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Parmenides, Plato, and the Semantics of Not-Being.

Parmenides, Plato, and the Semantics of Not-Being. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. xxi + 166 pp. $23.95--The book treats Plato's Sophist 237-264. The introduction observes that problems Plato tackled are the same as contemporary problems about predication and mental representation of natural-language statements, and that Plato's account of the relation between language, mind, and reality strongly resembles a contemporary mental-representationalist language. Given that Plato was responding to a problem about negation, the author finds it "quite astonishing that modern representationalists pay no attention to these difficulties concerning negation" (p. xv).

Chapter 1, "Methodological Preliminaries," sketches three different possible approaches to a past philosophical text: these are called "literal-," "historical-," and "eternal-questions." It sketches the symptoms of an interpretive disability, "precursoritis," and gives nine principles for an interpreter of a past text. One such principle is: If an argument is attributed to an author, it should be valid (missing premises to be supplied). Any principle may be overridden.

Chapter 2, "Parmenides' Problem," builds on Furth's reconstruction of Parmenides to give this version of the argument which concerned Plato: (1) For any declarative sentence, either it is true or its negation is true, but not both; (2a) the meaning of a sentence is the fact to which it refers; (2b) the meaning of a singular term (or a predicate) is the object(s) to which it refers; (3) whatever is can meaningfully be stated by true sentences; (4) there are no negative facts; (5) therefore, all true meaningful sentences mean the same thing (p. 14). Plato says that he is contradicting Parmenides (258c-d). He also says, "Any discourse we can have owes its existence to the interweaving of forms with one another" (259c5-6). That Plato was worried about the possibility of our discourse fits with the view that he was worried about the Parmenidean argument sketched above, whose conclusion certainly rules out our discourse.

Chapter 3, "Plato's Problems," argues that it is a likely interpretation of Sophist 237-264 that it relevantly responds to the argument of Parmenides sketched in chapter 2. Sophist 242 says that all who "have given a precise account of what is have spoken carelessly." Plato includes in his objection his earlier self of the Phaedo and Republic. "Plato thinks . . . the . . . solution of Parmenides' Problem will be to 'speak carefully' by means of a 'philosopher's language'--a language which mirrors reality exactly" (p. 32). One feature of the philosopher's language is that every general term names something which is its meaning (p. 45).

Chapter 4, "Some Interpretations of the [unkeyable]," usefully classifies forty-five (by my count) interpretations of Plato's account of the meaningfulness and truth of sentences like "Theaetetus is sitting" and "Theaetetus is not flying" into four broadly similar groups, one with thirteen subgroups. The forty-five include distinct positions attributed to some single authors, for example [Ackrill.sub.1] and [Ackrill.sub.2]. The upshot of the whole is that the best interpretation to date is "still [Ackrill.sub.2]'s" (p. 87).

Chapter 5, "The Philosopher's Language," gives some presuppositions about language which help account for Plato's sweeping claim that all discourse necessitates the interweaving of Forms with one another. Chapter 5 offers an account of Sophist 249d-264b on blending. The account urges that Plato's genitive and dative constructions systematically mark a threefold distinction (pp. 97-9) between (1) cases in which one Form participates in another because it directly has an attribute (Motion so partakes of Rest because the Form Motion is at rest), (2) cases in which one form participates in another because all the one Form's instances must be instances of the other (Non-Being so partakes of Being because all nonbeings must have being) (p. 128), and (3) cases in which one form partakes in another because the two must have some common participants (as Sameness so participates in Motion) (p. 123). The discussion of the significance of the genitive and dative constructions goes beyond previous scholars' discussions, some scholars having found no significance and some having found significance other than that found here. The book is accessible to attentive Greekless readers. Greek expressions are translated, though not transliterated, at first occurrence but not thereafter.
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Author:Peterson, Sandra
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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