30 October 2005


That's: What would Socrates say? Would he say--I mean to ask--that anyone could ever get convicted under 18 U. S. C. §§1512(b)(2)(A) and (B)?

Let me explain, since here's a point of contact, not without interest, between accounting ethics and ancient philosophy.

Background: Enron's auditor, as you know, was Arthur Andersen. On Oct. 20, 2001, when it became clear that Enron was in trouble and was going to be investigated by the SEC, Andersen's management initiated a company-wide effort to destroy all working papers, memos, internal communications, etc. relating to Enron (except those needed for current audit work). This involved in some cases hiring dumptrucks to haul documents to shredding facilities. The management issued their order in the form: let's be sure to apply our firm's document retention policy to all Enron documents. But this was disingenuous, because the firm's policy was not to destroy documents related to a client if an investigation was judged likely. (See note 1 below.) The firm continued to destroy documents until Andersen was served with a subpoena for Enron related documents on Nov. 9-- twenty days later.

Because of this cover-up, Andersen was indicted and convicted of obstruction of justice. It lost its license to practice before the SEC and therefore went out of business (or effectively so: Andersen still exists as a very small firm).

However, on May 31, 2005, the US Supreme Court (see the decision here) threw out the conviction and ordered a retrial, on the grounds that the judge's instruction to the jury was faulty.

The statute under which Andersen was convicted (18 U. S. C. §§1512) declares as criminal:

(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to—
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
(2) cause or induce any person to—
(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;
(B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding [my emphasis]...
Everything hinged on whether "knowingly" qualifies "corruptly persuades" or, rather, only the words that immediately follow it, viz. "uses intimidation, threatens". The prosecutors argued for the latter, which the District Court accepted, and therefore the Court instructed the jury that, to find Andersen guilty, it was necessary only to determine that Andersen intended to "subvert, undermine, or impede" governmental factfinding; also that, "even if [petitioner] honestly and sincerely believed that its conduct was lawful, you may find [petitioner] guilty."

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Rhenquist, disagreed. In its view, "knowingly" qualifies "corruptly persuades", so that a consciousness of wrongdoing is required for a conviction under the statute. Here is the relevant paragraph:
The parties have not pointed us to another interpretation of "knowingly ... corruptly" to guide us here.In any event, the natural meaning of these terms provides a clear answer. See Bailey v. United States, 516 U. S. 137, 144-145 (1995). "[K]nowledge" and "knowingly" are normally associated with awareness, understanding, or consciousness. See Black's Law Dictionary 888 (8th ed. 2004) (hereinafter Black's); Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1252-1253 (1993) (hereinafter Webster's 3d); American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 725 (1981) (hereinafter Am. Hert.). "Corrupt" and "corruptly" are normally associated with wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil. See Black's 371; Webster's 3d 512; Am. Hert. 299-300. Joining these meanings together here makes sense both linguistically and in the statutory scheme. Only persons conscious of wrongdoing can be said to "knowingly ... corruptly persuad[e]." And limiting criminality to persuaders conscious of their wrongdoing sensibly allows §1512(b) to reach only those with the level of "culpability ... we usually require in order to impose criminal liability." United States v. Aguilar, 515 U. S., at 602; see also Liparota v. United States, supra, at 426.
This is of course what makes me wonder, WWSS? Has the Supreme Court erected a standard for criminality which could not possibly be satisfied, because no one willingly does what he regards as evil?

Note 1. Here is the U.S. Supreme Court's summary of Andersen's document rentention policy: "The firm's policy called for a single central engagement file, which "should contain only that information which is relevant to supporting our work." App. JA-45. The policy stated that, "in cases of threatened litigation, ... no related information will be destroyed." Id., at JA-44. It also separately provided that, if petitioner is "advised of litigation or subpoenas regarding a particular engagement, the related information should not be destroyed. See Policy Statement No. 780--Notification of Litigation." Id., at JA-65 (emphasis deleted). Policy Statement No. 780 set forth "notification" procedures for whenever "professional practice litigation against [petitioner] or any of its personnel has been commenced, has been threatened or is judged likely to occur, or when governmental or professional investigations that may involve [petitioner] or any of its personnel have been commenced or are judged likely." Id., at JA-29 to JA-30."

29 October 2005

What Makes an Action 'Mixed'?

What's the difference, if any, between these two cases?

1. A captain wants to sail to Piraeus. A strong wind blows his ship --there's nothing he can do about it--toward Aegina instead. So he capitulates and steers the ship safely into the port of Aegina.

2. A captain wants to bring his cargo safely to Piraeus. A violent storm arises which will sink the ship unless --there's nothing he can do about it--he has the ship's valuable cargo thrown into the sea. So he does that and saves the ship.

In both cases, there is something that will happen, no matter what the captain does: in case 1, the ship will go toward Aegina; in case 2, the cargo will end up at the bottom of the sea. In both cases, too, the captain acts to make that inevitable result happen faster. And yet--or so Flannery wished to claim--Aristotle classifies or would classify the two cases differently. Case 2 is a 'mixed action'; case 1 is merely 'forced'.

Are the cases significantly different? If so, how?

28 October 2005


I hope to post tomorrow on some points raised by Kevin Flannery's BACAP paper. (Have I really not posted since Sunday? Blame it on the flu.)

But for tonight:

You can always count on a talk on action theory to raise interesting cases. Here's one that Flannery proposed in discussion.

There is a man who for a long time has hated his identical twin. One weekend they are both being hosted by a friend in an old manor house by the sea. The place is dark and unfamiliar to them. The one twin decides that this is the occasion for him finally to carry out a plan, long contemplated, of murdering his brother. He wakes in the middle of the night, gets a loaded gun, and goes out in the dim light to find his brother. He walks down a hall, turns the corner, and sees his brother. He fires the gun and strikes his brother in the chest -- or so it seemed. In fact, he had seen his own reflection in a body-length mirror and fired a bullet into the mirror. However, his twin was standing on the other side of the mirror, is struck by the bullet, and dies. Now did the man murder his twin?

Yes: intending to kill his brother, he acted in such a way that caused the death of his brother, but this is just to murder him.
No: although he intended to kill his brother, what he did was to shoot at a mirror; it only happened that his brother was standing behind the mirror. Thus, although what he did results in the death of his brother, he does not murder his brother.

To shore up the 'no' side: Imagine that the twin is not standing directly behind the mirror but is asleep in his bed on the floor below; the bullet, after passing through the mirror, ricochets off a steam pipe, is deflected downward through the floor, and strikes the brother sleeping on the floor below. Would you still want to say that the twin murdered his brother?

23 October 2005

BACAP Lecture October 27

I'm very pleased to announce this year's BACAP lecture at Clark University:

Kevin Flannery
Dean, Faculty of Philosophy
Gregorian University (Rome)

Force and Compulsion in Aristotle's Ethics

Thornton Lockwood
Fordham University

Thursday, October 27, 7:30 pm, Lurie Conference Room
Higgins University Center, Clark University

Professor Flannery will lead a seminar on relevant texts in NE and EE from 3-5 pm in the Seminar Room of Beck Philosophy House, Clark University (corner of Loudon and Woodland Streets).

For more information, please contact: Professor Michael Pakaluk, mpakaluk@clarku.edu

But the Refutation Wasn't Refuted

I suppose my hints revealed what I think about the matter.

Plato would reasonably suppose that we judge that something is shameful (ignoble, aischron) for a reason and that--along the lines of the Euthyphro--the reason why we so judge it could not be our being pained when we judge it so. Thus any pain we take when judging something aischron, or pleasure we feel when judging something kalon, could not be that on account of which we judge it to be so.

Plato would also reasonably suppose that a judgment that something is aischron implies a repulsion from the thing so judged; also, that there are two possible grounds for our being repulsed from something, that it is painful or bad, just as there are two possible grounds for our being drawn to something, that it is pleasant or good.

Thus, in the argument:

1. A's wronging B is more shameful than B's being wronged by A.
2. What is shameful is so on account of its being painful or bad.
3. What is more shameful is so on account of its being more painful or worse.
4. A's wronging B is not more painful than B's being wronged by A.
5. Thus, A's wronging B is worse than B's being wronged by A.
6. Thus, generally, it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it.
Premises 2. and 3. simply give, plausibly, the general grounds on which someone might judge something to be shameful or more shameful, and premise 4 points out that the basis for this judgment cannot be the pain present in the action/passion, since this predominates in the passion, not the action.

The argument, then, is not invalid; and (as a reader observed) it would irrelevant, for the argument, that Polus is drawn to accept 2. and 3. on bad grounds.

On the other hand, Plato shows considerable artfulness in having Socrates lead Polus to accept 2. and 3. in the way that he does. It is typical in a Platonic dialogue that an argument have points of vulnerability, which are defended against later in the dialogue (the Phaedo being a star example of this). What are the objections that might be raised against the argument as I have construed it?
(1) That our judgments that actions are shameful or noble simply have no basis; they lack a ground. There is nothing on account of which we judge actions to be shameful or noble.
(2) That there is nothing in an action or passion to which we could be drawn or attracted, except the pleasure or pain that they involve.
Yet these are precisely the objections that Callicles raises, and which Socrates aims to refute in his refutations of Callicles. Callicles effectively urges (1), when he maintains that the judgment that it is more shameful to wrong than to suffer wrong is 'by convention'; and he puts forward (2) insofar as he argues that 'good' amounts to no more than 'pleasant', and 'bad' to 'painful'.

Polus the character is drawn to Callicles yet also capable of being swayed by Socrates. It is therefore artful of Plato to have Polus accept premises 2. and 3. on grounds which still suggest some allegiance to Callicles.

Yet for all that the argument is not invalid by equivocation, as Vlastos argued.

21 October 2005

The Challenge Reiterated

Since I'll be traveling the next couple of days, I have no confidence I'll be able to post. Yet I do not wish to reveal yet my thoughts on the Polus refutation. So let me restate the challenge.

The central part of the Gorgias, Socrates' refutation of Polus, is one of the most attractive passages in the Platonic corpus and indeed in all of philosophy. It clearly expresses Plato's confidence in the ultimate coincidence of goodness and reasonability.

I speculated that this passage had played an important role in drawing many of us, and many readers of Dissoi Blogoi, to the field of 'ancient philosophy'; and, indeed, a blog reader has already commented, saying that this was in fact true in his or her case.

There are two 'refutations of Polus'. In the first, Socrates gets Polus to agree that it is always worse to do wrong than to suffer it; in the second, that it is always better, if someone has done wrong, that he be punished justly than go unpunished. It is the first refutation that we are concerned with here.

It is widely thought or suspected--perhaps Vlastos' 1967 article is the reason--that that first refutation is flawed. Vlastos in fact says that it is a fallacy. He calls it a 'hollow' argument: the refutation, he says, is ad hominem; it is a victory over the man or character, Polus, not over the view that he holds.

If Vlastos is right, then that passage we all love and admire amounts to a fraud. Furthermore, we as it were commit a fraud against our students, if we continue to present it as though it really does vindicate a high ethical ideal. If Vlastos is right, we definitely ought not hold out that passage as providing a good reason for anyone's devoting himself to ancient philosophy (at least, as being reliable or true).

So we really should have a reply to Vlastos. My question to blog readers was: Do you have a reply? What do you say about Vlastos' criticism?

And my suggestion was that there was a good reply. The refutation is not invalid, I maintain. However, as I said, I do not wish quite yet to say why I think this. Instead, I'll give some reasons why I think as I do. And in the next day or so, perhaps as late as Sunday, I'll tell you my whole view.

The two ideas I think are crucial for responding to Vlastos:

1. Socrates might reasonably have presumed that the only two grounds for someone's being drawn to something are that it is in some way pleasant or good; he might reasonably have presumed that the only two grounds for someone's being repulsed by something are that it is in some way painful or bad. Good, pleasant; bad, pain--these exhaust the grounds for attraction and repulsion, respectively.

2. The reasons why someone might be led to assent to a premise in an argument need not be the best reasons for assenting to that premise. Considerations that make a premise seem plausible may be therefore be ad hominem, without the argument's being ad hominem.

20 October 2005

Did Vlastos Refute the Refutation of Polus?

I do think there is a good response to Vlastos' objection. Here I'll explain the objection more fully. In a later post I'll give what I regard as a sufficient reply.

Recall again the argument (Gorgias 474c-475c). Consider a case where A wrongs B:

1. A's wronging B is more shameful than B's being wronged by A.
2. What is shameful is so on account of its being painful or bad.
3. What is more shameful is so on account of its being more painful or worse.
4. A's wronging B is not more painful than B's being wronged by A.
5. Thus, A's wronging B is worse than B's being wronged by A.
6. Thus, generally, it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it.
Vlastos objects that, because 'painful' is a relative term (painful to whom?), 2. contains a hidden qualification. The qualification that should be supplied is clear from the sorts of examples Socrates uses to gain Polus' assent to 2. What Socrates insists upon, and what Polus acknowledges, is that noble things (kala) are pleasant when seen, heard, or contemplated, and that shameful or ignoble things (aischra) are painful when seen, heard, or contemplated. The premise should therefore read:
2'. What is shameful is so on account of its being painful to those who see, hear or contemplate it, or bad.
And 3. should accordingly read:
3'. What is more shameful is so on account of its being more painful to those who see, hear or contemplate it, or bad.
But then 4. becomes
4'. A's wronging B is not more painful to those who see, hear, or contemplate it than B's being wronged by A.
But then that is not evidently true and may even be false: plausibly, the doing of a wrong is more painful to contemplate than the receiving of it. (After all, that's why we judge it to be more shameful!) And thus the refutation fails.
If....[2'] had been the agreed upon definition, the question Socrates would have had to ask would be, 'Which is the more painful to see or hear or contemplate?' hence 'Which is the more painful for those who observe or contemplate the two events?' To that question the answer is, at best, indeterminate. Polus might have argued with some plausibility that most of us would find the former more painful than the latter and, on that ground, that it is "uglier", just as he had maintained at the start: except in rare, abnormally soft-hearted, souls he might have urged, resentment is more easily aroused than pity, more strongly felt and more disturbing to the one who feels it; hence most people would be more pained at the sight or thought of prospering villainy than that of suffering innocence (458).

Vlastos goes on to call the refutation of Polus a 'hollow' victory (459). "Plato himself misjudged the facts which he depicted" (459). (The article is "Was Polus Refuted?", American Journal of Philology, 88:4, 1967, 454-460.)

18 October 2005


I found this way of introducing Socrates' daimonion, well, weird:

The Socrates depicted in Plato's dialogues spoke of a daimonion signal that came to him. That word daimonion is an adjective meaning "daimôn-ish" -- divine, or maybe what the English of earlier centuries called "weird."

Anyway the sign came as some kind of voice and Socrates claimed to have heard it since childhood. It was apotreptic rather than protreptic, never commanding Socrates to act some way but only making sure he heard the discouraging word whenever he chanced to embark on a harmful action (Apology 31d).

Xenophon's Socrates heard a somewhat different voice, one that did not hesitate to endorse one action over another. Plato consistently presents an inhibiting divine agent.

I don't mean that 'the English of earlier centuries' must mean, in the context, the English who lived before Plato. I mean, rather, that 'weird', derived from Wyrd, the Norse personification of Fate, is not at all like Socrates' daimonion. Moreover, why introduce the term, misleadingly, as if it functions primarily as an adjective (a weird 'sign' or 'voice')? Doesn't to daimonion in Plato typically mean not 'that which is divine' but rather 'that divine agent' (as the author can't help but say, in the last sentence quoted). But see the full review here.

Coming to Know

How will you look for it, Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is? How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know?
I know what you want to say, Meno. Do you realize what a debater's argument you are bringing up, that a man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know? He cannot search for what he knows--since he knows it, there is no need to search--nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for. (Meno 80d-e)
Now, compare:
Do you realize what a debater's argument you are bringing up, that a thing cannot come from either what exists or what does not exist. It cannot come from what exists--since that exists already, there is no need for it to come into being--nor from what does not exist, since there is no reason it should come from that rather than anything else.
The arguments are isomorphic. Plato solves the first with the theory of recollection of forms: no knowledge truly comes to exist, since it always was; it is merely recollected. Does he solve the second, Parmenides' problem, in a similar way? (Can't we say so? Are you sure the Timaeus cannot be understood in that way?)


I had missed this review by David Sedley of the first volumes of Rhizai, a new journal in ancient philosophy and science, which contains the following fascinating remark:

This blossoming of specialist periodicals has, it can scarcely be disputed, enabled the subject to advance by leaps and bounds. Ancient philosophy is a discipline which brings into fruitful partnership the skills of the classical philologist, the philosopher, the intellectual historian, the palaeographer, the historian of science, the theologian, and the literary critic -- skills typically spread across a number of university departments. Scholars' readiness to communicate with and learn from each other across these traditional divides is one of the subject's great strengths, but it does require the choice of an appropriate forum, ideally one located outside the territory of the individual component disciplines.
I had never seen theology included in a list of the skills relevant to ancient philosophy, and yet that seems right.

17 October 2005

Was Polus Refuted?

Together we ought to be able to answer this. I'll give the argument, and what I believe are the two most serious objections. You say whether there are other serious objections outstanding and also whether, in your view, the objections are insurmountable.

The argument (Gorgias 474c-475c). Consider a case where A wrongs B:

1. A's wronging B is more shameful than B's being wronged by A.
2. What is shameful is so on account of its being painful or bad.
3. What is more shameful is so on account of its being more painful or worse.
4. A's wronging B is not more painful than B's being wronged by A.
5. Thus, A's wronging B is worse than B's being wronged by A.
6. Thus, generally, it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it.

Two objections:

(1) (Vlastos) Socrates equivocates on 'painful'. For the term is implicitly relative: something is always painful to someone. So make these relatives explicit: in 2., 'painful' means 'painful to an observer''; but in 4. 'painful' must mean 'painful to the agent or sufferer'. So the argument is invalid. Yet, if we were to keep the meaning of the term the same, then either 2. or 4. becomes false.

(2) Put this difficulty aside, still, the argument establishes only that, as regards a wrongdoing of a certain sort (theft, murder, assault), it is always worse to be on the perpetrating end than on the receiving end. The argument does not establish the stronger conclusion, that perpetrating any sort of wrongdoing is worse than being the recipient of any sort of wrongdoing, e.g. that it is worse to tell a slight lie than to be murdered. And yet Socrates needs this stronger conclusion.

Virtue and Excellence

Three entries from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

excel Look up excel at Dictionary.com
c.1408, from L. excellere "to rise, surpass, be eminent," from ex- "out from" + -cellere "rise high, tower," related to celsus "high, lofty, great," from PIE base *kel-/*kol- "to rise, be elevated" (see hill).
excellent Look up excellent at Dictionary.com
c.1340 (implied in excellently), from O.Fr. excellent, from L. excellentem (nom. excellens), prp. of excellere (see excel). First record of excellency "high rank" is c.1200; as a title of honor it dates from c.1325.
virtue Look up virtue at Dictionary.com
c.1225, "moral life and conduct, moral excellence," vertu, from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr. vertu, from L. virtutem (nom. virtus) "moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth," from vir "man" (see virile). Phrase by virtue of (c.1230) preserves alternate M.E. sense of "efficacy." Wyclif Bible has virtue where K.J.V. uses power. The (c.1320) were divided into the natural (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude) and the theological (hope, faith, charity). To seven cardinal virtuesmake a virtue of a necessity (c.1374) translates L. facere de necessitate virtutem. [Jerome]
These raise the questions:

1. Is 'virtue' (as traditionally) or 'excellence' (as thought now) the better rendering of the Greek, arete?
2. Does the attribution of excellence to someone carry with it a comparison with others, viz. that he or she rises above others?

16 October 2005

Forms of Knowledge

Some difficulties with the Rickless interpretation.

Rickless rests his interpretation on the observation that, in some places (e.g. Meno 87c-88d and Rep. 505b), when Socrates makes a claim of the form 'X is knowledge', what he means is that 'X is a form of knowledge'. The phrase 'form of' gets elided. (That is why Rickless in his paper refers to his own interpretation as the 'Elision Interpretation.' ) Rickless suggests that the phrase is similarly elided in the Protagoras, and that whenever Plato is maintaining, explicitly or implicitly, that some virtue is knowledge, what he means, more precisely, is that that virtue is a form of knowledge. The virtues are then united as different species of knowledge.

But some difficulties:

1. Admit that, in the Protagoras, what Socrates is maintaining is that each virtue is a 'form of' knowledge. But this leaves the problem of the dialogue largely untouched. Are the names of the various virtues names of the same form of knowledge, or does each name a different form? One cannot answer this question simply by insisting that there is an 'elision'. Something else besides this observation must be doing the work of the interpretation for Rickless.

2. Indeed Rickless maintains that, in the dialogue, Socrates treats 'courage', 'temperance', 'justice', and 'piety' as each naming a distinct species of knowledge, whereas he treats 'wisdom' or 'knowledge' as if it were the name of the genus (or these four species put together). 'Socrates himself never explicitly includes wisdom among the parts of the virtue' , Rickless says on p. 360, and he cites Protagoras 361d. But that passage seems irrelevant (a typo?), and Rickless is simply wrong about the dialogue: at 330b and 349b, wisdom is indeed included in lists of parts of virtue. Socrates does not give it special treatment, as if it were the genus. Rickless also cites Aristotle in support of his interpretation, quoting NE 1144b28-30, "Socrates, then, thought the virtues were forms of reason, for he thought they were, all of them, forms of knowledge", and EE 1216b4-6, "[Socrates] used to inquire what is justice, what bravery and each of the parts of virtue; and his conduct was reasonable, for he thought all the virtues to be kinds of knowledge". But, besides the fact that this is rather indirect evidence for the interpretation of the Protagoras, the translations here are misleading, since what Aristotle says is that Socrates thought of the virtues as 'knowledges' (epistemai). Presumably, 'wisdom' would similarly be 'a knowledge'.

3. Yet Socrates' procedure in the Protagoras is not consistent with his regarding the virtues as species of the virtue of knowledge. For instance, Socrates claims that piety is just and justice is pious. But species terms cannot be used in this way. (We cannot say "A horse is human," and "A human is equine," simply because horses and human beings are animals). (By the way, Socrates' willingness to identify justice and piety in the Protagoras is not consistent with his approach at the end of the Euthyphro, which shows the hazard of relying on the doctrine implicit in other dialogues to interpret the Protagoras.) Also, at the end of the dialogue, temperance and courage are implicitly presented as the same thing, not as different species: each is knowledge of pleasures and pains.

15 October 2005

No, October is the Cruelest Month!

Because it never rains for ten straight days in April, nullifying the leaf viewing season.

Retrieved from Cyberspace

Found on a list discussion:

>There's a blog called "Dissoi Blogoi"? There are what, maybe 2000
> people who would get that joke?

Yes, and those are the 2000 I want for my readers--and also those who would eventually discover it.

Unity of the Virtues in the Protagoras

I've been reading "Socrates' Moral Intellectualism", to which the author, Sam Rickless, was kind enough to refer me in a comment. Published in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (1998) 355-367, one can obtain it through the Blackwell Enquiry service if one's library is a subscriber.

According to Rickless, Socrates in the Protagoras maintains that courage, temperance, justice, and piety are all forms of knowledge (or 'wisdom'). These virtues are related as are various coordinate species of the same genus. Each is the same as wisdom, in the sense that each is a species of wisdom. So too each is the same as any other, in the sense that each is the same sort of thing as any other. As for wisdom, it consists of these species of knowledge all taken together.

This interpretation, Rickless maintains, is different from the two common interpretations which hold the field. Penner takes Socrates to be maintaining that 'courage', 'temperance', 'justice', and 'piety' are four different names for the same sort of knowledge, which is simply equivalent to virtue. Vlastos takes claims such as 'piety is justice' to be asserting biconditionals involving instances of the virtues: 'An act is pious just in case it is just'.

I may raise some difficulties in Rickless' view in a subsequent post. For now, I want to draw attention to a consequence of this view, which then leads to an interesting question.

The consequence is that Socrates does not end up endorsing any alternative he presents at the start of the dialogue. As you recall, Socrates gives Protagoras three ways of resolving the difficulty that 'virtue is a single thing' and yet we have different words for various virtues:

1. The different words all name the same thing.
2. Each word indicates a part of virtue, and the parts of virtue are either:
(a) similar to one another, as the parts of gold, or
(b) different from one another in their function and power, as the parts of the face.
Socrates clearly takes himself to be refuting 2(b). But on Rickless' interpretation, Socrates ends up endorsing neither 1. nor 2(a). The relationship of species to genus is not quite like any of these forms of composition (which are indeed more appropriate to corporeal things).

This might look like a disability of the interpretation. And yet, one thinks that the relationship of species of knowledge to genus would precisely be the sort of thing that would perplex Plato.

Hence the question. After reading Rickless' paper, I found myself wondering whether that curious passage in the Categories (11a20ff) is a record of a dispute in the Academy concerned precisely with these sorts of problems of classification. Read 'justice' and 'piety' for 'grammar' and 'music', and then wouldn't one have the Protagoras problem?
...the genera are spoken of in relation to something, but none of the particular cases is. For knowledge, a genus, is called just what it is, of something else (it is called knowledge of something); but none of the particular cases is called just what it is, of something else. For example, grammar is not called grammar of something nor music music of something. If at all it is in virtue of the genus that these too are spoken of in relation to something: grammar is called knowledge of something (not grammar of something) and music knowledge of something (not music of something). Thus the particular cases are not relatives. But it is with the particular cases that we are said to be qualified, for it is these which we possess (it is because we have some particular knowledge that we are called knowledgeable).
And take that last line to be Aristotle's insistence, against Plato, that the way the words are used with respect to particulars should be decisive for ethics, where particulars count.

13 October 2005

Philosophical Calisthenics

Roderick Firth once told me that the other Roderick had the practice of reading from Aquinas' Summa Theologiae every morning for ten minutes, 'to put himself in the right frame of mind for doing serious philosophy'. I later had the occasion to meet Chisholm, at a dinner in honor of him, and I asked him whether this story was true. He confirmed that it was, and that his practice was as described.

Sir William Hamilton and other biographers of Thomas Reid report that Reid, when he retired from the University of Glasgow and was able finally to write out his lectures (providing further hope for all of us!), used to begin his day working through problems in calculus, to get his mind ready for philosophy.

So here is my lighthearted question to readers of Dissoi Blogoi. Do you know of other philosophers who disciplined themselves with such 'philosophical calisthenics'? How did they do so? What sorts of subjects and materials could work for this, and why? Would the rigorous analysis of a poem serve as well as the rigorous translation of a text from Aristotle? Does mathematics have a favored position, and, if so, are all branches of mathematics equally serviceable? (Is geometry better than calculus? Axiomatics better than more informal approaches? What about logic or set theory?) Why must something other than philosophy as we usually do it be used as preparation for philosophy? (Or was Chisholm's goal to write like Aquinas, if possible?)

12 October 2005

Protagoras 333b-c

Here's a question on the Protagoras.

Protagoras begins the dialogue holding that the five parts of virtue (temperance (T), courage (C), justice (J), wisdom (W), piety (P)) are separable from one another. To be sure, he says this only explicitly of the pairs, C/J andJ/W (329e), but presumably he thinks this is true of all five virtues.

But near the end of the dialogue, after the interlude of the dialogue, when the argument is resumed, Protagoras takes a different view. Now he holds that only courage is separable:

What I am saying, Socrates, is that all these are parts of virtue, and that while four of them are reasonably close to each other, courage is completely different from all the rest. The proof that what I am saying is true is that you will find many people who are extremely unjust, impious, intemperate, and ignorant, and yet exceptionally courageous (349d).
This suggests that Protagoras is meant to have been persuaded by the intervening arguments that J=P=W=T.

So here is my question, or problem. Socrates argues at 329c-331c that J=P (nearly so), and he argues at 332a-333b that W=T. But the identity of all four is nowhere established.

Or is it? There is of course the passage 333b-c (which begins with the conclusion about W=T):
[Socrates:] Wouldn't that make wisdom and temperance one thing? And a little while ago it looked like justice and piety were nearly the same thing. Come on, Protagoras, we can't quit now, not before we've tied up these loose ends. So, does someone who acts unjustly seem temperate to you in that he acts unjustly?
But at this point Protagoras shows himself wanting to quit, so Socrates moves on to another line of thought, "Let's start all over again, then, with this question..." (333d).

However, are we meant to supply the argument hinted at here, and to suppose that Protagoras, too, sees how it would unfold? What would the argument be? It would rely on premises already set down:
1. Someone who acts unjustly is not temperate in that he acts unjustly.
2. Thus, someone who acts unjustly acts intemperately.
3. When something is done F-ly (F being a virtue or vice), it is done through the agency of F.
4. Thus, someone who acts unjustly does so through the agency of intemperance.
5. Yet someone who acts unjustly does so through the agency of injustice.
6. What is done in an opposite way is done through the agency of opposites.
7. Thus, intemperance is the opposite of justice.
8. Moreover, intemperance is the opposite of temperance.
9. But each thing has one opposite.
10. Thus, justice is temperance.
This 'ties up the loose ends'. Because J=P; and W=K; and J=T; it follows that J=P=W=T. Only C is left out, to be dealt with in a different way, later.

Well, this seems correct. (Taylor in his commentary says that the argument breaks off before Socrates can establish J=T. But it seems better to say that this relatively trivial extension of arguments already made was meant to be obvious.) But then, another question arises: why is it necessary that courage be dealt with in a different way? Why couldn't arguments like the one above, like those at the beginning of the dialogue, suffice for courage as well?

11 October 2005

Curd's Way

Here is where I stand, at least. I have presumed in my thought and teaching that what Curd calls the 'Standard Account' of presocratic philosophy is correct. I was persuaded of this originally not only through my own study of the 'arguments' of the presocratics, but also (it must be confessed) because of Barnes' effective writing. But now, for reasons given, I think that this view is not correct. The Standard Account is a good story but, it seems, not a true story. I then naturally ask myself: Is there some alternative view that I should adopt?

Curd's alternative account is ingenious. It is better, I think, than the Standard Account. And yet it too, I believe, has serious deficiencies. Curd draws attention to most of these and tries to respond to them. But I think some of her responses are unconvincing. And then the difficulties she does not address are perhaps even more serious.

What is her view? Remember the inconsistent triad:
1. Parmenides is influential;
2. Parmenides uses philosophical logic to argue that only a single, unchanging, perfect being exists;
3. Those who come after Parmenides do not employ philosophical logic and hold that reality is plural, changing, and imperfect.

As I said, Curd rejects 2. She builds on the arguments of Mourelatos and maintains that Parmenides, in the nature and method of his philosophy, is continuous with the Ionian cosmologists who come before. She also says that Parmenides never asserted and never meant to assert that only one thing exists.

As to the nature and method of philosophy: Parmenides, she says, is not concerned with whether we can refer to or think about non-existence. ( This is a matter of philosophical logic). Rather, Parmenides holds that true assertions have to be revelatory of the nature of a thing. (This is a matter of 'philosophical cosmology', as it were.) To do so, an assertion needs to say what a thing is, not what it is not.

As to the conclusions Parmenides wished to draw from these conditions: Statements that attribute composition, internal change, internal variation, potentiality, variation in time, coming into existence, or going out of existence, are not revelatory of what you are talking about. So nothing about which we can make genuine statements about the world can be like this. We can make such statements only about a substance which is eternal, unchanging, homogeneous, and completely actual. But there is no reason why there cannot be many such substances.

Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the Atomists are all influenced, then, by Parmenides, in the sense that they engage in cosmology while accepting Parmenides' constraints and conclusions. All of these thinkers postulate basic substances which are eternal, unchanging, homogeneous, and completely actual. They reject the reality of anything besides these substances. They reject any change except in the external relations of these substances to one another.

10 October 2005

Eleatic Answer: 1

I realize now that my concerns about the commonly accepted story of presocratic philosophy have led me to share Patricia Curd's view of its shortcomings, although I don't think I can accept her own alternative story.

Here is the problem. There is a 'Standard Account' (as Curd calls it) of the history of presocratic philosophy, which in outline is embraced by the most common texts and books on the subject in English: Barnes' two volume treatment; his popular and concise Penguin volume; KRS; Guthrie; McKirahan; and Hussey. This account is heavily influenced by Owen's "Eleatic Questions".

But the Standard Account is incoherent, because it puts forward an inconsistent triad:

1. Parmenides was influential.
2. Parmenides used arguments in philosophical logic to conclude that reality is single, unchanging, and perfect.
3. Parmenides' successors did not engage in philosophical logic and held that reality is plural, changing, and imperfect.

As Curd remarks:

On this standard account, the later Presocratics, such as the Pluralists and the Atomists, failing to see the futility of engaging in cosmological inquiry, try to answer Parmenides by agreeing that coming-to-be and passing-away are not real. Nevertheless, they still attempt to give rational accounts of the changing sensible world, insisting that a plurality of unchanging things underlie and explain that world. Moreover, these later Presocratics give no attention to problems of reference and meaning, offering no evidence that they recognized these issues as Parmenides' concerns. So either they must have badly misunderstood Parmenides, or else their answers were quite feeble (Legacy of Parmenides, paperback version, p. 12).

On the standard interpretation we must either attribute serious misunderstandings of Parmenides to later thinkers or claim that they felt free to ignore his arguments while accepting certain of his assumptions about what-is (13).
There seem to be only two ways out: either (i) deny that Parmenides was (in any non-superficial sense) influential for later presocratics, or (ii) hold that he did importantly influence them, but that his arguments and conclusions were not as the Standard View maintains.

Curd defends (ii). Parmenides, she says, did not assert 'numerical monism', that only one thing really exists. He wanted only to insist upon 'predicational monism' (as she calls it), viz. that whatever exists has to be (in a suitably strong sense) one. It is consistent with 'predicational monism', she asserts, that many sorts of things exist, and that these, although changeless in themselves, change relative to one another.

I rather favor (i), in a qualified form. I do so, briefly, because it seems to me that predicational monism, by a very quick route (one that Parmenides could not have but seen), implies numerical monism; also, because we can allow that Parmenides' influence was limited and 'negative'--in the sense that he points to a (relatively circumscribed) deficiency in the earlier tradition-- rather than being extensive and positive. (Compare the influence of Hume on Reid, versus his influence on Kant.) But this is for later posts.

08 October 2005

A Fifth Cardinal Virtue?

Wisdom, temperance, courage, justice, and piety--are these five names for the same thing, or is there underlying each of these names a unique thing, a thing with its own power or function, each one unlike any of the other?

sofi/a kai\ swfrosu/nh kai\ a)ndrei/a kai\ dikaiosu/nh kai\ o(sio/thj, po/teron tau=ta, pe/nte o)/nta o)no/mata, e)pi\ e(ni\ pra/gmati/ e)stin, h)\ e(ka/stw| tw=n o)noma/twn tou/twn u(po/keitai/ tij i)/dioj ou)si/a kai\ pra=gma e)/xon e(autou= du/namin e(/kaston, ou)k o)\n oi(=on to\ e(/teron au)tw=n to\ e(/teron;
It's the question asked by Socrates of Protagoras (349b), of course. What strikes me as especially interesting, however, is the addition of 'piety' to Plato's usual list of four chief virtues.

Why is this interesting? In the Protagoras, Plato is clearly testing the idea that all virtues are forms of 'wisdom' or 'knowledge' (332a-333b), and that all are forms of justice (329d-332a). One might even take the hedonic calculus at the dialogue's end to be expressing the view that all virtuous action is a matter of appropriately discounting present pains ('courage') or pleasures ('temperance'). So, then, is Plato's view, similarly, that all the virtues are forms of piety? That would seem to be the view of the dialogue: it seems presumed, for instance, in the way Socrates refers to piety at 330e.

But, then, is this Plato's view, also, outside of the Protagoras, and, if so, what are the implications of this for his understanding of virtue? I've done no careful study. I would simply note that one finds evidence in the Crito that he construes other virtues as forms of piety. There Socrates explains that standing firm at one's post in battle, even if this means giving up one's life, is a high expression of piety towards one's country:
You must persuade your country or obey its orders, and endure in silence whatever it instructs you to endure, whether blows or bonds, and if it leads you into war to be killed, you must obey. To do so is right, and one must not give way or retreat or leave one's post, but both in war and in courts and everywhere else, one must obey the commands of one's city and country, or persuade it as to the nature of justice (51b, and cp. Phaedo 62b, Apology 28d).
Of course remaining at one's post, even to the point of death, was the paradigm of courage.

What would the implications of this be? Roughly, it would follow that it is misguided to construe virtue, for Plato, as an expression of autonomous human reason (as Vlastos does, in "Socratic Piety", in fact). Piety is the relationship of undischargable debt, and therefore obedience, to superior authorities, such as parents, ancestors, the city, and the gods, who have bestowed upon us the highest goods (life, sustenance, education). Xenophon reports that Socrates viewed human life as under the providential care of the gods; in the Phaedo, Socrates explains that he was attracted to Anaxagoras precisely because he was hoping to find corroboration for the idea that a divine power orders everything to the best end; Plato in Laws 10 regards recognition of the beneficial superintendence of the gods as the indispensable basis for an orderly and virtuous society.

But virtue cannot be the autonomous exercise of human reason, if a fundamental moral attitude, or the most fundamental attitude, is a willingness to subordinate oneself to the authority of a higher intelligence.

07 October 2005

When X is Published, Is it Published That It Is Published?

Are there publication notices for new entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy?

I'm not aware that there are. But if the public is not aware that something made available to it is available, is that piece really published?

Once and a while, though, I learn of an entry through insider information, as with Mary Louise Gill's very recent, and excellent, article on "Method and Metaphysics in Plato's Sophist and Statesman" . . .

. . . published October 6, 2005.

06 October 2005

Eleatic Question: 5.1

A follow up point on De Int 16b19-25.

In that passage, the parenthetical remark seems especially difficult to explain, viz. "nor if you say simply 'that which is'" (ou)d ' e)a\n to\ o)\n ei)/ph|j au)to\ kaq' e(auto\ yilo/n). Ackrill's suggestion is clearly inadequate:

The logical point involved seems to be quite different from the main point of the passage, though naturally connected with it. Roughly: someone might suggest that if 'is' does not make a statement because it does not say what is, then surely 'what is' ('that which is') does make a statement--surely 'what is' does say what is. Aristotle is, of course, right to reject this suggestion, but the reason has nothing to do with the verb 'to be' in particular; no substantival expression can state that something is the case.
But this construal is implausible in the context. Aristotle begins the passage by pointing out that verbs just on their own function as do substantivals. He insists that even 'is' (this would be the best contender for a counterexample) is not an exception. It would hardly then be to the point for someone to bring forward, now, a substantival expression (to\ o)\n) used just on its own. Clearly such an expression will function as a name; it could do nothing to show that verbs used in isolation function other than as names.

Yet the parenthetical remark does make sense, if we take the passage as an implicit criticism of Parmenides--with Aristotle presuming that 'that which is' (to\ o)\n) is naturally taken as the subject of Parmenides' 'is'.

The criticism goes as follows. Parmenides gives as his two ways, 'is' and 'is not'. But these are, so far, simply names, not premises or claims. We take Parmenides to be saying something, only because we supply a subject, 'that which is'. To see this, consider that 'is' no more says something about the world than 'that which is' on its own. And yet (understand) if we were to combine the two expressions, 'That which is, is', we would have a tautology which leads to no interesting conclusions beyond itself.

Two Questions on the Crito

These questions arose in discussion with students yesterday. I wasn't quite sure how to answer them. What is your view?

Question 1
Socrates tells Crito that the crucial principle for deciding whether he should escape from prison, is 'Do not harm'. However, Socrates will indeed harm others, whether he escapes from prison or not: if he escapes, he harms the Laws (grant this); but if he remains and is executed, he harms his family and friends. Thus, it must be the case that Socrates' decision to remain relies upon some additional principle. What is that principle?

Question 2
Socrates maintains in the Apology that 'the many' do not have expertise about virtue and will likely corrupt rather than improve young persons. In the Crito he again says that the views of 'the many' count for little. But Athens was a democracy, and the laws of the city were therefore expressions of the views of 'the many'. Why, then, is it so important, in Socrates' eyes, to heed the laws? Why should the (uninformed, inexpert) views of 'the many' take on such great weight, simply because they are promulgated as law?

05 October 2005


Do we have in the following, I wonder, an intended criticism of Parmenides?

When uttered just by itself a verb is a name and signifies something--the speaker arrests his thought and the hearer pauses--but it does not yet signify whether it is or not. For not even 'to be' or 'not to be' is a sign of the actual thing (nor if you say simply 'that which is'); for by itself it is nothing, but it additionally signifies some combination, which cannot be thought of without the components.

Au)ta\ me\n ou)=n kaq' e(auta\ lego/mena ta\ r(h/mata o)no/mata/ e)sti kai\ shmai/nei tii(/sthsi ga\r o( le/gwn th\n dia/noian, kai\ a)kou/saj h)re/mhsena)ll' ei) e)/stin h)\ mh/, ou)/pw shmai/nei: ou)de\ ga\r to\ ei)=nai h)\ mh\ ei)=nai shmei=o/n e)sti tou= pra/gmatoj, ou)d ' e)a\n to\ o)\n ei)/ph|j au)to\ kaq' e(auto\ yilo/n. au)to\ me\n ga\r ou)de/n e)sti, prosshmai/nei de\ su/nqesi/n tina, h(\n a)/neu tw=n sugkeime/nwn ou)k e)/sti noh=sai.
The translation is Ackrill's, and of course it is De Int 16b19-25. Ackrill remarks: "Though Aristotle uses the infinitives 'to be' and 'not to be', these must--if the sentence is to have any relevance to what went before--be taken as stand-ins for indicative forms, 'is', 'is not', 'was', &c." So Aristotle's claim is that 'is' (esti) as much as 'is not' (ouk esti) fails, on its own, to express a thought.

The argument, as against Parmenides, is presumably this. Distinguish thinking from thinking of something: the latter involves a judgment. A verb on its own involves thinking merely and fails to express a judgement. It might appear to do more, only because it arrests thought. Not even the verb 'exists' is an exception. That word, like any other verb, looks to be completed, having significance about something only in combination with something else. (And now here is an old objection against monism.) You succeed in thinking ofwhat exists, then, only by combining 'exists' with another word, in which case there would be at least four things, not one, which exist (the two words, and the two things signified by those words).

Parmenides believes that he has isolated the only 'way' that is thinkable, the way of 'is' (esti). But simply saying 'is', although this is to think, is not to think of something: in fact, it is to think of nothing! Yet say something more, and your claim of monism is self-defeating. Even an assertion of absolute unity would require two words!

(On prosshmai/nei, Ackrill compares 20a13: "So 'every' and 'no' additionally signify nothing other than that the affirmation or negation is about the name taken universally." Ackrill comments: "He does not, of course, mean that 'every' has some straightforward significance and also serves to quantify the subject, but that what its presence adds to a sentence is quantification.")

04 October 2005

Opportunity for Arbitrage!

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02 October 2005

Eleatic Question: 5

A question about atomism.

It's usually held that the atomists accepted Parmenides' view, that generation and destruction are impossible, but that they denied (in a sense) Parmenides' claim that nothing cannot exist, by positing the void, which, they claimed, is not nothing.

The void was meant to explain why, at one time, there can exist a plurality of objects: the void (not nothing) separates existing atoms one from another.

Fine; allow this. But then, why, on this view, should an atomist continue to insist that generation and destruction are impossible? Parmenides argues that generation is impossible because existence cannot be preceded by non-existence; and that destruction is impossible, because existence cannot be followed by non-existence. Why could not an atomist say: in a case of generation, existence is preceded, not by non-existence, but by 'void'; similarly, in a case of destruction, existence is followed, not by nothing, but by void? Diachronically, atoms begin to exist and cease existing, separated by 'void', just as, synchronically, void keeps different atoms separate. If void can separate being from being at the same time, why not being from being at different times?

If someone were to say: "But it would be inexplicable why existence should follow, if previously there were void, or why void should follow, if previously there were existence", one could retort: "But there is no more reason for the thing to exist than the no-thing. In just the same way, it is 'inexplicable' why, at one and the same time, existence should have void next to it, or void should have existence next to it. The random position of atoms across space mirrors the random coming into existence and disappearance of atoms across time."

Eleatic Question: 4

Suppose someone wrote a history of Greek mathematics that went like this:

The discovery, by Pythagoreans, of the incommensurability of the hypotenuse of a right triangle with unit sides, had tremendous consequences for the development of mathematical thought. All subsequent mathematicians had to take this result into account. Some simply denied it boldly, insisting that there was "no more reason that a side should be incommensurable than commensurable". Others agreed that, indeed, a right triangle with unit sides had an incommensurable hypotenuse, but they denied that any other triangle did. Still others said that, although incommensurability affected triangles, it was irrelevant to squares (this, even though squares are built out of triangles).
Fairly absurd, isn't it? Yet that's the kind of absurdity we are satisfied with in telling the history or philosophy. Compare:
Parmenides presented what seemed an irrefutable argument that reality is one, continuous, indivisible, unchanging, and perfect. So powerful were his arguments, that all subsequent philosophers regarded themselves as obliged to answer them. The Atomists, for instance, simply denied that it was impossible for nothing to exist: they called nothingness the 'void' and said that there was no more reason for something to exist than nothing. Anaxagoras, although he agreed with Parmenides that nothing could come into existence or perish, nonetheless rejected Parmenides' claim that only one thing exists: he said that there were two fundamental things--Mind and the infinite mixture--and he held, furthermore, that the infinite mixture was not only plural but also infinitely divisible. Empedocles, for his part, simply asserted that four things existed, and that an inexhaustible variety of other things could genuinely come into existence by a kind of mixture of the four elements, caused by a strange force he called 'love'.
Parmenides concludes not-A1, not-A2, not-A3, and not-A4, all on the same grounds. It hardly makes sense to say that someone who, in the face of this, simply asserts A1, is 'replying to Parmenides', no matter what that philosopher does with A2-A4.

Sure, someone might hold that it's obviously false that change doesn't happen (or even that it's obviously false that we can't think of nothing), in just the same way as someone might 'refute' the Dichotomy by simply walking away. But why suppose that anyone, in connection with Parmenides' view, might do this piecemeal? If someone takes Parmenides to be clearly wrong as regards plurality or motion, why ever should we regard such a person to be seriously grappling with Parmenides as regards generation and destruction?