Friday, April 29, 2016

Cycling for Plato? – contemplating a reluctant protest

An editor of the Cherwell Magazine, Oxford’s Independent Student Newspaper, asked me to comment on my recent protests outside Balliol: ‘We would be particularly interested in finding out about your aims and what you wish to demonstrate as well as any further plans to protest.’ I replied that I was contemplating ‘Cycling for Plato’: ‘I intend to cycle to Oxford University, from Oxford to Cambridge University, then take a ferry to Holland, cycle to Freie Universitaet in Berlin, then to Charles University in Prague, then to Heidelberg University, then to Sorbonne in Paris, and end as a homeless person at Oxford. I shall ‘cycle for Plato’, for Plato deserves to be read and discussed, and I believe that there are young people at universities I intend to visit who would find as much delight in Plato as I have done, if they were provided with an opportunity to find the right way to enjoying him. I have marked the proposed ‘Cycling for Plato’ with a question mark, for nothing would please me more than if one of the Oxford Colleges found for me a room, allowed me to give lectures on Plato to students, and thus enabled me to resume my study of Plato, so that I would not have to get on my bicycle.’

This morning I woke up all in sweat. Is it not crazy, the protest that I am contemplating to undertake? I intend to end as a homeless person at Oxford. Is it necessary? My wife insists that I write to Pension Service, inform them that our divorce will be finalized in less than five weeks and that they should begin to send me Income Support as they did before she got a better pay and I was left with £28.03 of weekly state pension; she insists that I apply for the housing benefit so that I can get private housing. I told her that I informed the Pension Service of our divorce and gave them the detail of my bank account in March. If they still send the £28.03 of weekly pension to her bank account, that’s fine with me; it’s the least I can do to contribute to my children’s upbringing (my daughter is 16, my son is 14): ‘As you well know, the Pension Service charged me with a debt of £11,856.70 in 2009. All my appeals to the Pension Service to revise their decision have been in vain. I finally appealed to the Master of Balliol, asking him that a Balliol lawyer looks into the matter; on April 25 he replied “Dear Dr Tomin, I am sorry for all your troubles, but sadly can not do anything I believe to alleviate them.” – The least I can do is not to apply to the Pension Service for help unless I am completely destitute. On April 11 I was informed by the Czech equivalent of the Pension Service that my monthly pension will be 3233 Kč, which means approximately £94.34 a month. In the autumn of the last year I received a five-year back payment of my Czech pension; it should keep me going during my cycling protest.’ – Isn’t it time to swallow my pride and do as my wife suggest?

In my reply to the editor of the Cherwell magazine I wrote that my idea of a ‘cycling protest’ goes back to 1984: ‘It was the Rt. Hon. Norman Tebbit who inspired me with the idea of getting on my bicycle. I simply wanted to express my wish to be accepted as partner in an endeavour to involve students in philosophy.’ What prompted me to my ‘cycling protest’ more than thirty years ago was Martin Walker’s three-part-investigation into ‘What’s gone wrong with philosophy in Britain?’ published in The Guardian. In ‘The Latter Days of Philosophy’ I wrote:

‘Walker arrived at nothing less than foreshadowing the latter days of philosophy … He defined “philosophy’s unique strength” as that of having “the longest institutional memory of any of the academic disciplines, back to the ancient Greeks … Nothing is forgotten all ideas remain for potential recycling.” Thus the end of philosophy is in sight: “We might just be living in the last generation when this holds true. In Japan, in America, and in research centres in Europe, there is feverish activity under way to build something called the fifth generation computer, a machine that can think.” (The Guardian, Wednesday January 11, 19884)

How is the machine able to think to deprive philosophy of its standing? … Walker cannot mean philosophy as a living human activity. If we understand philosophy as always anchored in human lives, and do not mistake it for sediments of philosophic activity, the very notion that it could ever be surpassed by computers is absurd.

Walker points out the evil and proposes remedies. The evil lies in Oxford’s preoccupation with classical philosophy. It could have been exposed earlier but for the Prague interlude: “Oxford dons could counter any suggestions that they and their classics are out of touch by referring to a brave and thrilling experience that many of them have recently enjoyed. It began when Julius Tomin … asked for moral and intellectual support.” (The Guardian, Tuesday January 19, 1984)’

For three years now I have shared a lot of unemployed British philosophers. I wonder when we will begin to organize to help each other in pursuit of philosophy. Philosophy is a life-long task; who ever really tasted it cannot give it up – or resume it – according to the dictat of the ‘market’. If the universities begin to produce graduates who would insist on doing philosophy even if unemployed, philosophy will start to pay its due to problems of the present world … Socratic concept of free time – schole in Greek – gave the name to our schools; intellectual activity requires free time for its unfolding. Facing the Athenian jury, Socrates raised the claim to have schole institutionally guaranteed for the life of philosophy. The modern concept of redundancy deprives people of human dignity. It is in the power of philosophy to restore the sense of dignity and direction to free time. Philosophy can transform unemployment into time of free intellectual effort for all those who can pursue it.

And so I confront my colleagues in Oxford with the request of three hours in a fortnight jointly devoted to Plato and Aristotle; three hours during which an unemployed philosopher might participate in intellectual exchange with his more fortunate colleagues. More fortunate? As long as they do not find time for such an activity, I would not call them more fortunate.’ (Radical Philosophy 37, Summer 1984)

It was to emphasize the import of this text that I contemplated cycling to 8 universities during the 8 weeks of the Summer Term 1984, ‘knocking on their door’, hoping against hope that the door might be opened. It was in 1984, the ‘brave and thrilling experience’ of Oxford dons that ‘began when Julius Tomin … asked for moral and intellectual support’ was still fresh, refreshed by Martin Walker, and so two universities did invite me to talk to their students and academics; and so I cycled to Lancaster and to Aberdeen. What hope can I have of any success with my ‘Cycling for Plato’ in 2016?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cycling for Plato?

An editor of the Cherwell Magazine wrote to me:
Thank you for your email to the editors. Could you comment on your recent protests outside Balliol, ideally as soon as possible?

I answered:

Dear Sophie,
I arrived at Oxford on Monday afternoon. I stood in front of Balliol from 4pm to 6pm. My little poster saying ‘Let us discuss Plato’ was hanging on the corner of the board advertising Balliol College to visitors. I spent most of those two hours reading Plato’s Philebus, for it is a late dialogue of Plato, and in the light of my work on Plato’s Parmenides I am now interested in Plato’s late dialogues. As far as I can tell, nobody paid any attention to me or to my little poster. Then I went to the Bodleian Library to continue my reading of the Philebus. For this, I took Bury’s edition of the dialogue published by the Cambridge University Press in 1897. The book is in pristine condition; it could not have been read by many scholars during the 120 odd years it has been on the open shelves.

When the Library closed, I returned to Balliol for the night. I crouched in my sleeping back in the corner of the entrance behind the closed half of the gate, taking care not to be in the way of those who were coming in and going out from the little door in the other half of the gate. Then it started to rain very heavily. My umbrella and survival plastic bag protected me from the open space of the Broad Street, the Balliol gate protected me on the other side. Then came the porter and asked me to move: ‘You cannot stay here!’ I explained to him that I offered the Master of Balliol a paper on Plato and wrote to him that if he does not permit me to present the paper to Balliol students and academics, I shall stand for some time on Monday-Wednesday in front of Balliol in protest, and that my staying overnight in front of Balliol will be part of my protest. The porter called the University Security men. They asked me to move, threatening me that they would call the police if I didn’t. I said: ‘Call the police. My philosophy seminar in Prague was broken by the Czechoslovak police. It will be in style if my protest at Balliol ends by being interrupted by the British police.’

And I thought: ‘In April 1980 Dr Kenny, the Master of Balliol, was giving a paper to my students on Aristotle’s Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics. The dispute between me and Dr Kenny turned to Socrates and Plato. Kenny maintained that Socrates was a good man but not a great philosopher, whereas Plato was a dubious character but a great philosopher. I disagreed: ‘Tony, you obviously make a cut through Plato’s dialogues, finding Socrates in those dialogues which you consider of negligible philosophic import. I don’t make any such cut through Plato’s dialogues’. It was at that point that the police forced their way in and interrupted the discussion. It was in consequence of this dispute with the Master of Balliol that I realized that in all my reading of Plato I have not found anything that would militate against the ancient tradition that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue. Ever since then I have done my best to renew that interrupted discussion, so far in vain. The paper I have offered to the present Master of Balliol on Plato’s Parmenides is the most recent and most important result of my viewing Plato on the basis of that ancient tradition. My protest at Balliol is my latest effort to bring the discussion about; if it is interrupted by the British police, so be it.’

The police duly arrived, the rain was falling, the police insisted that I move. They insisted that the place I occupied was the property of Balliol College; if I wanted to protest, I could do so on the pavement in front of the College. The police were firm but very decent. They waited for me to put on my shoes, pack up my sleeping bag, put everything in my bag – and mercifully, in the meantime it stopped raining. And so I paced for some two hours in front of Balliol waiting for the pavement to dry. When the pavement dried I spread on it the survival bag, on it my mat, and spent the rest of the night in my sleeping bag.

The next day I visited Balliol, for I wanted to speak to the Master. The porter said the Master was not there. ‘Could I speak to the Master’s secretary?’ I asked. ‘Nobody is there’, said the porter. – ‘Can I speak to any students?’ I asked. – ‘No, you can’t!’ said the porter resolutely.

And so I went in search of the Cherwell Magazine. It is not easy to find, a kind woman at the Poliice station at St Aldates helped me to get there. I was received by a deputy editor. We had a lengthy talk. She called the editor, gave me the phone, and we agreed that I would resume my protest at Balliol from 4pm-6pm; the editor would come, interview me, and take some photos. To my pleasant surprise, this time I was approached by some students who became interested in my protest, and we had a lengthy talk on Plato, on the study of Ancient Greek, and on philosophy. The editor found us deep in discussion, listened, became himself deeply interested, and took the photos he wished.

Then I spent one more night in front of Balliol and in the morning resumed my protest from 10-11am. I was again approached by students, and we enjoyed our discussions.

It may be seen as unfair for me to challenge Oxford dons to discuss Plato with me when I have had the privilege of devoting myself to the study of the Greeks fully for 50 years. For how much time could they possibly have had for studying Plato? And most importantly, I learnt Greek so that I understand the Greek texts directly, in Greek, without translating Greek in my head into English, whereas they all must translate Greek into English in order to understand it; for that’s how they learnt Ancient Greek at school.

But is it fair to the students not to give them an opportunity to see what difference it makes if one is fully committed to the study of the cultural world of the Ancient Greeks, and if one can understand Greek directly, without having to translate it in one’s head into English?

During the first day of my protest I thought that it was time to give up and for the rest of my days devote myself to my studies, simply enjoying my daily trips to the world of the Ancient Greeks. But my wife is divorcing me, all her attempts to secure for me social housing have failed so far; living as homeless is my prospect. When I came home, I read your email in which you ask whether I plan any further protest, and I realised that in view of my situation I do not have any other choice.

I have decided to ‘Cycle for Plato’. I intend to cycle to Oxford University, from Oxford to Cambridge University, then take a ferry to Holland, cycle to Freie Universitaet in Berlin, then to Charles University in Prague, then to Heidelberg University, then to Sorbonne in Paris, and end as a homeless person at Oxford (to academics of three of these universities I sent an invitation to my philosophy seminar in Prague in 1978; the philosophers at the Trinity College invited me to Cambridge in 1979 and it was Trinity College that paid my grant for the first seven months of my stay at Oxford; I would have liked to invite philosophers from Sorbonne to my seminar; but my French was not good enough for the task of interpreting their lectures to my students; J.P. Sartre’s exchange of letters with the Czech Marxist Philosopher Karel Kosík in Le Monde inspired me to open an unofficial philosophy seminar in Prague in 1975). I shall leave Oxford on May 6. (I want to give my vote to the Labour candidates in the local elections on May 5. – My ‘dissident career’ began in 1957 by my refusing to vote; inspired by Tolstoy I viewed the act of voting as an act of compliance with the regime, which I viewed as wrong. My next act was my refusal to do the military service, followed by my imprisonment.)

My ‘Cycling for Plato’ has been precipitated by the fact that I have nowhere to live, but the idea as such goes back for more than thirty years. In ‘A Letter to British Philosophers’ from May 12, 1984 I wrote: ‘It was the Rt. Hon. Norman Tebbit who inspired me with the idea of getting on my bicycle. I simply want to express my wish to be accepted as partner in an endeavour to involve students in philosophy. Originally, I wanted to cycle to eight universities during the summer term, each week of the term to one university. I planned getting on the road without any invitation. But then I lost courage for doing so; nevertheless, I informed the eight universities of my aborted plan, sending them the ‘Pursuit of Philosophy’ as a ‘sample’ of my thought. As a result, two universities invited me to come. Let me express my gratitude and admiration for philosophers at Lancaster and Aberdeen Universities; for to be ready to listen to what an unemployed colleague has to say takes a lot of intellectual courage. I shall leave Oxford on Thursday May 24, on Monday May 28 I shall talk at Lancaster University on ‘Philosophy from the viewpoint of an unemployed philosopher’, on Tuesday on ‘Plato as he cannot be discussed’. On Monday June 11, I shall talk at Aberdeen University on ‘Philosophy with pleasure’. I chose my title for Aberdeen to counter Gosling and Taylor’s The Greeks on Pleasure (Oxford 1982), from which I quote: “Aristotle’s ecstatic language about the delights of philosophizing is not likely to arouse an answering echo among many practitioners, let alone among non-philosophers.” (p. 5-6) With high unemployment among intellectuals for years to come it is the task of primary importance to rediscover philosophy as an essential intellectual activity, to rediscover delight in thought.’

I shall ‘Cycle for Plato’, because Plato deserves to be read and discussed, and I believe that there are young people at universities I intend to visit who would find as much delight in Plato as I have done, if they were provided with an opportunity to find the right way to enjoying him. I have marked the proposed ‘Cycling for Plato’ with a question mark, for nothing would please me more than if one of the Oxford Colleges found for me a room, allowed me to give lectures on Plato to students, and thus enabled me to resume my study of Plato, so that I would not have to get on my bicycle. If the Cherwell Magazine could do anything in this matter, it would be great.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Another protest at Balliol? – an information

Dear All,
Allow me to bring to your attention ‘Another protest at Balliol?’, an appeal addressed to the Master of Balliol (posted on my blog). I marked the appeal with a question mark, for it will take place only if the Master of Balliol rejects my proposal to present at Balliol my paper on ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’.

If the protest takes place, it will be directed not only at Balliol students and academics, but equally at students and academics at the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University in Prague. I wrote the Czech version of ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’ in February in the Czech Republic and offered it to Dr Jakub Jirsa, the Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Religious Studies at Charles University. Dr Jirsa rejected my offer. (See posts ‘1-3 My recent Prague venture’ posted in March of this year, and the ‘Velvet Blues’ posted on November 17, 2015 to mark the anniversary of the Velvet revolution of 1989.)

If the Master of Balliol allows me to present ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’ to Balliol students and academics, I shall spend most of Monday - Wednesday at the Bodleian Library. I have reasons to believe that if I get permission to present my paper at Balliol, and then hopefully at Cambridge, I will get permission to present it at Charles University as well. Let me quote from Dr Jirsa’s Curriculum Vitae:

‘2008-2009 - visiting scholar at the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge

2006 - PhD degree in Philosophy, Central European University, Budapest; thesis title: “The Ethics of Self-Knowledge in Plato’s Dialogues”, supervisors: Gábor Betegh, David Sedley (viva: July 17, 2006)
2004-2005 - Research stay at the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge, Hughes Hall College (supervisor: David Sedley, Malcolm Schofield)’

Let me end this information with a few lines from ‘Philosophers in knots over Dr Tomin’s Plato thesis’ published in The Daily Telegraph on August 25, 1988:

‘A leading scholar responded yesterday to complaints by Dr Julius Tomin, the Czech dissident philosopher, that he cannot get his controversial work on Plato published in Britain. “He holds that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue, which is contrary to the beliefs of pretty well all scholars in the field in this century,” said Dr David Sedley, editor of Classical Quarterly, and director of studies in classics at Christ’s Church, Cambridge. “I think people just have a great difficulty in seeing how it can be right,” he said. “It means he is asking people to give up nearly everything else they believe about Plato’s development, but he is not telling us enough about why we should give up all these other views”.’

In my ‘Proposal’ to present ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’ at Balliol, addressed to the Master of Balliol, I wrote: ‘All my attempts to discuss Plato with Oxford academics have been so far rejected. As Justin Gosling once told me: ‘Nobody has time for it.’ What is important concerning the Parmenides is the fact that the difficulties in which the Platonic scholars have become implicated because of their rejection of the ancient dating of the Phaedrus can be viewed on the basis of a single passage, the passage in which Parmenides reflects on his criticism of the Forms.’

I posted the ‘Proposal’ on my blog in April 21; ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’ is available on my website

Julius Tomin

Another protest at Balliol?

Dear Master,

A month ago, on March 23 I appealed to you:’ Since 2009 the Pension Service has charged me with the debt of £11,856.70. All my appeals to the Pension Service to revise their decision have been made in vain. It would be great if a Balliol lawyer could look into the matter.’

May I reiterate my appeal? As I informed you, I discussed the matter on my blog in three entries: ‘An urgent request addressed to the Pension Service’ of June 10, ‘It is all wrong’ of June 15, and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’ of June 19, 2015. I believe that these three entries justify my appealing to you in this matter.

But there is a more serious matter which I should like a Balliol lawyer to look into, a case of academic blacklisting. Nick Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’: ‘Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservatives’ reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job. He’s like a recalcitrant student who can’t admit he’s wrong.’ (The Independent Magazine, November 18, 1989).

The immediate consequence? Until then I was giving tutorials for American students at Blackfriars. My tutorials were disconnected. I was told that the parents of the students did not want me to teach their children.

But there are much more serious consequences. All my appeals to you to allow me to present a paper on Plato at Balliol have been so far in vain. I opened my most recent proposal with the words: ‘I have put on my website a paper on ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’. My interpretation of the dialogue differs radically from the accepted views of the dialogue; would you allow me to present it to Balliol students and academics?’ I closed it with the words: ‘I hope you will consider my proposal favourably, and so I look forward to presenting my paper on the Parmenides to Balliol students and academics.’

To give urgency to my proposal, I shall go to Oxford on Monday April 25 and stay there until Wednesday April 27. On each of these three days I intend to spend some time in front of Balliol with a simple message: ‘A philosopher from Prague appeals to Oxford students and academics: LET US DISCUSS PLATO’.

I shall have a sleeping bag with me for I contemplate spending the Monday and Tuesday nights in front of Balliol as part of my protest.

Julius Tomin

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A proposal

I have sent the Master of Balliol College at Oxford University the following proposal:

Dear Master,

I have put on my website a paper on ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’. My interpretation of the dialogue differs radically from the accepted views of the dialogue; would you allow me to present it to Balliol students and academics?

To make plain the main difference, let me quote Samuel Rickless’ entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the Internet: ‘The Parmenides is, quite possibly, the most enigmatic of Plato’s dialogues. The dialogue recounts an almost certainly fictitious conversation between a venerable Parmenides and a youthful Socrates.’ My interpretation of the dialogue is based on the assumption that the conversation is not fictitious; when we take seriously its historicity, it ceases to be enigmatic.

Let me quote from my paper: ‘Allen writes in his ‘Comment’ [in Plato’s Parmenides, Yale University Press, 1997]: “The Parmenides is narrated by Cephalus of Clazomenae, who has heard it from Plato’s half-brother Antiphon, who heard it in turn from Pythodorus, a student of Zeno, who was present at the original conversation … This structure is designed to produce a sense of remoteness from the conversation (p. 69) … The conversation that follows is a fiction: it could not have occurred, and it is important to its interpretation to realize that it could not have occurred (p. 71)”.

Allen refrains from informing the reader that Plato in the introduction to the dialogue insists on the historicity of the discussion presented in it. Cephalus tells Adeimantus: “These gentlemen here are fellow citizens of mine, much interested in philosophy. They’ve heard that your Antiphon used to associate with a certain Pythodorus, a companion of Zeno’s, and that he can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus.” – “True,” said Adeimantus, “for when he was a youngster, he used to rehearse them diligently.” (126b-c) It is worth noting that in the Apology Socrates appeals to “Adeimantus the son of Ariston, whose brother Plato is present,” to testify against him if his brother suffered any evil at his hands (33d-34a). But most importantly, Adeimantus and Glaucon are Socrates’ main interlocutors in the Republic; by referring to them in the opening sentence of the Parmenides Plato points to the Republic in which he gives reasons why any arguments raised against the Forms must be fallacious.

Allen maintains that it is important to the interpretation of the Parmenides to realize that it could not have occurred in reality; pace Allen, I am inviting the reader to view the dialogue as Plato wants him to view it, i.e. as a reflection of an event that did take place. The first important thing to realize is the following: if Adeimantus and Glaucon were aware of their half-brother’s diligently rehearsing the arguments against the Forms he had learnt from Pythodorus, so the young Plato must have been aware of it.’

The significance of this fact can be fully appreciated only if we take seriously the ancient tradition that Plato’s first dialogue was the Phaedrus, in which Plato brings to the fore his theory of Forms. Parmenides’ arguments against the Forms presented in the Parmenides are arguments with which Plato had been acquainted since his early days, and which he found irrelevant as far as his view of Forms was concerned. My interpretation of the Parmenides is thus closely linked to my dating of the Phaedrus.

It all started with the visit of Dr Anthony Kenny, the Master of Balliol, in my philosophy seminar in Prague in 1980. I discussed the visit with Dr Kathleen Wilkes in Prague in May 1980. I told her that in his talk Dr Kenny maintained that Socrates was a good man but a poor philosopher, Plato a dubious character but a great philosopher, with which I disagreed. He presumably made a cut through Plato’s dialogues, identifying Socrates with those dialogues, which were not up to his standards of great philosophy. I told him that I did not make any such cut through Plato’s dialogues: ‘I haven’t found anything in Plato that would compel me to reject the ancient tradition that Plato’s first dialogue was the Phaedrus.’ Kathy exclaimed: ‘It can’t be.’ I suggested that we should read the dialogue together, and so she obtained a grant to work with me for a month (July-August 1980) in Prague.

During that month I obtained strong internal indications that the dialogue was written during Socrates’ life-time, as the ancient tradition indicates, and more precisely, that it was written prior to the death of Polemarchus in the hands of the Thirty Tyrants. For Socrates ends his palinode on love in the dialogue with a prayer that Eros may turn Phaedrus’ beloved Lysias to philosophy ‘as his brother Polemarchus has been turned to it’ (275b). This follows Socrates’ assertion that those who pursue philosophy live a blessed and harmonious life here on earth (256a-b). In Against Eratosthenes Lysias describes the death of his brother Polemarchus in the hands of the Thirty Tyrants. In view of Lysias’ testimony, to declare Polemarchus after his death an exemplary follower of philosophy, and as such endowed with blessedness here on earth, would be a mockery in the eyes of Plato’s readers, for the ancients believed that a man’s life can be considered good only if he meets a good end.

All my attempts to discuss Plato with Oxford academics have been so far rejected. As Justin Gosling once told me: ‘Nobody has time for it.’ What is important concerning the Parmenides is the fact that the difficulties in which the Platonic scholars have become implicated because of their rejection of the ancient dating of the Phaedrus can be viewed on the basis of a single passage, the passage in which Parmenides reflects on his criticism of the Forms: ‘And yet, these difficulties and many more still in addition necessarily hold of the characters (anankaion echein ta eidȇ), if these characteristics of things that are exist (ei eisin hautai hai ideai tȏn ontȏn), and one is to distinguish each character as something by itself (kai horieitai tis auto hekaston eidos). The result is that the hearer is perplexed and contends that they do not exist, and that even if their existence is conceded, they are necessarily unknowable by human nature. In saying this, he thinks he is saying something significant (kai tauta legonta dokein ti legein) and, as we just remarked (kai, ho arti elegomen), it’s astonishingly hard to convince him to the contrary. Only a man of considerable natural gifts will be able to understand that there is a certain kind of each thing, a nature and reality alone by itself, and it will take a man more remarkable still to discover it and be able to instruct someone else who has examined all these difficulties with sufficient care.’ (134e-135b, tr. R. E. Allen)

Allen remarks: ‘It is evident from this single passage that Parmenides does not suppose that his criticisms of the theory of Ideas are a mere tissue of fallacies. On the contrary, they are deep and serious, and raise difficulties that must be thought through if the theory of Ideas is to be sustained. Socrates, young and inexperienced, has not yet thought them through with sufficient care.’ (Allen, p. 203)

Allen’s remark that Parmenides supposes that his criticisms of the theory of Ideas are deep and serious strangely contrast with Parmenides’ words that a man who pronounces such criticisms ‘thinks he is saying something significant’. For these words clearly imply that all criticisms of the Forms, those put forward by Parmenides and many other criticisms that ‘necessarily hold of the Forms’ (anankaion echein ta eidȇ) only seem to be significant. Allan’s words ‘that Parmenides does not suppose that his criticisms of the theory of Ideas are a mere tissue of fallacies’ chime strangely with Parmenides’ insistence at 133b that a man who pronounces such criticism is putting forward fallacies (pseudetai, 133b7); it is to this passage that Parmenides refers at 135a5 with the words ‘and, as we just remarked’ (kai, ho arti elegomen). Allen’s assertion that Parmenides’ criticisms ‘raise difficulties that must be thought through if the theory of Ideas is to be sustained’, for ‘Socrates, young and inexperienced, has not yet thought them through with sufficient care’ can be properly ‘appreciated’ if we realize that in Allen’s view the criticisms raised by Parmenides are directed against the theory of Forms, which ‘is essentially that of the Phaedo and the Republic’ (Allen, p. 105). How could Plato possibly identify the Socrates of the Phaedo [in which we find Socrates in prison, discussing philosophy with his friends on his last day] and the Republic with the young and inexperienced Socrates of the Parmenides?

Dear Master, I hope you will consider my proposal favourably, and so I look forward to presenting my paper on the Parmenides to Balliol students and academics.

Julius Tomin

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Scholarships and research grants

Alan Wood wrote in his Bertrand Russell: ‘One point is worth mentioning: the kind of life led by Russell obviously depended on a small but sufficient independent income. In fact almost all the great philosophical advances of this epoch came from men who did not have to work for a living: this applied to Moore and Wittgenstein as well. How philosophical advances are to continue in Britain, under changed economic circumstances, is a question which nobody can answer. It is certainly no answer to point to scholarships and research grants from wealthy foundations: for it is often the mark of new work in philosophy, and much creative work in science, that established orthodoxy regards it at first as rather foolish. It is hard, for example, to imagine Russell going to a local education authority, explaining that “I feel uneasy about the foundation of mathematics”, and getting enough money to live on for fifteen years while he investigated them’. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1958, p. 44).

At Oxford, in the autumn of 1981 I asked Justin Gosling for a permission to present Plato’s Phaedrus at the Sub-faculty of Philosophy. I remember telling him: ‘I do not maintain that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, but according to an ancient tradition it was the first dialogue, and I think it is the duty of philosophers to ask what would Plato’s dialogues look like if they were read on the basis of that ancient tradition.’ Justin Gosling replied: ‘But Julius, nobody has time for such an undertaking.’

On the 2nd of December 2015 I wrote to Nicholas Deneyer:

“Seven years ago I put on my website The Lost Plato. On that occasion I wrote to you and to other classicists and classical philosophers: ‘The Lost Plato focuses on the Phaedo plus the nine dialogues that I view as written before Socrates died. What remains to be done from the perspective opened by The Lost Plato is a systematic study of the dialogues written after the death of Socrates. In your view, should this work be undertaken? If so, what can be done that it is undertaken in conditions worthy of the work it requires? If you think that such work should not be undertaken, could you tell me why?’

To the question ‘In your view, should this work be undertaken?’ you replied ‘No’; to the question ‘If you think that such work should not be undertaken, could you tell me why?’ you replied ‘You do not name the nine dialogues you view as written before Socrates’ death. But whichever nine dialogues you were to name, there is no reason to suppose that your view about their dating is correct. Amplifying a view which there is no reason to suppose correct is not a good use of your time and talents.’

I commented on your replies in my next letter to classicists and classical philosophers (it figures in the ‘Preface to The Lost Plato’ on my website as No. III): ‘Denyer “knows” that there is no reason to suppose that my view about the dating of the nine dialogues in question is correct without taking the pains of at least opening the short “Introduction” to The Lost Plato to find out of which nine dialogues I speak. And yet, Denyer is very well aware that our putative dating of the dialogues of Plato may profoundly influence our view of them. In the “Introduction” to his Cambridge edition of Plato’s Alcibiades he says that we do not know when the dialogue was written, but that there are reasons to believe that it was written in the early 350s (p. 11). This allows him to view the dialogue on two levels: In connection with the charge against Socrates that he “corrupts young men” and in connection with Plato’s unsuccessful attempt to turn to philosophy the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius.’

I have devoted the last year to Plato’s Parmenides, which I view, as you view his Alcibiades, in connection with Plato’s unsuccessful attempt to turn to philosophy the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius. I date the dialogue between Plato’s second and the third journey to Sicily. May I tempt you to read four items on my blog: ‘Plato’s staging of the greatest difficulty concerning the Forms in the Parmenides’ (Nov. 7), ‘Allen’s misrepresentation of Plato’s Parmenides’ (Nov. 12), ‘1 A year on my blog with Plato’s Parmenides’ (Nov. 24), and ‘2 A year on my blog with Plato’s Parmenides’ (Nov. 28).

As you will see, my dating of Plato’s Parmenides is linked to my dating of Aristotle’s 1st and 3rd book of Metaphysics. I date Met. A as written during Plato’s third journey to Sicily (Plato went to Sicily to stay there); Met. B as written after Plato’s return from Sicily.

This dating of these three works makes it imperative – for me, at any rate – to read Plato’s post-Parmenides works (Timaeus, Sophist, Politicus, Philebus, Laws) hand in hand with Aristotle’s 4th – 12th book of Metaphysics. For I am tempted to view these 8 books as written during the remaining twelve years of Plato’s life, viewing Plato’s Forms, in so far as he reflects on them, in the light of the 3rd book, as a problem deserving serious consideration, as an aporia that deserves to be thought through. In the 13th book, written after the death of Plato, he demolishes the Forms as he did in the 1st book, in identical terms, with one important difference. In the 1st book he speaks of himself as one of the Platonists, in the 13th book he distances himself from them. (A 990b2-991b9 is almost identical with M 1078b34-1079b3, 1079b12-1080a8; deiknumen, oiometha, phamen, boulometha in Met. A is replaced by deiknutai, oiontai, phasin, boulontai in Met. M).

My immediate task is to accomplish the review of ‘A year on my blog with Plato’s Parmenides’, and to write a paper on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s criticism of the Forms’. When I finish it, then I will devote myself to the task I have specified as imperative: to read Plato’s post-Parmenides works hand in hand with Aristotle’s 4th – 12th book of Metaphysics.

In your view, should this work be undertaken? If so, what can be done that it is undertaken in conditions worthy of the work it requires? If you think that such work should not be undertaken, could you tell me why?

What conditions I consider as worthy of the work this task requires? To have a regular contact with students and academics involved in classics and classical philosophy (a two hours slot a week, allowing for a talk, paper, or lecture and discussion in one of the leading universities, Cambridge or Oxford would be great), a decent accommodation, and a salary worthy of that work.”

Concerning my proposal ‘to read Plato’s post-Parmenides works (Timaeus, Sophist, Politicus, Philebus, Laws) hand in hand with Aristotle’s 4th – 12th book of Metaphysics’ Denyer replied:

I am sure there will be interesting comparisons and contrasts to be made.”

Concerning my specifications of the conditions which I would ‘consider as worthy of the work this task requires’ he replied:

It sounds as if the conditions that you consider as worthy would be provided by a research grant or a research fellowship or something of the sort. To get such things you would need to apply for them in the same way as anyone else.”

Did ‘anyone else’ spend almost fifty years studying Plato, I wondered. But I made a try so far as the Philosophy Faculty at Charles’ University and the Institute of Philosophy in Prague were concerned; concerning the results see ‘1-3 My recent Prague venture’ on my blog.

In the mean-time I wrote and put on my website ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’. I hoped someone would invite me to present it at their University. No invitation has come so far, and so again, with a heavy heart, I shall have to offer the paper to the Master of Balliol. What reply can I hope for?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Russell did my heart good

In ‘Childhood’, the 1st Chapter of his Autobiography, Russell wrote: ‘I hated Latin and Greek, and thought it merely foolish to learn a language that nobody speaks.’

Some twenty years later, on February 26, 1901 Russell wrote to Gilbert Murray, the editor of the Oxford edition of Euripides, on his translation of Euripides’ Hippolytus: ‘I have now read the Hippolytus, and feel impelled to tell you how much it affected me. Those of us who love poetry read the great masterpieces of modern literature before we have any experience of the passions they deal with. To come across a new masterpiece with a more mature mind is a wonderful experience, and one which I have found almost overwhelming. It had not happened to me before, and I could not have believed how much it would affect me. Your tragedy fulfils perfectly – so it seems to me – the purpose of bringing out whatever is beautiful and noble in sorrow; and to those of us who are without religion, this is the only consolation of which the spectacle of the world cannot deprive us. The play itself was entirely new to me, and I have felt its power most keenly. But I feel that your poetry is completely worthy of its theme, and is to be placed in the very small list of truly great English poems. I like best of all the lyric with which you ended your reading at Newnham. I learnt it by heart immediately, and it has been in my head ever since.

Murray replied: ‘Of course I have felt great emotion in working at the Hippolytus; I have been entranced by it. And then the thought has always come to me, that there were dozens of translations of the Greek Tragedians in all the second-hand shops; and that I could not read any of them with the least interest; and that probably the authors of nearly all of them had felt exactly as I was feeling about the extraordinary beauty and power of the matter they were writing down.’

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Russell on ‘Plato’s Forms’

In ‘The World of Universals’, Chapter IX of The Problems of Philosophy, Russell writes: ‘Such entities as relations appear to have a being which is in some way different from that of physical objects, and also different from that of minds and from that of sense-data. In the present chapter we have to consider what is the nature of this kind of being … The problem with which we are now concerned is a very old one, since it was brought into philosophy by Plato. Plato’s ‘theory of ideas’ is an attempt to solve this very problem, and in my opinion it is one of the most successful attempts hitherto made … The way the problem arose for Plato was more or less as follows. Let us consider, say, such a notion as justice. If we ask ourselves what justice is, it is natural to proceed by considering this, that, and the other just act, with a view of discovering what they have in common. They must all, in some sense, partake of a common nature, which will be found in whatever is just and in nothing else. This common nature, in virtue of which they are all just, will be justice itself, the pure essence the admixture of which with facts of ordinary life produces the multiplicity of just acts. Similarly with any other word which may be applicable to common facts, such as ‘whiteness’ for example. The word will be applicable to a number of particular things because they all participate in a common nature or essence. This pure essence is what Plato calls an ‘idea’ or ‘form’.’ (p. 80)

Russell’s account of Plato’s ‘theory of ideas’ or ‘forms’ closely corresponds to Parmenides’ conjecture in the Parmenides of how the young Socrates conceived his theory of Forms. Socrates asks Zeno: ‘Do you not acknowledge that there is, alone by itself, a certain Form of similarity, and an opposite to it, that of dissimilarity, and that of these, being two, you and I and all the other things get a share?’ (128e6-129a3) – Parmenides: ‘Do you think, as you say, that there are certain Forms, of which these other things having a share get their names? As for example, things that get a share of similarity become similar, of largeness large, of beauty and justice beautiful and just? (130e5-131a2) … I think that you came to think that each Form is one from the following; when many things appear to you to be large, there seems to be one Form perhaps which is the same as you look on all of them, whence you believe that the large is one.’ (132a1-4)

It is a historical paradox that Plato’s theory of Forms became identified with the theory of young Socrates, which Parmenides exposed to criticism that Socrates was unable to parry, and so was left in a state of philosophic ignorance, unable to view the Forms as entities of which he had knowledge, and unable to reject them. And so we find him on his last day, in the Phaedo, referring to the Forms as entities which we are reminded of by things around us, entities which we reminisce (72e2-75b2), but which we do not truly know (76b5-c4).

There is a profound contrast between the provenance of Socrates’ Forms in the Parmenides and in the Phaedo. In the Parmenides, as Parmenides conjectured, when many things appeared to Socrates to be large, there seemed to him to be one Form which was the same as he looked on all of them, whence he believed that the large was one, and so with all other Forms he contemplated; the young Socrates derived the Forms from things perceived by our senses. In the Phaedo Socrates contemplates the ‘equal itself’ of which all sensible things we call equal remind us, falling short of it.

In the Parmenides Parmenides ends his criticism of Socrates’ Forms viewed as paradigms with the words: ‘So it is not by similarity that other things participate in the Forms, but one must look for something else by which they participate (133a5-6).’ Socrates in the Phaedo appears to have this observation in mind when he insists that we are reminded of the ‘equal itself’ by equal things we see around us, the equal itself being either similar to them or dissimilar (ȇ homoiou ontos toutois ȇ anomoiou, 74c11).

Russell published The Problems of Philosophy in 1912. In 1911 John Burnet, the editor of the Oxford edition of Plato and arguably the greatest Platonic scholar in the English speaking world of all times, in the ‘Introduction’ to his edition of Plato’s Phaedo passionately pleads against the dominant theory that the Forms were conceived by Plato several years after Socrates’ death and for the first time presented in the Phaedo: ‘I cannot bring myself to believe that he [Plato] falsified the story of his master’s last hours on earth by using him as a mere mouthpiece for novel doctrines of his own.’ (p. XI-XII) Burnet’s views – Burnet notes that in his Early Greek Philosophy he has shown ‘that the Parmenides is accurate in its historical setting and involves no philosophical anachronism’ (note 2 on p. XI) – were rejected. A whole section of the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, held in 1927 in New York, was devoted to the condemnation of his views. The section began with a brief introductory preamble:

‘The first paper in Division D, Section I, was to have been read by John Burnet (Edinburgh), but sudden illness made Professor Burnet’s presence at the Congress impossible. In Professor Burnet’s absence, W. D. Ross (Oxford) spoke briefly, summarizing Professor Burnet’s views on the Socratic and Platonic elements in the doctrine of Plato’s dialogues.’

What followed was a chorus of contempt in which the great Platonic scholars of those days joined forces under the chairmanship of G. S. Brett (Toronto) and P. E. More (Princeton): R. C. Lodge (Manitoba), Leon Robin (Sorbonne), Paul Shorey (Chicago), W. A. Heidel (Wesleyan). The printed Proceedings do not give W. D. Ross’ summary of Burnet’s views, but since he is the only scholar who in his edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics brings a strong argument against Burnet’s views, it may be safely assumed that not a word in support of Burnet was uttered on that occasion.

Ross showed that Aristotle viewed Plato as the author of the theory of Forms or Ideas, as Ross prefers to call Plato’s essences. In Metaphysics A 987a29-b9 Aristotle says:
‘After the systems we have named came the philosophy of Plato, which in most respects followed these thinkers [i.e. the Pythagoreans], but had peculiarities that distinguished it from the philosophy of the Italians. For, having in his youth first become familiar with Cratylus and the Heraclitean doctrines (that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux and there is no knowledge about them), these views he held in later years. Socrates, however, was busying himself about ethical matters and neglecting the world of nature as a whole but seeking the universal in these ethical matters, and fixed thought for the first time on definitions; Plato accepted his teachings, but held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to entities of another kind – for this reason, that the common definition could not be a definition of any sensible thing, as they are always changing. Things of this other sort, then, he called Ideas, and sensible things, he said, were all named after these, and in virtue of a relation to these.’ (Tr. Ross)

In Metaphysics M 1078b9-32 Aristotle says:
‘Now, regarding the Ideas, we must first examine the ideal theory itself, not connecting it in any way with the nature of numbers, but treating it in the form in which it was originally understood by those who first maintained the existence of Ideas (hoi prȏtoi tas ideas phȇsantes einai). The supporters of the Ideal theory were led to it because on the question about the truth of things they accepted the Heraclitean sayings which describe all sensible things as ever passing away, so that if knowledge or thought is to have an object, there must be some other and permanent entities, apart from those which are sensible; for there could be no knowledge of things which were in a state of flux. But when Socrates was occupying himself with the excellences of character, and in connection with them became the first to raise the problem of universal definition … Socrates did not make the universals of definitions exist apart, they, however, gave them separate existence, and this was the kind of thing they called Ideas.’ (Tr. Ross)

Ross notes that in the Metaphysics M passage Plato is not named, but that the reference in both passages to the influence of Heracliteanism, as well as the identical way in which Socrates is introduced in both passages as the mediating influence, and the identity, but for the change of number, of the final statement in both these passages, show that ‘those who first maintained the existence of the Ideas’ in Metaphysics M means just Plato. (See W. D. Ross, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924, vol. I, pp. xxxiii-xxxvi.

Pace Ross, Aristotle does not refute Burnet’s contention that the theory of Forms is of Pythagorean origin. For if we take the Parmenides as a reliable historical testimony – as Burnet did and as I have argued in ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’, which I put on my website this morning – then neither the Pythagoreans with their version of the theory nor Socrates could maintain the Forms face to face with Parmenides’ destructive propaedeutic discussion of the forms. The Forms had to wait for Plato, for only he could maintain the Forms in spite of Parmenides’ criticism. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Russell on mind

Alan Wood writes in ‘The Analysis of Mind’, the twelfth chapter of his Bertrand Russell: ‘In prison, Russell had proclaimed the freedom of the human spirit, and the power of mind to move unfettered even though the body was confined: “I am free, and the world shall be.” Simultaneously he was working towards a philosophy whereby not only were the thoughts of his mind hardly free, but his mind did not even exist in the commonly accepted sense, and any difference in kind between mind and matter was declared illusory. He told Clifford Allen in April 1919 that “the gods, seeing I was engaged in proving there is no such thing as mind, have sent me such a cold as to give me, for the present, personal proof of the truth of my thesis”.’ (p. 118)

I am still preoccupied with The Problems of Philosophy which Russell wrote in 1912. At that time, he viewed Mind as an entity in its own right, and I find his characterization of it valid and valuable: ‘The faculty of being acquainted with things other than itself is the main characteristic of a mind. Acquaintance with objects essentially consists in a relation between the mind and something other than the mind.’ (Chapter IV. ‘Idealism’, p. 37 in Amazon’s edition). Had Russell properly reflected on this insight, he could never have assimilated Mind to Matter, and he could never have developed his erroneous sense-data theory. For the division that separates ‘me’ from ‘the world around me’, ‘you’ from ‘the world around you’ is the fundamental ‘datum’, the fundamental characterization of our minds. I put the term ‘datum’ in quotation marks, for everything presented to my mind as a ‘datum’ is constructed for it by an X, the part of our nature of which we are not conscious, which receives the information as it is processed by our brains and transforms it into that which our minds accept as given, as something outside us. The ‘given-ness’ of this ‘outside us’, which is in fact inside us, in our minds, is absolutely essential for our interaction with one another and with the physical world in which we live.

I believe that this fundamental faculty of mind spotted by Russell, ‘the faculty of being acquainted with things other than itself’ characterizes in principle all living beings that are capable of avoiding danger on the basis of the physical effects of that danger while it is yet at some distance, however small, and capable of following a source of nutrition on the basis of the physical effects of that nutrition on their organism while yet at some distance. For this involves perceiving those physical effects as something what they are not. I think that we should contemplate the possibility of rudimentary minds emerging as far back as we can meaningfully talk about elementary ‘brains’. Let me quote Roger Carpenter and Benjamin Reddi: ‘For a single-celled organism such as an amoeba, coordination is essentially chemical: its brain is its nucleus, acting in conjunction with its other organelles. But a multicellular organism clearly needs some system of communication between its cells, particularly when, as in the primitive invertebrate Hydra, they are specialized into different functions: secretion, movement, nutrition, defence and so on. Communication between cells practically always means chemical communication.’ (Neurophysiology, p. 3) Up until that moment in the development of life it makes sense to talk of ‘neutral monism’, with no differentiation between Mind and Matter, this Mind-Matter having an unrealized potentiality of constituting Mind and Matter as different from each other.

This is evolutionary speculation. What is not a speculation, is a realization that in human beings our Minds and our bodies are two different though closely interrelated entities. We realize this the moment we contrast the way in which our brains are organized and structured in space and time, and the way in which the world of our minds is structured, based as it is on the functions of our brains. This realization, in my view, leads of necessity to evolutionary speculation, for we face the question, how is it possible that we all, enclosed as we are in our ‘private’ minds, linked to and separated from the outside world by our brains, can see the same trees, the same houses, can see each other: sitting at the table, I can ask my daughter ‘pass me the salt, please’, and she does so. Just think for a minute that Russell were right and that we all construed physical objects around us from the ‘sense-data’, and think of how difficult it is for many children to learn to read, and how individually varied is such performance from child to child, from adult to adult. Yet ‘constructing’ what we read out of letters on the paper or the computer screen is incomparably more simple task than would be constructing the world around us, the world we all inhabit, in which we interact, out of Russell’s sense-data. How could we all possibly accomplish such a feat at least in principle within the first two or three years of our lives?

If the world of our minds had been originally constructed from simple ‘sense-data’, the beginnings of this construction must go far back in our evolutionary history. Take again how we learn to read. At the beginning we may construct our words out of single letters (at least in Czech language we mostly do, for our language is phonetic), which in English is, I believe, problematic even at the initial stages of learning to read. But the moment we really begin to read, we read words, phrases, where the letters are just the triggers that help us read.

At the early stages of the evolution of Mind, its ‘faculty of being acquainted with things other than itself’ must have been very rudimentary. But on the level of human beings it is the world in front of us, which we see when we open our eyes, which is the primary datum with which our mind is presented, and within the framework of which we can focus our attention on this or that thing, on this or that person.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Plato’s staging of the greatest difficulty concerning the Forms in the Parmenides – a revised version

I discussed ‘Plato’s staging of the greatest difficulty concerning the Forms in the Parmenides’ in the post of November 7, 2015. I have given it some more thought; it will stand in my essay on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ as follows:

Subjected to Parmenides’ scrutiny, Socrates proved unable to defend the Forms, and Parmenides invited him to reflect on it: ‘Do you see then (Horais oun) how great is the difficulty (hosê hê aporia) if someone distinguishes as Forms beings in themselves (ean tis hȏs eidê onta auta kath’ hauta diorizêtai)?’ – Socrates: ‘I do indeed (Kai mala)'. – Parmenides: ‘Rest then assured (Eu toinun isthi) that you so to speak not yet even begin to grasp how great the difficulty is (hoti hȏs epos eipein oudepȏ haptêi autês hosê estin hê aporia), if you’re going to posit one Form each, of things which are, ever defining it as a separate entity (ei hen eidos hekaston tȏn ontȏn aei ti aphorizomenos thêseis).’ – Socrates: ‘How come (Pȏs dê)?’ – Parmenides: ‘There are many other difficulties (Polla men kai alla), but the greatest is this (megiston de tode): If someone should say that the Forms cannot be known (Ei tis phaiê mêde prosêkein auta gignȏskesthai) if they are such as we maintain they must be (onta toiauta hoia phamen dein einai ta eidê), to a man saying this (tȏi tauta legonti) one could not show (ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai) that he is saying a falsity (hoti pseudetai), unless he, who denied their knowability, happened to be a man of great experience (ei mê pollȏn men tuchoi empeiros ȏn ho amphisbêtȏn) and natural ability (kai mê aphuês), willing to follow a man who would show him the Forms in the course of a lengthy undertaking, beginning from a far (etheloi de panu polla kai porrȏthen pragmateuomenou tou endeiknumenou hepesthai). The man compelling them to be unknowable could not be persuaded otherwise (all’ apithanos eiȇho agnȏsta anankazȏn auta einai).’ (133a11-c1)

The objection that the Forms cannot be known is thus qualified as false right from the outset. This qualification transcends the Parmenides by pointing to a man ‘demonstrating the Forms in the course of a copious and lengthy undertaking’. Plato points thus to the Republic where in the fifth book he demonstrated that only the Forms can be known, for only they truly are. This pointing to the Republic has been prepared in the introductory scene to the Parmenides, in which Plato’s brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon mediate its narrative – in the Republic they compel Socrates to transcend his philosophic ignorance, outline the Form of justice and ascend to the Form of the good – and by the preceding three sets of arguments, in the course of which Parmenides implicated the Forms in the infinite regress with its infinite multiplication of Forms, which point to the tenth book of the Republic in which Plato used the threat of the infinite regress to ascertain that each Form is just one.
After thus pointing to the Republic as the place where the answer to the difficulty is to be looked for, Parmenides discusses the problem that the Forms are what they are in their relation to one another, but not in relation to things among us, and that the things among us are related only to one another, but not to the Forms (133c8-d5). He elucidates this point by an example: ‘If one of us is a master or slave of someone (ei tis hêmȏn tou despotês ê doulos estin), he is surely not a slave of master itself, what master is (ouk autou despotou dêpou, ho esti despotês, ekeinou doulos estin), nor is a master the master of slave itself, what slave is (oude autou doulou, ho esti doulos, despotês ho despotês), but being a man (all anthrȏpos ȏn), both these belong to a man (anthrȏpou amphotera taut’ estin). But mastery itself (autê de despoteia) is what it is of slavery itself (autês douleias estin ho esti), and slavery in like manner (kai douleia hȏsautȏs) is slavery itself of mastery itself (autê douleia autês despoteias). Things in us do not have their power in relation to things there (all’ ou ta par hêmin pros ekeina tên dunamin echei), nor things there in relation to us (oude ekeina pros hêmas). Rather (all’), as I say (ho legȏ), things there belong to themselves and are relative to themselves (auta hautȏn kai pros hauta ekeina te esti), and things among us are in the same way relative to themselves (kai ta par’ hêmin hȏsautȏs pros hauta).’ (133d7-134a1)
The significance of Parmenides’ chosen example will become clear when Parmenides returns to it at the close of Plato’s staging of the difficulty.
Parmenides goes on to focus on the main point, the difficulty concerning the knowability of the Forms: ‘And knowledge too (Oukoun kai epistêmê), that which is knowledge itself (autê men ho esti epistêmê), would be of that which is the truth itself (tês ho estin alêtheia), of that it would be knowledge (autês an ekeinês eiê epistêmê)?’ – Socrates: ‘Of course (Panu ge). – Parmenides: ‘Yet again, each of the sciences (Hekastê de au tȏn epistêmȏn), which is (hê estin), would be knowledge of each of the beings, what each is (hekastou tȏn ontȏn, ho estin, eiê an epistêmê). Not so (ê ou)?’– Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai)’ – Parmenides: ‘But the knowledge which we have (Hê de par hêmin epistêmê), wouldn’t it be knowledge of the truth which we have (ou tês par hêmin an alêtheias eiê), and again each science which we have (kai au hekastê hê par hêmin epistêmê), wouldn’t it happen to be knowledge of each of the things that we have (tȏn par hêmin ontȏn hekastou an epistêmê sumbainoi einai)?’ – Socrates: ‘Necessarily (Anankê)’. – Parmenides: ‘Moreover (Alla mên), we do not have the Forms themselves, as you agree (auta ge ta eidê, hȏs homologies, oute echomen), nor can they be among us (oute par hêmin hoion te einai).’ – Socrates: ‘Of course not (Ou gar oun).’ – Parmenides: ‘But presumably, the kinds themselves, what each is, are known by the Form of knowledge itself (Gignȏsketai de ge pou hup’ autou tou eidous tou tês epistêmês auta ta genê ha estin hekasta)?’ – Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Parmenides: ‘Which we don’t have (Ho ge hêmeis ouk echomen).’ – Socrates: ‘No (Ou gar). – Parmenides: ‘So none of the Forms is known by us (Ouk ara hupo ge hêmȏn gignȏsketai tȏn eidȏn ouden), since we do not have a share of knowledge itself (epeidê autês epistêmês ou metechomen).‘ – Socrates: ‘It seems not (Ouk eoiken).’

If Plato’s Parmenides had been interested merely in presenting Socrates with the greatest difficulty confronting the Forms, this was the point to stop, but he goes on to consider what it implies: ‘Unknown to us (Agnȏston ara hêmin) is the beautiful itself (kai auto to kalon), which is (ho esti), and the good (kai to agathon), and everything we accept as being the Forms themselves (kai panta ha dê hȏs ideas autas ousas hupolambanomen)’. – Socrates: ‘That’s the danger’ (Kinduneuei)’ (134b14-c2).
Jowett and Allen completely misjudged the situation, the former translating Socrates’ Kinduneuei ‘It would seem so’, the latter ‘Very likely’. Socrates’ ‘That’s the danger’ should be taken seriously as the expression of great unease he begins to experience at this point. Equally misleading is their rendering of Parmenides’ response to Socrates’ Kinduneuei. Jowett translates ‘I think that there is a stranger consequence still,’ Allen ‘Consider then whether the following is still more remarkable.’ Parmenides accentuates Socrates’ ‘That’s the danger’ by saying ‘See then this, which is even more appalling than that’ (Hora dê eti toutou deinoteron tode).
Parmenides explains: ‘You’d say, presumably (Phaiês an pou), that if there is a kind itself of knowledge (eiper esti auto ti genos epistêmês), it is much more exact (polu auto akribesteron einai) than knowledge that we have (ê tên par hêmin epistêmên), and so too of beauty, and all the rest (kai kallos kai t’alla panta houtȏ).’ – Socrates: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Parmenides: ‘Then if anything else has a share of knowledge itself (Oukoun eiper ti allo autês epistêmês metechei), nobody has the most exact knowledge more than god (ouk an tina mallon ê theon echein tên akribestatên epistêmên)?’ – Socrates: ‘Necessarily (Anankê).’ – Parmenides: ‘Will then the god be able (Ar’ oun hoios te au estai ho theos) to know things among us (ta par’ hêmin gignȏskein), having knowledge itself (autên epistêmên echȏn)?’ – Socrates: ‘Why not (Ti gar ou)?’ – ‘Because, Socrates, we agreed (Hoti hȏmologêtai hêmin, ȏ Sȏkrates) that neither those Forms have the power they have in relation to things among us (mête ekeina ta eidê pros ta par hêmin tên dunamin echein hên echei), nor things among us in relation to those (mête ta par hêmin pros ekeina), but only themselves in relation to themselves (all’ auta pros hauta hekatera).’ – Socrates: ‘This has been agreed (Hȏmologêtai gar).’ (134c5-d8).
At this point Parmenides returns to his master-slave example to bring home to Socrates the appalling consequences of the greatest difficulty facing the Forms expressed in the agreement they have just reached: ‘Then if in the god’s realm (Oukoun ei para tȏi theȏi) is the most exact mastery itself (hautê estin hê akribestatê despoteia) and the most exact knowledge itself (kai hê akribestatê epistêmê), neither would their mastery ever master us (out an hê despoteia hê ekeinȏn hêmȏn pote an desposeien), nor would their knowledge know us (oud an epistêmê hêmas gnoiê) or anything else where we are (oude ti allo tȏn par hêmin). But similarly (alla homoiȏs), we do not govern them (hêmeis te ekeinȏn ouk archomen) by our authority here (têi par hêmin archêi), and we don’t know anything divine (oude gignȏskomen tou theiou ouden) by our knowledge (têi hêmeterai epistêmêi), and they again (ekeinoi te au), by the same account (kata ton auton logon), are not our masters (oute despotai hêmȏn eisin) and don’t know human things (oute gignȏskousi ta anthrȏpeia pragmata), being gods (theoi ontes).’ – At this point Socrates regains his irony: ‘But this argument threatens to be too admirable (Alla mê lian thaumastos ho logos), if one deprives the god of knowing (ei tis ton theon aposterêsei tou eidenai).’ (134d9-e8)
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). So that the hearer is perplexed (hȏste aporein te ton akouonta) and contends that they do not exist (kai amphisbȇtein hȏs oute esti tauta), and that even if they do exist (ei te hoti malista eiȇ), they are necessarily unknowable by human nature (pollȇ anankȇ auta einai tȇi anthrȏpinȇi phusei agnȏsta). And when he says this (kai tauta legonta), he appears to be saying something (dokein te ti legein) and, as we just remarked (kai, ho arti elegomen), it’s astonishingly hard to convince him to the contrary (thaumastȏs hȏs dusanapeiston einai). (134e9-135a3).
The words at 135b6-7 ‘as we just remarked (kai, ho arti elegomen), it’s astonishingly hard to convince him to the contrary (thaumastȏs hȏs dusanapeiston einai)’ refer to the words at 133b9-c1 ‘The man compelling them to be unknowable could not be persuaded otherwise (all’ apithanos eiȇ ho agnȏsta anankazȏn auta einai), the word dusanapeiston (‘it’s astonishingly hard to convince him’) at 135a7 refers to apithanos ('could not be persuaded') at 133c1. Plato thus neatly connect the introduction to the ‘greatest difficulty’, in which Parmenides said that a man raising any arguments against the Forms 'is saying a falsity' (pseudetai,  133b7), with his closing reflections, in which a man raising objections against the Forms ‘only seems to be saying something’ (dokein te ti legein, 135a6).

Having done so, Parmenides 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 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 be (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 panu 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)
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 being of Forms.