Essay: Plato's Dialectic Method

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Dialectic Method

Plato's Dialectic Method

Plato's Dialectic Method

These heterogeneous senses of being explain the unsatisfying conclusion of the proof. The proof of immortality ends with a statement of the kind of thing the soul is. But the proof cannot establish that a certain soul always exists; individual existence as such remains in the realm of body and thus of chance. To the extent that this is the case, the 'proof' of imperishability can only be an assertion or a hope.

Given its position in the dialogue, and given its manifest inadequacy, the final proof suggests the unavailability of a single cause of all coming into being and passing away, a cause that could make intelligible the perfect harmony of humanity and nature. Moreover, it shows Socrates distancing himself from the core of his orthodoxy the doctrine of separate Ideas in this, the last argument of his life. The final argument then confirms the uncertainty that precipitated Socrates' turn to the speeches of humans. Accordingly, Socrates concludes the final argument of the Phaedo with the recommendation that the "initial hypotheses," the existence of the Ideas themselves, be examined. The conclusion of the final proof of immortality directs us back to that ascent characteristic of Socratic rationalism. In this conclusion we see the rationale for the last proof of immortality. It is, at least potentially, a solvent for any sectarianism that might arise on the basis of Socratic orthodoxy.

Phaedo

The 'Phaedo' has often been construed as a dissertation by Plato on the immortality of the soul. In it Socrates claims that the soul does not die and supports the claim by an argument with himself and his friends. One finds 'proofs' which have been repeated many times since: that living is a kind of dying, the surrender of bodily interests for the interests of the soul; that life is followed by death and death by life, 'that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die'; that soul and body are incomparable; that the soul remains the same soul throughout life while the body is constantly changing and renewed; that the soul is not the function or harmony of the body and so ceases when the body dies, because the soul controls the body while no harmony controls its instruments; that the soul is simple and, unlike the body, uncompounded and only compounded things can lose their identity;

There remains, for those who see mathematics as the spiritual source of middle-dialogue paradigmatism, a significant complication attendant upon treating arithmetical (and geometrical) Forms as paradigm cases. It is maintained that the Forms are simple. How, then can Duality be a pair of units or Equality be two (or more) perfectly equal entities, or, indeed, the Triangle itself have three sides or angles or countless points? A key passage in support of the simplicity of the Forms is Phaedo 78 BC where, in response to Simmias' fear that the soul may, at death, be scattered about, Socrates asserts that such a thing would happen to suntheta whereas asuntheta would not suffer dissolution. Socrates then (78de) goes on to equate these asuntheta with the Forms and the suntheta with the sense particulars. If one takes suntheta to mean 'composite' or 'having parts' and asuntheta to be 'incomposite' or 'having no parts', then one is left with the conclusion that the Forms are simple, i.e. have no parts. Further support is sometimes seen in the Forms being described (at Phaedo 80b, for example) as monoeid? (uniform) in contrast to the particulars as polueid? (multiform), where monoeides, as at Theaetetus 205d, may be taken as implying being without parts.

But one need not read the expressions in question in the way required for the simplicity interpretation. At Phaedo 78c it is stated that a suntheton will be suited by nature for dividing (diairesis) in the same way that it was compounded (taut?(i) h?(i)per suneteth?), i.e. It has at a given time been put together and so is at risk of being pulled apart. Eternal composite objects are not touched by this consideration, a fact borne out by the very next section which says that the unchanging qualify as asuntheta and the changing as suntheta. This shows that it is having been compounded (having undergone a change at a given time) which is relevant. Things eternal and unchanging, be they composite or not, are asuntheta in this sense. Furthermore, another interpretation may be given, in turn, of monoeides. The contrast with polueides may best be seen at Symp. 211ab where the Form of the Beautiful is monoeides, or uniform, because, when viewed as it is in itself, it does not appear in many forms, i.e. As a face, or hands, or a logos or a piece of knowledge. But the particular beautiful things, the multiform or polueid?, have the many 'forms' that the Form may take when copied (or, qua universal, instantiated). There is no implication for the simplicity, or otherwise, of this one Form. There can be a multitude of 'forms' (i.e. many different sorts of particulars) for a uniform, yet composite, Form. when Plato is explaining at Phaedo 101c why nothing can become (genesthai) two other than by participating in Duality, this must be interpreted in the light of 95e where we are told that we are looking for the causes of coming into being and perishing and thus, as regards 'effects', our universe of discourse will be limited to non-Forms. Also at 100c it is agreed that, if anything besides the Form of the Beautiful is beautiful, it is so because it partakes of that Form. Therefore at 101c we are getting an explanation of why things other than the Form of Duality are two. They could be two by resembling the Form as paradigm case. Nevertheless, although we do have self-exemplification at 100c in the case of the Beautiful, there is no compelling reason to extend this feature to Duality, so we have no basis to suppose that this Form is being presented as a paradigm case of Twoness.

There is, moreover, an important sense in which Duality is prior to anything being two, including the paradigm instance. Any instantiation presupposes the Form as a universal and unless we have Duality as a universal we could not have a paradigm instance thereof. But Wedberg cannot appeal to this principle to exclude Duality as such from being two. The reason is that, if we take Duality at Phaedo 101c as de facto limited to its function as a universal, this has no consequences for the additional postulation of Duality as a paradigm case. Such a position may appeal to grounds quite extraneous to the non-exhaustive dichotomy at 101c between the generated duos and Duality as the universal nature in which they participate. What Wedberg's reasoning amounts to is the patent truth that, for all entities including numbers, universals, in themselves, are not paradigm cases. I conclude that the arithmetical Forms were viewed by Plato as collections of units. Hence both arithmetic and geometry may have provided the models for the more general postulation of ideal particulars.

Let me emphasize that this doctrine does not require that mathematical paradigm case Forms should predominate in the middle dialogues. In no such dialogue is Plato undertaking a systematic presentation of his theory of Forms or discussing its genesis. For example, at Phaedo 65d and 74b the Forms are introduced as something with which the interlocutor is already familiar. Also, the primary topics of immortality of the soul (Phaedo) and the relation of justice to happiness (Republic) will determine which Forms are actually involved therein, for example, Life (and Death?) in the Phaedo.

Republic

Of Plato's moral doctrines, the most important are the following: that, independently of other ends, virtue is to be pursued as the true good of the soul, the proper perfection of man's nature, the power by which the soul fitly accomplishes its existence, whereas vice is a disease of the mind arising from delusions or imperfect apprehension of our proper interests; that the real freedom of a rational being consists in an ability to regulate his conduct by reason, and that everyone not guided by his reason, encourages insubordination in the mental faculties, and becomes the slave of caprice or passion; that virtuous conduct, apart from its benefits to society, is advantageous to the individual practicing it, inasmuch as it ensures that regularity of the imagination, that tranquility and internal harmony, which constitutes the mind's proper happiness. He, throughout, and with great power, contends for the earnestness of a virtuous mind in the attainment of truth, and inculcates the propriety of pursuing the ordinary pleasures of life, only so far as they are subservient to, or compatible with, man's higher and nobler duties. In the fourth Book of the Laws there is a pretty complete summary of the salient features in Plato's theory of morals, a condensed view of which will be found in the article "Plato" of the Encyclopedia Metropolitana: the remarks… [END OF PREVIEW]

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