Saturday, May 14, 2016

Reflections on logos in Plato’s Sophist

My work on ‘Plato’s involvement with Dionysius and its reflection in the Parmenides, Symposium, Sophist, and Statesman’ brought me to the Sophist. The Eleatic Stranger tells Theaetetus: ‘You and I will begin together and enquire into the nature of the Sophist’ (218b6-8, tr. Jowett) Jowett’s ‘enquire into the nature’ renders Plato’s ‘zȇtounti kai emphanizonti logȏi’, which literally means ‘searching and bringing to light by logos’. On the margin of my Oxford edition of Plato I noted Campbell’s remark: ‘The conception of logos is the same in this place as in the conclusion of the Theaetetus, viz. definition through division or the expression of the characteristic difference.’ The reader of Jowett’s translation has no way of knowing that the term logos plays an important part in the opening of the enquiry.

When I did my three-day protest against the refusal of the Master of Balliol to allow me to present ‘Plato’s defence of Forms in the Parmenides’ to Balliol students and academics, questions students asked was ‘Why should one learn ancient Greek; what difference does it make?’ I replied that any translation must express one and the same Greek word by many different English words in different contexts. This breaks the unity and intensity of Greek thought. As an example I referred to logos, but I do not think I did a very good job of it. Let me now make some amends.

Stranger: ‘At present we are only agreed about the name, but of the thing to which we both apply the name possibly you have one notion and I another; whereas we ought always to come to an understanding about the thing itself in terms of a definition (dia logȏn sunȏmologȇsai), and not merely about the name minus the definition (chȏris logou, 218c1-5).’ Here Jowett’s ‘in terms of a definition’ renders Plato’s dia logȏn, where the term logos is in the plural, and might be rendered ‘through discussion’; what the Stranger means are the questions and answers by means of which he intends to arrive at the definition of the Sophist. Jowett’s ‘to come to an understanding about the thing’ renders Plato’s sunȏmologȇsai, which means ‘to come to saying the same thing with someone’; here the term logos, the meaning of which is fundamentally ‘word’, ‘speech’, functions as an essential part of the verb sunȏmologȇsai; Plato’s dia logȏn sunȏmologȇsai means ‘to come to agreement (sunȏmologȇsai) in discussion (dia logȏn, i.e. by means of logoi; logoi is the plural of logos).

Stranger: ‘And there is no reason why the art of hunting should not be further divided (Tȇn de ge mȇn thȇreutikȇn alogon to mȇ ou temnein dichȇ)’ (219e4-5) Jowett’s ‘And there is no reason’ renders Plato’s alogon, on which I noted on the margin of my Plato: ‘Illogical’ i.e. undiscriminating: the function of logos being to distinguish.’ (Presumably again Campbell’s remark.)

Stranger: ‘Fowling is the general term under which the hunting of all birds is included (Kai tou ptȇnou mȇn genous pasa hȇmin hȇ thȇra legetai pou tis ornitheutikȇ, 220b4-5).’ Jowett’s ‘is the general term’ renders Plato’s legetai, which simply means ‘is said’; legetai is the verb corresponding to the noun logos.

With ‘What do you mean?’ Jowett renders Plato’s Pȏs legeis (220b14), which literally means ‘how do you say’. Here again logos functions in the verb form.

Stranger: ‘The other kind … when summed up under one name, may be called striking (plȇktikȇn de tina thȇran hȇmas proseipein heni logȏi nun chreȏn, 220d1-2).’ Jowett’s ‘summed up under one name’ renders Plato’s heni logȏi ‘by one logos’.

Theaetetus: ‘I must (Anankȇ), if I am to keep pace with the argument (tȏi gar logȏi dei sunakolouthein, 224e5). Jowett’s ‘to keep pace with the argument’ renders Plato’s tȏi logȏi dei sunakolouthein i.e. ‘one must follow the logos’.

Stranger: ‘And when the war is one of words (Tȏi de logois pros logous ti tis), it may be called controversy (allo eipȇi plȇn amphisbȇtȇtikon), 225a12-b1)’ Jowett’s ‘war of words’ renders Plato’s [war] logois pros logous, i.e. ‘by words against words’, ‘by arguments against arguments’.

Stranger: ‘And there is a private sort of controversy, which is cut up into questions and answers, and this is commonly named disputation (antilogikon, 225b8-10).’ Here Jowett’s ‘disputation’ stands for Plato’s antilogikon, which means ‘pitting logos against logos’.

Stranger: ‘And of disputation (Tou de antilogikou), that sort which is only a discussion about contracts (to men hoson peri ta sumbolaia amphisbȇteitai men), and is carried on at random, and without rules of art (eikȇi de kai atechnȏs peri auto prattetai), is recognized by the reasoning faculty to be a distinct class (tauta theteon hȏs eidos, epeiper auto diegnȏken hȏs heteron on ho logos), but has hitherto had no distinctive name (atar epȏnumias outh’ hupo tȏn emprosthen etuchen, 225b12-c4).’ Jowett’s ‘is recognized by the reasoning faculty’ renders Plato’s auto diegnȏken ho logos, i.e. ‘the logos recognized it’.

No comments:

Post a Comment