Monday, September 28, 2015

3b Arguments against the Forms in Plato’s Parmenides – Forms as thoughts

I ended my previous post with the words: ‘As it appears, Cornford’s and Allen’s ‘two possibilities’ interpretation [of Plato’s Parmenides 132c9-11] goes back to Jowett.’ But I could not stop thinking about it, and the more I thought about it, the less likely it appeared to me that the mistranslation of that passage could have originated with Jowett. That famous Master of Balliol College must have known German – when Kathy Wilkes came to Prague in 1979 to give her first lecture in my seminar, she talked enthusiastically about the role Balliol played in Oxford’s decision to accept my invitation, and about Jowett, the famous translator of Plato: ‘There is a Limerick about him “My name is Benjamin Jowett, and if there is anything worth knowing, I know it.”’ – and must have checked his translation of that passage with Schleiermacher. And so I found Schleiermacher’s translation on Google:

Parmenides: ‘Und dies als Eins bemerkte soll nicht ein Begriff sein, da es immer dasselbe ist in jenen Allen?’ – Socrates: ‘Das scheint wieder nothwendig.’ – Parmenides: ‘Wie aber weiter, habe Parmenides gesagt, wenn du behauptest, dass die übrigen Dinge die Begriffe aufnehmen, musst du nicht entweder glauben, dass jedes aus Gedanken bestehe, und dass sie alle denken, oder dass sie zwar Gedanken sind aber undenkende? – Socrates: Allein auch das, habe Sokrates gesagt, hat ja keinen Sinn.’

As can be seen, the mistranslation does go back to Schleiermacher.

How did it happen that Schleiermacher misinterpreted Plato’s argument? Let me restate the argument:

In the brief exchange at 132b7-c2 Parmenides compels Socrates to admit that every single thought (e4n e3kaston tw~n nohma/twn) is a thought of something (tinoj), of something that is (o!ntoj). Then he asks whether it is not a thought of something that is one, which that thought thinks as being on all those things, a single character: Ou0x e9no/j tinoj, o4 e0pi\ pa=sin e0kei=no to\ no/hma e0po\n noei=, mi/an tina\ ou]san i0de/an; When Socrates agrees (Nai/), Parmenides presses the point, asking whether this single character (mi/a tij i0de/a) won’t be a Form, always one and the same on all: Ei]ta ou0k ei]doj e1stai tou=to to\ noou/menon e4n ei]nai, a0ei\ o2n to\ au0to\ e0pi\ pa=sin; When Socrates answers that it must necessarily be so ( 0Ana/gkh au] fai/netai), Parmenides asks him whether it is not the same necessity that made him say that things that bear the same character participate in the Forms (if so, the infinite regress obviously applies) ou0k a0na/gkh| h|{ ta}lla fh\|j tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein, and then, without waiting for Socrates’ answer, he suggest the other two possibilities: ‘or does it seem to you that each thing is composed of thoughts’ h2 dokei= soi e0k nohma/twn e3kaston ei]nai kai\ pa/nta noei=n, or being thoughts, they are unthinking h2 noh/mata o1nta a0no/hta ei]nai; Socrates admits that none of this makes any sense:  0All ou0de\ tou=to e1xei lo/gon.

Schleiermacher translates ou0k a0na/gkh| h|{ ta}lla fh\|j tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein h2 dokei= soi (Parm. 132c9-1) ‘wenn du behauptest, dass die übrigen Dinge die Begriffe  aufnehmen, musst du nicht entweder glauben, dass …’ ‘when you maintain, that the other things take up the concepts [participate in Forms - tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein], must you not believe either that …’. He translates as if Parmenides had said ou0k a0na/gkh|, h|{ ta}lla fh\|j tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein, dokei= soi h2 e0k nohma/twn e3kaston ei]nai kai\ pa/nta noei=n, h2 noh/mata o1nta a0no/hta ei]nai. He then interprets the opening sentence ou0k a0na/gkh|, h|{ ta}lla fh\|j tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein in the light of the supposed ‘either – or’ of the two last mentioned possibilities. But there is no ‘either – or’ in Plato’s text. Parmenides’ argument is in the form ‘A or B or C’. So let me retrace the steps by which Parmenides arrives at A.

Parmenides suggested that Socrates posited the Forms because he saw that many things shared one and the same character and thought that they did so by virtue of participating in one Form (132a1-4). Socrates agreed (a5). Parmenides then showed him that on this way of thinking he would have to acknowledge that the Form and all the individual things sharing in it would do so by virtue of jointly sharing in the same character, another Form, and thus ad infinitum: ‘And so you won’t have one of each Form (kai\ ou0ke/ti dh\ e4n e3kaston soi tw~n ei0dw~n e1stai), but their multitude will be infinite (a0lla\ a1peira to\ plh=qoj).’ (132a6-b2)

Socrates ‘replies’ to Parmenides’ argument by fundamentally changing his view of the Forms, albeit only tentatively: ‘But may not each of the Forms ( 0Alla\ mh\ tw~n ei0dw~n e3kaston) be just a thought of these things (h]| tou/twn no/hma), to which it would appertain to be nowhere else (kai\ ou0damou= au0tw~| prosh/kh| e0ggi/gnestai a1lloqi) than in souls (h2 e0n yuxai=j). For in this way each would be one (ou3tw ga\r a2n e3n ge e3kaston ei1h) and would no more suffer (kai\ ou0k a2n e1ti pa/sxoi) what was said just now (a4 nundh\ e0le/geto).’ (132b3-6)

Parmenides responds to Socrates’ suggestion by bringing him elegantly back to his original view of the Forms: ‘What then (Ti/ ou]n)? Is each thought one (e4n e3kasto/n e0sti tw~n nohma/twn), but thought of nothing (no/hma de\ ou0deno/j, ‘but thought of not even one [thing]’)? Socrates: ‘But that’s impossible (  0All a0du/naton).’ Parmenides: ‘But a thought of something (  0Alla\ tino/j)?’ Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai/).’ Parmenides: ‘Of something that is, or of something that is not (  1Ontoj h2 ou0k o1ntoj)? Socrates: ‘Of something that is (  1Ontoj).’ Parmenides: ‘Is it not of something that is one (Ou0x e9no/j tinoj), which that thought thinks to be on all (o4 e0pi\ pa=sin e0kei=no to\ no/hma e0po\n noei=), to wit a Form which is one (mi/an tina\ ou]san i0de/an)?’ Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai/).’ Won’t this then be a Form (Ei]ta ou0k ei]doj e1stai tou=to), to wit this which is thought to be one (to\ noou/menon e4n ei]nai), always being the same on all (a0ei\ o2n to\ au0to\ e0pi\ pa=sin)? Socrates: ‘Necessarily, again, it appears so (  0Ana/gkh au] fai/netai).’

Socrates answers  0Ana/gkh, ‘Necessity’, without being fully aware, what that   0Ana/gkh involves. And so Parmenides toys with Socrates’   0Ana/gkh, ‘Necessity’, asking ou0k a0na/gkh| h|{ ta}lla fh\|j tw~n ei0dw~n mete/xein ‘Is it not by the necessity [instrumental use of a0na/gkh|] by which you say that things participate in the Forms?’

There was no necessity in Socrates’ tentative suggestion that the Forms could be taken as being just thoughts. If there was any ‘necessity’ involved, it was the ‘necessity’ that originally led him to conceive the Forms, the necessity which Parmenides had shown to lead to the infinite regress.

Without waiting for Socrates’ answer to the question concerning the ‘necessity’, Parmenides suggests two possibilities involving Socrates’ tentative suggestion that Forms are just thoughts: ‘or does it seem to you that each thing is composed of thoughts (h2 dokei= soi e0k nohma/twn e3kaston ei]nai) and that all think (kai\ pa/nta noei=n), or being thoughts (h2 noh/mata o1nta) they are unthinking (a0no/hta ei]nai)?’ (132b3-c11)

Since Socrates could not find any answer to the ‘infinite regress’ argument when Parmenides proposed it, he can’t find any answer to the question concerning the ‘necessity’ that led him to the Forms, and he finds the two alternatives concerning Forms as thoughts unacceptable. And so he answers to all three possibilities suggested by Parmenides ‘But this does not make sense either (  0All ou0de\ tou=to e1xei lo/gon, 132c12),’ and then he comes up with another tentative suggestion – that the Forms are paradigms – which Parmenides will again find liable to the infinite regress.

No comments:

Post a Comment