Monday, March 21, 2016

Plato's Parmenides and Parmenides' Poem

I am returning to my blog after a gap of almost two months. On January 31 I went to Prague for more than a month. I wrote there two essays: ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ and ‘Plato and Dionysius’. I returned from Prague on March 4; my son Dan had his 14th birthday on March 5. After returning from Prague, for a weak I just relaxed, spending my time with Alan Wood’s Bertrand Russell and with Conan Doyle’s Watson and Holmes; my intention was to ‘swim from Czech back into English’ before I get back to work – rethinking my two essays written in Prague into English. My intention was to return to my blog only after I finish writing the first essay in English. But this evening I have decided to register on my blog some of my this-day’s thoughts, which will not enter the essay I am writing, although they are essential to my work on it.

In my essay I came to the point where Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides culminates, that is in Parmenides’ reflections on ‘the greatest difficulty’ facing the Forms. I quote from the essay:
“Parmenides reiterates that ‘the Forms are necessarily involved in these and many other difficulties (tauta mentoi kai eti alla pros toutois panu polla anankaion echein ta eidê), if these Forms of beings exist (ei eisin hautai hai ideai tȏn ontȏn), and if one is going to define each Form itself’ (kai horieitai tis auto ti hekaston eidos) (134e9-135a3). Then he envisages  the time of Plato’s coming: ‘It will take a man of considerable natural  gifts (kai andros panu men euphuous), who will be able to learn (tou dunêsomenou mathein) that there is a certain kind of each thing (hȏs esti genos ti hekastou), and being by itself (kai ousia autê kath’ hautên), and an even more admirable man (eti de thaumastoterou) who will discover it (tou heurêsontos) and will be able to teach it to someone else (kai allon dunêsomenou didaxai) after having sufficiently and well examined all these things (tauta panta hikanȏs dieukrinêsamenon).’ – Socrates embraces this prospect: ‘I agree with you (Sunchȏrȏ soi), for what you say is very much according to what I think too’ (panu gar moi kata noun legeis). (135a7-b2)
The discussion of ‘the greatest difficulty’ facing the Forms transcends everything that precedes and which follows it; in introducing it and in closing it Parmenides steps out of his historical persona and turns his eyes into the future, envisaging the coming of a man who will discover the Forms immune to the difficulties that Socrates could not answer. Parmenides’ next entry has nothing to do with Socrates’ ‘I agree with you, for what you say is very much according to what I think too (135b3-4)’ with which Socrates endorsed the unambiguous affirmation of the Forms with which the greatest difficulty is concluded by Parmenides.

What Parmenides is going to say next connects with his remark on Socrates’ failed attempts to defend the Forms, which preceded Parmenides’ introduction of ‘the greatest difficulty’. At 133a8-10 Parmenides said to Socrates: ‘Do you see, then (Horais oun), how great the perplexity is (hosȇ hȇ aporia), if someone were to define as Forms that are alone by themselves (ean tis hȏs eidȇ onta auta kath’ hauta diorizȇtai)?’ – Socrates: ‘Only too well’ (Kai mala). – At 135b5 Parmenides picks up that thread of thought: ‘And yet (Alla mentoi), if someone (ei ge tis dȇ), on the other hand (au), will not allow Forms of things to exist (mȇ easei eidȇ tȏn ontȏn einai), in view of all these and other such difficulties (eis panta ta nundȇ kai alla toiauta apoblepsas), and will not define some Form of each thing (mȇde ti horieitai eidos henos hekastou), he will not even have whither to turn his mind (oude hopoi trepsei tȇn dianoian hexei), since he will not allow a Form of each thing to be ever the same (mȇ eȏn idean tȏn ontȏn hekastou tȇn autȇn aei einai); and so he will utterly destroy the power of discourse (kai houtȏs tȇn tou dialegesthai dunamin pantapasi diaphtherei). Of this sort of consequence (tou toioutou men oun), it seems to me (moi dokeis), you are only too well aware (kai mallon ȇisthȇsthai).’ – Socrates: ‘True (Alȇthȇ legeis).’ – Parmenides: ‘What will you do about philosophy, then (Ti oun poiȇseis philosophias peri)? Whither will you turn (pȇi trepsȇi) with all this unknown (agnooumenȏn toutȏn)?’ – Socrates: ‘I am not really sure I can see (Ou pany moi dokȏ kathoran) at present (en ge tȏi paronti).’ – Parmenides: ‘For too early (Prȏi gar), before being trained (prin gumnasthȇnai), you attempt to define (horizesthai epicheireis) something beautiful and just and good (kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon) and each one of the Forms (kai hen hekaston tȏn eidȏn) … but drag yourself and train yourself rather (helkuson de sauton kai gumnasai mallon) through what is regarded as useless (dia tȇs dokousȇs einai achrȇstou), and condemned by the multitude as idle talk (kai kaloumenȇs hupo tȏn pollȏn adoleschias). If not (ei de mȇ), the truth will escape you (se diapheuxetai hȇ alȇtheia).’ (135b5-d6)”

The question was whether I should bring in any reflections concerning the proposed training into my essay, which is concerned with Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides. I decided to go at least as far as introducing it:
“Socrates: ‘What is then the manner (Tis oun ho tropos), O Parmenides (ȏ Parmenidȇ), of the training (tȇs gumnasias)? – Parmenides: ‘This one (Houtos), the one you heard from Zeno (honper ȇkousas Zȇnȏnos). Except that I admired this of you, and you saying it to him (plȇn touto ge sou kai pros touton ȇgasthȇn eipontos), that you were not allowing to examine the wandering among things we see nor concerning them (hoti ouk eias en tois horȏmenois oude peri tauta tȇn planȇn episkopein), but concerning those things (alla peri ekeina) which one would in particular grasp by reason (ha malista an tis logȏi laboi) and think to be Forms (kai eidȇ an hȇgȇsaito einai). – Socrates: ‘For it seems to me (dokei gar moi) that in this way (tautȇi ge) it isn’t difficult (ouden chalepon einai) to show that things are similar and dissimilar and that they suffer anything else (homoia kai anomoia kai allo hotioun ta onta paschonta apophainein).’ – Parmenides: ‘And that’s fine (Kai kalȏs ge). But it is also necessary to do yet this in addition (chrȇ de kai tode eti pros toutȏi poiein), not only if each supposed thing is (mȇ monon ei estin hekaston hupotithemenon), to examine the consequences of the hypothesis (skopein ta sumbainonta ek tȇs hupotheseȏs), but suppose as well if the same thing is not (alla kai ei mȇ esti to auto touto hupotithesthai), if you wish to be better trained (ei boulei mallon gumnasthȇnai).’ (135d7-136a2) – It is worth noting that Parmenides’ discussion of Socrates’ Forms proceeded along these lines. In the first part, which begins at 130e5 and ends at 133a9, Parmenides examines what happens if one posits the Forms as Socrates does, at 135b5-c3 he considers what would happen if one denied the existence of Forms.
Unsure what the exercise was to be all about, Socrates asked Parmenides: ‘How do you mean (Pȏs legeis)?’
Before I turn to Parmenides, let me refer to Samuel Rickless’ explanation of the purpose of the exercise: ‘Parmenides makes it clear that the power of dialectic cannot be saved unless the forms themselves are saved. As a means of saving the forms, Parmenides recommends a process of training that focuses on forms and takes note of the fact that forms wander (in the sense of having contrary properties, such as being like and unlike: 135e1-7). (Plato’s Parmenides, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, first published on internet Fri Aug 17, 2007; substantive revision Thu Jul 30, 2015).

Pace Rickless, Parmenides does not recommend the training he suggests as means of saving the Forms, but as a training one must undergo if one is ‘accurately to discern the truth’ (kuriȏs diopsesthai to alȇthes, 136c5).

Parmenides explains what he means as follows: ‘Take, if you like, Zeno’s hypothesis, if many is. What must follow for the many themselves relative to themselves and relative to the one, and for the one relative to itself and relative to the many? If, on the other hand, many is not, consider again what will follow both for the one and for the many, relative to themselves and relative to each other. Still again, should you hypothesize if likeness is, or if it is not, what will follow on each hypothesis both for the very things hypothesized and for the others, relative to themselves and relative to each other. The same account holds concerning unlikeness, and about motion, and about rest, and about coming to be and ceasing to be, and about being itself and not being. In short, concerning whatever may be hypothesized as being and as not being and as undergoing any other affection whatsoever, it is necessary to examine the consequences relative to itself and relative to each one of the others, whichever you may choose, and relative to more than one and relative to all in like manner. And the others, again, must be examined both relative to themselves and relative to any other you may choose, whether you hypothesize what you hypothesize as being or as not being, if you are to be finally trained accurately to discern the truth.’ (136a4-c5, tr. R. E. Allen)
Parmenides’ going back to Zeno’s performance is significant, for Zeno demonstrated that Parmenides’ thesis that All is one holds good by showing that if there were many things, they would be implicated in contradictory qualifications, which is impossible (touto de dȇ adunaton, 127e3). Socrates shared Zeno’s assumption that things that are self-contradictory cannot truly be, and so he challenged him to show that such contradictory qualifications apply as well to Forms, which he could not envisage as being self-contradictory: similarity to be dissimilar, dissimilarity to be similar. For only if that could be done, Parmenides’ thesis could be upheld.
Parmenides’ affirmation of Zeno’s enterprise indicates that the truth Parmenides has in mind is that All is one. Zeno proved it on the level of things that can be seen with the eyes, now Parmenides outlines the task of doing so on the level of entities which one would grasp mainly by reason (ha malista tis an logȏi laboi) and consider to be Forms (kai eidȇ an hȇgȇsaito einai, 135e3-4). It corresponds to the task that Socrates had suggested in his original challenge to Zeno, but Parmenides now presents it as a philosophic training he recommends, as something with which he is well acquainted.”
This morning I realised I cannot go on with the essay without reading once again the whole training as Parmenides presents it in the dialogue: Parmenides is hypothesizing about the one itself, what must follow if one is or one is not. I read the first hypothesis, which discusses the one deprived of all qualifications, and ends as follows. Parmenides: ‘So it is neither named nor spoken of, nor will it be an object of opinion or knowledge, nor does anything among things which are perceive it.’ – The young Aristotle (who later became one of the Thirty Tyrants): ‘It seems not.’ – Parmenides: ‘Now can these things be true of unity?’ – Aristotle: ‘I don’t think so.’
With all its destructiveness, the antinomic character of Parmenides’ propaedeutic exercise exemplifies what he meant at 135b-c when he insisted that one must accept Forms as being always the same if discussion is to be possible. We must keep the Form of one in our mind all through the exercise, for only thus we can follow all the contradictions in which Parmenides implicates the one. The Forms which he considers at 135b-c do not threaten his thesis that All is one; they are prerequisite if the discussion is to take place in which their self-contradictory nature is to be revealed and the truth that All is one to be arrived at.
At this point I felt I had to read again Parmenides’ poem, which I did. As I read it, I began to appreciate the correspondence between it and Parmenides and Zeno as they are presented in the dialogue. In his poem Parmenides describes the one as uncreated (agenȇton) and indestructible (anȏlethron), complete (oulomeles) and without end (ateleston), which never was (oude pot’ ȇn) nor will be (oud estai), for it is all now, in the present (epei nun estin homou pan, fr. 8, 5), immovable (akinȇton), without beginning (anarchon) and without end (apauston), since coming into being (epei genesis) and passing away (kai olethros) have been cast away by true belief (apȏse de pistis alȇthȇs, fr. 8, 26-28). All this should be read in connection with Socrates’ words addressed to Parmenides in the dialogue: ‘In your poems you say that All is one, and you provide fine and excellent proves of this.’ (128a8-b1, tr. Allen). The latter part of the poem – in which Parmenides presents his critical account of the opinions of mortal men, in describing the nature of things on high, how the sun and the moon, the milky way, and the stars came to being (hȏrmȇthȇsan gignesthai) (fr. 10 and 11) – should be viewed in the light of Zeno’s enterprise as it is presented in the dialogue: his proving that all things that can be apprehended by our senses are self-contradictory, impossible, can’t be, so that Parmenides’ All is one prevails, for many can’t be.
Parmenides’ discussion of all the antinomies that he derives from the hypothesis ‘if the one is and if the one is not’ should be viewed in the light of what Aristotle says in the Metaphysics concerning the Pythagoreans who ‘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). The ancients viewed Parmenides as an associate of the Pythagoreans (Fr. A4, A12, A40a, A44). If Parmenides were to uphold his thesis that All is one, he had to do so face to face with the Pythagorean doctrines; Parmenides’ propaedeutic exercise in Plato’s Parmenides shows us the way he (and Zeno) did it in the Eleatic school.

No comments:

Post a Comment