Notes on Plato’s Dialogues

I’ve reread these several times.  I am not a pure Platonist.  I do believe in universals, but I don’t think we need to get bogged down in Plato’s specifics.  In any case, did Plato believe that relations were universals?  I’m not sure, yet take the relation “north of.”  This seems to be a universal.  That’s Bertrand Russell’s example.

Symposium

Does Love have an object?  Yes. Love has to love something (200c).  Unfortunately, this implies desire, which is a lack.  Necessarily, then, Love must love beautiful things.

“justified, true belief:”  “To have a right opinion without being able to give a reason is neither to understand nor is it ignorance” (202B).

The nature of spiritual: “for all the spiritual is between divine and mortal” 202c-204c.  Love is a great spirit which has causal power. God cannot mingle directly with man but goes through the Forms.  Beauty is simple and we partake of Beauty only by participation (209c-211c). Language of ascent in 211c.  

Republic

Book 1

Thrasymachus: Justice is whatever serves the advantage of the stronger.  However, he admits that sometimes the Stronger commands the weaker to do what is not in the stronger’s advantage (e.g., when the Stronger unwittingly makes a mistake).   Socrates then asks, “What is ‘advantage?’”

The practitioner of an art/scientia never seeks the advantage simply for the sake of the art (healing is not for the sake of healing, but for the body).

Beginning of a definition of justice: a kind of wisdom or virtue (350C-352A)

Book 2

Justice belongs to the noblest class, the soul.  Justice is a form which has causal power (358b-360c).  Socrates is rebutting the counterargument that no one is just willingly, but only under compulsion.  In responding, Socrates posits several analogues (369c):

  • Man = city
  • soul = justice

Theology

God, as good, could not be the cause of all things (i.e., he could not be the cause of evil).  

God is simple and good, so he is changeless (380a-381d).  Things in the best condition are least liable to change. If something undergoes change, then it is being changed by something else (and the lesser doesn’t change the greater).  

Book III

Educating to virtue, thus censorship. A good soul by its own virtues provides a body in the best possible condition (402d-404c). The better rulers are usually older men (408c).

There is an equivalence between concord–harmony–music–training.

  • The result of this concord is a soul that is both temperate and brave (410c. passim).
  • Remember that the individual soul is an analogue to the City.  

Plato suggests a communism in regard to the training of Guardians, but we are not yet to a full communism in society (415e).

Book IV

The guardians must guard against all extremes in wealth and poverty, for these lead to idleness (422b).   They must maintain the mean between wealth and poverty.

Temperance permeates all of society.  It “brings all the strings into concord” (432a).

Moves back to a definition of justice:

  • to do one’s business and not meddle in affairs (4323-434c).
  • justice is the presupposition (precondition?) of the other Greek virtues: temperance, courage, intelligence.
  • multiplicity makes finding justice difficult.
  • justice maintains the harmony between classes.
  • We can know justice for a city by looking at a man who maintains this harmony in his soul (435a).

Anthropology

Do we learn by one faculty, feel by another, etc.?

  • Are the faculties within man simply synonymous or are they distinct?
  • They are distinct.  There is something in the soul that moves towards Logos and another that moves towards the passions (438b-439e).
  • This is similar to Freud’s “divided mind” theory.  

Plato ends Book IV with a suggestion of the 5 faculties.  However, Book V is a detour

Book V

Book V is an intricate discussion on the particulars of a philosophical city.  Such a city must be unified. Thus,

“So that city is best managed in which the greatest number say “mine” and ‘not mine’ with the same meaning about the same things” (462a-463d)

This sounds a lot like Augustine’s Discussion in Book IXX City of God.  

Opposites and One

Since beautiful and ugly are opposites, they are two.  And since they are two, each is one. Even though each of these are one, they appear as many because each shows itself everywhere in community (476a).  This sounds like Maximus’s Logos/logoi. Collectively, the forms are one but they manifest themselves as many.

Discussions of Nominalism

Is there beauty in itself, or is beauty just a name? The knower knows something, not nothing.  If he knows something, he knows something that is. You can’t  know what is not. Further, there is a state between knowledge and ignorance

knowledge = things that are ignorance = things that are not

knowledge is a faculty (Plato calls it a power)

Opinion is between the two; it partakes of both being and non-being. This the realm of Becoming.

Book VI

The “mob mentality” probably can’t separate “The Beautiful” from beautiful things (493e).

Archetype/ectype

“perfect model of the the Good, the use of which makes all just things” (505a-c).  

Arche-writing and Trace

The ideals/forms appeal to the mind (507b).  Hearing and sound inferior to seeing because they can work if the third term is absent.   The following triad

sigh—> light ←-color

The ectype is in relation to the archetype by analogy (508).  

We have noted that the forms have causal power.  Their effects are in the mind.

Hyper-ousia (509b)

The good is the cause that knowledge exists.  The Good is not a state of knowledge but something beyond it.  

Review: Russell, Problems of Philosophy

Not an easy read, but fun at times. How do we know what is real? There is a disjunct between appearance and reality. In other words, the “real” is not always the obvious. Russell’s main sparring partner is Bishop Berkeley, and so Russell treats us to a fine display of Idealism (with following refutations). Berkeley says that if things exist independently of us, they cannot be the immediate objects of sensation. Idealists, therefore, place the existence of objects within the mind (or rather, say such existence is mental). What is known in the senses is not the immediate object of the senses.

For Berkeley an idea is what is immediately known (sense-data). This means x is “in” the mind. This raises a problem. What does it mean to be “in” the mind? It’s better to say an object is “before” the mind. Berkeley equivocates on “in.” All he has a right to say is the thought of x is within the mind. Berkeley did not distinguish between the thought of something and the act of thinking that thought. The latter is certainly mental, but we are not justified in saying the former is.

Different Types of Knowledge

Knowledge by acquaintance is “foundational” knowledge. It is immediate and direct (Russell 48).

Universals

Russell correctly calls “universals” “ideas.” This way there is no confusion on what Plato meant by ideas and what Berkeley and Locke mean by ideas. We are aware of universals by “conceiving.” As conceived, the universals are now “concepts.”

A universal is the opposite of that which causes sensation. A universal is that which is shared by many particulars. Proper names stand for particulars, while other substantives stand for universals.

Other examples of universals are “qualities” and “relations.” Many relations do not exist in space or time, yet they are real and can be known to be real. Take the phrase, “North of London.” “North of” is not physical, yet it is a real something. The implications of this for Christianity, which presumably Russell didn’t explore, are staggering.

The Problem of Induction

When two things have been found to be associated together, and no instance is known of one occurring without the other, does the occurrence of one give me any ground for expecting the other?

No.

Experience only tells us about past futures. It cannot tell us what to expect of future futures.

Conclusion

I think Russell does a successful job in showing that we can have legitimate knowledge that isn’t derived from sensations. Further, this work has a number of semi-legendary chapters along with a fine bibliography.

Appearance and Reality

What is the “real” object? If I am looking at the table, is the table’s appearing to me the real table? If I look at it under a microscope, I will see something different. Which, then, is the real table? Russell suggests the “real” is not what we see. It is inferred from what we see (Russell 11).

Russell suggests, rightly I think, that if we keep “reducing” matter all the way down we will end up with electrical forces (16). This is correct. But why stop there? Why not reduce the electrical forces even further? He gives no answer, but it’s not hard to fathom: any further reduction, to quote Matthew Raphael Johnson, will show that energy will have a non physical cause: Logos. In other words, Logos is the substrate of the energy. Objects within space and time can be reduced to forces, and these forces must be outside space and time. Russell later admits that real “somethings” can exist outside space and time (98).

The Existence of Matter

If an object is merely sense-data, then it will cease to exist once it is no longer perceived. But this is silly. If I throw a blanket over a table, does the table cease to exist? If so, then is the blanket floating in mid-air (!?).

Some brief notes on nominalism

Nominalism seeks the simplest explanation in ontology.  One of their confusions regarding realism, though, is that they think universals have spatial location.  But as B. Russell pointed out, the universal “being north of” is not spatial.

The austere nominalist is committed to just one ontological category, particulars.  Austere nominalism runs into problems when it gets to the category of abstract particulars, such as “courage is a virtue.”

Metalinguistic Nominalism

Not universals; just linguistic expressions about nonlinguistic objects.  One of the difficulties, though, is it is forced to rely on type/token distinctions, which start to look like universals. It’s not hard to see connections with postmodernism.

Trope Theory

By far the most interesting.  Concrete particulars have colors, etc., but those attributes are just particulars.  So, if two objects have the color “red,” does that mean they share the universal “redness”?  Not necessarily.  Rather, they have the set of resembling trope red.  But isn’t a set a universal?  Not exactly.  Sets have clear-cut identity conditions.  Universals do not.  Sets are identical just in case all members are identical.  Set, α, is identical with set ,β , when the members of each set are identical with one another.

So this appears to give the trope nominalist an edge over the realist, except for one problem.  Take the referents

“Being a unicorn”

And

“Being a griffin.”

Since there are no such things as unicorns or griffins, they must belong to the set, null.  As Loux points out, “given the identity conditions for sets, there is just one null set,” which would mean both propositions are in fact identical.  But this is clearly false (91-92), as any schoolchild knows.

Other problems with trope nominalism (cf Moreland):

  • membership in a set of tropes is arbitrary (Moreland doesn’t expound)
  • Two red balls (A and B) resemble each other because they have red₁ and red₂ constituents.
    • The copula “is” in question is neither of predication or identity, but set membership.
    • Rejoinder:  why red and not green?  Red tropes resemble each other in a different way than green tropes?  Why?
  • If two tropes, Red and Sweet, are in the same location, how are they not identical on the Trope Nominalist view.

Properties and Attributes

Why is this important?  Understanding that this is what “makes up” a human being is crucial in apologetics, evangelism, and the pro-life cause.

Older theologians made a distinction between property and attribute, the latter being a wider category than the former.  Modern philosophers haven’t held to that distinction.  I am going to list different writers’ takes on it and see what comes up.

JP Moreland (either works by Moreland or about Moreland) :

property: a universal (Moreland and Craig, 219), that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. A substance “owns” a property (215).  Properties always come together in groups.

Gould and Wallace clarify Moreland’s position by saying a property is an instantiation of an abstract object (Gould and Wallace 24).

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Richard Muller:

attributum: the attributes identify what the thing is and are inseparable from its substance (Muller 50).

proprietas: pertaining to God, it is an incommunicable attribute.  More specifically, that which is uniquely predicated of the person.  Regarding the doctrine of man, what is predicated of an individual (250).

Alvin Plantinga:

property: Plantinga broadens the discussion to where he can say “God has a nature–a property he has essentially that includes each property essential to him” (Plantinga 7).  So, God has the property of having a nature.  Plantinga seems to have reversed the relation between property and attribute.

Conclusion

On one hand, properties are had by the person, attributes by the essence.  Or rather, attributes are predicated of the essence.  Yet J. P. Moreland says properties are had by the substance.  Is Moreland confusing substance and person?  Maybe not.  In the West substance wasn’t necessarily identical with “essence” or ousia.  Substance denotes a standing under, which points to the idea of person.

Yet it is also important to realize that properties are explanatorily prior to the things that have them (Gould and Wallace 25).  The easiest conclusion is that attributes are predicated of the essence, properties of the person, provided we also see properties functioning as universals.

Works Cited

Gould, Paul and Wallace, Stan.  “On what there is: theism, platonism, and explanation” in Eds. Gould, Paul and Davis, Richard Brian. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Press, 2010.

Moreland, J. P. and Craig, William Lane.   Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint [1995].