|© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE||Last updated November 21, 1998|
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This page is part of the "e-mail archives" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "e-mail archives" section includes HTML edited versions of posts that I submitted on various e-mail discussion lists about Plato and ancient philosophy.
To: sophia <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date : March 4, 1995, 22:13:44
Subject : Re: One beyond being
//--- forwarded letter -------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Tue, 28 Feb 95 20:57:37 +0000
> From: Carol.Poster@uni.edu
> To: "Members of the list" <email@example.com>
> Subject: One beyond being
> Just wondering if placing the one beyond being is a way around the third man argument. Anyone have any thoughts on this? (I think it might be why the Parmenides was such an important text among neoplatonists).
> Carol Poster
Plato didn't put the one beyond being, but only the good. The one was Plotin's favorite, not Plato's.I think the problem is not to look for something "beyond" being, but to stop giving "being" more weight than it has. For Plato, see the Sophist, "being" is the least meaningful of all predicates, as having the greatest extension; anything that can act or be acted upon, being only in my thoughts, has "being": the "temporary" definition is never reformulated, and holds good till the end. The real problem is not "being", but "participation". The question is not "what you are", but "what you are"; and you are what you become, what you participate in. If the good, and only him, is "beyond being", it's because the good is, contrary to being, the most meaningful of predicates, being the perfection of each being, its "telos", and thus, cannot be one among the being. No more than evil is a "being", but rather a lack of being, a lack of achievment of what a being is supposed to be, of its "good". In all that, the "one" is only another name for the "same", it is what makes each "being" someting, and something different from any other being; different, but not isolated; different, but capable of "participation"... And beware! participation is not only between "material" being and "forms", but between all sorts of beings, between forms and forms, among others. We have to find out the rules of participation, of "koinônia", and especially those which make us get along together as rational human "beings"...
There is no such thing as a "third man" once you understand what the form(s) of man is (are)! And you won't find the answer in the Parmenides, even with a mystical, or hermetic, interpretation... The purpose of the Parmenides is to pose the problem, to raise the questions, not to answer it. The only "answers" it gives are:
The answers on the form(s) of man are to be found in the Timæus, read in the light of the Sophist and the Republic. As I said in an earlier post, the Timæus displays at least four of these forms, and none is subject to the third man argument. They are, from the most "material" to the most "formal" (they are introduced in the reverse order in the Timaeus):
There is yet one more "form" of man that is present in the whole dialogue, and it is the word "man" itself... Yes, a word may be viewed as a form. It is "formal" with regard to what it represents, but it is "matter" to speech, and even matter has a "form". It is a "being", in the sense of the definition given in the Sophist, as it can be "acted upon" (by being pronounced, or written), a being in its own right, with its own laws: these laws are the laws that the Sophist tries to exhibit, the laws of speech that the rhetors have forgotten, with all the dire consequences we know. And the Parmenides is an example of what happens when, with the best intention in the world, that of raising men's souls towards the "immaterial", a Parmenides forget these laws, or doesn't care to look for them (and Parmenides was the inspiration behind Gorgias and his likes)...
But these are too many forms for an Aristotle! Yes, there may be several ways of understaning "being", ten "categories" if you'd like (Aristotle "rewriting" of the Sophist), but "man" is one and you must choose! He may not have "several" forms!... And what is this business about the "form of matter", when matter and form are precisely opposites?!... Aristotle will chose for us, and his "form" of man is somewhere between the second (biological "structure", remember his father was a physician, and he was a biologist) and third (the "soul", which become, in his language, and to please his master, an "entelechy", closer to an ADN string than to what Plato had in mind...). And here we are, twenty four centuries later, still struggling with the same difficulties, and incredulous when we unearth Plato's "answers", so biased we are by centuries of aristotelism, and, as he was, so materialistic in our thinking... Yet, Plato gave us the way, not the answers... And that is still valid today, even if most of the "science" in the Timæus is largely out of date and "primitive" (because there is "evolution" in biology and in "science" does not mean there is evolution in "metaphysics"... Sorry, Mr Aristotle!)
Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
First published December 8, 1996 ;
Last updated November 21, 1998
© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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