31 January 2006

BACAP Lecture February 9: Modrak at BU

Here's an event I'm looking forward to:

The Boston Area Colloquium on Ancient Philosophy
The Department of Philosophy of Boston University

Deborah Modrak
Professor of Philosophy
University of Rochester

"Aristotelian Form, Function and Definition"

Commentary by Mary Louise Gill,
Professor of Classics and Philosophy
Brown University

Thursday, February 9, 2006
7:30 p.m.
Room 525, in the Department of Philosophy
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston University

For information contact: roochnik@bu.edu

Professor Modrak will present a seminar
"On Defining Socrates and other Composite Substances"
Friday, February 10, 2006
12 noon
The Mugar Library, Boston UniversityRoom 424

The Republic an Apologia?

In general I've been enjoying the slight liberties Tom Griffith takes in his translation of Plato's Republic (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), since they make the dialogue more natural and idiomatic. But the passage below annoyed me, because it seemed misleading.

Why? Because it changes the genre of the Republic, turning it into an apologia, when that is not the character of the work. The Republic is not a 'defense' of justice against charges. One simple reason is that the dialogue is just as much an investigation into injustice, and it carries out an extended comparison between justice and injustice. And the conclusion reached at the end of Book IV is not that justice is blameless, but rather that it is more profitable.

Yet that raises the question: What is the nature of its investigation into justice and justice?

Here's the passage, 368a5-c5; it occurs just after Glaucon and Adeimantus have completed their speeches at the beginning of book II.

tou=to/ moi, w)= fi/loi, eu)= dokei= e)/xein: pa/nu ga\r qei=on pepo/nqate, ei) mh\ pe/peisqe a)diki/an dikaiosu/nhj a)/meinon ei)=nai, ou(/tw duna/menoi ei)pei=n u(pe\r au)tou=. dokei=te dh/ moi w(j a)lhqw=j ou) pepei=sqai. tekmai/romai de\ e)k tou= a)/llou tou= u(mete/rou tro/pou, e)pei\ kata/ ge au)tou\j tou\j lo/gouj h)pi/stoun a)\n u(mi=n.--o(/sw| de\ ma=llon pisteu/w, tosou/tw| ma=llon a)porw= o(/ti xrh/swmai. ou)/te ga\r o(/pwj bohqw= e)/xw: dokw= ga/r moi a)du/natoj ei)=nai-- shmei=on de/ moi, o(/ti a(\ pro\j Qrasu/maxon le/gwn w)/|mhn a)pofai/nein w(j a)/meinon dikaiosu/nh a)diki/aj, ou)k a)pede/casqe / mou--ou)/t' au)= o(/pwj mh\ bohqh/sw e)/xw: de/doika ga\r mh\ ou)d' o(/sion h)=| parageno/menon dikaiosu/nh| kakhgoroume/nh|.

o(/ te ou)=n Glau/kwn kai\ oi( a)/lloi e)de/onto panti\ tro/pw| bohqh=sai kai\ mh\ a)nei=nai to\n lo/gon, a)lla\ diereunh/sasqai ti/ te/ e)stin e(ka/teron kai\ peri\ th=j w)feli/aj au)toi=n ta)lhqe\j pote/rwj e)/xei.

Here is Griffith's translation. I highlight the phrases that trouble me, which come largely from rendering bohqei=n as 'defend' rather than 'aid' vel sim. (I suspect Griffith is misled by Socrates' mention of a battle just prior to this passage, at 368a3. Of course even in a battle it's possible to give aid, without defending--for instance, by supplying someone with ammunition.)
A fair description, I think, my friends. There was certainly something inspired about your performance just now--to be able to speak like that in favour of injustice without being convinced it is a better thing than justice. And judging by the evidence of your whole way of life, I believe you when you say you are really not convinced, though from what you actually said I wouldn't have believed you. The trouble is, the more firmly I believe you, the less certain I am what to do next. I can't defend justice. I don't think I have the ability. I say that because you have rejected the arguments by which I thought I had proved to Thrasymachus that justice was something better than injustice. On the other hand, I can't not defend her, since I can't help feeling it is wrong to stand idly by when I hear justice coming under attack, and not come to her defense for as long as I have breath in my body and a tongue in my head. So the best thing is to make what defense I can.

Well, Glaucon and the rest of them insisted that they wanted me to make a defense, and not abandon the argument. They wanted me to make a full investigation into what justice and injustice both were, and what the true position was concerning the benefit they both brought.

28 January 2006

Passing the Time on a Drive

".... and from this it follows that substance is prior to relation, because, as I said, a relation exists in a substance, and .... Boys?!... Are you paying attention?"

Muddy Man Meets His Day

That I wasn't acting qua swineherd when, this morning, I took a well-fattened Muddy Man to the abattoir was hardly a consolation.

At first we tried luring him up a ramp onto the truck with M&M's, said to be a great treat with pigs. But he was too savvy.

We eventually just picked him up and lifted him in -- at about 200 pounds!

The Stack of Books on My Desk

My postings are not at random, as they may seem. Here is what I am reading now in ancient philoophy. Over the next few months, my posts will likely center on these works.

Plato, Philebus,
for the NYC Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy;

Plato, Phaedo,
for the Introduction to Philosophy course I'm teaching now, a semester-long examination of the Phaedo (I took from Bostock the idea of basing an intro course on the Phaedo);

Plato, Republic,
since I'm still trying to understand the basic argument of the Republic and have sketched several papers related to this theme;

Aristotle, Metaphysics,
for a seminar on that work, which I'm teaching this semester;

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics,
because I'm completing a translation of this work.

27 January 2006

SKOPOS in Aristotle

What is a skopos in Aristotle? A mark, target, goal? Is it only that?

The question was raised in my mind when looking at the end of Met. I.2: "We have said, then, what is the nature of our sought-after knowledge, and what is the mark (skopos) which this investigation and plan of inquiry ought to hit."

ti/j me\n ou)=n h( fu/sij th=j e)pisth/mhj th=j zhtoume/nhj, ei)/rhtai, kai\ ti/j o( skopo\j ou(= dei= tugxa/nein th\n zh/thsin kai\ th\n o(/lhn me/qodon.

Clearly, Aristotle explains the nature (phusis) of this knowledge, wisdom, in chapter 1: It is, as he says, a knowledge of first principles and first causes. But what has Aristotle said about the skopos of the investigation? (Presumably, the skopos is different from the phusis.)

Suppose that what Aristotle says in chapter 2 concerns the skopos. But in I.2 he says such things as that: the search for this knowledge is motivated, not by practical necessity, but by wonder (982b11-22), and that the search ends when we arrive at a confident understanding of how what previously was wondered at is in fact necessary (983a12-21). Also, that the search ends when we've traced causes back as far as something divine (982b28-983a11).

That is to say, what he tells us in I.2 concerns how we know that we've arrived at it. That chapter gives us marks, or criteria, for recognizing that we've finally got hold of what we were searching for.

But, if so, then a skopos is not merely a 'target'. One thinks of a skopos as something like a bullseye--it is what one at the start aims at, or takes as a goal once and for all. The arrow either hits that target or not. But Aristotle seems to think of it, rather, as something which tells us whether we are reaching the target or not. It would be more like the sighting of the target within a 'scope'. Indeed, as he elsewhere says, the skopos is "that with a view to which we make adjustments, tightening or loosening", e)pitei/nei kai\ a)ni/hsin (e.g. NE 1138b22) --that is, continuously so.

Here is an analogy. Suppose someone is on a treadmill machine at the gym. He wants to get a 'cardio' workout and maintain his heartbeat at 140 beats per minute. To do so, he holds onto sensors on the railing of the machine, which register his heartbeat: when his heartbeat is at 140, a red light goes on; when the heartbeat goes above or below, the red light goes off.

On this picture, his goal and target is to keep his heartbeat at 140 beats per minute (since that is what is best for conditioning his heart). But his skopos is that the red light remain on: the light confirms that he's reached his goal.

26 January 2006

Thrasymachus Another Callicles?

Rachel Barney (see her informative SEP article on the subject) thinks not :

Because of [a] shared agenda, and because Socrates' refutation of Callicles can be read as a sketchy, perhaps deliberately unsatisfying rehearsal for the Republic, it is tempting to assume that the two figures represent a single philosophical position. But in fact, Callicles and Thrasymachus are by no means interchangeable...
For her, everything hinges on whether Thrasymachus holds that injustice is a virtue and justice a vice.

According to Barney, Thrasymachus is largely a debunker. He's a 'conventionalist', who claims that there is no justice and injustice, and that talk of such things merely masks power relationships. But he holds back from making claims about what is right or wrong 'by nature'.

In contrast, Callicles, although he too debunks common ideas of justice as mere conventions, additionally claims that naturally crafty and brave persons, who are stronger than others, ought to dominate over them. He asserts a morality of the naturally strong.

Barney admits that it might seem as though Thrasymachus takes that extra step also:
...it is worth asking what Thrasymachus‘s ideal of the ‘ruler in the strict sense’ adds to his account of justice. It seems to confirm that he is no conventionalist, since that view involves treating all actual laws as equal while on Thrasymachus' account not every regime counts as the real thing. More problematically, Thrasymachus' glorification of tyranny renders retroactively ambiguous his slogan, ‘Justice is the advantage of the stronger’. His praise of the expert tyrant (343b-c) suggests that, in addition to the debunking theses noted earlier, this slogan may also mean something like: it really is right and proper, part of the due order of things, for the strong to take advantage of the weak. This is precisely the claim that, as we will see, is expressed in the Gorgias by Callicles' theory of ‘natural justice’. If Thrasymachus too means to make this claim then he, like Callicles, evidently has what we may call a moral world-view — a view, that is, about how the world ought to be.
But what clinches it for her is that Thrasymachus, she thinks, 'weasels out' of saying that justice is a vice and injustice a virtue:
However, as we have seen, Thrasymachus only flirts with the revision of ordinary moral language which this view would imply; when Socrates suggests that according to him justice is a vice and injustice a virtue, he weasels out.
When precisely does he weasel out? According to Barney:
When Socrates asks whether, then, he holds that justice is a vice, Thrasymachus instead defines it as an intellectual failing: “No, just very high-minded simplicity,” while injustice is “good judgment” and is to be “included with virtue and wisdom” (348c-e).

(i) I don't see how, in this passage, Thrasymachus' 'including injustice with virtue and wisdom' (e)n a)reth=j kai\ sofi/aj tiqei=j me/rei th\n a)diki/an ) is not the same as his 'holding' that it is a virtue.

(ii) A few lines later Thrasymachus agrees that he regards injustice is 'something noble and powerful' and that he attributes to it 'all the other things that people attribute to justice' (fh/seij au)to\ kai\ kalo\n kai\ i)sxuro\n ei)=nai kai\ ta)=lla au)tw=| pa/nta prosqh/seij a(\ h(mei=j tw=| dikai/w| proseti/qemen, 348e9-10). It would be bizarre for him to say this but then deny that injustice is a virtue. And it would be even more bizarre for him to say this but deny that it was good to be unjust, that one 'should' be unjust if possible.

(iii) In the refutation that follows, Socrates, in arguing against Thrasymachus, explicitly takes him to be maintaining that an unjust person, as such, is good and wise (fro/nimo/j te kai\ a)gaqo\j o( a)/dikoj, 349d3).

(iv) After the refutation is over, Socrates implies that refuted view was that justice is a vice and a kind of foolishness, but injustice is a virtue and a kind of wisdom (diwmologhsa/meqa th\n dikaiosu/nhn a)reth\n ei)=nai kai\ sofi/an, th\n de\ a)diki/an kaki/an te kai\ a)maqi/an, 350d4).

In sum: Barney's view cannot be sustained. Her view that Thrasymachus is distinct from Callicles hinges on the claim that Thrasymachus 'weasels out' of saying that injustice is a virtue. But Thrasymachus does not weasel out of this; in fact, he says so rather plainly.

25 January 2006

Et nos cedamus amori

A quick quiz on what will almost certainly be the most studied discussion of aspects of ancient philosophy for months to come: Benedict XVI's encyclical, released today, "Deus caritas est".

1. The first footnote in the encyclical is to:

(a) The opening lines of the gospel of John
(b) Thomas Aquinas, S.T., on caritas
(c) Aristotle on friendship
(d) Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil
2. The first difficulty the Pope raises is an echo of:
(a) Augustine's Confessions
(b) Aristotle on friendship
(c) I Corinthians 13
(d) Tina Turner, "What's Love Got to Do With It?"
3. True or false. The Pope gives an interpretation of Metaphysics Lambda.

4. Which passage from Plato is discussed?
(a) The Cave Allegory
(b) Aristophanes' tale from the Symposium
(c) The charioteer from the Phaedrus
(d) None of the above: Plato is not discussed

5. The first half of the encyclical is principally concerned with:
(a) eros
(b) antiphilesis
(c) philia
(d) storge


1. (d) "According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice." [1] Cf. Jenseits von Gut und Böse, IV, 168.

2. (b) "So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?" See NE 1155b12: po\teron e\(n ei)=doj th=j fili/aj e)sti\n h)\ plei/w..

3. True.
"The divine power that Aristotle at the height of Greek philosophy sought to grasp through reflection, is indeed for every being an object of desire and of love —and as the object of love this divinity moves the world[6]—but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love." [6] Cf. Metaphysics, XII, 7

4. (b) "
Of all other creatures, not one is capable of being the helper that man needs, even though he has assigned a name to all the wild beasts and birds and thus made them fully a part of his life. So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Here one might detect hints of ideas that are also found, for example, in the myth mentioned by Plato, according to which man was originally spherical, because he was complete in himself and self-sufficient. But as a punishment for pride, he was split in two by Zeus, so that now he longs for his other half, striving with all his being to possess it and thus regain his integrity." [8] Plato, Symposium, XIV-XV, 189c-192d.

5. (a), eros, regarded as inseparable from agape: "
The Greeks—not unlike other cultures—considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a “divine madness” which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness. All other powers in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary: “Omnia vincit amor” says Virgil in the Bucolics—love conquers all—and he adds: “et nos cedamus amori”—let us, too, yield to love."


5 correct: You have a good sense of humor; or you are a serious Catholic; or you are a serious time-waster and accidentally stumbled upon vatican.va. In any case, raise a toast to eros.

4 correct: Next time, pleonekteon yourself.

3 correct: That's fine. Out of misguided agape, we're counting your score as a 4.

2 correct: You are probably yielding a little too much to love. Perhaps you are in love with love.

1 correct: For penance, purchase and read one of the books on the sidebar.

0 correct: Congratulations, you've reached a limit!

Nettleship on Limit and Pleonexia

Here is Nettleship's explanation of the point of the argument:

In all other arts the man who is without the idea of right or wrong (in the wider sense of the words), or the idea of a limit at which he must stop, is not the man who understands his art; he is the man who knows nothing about it. For suppose two musicians meet over the tuning of an instrument; if they are really musicians, they at once recognize a principle of right and wrong, which sets a limit beyond which it would never occur to them to go; in plain English, if the instrument is rightly tuned, the musician, the man who knows, would never think of tuning it further.
He then points out that principles of maximization (to achieve or get as much as possible) are opposed to this conception of correct action:
The word[s] 'limit' [and 'measure'] certainly suggest[] to us something that stops progress, and prevents us reaching perfection in anything. The Greek associations of the words, at least in Plato and Aristotle, are quite different. The idea of limit is that of something on the attainment of which perfection is attained; it is not that which puts a stop to progress, but that without which progress would be a meaningless process ad infinitum.
This correct (I believe) construction of Plato's argument cannot be arrived at if we take pleonektein competitively, as 'winning out over someone'. The way Plato understands it, to say that an unjust person pleonektei as regards an unjust person is to say that he is unsatisfied even with what he has, as an unjust person: if he could, he would take even more than he has. In contrast, a just person is satisfied--he does not want more than a just person should get in a just action--but he would not be satisfied if he received what an unjust person should receive, because, he thinks, less is due to an unjust in comparison with a just person. (Note that a just person wishes for no more than he thinks it right that he gets--this is the reason, I think, why Plato uses both ethelein and axioun.)

And now we can see, too, why David Reeve's criticisms are off the mark. Reeve says:
Now it is true that the Craftsman does not try to "outdo" his fellow Craftsmen in that he does not try to go beyond the principles of his (and their) Craft. But the Unjust man does not try to "outdo" his fellows in that way either. Instead, he tries to get the better of them by practicing the Craft of Injustice as well as possible.
Not so. A just person aims to practice the craft of justice by seeing that his actions conform to a 'limit' (as Nettleship says); but an unjust person does not aim to practice injustice in this way. To suggest that he does is to suggest, wrongly, that he takes something about his unjust action as inherently desirable. On the contrary, he always wants more: that is, if he could do something that would result in his getting more, whatever this was, he would prefer that.

Reeve then says:
Moreover, the fact that the Unjust man tries to "outdo" everyone in the sense of trying to get the better of them does not in the least show that Injustice is not a Craft--practitioners of competitive Crafts, such as Generalship or Boxing, do it all the time.
But we've seen that this competitive sense of pleonektein is not what Plato has in mind.

(I'm not sure yet what to think of Rachel Barney's gloss, in her article at SEP: "The use of pleonektein in this argument is confusing, and perhaps confused, but the important point seems to be that the goods realized by genuine crafts are not zero-sum. The doctor's restoration of the patient's health does not make anyone else less healthy; if one musician plays in tune, so may another." )

24 January 2006

Thrasymachus and Callicles

Is there a received view on the relation between Thrasymachus' view and that of Callicles? Is their view fundamentally the same or in some important sense different?

Wouldn't the following passage from Republic I suggest that Plato took them to be the same? The passage occurs just before Socrates gives his final three arguments against Thrasymachus:

That's a much more awkward proposition, my friend. It makes it hard to know what to say. If you said that injustice was profitable, but nevertheless admitted, as most people say, that it was wickedness, or something to be ashamed of, we would be able to make some reply along conventional lines (ta nomizomena legontes). As it is, however, you're obviously going to say that it is good and strong, and credit it with all the qualities which we used to attribute to justice, since you didn't shrink from classifying it with goodness and wisdom. (348e-349a)(Greek available here.)
The view which the passage describes is exactly what Polus in the Gorgias holds: injustice is profitable but also wicked and shameful. One may refute a position like that by beginning from injustice's being shameful, and then arguing, ad hominem, that this would imply its somehow being unprofitable as well--as Socrates does in his refutation of Polus.

But, if so, then, by extension, the more consistent and therefore more problematic view, proffered by Thrasymachus, is--from Plato's view at least--philosophically on a par with that of Callicles.

"A Grossly Fallacious Argument"

That is David Reeve's verdict, at least, on the argument we've been looking at. Here are his objections, in Philosopher-Kings:

Now it is true that the Craftsman does not try to "outdo" his fellow Craftsmen in that he does not try to go beyond the principles of his (and their) Craft. But the Unjust man does not try to "outdo" his fellows in that way either. Instead, he tries to get the better of them by practicing the Craft of Injustice as well as possible. Moreover, the fact that the Unjust man tries to "outdo" everyone in the sense of trying to get the better of them does not in the least show that Injustice is not a Craft--practitioners of competitive Crafts, such as Generalship or Boxing, do it all the time. Hence Socrates has not succeeded in showing that Injustice is not a Craft, and, therefore, not a virtue.
Now is this correct?--or rather should we think, with Nettleship, that:
Socrates' argument seems unconvincing, not only because of its abstract character but for a further reason. It goes very much to the root of the whole question, and people are very seldom able to face the ultimate issues raised by any question.
What is the root of the whole question? Let me know what you think of the merits of Reeve's objections, and I'll give you Nettleship's judgment, tomorrow.

(By the way, can Somebody tell me the Reason for all of the Upper Case Letters?)

23 January 2006

Why Physics?

Indeed, why?

Brad Inwood will look for an answer, from Stoic points of view:

Wednesday, April 26, at 5:30. Brad Inwood, University of Toronto
Gerard House 119, Brown University

"Why Physics? Stoic views on the contributions of natural science to human happiness".


'Why Physics?' is a consideration of why a Stoic would want to pursue a
study of nature, especially in view of their origins as a Socratic
school and of Socrates' attitude to physics; I also take into account
the views of an early Stoic, Ariston of Chios, who claimed that both
physics and logic are unnecessary for human happiness. I argue that
there is no uniform Stoic answer to the question and that the question
is itself a philosophically interesting one. I then show how Seneca
answers the question, why and to what extent he holds that the study of
physics is indispensable for human happiness.
This lecture, jointly sponsored by the Classics and Philosophy faculties at Brown, is in place of a previously scheduled lecture by Pierre-Marie Morel in BACAP, which, regretfully, has had to be postponed until Fall 2006.

Reflection on Seeing That One Sees

...How are we aware that seeing is going on (as opposed to hearing etc)? Is it by sight that one is aware that one is seeing (ie that the faculty of sight is the one that is operating right now)?

It seems that it would be by sight, because to see just is to get a visible object actualised, so one is ipso facto aware that it is vision, not hearing, that is going on. But actually that won't do: the rest of the chapter problematises the easy answer canvassed (hypothetically) at the beginning. So the final question is more complicated: not just how am I aware that I am seeing and hearing, but how am I aware of both those things and I can distinguish between them?
From a recent comment by Catherine Osborne, on a post from last year's discussion of reflexive perception, "A Saving in Need of a Phenomenon".

(Once again, comments added to posts that are not on the current webpage will not show under "Recent Comments". I therefore highlight them at my discretion.)

Three Observations

Three observations about the argument at Republic I, 348b-350c:

1. Plato implicitly asserts that a just person has pleonexia. If a just person 'wishes to have more' only as regards an unjust person, then in some circumstances he has pleonexia.

2. Plato implicitly takes the standard of pleonexia to be absolute or strict equality. Since a just person wishes to have more than an unjust person would have, then the relevant standard, in relation to which he has more, is that he have the same. (So, for example, if it were right for a just person in a distribution to get 60%, when an unjust person, in those circumstances, should get the lesser amount of 30%, then, even though this is just and right, still, the just person would be getting 'more'--because it is more than 50%.)

3. Pleonexia is shown toward actions, especially virtuous and noble actions, and not only as regards 'commutable goods': to look for more of a say; or to have greater authority; or to have a greater claim to decide how something should be done--these are all instances of pleonexia.
I take it that we should view Aristotle's doctrine, in Nic. Eth. V.1-3 (= EE IV.1-3) , as a deliberate correction of each of these points:
1'. Pleonexia becomes a mark of a certain sort of unjust character; a virtuous person in no way displays it (1129a32).

2'. Pleonexia is decided relative to proportionate equality (1131a22); thus to want what is materially more, if you deserve more, is to want what strictly is the same amount.

3'. Pleonexia is properly for goods of fortune only (1129b2); it cannot be shown relative to such things as just actions.

20 January 2006

The Argument at Republic 348b-350c

I wish to sharpen and restate a question I posed in the comments as regards the argument in Rep. I, 348b-350c, and then raise another.

The first question is this. One might have thought that the argument can be captured, more or less, as follows:

1. A just person wishes and thinks it right that he have more than an unjust person, but does not wish and think it right that he have more than a just person.
2. An unjust person wishes and thinks it right that he have more than a just person, and also wishes and thinks it right that he have more than an unjust person.
3. Thus, a just person aims to exceed, not his like, but only those unlike him.
4. But an unjust person aims to exceed both his like and unlike.
5. Each of these is to be identified with that class to which he may be likened.
6. A knowledgeable person wishes and claims that he should do more (in a certain domain) than an ignorant person, but does not wish and claim that he should do more than a knowledgeable person.
7. An ignorant person wishes and claims that he should do more (in a certain domain) than a knowledgeable person, and also wishes and claims that he should do more than an ignorant person.
8. Thus, a knowledgeable person aims to exceed, not his like, but only those unlike him.
9. But an ignorant person aims to exceed both his like and unlike.
10. Thus, a just person may be likened to a knowledgeable person; an unjust person to an ignorant person.
11. Thus, a just person is knowledgeable; an unjust person is ignorant.
12. But virtue implies wisdom and knowledge.
13. Thus, injustice is not virtue (as Thrasymachus had claimed).
But there is no mention here of a just or unjust person's having more 'than the just action'. So why does Plato add this extra detail? What work does it do in the argument, as he understands it, and in which way is the above construction faulty or incomplete?

As I said in the comments, it might look as though the argument works just as well (or badly) without the very awkward additional remarks about actions. So then why does Plato go out of his way to include these?

A second question.

Why does Plato twice use the double construction "wishes to have more and thinks it right that he have more" rather than one of these alone? He seems deliberately to use both, but what is the purpose of this? (Yes, I do believe that such details are deliberate.)

dikai/ou mh\ a)cioi= ple/on e)/xein mhde\ bou/letai o( di/kaioj (349c1)

dokei= a)\n ou)=n ti/j soi, w)= a)/riste, mousiko\j a)nh\r a(rmotto/menoj lu/ran e)qe/lein mousikou= a)ndro\j e)n th=| e)pita/sei kai\ a)ne/sei tw=n xordw=n pleonektei=n h)\ a)ciou=n ple/on e)/xein; (349e10-13)

18 January 2006

Pleonexia in Republic I

I think the faulty translations cited in my previous post show that this passage has been misconstrued. (Jowett may have it right, but he hasn't rendered it in such as way as to make it clear what the right way of taking it is.)

We naturally take Plato's discussion of pleonexia to be about competition: to have pleonexia is to get the better of someone else. It means winning out, getting one's way, and prevailing. Pleonexia, in this sense, is libido dominandi.

But Plato, rather, pretty clearly takes it to be, after all, about coincidence or disparity in judgment, which may or may not carry with it any imposing of one's will . This is clear from the general principle he gives, on the basis of an induction, at 350a:

Do you think it's the same for every branch of knowledge and ignorance? Do you think there is ever any knowledgeable person who would deliberately choose, either in action or in speech, to do more than another knowledgeable person would do? Wouldn't he do the same as someone like himself would do in the same situation? (Griffith)
Notice that Plato explains the coincidence of judgment first in terms of the persons involved ('do more than another knowledgeable person') and then in terms of the actions of such persons ('do the same as someone like himself would do'). Notice, too, that he explains each of these using a counterfactual: Does a knowledgeable person do the same as another knowledgeable person would do, sc. in his circumstances? To show pleonexia with respect to someone, on this way of looking at things, is to judge that you should do something that, in some way, in its result, goes beyond what that other person would judge that you should do.

Thus, for an unjust person a)ciou=n tou= dikai/ou pleonektei=n is to judge that he should get something which, in its result, is more than a just person would judge that he (the unjust man) should get in those circumstances; and for him a)ciou=n th=j dikai/aj pra/cewj pleonektei=n is to judge that what he should get is more than what a just person would judge that he (the unjust man) should get.

Thus the correct translation of:

ti/ de\ dh\ o( a)/dikoj; a)=ra a)cioi= tou= dikai/ou pleonektei=n kai\ th=j dikai/aj pra/cewj;

would be something like:

"And what about an unjust man? Doesn't he claim that he should get more than a just person would claim for him, and isn't what he claims he should get more than what he justly should get?(or: 'more than what a just person would claim he should get')"

(I take pra/cij to be schematic: it stands for whatever sort of action is indicated by the context; in this case, getting.)

Bargain Fares to Tucson

A blog has many purposes....

I'm not attending this year, but many of my friends are participating in the Arizona Plato Colloquium in mid-February. With a view to that, I note that Travelzoo is advertising bargain fares (act today) to Tucson from various cities. Check out the Top 20 deals at travelzoo.com. (The link takes you to a page where you are requested first to subscribe to Travelzoo's unobtrusive e-mail bulletin for travel deals.)

17 January 2006

Republic 349b-350c

Here's a question about translation. How should one render, in the argument at Republic 349b-350c, sentences such as the following?

ti/ de\ dh\ o( a)/dikoj; a)=ra a)cioi= tou= dikai/ou pleonektei=n kai\ th=j dikai/aj pra/cewj; (349c4-5)

Here are some options:
“How about the unjust then? Does he claim to overreach and outdo the just man and the just action?” (Shorey)

"And what of the unjust --does he claim to have more than the just man and to do more than is just." (Jowett)

"What about the unjust man? Does he think it right to outdo the just man and the just action?" (Griffith)

"What about an unjust person? Does he claim that he deserves to outdo a just person or someone who does a just action?" (Grube/Reeve)
Of these, Griffith's and Shorey's make no sense: one can't assign any meaning to 'outdoing an unjust action'. Grube/Reeve supply a subject that doesn't exist in the Greek. And Jowett changes the verb.

The problem is that if you take pleonektei=n to mean 'outdo', then it cannot intelligibly take an action as an object.

I have my own view of how this should be handled. I'll share this (and thoughts of a tie-in with Nic. Eth. 9.8) tomorrow. But what are your ideas?

16 January 2006

Another Small Point in Republic I

Here's another passage which caught my eye this time in Republic I. This one is right after Thrasymachus enters the discussion for the first time. You will recall, he tells Socrates not to define justice as what is advantageous or profitable, and then, with derision, he predicts that Socrates will not, after all, attempt to give a definition but will merely ask questions and refute answers that other people give. Once again, the Griffith translation:

"Anything to allow Socrates to play his usual trick--not answer the question himself, but wait for someone else to answer it, and then take what he says and try to prove it wrong."
"Really, my dear fellow!" I said. "How could anyone answer the question if for a start (prw=ton me\n) he didn't know the answer--didn't so much as claim to know it (mh\ ei)dw\j mhde\ fa/skwn ei)de/nai)--and on top of that, even supposing he did have some idea on the subject (ei)/ ti kai\ oi)/etai), if he'd been told by a man of some authority not to say any of the things he thought (mhde\n e)rei= w(=n h(gei=tai )? No, it makes much more sense for you to speak. You're the one who claims to know the answer (fh\|j ei)de/nai) and have something to say." (337e4-338a1)
This puzzles me because it seems as if Socrates is saying that it is not possible to try to answer a question, without being convinced that one knows the answer. And yet this seems wrong: Couldn't one answer, rather, with what seems likely? If, to save the claim, one wants to insist that someone who says what seems likely to him knows that it seems likely, then the claim becomes empty, because presumably everyone always knows what seems true to him.

Also, is the 'method of hypothesis' of other dialogues perhaps developed with a view to this? That is, someone who thought that one could genuinely answer a question only if one knew the answer might think that a hypothetical answer would be a way of loosening, in a sense, the restriction. (One knows that the hypothetical claim is true but cannot assert the antecedent or consequent.)

Also, Socrates claims elsewhere that he knows that he does not know. Does that imply, then, that there are only a few questions that he could answer, but these are only about his own knowledge? (Presumably he could say, "No", if asked, as here, whether he can give a definition of justice.)

Or am I misreading the passage because "for a start ... to know" and "on top of that ... have some idea" is an example of what lawyers call "pleading on a hypothesis" and what Socrates is saying is that he could answer, if he had some idea (which falls short of knowledge), but even then he couldn't give his answer to Thrasymachus, who has ruled out the alternatives he would be likely to offer?

13 January 2006

A Small Question about Republic I

I'm back, refreshed, and ready to blog.

I begin with a small question about book I of the Republic, which I've been studying, looking at the Tom Griffith translation as I go along. (By the way--what are your thoughts about this translation? I have some comments about passages in book I, which maybe I'll share later.)

My question concerns 336a. I don't have any commentaries to hand, and so do not know what the standard answer to this question is. Does anyone know?

After dismissing the proposed definition, "justice is helping friends and harming enemies", Socrates asks (in the Griffith translation): "Do you know...who I think was responsible for the saying that it is just to treat one's friends well, and one's enemies badly?" And then he supplies the answer: "I think it was Periander, or Perdiccas, or Xerxes, or Ismenias, the Theban, or some other rich man who thought he had great power." (To which Polemarchus replies: ) )Alhqe/stata le/geij.)

I've always passed over this without much thought. But now I wonder:

1. (Of course) Is there any logic to Socrates' list of names?

2. Xerxes is mentioned by Callicles in the Gorgias as a 'strong man' who thinks he should get a larger share than others (483e): So does Plato think "helping friends and harming enemies" is similar to the definition that Thrasymachus is about to give, "the advantage of the stronger"? Yet how are they similar?

3. Why does it seem obvious to Polemarchus that Socrates' account of the provenance of the saying is correct? What has led him to think this? (Is it that they both suppose that only someone who thought he was immune from being harmed would think that the didn't need to view justice as some kind of universal reciprocity--and that the remarks here tie in, then, to the social contract theory that Glaucon will put forward in book II?)

4. What is the force of "thought he had great power" (me/ga oi)ome/nou du/nasqai), i.e. thought he did, when he really didn't? That is, what is the relationship between someone's being mistaken about what counts as power, and his being disposed to think he should help friends and harm enemies. (Again, the concern about merely apparent power echoes the Gorgias.)

06 January 2006

Posting Will Resume January 13


I've been enjoying vacation and holidays.

Blogging will resume on this site on the very next Friday the 13th.

Michael Pakaluk