Archive for the ‘ Plato ’ Category

First thoughts on relativity in the Peri Ideon

After seeing me talk about relatives (ta pros ti) in Aristotle’s Categories 7, James Warren suggested that I look again at the so-called ‘relativity argument’ in Alexander’s testimony on the lost treatise Peri Ideon. Many of you will know the argument from Owen’s classic 1957 paper A Proof in the Peri Ideon and the industrial-scale debate it generated. But here, I’m just going to offer one preliminary idea.

Alexander (In Met. 82, 11-83,16) reports Aristotle’s (type of) argument that reconstructs a Platonic argument for Forms. Most doubt Alexander quotes the Peri Ideon verbatim, but scholars take Alexander to be a good witness to Aristotle’s argument. But I wonder whether Alexander (and others) have misunderstood Aristotle’s intentions with the argument, even if Alexander’s report is accurate.

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Aristotle on practical wisdom, part 3

[NB: This is the third in a series of posts about Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics. I explain the project in Part 1.]

I claimed in Part 2 that EN VI is structured around a search for the kind of reason that explains how we can go about correctly choosing the mean, that is, making the right ethical choice. As Aristotle points out in the first half of VI.2, reasoning of this sort belongs to the more general category of reasoning about contingent things, which is the province of the faculty for calculation, to logistikon (1139a3-15).[1]

Not all calculation is about ethical matters, of course, since calculation is also present in crafts such as medicine. It’s perhaps worth noting here that I don’t think Aristotle is committed to the thought that all ethical reasoning is calculative, either. We might think that the theoretical enterprise of the ethical works themselves is also a form of reasoning, namely, inquiry. And ethical inquiry is not calculative since it is not directed in the first instance toward what is contingent, that is, the sphere of particular and determinate actions, although it certainly seeks to shape our calculative reasoning.

Aristotle is in quite direct conversation with Plato throughout this passage, even deploying the familiar argument from Republic V that cognitive states are distinguished according to the ontological status of their objects, in order to distinguish the faculty for scientific knowledge (to epistêmonikon), whose objects are necessary, from that for calculation (1139a6-11). There’s another interesting connection to Plato in Aristotle’s use of logistikon to denote the sphere to which the reasoning that leads to correct choice belongs.[2]

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What is political virtue?

Apologies for the long hiatus again. Cambridge terms move very swiftly!

I’m beginning to sketch out my thoughts on a paper on intellectualism and moral education in Plato’s Protagoras and Republic. One of my motivating questions is why Socrates in the latter dialogue adopts for the guards’ early training so many features of the cultural education described by Protagoras in the former. Here’s a question that came up in comparing the two accounts: Where does the notion of political virtue or the virtue of the citizen (politikē aretē) in these dialogues originate?

When Protagoras sets out to defend the thesis that virtue can be taught (indeed, he tries to show that virtue must in fact be successfully taught wherever political communities exist), he refers, as Socrates does, to political virtue. In the rest of the Protagoras, it seems as though Socrates is out to show (implicitly) that whatever the state is of well-habituated people in a decent city, it can’t be virtue; for virtue consists in a systematic knowledge of goods and ills. A bit further on after the description of the guards’ education in the Republic, we are told that their education results in a specifically political kind of courage (IV, 430c). A natural assumption in the context of the rest of the Republic is that courage without qualification is to be found only among the rulers, who possess wisdom. But even in this passage, there is some question about whether Socrates is actually attributing political courage to the auxiliaries, or whether the description “political courage” applies instead to the city, which is made courageous by the preservation of a belief by the auxiliaries (indeed, a not unimpossible translation of politikē andreia is “courage belonging to the city”). After all, we are told we must wait for a fuller account of courage itself. But if Socrates is only discussing the city’s virtues in this passage, then this seems both to disregard that we’ve already been told in Book III that the early education of the guards makes them moderate and courageous and also that in his discussion of moderation in Book IV, he seems to start from facts about moderation in an individual in order to find moderation in the city, rather than the other way around. It may also be useful to keep Phaedo 80a-c in mind, where Socrates refers to the virtues of non-philosophers as “demotic and political”, but no less a guarantor of happiness; such people are reincarnated among one of the social animals or in decent people (andres metrioi).

So that brings us back to my question: do we have any evidence in Greek thought prior or contemporary to Plato [1] about what “political virtue” might mean, and can we use that evidence to adjudicate among these different views about what Socrates means in the Republic by it?

[1] Some very quick TLG’ing turns up one use of politikē aretē in Xenophon (Lac. Pol. 10), but I can’t help but think there must be 5th c. antecessors of the concept, if not the precise collocation.

The statue analogy of Republic IV and pro tanto goods

The PhD seminar this term is on Republic IV, a nice opportunity to spend a suitable length of time on a text that repays careful study. We covered just the first few pages, 419a-423c, in today’s meeting, and in this space alone, there was an extraordinary quantity of interesting material, upon which a lively discussion ensued. I want to raise a question I have about a single, purple passage: the famed statue analogy (420c-e). (No doubt my understanding of this passage and the broader context is partly due to today’s conversation with my fellow seminar participants, to whom credit and thanks.)

First, the context. Socrates [S.] is here responding to Adeimantus’ [Ad.] worry that the guards in the city they are describing will have none of the trappings generally associated with happiness (εὐδαιμονία). A question that persists throughout the broader passage is the extent to which S.’ response is meant to be a refutation of a genuine problem or simply a way of ‘moving the goal posts’ and dismissing conventional accounts of happiness. In setting out the concern, both S. and Ad. refer to the good things other people consider to constitute happiness or at the very least consider to be closely associated with happiness (Ad. at 419a9-10: πάντα ὅσα νομίζεται τοῖς μέλλουσιν μακαρίοις εἶναι “all those things reckoned to belong to the blessed-to-be”; S. at 420a5-6: οἷα δὴ οἱ εὐδαίμονες δοκοῦντες εἶναι ἀναλίσκουσι “precisely what those reputed to be happy spend their money on”). We might, however, reasonably suppose that Ad. is less committed to Socratic-Platonic ideals, so that the two mean slightly different things by such language – Ad. raising a feature of the commonplace view of happiness as a genuine objection, S. entertaining the view for the sake of the discussion, but never in doubt about its misguided premises.

This brings me directly to the statue analogy. Continue reading