Friday, January 30, 2015

Socrates, Parmenides, and the Pythagoreans

Aristotle’s testimony concerning the Pythagoreans in Metaphysics A should be viewed against the background of Plato’s Parmenides.  A theory of Forms which young Socrates presents in the dialogue appears to be nothing new to Parmenides and Zeno; if they knew it, they must have known it as a Pythagorean theory.

Aristotle says in the 1st book of Metaphysics that the Pythagoreans ‘extend their vision to all things that exist, and of the existing things suppose some to be perceptible and others not perceptible’ (989b24-26); ‘they got their principles from non-sensible things’ (989b31, tr. Ross). In the Parmenides Socrates asks Zeno whether he agrees that there are two sorts of things, those we can see with our eyes and those we can’t, which he called Forms (eidê, 128e6-130a2). Although Socrates presented his question concerning the Forms as a challenge to both Zeno and Parmenides, the two listened to him in admiration (agamenous ton Sȏkratê, 130b7). After exposing the notion of Forms to criticism that Socrates could not answer, Parmenides told him: ‘I admired you for saying to Zeno that you would not allow inquiry to wander among the visible things and consider them, but rather concern those things which one would most especially grasp by rational account and consider to be Forms.’ (135d8-e4) As I have mentioned in an earlier entry (‘Plato’s Parmenides and Parmenides’ poem On nature’), 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). Although Parmenides had to overcome the Pythagorean plurality, he appears to have appreciated Pythagoreans for getting ‘their principles from non-sensible things’.

According to Aristotle the Pythagoreans viewed numbers as ‘principles of all things’ (tȏn ontȏn archas ȏiêthêsan einai pantȏn, 985b25-6) – ‘such and such a modification of numbers being justice (to men toiondi tȏn arithmȏn pathos dikaiosunê), another being soul and reason (to de toiondi psuchê kai nous), another being an opportunity (heteron de kairos) and similarly all the other things, so to speak’ (kai tȏn allȏn hȏs eipein hekaston homiȏs, 985b29-31) – ‘for all other things seemed in their whole nature to be modelled on numbers’ (ta men alla tois arithmois ephaineto tên phusin aphomoiousthai pasan, 985b32-3) In the Parmenides Socrates suggested that the Forms are paradigms (paradeigmata) in relation to which all other things are modelled (ta de alla toutois eoikenai kai einai homoiȏmata, 132d2-3).

Aristotle says that Plato’s philosophy in most respects followed the Pythagoreans (ta men polla toutois akolouthousa, 987a30); ‘the Pythagoreans say that things exist by imitation of numbers (mimêsei ta onta phasi einai tȏn arithmȏn), and Plato says they exist by participation (Platȏn de methexei), changing the name (t’ounoma metabalȏn). But what the participation or the imitation of the Forms could be (tên mentoi ge methexin ê tên mimêsin hêtis an eiê tȏn eidȏn) they left an open question’ (apheisan en koinȏi zêtein, 987b11-14, tr. Ross). In Plato’s dialogue Parmenides dismissed the theory of ‘imitation’ with the words: ‘So the other things do not get a share of the Forms by likeness (ouk ara homoiotêti t’alla tȏn eidȏn metalambanei), but one must look for something else by which they get a share’ (alla ti allo dei zêtein hȏi metalambanei, 133a5-6); what that ‘something else’ might be, he does not say.

Aristotle says that Pythagoreans arranged their principles into two columns of opposites, among which we can find ‘one and plurality’, ‘resting and moving’, ‘good and bad’. Socrates in the Parmenides contemplates Forms as opposite to each other, ‘such as likeness and unlikeness, multitude and the one, rest and motion’ (128e5-129e1).

Aristotle says that the Pythagoreans viewed ‘the infinity itself (auto to apeiron) and the one itself (kai auto to hen) as the substance of things of which they are predicated (ousian einai toutȏn hȏn katêgorountai) … they began to discuss essence and define it (peri tou ti estin êrxanto legein kai horizesthai), but they did so too superficially (lian d’ haplȏs epragmateuthêsan); the first subject of which a given definition was predicable was the subject of the thing defined … thus the one will be many (polla to hen estai), which in fact happened to them (ho k’akeinois sunebainen, Met. A  987a18-27). The one that Parmenides discusses in Plato’s dialogue, the one that becomes ‘many’, is not the one of his poem, but the Pythagorean one.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Aristotle’s response to Plato’s Parmenides in Metaphysics A

Plato dramatically staged the Parmenides so as to direct the minds of his disciples to the Republic and thus arm them against any criticism of the Forms (see the entry of January 10 2015 ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’). Aristotle’s passionate plea against the theory of Forms in the 9th chapter of the 1st book of Metaphysics indicates that Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides had a profound effect on his disciples: ‘Although philosophy on the whole seeks the cause of perceptible things (holȏs de zêtousês tês sophias peri tȏn phanerȏn to aition), we have given this up (for we say nothing about the cause from which change takes its start); we think that we are stating the substance of perceptible things when in fact we state the existence of other substances, while our account of the way in which they are the substances of perceptible things (hopȏs d’ ekeinai toutȏn ousiai) is empty talk (dia kenês legomen); for ‘sharing’ means nothing (to gar metechein outhen estin), as we said before’ (992a24-29).

In his response to the Parmenides, Aristotle too refers to the Republic: ‘Nor have the Forms any connection with what we claim to be the cause in the case of the sciences (hoper tais epistêmais horȏmen on aition), that for whose sake both all mind and the whole of nature are operative, with this cause which we assert to be one of the first principles; but mathematics has come to be identical with philosophy for the thinkers of today, though they say that it should be studied for the sake of other things (992a29-b1).’ Ross in his commentary rightly notes that Aristotle here refers to the Republic, where Plato views mathematics as a propaedeutic to philosophy (cf. Rep 533B-E; see Ross’ note ad Met. 992a33).

Concerning the words ‘what we claim to be the cause in the case of the sciences’ (hoper tais epistêmais horȏmen on aition) Ross says that ‘Difficulty has been felt about this, since science is concerned even more essentially with the formal than the final cause (note on 992a29)’. This difficulty disappears if we realize that in support of his own position Aristotle refers to Plato’s Republic. In the 6th book of the Republic Plato wrote that ‘the good is the cause of knowledge to all things known’ (tois gignȏskomenois to gignȏskesthai hupo tou agathou pareinai, 509b6-8).’

Aristotle’s criticism of the theory of Forms in the 1st book of Metaphysics is uncompromising: ‘Those who posit the Ideas (hoi de tas ideas tithemenoi) as causes, firstly, in seeking to grasp the causes of things around us, they introduced others equal in number to these, as if a man who wanted to count things thought he would not be able to do it while they were few, but tried to count them when he had added to their number (990a34-b4) … Further, of the ways in which we prove that the Forms exist, none is convincing; for from some no inference necessarily follows, and from some arise Forms even of things of which we think there are no Forms (990b9-11) … Above all one might discuss the question what on earth the Forms contribute to sensible things, either to those that are eternal [i. e. the heavenly bodies – W. D. Ross’ note ad 991a9] 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. Ross).

But Plato in the Parmenides gave voice to, dramatically displayed and enhanced the difficulties in which the theory of Forms is entangled, in particularly the difficulties involved in the theory of participation of perceptible things in the Forms and difficulties concerning the contribution the Forms can possibly make to our knowledge of things around us (133b-134e). Plato not only conceived the Forms face to face with all this criticism of the theory, criticism of which he was well aware from the time he became interested in philosophy, but steadfastly adhered to them – this is what the Parmenides is all about. How was this possible? The answer lies in the way in which Plato conceived the Forms, as Aristotle explains it in Metaphysics A.

Aristotle says that Plato in his youth embraced the Heraclitean doctrines ‘that all things are in constant flux (hȏs hapantȏn aei reontȏn) and there is no knowledge about them’ (kai epistêmês peri autȏn ouk ousês, 987a33-34). To understand the significance of this statement, we must pay due attention to the Greek concept of knowledge. Epistêmê signifies ‘standing on’; it is derived from ephistêmi, ‘stop, cause to halt’. Aristotle says in the Physics: ‘for it is when the mind has reached a state of rest and come to a standstill (tȏi gar êremêsai kai stênai tên dianoian) that we say we know and understand (epistasthai kai phronein legometha, 247b11-12)’. Engrossed in the Heraclitean view of reality, Plato encountered Socrates ‘who was the first to have stopped and fixed his mind on definitions of ethical concepts’ (peri horismȏn epistêsantos prȏtou tên dianoian, Met A, 987b3-4); Plato realized ‘that the entities on which mind could be thus fixed and brought to a standstill were different from perceptible things (hȏs peri heterȏn touto gignomenon kai ou tȏn aisthêtȏn). He called the entities of this kind Forms’ (houtos men oun ta men toiauta tȏn ontȏn ideas prosêgoreuse, 987b5-8).

Plato did not conceive the Forms on the basis of observations concerning things around him as young Socrates did in the Parmenides and as did Plato’s disciples at whom Aristotle directed his criticism. On his encounter with Socrates, Plato saw the Forms with his soul’s eye (cf. to tês psuchês omma, Rep. 533d2). After Plato had conceived the Forms, his Heraclitean view of the perceptible world remained unchanged: ‘this view he held even later’ (tauta men kai husteron houtȏs hupelaben, Met. A 987a34-b1), that is after he had conceived the Forms. In the Republic Plato insists that there can be no knowledge concerning things perceived by the senses (508d-511e); this is why his view of the Forms was immune to Aristotelian arguments against the Forms.

Face to face with the Parmenides Aristotle was well aware that his arguments against the Forms were powerless against Plato’s view of the Forms; he directed his arguments against the Forms at those, who like himself believed that ‘philosophy on the whole seeks the cause of perceptible things’ (holȏs de zêtousês tês sophias peri tȏn phanerȏn to aition, Met. A 992a24-25). 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides

In the entry of October 16 (‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’) I expressed the view that Plato wrote the Parmenides in defence of the Forms, and that he did so before his third journey to Sicily. Objections against the theory of Forms were ripe among Plato’s disciples in the Academy. Plato appears to have had no telling arguments for protecting the Forms – as a Platonist Aristotle raised arguments against the Forms in the first book of Metaphysics, using the first person plural in the sense ‘we Platonists’ and he repeated the same arguments in the 13th book after distancing himself from Platonists – yet before leaving Athens he had to protect his disciples from objections against the Forms. How could he do so if he had no telling arguments with which he could prove their existence? By pointing out that those, who could see the Forms, were immune against any arguments raised against them; for this he vouched with his whole life in philosophy, ever since he conceived the Forms on his encounter with Socrates (for this see The Lost Plato on my website, especially the first four chapters).

In the Parmenides Plato endows some of the most telling arguments against the Forms with the authority of Parmenides, declaring the Forms immune not only against them, but against any arguments. This strategy could be adopted by him only if the discussion between Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides staged in the dialogue did take place in reality, if Socrates in his youth contemplated the Forms and on that basis challenged Parmenides’ thesis that ‘all is one’, and if Parmenides in turn subjected Socrates’ Forms to criticism. For in that case he must have been acquainted with arguments against the Forms long before he began to teach philosophy in the Academy.

Cepahlus and his friends, all much interested in philosophy (panu philosophoi, 126a8), came to Athens from Clazomenae in Asia Minor to ask Adeimantus and Glaucon to introduce them to Antiphon: ‘They have heard that 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,’ Adeimantus replied (Alêthê, ephê, legeis, 126c4), ‘for when Antiphon was young (meirakios gar ȏn), he used to rehearse the arguments diligently (autous eu mala diemeletêsen), though now, like his grandfather of the same name, he spends most of his time on horses (126c6-8).’

Adeimantus was Plato’s older and Glaucon his younger brother; Antiphon, their half-brother, was several years younger than Glaucon. Socrates refers to Adeimantus in his defence speech in the Apology. Accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates appeals to all those with whom he ever discussed philosophy to come forward and testify against him, if he ever had given them a bad advice in their youth, ‘or if they do not like to come themselves, some of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or other kinsmen, should think of the evil their families have suffered at my hands. Now is their time. Many of them I see in the court … and there are the brothers of several who have associated with me … Adeimantus the son of Ariston, whose brother Plato is present.’ (33d4-34a1, tr. B. Jowett)

Adeimantus’ testimony in the Parmenides is brief, but it is essential for our understanding of the dialogue. Firstly, he testifies to it that what Cephalus and his friends heard in Clazomenae, a town in Asia Minor, was true: Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides met in Athens and discussed philosophy; Antiphon did learn their arguments from Pythodorus. Secondly, and for our understanding of the dialogue most importantly, he testifies to it that in his youth Antiphon diligently rehearsed the arguments.

Plato’s younger brother, Glaucon, has no voice in the Parmenides, yet his presence in the dialogue side by side with Adeimantus is significant. For it was Glaucon who in the Republic prompted Socrates to give a proper account of justice: ‘Socrates, do you wish really to persuade us, or only to seem to have persuaded us, that to be just is always better than to be unjust?’ (357a4-7) In course of the discussion between Socrates, Adeimantus and Glaucon, which Glaucon thus initiated, Plato erected his ideal state, which only those are fit to govern who can see the Forms.

To induce Socrates to undertake a proper defence of justice, Glaucon argued that people practice justice unwillingly, as a necessity, not as good in itself; people do so with good reason, for a man practicing injustice is better off and leads a better life than a man devoted to justice. Adeimantus joined his voice to that of Glaucon, arguing that the appearance of justice is what matters, not justice as such, for the reputation of being just brings about social and political advantages. He ended his appeal to Socrates with the words: ‘In your exposition (tȏi logȏi) show (endeixêi) to us not only that justice is better than injustice, but show what either of them on its own (autê di’ hautên) does to its possessor, and that in doing so to men the one is a good and the other an evil, whether seen or unseen by gods and men.’ (367e1-5)

On hearing the arguments of the two brothers Socrates addressed them with the words: ‘There is something truly divine in you if you have not been convinced that injustice is better than justice, being able to argue as you have done for the superiority of injustice. And I do believe that you truly are not convinced – this I infer from your general character, for had I judged only from your speeches I should have mistrusted you.’ (368a5-b3)

Readers of the Parmenides must have been reminded of these passages in the Republic when Parmenides introduced the most powerful argument against the Forms with the words ‘If someone argued that the Forms (ta eidê), being such as we say they ought to be, must remain unknown, no one could show him that he is wrong, unless he who denied their existence be a man of great ability and knowledge’ (133b4-8), and when he then closed all arguments against the Forms with the words ‘Only a man of considerable natural gifts will be able to learn that there is a kind of each thing, a substance alone by itself, 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.’ (135a7-b2)

Parmenides in the dialogue introduces his most powerful argument against the Forms – in Jowett’s translation – as follows: ‘If an opponent argues that these ideas (ta eidê), being such as we say they ought to be, must remain unknown, no one can prove to him (ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai, 133b7) that he is wrong, unless he who denies their existence be a man of great ability and knowledge, and is willing to follow a long and laborious demonstration (etheloi de panu polla kai porrȏthen pragmateuomenou tou endeiknumenou hepesthai, 133b9).’ (133b4-c1) Reading Jowett’s translation, one must wonder what kind of proof or proofs had Plato in mind. Allen translates: ‘If someone should say that it doesn’t even pertain to the characters (ta eidê) to be known if they are such as we say they must be, one could not show him (ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai) he was wrong unless the disputant happened to be a man of wide experience and natural ability, willing to follow many a remote and laborious demonstration (etheloi de panu polla kai porrȏthen pragmateuomenou tou endeiknumenou hepesthai).’

On the face of it Allen confuses the matter, for Jowett’s ‘no one can prove to him’ better preserves the correspondence between ‘prove’ for endeixasthai in b7 and ‘demonstration’ for endeiknumenou in b9, than Allen’s ‘show’ in b7. And yet, Allen’s ‘one could not show him’ renders more sensitively Plato’s ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai; the task is to render endeiknumenou in harmony with endeixasthai. In b9 Plato does not speak of a man willing to follow a demonstration that the Forms exist, he speaks of ‘following a man who is showing (endeiknumenou)’ the Forms.

Both Jowett and Allen render as ‘laborious’ Plato’s pragmateuomenou, which is a participle corresponding to the participle endeiknumenou and elucidating it. Among the many meanings of pragmateuomai registered by Liddell & Scott in their Greek-English Lexicon, such as ‘busy oneself’, ‘take trouble’, ‘work at a thing’, we do find under II. 1. ‘treat laboriously’ as an elucidation of pragmateuomai in Plato’s Protagoras 361d and Hippias Major 304c. But it is questionable whether Socrates wants to speak of his philosophical activities as ‘laborious’ when he says in the Protagorasconcerned about my whole life (promêtheuomenos huper tou biou tou emautou pantos) I am engaged in all these matters (panta tauta pragmateuomai)’; by panta tauta pragmateuomai he refers to his life-long preoccupation with the question ‘what virtue is’ (Prt. 361d3-5). In the Hippias Major too he refers to his life-long engagement in philosophy; Hippias and other sophists of his ilk say ‘how foolish and petty and worthless are the matters with which I occupy myself’ (pragmateuomai, Hip.Ma. 304c5-6, tr. B. Jowett). Translating pragmateuomenou by ‘laborious’ in the Parmenides is unfortunate, for pragmateuomenou denotes there activity of a philosopher leading ‘a man of wide experience and natural ability’ towards the Forms, which is a matter of profound joy, leading to true happiness.

Perhaps the best elucidation of the given passage in the Parmenides can be found in the Seventh Letter, where Plato speaks about that which is knowable and truly is (ho dê gnȏston te kai alêthȏs estin on, 342b1): ‘It does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself (peri to pragma) and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself (341c5-d2) … the man who has heard of this, if he has the true philosophic spirit and that godlike temperament which makes him akin to philosophy and worthy of it, thinks that he has been told of a marvellous road lying before him, that he must forthwith press on with all his strength, and that life is not worth living if he does anything else. After this he uses to the full his own powers and those of his guide in the path, and relaxes not his efforts, till he has either reached the end of the whole course of study or gained such power that he is not incapable of directing his steps without the aid of a guide (chȏris tou deixontos’ (340c1-d1, tr. J. Harward). Tou deixontos is the future participle of the verb deiknumi, which refers to the guide as the man who is to show his follower that which is knowable and truly is, that is the Forms; it directly corresponds to the participle endeiknumenou in Parmenides 133b9.

There is no other dialogue in which Plato describes the road to the Forms in such detail, so comprehensively and so powerfully, as he does in the Republic. It is to the Republic that he in the Parmenides directs his followers when he is about to leave Athens for Sicily, where he intends to devote the rest of his life to bringing the ideal state of the Republic to life. Discussing justice with Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Republic, Socrates unveiled the Form of justice and outlined the social and political structure of the ideal state, which only those can run who can see the Form of justice. Against this background the arguments against the Forms raised by Parmenides become irrelevant.

When we realize that Plato dramatically staged the Parmenides so as to direct the reader’s mind towards the Republic, we can appreciate the significance of Adeimantus’ brief characterization of Antiphon ‘when Antiphon was young, he diligently and thoroughly rehearsed (eu mala diemeletêse) the arguments, though now, like his grandfather of the same name, he spends most of his time on horses’. As a youngster, Antiphon delighted in arguments against the Forms and in all the contradictions in which Parmenides involved ‘the one’: ‘Youngsters, when they first get the taste for arguments, they argue for amusement, always using arguments to effect contradiction (aei eis antilogian chrȏmenoi)’, Socrates points out to Glaucon in Republic 539b2-5. Such spiritual nourishment could not generate in Antiphon a lasting commitment to philosophy; those, whose mind is turned to real philosophy, become committed to it and delight in it the more the older they get.