30 April 2005

How Would Approximation Work Here?

I think many of us regard ourselves as floundering in trying to grasp this notion of 'approximation'. I don't take that itself to cast suspicion on the notion. Rather, I think it's extremely difficult to understand what it means to say that ethical action is reasonable (as I do believe).

Here's the sort of thing about which Aristotle says something fairly definite. Can we say with some confidence whether or not approximation works here?

I go to the store and make a purchase. Say, I buy a box of candies for $6. I give the cashier a $10 bill. The cashier mistakenly believes I've used a $20 bill and gives me $14 in change. I don't count my change until later, when I'm in another store and take out money to pay for something else. Then I discover the extra money and realize that the cashier had made a mistake.

There's no issue of getting caught or being found out. It was an 'honest mistake' and the sum is relatively small. Nonetheless I decide that I'll go back and return the extra $10. Let's suppose that I don't think that "I should" go back, or that "it would be wrong" if I didn't. Let's just say that this strikes me as a good thing to do. Maybe I remember the story of Honest Abe Lincoln from my youth, and I remember, too, that I've often thought that I'd like to do something similarly admirable.

So I return the money. Now, in doing so, I part with $10 that I didn't need to part with. But Aristotle would regard this as a quasi-exchange (see NE 9.8). I part with the $10, and in that respect lose something, but the action which I did was 'noble' (kalon), and I somehow gain this kalon aspect of the action in doing it. Since what is kalon is better than what is useful or chresimon (always or for the most part--it doesn't matter which, because it doesn't matter here) I'm actually better off (Aristotle thinks) having gone back to the store to return the money than if I had pocketed the extra money and returned home, or bought something with it.

I'm fairly confident this way of looking at this 'just' action is Aristotelian in spirit. Now the question is: Does it make sense (does it help, does it seem correct) to say that my returning the money is an 'approximation' to philosophical contemplation?

Another question (which is like one I raised in one of my first posts on the book): Is it that (i) my returning the money is similar to philosophical contemplation, or that (ii) my returning the money is similar to objects of philosophical contemplation (in being kalon)? If the latter, then perhaps we'd want to say: the object of philosophical contemplation and virtuous action is the same, the kalon, but one obtains the kalon in action by doing a kalon action, whereas one obtains the kalon in thinking by thinking about something kalon.

This would make virtuous actions similar to philosophical contemplation, yet I don't see that we should say that the former 'approximates' the latter, unless we held that the kalon of virtuous action approximated the kalon which we contemplate in philosophical contemplation. And yet it would seem bizarre to hold that the sort of kalon produced by the just action described above, which involves (as Aristotle thinks) simple equalities, such as that 6 = (10 - 14) +10 , approximate the kalon of those objects that a philosopher would want to contemplate. (It hardly seems, too, that the great worth of virtuous actions is captured in the reflection: "True enough, 5=5 is a fairly boring truth, but, given that you're in no position to contemplate now, and you need to buy food, that's the best you can achieve for now.")

Btw, Lear deals with courage, moderation, and magnanimity in Happy Lives, but not justice (for space limitations, she explains). But isn't this unfortunate?--because it would seem that justice (as Aristotle understands it, as involving equalities) would likely provide the most promising examples for a theory of 'approximation'.

Johansen v. Caston: Antecedent Arduousness

Johansen claims DA 3.2 is consistent with an inner sense theory; Caston, that it presents an account of the structure of an act of sense perception (or 'consciousness'). My plan is to state Johansen's arguments or considerations one-by-one and to place against these arguments or considerations from Caston's paper (or any additionally that I can devise), and then invite readers to contribute their own observations.

Here's a preliminary point, about which interpretation has the more difficult weight of proof.

Johansen takes DA 3.2 to be arguing a relatively weak thesis of 'nothing compels'. That is, Johansen takes the passage to be concerned with whether we need to postulate a faculty, in addition to the five senses, in order to account for our activity of perceiving that we perceive. And he takes Aristotle to conclude that, no, nothing compels us to do so (and then, given that we are not so compelled, parsimony suggests that we not do so). As Johansen stated in his BACAP lecture:

...the project of the De Anima [is] motivated in part by a concern with explanatory economy that is typical of what is commonly known as 'faculty psychology'. Aristotle wants to show how a variety of psychological phenomena can be explained by reference to a few fundamental capacities: no faculties praeter necessitatem.
Johansen, then, regards DA 3.2 as arguing for the relatively weak thesis that the phenomenon of 'perceiving that we perceive' carries with it no such necessity.

Caston, in contrast, attributes to DA a positive view that--it is recognized by those who study Caston's paper--is a rich, bold, and interesting thesis (even if Aristotle never held it). As Caston puts it:
Aristotle holds that a single token perception can be about an external object and about itself. This sort of awareness is therefore both intrinsic and relational. (799)

Because a higher-order content is involved, consciousness is still intentional and hence relational. But in so far as only one token is involved, it must be a reflexive relation: in addition to being directed upon an external object, such as an azure sky, the token activity will be directed upon itself. Such awareness is immediate. It is unmediated by any further token activity, let alone a representation of itself; nor is there any transition between the perception and the awareness of it, and hence no inference or causal relation between them. The relation is more intimate: both aspects are essential to any token perception. (778)
For Caston, that Aristotle denies that we need to postulate an 'inner sense' is a consequence of this rich view:
For these reasons, Aristotle cannot accept an 'inner sense' or internal scanner whose activities are distinct tokens from the activities they monitor. (779)
So the methodological point I wish to make is simply this: since Johansen seeks to get so much less out of the passage, antecedently one should expect that his interpretation would be easier to defend. (Yes, of course, this means nothing if the one interpretation can account for details of the text which the other cannot; but, still, the point is important in judging success and especially in evaluating 'close calls'.)

(Note: Despite the title of his BACAP lecture, it's not correct to say that Johansen regards 3.2 as putting forward an 'inner sense' theory. If I understand him, his view is that 3.2 merely denies that a special sense is required in addition to the five senses, to account for 'perceiving that we perceive'--not that it asserts that what does account for this is an 'inner sense'.)

"In Defense of Inner Sense": text and translations

"Inner sense theory", Johansen began his BACAP lecture, "holds that we are conscious of our own perceptions by virtue of further perceptions which have those first perceptions as their object." He claimed that a correct analysis of De Anima 3.2.425 b12-25 reveals that Aristotle held such a theory.

Inner sense theory stands in contrast to Victor Caston's view ("Aristotle on Consciousness"), according to which each act of sensation of each sense organ carries with it, inherently, an aspect of reflexivity, so that it is an act of perception of a proper sensible, and an act of perceiving that we perceive, at the same time. Caston claims that it's his view that is supported by a correct analysis of that De Anima passage.

I propose to test these views by placing them in opposition to each other. In this case, the exercise will not be solely my own construction, since many of Johansen's remarks in his lecture were explicitly directed against Caston's interpretation and arguments.

Here I give the necessary materials: the Greek text, and the translations of Johansen and Caston. It will be seen that (roughly) Johansen takes the passage to be principally about faculties or sense-capacities (a 'capacity reading'); Caston takes it to be principally about the structure of perceptions (an 'activity reading').

)Epei\ d' ai0sqano&meqa o3ti o(rw~men kai\ a)kou&omen, a)na&gkh

h2 th~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai o3ti o(ra~, h2 e9te/ra. a)ll' h( au)th_ e1stai
th~j o1yewj kai\ tou~ u(pokeime/nou xrw&matoj, w3ste h2 du&o tou~
au)tou~ e1sontai h2 au)th_ au(th~j. e1ti d' ei0 kai\ e9te/ra ei1h h( th~j (15)
o1yewj ai1sqhsij, h2 ei0j a1peiron ei]sin h2 au)th& tij e1stai au(th~j:
w3st' e0pi\ th~j prw&thj tou~to poihte/on. e1xei d' a)pori/an: ei0 ga_r
to_ th~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai/ e0stin o(ra~n, o(ra~tai de\ xrw~ma h2 to_
e1xon, ei0 o1yetai/ tij to_ o(rw~n, kai\ xrw~ma e3cei to_ o(rw~n prw~-
ton. fanero_n toi/nun o3ti ou)x e4n to_ th~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai: kai\ (20)
ga_r o3tan mh_ o(rw~men, th~ o1yei kri/nomen kai\ to_ sko&toj kai\
to_ fw~j, a)ll' ou)x w(sau&twj. e1ti de\ kai\ to_ o(rw~n e1stin w(j
kexrwma&tistai: to_ ga_r ai0sqhth&rion dektiko_n tou~ ai0sqhtou~ a1neu
th~j u3lhj e3kaston: dio_ kai\ a)pelqo&ntwn tw~n ai0sqhtw~n e1neisin
ai0sqh&seij kai\ fantasi/ai e0n toi=j ai0sqhthri/oij.

Since we perceive that we see and hear, it is necessary [b12] that one perceives that one sees either by sight (opsis) or by some other [sense]. But the same [sense] will be [b13] of sight and the underlying colour, so that either there will be two [senses] [b14] of the same thing or it [the sense] will be of itself. And furthermore, if indeed the sense of sight were different [b15], then either it will go on to infinity or some sense will be of itself, [b16] so that we should do this in the case of the first [sense]. But there is a puzzle (aporia): for if [b17] perceiving by sight is seeing, and colour or what [b18] has colour is seen, [then] something is going to see what sees (to horôn), then what first sees [or the first thing that sees] [b19] will also have colour. However, it is clear that perceiving by sight is not one thing; for even [b20] when we are not seeing, we discriminate both darkness and [b21] light by sight, but not in the same way. Moreover, what sees is actually (kai) coloured in a way [b22]: for the sense-organ is in each case receptive of the sense-object without [b23] the matter. That is why perceptions (aisthêseis) and appearances (phantasiai) are present in the sense-organs [b24] even when the sense-objects have departed.’

CASTON (b12-16 only)
Since we perceive that we see and hear, it is necessary either by means of the seeing that one perceives that one sees or by another [perception]. But the same [perception] will be both of the seeing and of the colour that underlies it, with the result that either two [perceptions] will be of the same thing, or it [sc. the perception] will be of itself. Further, if the perception of seeing is a different [perception], either this will proceed to infinity or some [perception] will be of itself; so that we ought to posit this in the first instance.

(I was not able to find in Caston's paper a translation of the remainder of the passage in accordance with the 'activity reading' .)

29 April 2005

The Spiritual Advice of Hard-Living Philosophers

Life among hard-living philosophers makes it difficult for me to post . The seminar at Brown yesterday afternoon; then a coffee and quick snack before the lecture, which ended at 9:30; then a dinner party lasting to midnight. It wasn't until 2 am that I got home. Then teaching all day today, but, because it's the last day of classes, a colleague has just come around with wine and cigars...and that's before a promised dinner out with my wife....

Yet there's much to post. Johansen's seminar and lecture were superb; Kosman's commentary was fascinating. In developing his own view, Johansen raised what seemed to me serious objections to Victor Caston's paper, "Aristotle on Consciousness", which I want to think carefully about, returning to Caston's paper. Then too I want to reply to Sean Kelsey's interesting thoughts on 'approximation'.

But that will have to wait until tomorrow. For now, I should follow, rather, some 'spiritual advice' given to me yesterday.

When I was leaving the dinner party last night with a colleague, I joked with Aryeh Kosman about wanting to pick up some cigars for the ride home. Aryeh grabbed my arm and said, smiling, "Oh no, save the cigars for tomorrow. Get some good cheese, some wine, and--I'm telling this to you as spiritual advice--then smoke those cigars."

I couldn't of course ignore spiritual advice like that, offered in true wisdom and with genuine goodwill!

28 April 2005

Johansen and Kosman at Brown, today

I'll be attending Thomas Johansen's BACAP seminar this afternoon at Brown, and then his 7pm lecture, with Aryeh Kosman commenting, on 'common sense' and perceiving that we perceive in Aristotle's psychology. (See the notice, here.) I haven't read the paper yet, but I gather Victor Caston's paper is one of Johansen's targets. Should be interesting.

With luck, I'll post something later about it, and more on Happy Lives, when I return.

27 April 2005

For the Sake Of, For Its Own Sake

As regards actions of the various virtues of character (courage, moderation, justice, etc.), there are three questions:

  1. Why do we do them at all?
  2. Why do we do them, rather than the contrary?
  3. Why do we do them, when doing the contrary would enable us to spend more time in contemplation?

For instance: a philosopher looks forward to his sabbatical year; but just that year an enemy attacks his country: (a) he joins in the defense of his country; (b) in battles he acts courageously rather than as a coward; and (c) when doing something particularly courageous, he is killed, when, he if he had acted then as a coward, he would have lived (affording him the chance to return to philosophy later).

(a) raises question 1.
(b) raises question 2.
(c) raises question 3.

It’s easy to devise similar examples for the other virtues. For instance, as regards justice: a philosopher looks forward to his sabbatical year; but just that year his father falls seriously ill: (a) he spends the year caring for him; (b) he does so with devotion and refinement, rather than badly and with coarseness; and (c) if he had provided care in a perfunctory way, or in some respects had neglected this care, he would have had more time for philosophical thought. (Note: this is a case of justice for Aristotle.)

Now here’s a puzzle: one might wish to answer 1. and 2. in a way that suggests a ‘for the sake of happiness, for its own sake’ structure to our actions, but in that case it becomes difficult to answer 3.

We answer 1. and 2. in this way. Actions of the various virtues of character are actions that we do on the supposition, or condition, that we already need to do something other than contemplate. We need to eat, to engage in business to procure clothing and shelter, to defend against an attacker. We are going to do these things anyway, so we might as well do them appropriately and well. Thus: in doing them at all, we are doing something (‘instrumentally’) for the sake of leisure and contemplation; in doing them well, we are doing something for its own sake. So the answer to 1. is that we do these actions of the various virtues of character because they are ways of doing things that we would have been doing anyway, and the answer to 2. is that these actions are worth choosing (they are ‘appropriate’, ‘due’, ‘fitting’, prepon) whereas actions of the contrary vices are not.

But if this is so, then it is difficult to see why we choose [taking care of necessities well + not contemplating] over [taking care of necessities poorly + contemplating] (question 3). It looks as though this is a mistake: it’s as if we forget that the morally virtuous actions were done in the first place only on the supposition that actions necessary for leisure had to be done.

If we granted that the notion of ‘approximation’ was in play in Aristotle’s Ethics, what help could it give in these matters? It’s of no use in answering 1. (that’s answered by an appeal to necessity). It’s also clearly of no use in answering 3. (because there is no reason why we’d accept an approximation if the real thing were available). The only help it can give is in 2. And yet there an appeal to approximation seems either unnecessary or inapt. For instance: justice is frequently backward-looking, not forward-looking. The reason (Aristotle thinks) a grown child should, in justice, care for his infirm parent, is that in the past the parent conferred goods upon the child that the child can never fully repay. The child’s care of his parent is in response to that, not apparently with a view to any contemplation to which the action tends or contributes.

26 April 2005

I'm Puzzled

I’m hoping readers of Dissoi Blogoi can help me understand the portion of the following passage from the Republic which I’ve placed in bold type. (Btw, the link to Perseus is here.):

diomologhsa/meno/j g' e)/fhn e)gw/, kai\ a)namnh/saj u(ma=j ta/ t' e)n toi=j e)/mprosqen r(hqe/nta kai\ a)/llote h)/dh polla/kij ei)rhme/na.

[507b] ta\ poi=a; h)= d' o(/j.

polla\ kala/, h)=n d' e)gw/, kai\ polla\ a)gaqa\ kai\ e(/kasta ou(/twj ei)=nai/ fame/n te kai\ diori/zomen tw=| lo/gw|.

fame\n ga/r.

kai\ au)to\ dh\ kalo\n kai\ au)to\ a)gaqo/n, kai\ ou(/tw peri\ pa/ntwn a(\ to/te w(j polla\ e)ti/qemen, pa/lin au)= kat' i)de/an mi/an e(ka/stou w(j mia=j ou)/shj tiqe/ntej, o(\ e)/stin e(/kaston prosagoreu/omen.

e)/sti tau=ta.

kai\ ta\ me\n dh\ o(ra=sqai/ famen, noei=sqai d' ou)/, ta\j d' au)= i)de/aj noei=sqai me/n, o(ra=sqai d' ou)/.

panta/pasi me\n ou)=n.

Here are three translations. I can’t make much sense of any of them, or the Greek.


And again, we speak of a self-beautiful and of a good that is only and merely good, and so, in the case of all the things that we then posited as many, we turn about and posit each as a single idea or aspect, assuming it to be a unity and call it that which each really is.


And beauty itself and good itself and all the things that we thereby set down as many, reversing ourselves, we set down according to a single form of each, believing that there is but one, and call it “the being” of each.


We also say there is a beautiful itself and a good itself. And the same with all the things we then said were “many.” Applying the procedure in reverse, we relate them to a single form or character of each—since we believe it is single—and call it “what each is”.

My difficulties (or some of them):
1. I don’t understand which two procedures are mean to be the reverse of each other. Is it that Plato is presuming that applying the same word to many things is an operation which takes us from one thing to many? So the One Over Many is a kind of inverse operation of predication? Or is it that we couldn't have grouped many things in a single class without having engaged in an operation that is the inverse of the One Over Many?

2. How are we supposed to coordinate the two instances of ‘each’ here (e(ka/stou ... e(/kaston)? Is the first the kind or the class of many and the second the single form corresponding to that class? Or do the two instances indicate the same thing?

(Maybe there’s an easy answer to this. I don’t have any commentaries at hand, as I write this, except Nick White’s, which skips over the passage. But I figure that the passage is likely to be puzzling to others if it is to me and so worth discussing—not as experts, but as interested amateurs--and if someone posts something definitive on it, fine. Naturally I’ve been drawn to the passage by thinking about the One Over Many in Republic 10.596a, in connection with the TMA, and looking at this passage as intimating the same thing.)

Differential Diagnosis of 'Approximation'

A mistake interpreters of a text often make is to fail to make a comparative argument. It is necessary to argue, not simply that one's favored interpretation is supported by the text, but also that it is better supported than plausible alternatives.

This is an analogue of what physicians call 'differential diagnosis.' Suppose there is an array of symptoms which might indicate the presence of exotic disease E. But those symptoms are also commonly associated with a much less exotic, and much more common, disease C. Then it's important to rule out that C is the cause of the symptoms before treating for E, typically by finding some symptom or sign which only E causes, not C. This is the 'differential diagnosis'.

So we might ask, as regards Lear's notion of 'approximation', whether, for texts which might be taken to support Aristotle's reliance on this relatively uncommon notion, there is not some more common Aristotelian idea, which those texts would similarly support, and, if so, how this more common idea would be ruled out.

In fact there is a more common idea of this sort: analogy. Analogy is the genus of which 'approximation' is the species. Whenever X approximates Y, then X and Y are analogous; but (I take it) it's not always the case that, when X and Y are analogous, one approximates the other. (If it is always the case, then 'approximation' is a fancy, and misleading, name for 'analogy'.) For instance, reproduction in mortal animals is an analogue of uninterrupted divine life. But presumably that mortal life approximates divine life goes beyond their merely being analogous.

(Digression: But how does it go beyond this, except that mortal animals strive to be immortal, that is, that they reproduce in order to be immortal (as Plato says)? But note that, if this is the difference, it's not clear that one could ever argue in the following way: "X is for the sake of Y, because X approximates Y." Why? Because you'd have to establish first that X is for the sake of Y, in order to establish that X and Y were a case of approximation rather than simple analogy. That is, you'd have to reason, "X approximates (and isn't merely an analogue of) Y, because X is for the sake of Y." And yet it seems that Lear needs to argue in the problematic way.)

Suppose we grant all of the following: practical reasoning is a sort of contemplation (theoria tis); there's some sort of likeness (homoioma ti) between practical reasoning and contemplation; (even) practical reasoning shares in (metechei) contemplation. How do we rule out that Aristotle isn't asserting the weaker, and more common, idea that practical reasoning and contemplation are analogous?

Lear recognizes the problem. At various points in her argument, she says that what she has established so far is merely that the one is analogous to the other. She correctly takes this to be a preliminary result, and she acknowledges that she needs to say more to establish, rather, that the one is an approximation of the other.

This leads to two questions: What more does she need to show (the differential diagnosis)? And does Lear succeed in showing it?

Lear apparently thinks that she needs to show either of two things. (i) That there is an ordering between the two analogates, so that it's proper to hold that the one has 'more' or is 'especially' (malista) what the other is. Thus: if philosophical contemplation is contemplation to a greater degree than practical reasoning, or if it is malista contemplation, then practical reasoning is an approximation of philosophical contemplation. (ii) That the one analogate is for the sake of the other.

This is clear from her remarks on p. 89:

We should notice, however, that if contemplation and the exercise of practical wisdom are good merely by analogy, there is no reason to think that one is worth choosing for the sake of the other or is indeed inferior to it in any way at all. In an ordinary analogy, where A:B::C:D, there need be no priority of one relation over the other. Since Aristotle believes that contemplation is superior to the exercise of practical wisdom (NE VI.7) and is indeed its end (as I hope eventually to show), mere analogy does not sufficiently describe the connection between contemplation and morally virtuous action.
Two observations:

1. Although an analogy, as Lear says, need not have an ordering, it's not true that it cannot have an ordering. Thus, for instance, Aristotle thinks that:
And yet sameness is prior to similarity (it is 'more a unity') because substance is prior to quality. Presumably we don't want to say that similarity approximates sameness. (Or do we?) In which case that there is ordering cannot serve to make the differential diagnosis between approximation and analogy.

2. It's hazardous to argue, as Lear apparently wishes to do: "X and Y are analogous; Aristotle thinks that Y is better than X, and X is for the sake of Y; therefore Aristotle thinks that X approximates Y" because precisely at issue is whether 'approximation' captures the notion of 'for the sake of' that is at play!

25 April 2005

Book Publishing, (un)Ltd.

Today there comes from BMCR a review of language on a holiday--er, I mean, Plotinus (that's not necessarily disparaging: maybe language should take a holiday sometimes!)--published by a press that, an Aristotelian might argue, cannot actually exist:

Brian Hines, Return to the One: Plotinus' Guide to God-Realization.
Bloomington and Salem: Unlimited Publishing, 2004. Pp. xx, 372. ISBN
1-58832-100-2. $16.99 (pb).

It turns out that Unlimited Publishing is an on-demand publishing outfit (said by some to be the way that publishing must go in the future, to compete successfully with on-line texts). So their name signifies merely a potential infinity of books, and Aristotle's thesis is safe after all.

Hines' book is Unlimited's only philosophy book on offer so far. The telltale blurb, however, is not encouraging:
In the Enneads, 3rd century mystic philosopher Plotinus synthesized a thousand years of accumulated Greek wisdom with his own profound mystical experiences. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, you will find yourself challenged and stimulated by Plotinus's blend of rationality and mysticism.
And if my 'spiritual belief' is that no 'mystical philosophy' can be challenging and stimulating to all spiritual beliefs whatsoever...?

Life, Theoretically Speaking

I'm puzzled by Lear's treatment of NE 1.5.1096a4, which reads:

Third of the three lives in question, then, is the life of reflection, about which we shall make our investigation in what follows. (Broadie and Rowe)

tri/toj d' e)sti\n o( qewrhtiko/j, u(pe\r ou(= th\n e)pi/skeyin e)n toi=j e(pome/noij poihso/meqa.
Broadie and Rowe give the usual view when they say (ad loc) "In fact this discussion does not occur until x.7-8 (1177a12-1179a32)." Lear agrees with this: "[A]t NE I.5 1096a4-5 Aristotle promises to describe the theoretical life later; NE X.7-8 is the place he does it"(178).

Yet this seems at odds with Lear's treatment of 10.8.1178b28-32, which reads:
So happiness extends as far as reflection does, and to those who have more of reflection, more happiness belongs too, not incidentally, but in virtue of the reflection; for this is in itself to be honored. So then happiness will be a kind of reflection. (Broadie and Rowe)

e)f' o(/son dh\ diatei/nei h( qewri/a, kai\ h( eu)daimoni/a, kai\ oi(=j ma=llon u(pa/rxei to\ qewrei=n, kai\ eu)daimonei=n, ou) kata\ sumbebhko\j a)lla\ kata\ th\n qewri/an: au(/th ga\r kaq' au(th\n timi/a. w(/st' ei)/h a)\n h( eu)daimoni/a qewri/a tij.

Broadie and Rowe remark astutely (ad loc.) that 'happiness extends as far as reflection does' may indicate "(1) the proportion of time someone spends on reflection (this by contrast with the gods, whose happiness is coextensive with their life, 25-6). But the context equally suggests reference to (2) a range of kinds of activity which the term 'reflection' can cover. In that case, the point is that grounds for calling an activity 'reflection' are grounds for calling it 'happiness'."

Lear, as we might guess, opts for (2) (citing Broadie and Rowe for this at 196,n.45), and claims that 'reflection' or 'theoretical activity' covers, too, activity of practical reason, and thus the actions of the various virtues of character:
The actualization of phronesis is not theoretical contemplation, but it is, according to my interpretation, theoria...tis. (195)

But the life aimed at practical wisdom has already been deemed happy in a way; thus it must include theoria tis. (196, n. 43)

Courageous, temperate, and just actions are not only expressions of virtue, they are godlike....The divine activity extends into human life not only through human contemplation but also through morally virtuous activity. (196)

In support of her this view, Lear points out that "theorein often refers to practical contemplation. See NE 1139a6-8, 1140a10-14, 1141a25-26 for unambiguous examples" (195, n.42).

But then, if this is her view, why wouldn't she hold that "in what follows" (e)n toi=j e(pome/noij) at 1.5 1096a4 refers not to 10.7-8 but rather to all the rest of the Nicomachean Ethics?!! --Because Lear's view is that Aristotle regards the entire NE as a discussion of human life as devoted to theoria in one form or another.

Translations (or Approximations?) of the Key Passages

It seems good, for the record, to post the two texts which Lear thinks articulate with especial clarity the notion of approximation. The first is Aristotle, De Anima 2.4.415a25-b7:

The acts in which [the nutritive soul] manifests itself are reproduction and the use of food, because for any living think which has reached its normal development and which is unmutilated...the most natural act is the production of another like itself, an animal producing an animal, a plant a plant, in order that, as far as its nature allows, it may partake in [metechwsin] the eternal and divine. For all things desire this, and do whatever they do in accordance with their natures for the sake of [heneka] this. The phrase 'that for the sake of which' is ambiguous; it may mean either the end to achieve which or the being in whose interest the act is done. Since then no living thing is able to partake in what is eternal and divine by uninterrupted continuance (for nothing perishable can ever remain one and the same), it tries to achieve that end in the only way possible to it, and success is possible in varying degrees; so it remains not indeed as the self-same individual but continues its existence in something like itself--not numerically but specifically one.
The second is Plato, Symposium 207c9-208b6, from which the Aristotle passage seems to borrow:
For among animals the principle is the same as with us, and mortal nature seeks so far as possible to live forever and be immortal. And this is possible in one way only: by reproduction, because it always leaves behind a new young one in place of the old...And in that way everything mortal is preserved, not, like the divine, by always being the same in every way, but because what is departing and aging leaves behind something new, something such as it had been. By this device, Socrates, what is mortal shares [metechei] in immortality, whether it is a body or anything else, while the immortal has another way. So don't be surprised if everything naturally values its own offspring, beause it is for the sake of immortality that everything shows this zeal, which is Love.
(These passages are quoted by Lear on pp. 80-81, in a section entitled, "Imitation in Aristotle's Natural Philosophy".)

On the basis of these passages, Lear claims:
1. When X in the way described imitates or approximates Y, then we can say that X acts for the sake of Y, and this is a distinct and third way in which one thing can act for the sake of another, besides "instrumental and constitutive relations" (82).
2. "[T]he value of the approximation depends on the value of the object it approximates. In other words, the paradigm is the source of value for the things approximating it."
But, two difficulties:

--What seems lacking in Lear's first claim (but which is important in Plato's passage) is talk of possessing a good. What Plato seems to have in mind is: we want to possess some good, which strictly we cannot have, and thus we contrive to possess the thing most like it, which we can have. But when we make this adjustment, it's not clear how approximation will apply to the relation between philosophical contemplation and actions of the virtues of character in NE, because we can possess philosophical contemplation.

--I don't quite see how 2. is implied by the passages (but perhaps readers of Dissoi Blogoi will disagree). In fact, 2. seems problematic, for a fairly obvious reason. To the extent that an imitation (or approximation) is successful, then the imitation has the very same attributes that make the thing imitated valuable. But then why would the value of the imitation be dependent on the value of the thing imitated, rather than freestanding?

Lear notes this last difficulty at n. 29, p. 83 (acknowledging Kieran Setiyabut for pointing it out). But, as far as I can see, she does not reply to it. The best she says is: "I am not sure that there are any arguments to show that we ought (or ought not) to see things as Aristotle does, at least not any I can rehearse in the scope of this book"(84). But that's beside the point, because what is at issue is, assuming for the moment that we do in fact 'see things as Aristotle does', then why, on this view, should we hold that the value of the imitation depends upon the value of the thing imitated?

24 April 2005

A Fourth Problem

After studying Lear's book some more, I think she is concerned with another 'problem of mid-level goods', distinct from the three I've already listed:

4. If happiness is the ultimate end (i.e. that for the sake of which we reasonably choose everything else, and which we don't reasonably choose for the sake of anything further in turn), then how is it that Aristotle, as it seems, wishes to count some mid-level goods, which are not ultimate in this sense, as happiness nonetheless (although in a 'secondary' sense)?
This is the problem of why some mid-level goods are treated by Aristotle as if they were not mid-level goods. And I think the theory of 'approximation' gives a plausible answer to this: happiness in the strict sense includes only philosophical contemplation; happiness in a secondary sense includes all goods that suitably approximate philosophical contemplation.

Three Problems in Mid-Level Goods

I claimed there are at least three problems of mid-level (or 'middle-level') goods in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Or, to be more precise, there are at least three problems which arise once one holds, as Lear does (and as I think correct), that happiness (eudaimonia) for Aristotle is a particular sort of activity, namely, the sort of activity we are capable of once we have acquired the virtue of sophia, philosophical wisdom. These problems are:

1. How is it possible for mid-level goods to be worth choosing both for themselves and for the sake of happiness?

2. Why, if contemplation is the ultimate goal, does Aristotle devote the bulk of the Ethics to discussing something else? Or, better: Aristotle seems to take it for granted that happiness is philosophical contemplation as carried out by someone who has all-round virtue. Why?

3. If mid-level goods are for the sake of philosophical contemplation, and therefore they are subordinate or lesser goods, then how do we explain those cases, not uncommon, in which both a mid-level good and philosophical contemplation are available to an agent, and yet it seems that the agent should prefer the mid-level good?

I’ll say more about these later. For now, I want to observe that Lear proposes the theory of ‘approximation’ as an answer largely to 1., and perhaps also to 2., and yet it seems that 3. is the greatest difficulty, but it is unclear how ‘approximation’ could help to resolve it. (It’s unclear why one would ever choose an imitation or approximation of a good, if that good itself were directly available.)

23 April 2005

Mid-Level Goods

Some goods, Aristotle says, are reasonably sought both for their own sake and also for the sake of happiness (eudaimonia). G. Lear calls these 'mid-level' goods. Aristotle holds that the actions of particular virtues of character (moderation, courage, generosity) and friendships are 'mid-level goods'.

What is the relationship between mid-level goods and happiness? Some interpreters have held that mid-level goods are instrumentally related to happiness; others, that mid-level goods are constituents of happiness. The former usually propose an 'Intellectualist' reading of the Nicomachean Ethics; the latter, an 'Inclusivist' reading.

Lear regards neither of these relationships as quite correct and argues, instead, that mid-level goods are meant by Aristotle to be 'approximations' (imitations) of happiness, which is philosophical contemplation. Lear can therefore claim to steer a middle course between Intellectualism and Inclusivism: Intellectualism is correct in holding that happiness is just one activity, philosophical contemplation; Inclusivism is correct in holding that happiness includes other activities within its scope, because activities which suitably 'approximate' philosophical contemplation can also be counted as happiness, in a derivative and secondary sense.

But although Lear's interpretation finds a middle-path between common interpretations, and is attractive for that reason, it's not clear to me that it helps resolve any of the difficulties that gave rise those interpretations in the first place.

Lear typically writes as though there is just one 'problem of mid-level goods'. Yet there are at least three, and (as I'll explain in subsequent posts) I don't see how 'approximation' contributes to the resolution of any of these. Given that 'approximation', it seems, is not explicitly affirmed in the Ethics, this then counts as a large reason against relying on it in an interpretation.

Political Animal, Party Animal

It's strange the things one sometimes finds in books.

In very last paragraphs of Happy Lives and the Highest Good, G. Lear considers the question of how a philosopher in Aristotle's mold balances devotion to philosophical contemplation with other goods in life. "We may be disappointed that Aristotle does not give us an algorithm for determining when the happiness of our lives will be best promoted by choosing to contemplate and when it would be better to engage in particularly human affairs" (205). But, not to worry, since "however the philosopher chooses to act, he will be guided by a practical virtue that is not radically different from the fine moral habits in which he was trained"(206). You won't find a philosopher, then, skulking away from parties, to sneak in more time for contemplation:

For instance, if a philosopher is at a party, he will not leave early in a way that might offend his hosts and make him seem a spoilsport to the other guests. He cannot, in his practical life, approximate perfect theoretical truthfulness unless he recognizes the truth to himself as not only rational, but also political and animal. Though his love of contemplation will lead him to avoid making friends with people who disdain philosophy and try to keep him from it, his love of truth will also lead him to recognize that as a political animal it is good for him to have friends. Furthermore, he will understand that when he is at a party with friends, he is part of a community. Since every community is organized for the sake of a common good (Pol. I.1 1252a1-2, NE VIII.9), the philosopher will see that as a member of the community it is good for him to care for that common good, in this case the relaxation that comes with companionship and laughter (206).
That's surely what Williams would call 'one thought too many'.

Glaucon: "This party is a bore, Socrates. Let's get out of here and contemplate--a much better use of our time."
Socrates: "But Glaucon, is a party not a community of sorts?
Glaucon: "What of it?"
Socrates: "And in agreeing to come to the party, you've joined that community?"
Glaucon: "I suppose."
Socrates: "And in agreeing to join a community, we agree to promote the common good of that community?"
Glaucon: "To be sure."
Socrates: "And the common good of a party is companionship and laughter?"
Glaucon: "I suppose."
Socrates: "So then you've agreed to promote companionship and laughter?"
Glaucon: "I guess I have."
Socrates: "Just as I'm doing now?
Glaucon: "Oh, Socrates, of course!--Any true lover of wisdom will be the life of a party!"

22 April 2005

The Crux of Happy Lives

The following passage, on p. 85, seems the crux of Lear's book:

Let us remind ourselves of where we now are. I have tried to show that, in addition to taking an instrumental means to an end and constituting an end, Aristotle recognizes in his scientific treatises a third way of acting for the sake of an end. Indeed it is central to his account of the first heaven's relationship to the Prime Mover. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle calls this acting for an end as an object of love. Less poetically, we can call it approximating, imitating, or emulating an end. The telos is not just similar to its subordinate goods, it sets the standard of success for them. An excellent example of the subordinate good is as much like the telos as it is possible for a thing of that kind to be. Essentially perishable creatures, for example, cannot be immortal, but they can approach immortality to some extent by procreating.

Now, if morally virtuous activity approximates contemplation, this would help solve the problem we faced...in our interpretation of the Nicomachean Ethics. We wondered how middle-level ends, choiceworthy for their own sakes, could also be worth choosing for the sake of eudaimonia. And in particular we wondered how, if eudaimonia is contemplation, morally virtuous action might be worth choosing for its sake. When one thing approximates another it inherits the kind of value possessed by the paradigm. That is to say, the approximation of a good choiceworthy for the sake of another will itself be choiceworthy for the sake of another. Alternatively, the approximation of a good choiceworthy for its own sake will itself be choiceworthy for its own sake. So if morally virtuous activity is choiceworthy for the sake of contemplation as an approximation or imitation of that activity, it will not be merely instrumentally valuable. Rather, to the extent it succeeds in realizing the form of contemplation in action, it will itself be worth choosing for its own sake.

21 April 2005

Johansen Defending "Inner Sense"

The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy &
Departments of Philosophy & Classics,
Brown University present:

Thomas Johansen
University of Edinburgh

In Defense of Inner Sense:
Aristotle on perceiving that we see

Response: Aryeh Kosman

Haverford College

Thursday, April 28, 2005
7:00 p.m.
Please note CHANGE OF TIME

Room 119, Gerard House
54 College Street

Seminar (on topic of the lecture):

Classics Department Seminar Room, 102 McFarlane House
4:00-6:00 p.m. Thursday, April 28

Texts: Aristotle, De Anima III.2 425b12-25 and On Sleep and Waking 2, 455a12-22.

Key secondary literature for seminar:
V. Caston, “Aristotle on Consciousness,” Mind 111 (2002) 751- 815.
L.A. Kosman, “Perceiving that we perceive: On the Soul III.2.” Philosophical Review 84 (1975) 516-7.
C. Osborne, “Aristotle, De Anima 3.2: How Do We Perceive That We See and Hear,” Classical Quarterly 33 (1983) 401-411.

For more information, please contact:
Mary Louse Gill, mlgill@brown.edu

For the Lazy Among Us

For the lazy among us, difficulties stated by Annas:

  1. Lear presumes without argument or explanation that the Nicomachean Ethics is an integral work of philosophy: "she nowhere defends her assumptions about the text, and explicitly (p 5) lays aside the relationship of the Nicomachean to the Eudemian version. "
  2. Aristotle never so much as states that practical reasoning, or actions of the virtues of character, are 'approximations' to philosophical contemplation. Consequently, Lear must hold that readers of the Ethics "will radically fail to understand it if they attend to it alone. They will understand it only if they come equipped with knowledge of Aristotle's physical and metaphysical works, and prepared to interpret the work from the beginning in the light of ideas which are expressed only at the end." Annas concedes the view is possible, but it needs defending.
  3. Lear holds that an action that is an 'approximation' to philosophical contemplation is choiceworthy as being such, even if it is not recognized as being such; she also concedes that most people when they perform virtuous actions do not recognize them as approximations to contemplation; hence "[m]ost of us most of the time, even if we make progress in virtue, are thus missing an understanding of what ultimately makes our actions valuable"--which seems strange.

Almeida particularly emphasizes 3, but otherwise I don't find that he offers any criticisms additional to these.

Just for the Heck of It

Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd sketch how I'd summarize the outlook (not necessarily the argument, yet) of Lear's book. It ends up being a little different from her way of putting it, or what I find in the reviews, but it's how I'd state it. (Of course, I'd welcome clarifications or corrections from Lear or others.)

Aristotle’s ethics should be understood almost as if a treatise on the ‘natural history of human beings’. From a third person point of view, studying human beings as an Aristotelian would study any other sort of thing in nature, we see that the telos of a human beings is to achieve philosophical contemplation. This means, presumably: human beings form self-sufficient communities (city-states), to provide occasion (‘leisure’, ‘free time’), so that some from among them can achieve philosophical contemplation.

On this picture, it might seem that most human beings, most of the time, fail actually to achieve the telos of human existence. This result should be avoided not least on Aristotelian grounds, because it cannot be that nature for the most part fails to achieve its goal.

We therefore say that any telos can be achieved in either of two ways: directly, or by approximation. A telos is achieved by approximation, when something like the following happens. (I’ll state this very roughly for now, without some important qualifications.) There is a general kind of subjects, the members of which have different aptitudes or endowments. Also, there is a general group of goals, which on objective grounds can be ranked as better or worse. The best member of the kind achieves the best goal, and the other members of that kind achieve goals from that group that differ precisely in relation to their difference in aptitude or endowment. It follows that an analogy (or equivalence of proportions) can be constructed, which licenses the claim that everyone in the group is somehow achieving the same goal.

Aristotle’s star example of this is how living things achieve the telos of being alive. God as an individual lives eternally, without the possibility of not living (immortality). A species of animal (Aristotle thinks) achieves immortality corporately, through reproduction: no individual animal is immortal, but the species lives forever, through reproduction. We can construct therefore the analogy: uninterrupted life:God::uninterrupted reproduction: animal species. The analogy allows us to say that both God and animals are achieving the same thing, but the animals do so by ‘approximation’.

Apply this, then, to human beings. The good of truth attained in philosophical contemplation is the best good available to human beings and greater than the good of truth attained in practical deliberation and judgment. Philosophers, when they contemplate, achieve the goal of human beings directly. But when they cannot contemplate (say, because they have to eat or engage in business), or when others who have no aptitude for philosophy live a life of civic virtue, then (we can say) they are achieving that goal of contemplation ‘by approximation’. The reason is that we can construct an analogy such as the following: theoretical truth:philosophical contemplation::practical truth:actions of the virtues of character.

Net Reviews of Lear--and a Reply

Reviews on the internet of G. Lear, Happy Lives and the Highest Good, are by Julia Annas in NDPR, here, and Joseph Almeida in BMCR, here. Lear has a reply to Almeida's review here.

20 April 2005

SIPs for Lear

Amazon gives the following as Statistically Improbable Phrases in Lear's book:

monistic end, choiceworthy for the sake, finality criterion, worth choosing for the sake, accordance with the other virtue, most final end, thumos courage, excellent practical reasoning, approximates contemplation, excellent theoretical reasoning, monistic goods, morally virtuous activity, prohairetic state, morally virtuous actions, excellent rational activity, practical truthfulness, life worth choosing, made more choiceworthy, most final virtue, ends choiceworthy, accordance with moral virtue, inclusivist interpretation, most choiceworthy, convergent end, morally virtuous agent

I propose as an Austinian criterion of good philosophy: No reliable book in philosophy should have any SIPs besides those that count as plain (if quirky) English.

But would Austin meet this criterion himself? You judge for yourself. Here are SIPs for Austin's Philosophical Papers:

sensible diagrams, mangy condition, real goldfinch, true statements state, linguistic legislation, logically superfluous, fact that the cat, past indicative, explicit performative, performative verbs

The Blurb

Besides two reviews of Gabriel Lear's book on the internet (in BMCR and NDPR), there is, of course, also the Blurb, which has a certain authority, because we know who really writes these:

Gabriel Richardson Lear presents a bold new approach to one of the enduring debates about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: the controversy about whether it coherently argues that the best life for humans is one devoted to a single activity, namely philosophical contemplation. Many scholars oppose this reading because the bulk of the Ethics is devoted to various moral virtues--courage and generosity, for example--that are not in any obvious way either manifestations of philosophical contemplation or subordinated to it. They argue that Aristotle was inconsistent, and that we should not try to read the entire Ethics as an attempt to flesh out the notion that the best life aims at the "monistic good" of contemplation.

In defending the unity and coherence of the Ethics, Lear argues that, in Aristotle's view, we may act for the sake of an end not just by instrumentally bringing it about but also by approximating it. She then argues that, for Aristotle, the excellent rational activity of moral virtue is an approximation of theoretical contemplation.

Thus, the happiest person chooses moral virtue as an approximation of contemplation in practical life. Richardson Lear bolsters this interpretation by examining three moral virtues--courage, temperance, and greatness of soul--and the way they are fine. Elegantly written and rigorously argued, this is a major contribution to our understanding of a central issue in Aristotle's moral philosophy.

The Blurb is a strange genre in which one writes as an agent of the press, which is an agent of the author. It's the author's supposition of what the press would want to say on the author's behalf, if only it knew the book so well as the author.

This particular Blurb is especially useful as making it clear at once what the Main Thesis of the book is, and what we might expect the chief difficulties of that thesis to be.

The Main Thesis is that, according to Aristotle, courageous, moderate, and generous actions--and all actions of any virtue of character--are 'approximations' to philosophical contemplation; and that a virtuous person chooses them as such.

Some difficulties that immediately suggest themselves as regards this thesis:

1. It's not clear what approximation is. Is it a matter of similiarity or analogy? And do we want to say that actions of the moral virtues are similar (or analogous) to actions of contemplation, or that actions of the moral virtues are similar to objects of contemplation? If the former, then is the claim of 'approximation' anything other than the assertion that upright living is (in some unspecified sense) like contemplation? If the latter, then isn't the claim of 'approximation' really the claim that acts of contemplation (of sorts) can accompany actions of the moral virtues? But then those actions don't themselves approximate contemplation.

2. It's not clear whether approximation, however construed, is plausible as applied to particular cases. How would (say) standing firm in battle to hack down an enemy soldier as he rushes at you be an approximation of (say) pondering the divine blessedness of the First Cause?

3. It seems a puzzle why, if it were true and important for the argument of the Ethics, Aristotle (it seems) hardly says anything about it.

4. It's not clear how, even if true, recourse to approximation would solve the problems usually thought to affect a 'Dominant End' reading of the Ethics. For instance, if it's a difficulty, why, if one is single-mindedly devoted to contemplation, one should choose to perform morally virtuous actions, it seems to remain a difficulty, why one should choose to perform actions that only approximate contemplation. Or how would the fact that a just action approximates contemplation explain why someone should act justly, even when an unjust action would lead to many more opportunties for (strict, true, full) contemplation?

My Non-Schedule

A reader of Dissoi Blogoi wrote and referred at one poing to my blog 'schedule', to which I replied that one of the great merits of a blog is that it has no schedule. A blog is 'unstructured time'. We open the doors wide to serendipity and close them to necessity.

Of course, one needs to move along, otherwise one sins against another attraction of a blog, which is its timeliness, or at least sense of timeliness. The present tense governs a blog. (And, pace MacTaggart, it did govern it in the past, and it will govern it in the future.)

And so we move along from Sam Rickless on the Third Man, to (now) Gabriel Richardson Lear on Aristotelian eudaimonia, to (next week) Thomas Johanssen, who presents a BACAP lecture on perception in Aristotle. (And if only I could remove the static from my attempts at bilocating, I might have included, also, the Toronto Conference last weekend, on--wouldn't you know?--the divided self.)

The Strange World of Google

Google "Happy Lives and the Highest Good", the title of the book by Gabriel Richardson Lear which I must review, and one gets referred to, among other sites, Happy Camp News, which lists the following event:

Sunday, April 10 - Intenders of the Highest Good. Every Sunday at 2pm at the Angelic Healing Center. For information please call: 493-2778.
I suppose we can't but be interested in that.

The Whole Point of a Particular Text

To my mind, most errors in interpretation involve looking at a part of a text not in relationship to the relevant whole.

In this regard, Nick White's Companion to Plato's Republic, which I've been using this semester, contains these sensible remarks in the Preface, which I might easily have missed:

I believe that the overall argument of the Republic can best be seen, and mistakes about its components best avoided, when the argument is seen as a whole. Moreover, I believe that this is the way in which one may gain from the work what is philosophically most interesting. Many recent scholarly discussions of the Republic suffer from too much concentration on what are thought to be its crucial sections. The fact is that the details of Plato's arguments are often (not always) much less interesting than the overall scheme within which they are placed. Far more important is the basic structure of his position, which can frequently be defended through means somewhat different from the ones that he himself adopts...Furthermore, the whole point of the more detailed pieces of argumentation is easily missed if their places in the whole are not scrupulously attended to. (2)
Then White adds, most admirably:
I had better explain, lest someone form the wrong idea, why the overall coherence and meticulousness of Plato's argument strikes me as so interesting. Part of the reason is the spectacle of it, pure and simple. The argumentative structure of the Republic, quite apart from its soundness or lack of it, is simply a beautiful thing to behold, the more so because it has often been so difficult to uncover. (One learns not to be surprised when a formerly aimless-seeming Platonic passage turns out to be making a point essential to the argument.) (3)
(He then goes on to explain--if you want to know--that the other reason is that White has a basic sympathy with Plato's notion of goodness, that "he was right to try to disover a single notion of goodness underlying the apparent multiplicity of our uses of the word 'good'"(3).)

18 April 2005

Forward-Looking Phaedo

John Dillon has a review out today in BMCR of Filip Karfik, Die Beseelung des Kosmos: Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie, Seelenlehre und Theologie in Platons Phaidon und Timaios. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 199. Leipzig/München: K.G. Saur, 2004.

The book seems noteworthy, according to Dillon's review, especially for its claims that "there is a cosmological theory underlying the Phaedo that should not be ignored, just because the dialogue is customarily presented as concerning the immortality of the individual soul" and that "this theory, as one would expect [says Dillon], points forward to the Timaeus."

That there is a cosmological theory in the Phaedo, of sorts, is clear enough and uncontroversial. That it 'points forward' (a vague enough phrase) to the Timaeus is not so clear. I haven't read the book, but I don't find the two considerations offered in the review very compelling.

Dillon writes, first:

K.'s (most interesting) contention [is] that the portrayal of the cosmos in the [Phaedo] myth is intended by Plato as a sort of response to the Anaxagorean system and its misuse of the concept of Nous (criticized, of course, in Socrates' 'intellectual autobiography' at Phd. 97Dff.); the cosmos of the Phaedo myth is a world guided for the best by Nous--and in this respect it looks forward to the Timaeus.
But I wonder what details of the myth might support Karfik's contention. Even bringing his view to the myth, I can't see what might serve as evidence for it: I don't see Nous at work in it, or any critique of Anaxagoras. (Have any readers of Dissoi Blogoi read the book? Or are you better than I at guessing what the bases might be for this contention?)

The second consideration involves the brief discussion of opposites at Phaedo 103A, which according to Karfik (as Dillon reports):

...serves to draw a distinction between opposites being generated from opposites in particular things and opposites themselves becoming opposites. This in turn directs attention to the body as a substrate for opposite qualities, something that K. sees as looking forward to the deeper analysis of the role of body, and the material substratum in general, in the Timaeus, particularly 48E-52D.

It seems a stretch to take this passage to look forward to the Timaeus. (Or is it only that Karfik 'sees it' as looking forward to the Timaeus?) And one wants to know how this passage can look forward to the Timaeus, when the view that the Phaedo proposes--namely, that fire is a substance that can't but be hot--is plainly at odds with the view of the Timaeus that fire is merely the quality hot as existing in a neutral substratum.

When reading Dillon's review, I was worried about method. Take any myth in any dialogue; take any remarks bearing on the physical world in any dialogue: If we look at them in a certain way, couldn't we understand them as similarly 'looking forward' to the Timaeus? But, if so, what content can that claim have?

Yes, it's only a brief review. But one wants a review to give indications, at least, as to the confidence one might have in the main claims of a book.

God and Anthropos at Yale

Matt Walker at Yale writes in with news of an interesting one-day conference, this Thursday:

The Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University Working Group in
Ancient Philosophy invites you to a workshop on


Thursday, April 21, 2005 2:00 P.M. TO 5:00 P.M.
Whitney Humanities Center (53 Wall Street) Rm. 208

2:00 - 2:50
John E. Hare is Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale
Divinity School and Professor of Philosophy. He is the author of
several books, including The Moral Gap (Clarendon, 1996) and Plato's
Euthyphro (Bryn Mawr, 1985).

3:00 - 3:50
Aryeh Kosman is John Whitehead, Professor of Philosophy at Haverford
College. His papers on Aristotle, Plato, and Descartes have appeared in
several major anthologies.

4:00 - 5:00 DISCUSSION

Refreshments provided.

17 April 2005

One Over Many

Much of the disagreement between Rickless and me appears to center around how we understand the One Over Many argument. I take it to be the fundamental argument, for Plato, for the existence of Forms. And I think the objections in the first half of the Parmenides may usefully be regarded as a testing of this argument in various ways.

The One Over Many argument, recall, is a way of dealing with the problem of universals--sc. the problem of what must the world be like, for us to be able to apply truly, to distinct individuals, one and the same predicate. It proceeds roughly as follows:

1. a is F; b is F; c is F; etc. (where a, b, c, and the rest are sensible particulars).
2. Thus there is some one thing that a, b, c (and so on) all are. Call it X.
3. X cannot be identified with a, b, c (and so on) or with any aspect of these.
4. Thus X is not itself sensible; and it is separate from sensibles.
One then tries to explain the relationship between X and a, b, c (and so on) in such a way as to account for our wanting to call a, b, and c by the same name: they 'participate' in X; or they 'imitate' X, X being a paradigm; and some such thing.

Parmenides' first objection (Are there Forms for mud? etc.) can be understood as a testing of the range of predicates over which we are prepared to accept the One Over Many as operating; his second objection (Are the Forms over particulars like a sail? etc.) as a testing of the relationship between a putative Form and the particulars it is meant to explain; his third objection (the Third Man), as a testing of the uniqueness claim, that there is just one thing that the particulars all are.

Rickless wants to deny that the Third Man is a testing of the uniqueness claim. As we have seen, he takes it to be denying that Forms are undivided. But it seems to me that he can adopt this position, only by an imprecision in how he states Plato's theory of Forms. (I recommend that readers consult for themselves his 1998 Phil Rev piece, since I can quote only short passages here.)

Rickless gives a quasi-axiomatic statement of the theory of Forms. That Forms exist is simply asserted in an axiom he calls '(E)':
(E) There are properties, to each of which there corresponds a Form. [For some property F, there is a Form corresponding to F (namely, a Form of F-ness)]. (503)
The One Over Many is expressed in the following axiom, called '(OM)':
(OM) For any property F to which there corresponds a Form, and any plurality of things that are F, there is a Form of F-ness by virtue of partaking of which each member of the plurality is F (namely, a Form of F-ness that is one over many).
Issues involving whether Forms are one or not Rickless takes to be captured in an axiom '(O)':
(O) Every Form is one. (509)
Rickless simply states this axiom at first, saying that what it means is yet to be determined, but then he proceeds as if it has just one sense, and he goes on to claim that it means, in effect, that each Form is undivided.

But note that (E) and (OM) employ only an existential quantifier ('a Form' means strictly, and no more than, 'at least one Form'). Thus, for instance, it is consistent with (E) that there be seven or seventeen Forms of Largeness. And despite the gloss placed in parentheses (which isn't doing any work in the axiom), it is consistent with (OM) that the there be Seven Over Many or Seventeen Over Many Forms of Largeness. And this is clearly not what Plato meant.

If, however, one writes these axioms more precisely, with a uniqueness claim, then we would have:
(E)' There are properties, to each of which there corresponds one and only one Form. [For some property F, there is one and only one Form corresponding to F (namely, the Form of F-ness)]. (503)
(OM)' For any property F to which there corresponds a Form, and any plurality of things that are F, there is one and only one Form of F-ness by virtue of partaking of which each member of the plurality is F (namely, a Form of F-ness that is one over many).
But then it becomes perfectly clear that there is another sense of 'one' that is relevant to the theory of Forms, besides undividedness! And so we really need another claim, besides (0), involving another sense 'one':
(O)' There is a unique Form for each discernible kind.
And that is exactly what is challenged by the Third Man!

16 April 2005

Recourse to the Philebus

Rickless' implicit argument depends crucially on the claim that something of which many things can be predicated is itself multiple. Where does this claim come from? Rickless finds it in the Philebus, as he indicates in his 1998 Phil Review article:

Socrates has already acknowledged that something is many if it has multiple parts, and there is evidence in the Philebus that he accepts that something is many if many predicates are true of it. (522)

It should be noted that, in the Philebus, Socrates accepts not only that a man’s being many follows from his having many parts (14d-e), but also that a man’s being many follows from the fact that many predicates are true of him (14c-d). (513)

But there are at least three difficulties with this.

1. It's not clear that Plato even endorses the relevant principle in the Philebus. In 14c-15c, Socrates distinguishes two sorts of problems involving one and many. He dismisses the first sort as merely eristic and "no longer even worth touching; they are considered childish and trivial but a serious impediment to argument if one takes them on". The second sort he takes seriously: "But when someone tries to posit man as one, or ox as one, or the beautiful as one, and the good as one, zealous concern with divisions of these unities and the like gives rise to controversy". The latter sort seems to correspond to the kinds of difficulties that are raised in the first half of the Parmenides. (Look here to follow out the text, if you wish.) But it's within the first group, the sort that 'is not worthy of scrutiny', that one finds the eristic argument that Rickless is appealing to, that "there are many 'me's' , and even contrary ones, when [someone] treats me, who am one and the same, as tall and short, heavy and light, and endless other such things". The passage hardly gives us grounds for holding that Plato was sympathetic to such arguments or accepted Rickless' key premise.

2. But even if Plato was endorsing the principle in the Philebus (which I don't grant), why would we be justified in presuming that he endorsed it when he was putting forward, as Rickless calls it, the "Middle Period Theory of Forms"? That seems an unjustified leap.

3. But even if one could infer that the principle was at work in Plato's "Middle Period Theory of Forms", because of something said in the Philebus (which I don't grant), it's not clear that the principle would be relevant, when the many predicates involved are all the same! On Rickless' understanding of the TMA, each Form of Large participates in an infinite number of Forms of Large, and, because of this, multiple predicates become true of each Form. However, each of these multiple predicates is, simply, 'large'. Thus, on Rickless' interpretation, the important point is that we can say of the first Form, as well as each of the others: "This is large, and large, and large, etc." ad infinitum. But it's at least not clear that our being able to assert multiple predicates in this way would imply multiplicity, on the same grounds that saying 'tall' and 'short', or 'heavy' and 'light', might be taken to imply multiplicity. (Oh, sure, one might want to maintain that each predication of 'large' is distinct: ‘This is Large1, and Large2, and Large3, etc.’ But then that argument has to be implicit in the passage as well!)

Multiplicity Implied by Multiple Predication

As we have seen, Rickless take the Third Man Argument (TMA) of the Parmenides to be arguing that each Form is inherently multiple. For him to claim this, he has to say that an argument such as the following is implicit in the passage:

(i) There is an infinite regress of Forms.
(ii) Each Form earlier in the sequence participates in all the Forms later in the sequence.
(iii) Thus an infinite number of predicates can be asserted of each Form in the sequence.
(iv) But that of which many predicates can be asserted is itself manifold.
(v) And that of which an infinity of predicates can be asserted is itself infinitely divided.
(vi) Thus, each Form in the sequence is infinitely divided.
The Standard Interpretation (as I've called it) can rest content with (i). Rickless has to say that all of (ii)-(v) is additionally present and implicit. This is already, I have argued, a large inconvenience with his interpretation.

My concern in this post is with the key premise of this proposed implicit argument, premise (iv): That of which many predicates can be asserted is itself manifold. Where does this come from? Why should Plato have accepted it? Why should Plato have represented his interlocutors as all accepting this? Why should Plato have thought that readers of the dialogue might have seen that this principle was operative?

Rickless locates it in the Philebus, but there are many difficulties in this, which I'll raise in a subsequent post.

The Implicit Argument

On the Standard Interpretation (let's call it) of the Third Man Argument (TMA), that argument is pointing to an infinite and vicious regress that arises from the One Over Many argument. The regress is infinite, because each time a Form is introduced to account for a collection, the argument can be reapplied to the new collection, consisting of that Form and the members of that previous collection, generating a new Form. The regress is vicious, because the Forms are precisely meant to explain the unity or commonality of the many particulars that share in them. If the One Over Many never succeeds in establishing, somewhere at the end of the line, some single, pre-eminent Form for each discernible kind, then it never succeeds in explaining how that kind is unified or somehow one. A single Form is meant to explain the unity of the kind; if the Forms for each kind are infinite, then recourse to a Form cannot explain the unity of the kind.

We have seen (What Does the Text Say?) how it is possible, and natural, to understand the conclusion of the TMA as putting forward exactly this difficulty.

These considerations give rise to various difficulties for the interpretation that Rickless has offered, that there is an additional argument implicit in the text.

1. Rickless concedes that the TMA is meant to establish an infinite regress. I ask him: Does he think the regress itself is also vicious? If so, then, I ask him: Why, on his interpretation, does Parmenides fail to point this out, but rather (as Rickless has it) presses on immediately to another difficulty, putatively based upon this one? Doesn't Parmenides show himself keen to point out every difficulty that affects the Forms? Why would he pass over this difficulty and not give it separate attention--a difficulty which is so striking, that Aristotle exploited it to great effect, and nearly all other readers of the TMA have presumed that this was the sole difficulty raised by the passage?

2. On Rickless' interpretation, we should expect to see an infinity (of some kind or other) mentioned twice in the TMA: the first infinity being the regress of Forms; the second being the multiplicity within each member of that regress. But we find only one mention of an infinity. (Readers may wish to consult once more the translation of the TMA, here.) Isn't it the simpler and more natural interpretation to identify this with the regress--and then say that the second infinity in fact is not in the passage at all?

3. Rickless' interpretation requires that an argument like the following is implicit in the TMA:

(i) There is an infinite regress of Forms.
(ii) Each Form earlier in the sequence participates in all the Forms later in the sequence.
(iii) Thus an infinite number of predicates can be asserted of each Form in the sequence.
(iv) But that of which many predicates can be asserted is itself manifold.
(v) And that of which an infinity of predicates can be asserted is itself infinitely divided.
(vi) Thus, each Form in the sequence is infinitely divided.

But it's implausible on its face to claim that all of this is implicit. Moreover, Parmenides is careful to make all of his steps explicit in every other objection that he raises: the TMA, on Rickless' interpretation, would be a wildly anomalous exception and actually a poor bit of philosophical writing.

What Does the Text Not Say?

I had been going along, presuming that the Third Man Argument (TMA) was a vicious regress argument—that it was meant to show, in the words of Julia Annas, that, “if we have even one form, we have infinitely many.”

So naturally I was astonished when a reader of Dissoi Blogoi, Sam Rickless (UCSD), wrote in to say that the text says something very different:

The last line of Annas's rendition is: "If we have even one form, we have infinitely many." But the actual text reads as follows: "Each of your forms will no longer be one, but infinitely many." The claim that each form (of largeness) is infinitely many does not follow directly from the claim that there are infinitely many forms of largeness. This is a puzzle.
You may consult his original comment in its entirety, here .

The text reads: “And each of your Forms, then, will no longer be one, but rather an unlimited multitude. ( kai\ ou)ke/ti dh\ e(\n e(/kasto/n soi tw=n ei)dw=n e)/stai, a)lla\ a)/peira to\ plh=qoj.) Was Rickless right, and had everyone simply been misunderstanding the text, reading into it what they presumed was there, but wasn’t?

Yet when I looked more carefully at the context of the TMA, I concluded, to my satisfaction, that the argument should be understood as Annas had it, because ‘each of your Forms’ means, in effect, ‘what is implied by the One Over Many argument, in each of its applications’. See my post, What Does the Text Say?

And then it appeared to me that Rickless was making a claim about what the text said, by making a claim about what the text did not say. It was Rickless, it seemed, who was reading into the text something that was not there. This was so in his original post:

The claim that each form (of largeness) is infinitely many does not follow directly from the claim that there are infinitely many forms of largeness.

But the words ‘of largeness’ do not occur in the text! It is Rickless' gloss.

And the same thing turned up in his 1998 Phil Review paper:

Parmenides then concludes that each Form of Largeness “will no longer be one, but unlimited in multitude”. (520)

But there is an additional problem for the standard answer. For at the conclusion of the argument, Parmenides says not only that each Form of Largeness “will no longer be one”, but also that each Form of Largeness will be “unlimited in multitude”, that is, infinitely many. But how are we to understand the statement that each Form of Largeness is infinitely many? (521)

Let’s begin with (M), the claim that each Form of Largeness is many. (522)

It may be true that Rickless' interpretation is consistent with the text of the TMA, but it's not true that his interpretation gets special support from the language of the text ("But the actual text reads as follows", he wrote), or pays attention to that language, in a way that the usual interpretation does not.