Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Plato’s Seventh Letter, Republic, and Phaedrus

In the Seventh Letter Plato says that concerning each thing that exists there are five aspects we must distinguish: 1/ the thing itself (auto), 2/ the knowledge of it (epistȇmȇ), 3/ its image (eidȏlon), 4/ its definition (logos), 5/ its name (onoma). He brings to light these five aspects on the example of a circle, which makes it clear that ‘the thing itself’ is the Form as we know it from the Republic, the Phaedrus, the Symposium, and the Timaeus. Then he says that ‘the same applies to straight as well as (t’auton dȇ peri te eutheos hama kai) to circular form (peripherous schȇmatos), to colours (kai chroas), to the good (peri te agathou), the beautiful (kai kalou), the just (kai dikaiou), to all bodies whether manufactured (kai peri sȏmatos hapantos skeuastou te) or coming into being in the course of nature (kai kata phusin gegonotos)’, 342d3-6).

Plato’s inclusion of ‘all bodies manufactured’ in the Seventh Letter points to the tenth book of the Republic, where Socrates speaks of the form of bed (klinȇ hȇ en tȇi phusei ousa ‘bed existing in nature’), which is created by God (hȇn theon ergasasthai, 597b5-7). Does it then mean that in his old age Plato fully corroborated the view of the forms as entities created by God, which he adumbrated in Republic X?

Adam notes on Republic X, 597b6-7: ‘hȇn – theon ergasasthai. “Occurrit, ut videtur, quasi ex improviso Platoni, Deum Idearum auctorem appellare [‘It occurs to Plato, as can be seen, as if by improvisation, to call God the creator of Forms’]”, truly enough, in the restricted sense that we ought to lay no stress on this passage by itself as evidence for the origin of the Ideas. But, if God and the Idea of Good are the same, Plato is merely saying in theological language what he formerly said in philosophical, when he derived the ousia [‘being’] of all other Ideas from the Idea of Good (VI 509 B).’ (J. Adam, The Republic of Plato, Cambridge University Press, 1902, digitally printed in 2009, vol. II, p. 390-391.)

In Republic 509 B Plato says: ‘The good not only infuses the power of being known into all things known (tois gignȏskomenois mȇ monon to gignȏskesthai hupo tou agathou pareinai), but also bestows upon them their being and existence (alla kai to einai te kai tȇn ousian hup’ ekeinou autois pareinai), and yet the good is not existence (ouk ousias ontos tou agathou), but lies far beyond it in dignity and power (all eti epekeina tȇs ousias presbeiai kai dunamei huperechontos, 509b6-10, tr. Jowett).’

Is Adam right, when he maintains that Plato in Republic X says in theological language what he formerly, that is in 509b6-10 said in philosophical? In Republic X Socrates goes on to say: ‘God (ho theos), whether from choice or from necessity (eite ouk ebouleto, eite tis anankȇ epȇn) made one bed in nature and one only; two or more such beds neither ever have been nor ever will be made by God (mȇ pleon ȇ mian en tȇi phusei apergasasthai auton klinȇn, houtȏs epoiȇsen mian monon autȇn ekeinȇn ho estin klinȇ; duo de toiautai ȇ pleious oute ephuteuthȇsan hupo tou theou oute mȇ phuȏsin) … Because even if He had made but two (hoti ei duo monas poiȇseien), a third would still appear behind them (palin an mia anaphaneiȇ) of which they again both possessed the form (hȇs ekeinai an au amphoterai to eidos echoien), and that would be the real bed and not the two others (kai eiȇ an ho estin klinȇ ekeinȇ all’ ouch hai duo) … God knew this, I suppose (tauta dȇ oimai eidȏs ho theos), and He 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 epoiȇsen).’ Can this be seen as a theological version of what Socrates said in Republic VI, 509 B?

In Republic VI 485b2-3 Plato speaks of the Forms as ‘the being that is eternal (tȇs ousias tȇs aei ousȇs), not disturbed by generation and decay (kai mȇ planȏmenȇs hupo geneseȏs kai phthoras’. These are the Forms which Plato introduced in the Phaedrus, not the Forms that God makes (ergasasthai) in Republic X. In the Phaedrus Plato’s Socrates proclaimed that ‘God has his divinity by virtue of being with the Forms’ (pros hoisper theos ȏn theios estin, 249c6)’. In view of this, the Forms could be seen as an ‘introduction of new deities’ – the charge for which Socrates was sentenced to death. Plato as the author of the Phaedrus was protected by the amnesty announced by the victorious democrats after their defeat of the Thirty against any such charge. Since the Forms discussed in Republic V-VII are the Forms introduced in the Phaedrus, Plato had to devise a new protection; this he did by presenting God as the maker of forms in the last book of the Republic. If the Forms in the Republic needed protection against the notion of the Forms as entities from which God derives his divinity announced in the Phaedrus, the Forms in the Seventh Letter needed such protection even more, for in it Plato pointed to the Phaedran notion of the written word as incapable of expressing what he had told Dionysius. This protection Plato devised by pointing to forms of ‘all bodies manufactured’ (peri sȏmatos hapantos skeuastou), which links the Seventh Letter to Republic X with its notion of God as the maker of the form of bed, and putatively of forms as such. But the form of bed of which Socrates speaks in Republic X, form made by God, is a fundamentally different form from the eternal Forms of books V-VII.

What Plato says in Republic VI, 509 B about the Good that bestows upon the Forms being and existence (alla kai to einai te kai tȇn ousian hup’ ekeinou autois pareinai, 509b6-7), can best be viewed in terms of the community of Forms (allȇlȏn koinȏnia) indicated in Republic V, 476a4-7.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Plato’s Seventh Letter, Phaedrus, and Laws

Plato says in the Seventh Letter that Dionysius had supposedly ‘written about what he heard from me’ (gegraphenai auton peri hȏn tote ȇkouen, 341b3-4). He therefore set out to prove that what he told Dionysius cannot be expressed in writing. He concluded his exposition as follows: ‘And this is the reason why (dio dȇ) every serious man (pas anȇr spoudaios) in dealing with really serious subjects (tȏn ontȏn spoudaiȏn peri) carefully avoids writing (pollou dei mȇ grapsas pote), lest thereby he may possibly cast them as a prey to the envy and stupidity of the public (en anthrȏpois eis phthonon kai aporian katabalei). In one word, then, our conclusion must be (heni dȇ ek toutȏn dei gignȏskein logȏi) that whenever one sees a man’s written compositions (hotan idȇi tis tou sungrammata gegrammena) – whether they be the laws of a legislator (eite en nomois nomothetou) or anything else in any other form (eite en allois tisin att’ oun), – these are not his most serious works (hȏs ouk ȇn toutȏi tauta spoudaiotata), if so be that the writer himself is serious (eiper est’ autos spoudaios): rather those works abide in the fairest region he possesses (keitai de pou en chȏrai tȇi kallistȇi tȏn toutou). [Bury remarks: ‘i.e. in his head, the abode of unexpressed thoughts; cf. Tim.44d.’] If, however, these really are his serious efforts (ei de ontȏs autȏi taut’ espoudasmena), and put into writing (en grammasin etethȇ), it is not “the gods” but mortal men who “Then of a truth themselves have utterly ruined his senses (“ex ara dȇ toi epeita” theoi men ou, brotoi de “phrenas ȏlesan autoi” [Bury refers to Homer, Il. vii. 360, xii. 234).’ (344c1-d2, tr. Bury)

This passage evokes the Phaedrus: ‘Any work, in the past or in the future, whether by Lysias or anyone else (Hȏs eite Lusias ȇ tis allos pȏpote egrapsen ȇ grapsei), whether composed in a private capacity or in the role of a public man who by proposing a law becomes the author of a political composition, is a matter of reproach to its author, whether or no the reproach is actually voiced, if he regards it as containing important truth of permanent validity (idiai ȇ dȇmosiai nomous titheis, sungramma politikon graphȏn kai megalȇn tina en autȏi bebaiotȇta hȇgoumenos kai saphȇneian, houtȏ men oneidos tȏi graphonti, eite tis phȇsin eite mȇ). For ignorance (to gar agnoein) of what is a waking vision (hupar te) and what is a mere dream-image (kai onar) of justice and injustice (dikaiȏn kai adikȏn peri), good and evil (kai kakȏn kai agathȏn), cannot truly be acquitted (ouk ekpheugei tȇi alȇtheiai) of involving reproach (mȇ ouk eponeidiston einai), even if the mass of men extol it (oude an ho pas ochlos auto epainesȇi).’ (277d6-e3, tr. R. Hackforth)

Note the correspondence between the Seventh Letter and the Phaedrus: Those, who think they presented or can present in their writings the truth and not a mere dream-image of the truth, by this very fact prove that they know nothing of justice and injustice (dikaiȏn kai adikȏn peri), good and evil (kai kakȏn kai agathȏn), i.e. they know nothing of the Forms. W. G. Tennemann referred to it in support of his late dating of the Phaedrus in his System der platonischen Philosophie, published in 1792 (vol. I, pp. iii-iv; 117-137; 203-207). But there is a fundamental discrepancy between the Phaedrus and the Seventh Letter. For in the Phaedrus Socrates contrasts the written word, ‘which doesn’t know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong’ (ouk epistatai legein hois dei ge kai mȇ, 275e3), with the spoken word ‘which, together with knowledge (hos met’ epistȇmȇs), is written in the soul of the learner (graphetai en tȇi tou manthanontos psuchȇi): that can defend itself (dunatos men amunai heautȏi), and knows to whom it should speak and to whom it should say nothing (epistȇmȏn de legein te kai sigan pros hous dei).’- Phaedrus: ‘You mean the living speech of the man who knows (Ton tou eidotos logon legeis zȏnta), the speech that has soul (kai empsuchon), of which the written discourse may fairly be called a kind of phantom (hou ho gegrammenos eidȏlon an ti legoito dikaiȏs).’ – Socrates: ‘Precisely (Pantapasi men oun)’. (276a5-b1)

Socrates concedes that a philosopher can take recourse to writing ‘for amusement’ (paidias charin, 276d2): ‘And when other men resort to other pastimes (hotan de alloi paidiais allais chrȏntai), regaling themselves with drinking (sumposiois te ardontes hautous) and such like (heterois te hosa toutȏn adelpha), he will doubtless prefer to indulge in the amusement I refer to (tot’ ekeinos, hȏs eoiken, anti toutȏn hois legȏ paizȏn diaxei).’ – Phaedrus: ‘And what an excellent amusement you’re talking of, Socrates, in contrast with a mean one (Pankalȇn legeis para phaulȇn paidian, ȏ Sȏkrates) – that of a man who is able to amuse himself with words (tou en logois dunamenou paizein), when he discourses about justice and the other topics you speak of (dikaiosunȇs kai allȏn hȏn legeis muthologounta). – Socrates: ‘Yes indeed, dear Phaedrus (Esti gar, ȏ phile Phaidre, houtȏ). But far more excellent, I think, is the serious treatment of them (polu d’ oimai kalliȏn spoudȇ peri auta gignetai), which employs the art of dialectic (hotan tis tȇi dialektikȇi technȇi chrȏmenos). The dialectician selects a soul of the right type (labȏn psuchȇn prosȇkousan), and in it he plants and sows his words founded on knowledge (phuteuȇi te kai speirȇi met’ epistȇmȇs logous), words which can defend both themselves and him who planted them (hoi heautois tȏi te phuteusanti boȇthein hikanoi), words which instead of remaining barren contain a seed (kai ouchi akarpoi alla echontes sperma) whence new words grow up in new characters (hothen alloi en allois ȇthesi phuomenoi); whereby the seed is vouchsafed immortality (tout’ aei athanaton parechein hikanoi), and its possessor the fullest measure of blessedness (kai ton echonta eudaimonein poiountes) that man can attain unto (eis hoson anthrȏpȏi dunaton malista).’ – Phaedrus: ‘Yes, that is a far more excellent way (Polu gar tout’ eti kallion legeis).’ (276d5-277a5; Socrates’ and Phaedrus’ last entry is translated by Hackforth).

After the debacle with Dionysius Plato in the Seventh Letter was compelled to view the spoken word just as incapable of conveying the truth about truth itself, as the written word. And he could not present himself as a man ‘selecting a soul of the right type’ and in it sowing the seeds of truth, a man ‘who knows to whom he should speak and to whom he should say nothing’.

In the Seventh Letter Plato opened his comprehensive refutation of Dionysius’ supposed claim with the words: ‘There is an argument (esti gar tis logos) which holds good (alȇthȇs) against the man who ventures to put anything whatever into writing on questions of this nature (enantios tȏi tolmȇsanti graphein tȏn toioutȏn kai hotioun); it has often been stated by me (pollakis men hup’ emou kai prosthen rȇtheis), and it seems suitable to the present occasion (eoiken d’oun einai kai nun lekteos, 342a3-6, tr. Harward).’ As the SL 344c1-d2 passage shows, first and foremost in Plato’s mind was his disparagement of the written word in the Phaedrus. Pointedly so, for Phaedrus was his first dialogue, and the fact that he held the same view about the written word throughout his long and distinguished career as a writer gave his refutation of Dionysius’ claim the desired weight.

Let me end this post by noting a potent correspondence between the Phaedrus and the Laws. In the Phaedrus Socrates maintains that the philosopher and his beloved disciple, devoted to philosophy, are blessed with happiness (makarion bion diagousin, 256a8-b1); the living words sowed in the soul with knowledge of truth give ‘their possessor the fullest measure of blessedness (ton echonta eudaimonein poiountes) that man can attain unto (eis hoson anthrȏpȏi dunaton malista)’ (277a3-4).

In the Laws, the work of Plato’s ripe old age, the Athenian Stranger – Plato felt like an Eleatic Stranger in Athens (in the Sophist and the Statesman) and an Athenian Stranger when imagining himself in Crete (in the Laws) – asks what character one must have if one is to live the best and most noble life (poios tis ȏn autos an kallista diagagoi ton bion, 730b3-4). To this question he gives the following answer: ‘Truth (alȇtheia dȇ) heads the list of all things good, for gods and men alike (pantȏn men agathȏn theois hȇgeitai, pantȏn de anthrȏpois). Let anyone who intends to be happy and blessed be its partner from the start (hȇs ho genȇsesthai mellȏn makarios te kai eudaimȏn ex archȇs metochos eiȇ), so that he may live as much of his life as possible a man of truth (hina hȏs pleiston chronon alȇthȇs ȏn diabioi). You can trust a man like that (pistos gar).’ (730c1-4, tr. T. J. Saunders)

Plato identified the Forms with truth ever since he introduced them in the Phaedrus: ‘for assuredly we must be bold to speak what is true (tolmȇteon gar oun to ge alȇthes eipein), above all when our discourse is upon truth (allȏs te kai peri alȇtheias legonta, 247b4-6, tr. Hackforth).’

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Plato’s theory of Forms, his Republic and his Seventh Letter

Plato says in the Seventh Letter that when he was young he desired to enter politics as soon as he would come of age (324b8-c1), but that the more he advanced in years and the more he considered the men who were engaged in politics, the more difficult it appeared to him to enter the political life in any meaningful way (325c-e): ‘Finally (teleutȏnta de) it became clear to me that all existing communities are misgoverned (noȇsai peri pantȏn tȏn poleȏn hoti kakȏs sumpasai politeuontai) … and I was compelled to say (legein te ȇnankasthȇn), in my praise of the right philosophy (epainȏn tȇn orthȇn philosophian), that by it (hȏs ek tautȇs) one is enabled to discern all forms of justice both political and individual (estin ta te politika dikaia kai ta tȏn idiȏtȏn panta katidein); there will therefore be no cessation of evils for mankind (kakȏn oun ou lȇxein ta anthrȏpina genȇ) until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers attains political supremacy (prin an ȇ to tȏn philosophountȏn orthȏs ge kai alȇthȏs genos eis archas elthȇi tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the States (ȇ to tȏn dunasteuontȏn en tais polesin) by some divine dispensation (ek tinos moiras theias) become true philosophers (ontȏs philosophȇsȇi).’ (326a2-b4)
Plato reached this realisation in the fifth book of the Republic, where he argues that only the true philosophers can see the truth (horan, 476b10, kathoran 476d1), that is the Forms, so that only they can govern the States well (475e-480a).
The refusal to see the Phaedo as an account of Socrates’ last day, as it is presented by Plato, leads to serious misrepresentation of Plato. Bertrand Russell writes: ‘I do not think we really possess the idea of absolute equality that Plato supposes us to possess. But even if we do, it is clear that no child possesses it until it reaches a certain age, and that the idea is elicited by experience, although not directly derived from experience. Moreover, unless our existence before birth was not one of sense perception, it would have been as incapable of generating the idea as this life is; and if our previous existence is supposed to have been partly super-sensible, why not make the same supposition concerning our present existence?’ (Russell, History of Western thought, Routledge Classics 2004, pp.138-139)
Pace Russell, Plato does not suppose us to possess the idea of absolute equality. Socrates does not possess it and does not think we possess it; he thinks we possess only its memory, which is indeed elicited by experience and can be deepened and made more vivid by philosophic discussion. Plato does not ‘possess’ it, he is deeply convinced he can see it, just as he is convinced he can see other Forms, such as absolute beauty, justice, courage, good, and wisdom. The Seventh Letter testifies to the depth of his conviction.
On his first journey Plato met Dion in Syracuse, a young aristocrat whom he inflamed with his idea of State governed by philosophers: ‘For Dion in truth (Diȏn men gar dȇ) …  hearkened to me with a keenness and ardour (houtȏs oxeȏs hupȇkousen kai sphodra) that I have never yet found in any of the youth whom I have met (hȏs oudeis pȏpote hȏn egȏ prosetuchon neȏn).’ (327a5-b1, tr. R. G. Bury)

Some twenty years later, when the tyrant Dionysius died, Dion did his best to enthuse Dionysius the younger with Plato’s idea of the State governed by philosophers: ‘Dion persuaded Dionysius to summon me (Diȏn epeise metapempesthai Dionusion eme); and he himself sent a request (kai autos edeito pempȏn) that I should by all means come with all speed (hȇkein hoti tachista ek pantos tropou), before that any others (prin tinas allous) should encounter Dionysius (entuchontas Dionusiȏi) and turn him aside to some way of life other than the best (ep allon bion auton tou beltistou paratrepsai) … so that now, if ever (hȏste eiper pote kai nun), all our hopes will be fulfilled (elpis pasa apotelesthȇsetai) of seeing the same persons at once philosophers and rulers of mighty States (tou tous autous philosophous te kai poleȏn archontas megalȏn sumbȇnai genomenous).’ (327d7-328b1, tr. Bury)

Plato was full of apprehension (tȇn d’ emȇn doxan … eichen phobos, 328b2-3): ‘Therefore, I pondered the matter and was in two minds (hothen moi skopoumenȏi kai distazonti) as to whether I ought to listen to entreaties and go (poteron eiȇ poreuteon kai hupakousteon), or how I ought to act (ȇ pȏs); and finally the scale turned in favour of the view that (homȏs errepse dein), if ever anyone was to try to carry out in practice my ideas about laws and constitutions (ei pote tis ta dianoȇthenta peri nomȏn te kai politeias apotelein encheirȇsoi), now was the time for making the attempt (kai nun peirateon einai); for if only I could fully convince one man (peisas gar hena monon hikanȏs), I should have secured thereby the accomplishment of all good things (panta exeirgasmenos esoimȇn agatha). With these views and thus nerved to the task (tautȇi men dȇ tȇi dianoiai te kai tolmȇi), I sailed from home (apȇra oikothen).’ (328b6-c4, tr. J. Harward)

And so Plato left Athens and his Academy: ‘Well then, I came for good and just reasons so far as it is possible for men to do so (all’ ȇlthon men kata logon en dikȇi te hȏs hoion te malista); and it was because of such motives (dia te ta toiauta) that I left my own occupations (katalipȏn tas emautou diatribas), which were anything but ignoble (ousas ouk aschȇmonas), to go under a tyranny (hupo turannida)  which ill became, as it seemed, both my teaching and myself (dokousan ou prepein tois emois logois oude emoi).’ (329a7-b3, tr. Bury)

When Plato arrived in Syracuse, all was wrong: ‘On my arrival (Elthȏn de) I found Dionysius’ kingdom all full of civil strife (heuron staseȏs ta peri Dionusion mesta xumpanta) and of slanderous stories brought to the court concerning Dion (kai diabolȏn pros tȇn turannida Diȏnos peri) … three months later (mȇni de schedon isȏs tetartȏi), charging Dion with plotting against tyranny (Diȏna Dionusios aitiȏmenos epibouleuein tȇi turannidi), Dionysius set him aboard a small vessel (smikron eis ploion embibasas) and drove him out with ignominy (exebalen atimȏs). After that all of us who were Dion’s friends were in alarm (hoi dȇ Diȏnos to meta touto pantes philoi ephoboumetha) lest he should punish any of us on a charge of being accomplices of Dion’s plot (mȇ tina epaitiȏmenos timȏroito hȏs sunaition tȇs Diȏnos epiboulȇs); and regarding me (peri d’ emou) a report actually went abroad in Syracuse (kai diȇlthe logos tis en Surakousais) that I had been put to death (hȏs  tethneȏs eiȇn) by Dionysius (hupo Dionusiou) as being responsible for all the events of that time (hȏs toutȏn hapantȏn tȏn tote gegonotȏn aitios).’ (329b7-d1, tr. Bury)

But Dionysius changed tack, asked Plato to stay and by housing him in the Acropolis in fact prevented him from leaving. And so the rumour spread that ‘Dionysius is wonderfully devoted to Plato’ (hȏs Platȏna Dionusios thaumastȏs hȏs aspazetai). ‘But what were the facts,’ (to d’ eichen de pȏs) Plato asks: ‘For the truth must be told (To gar alȇthes dei phrazein). He became indeed more and more devoted as time advanced (ȇspazeto men aei proiontos tou chronou mallon), according as he grew familiar with my disposition and character (kata tȇn tou tropu te kai ȇthous sunousian), but he was desirous that I should praise him more than Dion (heauton de epainein mallon ȇ Diȏna ebouleto me) and regard him rather than Dion as my special friend (kai philon hȇgeisthai diapherontȏs mallon ȇ ‘keinon), and this triumph he was marvellously anxious to achieve (kai thaumastȏs ephilonikei pros to toiouton). But the best way to achieve this, if it was to be achieved (hȇi d’ an houtȏs egeneto, eiper egigneto, kallista) – namely, by occupying himself in learning and in listening to discourses on philosophy and by associating with me – this he always shirked (ȏknei, hȏs dȇ manthanȏn kai akouȏn tȏn peri philosophian logȏn oikeiousthai kai emoi sungignesthai) owing to his dread of the talk of slanderers (phoboumenos tous tȏn diaballontȏn logous), lest he might be hampered in some measure (mȇ pȇi parapodistheiȇ) and Dion might accomplish all his designs (kai Diȏn dȇ panta eiȇ diapepragmenos). I, however, put up with all this (egȏ de panta hupemenon), holding fast the original purpose (tȇn prȏtȇn dianoian phulattȏn) with which I had come (hȇiper aphikomȇn), in the hope that he might possibly gain a desire for the philosophic life (ei pȏs eis epithumian elthoi tȇs philosophou zȏȇs); but he, with his resistance, won the day (ho d’ enikȇsen antiteinȏn).’ (330a1-b7, tr. Bury)

Plato closes this opening section of the letter with the words: ‘These, then, were the causes which brought about my visit to Sicily and my sojourn there, on the first occasion [367-6 B.C.] (Kai ho prȏtos dȇ chronos tȇs eis Sikelian emȇs epidȇmias te kai diatribȇs dia panta tauta sunebȇ genomenos). After this I went away (meta de touto apedȇmȇsa te), and I returned again [in 361 B.C., that is after five years in Athens] (kai palin aphikomȇn) on receiving a most urgent summons from Dionysius (pasȇi spoudȇi metapempomenou Dionusiou).’ (330b8-c3, tr. Bury)

Plato’s 361-360 B.C. visit was a complete disaster. But through all this, Plato’s conviction that he belonged to ‘the small class’ (genos brachu ti, Timaeus 51e6) of those, who saw the Forms and were therefore entitled to govern, remained unshaken.

Having heard that Dionysius ‘has since written about what he heard from me’ (gegraphenai auton peri hȏn tote ȇkouen, 341b3-4), Plato says in the Seventh Letter: ‘There neither is nor ever will be a treatise of mine on the subject (oukoun emon ge peri autȏn esti sungramma oude mȇpote genȇtai). For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge (rȇton gar oudamȏs estin hȏs alla mathȇmata); but after much converse about the matter itself and life lived together (all’ ek pollȇs sunousias gignomenȇs peri to pragma auto kai tou suzȇn), suddenly (exaiphnȇs) a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself (hoion apo puros pȇdȇsantos exaphthen phȏs, en tȇi psuchȇi genomenon auto heauto ȇdȇ trephei).’ (341c4-d2, tr. Harward)

Plato substantiates this proclamation by the most concise and most important discussion on the Forms, which follows:

‘There is an argument (esti gar tis logos alȇthȇs) which holds good against the man who ventures to put anything whatever into writing on questions of this nature (enantios tȏi tolmȇsanti graphein tȏn toioutȏn kai hotioun); it has often been stated by me (pollakis men hup’ emou kai prosthen rȇtheis), and it seems suitable to the present occasion (eoiken d’oun einai kai nun lekteos).

For everything that exists (estin tȏn ontȏn hekastȏi) there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted (di’ hȏn tȇn epistȇmȇn anankȇ paragignesthai, tria); fourth, there is the knowledge itself (tetarton d’ autȇ), and, as fifth (pempton d’), we must count the thing itself (auto tithenai dei) which is known (ho dȇ gnȏston te) and truly exists (kai alȇthȏs estin on). The first is the name (hen men onoma), the second the definition (deuteron de logos), the third the image (to de triton eidȏlon), and the fourth the knowledge (tetarton de epistȇmȇ). If you wish to learn what I mean, take these in the case of one instance (peri hen oun labe boulomenos mathein to nun legomenon), and so understand them in the case of all (kai pantȏn houtȏ peri noȇson). A circle is a thing spoken of (kuklos estin ti legomenon), and its name is that very word (hȏi tout’ auto estin onoma) which we have just uttered (ho nun ephthegmetha). The second thing belonging to it is its definition (logos d’ autou to deuteron), made up of names and verbal forms (ex onomatȏn kai rȇmatȏn sunkeimenos). For that which has the name “round”, “annular”, or “circle”, might be defined as that which has the distance from its circumference to its centre everywhere equal (to gar ek tȏn eschatȏn epi to meson ison apechon pantȇi, logos an eiȇ ekeinou hȏiper strongulon kai peripheries onoma kai kuklos). Third (triton), comes that which is drawn (de to zȏgraphoumenon te) and rubbed out again (kai exaleiphomenon), or turned on a lathe (kai torneuomenon), and broken up (kai apollumenon) – none of which things can happen to the circle itself – to which the other things mentioned have reference (hȏn autos ho kuklos, hon peri taut’ estin tauta, ouden paschei); for it is something of a different order from them (toutȏn hȏs heteron on). Fourth (tetarton de), comes knowledge (epistȇmȇ), intelligence (kai nous) and right opinion (alȇthȇs te doxa) about these things (peri taut’ estin). Under this one head we must group everything which has its existence (hȏs de hen touto au pan theteon), not in words or bodily shapes, but in soul (ouk en phȏnais oud’ en sȏmatȏn schȇmasi all’ en psuchais enon) – from which it is clear (hȏi dȇlon) that it is something different (heteron te on) from the nature of the circle itself (autou tou kuklou tȇs phuseȏs) and from the three things mentioned before (tȏn te emprosthen lechtentȏn triȏn). Of these things intelligence comes closest in kinship and likeness to the fifth (toutȏn de engutata men sungeneiai kai homoiotȇti tou pemptou nous peplȇsiaken), and the others are farther distant (t’alla de pleon apechei). The same applies to straight as well as (t’auton dȇ peri te eutheos hama kai) to circular form (peripherous schȇmatos), to colours (kai chroas), to the good (peri te agathou), the beautiful (kai kalou), the just (kai dikaiou), to all bodies whether manufactured (kai peri sȏmatos hapantos skeuastou te) or coming into being in the course of nature (kai kata phusin gegonotos), to fire (puros), water (hudatos te), and all such things (kai tȏn toioutȏn pantȏn), to every living being (kai zȏiou sumpantos peri), to character in souls (kai en psuchais ȇthous), and to all things done and suffered (kai peri poiȇmata kai pathȇmata sumpanta). For in the case of all these no one, if he has not some how or other got hold of the four things first mentioned (ou gar an toutȏn mȇ tis ta tettara labȇi hamȏs ge pȏs), can ever be completely a partaker of knowledge of the fifth (oupote teleȏs epistȇmȇs tou pemptou metochos estai). Further (pros gar toutois), on account of the weakness of language these attempt to show what each thing is like, not less than what each thing is (tauta ouch hȇtton epicheirei to poion ti peri hekastou dȇloun ȇ to on hekastou dia to tȏn logȏn asthenes). For this reason (hȏn heneka) no man of intelligence (noun echȏn oudeis) will venture to express his philosophical views in language (tolmȇsei pote eis auto tithenai ta nenoȇmena hup’ autou), especially not in language that is unchangeable (kai tauta eis ametakinȇton), which is true of that which is set down in written characters (ho dȇ paschei ta gegrammena tupois).

Again you must learn the point which comes next (touto de palin au to nun legomenon dei mathein). Every circle (kuklos hekastos), of those which are by the act of man (tȏn en tais praxesi) drawn (graphomenȏn) or (ȇ) even turned on a lathe (kai torneuthentȏn), is full of that which is opposite (mestos tou enantiou estin) to the fifth thing (tȏi pemptȏi). For everywhere it has contact with the straight (tou gar eutheos ephaptetai pantȇi). But the circle itself, we say (autos de, phamen, ho kuklos), has nothing in it, either smaller or greater, of that which is its opposite (oute ti smikroteron oute meizon tȇs enantias echei en hautȏi phuseȏs). We say also that the name is not a thing of permanence for any of them (onoma te autȏn phamen ouden oudeni bebaion einai), and that nothing prevents (kȏluein d’ ouden) the thing now called round (ta nun strongula kaloumena) from being called straight (euthea keklȇsthai), and the straight things (ta te euthea dȇ) round (strongula); so for those who make changes and call things by opposite names, nothing will be less permanent (kai ouden hȇtton bebaiȏs hexein tois metathemenois kai enantiȏs kalousin). Again with regard to the definition (kai mȇn peri logou ge), if it is made up of names and verbal forms, the same remark holds that there is no sufficiently durable permanence in it (ho autos logos, eiper ex onomatȏn kai rȇmatȏn sunkeitai, mȇden hikanȏs bebaiȏs einai bebaion). And there is no end to the instances of the ambiguity from which each of the four suffers (murios de logos au peri hekastou tȏn tettarȏn hȏs asaphes); but the greatest of them is (to de megiston) that which we mentioned a little earlier (hoper eipomen oligon emprosthen), that, whereas there are two things (hoti duoin ontoin), that which has real being (tou te ontos), and that which is only a quality (kai tou poiou tinos), when the soul is seeking to know, not the quality, but the essence (ou to poion ti, to de ti, zȇtousȇs eidenai tȇs psuchȇs), each of the four, presenting to the soul by word and in act that which it is not seeking (to mȇ zȇtoumenon hekaston tȏn tettarȏn proteinon tȇi psuchȇi logȏi te kai kat’ erga), a thing open to refutation by the senses (aisthȇsesin euelenkton), being merely the thing presented to the senses in each particular case whether by statement or the act of showing (to te legomenon kai deiknumenon aei parechomenon hekaston), fills, one may say, every man with puzzlement and perplexity (aporias te kai asapheias empimlȇsi pasȇs hȏs epos eipein pant’ andra).

Now in subjects in which (en hoisi men oun), by reason of our defective education, we have not been accustomed even to search for the truth (mȇd’ eithismenoi to alȇthes zȇtein esmen hupo ponȇras trophȇs), but are satisfied (exarkei de) with whatever images are presented to us (to protathen tȏn eidȏlȏn), we are not held up to ridicule by one another (ou katagelastoi gignometha hup’ allȇlȏn), the questioned (hoi erȏtȏmenoi) by questioners (hupo tȏn erȏtȏntȏn), who can pull to pieces and criticize the four things (dunamenȏn de ta tettara diarriptein te kai elenchein). But in subjects where we try to compel a man to give a clear answer about the fifth (en hois d’ an to pempton apokrinasthai kai dȇloun anankazȏmen), any one of those who are capable of overthrowing an antagonist gets the better of us (ho boulomenos tȏn dunamenȏn anatrepein kratei), and makes the man, who gives an exposition in speech or writing or in replies to questions (kai poiei ton exȇgoumenon en logois ȇ grammasin ȇ apokriseesin), appear to most of his hearers to know nothing of the things on which he is attempting to write or speak (tois pollois tȏn akouontȏn dokein mȇden gignȏskein hȏn an epicheirȇi graphein ȇ legein); for they are sometimes not aware (agnoountȏn eniote) that it is not the mind (hȏs ouch hȇ psuchȇ) of the writer (tou grapsantos) nor speaker (ȇ lexantos) which is proved to be in fault (elenchetai), but the defective nature of each of the four instruments (all’ hȇ tȏn tettarȏn phusis hekastou, pephukuia phaulȏs). The process however of dealing with all of these (hȇ de dia pantȏn autȏn diagȏgȇ), as the mind moves up and down to each in turn (anȏ kai katȏ metabainousa eph’ hekaston), does after much effort give birth in a well-constituted mind to knowledge of that which is well constituted (mogis epistȇmȇn eneteken eu pephukotos eu pephukoti). But if a man is ill-constituted by nature (kakȏs de an phuȇi), as the state of the soul is naturally in the majority (hȏs hȇ tȏn pollȏn hexis tȇs psuchȇs) both in its capacity for learning (eis te to mathein) and in what is called moral character (eis te ta legomena ȇthȇ pephuken), or it may have become so by deterioration (ta de diephthartai), not even Lunceus (oud’ an ho Lunkeus) could endow such men with the power of sight (idein poiȇseien tous toioutous).

In one word (heni de logȏi), the man who has no natural kinship with this matter (ton mȇ sungenȇ tou pragmatos) cannot be made akin to it by quickness of learning (out’ an eumatheia poiȇseien pote) or memory (oute mnȇmȇ); for it cannot be engendered at all in natures which are foreign to it (tȇn archȇn gar en allotriais hexesin ouk engignetai). Therefore (hȏste), if men are not by nature and kinship allied to justice and all other things that are honourable (hoposoi tȏn dikaiȏn te kai tȏn allȏn hosa kala mȇ prosphueis eisin kai sungeneis), though they may be good at learning and remembering other knowledge of various kinds (alloi de allȏn eumatheis hama kai mnȇmones) – or if they have the kinship (oud’ hosoi sungeneis) but are slow learners (dusmatheis de) and have no memory (kai amnȇmones) – none of all these (oudenes toutȏn) will ever learn to the full the truth about virtue (mȇpote mathȏsin alȇtheian aretȇs eis to dunaton) and vice (oude kakias). For both must be learnt together (hama gar auta anankȇ manthanein); and together also must be learnt, by complete and long continued study, as I said at the beginning, the true and the false about all that has true being (kai to pseudos hama kai alȇthes tȇs holȇs ousias, meta tribȇs pasȇs kai chronou pollou, hoper en archais eipon). After much effort (mogis de), as names, definitions, sights, and other data of sense, are brought into contact and friction one with another (tribomena pros allȇla autȏn hekasta, onomata kai logoi opseis te kai aisthȇseis), in the course of scrutiny and kindly testing (en eumenesin elenchois elenchomena) by men who proceed by question and answer without ill will (kai aneu phthonȏn erȏtȇsesin kai apokrisesin chrȏmenȏn), with a sudden flash there shines forth understanding about every problem (exelampse phronȇsis peri hekaston, 344b7), and an intelligence  whose efforts reach the furthest efforts of human powers (kai nous sunteinȏn hoti malist’ eis dunamin anthrȏpinȇn). (342a3-344c1, tr. Harward)

Bury translates 344b7 more to the point: ‘there bursts out the light of intelligence and reason regarding each object (exelampse phronȇsis peri hekaston), for Plato speaks about perceiving the Forms by the human intelligence, not about ‘understanding about every problem’. Cf. the statement with which Plato started this whole discussion: ‘For everything that exists (estin tȏn ontȏn hekastȏi) there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted (di’ hȏn tȇn epistȇmȇn anankȇ paragignesthai, tria); fourth, there is the knowledge itself (tetarton d’ autȇ), and, as fifth (pempton d’), we must count the thing itself (auto tithenai dei) which is known (ho dȇ gnȏston te) and truly exists (kai alȇthȏs estin on, 342a7-b1).