Friday, February 27, 2015

Bury’s arguments against the authenticity of Plato’s 2nd Letter

The Wikipedia entry on Plato’s 2nd Letter says: ‘R. G. Bury argues of the Second Letter that it is “fairly certain” that it is inauthentic, based primarily upon conflicts he sees between “the general tone” and Plato’s Seventh Letter.’

In his Prefatory Note to the Second Letter Bury says: ‘As regards the authenticity of this letter, it may be taken as fairly certain that it is not by Plato. The following considerations, amongst others, tell strongly against it. The Olympic Games mentioned in the opening paragraph cannot well be those of 360 B.C. (as some have supposed), since the general tone of the letter shows that it must be earlier than Plato’s return from his third visit to Syracuse in that year. The reference, then, must be to the games of 364 B.C.; and if so, the Syracusan visit alluded to in 312 A can only be the second visit of 367-366 B.C. But the account there given of the failure of that visit owing to the suspicious attitude of Dionysius plainly contradicts what we are told of Dionysius’ hospitable treatment of Plato in Ep. vii. (329 D ff.). Moreover, there is no other evidence that Plato visited Olympia in 364 B.C.; although we are told (Ep. vii. 350 B) that he did so in 360 B.C.’ (Plato IX, LCL 234, p. 399).

Plato speaks of his visit to Olympia (in 364 B. C.) in the opening paragraph of his Second Letter to Dionysius: ‘I hear from Archedemus (Bury notes: ‘A disciple of Archytas of Tarentum, the Pythagorean scientist’) that you think that not only I myself should keep quiet but my friends also from doing or saying anything bad about you; and that “you except Dion only.” Now your saying this, that Dion is excepted, implies that I have no control over my friends; for had I had this control over you and Dion, as well as the rest, more blessings would have come to us all and to the rest of the Greeks also, as I affirm. But as it is, my greatness consists in making myself follow my own instructions. However, I do not say this as though what Cratistolus and Polyxenus (Bury notes: ‘Polyxenus was a Sophist and a disciple of Bryson of Megara. Of Cratistolus nothing further is known.’) have told you is to be trusted; for it is said that one of these men declares that at Olympia he heard quite a number of my companions maligning you. No doubt his hearing is more acute than mine; for I certainly heard no such thing. For the future, whenever anyone makes such a statement about any of us, what you ought, I think, to do is to send me a letter of inquiry; for I shall tell the truth without scruple or shame.’ (Plato, Second Letter 310 B-D, tr. Bury)

In the Seventh Letter, addressed ‘to Dion’s associates and friends’ after Dion’s death, Plato writes concerning his visit to Olympia after his return from Sicily: ‘On arriving at Olympia (Bury notes: ‘i.e. for the festival of 360 B.C.’), in the Peloponnese, I came upon Dion, who was attending the Games; and I reported what had taken place. And he, calling Zeus to witness, was invoking me and my relatives and friends to prepare at once to take vengeance on Dionysius – we on account of his treachery to guests (for that was what Dion said and meant), and he himself on account of his wrongful expulsion and banishment. And I, when I heard this, bade him summon my friends to his aid, should they be willing – “But as for me,” I said, “it was you yourself, with the others, who by main force, so to say (biai tina tropon), made me an associate of Dionysius at table and at hearth and a partaker of his holy rites; and he, though he probably believed that I, as many slanderers asserted, was conspiring with you against himself and his throne, yet refrained from killing me, and showed compunction. Thus, not only am I no longer, as I may say, of an age to assist anyone in war, but I also have ties in common with you both, in case you should ever come to crave at all for mutual friendship and wish to do one another good; but so long as you desire to do evil, summon others.” This I said because I loathed my Sicilian wandering and its ill-success.’ (Seventh Letter 350 B 6-D 5, tr. Bury)

In the Seventh Letter Plato had a very good reason to speak of his visit to Olympia after returning from his 3rd visit to Sicily, but no reason whatsoever to speak of his previous visit to Olympia. In the Second Letter Plato mentions his visit to Olympia only because of Dionysius’ complaint concerning it. To consider Plato’s silence in the Seventh Letter about his visit to Olympia in 364, to which he refers is the Second Letter, as an argument against the authenticity of the Second Letter is preposterous.

Bury argues that the account of the failure of Plato’s second visit to Sicily of 367-366 B.C. owing to the suspicious attitude of Dionysius, given in the Second Letter, ‘plainly contradicts what we are told of Dionysius’ hospitable treatment of Plato in Ep. vii. (329 D ff.)’.

On account of that visit Plato says in the Second Letter: ‘I came to Sicily with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy; and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse, to gain your testimony as well, in order that I might get philosophy held in honour even by the multitude. In this, however, I was disappointed. But the reason I give for this is not that which is commonly given; rather it was because you showed that you did not fully trust me but wished rather to get rid of me somehow and invite others in my place; and owing, as I believe, to your distrust of me, you showed yourself inquisitive as to what my business was. Thereupon it was proclaimed aloud by many that you utterly despised me and were devoted to other affairs. This certainly was the story noised abroad.’ (311 C 5-312 B 2, tr. Bury)

Concerning the ‘contradictory’ account in the Seventh Letter Bury refers to 329 D ff. To properly compare the two accounts, I shall quote Plato’s account of the visit that begins at 329 B 7 in its entirety: ‘On my arrival – I must not be tedious – I found Dionysius’ kingdom all full of civil strife and of slanderous stories brought to the court concerning Dion. So I defended him, so far as I was able, though it was little I could do; but about three months later, charging Dion with plotting against tyranny, Dionysius sent him aboard a small vessel and drove him out with ignominy. After that all of us who were Dion’s friends were in alarm lest he should punish any of us on a charge of being accomplices in Dion’s plot; and regarding me a report actually went abroad in Syracuse that I had been put to death by Dionysius as being responsible for all the events of that time. But when Dionysius perceived us all in this state of mind, he was alarmed lest our fears should bring about some worse result; so he was for receiving us all back in a friendly manner; and, moreover, he kept consoling me and bidding me be of good courage and begging me by all means to remain. For my fleeing away from him would have brought him no credit, but rather my remaining; and that was why he pretended to beg it of me so urgently. But the requests of tyrants are coupled, as we know, with compulsory powers. So in order to further his plan he kept hindering my departure; for he brought me into the Acropolis (Bury notes: ‘The citadel of Syracuse, where Plato was housed during both his visits, the tyrant thus having him under his eye.’) and housed me in a place from which no skipper would have brought me off, and that not merely if prevented by Dionysius but also if he failed to send them a messenger charging them to take me off. Nor would any trader nor any single one of the officers at the ports of the country have let me pass out by myself, without arresting me on the spot and bringing me back again to Dionysius, especially as it had already been proclaimed abroad, contrary to the former report, that “Dionysius is wonderfully devoted to Plato”. But what were the facts? For the truth must be told. He became indeed more and more devoted as time advanced, according as he grew familiar with my disposition and character, but he was desirous that I should praise him more than Dion as my special friend, and this triumph he was marvellously anxious to achieve. But the best way to achieve this, if it was to be achieved – namely, by occupying himself in learning and in listening to discourses on philosophy and by associating with me – this he always shirked owing to his dread of the talk of slanderers, lest he might be hampered in some measure and Dion might accomplish all his designs (Bury notes: ‘Philistus and the anti-reform party alleged that Dion was plotting against the tyrant, aided and abetted by Plato.’). I, however, put up with all this, holding fast the original purpose with which I had come, in the hope that he might possibly gain a desire for the philosophic life; but he, with his resistance, won the day.’ (Seventh Letter 329 B 7-330 B 7, tr. Bury)

As can be seen, Bury’s claim that Plato’s account of the failure of his second visit to Sicily of 367-366 B.C. given in the Second Letter ‘plainly contradicts what we are told of Dionysius’ hospitable treatment of Plato in Ep. vii. (329 D ff.)’ does not bear scrutiny.

Following the passage ‘as regards the authenticity’ of the Second Letter, quoted in full at the beginning, Bury says: ‘In addition to these historical inconsistencies there is much to arouse suspicion in the tone and matter of the letter. Can we imagine the real Plato saying that his object in visiting Syracuse was “to make philosophy honoured by the multitude”?’ (Bury, p. 399) In the note on the quoted words Bury says in his translation of the letter: ‘A most un-Platonic sentiment: contrast Republic 493 E ff.’ (Bury, p. 408)

In the Republic 493 E-494A Socrates asks Adeimantus (Plato’s brother): ‘You recognise the truth of what I have been saying (Tauta toinun panta ennoêsas)? Then let me ask you to consider further (ekeino anamnêsthêti) whether the world will ever be induced to believe in the existence (esth’ hopȏs plêthos anexetai ê hêgêsetai einai) of absolute beauty rather than of the many beautiful (auto to kalon alla mê ta polla kala), or of the absolute in each kind rather than of the many in each kind (ê auto ti hekaston kai mê ta polla hekasta)?’ – Adeimantus: ‘Certainly not.’ – Socrates: ‘Then the world cannot possibly be a philosopher? – Adeimantus: ‘Impossible’ – Socrates: And therefore philosophers must inevitably fall under the censure of the world?’ – Adeimantus: ‘They must’ – Socrates: ‘And of the individuals who consort with the mob and seek to please them?’ – Adeimantus: ‘That is evident.’ (Jowett’s translation. Jowett gets the gist of what Plato wants to say, but his translation is very loose. I have therefore given the Greek of Socrates’ introductory entry in full, yet changing the word sequence so as to follow, and thus to elucidate, Jowett’s English.)

Allow me a digression. Although in what immediately follows the quoted passage Plato had presumably in mind Socrates’ beloved Alcibiades, the lines sound uncannily prophetic in view of Plato’s subsequent experience with Dionysius.

Socrates: ‘Then, do you see any way in which the philosopher can be preserved in his calling to the end? And remember what we were saying of him, that he was to have quickness (eumatheia) and memory (mnêmê) and courage (andreia) and magnificence (megaloprepeia) – these were admitted by us to be the true philosopher’s gifts.’ – Adeimantus: ‘Yes.’ – Socrates: ‘Will not such an one from his early childhood be in all things first among all, especially if his bodily endowments are like his mental ones? – Adeimatus: ‘Certainly.’ – Socrates: And his friends and fellow-citizens will want to use him as he gets older for their own purpose?’ – Adeimantus: ‘No question.’ – Socrates: ‘Falling at his feet, they will make requests to him and do him honour and flatter him, because they want to get into their hands now, the power which he will one day possess.’ – Adeimantus: ‘That often happens.’ – Socrates: ‘And what will a man such as he is be likely to do under such circumstances, especially if he be a citizen of a great city, rich and noble, and a tall proper youth? Will he not be full of boundless aspirations, and fancy himself able to manage the affairs of Hellens and of barbarians, and having got such notions into his head will he not dilate and elevate himself in the fullness of vain pomp and senseless pride?’ Adeimantus: ‘To be sure he will.’ – Socrates: ‘Now, when he is in this state of mind, if someone gently comes to him and tells him that he is a fool and must get understanding, which can only be got by slaving for it, do you think that, under such adverse circumstances, he will be easily induced to listen?’ – Adeimantus: ‘Far otherwise.’ – Socrates: ‘And even if there be some one who through inherent goodness or natural reasonableness has had his eyes opened a little and is humbled and taken captive by philosophy, how will his friends behave when they think that they are likely to lose the advantage which they were hoping to reap  from his companionship? Will they not do and say anything to prevent him from yielding to his better nature and to render his teacher powerless (kai peri ton peithonta, hopȏs an mê hoios t’ êi), using to this end private intrigues (idiai epibouleuontas) as well as public prosecutions (kai dêmosiai eis agȏnas kathistantas)?’ – Adeimantus: ‘There can be no doubt about it.’ – Socrates: ‘And how can one who is thus circumstanced ever become a philosopher?’ – Adeimantus: ‘Impossible.’ (494 A 11-495 A 3, tr. Jowett)

Let me bring in for comparison what Plutarch says in his Life of Dion concerning Dion, Plato, and Dionysius: ‘Dion had hopes, as it seems likely, that by means of the visit of Plato he could mitigate the arrogance and excessive severity of the tyranny, and convert Dionysius into a fit and lawful ruler; but if Dionysius should oppose his efforts and refuse to be softened, he had determined to depose him and restore the civil power to the Syracusan people; not that he approved of a democracy, but he thought it altogether better than a tyranny in lack of a sound and healthy aristocracy. Such was the condition of affairs when Plato came to Sicily, and in the first instances he met with astonishing friendliness and honour. For a royal chariot, magnificently adorned, awaited him as he left his trireme, and the tyrant offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the great blessing that had been bestowed upon his government. Moreover, the modesty that characterized his banquets, the decorum of the courtiers, and the mildness of the tyrant himself in all his dealings with the public, inspired the citizens with marvellous hopes of his reformation. There was also something like a general rush for letters and philosophy, and the palace was filled with dust, as they say, owing to the multitude of geometricians there (the translator Bernadotte Perrin notes: ‘Geometrical figures were traced in loose sand strewn upon the floor.’). After a few days had passed, there was one of the customary sacrifices of the country in the palace grounds; and when the herald, as was the custom, prayed that the tyranny might abide unshaken for many generations, it is said that Dionysius, who was standing near, cried: “Stop cursing us!” This quite vexed Philistius and his party, who thought that time and familiarity would render Plato’s influence almost irresistible, if now, after a brief intimacy, he had so altered and transformed the sentiments of the youthful prince. They therefore no longer abused Dion one by one and secretly, but all together and openly, saying that he was manifestly enchanting and bewitching Dionysius with Plato’s doctrines, in order that the tyrant might of his own accord relinquish and give up the power, which Dion would then assume … And some pretended to be indignant that the Athenians, who in former times had sailed to Sicily with large land and sea forces, but had perished utterly without taking Syracuse, should now, by means of one sophist, overthrow the tyranny of Dionysius, by persuading him to dismiss his ten thousand body-guards, and abandon his four hundred triremes and his ten thousand horsemen and his many times that number of men-at-arms, in order to seek in Academic philosophy for a mysterious good (en Akadêmeiai to siȏpȏmenon agathon zêtein), and make geometry his guide to happiness, surrendering the happiness that was based on dominion and wealth and luxury to Dion … As a consequence of all this, Dionysius became at first suspicious, and afterwards more openly angry and hostile …’ (Plutarch, Dion xii. 2 - xiv. 4, tr. Bernadotte Perrin)

As we can learn from Plutarch’s Life of Dion xxxvi, he drew on the best available historical sources: Ephorus of Cume (c. 405-330 B.C.) and Timaeus of Tauromenium (c.356-260 B.C.). Of the former The Oxford Classical Dictionary says that he was a pupil of Isocrates and, ‘except for Xenophon, the most important historian of the fourth century.’ Of the latter it says that his ‘History in thirty eight books was primarily concerned with Sicily, and its importance was great in standardizing previous accounts of Sicilian history.’

Let me now return to Plato’s Republic, so that we may properly assess the validity and force of Bury’s argument against the authenticity of the Second Letter presented as a rhetorical question ‘Can we imagine the real Plato saying that his object in visiting Syracuse was “to make philosophy honoured by the multitude”?’ accompanied by his  remark ‘A most un-Platonic sentiment: contrast Republic 493 E ff.’

Socrates argues that philosophy is thus left desolate of men endowed by nature conducive to it, and that characters unworthy of it ‘take a leap out of their trades into philosophy … For, although philosophy be in this evil case, still there remains a dignity about her which is not to be found in arts. And many are thus attracted by her whose natures are imperfect and whose souls are maimed and disfigured by their meannesses.’ (495 D-E) He says that all this explains ‘why philosophy is in such an evil name … But if philosophy ever finds in the State that perfection (ei de lêpsetai tên aristên politeian) which she herself is, then will be seen that she is in truth divine’ (497 A 6 – C 2, tr. Jowett).

What is the State in which true philosophy can flourish? Socrates explains: ‘Neither cities nor States nor individuals will ever attain perfection until the small class of philosophers are providentially compelled to take care of the State; or until kings, or if not kings, the sons of kings or princes, are divinely inspired with a true love of true philosophy.’ (499 B 2 – C 2) – Adeimantus: ‘My opinion agrees with yours.’ – Socrates: ‘But do you mean to say (ereis) that this is not the opinion (hoti ouk au dokei) of the multitude (tois de pollois)?’ – Adeimantus: ‘I should imagine not.’ – Socrates: ‘O my friend, do not attack the multitude (mê panu houtȏ tȏn pollȏn katêgorei): they will change their minds, if, not in an aggressive spirit, but gently and with the view of soothing them and removing their dislike of overeducation (apoluomenos tên tês polumathias diabolên), you show them your philosophers as they really are and describe as you were just now doing (kai diorizêi hȏsper arti) their character and profession, and then mankind will see that he of whom you are speaking is not such as they supposed – if they view him in this new light, they will surely change their notion of him, and answer in another train.’ (490 D 7 – 500 A 4, tr. Jowett)

Pace Bury, when Plato says in his Second Letter ‘I came to Sicily with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy; and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse, to gain your testimony as well, in order that I might get philosophy held in honour even by the multitude’, his words are in perfect harmony with what he says about the true philosophy and the true philosopher in the Republic.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plato’s 2nd Letter and Aristotle’s oral criticism of Plato

Plato’s 2nd Letter, written after his 2nd journey to Sicily, is addressed to Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse. With reference to discussions on philosophy that Plato and Dionysius had held during Plato’s previous visit Plato writes: ‘You say that you have not had a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of “the First” (ouch hikanȏs dedeichthai soi peri tês tou prȏtou physeȏs)… The matter stands thus (hȏde gar echei): Related to the King of All (peri ton pantȏn basilea) are all things (pant’ esti), and for his sake they are (kai ekeinou heneka panta), and of all things fair he is the cause (kai ekeino aition hapantȏn tȏn kalȏn).’ (312 D-E, tr. R. G. Bury). Bury says in his Prefatory Note to the Letter: ‘What is here said of “the King of All” is closely parallel to the description of the Idea of Good in Republic 509 B, D, 517 C;  so it is natural to equate the First Principle and the first grade of Being with the Idea of Good.’ (Plato IX, LCL 234, pp. 400-401). Although I cannot but agree with Bury’s identification of “the King of All” with the Idea of Good, I have some quibbles. Plato’s text makes this identification a virtual certainty, for he slips from talking about the king, who is masculine (peri ton pantȏn basilea), to thinking of the Good, which is neuter (kai ekeino aition hapantȏn tȏn kalȏn). What Plato has here in mind is the Good of 509 B, D of the Republic, not the Idea of the Good of 517 C, which is feminine (hê tou akathou idea).

There is a profound difference between the passage concerning the Good in the 2nd Letter and the related passages in the Republic. The thought ‘all things are for the sake of the Good’ (kai ekeinou heneka panta) is missing in the Republic. The significance of this difference can be properly appreciated if we view it in the light of Aristotle’s criticism of Plato in Metaphysics A. at 988 a 9-11 Aristotle says that Plato ‘has used only two causes, that of the essence and the material cause (for the Forms are the causes of the essence of all other things, and the One is the cause of the essence of the Forms)’ (tr. W. D. Ross). Ross remarks that Aristotle ignores ‘various suggestions of a final cause – the ultimate good or hou charin of Philebus 20 D, 53 E, the object of the creator’s purpose in Timaeus 29 D ff., and in Laws 903 C.’ He says that Aristotle undoubtedly thought Plato’s treatment of this cause inadequate, but that that does not justify him in speaking as if Plato had ignored it entirely. (Aristotle’s Metaphysics, A revised text with Introduction and Commentary by W. D. Ross, Oxford University Press 1924, pp. 176-7).

In my entry of October 16, 2014 entitled ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’ I wrote: ‘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 the 1st book after Plato left Athens for Sicily and before he returned. Nobody expected that Plato would come back; he was in his late sixties when he went to Sicily, and he went there to help establish a state in which philosophers would rule.’

On this dating of Metaphysics A Ross’ criticism of Aristotle appears to be unjustified, for the Philebus, Timaeus, and Laws are late dialogues, which can be safely dated after Plato returned from his 3rd journey to Sicily. Plato’s attempts to do justice to the final cause in these three dialogues can be viewed as his response to Aristotle’s criticism.

What is then the significance of Plato’s presentation of the Good as the final cause in the 2nd Letter? I devoted my entry of November 14, 2014 to Siebeck’s conjecture that Plato in the Parmenides responded to Aristotle’s oral criticism of Plato’s theory of Forms in the Academy. If Plato’s 2nd Letter is authentic, it represents a powerful corroboration of Siebeck’s theory.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A proposal

Today I've sent the Master of Balliol the following proposal:
Dear Master,
Thirty five years ago, in April 1980 the Master of Balliol, Dr Anthony Kenny, gave a lecture on Aristotle in my Philosophy seminar in Prague. To commemorate this anniversary, I should like to present a lecture on ‘Plato’s Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s testimony’ at Balliol.
My views on this dialogue differ from the accepted views. I should therefore greatly appreciate it if a specialist on Plato’s philosophy would chair the lecture and open it with an explanation of the currently accepted views. The interpretation of Plato’s philosophy in its entirety depends on the interpretation of this dialogue; I hope that Oxford classical philosophers will use the occasion to vigorously defend the accepted views in discussion following the lecture. My views on the dialogue are available to the public in my Blog. I have devoted to it nine entries, beginning with the entry of October 16, 2014 ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’; so far the last is the entry of February 6, 2015 ‘Aristotle’s response to Plato’s Parmenides in Metaphysics M’.
I hope you will accept my proposal and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Julius Tomin

Friday, February 6, 2015

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

In Plato’s Parmenides young Socrates contemplates a theory of Forms, which exist in themselves, separately from perceptible things ‘in which I and you and the other things we call many get a share’ (129a-130a). I have argued that Plato’s defence of the theory of Forms in the dialogue can be properly understood only if Socrates’ presentation of the theory to Zeno and Parmenides is accepted as substantially true. But doesn’t Aristotle testify against it? He ascribes the authorship of the theory to Plato in Metaphysics M: ‘We must first examine the ideal theory itself … in the form in which it was originally understood (hȏs hupelabon ex archês) by those who first maintained the existence of the Ideas’ (hoi prȏtoi tas ideas phêsantes einai, 1078b9-12, tr. Ross). He does not name Plato in this passage, but does so in a closely related passage in Metaphysics A where he explains how Plato conceived the Forms (987a29-b9). Ross notes on Metaphysics M 1078b11: ‘The “first people who said there are Ideas” are stated here, exactly as Plato was stated in Bk. A, to have been influenced by the Heraclitean doctrines (1078b13, 987a32), to have followed the lead of Socrates in his search for ethical definitions of universals, and to have given the name of Ideas to those universals (cf. 1078b17-19, 30-32, with 987b1-8).’ I shall argue that the historicity of Plato’s depiction of Socrates in the Parmenides is supported by Aristotle’s reflections on Socrates in Metaphysics M.

Ross in his note explains the omission of Plato’s name in the given passage as follows: ‘The vague reference hoi prȏtoi tas ideas phêsantes [‘first people who said’] is thoroughly characteristic of M, which is concerned with doctrines, not with people.’ Ross’ observation is true concerning Plato, Xenocrates, and Speusippus; the more remarkable is therefore the attention Aristotle gives in Bk. M to Socrates. Contrasting him with those ‘who first maintained the existence of the Ideas’ Aristotle says that ‘Socrates did not make the universals or the definitions exist apart, they, however, gave them separate existence, and this was the kind of thing they called Ideas.’ (1078b30-31, tr. Ross) Later on in Metaphysics M Aristotle says: ‘Socrates gave impulse to this theory, as we said in our earlier discussion, by reason of his definitions, but he did not separate universals from individuals; and in this he thought rightly, in not separating them (kai touto orthȏs enoêsen ou chȏrisas). And this is plain from the results (dêloi de ek tȏn ergȏn); for without the universal (aneu gar tou katholou) it is not possible to get knowledge (ouk estin epistêmên labein), but the separation (to de chȏrizein) is the cause of the objections that arise with regard to the Ideas’ (aition tȏn sumbainontȏn duscherȏn peri tas ideas estin, 1086b3-5; tr. Ross). Aristotle’s statement that Socrates ‘thought rightly in not separating the Forms’ implies that Socrates thought about separating them, but did not separate them. The aorist enoêsen, imperfectly rendered by ‘thought’, indicates that Aristotle had in mind a concrete situation, in which Socrates contemplated the separation of universals but decided against it. In making his statement, could Aristotle have failed to consider Plato’s Parmenides? With this question in mind, let us review the relevant passages in the dialogue.

In the Parmenides Socrates surmised that Zeno in his piece argued that if there are many things, they are of necessity self-contradictory, which is impossible. The principle that self-contradictory things cannot be, on the basis of which Zeno argued that ‘many are not’ (hȏs ou polla esti, 127e10), Socrates viewed as valid, for on its basis he raised his challenge to Zeno and to Parmenides, addressing Zeno as follows:

‘Do you not acknowledge (ou nomizeis) that there exists (einai), alone by itself (auto kath’ hauto), a certain character of likeness (eidos ti homoiotêtos), and again, another character opposite it, what it is to be unlike; and that you and I and the other things we call many get a share of these two things? And that things that get a share of likeness become like in the respect and to the degree that they get a share; things that get a share of unlikeness become unlike; and things that get a share of both become both? Even if all things get a share of both, opposite as they are, and by having a share of both they are both like and unlike themselves, what is surprising in that? If someone were to show that things that are just like (ei men gar auta ta homoia tis apephainen) become unlike (anomoia gignomena), or just unlike (ê ta anomoia), like (homoia), no doubt that would be a portent (teras an oimai ên, 128e6-129b3, tr. Allen. All subsequent translations from the Parmenides that I am quoting in this entry are by R. E. Allen, unless I say otherwise).’

Teras means ‘wonder’, ‘marvel’, and as Allen takes it, ‘portent’, but it does not mean impossibility. That Socrates takes it in the sense of ‘wonder’ or ‘marvel’ is indicated by his use of thaumazesthai ‘to wonder’, ‘to marvel’, thaumaston ‘marvellous’, agaimên ‘I would admire’ and thaumastȏs ‘remarkably’, agastheiên ‘I would be full of admiration’, as he further develops the point: ‘I find nothing strange (ouden emoige atopon dokei)… if someone shows that all things are one by reason of having a share of the one, and that those very same things are also many by reason of having a share of multitude. But if he shows that what it is to be one is many, and the many actually one, that will surprise me (touto êdê thaumasaimi). The same is true of all other things in like manner. If someone should show that the kinds and characters in themselves (ta genê te kai eidê en hautois) undergo these opposite qualifications, there is reason for surprise (axion thaumazein) … Now, if someone should undertake to show that sticks and stones and things like that are many, and the same things one, we’ll grant he has proved that something is many and one, but not that the one is many or the many one; he has said nothing out of the ordinary (oude ti thaumaston legein) … But I should be filled with admiration (agaimên an thaumastȏs) if someone were first to distinguish separately (prȏton men diairêtai chȏris), alone by themselves (auta kath’ hauta), the characters (ta eidê) just mentioned – likeness and unlikeness, for example, multitude and the one, rest and motion, and all such similar things – and then show that these things among themselves can be combined and distinguished … I would admire it much more (polu mallon agastheiên) if someone could show that this same perplexity is interwoven in all kinds of ways among the characters themselves (en autois tois eidesi) – that just you and Parmenides have explained in the things we see (en tois horȏmenois), so it proves too in what we apprehend by reflection (houtȏs kai en tois logismȏi lambanomenois epideixai).’ (129b4-130a2)

Parmenides asks Socrates: ‘Do you yourself thus distinguish (autos su houtȏ diêirêsai), as you say, certain characters themselves separately by themselves (chȏris men eidê auta atta), and separately again the things that have a share of them (chȏris de ta toutȏn au metechonta)? And do you think that likeness itself is something (kai ti soi dokei einai autê homoiotês) separate from the likeness which we have (chȏris hês hêmeis homoiotêtos echomen), and again one and many (kai hen dê kai polla) and all the others you just heard Zeno mention?’ – Socrates answers: ‘Yes, I do’. (130b1-6)

Socrates appears to have been well acquainted with Parmenides’ poem; he told Parmenides: ‘In your poems, you say that All is one, and you provide fine and excellent proofs of this (128a8-b1).’ When he proposes the Forms as entities free of self-contradiction he is well aware that he thus presents a challenge to Parmenides’ All is one, but his proposal is tentative; he does not view Parmenides’ poem as refuted, he is eager to know what Parmenides will have to say.

Aristotle notes in in Metaphysics M 1086b6-7 that the separation of the Forms ‘is the cause of the objections that arise with regard to the Ideas’ (aition tȏn sumbainontȏn duscherȏn peri tas ideas estin). Ross’ ‘the cause of the objections that arise’ stands for Aristotle’s aition tȏn sumbainontȏn duscherȏn. Liddell & Scott render the original meaning of duscherês as ‘hard to take in hand or manage’; but the preposition dus may simply mean a negation: ‘impossible to take in hand or manage’. Duscherês has connotations of being ‘vexatious’, ‘annoying’, ‘disagreeable’, ’difficult’. To get a flavour of ta duscherê with which Socrates is confronted in the dialogue, let us follow the difficulties as they unfold step by step.

Since no translation can fully mediate what’s going on in Plato’s text, I include the text in the original Greek in full, yet syntactically broken so as to follow the English translation as closely as possible; it thus becomes a sort of Plato’s commentary on Allen’s translation. I hope it will be welcome by all those who want to learn Ancient Greek and those who are learning it. And I hope that those, who are interested in Plato, will consult the Greek original, its syntax, for only thus they can fully appreciate the way in which Plato’s thought develops.

If I could teach Ancient Philosophy, I would encourage students to choose a dialogue of Plato in the Loeb Classical Library edition of parallel Greek-English texts, choose a paragraph, and subject it to a similar treatment, to which I have subjected the following passages from the Parmenides. And if they were studying French or German apart from Ancient Greek, I would encourage them to do the same with German and French translations.
Parmenides: ‘Do you think (dokei soi), as you say (hȏs phêis), that there are (einai) certain characters (eidê atta), of which (hȏn) these others here (tade ta alla) have a share (metalambanonta) and get (ischein) their (autȏn) names (tas epȏnumias)? As for example (hoion), things that get a share (metalambanonta) of likeness (homoiotêtos men) become (gignesthai) like (homoia), of largeness (megethous de) large (megala), of beauty (kallous de) and (kai) justice (dikaiosunês) beautiful (kala) and (te kai) just (dikaia)?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes, certainly’ (Panu ge). – Parmenides: ‘Then does (Oukoun êtoi) each thing (hekaston) that gets a share (to metalambanon) get a share (metalambanei) of the whole character (holou tou eidous), or (ê) of a part (merous)? Or (ê) would there be (genoito) any kind of sharing (allê tis an metalêpsis) separate from these (chȏris toutȏn)?’ – Socrates: ‘Surely not’ (Kai pȏs an). – Parmenides: ‘Then does it seem to you (Poteron oun dokei soi) that the whole character (holon to eidos), being (on) one (hen), is (einai) in (en) each (hekastȏi) of the many (tȏn pollȏn)?’ – Socrates: ‘What prevents it?’ (Ti gar kȏluei)– Parmenides: ‘So (ara) being (on) one (hen) and (kai) the same (t’auton), it will be present (enestai) at once (hama) and as a whole (holon) in things that are many (en pollois ousin) and (kai) separate (chȏris), and (kai) thus (houtȏs) it (auto) would be (an eiê) separate (chȏris) from itself (hautou).’ – Socrates: ‘No, it would not (Ouk an), at least if (ei ge) it were like one and the same day (hoion hêmera mia kai hê autê ousa), which is (esti) in many different places (pollachou) at once (hama) and nonetheless not (kai ouden ti mallon) separate (chȏris) from itself (autê hautês estin). If it were in fact in that way (ei houtȏ), each (kai hekaston) of the characters (tȏn eidȏn) could be (eiê) in everything (en pasin) at once (hama) as one (hen) and the same (t’auton).’ – Parmenides: ‘Very neat (Hêdeȏs ge). You make (poieis) one (hen) and the same thing (t’auton) be in many different places (pollachou) at once (hama), as if (hoion ei) you’d spread a sail over (histiȏi katapetasas) a number (pollous) of men (anthrȏpous) and then claimed (phaiês) that one thing (hen) as a whole (holon) was (einai) over (epi) many (pollois). Or (ê) isn’t (ou) that the sort of thing (to toiouton) you mean (hêgêi) to say (legein)? – Socrates: ‘Perhaps’ (Isȏs). – Parmenides: ‘Now (Ê oun), would the whole sail be (holon to histion eiê an) over (eph’) each man (hekastȏi), or (ê) part (meros) of it (autou) over one and part over another (allo ep’ allȏi)?’ – Socrates: ‘Part’ (Meros). – Parmenides: ‘So (ara) the characters (ta eidê) themselves (auta) are (estin) divisible (merista), and (kai) things that have a share (ta metechonta) of them (autȏn) would have a share (an metechoi) of parts of them (merous); whole (kai holon) would no longer be (ouketi an eiê) in (en) each (hekastȏi), but (alla) part (meros) of each (hekastou) in each.’ – Socrates: ‘Yes, so it appears (Phainetai houtȏ ge). – Parmenides: ‘Then (Ê oun) are you willing (ethelêseis) to say (phanai) that the one (to hen) character (eidos) is in truth divided (têi alêtheiai merizesthai) for us (hêmin), and (kai) will still be (eti estai) one (hen)?’ – Socrates: ‘Not at all’ (Oudamȏs). – Parmenides: ‘For consider (Hora gar), if (ei) you divide (merieis) largeness (to megethos) itself (auto), and (kai) each (hekaston) of the many (tȏn pollȏn) large things (megalȏn) is to be (estai) large (mega) by a part (merei) of largeness (megethous) smaller (smikroterȏi) than largeness (tou megethous) itself (autou), won’t that appear (ara ouk phaneitai) unreasonable (alogon)?’ – Socrates: ‘Of course’ (Panu ge). – Parmenides: ‘Well then (Ti de), suppose something is to have a given (hekaston apolabon ti) small part (meros smikron) of the equal (tou isou). (hexei hȏi) Will the possessor be (to echon estai) equal (ison) to anything (tȏi) by what is smaller (elattoni onti) than the equal itself (autou tou isou)? – Socrates: ‘Impossible’ (Adunaton). – Parmenides: ‘But (Alla) suppose one of us (tis hêmȏn) is to have (hexei) a part (meros) of the small (tou smikrou). The small (to smikron) will be (estai) larger (meizon) than this part of it (toutou de autou), because (hate) it is (ontos) part (merous) of itself (heautou), and (kai) thus (houtȏ dê) the small (to smikron) itself (auto) will be (estai) larger (meizon). But that to which (hȏi d’ an) the part subtracted (touto to aphairethen) is added (prostethêi) will be (estai) smaller (smikroteron) but (all’) not (ou) larger (meizon) than (ê) before (prin).’ – Socrates: ‘Surely (ge) that (touto) couldn’t happen’ (ouk an genoito). – Parmenides: ‘Then (oun) in what (tina) way (tropon) will the others get a share (ta alla metalêpsetai) of the characters (tȏn eidȏn) for you (soi), since they cannot get a share part by part (mête kata merê metalambanein dunamena) nor (mête) whole by whole (kata hola)?’ – Socrates: ‘Such a thing, it seems to me, is difficult, emphatically difficult (Ou ma ton Dia, ou moi dokei eukolon einai to toiouton oudamȏs), to determine (diorisasthai).’ (130e5-131e7).

Aristotle reflects on this difficulty in Metaphysics M: ‘Above all (Pantȏn de malista) one might discuss the question (diaporêseie an tis) what in the world (ti pote) the Forms (ta eidê) contribute (sumballontai) to sensible things (… tȏn aisthêtȏn)… if they are not in the individuals which share in them (mê enuparchonta tois metechousin).’ (1079b12-18, tr. Ross) He could be brief, for ta duscherê, which arise (sumbainonta, 1086b7) when one considers the Forms as separate entities, were amply displayed in Plato’s Parmenides.
Introducing the next duscheres, Parmenides delved into the fundamental reasons that made Socrates think of the Forms: ‘I suppose (oimai) you (se) think (oiesthai) that each (hekaston) character (eidos) is (einai) one (hen) for some such reason (ek tou) as this (toioude): when (hotan) some plurality of things (poll’ atta) seems (doxêi) to you (soi) to be (einai) large (megala), there perhaps (isȏs) seems (dokei) to be (einai) one (mia tis) characteristic (idea) that is the same (hê autê) when you look (idonti) over (epi) them all (panta), whence (hothen) you believe (hêgêi) that the large (to mega) is (einai) one (hen). – Socrates: ‘True’ (Alêthê legeis). – Parmenides: What about (Ti d’) the large (to mega) itself (auto) and (kai) the other (t’alla) larges (ta megala)? If (ean) with your mind (têi psuchêi) you should look (idêis) over (epi) them all (panta) in like manner (hȏsautȏs), will not (ouchi) some (ti) one (hen) large (mega) again (au) appear (phaneitai), by which (hȏi) they (tauta) all (panta) appear to be (phainesthai) large (megala)?’ – Socrates: ‘It seems so’ (Eoiken). – Parmenides: ‘So (ara) another (allo) character (eidos) of largeness (megethous) will have made its appearance (anaphanêsetai), alongside (par’) largeness itself (auto te to megethos gegonos) and (kai) the things which have a share (ta metechonta) of it (autou); and (kai) over and above (epi) all (pasin) those (toutois), again (au), a different one (heteron), by which (hȏi) they (tauta) all (panta) will be (estai) large (megala). And then (kai dê) each (hen hekaston) of the characters (tȏn eidȏn) will no longer be (ouketi estai) one (hen) for you (soi), but (alla) unlimited (apeira) in multitude (to plêthos).’ (132a1-b2)
Aristotle notes that ‘Of the most accurate arguments (hoi akribestatoi tȏn logȏn), some … introduce the third man (hoi de ton triton anthrȏpon legousin) … if the Ideas and the things that share in them have the same form (ei men t’auto eidos tȏn ideȏn kai tȏn metechontȏn), there will be something common (estai ti koinon) … But if they have not the same form (ei de mê to auto eidos), they will have only the name in common (homȏnuma an eiê), and it is as if one were to call both Callias and a piece of wood a ‘man’ (kai homoion hȏsper an ei tis kaloi anthrȏpon ton te Kallian kai to xulon), without observing any community between them (mêdemian koinȏnian epiblepsas autȏn) (1079a11-b3, tr. Ross).’
Socrates: ‘But (Alla) may it not be (mê) that each (hekaston) of the characters (tȏn eidȏn) is (êi) a thought (noêma) of these things (toutȏn), and (kai) it pertains (prosêkêi) to it (autȏi) to come to be (engignesthai) nowhere (oudamou) else (allothi) except (ê) in souls or minds (en psuchais)? For (gar) in that way (houtȏ), each (hekaston) would be (an eiê) one (hen ge), and (kai) no longer still (ouk an eti) undergo (paschoi) what (ha) was now just said (nundê elegeto).’ – Parmenides: ‘Well (Ti oun), is (esti) each (hekaston) of the thoughts (tȏn noêmatȏn) one (hen), but a thought (noêma de) of nothing (oudenos)?’ – Socrates: ‘No, that’s impossible (All’ adunaton). – Parmenides: ‘A thought of something, then (Alla tinos)? – Socrates: ‘Yes’ (Nai). – Parmenides: ‘Of something that is (Ontos), or (ê) is not (ouk ontos)?’ – Socrates: ‘Of something that is’ (Ontos). – Parmenides: ‘Is it not (Ouch) of some one thing (henos tinos) which (ho) that (ekeino) thought (to noêma) thinks (noei) as being (epon) over all (epi pasin), as some (tina) one (mian ousan) characteristic (idean)?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes’ (Nai). – Parmenides: ‘Then (Eita) that (touto) which is thought (to nooumenon) to be (einai) one (hen) will be (estai) a character (eidos), ever (aei on) the same (to auto) over (epi) all (pasin)?’ – Socrates: ‘Again, it appears it must’ (Anangkê au phainetai). (132b3-c8)
Parmenides: ‘Then what about this (Ti de dê]: is it not (ouk) in virtue of necessity (anagkêi) by which (hêi) you say (phêis) that the others (t’alla) have a share (metechein) of characters (tȏn eidȏn), or (ê) do you think (dokei soi) that each (hekaston) is composed (einai) of thoughts (ek noêmatȏn) and (kai) all (panta) think (noein), or (ê) that being (onta) thoughts (noêmata) they are (einai) without thought (anoêta)?’ (132c9-11) [I have adapted Allen’s translation of this passage, for his translation does not correspond to the original: ‘Really, Then what about this: in virtue of the necessity by which you say that the others have a share of characters, doesn’t it seem to you that either each is composed of thoughts and all think, or that being thoughts they are unthought?’]
Socrates: ‘But that is hardly reasonable (All’ oude touto echei logon). Still, this much is clear to me (malista emoige kataphainetai hȏde echein): these characters (ta men eidê tauta) stand (hestanai), as it were, as paradigms (hȏsper paradeigmata) fixed in the nature of things (en têi phusei), but the others (ta de alla) resemble (eoikenai) them (toutois) and (kai) are (einai) likenesses of them (homoiȏmata), and (kai) this (hautê) sharing (hê methexis) that the others come to have (tois allois gignesthai) of characters (tȏn eidȏn) is nothing other (ouk allê tis) than (ê) being a resemblance (eikasthênai) of them (autois).’ – Parmenides: ‘Then (oun) if (ei) something (ti) resembles (eoiken) the character (tȏi eidei), is it possible (hoion te) for that (ekeino) character (to eidos) not (mê) to be (einai) like (homoion) what has come to resemble it (tȏi eikasthenti), just insofar (kath’ hoson) as it has been made like (aphȏmoiȏthêi) it (autȏi)? Is there (ê esti) any (tis) device (mêchanê) by which what is like (to homoion) is not (mê einai) like (homion) to what is like (homoiȏi)?’ – Socrates: ‘There is not’ (Ouk esti). – Parmenides: ‘But what is like (To de homoion) necessarily (megalê anangkê) has a share (metechein) of one (henos) and the same (tou autou) character (eidous) as what it is like (tȏi homoiȏi)? – Socrates: ‘Yes’ (Anangkê). – Parmenides: ‘But will not (ouk) that (ekeino) of which (hou d’ an) like things (ta homoia) have a share (metechonta) so as to be (êi ) like (homoia) be (estai) the character (to eidos) itself (auto)?’ – Socrates: ‘Certainly’ (Pantapasi men oun). – Parmenides: ‘So it is not (Ouk ara) possible (hoion te) for anything (ti) to be (einai) like (homoion) the character (tȏi eidei), nor (oude) the character (to eidos) like anything else (allȏi). Otherwise (ei de mê), another (allo) character (eidos) will always make its appearance (aei anaphanêsetai) alongside (para) the character (to eidos), and (kai) should that be (an ekeino êi) like (homoion) something (tȏi), a different one (heteron) again (au), and (kai) continual generation (aei gignomenon) of a new (kainon) character (eidos) will never (oudepote) stop (pausetai), if (ean) the character (to eidos) becomes (gignêtai) like (homoion) what has a share (tȏi metechonti) of itself (heautou).’ – Socrates: ‘You’re quite right’ (Alêthestata legeis). – Parmenides: ‘So (ara) the others (t’alla) do not (ouk) get a share (metalambanei) of characters (tȏn eidȏn) by likeness (homoiotêti). Rather (Alla), one must (dei) look for (zêtein) something (ti) else (allo) by which (hȏi) they get a share (metalambanei).’ – Socrates: ‘So it seems’ (Eoiken). – Parmenides: ‘Do you see (Horais), then (oun), how great (hosê) the perplexity is (hê aporia), if (ean) someone (tis) distinguishes (diorizêtai) as characters (hȏs eidê) things that are (onta) alone by themselves (auta kath’ hauta)? – Socrates: ‘Yes indeed’ (Kai mala). (132c12-133a10)
Aristotle in Metaphysics M remarks: ‘To say (to de legein) that the Forms are patterns (paradeigmata einai) and the other things share in them (kai metechein autȏn ta alla) is to use empty words (kenologein esti) and poetical metaphors (kai metaphoras legein poiêtikas)’ (1079b24-26, tr. Ross).
The next and the last difficulty actually raised – many others are merely hinted at (polla men kai alla, 133b4) – was concerned with the knowability of the Forms: ‘If someone (ei tis) should say (phaiê) that it doesn’t even pertain (mêde prosêkein) to the characters (ta eidê) to be known (gignȏskesthai) if they are (onta) such (toiauta) as (hoia) we say (phamen) they (auta) must (dein) be (einai), one (tis) could not (ouk an echoi) show (endeixasthai) him (tȏi tauta legonti) he was wrong (hoti pseudetai) unless (ei mê) the disputant (ho amphisbêtȏn) happened to be (tuchoi) a man of wide experience (pollȏn men empeiros ȏn) and natural ability (kai mê aphuês)’ (133b4-8).  This difficulty I have discussed in the entry of November 14, 2014 ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’.
At the end of his critical inquiry into the Forms Parmenides left Socrates in a state of philosophic ignorance. He asked him: ‘What then (Ti oun) will you do (poiêseis) about (peri) philosophy (philosophias)? Which way (pêi) will you turn (trepsêi) while these things (toutȏn) are unknown (agnooumenȏn)?’ Socrates answered: ‘For the moment (en tȏi paronti), at least (ge), I am not really sure (ou moi dokȏ) I see (kathoran).’ (135c5-7)
From then on Socrates pursued philosophy within the framework of his philosophic ignorance. (See my entry of December 9, 2014 ‘The Phaedo and the Parmenides’.)
Let me now return to Aristotle’s statement in Metaphysics M that Socrates gave impulse to the theory of Forms by reason of his definitions, but that he did not separate universals from individuals: ‘and in this (kai touto) he thought (enoêsen) rightly (orthȏs), in not separating them (ou chȏrisas). And this is plain (dêloi de) from the results (ek tȏn ergȏn); for without (aneu gar) the universal (tou katholou) it is not possible (ouk estin) to get knowledge (epistêmên labein), but the separation (to de chȏrizein) is the cause (aition estin) of the objections (tȏn duscherȏn) that arise (sumbainontȏn) with regard to the Ideas’ (peri tas ideas, 1086b3-5; tr. Ross). I have noted earlier that Aristotle’s statement that Socrates ‘thought rightly in not separating the forms’ implies that Socrates thought about separating the Forms but decided against it, and that the aorist enoêsen indicates that Aristotle had in mind a concrete situation, in which Socrates’ ‘thinking rightly’ took place. But the aorist may have here its complexive function as well: ‘The complexive aorist is used to survey at a glance the course of a past action from beginning to end’ (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1984, p. 430) Aristotle’s dêloi de ek tȏn ergȏn, which Ross translates ‘and this is plain from the results’, appears to point at another dialogue of Plato to which Aristotle explicitly refers in Metaphysics M, the Phaedo (1080a2). Ergon means ‘work’, ‘deed’, ‘action’. Socrates’ lifelong works, his erga, were his philosophical activities. In the Phaedo he says that throughout his life he often had a dream that was always saying the same thing, ‘make mousikê (mousikên poiei) and work at it’ (kai ergazou). Socrates interpreted it as a command ‘make philosophy’, ‘for philosophy is the greatest mousikê’ (hȏs philosophias men ousês megistês mousikês, 61a3-4). Plato’s Parmenides presents us with Socrates at the beginning of his philosophic erga, the Phaedo narrates his last erga. In Metaphysics M, speaking of Socrates, Aristotle reflected Socrates’ philosophic activities in their totality, from his philosophic beginnings to his final hours.