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II. Realism versus Dualism

Realism thus appears in the second place as an empiricist doctrine, or theory of existence as the single way of being; and this brings it into conflict with any theory of “ultimate” or unhistorical entities — things of “higher” reality, because they are above change. As already noted, Monism is merely one particular resort of the rationalistic dualist; the unbridgeable gulf between the “higher” and the “lower” remains, whether we postulate many “ultimates” or only One. The locus classicus of the idealist-rationalist entanglement is Plato's Parmenides, where we are shown the illogicality of both hypotheses, “that there are many” and “that there is one” — the obvious solution being that there are none, i.e., no “ultimates”; which was the conclusion already reached by Gorgias.

The point is that the believer in ultimate or eternal entities is logically bound to deny historical things altogether. This was the position taken up from the beginning by the Eleatics in their criticism of the Pythagoreans. That which has not “real being”, really has not being; i.e., it is nothing at all. Or again, if the “higher” is the reality of the “lower”, then there is really only the “higher”. It was easy for the Eleatics, then, to show that the Pythagoreans could give no account of history in terms of what they regarded as the real; if the real is unhistorical, the historical is unreal. But the sole reality or Absolute of the Eleatics is in no better case; as soon as they say anything about it whatever, they represent it as having “aspects” which are only relatively to it and are nothing in themselves; so that, by the same argument as before, there are no aspects, and there is no One. The second and longer part of the Parmenides shows the overthrow of Eleaticism by means of the same logic as the Eleatics had used against the Pythagoreans; but this is because it is a commonsense logic, a logic of events, that logic, in fact, which is involved in all discussion and criticism. Thus, as soon as the monist says anything at all, he can be refuted; and, of course, if he says nothing, there is no Monism to refute. But he has a dialectical advantage


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over the ordinary rationalist, who says a great deal, and openly employs the distinction between the real real and the somewhat real.

What the Parmenides shows, then, is that all doctrines of “ultimates” fall together, because they all have to admit the “relative” but can give no coherent account either of its relation to, or of its distinction from, the “ultimate”. If this relation or distinction is ultimate, then both its terms must be ultimate, and if it is not, then there is, “ultimately”, no relation or distinction. Thus the refutation, in the first part of the dialogue, of the reconstructed Pythagoreanism of Socrates is itself sufficient to establish the doctrine of a single way of being, the being of historical things which are related and distinguished, come to be and cease to be. And if the arguments of Parmenides against Socrates can be made good, we may credit Plato with holding a realistic and empirical theory, though he may not have worked it out so consistently as did the earliest critic of Pythagoreanism, Heraclitus.

The Eleatic criticism of rationalism is equivalent to the rejection of constitutive relations. The early Pythagoreans had held that the real was certain units, and that empirical things were simply arrangements of these units, so that the reality of a thing was simply the units which constituted it. And the Eleatic arguments, which found their clearest form in Zeno's paradoxes, were to the effect that this derivation from the real admitted the reality of something other than the real. Later Pythagorean theory recognised as ultimate certain forms, or types of constitution of things, the things themselves having their reality in being (or in so far as they were) of the nature of the forms. This relation, expressed by Socrates as “participation” of things in forms, is supposed to overcome the logical objections to different ways of being, but actually the later statement of the theory is just as vulnerable, and by the same line of reasoning, as the earlier. The important feature of the theory of Socrates (as we find it expounded particularly in the Phaedo) is that he introduced a definite reference to the proposition, but, as this did not lead him to reject the doctrine of different orders of being, a propositional criticism of his “higher realities” was still required.

As I have argued, a relation can hold only between two things, each having characters of its own, i.e., between two independent existents, not between an “ultimate” and a “relative”, or, for that matter, between two “ultimates” — and it is this which gives point to the Monism of Parmenides, as to that of Spinoza. It is here that I come into conflict with Mr W. A. Merrylees, who recognises “the teleological nature of reality”, and accepts participation as “that relation between anything and its ideal (and between that and its ideal until we reach the first principle) in virtue of which it is intelligible”. In other words, Mr Merrylees holds the Socratic theory that things are constituted by what they tend towards or strive after, that a thing has reality to the extent to which it approximates to its reality or perfection. Not only does he hold this, but he regards the theory as Plato's, and he considers that it is supported, instead of being disposed of, in the Parmenides. In replying previously


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(“‘Universals’ and Occurrences”; A.J.P.P., Vol. VII, No. 2note) to Mr Merrylees's criticisms of realism, I asked what he made of the Parmenides. This appeared in his article (which had, in fact, been written earlier) in the following number; he regards it as a logical failure on the part of the Eleatics to weaken Socraticism and to maintain their own position. What I require to show, then, is that the “participation” theory is really overthrown.

The discussion begins from the type of “contradiction” brought out by Zeno in his paradoxes. How can the same things be both like and unlike, as they must be if there are many of them? The importance of this question is that to answer it properly is to give an account of the distinctions and relations which hold among things themselves, and to show that to go beyond them for explanations, besides being inadequate, is unnecessary. But as Socrates tries to evade the difficulty by means of his explanatory “forms”, a demonstration of the inadequacy of his theory has to be made. And this is what Parmenides undertakes.

Mr Merrylees expresses no dissatisfaction with the argument of Socrates on likeness and unlikeness, or, in general, to show that “though one idea cannot be or become its opposite, nevertheless the same subject may participate in opposite ideas”; but, indeed, to recognise its weakness is to recognise the weakness of the whole Socratic theory. To say that the form of unlikeness “is the opposite of likeness”, and that, while no one “could prove the absolute like to become unlike, or the absolute unlike to become like…there is nothing extraordinary in showing that the things which only partake of likeness or unlikeness experience both”, is to take all the meaning from the term “opposite”. If like means “having qualities in common with”, and unlike “not having qualities in common with”, then no two things can be at the same time like and unlike. If, on the other hand, unlike merely means “having qualities not shared by”, then any two things whatever are both like and unlike. But, in that case also, there is no point in saying that likeness and unlikeness are “opposites”, and that, for that reason, they cannot participate in one another.

Thus Socrates has said nothing to show that, if there is such a thing as participation by one form in another, likeness cannot partake of unlikeness. Obviously it might be said that likeness is unlike some other relation, e.g., paternity. The real point is that to say that two “forms” are really opposites is equivalent to saying that no thing can “partake” of both at the same time. Incidentally, the example is a good one as showing the tendency of Socrates to confuse a relation, such as likeness, with a quality of a single thing; just as he confuses the quality good with the relation being pursued, and, in general, any quality a thing has with the thing's striving after an “ideal” of that kind.

It is this which gives point to the doubts of Socrates as to whether all things have forms, and Mr Merrylees misses the point in saying that, in the mild rebuke of Parmenides, “Plato is expressing his own view — that


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there is an idea of whatever can be thought”. Why should Socrates, youthful as he was, have had any doubts on the subject? Entirely from the nature of the theory of forms; from the ridiculousness of saying, for example, that a particular piece of mud is striving after the ideal of perfect muddiness. As Burnet suggests, the theory of ideals appears plausible only when there does seem to be some important end to be attained. But even then the criticism still remains, and this is what the “third man” or “two world” argument enforces, that the particular and the ideal must each be regarded as having characters of its own, if the one is to be related in any way to the other.

Thus whether we take the case of mud or any other, whether or not we admit that certain things are themselves “just muddy”, we have to admit that they are just something, or else they are just nothing. The latter is, of course, the Eleatic view which Socrates wished to avoid. And it is only natural that Parmenides should demonstrate his critic's failure. If the particulars have not their character in themselves, they cannot have it out of themselves as an end to strive for, for there is no “they” to have it. This is the objection to the contention in the Phaedo that any actual pair of things that we call “equal” are not just equal, but are only “nearly equal”. If so, then they are just “nearly equal”, and not “nearly nearly equal”; and there is no earthly reason for saying that their reality consists in an equality which they do not have, and not in an approximate equality which they do have. To quote my previous reply to Mr Merrylees: “In short, as the Parmenides shows, we can maintain the doctrine of ideals only by describing things in terms which do not apply to them, but all the time we are using terms which do apply to them, and so are contradicting the doctrine of ideals.”

Socrates would seem to be employing the same device when he says, in the passage quoted, that things which “only partake of” likeness or unlikeness may partake of both; suggesting, i.e., that the things may be not quite like and not quite unlike. But this, besides implying that for idealists the things are “advancing in all directions”, still indicates that the things are to be understood as having characters of their own, just as definite as anything they could be supposed to strive after. Thus, as Parmenides insists in his final argument, if we are to talk about the things at all, we must do so in terms of the characters they really have (in the “sensible world”), and any reference to characters they “ought to” but do not have (to “forms in the intelligible world”) is quite irrelevant. So, in respect of relations, if the things have any real relation, whether we call it “participation” or anything else, it also will be in the sensible world, and so will what is thus related to the things.

Naturally, Parmenides is not satisfied with this empirical conclusion, since he does not believe in the sensible world. But this merely means that for him the conclusion would be that we are not to talk about the things or “many”. Nothing can have (or partake of) being, since if it is being, there is no relation, and if it is not being, there is nothing to have the relation. What the later part of the dialogue shows, however, is that


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even Parmenides cannot help talking about things, if he talks at all. And the upshot is that the Eleatic and the Pythagorean-Socratic theories of ideal being are shown to be alike untenable. This proof can only be of an empirical character, but that does not hinder it from being historically true to Eleaticism. It has not been observed that the paradoxes of Zeno, for example, bring out not the “self-contradiction” of Pythagorean theories but a contradiction between their rationalist assumptions and their empirical assumptions; and that this contradiction is demonstrated empirically, however little this may accord with the conclusions Zeno wished to establish. As already noted, the use of the Eleatic method to destroy Eleatic philosophy is credited to Gorgias, and even Parmenides may quite well have been acquainted with his work.

The correct conclusion, then, is the empirical one, that there are no “higher” entities, but everything that concerns particulars is on their own level of existence. Mr Merrylees considers that the plausibility of Parmenides's criticism of the Socratic attempt to bridge the gulf between “higher” and “lower” depends on the choice of a metaphor. The real point is that, no matter how we describe the relation, the description must be such that we can recognise as a single situation “a thing partaking of a form”, and this situation can only have a neutral sort of being (neither “higher” nor “lower”) which must likewise be that of its constituents. And all the proposed relations are intelligible only as perceptible relations between perceptible things, i.e., historical relations between historical things. We all know what is meant by “having a share of”, as when the owl and the panther were sharing a pie; we can see the partakers and the partaken of, and we can see the partaking going on. Similarly, when one thing “comes under” another, or “is copied from” another; we have often come across such complex, existing states of affairs. But none of these experiences helps us to understand the real “participation”; it is something unspeakable — and so is not even something, and not even unspeakable.

Socrates himself puts forms and particulars on the same level, when he admits that they may both “come under” forms, and even under the same forms. We get such examples of this, in the Phaedo, as “Fire is hot” and “This body is hot” (as I pointed out in “‘Universals’ and Occurrences”). And we get the answer to it, in the Parmenides, in the infinite regress of forms. Mr Merrylees meets this argument, according to which, he says, “the idea is (1) a character common to many things which we discover by comparing these things, (2) a character which, when found, can in the same way itself be compared with these things, thereby revealing a further character common to itself and these”, by saying that “Plato's real point” is, that while (l) may be true in a sense, (2) is not. “The idea is of a different order to the things compared, and cannot in any sense be regarded as another thing alongside these with which they can be compared.”

This can only mean that, in spite of Socrates, things and a form cannot both come under the same form, and, as already suggested in the


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statement that participation is “that relation between anything and its ideal (and between that and its ideal until we come to the first principle) in virtue of which it is intelligible”, that a thing cannot come under more than one form. So that, if this body is fiery, then, even if fire is hot, this body is not hot; and, if we go on to the “first principle”, this body is not real — a conclusion which would have pleased Parmenides. Again, for one thing to be different from another, it must have a different character; so that every thing has its peculiar “ideal”, and every ideal has its ideal — and when do we ever come to the “first principle”? On the other hand, granting that a thing's ideal is the explanation of that thing, we have to go, in explaining anything, right to the “first principle”, the “self-explanatory”, and we can recognise no distinction between anything and anything else; there is only the self-subsistent One — another conclusion which would have pleased Parmenides.

Thus the refutation of Eleaticism, in the second part of the dialogue, is more than sufficient for the refutation of Socraticism, which appears separately in the first part. It has therefore to be recognised that “This body is fiery”, “This body is hot” and “Fire is hot” are propositions all of the same order, and their terms are all of the same order. So far from the recognition of “forms” settling problems such as that of the like and the unlike, it renders them insoluble; they can be solved only by sticking to things, and recognising that they are sorts of things, i.e., historical situations or occurrences. We have to reject the distinction between being and becoming, and recognise, with Heraclitus, that whatever is, is in process and whatever is in process, is. Thus the realistic rejection of “constitutive relations” develops into the empirical recognition of a singe way of being, that, namely, of observable things — existence; and the position finally appears as that of a positive and pluralistic logic of events. It was fitting that, in the development of such a logic as far as Plato was able to carry it, honourable mention should be made of the names of Parmenides, Zeno and Socrates, since they had all contributed to the working out of the propositional method, though none of them had seen its incompatibility with “ultimates” and all of them had opposed the Heraclitean theory of a single historical order.

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