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Sophist – Plato

On the other hand, the discovery of abstrac-yond the Eleatic circle. And now an unforeseen tions was the great source of all mental improve-consequence began to arise. If the Many were ment in after ages. It was the pushing aside of not, if all things were names of the One, and the old, the revelation of the new. But each one nothing could be predicated of any other thing, of the company of abstractions, if we may speak how could truth be distinguished from falsehood?

in the metaphorical language of Plato, became The Eleatic philosopher would have replied that in turn the tyrant of the mind, the dominant idea, Being is alone true. But mankind had got beyond which would allow no other to have a share in his barren abstractions: they were beginning to the throne. This is especially true of the Eleatic analyze, to classify, to define, to ask what is the philosophy: while the absoluteness of Being was nature of knowledge, opinion, sensation. Still less asserted in every form of language, the sensible could they be content with the description which world and all the phenomena of experience were Achilles gives in Homer of the man whom his comprehended under Not-being. Nor was any soul hates—

difficulty or perplexity thus created, so long as the mind, lost in the contemplation of Being, os chi eteron men keuthe eni phresin, allo de eipe.

asked no more questions, and never thought of applying the categories of Being or Not-being to For their difficulty was not a practical but a mind or opinion or practical life.

metaphysical one; and their conception of false-But the negative as well as the positive idea hood was really impaired and weakened by a had sunk deep into the intellect of man. The ef-metaphysical illusion.

fect of the paradoxes of Zeno extended far be-The strength of the illusion seems to lie in the 16

Sophist – Plato

alternative: If we once admit the existence of he has not yet attained a complete mastery over Being and Not-being, as two spheres which ex-the ideas of his predecessors—they are still ends clude each other, no Being or reality can be as-to him, and not mere instruments of thought.

cribed to Not-being, and therefore not to false-They are too rough-hewn to be harmonized in a hood, which is the image or expression of Not-single structure, and may be compared to rocks being. Falsehood is wholly false; and to speak of which project or overhang in some ancient city’s true falsehood, as Theaetetus does (Theaet.), is walls. There are many such imperfect syncre-a contradiction in terms. The fallacy to us is ri-tisms or eclecticisms in the history of philoso-diculous and transparent,—no better than those phy. A modern philosopher, though emancipated which Plato satirizes in the Euthydemus. It is a from scholastic notions of essence or substance, confusion of falsehood and negation, from which might still be seriously affected by the abstract Plato himself is not entirely free. Instead of say-idea of necessity; or though accustomed, like ing, ‘This is not in accordance with facts,’ ‘This Bacon, to criticize abstract notions, might not is proved by experience to be false,’ and from extend his criticism to the syllogism.

such examples forming a general notion of false-The saying or thinking the thing that is not, hood, the mind of the Greek thinker was lost in would be the popular definition of falsehood or the mazes of the Eleatic philosophy. And the error. If we were met by the Sophist’s objection, greater importance which Plato attributes to this the reply would probably be an appeal to experi-fallacy, compared with others, is due to the inence. Ten thousands, as Homer would say (mala fluence which the Eleatic philosophy exerted murioi), tell falsehoods and fall into errors. And over him. He sees clearly to a certain extent; but this is Plato’s reply, both in the Cratylus and 17

Sophist – Plato

Sophist. ‘Theaetetus is flying,’ is a sentence in with Heracleitus, ‘All things are and are not, and form quite as grammatical as ‘Theaetetus is sit-become and become not.’ Secondly, he has lost ting’; the difference between the two sentences sight altogether of the other sense of Not- being, is, that the one is true and the other false. But, as the negative of Being; although he again and before making this appeal to common sense, again recognizes the validity of the law of contra-Plato propounds for our consideration a theory diction. Thirdly, he seems to confuse falsehood of the nature of the negative.

with negation. Nor is he quite consistent in re-The theory is, that Not-being is relation. Not-garding Not-being as one class of Being, and yet being is the other of Being, and has as many as coextensive with Being in general. Before ana-kinds as there are differences in Being. This doc-lyzing further the topics thus suggested, we will trine is the simple converse of the famous propo-endeavour to trace the manner in which Plato sition of Spinoza,—not ‘Omnis determinatio est arrived at his conception of Not-being.

negatio, ’ b u t ‘ O m n i s n e g a t i o e s t In all the later dialogues of Plato, the idea of determinatio’;—not, All distinction is negation, mind or intelligence becomes more and more but, All negation is distinction. Not-being is the prominent. That idea which Anaxagoras em-unfolding or determining of Being, and is a nec-ployed inconsistently in the construction of the essary element in all other things that are. We world, Plato, in the Philebus, the Sophist, and should be careful to observe, first, that Plato does the Laws, extends to all things, attributing to not identify Being with Not-being; he has no idea Providence a care, infinitesimal as well as infi-of progression by antagonism, or of the Hegelian nite, of all creation. The divine mind is the lead-vibration of moments: he would not have said ing religious thought of the later works of Plato.