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:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Plato as a critic of Aristotle

In the 1st book of the Metaphysics Aristotle writes: ‘Above all one might discuss the question (diaporêseie an tis) what on earth the Forms contribute to sensible things (tȏn aisthêtȏn), either to those that are eternal or to those that come into being and cease to be. For they cause neither movement nor any change in them. But again they help in no wise either towards the knowledge of the other things (for they are not even the substance of these, else they would have been in them), or towards their being, if they are not in the particulars which share in them.’ (991a8-14, tr. W. D. Ross) Ross notes: ‘This argument is met by Plato in Parmenides 134 D; this is one of the points relied on by Siebeck for the proof of his theory that the Parmenides (with the Sophist and the Philebus) was directed against criticism urged by Aristotle in discussion. The theory has but little evidence in favour of it.’

As will be seen, it is not quite right to say that Aristotle’s argument in Metaphysics 991a8-14 is ‘met by Plato in Parmenides 134 D’.

In the dialogue, Parmenides opens his enquiry about the Forms by asking Socrates: ‘Do you mean that there are certain Forms (einai eidê atta) by partaking of which these other things get their names? As for example those things that partake of similarity become similar, of largeness large, of beauty and justice just and beautiful?’ When Socrates answers: ‘Yes, certainly’, Parmenides suggests that each thing partakes either of the whole of the Form or of a part of the Form. If it were to partake of the whole Form, he argues, the Form, which is one, would be present as a whole at one and the same time (holon hama) in many things, things that are separate from it (chȏris ousin), and thus it would be separate from itself (auto hautou chȏris an eiê). Socrates reposts: ‘No, it would not, if it were like the day which is one and the same in many places at one and the same time without being separate from itself in any way, in this way each of the Forms, being one, would be present in all things as one and the same.’ Parmenides rejects Socrates’ solution of the problem: ‘You make very pleasantly (hêdeȏs) one and the same thing be in many different places at once, as if you were to spread out a sail over a number of men and claim that one thing as a whole was over many. Are you not saying something like this?’ ‘Perhaps’ says Socrates. Parmenides: ‘Would the whole sail be over each man, or a part of it, a different part in each?’ Socrates: ‘A part’. Parmenides: ‘So the Forms themselves (auta ta eidê) are divisible, and the things which participate in them would participate only in a part of them, and in each of them would be only a part of the Form, not the whole Form.’ (130e5 – 131c7) Parmenides then shows the absurdity of viewing the Forms as divisible: ‘If you divide the largeness itself (auto to megethos) and each of the large things will be large by part of largeness smaller than the largeness itself, won’t it appear irrational? – And further, each thing becomes equal to anything by virtue of partaking of a small part of the equality; can it be equal to anything by participating in that which is smaller than the equality itself? – Suppose that one of us is to have a part of the small; the small will be greater than this part of it because it is part of itself, and thus the small itself will be greater; and that to which this subtracted part is added will be smaller but not larger than before. – Then in what way will the other things (ta alla) partake of the Forms if they cannot partake of the Forms as parts or as wholes?’ (131c12-e1)

Siebeck points out that this argument against the Forms can be found in Aristotle’s early Peri ideȏn as well as Metaphysics Z, 1039a33-1039b2. (See H. Siebeck, ‘Platon als Kritiker aristotelischer Ansichten’, Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik 107 Band, Leipzig 1896, pp. 3-5)

When Socrates admits that it is not easy to deal with this difficulty (to toiouton diorisasthai), Parmenides asks him whether it was not the following consideration that has led him to assume each Form to be one (hen hekaston eidos einai): ‘When a number of things seems to you to be large, it perhaps seems to you that there is one and the same Form (mia tis idea hê autê) as you look on them all; hence you conceive of the large as one.’ When Socrates admits that Parmenides is right, the latter asks: ‘And what about the large and all the other large things, if in your mind you look at them all in the same way, will not again some large appear by virtue of which they all appear large? – So another Form of largeness will make its appearance (anaphanêsetai), which came to its being (gegonos) over and above the largeness itself and the things participating in it; and upon all these again a different one, by which they all will be large. And so there will not be one of each Form for you, but their multitude will be infinite.’ (132a1-b2)

Siebeck notes that this argument appears in the 1st book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics as ‘the Third Man’ (tritos anthrȏpos, 99b17, Siebeck p. 3).

Socrates does not give up: ‘But may not each of the Forms (tȏn eidȏn hekaston) be just a thought of them (toutȏn noêma) to which it would appertain to be born (prosêkêi engignestai) nowhere else than in souls (en psuchais). For in this way each would be one and would no more suffer (ouk an eti paschoi) what was said just now (ha nundê elegeto, 132b3-6).’ Parmenides asks: ‘Is each thought one (hen), but a thought of nothing (oudenos, ‘of not even one’)? Guided by Parmenides, Socrates admits that each thought is a thought of something (tinos, b11), of something that is (ontos, c2), of something that is one (henos tinos), which that thought thinks to be present over all (ho epi pasin ekeino to noêma epon noei, c3), to wit a Form which is one (mian tina ousan idean), ever being over all (aei on epi pasin, c6-7), and that all this appears to be so by necessity (Anangkêi au phainetai, c8). Parmenides asks: 'is not this necessity the necessity that compelled you to say that things participate in the Forms (ouk anangkêi hêi t’alla phêis tȏn eidȏn metechein, c9-10?' Parmenides thus reduces Socrates’ new suggestion to his original theory of Forms with all its difficulties.

It appears that Aristotle had the Parmenides in front of his eyes when he wrote in the 1st book of Metaphysics: ‘According to the assumption on which our belief in the Ideas (ideas) rests, there will be Forms (eidê) not only of substances (tȏn ousiȏn) but also of many other things (for the thought is one (to noêma hen) not only in the case of substances but also in the other cases, and there are sciences (epistêmai) not only of substance but also of other things, and a thousand other such difficulties confront them).’ (990b22-27, tr. W. D. Ross, with one exception; Ross translates Aristotle‘s to noêma hen ‘the concept is single’, which obscures the relation between Aristotle’s passage and Plato’s argument in the Parmenides).

Socrates makes one more attempt to save the Forms: ‘It appears to me that these Forms stand in the nature as paradigms; the other things (ta de alla) resemble them and are likenesses of them and this participation of other things in the Forms is nothing other than their becoming a resemblance of them.’ Parmenides asks: ‘If something resembles the Form, must not the Form be similar to that which is like it, in so far as it resembles it? – And must not that which is like that which is like it of necessity participate in the same Form?’ Parmenides thus shows Socrates that his paradigms end up being infinitely multiplied, and concludes: ‘So the others do not partake of the Forms by similarity, but one must look for something else by which they partake.’ (132d1-133a6)

Aristotle notes in the 1st book of the Metaphysics: ‘To say that the Forms are paradigms and that the other things share in them is to use empty words and poetical metaphors.’ (991a20-22)

Parmenides invites Socrates to reflect on his inability to defend his theory: ‘Do you see, then, how great is the difficulty (aporia) if someone were to distinguish (diorizêtai) the Forms being in themselves on their own? … There are many other difficulties, but the greatest is this: If someone should say that the Forms cannot be known if they are such as we maintain they must be, one could not show him that he is saying a falsity (pseudetai), unless the controversialist happened to be a man of great experience and natural ability, willing to follow plentiful labours of demonstration, starting from afar (porrȏthen).’ (133a8-b9)

The word pseudetai implies that a man who qualifies a statement of another as false knows the truth. Nothing in the dialogue entitles Parmenides to brand the controversialist in this manner. This is not an imposition made by oversight; Plato thus makes it clear that it is he who speaks here with all his authority: the truth is that there are Forms and that the other things are by virtue of participating in them. It is against this affirmation of the Forms that Parmenides raises ‘the greatest difficulty concerning them.

Parmenides begins to unfold this difficulty by ascertaining that the Forms that exist alone by themselves do not exist in us (en hêmin). Consequently, the Forms are what they are in relation to themselves and not in relation to things among us; things in which we participate are what they are in relation to themselves and not to the Forms, though they are of the same name. Thus a master has a slave, a slave has a master; they are what they are in relation to each other, a man related to a man; the Form of mastership (autê despoteia) is what it is in relation to the Form of slavery (autês douleias) and the Form of slavery is what it is in relation to the Form of mastership. The things among us do not have their power (tên dunamin) in relation to the Forms, and the Forms do not have their power in relation to things among us. Absolute knowledge (autê men ho esti epistêmê) is knowledge of absolute truth (tês ho estin alêtheia autês), and each branch of absolute knowledge (hekastê tȏn epistêmȏn, hê estin) is knowledge of each being that truly is (hekastou tȏn ontȏn, ho estin). Knowledge among us (hê par’ hêmin epistêmê) is knowledge of the truth among us (tês par’ hêmin alêtheias), and each branch of knowledge among us is knowledge of each thing that are among us. We do not have the Forms, they cannot be among us; what the kinds themselves are (auta ta genê ha estin hekasta) is known (gignȏsketai) by the Form of knowledge (hup autou tou eidous tou tês epistêmês), which we do not have. So none of the Forms (tȏn eidȏn ouden) is known to us, for we do not participate in knowledge itself. (133c3-134b12)

Socrates responds to the last point with a simple ‘It seems not’ (Ouk eoike), just as he similarly responded to Parmenides’ previous points: ‘How do you mean?’ (Pȏs legeis), ‘Of course’ (Panu ge), ‘Yes’ (Nai), ‘Necessarily’ (Anangkê). But when Parmenides now goes on to say ‘Unknowable to us is therefore the beauty itself, what it is, and the good itself and everything we consider as Forms that are (hȏs ideas autas ousas)’, Socrates answers ‘I am afraid so’ (Kinduneuei). Kindunos means ‘danger’, and Socrates’ apprehension should be taken on board. (B. Jowett translates Socrates’ Kinduneuei ‘It would seem so’, R. E. Allen ‘Very likely’.) Parmenides’ next words are ‘See then (Hora dê) something even more terrible than this (eti toutou deinoteron tode).’ (Jowett: ‘I think that there is a stranger consequence still’, Allen: ‘Consider then whether the following is still more remarkable’.) (132b13-c4) And he explains: If there is a kind of knowledge that is knowledge itself (auto ti genos epistêmês), it is much more exact than knowledge among us, so that only god can have it. ‘We have agreed (hȏmologêtai hêmin) that neither those Forms (ekeina ta eidê) have any power (dunamin) over things among us (pros ta par hêmin), nor things among us have any power over those … it follows that the god’s most exact mastership can never rule over us and his most exact knowledge cannot know us or anything else where we are.’ – Socrates remarks: ‘The argument (ho logos) that deprives god of knowledge is too remarkable (lian thaumastos). (134c5-134e8)

Socrates thus rejects the greatest argument against the Forms in the name of piety, which provides Parmenides with an opportunity to reflects on all the difficulties concerning the Forms: ‘These mentioned and many more on top of these in which the Forms are of necessity involved (anangkaion echein ta eidê) if these Forms of things that are exist (ei eisin hautai hai ideai), and if one is going to define each Form (kai horieitai tis auto ti hekaston eidos). So that a hearer will deny the existence of the Forms, and argue that even if they existed, they would be of necessity unknowable to human nature. And saying this (kai tauta legonta), he would appear to say something significant (dokein ti legein) and be remarkably difficult to persuade (thaumastȏs hȏs dusanapeiston onta). 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 an even more remarkable will discover this and will be able to teach it to someone who has examined all these difficulties with sufficient care.’ (134e9-135b2)

Parmenides then reprehends Socrates for attempting too early, before being trained, to define some kind of beautiful and just and good and each one of the Forms (horidzesthai kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon kai hen hekaston tȏn eidȏn). ‘What sort of training’, Socrates asks. Parmenides replies ‘The one you heard Zeno use’. (135c8-d7)

[Concerning Zeno’s exercise I wrote in my previous blog (Oct. 16, 2014): ‘Zeno in his lecture defended Parmenides’ thesis that ‘all is one’ (hen einai to pan, 128a8-b1) by pointing to absurd contradictions in which things would be involved, if they were many. Socrates remarked that he saw nothing surprising in Zeno’s depicting contradictions concerning things apprehended by our senses, for such things are affected by many contradictions. Socrates would be really surprized, if Zeno distinguished and set apart the Forms of things alone by themselves, such as similarity and dissimilarity, many and one, rest and motion, and then show that these in themselves are entangled in exactly the same perplexity (tên autên tautên aporian) as the things which we can see. (129d6-130a2)’]

Parmenides goes on to say: ‘Yet, I admired it when you said to Zeno that you would not allow the discursive wandering to take place among the things we see, and about them, but rather about those things that one would grasp best by reason and consider them to be Forms (kai eidê an hêgêsaito einai) … And it is necessary to examine not only what follows from the hypothesis if each thing that one proposes is, but as well if the very same thing is not … if you are to be completely trained and accurately discern the truth (kuriȏs diopsesthai to alêthes). ’ (135d8-136c5)

To this training is devoted the second part of the dialogue, in which Parmenides discusses his own hypothesis (tês emautou hupotheseȏs) concerning the one itself (peri tou henos autou): what is to follow (ti chrê sumbainein) if one is or if not one is (eite hen estin eite mê hen). His interlocutor becomes Aristotle, the youngest in the company. (137b)


H. Siebeck opens his article on ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’s views’ by pointing out ‘that Plato’s and Aristotle’s living together in the Academy for almost twenty years allows us to assume that in the end the latter exercised some influence on his teacher’s views as well’ [dass das fast zwanzigjährige Zusammenleben von Platon und Aristoteles innerhalb der Akademie schliesslich auch einen Einfluss des letzteren auf die Ansichten seines Lehrers anzunehmen gestattet]. Teichmüller in Litterarische Fehden [Literary bickering] interpreted certain passages in Plato’s Laws as critical responses to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Siebeck asks ‘whether it isn’t possible to discern even in some of Plato’s published dialogues influences of his disciple, who became more independent and already began to write, on the development of the fundamental views of Plato’ [ob nicht auch in einigen der noch von Platon selbst veröffentlichten Dialogen Einwirkungen von seiten des selbständiger und auch bereits literarisch produktiv gewordenen Schülers auf die Fortbildung der platonischen Grundansichten] (p. 1). Siebeck says that like Überweg he realised ‘that the Parmenides presents a response to certain Aristotelian objections against the theory of Forms’ [dass der Parmenides eine Entgegnung auf gewisse aristotelische Einwendungen gegen die Ideenlehre darstellt] (p.2).
Siebeck asks: ‘Now, if the Parmenides is indeed directed at the address of Aristotle, what meaning is to have in this connection the second part of the dialogue’ [Wenn nun der Parmenides wirklich an die adresse des Aristoteles gerichtet ist, was hat dann der zweite Teil des Dialogs innerhalb dieser Beziehung zu bedeuten]? He answers: ‘The obvious supposition is that it is to found a vindication of the theory of Forms against the objections raised in the first part’ [Die nächstliegende Vermutung ist die, dass er eine Verteidigung der Ideenlehre gegen die im ersten Teile erhobenen Einwände begründen soll]. (p.8)
Siebeck maintains that ‘the fundamental intention of the 2nd part lies in the clarification of the thesis that the unity (to hen) must be unity of plurality, if it is to be unity at all’ [die wesentliche Absicht des zweiten Teiles liegt in der Erläuterung des Satzes, die Einheit (to hen) müsse, um als solche überaupt zu sein, Einheit einer Vielheit sein]. (p. 16)

A.      He points out that the Aristotelian first objection against the theory of Forms in the first part of the Parmenides (131 a f.) was that ‘the participation of the plurality of things (of the same name) in a certain Form presupposes that either the whole Form or a part of it is contained in each of those things’ [die Teilnahme einer Vielheit von (gleichnamigen) Dingen an einer bestimmten Idee setzt voraus, dass die Idee entweder ganz oder teilweise in jedem dieser Dinge enthalten sei]. ‘But neither is possible, for in the first case the Form would have to be seen as separated from itself (chȏris hautês), in the second as divided; both of which are incompatible with the being of Forms’ [Aber weder das eine noch das andre sei möglich, weil im ersteren Falle die Idee als von sich selbst getrennt (chȏris hautês), im andern als zerteilt angesehen werden müsste, welches beides ihrem Wesen widerstreite].
‘Against this, on the basis of the fundamental insight into the relation of the unity to plurality that dominates the second part, Plato maintains the following’ [Demgegenüber behauptet Platon zufolge der im zweiten Teile waltenden Grundanschauung über das Verhältnis der Einheit zur Vielheit dieses]: ‘The Form as a whole is of course in each individual thing, but this does not mean that it is chȏris hautês (separated from itself)’ [Allerdings ist die Idee ganz in jedem Einzelnen, aber damit doch keineswegs chȏris hautês]. ‘Rather, the unity is real, is what it is only because of it; it is the Form as existing unity’ [Sie ist dadurch vielmehr erst wirklich, was sie ist, nämlich Idee als seiende Einheit]. ‘Unity cannot be the Form in this sense in any other way, than through presenting itself as a unity of things that exist’ [Sie kann Idee in diesem Sinne überhaupt nicht anders sein, als dadurch, dass sie sich als eine Einheit seiender Dinge darstellt]. (pp. 17-18)

B.      ‘The tritos anthrȏpos argument (the Third Man) says in substance’ [Das Argument vom tritos anthrȏpos (131 e f.) sagt im wesentlichen]: ‘When the Form (e.g. of man) is posited apart from a kind of things of the same name (e. g. individual men) as that which is common to them, then on the same principle must be posited yet a third, namely a higher characteristic which is common to the Form and to the kind of things corresponding to it, and then again a forth, an even higher character common to the third Form and to the instances marked before and taken together, etc.’ [Wenn neben die vielen gleichnamigen Dinge einer Gattung (z. B. die einzelnen Menschen) als ihr Gemeinsames die Idee (des Menschen) gesetzt wird, so muss nach demselben Prinzip, wonach dies geschehen ist, auch für die Idee und die ihr entsprechende Gattung sinnlicher Dinge selbst noch ein Drittes, nämlich ein höheres Gemeinsames gesetzt werden, sodann für dieses und die vorbezeichneten Instanzen zusammen wieder ein Viertes als noch höheres u. s. f.].
‘Against this, from the second part of the Dialog, and according to what was ascertained under A., ensues the following consideration’ [Aus dem zweiten Teile des Dialogs ergiebt sich hiergegen, zugleich im Sinne des unter A. Festgestellten, die Erwägung]: ‘The man we perceive by our senses, or the plurality of such men, does not exist aside from the Form of man as something second, but he is (respectively: they are) the existence of the Form itself, in so far as this Form as a unity, and precisely because of its being a unity, cannot otherwise than be here as a unity of plurality’ [Der sinnenfällige Mensch oder die Vielheit sinnlicher Menschen ist nicht ein Zweites neben der Idee des Menschen, sondern er ist (bezw. sie sind) das Sein der Idee selbst, sofern diese als Einheit und eben wegen dieses ihres Einheitsein nicht umhin kann, als die Einheit einer Vielheit da zu sein]. ‘The being of the Form “man” and the existence of individual men are identical; they are not two, they are one’ [Das Sein der Idee “Mensch” und das Dasein der Einzelmenschen sind identisch; sie sind nicht Zwei sondern Eins]. (p. 18)

C.      ‘The third objection relies on the assumption that the Forms’ are in themselves or for themselves, and follows from that, that relations exist only between Forms and Forms on the one hand, things and things on the other hand, but not between Forms and things, or that such relations cannot be proved to exist’ [Der dritte Einwand (133 b f.) heftet sich an das Beisichsein oder Fürsichbestehen der Ideen und folgert daraus, dass das Bestehen von Beziehungen nur einerseits zwischen Ideen und Ideen, andererseits zwischen Dingen und Dingen, nicht aber zwischen Ideen und Dingen stattfinden oder bewiesen werden könne].
‘Against this Plato by virtue of the second part of our dialogue explains [Dem gegenüber erklärt Platon durch den zweiten Teil unseres Dialogs]: ‘the being of the Form in itself is as such its being among us’ [das Beisichsein der Idee ist als solches ihr Bei-uns-Sein]. ‘The Form cannot have its being in itself or for itself in any other way than as plurality’ [Sie kann ihr Bei- oder Für-sich-Sein gar nicht haben ausser als Einheit in der Vielheit]. ‘The unity is its being in itself, the plurality its existence in our world’ [Die Einheit ist ihr Beisichsein, die Vielheit ihr Bei-uns-Sein]; ‘but these two Moments are not separated, they constitute one essence, namely the essence of the Form’ [diese beiden Momente sind aber nicht getrennt, sondern sie bilden ein Wesen, nämlich eben das Wesen der Idee]. (pp. 18-19)

‘When this is so, one must not fail to realise in the end one thing’ [Wenn es sich nun so verhält, so ist es schliesslich Eines nicht zu verkennen]: ‘Plato indeed achieved the protection of his fundamental principles against the arguments of his greatest disciple only through modification of their original version by making a long step towards the position of his opponent’ [Platon hat allerdings die Deckung seiner Grundlage gegen die Anfechtungen von Seiten seines grössten Schülers nur dadurch erreicht, dass er ihre ursprüngliche Fassung selbst in einer Weise modifizierte, die dem gegnerischen Standpunkt einen erheblichen Schritt entgegenkommt]. … ‘ Aristotle’s criticism was thus already for Plato apparently the most important occasion for the transformation of the theory of Forms from its earlier to its later version’ [Die Kritik von Seiten des Aristoteles ist somit allem Anschein nach schon für Platon selbst die wesentlichste Veranlassung gewesen zu der Umbildung der Ideenlehre von der früheren zu der späteren Fassung]. ‘There still remained of course in the end a profound difference between the two standpoints; Aristotle posits the substance (ousia) in the first place in the individual, whereas Plato places it in the common character’ [Am letzten Ende blieb freilich zwischen den beiden Standpunkten immer noch der durchgreifende Unterschied, dass das eigentliche Wesen der Substance (ousia) von Aristoteles in erster Linie in das Individuum, von Platon dagegen in das Allgemeine gesetzt wird]. (pp. 20-21)

In the previous entry in my blog (‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’, Oct. 16) I argued that Plato wrote the Parmenides prior to his 3rd travel to Sicily: ‘Before leaving Athens, Plato had to protect his disciples from objections against the existence of the Forms; although he directed this defence of the Forms at every one of his disciples, he appears to have aimed it especially at Aristotle, who was the most gifted among them and who had urged arguments against the Forms.’
In this connection I argued that ‘The unceremonious manner with which Aristotle in the 1st book of the Metaphysics rejected the Forms on the basis of arguments marked in the Parmenides as irrelevant – while speaking about himself as one of Plato’s disciples, using the first person plural in the sense of “we Platonists” – indicates that he wrote it after Plato left Athens.’

The question then is what influence of the Parmenides can be detected in Aristotle’s 1st book of the Metaphysics. This line of enquiry I intend to follow, but first I must do some reading and recording; I want to record my reading of the 4th book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.