Jacques Maritain Center : A History of Western Philosophy Vol. I / by Ralph McInerny

Part II: The Classical Period

C. The Crisis in Plato's Thought

Under this heading we intend to examine a number of dialogues, in particular four which seem intended by Plato to form a group, the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist and Statesman. In them there seems to be a change of attitude on Plato's part as to the nature of the Ideas, their relations among themselves and their relevance for knowledge of the physical world. How radical this shift is and indeed whether it constitutes a shift at all, are matters of dispute among scholars. Quite apart from this controversy, there is a prima facie shift in attitude at the outset of the Parmenides; where before the doctrine of Ideas was assumed as familiar and eminently reasonable, there is now hesitation and doubt. The devil's advocate in the dialogue is Parmenides, a significant fact, and Socrates, grown young and beautiful, is in this dialogue the one to be convicted of ignorance.

The Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist and Statesman, often called the metaphysical dialogues, are quite obviously meant to be read together. One binding note is the meeting of Socrates with Parmenides with which the Parmenides begins; this is referred to in the Theaetetus (183E) as well as the Sophist (217G) in such a way that the reference seems obviously to be to the dialogue, Parmenides. The Theaetetus ends in such a way that the Sophist is its immediate continuation; the Statesman refers to the Sophist as to its immediate predecessor. The four dialogues form a literary whole and, as we shall see, involve a progression of thought of the utmost importance. There is some evidence that the Theaetetus may have been written in an interval between the opening section and the dialectical close of the Parmenides, but this in no way affects the order intended by Plato. We are going to try to present in as neutral and objective a way possible the content of these dialogues, with special reference to the doctrine of Ideas; afterwards we shall indicate the extremes of interpretation these dialogues have prompted with respect to the continuity of Plato's thought in the dialogues generally.

We have already discussed, in our section on Parmenides, the reasons for accepting the meeting of Socrates, Parmenides and Zeno as historical. This is not to say, of course, that the Parmenides of the dialogue represents the philosophical position which historically was his. There is, nevertheless, good reason why he should have been chosen to interrogate the young Socrates on the doctrine which, again only in the dialogues, is characteristic of him. Plato's brothers, Glaucon and Adeimantus, and his half-brother, Antiphon, figure in the opening section, since it is Antiphon's recounting of someone's recollection of the visit of Parmenides and Zeno that forms the body of the dialogue. Zeno is said to have given one of his arguments in favor of the One of Parmenides, after which Socrates poses a question which leads into the theme of the first part of the dialogue. "What is your meaning, Zeno? Do you maintain that if being is many, it must be both like and unlike, and that this is impossible, for neither can the like be unlike, nor the unlike like -- is that your position?" (127) It is, and Socrates is right in seeing that all Zeno's arguments aim at showing the non-being of the many. Then Socrates expresses the doctrine which will be shown to involve many difficulties not alluded to in the earlier dialogues.

But tell me, Zeno, do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself, and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness, and that in these two, you and I and all other things to which we apply the term many, participate -- things which participate in likeness become in that degree and manner like; and so far as they participate in unlikeness become in that degree unlike, or both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in both? And may not all things partake of both opposites, and be both like and unlike, by reason of this participation? -- Where is the wonder? Now if a person could prove the absolute like to become unlike, or the absolute unlike to become like, that, in my opinion, would indeed be a wonder; but there is nothing extraordinary, Zeno, in showing that the things which only partake of likeness and unlikeness experience both. Nor, again, if a person were to show that all is one by partaking of one, and at the same time many by partaking of many, would that be very astonishing. But if he were to show me that the absolute one was many, or the absolute many one, I should be truly amazed. (129)

We have here the doctrine of Ideas, familiar from the earlier dialogues; while one Idea cannot be another, since this would involve a contradiction, it is not surprising that sensible things be both X and not-X. Socrates is both small and large, small with respect to Alcibiades, large with respect to Xanthippe. He is not taller by a head because he might also be smaller by a head; rather he is small by participating in smallness, large by participating in largeness. By means of participation, particular things can involve a veritable hodgepodge but the Ideas must be solitary and serene, utterly other one another, and so forth. Generally, the Ideas other than the Good are spoken of as if they were all on the same level; participation is of sensible things in Ideas, not of one Idea in another. It is the very thing that Socrates here says he would be surprised and amazed to be shown, that the sequence of the dialogues which now interest us seems aimed at showing. If however, as I just now suggested, some one were to abstract simple notions of like, unlike, one, many, rest, motion, and similar ideas, and then to show that these admit of admixture and separation in themselves, I should be very much astonished. . . . I should be far more amazed if any one found in the ideas themselves which are apprehended by reason, the same puzzle and entanglement which you have shown to exist in visible objects." (129-130)

The theory of Ideas interests Parmenides and he begins to question Socrates about it. Socrates is sure there are Ideas of one and many, likeness and unlikeness; he is equally sure that there are Ideas of the just, the beautiful and the good. In other words, mathematical and moral Ideas present no problem; however, when asked if there is an Idea of man apart from us, and of fire and water, Socrates hesitates. Parmenides increases the difficulty by asking if Socrates would maintain that there are Ideas of mud, dirt, hair and other vile and paltry things. . . .

Certainly not, said Socrates; visible things like these are such as they appear to us, and I am afraid that there would be an absurdity in assuming any idea of them, although I sometimes get disturbed and begin to think that there is nothing without an idea; but then again, when I have taken up this position, I run away, because I am afraid that I may fall into a bottomless pit of nonsense and perish; and so I return to the ideas of which I was just now speaking, and occupy myself with them. (130)

Parmenides, however, reassures Socrates and tells him the time will come when he will no longer despise even the meanest of things. We remember that in the Republic that any common name was taken to be sufficient indication that an Idea was involved. This may be thought of as the first problem presented, namely, the extent of the world of Ideas. The second problem turns around the relation between particular things and Ideas.

Socrates maintains that there are Ideas "of which all other things partake, and from which they derive their names." (131) Parmenides wants to know the nature of this partaking. There are two possibilities: either the thing partakes of the whole of the Idea, or a part of it. The first possibility does not seem acceptable, for then something which is one will be in different places. "Because one and the same thing will exist as a whole at the same time in many separate individuals, and will therefore be in a state of separation from itself." (131) The Idea cannot be like a cloth that covers many men, since only a part of the cloth is over any individual head. This seems to leave only the possibility that individuals partake of part of the Idea. But this, too, leads to an absurdity. If a small thing is small by partaking of only a part of smallness, then the Idea of smallness would be larger than the small thing. How, then, can all things participate in Ideas if they are unable to partake of them as wholes or as parts?

Parmenides then takes another line.

I imagine that the way in which you are led to assume one idea of each kind is as follows: You see a number of great objects, and when you look at them there seems to you to be one and the same idea (or nature) in them all; hence you conceive of greatness as one. . . . And if you go on and allow your mind in like manner to embrace in one view the idea of greatness and of great things which are not the idea, and to compare them, will not another greatness arise, which will appear to be the source of all these? . . . Then another idea of greatness now comes into view over and above absolute greatness and the individuals which partake of it; and then another, over and above all these, by virtue of which they will all be great, and so each idea instead of being one will be infinitely multiplied. (132)

This argument, that participation involves an infinite regress, since similars will always call for an Idea to explain their similarity, is more devastating than the previous criticism, and recurs in somewhat different form in Aristotle's critique of Plato. It is important to see that Plato first poses the difficulty.

Socrates attempts to avoid the infinite regress in a very interesting manner. "But may not the ideas, asked Socrates, be thoughts only, and have no proper existence except in our minds, Parmenides? For in that case each idea may still be one, and not experience this infinite multiplication." (132) But a thought must be a thought of something, and of something which is a single form or nature that the mind recognizes as one and the same in many. "Then, said Parmenides, if you say that everything else participates in the Ideas, must you not say either that everything is made up of thoughts, and that all things think; or that they are thoughts but have no thought?"

Socrates agrees that his suggestion is irrational and attempts to restate the relation of particulars to the Ideas. "In my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in nature, and other things are like them, and resemblances of them -- what is meant by the participation of other things in the ideas is really assimilation to them." (132) But this is really no improvement. If things are like the Ideas, then inevitably the Ideas must be like the things which are like them; that is, Idea and participants must both participate in some further Idea of likeness, and we are back to the infinite regress Socrates wants to avoid. What is needed, Parmenides suggests, is some other mode of participation than that of resemblance, not that there are not many other difficulties.

There are many, but the greatest of all is this: If an opponent argues that these ideas, being such as we say they ought to be, must remain unknown, no one can prove to him that he is wrong, unless he who denies their existence be a man of great ability and knowledge, and is willing to follow a long and laborious demonstration; he will remain unconvinced, and still insist that they cannot be known. (133)

The whole doctrine of Ideas becomes utterly trivial if it cannot be shown that they must exist. The Ideas, being absolute essences, cannot exist in us, for that would make them relative to us. Parmenides now suggests that the difficulties concerning participation arise from Socrates' attempt to talk about the Ideas in terms of something other than Ideas. But if Ideas are what they are

in relation to one another their essence is determined by a relation among themselves, and has nothing to do with the resemblances, or whatever they are to be termed, which are in our sphere, and from which we receive this or that name when we partake of them. And the things which are within our sphere and have the same names with them, are likewise only relative to one another, and not to the ideas which have the same names with them, but belong to themselves and not to them. (133)

One man is master, another slave, and there is nothing absolute about this: one is relative to the other. So too the Idea of mastership is relative to the Idea of slavery. The one realm would seem to have nothing to do with the other. Moreover, absolute knowledge will answer to these absolutes, to Ideas, and the kind of knowledge we have will answer to the relative things around us. In other words, the Ideas will be unknown to us, since we do not have absolute knowledge i.e., the Idea of knowledge, but simply the knowledge we have. Absolute knowledge sounds like the kind of knowledge God would have, Socrates agrees, but that leads, Parmenides observes, to the blasphemous conclusion that God would have no knowledge of us. The reason is that God, having absolute knowledge, would have knowledge of absolute things which are unrelated to the things around us or to us.

No one can think that the difficulties here put in the mouth of Parmenides could be put forward lightly by the author of the earlier dialogues; indeed, we might think that Plato is here making a public rejection of his previous views. It soon becomes apparent, however, that these objections amount to a prelude to a new program of approach to the Ideas.

These, Socrates, said Parmenides, are a few, and only a few of the difficulties in which we are involved if ideas really are and we determined each one of them to be an absolute unity. He who hears what may be said against them will deny the very existence of them -- and even if they do exist, he will say that they must of necessity be unknown to man; and he will seem to have reason on his side, and as we were remarking just now, will be very difficult to convince; a man must be gifted with very considerable ability before he can learn that everything has a class and an absolute essence; and still more remarkable will he be who discovers all these things for himself, and having thoroughly investigated them is able to teach them to others. (135)

It will be noticed that Parmenides does not consider that the difficulties raised cancel out the theory of Ideas; the next move is not to reject Ideas, but to devise a way to defend them against such objections as have been raised. Plato undoubtedly takes all the liberty we can allow him when he makes Parmenides the defender of the Ideas, although they have in common with his One the notion of immutability and separation from the things of sense experience. The youth of the Socrates of the dialogue and the eminence of Parmenides, make it fitting that Socrates be instructed in the art which will enable him to defend the Ideas against such objections as Parmenides has been raising, namely, the art of dialectic. The rest of the dialogue consists of the exemplification of this art by discussing the theory of Parmenides that being is one. What Socrates must learn to do is to consider not only the consequences which follow from a given hypothesis but also the consequences flowing from denying the hypothesis -- "that will be still better training for you." (136) The important thing to notice is that this new conception of dialectic is introduced with a view to defending the Ideas.

And yet, Socrates, said Parmenides, if a man fixing his attention on these and the like difficulties, does away with ideas of things and will not admit that every individual thing has its own determinate idea which is always one and the same, he will have nothing on which his mind can rest; and so he will utterly destroy the power of reasoning, as you seem to me to have particularly noted. (135)

The problem of the One and the Many has been raised by the initial criticism of the Ideas in the first part of the Parmenides; if there is an absolute Idea from which many things receive their name, what is the relation between that one and these many? It seems that the many cannot participate in it as a whole nor as part. A new explanation of participation is called for and, at the same time, an appreciation of the vagaries of "one" and "many." This is at least one of the functions performed by the dialectical training of the second part of the dialogue. The position of Parmenides is that being is one, or the One is. The dialectical exercise can be thought of as testing eight hypotheses, which is somewhat surprising since we should expect only two, namely, the One is and the One is not. What has happened is that each of these is broken into four. Thus, on the supposition that the one is, it is shown (I) that it cannot exist and that it admits of no predicates whatsoever; it is then shown (II) that if One is, it exists, can be known, spoken about, etc. Then (III) that if the One exists, the others (the many) are susceptible of contradictory predicates and (IV) that nothing can be predicated of them. On the other hand (V), if the One does not exist, each member of opposed predicates belong to it, and (VI) neither of such predicates can be said of it. Finally, (VII) if the One does not exist, the others admit of both of contrary predicates and (VIII) of neither of contrary predicates.

The conclusion of this exercise is not precisely positive in tone. Let this much be said; and further let us affirm what seems to be the truth, that, whether one is or is not, one and the others in relation to themselves and one another, all of them, in every way, are and are not, and appear to be and appear not to be. (166)

There have been many diverse interpretations of the significance of this exercise in dialectic; a recent book groups them under five headings: Anti-Eleatic, according to which the point is the refutation of Parmenides; Neoplatonic, according to which the indirect point is that the One is above and beyond our efforts of understanding; the Hegelian, whereby we have here a foretaste of the Hegelian logic; the Logical, according to which this is an exercise in formal logic; and, finally, the Metaphysical interpretation which sees the testing of the hypotheses as incorporating positive statements about reality.{29} The puzzling truth is that there is some merit in each of these interpretations. It is not our purpose, of course, to present these divergent views and judge them; it is sufficient to have mentioned their existence. Our own procedure will be to look for any influence of the dialectical training in the dialogues we know to have been conceived as sequels to the Parmenides.

Theaetetus. -- After he has brought forward objections to the Ideas which the youthful Socrates confesses are devastating, Parmenides adds that without the Ideas there is no anchor for knowledge. This suggests that knowledge itself must be reexamined against the background of the difficulties facing the doctrine of Ideas and, fittingly enough the Theaetetus concerns itself precisely with knowledge.

In the opening section of the dialogue, the sight of the wounded Theaetetus being brought back from battle reminds Euclid of Socrates' estimate of the mathematician when Theaetetus had been young and how well Socrates' predictions of his future success have been borne out. This provides an occasion for having an early conversation between Socrates and Theaetetus which had been written down read for the benefit of Terpsion, who has often desired to hear it. The dialogue proper is thus introduced as a memorial to Theaetetus fallen in battle.

The dialogue proper begins with Socrates and the mathematician, Theodorus, a Cyrenian, who introduces his student Theaetetus as worthy of the attention of Socrates. Theaetetus having been singled out as a knowledgeable boy, Socrates poses to him the question that has long bothered him and which he has never been able to solve to his satisfaction: what is knowledge? The initial exchange is remimscent of the early dialogues and indeed this one is often compared with the Charmides. Theaetetus first says that knowledge is what he learns from Theodorus, sciences like geometry, as well as the art of the cobbler and other craftsmen. Socrates protests that Theaetetus is giving him much more than he asks for; he wants a single answer, a definition of knowledge, not an enumeration of men who have knowledge. Socrates indicates the kind of answer he wants by pointing out that if he asked Theaetetus what cobbling is he would want to be told that it is the art of making shoes, if he asked him what carpentering is he would want to be told it is the art of making wooden implements. In other words, the answer sought is a definition. Now can Theaetetus give that kind of answer to the question, what is knowledge? If Socrates asked what clay is, Theaetetus would not tell him that there is a clay of potters, a clay of oven-makers, and another of brick-makers.

In the first place, there would be an absurdity in assuming that he who asked the question would understand from our answer the nature of 'clay', merely because we added "of the image-makers," or of any other workers. How can a man understand the name of anything, when he does not know the nature of it? (147)

Now this is just the nature of Theaetetus' response to the question, what is knowledge? Theaetetus, of course, understands Socrates well enough, since he has recently made a successful generalization concerned with roots in mathematics, but he says that he is unable to give Socrates the kind of answer he wants to his question.

It is at this point that Socrates gives the description of his method of questioning as a kind of midwifery, a maieutic, which will bring forth from Theaetetus the answer to the question if the answer is within him. We have discussed this section in Chapter One of this part when Socrates himself was our main interest. Here it raises another point. We have seen that, in the Meno, Plato speaks of learning as recollection (anamnesis); now, as Cornford points out in his commentary on our dialogue (pp. 27-8), the exchange which in the Meno leads up to the statement of the nature of recollection is exactly like the exchange in the present dialogue which calls forth the description of the maieutic method. Cornford points out that anamnesis cannot be appealed to in the Theaetetus, because it is in effect a causal explanation of knowledge and presumes that what knowledge is is already understood or accepted. Here the nature of knowledge itself is in question and the midwifery of Socrates less obviously begs the question. We must see the Theaetetus in the wider context of the metaphysical dialogues, those which follow on the Parmenides, which will explain as well the absence of any explicit mention of the Ideas in the dialogue before us. One very obvious purpose of the Theaetetus is to analyse in detail and then reject claims that knowledge can be furnished by the world of sense. It is well to emphasize this here, since it is the claim of many that the crisis represented by the questioning of the Ideas in the Parmenides indicates a new-found interest in the physical world, an interest which takes Plato very far in the direction to be pursued with such vigor by Aristotle. But let us return to the dialogue and the results of Socrates maieutic art.

Knowledge is sensation. -- Encouraged by Socrates, Theaetetus essays the kind of answer wanted and suggests that knowledge is sensation (aisthesis). There will be two other attempts at definition in the sequel, but this first one receives the most attention. The treatment of it can be divided into an exposition of the implications of the definition and then a criticism of it, relieved by a lengthy comparison of the philosopher and the lawyer. The first move on Socrates' part is to observe that Theaetetus' attempt at a definition is another way of expressing the claim of Protagoras that man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not. Socrates suggests that they try to understand why a wise man has said such a thing. The wind is not hot or cold absolutely speaking, but only in relation to us; the wind is cold to him who is cold, but not to him who is not cold. Thus, for the wind to be cold is for it to appear to be cold to him who perceives it as such. Now, on this showing it would seem that perception is only of existence and is thus unerring; there is a heavy price exacted by this infallibility.

I am about to speak of a high argument, in which all things are said to be relative; you cannot rightly call anything by any name, such as great or small, heavy or light, for the great will be small and the heavy light -- there is no single thing or quality, but out of motion and change and admixture all things are becoming relatively to one another, which becoming is by us incorrectly called being, but is really becoming, for nothing ever is, but all things are becoming. Summon all philosophers -- Protagoras, Heraclitus, Empedocles, and the rest of them, one after another, and with the exception of Parmenides they will agree with you in this. (152)

The view that knowledge is sensation, first identified with the Protagorean dictum that man is the measure, is now further identified with what is called the doctrine of Heraclitus, and indeed of all the natural philosophers, to the effect that sensible things are in constant flux, always becoming and never possessing any stable being. This doctrine that all things are in process is applied to the percipient as well as to the perceived object, in such wise that sensation becomes the intersection of two dynamic lines, an active and passive motion; thus, what we call white is just an eddy in the flux and not something independent of the percipient. This in turn leads to the view that sensation, provisionally equated with knowledge, is infallible, since things are what they seem to me to be because for them to be is to seem such-and-such to me.

Dreams, however, pose a threat to the infallibility of sensation or perception or awareness, since in my dreams I am aware of things which later I say were not as they appeared. This suggests that reality cannot be reduced to appearance. The difficulty is handled by a thorough-going relativism: dreams are real to the dreamer. In the same fashion, the wine which tastes bitter to the sick man is bitter for him, though it is sweet to the man in good health. Despite the apparent difficulties, then, things are as they seem to be as long as we are careful to let the one sensing them be the judge of what they are.

Then you were quite right in affirming that knowledge is only perception; and the meaning turns out to be the same, whether with Homer and Heraclitus, and all that company, you say that all is motion and flux, or with the great sage Protagoras, that man is the measure of all things. . . . (160)

Socrates now turns to the attack. His first point is that, if the individual is the only judge of what he perceives, Protagoras might just as well say that the dog-faced baboon is the measure of all things as that man is, since the baboon too has sensations of which he is the only adequate judge. He then makes some initial criticisms of the identification of knowledge and sensation: we hear a foreigner speak, but we do not know what he is saying; generally we sense sounds, colors, and so forth but claim to know more than these; moreover, we could not be said to know what we remember seeing since we are not now seeing it. At this point, Socrates fabricates a defense for Protagoras. The latter admits that he teaches that what is is what appears to a man, but. that nonetheless the wise man exists, for the wise man is he who would make the evils that are and appear to a man come to seem goods which are and appear to him. Now it is just the opinion that not all opinions are of equal worth that is most widespread and if, where opinions conflict, the test should be to discover what seems to be the case to most men, then Protagoras' view is rejected because it seems false to most men. But perhaps Protagoras' statement applies only to sensible things and not to opinions about just anything. Certainly in politics Protagoras thinks that his opinion outweighs those of other men since he offered to teach others how to get along politically.

It is at this point that there is a long digression, in the course of which the philosopher and lawyer are compared. The philosopher of course cuts a pathetic figure in the law court and the sophist can make him look ridiculous. But the cleverness of the advocate is counterfeit and the goal of his striving is not worth the effort; small wonder then that the philosopher is not adept in that which makes a good lawyer: the philosopher is striving for wisdom.

But, O my friend, you cannot easily convince mankind that they should pursue virtue or avoid vice, not merely in order that a man may seem to be good, which is the reason given by the world, and in my judgment is only a repetition of an old wives' fable. Whereas, the truth is that God is never in any way unrighteous -- he is perfect righteousness; and he of us who is the most righteous is most like him. Herein is seen the true cleverness of a man, and also his nothingness and want of manhood. For to know this is true wisdom and virtue, and ignorance of it is folly and vice. All other kinds of wisdom or cleverness, which seem only, such as the wisdom of politicians, or the wisdom of the arts, are coarse and vulgar. (176)

We need not detain ourselves here with the array of arguments Socrates makes use of when he returns to attack the position that all opinions are of equal worth. We do not think that the carpenter's opinion about health is worth as much as the physician's, nor vice versa when it is a question of furniture. Experts are part of everyday life. What is most important is the final rejection of the identification of knowledge and sensation. Plato makes the point that the senses do not know but we know by means of the senses; this is particularly evident with respect to our knowledge of what seeing and hearing have in common. What is at issue are "being and not-being, I likeness and unlikeness, sameness and difference, and also unity and other numbers which are applied to objects of sense." (185) The soul, in other words, views some things by herself and some things through the bodily organs, but in no case is knowledge identifiable with sensation. "Then knowledge does not consist in impressions of sense, but in reasoning about them; in that only, and not in the mere impression, truth and being can be attained." (186) The upshot is the same point made in the Phaedo: sensation can have no part in what we mean by knowledge.

Knowledge is true opinion. -- Theaetetus happily concedes that his first effort to define knowledge was unsuccessful and offers a second definition: Knowledge is true opinion. The word here translated opinion is doxa; perhaps a better translation would be judgment. The reader should bear this in mind; we shall use opinion, however, Jowett's choice, since we shall be quoting from his translation. Knowledge has been said to be reasoning about sense impressions; thus Theaetetus is led to suggest that knowledge is true opinion. He will not say opinion simply, since false opinion is possible. That observation is important since much of the present discussion is concerned with the possibility of false opinion. How can there be such a thing? Something is either known or not, and opinion accordingly must be concerned with the known or the unknown. But false opinion can bet neither thinking what is known to be something else which is known and thus be ignorance of two known things, nor thinking one unknown thing to be another unknown thing; to complete the picture, false opinion cannot be explained as thinking that a known thing is an unknown thing nor vice versa. False opinion then seems impossible. Its impossibility seems to emerge with equal clarity if we shift the discussion from the sphere of knowing to that of being, and suppose that false opinion consists of thinking what is not. But isn't this like seeing something and at the same time seeing nothing; this is impossible, for to see something is to see something that is. So too, Plato suggests, to think something is to think something that is, so that false opinion cannot be explained as thinking what is not.

Perhaps then false opinion may be explained solely in terms of what is.

May we not suppose that false opinion or thought is a sort of heterodoxy: a person may make an exchange in his mind, and say that one real object is another real object. For thus he always thinks that which is, but he puts one thing in place of another, and missing the aim of his thoughts, he may be truly said to have false opinion. (189)

Theaetetus thinks this is truly false opinion defined. But his sense of security is, of course, unfounded. Can a man who knows two things ever think that the one is the other, or can he think one thing he knows is another thing he doesn't know? Despite the difficulties, a way is sought which will permit a man somehow not to know what he knows. Socrates suggests a distinction between the possession and having of knowledge, where possession would be that latent knowledge we have as the result of the impressions on a wax block each of us can be thought to be equipped with, a block blank at first but gradually filled with impressions; the having of knowledge is the actual use of it. If then we presume a distinction between sensation and knowing, the possible mixup of present sensation and knowledge or knowledge and remembered sensation seems to give us an explanation of false opinion.

The only possibility of erroneous opinion is, when knowing you and Theodorus, and having on the waxen block the impression of both of you given as by seal, but seeing you imperfectly and at a distance, I try to assign the right impression of memory to the right visual impression, and to fit this into its own print: if I succeed, recognition will take place; but if I fail and transpose them, putting the foot into the wrong shoe -- that is to say, putting the vision of either of you on to the wrong impression, or if my mind, like the sight in a mirror, which is transferred from right to left, err by reason of some similar affection, then "heterodoxy" and false opinion ensues. (193)

This entails that error and deception are confined to the things a man knows and perceives; false opinion arises not from the comparison of one perception with another, nor in thought alone, but in the union of thought and perception. Though a valiant try, this attempt at a definition of false opinion must be set aside because it does not account for error which takes place in thought alone. When someone says that seven plus five equals eleven, his error cannot be explained in the way described.

A new attempt is made to explain false opinion by likening our knowing to the catching of birds; we have a cage within where we emprison the thoughts we catch. Having them and catching them are different processes, and once they are had we can pluck them out like birds from a cage and this is using our knowledge. False opinion, then, would consist of coming forth with the wrong bird. The aviary here takes the place of the earlier image of the wax block with this difference that, whereas the wax block was the storehouse of sense impressions, the aviary houses opinions or beliefs. Falsehood seems explicable now in terms of a plucking of the wrong bird from the aviary. Now this is precisely the flaw, since the birds stand for bits of knowledge, and falsehood presupposes, on this view, knowledge of that concerning which one is mistaken. More drastically, although the discussion has gone off in search of the explanation of error, it has now turned into a begging of the original question, what is knowledge? We are explaining error in terms of the confusion of what is already known; thus, we must already be able to answer the question as to what knowledge is -- or our statements about error are vitiated. If this theory of error be accepted, knowledge would consist of plucking out a true belief; the difficulty with this, however, is that our attitude towards a true belief is indistinguishable from that we have towards a false belief. That is, if we assume, as we may, that the essence of error is to assert what is not so while believing it is so, our attitude when we make a mistake is the same as when we do not make a mistake. It is just this that leads to the third and last attempt at a definition of knowledge.

Knowledge as True Opinion plus an Account. The breakdown of the previous definition of knowledge leads naturally enough to the thought that, by adding something to true belief, we can turn it into knowledge and thus exhibit it as something quite different from false belief. This added note will be an account (logos). Knowledge thus is not only stating a truth but possessing the grounds for the truth. This explanation is suggested as a theory presented by philosophers and, generally, it depends on a distinction between elements and the things composed of them. Of the elements there can be no account but everything else can be explained by having recourse to the elements. Thus, by way of illustration, let the elements be letters and the things to be explained words or, better, syllables. The syllables are explained by enumerating their component letters. Notice that, if knowledge consists in giving such an account, there can be no knowledge of the elements; however, when knowledge is had it is had by enumerating that of which no knowledge can be had. We can try to escape this, and Socrates urges that we do, by making the whole something different from the sum of its parts; however, if we move in this direction, such a whole cannot be known by enumerating parts which are not, precisely, its parts.

It is only after this preliminary criticism that Socrates suggests a search for the meaning of "account" intended in the proposed definition of knowledge. "Account" (logos) is assigned three meanings. The first is speech, an unimportant meaning here, since those who have not knowledge in the sense sought can express themselves in words. A second meaning is the enumeration of the elements of the thing. Here it is not presupposed that the elements are unknowable; the point is rather that one can reduce a thing to its elements and still not have knowledge of what it is. The illustration is the child learning to write his name. When he has done it once, he has thereby set down all the elements (letters) of the thing, but this is no assurance that he has in one fell blow learned to spell it. His answer is correct, but it could be that he does not know it. A third meaning of "account" is the citing of a distinguishing mark. Although the passage may seem to suggest that Plato is here speaking of including the specific difference in the definition of a thing, Cornford has shown (pp. 161-2) that what is at issue is rather the singular thing. Since this is the case, the demand is an impossible one, since we must be able to locate the individual whose distinguishing mark we seek before we start on our quest; in other words, we must already have in hand what we think we must find, Thus, no satisfactory meaning of "account" is discovered which will enable us to add an account to a true opinion and come up with knowledge.

The dialogue ends in failure; knowledge had eluded all efforts at defining it. Nowhere in this dialogue do we find any mention of Ideas; what is crystal clear, however, is Plato's unwavering conviction that knowledge cannot be had in sensation. The Theaetetus, accordingly, far from evidencing a newly found predilection for sensation on Plato's part, is rather a thorough exploration of what earlier dialogues had always assumed, namely that sensation is powerless to produce knowledge, with a view towards rehabilitating the doctrine of Ideas in the face of the objections set forth in the Parmenides. If the net effect is negative, the dialogue is nonetheless part of a larger literary whole, and we must now turn to the other parts of that whole to see what new positive direction, if any, Plato has taken.

Sophist. The opening section of this dialogue places it on the day after the conversation in the Theaetetus. Once more we have Socrates, Theodorus and Theaetetus, but Socrates' interlocutors of the previous day have brought along an Eleatic Stranger, a disciple of Parmenides and Zeno, a true philosopher. Socrates asks the Stranger how those of his persuasion would define the philosopher in order to distinguish him from the statesman and the sophist. Since the present dialogue is concerned with the sophist and is followed by another concerned with the politician, it is felt that Plato originally intended to devote a dialogue to the philosopher himself but for some reason changed his mind. This four-dialogue project may have importance with respect to the altered role of Socrates in the Sophist. Although his request sets the stage for the following discussion, Socrates himself withdraws quickly to the wings, leaving the center of the stage to the Eleatic Stranger. Thus while Socrates and Theaetetus are the main speakers in the Theaetetus, the Stranger and Theaetetus are such in the Sophist; in the Statesman, young Socrates, a contemporary of Theaetetus, replaces the latter. Cornford's argument that Socrates and the young Socrates were to carry on the discussion in the projected dialogue on the philosopher (p. 168) suggests that the eclipse of Socrates is only temporary and surely cannot be construed as a repudiation by Plato of his old teacher.

This dialogue has as its purpose the definition of the sophist but it is not too much to say that its importance lies rather in two subsidiary issues: the method whereby a definition is to be achieved, and the settling of the problem of false opinion by the granting of a kind of being to non-being. This last point represents a definitive break with Parmenides and one reason at least for Socrates' fading into the background is that both in the Parmenides and Theaetetus, Socrates has shied away from any criticism of the great Eleatic. We shall confine our comments to the various divisions made in the first part of the dialogue and the definitions of the sophist offered; the method involved in arriving at these definitions; and the problem of non-being.

First as to the method. The Theaetetus ends without resolution since there is no sense of account which would permit us to add an account to true opinion and achieve knowledge. The failure is due to that dialogue's attempt to speak of knowledge without having recourse to the Ideas, to restrict knowledge to the sensible order. In the Sophist, we are no longer interested in the individual, but in the type, the species, the intelligible reality. Account or logos now means definition and this in terms of what we would call genus and difference. The Stranger illustrates the method he wishes to employ in seeking the definition of the sophist by a preliminary exercise bearing on a more accessible type, the angler. What we must do is begin with a wide class which will include the angler and then by the addition of distinguishing characteristics, set him off from all other members of the general group. Thus angling is an art, acquisitive rather than productive and by means of capture rather than trade, resulting from hunting. The illustration is well-chosen, since the Stranger will be able to use members of this original division in his quest for the sophist. Five definitions of the sophist emerge: he is a paid hunter after wealth and youth; he is a merchant in the goods of the soul; he is a retailer of the same sort of wares; he is the manufacturer of the wares he sells; finally, he is a member of the fighting class, a hero of debate professing the eristic art. There is as well a sixth division, descriptive rather of the Socratic method than that of the Sophist. It consists of purifying the soul of ignorance by the maieutic method. The Stranger says that he would hesitate to call the practitioners of this art sophists. If the sophist appears as a many-headed beast there is nonetheless one overriding characteristic of the man and that is disputation which he not only engages in but offers to teach others. The sophist is willing to dispute about all things; but, since he cannot possibly know all things, he is held in honor because he appears to know all things. What the sophist says appears to be the truth yet is not; that is, what he says is false, and the problem of the possiblity of falsehood now comes to the fore.

He who says that falsehood exists has the audacity to assert the being of not-being; for this is implied in the possibility of falsehood. But, my boy, in the days when I was a boy, the great Parmenides protested against this doctrine, and to the end of his life he continued to inculcate the same lesson -- always repeating both in verse and out of verse: 'Keep your mind away from this way of enquiry, for never will you show that not-being is.' (237)

The discussion begins in a familiar fashion. Not-being can not be attributed to being; not-being is neither one nor many, it cannot be spoken of or thought about. The Stranger then expresses the objection that occurs even to the undergraduate in reading the fragments of Parmenides: what are we to make of all this talk about non-being, the burden of which is that nothing can be said of non-being? When I say that non-being is ineffable, my assertion involves attaching an is to not-being, a verb which is singular and not plural: that is, some kind of being and some kind of unity seem asserted of non-being in our very attempt to deny being and speech and unity of it. This recognition will lead the Stranger to become a parricide. "Because, in self-defense, I must test the philosophy of my father, Parmenides, and try to prove by main force that in a certain sense non-being is, and that being, on the other hand, is not." (241) Not only Parmenides is put to the test, however; the Stranger turns to an assessment of early philosophy in general.

Before turning to the opinions of the ancients, the Stranger points out that the difficulty is not simply posed by non-being.

And very likely we have been getting into the same perplexity about 'being,' and yet may fancy that when anybody utters the word, we understand him quite easily, although we do not know about not-being. But we may be equally ignorant of both. (243)

This is made clear though consideration of the teachings of the early philosophers as falling under two headings, monism and dualism. Some philosophers speak of hot and cold as principles and say that they must be two; and yet if both are, being would seem to be some third principle prior to them both. And yet if we ask what is meant by being, they can give us no answer. As for those who deny plurality, their contention that being is one involves two names, being and one, leading to the conclusion that they are either synonyms or that the real is multiple. But Parmenides cannot maintain that being and one are synonyms because he has said that being is the whole, having the fullness of a well-rounded sphere. Thus being has parts and can be one as a whole is one, that is, by participating in unity, but it cannot be unity itself. But let us try to avoid this by denying that being is a whole, then wholeness and being will differ and being will contain a defect and become in some sense not-being. And, whether being be called a whole or not a whole, we are faced with plurality. On the supposition that being is other than wholeness and unity, being cannot be said to exist nor to have come to be. The meaning of being and not-being becomes a matter of some perplexity when we consider this view, but the Stranger wants to pass to another opposition among philosophers.

There are some philosophers who will admit as real only that which can be grasped in the hand: Plato calls them giants. i.e. sons of the earth. For them being and body are one. The Stranger imagines them agreeing nevertheless that living bodies have souls, and that some souls are wise and just, and further that such things as soul, justice and wisdom are not corporeal. With this agreement, it is necessary to formulate a notion of being which can apply as well to the incorporeal. The Stranger has a suggestion.

My notion would be, that anything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply power. (247)

The Stranger adds that we may change our minds about this definition, but that it can suffice for now as an agreement with the giants or materialists.

Opposed to the giants are the friends of the Ideas. There has been some dispute as to the identity of these friends; the most plausible interpretation seems to be that Plato has in mind earlier views of his own on the Ideas. The Stranger finds that these friends would distinguish being and becoming and continues:

And you would allow that we participate in generation with the body, and through sensation, but we participate with the soul through thought in true essence; and essence you would affirm to be always the same and immutable, whereas generation or becoming varies? (248)

They would, and the Stranger tries to get at what they mean by participation by asking their opinion of the definition of being just proposed. The Friends reject it, because to affect or to be affected seems to belong to the realm of becoming and not that of being. The Stranger counters by pointing out that "to know" is active and "to be known" passive, and we come to what has always been regarded as one of the most crucial passages of the dialogues. "And, O heavens, can we ever be made to believe that motion and life and soul and mind are not present with perfect being? Can we imagine that being is devoid of life and mind, and exists in awful unmeaningness an everlasting fixture?" (249) If only the immutable can be said to be, then mind, soul and life must be excluded from being; on the other hand, the opposed position that change is everything would equally do away with intelligence, depriving it of any anchor. The upshot of this discussion with the giants and the Friends of the Ideas is that each group must admit that reality includes both changing and unchanging things.

The Stranger now points out that these admissions do little towards clearing up the problem of not-being and being. If both motion and rest are, neither one can be identified with being since then motion would have to be rest and vice versa; let us say, then, that being is some third thing in which motion and rest participate and which in its own nature is different from both. Thus things that are are not being and being is different from the things that are. How is this possible? Are we not making one thing many and many things one? To resolve this problem, the Stranger first observes that any statement involves the same difficulty. We say of Socrates, who is one man, that he is many things: wise, white and wizened. In other words, predication always presents the problem of participation which can be thought of in three ways (1) Participation is impossible; nothing participates in anything else. This denial is taken to be a denial of predication itself and thus self-defeating. (2) Participation can be indiscriminate; all things participate in everything else. This is impossible, however, since then motion would be rest and vice versa. (3) The remaining possibility, that participation is limited calls for a special art to determine when participation obtains.

And as classes are admitted by us in like manner to be some of them capable and others incapable of intermixture, must not he who would rightly show what kinds will unite and what will not, proceed by the help of science in the path of argument? And will he not ask if the connecting links are universal, and so capable of intermixture with all things; and again, in divisions, whether there are not other universal classes, which make them possible? . . . By Zeus, have we not lighted unwittingly upon our free and noble science, and in looking for the sophist have we not entertained the philosopher unawares? (253)

It is the knowledge of which Forms pervade a scattered multitude and which are separate and aloof which is provided by the art of dialectic, possession of which is the mark of the philosopher. It is just this art that must now be applied to the problem of being and not-being.

The discussion begins by assuming three of the most important genera, being, rest and motion. Motion is not rest and vice versa; that is, they cannot participate in one another but both participate in being. Of these three, each is the same as itself and different from the other two. Our three genera then involve two more, "same" and "other." Moreover, these, like being, are shared by both motion and rest. Thus, motion is the same as itself, yet not the same, that is, not sameness itself, since, if it were, rest in order to be the same as itself would have to be motion. So too motion is other than rest but is not otherness since, if it were, rest in order to be other than motion would have to be motion. The same could be shown with respect to motion and other, and the Stranger observes that we now have a legitimate way of saying that motion is the same and not the same, other and not other. We can see that the same argument can apply to motion and being: motion is and is not being since, while it participates in being, it is other than being.

Then not-being necessarily exists in the case of motion and of every class; for the nature of the other entering into them all, makes each of them other than being, and so non-existent; and therefore of all of them, in like manner, we may truly say that they are not; and again, inasmuch as they partake of being, that they are and are not existent. (256)

Not-being or otherness is a class like being, motion, etc., and the analysis has arrived at a way of asserting that not-being is, contrary to the doctrine of Parmenides. It seems fairly clear from the sequel that Plato fully intends that not-being is a form, a changeless reality, since it is appealed to, to explain falsehood; it is the objective complement of error in thought and speech.

If not-being has no part in the proposition, then all things must be true; but if not-being has a part then false opinion and false speech are possible, for to think or to say what is not -- is falsehood, which thus arises in the region of thought and in speech. (260)

The Stranger is now able to explain the possibility of the sophist since falsehood itself has been shown to be possible. The sophist of course can object that language and thought are not among the things which can participate in not-being, But this is shown not to be the case. Of course the not-being which underlies falsehood is just the kind of not-being which has been shown to exist, namely being other.

The Sophist has as its major internal problem the explanation of the possibility of false statements. Viewed in a wider context, this dialogue reveals that the problem of participation has been shifted to the realm of the Forms or Ideas and that these form a coherent system. The art of dialectic bears on the discernment of the communion or non- communion of Forms. Not-being exists as an objective reality, but is otherness in which all things participate. False statement bears on realities but consists of a statement reflecting a communion of Forms which are in fact other.

Statesman. This dialogue is connected with the preceding, as we have already seen, with the younger Socrates taking the place of Theaetetus as the interlocutor of the Eleatic Stranger. The purpose of the dialogue is achieved without the detours which make the Sophist important for an understanding of the doctrine of Forms and the art of dialectic which bears on the Forms. There is an aside which warns of the necessity to make all the intermediate steps in performing a division of a class in order to isolate a species like statesman (261-266), but on the whole the dialogue sticks to its subject and we need not consider it here. The Forms or Ideas continue to be looked upon as a structured universe but, as has been pointed out (Ross, pp. 118-119), the aim of dialectic seems to be much more modest than that set forth in the Republic. It is not so much a question of deriving all Forms from one supreme Form, as of dealing with those necessary to settle a particular question.

Concluding. The earlier dialogues of Plato, those which go beyond what can be taken as a heightened but not inaccurate description of the teaching of Socrates, do not explicitly present the Forms or Ideas as entities apart from and indeed far more real than the things of everyday life, particular actions, sensible particulars. In the Phaedo and Republic, however, the Forms are quite clearly better beings, other than the explanatory of particulars of our experience, and philosophy is precisely the ascent to knowledge of these beings. Indeed, in the Republic, a lengthy training is described the result of which is the purgation of body and mind so that the soul can ascend to the contemplation of the Forms. This is achieved in dialectic which bears primarily on the Form of the Good from which all other Forms are seen to emanate, although the notion of a hierarchical structure among the Forms is not stressed. With the Parmenides a highly critical attitude towards the Forms comes to the fore and a list of difficulties is compiled, difficulties which are to be taken not as a refutation of the Forms but as a program to be followed if this doctrine is to be saved from ridicule. What is the nature of the relation between Forms and particulars; how are the Forms related to one another? These may be taken to summarize the objections of the Parmenides, and it is rather the latter than the former question which seems answered by the Sophist. The Theaetetus we have taken as showing what had hitherto only been assumed, that sensation is not knowledge and cannot be productive of knowledge in the rich sense. If the Forms have emerged as involving in their interrelationships the participation which at one time seemed to express only the relation of Form to particular, the question of sensible particulars seems yet to be examined. In the Republic the things of this world were granted a shadowy kind of being, sufficient for inducing opinion but not knowledge. We shall now turn to a dialogue in which Plato is concerned with the physical world, its relation to the Forms, and the nature of our knowledge of the physical world.

D. Plato's Natural Doctrine

The dialogue to which primary appeal must be made for Plato's views on the natural world is the Timaeus, a dialogue written quite late in the life of its author and one which forms part of an uncompleted trilogy the purpose of which indicates that the story of the fashioning of the visible world was meant to provide an analogue of the moral life much as, in the Republic, the structure of the individual soul provides the model for the ideal state. The persons of the dialogue (it is not really a dialogue at all) are four: Socrates, Timaeus of Locris in Italy, Critias and Hermocrates. Of these, only Timaeus seems to be a purely fictional character. They meet the day after Socrates has outlined to the others the plan of an ideal state, the characteristics of which he summarizes now, something he would hardly need do if the discourse in question were the Republic, as some have thought; moreover, the outline suggests something a good deal less extensive than the perfect commonwealth of the early dialogue. Socrates now wishes to put flesh on his skeletal outline, pleads his own disability and enlists the help of the three others. Critias provides the setting for what is to follow by recalling a story his grandfather had told him of a visit by Solon to Egypt. The Egyptian attitude towards the Greek sage is summed up in the following remark: "O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you."(22) The Athenians, it seems, are ignorant of their own past; their history has been much longer than they realize, since before the flood there was an Athens and it had the glory of defeating the forces coming from the isle of Atlantis. The story of this battle will be told by Critias in the dialogue of that name and its purpose is this: the ideal state Socrates speaks of is to be shown to be one that actually existed in antediluvian Athens. Thus, Socrates' political theory will no longer be fiction but fact. There follows the plan for a trilogy of dialogues. In the first of them, Timaeus, who is an astronomer, will discuss the nature of the universe, the generation of the world including the creation of man. In the second, Critias was to take up the story of man, and show him as the beneficiary of the education Socrates has spoken of and identify him with the citizen of that Athens described to Solon by the Egyptian priest. We may surmise with Cornford{30} that Hermocrates was then to continue the story into the historical period, to give us in effect the material that we find in the Laws. Of this project, only the Timaeus and part of the Critias were finished; nevertheless, it is important that we see the intended context of the Timaeus; it is part of a larger discussion the import of which is clearly moral and political. The implication is that we must look to the structure of reality if we are to grasp the structure of morality. Certainly this does not diminish the importance of the Timaeus for gaining knowledge of Plato's views on the natural universe; it does, nonetheless, indicate the survival in the aged Plato of the interests of the author of the earlier dialogues.

Once Timaeus begins his alloted task, the dialogue becomes an unalleviated monologue, quite unlike anything else of Plato's we possess -- except perhaps the Critias. Despite its apparent strangeness, it is not too much to say that the Timaeus is the most influential writing of Plato on the subsequent history of philosophy, both in antiquity and in the middle ages. Much commented on in antiquity, it was early a focal work in the Academy, if figures often in Aristotle's discussion of Platonic doctrine, it looms large in Hellenistic philosophies and, in the Latin translation of Chalcidius, made in the 6th century of the Christian era, it exercised tremendous influence. It is an extremely complicated and compressed piece of work and we can hope to do little else here but suggest its contents. Even before attempting that, however, we must say something about Plato's own view of the value of the teaching to be found in the Timaeus.

It is a commonplace of earlier dialogues that knowledge cannot be sought in the sensible world, since knowledge is of the unchanging whereas the sensible world is precisely the arena of change and, indeed, of ceaseless change. The best we can expect, with regard to particulars, is conjecture and opinion, since sensible things are not quite real. Now this would not lead us to expect a writing like the Timaeus. Perhaps we must accept the view that Plato has suffered some change of attitude, but we should not be misled as to the extent of the change since, as it happens, the Timaeus itself raises the questions which occur to one who has familiarized himself with the earlier dialogues. Indeed, Timaeus begins his discourse by making a distinction between being and becoming.

That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in process of becoming and perishing and never really is. Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created. The work of the creator, whenever he looks to the unchangeable and fashions the form and nature of his work after an unchangeable pattern, must necessarily be made fair and perfect; but when he looks to the created only, and uses a created pattern, it is not fair or perfect. (28)

Now the world has been created, since it is visible and tangible and has a body. The world, being sensible, is apprehended by sense and opinion. Since it is created, the world must have a cause, though it is difficult to find; this cause must have looked to a pattern, and the perfection of the created world makes it clear that the creator looked to an eternal pattern in making it.

And having been created in this way, the world has been framed in the likeness of that which is apprehended by reason and mind and is unchangeable, and must therefore of necessity, if this be admitted, be a copy of something. Now it is all important that the beginning of everything should be according to nature. And in speaking of the copy and the original we may assume that words are akin to the matter they describe; when they relate to the lasting and the permanent and intelligible, they ought to be lasting and unalterable, and, as far as their nature allows, irrefutable and unmovable -- nothing less. But when they express only the copy or likeness and not the eternal things themselves, they need only be likely and analogous to the real words. As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief. If then, Socrates, amid the many opinions about the gods and the generation of the universe, we are not able to give notions which are altogether and in every respect exact and consistent with one another, do not be surprised. Enough, if we adduce probabilities as likely as any others; for we must remember that I who am the speaker, and you who are the judges, are only mortal men, and ought to accept the tale which is probable and enquire no further. (29)

This passage makes it quite clear that the Timaeus does not repudiate the early Platonic belief that there is no knowledge of the sensible world. That world is only an image of the real world, the world of Forms; the most we can expect is a likely story. The question arises as to whether one story can be more likely than another and, if so, in virtue of what its greater likelihood is gauged. There is no basis for assuming that what Plato means is that one account is closer to the way the sensible world actually is as if that world contained its own intelligibility. The source of intelligibility must be sought in those Forms which are utterly other than the sensible world and of which the sensible world is the pale copy. Thus a story will be more likely insofar as it refers the sensible world to the Forms. In the Statesman, Plato has pointed out that some Forms have sensible copies whereas others have none (285-6); where there are such sensible copies, these are not examined for their own sakes but for the sake of the Form of which they are copies. In the Timaeus Plato is not so much moving from the sensible world to the Forms as the other way round, but the Forms remain of the utmost importance; they are, after all, the only true anchor for thought, and if the sensible world is said to be perfect and good this is because it is an image of the intelligible and eternal. Insofar as it is about the sensible world, the Timaeus can give us only a likely story, conjecture; Plato will return to this again and again in the course of the dialogue. But the ultimate ground of the whole enterprise is the realm of Forms which are not in the sensible world (52). Any story of the universe which ignores the Forms or suggests that the physical universe has its intelligibility intrinsic to itself will be for Plato unlikely and indeed downright false.

The nature of the maker or demiurge is something that has been much discussed. There are those who maintain that Plato is here speaking of an agent indistinguishable from the creating God of Genesis; others claim that the demiurge or maker is simply a mythical expression of the familiar Platonic doctrine to the effect that the sensible world mirrors the intelligible world. There are a number of positions between these extremes, but what every position must accept is that Plato is asserting by means of the likely story of the Timaeus that the sensible universe is a product of an intelligent power. The demiurge can be taken to be symbolic of this intelligence insofar as he looks to the eternal patterns in fashioning out of the given chaos the proportioned universe. These eternal patterns cannot be conceived as thoughts in the mind of the demiurge; rather they are realities apart from him and independent of him. In other words, he is not making the world in his own likeness, but to the likeness of the eternal patterns other than himself. As a symbol of divine power, the whole story suggests the revealed story of creation, but Christian thinkers like St. Augustine will touch up the account considerably, particularly by their interpretation of the location of the Forms or Ideas, to bring it into line with Christian faith. The very least we must take from the story of the making of the universe is that for Plato the source of order in this world comes from without, that there is an intelligence responsible for the way sensible things are, that they represent imperfectly the patterns according to which they have been fashioned.

There is a connected controversy as to whether Plato is here maintaining that the world had a beginning in time. The talk of becoming and its cause would seem to indicate that what has become beforehand was not; in a word, that it has a beginning before which it. simply was not. There is no doubt that Plato speaks as if there is a beginning of becoming, and this is how Aristotle interpreted him, namely as asserting that time itself had a beginning. (Cf. Physics, VIII, 1, 251b17) A far more common interpretation was that originating in the early Academy of which Aristotle himself speaks.

Some of those who hold that the world, though indestructible, was yet generated, try to support their case by a parallel which is illusory. They say that in their statements about its generation they are doing what geometricians do when they construct their figures, not implying that the universe really had a beginning, but for didactic reasons facilitating understanding by exhibiting the object, like the figure, as in the course of formation. (De caelo, I, 1O)

Aristotle is no doubt right in maintaining that you cannot say that something has come to be and yet never was not -- that is, unless you. are using words in a new sense which requires exposition. Plato's own point seems rather to be that the sensible world as copy must always be dependent on the eternal model. The image of the maker of the world fashioning it as a craftsman makes artifacts is less important surely than the central point.

What is the motive of the demiurge in fashioning this world? The answer that Plato gives here recalls a good many things, his dissatisfaction with those explantions which do not explain natural things in terms of finality and the good, the primacy of the Cood in the Republic.

Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything. And being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be. This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world, as we shall do well in believing on the testimony of wise men: God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable. Wherefore also finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order, considering that this was in every way better than the other. (29-30)

The primacy of the good, of what Aristotle will call the final cause, makes this account particularly attractive to men of faith; it is not simply the imaginative translation of Jowett that suggests the biblical account of creation here. We do not wonder that the men of the middle ages will come to treat the Timaeus almost as they treated Scripture itself. Aristotle will make use of the notion that the gods are not jealous to indicate the fittingness of striving for the divine science; more importantly, his own ultimate explanation of reality will be anchored securely in the Good towards which the whole world strives as its end and justification.

Timaeus first describes the formation of the body of the world and then of the world soul. The world is a living creature, an animal, composed of body and soul. That on which the universe is patterned contains every intelligible thing; the universe consequently should be an animal which contains every kind of animal. The body of the world is composed of fire, air, earth and water, proportioned to one another. The world exhausts these four, they are entirely within it, and it is thereby incapable of changing as a whole. The shape of the body of the world is a globe, a perfect sphere, the figure which comprehends within itself all other figures. Timaeus then says that a soul was formed, placed in the center of the world body, from which point it diffused itself throughout the body. Actually, he cautions, he should have begun with the soul, since in order and excellence it is prior to the body: the soul is master, the body subject.

Just as the world body is composed of the four elements, so the world soul is composed of the same, the other and being. The passage in question (35) indicates that Plato is striving to describe a kind of being intermediate between the Forms on the one hand and bodies on the other. The elements of which soul is composed are taken over from the Sophist, and just as in that dialogue life and motion (i.e. thinking) are said not to be excluded from reality, so here the soul is shown to have affinity with the Forms and yet to be lower than them; by the same token it is linked with the world of becoming although its acting or power is on a higher level than the dynamis of the sensible world. The world soul is then divided and the parts are joined to form two motions, that of the same, and that of the other. The motion of the other, at first enclosed like a band revolving horizontally by the band of the motion of the same revolving vertically and around the same center is divided into seven lesser motions whose orbits are those of Sun, Mercury, Venus, Moon, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Once more, Timaeus speaks of the joining of the world soul and world body.

The account of the creation of time is of particular interest; the demiurge is said to have been moved to create it in order to make the copy even more like the original.

Now the nature of the ideal being was everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible. Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made the image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity; and this image we call time. For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he was, he is, he will be, but the truth is that 'is' alone is properly attributed to him, and that 'was' and 'will be' are only to be spoken of becoming in time . . . (37-8)

Time and the heaven are interdependent. Plato says both that they "came into being at the same instant" and that "the created heaven has been, and is, and will be, in all time." (38) The planets serve to distinguish and preserve the numbers of time; moreover, the planets are living creatures, one of the four kinds that are made. "There are four such; one of them is the heavenly race of the gods; another, the race of birds whose way is in the air; the third, the watery species; and the fourth, the pedestrian and land creatures." (40)

The demiurge delegates the task of fashioning the bodies of men and lower animals to the created gods, reserving for himself the task of furnishing the immortal principle, the soul. The souls of men are composed of the same elements as went into the making of the world soul. Moreover, the knowledge presupposed by the doctrine of anamnesis is explained.

And having made it he divided the whole mixture into souls equal in number to the stars and assigned each soul to a star; and having there placed them as in a chariot, he showed them the nature of the universe, and declared to them the laws of destiny, according to which their first birth would be one and the same for all -- no one should suffer a disadvantage at his hands; they were to be sown in the instruments of time severally adapted to them, and to come forth the most religious of animals; and as human nature was of two kinds, the superior race would hereafter be called man." (41-2)

Each soul comes to its body in its first birth with equal knowledge of reality, with an equal chance of being good. But each of them must come to a body and this leads to the necessity that each should be provided with the faculty of sensation; moreover, union with the body entails the possession of emotions and being subject to the opposition of pleasure and pain. To conquer these emotions is to live righteously; to be conquered by them, to live unrighteously. "He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence." (42) If he did not live well, his soul would pass into the body of a woman at its second birth, a state which could be the start of a further declension into the body of a brute. Of course there are women at the outset so that, in the first generation at least, women, though less than men, are not bad men.

After a brief discussion on the composition of the human body, Timaeus indicates that this discourse has reached a point where a new beginning is necessary. What has been recounted thus far is the work of intelligence; we must now take into account the role of necessity in the constitution of the universe. We are told that the universe has been able to come into being because reason has persuaded necessity, which is represented as a variable or errant cause. It is necessary to take into account the nature of fire, water, earth and air as they were prior to the creation of heaven; the generation of the elements is something usually left out of account, and Timaeus intends to reduce these to something yet more primary. Nevertheless, he does not intend that what he has to say should be the ultimate answer to the question, what are the elements of all things? Once more, he reminds us that he is striving for a likely story, a probable account.

From the very outset, Timaeus has spoken of the demiurge as imitating in his production the eternal patterns; it is taken for granted that being cannot be perfectly mirrored in becoming, that the eternal can have only an image in time. Necessity is introduced to explain this defect in the world of time and becoming. Accordingly, Timaeus begins once more and where earlier he had divided all things into being and becoming, he now sets forth a threefold division.

There is also a third kind which we did not distinguish at the time, conceiving that the two would be enough. But now the argument seems to require that we should set forth in words another kind, which is difficult of explanation and dimly seen. What nature are we to attribute to this new kind of being? We reply, that it is the receptacle, and in a manner the nurse of all generation. (49)

This receptacle is the arena of change, that in which things which do not have any stable nature but are alternately hot and cold, pass into their opposites and back again. "Anything which we see to be continually changing, as, for example, fire, we must not call a 'this' or 'that', but rather say that it is 'of such a nature'." (49) To call them this or that would be to imply that they have some stability, but they are in constant flux. We notice here the continuity with the attitude expressed in the Theaetetus and a corroboration of Aristotle's claim that Plato accepted the Heraclitean estimate of the fluidity of the sensible universe. The suggestion is that fire, for instance, is not the name of something but the designation of the state or quality of something. Timaeus illustrates this by speaking of gold which is shaped now this way now that way. If we are asked what it is, the safest answer by far will be gold, since if we cited one of its shapes which it would quickly lose, our answer would be only momentarily correct. The usual elements are spoken of as qualities or attributes of something more basic.

And the same argument applies to the universal nature which receives all bodies -- that must always be called the same; for, while receiving all things, she never departs at all from her own nature, and never in any way, or at any time, assumes a form like that of any of the things which enter into her; she is the natural recipient of all impressions, and is stirred and informed by them, and appears different from time to time by reason of them. (50)

This receiving principle is likened to a mother, the intelligible nature which is being imitated is like a father, and the process of generation is the child or product. In order to be receptive of the copy of any Form, the receptacle must be taken to be free from any such imitation in its own nature.

Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of their compounds or any of the elements from which these are derived, hut is an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible. (51)

Thus I state my view: -- If mind and true opinion are two distinct classes, then I say that there certainly are these self-existing ideas unperceived by sense, and apprehended only by the mind; if, however, as some say, true opinion differs in no respect from mind, then everything that we perceive through the body is to be regarded as most real and certain. But we must affirm them to be distinct, for they have a distinct origin and are of a different nature; the one is implanted in us by instruction, the other by persuasion; the one is always accompanied by true reason, the other is without reason; the one cannot be overcome by persuasion, the other can; and, lastly every man may be said to share in true opinion, but mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men. Wherefore also we must acknowledge that there is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only. And there is another nature of the same name with it, and like to it, perceived by sense, created, always in motion, becoming in place and again vanishing out of place, which is apprehended by opinion and sense. And there is a third nature, which is space, and is eternal, and admits not of destruction and provides a home for all created things, and is apprehended with the help of sense, by a kind of spurious reason, and is hardly real; which we beholding as in a dream, say of all existence that it must of necessity be in some place and occupy a space, but that what is neither in heaven nor in earth has no existence. (51-2)

This passage shows that while Plato still retains the basic bifurcation of reality into Forms and their sensible copies, he is now introducing a third thing which is real without being the copy of a Form. It is where the fleeting copies reside, their receptacle, and not another copy. The receptacle is now explicitly identified with space.

We are now invited to think of this receptacle as containing chaotically fire, earth, and the rest, prior to the persuasive ordering of the demiurge. This activity consists of imposing form and number on them. The four elements are generated as the four regular solids which are seen as built up out of triangles. The mathematics of this generation and the chemistry subsequently based on it is far too complicated to go into here. The reader is urged to consult the concise, clear exposition in Cornford's Plato's Cosmology. (pp. 210 ff.)

In the sequel of the Timaeus, we find a discussion of meteorological matters, the mechanism of sensation, human physiology, diseases, and so forth. We can see why this dialogue is said to be the only work of Plato which can lay claim to being a kind of encyclopedia.

The Timaeus is in many ways an extraordinary and surprising work to issue from the pen of Plato. Nevertheless, far from undermining or repudiating the world of Forms, the distinctive doctrine of earlier dialogues, the Timaeus exhibits unwavering confidence in the existence of the Forms. This is manifest in a number of ways. There is first of all the repeated insistence that an account of the sensible world can be at best a likely story. The locus of the really real has not changed; it remains the world of the Forms. What is more, the attempt to give a likely story concerned with the sensible world serves to clarify the nature of the Ideas: they are outside of time, nonspatial, causes of sensible things only in the sense of models. The one stable element in the world of becoming is the receptacle in which process takes place; this receptacle which is identified with space, is grasped by the mind but it has no model in the World of Forms themselves which neither receive other things nor go out into something else. Another clarification in the Timaeus concerns soul, the world soul but as well the human soul. The soul enjoys an intermediate existence between Forms and the realm of becoming and the story of its creation and the manner in which its future history depends on moral behaviour, while once more expressed in the form of myth, underlines what appears to be the serious intent of Plato with respect to the soul. The soul cannot, like the body, come to be by means of motion and change. The nature of true knowledge, always the takeoff point for the assertion that Forms or Ideas exist, prevents Plato from seeing in the experience of the things of this world a basis for knowledge. The soul must already have knowledge of what is truly existent. Moreover, this knowledge is the ground of true morality. Let us agree then that the objections of the Parmenides, serious as they are and, indeed, unanswered as they seem to remain in the subsequent dialogues, do not dissuade Plato from his belief in the eternal Ideas of Forms. If anything, this conviction is strengthened. Doubtless, some kind of change has occurred, since we cannot imagine the author of the Republic undertaking the task of composing the Timaeus with anything but distaste. (Of course, as we have seen, the ultimate purpose of the Timaeus is not unlike that of the Republic.) But, once more, what has not changed is the insistence that reality is not to be sought in the sensible thing but elsewhere in the realm of Forms where exists that from which the perishable things we perceive receive their name and nature. We may find this unpalatable and want to interpret this inescapable foundation stone of Platonism out of existence, but it is finally inescapable and, if Aristotle directs much of his criticism at it, we cannot say that he has no target.

We shall not go into any discussion of the myth of Atlantis as it is given in the Critias; as for the proposed third dialogue of this trilogy, if Cornford's conjecture is correct, our discussion of the Laws will give us an indication of what the sequel might have been. It is now time to take up the matter of a doctrine attributed to Plato by Aristotle which does not seem to be taught in any of the dialogues.

Mathematical Intermediates. We have already alluded to the fact that doctrines are attributed to Plato by ancient authors which do not occur in the dialogues that have come down to us. The most interesting information of this sort comes to us through Aristotle and, although it is surely the most natural thing in the world to suppose that one who was a member of the Academy for nearly twenty years while Plato was head should have heard the master say one or two things that are not mentioned in the dialogues, this possibility has been seriously questioned. Since its proposal by Cherniss this image of a mute and aloof Plato has not met with a warm reception and we shall assume the validity of the arguments against Cherniss and entertain seriously an important advance in Plato's theory mentioned by Aristotle. Of course a study of Aristotle's account of Plato's doctrine is one which requires great scope, as is evidenced by Leon Robin's La theorie platonicienne des idees et des nombres d' apres Aristote{31}. We shall be interested here only in the view that mathematical entities occupy a place midway between the Forms and sensible things; Aristotle's criticism of the Forms is something we shall take up in our next chapter.

We recall that in the seventh letter, in exemplifying what he meant by a Form or essential reality, Plato chose the example of circle and there is no suggestion that there is an intermediate entity between sensible things which are circular and cirularity itself. Indeed, it may safely be said that the most familiar examples of Forms in the dialogues are those of moral qualities and the mathematical aspects of sensible things. Not that the world of Forms is limited to these. In the seventh letter, Plato gives us some idea of what he conceived to be the scope of the world of Forms by saying there are Forms of shapes and surfaces, both straight and curved, of the good, beautiful and just, of natural and artificial bodies, of fire and water and so forth, of every animal and every quality and of all active and passive states. In a word, its scope is as unlimited as that suggested in the Republic where every general name is said to call for a Form or Idea. This is the doctrine that has become quite familiar to us from our previous discussions; a note of unfamiliarity is added in Aristotle's summary of Plato's position.

The passage in question is found in the first book of the Metaphysics. Aristotle is speaking quite definitely of Plato himself.

Further, besides sensible things and Forms he says there are the objects of mathematics, which occupy an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal and unchangeable, from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form is in each case unique. (987b14-18)

First of all, what is meant here by the objects of mathematics? If we consider that the geometer often uses two circles of the same diameter and the arithmetician in saying, "two plus two equals four" is employing "two" twice, we can see the problem the intermediates were intended to solve. According to the doctrine of Forms as we have it in the dialogues, there is only one twoness which is shared by all perishable couples. Thus "two plus two equals four" cannot be about the Form of twoness, nor does it seem to be about perceptible couples since it expresses a truth which does not perish. The plurality of "two's" then cannot belong to the realm of Forms nor to the world of becoming and an intermediate realm is called for. Aristotle's testimony is that Plato saw this and switched from a twofold to a threefold division of reality. And, while it is tempting to think that the divided line of the Republic, with its passage on the side of the intelligible from the hypotheses of mathematics to dialectic, is based on just this distinction between intermediates and Forms, it is extremely doubtful that the passage can bear this interpretation, although it is possible to see there the seeds of this later change.{32}

In the continuation of the passage just quoted, Aristotle tells us of a hierarchy in the Forms of numbers, as opposed now to mathematical numbers.

Since the Forms were the causes of all other things, he thought their elements were the elements of all things. As matter, the great and the small were principles; as essential reality, the One; for from the great and the small, by participation in the One, come the Numbers. (987b19-23)

Each number has unity and it has this by participation in the One; numbers differ from one another by addition and subtraction. We need not pursue this extremely complicated doctrine here. The point we are making is simply that the doctrine of Forms as we find it is the dialogues of Plato cannot be thought of as his final word on the subject. Whatever may be said of details of Aristotle's reports on the teachings of his master, there is far too much evidence for an unwritten doctrine of Plato that extended his views on reality for any dismissal on grounds of prejudice or misunderstanding on Aristotle's part. And, significantly enough, none of the advances recorded by Aristotle do the slightest bit towards diminishing the fact that, for Plato, there is another and better realm of things beyond the sensible particulars around us, a realm of things which is the anchor of knowledge and which subsists outside of time and space. Forms are not in sensible things nor are they concepts in our minds; they are objective realities introduced primarily to save the notion of knowledge as stable and permanent and to underwrite moral striving.

{29} W. F. Lynch, An Approach to the Metaphysics of Plato (Georgetown: University Publishing Co., 1959), pp. 4-5.

{30} F. M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology (New York: Humanities Press, 1957), pp. 7-8.

{31} (Paris: F. Alcar, 1908).

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