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Workshop on Plato’s Theory of Forms

A close reading and discussion of a new manuscript by Vasilis Politis.

Held Friday 14 Sunday 16 February 2020.

#1 Plato's Theory of Forms as a theory of Essence [Vasilis Politis]

  • Forms simply are essences, not things that have essences. [pace Vlastos around 50ties]
  • But the whole theory of selfpredication presupposes that Forms only have essences.
  • Aristotle in Metaphysics Zeta.6: Plato thinks that what the thing is is identical to its essence:
Again, that to which the essence of good does not belong is not good.The good, then, must be one with the essence of good, and the beautiful with the essence of beauty, and so with all things which do not depend on something else but are selfsubsistent and primary. For it is enough if they are this, even if they are not Forms; or rather, perhaps, even if they are Forms. (At the same time it is clear that if there are Ideas such as some people say there are, it will not be substratum that is substance; for these must be substances, but not predicable of a substratum; for if they were they would exist only by being participated in.)

Each thing itself, then, and its essence are one and the same.

#2 Why cannot the ti esti question be answered by example and exemplar? [Margaret Hampson]

  • Based on Hippias Major 286+, Vasilis draws 4 propositions from the text:
    1. Definition by example and exemplar:
      • It is possible to give an account of what a quality, F, is by appeal to a particular thing that is F, if this thing is chosen for its suitability as an example and exemplar of a thing that is F and, therefore, as a standard for a thing’s being F.
    2. The onestandardformanycases requirement of definition:
      • A particular thing that is F, in so far as it is used as a standard for a thing’s being F, is suitable for determining of a plurality of things whether or not they are F.
    3. The rejection of the onestandardforallcases requirement of definition:
      • It is not the case that there is some one thing that is F and is suitable for determining of all things whether or not they are F.
    4. The possibility of any horizontal comparisons in F:
      • It is possible to make comparisons in F between the examples and exemplars of F themselves, however different they may be.
  • According to P3, it is not the case that there is some one thing that is F and is suitable for determining of all things whether or not they are F. But P4, in conjunction with P1, requires that there be such a thing.
    • Is it possible that for Hippias, P1 and P3 were compatible because he believed in plurality of what Beauty is? In other words, does he take the quality beauty to be, in a sense, plural?
  • How to interpret the „ονκ άξιον“ [does not deserve / is not worthy] to be called beauty in 288?
    • Did we discover that things suddenly become both F and notF, or that they can be more or less F?
  • Some people have doubted the authenticity of the Hippias Major dialogue, based on a claim that it does not offer any significant contribution to Plato's philosophy.
    • But if Vasilis' reading is correct, Hippias Major does contain an important contribution to Plato's project. Therefore, Vasilis doesn't need to defend himself against the claim of possible (in)authenticity of the dialogue, because he has just refuted the foundation on which that claim was built in the first place.

#3 Why cannot essences, or forms, be perceived by the senses? [Peter Larsen]

  • Passages where Plato claims that Forms cannot be perceived by the senses:
    1. Phaedo 65de
    2. Phaedo 78c79a
    3. Timaeus51e52a
  • Standard answer:
    • „Plato’s Forms are changeless, nonphysical things, and only physical things, things in space and time and subject to physical change, can be perceived by the senses.“
  • Vasilis' answer:
    • It's the other way around. The standard answer „ignores, or else gets the wrong way round, the relation between Plato’s claim, […] that the Forms of certain qualities cannot be perceived by the senses, and his claim, […] that what certain qualities are cannot be specified by example and exemplar.“
      • In other words, „It is possible to perceive by the senses what a certain quality F is if, and only if, it is possible to specify what this quality F is by example and exemplar.“
      • Therefore, in turn, „It is not possible to perceive by the senses what a certain quality F is if, and only if, it is not possible to specify what this quality F is by example and exemplar.“
    • Moreover, in cases like „equal“, „like“, „human“, „bed“, adequately specifying what these things are requires one to specify things that are not perceptible by the senses – e.g. unity.
  • Comparison between individual things bearing the same character (like being beautiful) couldn't be done if the essence of Beautiful would be perceived by the senses, because when we perceive by different senses, we would need another, universal standard to compare those.
    • Would we be able to do this comparison under the condition that only one particular sense is involved?
      • She (Kara) says „probably no“, because Forms are intertwined.
    • It is interesting that we even use the same word (like Beautiful) to describe perceptions of different senses at all!
  • Different „kinds“ or „levels“ of Forms?
    • The point is that there is „assymetric priority of definition“ between different Forms. (Parmenides 130)
    • But there are also different kinds of Forms, with different roles (Sophist 253), and it is questionable whther those are also of different levels.
  • Vasilis' notes:
    • What are the requirements that Plato imposes for there not to be a Form of some certain thing or quality?
    • On what grounds do Plato extend or limit the scope of Forms?

#4 Why are essences, or forms, unitary, uniform and non-composite? Why are they changeless? Eternal? Are they logically independent of each other? [Pauline Sabrier]

  • Communion of Forms:
    • Republic 476a: ἀλλήλων κοινωνίᾳ
      • Greek original: „καὶ περὶ δὴ δικαίου καὶ ἀδίκου καὶ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ κακοῦ καὶ πάντων τῶν εἰδῶν πέρι ὁ αὐτὸς λόγος, αὐτὸ μὲν ἓν ἕκαστον εἶναι, τῇ δὲ τῶν πράξεων καὶ σωμάτων καὶ ἀλλήλων κοινωνίᾳ πανταχοῦ φανταζόμενα πολλὰ φαίνεσθαι ἕκαστον.“
      • Grube's unrevised version (according to Gould 1995): „The same is true of the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, and all the Forms: each is itself one, but because they appear everywhere with actions, and bodies, and each other, each appears to be many.“
      • Grube 1974: “The same is true of the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, and all the Forms14 each is itself one, but because they appear everywhere in association with actions, and bodies, and each other, each appears to be many.”
        • note 14: TODO
      • Reeve's revision 1992 : „And the same account is true of the just and the unjust, the good and the bad, and all the forms.27 Each of them is itself one, but because they manifest themselves everywhere in association with actions, bodies, and one another, each of them appears to be many.“
        • note 27: See 596a ff.
      • Reeve's revision in Complete Works 1997 only omits the note.
      • Waterfield 1994: „And the same principle applies to moral and immoral, good and bad, and everything of any type: in itself, each of them is single, but each of them has a plurality of manifestations because they appear all over the place, as they become associated with actions and bodies and one another.“
    • Republic 500c:
      • Original Greek: „οὐδὲ γάρ που, ὦ Ἀδείμαντε, σχολὴ τῷ γε ὡς ἀληθῶς πρὸς τοῖς οὖσι τὴν διάνοιαν ἔχοντι κάτω βλέπειν εἰς ἀνθρώπων [500ξ] πραγματείας, καὶ μαχόμενον αὐτοῖς φθόνου τε καὶ δυσμενείας ἐμπίμπλασθαι, ἀλλ᾽ εἰς τεταγμένα ἄττα καὶ κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἀεὶ ἔχοντα ὁρῶντας καὶ θεωμένους οὔτ᾽ ἀδικοῦντα οὔτ᾽ ἀδικούμενα ὑπ᾽ ἀλλήλων, κόσμῳ δὲ πάντα καὶ κατὰ λόγον ἔχοντα, ταῦτα μιμεῖσθαί τε καὶ ὅτι μάλιστα ἀφομοιοῦσθαι. ἢ οἴει τινὰ μηχανὴν εἶναι, ὅτῳ τις ὁμιλεῖ ἀγάμενος, μὴ μιμεῖσθαι ἐκεῖνο;“
      • Reeve's revision in Complete Works 1997: „No one whose thoughts are truly directed towards the things that are, Adeimantus, has the leisure to look down at human affairs or to be filled with envy and hatred by competing with people. Instead, as he looks at and studies things that are organized and always the same, that neither do injustice to one another nor suffer it, being all in a rational order, he imitates them and tries to become as like them as he can. Or do you think that someone can consort with things he admires without imitating them?“
    • Republic 531cd: ἀλλήλων κοινωνίαν
      • Original Greek: „οἶμαι δέ γε, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, καὶ ἡ τούτων πάντων ὧν διεληλύθαμεν [531δ] μέθοδος ἐὰν μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀλλήλων κοινωνίαν ἀφίκηται καὶ συγγένειαν, καὶ συλλογισθῇ ταῦτα ᾗ ἐστὶν ἀλλήλοις οἰκεῖα, φέρειν τι αὐτῶν εἰς ἃ βουλόμεθα τὴν πραγματείαν καὶ οὐκ ἀνόνητα πονεῖσθαι, εἰ δὲ μή, ἀνόνητα.“
      • Reeve's revision in Complete Works 1997: „Moreover, I take it that, if inquiry into all the subjects we’ve mentioned brings out their association and relationship with one another and draws conclusions about their kinship, it does contribute something to our goal and isn’t labor in vain, but that otherwise it is in vain.“
    • Phaedo ???
    • Sophist 254c: κοινωνίας ἀλλήλων
      • Original Greek: „ὅτ᾽ οὖν δὴ τὰ μὲν ἡμῖν τῶν γενῶν ὡμολόγηται κοινωνεῖν ἐθέλειν ἀλλήλοις, τὰ δὲ μή, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἐπ᾽ ὀλίγον, τὰ δ᾽ ἐπὶ πολλά, τὰ δὲ καὶ διὰ πάντων οὐδὲν κωλύειν τοῖς [254ξ] πᾶσι κεκοινωνηκέναι, τὸ δὴ μετὰ τοῦτο συνεπισπώμεθα τῷ λόγῳ τῇδε σκοποῦντες, μὴ περὶ πάντων τῶν εἰδῶν, ἵνα μὴ ταραττώμεθα ἐν πολλοῖς, ἀλλὰ προελόμενοι τῶν μεγίστων λεγομένων ἄττα, πρῶτον μὲν ποῖα ἕκαστά ἐστιν, ἔπειτα κοινωνίας ἀλλήλων πῶς ἔχει δυνάμεως.“
      • Reeve's revision in Complete Works 1997: „We’ve agreed on this: some kinds will associate with each other and some won’t, some will to a small extent and others will associate a great deal, nothing prevents still others from being allpervading—from being associated with every one of them. So next let’s pursue our account together this way. Let’s not talk about every form. That way we won’t be thrown off by dealing with too many of them. Instead let’s choose some of the most important ones. First we’ll ask what they’re like, and next we’ll ask about their ability to associate with each other.“
    • Sophist 257a:
      • Original Greek: „καὶ τὸ ὂν ἄρ᾽ ἡμῖν, ὅσαπέρ ἐστι τὰ ἄλλα, κατὰ τοσαῦτα οὐκ ἔστιν: ἐκεῖνα γὰρ οὐκ ὂν ἓν μὲν αὐτό ἐστιν, ἀπέραντα δὲ τὸν ἀριθμὸν τἆλλα οὐκ ἔστιν αὖ. […] οὐκοῦν δὴ καὶ ταῦτα οὐ δυσχεραντέον, ἐπείπερ ἔχει κοινωνίαν ἀλλήλοις ἡ τῶν γενῶν φύσις. εἰ δέ τις ταῦτα μὴ συγχωρεῖ, πείσας ἡμῶν τοὺς ἔμπροσθεν λόγους οὕτω πειθέτω τὰ μετὰ ταῦτα.“
      • Reeve's revision in Complete Works 1997: „So even that which is is not, in as many applications as there are of the others, since, not being them, it is one thing, namely itself, and on the other hand it is not those others, which are an indefinite number. […] So then we shouldn’t even be annoyed about this conclusion, precisely because it’s the nature of kinds to allow association with each other.“
    • Against communion of Forms:
      • Symposium ???
    • Secondary sources:
      • Moravcsik 197_ (???)
        • Probably: Moravcsik, J. M. E. (1973), ‘The anatomy of Plato’s divisions’ in E. N. Lee, A. P. D. Mourelatos and R. Rorty (eds), Exegesis and Argument, Assen: Van Gorcum, 324–7.
        • But see also:
      • Siedler (???)
      • Ryle
      • Gill

#5 The relation between knowledge and enquiry in the Phaedo [Philipp Steinkruger]

  • N/A

#6 Why are essences, or forms, distinct from sense-perceptible things? [Kristian Larsen]

  • N/A

#7 Why are essences, or forms, separate from physical things? [Tianqin Ge]

  • The primary notion (issue) of separation is not whether they can exist separately without being instantiated.

#8 The role of the essence of Oneness in judgements about sense-perceptible things [David Meissner]


#9 Why does thinking of things require essences, or forms? [Daniel Hoyer]

  • The purpose of Sophist (?) is to allow Forms to have two different things:
    • Their own quality that they simply have as their essence (F for the Form of F)
    • Other qualities that they have in virtue of their participation on other Forms

#10 Why are essences, or forms, the basis of all causation and explanation? [Giulio di Basilio]

(Chapter 6 of the Manuscript)

  • Contra selfpredication:
    • „Some opposite argument would confront you if you said that someone is bigger or smaller by a head, first, because the bigger is bigger and the smaller smaller by the same, then because the bigger is bigger by a head which is small, and this would be strange, namely, that someone is made bigger by something small. Would you not be afraid of this?“ (Phaedo 101ab)
  • Vasilis: this only explains that it would be absurd to explain why something is large by appeal to something small
    • But the previous passage says that „everything that is bigger is made bigger by nothing else than by Bigness, and that is the cause of its being bigger, and the smaller is made smaller only by Smallness, and this is why it is smaller“
    • This seems to imply that if
      1. it is silly to explain bigness of a thing by something small, and
      2. bigness is always caused by Bigness, then
      3. at least it does not sound weird to claim that bigness should be caused by something big, therefore Bigness should be big
  • Schemata of explanation (Phaedo 102b3–105c7):
    • Simple schema (100b1102b3; 105b5c6):
      • O is accidentally F
      • because:
        1. O is appropriately related (by relation R) to the essence of F, Ess(F).
    • Complex schema (103c10105c7):
      • O is, accidentally, F
      • because
        1. O is appropriately related (by relation R1) to S
        2. and:
          1. S is distinct from the essence of F, Ess(F), and
          2. S is essentially F, and
          3. S is essentially F because it is appropriately related (by relation R2) to the essence of F, Ess(F).
  • Minimal forms of schemata:
    • Simple schema: O is F because OREss(F)
    • Complex schema: O is F because [(OR1S) and (SR2Ess(F))]

#11 What yokes together Mind and World? [Daniel Vazquez]

(Chapter 10 of the Manuscript)

  • Phaedo 99d100a claims:
    1. We ought to investigate things, not directly through the senses, but through logoi, ‘statements’.
    2. To investigate things through logoi is not to investigate them indirectly, that is, to investigate them only in and through our representations and theories of them; any more than to investigate a thing by looking at it is to investigate it only in and through an image of it.
  • How is it possible to combine these claims?
    • Vasilis: In Plato, there's no opposition „between investigating the things themselves and investigating things in and through our questions and answers about them“.
  • Why is that? The explanation is in Sun analogy:
    • Republic 508e14: „What gives truth to the things known and the power (dunamis) to know to the knower is the idea of the good. And though it is the cause (aitia) of knowledge and truth…“
    • Republic 509b68: What the Good provides for the things is not only their being capable of being known, but their very being and essence (to einai te kai tēn ousian)
    • In other words, the Form of Good makes all things knowable, and therefore assures a correspondency between reality and our true logoi.
    • In Vasilis' words: The Good is characterised here as „the single cause (aitia) of, on the one hand, the soul’s ability (dunamis) to think of and to know things; and, on the other hand, the things’ ability (dunamis) to be thought of and known, and indeed their being (cf. to einai) and essence (if we read hē ousia here as ‘the essence’)“.

#12 Forms simply are essences [Vasilis Politis]

Originally Zuzanna Gnatek.

  • „Why have critics been so ready to suppose that Plato’s Forms are things that have essences, and not considered it, from the start, an open question whether they may not, rather, simply be essences? The answer, apparently, is that they have, from the start, been thinking of the whole issue of essentialism in Aristotelian terms.“
  • „Aristotle gives an altogether different account of Plato’s Forms. In chapter six of book Zeta of the Metaphysics, he says, as clearly as one could wish for, that, for Plato or a Platonist, those things that have an essence in the strict sense—which, for Plato and Platonist, are the Forms—are identical with their essence. He appears to conclude that he, too, no less than Plato, is committed to the view that, if a thing has an essence in the strict sense, then it is identical with its essence; except that, he, Aristotle, does not think that the things that have an essence in the strict sense are Platonic Forms, and he wants to argue that physical things, too, have an essence in the strict sense. And he indicates that, in his view, a Platonist, who denies that physical things have an essence, has an easier time satisfying the thesis that a thing that in the strict sense has an essence is identical with its essence, than does he, Aristotle.“
  • Plato, in contrast with Aristotle, needs not only to use the One as a consequence of defining other things and thus arriving to their unities, but he also needs to show that we need Oneness on its own, for its own sake.

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blog/filozoficky/2020-02-14-workshop_on_plato_s_theory_of_forms.txt · Posledná úprava: 2020/02/17 18:00 (externá úprava)