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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ARISTOTELIAN MUSINGS

I have it firmly fixed in my mind, although I do not have the textual reference, that Aristotle somewhere observes that shit does not have a form.  [The Greek scholars among you can help me out.]  Now, my work, for all of my life, has consisted of intuiting conceptual or argumentative forms and then trying to articulate them clearly and transparently.  Perhaps this is why I find it so difficult to write about the current political scene.  Bernie Sanders is the only political figure in America today whose utterances can support a conceptual analysis of any sort.  The remainder is burlesque, low artifice, or vulgar evil. 

I am sure you will understand the problem this poses for a philosophical blogger.

10 comments:

Jordan said...

I'm not sure about Aristotle, but Socrates in Plato's PARMENIDES expresses skepticism that there could be forms of mud, hair, or dirt. (see 130a-e)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I'll bet that is what I am remembering. Many thanks. [Any chance the Greek says "shit" and the translaters cleaned it up?]

Jordan said...

Maybe so, actually. I don't have enough Greek myself to say, but a little googling reveals that some people refer to "hair, mud and shit" or "hair, mud and excrement" instead. My guess is that the Greek word in question could mean dirt or animal waste, but we'd need an expert to tell us for sure.

Jim Westrich said...

ῥύπος (Rhypos) is the word in *Parmenides* which does translate as dirt or filth; other words would have been stronger. I do not know really.

mesnenor said...

Note that the example of mud (clay in some translations) comes up again in the Theaetetus, it's one of several echoes of the Parmenides in that dialogue.

formerly a wage slave said...

Jordan has got it wrong. In the broader context, Socrates is saying that we shouldn't hesitate to say there are Forms of such things as dirt, mud, hair merely because they offend our sensibilities. There needs to be a more principled reason for denying that something exists. I am not checking the Greek or a translation, but I am quite sure about this.
I am well aware that there are interpretations of Plato's Forms that would make someone jump on the idea that there could not be a Form of dirt. Forms are "perfect"--right? And dirt is not......
I don't want to offend or dismiss any serious scholars. I'll just say that my teacher, Terry Penner, has recently provided some pretty detailed essays on the nature of the forms providing a defense of an alternative view. E.g., I would recommend "Forms and the Sciences in Plato" in Hugh Benson ed., A Companion to Plato.

formerly a wage slave said...

Well, there I went off all pompous and I screwed it up. A quick look at Parm. reminded me that it is the y o u n g Socrates who is embarrassed to think there might be a Form of mud, dirt or hair, because these things are sort of foul and worthless. But the Eleatic Stranger, who one supposes speaks for Plato, tells Socrates that he thinks this way because he is young and cares too much about what people thinks...So, Plato is not rejecting Forms of mud, dirt or hair.....

Jordan said...

Hi formerly a wage slave!

Just for the record, I wasn't making any claims at all about how to interpret that passage in the Parmenides; I was just pointing out what Socrates in fact says at that particular moment in the dialogue. You're right that it's a young version of Socrates, who is faced with an older Parmenides (the famous Eleatic philosopher, but not necessarily the same as the "Eleatic Stranger" from other Platonic dialogues like Sophist and Statesman). So Plato might want us to think that he's making a mistake, but that's not altogether clear from the dialogue itself, it seems to me. There's a nice discussion of the problem in section 4.1 of this article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-parmenides/

formerly a wage slave said...

I just made a quick look at the text, so I got the details wrong Jordan. Thank you for correcting me. I don't think this is the place to argue and I'm not going to look at the Stanford article. I actually have to work for a living and don't teach Philosophy any more. But, I used to think it's clear that Plato himself is not rejecting forms of hair, mud or dirt. And if you think about the principle at work here, some sort of one over many principle, I think it is a principle that clearly applies to 'mud' and 'dirt' as much as any other general term.....But if you're not convinced, then I've at least raised a question. I mean I really have to work tomorrow morning and it is late at night here now. I am not a retired professor and I don't have a lot of free time...... Sometimes I wish I wouldn't just take a"quick look" at this blog......

formerly a wage slave said...

Actually, there is a methodological point here, about how to read Plato. And, maybe Robert Paul Wolff isn't interested in it unless it's going to let him make a joke or poke the translators in the ribs. I don't know what his original point was. (Idle curiosity, perhaps.)

However, even in my intellectually under-nourished current state, there is a point worth making, and I hope Jordan won't mind. I am sure he is enthusiastic,and it would be wrong of me to stifle anyone's enthusiasm. (That's sort of an apology for my earlier comments.)

My initial reaction was shock at the quick reading or interpretation of Plato--just taking one sentence that Socrates said, and quoting it (or alluding to it) with no respect for the context. That's probably what RPW wanted, and Jordan gave it to him.

But, even in my current under-nourished state (philosophically under-nourished) I guess I still care enough about these things to react.

So, I tried to provide some of the context, enough to warn off a hasty reader/interpreter from thinking Plato himself thought there was no Form of shit or hair or whatever.

It matters to anyone who is trying to understand Plato's Theory of Forms. A basic question is: What Forms are there?

As for the allusion to a Stanford article where there may have been a different view: Maybe the Stanford article has a different interpretation. Maybe not. I haven't read it. I wish I could. I wish I were teaching Plato once again. But, whatever is said there, the scholar writing it will have to deal with the context, and will have to consider some version of the point I've been trying to make. It looks as though the young Socrates is afraid to apply a certain principle to hair and dirt because he worries about public opinion. But, then that means the principle, which gets the conclusion that a Form exists, should be applied to hair, dirt, or shit or piss or whatever. (And, I don't even know that I formulated the principle correctly above. That alone needs more careful consideration.)

Maybe what I've suggeted won't hold up. But then, if you've read the Stanford article and understand why my suggestion is wrong, it would help the conversation at this blog if you gave readers some idea of what the Stanford article said. In my opinion, that's how a conversation should go.

Of course, I referred to an article by my former teacher, but I didn't do it as a substitute for argument or explanation. I did it to suggest that there was more to be said, which I wasn't saying.