Monday, February 20, 2017

1 Reading Plato’s Statesman (with references to his Republic)

The Stranger’s opening moves on his way to defining the Statesman reminded me of Irwin’s note on Plato’s Gorgias, which I quoted in my recent post (4b1, January 31): ‘Technê is the normal term for any systematic productive skill, such as carpentry or shoemaking, but it is also applied to less obviously productive abilities, such as arithmetic or geometry, so that it is virtually interchangeable, in Plato’s early dialogues at least, with epistêmê (“knowledge”, “science”).’ The Statesman is a late dialogue, yet the Stranger uses technê and epistêmê indiscriminately.

Stranger: ‘Where shall we discover the path of the Statesman (Tên oun politikên atrapon pê̢ tis aneurêsei;)? We must find (Dei gar autên aneurein) and separate off (kai chôris aphelontas apo tôn allôn), and set our seal upon this (idean autê̢ mian episphragisasthai), and we will set the mark of another class upon all diverging paths (kai tais allais ektropais hen allo eidos episêmênamenous). Thus the soul will conceive of all kinds of knowledge under two classes (pasas tas epistêmas hôs ousas duo eidê dianoêthênai tên psuchên hêmôn poiêsai) … and are not arithmetic (ar’ oun ouk arithmêtikê men) and certain other kindred arts (kai tines heterai tautê̢ sungeneis technai), merely abstract knowledge, wholly separated from action (psilai tôn praxeôn eisi, to de gnônai pareschonto monon;)? … But in the art of carpentering (Hai de ge peri tektonikên au) and all other handicrafts (kai sumpasan cheirourgian), the knowledge of the workman is merged in his work (hôsper en tais praxesin enousan sumphuton tên epistêmên kektêntai) … Then let us divide sciences in general (Tautê̢ toinun sumpasas epistêmas diairei) into those which are practical (tên men praktikên proseipôn) and those which are purely intellectual (tên de monon gnôstikên) … And are “statesman” (Poteron oun ton politikon), “king” (kai basilea), “master” (kai despotên), or “householder” (kai et’ oikonomon), one and the same (thêsomen hôs hen panta tauta prosagoreuontes); or is there a science or art answering to each of these names (ê tosautas technas autas einai phômen hosaper onomata errêthê;)?’ (258c3-e11, tr. B. Jowett)

What is remarkable is not so much the indiscriminate use of technê and epistêmê, as Plato’s use of epistêmê when he speaks of carpentering and other crafts. This use of the term epistêmê in the Statesman stands in sharp contrast to its use in Books V-VII of the Republic, i.e. the Books in which Plato brings in the principle of unity between philosophy and statesmanship, delineating the ideal state governed by philosopher-rulers; there the term refers to the true Being, to the Forms: ‘Knowledge is relative to being (epistêmê epi tô̢ onti pephuke) and knows being as it is (gnônai hôs esti to on, 477b10-11, tr. Jowett),’

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