R. E. Allen maintains that the theory Socrates has outlined in the Parmenides ‘is substantially that of the Phaedo and the Republic.’ He says: ‘In the Phaedo (74a-c), equal things are distinguished from Equality on the ground that they are equal to one thing but not to another, whereas Equality cannot be Inequality, nor things just equal unequal (cf. Symposium 211a, Epistle VII 343a-b). At Republic V 479a-c, the chief ground for positing the existence of Ideas is that sensible objects are qualified by opposites.’
These considerations led Allen to the following hypothesis concerning the origin of the Theory of Forms: ‘The structure of the Parmenides, then, suggests that difficulties in explaining qualification by opposites, difficulties of the sort Zeno’s paradox raises, were an important motive of origin for the theory of Ideas. This is confirmed by the Phaedo and the Republic.’ (Plato’s Parmenides, translated with Comment by R.E. Allen, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 90)
In the dialogue, Parmenides has a very different theory about the origin of Socrates’ Theory of Forms: ‘I imagine that the way in which you are led to assume one idea of each kind is as follows (Oimai se ek tou toioude hen hekaston eidos oiesthai einai): – You see a number of great objects (hotan poll’ atta megala soi doxȇi einai), and when you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same idea in them all (mia tis isȏs dokei idea hȇ autȇ einai epi panta idonti); hence you conceive of greatness as one (hothen hen to mega hȇgȇi einai).’ – ‘Very true, said Socrates (Alȇthȇ legeis, phanai, 132a1-5, tr. Jowett).’
Allen completely misses the importance of this short exchange between the aging Parmenides and the young Socrates: ‘Abstracting for the moment from the reference to Socrates’ beliefs, and examining the content of what it is he is said to believe, the argument is that if a plurality of things is large, then there is some one Idea that is the same over all of them; if there is some one Idea that is the same over all of them, then Largeness is one. The function of the one over many premise, in its context, is not to provide an argument to show that Largeness exists; the existence of Ideas generally, and of Largeness specifically, has already been assumed. The premise is used to provide a reason for supposing not that Ideas are but that they are one.’ (Allen, p. 153)
Since Allen assumes that Socrates in the dialogue is just Plato’s fiction, he is blind to what Parmenides is asking Socrates about. He is making a conjecture that the basis on which Socrates came to the assumption that there is some one Idea that is the same over all of the many things that carry its name was his observing that all those things carried that same Idea or Form.
Allen is right when he sees a close resemblance concerning the theory of Forms developed in the Phaedo and the theory of Forms subjected to Parmenides’ criticism in the Parmenides. I agree with Allen’s relative dating of these two dialogues: Plato wrote the Phaedo before writing the Parmenides. But as I have argued in a number of entries on my blog devoted to this theme, and in ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ on my website, Plato’s insistence that the set-up outlined in the dialogue is historical is to be taken seriously, which means that we must view the Parmenides, as to its content, as preceding the Phaedo.
In the Parmenides Socrates introduces the Forms as follows: ‘But tell me, Zeno (tode de moi eipe), do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself (ou nomizeis einai auto kath’ hauto eidos ti homoiotȇtos), and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness (kai tȏi toioutȏi au allo ti enantion, ho esti anomoion), and that in these two (toutoin de duoin ontoin), you and I and all other things (kai eme kai se kai t’alla) to which we apply the term many (ha dȇ polla kaloumen), participate (metalambanein) – things which participate in likeness (kai ta men tȇs homoiotȇtos metalambanonta) become in that degree and manner like (homoia gignesthai tautȇi te kai kata tosouton hoson an metalambanȇi); and so far as they participate in unlikeness become in that degree unlike (ta de tȇs anomoiotȇtos anomoia), or both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in both (ta de amphoterȏn amphotera)?’ (128e6-129a6)
Then Parmenides asks Socrates: ‘And would you make an idea of man apart from us and from all other human creatures, or fire and water (Ti d’, anthrȏpou eidos chȏris hȇmȏn kai tȏn hoioi hȇmeis esmen pantȏn, auto ti eidos anthrȏpou ȇ puros ȇ kai hudatos)?’ – Socrates: ‘I am often undecided, Parmenides, as to whether I ought to include them or not (En aporiai pollakis dȇ, ȏ Parmenidȇ, peri autȏn gegona, potera chrȇ phanai hȏsper peri ekeinȏn ȇ allȏs).’ (130c1-4) … Parmenides: ‘That is because you are still young (Neos gar ei eti); the time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy will have a firmer grasp of you (kai oupȏ sou anteilȇptai philosophia hȏs eti antilȇpsetai kat’ emȇn doxan), and then you will not despise even the meanest things (hote ouden autȏn atimaseis, 130e1-3, tr. Jowett).’
In the Phaedo Socrates fulfilled Parmenides’ prophesy, pushed aside his quibbles concerning the Forms – just as Plato did in the Parmenides (see the preceding post on my blog) – and envisaged the Forms as true causes.
There is another ‘prophecy’, if a doubt can be viewed as prophecy, which appears to be fulfilled in the Phaedo. In Plato’s Symposium the wise Diotima says to Socrates: ‘These are the lesser mysteries of love (Tauta men oun ta erȏtika isȏs), into which even you, Socrates, may enter (ȏ Sȏkrates, k’an su muȇtheiȇs); to the greater and more hidden ones (ta de telea kai epoptika) which are the crown of these, and to which, if you pursue them in a right spirit, they will lead (hȏn heneka kai tuta estin, ean tis orthȏs metiȇi), I know not whether you will be able to attain (ouk oid’ ei hoios t’ an eiȇs, 209e5-210a2, tr. Jowett).’
Jowett’s ‘the greater and more hidden ones’ is a very poor attempt of translating into English Diotima’s ta de telea kai epoptika. Telos means ‘the end or purpose of action’, ‘fulfilment’, ‘attainment’; teleos is an adjective that expresses the perfections of telos. Epoptikos is explained in LSJ as ‘initiated to the highest mysteries’, but the word suggests ‘seeing that which is to be seen’; presumably, the initiated were supposed to actually see the divine, which it certainly means in Plato’s Symposium. For in what follows, Diotima describes the assent to the actual seeing of absolute Beauty: ‘He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love (hos gar an mechri entautha pros ta erȏtika paidagȏgȇthȇi) and who has learned to see the beautiful in due course 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; ‘he will suddenly see something’) 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), knowing no birth or death (oute gignomenon oute apollumenon), growth (oute auxanomenon) or decay (oute phthinon), secondly (epeita), not fair in one point of view (ou tȇi de 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 de 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 kalon) and foul to others (tisi de aischron), or in likeness of a face (oud’ au phantasthȇsetai autȏi to kalon hoion prosȏpon ti) or hands (oude cheires) or any other part of a bodily frame (oude allo ouden hȏn sȏma metechei), or in any form of speech or knowledge (oude tis logos oude tis epistȇmȇ), or existing in any individual being (oude pou on en heterȏi tini), as for example (hoion), in a living creature (en zȏȏi), whether in heaven, or in earth (ȇ en gȇi ȇ en ouranȏi), or anywhere else (ȇ en tȏi allȏi); but beauty absolute (all’ auto kath’ hauto), separate (meth’ hautou), simple (monoeides), and everlasting (aei on), which is imparted to the ever growing and perishable beauties of all other beautiful things, without itself suffering diminution, or increase, or any change (ta de alla panta kala ekeinou metechonta tropon tina toiouton, hoion gignomenȏn te tȏn allȏn kai apollumenȏn mȇden ekeino mȇte ti pleon mȇte elatton gignesthai mȇde paschein mȇden). He who, ascending from these earthly things under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty (hotan dȇ tis apo tȏnde dia to orthȏs paiderastein epaniȏn ekeino to kalon archȇtai kathoran [‘to see’]), is not far from the end (schedon an ti haptoito tou telous).’ (210e2-211b7, tr. B. Jowett)
As the Phaedo testifies to it, this vision of Beauty itself was never given to Socrates. For him the Forms remained a hypothesis: ‘Well, here is what I mean (All’ hȏde legȏ); it is nothing new (ouden kainon, 100b1), but what I have constantly spoken of both in the talk we have been having and at other times too (all’ haper aei te allote kai en tȏi parelȇluthoti logȏi ouden pepaumai legȏn). I am going to attempt a formal account of the sort of cause that I have been concerned with (erchomai dȇ epicheirȏn soi epideixasthai tȇs aitias to eidos ho pepragmateumai), and I shall go back to my well-worn theme (kai eimi palin ep’ ekeina ta poluthrulȇta) and make it my starting-point (kai archomai ap’ ekeinȏn); that is, I shall assume the existence of a beautiful that is in and by itself (hupothemenos einai ti kalon auto kath’ hauto), and a good (kai agathon), and a great (kai mega), and so on with the rest of them (kai t’alla panta); and if you grant me them (ha ei moi didȏs te) and admit their existence (kai sunchȏreis einai tauta), I hope (elpizȏ) they will make it possible for me to discover and expound to you the cause of the soul’s immortality (soi ek toutȏn tȇn aitian epideixein kai aneurȇsein hȏs athanaton psychȇ).’ (100b1-9, tr. R. Hackforth)
Socrates considered it the best hypothesis, but hypothesis nevertheless: ‘And if anyone were to fasten upon the hypothesis itself (ei de tis autȇs tȇs hupotheseȏs echoito), you would disregard him (chairein eȏiȇs an), and refuse to answer (kai ouk apokrinaio) until you could consider the consequences of it (heȏs an ta ap’ ekeinȇs hormȇthenta skepsaio), and see whether they agreed or disagreed with each other (ei soi allȇlois sumphȏnei ȇ diaphȏnei). But when the time came for you to establish the hypothesis itself (epeidȇ de ekeinȇs autȇs deoi se didonai logon), you would pursue the same method (hȏsautȏs an didoiȇs): you would assume some more ultimate hypothesis (allȇn au hupothesin hupothemenos), the best you could find (hȇtis tȏn anȏthen beltistȇ phainoito), and continue until you reached something satisfactory (heȏs epi ti hikanon elthois).’ (101d3-e1, tr. Hackforth)
With this Theory of Forms, Plato could never have conceived the Republic.
In Republic V, 473c-d, Socrates tells Glaucon that only true philosophers can properly rule the cities and states. To justify this claim, Socrates characterizes the true philosophers as ‘those who love seeing the truth’ (tous tȇs alȇtheias philotheamonas, 475e4). To see the truth meant seeing the Forms, as Socrates explained in the discussion that followed.
Glaucon: ‘But I should like to know what you mean (alla pȏs auto legeis)?’ – Soc. ‘To another I might have a difficulty in explaining (Oudamȏs raidiȏs pros ge allon); but I am sure that you will admit a proposition which I am about to make (se de oimai homologȇsein moi to toionde).’ – ‘That since beauty is the opposite of ugliness (Epeidȇ estin enantion kalon aischrȏi), they are two (duo autȏ einai)? … And inasmuch as they are two (Oukoun epeidȇ duo), each of them is one (kai hen hekateron)? … And of just and unjust (Kai peri dȇ dikaiou kai adikou), good and evil (kai agathou kai kakou), and of every other form (kai pantȏn tȏn eidȏn peri), the same remark holds (ho autos logos): taken singly, each of them is one (auto men hen hekaston einai); but from the various combinations of them with actions and bodies and with one another (tȇi de tȏn praxeȏn kai sȏmatȏn kai allȇlȏn koinȏniai), they are seen in all sorts of lights and appear many (pantachou phantazomena polla phainesthai hekaston)? … And this is the distinction which I draw (Tautȇi toinun diairȏ) between the sight-loving, art-loving, practical class which you have mentioned (chȏris men hous nundȇ eleges philotheamonas te kai philotechnous kai praktikous), and those of whom I am speaking (kai chȏris au peri hȏn ho logos), and who are alone worthy of the name of philosophers (hous monous an tis orthȏs proseipoi philosophous).’ – Glauc. ‘How do you distinguish them (Pȏs legeis)?’ – Soc. ‘The lovers of sounds and sights (Hoi men pou philȇkooi kai philotheamones) are, as I conceive, fond of fine tones and colours and forms and all the artificial products that are made out of them (tas te kalas phȏnas aspazontai kai chroas kai schȇmata kai panta ta ek tȏn toioutȏn dȇmiourgoumena), but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty (autou de tou kalou adunatos autȏn hȇ dianoia tȇn phusin idein te kai aspazesthai) … Few are they who are able to attain this ideal beauty and contemplate it (Hoi de dȇ ep’ auto to kalon dunatoi ienai te kai horan [‘able to see’] kath’ hauto ara ou spanioi an eien).’ (475e5-476b11, tr. Jowett) – These few, and only these few are true philosophers; it is because they can see the Forms that they, and only they, can properly rule the cities and states, as Plato believed when he finally came to the conclusion that the political situation in Athens was incurable, and that there was no part for him in politics in his native city. With this thought he left Athens for his first journey to Italy and Sicily (Plato, Seventh Letter 326a-b); he was forty when he undertook it (schedon etȇ tettarakonta gegonȏs, SL 324a6).
In the first paragraph of this post I quoted Allen’s ‘At Republic V 479a-c, the chief ground for positing the existence of Ideas is that sensible objects are qualified by opposites.’ To consider or look for any ‘ground for positing the existence of Ideas’ by Plato is fundamentally wrong: Plato was firmly convinced that he could see the Forms.
Let me end this post by reviewing Republic V 479a-d, to which Allen refers, and consider its import. Instead of finding there any ‘ground for positing the existence of Ideas’, we shall find there Plato’s viewing the totality of what we can perceive with our senses as posited between true being (the Forms) and nothingness.
Soc. ‘I would ask the gentleman who is of opinion that there is no absolute or unchangeable Idea of beauty (legetȏ moi kai apokrinesthȏ ho chrȇstos hos auto men kalon kai idean tina autou kallous mȇdemian hȇgeitai aei men kata t’auta hȏsautȏs echousan), but only a number of beautiful things (polla de ta kala nomizei) – he, I say, your lover of beautiful sights (ekeinos ho philotheamȏn), who cannot bear to be told that the beautiful is one (kai oudamȇi anechomenos an ti hen to kalon phȇi einai), and the just is one (kai diakion), or that anything is one (kai t’alla houtȏ) – to him I would appeal, saying, Will you be so very kind, sir, as to tell us whether, of all these beautiful things (Toutȏn gar dȇ, ȏ ariste, phȇsome, tȏn pollȏn kalȏn), there is one which will not be found ugly (mȏn ti estin ho ouk aischron phanȇsetai); or of the just (kai tȏn dikaiȏn), which will not be found unjust (ho ouk adikon); or of the holy (kai tȏn hosiȏn), which will not also seem unholy (ho ouk anosion)?’ – Glauc. ‘No (Ouk); these things must, from different points of view, be found both beautiful and ugly (all’ anankȇ kai kala pȏs auta kai aischra phanȇnai); and the same is true of the rest (kai hosa alla erȏtais).’ (478e7-479b2) … Soc. ‘If so, can any one of those many things be said to be rather than not to be (Poteron oun esti mallon ȇ ouk estin hekaston tȏn pollȏn), that which we happen to have termed it (touto ho an tis phȇi auto einai, b9-10)? … Can they have a better place than between being and not-being (Echeis oun autois hoti chrȇsȇi, ȇ hopoi thȇseis kalliȏ thesin tȇs metaxu ousias te kai tou mȇ einai)? For they are clearly not in greater darkness or negation than not-being (oute gar pou skotȏdestera mȇ ontos pros to mallon mȇ einai phanȇsetai), or more full of light and existence than being (oute phanotera ontos pros to mallon einai) … Thus then we seem to have discovered (Hȇurȇkamen ara, hȏs eoiken) that the many notions which the multitude entertains about the beautiful (hoti ta tȏn pollȏn polla nomima kalou te peri) and about all other things (kai tȏn allȏn) are tossing about in some region which is half-way between pure being and pure not-being (metaxu pou kulindeitai tou te mȇ ontos kai tou ontos eilikrinȏs)?’ – Glauc. ‘We have (Hȇurȇkamen).’ (479c6-d5, tr. Jowett)