Friday, October 18, 2013

Plato - Theaetetus

I am reading Plato – Complete Works, edited by Jon M. Cooper.  I have read many of Plato’s dialogs before, and parts of many others, but it is time to read them all.  This is proving to be no easy task – I’ve been at it for months.  I need breaks now and then and I am reading other books in between dialogs.  I’ve decided to comment on some of the Dialogs from time to time for however long this labor takes.

I will begin with some points from is Theaetetus.  It is a discussion between Socrates, Theodorus, who is one of Protagoras’s disciples, and a very bright boy named Theaetetus.  The conversation was, purportedly, not written down by Plato but by Euclides; who was on hand for the discussion, transcribed it, and then went to Socrates himself to edit it for accuracy.  The goal of the argument is to define Knowledge.  All quotes are form: Plato – Complete Works, Edited by John M. Cooper, Associate Editor, D. S. Hutchinson, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1997.

From Theaetetus on Teaching (midwifery):

Socrates: So the work of the midwives is a highly important one; but it is not so important as my own performance.  And for this reason, that there is not in midwifery the further complication, that the patients are sometimes delivered of phantoms and sometimes of realities, and that the two are hard to distinguish.  If there were, then the midwife’s greatest and noblest function would be to distinguish the true form the false offspring—don’t you agree?

Theaetetus: Yes, I do.

Socrates: Now my art of midwifery is just like theirs in most respects . . . the most important thing about my art is that ability to apply all possible tests to the offspring, to determine whether the young mind is being delivered of a phantom, that is, an error, or a fertile truth.  For one thing which I have in common with the ordinary midwives is that I myself am barren of wisdom.  . . . And the reason of it is this, that God compels me to attend the travail of others, but has forbidden me to procreate.  So that I am not in any sense a wise man; I cannot claim as the child of my own soul any discovery worth the name of wisdom.  But with those who associate with me it is different.  At first some of them may give the impression of being ignorant and stupid; but as time goes on and our association continues, all whom God permits are seen to make progress—a progress which is amazing both to other people and to themselves.  And yet it is clear that this is not due to anything they have learned from me; it is that they discover within themselves a multitude of beautiful things, which they bring forth into the light.  But it is I, with God’s help, who deliver them of this offspring. 

. . . There is another point also in which those who associate with me are like women in child-birth.  They suffer the pains of labor, and are filled day and night with distress; indeed they suffer far more than women.  And this pain my art is able to bring on and also to allay. pp. 167 - 168

From Theaetetus on Protagoras Claim:

Socrates: . . . For he [Protagoras] says, you know, that ‘Man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of the things which are not, that they are not.’  p. 169   

From Theaetetus on More or Less:

Socrates:  Let me give you a simple example of what I mean, and you will see the rest for yourself.  Here are six dice.  Put four beside them, and they are more, we say, than the four, that is, half as many again; but put twelve beside them, and we say they are les, that is, half the number.  p. 172

From Theaetetus on Wonder:

Theaetetus: . . . I often wonder like mad what these things can mean; sometimes when I’m looking at them I begin to feel quite giddy.

Socrates: It seems that Theodorus was not far from the truth when he guessed what kind of person you are.  For this is an experience which is characteristic of a philosopher, this wondering: this is where philosophy begins and nowhere else.  And the man who made Iris the child of Thaumas was perhaps not a bad genealogist.  [Thaumas means Wonder and Iris is the messenger of the gods.] p. 173

From Theaetetus on Sleeping and Waking, Dreams and Real Life:

Socrates: But there’s a point here which is a matter of dispute, especially as regards dreams and real life—don’t you see?

Theaetetus: What do you mean?

Socrates: There’s a question you must often have heard people ask—the question what evidence we could offer if we were asked whether in the present instance, at this moment, we are asleep and dreaming all our thoughts, or awake and talking to each other in real life. 

Theaetetus: Yes. Socrates, it certainly is difficult to find the proof we want here.  The two states seem to correspond in all their characteristics. p. 176

From Theaetetus on Socrates answer to Protagoras:

Socrates: Well, I was delighted with his general statement of the theory that a thing is for any individual what it seems to him to be; but I was astonished at the way he [Protagoras] began.  I was astonished that he did not state at the beginning of the Truth that ‘Pig is the measure of all things’ or ‘Baboon’ or some yet more out-of-the-way creature with the power of perception.  That would have made a most imposing and disdainful opening.  It would have made it clear to us at once that, while we were standing astounded at his wisdom as though he were a god, he was in reality no better authority than a tadpole—let alone any other man. p. 179

From Theaetetus on Mans Fate after Death:

Socrates: My friend, there are two patterns set up in reality.  One is divine and supremely happy; the other has nothing of God in it, and is the pattern of the deepest unhappiness.  This truth the evildoer does not see; blinded by folly and utter lack of understanding, he fails to perceive that the effect of his unjust practices is to make him grow more and more like the one, and less and less like the other.  For this he pays the penalty of living that life that corresponds to the pattern he is coming to resemble.  And if we tell him that, unless he is delivered from this ‘ability’ of his, when he dies the place that is pure of all evil will not receive him; that he will forever go on living in the world a life after his own likeness—a bad man tied to bad company: he will but think, ‘This is the way fools talk to a clever rascal like me.’    pp. 195-196

From Theaetetus on the Limits of Sense Experience and the Sixth Sense, Reason:

Socrates: Is it more correct to say that the eyes are that with which we see, or that through which we see?

Theaetetus: Well, I should think, Socrates, that it is ‘through which’ we perceive in each case, rather than ‘with which.’

Socrates: . . . Tell me: the instruments through which you perceive hot, hard, light, sweet things—do you consider that they all belong to the body?  Or can they be referred elsewhere?

Theaetetus: No, they all belong to the body.

Socrates: And are you also willing to admit that what you perceive through one power, you can’t perceive through another?  For instance, what you perceive through hearing, you couldn’t perceive through sight, and similarly what you perceive through sight you couldn’t perceive through hearing?

Theaetetus: No.

Socrates: Now take a sound and a color.  First of all, don’t you think this same thing about both of them, namely, that they both are?

Theaetetus: I do.

Socrates: Also that each of them is different from the other and the same as itself?

Theaetetus: Of course.

Socrates: And that both together are two, and each of them is one?

Theaetetus: Yes, I think that too. 

Socrates: Are you also able to consider whether they are like or unlike each other?

Theaetetus: Yes, I may be.

Socrates: Now what is it through which you think all these things about them? It is not possible, you see, to grasp what is common to both either through sight or through hearing.  Let us consider another thing which will show the truth of what we are saying.  Suppose it were possible to inquire whether both are salty or not.  You can tell me, of course, with what you would examine them.  It would clearly be neither sight nor hearing, but something else.

Theaetetus: Yes, of course, the power which functions through the tongue.

Socrates: Good. Now through what does the power function which reveals to you what is common in the case both of all things and of theses two—I mean that which you express by the words ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ and the other terms used in our questions about them just now?  What kind of instruments will you assign for all these?  Through what does that which is percipient in us perceive all of them?

Theaetetus:  You mean being and not-being, likeness and unlikeness, same and different; also one, and any other number applied to them.  And obviously too your question is about odd and even, and all that is involved with these attributes; and you want to know through what bodily instruments we perceive all these with the soul.

Socrates: You follow me exceedingly well, Theaetetus.  These are just the things I am asking about.

Theaetetus: But I couldn’t possibly say.  All I can tell you is that it doesn’t seem to me that for these things there is any special instrument at all, as there is for the others.  It seems to me that in investigating the common features of everything the soul function through itself.

Socrates: Yes, Theaetetus . . . you have saved me a vast amount of talk if it seems to you that, while the soul considers some things through the bodily powers, there are others which it considers alone and through itself.  This was what I thought myself, but I wanted you to think it too.

Theaetetus: Well, it does seem to me to be so.

Socrates: Now in which class do you put being?  For that, above all, is something that accompanies everything.

Theaetetus: I should put it among the things which the soul itself reaches out after by itself.

Socrates: Also like and unlike, same and different?

Theaetetus: Yes.

Socrates: What about beautiful and ugly, good and bad?

Theaetetus: Yes, these too; in these, above all, I think the soul examines their being in comparison with one another. pp. 203-206

From Theaetetus on Thinking:

Socrates: . . . It seems to me that the soul when it thinks is simply carrying on a discussion in which it asks itself questions and answers them itself, affirms and denies. p. 210

From Theaetetus on Field Marks - Think Ernest Thompson Seton:

Socrates: What the majority of people would say—namely, being able to tell some mark by which the object you are asked about differs from all other things.  p. 231  

There are 76 pages in Theaetetus and on almost every one of them something “noteworthy” and on every page lines that had to be reread and pondered.  It was exasperating to watch Socrates and Theaetetus built one beautiful opinion after another only to shoot each down in turn.  And strange to finish the search with no answer in sight and the “what” of knowledge left for some future argument. After so much labor the truth remained undelivered and our “midwife” taken off to trial and death, and we to suffer a breach of understanding. Still, I am glad to suffer for such a child.








No comments: