Saturday, July 26, 2014

Plato's Apology

Plato's Apology, the defense speech of Socrates, is, of course, perhaps the single Socrates-themed work that everyone should read sometime in their life. I don't think it really needs more of an introduction than that.

You can read the Apology online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource. John Sellars has a good article on the Apology as a metaphilosophical text -- that is, as a philosophical examination of the idea of philosophy itself.

The Characters

There are two speakers:


Meletus is the primary accuser of Socrates; he is a young man. His father, or a man named Meletus who was very likely his father, is well attested in other sources as a poet and tragedian, but Meletus himself is portrayed as relatively unknown, and nothing definite is known of him that does not trace back either to Plato or to Xenophon.

There are two co-accusers who are present but do not speak, although they are much better known and influential than Meletus:

Anytus is a speaking character in Meno, in which he displays a vehement and almost irrational distaste for anything even suggestive of sophistry, which no doubt is linked to his participation, given that Socrates was often lumped in with the Sophists.

Lycon is not elsewhere a character in Plato's works, but he is a character in Xenophon's Symposium, and Xenophon -- who, despite many admirable qualities, is entirely capable of holding a grudge -- seems to regard him very favorably; there is never any suggestion of criticism of him in Plato, either. Xenophon shows him as very, very close to his son, Autolycus, who was killed by the Thirty Tyrants. Debra Nails in The People of Plato suggests that Lycon's participation may well be due to Socrates' connections with Critias. There was a general amnesty on the point, so that events of that time were not supposed to be causes of prosecution -- but an official ban on public motivations, of course, can do nothing whatsoever about private motivations.

In addition, there are a great many others, the whole jury and then an unknown number of spectators. Some people are specifically mentioned by Plato as being in attendance: Chaerecrates (Chaerephon's brother), Crito, Critobulus (Crito's son), Aeschines and his father Lysanias, Antiphon of Cephisia and his son Epigenes, Nicostratus of Athmonon, paralius (son of Demodocus), Plato and his brother Adeimantus, Aentodorus of Phaleron, and Apollodorus of Phaleron.

The Plot

In understanding the context of the defense speech, there are certain things that are useful to keep in mind. (1) Athenian juries were very large; there could be as many as 1500 on a jury. The jury for Socrates' trial was about five hundred people. Jurors were chosen by lottery from a pool of volunteers, and were required to swear the Heliastic Oath. (2) They were productions for an audience -- especially for the jury, of course, but spectators were also allowed. The closest counterpart to a trial in ancient Greece is drama, and any number of things could be done that we would never allow in a trial at all. Athens was a democracy: trials were governed not by a principle of presenting evidence but by a process of trying to sway votes. Both accusers and defendants directly interact with the audience, as well, and there is no judge to keep the jury in line; at several points Socrates will have to ask the jury to quiet down and hear him out. (3) Athenian jury trials were not deliberative -- the jury would not retire for deliberation but simply vote on the basis of the cases presented.

The trial would last for about nine hours or so, divided into different parts carefully timed by a water-clock. After a reading of the charges, the accusers would have three hours to argue their case. Then Socrates would have had three hours to counter. The jurors would then vote by dropping tokens into urns to convey whether they thought Socrates guilty. The jurors only vote to convict by about thirty votes. Once he was convicted, accusers and accused would each get to propose a punishment, and the jury would then vote between the two punishments proposed. In Socrates' case, of course, the accusers propose death, and Socrates, while saying that his punishment should be free meals like an Olympic victor, eventually proposes a fine. They vote, of course, for the death penalty. Plato doesn't give us any exact numbers for any of the votes.

The Thought

After remarking that the Athenians should not expect fine speeches from him, Socrates goes on to suggest that he is in fact fighting against more accusers than there are in court; his real opponent, in other words, is not Meletus, Anytus, or Lycon, but the fact that many of his jurors know him only from misleading sources, and thus already come with a set of prejudices against him:

There have been many who have accused me to you for many years now, and none of their accusations are true. These I fear much more than I fear Anytus and his friends, though they too are formidable. These earlier ones, however, are more so, gentlemen; they got hold of most of you from childhood, persuaded you and accused me quite falsely, saying that there is a man called Socrates, a wise man, a student of all things in the sky and below the earth, who makes the worse argument the stronger. (18b)

Socrates notes Aristophanes in particular, for his representation of Socrates in The Clouds, but it is not Aristophanes alone; everyone who has carried this rumor about Socrates has been one of these accusers from of old. Socrates categorically denies that any of it is true. Why, then, did the rumor arise at all? And thus we get to the Delphic Oracle.

Chaerephon, who is dead but whose brother Chaerecrates is in the court, went one day to the Oracle at Delphi and asked whether any man was wiser than Socrates; to which the god Apollo, speaking through the oracle, replied that there was no one wiser than Socrates. This, Socrates says, is the beginning of the practice for which Socrates was known. Interpretation of the Oracle was notoriously difficult, so Socrates set out to find someone wiser than himself. However, whenever he came across some purported expert and started asking him questions, Socrates soon discovered that the 'expert' did not know as much as he thought he did. Thus, Socrates says, he saw that, for all the alleged expertise or skill of that person, Socrates was wiser than he, because at least Socrates did not think he knew things he did not know.

It is to this uncovering of the ignorance of experts that Socrates attributes his unpopularity; but he could do nothing else if he were to take the Oracle seriously. He investigated politicians (cp. Laches), he investigated poets and rhapsodes (cp. Ion), he investigated craftsmen (cp. Xenophon's Memorabilia 3.10). And in every case the discovery was the same. Thus, says Socrates, what the god likely meant was that human wisdom, in comparison with divine wisdom, was as nothing, and that he is humanly wise who, like Socrates, recognizes the relative worthlessness of his own wisdom. And it is because some of the youths around him began to imitate him in his task that there have grown up rumors that he corrupts the youth.

So much for the general accusers. He then addresses the accusations of Meletus by entering into a dialogue with him. He has no difficulty tying Meletus up in self-contradiction; while Meletus claims that Socrates disbelieves in the existence of gods, he also attributes to him views that presuppose the existence of gods.

Having handled the accusations themselves, Socrates goes on to consider whether he should be ashamed to have been involved in an activity that put him in such danger of death (cp. Gorgias, in which Socrates also addresses exactly the same argument). Socrates replies, however, that when a man is placed where he should be, it is a disgrace for him to run away out of fear of danger and death, just as it would have been shameful for him to run away from his post when he fought for Athens at Potidaea and Delium and Amphipolis. And, as we have just seen, Socrates was given his role by the god Apollo, and even if the jury were to offer to acquit him on the condition of never practicing philosophy again, he would obey the god rather than men: he would continue to point out to the people of Athens the importance of looking after their own souls and cultivating virtue. If Socrates is corrupting the young, it is this message that must be harmful; but that is the only message he has ever had.

Socrates' defense speech, he says, is not so much a defense of Socrates himself, but a defense of Athens. Meletus and Anytus cannot truly harm Socrates by punishing him for doing right, but if Socrates is doing right he has all the good that is actually important. But Athens is on the verge of harming itself by doing a great wrong, "mistreating the god's gift to you by condemning me" (30e). Yes, Socrates does literally call himself the god Apollo's gift to Athens.

If it seems strange that Socrates does not seek an active public life but does all his work privately, it is because he has, as Meletus mockingly noted in his deposition, a divine sign, a daimonion or daemon-like something:

This began when I was a child. It is a voice, and whenever it speaks it turns me away from something I am about to do, but it never encourages me to do anything. This is what has prevented me from taking part in public affairs, and I think it is quite right to prevent me. (31d)

He gives his role in the Arginusae affair as an example, when Athens was a democracy, and also his refusal to cooperate with the Thirty Tyrants in their attempts to execute opposition, when Athens was an oligarchy: "Then I showed again, not in words but in action, that, if it were not rather vulgar to say so, death is something I couldn't care less about, but that my whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious" (32d).

Socrates gives the examples of several upstanding citizens who have associated with him and not in any way been corrupted, and then goes on to scold anyone who is thinking of voting for his guilt simply because he doesn't engage in elaborate courtroom dramatics: "It is not the purpose of a juryman's office to give justice as a favor to whoever seems good to him, but to judge according to law, and this he has sworn to do" (35c).

The guilty verdict is returned, and Socrates argues that if he were given the 'punishment' he deserves, he would get free meals in the Prytaneum just like victorious Olympic athletes do. But since they will not take that sort of recommendation, and since he has no money, he will give the assessment that Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus have suggested they could guarantee, thirty minae of silver. (A mina is 100 drachma, and 1 drachma is a standard day's wage for labor. So the fine is actually quite substantial.)

The death sentence is returned. Socrates addresses first those who voted for his condemnation and then those who voted for his acquittal. Those who voted for his condemnation he rebukes, because they voted as they did because he would not pander to them, and while he may be condemned to death by them, his accusers are condemned to wickedness by truth itself. To those who voted for his acquittal he says that his daimonion did not prevent him from defending himself as he did in any way, and "it is impossible that my familiar sign did not oppose me if I was not about to do what was right" (40c). He also remarks that death is perhaps not such a bad thing; if it is complete lack of perception, then this would be no more disadvantageous than a good's night sleep, and if it is a transition to another place, surely since no one escapes it, it is better to arrive before the judges of the underworld just than unjust. (Cp. Gorgias again, which makes exactly this argument as well.) And he will be able to talk with Palamedes and Ajax and others who were unjustly put to death, and could spend his time examining people as he always has.

He ends by saying that he is not angry at his accusers, but says that they should take their revenge on him by treating him as he has treated them: if his sons grow up not to care for virtue above all things, they should cause the boys the same kind of grief Socrates caused them, rebuking them and insisting that they focus on the right things. And then we have the famous ending lines:

Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one, except the god. (42a)


Quotations are from G. M. A. Grube's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper and Hutchinson, eds., pp. 17-36.

It Seeks, It Hopes, for No Relief

by Lady Caroline Lamb

Ah! frown not thus-nor turn from me,
I must not-dare not-look on thee;
Too well thou know'st how dear thou art,
'Tis hard but yet 'tis best to part:
I wish thee not to share my grief,
It seeks, it hopes, for no relief.

Come give thy hand, what though we part,
Thy name is fixed, within my heart;
I shall not change, nor break the vow
I made before and plight thee now;
For since thou may'st not live for me,
'Tis sweeter far to die for thee.

Thou'lt think of me when I am gone
None shall undo, what I have done;
Yet even thy love I would resign
To save thee from remorse like mine;
Thy tears shall fall upon my grave:
They still may bless-they cannot save.

Lady Caroline is best known for her affair with Lord Byron, which has made it difficult for people to consider her in her own right, affairs with geniuses being for scholars and critics what shiny objects are for raccoons, an irresistible distraction to be grabbed and not let go.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dashed Off IX

An ethics that is concerned more with extensive tangible effects of giving than with the general habit of giving can in the long run have less extensive tangible effects, because it will miss the power of slow, tiny accumulation.

One of the dangers of being social-qua-rational is the temptation to substitute mere rationalization for actual cooperation.

Mizrahi's argument from evil fails because (1) natural qualities cannot be deserved and (2) undeservedly distributed qualities follow from mercy.

To consider: projectivism in morals requires projectivism in perception?

analogy as the fundamental logical structure of language

the Magisterium of the Church
(1) insofar as the Church possesses the faith
   (a) so as to possess the principles of faith
   (b) so as to grasp the principal conclusions
   (c) so as to apply illustrative effects and examples appropriate to it
(2) insofar as the Church confirms the faith
   (a) by things done
   (b) by things known
(3) insofar as the Church presents the faith
   (a) in translation
   (b) in interpretation

philosophy as the receptacle receiving forms

The Church participates in the divine magisterium by baptism, confirmation, and orders.

Genuine love is the primary defense against hypocrisy.

The wrong of pornography consists of the stripping of intimacy from sexual life.

gematria as a form of remez

Politics cannot replace virtue, but if done with savvy it can amplify its effects.

probability applied to beliefs (e.g., subjective Bayesianism), possible inferences (e.g., objective Bayesianism), tests (e.g., error statistics) & the very different epistemologies thereby created

reference class : frequentism :: use of units : counting

'More confident in p than q' does not identify a single attitude; what attitude it identifies depends on the context.

Pr 9:3-4 // Mt 19:13-14

To be evidence, something must be cause, effect, co-cause, or co-effect. (Perhaps complicated by certain kinds of necessary concomitants.)

Popper's propensity is explicitly on analogy of human habit or disposition.

Because one of the ends of the virtue of religion is to be taught by God, it seeks out a teaching authority by its very nature.

How great a good one accounts a consequence depends in part on one's assessment of the causes and intentions leading to it.

ontology, etiology, mereology

incremental aporetic dialectics

Life is not a matter of corporeality or complexity; but it is closely tied to ways of acting.

Mary as | by means of | concludes to Mary as Assumed
Theotokos | causal argument
Immaculate | rational/notional appropriateness
Type of Church | appropriateness to symbolism
Ark of the Covenant | evidence of revelation
Intercessor | insinuation of tradition

Attribution of truth allows one to explore proof. Thus there are things you can do with "p is true" that you cannot do with "p".

Whewell's virtues are, in a sense, the virtues of a society (and our virtues by approximating it, taking it as an ideal for us qua living in society).

Poston's 'social evil' is a complex of moral and natural evils (although his discussion of moral evil in the attempt to distinguish ti from social evil involves a false understanding of individual responsibility in collective action). What his argument actually shows is that some kinds of social evils are both natural and moral evils.

The blessing of holy water is a prayer of the whole Church, and the use of it a participation in that prayer. The same goes for holy oil.

Judicial cases are constituted of available facts, possible interpretations of law, and personal points of view.

Newman's arguments for Assumption
(1) Mother of God
(2) Immaculate Conception
(3) missing body
(4) preservative of faith
(5) ecclesial experience of Marian intercession

Ps 132:8 & Ascension & Assumption

Conceivability arguments usually imply that something is inconceivable, and this is often the most interesting part of the argument to consider.

Without intentionality there are no illusions.

Unction is a sign of the Mystical Body in its aspect of grace overflowing from Christ its Head. All the major sacraments signify the Mystical Body, although matrimony does so most perfectly.

Rome as the Chair of St. Peter per se and primarily; Antioch as the Chair of St. Peter per accidens and in an ancillary way

sacrament | is also in its being a sacrament
eucharist | sacrifice
matrimony | contract
reconciliation | tribunal
orders | ministry
baptism | initiation
confirmation | preparation for confessorship
unction | preparation for death (whether proximate or remote)

link between Marian apparitions and Assumption

Each sacrament has a corresponding account of the Atonement, each of which is true.

The co-redemption seen in Mary is the very redemption found in Christ, as seen through Mary.

the queen mother
(1) crown Jer 13:18
(2) throne 1 Kg 2:19
(3) part of court 2 Kg 24:12-15; cp Jer 29:2
(4) counselor Pr 31; 2 Chr 22:3
Note particularly the role of Bathsheba in Solomon's court and the role of queen mothers as links of succession in 1 & 2 Kings.

the Wedding at Cana as a complete symbol of salvation history

the procatharsis of Mary

covenants as foundations of occasional causality

To be an experiment is to be an end subordinate to some other end.

If, as Hume suggests, scientific inquiry is structured by curiosity and vanity, scientific inquiry is necessarily teleological.

The moral character of promising lies not in any obligation created by the promise, as the obligation arises not from the promise as such but its context, but rather is already there in the way in which the promise expresses an overflow of reason and reason's good.

The mystical body anticipates the resurrection body, particularly in the overflow fo grace from higher to lower.

the layering of the sacraments
e.g., Baptism instituted in Christ's baptism & in conversation with Nicodemus & in the Mandate, each adding a layer.
->nonconflicting institutions may layer each other; they are not mutually exclusive (this is most obvious in the case of marriage)
-> note Bonaventure: material institution with Christ's baptism, final institution with Nicodemus, effective institution with Passion, formal institution with resurrection

immersions, infusions & aspersions of grace

sacramental character: distinctive, configurative, dispositve, obligative

the Cross as God's imposition of hands on humanity

Imposition of hands indicates a solidary communication.

baptismal character : Levites :: confirmation character : priests :: ordination character : high priest

Inference to the best explanation requires seed arguments to serve as starting points. (structural inferences for the explanandum) (IBE is based on the principle of proportioning explanans to explanandum -> which is itself derivative of the proportion of cause qua cause to effect)

Good decision procedures are criteria of rightness directly or indirectly applied under the limitations of practical conditions.

the end-having of the capable as such
the actuality of the actually possible in the way it is actually possible
the having-being of the able-to-be in the way it is able to be
the natural act of the open-to-acting, considered as such

Is mimesis poetic induction?

catharsis : persuasion :: poetics : rhetoric

Common ground may precede the discussion, but it is most often constructed on the fly in the discussion itself.

the sign value of good works

Truthfulness is one of the pillars of solidarity.

the potential parts of justice as tracing the outlines of human dignity
the potential parts of justice as reflections in the human heart of divine providence (related to justice as the virtue most like providence in its external works, as prudence is the virtue most like providence in its internal acts)

art -> wonder -> inquiry

painful art // painful knowledge

creation as the extrinsic basis of covenant (cp Barth)

Transfiguration as a theology of Scripture: Old and New Testaments both witness to Christ as glorious
The New Testament bears witness to Christ's conversation with the Law and the Prophets.

mimesis : beginning :: catharsis : purification :: rhaumaston : union

Pace A Kenny, simultaneity is not a transitive relation simpliciter, but a limited-transitive or partially transitive one, depending on the context.

Natural law is based on principles self-evident in their own right, but these principles admit of explanation in terms of more powerful principles -- for the principles of charity explain the principles of justice, as the principles of metaphysics explains the principles of physics.

Satisfaction is the restorative work of charity.

Sacraments are secondary efficient causes, as instruments of grace, and secondary exemplary causes, as signs signifying that to which we are conformed; indeed, they are one in being the other.

The sacramental character is Christ as High Priest in the temple of the person.

It is in the context of the Jewish sacrificial system that the Passion of Christ is salvation.

Infused potential parts of justice are that by which we participate in the sacramental system of the Church.
The common good of the liturgical commonwealth subsists in the Eucharist.
Resurrection is the fulfillment of the sacramental system.

visio : faith :: fruitio : hope :: dilectio : love :: subtilitas : prudence :: claritas : justice :: impassibilitas : fortitude :: agilitas : temperance

The four kinds of knowledge in Christ teach us the manner in which infallible and fallible doctrine (in its aspect of what is learned) are found in the Church.

Unction provides graces anticipatory of vision, fruition, and dilection.

the grace of the sacrament of matrimony
(1) perfects what natural love is there
(2) confirms indissoluble union before God
(3) sanctifies the spouses through love and union

Original sin is in us not by imitation but as serving as the ground of imitation of actual sin.

What is called the form of the sacrament should often be really considered as the mark of the form, that which shows the form to be present. The form of penance is being a tribunal, marked by the words of absolution. This mark is integrally united with the form, the expression of it, as energy to essence, because it is the nature of the sacrament to be a sign.

spouses as mutually signifying signs

the purposes of satisfaction
(1) atonement & penalty for past sin
(2) protection of new life
(3) remedy against infirmity
three kinds of satisfaction through Christ
(1) voluntary penalty undertaken on one's own initiative as baptized
(2) penalty measured out and imposed for that purpose by the priest
(3) temporal affliction imposed by God and patiently borne
Satisfaction is a form of worship of God.

Every covenant with God involves sacrifice and priesthood.

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics concerns the customary, and his Politics the structural or positive, elements in the Aristotelian theory of civilization.

There is no private good apart from public good, for our own private good includes our participation in public good, and we learn what our private good is by considering how we are related to public good.

Human connectedness is intrinsically deontic.

catharsis, conversion, compensation, and rich experience in the pursuit of political and moral goods

political systems as partly held together by rhetorical craft

Nussbaum on capabilities // Grisez & Finnis on basic goods

the family as epistemically and deontically integrated into personal dignity

the imago, arra (munus), and exemplum of each sacrament (Erasmus)
the fourfold imago of marriage: union of God and man in Incarnation, union of Christ and His Church, cooperation of God and the Virgin Mary, the union of Christ and the soul

the confirmation character as a covenant of evangelism
The difficulty in the theology of confirmation is wholly this question: What priestly functions does it enable?
baptism : exordium :: confirmation : incrementum or narratio :: ordination : summa or climax
baptism : Israelite :: confirmation : Levite :: ordination : Aaronite
baptism as passive union with Body, confirmation as active union with Body
baptism : angels, archangels, principalities :: confirmation : virtues, powers, dominions :: ordination : seraphim, cherubim, thrones
note that the middle tier of angles has the task of lifting up the lower
baptism : promise of heaven :: confirmation : bringing heaven to people indirectly, in ordinary life (heaven in ordinary) :: ordination : bringing heaven to people directly in sign (heaven in solemnity)
Another way to approach the theology of confirmation: What is it in marriage that corresponds to it?

divine sacramentals & ecclesial sacramentals

ablution, presentation, imposition, unction, penitence, consent

sacrament | point of eminence
baptism | necessity (priority of condition)
confirmation | seal
penance | restoration
marriage | signification
orders | sacramental service
unction | preparation for glory
eucharist | supremacy (priority of end, sacramental completeness)

Penance & marriage are both communicating sacraments: penance by reconciliation of man & God, marriage by conciliation of man & woman. Signification is also very important to both -- it is the essential eminence of marriage as the most pedagogical sacrament, and penance must signify & summarize the whole of Christian life as penitential. (In a sense, marriage signifies the sacramental economy of the Church, and penance signifies the penitential economy of the Church.)

Wordsworthian poetics as an idiographic approach to philosophy.

Carroll's account of the pleasure of horror seems to work better for suspense.

plain English approach to problem
(1) survey of problem
(2) rigorous-enough proof without formal apparatus, or only minor formal apparatus for convenience
(3) proper formalization
(4) dialectical discussion of formal proof, testing it and showing that it proves

exact formulations of approximate conclusions & approximate formulations of exact conclusions

manipulability accounts of causation as really accounts of causation for the sake of experiment

orders -> sets -> switches -> propositions

theory of evidence-construction -> theory of experimentation

heuristic : evidence :: occasional cause : efficient cause

the Additions to Esther as Maccabean reflections on the religious significance of Esther (note links to 2 Macc)

repentance as walking with the Lord Sir 44 :16 (Enoch!)

Tobit & the connection between almsgiving and matrimony

a criterion of elegance of proof (think Leibniz as starting point)

Mereological failures of transitivity of simultaneity establish that modality can break the transitivity and raise the question of what other modalities do the same.

The prayers of the Church Militant are gifts brought by the Church Triumphant to the altar of heaven.

The essence of Hell is not misery but penalty in contritionlessness.

reductio ad absurdum as a sign of proof: genuine proofs allow the creation of a corresponding reductio

The priority of labor over capital arises due to the more intimate connections of the former with human dignity; although it does not follow from this that the latter has no connections with human dignity, or that is a strict linear ordering in every case.

Our deeds have merit when they are done from a principle of love to God (Hb 10:24), in accordance with the will of God (Rm 6:16), in Christ's name (Col 3:17), because of His Cross.

Confirmation indicates our union with Christ in His aspect of Son of David.

original sin // hell
by development, by structure

Philosophos: A Non-Reading

There are two times in the Platonic corpus in which we seem to be promised a dialogue we do not have. The first is the sequence Timaeus-Critias, which seems very clearly to promise us a Hermocrates dialogue; the second occurs with the sequence Theaetetus-Sophist-Statesman, since the Sophist suggests, and the Statesman strongly suggests, that there is another dialogue coming, adding the philosopher to the sophist and the statesman. So, since I did a non-reading of the non-extant Hermocrates dialogue, it seems appropriate to do a non-reading of the non-extant Philosophos dialogue.

There are several possibilities. Plato might have written it and it just was lost; if so, it would have had to be very early on, since there is no record of it at all. Likewise, it's possible that Plato intended to write it, but was unable to do so for extrinsic reasons we do not and probably cannot ever know. If we set these aside, we get the following possibilities:

(1) Plato intended to write it, but in writing the other dialogues ran into some insuperable obstacle in how he set things up -- in essence painted himself into a corner.

(2) Plato did not intend to write it, as such, but did, in fact, write dialogues to fill its role.

(3) Plato did not intend to write it, but gave hints about it in order to get his readers thinking about the subject themselves.

One possible account that would yield any of these is given by Seth Bernadete in an article on the Sophist: what the Statesman seems to promise is a dialogue between Socrates and Socrates the Younger (258a). Now, the actual conversations throughout are dramatic -- done like plays -- and indications of whose part is whose are in practice quite minimal. Thus the Philosophos would apparently have to be an extended discussion between two characters, both of whom are named Socrates. This would be virtually impossible to do without changing the set-up considerably. (We even start running into this problem at the end of Statesman, since it ends with Socrates talking and we have to guess which Socrates it is based on which one would be likely to talk that way.) So it could be that Plato realized this belatedly (1); or it could be that he was deliberately signaling to the reader that the promised dialogue was actually impossible (2) and (3).

(3) obviously has a lot of attractions, whatever one's reasons for holdingit. As Mary Louise Gill notes:

If the Sophist and Statesman are philosophical exercises, there may be a good reason why the final dialogue of the trilogy, the Philosopher, is missing. Plato would spoil the lesson if he wrote it for us (cf. Dorter 1994, 236). If we have learned how to investigate philosophical problems in the Sophist and Statesman, Plato may be challenging his audience to search for the philosopher themselves, using the techniques and recommendations these dialogues provide.

On the other hand, (2) has some attractions, as well. After all, these are indictment dialogues, and we know that there are dialogues to come, concerned with the actual trial. So one could take all the rest of the Last Days dialogues as filling the role of a Philosophos dialogue, showing us the philosopher. This would be especially reasonable if you interpret the Sophist and the Statesman as constituting a kind of additional indictment of Socrates, as some do; we get this kind of interpretation, for instance, in Catherine Zuckert's Plato's Philosophers.

A related way to do (2) would be to take the approach of Bernard Suzanne, who suggests that we can see either all of Plato's dialogues, or some select series of them other than the Last Days dialogues as the missing Philosophos. As he puts it (last update June 6, 2009):

It is possible to look at the whole set of dialogues as constituting the Philosopher, that dialogue that was hinted at at the beginning of the Sophist (217a-b) and again at the beginning of the Statesman (257b-258a), but supposedly never written, or you might want to keep this title for the last tetralogy, which describes the trip back to the cave by showing us what it is to be a true philosopher-king :

first setting the goal, happiness for man in this world, in the introductory dialogue, the Philebus;

then telling us how each part of our soul can contribute to the task at hand: the sensitive part (epithumiai) by seeking in the contemplation (the "theorization", in the etymological meaning of the Greek word theƓrein) of the created world's order (kosmos in Greek) a god given model for our own building of the city, in the Timaeus;

the willing part (thumos) by making the right choices with a trained judgment (krisis in Greek), and not relying on gods' renewed interventions to clean up men's mess, in the Critias, whose intentional incompleteness is a test of the reader's own judgment at the end of the journey;

and the reasonable part (logos) by drawing the Laws that will bring order to the city and happiness to its citizen, while the whole body and soul are on their way up toward the "cave" of Zeus, the god of gods.

This seems a little too clever by half, but it's an interesting idea.

My inclination is toward the version of (2) in which the remaining Last Days dialogues actually fulfill the Philosophos role. How about you? What's your non-reading of the Philosophos?

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Statesman (once often known by the Latinized name Politicus) is obviously closely connected with the Sophist, and what is said of one can usually be said of another. This is usually considered the more perplexing of the two dialogues, though, its organization being much more difficult to figure out. There is no general consensus about how to interpret aspects of the Sophist; and this is even more true of this dialogue.

You can read the Statesman online in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource.

The Characters

Since it picks up immediately after the Sophist, this dialogue has the same characters. In this dialogue, however, it is Theaetetus who is only present and never speaks, and Socrates the Younger who is the young man interacting with the Eleatic Stranger.

The Plot

Socrates opens the dialogue by thanking Theodorus for introducing him to Theaetetus and the Eleatic Stranger, and Theodorus replies that soon he'll be indebted three times over when they have worked out the profiles of the statesman and of the philosopher as well as that of the sophist. Socrates jokes that he's disappointed that Theodorus, expert in arithmetic and geometry, would make such a simple mistake in math: he's adding the sophist, the statesman, and the philosopher as if they were of equal value instead of weighting them according to proportion. Theodorus likes the joke and says that he'll get even with Socrates later for it, but in the meantime he asks the Stranger to go on and discuss either the statesman or the philosopher, whichever he chooses to do first. The Stranger suggests that they give Theaetetus a rest and let Socrates the Younger take over the burden of interrogation for a while, and Socrates remarks that it's appropriate, since both young men are like Socrates in different ways, and Socrates the Younger will at some point answer questions from Socrates. And so the rest of the dialogue proceeds.

One peculiarity is that it's unclear which Socrates ends the dialogue: it could be either the older or the younger Socrates who remarks on the excellence of the Stranger's portrait of the statesman.

The Thought

The Myth

The Myth section of the dialogue is the most discussed (and also the most contentiously discussed) part of the dialogue. The Eleatic Stranger is discussing the sense in which the true king is shepherd of human beings, but they've run into the problem that there are so many look-alikes competing for the title. So to clear the field a bit, they need to go a different route. So the Stranger suggests they should bring in "an element of play" (268d) and look at stories. He notes three in particular: "the portent relating to the quarrel between Atreus and Thyestes" (268e), the golden age of Chronos (269a), and "the report that earlier men were born from the earth and were not reproduced from each other" (269b). He says that these are actually three different ways of talking about the same thing. (They might seem to be a weird mix, but they are all myths that turn out to be related to politics in various ways, and they are all stories in which a prior situation suddenly changes, i.e., in which there is a sharp difference between the way things were originally done and they way they are done later.) He puts them all together and makes a story in which the heavens went an opposite direction (the Atreus/Thyestes myth), people were originally born from earth because their lives were reversed and instead of ending up in the earth after death they began in the earth before they sprang from it as old men and women (the autochthony myth), and people were originally ruled by gods (the age of Chronos myth):

A god tended them, taking charge of them himself, just as now human beings, themselves living creatures, but different and more divine, pasture other kinds of living creatures more lowly than themselves; and given his tendance, they had no political constitutions, nor acquired wives and children, for all of them came back to life from the earth, remembering nothing of the past. While they lacked things of this sort, they had an abundance of fruits from trees and many other plants, which grew not through cultivation but because the earth sent them up of its own accord. For the most part they would feed outdoors, naked and without bedding; for the blend of the seasons was without painful extremes, and they had soft beds from abundant grass that sprang from the earth. (271e-272b)

However, at some point the "steersman" of the cosmos stopped turning it in its direction, and thus it began to turn the other way; then all the gods stopped directing the realms of the cosmos they directed, and after tumult and confusion, the cosmos (as a living thing) began to manage itself, remembering as best it could how it had originally been guided. But over time disharmony and discord added up; and things were done in the reverse direction. Just like the cosmos that we imitate, we currently live trying to manage ourselves under a reversed regime until the steersman rights the universe again, making do as best we can with the remembered gifts of the gods we received long ago (fire, crafts, domestication).

The point of the story is to point to a flaw in thinking of the statesman along the lines of a herdsman: it is effectively to give the statesman a role that can only exist in a Golden Age in which human beings are ruled by gods. The divine herdsman is far greater than any king, and statesman of our day are necessarily very much like the people they rule, not as different from them as a herdsman from the animals he herds.

Paradigm and Measure

The Stranger then reflects on the importance of models (paradeigmata):

It's a hard thing, my friend, to demonstrate any of the more important subjects without using models. It looks as if each of us knows everything in a kind of dreamlike way, and then again is ignorant of everything when as it were awake. (277d)

In the use of the model we are discovering how to make true judgments about something by comparing it with something else. And the model is necessary precisely to deal with the problem we are having with the statesman of distinguishing him from many things that look like him (as the Stranger notes, we are looking for men, but we keep getting with them centaurs and satyrs, i.e., men-like non-men). So we use the models to focus in on the statesman in the proper sense, eliminating the look-alikes. The Stranger chooses weaving as a model to get them farther than herding alone could.

The discussion of weaving leads to another key point: that of excess and deficiency. When measuring something, there are two kinds of measuring we could use. One kind is a relative measure, in the same way that we measure things by saying one thing is greater or smaller than something else. But another kind, and the kind that is relevant to any kind of art/skill/craft/expertise (techne), is that of measure (to metron). For every craft or skill, by its very nature, there is a way of distinguishing what is excessive and what is defective, and thus a way of identifying what is rightly done. If you are a weaver making good cloth, it is because you are finding this measure. Thus this measure distinguishes good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and it is based on the way in which things are generated or production. (This relates to the myths, incidentally, since all the myths were said to be about different ways things come to be; the divine herdsman is not an appropriate way of thinking of the statesman, because he existed in a different order of production or generation, when things were produced or generated in different way.) It is the due measure (to metrion), the decorous/fitting (to prepon), the timely (to kairon), the due (to deon).

This is all relevant to classification (which tries to divide things 'in the middle', that is in a way that is appropriate to the thing in question, failing not by an excess nor by a defect), and to statesmanship (which as a skill will be concerned with its own kind of due measure).

Typology of Regimes

The Stranger gives a very influential typology of regimes: we have monarchy (rule of one), and oligarchy (rule of a few), and democracy (rule of many). Monarchy is of two kinds, tyrannical and royal, and the difference has to do with things like force and consent; oligarchy is likewise of two kinds, oligarchical and aristocratic. Democracy, however, tends to go by the same name regardless. The best measure of the quality of a constitution is whether those who rule have the skill of statesmanship, but as it is often difficult to find people who have the requisite skill, the second best is that the written documents or ancestral customs of the society imitate, roughly and approximately, the kind of regime you would have under someone with this skill of statesmanship, despite sometimes not fitting situations perfectly. This is the real dividing point between tyranny and good kingship, and between oligarchy and aristocracy.

Because the existence of the statesman cannot be guaranteed, and because it can be hard to discover him even when he does, it is essential "for people to come together and write things down, chasing after the traces of the truest constitution" (301e). When you have monarchy with good written laws, it is the best kind of regime; but when the laws aren't good, it is the harshest. On the other hand, if a democracy with good laws is the least good of all good regimes; yet it has the corresponding feature that a democracy with bad laws is the least bad of all bad regimes.

Definition of Statesman

In leading up to the definition of the statesman, the Stranger suggests something "astonishing" (306b): the city needs temperance (sophrosyne) and fortitude (andreia), but that these are in some way opposed to each other. Now, of course, all 'parts of virtue', as the Stranger calls it go together, but the kinds of qualities that these parts of virtue are concerned with can at times oppose each other to the detriment of the whole. Thus, following the model of weaving, we get the statesman:

Then let us say that this marks the completion of the fabric which is the product of the art of statesmanship: the weaving together, with regular intertwining, of the dispositions of brave and moderate people--when the expertise belonging to the kind brings their life together in agreement and friendship and makes it common between them, completing the most magnificent and best of all fabrics and covering with it all the other inhabitants of cities, both slave and free; and holds them together with this twining and rules and directs without, so far as it belongs to a city to be happy, falling short of that in any respect. (311b-c).

  Additional Remarks

* This dialogue in a sense has to deal with a classification problem opposite to that of the prior one. When the Stranger began dividing arts, the sophist ended up spread across several different divisions, and the problem was to make sense of why classification was so elusive. The statesman, on the other hand, turns out to be easy to locate -- but it turns out to be difficult to come up with any classification that fits only the statesman.

* One of the interesting things about both this and the prior dialogue is that in a sense they are examples of how to reason through figurative language -- Is the sophist better characterized in terms of hunting or selling? Is the statesman better characterized in terms of herding or weaving? I'm not sure that this is the intent; but almost the entire apparatus of the dialogues (division, paradigmatic cases, coordination of different 'guises', checking with likely stories) is well-suited for exploring metaphors. The reason in general, I think, is that figurative language is generally a form of indirect classification; so there is inevitably going to be some connection. It's simply brought out more clearly by the way the Stranger uses models. And this is perhaps a particularly appropriate conclusion if we think of these two dialogues as following Cratylus.

* The dialogue brings up the midwife's art again, in talking about herdsmen (268a-b). It's a passing mention, but probably a deliberate tie of some sort to Theaetetus, although I'm not sure how.

* Since the Statesman is an indictment dialogue, it is worth noting that it raises clearly and explicitly the issue of corrupting the youth.

Suppose anyone is found inquiring into steersmanship and seafaring, or health and truth in the doctor's art, in relation to winds and heat and cold, above and beyond the written rules, and making clever speculations of any kind in relation to such things. In the first place, one must not call him an expert doctor or an expert steersman, but a stargazer, some babbling sophist. The next provision will be that anyone who wishes from among those permitted to do so shall indict him and bring him before some court or other as corrupting other people younger than himself and inducing them to engage in the arts of the steersman and the doctor not in accordance with the laws, but instead by taking autonomous control of ships and patients. If he is found guilty of persuading anyone, whether young or old, contrary to the laws and the written rules, the most extreme penalties shall be imposed on him. For (so the law will say) there must be nothing wiser than the laws; no one is ignorant about what belongs to the art of the doctor, or about health, or what belongs to the art of the steersman, or seafaring, since it is possible for anyone who wishes to understand things that are written down and things established as ancestral customs. (299b-d)

Given that this is part of a very complicated arguments based on hypotheticals that are recognized that it is odd, it is difficult to know exactly what to make of this -- but it is notable that it is even brought up, particularly given that Crito has the Socrates representing the laws speaking on their own behalf. And it is noticeable that the Stranger makes quite clear that the laws, not being statesmen, cannot adapt to every situation, and therefore will not be right for every situation -- but will still need to be upheld.

There's obviously some set of implications here. But these implications are obviously indirect and would have to be teased out -- and, as noted before, there is no consensus about what these implications are. A difficulty with interpreting Plato -- sometimes the main argument is in what he is deliberately not saying.


Quotations are from C. J. Rowe's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper and Hutchinson, eds., pp. 294-358.

Songs for St. Charbel

Today is the feast of St. Charbel (or Sharbel) Makhlouf. He was the son of a mule-driver who used to sneak away to pray at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon. He eventually became a monk, but after some time there he decided to go further and become a hermit -- the eremitic life is one of the ancient pillars of Maronite Catholicism. He was a hermit for twenty-three years, and gained a widespread reputation for hospitality and holiness. He died on Christmas Eve, 1898. He was beatified by Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council and canonized, again by Paul VI, in 1977, becoming one of the modern Maronite saints on the universal calendar.


Cedars grow tall on Liban hills,
life beyond grasp of human will;
flame is bright over muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who hid his face;
the heart is kissed by burning light
as cedar soars to sun and sky,
is charged with day without a night,
and burns but is not burned.

Chant of the Maronites


From the wilds of Syria I come,
from the holy church of Kefar-Nabo,
fleeing the Ol-Yambus Mount,
toiling for the God who gives,
my task a task of joyful bliss,
to hymn in word and deed
our glorious Lord and God.

Let those in the street be silent,
let those in the house hush down,
let the hermits retire in prayer,
as I sing the psalms of David,
the Hallelujahs of the Lord.

Blessed is the one the Father loves;
blessed the one for whom His Son died;
blessed is the one whose life is charged
with the power of the living Spirit.
Blessed is the one whose rubric of life
is an echo of heaven's liturgy,
the one who amid the cedars
feels the wild delight of God.

Bring Christ home, children of Maroun,
bring Him from the cedars of Liban,
from the enclosures of the hermits bring Him,
bearing Him in your heart in procession,
carrying Him to every city and nation.

The message goes forth: Do not be afraid!
The Glory shines out: Do not fear!
An angel appears to an Israelite maid,
telling of wonders and of heavenly favor,
foretelling a son to sit on the Throne,
the Throne that is David's, for ages and ever.
when the Spirit comes over Mary of Zion,
when the Most High's power, like glorious cloud,
overshadows the virgin that the Holy be born.

Glory to God in the highest of heights!
Glory to God in the will of the graced!
The angels are singing the highest Hosanna,
heralding the coming of the Messiah and Lord.
Highest of high meets the lowest of low;
God's Anointed is swaddled in a trough made for oxen,
the light of the Word infuses the flesh,
Christ comes to save creation from darkness.


O Simeon, awaiting the great consolation,
sing songs of blessing for God's good grace;
the Spirit's promise in fire and light
is here fulfilled in a baby boy;
God's salvation comes, a light for revelation,
a hope and a glory for Israel's nation.
But, Oh! Contradiction, rise and fall,
and a piercing sword in the Virgin's heart;
many are the thoughts brought to exposure,
great is the tumult of a world thrust in darkness
at the rising of the Infinite Sun!


O tribe of Asher, in the prophetess Anna
fortunate are you, favorite and favored,
the oil of gladness runs over your feet!
Mighty your fortresses, iron your gates,
your strength is of God, enduring forever.
The daughter of Zilpah, most holy widow,
gives thanks to her God, will not be silent,
but speaks of the Lord to all who await;
happy is Asher, the tribe of good fortune,
to herald the one who will seal every tribe!


Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me,
more than the rest of these?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my lambs."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the lambs with prayer and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, tend my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we tend the sheep with blessing and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the Lord's sheep with praise and love.

Listen to me, O children of Maroun!
No province are you, no small group;
the forest of Maroun is the whole holy Church,
catholic and complete, it has no end,
blessed of God in memory of Peter,
only within it is salvation found.
Raise your eyes to the cedar-crowned hills:
on every hill is the whole holy Church.
Rome is a cedar in the forest of Maroun,
Liban is a hill in the city of Rome,
for each is in each, and each is in all:
for Christ is for each and in everything All.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free as Life and the Free-Formed Spirit Itself

Free as life and the free-formed spirit itself, ever new, wonderful, versatile, and infinitely varied, both in internal structure and external manifestation, are the ways of man's thinking and speculative spirit. A ready and apposite illustration will clearly demonstrate this peculiar freedom and manifold variety in the methods, species, and developments of philosophy. At any rate, if it do not place it vividly before our eyes, it at least suggests the idea of it. The written dialogues of Plato—that great master of philosophical exposition and of the thinking dialogue of science, with its ever-living and changing play of thought, and earnest spirit of investigation—are perhaps not less diversified in their course; not less wonderfully manifold and exuberant with all the riches of genius; not less peculiar in their general conception, as well as external development; not less exquisite in the finish of the several parts and divisions, than the poetical productions of the greatest and most admired of dramatists.

Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophy of Language (p. 343).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Poem Draft

The Ocean's Daughter

When the moonlight comes,
it dances on water,
forms a path of light
silver and fair
that leads the way
to the Ocean's daughter;
a net of stars
shines in her hair.
The night is dark,
but her eyes are deeper
than all the expanse
of heaven above.
She holds my heart,
for she is its keeper,
and the ocean's waves
spread from her with love.


Theaetetus ended with an agreement to come back the next day in order to discuss the matter further. This is done in Sophist and Statesman, the latter picking up right where the former leaves off. Since Theaetetus was very clear about occurring the day Socrates was indicted, these two discussions, despite continuing the prior discussion, occur under very different circumstances: Socrates has now been indicted and is heading for his trial. The indictment is never directly mentioned in these dialogues, so it is difficult to determine exactly what the implications of this is, but the point was made so clear in the prior dialogue, there must be some significance. Perhaps this is why Socrates is relatively quiet, taking a backseat in the discussion? It has also been suggested that, as Euthyphro and Cratylus before the indictment dealt with the general question of impiety, so this one looks, albeit indirectly, at the specific charge of corrupting the youth.

The authenticity of this and the next dialogue have usually not been questioned, because stylistically they are very closely linked with Laws, Timaeus, and Critias, and there are fairly good reasons for thinking those authentic, especially the Laws. In addition there are statements in Aristotle that seem to be references to the Sophist, although they could also be read other ways (e.g., as claiming that Plato himself made a statement about sophists). Content-wise, however, people have often been uncomfortable with the Sophist and the Statesman, because they are so very different from what one would expect of Plato. As I've said many times before, this in itself means nothing -- all the dialogues do something you wouldn't expect simply from the other dialogues -- but it is true that these dialogues give us something rather different from most other dialogues. Because of this, questions about their inauthenticity occasionally reappear. It has even been argued that they are really by Aristotle, in part because they match up fairly well with comments Aristotle himself makes about his own philosophical dialogues in the Politics. Nice as it would be to discover that two of Aristotle's missing philosophical dialogues were actually hiding in plain sight all this time, I find the arguments to this end rather tenuous, and I take it that Plato scholars do, as well.

You can read the Sophist online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource. Mary Louis Gill has an interesting article on Method and Metaphysics in Plato's Sophist and Statesman at the SEP.

The Characters

The dialogue has the same characters as Theaetetus (Socrates, Theodorus, Theaetetus, Socrates the Younger) and one addition, the Eleatic Stranger (xenos), about whom, of course, we know only that he is a stranger from Elea and that he studied with Parmenides and Zeno.

The Plot

Theodorus opens the dialogue by telling Socrates that they've come back and brought a visitor from Elea, who is "very much a philosopher" (216a). Socrates remarks that in Homer visitors are sometimes gods in disguise, and the visitor might well be "a god of refutation to keep watch on us and show how bad we are at speaking--and refute us" (216b). Theodorus replies that it isn't the visitor's style and he is only divine in the way all philosophers are. Socrates says in return that philosophers are probably no easier to distinguish from other men than gods are:

Sometimes they take on the appearance of statesman, and sometimes of sophists. Sometimes, too, they might give the impression that they're completely insane. (216c-d)

He asks the Stranger whether they distinguish sophists, statesmen, and philosophers. The Stranger replies that they do, but it isn't easy to do so. They settle on the Stranger teaching the topic by question and answer with the young men, and Theaetetus agrees. They begin the discussion, first giving a practice run with angling before going on to sophistry.

The Thought

The Stranger makes use of division, but not a strict one, since he allows one thing to fall under different branches of a division, a point which will be essential to the attempt to pin down what a sophist is, who seems to practice both a productive and an acquisitive skill (techne). This shows why the sophist is so hard to define: he is found under different guises or appearances. The Stranger will identify five different guises under which the sophist appears (231d-e):

1. Hired hunter of rich young men.

2. Wholesaler of learning about the soul.

3. Retailer of learning about the soul.

4. Seller of his own learning.

5. Athlete in verbal combat and debate.

In addition, a sixth is mentioned and put into doubt, but is added for the sake of discussion:

6. One who cleanses the soul of beliefs interfering with learning.

None of these guises is actually put forward as a definition. Rather, the Stranger is weaving a net of descriptions (235b) to hunt down the sophist by hemming him in from several different sides. They then discuss the way in which the sophist is an imitator, since the sophist could not possibly know everything he purports to teach; he is a copy-maker, but someone who produces false copies. But this raises the question of falsity, and how anyone can speak falsely at all; a question that the Stranger answers by arguing against Parmenides. This is necessary, because the fundamental principle of Parmenidean metaphysis is 'that which is, is, and that which is not, is not'; but the sophist uses an interweaving of that which is and that which is not to mix the two. In order to capture the sophist, we need to have a proper account of falsehood, one that Parmenides cannot provide.

When we look at accounts of that which is and that which is not, we find "something like a battle of gods and giants" (246a). One side insists that being must be given an account entirely in terms of what can be sensed, what is bodily; the other insists that certain noncorporeal forms can be thought of and that these alone truly are. But, the Stranger says, neither side can be right if philosophy is to exist at all:

The philosopher--the person who values these things the most--absolutely has to refuse to accept the claim that everything is at rest, either from defenders of the one or from friends of the many forms. In addition he has to refuse to listen to people who say that that which is changes in every way. He has to be like a child begging for "both," and say that that which is--everything--is both the changing and the unchanging (249c-d)

This requires dialectic, the process of being able to make distinctions; and making distinctions requires attention to the five forms of being: change, rest, same, different, and that which is. This leads the Stranger to argue that 'that which is not' in some way is -- it is not inconsistent with that which is but something different. Thus, for instance, to distinguish the beautiful from the non-beautiful is really to set being over against being. Negation always presupposes being. This allows one to give an account of the sophists, who deal with mere copies, appearances.

And the dialogue ends with the Stranger's definition of sophistry, and Theaetetus' agreement with it:

Imitation of the contrary-speech-producing, insincere and unknowing sort, of the appearance-making kind of copy-making the word-juggling part of production that's marked off as human and not divine. (268c)

That is, the sophist is a producer of mere appearances on the basis of mere opinion, using words to force people to contradict themselves.

  Additional Remarks

* The trilogy of dialogues has a theme of appearances and copies and imitations, and that extends even to the characters: Theaetetus is like Socrates in appearance; Socrates the Younger, who will speak in the next dialogue and is said in this one to be Theaetetus' substitute or stand-in, shares Socrates' name but is not Socrates; the sophist seems to be like a philosopher but is not; Socrates seems to be like a sophist and yet is not; and so forth.

* The Stranger's being from Elea is of course significant. Theaetetus had laid out the opposition between the fluent philosophers, represented by Heraclitus, and the steadfast philosophers, represented by Parmenides; it then criticized the former and sophists like Protagoras as being of the same family. Cratylus continued the criticism of the fluent philosophers by examining implicit assumptions of Greek culture (as represented in Greek language and literature) that were allied to the fluent philosophy. With the Eleatic Stranger we get an examination of the other side of the opposition. (It is notable that there seems to be a direct reference at 216c to Socrates' own discussion with Parmenides in Parmenides.) Elea, a Greek colony in Italy, was the home of the two major Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and Zeno, so he is, so to speak, in the know when it comes to their philosophy -- Theodorus introduces him as a follower of them, and he quotes Parmenides' poem-treatise -- and can thus serve as an informed critic of their position.

The crux of the criticism of the Parmenidean position, interestingly, is its inability to account for the sophists, and thus its inability to demarcate dangerous sophists from beneficial philosophers; an important matter as we approach Socrates' trial.

* The Stranger's account of how they will proceed at 218b-c fits very well with what the Cratylus suggested would be required:

But with me I think you need to begin the investigation from the sophist--by searching for him and giving a clear account[logou] of what he is. Now in this case you and I only have the name in common, and maybe we've each used it for a different thing. In every case, though, we always need to be in agreement abut the thing itself by means of a verbal explanation [dia logon], rather than doing without any such explanation [choris logou] and merely agreeing about the name.

However, this could also suggest the last part of Theaetetus, about how true judgment with logos is not knowledge; it at least raises the question whether we will get anything from the Stranger beyond true judgment with logos.

* The description of the sixth guise is worth noting, since it sounds remarkably like Socrates (230b-d):

They cross-examine someone when he thinks he's saying something though he's saying nothing. Then, since his opinions will vary inconsistently, these people will easily scrutinize them. They collect his opinions together during the discussion, put them side by side, and show that they conflict with each other at the same time on the same subjects in relation to the same things and in the same respects. The people who are being examined see this, get angry at themselves, and become calmer toward others. They lose their inflated and rigid beliefs about themselves that way, and no loss is pleasanter to hear or has a more lasting effect on them. Doctors who work on the body think it can't benefit from any food that's people who cleanse the soul, my young friend, likewise think the soul, too, won't get any advantage from any learning that's offered to it until someone shames it by refuting it, removes the opinions that interfere with learning, and exhibits it cleansed, believing it knows only those things that it does know, and nothing more.

This should be compared with Socrates' comments to Theaetetus at the very end of Theaetetus.

* There is no consensus on how the overall dialogue should be interpreted, in part because Socrates is quiet for most of the discussion. Some commentators see the Stranger and Socrates as being in fundamental agreement: Socrates 'noble sophistry' contrasts with sophistry in the proper sense. Others see the final definition of the sophist as an implicit attack on Socrates, an attack continued in the Statesman. One example of the latter is Catherine Zuckert in Plato's Philosophers:

If the Eleatic is an exemplar of the dialectical science and thus of philosophy, as he suggests, then in his judgment Socrates cannot be a philosopher, even though the Eleatic is too urbane to say so explicitly. He contents himself with intimating that Socrates is a sophist who imitates a knower by refuting his interlocutors in private conversations, even though he himself is perfectly and ironically aware that he does not know. (p. 706)

If this is true, the Eleatic Stranger is setting up a set of challenges to which Socrates must respond at his trial and in his final days: to show that he is a philosopher and not a sophist.


Quotations from Sophist are from Nicholas P. White's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 235-293.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Her Winds Have Thundered from of Old

The Unnamed Lake
by Frederick George Scott

It sleeps among the thousand hills
Where no man ever trod,
And only nature's music fills
The silences of God.

Great mountains tower above its shore,
Green rushes fringe its brim,
And over its breast for evermore
The wanton breezes skim.

Dark clouds that intercept the sun
Go there in Spring to weep,
And there, when Autumn days are done.
White mists lie down to sleep.

Sunrise and sunset crown with gold
The pinks of ageless stone,
Her winds have thundered from of old -
And storms have set their throne.

No echoes of the world afar
Disturb it night or day,
The sun and shadow, moon and star
Pass and repass for aye.

'Twas in the grey of early dawn,
When first the lake we spied,
And fragments of a cloud were drawn
Half down the mountain side.

Along the shore a heron flew,
And from a speck on high,
That hovered in the deepening blue,
We heard the fish-hawk's cry.

Among the cloud-capt solitudes,
No sound the silence broke,
Save when, in whispers down the woods,
The guardian mountains spoke.

Through tangled brush and dewy brake,
Returning whence we came,
We passed in silence, and the lake
We left without a name.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fortnightly Book, July 20

The next fortnightly book is Eugenia Price, The Beloved Invader.

Price was a notable radio scriptwriter; she had a major conversion in 1949 and as a result started writing for Unschackled! I hadn't realized that before I looked up additional background on Price, because I had very little prior knowledge of her, but it caught my eye: Unschackled! is the longest-running series in the history of radio, and the only series from the Golden Age of Radio that is still going -- it has been coming out with a new episode every week since 1950. It is also quite old-school; sound effects are an organ and voice effects, and the production is low-budget. It focuses on conversion stories, and thus is somewhat formulaic, but some of the stories are interesting, dealing with war, love, drugs, and the entire panoply of human failings, as conversion stories tend to do. In any case, Price used her work there as a beginning for a new career as an inspirational writer.

The Beloved Invader, however, is from the third phase of her writing career, and the one that made her most famous. She was returning home once from a bookseller's convention with a friend, Joyce Blackburn; they were driving along a state highway in Georgia and had some extra time, so they decided to explore a little, and visit a small island, St. Simons, noted on their map. And that, too, was a conversion of a sort: she fell in love with the place, its beauty and its history. She had already been thinking about trying her hand at a historical novel that would have more in common with biography than historical novels usually do, and as she wandered around the island, she came upon a cemetery, and, coming across the graves of Anson Dodge and his family, wondered if there was a story behind them. She came back again to research it -- and came back again -- and finally moved there.

This book, telling the tale of Reverend Anson Dodge, is the first and third novel in the St. Simons trilogy -- it was the first published, but as successive books explored backstory, it is the third in the chronology of the works. It was extraordinarily successful. I don't have the others, but we'll see how this one goes.

Eugenia Price is still there on St. Simons Island; in love with the place until the end, she died at age 79 in 1996 and was buried in the church there.


Cratylus is not usually placed among the Last Days dialogues; but there is an argument for its being there. The dispute over this has become a major dispute, which I can only summarize briefly here.

The dialogue does not give itself a clear dramatic date. However, it does mention Euthyphro the diviner. In fact, it mentions him four times. And among these mentions, at 396d, Hermogenes remarks that Socrates seems like a prophet (mantis) who has suddenly been inspired, and Socrates responds that he had been talking in the very early morning with Euthyphro, "lending an ear to his lengthy discussion" and been inspired by his superhuman wisdom. This occurs just after a discussion of Ouranos, Chronos, and Zeus, who were explicitly mentioned in the Euthyphro. Against this, many people argue that it's not possible for Socrates to have had the discussions in Theaetetus, Euthyphro, and Cratylus all in a single morning. Debra Nails has even more subtle prosopographical arguments against it.

However, I am convinced that it should be seen as a Last Days dialogue, and for a reason I have not seen anyone else give: the dialogue not only has the obvious apparent links to Euthyphro, it has obvious content links with Theaetetus, down to making some of the same points. In both dialogues, the issue of Protagoras & Heraclitus comes up as a crucial problem, and Protagoras and Heraclitus are named explicitly. And especially compare these two passages, first from Theaetetus:

This problem now, we have inherited it, have we not, from the ancients? They used poetical forms which concealed from the majority of men their real meaning, namely, that Ocean and Tethys, the origin of all things, are actually flowing streams, and nothing stands still. In more modern times, the problem is presented to us by men who, being more accomplished in these matters, plainly demonstrate their meaning so that even shoemakers may hear and assimilate their wisdom, and give up the silly idea that some things in this world stand still while others move, learn that all things ar ein motion, and recognize the greatness of their instructors. (180c-d)

then from Cratylus:

Most of our wise men nowadays get so dizzy going around and around in their search for the nature of the things that are, that the things themselves appear to them to be turning around and moving every which way. Well, I think that the people who gave things their names in very ancient times are exactly like these wise men. They don't blame this on their own internal condition, however, but on the nature of the things themselves, which they think are never stable or steadfast, but flowing and moving, full of every sort of motion and constant coming into being. (411b-c)

Earlier in Cratylus, Socrates had used Ocean and Tethys as one of his examples that Heraclitus was saying the same thing as Homer. When one adds to this clear confluence of ideas the references to Euthyphro's inspiration, the comments about the pious son of an impious father (394e) and the gods (400d-401a), various small similarities between Cratylus on the correctness of names and Euthyphro on piety, the direct introduction of Protagoras and Heraclitus, and various smaller things reminiscent of Theaetetus like the reference to geometry (436d; cp Theaetetus 180c) and the topic of knowledge (440a-b), then it seems that we are getting too many apparent links for none of them to be actual.

In any case, we will be reading it as a Last Days dialogue.

You can read Cratylus in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)

Hermogenes had a rich father, Hipponicus, and a rich brother, Callias, but was himself not wealthy, possibly because he was illegitimate, although Plato seems to suggest that he may have been unjustly deprived by Callias. He was Xenophon's source for Socrates' last days, and Plato makes him one of the students around Socrates in Phaedo.

According to a brief comment by Aristotle, Plato studied under Cratylus before he studied under Socrates; other than that, almost all that we know about Cratylus is in this dialogue. There is a story, however, that eventually Cratylus came to the conclusion that the only way to communicate anything was to point to it.


The Plot and The Thought

Hermogenes opens the dialogue by asking Cratylus whether they should have Socrates join their conversation, and Cratylus permits it. We then discover that there are two opposing positions on the table.

(1) Cratylus holds that there is an intrinsic correctness of names, independent of convention.
(2) Hermogenes, on the other hand, holds that names are purely a matter of convention so that there is no correctness of names.

Socrates will argue that there are insuperable problems with both of these. of course, there is a position that is neither of these: naming involves convention or custom but there is a correctness associated with it, and in fact this is what Socrates will end up arguing -- more precisely, he will argue that if names are for instruction, they must involve convention but also be subject to standards of correctness based on knowledge of things to which they apply.

In response to Hermogenes, Socrates asks if he accepts the Protagorean idea that man is the measure of all things. There is no non-arbitrary distinction between private and public conventions in a matter like naming, so Hermogenes's position seems to come to something like it. Hermogenes doesn't accept Protagoras's position, however, although he has difficulty not falling into it. He agrees with Socrates that we use names as instruments in order to "divide things according to their natures" (388b). On the basis of this Socrates argues that names require a nomothetes, which could be translated as 'lawmaker' or as 'custom-maker', and that the custom-maker must be supervised by the dialectician, since it is the dialectician who actually divides things according to their natures. They discuss a large number of names -- Socrates claims to have inspiration derived from Euthyphro -- and in the course of this Socrates remarks that the names seem to suggest the idea of Heraclitus and many modern thinkers that everything is constantly in flux. Socrates after this turns to a discussion with Cratylus -- who is, in fact, a Heraclitean.

Cratylus also agrees with Socrates that names are for instruction, and Socrates shows that this causes problems for the Heraclitean view, since it seems that if names are able to communicate there must be something not constantly flowing. Exactly how this works is not explored here, but Socrates gives us a good idea of what he has in mind:

But if there are always that which knows and that which is known, if there are such things as the beautiful, the good, and each one of the things that are, it doesn't appear to me that these things can be at all like flowings or motions, as we were saying just now they were. (440b)

Socrates remarks that Cratylus must investigate these matters very carefully. Cratylus promises he will, but says he has already given a lot of thought to these matters and is sure that Heraclitus is more or less right. Socrates seems to regard this as a reason to end the discussion, and tells Cratylus to tell him all about it when he gets back from his trip, and Cratylus ends the dialogue by saying that he will, but he hopes Socrates keeps thinking about these things, too.


* In the dramatic timeline, the next dialogues are Sophist and Statesman, in which a dialectician, the Eleatic Stranger, shows how to divide things in an attempt to get names to express natures correctly, the need for which is expressly argued in this dialogue. So if we take Cratylus to be a Last Days dialogue, it directly contributes to the sequence of thought that begins with Theaetetus. In addition, the dialogue can be seen as explaining the problem with the charge against Socrates, impiety: as we saw in Euthyphro, there is good reason to think that the Athenians -- as represented by Euthyphro and Meletus -- are not holding themselves to standards of correctness in names like 'piety' and 'impiety'. The reason, or at least a diagnosis, for this is given in this dialogue, as well, and links the dialogue to Theaetetus: the subjectivism of sophistry (as represented by Protagoras) and excessive focus on the flowing sensible rather than the stable intelligible (as represented by Heraclitus) is interfering with the knowledge required for correctness in naming (and thus in teaching, for which naming is an instrument).

* This dialogue has several puns on Hermogenes's name. 'Hermogenes' literally means 'son of Hermes'. Hermes is the god of profits, so the fact that Hermogenes is unsuccessful in monetary ventures is a reason why Cratylus might say he is poorly named. Hermes is the god of matters dealing with speech, and so this is also perhaps a reason why he is poorly named, since he is not good with speeches. But Hermes is the Psychopomp, Hermes Pompaios, and Socrates' last statement to Cratylus is that Hermogenes will go with (propempsei) Cratylus, a related term, so the dialogue ends happily with a joke that Hermogenes is appropriately named after all.

* Philosophers over the past century have tended to regard Cratylus as a baffling and mostly useless dialogue, which I think establishes conclusively that philosophers over the past century have been lacking in self-awareness. Of all Plato's dialogues, this one is the one that most directly touches on the kinds of philosophical issues that became central to philosophy in the twentieth century. On the 'analytic' side, the 'linguistic turn' was precisely motivated by the general kind of idea for which Socrates argues here: when it comes to conveying ideas, there is a standard of correctness by which one corrects error and misunderstanding. What is more, analytic philosophers have always struggled with the problems that arise in both engaging in this kind of dialectical activity of correcting names and also being inclined or tempted to Hermogenes's position that language is purely conventional. On the 'phenomenological' side, Heidegger can be seen as accepting the general kind of idea for which Socrates argues here, as well; but this side of twentieth century had the difficulty of being already inclined and thus at times tempted to a modern form of Cratylus's position, namely, that the understanding conveyed in language is rooted in temporal flow. This characterization, of course, is a crude representation; but one will find that it nonetheless goes quite far even without refinement.

* The perceptive reader will, I think, notice that this dialogue is in essence arguing for the viability of real classification, since that is effectively how all three participants in the dialogue are understanding naming. If you want a good way to see why the argument here is not merely some weird discussion of etymologies, think about scientific taxonomy, such as was done by Lavoisier or Linnaeus and was discussed by William Whewell. Whewell's eighth aphorism on scientific terminology conveys exactly the sort of correctness of names at issue in this dialogue:

Terms must be constructed and appropriated so as to be fitted to enunciate clearly and simply true propositions.

Scientific classification is a form of naming. It is not merely conventional, because it is held to standards of correctness; it does not naively follow the assumptions of ordinary language but is dialectically examined and corrected. Scientific classification, in other words, presupposes exactly the points made by Socrates in this dialogue.

* The main stumblingblock most modern readers have in their reading of the dialogue, of course, is the very, very long discussion of etymologies. But it's important to note that there is more going on in this discussion than just fanciful (and, note, Socrates himself flags its fancifulness at several points) playing around with syllables. In the course of doing thi, Socrates also incidentally does several other things. (1) He shows, rather than simply argues, that the correctness of names cannot be a matter of mere syllables but must somehow be a matter of understanding the natures of things themselves. (2) He prepares the discussion for the worries about Heraclitus that will come about later, by repeatedly introducing the assumption that all things flow, and in so doing also anticipates the discussion he will have with Cratylus. (3) He shows, regardless of the correctness of the etymologies, that both Hermogenes and Cratylus are wrong, since exploration of names requires attention to those things to which names are applied (pace Hermogenes) and yet also implies the need for critical care (by what amounts to a reductio by anticipation of Cratylus).

* Since we are reading this as a Last Days dialogue, the following passage in the discussion of Hades seems particularly relevant:

The words Hades knows how to speak are so beautiful, it seems, that everyone--even the Sirens--has been overcome by his enchantments. On this account, therefore, this god is a perfect sophist, and a great benefactor to those who are with him. So great is the wealth that surrounds him there below, he got the name 'Pluto'. On the other hand, because he is unwilling to associate with human beings while they have their bodies, but converses with them only when their souls are purified of all the desires and evils of the body, doesn't he seem to you to be a philosopher? For hasn't he well understood that when people are free of their bodies he can bind them with the desire for virtue, but that while they feel the agitation and madness of the body not even the famous shackles of his father Cronus could keep them with him? (403d-404a)


Quotation from Theaetetus is from Myles Burnyeat's revision of M. J. Levett's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 157-234.

Quotations from Cratylus are from C. D. C. Reeve's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 101-156.