Tuesday, September 22, 2015

1 Arguments against the Forms in Plato’s Parmenides and Aristotle’s critical remarks on the Forms

Problems concerning participation

Parmenides asks Socrates: ‘Do you think (dokei soi), as you say (hȏs phêis), that there are certain Forms (einai eidê atta) by partaking of which these other things have got their names (hȏn tade ta alla metalambanonta tas epȏnumias autȏn ischein)? As for example (hoion) having partaken of similarity (homiotêtos men metalabonta) they become (gignesthai) similar (homoia), and of largeness (megethous de) large (megala), and of beauty and justice (kallous de kai dikaiosunês) just and beautiful (dikaia te kai kala)?’ Socrates answers: ‘Yes, certainly (Panu ge)’. Parmenides asks: ‘Then (Oukoun) each participating thing (hekaston to metalambanon) partakes (metalambanei) either of the whole of the Form (êtoi holou tou eidous) or of a part of it (ê merous). Or could there be any other participation apart from these (ê allê tis an metalêpsis chȏris toutȏn genoito)?’ Socrates: ‘How could there be (Kai pȏs an)?’ Parmenides: ‘Does it seem to you, then (Poteron oun dokei soi), that in each of the many is the whole Form (holon to eidos en hekastȏi einai tȏn pollȏn), being one (hen on), or how (ê pȏs)?’ Socrates: ‘For what prevents it (Ti gar kȏluei) to be one (hen einai)?’ Parmenides: ‘So being one and the same (Hen ara on kai tauton), it will be as a whole at the same time in many things (holon hama enestai en pollois) that are separate (chȏris ousin), and thus (kai houtȏs) it would be separate from itself (auto hautou chȏris an eiê).’ (130e5 – 131b2)

Socrates reposts: ‘No, it would not (Ouk an), if like the day being one and the same (hoion hêmera mia kai hê autê ousa) is in many places simultaneously (pollachou hama esti), and yet is not separate from itself in any way (kai ouden ti mallon autê hautês chȏris estin), if so (ei houtȏ) each of the Forms as well (kai hekaston tȏn eidȏn) would be (eiê) in all things (en pasin) simultaneously (hama) one and the same (hen t’auton).’ Parmenides: ‘Very pleasantly, I’m sure (Hêdeȏs ge), you make (poieis) one and the same (hen t’auton) in many different places (pollachou) simultaneously (hama), as if spreading out a sail over a number of men (hoion ei histiȏi katapetasas pollous anthrȏpous) you would claim (phaiês) that a whole one was over many (hen epi pollois einai holon). Or don’t you think (ê ou hêgêi) that you are saying something like this (to toiouton legein)?’ Socrates: ‘Perhaps (Isȏs)’. Parmenides: ‘Would the whole sail be over each man (Ȇ oun holon eph’ hekastȏi to histion eiê an), or a part of it (ê meros autou), a different part in each (allo ep allȏi)?’ Socrates: ‘A part (Meros)’. Parmenides: ‘So the Forms themselves are divisible (Merista ara estin auta ta eidê), and the things which participate in them (kai ta metechonta autȏn) would participate only in a part of them (merous an metechoi), and in each thing would not be a whole Form any more (kai ouketi en hekastȏi holon an eiê), but a part of each (alla meros hekastou).’ (131b3 – 131c7) Socrates: ‘It appears so (Phainetai)’. Parmenides: ‘Will you then want to say (Ȇ oun ethelêseis phanai) that the one Form is in truth divided into parts (to hen eidos hêmin têi alêtheiai merizesthai), and will still be one (kai eti hen einai)?’ Socrates: ‘No way (Oudamȏs)’ (131b3-c11)

Parmenides: ‘For look (Hora gar), if you divide the largeness itself into parts (ei auto to megethos merieis) and each of the many large things (kai hekaston tȏn pollȏn megalȏn) will be large by virtue of a part of largeness smaller than the largeness itself (megethous merei smikroterȏi autou tou megethous mega estai), will it not appear absurd (ara ouk alogon phaneitai)?’ Socrates: ‘Of course (Panu ge)’. Parmenides: ‘And what about this (Ti de)? Each thing having received a small part of the equal (tou isou meros hekaston apolabon ti), can it be equal to anything by virtue of a smaller part of the equal itself (hexei hȏi elattoni onti autou tou isou to echon ison tȏi estai)? Socrates: ‘Impossible (Adunaton)’. Parmenides: ‘But one of us will have a part of the small (Alla tou smikroterou meros tis hêmȏn hexei); the small itself will be bigger than this part (toutou de autou to smikron meizon estai), for it is part of itself (hate merous heautou ontos), and thus (kai houtȏ dê) the small itself will be bigger (auto to smikron meizon estai). But that to which the part taken away is added (hȏi d’ an prostethêi to aphairethen) will be smaller and not bigger than before (touto smikroteron estai all ou meizon ê prin).’ Socrates: ‘That could not happen (Ouk an genoito)’. Parmenides: ‘In what way then (Tina oun tropon) will the other things partake of the Forms (tȏn eidȏn soi ta alla metalêpsetai), when they cannot partake either of parts of them or of the whole of each (mête kata merê mête kata hola metalambanein dunamena)? Socrates: ‘No by Zeus (Ou ma ton Dia), it does not seem to me easy (ou moi dokei eukolon einai) to determine (diorisasthai) in any way (oudamȏs) such a problem (to toiouton).’ (131c12-e7)

Aristotle writes in Metaphysics A: ‘The Pythagoreans (Hoi Puthagoreioi) say (phasin) that things exist by “imitation” of numbers (mimêsei ta onta 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. W. D. Ross)

Aristotle’s remark that the Pythagoreans and Plato left open the question of ‘what the participation or the imitation of the Forms could be’ has a direct bearing on our understanding of the Parmenides. Let me refer to the relevant passages from my last post, from which I quote:

Socrates did not find it surprising that things apprehended by our senses are affected by many contradictions, but said he would be surprized, if Zeno distinguished and set apart the Forms of things alone by themselves and show that these in themselves can both mix together and separate one from another, getting entangled in exactly the same perplexity as the things which we can see and of which Zeno was speaking’. Pythodorus and the other members in the audience thought that Parmenides and Zeno would be annoyed at every word of Socrates; Socrates’ suggestion that there is a plurality of things free of contradictions threatened Parmenides’ ‘All is one’ thesis. To their surprise, the two listened to Socrates with admiration. Parmenides asked Socrates: ‘Did you yourself thus distinguish, as you say, some ideas apart in themselves, and apart the things that partake in them?

When Plato makes the point that Parmenides and Zeno listened to Socrates’ proposal of Forms as something well known to both of them, he is telling us something important. In the light of Aristotle’s remark that the Pythagoreans and Plato left open the question of ‘what the participation or the imitation of the Forms could be’ we can infer that Parmenides was acquainted with the Pythagorean theory. In his Poem, on his way to the Goddess that is to reveal to him that ‘All is one’, Parmenides is driven on the road (es hodon) that is much spoken of (poluphêmon), that carries a man who knows through all towns (hê kata pant’ astê pherei eidota phȏta, lines 3-4). On that road he undoubtedly encountered the Pythagoreans. And then the Goddess herself insisted that he must learn everything (chreȏ de se panta puthesthai), both the well-rounded unshakable heart of truth (êmen alêtheiês eukukleos atremes êtor), and human opinions (êde brotȏn doxas), which don’t have true certainty (tais ouk eni pistis alêthês, lines 28-30).

Aristotle reflects on the Forms in Ch. 14 of Metaphysics Z as follows: ‘If the Forms exist (ei gar esti ta eidê) and “animal” (kai to zȏion) is present in “man” and “horse (en tȏi anthrȏpȏi kai hippȏi) …  If then there is a “man-in-himself” (ei oun esti tis anthrȏps autos kath’ hauton) who is “this” and exists apart (tode ti kai kechȏrismenon), the parts also of which he consists (anankê kai ex hȏn), e. g. “animal” and “two-footed” (hoion to zȏion kai to dipoun), must indicate “thises” (tode ti sêmainein), and be capable of separate existence (kai einai chȏrista), and substances (kai ousias); therefore “animal”, as well as “man”, must be of this sort (hȏste kai to zȏion). Now if the “animal” in the “horse” and in “man” is one and the same (ei men oun to auto kai hen to en tȏi hippȏi kai tȏi anthrȏpȏi), as you are with yourself (hȏsper su sautȏi), how will the one in things that exist apart be one (pȏs to on en tois ousi chȏris hen estai), and how will this “animal” escape being divided even from itself (kai dia ti ou kai chȏris hautou estai to zȏion touto, b1)? … In the case of sensible things (eti d’ epi tȏn aisthêtȏn) both these consequences and others still more absurd follow (tauta te sumbainei kai toutȏn atopȏtera). If, then, these consequences are impossible (ei dê adunaton houtȏs echein), clearly there are not Forms of sensible things (dêlon hoti ouk estin eidê autȏn) in the sense some maintain their existence (hȏs tines phasin).’ (1039a26-b19, tr. W. D. Ross.)

Ross says in his ‘Commentary’: ‘1039a26-b19 is very similar to Pl. Parm. 131A-E, and in particular the language in b1 recalls that in 131 B hen ara on kai t’auton en pollois kai chȏris ousin holon hama enestai, kai houtȏs auto hautou chȏris an eiê (So being one and the same, it will be as a whole at the same time in many things that are separate, and thus it would be separate from itself) … Aristotle is pressing the difficulties raised by Parmenides in the dialogue (my emphasis, J. T.).’

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