Self-reference and type distinctions in Greek philosophy and mathematics

In Jens Lemanski & Ingolf Max (eds.), Historia Logicae and its Modern Interpretation. London: College Publications. pp. 3-36 (2023)
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Abstract

In this paper, we examine a fundamental problem that appears in Greek philosophy: the paradoxes of self-reference of the type of “Third Man” that appears first in Plato’s 'Parmenides', and is further discussed in Aristotle and the Peripatetic commentators and Proclus. We show that the various versions are analysed using different language, reflecting different understandings by Plato and the Platonists, such as Proclus, on the one hand, and the Peripatetics (Aristotle, Alexander, Eudemus), on the other hand. We show that the Peripatetic commentators do not focus on Plato’s solution but primarily on the formulation of the “Third Man” paradox. On the contrary, Proclus seems to be convinced that Plato suggests a sound solution to the paradox by defining the predicate of similarity (homogeneity) that demarcates two types of homogeneous entities – the eide and the participants in them in a way that their confusion would be inadmissible. We claim that Plato’s solution follows a sound line of reasoning that is formalisable in a language of Frege-Russell type; hence there exists a model in which Plato’s reasoning is valid. Furthermore, we notice that Plato’s definition of the second-order predicate of similarity is attained by resorting to first-order entities. In this sense, Plato’s definition is comparable to Eudoxus’ definition of ratio, which is also attained by resorting to first-order objects. Consequently, Plato seems to follow a logical practice established by the mathematicians of the 5th century, notably Eudoxus, in his solution to the paradox.

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Ioannis Vandoulakis
Open University of Cyprus

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