Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Pythagoreans, Parmenides, and Socrates

I ended ‘Plato’s Parmenides and Parmenides’ poem’ (posted three days ago, on March 21) with the words: ‘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.’
After posting it, I resumed my reading of Parmenides’ propaedeutic exercise in the Parmenides. At 157b6 Parmenides begins to examine ‘what qualifications would beseem the others if the one is’ (ti de tois allois prosȇkoi an paschein, hen ei estin). Within the framework of that investigation, he says at 158d3-6: ‘To the others than the one (Tois allois dȇ tou henos) it then happens (sumbainei) that from their communion with the one (ek men tou henos kai ex heautȏn koinȏnȇsantȏn), as it seems (hȏs eoiken), something different comes to be in them (heteron ti gignesthai en heautois), which provides them with a limit relative to each other (ho dȇ peras paresche pros allȇla); their own nature in themselves provides unlimitedness (hȇ d’ heautȏn phusis kath’ heauta apeirian).
Concerning this sentence, I jotted on the margin of my Burnet’s Oxford edition of Plato (more than thirty years ago, reading Cornford in Bodleian Library at Oxford) Aristotle’s Physics 203a10-12, which in Cornford’s view ‘seems to echo’ it: ‘The Pythagoreans (kai hoi men [hoi Puthagoreioi]) identify the infinite with the even (to apeiron einai to artion). For this (touto gar), when it is cut off and enclosed (enapolambanomenon) and limited by the odd (kai hupo tou perittou perainomenon), provides things with infinity (parechein tois ousi tȇn apeirian).’

In the essay I have been writing on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ I wrote:
“Socrates attempts to escape the infinite multiplication of Forms by viewing the Forms simply as thoughts. The ensuing passage in which this attempt is discussed appears to have been long misunderstood; I therefore put the whole passage, 132b3-c12, in R. E. Allen’s translation:
‘But Parmenides, said Socrates, may it not be that each of the characters is a thought of these things, and it pertains to it to come to be nowhere else except in souls or minds? For in that way, each would be one, and no longer still undergo what was just now said? – Parmenides: ‘Well, is each thought one, but a thought of nothing?’ – Socrates: ‘No, that’s impossible.’ – Parmenides: ‘A thought of something, then?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes.’ – Parmenides: ‘Of something that is, or is not?’ – ‘Of something that is.’ – Parmenides: ‘Is it not of some one thing which that thought thinks as being over all, as some one characteristic?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes.’ – Parmenides: ‘Then that which is thought to be one will be a character, ever the same over all?’ – Socrates: ‘Again, it appears it must.’ – Parmenides: ‘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 un-thought? – Socrates: ‘But that is hardly reasonable.’

At this point an attentive reader must wonder on what basis could Parmenides view Socrates as saying ‘that in virtue of the necessity by which the others have a share of characters, each is composed of thoughts and all think, or that being thoughts they are un-thought’. In fact, Parmenides says something very different; Allen, Cornford, Jowett, Novotný, the Czech translator, and presumably all other translators back to Schleiermacher misplaced the necessity of which Socrates speaks and to which Parmenides refers. (See three entries on my blog: on September 26 I became aware that Allen and Cornford share the same misrepresentation of Plato’s text (I copied Cornford’s translation on the margin of my copy of Burnet’s Oxford edition of Plato and marked it as wrong). In the evening of the same day it occurred to me to go back to Jowett; I found the same misrepresentation (see my second entry of September 26). Two days later it occurred to me that Jowett must have consulted the passage with Schleiermacher. And indeed, I found the same mistake in Schleiermacher; see my blog of September 28.)

So let me give my translation of the passage as it can be found on my blog posted on September 26, 2015: ‘But may not each of the Forms (Alla mê tȏn eidȏn hekaston) be just a thought of these things (êi toutȏn noêma), to which it would appertain to be nowhere else (kai oudamou autȏi prosêkêi engignestai allothi) than in souls (ê en psuchais). For in this way each would be one (houtȏ gar an hen hekaston eiê) and would no more suffer (kai ouk an eti paschoi) what was said just now (ha nundê elegeto).’ – Parmenides: ‘What then (Ti oun)? Is each thought one (hen hekaston esti tȏn noêmatȏn), but thought of nothing (noêma de oudenos, ‘but thought of not even one [thing]’)? –Socrates: ‘But that’s impossible (All adunaton).’ – Parmenides: ‘But a thought of something (Alla tinos)?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Parmenides: ‘Of something that is, or of something that is not (Ontos ê ouk ontos)? – Socrates: ‘Of something that is (Ontos).’ – Parmenides: ‘Is it not of something that is one (Ouch henos tinos), which that thought thinks to be on all (ho epi pasin ekeino to noêma epon noei), to wit a Form which is one (mian tina ousan idean)?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Parmenides: ‘Won’t this then be a Form (Eita ouk eidos estai touto), to wit this which is thought to be one (to nooumenon hen einai), always being the same on all (aei on to auto epi pasin)? – Socrates: ‘Necessarily, again, it appears (Anankê au phainetai).’ – Parmenides: ‘What then (Ti de dê)? Is it not so by the necessity that compelled you to say that things participate in the Forms (ouk anangkêi hêi t’alla phêis tȏn eidȏn metechein), or does it seem to you that each thing is composed of thoughts (ê dokei soi ek noêmatȏn hekaston einai) and that all think (kai panta noein), or being thoughts (ê noêmata onta) they are unthinking (anoêta einai)?’ – Socrates: ‘But this does not make sense either (All’ oude touto echei logon).’ (132b3-c11)

As can be seen, Socrates explicitly qualified as necessary Parmenides’ suggestion implied in his question ‘Won’t this then be a Form, to wit this which is thought to be one, always being the same on all?’ His ‘again’ (au) makes it clear that with the ‘Yes’, with which he answered Parmenides’ previous question, he expressed necessity as well. The first suggestion thus qualified by Socrates as necessary is expressed in Parmenides’ words ‘Is it not of something that is one, which that thought thinks to be on all, to wit a Form which is one?’ It is this necessity twice expressed by Socrates to which Parmenides refers when he asks: ‘Is it not so by the necessity that compelled you to say that things participate in the Forms?’ If so, Socrates’ idea of the Forms being thoughts leads him back to the Forms embroiled in the problems of participation, which he tried to escape. But Parmenides is well aware that Socrates might still maintain that the Forms are just thought, but in that case he would have to choose between two possibilities: ‘or does it seem to you that each thing is composed of thoughts and that all think, or being thoughts they are unthinking?’ These two possibilities Parmenides does not qualify as necessary, and Socrates discards them as making no sense.”

On the margin of my Plato I jotted Cornford’s remark on this passage: ‘Plato’s Parmenides repudiates the doctrine which some critics ascribe to the real Parmenides that “to think is the same as to be”: to gar auto noein estin te kai einai.’ If the critics Cornford repudiates mean ‘human’, ‘subjective’ thinking, then he is right. But I don’t presume that on account of Plato’s Parmenides he wants to reject the fragment 3 of Parmenides’ poem. In the light of Plato’s Parmenides, fr. 3 must mean that being of ‘All, which is one’ is thinking. Let me give the fragment within the framework in which it is found, in Plotinus: ‘Parmenides brought being and thinking into one (Parmenidȇs … eis t’auto sunȇgen on kai noun) and he did not put being in the objects of senses (kai to on ouk en tois aisthȇtois etitheto) saying (legȏn) “to think is the same as to be” (to gar auto noein estin te kai einai). And he says that it is motionless (kai akinȇton de legei auto) – although he attributes to it thinking (kaitoi prostitheis to noein) – excluding from it all bodily movement (sȏmatikȇn pasan kinȇsin exairȏn ap’ autou), so that it remains always the same (hina menȇi hȏsautȏs). Plotin. Enn. V 1, 8.

Having decided to read Parmenides’ poem as a background to my reading of Parmenides’ propaedeutic exercise in the Parmenides, I enjoyed reading and understanding the latter as a representation of Parmenides’ “to think is the same as to be”.

In the essay on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ which I am writing (and in all entries on my blog devoted to this theme) I have been arguing that the historicity of Parmenides’ encounter with Socrates is essential for Plato’s defence of the Forms in the dialogue. The question is, whether and in what way Parmenides’ propaedeutic exercise fits Plato’s strategy. For it completely destroys Socrates’ Forms, in so far as Socrates introduced them free from contradictory qualifications and thus as a challenge to Parmenides’ “All is one”, and so it might be seen as counterproductive. But as I have argued, Plato neatly differentiates between the historical Parmenides and the prophetic Parmenides who 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. It is the historical Parmenides who gets engaged in the propaedeutic exercise, Parmenides looking into the time when he was younger, drawing on his past philosophic activities.

Since Parmenides attributes true being to the one which is 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), his propaedeutic exercise challenges Plato’s Forms. But with this challenge Plato cannot deal within the framework of the Parmenides; he cannot present Parmenides refuting Parmenides. To deal with that challenge he dons the garment of the Eleatic Stranger in the Sophist to commit what the Stranger fears to be a parricide, so as ‘to establish by main force that what is not, in some respect has being, and conversely that what is, in a way is not’ (241d5-7), for only on that basis can Plato secure plurality both on the level of appearances in which falsity thrives, the domain of the sophist, characterized by darkness, and on the level of true being, which is full of light, the level that only a true philosopher can reach (253b-254b).

And yet, viewed in the context of Socrates’ life, Parmenides’ exercise represents a powerful, though indirect affirmation of Plato’s Forms. For Parmenides with his exercise left Socrates in a situation in which he could not return to his own Forms as ontologically sound, yet could not reject them, for his eyes were fixed on them in all his discussions on how to live the best life; Parmenides left him in a situation of philosophic not-knowing in which we find him at his trial in the Apology

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