Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue by Charles H. Kahn

055bdcedc02567f-261x361.jpeg Author Charles H. Kahn
Isbn 9781107031456
File size 1.6MB
Year 2014
Pages 266
Language English
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Category philosophy


PLATO AND THE POST-SOCRATIC DIALOGUE Plato’s late dialogues have often been neglected because they lack the literary charm of his earlier masterpieces. Charles H. Kahn proposes a unified view of these diverse and difficult works, from the Parmenides and Theaetetus to the Sophist and Timaeus, showing how they gradually develop the framework for Plato’s late metaphysics and cosmology. The Parmenides, with its attack on the theory of Forms and its baffling series of antinomies, has generally been treated apart from the rest of Plato’s late work. Kahn shows that this perplexing dialogue is the curtain-raiser on Plato’s last metaphysical enterprise: the step-bystep construction of a wider theory of Being that provides the background for the creation story of the Timaeus. This rich study, the natural successor to Kahn’s earlier Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, will interest a wide range of readers in ancient philosophy and science. charles h. kahn is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy in the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (3rd edn., 1994); The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: A New Arrangement and Translation of the Fragments with Literary and Philosophical Commentary (1979); Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form (1997); Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History (2001). PLATO AND THE POST-SOCRATIC DIALOGUE The Return to the Philosophy of Nature CHARLES H. KAHN University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: © Charles H. Kahn 2013 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2013 Printed in the United Kingdom by TJ International Ltd. Padstow Cornwall A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data Kahn, Charles H. Plato and the post-Socratic dialogue : the return to the philosophy of nature / Charles H. Kahn. pages cm isbn 978-1-107-03145-6 (hardback) 1. Plato. I. Title. b395.k235 2013 184–dc23 2013014286 isbn 978-1-107-03145-6 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. For Edna always Contents Preface Note on Chronology page xi 1 The Parmenides 1 3 18 xvi 1.1 Part One: the six aporias 1.2 Part Two: the eight deductions 2 The Theaetetus in the context of the later Dialogues 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 The hermeneutical problem: how to read the Theaetetus Part One: knowledge as sense perception The ontology of flux The koina as the object of thought (dianoia) The unique role of Being Part Two: knowledge as true doxa and the problem of false judgment 2.7 Three Aporias on false judgment (188a–190e) 2.8 The wax tablet 2.9 The bird-cage 2.10 Rejecting the definition of knowledge as true judgment 2.11 Part Three: knowledge as true judgment with a logos 2.12 Socrates’ dream: antecedents in the Cratylus 2.13 Socrates’ dream: positive contributions 2.14 Fruitless attempts to interpret logos Appendix 1 On the narrow conception of aisthēsis in the central argument Appendix 2 The digression Appendix 3 Sense perception as a system of motions 3 Being and Not-Being in the Sophist 3.1 Limits of this Dialogue 3.2 Analysis of einai vii 47 47 52 53 60 66 68 69 72 73 76 77 78 81 84 86 88 90 94 94 95 Contents viii 3.3 The topic of Being in the Sophist 3.4 The aporias concerning Not-Being (237b–239b) 3.5 The aporias concerning Being: cosmologists and monists (242c–245e) 3.6 The battle between gods and giants: corporealists and Friends of Forms (246a–249d) 3.7 Final aporias about Being: (i) two modes of predication (249e–250e) 3.8 (ii) The last aporia: the paradox of the Late-learners (251a–c) 3.9 Refutation of the Late-learners: some Forms combine (251d–252c) 3.10 Not all Forms combine: Motion and Rest do not (252d) 3.11 Network of Forms (252e–254b) 3.12 Five great Forms and the definition of Not-Being 3.13 Analysis of logos as propositional structure (260a–262e) 3.14 Definition of true and false logos (262e–263d) 3.15 Conclusion (263d–268d) 4 The new dialectic: from the Phaedrus to the Philebus 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Introduction Dialectic before the Phaedrus Dialectic in the Phaedrus Dialectic in the Sophist and the Statesman Dialectic in the Philebus 5 The Philebus and the movement to cosmology 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Plato’s return to the subject matter of the Presocratics The world as a work of art Introduction of the world soul Cosmology in the Philebus: the Announcement Limit and Unlimited in the structure of the cosmos Comparison with the Timaeus Relation between cosmology and dialectic A sketch of cosmology as object of dialectic 6 The Timaeus and the completion of the project: the recovery of the natural world 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 The myth of creation The Forms as the model for creation The extension of Forms in the model Status of Becoming and the problem of flux The Receptacle and the new introduction to creation (48e–53b) 98 99 103 105 107 109 110 111 112 114 123 126 129 131 131 132 135 139 148 157 157 159 161 163 165 169 170 173 176 176 180 181 185 189 Contents 6.6 Images and imitation: the Timaeus solution to the problem of participation 6.7 Textual support for this interpretation 6.8 Final thoughts on the relation of mathematics to the Forms 6.9 Supplementary note on sense qualities in the Timaeus Epilogue. Plato as a political philosopher 1 Cosmology in Laws X 2 The myth of the Statesman 3 On the first best constitution in the Laws Bibliography Index ix 200 203 204 206 214 214 220 235 238 242 Preface I offer here a study of six late Platonic dialogues, from the Parmenides to the Timaeus. This is a sequel to Plato and the Socratic Dialogue (Cambridge University Press, 1998), in which I discussed Plato’s earlier work, from the Apology to the Phaedrus. The current study represents an entirely new project. Although the author of these later dialogues is the same, the material is very different in both form and subject matter. Whereas Plato’s earlier writing represents the finest literary achievement of ancient prose, with dramas such as the Symposium and the Phaedo designed to compete with the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides, these later dialogues were scarcely designed for such artistic success. Instead of the brilliant conversational style of Plato’s earlier work, the writing here is often difficult to the point of obscurity, and the reasoning more intricate, as if these dialogues were addressed to a less literary, more strictly professional audience. The philosophical content is even more surprising. There is nothing in Plato’s earlier work to prepare us for his attack on the doctrine of Forms in the Parmenides, for the empiricist bias of the Theaetetus, or for the intricate conceptual analysis of the Sophist. As a result, the interpreter of Plato’s later work faces an entirely different task. To begin with, there are striking changes in literary form. We must take account of the replacement of Socrates as principal speaker, first by Parmenides, then by a visitor from Elea, and finally by the statesmanscientist Timaeus from another western Greek city. (In the Laws Plato himself will make a masked appearance in the person of an anonymous Stranger from Athens.) Even the Socrates who does return as chief speaker in the Theaetetus and Philebus is a less dramatic figure, less directly involved in the social life and conflicts of the Athenian polis. To this eclipse of Socrates as a personality corresponds a new, more problematic treatment of the theory of Forms, the central philosophical doctrine of the preceding dialogues. We begin with the radical critique of this doctrine in the Parmenides (echoed by a reminder of similar problems in xi xii Preface the Philebus), then a systematic avoidance of all reference to this theory in the Theaetetus, followed by its partial reappearance in the Sophist and Philebus, with a final, full-scale reformulation in the Timaeus. It will be our task to identify the underlying unity of Plato’s intellectual project within the bewildering diversity of these six dialogues. Formally considered, the dialogues discussed here, from the Parmenides to the Timaeus, are quite independent of one another (except for dramatic continuity between the Sophist and the Statesman); and they can be interpreted individually, without reference to the series as a whole. I claim, however, that as the work of a single philosopher, in the last decades of his long life, these dialogues are best seen as moments in a single project: namely, the coming to terms with natural philosophy on the basis of a system of thought (the Theory of Ideas) that had been worked out in earlier dialogues, with a different set of problems in view. The classical theory was designed as a framework for Plato’s original project: to develop the moral and intellectual legacy of Socrates in the context of Athenian political life. Thus. Plato’s earlier work was addressed to a wider audience, the reading public of Greece, conceived as potential citizens in a reformed society. The dialogues to be considered here have a very different goal in view: to reshape the theoretical basis of Platonic philosophy in order to include the study of the natural world. In the early tradition that stretches from Thales to Democritus, Greek philosophy had been primarily a philosophy of nature. Plato adopted the person of Socrates as his symbol for a deliberate turning away from this philosophical tradition and towards an investigation of the conditions for a good human life and a just society. Natural philosophy became, in this sense, pre-Socratic. What we have in these late dialogues is a new Platonic philosophy that can be seen as deliberately post-Socratic – an investigation in which Plato systematically returns to problems that were of primary concern for Socrates’ predecessors: the nature of knowledge and the nature of the physical world. The symbol for this return is the replacement of Socrates by Parmenides as chief speaker, and by his sequel, the Stranger from Elea. Plato’s return, then, is to a philosophical tradition that is independent of Socrates and directed towards the physical sciences, but founded now on the metaphysics of unchanging Being introduced by Parmenides. Thus, the project of these later dialogues is to reclaim the study of nature within the framework of a Platonic-Eleatic philosophy of intelligible Form. Since the present work is designed as a sequel to Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, it may be appropriate to recall my principal claims in the earlier Preface xiii volume. One aim of that book was to oppose the then prevailing view of Plato’s philosophical development before the Republic as divided into two distinct sections, one typically Socratic and the later, more fully Platonic, with some tension between the two. In reaction against this two-stage approach I denied the existence of any distinctively Socratic period in Plato’s philosophy. I argued instead for a more unitarian view of these early-middle dialogues, from the Apology to the Republic. I introduced the hypothesis of deliberate withholding on Plato’s part, specifically his withholding any full statement of the metaphysical notions that I found implicit in the dialogues of definition. I suggested that Plato will have had much of his theory of Forms in mind when, in dialogues such as the Euthyphro and Meno, he introduced the notion of essence as object of definition. Today I would formulate my view more cautiously, to avoid the impression that Plato never changed his mind, or that he knew where he was going from the start. I would now rely less on the notion of prolepsis as suggesting such a plan in advance, for which there is no direct evidence. Although I still believe that we can detect proleptic intentions in many of the earlier dialogues (for example, in the Lysis and Euthydemus), I do not regard this as a thesis to be defended here. Instead, limiting my claims to what is explicit in the text, I would clarify my position by recognizing three stages in the sequence of dialogues that stretches from the Apology to the Republic and Phaedrus: (1) the initial (pre-metaphysical) stage of Plato’s writing, represented by the Apology, Crito and Gorgias (as well as by the Ion and Hippias Minor); (2) the implicit theory of essences in the dialogues of definition (Laches, Charmides, Euthyphro, Meno); (3) the explicit theory of Forms in the Cratylus, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic and Phaedrus. (This division leaves out several dialogues that do not directly involve a search for definition, notably the Protagoras, Lysis and Euthydemus. I assume that these were written at roughly the same time as the dialogues listed under stage 2, and before the dialogues listed under stage 3.) In my view, then, the dialogues of stage 1 represent the so-called Socratic period in Plato’s writing, when he was fiercely loyal to the Socratic moral position but had not yet – even in the Gorgias – developed a metaphysical basis for this position. On the other hand, the beginnings of such a basis make their appearance in the conception of essences presented in dialogues such as the Euthyphro and Meno. Hence, without making any assumptions about Plato’s unspoken intentions, we can recognize a clear progression from the Socratic moral position, as expressed in the Gorgias, to the search xiv Preface for a theoretical basis for this position, which we find in the dialogues of stage 2: namely, the notion of essences corresponding to the virtues. (It is no accident that, in all three stages, the argument appeals to what I call the normative trio – the just, the noble (kalon), and the good – as the conceptual basis for Socrates’ pursuit of aretē.) After the dialogues of definition we can recognize a further progression from an implicit ontology of essences to the explicit metaphysics of the Forms, beginning with the Beautiful (kalon) in the Symposium and culminating in the Good of the Republic. Hence the view which I previously described as unitarian can perhaps be more accurately formulated as the progressive working out of a theoretical basis for what was at first an essentially practical conception: the ideal of virtue modeled on the figure of Socrates. This theoretical basis was provided by the metaphysics of Forms, as presented in the great “middle” dialogues (Symposium, Phaedo and Republic) and invoked also in the Cratylus and Phaedrus. The underlying ethical motivation for this theory is revealed in the central role of the normative trio – the Just, the Beautiful and the Good – even before the Good itself is identified as the supreme concept in the Republic. In the Phaedo the theory was expanded to include mathematical Forms (beginning with the Equal); and these will remain fundamental in all future versions of the doctrine. The Cratylus flirts with an extension to artifacts such as the spindle; and so we have the Form of Bed in Republic X. But this is an extension about which Plato may have had second thoughts, since such artifacts tend to disappear from later versions of the theory. What is conspicuous by its absence in these earlier dialogues is any application of the theory of Forms to the realm of nature and to natural kinds. We recall that Socrates introduces this theory in the Phaedo as an alternative to – even an escape from – the natural philosophy pursued by his predecessors. But the application of the theory to such concepts as human being, fire or water remains a serious problem, as Parmenides will point out (Parm. 130c). A central theme of my present study will be Plato’s systematic clarification and extension of the concept of Form in order to apply it to the domains of physics and biology, that is, to the territory explored by his predecessors the Presocratics. From the Parmenides on, I suggest, Plato is preparing the basis for this long-postponed reunion with peri phuseōs historia. As a result, mathematics will begin to play a new role. Instead of leading upwards to the Forms and away from the visible world (as it is intended to do in the educational scheme of the Republic), geometry and number will now be directed Preface xv downwards, to project a formal structure onto the realm of change, and thus to reveal a stable pattern underlying the flux of coming-to-be and passingaway. This new role for mathematics will involve some recognition of a middle ground between Being and Becoming, a revision of the sharp dualism between intelligible and sensible realms that is characteristic of the Phaedo and Republic. It is this ontological space between Forms and sensible particulars that will be opened up by the recognition of “beings that have come-to-be” in the Philebus, and by the mathematical structures imposed upon the Receptacle in the Timaeus. What we have, in effect, in Plato’s later theory is a new notion of immanent form, conceived in mathematical terms. It is this gradual (and partial) emergence of a new theory of nature and change within the framework provided by a revised metaphysics of Form that will be the theme of this book. Of course, Plato in his later years had not lost interest in issues of ethics and politics. That interest is reflected even in the titles of the Sophist and the Statesman; and the Philebus is primarily devoted to the place of pleasure in the good life. The long and unfinished project of the Laws testifies that Plato was to the end preoccupied with the philosophical reconstruction of life in the polis. These practical concerns are reflected in the introductory conversation of the Timaeus, with its echo of the Republic, as well as in the political myth that follows in the Critias. Instead of promising a third volume to deal with these topics, I offer here an Epilogue to take some account of Plato’s concern with moral and political philosophy in his latest period. In conclusion, let me record my sincere thanks to David Sedley, Verity Harte, and Leslie Brown for valuable comments on different parts of my text, and in particular to Leslie Brown for allowing me to make use of her excellent (and as yet unpublished) translation of the Sophist. charles h. kahn Note on Chronology I take for granted the chronological division of the dialogues into three stylistically distinct groups, established in the nineteenth century by the studies of Campbell and Ritter. According to this division, the Cratylus, Symposium and Phaedo belong to the earliest Group 1 (together with the Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Meno and some nine other dialogues). Group 2 consists of the Republic, Phaedrus, Parmenides, and Theaetetus. The latest Group 3 includes the Sophist-Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, and Laws. Although this chronological sequence is clearly marked by stylistic changes, it does not correspond to important stages of philosophical content. On the contrary, the so-called middle group of dialogues (Symposium-PhaedoRepublic), which is characterized by the classical doctrine of Forms, is divided between stylistic Groups 1 and 2; whereas the two last dialogues of Group 2 (Parmenides and Theaetetus) mark a sharp break with this classical doctrine. A new, more complex conception of Form will gradually emerge in the dialogues of Group 3, culminating in the Timaeus; while, on the other hand, a different kind of metaphysical restraint will later characterize the Laws. Although stylometry is our best guide for the chronological ordering of the dialogues, it tells us very little about the changes in philosophical content. For there is no simple story to be told of Plato’s philosophical development corresponding to the chronological ordering of the dialogues. For fuller discussion of the stylistic evidence, see Kahn (2002a) 93–127. xvi chapter 1 The Parmenides The dialogue Parmenides has some claim to be the most problematic item in the Platonic corpus. We have from the beginning a radical change in dramatic framework and in the portrayal of Socrates. In contrast to his master role as exponent of fundamental doctrine in the Phaedo and Republic, Socrates appears here as a promising young man with a sketchy theory of Forms – a theory that will be exposed to withering criticism at the hands of Parmenides. The name of Parmenides had been barely mentioned in any previous dialogue; and his historical role belongs in fact to an earlier generation.1 The visit of Parmenides and Zeno to Athens, as represented in this dialogue, is clearly an invention of Plato, who is prepared here to ignore chronological possibilities. He has chosen Parmenides as the only philosopher deemed worthy to refute Socrates in dialectical exchange, but who, at the same time, will guarantee a fundamental commitment to a stable ontology. And such a commitment will be expressly reasserted here. Nevertheless, the first part of the dialogue presents the singular spectacle of Plato, in the person of Parmenides, formulating a set of penetrating objections to his favorite theory, without any hint of how these objections are to be answered. The second, much longer part of the dialogue presents an object that is equally perplexing: a set of eight or nine deductions from a single hypothesis and its denial, with formally contradictory conclusions. Just as Part One leaves the reader without any response to the objections, so Part Two leaves us without any sign of how these apparent contradictions are to be resolved. The relation between the two parts of the dialogue is also mysterious. The deductions of Part Two are presented as a training exercise 1 Contrast the isolated poetic quotation from Parmenides in Symposium 178b, with an echo at 195c. The exact dates of Parmenides are unknown, but his traditional “acme” (504–501 bc) is at least credible. Parmenides’ influence is strongly marked on the following generation, represented by Anaxagoras and Empedocles in the middle of the fifth century. We note that in the Phaedo Socrates was not reported to have been in personal contact even with Anaxagoras, much less with Parmenides. 1 2 1 The Parmenides designed to prepare a philosopher like the Young Socrates to deal with the criticisms formulated in Part One. But it is not immediately clear how the arguments of Part Two are intended to bear on the problems raised in Part One. The absence here of any direct answer to the criticisms of Part One has led some scholars to conclude that Plato was ready to abandon the theory of Forms, or that he was uncertain how to proceed. (A “record of honest perplexity” was Vlastos’ diagnosis.)2 But the text itself points in a more positive direction. Parmenides, who formulates the objections, never suggests that the theory should be given up. On the contrary, if the theory is reduced to its central thesis, the distinction between the changing objects of sense perception and stable forms “that one can best grasp in logos,” Parmenides indicates that giving up such forms would be equivalent to giving up on philosophy itself. (Hence the pressing question at 135c5: “What will you do about philosophy?”) Without permanent, self-identical forms, Parmenides says to Socrates, “you will have nowhere to turn your thought to, . . . and you will utterly destroy the power of rational discourse (dialegesthai).”3 What Socrates needs, according to Parmenides, is not so much a different theory but more philosophical training, so that he will be able to confront the problems raised in the objections. The second part of the dialogue offers to provide the requisite training. Part Two of the Parmenides is notoriously enigmatic. I suggest, however, that the arguments of this Part will seem less bewildering if we consider them not in isolation but in the larger context provided by the group of late dialogues studied here, beginning with the Theaetetus and Sophist and continuing with Philebus and Timaeus. Thus, I propose to regard the Parmenides as a philosophical introduction to Plato’s later work. Between the Theaetetus and the Sophist there is a definite mark of literary continuity, and both dialogues refer back to the fictional meeting between Socrates and Parmenides that takes place only in the Parmenides.4 Thus, there is a sense in which the Theaetetus and Sophist are both presented as a sequel to the Parmenides. The Philebus is linked to the Parmenides in a different way, by allusion to several specific arguments, including an accurate summary of Parmenides’ objections to participation (Philebus 15b; cf. Parm. 131a–e). Substantial portions of both the Sophist and Philebus can thus be seen as 2 3 4 Vlastos (1954) 254. For the broad notion of “dialectic” here as the general method of rational inquiry, see Phaedrus 266b, echoed at Philebus 16b5–c3. The basic contrast between the objects of sense perception and those of λόγος is introduced at Parmenides 130a1 and repeated at 135e1–3. Theaetetus 183e7–184a1; Sophist 217c5–6.

Author Charles H. Kahn Isbn 9781107031456 File size 1.6MB Year 2014 Pages 266 Language English File format PDF Category Philosophy Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Plato’s late dialogues have often been neglected because they lack the literary charm of his earlier masterpieces. Charles Kahn proposes a unified view of these diverse and difficult works, from the Parmenides and Theaetetus to the Sophist and Timaeus, showing how they gradually develop the framework for Plato’s late metaphysics and cosmology. The Parmenides, with its attack on the theory of Forms and its baffling series of antinomies, has generally been treated apart from the rest of Plato’s late work. Kahn shows that this perplexing dialogue is the curtain-raiser on Plato’s last metaphysical enterprise: the step-by-step construction of a wider theory of Being that provides the background for the creation story of the Timaeus. This rich study, the natural successor to Kahn’s earlier Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, will interest a wide range of readers in ancient philosophy and science.     Download (1.6MB) Presocratics and Plato: Festschrift at Delphi in Honor of Charles Kahn Epistemology after Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato, Aristotle, and Democritus The Ancient Commentators on Plato and Aristotle Antigone, in Her Unbearable Splendor: New Essays on Jacques Lacan’s The Ethics of Psychoanalysis From The Socratics To The Socratic Schools: Classical Ethics, Metaphysics And Epistemology Load more posts

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