Platonic arguments often have premises of a particular form which is misunderstood. These sentences look like universal generalizations, but in fact involve an implicit qua phrase which makes them a fundamentally different kind of predication. Such general implicit redoubled qua predications (girqps) are not an expression of Plato's proprietary views; they are also very common in everyday discourse. Seeing how they work in Plato can help us to understand them.
This study offers a ckomprehensive new interpretation of one of Plato's dialogues, the _Cratylus_. Throughout, the book combines analysis of Plato's arguments with attentiveness to his philosophical method.
A new reading of Plato's account of conventionalism about names in the Cratylus. It argues that Hermogenes' position, according to which a name is whatever anybody 'sets down' as one, does not have the counterintuitive consequences usually claimed. At the same time, Plato's treatment of conventionalism needs to be related to his treatment of formally similar positions in ethics and politics. Plato is committed to standards of objective natural correctness in all such areas, despite the problematic consequences which, as he (...) himself shows, arise in the case of language. (shrink)
Socrates’ refutations of Thrasymachus in Republic I are unsatisfactory on a number of levels which need to be carefully distinguished. At the same time several of his arguments are more powerful than they initially appear. Of particular interest are those which turn on the idea of a craft, which represents a shared norm of practical rationality here contested by Socrates and Thrasymachus.
Plato's account of the tripartite soul is a memorable feature of dialogues like the Republic, Phaedrus and Timaeus: it is one of his most famous and influential yet least understood theories. It presents human nature as both essentially multiple and diverse - and yet somehow also one - divided into a fully human 'rational' part, a lion-like 'spirited part' and an 'appetitive' part likened to a many-headed beast. How these parts interact, how exactly each shapes our agency and how they (...) are affected by phenomena like erôs and education is complicated and controversial. The essays in this book investigate how the theory evolves over the whole of Plato's work, including the Republic, Phaedrus and Timaeus, and how it was developed further by important Platonists such as Galen, Plutarch and Plotinus. They will be of interest to a wide audience in philosophy and classics. (shrink)
Pyrrhonian sceptics claim, notoriously, to assent to the appearances without making claims about how things are. To see whether this is coherent we need to consider the philosophical history of ‘appearance’(phainesthai)-talk, and the closely related concept of an impression (phantasia). This history suggests that the sceptics resemble Plato in lacking the ‘non-epistemic’ or ‘non-doxastic’ conception of appearance developed by Aristotle and the Stoics. What is distinctive about the Pyrrhonian sceptic is simply that the degree of doxastic commitment involved in his (...) assent to an impression is asymptotally low. (shrink)
A generally ignored feature of Plato’s celebrated image of the cave in Republic VII is that the ascent from the cave is, in its initial stages, said to be brought about by force. What kind of ‘force’ is this, and why is it necessary? This paper considers three possible interpretations, and argues that each may have a role to play.
Plato's Republic has proven to be of astounding influence and importance. Justly celebrated as Plato's central text, it brings together all of his prior works, unifying them into a comprehensive vision that is at once theological, philosophical, political and moral. The essays in this volume provide a picture of the most interesting aspects of the Republic, and address questions that continue to puzzle and provoke, such as: Does Plato succeed in his argument that the life of justice is the most (...) attractive one? Is his tripartite analysis of the soul coherent and plausible? Why does Plato seem to have to force his philosopher-guardians to rule when they know this is something that they ought to do? What is the point of the strange and complicated closing Myth of Er? This volume will be essential to those looking for thoughtful and detailed excursions into the problems posed by Plato's text and ideas. (shrink)
Among Aristotle’s criticisms of the Form of the Good is his claim that the knowledge of such a Good could be of no practical relevance to everyday rational agency, e.g. on the part of craftspeople. This critique turns out to hinge ultimately on the deeply different assumptions made by Plato and Aristotle about the relation of ‘good’ and ‘good for’. Plato insists on the conceptual priority of the former; and Plato wins the argument.
This discussion emphasises the diversity, philosophical seriousness and methodological distinctiveness of sophistic thought. Particular attention is given to their views on language, ethics, and the social construction of various norms, as well as to their varied, often undogmatic dialectical methods. The assumption that the sophists must have shared common doctrines (not merely overlapping interests and professional practices) is called into question.
A generally ignored feature of Aristotle’s famous function argument is its reliance on the claim that practitioners of the crafts (technai) have functions: but this claim does important work. Aristotle is pointing to the fact that we judge everyday rational agency and agents by norms which are independent of their contingent desires: a good doctor is not just one who happens to achieve his personal goals through his work. But, Aristotle argues, such norms can only be binding on individuals if (...) human rational agency as such is governed by objective teleological norms. . (shrink)
Plato’s depiction of the first city in the Republic (Book II), the so-called ‘city of pigs’, is often read as expressing nostalgia for an earlier, simpler era in which moral norms were secure. This goes naturally with readings of other Platonic texts (including Republic I and the Gorgias) as expressing a sense of moral decline or crisis in Plato’s own time. This image of Plato as a spokesman for ‘moral nostalgia’ is here traced in various nineteenth- and twentieth-century interpretations, and (...) rejected. Plato’s pessimism about human nature in fact precludes any easy assumption that things, or people, were better in the old days. (shrink)
It is very difficult to get a clear picture of how the Stoic is supposed to deliberate. This paper considers a number of possible pictures, which cover such a wide range of options that some look Kantian and others utilitarian. Each has some textual support but is also unworkable in certain ways: there seem to be genuine and unresolved conflicts at the heart of Stoic ethics. And these are apparently due not to developmental changes within the school, but to the (...) Stoics’ having adopted implicitly incompatible solutions in response to different philosophical challenges. (shrink)
This paper discusses two related questions about Plato’s account of the tripartite soul in the Republic and Phaedrus. One is whether we should accept the recently prominent ‘analytical’ reading of the theory, according to which the three parts of the soul are animal-like sub-agents, each with its own distinctive and autonomous package of cognitive and desiderative capacities. The other question is how far Plato’s account so interpreted resembles the findings of contemporary neuroscience, given that this also depicts the mind as (...) complex, partitioned, subject to conflict, and only very incompletely rational. The paper sketches the analytical reading, outlines the similarities and disanologies of the theory so understood to contemporary neuropsychology, and then steps back to consider three problems with such an interpretation. None is decisive; but they raise doubts as to whether the question of the title can really be answered in the way both the analytical reading and the modern parallel presume. (shrink)
This paper explores in detail Gorgias' defense of rhetoric in Plato 's Gorgias, noting its connections to earlier and later texts such as Aristophanes' Clouds, Gorgias' Helen, Isocrates' Nicocles and Antidosis, and Aristotle's Rhetoric. The defense as Plato presents it is transparently inadequate; it reveals a deep inconsistency in Gorgias' conception of rhetoric and functions as a satirical precursor to his refutation by Socrates. Yet Gorgias' defense is appropriated, in a streamlined form, by later defenders of rhetoric such as Isocrates (...) and Aristotle. They present it as an effective reductio against a critique of rhetoric that depends on the "harm criterion." This is puzzling, since Plato 's own critique of rhetoric does not depend on the harm criterion. On the other hand, Plato does seem to embrace the harm criterion as a more general principle—as if pre-emptively embracing the reductio —in his arguments about the good in the Meno and Euthydemus. Nonetheless, Isocrates and Aristotle seem to be deliberately misreading Plato on rhetoric: where he intends to criticize its intrinsic nature, they respond as if he were merely complaining about its contingent effects. (shrink)
This book derives from Annas’s 1997 Townsend Lectures at Cornell University, and it retains the invigorating clarity and fast pace of a first-rate lecture series. In it Annas discusses assorted topics in Plato’s ethics and their ancient interpretation: her unifying theme is that we have much to learn from ancient readings of Plato, and those of the Middle Platonists in particular.
Are the long, wildly inventive etymologies in Plato’s Cratylus just some kind of joke, or does Plato himself accept them? This standard question misses the most important feature of the etymologies: they are a competitive performance, an agôn by Socrates in which he shows that he can play the game of etymologists like Cratylus better than they can themselves. Such show-off performances are a recurrent feature of Platonic dialogue: they include Socrates’ speeches on eros in the Phaedrus, his rhetorical discourse (...) in the Menexenus, and his literary interpretation in the Protagoras. The paper compares these cases to work out the ground rules, purposes and implications of the Platonic agôn, and the Cratylus etymologies in particular. (shrink)
Simplicius’ project of harmonizing previous philosophers deserves to be taken seriously as both a philosophical and an interpretive project. Simplicius follows Aristotle himself in developing charitable interpretations of his predecessors: his distinctive project, in the Neoplatonic context, is the rehabilitation of the Presocratics (especially Parmenides, Anaxagoras and Empedocles) from a Platonic-Aristotelian perspective. Simplicius’ harmonizations involve hermeneutic techniques which are recognisably those of the serious historian of philosophy; and harmonization itself has a distinguished history as a constructive philosophical method.
An important virtue of Emotion and Virtue is its careful and sophisticated discussion of the central yet ill-understood virtue of courage. However, Sreenivasan’s treatment of courage raises as many questions as it answers; several of these can be brought into sharper focus by comparison with the argument of Plato and Aristotle on the topic.
I respond to Sarah Buss first by considering Socrates as an exemplar of courageous resistance to injustice, then by adding two caveats: exemplary resistance seems to flow from very diverse psychological profiles, and cowardice may not always be best understood as expressing fearful self‐attachment.
Iakovos Vasiliou argues for reading Plato’s early dialogues and the Republic in light of “the aiming/determining distinction.” Aiming questions are concerned with the selection of our overriding ends. Determining questions ask how we can identify actions which secure those ends. As Vasiliou argues, Socrates claims to know an answer to the central aiming question, namely that virtue must be supreme (SV). Virtue functions sometimes as an explicit end and always as a limiting condition: we must never do wrong. For wrong (...) action damages the soul, which is the most important locus of harms and benefits for us. Vasiliou traces this argument as it is offered with increasing fullness in the Crito, Gorgias, and Republic. .. (shrink)
The Cratylus is Plato's principal discussion of language, and has generated immense interpretive controversy. This thesis offers a new interpretation of the Cratylus, starting from the idea that it is essentially a normative enquiry, to be interpreted alongside Plato's ethical and political works. Just as the Statesman attempts to determine the nature of the statesman, so too the basic project of the Cratylus is to discover what constitutes a true, correct name. But this aim is doomed in the case of (...) language: names turn out to be a kind of imitation, and as such incapable of real correctness. ;The Cratylus discusses two theories of 'the correctness of names': conventionalism and naturalism. First, Socrates refutes the conventionalist thesis that any name anyone sets down for an object is correct. This thesis is, I suggest, of interest as a reasonable way to support the commonsensical assumption that all actual names are correct--an assumption which would preclude Plato's normative project. Socrates then elaborates naturalism, with an outsize, vaguely playful etymological discussion which has baffled interpreters. I argue that the etymological section serves above all as an agonistic display, establishing the authority of the philosopher to determine the value of etymologising and to treat the subject of names as he deems fit. ;Etymology is succeeded by the mimetic account of names as imitations. This is followed by a 'reexamination' of naturalism in which Socrates apparently turns against it, concluding with a partial rehabilitation of convention. This conclusion is the other major interpretive stumbling-block of the Cratylus. Here I argue that no rejection of naturalism is implied. Rather, its status is shown to be limited by its own consequences--a paradox, but one which does amount to or entail conventionalism. This reading is developed further by reference to the similar position expressed in the Seventh Letter. ;An End-Note discusses the explanation of false statement presented in the Sophist: I argue against the common view that it uses syntactic ideas in a way which represents a significant departure from the Cratylus. (shrink)
The Paleolithic paintings and drawings found on cave walls at sites in France and Spain, such as Lascaux, Altamira and Vallon-Pont-D'Arc, have profound effects on those who see them. In addition to their historical interest, they are prized for their aesthetic and spiritual qualities, which have had an important influence on modern art. But the caves are small and the paintings are fragile. Access to them has been sharply limited: some caves have been closed to protect the paintings from the (...) damage caused by human respiration; access to others is limited to those who negotiate a daunting reservation scheme. Despite being the heritage of humanity as a whole, the cave paintings are, and must be, restricted to a very few. Not everyone who wants to see the paintings can do so if they are to survive. (shrink)