08 February 2008

Forms as Properties

Here's a passage from a discussion of the theory of Forms. The author is maintaining that, although Plato in earlier parts of the Phaedo seemed to have held that a Form is an individual which is a perfect exemplar of that of which it is the Form, the final argument of that dialogue contains claims which are at odds with such a view:

In the later passage [in the Phaedo], Socrates describes how he can no longer accept, as explanations of what makes things beautiful, references to their having a bright color or a certain shape (100c9-d2), saying that he prefers instead the safe explanation that "if anything else is beautiful besides the beautiful itself (auto to kalon), it is beautiful for no other reason than that it participates (metechei) in that beautiful" (100c4-6; cf. 100d3-e3). The point of rejecting bright color or a certain shape as what makes things beautiful is that, while these properties may well be sufficient to make some things beautiful sometimes, neither is in fact necessary, whereas the form of beauty is supposed to be that property instantiation of which is both a necessary and sufficient condition of a thing's being beautiful. Already in the Phaedo, then, Plato suggests a conception of forms as properties, and of participation as property instantiation, that is much less problematic than the conception of forms as individual and perfect instances of a property that drives some of the Parmenides' criticisms
One might cavil at some of the language: for example, surely the view earlier in the dialogue is that Forms are paradigms rather than perfect instances.

But for me the passage raises questions, which I'll raise also for your consideration and comment:

Do we know what it means to say that a Form is a 'property' or that participation is 'property instantiation'? Is this something evident or straightforward? (If we suppose that these terms are uncontroversial, aren't we settling in advance the 'problem of universals'? And wouldn't one with some justification presume that Plato, at least, was a platonist about such things?)

If we know what this language means, must the cited passage be understood as putting forward that sort of view (or is it naturally or best so understood)? What is the argument in the passage that it should? (To me the phrase 'whereas the form of beauty is supposed to be that property instantiation of which ... ' looks like it is assuming what is meant to be shown.)

That those sentences in the Phaedo are puzzling and difficult to interpret, I freely admit. That they plainly put forward a view at odds with the view that Forms are individual and perfect exemplars, this I don't see (-- yet--maybe you do see).

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually there's an interesting and sensible discussion of forms as paradigms or exemplars in Dancy's new(ish) book--which I don't have to hand, otherwise I'd give a more specific reference.

Sam Rickless said...

I couldn't agree more. As I point out in my reply to Palmer, it is tendentious to suppose that in rejecting bright color/shape as the form of beauty Plato is presupposing that this form is a property. Plato also argues that the form of equality should not be identified with an equal stick, and (in the Greater Hippias), that the form of beauty should not be identified with a beautiful girl. The reason he gives in both cases is that, whereas equal sticks are also (in some way) unequal, the form of equality is not (in any way) unequal, and whereas a beautiful girl is also (in some way) ugly, the form of beauty is not (in any way) ugly. The same, I dare say, is true in the case of bright color/shape, which is (in some way) ugly. For example, just as a beautiful girl is ugly when compared to the gods, a beautiful color (say, deep purple) is gaudy (i.e., ugly) when splashed on the walls of my kitchen. There is therefore good reason to suppose that Plato's rejection of bright color/shape as the form of beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the presupposition that forms are properties, and everything to do with the claim that, whereas sensible F things are also (in some way) con-F, the form of F-ness itself is not (in any way) con-F.

Eric Brown said...

Three cheers for a substantive post about Plato.

I agree that _Phaedo_ 100c4-6 (even with 100d3-e3) does not establish that Forms are properties as opposed to exemplars. I also agree that the quoted scholar could state a couple of those claims more precisely.

But here's my shot at a partial rehabilitation of the scholar's appeal to _Phaedo_ 100cd. In the paragraph from which Michael quotes, the author seems to be drawing on two points to favor the view that the Form of F is (identical to) the property F-ness (and hence is unqualifiedly F) without bearing the property F-ness in any way, against the view that the Form of F is a non-spatio-temporal particular that is F by bearing the property F-ness unqualifiedly (as opposed to spatio-temporal particulars and perhaps spatio-temporal properties that bear the property F-ness qualifiedly).

The first point is that at _Phaedo_ 100cd, Socrates' contrasts saying that something is beautiful by some sensible property and saying that it is beautiful by the Beautiful itself. The scholar seems to think that this suggests that the Beautiful itself is a property, too. With Michael and Sam, I don't think that this point has much force. I'm not sure it's worthless, but I wouldn't hang much on it.

The second point, which follows what Michael has quoted in the scholar's paragraph, is that _Phaedo_ 100c4-6 "already suggests that there is a fundamental difference between the way the form of beauty is beautiful and the way other things are beautiful." This, I think, can stand, as long as we recognize that suggestions are just suggestions (to be accommodated as best we can alongside all the other suggestions and straightforward declarations in the text). That things "other than the beautiful itself are beautiful... by participation in that beautiful [my emphasis]" does conversationally imply that they are beautiful in a way that differs from how the beautiful itself is beautiful. And this, so far as it goes, supports the scholar's claim that _Phaedo_ 100c4-6 conceives of the Form as something other than a paradigm (as the view that Forms are paradigms understands a paradigm), for the Form of F as a paradigm would be F in the way that other F things are, namely by bearing the property F-ness.

(The parenthetical point in that last sentence is important. There is a broader understanding of paradigmatism according to which the property of Beauty itself could be a paradigm for determining whether and in what respects some sensible particular is beautiful. The passages in which Socrates suggests that Forms must be paradigms have to be assessed to see whether and if so to what extent they suggest the (strong view) that Forms are paradigms as opposed to the broader, weaker notion of paradigmatism.)

I doubt that shows that the sentences at _Phaedo_ 100cd "plainly put forward view at odds with the view that Forms are individual and perfect exemplars," but it might help to see how _Phaedo_ 100cd could lead one in the direction of an anti-paradigmatist reading.

A two-part methodological appendix. First, I think that this debate cannot be settled by one or two texts. I'm not surprised that the quoted scholar tries to move quickly from one text to a conclusion--that's the way we often end up arguing when space and time are tight--but I don't see any proof texts for either side in this debate. That's one reason why books such as Rickless' are so important, because they take the time and space to cover all the ground that needs covering. Quick responses have to make do with less.

I also think that the presumption that Plato was a platonist should have absolutely no weight in this debate. It is contested what platonism is, and the contestants have emerged after lots of contributions from many contributors other than Plato. I don't think that Marx is a Marxist on many common construals of Marxism, or that Hume is a Humean on some common construals of Humeanism, etc. I would say that one should presume that there is *some* relation between Plato and platonism, but I see no reason to suppose that the relation is subscription.

Sam Rickless said...

Dear Eric,

I'm glad you agree with the first point.

As to the second point, you say this:

"That things "other than the beautiful itself are beautiful... by participation in that beautiful [my emphasis]" does conversationally imply that they are beautiful in a way that differs from how the beautiful itself is beautiful."

I disagree. What the sentence SAYS is that things other than the beautiful are beautiful by participation in the beautiful. What the sentence IMPLICATES is that it is not the case that the beautiful is beautiful by participation in the beautiful. From neither of these claims does it follow that the way in which the beautiful is beautiful differs from the way in which things other than the beautiful are beautiful. The first proposition is the claim that the beautiful is what makes things other than the beautiful beautiful. The second proposition is that it is not the case that the beautiful is what makes the beautiful beautiful. That's it. To extract from the sentence's content or implicatum the claim that the way in which the beautiful is beautiful differs from the way in which things other than the beautiful are beautiful is to read something into the sentence that simply isn't there. So this sentence cannot be used to support the claim that Plato conceives of the beautiful as something other than a paradigm (in the strong sense).

cheers,

Sam

Michael Pakaluk said...

As regards the first point, pace Eric, my view is that it is worthless, for three reasons:

1. We must look at the context of 100c. The Beautiful Itself referred to there is said a few lines earlier to be the same as those Forms that were earlier discussed (100b3-4). Those Forms discussed earlier were not properties, ergo.

2. Indeed, that Forms are separately existing individuals seems a general presupposition of a dialogue in which the soul's separate existence and immortality is said to stand and fall together with the existence of the Forms.

3. Socrates would have used different language had he meant to make the point that a Form is a property. He would have said that the beautiful object is made beautiful by its beauty (sc. as opposed to its shape or color, etc.).

As regards the second point, the images Plato uses for participation are 'sharing' (koinwnia, metechei), or presence (parousia), terms that are calculated to suggest similarity, and sameness of manner, not difference. Yes, the beauty in the particular is a borrowed beauty, that of the Form not, but this observation pertains to the source of the beauty (what makes it so), not the beauty (so made).

Later in the final argument Plato seems to be proposing an analogy:

fire: heated object:: Form: participated particular

Yet the fire (btw, an individual) and the heated object are hot in the same way, although the individual needs to be made hot, the fire not.

But to return to the question of onus probandi in conclusion: the lines quoted from the Phaedo either count against, or fail in any way to count for, the view that a "form is a property" (i.e. supposing we know what that means).

Eric Brown said...

Thanks for the replies.

On the first point. Michael might be right about what texts outside of _Phaedo_ 100cd say. But I am not sure that he is right to say that the other texts make _Phaedo_ 100cd's value as a suggestion that the Form of F is a property worthless. I don't think that the other texts change what _Phaedo_ 100cd means. I guess I would have said, on the assumption that Michael is right about the other texts, that the (weak) suggestion in _Phaedo_ 100cd that the Form of F is a property just as colors and shapes are properties is swamped by other evidence.

On the second point. Sam and Michael separate strictly the source of the F-ness of a thing and the way a thing is F. They are at pains to insist that nothing about the latter follows from the anything about the former. I agree that the distinction can be drawn and that nothing about the latter follows from the former. But why does this establish that a text saying that there is a difference in the source of two things' F-ness is not conversationally implying that there is a difference in the way in which the two things are F? Doesn't conversational implicature take into account other shared presuppositions in the given conversation? I guess I would have thought that Socrates and his mates in the Phaedo think that the way something is F depends upon the way it has been caused to be F, and so if X and Y are caused to be F in a different way, then they are F in a different way. To justify that, I'd have to appeal to texts outside of Phaedo 100cd, of course. But I think that one has to do that to assess the conversational implicature of 100cd.

I'd also have to think more about the case that Michael produces, as it looks as though fire and a heated thing are both hot by bearing the property hot though the causal origins of their hotness are different. Perhaps this suggests that Socrates and his mates do not accept the principle I gave them. Or perhaps it means that that two things can be F in different ways and both bear the property F-ness. In the latter case, I'm back to the drawing board to determine whether Phaedo 100cd conversationally implicates that the Form of F is F without bearing the property of F-ness. Let me think on that (and get back to what I should be doing right now).

Also, let me note that Michael's appeal to fire does raise a methodological query I occasionally wonder about. Can the conversation implication of what is said (in a dialogue) at page 100 depend upon what is presuppositions that are not evident until page 102? There is a temptation to read page 100 in light of everything said in the dialogue, to make it a seamless, coherent whole. That's what we expect of philosophical works. But this is a dialogue, and we might want to make sense of what Socrates is saying to Simmias and Cebes as Simmias and Cebes could have understood it. And how can Simmias and Cebes be expected to understand Socrates on page 100 in light of what Socrates will say on page 102?

Sam Rickless said...

Dear Eric,

You say:

"I guess I would have thought that Socrates and his mates in the Phaedo think that the way something is F depends upon the way it has been caused to be F, and so if X and Y are caused to be F in a different way, then they are F in a different way. To justify that, I'd have to appeal to texts outside of Phaedo 100cd, of course. But I think that one has to do that to assess the conversational implicature of 100cd."

Let's go back a bit. First, you say that the sentence at 100cd conversationally implicates that the way in which the beautiful is beautiful differs from the way in which things other than the beautiful are beautiful. Already, you are conceding that this is not what the sentence SAYS. When it is pointed out that, strictly understood, the sentence conversationally implicates no more than that the source of beauty's beauty differs from the source of the beauty that belongs to things other than beauty, you say that other passages in the Phaedo indicate that Socrates and his mates presuppose that if the source of X's beauty differs from the source of Y's beauty, then the way in which X is beautiful differs from the way in which Y is beautiful. But you don't provide the relevant passages. So the burden of proof, as I think you would accept, now rests squarely on your shoulders. And, it seems to me, a similar burden rests on Palmer's shoulders.

Given where the burden of proof lies (and given that it is not obvious that it will be discharged successfully), it takes a lot of chutzpah for Palmer to trash my reconstruction of the middle period theory of forms (by accusing me of "dumbing" it "down") on the basis of what, on reflection, turns out to be a promissory note.

cheers,

Sam

Eric Brown said...

I'm close to agreeing with everything that Sam just said.

But I don't agree that "strictly understood, the sentence conversationally implicates no more than that the source of beauty's beauty differs from the source of the beauty that belongs to things other than beauty," because what a sentence conversationally implicates depends upon what conversation it is in. If I were to fulfill my promissory note, and yes, I agree that it is a promissory note, this sentence would conversationally implicate that the Beautiful and other beautiful things are beautiful in different ways.

As to whether Palmer is justified in reporting a negative conclusion on the basis of what would have to be, at best, a promissory note, I have mixed feelings. I suppose both that it would be nice had his argument been more thorough and that it is unreasonable to expect a brief review to provide an argument anywhere near as thorough as the book under review. I don't think that it follows from this that all reviews should prescind from stating negative conclusions that they cannot fully support in the space of a review.

It might follow, however, that polemical words should be avoided. (I worry about the generalization, though. Could a 500-word essay justify calling Waterworld a terrible movie? Does that mean that a movie critic should not call a terrible movie a terrible movie?)

At any rate, there are, I think, two separate issues in Palmer's claim that Rickless "flat-footedly" "dumbs down" Plato. The way I read this, he was choosing fighting words for "simplifes," not in the first instance because he thought that Plato's Theory of Forms as Rickless understands it is simple-minded but because it is at best one possible reconstructions on the basis of dialogues that (on Palmer's view) discourage just one reconstruction and instead suggest a wide variety of possibilities. (That's what I take Palmer to be getting it by pointing to different passages that apparently say different things and by reading the "theory" as hypothetical-in-the-sense-of-highly-tentative.) That's the first point.

The second is this: Palmer apparently thinks that some of the details in the Theory of Forms as Rickless understands it are less sophisticated than they might have been. This second point is what we've been talking about in this particular thread.

I lay this out to say the following: Even if Palmer's argument on the second score is too quick to sustain the full negative weight of the polemical conclusion he states, I think it would be unfair to ignore that his choice of polemical words is influenced also by the first point. I understand, based on what you've said in private communication, Sam, that Palmer's case for the first point is in question, too. So I am not here defending Palmer's choice of words. I have to read your book and come to my own judgment.

In fact, more generally, it has not been my intention to defend Palmer's review, per se. I just thought that the review did not warrant the personal attacks that Michael originally leveled against Palmer. Even if one thinks that Palmer's review amounts to an unjustified personal attack on Rickless, one should not respond in kind. My mama taught me that, and I'm glad that you also learned that lesson, Sam. I thought that Michael temporarily forgot it. I've learned some things from the ensuing discussion, and my appetite for Rickless' book has been whetted further. But I've not been persuaded that Palmer's was a "non-review" or a "philosophical mugging" or that he ignored the thrust of Rickless' book to take the easy route. He has in fact substantive criticisms, and some of them might, in the end, be defensible (depending upon those promissory notes, e.g.). Even if, in the end, we decide that every one of Palmer's criticisms is wrong, and even if we agree that all of them should have been given further development in the review itself, it does not follow that what he wrote was a "non-review" or a "philosophical mugging."

But that's enough of that for me. Thanks for the discussion of a substantive matter about Plato. I look forward to more, later.

Michael Pakaluk said...

In response to what seemed readers' reasonable preferences, I wished to move the discussion away from the question of the fairness of Palmer's review. But it is necessary for me to reply to Eric's last comment.

It was never my idea that "Palmer's review amounts to an unjustified personal attack on Rickless." Who knows if Palmer wants to attack Rickless(I rather doubt it) or why? That's never been my concern.

It was rather that the review offers a "harshly negative" (add "dismissive") judgment on a book while failing to review the substance of the book. And this was at first raised as a question--because I wouldn't make such a charge without substantiating it. (See my original post.)

My concern has since been amply borne out. And with further examination (is this necessary?) I believe it would be borne out even more so.

As for the phrases "non-review" and "philosophical mugging": the first is accurate and not polemical; the second is a metaphor for "injustice" and perfectly allowable in a blog post which aims to provoke.