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.