Notes on what I'm reading

Friday, April 5, 2013

HoPwaG: Plato VI (Phaedo)

Phaedo introduces theory of Forms--note, Forms absent from many of Plato's dialogues, and even in Phaedo they come after soul's immortality.

Soul's immortality:
  • note that the discussants assume that we have soul, and assume dualism--i.e. soul different from body, though not necessarily incorporeal;
  • might be that soul is like smoke that blows away after death, or harmony of tuned instrument (i.e. not corporeal, but may disappear on death);
  • so the idea to show that the soul immortal--and on the way, we get that its incorporeal, invisible, etc.;
  • first step: soul existed before body (theory of learning as recollection), so soul can exist without body;
  • second step: soul must be akin to what it knew before birth;
  • this where the Forms come in: the 'Form' of beauty is, e.g., one of the things we knew before birth;
  • the 'Form' of beauty not a physical object: it's the nature in which beautiful physical objects partake;
  • this gives another way to argue for soul's independence from body, the affinity argument;
  • the affinity argument: soul must be akin to what it knows, so soul akin to Forms, but Forms eternal and immaterial; so, the soul is eternal and immaterial;
  • note the point here is to show the soul's immortality--the Forms are assumed;
  • but also want an argument for the Forms and a better story about what they are, and why we should think there are any.
The Forms:
  • question of how recollection of Forms works;
  • analogy with other cases of reminding: can get reminded in metonymic way or mimetic way;
  • e.g. two equally long sticks resemble the Form of equality, in being of the same length, but dis-resemble the Form of equality by being in other ways unequal--i.e. they're like a (mimetic) portrait of the Form: like any portrait, they get some things right, others wrong;
  • clearer reading of why the 'equal' sticks also unequal: they're unequal to a third stick, despite being equal to each other; but the Form is only equal);
  • this the compresence of opposites reading: things have contradictory attributes, e.g. things are good in some ways, bad in others, beautiful but not beautiful, etc.;
  • Forms then are standards of judgment when we judge that something is, e.g., good or beautiful;
  • but Forms play not just epistemological role but a metaphysical one: they cause beautiful things to be beautiful;
  • Plato's standard of causal explanation: cause must necessarily give rise to its effect; if something else could have happened, we haven't identified a causal structure;
  • e.g. the cause of tallness could not have caused any shortness;
  • So the Forms are the only things that seem to meet this causal standard, since they exclude their opposites;
  • But then get a query about what causes inequality: could be either a Form of inequality or a failure to resemble the Form of equality;
  • Note that what we have so far entails that each Form also exemplifies itself: and this is a weird consequence (e.g. the Form of largeness is large?) 
  • [Note how self-exemplification follows from what we have so far: the Form of equality, unlike the equal sticks, just is equal and nothing else; i.e. it self-exemplifies.]
Objection to the theory:
  • Does it help to be told that the reason, e.g., Helen beautiful is that she partakes in the Form of beauty?
  • Reply: Forms, as well as causes, are the objects of our knowledge;
  • Why does this help? Because someone who knew the Form of beauty would be able to explain why [cp. Theaetetus?] Helen beautiful and, e.g., why she's not as beautiful as a goddess, etc., so theory of Forms, combined with theory of knowledge, can be informative;
  • Reply 2: can give a clever as well as simple cause of an effect: e.g. can say that something cold because of snow (clever) or because of partaking in Form of cold (simple);
  • Objection: it's true that whenever snow involved, something will be cold, but it's not true that whenever something cold, snow is the 'clever' cause (might be ice, etc.). So a worry about how far Plato can push the 'clever cause' reply.
Application of theory of Forms to immortality of soul:
  • soul is the cause of being alive; if it is, then soul can only be alive, not dead (as with snow as cause of cold); so, soul cannot be dead, by nature; so soul immortal;
  • note: this avoids the objection that even if soul can survive death, might still eventually 'wear out' after many survivals;
  • note: this is an inverse of our worry, that the soul might not be distinct from the body, so that bodily death is death full-stop. Socrates' worry is that the soul, which is distinct from the body, might itself have a different death.
So the Forms are:
  • the objects of knowledge;
  • free from compresence of opposites;
  • Forms the (proper and universal) causes of, e.g., equality and beauty; but also:
  • Forms are stable and unchanging, helping solve Heraclitus' universal flux problem (with Forms, we can have universal physical flux, and still have knowledge);
  • Forms explain the meanings of words.

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