a l and insignificant


things, i.e., mud, h a i r , and d i r t , Socrates i s profoundly
ambivalent:

on the one hand i t would be absurd

to

suppose t h e above are more than " j u s t t h e t h i n g s we s e e " ,


but on the other hand, might what i s true for the other
classes o f objects be true f o r a l l of them?

Socrates then

issues a highly self-deprecatory comment --he " f a l l s i n t o


a p i t of nonsense", and hopes to recover l o s t ground by

205
reverting to a discussion of those things of which he i s
sure Forms exist ( e . g . , Unity, Justice, e t c . ) - - upon which
Parmenides comments:
. . . you are s t i l l young, Socrates, and philosophy has
not taken hold of you so firmly as I believe i t w i l l
someday. You w i l l not despise any o f these objects then;
but a t present your youth makes you s t i l l pay attention t o
what the world w i l l think. (130e)
The above i s a puzzling mixture of accurate prediction,
i n c i s i v e commentary about Socrates' hesitation on mud, h a i r ,
and d i r t , and patronizing hauteur. But what philosophical
capital i s Plato trying to gain through Parmenides' insistent
questioning?
I think i t i s t h i s . Parmenides recognizes that
Socrates appeals to the Forms to secure a workable
account of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y which i s significantly opposed
to his own. Against Parmenides, Socrates proposes a
plurality of noita --besides Unity, there is Plurality,
and Likeness-- and an account o f how s e n s i b i l i a ,

or

p a r t i c u l a r s , comprise an order and can be seen as i n t e l l i g i b l e


through participation i n i n t e l l i g i b i l i a , i n Forms. In
order to propose t h i s , Socrates must have at least the
inchoate idea of different types of reality: intelligibilia
and the sensibilia which participate i n them. But Socrates
has another, hidden agenda f o r the Forms, one which i s
i m p l i c i t i n his account of the d i s t i n c t i o n between Forms and
p a r t i c u l a r s : p a r t i c u l a r s can embody contrary c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s ,
while Forms do not (129b). Parmenides sees, r i g h t l y , the
attempt a t heirarchizinq Being i n Socrates' theory: Forms
are "pure", while sensibles can indicate opposing qualities;

206
Forms are fixed and stable, while particulars are everchanging. That t h i s echoes Parmenides' own metaphysics i s
clear enough, but unlike Parmenides, Socrates does not
wish t o consign p a r t i c u l a r s e n s i b i l i a to "the way o f
seeming", i . e . , to reduce Becoming to non-being. The
p o i n t o f 128e-130a seems t o be t h a t Parmenides'
Being/non-being dichotomy i s not the only way t o make
sense out of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . Parmenides, however, would
tend to view the modification of his theses about the
u n i t a r y changelessness o f Being ( i n the service o f some
sort of p l u r a l i s t i c , degrees-of-reality metaphysics) as
s e r i o u s l y confused. Hence h i s attempt t o f i n d some
loophole, where the demands t h a t Forms be a p l u r a l i t y of
i n t e l l i g i b i 1 i a and the demands that they c o n s t i t u t e a
higher echelon o f Being show some signs o f s t r e s s o r c o n f l i c t .
Hence the short interlude concerning the range of
Forms. Socrates r e l i e s on the Forms, as a sort of explanatory
g
o r " a i t i o l o g i c a l " model, t o i l l u s t r a t e how many things can
e x h i b i t or r e f l e c t many i n t e l l i g i b l e q u a l i t i e s , properties,
and relations. Yet he defines the ontological difference
between Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s i n terms which can be reduced
to a degree-difference: particulars, in varying degrees,
exhibit contrary characteristics, while Forms, "pure" as they
are, do not. This can be merely a quantitative difference,
although i t need not be --a point the neglect of which w i l l
j e o p a r d i z e S o c r a t e s ' p o s i t i o n i n TMA v e r s i o n s 1 a n d 2 .

g
I owe the use o f t h i s term t o John Caputo, Heidegger
and Aquinas (New York: Fordham Univ. P r . , 1982), p . 6 .

Parmenides proceeds to play these two "roles" of Forms


- ie., "principles of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y " and "the highest
of Beings" - against each other.

There i s no problem of

c o n f l i c t as regards the categorial Forms such as Likeness


and Unity, nor any serious d i f f i c u l t y with Moral exemplars
such as Justice and Goodness:

these can retain their "exalted

o r "noble" status and s t i l l explain how p a r t i c u l a r likenesses


or acts of justice ad the l i k e are i n t e l l i g i b l e i n virtue
of the Form.

But Forms of natural kinds are troublesome.

A p a r t i c u l a r Man i s i n t e l l i g i b l e as a man i n a way


markedly different from the highly abstract i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
o f , say "Equals", or the paradigmatic, standard-oriented
intelligibility of "Justice".

The l a t t e r two are more

" a t home" i n an ontology emphasizing degrees-of-reality.


Furthermore, p a r t i c u l a r men have been known t o be l e s s
than "noble" or "exalted".

How then i s i t t h a t these

men are "Hen" i n v i r t u e o f the Form Man?

This issue i s

cast i n t o bold r e l i e f when one contemplates the " i n s i g n i f i c a n t


and "undignified":

a clod of d i r t would have to be

i n t e l l i g i b l e as the "undignified" thing i t i s through


participation in that which is of the highest order of
reality.

This i s disturbing, but i t i s j u s t as disturbing

t o contemplate the absence of a Form i n t h i s case --how


would clods of d i r t then be i n t e l l i g i b l e as d i r t ?

Hence

Socrates' indecision and embarassment, and Parmenides'


patronizing advice to the e f f e c t that age and experience
w i l l enable him to take such things as mud, hair and d i r t

seriously.
The irony i n that f i n a l b i t of fatherly advice
should not be missed:

Parmenides himself f a i l s to take

seriously the i n t e l l i g i b l e richness of the world and the


participation of particulars in Being, preferring to
remain a slave to a single-minded metaphysical idea.
None o f Parmenides1 leading questions should be taken, as
Sayre says, as "cons!usive" against the Forms, or even
Socrates' theory in 128e-130a.

Socrates could have

emphasized that Forms d i f f e r from particulars i n type


as wel1 as degree, and thus the "paradox" about exalted
Forms of undignified objects would disappear:

the Forms

of such objects aren't such objects themselves; --they are


a different order (kosmos) of Being through which such
objects come t o be the s o r t o f o b j e c t s they a r e .

Put

less technically, the Form o f , say, Mud, i s not i t s e l f mud,


but t h a t which makes mud mud, and t h a t " m a k i n g - a b i l i t y "
i s why the Form enjoys a higher degree-status than the
particular.

Although Parmenides

has failed to establish

his case, Socrates, here and elsewhere, leaves one of


his flanks exposed:

by defining the ontological difference

between Form and particular i n terms o f degrees, he


u n w i t t i n g l y slides i n t o thinking o f the Forms as r a d i c a l l y
particularized, thus undercutting his better insight
that Forms are d i f f e r e n t types of r e a l i t y from p a r t i c u l a r s ,
from things.

209
A final word on the range of Forms: the Parmenides
does not settle the issue of the range of Forms, but i t
suggests, I think, that for epistemological purposes i t
i s best to view i t as universal. In other dialogues,
early and l a t e , Plato does not merely r e s t r i c t the Forms
t o t h e summa g e n e r a a n d m o r a l - p o l i t i c a l n o r m s : t h e r e i s
mention of natural-kind Forms i n Theatetus, Phi1ebus, and
Timaeus, and even mention of Forms of a r t i f a c t s i n
Republi c (the "Third Bed") and Cratylus 389a. I n
Republic 596a f f . , the craftsman "looks to the Form" i n
fashioning his handiwork. Whether Plato took these
seriously or as casual asides i s , perhaps, the wrong
question to ask: i t would be better to ask for what
purpose one should take a universal range of Forms seriously.
A universal range of Forms --discounting privative notions
such as " e v i l " and " i n j u s t i c e " - - seems t o be epi stemologi c a l l y
f r u i t f u l , in l i g h t of the interchange with Parmenides:
how else can the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f the sensible order
be safeguarded? But however relevant a universal range
of Forms might be to epistemology, insight i n t o the
" t r i v i a l and undignified" via t h e i r eide i s certainly not
held worthy of sustained treatment by Plato: i t i s not
the kind of know!edge worthy of our pursuit. I n sum,
a wide range of Forms might be an epistemological necessity,
but very l i t t l e of consequence for the systematic love of
wisdom i s gained by dwelling f o r too long on such niceties
of the theory of knowledge.^

*See William B r i e l , "Plato's Theory of Forms from an


Ethical Point of View", Doctoral Dissertation, Fordham, 1978.

210
C) I n i t i a l objections to participation (130e-131e).
Parmenides zeroes i n on a potential loophole i n Socrates'
theory of Forms: he prompts Socrates assent to the idea that
p a r t i c u l a r s "partake" (metalambanonta) i n Forms and are thus
"called a f t e r t h e i r names" (tas eponumias auton ischein); thus
through partaking in Justness, Largeness, Beauty, or Likeness,
things become j u s t , l a r g e , b e a u t i f u l , or a l i k e . But t h i s ,
Parmenides asserts, seriously conpromises a Form's unity,
a prerequisite i n Socrates' theory (129a) and an obsessive
concern o f Parmenides* own o n t o l o g y . I f a Form, as a whole
or a u n i t y , i s present i n every one of i t s participants, then
i t i s somehow separate from, i t s e l f . But i f only p a r t o f a
given Form i s present to any given participant, i t i s
d i f f i c u l t t o see how Forms order and u n i f y p a r t i c u l a r s , o r
grant them a measure of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y : they would not
resolve the problem of the One-over-many.
On t h e s u r f a c e , t h i s seems t o be a gross e r r o r on
Parmenides' part: as Cornford puts i t , he understands
" ' p a r t ' and 'whole' i n their most gross and material
sense."

Cornford's judgement would seem t o be confirmed by

131 c-e, where Parmenides speculates that i f particular large


entities were to partake in individualized parcels of
Largeness, the Largeness-parcel i n which each large entity
shares would be less than largeness i t s e l f , suggesting that
Largeness, through the participation of large things, is
parceled out into things which are not themselves large

11
F.M. Cornford, Plato and Parmenides (Indianapolis:
B o b b s - M e r r i 1 1, n . d . ) , p . 8 5 .

211
at all.

Similar points are made with Equality and Smallness;

a l l of Parmenides' illustrations are markedly crude,


construing "partaking" and "participating" as physical
sharing, something that even the inexperienced Socrates
of the dialogue does not advocate.
And y e t , Parmenides' conclusions are not completely
o f f the mark:

although they are not conclusive, they do

originate in a fair estimate of Socrates' theory in


128e-130a.

To repeat:

Socrates sought, in his theory

of Forms, to compromise Parmenides by postulating two


types of r e a l i t y , i n t e l l i g i b l e Forms and sensible p a r t i c u l a r s ,
which could coherently and adequately account for a l l the
phenomena Parmenides and Zeno consigned t o mere "seeming"
or illusion.

But Socrates compromises his insight by

formulating the difference between Forms and particulars


i n the jargon of contrary characteristics, which can be
reduced to a degree distinction.

Furthermore, in denying

that "likeness and Unlikeness, P l u r a l i t y and Unity, Rest and


Motion" can be "combined" with each other, Socrates' Forms
take on the characteristics of particulars - - i.e., of
"atomic intelligibles".

But as indicated i n Chapter V.

this is fraught with difficulties:


exploiting them here.

Parmenides i s merely

I f Socrates' Forms are high-grade

particulars, then Parmenides' arguments are quite relevant;


i f they a r e n ' t , and Parmenides has misunderstood the g i s t
of 128e-130a, then Socrates must recoup his insight into
the irreducible type-difference o f Forms by reformulating

212
his ontological difference i n terms which have nothing to
do with "contrary characteristics".
In support of this reading, consider the following
elements of 130e-131e:
1) i n 130e, Parmenides commands Socrates' assent t o
the point that particulars, i n coming to partake i n the
Forms, are " c a l l e d a f t e r t h e i r names ( i . e . , the Forms'
names)". This i s a nearly verbatim quote of Phaedo 102b
- - a n obvious reference. This would seem t o imply t h a t
Forms are a special order of p a r t i c u l a r , one to which,
t o use modern p a r l a n c e , common nouns and d e s c r i p t i v e
terms r e f e r . I n f a c t , these can be legitimately viewed
as the proper names o f Forms. Parmenides, and Socrates
through h i s argument, both seem t o be invoking the
Phaedo' s authority i n defense of a highly particular-ized
account of the Forms.
But t h i s reliance on the Phaedo i s , as I have argued,
misplaced. The excursus on Equality (74a f . ) does not
show that only Equality i s a p e r f e c t l y equal t h i n g , but
rather that no two particulars are ever absolutely
equal, and that Equality i s perfectly i n t e l l i g i b l e as
E q u a l i t y - i t s e l f . Furthermore, the Phaedo does not
demonstrate that Equality-itself cannot combine with other
Forms; i t only shows that while things i n t e l l i g i b l e as
equals can nevertheless be unequal i n another sense, the
intelligibility of Equality-itself is not that of Inequality.

13

c f . Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 334, and Gilbert Ryle,


"Plato's Parmeni des", Mind, N.S. 48 (1949), reprinted i n
Allen, ed. , Studies i n Plato's Metaphysics (London: :
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).

213
Furthermore, at 103e, a few lines after the reference
above, P l a t o ' s Phaedo seems t o contradict the n o t i o n ,
conceded by Parmenides and Socrates, that descriptive
terms are the proper names o f Forms:

"The name o f a Form

belongs not only to the form i t s e l f " (auto to eidos


axiousthai tou autou onomatos), but also to those things
which exhibit i t s configuration or characteristic.

Thus

the name o f a Form i s not s t r i c t l y a proper name a t a l l ,


since i t applies with equal justice to those things which
e x h i b i t i t s i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y (those things which show i t s
. 14
morphen, 103e).
I n Short, Form-terms do not r e f e r
to Form-particulars:

they indicate the presence of an

i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y jn. particulars.
Therefore Parmenides' arguments are inconclusive,
since they reveal a misinterpretation of the "Phaedo-theory".
Yet they are also forceful, since young Socrates, f i l l e d with
an elan near to the s p i r i t ( i f not the l e t t e r ) of the
Phaedo,

readily agrees with him.

This seems t o i n d i c a t e

a need t o move away from Phaedo-esque accounts o f the


ontological difference, i.e., those which harp on "contraries"
and "opposites", toward a more hard-edged perception that
the ontological difference is a type difference.
2)

Parmenides' excursion on "Largeness being

smaller than i t s e l f " makes the serious mistake o f viewing


largeness as a property r a t h e r than a r e l a t i o n ; the same
14

See Sayre, op. c i t . , p . 9

applies to his treatment of Equality and Smallness.


Parmenides' gaffe would have been exposed i f Socrates
were to have noted this after 131e; but, of course,
Socrates does not mention t h i s .

One should not

conclude, as does Ryle, that t h i s indicates that the


theory o f Forms mistakenly assimilates relations to
p r o p e r t i e s , or t h a t the Forms are both incapable of and
15
unnecessary for cognizing relations.
I f Forms constitute
the i n t e l l i g i b l e order, the kosmos noetos, and r e l a t i o n s ,
like properties, are intelligible, then relations "partake"
i n Forms as well.

To thinks as Ryle does i s to f a l l

i n t o Sayre's f i r s t and second interpretive errors


(see p.l99above).

Nevertheless one should conclude that

Parmenides' conclusion, f a r from damaging to" the Forms as


such, and not necessarily damaging to Socrates' Forms/
stems from a regrettable tendency inherent i n Socrates'
theory.

I f Socrates' Forms are "atomic i n t e l 1 i g i b l e s "

and highly particularized, i t i s easy to think of them as


embodying properties which a r e , i n some imperfect way,
mirrored or "imitated" in its participants.

The Form

would be genuinely or perfectly F (say "large") and


particulars would be equivocally or imperfectly F.

This

i s not t o say t h a t the notion t h a t Forms embody and confer


properties which they themselves archetypally possess
(i.e., the self-predication hypothesis) necessarily follows

Ryle, "Plato's Parmenides", op. c i t . , p. 104

from a highly particularized theory of Forms:


claiming that i t i s natural f o r i t to do so.

I am o n l y
Socrates'

acquiescence t o Parmenides seems t o bear t h i s o u t .


3)In 131b Socrates counters Parmenides' contention
t h a t only p a r t o f an eidos can "cover" each o f i t s many
p a r t i c i p a n t s by way o f the analogy o f the day. This i s
a b r i l l i a n t defense of the one over-many thesis, the only
b r i l l i a n t defense issuing from Socrates' l i p s : the whole day
covers each o f the many; i t i s " i n many places a t the same
time and nevertheless not separate from i t s e l f . " I t i s
important to note that Parmenides never refutes this analogy
but merely brushes i t aside.

Indeed, the analogy i s i r

refutable, since i t i s the one Socrates needs: one which


inidcates that Forms, analogous to days, are different
types of things from phyisical particulars, and thus they
can "cover" the many without d i v i s i o n i n t o parts or separ
ation from themselves.
But Parmenides' thoroughly inapposite analogy, the
analogy of the s a i l , which merely reiterates his physicalism
g o e s u n c h a l l e n g e d b y S o c r a t e s . Why d o e s n ' t S o c r a t e s c r y
" f o u l ! " a t t h i s p o i n t , when he i s doubtlessly aware t h a t
Parmenides i s misconstruing the Forms? The answer might l i e
i n Socrates' own double-mindedness about the Forms and the
role they must play i n an ontology of "integral pluralism".
On the one hand, Socrates wishes t o p r o v i d e an a l t e r n a t i v e

*See Sayre, pp. 24-25.

t o Eleatic monism by distinguishing between two types of

216

Being, the i n t e r r e l a t i o n o f which w i l l make sense o f a l l the


m u l t i p l i c i t y and change which Parmenides deemed nonsensical.
On the o t h e r hand, Socrates wants t o overcome Parmenides
on Parmenidean ground, by showing that the non-being inherent
i n change and p l u r a l i t y i s admissible i n a world of real
particulars i f t h i s kosmos aisthetos i s under the dominance
o f a kosmos noetos which i s pure i n i t s Being. Socrates takes
this "purity" to consist in the non-coincidence of opposites
among Forms, and i s prepared t o carry t h i s cause t o the ex
treme i n his insistence that Forms do not combine a t a l l .
But i n so doing, as I said, he has compromised his best
i n s i g h t - - t h e type difference between Form and p a r t i c u l a r - i n the i n t e r e s t s o f p r e s e r v i n g a l a r g e measure o f common
ground with Parmenides.
Parmenides, looking for the Socratic loophole,
finds i t in the latter's attempt to think the ontological
difference i n terms o f Being/Becoming and non-contrariety/
contrariety. Such dichotomies are untenable f o r Parmenides:
h i s staunch monism commands him t o resolve Being/Becoming
i n t o reality/appearance, appearance having nothing to do
with r e a l i t y . Thus he seizes upon Socrates' attempt to
conceive of Forms as of the purest degree of Being and
shows that t h i s destroys the Forms' a b i l i t y to grant
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y through being an integral one-over-many.
A l l Socrates needs t o do to silence Parmenides i s t o r e
assert the ontological difference as a type difference.
But he doesn't, perhaps because he believes he has already

217
artulated this difference adequately i n terms of oppositesand contraries. But the "rub" i s that t h i s secures only a
degree difference. Socrates, perhaps a b i t annoyed a t
what might seem to be an overly hasty dismissal o f h i s
analogy, nevertheless cannot respond to Parmenides'
petitio principii, his counter analogy of the s a i l . ^ ^
He cannot respond because he i s wrongly convinced t h a t he
has done an adequate job i n outlining and c l a r i f y i n g the
ontological difference, and nevertheless witnesses Parmenides'
savage attack on the Forms as i t proceeds from t h a t very
o u t l i n e . Thus Socrates, by remaining s i l e n t , prematurely
concedes defeat.
4) Both the i n i t i a l objections to participation
(130e-131e) and the previous section on the range of Forms
(130a-e) make a number of sophisticated c l a s s i f i c a t i o n s o f
d i f f e r e n t kinds o f eide. Yet i t seems as i f these c l a s
sifications are almost inadvertently conjured up by Plato's
protagonists, since they pay them absolutely no heed. This
gives an ironic twist to an otherwise intensely dialectical
stretch of the dialogue: had these classifications been
recognized by the protagonists, the dialogue would have
taken a different course.
I owe the formulation o f t h i s l i s t t o the i n s i g h t s
of Charles Bigger; i n his P a r t i c i p a t i o n , he distinguishes
between Transcendental, Constitutive, and Regulative Forms.

17Sayre,

i b i d . , pp. 24-5, suggests that young


Socrates i s intimidated by Parmenides' overbearing attitude.

218
"The Transcendental Ideas", Bigger comments
. . . constitute the fundamental principles of phil
osophic logic. They predicate with a l l things
and with themselves (Sophist 254c), and constitute the
modes of universal relatedness (communion) o f a l l
things, the forms of separation and mingling. 18
Although Parmenides' l i s t of Transcendental Forms i s not
n o t i d e n t i c a l w i t h t h a t o f t h e f i v e summa g e n e r a o f t h e S o p h i s t ,
i t i s close enough to postulate a t least a veiled reference
to the l a t t e r : e.g., 129 d-e: Like, Unlike, P l u r a l i t y , Motion,
Rest. The nature of transcendental Forms i s such that they
cannot be supposed not to be potentially predicable of any
t h i n g , p a r t i c u l a r or Form. This seems t o be the message o f
Sophist 254c: just as any p a r t i c u l a r can be said to be
"same as x " . " d i f f e r e n t from y " , and so on, so too can any
Form be said to be "same as i t s e l f " , " d i f f e r e n t from
Form Y", etc. --the Transcendentals themselves included. The
inclusion of these Forms as the l i s t of "atomic i n t e l l i g i b l e s "
i n 129 d-e i s a supreme irony: although no Form "combines"
o r p a r t i c i p a t e s i n o t h e r Forms i n the same way i n which
particulars combine with Forms, the Transcendentals, far
from being isolated and atomic, cannot be conceived not to
be interrelated with other.
A f u r t h e r d i s t i n c t i o n i s made i n 130b and 130c
between Constitutive Forms ( e . g . , Man, Water, Fire) and
Regulative Forms ( e . g . , Rightness, Beauty, Goodness). The
former "constitute" t h e i r instances by conferring a property
"wholly present" i n t h e i r instances ( e . g . , either x i s an
apple or i t i s n ' t ; and i f y does not posess the charac-

18

Charles P. Bigger, Participation (Baton Rouge:


University of Louisiana Press, 1968), p. 78.

219
t e r i s t i c s of an apple, i t i s n ' t a deficient apple, but
something else), while the latter are standards against which
an instance can be evaluated as "more-or-1ess-X" ( e . g . ,
E u t h y p h r o i s 1e s s j u s t t h a n S o c r a t e s - - w h i c h i s n o t t o
say he i s unjust).

19

This distinction, which w i l l prove

u s e f u l i n TMA v e r s i o n 1 , w o u l d h a v e b e e n h a n d y i n 1 3 1 c - d ,
Parmenides' consideration o f Largeness. The Form Largeness,
as the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of a relation, i s a sort of
Regulative Form ( a r e l a t i v e Regulative Form, rather than
an absolute Regulative Form, l i k e Justice). The property
"large" admits of qualifications, "more" or "less" large
( i n relation to x ) . But Parmenides i s set on treating i t as
i f i t was a Constitutive Form, the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f a
property which is either there or i s n ' t there. This i s
surely foolish, but i t i s a foolishness that would not have
materialized had Parmenides and Socrates alike recognized
the important "Idea classes" dangling before their eyes.
Their neglect of these kinds of eide betrays a fatal lack
of subtlety in their treatment of participation, since
p a r t i c i p a t i o n means something d i f f e r e n t f o r each kind o f
Form. This only serves to further complicate an almost
hopelessly muddled debate.

19JLbi_d.,

pp. 80-84.

220
C) The TMA, version .1, 131e-132b. Because I
have, o u t l i n e d both Vlastos's and Weingartner*s formalization
of this argument, I shall not dwell on the formal struc
t u r e o f t h e TMA o r o n q u e s t i o n s o f i t s v a l i d i t y . A s i n
C h . I I , I s h a l l d e e m t h e TMA v a l i d , b u t o f q u e s t i o n a b l e
soundness. I believe Sayre i s right i n suggesting that the
q u e s t i o n a b l e n e s s o f t h e TMA i s d e l i b e r a t e i n t h a t i t s h o w s
how, on other grounds, Socrates' thinking about the Forms
i s flawed and needs to be revised.

20

I repeat: i n 128e-130a Socrates, i n accord with his


denial of contrary characteristics i n Forms, atomizes and
particularizes them to such an extent that i t i s hard to
see how they could be other than p e r f e c t , s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e
particulars. Parmenides notices this and sharpens his i n i t i a l
critique of participation i n 130e-131e. Socrates, thinking
something has gone wrong, responds with the "analogy of
the day". But because Socrates does not grasp the incompa
t i b i l i t y o f t h i s analogy w i t h h i s own a t o m i s t i c account o f
the nature o f Forms and t h e i r ontological difference,
Parmenides i s able to convince him, through the "analogy
of the s a i l " , that a whole Form cannot "cover" a mul
titude. From t h i s point on, as Crombie laments, " a l l i s
up with him" - - t h a t i s , Socrates.

21

T h e TMA i s l i t t l e m o r e t h a n a l o g i c a l l y p r e c i s e
20

Sayre, op. c i t . , p. 27.

21

Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 331.

221
expansion of the earlier criticisms of participation. I f
one Form disperses a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c t o many p a r t i c u l a r s , and
the Form i t s e l f i s (the primary) exemplification of t h i s
characteristic, then that Form, along with a l l i t s instances,
participates i n a t h i r d Form, and so on. Herein l i e s the
reductio: Forms, which need to be the One-over-many, are
no longer one, but an i n d e f i n i t e multitude (ape.i ron
pi ethos). I t i s important to note that Plato did not see the
a b s u r d i t y u n m a s k e d b y t h e TMA i n t e r m s o f a n i n f i n i t e
regress: rather the Forms, instead of providing i n t e l l i g i b l e
l i m i t s t o the i n d e f i n i t e multitude (the kosmos a i s t h e t o s ) ,
are themselves i n d e f i n i t e , and hence poor principles of i n
t e l l i g i b i l i t y . The moral of the reductio would then be: i f
Forms, as Parmenides construes them through Socrates, are
"atomic intel1igibles" or exalted particulars, then they
both are and are not "One-over-many". Since t h i s i s a
contradiction, Forms cannot be what Parmenides and Socrates
take them to be --the theory of 128e-130a must be rethought.
The burden of this re-thinking f a l l s on the shoulders of the
perceptive reader.
I . M . Crombie summarizes a l l the agonies o f the TMA:
A l l Socrates' t r o u b l e s , then, come from
treating forms as i f they were individuals or con
crete entities. I t must be, I believe, significant
that the error i s fathered on to him by Parmenides,
and that he does not denounce i t . 22
Yet Parmenidesis able to "father" this error onto Socrates
only because Socrates' thesis on the Forms encourages him;

22

Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 334

and Socrates i s unable to "denounce" the error because he


does not see where his thesis i s mistaken.
One f i n a l p o i n t : i n Chapter V

I remarked that i f

Forms are as atomized as Socrates taken them to be, i t i s


hard t o see how they can avoid being s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e
super-particulars. Such "abstract individuals" can be
readily interpreted as the "Perfect particulars" Cornford
r a i l s a g a i n s t . B u t t h e f o r c e o f t h i s v e r s i o n o f t h e TMA
does not pivot around i n t e r p r e t i n g Forms as "perfect
p a r t i c u l a r s " . As Crombie n o t e s :
. . . (Where P i s an adjectival property
such as s i m i l a r i t y or justice)a perfectly P object
must have many properties besides P-hood. But Socrates
insists that forms cannot be blended or divorced, that
a form can have no property but i t s e l f . The error
was not t h a t o f t r e a t i n g a form as a thing which
perfectly exemplifies a property, but as a thing
w h i c h i_s a p r o p e r t y . I t i s t h e e r r o r o f m a k i n g u n i v e r sals conform to the l o g i c a l grammar of p a r t i c u l a r s . 23
Although Crombie's judgement i s sound regarding
version 1 o f the TMA, I t h i n k t h a t version 2 , which centers
on mimesis and the image-copy metaphor, does rely on a vis-son
of Forms as "perfect p a r t i c u l a r s " . Here, the Form i s a
perfect original approximated by i t s imperfect copies.
But t h i s only deepens Socrates' troubles: i f a Form i s a
" p e r f e c t p a r t i c u l a r " , i t e x e m p l i f i e s j^o p r o p e r t i e s o t h e r
than i t s own F-ness. This makes no sense a t a l l . I f Forms
are l i t e r a l l y "perfect originals", they are doubly inco
herent: they not only spawn an i n d e f i n i t e series o f
originals-over-likenesses, but they are themselves in-

23

Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 334.

223
conceivable as particulars.

E) Forms as Thoughts, 132 b - c . Socrates summons


up his nerve for the next-to-last time i n the dialogue:
to safeguard the uniqueness and unicity of Forms, he proposes
that they are thoughts (noemata) existing nowhere except i n
the mind (en psuchais). Parmenides disposes of this i n
short order: i ) thoughts are always of. something that i s ,
and Form-thoughts w i l l always be of something present i n
"a whole range o f cases", which means Form-thoughts w i l l
always be f Forms themselves, i i ) I f the many p a r t i c i p a t e
i n Forms, and Forms are noemata, then that of which one
thinks must i t s e l f think, which i s absurd, i f the objects
of one's thought happen to be, say, rocks or r i v e r s .
Argument i i ) seems a b i t convoluted and sophis
t i c a l . I t rings hollow because, perhaps, Parmenides and
Socrates a l i k e are seriously confused on participation or
methexis. But perhaps Plato i s being indirect here: noemata
are, after a l l , particular thoughts of particular beings
immured i n a kosmos aistheTtos - - p a r t i c u l a r thoughts are
not Thought i t s e l f . By i d e n t i f y i n g Forms with p a r t i c u l a r
noema t a Socrates commits t h e c a r d i n a l s i n o f i d e n t i f y i n g
Forms with p a r t i c u l a r s . Having done t h a t , i t i s easy t o
conflate the relatedness of thoughts to their objects with
the participation r e l a t i o n . Parmenides does so, and has
some fun a t Socrates' expense: such a c o n f l a t i o n would
make thinking a universal c h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f objects o f

224

thought, a true absurdity.


One c o u l d , o f course, challenge the a u t h o r i t y o f
argument i ) : the recognition that thought i s always
thought-of does not of i t s e l f ground any metaph.ysical claims
( c f . Husserl's epoche i n Ideas I ) . Furthermore, one could
always challenge the guiding metaphor behind the argument,
that thought i s a picturing, or a grasping of r e a l i t y as i t
i s i n - i t s e l f . Such c r i t i c i s m of Plato abounds i n Dewey,
Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, for example.

24

But such

c r i t i c i s m , however accurate, does not help i n understanding


the Parmenides, since the idea of nous as "picturing"
or "intellectual grasp" i s taken for granted by Plato, i n
deed by most Classical philosophers. And since both
Socrates and Parmenides seem t o agree t h a t noesis i s best
viewed as analogous t o visual ( " i n s i g h t " , " i n t u i t i o n " ) or
t a c t i l e ("grasp") contact with r e a l i t y as such, the foun
dations of argument remain i n t a c t .

c f . Kurt Von F r i t z , "Nous, Noejjn.and t h e i r


d e r i v a t i v e s " , i n A.P.D. Mourelatos, e d . , The Pre-Socratics
(Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), pp. 23-85. For contemporary
criticism of the analogy of knowing with vision, see
John Dewey, The Quest f o r Certaint.y(New York:Putnam, 1929);
p . 23; Martin Heidegger, I n t r o d u c t i o n t o Metaph.ysics (New Haven
Yale Univ. Pr., 1959), p. 185; Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Philosophical Investigations (New York: Macmillan, 1958),
pars. 6 (p. 4) and 71 (p. 34);Richard Rorty, Philosophy and
the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr.,1978),
pp. 155-164.

225
F) Forms as "Originals", version 2 . Socrates,fading
f a s t , now reverts back t o h i s argument i n 131e-132b,
simply swapping methexis f o r mimeisis. But i f the Forms
are patterns or standards (paradeigmata) which particulars
approximate or imitate, then Form and instances must share
the imitated character, which would presuppose another Form
f o r the set of the f i r s t Form and i t s instances, and so on
indefinitely. Again the Forms, which impose a unity or l i m i t
(peras) on the indefinite multitude, are themselves
indefinitem and not unitary Ones-over-many.
The structure of version 2 i s identical with that
o f version 1 : although p a r t i c i p a t i o n has given way t o
i m i t a t i o n , what i s reduced to absurdity i s the same, the
idea of particularized, "thingly" Forms. A few fine points
should be noted:
1) Socrates i s more desparate i n 132c-133a, so
his argumentation i s understandably more ragged and
i n c o n s i s t e n t . As mentioned above, Forms are impossible
perfect particulars, since they would have to instantiate
one and only one property, the property they "are".
But t h i s i s l u d i c r o u s : could one conceive o f Man i n
isolation from Animality, or Animality in isolation from
Man and any o t h e r s p e c i f i c animal? Furthermore, version 2
lacks the modest virtue of version 1, i . e . , that al1
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s are grounded i n Forms, since i t tries to
use one i n t e l l i g i b l e , Likeness, to explain what Forms are
and what p a r t i c i p a t i o n i s . By making Likeness "foundational"

226
i n t h i s respect, version 2 unmasks a monumental p e t i t i o
principii on Socrates's part: i f particulars participate i n
Forms by i m i t a t i n g , o r being images o f them, then how i s
t h i s Likeness-relation i n t e l l i g i b l e ? By a Form, Likeness?
But then how do a l l these instences o f i m i t a t i v e l i k e n e s s
participate i n Likeness? By being " l i k e " i t ? This i s
blatantly circular.

25

2) Socrates could have defended himself on grounds


s i m i l a r to those recommended by A.E. Taylor and R.E. A l l e n :
the imitative r e l a t i o n between particular and Form i s not
symmetrical. Particulars are not 1ike Forms but are
pC
"likenesses" of Forms.
They are not l i k e Forms i n the
sense t h a t two tokens o f t h e same type are a l i k e ; they are
alike i n the sense that a derived copy i s a likeness of the
original standard. But t h i s , by i t s e l f , would not suffice.
Socrates would have to account for this asymmetricality by
reinforcing the type-difference between Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s ,
by reaffirming that i t i s only through Forms that particulars
are, and are what they are. This would have led Socrates
to the insight that mimesis i s a metaphor, that particulars
are not 1 iterall.y l i k e (or even "likenesses" o f ) t h e i r Forms.
That Socrates d i d not become so enlightened i s a sign o f h i s
misplaced confidence that his thesis about the Forms i s

25
pf

Bigger, op. cit.,pp. 110-111.

A.E. T a y l o r , Plato:The Man and H i s Work (London:


Methuen, 1929), p. 358; and R.E. Allen, "Participation and
predication i n Plato's Middle Dialogues", i n G. Vlastos, ed.,
Plato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), pp. 172-75.

227
essentially correct:

seeing no reason to revise or abandon

i t , he listens with dejection as Parmenides reduces i t to


absurdity.

Socrates' theory of Forms a c t i v e l y prevents

him from understanding the true nature of participation.


3)

The Protagonists' neglect o f what Bigger c a l l s

the "Idea classes" is sorely f e l t in the discussion of


imitation.

The sorts of ideas which are best suited to be

paradigms which can be approximated by instances are the


regulative ideas, such as Beauty and Justice.

But although

they are standards, i t i s hard t o see how t h e i r instances


1 i t e r a l l y imi tate them when they "approximate" them.

If

a l l this mimesis-imagery i s taken as metaphor --an evocative


device-- then no problem i s posed.

But Socrates, and

Parmenides i n t u r n , seem t o be 1 i t e r a l about mimesi s .


could, say, Monet's

How

"Poplars" be a 1iteral "likeness" of

B e a u t y - i t s e l f , granted t h a t Beauty i t s e l f has no necessary


connection with the concrete content of his paintings of
poplars?
To make matters worse, Socrates proposes l i t e r a l
mimesis as a general account of participation.

But this

cannot square with the class o f Constitutive Forms ( e g . , Man,


Water, Fire).
or they do not:

C o n s t i t u t i v e Forms e i t h e r inform a p a r t i c u l a r
i f x does not f u l f i l l the necessary and

sufficient criteria for F-hood, x is not "deficiently" F,


i t i s not F; and i f x f u l f i l l s those conditions d e f i c i e n t l y ,
t h e d e f i c i e n c y i s i n t e l l i g i b l e qua some r e g u l a t i v e Form and

228
not the Form which constitutes x as F, deficient or not.
T w o p r o b l e m s w i t h t h e TMA e m e r g e h e r e , i )

A particular could

not be said to l i t e r a l l y imitate i t s Constitutive, natural


kind Form, since natural kind Forms constitute particulars
as members o f a natural k i n d .

I t i s not as i f there already

e x i s t e d , say, Man, which provides a handy means o f cognizing,


through comparison and evaluation, a particular man.

The

Constitutive Form brings about the Manhood o f a l l man-things.


(Which entails:

Manhood i s not a man)

27

ii)

Even i f one

could say that a particular instance of a Constitutive Form


" f a l l s short of the Ideal", one cannot evaluate t h i s " f a l l i n g
s h o r t " by means o f the C o n s t i t u t i v e Form alone:

some

Regulative and Transcendental eide are needed. For instance:


i f Dickens's B i l l Sykes could be j u s t l y appraised as "not
much o f a human b e i n g " , one must cognize i n him something
more than h i s ordinary human a t t r i b u t e s , o r t h e i r l a c k .

One

must ask whether he was Just o r Good, a t t r i b u t e s which


c h a r a c t e r i z e e x c e l l e n c e i_r[ h u m a n c h a r a c t e r .

But Justice and

Goodness are Regulative, rather than Constitutive Forms.


Hence the shipwreck o f 132c-133a i s due, i n p a r t , to a
reckless oversimplification of the nature of Forms:

both

Parmenides and Socrates pass too quickly from the Many to


the One.

27

c f . Bigger's rejection of Platonic "Degrees of


Reality", op. c i t , p. 81, & p. 81-23

229
G)

Unknowable Forms: 133a-l34e.

Parmenides ominously

refers to these arguments as those which constitute the


"worst d i f f i c u l t y " besetting Socrates' Theory of Forms.
I f the Forms are real beings " j u s t by themselves" (auta kath'
a u t a ) , then only Forms can be related to Forms, and, therefore,
only particulars can be related to particulars.
however, has the following consequences:

i)

This,

The Forms, being

"by themselves", can o n l y be known by Knowledge i t s e l f ; we


are limited to knowing particular things; i i ) the Gods,
who possess Knowledge i t s e l f , cannot know the things o f
our kosmos since "Forms have no significance with reference
to the things of our world, nor have things i n our world
any significance with reference to them."
A number o f l i t e r a r y c l u e s l e a d me t o b e l i e v e t h a t
i t i s i n this section that Plato t r i e d to force us i n t o
seeing part one as a series of reductios on Socrates'
theory of Forms,

i)

Parmenides' examples are too bizarre

to be taken seriously, e.g., his image of Slavehood l i t e r a l l y


kowtowing to Mastership, his insistence that Knowledge
i t s e l f alone knows the Forms, o r t h a t the Gods have Knowledge
i t s e l f i n s t e a d o f in s t a n c e s o f k n o w l e d g e .

I f Parmenides can

miss the point that badly, then surely he i s misconceiving


the nature of the Forms.

Yet Parmenides, just as surely,

i s developing a theme e x p l i c i t i n Socrates' theory, that


Forms are l i t e r a l l y auta kath' auta.

ii)

Parmenides seems

to retain a hypothetical tone throughout the passage, eg., 133b

230
"I_f you are goifig to set up a single Form f o r every
d i s t i n c t i o n . . . " and "The Forms, v f they are as we are
saying they must be, cannot be known" (emphasis mine).
The hypothetical premises i n Parmenides' arguments suggest
t h a t both he and Socrates may not simply be mistaken, but
m a y b e m i s t a k e n i n t h i n k i n g t h a t F o r m s a r e a s t h e y sa.y t h e y
are.

This use of hypothesis, often hard to detect, i s present

i n t h e l e s s l u d i c r o u s s t r e t c h e s o f p a r t 1 , s u c h a s i n TMA
version 1 (132a): " . . . t a k e largeness and the other things which
are large ^presupposing Largeness i s both large and a t h i n g ] . . .
s , a s e c o n d F o r m o f L a r g e n e s s w i l l a p p e a r . . . " ; a n d TMA
version 2 (133a): " r f the Form i s to be l i k e the thing which
partakes of i t . . . " (emphasis mine).
Parmenides1 bizarre speculations are, from one angle,
a reductio on what Sayre calls radical separationism.
Such separationism f a i l s for the very obvious reason:

28

it

shipwrecks participation, or the necessary koinonia between


the sensible and i n t e l l i g i b l e orders.

From another angle,

however, they are the product of too close an assimilation


of Forms and t h e i r relations with p a r t i c u l a r s , with
particulars and their interrelations.

Here, as elsewhere,

Parmenides ignores any difference other than that of degree


between Form and particular.

By doing so, the kosmos no'etos

simply recapitulates the kosmos aisthetos, and any intimation


of separateness between these kosmoi w i l l result i n the utter

28

S a y r e , o p . c i t . , p p 1 9 , 2 2 a n d CH I p a s s i m .

231
isolation of one from the other, since a l l relations and
r e l a t a i n one world are o f the same type as those i n the
other, hence making separation result i n the u t t e r absence
of relations between worlds.

I r o n i c a l l y , by making Forms

so much 1ike p a r t i c u l a r s , P l a t o ' s Parmenides e f f e c t s an


unbridgeable gulf between them.

H)

Conclusion to part 1:

134e-135c.

Parmenides sums

up by admonishing Socrates --again i n a rather patronizing,


condescending manner-- t h a t many s i m i l a r d i f f i c u l t i e s are
involved with the Forms, "i_f the characters of things r e a l l y
exist and one i s going to distinguish the Form as a thing
just by i t s e l f . "

Again, note the hypothetical tone:

Plato

i s not about to deny that the characters (eide) of things


e x i s t , but i t i s questionable a t t h i s point t h a t Forms are
things and/or "just by themselves".

Parmenides then opines that

" o n l y a man o f exceptional g i f t s " w i l l be able t o discern a


Form " j u s t by i t s e l f " ; t h i s , I believe, i s a t h i n l y - v e i l e d
allusion to Socrates' later self.
arises:

In that case, a problem

i f Plato i s coaxing us i n t o rejecting the Parmenides-

Socrates hypothesis t h a t Forms are things-by-themselves, why


the a s c r i p t i o n o f wisdom t o one who can convince the doubters
of Forms-by-themselves?
The answer, I t h i n k , l i e s i n a ambiguity concealed i n
128e-130a.

Socrates i s , i n a sense, r i g h t that "sticks and

stones" can be both many and one, and t h a t P l u r a l i t y i s not


"one" nor Oneness "many".

But the sense i n which this is

232
t r u e i s : t h a t the eidos P l u r a l i t y i s n o t the same eidos
as the ei dos Unity, and vice versa. They are d i f f e r e n t
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s , and make p a r t i c i p a n t things d i f f e r e n t l y
i n t e l l i g i b l e . But Socrates' theory i n s i s t s on more than

'

t h i s : t h a t , e . g . , P l u r a l i t y i s n o t a_ u n i t y , m e a n i n g t h a t
there i s no "oneness" about i t . P l u r a l i t y i s P l u r a l i t y and
nothing else, i t s i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y unrelated to any other
u n t e l 1 i g i b i 1 i t y . Hence Socrates' "surprise" a t whoever could
"combine" the Forms with each other and then separate them.
His surprise steins from the f a c t t h a t , perhaps unin t e l tional l y ,
he has already conflated Forms with p a r t i c u l a r s , or to be
more precise, has confused the way i n whicha p a r t i c u l a r
might be absolutely "by i t s e l f " w i t h the way i n which Forms
a r e i n t e g r a l u n i t i e s . B u t F o r m s a r e in t e l l i g i b i 1 i a : o n e
determines the integrity of a Form, i t s unity-of-intelligibi1ity ,
by determining i t s contrasts and relations with other
intel1igibles.

29

By c o n t r a s t , a p a r t i c u l a r i s a u n i t y , or

"by i t s e l f " because i f i t s participation i n the eide and the


manner and extent of that participation. Socrates' mistake i s
the neglect of securing a clear type-difference between Forms
and p a r t i c u l a r things: because o f t h i s he s t a r t s down the
"slippery slope", egged on by Parmenides, descending from
thinking about Forms as "atomic i n t e l l i g i b l e s " to
s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l , "perfect p a r t i c u l a r s " , and next to beings
so etherial that they cannot begin to explain that which
they were designed to explain.

OQ

See J.N. F i n d l a y , Plato and Platonism (New York:


New York Times Books, 1 9 7 8 ) . , p p . 158-59.

233
Another peculiar passage, already alluded t o , i s 135c,
where Parmenides i n s i s t s that Forms are necessary to " f i x "
thought and maintain "the significance of a l l discourse".
I t i s p e c u l i a r because, i n l i g h t o f what was established
i n Chapter Iv , Parmenides himself would never have said i t .
F i r s t , Parmenides' views on i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y are monistic
rather than pluralistic:
i s pure Being, to hen.

the only i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y admitted


Hence the kinds o f discourse " f i x e d "

by a p l u r a l i s t i c ontology of Forms i s not worth f i x i n g , f o r


Parmenides, becasue i t departs from the path of to hen:
i t i s one with the "way of Seeming".

The irony seething i n

this passage illustrates that Parmenides, a master talker,


endorses a theory which compromises "the significance of
a l 1 discourse"; and i n a moment o f i n a t t e n t i o n he l e t s t h i s
theory s l i p his mind, and supports a counter-thesis which would
ground his discourse with Socrates but which i s quite at odds
w i t h h i s own monistic theory.

i)

Closing comments. I . M . Crombie has made a c l e a r

and concise summary o f the philosophical p o i n t made by


Parmenides:

Socrates thinks of Forms as things which are

properties, with the result that Parmenides, predisposed


against Forms, shows j u s t how unworkable t h i s conception o f
Forms i s .

Crombie recapitulates Socrates' motives i n

construing Forms as property-things, or "named meanings":

A word i s commonly thought o f as an onoma o r a name.


Therefore a s i g n i f i c a n t word names something. But
" b e a u t i f u l " does n o t name b e a u t i f u l o b j e c t s , f o r there are
many other words (even, i n the l i m i t i n g case, "ugly") each
of which has an equally good claim to be regarded as
the name o f any b e a u t i f u l t h i n g . The o n l y t h i n g which has
a perogative claim t o the name " b e a u t i f u l " i s the t h i n g
which i s just and only beautiful --the "very thing which
i s beautiful", the form. This then i s the only thing which
the word "beautiful" r e a l l y f i t s , and t h i s i t f i t s perfectly.
. . . Therefore a form cannot be blended, for i f i t could
have another property but i t s e l f then t h a t , by destroying
the perfect f i t , would deprive the word of anything to
which i t could stand as the name. Therefore the form must
be self-identical i n the sense that i t must be nothing
but the nominatum of a name. A state of mind such as t h i s
would result from the isolation of the notion of a
property, i f t h i s was combined w i t h the view t h a t t o
every significant expression there corresponds an
e n t i t y which i s both the meaning of the expression and
also what the expression names. For the meaning of a
general term i s something abstract, whereas, that which
can be named i s i n d i v i d u a l . Hence we g e t t h e n o t i o n o f
an abstract individual. 30
Crombie takes the arguments pf p t . 1 to be effective
against t h i s conception of Forms as "named meanings" or
"abstract individuals"; t h i s does not mean, however, that
b e l i e f i n Forms rests on such reasoning (pace Vlastos)31.
Rather, such a view illiminates possible deviations into which
b e l i e f i n Forms can s l i p .
Parmenides p t . 1 i s a rejection of one such "deviate"
theory o f Forms, one t h a t misconstrues Forms as named meanings
or abstract individuals. This effectively discounts the
C r i t i c a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , since the TMAs, put i n t h e i r 1 i t e r a r y
surroundings, reduce the deviant theory to absurdity, and

30

31

Crombie, op. c i t . , pp. 334-35.


Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 335nl.

235
do so rather openly, while leaving the possibility of a
workable theory quite open.

Apologists l i k e Crombie would

take this as a sign that Parmenides i s Plato's attempt to


defend the workable theory he always held, while moderate
Revisionists l i k e Weingartner and Strang (who do not see the
TMA a s r e f u t i n g t h e F o r m s a s s u c h ,

signalling Plato's

break with the theory) believe that the Parmenides i s Plato's


attempt t o make a h i t h e r t o deviant theory workable.

Yet

both R e v i s i o n i s t and Apologetic analyses seem t o miss the


p o i n t , i n my e s t i m a t i o n :

they misconstrue the nature of

Plato's oeuvre as a project, or the embodiment of d e f i n i t i v e


theses, while his dialogical s t y l e seems to i n d i c a t e , I
think, that these concerns are marginal, at most.
In Chapter I , I maintained that a Platonic dialogue
i s a mimesis of the spoken philosophic word, the true locus
of philosophy.

As a mimesis, o r a r e - p r e s e n t a t i o n o f philosophy

as i t i s done, the dialogue seeks to e l i c i t a response from


the reader by fusing his imagination with the imaginative
work of the dialogue, thus

transforming the reader by

drawing him into the dialogue, making i t s questions his


questions.

The dialogue i s not an epideictic or declamatory

vehicle --and whatever epidei xis or assertion goes on wi t h i n


a dialogue, i t i s i n the service of e l i c i t i n g that response
and securing that transformation.

This applies as surely to

the Parmenides as i t does to any other dialogue.

Despite i t s

l a c k o f "dramatic" elements common i n the e a r l y dialogues, i t

236
i s not u t t e r l y devoid of them, and i t s r e l a t i v e l y sparing
use of irony, e t c . , i s always put i n the service of evoking
i n the reader a sense of just what i s wrong with Socrates1/
Parmenides1 Forms, and j u s t how the dialogue has gone awry.
Plato i s t r y i n g to show his readers an important t r u t h
about Forms - - t h a t they are not "abstract individuals'', e t c .
--through the imaginative re-presentation of a conversation
whose participants are blind to t h i s t r u t h .

I do not think,

against the Revisionists, that Plato i s replacing an old


theory w i t h a new one i n Parmenides, n o r , against the
Apologists, i s he definding an already-worked-out theory of
Forms against those who misunderstand i t .

Both /Apologists

and R e v i s i o n i s t s seem t o s l i g h t the t e n t a t i v e dimension o f


a l l Platonic theory, given his insistence on dialogue-form.
Plato i s neither changing his mind nor defending his
pet project i n the Parmeni des.

H e i_s^ b e i n g a r e s p o n s i b l e

a r t i s t by s i f t i n g over his previous work and re-examining i t


i n search of new, more urgent p o s s i b i l i t i e s .

I n the Phaedo,

Republic, and other early-to-middle works, Plato, concerned


with finding a permanent, non-arbitrary basis for values i n the
structure of r e a l i t y , developed the Theory of Forms.

The

theory's early development reflected these concerns

not

those of Parmeni des, Sophist, and the l a t e r family o f dialogues.


Given t h i s , I do not think i t i s appropriate t o say, as do
the Apologist and Revisionist respectively, that Plato either
knew the Forms weren't "abstract i n d i v i d u a l s " o r mistakenly
thought they were.

These simply weren't his concerns a t the

237
time.

Yet one could imagine, i n later years, Plato

re-examining his works while entertaining different d i f f i c u l t i e s ,


perhaps fueled by more esoteric discussions with his fellow
Academicians, or spurred by his prolonged meditations on
Eleaticism.

I n any event, and regardless of the reasons,

P l a t o came t o see t h a t the p r e c i s e nature o f t h e Forms was a


neglected topic in his earlier work.

Because he f e l t the

need to present this topic i n a mimesis of philosophical


discourse, he wrote the Parmenides.

He sought t o evoke

i n the reader a realization of the question about the


precise nature of Forms, to show, not always e x p l i c i t l y ,
what their precise nature might be, and to e l i c i t the
appropriate response of concern on the part o f the reader.
I f I am c o r r e c t i n my e s t i m a t e o f the Parmenides, t h e
dialogue accomplishes this end through the reduction of an
inconsistent theory o f Forms to absurdity; i t could not
accomplish this end --prodding the reader on to think through
the Theory o f Forms f o r himself-- i f i t were, as Vlastos
says, a mere record o f perplexity and indecision.

V I I I ) ON P A R T I C I P A T I O N AND S E P A R A T I O N
In this chapter I shall attempt to apply the
f r u i t s o f my t e x t u a l a n a l y s i s o f Parmeni des p a r t 1 t o
the task of clarifying what i s meant by participation
(methexi s) and separateness (ch5ri smos). Cornford r i g h t l y
notes that Parmeni des raises serious questions about the
two n o t i o n s : I s h a l l t r y t o show how the r e d u c t i o arguments
o f p t . 1 are designed, i n p a r t , to suggest ways i n which
these questions might be answered. I n the course p f my
commentary, I shall argue that a number of non-Critical
commentators miss the way i n which Parmeni des t r i e s t o
resolve these problems, and err i n their understanding of
Parmenides along similar lines as C r i t i c s such as Vlastos.
A) The Meaning o f Ch5ri smos
As argued above, Parmenides 133a-134e i s a

i*

transparent joke: i t i s the absurd consequence of assuming


t h a t Forms are the same s o r t o f things t h a t p a r t i c u l a r s
are. Expanding on Socrates' theory o f Forms i n 128e-130a,
Parmenides demonstrates t h a t i_f Forms a r e o f t h e same
metaphysical type as p a r t i c u l a r s , and i_f they a r e separate
from their participant instances, then they are utterly
unknowable. Since Forms are the basis f o r knowledge, 133a134-e i s the reductio ad absurdum of one or both of the
two conditions mentioned above. I have already argued, at

^Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato and Parmenides


(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merri11, n.d.), p. 81.

length, that the rejection of self-predication consequently

239

implies a difference i n ontological type between e i d i


and aistheta. But i t could be argued that separation i s
imperiled as w e l l . I f Forms "interweave" w i t h other Forms,
and "communicate" their Being to particulars, i n what sense
c o u l d they be s a i d t o be "separate"? Some commentators have
suggested that i n the l a t e r dialogues, Plato's Forms are
no longer transcendent but immanent;

others suggest

that he might be jettisoning the theory of Forms i n favor


of a more purely

logical doctrine of un-hypostatized

abstract characteristics which simply f i x the meanings of


words.^
Against such Revisionism, I believe that "separation"
can be given a sense i n the later dialogues. F i r s t , I
t h i n k t h a t Parmenides 133a - 134e shows the f u t i l i t y o f
maintaining the absol ute separation of Form and p a r t i c u l a r ,
b u t n o t separation as such, since some form o f chorismos
i s needed i f the type-difference i s t o make sense. Second,
one must be careful, even i f one recognizes i n p t . l the
reductio on absolute separation, not to conceive of
separation as analogous to the sort of physical separation
lampooned i n 133a - 134e.

2Charles

P. Bigger, Participation (Baton Rouge:


University of Louisiana Press, 1968), pp. 74 - 75.
3J.L.

A c k r i l l , "Sumploke EidSn", i n R.E. Allen, ed.,


Studies i n P l a t o ' s Metaphysics (London. Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1965), p. 208.

240
Regarding my f i r s t p o i n t : i n one sense i t i s
obvious that Plato could never countenance a separation as
absolute as that i n 133a - 134e. Particulars, though separate
from Forms, participate i n Forms. I t i s through participation
that Forms can be said to be "separate" from particulars.
R.E. Allen notes that Plato's is a relational
metaphysics, rather than a substance-metaphysics; this
allows Plato to articulate both degrees- and types-ofr e a l i t y . A particular, Allen argues, derives i t s Being and
i t s intelligible character through the participationrelation with the Forms: particulars,1ike Forms, are real,
but Forms and particulars are d i f f e r e n t sorts of r e a l i t y ;
and because the Being and character of particulars are
derived from that of the Forms, they are a "lesser" degree
o f r e a l i t y , f u r t h e r down on the "great chain o f Being".
Allen's sketch of Plato's metaphysics has the singular merit
o f showing how Forms can be separate from t h e i r instances
while remaining "intimate" enough with them so as not to
generate the absurdities lampooned i n Parmenides 133a - 134e.
Forms are not "perfect particulars" --as Allen quips, "one
cannot scratch Doghood behind the ears"-- because any
particular and i t s properties, however "perfect", are
only i n virtue of their participation i n Forms. This
preserves the intimacy between Form and p a r t i c u l a r by
underscoring the dependency relation between them. I t
thus preserves the separation between Form and particular
by noting the asymmetricality of the Form-particular

241
relationship, the l a t t e r depending on the former, but the
former not depending on the l a t t e r .

I f Plato's i s , as Allen holds, a relational ontology,


then the Form-particular relationship will exhibit those
features characteristic of all similar relations: a polarity
between two r e l a t a and a r e l a t i o n a l bond. The r e l a t i o n be
tween Form and p a r t i c u l a r would have to be, a t l e a s t i n
p a r t , an internal r e l a t i o n - - i t would be internal from
the "viewpoint" of the particular, since i t s being as a
particular and the kind of particular i t i s would be
-

constituted by participating i n the e.ide

An i n t e r n a l

relation is a particularly "intimate" sort of relation,


one where i t could even be argued t h a t , i n a sense, one
relatum i s immanent i n the other, since i t i s constitutive
of the other relatum through the relational bond. But this
does not eliminate the usefulness of speaking of the
transcendence of one relatum from the other, since i t i s
the internal bond between relata which establishes relatum-1
as relatum-1, and relatum-2 as relatum-2. E^., the fatherson relationship i s internal, i n that the relationship
c o n s t i t u t e s t h e p a t e r n a l / f i 1i a l b e i n g o f t h e r e l a t a ; b u t i t
i s that internal bond which also establishes the father

^R.E. Allen, "Participation and Predication", i n


Gregory Vlastos, ed., Plato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970),
pp. 173 -74.
>
5See

Richard Rorty, "Relations, Internal and External"


i n Paul Edwards, e d . , The Encyclopedia o f Philosophy (New York:
Macmillan, 1967), vol. 7, pp. 125-32.

a s f a t h e r i n d i s t i n c t i o n f r o m t h e s o n as_ s o n . I t i s ,
therefore, the very intimate bond between particular and
Form which e s t a b l i s h e s t h e p a r t i c u l a r aj_ p a r t i c u l a r i n
distinction from --"separate" from-- the Form. Platonic
separation flows naturally from the type-distinction
between Forms and particulars and the quasi-internal,
constitutive relationship between them. I t i s only
the aberrant, extreme versions of chorismos (which, l i k e
133a - 134e, tend to forget the type-distinction) which
are refuted i n Parmenides p t . 1.

B) Crombie and "The Classical Theory of Forms"


Now t o my second p o i n t : t h a t one must n o t view
Platonic separateness as analogous to physical separateness, the separateness between things or objects. Many
commentators, though rightly convinced of the implausibi1ity
of the "physicaT'models of separation i n Parmenides p t . l ,
nevertheless think of separation along lines similar to
physical separation. The s i m i l a r i t i e s may be s u b t l e , and
therefore difficult to detect.
I.M. Crombie, an otherwise astute commentator,
f a l l s i n t o t h i s t r a p . As noted i n Ch. V I I above, Crombie
interprets the Parmeni des as a c r i t i q u e of the "perfect
f i t " of property-to-Form which would have to characterize
F o r m s i f th e y w e r e " n a m e d m e a n i n g s " o r s e l f - c o n t a i n e d
"perfect particulars".6 Crombie, aware that such an under I . M . C r o m b i e , An. E x a m i n a t i o n o f P I a t o ' s D o c t r i n e s ,
Vol. 2 , Knowledge and Reality (London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1962), pp. 335 f f . , 262 f f .

243
standing of the Forms can be extracted from Plato's t e x t s ,
proceeds t o explain how such a misunderstanding could occur:
The phrase "Plato's Theory of Ideas" sug
gests an established picture. According to t h i s
picture there exist both the physical world and the
ideal world, and the objects to be found i n the
former are more or less poor copies to be found i n the
l a t t e r . . . But out argument has been t h a t i t was
never Plato's primary intention to convey such a
picture. According to our view the mainspring of the
w r i t i n g s i n which we f i n d t h e c l a s s i c a l theory o f
forms i s the belief that the order which reason
imposes i s something which exists independently of
the material on which i t i s imposed, and that the
elements of this order (such things as equality,
proportion, and the l i k e ) are to be conceived of as
timeless and independent objects of reason. . .
I t i s important for the proper conduct of our lives
t h a t we should recover a c l e a r grasp o f them. This
we cannot do by a t t e n d i n g t o t h e i r p h y s i c a l i n s t a n c e s . . .
Therefore we must t u r n i n s t e a d t o t h e c o u n t e r - i n d u c t i v e
approach (based on Socrates' search for definitions)
as i t i s roughly outlined i n the Republic under the
title of dialectic. . .
Entities of this kind are of course abstract
e n t i t i e s ; they a r e r o u g h l y what we mean when we speak
of properties or universals. Yet Plato write (and
perhaps spoke) i n such a way t h a t h i s readers (and
perhaps his pupil Aristotle also) have got the im
pression that he wanted to postulate a world of
concrete though non-physical e n t i t i e s , and that the
essential contrast was not between two approaches
to the understanding of universals, but between
two worlds. 7
Crombie's analysis of "what went wrong" i n Platonic
exegesis i s , I think, quite r i g h t on the following counts:
i ) he i s aware that mimesis i s a metaphor, that senseparticulars are not l i t e r a l l y "poor copies" of their parent
Forms, and i i ) he emphasises the status of Forms as
universals, which bear the metaphysical burden of ordering
the natural world, and have the epistemic function of

7Ibid.,pp.

319-20.

244
enabling us to penetrate that order. Crombie's accuracy on
these p o i n t s goes f a r i n showing j u s t how f a r removed from
Plato's vision of the Forms i s the parody of 133a - 134e:
whatever Forms do, they do not simply reduplicate the
kosmos aisthetos. Nevertheless, there are serious d i f
f i c u l t i e s with Crombie's understanding of the Forms as
"abstract entities" or properties:
i ) How a r e t h e Forms " a b s t r a c t " ? They a r e n o t
abstracted from the data of sensation: that would make
Forms, as properties "drawn" from individual instances,
once removed from r e a l i t y instead of to ontos on. Crombie
realizes t h i s : he e x p l i c i t l y contrasts the inductive
method of generalizing from sensibilia with Plato's
dialectical or "counter-inductive" method, and holds that a
Form

exists independently, "as an object of reason, even

i f there were no physical objects for i t to characterize."

i i ) Thus Forms are "abstract" i n the sense that they


are pure generalities, or as R.E. Allen puts i t , they are
"commutative universals" --abstract as opposed t o concrete.

This seems t o be what Crombie means: he e x p l i c i t l y says t h a t


Plato's c r i t i c s mistakenly saddle him with the desire to
"postulate a world of concrete though non-physical entities"

8Ibid.,

p. 320

Allen, op. c i t . p. 177.

245
when Plato actually "wanted the forms, as objects o f
pure r e a s o n , t o be d e - p h y s i c a l i z e d v e r s i o n s o f common
p r o p e r t i e s . " Plato was concerned w i t h mapping and c l a s s i
fying "different levels of thought, i.e., the concreteempirical and the abstract-rational."

But this, coupled

with Plato's leanings toward a "photographic" or "spectator"


theory of cognition, could easily mislead one into accepting
the received, "two worlds" view of Platonic orthodoxy.**
There i s something very peculiar about these
" a b s t r a c t e n t i t i e s " : they seem t o undermine the Platonic
chorismos completely. Crombie construes separateness i n
terms of the timelessness of those structures which pure
reason can contemplate: eg., one can think of triangularity
not only i f there are no triangles exemplified, but also as
a purely formal property without reference to physical
distance.

12

But i f t h i s i s a l l t h a t separateness means

i t i s hard t o see how A r i s t o t l e and o t h e r c r i t i c s o f P l a t o ' s


eide could have been misguided, as Crombie claims. A
sheer "common nature" could e x i s t as a s t r u c t u r a l p o s s i b i l i t y ,
without instances, post rem --as an abstracted concept i n
one or more minds. The only real reason to i n s i s t upon the
(ante rem) separateness of Forms would be the (rather
sentimental) desire to reduplicate the phenomenal world on
10Crombie,

0. c i t . , p p . 3 2 0 - 2 2 .

**Ibid., pp. 321-22. Crombie's account of Plato's


"photographic" theory o f knowledge seems t o owe much t o
John Dewey, The Quest f o r C e r t a i n t y (New Y o r k , Putnam,1 9 2 9 ) ,
pp. 23, 196.
12Ibid.,

p. 320.

another, more timeless plane. Aristotle would respond


that Forms would then have no explanatory value whatsoever.

13

i i i ) A d i f f i c u l t y related to the above i s Crombie's


conflation of Forms as "universals", "abstract e n t i t i e s " ,
and"properties". Forms, which being noeta are universals,
could plausibly be viewed as "abstract e n t i t i e s " , but I
f i n d i t hard t o see how a " u n i v e r s a l " could be the same
thing as a "property". Although both universals and pro
perties could be said to be exemplified or instantiated,
properties, unlike universals, are always properties f
objects or classes o f objects. Put somewhat d i f f e r e n t l y ,
things have properties, but things do not have universals.
I f Crombie believes that Plato i s conflating properties
w i t h u n i v e r s a l s , then the only way he can make sense o f
separateness

i s to view Forms as a species of hypostatized

properties, disengaged not only from instances but from the


very need to think of properties as intimately connected
w i t h instances. Can t h i s be done? And would such properties
explain anything? Aristotle's criticism rebounds once again:

13

Crombie i s quite aware of A r i s t o t l e ' s critique of


the Forms as f a i l i n g i n explanatory power (Metaphysics 990a33),
but he doesn't seem t o notice how, given h i s own i n t e r
pretation of Forms, i t might be perfectly sound. See Crombie,
p. 319. Furthermore, Crombie's assessment of Forms as
" a b s t r a c t e n t i t i e s " o r " d e - p h y s i c a l i z e d v e r s i o n s o f common
properties" seems t o be a t odds w i t h h i s gloss o f Parmenides,
p t . 1, where he i n s i s t s that the dialogue's point i s that
Forms are not "abstract individuals" or "things which are
properties". See Crombie, pp. 334-35.

247
aren't the properties as instances by actual individuals a l l
we r e a l l y need?
Crombie's failure i s , I think, a failure to dis
tinguish between properties, which are always conceived
qua possible and actual instances, and the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
of properties. I have been stressing throughout the present
work that the philosophical d i f f i c u l t i e s i n Parmenides a l l
concern i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , and that Forms, as noeta, allow
the sense-world to be understood as orderly and intel1igib1e
through p a r t i c i p a t i o n . Forms are the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f
properties: properties are what they are through par
t i c i p a t i o n . Thus Forms are universals, since they account
for the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of properties. But they themselves
are not properties as such. Crombie's confusion only seems
t o make Platonic metaphysics more c l u t t e r e d than i t a c t u a l l y
i s , even by Crombie's own account - - i t opens the way f o t a
cogent Aristotelian criticism of ch5rismos
i v ) What about those passages i n the Platonic
c o r p u s w h i c h do^ s e e m t o l e n d c r e d e n c e t o s o m e s o r t o f
"two worlds" reading? Crombie, acknowledging that there i s
"some j u s t i c e " i n the received "two worlds" view, nevertheless
argues that
. . .the conventional picture of the two worlds,
with the forms constituting the upper world, agrees
neither with the arguments which Plato puts forward
nor with the recommendations which he bases upon them.
I t is Plato the poet, with a strong strain of
r e l i g i o y s pessimism, who p a i n t s t h e p i c t u r e o f the two
worlds; Plato the philosopherm seriously concerned
t o map and c l a s s i f y d i f f e r e n t l e v e l s o f thought,
never justifies this picture.
14

14

Crombie, op. c i t . , p. 322.

248

I n the above, Crombie seems t o u n c h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y


endorse the sort of interpretive techniques found i n Vlastos:
a l l that does not f i t i n with that which has been determined
to constitute Plato's "philosophical position" can be
dismissed as merely " l i t e r a r y " . Crombie and Vlastos dis
agree radically i n Plato's "philosophical position"; but
here, a t l e a s t , Crombie e x h i b i t s the same s o r t o f i n d i f 15
ference to the "poet" i n Plato as does Vlastos.
Why s h o u l d
Plato the "world-weary poet" be any less philosophically
r e l e v a n t than P l a t o the master d i a l e c t i c i a n ? I f my p o s i t i o n
i n Ch. I i s correct, the dialogues are philosophical 1iterature,
and nothing can be safely ignored as of no philosophical
importance. Crombie, i n his hasty separation of Plato the
poet and Plato the philosopher, begs the crucial question
by assuming t h a t the prophet o f the "two worlds" i s somehow
not the "real" Plato.
Even i f one agrees (as I do) with Crombie that the
"two worlds" interpretation of the Forms i s overblown, one
can argue that Crombie s t i l l does not give i t i t s due
p h i l o s o p h i c a l l y . One need n o t go as f a r as Vlastos and
insist that the eide are "perfect particulars" to give
some support t o the so c a l l e d " c l a s s i c a l theory o f Forms".
R.E. Allen, singling out Crombie for c r i t i c i s m , does just
t h a t . He believes t h a t Crombie's rendering o f the Forms as
"commutative universals" or "abstract e n t i t i e s " cannot make

15

See Vlastos's acerbic review o f Crombie, "Knowledge


and R e a l i t y " , Phi 1osophical Review 75 (1966), pp. 526-30.
Reprinted i n Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, 2nd Ed.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 374-78.

249
sense o f the way i n which Forms serve as standards f o r
evaluation, which i s , Allen holds, the cardinal function of
the Forms. Crombie's "commutative universals" cannot, as
Forms can, be instantiated "better" or "worse"; they are
either exemplified or an entirely different commutative
universal i s exemplified. Commutative universals, therefore,
are difficult to reconcile with dialectic, since
. . . with the commutative universal, the
relation of genus to species i s always that of the
more abstract to the more concrete Cancl thusj
the
genus i s essentially poorer than i t s species, having
less content. . .the highest genera are most barren
of al1. 16
But t h i s conclusion surely does not characterize the
anhypotheton, the Form o f the Good o f Republic VI - V I I ,
which "provides a ground for the synoptic vision of a l l time
and a l l existence". ^ Finally, the mimesis metaphor cannot
be "cashed i n " with Forms as commutative universals. Allen,
i n s i s t i n g on a type-difference between Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s ,
believes that the mimesis metaphor i s s t i l l workable even
i f particulars are not 1iteral duplicates of their cor
responding Forms, and that the mimesis metaphor i s
indispensible i n t r y i n g t o understand how Forms can serve
as ideals. I f Forms are exclusively "commutative universals",
i t i s hard to see how they can be "imitated" a t a l l . To
disregard the aspect o f the Forms which l e t s them serve
as ideals, standards, and foci for the upward path of
*6Allen, 0. c i t . , p. 177.

the dialectic i s not. as Crombie thinks, to separate the


"world-weary poet" from the genuine philosopher in Plato.
I t i s to eviscerate from Plato's thought i t s distinctively
18
Platonic elements.
The Forms are more than the "commutative universals
Crombie takes them to be: i f they weren't, i t would be
d i f f i c u l t to understand the need for their separateness.
Why d o e s C r o m b i e ' s o t h e r w i s e p r a i s e w o r t h y r e n d e r i n g o f t h e
theory o f Forms f a l l i n t o such one-sidedness?
As noted before, one must be on one's guard
against the tendency to construe Form-particular separation
by analogy with physical separateness. Crombie

draws t h i s

analogy, I fear, i n two quite subtle ways.


i ) He views the Forms as a b s t r a c t e n t i t i e s , as
nonphysical yet general or abstract things. Because Forms
for Crombie are abstract entities he thinks the usual
Aristotelian criticisms m i s f i r e : Forms are not a set of
perfect concrete entities which simply recapitulate the
physical, natural world. But i f the Forms are abstract
e n t i t i e s , doesn't t h a t make them p a r t i c u l a r s rather than
universals? Crombie does not hesitate t o c a l l Forms
" u n i v e r s a l s " as well as"abstract e n t i t i e s " . Does t h i s
mean t h a t universals are a species o f p a r t i c u l a r ? t h a t
besides having p a r t i c u l a r p a r t i c u l a r s among the " f u r n i t u r e

1 ft

Crombie, op. c i t . , p p . 323-25. See also pp. 567-69


where he qualifies his antagonism toward the "Classical
Theory of Forms."

o f the w o r l d " , we a l s o have universal p a r t i c u l a r s ? This


smacks of what Charles Sanders Peirce cal1ed"extreme
realism" or "nominalistic Platonism" --a realism so tainted
with nominalism t h a t the only way i n which i t maintains
the r e a l i t y and i n t e g r i t y of universals i s by subsuming
them i n t o an exalted, extraordinary class of things, i n
other respects j u s t as much things as are ordinary things.
Peirce thought that such "extreme realism" i s as easy prey
for his anti-nominalistic arguments as i s conventional
nominal ism.

19

Crombie, however much he wishes t o distance himself


from the "Classical Theory of Forms", i s i n accord with i t
insofar as he thinks o f the Forms as things. As long as
he persists i n t h i s , chorismos w i l l denote a dichotomy
between things or objects; the analogy to physical sharing
w i l l remain too close to ward off Aristotelian charges of
unnecessarily reduplicating the natural world.
i i ) Although Crombie criticises the "Classical
Theory" for constructing two impermeable "worlds",
Crombie himself advocates a version of the two worlds.
While the "Classical Theory" divides reality into the
world of timeless concrete entities and the world of
19

Charles Sanders Peirce, Philosophical Writings,


ed. Justus Buchler (New York: Dover, 1955). See "The P r i n
c i p l e s o f Phenomenology", pp. 84 f f . ; "Some Consequences o f
Four Incapacities", p..243; "Pragmatism i n Retrospect",p.274
S e e a l s o J . F e i b l e m a n , An. I n t r o d u c t i o n t o t h e P h i l o s o p h y o f
Charles S. Pei rce (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1946),
pp. 445-48.

temporal concrete e n t i t i e s , Crombie divides r e a l i t y into


the world of abstract entities and the world of concrete
e n t i t i e s . Like the "Classical Theory", Crombie leaves
i n t a c t the problem o f how two such r a d i c a l l y d i f f e r e n t
"worlds" can i n t e r a c t and i n t e r r e l a t e . And again, i n s o f a r
as Crombie f a i l s i n t h i s regard, his interpretation of
Forms i s not immune t o an e f f e c t i v e A r i s t o t e l i a n a t t a c k .
One can s t i l l make sense o f c h o r i sm5s and concur
with Crombie's estimate of the classical "two worlds"
interpretation of Forms.

Crombie's f a i l u r e , as well as

that of the "two worlds" approach, flows from a lack of


care i n separating the connotations of the English word
"world" from the Greek Kosmos. Kosmos i s best understood
i n terms of order, and i n opposition to chaos or disorder;
i t i s thus misleading to construe i t as " t o t a l i t y " , or
"the collection of a l l that i s " , or in opposition to "nonbeing" or "what i s not the case". Diogenes Laertius t e l l s
us that the f i r s t to e x p l i c i t l y describe the universe as
a kosmos i n philosophy was Pythagoras, who believed t h a t i t
was a kosmos

not because i t was a c o l l e c t i o n o f e n t i t i e s

but because i t embodies mathematical proportions, yeilding


20
h i s conviction t h a t number was the arche o f a l l t h i n g s .
The etymology of kosmos as a philosophical term reveals
connotations which Crombie's rightly criticised "two worlds"
lacks: two different kosmoi need not be two "realms",
"worlds", or "collections". They are two orders, or b e t t e r ,
20

F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms (New York:


New York U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1967), p . 108.

253
two orderings of r e a l i t y , two different, possibly irreducible
ways i n which r e a l i t y i s put together.
Given this understanding of kosmos, which i s closer
t o philosophical Greek, one can see how Plato can i n s i s t
on separation without asserting the "two worlds" so
vigorously parodied i n Parmenides 133a - 134e, o without
d i l u t i n g separation, as Crombie does, to the point of
superfluity. Against advocates of the "two worlds", Plato
i n s i s t s that Forms are a d i f f e r e n t order of Being ( a
different ontological type) from sensed particulars. Because
Forms are of the i n t e l l i g i b l e , rather than the sensible
order, they are separate from particular things. But because
they are a different order of being, rather than a separate
collection of entities, or a realm of eternal objects
p a r a l l e l to the realm of s e n s i b i l i a , Forms can be par
ticipated i n and can be known, contrary to Parmenides
133a - 134e. I t i s only because o f an i n t e l l i g i b l e order
that the sensible order i s possible: a sensed particular i s ,
after a l l , a certain kind of particular sensed i n a certain
determinate way. Thus the kosmos noetos and the kosmos
aisthetos, though genuinely separate, are not two worlds
a t a l l : they combine and interact; the being of the l a t t e r
i s derived from the former. They are two dimensions of
r e a l i t y rather than two separate r e a l i t i e s . By reading the
Forms as the kosmos noetos, or an order rather than a
collection or "world", one can avoid the p i t f a l l s of both
Crombie and the received, "two worlds" interpretation.

C) Ryle's C r i t i q u e o f P a r t i c i p a t i o n
I n Sections A) and 6) above I have assumed t h a t
the separation o f Form and p a r t i c u l a r can be made t o j e l l
with the account of participation worked out i n Parmenides.
But t h i s i n turn assumes t h a t " p a r t i c i p a t i o n " i s i t s e l f a
workable notion. This i s not to say that there are no
difficulties involved i n the idea of methexis Part of
the problematic of Parmenides p t . l concerned the dis
ambiguation of participation, the search for potential
obfuscations of the concept, the exposure of unclear or
inadequate formulations o f methexis. 130e - 131e shows t h a t
methexis i s u n i n t e l l i g i b l e as any sort of physical sharing;
132c - 133a shows t h a t p a r t i c i p a t i o n cannot mean a l i t e r a l
i m i t a t i o n o f the Form; 133a - 134e shows how the miscon
ception of Forms as perfect p a r t i c u l a r s leads t o a misconcep
tion of of chorismos, which in turn leads to the mis
conceived conclusion that participation is impossible.
Parmeni des p t . 1 i s a reductio against one highly mis
leading way of viewing the Forms: i t demonstrates what
Forms are not, what separation i s n o t , and f i n a l l y , what
methexis i s not. But even i n l i g h t of Parmenides p t . 1 ,
i t i s d i f f i c u l t t o say j u s t what p a r t i c i p a t i o n i_. One might
assume t h a t Plato thought o f i t as some s o r t o f koinoni a ,
communion, or relationship between the i n t e l l i g i b l e and
the sensible orders, and that once the misconstruals of
this interrelation have been refuted, the idea of methexis
w i l l be workable and untroublesome. But the exact character

of methexis remains vague and i l l - d e f i n e d --so i l l - d e f i n e d


that certain commentators have opined that "participation"
can i n no way denote any s o r t o f r e l a t i o n s h i p . I n t h i s
interpretation, the acheivement of Parmenides --whether or
n o t i t was intended by P l a t o - - i s not the e l i m i n a t i o n o f
false conceptions of participation, but the elimination
of participation as such.
Of a l l the criticisms

of participation none i s

more clear and forceful than that of Gilbert Ryle. In


his 1939 a r t i c l e , "Plato's Parmenides", Ryle does not
specify whether the Forms are rehabilitated or revised
away by the d i a l e c t i c of p t . l . But even a t t h i s early
date, Ryle is clearly a Revisionist: the dialogue's intent
i s to demonstrate, through a series of valid arguments,
the l o g i c a l incoherence of the Forms as understood by
young, Socrates, as well as a l l the machinery through which
Forms relate with and constitute particulars, including
methexi s:
. . . Other 'friends of the Forms' might
assimilate the relation of 'being-an-instance-of'
t o some other as y e t unexamined f a m i l i a r r e l a t i o n .
I propose here t o go beyond my t e x t and argue t h a t
there can be no answer to the question, since the
question i t s e l f i s illegitimate. 21
Ryle c i t e s John Cook Wilson as a l a t t e r - d a y
P l a t o n i s t , f o r whom b e i n g - a n - i n s t a n c e - o f " i s a r e l a t i o n
sui generis, capable of no analysis and i n need of none".

22

^ G i l b e r t Ryle, "Plato's Parmenides", Mind N.S. 48


(1939). Reprinted i n R.E. Allen, ed., Studies i n Plato's
Metaphysics, pp. 105-6.
22Ibid.,

p. 106.

256
Ryle, calling this sui generis relation "exemplification",
thus paraphrases Cook Wilson's (and p u t a t i v e l y , P l a t o ' s )
thesis on i t :
On t h i s view a t h i n g - q u a l i t y p r o p o s i t i o n w i l l
.assert that a thing is in this relation of exemplifying
to the q u a l i t y ; and a relational proposition w i l l assert
that the two or more terms exemplify the r e l a t i o n .
Thus every thing-quality proposition w i l l be
a relational proposition, and every ordinary relational
proposition w i l l be a double relational proposition,
since i t w i l l be asserting that the relation of
exemplification holds between the terms and the special
r e l a t i o n , that of being-neighbor-to. 23
Ryle criticised this view through a regressargument, similar to that of Plato, but couched i n the
terminology of formal logic:
Now i f one t h i n g i s i n a c e r t a i n r e l a t i o n t o
another, the l a t t e r w i l l be i n some, not necessarily
the same, realtion to the former. I f ' t h i s i s green'
i s more f u l l y expressed by ' t h i s exemplifies greenness'
there w i l l be another relational proposition of the form
'greenness i s exemplified in (or inheres in) t h i s ' .
Forms w i l l be the subjects of r e l a t i o n a l propositions:
i . e . , there w i l l be significant and irreducible
relational sentences, each with an abstract noun denoting
at least one of the terms i n the relational proposition.
Mow w h a t o f t h e a l l e g e d r e l a t i o n i t s e l f ,
which we are c a l l i n g ' e x e m p l i f i c a t i o n ' ? I s t h i s a form
or an instance of a form? Take the two propositions
' t h i s i s s q u a r e ' a n d ' t h a t i s c i r c u l a r ' . We h a v e h e r e
two different cases of the relation of being-aninstance-of. What i s the r e l a t i o n between them and
that of which they are instances? I t w i l l have to be
e x e m p l i f i c a t i o n n u m b e r 2 . T h e e x e m p l i f i c a t i o n o f P_ b y
w i l l be an instance of exemplification, and i t s being
i n that r e l a t i o n to exemplification w i l l be an instance
of a second-order exemplification, and that of
a t h i r d , a n d s o o n ad^ i n f i n i t u m . . .
This conclusion i s impossible. So there i s no
such relation as being-an-instance-of. 'This i s green'

2^Ryle,

op. c i t . , p. 106.

i s not a r e l a t i o n a l proposition, and ' t h i s i s bigger


than that' only mentions one relation, that of
being-bigger-than. 24
Ryle's argument, however helpful i t may be i n
imparting l o g i c a l s u b t l e t i e s , i s misleading when taken as
a synopsis and c r i t i q u e o f Plato's theory of Forms. To his
credit

Ryle, i n constructing his regress argument against

participation (or any relational ontology of Forms and


particulars) does n o t assume that Forms are s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e
exemplars. He d o e s n ' t make the same s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n i s t
error as Vlastos does: self-predication i s not the only
thing that w i l l generate a regress of Forms, and i t may not
even be the p r i n c i p a l cause of the regress i n the TMA.
Ryle does conceive o f the Forms as e n t i t i e s or things i n
his analysis --a class of particularized beings, universal
particulars related to particular particulars. Such a con
ception of Forms does not work and Ryle i s correct i n
noting t h i s , but he f a i l s to see that since the Parmenides
i s a long string of reductio arguments, the Parmenides i s
coaxing us i n t o seeing that Forms are not e n t i t i e s or things.
I t i s not, as Ryle thinks (or thinks that Plato thinks),
t e l l i n g us that p a r t i c i p a t i o n , or the relatedness between
the i n t e l l i g i b l e and sensible kosmoi, i s i t s e l f bankrupt.
Ryle's analysis assumes two premisses: i ) t h a t only
particulars or "proper nameables" can be properly related
to each other, and i i ) that relations cannot exist between

258
e n t i t i e s of d i f f e r e n t ontological type. From these t a c i t
premisses, he concludes that Plato's Forms (or a t least those
of the middle dialogues) were entities or "nameables" of
some s o r t , and t h a t the p a r t i c i p a t i o n - r e l a t i o n was one
between two different logical (ontological?) types of
things or objects. I f t h i s i s what Forms are, then Ryle's
regress works, and undermines participation, to Plato's
detriment. But, as I have been arguing throughout, Plato
denies Ryle's premiss i ) . As argued i n Ch. V I I , Parmenides
p t . 1 i s an ironic reductio on the idea of "atomic i n t e l l i g i b l e s " , and thus on the idea of Forms as e n t i t i e s , things,
or nameables. And i f Plato denies i ) , he i s also able to
deny i i ) , since a relation across ontological types i s
needed to explain the i n t e l l i g i b l e order i n the kosmos
aisthetos.
Ryle continually faults "Platonism" for maintaining
that "abstract nouns are proper names", which entails that
" b e i n g - a n - i n s t a n c e - o f " i s a proper r e l a t i o n . He even
goes so far as to identify this confusion with the theory
25
of Forms as such,
At one point i n his analysis, Ryle
seems t o be saying nothing more than t h a t which the present
work has been maintaining a l l along: that Forms are un-

25

I b i d . , p . 108; c f . Bigger, ojs. c i t . ,pp. 71-72.


See also Ryle's Plato's Progress (Cambridge, England:
Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1966), pp. 16-17, 102, f o r an account
of Plato's supposed "detachment" from the Forms a t the time
t h a t the Parmeni des was w r i t t e n .

i n t e l l i g i b l e unless viewed as a different type of r e a l i t y .


Consider the following passage:
. . . When we say such t h i n g s as t h a t t h e r e
i s no r e l a t i o n between greenness or c i r c u l a r i t y and i t s
i n s t a n c e s , we seem t o be saying t h a t t h e r e e x i s t s an
intolerable remoteness or alienation between
universals and particulars. . . But this i s not what
i s meant. What i s meant i s t h a t abstract nouns are
not proper names, so that to ask what i s the relation
between the nominee of such a noun and something
else i s an i l l e g i t i m a t e question. The semantic
function of abstract nouns os something other than
that of denoting subjects of qualities, states,
dimensions, or r e l a t i o n s . To inquire a f t e r the
qualities, states, positions, sizes, or relations of
unity or c i v i l i t y i s to as a nonsensical question.
Abstract nouns are not the names o f e n t i t i e s
(solemn w o r d ! ) , f o r they are not names a t a l l i n the
way i n which ' J u l i u s Caesar' i s the name o f some
one. 26
In other words Forms, as universals, are not
particulars, perfect or otherwise. In this respect, Ryle
i s q u i t e close t o A l l e n , when the l a t t e r i n s i s t s t h a t a
Form does not have the characteristics i t imparts to
p a r t i c u l a r s b u t i n a s e n s e _is_ t h o s e c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s .

27

And again, i t i s d i f f i c u l t t o see how t h i s c o n s t i t u t e s a


rebuff to Plato's theory of Forms, since the arguments i n
Parmenides seem t o echo Ryle's conclusions. But Ryle goes
too f a r , since he sees such arguments as destructive of
methexis i t s e l f , rather than of a faulty version of methexis
which construes Forms as abstract p a r t i c u l a r s . Consider the
following passage:

^ 6 R y l e , 0. c i t . , p . 1 0 7 .
27

Allen, 0. c i t . , p. 167.

There can be no genuine simple relational


propositions having for their terms what i s denoted by
abstract nouns. Forms are not terms i n r e l a t i o n a l
propositions with their instances acting as other
terms. And i f . . . Forms are incapable of having
qualities or dimensions or states or places or
datesm e t c . , i t follows. . . that Forms cannot be
the subjects of any simple propositions, affirmative
or negative, attributive or relational. 28
This excerpt can be glossed i n two ways. Ryle can
simply be reiterating his claim that "abstract nouns
are not the names o f things posessing q u a l i t i e s " . I n t h i s
case, he i s e n t i r e l y consonant with the understanding of
Plato advanced i n the present work, that Forms are not
things and that the "name" of the Form does not denote i t
i n the way i n which a proper name denotes an i n d i v i d u a l .
But Ryle i s making a stronger c l a i m , I t h i n k . He seems t o
be saying that since a Form i s not a particular or a
"proper nameable", nor capable of having dimensions, states,
etc., nor capable of sustaining proper relations, the
theory of Forms, consequently, simply "cancels out" as
unnecessary f o r understanding how universal q u a l i t i e s
and/or relations can be predicated of particulars. I t i s
logically flawed from the s t a r t , and not just i n young
Socrates' version of the theory. Ryle hints that this
c r i t i q u e of Forms i s j u s t as applicable to the inherent
morphe of Aristotle as i t i s to the transcendent eide of
PIato.^
7

ft

Ryle, 0. c i t . , p. 107.

29Ibid.,

p. 106.

261
Secreted within Ryle's confidence that the theory
of Forms i s l o g i c a l l y moribund i s a sort of nominal ism:
anything that is is a determinate, particularized indi
vidual. Since he assumes t h i s i n his analysis of the putative
p a r t i c i p a t i o n or exemplification relationship between Forms
and partdculars, he concludes that any attempt at relating
individuals of two logical and ontological orders i s bound
to f a l l victim to the vicissitudes of language - - i t s
failure w i l l consist i n i t s neglect of the homely yet
ubiquitous demands o f l o g i c a l grammar. I do not care to
c r i t i c i s e Ryle's t a c i t nominalism here; nor do I wish to
attack the methods of formal and ordinary language analysis
which Ryle has used effectively, here and elsewhere. But
i t seems t o me t h a t R y l e ' s n o m i n a l i s t i c bent has s e r i o u s l y
distorted his estimate and understanding of Plato's Forms.
Forms are n o t i n d i v i d u a l s , although i t may be
appropriate to speak of individual Forms. Sophist, on the
"interweaving o f Forms", shows t h a t although the kosmos noetos
taken as a whole i s determinately i n t e l l i g i b l e , no single
Form i s , by i t s e l f , a determinate individual or an isolated
particular: e . g . , one must grasp how, say, Motion i s D i f
f e r e n t ( f r o m R e s t ) and t h e Same (as i t s e l f ) and so on i f
Motion i t s e l f i s to be grasped as i n t e l l i g i b l e . This view
of Forms i s not restricted to the l a t e r Plato: the upward
d i a l e c t i c of the Republic implies an ascent from one hypo
thesis to a more general one, and so on u n t i l the vision
o f the Good allows f o r a synoptic v i s i o n o f a l l Forms i n

hierarchical relations with each other, from the most


general Forms to the more s p e c i f i c . The Parmenides
reinforces this anti-individualism regarding Forms: a l l
the reductio arguments stem from Socrates' false as
sumption that Forms, since they cannot partake of opposites, are atoms of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .
But i f Forms are not proper i n d i v i d u a l s , what can
they be? Ryle concludes: they c a n ' t be much o f anything.
They collapse into a logical function, abstract nouns,
through which we can describe the p r o p e r t i e s and r e l a t i o n s
which o b t a i n among genuine e n t i t i e s . For R y l e , the theory
o f Forms must be translated i n t o post-Fregean semantics,
which draws a f i r m l i n e between object and concept by way
of analogy with mathematical arguments and functions. But
t h i s gambit d i s t i l l s away a l l t h a t i s s p e c i f i c a l l y Platonic
and metaphysical from the problem of universals.
Ryle's solution to the problems of metaphysics,
Platonic or otherwise, may be q u i t e laudable. But i n h i s
Platonic exegesis he unfortunately assumes t h a t h i s
problematic (or Frege's) and that of Plato are one and the
same. Ryle's philosophical problematic concerns the
logical and grammatical structure of our language, and the
"howlers" which may be commited when t h a t s t r u c t u r e i s
ignored. Plato's problematic concerns the nature of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y and i t s a i t i a i .
I n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i s not a philosophical problem

f o r R y l e : t h a t we can speak o f i n d i v i d u a l s , understand them,


c l a s s i f y them, e t c . , i s taken as a given. The philosophical
problem which remains i s : since individuals are spoken o f ,
understood, c l a s s i f i e d , e t c . , by way of abstract nouns,
w h a t i_s a n a b s t r a c t n o u n ? W h a t i s i t s l o g i c a l a n d / o r
grammatical role? Plato, on the other hand, wishes to
make the very f a c t o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i n t e l 1 i g i b l e , t h e
very fact taken for granted by Ryle. Again, Ryle's
nominalistic bias sets his project apart from Plato's: in
a worid of individuals, abstract nouns do not denote
single individuals (called Forms); therefore the in
t e l l i g i b i l i t y of particulars i s not caused by anything,
nor i s i t explainable by any sort of exemplification- or
participation-relation. Individuals simply are intelligible,
and the logical grammar o f abstract nouns helps us t o r e s i s t
the temptation to think that only a special class of things,
the Forms, could bring this i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y about.
But Ryle's problematic i s quite distortive of Plato'
own problems, goals, and hopes. P l a t o , concerned w i t h a
different set of philosophical problems, is not prepared to
admit that i)Forms are (or must be) individuals or
particulars, or i i ) t h a t only individual things can be
properly related to each other. For Plato, i ' ) the kosmos
noetos does not consist of particulars, since i t constitutes
the particularity of the sense-world. I t is nonetheless
f u l l y real for a l l that, and not just a logical construction
And ii ' ) although particulars are indeed related to each

264
o t h e r , the non-particularized kosmos noetos i s related
to the p a r t i c u l a r i z e d kosmos aisthetos i n a s o r t of
u r - r e l ation which makes particulars i n t e l l i g i b l e , and
i n t e l l i g i b l e as^ p a r t i c u l a r s . T h a t r e l a t i o n i s m e t h e x i s .
This position has been most ably defended by
Charles P. Bigger i n his book P a r t i c i pation. Since Bigger
simultaneously criticises both Ryle and Ronald J. Butler,
I s h a l l begin my e x c e r p t w i t h B i g g e r ' s synopsis o f
Butler's "The Measure and Weight of the Third Man":
A somewhat similar argument to Ryle's has
been advanced by B u t l e r . He too argues t h a t P l a t o
intended t o a s s e r t some s o r t o f r e l a t i o n between
instances and forms; but holds, i n an argument
reminiscent of Spinoza, that i f two things have
nothing i n common, then no r e l a t i o n can hold
between them: "For a general relation to hold between
two kinds of things, there must be something char
acteristic of both kinds." Edinburgh is north
o f London, but hardly the same can be said o f
virtue. 30
Bigger continues:
Ryle and B u t l e r are among the many who f e e l
that the Parmenidean arguments against the form theory
rendered i t highly suspect, i f not false; for that
theory must depend on the establishment o f some r e l a t i o n
between the world of form and the world of Becoming,
and such a relation would be l o g i c a l l y vicious. I t
i s c e r t a i n l y t r u e t h a t i f we t r e a t those domains as i f
they were separate things to be related, then n
r e l a t i o n can e x i s t between them! The problem i s Dot
with form as a relatum (as. . . Ryle would have us
believe) in the participation relation; i t is with the
instancing term. Professor Butler correctly expresses
the problem: "Once Plato had postulated the world of
Being and the world of Becoming, he could not without
recanting say that the things i n the world of Becoming
are anything at a l l . .
But in endorsing Butler's
remarks, we must make one very major r e s e r v a t i o n :
30

Bigger, op. c i t . , pp. 72-73.

265
p a r t i c i p a t i o n , whatever i t may be, c o n s t i t u t e s a
term as a relatum. I t i s not a r e l a t i o n describing
two t h i n g s as having some common f e a t u r e ; f o r . . .
that i s the point of the argument at Parmenides
132D-133B t t h e T h i r d Man argument! . The idea
is
a cause whereby the exemplifying term exists
as such. I t i s not because an already existing relation
shares somehow i n the form o f r e l a t i o n t h a t i t e x i s t s
as a r e l a t i o n ; i t exists because of the form. The
form does not have the given character; i t i s not
red or large or a bed or what have you; but other
things, instances of Becoming, are i n virtue of
the form. I f participation is a relation, i t is a
real relation, one whereby at least one relatum
through the other(s). 31
The p a r t i p a t i o n r e l a t i o n i s thus not a r e l a t i o n
between beingsrit i s a r e l a t i o n o Being. Ryle's nomi n a l i s t i c leanings lead him to confuse participation with
a r e l a t i o n which could be thought to be nominal instead of
real - - a relation reducible to the "position" of
pre-existent individuals i n " l o g i c a l space". Hence his
penchant for trying to "solve" the dilemmas of p a r t i
cipation by recourse to analyzing the l o g i c a l grammar of
subject-predicate expressions. But, as Bigger suggests, this
confuses a very different, post-Fregean problematic with
P I a t o 1 s : p a r t i c i p a t i o n , having t o do with character, cannot
be understood i n terms of predication;
Participation i s never to be confused with
p r e d i c a t i o n . When we p r e d i c a t e , we say what something
i s ; b u t when we invoke p a r t i c i p a t i o n , we say why
i t i s . Form i s not merely a character which a thing
has; i t i s a thing because i t has that character.
Form i s only incidentally a p r i n c i p l e of class
ification; i t i s primarily the specification of the
mode o f operation o f the t h i n g . 32 (Emphases mine)

311bid.,

p. 73.

^2Ibid., p. 68n.

266
Hence Ryle's recourse to post-Fregean semantics
e n t i r e l y misses the point of participation: i t cannot be
understood by analyzing subject-predicate form and the role
of abstract nouns i n classification, f o r , i f Plato i s
r i g h t , i t i s the basis for subject-predicate logic and
a l l classification. Ryle's nominalism leads him to mis
interpret Plato, and i n the process of misinterpretation,
gives Ryle a false sense of confidence that the ambiguities
of participation have been overcome. But the nominalistic
assumption that relations are nominal cannot be imported
into Platonic exegesis without serious distortions:
There are not two sorts of things, forms and
instances, and a r e l a t i o n , participation, between
them. Forms are not things. They constitute things,
i n the sense of providing Becoming with a d e f i n i t e
pattern of activity, with a determinate character.
There are no instances of Becoming unless there are
forms. This relation between the form and i t s i n
stance: does not, l i k e "greater than" or "above",
hold between two existing things; rather i t i s a real
relation which constitutes the instancing relatum as
such. As l o n g as we i n s i s t on supposing t h a t a l l r e
l a t i o n s are nominal and t h a t none are r e a l , we s h a l l
have a great deal of trouble understanding Plato. 33

33

Ibid., p. 74. But Bigger believes that Plato


revised t h i s notion of participation after the Parineni des:
cf. pp. 74-75.

I X ) P A R M E N I D E S , PART 2 , AND R E L A T E D D I A L O G U E S
I n the previous sections I have t r i e d to show
how t h e TMAs o f Parmenides p t . l reduce a d e v i a n t t h e o r y
o f Forms t o a b s u r d i t y , and t h a t we can be c o n f i d e n t t h a t
they are genuine reductio arguments, rather than the
unintentional products of "perplexity", by considering
l i t e r a r y elements i n the dialogue and by noting the
considerable opposition between Eleaticism and Plato's
own " i n t e g r a l p l u r a l i s m " . I n t h i s chapter, I wish t o
f u r t h e r substantiate t h i s p o s i t i o n by showing how
Parmenides p t . 2 develops the arguments, begun i n p t . 1 ,
against "perfect f i t " and "named meanings" by showing that
they apply equally well t o Parmenides' own monistic
ontology. Following t h a t , I s h a l l show how the i m p ! i c i t
conclusions pf pt. 2 receive explicit treatment in later
dialogues such as Sophist and Theatetus, and are developed
i n new d i r e c t i o n s i n the Timaeus and Phi 1ebus.

A) Pre!iminaries to Pt.2.
Before explicating the text of pt.2, there are
a number of troublesome questions which need to be con
sidered, although I shall argue that neither of them are
quite as vexatious as most commentators have been led to
assume. The f i r s t concerns the proper i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of
to hen, the Subject of Parmenides' dialectical excercise.
There are those, such as Dies, Wahl, Wundt, and Hardie,
who see Parmenides1 "One" as t h a t which i s examined i n

267

t h e d i a l o g u e ; t h e u n i t a r y B e i n g o f " T h e Way o f T r u t h " ,


which anticipates the One o f P l o t i n u s and Proclus, a
d i v i n i t y beyond a l l Being (epikeinas tes ousias)and from
which a l l Being emanates (E.g., Plotinus' Enneads,V,i,8).*
J.N. F i n d l a y , who does n o t subscribe t o the Neoplatonist
interpretation In toto, nevertheless

sympathizes

with

i t

when he comments, on Hypothesis 1 :


We c a n s e e i f w e l i k e s u c h a n o u t c o m e
i . e . , that of the conclusions of Hyp.l as the
result of staring at an Idea, and letting a l l dis
course about go on holiday. But i t can also be r e
garded as a pure concentration of thought on the
f i r s t principle of the whole ideal system, as i t
i s i n the great commentary o f Proclus, the One o r
the Good which transcends Being o r Knowledge j u s t
because i t i s the principle of both of them. 2
There are other commentators, more numerous among
analytic exegetes, who, l i k e Gilbert Ryle, see nothing
of the sort going on. They believe that the dialogue i s
an exercise on the Platonic Form "Unity", with an eye
toward realizing the rigorous dialectical method out
lined by Parmenides i n 135d-136a:
Parmenides i s going to perform a dialectical
operation upon a selected Form; namely he i s going
to discover whether a certain hypothesis about that
Form as well as i t s contradictory generate contra
dictions. Which Form w i l l he choose?. . . he picks
on. . . unity on the pretext that i t i s his p h i l
osophical prerequisite. . . The English abstract
noun 'Unity' i s i t s proper translation. . . and the
only excuse for rendering i t by 'the one' i n t h i s
dialogue i s the presupposition that of course
Parmenides must be discussing h i s own monistic
theory, for which there i s no internal evidence

*F.M. Cornford, Plato and ParmenidesUndianapol i s :


Bobbs-Merri11, n.d.) pp. v - v i i i .
?J.N. Findlay, Plato and Platonism(New York:N.Y. Times
Press, 1978) p. 152.

whatsoever. 3
Both these interpretations are, I think, partially
r i g h t and p a r t i a l l y mistaken. The Neoplatonic reading
advances the idea that the Parmenides' second part expounds
Plato's metaphysical foundations, as the Timaeus presents
the basis for his cosmology. I t suggests that Plato's
metaphysics was " s e c r e t l y " emanationist, t h a t to. hen o f
Hyp. 1 i s i d e n t i c a l w i t h the Form o f the Good i n Republic
and with Plotinus' God. But this i s a b i t fanciful given
the i n d i r e c t , inconclusive, and highly ironic tone of the
entire dialogue. I f Parmenides had been dishing out so
many a b s u r d i t i e s concerning Socrates' Forms, why should
we view him, i n P t . 2 , as an unimpeachable f o n t o f e s o t e r i c
truth? I shall argue, i n section B) , that Hyp. 1 con
sists of Parmenides' meditations, faithfully Eleatic,
on the nature of to hen, with the result that to hen, the
only Eleatic i n t e l l i g i b l e , i s u n i n t e l l i g i b l e on Eleatic
terms.
The l o g i c a l , anti-Neoplatinic reading of Ryle,
e t . a l . , i s likewise misleading. I t presupposes that, i n
Parmenides' eyes, there would be a difference between
what Socrates would dub "the Form 'Unity' " and what
he would c a l l "the One", or "what i s " . Remember:Parmenides'
One Being i s best construed as the sole basis f o r
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y : i t i s an element i n a noetic rather
^Gilbert Ryle, "Plato's Parmenides", in R.E. Allen,
Studies i n Plato's Metaphysics (London:Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1965),pp. 112-13.

than a cosmological theory. For Parmenides Oneness and


i t s derivatives (changelessness, finitude, etc.) are a l l
that 21 i n t e l l i g i b l e , a l l else (plurality, change, etc.)
being p a r t o f the u l t i m a t e l y u n i n t e l l i g i b l e "Way o f Seeming".
Given t h i s , the monistic "One" i s , f o r Parmenides, what
Socrates means by the eidos "Unity" - - i t i s , i n f a c t , the
only such eidos t o Parmenides. That i s why he chooses i t i n
his dialectical exercise.
The second trouble-spot concerns the nature o f
pt.2

: serious or playful? Taylor and Burnet have argued

that Pt.2 i s , at best:, a spirited piece of e r i s t i c , but


l i t t l e more.

Devoid of any i n t r i n s i c philosophical pur

poses, i t merely seeks to pay the Eleatics back i n their


own c o i n , and t o sharpen the w i t s o f any and a l l who worm
t h e i r way through the l a b y r i n t h i n e argument. I n opposition
to Taylor and Burnet, commentators as otherwise diverse
as Ryle.Cornford, and Findlay argue that the dialectic i s
philosophically serious, and carries a very definite
5
Platonic message.
In response to this dilemma I can only say that I
believe there i s no genuine c o n f l i c t between viewing the

4A.E.

T a y l o r , PlatoiThe Man and His Work (London:


Hethuen, 1929), p. 351.
5

Ryle, op. cit.,pp. 112-13; Cornford, op. c i t . ,


p. i x ; Findlay,op. c i t . , p. 144.

second half of Parmenides as a "burlesque" and viewing i t


as a positive contribution to Plato's deepening under
standing of the Forms. Pt.2, l i k e p t . l , i s a tangled nest
of confused arguments --even more confused, since each
pair of hypotheses explicitly contradicts the other. But
i t i s through this avalanche of absurdities that Plato
shows what i s wrong with the Socratic account of Forms, what
i s wrong w i t h Parmenides' counter-thesis on t o hen, and how
one might avoid both their errors. Plato's rhetoric i n
Parmenides i s i n d i r e c t : he shows

rather than says. The

"serious vs. elenctic" squabble i s , therefore, a paper


issue.
B) Transition to Pt. 2 : 135d-136c
Parmenides endorses Zeno's method of inquiry
--conjecture and reductio-refutation-- with an important
modification: that one
must not merely make the supposition t h a t
such-and-such a thing jjs and then consider the con
sequences; you must also take the supposition that the
s a m e t h i n g i_s_ n o t .
This methodological foray might be a reference to
the Middle Dialectic of the Republic. Kenneth Sayre comments
. . .The dialectician i n Republic 510b511dj i s characterized as someone who i s not content
merely to hypothesize his objects and to pursue the
consequences, as the mathematician does with the
odd and even (510 c3-d2), but who rather t r e a t s h i s
hypotheses as temporary s t a r t i n g points from which to
mount toward nonhypothetical principles. 6
^Kenneth Sayre, Plato's Late Ontology (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Pr., 1983), p. 38.

272
Sayre suggests that Plato might be strengthening
his dialectical procedures i n the passage from Parmenides
cired above: although the Republic-dialectic enabled
the dialectician to determine conditions necessary for
the t r u t h o f h i s hypothesis, i t was i n s u f f i c i e n t l y powerful
to generate the s u f f i cient conditions, while the Parmeni des
method can accomplish this task.^ Important as this i s to
P l a t o ' s own d i a l e c t i c a l refinements --which are a prime
concern of "collection and division" i n the Sophist and
Statesman-- I d o n ' t t h i n k that t h i s i s why Plato has
Parmenides set these methodological strictures.
The reason f o r my doubt i s t h a t Parmenides s h o u l d n ' t
be s e t t i n g them. And the reason why he shouldn't be s e t t i n g
them i s t h a t i f one takes " t h e supposition t h a t the same
thing i s not" seriously, one i s talking about what i s not.
B u t a c c o r d i n g t o " T h e Way o f T r u t h " , o n e c a n n o t k n o w w h a t i s
not, nor indicate i n speech. (Fr. 2, 7-8)

Parmenides

believes he i s engaging i n serious discourse when he


discusses these methodologucal principles: i n f a c t , he
views Socrates' commendable r e s t r i c t i o n of inquiry t o
"those objects which are specifically apprehended by
discourse and can be regarded as Forms" (emphasis mine)
as needing to be supplemented with the supposition that
these objects are n o t . But by his own standards he cannot

71bid.

273
be serious: the "objects apprehended by discourse", the Forms,
are an i n t e l l i g i b l e piural it.y, and the postulated non
existence of these objects i s talk about nothing. Parmenides
i s caught in a massive contradiction, a performative
O
dilemma, i f you w i l l . He believes i n h i s s o r t o f n o e t i c
monism, and asserts i t s t r u t h ; but i n the act of asserting,
and i n outlining the methodological conditions for such
assertion, his actions contradict his words, since the act
of assertion-in-dialogue embodies persuppositions antithetical
to noetic monism. Parmenides unwittingly concocts a tran
scendental argument against h i s own noetic monism. The
remainder of pt. 2 consists in the fruits of this practical
contradiction.
C) Hypotheses 1_ and 2 : 137c-155e.
Hypothesis 1 i s the f i r s t solid hint of a theoj

r e t i c a l contradiction i n Parmenides' monism, and i t helps


illuminate the slant of his anti-Socratic arguments of
P t . 1 and why they might be mistaken.
The Greek o f Hypothesis 1 i s t r i c k y , as Cornford
notes: Parmenides, i n Hyp. 2, begins " . . .hen ei estin. . . "
or " I f there i s a One", while Hyp. 1 begins " . . . e i hen
e s t i n . . . " . This may s i g n i f y a s h i f t o f emphasis away
O

My use o f " p e r f o r m a t i v e " d e r i v e s from J . L . A u s t i n ,


How To Do Things With Words (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U n i v .
Press, 1962). The idea of a "performative dilemma" i s
developed i n J . H i n t i k k a , "Cogito Ergo Sum: Inference o r
P e r f o r m a n c e " , i n W. D o n e y , e d . , D e s c a r t e s ( G a r d e n C i t y :
Doubleday, 1968).

274
from the conditionsl, as Cornford thinks, or a change of
meaning, as Taylor believes, translating i t as " i f i t i s
one" 9137c).

Taylor i s , I t h i n k , closer t o the mark. As

i t w i l l become c l e a r i n Hyp. 1 , the One which i s asserted

i s an absolute and undifferentiated u n i t y , neither par


taking of nor exhibiting anything other than oneness.
P a r m e n i d e s i s p o si t i n g a u n i t y h e r e , r a t h e r t h a n p r e d i c a t i n g
anything of i t . Nothing can be predicated of i t because
t h i s Unity i s the Parmenidean One, the one true Being which
exhausts the field of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .
I n advancing t h i s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n i t may seem as i f
I am a l i g n i n g m y s e l f a g a i n s t t h o s e , l i k e R y l e , w h o s e e t h e
subject of the Hypotheses as the Platonic Form U n i t y , as
w e l l as those l i k e Lynch who see the subject under con
sideration to be the unity of a Form (Lynch translates
t o h e n a s "a^ u n i t y " , i m p l y i n g a n e i d e t i c u n i t y , a F o r m ) . 1 ( ^
But this i s not exactly true. Against Ryle, I would hold
t h a t the U n i t y - v s . - t h e One o p p o s i t i o n i s a f a l s e one: f o r
Parmenides, to hen i s the only i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , the only
Parmenidean eidos. In Hyp. 1 , this sort of unity i s
exploded. Hence whatever the Platonic e i dos Unity i s , i t i s
n o t the Parmenidean One, since t h i s One i s impossible.
L i k e w i s e , my reading o f Hyp. 1 does n o t c o n f l i c t w i t h L y n c h ' s
interpretation tout court. Hyp. 1 explodes the Parmenidean
One as a f a l s e u n i t y . Therefore whatever the u n i t y o f

Cornford, op. c i t . , pp. 112, 116, 136; Taylor,


op. c i t ., pp. 363 f f .
*W.F. Lynch, An Approach t o the Metaphysics o f Plato
Through the ParmenidesTWashi ngton. D.C.: Georgetown Univ.
Press, 1958).

a Form i s , i t i s n o t t h a t o f the One o f Parmenides. I t i s


misleading to think that the subject matter of Pt.2 i s .
e i t h e r the Parmenidean One.or the P l a t o n i c eidos U n i t y ojr
the unity which Forms have. The d i a l e c t i c of Pt.2 has
something to say on each of these questions; i t does i t s
work on many d i f f e r e n t l e v e l s . I b e l i e v e , however, t h a t
the dialectic s t a r t s , i n Hyp. 1 , with an "immanent c r i t i q u e "
of Parmenides' One: unwittingly, Parmenides undermines his
entire ontology in this Hypothesis.
There are manifold d i f f i c u l t i e s with t o hen i n
Hyp. 1. I t i s without parts, extension, or shape, and there
f o r e without l i m i t s . This might c o n t r a d i c t "The Way" i n
t h a t there the One i s held t o be f i n i t e . But then a g a i n ,
"The Way" construes f i n i t u d e i n n o e t i c terms, as d e - f i n i t i o n
r a t h e r than as physical l i m i t a t i o n . The One i s n o t i n
space, i t n e i t h e r changes nor r e s t s , nor i s i t same o r
different from i t s e l f or another. That this Unity i s
beyond motion and change i s non-controversial, but that i t
i s also beyond changelessness or r e s t seems t o contra
d i c t a central Parmenidean tenet. Furthermore, the
necessary conclusion t h a t the One i s n e i t h e r same nor d i f
ferent from i t s e l f i s troublesome, since i t i s hard to con
s t r u e a posi ted One as anything other than s e l f - i d e n t i c a l .
F i n a l l y , the One i s n o t i n t i m e , since temporal r e l a t i o n s
imply two relata, one of which i s older and another of
which i s becoming older; but i f one posits just a One, then

276
that One, i f i t i s i n time, must be older than i t s e l f , as
well as becoming younger than i t s e l f ; hence i t cannot be
i n time. From t h i s Parmenides concludes t h a t the One
cannot be. Furthermore, i f one asserts "One i s " , one
has predicated " b e i n g " o f the One and i t i s t h e r e f o r e n o t
a Unity, but two. Parmenides realizes something i s wrong
here, and draws this admission out of Aristoteles.
Parmenides does not surprise us when, i n 141d, he
" d e m o n s t r a t e s " t h a t t o h e n i s t i m e l e s s ; i t i_s s u r p r i s i n g t h a t
he concludes, i n 141e, that because of t h i s , to hen
c a n n o t b e s a i d t o be_. A c c o r d i n g t o " T h e W a y " , t h e O n e - B e i n g
i s timeless, and this constitutes a reason f o r classifying
a l l changing things as belonging to the. realm of doxa, of
seeming. But there i s , I think, a reason for explaining this
apparent contradiction. Parmenides here wishes to think the
One - - t h e sheer "what i s " - - i n i s o l a t i o n from a l l e l s e . * *
Hence his conclusion, consistent with "The Way", that
temporal predicates cannot apply to the One. But t h i s i s
not because, given a l l the predicates which can apply to
the One o r U n i t y , predicates concerning time and process
c a n n o t b e f o u n d . No. p r e d i c a t e s c a n a p p l y t o U n i t y e x c e p t
" i s one"; i t would be f a i r to say that atemporal predicates
are j u s t as inapplicable. This incurs a severe drawback
f o r the One: "being" can be made i n t e l l i g i b l e f o r (and
hence predicated of) particulars ( a l l "others" which are

**Findlay, op. c i t . , p. 151.

not Unity) i n terms of processes --completed, continuing,


and anticipated processes. But i r o n i c a l l y the One, which
Parmenides believes i s "what i s " , cannot be said to be.
Being cannot be i n t e l l i g i b l y reconciled to the One. Put
somewhat d i f f e r e n t l y , I think Parmenides' problem amounts
to t h i s . Being and Becoming are contrastive terms: one
i s necessarily understood in contradistinction to the
other. Parmenides wants to oppose Being and Becoming
rigorously, identifying Being with f i x i t y and Becoming with
f l u x . I f Becoming i s sheer seeming, however, i t cannot be
said t o be., i n which case Being (as changelessness, atemp o r a l i t y ) cannot be understood as i t s opposite. Hence one
can make sense o f the Being which Becomes (on i t s own terms,
so to speak,) while the One, the sheer

"what i s " , cannot

be made i n t e l l i g i b l e on i t s own terms. Parmenides' un


bending and p e r s i s t e n t attempt t o t h i n k out h i s own
monistic thesis on "what i s " germinates i t s own a n t i t h e s i s ,
that "what i s i s n ' t " . Hyp. 1, l i k e p t . 1 of the dialogue,
i s a disguised reductio argument.
I t i s , i n f a c t , a reductio on a tenet which i s
an integral part of Socrates' theory of Forms: what Crombie
has called "perfect f i t " , the idea that an eidos i s a thing
w h i c h i_s o n e a n d o n l y o n e p r o p e r t y . I f P a r m e n i d e s ' " W a y " i s ,
l i k e Plato's theory of Forms, a general theory of i n t e l
l i g i b i l i t y , then one could t r a n s l a t e the Parmenidean One
into Platonic jargon ( i . e . , as an eidos-Unity) without
serious distortion --keeping in mind, that i s , the a l l -

important difference that, for Parmenides, the eidos-Unit.y


i s the only eidos there i s , indeed i t is a l l there i s .
Hence the eidos-One i s perfectly One, and can be understood
only i n terms of oneness, and i n those terms exclusively.
But then i t cannot be understood to be or even to b one:
hence, the r e d u c t i o . The reductio can be applied with
success to any of the Platonic eide as well: although
the Form "Man" i s an integral u n i t y ( d i f f e r e n t from Tree,etc.)
i t i s n o t a " n a m e d m e a n i n g " ( i t * i s n o t a t h i n g w h i c h i_s
a Man and n o t h i n g e l s e ) , nor i s i t an "atomic i n t e l l i g i b l e "
(understandable aj_ "man" w i t h o u t i m p l y i n g o t h e r under
standing, e . g . , "Man i s a mammal", "Men are r a t i o n a l animals",
etc.), since these are thoroughly unintelligible (e.g., a
thing which i s a man i s also an animal; and to understand
"Man" one must know what "Animal" means, e t c . ) .
I t i s important to note that Parmenides need not
have been h o i s t by h i s own p e t a r d . He might have argued
thus: "What i s i s , indeed, One, and exclusively One; thus
i t neither changes nor rests, i s neither i n or beyond
temporality, and cannot be said even to be (or not-be). But
this merely shows, through a sort of via negativa. that
nothing can be said about i t , other than 'what i s i s ' . " .
The One would then b e , i n P l o t i n i a n f a s h i o n , beyond Being
and thus beyond a l l predication. Parmenides' "Way" would
then be an expression of a very deep mysticism, the
evocation of that which cannot be said but only shown.
12

Findlay, op. c i t . , p. 152.

12

279
But t h i s r e h a b i l i t a t i o n o f Eleatic monism would amount
t o a r a d i c a l departure from Parmenides' own p o s i t i o n on
two counts, i ) The One, as beyond Being, cannot be a r t i c u l a t e d
i n speech. I t i s then beyond i n t e l l i g ibi1i ty as w e l l . But
"The Way",as I have pointed o u t , i s a work on the nature of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , maintaining that "what is" alone i s
i n t e l l i g i b l e . Although Parmenidean (and Platonic) nous
i s non-discursive, i t i s t h a t which makes discourse about
r e a l i t y possible. But i f what i s i s one and nothing else
(a "perfect f i t " o f U n i t y ) , then nothing can be said about
it.--not that i t is timeless, nor that i t is limited,
n o r t h a t i t i_s o n e , n o r e v e n t h a t i t j _ s . W h e t h e r t h i s
perfect Unity i s befteath

or beyond i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i s

of l i t t l e concern: i t i s not i t s e l f intelligible.


i i ) Parmenides, i n "The Way", uses "what i s i s " as a f o i l
a g a i n s t those who i n s i s t t h a t one can make sense o f p l u r a l i t y ,
change, and the l i k e . These are not i n t e l l i g i b l e , proclaims
Parmenides i n "The Way". Thus i n Plato's Parmenides
Socrates' Forms are earnestly challenged, since they
claim to provide a measure of stabi1ity for the under
standing of change, an intelligible-one over sensible-manys.
I t has already been mentioned that i f Parmenides i s cor
rect, there is l i t t l e , i f anything, for the dialogical or
dialectical philosopher to talk about. But in l i g h t of
Hyp. 1, the dialectician need not worry: what i s unin
t e l l i g i b l e i s not how the disparate many can be l i m i t e d and
u n i f i e d under the various e i d e , but how Parmenides could have

thought his "Unity-and-nothing-else" could be-the sole


touchstone for true understanding. That view i s utterly
u n i n t e l l i g i b l e , relying as i t does on the doctrine of
"perfect f i t " .

The d i a l e c t i c i a n , or the Socratic con

versationalist, can continue his pursuits confident i n the


i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of his discourse: Hyp. 1 could always be
invoked as a "tu. quoque". against any E l e a t i c who thinks
otherwise. And any E l e a t i c who t r i e s t o argue h i s thesis
against this "tu. quoque" i s caught i n the trap of trying to
articulate this pure Unity i n speech --which, i f truly
"pure", cannot be so articulated.
This practical dilemma surfaces i n the second
Hypothesis, where Parmenides reconstrues the One i n such
a w a y t h a t i t i_s i n t e l l i g i b l e - - i n d e e d , t h e r e i s l i t t l e
one can meaningfully fai1 to say of i t . The p r i c e , however,
i s steep: t h i s One i s no longer a Parmenidean One, and
stands i n utter opposition to the pure Unity of Hyp. 1.
I n 142a Parmenides asks of the conclusions drawn
from Hyp. 1 : "Now can t h i s possibly be the case w i t h the
One?" A r i s t o t e l e s c o r r e c t l y answers "No": Parmenides' One
was intended as the f i r s t p r i n c i p l e o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , and
t h i s One i s n o t i n t e l l i g i b l e . Parmenides, vaguely sensing
the source o f these d i f f i c u l t i e s , veers away from con
c e i v i n g the One i n terms o f absolute " p u r i t y " :
. . . Start afresh, then, and consider.
I f a One i_s, i t cannot be and y e t not have being.
So there Ts the being which the One has, and t h i s
w i l l not be the same. . .as the One; otherwise
that being would not be i t s being, nor would i t ,

281
the One, have t h a t b e i n g , but t o say "a One i s " would
be tantamount t o saying "a One ( i s ) one" fhen hen]
(142 b-c).
Once t h i s modification i s made, Parmenides' mon
i s t i c vision begins to f a l l apart. I n 142 c-d, i t i s admitted
that since " i s " belongs to "One", and "one" i s that which
has "being", "One" and "being" are parts of a whole, the
"One which i s " . P l u r a l i t y i s f o r c i b l y injected i n t o
Parmenides' monism: i f the principle of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i s
Unity, then that principle i s i t s e l f intelligible only i f
Being i s i n t e l l i g i b l e . The very notion of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
f a i l s t o make sense, then, i f there i s only one measure o f
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y : some s o r t o f n o e t i c p l u r a l i s m , i t seems,
is necessary.
But Hyp. 2 proves even more devastating to Parmenides'
case. I n 144a Parmenides notes, a f t e r having generated
number from the dyad of the "One which j_s", t h a t
there is

"an unlimited plurality of things which are",

thus admitting that which the historical Parmenides had


always sought to deny, the reality of particulars, of
a i stheta I f an indefinite multitude of things must be, then
why n o t , t o hark back t o F u r t h ' s example, p a r t i c u l a r
lizards and particular trees?
More devastation f o l l o w s . 145 a-b argues t h a t a One
can have extension and shape, contra Hyp. 1. I t then follows
that i t can be both i n i t s e l f (the whole qua whole) and i n
another (the whole qua the t o t a l i t y of p a r t s ) . And since a
One-Being can be i n space, i t must be both a t rest (as

282
whole qua whole) and i n motion (as whole qua parts). I t i s
also the same as " t h e others" ( i . e . , as the whole i n which
the parts subsist, or through which they exist) and different
from them as well (as the whole qua whole i n d i s t i n c t i o n
from the whole qua parts).
To appreciate j u s t how damaging t h i s i s t o
Parmenides' case, consider the following comment o f
J.N. Findlay:
What emerges from a l l t h i s i s t h a t there i s
nothing which cannot i n some sense be said o f U n i t y
i t s e l f , whether as a subject of characterization, or
as the term of a relation, and i t can - with a ven
geance be made an o b j e c t o f knowledge, o p i n i o n , and
perception, and there can be naming and saying practiced
upon i t (155d). And f o r a f u r t h e r vengeance, i t s
posession o f contrary a t t r i b u t i o n s make i n p r i n c i p l e
share the nature of the transitional instant (to
exaiphnes), the moment a t which something i s i n
passage from being something to being something
else, and i s i n a sense both and neither, and i s a
sense both i n and not i n time. 13
F i n d l a y ' s gloss shows j u s t how f a r removed the
findings o f Hyp. 2 are from the "Way o f T r u t h " . The l a t t e r
work sought to sharply l i m i t the f i e l d of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y :
i . e . , to "what i s i s , what i s not i s not". Hyp. 2 seeks to
expand i t : to include the coincidence of opposites l i k e
same/different, i n i t s e l f / i n others, e t c . , and to include
a host of particulars which are themselves i n t e l l i g i b l e qua
the One-Being. A unity which can embrace such i n f i n i t e
richness and manifold contradictions cannot, i n Parmenidean
terms, be possible. Whereas the f i r s t Hypothesis was im

13
Findlay, op. c i t . , pp. 154-56.

283
possible f o r Parmenides on the ground that i t necessitates
too many " n e i t h e r / n o r s "

( n e i t h e r same n o t d i f f e r e n t ,

neither in motion nor at rest, etc.) this Hypothesis is


unworkable because of i t s irreconcilable "both/ands"
(both i n - i t s e l f and for-others, both i n motion and at
rest, etc.)'
What i s disaster f o r Parmenides, however, i s a w e l l hidden victory for Plato: Hyp. 2, though foreign to Eleatic
monism, can be q u i t e a t home i n an " i n t e g r a l p l u r a l i s m " such
as Plato's. One could r e v e r t back t o Socrates' suggestion i n
128e that there are two kosmoi, the i n t e l l i g i b l e and the
sensible orders,and that the latter is understood through
p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the former. Consider: the kosmos aisthetos,
i n i t s participation i n the eidos-Unity, i s a unitary whole
( c f . Parmenides* spatio-temporal One i n 145 a - b ) which i s
divided into parts which are themselves unitary (anticipating
Hyp. 3) through p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n t h i s same e i d o s - U n i t y . None
of the awkwardness Parmenides encounters i n trying to
reconcile t h i s w i t h h i s monism occurs when one uses Plato's
participation-schemata instead. And since there are many
Forms, particulars can participate i n "contraries" without
engendering any f a t a l inconsistencies: the kosmos aisthetos
can be both a t rest (qua kosmos) and i n motion (qua i t s
p a r t i c u l a r s ) , same y e t d i f f e r e n t , and so on.
But -^-obviously-- Hyp. 2 does not signal a simple
return to Socrates' naive theory of Forms i n 128e-130a.

That was reduced to absurdity i n p t . 1 . The dialogue's


Socrates (as well

284

as Parmenides) has a lesson to learn

i n Hyp. 2, namely that i n t e l 1 i g i b i l e s , no more than


sensibles, must not be atomized and particularized. Again:
Parmenides' One i s n o t j u s t , nor p r i n c i p a l l y , " t h e body o f
r e a l i t y " , so to speak: i t i s the f i r s t (and only) principle
of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . Hyp. 1 demonstrated that i f i t i s a
principle of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i t cannot be the only one.
Hyp. 2 fleshes out the consequences of that demonstration:
the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of "Unity" presupposes the i n t e l l i g i i
b i l i t y of "Being", "Same", and "Different", and a host of
others --without them, Unity i s unintelligible. This,
mutatis mutandis, would hold for Socrates' Form"Unity"
(and by extension, "Likeness", "Motion", "Rest", etc.)since
i t too i s a principle of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . Thus the conclusion
o f Pt/ 1 i s reinforced: Forms too must combine and " i n t e r
weave", and there i s a sense i n which they too participate
i n contraries ( a l b e i t i n a sense different from the manner
i n which p a r t i c u l a r s do). As Findlay concludes:
What Plato has shown, i n t h i s remarkable
hypothesis, i s that even the Idea of Unity, the
simplest of a l l Ideas, yet permits, i n verying senses
and without a shadow o f contradiction, of a l l the
opposed predications that were thought absurd i n the
case of instances, and were taken to vanish i n the
realm o f Ideas. And he has shown that a l l these op
posed predications do not affect the nucleus of
whatever is intrinsic' i n eachldea, which remains
as much separate and apart (ch5ris) from a l l instances,
and from a l l other Ideas, as i t ever did. Everything
i s what i t i s and not another thing, and yet i s , i n
another prefectly recognizable sense, everything else

285
as well. There i s nothing i l l o g i c a l i n this conclusion:
i t merely corrects an i l l o g i c a l simplification of the
protean senses i n which Ideas have to be considered. 14
What Findlay i s saying here, I take i t , i s t h a t
although Forms are u n i t i e s i n t h e i r own r i g h t (e.'g.', the
eidos Unity has i t s own i n t e l l i g i b l e content, i n d i s t i n c t i o n
from, say, Plurality of Motion or Rest), they are not
atomized and unrelated to other i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s , other
Forms. This entails that i ) grasping the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y
of any single e i dos entails the cognition of any number o f
others ( c f . , 142 b-c: Unity cannot be understood except
qua Being), and i i ) the eide themselves may, i n a sense,
e x h i b i t " c o n t r a r i e s " ( c f . Sophist: Sameness i s d i f f e r e n t
from Difference y e t the same as i t s e l f ) . The way i n which
Forms combine "contraries" i s o f course d i f f e r e n t from the
way i n which p a r t i c u l a r s do. I n the l a t t e r case, things are
understood t o be same and d i f f e r e n t , many and one, e t c . ,
while i n the former, understanding what an e i dos i s r e
q u i r e s theunderstanding o f how i t i s the same and d i f f e r e n t ,
many and one qua other e i d i which are d i f f e r e n t from each
other. But this difference i s nevertheless glossed over in
Socrates' monologue i n 128e-130a. Hyp. 2, then, reinforces
the c r i t i q u e made o f Socrates' Forms: p r i n c i p l e s o f i n
t e l l i g i b i l i t y are themselves unintelligible i f they are
conceived as "atoms of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y " , isolated from

14

Findlay, op. c i t . , 155.

286
all'othfer principles and the particulars which they render
intelligible.
Hypothesis 2, then, illuminates three aspects of
"one" or "unity" :

i ) I t undercuts the Parmenidean One

by o f f e r i n g a non-Parmenidean "One which i s " which i s


tenable. This "One" resembles the Platonic world: the
kosmos a i sthetos u n i f i e d under the kosmos noetos through
methexi s, notably through participation in the eidos-Unity.
i i ) I t c l a r i f i e s what the eidos-Unity i s by showing what i t
cannot be --i.e., atomized, unrelated, etc. i i i ) I t c l a r i f i e s
what the unity of an eidos i s - - i . e . , not that of un
differentiated, Parmenidean Oneness, but a participatory
unity which i s the unity i t is through i t s relatedness with
the other eide.
p) Hypotheses 3 . - 8 .
Hypothesis 2 constitutes the climax of p t . 2: a l l
the rest i s denouement, and i s , I think, extractable from
the products of the clash between Hypotheses 1 and 2.
Furthermore, P l a t o ' s i m p l i c i t "message" seems t o be f a i r l y
consistent from t h i s point onwards: Parmenides' monism
f a i l s t o make sense o f "making s e n s e " ^ , and when Parmenides
seems t o succeed, he

appears to be less Parmenidean and

more "Platonic".
In l i n e with his dialectical program, Parmenides
i n Hyp. 3 considers the "others" i n their relation to the
15

Mot juste courtesy Quentin Lauer, S.J., i n Hegel's


Concept o f God (Albany: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1983), p . 329.

One. Like Hyp. 1 and Hyp. 2 , Hyp. 3 i s one side of an


antinomy, completed i n Hyp. 4. Hyp. 3 begins by sug
gesting that the others, while indeed distinct from Unity,
"are nonetheless not wholly destitute of the One, but
partake o f i t i n a way"(157c): the others - - t h e many parts
of the whole-- themselves have parts, and thus "must also
posess wholeness and unity" (157b f f . ) . I f the others had
no parts, they would be "absolutely one", not "the others"
b u t an i n d e f i n i t e continuum. But we experience o t h e r s , i . e . ,
particular unities, rather than such continuity. Therefore
i f Unity i s considered qua the others, there i s nothing
that cannot be said about unity-in-particulars, f o r to
say something about the others implies that they are other
unities, instances of Unity. There i s no escaping the
ubiquity of unity. And, from a Platonic perspective, i t i s
the Forms which u n i f y , which particularize particulars i n t o
d e f i n i t e and determinate e n t i t i e s .
The importance o f Hyp. 3 , i n my reading o f the
dialogue, i s that i t c l a r i f i e s and defuses the notion of
participation which proved so troublesome i n p t . 1. There,
Socrates thought o f the Forms and particulars as, so to
speak, "ready made", and thoroughly atomic, y e t somehow
interrelated, since any particular which i s "F" i s "F"
through "F-ness". That view i s reduced to absurdity i n the
TMAs. B u t t h e TMAs do n o t d e s t r o y methexis a l t o g e t h e r
--only Socrates' faulty and horribly vague conception of
i t . Hyp. 3 provides one with a workable background f o r the

288
participation metaphor: the others are not identical
with Unity (here understood as a Platonic e i dos) but
they nonetheless partake i n Unity, l e s t they f a i l to be
i n t e l l i g i b l e as others and thus merge i n t o a sub-intel1igible
i n d e f i n i t e continuum. Hence the separation o f Form and
p a r t i c u l a r , considered to be so f a t a l on 133a-134e, i s not
fatal at a l l , since that separation, though real, i s not
and cannot be absolute.
To e x p l i c a t e : the o t h e r s , i f they were not instances
of Unity, or i f they did not partake i n Unity, would not
be others but a plethos apeiron. Thus unity i s , i n a sense
imposed on such an i n d e f i n i t e continuum, thus generating
"others" (other u n i t i e s ) . The unity i s imposed, i n Plato's
system, by the eidos-Unit.y: i t constitutes the others
as others. Other e i d l constitute the others as the determinate
kinds of others that they are. There i s , then, a sense i n
which Forms can be said to be immanent,insofar as they are
constitutive of the reality of particulars, as the partaking
o f part-in-whole and the'abiding o f whole-in-part makes
every part of a whole i t s e l f a "whole part". But i t i s
important to see that t h i s understanding of methexis does
not destroy separateness, the notion that Forms transcend
their instances. Although parts "partake" and wholes "abide"
i n each o t h e r , the whole i s n o t the same t h i n g as the p a r t .
Whole qua whole i s not parts qua p a r t s , despite t h e i r
intercommunion: there i s a dependency of parts on whole which
insures t h e i r "separation". The meditation on "part/whole"

above does not 1 i t e r a l 1 y describe the relationship between


particulars and Forms: i t i s a metaphor, a trope. But i t i s
a trope quite useful i n coming to understand the nature of
Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s . Like whole and p a r t , there i s
koinonia between Form and particular, but the Form i s always
apart, since i t constitutes the particular as the particular
i t i s . I t i s because Form and particular are not absolutely
separate o r d i s j u n c t ( l i k e p a r t and whole) t h a t we can main
tain their genuine separation: particulars depend on Forms,
1 fi
Forms in-form p a r t i c u l a r s .
In a sense this recapitulates the arguments ad
vanced i n Ch. V I I I concerning participation and separation:
they do not c o n f l i c t , since the very idea of absolute
separation ( c f . 133a-134c) is untenable. Furthermore, i t
anticipates Plato's development of the participation
metaphor i n Timaeus and Philebus, where i t i s more easily
construed as the imposition of unitary l i m i t s on an un
differentiated and unlimited continuum (apeiron).
Hyp. 4 seems t o generate the antithesis o f Hyp.3:
i f there i s a One, then nothing can be said about the others
But l i k e the f i r s t pair of Hypotheses, this antinomy can
be "seen through". I t i s the result of the mistaken as
sumption that the others can be understood i n isolation
from Unity.
Here Parmenides, l i k e Socrates, returns to a "pure"
16See

Ch I .

Sayre, op. c i t . , pp. 13-14; Findlay, op. c i t . ,

conception of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , i . e . , the idea that the One,


as the origin of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , can be understood i n "
i s o l a t i o n and hence i n i s o l a t i o n from the others. The r e s u l t
i s , as one would expect, more "purely" Parmenidean than that
of Hyp. 3: the others are completely unintelligible, i n
capable of being understood as an indefinite continuum
upon which unity i s imposed. Before one should jump to
the conclusion that this vindicates "what i s i s , what i s
n o t i s not'.'", one should consider t h a t Hyp.' 4 i s one stage
i n the application of a method advanced by Parmenides for
ascertaining the necessary and sufficient conditions i n
volved i n understanding an i n t e l l i g i b l e being. Application
o f t h i s method generates both Hyp. 1 and Hyp. 4, more
"orthodox" i n their Eleaticism, and Hyp. 2 and Hyp.3, which
are entirely "heterodox". This instead of isolating those
necessary and sufficient conditions, Parmenides merely
succeeds i n generating antinomies. Hyp. 4 cannot be recon
ciled with 3, which no doubt contributes to the aporia
confessed by Parmenides at dialogue's end (166c). I t i s
thus not a victory for Parmenides.
I t does harbor a very subtle form of reductio on "
one of Parmenides' premisses: that one can investigate the
others without reference to their "partaking" in Unity. In
"The Way", Parmenides would agree with that, and conclude
that the others are as u n i n t e l l i g i b l e as as Hyp. 4 says
they are, and deny that i t i s t e r r i b l y unnerving, since
"what i s not i t not", after a l l . But i n Parmenides

291
Parmenides has commited himself to a method which cannot
countenance t h i s s o r t o f sang f r o i d : what about Hyp. 3?
Conclusion: one of the underlying assumptions of Hyp.4 i s
i l l i c i t , i . e . , the idea t h a t i t makes sense t o t h i n k t h a t
one can consider Unity apart from i t s "abiding" presence
i n unitary things. Hence the reductio: Unity --and t h i s
would apply to a Platonic eidos-Unity as w e l l - - cannot be
understood apart from i t s intercommunion with unitary
t h i n g s . T h i s h a r k s b a c k t o s u c h e a r l i e r d i a l o g u e s a s Men o ,
where the example of a particular geometric diagram prompts
the "recollection" o f geometrical e i de on the p a r t o f the
slave-boy: Forms are approached through our commerce with
particulars or aistheta, whereupon particulars are understood
through our noetic grasp of Forms. Thus Hyp. 4 i s not only
a reductio against Parmenides, but also agsinst those, like
young Socrates, who as a good " f r i e n d of the Forms"
atomizes and isolates them, thus obscuring the idea of
methexis and warping the notion of ch5ri smos.
Hyp. 5 and Hyp. 6 again form a pair of "antinomies"
which, far from being the insuperable aporiae Parmenides
concludes they must be, can be "seen through". Again,
Eleatic "purity" is contrasted with Platonic "pluralism",
1
\s

and the former looks less and less workable, ins fferably
r i g i d . Hyp. 6, to jump ahead, i s the "pure" hypothesis: the
"One which i s " o f Hyp. 2 i s broken asunder. The One.is said
not to be, and the predictable result i s a return to the
status quo o f Hyp. 1 , where nothing a t a l l can be said

of Unity. That Hyp. 6 , which denies the One,

harks back to

Hyp. 1 , which affirms, or rather posits an absolute One,


i s paradoxical enough; what i s even more troubling i s that
while Hyp. 1 admitted a highly limited set of positive
assertions concerning the One ( u n t i m a t e l y , only "One i s one
hen hen), Hyp. 6 destroys al1 discourse and refutes i t s e l f
s i n c e H y p . 6 i_s d i s c o u r s e .
Again Parmenides' "purity" proves sterile.
Conversely, Hyp. 5 hints at a f r u i t f u l Platonic alternative
I t argues t h a t even i f the One were t o be denied, i . e . ,
denied to be, one could nevertheless say about Unity a l l
that i s maintained i n Hyp. 2 - - a l l i t s "predications,
identifications, and differentiations which relate i t to
i t s e l f and anything else." Findlay glosses this Hypothesis
as maintaining that one can consider the eidos-Unit.v apart
from i t s interrelation with Being and s t i l l be privy to .
many insights concerning the nature of U n i t y . ^ Findlay,
however, assimilates Parmenides' musings too closely to
P l a t o ' s own thoughts on the s u b j e c t : he makes Parmenides
i n t o a Platonic mouthpiece, and as I argued i n Ch. I , I do
not believe that any Platonic character can be consistently
viewed as such. A more satisfying reading of Hyp.5 might
be as follows: the fact that one can understand Unity and
discuss i t i n detail even i f one denies i t puts the l i e to
the original denial. I t i s not merely the case, as Findlay

17Findlay,

op. c i t . , p. 156.

seems .to t h i n k , t h a t Plato i s maintaining t h a t Unity can


be considered apart from Being and s t i l l be i n t e l l i g i b l e as
Unity; he i s , 1 t h i n k , performing a reductio on the very
idea t h a t the e i d o s - U n i t y m i g h t n o t be^.He i s s e c u r i n g t h e
necessity of Forms themselves, j u s t as i n Hyp. 2 he t r i e d
t o secure the necessity o f intercommunion among Forms,
and i n Hyp. 3, the necessity of participation i n Forms.
His c h i e f technique i n making these points seems t o be
the same i n d i r e c t technique marshalled i n P t . 1 : reduction
to absurdity.
Again, there i s a symmetry between Hypotheses 7
and 8: both constitute a soluable antinomy, one i s "pure"
and the other " p l u r a l i s t i c " , and taken together they con-'
stitute a reductio on Parmenides' account of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .
They closely parallel the preceding pair of Hypotheses:
Hyp. 8, for instance, recapitulates 6 on the level of
" t h e o t h e r s " , h o l d i n g t h a t i f the One i s n o t , the others
are not as well. "Everything reduces to nothing", as
Findlay says (p.158). This highly anti-Parmenidean con
clusion --saying, in effect, that "nothing exists"-- is
contrasted with the more acceptable, yet just as un-Parmenidean conclusion of Hyp. 7. I f there i s no One, then the
others can only be "other" than themselves. This implies that
they are "different" from each other not as a unity to .
another u n i t y , o r a One t o a many, but as "multitudes from
multitudes". The others - - i n Platonic jargon a l l that i s not
Form-- would then be piithos apei ron, an i n d e f i n i t e or

294
u n l i m i t e d m u l t i t u d e , which appears o r seems t o be l i k e and
unlike, great and small, and so on. This anticipates the
Phi1ebus' refashioning of participation in terms of
l i m i t and unlimited continuum; i t alludes to Hyp. 3 i n i t s
contention that i f the others, as"parts of the whole",
were not themselves limited wholes, they would be"absolutely
one", i . e . , an undifferentiated continuum (157c). Like
Hyp. 3, Hyp. 7 i s workable, but not on Parmenidean terms.
The others are not i n t e l l i g i b l e as others except insofar as
they are unified through Unity (Hyp. 3); but the others
as ontologically p r i o r to t h i s u n i f i c a t i o n can be under
stood as an undifferentiated mass, as pllthos apeiron.
The ease with which t h i s can be integrated into Platonic
metaphysics i s as apparent as the d i f f i c u l t i e s with
squaring i t with Parmenides'. Like Hyp. 5 and Hyp. 6 ,
Hypotheses 7 and 8 constitute a reductio on Eleatic
"purism". 7 and 8 contradict each other: therefore one
of Parmenides1 guiding assumptions must be mistaken.
Hyp. 8 , which embodies the absurdity of proving that
"nothing i s " i f the One i s n o t , must be the locus o f
t h a t assumption. The assumption, as i t turns o u t , i s the
same as t h a t which informs a l l the other " p u r i s t " Hypotheses:
that the principle of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i s isolable and atomic,
a "perfect f i t " of Unity and nothing else.

I f I have been c o r r e c t i n my r e a d i n g , Parmenides


p t . 2 complements and completes p t . 1. I have t r i e d to show,

i n Chs. I l l - V I I , that an understanding of the h i s t o r i c a l


Parmenides and an assessment of the l i t e r a r y qualities of
p t . 1 shore up t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f t h e TMAs as r e d u c t i o
ad absurdum arguments against young Socrates' theory of
Forms. T h i s , i n t u r n , supports my contention t h a t the
C r i t i c a l reading of the dialogue, as epitomised by Vlastos,
i s seriously inadequate. In the preceding text, I have
endeavored t o show how the s t r u c t u r e o f p t . 2 r e c a p i t u l a t e s
that of p t . l , i . e . , as a series of reductio-arquments. and
extends i t s critique of what Crombie has called "perfect
f i t " t o Parmenides' own doctrines. I t also i n d i c a t e s , i n
a very i n d i r e c t way, how one might get around the tangle o f
a b s u r d i t i e s surrounding the issue o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , how
one might transcend the f u t i l e either/or of young Socrates
vs. Parmenides. I believe that many o f these i n d i r e c t
"hints" are given voice i n subsequent dialogues, specifically
Timaeus and Phi1ebus. and are also present i n dialogues
roughly contemporaneous with Parmeni des , e . g . , Crat.yl us,
Phaedrus, Sophist, and Theatetus.
E ) Sophi s t and Theatetus
There are three developments i n the Sophi s t which
are germane to the aforementioned "hints" i n Parmeni des
p t . 2: i ) the resolution of the problem of not-being, i i )
the f i v e megista gene and the problem of not-being, and
i i i ) the method of collection and division. Since i i i )
i s deeply connected to the concerns of Phaedrus, I shall

delay discussion of this until section E).


Regarding i ) : i t i s important to be clear on just
what the Sophist i s trying to "resolve". I t i s reasonably
clear that i t wishes to render non-being i n t e l l i g i b l e
without running afoul of the strictures of Parmenides
w h i c h a r e , i_n a r e s p e c t , q u i t e r i g h t . T h e T h e a t e t u s w a s
painfully aware of this i n i t s discussion of false opinion:
i f knowledge i s the mind's relation to something which i s ,
e r r o r or f a l s e b e l i e f would seem t o e n t a i l the mind's
relation to what i s not, but t h i s , i t seems, i s not a
relation at a l l (187d f f . ) . Theatetus i s content to drop

'

t h i s when a new d e f i n i t i o n o f knowledge i s o f f e r e d : more '


than true opinion, i t is true opinion with logos. But this,
as the aporia of Theatetus shows, i s no solution either.
Unless the problem of non-being i s solved, i . e . , unless
there i s a sense i n which i t i s i n t e l l i g i b l e

in the

context of knowledge, knowledge i t s e l f w i l l remain un


intelligible. I t i s Theatetus which is the proximate
cause of the dialectic of the Sophist, and i t s worries
about knowledge outline the immediate nature of the
"problem" with non-being. Of course, as mentioned i n Ch. VI
Parmenides the man i s omnipresent (Sophist 217c, Theatetus
180e) and thus, by extension, Plato's concerns i n
Parmeni des p t . 2 to emerge from under his threatening shadow
Many scholars ( T a y l o r , Cornford, Crombie, A c k r i l l ,
Moravscik) have maintained that Plato succeeds i n solving
the problem of non-being through the isolation of the

297
existential use of the verb"is" from the copulative or
"2-place" use.

18

This view has been forcefully challenged

by G.E.L. Owen i n h i s a r t i c l e " P l a t o on H o t - B e i n g " . The


gist of this massive a r t i c l e i s that Plato's analysis i n the
Sophist cannot handle the problems surrounding negative
existential statements, of how, i n modern parlance, one
can refer to unreal, or f i c t i o n a l entities.

19

Owen, i n

fact, asserts that the argument of Sophist i s , i n f a c t , not


designed to address these issues. The problem, opines Owen,
i s not one involved i n understanding "Being", but rather
in understanding "not".

20

The problem concerning Being i n

Sophist centers around a misconstrual of negation on the


p a r t o f Parmenides, f o r whom t o say " x i s n o t y " e n t a i l s
speaking of the negation of Being, of " i s " , rather than the
negation o f y . Hence the welter of Parmenidean confusion
concerning the likes of "Centaurs are not": Parmenides
takes t h i s to be an identit,y statement, a perverse and

18See G.E.L. Owen, "Plato on Not-Being", i n G. Vlastos,


ed., Plato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), p. 224n.

19

O w e n , o p . c i t . , p . 2 3 1 . F o r sorae r e p r e s e n t a t i v e
modern and contemporary treatments of the problem of
reference, see Bertrand Russell, "On Denoting", Hind N.S. 14
(1905); P.F. Strawson, "On Referring", Mind N.S. 59 (1950);
John R. Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge, England: Cambridge
Univ. Pr., 1969; Idem., "The Logical Status of Fictional
D i s c o u r s e " , N e w L i t e r a r . y H i s t o r y 5 ( 1 9 7 4 ) ; K ei t h D o n e l l a n ,
"Speaking of Nothing", Philosophical Review 83 (1974);
Richard Rorty, "Is There a Problem About Fictional Discourse?",
i n C o n s e q u e n c e s o f P r a g m a t i s m . ( K l i n n e a p o lis : U n i v . o f M i n n e s o t a
Pr."i 1982); Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge
Cambridge Univ., P r . , 1981).
20

Owen, op. c i t . , p . 231.

298
inadmissible negation o f , e.g., "Centaurs are ( i . e . , cen
t a u r s ) . One seems, i n c r e d i b l y , t o be t a l k i n g about non-being,
nothing. Given Parmenides' easy assimilation of negation

into a perverse sort of identity statement, i t i s easy to


f a l l i n t o a l l manner of traps: e . g . , i n saying that '
" T h e a t e t u s f l i e s " , I am t a l k i n g o f w h a t i s n o t , i . e . , o f
nothing, yet one can only speak of what i s . This i s ob
viously wrong, f o r reasons which the Sophist makes c l e a r :
the assertion "Theatetus f l i e s " i s talk about a non-existent
f l i g h t of Theatetus', of a f l i g h t which is not the case,
rather than about nothing at a l l . This i s the sense i n which
P a r m e n i d e s i_s_ r i g h t , a n d P l a t o a g r e e s : t a l k a b o u t n o n - b e i n g ,
about nothing, i s not talk. But Plato's departure from
Parmenides i s equally strong: when I assert "x i s not y "
o r e r r , a s i n " T h e a t e t u s f l i e s " , I am n o t i d e n t i f y i n g
t h a t o f w h i c h I s p e a k w i t h n o n - b e i n g . I am r a t h e r p r e d ieating a set of attributes conceived negatively ( i . e . ,
i n terms of difference) of something o r , i n the case of
e r r o r , I am a t t r i b u t i n g s o m e t h i n g t o s o m e t h i n g w h i c h
differs from what i s the case.
The problem o f non-being, f o r Owen, i s resolved
not by the isolation of the existential " i s " , but rather
b y m a k i n g a c l e a r d i s t i n c t i o n b e t w e e n id e n t i t y s t a t e m e n t s
and predi cati ve statements, and by showing that the
troublesome cases ( e . g . , the error "Theatetus f l i e s " or
the t r u t h "Theatetus i s not f l y i n g " ) are overcome by
emphasising the predi cati ve character of such assertions

299
and the proper conception of "not" that i s involved i n them
( e . g . , x i s not-y rather than x is-not y ) . Insofar as
Owen sees P l a t o ' s achievement as c e n t e r i n g on t h e d i s t i n c t i o n
between i d e n t i f i c a t i o n and predication, he i s i n accord with
many o f those he c r i t i c i s e s , e . g . A c k r i l l .

21

This touches upon Parmenides i n a number of ways.


F i r s t , i n Hyp. 2 , 141b f f . , Parmenides changes his tactics
w i t h what seems t o be a recognition o f the very i d e n t i f i
cation/ predication distinction drawn i n the Sophist. More
i s needed than just the positing of a One: Unity must also
be as

welly

i t must be "that which i s One". "Thus the short

statement ' a One i s ' simply means a One has b e i n g . " (142c)
Furthermore, Parmenides senses the s t e r i l i t y of relying on
a s t r i c t identity-interpretation of the Being of One:
a l l "Unity i s " would amount t o , then, would be "One ( i s )
one", hen hen. The emptiness of Hyp. 1 can be a l l e v i a t e d ,
therefore, only i f one goes beyond the " i s " of i d e n t i t y
(One i s one) i n t o the " i s " of predication (That i s one).
And as expected, the Unity of Hyp. 2 i s f a r from s t e r i l e .
But i t i s not Parnenidean.
I n the Sophist, Plato has effectively undermined
the cornerstone of Parmenidean monism: i . e . , "What i s not
i s n o t " . Were i d e n t i t y statements the only s o r t o f statements

21

Owen, op. c i t . , p. 251n47. The f a c t t h a t the


i d e n t i f i c a t i o n / p r e d i c a t i o n i s made i n Sophist does not
mean e i t h e r t h a t i ) P l a t o e x p l i c i t l y knew he was making i t
o r i i ) t h a t t h e Forms a r e , t h e n , p r e d i c a t e s . On t h i s l a t t e r
p o i n t , see note 32 , supra, p. 265.

possible, Parmenides would be correct: to say "x i s not y"


would be to say that x i s identical with non-being, which
i s absurd. The only admissible statement would then be
positive identifications: (following Furth) "Lizards are
( i . e . , lizards)", "Trees are ( i . e . , trees)". But of course
we a r e n o t l i m i t e d t o i d e n t i t y statements: we p r e d i c a t e
properties, relations, and the l i k e of things ("The apple
i s r e d " , "Steve i s a father") and these cannot be understood
to be identities (The apple i s not redness; Steve i s not
fatherhood). Thus negation need not pose a problem, i f
i t i s couched i n terms o f p r e d i c a t i n g o f some x t h a t which
i s not - - i s other than-- what i s the case,

f Plato has

accomplished this rehabilitation of negation then Parmenides


entire monistic ontology is l e f t without i t s firmest,
perhaps i t s only defense.
The Sophist accomplishes more s t i l l : the means
by which Plato overcomes Parmenides are couched i n the
idiom o f the theory of Forms. The Five Greatest Kinds
(megista gene; 254b f f . : Being, Sameness, Difference,
Motion, Rest) support the distinction between identification
and p r e d i c a t i o n . The i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f Sameness allows one
t o make meaningful i d e n t i f i c a t i o n s ( e . g . , Motion i s Motion,
i . e . , the same as i t s e l f ) , w h i l e the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o f
Difference allows one to make s i g n i f i c a n t negative pred
i c a t i o n s ( e . g . , Sameness i s d i f f e r e n t from Motion and Rest),
and thus f a c i l i t a t e s predication as such.
As soon as one introduces predication i n t o one's

301
metaphysics, as Plato does, and demarcates i t reasonably
clearly from i d e n t i f i c a t i o n (as Parmenides does n o t ) , one
almost imvariably injects a type-difference into one's
ontology, paralleling the logical distinction between
predicans and predicandum.

22

In the Sophist, Plato master

f u l l y shows how the Forms are handily s u i t e d t o the task o f


emabling us to make predications. Since Forms are o f a
different order from particulars, they can constitute
particulars as determinate sorts of particulars, and thus
provide they key for understanding them and articulating
that understanding in discourse. In saying "the apple is
r e d " I am n o t s i m p l y i d e n t i f y i n g o n e p a r t i c u l a r a p p l e . I
am r e l a t i n g t h a t p a r t i c u l a r a p p l e t o a n e i d o s , o r a c o m
plex of e i de, which make i t i n t e l l i g i b l e as "red" - - n o t
t o mention a red a p p l e , the same red a p p l e , something
d i f f e r e n t from the desk upon which i t r e s t s , and so on.
In order to be able to predicate, particulars must be de
terminate, intelligible. Conversely, i f particulars are
to be genuinely i n t e l l i g i b l e , predication must supplement
identification. Parmenides' ontology cannot achieve the
latter goal: Plato's Sophist f i l l s i n this gap. In f i l l i n g
that gap, Plato underscores a t r u t h about the Forms t h a t ,
i n my r e a d i n g , was emphasised i n the Parmenides: Forms are
of a different ontological type from particulars.
The novelties of the Sophist a l l flow from the
plugging of t h i s l o g i c a l gap. By distinguishing between
identity-statements and predications, Plato i s driven to

22

See Stanley Rosen, P l a t o ' s Sophist (New Haven:


Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 29-48; 229-44.

s p e l l out the ontological conditions which make such a


d i s t i n c t i o n possible. The f i r s t thing that must be ac
complished is the dissociation of the intelligible/sensible
and Being/Becoming dichotomies from their Eleatic ancestry.
The most forceful attempt a t t h i s dissociation comes a t '
247d, where ousia i s defined i n terms of power:
I suggest that anything has real being
that i s so constituted as to posess any sort of power,
either to a f f e c t anything else or to be affected, i n
however small a degree, by the most insignificant
a g e n t , t h o u g h i t b e o n l y o n c e . I am p r o p o s i n g a s
a mark of distinguishing real things that they are
nothing but power.
"Being as power" does not demolish the Being/
Becoming dichotomy: i t only reemphasises the t r u t h that
things which Become are ( a s , e . g . , i n Republic 477a: they
"are and are not"). The dichotomy i s rescued from those,
l i k e both the "Gods" and the "Giants" (246b f f . ) , who
wish t o make one side o f the dichotomy r e a l a t the expense
o f the other. The c r i t i q u e o f the "Gods" extends t o those
" f r i e n d s o f the Forms" who misread Being/Becoming, and
the correlative notion of degrees-of-reality, i n such a
way as t o impugn the r e a l i t y o f p a r t i c u l a r s and, more im
portantly, of souls that are changed i n the dynamics of
knowing (248e f f . ) . Being i s "power", not merely i n the
Aristotelian sense of dunamis ( p o t e n t i a l i t y , potency), but
i n the sense of a power to bring about change, to actualize
potencies as well. This harks back to the Phaedo, where
the e i d l are understood to be a i t i a i (95e-105c). Thus the
heirarchy of Forms-over-particulars can be maintained

303
(they constitute or actualize the kosmos aisthetos) without
rendering the Form-particular interrelationship suspect
( e . g . , as i n Parmenides) because two d i f f e r e n t ways i n which
Being i s power are distinguished. I n the Sophist, as i n
Parmeni des, PI ato campai gns f o r the recognition of
o n t o l o g i c a l t y p e s . T h e i n t e r w e a v i n g o f F o r m s , t h e Summa
Genera, "Being as power" - - a l l these spring from Plato's
concern to make the ontological type-difference e x p l i c i t .
F) Phaedrus and Cratylus.
I n Phaedrus 265d f f . , Plato's Socrates i n t r o
duces what has come t o be known as " t h e l a t e r d i a l e c t i c " ,
the procedure of collection and division (sunagoge,
diairesis):
The f i r s t i s t h a t we b r i n g a dispersed
plurality under a single form, seeing i t a l l together
--the purpose being to define so-and-so, and thus to
make p l a i n whatever may be chosen as the t o p i c f o r
exposition. . .The second procedure i s the reverse of
the o t h e r , whereby we are enabled t o d i v i d e i n t o
forms, following their articulation. . .
This method, applied i n Sophist and Statesman,
assumes t h a t i)Forms themselves comprise a " v e r t i c a l "
hierarchy, with more specific Forms participating i n the
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of more general Forms, and i i ) a "parallel"
koinonia e x i s t s between Forms o f the same degree o f
s p e c i f i c i t y . Both i ) and i i ) are at odds with the youthful
Socrates' understanding of Forms i n Parmenides P t . l : i n
Phaedrus, no Form can be grasped by nous, i n an articulate
understanding, a l l by i t s e l f , since the Forms themselves are,

304
i n p a r t , i n t e l 1 i g i b l e s by v i r t u e o f the way i n which they
participate " v e r t i c a l l y " with higher genera and lower
species, and "horizontally" with different species.
Collection and division reinforce one of the
aims of Parmenides: to combat the idea of Forms as "atomic
i n t e l 1 i g i b l e s " . Although one can legitimately speak of a
Platonic Form "by i t s e l f " ( i . e . , as a specific sort of
i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y ) , one cannot understand any one eidos
without understanding a complex o f o t h e r s . This was maintained
by Plato as f a r back as the "safe vs. ignorant" a i t i a i
episode

i n Phaedo (95e-105c).

23

Since that strand of

Plato's eidetic doctrine remained relatively undeveloped


i n Phaedo, imaginary Platonists such as Parmenides'
Socrates could easily take another idea from Phaedo
- - t h a t of a Form ( e . g . , Equality) " a l l by i t s e l f " - - and
run i t to ridiculous extremes. Although single Forms are
single, determinate intelligibilities, their intelligibility
is a product of their participatory position within the
e n t i r e kosmos noetos. A Form i s the Form that i t i s due to
i t s "place" on the "grid" of a l l Forms. In Phaedrus, and
l a t e r i n Sophist and Statesman, Plato i s challenging the
idea that, for any given quality a particular exhibits,
o n l y o n e F o r m s t a n d s " o v e r " i t . Han.y F o r m s d o ; o n e c a n o n l y
single out x as an instance o f , say, Courage, i f one can
23

Gregory Vlastos, "Reasons and Causes i n the Phaedo",


i n G. Vlastos, e d . , Plato I , pp. 132-66.'

305
.situate Courage i n the context of Virtue and Goodness, not
to mention Prudence and Temperance, Cowardice and Foolishness,
and so on.

24

In effect, Plato is distancing himself from the

idea that individual Forms generate individual p a r t i c u l a r s ,


or at least from the false, atomistic version of that idea.
R a t h e r , t h e i n t e l l i g i b l e o r d e r as_ a_ w h o ! e g e n e r a t e s o r
structures the sensible order as a whole. Hence the d i a
l e c t i c a l exercises o f , say, Sophist, although f a n c i f u l , do
make a serious p o i n t : i f a l l Forms are i n community w i t h
each other, then i f one i s careful,di1igent, and rigorous,
one can make sense i n c o r r e l a t i n g Sophists w i t h hunters
and f l a t t e r e r s . Though f a n c i f u l , the i n t e l l i g i b l e con
nections between them are there.
I n C r a t y l u s , a s i m i l a r p o i n t i s made by Socrates'
c o n f l i c t with both Hermogenes and Cratylus. Hermogenes
f l i r t s w i t h Protagorean r e l a t i v i s m : names are e n t i r e l y
arbitrary, sheer convention, a product of man-as-measure-ofal1-things.By contrast, Cratylus espouses an extreme
"naturalism": i n names the natures"

of things are

con-"

t a i n e d , so t h a t knowledge o f names secures knowledge o f


what i s named. Against both Hermogenes' relativism and
Cratylus' almost mystical veneration of names, Socrates
responds by subtly s h i f t i n g the axis o f discussion away
from names, and towards the a c t i v i t y of naming.
24

25

In the

See Protagoras on the " u n i t y o f the v i r t u e s " ,

328d-344a.
25

Rudolph H. Weingartner, The Unity of the PIatonic


D i a l o g u e ( I n d i a n a p o l i s : B o b b s - M e r r i 11, 1 9 7 3 ) , p . 2 9 . '

f o l l o w i n g passage, Socrates l i k e n s names t o instruments,


aids in service of action:
SOCRATES: Regarding the name as an i n s t r u m e n t ,
what do we do when we name?
HERMOGENES: I c a n n o t s a y .
S: Do we n o t g i v e i n f o r m a t i o n t o one a n o t h e r ,
and distinguish things according to t h e i r natures?
H: C e r t a i n l y we do.
S: Then the name i s an instrument o f teaching
and of distinguishing natures, as the shuttle i s of
distinguishing the threads of the web. (388 b-c)
I f names are instruments which, l i k e s h u t t l e s ,
are fashioned according to natures they are designed to
deal with, then Hermogenes1 conventionalism i s refuted. I f
language distinguishes things according to their natures,
then we c a n ' t view language as something u t t e r l y a r b i t r a r y .
Words are not what Humpty Dumpty takes them t o be, meaning
whatever we wish. But Socrates' r e p l y t o Hermogenes i s a
subtle a n t i c i p a t i o n o f h i s attack on Cratylus: names
themselves do not r e f l e c t the nature of the named, only
names as used. I t i s the a c t o f naming which discerns and
articulates natures, and this act requires s k i l l (388c),
the s k i l l of the dialectician(390e).^6
I n Crat.yl us, there are a number of s i g n i f i c a n t
parallels to the general d r i f t of Plato's interests
i n Parmenides, Sophist, and Phaedrus. The most important
i s his disparagement of Cratylus' name-mysticism. Knowing
a word does not entail knowing a nature. Knowing the

^Weingartner, op. c i t . , 31-32; J.H. Randall, PIato


Dramatist o f the L i f e o f Reason (New York: Columbia Univ.
Pr., 1971), pp. 223-25.

word's meaning, however, does. Meaning, therefore, does


not descend upon the knower of words i n a flash: i t re
quires patience, s k i l l , and e f f o r t to unpack the poten
t i a l l y limitless shades of meaning i n a given word or
expression. Given that, for Plato, knowing natures i s
made possible through the e i de, the eide a r e , presumably,
not "hooked up" one-to-one with words. I f they were,
Cratylus would be r i g h t . Since Cratylus i s so blatantly
wrong about names, Forms do not stand i n neat, one-toone correspondances with nameable particulars, and the
understanding of natures through the e i de involves con
siderably more than simply "seeing" what Form i s
exemplified here, and what Form i s instanced there. Under
standing natures --grasping Forms-- is not instantaneous,
but d i a l e c t i c a l . The d i a l e c t i c best suited to the task
outlined i n Cratylus would be the sunagoge and diairesis
of Phaedrus, Sophist, and Statesman. I t i s the dialectical
procedure i n Plato least amenable to an "atomic" theory of
Forms and a "one-to-one" account o f p a r t i c i p a t i o n .
Because Cratylus r e i n f o r c e s some o f the aims o f the
later dialogues ( i . e . , the critique of "atomistic" Forms,
the richer community of participation between Forms, and
the type-distinction between Forms and particulars which
t h i s e n t a i l s ) , I am i n c l i n e d t o d a t e i t l a t e r t h a n d o m o s t
commentators: after the Republic but a l i t t l e before the
Sophist and Theatetus, probably around the date of the
Phaedrus. Phaedrus and Cratylus give a very subdued i n d i

308
cation of Plato's changing interests, and of the future
development of his thought. They signify the growing con
cern on his part to safeguard the Forms from misapropriation
by misguided "friends of the Forms", zealous anti-conven
tionalists like Cratylus, or those unwilling to approach
them with the patience of dialectical and analytic i n tel1igence.
G ) Timaeus and Philebus.
Parmenides showed that the p i t f a l l s of viewing
Forms as self-predicative, atomic intel1igibles are
directly related to a misconception of the nature of par
t i c i p a t i o n . The dialogue's Parmenides crassly misconstrues
participation as physical sharing, but i s helped along i n
his misconstrual by Socrates' f a i l u r e to establish a
type-difference between Forms and particulars. Both
Socrates and Parmenides are misled by the metaphor of
p a r t i c i p a t i o n . They see i t as a relationship between two
r e a l i t i e s , Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s , which i n some sense are
i n t h e i r own r i g h t , independent o f the p a r t i c i p a t o r y
relationship. But this undermines that which methexis
was designed to i l l u m i n a t e , i . e . , t h a t particulars
are instances o f i n t e l l i g i b l e Forms because they derive
their Being from

the.eide. Forms, as Charles Bigger puts

i t , c o n s t i t u t e p a r t i c u l a r s aj_ d e t e r m i n a t e p a r t i c u l a r s .

27

Thus the methexis metaphor i s not an unmixed


27

Charles P. Bigger, Participation (Baton Rouge:


Univ. of Louisiana Pr., 1968) p. 73.

309
blassing. I t i s a metaphor because Plato certainly i s n ' t
using i t in i t s usual, "literal" connotation: physical
sharing, involvement i n a community, etc. I t i s a good
metaphor i n that i t illuminates the koinonia of the in
t e l l i g i b l e and sensible orders while securing their
separateness as w e l l . But methexis, as Parmenides i l l u s
t r a t e s , can be easily distorted: one can obscure the
dynamic, constitutive aspect of methexis ( c f . Sophist 247d)
and view i t as a s t a t i c relationship between two s e l f s u f f i c i e n t terms. The result of t h i s i s the argument
of Parmeni des 133a-134e: u t t e r l y unknowable eide.
Timaeus, I believe, constitutes Plato's halfsuccessful attempt to "cash in" the metaphor of participation
- - t o make the dynamic nature of methexis e x p l i c i t . Par
t i c i p a t i o n i s reformulated as the imposition of order upon
the chaos by the demiourgos, who uses the eide as models
(paradeigmata) in the construction of the sensible, physical
world. Thus the dynamics of participation are emphasised
i n the Timaeus, rather than that which results from that
dynamism having taken place ( i . e . , two kosmoi, sensible
and i n t e l l i g i b l e ) .
But Timaeus i s characterised by hesitancy. Early
on i n Timaeus' account, the recounting of the origins of
the material kosmos i s characterised as an eikotos muthos,
a "likely story"(e.g., 59c). This i s defended in the rather
Phaedo-esque manner of constrasting discourse about the
eternal and changeless, which can be assessed as episteme,
with discourse about the transient, that which becomes, which

310
never gets beyond doxa. A l l talk about the changing, sen
sible order i s necessarily a"story" rather than an account,
a 1ogos. But Plato's hesitancy, expressed by Timaeus, i s
not merely a result of his prior convictions about the
r e l a t i v e adequacy of Being and Becoming. The r e s u l t s of
Timaeus are also sketchy and incomplete, largely because
the attempt t o explain how the u n i n t e l l i g i b l e (chaos)
passes into the i n t e l l i g i b l e (kosmos)
of the demiourgos

through the agency

requires speakinq about chaos, thus

granting i t a modicum of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . Thus the


question i s begged, and the status of any enterprise such
as Timaeus' i s revealed as l i t t l e more than a "reasonable
b e t " . On t h e l e v e l o f a "reasonable b e t " , an e i k o t o s
muthos, the Timaeus succeeds, but as an attempt to
" l i t e r a l i z e " methexis, i t does not quite work.
An example o f the " s e l f - d e s t r u c t i v e " elements i n
Timaeus i s the role of the Receptacle (he h.ypodoche), as
the "nurse" of Becoming. The ultimate units of physical
reality, for Plato, are the regular solids, atomic par
ticles out of which the elements are formed and which
account for elementary transformations. Yet to speak of
these solids, as Plato does, as configurations of triangular
plane figures, i s to grant them a measure of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y .
Even the atomic solids had to have been formed vis-a-vis
some p r i n c i p l e o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y . They must be viewed
as transient elements i n the "arena" of Becoming, the
Receptacle, which i n one sense serves the purpose of an

311

"absolute space",and i n another, vaguely resembles


Aristotelian prime matter in i t s utter indeterminacy:

28

. . .Now the argument seems t o compel us


to t r y to bring to l i g h t and state i n words a Form
d i f f i c u l t and obscure.
(.The Receptacle} must always be c a l l e d the
same, f o r i t never departs a t a l l from i t s own
character; i t i s always receiving a l l things and
nowhere and i n nowise does i t assume any shape t h a t
i s l i k e any of the things which enter i t . I t s
nature i s to be there as a moulding-stuff f o r
everything, being changed and diversified by the things
that enter i t ; through their presence i t appears d i f
ferent a t d i f f e r e n t times. The things that enter and
depart are copies of the eternal things, being
stamped from them i n a fashion marvelous and hard
to describe. . . (49 a-b)
(jhe Receptacle])
i s Space (Chora), which i s
everlasting and admits not of destruction; providing
a s i t u a t i o n f o r a l l t h i n g s t h a t come i n t o b e i n g . . .
(52b) 29
But even this Receptacle, l i k e Aristotle's pr5te
h u l l , i s not u t t e r l y u n i n t e l l i g i b l e (or pre-Intel 1i g i b l e ) .
I t s descri p t i o n seems t o i n d i c a t e a t l e a s t a minimum
.determinateness, as that which i s i n f i n i t e l y "pliable" and
i s t h i s u l t i m a t e , ever-present " t h e r e " . One senses what
Plato is driving at i n Timaeus: there i s a distinction
between Forms and t h a t , to use Whitehead's term, i n t o which
they "ingress". Forms are dynamic structural p r i n c i p l e s ,
b r i n g i n g about s t r u c t u r e d p a r t i c u l a r s by a l t e r i n g some
ultimate ground of Becoming, i . e . , the Receptacle. But
OQ

_ _
See Robert Turnbull , "Episteme and Doxa" , i n
J . Anton and P. Preus, eds., Essays i n Ancient Greek Philosophy
(Albany: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1983), p. 283, and Paul Friedlander,
PIato, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 1964), "Plato
as Physicist", Ch. XIV, pp. 246-60.
29
I have used J.H. Randall's translation, op. c i t .

t h i s ground o f Becoming cannot i t s e l f be particular or


determinate. I t i s d i f f i c u l t t o see how i t can even b e ,
given that particulars "are and are not". I n talking about
the Receptacle, Timaeus seems t o put the l i e t o h i s
e n t i r e e n t e r p r i s e . I t cannot 1i t e r a l l.y be the bedrock
o f participation and Becoming since i t i s i n t e l l i g i b l e
enough to be talked about. Furthermore, unlike the par
t i c u l a r beings which dance through i t , the Receptacle
i s not i t s e l f transitory and impermanent but permanent and
changeless. I n t h i s respect i t i s more akin to the Forms,
and perhaps even ijs a sort of eidos ( c f . 48e: the Receptacl
as a genos).

30

The Timaeus, then, would amount to an

attempt to explain the processes of Becoming through


Beings which are themselves immutable and eternal, the
Receptacle and the Forms. Such an attempt must be, a t best,
only a qua!ified success.

31

The Timaeus i s not a s t r i c t f a i l u r e , since i t


c e r t a i n l y r e i n f o r c e s P l a t o ' s new concern t o emphasise the
d.ynamics of p a r t i c i p a t i o n . But i t " f a i l s " insofar as i t
remains a muthos; the metaphor of participation has yet
to be "cashed i n " .
I n P h i 1e b u s P l a t o t r i e s a g a i n : h e a t t e m p t s t o
rework methexis i n such a way t h a t he avoids the l i m
itations of Timaeus, of speculative cosmology. Here, Form

**n
31

Randall, op. c i t . , p. 254.


Sayre, op. c i t . , p. 14.

i s understood i n terms of the interplay between l i m i t


and the unlimited.
The "unlimited" (apeiron)bears more than a family
resemblance to the apei ron pi ethos of Parmenides Pt. 2:
both connote indeterminacy, continuity, boundlessness.
Socrates, i n 24b, using "hot" and "cold" as examples,
i d e n t i f i e s the unlimited as "more" and "less". "Limit"
(peras) imposes "definite quantity" (poson, 24c) on the
unlimited and gives i t i t s proper "measure", constituting
the third of Plato's four metaphysical kinds in Phi1ebus,
the "mixture" (mikton).
Plato never e x p l i c i t l y mentions the Forms i n the
course o f Philebus, b u t i t i s n o t hard t o see, i n some way
Form lurking i n the guise of peras. Limit provides
determinacy f o r the more-or-1ess; likewise, Forms account
f o r the determinate i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of particulars. The
benefits of Phi1ebus' superimposition of limit/unlimited
onto Form/particular i s that Form i s not capable of being
considered "radically separate" from particulars in the
manner of Parmenides 133a-134e. I t i s real it,y which i s
both limited and unlimited, and the mixture of the two
constitutes the visible world. Form, i n the sense of l i m i t
i s a structural or measuring principle; particulars are
structured or measured things. The chorismos between
Form and particular i s , thus, clearly not one of atomic,
intelligible entities over equally individualized, sensory

314
particulars. Rather, i t i s a difference between aspects
or types of Being, between structured and structure,
between limited and l i m i t .

32

There are problems with this identification of


Form with peras, however. I n 24a Socrates i d e n t i f i e s "hot
ter" and "colder" with the unlimited: these terms admit of
"more" and " l e s s " . They a r e , however continuous they may
be, members o f a determinate s o r t o f continuum - - t h a t o f
temperature. To speak of "hot" and "cold" as part o f
the unlimited (and, I assume, a specific degree of hotness
or coldness as a sign of l i m i t ) misses the important point
t h a t i n speaking o f degrees o f temperature we are speaking
of something determinate enough --temperature. That would
imply that "hotter" and "colder" are not part of the
unlimited, pure and simple, but are already limited by
a generic Form (or a "Constitutive" Form), Temperature.

32

At t h i s point I wish t o make a short digression


and e x p l a i n my r a t h e r unorthodox p l a c i n g o f Philebus a f t e r
Timaeus and what might seem an unduly harsh assessment o f
the Timaeus. As I see i t , a f t e r Parmenides P l a t o was p r i
marily interested i n c l a r i f y i n g the Forms and p a r t i c i p a t i o n ;
Parmenides showed how methexis i s n o t t o be understood; thus
Timaeus represents Plato's f i r s t f u l l - s c a l e e f f o r t to
present a positive account of methexis which takes into
account the emphasis on "Being as power" and the dynamism
pf participation begun i n Sophist. But i n Timaeus, as before,
Participation remains vague and metaphorical - - a l b e i t a good
metaphor. Because Philebus, l i k e Timaeus, t r i e s to unpack
methexi s , but unlike Timaeus does not content i t s e l f with
being an e i kotos muthos, I think there i s good reason to
think that Philebus i s somewhat l a t e r than Timaeus. I n t h i s
I agree with Sayre, op. c i t . I must emphasize, however, that
this thesis i s rather speculative, and i s the,most tentative
conclusion of the present work.

315
And t h a t would seem t o undercut Plato's attempt t o r e
consider Form i n terms of l i m i t and measure alone.
Kenneth Sayre has t r i e d to extricate Plato from
t h i s d i f f i c u l t y by insisting that Form i s not to be under
stood as identical with the l i m i t of Phi 1ebus. Drawing
upon the symmetries between Philebus and A r i s t o t l e ' s
account of P l a t o ' s Unity and I n d e f i n i t e Dyad i n Metaphysics A,
Sayre maintains that Aristotle's account of Plato's socalled "unwritten doctrine" can unscramble the often
opaque language o f Phi1ebus 23c-30c.
Behind the constitution of both Forms and
sensible t h i n g s , as we have seen, are the basic
ontological principles Limit and Unlimited - - o r as
Aristotle put i t , Unity and the Great-and-(the)Small.
Existing apart from the"family of Limit" 25d , the
various ranges of continuous qualitative differences
that comprist the Unlimited contain neither Forms nor
particular sensible objects. Imposing Unity or Limit
upon these continua results i n fixed and unique r e f
erence points which admit qualtitative comparison.
These unique reference points are the equivalent
i n the Phi 1ebus to what i n earlier dialogues were
called Ideas or Forms, and, l i k e the l a t t e r , can be
precisely characterized and known independently o f
particular instances. Given the presence of
an appropriate set of fixed Forms along a given
continuum, in turn, other states along the con
tinuum can be referred t o the Forms they most
nearly approximate. The other states have no
determinate characteristics i n and by themselces, and
hence no independent i d e n t i t y . With reference to
appropriate Forms as norms, however, these states
become i d e n t i f i a b l e and numerable, and take on the
names o f the Forms themselves. Thus i n d i v i d u a l
sensible t h i n g s come i n t o being as determinate
objects by participation i n the Forms; as Aristotle
puts i t , they are constituted by the Forms and the
Great-and-(the)Smal1. . . individual sensible
things are both indeterminate i n themselves and i n
d e f i n i t e l y numerous i n t h e i r instantiations of a
given Form. 33
33

Sayre, op. c i t . , pp. 175-76.

Sayre's reading of Philebus and i t s kinship with Plato's


"Lecture on the Good" i s by no means "the l a s t word".
One can question, as a number o f cpmmentators have,
whether Aristotle i s a reliable source on Plato's
"unwritten work". Nevertheless, Sayre's reliance on
A r i s t o t l e helps order and organize the ontology of the
Philebus to such an extent t h a t i t might be cited i n
defense of Aristotle's understanding of Plato's lecture.
Whether Sayre i s r i g h t or wrong, however, i s not the
crucial point: even i f Philebus presents a less than
coherent doctrine of Limit and the Unlimited, i t s reliance
on these terms helps deliver an important message. The
message i s , essentially, the one conveyed i n the muthos
o f Timaeus: that Forms are not to be understood as a
"second world" over and above the sensible world. They are
a dynamic element i n r e a l i t y which constitutes or generates
that world. ^ This message reinforces that of Parmenides:
Forms are d i f f e r e n t types of r e a l i t y from particulars.
I f Phi1ebus i s viewed as P l a t o ' s second attempt
to escape the figurative dimensions of participation, i t
too, l i k e T imaeus, must be viewed as a t least a p a r t i a l
f a i l u r e . The metaphor of participation i s never "cashed i n "
But, as i n Timaeus, where Plato admits his attempts only
amount to a " l i k e l y story", Plato realizes that he
necessarily falls short of his intended goal. Socrates i s
characteristically self-demeaning: witness, for example,
23d, where he remarks " I fear I'm a ridiculous sort of
34Sayre,

op. c i t . , p. 14.

person w i t h my s o r t i n g o f t h i n g s i n t o classes and my


enumerations." This l i t e r a r y f l o u r i s h seems t o convey P l a t o ' s
wishes t h a t we d o n ' t take h i s musings too s e r i o u s l y . His
aims are, however, serious enough, and one of those aims
i s , I think, to clarify the nature of participation.
r

A final note on the Timaeus: most recent analytic


commentary thereon has centered on the issue of the date
o f the d i a l o g u e . G.E.L. Owen has argued, from the R e v i s i o n i s t
standpoint, that since the dialogue relies upon para
digmatic and hence s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e F o r , s , i t was w r i t t e n
earlier than the Parmenides through Sophist sequence.
Harold Cherniss, in reply, counters with a barrage of
stylometric evidence to the contrary, and seeks to

show

why P l a t o , despite Parmenides, needs t o c i n t i n u e t o


maintain the existence of paradigmatic, Republic-style
e i d i . As i s evident from the above, I side w i t h Cherniss
on the issue of Timaeus' date, but f o r very different
reasons. Against Cherniss, I do not believe that Timaeus
needs to be j u s t i f i e d i n l i g h t of Parmeni des. I f one under
stands the issues raised by Parmeni des ( e . g . , the d i f
f i c u l t i e s with participation, the need f o r a more intimate,
dynamic r e l a t i o n s h i p between the kosmos noetos and the
kosinos a i s t h e t o s . e t c . ) , then Timaeus i s q u i t e obviously
a development of these issues. There i s no substantive
c o n f l i c t between Timaeus and Parmeni des t o explain away

unless one holds that the "paradigmatic" Forms o f Timaeus


are necessarily self-predicative. I t is to that question
t h a t I now t u r n , w i t h an eye toward underscoring the nub
of contention between the Apologists and the Revisionists
( i . e . , whether Forms-as-models entai1s self-predication),
and showing i t s superficiality.

35

G.E.L. Owen, "The Place of the Timaeus i n Plato'


Dialogues", Classical Quarterly 2, 1953; Harold Cherniss,
"The Relation of the Timaeus to Plato's Earlier Dialogues"
American Journal of Phi 1ology 78, 1957. Both articles
reprinted in Allen, ed., op. c i t .

X)

ON S E L F - P R E D I C A T I O N A N D P A R A D I G M A T I S M

T h e f o c i o f a l l l o g i c a l a n a l y s e s o f t h e TMA
are i )
and i i )

the status o f self-predication i n Plato's Forms


how, i f Forms are not s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e , they can

remain paradigms.

There are three ways i n which s e l f -

predication and i t s relevance to paradigmatism can be


interpreted, which generally coincide with the three
"camps" of platonic interpretation previously outlined:
1)

Forms are paradigms or standards i n P l a t o ' s

philosophy, and since a l l standards are self-predicative


i f they are to b standards, the Forms themselves are
self-predicative.

The TMA, whether o r not Plato saw t h i s ,

yields true conclusions about the incoherence of selfpredicative Forms; therefore paradigmatism indicates a
major logical flaw i n Plato's theory of Forms.

This is

the c r i t i cal position held by Vlastos and Geach.


2)

A l l standards are self-predicative; and since

t h e TMA a r g u m e n t s r e f u t e t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f c o n s i s t e n t ,
self-predicative Forms, the Forms are not paradigms or
standards, at least in Plato's later dialogues.

This position

has been advocated, with significant variations, by Revisionists such

320
As Ryle, Owen, Strang, Weingartner and A c k r i l l J
3)

Forms are paradigms or standards, but we need

not be worried by the possibility of inconsistency to


s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n , because there i s a sense i n which some
beings can be paradigms without being self-predicative,
owing to the systematic ambiguity between Forms and
particulars of "analogicity" on predication between
Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s .

This flpoloqetic

position is

advanced i n d i f f e r e n t ways by R.E. A l l e n , J.N. Findlay,


F.M. Cornford, and A.E. Taylor.^
P o s i t i o n 1 ) f a i l s i f t h e TMA c a n b e s h o w n t o b e
either a form of reductio

argument on S-P Forms

(Weingartner), or to be arguing toward a theory of


Forms which Plato could not admit (Strang, Sellars) or

See G i l b e r t Ryle, PIato's Progress (Cambridge,


England, Cambridge Univ. P r . , 1966) and "Plato's Parmenides"
Mind N.S. 48 (1949); G.E.L. Owen, "The Place o f the Timaeus
i n Plato's Dialogues", Classical Quarterly M.S. 3 (1953);
Colin Strang, "Plato and the Third Man", Proceedings o f
the Aristotelian Society, supp. vol. 37 (1963); Rudolph
Weingartner, The Unity o f the Platonic Dialogue (Indianapolis:
B o b b s - . M e r r i 1 1, 1 9 7 3 ; J . L . A c k r i l l , " S u m p l o k e E i d o n " ,
Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, No. 2 (1955).
p

See R.E. Allen, "Participation and Predication


i n Plato's Middle Dialogues", Philosophical Review 69
(1960); J.N. Findlay, Plato and Platonism (New York:
New York Times P r e s s , 1978); I . M . Crombie, An Examination
o f P l a t o ' s D o c t r i n e s , v o l . 2 , Know!edge and Reali t.y
TTondon: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962); A.E. Taylor,
P I a t o : The Man and His Work (London: Metheun, 1929).

321
does not recognize as h i s own (Allen).

Position 1) insists

t h a t t h e TMA d o e s f l o w f r o m c o n t r a d i c t o r y p r e m i s s e s ,
but that Plato, becasue of his ignorance of the "hidden
premisses", never recognized this.

But i f the argument i s

a g e n u i n e r e d u c t i o , t h e n k n o w l e d g e o f SP w o u l d h a v e
to be assumed, i n order that the contradictory conclusion
follow.

I b e l i e v e we have ample grounds f o r t h i s

interpretation, given the dramatic context of the dialogue,


the reductio structure of part two, and the reference to
Zeno's method of reduction to absurdity i n 128 a-b, a l l
presented i n detail above.

Even assuming Plato's advocacy

o f t h e " w e a k " o n e - o v e r - m a n y t h e s i s i n t h e TMA ( S t r a n g a n d


O
S e l l a r s ) , knowledge o f SP must be granted i f the u n p a l a t a b l e ,
i f not contradictory, consequence of an i n f i n i t e p l u r a l i t y
o f Forms i s to be generated.

Whether or not Plato "knew"

- - i e . , intended, to his audience that self-predication


was causing a l l the d i f f i c u l t i e s , the dialogue i t s e l f c e r t a i n l y
speaks to us i n this way.

And i f the weight o f the dialogue

seems t o be leaning against s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n , the only


phi 1osophi c a l l y relevant conclusion to draw i s that the
u n t e n a b i l i t y o f SP i s p a r t o f t h e d i a l o g u e ' s meani n g ; hence
the Critical interpretation is illegitimate.

Strang, op. c i t . , reprinted i n G. Vlastos, e d . ,


Plato I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970). All further references
w i l l be to t h i s volume. See also Wilfred Sellars, "Vlastos
and the Third Man", Philosophical Review 64 (1955), p. 419.

322
However, the d i f f i c u l t i e s and ambiguities i n the
Revisionist and Apologetic alternatives to the C r i t i c a l
reading of self-predication remain.

I f interpretation 2)

above i s c o r r e c t , then exegesis would have to show e i t h e r


that a) Plato's Forms never were paradigms or standards,or
b)

that after the Parmenides, a radical reappraisal of the

nature o f the Forms occurred, whereby they l o s t t h e i r


paradigmatic s t a t u s , and, to paraphrase A c k r i l l , became
entities designed for the sole logical task of fixing the
meanings o f general terms.^
Alternative a)

is difficult, i f not impossible to

support, given the textual support for paradigmatism i n the


early and middle dialogues.

There i s an added d i f f i c u l t y with

the Timaeus, generally considered to be a late dialogue,


since i t seeks t o explain the r i s e o f kosmos out o f chaos
by speaking o f the Forms as the models f o r the kosmos
aisthetos.

This can be circumvented i f enough evidence can

be adduced to indicate that Timaeus i s an e a r l i e r dialogue


than i s generally supposed to be; t h i s task, however, has
wound up i n the stalemate o f the Owen-Chermiss-Ryle debate,
about which more shall be said i n Appendix I .
The Apologetic interpretation 3) has i t s share of
difficulties.

Chief among these i s determining how something

can be a standard o r a paradigm without r e s o r t i n g , i n some


way, to the metaphors of resemblance and participation which
4
P I a t o I_

A c k r i l l , op. c i t . , as reprinted i n Vlastos, ed.,


PP* 208-9.

323
p r e c i p i t a t e d the c r i s i s o f the TMA.

Such an argument would

have t o show, i n some way, t h a t P l a t o ' s e a r l i e r teaching


on the Forms i s retained, i n essentials, i n the l a t e r dialogues,
or that his later theory i s there, i n germ, from the s t a r t .
But t h i s i s a d i f f i c u l t i f not impossible task when one
considers the vast disparity i n concerns embodied i n Plato's
early, middle and l a t e r periods.

And, the Apologetic,

l i k e the R e v i s i o n i s t and C r i t i c a l p o s i t i o n s , seems t o adhere


to, i f not explicitly advocate, the idea that Plato's prime
concern, as a philosopher, was the formation o f a consistent
doctrine, a position sharply challenged by the argument of
Chapter I .

This Revisionistic/Apologetic dispute on "paradigiatism"


i s misleading because i t supposes the task of interpretation
to be one of determining, through the texts, "what Plato
r e a l l y meant" --the pages are searched for propositions which
support one interpretation against the other, and ambiguous
c i t a t i o n s a r e g l o s s e d i n s u c h a w a y t h a t P l a t 6 ' s in t e n t i o n s
become c l e a r ; e.g., passage such-and-so shows P l a t o ' s
unwavering commitment to Paradigmatism,

or "In light of the

TMA we must assume t h e r e p u d i a t i o n o f t h a t commitment i n t h e


later work", or "But that just proves they never were paradigms
a t a l l " , and so on.
The r e s u l t i s a series o f incommensurable i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s ,
each one equally "plausible" because each measures up to the
5

pp. 1-6.

See, eg., Findlay, o p . c i t . , on "Plato's project",

324
canons of interpretive consistency admitted by the other,
yet each nevertheless advances radically different readings.
The Apologists and Revisionists a l i k e have definite ideas about
just what constitutes a paradigm or standard; unfortunately
t h e i r i d e a s a r e n o t t h e same; t h e c o n f1i c t between t h e r o o t
meanings of t h e i r c r i t i c a l terms i s obscured and unacknowledged
Thus each imposes i t s own v i s i o n o f "paradigms" upon the t e x t ,
ignoring the equivocation,
to the text.

and pleads i t s case by appeal

Each school does have a consistent reading o f

the Platonic corpus on this point, but neither view can


connect with the other because of the hidden difference i n
critical vocabulary.

Hence t h e i r arguments seem interminable:

instead of conflicting, their interpretations f l y past each


other.

And s t i l l , i t i s questionable whether, i n t h i s

welter of interpretation, Plato's voice is heard i n the


di al ogue, i.e., whether the Revisionist or Apologetic understand
i n g o f " p a r a d i g m " , " s t a n d a r d " o r " m i me s i s " i s t h a t o f t h e
dialogue, and whether i t takes into account that significance
the dialogue form i t s e l f has i n this issue.
As an example o f t h i s s o r t o f c r i t i c a l catch-as-catchcan, consider the contrasting positions of R.E. Allen and
Rudolph Weingartner on the issue o f paradigmatism.

Allen,

an Apologist, wishes to maintain that Forms are standards,


but also wants to maintain t h a t t h i s i n no way implies
self-predication.

325
Allen's argument begins with the observation that for
P l a t o , p a r t i c u l a r s are " c a l l e d by the same name as t h e i r
Form" (homonumon).

The f a c t t h a t p a r t i c u l a r s are and

are what they are only i n virtue of their intimate relation


ships to forms leads Allen to the essentially correct
observation that Plato i s espousing "a theory of predication
without predicates", or more precisely, a theory where a l l
predicates are relational, identifying an x as F insofar as
i t stands i n relation to a form, F-ness, "named" F.6

This

is reminiscent of J.L. Austin's quip that, while Leibniz


believed a l l proper names were general terms, Plato believed
that a l l general terms.were proper names.7
an exaggeration:

But this i s , naturally,

a property-word F as applied to a particular

t h a t e x h i b i t s i t i s c e r t a i n l y not a proper name per se - - i t i s


indeed a predicate-- but denotes a relation between the particular1
property and the Form i n which i t participates.

Allen sees

as the consequence o f this view of predication that Plato


cannot hold a "substance metaphysics" i n the manner o f
Aristotle or Descartes, since the entire order of particulars

Allen, op. c i t . , as reprinted i n Vlastos, ed.,


Plato I , pp. 170-71.
7 I n conversation, as quoted by Richard Rorty, i n
"Cartesian Epistemology and Changes i n Ontology", Contemporary
American Philosophy, e d . , J.E. Smith (New York: Humanities,
1970) , p. 273nl.

i s i n t e l l i g i b l e only i n terms of a relation to the Forms.


Thus the property-term "F" exhibits a logical ambiguity,
depending on the p a r t i c u l a r way i t i s applied:
What appear to be a t t r i b u t i v e statements are,
i n f a c t , relational or identifying statements, depen
ding on the designation of their predicates. I n
derivative designation, to say of something that i t i s
i s to say that i t i s causally dependent upon the F.
On t h e o t h e r hand, when " F " i s used i n i t s
primary designation, i t s i a synonym of "the F i t s e l f "
and "F-ness"; therefore to say that F-ness i s F i s to
state an i d e n t i t y . I t follows that i t i s i n v a l i d to
infer self-predication from Plato's apparently selfpredicative language. 8
From t h i s Allen concludes a "systematic ambiguity"
between a predicate qua Form and the same predicate qua
particular:
. . .Plato's self-predicative language i s
both i n t e l l i g i b l e and l o g i c a l l y innocuous. Grammatical
predicates are names which e x h i b i t a systematic ambiguity
according as they designate Forms or p a r t i c u l a r s ; what
appear to be self-predicative statements are identity
statements; and what appear to be a t t r i b u t i v e statements
are relational statements. 9
I n essence, t h i s i s a recognition that the Forms
must be d i f f e r e n t i n type from particulars, a recognition
shared by Revisionists sich as Weingartner. However Allen
goes on to say that the r e l a t i o n between Form and particular
which undergirds the systemativ ambiguity of predication i s
t h a t o f a s t a n d a r d t o i t s d e r i v a t i o n , o r a n i m a g e t o e.
copy. But this invokes the response of Cri t i c a l commentators
such as Vlastos: Plato must have confused the d i s t i n c t i o n
"between characters and things characterized", therefore

O
g

Allen, op. c i t . , p. 170.


Allen, op. c i t . , p. 170.

i n c u r r i n g the regress o f the TMA, a sure sign o f some


"deep seated incoherence in the theory of Forms". ^
Allen avoids this criticism by insisting on the
systematic ambiguity of

q u a F o r m a n d "F_" q u a p a r t i

cular. I f this is so, the fact that particulars "imitate"


or "copy" t h e i r Forms does not imply that they are 1 i ke
the Form ( i . e . , the same kind o f Being) or t h a t what i s
predicated of a Form i s predicated univocally of the par
ticular. In fact, Plato's relational ontology expressly
excludes this possibility. Particulars are resemblances
of the Forms, but do not resemble them. I f Forms and
particulars resembled each other, i t would be i n v i r t u e of
some common p r o p e r t y , o r i n P l a t o ' s

ontology, a

r e l a t i o n t o s o m e t e r t i urn q u i d - - w h i c h i s t h e TMA i n a
nutshell. I f A resembles B, B resembles A, and i n virtue
t o some C which they posess o r i n which they p a r t i c i p a t e .
However the original/copy distinction of Platonic mimesis
does not commit one to such a symmetrical relationship:
i f B i s a copy of A, A i s not a copy of B. This serves
as Allen's interpretation of Allen's interpretation of
"degrees-of-reality": particulars are not deficient in
respect to Forms because they posess a lesser perfection
i n t h e i r common q u a l i t y , b u t r a t h e r because they are two
d i f f e r e n t kinds of being, one t o t a l l y dependent on the
other for the characteristic i t posesses the mim
e t i c relationship between Form and particular

Gregory V l a s t o s , "The T h i r d Man Argument i n the


Parmenides", Philosophical Review 63 ( 1954), as reprinted
i n R E. Allen, ed., Studies~in Plato's Metaphysics (London
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 252. A l l further
references are from this reprint.

328

i s asymmetrical: therefore no i n f i n i t e regress, as i n the TMA,


need develop.
There i s , however, a real d i f f i c u l t y with Allen's
reading: i t seems t o preserve the Forms' status as "standards"
while being at best vague and at worst equivocal on the question
o f " i m i t a t i o n " , the original-copy r e l a t i o n s h i p . And t h i s i s
t h e main p o i n t p f t h e c r i t i c i s m o f R e v i s i o n i s t c r i t i c s , o f whom
Rudolph Weingartner specifically takes Allen to task.
The trouble-spot i n A l l e n ' s i n t e r p r e t a t i o n i s his
example of the asymmetricality of the standard-copy r e l a t i o n , or
what i s meant by a "semblance" i n distinction from a "likeness":
Consider the reflection of a red scarf i n the
mirror.--a good example of what Plato understands by
an imitation. I t i s clearly false that the r e f l e c t i o n
i s a scarf. Is i t true that i t i s red? Or i s i t only
the reflection of a red thing?
The r e f l e c t i o n i s not similar i n kind t o the t
o r i g n i a l . I s i t then s i m i l a r i n q u a l i t y ? I f we say t h a t
i t i s , we face an e v i d e n t embarassment; f o r t o say t h i s
i s t o say t h a t we can predicate o f r e f l e c t i o n s , which
are e s s e n t i a l l y a d j e c t i v a l , i n j u s t the way we can
predicate of their originals, things which exist in
t h e i r own r i g h t . Scarves can be bought o r s o l d , l o s t
of stolen, wrapped around the neck i n winter; but I
would gladly give you every image that has crossed
the surface o f my m i r r o r , and count myself no poorer
for the loss. 11
I n other words, Form i s to particular as scarf i s t o
reflections. More importantly: "F" as appjied t o the Form
"F-ness" i s to "F" as applied to a particular "x" as the
red-as-applied-to-the-scarf is to the red-as-applied-to-thereflection. This i s important because i t exemplifies, for
Allen, the ambiguity of predication inherent in Plato's
"types of reality" theory.

^ A l l e n , op. c i t . , pp. 171-76; quote on pp. 173-74.

329
Weingartner sees Allen's thesis as a "more
sophisticated" variant of A.E. Taylor's, which he, with
Vlastos, deems wrong.

Taylor holds that the mimetic relationship

between Form and particular i s one of image and copy, and this
relation i s as.ymmetrical :
portrait.

the model i s not a copy of the

Taylor sees t h i s as fatal to the second version

o f t h e TMA i n 1 3 2 d - 1 3 3 a t h e a r g u m e n t i s v a l i d b u t n o t
sound, since i t proceeds from the false premise of symmetricality
But Weingartner notes t h a t the mime s i s r e l a t i o n s h i p i s "complex:
one component, the derivation of the copy from the original,
i s indeed asymmetrical, whereas, the resemblance o f the one
t o the other i s n o t , and t h i s resemblance, so much stressed i n
the second version o f the TMA, i s a l l that i s needed..."^3
W e i n g a r t n e r n o t e s t h a t t h e second v e r s i o n o f t h e TMA does n o t
preclude a k i n d - o f - r e a l i t y ontology, but i t shows that such
an ontology cannot avoid self-predicative Forms i f the mimesis
doctrine is kept intact:

Parmenides i s no longer crudely

physical i z i n g the Forms (which seems t o sum up T a y l o r ' s


reading of the dialogue).^

Weingartner insinuates that the

s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n assumption i s t h e f u l c r u m o f t h e TMA i n
132e6-l33a3-- i t i s not possible f o r the Forms to be l i k e
anything nor anything l i k e the Forms, since this implies an
infinite regress.

12
13
14

Taylor, op. c i t . , p . 358


Weingartner, op. c i t . , pp. 172-3
Weingartner, op. c i t . , pp. 151-2

For Weingartner, Allen does much the same: the


particular i s a "copy" of the Form, and i s l i k e i t i n that
r e s p e c t , b u t i s n o t the same type o f t h i n g as the Form, and i s
t h i s also u n l i k e i t ; t h a t i s "F" i s ambiguous when applied t o
Forms and t o p a r t i c u l a r s . As a p p l i e d t o a p a r t i c u l a r , "F"
s i g n i f i e s a r e l a t i o n of original-copy between Form and
particular, but not the property of s t r i c t "likeness" But
Allen's i l l u s t r a t i o n , for Weingartner, breaks down:
The example of the scarf puzzles me, i n
i t s e l f and as i t applies t o the problem of the forms. I n
one reasonable sense " r e d " means e x a c t l y the same t h i n g
when applied to a scarf and when applied to i t s r e f l e c t i o n .
I expect t o be able t o p i c k o u t a red scarf from among
others, even i f I can see a l l of them only i n a m i r r o r ;
I should have sufficient confidence i n this procedure,
moreover, t o purchase a s c a r f i n a c o l o r t o my l i k i n g ,
without seeing i t except i n r e f l e c t i o n . Indeed, one
could successfully teach the meaning of "red" solely by
means o f m i r r o r images o f r e d o b j e c t s . I f we were
to inderstand the meaning of "F" as i t applies to
F-ness and a,b, and c , e t c . , i n a similar way, there
seems no reason to think t h a t s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n has
been abandoned. 15
Thus, to Weingartner, Allen's thesis does not exorcise
the demon o f s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n - - e i t h e r t h a t , or i t f a i l s t o
make sense o f the way i n which F-qua-Form and F-qua-particular
di ffer.
Weingartner continues:
Forms ( t o go to the t o p i c o f out real concern)
are different ontological types from the particulars;
that i s , forms and particulars are i n different ways:
"being" i s systematically ambiguous to them. . .'feutl
I should wish t o know i n what way the c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s
posessed are different (because the posessor i s d i f
f e r e n t ) and j u s t how " j u s t " , s a y , d u f f e r s i n meaning,
depending on whether Justice i s just or Socrates i s .
I should further l i k e to know what i t i s about the
o n t o l o g i c a l difference t h a t ( i n some appropriate
sense of the term) brings about the difference i n character
of predicate. 16

1 5 .
Weingartner, op. c i t . , p. 174.
16Weingartner,

op. c i t . , pp. 174-75.

331

Weingartner i s not entirely just to Allen in this


passage: he i s assuming, to c i t e his example, that "Just"
i s a "straight" predicate, but one which takes on a systematic
equivocity when applied t o Justice and Socrates. But f o r
Allen, "just" is not a "straight" predicate at a l l , since
Plato held a "theory of predication without predicates".
"Just" qua Form i s an i d e n t i t y statement, and " j u s t " qua
particular is a rel ational statement. Furthermore, Weingartner's
objection that there i s no place i n Plato where these questions
are considered i s f a c i l e : the distinction between the noetic
and sensible orders i s a commonplace i n Plato, and that alone
would undergird Allen's assumption that they are different
metaphysical orders which demand d i f f e r e n t accounts.
Nevertheless, the gist of Weingartner's objection is
valid" i f particulars are images or copies of standards of
o r i g i n a l s , then how can we make sense o f " s y s t e m a t i c a m b i g u i t y "
without the shipwreck of the mimesis metaphor? This i s urgent,
especially i n l i g h t of Allen's statement t h a t , qua the Form,
something l i k e " j u s t " would be an identity statement. I f
Justice i s not " j u s t " i n the predicative sense - - i . e . , of
having justice-- but i s just i n the sense that i t i s identical
with " j u s t " , then can there be any mimetic relationship between
Form and p a r t i c u l a r ? And i f t h i s i s untenable, how can Forms
be paradigms? How can t h e r e be any connection between Form
and particular?
Weingartner goes on:
Nothing prevents us from saying that " 'F' i s
attributed to entities of different types" and that, i n
the same sense, t h e r e are d i f f e r e n t q u a l i t i e s F j and
F2 t h a t characterize forms and p a r t i c u l a r s
r e s p e c t i v e l y . While we thus get a d i s t i n c t i o n ,

what d i f f e r e n c e does i t t a k e a c c o u n t o f ? Perhaps I am


Blind to a significant point in metaphysics, but 1
cannot help thinking that this alleged difference in
meaning or this failure to have univocal exemplification
o f a common q u a l i t y r e g i s t e r s a verbal p o i n t . 17
In other words, as soon as one introduces "systematic
ambiguity" as a possible means of escape from s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n ,
the mimesi s metaphor i s destroyed, and there i s no c l e a r way
t o d i s t i n g u i s h "ambiguous" p r e d i c a t i o n from the same
predication (cf. Allen's reflected scarf), or entirely
d i f f e r e n t predications ( c f . properties F j and F2 above). I f
you mean something " d i f f e r e n t " when you say "Justice i s j u s t "
amd when you say "Socrates i s j u s t " , then y o u t p r e d i c a t e s a r e
different and not merely ambiguous: the original-copy metaphor
breaks down, and the Forms cannot be paradigms. And, i n f a c t ,
that i s precisely what Weingartner concludes about the
Parmenides:
There i s , o f course, no way of knowing the precise
moment when Plato became aware o f the p r i c e he had t o
pay i f he was t o have the forms serve as paradigms,
but by the time he sat down to w r i t e the Parmenides,
he knew he had t o purge his doctrine of the s e l f predication assumption.
18
Despite the apparent clash between Allen's Apologetic
and Weingartner1s Revisionist viewpoints, I believe t h e i r
arguments "glide past each other", as mututlly consistent, yet
incommensurable positions. The "dispute" revolves around
whether or not the idea of "systematic ambiguity" i s coherent,
with Allen f u l l y confident that i t i s , and Weingartner, i r o n i c a l l y
professing that he might be "blind to an important metaphysical
point", that i t i s not. They both hold, against Vlastos, that
t h e r e i_s_ a d i f f e r e n c e i n t y p e a s w e l l a s d e g r e e i n P l a t o n i c
r e a l i t y , but draw d i f f e r e n t , mutually exclusive conclusions

^Weingartner, op. c i t . , p. 176.


18

Weingartner, op. c i t . , p. 192.

333
from i t , Allen holding that this difference i s the basis
for the ambiguity of predication, Weingartner holding that
this destroys systematic ambiguity and with i t , paradigmatism.19
I suspect that this indicates a "parting o f the ways"
on the issues o f what i t means to
b)

a) be a "paradigm" and

be a "copy" of an " o r i g i n a l " , or an "imitation" or

19

One o f the i r o n i e s o f the s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n


dispute i s t h a t what one side takes to be f a t a l to a wellentrenched Platonic position, the other takes to be absolutely
essential. Consider the relative positions of Allen and
Strang on dialectic. Allen, i n l i n e with the apologist view
p o i n t , c r i t i c i z e s a l l those who would deny paradlgmatism on
the grounds of self-predication because such denial would erode
the foundations of dialectic. I f forms are non-paradigmatic
"commutative universals", Allen reasons, then one cannot
account for Plato's insistence on an unhypothesized f i r s t
p r i n c i p l e i n Republic 511a-d, nor can one understand how the
"downward path" could begin without such an anhypotheton.
This suggests that Forms cannot be r e i f i e d abstract properties,
for the grasp of the anhypotheton i s certainly not the grasp
o f the most abstract and hence emptiest metaphysical category.
Furthermore, while an abstract property cannot be "imperfectly"
instantiated --a particular perfectly instantiates the sort of
property i t instantiates-- the Platonic eide are instantiated
with varying degrees of perfection. Allen concludes by
affirming paradigmatism, but insists that i t does not require
self-predication. Strang, on the other hand, sees Paradigmatism
and self-predication as inextricable from each other: thuse the
l a t e r P l a t o , i n h i s view, came to understand t h a t a sheer
noetic "seeing" of a Form blurs the need f o r the dialectical
churning-out of "analytical 1ogoi". "Doing dialectic for your
knowledge looks far more arduous than simply recollecting",
Strang quips. I n the l a t e r dialogues Plato began t o see a
stark need for such dialectical ardor, since the mere appeal
t o "recoolecting" o r " i n t u i t i n g " Forms renders them, i n Strang's
words, "epistemologically sterile". This peculiar standoff
on the nature o f d i a l e c t i c can be resolved only by determining
whether or not paradigms need by the self-predicative objects
Strang takes them to be, and whether or not Allen i s r i g h t i n
thinking that dialectic i s unintelligible without paradigmatic
forms. See A l l e n , pp. 176-79, and Strang, pp. 198-99, i n
Vlastos, ed., PIato I .

334
"semblance" of a Form. For Weingartner, a paradigm i s a
standard which, although i t has the asymmetrical relationship
of original-to-copy, also must have the symmetrical relation
o f "resemblance" i n o r d e r f o r i t t o be a standard. He c i t e s
Geach on the standard yard: that although the standard yard
cannot be measures by an ordinary yardstick, and although
an ordinary yardstick i s s t a t i s t i c a l l y unlikely to measure
e x a c t l y the same as a standard y a r d , there must be some
s e n s e i n w h i c h t h e s t a n d a r d y a r d i_s_ a y a r d , " f o r o t h e r w i s e h o w
could i t be the standard against which the ordinary yard i s
measured?"

20

For Weingartner, even Allen's "resemblances"

must be 1i t e r a l l.y l i k e t h e i r o r i g i n a l s i n some, i f not every,


respect; and t h i s i s enough to generate self-predication, and
i n i t i a t e the i n f i n i t e reglress o f the TMA.

21

For Allen, on the

other hand, a paradigm does not have,to be self-predicative, as


i t serves as the ontological a i t i a for a thing and a thing's
"character"; i . e . , i t i s that which serves as the origin ( i n an
atemporal sense) of a particular's Being, and this the particular
can only be understood i n reference to the Form to which i t i s
r e l a t e d . Forms are a sort of standard and t h e i r particulars
" i m i t a t e " or copy them. But they i m i t a t e or copy i n a way which i s
inconceivable f o r Weingartner, so he i n s i s t s that Forms cannot
be "paradigms".
20
Weingartner, op. c i t . , p. 177.
21
This .unfortunately, evades the troublesome question
of whether a clear distinction can be drawn between l i t e r a l and
non-literal discourse. For good capsule discussions of these
issues, see Jerry G i l l , "Post-Critical Philosophy of Religion",
International Philosophical Quarterly (March 1982),esp. p. 80.,
and Sheldon Sacks, e d . , On Metaphor (Chicago: U n i v . o f Chicago
Pr., 1978).

335

i
Hence, the interminable, rut-like quality of the
self-predication debate, however I do not think t h i s r u t
i s unavoidable: an element i n Wittgenstein's later philosophy
suggests a way o u t . The f i r s t Wittgensteinian maxim I would
l i k e to c i t s i s " beware the "one sided d i e t " of one sort of
example. The second i s : t o understand the "meaning" (of a
22
word, concept, or dictrine), look to i t s use.
The f i r s t
hermeneutic maxim w i l l enable us to see a possible reason for
the prevailing incommensurability and s t e r i l i t y of the
debate by revealing the consistent use of poor analogies and
examples, symptomatic of both the Apologetic and Revisionist
campe. The second i n t e r p r e t i v e technoque w i l l make a " r e t r e i v e "
of a philosophically f r u i t f u l notion of paradigmatism possible
by examining how Plato used "paradigmatism", " s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n " ,
and "imitation" i n the dialogues, rather than by presupposing
a meaning and using i t as a template against which the texts
can be measured.
Allen's example misfires because i t i s a bad example,
presupposing that which i t seeks to demonstrate. I t i s possible
that, in this case, n possible analogy w i l l suffice.
Allen's analogy has two elements a)scarfrreflection::Form
particular, and b) "red" of scarf:"red" 'of reflection::
l_ qua the Form F-ness: qua the p a r t i c u l a r s a , b , or c . Element
a) i s adequate because i t illustrates the "relational"
dimension of Plato's metaphysics: particulars are what they
are only i n relation to the Form. But element b) --which i s
the important one, since i t illustrates the "systematic

22 L u d w i g W i t t g e n s t e i n , P h i l o s o p h i c a l I n v e s t i g a t i o n s
(New York: Macmillan, 1953) p a r . 593, p . 155e, and p a r . 43,
p. 20e.
f

336
ambiguity" Allen believes applies to Plato^s account of
predicates-- is incoherent:
the same way.

scarf and reflection are red i n

Weingartner takes this to be a major flaw i n

Allen's interpretation.

But t h i s might not be so, since

the flaw i s a d i r e c t result of the kind of analogy Allen draws


i n (b)-- an example of Wittgenstein's "one sided d i e t " .
For both scarf a id reflection are ai stheta, sensible
particulars, and thus are not examples of the pure
r e l a t i o n a l i t y Allen wishes to affirm as a staple o f Plato's
theory of Forms.

No amount o f analogizing can c o n t r a d i c t the

f a c t t h a t s c a r f and r e f l e c t i o n are o f the same o n t o l o g i c a l


k ind: because they are both ai stheta, they are red i n exactly
the same way.

This does not precl ude the p o s s i b i l i t y o f the

"systematic ambiguity" o f predication as i t applies t o Forms


or particulars; i t merely demonstrates that one needs to understand
the relation between a noeton and an aistheton, and that t h i s
i s a different relation than any which can be drawn between
aistheta.

But this destroys the possibility of any adequate

analogical example l i k e that of Allen's.


I t might be countered by a partisan of Allen's views,
that scarf and reflection are purely relational e n t i t i e s - both vis-a-vis each other and vis-a-vis their Forms-- and that,
this being so, there must be a systematic ambiguity between
predicating "red" of the one and predicating i t o f the l a t t e r .
But this ignores several important points.

First, in the

world of sens-particulars, "reflections" are not only f

337
s o m e t h i n g b u t a r e i_n s o m e t h i n g - - a m e d i u m .

Allen's example

ignores the medium o f r e f l e c t i o n , a m i r r o r , f o r example, and


i n so doing f a i l s to note that any "reflection" relationship
between sensibl.e things w i l l lack the pure rel ational i t y of
the Form-particular relationship.
scarf and reflection are rot

Vis-'a-vis each other,

purely relational; the scarf

and the reflection are purely related only to their respective


Forms ( i f indeed there are such Forms).

But then each

r e s p e c t i v e " r e d " i s p u r e l y r e l a t e d o n l y t o t h e i r common


form, Redness; they are i n t e l l i g i b l y red only because of
t h e i r common p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n Redness, b u t because they are
the same k i n d o f t h i n g p a r t i c i p a t i n g i n the same Form t h e r e i s
no reason to believe i n any sort o f "systematic ambiguity"
between their instantiations of "red".
The same malady a f f l i c t s Weingartner's c e n t r a l example,
culled from Geach:

The Standard Yard.

Weingartner argues

his position, that paradigms must be self-predicative, by


maintaining that although the Standard Yard i s not an
ordinary yardstick ( i t cannot do what an ordinary yard does,
e.g., f a l l short of the standard, or be measured by a "better"
y a r d s t i c k ) , i t must, i n some sense, be a y a r d , o r e l s e i t would
not be a standard at a l l .

But, like Allen's analogy, this

example f a l l s wide of the mark:

the Standard Yard Geach speaks

of i s a brass bar, an aistheton, a sense-particular.

If

Weingartner1s example i s designed to contradict Allen's thesis


of "systematic ambiguity", i t f a i l s badly, because the Forms are
noeta, not aistheta, and consequently there i s no reason to

338
assume that there c a n ' t be an "ambiguity" between the ways
i n which a form and the ways i n which a p a r t i c u l a r ( l i k e
a brass bar) can be a standard.

Furthermore, a l l standards

of weight and measurement are s t r i c t l y conventional, i.e.,


set by the arbitrary proclamation of one set u n i t of weight
or distance as the basic standard u n i t , from which a l l other
units are derived.

I t makes no sense to ask whether a thing

either i s "2 inches" or "5 centimeters" long, whereas i t


does make sense to ask whether a thing i s "brown" or " p u r p l e " .
P l a t ' s Forms were designed, i n p a r t , to cope with the
universal conventionalism of the Sophists.

Plato, for his

part wished to defend the position that not al1 truths are
true merely by nomos, but somethe most important o n e s are true by phusis.

But t h i s does not mean a l 1 t r u t h s are

"natural" or essential"

some are obviously s t i p u l a t i o n s ,

and among these are weights and measurements.

Thus Weingartner's

and Geach's example backfires i n that i t uses an example to


attack Plato's account of exemplarism which Plato would
conceivably have deemed u t t e r l y i r r e l e v a n t t o a discussion
o f Forms and how they f u n c t i o n as paradeigmata.
The next "Wittgensteinian" step to be taken i s the
"retrieval" of a philosophically fruitful notion of
paradigmatism, since A l l e n ' s example f a i l s to make sense
of i t , and Weingartner's f a i l s to refute i t .

This w i l l be

done by a careful examination and synopsis of the ways


"self-predicative" passages and paradigmatism are used
i n the context of the dialogues.

339
Much o f what passes f o r s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e language
i n Plato's dialogues does not necessarily commit Plato to a
self-predicative theory of Forms.

In the context of his

defense of the notion that Plato "revised" the doctrine of


self-predication out of his theory in the later dialogues,
Weingartner comments:
To say that Plato abandons the self-predication
assumption i s to claim that he gives up the view that a
form, by virtue of being a form, has the character to
which i t corresponds, a revision that i s perfectly com
p a t i b l e w i t h some forms posessing t h a t character F o r such a
case, self-predication does not depend on the form's
being a form, but on i t s being this rather than that
p a r t i c u l a r form - - t h e form o f Being, say, which i_s, rather
than the form of Largeness, which is not large. . . Selfpredication i s indeed to be found i n Plato's l a t e r work,
but i t is not the"automatic" self-predication of "Justice
is just" or "Largeness i s large". Instead, self-predication
i s asserted only of forms where reasons can be given
that pertain to the particular forms i n question. 23
This position i s endorsed in the discussion of the
" f i v e basic kinds" and the sumploke eidon (interweaving of
Forms) i n Sophist 259e: e . g . , Sameness i s the same as i t s e l f ,
Rest i s at rest, Being i s . But absolute self-predication
i s ruled out because o f the sumploki eid5n: Sameness i s not
simply same, but also different (from Motion, Rest Difference,
e t c . ) , Difference i s not simply different (from Sameness, e t c . )
but i s the same (as i t s e l f ) , and so on. This section o f the
Sophist provides the Revisionist commentator with perhaps his
strongest defense: here, the

earlier dictrine

of self-

predicative, non-combining Forms ( c f . Parmenides 129 a-c) i s

23

Weingartner, op. c i t . , p.

being replaced with a less faulty one, which i s being spelled


out i n detail by the Eleatic Stranger.
The Revisionist case, however, rests on the possibility
of demonstrating that Plato's early and middle dialogues
evidence such an "automatically" self-predicative

doctrine of

non-combining Forms. ( I t also rests on the idea that, from


t h e s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e 1anguage o f t h e e a r l i e r d i a l o g u e s , we
can infer a self-predicative theory --an example of eagerness
to ignore Platonic style and "tentativeness") But t h e i r position
i s seriously compromised by the fact that early and middle
dialogues use s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n a l language i n much the same
way as the Revisionists claim i t i s used i n the l a s t phases
of Plato's career.
For example the locution "Beauty i t s e l f i s beautiful"
i s suggested i n Hippias Major 288d-289c, Phaedo 100c, and
the "Diotima" episode of Socrates' speech i n Symposium
210e-211b.

24

The extract from Phaedo reads thus:

. . . I t seems t o m e t h a t w h a t e v e r e l s e i s
beautiful apart from absolute beauty i s beautiful
because i t partakes of that absolute beauty, and for
no other reason.
This suggests t h a t the Form Beauty i s i t s e l f b e a u t i f u l .
However i t does so i n such a way t h a t seems t o preclude an
"automatic" account of self-predication: a difference in
type i d emphasised between Form and p a r t i c u l a r when Socrates
maintains that i t i s i n virtue of Beauty that beautiful things
24

See Anders Wedberg, "The Theory of Ideas", from


P I a t o ' s P h i 1osoph.y o f Mathematics ( S t o c k h o l m , 1 9 5 5 ) , r e p r i n t e d
in Vlastos, ed., PIato I , pp. 41-42.

341

have beauty, and t h i s i s s u f f i c i e n t to introduce enough


"ambiguity" to allow the beauty of the Form Beauty and the beauty
of beautiful things to be d i f f e r e n t . The context of the
passage also support

this reading: Socrates i s defending

the Forms as necessary conditions f o r knowledge, i n the


course of supporting his argument for the immortality of the
soul: his response heightens the distinction between
particulars and Forms, the necessary relation between the two
and therefore the d i f f e r e n t way

i n which the Form Beauty i s

beauti ful:
. . .1 cannot understand these other ingenious
t h e o r i e s o f c a u s a t i o n . I f someone t e l l s me t h a t t h e reason
why a given object i s b e a u t i f u l i s t h a t i t has a gorgeous
color or shape or any other a t t r i b u t e , I disregard a l l
these other explanations - - I f i n d them a l l confusing-and I cling simply and straightforwardly and no doubt
foolishly to the explanation that the one thing that
makes that object beautiful i s the presence i n i t or
association w i t h i t , i n whatever way the r e l a t i o n comes
about, of Beauty i t s e l f . (100 d-e).
The d i s t i n c t i o n between Form and p a r t i c u l a r seems t o
be blurred i n part of the Hippias Major passage (288c):
" . . . We c a n h a r d l y b e s o a u d a c i o u s a s t o d e n y t h a t b e a u t y
i s beautiful." But the context of this passage i s a long
sequence where Socrates challenges Hippias i n t o giving his
answer to the question "What i s Beauty?" Hippias responds:
"the pleasant which comes through sight and hearing" o r ,
more b l u n t l y , beautiful things (278d). Socrates then
typically baits Hippias into solodifying his position:
"What about a beautiful lyre? i s that not a beauty?"
(288c), and the same f o r mares, p o t s , and maidens; i n each

case Hippias replies yes. But Soctates --again i n typical


elenctic fashion-- turns the tables on Hippias by demonstrating
that, say, the beautiful maiden i s ugly by comparison with a
goddess (289b), but that i t i s nonsense to hold that Beauty
i s ugly (289d). Hence Beauty cannot be defined i n terms of
beautiful things, much as Holiness i n Euth.yphro cannot be
defined i n terms of what i s God-loved. But Hippias Major
seems t o prove more: i t proves t h a t b e a u t i f u l things are not
Beauty i t s e l f and that Beauty i t s e l f i s not a beautiful thing,
a kalon a i stheton, t h a t "Beauty" does n o t mean (the s e t o f )
beautiful things. The ontological difference i n type between
Form and particular --reinforced by the "by F-ness F-things
are F" rhetoric

of 287 b-d-- can be reconciled with Socrates'

assertion that "Beauty i s beautiful" only i f Socrates i s


speaking i r o n i c a l l y , or i f " b e a u t i f u l " means something somewhat
d i f f e r e n t when applied t o the Form, or both.
But the Symposium passage i s perhaps the most important
i l l u s t r a t i o n o f how s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n need not be f a t a l t o
a Form such as Beauty: the g i s t o f i t seems t o be t h a t
Beauty i s beautiful not because i t i s a Form, but because i t
i s the Form Beauty. Beauty, l i k e Good and True, i s a special
case.
. . . And now, Socrates, there bursts upon him that
wondrous vision which i s the very soul of the beauty
he has long toiled f o r . I t i s an everlasting lovliness
which n e i t h e r comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor
f a d e s , f o r such beauty i s the same on every hand, the same
then as n o t , here as t h e r e , t h i s way as t h a t way, the same
to every worshipper as i t i s to every other.

343
Nor w i l l his vision of the beautiful take the form
of a face, or of anything that is of the flesh. I t will
be neither words, nor knowledge, nor a something that
exists i n something else. . . but of i t s e l f and by i t s e l f
i n an eternal oneness. . .
Starting from individual beauties, the quest for the
universal beauty must find him ever mounting the heavenly
ladder, stepping from rund to rung --that i s , from one to
two, and from two to every lovely body, from bodily beauty
to the beauty of institutions, from institutions to
learning and from learning i n general to the special lore
that pertains to nothing but the beautiful itself --until
a t l a s t he comes t o know what beauty i s . (210e-211d)
Vlastos i s indeed correct when he suggests t h a t
although "Beauty i s beautiful" i s never explicitly asserted
OC
i n the "Diotima" speech, such i s unarguably i t s message.
But on the other hand, i t certainly does not provide clear
evidence f o r the self-predicative Forms that Vlastos claims
Plato advanced. For starters, the "if anything is F.,
F _ - n e s s i s JF" t r o p e i s , a s V l a s t o s a d m i t s , m i s s i n g f r o m t h e
Symposi um, i n which case i t might be appropriate t o assume t h a t
Plato was n o t introducing a d o c t r i n e which ascribes s e l f predication to a Form because i t i s a Form. Furthermore, a l l
the allusions to a difference in ontological type are present
i n t h e S y m p o s i u m p a s s a g e a s w e l l a s i n Hi p pi a s M a j o r a n d P h a e d o ;
the immutability and timelessness of Beauty, as compared with
instances o f beauty, "neither comes nor goes" (211a), " i n an
eternal oneness" (211b), the difference between particulars
and Forms, the object of noetic "vision" ("Nor w i l l his vision
of the Beautiful take the form. . . of anything that is of the
flesh. . . etc. (211a) ) , and so on. A difference i n types-of-reality
25

Vlastos, op. c i t . , p. 250

344
a l l one needs to undercut an argument for l i t e r a l l y
self-predicative Forms. But the most t e l l i n g point against
Vlastos is in determining why, in the passage, Beauty i_s^
b e a u t i f u l : I t seems t o be so f o r two reasons: i ) Beauty
i t s e l f is the telos for a l l our "erotic" yearnings (211c),
i i ) i t effects a personal change i n the lover of beauty, making
the l i f e of the questor after beauty beautiful i t s e l f :
But i f i t were given t o man t o gaze on ebauty's
very s e l f . . . would you c a l l h i s , she asked me, an
unenviable l i f e , whose eyes had been opened t o the
v i s i o n . . . u n t i l i t had become h i s own forever?
And rememberm she s a i d , t h a t i t i s only when
he discerns beauty i t s e l f through what makes i t v i s i b l e
t h a t a man w i l l be quickened w i t h the t r u e , and n o t the
seeming virtue - - f o r i t i s virtue's self that quickens
him, not v i r t u e ' s semblance. And when he has brought f o r t h
and reared this perfect v i r t u e , he shall be called
the f r i e n d o f god, and i f ever i t i s given t o man t o
put on immortality, i t shall be given to him. (211e-212a)
The unity of Beauty i t s e l f , Virtuem abd the Good, and
their connection with Platonic immortality is the major
theme of the above passage. The intensely dramatic meaning
o f the passage seems t o be: only by the single-minded
pursuit of that eidos i n virtue of which beautiful things are
made b e a u t i f u l do we a t t a i n some measure o f transcendence
from out corruptible, time-bound existence --this i s the
essence o f human arete and thus f r i l l s out l i v e s w i t h
pr
blessedness (eudaimonia).

p /:

See Paul Friedlander, PIato (Princeton:


Princeton Univ. P r . , 1964), vol. 1 , pp. 51-52, and vol. 2,
pp. 26-28,_for a good discussion of the interrelationship
between er5s,to kalon, and eudaimonia. I owe the t r a n s l a t i o n
of eudamonia as "blessedness" to Robert Meagher, i n Augustine:
an I n t r o d u c t i o n (New York: Harper and Row, 1978).

I f t h i s i s what Beuaty i t s e l f does to the seeker


after beauty, then i t i s unarguably beautiful; o r , i f one
wishes t o contest t h i s , i t c e r t a i n l y makes Beauty good,
and there i s indisputably something beauti f u l about that!
I r o n i c a l l y , one of Plato's more "poetic" and effective
passages yeilds considerable insight into a "technical"
metaphysical and epistemological issue:

to what does Plato's

unarguably self-predicative language commit hiin, onto! ogi cal ly?


The example o f Beauty seems t o suggest t h a t many instances o f
self-predicative language, even i n the early dialogues, do
not commit Plato to the "automatic" theory of self-predication
advanced i n Vlastos' interpretation, but perhaps only to
something for more moderate and uncontroversial:

some Forms

are s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e , but not because they are Forms per se,


but because they are the sort of Forms they are.
On t h e o t h e r hand, c e r t a i n i n s t a n c e s o f s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e
language c e r t a i n l y seem to suggest something l i k e the
"automatic" doctrine of self-predication which Weingartner
attributes to the earlier dialogues.

I have qualified this

observation with "seem to suggest", since i t i s at best debatable


whether these instances are clear, unmistakable signs of a
self-predication doctrine in early Plato.

For example,

Protagoras 330c i s most commonly c i t e d as maintaining that


"Justice i s j u s t " , and 330d that "Nothing else could well be
h o l y i f we w o n ' t a l l o w H o l i n e s s t o be s o " . Vlastos h i m s e l f
calls 330c "the star instance o f self-predication".

27

Vlastos, op. c i t . , p . 249

27

But the self-predicationists neglect to note the ironic context


of these remarks --indeed the ironic character of the entire
dialogue-- which at the very least throws into question the
contention that 330 c-d i s hard evidence for self-predication
i n the early and middle dialogues.

28

But there are other instances, l i k e Lysis 217d:


. . .when, my dear L y s i s , o l d age has brought upon a
man's h a i r s t h i s same white c o l o r , then they become r e a l l y
such as that which i s present with them, white by the
presence of white.
Upon which Vlastos comments:
. . . t h e w h i t e h a i r s are "such as" o r "have the same
q u a l i t y as" (oionper) Whiteness; they have the same
quality that Whiteness has. 29
Anders Wedberg also suggests that Phaedo 74 a-d (Equality

t
'
i s absolutely equal) and Euthydemus 301 a-b can also be read
to support the thesis that "the idea Y-ness i s a Y", i . e . , as
embodying the self-predication assumption.

30

But a l l of these

examples ambiguously exhibit self predication, i f at a l l . In the


Phaedo passage, Equality i t s e l f i s compared witg instances o f
e q u a l i t y : although equal o b j e c t s o f t e n appear equal t o some
and unequal t o o t h e r s , and are never p e r f e c t l y e q u a l , we know
that they are equal i n l i g h t of E q u a l i t y - i t s e l f , and that i s
something we can never confuse w i t h I n e q u a l i t y i t s e l f , This shows
that equality i s not an empirical concept for Plato, gleaned from
the sense-perception of equal objects - - i t provides evidence
for anamnesis of E q u a l i t y - i t s e l f , which enables us to see
29
30

28

Vlastos, op. c i t . , p. 249.


Wedberg, op. c i t . , p. 41.

On i r o n y i n P l a t o ' s P r o t a g o r a s , see F r i e d l a n d e r ,
op. c i t . , vol.2, pp. 5-37.

347
equal objects as equals.

But i t i s questionable whether this

proves that Equality i t s e l f , being "absolutely equal", has the


same s o r t o f p r o p e r t y t h a t equal o b j e c t s have (and furthermore,
how could i t :

what would absolute Equality be absolutely

equal t o ? ) . Wedberg himself intimates that the Euth.ydemus


passage seems t o be the c l e a r e s t statement o f a possible
self-predication doctrine, but he leaves room f o r doubt:
i s P l a t o speaking o f t h e Form Whiteness, o r o f t h e instance
of whiteness i n the hair making the hair i t s e l f white
( c f . the previous passage, 217c: does dyeing one's h a i r
white make the h a i r w h i t e , or merely make i t appear w h i t e ) ,
and i s oionper c l e a r l y meant l i t e r a l l y as "same as" or "have
the same q u a l i t y as"?

31

Although i t i s presumptuous t o assume t h a t the s e l f predicationist case rests on a mountain of hard evidence, i t i s
equally presumptuous to suggest that there i s no reason at a l l
to grant that case any c r e d i b i l i t y .

There

a mountain

o f evidence that Plato thought o f his forms as paradi gms;


and although t h i s does not establish the C r i t i c a l (i.e., s e l f predicationist) case over those of the Revisionists and the
Apologists, i t does s h i f t the burden of proof over to those
who wish t o maintain t h a t paradigmatism does not r e q u i r e
s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n (Apologists) o r t h a t paradigmatism was
abandoned along with self-predication i n the l a t e r dialogues
(Revisionists).

^ Wedberg, op. c i t . , p. 41n; Vlastos, o p . c i t . , p.249.

348
A sample l i s t i n g o f some o f these instances o f
paradigmatism may throw some l i g h t on t h i s i s s u e . P r a c t i c a l l y
a l l the instances of paradigmatism i n the Republic have to do
w i t h e t h i c a l issues --using the Forms o f virtues or the Good as
standards w i t h which we can mold our actions i n accordance, by
"incorporating" them i n t o our l i v e s . For instance, consider
402c" we"recognize" the Forms of Moderation, Courage,
Magnificence, e t c . , i n their "images" or instantiations, and
i t i s only i n t h i s way t h a t we, o r the Platonic guardians,
can become "musical". I n 472 c - d , Socrates proclaims t h a t
J u s t i c e i t s e l f and the j u s t man are one i n t h a t they manifest
a " p a t t e r n " ; 472b i n t i m a t e s t h a t the j u s t man i m i t a t e s J u s t i c e
i t s e l f , and i n every way i s such as Justice i s . These
sentiments are perhaps best expressed i n the Myth of the Cave,520c
Down you must g o , t h e n , each i n h i s t u r n , t o the
habitation of the others and accustom yourselves to the
observation of the obscure things there, For once hab
ituated you w i l l discern them i n f i n i t e l y better than the
dewllers there, and you w i l l know what each of the " i d o l s "
i s and whereof i t i s a semblance, because you have seen
the r e a l i t y of the beautiful, the j u s t , and the good.
A similar set of paradigmatic images can be found i n
the Phaedrus, 250 a-b and 251a, with Beauty as their subject.
250a recounts Plato's myth of the f a l l of the soul: the "vision"
o f the t r u e - b e i n g , present i n every human s o u l , i s l o s t t o a
degree by man i n h i s f a l l e n s t a t e : he f o r g e t s "the holy o b j e c t s
of his vision". While i n earthly "imitations" of Justice and
Temperance "and other prize posessions of the soul there dwells
no l u s t e r " , with Beauty i s i t "otherwise": the strongest

349
" v i s i o n " o f the soul - - a s we might expect, owing t o the o p t i c
metaphor-- i s that of Beauty; 251a outlines the ecstatic,
almost convulsive nature of that vision.
In the Timaeus, however, the reasons for paradigmatic
imagery seem t o have s h i f t e d : i t i s no longer used t o convey
how we can have " v i s i o n " o f i n t e l l i g i b l e r e a l u t y and order
our actions according to i t s pattern, but i t refers to the i
way i n which Forms serve as models f o r the natural world i n
i t s formation by the demiourgos. Representative passages include
29c:
. . . i n speaking o f t h e copy and t h e o r i g i n a l we may
assume that words are akirj t o the matter which they describe;
when they r e l a t e t o the l a s t i n g and the permanent and the
i n t e l l i g i b l e , they ought to be lasting and unalterable,
and, as far as t h e i r nature allows, irrefutable and invincible
--nothing l e s s . But when they express only the copy or the
likeness.and not the eternal things themselves, they need
only be l i k e l y and analogous to the former words.
as well as 37c:
When t h e f a t h e r and c r e a t o r saw t h e c r e a t u r e which he
had made moving and l i v i n g , the created image o f the e t e r
nal gods, he r e j o i c e d , and i n his job determined t o make
the copy s t i l l more l i k e the o r i g i n a l , and as t h i s was
an eternal l i v i n g being, he sought to make the universe
eternal, as far as i t might be.
and 48e-49a:
. . .our discussion of the universe requires a fuller
d i v i s i o n than t h e f o r m e r , f o r then we made two c l a s s e s . . .
One, which we assumed, was a p a t t e r n i n t e l l i g i b l e and
always the same, and the second uas only an imitation
of the pattern, generated and visible.
The " r e t r i e v a l o f a philosophically f r u i t f u l conception
of paradigmatism" that I promised i n p. 335 would be possible
only i n looking t o the ways i n which paradigm-imagery was used
i n the dialogues. I have l i m i t e d my examples t o t h e Republic

350
the Phaedrus, and the Timaeus not merely because of space
consideration, but because these dialogues are most representative
o f Plato's aims i n speaking o f and alluding t o the Forms as
paradeigmata.

Forms are models i n two senses, i ) as patterns

for structuring the natural order, and i i ) as patterns for the


good l i f e .

A corollary o f i ) would be i a ) that forms, being

i n t e l l i g i b l e and changeless are " o r i g i n a l s " , and the kosmos


aisthitos i s i t s "copy"; from t h i s analogy one can easily view
i i i ) the forms as "objects" of noetic "vision" (as a i stheta are
objects of ai sthesis).

These three components comprise, at

least i n p a r t , the usage of paradigmatic imagery.


Likewise, self-predicative language i s used i n a
number o f ways:

i)

i n a way which does not incur the l o g i c a l l y

vicious "automatic" self-predicative forms attacked by Vlastos


e t a l . ( e . g . , S y m p o s i urn 2 1 0 e , f f . ) , ii )

i n a way which only

seems to connote a doctrine o f s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n , but r e a l l y


does not (e.g., Phaedo 74a-d) , i i i ) I r o n i c a l l y or hal f - s e r i o u s l y ,
taken i n the Euthydemus 301a-b), and i v ) i n a way which may
i n d i c a t e some form o f ( " a u t o m a t i c " ) s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e theory
of Forms.
Given the way s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e and paradigmatic
language i s used i n the Platonic corpus, the evidence behind
the critical interpretations of self-predicationists is not
staggering, and i s uniformly ambiguous.

Nevertheless, the

"retrieve" promised on p. 14 has not yet materialized, since


a middle ground between the Revisionist thesis (that no true
paradigm can f a i l to be self-predicative) and the Apologist

351
thesis (i.e., that Forms are non-self-predicative paradigms)
has yet to be reached.

Despite the lack of a clear advocacy

on Plato's part o f self-predicative, paradigmatic Forms i n


the early and middle dialogues, the Revisionist case has not
been damaged:

a Revisionist interpreter can always maintain

that Plato - - a t least i n his more l u c i d moments - - did not


think o f Forms as paradigms a t a l l , a t least i n the main:

their

chief function would then be, as Ackrill opines, to f i x the


meanings of general terms.

I n s h o r t , the R e v i s i o n i s t may

maintain t h a t i t i s not consistent t o think o f Forms as


paradigms unless they are i n some respect s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e ;
Plato, by dropping or curtailing such paradigm-talk i n his
later philosophy, is simply doing better philosophy, following
out the implications o f his theory o f Forms i n a more
.
consistent manner. And thus the impasse between Apologists and
Revisionists would remain.
Are Plato's Forms genuine paradigms, or simply 1 i ke
paradigms - - are they paradigms or "paradigms"?
the impasse

i n essence:

This i s what

what counts as a genuine paradigm?

But I wonder i f the impasse i s n ' t , at bottom, merely verbal:


a f t e r a l l , w h a t i_s t h e s i g n i f i c a n c e i n t h e i s s u e o f , s a y ,
whether rMagritte's painting, "Ceci n ' e s t pas une pipe", i s
a pipe, or only a "pipe"?
I think t h i s muddle can be cleaned up i n the following
way.

I n chapter I I I , I mentioned that Plato's chief argument

w i t h P a r t n e n i d e s c o n c e r n e d t h e n a t u r e o f i n t e l 1i q i b i l i t . y :
For Parmenides, the source of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , or the

352
i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect o f t h i n g s , as t o _hen, the Parmenidean
One.

Plato challenged this:

more could be said about the

i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of r e a l i t y than "what i s , i s ; what i s not,


i s n o t " ; the p l u r a l i t y of Forms guarantees the richness
of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i n r e a l i t y , and the accuracy of "ordinary"
discourse about what-is.
Parmenidean monism:

P l a t o ' s Forms are his answer t o

Plato's Forms, l i k e Parmenides* "Being",

are the source of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y i n the world, the


intelligible aspect of r e a l i t y ; but unlike Parmenides, Plato
does not constrict the range of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y to such a
preposterous degree.
I f I am r i g h t i n assuming t h a t P l a t o ' s Parmenides i s ,
i n p a r t , concerned with the historical Parmenides and Plato's
response to him, and t h a t the Forms constitute Plato's response,
then I believe i t i s possible to break the impasse between
the revisionists and apologists concerning paradigmatism.
I f Plato, responding to Parmenides, posits the Forms as
hi s account of the intelligible aspect of reality, the source of
a l l i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , then to call a given form F-ness "F" i s to
s a y t h a t i t _^s t h e i n t e l l i g i b l e a s p e c t o f p r o p e r t y F , r a t h e r
than to attribute the property F to the Form F-ness.

Were

one t o do t h a t , one would be assimilating Forms i n t o the


classes of things which are intelligible i n light of(their
participation i n ) the Forms; but a Form i s not l i k e t h a t , - i t
i s an i n t e l l i g i b l e , a noeton.

I n other words, i f one says

"Justice i t s e l f i s just" one i s not attributing a property ("just")


t o a Form (Justice) a t a l l since Forms are themselves presupposed

353
whenever such attribution occurs.

Rather one i s saying that

J u s t i c e i_s t h e i n t e l l i g i b l e a s p e c t o f t h a t p r o p e r t y , t h e
source o f i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y whereby we can i d e n t i f y a p r o p e r t y
(e.g., " j u s t " ) as being what i t i s .
thesis in that

This i s similar to Allen's

i ) predicating "F" o f a Form F-ness i s

actually a s o r t o f i d e n t i t y statement (F-ness i s F means


"F-ness" i s the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of F) , and i i )

that Forms
32

are not hypostatized preperties ("Commutative universals"),


b u t t h e r e a l i t y o f t h e i n t e l l i g i b i 1i t . y o f p r o p e r t i e s .

But

unlike Allen, i t does not introduce the d i f f i c u l t y of


accounting for any sort of vague analogicity between
predication qua Forms and qua p a r t i c u l a r s .

For example,

the "justness" of a particular just person or act i s not


"systematically ambiguous" qua the "justness" of Justice
i t s e l f : rather the "justness" of a particular being i s
a sign of that particular's methexis in Justice.

The

"ambiguity" i s not between two different orders of property,


one appropriate to Forms and the other to p a r t i c u l a r s , but
between talking about i n t e l l i g i b i l i t i e s - a s - s u c h and talking
about them i n relation to that which they render i n t e l l i g i b l e .
Forms are not paradigms i n the ordinary sense; they are
not self-predicative, and are not l i t e r a l models.

When Forms

are viewed not as abstract particulars or commutative universals


but as the i n t e l l i g i b l e order o f r e a l i t y the shallowness of

Allen, op. c i t . , pp. 176-179

self-predicationism becomes q u i t e c l e a r . I believe that


I have established t h i s view of the Forms, at least
tentatively, by analyzing the place of Parmenides himself
in Plato's thought.
But i f Forms are not 1 i t e r a l paradigms, are they
merely 1 i k e paradigms - - a r e we f o r c e d i n t o the R e v i s i o n i s t
conclusion t h a t , at best, they are "paradigms", and even then
the true nature of the Forms i s distorted by Plato's
paradigmatic imagery? I t h i n k t h a t the problem may be dissolved,
rather than answered, by asking how a Form, paradigm or n o t ,
can serve as a paradigm, given the proper understanding of
Forms as the i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect of r e a l i t y .
I r o n i c a l l y , my claim i s best supported by the work
of Colin Strang ("Plato and the Third Man"), which supports
the Revisionist claim that paradigmatism entails selfpredication, and i n abandoning self-predication i n the
Parmenides, Plato likewise gives up his commitment to
paradigmatism and i t s sister-doctrine, anamnesis.
Strang, like Vlastos, believes self-predication to
be a well-concealed assumption i n the f i r s t version of the
TMA, but u n l i k e Vlastos he notes t h a t i t i s made e x p l i c i t
i n version two, and i s destroyed by a reductio:
"Then i t follows that a thing can't be l i k e the
form, nor the form l i k e something else, otherwise along
side the form a second form w i l l t u r n up. . . (132e). So
i t i s not by likeness that other things participate i n the
Forms, and some other way o f p a r t i c i p a t i o n w i l l have t o
be found (133a)". (Strang's translation)

355
S i n c e S t r a n g b e l i e v e s v e r s i o n 2 o f t h e TMA i s a n
e x p l i c i t reductio argument, he can say against Vlastos that
I cannot see t h a t Plato was a t a l l perplexed,
unless i t was over the decision as t o which o f the
p r e m i s s e s o f t h e TI1A w a s t o b e j e t t i s o n e d ; a n d I d o u b t
whether he remained perplexed f o r very long even
about t h i s . 33
Strang believes Plato i s jettisoning SP, not merely
because o f i t s r o l e i n the TMA, but because i t i s a necessary
item in "Plato's middle-period paradigmatic theory", which
as i t turns out i s "epistemologically s t e r i l e " .

34

Strang

j u s t i f i e s h i s c l a i m t h a t SP i s e s s e n t i a l t o p a r a d i g m a t i s m
i n the following way, focusing on the image-copy or mimesi s
m e t a p h o r i s e d i n t h e r e d u c t i o o f TMA v e r s i o n 2 , a n d c o m m o n
enough i n dialogues such as Cratylus (389b) and Republic' (597c);
. . .The theses of the middle period paradigmatic
theory are (1) that the relation of particular to form
i s that of copy to o r i g i n a l , and (2) that knowledge of
forms, and i n particular of timeless truths about forms,
i s acquired i n t h i s l i f e by r e c o l l e c t i o n o f what was
already known by the discarnate soul before b i r t h .
(2) presupposes a consequence of (1), namely that form
and particular resemble each other ( l a ) ; and ( l a )
e n t a i l s , o r i s e q u i v a l e n t t o , SP. Therefore i f SP goes,
the paradigmatic theory collapses. 3
S t r a n g b e l i e v e s t h a t t h e TMA d e m o n s t r a t e s t h e
incompatibility of the uniqueness assumption (that for any
given property F, there i s one and only one form F-ness) and
33
34
35

Strang, op. c i t . , p. 187.


Strang, op. c i t . , p. 198.
Strang, op. c i t . , pp. 187-88.

paradigmatism.

He i l l u s t r a t e s t h i s by analogy w i t h a

paradigmatic standard of measurement, the Imperial Standard


Yard.

I n 1834 five bronze bars were machined to approximate

a's p r e c i s e l y a s p o s s i b l e t h e o r i g i n a l d a m a g e d s t a n d a r d , m a d e
in 1760.

Parliamentary Weights and Measures Act of 1878

defined the I.S.Y. as the length of one of those bars under


certain necessary conditions; eg., at 32, i f supported by
i t s ends rather than by r o l l e r s , etc. they are not
change!ess standards.

But then what would determine the

accuracy of this paradigmatic standard--how could one decide


whether o r n o t the bronze bar was o r was n o t a yard long?
The 1878 act was expressly designed t o provide c r i t e r i a
for determining this.
Platonic Form?

So i s the 1878 a c t analogous t o a

No, because i t i s a definition of the

I.S.Y. which i s derived from the bronzebar:

the I.S.Y. as

unit measurement i s defined by the 1878 act, while the bar


i s a paradigm case of something a yard long.

But now the

d i f f i c u l t i e s w i t h P l a t o ' s own "paradigmatism" begin t o emerge


through the comparison with the I.S.Y.

I f a Form i s a

paradigm then i t has F, i n an exemplary way, analogous to


the manner i n which the bronze bar i s a yard long.

B u t we can

o n l y s a y t h a t t h e s t a n d a r d i_s^ a y a r d l o n g i n t h e l i g h t o f t h e
unit of measurement o f the 1878 actsomething which i s n ' t
a yard long; otherwise the bar may contract o r expand, and
with i t , what i s taken to be a yard long, since newly-made
rulers would be aligned with the altered bar.

Now P l a t o ' s

Forms are not changeable l i k e the bronze bar, nor are they

357
v i s i b l e ; nevertheless Strang does not believe t h i s invalidates
his analogy.

I f the Forms are not changeable i t must be

because they are l i k e the I . S . Y . , defined by the 1879 act,


rather than the bronze bar:

but the I.S.Y. defined by the

act i s not a paradigm, "for neither the standard bar nor anything
else i s a copy of i t or resembles i t i n any way".

And the

i n v i s i b i l i t y of the Form i s not a legitimate objection to


the analogy, since "the whole point of comparing standard
bar and paradigmatic Form was t o t r e a t the l a t t e r as an
invisible analogy of the former", with the result that once
i n v i s i b i l i t y i s recognized, the Form no longer remains
strictly paradigmatic.
But the problem becomes even more i n t r a c t a b l e :
the invisible and supposedly unchanging I . S . Y . , as defined
by the 1878 a c t , would not be a f i t t i n g candidate f o r Formhood,
since i t relies on the existence of the standard bar, which is
visible and changing, and merely sets the conditions under
which we can say w i t h j u s t i f i c a t i o n t h a t t h e bar i s a y a r d l o n g .
I t i s a paradigmatic 1ogos of the yard (henceforth p-1ogos):
i.e., i t defines the yard by saying "a thing is X only i f i t i s
like such-and-such, under such-and-such conditions".
this is hardly satisfactory:

how does

But

one determine these

conditions, or know that there a r e n ' t conditions that are as


yet unknown (e.g., the knowledge, unknown i n 1878, that brass
b a r s , even a t a constant temperature, shrink some two-mi11ionths
of an inch over a span of a century of so)?

358
Strang's point i s that paradigmatism i s epistemologically
sterile:
the

i t does not give an adequate means o f dealing w i t h

Mwhat-is-x"

questions which inhabit the pages o f Plato

from Euth.yphro onward.

Were someone t o ask "how do you know

x i s F", and were I to respond "x i s F i f i t i s l i k e


such-and-such", i t would be f a i r game t o respond "why i s
that such-and-such F, or the "exemplary" F by which x i s
F"?

And I would be forced i n t o a dilemma:

either I would

face an i n f i n i t e regress of such-and suches, each o f which


i s the paradigmatic standard f o r the one "below", or I would
be forced to provide a standard which i s not a paradigm.
Such a standard Strang c a l l s an analytical-logos (a-logos):
i t answers "what i s F" by defining F i n terms of a different
type of thing, eg., "x i s F i f and only i f i t i s Y".

With

regard to his example of the I . S . Y . , Strang refers to the


o r i g i n a l way o f d e f i n i n g the y a r d , i n 1824, i n terms o f the
length o f a pendulum which, "swinging i n a vacuum i n the
latitude of London, should have a periodic time of two
mean s o l a r seconds e x a c t l y " .

The a-logos i s unlike the

p-1ogos because i t defines a property without recourse to any


sort of resemblance-relation to something else; i t defines
a Form i n much the same way t h a t the l a t e r d i a l e c t i c o f c o l l e c t i o n
and division does i n the Sophist and Statesman, by showing
the "interweaving" of Forms.
qc

Strang, op. c i t . , pp. 187-98 passim

359
Strang believes that Plato had ample reason to postulate
forms as p - l o g o i i n the e a r l y and middle dialogues. He faced
an epistemological dilemma: how can one make t h i n g s i n t e l
l i g i b l e which are disputed and i n v i t e i n t e l l e c t u a l scrutiny,
i f the mose important of these things are without e a s i l y
recognizable "sensible images" ( c f . Statesman 285 f f . j a l s o
Phaedrus 263 a-c, Republic 523-4) ?

Unlike "straightforward"

things and/or concepts, "disputed" things lack any p-1ogos


and can generate endless attempts to arrive at an a-logos:
therefore the Form serves as a paradigm against which a
suitable p-1ogos can be fashioned - - x i s F i f i t i s l i k e F-ness.
But t h i s conception o f the Forms, however useful i t may have
been to the goals of the middle and early periods, carried
within i t the seeds of the "epistemological s t e r i l i t y "
revealed by the TMA. Thus Strang argues t h a t
What paradigmatism has t o t e l l us about any one
form, e . g . , justice, differs hardly at a l l from what i t
has t o t e l l us about any other, e . g . , mud. Even the Phaedo
concedes the simple naivete of the theory (100d4). I f
i t i s i t s richness and boldness that attracts readers of
Plato in the f i r s t instance, i t i s this essential sim
p l i c i t y that leads them to c l i n g to i t , on Plato's
behalf as well as their own, i n the face of the trouble
some o f f e r i n g s o f the l a t e r dialogues. Doing d i a l e c t i c
for your knowledge looks far more arduous than simply
recol1ecting.
To say t h i s i s not unfair to the recollection
theory. A participation i n a d e f i n i t i o n hunt whose
soul had i n i t s divine journey seen the form of the
definiendum and who now suddenly r e c o l l e c t s what i t then
saw ( l i k e a dish a e r i a l catching and holding a s a t e l l i t e ) ,
i f he were t o break i n with the cry " I ' v e got i t , I see
i t and i t ' s l o v e l y , but I can't t e l l you anything about
i t " , or "a thing i s i f and only i f i t resembles the form
I now see" would r i g h t l y be silenced f o r i r r e l e v a n c e .
And even i f he were able, i n the strength o f h i s v i s i o n , to
produce an a-logos, i t would be as c r i t i c a l l y examined as any
other hypothesis and remain a candidate for rejection
for all the

360
c l a r i t y he claimed for his recollection.

07

Having summarized Strang's position, I would l i k e to


pursue his distinction between p-and a-logoi further, with
an eye toward showing how Strang's own a n a l y s i s , f a r from
showing the epistemological s t e r i l i t y of paradigmatism, holds
a clue as t o how the Forms might be conceived as paradigms
w i t h o u t necessitating a l l the t r o u b l e s o f the TMA.
But f i r s t , a few c r i t i c a l observations,

i)

Strang i s

overly dogmatic about Plato's earlier account of knowledge and


reminiscence or recollection of the Form (anamnesis) by the
discarnate soul before birth.

Strang i s being dogmatic

because, f i r s t o f a l l , i t i s rash to assume t h a t anamnesis,


as Strang so b l u n t l y conceives i t , was p a r t o f a doctrine
that Plato e x p l i c i t l y outlined and believed.

Grube points out

that the g u l f between the Forms and p a r t i c u l a r s i s bridged not


only by anamnesi s i n the Meno, Phaedo, and Phaedrus, but by
nous i n Phaedo and (most elaborately) Republic, and by
er5s i n Phaedrus and Symposi um.
R e p u b l ic ,

38

I n the Seventh Letter and the

the "eye of the soul" imagery does not evoke the

l i t e r a l recollection of a past encounter with the Forms, but


implies that one i s able to have noetic access to the Forms
i n the present mement.

Furthermore, as Grube and Friedlander

p o i n t o u t , Plato o f t e n mixes h i s metaphors as t o how knowledge


i s possible through the Forms: eg., i n Phaedrus 249c anamnisi s
27

Op

Strang, op. c i t . , pp. 198-99

G.M.A. Grube, Plato's Thought (London, 1935),


pp. 10-32, 126-27.

361
i s identified not merely with dialectic (which Strang himself
notes), but also with "erotic mania".

39

In short, Plato

gives us no d e f i n i t i v e , simple account o f how man has " n o e t i c


access" to the Forms:

he uses various tentative, inexhaustive

descriptions of the process dial ectic, reminiscence, nous,


eros--none of which i s the foundational epistemological
concept.

Because Strang takes anamnesi s to be j u s t t h a t , h i s

reading of Plato's "paradigmatic" ontology i s compromised:


anamnesis becomes a l i t e r a l event, an actual r e c o l l e c t i o n of
what went on i n the discarnate soul.

But, as i n Timaeus,

such cosmological speculation i s immediately qualified as


muthos, and there i s much t o i n d i c a t e t h a t Plato never
intended anamnesis t o be more than a " l i k e l y story" given
a c e r t a i n dramatic context ( c f . Meno 81a).
W h i c h b r i n g s me t o m y s e c o n d m a j o r c i r i t i c i s m o f
Strang:

ii)

that because of t h i s misunderstanding of the

nature o f anamnesis Strang i s q u i t e u n c r i t i c a l about how


Forms function as paradigms i n P l a t o ' s dialogues i c . , how
they are paradigms.

On p . 188 o f h i s a r t i c l e , S t r a n g says

t h a t the mainstays of the early-middle period theory o f Forms


were 1)

the image-copy relationship, and 2) a l i t e r a l

understanding of anamnesis, which entails 3) the resemblance


o f f o r m and p a r t i c u l a r , w h i c h i s a v a r i a n t o f SP,.

But i s i t

l e g i t i m a t e to construe Platonic resemblance t h i s way?

Only

i f a) there i s a direct analogy between i n t u i t i n g the Forms


i n our past l i f e and seeing particulars i n t h i s l i f e , or i f
39

Paul Friedlander, PIato, Vol. 1 , p . 31

362
b) the only sort of paradigm there i s i s one l i k e the
standard bar - - a perfect example of something of a kind with
a l l i t s (other) instances. But a) rests upon a naivete about
anamnesis; even i f P l a t o was n o t being t e n t a t i v e o r even
mythic, there i s enough mention -in the dialogues about the
difference between noesi s and ai sthesi s that i t would be
f a c i l e to suppose t h a t our "seeing" the Forms before b i r t h
i s simply a high-grade version o f the a i s t h e s i s we have i n our
present l i v e s . And i f this i s so, b) could only r e s t on an
ungrounded assumption

that no paradigm

could f a i l to be of
40
a piece with the standard bar, standard lead weight, etc.
Is b) a mere presupposition of Strang^? I think so,
for this reason: his understanding of a paradigm, and of the
Forms as paradigms, centers around t h e i r capacity f o r being
standards. His argument against paradigmatism focuses on
standards: that i f something i s a paradigmatic standard, e.g.,
the paradigmatic yard, then i f i t i s a paradigm (e.g., a yard
long) i t must be a paradigm i n virtue of something which
i s i t s e l f a paradigm (and so on, ad i n f i n i t u m ) , or something
which i s non-paradigmatic (e.g., not a yard long). This
effectively punctures Plato's middle theory of Forms, says
Strang. But might i t n o t be the case t h a t some t h i n g s can
serve as standards and not be paradigms i n the way t h a t those
things which are "measured" against the standard are, yet
s t i l l i n some sense are " l i k e " those instances and, hence,
are paradigmatic?

40

For a general account of anamnesis and psuche i n


Plato, see Friedlander, op. c i t . , vol 1 , pp. 195-96, p. 156,
as well as J.H. Randall, PIato: Dramatist of the L i f e of
Reason (New York: Columbia U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1971), pp. 19092, and W.K.C. Guthrie, "Plato's Views on the Nature of the
Soul", i n V;astos, ed., Plato I I (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971).
See also Friedlander's specific treatment o f anamnesis i n
the Meno and t h e Phaedo ( v o l . 2 , pp. 283-84 and v o l . 3 , p p .
46-47) as more or less a metaphor f o r "the i n t r i n s i c r e l a t i o n
ship between soul and eidos."

363
Strang himself has given us an example of t h i s :
a-1ogos and that after which i t i s patterned.
example:

the

To use h i s

the standard bar allows one to formulate a p-1ogos

for calling something a yard long, i.e., the I.S.Y. unit


measurement defined i n the 1878 act; but the pendulumexperiment allows one to define a yard via that which i s
not a yard long, and i n fact i s not even a thing, but an
event.

The s u p e r i o r i t y o f an a-1ogos over a p-1ogos seems

to be that the a-1ogos does not r e l y , for the form of the


definiendum, on something o f the same o n t o l o g i c a l type
as the instances of the definiendum.

The length o f a

pendulum covering a certain time-sweep i s not l i k e the length


of a bronze bar on r o l l e r s i n the crucial respect:

the latter

i s a thing which becomes a yard by f i a t , while the former i s an


experimental event whose procedures are set beforehand, and
which generates the meaning of "yard" i n an entirely different
way.

But i t must be asked:

must something of a different

ontological type be non-paradigmatic?

Must i t f a i l to be

" 1 i k e " i t s instances i n any important way?

I f not, then there

i s a s e n s e , e . g . , t h a t s o m e t h i n g n o t a y a r d l o n g c a n b e 1i k e
a

yard; that which generates an a-1ogos can also serve, i n

some sense, as a model o r standard, and thus there can be a-1ogoi


which can also serve as p-1ogoi - - their classes aren't totally
di sjunct.
Consider the example of model shipbuilding.

One can

assemble the assorted parts i n t o a scale model by following a

364
detailed representative drawing of the ship.

This would serve

as a paradigm by Strang's standards - - e.g., a replica of


"Cutty Sark"-- whether o r not i t was a good o r bad r e p l i c a ,
could be defined (p-1oqos) i n terms of whether, and to what
extent, i t resembled the original representative drawing or
drawings.

On the o t h e r hand, one c o u l d make t h e model s h i p

by following a series of written instructions, indicating


step-by-step which of the numbered parts are to be joined
together, etc.

The w r i t t e n i n s t r u c t i o n s can generate a

d e f i n i t i o n o f a replica o f "Cutty Sark" as easily as could


the exemplary drawings - - the difference being that there
the definition would be an a-1ogos rather than a p-1ogos.
Hence the exemplary drawings, being " l i k e " the scale
model, are paradigms, while the instructions, "unlike" the
model are non-paradigmatic.

But i s t h i s r e a l l y so?

What i s

striking aobut the written instructions i s that for a l l


p r a c t i c a l purposes they do the same t h i n g as the drawings,
they f i l l t h e same r o l e i n model s h i p b u i l d i n g .

They are

both models against which one can check one's progress i n


assembling "Cutty Sark"; they are both standards which
enable indentification of the model as that of "Cutty Sark".
I f both the drawings and the i n s t r u c t i o n s do t h i s , why would
i t be necessary, as Strang seems t o t h i n k , t o r e s t r i c t the
relation "likeness" to that which holds between drawing and
scale model, and deny i t to that which obtains between modeland instructions?

Strang seems t o be showing a c e r t a i n

chauvinism toward the visual i n his analyses of paradigmatism:

365
as Wittgenstein noted, a score, a recording, and a per
formance o f , say, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony are l o g i c a l l y
41
a l i k e , i f not l i t e r a l visual pictures of each other.
I f t h i s i s mere chauvinism on Strang's p a r t , then the
instructions, and therefore non-self-predicative Foems,
could be said to be at least " l i k e " theur instances
without fear of an i n f i n i t e regress.
Whether o r n o t we should g i v e p a r t i c u l a r s t h e p r i
vilege of being 1ike their forms, or merely " l i k e " them i n
some vague unspecified way ( e . g . , whether, i n A l l e n ' s words,
p a r t i c u l a r s "resemble" Forms or are mere "semblances") could
lead to an avalanche of f r u i t l e s s discussion. I w i l l avoid
further treatment of the issue by changing the subject of
discussion to something more u s e f u l . Whether the Forms
are paradigms or not i s an issue that rests on another
issue: whether any standard which serves as a principle of
i d e n t i f i c a t i o n and evaluation, and i s a model f o r fashioning
copies, but does not l i t e r a l l y resemble those copies,
could be called a paradigm without equivocation. For t h i s
i s what Forms d, among other t h i n g s : whether they m e r i t the
name "paradigm i s l a r g e l y i r r e l e v a n t and almost a matter o f
convention. But Paradigm or n o t , i f the Forms can serve as
models ( i n the manner of the printed instructions,
for example) for the fashioning of particular things
and their evaluation, they are not doubt paradigmatic,
or put more precisely, can serve as paradigms, or
have c e r t a i n paradigm q u a l i t i e s o r a s p e c t s . Even i_f

^^Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Phi 1osophicus


(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul , 1961), par. 4.014, p . 20.

Plato abandoned the idea o f Forms analogous to the standard


bar, his Forms could nevertheless remain that a f t e r which the
n a t u r a l kosmos and human action can be fashioned or modeled.
Whether or not such a Form i s a paradigm, i t i s undeniably
paradi gmati c.
The c h i e f example of paradigmatic Forms i n the
l a t e r dialogues i s , o f course, i n the Timaeus: the kosmos
aisthetos i s fashioned a f t e r the kosmos noetos, the former
being "a moving shadow of e t e r n i t y " . Beneath a l l t h i s
poetic dress, however, there lurks no throwback to l i t e r a l l y
self-predicative Forms. The Form z5on, f o r example, need not
be z5on (and i n fact can't be i f i t i s to retain the
changelessness necessary to Forms) i n order to serve as a
model for the fashioning of particular zoa.

42

When P l a t o

speaks of the Form z5on as i f i t were a z5on (Timaeus 39e)


one need not take t h i s to be a major blunder on Plato's
p a r t , a fa11 i nto s e l f predicationism: as argued above,
locutions of the form "F-ness i t s e l f i s F" refer to the fact
t h a t F - n e s s i s t h e s o u r c e o f in t e l 1 i g i b i 1 i t y o f F , t h a t
i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect o f r e a l i t y which enables us t o know
things as F. Therefore the panic which forces Revisionists;
such as G.E.L. Owen, i n t o relocating the place of Timaeus
i n the platonic corpus, as well as the counter-reaction by
t r a d i t i o n a l Platonists such as H.F. Cherniss, i s largely
unnecessary: the f a c t that Plato's demiourgos uses Forms
42

Gregory Vlastos, "The Unity of the Virtues i n


the Protagoras", in Platonic Studies (Princeton: Princeton
Univ. Pr., 1981), pp. 261-62.

367
as models f o r the ordering o f the natural world i n no way
constitutes apparent reversion to an e a r l i e r , self-predicative
theory o f Forms (and there i s ample reason to doubt that there
ever was such a d o c t r i n e ) , nor i s i t evident that the
Timaeus has i t s proper origins i n a self-predicative "middle
period".

I n short, there i s no real clash between what the

Timaeus says about the Forms and what the Parmenides says,
even i f the Parmeni des i s interpreted as a refutation of
self-predicationism.
But the most important reason for paradigmatic forms i s
not i n accounting f o r the order of nature-- the Timaeus i s
admittedly a muthos--but i n providing concrete guides for
conduct.

To c i t e two instances:

i n Phi1ebus ( 2 6 b ) , i n t e l l i g e n c e

imposes a peras upon the apeiron of sensual pleasure; the


achievement of the good l i f e recapitulates the general
metaphysical scheme o f t h i n g s , and i s therefore an attempt a t
" i m i t a t i n g " through the a p p l i c a t i o n o f nous t o one's own
l i f e , the kosmos which i s i t s e l f ordered and l i m i t e d by
Form.

And i n the Repub!ic, discussion o f the ideal p o l i s ,

leads, i n Book IX (592a-b) to the conclusion that although


such a polis i s not realizable i n the here-and-now, i t can serve
as an immutable pattern for fashioning the l i f e of the just
individual.

The intended discussion o f the ideal p o l i s i n

the Republic, i s , i n fact, a sort of imaginative trope or


metaphor f o r the Forms o f Justice and, above, the Good:

as the

ideal polis i s a concrete representation of a community modeled


a f t e r t h e Good, we as i n d i v i d u a l s must l o o k t o the Good as an

368
exemplar i f we are ourselves t o be good, o r as P l a t o says,
"citizens" of that ideal city.
Plato's complaint against Sophism i s directed against
the idea that ethical inquiry i s , at best, a matter of doxa,
doxa i t s e l f being understood i n the context of a conceptual
relativism, i.e., that opinion is merely a matter of
c o l l e c t i v e p r e f e r e n c e , o f sheer nomos, and a l l d i s p u t e s common
to such inquiry are beyond rational adjudication.

In effect,

Sophists deny the i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect of the Good:

Sophism,

a t l e a s t as Plato saw i t , was an attempt t o reduce e t h i c a l


discourse to a series o f variations on culturally acceptable
themes.

No one needs t o be t o l d t h a t P l a t o considered t h i s

disasterous, from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint.


His tactic against the Sophists, in the main, takes the form
o f reasserting the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of the Good (e.g.,

Gorgias

or Protagoras, where the r e l a t i v i s m of the Sophists i s shown


to be self-refuting) but also by asserting the ethical aspect
of the i n t e l 1 i gible - - that a l l cognition i s , as i n Republi c VI,
508a-e, i n l i g h t of the Good, and i s oriented not merely toward
disinterested contemplation but towards the practical application
of epi steme, - transforming the individual or the community
i n t o someone or something t h a t i s good.

(e.g., Protaqoras357a f f .

on the unity of virtue and knowledge, or the return to the cave


i n Republic VII, 516c-e).

As w i t h Parmenides, P l a t o ' s

d i f f i c u l t y with Sophism centers around the notion of


i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y ; with the Sophists, however, there i s a
different sort of conflict:

they do not take i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y ,

369
particularly i n ethical and p o l i t i c a l matters, seriously
enough, with the consequence, Plato thinks, that they
themselves advance an u n i n t e l l i g i b l e position. Plato
wishes to score points for the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of moral
notions against the Sophists by developing his theory of
Forms. With few exceptions, discussion of the Forms takes
place i n the c o n t e x t , however vague or marginal, o f some
ethical issue, or question about the good for man. But i f
t h i s i s Plato's reason f o r advancing the Forms, as the

" .

reali ty or ontological ground of a l l i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , i t


i s necessary t h a t Forms b e , i n some way, paradigmatic:
capable of serving as models f o r r i g h t l i v i n g , as ideal
standards to be approximated. There must be a concrete
aspect to the Forms which no merely abstract universal can
provide: they must provide the moral agant not merely
w i t h concepts but w i t h goals. To t h i s extent the R e v i s i o n i s t
program seriously conpromises Plato's philosophical
v i s i o n : i f the Forms, a t some p o i n t , cease being paradigms,
their moral dimension fades, and with i t , their raison
d ' e t r e . However r i g h t the Revisionists are about the unt e n a b i l i t y of self-predicationism --and they have much of
value t o say on t h i s t o p i c - - they cannot be r i g h t on the
issue of paradigmatism: Forms, as abstract or "commutative"
universals, lack the concrete richness needed to serve as
the ideals which are necessary for achieving the good l i f e .
Insofar as Forms must be ideals, there must be a
43
sense i n which they are paradigms.

43

For a discussion of Platonic Forms as "concrete


universals", see William B r i e l , Plato's Theory of Forms
From an Ethical Point of View, doctoral dissertation,
Fordham Universi t y , 1978.

370
The Apologist camp happily recognizes t h i s :

but

they have f a i l e d t o show how a Form can be a paradigm y e t


avoid the regress arguments against self-predicative
paradigmatism i n the TMA.

Their f a i l u r e i s p a r t l y due

to a critical flaw in the apologist viewpoint:

the attempt

t o show t h a t Plato never intended s e l f - p r e d i c a t i v e Forms,


throughout his philosophic career.

As my e a r l i e r a t t e m p t t o

discover the significance of self-predication by determining


i t usage i n the dialogues has revealed, there i s no way o f
decisively settling the issue of self-predication in the
early and middle period dialogues (although the lack of
any convincing evidence supporting the self-predicationist
hypothesis leads one to believe that, a l l things considered,
the burden o f proof i s on those who would support t h a t
hypothesis).

My examination o f s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n i n the

context of the dialogues' main concerns and dramatic styles


also reveals that whatever Plato thought about Self-predication,
he did not think about i t long and hard:

i t is simply not a

concern of the dialogues t o establish Forms which are, i n


Vlastos1 words, "perfect particulars", or are analogous to
Strang's bronze b a r . ^

Apologists such as Allen, I fear,

take s e l f - p r e d i c a t i o n language i n the e a r l i e r dialogues much


too solemnly, as do the Revisionists.
44

Thus Allen's attempt

Vlastos himself practically admits this, by


contending that Plato never explicitly endorsed the Self-predica
tion assumption, which must be inferred from other Platonic
doctrines, such as d e g r e e s - o f - r e a l i t y . See Vlastos, "The
T h i r d Man Argument", p . 248.

371
to make sense out o f such language, through a vague
and convoluted doctrine of "ambiguous" predication, misfires
badly. Whether Plato, say, i n the Republic or the Timaeus,
thought of his paradigmatic Forms as self-predicative exemplars
i s largely beside the point. I t i s possible to view Forms as
paradigmatic without thinking of them as paradigms i n the
narrow sense advocated by Strang. For instance, a l l the
paradigmatic language i n the Republic does not for an instant
make Forms paradigms on the order of Strang's standard bar
- - i t merely i n s i s t s that Forms can serve as paradigms by
providing the lover of wisdom with a telos to approximate.
There would be nothing inconsistent i n accpeting these passages
i n the Republic at "face value" because there i s nothing i n
Plato's paradigmatic language, understood in context, that
necessitates a self-predicative doctrine of Forms. There i s
nothing i n Plato's text which forces our hand that way,
and t h e r e f o r e we would be e n t i r e l y j u s t i f i e d i n t h i n k i n g
that Plato himself intended i n these middle dialogues a
paradi gmati c, yet not (necessarily) sel f-predicative theory of
Forms.

45

This i s i n d i c a t i v e o f a p e r s i s t e n t tendency among


some analysts (esp. Vlastos) t o seek P l a t o ' s i n t e n t i o n s not
i n the t e x t but somehow "behind" i t ; I consider t h i s a t l e n g t h
i n Ch. X I , sec. D. See Stanley Rosen, "Ideas", Review o f
Metaphysics 16 (1963), p . 408, f o r an i n c i s i v e comment on
"what P I a t o h i m s e l f " m e a n t : " . . . 1 am n o t engaged i n an
interpretation of Plato's dialogues, at least in the normal,
s c h o l a r l y sense. I t seems obvious t o me t h a t t h e dialogues are
impossible t o understand i f we take them by themselves as an
object for analysis, without attempting to think through their
fundamental themes on the basis of our t o t a l experience.
This i s certainly the direction towards which the dialogues
themselves are pointing."

372
I have t r i e d t o show t h a t much o f the c r i t i c a l
hand-wringing over self-predication i s wasted e f f o r t .

As o u t

lined above, the Platonic text i s ambiguous, to say the l e a s t ,


on the matter, and any attempt t o cut through the ambiguity
by appeal to Plato's intentions as a c r i t i c a l faux pas.
A careful consideration of the reasons behind Plato's
conception o f the Forms as paradigmatic reveals no necessary
commitment to self-predication since the Forms, which must
serve as models f o r creation and moral action, need not be
models i n the way an a i stheton ( l i k e a bronze bar) i s .
Furthermore, when one considers the nature o f the Forms i n the
context of Plato's relationship to Parmendies-- i e . , the
Forms, l i k e Parmenidean "Being", are the i n t e l l i g i b l e aspect
of reality-- i t is possible to reconstrue Plato's apparently
self-predicative language i n non-self-predicative terms
(eg., "Justice i s just" meaning "Justice i s the i n t e l l i g i b l e
s o u r c e o f a l l t h i n g s t h a t a r e j u s t ; j u s t i c e i_s^ t h e
intelligibility of all just things).

And, as Strang himself

admits, Plato is not deeply concerned with the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y


of those things which easily lend themselves to a selfpredicative hypothesis; he i s concerned with "disputed things",
l i k e Justice and the Good.

Although this is precisely the

reason why Strang says Plato begins speaking i n paradigmatic


terms o f the Forms, i t i s d i f f i c u l t t o see how these "disputed
things" can be imaginatively focused into an exemplar l i k e
Strang's ideal yard.

In light of the above, Self-predication

i n Plato's early and middle period turns out to be a classic

373
red herring.
The metaphysical and e t h i c a l r o l e o f the Forms as
paradigmatic ideals and the logical and metaphysical part
they play ( l e . , f i x i n g the meaning of general terms; and
as real universals which can be noeti cal l.y apprehended)
need not be reconciled because, understood i n context,
they don't conflict.

Strang's conclusion - that

paradigmatism (and anamnesis) i s incompatible with a


dialectical account of knowledge - i s quite mistaken:
the wayin which Forms are paradigmatic does not i n h i b i t
d i a l e c t i c (by make a noetic "seeing" o f the Form necessary
and sufficient f o r episteme) but i s a necessary component of
the dialectical process:

one must have a noetic graps o f what

a particular form i s before one can explicate the knowledge


and correct one's misconceptions through dialectical
conversation.
anomolous:

Phaedrus 249b-c i s not, as Strang says,

dialectic and recollection are one, united i n the

same i n t e l l e c t u a l and moral movement toward the anhypotheton.


This i s most clearly expressed i n Meno, where reminiscence of
the e i dos and the d i a l e c t i c a l exercise simul taneousl.y bring
the slave boy to episteme;

i n Meno r e c o l l e c t i o n and d i a l e c t i c

are propaedeutic to knowledge, rather than knowledge i t s e l f ,


which deflates Strang's implication t h a t , were Forms s e l f predicative paradigms, d i a l e c t i c would be superfluous f o r
.

true episteme).

45

I n short, the place of the Forms i n

Plato's l a t e r philosophy, and the predominently "logical"


role they play i n dialogues such as Sophi s t , Statesman and
Phi 1ebus, does not signify a change i n doctrine from the
earlier dialogues:

i t merely denotes a change i n emphasis

- i.e., i n the problems to which the dialogues are addressed,


and perhaps i n P l a t o ' s own philosophical i n t e r e s t s .

The

supposed chasm which yawns between early and l a t e P l a t o ,


affirmed by revisionists and explained by apologists, i s
not a gulf at a l l , - at least not a particularly bothersome
one.

X I ) C O N C L U S I O N : WHY T H E A N A L Y T I C C R I T I C I S M O F
PLATO FAILS
I n Chs. I I I - X , I have t r i e d t o show the deep
misunderstanding of Vlastos's reading of Parmeni des. I
have also claimed that Revisionistic and Apologetic
c r i t i c s o f Vlastos o f t e n u n w i t t i n g l y make many o f the
assumptions Vlastos makes and thus likewise stumble i n t o
a bog of misunderstanding, a l b e i t a lesser sort of mis
u n d e r s t a n d i n g.
The question which must be asked now, i n con
clusion, i s "why i s t h i s musinderstanding r i f e within
a n a l y t i c commentary on Plato?" What could have motivated
scholars of considerable acumen t o view the Forms as
"perfect instances" (Vlastos), hypostatized concepts
(Crombie), or " o r i g i n a l s " whose "copies" resemble them i n
some u t t e r l y unspecifiable way ( A l l e n ) ? What i s i t t h a t
leads Vlastos i n t o asserting with supreme confidence that
Plato never "caught" the significance of the TMAs, while
leading a Ryle or an A c k r i l l , with equal confidence, into
claiming that Plato not only "caught" i t , but used i t to
r i d himself of an inept and cumbersome theory of Forms?
Why t h e e n d l e s s p r o l i f e r a t i o n o f r e a d i n g s and c o u n t e r readings? and why the p e r s i s t e n t a t t r i b u t i o n o f doctrines
to Plato ( e . g . , self-predicative Forms) which cannot be
adequately supported in the texts of his dialogues?
The answer of the preceding chapters to these

questions has been that the neglect of historical con


text and the failure to take seriously the l i t e r a r y side
of the dialogues are the principal reasons for the mis- =
readings of Vlastos, as well as Crombie, Allen, Ryle, e t . al
Insofar as Vlastos neglects the abundance of irony i n the
s u p e r f i c i a l l y "dry" Parmenides, he f a i l s to see Plato's
" s u p p r e s s i o n " o f k e y p r e m i s s e s i n t h e TMA a s p a r t o f h i s
plan t o make the reader o f the dialogue discover these
premisses for himself and to note their absurdity. Insofar
as Crombie ignores the fact that the issue between Par
menides and Plato concerned the ontological status of the
principles of i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y , he i s unable to r i d him
s e l f o f the n o t i o n t h a t Forms must be, i n some o c c u l t and
hazy way, things or " e n t i t i e s " . Insofar as Ryle ignores
the difference between Plato's problematic and his own,
h e m i s t a k e s t h e TMA f o r l o g i c a l a n a l y s i s b e f o r e i t s t i m e ,
c l e a r i n g up the l i n g u i s t i c confusion between common and
proper names. A proper awareness of the dialogues as
philosophical l i t e r a t u r e and as products of an alien his
t o r i c a l milieu would, I have been suggesting, cover a
multitude of hermeneutical "sins". But there i s more to
be said about the matter. The above i l l u s t r a t e s the general
i n f i r m i t i e s of analytic Platonic commentary. The specifics
- - i . e . , what led Vlastos astray, or Crombie, or Ryle, e t c . - need to be spelled out.
In what follows I shall attempt to carry out that
t a s k , once again u s i n g V l a s t o s as my f o c u s . I s h a l l argue

377
i n S e c t i o n A t h a t V l a s t o s ' s c o n f u s i o n a b o u t t h e TMA s t e m s ,
i n part, from his one-sided estimate of "degrees-ofreality" in Plato's metaphysics. In Section B I shall ar
gue that that confusion flows from a c r i t i c a l predisposition
Vlastos exhibits which i s an expression of the analytic
"self-image" as the embodiment of true philosophical method.
I contend that a philosophy which embodies this self-image,
when i t turns to the task of i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , d i s t o r t s what i t
t r i e s t o e x p l i c a t e . I n Section C 1 s h a l l show how t h i s s e l f image prompts some a n a l y t i c c r i t i c s t o s u b s t i t u t e t h e i r
philosophical problematic or research program for that of the
interpretant; in Vlastos's case, there is a serious con
fusion between Plato's brand of metaphysical realism and that
sort of post-Fregean realism frequently attacked by contemporary
nominalists. F i n a l l y , i n Section D, I s h a l l comment on
Vlastos's interpretive procedure, as I believe i t seriously
d i s t o r t s the way i n which an i n t e r p r e t e r comes t o understand
what an author meant i n a t e x t , and because i t overestimates
the value of analytic method i n understanding written philosophy.
A ) 0_n D e g r e e s - o f - R e a l i t y .
I n Vlastos' 1954 a r t i c l e on the TMA, a rather
daring claim i s made:
. . .the costliest of a l l the assumptions
t h a t P l a t o made i s t h a t the verb ' i s ' and a l l i t s
variants (when used i n ontological assertions) have
a single meaning, the one which i s j o i n t l y specified

378
by the four propositions I have just enumerated. 1
These propositions, which Vlastos takes to be
P l a t o ' s understanding of what i t means t o bje, are as
follows:
i ) X in intel1igible;
i i ) X is changeless;
i i i ) X i s not qualified by contrary predicates;
iv) X is itself the perfect instance of the property
or relation which the word for "X" connotes. 2
Vlastos's defense of this position i s , I think,
inadequate. He attempts t o support a u n i c i t y - o f - B e i n g theory
i n Plato by appealing to various textual supports for
the four propositions l i s t e d above. I n support of i ) , he
c i t e s P h a e d o 6 5 c f f . , R e p u b l ic 5 0 9 d f f . j i n s u p p o r t o f i i ) ,
he c i t e s Phaedo 78d f f . a n d others; i n support of i i i ) he
c i t e s Phaedo 74c, and so on.

There i s no e f f o r t to con-

textualize these references into the literary setting of


t h e i r home dialogues - - a methodological f a i l i n g which
Vlastos continually exhibits. But even i f these references
do support his b e l i e f that the four propositions express
Plato's views about the meaning of " t o be", one could argue
that they do not support his case tout court. A Revisionist
might argue that since most of Vlastos's citations refer
to middle-period dialogues (e.g., Phaedo, Republi c) or dia
logues which other Revisionists have .argued are earlier
than i s usually thought (e.g., Timaeus, Cratylus), Vlastos

^Gregory Vlastos, "The Third Han Argument i n the


Parmenides", i n R.E. Allen, ed., Studies i n Plato's Metaphysics
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p . 246.
2Ibid.

31bid.,

p. 246nl-3.

379
begs the crucial question: a Revisionist would claim that
the 1ater dialogues agree with Aristotle in that "things
can be said to be i n many d i f f e r e n t senses --namely, Forms
and particulars.
But one need not adhere to Revisionism to find
fault with Vlastos's ascription of "univocality" to Plato.
Propositions i ) - i i i ) , a t least, could apply just as
neatly to a "multivocal" account of the meaning of "to be".
I believe I have established much o f t h i s i n previous
chapters. For example, i f X i s a Form, i t i s intellegible,
a noeton; i f x i s a p a r t i c u l a r , i t i s an aisthe'ton, yet i s
made i n t e l l i g i b l e through i t s p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n Forms. Thus
i ) , by i t s e l f , need not be hard evidence for Plato's univocality-of-Being thesis. Likewise with i i ) : a particular,
x, changes, but i t s intelligible aspect, constituted through
p a r t i c i p a t i o n with the e i de, does not. Proposition i i i ) ,
concerning contrary p r e d i c a t e s , was d e a l t w i t h a t l e n g t h
i n Ch. V I I : I argued there that although i i i ) could,
properly understood, characterize Forms and not p a r t i
culars, i t could not serve to differentiate Forms from
particulars. Improperly understood ( e . g . , Forms as "atomic
intel1igibles"), i i i ) i s not a characteristic of Forms. In
Ch. VII I cited the remainder of Parmenides P t . 1 , and i n
Ch. VI the "interweaving" of the f i v e megista gene as
evidence t h a t , i n a qualified sense, i i i ) does not hold for
Plato: although the i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y that Form F-ness i s i s
not that of i t s contrary, F-ness can and must be understood

t o be both same (as i t s e l f ) and d i f f e r e n t (from o t h e r s ) ,


and so on.
Vlastos, nevertheless, insists on the univocity of
Being i n P l a t o . He opines:
The A r i s t o t e l i a n axiom. . . was not a com