BMCR 2001.02.12

Recognition, Remembrance, and Reality: New Essays on Plato’s Epistemology and Metaphysics. Apeiron vol. 32.4 (December 1999)

, , Recognition, remembrance & reality : new essays on Plato's epistemology and metaphysics. Apeiron, v. 32, no. 4. Kelowna, Canada: Academic Print. and Pub, 2000. xi, 157 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0920980740. $24.95.

Recognition, Remembrance, and Reality is a collection of revised versions of eight papers on Plato’s epistemology and metaphysics first presented at the Fourth Annual Arizona Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. Given the genesis of this volume, then, it is no surprise—and no legitimate cause for complaint—that it does not present us with a comprehensive exploration of Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology. The Sophist, the Timaeus, and the Philebus, for example, receive very little attention, while certain basic questions in these areas, e.g., (i) how to understand the difference between episteme and doxa, (ii) whether to think of a Platonic Form as a property, a universal, a type, or what have you, and (iii) how to understand the separation and self-predication of the Forms, are present only in the background, if at all. Most of the essays in this loosely organized anthology adopt the laudable approach of exploring a topic within a single dialogue: we get one piece on the Phaedo‘s recollection argument (by Gerson), two essays on the Republic (Miller and Smith), two on the Parmenides (McPherran and Patterson), and two on the Theaetetus (Lee and Shields). Asli Gocer’s paper, on the other hand, examines the neglected notion of hesuchia throughout much of the Platonic corpus. Mark McPherran also contributes a brief preface that summarizes the essays; the volume concludes with an index locorum, an index nominum, and a subject index.

Lloyd Gerson opens with “The Recollection Argument Revisited.” Gerson’s aim is to give a careful reconstruction of the well-known and much-discussed argument of Phaedo 72e3-78b3. As Gerson points out, while the gist of the argument is clear enough (what appears to be incarnate learning is really recollection of what we learned while we were discarnate), the devil is in the details. One pair of such notorious details concerns just what Socrates means when he says that recollection can be of things that are either homoion or anomoion (74a2-3) and what he means when he says that the object that prompts a recollection may be lacking in respect of or may fall short of the object one recollects (74a5-7; cf. 74d4-e4). A rather natural reading of these details is that two things A and B are homoion when they are similar in some (or perhaps most?) respects. One virtue of this view is that it easily accommodates the idea that A might fall short of B, since the similarity between them might be approximate rather than exact. Gerson rejects this reading because he finds this notion of similarity too vague to be of use. Instead, he proposes that A and B are homoion when they are in fact the same. A picture of Simmias is not just similar to Simmias; it is a picture of the very same man. But then what does it mean to say that the picture might fall short of the man if it does not mean that while the picture and the man are similar, they are also dissimilar? More importantly, what does it mean to say that sensible things (equal sticks and stones) might fall short of a Form (Equality itself)? Gerson’s answer does not point to the fact that while a pair of things might appear equal to you, they might appear unequal to me. Instead, he notes that the very same elements which in some cases constitute equality in other cases constitute inequality. The sensible world provides us with no pure and unadulterated sample of equality, so to speak.

In “Figure, Ratio, Form: Plato’s Five Mathematical Studies,” Mitchell Miller surveys the course of study Plato prescribes for his philosopher-rulers in Book VII of the Republic : calculation and arithmetic (522c-526c), plane geometry (526c-527c), solid geometry (528a-e), astronomy (529a-530c), and harmonics (530d-531c). Many have wondered about the propaideutic value of such studies for budding politicians; Miller’s aim here is limited to ascertaining their value for the ascent of the Platonic philosopher to the Forms and ultimately to the Form of the Good itself. After making the obvious point that each of these five studies helps the soul to transcend the sensible realm, he goes on to consider the significance of their ordering. He points out that the first and fifth studies (calculation and arithmetic and harmonics) concern relations of numbers, while the middle three studies are all species of geometry; he then speculates about the significance of this structure. Miller closes with a tantalizing discussion of the possibility that “Forms might be expressed in and as ratios.”

Nicholas Smith explores the pedagogical role of the dialogue of the Republic itself in his “Images, Education, and Paradox in Plato’s Republic.” The Republic gives a detailed account of the education of its guardians and rulers, beginning in Books II-III and continuing in Book VII. At what stage of their education, if any, should they read a work like the Republic ? This question raises a number of interesting problems for the work itself does not fit neatly within any of the stages of education it outlines (although Smith argues that it may be seen as part of a broader dianoetic course of study that includes the mathematical studies as well). In addition, the Republic employs a number of devices it goes on to ban, such as mixed styles and use of imitation. Smith makes two very important points which help to dissolve these problems. First, the interlocutors of the Republic (and, by extension, its readers as well) do not (and should not) see themselves as inhabitants of the ideal polis, but rather as its law-givers. In a way, then, the question that generates these problems is not a proper question. Second, he claims that Plato intends to be provocative, for he wants us to wrestle with these (and various other) problems; according to Smith, Plato means the Republic itself to be a summoner (cf. 523a-524d) which leads to understanding by provoking opposite perceptions.

In “An Argument ‘Too Strange’: Parmenides 143c4-e8,” Mark McPherran explores the second half of the greatest aporia in the Parmenides wherein it is argued not only that we cannot know the gods (and the Forms) but also that the gods cannot know us: just as we can know the mastery-in-us and the slavery-in-us but cannot know Mastery itself and Slavery itself, the gods can know Mastery itself and Slavery itself but cannot know the mastery-in-us or the slavery-in-us. McPherran challenges the common assumption that the two halves of this aporia are symmetrical and gives a fresh reconstruction of the argument of its second half and a diagnosis of the solutions available to Plato. The challenge Plato faces here, as McPherran sees it, is to balance the need to prevent a radical epistemic divorce between the Forms and sensible things with the need to defend the absolute immutability of the Forms.

Richard Patterson’s “Forms, Fallacies, and the Purposes of Plato’s Parmenides” contends that the arguments of the second half of that dialogue are bad arguments, that Plato deliberately constructs them as such, and that they nonetheless serve a variety of important purposes: (i) they will help us to discover how to respond to the objections of the first half; (ii) like the objections of the first half, the antinomies of the second half will provoke us to work through certain issues that are central to Plato’s project; and (iii) they will begin to provide us with just the sort of intellectual exercise we will need to work through those issues.

In “Thinking and Perception in Plato’s Theaetetus,” Mi-Kyoung Mitzi Lee sheds light on the tendency to assimilate thought to perception by exploring Plato’s discussion of the Secret Doctrine in Socrates’ response to Theaetetus’ attempt to define knowledge as perception (151d-187a). Lee exposes three important and problematic assumptions in this Doctrine: (i) appearing is the same as perceiving, (ii) to perceive is to be affected passively, and (iii) a perception and the object of that perception cannot occur without one another. She concludes by pointing out that one can read much of the rest of the Theaetetus as Socrates’ critique of these assumptions.

Christopher Shields gives a careful analysis of the Theaetetus‘ attempt to define knowledge as true judgment accompanied by an account in his “The Logos of ‘Logos’: The Third Definition of the Theaetetus.” Socrates’ principal task is to illuminate the notion of an account ( logos); he provides three ways of understanding this notion and argues that none yields a satisfactory definition. But Shields contends that Socrates’ arguments here are not compelling and that Socrates has given us no reason to think there are no other ways of understanding the notion of an account. Thus, according to Shields’s view, the definition of knowledge as true judgment accompanied by an account still survives at the dialogue’s end.

In ” Hesuchia, a Metaphysical Principle in Plato’s Moral Psychology,” Asli Gocer traces the concept of hesuchia through several dialogues and argues that it is primarily a metaphysical-cum-theological concept rather than a political concept. In recommending that we “keep quiet,” Plato is not advocating political quietism, then, but is rather urging us to seek the healthy, harmonious, stable, and divine condition of the soul that constitutes our highest good.

In closing, I should mention that, unfortunately, this volume needed a more careful editing than it seems to have received. The text contains a number of errors, which sometimes arise in small clusters, e.g., on pp. 13-14. Also, the titles listed in the table of contents are in some cases different from the titles of the essays themselves. But on to more important matters: each of these essays obviously deserves far more consideration than I have been able to give here, although I hope that the tenor and aim of each article is clear. As a whole, they display a close and careful attention to Plato’s text and to the arguments he makes. While I probably would not label any of them as groundbreaking, I do think they make a valuable contribution to several of the perennial problems in Plato scholarship.