Friday, December 26, 2014

Plato’s Parmenides and Parmenides’ poem On nature

In my present entry I shall investigate the relationship between Plato’s Parmenides and Parmenides’ poem On nature. Allen says that ‘Neither the historical Parmenides nor the historical Socrates could have spoken as they will here [i. e. in the Parmenides] be made do speak.’ (Plato’s Parmenides, Translated with Comment by R. E. Allen, p. 74) Allen’s claim concerning Socrates I discussed in the previous entry. Concerning Parmenides Allen claims that in the dialogue ‘he accepts the theory against which he states perplexities, and its attendant pluralism (135b-c) … To draw a Parmenides converted to the pluralism of the theory of Ideas is, according to the testimony of the Parmenides itself, to contradict one of the most striking features of his known thought.’ (p. 75) I shall argue that in the dialogue Parmenides does not ‘accept’ the theory of Forms. He views it as a theory well known to him, a theory which he had discussed with Zeno long before the two met Socrates. Far from being converted to the pluralism of the theory of Ideas, in the second part of the dialogue, in which he discusses the one, he comprehensively destroys the plurality of being and thus defends the oneness of Being against the challenge with which Socrates confronted him in the first part.

Let me begin with a summary account of Socrates’ challenge to Parmenides and Zeno. Socrates says to Parmenides: ‘In the poem (en tois poiêmasin) you say that All is one (hen phêis einai to pan) and provide proofs of it (kai toutȏn tekmêria parechêi) beautifully and well (kalȏs te kai eu), and Zeno says in turn that many are not (hode de au ou polla phêsin einai), and he too provides very many proofs and of great magnitude (tekmêria de kai autos pampolla kai pammegethê parechetai). When you say that only one is and Zeno says that many are not, although you appear to be saying different things, it seems that you in fact maintain the same thing (dokein schedon ti legontas t’auta)’. (128a8-b3). Zeno then himself confirms Socrates’ view that his ‘treatise is in truth a defence of Parmenides’ arguments’ (to ge alêthes boêtheia tis tauta ta grammata tȏi Parmenidou logȏi, 128c6-7).

Proofs that Parmenides presented in his poem are not discussed in the dialogue; Socrates focuses his attention on Zeno’s proof: ‘Don’t you say, Zeno, that if things that are, are many (ei polla esti ta onta), they must be both like and unlike (hȏs ara dei auta homoia te einai kai anomoia), which is quite impossible (touto de dê adunaton); for neither can the unlike be like nor the like unlike (oute gar ta anomoia homoia oute ta homia anomoia hoion te einai)? Isn’t this your claim?’ (127e1-4). ‘Just so,’ Zeno replies.

Socrates shares Zeno’s assumption that contradictory things cannot be. On this basis he challenges him to show that like and unlike and other Forms (eidê) are themselves in themselves contradictory; only thus would Parmenides’ thesis that ‘All is one’ be properly defended. He asks Zeno: ‘Do you not think that there is (einai) a Form in itself of likeness (auto kath’ hauto eidos ti homoiotêtos), and another Form, which is opposite to it, which is (estin) unlike (anomoion); and that of these two (toutoin de duoin ontoin), you and I and the other things, which we call many, get a share (metalambanein)? (128e6-129a3) … If all things get a share (metalambanein) of these contradictory Forms and by participating in both of them (tȏi metechein amphoin) become both like and unlike themselves to themselves (auta hautois), where is the wonder (ti thaumaston; 129a6-b1)? … If someone shows that that which is one (ho estin hen), this itself (auto touto) is many (polla), and the many is actually one (ta polla dê hen), I should be amazed (touto êdê thaumasaimi)’ (129b6-c1). And so concerning everything else; if the Kinds and Forms in themselves (ei auta ta genê kai ta eidê en hautois) someone showed to be affected by these contradictory affections (apophainoi t’anantia tauta pathê paschonta), that would be worthy of wonder (axion thaumazein) (129b6-c3).’

‘As Socrates was saying all this, Pythodorus said that he thought that Parmenides and Zeno would be annoyed at every word;’ (130a3-5) he was clearly well aware that if Parmenides’ poem could not be defended against Socrates’ challenge, its tenability would be seriously undermined. To his surprise, Zeno and Parmenides paid close attention to everything that Socrates had to say, and ‘often (thama) glanced at each other and smiled as if in admiration (130a5-7)’; the ‘theory of Forms’ was presumably nothing new to them.  – Plato’s Parmenides should prompt us to rethink Burnet’s view that the theory of Forms ‘was not originated by Plato, or even by Socrates, but is essentially Pythagorean’ (Plato’s Phaedo, Edited with Introduction and notes by John Burnet, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1911, p. xliii) Let me just note that the ancients viewed Parmenides as an associate of the Pythagoreans (DK I. Fr. A 4, pp. 218-9; A 12, p. 220; A 40a p. 225; A44 p. 225).

Parmenides opened his questioning of Socrates by asking him whether he himself thus distinguished ‘certain Forms separately by themselves (chȏris men eidê auta atta), and separately again the things that have a share in them (chȏris de ta toutȏn au metechonta, 130b1-3)?' Without waiting for Socrates’ answer, he asked further: ‘And likeness itself, does it seem to you to be something separate from the likeness which we have, and one of course (kai hen dê) and many (kai polla) and all those things (kai panta) that you just heard from Zeno?’ Socrates answered: ‘It seems so to me (Emoige).’ (130b3-5)

I shall skip Parmenides’ critical questioning of Socrates’ ‘theory of Forms’ for I have discussed it in the entry of November 14 ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’.

Parmenides closed his criticism with the words: ‘Nevertheless, if someone will not allow Forms of things to be (mê easei eidê tȏn ontȏn einai), in view of these and similar difficulties,  nor define some Form of each thing (mêde ti horieitai eidos henos hekastou), he won’t even have whither to turn his mind (oude hopoi trepsei tên dianoian hexei),  not allowing a Form of each thing to be ever the same (mê eȏn idean tȏn ontȏn hekastou tên autên aei einai); and so he will utterly destroy the power of discourse (kai houtȏs tên tou dialegesthai dunamin pantapasi diaphtherei).  I think you are only too aware of that sort of consequence.’ – ‘True,’ Socrates replied. – Parmenides: ‘What then will you do about philosophy? (Ti oun poiêseis philosophias peri;) Not knowing these things, which way will you turn? (Pêi trepsêi agnooumenȏn toutȏn;)’ – Socrates: ‘I can’t really see at the present moment.’ – Parmenides: ‘For too early (Prȏi gar), before being trained (prin gumnasthênai), you endeavour to define (horizesthai epicheireis) something beautiful, and just, and good (kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon) and each one of the Forms (kai hen hekaston tȏn eidȏn) (135b5-d1).’ Socrates asked: ‘What sort of training?’ Parmenides replied: ‘This (Houtos), which you heard from Zeno (honper êkousas Zênȏnos). But I admired this, which you said to him, that you did not allow to subject the wandering (tên planên) among the things we see nor concerning them to inspection, but concerning those things (alla peri ekeina), which one would most especially grasp by rational account (logȏi) and consider to be Forms (kai eidê an hêgêsaito einai). (135d7-e4)

In Parmenides' poem, the contentious scrutiny concerning the truth must be decided by rational account (logȏi, fr. B 7, 5).

What wandering (tên planên) does Parmenides have in mind? He says that one must examine not only what follows if like is and if unlike is, as Socrates has insisted, but one must examine furthermore what follows if like is not and if unlike is not (135e5-136a2): ‘Take, for example, the hypothesis that Zeno hypothesized, if many is, one must ask what must be the consequences for the many themselves relative to themselves and relative to the one, and for the one relative to itself and relative to the many. And in turn, if many is not, again consider what will be the consequences for the one and for the many relative to themselves and relative to each other.’ (136a4-b1)

Socrates saw that the task that Parmenides suggested was enormous and he did not quite understand it; he asked Parmenides ‘to hypothesize something and go through it’ (ti ou diêlthes autos hupothemenos ti), so that he could understand it better (136c6-8). When Parmenides said he was too old for such a great task, Socrates turned to Zeno: ‘Why don’t you go through it for us?’ – Zeno laughed and said: ‘Let’s ask Parmenides himself, for what he proposed is not an ordinary thing. Or don’t you see how great request you are making? … Without this going through and wandering through everything (aneu tautês tês dia pantȏn diexodou te kai planês) it is impossible to meet with truth (entuchonta tȏi alêthei) and gain intelligence (noun schein). Parmenides, I join Socrates in his request, so that I too may hear it all again (hina kai autos diakousȏ) after a long time (dia chronou).’ (136d4-e4)

The definite article with which Parmenides qualifies the wandering (tên planên) at 135e2 suggests that he points to something definite. Parmenides says that Zeno exemplified it in his treatise, and outlines task of wandering in among the Forms. Zeno refers to it as ‘this going through and wandering through everything’. Socrates mentioned Parmenides’ poem, which he obviously knew well; does ‘the wandering’ have anything to do with the poem? The training to which both Parmenides and Zeno refer as ‘wandering’ is a preparatory, propaedeutic wandering; as such it corresponds to the proem: ‘Divine beings (daimones) brought me on the many-voiced road (es hodon bêsan poluphêmon) that carries a knowing man through all towns’ (hê kata pant’ astê pherei eidota phȏta) (fr. 1, 1-3) … the road which is outside the path trodden by men (hê gar ap’ anthrȏpȏn patou estin, fr. 1, 27)’. On this road he came to the house of Night, where the Goddess revealed to him ‘the unshakable heart of the well rounded Truth’ (Alêtheiês eukukleos atremes êtor, fr. 1, 29), to which the ‘Way of Truth’ is then devoted (DK I. Fr. 1, 1-29, pp. 228-230).

Parmenides in the end gave in to the entreaties of Socrates, Zeno, Pythodorus, Aristoteles, and the unnamed other participants: ‘Do you wish, since I am to play this laborious game, that I begin with myself and my own hypothesis, hypothesizing about the one itself, if one is and if one is not (eite hen estin eite mê) (137b2-4), what must follow?’ As his interlocutor Parmenides proposed ‘the youngest, for he is the least likely to make difficulties, and would most likely answer what he thinks’ (137b6-7); this happened to be Aristoteles. Parmenides begins: ‘If one is (ei hen estin), the one would not be many (ouk an eiê polla to hen), would it? – Aristotle answers: ‘How could it be many?’  - ‘So it cannot have parts nor be a whole’ (137c4-6) ... ‘it can have neither beginning, middle, nor end (137d4-5) … it has no shape, for it does not have a share of straight or round (137d8-e1) … it has no share of time, nor is it at any time (141d4-5) … it never was, has become, was becoming, will be, will become, will have become, is, nor is becoming, for all these expressions appear to signify sharing of time (chronou methexin dokei sêmainein, 141d7-8), the one therefore has no share whatsoever in being (oudamȏs ara to hen ousias metechei, 141e9) … the one is neither one nor is (to hen oute hen estin oute estin, 141e12) … so it is neither named nor spoken of, it cannot be an object of opinion, it cannot be known, it cannot be perceived by senses’ (142a4-6) … ‘Can all this be the case concerning the one?’ (Ê dunaton oun peri to hen tauta houtȏs echein)? - Aristotle answers: ‘I don’t think so.’ (142a6-8)

Parmenides starts again: ‘Look (hora) from the beginning. If one is (hen ei estin), is it possible for it to be (ara hoion te auto einai men) but not have a share of being (ousias de mê metechein)?’ – Aristoteles: ‘Impossible.’(142b5-7)

The Greek terms eidos and idea are derived from the aorist stem of the verb horaȏ ‘see’, ‘look’. Jowett’s rendering of Parmenides’ ‘Look from the beginning ‘ (hora dê ex archês) ‘Then we will begin at the beginning’ and Allen’s ‘Then examine from the beginning’ obfuscate the fact that Parmenides is going to view ‘the one’ as a Form in terms of Socrates’ challenge to Zeno and Parmenides: ‘I would admire it much more, if someone could prove (epideixai) in the Forms themselves (en autois tois eidesi) this same perplexity (tên autên tautên aporian) interwoven in all kinds of ways; as you went through it concerning things we can see (hȏsper en tois horȏmenois diêlthete), so in those that are grasped by rational account (houtȏs kai en tois logismȏi lambanomenois, 129e6-130a1)’. The terms metechein, metalambanein, which signify ‘getting a share’, and ‘having a share’ in Forms, and which as such became central to Parmenides’ criticism of Socrates’ ‘Theory of Forms’ (130e5-133a6), become central to Parmenides’ discourse concerning ‘the one’.

Parmenides continues: ‘Then the being (hê ousia) of the one (tou henos) will not be the same as the one (eiê an ou t’auton ousa tȏi heni) … so when one says together that one is (epeidan tis syllêbdên eipêi hoti hen estin), this would mean (tout’ an eiê to legomenon) that the one partakes of being (hoti ousias metechei to hen) … the being and the one (hê te ousia kai to hen) are not the same (esti ou to auto) … the one must be a whole (holon) of which the one and the being become parts (toutou de gignesthai moria to te hen kai to einai) … each of these parts, the one and the being, both is, and is one, each is a whole with parts, each becomes two and never one (du’ aei gignomenon oudepote hen einai) … the one that is (to hen on) thus would turn to be unlimited in multitude (apeiron an to plêthos houtȏs eiê) (142b7-143a2) … one and two make three, three is odd, two is even (143d) … so if one is, there must be number (ei ara estin hen, anangkê kai arithmon einai, 144a4)’.

Parmenides begins to show that the perplexity – ‘if things that are, are many, they must be both like and unlike (hȏs ara dei auta homoia te einai kai anomoia), which is quite impossible (touto de dê adunaton); for neither can the unlike be like nor the like unlike (oute gar ta anomoia homoia oute ta homia anomoia hoion te einai, 127e1-4)’ – is interwoven in things that are grasped by rational account (logismȏi), as Zeno had shown them interwoven in things we can see. The assumption that contradictory things are impossible, they cannot be, which formed the basis of Zeno’s defence of Parmenides’ thesis that ‘All is one’, forms now the basis of Parmenides’ discourse on the one.

On the same principle Parmenides rejected the multiplicity of things in his poem, describing as deaf and blind (kȏphoi homȏs tuphloi te) those ‘for whom (hois) to be and not to be (to pelein te kai ouk einai) is considered to be one and the same (t’auton nenomistai) and not one and the same (k’ou tauton, fr. B 6 7-9).’

Parmenides continues: ‘Being a whole, the one must be limited (peperasmenon, 144e8) … the one that is (to hen ara on) is one and many, a whole and parts, limited and unlimited in multitude (145a2-3) … if the one is a whole, it has extremes (eschata), and it also has beginning (archên), middle (meson), and end (teleutên), and as such it would have a share (metechoi) of some shape (schêmatos tinos), straight, or round, or a mixture of both (145a4-b5) … it is in itself and in something different, it must always be both moved and in rest (146a6-7) … it is different from the others and from itself, and the same as the others and itself (147b6-8) … in like manner it is the same to itself and different from itself, like (homoion) and unlike (anomoion) itself (148d2-4) … it touches itself and the others and it does not touch itself nor the others … it occupies a space (chȏran, 148e9) … it has a share of time (metechei chronou, 152a2-3) … and there would be knowledge (epistêmê) and opinion (doxa) about it and perception (aisthêsis) of it, since just now we perform all these things regarding it (eiper kai nun hêmeis peri autou panta tauta prattomen, 155d6-7).’

Parmenides does not finish off the enquiry concerning ‘the one if it is’ on this positive-sounding note: ‘Yet once more and for the third time, let us consider: If the one is as we have described, must it not, being one and many and neither one nor many and taking share in time, in as far as it is one (hoti men estin hen), partake of being at some time (ousias metechein pote), and as far as it is not (hoti d’ ouk esti), at some time in turn not partake of being (mê metechein au pote ousias)? … then at a different time it partakes and at a different time it does not partake … then, isn’t there a time at which it assumes being (hote metalambanei tou einai) and at which it leaves off from it (kai hote apallattetai autou)? … “to assume being” (ousias metalambanein), wouldn’t you call it “to become” (gignesthai)? … and “to leave off from being” (apallattesthai ousias), wouldn’t you call it “to perish” (apollusthai)? … then the one, it seems, taking being and letting go of being (lambanon te kai aphien ousian), becomes and perishes (gignetai te kai apollutai).’ (155e4-156b1)

Parmenides goes on to review other kinds of change, such as changing from like to unlike and from unlike to like … from being in motion (hotan de kinoumenon) to standing still (histêtai) and from standing still (kai hotan hestos) to moving (epi to kineisthai metaballêi, 156c1-2). He argues that ‘there is no time (chronos de ge oudeis estin), at which anything can at once neither move nor stand still (en hȏi ti hoion te hama mête kineisthai mête hestanai), yet the one cannot change (all’ oude mên metaballei) without changing (aneu tou metaballein). When does it then change (Pot’ oun metaballei)? … Is this that strange thing (to atopon touto), in which it would be (en hȏi an eiê) when it changes (hote metaballei)?’ – Aristoteles: ‘What thing?’ – Parmenides: ‘The instant (To exaiphnês) … this strange nature (phusis atopos) sits in between movement and standing still (engkathêtai metaxu tês kinêseȏs kai staseȏs), being in no time at all (en oudeni chronȏi ousa), and into it and from it (kai eis tautên dê kai ek tautês) that which moves changes into standing still (to te kinoumenon metaballei epi to hestanai) and that which is standing still into moving (kai to hestos epi to kineisthai) … And the one too, since it stands still and moves, changes to each – for only thus it could do both – but changing it changes at an instant, and when it changes, it would be in no time at all, it would neither move nor stand still … On the same principle, in passing from one to many (ex henos epi polla ion) and from many to one, it is neither one nor many, it is neither in the process of separation nor in the process of aggregation. And in passing from like to unlike and unlike to like, it is neither like nor unlike, neither becoming like nor becoming unlike; and in passing from small to large and to equal, and in the opposite way, it is neither large nor small nor equal, neither grows nor diminishes nor becomes equal … By all these affection the one would be affected, if it is.’ (156c6-157b4) Parmenides then goes on to investigate how the others would be affected (ti de tois allois prosêkoi an paschein) if one is (157b6-160b4).

Then Parmenides explores what follows ‘if one is not’ (ei hen mê estin) (160b5-164b4), and then again how the others would be affected (t’alla ti chrê peponthenai) if one is not (164b5-166c2). The whole investigation, and thus the whole dialogue he ends with the words: ‘Whether one is or is not (hen eite estin eite mê estin), it and the others (auto te kai t’alla), in relation to themselves and to each other (kai pros hauta kai pros allêla), all in every way are and are not (panta pantȏs esti te kai ouk esti), and appear and do not appear (kai phainetai te kai ou phainetai). (166c3-5).’

Parmenides’ discussion of the hypothesis if one is and if one is not, what follows, does not arrive at the truth of All is one; it ends in the realization that ‘many’ are implicated in contradictions in every way. The discussion in the dialogue thus corresponds to the proem in Parmenides’ poem On nature, in which the knowing man (eidota phȏta) is carried through everything that can be perceived by the senses to the gate of Night.  – The truth that ‘being is and that not being is not’ (hopȏs esti te kai hȏs ouk esti mê einai, fr. B 2, 3) is the result of divine revelation (fr. B 1, 22-32), which forms the main part of the poem.

What is the ontological status of ‘the one and the others’ discussed in the Parmenides in the light of Parmenides’ poem? It cannot be discarded as not-being, which is ‘utterly inscrutable (panapeuthês), for the not-being cannot be known (oute gar an gnoiês to mê eon), for it cannot be accomplished (ou gar anuston), it cannot be expressed (oute phrasais, fr. B 2, 6-8). In the light of fr. B, 3, their ontological status consists in being thought: ‘for being and thinking is the same’ (to gar auto noein esti te kai einai). Thinking identified in the poem with being and being identified with thinking transcends the subjective thinking that goes on in our minds. In the Parmenides, when Socrates tries to avoid the difficulties concerning the Forms by identifying them with thoughts in our souls (132b3-6), Parmenides rejects this attempt by pointing out that thoughts in our souls must be of something, namely of the Forms. The one and the many, and all the Forms derived from these in the course of his propaedeutic exercise are not the thoughts in his head or in the head of Aristoteles, his interlocutor, or in the heads of those around them; they are the Forms to which Parmenides points with his words and which he makes vivid to Aristotle, his interlocutor, and thus to Socrates, Pythodorus, and the rest of the audience.

The largest preserved fragment of Parmenides’ poem is devoted to the ‘being which is ungenerated and imperishable (agenêton eon kai anȏlethron estin), whole (oulomeles) and unshakable (atremes), and without aim (ateleston), which never was nor will be (oude pot’ ên oud’ estai), for it is all together now (epei nun estin homou pan), one (hen), continuous (suneches)’ (B 8, 3-6). Within the framework of ‘being that truly is’ (pelein kai etêtumon einai, B 8, 18) Parmenides locates all thought; its purpose is nothing but thinking: ‘Thinking and what thought is for is one and the same (t’auton d’ esti noein te kai houneken esti noêma), for you will not find thinking without being, in which it is expressed’ (ou gar aneu tou eontos, en hȏi pephatismenon estin, heurêseis to noein). For nothing is or ever will be other than being (ouden gar estin ê estai allo parex tou eontos), since the Fate has bound it (epei to ge Moir’ epedêsen) to be whole and unmoved (oulon akinêton t’ emenai). Because of this (tȏi), everything will be a name (pant’ onom’ estai), everything that the mortals have posited (hossa brotoi katethento) believing to be true (pepoithotes einai alêthê), to come to be and to perish (gignesthai te kai ollusthai), to be and not to be (einai te kai ouchi), to change place (kai topon allassein) and alter the shining colour (dia te chroa phanon ameibein).’ (B 8, 34-41)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Phaedo and the Parmenides

In my last entry I questioned Allen’s claim that the narrative scheme of Plato’s Parmenides ‘is designed to produce a sense of remoteness from the conversation’ and thus indicate that ‘the conversation that follows is a fiction’ which ‘could not have occurred’ (Plato’s Parmenides, Translated with Comment by R. E. Allen, p. 69). Plato’s brother Adeimantus confirms as true (alêthê) that Antiphon can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus. Furthermore, Adeimantus says that when Antiphon was young he used to rehearse the arguments diligently.

Next, I queried Allen’s claim that ‘neither the historical Parmenides nor the historical Socrates could have spoken as they will here be made to speak. Their chief topic of discussion is the Theory of Ideas, a theory which, if the historical Socrates held a version of it, he came to entertain in middle life (Phaedo 96a-100a)’ (Allen, p.74). There is nothing in the Phaedo that suggests that Socrates came to entertain the Theory of Ideas in middle life.

Furthermore, I maintained that there is nothing in the Phaedo that should compel us to reject off hand the possibility that the very young Socrates became disappointed with the theories of philosophers on nature prior to his encounter with Zeno and Parmenides. ‘And yet’, I ended the entry, ‘reading the Parmenides and the Phaedo against the background of Parmenides’ poem On nature, I am compelled to see Socrates differently.’ I had in mind a passage in the Phaedo in which Socrates describes the state of mind in which he found himself after abandoning his search for ‘wisdom known as natural science’ (peri phuseȏs historian), his desire to discover or learn the reasons (tas aitias) for each thing, why each thing comes to be, why it perishes, and why it exists’ (Phd. 96a8-10):

‘Then I no longer understand nor can I recognize those other wise reasons; but if anyone gives me as the reason why a given thing is beautiful either its having a blooming colour, or its shape, or something else like that, I dismiss those other things – because all those other confuse me – but in a plain, artless, and possibly simple-minded way, I hold this close to myself: nothing else makes it beautiful except that beautiful itself, whether by its presence or communion or whatever the manner and nature of the relation may be, as I don’t go so far as to affirm that, but only that it is by the beautiful that all beautiful things are beautiful.’ (Phd. 100c9-d8, tr. D. Gallop)

In the light of this passage, the theory of Forms that Socrates adopted after his disenchantment with the philosophy of nature is not a newly invented theory; it is a theory deeply marked by Parmenides’ criticism of the young Socrates’ theory. (To Parmenides’ questioning of Socrates’ original theory of Forms is devoted my entry ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’, November 14.) Parmenides did not end his criticism of Socrates’ theory by rejecting the Forms, but by affirming them: ‘Only a man of considerable natural gifts will be able to learn that there is a kind of each thing (genos ti hekastou), a substance alone by itself (ousia autê kath’ hautên), and even more remarkable will discover this and will be able to teach it to someone who has examined all these difficulties with sufficient care.’ (Parm. 134e9-135b2) But he did not provide any reason for his affirmation of it, nor did he offer any solution for the objections he had raised against it. The state in which Parmenides thus left the young Socrates was a state of profound philosophic ignorance. But was not the state of philosophic ignorance a state too difficult to bear by a young man?
Allen determines Socrates’ age at that time as follows: ‘Since Socrates died at seventy in 399, the dramatic date of the conversation probably falls between 452 and 449 B.C. Granting those limits, it is possible to be more precise. The occasion of the meeting is the Great Panathenaea, the chief civic festival of Athens, which was celebrated, like the Olympic Games, at intervals of four years. That festival fell in 450.’ (p. 72)
Parmenides ended his criticism of Socrates’ theory of Forms by addressing him with the words: ‘Your impulse toward argument is noble and indeed divine. But train yourself more thoroughly while you are still young; drag yourself through what is generally regarded as useless, and condemned by the multitude as idle talk. Otherwise, the truth will escape you.’ (135d2-6, tr. Allen) What kind of training Parmenides had in mind? ‘To examine the consequences that follow from the hypothesis, not only if each thing is hypothesized to be, but also if that same thing is hypothesized not to be, if you wish to be better trained … Take, if you like, Zeno’s hypothesis, if many is. What must follow for the many themselves relative to themselves and relative to the one, and for the one relative to itself and relative to the many? If, on the other hand, many is not, consider again what will follow both for the one and for the many, relative to themselves and relative to each other. Still again, should you hypothesize if likeness is, or if it is not, what will follow on each hypothesis both for the very things hypothesized and for the others, relative to themselves and relative to each other. The same account holds concerning unlikeness, and about motion, and about rest, and about coming to be and ceasing to be, and about being itself and not being. In short, concerning whatever may be hypothesized as being and as not being and as undergoing any other affection whatever, it is necessary to examine the consequences relative to itself and relative to each one of the others, whichever you may choose, and relative to more than one and relative to all in like manner. And the others, again, must be examined both relative to themselves and relative to any other you may choose, whether you hypothesize what you hypothesize as being or as not being, if you are to be finally trained accurately to discern the truth.’ (135e9-136c5, tr. Allen)

This was not the road that could possibly lead Socrates to a theory of Forms immune to Parmenides’ critical objections. An attempt to find truth by pursuing ‘wisdom known as natural science’ (peri phuseȏs historian) was the most natural course for him to pursue next. Especially since Parmenides at the beginning of their discussion rebuked him as immature for leaving out of consideration the Form of man, fire, water, hair, mud and dirt: ‘You are still young, Socrates, and philosophy has not yet taken hold of you as I think it one day will. You will despise none of these things then’ (130a1-3, tr. Allen).

Along these lines, the entry I intended to write on December 5 was to be devoted to viewing the Parmenides against the background of the Phaedo. But on December 5 I realized that I had to do more work before making the attempt. For to accept the conversation of Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides as essentially true means to change radically the view of Plato developed by Platonic scholars in the last two centuries. As Cornford puts it: ‘To suppose that anything remotely resembling the conversation in this dialogue [in the Parmenides, J. T.] could have occurred … would make nonsense of the whole history of philosophy in the fifth and fourth centuries.’ (Quoted by Allen as an argument ‘decisive by itself’, p. 74.)

Before venturing to go any further, I decided to read the Phaedo against the background of the Parmenides, which I finished yesterday. This confirmed me in my view that the Parmenides should be read as Plato presents it with reference to his brother Adeimantus, that is as essentially true (for which see my previous entry on ‘The narrative scheme of the Parmenides’).

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The narrative scheme of the Parmenides

R. E. Allen prefaces his ‘Comment’ on Plato’s Parmenides with a motto from Kitto’s Form and Meaning in Drama: ‘the connexion between the form and the content is so vital that the two may be said to be ultimately identified … it follows that it is quite meaningless to consider one of them without constant reference to the other’. In the opening words of the ‘Comment’ Allen describes the narrative scheme of the dialogue: ‘The Parmenides is narrated by Cephalus of Clazomenae, who has heard it from Plato’s half-brother, Antiphon, who heard it in turn from Pythodorus, a student of Zeno, who was present at the original conversation.’ (Plato’s Parmenides, Translated with Comment by R. E. Allen, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 69). He then interprets it: ‘This structure is designed to produce a sense of remoteness from the conversation … The conversation that follows is a fiction: it could not have occurred.’ (p. 71) ‘The Parmenides is fiction, meant to be read as such.’ (p. 73)

I view the narrative scheme of the dialogue and its meaning very differently, for the introductory discussion is as follows: “When we arrived at Athens from our home in Clazomenae, we met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora. Adeimantus took my hand and said, ‘Welcome, Cephalus, and if you need anything here that we can provide, please say so.’ ‘Why really,’ I replied, ‘we’re here for that very reason: to ask something of you.’ ‘You have only to state it,’ he said. ‘What was the name,’ I said, ‘of your half-brother on your mother’s side? I don’t remember. He was just a boy, the last time I came here from Clazomenae; but that was a long time ago now. His father’s name, I think, was Pyrilampes.’ ‘Quite so,’ he said, ‘and his own is Antiphon. But why do you ask?’ ‘These gentlemen here,’ I said, ‘are fellow citizens of mine, much interested in philosophy. They’ve heard that your Antiphon used to associate with a certain Pythodorus, a companion of Zeno’s, and that he can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus.’ ‘True’ (Alêthê), he said. ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘that’s what we want, to hear these arguments.’ ‘No difficulty there,’ he said. ‘When Antiphon was young he used to rehearse them diligently … if you will, let’s call on him’ … So we set out to walk, and found Antiphon at home … When we asked him to go through the arguments, he at first hesitated – he said it was a difficult task. But finally, he complied.” (Translation R. E. Allen)

The introductory discussion is between Cephalus of Clazomenae and Plato’s brother Adeimantus. Adeimantus confirms that it is true (alêthê) that Antiphon ‘can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus’; he tells Cephalus that when Antiphon was young he used to rehearse the arguments diligently.

Plato presents his two brothers in the Republic as men deeply interested in philosophy. In the 6th book of the Republic Socrates emphasizes that love of truth and rejection of lies is characteristic of a philosopher (485c). Throughout the length of the Republic Plato’s two brothers attentively follow every word of Socrates; in the Parmenides they do not depart after introducing Cephalus to Antiphon; they presumably enjoy Antiphon’s narrative just as Cephalus and his friends do. If there are reasons for viewing the conversation between Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides narrated by Antiphon as a fiction, which could not have occurred, the reasons must be powerful enough to overturn the expectation of its truthfulness invoked by the narrative scheme.

Allen maintains that ‘neither the historical Parmenides nor the historical Socrates could have spoken as they will here be made to speak. Their chief topic of discussion is the Theory of Ideas, a theory which, if the historical Socrates held a version of it, he came to entertain in middle life (Phaedo 96a-100a) … Those who were to read the Parmenides were students in the Academy, who would have read and remembered the Phaedo. They could hardly have supposed, what is in any case patently absurd, that Socrates held as a lad of twenty the theory he there defends on the day of his death. The Phaedo itself forbids this view: it tells us that Socrates, when young, devoted himself to the study of the physical philosophers (96aff.), and that it was not until he had abandoned their sort of speculation that he developed the theory of Ideas’ (99d-100b). (p. 74-75)

Pace Allen, there is nothing in the Phaedo that suggests that Socrates came to entertain the Theory of Ideas in middle life. Socrates says ‘When I was young I was remarkably keen on the kind of wisdom known as natural science (peri phuseȏs historian); it seemed to me splendid to know the reasons (tas aitias) for each thing, why each thing comes to be, why it perishes, and why it exists. And I was always shifting back and forth, examining, firstly, questions like these: is it, as some said (hȏs tines elegon), whenever the hot (to thermon) and the cold (to psuchron) give rise to putrefaction, that living creatures develop? And is it blood that we think with, or air, or fire? Or is it none of these, but the brain that provides the senses of hearing and seeing and smelling, from which memory and judgment come to be; and is it from memory and judgment, when they’ve acquired stability, that knowledge come to be accordingly? Next, when I went on to examine (skopȏn) the destruction of these things, and what happens in the heavens and the earth, I finally (teleutȏn) judged myself to have absolutely no gift for this kind of enquiry.’ (96a7-c2, tr. D. Gallop)

It is worth noting at this point that Aristotle says in the 1st book of Metaphysics that Parmenides [in the part of his poem devoted to the world as it is apprehended by our senses] posited ‘two causes (duo tas aitias) and two principles (kai duo tas archas), hot and cold (thermon kai psuchron)’ (986b333-4). Furthermore, Plato in the Parmenides presents us with Socrates who, although ‘quite young’, was well versed in Parmenides’ poem [On nature (Peri phuseȏs)]. For after a brief exchange with Zeno Socrates turns to Parmenides ‘Zeno has written to much the same effect as you … In your poems, you say that All is one, and you provide fine and excellent proofs of this. He, on the other hand, says it is not many, and himself also provides proofs great in multitude and magnitude. So you say one, he says not many, and each so speaks that though there is no difference at all in what you mean, what you say scarcely seems the same.’ (128a-b, tr. Allen)

If we find in the Parmenides Socrates well versed in Parmenides’ poem, I see no reason to reject off hand the possibility that Socrates’ disappointment with Anaxagoras’ treatise on Intellect (nous, Phaedo 97b8-99c6) – with which his preoccupation with natural science ended (Phaedo 99d4-5) – and his taking refuge in discourse, in concepts, in which he thereafter examined the truth of things (edoxe dê moi chrênai eis tous logous kataphugonta en ekeinois skopein tȏn logȏn tên alêtheian, 99e4-6), took place prior to his encounter with Zeno and Parmenides. And yet, reading the Parmenides and the Phaedo against the background of Parmenides’ poem On nature, I am compelled to see Socrates differently.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Citizens Advice Bureau intervenes

This morning I wrote to the Citizens Advice Bureau in Stroud:
Many thanks for your letters of 12th and 19th November. On 12th November you sent me a letter from The Pension Service addressed to you, in which Glyn Caron wrote: ‘It must be remembered that Dr Tomin has been repaying this overpayment since approximately 2009 without complaint.’

This is not true, I was not repaying a penny. I never accepted that I was in any way indebted to Pension Service. The Pension Service has been taking money off my Pension Credit – now from my State Pension – since 2009. On March 30/ 2014 I wrote to the Manager of The Pension Service 1:

“In a letter dated 25th March you wrote to me: ‘At January 2014, the amount you still owe will be £ 637.38.’ I never accepted any debt on my part, as you may see from the relevant part of my letter of 7/10/2009 a copy of which I enclose. I have never been given the evidence on the basis of which my debt was decided, and my appeal against the decision had therefore no effect. Now I shall do everything in my power to find a lawyer who would investigate the decision professionally.”

On 01 May 2014 I got a letter from The Pension Service 1 that stated: ‘Thank you for your letter regarding your Pension Credit. [This clearly indicates that this is a reply to my letter of 30th March.] There has been an overpayment of Pension Credit from 20 January 2014 which we have deemed non recoverable from you.’

I received this letter with relief, for I thought that was the end of the matter. But then, in a letter dated 16/05/2014 I was told: ‘Amount owed £10,535.38 … We will take £52.00 from your benefit every four weeks, starting from the payment you are due to receive on 02/06/2014 … Deductions will continue to be taken every four weeks until the amount owed is paid back … 02/06/2014 – 20/04/2026.’

My weekly State pension of £39.01, which is my only income, was thus reduced to £28.38 a week. This is why I decided to ask you to help me obtain clarity into the basis on which the Pension Service decided to find me in debt of £11,763.64, of which they informed me in a letter of 11th August 2009.

This date of the Pension Service letter, 11th August 2009, is worth noting, for as you have informed me on 12th November 2014 Glyn Caron from The Pension Service 1 sent you a copy of a letter addressed to me, dated 18/02/2009. I had not received the letter dated 18th February 2009. It was in the letter dated 11th August 2009 in which I was informed about the alleged debt; this letter I received under the circumstances, which I described to Ursula Grum, Debt Management, in a letter of 07/10/2009: “In a letter of 08/09/2009 you informed me that my Pension Credit was overpaid £158.34 for the period 06/07/2009 – 26/07/2009. I received the letter on Monday September 14. In the letter you stated: ‘The overpayment occurred because on 09/07/2009 your circumstances changed and the office that paid your benefit was not told at the correct time about a change to the level of earnings in your household.’ This allegation is false. On 23rd July 2009 I sent The Pension Service a letter in which I informed you of my wife’s earnings for three days of supply teaching for the period 2 to 14 July, and I enclosed the three pay slips. I did so as soon as my wife received the pay. I did not contact you on the day 8/9 on which I received your letter, for I expected a visit from the Pension Service Liaison Officer, announced for the following day, with whom I wanted to discuss the issue.

On September 15 I was visited by the Pension Service Customer Liaison Officer to whom I showed the relevant documents concerning the supposed overpayment. At that point she gave me your letter of 11th August 2009 in which you inform me that in the period from 01/08/2008 to 12/10/2008 I was overpaid £11,688.36, and from 13/10/2005 to 19/10/2008 I was overpaid £75.28, which is in total £11, 763.64. I phoned your department in the officer’s presence, appealing against your decision.

In a letter dated 22/09/2009 you wrote to me: ‘We have looked again at the facts and evidence we used to make our decision and looked at the points raised. As a result we have not changed our original decision.’ In a letter dated 30 September 2009 The Pension Service informed me that at your request £9.75 was deduced from my Pension Credit: ‘the amount you still owe will be £1846.66.’ A mistake? In a letter, also dated 30 September, you wrote to me ‘about the £11,846.70 still owed’. Would you tell me, please, how you arrived at the sum £11,846.70, which I allegedly still owe you?”

In October I received the following letter from The Pension Service in Cardiff, dated 6 October 2009: ‘I am writing to tell you we will not be taking money for Overpayment from your Pension Credit. This is because these deductions have been cancelled.’ Signed by Paul Lewis, Manager.

A few days later I received a letter of 13/10/2009 from Debt Management, Mitcheldean, Oxfordshire, from which I quote: ‘Thank you for your letter to us dated 07/10/2009 … The overpayment of £158.34 for the period 06/07/09 – 26/07/09 is due to an increase in your wife’s part time earnings from 09/07/09, and we were aware of this on the 26/07/09, as you informed us by letter. The second overpayment was for a total of £11,763.04 for the period 01/08/2005-12/10/2008, but of this total, £75.28 was deemed to be Official Error and was written off, leaving the recoverable amount as £11,688.36. This overpayment was due to your wife’s self employment earnings … If you can provide us with evidence that these overpayments were not your fault, you can appeal against this decision.’

I had been sending regularly to the Pension Service in Cardiff the information about self-employment earnings of my wife. What more evidence could I have given them?

In your letter 19 November 2014 you write: ‘they [i.e. The Pension Service 1] have sent a copy of the letter where you clearly requested the decision about the overpayment be looked at again, I wondered if you had intended this to be the appeal? … Can you recall why you did not choose to pursue this at this stage?’

My conflict or controversy was never primarily with the Pension Service or Debt Management of the Department for Work and Pensions; my conflict had been and still is primarily with Oxford University. I came to Oxford in 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol. Since then I have been working to my best abilities in my domain, which is Ancient Philosophy. On November 18 1989 Nick Cohen published ‘The Pub Philosopher’ in which he wrote: ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal … Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservatives’ reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job.”’ – This amounts to a blacklisting, with all the consequences that blacklisting entails. If my weekly income is nowadays £28.38 a week, it is one of its consequences.

Let me now refer to a curious juncture at which the attitude of Oxbridge dons to my work and the actions of the Pension Service overlaped. From 2000 to 2008 I worked on my book on Plato; the first volume of this book I published on my website under the title The Lost Plato. The ‘Preface’ consists of ‘Eleven e-mails on The Lost Plato addressed to Classicists and Classical Philosophers’. In the 1st email I wrote that the 1st volume deals with dialogues written prior to Socrates’ death: ‘What remains to be done from the perspective opened by The Lost Plato is a systematic study of the dialogues written after Socrates’ death. In your view, should this work be undertaken? If so, what can be done that it is undertaken in conditions worthy of the work it requires?’

A distinguished Classical Philosopher from Cambridge University Nicholas Denyer, supported by David Lee from Oxford University, wrote a decisive No to these two questions. In my 6th e-mail I wrote: “As of yesterday my questions acquired an unexpectedly grave existential dimension. From the Stroud District Council I received the following letter: ‘We have been advised that your Pension Credits have stopped, which may affect your entitlement to Housing or Council Tax Benefits. We have therefore suspended payments of these benefits in accordance with Regulation 11 of the Decision and Appeals Regulations 2001. There is no right of appeal against this decision.’ I phoned the Council, informed the lady I spoke to that my wife, who was self-employed on a part time basis until September is now studying at Cheltenham, taking a year-long post-graduate course to become a teacher. The lady told me that on the information they received from the Pension Service my Pension Credits were disconnected as of July 2008. This surprised me, for when I asked my wife a few days ago whether I was receiving the Pension Credit as normal, she looked at my account and said ‘yes’. I was advised to contact the Pension Service, which I did. The lady I spoke to told me that my last Pension Credit payment would be sent to me on October 19: ‘Your Pension Credit is stopped because we have been informed that you and your wife are receiving Working Tax Credit.’ I told the lady that they were badly misinformed, for my wife ceased to work, as I duly informed their office at the beginning of September. I pointed to a letter I received from her office on 10 September, which said: ‘Thank you for informing us of the cessation of your partner’s self-employment.’

The Pension Credit I had been receiving until October 19 was £62.79 a week. Since we neither smoke nor drink, and live frugally, we have been able to survive. This morning I received a letter from the Pension Services, dated 13 October 2008, which says that ‘from 21 July 2008 you will get £5.10 a week. From July 2008 you are not entitled to Pension Credit … the minimum amount of money the Government says you must have each week taking account of specific circumstances is £189.35. State pension for Julius Tomin £31.38. Working Tax Credit for Doina Cornell £70.18. Earnings of Doina Cornell [my wife has kept her maiden name] £82.69. Total income £184.25. Your appropriate amount of £189.35, less your total income of £184.25. So your total guarantee credit is £5.10.’

I see a certain similarity between Denyer’s NO and the Pension Service calculations. Denyer does not need to look at a single page of The Lost Plato in order to proclaim confidently that there is no reason to suppose that my views are correct and that therefore my question whether my future work deserves to be undertaken in conditions worthy of such work deserves a NO. I may phone and write to Pension Service as often as I wish, informing the office workers that my wife is now a student, that she has no earnings, that we consequently do not receive any Working Tax Credit – the Pension Credit officers KNOW better.”

After I sent this email to my Oxford and Cambridge colleagues, without any explanation my Pension Credit was renewed and paid retrospectively for all the weeks and months it had been disconnected. We could repay my wife’s parents the money we had borrowed to survive. – But let me return to the statement from the Pension Service lady ‘Your Pension Credit is stopped because we have been informed that you and your wife are receiving Working Tax Credit.’ Who had misinformed the Pension Service? It must have been someone whom they trusted. Was it not the same source on the basis of which the Pension Service decided in 2009 that I owed them £11,846.70?

The overpayment of £158.34 of which I was informed in a letter of 08/09/2009 was calculated as follows: 06/07/2009 -12/07/2009 weeks 1, days 0, Incorrect Paid 165.5, Correct Payable 111.78, Excess 53.72, Amount overpaid 53.72; 20/07/2009-26/07/2009 weeks 1, days 0, Incorrect Paid 165.5, Correct Payable 60.88, Excess 104.62, Amount overpaid 104.62. The misgiving concerning this overpayment I articulated in my letter to Ursula Grum. At the time for which the Overpayment was calculated my wife had not received the pay slips: Ursula Grum wrote ‘office that paid your benefit was not told at the correct time about a change to the level of earnings in your household.’ I replied: ‘This allegation is false. On 23rd July 2009 I sent The Pension Service a letter in which I informed you of my wife’s earnings for three days of supply teaching for the period 2 to 14 July, and I enclosed the three pay slips. I did so as soon as my wife received the pay.’

The Overpayment Calculation for the period of 01/08/2005-19/10/2008 is very different: 01/08/2005-09/04/2006 Weeks 36 Days 0 Incorrect Pay 71.9 Correct Payable 0 Excess 71.9 Amount overpaid 2,588.40. 10/04/2006-30/7/2006 Weeks 16 Days 0 Incorrect paid 78.14 Correct Payable 0 Excess 78.14 Amount overpaid 1,250.24. 31/07/2006-08/04/2007 Weeks 36/ Incorrect paid 62.21 Correct Payable 0 Excess 62.21 Amount Overpaid 2,239.56. 09/04/2007-06/04/2008 Weeks 52 Days 0 Incorrect Paid 68.8 Correct Payable 0 Excess 68.8 Amount Overpaid 3,577.60. 6007/04/2008-19/10/2008 Weeks 28 Days 0 Incorrect Paid 75.28 Correct Payable 0 Excess 75.28 Amount Overpaid 2,107.84.

In those days I worked very intensively on my book The Lost Plato. As I have written in the 6th email of my ‘Preface’, written in October 2008, I asked my Oxbridge colleagues whether this work deserved to be undertaken in conditions worthy of such work; they replied NO. Doesn’t the Overpayment Calculation for the years 2005-2008 clearly indicate that in the eyes of those on the basis of whose intervention Pension Service calculated my ‘debt’ I should not have been paid a penny even when I had been writing The Lost Plato?

Your last question was ‘Can you recall why you did not choose to pursue this at this stage?’ Prompted by your question, I have recalled that I did my best to do so, as my exchange of letters with David Drew, who was my MP in those days, indicates. David Drew wrote to me on 22nd September 2009: ‘Thank you for your e-mail of 17 September. I am sorry to hear about your problems with Pension Credit. If you would kindly send me your National Insurance number and a few more details of the problem, I am happy to look into this on your behalf.’

The letter from the Pension Service of 6 October 2009 that stated ‘we will not be taking money for Overpayment from your Pension Credit’ may have been sent to me in response to David Drew’s intervention.

These good intentions on the part of the Pension Service failed to come into effect; I wrote to David Drew on the 10th of January 2010: “I am sorry to bother you again concerning the alleged debt which I am supposed to pay Debt Management of the Department for Work and Pensions. I know that you are very busy and work very hard on behalf of your constituents, and I, being a Czech citizen, cannot even give you my vote. Still, I should greatly appreciate it if you asked Debt Management of the Department for Work and Pensions (Contact Centre Nuneaton, Debt Management, PO Box 171, Micheldean, Gloucestershire, GL17 0XG, tel. 0845 602 3881) and Paul Lewis at The Pension Service in Cardiff, on what basis was the decision originally made concerning my alleged debt, on what basis it was then cancelled, and on what basis it was made again. To inform you about some steps that I am making in this matter, I am sending you in the Attachment the e-mail I have sent to the Master of Balliol. I wish you all the best in the year 2010.”

It is good to see that the Citizens Advice Bureau in Stroud is prepared to intercede in a case, which even a well-meaning MP ultimately set aside as hopeless.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The 25th anniversary of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’

Twenty five years ago, on November 18, 1989 Nick Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’ (published in The Independent Magazine): ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal … Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservatives’ reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job.” … His [Tomin’s] most serious accusation is that British classical philosophers cannot understand Ancient Greek … Tomin’s work has raised a second controversy. He has revived an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death [the italics are mine, J. T.]. Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences. Tomin believes that they could change utterly philosophers’ understanding of Plato … Tomin does not want academic charity. He thinks Oxford should “help itself” by recognizing that he is right. There is not the faintest possibility that this will happen.’

Cohen knowingly misrepresented me when he wrote that Tomin ‘thinks Oxford should “help itself” by recognizing that he is right’. On March 14, 1989 I wrote to the Editor of The Independent: ‘Your Education reporter Simon Midgley wrote on Saturday 20 August 1988: “An exiled Czech philosopher claims that he is being denied opportunities to promote his view that the Phaedrus is the first Platonic dialogue.” The report is incorrect. It is an ancient tradition going perhaps back to Plato’s days that claims that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue. I merely insist that this ancient information should be examined and in my studies of Plato I try to see how Plato and his thought would look like on this basis. Having made a considerable progress in this quest, I claim that Oxford philosophers, in their own best interest and in the interest of the subject of Ancient Philosophy should provide an opportunity for discussing and thoroughly scrutinizing the results of my investigations.’

There never was ‘an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death’. According to the ancient tradition Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the death of Socrates, and it is this dating of the dialogue for which I have found telling arguments, as I did my best to explain to Nick Cohen. (I have devoted three chapters to the dating of the Phaedrus in The Lost Plato on my website: Ch. 2 ‘A critical review of doctrinal arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 3 ‘Stylometric arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 4 ‘The dating of the Phaedrus: Ancient Sources’.)

Barnes’ words that ‘even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences’ deserve to be confronted with what David Sedley, who was at that time the Editor of the Classical Quarterly, said in his interview for The Daily Telegraph (August 25, 1988). Asked why Tomin ‘cannot get his controversial work on Plato published in Britain’, he replied: ‘He holds that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue, which is contrary to the beliefs of pretty well all scholars in the field in this century … It means he is asking people to give up nearly everything else they believe about Plato’s development, but he is not telling us enough [the italics are mine, J. T.] about why we should give up all these other views.’ I was not interested in depriving Classical Philosophers of their views. What I wanted then and what I want now is a scholarly confrontation of their views with my views on Plato in a free and open discussion. I could not ‘tell them enough’ for I was given no opportunity to do so.

The ‘controversy’ concerning the dating of the Phaedrus came to light on the occasion of the World Congress of Philosophy held in Brighton in 1988. References to it could be found in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Economist. I put ‘controversy’ in quotation marks, for controversy means ‘public discussion and argument about something that many people disagree about, disapprove of, or are shocked by’ (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). No ‘public discussion and argument’ worth that name concerning the dating of the Phaedrus took place. This was my complaint; not one of the papers named put this point to their readers. And, to use Cohen’s words, ‘there is not the faintest possibility that this will happen’.

Cohen speaks of two controversies. What was the first one? Cohen ‘quoted’ me as saying that Oxford dons ‘all pretend to their students they can read and understand Ancient Greek, but none of them can’. This is a serious misquotation. I took great pains to explain to Cohen that Oxford dons must translate Greek texts in order to understand them. They know how to translate, but they do not understand Greek in Greek. Concerning this ‘controversy’ I wrote to Jonathan Barnes on November 26, 1989: ‘You deny my claim that you and your colleagues classical philosophers in Oxford do not understand Greek Greek, which means that when you read Plato in the original you translate it into English in your head. Nothing would please me more than if I learnt that I was wrong and you were right. That would put you in a position of being able to help us transform radically the teaching of Ancient Greek and Ancient Philosophy in Czechoslovakia and put it on a sound footing. Since the matter is of paramount importance, would you to submitting yourself together with myself to a test that would establish the truth about it?’ – I received no reply from Barnes to my suggestion.

Concerning the second ‘controversy’, on August 18, 1990 in an Open Letter entitled ‘Poison and remedy’ addressed to Jonathan Barns I wrote: ‘I cannot return to Prague and present students with views rejected as wrong by Oxford academics, not before I obtain an opportunity to defend them in an open discussion. As you are well aware, I have been asking for such an opportunity since I arrived at Oxford in 1980. In the years of my lonely reading of Plato in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain I came to the view that the ancient tradition according to which the Phaedrus was his first philosophic work was worth exploring. This view had resulted in a conflict with the modern view according to which the dialogue belongs among Plato’s later writings. I have devoted the subsequent ten years to examining Plato’s works to find out whether I was wrong. But from year to year evidence had accumulated in my hands, which strongly supports the ancient tradition. At last I came to the point when I began to dare to consider how the structure and the development of Plato’s thought would look like if we considered the Phaedrus to be Plato’s first dialogue. The Sub-Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University presented me with an opportunity to give a series of lectures at the Philosophy Centre on this theme in the forthcoming Michaelmas Term. Each of my lectures will be followed by an hour of discussion. May I hope that you and other Oxford academics whose views I shall challenge will come to my lectures and challenge my views? There would be nothing shameful for me if you proved me wrong; on my return to Prague I would tell my colleagues and students that no books in twenty years of intensive study could achieve what an open and live discussion did.’

I sent the Open Letter to all Oxford philosophers and classicists, inviting them to my lectures, but no one came. Jonathan Barnes replied on August 21: ‘I am afraid I am not prepared to enter into a series of debates with you about the dating of Plato. I am – as you must realise – very busy; and the dating of Plato is not in any case one of my central interests.’

As the first anniversary of ‘The Pub Philosopher’ was approaching, I sent ‘The Early Plato’ to Professor Blumberg, the Master of Balliol, asking him to allow me to present the paper at Balliol College. The Master of Balliol replied: ‘I am not in a position to evaluate your papers on Plato’ (November 15, 1990). On November 18 I wrote to him in response: ‘Before writing to you I had been informed that neither classics nor classical philosophy was your speciality. I hoped that you would consider it to be in the interest of Balliol College, its classicists, classical philosophers, and its students, if the principle of scholarly discussion, especially of open and public discussion in the sphere of Platonic studies replaced innuendo and misinformation. I believe that Nick Cohen’s article ‘The Pub Philosopher’ published in The Independent Magazine on November 18, 1989 with the pronouncements of Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol, concerning my approach to Plato entitles me to expecting it.’

In all three lectures I had in the Beehive, the Swindon pub – ‘Time for Philosophy’, ‘Let us discuss Plato’, ‘The demise of Marxism’ – I emphasized that I wished and hoped that Oxford dons would discuss Plato with me. In May 1989 I met Noel Reilly, the owner of Beehive, in Oxford. He told me: ‘Julius, I shall hire a lecture hall at Oxford where you shall present your views on Plato. Oxford dons will be invited. They will have to come; they will be ashamed to refuse the invitation.’ After this, I heard not a word from him for more than five years; I received no further invitation to lecture at Beehive, although I had a contract for nine lectures. Noel nevertheless paid the promised grant to my bank account for another year, until the Spring 1990.

In March 1995 I met Reilly in Oxford. I greeted him: ‘How are you? What are you doing? How is the Beehive?’ Reilly replied:  ‘I don’t have the Beehive any more. I am now studying English literature at Oxford University’. About a week later I read ‘Philosophy for grown-ups’, in which Hester Lacey wrote: ‘Philosophy has not always been the people’s choice, as landlord Noel Reilly discovered when he engaged the dissident Czech academic Dr Julius Tomin to deliver nine half-hour lectures in the beehive pub in Swindon in 1988. … Unfortunately, Dr Tomin delivered only four lectures. [I remember delivering only three lectures. J. T.] “He was a nervous man. I think the hurly-burly of the public house upset him,” said Reilly, whose attempts to turn his pub into “a place of culture” sadly ended in bankruptcy.’ (The Independent on Sunday, 19 March 1995) Let me correct Hester Lacey’s report with what Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’ on November 18, 1989: ‘[Tomin] is able to continue his work in Oxford’s libraries solely because Noel Reilly, the landlord of the Beehive pub in Swindon, read of his plight and decided to pay him £5000 to deliver three lectures a year to regulars. The talks are very popular. About 350 came to the last lecture at the Beehive.’ My last lecture was on ‘The Demise of Marxism’, held in the early spring of 1989. In the discussion that followed I was asked: ‘What is the future of the East European countries?’ I replied: ‘Thatcherism. The moment you realize the beauty of selling what’s not yours, it’s irresistible.’


I was engrossed in Plato and Aristotle during the first half of this month (see the previous entry in my blog ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’, November 14). I stopped thinking about Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’. Far from my mind was last year’s ‘Appeal to Oxford students and academics’, which I opened with the words: “Early in September I asked the Master of Balliol for permission to present my lecture on ‘Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists’ at Balliol. On October 4 the Master replied: ‘It is not I fear possible to give you a platform in Balliol’. I have therefore decided to reinforce my request by action. On November 18 I stood for two hours in front of Balliol with a poster ‘A philosopher from Prague appeals to Oxford academics: LET US DISCUSS HUMAN NATURE’. A series of appeals/protests is following, which will culminate on November 18, 2014, the 25th anniversary of the events to which the date is related.”

I did begin to write my blog at the end of October in an attempt to be true to the ‘Appeal’, and the first 6 entries are in line with this intention. But then I needed a break. I invited the Master of Balliol to view my blog and in the ‘Invitation’ I wrote: “I interrupted my work on Aristotle in the middle of the 4th chapter of the 3rd book. I have now decided to return to Aristotle and finish recording the 3rd book, and only then revert to the blog. This work will take four or five days. It would be great if in the meantime you reconsidered my offer of ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’ and of ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ and allowed me to present these two lectures at Balliol. It would mean that I could end my blog on a happy note and fully return to my work on Aristotle, which is closely connected to my work on Plato.” The entry ‘Break’ in my blog (October 6) ends with the words ‘My blog is now in the hands of the Master of Balliol’.

Unexpectedly, my reading and recording of the closing chapters of the 3rd book of the Metaphysics opened for me a completely new view of the relationship between Plato’s Parmenides on the one hand and Aristotle’s 1st and 3rd book of the Metaphysics on the other hand. I felt I had at last the key to the late Plato. Finally I began to see the second volume of The Lost Plato in clear contours in front of my eyes.

The Master of Balliol did not reply to my invitation, and it became clear to me that whatever I may do, I shall never be permitted to present at Oxford University my views on Plato, Aristotle, or on Human Nature. But I did not mind; not only that, I felt profoundly liberated.

Then I read Cohen’s article ‘Why western cynics lap up Putin’s TV poison’ (The Observer 09.11.14). Cohen writes: ‘Vladimir Putin is the world’s corrupt policeman. He finds the seediness in every country and nurtures it … Often he appears to fan corruption for the hell of it because that is all he knows how to do.’ It brought Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’ forcefully back to me. Was his portrait of Putin any less distorted than his portrait of Tomin? After publishing ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’ on my blog on November 14, I began to write “The 25th anniversary of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’”.

Whenever I think about Vladimir Putin, I think of the KGB in the ranks of which he had once been an officer. And then I think about Professor John Erickson, an expert on the East European armies and police, whom I heard speaking in January or February 1990 on the BBC World Service. He was explaining how it happened that the Communist Bloc dissolved so easily, without any fight. He maintained that in the late 1970s the top brass of the KGB realized that Communism had no future and began to cooperate with the MI6 and CIA on its dismantling.

Cohen’s article on Vladimir Putin made me think of Prague where I once almost got into the hands of the KGB. It was on August 22, 1968, the second day of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Russian soldiers and their armed cars were surrounding the monument of John Hus in the Old Town Square in Prague. I wrote a poster in Russian: ‘Soldiers of the occupation army, learn to think for yourselves, why we welcomed your fathers with flowers and love, while now you cannot get a piece of bread or a glass of water from us.’ I posted it on the wall of the Old Town Hall and read it aloud. I barely finished reading it, when I was seized by two Russian soldiers, dragged into the enclosure formed by the armed cars around the monument, beaten up, stepped on, my glasses broken. I was then forced to stand facing an armed car; a soldier was commanded to stand behind me with his rifle pointing at my back. Then came a new commanding officer and asked what was happening. The officer that had ordered my capture said: ‘Today we caught four Czech provocateurs and let them go, but this one must be handed over to the KGB.’ The new officer asked: ‘Are you the officer in command for today?’ He replied ‘No’. The new officer sent him packing and turned to me: ‘Explain what happened!’ – I did not reply. He obviously thought my throat was so dry I could not speak, so he ordered a soldier to bring me a flask of water. I refused to drink it. He ordered the soldier to have a sip, to show me the water was OK. I said: ‘I am not afraid it’s poisoned. The soldiers have beaten me up and now they do not even allow me to sit down.’ The officer shouted: ‘Sit down.’ I sat down, and then I said: ‘I will drink the water and talk to you only if you apologise for what your soldiers have done.’ He apologized. And so I told him what I had written on the poster. The soldiers had torn the poster to pieces and I must confess that instead of ‘Soldiers of the occupation army’ I reported to him ‘Soldiers of the Red army’.

I remember two highlights of the long talk that followed. I told him of the hitchhiking journey through East Germany I made with my wife in 1962 on our honeymoon: ‘We were in Dresden and were quite oppressed by the sight of German soldiers parading through the streets. Suddenly we saw a group of Russian soldiers; the sight warmed our hearts. Now, after what you have done to my country, I shall never again be able to look with pleasure at a soldier in Russian uniform.’ One of the soldiers that stood by shouted at me: ‘How can you say such a thing?’ I shouted back at him: ‘How dare you interrupt without permission from your officer!’ The officer told him off.

I was speaking about the Prague Spring and about our endeavour to combine socialism with freedom. In all this, a soldier standing on guard duty fell asleep and dropped his rifle. The officer shouted at him, the soldier woke up, picked up his rifle and resumed his guard duty. I said: ‘You are an old soldier and I think you fought in the Second World War. I am sure you never saw your soldiers in such a bad psychological state, so utterly demoralized and exhausted, as they are now. Why? You were led to believe that you were going to liberate us from counterrevolution, and there is no counterrevolution in this country. An officer should be properly informed about the situation into which he is leading his soldiers. When you get home, have good look at the people that misinformed you in this way.’ The officer said: ‘When we get home, we shall grab them by their throat and throttle them.’ I said: ‘I’ve been here for almost three hours. My wife must be worried. Let me go.’ – He let me go.

Then my memories carried me to Oxford of 1989. On April 3, 1989 I wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev: “May I use the opportunity of your visit to Britain to express support for glasnost and perestroika in your country, and to protest against the lack of both in Czechoslovakia? In an attempt to give my support and my protest more weight, I shall begin on Wednesday, the day of your arrival, a ten-day hunger-strike.

The lack of glasnost and perestroika in my country is for me not a matter of academic concern. In 1981, while visiting Oxford University to devote my time to Ancient Philosophy, I was deprived of my citizenship. The law which made this possible had been enacted in 1969 as a consequence of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries. The responsibility for the decision to deprive me of my citizenship therefore falls on the Soviet Union as well as the Czechoslovak authorities.

Would you join the voices of hundreds of British students and academics who in recent years have petitioned the Czechoslovak authorities to restore my citizen’s rights?

When my citizenship is restored, I shall use the expert knowledge in my academic field acquired during my stay in Britain to the benefit of my country. My ambition is to open at the Charles’ University in Prague an International Centre for the study of Ancient Philosophy where academics from Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and other East European countries would regularly meet their colleagues from Britain and other Western countries to maintain our common cultural roots.’

On April 5, the day of Gorbachev’s arrival in Britain, Barry O’Brian wrote in The Daily Telegraph: ‘Dr Julius Tomin, the Czech dissident who won fame for his underground philosophy classes in the 1970s, has written to President Gorbachev and Mrs Thatcher seeking their help in regaining his lost Czechoslovak citizenship. He is starting a 10-day hunger strike at his lodgings in Oxford in support of his plea … In his letter to Mr Gorbachev, he writes … Dr Tomin, who has become a £5,000-a-year visiting philosopher to the Beehive public house in Swindon because he has been unable to get an Oxford post, tells Mrs Thatcher he is grateful to Britain for giving him refugee status. “If you would find time to bring to Mr Gorbachev’s attention the situation in Czechoslovakia, well exemplified by the case of my being deprived of Czechoslovak citizenship, my 10-day hunger strike will obtain meaning that nothing else and nobody else could convey to it.” Dr Tomin, 50, a prominent signatory of Charter 77, the manifesto of the Czech human rights movement, undertook three hunger strikes in Prague in defence of human rights in 1977-78.”

I just began my hunger strike when Noel Reilly came unexpectedly to my lodgings asking me to go with him to Swindon and hold the hunger strike in the Beehive. I accepted his offer. On the fifth or sixth day some TV reporters came either from the BBC or ITV, I don’t remember which. They made a few shots of me lying in bed, and asked me for an interview after the hunger strike. The interview was to take place on April 17.

On the last day of the hunger strike I received a letter from Reilly: ‘Greetings from Prague. Hopefully, if everything has gone according to plan, I am now protesting on your behalf in Wenceslas Square. At this moment, I am holding a poster, written in Czech and English, calling for the restoration of your Czech citizenship. If Glasnost and perestroika are to mean anything, surely these ideas must include the right to belong to one’s own country, the right to travel in and out of one’s own country and the right to speak in one’s own country.’

Reilly’s action was reported only in the local Swindon paper, no broadsheet took any notice of it. The Hillsborough Stadium disaster happened on that day. In Hidden Agendas, in the Chapter entitled ‘A Cultural Chernobyl’ John Pilger writes: ‘Eddie Spearitt and his son, Adam, went to a football game in Sheffield on April 15, 1989. They had been caught in traffic and had just enough time to find places in the allotted Liverpool terraces at Hillsborough stadium. Adam was fourteen and a devoted Liverpool supporter; and this was a critical FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. ‘We were so excited,’ said Eddie. ‘It was only when the crowd in the pen really began to build up that I got frightened.’ The ancient turnstiles became a bottle-neck as 5,000 Liverpool fans sought to gain entrance before the kick-off.  When the police eventually opened the main gates, instead of directing the fans to the open terraces they sent them into the crowded pen. Eddie and Adam were crushed in each other’s arms. Adam was one of the ninety-six fans who died.’ (Published in Vintage 1998, p. 445)

My hunger strike was forgotten; no TV crew arrived on April 17.


Then Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher was published. The judgments passed by Oxford dons on me appeared to be final. Barnes said that I would not be accepted at Oxford University even as a graduate. Aware of the importance of Oxford for Prague, I applied for an undergraduate course in Classics and Classical Philosophy. In my application I wrote:

‘Classics and Classical Philosophy at Charles University in Prague are in a desolate state. The Oxford Classical Prospectus says: “The immense and persistent influence of Rome and Greece in almost every sphere of life is a fact of the history of the West, which by itself should put Classics at the root of any University worthy of the name.” Re-entering the Western World, Czechoslovakia needs to rebuild its classical studies. A direct experience of a full University education in Classics at Oxford will be invaluable both for me personally, and for my country. Charles University should reach for the best. The Classics Prospectus says further: “The pre-eminence of Oxford in classics is acknowledged throughout the world. Ask a scholar from Harvard or the Sorbonne or Toronto or Tübingen which he thinks to be the leading classics faculty, and the answer is almost sure to be Oxford.” This makes my application for the study of Classics at Oxford inevitable.’

Richard Brook, the Graduate Admission Officer and Adviser to Overseas Students wrote to me on 25.3.91: ‘I am writing to let you know that your application has now received full consideration, but I regret to have to tell you that it has not been successful.’


In my childhood, every boy in Czechoslovakia, that country behind the Iron Curtain, knew at least one English expression: fair play [férplej]. That's what England meant for us, and it was the firm belief that Oxford academics would respond positively to my invitation and that our mutual contacts would develop in the spirit of fair play that made me invite Oxford dons to my unofficial philosophy seminar in Prague in 1978. It was in that spirit that I introduced Oxford visitors to my students and critically responded to their views in my seminar.

What did my visitors think? Barbara Day writes in The Velvet Philosophers (published in 1999 by The Claridge Press, p. 45): ‘Scruton arrived on Monday 24th September … For his lecture to Tomin’s seminar, he spoke on Wittgenstein’s private language argument … he also wondered … the seminars were dominated by Tomin, and the young students were overwhelmed by his powerful personality … he also thought how much more effective they could be if the teaching were freed from the influence of personality.’

Roger Scruton wrote in ‘A catacomb culture’ (TLS, February 1990) how the ‘secret seminars’ began to flourish: ‘Tomin then emigrated and … we decided that, although our purpose was charitable … it should not be openly pursued, and that we could henceforth best help our Czechoslovak colleagues by working secretly … we won the confidence of a large network of people, none of whom knew the full extent of our operations … We therefore began to establish other, purely nominal organizations through which to pay official stipends, so that the names of our beneficiaries could not be linked either to us or to each other. In this way we helped many people … We also encouraged our French, German, American and Canadian colleagues to establish sister trusts, thereby acquiring an international dimension  … In the mid-1980s, thanks to a generous grant from George Soros (who will surely be commemorated in future years, not only as a great Hungarian patriot, but also as one of the saviours of Central Europe), we had expanded into Moravia … the organizer of our work in Slovakia, Ján Čarnogurský … was released under an amnesty and made Deputy Prime Minister … By then another of our beneficiaries was President, and within weeks we were to see our friends occupying the highest offices in the land … Among those who had worked with us we could count the new rectors of the Charles University, of the Masaryk University in Brno, and of the Palacký University in Olomouc.’


In 1980s I was allowed to give lectures and seminars at the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University. A parent of a student of Classics wrote to Jonathan Barnes in response to Cohen’s article: ‘I have the closest contact with some of the best of your students, and even now they are adamant that the man or woman who understands “Greek Greek” does not, with the exception of Julius Tomin, exist: certainly they do not recognize their students at Oxford as doing so. You yourself and your colleagues know this, you admit it among yourselves.’ Barnes wrote in reply: ‘What you say is a false and foolish calumny – had you made it public it would, I think, have been libellous.’

A student of mine wrote to the Editor of Oxford Today concerning ‘The Dons who went out in the cold’ (Hillary 1991): ‘You have suppressed in your article one of the most unsavoury episodes in recent Oxford history. I refer to the treatment of Dr Julius Tomin of Prague. It was on Dr Tomin’s invitation to attend seminars on Plato that the academics you describe (mainly from Balliol, one from Cambridge) went to Prague in the first place. On their expulsion, they let Dr Tomin understand that if he ever came to Oxford he would be welcome. He left Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s and since that time has been living in Oxford without ever having been offered an academic job of any kind. Indeed, he has been reduced to living in penury, surviving either on Social Security or on ad hoc charity hand-outs, as at present. He was even reduced at one stage to giving lectures in a pub to earn money. Not only this, but his colleagues in the Philosophy Faculty have completely cold-shouldered  him, or worse … The cause of this unbelievably callous behaviour is a deep-going difference of opinion between Dr Tomin and his fellow philosophers about Ancient Philosophy and the way it is taught in British and American universities today. This is no small topic, and yet instead of agreeing to meet Dr Tomin in frank and open discussion in public, the Philosophy Faculty has closed ranks and dismissed him out of hand … I must declare an interest. Dr Tomin gave me countless informal tutorials when I was an undergraduate and we have spent long hours together working on philosophical texts when I was a graduate. He is by far the best philosophy teacher I have ever had.’

On 4 December 1991 I received the following letter from M. R. Ayers, the Secretary of the Lectures Committee of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy: ‘With respect to your offer of reading classes on Plato, starting next term, I should inform you that the Sub-Faculty deemed it inappropriate that such classes should appear on the University list.’


Shortly after my arrival at Oxford Professor Radovan Richta, the Director of the Czechoslovak Institute for Philosophy and Sociology wrote an Open Letter to Professor A. Diemer, the President of the International Federation of Philosophy Societies, stating: ‘Tomin is a man who is worth nothing in philosophy … it is self-evident that Mr Tomin would not find the means to live for a single week if he were interesting merely for what he did in philosophy … I think that people who supported and visited Mr Tomin will find themselves in a short time and on the basis of their own experience … that it was a case of one person who wanted to profit from the hopes of some circles to intensify the world crisis and to poison efforts at international cooperation.’. The letter was published in Tvorba, the Czechoslovak Communist Party cultural weekly on October 15, 1980.

I translated the Open Letter into English for Oxford dons who had visited my seminar in Prague – Kathleen Wilkes, Richard M. Hare, Steven Lukes, Alan Montefiore, William H. Newton-Smith and Anthony Kenny, the Master of Balliol – whose lectures to my students I had translated in my seminar into Czech, doing my best to translate correctly what they were saying, then challenging their thoughts in the discussions that each time followed (William H. Newton-Smith was taken away from my seminar by the Czech Secret Police before he could give his lecture). I did so in the firm belief that they would do their best to provide me with an opportunity to present to academics my contributions to philosophy and to defend my views in academic discussion.

How wrong I was!

In the wake of the student demonstration with which the Velvet revolution began in Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1989, Cohen could give the ‘The Pub Philosopher’ a ‘happy end’: ‘Last October Rude Pravo, the mouthpiece of the Czech Communist Party, happily reported Tomin’s story. Under the headline PAID TO MAKE SPEECHES, it said: “Even in a public bar words can earn money, or rather make money. The recipe for this was found in Britain by the Czech emigrant Julius Tomin. Since 1980, when he emigrated, he has struggled as hard as possible to keep going since no university has shown any interest in him. Only now he has found an audience interested in his disputations – namely a public house in Swindon. No other milieu will put up with him.”’

Early in September 2013 I asked Professor Bone, the Master of Balliol, for permission to present a lecture on ‘Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists’ at Balliol. On October 4 he replied: 'Dear Professor Tomin, My apologies for apparent rudeness. You are unlikely to know that in a very small way I was involved in that struggle, as a visitor myself in odd circumstances, starting by talking about Byron and literature in general to some of those who had lost their positions in Charles after 1968, one of whom, Alois Bejblik, now sadly dead, became a close friend. It is not I fear possible to give you a platform in Balliol, but I do understand the significance of the 17th November.' – In reply I informed Professor Bone that I am not a Professor.

The text of Nick Cohen's 'The Pub Philosopher' is available on my website: