29 March 2006

Recollection and the Soul as Harmony

Here is a point of translation that puzzles me. I wonder what readers think. It is a sentence that occurs in the Phaedo, in Socrates' reply to Simmias, just after Socrates offered the refutation that, if Learning is Recollection, then the soul existed before the parts of the body, and thus it cannot be a harmonia in Simmias' sense at least (that is, one that depends on the parts of which it is a harmonia).

Socrates presents Simmias with a choice: either reject the thesis that Learning is Recollection, or reject the view that the soul is a harmonia of parts of the body. "Now which do you prefer," Socrates asks, "that knowledge is recollection or that the soul is a harmony?" To which Simmias responds:

The former, decidedly, Socrates. For this other came to me without demonstration; it merely seemed probable [92d] and attractive, which is the reason why many men hold it. I am conscious that those arguments which base their demonstrations on mere probability are deceptive, and if we are not on our guard against them they deceive us greatly, in geometry and in all other things. But the theory of recollection and knowledge has been established by a sound course of argument. For we agreed that our soul before it entered into the body existed just as the very essence which is called the absolute exists. [92e] Now I am persuaded that I have accepted this essence on sufficient and right grounds. I cannot therefore accept from myself or anyone else the statement that the soul is a harmony.
I am interested in the highlighted sentence. The Greek is:

e)rrh/qh ga/r pou ou(/twj h(mw=n ei)=nai h( yuxh\ kai\ pri\n ei)j sw=ma a)fike/sqai, w(/sper au)th=j e)stin h( ou)si/a e)/xousa th\n e)pwnumi/an th\n tou= o(\ e)/stin

Above is the Loeb translation of Fowler. Here are some others:
Because it was, of course, asserted that our soul existed even before it entered the body, just as surely as its object exists--the reality which bears the name of "that which is". (Gallop)

...for our soul was said to exist also before it came into the body, just as the reality does that is of the kind that we qualify by the words "which truly is"... (Grube)
Rowe comments and gives a translation:
d8 au)th/ seems a necessary replacement for the far better attested au)th=j. Tr. '[as] the being (h( ou)si/a, as at 76d8-9, of a collection of existents) itself (au)th/) exists, bearing the name of "what is [F]"'. For this interpretation of o(\ e)/stin, see 75d2-3n. The reading au)th=j, 'belonging to it' (in the sense of being the object of the soul's understanding: see Loriaux I 155), although literally in accord with 76e1-2 (tau/thn th/n ou)si/an) u(pa/rxouan ... h(mete/ran ou)=san , and accepted by most recent editors, is impossibly harsh.
Yet it seems to me that Rowe, and all the translators above, go astray in not taking into account, or rendering properly, th\n e)pwnumi/an. This term, it seems, is a technical term elsewhere in the Phaedo, and what it means, in all of its occurrences, is something's deriving its name from something else, which is more properly called by that name. (Below, I paste the relevant passages from a TLG search.) Anything called 'F' is called that derivatively from the Form, F Itself, which is most properly called by that name, 102b2. (This, indeed, seems a consequence of the 'simple' explanation that Socrates advances, that 'a beautiful thing is beautiful because of the beautiful'.) Simmias himself is called 'large' or 'small' by a derived name (eponymia), because of large or small in him (more properly called that), 102c10. Likewise, something that has an opposite is called by that name derivatively, whereas the opposite which it has is more properly called that (103b7-8).

If this is so, then th\n e)pwnumi/an th\n tou= o(\ e)/stin” must mean something like "the name derived from that which is", and it cannot be a reference to the Forms, as the translations above understand it. The phrase apparently refers to something in the soul and should indeed be placed in correspondence with 76e1-2.

What the sentence might mean, I'll try to say tomorrow (or perhaps Friday). It has interesting implications, too, for how the Recollection Argument should be understood.

2. Plato Phil., Phaedo. {0059.004} Stephanus page 102 section b line 2. (Browse)

(b.) kai\ w(mologei=to ei]nai/ ti e3kaston tw~n ei0dw~n kai\ tou&twn

ta}lla metalamba&nonta au)tw~n tou&twn th_n e0pwnumi/an i1sxein,

to_ dh_ meta_ tau~ta h)rw&ta, Ei0 dh&, h} d' o3j, tau~ta ou3twj le/geij,

3. Plato Phil., Phaedo. {0059.004} Stephanus page 102 section c line 10. (Browse)

1Esti tau~ta.

Ou3twj a1ra o( Simmi/aj e0pwnumi/an e1xei smikro&j te kai\ (10)

me/gaj ei]nai, e0n me/sw| w2n a)mfote/rwn, tou~ me\n tw|~ mege/qei

4. Plato Phil., Phaedo. {0059.004} Stephanus page 103 section b line 7. (Browse)

to&te me\n ga&r, w} fi/le, peri\ tw~n e0xo&ntwn ta_ e0nanti/a e0le/go-

men, e0ponoma&zontej au)ta_ th|~ e0kei/nwn e0pwnumi/a|, nu~n de\ peri\

e0kei/nwn au)tw~n w{n e0no&ntwn e1xei th_n e0pwnumi/an ta_ o)nomazo&-

5. Plato Phil., Phaedo. {0059.004} Stephanus page 103 section b line 8. (Browse)

men, e0ponoma&zontej au)ta_ th|~ e0kei/nwn e0pwnumi/a|, nu~n de\ peri\

e0kei/nwn au)tw~n w{n e0no&ntwn e1xei th_n e0pwnumi/an ta_ o)nomazo&-

(c.) mena: au)ta_ d' e0kei=na ou)k a1n pote/ famen e0qelh~sai ge/nesin

27 March 2006

The Definition of Nature in Aristotle, Physics II.1

I don't know how interesting this will be to others, but I found it surprising. (Also, I don't have any commentaries with me, so this definitely counts as seat-of-the-pants scholarship. But that's how all true scholarship starts, isn't it?)

I had always taken it for granted that, at the beginning of Physics II.1, Aristotle presents a definition of 'nature'. But yesterday I began to suspect that he is defining at least three distinct things, and maybe four:

  • nature (phusis)
  • to come to be by nature (phusei)
  • to happen in accordance (or as a result of) a nature (kata phusin)
  • (perhaps) to have a nature (phusin echein)
If this is true, it would be important to distinguish these, and to understand their relation to one another, because so often for Aristotle everything hinges on which notion is taken to be primary and which derivative.

I came suspect this following the maxim (which I stress to my students) that Aristotle should be read backwards. At 193a2 he says, ti/ me\n ou}n e0stin h( fu&sij, ei1rhtai, kai\ ti/ to_ fu&sei kai\ kata_ fu&sin. And then this can be matched fairly well to the text. In what follows I include serially all the lines of the opening of Physics II.1, but I divide them into sections as I think is appropriate.

(Note that, if this parsing is correct, then, in defining phusis, what Aristotle is really wishing to define is a particular manner of constitution, and when he defines phusei, below, what interests him is how something with that sort of constitution perpetuates itself by bringing about things that are like it.)
Tw~n o1ntwn ta_ me/n e0sti fu&sei, ta_ de\ di' a1llaj ai0- (8)
ti/aj, fu&sei me\n ta& te zw|~a kai\ ta_ me/rh au)tw~n kai\ ta_
futa_ kai\ ta_ a(pla~ tw~n swma&twn, oi[on gh~ kai\ pu~r kai\ (10)
a)h_r kai\ u3dwr (tau~ta ga_r ei]nai kai\ ta_ toiau~ta fu&sei
fame/n), pa&nta de\ tau~ta fai/netai diafe/ronta pro_j ta_
mh_ fu&sei sunestw~ta. tou&twn me\n ga_r e3kaston e0n e9autw|~
a)rxh_n e1xei kinh&sewj kai\ sta&sewj, ta_ me\n kata_ to&pon,
ta_ de\ kat' au1chsin kai\ fqi/sin, ta_ de\ kat' a)lloi/wsin: (15)
kli/nh de\ kai\ i9ma&tion, kai\ ei1 ti toiou~ton a1llo ge/noj
e0sti/n, h|{ me\n tetu&xhke th~j kathgori/aj e9ka&sthj kai\
kaq' o3son e0sti\n a)po_ te/xnhj, ou)demi/an o(rmh_n e1xei meta-
bolh~j e1mfuton, h|{ de\ sumbe/bhken au)toi=j ei]nai liqi/noij h2
ghi5noij h2 miktoi=j e0k tou&twn, e1xei, kai\ kata_ tosou~ton, w(j
ou1shj th~j fu&sewj a)rxh~j tino_j kai\ ai0ti/aj tou~ kinei=sqai kai\
h)remei=n e0n w|{ u(pa&rxei prw&twj kaq' au(to_ kai\ mh_ kata_ sumbebhko/j

(I include in this section the end of the clause of the previous one, highlighted. I believe that these are linked by a phenomenon in Aristotle that I like to call 'chaining', that is, where Aristotle uses the conclusion of one line of thought to begin a seamless transition into another line of thought. The comparison with the physician is sometimes taken to be offered as an illustration of what it is for something to have a nature; I take it to have a more limited purpose, viz. to clarify how something that has a nature perpetuates itself, by causing something similar to exist.)
e0n w|{ u(pa&rxei prw&twj kaq' au(to_ kai\ mh_ kata_
sumbebhko&j (le/gw de\ to_ mh_ kata_ sumbebhko&j, o3ti ge/-
noit' a2n au)to_j au(tw|~ tij ai1tioj u(giei/aj w2n i0atro&j: a)ll'

o3mwj ou) kaqo_ u(gia&zetai th_n i0atrikh_n e1xei, a)lla_ sumbe/- (25)
bhken to_n au)to_n i0atro_n ei]nai kai\ u(giazo&menon: dio_ kai\ xwri/-
zetai/ pot' a)p' a)llh&lwn). o(moi/wj de\ kai\ tw~n a1llwn e3ka-
ston tw~n poioume/nwn: ou)de\n ga_r au)tw~n e1xei th_n a)rxh_n e0n e9au-
tw|~ th~j poih&sewj, a)lla_ ta_ me\n e0n a1lloij kai\ e1cwqen, oi[on
oi0ki/a kai\ tw~n a1llwn tw~n xeirokmh&twn e3kaston, ta_ d' e0n (30)
au(toi=j me\n a)ll' ou) kaq' au(ta&, o3sa kata_ sumbebhko_j
tia ge/noit' a)\n au(toi=j.

fu/sin e/)xein
(This notion is not mentioned in the summary at 193b2, yet it seems to get distinct treatment. It is a new notion, once hupokeimenon and ousia are introduced, because then the phusis becomes something which something else has.)
fu&sij me\n ou}n e0sti\ to_ r(hqe/n: fu&sin de\
e1xei o3sa toiau&thn e1xei a)rxh&n. kai\ e1stin pa&nta tau~ta ou)si/a:
u(pokei/menon ga&r ti, kai\ e0n u(pokeime/nw| e0sti\n h( fu&sij a)ei/.

kata_ fu&sin
kata_ fu&sin de\ tau~ta& te kai\ o3sa tou&toij u(pa&rxei kaq' (35)
au(ta&, oi[on tw|~ puri\ fe/resqai a1nw: tou~to ga_r fu&sij me\n ou)k
e1stin ou)d' e1xei fu&sin, fu&sei de\ kai\ kata_ fu&sin e0sti/n. ti/ me\n
ou}n e0stin h( fu&sij, ei1rhtai, kai\ ti/ to_ fu&sei kai\ kata_ fu&sin
(I understand the highlighted kai/ to be exepegtical, sc. " 'by nature', in the sense of 'in accordance with nature'".)

25 March 2006

What Should a Review Accomplish?

I was dissatisfied by the recent review in NPDR by Gretchen Reydam-Schils, of Tad Brennan's book, The Stoic Life. It told me almost nothing about the book. I find myself thinking back to the review, trying to reconstruct what I know about the book as based on the review, and I come up with the following:

  • The book contains both introductory and non-introductory material.
  • The introductory passages contain simplifications.
  • It is written in the style of analytic philosophy.
  • Its bibliography largely consists of works written in English.
  • To analyze Stoic arguments, Brennan makes disputable decisions about how to interpret some of their claims.
  • At one point, Brennan appears to misconstrue Pierre Hadot.
  • A reader of this book should not rely upon it alone but should consult primary sources as well.
And somehow the review is written in a tone of disapproval throughout--as if we just know that the book isn't that good, for all of the reasons mentioned.

To me it seemed that the book irked Reydam-Schils for reasons that are ultimately subjective. She should have vented her irritation in a draft, thrown that away, and then written something that was serviceable to others.

24 March 2006

Can Anyone Translate?

I found the following paragraph in this morning's WSJ. It contains sentences written in an obscure language. Can anyone translate?

The belief in the allegedly "Western" nature of democracy is often linked to the early practice of voting and elections in Greece, especially in Athens. Democracy involves more than balloting, but even in the history of voting there would be a classificatory arbitrariness in defining civilization in largely racial terms. In this way of looking at civilizational categories, no great difficulty is seen in considering the descendents of, say, Goths and Visigoths as proper inheritors of the Greek tradition ("they are all Europeans," we are told). But there is reluctance in taking note of the Greek intellectual links with other civilizations to the east or south of Greece, despite the greater interest that the Greeks themselves showed in talking to Iranians, or Indians, or Egyptians (rather than in chatting up the Ostrogoths).
I wonder if the Journal editors left that alone--when it desperately needs editing--because it was written by a Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen.

The op-ed argues, surely rightly, that we shouldn't regard democracy as being linked to racial groups; also, that nearly all peoples and cultures have, or have had, democratic traditions and practices, on which they could draw in order to develop a democratic political society.

But in the quoted paragraph, Sen seems to be claiming: Athens was not distinctive for its democracy, but only for its practices of voting; that the 'Greeks' wanted to forge reciprocal 'intellectual links' with Egyptian, Iranian, and Indian civilizations; also, that the Greeks, for their part, regarded political differences as being unrelated to 'racial' differences.

(And isn't 'chatting up', in British English, an idiom used for a man trying to charm or seduce a woman?)

21 March 2006

"A Grouping of Units"

That's a curious definition of number which Aristotle refers to as being held 'by some' when, in Metaphysics Z.13, he wishes to criticize the view that a substance could be compounded out of other actual substances.

If the substances that supposedly constitute a substance were fully actual, then, Aristotle remarks, what Democritus had claimed would be correct: you couldn't get a single thing out of two, or two things coming from one. (Two would remain two; and the putative 'one' thing would have had to be two from the start.) But the same would hold of any number (not simply two), because a number of things would, on this view, be no more than a 'grouping of units', as indeed some have alleged:

A substance cannot consist of substances present in it in complete reality; for things that are thus in complete reality two are never in complete reality one, though if they are potentially two, they can be one (e.g. the double line consists of two halves-potentially; for the complete realization of the halves divides them from one another); therefore if the substance is one, it will not consist of substances present in it and present in this way, which Democritus describes rightly; he says one thing cannot be made out of two nor two out of one; for he identifies substances with his indivisible magnitudes. It is clear therefore that the same will hold good of number, if number is a synthesis of units, as is said by some; for two is either not one, or there is no unit present in it in complete reality.

a)du/naton ga\r ou)si/an e)c ou)siw=n ei)=nai e)nuparxousw=n w(j e)ntelexei/a|: ta\ ga\r du/o ou(/twj e)ntelexei/a| ou)de/pote e(\n e)ntelexei/a|, a)ll' e)a\n duna/mei du/o h)=|, e)/stai e(/n (oi(=on h( diplasi/a e)k du/o h(mi/sewn duna/mei ge: h( ga\r e)ntele/xeia xwri/zei), w(/st' ei) h( ou)si/a e(/n, ou)k e)/stai e)c ou)siw=n e)nuparxousw=n kai\ kata\ tou=ton to\n tro/pon, o(\n le/gei Dhmo/kritoj o)rqw=j: a)du/naton ga\r ei)=nai/ fhsin e)k du/o e(\n h)\ e)c e(no\j du/o gene/sqai: ta\ ga\r mege/qh ta\ a)/toma ta\j ou)si/aj poiei=. o(moi/wj toi/nun dh=lon o(/ti kai\ e)p' a)riqmou= e(/cei, ei)/per e)sti\n o( a)riqmo\j su/nqesij mona/dwn, w(/sper le/getai u(po/ tinwn: h)\ ga\r ou)x e(\n h( dua\j h)\ ou)k e)/sti mona\j e)n au)th=| e)ntelexei/a|.

What is the source of this curious definition of number? Ross notes the attribution of a very similar formula to Thales:
This is practically the same as the earliest recorded Greek definition of number, mona/dwn su/sthma, which Thales is said to have borrowed from the Egyptians (Iambl. in Nicom. Ar. Introd. p. 10.8). Cf. D.1o20a13n.
I gather that this attribution is not taken to have much weight. At least, "a number is a grouping of units" isn't included in the standard lists of the three things Thales is credited with having said.

But I wonder whether the Phaedo provides evidence that the definition originates at least with presocratic natural philosophy. What I have in mind is the similarity between Aristotle's discussion, and the passage, in the autobiographical part of the Phaedo, where Socrates says that he no longer accepts a view he had previously accepted, about the nature of the numbers one and two. It is true that Aristotle takes the definition to be inadequate on the grounds that constituents need to be, as it were, 'matter', if they are to be united into a true unity. But it would make sense for Plato to object to the definition on the rather different grounds that it treats a number as if constituted by a mechanical operation, viz. the placing of units in proximity. (Cornford remarked that the definition, mona/dwn su/sthma, is "crude and, so to say, materialistic".) Note that what Socrates objects to is a number regarded as generated by a pro/sqesij.
“By Zeus,” said he, “I am far from thinking that I know the cause of any of these things, I who do not even dare to say, when one is added to one, whether the one to which the addition was made has become two, or the one which was added, or the one which was added and [97a] the one to which it was added became two by the addition of each to the other. I think it is wonderful that when each of them was separate from the other, each was one and they were not then two, and when they were brought near each other this juxtaposition was the cause of their becoming two. And I cannot yet believe that if one is divided, the division causes it to become two; for this is the opposite of [97b] the cause which produced two in the former case; for then two arose because one was brought near and added to another one, and now because one is removed and separated from other. And I no longer believe that I know by this method even how one is generated or, in a word, how anything is generated or is destroyed or exists, and I no longer admit this method, but have another confused way of my own."

20 March 2006

Lesen ist schwer

Supposedly James Ward would frequently greet Bertrand Russell by citing Kant, Denken is schwer. I also want to say, over and over again, Lesen ist schwer.

Yet another example of this. I have been looking at Gosling and Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure, for insight into the question I raised earlier, on whether Plato differs from Aristotle in this important point of denying that mere thinking is inherently pleasant. As I pointed out, that seems to be the view of the Philebus, and it is strikingly different from Aristotle's notion that contemplation is a kind of bliss. I also pointed out in a later post that the Phaedo in an incidental way seems to express a view like that of the Philebus.

Now Gosling and Taylor say something different, yet their view is based on an obvious misreading of the text. (But they are careful readers. Thus: Lesen ist schwer.) Here is what they say:

... intellectual pleasures and desires are at least mentioned in the Phaedo ... Perhaps the most significant passage is 114e, where Socrates gives at least a hint of the role of pleasure in the good life by his statement that the man who has ignored bodily pleasures and cultivated those of the intellect can face death with confidence. Bodily pleasures and generally the things of the body are 'alien' to the soul; by contrast intellectual pleasures and the practice of the virtues 'really belong to it.' This indicates, firstly, that the philosophic life will be pleasant, and it may be, if the hints about the unreality of bodily pleasures do point in the direction suggested, that it alone will be really pleasant... (87).
But here is the passage:

a)lla\ tou/twn dh\ e(/neka qarrei=n xrh\ peri\ th=| e(autou= yuxh=|a)/ndra o(/stij e)n tw=| bi/w| ta\j me\n a)/llaj h(dona\j ta\j peri\ to\ sw=ma kai\ tou\j ko/smouj ei)/ase xai/rein, w(j a)llotri/ouj te o)/ntaj, kai\ ple/on qa/teron h(ghsa/menoj a)perga/zesqai, ta\j de\ peri\ to\ manqa/nein e)spou/dase/ te kai\ kosmh/saj th\n yuxh\n ou)k a)llotri/w| a)lla\ tw=| au)th=j ko/smw|, swfrosu/nh| te kai\dikaiosu/nh| kai\ a)ndrei/a| kai\ e)leuqeri/a| kai\ a)lhqei/a|, ou(/tw perime/nei th\n ei)j (/Aidou porei/an [w(j poreuso/menoj o(/tan h( ei(marme/nh kalh=|].

This then is why a man should be of good cheer about his soul, who in his life [114e] has rejected the pleasures and ornaments of the body, thinking they are alien to him and more likely to do him harm than good, and has sought eagerly for those of learning, and after adorning his soul with no alien ornaments, but with its own proper adornment of self-restraint and justice and [115a] courage and freedom and truth, awaits his departure to the other world, ready to go when fate calls him.
And you'll note two things. First, Plato does not mention here 'intellectual pleasures' but rather, ostensibly, 'pleasures of learning'. (The phrase perhaps means something more, but that would require argument. In the Philebus, it apparently means 'pleasures of learning' only--pleasures that come from the process of acquiring knowledge.) Second, his remark about what 'belongs to the soul' is confined to the virtues; he does not say this about the pleasures mentioned.

So Gosling and Taylor are wrong about both points they wish to make about this passage, because, it seems, they simply have not read it correctly.

Beautiful Speech

In the Symposium, Plato argues, in effect, that the impulse to philosophize, rooted in eros, naturally gives rise to beautiful statements, not unlike love poems.

We are familiar with the idea that beauty is taken to be a mark of truth in mathematics and theoretical science. This then raises the question: What is the role of beauty in philosophical theory? Do we evaluate a philosophical view--and should we--on the grounds that it is or is not beautiful? If we do, or if we should do so, then are we to look for beauty in the view as a whole, or in how it is expressed, or in its capacity for beautiful expression, or in some other thing? (Also, do we and should we reject a view because it is 'ugly' or 'repugnant'? It seems so, when we dismiss something as 'absurd', atopon.)

These questions came to me last Thursday, at Suzanne Stern-Gillet's lecture in the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy ("Introspection Plotinian and Augustinian"). Some of the passages that Prof. Stern-Gillet quoted from Plotinus and Augustine were so astonishingly beautiful, that one could hear a kind of gasp of wonderment and awe coming from the audience as we heard them. That these passages were read by Prof. Stern-Gillet with a poetic reverence certainly added to the effect. Here I quote two of these:

If...there is to be conscious apprehension (antilepsis) of the powers that are present in this way, we must turn our power of apprehension inwards, and make it attend to what is there. It is as if someone was expecting to hear a voice which he wanted to hear and withdrew from other sounds and roused his power of hearing to catch what, when it comes, is the best of all sounds which can be heard; so here also we must let perceptible sounds go (except in so far as we must listen to them) and keep the soul's power of apprehension pure and ready to hear the voices from on high. (Plotinus)

...it is absurd to claim that the mind does not know as a whole what it knows. I do not say that it knows wholly, but that what it knows, it knows as a whole. When it, therefore, knows something of itself which it cannot know except as a whole, it knows itself as a whole. But it knows itself as knowing something, nor can it, except as a whole, know anything. Therefore it knows itself as a whole. (Augustine)

18 March 2006

What I'm Listening To

This has little to do with ancient philosophy, but my hunch is that readers of D.B. will be interested nonetheless.

I read in the WSJ today that the New York Philharmonic is apparently unique in providing an online archive of recent radio broadcasts, for listening from one's computer. I'm listening now to a performance of Schumann's 4th Symphony, broadcast originally on March 14.

(Download RealPlayer first, if you don't have it. Then--this is a bit confusing--click on the box next that says 'RealPlayer'.)

An Observation

I said I had a question, and then also a thought or observation, on the Affinity Argument. Here's the observation--something else I just noticed.

I believe Socrates gives six distinct refutations of Simmias' attunement analogy. The sixth I had not really noticed until yesterday, when I was lecturing on the passage:

“Then a soul, since it is neither more nor less [93e] a soul than another, is neither more nor less harmonized.” “That is so.”

“And therefore can have no greater amount of discord or of harmony?” “No.”

“And therefore again one soul can have no greater amount of wickedness or virtue than another, if wickedness is discord and virtue harmony?” “It cannot.”

“Or rather, to speak exactly, Simmias, [94a] no soul will have any wickedness at all, if the soul is a harmony; for if a harmony is entirely harmony, it could have no part in discord." “Certainly not.”

“Then the soul, being entirely soul, could have no part in wickedness.”
“How could it, if what we have said is right?”

“According to this argument, then, if all souls are by nature equally souls, all souls of all living creatures will be equally good.” “So it seems, Socrates” said he.

What I find interesting about this (and here is the observation), is that it anticipates the Final Argument. One of the points of the Final Argument is that it leads to a precision in speaking about the soul that was not present at the beginning of the dialogue. At the beginning, Socrates and his interlocutors are content to speak of the soul's dying and coming back to life (as in the Cyclical Argument). After the Final Argument, however, Socrates insists that we must not say that he or his soul dies, but rather that only his body dies (e.g. 115d-e). This is a consequence of the identification of 'living' with the the soul, so that the soul is something that animates the body, and therefore 'living' applies only secondarily to the body.

But we find a similar move anticipated here: if the soul, in its own right, were an attunement, then it must exclude what is the opposite of an attunement, and therefore it could not share in a lack of attunement. (It is implied that only the body, consequently, would fail in its attunement at death.)

I'm not clear yet what the significance of this is, but that it anticipates the Final Argument seems clear.

Non-Musical Attunements

I take it back about not posting again on the Affinity Argument. I have a question, and then a thought to share. Here's the question. It concerns 86c6-7, which, again, I just noticed. What do you think is the correct interpretation, and point, of the words I highlight?

Now if the soul is a harmony, it is clear that when the body is too much relaxed or is too tightly strung by diseases or other ills, the soul must of necessity perish, no matter how divine it is, like other harmonies in sounds and in all the works of artists...

ei) ou)=n tugxa/nei h( yuxh\ ou)=sa a(rmoni/a tij, dh=lon o(/ti, o(/tan xalasqh=| to\ sw=ma h(mw=n a)me/trwj h)\ e)pitaqh=| u(po\ no/swn kai\ a)/llwn kakw=n, th\n me\n yuxh\n a)na/gkh eu)qu\j u(pa/rxei a)polwle/nai, kai/per ou)=san qeiota/thn, w(/sper kai\ ai( a)/llai a(rmoni/ai ai(/ t' e)n toi=j fqo/ggoij kai\ e)n toi=j tw=n dhmiourgw=n e)/rgoij pa=si,

The words suggest that Simmias wants to extend the analogy: the soul is related to the body, not simply as an attunement is related to a musical instrument, but also in the way that the harmony and balance shown by any artefact is related to that thing of which it is a harmony and balance.

That's the plain meaning. But curiously Christopher Rowe denies this, in his commentary. He says the words should be interpreted: "the attunements found in the sphere of (musical) sound, and in all the instruments which produce it". In justification he says that the highlighted words are "usually taken as referring to artificial products generally; but a new metaphorical extension of a(rmoni/a here would be an unnecessary distraction from the argument."

So, what do you think? Do you think that the Greek may naturally take the sense that Rowe wishes to give it, and do you think that Rowe is correct, that it would be a distraction to understand those words as they are usually taken? (I have my thoughts, but I want to know what others think.)

History: What's At Stake?

A reader writes:

Your defense of the history of philosophy reminded me of this essay by Bernard Williams.

He shares your view about the narrowness of the virtues of analytic philosophy and the conception of philosophy as humanistic (i.e. “What I have to say, since it is itself a piece of philosophy, is an example of what I take philosophy to be, part of a more general attempt to make the best sense of our life, and so of our intellectual activities, in the situation in which we find ourselves.”) But this last clause, "in the situation in which we find ourselves," indicates--I think--his departure from your view about the continuity between contemporary and historical philosophers.

It seems that Williams holds that who "we" are is both historically determined and susceptible, at a given time, to wider (and inclusive) or more narrow (and exclusive) scope. I take it that you're operating at a higher altitude than Williams, and so the "we" is much more historically continuous and less likely to be exclusive.

Well, I'd better not go on too long here since I'm not sure I'm marking clearly enough what I think the difference between you and Williams is (perhaps only his Nietzschean perspectivalism?). I wonder what you make of Williams' defense of the study of the history of philosophy.
A difference between my view and Williams' also comes out in his phrase, "make the best sense of our lives, and so of our intellectual activities". A careful reading of his essay reveals, I believe, that Hilary Putnam is in the end correct in his charge that Williams "views physics as giving us the ultimate metaphysical truth". Williams tries to side-step this, by demurring from any affirmation of 'ultimate' truth: but change this to, simply, "views physics as giving us truth", and the charge ends up being correct.

For Williams, philosophy does not tell us how the world is; it simply tells us 'how we make sense of the world'. It is about our grasp of and interpretation of the world, not the world itself. Thus, it ends up being a high-level sociology of thought. I don't find in Williams essay any sense that philosophy is an intellectual adventure, that it involves a commitment to truth that may lead one to 'convert' and accept something one hadn't even anticipated believing in beforehand. The attitude Williams expresses is quite unlike the attitude that was shown, say, by Russell when he took that bicycle ride and came back convinced that the Ontological Argument was sound; or by Plato, who came to think that what we ordinarily take to be reality is, rather, the least real, like shadows on the wall of a cave.

In Williams, one sees a commitment to an intellectual life that cannot give an account of itself. It is, I believe, incapable of explaining to a younger generation why anyone should take seriously what Williams, when he was a young man, was taught to take seriously. Williams I think confesses as much, when he brings in Nietzsche near the end of the essay:

I accept that analytic philosophy owes many of its successes to the principle that small and good is better than broad and bad. I accept that this involves a division of labour. I accept that you want to get on with it. I also admit something else, that it is typically senior philosophers who, like senior scientists, tend to muse in these expansive ways about the nature of their subject. As Nietzsche says in a marvellous passage about the philosopher and age:

It quite often happens that the old man is subject to the delusion of a great moral renewal and rebirth, and from this experience he passes judgments on the work and course of his life, as if he had only now become clear-sighted; and yet the inspiration behind this feeling of well-being and these confident judgements is not wisdom, but weariness.

I don't think Williams succeeds in explaining why Nietzsche's judgment doesn't apply to himself. The essay seems to me, alas, the expression of someone weary of life and weary of philosophy.

17 March 2006

A Defense of History

How would I defend the study of the history of philosophy?

First, I would deny that there is any distinction between doing philosophy, and studying the history of philosophy. The reason is that it is impossible to do philosophy by restricting ourselves to things said in the present. We must therefore try to understand and evaluate what was said by those who came before us. But then it seems arbitrary to draw a line somewhere and say that "going back to this point, these people in the past count as contemporaries, whereas before this, it is a matter of 'history'."

When people draw such a line, they do so, not on the basis of time, but rather because someone in the past does or does not belong to the same 'school' as they. Frege is not 'history', but Herbert Spencer, although a contemporary of Frege, is 'history'--Why? Because those who draw such a distinction are in the same school as Frege, but not Spencer.

Again, much of what is called 'problem-solving analytic philosophy' is getting straight about what is claimed by someone like Quine or Davidson--both dead, both in the past, both surely now part of 'history'. And yet getting straight about Quine differs from getting straight about Aquinas only because one counts oneself in the same 'school' as the one but not the other.

It is inevitable that philosophy be done in a 'school'. A philosopher is either a 'founder', or a follower developing the ideas of a founder, or a combination of the two. Since that is so, then that one belongs to one school rather than another needs a justification. It is extremely unphilosophical to be an analytic philosopher simply because the only courses available at one's university were in analytic philosophy. But one cannot give an educated justification of this sort without being able to justify adherence to one's own school over any other--which is 'history of philosophy'.

Thus, there is no distinction between doing philosophy and doing the history of philosophy. Someone who insists on this distinction, is insisting, really, that one attend to only a part of philosophy--which is imprudent and perhaps implies a poor education.

This mention of being well-educated leads to two further reasons for studying the history of philosophy. The first is that it is a mark of being a well-educated person, that barriers between the present and the past are removed. This used to be seen vividly and directly, when old books were accessible only through dead, 'scholarly' languages. Not to know the old books, then, was a sign of a poor education. The same thing holds today, even if those books are translated. Not to be conversant with those books--not to see them as interlocutors and 'contemporaries' in thought--bespeaks a poor education, a lack of intellectual development and power. It is one thing of course to reject the arguments or ideas of an Aristotle or Scotus after having a competent grasp of them; but it is another thing altogether to reject these without knowing them, or, really, not even being in a position to understand them.

A similar point may be made if one considers intellectual virtue--that is, what qualities and traits of the mind are to be valued. Those who place analytic philosophy above all others, generally do so in part because they value only some intellectual virtues, in particular, clarity and order of ideas. Thus training in mathematics and formal logic is regarded as the best background for philosophy. Yet there are other intellectual virtues, which must be acquired in other ways--through the study of history and languages, and through the development of what used to be called 'humanity'. (It is because analytic philosophy fosters only some intellectual virtues that students are rightly dissatisfied with it.) Without a broad study of the history of philosophy, one cannot in practice acquire the full range of intellectual virtues.

16 March 2006

What Use is History of Philosophy?

Perhaps you noticed J. Schneewind's review yesterday in NDPR of a rather lackluster defense of the value of the study of the history of philosophy, in Analytic Philosophy and History of Philosophy (OUP 2005, edited by Tom Sorrell and J.A.G. Rogers).

Schneewind complains that the contributors, including some very distinguished historians, instrumentalize the study of the history of philosophy. They fail to go beyond asking how the study of the history of philosophy might be helpful to analytic 'problem-solving' types, thus leaving unchallenged a presumption of the superior worth of the latter. And, in conclusion, he suggests a cynical explanation:

We hear much about what analytic philosophers miss if they ignore history, but nothing of damage to historical work from being oriented to problem-solvers' uses of it. No one here asks why, and even whether, historians of philosophy should care about the response of problem-solvers to their work. Is it only because the problem-solvers largely control hiring, promotions, and raises?
I was struck by the absence, apparently, of any contribution to the volume by an historian of medieval or ancient philosophy.

But then the review led me to consider: What is the best defense of the history of philosophy? If one were taking a principled approach, and claiming the high-ground, what should one say?

I have my ideas, which I'll share tomorrow.

Meletai Sophias

I flattered myself that the letter was indeed personally addressed to me--the one inviting me to contribute to Existentia, a new journal hailing from Budapest--until I saw a colleague, not an ancient philosopher, carrying around a copy similarly received in the mail.

I found the statement of "Aims & Scope" of the journay amenable: "Our periodical is focussed on classical European thought, especially on the timeliness and actualization of the imperishable doctrines of ancient Greek authors. This ancient humanism, the essential digest of which is philosophy, permeating the whole of human paidei/a and culture, is what our periodical wishes to display."

Bravo!, I say.

But then, strangely, this impressive statement concludes: "Although not an advocate of any one trend or school in philosophy, it endeavors to keep abreast of developments within phenomenology, hermeneutical philosophy and contemporary continental philosophy; it is also interested in investigations that probe possible points of intersection between the contintental and the Anglo-American traditions. Most articles are devoted to the philosophy of Hoelderlin, Husserl, and Heidegger."

Huh? What did I miss?

What the Affinity Argument Is

This will likely be my last post on the Affinity Argument of the Phaedo, which isn't stirring up a lot of interest, it seems.

I claimed yesterday that the Affinity Argument should not be understood, as usual, as an 'argument from analogy'. What is it then?

Let's say that an argument from analogy is one that notes similarities or resemblances between one thing or another, and then, on the basis of that, concludes that the two will be similar in other respects as well. Such an argument has all of the reliability of an induction based on accidental features ('This swan is white, and so it this, and so is this...')--that is, no reliability. Plato simply couldn't have been interested in an argument of that sort. He wasn't foolish enough to think than any serious form of reasoning could have that form.

What the Affinity Argument does aim to present us with--and in this respect it is characteristically Platonic--is an argument about the nature of things. Plato's claim is that the nature of the soul is such that we should reasonably group it with things the nature of which is not to perish.

He begins by dividing all that exists into two classes, the composite and the non-composite. Since he thinks that anything composite will be variable, he can then conclude from the fact that something is not variable, that it is non-composite. Thus, he works with the two classes: variable and invariable.

He thinks that the things in these different classes have different natures. (It doesn't just happen to be the case that something is in one class rather than another.) He then considers in which of these classes the soul is more reasonably placed, by considerations that have a bearing on the nature of the soul.

He gives three such considerations:

  1. The soul is naturally not 'visible', whereas changeable things are 'visible'.
  2. The soul is the sort of thing that, when it acts on its own and is free from constraints placed on it by the body, or by care of the body, then it tends to 'depart' (oichetai) to the Forms, until it actually 'makes contact' with them.
  3. The soul is naturally ordered to rule over the body.
I don't think it has been noticed by commentators that, in each of these considerations, Plato is appealing to natures.

The appeal to nature in the first consideration is contained in the line 79b6:

a)lla\ mh\n h(mei=j ge ta\ o(rata\ kai\ ta\ mh\ th=| tw=n a)nqrw/pwn fu/sei e)le/gomen: h)\ a)/llh| tini\ oi)/ei;

"But we call things visible and invisible with reference to the nature human beings, do we not?"

Perhaps you've wondered about this before. Why the reference to specifically human vision? Plato's thought is that human sense organs are naturally adapted to perceive mutable, perishable things; whereas the human mind is naturally adapted (it is a 'natural instrument') for sensing unchanging, imperishable things. Each 'sense' has its natural objects. It follows that if something falls under the latter, but not the former, then it belongs in the class of unchanging, imperishable things.

Nature enters into the second consideration in just the way that H. Lorenz explains in his excellent SEP entry: we discern the nature of the soul when it is in circumstances such that it acts according to principles internal to it, and in such circumstances we see that it flees to be with the Forms. (It's as if: suppose whenever we let out an animal, it ran away to dwell in the forest; this would indicate that it was wild, that it did not belong at home.)

Nature enters fairly obviously into the third consideration, as it is Plato's claim (echoed repeatedly in the Republic and the elsewhere) that nature directs the soul to exercise authority over the body: tw=| me\n douleu/ein kai\ a)/rxesqai h( fu/sij prosta/ttei, th=| de\ a)/rxein kai\ despo/zein: kai\ kata\ tau=ta au)= po/tero/n soi dokei= o(/moion tw=| qei/w| ei)=nai kai\ po/teron tw=| qnhtw=|; (80a2).

15 March 2006

An Argument from Analogy?

I shall address in this post and the next another common misunderstanding of the Affinity Argument, that it is an 'argument from analogy'.

If it is, then the criticism then proceeds: analogies are persuasive but not demonstrative; they can even be misleading; and Simmias' criticism shows how easy it is to devise an analogy which seems to support the opposite conclusion, that the soul is perishable.

Some lecture notes posted online by Sally Haslanger illustrate well this approach:


(a) The world consists of two sorts of things: the things which are divine, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, deathless (eternal), [invisible, incomposite] and the things that are not. (Arewe supposed to get these conclusions from recollection argument?)

(b) The soul is more like the former in the following ways (this is seen especially if we consider the soul of the philosopher which has been purified of bodily influences):

(i) it is invisible

(ii) it is closer to unvarying than constantly varying

(iii) it rules the body and so is more divine

(c) So the soul is plausibly one of the incomposite, indissoluble, deathless things.


The analogy is weak: we don't get obvious similarity of the soul in the crucial respects.

In particular, there are things which are invisible and incorporeal (the harmony), and possibly incomposite (material elements?), which aren't among the divine class of things Socrates mentions.

Bostock reaches a similar conclusion: "Fairly obviously," he says, "Plato does not himself think that the conclusion strictly follows from the premises, but knows well enough that analogies can never count as conclusive proofs; from the fact that the soul is like the forms (or like the gods) in one way, it will never follow that it is like them in other ways too. For all that, analogies can quite often be persuasive, especially if they are full and detailed. But the present analogies really are not: on the contrary, there appear to be equally good analogies pointing in the opposite direction, as Plato himself goes on to point out" (120).

Yet what is the evidence that Plato does not think that the conclusion of the Affinity Argument 'strictly' (?) follows from the premises? Or that he acknowledged that there are 'equally good analogies pointing in the opposite direction'? (Doesn't he deny that Simmias' comparison is sound?)

In any case, these criticisms are based on a faulty appreciation of the Affinity Argument, which is not an 'argument from analogy' at all.

What is it, then? I'll explain tomorrow.

14 March 2006

Back from a Brief Respite

Last week was Spring Break at my university. Besides climbing a mountain, I traveled to Ottawa, for a very enjoyable trip, to serve as the external examiner of a dissertation.

I'll resume posting on the Phaedo and Affinity Argument shortly.

A Second Voyage

Here's yet another passage to be filed under, "Strange Thing I Only Just Noticed". It's from the Phaedo, after Socrates has just finished presenting his "three initial arguments", and just before Simmias and Cebes give their objections. Simmias is the speaker; but he begins by signalling Socrates' likely agreement with what he says, and he speaks with so much more authority than he does elsewhere in the dialogue, that one can't help taking this to express Plato's view as well. I give first Gallop's translation, then the Greek:

I think, Socrates, as perhaps you do too, that in these matters certain knowledge is either impossible or very hard to come by in this life; but that even so, not to test what is said about them in every possible way, without leaving off till one has examined them exhaustively from every aspect, shows a very feeble spirit; on these questions one must achieve one of two things: either learn or find out how things are; or, if that's impossible, then adopt the best and least refutable of human doctrines, embarking on it as a kind of raft, and risking the dangers of the voyage through life, unless one could travel more safely and with less risk, on a sooner conveyance afforded by some divine doctrine (85c-d).

e)moi\ ga\r dokei=, w)= Sw/kratej, peri\ tw=n toiou/twn i)/swj w(/sper kai\ soi\ to\ me\n safe\j ei)de/nai e)n tw=| nu=n bi/w| h)\ a)du/naton ei)=nai h)\ pagxa/lepo/n ti, to\ me/ntoi au)= ta\ lego/mena peri\ au)tw=n mh\ ou)xi\ panti\ tro/pw| e)le/gxein kai\ mh\ proafi/stasqai pri\n a)\n pantaxh=| skopw=n a)pei/ph| tij, pa/nu malqakou= ei)=nai a)ndro/j: dei=n ga\r peri\ au)ta\ e(/n ge/ ti tou/twn diapra/casqai, h)\ maqei=n o(/ph| e)/xei h)\ eu(rei=n h)/, ei) tau=ta a)du/naton, to\n gou=n be/ltiston tw=n a)nqrwpi/nwn lo/gwn labo/nta kai\ dusecelegkto/taton, e)pi\ tou/tou o)xou/menon w(/sper e)pi\ sxedi/aj kinduneu/onta diapleu=sai to\n bi/on, ei) mh/ tij du/naito a)sfale/steron kai\ a)kinduno/teron e)pi\ bebaiote/rou o)xh/matoj, [h)\] lo/gou qei/ou tino/j, diaporeuqh=nai. kai\ dh\ kai\ nu=n e)/gwge ou)k e)paisxunqh/somai e)re/sqai, e)peidh\ kai\ su\ tau=ta le/geij, ou)d' e)mauto\n ai)tia/somai e)n u(ste/rw| xro/nw| o(/ti nu=n ou)k ei)=pon a(/ moi dokei=. e)moi\ ga/r, w)= Sw/kratej, e)peidh\ kai\ pro\j e)mauto\n kai\ pro\j to/nde skopw= ta\ ei)rhme/na, ou) pa/nu fai/netai i(kanw=j ei)rh=sqai.

Gallop's translation follows Fowler's (Loeb) in suggesting that there are only two alternatives among things 'one should strive to achieve'. But aren't there four?
  1. learn from another (how it is)
  2. discover for oneself (how it is)
  3. cling to the best and least refutable human account
  4. cling with greater security and safety to a more stable divine account.
1. and 2. are surely different: 'learning from another' is standardly contrasted with 'discovering for oneself' by Plato (e.g in Alc. I), and here Plato keeps them distinct by interposing o(/ph| e)/xei. But then, once we see that these are different, then 4. as well looks like an independent alternative.

And then I was struck by the similarity between 3. and Socrates' talk of a 'second voyage' later in the dialogue. In that later passage, startlingly, he begins by saying that he was unable to learn from another or discover by his own efforts the sort of cause he was looking for:
Now I should most gladly have become anyone's pupil, to learn the truth about a reason of that sort; but since I was deprived of that, proving unable either to find it for myself or to learn it from anyone else (ou)/t' au)to\j eu(rei=n ou)/te par' a)/llou maqei=n), would you like me, Cebes, to give you a display of how I've conducted my second voyage in quest of the reason? (99c)
After this, Socrates gives his 'safe explanation': presumably, then, he thinks of this as "the best and least refutable among human accounts" (corresponding to 3.).

But then, we may wonder, does Socrates give us something even better to cling to--a divine account (corresponding to 4.)? Perhaps he does, in the myth that comes last in the dialogue.

08 March 2006

Scottish News

In my mailbox today, the odd announcement:

Following Gordon Graham's appointment to a new post at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Center for the Study of Scottish Philosophy is relocating to the USA. This process will take some time, but the first stage has now been completed.
Yes, I understand that McCosh was in Princeton, yet still this strikes me as a great shame. And will the Reid Archives will move from Aberdeen to Princeton as well?

Lord Monboddo, esteemed author of Antient Metaphysics, would no doubt shudder. (And you were wondering perhaps what the connection was to ancient philosophy. You see there was one.)

Philosophy on a Mountain

In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, snow has evidently been unusually light this winter. When we came to a steep, exposed section of the winter Lion's Head trail, which should have been covered with snow, we found that it was all ice and rock. I didn't feel comfortable attempting it unprotected, and we had no rope. So we turned back, giving up on the summit, and instead climbed nearby Boott Spur at 5500 ft. (Mt. Washington is 6288 ft.)

This is the Boott Spur ridge.

Practicing 'French technique' on the way up.

Having attained the ridge.

On the summit of Boott Spur: it's gotten a little bit foggy. But not the slightest breeze. It's perfectly calm.

06 March 2006

One Instance

(One more post for today. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I'll be standing on the summit of Mt. Washington and unable to post.)

Sam Rickless has posted a handout on the arguments of the Phaedo, which illustrates well the logical structure one would want to attribute to the Affinity Argument--three distinct considerations, each leading to the same crucial conclusion. And yet the text, it seems, does not allow us to construe it in this way:

Affinity Argument (78b-80d)
  1. Noncomposite things are indissoluble.
  2. Things that always remain the same in the same state are most likely noncomposite.
  3. Forms always remain the same in the same state.
  4. Sensible things never remain the same in the same state.
  5. Forms are invisible.
  6. Sensible things are visible.
  7. Invisible things always remain the same in the same state, and visible things never remain the same in the same state.(3,4,5,6)
  8. The soul is invisible.
  9. The soul is indissoluble.(1,2,7,8)
  10. When the soul investigates things that remain the same in the same state, it too remains the same in the same state.
  11. The soul investigates the Forms.
  12. The soul is indissoluble.(1,2,3,10,11)
  13. The nature of the divine is to rule and lead.
  14. The nature of the soul is to rule and lead (the body)
  15. If X is F and Y is F, then X resembles Y.
  16. The soul resembles the divine. (13,14,15)
  17. The divine is indissoluble.
  18. If X resembles Y and Y is G, then X is G.
  19. The soul is indissoluble.(16,17,18)

The Structure of the Affinity Argument

Here's something that puzzles me about the Affinity Argument: What is its basic logical structure? From the way Socrates begins the argument, one would think that the argument should hinge on whether the soul is composite (syntheton) or non-composite (asyntheton). And yet the argument never returns to this notion, after it is introduced.

Socrates begins the argument (78b-c) by saying:

ou)kou=n toio/nde ti, h)= d' o(\j o( Swkra/thj, dei= h(ma=j a)nere/sqai e(autou/j, tw=| poi/w| tini\ a)/ra prosh/kei tou=to to\ pa/qoj pa/sxein, to\ diaskeda/nnusqai, kai\ u(pe\r tou= poi/ou tino\j dedie/nai mh\ pa/qh| au)to/, kai\ tw=| poi/w| tini\ ou)/>: kai\ meta\ tou=to au)= e)piske/yasqai po/teron [h(] yuxh/ e)stin, kai\ e)k tou/twn qarrei=n h)\ dedie/nai u(pe\r th=j h(mete/raj yuxh=j;

a)lhqh=, e)/fh, le/geij.

a)=r' ou)=n tw=| me\n sunteqe/nti te kai\ sunqe/tw| o)/nti fu/sei prosh/kei tou=to pa/sxein, diaireqh=nai tau/th| h(=|per sunete/qh: ei) de/ ti tugxa/nei o)\n a)su/nqeton, tou/tw| mo/nw| prosh/kei mh\ pa/sxein tau=ta, ei)/per tw| a)/llw|;

dokei= moi, e)/fh, ou(/twj e)/xein, o( Ke/bhj.

Well then, must we not ask ourselves some such question as this? What kind of thing naturally suffers dispersion, and for what kind of thing might we naturally fear it, and again what kind of thing is not liable to it? And after this must we not inquire to which class the soul belongs and base our hopes or fears for our souls upon the answers to these questions?

You are quite right.

Now is not that which is compounded and composite naturally liable to be decomposed, in the same way in which it was compounded? And if anything is uncompounded is not that, if anything, naturally unlikely to be decomposed?

I think that is true.

Given such a beginning, one would think the Affinity Argument should proceed by giving three different considerations (and there seem to be three considerations) for why the soul is not composite, thus:

1. Something perishes just in case it is composite.
2. It is likely that the soul is not composite, for three reasons:
(i) like other non-composite things, the soul is not perceptible through the bodily senses;
(ii) the soul has kinship with (i.e. naturally yearns to be with) non-composite things;
(iii) the soul naturally rules, as do only non-composite things.
3. Thus, it is likely that the soul does not perish.
And yet, as I said, that the soul is non-composite, or is like or akin to non-composite things, is not asserted anywhere in the argument, either in the course of the argument, or as a conclusion. The argument's conclusion is the following, which notably leaves out the very attribute on which the entire discussion was said to hinge:

ta/de h(mi=n sumbai/nei, tw=| me\n qei/w| kai\ a)qana/tw| kai\ nohtw=| kai\ monoeidei= kai\ a)dialu/tw| kai\ a)ei\ w(sau/twj kata\ tau)ta\ e)/xonti e(autw=| o(moio/taton ei)=nai yuxh/,

...this follows, that the soul is most like the divine and immortal and intellectual and uniform and indissoluble and ever unchanging.... (80b)
Sure, one can say that the notion of 'non-composite' is expressed in that of 'indissoluble' (or 'not liable to be dissolved'), however: (i) earlier Socrates had distinguished these two notions, and he proposed that indissolubility was a consequence of lack of composition, not identical to it; and, more importantly, (ii) it would still be the case that the logical structure of the argument is obscure, because, in the course of the argument, lack of composition changes from being that on which the argument hinges, to being one feature among many which a certain class of existences displays.

Addendum on Affinity

One small addition to Lorenz' explanation of the 'kinship' part of the Affinity Argument: Socrates' grounds for claiming a kinship between the soul and the realm of the invisible and eternal, are not located entirely in the Affinity Argument, but they are als0--and perhaps largely--given in an earlier passage, called 'Socrates' Defense' (64a-69e). This is the passage which immediately precedes the Cyclical Argument.

In the Affinity Argument, Socrates refers back to this 'Defense' at 79c2 and d9:

ou)kou=n kai\ to/de pa/lai e)le/gomen, o(/ti h( yuxh/, o(/tan me\n tw=| sw/mati prosxrh=tai ei)j to\ skopei=n ti h)\ dia\ tou= o(ra=n h)\ dia\ tou= a)kou/ein h)\ di' a)/llhj tino\j ai)sqh/sewstou=to ga/r e)stin to\ dia\ tou= sw/matoj, to\ di' ai)sqh/sewj skopei=n ti to/te me\n e(/lketai u(po\ tou= sw/matoj ei)j ta\ ou)de/pote kata\ tau)ta\ e)/xonta, kai\ au)th\ plana=tai kai\ tara/ttetai kai\ ei)liggia=| w(/sper mequ/ousa, a(/te toiou/twn e)faptome/nh;

Now we have also been saying for a long time, have we not, that, when the soul makes use of the body for any inquiry, either through seeing or hearing or any of the other senses--for inquiry through the body means inquiry through the senses,--then it is dragged by the body to things which never remain the same, and it wanders about and is confused and dizzy like a drunken man because it lays hold upon such things?

pote/rw| ou)=n au)= soi dokei= tw=| ei)/dei kai\ e)k tw=n pro/sqen kai\ e)k tw=n nu=n legome/nwn yuxh\ o(moio/teron ei)=nai kai\ suggene/steron;

And now again, in view of what we said before and of what has just been said, to which class do you think the soul has greater likeness and kinship?
Although 'Socrates' Defense' is not usually counted among the passages in the Phaedo that give an 'argument' for immortality, it's there that Socrates gives his fullest account of how the soul behaves when it operates 'alone by itself'.

04 March 2006

The Affinity Argument

It's perhaps best not to state any plans for a blog, even short-term plans, since one can hardly persevere with a blog if it imposes any kind of additional constraint. However, I do have in mind, at least, a series of comments on the Affinity Argument of the Phaedo. (Yet don't charge me with inconstancy if I don't fulfill this intention.) What is its structure? What is the strength of its conclusion? Why is it stated as it is? And there are other puzzles.

I had wished, among other things, to draw attention to what I regard as persistent misreadings of the argument. But at least two such misreadings, I find, are already nicely corrected, in a fine contribution by Hendrik Lorenz to SEP, on "Ancient Theories of Soul". One wouldn't expect to discover, perhaps, a superb exegesis of the Phaedo under such a heading, but there it is.

Lorenz makes two points that I think are exactly correct and are worth quoting. First, he observes that the purpose of the argument is simply to overturn the presumption that the soul is more easily dispersable than the body (perhaps on the ground that the soul is constituted, as in the popular imagination, of mist or spirit):

What [Socrates] does, in fact, conclude is that the soul is most like, and most akin to, intelligible being, and that the body is most like perceptible and perishable being. To say this is plainly neither to assert nor to imply (as Robinson 1995, 30, appears to think) that soul in some way or other falls short of intelligible, imperishable being, any more than it is to assert or imply that body in some way or other falls short of, or rather rises above, perceptible, perishable being. The argument leaves it open whether soul is a perfectly respectable member of intelligible reality, the way human bodies are perfectly respectable members of sensible reality, or whether, alternatively, soul has some intermediate status in between intelligible and perceptible being, rising above the latter, but merely approximating to the former. Socrates does seem to take his conclusion to imply, or at least strongly suggest, that it is natural for the soul either “to be altogether indissoluble, or nearly so”, but, in any case, that the soul is less subject to dissolution and destruction than the body, rather than, as the popular view has it, more so. If this position can be established, Socrates is in a position to refute the popular view that the soul, being composed of ethereal stuff, is more liable to dispersion and destruction than the body.
Second, he observes that the argument wishes to assert not simply the likeness or resemblance of soul to the realm of intelligible and constant reality, but also its kinship, and that this kinship, Socrates thinks, is revealed in how the soul behaves under conditions in which its true nature is likely to be manifested:
The affinity argument is supposed to show not only that the soul is most like intelligible, imperishable being, but also that it is most akin to it. Socrates argues that the soul is like intelligible being on the grounds that it is not visible and, in general, not perceptible (anyhow to humans, as Cebes adds at 79b), and that it shares its natural function with the divine, namely to rule and lead (the body in the one case, mortals in the other). There is a separate argument for the kinship of the soul with intelligible being. When the soul makes use of the senses and attends to perceptibles, “it strays and is confused and dizzy, as if it were drunk” (79c). By contrast, when it remains “itself by itself” and investigates intelligibles, its straying comes to an end, and it achieves stability and wisdom. It is not just that the soul is in one state or another depending on which kind of object it is attending to, in such a way that its state somehow corresponds to the character of the object attended to. That would not by itself show that the soul is more akin to the one domain rather than the other (this is the point of Bostock's criticism, Bostock 1986, 119). To understand the argument properly, it is crucial to note that when the soul attends to perceptibles, it is negatively affected in such a way that its functioning is at least temporarily reduced or impaired (“dizzy, as if drunk”), whereas there is no such interference when it attends to intelligibles (cf. Socrates' fear, at 99e, that by studying things by way of the senses he might blind his soul). The claim that the soul is akin to intelligible reality thus rests, at least in part, on the view that intelligible reality is especially suited to the soul, as providing it with a domain of objects in relation to which, and only in relation to which, it can function without inhibition and interference and fully in accordance with its own nature, so as to achieve its most completely developed and optimal state, wisdom.
Lorenz' entire entry is first-rate--very much worth studying.

02 March 2006

Cool Reason

Suppose someone knows something very well. What he knows is interesting, beautiful, and deep--for instance, a fundamental theorem in mathematics. Knowing this, he thinks about it.

Now suppose that an entire life for him is stitched together from activities such as this. One might say--if one had a certain sort of sensibility--that such a life would be akin to the life of the gods. It would be how a blessedly happy person, a makarios, would live. It's the life to be enjoyed by those who are graced to live on the Isles of the Blessed. And it is the sort of life to which our 'happiness' approximates.

Now, will that life be exceedingly pleasant; painful; or neutral--neither pleasant nor painful?

Plato and Aristotle give different answers on this point, and one wonders whether this difference--and not the issue about Forms or anything else--isn't the most significant difference in their philosophies. (This is a difference that can't but ramify throughout every part of a theory of ethics, of striving and therefore of motion, and of existence.) Aristotle says that such a life would be filled continuously with pleasures, and with pleasures that count as the greatest of all. Plato, at least as regards the Philebus, holds that such a life would be neutral--without pain, to be sure, but also entirely lacking in pleasure. There he recognizes pleasures of learning, but not pleasures inherent in thinking or knowing.

For my part, I began adequately to appreciate this difference when preparing last week a presentation on the Philebus for the NY Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. And then I began to wonder: Does Plato maintain this Philebian view consistently throughout the dialogues?

Here, for instance, is something I found in the Phaedo, 65c1-9. It is a passage in 'Socrates' Defense' at the beginning, where Socrates is advocating a philosophical life as one devoted to those activities that the soul is fitted to engage in 'alone by itself', without, he thinks, any assistance from the body, and not in the service of the body.

a)=r' ou)=n ou)k e)n tw=| logi/zesqai ei)/per pou a)/lloqi kata/dhlon au)th=| gi/gnetai/ ti tw=n o)/ntwn;


logi/zetai de/ ge/ pou to/te ka/llista, o(/tan au)th\n tou/twn mhde\n paraluph=|, mh/te a)koh\ mh/te o)/yij mh/te a)lghdw\n mhde/ tij h(donh/, a)ll' o(/ti ma/lista au)th\ kaq' au(th\n gi/gnhtai e)w=sa xai/rein to\ sw=ma, kai\ kaq' o(/son du/natai mh\ koinwnou=sa au)tw=| mhd' a(ptome/nh o)re/ghtai tou= o)/ntoj.

“In thought, then, if at all, something of the realities becomes clear to it?”


“But it thinks best when none of these things troubles it, neither hearing nor sight, nor pain nor any pleasure, but it is, so far as possible, alone by itself, and takes leave of the body, and avoiding, so far as it can, all association or contact with the body, reaches out toward the reality.”

That the soul's activity is free from pleasure might seem strange. Rowe's gloss is clearly unsatisfactory:
...the inclusion of pain in the list is perhaps partly suggested by the verb paralupein (a)lghdw/n =lu/ph), and pleasure is naturally paired with it; mhde///, however, makes us pause on this last item--as well we might, since h(donh/ seems to be the last thing which should (para)lupei=n us. But S. says 'some sort of (tij) pleasure'; the reference is to any of the 'so-called pleasures' of 64d3, and his description of these would certainly be consistent with the claim that they 'annoy [the philosopher's soul] by a diversion' (LSJ's rendering of ).
Rowe at first explains the inclusion of pleasure as the result of what psychologists call 'clang association', a line of superficial connections, based on the sound of a word. (But Plato couldn't be a great writer and throw things onto a list in that way.) Then he points out--not consistently with this first explanation--that Plato takes care to flag pleasure especially, with mhde////. And then his final remark seems incorrect, because tij won't have a restrictive sense if it falls under the scope of a negation. (Fowler and Gallop rightly have 'any pleasure'.)

It would seem better to say that Plato, as he writes this, accepts the Philebian doctrine, and he intends to indicate that neither pain (as expected) nor pleasure (as probably not expected) will be part of, or contribute to, the activity of the soul 'alone by itself'.

01 March 2006

Pleiades Viewed

I marvel at the Pleiades, when on clear evenings I look at the constellation in the night sky.

In today's Journal I read about another Pleiades, a project of the Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina, which aims to put online, in an open-content manner, the resources and underlying research of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World.

From the Pleiades web page:

Combining open-content approaches (like those used by Wikipedia) with academic-style editorial review, Pleiades will enable anyone — from university professors to casual students of antiquity — to suggest updates to geographic names, descriptive essays, bibliographic references and geographic coordinates. Once vetted for accuracy and pertinence, these suggestions will become a permanent, author-attributed part of future AWMC publications and data services.
The Journal reports that Pleiades is off and running with a $390,000 NEH grant, awarded in January.

Pure Schema

I'm delighted to annouce that the web site for the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy (BACAP) is now active, thanks to some talented persons in the IT office at Clark.

It is at this point simply a structure; I'll be filling it in with content over the next weeks and months.

But here are some of the things it allows us to do:

  • list events in BACAP
  • list events in ancient philosophy generally, here or around the world
  • host discussions of BACAP lectures and seminars
  • post syllabi, handouts, and other teaching materials for ancient philosophy
  • make past issues of the Proceedings available for purchase and perhaps perusal
  • post 'working papers' in ancient philosophy (as other disciplines regularly do)