|© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE||Last updated November 21, 1998|
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This page is part of the "e-mail archives" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "e-mail archives" section includes HTML edited versions of posts that I submitted on various e-mail discussion lists about Plato and ancient philosophy.
To: plato <email@example.com>
Date : June 7, 1996, 21:51:25
Subject : Re: names and dates
On Thursday, 06 Jun 96 17:57:20, Matthew Simpson <MaChesSimp@aol.com> wrote:
> ...Also, regarding the dramatic dates of the dialogues, I am also unaware of any secondary source that discusses these in depth. Perhaps it would be a good exercise for us to see if we can make some progress on this front. One easy reference for some dialogues, as was said, is Socrates' trial and death. Also, there are the internal relations between dialogues such as the Republic and the Timæus, and the Theætetus and Sophist. And further, there are the historical events mentioned in the dialogues. Using all of these, I would not be surprised if we could discover the dramatic sequence of a large number of the dialogues.
I don't think Plato was trying to set a chronology of Socrates. He was trying to be true to his spirit, not to his life. And the chronological indications have more to do with philosophy than with ordering the dialogues.
1) Plato saw in Parmenides (and he says so in the Theætetus) the biggest chalenge to the Socratic doctrine, and the hidden root of most of the sophistry and rhetoric of his time. In order to pass from the world of rhetoric depicted in the fifth tetralogy (Cratylus, Ion, Euthydemus, Menexenus, see my web site) to that of dialectic in the sixth tetralogy, one has to overcome Parmenides. This is done in the Sophist, through the "parricide", which is the exact counterpart in the intelligible world of the trial and death of Socrates in the visible world (see the parallels in the tetralogies, again in my site). But, before reaching this stage, the challenge has to be set in full light, and this is the purpose of the Parmenides. And to make the challenge even bigger, what a better way than to make Socrates smaller! Thus a young Socrates before a venerable Parmenides... (In another page, I'll try to show by a close parallel between the introduction of the Parmenides and that of the Theætetus, how "serious" the Parmenides is, and what actually means, for instance, the fact for Euclid to suppress the indirect style in the reading, compared to the three time redoubled indirect style of the Parmenide...) (1)
2) The trilogy Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman, is a summary of the whole set (again, see my web pages for more); The beginnng of the Theætetus is intended to bring us back to the early stages of the Lysis, Laches and Charmides (Ist tetralogy), and the idea that the dialogue is set close to Socrates trial, is a hint at the fact that the trilogy is the "trial" of Parmenides necessary to free the mind of the evils of sophistic and rhetoric before "resurrecting" a "young Socrates in the reader's mind...
To: plato <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date : June 14, 1996, 21:29:10
Subject : Re: names and dates
Answering Christopher [Planeaux]:
> [CP] On Fri, 7 Jun 1996 Bernard <email@example.com> wrote:
>> [BS] 1) Plato saw in Parmenides (and he says so in the Theætetus) the biggest chalenge to the Socratic doctrine, and the hidden root of most of the sophistry and rhetoric of his time.
> [CP] What is the "Socratic doctrine" ? In my study of the Platonic sokratikoi logoi, I do not see Sokrates "putting forth" positive doctrines. Each conversation is unique, with particular settings and interlocutors, and the discussions merely "unfold" in search of whatever is the topic.
You are right to some extent, and I myself many times said that Plato was not stating doctrines, but helping the reader to reach his own truth (the reader's), only explosing wrong alleys and hinting at what he himself (Plato) thought to be the right direction.
What I meant to say (and I exposed myself to you criticism in trying to be short) is that Parmenides was a major road block along the path Plato was trying to lead us into under the leadership of Socrates, sort of a "middle way" between the extremes of Heraclitus (the friend of the earth) and Parmenides (the friends of forms), the later being much harder to overcome than the former (I know that merely assimilating the friends of the earth to Heraclitus and the friends of forms to Parmenides is again a short cut, but I don't want to go into a detailed historical argument about that, and I simply take them as "origins" or "paradigms", of two trends of thought Plato was fighting, as I think he did, even if this is not historically one hundred percent true).
"Socratic doctrine" was meant to mean "the body of "truths" Plato is trying to lead us to through the dialogues in giving us the example of Socrates, being true to his spirit if not to his "history" and using him as a guide because he was "the most just man of his time" (last words of the Phædo)".
>> [BS] In order to pass from the world of rhetoric depicted in the fifth tetralogy (Cratylus, Ion, Euthydemus, Menexenus, see my web site) to that of dialectic in the sixth tetralogy, one has to overcome Parmenides.
> [CP] I am getting confused here ... . Are you saying rhetoric, dialectic, and natural philosophy are all related?
What I mean, and started explaining in some of my web pages, and intend to pursue in more pages to come, is that Plato viewed Parmenides, through Zeno and his paradoxical theses, and Gorgias and his likes, as being as much at the root of the way of thinking of the contemporaries of Socrates and Plato as Heraclitus, his materialism, and his continuators such as Protagoras and some of the sophists. This way of thinking was based on relativism and the triumph of rhetorics. It tended to dismiss true philosophy and dialectics as suttleties only good for kids. And this was still the view of Isocrates in Plato's time.
For that reason, I think Plato constructed his dialogues so that they oppose a "short path to education" (the one Isocrates would recommend), which culminates with rhetoric, and, in the dialogues as I order them, ends with the 5th tetralogy (on logos), on the Menexenus, which is an example of the kind of politics this "short path" leads to: demagogery and reuse of interchangeable speeches written by speechwriters to justify even wars in the face of parents of dead soldiers, till next one... (Menexenus is then the one who will "stay forever a stranger" to dialectics, hence his name).
And overcoming Parmenides' dialectic, the "tedious game" that Isocrates and his likes (and Callicles as well, whose friend Andron, the one who thinks he is a man only because his name says so, was the father of an Androtion who was a pupil of Isocrates) consider only fit for youngsters (and thus for a "young" Socrates), is, in Plato's mind, a prerequisite to understanding true dialectic. Thus the Parmenides as the introduction to the 6th tetralogy on dialectics, to exercize the readers' mind in having him search what's wrong with it (and that's why I think the use of a youngster named Aristotle to answer Parmenides is not without a twist of humor in Plato's mind, a way of telling one of his brightest student that he had not overcome this obstacle...) And thus the "parricide" as the last step before presenting the principles of true politics...
>> [BS] This is done in the Sophist, through the "parricide", which is the exact counterpart in the intelligible world of the trial and death of Socrates in the visible world (see the parallels in the tetralogies, again in my site). But, before reaching this stage, the challenge has to be set in full light, and this is the purpose of the Parmenides. And to make the challenge even bigger, what better way that to make Socrates smaller! Thus a young Socrates before a venerable Parmenides...
> [CP] This is certainly intriguing, and I will chew upon it for a while. You are assuming, of course, that the primary purpose of the Prm is "logical." What if it is "metaphysical" or a combination of both?
Where did I say it was "logical"? It is a whole way of understanding the world which is at stakes. I don't have room here to show how a close analysis of the introduction and "staging" of the Parmenides, compared to that of the Theætetus (which is the introduction to the whole trilogy Theæetetus, Sophist, Statesman) shows that Plato is criticizing in Parmenides a "materialistic" understanding of "ideas".
Let's give it a try anyway... Pythodorus, "the gift of the pythoness", is "playing", in the inner story, the lower part of a soul of which Parmenides is the logos and Zeno a thumos unable to take responsibility and make choices, and he memorizes mechanically a discussion he doesn't understand, only to recite it in front of Antiphon, "Mr. Echoman", who himself memorizes it and understands it even less, so that he goes back to horse riding until Cephalus (the "empty logos" of the outer story, of which Antiphon is the tape-recorder-like thumos replaying what he got from his "godly natural voice", the voice of the pythoness, his feeling soul, while still a kid) asks him to "replay" it (through Adeimantus and Glaucon, two friends of Socrates, who might have taken him to the source of the story, and yet he prefers hearsay...). And to better show us that, at no time in the process of bringing that story from the "senses" (Pythodorus) to the head (Cephalus), through an unwilling will (Antiphon), was there any real "understanding" of this "material" logos, we keep getting from Cephalus' story the boring "X said that Y said that..."
All this compares to Euclid (the intermediate thumos) going back times and again to Socrates (the logos) to make sure he got the story straight, even taking the time to write it down, and then retelling it willingly and at leisure to his resting and "fulfilled" (the meaning of Terpsion in greek) epithumiai just back from the fields, through a mastered "body" (the slave who reads it), and showing that the story has become his by getting rid of the "X said that Y said that..." (as you can see, this has nothing to do with "stylistic" considerations on the part of an aging Plato, but everything to do with "philosophy" and the "setting" of the message Plato is trying to get through using alll available means...)
> [CP] My only hesitation, at this point, is: if the Prm is a "challenge" before reaching dialectic from rhetoric, why would Sokrates appear to advocate the exact same positive doctrines at twenty, with Parmenides, as he does again at seventy with his closest followers? I say "positive doctrines" with caution, however (cf. Phd 100b ff.), because Sokrates is quite clear that what we today seem to take as "doctrines" were actually "assumptions" and "safe answers" to particular problems.
Plato is not writing a journalistic report on Socrates' life, but writing a "spiritual" journey, using Socrates as a guide, and "staging" each step so as to use as many "symbols" and artistic devices as possible to multiply the chances of getting his point through... except one: just stating plainly a "doctrine" that he wants us to find by ourselves... He may not be true to "history" but he doesn't care so long as he is true to the spirit...
>> [BS] 2) The trilogy Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman is a summary of the whole set (again, see my web pages for more); The beginnng of the Theætetus is intended to bring us back to the early stages of the Lysis, Laches and Charmides (Ist tetralogy). and the idea that the dialogue is set close to Socrates trial, is a hint at the fact that the trilogy is the "trial" of Parmenides necessary to free the mind of the evils of sophistic and rhetoric before "resurrecting" a "young Socrates in the reader's mind...
> [CP] The only difficulty I have with this today is that the Theaitetos is not set on the eve of Sokrates' trial. The dialogue itself is set during the aftermath of a battle at Korinth (369 BCE) which recalls a conversation in the spring of 399 BCE. The Sophist and Statesman, on the other hand, are directly enacted on the eve of Sokrates' execution. I have never understood why students of Platon ignore this fact.
It is true of the "outer story" of the trilogy Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman, which is told at the beginning of the first part of the trilogy, but not of the "inner story". A reason for this "dual time" is to present us with both Socrates and Theætetus as people whose whole life is about over, that is, of whom we can judge what kind of men they were. Theætetus is the "material" image of Socrates (he resembles him physically) while Socrates the younger is his "intelligible" image, resembling him by logos. Of a material image, we want the whole picture; of the "logical" image, we have it in the logos outside space and time...
Sorry for being that long, and yet too short. I'm sure you'll find flaws in such rapid overviews that would require pages of details... But try to find them by yourselves, that's what Plato wanted!...
(1) A first flavour of this is found in another post, available here under the title "The Symbolic Structure of Plato's Parmenides". (back)
Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
First published December 15, 1996 ;
Last updated November 21, 1998
© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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