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Parmenides 135a-155e

An Overview of Platos Parmenides 135a155e

Parmenides 135a to the end (166c) generally forms something of a response and a building on the layout of the aporiai (difficulties) of Socrates initial theory of forms in the first half of 126a135c (or depending on who you ask, the source of hair-pulling in the dialog). In the first half, we were presented with the problem of 1) the extant of the forms (130a-e), 2) the wholepart dilemma (130e-131e), 3) the third-man argument (132a-b), 4) forms as thoughts (132b-c), 5) the likeness regress (132c-133a), and 6) the so-called greatest difficulty (133a-134e). In what follows from 135a-137c, Parmenides puts forward the grave consequences for the theory of forms if someone accepts the criticisms offered. Yet it is implied that the power of dialectic by which knowledge of things is possible will be destroyed should the forms be thrown out, so Parmenides offers to help Socrates with his method of hypothesis to strengthen the theory of formsat least as Parmenides has in mind. What follows is a demonstration of his method with the case of the one in eight hypotheses or deductions in 135c-166c. In sum, I will go over the particulars of what Parmenides proposes to do in the intermediate section of 135c-137c, and then briefly mention the propositions and conclusions of the eight hypotheses in 137c-166c, with a brief summary of some of the arguments in the first two hypotheses in 137c-155e. In the intermediate section before the hypotheses, Parmenides summarizes well the problematic conclusion his attacks imply at 135c, when seeing that someone who hears about the formsor as he says, those characters for things, and a person is to mark off each form as something itself will be doubtful that they exist or that they can even be knowable to human nature. Yet, for the apparent monism that he holds both historically and as a character within the dialog, Parmenides appears to validate Socrates positing of the forms as a foundation to explain how knowledge and dialectic can be possible. This is implied when he notes that: Only a very gifted man can come to know that for each thing there is some kind, a being itself by itself; but only a prodigy more remarkable still will discover that and be able to teach someone else who has sifted all these difficulties thoroughly and critically for himself (135b14). This is made even more clear just afterward when Parmenides says that the power of dialectic (dialegesthai) will be destroyed if someone takes the aporiai seriously and does not allow that there are forms for things. Samuel Rickless in his 2007 book, Platos Forms in Transition, notes that dialegesthai can be taken in an ordinary sense, meaning something like discourse or conversation, or it can be taken in a more technical sense. If we put together the Parmenides with


Parmenides 135a-155e the previous middle dialogs of Phaedo and Republic, as Rickless implies1, the term can imply the

dialectic which takes the method of hypothesis further in seeking an unhypothetical first principle of everything and then deriving conclusions from this without making use of anything visible at all, but only of forms themselves, moving on from forms to forms, and ending in forms (Republic 511b5-c2). Dialectic in this context implies that which systematically attempts to grasp with respect to each thing itself what the being of it is (Republic VII, 533b2-3). If we read the character Parmenides statement about loosing the power of dialectic in this light, it would imply that he sees there is something to the forms in themselves as explanatory causes for the possibility of knowledge. What this might imply is that Parmenides still holds that 1) some sense of the form as one and distinct over the many is needed, and correspondingly 2) some sense of numerical distinction is needed between the form and the things to which it is related.2 Yet if these are to be retained, the theory must be amended in ways which overcome the

problems the prior criticisms raiseas well as by way of being properly trained. Parmenides mentions this proper training at 135d as a necessary prerequisite to marking off forms like that of the beautiful, the good, and others. In connection with this, and perhaps giving us a clue as to a possible implied solution, Parmenides takes note of Socrates shifting Zenos attention to the intelligible world from the sensible in looking at the phenomena of opposites in things, when he says that he was impressed by what Socrates had to say to Zeno at the beginning of the dialog: you didnt allow him to remain among visible things and observe their wandering between opposites. You asked him to observe it instead among those things that one might above all grasp by means of reason and might think to be forms. Although Socrates initially focuses on the existence of opposites co-existing in sensible things, Parmenides almost seems to suggest that Socrates should take note of that same phenomena in the forms as well, or at least consider whether that is the case. This would go well with seeing why Parmenides proposes hypothesizing whether something is not in addition to hypothesizing whether something is in employing the method of hypothesisimplicitly building on the method of hypothesis which we saw in Phaedo. What this might suggest is that our inquiry of the forms should consider the opposites in themwhether there are contraries that inhere in forms,

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Rickless (2007) 97-8. Rickless (2007) 98.


Parmenides 135a-155e for instance (as Rickless implies in his 2007 book3). We might see how this plays out in the

method below. Parmenides specifies this method in the following way with his example of hypothesizing on the (form? of the) many over the one: (1) If the many are, what are the consequences in relation to a) themselves, and b) the one? (2) If the many are, what are the consequences for the one in relation to a) itself, and b) the many? (3) If the many are not, what are the consequences in relation to a) themselves, and b) the one? (4) If the many are not, what are the consequences for the one in relation to a) itself, and b) the many? Essentially, Parmenides puts the form under consideration, the many, in comparison to its opposite, which is the one, and looks at what follows with each in relation to itself and to its correlative, while this process is repeated again when supposing that the many are not. We can count four considerations in the first case of looking at whether the many are (many in relation to itself (1) and the one (2); one in relation to itself (3) and the many (4)), and likewise the same for whether the many are not. Both together count to eight, the same number of hypotheses on the one which follow in 137-166. We may briefly go over the exercise with the eight hypotheses that Parmenides proposes in outline, considering the one in relation to multiple correlating, contrary attributes in these (very) general relations: (1) If the one is, then the one is both not F and not con-F in relation to itself and in relation to the others (137c4-142a8). (2) If the one is, then the one is both F and con-F in relation to itself and in relation to the others (142b1-155e3). (3) If the one is, then the others are both F and con-F in relation to themselves and in relation to the one (157b6-159b1). (4) If the one is, then the others are both not F and not con-F in relation to themselves and in relation to the one. (5) If the one is not, then the one is both F and con-F in relation to itself and in relation to the others (160b5-163b6). (6) If the one is not, then the one is both not F and not non-F in relation to itself and in relation to the others (163b7-164b4). (7) If the one is not, then the others are both F and con-F in relation to themselves and in relation to the one (164b5-165e1). (8) If the one is not, then the others are both not F and not con-F in relation to themselves and in relation to the one (165e2-166c5).
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See p. 101.


Parmenides 135a-155e Examples we might see in the first hypothesis are that the one has neither parts nor whole, not many or one, not at rest or in motion, etc. On the other hand, in the second hypothesis the one is a whole and has parts, is many and also one, is in motion as well as as at rest, etc. Returning to the initial proposition that Parmenides sets out earlier, in offering his own method building upon Socrates method of hypothesis, it seems that Parmenides looks at the hypotheses in 137166 as part of a positive project which is supposed to improve the theory of forms. If this is the case, the question is how to interpret the hypotheses together in that light and, in seeing the implications of the hypotheses, what faulty presuppositions concerning the forms should be thrown out. Rickless in his 2007 book suggests that the hypotheses are supposed to cement both the being of the forms and their possession of oneness and multitude, alongside the various contrary properties implied. This would make sense of the dialogs placement as a middle-period piece before the Sophist, where things like the form of the same, by which same things are same, is also different, and that the form of the different, by which different things are different, is also the same. Mary McCabe, on the other hand, suggests that Platos concern is more focused on the individuals in themselves in the second part of the Parmenides. She says with regard to the section of hypotheses: We need proper analysis of the terms of individuation and identity. So it is that Parmenides arguments turn on onefor this determines what can be counted and what can be unifiedand on same and differentfor these determine what is identifiable both at a time and over time.4 At the same time this would

go well with what might be Platos overall project in the later dialogs in seeing that the forms have contrary properties, at least as seen in Sophist, which would match with a more focused concern on the individual as containing multiple, contrary properties. In passing we might consider another interpretation, that of the Neoplatonists. Although on a straight read of the Parmenides it seems dubious, Neoplatonists commentators on the Parmenides"such as Proclus and, implicitly, Plotinus, interpret the one of the hypotheses to refer to different subjects, where the first hypothesis one refers to an absolute One beyond being, while the second hypothesis refers to an immanent one in beingPlotinus entity of Intellect for instance. This reading is somewhat difficult, however, if we see that Parmenides suggestion was to take the same form, the one, in exactly the same way in both a positive and negative connotation. Thus, a multi-subject interpretation as that offered by the Neoplatonist commentators is, at least, doubtful unless they have a justification to take this read with the character Parmenides stated goals.
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McCabe (1994) 132.


Parmenides 135a-155e I do not propose a final solution, but these are some general, possible ways to take the latter half of the Parmenides in the context of the whole dialog. In looking at the otherwise confusing and puzzling last half of the Parmenides numerous logical arguments and exercises, I suggest it would be very fruitful to carefully look at what it is Plato, through the character of Parmenides, seeks to eek out in Parmenides suggestion that the theory of forms should be saved and that Parmenides more rigorous method implies an improvement to that theory.