Being, Not-Being, and Falsity in Plato's "Sophist"

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1982)
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The central portion of the Sophist contains a long, sustained argument against the claim that falsity is impossible. Recent commentators have suggested that the major step in this argument is best described as a distinguishing of different senses or uses of 'is' or as a realization that statements are not simply big names. I argue that both these lines of interpretation are unsatisfactory. ;I argue, paying careful attention to Plato's own remarks about the strategy he is pursuing, that the weight of the argument is borne by certain metaphysical claims about the nature of the forms. No claim about how statements in general function and no distinction between kinds of statement constitutes part of the refutation of the sophist's denial of the possibility of falsity or of the Eleatic metaphysics on which that denial is based. This refutation shows, rather, that what is named by the predicate in a false statement, a form, can be described in a way that coherently accounts for the statement's falsity. ;Those commentators who have read Plato's account of being in the Sophist as an account of different kinds of positive statement have looked for a parallel account of negative statement in the passage that discusses not-being. This search has often led commentators to the conclusion that Plato, having distinguished identity and predication in their positive uses, goes on to confuse negative identity and negative predication. Even those who have located the sought for distinction in negative statements in the text have not found it to be clearly set out. The interpretation I offer has the advantage of not forcing one to claim that Plato either simply confused or only obscurely distinguished negative identity and negative predication. I argue that Plato does not attempt to give an explicit account of negative predication, although the material needed for such an account is provided by his account of false statement



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