Notes on what I'm reading

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Marriage equality (part II)

I have said that proponents of marriage equality should accept a distinctively conservative claim: that there is a reason to prohibit same-sex marriage. That means that the key premise in the distinctively conservative argument is:

  1. The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality.

We should now ask conservatives to defend 6. Again, conservatives have several options here. They could say: 

(a) The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality, because there are no reasons to permit marriage equality.
(b) The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality, because the reason not to permit marriage equality is a more important kind of reason than any of the reasons to permit marriage equality.   
(c) The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality, because the reason not to permit marriage equality is an equally important kind of reason as the reasons to permit marriage equality, and when we weigh that reason against other, equally important kinds of reasons, it carries the most weight.
Option a looks very unpromising. If conservatives said a, they would be saying that the kind of value marriage now has is the only kind of value there is. They would be saying that there are—literally—no other values. That is very implausible. Most conservatives also believe in other values—liberty, equality, certain kinds of fairness, or justice, for instance. It would be highly implausible if they were to say that there are no such values. And it is equally implausible to think that none of those values provide any reason to permit marriage equality. So conservatives should not say that 6 is true because a is true.

Options b and c look more promising. Options b and c do not require conservatives to deny that there are any other values. They can say that there are other values—justice or equality, for instance—that provide us with reason to permit marriage equality. What they say is just that, when we weigh those reasons against each other, what we have most reason to do is not to permit marriage equality.

The difference between b and c is that they are different ways of seeing the weighing relation. If conservatives say b, they are saying that the reason not to permit marriage equality expresses a more important kind of value. Think of that like playing a trump card in a card game to win a trick. No matter how high my spade is, if you play the two of hearts, and hearts are trumps, you win the trick. That is how option b sees things. Option c, on the other hand, is best understood as if we both hold cards of the same suit—neither of us can trump the other—but that one of us has a higher-value card within that suit.

However, I think neither option b or c provides good support for 6, and so I think we should reject 6 and therewith the conservatives' best argument against marriage equality. The reason I don't think either b or c work is that I believe that justice is the primary social virtue and that justice requires us to permit marriage equality. In other words, I think the converse of b is true; I think that we proponents, and not the opponents of same-sex marriage, hold the trump value.

Is this just an impasse? Can the conservative agree that justice is important and requires us to permit marriage equality, but just go on thinking that his reason to prohibit same-sex marriage trumps my reason to permit it? I don't think so. I think conservatives, too, should admit that justice is the primary social virtue. Where a valuable civil institution is unjust, the conservative should agree with me that the reason we have to render that institution more just outweighs the reason to preserve that valuable institution as it now is—real as that latter reason is.

Why should the conservative agree with me? I think the simplest way to see why is an appeal to our intuitions. Think about, for example, how our legal system is organized. It is organized so as to prevent any injustices being committed. Many other values are sacrificed to that end—victims are required to give sometimes painful testimony, citizens are required to spend time serving on juries, monies are spent on public defenders and appeals. We do those things and sacrifice those other values because the possibility of injustice is of “trump-level” importance to us. We would be appalled if someone defended limiting the number of appeals defendants could make because it would save time and money, and only result in a small increase, if any, of injustice. We could not tolerate that possible increase in injustice, because eliminating injustice trumps other values. So it seems very expensive for the conservative to deny my first claim.

Alternatively, the conservative could agree with me that justice is the primary social value. And he could say that, were justice to require us to permit marriage equality, the reasons justice gives us to permit marriage equality would trump the reasons not to permit marriage equality. But he might deny that justice requires us to permit marriage equality. At this point, the proponent of marriage equality must give her own positive argument for marriage equality. To give and defend that argument would take this post beyond my aim—which was to articulate and respond to a distinctively conservative argument against marriage equality. Suffice it to say that I think it is very difficult to deny that justice requires permitting marriage equality.

Since none of a, b, or c is available in support of 6, I conclude that we should think that 6 is false. So the conservative's second argument fails. Thus, even though we conceded to the conservative that there is a reason not to permit marriage equality, we can still, all things considered, endorse marriage equality.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Marriage equality (part I)

The Irish Times columnist Breda O'Brien is infamous for her argumentative, journalistic, and ethical failings. A friend of mine recently made sapient criticism of a particularly egregious Breda O'Brien article about marriage equality. My friend and I are of a mind on the substantive issue: we endorse marriage equality. But I'm curious whether what Breda O'Brien wanted to do in her column can be better accomplished. That is: I'm curious whether there is a distinctively conservative, non-question-begging argument against marriage equality that should trouble those of us who endorse marriage equality.

My interest in that question may seem odd to you. If I think that we ought to have marriage equality, shouldn't I be happy that opponents of marriage equality deploy such terrible arguments?

Here is my answer. I doubt that many people believe that the reason we ought to prohibit same-sex marriage is a god's arbitrary dictate (though I'm sure some do). And I think many people, even if they have reactions of disgust to homosexual sex, do not think that their reaction of disgust is a good reason to prohibit same-sex marriage (though again, I'm sure some do). But many of those people, I suspect, still think there's a good underlying reason to prohibit same-sex marriage, even if they find it hard to express that reason.

If that's true, then if we proponents of marriage equality only respond to the terrible arguments that Breda O'Brien's article exemplifies, our responses might leave many people uncomfortable. Those people might have the lingering feeling that there was some truth in those arguments, terrible as they were, and that our objections to the arguments missed that kernel of truth. If, however, the argument against marriage equality is set out at its strongest and rejected, I hope those lingering feelings can be lessened, and that people can more wholeheartedly embrace marriage equality. At the very least, we will more clearly understand what separates us from our opponents. That doesn't mean I think it's any less important to respond to Breda O'Brien's, and others', terrible arguments; I think it's really important to do that. But I think we ought to undertake, too, this different task.


With that in mind, here's how I think opponents of same-sex marriage should argue for their position. First, they should make this modest argument:

1. There is reason to preserve valuable civil institutions as they now are.
2. Marriage is a valuable civil institution.
3. Permitting marriage equality would not preserve marriage as it now is.
4. Therefore, there is reason not to permit marriage equality.

There are a few things to say about that argument, to which I'll return below. For now, the important point is that its conclusion is modest. One could agree with 4 but still think that the reasons to permit marriage equality outweigh the reason not to permit marriage equality.

So opponents of same-sex marriage also need to make this second argument:

5. There is reason not to permit marriage equality.
6. The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality.
7. Therefore, marriage equality ought not to be permitted.

The two arguments are logically valid: if their premises are true, the conclusions 4 and 7 follow. So if we want to reject the conclusions, we need to reject one or more of 1, 2, 3, or 6. Premises 2 and 3 look secure to me.* So I think we need to ask the opponent of marriage equality to support 1 and 6.


Let's look at premise 1 first. Premise 1 can be supported by this principle:

(P) If x is valuable, there is reason to preserve x as it is.

I think P looks at least initially plausible. If changing x risks the possibility of x's losing its value, then it looks like there is a good reason to preserve x: the reason is that x is valuable and we don't want to risk the loss or extinguishing of that value. But you might think, on further reflection, that P is false. Lots of things are valuable, but can easily be made more valuable without any worry about those things losing their value. In those cases, at least, P looks false. There's sometimes just no reason to preserve valuable things as they now are.

The opponent of same-sex marriage now has a choice. He could agree that P is false in the latter cases, but say that marriage equality is the former kind of case. Or he could say that, even in the latter cases, P is true.

Suppose he takes the first option. Then his first argument looks like this:

1' If x is valuable, there is reason to preserve x as it is, when changing x would risk a loss of x's value.
1a'. There is reason to preserve valuable civil institutions as they now are, when changing those institutions risks a loss of their value.
2. Marriage is a valuable civil institution.
3. Permitting marriage equality would not preserve marriage as it now is.
3'. Permitting marriage equality risks the loss of the value of marriage.
4. Therefore, there is reason not to permit marriage equality.

With the addition of 3', this is now a modest version of a familiar argument. I think this is a bad option for the opponent of same-sex marriage. It's bad because 3' is almost certainly false. Supporting 3' requires making dubious claims about the nature of the value of marriage, e.g. that the value of marriage lies uniquely in the value of male-female union, in natural law, in divine command, etc.. It's hard to see how such claims could be defended. If defending them requires further religious or moral claims, then they risk begging the question against the proponent of marriage equality. So I don't think the best argument against marriage equality ought feature 3'

But I said that the opponent of marriage equality had a second option. The second option was to say that, even in those cases in which a change in x would reliably increase the value of x and not risk reducing the value of x, there is reason to preserve x as it is. If he could persuade us of that, the opponent of marriage equality could make this argument:

1' If x is valuable, there is reason to preserve x as it is.
1a'. There is reason to preserve valuable civil institutions as they now are.
2. Marriage is a valuable civil institution.
3. Permitting marriage equality would not preserve marriage as it now is.
4. Therefore, there is reason not to permit marriage equality.

The controversial premise 3' is gone, so this argument looks more promising. So can opponents of same-sex marriage defend 1'? They can do so if they endorse what I'll call, adapting the philosopher G. A. Cohen's language,** the Fundamental Conservative Principle:

Fundamental Conservative Principle
The value of valuable things is not exhausted by their being repositories of exchangeable value; in addition to that, valuable things possess a kind of value that is non-exchangeable.

The Fundamental Conservative Principle is apt to appear, at first, no more than a bit of sophistry or clever wordplay. The key thing to realize is that the Fundamental Conservative Principle relies upon this surprising claim: there are two kinds of value. The first kind is what we are often, but not always, talking about when we talk about value. The first kind of value is like currency; it's reasonable to prefer $10 to $5, but silly to say that there's a reason to prefer $5 to $10. The second kind of value is not like that. It's a kind of value that particular things have. And—here's the odd-sounding part—particular things have this second kind of value independently of how much of the first, exchangeable kind of value they have. They have a distinctive kind of value just by virtue of being the particular valuable thing they are. It's the second kind of value that conservatives can leverage to support 1'.

I think the Fundamental Conservative Principle is true. So I think we should accept 1'. Since the first argument is valid, I therefore think we should accept 4: I think we should accept that there is a reason to prohibit same-sex marriage. Some people might be uncomfortable ceding that much ground to opponents of marriage equality. So they might, for that reason or for another reason, still want to argue against the Fundamental Conservative Principle. If they do so successfully, then the argument against marriage equality fails, since 1' is false. The core disagreement between those people and opponents of same-sex marriage is a disagreement about the truth of the Fundamental Conservative Principle.

On the other hand, people like me, who accept the Fundamental Conservative Principle but also endorse marriage equality, must accept 5 in the argument against against marriage equality. Recall that argument was:

5. There is reason not to permit marriage equality.
6. The reason not to permit marriage equality outweighs the reasons to permit marriage equality. 
7. Therefore, marriage equality ought not to be permitted.

Since people like me accept 5, and since the argument is valid, we must say that 6 is false. If the conservative can defend 6, we are sunk. So a lot turns on the defense of 6. I turn to that part of the discussion in the second half of this blog post.


Before I examine the second part of the argument against marriage equality, let me pause here for a moment. I said that my aim was to discover if a kernel of truth lay behind many people's uneasiness about permitting marriage equality. You might think I've gone astray from that goal. You might think that it's crazy to think that many of the people who feel uneasy about marriage equality feel uneasy because they have the Fundamental Conservative Principle in mind. And, you might conclude, if nobody really believes the Fundamental Conservative Principle, then it doesn't much matter if it provides a reason to prohibit same-sex marriage. I agree that there are simpler explanations of why many people feel uneasy about marriage equality. They might just be blinded by terrible arguments, have cowardly dispositions toward change, or have lingering or unacknowledged religious, personal or cultural animus toward homosexual acts.

I have two responses to the worry that what I have said so far is irrelevant. The first response is that, even if people don't explicitly endorse the Fundamental Conservative Principle, they might have inarticulate feelings that are expressed by the Fundamental Conservative Principle. They might have those feelings alongside any animus they also might have. If the Fundamental Conservative Principle is true, that people have those inarticulate conservative feelings is perhaps not surprising: people can respond to facts about the world without being aware to what fact they are responding. My second response is that, if the Fundamental Conservative Principle is true, you might still think that we proponents of marriage have an intellectual responsibility to be sure that our arguments are equal to opponents of marriage equality who endorse it, even if those opponents are only hypothetical. At the least, by doing so we become clearer about our own reasons for endorsing marriage equality.


* 3 is not the controversial claim that the institution of marriage would be better or worse if same-sex couples were permitted to marry. 3 is the uncontroversial claim that the institution would be different. We proponents of marriage equality should accept that claim. The difference between marriage as it now is and marriage equality is an important one; it's the one we care about.
   Some libertarians, some feminists, and some socialists might say that 2 is controversial. They might want to deny that 2 is true. I do not know myself how I feel about 2; I am sympathetic to feminist and socialist complaints about the institution full stop, not just the institution as it now is. But I am going to ignore that sort of complaint about marriage in this post.

** Cohen gives his defense of what he sees as an important truth in conservatism in ch.8 of Finding Oneself in the Other (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013). My formulation of the fundamental conservative principle is, I think, Cohen's. But Cohen might deny that the principle supports 1, if he thinks that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unjust. That is because he thinks that injustice has intrinsic disvalue, and for that reason, is not valuable, and so falls outside the scope of the fundamental conservative principle. That gives rise to complicated questions  about whether an institution's injustice vacates its value, and whether something can possess both value and disvalue. In any case: it's likely that I concede more to the opponent of marriage equality than Cohen would. I say that unjust institutions, for all that they are unjust, can have value. As I see things, the injustice of the institution of marriage is relevant in the defense of 6, to which I turn in the second half of this post.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Plato XIII (Symposium, Phaedrus)

Plato's reaction to a troubling kind of relationship. The idea is that the relationships introduce children to the polis. Plato's characters speak bluntly about the rights and wrongs of the practice. But Plato ambivalent, in general, about eros.

Symposium: series of speeches about love, then Alcibiades' speech about Socrates. Phaedrus takes love as a god; then idea of two gods (lower love--desire--and heavenly love--loyalty). Then love as a cosmic force (love as an effect on the human body.)

Aristophanes' story by way of myth: the story of humans as pairs, split to stop them challenging the gods. So desire for reunion is desire to reunite with missing half. The serious point: love as desire for a strong kind of union, i.e. an identity.

Socrates rejects previous ideas. Diotema, his imaginary interlocutor, takes love as desire. So if love a god, he's desirous, and therefore doesn't have a lot--he's a poor, rough god. So that looks like what Aristophanes said--love a desire. But Diotema says that the object of desire can't be something that is a proper part of me, or possessed by me--it must be something that I think of as good, i.e. the beautiful.

But now, as usual: if want what's beautiful, should not be content with physical bodies--should seek the Form of beauty. Get explanation of desire for children this way: attempt to imitate immortality of the Form of beauty.

Love always points towards Form, so away from body and towards soul--so love is expressed as a desire to make soul beautiful, i.e. to educate. So qualified approval for the troubling practice. A higher expression of this kind of love: laws that improve many souls, not just one.

But highest of all is grasping of the Form itself: i.e. philosophy.


Phaedrus: A bucolic encounter with Phaedrus outside Athens; again, speeches on love exchanged. The question: is a lover, ideally, a friend or a dependent? Possible reason for second option: lover doesn't want to meet with resistance.

Image of souls as winged chariot: the noble horse and wild one, steered by charioteer. If well steered, can glimpse forms. If not, don't. Note similarity of this image to the tripartite image of soul in The Republic.

The present point? Seeing a beautiful person reminds us of the realm of Forms. Note this like the theory of recollection of Forms from the Phaedo. So a relationship, if it goes well, leads to a philia kind of relationship, not an eros kind.

Objections: this is a weird picture of love. If beautiful persons' role is to remind us of the Form of beauty, any beautiful person will do as well. It seems the person him/herself drops out of the picture. That seems to miss something important about loving relationships.


Lysis: A more charitable version of Plato's picture of love can be reconstructed from this. Being in a friendship is aiming for something good. And the good is my friend's good--not the Form of the good, or anything else. So that looks like a more convincing picture.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plato XII (Timaeus)

Note: the only dialogue extant in the Western tradition 'til quite late, because translated to Latin, unlike the rest that don't get translated 'til the 12th century. Mostly a monologue by Timaeus.

Timaeus is Plato's account of God. But unlike the Judeo-Christian God, he's a craftsman--a Demiurge. What's different: he's working from plans--the Forms. The universe as representation of the Forms. And he has a receptacle, into which his representation goes; without that, nothing he crafts would have anywhere to be put.

Numbers and mathematics literally and centrally at the forefront of Timaeus. Seems to follow from discussion in Republic--the ideal city. There, we had parallel of soul and city. Now get parallel between city and universe.

Initial qualification: Timaeus only to give a "likely account". The cosmos is the physical world, subject to change, hence only fit for opinion--not the Forms, fit for knowledge.

Demiurge wants to create best possible universe. That apparently [why?] leads to universe as living being with soul. So, using Forms-plan, Demiurge has universe partake in the Form of living being. It's spherical, composed of Empedocles' four elements (to be visible and tangible, needs fire and earth, and air and water in between elements to mathematically complete things). Picture of "layered" elements, heavier to inside, lighter to outside. Universe as a whole is divine--i.e. a god, made by the divine Demiurge--a living sphere.

Note oddness of Timaeus' argument: some parts of cosmos needed for empirical explanation, but some elements needed mathematical explanation (Pythagorean-sounding).

The Homeric gods are created as adjuncts to the Demiurge. Question of whether this is ironic or sincere (recall Xenophanes' criticism of this sort of reasoning about the divine).

The Homeric gods as the fashioners of humans, combining elements with the Demiurge's parcelling out of spirit. Explanation of why humans have heads (imitation of sphere).

The receptacle: the container for everything we observe. We know it by positing: we know there must be something into which things move when they change. Note Heraclitean character of this argument. The receptacle unchanging and propertyless.

So this a third metaphysical element in Plato's picture: Forms, things that partake in Forms, and receptacle in which those things are. That introduces constraint: e.g. the skull as it is given the constraints imposed by necessity of the receptacle.

Triangles: these the constituents of elements! So this a geometrical atomism. Earth is made up of 90-45-45 triangles: combining those gets cubes. Other elements: made up of half-equilaterals: combining these gives the polyhedra: the five Platonic solids. This gives mathematical explanations of empirical stuff: solidity of cube explains solidity of earth. The other elements (e.g. fire - pyramids) can recombine into each other as triangles change. But since earth different, it can't change into other elements nor they into it.

Note this looks like a recombined Presocratic picture--elements, divine mind, world in change, but fundamentally mathematical. Odd picture of providentially designed universe, but with constraints in materials and plans. Note many differences from Christian faith--God not personal, not loving (loving bound up with desire, but Demiurge has no needs).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Plato XI (Cratylus)

Cratylis as a first foray into philosophy of language.

The question: how do words have meaning? Note that random syllables do not have a meaning. But "Frege" or "philosophy" do. What's the difference?

One theory: stipulation--e.g. naming. E.g. baby: two people dub an arbitrary thing a string of syllables.

Plato considers the stipulation theory--has one of the characters

Recall that Cratylus was one of the (radical) Heracliteans ('can't step in the same river once')

Cratylus disagrees: words have meanings by nature.

Note this a familiar Sophistic distinction: nature and convention (as with morality).

So what is it to have a meaning by nature? Cratylus says that things have true names. Getting them right is saying something true; getting them wrong is not naming it at all (i.e. not saying anything at all). This good news for Plato, since he agrees with the relativist picture on which you can't say anything false.

But note this different from the Theaetetus reasons for absence of falsehood: it's a semantic reason why there can't be falsehood.

Socrates' reply to the stipulation theory: names, as man-made, have functions. So not just any words can be names. But what words are suitable names or not? Socrates' answer: the word that reveals something of the referent's nature. His evidence: Greek words whose etymology reveal the nature of what they refer to.

Objection: the etymologies are far-fetched. Interpretive dispute about whether we're supposed to take Socrates' etymologies seriously.

Note: proposal to remove letters to reveal "real" etymology?

Regress objection: if we etymologize, e.g., "god", to show how it derives from "run", then what about "run" itself?

Socrates' reply: some things have a 'natural' likeness to their referent--i.e., onomatopoeia. That explains all the roots of names. Get a theory of words originating in nascent Heraclitean ideas: people used sounds to signify different kinds of change.

This not an affirmation of Heraclitean theory; just an analysis of semantics of language that appeals to an alleged sociological fact about early prevalence of Heraclitean thought.

Socrates' reply to Cratylus (the actual Heraclitean): language can't be entirely natural. Saw, e.g., change of letters/sounds in the earlier reply. But word still functions after this. So rejects Cratylus' extreme nature-based account of meaning.

So words are representations of their referents, in Socrates' theory. That opens up, against Cratylus, the possibility of mismatch between the word and what it represents. So we get the possibility of mismatch again (note similarity of this to the way falsehood shown possible in the Theaetetus: there, a mismatch of wax imprints).

So Socrates trying to vindicate two uses of language: to communicate intentions (a la naming a baby) and to reveal the true nature of things (a la getting things right and wrong).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HoPwaG: Plato X (Sophist)

Recall: Forms explanation, by way of being the cause of, the properties things of.

Also note that when you get this explanation and cause of, e.g., beauty--expressing that is going to be knowledge.

A worry: why think the cause of beauty is going to be the definition/explanation of beauty (as we might now think)?

Note that Plato might get out of this: if you find a cause that is a cause by virtue of being the nature of (explanation of), then it can fill both roles (i.e. cause and definition/explanation).

[Is a good way to think about this to say that he's got hold of something like Aristotelian formal cause here?]

The Sophist

Main character here a stranger from Elea, talking to Theaetetus the day after the Theaetetus (the dialogue). Brief meeting with Socrates. Eleatic stranger, obviously, representing Parmenidean school.

Question of defining a sophist--are they different from a) politicians b) philosophers?

Difference from other dialogues: Eleatic stranger makes definite doctrinal proposals.

The attempt at definition: method of collection and division:
  • get a large class of things;
  • divide into smaller things until get what you want;
  • e.g. to define angling, start with hunting, subdivide (into two--not always named);
  • at end, get list of classes, with one the definiendum.
One idea: a Sophist as maker of false images. Leads to the central problem of Sophist:

The problem of non-being:
  • Context: Proposed definition of Sophist is someone who sells falsehoods (images) for money;
  • To get that as definition, want falsehoods to be real;
  • The worry: The Sophist would deny there's any such thing as falsehood--to say what falsehood is involves using concept of non-being, but PPMI rules out concept of non-being, so looks like the definition of sophistry includes a meaningless term;
  • How falsehood involves non-being: to say a falsehood is to say that what is not is, or what is, is not;
  • Question then of what the problem with non-being is.
  • First idea: states of affairs that don't obtain (e.g. on a nice day you could say "It's not raining"-- that would be true, but it would be true in virtue of a state of affairs not obtaining, i.e. it not raining;
  • So we have a state of affairs "inherently" negative (not raining) being somehow real as one idea to explain non-being, but this seems odd since what's real just seems to be nothing to do with rain, so hard to see how anything negative is manifested (or 'real') at all;
  • Second idea: when I say a falsehood (e.g. "It's raining" on a nice day) what's expressed is a state of affairs that doesn't obtain;
  • So, again, second idea is that falsehoods involve these odd things--states of affairs that don't obtain;
  • So there only seem to be "positive" states of affairs--things that do obtain.
  • So what's the problem of non-being? That saying what a falsehood is entails mentioning something (a non-obtaining state of affairs); but if there aren't any such, then our definition of falsehood includes a term with no meaning [?]; and that makes it a bad definition.
  • Another problem for Plato: the Forms explain, metaphysically, positive states of affairs (e.g. things are beautiful because they participate in Form of beauty). But what about negative states of affairs [e.g. not being beautiful = being ugly]? Do we now also need a Form of ugliness? Altnerative: might say that some things fail to participate in a Form. But how to explain this--what is it not to participate.
  • Another way to think about this: the Forms came in to explain truth; now want explanation of falsehood (esp. since we have Sophists there is no falsehood).
The solution:
  • So want to explain falsehoods and negative predications by way of analyzing positive states of affairs;
  • They consider "Theaetetus is flying", a falsehood.
  • Proposal: Theaetetus is participating in some Forms, e.g. sitting. So "Theaetetus sits" is true, and we have an explanation of that. But Sitting, the Form, participates in another Form, Difference From All The Things That Are Flying [or Difference From Flying, The Form?] Since Theaetetus participates in that Form, "Theaetetus is flying" is false.
  • Note: other interpretations of this.
  • The work of negation done by the Form of Difference--when something participates in this (and note, seems to be only Forms that participate in this Form), get [possibility of] falsehoods.
  • This new in the Sophist: idea that Forms participate in others.
  • Idea of greatest kinds: Being, Sameness, Difference, Motion, Rest
  • Is this a problem? We had things participating in Forms. Now Forms participating in Forms. But this might be a problem--e.g. Third Man problems. So why think that Forms can participate in each other?
  • Note that one reading of this is whether properties can have properties, i.e. whether there are second order properties.
  • Example: If the Form of Motion is not, numerically, the same Form as the Form of Rest, then the Form of Motion differs from the Form of Rest in one way. So the Form of Motion participates in the Form of Difference (w.r.t. the Form of Rest)--just like any physical object can participate in the Form of Difference (w.r.t. some other physical object).
  • Note: he might not have to say that all Forms participate in all others--might be that all Forms share in some Forms, e.g. the greatest kinds all participate in Sameness, but no Forms share in Motion or Rest [that seems to make sense], all Forms share in Being. So maybe can tell an interesting story here. (Suggestion that figuring out inter-relations of Forms is the 'work' of philosophy.)
So: if Plato's solution works, have a metaphysical account of both how there can be true statements (participation in Forms) and true negative predications and false statements (also, in a complicated way, by participation in Forms). [Still not 100% on how we've explained false statements, as opposed to true negative predications. When Th. participates in Form of Difference, get that it's true to say, e.g., "Th. does not fly". Do we get an explanation that's it's false to say "Th. flies"? Can we just say that when you participate in this Form (w.r.t. X), then any statement "You are Xing" is false? Maybe yes. Form of Difference "special" in that respect--only it explains false statements. OK.]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

HoPwaG: Plato IX (Parmenides)

Question of whether the Parmenides reaffirms or refines Plato's doctrines (and questions about the chronology of the dialogues).

Starts with Zeno reading his paradoxical arguments. Recall, the point of the paradoxes is to affirm the Eleatics' doctrines.

Socrates rejects Eleatic doctrines: things are one and many. But that doesn't mean there's no oneness and manifoldness: the Forms, e.g., since they don't feature compresence of opposites, are oneness.

Socrates posits Forms to explain why things are similar--explain presence of shared characters in some things: they explain both why things are similar and dissimilar.

Parmenides poses problems for the theory of Forms, which Socrates is unable to resolve.

The problems:
1. Which things have Forms?
  • Socrates says there are Forms of goodness, beauty, largeness, etc. Is there also a Form of man? Of every animal? Of hair, dirt? Man-made things?
  • This a serious problem. If there are Forms, how are we to know what they are? Sometimes Plato seems to suggest there are Forms of man-made things, but in the Parmenides   
2. What is it to share in or partaking in a Form?
  •  E.g. does each large thing have a piece of the Form of largeness? Then each part of the Form of largeness would be small by comparison with the Form as a whole.
  • Or, e.g., is the whole Form of largeness present in each large thing? Then the Form would be separate from itself (the largeness of the giraffe is spatially distinct from the largeness of the Eiffel Tower).
  • Socrates' reply: Metaphor of the same day being present in different places.
3. The Third Man argument
  • Recall Socrates posits a Form to explain similarity. Eg: there are several large things, so the Form of largeness is posited to explain their similarity.
  • But if the Form of largeness is itself large, then there are {large things, Form of largeness}, so we need another Form to explain their similarity. 
  • To explain largeness, we need to posit an infinite number of Forms.
  • Reply option 1: 'So what?' What contradiction follows from the need for an infinite number of Forms (e.g. they are immaterial!)
  • Problem: the idea was that one thing was to explain the similarity of many things. It spoils that aim to have to have not just one, but an infinity, of Forms before we can explain the similarity of all large things. [In fact, it doesn't really advance the explanation at all.]
  • Reply option 2: Deny that the Form of largeness is large. But this awkward. Recall: the Form of largeness was not supposed to be small: it was supposed to differ from physical things that feature compresence of opposites. If he also denied that the Form was large, the Form would be neither large nor small. Also, recall the self-exemplification thesis from before. And also, physical things are supposed to be large by virtue of resembling or partaking in the Form. If we're now saying that the Form itself isn't large, then how do they resemble it? [That last problem seems to me fatal for this reply option.]
  • But there also seems to be good reason to deny that the Form of largeness is large. Forms are immaterial; immaterial things can't be large; so, the Form of largeness can't be large. [This seems disastrous.]
  • Reply option 3 (Socrates): Forms are not "separately existing objects". Rather, they are thoughts. Not clear how this solves problem, but as thought, Form wouldn't be large, so wouldn't get infinite regress.
  • Objection: Thoughts have referents. The referent of the Form-thought would be outside our mind and subject to the argument. 
  • Even if they're "paradigms that exist in nature", which other things resemble, they're independent of us, etc., and subject to the Third Man argument. And also...
4. Third Man argument, redux
  • The Form of largeness is invoked to explain why large things are similar to each other: large things are similar to the Form of largeness. But then we have: {similarity of large things to Form of largeness, similarity of Form of largeness to itself, similarity of Form of similarity to itself}. So we need another Form of similarity to explain the similarity that these things partake in. Again, an infinite regress.
  • This time the infinite series of Forms are Forms of similarity, not largeness.[Not clear why that's worse than the first Third Man argument?]
5. Impotence of Forms
  • If Forms are separate [from us?], they can relate to each other but not to us ('mastery' example supposed to show this: the master is master of the slave; the Form of mastery doesn't master the slave).
  • The upshot: two disconnected realms--the Forms and what is supposed to participate in them.
  • If nothing in our world can relate to the Forms, then there are no relations between physical world and Forms; knowledge is a relation; so we can't have knowledge of Forms. But they were supposed to be the objects of knowledge.
Question of what the upshot of this is. Is there a reply available on behalf of the theory? Suggestion that the sequence of questions is a list of desiderata for the theory of Forms: we want an account of which ones there are, how they can be different enough from physical things to explain their similarity, but not so different that they are radically disconnected from physical things (and so unable to explain their similarity).