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Parmenides on Separation and the Knowability of the Forms: Plato Parmenides 133a ff

Author(s): Frank A. Lewis

Source: Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic
Tradition, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Feb., 1979), pp. 105-127
Published by: Springer
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Plato Parmenides133a ff.

(Received14 April, 1978)

At Parmenides133a ff., Parmenidespresentsthe last of his argumentscritical

of the theory of forms.' He is careful to emphasize that the argumentholds
good against the view that forms are separate from sensibles;indeed, he says
that his argument presents the greatest of the difficulties that await such a
view. Now Parmenides has already called our attention to separation as a
crucial feature of the theory of forms (1 29d, 130b), but his previous argu-
ments pay more attention to other assumptions of the theory, whose
relation to separation he neglects to explain (in the immediately preceding
argument, for example, he repeats the reference to separation [133a8-10],
but in virtually the same breath tells us he is attacking the doctrine that
things participatein forms by a principle of likeness [a5-7] ). But it will be
worthwhile not to ignore his suggestion here that his present argument
focusses especially on separation: there is, I will suggest, some plausibility
to thinking that separationis the key theme that runs throughout the argu-
The principalconclusion Parmenidesoffers is that we in this world cannot
have knowledge of forms: forms are unknowable by us.2 In arguingfor this
conclusion, Parmenides rests heavily on some principles which he links
directly to the declaration of separation at the head of the argument.Our
main business in interpreting the argument will be to make sense of these
principles: to ask in what way, if in any, they develop the notion of separa-
tion, and to see also if they provide the support Parmenidesneeds for his
sceptical conclusion. My procedurewill be to consider first (I) the principles
on which Parmenides rests his argument, beginning with his first remarks
about separation. I will then comment (II) on how well these principles
support the conclusion about knowledge which he builds upon them. Next
(III), I make some remarkson the generalsignificance of Parmenides'argu-
ment. In an Appendix, finally, I considerhis argumentfor the complementary
conclusion, that god cannot know sensibles.

PhilosophicalStudies 35 (1979) 105-127. 0031-8116/79/0352-0105$02.30

Copyright? 1979 by D. Reidel PublishingCo., Dordrecht,Holland,and Boston, U.S.A.

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1. 'Simple'Separationof FormsfromSensibles
The languageof separationis prominentin Parmenides'opening remarks:
You see how great the difficulty is if someone marksthem off as forms themselvesby
themselves3(1 33a8-9, referringto the precedingargument)
...You have, so to speak, by no means yet graspedthe perplexityitself, how great
it is,4 if you aregoingto set up eachasa singleform,alwaysseparatingit off as something
from amongthe thingsthat are5 ... (alI-b2)
...whoeverposits the beingof each thingto be somethingitself by itself (c3-4).

This last phrase, 'itself by itself', also appearswith the same use at c5-6: no
form could be present in us, for as Socrates argues, it could not then be
'itself by itself'.
Parmenidesis drawingattention in these passagesto the thesis that a form
is not identical with any sensible. Formsare 'by themselves'becausethey are
differentiated from the many sensibles that fall under each. Although
Parmenidesoffers no furtherelaboration,it is worth noting here that the non-
identity of forms with sensibles is reinforced for Plato by the claim that
forms have categorialpropertiesin common which are sharedby no sensible.
All forms are eternal, immutable,intelligible, and the rest: sensiblesare none
of these.6
In the sense of 'separation'relevanthere, I shall also speak of the 'simple'
separation of forms from sensibles. As we shall see, there are other ways in
which forms and sensiblesare separate.

2. 'Proper of FormsfromSensibles
The next four lines of Parmenides'remarksrun as follows:
So as many too of the forms which are which they are with respect to one another -
these have their being themselveswith respect to themselves,but not with respect to
the things among us, whether likenessesor however one is to regardthem, possessing
which we are calledeach thing(c8-d2).

For example:
...mastery itself is what it is of slavery itself, and likewise slavery itself is slavery of
masteryitself (e3 4).
In these lines, Parmenidesintroduces a quite different notion of separation,
which I shall call 'proper separation'. But before I argue for this reading,

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PLATO Parmenides133a ff. 107

three preliminarypoints must be made. It is clear first (i), that Parmenides

regardsthe claim he is about to make as in some sense an application of his
preceding remarks about simple separation (oVKoV-v,c8). Secondly (ii), it
seems equally clear that he has now passedfrom generalizingabout all forms
in his previous remarks (simple separation is observed by all forms with
respect to sensibles), to dealing with only a proper subset of all forms (Kai
ouat rwv
cc6Eo&v..., c8). So the characterizationby which he refers to this
restrictedset of forms(they "arewhich they are with respect to one another")
cannot be true of all forms whatever. What is less clear thirdly (iii), is the
nature of what he goes on to assert about this new set of forms. According
to one reading,what is said of them (that they "have their being themselves
with respect to themselves", and so forth) is exactly what was said of all
forms in assertions of simple separation in the first group of passages at
133a8-c7 above. The form of the inference referred to in (i) will then be
that of simple instantiation: since all forms obey simple separation,so too
will any propersubset of forms. In fact, I think this is not the correct account
of the text: 7 what Parmenidesis assertinghere of a limited class Qfforms is
that they obey a related but still new principle of proper separation. To
explain this notion, we must begin with the differencebetween the categorial
and properpropertiesof a form.
The principle of the simple separationof forms from sensibles,as we have
seen, is bound up with the categorialproperties of forms: what it is to be a
form as such. When we list the categorialpropertiesof a given form, there-
fore, we do not succeedin distinguishingit fromany otherform. The categorial
properties of forms are propertiesthat all (and only) formshave. If we want
to distinguish a form x from other forms, we must give propertiesof it not
qua form, but qua x. That is, we will giveproper propertiesof it, as opposed
to its formal or categorialproperties.We say, for example, that the form man
is rational, or mortal, and so distinguishthat form from others, as we do not
do if we say that the form man is eternal, immutable, and the rest. The
proper propertiesof a form, then, focus on what it is to be this form, rather
than what it is to be a form simpliciter.
In the passage at hand, Parmenidesis dealing with a particular-subset of
forms - those which "are which they are with respect to one another". His
initial examples are the forms slavery and mastery. Parmenideswill here say
what it is to be each of these forms by way of saying what it is to be a form
of this particularlogical type. 8 The primaryfact in Parmenides'mind is that

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mastery and slavery are relational forms. We can bring out their relational
characterby indicating, for example, that something belongs(or can belong)
in the range of the relation. Or, as Parmenidesdoes here, we may specify the
appropriateconverse relation. Thus by the claim, for example, that mastery
is what it is of slavery, I take Parmenidesto mean just that mastery is a
relation, and has as its converse the form slavery. His assertion, therefore,
gives a proper propertyof its subject.
Parmenideshangsa good deal of his subsequentargumenton the principles
illustratedby this and similarassertions.It is worth makingtwo points about
those assertionshere.
(1) Above all, the assertions,"Masteryis what it is with respect to slavery",
or "Masteryis masteryof slavery",are not to be confused with the claim that
mastery is a master of anything. In Parmenides'jargon, the connectives,
' what it [mastery] is with respect to...', or ' mastery of ...', are not
used to assert that mastery is instantiated by anything (for example, by
mastery with respect to slavery).Rather,he uses them to make a point about
the logical relation of the two concepts concerned, namely, that the one
concept is the converseof the other.
How then is Parmenides'sentence, 'Masteryis masteryof slavery',related
to the issue of self-predication?In its broadestuse, the term 'self-predication'
can be applied to any sentence of the form rThe A is (an) A7. This defines
a purely syntactical notion of self-predication.9Other uses of the term vary
with the interpretationwe give to sentences whose surfacestructuresatisfies
our syntactical definition. Some instances of syntactical self-predicationin
Plato must be interpretedin a way that makes them logically vicious;others
presumablyneed not. It has often been supposed that Parmenides'sentence
here is logically vicious, involving the claim that mastery is an instance of
itself with respect to slavery.'0 On the interpretationoffered here, however,
Parmenides'sentence is an instance of syntactical self-predication, but is
(2) Given the interpretationof Parmenides'sentence proposed, it follows
that mastery is not mastery of anything other than slavery, that is, of
anything which is not in fact its converse (133c9-d2, e5). In particular,it
would be a gross mistake to suppose that the converse of a relationR is not
the relation R-1, but some member of the domain of R-1. Mastery, for
example, is masteryof slavery,but not of any particularslave.
It is now easy to see why Parmenidesregardshis present point as logical-

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PLATO Parmenides133a ff. 109

ly connected with his earlierprinciple of simple separation.No form should

be confused with what falls under it, and a converse form should not be
confused with the members of its domain. It follows that a relationalform
does not have as its converse some member of the domain of the converse
relation. In short, if certain formshave their being with respect to each other,
then by simple separationthey have their being with respect to no sensible.
By proper separation, accordingly,Parmenidesrequiresthat the converse
of a relationalform is another relationalform. He adds the warningthat we
must not confuse the converse of a relation with the entities in the domain
of that converse.

3. 'FactualSeparation'

Proper separation has an immediate corollary. If by proper separation the

converse of a relation is another relation, then by a complementaryprinciple
the entities in the domain of a relationbear that relationnot to the converse
relation, but to the entities in the domain of the converse relation. I shall
call this new principle the principle of the factual separation of sensibles
from forms. Parmenides'formalstatement of this principleis as follows:
But the things among us, which are the namesakesof those [the forms mentioned],
are againthemselveswith respect to themselvesbut not with respect to the forms, and
(they are)of themselvesbut not of those, as manyagainas are calledin that way (d2-5).

He goes on to give some examples:

...if one of us is master or slave of something,what he is slave of is not masteritself,
which is master,and the masteris masternot of slaveitself, whichis slave.Rather,being
a man, he is each of these [slaveor masteri of a man (d7-e3).

The two principles of properand factual separationare in an easy way the

complements of one another. It is also important to see that a statement
observing the proper separation of forms from sensibles entails a statement
which observes the factual separation of sensibles from forms. Thus, for
example, the statement, 'Mastery is mastery of slavery', which observes
proper separation, entails the statement, 'Masters are masters of slaves', which
obeys factual separation.
This entailment is an instance of the general point that any statement of
proper properties of a form entails a corresponding statement about sensibles.
Thus the sentence, 'The lion is tawny', which for Plato asserts a proper

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property of the form lion, entails the sentence, 'All lions are tawny', which is
a generalization over sensible lions. The entailment can also be seen as a
consequence of principles connecting statements about relations and state-
ments about the entities in the fields of those relations.

4. Parmenides'Strategy

It will be useful at this point to consider the use Parmenidesplans to make of

the variousprinciplesof separationhe has put forward.Parmenidesfirst lays
down a principle of the simple separationof forms from sensibles.Given this
variety of separation, he is able to argue for the two further principlesof
proper and factual separation.The last step in Parmenides'argumentis now
this. As we have seen, any statement of properseparationentails some state-
ment about sensibles observingfactual separation.Is there then a statement
observingproper separationregardingknowledge,which has as a consequence
a statement of factual separationto the effect that a sensible, for example,
Jones, may know only sensibles? Parmenides'final move will be to put
forward a statement about forms which observes proper separation, and
which apparently entails that human knowers can know only non-forms,
that is, can know only sensibles.
It is important here to see that Parmenidesis not advancinga general
policy that non-forms can bear relations only to non-forms. Factual separa-
tion counselsus only that, in sayingof a given relationR what bearsR to what,
we must not confuse the entities in the rangeof R with the converserelation
R 1 itself. Thus, where R is a relationalform, nothing can bear R to R -'.
Again, proper separation requires only that a relationalform may not have
as its converse any member of the domain of that converse.It follows that a
converse relationalform may not itself be a member of its own domain, and
again, for any relationalform R, nothing can bearR to R -' . These warnings
by no means add up to a generalprohibitionagainstrelationsbetween forms
and sensibles.
Despite this, Parmenideshas almost universallybeen taken as arguingthat
all relations between forms and sensibles are impossible. The comment by
Matthewsis representative:"...if forms are totally different from perceptible
things, and there is a great gap fixed, then there may be relations between
them, but not between them and us"."1 These and similarremarksabout the
argument rest in part on a false interpretation of separation.Separationas

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PLATO Parmnenides
133a ff. 111

such - that is, simple separation - is only the doctrine that forms and
sensibles are non-identical, and very different kinds of thing. (The sense in
wilich they are different is made more precise by the notion of the categorial
properties of the forms.) Perhapsthey are different enough that it is hard to
see how there can be relations between them (cf. Section III below). But
separationas such is not the view that there cannot be any relationsbetween
forms and sensibles, nor in fact does Parmenides'argument urge any such
A second source for attributingto the argumenta generalprohibition on
relations between forms and sensibles may be a misreadingof part of Plato's
text. Havingsketched the different kinds of separationand applied them to
the masteryexample, Parmenidesgoes on to summarizehis resultsso far:
But the things in us do not havetheirpowerwith respectto them nor they with respect
to us, but as I say, they on the one hand are themselvesof themselvesand with respect
to themselves,and the things among us on the other hand likewise (havetheir power)
with respectto themselves. (133e4-134al)

Does this deny the possibilityof relationsbetween any form and any sensible?
Not if it is a fair summaryof what Parmenideshas alreadyshown. Parmenides
has been discussingrelationalforms;he has in mind in particularhis exarnples
of mastery and slavery introducedjust above. So in the sentence, 'The things
among us do not have their power with respect to them', Parmenides'word
'them' cannot refer torall forms whatever,but only to relationalforms and
their converses. Thus, sensibles that bear R to something do not bear R to
the converse relation, but only to the entities in the domain of that converse.
Sensible masters, for example, are masters of slaves, not of slavery. So
Parmenideshas shown at most that some sensiblescannot stand in some rela-
tions to some forms: sensibles in the domain of a relationR cannot bear R
to the converseform R-1 .
We can now return to the main thread of Parmenides' argument.
Parmenides' strategy is to show that there is some statement observing
proper separation, which entails a statement which itself observes factual
separation, such that it is correct to say of Jones that he knows sensibles,
but never correct to say that he knows any form. Similarly, Parmenides
might have defended the claim that human masters are masters only of
human slaves by pointing to the statement observingproper separationthat
mastery is mastery of slavery.We must not confuse slaverywith its instances;
accordingly,the converse of the relationmasteryis the relationslavery,while

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what sensible masters bear the relation mastery to must be sensible slaves.
Can Parmenidesuse an analogous argument to show that what persons can
know must likewise be only sensible objects of knowledge,and never forms?
It is easily shown, following Forrester,'2 that such an argumentcannot
succeed. By analogy with the mastery example, knowledge is knowledge of
its converse, namely the relation (being-an-)object-of-knowledge(-to). By
the same analogy, any entity in the domain of knowledge - for example,
any human knower - can never have knowledge of the converseform, that
is, of the form object-of-knowledge.But we may still know entities in the
domain of that form, whether forms or sensibles. So we may know any
instance of the form object-of-knowledge- form or sensible - and we may
not know only the form object-of-knowledgeitself. So Parmenides'argument
This point does not hit home directly against Parmenidesin our text.
Forrester's argument shows that Parmenides'strategy cannot succeed: but
Parmenides' actual procedure makes a rather different use of the mastery
example, and so his argument too fails for ratherdifferent reasons.To see
this, we must consider the application Parmenidesmakes of his principles
of separation,and examine the statements about knowledge which he offers
with their aid as counterpartsto his statementsabout mastery.


1. Some Points About Knowledge

If knowledgeis to be sufficiently like Parmenides'earlierexamplesof mastery

and slavery, Parmenidesmust be treatingit as a relation.'4 His first remark
about knowledgeestablishesthis common feature:
So too therefore for knowledge - that very thing which is knowledge is knowledge of
this very thing which is truth (134a3-4).15

(1) Knowledgeis knowledgeof the forms.

Contrast with knowledge in (1) the concept, say, geometry or geometrical

Again, each of the knowledges, which is, would be knowledge of each of the things-that-
are, which is (a6-7).

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PLATO Parnenides133aff. 113

Thus of geometryParmenideswould say:

(2) Geometry (geometrical knowledge) is knowledge of the form


The contrast between knowledge and 'each of the knowledges' is roughly

that between the genus, knowledge, and its various species.16 But there is
an important and unorthodox difference here between the genus and its
species. Although geometry, for example, is called knowledge of something,
geometry is not, as knowledgeis, itself a relation:it is not calledgeometry of
something(cf. Aristotle Categories1 la23ff.).1 7
This last fact introducts a point of major importance about the relation
of the genus knowledge to its various species."8 In the usual case, we move
from the genus to one of its species by introducing a restriction on the
membersof the genus via the differentia.This cannot be exactly the paradigm
for knowledge and its species. The genus knowledge is a relation, holding
between knowers and the objects of their knowledge,that is, facts'aboutthe
forms. Its species, however, are classes but not relations: geometry, for
example, is the class of truths known about geometricalforms. So the dif-
ferentia introduces a restrictionon the range of the relation, picking out as
members of the species the members of a subclass of the rangeof the genus.
The species geometry, for example, is a body of knowledgeconsistingof facts
known about the form square, facts known about the form triangle,and so
on. It is obtained by a restrictionon the rangeof the genericrelationto facts
about geometricalforms.
Parmenidesinvites us to compare sentence (2) about knowledge and its
species, geometry, with his earlier examples of mastery and slavery, in
particularwith the statement,
(3) Masteryis mastery of slavery.

As we have seen, sayingwhat the extensional consequencesare of (3) gives the

crucial move from a sentence of proper separationto one of factual separa-
tion. Parmenides'whole argument now depends on obtaining an analogous
move in the case of (2) concerninggeometricalknowledge.
What, then, are the extensional consequencesof (2)? (2) defines geometry
by means of its genus and differentia. The relevantdifferentiais concerned
with figure, or some such. Sc we must look first to those ordered pairs
making up the genus knowledge whose second member is a fact about some

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geometricalform. Accordingly,as we have seen, the instancesof geometrical

knowledge are just those facts known about geometricalforms. That is, the
two concepts geometry and knowledgeof figure are coextensive.
A second extensional consequence concerns the concepts geometry and
knowledge. According to (2), the relation between these is that of species to
genus. It also follows from (2), therefore, that an instance of geometrical
knowledge is at the same time a member of the range of the relationknowl-
edge. Thus, geometrical knowledge is the class of facts known about some
or other geometricalform.
Given these facts about (2) and its extensional consequences, what fol-
lows for what sensibles can know? Suppose Jones something - that is, he is
a member of the domainof the relationknowledge.Then for all we have seen
so far, what he knows may well be some memberof that subclassof the range
of knowledge that constitutes geometricalknowledge. That is to say, he may
know a fact about some geometrical form. This result is flatly inconsistent
with the conclusion Parmenideswishes to urgeupon us. For Parmenides,any
instance of geometrical knowledge must be a member of the class of facts
about instances of geometricalforms. It is time, then, to see how Parmenides
himself completes his argumentfor this conclusion.

2. The Completionof Parmenides'Argument

...So too therefore for knowledge - that very thing which is knowledgeis knowledge
of this very thing which is truth (134a3-4) ...Again, each of the knowledges,whichis,
would be knowledgeof each of the things-that-are, whichis (a6-7)

...wouldn't knowledgeamong us be of truth amongus? and againwouldn'teach knowl-
edge among us turn out to be knowledge of each of the things-that-areamong us?
...But yet we do not havethe formsthemselves,and they cannotbe amongus (b3-4).
...But supposedlythe formsthemselveseach of whichis are knownby the form itself
of knowledge(b6-7).
...We do not have it [the form of knowledge] (b9);...So no form is known by us,
since we do not partakeof knowledgeitself (bI 1-12). So the beautifulitself, whichis,
and the good, and all that we suppose to be forms themselves,are unknowableto us
(b 14-c2).

a3-4 and 6--7 are statementsabout knowledgeitself and 'each of the knowl-
edges'.They areintendedto be analogousto the earlierstatement that mastery
is masteryof slavery,and like it to observeproperseparation.

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PLATO Parmenides
l33a ff. 115

a9-bl is a statement regarding'knowledge among us' that is meant to

observe the complementary principle of factual separation: compare the
claim above that mastersare mastersof slaves,not of slavery.
b3-4 is a generalizationabout all forms, assertingtheir simple separation
from sensibles: compare in particular 133c3-6 above (no form could be
present in us, for it could not then be separatefrom us). With this remark,
Parmenideshas now recalled all three varietiesof separationto the argument.
b6-7 needs more extended comment. It is, on the face of it, a remarkable
sentence. The claim that the forms are known by the form of knowledge
appearsto be a passive transformationof the sentence, 'The form of knowl-
edge knows the forms'. b6-7 is thus a thinly-disguisedinstance of syntactical
self-predication;and it has been interpreted by most commentators as an
instance of vicious self-predicationas well.19 If this is the correct interpreta-
tion of the text here, then we are surely forced to read back a notion of
vicious self-predication into Parmenides'earlier discussion of mastery and
slavery. If we do not restructurethe earlierparts of Parmenides'argumentin
this way, what possible relevance could a notion of vicious self-predication
have at this late point in the argument?
I owe to SandraPeterson the idea that the sentence at b6-7 need not be
taken as introducing a vicious notion of self-predication. Parmenides'
sentence is in fact an alternativeway of statinghis earlierand unproblematical
claim that knowledge is knowledge of truth: that is, knowledgeis knowledge
of the forms.
This interpretation of Parmenides'sentence may seem tenuous. But the
case for the alternative reading of the sentence, on examination, rests on
surprisinglyweak foundations. The argumentis this. One might expect that
Plato would distinguishthe two locutions ' is (a) knowledgeof - - -' and
_ -
knows -'. The claim, 'Geometry is (a) knowledge of figure', for
example, seems unexceptionable, while the sentence 'Geometry knows
figure' appearsto suggest that geometry stands to figurein the same relation
in which any knowing subject stands to the object of his knowledge. Both
sentences are, nearly enough, instances of syntactical self-predication(recall
that by 'geometry' Parmenidesmeans simply 'geometricalknowledge'). But
the second sentence also seems to introduce a vicious notion of self-predica-
tion, and the same is not obviously true of the first. Correspondingly,then,
we might expect that Plato would also distinguishbetween the passiveforms
of our original locutions: thus between '--- is an object of knowledge to

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' and '--- is known by ' (for example, 'Figure is an object of

knowledge to geometry' and 'Figureis known by geometry'). In fact, these
assumptions about Plato's usage are false. There is ample evidence in the
Charmidesthat Plato is not sensitive to any difference between the two
active locutions (with for example 165d7-8, el, 166a4, b5, cl-3, e5-6 etc.,
compare 169el, e6-7), so it is unreasonableto expect him to observe any
distinction on the passiveside. Thus by his sentence 'The forms are known by
the form of knowledge'at b6-7, he can be taken to mean no more than what
we would ordinarily express by saying that various forms are objects of
knowledge to the form of knowledge.That is, Parmenidesis merely repeating
the point from a3-4 (and by implication, a6-7 as well) that knowledge is
knowledge of something (that is, of the forms), and that the variousbranches
of knowledgeare each knowledgeof some particularsubject-matter.
We may now proceed with the remainderof Parmenides'argument. He
has so far recalledthe threevarietiesof separationintroducedat the beginning
of the argument,and renminded us that knowledge is of the forms, while the
branchesof knowledge are concerned with variousparticularforms. b9 now
instantiates from b3-4: given simple separation for all forms, the form of
knowledge too is not present in us (the same by implication is true of the
various forms of knowledge, knowledge of figure, knowledge of odd and
even, and the like, as well).
bl 1-c2 repeats the point from b9, that the form knowledgeis not present
in us, and concludes from this that no form can be known by us.20
In this half of the argument,Parmenidesfirst completes his strategy of
identifying a statement apparently observing proper separation, which
entailsas the correspondingstatement apparentlyobservingfactualseparation,
the claim that knowledge among us is only of the things-that-areamong us.
The rest of the passage repeats this same material. Knowledge itself is not
among us. But if knowledge itself is not among us, we cannot know the
entities which knowledge itself is knowledge of; that is, we cannot know
the forms.
In this summary, Parmenidesattempts to weave together once more the
three principlesof simple, proper, and factual separation.Among us we find
only instances of knowledge,or of the variousbranchesof knowledge:Jones,
say, who has geometricalknowledge,or the geometricalfacts which he knows,
or finally Jones' geometricalknowledge, which is perhapsa relationbetween
the two.2" Here, Parmenidesis enforcing an uncontroversialconsequence

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PLATO Parmenides133aff. 117

of simple separation:neither we nor our knowledge are to be confused with

knowledge itself, or with any of the kinds of knowledge. But consider what
knowledge, or its kinds, are knowledge of. By properseparation,apparently,
we know that, for example,
(2) Geometryis knowledgeof figure.

Parmenides plainly believes that if (2) is true, then by factual separation,

our geometricalknowledge - 'geometricalknowledge among us' - can only
be of 'the things that are among us': of sensibleinstancesof figure,but never
of figure itself, or of the forms for the variouskinds of figure, the square,the
triangle,and so on.

3. Some Difficulties with the Argument

Parmenides'argument does not succeed. His strategy is to establish various

principles of separation for his examples of mastery and slavery, and then
apply those principles to statements about knowledge. But the two sets of
statementsarenot sufficiently alike for this move to have any hope of success.
Consideragainthe two statements
(2) Geometryis knowledgeof figure
(3) Masteryis mastery of slavery.

Knowledge, like mastery, is a relation. More than this, the names of each
appear in (2) and (3) in superficiallysimilargrammaticalcontexts: 'Mastery
is mastery of...', 'Geometrical knowledge is knowledge of...'. Thus both
setences are, nearly enough, instances of syntactical self-predication(but of
nothingworsethan that). Despite these similarities,however,the discrepancies
between the two are more than enough to undermineParmenides'strategy.
(i) 'knowledge of figure' in (2) gives the genus and differentiarespectivelyof
the species geometricalknowledge. The differentiahere is, in full, 'concerned
with figure'. So the expression 'figure', by itself, has no important logical
role in the sentence. It is quite otherwise with the last word, 'slavery', in
(3), for it denotes the converse relation whose instances form the range of
the original relation, mastery. These facts are reflected in the different
extensional consequences of the two sentences. It follows from (3) that

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instances of mastery are so-called with respect to instances of slavery. But

'figure' does not have the same logical role in (2) that 'slavery'has in (3),
and there is no support for the analogousconclusion that, given (2), instances
of geometrical knowledge are such with respect to instances of figure. (ii)
There is also the difference that, unlike (3), Parrnenides'(2) does not obey
the principle of proper separation. According to the mastery example, a
statement observes proper separation insofar as it associates a relational
form with its converse. But Parmenides' sentence (2) only connects a
relational form with the class of things that make up its range. So the
sentence observes separation of a sort, since it contains designationsonly
for forms, but it is not a sentence of proper separation. And if (2) is not
a statement of proper separation, there is no reason to suppose that it will
imply a corresponding statement of factual separation. Accordingly,
(4) Knowledgeamongus is of only the things-that-areamongus,

is not plausibly an instance of factual separation,since he has failed to point

to any statement observingproper separation that entails (4). There is no
reason, therefore, to think that (4) succeeds in specifying all and only the
entities that humanscan know.


Does Parmenides' argument touch any issue of substantive philosophical

interest for Plato? The fallacy the argument commits is perhaps of some
interest in the theory of relations, or in deciding the logical form of certain
sentences - but intrinsicallyit has little bearingon questionsin epistemology.
It is useful to recall, however, as Parmenideshimself emphasizes, that his
argumentis addressedparticularlyto the idea that sensiblesand forms are in
some sense separate each from the other. Roughly put, forms and sensibles
are so different, that it may seem a puzzle how there could be a relationthat
holds between entities of these two kinds. And so it may also seem a puzzle,
supposing knowledge to be a relation between entities, how a sensible can
have knowledgeof forms (or god have knowledgeof sensibles).
It is often suggestedthat the problemof how sensiblescan know the forms
is solved for Plato by the view of the soul as an intermediarybetween the
sensible world and the forms, in combination with the doctrine of recollec-

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PLATO Parmenides133a ff. 119

tion.22 But this seems a temporary answer at best. For if the soul is suf-
ficiently like the forms to be able to know them, it is sufficiently unlike
sensibles for it to be a puzzle how the knowing soul can ever be related to a
human body. Recall for example the list of disparateproperties of soul and
body that Socrates reels off at Phaedo 80b, where the differencesthat divide
soul and body are, by design, precisely those that set apartsensiblesand the
Traces of these difficulties are evident also in the Phaedrus.Here, Plato
distinguishes two kinds of knowledge. The one, true knowledge, has its
characterin common with its own, special objects: it is "the veritableknowl-
edge of being that veritablyis". As such, therefore,it is all too different from
the "knowledge that is neighbour to becoming, and varies with the various
objects to which we commonly ascribebeing"(Phaedrus247d-e, Hackforth's
translation).More than this, however, true knowledge also calls for a special
kind of knower: either god or a discarnatesoul. With this last step, Plato
comes perilously close to saying that the difference between forms and the
sensible world is so great that incarnatesouls can have only the inferiorkind
of knowledge that is of "that to which we commonly ascribe being", while
only gods and souls in the discarnatestate can have true knowledge, which
is of the forms.
Plato's own remarkselsewhere, then, suggest that forms and sensibles are
so different that it may be a puzzle how a sensiblecan know the forms. How
can this puzzle be made more precise?Whatis needed is an exact statement
of the differencebetween forms and sensibles,that makesus doubt that there
could be relations between them. Parmenides'argumentdoes appearto speak
to this question. For a large part of the argument,Parmenidesis trying to
spell out the variouskinds of separation,and so give content to the idea that
forms and sensibles fall into different 'worlds'.Officially, the argumentleads
to the conclusion that, given the various kinds of separation, knowledge
relations between sensibles and forms are impossible. In fact, however, the
argument depends on fallacies that make its conclusion moot. But the
purpose of the argumentis not trivial. Indeed, in the Sophist Plato finds a
better argument,againwith separationas a premise (xcoptis,248a7), to show
that there is after all a categorial property of forms - namely, their im-
mutability - that may be incompatiblewith their knowability.3

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Parmenideshas argued that any instance of knowledge can be knowledge

only of instancesof forms;no sensible,then, can know the forms. At 134c4ff.,
he proceedsto sketch what he calls a "still more terribleconsequence".There
are two possible accounts of this new conclusion. If we take Parmenides
exactly at his word, then his conclusion is that if someone, say god, has
knowledge itself, he cannot know sensibles. It is easily assumed, however,
that Parmenidesis offering a differentconclusion: that god knows the forms,
and only them, and can know no sensible. The difficulty with this latter
version of Parmenides'conclusion is that it is not obviously consistent with
his previous proof that any instance of knowledge is knowledge only of
instances of forms. For it would seem to follow that the forms themselves
are not known by anything, god or sensible.The only way Parmenidesmight
argue that this does not follow is by insisting that god's knowledgeis not an
instance of knowledge. This is not a very pronising line of thought, although
as we shall see, Parmenidesis perhaps tempted by it. Provisionally,then,
Parmenides'conclusion can be representedas follows. He is arguingat least
that if god has knowledge,he cannot know sensibles. He may also mean to
argue that god does know the forms: if so, however,he must be able to show
how this is not inconsistentwith his earlierargument.
Parmenides'argumentfor his conclusion rests in part on some new ideas,
and in part, as he suggests, on some principlescarriedover from his earlier
argument. As with any form, the form itself of knowledge is "far more
perfect" than knowledge among us. And the most perfect knowledgeis most
fittingly had by god. But if god has knowledge itself, then by earlier
principleshe can know no sensible. I will look first (1) at the new ideas in this
argument,and secondly (2) at the assumptionsit claims to have in common
with its predecessor.
(1) The major new idea in this argumentconcerns the theory of predica-
tion. Parmenides suggests that we will need two different theories of
predication: one for sentences with certain sensibles as subjects, and
theory for certain non-sensibles as subjects. The theory for sensibles as
subjectshas alreadybeen in force in the earlierargument.It is this:
For at least some sensibles x, if x is F, then x possesses (metechein) a likeness of the F,
"or whatever one should call it" (133c9-d2).

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PLATO Parmenides
133aff. 121

Note that this account cannot hold for all sensiblesF if a likeness of the F is
itself a sensible and is F: cf. 133d3.
Parmenideshere relies on the point, which he repeats a number of times,
that we do not have the F itself (134b3, b9), that is, the F itself is never
present in any sensible (133c5, 134b4, b12). This is part of the thesis of
simple separation, as noted above. Despite his uncertainty on details,
Parmenidesis emphatic that predication of sensiblesis to be analyzed as an
immanence relation not between a form and a sensible, but between, for
example, a likeness of a form and a sensible.
For non-sensible-as subjects, the theory that now emergesis this:
For at least some non-sensiblex, if x is F, then x has the F itself (134cl1, d2), or x
possesses(metechein) the F itself (I 34c10).
This principle cannot hold for all non-sensibles that are F, for the F itself
is a non-sensible,and we know from 133d3 that the F itself is F (6,io'wa ...
eKeLVOt1q, 133d3). In the account Parmenidesgives, the principle is applied
only to the single non-sensible,god.
Parmenideshas an argument to persuade us that it is plausible to adopt
this new account of predication where god is the subject. Knowledgeitself,
he suggests,is 'moreperfect' thanknowledge-among-us, andso it is appropriate
that god (himself presumablyperfect) should have knowledge itself, rather
than mere knowledge-among-us.
(It is very often thought that a vicious notion of self-predicationis implicit
in the argument at this point. Thus, the form of knowledge is 'the most
perfect knowledge' because it is its own best instance. Weak though
Parmenides'argumentis, however, it does not requirea readingof this sort.
For example, Parmenidesmay think knowledgeis 'most perfect' only because
it is a form, and so shares the honorific status Plato accords to all forms. If
so, then the argumentrests on a principleof the affinity between god and the
forms: compare the similar principle of the affinity between the forms and
the soul, againindependentof any notion that the forms are self-exemplifying,
at Phaedo 78b ff.)
Parmenides'theory for predicatingthings of god may be useful to him in
two ways. First (i), if we say thlatgod knows something,we asserta relation
between god and knowledge itself, not between god and knowledge-in-us.
Given this result, Parmenidesmay feel able to arguethat althoughour knowl-
edge can be knowledge only of instancesof forms, not forms themselves,the
knowledge god has is not limited in this way. For, simple separationdoes not

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separate god, as it does sensibles, from the forms. If, then, god knows
something, he has not the immanent form but knowledge itself. And unlike
knowledge-in-us,knowledgeitself can be knowledge of forms. This suggestion
is not in fact cogent. Parmenides'new theory for how things are predicatedof
god requires that god has knowledge itself, not the immanent form, knowl-
edge-in-us. But this fact makes no difference to the point that even god's
knowledge can be only an instance of knowledge. As such, god's knowledge
too is bound by the resultsof the previousargument.God's knowledgecan be
knowledge only of instances of forms, and no one, not even god, knows the
Accordingly, we will understandParmenidesin the presentargumentto be
arguingfor exactly the conclusion he states: if god has knowledge,he cannot
know sensibles. This is consistent with the conclusion to his earlierargument
and together with it produces the result that - since god cannot know
sensibles, while the forms are not known by anything - god in fact knows
(ii) Parmenides new theory of predication may, however, serve a dif-
ferent purpose. Parmenideswill want to borrow from his first argument
the principle of proper separation,in order to show that god's knowledge
cannot be knowledge of sensibles. But proper separationis a principleabout
relational forms, and does not govern 'the things among us', where this
phrase seems to cover any sensible whatever,includingimmanentcharacters.
So proper separationcannot apply to god's knowledgeunlessit too is a form,
and not a mere immanent character.Parmenides'theory for how things are
predicated of god thus smooths the way for his later appeal to the principle
of the separationof forms from sensibles.
(2) Parmenides, then, also claims support for his conclusion that god
cannot know sensibles from the principles of separation presented in his
earlier argument. Thus, 134d5-7 is verbally an echo of 133e4-134al.
According to properseparation,forms are what they are, or have their power,
with respect to one another. This was explained as the principle that the
converse of a relationalform is another relationalform. In accordancewith
this principle, knowledge itself has its power with respect to no non-form.
That is, the converse of the form knowledge, like the converse of any
relationalform, is itself a relationalform, not a sensible.
This is not the interpretationParmenidesnow gives to proper separation.
He now takes the principle to imply that if anything, say god, has knowl-

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PLATO Parmenides133a ff. 123

edge itself, then he cannot know any non-form. Parmenides has here
exploited an ambiguity in the expression'...has its power with respect to -- -2
between (i) '...has as its converse- - - and (ii) '...has instances which bear
that relation to -- -'. These two readings are redically different in intent.
Mastery, for example, has as its converse the relation slavery, but it is not
true to say that mastery has instances which are masters of slavery. Cor-
rectly understood, proper separation stipulates that a relation R has as its
converse another relational form, and not any sensible. For his present
purposes, however, Parmenidestakes the principle to imply that instances
of R cannot bear R to any non-forms. For example, since knowledge is a
relation that has its power with respect to forms, god cannot stand in that
relation to any non-forms. This conclusion is not legitimately obtained
by means of Parmenides' earlier principles. So as Parmenides himself
predicts, neither of his arguments - the argument that we cannot know
the forms,or that god cannot know sensibles- can stand close examination.25

Universityof Arizona


Recent printedtreatmentsof this argumentincludeJamesWm.Forrester,'Arguments

An Able ManCould Refute: Parmenides133b-134e',Phronesis XIX (1974), 233-237;
briefer accounts are by Rudolph H. Weingartner,7he Unity of the PlatonicDialogue,
Indianapolis1973, pp. 183ff, Norio Fujisawa,"'EXewv,MeTE'XEV,and Idioms of "Para-
deigmatism"in Plato'sTheory of Forms',PhronesisXIX (1974), 30-58, and Charlotte
Stough, 'Explanationand the Parmenides',CanadianJournalof PhilosophyVI (1976),
379-401. I havelearnedmost, however,from an unpublishedpaperby SandraPeterson:
'The Greatest Difficulty for the Theory of Forms: the UnknowabilityArgumentof
The title of Forrester'spaperis an unfortunateone, since it advertizesa misreading
of 133b (cf. also Forresterp. 233; the same mistake appearsin Weingartner, op. cit.,
p. 183). As Heindorf noted long ago, 6 appta,3qrCwv, 133b8, the man of whom ability
is required,is the objector, if he is to be convinced of the flaws in his objection (cf.
135a3ff), not the defender of the knowability of the forms - the latter must be Too
eV66IKVVI1AoV,b9, wherethe referenceis back to 8Aeitaatat,b7.
2 He also argues at 134c4ff for the complementaryconclusion (the 'more terrible'
consequence, c4) that god can know no sensible: see Appendix below. Parmenides'
two argumentstogether attempt to show that we can know nothing of the divine
world,whilegod can know nothingof us.
3 CS el'6& dvra a?aT Ka9' a-ia' 6op'flTat. Readers of Cornford's translation may not
catch the reference to separationhere: a&rTaKaO' av'& 6topLr?7TaL is weakenedto 'as-
sertingtheirexistence as formsjust by themselves'(my italics),while de TL oplp6giO-'o
(b2 below) is unrecognizablein Cornford'sversion,see n. 5 below.
4o654irw &rrT abrti' o6anCaTlv Iu aropta, presumablya parody of a typical formula

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for referring to separate forms: see among other examples, Symposium 211c8-dl,
Kat 'yvcy -reXeTvrWvo'east KaXdl.
J EKaaTOVrC.V 6VrWVrdaEL TL a PLpto6,evoc t5r aev, bI -2. I take rCv 6v'rwv
as genitive after &dOPL.'11EVOq
('von den Dingen getrennten ...Wesenheiten',Apelt,
cf. Parmenides158a2, althoughI take the genitiveto be closest to that at HippiasMajor
298d6-8 and Sophist 257e2, cf. Campbellad loc.). Cornfordand others construethe
words with the preceding g`Kaorov ('for every distinction you make among things',
Cornford, presumablyunderstandingCeKaaTov TCwv6vrwv as the combined object of
aopltoipevoq). On the reading I recommend, eKaaTov here distinguishes one form from
all the remainingforms (cf. Parmenides158al-3); TCZv6vrwv ... hpopto0'evoq indicates
its separationfrom the sensiblesthat fall underit.
6 Cf. Vlastos pp. 245ff for the interpretation of separation via the categorial
properties of forms (GregoryVlastos, 'The Third Man Argumentin the Parmenides',
reprintedin R. E. Allen (ed.), Studiesin Plato'sMetaphysics,New York 1965, pp. 231--
261). This providesthe link betweenseparationand Parmenides'other argumentsagainst
the theory of forms(see p. 105 above): for as Vlastossuggests,the assumptionsoperating
in those argumentscan be regardedas explications of separationin terms of various
categorialpropertiesof forms.
On 133c5-6, note that not being 'in' any sensible appearsamong the categorial
properties of forms at Timaeus 5 2a, cf. Symposium 21 la.
7 When Parmenidessays that they "havetheir being themselveswith respect to them-
selves", I take him to be speakingcollectively of the membersof the relevantproper
subset of forms, and to mean that the being of each is specifiedby referenceto some
other form in that set (but not that each has its being with referenceto itself). Cf.
Heindorfad loc. and Parmenides'own example at e3--4. The contraryview appearsfor
example in Weingartner:his gloss is "that forms do not obtain their being by virtue of
standingin relation to particulars,is precisely what has been meant all along by the
absolute and independent character of the forms" (Weingartner, op. cit., p. 185). By
missing the restriction to relational forms, Weingartneris forced to suppose that
Parmenides'argumenthinges on an exaggeratednotion of separationthat prohibits
all relationsbetweensensiblesand forms;againstthis, see pp. 110-111 below.
8 The predicateshe assertsof these forms then count as B1-predicates in Owen'sclas-
sification: G. E. L. Owen, 'Dialectic and Eristic in the Forms', pp. 108ff, in Owen
(ed.), Aristotle on Dialectic, Oxford 1968, pp. 103-125. (But simple separationis a
matter of A-predicates.)For other discussionof the distinctionsamong predicatesof
forms referred to here, see MichaelFrede, Pradikationund Existenzaussage.Hypom-
nemata, Heft 18, Gottingen 1967, pp. 33f and David Keyt, 'Plato's Paradoxthat the
Immutableis Unknowable',PhilosophicalQuarterly19 (1969), pp. 1 ff.
9 The purely syntactical definition of self-predicationis wider that that given by
Vlastos, who reservesthe term for cases of the instantiationof a form or concept by
itself, or the sentencesin which such cases are expressed(GregoryVlastos, 'The Unity
of the Virtues in the Protagoras',reprintedin his Platonic Studies, Princeton 1973,
n. 97).
10 Vlastos, for example, explains the claim that masteryis masteryonly of slaveryby
suggesting that only mastery is exactly a master, and only slavery exactly a slave, so
that only slavery can be an appropriate object of mastery's mastery (Vlastos, op. cit.,
p. 258). Otherswho have found a vicious form of self-predicationat workat this point
in the argumentincludeCornford(F. M. Cornford,Platoand Parmenides,London 1939,
pp. 98f), Runciman(W.G. Runciman,'Plato'sParmenides',in Allen, op. cit., p. 159),
Suhr (MartinSuhr,Platons Kritikan der Eleaten, Hamburg1969, p. 109), Weingartner,
op. cit., pp. 186, 189, Forrester,op. cit., p. 234, and Stough, op. cit., pp. 397-398.
Curiously,Cornforddoes briefly concede a harmlesslyself-predicationalinterpretation
of Parmenides'premisses:"Mastership,the Form, has as its correlate,the Form Slavery;

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PLATO Parmenides
133aff. 125

and we may say, in that sense, that is is 'Mastershipof Slaveryitself', as Parmenides

does say at 133e" (Cornford,op. cit., p. 98; the second set of italics are mine). There
are also some suggestiveremarkson Parmenides'premissesin P. T. Geach, 'The Third
Man Again', in Allen, op. cit., pp. 268f, cf. Vlastos, 'Postscriptto the Third Man: A
Reply to Mr. Geach', in Allen p. 289. The presence of vicious self-predicationin the
argumentis outrightdenied by Fujisawa,op. cit., p. 31, n. 1: he does not explainwhat
he takes to be the correct readingof the premisses.There is an excellent discussionof
the general issue of self-predicationin the argumentin Peterson,op. cit. Other places
in the argumentat which self-predicationin a logicallyvicious sense is frequentlyseen
are at 134b6-7 and c6-11: see pp. 115-116 and 121 below.
" GwynnethMatthews,Plato's Epistemology,London 1972, p. 121. Cf. AugusteDies,
Parmenide(= Platon, Oeuvres Compltes, Vol. VIII, part 1), Paris 1923, p. 27, A. J.
Festugiere, Contemplationet Vie ContemplativeSelon Platon, 2nd. ed., Paris 1950,
p, 189, n. 2, HaroldCherniss,Aristotle's Criticismof Platoand the Academy, Baltimore
1944, pp. 282ff esp. n. 191, GilbertRyle, 'Plato'sParmenides',in Allen,op. cit., pp. 108f,
Runciman,op. cit., p. 159, Edith WatsonSchipper, Formsin Plato's LaterDialogues,
The Hague, 1965, p. 15, Weingartner,op. cit., pp. 185-187, and Fujisawa,op. cit.,
pp. 30ff. The contraryview is arguedwell by Petersonand Forrester,op. cit., p. 236.
12Forrester, op. cit., pp. 234ff.
13 No doubt the conclusionthat there is any form that is unknowablewill be sufficiently
distasteful for Plato. But Parmenides'announced conclusion is that all forms are
unknowable,and this conclusioncannot be obtained by the analogywith masteryand
There is also some question whetherthe mastery-slavery example can establisheven
that the single form object-of-knowledgecannot be an object of knowledge.No master
is a masterof slavery,and no slave is a slave of mastery:so in each of these cases, the
converse form is not a memberof its own domain. But does this principlehold for all
relationalforms and their converses?And more generally,can no form be an instance
of itself? The same,for example,is a relationalform that apparentlyfalls both in its own
domain and in its own range,while the form the one appearsto be an instanceof itself.
So the examplesof masteryand slaverydo not by themselvesshow even that the form
object-of-knowledgecannotbe a memberof its own domain.
'4 The Greek 'epistemd'is ambiguousbetween a name for (i) the relationknowingand
(ii) a body of facts known, which is a class and not a relation. 'Episteme'in the first
sense is perhapsbetter translated'knowing':but I will retain the conventionaltransla-
tion, 'knowledge',for both sensesof the word.
' The grammarof Ti,r 6 E"artv dXiAOetais puzzling: I take 6 e`artv dxtoeca as an in-
declinablenoun, getting its gender from its constituent noun detxeta. Possiblyabri
o eart cnrrWTrg17in the same sentence at a3 should be explainedin the sameway;o eart
6earn6rrs,133d8, may also be an indeclinablenoun in appositionwith avTov6eardrov,
cf. el, abrob 6ovJXo5,6`ea-r 6oOXos. For possible parallelselsewherein Plato, see oi5rwc
CroL7'juev giav ovZOlv avTrwv EKeW'lV7l 0 EUTLV KXW'V?, Republic 597c3, EKEOV TEr
opeycraL TOo c6rtv
O 'aov ,Phaedo75b1 -2,andr'v T1 v rCO6 UTWvdv 06Vrwqf7LaTpnrm.V
ovuav,Phaedrus247el --2.
I do not have any firm view of the internalgrammarof such indeclinablenouns: in
my translation I take 6' as subject and axfi'eta, 6eanroTrn, and the rest as predicate, but
without much confidence. For different treatments,see Loriaux(R. Loriaux,L' Etre et
La Forme Selon Platon, Bruges 1955, pp. 117ff), who takes the relativepronoun 6 as
subjectwith Wd7e&La etc. as its antecedent('truth which is', wherehe interpretsthe 'is'
as existential),and Mills(K. W. Mills,reviewof Loriaux,Gnomonxxix, 5 (1957), 328),
who would identify dXi69etaetc. as subject of C6Urt,with 6'as its predicate('what truth
(really)is': see his sample translationof 134a6-7: "Again,each of the knowledges,i.e.
that which each of them really is [the Formof each knowledge], will be the knowledge

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of each of the things that are, i.e. of that which each of them reallyis [of the Formof
each of the things that are]"). On yet another view, the distinction between subject
and predicatebecomes irrelevant,since the ealrtvexpressesan identity: d eirt x on this
view means 'what is identicalwith x' (H. F. Cherniss,'The Relation of the Timaeusto
Plato'sLaterDialogues',reprintedin Allen, op. cit., p. 372).
16 Cf. Charmides 171a5-7, Republic 438c6-e9, Sophist 257c7-d3, and Aristotle
Categories 1 a24ff.
17 Knowledge(episteme)is most clearlya relationin those passageswhereit is pictured
as a dynamis or power (Republic 477d, cf. 477bl0-1 1: e1rWT7f.l ...dretCT b'VTL lreIpVKE,
'yoc'aiW' c. Car TO 6'v, 508e3, cf. eS [and e6, 509a6]: WTt7uLr ... Kat LX7Eac,
__vWae__ TE KaL adXs?eiac..., Charmides 165c4-6: et -y&p 6ih -(Lyv(h)aKeLv ye Ti caTW
o aW poatiV7, S&io'V bTi naLTajpn nTrS V EThKa 7LrWo [ri here is object of 7Lyvw'aKEW,
not nominativesingularin agreementwith it, as Jowett3 takesit] .
Parmenides134a3-4 indicates the relationalcharacterof knowledgeby citing the
class of objects in its range:knowledgeitself is of truth itself - that is, of the forms -
while the various branches of knowledge are of some particularform or other. Cf.
Republic 438c6ff: EILaT'fl.n Ae'v a&rT 4ad5,uaToc aiuroo 67r=Tfll EaTTWv ti orov 6b'i 66
9ewvaLT7lIv i7LaT7;S7V, WMT97A7 6Tf'TL' iaL notodT 7rOLOVL
TLOc Kal TLWdL(cf. Charmides
168a6-8), Republic 477b1O-1 1 (cited above), Aristotle Categories 6b32ff: ...' 6wrLor
g?rtuT71TOVXS-yeTat UwT?7 Kal TO f lTOV 8lruT7 l 8LaTUUTdJv, andProclus,In Parm.
Comm., p. 933 Cousin:T7l)vAV' darTX C LaT7nI.7tairpbvc TO 0urXc) wT71Tov,Trv 66 swa
1.1Wvp TO T 67rtarTnTOV.
Geometry(geometricalepisteme),by contrast,is not a relation:it is one of the many
technai or epistemai (Sophist 257dl-2) - that is, it is a body of knowledge. Cf.
Charmides171a5-7, Republic 438c6-e9. This fits well with Aristotle'sview in the
Categoriesthat the species of the genus knowledge are not themselvesrelations (but
contrast Topics 145al3-18, cf. J. L. Ackrill,Aristotle's CategoriesandDe Interpretatione,
Oxford 1963, p. 108). The generalambiguityof the Greek 'episteme'(Note 14 above)
is in this case resolved by Parmenides'phrase 'each of the epistemai'at 134a3: for
'episteme'in the pluralmust referto bodies of knowledge.
" The point will be clearestif we borrowa set-theoreticaccountof genusand species.
Although this is almost certainly a distortion of Plato's generalviews on division(cf.
J. M. E. Moravcsik,'The Anatomy of Plato's Divisions', in Exegesis and Argument:
Studies in Greek Philosophy Presented to Gregory Vlastos, ed. by E. N. Lee, A. P. D.
Mourelatos, and R. M. Rorty, Phronesis suppl. vol. 1 (Van Gorcum, Assen, 1973),
pp. 324--348), it will not materiallyaffect anythingat issuehere.
'9 Add here to the referencesin n. 10 above, Sir David Ross, Plato's Theoryof Ideas,
Oxford 1951, p. 90, Gilbert Ryle, 'Plato's Parmenides',reprinted in Allen, op. cit.,
p. 109, and I. M. Crombie,An Examination of Plato's Doctrines, London 1963, Volume
II, p. 333. Reservationsabout this readingof the lines appearin Stough,op. cit., n. 29.
20 Contraryto Cornford,op. cit., p. 99, I take Parmenides' claims that we do not lhave
the form of knowledge(i.e. the form of knowledgeis not 'in' us) at b9 and that we do
not partake of the form knowledgeat bl 1-12 to be equivalent.All that Parmenides
needs for his argumentis to repeat the point that among us we find only instancesof
knowledge, not knowledge itself (nor even any of the many forms of knowledge:the
forms knowledgeof figure,knowledgeof odd and even, and so on). For 'partake'at bi 2,
cf. 133dl-2 (on which see Cornfordp. 96, n. 1, cf. p. 84, n. 3 and p. 85, n. 2), and
Fujisawa,op. cit., pp. 31ff. Plato's sentence at I 34b12 is discussedin some detail by
Peterson, op. cit.
21 Jones' geometricalknowledgemight also be understoodnon-relationally, as the class
of geometricalfacts Jones knows.This is, as often, the effect of the ambiguityof 'knowl-
edge', translatingthe Greek 'episteme',between knowledgein the propersense(a body
of knowledge), 'ndthe relationknowing:cf. Note 14 above.

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PLATO Parmenides
133aff. 127

22 So for example Cornford,op. cit., p. 99, Festugiere,op. cit., p. 189, n. 2, and cf.
Timaeus35a, and Symposium20leff on the natureof eros as an intermediary.
23 Sophist 248aff. (On this argument,see DavidKeyt, op.
24 Parmenideshas now shown that god can know neither sensibles nor
forms, while
sensibles cannot know forms. Although he does not notice the point, it follows that
unless sensibles can know sensibles, both the domain and the range of the relation
knowledge are necessarilythe empty set. This is an intriguingconsequence,for - if
Parmenides'argumentsstand - Plato must defend the possibility that sensiblescan
have knowledge of the sensible world, else it becomes problematicalin what sense
knowledge(episteme: 'knowing')is a relationat all. (I am indebted to MerrileeSalmon
for pointing out to me the difficulties of a relationwhose domain and rangemust be
25 1 am grateful to James W. Forrester,Keith Lehrer,Ronald D. Milo, and Merrilee
Salmonfor helpfuldiscussionand criticism.

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