Tuesday, January 23, 2018

2 Rhetoric in the Phaedrus

I ended my previous post by observing that the inseparability of politics from rhetoric dominates Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric in the Phaedrus, and that this aspect of the dialogue reflects the political life in the Athenian democracy. Let me now point to the passage that prompted me to make this observation in the first place; I skipped it in my preceding post.
When Socrates ended his second discourse on love, Phaedrus said: ‘For some time I have been amazed at how much finer you managed to make your speech than the one before (ton logon de sou palai thaumasas echô, hosô̢ kalliô tou proterou apêrgasô); so that I’m afraid (hôste oknô) Lysias will appear wretched to me in comparison (mê moi ho Lusias tapeinos phanê̢), if he really does consent to put up another in competition with it (ean ara kai ethelêsê̢ pros auton allon antiparateinai). Indeed, just recently one of the politicians (kai gar tis auton enanchos tôn politikôn) was abusing him with this very charge (tout’ auto loidorôn ôneidize), and throughout all his abuse kept calling him a “speech-writer” (kai dia pasês tês loidorias ekalei logographon); so perhaps we shall find him refraining from writing out of concern for his reputation (tach’ oun an hupo philotimias epischoi hêmin an tou graphein).’ – Socrates: ‘An absurd idea, young man (Geloion g’, ô neania, to dogma legeis); you much mistakes your friend (kai tou hetairou suchnon diamartaneis), if you think him so frightened of mere noise (ei auton houtôs hêgê̢ tina psophodea). But perhaps you really think that the man who was abusing him meant what he said (isôs de kai ton loidoroumenon autô̢ oiei oneidizonta legein ha elegen).’ – Phaedrus: ‘He seemed to (Ephaineto gar); and I think you know yourself (kai sunoistha pou kai autos) that the men with the most power and dignity (hoti hoi megiston dunamenoi te kai semnotatoi) in our cities (en tais polesin) are ashamed (aischunontai) to write speeches (logous te graphein) and leave compositions of theirs behind them (kai kataleipein sungrammata heautôn), for fear of what posterity will think of them (doxan phoboumenoi tou epeita chronou) – they’re afraid they’ll be called sophists (mê sophistai kalôntai).’ – S.: ‘You’re missing the point (lanthanei se) that the politicians who have the highest opinion of themselves (hoti hoi megiston phronountes tôn politikôn) are most in love with speech-writing (malista erôsi logographias te) and with leaving compositions behind them (kai kataleipseôs sungrammatôn), to judge at any rate from the fact that whenever they write a speech (hoi ge kai epeidan tina graphôsi logon), they are so pleased with those who commend it (houtôs agapôsi tous epainetas) that they add in at the beginning the names of those (hôste prosparagraphousi prôtous) who commend them on each occasion (hoi an hekastachou epainôsin autous).’ – P.: ‘What do you mean by that (Pôs legeis touto;)? I don’t understand (ou gar manthanô).’ – S.: ‘You don’t understand (Ou manthaneis) that at the beginning (hoti en archê̢) of a politician’s composition (andros politikou sungrammatos) the commender’s name is written first (prôtos ho epainetês gegraptai)?’ – P.: ‘How so (Pôs;)?’ – S.: ‘The writer says perhaps “it was resolved by the council”, or “by the people”, or both (“Edoxe” pou phêsin “tê̢ boulê̢” ê “tô̢ dêmô̢” ê amphoterois), and “so-and-so said” (kai “hos kai hos eipen”), referring to his own dear self with great pomposity and self-eulogy (ton hauton dê legôn mala semnôs kai enkômiazôn ho sungrapheus); then he proceeds with what he has to say (epeita legei dê meta touto), demonstrating his own wisdom to those commending him (epideiknumenos tois epainetais tên heautou sophian), sometimes making a very long composition of it (eniote panu makron poiêsamenos sungramma); or does such a thing seem to you to differ from a written speech (ê soi allo ti phainetai to toiouton ê logos sungegrammenas;)?’ – P.: ‘Not to me (Ouk emoige).’ – S.: ‘So if it stays written down (Oukoun ean men houtos emmenê̢), the author leaves the theatre delighted (gegêthôs aperchetai ek tou theatrou ho poiêtês); but if it is rubbed out (ean de exaleiphthê̢) and he loses his chance of being a speech-writer (kai amoiros genêtai logographias te) and of being recognized as a writer (kai tou axios einai sungraphein), he and his friends go into morning (penthei autos te kai hoi hetairoi).” – P.: ‘Quite right (Kai mala ‘And very much so’).’ – S.: ‘Clearly (Dêlon ge), not because they despise the profession (hoti ouch hôs huperphronountes tou epitêdeumatos), but because they regard it with admiration (all’ hôs tethaumakotes).’ – P.: ‘Yes indeed (Panu men oun).’ – S.: ‘Well then (Ti de;) – when he becomes an orator or king capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius (hotan hikanos genêtai rêtôr ê basileus, hôste labôn tên Lukourgou ê Solônos  ê Dareiou dunamin), and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (athanatos genesthai logographos en polei), doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive (ar’ ouk isotheon hêgeitai autos te hauton eti zôn), and don’t those who come later (kai hoi epeita gignomenoi) think the same of him (t’auta tauta peri autou nomizousi), when they observe his compositions (theômenoi autou ta sungrammata;)?’ – P.: ‘Indeed so (Kai mala).’ – S.: ‘So do you think that anyone of that kind (Oiei tina oun tôn toioutôn), whoever he is and however ill-disposed towards Lysias (hostis kai hopôstioun dusnous Lysia̢), reproaches him on this account (oneideizein auto touto) – that he is a writer (hoti sungraphei)?’ – P.: ‘It is not very likely (Oukoun eikos ge), from what you say (ex hôn su legeis); if he did, it seems he would be reproaching what he himself desires (kai gar tê̢ heautou epithumia̢, hôs eoiken, oneidizoi).’ – S.: ‘This much (Touto men), then (ara), is clear to everyone (panti dêlon), that in itself, at least, writing speeches is not something shameful (hoti ouk aischron auto ge to graphein logous).’ (257c1-258d2, tr. C. J. Rowe)
R. Hackforth devotes to this passage the section XVII in his translation of the Phaedrus under the title ‘Preliminary consideration of speech-writing’: ‘The main purpose of this section is to pave the way for an examination of rhetoric in its most general sense, a sense indeed which goes considerably beyond that commonly recognized, namely any form of address, spoken or written, on any subject, in which a man seeks to commend his proposals or opinions to his audience. The statesman drafting a law is, argues Socrates, engaged in essentially the same business as the epideictic orator to whom Phaedrus had been listening; the one is ‘showing off (epideiknumenos, 258a7) his wisdom to his fellow-citizens in Council or Assembly just as the other to his circle of admirers; the successful political speaker becomes through his “compositions” (sungrammata), namely his measures permanently inscribed in the statute-book, an immortal speech-writer’ (p. 115)
I cannot agree with Hackforth that ‘the main purpose of this section is to pave the way for an examination of rhetoric’. The main purpose of this passage, as I read it, is to defend writing as an activity that does not stand in the way of one’s political ambitions, against those who were engaged in politics and on that account looked down upon writing as an activity that stigmatized one as a Sophist. For this is how Phaedrus introduced the matter, claiming that ‘just recently one of the politicians was abusing Lysias with this very charge,’ expressing a fear, that Lysias might therefore refrain from further writing ‘out of concern for his reputation’.
Rowe’s ‘out of concern for his reputation’ stands for Plato’s hupo philotimias (Hackforth translated similarly: ‘to preserve his reputation’). But this is wrong. Philotimia means, as the word itself suggests, ‘love of honour’ or ‘love of distinction’, or ‘ambition’ as LSJ suggests. In the given context Lysias’ philotimia was to become a politician. Since this was Plato’s own ambition, I cannot help thinking that in this passage Plato defends his writing of the Phaedrus.
Think of what Plato says in his Seventh Letter about his own ambition in those days – i.e. in 405-404 when on the dating I propose he wrote the dialogue: ‘In the days of my youth my experience was the same as that of many others. I thought that as soon as I should become my own master I would immediately enter into public life. But as it happened, I found, that the following changes occurred in the political situation. In the government then existing, reviled as it was by many, a revolution took place … and Thirty were established as responsible rulers of all … they invited me at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial … I imagined that they would administer the State by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way, and consequently I gave my mind to them very diligently, to see what they would do.’ (SL 324b8-d6, tr. R. G. Bury) In other words, when the Thirty took over, he hesitated to join them, waiting ‘to see what they would do ‘Clearly, Plato’s political ambitions were most acute prior to the revolution in which the Thirty took power.
Plato does not say on what grounds his ‘connexions and acquaintances’ (oikeioi te kai gnôrimoi, 324d1-2) thought that his joining them ‘would be congenial’ (prosêkonta pragmata, 324d3), i.e. something with which he was concerned, something appropriate for him. In fact he does not say anything about any of his writings in the Seventh Letter, but on the proposed dating of the Phaedrus Plato not only succeeded in it to defend writing as something that does not stand in the way of one’s political ambitions, but in writing it he showed himself worthy of participating in the government that aimed at ‘administering the State by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way’, which the Thirty initially, under the leadership of Theramenes, aimed at.
But this was short-lived. For when Critias took over the Thirty, rhetoric ceased to have any function in the affairs of Athens, and he did all he could to prevent rhetoric from playing any role in politics in the future. Xenophon informs us that ‘when he was one of the Thirty (hote tôn triakonta ôn) and was drafting laws with Charicles (nomothetês meta Charikleous egeneto) he inserted a clause (kai en tois nomois egrapse) which made it illegal “to teach the art of words” (logôn technên mê didaskein).’ (Memorabilia, I.ii.31. Marchant’s ‘the art of words’ stands for Xenophon’s logôn technên, which Hackforth translates in the Phaedrus as ‘the art of speech’ and Rowe as ‘the science of speaking’.) Xenophon further informs us that Critias and Charicles used this law to forbid Socrates ‘to hold any converse whatever with the young (tois neois holôs mê dialegesthai)’ When Socrates asked them ‘to fix the age limit below which a man is to be counted young (horisate moi mechri posôn etôn dei nomizein neous einai tous anthrôpous)’, Charicles replied ‘So long as he is not permitted to sit in the Council (Hosouper chronou bouleuein ouk exesti), because as yet he lacks wisdom (hôs oupô phronimois ousi). You shall not converse with anyone who is under thirty (mêde su dialegou neôterois triakonta etôn).’ (Mem. I.ii.35, tr. E. C. Marchant) Critias and Charicles thus in fact forbade Socrates to converse with Plato, who was at the time in his mid-twenties. Undoubtedly, Critias and Charicles had every reason to be unhappy about Plato’s Phaedrus with its project of philosophic rhetoric viewed as the basis for beneficial politics – in democracy.
Incidentally, I believe that the ancient tradition according to which there was ‘something immature’ in the Phaedrus – ‘that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue (logos de prôton grapsai ton Phaidron), and that indeed the subject has about it something adolescent’ (kai gar echein meirakiôdes ti to problêma, Diog. Laert. III. 38) – goes back to this incident. In my view, Socrates used its being well known to distance himself from the Phaedrus in his defence speech: ‘It certainly would not be suitable (oude gar an dêpou prepoi) for my age (tê̢de tê̢ hêlikia̢) to be appearing before you fabricating speeches like an adolescent (hôsper meirakiô̢ plattonti logous eis humas eisienai, Plato, Apology, 17c4-5)’.
It was just as important for Socrates to distance himself in his Defence from the Phaedrus as ‘an adolescent fabrication’, for in it, in ‘his’ second speech on love, ‘he’ did introduce the Forms as new deities – ‘to which a god’s nearness makes him truly god’ (pros hoisper theos ôn theios estin, 249c6) … ‘the driver’s memory (hê tou hêniochou mnêmê) goes back to that form of Beauty (pros tên tou kallous phusin ênechthê), and he sees her once again (kai palin eiden autên) enthroned by the side of Temperance upon her holy seat (meta sôphrosunês en hagnô̢ basthrô̢ bebôsan, 254b5-7, tr. Hackforth) – and thus was liable to the charge of impiety if he was holding and propagating the view ‘he’ pronounced in that speech, as it was essential for Plato to do so in the Apology after Socrates had been found guilty of impiety and sentenced to death, for as a writer of the Phaedrus he could not be charged with impiety thanks to the general amnesty issued by the democrats after their victory over the Thirty.
But let me now turn to the main purpose of this post: pointing to those aspects in the given passage that prompted me to observe that the inseparability of politics from rhetoric dominates Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric in the Phaedrus, thus reflecting the political life in the Athenian democracy.
Phaedrus refers to a politician that reproached Lysias with his being a ‘speech-writer when he contemplates asking Lysias to write a speech competing with Socrates’ second speech on love. Socrates’ second speech is thus – ‘incidentally’ – affected by the same charge.
Socrates vehemently rebuts the charge by pointing to activities that characterised political life in Athenian democracy: ‘the politicians who have the highest opinion of themselves are most in love with speech-writing and with leaving compositions behind them … whenever they write a speech, they are so pleased with those who commend it that they add in at the beginning the names of those who commend them on each occasion … The writer says perhaps “it was resolved by the council”, or “by the people”, or both, and “so-and-so said” … then he proceeds with what he has to say … sometimes making a very long composition of it … So if it stays written down, the author leaves the theatre delighted; but if it is rubbed out and he loses his chance of being a speech-writer and of being recognized as a writer, he and his friends go into morning.’
When Plato’s Socrates goes on to enlarge the picture including in it ‘Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius’, Plato’s mind is still focused on the unnamed politician that spoke abusively about the art of writing, as if it relegated the writer into the rank of Sophists, thus standing in the way of fulfilling his ambition of becoming a politician. Socrates contemplates the self-same politician – to whom Lysias had referred in the first place – when he says: ‘Well then– when he becomes an orator or king capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius, and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (en polei), doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive, and don’t those who come later think the same of him, when they observe his compositions?’ In speaking of him thus, Socrates does not think of him as a politician who ‘becomes an orator’, as if the two were distinct professions; he thinks of him all the time as an orator, but now he imagines him as capable, through his oratorical skills, of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius.
Particularly telling is Plato’s imagining how the unnamed politician would prize his achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (en polei), after referring to Darius as an example. Although he spoke of Darius, the king of Persia, his eyes were fixed on the city of Athens.
Concerning Plato’s mentioning of Darius, Hackforth and Rowe refer to Plato’s Seventh Letter 332b. The Seventh Letter was written when Plato was in his late seventies; viewed simply as such it might chime with their late dating of the Phaedrus. But if we follow the reference, we will find little affinity between the mentioning of Darius in the Phaedrus and in the Seventh Letter.
To make sense of the reference, we must begin at 331e, where Plato speaks of Dionysius the elder ‘who had recovered many great cities which had been laid waste by the barbarians (hos paralabôn Sikelias pollas kai megalas poleis hupo tôn barbarôn peporthêmenas), was unable (ouch hoios t’ ên), when he settled them (katoikisas), to establish in each a loyal government composed of true comrades (politeias en hekastais katastêsasthai pistas hetairôn andrôn, 331e2-5)’ and then compares him with Darius ‘who trusted men who neither were his brothers (hos ouk adelphois pisteusas) nor reared up by himself (oud’ huph’ hautou trapheisi) but merely colleagues (koinônous de monon) who had helped him to crush the Mede and the Eunuch (tês tou Mêdou te kai eunouchou cheirôseôs); and he divided amongst them seven provinces, each greater than the whole Sicily (dieneime te merê meizô hekasta Sikelias pasês hepta); and these colleagues he found loyal (kai pistois echrêsato tois koinônois), neither did they make any attack either on himself or on one another (kai ouk epitithemenois oute autô̢ oute allêlois). And thus he left an example (edeixen te paradeigma) of the character which should belong to the good lawgiver and king (hoion chrê ton nomothetên kai basilea ton agathon gignesthai); for by the laws he framed (nomous gar kataskeuasas) he has preserved the empire of the Persians even until this day (eti kai nun diasesôken tên Persôn archên).’ (332a6-b6, tr. R. G. Bury)

The lesson that Socrates draws in the Phaedrus from imagining the unnamed politician obtaining the power of ‘a Darius’ is as follows: ‘So do you think that anyone of that kind, whoever he is and however ill-disposed towards Lysias, reproaches him on this account – that he is a writer?’ – Phaedrus answers: ‘It is not very likely, from what you say; if he did, it seems he would be reproaching what he himself desires.’ – Socrates: ‘This much, then, is clear to everyone, that in itself, at least, writing speeches is not something shameful.’

Friday, January 19, 2018

1 Rhetoric in the Phaedrus

Phaedrus read Lysias’ speech, Socrates gave his two speeches on love, and the two decided to enquire into the nature of bad and good speaking and writing. Socrates asked: ‘Then does not a good and successful discourse presuppose (Ar’ oun ouch huparchein dei tois eu ge kai kalôs rêthêsomenois) a knowledge in the mind of the speaker of the truth (tên tou legontos dianoian eiduian to alêthes) about his subject (hôn an erein peri mellê̢;)?’ Phaedrus answered: ‘What I have heard is (Houtôsi peri toutou akêkoa) that the intending orator is under no necessity (ouk einai anankên tô̢ mellonti rêtori esesthai) of understanding what is truly just (ta tô̢ onti dikaia manthanein), but only what is likely to be thought just by the body of men who are to give judgement (alla ta doxant’ an plêthei hoiper dikasousi); nor need he know what is truly good or noble (oude ta ontôs dikaia kai kala), but what will be thought so (all’ hosa doxei); because persuasion comes from that and not from the truth (ek gar toutôn einai to peithein all’ ouk ek tês alêtheias). (259e4-260a4, tr. R. Hackforth, except the last clause – 260a3-4 – translated by C. J. Rowe; see the preceding post.)

Phaedrus’ ‘what I have heard’ might suggest just a hearsay that is not to be taken seriously. But Socrates’ ‘Not to be lightly rejected, Phaedrus, is any word of the wise; perhaps they are right: one has to see (“Outoi apoblêton epos” einai dei, ô Phaidre, ho an eipôsi hoi sophoi, alla skopein mê ti legôsi). And in particular this present assertion (kai dê kai to nun lechthen) must not be dismissed (ouk apheteon, 260a5-7; translated by Hackforth)’, although tinged with irony, suggests that it is not just a hearsay; it expresses the main tenet of the contemporary rhetoric.

Socrates lets speak tên tôn logôn technên  – ‘the art of speech’ (Hackforth), ‘the science of speaking’ (Rowe): ‘I never insist on ignorance of the truth on the part of one who would learn to speak (egô gar ouden’ agnoounta t’alêthes anankazô manthanein legein); on the contrary (all’), if my advice goes for anything (ei ti emê sumboulê), it is that he should only resort to me after he has come into possession of truth (ktêsamenon ekeino houtôs eme lambanein); what I do however pride myself on is (tode d’ oun mega legô) that without my aid (hôs aneu emou) knowledge of what is true will get a man no nearer to mastering the art of persuasion (tô̢ ta onta eidoti ouden ti mallon estai peithein technê̢,  260d5-9, tr. Hackforth).’ But Socrates hears ‘certain arguments’ (akouein dokô tinôn logôn) alleging ‘that she is lying (hoti pseudetai), and is not a science (kai ouk esti technê) but an unscientific knack (all atechnos tribê); of speaking (tou de legein), saith the Spartan (phêsin ho Lakôn), a genuine science (etumos technê), without a grasp of truth (aneu tou alêtheias hêphthai) neither exists (out’ estin) nor will come to exist in the future (oute mêpote husteron genêtai, 260e3-7, tr. Rowe)’. He asks the arguments to come and persuade Phaedrus ‘that unless he engages in philosophy sufficiently well (hôs ean mê hikanôs philosophêsê̢) he will never be a sufficiently good speaker either (oude hikanos pote legein estai) about anything (peri oudenos, 261a4-5, tr. Rowe)’. And so ‘the arguments’ ask Phaedrus: ‘Well then, will not the science of rhetoric as a whole be a kind of leading of the soul by means of things said (Ar’ oun ou to men holon hê rêtorikê an eiê technê psuchagôgia tis dia logôn), not only in law-courts (ou monon en dikastêriois) and all other kinds of public gatherings (kai hosoi alloi dêmosioi sullogoi), but in private ones too (alla kai en idiois) – the same science (hê autê, 261a7-9, tr. Rowe) that is concerned with great issues and small (smikrôn te kai megalôn peri), its right employment commanding no more respect when dealing with important matters than with unimportant (kai ouden entimoteron to ge orthon peri spoudaia ê peri phaula gignomenon;)? Is that what you have been told about it (ê pôs su tauta akêkoas; 261a9-b2, tr. Hackforth)?’ Phaedrus answers: ‘No, I must say, not absolutely that (Ou ma ton Di’ ou pantapasin houtôs): a science of speaking and writing is perhaps especially employed in lawsuits (alla malista men pôs peri tas dikas legetai te kai graphetai technê̢), though also in public addresses (legetai de kai peri dêmêgorias); I have not heard of any extension of it beyond that (epi pleon de ouk akêkoa, 261b3-5, tr. Rowe).’

Phaedrus’ answer to ‘the arguments’ indicates that the definition of the science of rhetoric proffered by the arguments is a new definition. But why is this definition given by ‘the arguments’ and not by Socrates himself? I believe that the answer lies in Socrates’ self-professed ignorance: ‘I don’t think I share in any science of speaking’ (ou gar pou egôge technês tinos tou leein metochos, 262d5-6, tr. Rowe)

Christopher Rowe says in the ‘Introduction’ to his edition of the Phaedrus: ‘[Socrates’ two speeches on love] belong to the local deities who inspired him – or to anyone, rather than to him, since he knows nothing (235b [correctly 235c]), and has no share in any ‘science of speaking’ (263d [correctly 262d]). This is a transparent ploy. The speeches are of course his; and they show him to possess just that expertise as a speaker which he disclaims. On the other hand, they do not imply his possession of the sort of expertise which really matters, i.e. about the subjects with which they deal; what is claimed of them is only that they point us – perhaps – in the right direction, not that they are full exposition of the truth. In this sense, Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge stands.’

[At this point I must interrupt, for I cannot see how Christopher Rowe can say that Socrates’ speeches ‘do not imply his possession of the sort of expertise which really matters’ when I think of the definition of the soul as the prime self-moving mover (245c5-246a2) or of the introduction of the theory of Forms residing in the ‘Plain of Truth’ (to alêtheias pedion, 248b6) in Socrates’ second speech.]

Christopher Rowe says further on: ‘The speeches include a large number of central Platonic ideas – the second is almost a roll-call – which are also prominently represented in other dialogues, in a recognizably similar fashion; and what is said about these ideas here in the Phaedrus will then presumably apply equally to the same ideas as they appear elsewhere. In other words, Plato will in part be using the dialogue in order to comment on the nature and value of his own output as a writer.’ (PLATO Phaedrus, Aris & Phillips Classical Texts, second edition, Oxford 1988, pp. 9-10).

I could hardly find a more striking example of the profound difference that separates Rowe’s view of the Phaedrus as one of Plato’s latest dialogues and my view of it as Plato’s first dialogue.

Plato points the reader’s eyes to the Plain of Truth with the words ‘Of that place beyond the heavens (Ton de huperouranion topon) none of our earthly poets has yet sung (oute tis humnêse pô tôn tê̢de poiêtês), and none shall sing worthily (oute pote humnêsei kat’ axian). But this is the manner of it (echei de hôde), for assuredly we must be bold to speak what is true (tolmêteon oun to ge alêthes eipein), above all when our discourse is upon truth (allôs te kai peri alêtheias legonta). It is there that true Being dwells, without colour or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul’s pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof (hê gar achrômatos te kai aschêmatistos kai anaphês ousia ontôs ousa, psuchês kubernêtê̢ monô̢ theatê nô̢, peri hên to tês alêthous epistêmês genos, touton echei ton topon).’ (247c3-d1, tr. Hackforth)

I can enjoy with Plato the joy he experiences in presenting his readers for the first time with the sight of the Forms, whereas Christopher Rowe cannot but see the passage as a roll-call, for in his view ‘the Phaedrus is certainly later than the Republic and other middle dialogues like the Phaedo and the Symposium; certainly later than the Timaeus’ (op. cit. p. 14), in which the Forms are prominent. And I can fully appreciate the daring with which Plato presents the Forms as entities ‘to which a god’s nearness makes him truly god’ (pros hoisper theos ôn theios estin, 249c6, tr. Hackforth). Plato could not speak of the Forms like this after Socrates was sentenced to death for introducing new deities; since the Phaedrus was written after Aristophanes’ Frogs but before the Thirty took power, as I have argued, Plato as the author of the Phaedrus was protected against any accusation of impiety by the general amnesty introduced by the democrats after their victory over the Thirty. In the Republic, in which the Forms are presented very boldly in the central books, Plato ‘covers his tracks’ by making the god the creator of the Form of the bed in its last book (597b-c). (Concerning Plato’s ‘covering his tracks’ in Republic X see my posts of August 4, 6, and 13, 2016 devoted to Bertrand Russell on ‘The theory of Ideas’ and Plato’s Republic.)

I do agree with Rowe that Plato’s frequent references to Socrates’ ignorance are ‘a ploy’. Face to face with Aristophanes’ very public invective in the Frogs against Socrates and against himself (as the one who sat by Socrates after having thrown away mousikê) Plato had to defend them both by giving full sway to philosophy as the highest mousikê, to which Socrates inspired him. This he did by expressing his own view of love, of truth, of the Forms through the mouth of Socrates, while paying due respect to Socrates’ philosophic ignorance.

Let me return to the definition of rhetoric as ‘leading of the soul (psuchagôgia) by means of words’ (261a8). What is meant by psuchagôgia, ‘leading of the soul’, is indicated in the following discussion. Socrates asks Phaedrus: ‘Tell me (su d’ eipe), what is it that the opposing parties in the law-courts do (en dikastêriois hoi antidikoi ti drôsin;)? Isn’t it just speaking in opposition to each other (ouk antilegousin mentoi;)? … On the subject of what is just (Peri tou dikaiou te) and unjust (kai adikou;)? … So the man who does this scientifically (Oukoun ho technê̢ touto drôn) will make (poiêsei) the same thing appear to the same people (phanênai to auto tois autois) at one time just (tote men dikaion), but at any time he wishes (hotan de boulêtai), unjust (adikon;)? … And in public addresses (Kai en dêmêgoria̢ dê) [‘to the city’ (tê̢ polei), left out both by Hackforth and by Rowe] he will make the same things appear at one time good (dokein ta auta tote men agatha), at another the opposite (tote d’ au t’anantia;)?’ (261c4-d4, tr. Rowe)

The rhetorician who mastered rhetoric as psuchagôgia ‘leads the soul’ of his audience in whatever direction he wants to. What is new in the definition proffered by ‘the arguments’ is the insistence that rhetoric performs its role not only in the law-courts and public assemblies, but in private discussions too (alla kai en idiois sullogois, 261a9): ‘Then the science of antilogic is not only concerned with law-courts and public addresses (Ouk ara monon peri dikastêria te estin hê antilogikê kai peri dêmêgorias), but (all’), so it seems (hôs eoike), there will be this one science – if indeed it is one – in relation to everything that is said (peri panta ta legomena mia tis technê, eiper estin, hautê an eiê), by which a man will be able (hê̢ tis hoios t’ estai) to make everything which is capable of being made to resemble something else resemble everything which it is capable of being made to resemble (pan panti homoioun tôn dunatôn kai hois dunaton), and to bring it to light when someone else makes one thing resemble another and disguises it (kai allou homoiountos kai apokruptomenou eis phôs agein, 261d10-e4).’ This is Rowe’s translation. Hackforth translates this passage as follows: ‘So contending with words is a practice found not only in lawsuits and public harangues (Ouk ara monon peri dikastêria te estin hê antilogikê kai peri dêmêgorias) but (all’), it seems (hôs eoike), wherever men speak we find this single art, if indeed it is an art (peri panta ta legomena mia tis technê, eiper estin, hautê an eiê), which enables people (hê̢ tis hoios t’ estai) to make out everything to be like everything else , within the limits of possible comparison (pan panti homoioun tôn dunatôn kai hois dunaton), and to expose the corresponding attempts of others who disguise what they are doing (kai allou homoiountos kai apokruptomenou eis phôs agein).’

As Hackforth notes, ‘the Greek is elliptical and difficult’. Phaedrus himself does not understand it. ‘What sort of thing do you mean (Pôs dê to toiouton legeis;),’ he asks. Socrates explains: ‘I think it will be clear to us if we direct our search in this way (Tê̢de dokô zêtousin phaneisthai): does deception come about more in the case of things which are widely different or in those which differ little (apatê poteron en polu diapherousi gignetai mallon ê oligon;)?’ – Phaedrus: ‘In those which differ little (En tois oligon).’ – S.: Now (Alla ge dê) when you are passing over from one thing to its opposite you will be more likely to escape detection if you take small steps than if you take large ones (kata smikron metabainôn mallon lêseis elthôn epi to enantion ê kata mega).’ – P.: ‘Certainly (Pôs d’ ou;).’ – S.: ‘In that case the person who intends to deceive someone else, but be undeceived himself, must have a precise knowledge of the resemblance and the dissimilarity between the things that are (Dei ara ton mellonta apatêsein men allon, auton de mê apatêsesthai, tên homoiotêta tôn ontôn kai anomoiotêta akribôs dieidenai).’ – P.: ‘Necessarily (Anankê men oun).’ – S.: ‘So will he be able (Ê oun hoios te estai), if he is ignorant of the truth of each thing (alêtheian agnoôn hekastou), to identify the resemblance, whether small or great, which the other things have to the things he does not know (tên tou agnooumenou homoiotêta smikran te kai megalên en tois allois diagignôskein;)?’ – P.: ‘Impossible (Adunaton).’ – S.: Then clearly those who hold beliefs contrary to what is the case and are deceived have this kind of thing creeping in on them through certain resemblances (Oukoun tois para ta onta doxazousi kai apatômenois dêlon hôs to pathos touto di’ homoiotêtôn tinôn eiserruê).’ – P.: ‘It does happen that way (Gignetai g’oun houtôs).’ – S.: ‘So is there any way in which a man will be expert at making others cross over a little by little from what is the case on each occasion, via the resemblances (Estin oun hopôs technikos estai metabibazein kata smikron dia tôn homoiotêtôn apo tou ontos hekastote), leading them away towards the opposite (epi t’ounantion apagôn), or at escaping this himself (ê autos touto diapheugein), if he has not recognised (ho mê egnôrikôs) what each thing that is actually is (ho estin hekaston tôn ontôn;)?’ – P.: ‘No, never (Ou mê pote).’ – S.: ‘In that case, my friend, anyone who does not know the truth, but has made it his business to hunt down appearances, will give us a science of speech which is, so it seems, ridiculously unscientific (Logôn ara technên, ô hetaire, ho tên alêtheian mê eidôs, doxas de tethêreukôs, geloian tina, hôs eoike, kai atechnon parexetai).’ (261e5-262c3, tr. Rowe)

As I was reading and typing this, Plato’s Apology came to my mind in which Socrates defines the excellence of a rhetorician (rêtoros aretên) as speaking the truth (t’alêthê legein, 18a5-6). Rhetorician’s excellence conceived as speaking the truth is completely missing in the introductory discussion of rhetoric in the Phaedrus. True, the rhetorician must know the truth about the things of which he is to speak, if he is to proceed scientifically (technê̢), but he must know the truth not in order to convey it to his audience, but in order to be able to persuade the audience that something else is the truth, something that only resembles it – if this is what he wants to do: ‘So the man who does this scientifically will make the same thing appear to the same people at one time just, but at any time he wishes, unjust, and in public addresses, he will make the same things appear to the city (tê̢ polei) at one time good, at another the opposite (261c10-d4).’ I cannot see how Plato could have propounded this concept of scientific rhetoric at any time of his life except in the days in which his desire to become engaged in politics was the strongest, which were the days that followed the naval battle of Arginousae, the last great battle that the Athenians won by efforts that rekindled the best aspects of the Athenian democracy (cf. Seventh Letter 324b 8-325a5).


In the Athenian democracy politicians could achieve their political goals only by their rhetoric. The inseparability of politics from rhetoric dominates Plato’s discussion of rhetoric in the Phaedrus

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The purpose of Plato’s Phaedrus

Hackforth says in the ‘Introduction’ to his translation of the Phaedrus that ‘it is not obvious, at a first reading, what its subject and purpose are, whether they are two or more, and if so how they are connected. Scholars, ancient and modern alike, have been puzzled on the point; Hermeias has a section of some length, before his commentary proper begins, on the doxai tou skopou [‘opinions concerning its aim’; skopos – ‘mark or object on which one fixes his eye’ LSJ]: some, he tells us, say it is Love, some Rhetoric, some the Good, some the prôton kalon [‘the first beautiful’, i.e. Beauty, the Form of beauty].’

Hackforth must be saying his ‘at a first reading’ with tongue-in-cheek, for he goes on to say that modern scholars ‘necessarily agree with and differ from each other in an infinite variety of combinations’ on this, and that he will state his own view ‘somewhat dogmatically, trusting to the commentary which follows to confirm it. I think it is helpful to ask for the purpose rather than the subject, and I believe there are three purposes, all important but one more important than others. They are: (1) To vindicate the pursuit of philosophy, in the meaning given to that word by Socrates and Plato, as the true culture of the soul (psuchês thearapeia), by contrast with the false claims of contemporary rhetoric to provide that culture. This I regard as the most important purpose.’ (Plato’s Phaedrus, Cambridge 1972, pp. 8-9)

I cannot find the concept of psuchês thearapeia in the Phaedrus. The verbal forms thearapeuein, therapeuesthai and therapeuthênai tên psuchên come to the fore in the Charmides (157a-b). Socrates maintains there that Charmides’ headaches can be properly treated only if one treats the soul prior to the head.

Equally, I cannot find Plato mentioning, let alone discussing ‘the false claims of contemporary rhetoric to provide that culture [of the soul]’ in the Phaedrus.

Phaedrus characterizes the claims of contemporary rhetoric as follows: ‘What I have heard is (Houtôsi peri toutou akêkoa) that the intending orator is under no necessity (ouk einai anankên tô̢ mellonti rêtori esesthai) of understanding what is truly just (ta tô̢ onti dikaia manthanein), but only what is likely to be thought just by the body of men who are to give judgement (alla ta doxant’ an plêthei hoiper dikasousi); nor need he know what is truly good or noble (oude ta ontôs dikaia kai kala), but what will be thought so (all’ hosa doxei); since it is on the latter, not the former, that persuasion depends (ek gar toutôn einai to peithein all’ ouk ek tês alêtheias).’ (259e7-260a4, tr. Hackforth)

Hackforth’s translation of the last phrase is misleading. C. J. Rowe translates correctly: ‘because persuasion comes from that and not from the truth’. Rhetoric is all about persuasion, even Plato’s proposal of rhetoric founded on dialectic is all about persuasion. The point he makes against the leading exponents of contemporary rhetoric is that one can aim at persuasion with confidence only if one knows the truth.

Hackforth’s second purpose is as follows: ‘(2) To make proposals for a reformed rhetoric, which should subserve the ends of philosophy and adopt its method.’

Pace Hackforth, I can’t see Plato in the Phaedrus making proposals for a reformed rhetoric ‘to subserve the ends of philosophy’. Plato proposes a reformed rhetoric founded on the knowledge of truth and thus capable of properly serving the city. The discussion that follows Phaedrus’ characterization of contemporary rhetoric is to the purpose.

Socrates: ‘Suppose I tried to persuade you (Ei se peithoimi egô) to acquire a horse to use in battle against the enemy (polemious amunein ktêsamenon hippon), and suppose that neither of us knew what a horse was (amphô de hippon agnooimen), but I knew this much about you (tosonde mentoi tunchanoimi eidôs peri sou), that Phaedrus believes a horse to be (hoti Phaidros hippon hêgeitai) that tame animal (to tôn hêmerôn zô̢ôn) which possesses the largest ears (megista echon ôta).’ – Phaedrus: ‘A ridiculous thing to suppose, Socrates (Geloion g’ an, ô Sôkrates, eiê).’ – S.: ‘Wait a moment (Oupô ge): suppose I continued to urge upon you in all seriousness (all’ hote dê spoudê̢ se peithoimi), with a studied encomium (suntitheis logon epainon) of a donkey (kata tou onou), that it was what I called it, a horse (hippon eponomazôn kai legôn): that it was highly important for you to possess the creature, both at home (hôs pantos axion to thremma oikoi te kektêsthai) and in the field (kai epi stratias): that it was just the animal to ride on in the battle (apopolemein te chrêsimon), and that it was handy, into the bargain, for carrying your equipment and so forth (kai pros g’ enenkein dunaton skeuê kai alla polla ôphelimon).’ – P.: ‘To go to that length would be utterly ridiculous (Pangeloion g’ an êdê eiê).’ – S. ‘Well, isn’t it better to be a ridiculous friend (ar’ oun ou kreitton geloion kai philon) than a clever enemy (ê deinon kai echthron;)?’ – P.: ‘I suppose it is (Phainetai).’ – S.: ’Then when a master of oratory (Hotan oun ho rêtorikos), who is ignorant (agnoôn) of good (agathon) and evil (kai kakon), employs his power of persuasion on a community as ignorant as himself (labôn polin hôsautôs echousan peithê̢), not by extolling a miserable donkey as being really a horse (mê peri onou skias hôs hippou ton epainon poioumenos), but by extolling evil as being really good (alla peri kakou hôs agathou): and when by studying the beliefs of the masses (doxas de plêthous memeletêkôs) he persuades them to do evil (peisê̢ kaka prattein) instead of good (ant’ agathôn), what kind of crop do you think his oratory is likely to reap from  the seed thus sown (poion tin’ an oiei meta tauta tên rêtorikên karpon hôn espeire therizein;)?’ – P.: ‘A pretty poor one (Ou panu ge epieikê).’

Plato refrains from giving any examples of rhetoricians persuading the masses to do evil extolling it as good, but on the dating of the Phaedrus prior to the Charmides two disasters caused by oratory come to mind:

1) The illegal condemnation to death of generals who participated in the victorious battle of Arginousae and did not recover the shipwrecked; they were prevented from doing so by a severe storm (see Xenophon Hellenica I.vii.4 ff.). This incident must have been prominent on Plato’s mind, for Socrates was the only one of the Prytanes who opposed the illegality, as he mentions it in his Defence speech: ‘I gave my vote against you (enantia epsêphisamên); and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me (kai hetoimôn ontôn endeiknunai me kai apagein tôn rêtorôn), and you called (kai humôn keleuontôn) and shouted (kai boôntôn), I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me (meta tou nomou kai tou dikaiou ô̢mên mallon me dein diakinduneuein), rather than take part in your injustice (ê meth’ humôn genesthai mê dikaia bouleuomenôn) because I feared imprisonment (phobêthenta desmon) and death (ê thanaton, Pl. Apology 32b6c3, tr. B. Jowett).’

2) After the battle of Arginousae the Sparta wanted to make peace with Athens but through the intervention of Cleophon’s rhetorical trickery the offer was rejected (see Aristotle, Athênaiôn Politeia 34,1). To this disastrous intervention of Cleophon the Chorus of the Frogs alludes in its closing song, celebrating Aeschylus’ return to Athens from the underworld:

‘First (Prôta men), as the poet triumphant is passing away to the light, grant him success on his journey (euodian agathên apionti poiêtê̢ es phaos ornumenô̢ dote), yea powers that are ruling below (daimones hoi kata gaias). Grant that he find for the city good counsels to guide her aright (tê̢ te polei megalôn agathôn agathas epinoias); so we at last shall be freed from the anguish, the fear, and the woe, freed from the onset of war (panchu gar ek megalôn acheôn pausaimeth’ an houtôs argaleôn t’ en hoplois xunodôn). Let Cleophon now and his band battle, if battle they must, far away in their own fatherland (Kleophôn de machesthô k’allos ho boulomenos toutôn patriois en arourais, 1528-33, translation Rogers).’ (As Rogers points out, Cleophon’s mother was from Thrace.)

Rogers says that to ‘the condemnation of the victorious generals, and the execution of the six who ventured within the reach of the democracy, Aristophanes makes but one, and that a very faint and obscure, allusion. Aeschylus is considering whether it is right to predicate of Oedipus that he was ever deserving of the epithet eudaimôn [‘happy’, ‘blessed’, ‘of good fortune’]; and running through the various calamities of his life, he comes at last to the statement, he blinded himself, whereupon Dionysus at once cuts in with the remark –eudaimôn ar’ ên, ei k’astratêgêsen ge met’ Erasinidou [Rogers translates: ‘Happy indeed had he been Erasinides’ colleague!], meaning, I suppose, that had Oedipus been a colleague of Erasinides [one of the six executed generals] in the stratêgia [as a general], his blindness would have been a piece of good fortune. For then he would not have gone to the great battle, and so would not have fallen a victim to the machinations of Theramenes and the madness of people.’ (Rogers, op. cit., ‘Introduction’ pp. xiii-xiv)

The allusion may appear ‘very faint and obscure’ to the modern reader, but Aristophanes’ audience was well tuned to understand it, for Erasinides was the first general to be charged and imprisoned (Xenophon, Hellenica I.vi.2), and Dionysus’ viewing Oedipus’ blinding himself as a good fortune in comparison to the imprisoned and executed generals indicates the epic proportions of that tragedy. But I believe that there is another, hidden ‘allusion’ to that tragic event, in the song with which the Chorus of the Frogs celebrates Aeschylus’ victory and his return to Athens to save the city.

Aeschylus won the contest with Euripides because of his good thinking (eu phronein dokêsas), which showed him capable of bringing good to the citizens of Athens (ep’ agathô̢ men tois politais). His return from Hades to the city of Athens thus liberates one from ‘sitting around Socrates in vain talk, having thrown away mousikê’ (charien oun mê Sôkratei parakathêmenon lalein apobalonta mousikên, 1491-3) This invective against Socrates in fact testifies to Aristophanes’ high esteem of him. I believe that it was Socrates’ protest at the illegality of the sentencing of the generals that earned him the high respect that the Chorus thus grudgingly expresses.

Yet, the Chorus does not fail to characterize the ‘idle talk’ in which a man sitting around Socrates was engaged as that of the man who had lost his mind (paraphronountos andros, 1495-9). Plato could not but see himself thus inveighed together with Socrates; in response to Aristophanes’ attack he in the Phaedrus, in the Palinode on love, showed that ‘sitting by Socrates’ did not mean abandoning mousikê, but was conducive to its cultivation.


Concerning Hackforth’s third purpose I have no criticism: ‘(3) To announce a special method of philosophy – the “dialectic” method of Collection and Division – and to exemplify this both positively (in the two speeches of Socrates) and negatively (in the speech of Lysias).’ (Loc. cit.)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

3 Plato’s Phaedrus in the light of the dating of his Charmides, with reference to his Phaedo, and to Aristophanes’ Frogs and Clouds

Full of admiration for Aeschylus ascending to Athens to save the city, the Chorus of the Frogs sang: ‘Right it is and befitting (Charien oun), not (mê), by Socrates sitting, idle talk to pursue (Sôkratei parakathêmenon lalein) … fine-drawn quibbles to seek, fine-set phrases to speak (to d’epi semnoisi logoisi kai skariphêsmoisi lêrôn diatribên argon poieisthai), is but the part of a fool (paraphronountos andros).’ (1482-99, tr. B. B. Rogers)

Rogers comments: ‘This perpetual talking which surrounded Socrates is in truth the adoleschia of which the comic poets speak (Clouds 1480; Eupolis Fragm. Inc. 10), and to which Plato makes such a pathetic reference in the fourteenth chapter of the Phaedo.’ Both Rogers’ references, to Aristophanes’ Clouds and to Plato’s Phaedo, are worth considering, for Plato’s presentation of adoleschia in the Phaedrus deserves to be viewed in their light.

The scene in the Clouds to which Rogers refers is the closing scene of the play. To explain it, I must say a few words about its background. Strepsiades, a simple farmer who married a female from aristocratic circles, got into debts because of the aristocratic leanings of his son Pheidippides. He wanted to send his son to Socrates’ Thinkery (Phrontistêrion, 94) to learn rhetoric, so that Pheidippides might defend him against his creditors at the courts. But Pheidippides knows all about Socrates and Chairephon and those around them, and flatly refuses to go to them: ‘I know, those miserable wretches’ (aiboi ponêroi g’, oida, 102). Strepsiades himself therefore goes to Socrates to be taught by him, but after several attempts to teach him, Socrates throws him out for his stupidity (789-90). Strepsiades therefore sends there his son, in spite of his unwillingness and objections. When Pheidippides accomplished his course of learning, Strepsiades brought him home and prepared for him a welcoming feast (1211-12).

After this, Strepsiades runs out of his house to complain to his neighbours about the beating he received from his son. He narrates: ‘I asked him to narrate me something from Aeschylus (ekeleus’ auton tôn Aischulou lexai ti moi), and he said immediately: “I consider Aeschylus to be the first among the poets (egô gar Aischulon nomizô prôton en poiêtais – [spoken with a heavy Socratic irony] – full of bombast (psophou pleôn), full of contradictions (axustaton), a ranter (stomphaka) using big and rugged words (krêmnopoion, 1366-7)”.’ However much he was vexed at his son’s verdict on Aeschylus, Strepsiades asked him: ‘“But tell me something of those new things (su d’ alla toutôn lexon ti tôn neôterôn), those that are full of wisdom (hatt’ esti ta sopha tauta),” and he immediately sang (ho d’ euthus ê̢s’) some speech from Euripides (Euripidou rêsin tin’) about a brother sleeping (hôs ekinei adelphos), o god keeping off ill and mischief (ôlexikake), with his half-sister (tên homomêtrian adelphên, 1369-1372).’ This was too much for Strepsiades; he began to chastise his son with harsh words, and his son gave him a beating.

In the closing scene, Strepsiades prays to Hermes to forgive him ‘that I was chasing away gods because of Socrates (hot’ exeballon tous theous dia Sôkratê, 1477) … I was deranged by idle talk’ (emou paranoêsantos adoleschia̢, 1480).’ He asks Hermes for advice whether he should prosecute Socrates and his acolytes [charging them with impiety]: ‘You advise me correctly (orthôs paraineis) not allowing me to stitch up lawsuits (ouk eôn dikorraphein), but to set on fire the house of those idle babblers as quickly as possible (all’ hôs tachist’ empimpranai tên oikian tôn adoleschôn, 1483-4).

Let us now see Plato’s ‘pathetic reference’ to adoleschia in the Phaedo. Pace Rogers, I find it apposite. Let us see it in context. Socrates’ friends assembled in prison to spend with Socrates his last hours, and Socrates appeared a happy man to them (eudaimôn anêr ephaineto, 58e3). So much so that Simmias reproached him for taking so lightly his leaving them and the gods, who, as he himself admits, are good rulers (63a). Socrates defends himself: ‘It is reasonable for me not to take it hard or be resentful at leaving you and my masters here (eikotôs humas te apoleipôn kai tous enthade despotas ou chalepôs pherô oud’ aganaktô), since I believe that there [in Hades, in after-life] also (hêgoumenos k’akei), no less than here (ouden hêtton ê enthade), I shall find good masters (despotais te agathois enteuxesthai) and companions (kai hetairois, 69d8-e2).’ Since Socrates in his defence spoke much about the good life of the soul liberated from the body with all its evils, Kebes says to him: ‘What you say about the soul is the subject of much disbelief (ta de peri psuchês pollên apistian parechei tois anthrôpois): men fear that when it’s been separated from the body (mê, epeidan apallagê̢ tou sômatos), it may no longer exist anywhere (oudamou eti ê̢, 70a1-2) … True (epei), if it did exist somewhere, gathered together alone by itself (eiper eiê pou autê kath’ hautên sunêthroismenê), and separated from all the evils (kai apêllagmenê toutôn tôn kakôn) you were recounting just now (hôn su nundê diêlthes), there’d be plenty of hope (pollê an eiê elpis, 70a6-8) … but on just this point (alla touto dê), perhaps (isôs), one needs no little reassuring (ouk oligês paramuthias deitai) and convincing (kai pisteôs), that when the man has died, his soul exists (hôs esti te psuchê apothanontos tou anthrôpou), and that it possesses some power (kai tina dunamin echei) and wisdom (kai phronêsin, 70b1-4).’ – Socrates: ‘That’s true (Alêthê legeis), but then what are we to do (alla ti dê poiômen;)? Would you like us to converse on these very questions (ê peri autôn toutôn boulei diamuthologômen), and see whether this is likely to be the case or not (eite eikos houtôs echein eite mê;)?’ – Cebes: ‘For my part anyway (Egô g’oun) I’d gladly hear (hêdeôs an akousaimi) whatever opinion you have about them (hêntina doxan echeis peri autôn).’ – Socrates: ‘Well, I really don’t think anyone listening now, even if he were a comic poet, would say that I’m talking idly (Oukoun g’ an oimai eipein tina nun akousanta, oud’ ei kômô̢dopoios eiê, hôs adoleschô), and arguing about things that don’t concern me (kai ou peri prosêkontôn tous logous poioumai). If you agree, then (ei oun dokei), we should look into the matter (chrê diaskopeisthai).’ (70b5-c3, translation D. Gallop, with one alteration. He translates diamuthologômen (in line 70b6) ‘to speculate’, I translate it ‘to converse’; I do so following his note 15: ‘diamuthologein … need mean no more than “converse”, as at Apology 39e5.’)

Bent on defending Socrates against Aristophanes’ derogation of him, Plato in the Phaedrus presents adoleschia very differently, giving it a prominent place in his outline of the philosophic rhetoric.

Socrates: ‘I am inclined to think (Kinduneuei), my good friend (ô ariste), that it was not surprising (eikotôs) that Pericles became the most finished exponent of rhetoric (ho Periklês pantôn teleôtatos eis tên rêtortikên genesthai).’ – Phaedrus: ‘Why so (Ti dê;)?’ – Socrates: ‘All the great arts (Pasai hosai megalai tôn technôn) need supplementing (prosdeontai) by a study of Nature: your artist must cultivate garrulity and high-flown speculation (adoleschias kai meteôrologias phuseôs peri); from that source alone can come the mental elevation and thoroughly finished execution of which you are thinking (to gar hupsêlonoun touto kai pantê̢ telesiourgon eoiken enteuthen pothen eisienai); and that is what Pericles acquired to supplement his inborn capacity (ho kai Periklês pros tô̢ euphuês einai ektêsato). He came across the right sort of man, I fancy, in Anaxagoras (prospesôn gar oimai toioutô̢ onti Anaxagora̢), and by enriching himself with high speculation (meteôrologias emplêstheis) and coming to recognise the nature of wisdom and folly (kai epi phusin nou te kai anoias aphikomenos) – on which topics of course Anaxagoras was always discoursing (hôn dê peri ton polun logon epoieito Anaxagoras) – he drew from that source and applied to the art of rhetoric (enteuthen heilkusen epi tên tôn logôn technên) what was suitable thereto (to prosphoron autê̢).’ (269e1-270a8, translation by R. Hackforth)

The Phaedo is a late dialogue (see my post on ‘The dating of Plato’s Phaedo of April 3, 2017), and the remark Socrates makes in it concerning adoleschia can be viewed as a correction of the depiction of it in the Phaedrus. It is hardly an accidental correction, for in the Phaedrus the notion of adoleschia is linked to the picture of Anaxagoras, of whom Socrates speaks very differently in the Phaedo. Speaking of his philosophical beginnings, Socrates says in the latter: ‘One day I heard someone reading from a book he said was by Anaxagoras (akousas men pote ek bibliou tinos, hôs ephê, Anaxagorou anagignôskontos), according to which it is, in fact, Intelligence that orders and is the reason for everything (kai legontos hôs ara nous estin ho diakosmôn te kai pantôn aitios, 97b8-c2) … I made all haste to get hold of the books and read them as quickly as I could (panu spoudê̢ labôn tas biblous hôs tachista hoios t’ ê anegignôskon, 98b4-5) … as I went on with my reading (proïôn kai anagignôskôn), I beheld a man (horô andra) making no use of his Intelligence at all (tô̢ men nô̢ ouden chrômenon), nor finding in it any reasons (oude tinas aitias epaitiômenon) for the ordering of things (eis to diakosmein ta pragmata), but imputing them to such things as air and aether and water and many other absurdities (aeras de kai aitheras kai hudata aitiômenon kai alla polla kai atopa, 98b8-c2).

In fact, when I see that Plato’s Anaxagoras in the Phaedrus ‘arrived at the nature of mind and the absence of mind (epi phusin nou te kai anoias aphikomenos) … which were the very subjects about which Anaxagoras used to talk so much (hôn dê peri ton polun logon epoieito Anaxagoras, C. J. Rowe’s translation)’, and compare it with what Socrates says in the Phaedo – ‘as I went on with my reading (proïôn kai anagignôskôn), I beheld a man (horô andra) making no use of mind at all (tô̢ men nô̢ ouden chrômenon)’ – I suspect that when Plato wrote the Phaedrus he hadn’t yet read Anaxagoras’ books.

Let me end this post by noting that the exalted picture of Pericles, which Plato presents in the Phaedrus, chimes with Aristophanes’ oblique reference to him in the Frogs. For it is the advice that echoes the counsel of Pericles thanks to which Aeschylus returns to Athens as its saviour: ‘When they shall count the enemy’s soil their own (tên gên hotan nomisôsi tên tôn polemiôn einai spheteran), and theirs the enemy’s (tên de spheteran tôn polemiôn): when they know that ships are their true wealth (poron de tas naus), their so called wealth delusion (aporian de ton poron).’ (1463-5, translation by Rogers). Rogers notes: ‘It is, as the Scholiast observes, the counsel which was given by Pericles at the commencement of the war (Thucydides i. 140-144). “What if the enemy ravages Attica? So long as Athens is mistress of the sea, the whole world will be open to her fleet.”’ – In the wake of the great naval victory of Arginousae the thoughts of those who hoped that Athenian democracy could renew itself and be saved turned to Pericles as a man worth emulating; in this spirit Aristophanes alludes to him in the Frogs and Plato speaks of him in the Phaedrus.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

With Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations in a hospital waiting room

I went today to the Gloucester Hospital to undergo colonoscopy. I expected a long waiting time. I took with me G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, which I have not read, and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, which I read once upon a time in Prague in preparation for Roger Scruton’s lecture on Wittgenstein (it took place in my philosophy seminar in Prague on 26 September 1979). In the waiting room, waiting for my colonoscopy, I took Wittgenstein in my hands, and I managed to open it on page 124, paragraph 412, which caught my eye, for it is marked on the margin by red pen with a squiggly line. I must have expressed my unease with it in the discussion.

I found myself as unhappy with it today, in the waiting room, as almost forty years ago in Prague. Wittgenstein says:

‘The feeling of an unbridgeable gulf between consciousness and brain-process: how does it come about that this does not come into the considerations of our ordinary life? This idea of a difference in kind is accompanied by slight giddiness – which occurs when we are performing a piece of logical sleight-of-hand. When does this feeling occur in the present case? It is when I, for example, turn my attention in a particular way on to my own consciousness, and astonished, say to myself: THIS is supposed to be produced by a process in the brain! – as it were clutching my forehead. – But what can it mean to speak of “turning my attention on to my own consciousness”? This is surely the queerest thing there could be! It was a particular act of gazing that I called doing this. I stared fixedly in front of me – but not at any particular point or object. My eyes were wide open, the brows not contracted (as they mostly are when I am interested in a particular object). No such interest preceded this gazing. My glance was vacant; or again like that of someone admiring the illumination of the sky and drinking in light.
Now bear in mind that the proposition which I uttered as a paradox (THIS is produced by a brain-process!) has nothing paradoxical about it. I could have said it in the course of an experiment whose purpose was to shew that an effect of light which I see is produced by stimulation of a particular part of the brain. – But I did not utter the sentence in the surroundings in which it would have had an everyday and unparadoxical sense. And my attention was not such as would have accorded with making an experiment. (If it had been, my look would have been intent, not vacant.)”

Wittgenstein solved the problem of consciousness: There is no gap between brain and consciousness. For everybody would agree ‘that an effect of light which I see is produced by stimulation of a particular part of the brain’

I cannot agree with Wittgenstein on this. ‘Stimulation of a particular part of my brain’ mediates ‘an effect of light which I see’, it does not produce it. There is nothing in the brain that can produce light which I see. In the brain there are neural activities on the basis of which I can see light. So there must be something else – may I call it ‘mind’, or ‘soul’, or ‘spiritual nature’ – something radically different from the brain, which on the basis of the visual brain centre produces light which I see. For I see it, this is an undisputable fact, and the data of neurophysiology tell me, that there is nothing in the brain that can produce it. Yet without the mediaing activities of the visual brain centre I could not see light.

Light is obviously not a good example, for Wittgenstein and his followers did not see and do not see any problem with their claim that their visual brain centre produces light they see. So let me take a different example. I am typing all this on my computer. The computer screen has a rectangular shape, the keyboard has a rectangular shape, as all the keys do. In the visual brain centre all these rectangular forms must be coded and processed, but there is no place in the brain in which these rectangular forms can be produced, let alone perceived. In the brain there must be neural activities – the electrical currents and chemical transmitters by means of which the neurons convey the sensory stimuli to the brain centres where they are coded and processed, again by bio-chemico-electrical neural activities – which accompany every movement of my hands as I type, but these neural activities proceed completely differently in time and are completely differently structured in space  from that of which I am conscious as I move my fingers when typing, as I follow these movements with my eyes, as I check what I type on the screen ... Since what I am conscious of as I am typing is the primary data, and I accept what neurophysiology tells me about my sensory organs and about the brain, I cannot but conjecture that there must be a part of me of which I am not conscious, which transforms the brain activities, of which I am not conscious, into the activities (of my typing etc.) of which I am conscious.

Let me end my comments on Wittgenstein by attempting to answer his introductory question: ‘The feeling of an unbridgeable gulf between consciousness and brain-process: how does it come about that this does not come into the considerations of our ordinary life?

In our ordinary life we take the computer in front of me, my typing, my sitting in front of it, simply as being there, just as I see and perceive it all. How could I live my ordinary life if I were to think all the time of the neurophysiological data that tell me that all this – in so far as I see it, experience it – is mediated by the brain, and as such happens ‘inside my head’? I say ‘inside my head’ for the X transforms the activities that proceed in the brain into what I see in front of me, and so it must be ‘reading’ all those neural activities that take place in my brain which is inside my head. It is therefore reasonable to think of this X as located in the same space as the brain. To do so, it must be different from the brain, yet it must be intimately linked to it, so as to be in constant contact with its activities.

Let me end this blog by some ruminations I was having in the waiting room of the Gloucester Hospital while waiting for my colonoscopy. In 1978, almost forty years ago, I invited Oxford dons to my philosophy seminar. Barbara Day gives prominent space to Roger Scruton’s visit to my seminar in The Velvet Philosophers:

‘For his lecture to Tomin’s seminar, he spoke on Wittgenstein’s private language argument. He remembers that there were about 25 people present … After the seminar, from 6.00 till 9.00 p.m., Scruton and the Tomins went to a restaurant; the next day he met Tomรกลก and Lenka on the quiet, wooded Shooters’ Island in the Vltava. As he talked to them he … wondered how much opportunity they had to express their own ideas; the seminars were dominated by Tomin, and the young students were overshadowed by his powerful personality … he also thought how much more effective they could be if the teaching were freed from the influence of personality.’ (The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 45)

The students in Prague were freed from the influence of the personality. It was the Czech secret police that did the dirty work. But who or what is it nowadays that prevents the Oxford University and the Philosophy Institute of the Philosophy Faculty at Charles University in Prague from allowing me, let alone inviting me, to present to their students and academics a lecture on ‘Human spiritual nature and the X of neurophysiologists’ or on ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ (the texts are on my website), or a lecture on Plato?