In addition to his ‘remarkable conclusions’ (see the 8th entry on this theme, posted on June 9) Dover adds the following observation:
‘Again, that Socrates tells Strepsiades (742) to solve a problem orthȏs diairȏn kai skopȏn has no bearing on the diairesis which is introduced by Plato in Phaedrus 266 b, assumes great importance in Sophist and Politicus, and is part-object of Epicrates’ caricature of Plato. To break down a problem into its components is a necessary stage towards its solution, and diairein was used before Aristophanes both of physical division (Herodotus) and (Herakleitos B1) of dividing a topic into items; Plato also uses it (Laches 197 d) of Prodikos’ semantic distinctions. What Xenophon (Memorabilia iv. 5. 12) calls dialegein kata genȇ is seen, if we examine the context carefully, to be quite different from Platonic diairesis.’ (xliii)
In Plato’s Phaedrus 266 b Socrates says: ‘Believe me, Phaedrus, I am myself a lover of these (Toutȏn dȇ egȏge autos te erastȇs, ȏ Phaidre) divisions and collections (diaireseȏn kai sunagȏgȏn), that I may gain the power to speak and to think (hina hoios te ȏ legein te kai phronein); and whenever I deem another man able to discern an objective unity and plurality (ean te tin’ allon hȇgȇsȏmai dunaton einai eis hen kai epi polla pephukoth’ horan), I follow “in his footsteps where he leads as a god” (touton diȏkȏ “katopisthe met’ ichnion hȏste theoio” [Perhaps an adaptation of Odyssey v, 193, ho d’ epeita met’ ichnia baine theoio.] Furthermore (kai mentoi kai) – whether I am right in doing so, God alone knows – it is those that have this ability whom for the present I call dialecticians (tous dunamenous auto dran ei men orthȏs ȇ mȇ prosagoreuȏ, theos oide, kalȏ de oun mechri toude dialektikous).’ (Tr. and the note on the Odyssey R. Hackforth.)
Whether Socrates’ exhortation in Aristophanes’ Clouds, addressed to Strepsiades – ‘after relaxing your subtle mind (schasas tȇn phrontida leptȇn), consider your affairs step by step (kata mikron periphronei ta pragmata) correctly dividing and investigating them (orthȏs diairȏn kai skopȏn, 740-742)’ – has, or does not have, any bearing on Socrates’ love of diairesis expressed in Phaedrus 266 b can be properly established only after considering the Phaedran ‘divisions and collections’. Reflecting on the two speeches on love, which he presented earlier in the dialogue, Socrates says: ‘For the most part I think (Emoi men phainetai ta men alla) our festal hymn has really been just a festive entertainment (tȏi onti paidiai pepaisthai); but we did casually allude to a certain pair of procedures (toutȏn de tinȏn ek tuchȇs rȇthentȏn duoin eidoin), and it would be very agreeable if we could seize their significance in a scientific fashion (ei autoin tȇn dunamin technȇi labein dunaito tis, ouk achari).’ – Phaedrus: ‘What procedures do you mean (Tinȏn dȇ)?’ This is R. Hackforth’s translation.
The passage is difficult, yet crucial for our understanding of Plato’s? Socrates? view of ‘divisions and collections’ in the Phaedrus. I give therefore the same passage in C. J. Rowe’s translation: ‘To me it seems that the rest (Emoi men phainetai ta men alla) really was playfully done, by way of amusement (tȏi onti paidiai pepaisthai); but by chance two principles of method of the following sort were expressed (toutȏn de tinȏn ek tuchȇs rȇthentȏn duoin eidoin), and it would be gratifying If one could grasp their significance in a scientific way (ei autoin tȇn dunamin technȇi labein dunaito tis, ouk achari).’ – Phaedrus: ‘What were these?’ (Tinȏn dȇ)
Both Hackforth and Rowe appear to have missed the fact that Socrates’ toutȏn de tinȏn ek tuchȇs rȇthentȏn ‘these being said by chance’ refers to Socrates’ two speeches on love, which were ‘for the most part, in truth, playfully made for amusement’ (ta men alla tȏi onti paidiai pepaisthai), yet were marked by ‘two forms’ (duoin eidoin), which ‘it would be very agreeable if one could grasp their power scientifically’ (ei autoin tȇn dunamin technȇi labein dunaito tis). Hermeias remarks on toutȏn de tinȏn ek tuchȇs rȇthentȏn (‘these being said by chance’): ‘As he earlier ascribed the discourse to Pan, and Nymphs, and Muses (hȏsper anȏterȏ eis Pana, kai Numphas kai Mousas anetithei ton logon), so now too he ascribes it to chance’ (houtȏ kai nun eis tuchȇn anagei ton logon). (Hermiae Alexandrini in Platonis Phaedrum Scholia ed. P. Couvreur (1901).
In the Clouds Socrates introduces Clouds as ‘great goddesses (megalai theai) to men of leisure (andrasin argois); they (haiper) give as (hȇmin parechousin) thought (gnȏmȇn), discourse (dialexin), and intellect (kai noun, 316-17)’. Could it be that Plato in the Phaedrus depicts the same aspect of Socrates’ self-awareness – his view that thought, discourse, and intellect comes to him ‘from above’, ‘from outside’, ‘god knows from where’ – which Aristophanes caricatured by depicting Socrates’ deity as Clouds that have no definite form? (See my 2nd entry on this theme, posted on May 27.)
Let me bring in Socrates’ first ascription of discourse to something external to him. Phaedrus finished reading the discourse in which his beloved Lysias argued that a boy should give his sexual favours to a non-lover rather than lover. Phaedrus: ‘The outstanding feature of the discourse is just this, that it has not overlooked any important aspect of the subject, so making it impossible for anyone else to outdo what he has said with a fuller or more satisfactory oration.’ – Socrates: ‘If you go as far as that I shall find it impossible to agree with you; if I were to assent out of politeness, I should be confuted by the wise men and women who in past ages have spoken and written on this theme.’ – Phaedrus: To whom do you refer? Where have you heard anything better than this?’ – Socrates: ‘I can’t tell you off-hand; but I’m sure I have heard something better, from the fair Sappho maybe, or the wise Anacreon, or perhaps some prose writer. What ground, you may ask, have I for saying so? Good sir, there is something welling up within my breast, which make me feel that I could find something different, and something better, to say. I am of course well aware it can’t be anything originating in my own mind, for I know my own ignorance; so I suppose it can only be that it has been poured into me, through my ears, as into a vessel, from some external source.’ (235b1-d1, tr. Hackforth)
As Socrates begins to tell his ‘rival discourse on the same theme’, he himself begins to be surprised at the flow of his eloquence: ‘Well, Phaedrus my friend (Atar, ȏ phile Phaidre), do you think, as I do (dokȏ ti soi, hȏsper emautȏi), that I am divinely inspired (theion pathos peponthenai, 238c5-6, tr. Hackforth)?’
Let us proceed to those ‘two forms’ by which Socrates’ two speeches on love ‘spoken by chance’ are marked ‘by chance’. Phaedrus asked ‘What are they?’ Socrates: ‘The first is that in which we bring a dispersed plurality under a single form, seeing it all together: the purpose being to define so-and-so, and thus to make plain whatever may be chosen as the topic for exposition. For example, take the definition given just now of love (hȏsper ta nundȇ peri erȏtos); whether it was right or wrong (eit’ eu eite kakȏs elechthȇ), at all events it was that which enabled our discourse to achieve lucidity and consistency (to goun saphes kai to auto hautȏi homologoumenon dia tauta eschen eipein ho logos).’ – Phaedrus: ‘And what is the second procedure you speak of, Socrates (To d’ heteron dȇ eidos ti legeis, ȏ Sȏkrates)?’ – Socrates: ‘The reverse of the other, whereby we are enabled to divide into forms, following the objective articulation; we are not to attempt to hack off parts like a clumsy butcher, but to take example from our two recent speeches. The single general form which they postulated was irrationality; next, on the analogy of a single natural body with its pairs of like-named members, right arm or leg, as we say, and left, they conceived of madness as a single objective form existing in human beings: wherefore the first speech divided off a part on the left, and continued to make divisions, never desisting until it discovered one particular part bearing the name of ‘sinister’ love, on which it very properly poured abuse. The other speech conducted us to the forms of madness which lay on the right-hand side, and upon discovering a type of love that shared its name with the other but was divine, displayed it to our view and extolled it as the source of the greatest goods that can befall us.’ (265d3-266b1, tr. Hackforth)
Let me note that Hackforth’s procedure, which stands for Phaedrus’ eidos, obfuscates and misrepresents Socrates’ actual procedure. Eidos is that what could be observed on those two speeches; it is not a procedure that Socrates consciously followed as he was producing them. Similarly, Hackforth’s ‘For example, take the definition given just now of love’ misrepresents Socrates’ hȏsper ta nundȇ peri erȏtos, which means ‘as those [speeches now spoken] now about Eros’, pointing to the two speeches not as examples, but as that on which he observes the two forms.
Of course, one might say, Plato as a writer of the dialogue had the method of ‘divisions and collections’ at his finger-tips when he began to write the dialogue, and he composed Socrates’ two speeches on love accordingly. Yes, and no. For consider Socrates’ first speech: ‘wherefore the first speech divided off a part on the left (ho men to ep’ aristera temnomenos meros, 266a3). In fact, Socrates presented his first speech on Eros as a rival to Lysias’ speech. Phaedrus: ‘Lysias has described how a handsome boy was tempted, but not by a lover: that’s the clever part of it: he maintains that surrender should be to one who is not in love rather than to one who is (227c5-8, tr. Hackforth).’ The theme of Lysias’ speech thus compels Socrates to ‘praise the wisdom of the one [i.e. of the non-lover] and censuring the folly of the other [i.e. of the lover]’ (tou men to phronimon enkȏmiazein, tou de to aphron psegein, 235e7-236a1); the theme was thus given to him, not chosen by him.
As far as this point is concerned, this could be explained by Socrates’ declaration that the two speeches on love were ‘for the most part, in truth, playfully made for amusement’ (ta men alla tȏi onti paidiai pepaisthai), thus pointing to Plato’s playful composition of those two speeches. But the words describing the method of the first speech – ‘wherefore the first speech … continued to make divisions (palin touto temnȏn), never desisting (ouk epanȇken) until it discovered one particular part bearing the name of ‘sinister’ love (prin en autois epheurȏn onomazomenon skaion tina erȏta, 266a3-6)’ – have nothing to do with the actual first speech. What the words describe is the method of ‘divisions’ that Plato’s Eleatic stranger uses in the Sophist and the Statesman, the method which indeed has nothing to do with the historical Socrates’ ‘divisions’. True to his love of divisions, even facing the impending trial, Socrates in the Sophist and the Statesman appears to enjoy the method of divisions, with which the Eleatic Stranger regales him in those two dialogues.
We may learn more about the ‘divisions’ entertained by the historical Socrates if we follow up Dover’s ‘Plato also uses it (Laches 197 d) of Prodikos’ semantic distinctions’. In that dialogue two famous Athenian generals discuss, rather intemperately, courage. Nicias: ‘There is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of the opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many children, many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the term “courageous” actions which I call rash; – my courageous actions are wise actions.’ Laches wants to repost by saying something rude, but Socrates interposes: ‘Do not answer him, Laches; I rather fancy that you are not aware of the source from which his wisdom is derived. He has got all this from my friend Damon, and Damon (ho de Damȏn) is always with Prodicus (tȏi Prodikȏi polla plȇsiazei), who, of all the Sophists, is considered (hos dȇ dokei tȏn sophistȏn) to be the best puller to pieces of words of this sort (kallista ta toiauta onomata diairein).’ (197b1-d5, tr. Jowett) Jowett’s ‘Prodicus, who, of all the Sophists, is considered to be the best puller to pieces of words of this sort’ obfuscates Socrates’ reference to Prodicus’ method of ‘divisions’, or rather his method of verbal distinctions (onomata diairein).
I have no objections against Dover’s ‘Plato also uses it [i.e. the term diairein], (Laches 197 d) of Prodikos’ semantic distinctions’, for all that Plato writes is Plato’s, but there are good reasons to believe that Plato’s Socrates in the Laches is as historical as Plato could make him. In the Cratylus Socrates tells Hermogenes, who wants to learn the truth about the meaning of his name: ‘The knowledge of names is a great part of knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty-drachma course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in grammar and language – these are his own words – and then I should have been at once able to answer your question about the correctness of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the single-drachma course, and therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation of them.’ (384b1-c3, tr. Jowett) In the Phaedrus Socrates refers to Prodicus with appreciation: ‘When once Prodicus heard me saying this, he laughed, and said that he alone had discovered what kind of speeches are needed: what are needed are neither long speeches nor short ones, but ones of a fitting length (267b2-5, tr. Rowe).’
Dover says that ‘What Xenophon (Memorabilia iv. 5. 12) calls dialegein kata genȇ is seen, if we examine the context carefully, to be quite different from Platonic diairesis.’ So let us begin with iv. 5. 11, where Socrates tells young Euthydemus: ‘Only the self-controlled (tois enkratesi monois) have power to consider (exesti skopein) the things that matter most (ta kratista tȏn pragmatȏn), and, sorting them out after their kind, by word and deed alike (kai logȏi kai ergȏi dialegontas kata genȇ) to prefer the good (ta men agatha proaireisthai) and reject the evil (tȏn de kakȏn apechesthai).’ In iv. 5. 12 Xenophon concludes: ‘And thus (Kai houtȏs), he said (ephȇ), men become supremely good and happy (aristous te kai eudaimonestatous andras gignesthai) and skilled in discussion (kai dialegesthai dunatȏtatous). The very word “discussion,” according to him (ephȇ de kai to dialegesthai), owes its name (onomasthȇnai) to the practice of meeting together for common deliberation (ek tou suniontas koinȇi bouleuesthai), sorting, discussing things after their kind (dialegontas kata genȇ ta pragmata): and therefore one should be ready and prepared for this and be zealous for it; for it makes for excellence (ek toutou gar gignesthai andras aristous), leadership (te kai hȇgemonikȏtatous) and skill in discussion (kai dialektikȏtatous).’ (Tr. E. C. Marchant.) Here dialegontas kata genȇ ta pragmata means the same as diairontas kata genȇ ta pragmata, i.e. ‘dividing things after their kinds.’ Xenophon thus helps us understand why Socrates in the Phaedrus concludes his exposition on ‘divisions and collections’ with the words: ‘I am myself a lover of these divisions and collections (diaireseȏn kai sunagȏgȏn), that I may gain the power to speak and to think (hina hoios te ȏ legein te kai phronein); and … it is those that have this ability whom I call dialecticians (dialektikous, 266b3-c1). In grammar, Xenophon’s dialektikȏtatous is the superlative of Plato’s dialektikous.
As can be seen, pace Dover, Plato’s Phaedrus and Laches, as well as Xenophon’s Memorabilia help us to view Socrates’ exhortation in the Clouds – ‘after relaxing your subtle mind (schasas tȇn phrontida leptȇn), consider your affairs step by step (kata mikron periphronei ta pragmata) correctly analysing and investigating them (orthȏs diairȏn kai skopȏn, 740-742) – as a very poignant caricature of the historical Socrates.