no previous


Lecture 1 (8th July 1948)

Dialogues to be considered: Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist (1949), Philebus.

Reading: Burnet, Cornford, Taylor (Chapter 1 Parmenides, Zeno and Socrates; Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1916. See also Philosophical Studies.)

You have the general question over the later dialogues and their relation to the earlier dialogues and treating this especially in terms of the Burnet-Taylor view we can say that for Burnet the dialogues up to the Republic is the philosophy of Socrates and the Republic is quite considerably Socratic though having at least suggestions of Platonic views or problems. (N.B., opposing views of Fields and Hardie.)

Burnet emphasises the break, Taylor minimises it.

Taylor tends to discount any appearance of refutation that later dialogues exhibit. This is all the more a possible line because in certain matters especially on the ethical and political side Plato in the later dialogues does not seem to go far beyond the position of Socrates. And in the first place that helps anyone who so desires to discount the difference on the logical side and in the second place it has a tendency itself to reduce that logical difference - that is to say we find in later dialogues especially in the Sophist the materials for a logic fundamentally opposed to the Socratic but Plato himself is prevented by his ethical and political tendencies from working out this position to its logical conclusion.

Now this sort of question is important for the interpretation of the Parmenides. We have Taylor regarding it as a jeu d'esprit - taking the view that the theory of forms is sound - that any supposed refutation of it must be invalid and that the presumption at least is in favour of Plato's being aware of the fallacies of the argument that he puts in the mouth of Parmenides. But on the empirical view that the theory of Forms is false - that it can be validly refuted and if that is combined with the view that some of the arguments here attributed to Parmenides

  ― 2 ―
are valid - the presumption is in favour of Plato's being aware of their validity and thus of his rejecting the theory of Forms as Socrates held it.

Parmenides a reply to the Phaedo.

I would say that the dialogue is certainly the result of Plato's increased interest in Eleaticism and it amounts to this that, as against the view that there are two available theories of being, the Eleatic view and the Socratic (Pythagorean), these are not the only possibilities - they can be both rejected and for essentially the same reasons that neither solve the problem of the one and the many (unity and multiplicity) or of the relation between being and becoming. In fact the Eleatic dialectic as a form of criticism can be turned against Eleaticism. In the same way the Theaetetus is concerned with knowledge and may be taken as showing that the two previous theories of knowledge - the Sophistic and the Socratic - may be rejected, again for the same reason that neither can account for error or knowledge as a process and that, even if Plato is not quite clear on the matter. It is because each of them assumes fixities or certainties of thought which cannot be reconciled with uncertainty and inquiry and the unhistorical character of the dialogue (Socrates is again the leading speaker) is shown by the fact that we are presented with a secret doctrine of Protagoras - something said to have never been published but revealed to his intimates - an indication that Plato is trying to state the Sophistic view even more strongly than Protagoras did in order more conclusively to show its untenability. Secondly, by the fiction by which Socrates presents a doctrine revealed to him in a dream - the point being that this is a sign that it is a restatement of Socrates' position which of course he couldn't be represented as explicitly attacking. We can say that the appearance of Parmenides as the leading speaker in the Parmenides indicates that for Plato the Eleatic theory of being is superior to the Socratic theory but the second point shows that it too can't be maintained - and the reappearance of Socrates as the leading figure in the Theaetetus would similarly indicate that the Socratic theory of knowledge was better than the Sophistic although it is also open to fundamental criticism.

Sophist - leading figure the Eleatic stranger (unhistorical character for 1st time - Plato?)

Philebus - ethical theorising (hedonist view, intellectualist view). Socrates the leading speaker.

This indicates that the intellectualist view better than the hedonist but the final decision is a compromise embracing elements from both doctrines and the dialogue introduces much logical material which goes beyond anything in the early dialogues and couldn't be Socratic.

no previous