Plato’s Parmenides Reconsidered by Mehmet Tabak

5457d4a7d9c2e6b.jpg Author Mehmet Tabak
Isbn 978-1137515353
File size 2.8 MB
Year 2015
Pages 240
Language English
File format PDF
Category philosophy


Pl ato’s Par menides Reconsidered This page intentionally left blank Pl ato’s Par menides Reconsidered Mehmet Tabak plato’s parmenides reconsidered Copyright © Mehmet Tabak, 2015. All rights reserved. First published in 2015 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—­a division of St. Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN: 978-­1-­137-­51535-­3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Tabak, Mehmet. Plato’s Parmenides reconsidered / Mehmet Tabak. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-137-51535-3 (hardback) 1.  Plato. Parmenides. 2.  Form (Philosophy)  I.  Title. B378.T33 2015 184—dc23 2014046053 A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. Design by Scribe Inc. First edition: May 2015 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 This book is dedicated to the loving memory of my father, Huseyin Tabak. This page intentionally left blank Contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 1 Forms in the Middle-­Period Dialogues 5 Introduction 5 The Theory of Forms in Phaedo 6 The Theory of Forms in Cratylus 15 The Theory of Forms in Republic 21 Conclusion 28 2 Parmenides, Part I 29 Introduction 29 The Setting and the Main Characters of Parmenides 29 Socrates’s Theory of Forms and His Challenge 35 The Extent of Forms 36 Parmenides’s Criticism of the Participation Theory 38 Infinite Regress Objections and More 43 Radical Separation of Forms Prohibits Knowledge 48 The Method 52 Aristoteles Replaces Socrates 56 Conclusion 56 3 Parmenides, Part II 59 Introduction 59 Argument 1: If the One Is, It Is Nothing 60 Argument 2: If the One Has Being, It Can Be and Not Be All Things 71 The Appendix 97 Argument 3: If the Absolute One Participates, the Others Are 101 viii Contents Argument 4: If the Absolute One Does Not Participate, the Others Are Not 105 The Conclusion of Arguments 1–­4: Parmenides’s and Ours 107 Argument 5: Whatever Is Said of the Negative One Must Be True and Known 108 Argument 6: Speaking of the Negative One, Which We Cannot Speak Of 118 Argument 7: If the One Is Not, the Others Appear to Be 120 Argument 8: If the One Is Not, the Others Neither Appear to Be nor Are Anything 123 The Final Conclusion of Parmenides 124 4 Parmenides in Theaetetus and Sophist 127 Introduction 127 Plato’s Critique of Protagoras in Theaetetus 128 Parmenides and Parmenides in Sophist 141 Conclusion 163 Notes 167 Bibliography 215 General Index 221 Index Locorum 225 Acknowledgments I would like thank my wife, Akiko Moriyama-­Tabak, for her uninterrupted support, encouragement, patience, and love. I also would like to thank Dr. Shinasi Rama for patiently listening to my ranting about the one and the others. The following friends have provided invaluable feedback on the earlier drafts of this book: Ronald Rauchberg, John Feldmann, Weilun Ko, Deniz Solmaz, and the anonymous reviewer. I am deeply indebted to them all. This page intentionally left blank Introduction P lato’s Parmenides is conventionally read as a two-­part dialogue (part I and part II) with a brief transitional stage between its two main parts. This dialogue is based on a fictional story in which Zeno, Socrates, and Parmenides debate issues of philosophical significance at a small gathering in Athens. Part I begins in earnest with Socrates’s criticism of Zeno’s, and by extension, Parmenides’s, Eleatic doctrine. As a viable alternative to what he takes to be Zeno’s unsustainable view, Socrates outlines his own theory, which closely resembles the middle-­ period Platonic theory of Forms (TF). Subsequently, Parmenides levels a set of criticisms against Socrates’s TF. In the transitional stage, Parmenides recommends a complicated method, which he claims is necessary for the discovery of “truth.” In part II, he demonstrates this method by deducing consequences from eight (according to some, nine) main hypotheses and produces what we may call eight main arguments. Whether or not he succeeds in discovering the “truth” remains to be seen. Since ancient times, what Plato intended to convey in Parmenides1 has been a matter of immense controversy.2 In many respects, we are still repeating the old controversies. Just about every contemporary commentary on Parmenides begins by making two general claims. First, because it presumably proposes a new doctrinal lesson, this dialogue occupies a central place in Plato’s philosophical development. Second, Parmenides is notoriously enigmatic because its central lesson is unclear. Thus, it is claimed, this dialogue conveys a significant Platonic lesson, which is notoriously difficult to discern. This dilemma has led to a rich and prolonged scholarly odyssey to uncover the enigmatic lesson of Parmenides. Alas, no one has yet succeeded in uncovering it in a manner acceptable even to a sizable minority of Plato scholars.3 Clearly, the failure to arrive at a widely accepted agreement on Parmenides’s lesson has nothing to do with lack of trying. I am convinced that it has much to do with taking the aforementioned first assumption for granted. Against this assumption, I argue that there is no positive Platonic lesson in Parmenides, nor was it Plato’s intention 2 Plato’s Parmenides Reconsidered to produce one. Relatedly, assuming a priori that there is such a lesson makes the dialogue more enigmatic than it really is. In the main, Parmenides is a satirical criticism of Plato’s philosophical opponents,4 and this is its main lesson. Despite the significant disagreements they have on the presumed Platonic lesson of Parmenides, many contemporary scholars more or less subscribe to what I call the tripartite interpretation. This interpretation may be schematically stated as follows:5 1. Self-­criticism: In part I, Socrates defends Plato’s middle-­ period TF, which, through the mouth of Parmenides,6 Plato now criticizes. 2. Self-­improvement: In part II, Plato revises and improves his theory by responding to the criticisms given in part I. 3. Turning-­point: Part II initiates a significant shift in Plato’s philosophical development. The turning-­point claim is given two general directions: a. End of Forms: Plato comes to realize that his earlier TF is beyond repair and subsequently abandons it or significantly downgrades its importance. b. Radical revision: Parmenides initiates an improved, significantly different TF, which is further developed in Plato’s late dialogues. I disagree with the tripartite interpretation and defend the following theses instead: 1. Parmenides’s criticisms of the TF are obviously invalid. Plato displays these criticisms in order to satirize his opponents. 2. In part II, Plato demonstrates how the doctrines of his opponents are self-­contradictory, or else absurd, and fare no better than his TF. He uses their method to embellish his demonstration with many obvious fallacies. For this reason, neither the method nor the arguments exercised in part II result in a new Platonic lesson in Parmenides. 3. Parmenides and two subsequent dialogues (Theaetetus and Sophist) all indicate Plato’s growing desire to confront his Eleatic and sophist opponents rather than dismantle his middle-­ period TF. The main purpose of this book is to defend these theses by giving them a much more rigorous defense than anyone has done previously.7 Introduction 3 I intend to provide an accessible interpretation of Parmenides and—­to this end—­of five other Platonic dialogues. Chapter 1 basically summarizes the TF found in three of Plato’s middle-­period dialogues: Phaedo, Cratylus, and Republic. The main purpose of Chapter 1 is to supplement the TF Socrates briefly presents and defends in part I of Parmenides. Chapter 2 gives a detailed analysis of part I, with the purpose of illustrating how Parmenides’s criticisms of Socrates are obviously invalid. Chapter 3 offers a close reading of part II. It shows that the eight arguments conducted in part II are, in the main, based on the hypotheses of Plato’s Eleatic and sophist opponents. Plato’s aim in part II is to parody the doctrines of his opponents, often with obviously fallacious and absurd deductions. Chapter 4 illustrates how Theaetetus and Sophist confirm my reading of Parmenides. This page intentionally left blank Chapter 1 4 For ms in the Middle-­Per iod Dialogues I ntro duc tio n This chapter offers a brief introduction to Plato’s middle-­period theory of Forms (TF) as this theory is found in Phaedo, Cratylus, and Republic. Actually, the TF is not Plato’s central concern in any of his dialogues; part I of Parmenides is an exception in this regard. To be sure, Forms are crucial to Plato’s philosophy, and Plato is sure that any philosophy worthy of being called such cannot function without the TF. Yet the TF is discussed in a rather scattered manner in his dialogues (including the three dialogues just named) and never amounts to an entirely neat and consistent theory. More often than one would think, Plato himself confesses to not having an entirely coherent vision of Forms. However, certain important patterns still emerge from his scattered discussions, which give us a somewhat stable sense of what his Forms are, are not, how we may come to know them, and the ontological and epistemological functions they have. My aim in this chapter is to simply present the imprecise TF that Phaedo, Cratylus, and Republic offer without attempting to reconstruct it. I adopt this largely noninterventionist approach to avoid rigging these dialogues to suit the purposes of any pregiven agenda. In the ensuing chapters, I will use the information obtained here to evaluate various interpretations of Parmenides, including my own. 6 Plato’s Parmenides Reconsidered Th e Theo ry o f Fo r ms in Phaedo The main narrator in Phaedo is Phaedo, a fictional character modeled after a devoted student of Socrates. We are told that Phaedo, along with Simmias, Cebes, and others, was with Socrates during his last day; Plato was absent because he “was ill” (59b).1 Every comment attributed to Socrates in this dialogue is narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates, who wishes to learn more about Socrates’s final hours. Socrates spends his final hours discussing his impending death philosophically. His ultimate message to his grieving friends is that his bodily death will not be the end of him. In order to convince them, he has to prove the immortality of the soul. Giving this proof is the main aim of Phaedo. Socrates’s proof of the immortality of the soul depends heavily on his theory of knowledge. At about eight Stephanus pages into the dialogue, Socrates says the body hinders the acquisition of true knowledge. Even the superior senses of sight and hearing are too “inaccurate and indistinct” to give us true knowledge. For this reason, the soul will be “deceived” if it relies on sense perception. In other words, true knowledge must be “revealed” to the soul “in thought” or through pure reflection, “and thought is best when the mind,” which is the rational part of the soul, is not disturbed by any of the bodily senses. In short, in the acquisition of true knowledge, the soul must ignore the body as much as possible (65a–­c). This theory of knowledge is related to the TF. Since true knowledge depends on avoiding the senses, which sense the sensible objects, it follows that the proper objects of knowledge cannot be sensible things. Rather, they are the “absolute” entities called Forms. Socrates stipulates first that there must be such entities as “absolute justice,” “absolute beauty,” and “absolute good,” which are the Forms of Justice, Beauty, and Good. Forms such as these are “the essences or true nature of everything.” This formulation already assumes that Forms participate in sensible things and give them their “essence,” or essential identity, in so doing (65d–­66a). Nevertheless, even though they somehow participate in these objects, Forms qua Forms cannot be among or within sensible objects. For this reason, in order to have “true knowledge,” the soul must depart from the body and visit the nonexistential realm of Forms. This could only happen “after death.” In “this present life, . . . we [can only] make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body” (66e–­67b). Here, Socrates has already assumed two things: perfect knowledge is Forms in the Middle-­P eriod Dialogues 7 not possible while we live in this world, and the soul continues to live on after death in a nonsensible realm in which it encounters Forms directly. However, Socrates recognizes that he has yet to prove the immortality of the soul. The proof of the soul’s immortality begins with an “ancient doctrine, which affirms that [souls] go from hence into the other world, and returning hither, are born again from the dead.” Socrates’s task now is to attempt to provide “conclusive” proof in favor of this doctrine or hypothesis. Should he fail to do so, “then other arguments will have to be adduced” (70c–­d). This last comment gives us a gist of the method of hypothesis utilized in Phaedo. The ultimate aim is to discover the best approximation of truth by testing the validity, or logical consistency, of different hypotheses. The soundest hypothesis is to be accepted. The validity of the hypothesis “the soul is immortal” depends on its generalizability—­on its applicability to all things that admit of generation (this, as we will see, excludes Forms). The first premise of the proof is that “all things which have opposites [are] generated out of their opposites.” In other words, Socrates wants “to show that in all opposites there is of necessity a similar alternation.” Since the soul is found in two opposite conditions (life and death), it too abides by this universal law (70e–­71a). This premise is problematic, for it already presupposes what Socrates intends to prove—­namely, generation. In other words, instead of why, Socrates is merely telling us how generation occurs. Moreover, it is not clear how the soul’s residence in the body and its postbodily existence (death?) are opposites. It seems that the only death Socrates is admitting here is the death of the body and not that of the soul, which is immortal to begin with. In order to prove his opposites theory, Socrates provides several problematic examples. For instance, good and evil and just and unjust generate out of each other. This statement concludes that these opposite qualities generate out of each other even though Socrates cannot accept, and will deny, this conclusion later on. He accepts it here by confusing these qualities with their comparative, relational counterparts, which are better suited for his present conclusion. He thus says that “the worse is [generated] from the better, and the more just is [generated] from the more unjust” (70e–­71a). This confusion of categories will remain with us throughout Phaedo. Other examples that endorse Socrates’s law of generation include the following: “Anything which becomes greater must become greater after being less,” and “that which becomes less must have 8 Plato’s Parmenides Reconsidered been once greater and then have become less.” Moreover, “in this universal opposition of all things, there . . . [are] also two intermediate [opposite] processes, which are ever going on, from one to the other opposite, and back again,” and “where there is a greater and a less there is also an intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that which grows is said to wax, and that which decays to wane.” These examples, and others, provide a satisfactory proof, it is agreed, that the law of generation holds true universally—­namely, that “all opposites . . . are really generated out of one another, and there is a . . . process [of becoming] from one to the other of them.” If so, reasons Socrates, “life” and “death,” since they are also opposites, are “generated” from one another. If “the previous admissions” are true, then we have “a most certain proof that the souls of the dead exist in some place out of which they come again” (71b–­72b). Socrates will radically modify this claim in the following discussion and assert instead that life and death replace one another in the body, rather than “[generate] out of one another.” At this point in the dialogue, Cebes reminds Socrates that the latter has another, related proof of the immortality of the soul: “Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul’s immortality.” Simmias demands further proof, and Cebes gives one on Socrates’s behalf: “One excellent proof . . . is afforded by questions. If you put a question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer of himself, but how could he do this unless there were knowledge and right reason already in him? And this is most clearly shown when he is taken to a diagram or to anything of that sort” (72e–­73b). Clearly, Cebes is repeating the proof of the theory of recollection that Socrates provides in Meno (80a–­86c).2 Given Simmias’s apparent skepticism, Socrates proceeds to offer further proof in favor of the recollection theory of knowledge, and with that, the immortality of the soul. For instance, since they are associated with one another, “anyone who sees Simmias may remember [recollect] Cebes,” even if he is not present with Simmias. In short, there is obviously such “a process of recovering” a memory that is precisely recollection by association. This may happen through the association of both like and unlike things. For instance, seeing a horse may also remind one of a person related to that horse, even though the horse and the person in question are unlike each other (Phaedo, 73b–­74a). Forms in the Middle-­P eriod Dialogues 9 What Socrates says next is very crucial to understanding the TF: “When the recollection is derived from [the observation of] like things, then another consideration is sure to arise, which is—­whether the likeness in any degree falls short or not of that which is recollected.” This statement already assumes that Forms are the perfect, absolute entities (perhaps paradigms) we recollect from our observation of the imperfection of the likenesses found in sensible things. In order to prove his point, and in a circular manner, Socrates first takes it for granted again that, for instance, “there is such a thing as equality, not of one piece of wood or stone with another, but that, over and above this, there is absolute [Form of] equality.” We recollect this Form from the observation of the “equalities of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones,” and reason that the Form of Equality must be distinct from these sensible equalities.3 To look at this “matter in another way,” the “same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another time unequal.” But the true Equality cannot alter in this manner and thus appear both equal and unequal. This reflection shows that these fluctuating “equals are not the same with the idea [Form] of equality.” Yet, “from these equals,” we have “conceived and attained that idea [i.e., the Form of Equality].” This conception “surely” is “an act of recollection” (74d–­d). In short, the equalities found in sensible things are not the same as the absolute Equality; they are its “inferior” and manifold “copies.” Furthermore, whoever “makes this observation must have had a previous knowledge of that [Form] to which the other [equality], although similar [alike], was inferior.” Then the Form of Equality, which we appropriate before birth and now recollect, serves as the “standard” by which we make sense of the observable equalities, which are the both imperfect and fluctuating likenesses of this absolute “standard” (74d–­75b). Forms, then, are like, but not the same as, their imperfect representations in things. Socrates adds that what has been said of the Form of Equality is also true of the Forms of Beauty, Good, and all other absolute essences. By referring to “our sensations” and comparing their imperfect representations to one another, we discover that these Forms must be our “pre-­existent and inborn” possessions. This discovery presumably shows once again that “our souls must have had a prior existence.” Overall, the “proof that these ideas [Forms] must have existed before we were born” amounts to the same proof “that our souls existed before we were born.” If one proof falls, so does the other, says Socrates (76d–­e). At the same time, this proof clearly implies that Forms themselves, even though they participate in the sensible objects

Author Mehmet Tabak Isbn 978-1137515353 File size 2.8 MB Year 2015 Pages 240 Language English File format PDF Category Philosophy Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Parmenides is very commonly read as a turning point in Plato’s philosophical development. Most scholars assert that, in Parmenides, Plato seriously criticizes his theory of Forms. According to some proponents of this stance, Plato later came to view his own criticisms as altogether too damaging and thus subsequently abandoned his theory of Forms. Other proponents of the serious-self-criticism interpretation of Parmenides argue that, instead of abandoning his theory of Forms, Plato used Parmenides to lay the foundations for a new and improved theory. (There is little agreement on what this new theory of Forms entails.) Against these prevailing scholarly readings, Mehmet Tabak argues that Parmenides is in fact exclusively a satirical dialogue in which Plato attempts to expose the absurd nature of the doctrines and method of his philosophical opponents. Tabak’s accessible, historically-sensitive, detailed, and comprehensive account is the first decisive illustration of this view, which has been sporadically defended for many centuries.     Download (2.8 MB) Interpreting Plato’s Dialogues Argumentation: Approaches to Theory Formation The Intrigue of Ethics: A Reading of the Idea of Discourse in the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas Borges and Plato: A Game with Shifting Mirrors Plato On The Rhetoric Of Philosophers And Sophists Load more posts

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