Saturday, April 9, 2016

A day with Russell and Plato

In the third Chapter of The Problems of Philosophy entitled ‘The Nature of Matter’ Russell writes: ‘The question we have to consider in this chapter is: What is the nature of this real table, which persists independently of my perception of it?’ To this question physical science gives an answer … the view that all natural phenomena ought to be reduced to motions. Light and heat and sound are all due to wave-motions, which travel from the body emitting them to the person who sees light or feels heat or hears sound.’

Reflecting on this answer, Russell says what in fact points to the fundamental difference between Mind and Matter: ‘It is sometimes said that “light is a form of wave-motion”, but this is misleading, for the light which we immediately see, which we know directly by means of our senses, is not a form of wave-motion, but something quite different … something caused by the action of certain waves upon the eyes and nerves and brain of the person who sees the light … But light itself … is not supposed by science to form any part of the world that is independent of us and our senses.’

Concerning space Russell says that ‘The real space is public, the apparent space is private to the percipient. In different people’s private spaces the same object seems to have different shapes; thus the real space, in which it has its real shape, must be different from the private spaces. The space of science, therefore, though connected with the spaces we see and feel, is not identical with them … It is important to notice that, if our sensations are to be caused by physical objects, there must be a physical space containing these objects and our sense-organs and nerves and brain … the relative positions of physical objects in physical space must more or less correspond to the relative positions of sense data in our private spaces … If we see on a road one house nearer to us than another, our other senses will bear out the view that it is nearer; for example, it will be reached sooner if we walk along the road.’

This observation leads Russell to the all-important notion of order, which secures the connection between the physical space and time and the private spaces and times: ‘the tim-order which events seem to have is, so far as we can see, the same as the time-order which they do have … The same is usually true of space: if a regiment of men are marching along a road, the shape of the regiment will look different from different points of view, but the men will appear arranged in the same order from all points of view.’

Had Russell reflected on the spatial order in which the nerves are arranged in our brains and the time-order in which proceed the actions of the nerves conveying the information about the outside world into the brain and processing it in the brain, and compared it with the order in which we perceive things located in our private spaces and with the time-order in which the events in our private times follow one another, he would have seen that there must be an X, which transforms the order, in which the information is located in the space of the brain and in which proceed the time-sequences of the brain activities, into the order in which we observe things and events in our private times and spaces: the X which is of a fundamentally different nature from anything that can be found in the physical world, for only thus it can be in the interaction with our brains that results in our having our private times and spaces with everything that happens in them.

Having enjoyed Russell’ deliberations on the nature of matter, I could resume revising my essay on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’:

In the Seventh Letter Plato says that he was interested in politics from his youth: ‘I thought that as soon as I should become of age I should immediately enter into public life’ (324b). But the more he looked at the political situation in his own city through all its vicissitudes, the more disillusioned he became about any meaningful part he could play in it, until he came to the view that mankind will have no cessation of evils until true philosophers obtain political power or those who hold political power turn to true philosophy. When he came to this view, he went on his first journey to Italy and Sicily (326a-b). In Syracuse he associated with Dion, a young aristocrat, whom he instructed in what he believed was best for mankind and advised him to realize it in action (327a). And so it happened that when some twenty years later Dionysius I died and his son Dionysius II became the ruler of Syracuse, Dion appealed to Plato to come to Sicily and help him in turning the young tyrant to philosophy: ‘Holding these right views, Dion persuaded Dionysius to summon me; and he himself also sent a request that I should by all means come with all speed, before any others should encounter Dionysius and turn him aside to some way of life other than the best … mentioning also how great a desire he [Dionysius ] had for philosophy and education … so that now, if ever (he concluded), all our hopes will be fulfilled of seeing the same persons at once philosophers and rulers of mighty States.’ (Seventh Letter 327d7-328b1, tr. R. G. Bury)

And so it happened that in 367 B.C. Plato went for the second time to Sicily. He obviously went there with the intention to stay there, devoting his remaining life to the fulfilment of his ideal of uniting philosophy with political power. But it soon became clear that the situation at the court of Dionysius II was very different from what Dion and he had hoped for: ‘On my arrival I found Dionysius’ kingdom all full of civic strife and of slanderous stories brought to the court concerning Dion. So I defended him, so far as I was able, though it was little I could do; but about three months later, charging Dion with plotting against the tyranny, Dionysius sent him aboard a small vessel and drove him out with ignominy.’ (S. L. 329b7-c4, tr. Bury) But Plato stayed in Syracuse for a whole year at Dionysius’ insistence. His stay had been ended by the outbreak of war: ‘I urged Dionysius by all means possible to let me go, and we both made a compact that when peace was concluded Dionysius, for his part, should invite Dion and me back again, as soon as he had made his own power more secure … and I gave a promise that upon these conditions I would return.’ (338a3-b2)

Leaving Athens for Sicily ‘with all speed’, Plato had no time to prepare his disciples in the Academy for his departure: ‘If he [Dion] had spoken thus, what plausible answer should I have had to such pleadings? There is none. Well then, I came for good and just reasons so far as it is possible for men to do so; and it was because of such motives that I left my own occupations, which were anything but ignoble, to go under a tyranny which ill became, as it seemed, both my teaching and myself.’ (S. L. 329a5-b3, tr. Bury)

During that year in Syracuse Plato must have thought a lot of his students in the Academy. When he says that he ‘urged Dionysius by all possible means’ (338a3) to let him return to Athens, while promising to come back, we may presume that he was thinking of his disciples, of how to prepare them for his intended final departure. The arguments against the Forms raised in the Parmenides allow us to surmise that during the year of his absence the theory of Forms got under attack in the Academy. Plato’s theory of Forms was inextricably linked to his view that States can be well governed only if philosophers become rulers, for he identified the Forms with truth, and only those who know the truth can govern the States well. These two thoughts are expressed in the Republic, where Socrates proclaims: ‘Until philosophers are kings in their cities, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils.’ (473c11-d6, tr. Jowett) Asked by Glaucon to defend this thesis, Socrates defines philosophers as ‘the lovers of the vision of truth’ (tous tȇs alȇtheias philotheamonas, 475e4), thus identifying the truth with the Forms.

Socrates substantiates the envisaged connection between philosophy and political power in his subsequent discussion with Glaucon: ‘Inasmuch as philosophers only are able to grasp the eternal and unchangeable, and those who wander in the region of the many and variable (hoi de en pollois kai pantoiȏs ischousin planȏmenoi) are not philosophers (ou philosophoi), I must ask you which of the two classes should be the rulers of our State?’ – Glaucon: ‘And how can we rightly answer that question?’ – Socrates: ‘Whichever of the two seem best able to guard the laws and institutions of our State – let them be appointed guardians.’ – Glaucon: ‘Very good.’ – Socrates: ‘Neither, I said, can there be any question that the watcher who is to guard anything should have eyes rather than no eyes.’ Glaucon: ‘There can be no question of that.’ – Socrates: ‘And are not those who are verily and indeed wanting in the knowledge of true being of each thing (hoi tȏi onti tou ontos hekastou esterȇmenoi), and who have in their souls no clear pattern (kai mȇden enarges en tȇi psuchȇi echontes paradeigma), and are unable to look like painters at the absolute truth (mȇde dunamenoi hȏsper graphȇs eis to alȇthestaton apoblepontes) and to that original to repair (k’akeise aei anapherotes te), and having perfect vision thereof (kai theȏmenoi hȏs hoion te akribestata) to frame laws about beauty, goodness and justice, if not already framed, or to guard and preserve order where it exists – are not such persons, I ask, simply blind?’ – Glaucon: ‘Truly, they are much in that condition. – Socrates: ‘And shall they be our guardians when there are others who, besides being their equals in experience and falling short of them in no particular of virtue, also know the very truth of each thing?’ – Glaucon: ‘There can be no reason for choosing others.’ (484b3-484d9, tr. B. Jowett)

Faced with the task of defending the Forms, Plato had to find the way of refocussing the eyes on the Republic. This he does in the Parmenides by opening it with the words: ‘When we arrived at Athens, we met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora’. These two brothers of Plato are Socrates’ main interlocutors in the Republic; the philosophic discussion which they mediate in the Parmenides is dramatic. Socrates, who is very young (sphodra neos, 127c5), questions Zeno who has just finished reading his treatise to his Athenian audience: ‘What does this mean, Zeno? If there are many things, then they must be similar and dissimilar, but that is impossible; for dissimilar things cannot be similar nor similar things dissimilar. Isn’t that what you say? … Isn’t this the point of all your arguments, to demonstrate that things cannot be many?’ (127e1-10) When Zeno agrees that this is the case, Socrates turns to Parmenides, who is quite old (eu mala presbutȇs): ‘I understand that Zeno here wants to be in one with you not only in the other form of love, but also in his writing. For in some way he wrote the same thing as you … for you say in your poems that All is one … he says that it is not many.’ (128a4-b2) When Zeno confirms that Socrates is right, the latter asks: ‘Do you not acknowledge that there exists, alone by itself, a certain Form of similarity (eidos ti homoiotȇtos), and an opposite one to it, that of dissimilarity, and that of these, being two, you and I and all other things get a share’? (128e6-129a3) Socrates maintains that there is nothing strange if things, such as stones and pieces of wood (129d3), become similar by partaking of similarity and dissimilar by partaking of dissimilarity, but that he would be greatly surprised if the Forms themselves in themselves (auta kath’ hauta ta eidȇ) could be shown to have contradictory qualifications, such as similarity and dissimilarity, multitude and the one, rest and motion, and all such Forms (kai panta ta toiauta, 129d7-e1).

Forms in their plurality, free of contradictory qualifications, as Socrates proposed them to be, obviously threatened Parmenides’ thesis that All is one, and so Pythodorus – the original narrator in whose house the discussion took place (127b6-c5) – expected Zeno and Parmenides to be discomforted by what Socrates was saying. Instead, they listened to him attentively and in admiration (130a). Then Parmenides began to question Socrates: ‘Do you think, as you say, that there are certain Forms (einai eidȇ atta), of which these other things (hȏn tade ta alla) having a share get their names (metalambanonta tas epȏnumias autȏn ischein)? As for example, things that get a share of similarity become similar, of largeness large, of beauty and justice beautiful and just?’ (130e5-131a2) When Socrates agrees, Parmenides points out that the theory of the many sharing in the Forms, thus stated, cannot be right. For each thing that gets a share must get a share of the whole Form or of a part of it. If the whole Form is to be in each of the many, then being one and the same it would be present at once as a whole in things that are many and separate, and thus it would be separate from itself. If only a part of the given Form is to be in things that share in it, then the Forms themselves become divisible (merista). (131a4-e2) When Parmenides then asks ‘in what way will the others get a share of the Forms, when they cannot get a share by part nor by whole?’ (131e3-5), Socrates cannot answer: ‘By Zeus (Ou ma ton Dia), it does not seem to me to be easy (ou moi dokei eukolon einai) to determine this kind of thing (to toiouton oudamȏs diorisasthai, 131e6-7).’

Socrates’ perplexity prompted Parmenides to make a conjecture: ‘I think that you came to think (oimai se oiesthai) that each Form is one (hen hekaston eidos einai) from the following (ek tou toioude); when many things appear to you to be large (hotan poll’ atta megala soi doxȇi einai), there seems to be one Form perhaps (mia tis isȏs dokei idea einai) which is the same as you look on all of them (hȇ autȇ einai epi panta idonti), whence you believe that the large is one (hothen hen to mega hȇgȇi einai).’ Socrates replies: ‘What you say is true’ (Alȇthȇ legeis, 132a1-5).

It is worth noting at this point that all difficulties in which Socrates got entangled ensued from his having derived the Forms from the many things. The theory of Forms conceived by the young Socrates was very different from the Forms conceived by Plato. As Aristotle pointed out in the Metaphysics, what made Plato conceive the Forms was Socrates’ fixation of mind on definitions of moral terms: Plato saw the Forms to which Socrates’ fixation of mind on definitions pointed.

Having correctly diagnosed the epistemological provenance of Socrates’ theory of Forms, Parmenides pressed on with his objections against it. After Socrates had agreed that since many things appeared to him to be large, he thought there must be one Form of largeness, Parmenides asked: ‘And what about the large itself (Ti d’ auto to mega) and the others, which are large (kai t’alla ta megala), if in the same way you look on them all with your soul (ean hȏsautȏs epi panta tȇi psuchȇi idȇis), will not there appear again some one large (ouchi hen ti au mega phaneitai), by which they all appear to be large (hȏi tauta panta megala phainesthai)? … So another Form of largeness (Allo ara eidos megethous) will have made its appearance (anaphanȇsetai), that came to be alongside largeness itself (par’ auto te to megethos gegonos) and the things which have a share of it (kai ta metechonta aoutou), and upon all these another (kai epi toutois au pasin heteron), by which all these will be large (hȏi panta tauta megala estai); and so you will not have one of each Form (kai ouketi dȇ hen hekaston soi tȏn eidȏn estai), but they will be infinite in number (alla apeira to plȇthos).’ (132a6-b2)

Socrates attempted to escape this difficulty by viewing the Forms simply as thoughts. The passage in which this attempt is discussed appears to have been long misunderstood; I therefore put the whole passage 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.’ (132b3-c12)

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. So let me give my translation of the passage:

‘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’)? – 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 so (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?’ But his ‘again’ (au) makes it clear that with the ‘Yes’, with which he answered Parmenides’ previous question, he gave expression to a necessity. 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 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 thoughts, 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.

After giving up on his abortive attempt to view the Forms as mere thoughts, Socrates made one more attempt to save the Forms: ‘Above all it appears to me like this (Malista emoige kataphainetai hȏde echein): these Forms (ta men eidê tauta) stand in the nature as paradigms (hȏsper paradeigmata hestanai en têi phusei), the other things (ta de alla) resemble them (toutois eoikenai) and are likenesses of them (kai einai homoiȏmata) and this participation (kai hê methexis hautê) of other things in the Forms (tois allois gignesthai tȏn eidȏn) is nothing other than their becoming a resemblance of them (ouk allê tis ê eikasthênai autois).’ Parmenides asks in response: ‘Then, if something resembles the Form (Ei oun ti eoiken tȏi eidei), can that Form fail to be similar to that which has come to resemble it (hoion te ekeino to eidos mê homoion einai tȏi eikasthenti), in so far as that became similar to it (kath’ hoson autȏi aphȏmoiȏthê)? Or is there any way (ê esti tis mêchanê) by which the similar can be similar to not similar (to homoion mê homoiȏi homoion einai)?’ Socrates replies: ‘There isn’t (Ouk esti).’ Parmenides: ‘And that which is similar to similar (To de homoion tȏi homoiȏi), must it not of necessity (ou megalê anankê) participate in the same Form (henos tou autou eidous metechein)?’ Socrates: ‘Necessarily (Anankê).’ Parmenides: ‘This, by participating in which the similar things are similar (Hou d’ an ta homoia metechonta homoia êi), will it not be the Form itself (ouk ekeino estai auto to eidos)?’ Socrates: ‘By all means (Pantapasi men oun).’ Parmenides: ‘So it is not possible for anything (Ouk ara hoion te ti) to be similar to the Form (tȏi eidei homoion einai), nor the Form (oude to eidos) to anything else (allȏi); for otherwise (ei de mê), side by side with the Form (para to eidos) another Form will always show itself forth (aei allo anaphanêsetai eidos), and if that were similar to anything (kai an ekeino tȏi homoion êi), another again (heteron au), and thus a new Form will never cease to come to being (kai oudepote pausetai aei kainon eidos gignomenon), if the Form (ean to eidos) becomes similar to that which participates in it (tȏi heautou metechonti homoion gignêtai).’ Socrates: ‘It is very true what you say (Alêthestata legeis).’ Parmenides: ‘So it is not by similarity that other things (ouk ara homoiotêti t’alla) participate in the Forms (tȏn eidȏn metalambanei), but one must look for something else (alla ti allo dei zêtein) by which they participate (hȏi metalambanei).’ Socrates: ‘It seems so (Eoike).’ (132c12-133a7)

Parmenides introduced the notion of the infinite regress with the example of the Form of largeness, then he parried Socrates’ attempt to escape the infinite regress by viewing the Forms merely as thoughts by reducing thoughts back to the Forms, and finally showed that Socrates’ attempt to save the Forms by viewing them as paradigms ended again in the infinite regress with its infinite multiplication of the Forms. In all these cases the infinite regress was generated by the derivation of the Forms from the many things qualified in the same way.

Plato, who has not derived the Forms in this way and was well aware of the pitfalls to which such derivation led, used the ogre of the infinite regress to make it clear that each Form must be just one. In the tenth book of the Republic Socrates introduces the notion of three kinds of bed: bed existing in nature (en tȇi phusei, 597b6), which is created by God, bed created by carpenter, and bed created by painter. Concerning the first, he tells Glaucon: ‘God, whether by choice or from necessity, made one bed in nature and one only; two or more such beds neither ever have been nor ever will be made by God.’ – Glaucon: ‘Why is that?’ – Socrates: ‘Because even if He had made but two, a third would still appear behind them of which they again both possessed the form, and that would be the real bed and not the two others.’ – Glaucon: ‘Very true.’ – Socrates: ‘God knew this, I suppose, and He desired to be the real maker of a real bed, not a kind of maker of a kind of bed, and therefore He created a bed which is essentially and by nature one only.’ (597c1-d3, tr. Jowett)

Plato could be confident that the salvo of objections against the Forms in the Parmenides would remind his disciples of this passage in the closing book of the Republic. The passage in the Republic in its turn was bound to turn his disciples’ eyes to his first dialogue, the Phaedrus, in which he introduced the Forms as uncreated eternal beings from which God derives his divinity thanks to his nearness to them (pros hoisper theos ȏn theios estin, 249c6). For only in the light of the Phaedrus could Plato’s toying with god as the creator of the idea of bed in the Republic be properly understood. In the Phaedrus Plato introduced the Forms as the true Divinity, the crime of which Socrates was found guilty and for which he was executed. What protected Plato against prosecution was the amnesty which the democrats passed in 403 after their defeat of the Thirty tyrants.[i] – All this was bound to reinforce the import of the dramatic setting of the Parmenides: Plato was from his early days well aware of Parmenides’ objections against the Forms.

[i] Cf. E. C. Marchant’s ‘Introduction’ to Andocides’ ‘De Mysteriis’ where he refers to ‘paragraphȇ of Archinus,’ a measure passed in 403 B.C., ‘which enacted that anyone prosecuted for crimes committed before that date might plead that he was protected by the Amnesty’. (Andocides De Mysteriis and De Reditu, London, 1889, p. 23.
As I have argued in The Lost Plato (on my website), Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the execution of Polemarchus by the Thirty, to whom Socrates in the dialogue refers as a model philosopher whom his brother Lysias should emulate (257b). Neither in the Republic nor in any other dialogue written after the amnesty could Plato present the Forms as eternal beings from which God derives his divinity.

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