Thursday, March 22, 2007
Yet in the context of the dialogue, the idea of dunamis as the topmost category in every division makes good sense, since it is also used as an (apparently provisional) definition of being (247d8-e4), and never really retracted; see here Heidegger (1997/1924-25, section 68.b, pp. 328-330) and Dorter (1994, pp. 161-162). All the genealogies or divisions seem meant to begin from the original ancestor of everything, namely being.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Plato defined man as a featherless biped [Statesman 266e], and was much applauded [for that]. [Diogenes heard this and so] he took a plucked chicken into the school and said, "here is Plato's man." So Plato's definition was changed with the addition "with broad nails."
Get it? I didn't think so. Let's try it one more time in Greek:
Πλάτωνος ὁρισαμένου, Ἄνθρωπός ἐστι ζῷον δίπουν ἄπτερον, καὶ εὐδοκιμοῦντος, τίλας ἀλεκτρυόνα εἰσήνεγκεν αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν σχολὴν καί φησιν, "οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ Πλάτωνος ἄνθρωπος." ὅθεν τῷ ὅρῳ προσετέθη τὸ πλατυώνυχον.
Still don't get it? Well, it's not really a very good joke, but it's a joke. And perhaps it's worth ruining it with an explanation.
The introduction is classic: Diogenes walks into a bar and hears that Plato defined a chicken as a featherless biped. The detail about the applause is evidently intended to amuse us (who could applaud such a ridiculous definition, ridiculous even within the dialogue, as the Stranger notes in the Statesman?), not to report a fact. The punch line of the joke is that τὸ πλατυώνυχον “the quality of having broad nails” sounds in Greek much like τὸ πλατώνικον, “the platonic thing;” the “improved” academic definition is thus “man is a ζῷον δίπουν ἄπτερον πλατυώνυχον/ πλατώνικον,” a “‘platonic’ featherless biped.”
Ok, I said it wasn't a great joke, but I think it's nice to know that people in antiquity took that part of the dialogue with a sense of humor.
Monday, March 05, 2007
It is true that the Stranger’s genealogies are unlike Socrates’ definitions of the arts in that they do not emphasize the ends to which the arts aim; the Stranger, for instance, in his definition of angling does not say why anybody would practice angling, or even explicitly say what is the end of angling, and in his last definition of sophistry he does not discuss why anybody would practice sophistry (since the references to money which were such an important part of the first four definitions of the sophist drop out in the sixth and seventh).
Nevertheless, these genealogies do incorporate the immediate function of the art (its ergon), a function which is naturally called an “immediate” purpose. What an art does – its ergon - is its end qua art, i.e., its function, though it may not be the ultimate purpose of the person practicing the art. The angler’s function, in this sense, is to hunt fish; and the function of sophistry is to seem wise, and these are things that the Stranger’s genealogies can inform us of. To ask why should anybody hunt fish or want to seem wise is to ask the question of the good of fish and that of wisdom, and this is a question that the Stranger certainly does not openly discuss, unlike Socrates.
That question, however, is implicit in the Stranger's depiction of a web of arts that are all connected in the Statesman. The good of an art can only be understood in reference to the function it plays in society; hence we cannot understand the problem of sophistry well until we come to understand the place it takes (or rather usurps) in the web of arts that constitute the city. In this sense the Stranger's and Socrates' methods seem more complementary than contradictory; we need not see in the Stranger's apparent lack of interest in the question of whether the sophist's motivations are good an actual disinterest in the goodness or badness of sophistry. On the contrary: as we learn (291aff), sophistry is genuinely dangerous to the polis insofar as it attempts to substitute for statesmanship. We might say that Socrates adopts the perspective of the individual, while the Stranger adopts the perspective of the "social system."
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Moreover, the Stranger will go on to suggest that the sophist has a techne, an art (221d), and that it is this possession of an art that makes him "countable:" it seems that it is because sophist, philosopher, and statesman have three distinct technai or three forms of knowledge that they can be said to be three. But in the Gorgias Socrates had not even allowed that the sophist had an art (Gorgias 463a6-b6). Shouldn't the correct answer to Socrates' question then be "one," namely, there is only one art, that of the philosopher, which is identical to the statesman's art, and the sophist has no real techne?
The problematic nature of the Stranger's answer has been noted by scholars in various ways. Notomi (1999, p. 22), for example, claims that the Stranger is not fully committed to the view that sophist, philosopher, and statesman are three distinct beings: the Stranger’s “answer is that they [the Eleatic school] assume (ἡγοῦντο) these three kinds, and he adds that it is nonetheless no easy task to determine what each of them is (217b1-3). The view that these are three kinds is presented as an assumption (not as fact), and remains such throughout the Sophist and Statesman. It really matters whether these three figures constitute independent, real kinds (γένη).” But the Stranger gives us no reason in either the Sophist or the Statesman to think that he eventually revises his answer: the assumption, if it is an assumption, is vindicated in the dialogues.
Most scholars seem to fall into two camps: those who argue that somehow the three must be two, and those who argue that the three are indeed three, but argue that this does not represent a departure from the traditional Platonic doctrine of the philosopher king. Here's a list:
- Skemp (1952/1987, p. 21) argues that philosopher and statesman are really one, but that the “specific activity” of statesmanship can be isolated from philosophical activity more generally. (It is not clear if this means Skemp thinks that the correct answer to Socrates’ question is two or three).
- Klein (1977, p. 200): the three are really two.
- Strauss (1989, p. 218): three. He thinks this answer is compatible with the Republic: “[t]he fact that the philosopher is not identical with the king was recognized in the central thesis of the Republic, according to which the coincidence of philosophy and kingship is the condition for the salvation of cities and indeed of the human race: identical things do not have to coincide.” Yet he also notes that the difference between statesman and philosopher is not made sufficiently clear in the Statesman.
- Lane (1998, p. 7, note 19): three.
- Griswold (1989, p. 263, note 13): three.
- Rowe (1995, note to Statesman 257b3-4) two, though he seems to suggest that statesmanship involves “special skills” that the philosopher by himself does not necessarily have (and so philosophy and statesmanship would really be three).
- Notomi (1999, p. 25, especially note 82): uncertain, but thinks the question is extremely important, and seems to lean towards the “two” answer
- Samaras (2002, chapter 8, especially p. 146): unambiguously two, though thinks that there are different conceptions of the statesman in the Republic and in the Statesman.
- Voegelin (1987/1956a, p. 150): unambiguously two
- Benardete (1984, pp. II.73-74), as usual, has the most interesting analysis, without settling on a specific number, though in his earlier piece (Benardete 1963 pp. 212, 223), he was much more explicit in thinking that philosophy and statesmanship were different.
What are the implications of answering the question with "two" or "three"? It would seem that saying that philosopher and statesman are distinct forms of knowledge should indicate that the thesis of the Republic is not really tenable in the form in which it is usually understood (perhaps Plato changed his mind?); and moreover, it would necessitate a ranking of philosopher and statesman (perhaps the philosopher is inferior to the statesman?). More dramatically, perhaps, a separation of philosophy and statesmanship might create a space within Plato's political philosophy for a different sort of relationship between philosophy and politics than the one Plato is usually identified with (i.e., the -prudentially qualified- imposition of philosophical principles on political affairs).
But in order to see whether philosopher and statesman are the same or not, we need to understand what it would mean to say that they are distinct. My idea is that what we have here three distinct relationships to wisdom, each of them associated with a particular form of knowledge: the pretend wisdom of the sophist (associated with an art of pretension, of making images), the search for wisdom of the philosopher (associated with a dialectical science that facilitates this search), and the actual wisdom of the genuine statesman (associated with an art of measure and a real knowledge of forms). Each of these can be understood as "images" of wisdom, but only one of them (statesmanship) really is actual wisdom. So I think that Plato really means to suggest that there are three (not two) different figures here, each distinguished by a particular art and a particular relationship to the possibility of wisdom.
The Stranger discusses images explicitly beginning at 235b8ff. The relevant passages are worth quoting in full (235d-236c). In Fowler's translation, from Perseus:
I see the likeness-making art as one part of imitation. This is met with, as a rule, whenever anyone produces the imitation by following the proportions of the original in length, breadth, and depth, and giving, besides, [235e] the appropriate colors to each part.
Yes, but do not all imitators try to do this?
Not those who produce some large work of sculpture or painting. For if they reproduced the true proportions of beautiful forms, the upper parts, you know, would seem smaller [236a] and the lower parts larger than they ought, because we see the former from a distance, the latter from near at hand.
So the artists abandon the truth and give their figures not the actual proportions but those which seem to be beautiful, do they not?
That, then, which is other, but like, we may fairly call a likeness, may we not? [236b] And the part of imitation which is concerned with such things, is to be called, as we called it before, likeness-making?
It is to be so called.
Now then, what shall we call that which appears, because it is seen from an unfavorable position, to be like the beautiful, but which would not even be likely to resemble that which it claims to be like, if a person were able to see such large works adequately? Shall we not call it, since it appears, but is not like, an appearance?
And this is very common in painting [236c] and in all imitation?
And to the art which produces appearance, but not likeness, the most correct name we could give would be “fantastic art,” would it not?
By all means.
These, then, are the two forms of the image-making art that I meant, the likeness-making and the fantastic.
Here is part of the Greek:
μίαν μὲν τὴν εἰκαστικὴν ὁρῶν ἐν αὐτῇ τέχνην. ἔστι δ᾽ αὕτη μάλιστα ὁπόταν κατὰ τὰς τοῦ παραδείγματος συμμετρίας τις ἐν μήκει καὶ πλάτει καὶ βάθει, καὶ πρὸς [235ε] τούτοις ἔτι χρώματα ἀποδιδοὺς τὰ προσήκοντα ἑκάστοις, τὴν τοῦ μιμήματος γένεσιν ἀπεργάζηται.
οὔκουν ὅσοι γε τῶν μεγάλων πού τι πλάττουσιν ἔργων ἢ γράφουσιν. εἰ γὰρ ἀποδιδοῖεν τὴν τῶν καλῶν ἀληθινὴν συμμετρίαν, οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι σμικρότερα μὲν τοῦ δέοντος [236α] τὰ ἄνω, μείζω δὲ τὰ κάτω φαίνοιτ᾽ ἂν διὰ τὸ τὰ μὲν πόρρωθεν, τὰ δ᾽ ἐγγύθεν ὑφ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁρᾶσθαι.
The distinction the Stranger makes here between likeness-making ("eikastic" imitation) and the making of appearances ("fantastic" imitation) has been the source of endless confusion. Among earlier interpreters, Philip (1961, p. 459, JSTOR), for instance, makes the strange suggestion that “[e]ikastike would appear to be a class without members, serving only a purpose of symmetry.” His argument relies too much on the Cratylus, where the distinction does not appear, though Socrates does discuss images. Cornford (1935, p. 198) makes the equally misguided suggestion, under the influence of arguments in the Republic (where, again, the distinction does not occur) that “[b]oth here and in the Republic the whole of fine art, considered as ‘imitative’, falls under the art of making ‘semblances’, not ‘likenesses’. Plato does not mean that there is a good and honest kind of art which makes ‘likenesses’ reproducing in all three dimensions and the natural colors of the original” – something which in fact he must mean.
More contemporary interpreters do better, though there is still no consensus regarding the meaning of the distinction. Blondell (2002, pp. 365ff.), for example, argues that εἰκόνα are “analytic images,” but she mars her argument by suggesting that only eikastic imitation is pedagogically beneficial. Like her, most interpreters of the distinction (so Notomi 1999, Palumbo in the Proceedings of the III Symposium Platonicum) operate under the assumption that Plato must obviously value eikastic imitation more than fantastic, or clearly identify philosophy with eikastic rather than fantastic imitation (Nightingale 2002 is an exception: she argues that Plato could have used both forms of imitation for pedagogical purposes, though her views are dismissed by Rutherford in the same volume). But the assumption is unwarranted; the Stranger says little about whether we are to consider eikastic imitation the sole province of the philosopher, or to value it always more than fantastic imitation.
What, then, is the Stranger trying to say with this distinction? I draw here on Benardete 's somewhat opaque, but useful interpretation of this passage (1984, pp. II.105-112). I take it that the Stranger is suggesting that there are two ways in which images can represent objects, and that both of them are flawed, though in different ways. Let's take, for example, the image of a straight road:
This is a "fantastic" or distorted image of the original: in order to represent the road so that it looks like a road, the picture had to distort the actual proportions of the road, primarily by making the parallel lines of the road appear to converge. The image's summetria or proportions are thus different from the summetria of the original, or more precisely, the image and the original do not have a common measure (a summetria). This was necessary because the road is "too large," as the Stranger notes, to be eikastically represented and still look like the road looks.
But what would an eikastic image of the road "look like"? Here is one (not, of course, of the same road):
Though this particular image is not eikastic in every respect described by the Stranger, it is eikastic in the sense that the image preserves the proportions of the original: the sides of the road really are parallel to each other, and they are depicted as parallel in the image. But of course, because from our normal point of view the road does not look like that, a fantastic image is required - a perspectivally distorted image - if we want the image of the road to look the way in which a road would normally look to us.
Fantastic images are distorted - and thus flawed as representations of their originals - precisely in order to account for our flawed perspective. Eikastic images are not distorted from the point of view of the original (that is, they preserve the original proportions of the object) but they appear flawed because they are not well adapted to our point of view. The relationship between an eikastic image and its original is like the relationship between the central circles in the Titchener circles illusion:
Both red circles are in fact identical in size, but they look different to us given the limitations of our perceptual apparatus.
In the Greek context it seems likely to me that the Stranger is referring to a form of perspectival painting, where figures have to be systematically distorted in order to look right to us. The point of this distinction, however, is the subject of an upcoming post...
When Socrates expresses the fear that Theodorus might have brought a refuting god who has come to punish them to their gathering, rather than a mere "stranger," Theodorus ambiguously reassures him: this is not the way of the Stranger; he is more "measured" than those who take disputation too seriously. There is a more than a hint that Theodorus includes Socrates among the latter, i.e., somebody who takes disputation too seriously (Theaetetus 169a6-b4). As Seth Benardete (1984, p. II.70) puts it:
Theodorus, ... [w]ith his usual rudeness, tacitly agrees that Socrates is poor in speeches ... The Stranger is not another Socrates, whose “love of naked exercise in speeches” lets no one get away from him without first rendering an account of himself.
Now, when Theodorus says that the stranger is "more measured" than somebody like Socrates, he uses the word μετριώτερος, which evokes the notion of measure, τὸ μέτριον, discussed much later in the Statesman (beginning at 283c). There, the Stranger distinguishes between two arts of measure: one kind that measures things in relation merely to each other (as bigger or smaller than each other), and another kind that measures them in relation to a mean (as too much or too little in relation to it). The Stranger puts all the arts of measure that have to do with number, length, depth, and surface, i.e., the mathematical arts, among the arts of measure that do not measure "against the mean" and hence cannot find the proper measure (the neither too much nor too little) of things (284e4; for a fuller argument on this point, see my paper here). Mathematicians, in other words, are not qualified by virtue of their mathematical art to say whether someone is "too preoccupied" with disputation. But that is precisely what Theodorus is claiming by saying that the Stranger is "more measured" than somebody like Socrates; he is trying to measure against the mean.
Thus, to the extent that we can refer forwards to the discussion of measure in the Statesman when thinking about Theodorus' subtle put-down of Socrates, we can see that Socrates has the last laugh: Theodorus is not qualified, according to the implication of the Stranger's argument, to judge whether the Stranger is more or less measured than Socrates in the matter of disputation, except in the purely mathematical sense that the Stranger engages in less disputation than Socrates. Whether the Stranger engages in the right level of disputation is something that Theodorus cannot judge.
To be sure, all of this is somewhat speculative. Others see less of a tension between Socrates and Theodorus (e.g., Miller 1980, pp. 11-12), and most see no tension at all (most agree with Campbell 1867, note to 216a5, who long ago argued that Theodorus' reassurance merely shows that Socrates expressed an “ironical fear” of having the “Zenonian negative dialectic to bear on his own (i.e. Plato’s) mode of reasoning”). The point, however, is that if we take seriously both Theodorus' status as a mathematician and the apparent downgrading of a purely mathematical art of measure in the Statesman, then Theodorus' judgment about the Stranger and Socrates is put into question: he cannot tell us that the Stranger is a better philosopher than Socrates by engaging in a less disputatious form of philosophy.
The only plausible charge is an accusation of sophistry. This charge is not so different from the actual charge leveled against him by Meletus, namely, that he introduced new gods into the city and corrupted the young; both Aristophanes in the Clouds and the Platonic Socrates in his defense in the Apology (18b) understand the accusation to be that he is somebody who makes the weaker argument appear stronger and thereby corrupts the young, an activity associated with the sophists. The Sophist, with its concern for the correct definition of the sophist, can then be understood as a methodical attempt to figure out whether there is anything to the charge.
To be sure, the Eleatic Stranger never makes this accusation. He and Theaetetus simply develop various definitions of the sophist, never explicitly connecting them with Socrates. The fifth definition of sophistry, however, beginning at 226a and ending at 231b8, is, as scholars have long recognized, alarmingly close to Socrates' own practice as described in the "Socratic" dialogues. The sophist that the Stranger and Theaetetus describe engage in the refutation of the ignorance that does not know it is ignorance, as a form of education, which certainly seems to be much like what Socrates does in many "early" Platonic dialogues. Here's the Stranger's final summary of their definition (231b, Fowler translation in Perseus):
... let it be agreed that part of the discriminating art is purification, and as part of purification let that which is concerned with the soul be separated off, and as part of this, instruction, and as part of instruction, education; and let us agree that the cross-questioning of empty conceit of wisdom, which has come to light in our present discussion, is nothing else than the true-born art of sophistry.Is the Stranger indicting Socrates by this definition of sophistry? Though Theaetetus is ready to describe the master of the cathartic art as a sophist, the Stranger seems uncertain (230e-231b):
Well then, who are those who practise this art?
[231a] I am afraid to say the sophists.
Lest we grant them too high a meed of honor.
But the description you have just given is very like someone of that sort.
Yes, and a wolf is very like a dog, the wildest like the tamest of animals. But the cautious man must be especially on his guard in the matter of resemblances, for they are very slippery things. However, let us agree that they are the sophists; for I think the strife will not be about petty discriminations [231b] when people are sufficiently on their guard.
It is not clear here whether the sophist they have described (and hence Socratic practice) is the wolf or the dog in this analogy, and hence whether the Stranger is indicting or absolving Socrates.
Scholars disagree as well: some feel compelled to deny that the image of the “cathartic” sophist really applies to Socrates at all (Bluck 1975, pp. 40-46; Diès 1925, p. 272; Kerferd 1954), even if the similarities must be acknowledged as part of the philosophic “trial” of Socrates (Friedländer 1964, p. III.237); others argue that Plato himself is in doubt (Campbell 1867, p. li); yet others deny that the Stranger “disvalues” this sort of sophistry, though they acknowledge that it is a sort of sophistry that needs to be superseded, perhaps by by the positive method of the latter Plato (Cornford 1935; Dorter 1994, pp. 131-134; Heidegger 1997/1924-2, p. 263; Kerferd 1954), pp. 85-97); some see here a kind of (ambiguous) indictment of Socrates (Benardete 1984, p. II.99; Howland 1998, pp. 203-206; Notomi 1999, section 2.3, pp. 64-68); finally others see here an association between Socrates and sophistry, but think that this implies that sophistry is necessary and universal, and so see no real "indictment" of Socrates (Wolff 1991, esp. p. 51). The very variety of scholarly reactions to the question testifies to the ambiguity of the passage and the stakes of the issue: scholars feel compelled to take sides on the matter, to decide whether Socrates should be indicted as a sophist or not, and if not, why not.
If Socrates appears as a sophist, it should be noted that the Eleatic Stranger does not escape suspicion either (Lassègue 1991, in a weak sense; Scodel 1987; Tejera 1999, chapters 10 and 11). As Notomi (1999, p. 72) notes, it is only Theodorus “who introduced and regarded him as a philosopher;” and certain features of the definitions of the sophist (primarily the second, the itinerant merchant of learning, and the last, the human producer of distorted images of wisdom [such as the Statesman’s myth] in an intelligible medium, ironically, in private with short speeches that can produce contradiction) seem applicable to the Stranger even more than to Socrates. One could also add that at one point the Stranger does imitate a sophist fairly explicitly (239e1-240c3), a passage commented on by Campbell (1867, p. xxii): “The Eleatic Stranger is like the Sophist he describes, whose “sense is shut” to everything but the dry light of reason.”
This confusion of appearances is simply a restatement of the problem posed by Socrates at the very beginning of the dialogue (216c-d): the philosopher sometimes appears as a statesman, sometimes as a sophist, sometimes as a madman, and are therefore hard to make out clearly. Plato seems to leave it as an exercise for the reader to distinguish Socrates from the sophist or else to indict him and find a new philosophical path; we are invited to take sides. It is never absolutely clear whether Socrates is a sophist; at any rate, he is perilously similar to the sophist, like a dog to a wolf, and pinpointing the essential difference is not easy from a distance.
In order to see the difference between them we have to understand images - what they are and how they work; and so the dialogue moves on to a thorough consideration of images. More on images this week...
There, Socrates showed himself as an overconfident young with much to learn yet from a more experienced philosopher. As we learn from the Parmenides (127eff), Socrates thought he could easily refute Zeno's paradoxical arguments about the many and the one by introducing a version of the theory of forms. But the aged Parmenides himself refutes Socrates' arguments, leaving him at a loss. It is this that seems to be the source of Socrates' reverence or awe; not Parmenides' age by itself, but the fact that Parmenides showed him the difficulties with his own position.
Now, the Stranger must have heard of Socrates’ fearsome powers of refutation before meeting him; otherwise his αἰδώς could only be explained as the conventional shame of a younger man upon meeting an older man. This is a possibility, since Theodorus describes him as merely a companion of those around Parmenides and Zeno, not as a companion of Parmenides himself; the Stranger may never have met Parmenides, if we take Theodorus literally. But we are never told that the Stranger is a young man.
At any rate, Socrates appears to the Stranger as a figure inspiring reverence and shame, not someone to be trifled with lightly, especially not by giving oneself airs and putting on exhibitions; we might say that Socrates is to the Stranger as Parmenides was to Socrates. But just as Socrates did not simply bow down before Parmenides’ wisdom (even if he was rendered uncharacteristically at a loss), we should not expect the Stranger do so before Socrates. His very presence is a challenge to Socrates. And yet he seems ashamed of his possible challenge: if he is there to pass judgment on Socrates’ philosophical practice, the presence of a silent Socrates observing him also constitutes a test of the Stranger’s own philosophical activity, including his political thought.