Saturday, October 01, 2005

A first

Nicholas White's Plato on Knowledge and Reality is a barn-burner, even if it is 30 years old. In a chapter on the Phaedo, he relates Plato's use of an odd example in his argument for the reality of transcendent Forms. At 74a9ff, Socrates contrasts the equality (in size, presumably) of pieces of wood or stone with "the idea of abstract equality, which is different from them" (F. J. Church translation). Pieces of wood are only qualifiedly equal (e.g. to this but not to that), but the Equal is equal without qualification and therefore metaphysically prior. As White remarks (p. 69), Plato "does not see ... that it makes dubious sense to say that any object is equal unqualifiedly (i.e., without being equal to anything)." A little later, he adds (p. 70):
Some will be inclined to think that the view just now described is too clearly mistaken, and even bizarre, to be rightly ascribed to Plato. Such an impression, I think, is the result of an overexposure to contemporary philosophical discussions, in which such logical and quasi-logical matters as relational predication are so thoroughly and unremittingly scrutinized. Even Aristotle, who criticized this aspect of Plato's doctrine, himself had no very clear understanding of relations (as a glance at Categories 7 and Metaphysics V. 15 will show), and perhaps nobody did until late in the last century.
At first I didn't understand; but then I realized: he means the nineteenth century. This is the first, for me, of what will surely be a long series of such double-takes in coming years.

1 comment:

vishal said...
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