Saturday, August 13, 2016

3 Bertrand Russell on ‘The Theory of Ideas’ and Plato’s Republic

Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy views Plato theory of Forms in the light of Republic X, which he takes as ‘a very clear exposition of the doctrine of ideas or forms’. (Routledge Classics 2004, p. 123) In the preceding posts devoted to this theme I argued that Russell was wrong in doing so. Let me now add that Plato did his best to mislead those of his readers, who were not properly initiated into his thought, into viewing the theory of Forms through the looking glass of Republic X. For in the tenth Book Plato writes:

‘Well then (Boulei oun), shall we begin the inquiry at this point (enthende arxȏmetha episkopountes), following our usual method (ek tȇs eiȏthuas methodou): Whenever a number of individuals have a common name, we assume that there is one corresponding idea or form (eidos gar pou ti hen hekaston eiȏthamen tithesthai peri hekasta ta polla , hois t’auton onoma epipheromen): – do you understand me (ȇ ou manthaneis)?’ – ‘I do (Manthanȏ).’ – ‘Let us take (Thȏmen dȇ), for our present purpose (kai nun), any instance of such a group (hoti boulei tȏn pollȏn); there are tables and beds in the world – many of each, are there not (hoion, ei theleis, pollai eisi klinai kai trapezai)? – ‘Yes (Pȏs d’ ou).’ – ‘But there are only two ideas or forms of such furniture (Alla ideai ge pou peri tauta ta skeuȇ duo) – one the idea of a bed (mia men klinȇs), the other of a table (mia de trapezȇs).’ – ‘True (Nai).’ ‘And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a table for our use, in accordance with the idea – that is our way of speaking in this and similar instances (Oukoun kai eiȏthamen legein hoti ho dȇmiourgos hekaterou tou skeous pros tȇn idean blepȏn houtȏ poiei ho men tas klinas, ho de tas trapezas, hais hȇmeis chrȏmetha, kai t’alla kata t’auta) – but no artificer makes the idea itself: how could he (ou gar pou tȇn ge idean autȇn dȇmiourgei oudeis tȏn dȇmiourgȏn)?’ – ‘Impossible (Oudamȏs).’ (596a5-b11, tr. B. Jowett)

Note Plato’s following our usual method (ek tȇs eiȏthuas methodou) and that is our way of speaking (kai eiȏthamen legein) which suggest that Plato’s Socrates is referring to the theory of Forms as such, when he says: ‘Whenever a number of individuals have a common name, we assume that there is one corresponding idea or form (eidos gar pou ti hen hekaston eiȏthamen tithesthai peri hekasta ta polla , hois t’auton onoma epipheromen) … Let us take (Thȏmen dȇ), for our present purpose (kai nun), any instance of such a group.’ [Jowett’s ‘Let us take any instance of such a group’ stands for Plato’s Thȏmen dȇ hoti boulei tȏn pollȏn, i.e. ‘Let us posit whatever you wish of the many’.] This, taken in connection with 597b, 597d, appears to fully justify Russell’s ‘According to the metaphysical part of the doctrine, the word “cat” means a certain ideal cat, “the cat”, created by God, and unique (p. 123) … For Plato, there are many ideas. There are not only beauty, truth, and goodness, but, as we saw, there is the heavenly bed, created by God; there is a heavenly man, a heavenly dog, a heavenly cat, and so on through a whole Noah’s ark (129-130).’

In 597b5-11 Socrates says: ‘Here we find three beds (trittai tines klinai hautai gignontai): one existing in nature (mia men hȇ en tȇi phusei ousa), which is made by the God … another (mian de ge) is the work of the carpenter (hȇn ho tektȏn) … the work of the painter is a third (mia de hȇn ho zȏgraphos).’ In 597d1-6 Socrates says: ‘God (ho theos)… desired to be the real maker of a real bed (boulomenos einai ontȏs klinȇs poiȇtȇs ontȏs ousȇs), not a kind of maker of a kind of bed (alla mȇ klinȇs tinos mȇde klinopoios tis), and therefore He created a bed which is essentially and by nature one only (mian phusei autȇn ephusen).’ – Glaucon: ‘So it seems (Eoiken).’ – Socrates: ‘Shall we, then (Boulei oun), speak of Him as the natural author or maker of the bed (touton men phutourgon toutou prosagoreuȏmen, ȇ ti toiouton)?’ – Glaucon: ‘Yes (Dikaion oun), inasmuch as by the natural process of creation He is the author of this and of all other things (epeidȇper phusei ge kai touto kai t’alla panta pepoiȇken).’ (Tr. Jowett)

In my preceding post I argued that Plato created here a view of the theory of Forms, which is entirely alien to his own theory, and I did so by contrasting it with Plato’s authentic theory expressed in the Phaedrus, Republic V-VII, and Timaeus. Let me add to these the testimony of Plato’s Symposium:

Having depicted the ascent through proper Eros-inspired activities, Diotima tells the young Socrates: ‘He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love (hos gar an mechri entautha pros ta erȏtika paidagȏgȇthȇ), and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession (theȏmenos ephexȇs te kai orthȏs ta kala), when he comes towards the end (pros telos ȇdȇ iȏn tȏn erȏtikȏn) will suddenly perceive (exaiphnȇs katopsetai ti) a nature of wondrous beauty (thaumaston tȇn phusin kalon), and this (touto ekeino), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), is the final cause of all our former toils (hou dȇ heneken kai hoi emprosthen pantes ponoi ȇsan) – a nature which in the first place is everlasting (prȏton men aei on), not growing (kai oute gignomenon) and decaying (oute apollumenon), or waxing (oute auxanomenon) and waning (oute phthinon); secondly (epeita), not fair in one point of view (ou tȇi men kalon) and foul in another (tȇi d’ aischron), or at one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul (oude tote men, tote d’ ou, oude pros men to kalon, pros de to aischron, oud entha men kalon, entha de aischron), as if fair to some (hȏs tisi men on kalon) and foul to others (tisi de aischron), or in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of bodily frame (oud’ au phantasthȇsetai autȏi to kalon hoion prosȏpon ti oude cheires oude allo ouden hȏn sȏma metechei), or in any form of speech (oude ti logos) or knowledge (oude tis epistȇmȇ), or existing in any other being (oude pou on en heterȏi tini), as for example (hoion), in an animal (en zȏiȏi), or in heaven, or in earth (ȇ en gȇi ȇ en ouranȏi), or in any other place (ȇ en tȏi allȏi); but  beauty absolute (all’ auto kath’ hauto), separate (meth’ hautou), simple (monoeides), and everlasting (aei on), which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things (ta de alla panta kala ekeinou metechonta tropon tina toiouton, hoion gignomenȏn te tȏn allȏn kai apollumenȇn mȇden ekeino mȇte ti pleon mȇte elatton gignesthai mȇde paschein mȇden).’(210e2-211b5, tr. B. Jowett)

As can be seen, in Republic X God creates the Forms, in the Symposium the Form of Beauty is everlasting (aei on, 211a1), it never comes into being (oute gignomenon, 211a1) [Jowett strangely: ‘not growing’], for, as Diotima reemphasizes, it is everlasting (aei on, 21b1-2). Obviously, God creating the Forms in Republic X is alien to Plato’s thought, and his introduction there requires explanation. On my dating of the Phaedrus the explanation is at hand. In the Phaedrus Plato’s Socrates proclaims that ‘God has his divinity by virtue of being with the Forms’ (pros hoisper theos ȏn theios estin, 249c6)’. This clearly sounds like introducing the Forms as a new deity, a crime for which Socrates was sentenced to death. If we view the Phaedrus as a dialogue written prior to the death of Polemarchus in the hands of the Thirty tyrants, as I have argued in The Lost Plato on my website, Plato as the author of the Phaedrus was protected by the amnesty announced by the victorious democrats after their defeat of the Thirty. The Forms discussed in Republic V-VII are the Forms introduced in the Phaedrus. Plato therefore had to devise a new protection; this he did by presenting God as the creator of Forms in the last book of the Republic.

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