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.

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