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READING

PLATOS
: THEAETETUS
I
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TIMOTHY CHAPPELL
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EADING PLATOS
THEAETETUS

TIMOTHY CHAPPELL

T1
librarws

Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.


Indianapolis/Cambridge
5 Contents 7

20. Four objections to Dl: 163a7-168c2..................................................................... 94 Preface


21. Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope: 168c2-171c7....................................... 108

22. Objection I to Protagoras: divorcing justice from benefit; 171c7-172b9...............118 This book combines a translation of Platos Theaetetus with a philosophical
commentary on it. The translation is entirely new except for those sections that have been
23. The Digression; 172cl-177b8................................................................................ 121 taken over (in a revised form) from my Plato Reader (Edinburgh UP, 1996). The relevant
sections are 145e-147c; 148c-151d; 170a-171c; 181b-183c; 184b-186e; 200d-201c; and
24. Objection J to Protagoras: expertise and the future: 177b8-179b9........................129 206c-210b. I thank Edinburgh University Press for permission to re-use those translations.
Small parts of my philosophical commentary have previously appeared in two
25. Objection K to Heracleitus: flux and self-refutation: 179cl-183c2...................... 133 articles: T.D.J.Chappell, Does Protagoras Refute Himself?, Classical Quarterly 1995,
pp.333-338; T.D.J.Chappell, The Puzzle about the Puzzle of False Belief: Theaetetus 188a-
26. Objection L: the final refutation of Dl: 183c3-187a9..........................................141 c, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 2001. An earlier version of the whole
commentary exists on the worldwide web, in the Project Archelogos database of arguments
27. Second definition (D2) and consequent discussion: Knowledge is true belief: in ancient philosophy (http://archelogos.com/xml/toc/toc-theae.htm). I thank these sources
survey of 187-201 ....................................................................... 1^0 too for permission to reproduce previously published material.
I am grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Board for a Research Fellowship
28. First puzzle about false belief: misidentification: 187e5-188c7.............................. 158
during the academic year 2001-2002 which supported the writing of this book. Thanks also
to the School of Latin, Greek and Ancient History in the University of St Andrews, for
29. Second puzzle about false belief: TDelieving what is ndt: 188c8-189b9.........../.. 163
accommodating me as an academic visitor during that period. I am also grateful to the
University of British Columbia for appointing me as a Visiting Professor during the Spring
30. Third puzzle about false belief: allodoxia: 189bl0-190e4.................................... 166
Term of 2003, when I was finally able to complete the book. Thanks to those who made me
welcome in both places, especially Stephen Halliwell and Greg Wolff in St Andrews, and
31. Fourth puzzle about false belief: the wax tablet: 190e5-196c6............................. 172
Amit Hagar, Monte Johnson, Matthew Kieran, Paul Russell, and Margaret Schabas in
32. Fifth puzzle about false belief: the aviary: 196c7-200d4...................................... 184 Vancouver. Thanks also to Christopher Gill, who passed through Vancouver at a late stage
in the finalising of this book, and during the course of a walk round Stanley Park together,
33. The final refutation of D2: 200d5-201c7..............................................................193 gave my views on the Theaetetus an invaluable examination.
Finally, I am especially grateful to Christopher Rowe, Sarah Broadie, Deborah
34. Third definition (D3) and consequent discussion: Knowledgd'is true belief with Wilkes, Mauro Tulli, Holger Drosdek, and Hans and Jurgen Richarz, whose support and
an account: survey of 201c8-210d4..................................................................... 197 help to me on the road to publication has been invaluable.
My deepest debt, and the dedication of this book, is as ever to my family; Claudia,
35. The Dream of Socrates: 201d8-202d7..................................................................202 Miriam, Imogen, Thalia, Roisin.
TDJC
36. Critique of the Dream Theory: 202d8-206c2.........................................................213 Department of Philosophy
University of Dundee
37. First attempt to understand logos: as speech: 206c2-e3......................................... 223
January 2004
38. Second attempt to understand logos: as an account that goes through the
elements: 206e4-208bl0....................................................................................... 225

39. Third attempt to understand logos: as an account of the semeion: 208bl l-210a9.. 229

40. Conclusion: 210a9-210d4..................................................................................... 236

Glossary....................................................................................................................
Bibliography...............................................................................................................243
Copyright 2004 Academia,Verlag,
t
Contents 5
This publication is registered inlhe German National Library;
bibliographical details are available on the Internet at http://dnb.ddb.de
ISBN 3-89665-315-6- ^ ' fi

&\ATL 'Xh)<! Preface........................................................................................................................ 7


Academia Verlag
Bahnstrasse 7, D-53757 Sankt Augustin 1. About this book................................................................................................... 9
Internet: www.academia-verlag.de
E-Mail: info@academia-verlag.de 2. About Plato and his works................................................................................... 10
All rights reserved
3. About Platonic dialogues, and about the Theaetetus............................................ 12
Paperback edition 2005, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America 4. The overall structure of the Theaetetus................................................................ 15
I
5> Alternative interpretations of the Theaetetus as a whole...................................... 16
Cover design by Abigail Coyle
6. The introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e....................................................... 25

7. The question What is knowledge?, and the rejection of DO, a definition by


examples: 145e7-147c6........................................................................................ 33

8. A contrasting case: definition in mathematics: 147c7-148e5............................... 39


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
9. Socrates the midwifes apprentice:148e6-151d7.................................................... 42
Chappell, T. D. X (Timothy D. X) >
Reaing Plato's Theaetetus / Timothy Chappell.1st ed. 10. First definition (Dl) and consequent discussion: Knowledge is perception:
p. cm. survey of 151-187..................................................... ....f..................................... 48
Originally published: Sankt Augustin, Germany: Academia Verlag, 2004.
Includes bibliographical references. 11. The statement of Theaetetus first genuine definition (Dl): 151d8-e4................. 53
ISBN 0-87220-760-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Plato. Theaetetus. 2. Knowledge, Theory of. I. Plato. Theaetetus. English. 12. First statement of Protagoras views: 151e5-152c8.............................................. 56
Title.
13. First statement of Heracleitus views: 152c8-152el............................................. 62
B386.C43 2005 f
121-dc22 14. Eight bad arguments for the doctrine of flux: 152el-153d5................................. 65
2005000198
15. Three shocking implications of flux: 153d6-155c7.............................................. 67

16i The flux theory of perception: 155c8-157c.......................................................... 72

17. The Dreamer objection to the flux theory of perception: 157c2-160el................. 79


The paper used in this publication meets the minimum require
ments of American'National Standard for Information 18. The refutation of the thesis that knowledge is perception (160e2-187bl):
SciencesPermanence of Paper for Printed'Library Materials, introductory remarks............................................................................................ 86
ANSI Z39.48-1984
19. Three objections to Protagoras homomensura thesis: 160-163a.......................... 88
1. About this book 9
The Theaetetus is Plato at his very best. From a literary point of view, it is a stylish,
witty, and gracefully written dialogue, appearing at a point in Platos career where (as some
might see it) he had ceased to be the overt ideologue of the Phaedo dnd Republic, but had
not yet become the dry logician of the Sophist. From aphilosophical point of view, it is an
ingenious, and often enigmatic, meditation on a question of central and perennial
philosophical importance: What is knowledge?.
In this book, after some introductory remarks, I offer a new translation of the whole
of the Theaetetus. My translation is presented in short sections of text: a summary of the
argument-precedes each section, and a philosophical commentary follows it.
One of my models for this layout is Plato's Theory of Knowledge, Francis
Macdonald Comfords classic book on the Theaetetus and Sophist, first published in 1935.
As the reader will see, I have some philosophical sympathies with Cornfords reading of the
Theaetetus. As the reader will also she, there are important differences between us too.

{
n
10
2. About Plato and his works About Plato and his works
method&2 xhe next group of dialogues (Meno, Protagoras, Gorgias, Cratylus) begin to
develop Socratic views into Platonic views, and to engage with and criticise other
philosophers in Platos milieu. This leads Plato towards his famous theory of Forms, his
view that the whole of reality is structured by transcendent abstract objects which impart
Plato, the author of the Theaetetus, was an Athenian aristocrat, bom in 427 BC, when their qualities to all the other things that exist. Hereafter, the Socrates in Platos dialogues,
Athensjwas still the most powerful city-state in the Greek,world;. Athens greatest leader, although he usually retains a sharply individual personality, is simply the spokesman for
Pericles, had died only two years before. Plato died at the age of eighty in 347 BC, by which Platos own philosophical views and arguments. The group of dialogues that most
time Athens had already lost much of its political position, and was about to lose the rest to authorities think were written next display a great deal of confidence in Platos theory of
the warlord Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Greats father), who finally broke Athenian Forms: Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus. Then comes a string of works in which a
power at the battle of Chaeronea nine years after Platos death. i more critical and less confident tone appears, together with a new willingness to engage with
abstruse logical questions. This is the group to which the Theaetetus belongs. The others in
In spite of this military decline, Athens in Platos lifetime was ah altogether this.group are the Parmenides, which was evidently written before the Theaetetus', and the
remarkable society. Besides producing, from its tiny population of citizens, some of the Sophist, Statesman, and Philebus, which were definitely written after the Theaetetus,
greatest dramatists, historians, orators, and philosophers there have ever been, Athens was probably in the order just given. Finally come a group of works where Pldto seems to have
also one of the very first pa^cipative democracies in the history of the world. Notoriously, returned to the certainties of the Republic: Timaeus^' Critias, Laws, and the thirteen Letters.
slaves and women were excluded from political participation. (See Platos Meno 81e-86b At least some of these Letters are spurious, as perhaps are some other allegedly Platonic
and Euthyphro 3e-6b for soiyie incidental iUustratipns of Platos fairly typical .attitude to works: for instance Cleitophon, Epinomis and the two short dialogues called Alcibiades.
slaves; and Republic 451c-457c for Platos very untypical views about women.)Still, free Hardly anyone, however, has seriously disputed that Plato wrote the Theaetetus.
born male Athenians enjoyed an even greater degree of political participation than modem
Westerners do. Each was himself a member of the Athenian parliament (the ekklisia or
Assembly), and was entitled to speak and to vote on all political and military questions, and
if he wished, to hold political office in the Assembly. Both inside and outside the Assembly,
Athenian life was dominated by debate: by free and open-minded discussion of every
conceivable subject. In short, it was the perfect society to be a philosopher in.
Or so you might have thought. In fact both Plato, and his teacher Socrates (469-399
BC) before him, were deeply critical of Athenian democracy. Many of these criticisms are
explicit in the Digression, Theaetetus 172c-177c; implicitly, the entire dialogue isamong
other thingsa critique of the philosophical presuppositions of democracy. Plato objected to
the demagogic (crowd-pleasing) way in which Athenian debates were conducted, which he
thought was too much <hrected at winning the vote and too little directed at finding the truth
(Theaetetus 172d). He objected to Athenian democracys egalitarian assumption that one
mans proposal about how to run the city is just as much to be heeded as anothers
(Theaetetus 179a). He also objected (Theaetetus 152a ff.) to its relativism: the democrats
assent, in practice, to the view that anything which is true or false, is always true for
someone or false/or someoneso nothing is tme or false, period.
Socrates criticisms of Athenian democracy made him powerful enemies, who
procured his trial and condemnation to death (for introducing new gods and corrupting the
young) in 399 BC. Socrates pupils were deeply affected by their teachers unjust death (or
martyrdom, as it is often called^. And Plato among them: his enduring grief is clear from his
poignant account of Socrates death in the Phaedo. I

The story of Platos philosophical career is the story of his response to this formative
trauma. Platos earliest works (such as the Apology and Crito) relate and reflect on the
circumstances of Socrates death with the main purpose of vindicating Socrates against the
2 It is notoriously unclear what positive views, if any, Socrates held. Platos Socrates argues, e.g., that it is
Athenian democracy. Slightly later works (Euthyphro, Laches, Charmides) turn from the always better to suffer than to do injustice (Cnfo 49a2-dl0). But he also claims to know nothing (Theaetetus
vindication of Socrates the man, to the vindication of Socrates philosophical views and 149a ff.), and to offer only a method of argument. This method however may presuppose some positive views:
see section 9.
' I have argued that it should not be called a martyrdom in Socrates and Antigone: two ways not to be ^ Some authorities, such as G.E.L.Owen and David Bostock, think that the Timaeus belongs to the same
martyred, Prudentia May 2001. period of Platos career as the Republic. I give my reasons for disagreeing below, in Section 5.
About Platonic dialogues, and about the Theaetetus 13
12

3. About Platonic dialogues, and about the Theaetetus Theaetetus is remarkable because (like the Parmenides) it returns from the middle-period
confidence of the Republic to the aporetic manner of the early dialogues.
Where in Platos dialogues is Plato himself.^ Plato never appears as a speaker in his
own dialogues; nor is he ever explicitly said to be present as a silent listener.* Because
So the Theaetetus is a middle-to-late Platonic dialogue^ and the*to^ic of the dialogue Platonic dialogues are (usually) reported conversations in which quite different views are
is the questidn What is knowledge?. But why ask What is knowledge?? And what is a contrasted with each other, there is nearly always a question about which side Plato himself
Platonic dialogue? is on. Often Plato deliberately leaves this ambiguous, or indeed heightens the ambiguity by
A moddm philosopher trying'to formulate a theory of knowledge would probably not stressing that the conversation of the dialogue is reported at second or third hand, or was a
start by asking What is knowledge?. More likely, she would ask Where does knowledge long time ago, or is hard to recall. (See, for instance, the opening of the Symposium.) There
comefromT\ or When are we justified it} claiming to know something?. She would also are even passages (Seventh Letter 344cl-8, Phaedrus 275c-e) where Plato denies that any
want to fetinguish sharply between the philosophers question What is knowledge? , and written document can give you direct access to anyones real beliefs.
the linghi^ts question What is the customary meaning of the English word knowledge ?.* It is especially important to remember these points when reading the Theaetetus, one
Plato, by contrast, would say that the word knowledge {episteme in classical Greek) of Platos most studiedly elusive dialogues. At no point in the Theaetetus is Plato simply
would -not h^ve any meting at all unless it derived that meaning from the real nature of presenting his own views to us, as doctrine which was fixed and settled long ago, and which
knowledge itself. So-he'would reject the modem idea that there is a sharp distinction can now simply be set down on paper to be transferred from one mind to another. More
between the philosophers concerns and the linguists. subtly, he is inviting us to use his writings as a stimulus to our own thinking, to help us to
consider a variety of different views, for ourselves, as live possibilities here and now. Like
Plato would add that it is a waste of time to try and decide where knowledge comes the modem philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.112), Plato
from, or when knowledge-claims are justified, unless we already know what knowledge is. thinks that Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. It has been said of another
For Plato (who follows Socrates on this point), the question of how to define knowledge, or great work of philosophy. Rend Descartes Meditations Mitaphysiques, that the Meditations
whatever else it is that we are discussing, has to be the first question for philosophers. This are not something you read, but something you doP Something similar applies to the
is why nearly every Platonic dialogue at least begins with a question of definition, including
arguments of the Theaetetus.
the Theaetetus. One more preliminary point about Platonic dialogues and how to read them. The
And what is a Platonic dialogue? It is a reported conversation about philosophy, reader will see that I have already given references to passages in Plato in forms such as
usually with several speakers, two of whom do most of the talking, and one of whom is Phaedrus 275c-e, Crito 49a2-dl0, Theaetetus 149a ff., and so on. This is the standard
usually Socrates. At least up to the time of the Sophist, the different characters in the method of reference to passages in Plato, based on the first great renaissance edition of
dialogue are vividly and often comically contrasted, so that the dialogue is almost a drama. Platd, edited by Robertus Stephanus (Robert Etienne). The first number in each reference
(One ancient source tells us that Platos first career was as a dramatist^- and Plato certainly refers to a page, the letter to a paragraph, and the second number, if there is one, to a line in
seems to have a sound knowledge of dramatic technique.) However, if Platos phhosophical the paragraph. Stephanus edition had three volumes. So there are page numbers that occur
dialogues are dramas, they are dramas quite unlike the classical Greek tragedies. Where in more than one Platonic work, e.g. the page number 410 occurs in all three of Cratylus,
Greek plays are stylised and high-flown in their diction, the Platonic dialogues are written in Republic and Cleitophon. The Theaetetus occupies pages 142 to 201 of Stephanus first
studiedly colloquial and informal style. They are a wholly new literary form for a wholly volume. In this book I will consistently pick out passages in the Theaetetus, and in Platos
new content. other works, by using dialogue names + Stephanus references. (If I only give a Stephanus
The characters of Platos dialogues struggle together, sometimes co-operating, number, the reference is always to the Theaetetus.)
sometimes competing, to defend, or refine, or just to find, answers to questions of definition. We are now ready to take a closer look at the Theaetetus itself. Section 4 gives a brief
In typical early dialogues this search for a definition always ends in fmlure and perplexity. outline of the argument of the whole dialogue, and a table dividing its overall structure into
Hence these dialogues are sometimes called the aporetic dialogues, from the Greek aporia parts. This is the partition of the dialogue that I shall presuppose in everything that follows.
meaning an a point at which you dont know how to goon (a = not +poreu6= I Then, in section 5,1 will present and assess a number of different alternative interpretations
walk, I go). In the more confident middle-period dialogues, the search leads us into
critique of other philosophers views, and expositions of Platos own theories. The of the Theaetetus as a whole.

* At Phaedo 59b we are given a list of Socrates followers who were present at his death. The list ends like
* Though some modem philosophers have rejected this distinction, most notably J.L.Austin in Other this: ...There was also Ctesippus of Paiania, and Menexenus, and some of other countrymen. But Plato, I
believe, was ill. It sounds as if Plato was nonnally with Socrates, then.
Minds. ^ , -
5 Diogenes Laertius. Lives ofFamous Philosophers, 3.5: Plato was orvhis way to enter a tragedy for one ot I am paraphrasing A.Danto, Philosophy as/ and/ of literature. Presidential Address to the American
the Athenian dramatic festivals; but in front of the Theatre of Dionysius, he came upon Socrates, who was Philosophical Association, 1983: in the Meditations the reader is forced to co-meditate with the author, and
speaking at the time. Thereupon he threw his poetry in the fire with the words Fire-god, to my aid, when to discover in die act of co-meditation his philosophical identity: he must be the kind of individual the text
Plato needs you!. From that moment on (he was 20 when this happehed) Plato was Socrates' disciple." requires if he can read it, and the text must be true if it can be read.
15
14 About Platonic dialogues, and about the Theaetetus

After these two sections on the dialogue as a whole, section 6 will begin to take the 4. The overall structure,of the Theaetetus
parts of the dialogue in turn, according to the division of the text depicted in the table in
section 4.
After some introductory discussion, the Theaetetus addresses the definitional
question What is knowledge?. Theaetetus^, a young mathematical prodigy, makes four
attempts at an answer. His first attempt, a preliminary gambit of a form familiar from the
early Socratic dialogues, simply lists examples of knowledge. After Socrates has argued that
no list of examples can provide a definition of anything, Theaetetus produces three further
attempt^ to answer the question about knowledge. 'Socrates is at least prepared to recognise
these as candidate definitions of knowledge. All three candidate definitions eventually fail,
although the discussion of their shortcomings produces many unexpected positive results.
The end of the dialogue points us on to the discussions of the Sophist.
A more precise division can be put in tabular form:
Introductory Discussion
142a- 145e Introduction.
146a-15 Id First attempt to say what knowledge is and consequent discussion; (DO) the
way of examples.
Parti
151e-187a First definition (Dl) and consequent discussion: Knowledge is perception.
Digression
172c-177c The digression.
Part II
187b-201c Second definition (D2) and consequent discussion: Knowledge is true
judgement.
Partin
201d-210a Third definition (D3) and consequent discussion: Knowledge is true
judgement with an account.
210b-d Conclusion.
Perhaps I should apologise in advance for my use of abbreviations such as Dl, and
others that will soon appear. These abbreviations are labelsfor philosophical claims or
positions. They are, I thi^, a necessary aid to brevity, and therefore to comprehension. I
shall give the reader frequent reminders of what the labels are labels for. Fofease of
reference, I also provide a complete key to all the abbreviations and other technical terms
used in this book, in the Glosssary at the end.
I will often refer to works on the Theaetetus (or on Plato) simply in the form authors
name + page number. There is a bibliography at the back of the book listing all works-cited.

Theaetetus name means asked of the gods. If this is an accident, it is a happy one: Plato would surely
say that"there can be few questions more divine than the question What is knowledge? (Theaetetus 148c5;
cp. Parmenides 134dl).


16
5. Alternative interpretations of the Theaeteius as a Unitarianism and Revisionism
Revisionists retort that Platos works are full of revisions, retractations, and changes
of direction. Eminent Revisionists include Lutoslawski, Ryle, Robinson, Runciman, Owen,
17
whole McDowell, Bostock, and many recent commentators.
Unitarianism istliistoiically the dominant interpretive tradition. Revisionism, it
appears, was not invented until .the textTcritical methods, such as stylometry, that were
developed in early nineteenth-century German biblical studies were transferred taPIato.
5a. Unitariariism and Revisionism
More recently, since Gilbert'Ryles and G.E.L.Owens seminal work on Plato in
i
T))e.-Theaetetus is a principal field of battle for the biggest dispute qf ^1 between
Oxford between 1935 and 1965, a different brand of Revisibnisih has dominated English-
alternative interpretations of Platons works. This is-the dispute between, as I shall call them, . speaking Platonism. This sort of Revisionism owes its impetus not so much to text-critical
Unitarians ,s.nd Revisionists. In this section I shall introduce the reader to these and some methods as to a desire to^read Plato as charitably as possible, and a belief that a charitable
other positions about how to read the Theaetetus, partlyin my own wprds, partly |)y quoting reading of Platos wjorkswill mininuse their dependence on the theory of Forms. (Corollary:
the words of its main protagonist^. Unitarians are likelier. than< Revisionists to be sympathetic themselves to the theory of
Forms.)
Unitarians argue or assume that Platos, works display a unity of doctrine and a
continuity of purpose throughout. Unitarians include the following eminent interpreters of Revisibnism could be supported by pointing out the obvious changes of outlook that
Plato: Aristotle^, Proclus, and all the ancient^o and mediaeval commeiitkors; Bishop occur, for instance, between the Charmides and the Phaedo, or again between the
Berkeley*'; and in the modern era, Schleiermacher, Ast'2, Shorey, Di6s, ]Ro|ss, Chemiss. Protagoras and the Gorgias. But the-main focus of the conflict between Revisionists and
Unitarians has never been on these dialogues. The contrasts between the Charmides and the
* Aristotle, Metaphysics 987a32-35, b5-8 (my own translation): In his youth Plato'first became familiar Phaedo, and the Protagoras and the Gorgias, have little to do with the theory of Forms. And
with Cratylus and the beliefs of the Heracleiteans that everything sensible is in flux, and that there is no as I hinted in the last paragraph, a central part of what is really at stake between Revisionists
knowledge of the sensible, in his later [life] this was still Platos own assumption... He assumed that arid Unitarians is the question whether or not Plato ever abandoned the theory of Forms.
[Socrates problem of definition] arose concerning a class of things other than the perceptibles, because he
thought that a publicly agreed definition (koinon horon) of any of the perceptibles was impossible, so long as Hence the Revisionist/ Unitarian debate nowadays typically focuses on the contrast
we suppose ige) that they are always changing. This other class of things he called the Forms...^(Cp. between the Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, and Phaedrus (the Middle Period dialogues)
Metaphysics 1078bl2-17.) on one side, and the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman (the Late dialogues
So far as we can tell, it is true that Heracleiteans like Cratylus held the view Aristotle mentions, tl^t or the critical dialogues) on the other. The Revisionist thesis aboutthis contr^t is that the
everything sensible is in flux. A fortiori', for this is a corollary of their view that everything is in flux. Th4
Theaetetus develops an understanding of Heracleiteanism on which the sensible is all there is, so that there is ,
Middle Period dialogues enounce positive doctrines, and'above all the theory of Forms,
little practical difference between these two claims. It is hard to tell whether this is what the real Heracleiteans which the Late .dialogues criticise,- reject, or .simply bypass. Jhe main place where
believed. Revisionists suppose that Plato criticises the theoryof Forms is in the Parmenides (though
>0 Sedley in Gill and McCabe, Form andArgumeht in Date Plato, p.80: Among ancient Platonists [Uni- some Revisionists find criticism-of the thebry of Forms in the Theaetetus and Sophist as
tarianism] was an almost unquestioned assumption. More startlingly, some ancient writers, such as Cicero, well). Thesmmn places whete Revisionists see Plato as managing without the theory of
see no important difference between Plato and Aristotle either: My philosophy is not much at variance with
[the Aristotelians]; like them, I wish to be seen as a follower of Socrates and Plato (de Officiis 1.1.2, Forms are the Theaetetus and Sophist. Thus, for instance, Gilbert Ryle, in-his famous essay
en^hq?is added),^ , Platos Parmenides" (4939): >r
" Berkeley thpught that Theaetetus 151-187 supported his own mentalistic idealism by showing material , It has long been recognised that in the whole period which includes* the Writing of
things to be in flux, but mental things toiie stable and unchanging (Siris ^4/-9): The person or mind of all
created beings seemet6 alone iriivisible, and partakes most of unity. But sensible things are rather considered the Theaetetus, Sophist, md the. Statesman, Platos thinking iS not entirely,-if at
as one tharf truly so, they being in if>erpetu41 flux or succession, 6ver differing^d various.... Socrates in the ^11, governed by the premisses of the Thdofy bf Forms. He attends to the theory on
Theaetetus... speaketh of two parties of philosophers... the flowing philosophers who held all things to be in a occasions, but he does so in a dispassionate and critical way... That [Plato] should [in
perpetual flux, always generating and never existing, and those^oAers.^who maintained the universe to be fixed the Parmewii/e5]/Overtly.demonstrate the untenability of the yery principles ofjhis
and immovable... Heracleitus, Protagoras, Empedocles, and in general those of the former sect, considered .own] system, [it will be shid,] is too shocking a supposition. But such an obj^tion
things sensible and natural; \frhereas Parmenidds ^d his party coftsidered to pan [The All] not as the
sensible but as the intelligible world, abstracted from all sensible things... if we meantiy things the sensible
does less than justice to a great philosopher. Kant is felicitated for being capable of
things, these it is evident are always flowing; but if we mean things purely intelligible, then we may say with being awoken from dogmatic slumbers; Aristotle is permitted to be fonder of truth
equal truth that they are immovable and unchangeable. However, Berkeleys idealism is a very different *
thing from Platos. Both Plato and Berkeley frequently make remarks to the effect that physical things are not The world of the Forms is a world of abstract, not mental, objects, and of uhiversals, not particulars like
real, or are less real than mental things, or dependfor their existence on the mental. These verbal agreements Berkeleys (Humean) ideas. >s
should not obscure the deep differences between their idealisms. Two crucial differences are these: unlike 2 The leading hypothesis for Schleiermacher was a systematic interdependence of all works of Plato, each

Plato, Berkeley is a nominalist', that is, he does not believe that universals really exist. And unlike Plato, preparing for the next and prepared by the p^'eceding. (W.Lutoslawski, Origin and Growth ofPlatos Logic
Berkeley is a Cartesian: that is, the whole context and methodology of his philosophy presupposes the truth (Londoft: Longmans/1905), p.49). Asts work represented the-highnwater mark of a certain tendency also
and/ or importance of at least the larger part of Descartes philosophy. By contrast, there is nothing like visible in other German scholars of his day, including Schleiermacher, to denounce as inauthentic any Platonic
Cartesian scepticism at the foundations of Platos thou^t. More important still, what Plato thinks is most real dialogue^iat did not fit his overall view of Plato. On this Procrusteairmethod of scholarship see Lutoslawski,
is not at all the mental realm that Berkeley exalts. It is those universals whose very existence Berkeley denies. p.38.
18 Alternative interpretations of the Theaetetus as a whole Unitarianism and Revisionism 19

than of Platonism... Why must Plato alone be forbidden the illuminations of self- least impressive. They are very likely to say that the Sophists theory of the five greatest
criticism? kinds {Sophist 254b-258e) is not a development of the theory of Forms. As the quotation
(G.Ryle, Platos Parmenides", in R.Allen, ed., Studies in Plato's'Metaphysics pp.133-134) from Owen shows, they are very likely to say that the Timaeus was written before the
(A possible Unitarian retort is this: Ryles phrases referring to Kants and Aristotles Parmenides, because of the Timaeus apparent defence of theses from the theory of Forms.
retractions (dogmatic slumbers, fonder of truth than Platonism) allude to remarks that Regarding the Theaetetus, the Revisionist line will be that its argument does not
Kant and Aristotle made themselves. But Plato never himself made such a retraction. Such support the theory of Forms. So they tend to suggest that the Theaetetus is interesting
retractions are invented for him by interpreters like Ryle. Moreover, Kant and Anstotle were precisely because it shows us how good at epistemology Plato is once he frees himself from
repudiating only their owp earliest works; whereas the theory of Forms is-central to Platos what Ryle characteristically called Platos eidefixes^^ about the Forms.
mature thought.) Some of these Revisionist claims look easier for Unitarians to dispute than others.
Ryles Revisionism was soon supported by other Oxford Plato scholars such as Here is one example. Plato does not think, as the Revisionists assume, that the arguments of
Robinson^^ and Runciman {Platos Later-'Epistemology, p.28:- The reason that the Forms Parmenides 130b-135c actually disprove the theory of Forms. Rather, it is obviously Platos
are -unobtrusive in the Theaetetus is that they are not very relevant.). Also, and most view that Parmenides arguments against the Forms can be refuted. Parmenides 135a-d,
notably, Revisionism was defended by G.E.L.Owen in his sustained campaign of argument where Plato explicitly saysusing Parmenides as his mouthpiecethat these arguments will
(against Harold Cherniss and others) for an early dating of the Timaeus rather than a later be refuted by anyone of adequate philosophical training. (Whether anyone of adequate
one. philosophical training is available is, of course, another question.)
But why should the date of the Timaeus matter? Well, if Owen is right that the More speculatively, Parmenides 128d may be a crux for the interpretation of
Timaeus comes from the same period as the Republic, there is less reason to think that Plato Parmenides. Zeno says there that his book was intended to defend the monist hypothesis, by
still accepted the theory of Forms at the late period in his tareer where Cherniss thinks the showing that still greater absurdities attended the anti-monist hypothesis. Perhaps this is a
Timaeus belongs. In Owens words: The Timaeus and its sequel or'sequels [= the Critias hint that the Parmenides itself is an analogous construction to Zenos book, with the purpose
and possibly some other work, now lost] were designed as the crowning work not of the of showing that even if the Platonist hypothesis faces problems like the ajparent absurdities
latest dialogues but of the Republic group. The project was abandoned from dissatisfaction resulting from the Third Man Argument, still greater absurdities attend the anti-Platonist
with certain basic theories [e.g. the theory of Forms], and in the first works of the critical hypothesis. This speculation has at least the merit of not according a disproportioilate weight
group [= Parmenides and Theaetetus] Plato dropped; the confident didacticism of the to the Parmenides really rather brief discussion of the theory of Forms compared with its
Timaeus to jnake a fresh start on problems still unsolved, (Owen, The place of th&Timaeus long, intricate, and often ignored discussion of the paradoxes of unity.
in Platos Dialogues in Allen p:316). Another problem for the Revisionist concerns Owens proposal, adopted by Bostock,
More recently from the Oxford Revisionist school there are Bostocks and to redate the Timaeus to the Middle Period, thus escaping the conclusion that Plato still
McDowells fine'books on the Theaetetus. McDowell?-shows'a particularly marked accepted the theory of Forms at the end of his philosophical career. This proposal faces the
reluctance to bring in the theory of Forms anywhere where he is not absolutely compelled to. objection that it is not only the Timaeus that the Revisionist needs to redate. Outside the
Some brief quotations from McDowell will give the reader the feel of his approach: the Timaeus, there are quite a number of apparently Late, dialogues (or at .least passages in
theory of Forms is not a prerequisite for stating the argument summarised above(p. 176); dialogues) in which Plato seems sympathetic to the theory of Forms; e.g. Philebus 61e and
though Plato may have the Forms in mind [at 185c4 ff.], we are not compelled fo suppose Laws 965c. The Revisionist could argue that Plato regressed to the theory of Forms only
that he does (p. 189); the difficulties [in the later pages of the Theaetetus do not] have their when his philosophical faculties were declining with old age, and place Timaeus in this very
source in the assumption that things other than Forms can be known (p.258). (McDowell late post-critical period. Or he could try, like Ryle, to argue that virtually all references to
helpfully summarises his views on the Forms and their place, if any, in the Theaetetus at his the Forms come from Platos Middle Period, and so redate to that period not only the
p.25^.) Philebus, but whatever else his argument requires. Both suggestions seem a little strained.
Just as much as Unitarians, Revisionists are committed by their overall stance to On the other hand, the Revisionist claim that the Theaetetus shows Plato doing more
taking particular views about a wide range of dialogues. They are more or less bound to say or less completely without the theory of Forms is very plausible. There are no explicit
that the late Plato takes the Parmenides' critique of the theory of Forms to be cogent, or at mentions of the Forms at all in the Theaetetus, except possibly (and even this much is
disputed) in what many take to be the philosophical backwater of the Digression. The main
Robinson, Forms and error in Platos Theaetetus", Philosophical Review 1950 pp.18-19: In argument of the dialogue seems to proceed entirely without the help even of implicit appeal
Parmenides. Theaetetus, Sophist. Statesman, and Philebus, the only obvious references to the theory of Form to the theory of Forms. In the Theaetetus, Revisionism seems to be on its strongest ground of
as found in the middle dialogues are the acute objections to it offered in the Parmenides and the Sophist... all.
these dialogues exhale a very different odour, no longer the religious and metaphysical devotion of the middle
dialogues with their too simple and sweeping attitude to logical problems, but rather the smell of books and
desks and seminar rooms... I hardly think it wise to... say that "Plato did not believe in the theory of Forms at
this period. What seems much more probable is that he at least still thought he believed it, though in his active
inquiries he was in fact beyond it, and it functioned as a theory to be criticised instead of as the rock of '* Ryle-1*990 p.23. The French phrase ideesfixes means fixed ideas, prejudices; Ryle ispunning on this
salvation that it had been in his middle period. phrase and the Greek word eide, the plural of eidos, one of Platos usual words for Form.
Alternative interpretations of the Theaetetus as a whole Unitarianism and Revisionism 21
20

The usual Unitarian answer is to admit that the Theaetetus is more or less entirely , Clearly Unitarianism and Revisionism are both doctrines that admit of degrees. In
silent about the Forms, but maintain that this silence is a deliberate argumentative tacticKin ' extreme versions, both are implausible. I have already argued that the sort of Revisionism
Platos part. What Plato is doing in the Theaetetus, Unitarians suggest, is establishing what ' that entails redating every favourable reference to the theory of Forms to Platos Middle
knowledge is not. His argument is designed to show that certain sorts of proposed accounts ^'eriod is not plausible. There is no more plausibility to the extreme Unitarianism that
of knowledge fail. The wa^ he means to show this failure is by the maieutic method of claim,s, for instance, that the Theaetetus and other late dialogues can be used to provide
developing those accounts until ^ey fail; the Theaetetus proceeds by exploring the support for the Meno's doctrine of recollection.
alternatives to Platos own account of knowledge and closing them*off. In particular Such an extreme Unitarian view was defended in the early twentieth century by
(Unitarians like Ross and Comford typically claim). Plato is arguing to exclude the French scholars such as Ldon Robin and Auguste Dids. (Dies p.l53; Robin, Platon, pp.72,
possibility of a successful account of knowledge that does not invoke the Forms. 88, with Robinsons critique of Robin in Forms and error in Platos Theaetetus",
Ross (Platos Theory ofIdeas pp. 101-103) points out that evenm tjie Parmenides^ Philosophical Review 1950, pp.3-4.) Before them, the view was defended by at least one
the dialogue that presents the strongest arguments against the Formsit is admitted that ancient commentator: see David Sedley, A Platonist Reading of Theaetetus 145-147",
without the theory of Forms^ discourse would be impossible (see Parmenides 135cl). So Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1993. Comford himself leaves the door open to such
as Ross reads the Parmenides-^\tse,tms to give us decisive reasons both for rejecting and a view {Platos Theory of Knowledge p.28: There \s no ground for supposing that Plato
for affirming the theory of Forms, Jloss suggests that Plato responds to this impasse by ; ever abandoned the theory of Anamnesis). But the view ^s surely wrong. After the
putting the theory of Forms to one side in the Theaetetus, and turning to exapune its discussions in Phaedo 70c-72d, Republic 608c-61 la, andPhaedrus 245c-248e, Plato simply
presuppositions: in particular, the assumptions that knowledge exists, and is something quite . says nothing at all about the doctrine of recollection until he writes Laws 894e-897b.
different from sensation and opinion. Ross suggests that Platos vindication of these < Moreover, the dilferences between the Phaedo passage and the other three passages are
assumptions in the Theaetetus paves the way for a renewed and deeper confidence in the obvious. The Phaedo recollection to be a doctrine of the first importance for the theory
of knowledge. The other works take recollection to be no more than a corollary of what is
theory of Forms.
really their main concern: the doctrine of the reincarnation of the soul. In the light of all this,
F.M.Cornford see^ a rather similar purpose in the dialogue (Comford, Platos Theory it would be very surprising if the Theaetetus turned out to make much (or indee'd any) use of
of Knowledge p.28);' to examine _and reject [the] claim of the sense-world to furnish
the doctrine of recollection in its discussion of knowledge. We shall return to this issue
anything tha,t Plato jvill call knowl^gV. The Forms are excluded in order that we may ^ee '
briefly when we consider Theaetetus 191c ff., in section 31c.
how we can get on without them; and the negative conclusion of the whole discussion means '
that, as Plato had taught ever since the discovery of the Forms, without them^ therp is no In between extreme Unitarianism and extreme Revisionism, there is plenty of room
knowledge at all. As Comford sees it, the point of the dialogue is to ask whether , for more sensible positions. For instance, there is room for a position that regards the tmth
knowledge can be extracted from the world of concrete natural things, yieldingperceptions (oh some relevant matters) as lying almost exactly half-way between canonical expositions
and complex notions, without invoking other factors (p. 154). The eventual answer to this of Unitarianism and Revisionism.
question is an emphatic No (pp. 162-3): by the end of the Theaetetus the Plalonist will draw Nicholas White, in his Plato on Knowledge and Reality, seems close to such a half
the necessary inference. True knowledge has for its object things of a different order not way view. His suggestion is that the Theaetetus is neither building on nor tearing down
sensible things, but intelligible Forms and truths about them... the Theaetetus leads to this Platos previous thinking about knowledge. Rather, the Theaetetus takes further than ever
old conclusion By demonstrating the failure of all attempts to extract knowledge from before an investigation of the problems that had surrounded Platos epistemological views
sensible objects. ,, * from the very beginning. It is not so much that [the Theaetetus overthrows] earlier
Comfords andRoss s Revisionist reading of the Theaetetus has the implicit backing | thought; rather [it continues] work on issues that Plato has all along meant to investigate
of at least one ancient authority: [Socrates in the Theaetetus] proceeds as far as the rtiore deeply (White pp.157-8).
cleansing away of the false opinions of Theaetetus, bqt thereafter lets him go as noy being On other matters there is no room for half-way views. Some of the pivotal exegetical
capable of discovering the truth by himself (Proclus, Commentary on the First Alcibiades questions about the Theaetetus admit only of Yes/ No answers: in particular, the question Is
of Plato 28.4-7, tr. William ONeill, cited in Bumyeat; The Theaetetus of Plato, p.234). Plato adopting the indirect argumentative strategy that the Unitarian attributes to him?.
As I say, Comfords and Rosss yersions of Unitarianism both assume that Plato in My own answer to this question is Yes. Unitarianism can, I believe, be given wider
the Theaetetus distinguishes knowledge from perception and belief by its different objects. and more systematic exegetical support than Revisionism. (Or is that already question
(So perhaps does Aristotles Unitarianism: see Metaphysics 1078bl2-17.) Plato clearly did begging? Isnt the assumption that Platos writings can be treated with wide-ranging
make the distinction this way in the Middle Period dialogues: see especially Republic 477c, systematicity, itself a Unitarian assumption?) Unitarianism does raise the question.why, if
and the Divided Line 3t Republic 509e ff. Many Revisionists doubt that Plato still made the indirect argument for the theory of Forms is what Plato is up to, he does not make his
distinction in this way by the time he wrote the Theaetetus-, and on this I agree with the intentions clearer. It also, and perhaps more worryingly, raises the question whether the
Revisionists. Some Revisionists go further, and suggest that Platos discussion of DO is an theory of Forms really does any better than its rivals with the problems that Plato thinks it
implicit critique of the attempt to distinguish knowledge, perception and belief by their solves. But these are puzzles that Platos works constantly raise. Certainly they will need to
objects; see especially fheaetetus 146e5-9. My reasons for rejecting this view will be given be before our minds throughout our study of the Theaetetus.
in section 7c(iii) below.
[
22 Alternative interpretations of the Theaetetus as a whole Other overall interpretations of the Theaetetus 23

5b. Other overall interpretations of the Theaetetus knowledge; and with the further introduction [in the Sophist] of the method of division Plato
is now able to find his account in a precise and universally applicable method and on this
The fault-line between Unitarians and Revisionists is the deepest fissure separating basis to distinguish clearly between perception, true belief, and knowledge.
interpreters of the Theaetetus. It is not of course the only distinction, even among overall Gulley makes two crucial assumptions here: first, that the'Theaetetus is concerned
interpretations of the dialogue. Here are three other possible views of the whole dialogue. with the knowledge of individuals; and second, that it is an intrinsic part of the theory of
Each view may or may not be inconsistent with Unitarianism or Revisionism: Forms to restrict knowledge to species, and deny that there can be knowledge of
That the Theaetetus is a sceptical work; perceptible individuals. (In other words, Gulley, like Ross andGornford, thinks that Plato
that the Theaetetus is a genuinely aporetic work; defines knowledge by its objects.) I reject both Gulleys assumptions. The Theaetetus shows
that the Theaetetus is a disjointed work. an indiscriminate interest in knowledge both of individuals, such as Theodorus and
Theaetetus (192d), and of species, such as the colour white (156e), hot, hard, light, sweet
A sceptical work: David Sedley, in Gill and McCabe, Form and Argument in Late (184e),-the ugly and the beautiful (190d), and the number eleven (196aff.). Nor would the
Plato, p.86 quotes The Anonymous Commentators report of some ancient views of the 'posi-Parmenides Plato be much impressed with any alleged account of knowledge that did
Theaetetus: On the basis of expressions like this [150c4-7] some people consider Plato an not allow there to be knowledge of individuals. (This is precisely the point ofthe greatest
Academic, on the ground that he had no doctrines. The Anonymous Commentator also
difficulty: see Parmenides 13'3dff.)
reports the author of the Prolegomena: Some people, pushing Plato among those who
suspend judgement and the Academics, talk as if [Plato] himself introduced the denial of On the other hand, Gulleys basic idea that tlie Theaetetus is genuinely aporetic
cognition (akatalepsia)\ Sedleys own reaction to this sceptical reading of the Theaetetus squares well with obvious elements of the evidence.'There is the celebrated Midwife passage
is the sensible one (p.88): The Academics... may be found less than convincing in their {Theaetetus 149a-151d), where Socrates compares himself to a midwife, and claims to give
implication that [the Theaetetus] brings down with [its own eventual failure] the entire birth to no ideas of his own; and there is the closing aporia of 210bd. Also, the Theaetetus
edifice of knowledge constructed in the middle-period dialogues and the 'Timaeus. The makes a striking return to the genuinely dialogical form of the earlier dialogues. In contrast
obvious objection is that the Theaetetus simply fails to confront the main supports of that with the Republic, Socrates interlocutors in the Theaetetus put up a real fight. Often it is
edifice. they, not Socrates, who make the crucial moves that advance the argument.
A genuinely aporetic work: David Bostock, in Platos Theaetetus, pp.13-14, So perhaps the theory of Forms really is in question in the Theaetetus. At the end of
recognises that the Theaetetus is surely not an early dialogue'^, despite its aporetic nature. the Theaetetus, Socrates raises objections to the definition of knowledge as true belief with
Still, it may be that Plato feels himself to be in' much the same situation as when he wrote an account {logos). Butas the Revisionist will of course point outthat is just the
the early dialogues. For after the Parmenides, it appears thai everything is now back in the definition of knowledge that the theory of Forms offers {Meno 96-98, Republic 51 lb6-7,
melting pot again: Plato is no longer confident that he does know the answer to the 534b3-7).
question that he raises, and Socrates is appropriately reintroduced as chief speaker, as he The Unitarian will reply that it is surely significant that none of the three
wasin the aporetic dialogues. interpretations of accoimt, logos, that Theaetetus 201-210 dismisses is the Platonist one
But Socrates was also chief speaker in the Republic, which is hardly aporetic. Also, which invokes the theory of Forms. In the end, I think he is right to do so: cp. section 34c(i).
Bostock apparently assumes that Plato thought, when he wrote the Theaetetus, that the But the Unitarian still needs to show how the Platonist account of account gets round the
Parmenides arguments against the theory of Forms were cogent. As I have already pointed problems raised in Theaetetus 201-210 better than the three interpretations there dismissed.
out, this is a very dubious assumption. This may not be easy.
Norman Gulley, Platos Theory ofKnowledge pp. 103-4, combines an aporetic view A disjointed work; Ian Crombie, An Examination ofPlatos Doctrines, II, p. 3: In
of the Theaetetus with a Unitarian view of the later Plato. His suggestion is that Platos form [the Theaetetus] is [an unsuccessful] search for a Socratic definition of knowledge... In
puzzlement in the Theaetetus is caused by an over-attention to particular things and a lack of practice however the point of writing the dialogue was not to fail to define knowledge, nor
attention to the Forms, which Plato remedies in his next dialogue, the Sophist. In the to show that it cannot be defined, but to illuminate certain other matters...
Theaetetus, writes Gulley, Platos attempt to distinguish knowledge from both perception The other matters Crombie means include the thesis that our knowledge of the
and true belief breaks down because the discussion is still restricted to thb problem of external world is not a matter of undergoing sense-data but of interpreting them. This
knowledge of individuals. commits Plato, according to Crombie pp.26-7, to laying out a sense-datum theory of
What Plato needs to solve his problems, Gulley suggests, is a satisfactory method of perception. Also, Crombie pp. 106-7 suggests, Plato in the Theaetetus explores various
definition: the fundamental step towards Platos solution is the recognition that definition is more or less specific doubts which he has come to have about his earlier account of
not of individuals but of species... The perceptible individual is unknowable because it is knowledge. These form a rather mixed bag... He may have come to feel that it is necessary
indefinable. The way is now clear for the reintfoduction of the Forms as the objects of to distinguish [knowledge of objects from propositional knowledge]... and that he [needed a
better grip on the meaning of logos]... [and that possibly not all instances of knowledge
involved logos].
As was supposed by nineteenth-century authorities such*as Zeller and Campbell, and more recently by
A.E.Taylor, Plato: the Man and his Work p.348.
Alternative interpretations of the Theaetetus as a whole 25
24

Another way of seeing the Theaetetus as disjointed is suggested by McDowell 6. The Introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e
(p.258)/ [it ispossible] that by the end of the Theaetetus Plato has lost interest in the i'

definitional task on which he embarked in beginning it, and, as later dialogues [such as the
Sophist] suggest, transferred his interest to [a list of problems including mistaken
identification, falsehood as pot-being, whole/ part relations, and the knowledge of simples]. 6a, Outline of the argument of 142a-145e
"Obviously a wide variety of issues are broached in tht^Theaetetus. It does not follow
that Plato did not see these issues as deeply unified in some way, or that the question of how The framing dialogue between Eucleides and T^psion (142a-143c) takes place at the
to define knowledge was as irrelevant to his other concerns as Crorabieand McDowell seem gates of Megara, a city famous in the fourth century BC for the studies of logic and
to think. In section 3 I have already pointed out that the question of defining knowledge modality, pursued in the style of Zeno and Parmenides, that were carried on in the
naturally had a more centrafplace in Platos general theory of knowledge than it would be philosophical school established there, probably by Eucleides himself among others. (There
likely to have for any modem epistemologist. In later Sections, I shall go on to argue that the is, incidentally, no reversion to this framing dialogue at the end of the Theaetetus, nor
Theaetetus is anything but disjointed, and to argue for one particular understanding of its anywhere in its dramatic continuations the Sophist and Statesman.)
stmcture. Whether or not I am rightabout that, it is surely exegetically'preferable that the Plato begins by establishing what seems certain to be a fiction about the origin of the
Theaetetus should not turn out to be the unfocused and rambling discussion that Crombie ' Theaetetus. Eucleides tells Terp^on that the renowned mathematician Theaetetus is, now
and McDowell seem to think it is. We naturally expect better from a greaf philosopher who i close to death from wounds received in the recent battle at Corinth. They Recall Theaetetus
did not cease, when eighty years of age, to comb and curl his dialogues and reshape them in debate with Socrates in the year of Socrates death, 399 BC^ Eucleides was not present at the
every \yay (Dionysius.of.Halicamasssus, quoted in Ryle Plato's Progress p.!?98). original debate, but heard about it soon after from Socrates; jie has written a memoir of it,
which he has with him. Eucleides wrgte the fi^t draft of ^s memoir as soon as he got home
\ after hearing Socrates account of the debate. Later at his leisure {husteron de kata
scholen, 143a2) he added more as it came back to him, and consulted Socrates for further
{ corrections whenever he was in Athens. Eucleides then comrpands his slave to read this
memoir.
I shall say something about the philosophical implications of the Introduction in
' section 6c. The only philosophical theses explicitly advanced in the Introduction are these
three, which are offered without argument by Socrates, and agreed to without argument by
Theaetetus, at 145d7-145e5:
I 1. To learn is to become wiser about the topic you are learning about (145d7).
' 2. The wise are wise sophiai (= by/ because of/ in respect of/ as a-result of wisdom; 145d9).
' 3. Wisdom {sophia) and knowledge (episteme) are the same thing (145e5).''^

6b. Translation of 142a-145e

142al-143cl0: The framing dialogue


1
142al Eucleides. Have you come into Megara from the country just now, Terpsion? Or did
you arrive a while ago?'
Terpsion. A fair while ago. In fact, I have been looking for you in the m^ket place,
and I was surprised that I couldnt find you.
Eucleides. But no wonder you couldnt find me. I was out of the city.

The reader might be puzzled by this remark. Socrates is about to go on trial at the end of the Theaetetus
(210d), and thereafter will be in prison until his execution. So it seems that there cant have been very much
leisure" for corrections, nor can there have been very many opportunities after the debate with Theaetetus for
Eucleides to visit Athens to consult Socrates. If this is not just a slip on Platos part, presumably the answer to
the puzzle is Phaedo 58c5: Socrates endured a long wait in prison in between his trial and his death.
For this equation cp. Protagoras 360d {andreia is a sophia), 36Ib {andreia is an epistimi): here
apparently the two words sophia and epistSmS are being used interchangeably.

I
26 The Introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e Translation of 142a-145e 27

Terpsion. So where were you? directions about Socrates whenever he spoke, like And I said and I replied, or
Eucleides. I was on my way down to the harbour, when I came upon Theaetetus. He He concurred or He disagreed about Socrates respondent. So I left out all that
was being taken to Athens from Corinth, from the army camp. sort of thing, and portrayed Socrates conversation with them directly.
Terpsion. Was he alive or dead? Terpsion. And nothing wrong with that, Eucleides.
142bl Eucleides. He was alive, but only just. He is in a bad way. He has been wounded. Eucleides. Come, boy, take the book and read it.
Worse still, he has been caught in the outbreak of sickness in the army.
Terpsion. Oh po! Not dysentery? 143dl-210d2: The main dialogue
Eucleides. Yes. 143dl Socrates. Well, Theodorus, if I took more interest in your home town, I would ask
Terpsiop. What a loss if he dies! you what is happening in Cyrene, and about the Cyreneans: whether there is anyone
Eucleides. Yes, Terpsion, he is a true Athenian. Indeed only a moment ago I there among the young men who is making a study of geometry, or of any other sort
overheard some people who were outspoken in their praise for the way he fought in of philosophy. But as things are, I care less about the young men in Cyrene than the
the battle. , . f . young men here. So instead, I am eager to know which of our young men are likely
Terpsion. That is .quite typical of him. It would have been much more surprising if he to turn out distinguished. That is my area of research, which I pursue as hard as I can.
hadnt foughTbravely. And yet how was it that he didnt stay here in Megara? When I see the young men wanting to associate with someone, this is the question I
142c2 Eucleides. He was longing to go home. I told him it was his duty to stay, and the best - ask l^. Now the young men come to you in droves; and rightly so. You deserve it
thing to'do as well; but he wouldnt. So instead, I set him on his way.^^ Then as I was for lots of reasons, especially your distinction in geometry. So if you have come
coming back again,-I remembered Socrates, and marvelled at how prophetically he across anyone worth mentioning. Id be delighted to hear about hira.^^
spoke, especially about Theaetetus. I gather Socrates met Theaetetus a little before 143e2 Theodorus. Anyone worth mentioning? There certainly is. One boy whom I have
Socrates own death, when Theaetetus wp still only a'youth (meirakion). Socrates met, one of your fellow-citizens, is well worth both my mentioning, and your hearing
spent some time with him in conversation, and was very impressed by his gifted about. If he was a handsome boy, I would be afraid that mentioning him so
nature. When I came to Athens, Socrates recounted to me the argurrients that he had favourably would make it look as if I had a crush on him. But actually he is not
discussed with Theaetetus (tous logons hous dielekhthe autoi), which were well handsome, becauseno offencehe looks like you: he has a snub nose and bulging
worth hearing. Socrates said then that Theaetetus could not help but become a eyes, though his are not as bad as yours. So I am not afraid to speak. Let me tell you:
remarkable man if he lived to maturity. of all the pupils I have ever hadan41 have had lotsI have never seen one with
142d4 Terpsion. It-looks like Socrates spoke truly. Butfwhat were these arguments? Can such marvellous natural gifts. He takes things in with a speed that would confound
you give a report of them? other students, yet he is exceptionally patient, and courteous. On top of these gifts, he
Eucleides. Heavens, no, not word for word, not right now. But for my own reference, is braver than anyone you care to mention. I would never have thought such a
I wrote something down right then, as soon as I got home. Later on when I had, the combination existed. I certainly havent seen it be/ore. For generally, those who have
time I wrote more, as it came back to me. Whenever I was ip i'^thens, J would consult his sharpness, presence of mind, and good memory, are also easily tipped over into
Socrates about the places where my memory was deficient; then I would come back losing their tempers. The clever ones rush about, carried away like ships with no
here and make corrections. So by now I have virtually the whole argument in ballast, and they tend to be manic rather than truly brave. Meanwhile the people who
writing. are steady in their temperaments are the ones who are, so to speak, plodders
143a5 Terpsion. Yes indeed, Ive heard you mention it before. In fact, Ive been meaning to academically: they are the ones who are held back by their poor memories. But the
ask you to show it to me, and so far have never got round to it. But what is to stop us , student I mean goes on in his studies and his inquiries with no false starts, no
reading through it now? For my part, I need to have a rest any way,-after my journey stumbles, no wasted energy^O; and always in courteous good humour. Watching this
from the country. student learn is like watching the silent flow of a Stream of oil: it is amazing to see
143bl Eucleides. Me too; I accompanied Theaetetus on his way as far as Erineum, so I ^ someone at his young age getting so-far in his studies.
wouldnt object to having a rest either. So lets go and sit down, and while we are 144b8 Socrates. That is good to hear, ^^ich of our citizens son is he?
having our rest, the slave boy will read to us. J Theodorus. I have been told his fathers name, but I forget it. Anyway, he is the one
Terpsion. Right. ' in the centre of that group of boys comirig towards us. He and those companions of
143b5 Eucleides.This is the book here, Terpsion. And this is how I wrote down the, his have just beenanointing themselves on the track outside. Now that they have
argument: I didnt portray Socrates recounting it to me, as in fact happened. Instead,'
I portrayed him in conversation with the people he told me he conversed with. He , This first speech registers two slightly comic character-traits of Socrates: his stay-at-home nature, and the
said they were Theodorus the geometrician, and Theaetetus. I didnt want the action way in which Ws philosophical hunting for young men of promise parodies the sexual hunting in which
of the document to be held up byinixing in, along with the speeches, lots of stage many Athenian aristocrats spent their time. Cp. Symposium 177el, where Socrates disclaims knowledge
iepistasthai) of anything except ta erdtika.
Literally: smoothly, unstumblingly, efficiently (leios, aptaistds, anysimds). There may be some irony
To set someone on his way (propempein): by this custom the host accompanies the departing guest as a here, given that Theaetetus, in the course of the dialogue, is going to make four spectacularly large-scale false
gesture of hospitality. The verb also means to accompany a corpse to its burial. starts in a row.
28 The Introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e Translation of 142a-145e 29

rubbed on their oil', it looks to me as if theyre coming over here. Look for yourself, praise plenty of people, both foreigners and Athenians. But he has never praised
and see if you know which one he is. anyone as he has just been praising you.
144c6 Socrates. I.knowhim: he is the son of Euphronius of Sunium. Euphronius was Theaetetus. That would be fine, Socrates, provided he wasnt joking with us.
exactly like your description of his son, Theodorus. He was a highly-respected man 145cl Socrates. Joking? That is not Theodorus style. Dont you slip out of your agreement
in every way, and he certainly left a great deal of money. But I dont know the boys by pretending that he said it as a joke. If you do, Theodorus will be forced to testify
name. under oath that he meant it; and then you will have to believe him, or else accuse him
144dl Theodorus. His name, Socrates, is Theaetetus.^ I believe the money was thrown of peijury. So take heart, and stick by your agreement.
away by lus guardians. Despite that, Theaetetus is extremely generous with money Theaetetus. Well, I shall have to, if thatls what you think I should do.
too. Socrates. Tell me, then. Presumably you leam. something about geometry from
Socrates. What a noble character you describe. Please ask him to come and sit down Theodorus.
here next to us. , Theaetetus. I do, yes.
Theodorus. As you like. Theaetetus! Take a seat by Socrates. 145dl Socrates. And sor^ething about astronomy, harmony, arithmetic?
144d8 Socrates. By all means do, Theaetetus, so that I can lodk myself over too, and see Theaetetus. Yes; or at least I try to.
what sort of facfe I have. F6f Theodords says that I look like you. Socrates. Me too, my boy: I try to learn these subjects from Theodoms, and from
But if each of us had a lyre, and Theodorus said that they werein tune with each anyone else who I think has some expertise in them. But all the same, although I
other, would we believe him, just like that? Or would we ask' ourselves whether understand most other things reasonably well, there is one little question that puzzles
Theodorus, who said this, was a musician? me; a question which ought to be examined in your company, and the company of
Theaetetus. Yes, we would ask ourselves that. these other gentlemen. So tell me: isnt learning getting wiser about whatever it is
Socrates. Then if we found that he was a musician, we would believe him? And if you leam?
not,'we wouldnt believe him? ^ Theaetetus. Yes, of course.
Theaetetus. Thats right. Socrates. And it is by wisdom, I think, that the wise are wise.
144e9 Socrates. But then, I thinkf, if our concern is the likeness of our faces, we should ask Theaetetus. Yes.
whether Theodorus, who clainls they are alike, is an artist or not. I45el Socrates. And does this differ in any way from knowledge?
145a2 Theaetetus. I believe youre right. V Theaetetus. Does what differ?
Socrates. Well; is Theodorus a painter? Socrates. Wisdom. Arent people wise about the same things as they are
Theaetetus. Not so far as I know. ^
knowledgeable about?
Socrates. Nor" a geometrician, either?
Theaetetus. Of course.
Theaetetus. But of course he is:-hes definitely a geometrician, Socrates.
Socrates. Then knowledge and wisdom are the same thing?
Socrates. And is he an astronomer, an arithmetician, a musician, a master of every
Theaetetus. Yes.
kind of education there is?
Theaetetus. Thats certainly what I think. 145e7
Socrates. Then there is no particular reason to pay attention if Theodorus says that
we are alike in body, whether this is some sort of compliment* or some sort of 6c. Commentary on 142a-145e
detraction.
Theaetetus. Maybe not.
Like the opening of the Symposium, the opening of the Theaetetus draws our
145bl Socrates. What if Theodorus praises the soul of either of us for its virtue and its
attention at once to questions about the reliability of testimony. (Such issues arise elsewhere
wisdom? Suppose I heard him do that. Then I would have good reason to be keen to
in the Theaetetus, too:* for instance in the law-court-passage (201a-c), aiid indeed in the
examine whoever it was.that Theodorus praised. And as for the person praised by
Theodorus: he would have good reason to be keen to show his own nature to me. passage immediately after that, Socrates dream (201c-202c).) What we have in the main
Isnt that right? body of the Theaetetus is a memoir of two famous men, one Ipng dead, the othef now at the
Theaetetus. Yes, absolutely, Socrates.
point of deaths remembered as they were at the time when the former was at the point of
Socrates. In that case, my dear Theaetetus, now is the time for you to show your death and the latter was young. Eucleides was not even present when the original discussion
nature, and for me to examine it. For let me tell you that I have heard Theodorus bet)V,een Socrates' and.Theaetetus took placq (no more than the jurors were present at the
scene of the crime about which diey piust judge: 201c). His memoir of the conversation,
At the start of this passage Socrates knows what Euphronius looked like,^ut not who Theaetetus is;
based on Socrates report of it, was patched,together over time with Socrates further help.
while Theodorus knows what Theaetetus looks like, but not who Theaetetus father was. By the end of the Now this second-hand document, with its openly avowed inaccuracies (143cl-7), is read out
passage they have effortlessly pooled what they separately know, increasing the knowledge that each of them by a slaveby someone who is in no position to understand what he is reading. (Compare
has. It is easy for them to leam these things now; but it was also easy for them not to know theni before now. the uncomprehending readers of 163b6 and 206a.)
All this should be borne in mind when reading passages that tend to suggest that thereris something
problematic about (partial) ignorance: see, in particular, the Wax Block passage in Section 31.
30 The Introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e Commentary on 142a-l 45e 31

Notice something else that Plato is doing by depicting Eucleides as commanding the Much has been written about Platos words for knowledge. One important question
slave to read to him and Terpsion. This command was a perfectly usual one in Platos time. ^ raised by W.G.Runciman, Plato's Later Epistemology, at p. 17, is the question whether Plato
Gentlemen, of ^eisure (eleutheroi) did not normally go to the trouble of reading documents was aware of the distinction between knowing that,'knowing how, and knowing what (or
for themselves: they got a slave to read the documents to them. Plato must have expected whom). This distinction is a commonplace in modern philosophy. Since the work of Gilbert
that the Theaetetus itself would be read in this way. (No doubt itw/as.) So-Plato means you, j Ryle, nothing has been more natural for modem philosophers than to contrast knowledge of
his reader, to be in this situation: you are having the Theaetetus read to you by your slave; j objects (knowledge by acquaintance or objectyal knowledge; cp. the French comaitre) with
and what is happening in the 'Theaetetus, as your slave reads it to you, is that two men are , knowledge of how to do things (technique knowledge), and with knowledge of
having Eucleides memoir read to them by their slave. I made Some brief remarks about , propositions or facts (propositional knowledge: cp. the French savoir). Runciman doubts
Platos use of distancing techniques in section 3. Here is another distancing technique. that Plato is aware of this threefold distinction (p.l7): At the time of writing the Theaetetus
A word about dating. The dramatic date of the main dialogue is the day before * Plato had made no clear distinction [between] knowing that, knowing how, and knowing by
Socrates indictment in 399 BC (210d). The dramatic date of the framing dialogue depends , acquaintance.
on when Theaetetus could have got his probably-fatal wounds in battle at Corinth (142a-b). Here Runciman must be wrong to say that Plato is in the dark about knowing how.
The only two years in Platos lifetime when the Athenians were in a battle at Corinth were Platos word for this is obviously tekhni, from which we get the English word technique.
394 BC and 369 BC. Zeller and Campbell argued that Plato intended the earlier date. And Plato obviously thinks tekhne incidental to a serious discussion of episteme. This is
However, this choice between 394 BC and 369 BC is only philosophically significant evidently part of the point of the argument against definition by examples that begins at
if we follow Zeller in inferring the date of the Theaetetus composition from the dramatic 146d(cp. 177c-179b).
date of the framing dialogue. But there is no reason to make this inference. It is now almost Runciman is less obviously wrong to say that Plato is in the dark about knowing that
universally accepted that while other evidence makes ^94 an impossibly early date, it makes and knowledge by acquaintance; but still, I think, wrong. What is true, but not quite what
369 a very fair guess at the date of the writing of the Theaetetus. (For further argument along Riinciman says, is that there is no clear parallel in classical Greek to the French connaitre!
these lines against Zellers early dating of the Theaetetus see Lutoslawski, Origin ofPlatos , savoir distinction. Despite what you might perhaps have expected, Platos use of Greek
Logic pp.386 ff.) words for knowing such as eidenai, epistasthai and gignoskein does not map onto this
Is 142a-145e of any philosophical importance? Many authors seem to think not. So, distinction. For some evidence, see e.g. Republic 533c (aide and cognates used
for instance, Comford, Bostock and McDowell completely bypass Theaetetus 142a-145e interchangeably with episteme and cognates) and Cratylus 440 (an argument about gnosis
when looking for philosophical content. This may be because they think it has none. very close in content to the argument about epistime at Theaetetus 182d-e).
On the other hand, there is this from Myles Bumyeat (p.3): We should not fail to Another thing that may seem to help Runciman is the fact that the Theaetetus mixes
think about the dramatic emphasis which Plato has contrived to place on thenotion of passages which discuss propositional knowledge with ones that discuss objectual
expertise. In these early pages of the dialogue [142a-151d] oiir attention is drawn both to an knowledge. Compare, for instance, the jury passage (200e-201c) and the cold wind
accomplished mastery in the person of Theodorus and to the process of acquiring it in the argument (151e-152c) with the Wax Tablet (191-196) and the last suggestion about the
meaning of logos (208c-210a). Both the first two passages are obviously concerned with
case of Theaetetus.
propositional knowledge (that X committed the crime; that the wind is cold), while both the
Similarly, Auguste Dies (pp. 124-5) comments on the clearly-intended parallel latter two are obviously concerned with objectual knowledge (acquaintance with Theaetetus
between Socrates and Theaetetus (Theaetetus 143e7, 144d9, 209cl): via perception or memory of him; acquaintance with Theaetetus via his distinguishing
Th66t&te est la jeune doublure de Socrate. Nous avons vu, dans le Parmenide, un mark).
jeune Socrate tout plein de 1 enthousiasme dialectique... [The6tete] est 1 apprenti This promiscuity of examples does tell against those interpreters (e.g. Ryle, Logical
philosophe qui, forme d un fa9on precise aux diverses sciences prdparatoires que Atomism in Platos Theaetetus", Phronesis 1990, and perhaps Bostock p. 193) who would
d6crivait la Republique, aborde, bien guid6, les problemes g6hdraux de la science. like to conjecture that the Theaetetus begins from a naive concern with simple objects of
Sedley, PAS 1993, reports and discusses flie cohiplex views of the Anonymous knowledge, i.e. objects, and ends with a sophisticated concern with complex objects of
Commentator (whom Sedley christens Anon) about the three preliminary theses of 145d7- knowledge, i.e. propositions. But it does not imply Runcimans conclusion, that Plato was
145e5. Anon claims that the second preliminai^ thesis, that The wise are wise by/ because simply unaware of the modem distinction. We should be alive to the possibility that Plato
of/ in respect of/ as a result of wisdom (Gk sophiai, dative of sophia: cp. Phaedo 100e2) wants to discuss theories of knowledge that find deep conceptual connections between the
implies the theory of recollection: wisdom is what makps one wise, in the sense that one two sorts of knowledge.
must already have (latent) wisdom in order to become (actually) wise (Sedley t*AS 1993 A grammatical point seems relevant here. The objectual I know Socrates" in
p.l29). More on recollection below in section 9c. classical Greek is oida (or gigndskd) ton S6kraten\ the propositional I know Socrates is
What is the meaning of the Greek word that I am translating as knowledge: wise" is oida (or gignoskd) ton Sdkraten sophon einai, literally I know Socrates to be
epistemi? wise. The to be (einai) is idiomatically dispensable; dispensing with it, we get oida ton
Sdkraten sophon, literally I know (the) wise Socrates". In other words Greek idiom can
32 The Introduction to the dialogue: 142a-145e
readily treat the object of propositional Jaiowledge, which in English would most naturally
be a.that-clause, as an object considered as having.a quality. We might almost say that,
7, The question '^What is knowledge?", and the rejection
33
Greek treats what is known'in propositional knowledge,as just one special case of what is of DO, a definition by examples: 145e7-147c6
known in objectual knowledge.
This suggests that the ancient Greeks naturally saw projibsitional and objectual
knowledge as more closely related than we do (though certainly not as indistinguishable).
7a. Summary of the argument of 145e7-147c6
Hence, Plato may have'felt able to offer a single treatmenffor the two kinds of knowledge
without thereby confusing them.22 ^ Socrates states the one little question that puzzles him (145d5): the question is
What is knowledge?. It is agreed that Theaetetus should attempt to answer this question
(146b-c). Theaetetus first response (DO) is to give examples of knowledge such as
geometry, astronomy, harmony, arithmetic and so on (146c). Socrates objects that, for any x,
examples of x are neither necessary nor sufficient for a definition of x. They are not
necessary, because they are irrelevant (146e). They are not sufficient, because they
presuppose'the understanding that a definition is meant to provide (147a-b). Moreover
(147c), a definition could be-briefly, stated, whereas talking about examples is an
interminable diversion (aperanton,hodon)-

7b. Translation of 145e7-147c6

145e7 Socrates. But now it is just this question that puzzles me, and that I cant get a firm
grip on by myself: What exactly is knowledge?. Do we have any account about
that?
146a2 What do you say? Which of us^ should speak first? The one who gets it wrong, and
keeps getting it.w^png, shall sit down as donkey, as thcbpys say when they are
playing catch. But whoever comes through withput a mistakehe shall be our king,
and shall orde^fUS to answer-whatever qijestion Jie sets.
Why are*you silent? I do hope,,Theodorus, that I am not bejiaving rudely because of
my love of argument. I am keen to draw us into discussion, and to make lis friendly
and happy to talk to each other.
146bl Theodoras. That wouldnt be in Ae least rude, Socrates..But ask one of.the boys to
answer your question. I am not practised in this sort of discussion, and I am not the
right age to learn by practice. For these boys to answer you would be more
appropriate, and much more improving, too; truly, in youth there -is^room for
improvement everywhere. So dont let Theaetetus off. Carry on questioning him.
146b9 Socrates. Well, Theaetetus, you hear what Theotlorus says. I shouldnt thinkyou will
want to disobey him. It woujd it be unseemly^for a young man npt to obey a wise
mans command about something like this. So speak out, well and nobly. What do
you think knowledge is? ,
146c4 Theaetetus. I am bound to answer, Socrates, since you and Theodorus tell me to. And
anyway, if I go wrong somewhere, you will put me right.
Socrates. We certainly will, if we can.
Theaetetus. Well, then: I think the things that one might learn from Theodorus are
kinds of knowledge: geometry and the other examples that you listed just now. Also
cobbling and the other manual labourers z:rafts. All of these are nothing othepthan
knowledge; each of these is nothing other'than a kind of knowledge.
Thanks to Nicholas Denyer and NeU Cooper for their comments.
34 The question "What is knowledge?", and the rejection of DO: 145e7-147c6 Translation of 145e7-147c6 35

146d2 Sofrates. A noble apswer, my friepd. A generous one too; you were asked for one Socrates. Second, this sort of answer is interminably roundabout when it could have
thing and you give us lots of things, you were asked for something simple and you been brief, and even banal. For example, there is a banal and simple answer to the
give us the whole gamut.^^ question What is clay?. We could just have said that clay is earth mixed with
Theaetetus. What are ypu talking about, Socrates? moisture^'*, and passed over the question of whose clay it is.^
Socrates. Quite possibly Im talking nonsense. But Ill tell you what I think Im 147c6
talking about. When you say cobbling, what you mean is just knowledge of how
to make shoes, isnt it?
Theaetetus. Just that, yes. 7c. Commentary on 145e7-147c6
146el Socrates. And when you say joinery, dont you just mean knowledge about how
to make things out of wood? Here I will briefly discuss three issues that readers of 145e-147c have focused on:
Theaetetus.' That and nothing else. (i) Whether, pace Socrates, definition by examples is possible. I shall criticise some
Socrates. So all youre doing is defining what cobbling and joinery are knowledge Wittgensteinian arguments purporting to show that it is not only possible but, as a rule, the
about. only way to definq things.
Theaetetus. Yes. (ii) Whether Socrates produces good arguments against definition by examples.
Socrates. But that wasnt the question, Theaetetus'. The question was not What is (iii) Whether 145e- 147c is, as Ryle claimed, implicitly a critique of the Republic'sprocedmt
knowledge about? or Howmany kinds of knowledge are there?'. We werent of distinguishing knowledge, belief, and ignorance by distinguishing their objects.
wanting to make a list of kinds of knowledge. We wanted to know how knowledge
itself is to be defined. So, am I talking nonsense? 7c(i). Socrates and Wittgenstein on definition
Theaetetus. No, I think youre right.
147al Socrates. Consider this point, too. Suppose someone asked us how to define one of When Socrates tells Theaetetus (146d) that I asked for one thing and you have given
those workaday things that are always to hand, like clay: What is clay?. Wouldnt me many (polla), for something simple and you have given me a variety (poikila)", Socrates
it be ridiculous for us to answer that Clay is defined as that which is potters clay is rejecting definition by example, preferring definitions each of which isolates the unique
and that which is oven-makersclay and that which is brick-makefs clay? feature that all items falling under that .definition share in common. Cp. Meno 72a6 (I
Theaetetus. I suppose so. sought one virtue and you have given me a swarm of them), and Euthyphro 5d-6e.
Socrates. Indeed it would be: for two reasons. First:'when we speak of*clay, and As Santas, Socrates p.6 remarks, Socrates contemporaries were baffled by this
whether we add that the clay is statue-makers clay or some other sort of craftsmans, move:
we seem to be assuming that the questioner will understahd,'ff6m oiir answer, what
Where all the Greeks praised the virtues to the skies, Socrates raised... a question
clay is. But do you suppose that anyone can understand the meaning'of any name of
that apparently nobody had thought,of before, and certainly nobody understood or
anything, without understanding the definition of that thing?*
pursued in a Socratic way: What is virtue?... We have repeated testimony of the
147b2 Theaetetus' Not at all. startling originality of Socrates question in the fact that'again and again the
Socrates. So then the person who does not understand the thing, knowledge, cannot
interlocutors do not understand what Socrates is asking; he has to amplify and
understand the name, knowledge about shoes. illustrate in order to make them understand his sort of question, and he has to set
Theaetetus. No. . them straight about what sort of answer he is seeking.
Socrates. Nor, indeed, can someone who is ignorant of knowledge'understand
cobbling, or any other craft. Is Socrates right about definition? Nowadays there is a broad post-Wittgensteinian
Theaetetus. Thats right. consensus that he is wrong. See Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books, p.20:
Socrates. So if someone asks you* What is knowledge?, it'is ridfculous to reply The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to
merely by giving the name of some^'craft. Your reply mentions knowledge about find the common demerit in all its applications, has shackled philosophical
something. But that wasnt what you were'asked. investigation; for it has not only led to no result, but also made the philosopher
147c2 Theaetetus. Apparently not.
^ Evidently Plato now thinks that there is a definition of clay (pilos). He seems to have doubted this at
Parmenides I30c8, where it is apparently assumed that nothing can have a definition unless there is a Form of
According to the Anonymous Commentator, when Socrates at 146d4 describes Theaetetus first attempt it, and that it is absurd to suppose that there is a Form of something as lowly as mud or clay.
as offering bothpo/Zo and poikila, he is making two separate points. He is faulting defmition'by example, not Why is definition by examples an interminable diversion.? Here'Plato may imply something like the
only because it does not give a single answer but many answers (polla), but also because the answers that it following argument. There is no definite limit to the-number of possible .examples of any type that might be
does'give are complex (poikila: fancy, variegated). They are complex because instances of knowledge like given. Therefore, even if any definition by examples is completable it cannot be (known to be) precise, as
shoe-making are species of the genus knowledge; and species are more composite than genera, and so every definition must be. For either an infinite number of examples will need to be given to complete a
definitionally posterior to them. (The Anonymous Commentator presumably holds this view on Aristotelian definition by examples, or a finite number. But it is impossible to give an infinite number of examples; and it
grounds. See Aristotle, Topics vi.4, Metaphysics Z.12.) is impossible to know which finite number of examples will complete the definition.
36 The question "What is knowledge?", and the rejection of DO: 145e7-147c6 Commentary on 145e7-147c6 37

dismiss as irrelevant the concrete cases, which alone could have helped him to Bostock, pp.32-33, says that ivis informative, or can be, to explain a concept by
understand theusageof the general term. When Socrates^sks the question, What is giving a list of examples. Bostock observes that Platos own example of clay demonstrates
knowledge?, he does, not regard it even as a preliminaryon&'fjQx to enumerate cases this point: If you wish to explain to [a potters child] what clay, in general, is, there is
of knowledge. nothing wrong with giving as an example this stuff that he is already familiar with.
John McDowell agrees with Wittgenstein on this (McDowell p.l 15). Sometimes the However, to vindicate definition by examples, we need the further premiss that
answer to the question What do instances or kinds of x have in common? will only be that explaining [to the child] what clay, in general, is counts as defining clay, not just e.g.
They are all instances or kinds of x. In this case^ the-question What is x? cannot be learning to ostend it. And this premiss seems questionable. (Corifpare Wittgensteins elision
answered'by a single formula of the sort Socrates requires. In such cases definition by of definition and clarification.)
example is the best^ way forward. (Other philosophers who take something ^ke the
Brown, PAS 1994 pp.^39-241, discusses an ancient criticism of the uninformative
Wittgensteinian view include: Geach, Monist 1966, Santas JHP1972, Bumyeat Philosophy
ness argument, reported by the Anonymous Commentator fi-om the work of unknown critics
1977, and Kripke, Wittgenstein owRules and'Private Language.)
of Plato. This criticism says that if this argument wdrks against definition by examples, then
Despite this modern consensus, Socrates refusal to accept definition by examples it works against any definition: '
seems philosophically well-motivated; Wittgensteins critique of it is, I think, unsuccessful.
The Unknown Critics discussion, as I read it, is designed to show that [the
For one thing, Wittgenstein eljdes define a general term with get clear about the uninformativeness argument] could be used to.disquaUfy even a perfectly good
meaning o/a-ge^eral term. These are,npt equivalent tasks. The former task is objective: it definition, such as a definition of man as rational mprtal animal... By [this argument],
has to do with hitting on an accurate verbal formulation. The latter task is subjective: it has one who says that man is rational mortal unimal says no more than that man is man,
to do with arriving at a kind of understanding. ^ so cant enlighten anyone &at way. ^.^ewise, the idea is, anyone who says that
Further,^ Wittgenstein is quite wrong to suggest Aat looking for the common cobblery is knowledge of shoes says no more than that cobblery is cobblery.
element in all applications of xhas been philosophically fruitless. If that search had The Unknown Critics seem to be quarrying more out ofthe argument than the text of
borne no fruit there could,'for instance, be norefutation by counter-example. We can refute 147al-c2 justifies. Platos point in context is not that definition by examples is (if true)
the claim that Mammals ^e by definition creatures with four legs by pointing out thabbats uninformative because it states an identity, but because it does not state an essence. The
have only two legs, and that seals have no legs at all. This refutation depends on the fact that post-Fregean puzzle about uninformative identities, which Brown also finds in theUfnknown
a definitioh of the term mammal is supposed to pick out some comitidri element^ all Critics argument (cp. B\xmyca.i, Philosophy 1977p.390), is surely not to bq found in 147al-
applications of the* term. It'may>be true that such procedures-carmot be deployed with c2; though it may well be.near the surface later in the Theaetetus, especially in .the
Wittgensteins own preferred example, game; but perhaps this only shows that game is discussion of false belief at 187 ff.
I
an unusual case, and therefore a tendentious example for Wittgenstein to use.
McDowell p.l 14 (cp. Bostock pp.33-34) adds a further point against the
Again, if concrete cases do help'us to understand thd usage of the general term, they uninformativeness argument. This is that we need not suppose that one needs articulate
can only do this by showing us criteria for using the general term. Normally, such.criteria knpwledge of what knowledge is in ord^r.to understand expressions [hke cobblery]
are precisely common elements between all application?. Wfibfe they are common elements equivalent to phrases containing the word knowledge [like knowledge of shoe-making].
only between some applications of the term, we are justified in saying that the term has This is true, but does not help the proposal to define by examples, unless definitions can
Some subsidiary meanings. i legitimately involve inarticulate knowledge; which Plato of course disputes.
Finally, it is worthwhile to distinguish unanalysable concepts from family
resemblance concepts. Some concepts are bruie\ that is, they are logitally'basic,* and no 7c(iii). Defining knowledge by its objects
interesting fiirther analysis of them is available. For instance, causation inhy be abrutd As briefly mentioned in section 5a, some commentators have thought that Socrates
conpept. It may well be th^t there is not much more to be said about alLmd only instances or critique of definition by examples is implicitly a critique of the Republic's procedure of
kinds of capsatipn, than simply .that instance^or'ldnds of qausation is what they are. It does distinguishing knowledge, belief, and ignorance by distinguishing their objects. The
not follow that causation is a family resemblancq conpept. Witjgenstetns argumentat least suggestion was first made by Ryle 1990 p.23 (cp. J.M.Cooper, Plato on Sense Perception
as it is often representedtends to make us think that all cases where no interesting and Knowledge, Phronesis 1970, at p.l46). Ryle points out that Socrates makes it clear
definition of a concept is available, are cases of family resemblance. This is not so. that what he wants discussed is not a list of things that people know, but an elucidation of
the concept of knowledge. Ryle suggests that Attention to this simple point might have
7c(ii). Do Socrates' arguments work? ^ saved Comford from saying that the implicit conclusion of the dialogue is that true
Socrates argument that examples are not sufficient for definition because they are knowledge has for its objects things of a different order. Ryle thinks it silly to suggest
uninformative (the uninformativeness argument) is challenged by a number of writers, that knowledge can be defined merely by specifying its objects. Richard Robinson agrees
including Bbstock, Brown and McDowell. (Robinson 1950 p.l 8): If you are asked what a gun is, it is not the right answer to say what
the gun is pointing at. If you are asked what knowledge is, it is not the right answer to say
what its object is. McDowell p.l 14 also echoes the Rylean view.
38 The question "What is knowledge?", and the rejection of DO: 145e7-147c6 39

However, Robinson is well answered by Runciman p.lO: The gun analogy is


inappropriate... guns are guns, even without targets, but knowledge must always be 8. A contrasting case: definition in mathematics: 147c7-
knowledge o/something. (Cp..Hackforth, Platonic Fomts in the Theaetetus, CQ 1957.) 148e5
Furthermore Robinson, McDowell and Ryle himself all neglect an obvious fact. This is that
Cornford is well ^ware of the difference between the questions What sorts of things are
known? and What is it for someone to know something?. Cornford shows that he knows 8a. Summary of the argument of 147c7-148e5
the difference when he writes this (Cornford p.28): The problem [atl43d-15 Id] is to define
the faculty or function of knowing, although it cannot be defined without reference to its Theaetetus contrasts the ease with which he and his classmates define mathematical
objects. Here Cornford is arguing that the two questions are connected. So it is unfair to terms, with his inability to answer Socrates request for a definition of knowledge. Socrates
accuse him of ignoring Ryles simple point, or mixing up Ryles two questions. encourages him by pointing out that he is only young, and thatthe Question is hard; and
Aside from these misreadings of Cornford, Ryle is also misreading Plato. 145e-147c urges him to try again. Theaetetus still protests his inability.
cannot be read as a critique of the Republic's procedure of distinguishing knowledge from
belief by their objects. Most of the things that Theaetetus cites as examples of knowledge
certainly would not dount as such In the Republic. This urtdermines the idea that the
8b. Translation of 147c7-148e5
Republic's view of knowledge andljelief is being targeted here, as does the point that 145e-
147c shows no interest at ^1 in the question what objects are the typical objects of belief. 147c7 Theaetetus. Well, Socrates, now it looks easy to give definitions! I dare say what you
are looking for is an answer of the same sort as the definition that your namesake
Again, 145e-147c is simply not concerned wiA theattempt to define knowledge by examples Socrates^^ and I have arrived at in oiir recent discussions.
of objects of knowledge; it is concerned with the attempt to define knowledge by examples
Socrajes. What kind of definition was that, Theaetetus?
of kinds, of knowledge. (See e.g. 146e7, We'werent wanting to make a list of kinds of
Theaetetus. Theodorus here was drawing diagrams to show us something about
knowledge.) And thisds a completely different matter.
powers. He demonstrated that the side of a square of area 3 square feet and the side
Moreover, the Platonist of the Republic is surely the' Idst person to think that of a square of area 5 square feet are lengths not commensurable [by integers] with
examples, even of the objects of knowledge, are enough for a definition of knowledge. The the side of a square of area 1 square foot. He proved this for each case up to 17
person who is likeliest to think that is not the Platonist, but the philosopher who bases all square feet; as it happened, that was where he stopped. Now it occurred to us that
knowledge on sensory experience: the empiricist. The empiricist thinks that we acquire, for there is an indefinite number of powers of this sort. So we thought we shoidd try to
instance, the concept of a dog simply by exposure to'examples of dogs: Locke, Essay III, group them all together in one category, under which we could talk about all the
Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 100a4-9. For the Platonist, definition by examples'is never powers.
even possible, whereas, for the empiricist, definition by examples is the natural method in 147e2 Socrates. And did you find anything like that?
every case. Theaetetus. I believe we did, anyway. But you see if you agree.
It can be proposed that a certain sort of empiricism is one of the principal targets of Socrates. Go on.
the argument of the Theaetetus. That proposal, as we shall see, is a central thesis of this Theaetetus. We divided all numbers into two classes. Wp thought that any integer
book. which can be generated by multiplying some other integer by itself is like a square.
So we called any such number a square or equilateral number.
Socrates. Yes, agood name for them.
Theaetetus. But the numbers between the square numbers, such as 3, 5, and any
, number that cannot be generated by multiplying something by itself, but only"by
> multiplying a smaller number by a Imger or a larger by a smaller: t|iese numbers are
always contained by sidqs of differed lengths. So we thought that they wereJike the
shape of an oblong, and called them oblong numbers.
148a4 Socrates. Very suitable. Then what did you do next?
Theaetetus. Any line that'forms a side of a square whose area is a square number
any such line we defined as a length. But any line that forms a side of a square whose
area is an oblong numberany such line we defined as a power. Now powers and
lengths are not commensurable [by integers]. The only way of finding integi^rs that
commensurate powers with lengths is to look at the areas of the'squares that powers
can form. And something of the same sort is true about three-dimensional figures.
Socrates the Younger, a classmate ofTheaetetus, and in later life a distinguished member of Platos
Academy. He is also a character in Platos Parmenides, and is mentioned now and then in Aristode.
40 A contrasting case: definition in mathematics: 147c7-148e5 Commentary on 147c7-148e5 41

^Socrates. Superhuman^-my boys. Given this performance, I dont think Theodorus what they want knowledge to mean, and any definition of knowledge that they offer will
will be put on trial for perjury (cp. 143e-144b)! need to show its applicability to a potential infinity of examples of knowledge.
Theaetetus. And yet, Socrates, I really couldnt answer your question about
knowledge in the same way as we answered the question about lengths and powers. But maybe Plato does not miss this point. Perhaps that is one reason for Theaetetus
But it seems to me that that sort of answer is what you are after. So after all rueful comment (148b4-5) that he finds it harder to provide his style of definition for
Theodorus does appear to^be a false witness^v^hen he prmses i^e. knowledge than for mathematical concepts.
148c 1 Socrates. Come now! Suppose Theodorus had been praising you as a sprinter, and As Dorothea Frede remarks: Theaetetus [displays] his aptitude to make proper
had said that he tiad never come across such a talented sprinterfqr your age. Do you systematic distinctions in his own field when he [finds] a device to differentiate between
praise ,wpuld be any less, true, if you then lost a race against a champion rational and irrational square numbers... [But he has] not yet seen the full importance of this
sprinter at thg lieight of his powers? method for the determination of what knowledge itself is (Frede, The Souls Silent
Theaetetus. No, I dont. Dialogue, PCPS 1989, p.41). Perhaps Theaetetus is like the crltitsmen whom Socrates says
Socrates. But do you think it is really a little question, as I called it just now he consulted to' see If they were wiser than him (Apology 22d-'e): perhaps Theaetetus
(145d3), to find out what knowledge is? Isnt it rather a task for minds that are in specific knowledge about mathematics has, as yet, ho foundation in principles of
peak condition in every way? knowledge about everything.
Theaetetus. Heavens, yes: a task for the peakest of the peak, Id say. Unlike Bostock, McDowell p. 116 thinks that there is a real parallel: The definition
148dl Socrates. So, then, have some confidence in your own abilities, and in Theodorus of powers arrived at by Theaetetus and the young Socrates is parallel to the sort of definition
praise of you. Apply all your faculties to answering my questions, and above all to of knowledge that Socrates is as'king for.
finding a definition that tells us whal knowledge might be.
But McDowell does not explain how it can be parallel, given the crucial disanalogies
Theaetetus. If the answer can b> found by application, Socrates, then found it will be.
pointed out by Bostock. Pdrhaps the'paraliel with mathematical definition is only that
Socrates. Come, then. You have just given us a perfect model answer about powers.
Socrates and Theaetetus are to look for a definition of knowledge as concise, simple,
Try and imitate that answer which ypu gave. Just'as you found one class (eidos)
elegant, logically fecund, and watertight is the displayed definition of power. (Notice
which, despite their variety, contained theiti all, so try to express all theVarious sorts
again that no definition by exan?ple could have these virtues.)
of knowledge in a single account (logos).
148el Theaetetus. Let me tell^ou^ Socrates, I have already tried to thjnk about this problem A third,possibility is that the parallel or lack of it is not the real point. Theaetetus
many timesr ever^since I heard about the eriquiries that you carry on.^ But I cannot mathematical response is primarily rheant simply as an illustration of'Hieaetenis brilliance.
even convince ihyself that I have any adequate definition of knowledge; nor can I Sanfas observation in section 7c may be a jijst one regar^^ the obtuseness,of most of
find anyone else who can give an answer of the sort that you demand. And yet I cant Socrates contemporaries when it came to definitions (Meno, for4nstance, or Eu,thyphro).
leave the problem alone. Theaetetus, by contrast, has heard of Socrates metho<fc before,048el-2), and is not baffled
by, them. Moreover he produces a comparable definition sd-aig[ij.off. According to Sayre,
this comparable definitipn is itself an example of knowledge as wd(as pf definition (Platos
8c. Commentary on 147c7-148e5 Analytic Method pp.51^59):
A point too often overlooked in commentaries on the Theaetetus is that an example
Bostock pp.34-35 thinks that the problem of defining knowledge is not at all the of knowledge is given at the beginning of the dialogue... Theaetetus achievement at
same as the mathematical problem that Theaetetus and his fiiend Young Socrates solved so first glance may.appear to be little more than the provision of a general terminology.
successfully, and Plato is quite wrong to ^ve this as an example of a successful inqliiry into Yet he has pointed out necessary and sufficient donditions both for belonging to a
what-something is. The diffdr^nceis; Bo^bck suggests, that the mathfematical example class of integers each member of which is commensurable with any other member,
illustrates the introduction of a ne>* concept and not the analysis of an ^feady familiar and for belonging to the complementary class no membeD of which is
concept. Hence an obvious contrast between the cases: Theafetetus couldfiardly tell, before r commensurable with any member of the former.. In the language of the Sophist...
he had defined power, whether some number was a power omot. BUt by athd large we can Theaetetus has- achieved a division -of numbers according to kinds.' Such an
tell, before we have defined knowledge, whether some suggested example is an example of achievement is knowledge in its most proper.form.
knowledge.
Compare Taylor, Plato p.324: Theaetetus has succeeded, by the use of dichotomy,
As Bqstock says, the definition of ^power is just stipulated, and therefore can have in strictly-defining the class which we should call quadratic surds.
no counter-examples (unless Theaetetus qarelessly stipulates an inconsistency), fiy contrast
the definition of knowledge/ is only proposed. ITieaetetus and Socrates cannot just decide

More evidence of Theaetetus remarkable abilities: he is less than twenty years old, yet he has already
tried to define knowledge pollakis, many times.
429. Socrates the midwife's apprentice: 148e7-151d7 Summary of the argument of 148e7-151d7 43
survive birth and infancy. But Socrates, at least in the earlier dialogues, always rejects the
ideas that his respondents produce. In the early dialogues, it is hard to think of even one
example of an intellectual pregnancy overseen by Socrates that does not end in disaster.
In spite of this, Socrates claims (150d) that nearly all those who associate with him
9a. Summary of the argument of 148e7-151d7 give forth most miraculously, and find and bring forth great numbers of noble truths from
within themselves. The obvious inference is that the successful intellectual pregnancies that
The [midwife passage] is deservedly one of the most famous Plato ever wrote: it Socrates has overseen are the ones which brought forth Platonism.
should be read with feeling as well as thought, ft is an account of a method of
A connected point: we might ask how Socrates can practise as a philosophical
educatioa which is at the same time a method of doing philosophy,, and there are midwife if he has no experience at all of bringing forth a genuine and true-born idea. After
questions to ask about why it seems especially appropriate to philosophy, as opposed all, Socrates himself tells us that no physical midwife lacks the parallel experience: Artemis
to geometry or cobbling, that its procedure should be a discussion m which Socratic ^ did not give it to the totally barren to be midwives; for human nature is too weak to become
questioning engages with ones own personal conception of things. skilled in matters of which it has no experience (149cl). Perhaps Plato is hinting to us not
(Bumyeat pp.6-7) to take Socrates claim to be sterile at face value.
Socrates offers to explain Theaetetus bewilderment about.,the question What is
knowledge? by way of an extended, and deliberately grotesque, simile. He compares
himself, point by point, with a midwife. He notes seyen similarities and four dissimilarities: 9b. Translation of 148e7-151d7
Seven similarities:
1. Midwives do not give birth themselves^ Socrates has no wisdom of his own. 148e7 Socrates. Yes, my dear Theaetetus; thats because you are in the pains of labour. And
2. From experience, midwives know better than-anyone else who is pregnant and that means that you are not intellectually barren, but pregnant with something.
who is not; from experience,; Socrates has gre^t skill in telling who has a genuine Theaetetus. I dont know about that, Socrates; I merely say what I have felt.
idea in them and who doesnt. 149al Socrates. But, you ridiculous boy, surely you have heard that I am a midwifes son?
3. Midwives use drugs and^spells to induce or alleviate literal labour symptoms; The son of that muscular, noble lady Phaenarete^^?
tHoke w*ho come to Socrates undergo intellectual labour symiitoms, which Theaetetus. Yes, Ive heard that before.
Socrates skill can either excite or allay. Socrates. And have you heard that I practise the same artmidwifery?
4. Midwives are skilled in match-making and eugenics; Socrates uses guesswork to Theaetetus. No, that Ive not heard!
make matches between those whose intellectual pregnancies are phantom and Socrates. But I assure you its true. Only, dont let on to anyone else, Theaetetus; for
sophistic charlatans like Prodicus. I practise my craft in secret. Other people dont report this fact about me because
5. Midwives benevolently cau^e abortions where they see fit; Socrates benevolently they dont realise it. What they say is that I am an utterly absurd being, who brings
exposes all ideas presented to him that turn out to be philosophical mirages. other men into perplexity. And this, no doubt, you have heard?
6. Midwives are sometimes resented by the mothers of the children they abort; 149bl Theaetetus. I certainly have.
Socrates is often resented for killing off his interlocutors bad arguments. Socrates. Shall I tell you why they say this?
7. [Those who ignore midwives adviceeither miscarry at once or lose their offspring Theaetetus. Please do!
later through bad upbringing;]^^ those who ignore Socrates advice and leave him too Socrates. Well, think about the whole character of midwifery; then youll see what I
mean more easily. For I dare say you know that no midwife ever att^ds at anyone
soon fall back in love with their illusions and end up ignorant again.
elses labour while she herself is still conceiving and bearing children. The only
Four dissimilarities: active midwives are those past child-bearing age.
1. Midwives have given up child-bearing before becoming midwives; but Socrates is Theaetetus. Thats true.
barren, because he has never brought forth any knowledge or wisdom. 449cl Socrates. They say that Artemis herself is the cause of this. For she, childless as she
2. Midwives tend women; Socrates tends men. is, has chosen childbirth as her care. Now Artemis did not give it to the tptally barren
3. Midwives tend bodies; Socrates t^nds souls. to be midwives; for human nature is too weak to become skilled in matters of which
4. Midwives discern the good offspring of.bodies from the bad; Socrates discerns the it has no experience at all. Instead she assigned midwifery to those who have become
real (alithina) offspring of souls from the illusory. too old to bear children, honouring them for her likeness to herself.
Theaetetus. No doubt.
Tliere is a fifth apparent dissimilarity. Even where infant mortality is high and Socrates. Now doesnt this seem both likely and necessary: that midwives should be
midwives are incompetent, most of the physical offspring of womens bodies typically better than anyone else at diagnosing whos pregnant and who isnt?
Theaetetus. Yes, of course.
The midwives side of this last point of analogy is not explicit in the text; but it seems natural to supply
PhaenaretS: revealer of virtue.
44 Socrates the midwife's apprentice: 148e7-151d7 Translation of 148e7-151d7 45

149dl Socrates. And arent midwivesthe ones who can provide drugs or spells with the Others too. Manifestly, this happens not because they learn anythingfrom me, but
power to increase the pains of labour, or to make them less severe? Dont they bring because they find and bring forth great numbers of noble truths from within
even difficult labours to birthor induce abortions, if they think that is necessary? themselves. However, the delivery itself is my responsibility, under god. And I can
Theaetetus. Yes, they do. prove this.
Socrates. Again, have you noticed this fact about midwives? They are the ones who 150el For many of my patients have misunderstood my role in their learning. They have
are most skilled in matching marriage, partners to each anotl\er, since they are the disregarded me, supposing that they have coped with everything on their own.
ones who have full underst^ding about which woman should have intercourse with Patients of this sort decideeither on their own initiative, or because others prompt
which man to produce the best children. themto leave me before they are yeady. But ever since they have left, these patients
Theaetetus. No, I had no idea about that. have brought forth only botchings and abortions, because of the wickedness of their
149el Socrates. Well, I tell you, their wisdom is more to do with this than with the mere associates; as for the children whom I helped them to give birth to, they have
cutting of the umbilical cord. Why, think abdht it.Dont you believe that it is all part destroyed them by their negligence. They have had more regard for their false and
of a single skill to tend and harvest the fruits of the earth, and also to recognise which sham offspring than for their real children, and in the end they-have been found
'Shoot'or seed should go in whi6h sort of soil? ignorant both in others eyes and in their own. One such case was Aristides the son
Theaetetus. Yes, thats all part of one skill. of Lysimachus; there have been plenty of others.^o When these people come back to
Socrates. Well, my friend, in the case of gynaecology, do you think that there is one me, begging for my company and going to all sorts of lengths to get it, my guardian
skill concerning the selection of the right sort of woman ^or child-bearing, and spirit forbids me to keep company with some of them. But not with others; and these
another for the delivery of the child? then become fertile once mpre.
Theaetetus. I suppose it is unlikely. 151a4 So those who associate with me experience ju^t Jhe same as women in labour. Indeed
150al Socrates. Indeed it is unlikely. But because ofpur societys unjust and incompetent they feel their labour pains, they, are filled with their perplexity night and day, jnuch
way of uniting the.man and the jvomanfrankly, the word for it is procuring more intensely than women are. For perplexity is the sort of labour pain that my art
midwives in our society avoid even preliminary match-making. For they are of,midwifery can arouse and abate; so that is what they undergo.
honourable women, ani they fear, that any such involvement would bring the 15 Ibl And naturally, Theaetetus, I find that some of them are not exactly pregnant. So they,
accusation of being procurers on them. Yet I should say that the only person who as I realise, are in no need of me. In such cases I am quite happy to play the
deserves the name match-maker is the true midwife. matchmaker, and with gods help I guess^pretty accuratelywhose company might
Theaetetus. Evidently thats right. be helpful to them. I have referred many such phantom pregnancies to Prodicus, and
Socrates. And so you see how important is the role of the midwiyes. Yet theirs is a to many other distinguished savants too.^^
lesser work than mine. It is not the wa^ with women that they sometimes produce 151b8 Now, my fine Theaetetus, I have drawn this subject out at such lengdi because I
sham children, and sometimes real ones, in suph a way that.it is hard to tell the sham suspect that you have conceived^? something or other within you, and are in the pains
children from the-real ones. For if women did do this, then the main and most of labour. So present yourself to me: to the midwifes son, and a kind of midwife
valuable part of the midwifes work would be precisefyto tell the real children from myself. Apply, yourself to answering, as well as you can,* the questions that I put to
the shams, wouldnt it? you. I will examine each thing that you say, and if I think-it is a sham child, I will
150b4 Theaetetus. Yes. discreetly remove it from you and expose its If I do that, do not*rage at me, as
Socrates. Well, my art of midwifery is just like the women midwives art, in every mothers rage if they lose their first child..For many before now, my gifted friend,
respect except the following three. Firsj, I practise midwifery on men, not on women. have felt so extraordinarily angry tpwards me for exposing some nonsense or other of
Second, it is minds ^n labour, not bodies, that I attend. Third is the greatest thing of theirs that they were ready to bite me. They couldnt believe that I had done this out
all about my midwifes art. Thisis tha^ it can apply all sorts pfJests to determine of good .will. They are far from understanding tha; no god is malicious to human
whether my pupils intelligence is giving birth to a sham and.a'lie, or to a true and beings, and that what I do is not done maliciously either. It is jusf that it is my duty
noble offspring. never to go along a sham or conceal the truth.
150c2 In other ways, as I say, I am just like the women midwives. For I am barren and 15 ld3 So, Theaetetus, begin again from the beginning. What is knowledge? Try to tell me.
But never say that you are unable to. If it is gods will, and if he gives you the
sterile in wisdom, and the charge with which the common people have long indicted
me, that I ask questions of pthers, but find no answers of my own to those strength, you will be able to.
questionsthat indictment is ^e. The reason why it is true is tlys: the god forces me 151d7
to act as a midwife, but has prevented me from giving birth myself. So I am no Wise ^0 The question how Aristides should be educated is the starting-point for the argument of the Laches. There
Man; nor can I claim that any great philosophical discoveries are the offspring of my is plenty of topical content in this passage; there may also be an academic turf war lurking behind it. It is
mind. easy to believe that the other cases to whom Platos Socrates here darkly alludes are actually schools of
150dl But just look at the people who associate with me! At first some of them seem Socratic disciples set up in rivalry to Platos own: the rhetorician Isocrates, for instance.
This remark, of course, is hardly complimentary to Prodicus and the other savants. Socrates plainly
entirely ignorant. But as our association continues, all of themor at least, all those
means<that they trade in illusory ideas.
whom god permitsgive forth most miraculously: not only in their own eyes, but in The English pun on conceived is not possible in Greek. But if it had been, could Plato have resisted it?
46 Socrates the midwife's apprentice: 148e7-151 d7 Commentary on 148e7-151d7 47

9c. Commentary on 148e7-151d733 (disproving) Socrates might make us suspect that the suggestions are in fact all rather
likely to fail.
The Anonymous Commentator (Anon) and other orthodox ancient Platonists read So read, the midwife passage can also tell us something important about the
148e-15 Id as alluding to the theory of recollection. Comford p.28 quotes Anons remarks on limitations of the Theaetelus inquiry. The limitations of the inquiry are the limitations of the
149a: main inquirers, and neither (the historical) Socrates nor Theaetetus was a card-carrying
Socrates calls himself a midwife because his method of teaching was of that kind... adherent of Platos theory of Forms. Perhaps .the dialogue brings us only as far as the
for he prepared his pupils themselves to make statements about the subject by threshold of the theory of Forms precisely because, on Socratic principles, one can get no
unfolding their natural ideas and articulating them, in accordance with the doctrine frirther. To get beyond where the Theaetetus leaves off, you have to be a Platonist.
I
that what is called learning is really recollection, and that every human soul has had a (For this conclusion cp. David Sedleys wonderful hoo\iThe Midwife ofPlatonism:
vision of reality, and needs, not to have knowledge put into it, but to recollect. Text and Subtext in Plato's Theaetetus (Oxford: OUP, 2004), which arrived on my desk just
With the midwife passage we might compare the famous slave-boy passage in the too late to be properly considered in my own book.)
Meno. See, e.g., Meno 84c-d: Now see how [the slave boy] goes on from this perplexity to
find something out by these inquiries, which I am ndt assisting except by asking him
questions...,
Comford pp.27-28 develops this parallel with the Meno, arguing that it is deliberate.
Cornford points out that Meno and Theaetelus both make the mistake of attempting to define
by examples, and that Menos cotnplaint that Socrates does nothing but reduce others to
perplexity {Meno 79e)is actually quoted by Socrates hinftelf at The'aetetus l49a. Cornford
infers that r^ollection was a theory which squared the profession and practice of Socrates
with Platos discovery of the separately existing Forms and his convepion from Socratic
agnosticism to'a belief in immortality.
However, McDowell pp. 116-117 points to two good reasons for doubting that the
Theory of Recollection is alluded to in the Midwife passage: First, the Qffspring delivered
by Socrates are just as likely to be incorrect as correct... Second, the Theory of Recollection
contains nothing corresponding to the barrenness of Socrates himself.
A third reason for the doubt is simplepsychological probability. Suppose we accept
the normal dating of the dialogues and hold that the Theory of Recollection is implicit in the
midwife passage.'Then we have to suppose that, after a number of works from die Phaedo
onwards, in which the Theory of Recollection is hardly mentioned and seems to have little
or no importarfce, Plato suddenly decides to reintroduce recollection in the Theaetelusbut
to do so covertly and indirecdy. This is a bit much to swallow. We could get round it by
supposing'that all the works in between Phaedo and Theaetelus also refer covertly to
fecollectiom But this is no easier to swallow.
There is a fourth reason for the doubt as well: exegetical economy. There is no need
to see the Theory of Recollection in the midwife passage to make perfectly good sense of it.
Indeed, McDowells objections show that the passage makes better sense without the Theory
of Recollection.
Without that imposition, the midwife passage can be allowed to tell us something
important about how the Theaetelus is going to proceed. It is going to be an experimental,
tentative, and probably unsuccessful dialogue, like the aporetic dialogues. It will try out a
number of suggestions about the nature of knowledge. We cannot know in advance that any
of these suggestions will be at all successful. Indeedy-previous experience of the elengktikos

For a special study of 148e-151d see Burnyeat, Socratic midwifery, Platonic inspiration, Bulletin ofthe
Institute of Classical Studies, 1977, pp.7-16.
4S

10. First definition (Dl) and- consequent discussion:


Introduction to the argument of 151 -187
(may) push us towards the two-worlds Platonism that many readers, Ross and Comford for
instance, find in the Republic and Timaeus.
49
"Knowledge is perception": survey of 151-187 I The Revisionist reading (Reading B). Platos purpose is to refute the theories of
Protagoras and Heracleitus. He'thinks that the absurdities those theories give rise to, come
not fi-om trying'to take the theories as unrestrictedly true, bht from trying to take them as
true at all, even of the sensible world. Anyone who tries to take seriously the thesis that
lOa. 151-187: brief summaiy of the argument
knowledge is perception has to adopt theories of knowledge and perception like Protagoras
In the next part of the Theaketus we reach the heart of the dialogue. Between and Heracleitus. But their theories are untenable: they imply absurdities. By modus tollens
this shows that Dl, the.thesis that kno^vledge is.perceptipn, itself implies absurdities.^-*
Stephainus pages 151* arid 187, thirty-one pages o'f close and complex argument state,
discuss, and eventually refute the first o^f Theaetetus three serious Attempts at a definition of On the Revisionist reading, the strategy of the discussion of Dl is to move us towards
knowledge (Dl): Knowledge is perception^."(NB my page-count excluddS the Digressioti, a one-world Platonism, a view which will imply that sensible phenomena have to fall under
the same general metaphysical theory as intelligible phenomena, and that theories like
172-177.)
Protagoras and Heracleitus are not tnieiiof anything. What exactly this general
Platos discussion of Dl is complex, and has prompted a variety of complex metaphysical theory might be is not clear. For the Revisionist there is no certainty that it is
interpretations. Before we can look in detail at the components of his argument in 151-187, the theory of Forms, at least not as that was .presented in the Jiepublic. Indeed it js possible
we need some clear orientation about the shape and articulation of the argument as a whole. that Plato never clearly states his new view before it is superseded by the later*concems of
We also need some idea of the overall point of the competing readings of his discussion. the Sophist.
This is what section 10 aims to provide. Sections 11-26 will take the parts of the argument of
This outline of the two main alternatives for 151-187 shows how strategic and
151-187 in turn.
tactical issues, of Plato interpretation interlock. For instance, the outline shows how
To begin with, then, here is a very brief, and relatively uncontroversial, summary of important it is for an overall understanding of the Theaetetus to have a view on the following
the argument of 151-187: questions of detail; i
First Theaetetus states his proposal (Dl) that Knowledge is perception. Socrates (1) At 156a-157c, is Socrates just reporting, or also endorsing, a Heracleitean flux theory of
does not respond to this by an immediate and direct attack on Dl. Instead he claims that Dl perception?
entails two other views (Protagoras and Heracleitus), which he goes on to explore at (2) What is the date of the Timaeus, which seems (28-29,45b-46c, 49e) to present a very
length. (At some points, e.g. 163-5, his critique of these views does proceed by attending similar theory of perception to that found in Theaetetus 156-7, and may therefore have
directly to Dl; but most of the time Dl is not centre-stage.) Socrates eventually argues that two-world-Platonist implications?
both these views are false. If he is right then by modus tollens Dl is also false. A more direct (3^ Exactly what does Plato,tak^fo be the logical relations between the three positions
argument against Dl is eventually given at 184-7. under discussion in 15J-^84 (viz. Dl, Protagoras theory, and Heracleitus Aeory)?
The closer he talces them to be, the more support that seems to^give to die Revisionist
view that the whole of 151-187 is one gigantic modus tollens. Tlie more, separate
10b. Introduction to the argument of 151-187
they are, Ae better for those versions of Unitarianism that suggest that Plato wants to
^ick and choose ^mong the positiops offered in 151-187,.
There are two main alternative readings of 151-187: the Unitarian and the
Revisionist. Bumyeat pp.8-9 labels these Reading A and Reading B respectively: We will consider these questions of detail more closely in later sections. First I will
answer a larger question: Which is the right reading of 151-187, the Unitarian or the
The Unitarian Reading (Reading A). Platos purpose is to salvage as much as
Revisionist? I shall argue that (a form oU the Unitarian reading is correct. | shall do this first
possible of the theories of Protagoras and Heracleitus (each respectfully described as ou
by differentiating my own preferred version of Unitarianism from (Romfords, and then by
phaulon: 151el0, 152dl). Platos strategy is to show that these theories have their own ^guing against tl^ee distinguished kevisipi^sts abouf 151-187: G.E.L.Own, Myles
distinctive area of application, the perceptible or sensible world, within which they are true.
Burnyeat, and David Bostock. (Readers who wish to avoid a, series of close textual
However, the sensible world is not the whole world, and so these theories are not the whole encounters may skip from here straight on to section 11.)
truth. We get absurdities if we try to take them as unrestrictedly true. To avoid these
absurdities it is necessary to posit the intelligible world (the world of the Forms) alongside I begin with t\yo brief criticisms of.the followipg remarks of Comfprds (Comford,
the sensible world (the world of perception). When this is done. Platonism subsumes the p.49; cp. Ross 1953, p.l03):
theories of Protagoras and Heracleitus as partial truths.
On the Unitarian reading, the strategy of the discussion of Dl is to transcend
Protagoras and Heracleitus: to explain their views by showing how they are, not the truth, Gail Fine,Conflicting Appearances, in Gill &'McCabe p.l09: [In] the first part of the Theaetetus
but parts of a larger truth. In the process the discussion reveals logical pressures that may Plato is not propounding his own views about knowledge and perception; rather, he is asking what Theaetetus,
and then Protagoras, are committed to, and how they are best supported.
50 First definition (D1) and consequent discussion: survey of 151-187 Introduction to the argument of 151-187 51

Plato' intends to refute the claim of perception (in spite of its infallibility) to be deny that ordinary mundane objects possess enough stability for us to apply the verb esti,
Jaiowledge on the ground that its objects have no real being, but are always is, to them. Unitarians are committed only to the following two claims. First, the apparent
becoming and changing and therefore cannot be known. For that purpose he is bound stability of mundane objects, and the possibility of meaningful talk about them, has its
to jive us wjial he believes to be a true account of jthe nature of those objects... source in the Forms. Second, this apparent stability, though it is indeed sufficient to ground
Accordingly he states his own doctrine and takes it as established for t|ie purposes of the possibility of language about mundane objects, is nonetheless only apparent. On
the whole subsequent criticism of perception. examination, ordinary mundane objects turn out not to be existents in their own right, but
First, Comford sometimes apparently takes it to be Platos purpose to downgrade the constructs out of sense-experience of a sort that really is in constant flux, and to which the
role of perception, not to refute the definition D1 knowledge = perception. I think there is application of esti really is problematic. (More about all this in section 16c.)
no basis for this assumption of Comfords in the Theaetetus, as (it might be thought) there is Myles Bumyeat outlines the following version of Revisionism about 151-187 (p.9):
in the Phaedo or Republic. Plato does not accept the theories of Protagoras and Heracleitus. Theaetems is made
Second, the last quotation from Comford raises a question that will recur: How does to accept them because, having defined knowledge as perception, he is faced with the
Perceptions objects are always changing entail Perceptions objects cannot be known? question. What has to be true of perception and of the world for the definition to hold
There seems to me to be no good answer to'thatexcept to say that it doesn t entail it: if Plato good? The answer suggested is that he will have to adopt a Protagorean
(or Comford) thinks it does, then he is just Wrong. (It is certainly odd that Comford does not epistemology, and that that in turn will commit him to a Heracleitean account of the
stem to criticise this non sequitur. One wonders if he realises it is a non sequitur.) A world... [all of which] leads to multiple absurdities... the structure of the argument is
charitable reading of Plato really will minimise his dependence on this faulty inference. (As that of a reductio ad absurdum: Theaetetus > Protagoras -4 Heracleitus the
we shall see, the theory of Forms can perfectly well be stated without it.) impossibility of language.
So my own preferred version of the Unitarian reading of ISl-lST- will agree with One comment on Bumyeats view35 is this. We should distinguish between restricted
Comford that the point of 151-187 is to show that the doctrine^ of Heracleitus and and unrestricted versions of Protagoras and Heracleitus views. According to the
Protagoras are true in their own realm (and not beyond it). But it will reject Comfdrds unrestricted version, everything is in flux. According to the restricted view, only the objects
negativity about perception, and it will not deploy Comfords faulty inference from ofperception are in flux.
mutability to unknpwability. Revisionists and Unitarians can agree that the unrestricted version of Protagoras and
Now for the Revisionists whom I wish to criticise: Owen, Bumyeat, Bostock. I will Heracleitus views can be reduced to absurdity. It is only the restricted version they disagree
offer quotations from three of these authors in turn, together with some comments. I shall about: the Unitarian accepts the restricted version, the Revisioni.st rejects it. But crucially,
have more to say about each of them later on: Bumyeats last remark does not specify which version of Protagoras and Heracleitus views
Owen (in The place of the Timaeus in Platos dialogues], in Allen, pp.79-95) argues is the one subjected to a reductio in 151-187. Therefore, Burnyeats remarks as just quoted
that the point of Theaetetus 151-187 is not to concede anything to Protagoras and do not, on their own, tell against Unitarianism and in favour of Revisionism.
Heracleitus. Rather, it is to state and explode the thesis ^t genesis excludes ousid' (p.85): This point is important, for it shows thatpace BumyeatUnitarianism is
Plato wants to show tha^ the Heracleitean convention of speaking only of genesis, coming compatible with the idea that 151-187 presents a large-scale reductio. djZovnpdxe my
to be, and refusing to talk about ousia, being, produces^absurdities. This is not a thesis summary of 151-187 in section 10a, which already commits me to this ide'a.fUnitarianism
only about the realm of perception: it is a thesis about everything. What Plato plainly points can accommodate the idea that 151-187 is a reductio, and its corollary that there are tight
out is that if anything (and anything in this world, not'the next) were perpetually changing in logical relations between Dl, Protagorean relativism, and the theory of flux, provided
all respects, then nothing could be said of it at alland, inter alia, it could hot be said to be Unitarianism can show that what is reduced to absurdity in 151-187 is the unrestricted
changing. Thus (p.'86) thesis, not the restricted thesis. For then it becomes possible to read 151 -187 as arguing that
Plato ddes not say... that knowledge is not perception because-the^ objects of a flux thesis which is plausible if taken as a thesis about what can be an object ofperception
perception are always wholly in flux. He says that the attempt to equate knowledge (i.e., the sensory), is incoherent if taken as a thesis about what can be known (i.e.,
with perception kata ge ten tou panta kineisthdi r^ethodon, according to the doctrine everything). This argument reveals a difference between perception and knowledge. Given
that everything is changing, fails because that methodos is (not false for some this difference, it follows that perception cannot be knowledge. This gives us a version of
things, but) nonsense about anything. Unitarianism which agrees with the leading Revisionists that the overall structure of 151-187
is a reductio ad absurdum.
Owen emphasises that the stability which makes language possible is not a feature
which only the Forms possess. If there is to be any possibility of talk about the mundane My third Revisionist is David Bostock. He (pp. 146-7) accepts Ross and Comfords
things like chairs and tables that both Platonists and non-Platonists ordinarily talk about, view that the Theaetetus argues that no perception can be knowledge. But, he points out, it
then this stability has to belong to these mundane things as well as to the Forms. shows no tendency to infer from this that there cannot be knowledge about perceptible
things: on the contrary, it evidently presumes that there can be. (Bostock points to
Owen clearly thinks that this point tells against the Unitarian reading ofd51-187.1
dispute this. It is no part of the Unitarian reading, not at least in any plausible version, to
Bumyeat tells us that his formulation derives from lectures given by Bernard Williams.
52 First definition (D1) and consequent discussion: survey of 151-187
examples of tUs assumption at 146d-e. where cobbling is said to be an example of
knowledge, and at 170a, where warfare, medicine, and navigation are said to be forms of
'll. The statement of Theaetetus' first genuine definition 53
expertise and so of knowledge.) Bostock infers that the Theaetetus takes a more kber (Dl); 151d8-e4
atttade to being than the Timaeus, which, he thinks, had aligned ousia squarely with the
Forms and genesis squarely, with the world of perception. Whereas in the Theaetetus je
are told that knowledge is not perception but is to be found in our *
very things that we perceive (186c-d)". Bostock suggests that this shows that the Tumeus lla. Translation of 151d8-e4
ac^pted, whereas the Theaetetus rejects, the Heracleitean theory of flux, and that this i
tumLggests that the Theaetetus is later than the Timaeus. (Cp. Owen, as cited in section 15 Ids Theaetetus'. All right, Socrates. Anyone who received such encouragement from
would be ashamed not to try his very hardest to make the best reply he could
5ii.) manage.
I have two comments on these remarks of Bostocks. First, the Unitarian does not
have to say, because he believes that knowledge is of the Forms, that there cannot be So here goes. It seems to me that the person who knows something, perceives what
knowledge of perceptible things. Instead, he can simply say that knowledge of P=rP>> = he knows. Hence it appears, at least for the moment, that knowledge is nothing other
things isIdWays knowledge of thq Forms in perceptible thipgs. We may suggest that to than perception (aisthesis).
undfrstand the perceptible world is to grasp its immanent structure, and that its 151e4
given in Platos view, by the way the transcendent Forms are mamfested m it m then
perceptible'instances. This means that we can accept the Timmus aligppient lib. Commentary on Theaetetus' statement of Dl
Lowledge of the Forms and genesis with perception of the perceptible world, without
thinking that nothing in the world is, or can be known. The point is only that to know thing Notice the phrasing of Theaetetus statement of Dl: It seems to me, it appears, at
in the perceptual world, you have to go beyond what perception alone gives you. least for the moment . Theaetetus proposal is to be developed into the view that knowledge
Second, Bostock suggests that the Heracleitean theory of flux counts us to the is nothing more than a series of momentary, subjective seemings to individuals. And so his
smy view that perceptible things (.all perceptible things) are always changing in all proposal is introduced is nothing more than a momentary, subjective seeming to an
respLs. But the Ln doncern of the theory of flux, as I shall ^gue ^ individual. Plato is always alert to the connections (or supposed .connections) between
wittijust any sort of perceptible thing. It is rather with the twin offspring that the theo^ o perception, opinion, and appearance, and to questions about whether, for instance, he was
flux postulates. These ate punctual perceivings and punctual petceivets, which the t ry right to connect up these notions in the way that he did in the Republic, or whether
flux takes to be the basic reality uhderlying all 6ther perceptual things, and from wtach Protagoras and Heracleitus are right to make the sort of connections that they want to.
everything else is constructed. It is these, not perceptible things in general, that the flux Knowledge is nothing other than perception; Theaetetus first definition is
theory claims are always changing in all respects. evidently meant as an identity-statement. So afortiori it implies the biconditional; (1) if x is
The theory of flux is not, -therefore, to be taken as if it made a simple appeal to knowledge then x,is perception and (2) if x is perception^then x is knowledge.
experience as showing that typical perceptible things, medium-sized dry goods dways Burnyeat p.lO observes that Knowledge is perception has a decidedly empiricist
chLging in all respects. Of course, such things are always changmg, according to theo^ ring to it, and that The Theaetetus shows little recognition of the more generous
of flux, because their constituents are always changing. But there is no more need for the empiricism that results if the is in [Knowledge is perception] was changed to gets its
flux theory to say that this constant change is obvious to the naked eye than there is foi; content from or... is based on. Howeyer, it can be argued that the wholepoint of 187-201
modern atomic theory to say so. and 201-210 is to discuss, and dismiss, Vpo important varieties of more generous
Contrast the Platonist, who agrees with the Heracleitean. thaLthe basic realities empiricism. More about that in sections 27 ff.
involved in perception undergo flux, but denies that this means that mundane physical On the meaning of aisthesis, the word that I (like everyone else) translate by
objects have no reality. For the Platonist, mundane physical objects get then ^ah^ perception , sec Liddell & Scott ad loc., who define it as perception by the senses,
way in which they are constructed out of the offspring by being subsumed under the^ipes especially by feeling, but also by seeing, hearing, etc., ...also of the mind, perception
that are the Forms. We perceive a flux, and vie judge that it is a chair by understamhng knowledge of a thing.... See also Michael Frede, Perception in Platos Later Dialogues, in
Form of chair to be present in that flux. The empiricists attempt to replicate, m his own his Essays in Ancient Philosophy (Clarendon: Oxford 1987), who take^ issue with Liddell &
terms, this transition from perception to understanding will be the target of the last part o Scott and other authorities (e.g. Ast, Lexicon Platonicum). Frede claims that there are three
Platos argument, in 201c ff. senses otaisthSsis that peed to be distinguished:,
I have now looked at three different versions of Revisionism about 151-187, and (a) An ordinary and quite general sense, rather like English awareness and not
shown how none of them poses a serious threat to a UniMan reading of J^ MS^of the sort necessarily connected with sensory perception, in which X perceives O entails X comes
that I have sketched. With this, my overall survey of the discussion of D1 is complete. In to know O.
sections 11-261 shall examine the parts of the discussion one by one.
54 The statement of Theaetetus' first genuine definition (Dl): 151 d8-e4 Commentary on Theaetetus' statement of Dl 55

(b) A narrower sense found in Phaedo and Republic, in which aisthisis (like doxa, belief) McDowell characteristically.disputes this line of thought about Theaetetus 151-187
necessarily involves the body, and does not entail knowledge, but still need not be equated (pp. 117-8), regarding with suspicion the attribution to Plato of anything like the concept
with sense perception. of a sense-datum. But the question is not whether Plato believes in sense-data, but whether
(c) A still narrower sense, minted in the Theaetetus itself (at 184-187), in which aisthesis Plato thinks that Protagoras and Heracleitus believe in sense-data. There is strong evidence
comes to mean an entirely passive affection of the mind, and so to mean sense- that Plato does think this.
perception. Whether Plato himself thinks that there are sense-data may depend on whether
In his essay Frede does not specify any evidence for his sense (a) of aistMsis in the Reading A or Reading B of 151-187 is right. On Reading A, Plato is trying to salvage as
later Plato. But this is not because there is no evidence: see e.g. Aristotle, Politics 1267a29 much as possible of Protagoras and Heracleitus views; this may well mean that he believes
(cited by Cornford p.30), and Plato, Symposium 220c7. (In both texts aisthanomai means I in sense-data if they do. On Reading B, the.reading that says that Plato simply rejects
notice.) Protagoras and Heracleitus views en bloc, it is less likely.
Fredes senses (b) and (c) seem less distinct than Frede makes them. Aisthisis in the My own answer will be that Plato does think that there are sense-data, or something
Republic seems just as passive a business as in the Theaetetus. The fact thatpiato assimilates very like them; for that is what the offspring are. See section 16c below.
doxa and aisthisis in the Republic is not evidence against this^ Platos co-ordination of doxa
and aisthesis in the Republic is not necessarily a conflation of doxa and aesthesis. So it
doesnt show that aisthesis doesnt mean (passive) sense-perception in the Republic too.
McDowell pp.117-8 (cp. Bostock p.41) notes a distinction (similar to a distinction
between Fredes senses (a) and (b)/ (c)) between two senses of aisthSsis which can be drawn
within the^gument of the Theaetetus itself. This is the distinction between the objectual
and propositional understandings of epistemic states like knowledge and perception. This
distinction, as McDowell notes, is vital throughout the Theaetetus: We ordinarily speak
both of perceiving objects and of perceiving that something is the case... [the latter] Plato
would evidently refuse to call [perception], and call, rather, something like making
judgements on the basis of perception (cf. 179c3-4).
McDowell is right that the distinction between objectual and propositional
knowledge or perception is vital. However, cp. section 6c, where I have already noted that
the objectual/ propositional distinction for knowledge need not be seen as'a hard or utterly
exclusive distinction. The same applies to the objectual/ -propositional distinction for
perception.
A further distinction between possible senses of aisthesis is suggested by Fredes
characterisation of aisthesis in the Theaetetus as a passive affection of the mind. We might
ask whether it is essential to aisthesis so characterised that it should have any particular kind
of cause. The answer to this question suggested by a readirig-of Theaetetus 151^187 is,
apparently, no: at Theaetetus 157-160, for instance, illusions and dreams count as cases of
aisthesis iust as much as veridical perception of the external world does. This implies that
the primary objects of aisthisis are internal to the mind: they are immediate experiences,
sensei-data, what Hume called impressions, or something of that sort.
If this is right, then with Theaetetus remark that Anyone who knows something
perceives the thing that he knows, we may compare the Principle of Acquaintance found
in Russells Lectures on Logical Atomism. This is^the thesis, though Russell never puts it in
these very words, that all other knowledge depends on and is constructed out of incorrigible
direct acquaintance with experienced particulars. Russellian direct acquaintance seems itself
to be a kind of perception in the broad sense that includes awareness of sense data. On the
line of thought just developed, it seems strikingly similar to the kind of perception under
discussion in Theaetetus 151-187.

More about this comparison in later sections, and especially in those that discuss Theaetetus 201-210.
5612. First std:tement of Protagoras' views: 151e5-152c8 Translation of 151e5-152c8
152cl Socrates. If so, then, in the case of warmth, and of everything like it, appearance
(phantasia) and perception are one and the same. For it turns out that whatever the
57
cold person and the hot person perceives, is also what is for each of them.
Theaetetus. So it seems.
12a. Summary of the argument of 151e-152c Socrates. In this case perception is always of what is (tou ontos). And perception is
'I infallible (apseudes). So^ perception is knowledge.
As soon as Theaetetus proposes Dl, "Knowledge is perception, Socrates connects 152c8 Theaetetus. Apparently so.
D1 with Protagoras slogan "Man is the measure of all things (the homomensura doctrine,
Hm as I shall abbreviate'it). Socrates understands Protagoras slogan to imply jjhenomenal I2c. Commentary on 151e5-152c8
relativism or subjectivism (PS), the thesis that all (perceptual?) appearances are truefor the
persoi} to whom they appear. In this section 1 shall take in turn the three main issues of interpretation that arise in
151e-152c, under the following headings:
12b. Translation of 151e5-152c8 (i) Hms multiple ambiguities;
(ii) the logical relations between Dl and Hm, and the rest of Protagoras and Heracleitus
151e5 Socrates. Well said, my boy, and nobly too. This sort of open and revealing views;
statement is just what we need. But come now, let us all examine this proposal (iii) the "cold wind argument.
together, to see whether it is a true-born child, or merely an attack of wind.
12c(i). Hm's multiple ambiguities
You say that perception is knowledge?
Theaetetus. Yes. The Greek is lapidary: Panton chrematon metron anthroppn einai, ton men onton hos
15 le9 Socrates. Well, it looks like you have given us an account of knowledge that needs to esti, ton de me onton hos ouk estin. (For a similar formulation cp. Cratylus 386al.) This
be taken seriously {ou phaulon logon). This is the account of knowledge that sentence is multiply translatable, and multiply ambiguous:
Protagoras gave (though he put it differently). Protagoras, or so Ive heard, held that
man was the measure of all things: of those that are, that they are; of the things that (Hm) Pantdn chrematon metron anthropon einai...
Man [or: a man] is [a? the?] measure of all things [or matters]:
are not, that they are not. No doubt youve read about this? tdn men ontdn, hds esti,
Theaetetus. Yes, often. of the things which are [the case], that they are [the case] [or how they are [the
Socrates. Now isnt this roughly what he says: that Particular things are to me just
case]];
as they appear (phainetai) to me, and are to you just as they appear to you ? tdn de mi ontdn, hds ouk estin.
Theaetetus. Yes, he does say that. of the things which are not [the case], that they are not [or how they'are not [the
152bl Socrates. It is likely, no doubt, that a wise man is not merely babbling^. So let us get
case]].
on his trail. >
Doesnt this sometimes happen? When "the same wind blows, one of us gets cold These ambiguities suggest numerous ways of developing Protagoras slogan into a
and the other person does not; or both get cold, but I get extremely cold and you only philosophical doctrine. It seems impossible to tell for sure which way the historical
Protagoras took'. Taylor p.326 is quite definite that Plato has got Protagoras right: "It is
slightly.
assumed that all the parties to the conversation are quite familiar with the context of_the
Theaetetus. Yes, lots of times.
Socrates. In such a case, shall we say that the wind in itself is either cold or not cold? saying, and not one of them suggests that there can be any mistake about its meaning. But
Or shall we accept Protagoras analysis: that the wind is cold to the one who feels Taylors argument is inconblusive. The discussion depicted in the Theaetetus is fictional, so
cold, but not cold to the one who does not feel cold! it cannot be used to provide circumstantial evidence that alb his contemporaries accepted
Theaetetus. Apparently so. Platos interpretation of Hm.
Socrates. So the wind also appears (phainetai) these two ways to the two people? It seems that one ambiguity, between "Man as a name of the whole human species
Theaetetus. Yes. and'as a term for^any individual of that species, is*ruled out as soon as Socrates rephrases
Socrates. And the winds appearing to them is their perceiving it (aisthanesthai)! Hm as PS. (McDowell p.ll8: it is clear that the formula applies, at least as Plato
Theaetetus. Yes, it is. understands it,'to any member of the human race [not to their collective wisdom].)
I ^*

However, two points can be made in defence of the collective-wisdom or consensus


view of Hm. First there'is the testimony of Sextus Empiricus, Outlines ofPyrrhonism 2.63.
Lerein. Platos intended audience would recall that the wise man Democritus name was abusively Notice that this argumenl cant even be stated unless we already know that kho'wledge is of what is and
changed by his critics from Dimokritos, judge of the people, to Lerokritos. Judge of the babble. infallible. But how would anyone who started trom h genuine Sot^tic ignorance, know that?
58 First statement of Protagoras' views: 151 e5-l 52c8 Commentary on 151e5-152c8 59

According to Sextus, Protagoras says that men apprehend different things at different times linked. What links them is that both perception and knowledge are infallible. Somewhat
accordijig to variations in their conditions. And so man proyes, according to him, to be the similarly, Comford pp.32-33 gives a gloss on Dl which incorporates Comfords own
criterion of what exists: everything that appears to man alsa exists; what appears to no one xiistinction between the versions of Protagoras and Heracleitus views which are restricted
does not exist. Notice the shift here from what men (the particulars) perceive to what man to perception, and those versions which apply with complete generality. Comfords aim is,
(the,type) perceives. as before (cp.section 10b), to argue that Plato accepts the restricted versions and rejects the
Second, compare Sextus^ last clause (what appears to no one does not exist) with unrestricted versions of these theses.
Theaetetus 17Id, where Socrates argues that Hm is more false than it is true jiistin So^/oe5Dl entail all the things that Socrates apparently makes it entail in 151-184?
proportion as those to whom Hm does not seem true are more than those to whom it does And does Plato think it has all these entailments? As noted in section 10b, these are crucial
seem true. This argument seems irrelevant if Protagoras is taken to believe, oply PS questions for our choice between Revisionism and Unitarianism. Revisionists need relations
(Particular things are to any individual human just as they appear to that individual of strict entailment taking us from Dl to restricted Protagoreanism, from that to restricted
human), the ,view that Socrates most often attacks.. But the argvunent is .relevant if Heracleiteanism, and from that to the .final absurdity. If even one of the three strict
Protagoras also Held a consensus view of truth, according to which absolutely true = held entailments required is missing, then if the argument in 151-184 is successful, it cannot be
true by everyone and absolutely false = held true by no one. the complex reductio of Dl that Revisionism takes it to be, and a Unitarian reading of
Notice that this consensus view does not contradict PS. PS can be taken as a view Comfords sort may well be the one that makes better sense of 151-184. On this sort of
about truth, the consensus view as a view dbout absolute truth. So it is an interesting reading, Dl will be no more than a loosely-fitting dramatic device, a cue, for what interests
possibility that Protagoras held both views. (See further Versenyi, Protagoras man- Plato mostthe discussion of Protagoras and Heracleitus views.
measure fragment, American Journal of Philology 1962, who argues for the collective- My own proposal is that the answer to the question whether Dl entails Protagoras
wisdom reading.) t and Heracleitus views depends on how we understand Dl. In particular, it depends on the
Of the other ambiguities in Hm, that between that and how as translations of hds meaning of the word aisthesis, perception, in Dl.
seems likeliest to make a difference. Is the claim that things themselves are as the individual If the slogan Knowledge is. perception equates knowledge with what ordinary
human judges them ihos = that)? Or is it just that the qualities of things are subjective in speakers of classical Greek would have meant by aisthisis, then Dl does not entail
this way Qids = how)? But in fact, it later becomes clear that Platos interpretation of Protagoras and Heracleitus views. In the ordinary sense of aisthesis, there are (as pointed
Protagoras and Heracleitus leaves no room for this question, because it eliminates the thing/ out above) just too many other possible ways of spelling out Dl for the move from Dl to
quality distinction. The whole point of a metaphysics of flux is to abolish that difference. Hm to be logically obligatory.
But ifas I propose-the slogan Knowledge is perception equates knowledge with
12c(ii). The logical relations between D1 and Hm what Protagoras and Heracleitus meant by aisthesis, Dl does entail Protagoras and
D1 is no sooner introduced than Socratesprofessing to help Theaetetus tease out Heracleims views. Of course it do'es; for in that case, Dl simply says th^ knowledge is just
his thoughts about the meaning of D1substitutes for,it the homomensura thesis (Hm). Dl, what Protagoras and Heracleitus say knowledge is.
Socrates says, is the same thesis (logos) as Protagoras, though he put it differently, i.e. as This proposal ought to be acceptable both to Revisionism and to Unitarianism. The
Hm. (Compare 152a2, where Socrates tells us that Protagoras used to say these same things Revisionist wants perception in Dl to imply the Heracleitean and Protagorean account of
(ta auta tauta),on\y in a rather different way.) what perception is, because he wants 151-184 to reduce that account to absurdity without
This deft exchange struck the Anonymous,Commentator as disingenuous: Plato committing the fallacy of equivocation. And the Unitarian wants perception in Dl to
himself knew that Protagoras opinion about knowledge was not the same,as Theaetetus imply the Heracleitean and l^otagorean account of what perception is, because he wants
(Anon, ad loc.). Is Socrates midwife to a changeling? 151-184 to provide a proof tha^ Heracleitus and Protagoras are right about the nature of
Certainly it is easy to see counter-examples to the alleged entailment. There appear to perception, but wrong about the nature of knowledge. Neither side, then, has an incentive to
be plenty of imaginable ways in which knowledge and perception might be equated,(as Dl take perception in Dl in its ordinary sense. (Cp. section 10b.)
suggests) that do not imply Hm. Take, for instance, the thesis that knowledge is awareness 12c(iii). The "cold wind" argument
(which as I pointed out in 1 lb, is often the right way to translate aisthesis). Or take the thesis
that to Icnow is to perceive things as God, or the Ideal Observer, perceives them, and that we Cornford pp.33-4 suggests that the point of the argument is that both the wind in
fail to know (or to perceive) just insofar as our opinions are other thai\ Gods or the Ideal itself is cold and The wind is cold are true: Warm and cold are two properties which
Observers. These theses are both versions of Dl. Neither entails Hm, the claim that man is can co-exist in the same physical object. I perceive the one, you perceive the' other. The
the measure of all things; nor the Protagoreanism that lies behind that slogan. trouble with this suggestion is that much of the detail of the Protagorean/ Heracleitean
The commentators are divided on the relation between Dl and Hm. Nicholas White, position in 151-184 seerns to be generated by Protagoras desire to avoid contradiction. If
PKR p. 160, holds that Dl and Hm are logically independent, and Plato knows it: that is why Cornford thinks that Protagoras is not concerned to avoid contradicting himself, then he has
Plato still feels a need to produce a free-stan4ing ^gument against Dl at 184-187. Kenneth a huge task of reinterpretation ahead of him.
Sayre, PAM pp.61-2, suggests that Dl and Hm are logically independent, but topically
First statement of Protagoras' views: 151 e5-152c8 Commentary on 151 e5-152c8 61
60

Rather, perhaps, the point of the argument is this: Neither The wind in itself is cold itself, as distinct from questions about what it is like for one person or another. (For a
nor The wind in itself is warm is true. If.we had grounds for saying that either was true, similar reading to Taylors cp. Bumyeat, Protagoras and Self-Refutation in Platos
we would have equally good grounds for saying that both are true. That is impossible, for Theaetetus", Philosophical Review 1976, discussed further in section 21c.)
The wind in itself is cold and the wind in itself is warm is a contradiction. The
contradiction obliges us to give up all talk about the wind in itself, and switch to
relativised talk about the wind as it seems to me or to you, etc.
Apparently* the Plato of the Republic would support this suggestion. Perhaps he
would saythat the wind, .in itself and in its own right, is neither cold nor not-coli*but
tumbled around in'between being [cold] and not-being [cold] {Republic 479d4). As
Bostock pp.43-44 puts it, Protagoras point is that in itself the wind is neither hot nor
coldit makes no sense to attribute either property.to the wind in itselfand all we can say
is that it is indeed cold to you, and not cold to me.
Sayre, PAM pp.65-66, points out that if Comfords interpretation means that one and
the same physical object can have both a low temperature and a high temperature, then this
is necessarily false. But so, says Sayre, is the claim that any physical object can have neither
a low nor a high temperature. The apparent consequence is that Protagoras cannot accept
any of the four alternatives and in the interests of consistency must reject the very distinction
between [the object] in itself and [its properties] upon which the alternatives are based.
I agree with Sayre that Cornford is wrong, and that the bpshot of the argument is that
we cant talk about the wind in itself at all. However, there is a distinction about necessity
which prevents us from using his route to that conclusion. It is a matter of logical necessity
that X, a physical object, cannot be both hot and cold. But it is only a matter of natural
necessity that x^cannot be neither hot nor cold. There is no logical contradiction in the idea
of a world that has solid objects, but no dimension of temperature. Temperature is molecular
excitation. So there can be a world containing solid objects that have no femperature,
provided there can b,e a world containing soli^ obj^ts that are not composed of molecules.
The modem science of continuum mechanics is about just such a world,
ITius Sayre is mistaken if he sees something logically improper in claiming, as some
proponents of the.fifst alternative do, that physical objects in themselves are neither hot nor
cold. Normore to the pointis there any reason,why Plato .himself should have thought
this claim logically improper. However, Sayre is quite right to seel51e-152c^as working
towards the stronger view that there are no physical objects, only properties.^ That view is
argued for explicitly in the next section of the Theaetetus.
A different interpretation of the cold wind argument is offered by Taylor {Plato,
the Man and his Work, p.326). Taylor suggests that the point of the cdd wind argument is
that Reality itself is individual in the sense that I live in a private world known only to me,
you in another private world known only to you:
Thus if I say the wind is unpleasantly hot and you that it is disagreeably chilly, we
both speak the truth, for each of us is speaking of a !^eal wind, but of a real wind
which belongs to that private world to which he, and only he, has access...
[Protagoras] denies the reality of the common environment.
There sfeems to be a bit of a gap between talking about our perceptions in a
relativistic way, and admitting the existence of a plurality of private worlds. Taylor also
seems mistaken to use the phrase real rather than real for me. As McDowell* p. 119
observes, the latter seems the more genuinely Protagorean way of talking: It seems obvious
that [Platos] Protagoras refuses to makes sense of questions about what the wind is like in
6213. First statement of Heracleitus' views: 152c8-152el Commentary 152d1-152e1
associate of Protagoras {tou hetairou sou Protagorou, 160b7; cp. 162a4) but not of the
Heracleiteans {ou gar soi hetairoi eisin, 180b7). However, Platos Theodorus is no great
63
philosopher, and he makes no objection to Socrates^ equation.
Like the earlier equation of Dl and PS, this equation of PS and the theory of flux is
13a. Summary of the argument of 152c8-152el made with a playful and less than serious air: The suggestion that Protagoras taught [the
Heracleitean doctrine of flux] as a secret^doctrine... would deceive no one (Comford
It has just been argued that the thesis that knowledge is perception (Dl) entails the p.36). As Comford points out, Protagoras had-no school; anyone could attend his lectures
thesis that man is the measure of all things (Hm), which in turn entails the thesis that things and read his books... There is no more ground here for inferring that Protagoras was a
are to any human just as they appear to that human (PS). Socrates now adds that, in its turn, Heracleitean than for inferring that Homer was one.
PS entails Heracleitus view that All is flux, that there are no stably existing objects with Historically, this may be correct. Logically, npthfng follows about the nature of the
stably enduring qualities. The reason given for this is that everything to which any predicate connection between PS and the flux doctrine. So what is the connection?
can be applied according to one perception can also have the negation of that predicate
Burnyeat p. 12 predicts that Unitarians will find only a loose connection between PS
applied to it according to an opposite perception. and the flux doctrine: they will think that the connection made here is nothing more than a
humorous device. But Revisionists will see a much tighter connection: Plato could quite
13b. Translation of 152c8-152el seriously be maintaining that all this Protagorean talk about things being what they are/or
someone is... a riddle.... which can be clarified if it is tf^slated into the Heracleitean idiom
152c8 Socrates. Gracious me, though! Was Protagoras really a two-faced philosopher?^^ of becoming. For Revisionists, then, the linking df PS to the doctrine of flux is a
Did he offer this Delphic Knowledge is perception to groundlings like us, while commitment on Theaetetus part to clarify and develop the Protagorean epistemology.
teaching some secret Truth^ to his disciples? Against this, I have already argued (sections 1 Ob, 12c) that Unitarians too can see the
152dl Theaetetus. How ever do you mean, Socrates? transition from Protagoras to the flux doctrine as intended to clarify and develop the
Socrates. Ill tell you what I mean. Its no slight argument Im talking about. It is the Protagorean epistemology. Unitarians can agree with Revisionists that the theory of flux is
theory that nothing is one in and of itself {auto hath' hauto), and that all predication introduced, not merely because it is the next thing that Plato happens to want to talk about,
of any [predicate] to anything is strictly inaccurate. For if you describe something as but because Plato thinks (and thinks rightly) that Heracleitus theory of flux is logically
big, it will also appear small-, and if you describe it as heavy, it will also appear light; implicit in Protagoras phenomenal subjectivism.
and likewise with everything. For nothing is ever one, either subject (tinos) or Thus Unitarians need not deny that there is a reductio in 151-184. The real dispute
predicate (hopoionoun). Everything that we say is, in reality comes to be (gignetai) between Unitarians and Revisionists is about what these positions are that are reduced to
from motion (phora) and process {kinesis) and blending-together {krasispros allila). absurdity. Unitarianism says that what is declared absurd is the idea that everything could be
Our way of speaking is inaccurate, because there never is any thing: it is always in flux. Revisionism says that what is declared absurd is the idea that perception could be in
coming-to-be.'*' flux. It follows that Unitarians can agree that perception is in flux, so long as they deny that
152el everything is in flux. And it follows from that that Unitarians, unlike Revisionists, can say
that Plato himself accepts a Heracleitean account of what perception is. Cp. section 12c(ii).
13c. Commentary 152dl-152el In any case the connection between PS (phenomenal subjectivism) and the doctrine
of fluxjcertainly appears to be a tight one. See 152dl-e3, which tells us that what we
As easily as Socrates equated Dl with PS, he now equates PS with Heracleitus view perceive is constant and universal alteration and variation. Phenomenal subjectivism entails
that All things are in flux {panta rhei: cp. Cratylus 402a). One person who might be in a that all perceptions are incorrigible. So phenomenal subjectivism and 152dl-e3, taken
position to dispute this equation is (the historical) Theodorus, who apparently was an together, are premisses which entail the conclusion that there is constant and universal
alteration and variationwhich is just what Heracleitus meant by his slogan panta rhei.
Some other authors see looser connections than I do between PS and the flux
Passophos is untranslatable. Literally, the word means simply an all-wise person. But Plato is punning
doctrine. One of these is Comford, whom we have just discussed. Another is McDowell
on the Greek term of abuse panourgos, which means a do-anything person, i.e. either (a) a stick-at-naught, a
person with no scruples, or (b) ajack-of-all-trades (a know-all). I use two-faced in my translation because (p.l22), who seems to doubt that there is any logical connection at all, in either direction,
Plato is suggesting that Protagoras was a charlatan because he contrived to seem wise to everyone by offering between PS and the flux doctrine. This is perhaps because he eccentrically inteiprets the flux
everyone a different doctrine. (In other words, that as Protagoras seemed to anyone, so he was to that person.) doctrine as a view which centres on the rejection of be in favour of come to be rather
Truth was the name of Protagoras principal book. than on the relational nature of perceptual qualities (pp.124-5).
It is hard to avoid the traditional translation of gignesthai as coming to be . This is a pity; in Plato and
the pre-Socratics, the point of the contrast between einai (to be) and gignesthai (to come to be) is often In other words, McDowell denies that the flux doctrine has anything much to do
that ta gignomena (things that come to be) never reach a state that makes them describable as ta onta with, e.g., the winds being cold for you and not-cold for me. Instead, he suggests that the
(things that are).
64 First statement of Heracleitus' views: 152c8-l 52e1 65

point of the doctrine of flux is shown by Platos introduction of the ubiquity of opposites at 14. Eight bad arguments for the doctrine of flux: 152el-
152d3-4. The point of the flux doctrine, he thinks, is that we get a contradiction if we use the
verb to be in describing these oppos'ites. McDowell suggests that.Platos Heracleitus is 153d5
proposing to avoid this contradictiop by using the verb to come to be instead.
McDowells suggestion does not work, because x is coming to be big-and x is
coming to be small is no less a contradiction than x is big ^d x is small. It seems much 14a. Summary of the argument of 152el-153d5
more promising to*aVoid the contradiction simply by insetting relativising qualifiers: x is
(or is coming to be) \Agforyou and small/or me". But if the point of thevdoctrine of the An apparently ironic passage follows, in which Socrates presents eight arguments for
ubiquity of opposites is to get us to agree to the insertion of these qualifiers, then the Heracleitus flux thesis which seem to be intended as bad arguments:
connection between, the doctrine of the ubiquity of opposites and toe flux theory is obvious, A. Argument from the authority of philosophers.
and much closer than MpDpwell thinks. B. First argument from toe authority of poets.
McDow,ell al^o thinks, incidentally, that the Theaetetus doctrine of the ubiquity of C. First argument from fire and heat.
oppos,ites is Heracleitus, but no.t Platos. This suggestion.is in line, with McDowells D. Second argument from fire and heat.
Revisionism. But the idea of toe ubiquity of opposites is familiar/rom toe famous ^guments E. Argument from exercise.
of Phaedp 70e ff. and Republic 478-480. In these argumer\ts it seenis beyond dispute that F. Argument from study.
Plato accepts toe ubiquity of 9pposites, since he uses that cloctrine as a premiss in arguing G. Argument from sailing.
for the 11^0017 o^.Forms. Revisionists^n^d to say something to show th^t by the time of H. Second argument from the authority of poets.
Theaetetus Plato has dropped his adherencq^to the ubiquity of opposites. But it isnt clear
what they can say to show this. 14b. Translation of 152el-153d5
152el Socrates. On this subject, the doctrines of all toe Wise, except Parmenides, may be
taken together in a single line [A]: Protagoras, Heracleitus, Empedocles, and [B] the
most important poets in both sorts^of poetry: Epicharmus^^ comedy and Homer in
tragedy. Homer speaks of Oceanus the genesis of the gods, and Tethys their
mother [Iliad 14.201]; and by this Homer means that all things are offspring of flow
and process. Or do you think he means something else?
Theaetetus. No, I dont.
152e9 Socrates. Who could hold out still against such a host of witnesses, with Homer as
their general, and not look a perfect fool?
Theaetetus. It would be hard, Socrates.
Socrates. Indeed it would, Theaetetus. For there is also [C] this evidence for the
argument, which is more than enough: It is process (kinesis) which makes for so-
called existence, and for coming-to-be; while changelessness (hisuchia) brings about
non-existence and ceasing-to-be. For heat and fire, which generate and conserve
everything else, are themselves produced by motion (phora) and friction (tripsis)',
and motion and friction are two instances of process. Or is something else the origin
of fire?
153bl Theaetetus. No, it is motion and friction.
Socrates. What is more [D], the whole class of animals originates from these same
sources.
Theaetetus. Of course it does.
Socrates. And what about this [E]: Isnt the bodys constitution normally preserved
by exercise and process, but destroyed by rest and idleness?
Theaetetus. Yes.

I *2 Comford (p.37) cites Epicharmus Fr.2 in Diels: All things are in change throughout all time.
Eight bad arguments for the doctrine of flux: 152e1 -153d5 67
66

Socrates. Now consider [F] the soul^constitution. IsnUt maintained, preserved ^d 15. Three shocking implications of Flux: 153d6-155c7
improved by learning and study, which are instances of process? But if it is allowed
j-estwhich is the absence of study and learningthen it learns nothing, and forgets
whatever it has already learnt.
153c2 TTieaetetws. Yes, very quickly. 15a. Summary of the argument of 153d6-155c7
Socrates. So process is the |Ood, ^oth for the soul and for the body; and rest is the
opposite of the good. Turning back to serious exposition, Socrates spells out some more of what it means
Theaetetus. Apparently so. to accept the combination of the doctrine of Flux and phenomenal subjectivism. He notes
Socrates. Shall I speak further [G] of still, stuffy days, of the doldrums.at sea, and so
three particularly shocking theses which that combination implies:
on and so forth? Shall I point out that all forms of stillness corrupt and destroy,
whereas salvation lies in activity? Am I obliged to add, as a keystone to fhis fortress (1) Qualities have no independent existence in time and space (153d6-el).
of compelling argument, the remark [H] that Homers phrase the golden chain (2) Qualities do not exist ejjcept in.perceptions of them (153e3-154a8).
[Iliad 8.18] describes the sun itself, and makes it quite clear that sdlong as the sun (3) (The dice paradox:) Changes in a things qualities are not so much changes in that thing
and the circle of the universe continue to move around the earth, all things human as in perceptions.of that thing (154a9-155c6).
and divine go on existing and will be preserved; whereas if the motion stops<as if the These shocking implications, Socrates says, give the phenomenal subjectivist his
chain had been fastened up), all things will perish and,'as th^ saying is, go topsy reason to reject the entire object/ quality metaphysics, and to replace it with a metaphysics of
turvy? . flux much of the content of which has already appeared.
153d5 Theaetetus. No need to add all this, Socrates, since I at least agree that this is
Homers meaning. 15b. Translation of 153d6-155c7
r
14c. Commentary on 152el-153d5 153d6 Socrates. So then, my excellent friend, make the following suppositions. First,
regarding the eyes. What you normally call the colour white has no existence in its
McDowell p.l30: I suspect that... the whole of 152e2-153d5_is not intended very own right apart from your eyes; nor is white" in your eyes themselves. In fact, you
seriously; the basic case for the secret doctrine having already been made at/J52d2-el. should not say that colour is in any particular place at alF^. If it was in a place,
More than that, the passage is an exercise in parody. As such, it provides no support presumably it would already be somewhere you could point to (en taxei). It would be
at all for the doctrine of Hux. On the contrary, its real tendency is not to corroborate Flux, stationary, and wouldnt be coming to be becoming (ouk an en genesei gignoito).
but to make Flux look guilty by association. A-H are outrageously bad-urguments, and Plato 153e2 Theaetetus. What on earth do you mean?
Socrates. Let us follow the argument that we have just slated jvhere it goes. We are
knows it. assuming that nothing is one in and of itself (152d2). So it.will appear to us that
Arguments A, B, H are mere argumenta ex'ductoritate, and (in Platos eyes) deeply black and white, and whatever other colour, has come to be by the impact of the eyes
suspect authorities at that. on the appropriate motion. So what in each case we call the colour will not be what
C and D depend on a primitive physics of fire (Hippa^qs ? Heracleitus?) that Plato makes the impact (the eye), nor what receives the impact (the motion)'^. It will be
certainly rejects, deployed in whaf Plato seesas the Ip^ically cavalier fashion of the something that comes to be in between the eye and the motion, peculiar to each
Presocratics. individuaF^. Or would you hold out for this position: that each colour appears just
F, G, and H are simple non sequiturs. the same to you as it does4o.a dog, or whatever other animal?
154a5 Theaetetus. No, by Zeus, I wouldnt.
Socrates caustic verdict on pre-Socratic philosophy (Sophist 242c8) looks relevant
here: Each of these philosophers seems to me to treat us like children by telling us a fairy
Why is this a shock to Plato? His own theory of Form^ also implies that the colour white^White Itself,
story (mythos)". to auto to leukonhas no location. However, as becomes clear, what the Flux doctrine means by this claim is
Bumyeat p.l3 hints at the same sort of reading: "Do a count of the jokes in this very different. It is that colours, being no more than colour experiences, are logically private objects. This
section. With a master dramatist like Plato, the tone of a passage can be an important guide certainly is a shocking view.
McDowell p.l31 remarks that in the more developed version of the theory given at 156a.ff., the eyes
to how we should respond. receive the impact, not give it. In fact, in that version, the eyes both give and receive impacts, since both the
Cornford pp.36-38 doesnt seem to get the joke. He tells us that these arguments eyes and the things they see emit particles (the offspring, 156a9) which are in motion. More on this in
contribute to a "dialectical combination of Protagoras doctrine with Heracleitus, but gives section 16.
us no clues as to what a dialectical combination might be. Hekastdi idion: the phrase should not be translated peculiar to each individual person ", since it will
soon become clear that the Flux theorist does not believe that there are any persons.
Notice that here, pace McDowell, it sounds very much as if Protagoreans and Heracleiteans are committed
to a doctrine of private objects like sense-data.
68 Three shocking implications of Flux: 153d6-155c7 Translation of 153d6-155c7 69

Socrates. Well then, does anything even appear the same way to you and to another 154e8 Socrates. And me, too. This being so, and^ince we are in no hurry at all, the only
human? Are you convinced that it does? Arent you much more convinced that the thing to do is for us to take another gentle lookpatiently, and making a true
same appearance does not appear to you yourself [over time], since you are never in examination of ourselvesat what.exactly these appearances within us can be.
the same state as yourself [over time]? 155a2 Tthink we should start our examination by saying that nothing can ever become
Theaetetus. Yes, I am more convinced that I change than that I see anything the samp either greater or less, either in size or in number, so long as it remains equal to itself.
way as anyone else. Do you agree?
154a9 Socrates. Suppose, then, that the very thing which we touch, or against which we Theaetetus. Yes.
measure ourselves, is itself big or white or hot. In that case, that thing will never Socrates. Second, we should say that anything to which nothing is added, and from
become different simply by encountering something else, and without any change in which nothing is taken away, neither increases nor diminishes, but is always the
itself. Again, suppose that the very thing that does the touching or measuring is itself same.
any of the^e: big or white or hot. In that case, it will never become different simply Theaetetus. Yes, most definitely.
because something else comes close to it, or because something else is affected in 155bl Socrates. Third, we should say that what does not exist before cannot exist later,
some way, although it is not. unless there is or has been a coming-to-be.
154b5 But somehow, my friend, we are now' easily forced into making outrageous and Theaetetus. Yes, that seems right.
absurd statements. Or so Protagoras would say, as would anyone who tried to state Socrates. Well, I believe these three agreed theses come into conflict in our thinking,
his position for him. when we talk about the situation with the dice. They also come into conflict when we
Theaetetus. How so? What outrageous statements? say that in a single year, with me at an age when I am liable neither to grow taller nor
154c 1 Socrates. Take this little example, and you will see my whole meaning. Suppose you to get shorter, I am first taller than a young manlike you, but later on, shorter. This
have six dice. Suppose you compare them with four. We shall say that the six are doesnt happen because anything has been taken away from my height. It is because
more than the four, and half as many agaih. But now suppose you compare them you have got taller. Yet the result is that I am later what I was not earlier, even
with twelve. We shall say that the six are fewer than the twelve, and halfas many. It though I have not undergone any process of coming-to-be. For I cannot have
would be intolerable to say anything else. Would you tolerate it? undergone a process of coming-to-be, if there never was any such process. And since
Theaetetus. Of course I wouldnt. I have not lost any part of my size, there never was a process of my getting smaller!
Socrates. Well then, suppose Protagoras or anyone else asked you this: Theaetetus, If we accept that these are real problems, then there are ten thousand times ten
is it possible for anything to become bigger, or more, in any other way than by thousand others a\^ting us.
growing?. How would you answer? i55c7 I assume you ^e-fmlowing, Theaetetus? You do not look like a novice to me where
154c8 Theaetetus. Well, Socrates, if I said what I think about that very question,'! would such prob^ms are concerned.
say No. But if I answered with an eye on the other questions youve been asking
me, I would have to say Yes to avoid contradicting myself.
Socrates. By Hera, my friend, thats a good answer; an inspired one, in fact. It seems, 15c. Alternative interpretations of 153d6-155c7
then, that if you answer Yes something Euripidean'*^ will happen to us: the tongue
will be unrefuted, the mind will not. On my interpretation (for which cp. the similar account given by Sayre PAM 69-73),
Theaetetus. True.
this passage is simply meant to draw out three implications of the Protagorean-Heracleitean
154d7 Socrates. But if you and I were smart and wise, people who had already found out all position which might be found shocking by anyone who accepted an object/ property
there is to know about the mind'*'^, then we would spend the rest of our leisure time metaphysics such as the metaphysics of Platonism, or the metaphysics of common sense.
setting traps for each other. We would come together like sophists for a full-scale Other interpreters have seen the passage differently. Cornford pp.39-45 takes 153d-
battle, crashing our arguments against feach other. But sirifce we are only ordinary 154a as intended to give a precise meaning to the words... to me in the Protagorean
citizens, the first thing we will want is to contemplate our thoughts as they are in formula What appears to me, is to me (p.39). He is t|ien puzzled about the place in the
themselves {auta pros hauta), to see what it really is that we think, and whether our argument of the dice paradox (154b-155c).,He regards this as an unconvincing irrelevance
ideas are at all consonant with each otheivor not. (p.41) rather than, as I would take it, a third implication of the doctrine of Flux. The fact that
Theaetetus. That is altogether what I would choose. Cornfords interpretation generates this problem counts against it.
Similarly, McDowell pp.130-1 takes 153d-154a as a preliminary account of
perception, which however he finds he cannot squarp with the fuller account of 155d ff.
The fact that McDowells interpretation generates this problem counts against it.
^ Something Euripidean: see Euripides, Hippolytus 612, My tongue did make the oath; but not my McDowell then takes 154b-155c to state some puzzles facing those who insist,
mind; a line which scandalously implies that oaths can licitly be repudiated if undertaken with a duplicitous contrary to what McDowell thinks to be Heracleitus secret doctrine, on using to be as
mental reservation. well where they ought to use only to come to be (p.l35). His idea is that Plato suggests
Phrendn: Plato repeats the poetical word for mind found at Hippolytus 612.
Alternative Interpretations of 153d6-l 55c7 71
70 Three shocking implications of Flux: 153d6-155c7

that a combined use of the two verbs would have to be governed by a certain set of logical Certainly, given infallibilism and LNC as premisses, Fine can validly infer that the
principles, and then [afgues] that there are situations to which these principles cannot be world must be so that there are no cases where (one and the same) O simultaneously appears
consistently applied. But it is very oddof McDowell to read 154b-155c as recommending a to me to be F and to you to be not-F. However, this conclusion seems to face obvious
switch of verbs from to be to to come to be, when all the passage explicitly talks about counter-examples: Platos own example of the wind is one. If any of these counter-examples
is a puzzle about the relativity of predicates like more.**. are established, then Fines valid argument has a false.conclusion; therefore, one of its
premisses is false. Since LNC apparently cant be false, the false premiss must be
McDowells reading of the passage also implies that Plato supposes that the dice
infallibilism.
paradox really states a contradiction. Surely we need not saddle Plato with making that
obvious mistice. We can'say rather that Plato thinks that the dice paradox states only an It might seem that Fine can avoid this problem by insisting that there are no counter
apparent contradiction. He takes seriously two very different answers to this apparent examples, since according to the flux theory of perception, there are really no
contradiction. One is the Heracleitean answer which Socrates expounds to Theaetetus at intersubjectively available objects; there are really only perceptions and perceivers. But
155d8 ff. This says ,that the answer, to the puzzle is that the dice in the different this will not work given that Fines, own example of an object is intersubjectively
circumstances are neither more nor less simpliciter. Rather, the dice are more for this ayailable, viz. the dice mentioned in t^p dice paradox. For then Fine has to maintain that,
observer, and less/or that observer. The other answer which Plato takes seriously is his own according to the flux theory of perception, objects of this sort are never the objects of
answer. This is not spelled out here. But it will probably be, roughly, that what properties the contradictory perceptions. But this is not only implausible. It also flies in the face of the fact
dice really have depends not on who observes them, but on their relation to the Forms. that the flux theory of perception is actually set up in the Theaetetus by the claim that
objects of this sort are the objects of contradictory perceptions, and are pervasively so. I
In the Theaetetus the Heracleitean answer is developed until it leads, along with the conclude that Fines infallibilism is not a tenable interpretation either of the flux theory, or
rest of Heracleiteanism, to an abs^r,d^ty. This leaves the way open for Platos own answer. of the dice paradox.
As I say, the Theaetetus does nothing to-spell this out. Phaedo 102b ff. shows ^t there
were times when Plato himself was unsure about it. It is impossible to tell whether, at the Ross p. 102 makes a different, Aristotelian, suggestion about the connections between
time when he wrote the Theaetetus, Plato would have made the point about the dee that the three Shocking Implications and the view of perception and the self that is developed
really matters, that more and less are not predicates that apply to single sets of dice at all, but next, in 155-157. Ross thinks that Plato does not offer any direction solution of the difficulty
only to pairs of sets of dice which are being compared with each other. (At any rate the raised by the three Shocking Implications, but ^hints that a doctrine which he proceeds to
Sophist (254b8) shows that, not long after the Theaetetus, Plato'bad grasped the general expound may throw light on it. This is the doctrine... that in perception neither the perceived
point that not every genos (class of things) can have a share in every other genos. The object nor the perceiving organ exists except in potentiality,'until they meet. Ross suggests
point that no single set of dice on its own is either more or less is only an application of this that Plato is hinting that similarly tallness and smallness imply two things coming into
comparison with one another; in other words that they are out and out relative, not inherent
general point.)
in either of the things compared, as in the Phaedo [102a ff.] th6y were supposed to be.
A different view of 153d-154a is presented by Gail Fine (in Gill fe McCabe, pp.l27-
128). She suggests that the Protagorean point made by the dice paradox is meant to be that Rosss phfase in perception neither the perceived object nor the perceiving organ
if an object appears different, then it becomes different and so it changes. Protagoras exists except inpotentiality is altogether too de-Anima in tone to fit the context neatly. The
does not believe that an object can appear different without changing.. .he believes that if an Theaetetus' exposition of Heracleitus views contains no hint of a distinction between
object appears different, it is different in a sehse that involves real change. Fine draws the existence in potentiality and existence in actuality. Nor could it, since part of the point of
following moral: If this is Protagoras solution to the [dice paradox], then he is not a Heracleitus views is, in Aristotelian terms, precisely to deny that there is anything except
perceptual relativist, since he believes that whenever objects appear different, they genuinely what exists actuality.
change... Protagoras, that is, believes that objects arereally arehowever they appear to Crombie EPDII p.6 has a different idea: Get a man to admit that Joness shortness
be. I shall call this position infallibilism. does not belong absolutely to Jones, but exists only as a relation between Jones and the
But take the case where O simultaneously appears to me to be F and to you to be not- average man, and you wiU have him in a more amenable state for persuasion that the stones
F. Here infallibilism either collapses into perceptual -relativism, or else embraces the whiteness belongs not absolutely to the stone, but is begotten of the intercourse of the stone
contradiction that O isreally is^both F and not-F. with the percipients sense-organs. This, I believe, is right as far as it goes; but it does not
go far enough. The real point of 153-155 is not that Joness shortness does not belong
Fine pp. 131-2 responds that whether infallibilism violates the law of non absolutely to Jones, but Aat there is an incoherence in the very idea of properties belonging
contradiction (LNC) depends on what the world is like. [It does violate it] if the world is
to things at all.
populated by stable, intersubjectively available-objects... But if the world is constantly
changing to accommodate our differferit appearances, then it is not so clear.

160b7-9 gives particularly clear evidence that the relativity of predicates to persons, and not the switch of
verbs, is the main issue for the theory of flux: Anyone who names something as existing, ought to speak of it
as existingjfor someone, or existing as someones, or existing relative to someone; and likewise if he namesjt
as becoming.
7216. The flux theory of perception: 155c8-157cl Translation of 155c8-157cl
156a2 Socrates. So they are, my boy; they-have no sophistication. The other side, whose
secret doctrines I am about to speak to you, are far more inventive.
73
Their first principle (jjrchi) is also the principle on which depends everything that we
have just been saying. It is this: that everything is process (kinesis), and that there is
16a. Summary of the argument of 155c8-157cl nothing except process. They.hold,that there are two species (eide) of process, each
of them having infinitely many instances: one sort of process has an active power,
Continuing his detailed exposition of the implications of the theory of flux, Socrates the other has a passive power.
next presents a flux theory of perception, i.e. an account of perception that bases it in a Likewise, when an active process mingles and rubs together with.a passive process,
Protagorean/ Heracleitean ontology rather than in an object/ property ontology. Socrates the offspring that result are infinite in number, but of only two kinds: each is either a
notes the subversive implications of the theory of flux for the meaningfulness and truth- percept or a perceiving (to men aistheton, to de aisthesis). Percepts and perceivings
aptness of most of our language as it stands. (He returns to this point at 183a-b.) always come to be together, and cannot come to be separately (cp. 160b4).
156b2 To such perceivings we give names like these: seeings, hearings, smellings, chillings
The ontology of the flux theory distinguishes kinds of process (kinesis), i.e. of flux, and burnings, pleasures and pains,- desires and fears, and so on. Even those that have
in two ways: as fast or slow, and as active or passive. Hence there are four such processes. names are very numerous; those that do not'have namea are infinitely many.
On these the flux theorys account of perception rest's. The class, of percepts arises from the same parents as the perceivings. To the
multifarious seeings there correspond multifarious colours^^j to the multifarious
16b. Translation of 155c8-157cl hearings, multifarious sounds; to the other perceivings, corresponding other percepts
that come to be at the same time.
156c2 Now what does this story (mythos^^) tell us, Theaetetus, when we connect it to what
155c8 Theaetetus. Yes, Socrates, I am following. But.by the godsI do wonder and
wonder how we are going to solve these puzzles. Sometimes when I think about we said before? Do you get the point?
them it leaves me in a complete daze. Theaetetus. Not quite, Socrates.
Socrates. Then pay attention: let.s see if we can complete the story. The story tells
155dl Socrates. Apparently Theodorus divined your nature well, my friend. Wondering:
that is truly the philosophical condition. Philosophy has no other source^than this: the us, of course, that all thes.e things are in process, as we were saying; and that then-
poet who said that Iris was the offspring of Thaumas [Wonder] got philosophys processes are either fast or slow.
pedigree right.'^^ But arent you already learning the answer to these puzzles, from The slow sort keep their process in the same place and in relation to what is touching
the Protagorean doctrines that we have stated? Or isnt the answer clear to you.yet? them: that is how slow processes cause percepts and perceivings. But the percepts
and perceivings thus caused are the faster processes. These are the kind of processes
Theaetetus. I dont think it is; not yet.
Socrates. Then will yo,u be grateful to me, if I come with you on an exploration of that traverse distances and are in motion.
the secret truth^ about the thought of a remarkable man, or rather men? 156d2 And so when an eye and one of the things commensurate (xymmetron) with the eye
155e3 Theaetetus. How could I fail to be deeply grateful? come close together, their conjunction b'egets the percept whiteness and the
Socrates. Then pay attention: lool^ around to be sure that none of the uninitiated
perceiving that is connatural (xyn\phyton) witji whitenessan experience of
overhears us. TTie uninitiated are those who deny that ^ything exists except what whiteness. Neither the eye nor the commensurate thj.ng^ that comes close to it would
they can close their hands on. They do not admit actions, or comings-to-be, or have begotten either the percept or the perceivipg if either of them had come close to
anything else. But as things are, at the .time of.tljeir conjunction two things are
anything invisible, as a part of reality.
Theaetetus. These men sound like areally stubborn, resistant opposition, Socrates!^' carried across the interval between the eyes and what they see: a seeing [= the
perceiving] from the eyes side, a whiteness [= the percept] from the side of the thing
that goes with the eyes to make the colour. And then the eye becomes full of seeing
See Hesiod, Theogony 780; cp. Cratylus 408b, which derives the name Iris from eirein, to speak". and realiydoes see: it becomes, not sight itself, but at least an eye that sees. And the
Philosophys essentially conversational,nature is one reason why Iris is shown here as the goddess of thing which was do-begetter of the colour is filled with whiteness and likewise
philosophy. Another is that Iris waS the messenger of the gods, and so, like Eros in the Symposium (201-204),
neither divine nor human but intermediary between them like her symbol the rainbow. More speculatively,
Bumyeatp.277 fn.l2 suggests a third reason: As a purely visual phenomenon (nothing more to it than you
see at a given moment), the rainbow is nicely chosen as the divinity to represent the philosopTiic impulse on
behalf of the theory that knowledge is perception.
Possibly this should be Truth with a capital T, as referring again to Protagoras book: cp. I52c9. On the In the light of 153d-e, note well this classification of colours as examples of aistheta.
other hand, there is not much trace of Protagoras in the theory that follows. Socrates .word mythos suggests that Plato has his doubts about the Heracleitean account. As we have
For the topos of excluding the uninitiated, cp. Meno 76e8. These uninitiated men are resistant (skliroi) seen. Revisionists and Unitarians differ about the nature of these doubts.
like the hard bodies they believe in, and they form an opposition (antitypof) both in the sense that they resist ^ The words thing and object occur in my translation of this passage only as translators indulgences.
like solid bodies, and also in the sense that they are antitypes, polar opposites, of the Heracleiteans. It seems As Socrates himself remarks, the Heracleitean view is that these are words that we ought to do without, if we
that these uninitiates are materialists like the atomists. can get free enough from custom and lack of knowledge to do so.
74 The flux theory of perception: 155c8-l 57cl Commentary on 155c8-157cl 75

becomes, not whiteness^^, but a white. And as with the example of perception, so in First question: Does the theory also say that conjunctions of a and b are necessary
every case: hard and hot and all the other examples should be understood in the same for c-and-d pairs; or can c-and-d pairs occur without a or b?
way. Second question: Does the theory also say that conjunctions of a and b are sufficient
157al This completes the exposition of the Heracleiteans claim (156al-5) that nothing is in for c-md-d pairs; or can a and b be conjoined without giving rise to any c-and-d pair?
its own right, and that everything of every kind comes to be from process, in the
The first question looks like the question y/hether the theory allows that there can be
intermingling of the offspring. As the Heracleiteans say, it is impossible to form a
perceptual illusions, e.g. dreams, where apparently a perceiving occurs without a percept.
stable conception of either the active or the passive as being an independent existent
The second question looks like the question whether the theory allows that there can be
(einai ti epi hems). For no process is active till it comes together with a passive, nor
perceptual impairments, e.g. blindness, where apparently a percept occurs without a
passive till it^comes^together with an active; and what is active in combination with
perceiving. Both, especially the'first, seem awkward questions for the defender of the flux
one process is passive in combination with another process. theory. The first question seems to be taken up at 157e-l*58e, and the second is perhaps
157a8 What follows from all this argument is just what we said at the beginning (152d2):
alluded to at 160dl-2. It is not clear in eit^ier case how these questions are actually answered
nothing exists as one thing, in its own right iauto hath hauto), but is always coming
to be for someone. Furthermore, we should completely abolish the verb to be by the Heracleitean.
[Timaeus 27d-28e, 37e-38b]even though we Ourselves have just now been driven Third question: 157a6-7 What is active in combination with one other process is
by custom and lack of knowledge to use it again and again. On the wise mens passive in combination with another process: this (throwaway?) remark suggests a bizarre
account (logos), we-should not-use it, nor should we admit talk of things (ti), nor of conclusion. We hear that when a stone is conjoined with an eye the stone generates a passive
their o'i^^ners (tou), nor of mine,'nor of^this thing here/ or that thing there.^^ We fast process, which means that the stone is perceived. But it now seems possible that when a
should not use any word that implies any measure of stillness. Rather, we should stone is conjoined with something else X, the stone might generate an active fast process.
address things according to nature. We should speak of coming to be, being made, This seems to mean that, for some X, a stone might perceive X. If the flux theorist wishes to
being destroyed, being changed. For anyone who will make things stand still by his rule out this sort of possibility as firmly as everyone else (except Leibniz), he seems to need
account of things (stSsii tSi logoi) is easily refuted. We must also speak in this way to' add, to the theory as it stands, a canon of combination (cp. Sophist 253e), or at least
about objects of divided and collected reference; under terms'of collected reference something to tell us what makes any process active in one combination and passive in some
are included man and stone,'and [the name of] every living animal and species. other.
157cl Fourth question: What is the relation of this theory to the theory of perception given
in Timaeus 45b-46c, 67c-68d?
16c. Commentary on 155c8-157cl This question relates closely to the question whether Plato himself accepts the flux
theory of perception. That question is hinted at at Theaetetus 157c5: Socrafes, I cant make
I begin with a summary of the flux theory of perception. It posits four, types of my mind hp whether you expound this theory to me because you believe it, or just because
youre trying to get a reaction out of me (e emou apopeirai)". The question is important
process: because it connects with the question of whether the Revisionist or Unitarian reading of 151-
a) slow active = something that does [or can-do] perceiving, e.g. an eye; can occur alone 187 is right.
b) slow passive - something that is [or can be] perceived, e.g. a white stone; can occur alone
Cornford pp.49-50 and Crombie EPD II pp.21-22 take it for granted that the
c) fast active = a perceiving, e.g. a seeing; cannot occur alone, is always conjoined with a d
d) fast passive = a percept, e.g. a whiteness; cannot occur alone, is-always conjoined with a Theaetetus and Timaeus theories are one and the same. Bumyeat pp.17-18 questions this
assumption, noting that the Timaeus assumes stable objects to give off the particles_and
c stable sense-organs to respond: the [Timaeus'] theory presupposes the notion of things
Socrates tells us that the flux theory makes these three claims: having a stable identity through time, which it is the very purpose of the Theaetetus story to
that c-and-d pairs result when some a and b are conjoined (156bl); deny. Burnyeat draws the moral-tharwe-should enjoy the picturesque detail without
that the results of any one conjunction are unique and particular to it (156d4-6); forcing it into a,scientific mould. For the Heracleitean story which Plato recounts with
that it is impossible for either a c alone or a d alone to result from some conjunction imaginative delight is' a metaphysical projection of a world in which the Protagorean
of a and b: if such a conjunction issues in either a c or a d then it must result in both epistemology holds good.^^
a c and a d (156a8-b2).
I will consider four questions about this theory. I shall spend longest on the last. Cp. Sayre, Plato's Late Ontology (Princeton UP, 1983, p.218): Plato accepted the Heracleitean theory as
an account of the realm of becoming that was sufficiently detailed and plausible to provide die basis for
Not sight itself, not whiteness": to ordinary common sense sight itself and whiteness look like further deliberations regarding the relationship between Forms and sensible objects... [But] we should be very
names of stable objects; to the Platonist these names look like names of Forms. The point of these denials is to hesitant to conclude that Plato considered this to be the best theory of becoming available. For a substantially
stress the Heracleiteans rejection both of ordinary common sense and of Platonism. different theory appears in the very late dialogues. Runciman too denies that Plato himself accepts the flux
The Heracleiteans go even further than Russell (1956), p.201: The only words one does use as names in theory about perception (pp.19-20): Plato may,., have believed the actual mechanics of perception to be
the logical sense are words like this or that. somewhat as they are described here. But he cer&inly never thought that, for instance, the whiteness of snow
76 The flux theory of perception: 155c8-l 57cl Commentary on 155c8-157c1 77

Unlike Bumyeat, I think there is little trace of stable objects in the TimaeUs' theory various senses according to their different interactions with the particles emitted in the
of perception. On the contrary, what the Timaeus offers us is something close to an object- streams corresponding to the various senses. This interaction depends onxymmetria, which
free epistemology. (But not, of course, an objec^free metaphysics: cp. my comments at the may mean size or shape of particle, or both.
end of section 1 Ob about the role of the ]Forms,in the construction of stable objects out of the The similarities between the Theaetetus an.d the Timaeus' accounts of perception
flux of perception.) The Timaeus theory of perception recognises atoms and elements. But are, then, very marked. All the same, there remains a big difference. This is the
it has little 'or no primary fepistemdlogical place for the idea of things, which it treats as uncompromisingly nominalist and particularist tone of the Theaetetus' account: see, e.g.,
collections of atoms, or collocations df elements, or Both. Recognition of this point brings 156d4-5. In his exposition of the Heracleitean theory -of perception in the Theaetetus,
the Timaeus and the Theaetetus accounts much closer togeth^.
Socrates is careful to talk of plural perceivings and percepts. He does this to emphasise that,
Of course, I agree withBumyeat that the assumptions and presuppositions of the on that theory, each perceptual experience is not just another instance of a general kind that
Timaeus and Theaetetus accounts are very different. It does not follow that the accounts we already understand, but a unique event with a unique content.
themselyes are different. Nor does picturesque sepm quite the right word for the intricate This tone is understandable in context. The Theaetetus' flux theory of perception is
and abstract description of perception of 156a-157c. Tlie description js just ^s difficult, not backed up, like the Timaeus' flux theory, by Platos own wider belief in universals and
scientific, and dry as the parallel passages in the Timaeus. There is no hint of Platos in general kinds under which the ever-changing data of the senses are to be subsumed and
habitual playfulness about it. There was good internal evidence that the eight bad arguments ordered. But that is only natural, given that, as I understand it, the Theaetetus' project is to
of 152e-153d were not seriously meant. There is no similar evidence in favour of Bumyeats examine alternatives to Platonism in their own terms.
suggestion that Plato is not fully in earnest at 156a-157c.
Comparison with the Timaeus theory therefore suggests that the relation between the
So c^n the two kinds of efflux mentioned in the Timaeus identified with the two two theories of perception is this. The Timaeus theory is Platos own, dressed out in his own
lands of offspring, i.e. percept and perceiving, mentioned in the Theaetetusl I believe they way. The Theaetetus theory is the same or a very similar theory, but deliberately presented
can; but McDowell pp.139-140 doubts it. without the views about knowledge which is not perception that are the backdrop to this
McDowell gives two reasons for this doubt. His first reason is that, according to the theory of perception in Platos own thought.
Timaeus, the fact that the.colour emitted by a given object is... white is determined by the If this conjecture about the relation between the two theories is right, notice that
shape and size of the particles which it gives off (see Timaeus 67d). But according to the Platos exposition already raises a serious question about the coherence of trying to get the
Theaetetps, on,the other hand, an efflux of whiteness from an object is initiated only by an flux theory of perception to stand on its own, without Platonism as a backdrop. It is clear
eyes coming within 'range of it; and that it is an efflux of whiteness is, determined partly by already that there is a tension between the notion of xymmetria explained above and the
its havjng that eye as its joint parent. Heracleitean thesis that individual percepts and perceivings are necessarily unrepeatable. To
But pace McDowell, the Timaeus does not say that the fact that the colour emitted be xymmetra, the component parts of perceptual events have to come in patterns. But how
by a given object is... white is determined by the shape and size of the particles wWch it are these patterns to be constituted if individual percepts and perceivings are necessarily
gives off. Rather, the colours being white is not determined only by that, but also by the unrepeatable? The Timaeus' account of xymmetria makes perceptual events explicable
interaction between the stream of particles that the object enpts and the stream of particles precisely by allowing them to come in types. The Heracleitean ought, if he is consistent in
that the perceiver emits.^^ his minimalist ontology, to have no truck with types. But if he refuses to deal in types, then
The .second difference that McDowell finds, between the Timqeus' and the it seems he is left with no way of explaining perception via a theory of xymmetria. It then
Theaetetus' accounts of perception is that, although Plato may have particles in mind in becomes completely opaque to the Heracleitean why a given interaction of processes turns
connection with the account of sight in the Theaetetus", he does not explicitly mention out to be a seeing rather than (say) a hearing. (This point recurs in Platos last argument
them. against the Heracleiteans at 182d: radical nominalism, by preventing classification, not only
undercuts language, but explanation as well.)
Well, perhaps not explicitly. Still, a puzzling word at Theaetetus 156d2, xymmetron,
can be explained as an implicit reference to the same body jDf theory as is appealed to at Presumably the Heracleitean can answer this objection by a standard nominalist
Timaeus 67c8: The fire which flows offeaCh*of the bodies contains particles that are defence with a Heracleitean twist added to it: he can say that all types really are, is patterns
commensurate (xymmetra) to the visual stream (ojysih) in a way that produces perception of similarity as the^ appear to us. But this reply will not satisfy anyone who is not already a
(aisthesis)." The idea in this passage is that the particles that things emit, differentiate to the nominalist.
Another important point about the flux theory of perception which comes out more
clearly in the Timaeus version, is its striking similarity at some points to atomism. However,
did not exist unless snow was somewhere being looked at by somebody... the purpose of the theory of
perception is to state an essential part of the notion of extreme flux which is developed by Plato for his own
there are also important differences. One difference is hinted at by Theaetetus at 156al:
purpose Iviz., to refute it]. atomism is a physicalist theory, the flux theory is mentalistic (or rather, perhaps, neutral
Timaeus 67d3-el: "Of ose particles which fly off from the others and strike into the sight (opsin), some monist). Another is that, for the atomist, every perception isfalse. (See Democritus, DK 68
are smaller, some bigger.^d some the same size as the particles of the sights [stream]. The equal ones are B9: By convention hot, by convention cold, by convention sweet, by convention bitter; in
imperceptible, and we call them'transparent... the [bigger particles] which press together the silts particles
we call black, the [smaller particles] which stretch apart'the sights particles we call white.
78 The flux theory of perception: 155c8-157c1
truth just atoms and the void.) This makes atomism truly, in Theaetetus word (156al), the 17. The Dreamer objection to the flux theory of
79
antitype of the Heracleitean doctrine that every perception.is true.
perception: 157c2-160el
The Theaetetus' flux theory of perception can also be compared with the efflux
theory of perception attributed to Empedocles at Meno 76cd. This theory too gives us a
definition of colour which uses the notion of symmetria: colour is an efflux {aporroe) of
shapes that is commensurate with sight {opsei symmetros) and perceptible {Meno 76d5). 17a. Summary of the argument of 157c2-160el
Socrates does not accept this theory, especially not its definition of colour, perhaps (as Bluck
suggests in his commentary .on the Meno) because-he sees the invocation of aporroai as a Socrates has now completed the main part of his exposition of the flux theory of
sort of wand-waving that could be used to explain anything you like. But, of course, perception. In a short interlude he once more disingenuously protests his innocence of all
Socrates attitude to aporwi theories in the Meno is no sure guide to Platos attitude to such positive doctrine (157c-d). Then he closes his exposition with a summary (160d), after
theories in much later works. stating a preliminary objection to &e flux theory (157c-158d), and demonstrating how the
flux theory deals with it (158e-160c).
This preliminary objection is the Dreamer, which asks how the flux theorist is to
distinguish false.(deceptive) appearances such as dreams from the true (undeceptive)
appearances of the waking world. The flux theorists answer is that such appearances should
not be described as true and false appearances to the same person. Rather they should be
described as different appearances to different people. For according to the flux theorist, we
have the same person if and only if we have the same combination of a perception and a
perceiving (159c-d). So there is no need to call any appearances/<3/5e. And so we preserve
the claim that all appearances are truea claim which must be true if knowledge is
perception in the sense that Socrates has taken that definition.'
Thus the Dreamer objection does not undermine the Theaetetus' presentation of the
flux theory of perception. Rather it extends that presentation, by applying the flux theory of
perception to the analysis of the self.

17b. Translation of 157c2-160el

157c2 Socrates. Do these ideas seem agreeable to you, Theaetetus? Do you like the taste of
them?
Theaetetus. I dont know, Socrates. I cant make my mind up about you, either. I
dont know whether you expound this theory to me because you believe it, or just
because youre trying to get a reaction out of me.
Socrates. My friend, you are forgetting' that I myself know nothing. I am not
claiming that any of these ideas are mine. I am childless when it comes to theories.
No, I am only acting as midwife to you. That is why I am singing you my
incantations [Meno 80a4], and setting before you something to taste from each of the
Wise, until I deliver your own doctrine {dogma) into the daylight. Once it is out of
you I shall examine it, to see, whether it turns out to be a well-born child, or merely
an attack of wind. So take courage and be patient, and make good fearless answers
about the subjects I question you on, saying whatever appears to you to be true.
157d4 Theaetetus. Ask away, then.
Socrates. First, tell me again. Do you like this theory that nothing is, but is always
becoming good, or fair, or any of the other qualities we were listing just now
(156e9)?
Theaetetus. Why, for my part, when I hear you going through it like this it seems to
me a wonderful theory, and one to be accepted just as you have stated it.
80 The Dreamer objection to the flux theory of perception: 157c2-l 60el Translation of 157c2-160e1 81

157el Socrate\. In that case, we had better not leave it with any shortcomings. But here appearances.^2 por equal lengths of time we say first that these appearances are true,
one: the theory faces an objection about dreams and illnesses^^, especially those that = and then those. We feel just as certain'that the one claim is true when we make it, as
disturb the mind and cause delusions, whether these are delusions of hearing, of we* do when we make the other.
sight, or of the other senses. For presumably you know that it is generally agreed that 158d5 Theaetetus. Yes, this is just what happens.
all these cases look like refutations of the theory we have just expounded. It seems as Socrates. Doesnt just the same argument apply in the case of sickness and madness,
clear as anything that we experience false perceptions in these cases. So we are far except that in these cases, the lengths of time are unequal?
away from the view that what appears to each person, is to that person. On the Theaetetus. Thats right.
contrary, the truth seems to be not that all appearances are true, but that all Socrates. Well, then, is truth to be determined by length or shortness of time?
appearances are false. 158el Theaetetus. No, that would be wholly absurd.
158a4 Theaetetus. Thats a very good point, Socrates. u Socrates. But do you have another way of clarifying which of these seemings is true?
Socrates. But then, my boy, what is left of the'argument presented by the person who Theaetetus. I dont believe I have.
claims that knowledge is perceptionthe persob who holds' that what appears to Socrates. Well listen, then, while I explain the response to these problems that would
each person, is to that person? be given by the advocates of the view that whatever seems true at any time, is true
Theaetetus. Well, Socrates, I-feel ashabied to say that I have nothing to say here, for the person to whom it seems true. They-respond, I think, with this question;
since only a moment ago you rapped my knuckles for saying that. Yet, to tell the Suppose, Theaetetus, that we have two things which are completely different in
truth, I really could not dispute the claim that madmen and dreamers have false every way. They are not merely different in some ways, but-not in others. Will one of
beliefs^o. After all, some madmen think that they are gods; and some dreamers think these completely different things have any capacity that the other one has too?
that they have wings and are flying'when they are really asfeep. 158e9 Theaetetus. No, of course not. If they are (Afferent in everyway, then it is impossible
158b4 Socrates. And what about the other.sort of dispute'aboht these cases, especially the for them to share anything at all, including a capacity.
'cases of waking and sleeping? Has that occurred to you? ^ Socrates. So arent we bound to agree that these different things are also dissimilar!
Theaetetus. What other s6rt of dispute? Theaetetus. Ithink we are.
Socrates. Its a question that I think you must have often heard asked. Suppose Socrates. Suppose then that something happens to become similar to something.
someone asks us, just as we are at present, whether- \ye are asleep and all our Either it becomes similar tov itself [at another time], or it becomes similar to
thqughts are a dream, or awake and talking to each pther in the waking world. What something else. Shall we say that when it becomes similar, it becomes the same, and
evidence could we give that would prove our answer? that when it becomes dissimilar, it becomes different!
158c2 Theaetetus. Truly, Socrates, its a real puzzle what evidence would be enough to 159a6 Theaetetus. Yes, we-must saythat.
prove it. For the one state mirrors the movements of the other state as closely as an Socrates. But didnt we say earlier that the active offspring are infinitely many, and
antistrophe mirrors a strophe.^ Take the conver^atioriweve just had. When we are likewise the passive offspring?
asleep, there is nothing to prevent us from believing that we are having the very same Theaetetus. Yes.
conversation with each other. And when we dream that we,are reporting a dream, Socrates. And also that when any one [process] is mixed together with two different
there is a quite bizarre similarity between such experiences and really reporting a other [processes], the result will be different offspring, not the same offspring?
dream. 159bl Theaetetus. Yes, absolutely.
158c8 Socrates. So you see that it is not difficult to raise a dispute about all this, given that Socrates. Then let us-treat myself, or yourself# or anything else, as cases to which
it is disputable even whether,we are awake or asleep. After all, we me asleep and this theoryapplies. Considerhealthy Socrates and ill Socrates.-Shali we say that
awake for the same lengths of time.'So in-each state, as long as it lasts, our souls are healthy Socrates is similar to ilhSocrates, or dissimilar?
quite insistent that whatever^ppearances seem true then are more true than any other Theaetetus. Do you mean that I should compare the whole ill Socrates with the
whole healthy Socrates!
Socrates. YouVe got it exactly. Thats just what I mean.
McDowell p.l45 finds that [157el-4] lumps together two rather different cases... The sick man who Theaetetus. In that case, I suppose they are dissimilar.
tastes sweet wine as bitter does indeed perceive, the wine, byt he perceives it wrong... [whereas] a dreamer... Socrates. Then they are different, because they are dissimilar.
does not, according to common sense, perceive anything. He does not, then, misperceive anything either. Theaetetus. Yes, they mustbe.
McDowell then offers an explanation of why Plato conflates these cases. But this explanation is not needed
unlessblato, like McDowell, accepts a direct version of the causal theory of perception and a corresponding
159c 1 Socrates. And would you give the same verdict on the case of sleeping Socrates, and
disjunctive account of illusions. If not, we might expect Plato to take the case of the dreamer and the sick all the cases we have^just been through?
oenophile to be the same case; whichus just what Plato does. i
Pseudi doxazousin. This is the first time that Plato in the Theaetetus speaks of, beliefs rather than McDowell p. 147 finds strange the claims that we are awake and asleep for equal periods, and that we
perceptions. dream all the time we are asleep. The strangeness of these claims does not affect the Essential point of the
The metaphoris from Greek tragedy. In the strophS, the Chorus dance across the stage from right to left; argument. This is that no realist can accept'the length of a coherent stretch of experience as sufficient to prove
in the antistrophe, tliey dance back again from left to right, using the same steps and the same music. This is its veridicahty. For all the probative advantage that waking has oVer sleeping for a strictiminded realist, we
why I translate parakolouthei by mirrors. might as well be awake and asleep for equal periods, and dreaming the whole time we sleep.
82 The Dreamer objection to the flux theory of perception: 157c2-160e1 Translation of 157c2-l 60el 83

Theaetetus. I would, yes. that, must come to be perceived by somebody. It is impossible to become sweet, but
Socmtes. So any of the processes whose nature is to act upon something else to sweet to no one.
change it, when it takes hold of healthy Socrates and when it takes hold of ill 160b3 Theaetetus. Yes, completely impossible.
Socrates, will be taking hold of two different objects, with different results? Socrates. I think this leaves us with tlje following conclusion. Whether the active
Theaetetus. Yes: how could it fail to? element and I are or come to be, we are or come to be for each other. This is so
Socrates. Then the combination of that active process with myself as passive process because necessity binds our essences to each other {hemon he anangki ten ousian
will have different results, depending on whether the active process takes hold of me syndei), even though it does not bind our essences to anything elsenot even my
when I am healthy or ill. essence to me, or the active elements essence to the active element. Active and
Theaetetus. Of course. passive elements are bound to each other: thats the conclusion. Therefore anyone
Socrates. Indeed, doesnt wine seem pleasant and sweet to me if I drink it when I am who names something as existing, ought to speak of it as existing/or someone, or
well? existing as someones, or existing relative to someone; and likewise if he names it as
Theaetetus. Yes. becoming. But he must not say that it either is or comes to be in and of itself; and no
159c9 Socrates. That follows from what we have agreed. When we spoke of healthy one else should let him say that. This is the meaning of the theory that we have been
Socrates, the active and the passive processes, in their movement from one side of exploring.
the transaction to the other, simultaneously, produced a perceived sweetness and a 160c2 Theaetetus. Absolutely right, Socrates.
perception of sweetness. The perception, which came from the passive side, made the Socrates. Now what acts on me, is for me, and for no one else. So I perceive it, but
tongue perceptive. The perceived sweetness, wjhich came from the wine and was no one else does.
diffused about it as the active process^ made the wine sweet to the healthy tongue: Theaetetus. Certainly.
sweet both in appearance and in reality. Socrates. So my perception is true/or me; for it is always part of my essence (tis gar
159d5 Theaetetus. Yes; this is exactly what we agreed to earlier. ernes ousias aei estin). Hence, just as Protagoras says, I am the judge of the things
Socrates. However, suppose the wines sweetness took hold of Socrates ill. First, that are for me, that they are; and of the things that are not for me, that they are not.
didnt it really take hold of something different from, and not the same as, Socrates Theaetetus. Apparently.
healthy^ For it.has come to something dissimilar. 160dl Socrates. So I am infallible, and cannot stumble in my understanding of the things
Theaetetus. Yes. that are or come to be. How can I fail to be a knower of the things of which I am a
159el Socrates. So the combination of this Socrates with the drink'of wine produced perceiverl
different results. It produced a perception of bitterness in respect of^s the tongue, and Theaetetus. Its impossible: you cant fail.
a percept of bitterness that came to be and was diffused in respect of the wine. This Socrates. So it was an outstanding insight on your part to suggest that knowledge is
combination made the wine bitter (but not bitterness), and it made me perceiving nothing other than perception. For Homers doctrine, and Heracleitus doctrine, and
(but not perception). the doctrine qf that whole tribe, that all things are in process like rivers; and most-
Theaetetus. Yes, I completely agree. wise Protagoras doctrine that man is the measure of all things; and Theaetetus
159e8 Socrates. Therefore, I shall never come to have this .very perception of anything else. doctrine that, these things being so, knowledge becomes perception: all of these
For a perception of a different thing is a different perception, which makes the doctrines have now turned out to be the very same doctrine.
perceiver both dissimilar and different. Nor can that same process which was active 160el
with respect to me, combine with anything else to produce the very same result with
the very same properties. F.or when it produces a different result from a different
thing, it will become dissimilar. 17c. Commentary on 157c2-160el
160a4 Theaetetus.
Socrates. Nor indeed shall I be similar, to myself in any future encounter; and the 160b-d summarises the whole of 151460. Socrates shows how the exploration of
same goes for the active element. Theaetetus identification of knowledge with perception has led us to develop a whole
Theaetetus. Yes, it does. battery of views: in particular, a Protagorean doctrine of the incorrigibility of perception,
Socrates. However, when I become a perceiver, I must become a perceiver of and a Heracleitean Recount of what perception is. Thus perception has one of the two marks
something. It is impossible to become a perceiver, but a perceiver of nothing. of knowledge, infallibility (Cpmford p.58); and, if we 'Can accept Protagoras
Accordingly, the active element, when it becomes sweet or bitter or something like identification of what appears to me with what is, ignoring the addition forme and the
distinction between being and becoming, the case will be complete.
(In fact, pace Comford, it is not necessary to ignore these additions. It is not
^ In respect of translates peri, which more naturally means around or in the vicinity of. But peri
cannot mean that here, if percepts and perceptions have no spatial location (153d6 ff.). As the next sentence
rfecessary to ignore the distinction between being and becoming, because as I argued against
shows by alluding to 156e (cp. Note 55), Plato has not forgotten the detail of his exposition of the flux theory McDowell in Section 16c, that is not in any case the main distinction at stake in the theory
of perception. of flux. And it is not necessary to ignore phrases such as for me, because the point of the
84 The Dreamer objection to the flux theory of perception: 157c2-l 60el Commentary on 157c2-160e1 85

flux doctrine is that nothing exists exceprvwhat is for someone. Even with these additions, than he foresaw. It has grown into a whole theory of knowledge and the world,
we still have the result that D1 has been shown to come to the same as Heracleitus and astonishing not only for its anticipations of modem empiricist themes, but even more
Protagoras doctrines.) for its own audacious combination of logical rigour and philosophical imagination. It
So far in 151-160, the general strategy of the flux theorist against the object/property is time to see whether the new-bom child can survive in the cold light of Socrates
metaphysics has been to set up apparent antinomies about the conipresence of opposite criticism.
properties in the same object, and dissolve them by attacking the notions of property and
object involved. The flux theorists response to the Dreamer objection ib 157-160 is just the
application and extension of this strategy to the case of {Persons and their perceptions. The
result is a striking one: a cleaQ-ly articulated sceptical dccoiint bf the self, perhaps the first in
the history of'Western philosophy.^
The key move^n setting up this sceptical accpunt of the self is made at 158e5 ff. It is
the doctrine that dissimilarity is sufficient for difference (the non-identity of discernibles),
and that similarity is sufficient for identity {the identity of indiscernibles), This doctrine
follows naturally enough, if you already reject any sort of object/ property metaphysics in
favour of Heracleiteanism. But it is not easy to see why anyone who is not already a
Heracleitean would be attracted by it. In this passage the doctrine is not really ^gued for; it
is just asserted.
McDowell p.l51 uses the question whether this passage is argument or assertion to
set a dilemma for the Heracleitean doctrine of perception developed by Socrates. Is 159c-ds
example of the sick oenophile supposed to provide an argument for Heracleiteanism? Then
this example must take its chances along with other examples that seem to support other
conclusions.- If Socrates illness makes nodifference to his eyes, as surely happens with
some illnesses, then it is hard to see why the interaction between Socrates and the object
cannot continue to produce the same offspring after the onset of the illness as before it.
Or is the case of the sick oenophile just intended as an illustration of the general
Heracleitean dogma that nothing is evdr the same? Then we do nofhave an argument for
that dogma'at 159c-d. What we have, in fact, is juSt a series of corollaries of the same claim
as before: the claim that dissimilarity is sufficient for difference, similarity sufficient for
identity.
Overall, Platos presentation of the doctrine of flux is probably meant more as an
exposition of the flux doctrine than as a cogent argument for it. The aim is simply to show
that the doctrine is not obviously inconsistent, and that even the wildest reaches of the flux
doctrine can be seen as a natural development of Theaetetus original definition (Bumyeat
p.l9):
On any account we have travelled a long way from Theaetetus first hesitant
proposal of the definition of knowledge as perception (151de). Thanks to Socrates
skill as a midwife of ideas, Theaetetus original conception has proved a largerthing

Cp. Mary Margaret Mackenzie, Phto's Individuals p.271: the Hferacleitean theory of flux is lethal to the
individuation of objects; for they turn out to be bundles of perceptual episodes,' with nothing to tie them
together. It is equally lethal to the individuation of persons. No one is somebody, siijce every episode is new.
There are, then, only stages, not persons for the stages to constitute. Individuals fall apart. But this suits the
sophists. If my perceptions and judgements are peculizu- to their own now, they occur as momentary
episodes/.. Because they are episodic, they will be separate from any other episodes (whether [those] purport
to belong to myself or to someone else)... [so] none of my judgements will be vulnerable to contr^iction
by anyone else; nor will they be vulnerable to contradiction by myself. If all my judgements ^e true just
because they are all momentary episodes, no episode can be shown to be either consistent or mconsistent with
any other.
Refutation of D1: introductory remarks
8618. The refutation of the thesis that knowledge is
87

The criticism of Dl breaks down into twelve separate arguments, interrupted by the
Digression (172c-177c: translated and discussed separately in section 23). We will be
perception (160e5-187bl): introductory remarks occupied in considering these twelve arguments up to section 26.

160e marks the transition from the statement and exposition of the definition of
knowledge as perception (Dl), to the criticism and eventual refutation of that definition. t

Scholars have divided about the overall purpose of 160e-187b. Mostly they have
divided along the lines described in section 10a, taking either a Revisionist or a Unitarian
view of Part One of the Theaetetus.
Revisionists say that the target of the critique of 160e-187a is everything that has
been said in support and development of Dl ever since 151. Unitarians argue that Platos
criticism of Dl in 160e-187a is more selective. Obviously his aim is to refute Dl, the
equation of knowledge with perception. But that aim does not oblige him to reject the
account of perception that has been offered in support of Dl. And Plato does not mean to
reject this account (or at least, he does not mean to reject all of it): for he himself accepts the
account, at least in part. (Cp. sections 10b, 12c.)
Thus the Unitarian Comford argues that Plato is not rejecting the Heracleitean flux
theory of perception. He is rejecting only Dls claim that knowledge is that sort of
perception. It remains possible that perception is just as Heracleitus describes it. Likewise,
Comford suggests, the Protagorean doctrine that man is the measure of all things is trae
provided it is taken to mean only all things that we perceive".
If some form of Unitarianism is correct, then an examination of 160-187 ought to
show that Platos strategy in the critique of Dl highlights two distinctions:
(1) A distinction between the claim that the objects of perception are in flux, and the claim
that everything is in flux.
(2) A distinction between bare sensory awareness, and judgement on the basis of such
awareness.
One vital passage for distinction (1) is 181b-183b. If Unitarianism is right, this '
passage should be an attack on the Heracleitean thesis that everything is in flux, but not an
attack on the Heracleitean thesis that the objects ofperception are in flux. For according to
Unitarians, the thesis that the objects of perception are in flux is a Platonic thesis too.
Readers should ask themselves whether this is the right way to read 181b -183b. For my
answer to this question, see section 22.
Distinction (2) seems to be explicitly stated at 179c. There also seems to be clear
evidence of distinction (2) in the final argument against Dl, at 184-187. Distinction (2) is
also at work, apparently, in the discussion of some of the nine objections addressed to the
Protagorean theory. Some of these objections (in particular, A-E, H and I) can plausibly be
read as points about the unattractive consequences of failing to distinguish the Protagorean
claim that bare sense-awareness is incorrigible (a claim which the Unitarian Plato accepts) ,
from the further Protagorean claim ihzxjudgements about sense-awareness are incorrigible
(a claim which the Unitarian Plato denies).^

Cp. Bostock p.I08: What happens in the refutation of Protagoras is that a clear distinction is drawn
between the moderate thesis that all judgements ofperception are true, and the much more extreme thesis that
all judgements whatever are true. The refutation of Protagoras refutes the extreme thesis, but leaves the
moderate thesis still standing.
88 A. First objection to Protagoras' view: animal perceptions: translation of 160e2-l 61 d2 89

19. Three objections to Protagoras's homomensura thesis: 19b. A. First objection to Protagoras' view: .animal perceptions:
translation of 160e2-161d2
160e-l63a
160e^ Socrates. Well, Theaetetus? Should we say that this statement clescribes your new
born child, as my midwifery has brought it forth? Or do you mean something
different?
19a(i). Introduction to 160-171
Theaetetus. No, Socrates, I must mean something like this.
What is the overall structure and point of the earlier parts of the critique of Dl, from Socrates. So, apparently, here at last we have the'child that we have struggled to
160-171? Some authors have suggested that 160-171 is really a second comic interlude to go bring forth; whatever exactly jt turns out to be. So much for the childs birth; next
with 152el-153d5, the first comic interlude. One author who detects an air of comedy about comes its amphidromia.^^ For we must'literally run a chcle around what has been
the passage is Kenneth Sayre, PAM p.80, who describes some of these objections, namely produced: a circle of argument, so that we can make sure that your offspring is
D-F, as apparently frivolous. (More about Sayres reading of objections D-F, and about something worth the nurture, ^d is not merely an imposture or an attack of wind.
Bumyeats similar reading, in Section 20a.) But perhaps you think that any old idea that you produce deserves to be nursed to
healthfr^ther than, bein^ exposed. Will you put up With it,'if yoU see ypur offspring
Edward Lee too argues that the critique of Protagoras that begins at 160 has the
put to the test of argument? C)r will you be utterly enraged if someone takes your
structure of a comedy all the way up to 171:
first-bom child away fiom you?
The basic structural device of this segment of the critique is the turning of the tables 161a4 Theodorus. Theaetetus is prepared to put up with it, Socrates; he is not an ill-natured
on Protagoras, a reversal that here takes the form of the classic encounter between ^ boy. Bdt for heavens sake tell us, Socrates. This whole theory youve just stated: is
eiron and alazdn in Greek comedy: the boaster is first built up, but only so that he it Wrung?
can then have the highest possible fall... I have no wish to minimise the arguments ' Sdcrates. You are such an extraordinary lover of debate, Theodorus, that you are
that Plato gives here, but his aim is not restricted to advancing those: he is not aiming pleased to suppose that I am a sort of bagful of argumentsthat I can pull'another
merely to reJUte Protagoras... so much as to expose him: to show him up... for what , .argument out, just like that, to show you th^t this whole theory is wrong. You are
he really comes to. missing the point.of what^ happenjng. None pf these argupients comes out of me; all
(Lee, Hoist with his own petard: Ironic and Comic elements in Platos Critique of of them come from the person who is talking yvith me. j know nothing, ejfcept
Protagoras, pp.255-256 in Lee, Rorty, Mourelatos) perhaps a little: enough to pxtract an argument from someone else^.who is wise, and
Lees idea is attractive: certainly the text signals to us not to take objections A-D too to receive it with appropriate treatment. So now I will try to extract this idea from
seriously (162d4-163al, 163b8-c4). But as Lee also points out, this way of reading 161-171 Theaetetus here; but I myself will not try to make any statement.'^'^
should not blind us to the value of the passage as straight argument, even if some of the 161b7 Theodorus. Yes, Socrates, the way you describe is better. Carry on, then.
arguments are only given in a preliminary form. For instance, objection B is contemptuously Socrates. Well then, Theodorus*do,'ypu know whatjk >vondei:,|t in your friend
dismissed by Protagoras at 166d6. Yet what is usually taken as Platos most serious Protagoras?
objection of all to Protagorass views, H, is little more than a logically sharper version of B. 161cl Theodoms. No; what?
Socrates. Most of what he says about what appears to any person, also being for that
19a(ii). Summary of the argument of 160e-163a person, I like very much. But I did wonder abojit the first line inliis argument. At the
beginning of his book Truth, he mighi: as well have put'that P/g is the measure of all
160e-163a presents the first of Socrates twelve objections to the body of doctrine
thihgs, or 'Baboon is the measure of all things, or that anything you like is the
that has been developed in 151-160. The first three of these objections are aimed specifically
at Protagorass homomensura thesis, aiming to reduce it to absurdity: measure of all things: no'matter how absurd, provided only it has the power of
perception. This would have been a'superbly disdainful way to begin his address to
A. If it is plausible to say that man is the measure of all things, then it is equally us. It would have made it quite clear that for all our wondk at the godlike wisdom of
plausible to say that the pig, baboon, or tadpole is the measure of all things. But the man, he really turns out to be no better in his understanding than a tadpole, never
this claim is absurd. So Protagoras claim is also absurd. mind'another human being.
B. Protagoras thesis makes philosophical inquiry pointless, because it erases the 161d2
distinction between philosophical experts and non-experts. But Protagoras himself is
committed to the claim that philosophical inquiry isnt pointless. !,

C. Since Protagoras thesis implies that all perceptions are true, it not only implies
the absurdity that animals perceptions are not inferior to humans. It also implies the McDowell p.l58: The allusion is to a ceremony which took place shortly after birth... the child was
absurdity that humans perceptions are not inferior to the gods. carried around the hearth, named, and given gifts. The ceremony probably marked acceptance into the family;
hence the remarks bout deciding whether to bring up Theaetetus offspring. The name of the ceremony...
It will be convenient to translate and comment on arguments A-C, and Protagoras means, literally, running around, and Plato plays on this.
response to these arguments, one at a time (sections 19b-19i). The irony is flagrant; Socrates is about to launch into a series of long speeches attacking Protagoras.
90 Three objections to Protagoras's homomensura thesis: 160e-163a B. Second objection to Protagoras' view: translation of 161 d3-162a2 91

19c. Commentary on 160e2-161d2 161e4 This is to say nothing of my own case, and my own craft of midwifery. How much
derision I will be in for, if Protagoras is right! And not just-me: I think the whole
Objection A to Protagoras notes that if all perceptions were true, then there would be practice of dialectic will face derision. The point of dialectic is to examine and try to
no reason to think that animal perceptions were inferior to human ones; a situation which prove correct, or else to refute, the impressions and opinions (phantasias te kai
doxas) of others. If Protagoras Truth is true, and if what Protagoras proclaims from
Socrates finds absurd. the impenetrable sanctuary of his book is not just a joke, then there is no more to
If this objection is really concerned with perceptions strictly so called, then it dialectic than protracted, tedious drivel.
obviously fails. On that reading, the situation that Socrates finds absurd not only isnt 162a3
absurd: it is actual. If we consider animals and humans just as perceivers, there really is no
automatic reason to prefer human perceptions. Indeed many animal perceptions are superior
to human perceptions, and the Greeks did not need such modem examples as echo-location 19e. Commentary on 161d3-162a3
in bats to know it. Aristotle explicitly says at deAnima 421a9 that humans ^ense of smell is
worse than most animals^ Even the primeval Homer knew, that eagles could see, and dogs With this second argument against Protagoras, compare Cratylus 386c: If wisdom
smell, better than humans could. (Liddell & Scott, s.v. aetos, tells us that Homers eagle is and folly exist, then it is wholly impossible that Protagoras should be speaking the truth. For
oxytatos derkesthav. 'see Iliad 17.675. See also Odyssey 17.290 ff., where the^dog Argos on his theory everyone alike is wise and has knowledge. For the equation of wisdom and
recognises the returned Odysseus before any humans do.) knowledge cp. Theaetetus 145e5: wisdom, expertise and knowledge are all ideas associated
In any case, Protagoras just accepts this supposedly absurd consequence. On Platos with the Greek word sophia.
report, he agrees that we have to take animals perceptions as seriously, as humans. At Notice that argument B against Protagoras does not attack the idea that perception is
167b8 ff. Socrates portrays Protagoras as saying even of a plants perceptions that when a infallible. Rather, B attacks the idea that the opinion or judgement that anyone forms on the
plant is not well, what a gardener does is to bring about in it good and healthy and (if you basis o/perception is infallible (161d3 di aisthiseos doxazii, 161d7 doxasei).
like) tme perceptions in place of harmful perceptions.* This might seem like a change of subject: in 151-160 Platos main concern was
The objection would work mucH better if it was rephrased as an objection about perception, nqt judgements about perception. But in fact it is an important piece of support
judgements perceptions rather than about perceptions stricdy so called. Humans are for Uni.tarianism, As we saw in section 18, Unitarians claim that Plato makes a distinction in
no more* and ho less perceivers thah pigs, babobns, or tadpoles. But they are different in 160-1^7-^*'''*^ sensory awareness and judgement on the basis of such awareness.
their poVvers of judgemettt about perceptions. This point should'be borne in mind, given They say that Plato is arguing that Protagoras doctrine that perception is infallible is right in
what comes next. one way, but wrong in another. Plato agrees with Protagoras that bare sensory awareness is
infallible. What Plato disagrees with is Protagoras further claim that judgement about
sensory awareness is infallible. Platos statement of the present argument supports this
19d.-B. Second'objection to Protagoras' view: it makes philosophical intefpretation.
inquiry pointless: translation of 161d3-162a2 Notice also Socrates remark at 161c2: Most of what Protagoras says about what
appears to any person, also being for that person, I like very much. It is hard to imagine
161d2 Socrates. What else but this can we say, Theodoms? Suppose we agree that whatever that even the ironical Socrates would say this if (as Revisionists think) he meant to go on to
opinion anyone forms on th^ basis of perception {dV aisthiseos doxaziiX is true for reject everything that Protagoras says.
him. Then no one will be a better ju<lge of someone elses experience than the
experiencer himself, and no one will be better qualified to judge whether anyones
opinion (doxa) is correct or false than the folder of that opinion. Instead, as we keep 19f. C. Third objection to Protagoras' view: gods' perceptions:
saying, each person will be the sole judge of his judgements. And each person will translation of 162a4-162d2
judge (doxasei) that his own judgements are all correct and true.
161d9 In which case, my friend, how on earth can Protagoras be wise! If every person is 162a3 Theodoras. FTotagoras was a friend of mine, Socrates, as you yourself said a minute
the measure of his own wisdom, how can it be right to say that Protagoras is so wise ago [161b8]. So I shouldnt agree with you, if that means letting him be refuted. Nor,
that he can teach others for huge fees? Or that we are less wise, and need to go to on the other hand, should I maintain a position against you when I do not believe in
him for lessons? Why shouldnt we conclude that the homomensura thesis is one of it. Instead, come to grips with Theaetetus again. He certainly appeared to be
Protagoras titbits for the groundlings (cp.l52c8)? j following you with complete understanding a minute ago.
162bl Socrates. Suppose you went to the wrestling schools at Sparta,Theodorus, and sat
and watched others strip off, revealing the unimpressive muscles that some of them
** See McDowell pp.158-9. Bumyeat p.26 cites Timaeus 77b as evidence that Plato himself thinks that
plants perceive. Recall that the dialogue takes place in the gymnasium/ wrestling school at Athens (144c2).
92 Three objections to Protagoras'^ homomensura thesis: 160e-l 63a Protagoras' response to objections A-C: translation of 162d3-l 63a6 93

would have, while you yourself remained in your clothes, and did not show your own My fine people, young and old, you are sitting around playing at mob-oratory. Your
physique in your turn. Would -that be fair? argument brings the gods centre stage. But I say nothing at all about the gods, neither
Theodorus. What*do you think would be unfair ,about it, if they consented to let me in my seminars nor in my writings. I do not even discuss whether they exist or not.
watch? I think thats what I will do now: I will persuade you two to let me be a Your argument consists of crowd-pleasers like your exclamation that It would be
spectator, and not haul me into the ring. I am -old and stiff, while Theaetetus is just terrible, if each human were no different in wisdom from any grazing cow. You
younger and more flexible. So grapple with him. do not offer any kind of demonstrative or cogent argument: instead, you appeal to
Socrates. Well, Theodorus, your pleasures no pain to me, as the proverb-mongers probability (toi eikoti chresthe). If Theodo'rus or any of his colleagues did geometry
say. So once more I must come up against the wise Theaetetus. this way, they wouldnt be worth'a penny. So you and Theodorus had better decide
162c2 Tell me, then, Theaetetus. Arent you amazed at the ideas that we have just whether you are prepared to accept arguments from plausibility and probability about
explained? Isnt it amazing to be suddenly revealed like this, as no worse off for something as importanf as the doctrines you are now discussing.^
wisdom than any human you likeor indeed, dny deity you like? Or do you think 163al Theaetetus.^ You would not be prepared to accept such arguments, Socrates, and
that Protagoras measure is a doctrine less about gods than about humans? neither are we: that would be unjust.
Theaetetus.-N6, by Zeus, Idont'thinkitis. Apd since you ask; yes, I am completely Socrates. So you and Theodorus contend that we must find another way to consider
amazed. So lon^as we were setting out tfie meaning'of the slogan that whatever the question?
appears to anyone, also is for him to whom If appears, it seemed to me a very good 163a6 Theaetetus. We certainly do.
idea. But now all-of a'sudden it has turned into the opposite.
162d2
19i. Commentary on 162d3-163a6
19g. Commentary on 1620-l62d2 One place where Platos Protagoras does discuss claims about the godsdespite his
famous claim to exclude them from discussion (Protagoras fragment DK B4)is in the
After the by-play which re-establishes Theaetetus as main respondent, the third objection to m^thos of JProtagoras 321c-322a. There Protagoras thesjs is that the gods gave all men
Protagoras thesis is very quickly stated in Socrates two rhetorical questionsat 16lc2-6. alike a share in practical )visdom. He argues that there ^e no special experts in poHtical
Since Protagoras thesis implies that all perceptions are true, it not only has the, allegedly matters, which undercuts Socrates objection to democracy that it gives the stupidest
absurd consequence that anim^sperceptions are not inferior to humans. It ^so has the political opinions the same authority as the wisest.
consequence that humans perceptions are not inferior to the gods. This corisequence too is
Notice, incidentally, that Protagoras fable in the Protagoras plainly implies that
now said to be absurd. there are other matters than politics in which there are experts. For at Protagoras 322c5-dl,
As with the first objection, so here. If '^e consider divinities and humans just as Hermes asks Zeus whether a sense of shame and ofjustice should be allotted to all humans
perceivers, there really is no automatic reason to prefer divine perceptions, and hence no equally, or in the same way as medicine and some other skills, so that one skilled person is
absurdity. Plato may well want us to infer that the Greek gods are not different just in enough for the needs of many individuals.
respect of being perceivers from humans. But they are different in their powers of
judgement about perceptions.

19h. Protagoras' response to objections A-C: translation of 162d3-


163a6

162d3 Socrates. Yes, dear boy, thats because you are young: so you are quick to ^ive an
ear to mob-oratory, and it wins you over. Here is how Protagoras, or his
representative, will reply to our objections.

The Protagorean view appears to Theaetetus, and therefore also is for him, just as long as it appears; but
it doesnt appear to him for very long.
While the Greek gods often see further afield than humans do (Iliad Xni. I-l 1: Zeus turns his eyes from
Troy to the furthest barbarians), and sometimes foresee the future {Iliad XXn. 168: Hectors death foreseen by
2^us), they also forget things, and can be deceived. That Homer does not make the gods sufficiently superior Protagoras echoes Socrates exhortation to Theaetetus to take his mathematical answer as a model for his
to humans in their perceptions is a theme of the critique of Republic II-III: see, e.g., Republic 390c-d. philosophical answer (148d5-9).
94 Objection D: languages and alphabets: translation of 163a7-c5 95

20. Four objections to Dl: 163a7-168c2 163bl Socrates. So, then, shall we agree that everything that we perceive by hearing or
sight, we also simultaneously know? Suppose, for example, that we have not yet
learned some foreign language. When the foreigner says something, shall we say that
we do not hear him? Or shall we say that we both hear him say something, and know
20a. (i) Introduction to 163a7-168c2 what he is saying? Or suppose again that we do not know our letters. When we look
What is the role of arguments D-G in the development of the critique of Dl? Like the at some writing, shall we insist that we do not see it? Or shall we insist that if we do
three objections to Protagoras that immediately precede them (on which see section 19a see it, then we must know what it says?
above), these objections have an air of comedy about them. Burnyeat p.22 observes that D- 163b8 Theaetetus. No, Socrates, we will say this: whatwe/:ow of the letters or the voice is
G (163a-165e) seem to be, in Platos view, a model demonstration of how not to go about exactly the same as what we see of the letters or hear of the voice. With the letters,
criticising the thesis that knowledge is perception, because they isolate that thesis from their shape and their colour is what we see, and also what we know. With the voice,
epistemology and metaphysics, and merely point to various sentential contexts in wKich its rise and fall in pitch is what we hear, and also what we know. What we do not
know of the letters or the voice is Mso what we do not perceive (by sight or by
knows and perceives are not interchangeable without loss of sense or truth.
hearing): namely, what grammarians c'an tell us about the letters, and what
Platos real attitude to this sort of argument, on Bumyeats reading, is a dismissive interpreters can tell us about the voice.
one. But Burnyeat righUy questions Platos attitude. The method of testing a definidon by 163c4 Socrates. Thats a lovely-answer, Theaetetus. It deserves to stand unopposed by me,
substitutions is a sound one, and as Burnyeat says, Plato underrates it. Plato should not reject so that you can learn from it.
these arguments (as he evidently does: 164c8,165a7,166el) on the grounds that they insist \
upon a too rigid and superficial verbal consistency. Some of the objectidns, e.g. F, seem
outrageous. Others, e.g. E and G, pose real problems for Protagoras.^ 20c. Commentary on 163a7-c5
20a. (ii) Summary of the argument of 163a7-168c2 Runciman p. 15 describes this argument as the same as the final argument against
At 163a7 Socrates turns back from Protagoras to the original definitioh Dl, Dl of 184-187 (objection L: see section 26). If Runciman is right, then D must be taken
Knowledge is nothing other than perception. There follow four objections to Dl: seriouslyeven if the truth is only that D states crudely what L states carefully.
D. Objection from languages and alphabets (163a7-c5) Certainly there are important connections between D and L. To see these
E. Objection from memory (163c5-165a3) connections, we may begin with Socrates last remark (163c4-5). What does Theaetetus
F. _The covered eye objection (165a4-165d2) have to learn from his answer to objection D?
G. Objection from adverbs (165d2-e4) Well, he needs to learn to see the hole in his answer. The hole is this: if we knew
Theaetetus suggests a quick response to D; Socrates indicates his dissatisfaction with what grammarians can tell us about the letters, and what interpreters can tell ps about the
E. Then in a long speech from 166al-168c2, Socrates suggests how Protagoras might voice, then we would not- also perceive this. Understanding some spoken or written
respond to all seven of objections A-G, irrespective of whether they are strictly objections to utterance involves knowledge that you do not have if you do not understand the utterance.
Protagoras homomensura doctrine, or to Dl. But it does not involve any perception that you do. not have if you do not understand the
utterance. This, shows that there is knowledge that is not also perceptionknowledge that is
I shall take these four arguments, and Protagoras response to them, one by one (20b-
not even correlated with any perception.*
20j).
Therp seem to be two ways for Theaetetus to repair tjiis hole in his objection. The
first is simply to provide a definition of perception that entails that to every piece of
20b. Objection D: languages and alphabets: translation of 163a7-c5 knowledge there corresponds some perception. In that case, what grammarians can tell us
about the letters, and what interpreters can tell us about the voice will by definition be
163a7 Socrates. Then let us address the issue by asking whether knowledge and perception something that we also perceive, if we know it. But this definitional move trivialises the
are indeed the same thing, or are different. That, presumably, is the question our claim that knowledge is perception.
whole argument has been aiming at. It was for the sake of this question that we The second way for Theaetetus to repair his objection is to say that there is an
stirred up this legion of absurdities, wasnt it? ambiguity in both know and perceive. Suppdse a Kalahari bushman is presented with a
Theaetetus. Indeed it was. chess set for the first time. Then, we may say, the bushman will both know and perceive the
chess set. But since the bushman has never seen a game of chess, he will neither know nor
Sayre PAM p.80 thinks that At least part of the purpose behind the apparently frivolous arguments [D-
F] is to draw attention to certain irrelevant senses of knowledge, and to forestall any misguided attempt to Cp. McDowell p.l60: Theaetetus response does nothing to show that the knowledge which [the
refute Theaetetus by showing that knowledge in one of these senses is not perception. How&ver, I see no subjects] fail to have can be identified with some perception which they fail to have. For... there is no relevant
evidence that arguments D-F in any way depend on, or develop, a variety of senses of knowledge. perception which they fail to have, since they see the letters and hear the words. (Cp. also Comford p.63 n.2.)
96 Four objections to D1; 163a7-168c2 Objection E; memory: translation of 163c6-165a3 97

perceive the chess set as'a chess set. Likewise with the utterances of Socrates example. It is Socrates. Even with his eyes shut? Or does he forget when he shuts his eyes?
one thing to know, or perceive, a piece of language. It is another to perceive it as a piece of Theaetetus. That would be a bizarre thing to say, Socrates.
language. But (Theaetetus cap say) this difference is not a distinction between knowing and 164al Socrates. But its what we have to say, if we are going to save our earlier thesis. If
perceiving. For both knowledge and perceiving are found on both sides of the'distinction. we dont, then that thesis is doomed.
This second possible response is more interesting. It brings out something that I have Theaetetus. By Zeus, that is what I suspected myself. But I dont entirely follow your
already suggested Plato himself is interested in bringing out, namely the difference between argument. Please explain why.
bare perceptions and judgements about perceptions. Plato' will eventually argue that it is Socrates. This is the explanation. We say thatsomeone who sees, has come to know
precisely this distinction that constitutes the real disfinction between perception and what he sees. For its agreed that sight'and perception and knowledge are all the
knowledge (184-187). same. -
Theaetetus. Yes, absolutely.
And so, presumably, Plato will reject the suggestion that both knowledge and Socrates. But suppose that someone who has seen something, and come to know
perceiving are to be found on both ^ides of thp distinction. He will answer: Yqu could say what he sees, shuts his eyes. Then he remembers it, but he does not see it. Isnt that
that, no doubt. But it would be a mistake.to think that doing so would be more than another right?
verbal manoeuvre, or would really help the definition of knov^lqdge as perception.
Theaetetus. Yes.
Notice that Platos distinction between bare perceptions and judgements about 164bl Socrates. Now if sees equals knows, then does not see equals does not
perceptions is close to the modern distinctioh between objectual and propositional know.
knowledge. Cp. McDowell, pp.l60, 118, and my criticisms (section 6a) of Runcimans Theaetetus. True.
claim that Plato is unaware of this distinction. Socrates. So this is the consequence. When someone has come to know something,
and remembers it [but does not see it], then he does not know it, because he does not
see it. And this is what we said would be a prodigy in nature if it came about!
20d. pbje.ction E: memory: translation of 163c6-lj55a3 Theaetetus. Youre absolutely right.
^ Socrates. Thus the claim that perception and knowledge are the same seems to imply
163c6 Socrates. But watch out: here comes another objection. Lets see how we can fend it something impossible. t
off. Theaetetus. Apparently.
Theaetetus. What is it this time? Socjates. Therefore, we should say that they are not the same.
Socrates. The problem is that someone might ask us this question. Suppose that Theaetetus. Quite possibly.^
someone came to have knowledge of something at a given time in the past. He still 164c 1 Socrates. So what is jcnowledge? It looks like we must start the argument again from
holds dnd preserves a memory of this same thing in the present. So doesnt he know the very beginning...
this'thing that he retfiembers, at the time when he remembers it? But Jheaetetus, whatever are we doing now? ^
Im sorry. I sedm to be making long speeches, when aU'l want to ask is this: Can it Theaetetus. Doing about what?
be that someone wh*Q has learnt sometlurig'and remembers it, might noiknow it? Socrates. What we are doing reminds me of an ill bred fighting cock: we are jumping
I'63d6Theaetetus. Well of course he knows it, Socrates. It Would be a^rodigy in nature awaj^ from the other bird to crow aFoiit our victory' bvit we havent won yet.
(teras) if the case that^ou describe happened, and he didn't know it. Theaetetus. How so? * ' ^
Socrates. But look here. Perhaps Ive gone mad, but I thought yoii said that seeing Socrates. Apphrehtly were delighted to havd come out on top of the argument by
was perceiving and sight was perception? acting like professional gdinsayers: We'have simply^ agreed with each other atibut
Theaetetus. No, I did say that. how to make wofds ^gree with each other, and carried on in a merely verbal'fashibn.
-Socrates. So by the argument just given, the man who has seen soihething has come We call ourselves philosophers,' not debating-prizd orators. Butwe havent noticed
to know what heUias seen. that we are doing exactly the same as those ingenious men.
163e2 Theaetetus. Yes. 164d2 Theaetetus. I still dont see what you mean.
Socrates. Well then, you surely dont deny the existence of memory? Socrates. Then I will try to explain about these arguments, or at least about what I
Theaetetus.memory exists. think about them. Our question was whether someone who has learned something
Socrates. Is memory memory ofsomethingl Or can there be memory ofnothingl and remembers i't, alsojt/iows' it: "If sopieone sefes something' and then shuts'his eyes,
Theaetefus. Obviously memory has to be memory ofsomething. we proved that he remembers it but does not see it. And then we proved that he does
Socrates. So memory is memory of things a man has learned or perceived in the not know the very thing that he remfemb^ers. But this, jve thought, was im^jossible. As
past^things like that? a result, Protagoras whole story'collapsed. And your own story about knowledge
Theaetetus. Why, yes. and perception, which'says that ttiey hfe identical, collapsed at the sam^ time.
Socrates-. So a man sometimes remembers something that he has seen. 164el Apparently so.'* ^
Theaetetus. He does, yes.
98 Four objections to D1:163a7-168c2 Objection F: the covered eye: translation of 165a4-165dl 99

Socrates. If the father of the other story were alive, my friend, I doubt his story Theodorus. Why, to both of us together, Socrates; but let the junior give the answers.
would collapse like yours has. No, Protagoras would call up all sorts of It will be less embarrassing for him to be thrown by the argument.
Teinforcements. But now ,here we are throwing mud at his orphan. And even the 165b2 Socrates. Then let me put to him the trickiest question of all. I believe it goes
guardians whom Protagoras appointed, including Theodorus here, are doing nothing something like this: If someone knows something, is it possible for that same person
to help the child. So possibly, to keep things fair, we ourselves should come to its also not to know the thing that he knows?
aid. Theodorus. Well, Theaetetus, what shall our answer be?
164e9 Theodorus. Yes, do that, Socrates. For I am not the orphans guardian: that is rather Theaetetus. For my own part, I think its impossible.
Callias son of Hipponicus. Myself, I abandoned these displays of naked logic (psildn Socrates. No, it is possible. At least, it is if you ^ay that seeing is knowing. You are
logon) at quite an early stage, and took to geometry instead. All the same, I shall be caught in the proverbial man-trap, Theaetetus, by an unavoidable question. How are
grateful to you if you come to the aid of this orphan. you going to deal with it, when your indefatigable opponent covers one of your eyes
165a3 with his hand, ^d asks you if you can see his shirt with the eye that is covered?
165c2 Theaetetus. I think Ill just say: Not with that eye, but I can with the other one.
Socrates. Then dont you see and not see the same thing at the same time?
20e. Commentary on 163c6-165a3 Theaetetus. I suppose so, in a way.
Socrates. No, no (your opponent will say) I didnt ask you for an in a way. The
164a6: Its agreed that sight and perception and knowledge are all the same: This is question I set you wasnt whether there is some odd way in which someone can both
inaccurate. Since sight is only one sort of perception, sees obviously does not equal know and not know something. It was about whether that'can happen in any way at
"knows (164bl). all, odd or not. In the present case, its clear that you both see and dont see the shirt.
Perhaps equals is not what is intended in 164bl: the Greek is only esti. However, if And as it happens, you have already agreed that seeing is knowing, and not seeing is
we weaken equals to entails, then we get a different problem, namely that 164bl is now not knowing. So work out the conclusion that these premisses get you to!
an obvious non sequitur. If sees entails knows, it does not follow that does not see 165dl Theaetetus. Well, as I work it out, they get me to the conclusion that my definition of
entails does not know. The point is noted by McDowell p.l61: [It] is alleged to be a knowledge is wrong.
consequence of [Dl] [that if one does not see something, one does not know it]. But it is
obviously no such thing.
20g. Commentary on 165a4-165dl
As McDowell also notes, the remedy is obvious. We can rescue the argument simply
by adding the assumption that sight is the only sort of perception involved (an assumption McDowell pp. 161-3 thinks that both arguments E and F depend for their plausibility
that seems fair enough, in the example of shutting your eyes). With that assumption in place, on their failure to pay attention to expressions, and specific^ly on their illegitimate
the premisses (1) that knowledge is perception, and (2) that someone can remember what dropping of crucial qualifiers such as those italicised in seeing with this eye and
they do not see, do entail the absurd conclusion that remembering something is not knowing perceiving by memory. McDowells suggestion is that the dropping of the qualifiers in F is
it. a transparent.sophistry to which Plato deliberately draws our attention, to show us why E is
However, as Comford p.65 observes, Protagoreans can deal easily with this revised a sophistry too. The suggestion is ingenious. But it faces an awkward question: If so, why
version of E. They can simply reject the assumption, and say that inemory too is a sort of does Plato present an argument against Protagoras (H, the Peritrope), apparently meant with
perceiving. This is what Protagoras does at 166bl,-4? though Cornfqrd thinks that the move full seriousness, that seems to involve the same sophistical dropping of qualifications?.
risks tnyi^ising the equation pf knowledge ^d perception: If Theaetetus definition of A possible alternative reading of E and F is this. Plato thinks that both these
knowledge as perception is to be saved, perception must b.e stretched to cover awareness of arguments are worth more than is allowed by Runciman p.l3 (who describes the covered
memory-objects.^ Since there would be no objection to that, Socrates herebreaks off what eye objection as fairly obviously a joke). Platos view is that these arguments make an
threatens to become a me^e dispute about words. important point about the logical behaviour of some qualifiers: hamely, that those qualifiers
For more about Objection E, see section 20f. behave differently in relation to knowledge and to perception. So the arguments have some
force as part of Socrates critique of Dl,
20f. Objection F: the covered eye: translation of 165a4-165dl To explain this suggestion a little more. Suppose that someone X sees O at tl, and
remembers O at t2; and suppose for the sake of argument that Protagoras is right (166b4)
165a4 Socrates. Just as you say, Theodorus. So lets see how I can help Protagoras orphan. thatmemory tools a sort of perception. Then between tl andt2, the sort of perception that is
A man might have to agree to something even more dreadful than our last going on in X has changed in an obvious way. For at tl the perception that was going on was
conclusiqps, if he did not keep in mind the terms that we habitually use for agreeing sighty whereas at t2 it is memory. But, crucially, there is no parallel change in the sort of
and disagreeing... Shall I explain how this might happen to you, or to Theaetetus? knowledge that is present in X at tl and t2. So the point that objection E makes against Dl is
that there is still a lack of parallel between knowledge and perception, even if we allow that
Four objections to D1:163a7-l 68c2 Commentary on 165d2-e4 101
100

memory is a kind of perception. On the side of perception, we want to put in the qualifiers: 20i. Commentary on 165d2-e4
X perceives O&tt by sight] X perceives O at t2 by memory. On the side of knowledge,
such qualifiers are unnecessary (and perhaps impossible). At both t and t2, X simply knows Objection G seems to provide a further way of making the points made by E and F,
O. that states of perception can and do vary without states of knowledge varying, and that
If this is the point of E, then we may suggest that F makes a very similar point, as perception is dependefit on its instruments in ways that knowledge is not. Adverbial
qualifications too, G tells us, can modify experiences o^" perception in ways with which no
follows. It is natural to say that'X^riortnally sees O with both eyes, whereas X with one eye
covered sees O with the other eye and does not see O with the covered eye. But the modification of experiences of knowledge will be correlated.
variations in percef)tion of O that prompt these qualifications do not correspond to vanations Burnyeat p.22 finds argument G impressive and Rylean. (Cp. Ryle, The Concept
in knowledge of O that prompt parallel qualifications. So states of perception can and do ofMind, e.g. p.63 on volitions: Can they be sudden or gradual, strong or weak, difficult or
vary without states of knowledge varying, and perception is dependent on its instruments in easy, enjoyable or disagreeable?...) But Burnyeat doubts thatPfato is as impressed by G as
ways that knowledgb is not. So there are differences between perception and knowledge. So he should be (Burnyeat p.22; cp.sebtion 20a above): Plato makes it clear that in his view
perception and knowledge are not identical. [an argument like G] is no better than one which [like F] stains from the outrageous premiss
However, E and F are still open to a different objection when read this way. This is that a man with one eye covered both sees and does not see the cloak in front of him.
that its also true that states of perception ofone sort can vary without states of perception of McDowell pp. 163-4 thinks that if G were Rylean, then it would be rather powerful,
another sort varying.-If X goes on seeing O after one of his eyes is cpvered, then X sees O but thinks that clues in the context of G should lead us to expect the arguments of the
is unqualifiedly true throughout this process. Again, suppose that X goes on remembering O present passage to be transparently sophistical. He therefore supplies an Alternative reading
kfter both of his eyes are covered, ft we say (like Protagoras) that remembering counts as of G that is transparently sophistical: The adverbial modifications yield opportunities for [a
perception, then X .perceives O will be unqualifiedly true throughout this process. logic-chopper] ta derive spurious contradictions. One of the arguments [under G might'be:]
Admittedly, it is not clear in this latter case what sortof ^rception it is that does not vary someone who sees something clearly does not see it dimly. Hence, dropping the adverbs, he
throughout the process. But a Protagorean can retort that it is not cle^, either, what sort of both sees it and does not see it.
knowledge it is that does not vary throughout the variations in perception pointed to above. McDowell is right that the contextual clues should lead us to think that there may
Plato still lacks a solid argument to show that knowledge and perception cannot be well be something wrong with G. But G does not have to be transparently fallacious.
identified by someone who is willing, as Protagoras undoubtedly is, to be sufficiently McDowells suggestion about the fallacy in G is an odd inversion of the Principle of
flexible about the meaning of perception. Charity.
Moreover, McDowells reading faces two obstacle^. First, the text more obviously
20h. Objection G to Protagoras' view: adverbs: translation of 165d2- and naturally supports the Rylean reading than the logic-chopping reading. 165d2-4
sounds pretty much like the application of a substitution test (Burnyeat p.22),which puts
e4 to know for to perceive. It does not sound ^ery much like a way of arguing.that if I am
perceiving clearly then I am not perceiving dully,and so am not perceiving.
165d2 Socrates. And no doubt, my wonderful Theaetetus, your definition lyould be in even
more trouble, if someone asked you whether it is possible to know clearly on the one Second (and more importantly), McDowells logic-chopper must deny, implausibly,
hand, dully on (he other;and to know from close up, but not from far away; and to that any adverbial qualifications whatever of knowledge are permissible. For otherwise, a
know the same, thing both intensely and faintly. There are ten.thousand other parallel logic-chopping argument will- show that sometimes someone knows X F-ly but not
questions of this soi;t, with which the nimble philojophiqal mercenary might G4y. (Perhaps, for exaniple, he knows it clearly-but not certainly, or knows it at t2, but not
ambush you; and all because you said that knowledge and perception ^e identical. at tl.) Therefore, dropping the qualifiers, he both knows X and-does.not know X. But the
The mercenary \vould attack you about hearing and about smelling, and about logic-choppers original point was that the reason why knowledge*cant equal perception is
perceptions of fhat sort. He would keep up a running refutation until he had you all in because this can happen with perception, but cant with knowledge. Presumably the
a knot, still marvelling at a wisdom that you can only wish for. Then once you were argument cannot be this sophistical.
his captive, tied and bound, he would hold you to ransom until you paid a pnce The problem-with E-G is simply that, like all the objections given up to this point,
agreed between you."^^ they are suggestive but not cogent. They show that what we usually call perception
165e4 undergoes sorts of variation which are not mirrored by variations undergone by what we
usually call knowledge. But as Protagoras points out at 168cl-3,.that does not prove that
what we usually call knowledge is not really just perception of a special aiid undsual sort.
5 Peltastikos oner misthophoros en logois: the phrase refers, of course, to the sophists. Unlike the citizen
soldiers (the heavily-armed hoplites), who fought only for their own city, the lightly-armed peltasts were
mercenaries, who would.fight in any cause for which they were pmd.
An allusion to Protagoras custom of making his pupils pay hiiftVhalever sum they would swear on oath ^ Protagoras, by contrast, sees no difficulty at all in someones knoiving and not knowing the same thing:
appeared the right fee to them. Cp. Note 85. I66b5 ff.
102 Four objections to D1:163a7-168c2 Translation of 165e4-l 68c2 103

quite different from other sorts of perception. To establish that point, something different is there is such a thing as a unitary person? Wont he prefer to speak of persons in the
needed. In objections H and I, something different is coming. plural, and of persons who are becoming indefinitely many, for as long as the process
of becoming different goes on?
166c2 Come, my gifted Socrates, Protagoras will say: address what I actually
20j. Protagoras' response to all seven arguments A-G: summary of the say78 with a bit more generosity.'Prove', if you know how to, that it is false that
argument of 165e4-168c2 individual perceptions come to be for each one of us. Or prove that, although our
perceptions are individual, it does not follow that what appears-to anyone, comes to
In this long and rather haughty speech Protagoras dismisses all of the arguments be for him alone to whom it appears.' (Or is for him alone, if you prefer.)
that have so far been brought against his own position and Dl, and accuses Socrates of 166c7 As for bringing pigs and baboons into the argument: when you do that you
cheap controversialism and dirty fighting. are not merely descending to a porcine level yourself. You are also encouraging your
hearers to treat my writings on that level. This'is a dishonourable way to behave.
Protagoras takes the objections in the following order (and he intersperses more
general comments on the..whole set of objections, and on Socrates methods): 166dl I tell you that the truth is as I have written Each of us is a measure of the
things that are and are not. But there are ten thousand differences between one man
E (memory): 166bl-3, b7-c6 and another in how this measuring works; and so different things are and appear to
F (the covered eye):tl66b4-7, b7-c6 different people.
A (animal perceptions): 166c7-167d3 166d5 Therefore I am very far from saying that wisdom and the wise man do not
B (no difference between wisdom and folly): 167b5-d3 exist. Rather, I say that the wise man is the one who can transform one of us to
G (adverbs): 1^8b9-cl (implicitly) ' whom bad things are and appear, so that good things are and appear to him.
In this speech Protagoras says nothing specific about either C (divine perceptions) 166el Again, do not go after the words I use in my argument. Try instead to get
or D (alphabets). 165e7 suggests that the reason why not is because he regards them as clearer about what my view actually is. Remember what was said in the earlier part
already sufficiently refuted by 162d3-e9 and 163b-c3 respectively. of the argument: that what a sick man eats appears and is bitter to him, whereas to a
healthy man, it appears and is sweet. There is no call to make either of these men
wiser, indeed, thats not even possible. Nor should it betelaimed that the sick man is
20k. Translation of 165e4-168c2 tgnomwr because he has these beliefs? or that the healthy man is wise because he has
different beliefs. Rather, what is needed is a change from the sick mans to the
165e4 Socrates. So then, you might ask, what auxiliary argument will Protagoras bring up healthy mans state;Tor the healthy mans condition is better.
to defend his theory? Shall we try to take the debate further? 167a4 This is the point of education, too: to* bring about a change from one
Theaeteius. Yes, absolutely. condition to another, better condition. A doctor brings about a change by using
165e7 Socrates. He will'begin with all the arguments that we have made in his defence. drugs, a sophist^o by using arguments (/ogow);butdn truth, rio p;ie has ever caused
And then, I think, he will close in on Us with some such disdainful speech as this: anyone to have true beliefs where they previously had false beliefs. For it isnt eVen
166a2 This naive Socrates put a little boy to the question, asking whether it was possible tp believe what is not.* The only beliefs you can have are whatever it is that
possible for the same person to remember the same thing at the same time as not you experience; and what you experience is always true.
knowing it. The little boy was frightened, and so he'said it wasnt, because he 167bl' What can happen, I think,t is this. -Someones soul can be in a vicious
couldnt see what was coming. And thus Socrates.arguments proved me ridiculous! condition, and form the'beliefs that go naturally with that viciousness. Then a good
166a6 Well, Socrates, .youre easily satisfied. But here is how things really are. condition of soul arises, and makes the mans belief^ change so that they are good
When you consider one of my theses by your question-and-answer method, if your too. Some people naively call these good appearances true beliefs. I call them better
respondent gives the same answers as I myself would give, and takes a tumble, then I beliefs than the others, but not at sail truer beliefs.
am proved wrong. But if he gives different answers from mine, then he alone is 167b5 Again, my dear Socrates,' I am far from equating the wise with tadpoles. No:
refuted. ; I say, for example, that the wise about bodies are doctors, and the wise about plants
166b 1 For example, do you think that anyone will agree with you that the memory
that someone has of a past experience, which he is no longer having, is anything like 7 It is impossible to be certain how authentic Platos Protagoras is. Comford p.72 argues that at any rate the
the experience itself was when he had it? Of course they wont. claims of 166d-167d must be genuinely Protagorean, on the grounds that Protagoras must have reconciled Ms
166b4 "Or again, will anyone be ^bashed to agree that it is possible for the same claim [to superior wisdom] with his doctrine that all opinions are equally true, and can only have done so by
arguing, as he does here, that some opinions are better, though not truer, than others, and that Ms own
person both to Imow and not know the same thing? Or even if someone does take business, as an educator, w^ to substitute better opinions for worse. There Is little basis for Comfords claim
ftight at that, will he ever grant that someone after they have become dissimilar is that Protagoras must have argued like tMs.
identical with someone before they have become dissimilar? 7 Another allusion to the title of Protagorasbook.
Protagoras, use of theterm sophistes here and at 167c8 seems deliberately provocative.
166b7 Indeed, if we are really in the kind of debate where we have to take constant
^-Argument about this famous sophistry traces a thread through Platos writings fixfin Cratylus to Sophist.
precautions against each others verbal traps, will my true advocate even grant that Here, Protagoras statement of it anticipates 187d-200d. Cp. also 170b9.
104 Four objections to D1:163a7-168c2 Translation of 165e4-168c2 105

are gardeners. I say that when a plant is not well, what ^ gardener does is to bring onomatdn). For when the multitude (hoi polloi)^ twist ordinary language in
about init good and healthy and (if you like) true perceptions in place of harmful whatever way occurs to them, they create all sorts of illusory philosophical puzzles
perceptions. for each other.
167cl Similarly, wise and virtuous, orators are those who bring it about that what 168c2
seems just to their cities is what is beneficial, not what is harmful. For whatever is
perceived as just and honourable {kala) by a city is just and honourable to that city,
for exactly as long as it maintains this opinion {heds an xmta nomizii). The wise man 201. Commentary on 165e4-168c8
is the one who can bring it about that what is and appears justand hohourable to each
such city, is what is [really] J?eneficial to them, not really harmful iponerdn ontdn Protagoras first point, against objection E (the memory objection), is that he can
autois). By the sameargument, the sophist who is able to teach his pupils in this hold D1 andyet avoid the contradiction of asserting that in meinory one goes on knowing
sense is not only wise; he is also*entitled to aiarge fee from those who graduate from (^d so, by Dl, perceiving) what one is no longer perceiving. He'does this by saying instead
his school.^ that there are different sorts of experience involved in perception (166bl-3), and that the
167dl This explains how some people really are wiser than others, even though no perception of a memory-trace of Y and th'e perception ofY are two such different sorts.
one has false beliefs. So even you, Socrates, will have to put up with, being a ' Butthen whatisitthatmakesamemoryofYtobeamemory o/Y and not a memory
measure, whether you like it or not; for that is what the consistent application of my of something efse, if it isnt true that a memory of Y and a perc^tion of Y are of the sam
theory demands. '> sort? As the exposition of Protagorass views goes on to reveal, it isnt cle^ how
167d4 Ifyou have the ability to oppose this theory from first principles, then Protagoras can make sense of the idea of any two'tliings being of the same sort. (Cp. the
- dispute it by bringing up an alternative theory. Or if you want to proceed by the Heracleitejiris difficulty about giving an account of xymmetria: see section 16c above on
question-and-answer method, then ask away. Questionrand-answer debates are not l'56a-157c.) This is a serious difficulty for Protagoras. ,
j Something'to be avoided: on the contrary,' there is nothing*a man of good sense will To meet it, Protagor^ might suggest that two things are of the same sort if there is a
jnore eagerly seek. Butat any rate there is one thing you should not do. Do not fight perception that they are of the same sort. But then one would like to say: whatever is going
dirty (mi adikei en toi erdtan)}} It'iS completely unreasonable for someone who to seem right to me is right. And tiiat only means that here we cant talk about right
professes a concern fof justice to keep on and on arguing unfairly. Someone argues (^\\Xgc.miem,^Philosophical Investigations I, 258).
unfairly when they do not keep apart verbal athletics and true dialectic. In a mere
verbal .contest, you play-(Childish tricks on your topponent,- and-catch him out Next,(166b4-7) Protagoras points out thathis ^swer to F (the covered eye objection)
whenever you can. But in true dialectics you apply yourselfyou even help your is ^mply that one and tlje.same person can both know .and nqt.know sopiething. This is
opponent to get his argument straight. The only stumbles that-you point out to your possible, he thinks, because the conventional^way of,identifying persons as one and the same
opponent are those that he himself is responsible for; or that arise from the way he i% faulfy. Selves ^e individuated, if at 2dl,,]?y4hp|r,perceptions. So there c^m^be no a priori
was taught .philosophy in the past. .1-. ban on the occxurence of two contradictory perceptions in what convention calls Jhe same
168al If you will'argue in die way I suggest, Socrates, those who'Spend time in person. Such an occurrence only shows that convention is wrqn^.
debate with you will not blam6 'their disarray and their perplexity on you, but on
themselves. They will chase after you and love you, but they will hate the way they At 166c7 Protagoras dismisses A by describing it as abuse. This description is
are, and they will lose themselves in philosophy so as to become new men, entirely inaccurate. Objection A makes a serious point about the consequences of making every
changed from what they were before. Whereas if (like most teachers) you do the judgement equally authoritative. It does need an'answer (pace Comford p.70: [A] really
needs no answer), anddespite his calling it iiiere abuse,rotagoras quickly gives it one, by
opposite to what I suggest, you will get the opposite results. Instead of lovers of
wisdom, you will produce-pupils.who, when'they get older, will hate philosophy. presenting an account of the nature of teaching which also helps him to deal with objectfon
168b2 So if you will take my advice, just as I stated it before^ you will avoid B'(166d-l'67b).
hostility ind combativeness. You will sit down with me in a gentle mood, and truly Compare Protagoras account of teaching with Platos own accounts: Meno 80c-86b,
seek to discover what it is that Heracleitus -and I mean when we declare that all Republic 514a-519a, Theaetetus 148c-lMd, Symposium 175a-b. In a way, Plato and
things are in process, and that what appears to each one, also is to that one (whether Protagoras agree that teaching is impossible. For opposite reasons, they botH think that a
each one means each individual or each state). It is by settling these questions change from false and baseless belief to rationally-based knowledge cannot b'e inipbsed
that you will be able to form a view about whether or not knowledge and perception upon a pupil by simple mechanical means like repetition, conditioning, or listening to
are identical; not by using arguments which (hke the one you used just now [G?]) lectures. Plato thinks this because he holds tha.t the pupil h^ to bring about that bhange in
rely on the customary usage of terms and names iek synitheias rhematon te. kai himsqlf. All a teacher can do is prompt him to reason a^ay/his false, beli^fs,,and replace
them with true ones. Protagoras, by contrast, thinks this because he holds that no pupil is in a
'I '

Protagoras defends himself.from Socrates remarks about mercenary" teachers of wisdom: 165d2-e4.
Comford p.68: The sophist is (ironically) represented as exporting the dialectician to argue seriously, Here as elsewhere (e.g. Protagoras 352e3) Protagoras is made to speak by Plato with a disdain for hoi
not catching at words. polloi surprising in a man whose motto is the homomensura slogan.
106 Four objections to D1:163a7-168c2 Commentary on 165e4-168c8 107

state of false belief to start with. Since there are no false beliefs, the change that a teacher making them better in Protagoras's view: X is better in Protagorass view obviously
can'bring about is not a change'from false belief to true belief or knowledge. Nor, therefore, has a different meaning from X feels better. But then, of course, Protagoras faces the
is the change effected by reasoning. question why his view about what is better deserves our special attention. More about that
, Instead Protagoras model of teaching is a[f/ieTO/?ei^model. What a good teacher question in my discussion of objection H in section 21c.
' does, according to him, is use logoi (167a7: notice tSatProtagoras is no slower than Plato to A further problem also looms for Protagoras. To talk of something (e.g. some belief)
lay claim to the noun logos) as a good doctor uses drugs, to replace the state of the soul in as beneficial is to predict its future effects. On the face of it, the assessment of these future
which phainetai kai esti kaka, bad things are and appear, by one in which agatha effects is a paradigm case of objective judgement. Moreover, it involves a sortofjudgement
phainetai te kai esti, good things are and appear. Protagoras thesis is that, while all beliefs that cannot plausibly be reduced to anything that deserves the name perception. This further
^e true, not all beliefs are beneficial The truth of all beliefs does not, pace Socrates, leave problem for Protagoras argument will be taken up by Plato in objection I: see section 22.
teachers, politicians and other persuaders with nopiirig to do. The role of the teacher (or the
politician) is to induce beneficial beliefs inhis pupils (or fellow citizens).^
On this interpretation, there is less analogy between Protagoras and the pragmatist
than F.C.S.Schiller and A.E.Taylor imagined. (See Schiller, Plato or Protagoras?, Oxford &
London 1908^ an4 T^lj^fpr p.332: The defence made by Socrates for Protagoras [at 166d-
167c] amounts to'crediting him with a pragmatisP view.) The pragmatist, e.g. Schiller
himself, thinks that what is true is identical with what it is beneficial to believe (in the long
run). Protagoras thinks no such thing. For Protagoras beUeyes the following conjunction:
All beliefs are true, and only some'beliefs are beneficial to believe. If he were a pragmatist
in Schillers style he would have to deny one of these conjuncts. (The former, presumably.)
A difficulty for Protagoras position, thus interpreted, is that it becomes an objective
matter that one of two states of mind is more beneficial than the other, and an equally
objective, non-relative question whether experts exist (Bumyeat pp.23-5). If all beliefs are
true, then all beliefs about which beliefs are beneficial must be true. But surely, some beliefs
about whjch beliefs are beneficial contradict other beliefs about which beliefs are beneficial;
especiall\8f some people are better than others at bringing about beneficial beliefs. (For
example-no doubt Platos and Protagdfas beliefs conflict at this point.)-This means that
Protagoras view entails a contradiction of the same sort as objection H seems to be meant to
bring out.
There are two obvious ways for Protagoras to avoid this contradiction. First, he can
claim that there are no beliefs about which beliefs are beneficial that contradict his own.
(Even if p^oplqbelieve that there are such beliefs? Cp. the pupils bath mentioned above.)
Or second, Protagoras can be careful to use terms like beneficial and harmful only with
the implicit proviso that what settles their meaning (forProtagoras) is only what seems
beneficial or harmful to Protagoras.
Protagoras evidently wants to be able to say, as the objectivist about truth can, that
some who claim to have wisdom are really charlatans; and that being a charlatan means
making people/ee/ better without making them really better. Protagoras relativism leaves
him no room to say this if making someone really betterls simply equated with making
them feel better. This equation can be avoided if malting someone really better means

A famous anecdote about Protagoras, possibly alluded to at 165e3 and 167c8-10, sbid that he required his
pupils to pay whatever seemed to them the appropriate fee for his instruction.'^They had to swear on oath that
they really believed that they o^ed him N drachmas, and then deliver that sum to him. Evidently the point of
this rule is that the more his pupUs have benefited from his teaching, the more they will come to have beliefs
that benefit them, including a high opinion of Protagoras teaching. Notice too the rules implication that
Protagoras thinks it possible for his pupils to make false claims about what seems true to them. This point is
obviously relevant to the peritropi argument; see below on H.
108
21. Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope: 168c2-
Translation of 168c2-l 71 c7
instead, each man for himself is just as good a measure as you are of astronomy, and
of all the other subjects in which you have such a distinguished reputation.
109
171c7 169a6 Theodorus. It isnt easy, Socrates, for anyone who sits down with you to avoid
giving an account (cp. Meno 98a2, Phaedo 76b5-6, Symposium 202a5-9). I must
have been mad to say just now that you would let me get away without stripping for
a bout, and that you would not force me into the ring like the Spartans do. But
21a. Summary of the argument of 168c2-171c7 actually you seem to me more like Sciron than the Spartans. At least the Spartans
give a man the option of leaving, if he does not want to strip and wrestle. Whereas
In a brief interlude (168c2-170a2), Socrates draws Theodorus back into answering on you seem to be playing the same sort of part as Antaeus: if anyone comes near you,
behalf of his friend Protagoras (16'8e9), on the grounds that it was unconvincing to leave you wont let them-get away until you have forced them to strip and fight a bout of
Protagoras with no advocate but a frightened little boy (namely Theaetetus, 166a). argument with you.^^
Theodorus continues to answer up to 184b4. I69h5'Socrates. Yes, Theodorus, your images capture my mental disorder (noson) very
well; except that I have more endurance than Sciron or Antaeus. For already ten
Then in 170a2-171c7 Socrates states an eighth objection, one which is apparently thousand Heracleses and Theseuses have fallen on me with their mighty speeches,
meant to be taken entirely seriously. This objection is directed specifically to Protagoras and given mef a good-poundings and Lhave not desisted in the least. That is how far I
doctrine. (Of course, if Protagoras views come to the same thing as Heracleitus views and am gone in my terrible passion for exercise about these questions. So dont you deny
Dl, an attack on Protagoras views is an attack on these other positions too.) This eighth
yourself, either: a wrestling match-will benefit-us both.
objection is the famous peritrope (table-turning) argument, which says that Protagoras 169c4 Theodorus. I shall protest no longer. Lead me wherever you like. In these inquiries,
position is self-refuting. the fate that you spin with your questions must unavoidably be borne. But I shall not
be able to remain in your hands beyond the point that you mention.
21b. Translation of 168c2-171c7 Socrates. Even if youonly go that far, it will be enough. But please be especially
careful about one thing: we must not fall into the trap of producing some childishly
168c2 Socrates. There you are, Theodorus. I have brought some small aid to your friend specious argument (paidikon ti eidos ton logon). That would be another thing to
Protagoras, according to my own small ability. If Protagoras himself were still alive, criticize us for.
he would have brought much more impressive forces to bear on his orphans behalf. 169d2 Theodorus.>^o, I will try to avoid that as far as I can. *
Socrates. So, then, first let us lay hands again on the same point as we started with.
Theodorus. You must be joking, Socrates. Your small aid was extremely vigorous.
Let us see whether we were correct or incorrect to be seveie'with Protagoras theory,
Socrates. Youre too kind. But tell me: did you notice that when Protagoras was
speaking just now, he found fault with us for addressing our arguments to the boy and to criticise it for making each manself-sufficient in understanding (phronesin).
Theaetetus, and said that we relied illegitimately on Theaetetus fright to help us win Protagoras conceded to us^ that people are different in their ability to tell the better
the argument? Didnt he denounce our discourse as a mere amusement, and gravely from the worse. Those whoare exceptionallygood at this, he calls the wise, doesnt
declare his own doctrine that Man is the Measure of All, calling on us to apply he?
ourselves seriously to his own-theory? Theodorus. Yes.
169d9 Socrates. If he were here with us and made that concession himself, so that it was not
168d5 Theodorus. How could I fail to notice it, Socrates?
Socrates. What do you think? Should we take this advice of his?
a concession that we made for him to help his argument, then there would be no need
to take the issue up again to make doubly sure about it. But at present, it could easily
Theodorus. Yes, definitely.
Socrates. All right, then: you can see that everyone listening is only a boy, except
be said that we were unauthorised to make such an admission on his-behalf: That is
yourself. So if we are going to take Protagoras advice, it is you and I who must use why it would be better if we could come to a clearer view of this matter. For it makes
the question-and-answer method to apply ourselves seriously to Protagoras theory. a lot of difference whether things are as Protagoras says, or not.
At least he wont then be able to blame us for joking around with mere youths when Theodorus. Youre right.
we were considering his theory.
168e4 Theodorus. Why does it have to be you and mel Dont you think that smooth
cheeked Theaetetus would follow your exploration of the theory better than many a Sciron was a monster who lurked on the cliff road from Eucleides home Megara to Theaetetus' place of
whiskery senior? death Corinth. Sciron would trick travellers into washing his feel, and then kick them over the cliffuntil the
Athenian hero Thfeseus tricked Sciron into washing his feet. The giant Antaeus was Cyrenian, like Theodoras.
168e8 Socrates. Certainly, Theodorus; but not better than you. Dont imagine that it is my
He would force travellers to wrestle with him and crash themuntil Heracles took him on and crushed him.
duty to do my utmost to defend your deceased friend, while you get away with doing Sciron and Antaeus were defeated when their own tactics were turned against them. The same, if Plato is
nothing. Come on, most excellent Theodorus. Follow out the course of the argument right, is about to happen to Protagoras.
a little way. Come at least as far as the point where we can see whether it is you, the 167a4, 167c7-d2. Despite what Socrates says, Protagoras does not at all present these claims as
expert, who will have to be the measure of astronomical diagrams; or whether. concessions to Socrates.
no Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope. 168c2-171 c7 Translation of 168c2-171 c7 111

169e9 Socrates. So then, we must not get his agreement from others. We must get it from 170e7 Socrates. Isntit also necessary to say the following, aboutProtagoras himself?:^If
Protagoras own most concise statement of his doctrine. not even Protagoras himself thinks that man is the measure of all things, nor the
170al Theodonts. How does that go? multitude neither (and indeed they dont think this), then that Truth that Protagoras
Socrates. Like this; What seems to each person, is to that person to whom it seems. wrote was not true for anyone. Whereas if Protagoras believes his own doctrine, and
Doesnt Protagoras say that? the multitude do not share his view, then consider the consequences. First, his Truth
Theodonts. Yes, he does. is not rather than is, just in proportion as those to whom it does not appear,
170a6 Socrates. But look,-Protagoras! We too are expressing what seems to a human, or outnumber those to whom it does appear.
rather what seems to all humans, when we say this: Everyone without exception 171 a4 Theodorus. Yes, that ip necessary, at least if it is or is not according to each persons
believes that there are some things that he is wiser about than other people, and some opinion.
things that other people are wiser about than he is. In the most dangerous crises in Socrates. Second consequencea most ingenious result: Protagoras agrees that all
war or plague, or in a storm at sea, the ordinary people regard the officers in charge mens opinions are true. So presumably Protagpras himself agrees with the
almost as gods, and expect them to be their saviours. Btit those in charge differ from judgement {oiesin) of those who disagree with' his own viewthe judgement
the ordinary people in no point except in knowledge.^^ The whole of human life whereby they think that Protagoras is wrong.
seems to be full of people who are looking for teachers and leaders, whether for Theodorus. Absolutely.
themselves or for their animals or for the work of their hands. Human life also seems 171bl Socrates. So wouldnt he be agreeing that his own view is false, if he agreed that the
full of people who think that they are fitted to teach or to lead. What else can we say view of those who think he is wrong is true?
about every case of this sort, except that humans themselves believe that wisdom and Theodorus. Necessarily.
ignorance are to be found among them? Socrates. But his opponents do not agree that they are deceiving themselves.
170b7 Theodoras. Yes, we have to say this. Theoddrus. No; not at all.
Socrates. And dont humans believe that wisdom is true understanding (alethi Socrates. And once more, to go by his writings, Protagoras agrees that this opinion
dianoian), whereas ignorance false judgement (pseude doxan)l of theirs is true as well.
170cl Theodoras. Of course they do.^^ Theodorus. Apparently.
Socrates. So what are we to make of your argument, Protagoras? Shall we say that Socrates. So everybody will dispute the theory of Protagoras, starting with
humans always hold true opinions (alethe doxazein), or that'they sometimes hold Protagoras himself. Or rather, Protagoras will not dispute but concede, as soon as he
true and sometimes false opinions? Whichever we say, apparently the result is still concedes to anyone who contradicts him that^hat person is judging truly. And then
that their opinions are not always true, but can be either true or false. Consider, even Protagoras himself will agree that no dog or chance person is a meaSure of
Theodorus. Would any of Protagoras circle like to defend the claim that no one anything at all that he has not learned about. Isnt this right?
thinks that anyone else is ignorant and has false opinions? Would you like to defend 171c4 77je<?<i(3rMS. Yes, if s right. ^
that claim? Socrfltes. So since the truth of Protagoras is disputed by everybody, there is no
Theodorus. Nobody would believe me if I did, Socrates. one for that truth to be true/or. It is not true for anyone else;^ it is not even true
170dl Socrates. Yet this is what the theory that man is the measure of all things is for Protagoras himself.
unavoidably driven to say. 1,7 lc7
Theodorus. How can that be?
Socrates. When you have made a judgement about something in your own mind, and
you tell me your opinion about it, this opinion is to be true to you, according to 21c. Commentary on 168c2-171c7
Protagoras theory. But do the rest of us always decide that you judge truly? Cant
we become judges about your judgement? Arent there ten thousand men who The focus of Socrates criticism in 168c-171c is beliefs, not perceptions. Objection H
combat your every judgement with a contrary judgement, and who think that you is not about bare perceptions; it is about judgements about perceptions. Th&same is true of I,
judge and think (krinein te kai oiesthai) what is false? as we shall see in section 22. McDowell often takes Plato to task for attempting to
170el Theodorus. By God, yes, Socrates, truly ten thousand indeed, as Homer says, who understand juU knowledge as objectual knowledge (see e.g. McDowell pp.115-6). This
present me with a superhuman amount of work. criticism cannot apply to H or I. Plato has moved on from discussing the Protagorean thesis
Socrates. What then? When your views are opposed, do you want us to say that your that bare perceptions are infallible (which the Unitarian says Plato accepts/to discussing the
opinion is true for you, but false for those ten thousand? thesis that judgements about perceptions are infallible (which the Unitarian and the
Theodorus. At least from the argument, it does seem necessary to say that. Revisipnist,agree he rejects).
The-reader is presented with a puzzle by 170e5-171a3: Protagoras Truth is not
** For the equation of wisdom and knowledge cp. 145e5. rather than is, just in proportion as those to whom it does not appear, outnumber those to
They do? Plato himself apparently does not believe that knowledge is true belief or that ignorance is false
belief: cp. Theaetetus 187-201. Not so: as 152el-3 shows, many others besides Protagoras affirmed the homomensura doctrine.
112 Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope: 168c2-171c7 Commentary on 168c2-171 c7 113

whom it does appear. At-first sight this'just looks like a:.slip, as McDowell p. 170 suggests. 21c(i). The view that objection H js invalid
Clearly Protagoras tannot be taken to mean that every persons judgement must-be given
Cornford p.80 describes objection H as ad hominem", but this is surely wrong. Ad
weight in deciding, by a count of heads, to whatextent any proposition is true simpliciter."
hominem arguments are invalid through irrelevance: they attack the debater instead of his
Since .Protagorasbelieves there is no truth simpliciter, it would be inconsistent of him to
drgue that whatever appears to me is true simpliciter only in proportion as it appears to thesis. There is nothing ad hominem about arguing, of some thesis, that no one can
others too. coherently claim to believe it without.denying obvious facts.
In the preceding sentence on the same page Comford seems to endorse H as valid,
Perhaps the solution is that a Protagorean relativist can give an acceptable surrogate
suggesting that It does follow for Protagoras opponents that his doctrine is not true, and,
sense to absolutely true and absolutely false like this: absolutely true = held true by
for Protagoras himself, thaftheir belief in its falsity is true for them. It is rather neat to
everyone and absolutely false = held true by no one. If so, then b6th the human
distinguish two conclusions in argument H, one true for Protagoras and one true for his
individual and the human species are in different ways the measure of all things. (Cp.
section 1 lb on 151*e-!52c.) Or perhaps it is not so much the species that provides this opponents. But thi^ is not, as Comford apparently thinks, a satisfactory conclusion for the
measure, as ihe(Tlectorat^"P\ato may mean to suggest that Protagorean relativism is the argument from Platos point of view. For neither conclusion refutes Protagoras. To say that
Protagoras doctrine is hot tme/or his opponents is not to say that it is not true. It is not even
theory of which Athenian democracy -is the practice: Jt_i& a theory of truth by majority
to say that Protagoras doctrine is not tfue for him.
voting. As such it fails, because the majority reject it.
Another alternative is that 170e5-171a3 means to exploit the second half of a Most other scholars who^think that objection H is invalid, think so for a different and
simpler reason. They point out that truth for someone is one thing, and truth is another
biconditional that Denyer p.87 suggests Protagoras accepts: (i) if p appears to someone then
(Bostock p.90). So the arguments conclusion only follows if we carelessly omit the
p is true and (ii) if p is true then p appears to someone. Denyers. idea is that the peritropi
qualificatiohs 'true for so-and-so' which [Protagoras] theory insists on. (See also Bumyeat
argument exploited (i) by pointing out that since the denial of Prp^tagoras thesis appears to p.29, Chappell p.334, McDowell p.l71, Sayre PAM pp.87-90.')
soineone, the denial of ftotagoras thesis must be true. Now the argument of 170e5-171a4
exploits (ii), by adding that since Protagoras thesis appears to.no one, Protagoras thesis 2lc(ii). The view that objection H is valid
must be false.
Bumyeat (1976) argues that the doctrine that What seems to each person, is to that
The trouble with Denyers neat suggestion'is that Protagoras does not accept either
half of Denyers biconditional.. As we shall see below, Protagofas accepts only (i*) if p person to whom it seems should be understood as a doctrine about the thought world of a
subject: tfue for i." me^s tme of xs world. Hence if Protagoras accepts that his
appears to someone then p is true/or them and (ii*) if p is true for>someone then p appears to
doctrine is not tfue for me, this means that he accepts'that his dbctripe'is not (rue of my
them. Neither (i*) nor (ii*) cdn be used to show that Protagoraswiew is false simpliciter.
world. But if His doctrine is not true of my world, then it is not true: for his doctrine is
The more general point'of objection H i^to showthat Protagoras thesis'that What supposed to be true ofanyones world.
seems to each person, is to that person to whom it seems (I70a2; cp. 152a8) entails' an
absurdity. Eor it entails denying that some people believe that some beliefs are true, while Bostock p.91 points out the obvious problem with this feconstmbtion. On this
other beliefs are false. reading, Protagoras does not in fact treat the notion of truth as a relative notion, in any
important way.
A Protagorean might try to block this by insisting that people can be wrong about
what they believe they believe. He can claim that we can make mistakes, e.g. through self- Bumyeats reconstruction does not help Socrates anyway. Suppose that Protagoras
deception, about what appears to us. However, this move starts a regress that looks vicious. thesis is what Bumyeat says it is: '
It is hard to see how I can wrongly think that it seems to, me thafp, except by its seeming (p (a) To say that something is true is to say that it states how things are in someones
me that it seems to me that p. Apparently this regress leads to a stalemate between world.
Protagoras and his opponents (Chappell p.333): Now suppose also that someone x disagrees with (a). Then (b) wjll bp true:
Protagoras can deny that there is a belief that Protagoras belief is false[. But] dont (b) It is true in xs world that (a) is false.
some people believe that they believe th'afProtagoras belief is false? (For example,! How does the tmth of (b) show that (a) isfalse, rather than merely false in x s world7
believe I believe that.) ...Here Protagoras can (if he likes) deny that I even believe
Pace Bumyeat, it is perfectly consistent to say that Protagoras thesis is true and that
that I believe that Protagoras belief is false. In which case Lmight retort that, at any Protagoras thesis is false in x's world.^^ Furthermore, it seems equally consistent to
rate, I believe that 1believe that I believe that* Protagoras belief is false... the
argument seems inconclusive for either side.
There are extra complications in Sayres exposition; these appear to spring mainly from Sayres odd view
Is objection H valid or invalid? Most writers, Comford for instance, think it invalid. (p.89) that [p] islogically unrelated to [p] is true. This odd view makes Sayre say that it is impossible to
Bumyeat and Denyer offer reconstructions of the objection-that make it come out valid. infer, e.g., 'Not every belief is true for the person who holds it directly from Every belief is true for the
McDowell, Bostock, and, Chappell suggestthat although the objection does notprove what it person who holds it is false. I do not know why Sayre thinks this should be impossible.
^ Consistent, but surely a misinterpretation of Protagoras: The very fact that unqualified trues and not
is meant to prove, it does prove a different point which is equally worth making. I take these trues are appearing in this argument must, I think, be a sign that something has gone wrong^(Chappell
alternatives in turn. p.335).
1

114 Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope: 168c2-171 c7 Commentary on 168c2-171c7 115

relativise to worlds twice over, so to speak, and say both that Protagoras thesis is true in true for me. The trouble with Protagoras view is that it implies that others have no reason to
Protagoras world, and that it is true in Protagoras world that Protagoras thesis isfalse in take them this way.
xs world. To this objection the Protagorean wiU probably retort that he has already explained
Denyer pp.99-100 offers an analogy in support of a reconstruction like Bumyeats: how on his view it can be worthwhile to attend to others assertions. The wiseman is the
Even if some beliefs can [be true for someone but not for others], the belief that one who can bring it about that what is and appears just and honourable to each such city, is
man is not the measure could not be among them. Consider an analogy: Traffic what is [really] beneficial to them, not really hafinful (poneron onton autois) (167c6-7).
keeps left is, if you care to pufit that way, true in Wales, and not true in Canada; but But this retort seems to make the wise mans expertise consist in a^^i^icfiv^ower: and
such things as Traffic keeps left everywhere, Traffic keeps left somewhere, or there is a question whether Protagoreanism is consistent with the existence of predictive
Traffic keeps left in Canada purport to be true no matter what the country in which powers. That question is the focus of objection I.
they are said; such a thing therefore could not be true in only some countries; such a McDowell has two further suggestions about what is* achieved by objection H. These
thing would have to be either true somewhere or els^ true nowhere whatsoever. As suggestions are rather recherche, and anyone not interested in a close encounter with the
with truth in places, so too with truth for people. If a belief purports to be true for intricacies of McDowells thought might reasonably move on to section 22. All the same, a
every person, it cannot be true for only some; such a belief would have to be either brief review of these suggestions will open up some interesting issues.
true for everyone, or else true for no one whatsoever... The belief that Protagoras is
First suggestion: McDowell p. 171 offers the following move to the anti-Protagorean.
wrong therefore purports io be something more than just true for tliose who accept
it.
Like Bumyeat, Denyer takes it that there ar^ two sorts of truths in Protagoras theory:
His proposal is a little like Bumyeats and Denyers as reviewed in section 21c:
It is, arguably, in the spirit of [the homomensura thesis] to assume that people are'
authoritative, not just about the truth of their judgements, but about what juilgements
(a) perspectival truths, and (b) truths that state what perspectival trut]hs there are. He then
they are. Now Protagoras opponents would claim that their judgement about [the
deploys his traffic analogy to persuade us that type-(b) truths cannot themselves be
homomensura thesis] is not that it is false for them, but that it is false simpliciter.
perspectival, and that the homomensura doctrine itself would have to be a type-(b) truth if it
Thus, given the above assumption, Protagoras is committed to conceding that it is
were to be true at all; and therefore cannot be true.
true for his opponents that [the homomensura thesis] is false simpliciter. Hence he is
But as with Bumyeats reconstruction, it is hard to see why Protagoras cannot resist not exempted from making sense of the concept of truth simpliciter..."
Denyers Platos argument simply by insisting that type-(b) truths too are perspectival.
There is nothing incoherent about,^kg., From my perspective all truths are' pprspectival. If Here McDowells deployment of the word authoritative begs the question. What
Denyers traffic analogy suggests otherwise, that only raises a question'^about whether it is does it mean for people to be authontative about what their judgements are? If it means
that peoples judgements about what their judgements are are true, then McDowells
the right analogy.
argument succeeds. If it only means that peoples judgements about what their judgements
21c(iii). The view that objection H, while invalid, makes some worthwhile are are true for them, McDo,wells argument fads. But, of course^ whether aulhority can
point(s) make any judgement true, or only true for someone, is precisely what is at issue.
My own suggestion is that we should not accept Protagorean relativism, not because In any case, as Mcbowell accepts, an anti-Protagorean may claim that he is
it is self-refuting, but because it is self-defeating. If Protagoras is right, then in the nature of authoritative about what sort ofjudgement he is making, and so that he knows that one of his
the case we can be given no reason to accept Protagorean relativism. For what would the judgements (say, his rejection of Protagorean relativism) is an objective truth. But
reason be? Suppose Protagoras begins trying to persuade us to be Protagorean relativists by Protagoras can simply den^ this: No, you don't know that. It only seems to you that you
saying to us that Protagorean relativism is true. By his own account, this means only that know that. Protagoras does not have to believe that the relativistic nature of appearances
Protagorean relativism is true/or him. How am I to construe this remark as being intended to must be evident in those appearances. So he does not have to believe, either, that a non-
persuade me? Since all remarks couched inCProtagor^logical idiolecpare, ex hypothesi, relativistic appearance would be fatal to his doctrine of appearances.
merely subjective reports, it is unclear why we should be"stirred toTes^nd by anything that
Moreover, McDowells last Hence seems to embody a nonsequitur. If x,believes
Protagoras may tell us. The deepest difficulty with a Protagorean relativist is not to refute his that there are four even prime numbers, the Protagorean is presumably committed to
argument. If is to see, what he says as an argument at all.^^ conceding that it is true for x that there are four even primes. He is not committed to
All assertion pragmatically presupposes that it is worth my while to make some making sense of xs belief in any more definite way than that. If anyone presses him to
i?' [ assertions, because my assertions can be apt to influence others. The most obvious way for make sensfe'oY it, he can object, with the rest of us, that there is no sense to bemade of xs
1| my assertions to influence others is for others to take them as true, meaning more than just belief. The Protagorean must, presumably, be prepared to slot into the schema It is true for
x that... almost anything that anyone says they believe, however illogical, bizarre or ill-
^ Cp. Bostockp.95; In a sense, one who propounds such a thesis [as Protagoras] does refute himself, for conceived. To suppose that he needs to" go fdhher'than this in making sense of what
if what he says is right he has no claim on our attention..Also Runciman p.l6, and Leepp.248-9: The odd
result of Protagoras own viewsand the way that he is hoist with his own petardis that he himself can no
people say they believe is to suppose that he cannot concede the truth-for-x of xs belief
more assert his own thesis to be true than anyone else can successfully deny it. The best he can possibly do is without starting to adopt xs perspective. But this is implausible.
to tell us that it is true-for-him, but his saying that... makes no claims whatever upon us."
116 Objection H to Protagoras: the Peritrope: 168c2-l 71 c7 Commentary on 168c2-l 71 c7 117

Second suggestion: McDowell p.l71 takes up a suggestion from Burnyeat p.30, that abstract as the Forms themselves. JDne might ak how Protagoras of all people can concede
one important point made by H is that A commitment to truth absolute is bound up with the that there are such entities lying behind all our thought and talk. If he does concede this,
very act of assertion:^ hasnt he conceded (vital parts of) Platonism itself? If he refuses to concede it, wont he be
forced to treat meaning in a quite different and much more atomistic way: something like
Our apparent ability to^understand clauses of the form that p, in sentences... like
It is true for me that p, but false for you that p, depends on our covertly importing Heracleitus way, in fact?
the notion of the conditions under which it would be true simpliciter that p. Perhaps this is the dilemma that Plato wants to confront Protagoras with at 171c: a
Otherwise it is not clear how we could explain the implication that it is the same strategic choice between Platonism and Heracleiteanism. If the dialectic resulting from H
thing which, according to a sentence of the above form, is true for me but false for gets us to this dilemma then H, despite failing to prove what it set out to, is a very successful
you. Without the concept of truth simpliciter, Protagoras would find it difficult to argument indeed.
justify the assumption that he and his opponents speak the same language, or at any
rate understand one another.
McDowell seems to be suggesting that for the Protagorean, the basic propositional
form should be [p for x], not [p]. If so, I think(McDowell is mistaken about this. Certainly it
is one of the Protagoreans basic claims that th?re is no such thing as a proposition that is
true but not true/or someone. Bu^this claim is not undermined if the Protagorean concedes
to McDowell that the basic propositional form is [p], not [p for x]. Forwe may
reconstfuCtively suggestthe Protagorean is making a point about truth, and McDowells
point about propositional form is a matter of meaning, not truth. The Protagorean is not
saying that all proportions ire. relative to persons. Rather, he is saying that all true
propositions'are relative to persons.
In fact, for our Protagorean a commitment to truth relative is bound up with the very
act of assertion. For Mm as fo^ the rest of us, the basic form of the proposition is [p]. What
makes him unusual is that, for him, the basic form of assertion is not [p] but [p for x]. Part of
what gets us from units of meaning'to'actual assertions, according to him, is a specffication
of someone to whom a given proposition appears. Without such a specification, he may
insist, he has no idea what it would be like for a proposition to be asserted. That is, he has no
idea how a proposition could be true without being (possibly) txnefor someone. (Compare
Crispin Wrights use of the Principle of Epistemic Constraint, pKp.)
Thus a Protagorean does not need, as McDowell tlpnks, to covertly import the
notion of the conditibii,s under which it would be true simpliciter that p. Certainly he cannot
have a theory of meaning of that standard truth-condjtional form. It hardly folloWs that he
cannot have a theory of meaning .of any form: Perhaps he could even havea non-standard
truth-coriditional theory of meaning bn which the meaning oi p isgiven by the conditions
under which p would be, not true simpliciter, but true/or someone.
There is naturally no.evidence that Protagoras, either in history or in the Theaetetus,
ever offered precisely this reconstructed defence against precisely McDowells objection.
Indeed, both McDowells problem' and the argument developed here to deal with that
problem on Protagoras behalf, may seem rather far away from o|>jection H itself as it stands
in the text.
Yet consider the following point. If Protagoras did meet McDowells problem in the
way I have provided for him, then (as I said) he would do so at price of conceding that
there can be propositions which are not relative to persons. But such propositions loqk, op
the face of it, like remarkably Platonic entities. Indeed they seem as stable,'timeless,and

TTie suggestion might be disputed by anti-realists about truth of the kind delineated in the work of Crispin
Wright.
118 119

22. pbjefction I to Protagoras: divorcing justice from


Translation of 171 c7-172b9
cases, its really true that what appears to each city, is for that city. In matters of this
sort, there is neither expert citizen nor expert city.
benefit: 171c7-172b9 172a5 However, Protagoras will of course agree that there is a distinction of expertise in
making laws that benefit or harm the city. Here if anywhere, its true that one adviser
differs from another, and one city differs from another, in respect of the truth.
Protagoras wont go. so far as to say that whatever laws a city makqs, believing that
22a. Summary of the argument of 171c7-172b9 they will be beneficial, really will be beneficial to that city, no matter what. But in
the other cases I speak of^the just and the unjust, the reverent and the
Socrates ninth objection presents Protagoras theory with a dilemma. If the theory is blasphemousthe Protagoreans^^ hre prepared to insist that none of these things has
completely general in its apphcation, then it must say that not only what counts SlS justice in a being of its own by nature. Rather, whatever is beheved by common consensus
cities, but also what benefits cities, is a relative matter. As Protagoras has already admitted becomes true at the time when it is believed, and for as long as it is believed. This is
(167a4), it is implausible to say that benefit is a relative notion. But the alternative, which also roughly the view of wisdom that is brought forward by those who do not accept
Protagoras apparently takes, is to make a conceptual divorce between the notions ofjustice the pure form of Protagoreanism.
and benefit, and restrict the application of Protagoras theory to the notion of justice. 172b9 But here, Theodorus, we are caught up in a big argument that has emerged from a
Socrates obviously finds this conceptual divorce unattractive, though he does not, directly, little one...
say why. Instead, in the Digression (see section 23), he offers a long critique of the
superficiality and false values of the society that produces this conceptual divorce.
22c. Commentary on 171c7-172b9

22b. Translation of 171c7-172b9 Protagoras doctrine that all appearances are true seems to leave no room for a
distinction between wisdom and ignorance, the expert and the non-expert. To avoid this
171c7 Theodorus. Socrates, we are hunting my old companion down too ruthlessly.^^ difficulty, Protagoras proposed that the distinction is that the wise man produces a change in
Socrates. But it isnt clear, my friend, that our hunt has run beyond what is right. others fiom a worse to a better condition (167a4). Socrates has already seized on this
Still, of course it is likely that Protagoras is wiser than us, since he is older. If his proposal as a crucial concession (169d6). 'TTie proposal naturally raises the question (^Better
head emerged from his grave right here at our feet, no doubt he would give multiple 'according to whoseJudgementJ^As I have already pointed out, one possible answer to that
proofs that I.am talking nonsense, and that you should not be agreeing with me, question is According to th^xperts judgement. This, of course, raises a further question:
before he sank down again and abruptly vanished. In his absence I think we will have Who are the experts?.
to make do with our own resources, such as they are. We will just have to go on Protagoras might well answer this question in its turn by saying simply that the
affirming that whatever seems true to us, is true. experts are who the experts say they are. But while such an answer is not logically flawed,
So what else shall we affirm but this?:Anyone at all would agree that some people and indeed fits neatly with other Protagorean doctrines, it seems unsatisfactorily circular and
are wiser than others, and some people are more ignorant. uninformative (and in practice, elitist).
171d8 Theodorus. That is what I think, at any rate.
So from 166d5-167a4 onwards,'Socrates consistently pictures Protagoras as trying a
Socrates. Perhaps Protagoras theory would stand up best, if we put it in the way
different line of response. This is to liinit the scope of ^otagorean relativism so that it does
suggested by the sketch that we drew when we were coming to the aid of Protagoras not apply to the notions of<rbeneficiA^andCrharmfulj/but-onbUOLaIlegedlv conventional
(166d5-167a4). In that form, it says this: the way anything appears to anyone is how
notions such as justice, honour, and rliginfis.rp.spr.t. Fon thesp notions as for sensory
it is in most cases. So with what is hot, what is dry, what is sweet, and everything of
nhtions, Protagoras claim holds good that all appearances are true.
that type. But in some cases one person has better judgement than another. If
Protagoras wUl admit this anywhere, I suppose he will admit it in cases like the case Socrates response to this restricted Protagoreanism is not very clearly stated, ough
of health and sickness. Not every female or infant or animal has the ability to be its much of what Plato has to say about it appears, in an indirect sort of way, in the Digression.
own doctor, or to know what is healthy for itself. Isnt this a case where there is a That is part of the reason why the Digression comes at this point in the dialogue. From the
difference in peoples knowledge, if any case is? Digression, we can piece together the following three points against restricted
Theodorus. Yesor so it seems to me. Protagoreanism.
172al Socrates. What about the case of politics? Consider the honourable and the shameful, First, Plato thinks that resuicted Protaporeanism is morally objectionable: ^htb is
the just and the unjust, the reverent and the blasphemous. Protagoras will say that deepW-commilted to the view mat the separation of justice'and prudence is both Mse and_
each city decrees as law whatever it thinks fits these names. He will say thaHirthese pernicious (Bumyeat p.34).^ato totally rejects the distinction between the beneficial and
93 McDowell p.l71 suggests that Theodorus remark and Socrates response indicate that Plato is not
content with the argument of 170a3-171c7". I think it indicates rather thatlTieodorus is too obtuse to believe
that Socrates complicated, logic-chopping argument could suffice to see off his august friend Protagoras. * On the significance or insignificance of this change of grammatical subject, see 22c below.
120 Objection I to Protagoras: divorcing justice from benefit: 171 c7-172b9 121

the honourable/ just/ reverent, a distinction not far in spirit from the modern 23. The Digression: 172cl-177b8
distinction between the prudential'and the moral.
Second, Platc/xloubts that restricted Protagoreafaism serves Protagorass purposes
anyway. Protagoras isconcerned above all with practical politics; and as the Digression
shows, Plato doubts that anyone can say anything worthwhile about practical politics 23a.'Summary of the argument of 172cl-177b8
without havingless sceptical views than ftotagoras about justice and honour. ,
1

Third, Plato thinks that restricted Protagoreanism is just as false as the unrestricted The conceptual divorce between justice and benefit that emerged in 17 lc7- 172b9 is
version. He sees no reason to think that Protagoras claim that All appearances are true never dirbctly criticised or disproved in the Tfieaetetus. But in its passionate denunciation of
applies .to sensoryjudgements (as opposed to perceptions), at least not if this means to the society that produced the divorce, the Digression touches on many of the reasons why
judgements about the hot and the sweet which involve the future. (This point, of course, is Plato thinks that divorce pernicious.
objection J.) He sees no reason to think that All appearances are true applies to moral The Digression draws an extended parallel between two types of character, the
judgements either. philosophical man and the man of rhetoric, to show that it is better to be the philosophical
Cornford pp.81-3 takes 171d4-172c2 differently. He discerns in it two sections type. The philosophical man erfiovs the liberty to pursue the truth, whereas the man of
(171d4-172b2, 172b2-172c2), and finds two different positions in these sesctions. One of rhetoric is constantly under pressures that make truth-seeking impossible for him. The man
these positions is identical to the position of 165e-168c. The other is a new position, whose of rhetoric is a pathological type: his character is irremediably twisted and warped. The
adherents go Jurther than Protagoras. It is this ultra-Protagorean position, one closer to plylosophical man may often appear to be q bit of a dptty professor to those around him. But
Thrasymachus than to Protagoras, which Coriiford thinks is under attack in the Digression tliis jpst shows that,those around him, with theit; snobbery, their power-worship and their
(Cornford pp.82-3). These ultra-Protagoreans, according to Cornford p.82, deny the lovq of fine speeches, have a misguided sense of whats,important and what isnt. What is
analogy Between physical qualities, (hot, dry, sweet; etc.) and moral qualities like.just. [The important is not looking smart: it is the attainment of wisdom, godlike understanding and
physical qualities], they will say, exist by nature... But just and unjust, they say... are virtue. This will not be attained by pursuing what most people think is worth pursuing.
mere creations of convention. We have no evidence that Protagoras went so far as this. j

However, there is no evidence in the text that any Protagoreans are supposed to draw 23b. Translation of 172cl-177b8
a contrast Between physical and'moral qualities. The pnly contrast that we have evidence for
is betweenthe beneficial on the one side, and both physical and moral qualities on the 172cl Theodorus. But we have plenty of time tp discuss this big argument thats emerged,
other. Furthermore, Cornfords alleged ultra-Protagoreans are described as hosoi ge de me havent we, Socrates?
pantapasi ton Protagorou logon legousin, literally those who do not altogether speak the Socrates. Apparently.^ And you have jqst made me notice now something that I
word of Protagoras (172b8). It is not easy to translate this as ultra-Protagoreans rather have often noticed on other occasions before how, namely this. It is no surprise .that
than as infra-Prbtagoreans. those who have spent a long time in the study of philosophy, if they enterthe law
Anyway, it is hard to see a difference in Hoctrine between the passages that Cornford courts a^ speech-makers, appear ridiculous {op. Apology 17a-18a, Gorgias
distinguishes. To judge by 172al-4, the moral relativism that Cornford p.83 professes to be Theodorus. Hdw do you me^7
unable to find in Protagoras'himself^ is already presentin Protagoras own account, before Socrates. Because it turns out that the type of people who haVe been rolling around^
that is distinguished from the alleged ultra-Protagoreaiiism that is said to come after 172b2. the law courts and such places ever since they were pnly young, and the type who
(Cornford p.80 mistranslates 172al-6: he begins with ^s far as good and bad customs^., are have been nurtured on philosophy and similar studies, are like slaves and frdemen
concerned, but there is no word in the Greek'for his customs.) when you compare their different educations.
172d2 Theodorus. How is that?
* Socrates. Its like this. Philosophical men always have what you spoke ofjust now:
leisure. Thdy conduct their arguments in peace and at leisure. Look at us, already
taking up the third argument which has emerged from within another argument!
1
Well, philosophical men are just like us. If they are more interested in a subsequent

The remark is perhaps ironic: Socrates leisure is about to be curtailed by trial and execution.
* The unusual Greek word kylindoumenoi seems to allude to Republic 479d4, Belief is all at sea, rolling
^ Cornford p.82 fn.2 cites Protagoras 320 ff. as evidence that Protagoras is not a relativist. But the myth of around (kylindeitai) in between What Is and What Is Not.
Protagoras 320 ff. is not meant to establish the objectivity or otherwise of anything. It is simply a (not entirely If the Digression is the third argument, what are the first two? Bumyeat suggests (p.300 n.27) that the
seriously offered) account of why there are experts in political science but not in ethics. To think that the near other two begin at 16Ib and i69d respectively: i.e. they are (1) objections A-G plus Protagoras responses,
universality of aidds and diki establishes their objectivity for Protagoras is like taking Hume's confidence th^ and (2) objections H-J. Another suggestion: the first argument is about What is knowledge?; the second is
most men will agree about what Justice or beauty is as evidence that Hume is not a^relativist. about the k:onceptual divorce between justice and benefit; and the third is the Digression itself.

4
122 The Digression: 172cl-177b8 Translation of 172c1 -177b8 123

argument than an earlier one, they pursue it. They dont care about the length or attend the debating of bills and resolutions. He does not even read them when they
brevity of the argument, provided only they hit on what is by it (an monon tychosi are promulgated. He doesnt even dream of getting involved in the plotting of party
tou ontos). factions for power, in the life of committees, of public receptions, of cabarets and
172d8 Meanwhile, the man of rhetoric always has to speak under pressure of time; show-girls. The philosophical man has more idea of the proverbial number of pints in
for the water clock harries him onwards (cp. 201bl). Nor can he shape.his arguments the sea than he has of how well-bom.or otherwise anyone in the city is, or of what
about whatever he likes; for his opponent will not let him, and stands over him with ritual pollution anyone may* have incurred by their paternal or maternal descent.
compulsion in his hands, in the form of the resume of the case (as it is called). This About all such things, the philosophicalman is not even aware that'he is unaware.
document his opponent is reading through even,)vhile he speaks, and outside it the 173el His abstinence from these things is not put on for the sake of appearing grand.
man of rhetoric will not be allowed to speak, The truth is that only his body is positioned and stationed in the city. His
172e5 The min of rhetorics discourse is always about another slave [= hi^ understanding thinks that things like those just mentioned are petty nothings, and he
opponent], and always addressed to a Slave-Master [= the jury of citizens], which contemns them. In Pindars phrase (Nemeans 10.87), his understanding is in all
sits over them while a specific case is in hand. The issues that the man of rhetoric directions borne, even under the earthand on it, when hes doing geometry; and
contests are' always personalised: the issue is always himself, indeed often his very beyond the utmost heaven in astronomy. For the philosophical man investigates
life is the prize for which he runs [cp. Homer, Iliad 23.156-161]. the whole nature (physin) of each single thing that exists in every respect; and yet he
173al All these factors leave the man of rhetoric fine-tuned to a sharp-wittedness never condescends to what is in front of him.
that knows how to flatter the Slave-Master with words, and win his favour with 174a3 Theodorus. What do you mean by that, Socrates?
deeds.But they also leave him with a twisted and stunted soul. His slavery, froiy Socrates. It is like when Thales was doing astronomy, Theodorus; his eyes were on
childhood on, has stolen from him maturity, spontaneity, liberality, it has forced hiih the stars, so he fell into a well. Some pert minx of a Thracian slave-girl mocked him
into devious actons and weighed his spirit down, while'its still impressionable, with ' for it: Hes so keen to know what is in the heavens,she said, that he has no idea
a'heavy load of care and anxiety. The man of rhetoric is simply unable to support what is at his feet right in front of him. This same mockery covers all those who
such burdens by tlie means of justice and truth. Instead, he quickly learns to survive spend their time on philosophy. It is perfectly true that a philosophical-man has no
by mendacity and revenge, and turns out multiply distorted and grown back on awareness of the next man, or of his neighbour. He is oblivious not only of what that
himself. He grows from boyhood into manhood with-no shred of soundness in his neighbour does, but almost of whether he was raised as a human being or some other
understanding. And yet, he thinks, how fearsomely wise (deinos te kai sophos) he is. sort of animal. The philosophical mans interest and strenuous inquiry is rather
173b2 That is what the man of rhetoric is like, Theodorus. Do you want us to directed towards the essence of being humanpot estin anthropos), and
describe those who dance in our chorus as well? Or shall we let that go, and turn towards asking about the active and passive characteristics ofhuman nature (physis),
back to the argument, so that we do not too much abuse that freedom to^ change as distinct from other natures. Presumably you know what I mean, Theodorus; or
subject that we spoke of just now? dont you?
173b9 Theodorus. Its not an abuse, Socrates; lets describe them. I think you are absolutely 174b7 Theodorus.I do, and what you say is true.
right to say that we who dance in the philosophical chorus are not the servants of our Socrates. And so, my friend, it is -just as I smd at the beginning. When the
arguments. No, our arguments are like personal slaves to us, ^d each of them stands philosophical man meets privately .with like-minded men, and when he appears in
and waite on us to complete it when we think fit. We have no judge set over us to public'because he is forced to speak in a court or somewhere similar about what is at
rule us, nor (like the poets) a theatre audience to criticise us. his feet or before his eyes: in both cases the philosophical man looks ridiculous, not
173c6 Socrates. Indeed then, let us speak of them, since that is what you think. Lets speak 'only to Thracian minxes, but to the rest of the mob as well. Through his inexperience
of the finest philosophical men; why would anyone talk about those whose time is of this sort of ordeal, he falls not only into wells, biittinto all sorts of perplexities
poorly spent on philosophy? (aporiai) too. He undergoes frightful indignities, and gets a reputation as a hopeless
173c9 To begin, then: from his boyhood on, I doubt that the philosophical man has case. Again, the philosophical man has nothing of his own to contribute to exchanges
ever known the way to the market-place, or where the law-court ^s or the council of scandal. He knows no ill at all of anyone, because he has never been interested in
chamber, or any other of the civic assemblies'^^. The philosophical man does not knowing. So he looks ridiculous in society, because he has no idea how to carry on
the conversation.
Athenian legal procedure required both parties at suit to reveal at least the outline of their case before it
174dl As for the making of encomiums and the boasting contests that others engage
came to court, each side offering a sworn deposition (antdmosia) summarising what they proposed to prove; in, it is all too obvious that the philosophical man simply and unaffectedly laughs at
from this resum6 they were then bound not to deviate during the trial itself. When Socrates leaves for the them^and so is taken for a fool. When he hears the praises sung of a tyrant or a
Kings Porch at the end of Theaetetus, apparently he is going to swear an antdmosia-. 210d. I- king, it seems to him like he is-hearing some agricultural type?=-some pig-keeper or
Logdi te thdpeusai kai ergdi kharisasthai. The phrase seems to parody Gorgias antithetical oratory.
If the philosophical man does not know the way to the market place or court, then as Bumyeat p.36 and 22dl). As for the council chamber, on at least one famous occasion (after Arginusae) Socrates intervened in
Comford p.88 point out, Socrates cant himself be the philosophicalman. Socrates mustknow where the court council business in an important way (Apology 32b). Finally, unlike the philosophical man*(173d9), Socrates
is, because at Theaetetus 210d that is where he is going. Again, Socrates was famous for being constantly was famous for knowing that he did not know. Plato often hints that we must go beyond Socrates to get to the
found in public, e.g. in the gymnasium where Theaetetus is set (144c5), or else in the market place (Apology true philosophy, Platonism; so perhaps here.
124 The Digression: I72cl-177b8 Translation of 172c1-l 77b8 125

sheep farmer or cow-herddescribed as blessedly happy \\xsi because of a high yield. to seem simple and worthless when he is engaged in servile tasks: as when he
The philosophical man jcant see much difference between the herdsman and the doesnt know how to make a bed, or how to sugar a sauce or a flattering argument.
tyrant, except that the tyrant has to pasture and fleece a more wayward and The other can do every,service of this sort with style and speed. Yet he does not
treacherous creature th^n the herdsman. Just like a herdsman, the tyrant is bound to know how to strike the right note as a free spirit should, still less how to play his part
become no less boorish and illiterate than his subjects. For he has no leisure, and he in the harmony of arguments, so as to give due praise to the true life of deities and
is confined by his walls &s the herdsmen are confined by their huts in the hills. humans.
174e2- '.When the philosophical man is told that someone is astoundingly rich, 176a3 Theodorus. Socrates, if what you say convinced everyone as it convinces me, there
.because he owns ten thousand acres or more, he feels that he is hearing about a tiny would be more peace and fewer evils among mankind.
estate. For he is used to seeing things in a global perspective. Socrates. But it isnt possible for evils to be destroyed, Theodorus. There always has
174e5 As for those who are awestruck by lineage, and proclaim that someone is to be something opposite to the good'o^; and evils cannot find a seat among the gods,
noble because he is able to display a pedigree of seven generations of wealth, this so by necessity they haunt this mortal nature and this place. That is why we must try
form of praise seems petty and short-sighted to the philosophical man. He thinks that to flee. Hence and Thither {enthende ekeisey^', as fast as may be. This flight consists
those who utter it lack the sophistication to be able always to look to the whole of in our assimilation to God so far as we can {Symposium 207d; Timaeus 89e; Republic
things, or to work it out that everyone has innumerable thousands of generations and 613a-b;Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10.7), where, assimilation {homoiosis)
forefathers behind them, including in each case however many thousands of rich and means becoming'just and holy, together with understanding {meta phroneseos).
poor, kings and slaves, barbarians and Greeks. 176b3 Still, my excellent Theodorus, it is rather hard to persuade people that the
175a5 0ers boast of their descent through twenty-five ancestors from mythological reason for fleeing vice and pursuing virtue is not what the multitude'say it is. They
figures like Heracles son of Amphitryon. Theirs seems to him an equally absurd say that we should practise virtue and not vice so as to look good and not bad. But
.small-mindedness. After all, even Amphitryons twenty-fifth ancestor was just as his this, it seems to me, is just whats called an old wives tale.
fortune made him; and so was his twenty-fifth ancestor. The philosophical man 176b9 Let us give the true reason in these words. Gpd is not unjust in any way or
laughs at those who cannot fill up some of the empty space in their silly heads by any degree. He is as just as it is possible to be, and there is nothing more like God
working this out. than whoever among us becomes as just as he can be. This is the true mark of a
175b4 Such a mans ignorance of all these affairs bring him the scorn of the mob. mans cleverness, or of his worthlessness or unmanliness.^The knowledge {gnosis) of
His bearing seems arrogant to them, and yet he is ignorant of what is at his feet, and this is wisdom and true virtue, and>ignorance (agno/n) of this is folly and patent
he is in a muddle in each of .the ways Ive described. wickedness. All other forms of cleverness and wisdom, real though they may seem,
Theodoras. Yes, you*described exactly what happens, Socrates. become tawdry glibness in the statesman, mindless labour in the craftsman.
175b9 Socrates. But, my friend, see what happens-when the philosophical man draws 176dl So the best thing by far for the man of injustice, the man who acts or speaks
someone else upwards: when someone else is willing to rise with'the philosophical with no reverence, is that we shotfld not gr^t'that he counts as clever {deinos)
man above the level of questions like What injustice have I done to you, or you to because he is capable of anything {hypo panourgias)..Th&se men are delighted by
me?, to the level of an inquiry intojustice and injustice themselves, as to what each our reproach He is capable of anything. They think that they are hearing us say that
of them is and how they dhffer from Everything else and from each other.-Or when they are no fools, that .they are. notjust a {Jointless bidden to the earth^ (Homer,
someone else will rise from the level of questions like Whether a king or a man who Odyssey 20.379), but are the kind of men they ought to be if they are to survive in the
is rich in old is having a happy life, to the level of anrinquiry into kingship and city. So let the truth be told: they are all' the more what they think they are not
humanity, happiness and unhappiness, in general {holds), asking what each member fools-i-because they do not realise what they are. They do not know the penalty-of
of each pair is like and-how it is characteristic of human nature to obtain either or to injustice;'but that js what they should be least ignorant of, because it is not what they
escape them. When the man of rhetoric is obliged to give an account {logon didonai) think it is. It is not a whipping, or executionpunishments which they sometimes do
to answer such questions, the tables; are turned on *his sharp, legalistic small- not suffer at all when they have apted unjusfiy. Rather, it is a penalty which they
mindedness. When he is suspended on high, lobking straight down from mid-air
with the^hilosopher, his inexperience leaves him dizzy, perplexed, and babbling. cannot espape.
176e2 Theodorus. What penalty is it, then?
He becomes a figure of scorn, not to uneducated types like Thracian slave-girls, who Socrates. My friend, the truth is that two paradig^js of Ijfe are set up. One of these is
do not even notice, but rather to all those whose upbringing has been the opposite of godlike and most blessed; the other is godless and most wretched. They do not see
a slaves. i that this is how'things are. Their folly and exti-eine thoughtlessness prevents them
175d9 This is howjt is with the two of them, Theodorus. One of them is brought up
.in true freedom and leisure: the one you call philosopher, to whom it is no reproach
,^pven Plato nods; this feeble untruism is unworthy of him. Its true that the concept of evil must always
The point of 175c-d is to turn the tables on the mockers of philosophy. Aptly, then,- Plato alludes to have content so long as the concept of good has. It doesnt follow that evil must actually exist so long as good
Aristophanes famous caricature {Clouds'7,\Z ff.) of Socrates whirling around in his* basket declaiming does.
nonsenses about astronomy, and wonders what will happen to the man of rhetoric if he joins Socrates in the '.I translate with capitals because these two words quickly acquired a technical, non-spatial meaning for
basket Platonists: cp. Plotinus, Enneads 1.6.8.23-25 (It is not ajoumey for the feet).
126 The Digression: 172c1-177b8 Corrfmentary on 172c1 -177b8 127

from seeing how their own unjust actions make them like the one.paradigm and and is relative to the fluctuating judgements of community or individual, then it
unlike the other. Indeed, they pay the punishment for their injustice in living a life becomes impossible to say that justice is in ones best interests. There is no firm truth
which fits the paradigm that they resemble. But suppose we say to them that, if they of the form Justice is necessary for happiness if there is no definite and stable
dont give up their cleverness, then that Place that is purified of evils will not answer to the question What is justice?... The whole grand edifice [of \h& Republic]
receive them when they die, and that they will always go on, here on earth, being would collapse if we were to accept the newly formulated separation, with regard to
surrounded by reflections of their own way of life: bad men living together with bad objectivity, between justice and prudence.
men. If we say that to them, they will hear us with the air of men who are clever in EmestBarker (JHP 1976, p.462) ^ees a different, but compatible, point in the
every way, men who are capable of anything, who are listening to the speech of
Digression:
mindless fools.
Theodorus. True indeed, Socrates. Plato is saying Here is the situation as we know it: we have philosophers on the
I77bl Socrates. Yes, my friend; I know its true. But notice one thing that happens to them, one hand and politicians and lawyers on the other. They are clearly and obviously in
when they are in private, and have to give and to hear an account of the philosophical different categories, and the objects with which e'ach group concerns itself are clearly
subjects that they slander. When that happenswhy, my dear man, even if they are different. But if Protagoras were right this could not be the case.
willing to brave a long time standing their ground and do not run away like cowards, TaMng up these last suggestions from Barker and Burnyeat, I would say that the
then they end up themselves strangely dissatisfied with their own position. Somehow Digression paints a picture of what it is like to live in accordance with the two different
that rhetorical flow of theirs runs away into the sand, so that they seem, for all their accounts of ^owledge, the Protagorean and the Platonist, that Plato is comparing. Thus the
eloquence, no better than infants. Digression shows us what is ethically at stake in the often abstruse debates found elsewhere
177b8 in the Theaetetus. Its point is that we cant make a decision about what account of
^owledge to accept without making all sorts of other decisions, not only about the
technical, logical and metaphysical matters that are to the fore in the rest of the Theaetetus,
23c. Commentary on 172cl-177b8 but also about questions of deep ethical significance. So, for instance, it can hardly be an
accident that, at 176c2, the difference between justice and injustice is said to be a difference
I shall briefly discuss two different questions about the Digression. First, what is the between knowledge (gnosis) and ignorance (agnoia).
point of the Digression? Second, does, the Digression introduce or mention the Platonic
Forms? 23c(ii). Does the Digression introduce or mention the Platonic Forms?
23c(i). What is the point of the Digression? Typically, Unitarians say Yes, Revisionists say No. But no one disputes that Plato
uses phrases like an monon tychosi tou ontos (provided only they get at what w,172d9); ti
Some commentators see no point in the Digression: it is philosophically quite de pot' estin anthrdpos (what man himself is, 174b3) and autes dikaiosynes te kai adikias
pointless (Ryle, Platos Progress p.l58). Other commentators view the Digression as (of justice and injustice themselves, 175c2). And no one disputes that these phrases are
tangential to'the main purposes of the Theaetetus.' So, for instance, McDowell p.l74 part of the Middle-Period language for the Forms.
suggests that, although the Digression is on the face of it quite irrelevant to the dialogue, it
serves a purpose which, in a modern book, might be served by footnotes or an appendix. Burnyeat p.38 suggests, in Revisionist strain, that the question whether Forms are
Similarly, Comford p. 83 suggests that Plato aims to give the reader some references for anti referred to at 174b and 175c is the question whether, in those contexts, the operative phrases
relativist arguments that he presents elsewhereio: To argue explicitly dgainst it would are naturally taken to imply more metaphysics than is actually expressed. But the answer to
perhaps take him too far from the original topic of perception. Instead, he inserts [the this question is surely the Unitarian answer Yes. Suppose Conan Doyle, in some new
Digression], which contains allusions to such arguments in other works of his. work of fiction, in passing used the name Sherlock Holmes. This phrase could only Be
naturally taken to aUude to the same Sherlock Holmes as the one Conan Doyle had in mind
There is also Bumyeats remark (p.34) that in the Digression Plato interrupts the in the famous stories about him. Unless Conan Doyle said so very clearly, it would be
argument and launches into rhetoric" (p.34, my emphases). Since the Digression is, inter entirely unreasonable to assume that he did not mean the same Sherlock Holmes.
alia, an attack on rhetoric it would be an ironic mistake to take it as mere rhetoric and not
also argument, albeit of a different sort from what surrounds it. Similarly: if Plato uses such phrases in a passage which is admitted on all sides to
allude to the themes of the Republic, it strains credulity to imagine that Plato is not
Burnyeat himself does not commit this mistake, since he thinks there is more to the intentionally referring to the Forms.
Digression than mere rhetoric (p.33):
The central theme of the Digression is the relation of justice and prudence. If
questions of advantage have objective answers but what is just or unjust depends on
Yes: Comford p.86 Fn.l: The moral Forms are here openly mentioned (sc. at 175cl-3 (Justice));
Comford p.85 fn.l finds them at 174b7 (Man) as well.) No (or not necessarily): Robinson, PR 1950, p.9,
An unconvincing suggestion, surely. No doubt there are allusions to other Platonic works in the rejoins to Comford that the description of homo philosophicus could equally well fit a nominalist. See
Digression, but it was hardly necessary to write at such length just to fit them in. Hackforth, CQ 1957, for a reply to Robinson.
128 The Digression: 172c1-177b8
On the other hand, the Revisionist will point out, the Theaetetus does not seem to do
much with the Forms that are thus allegedly introduced. Thus McDowell p.l77: the only 24. Objection J to Protagoras: Expertise and the future:
129
purpose which there is any reason to suppose that the Forms might seiVe in the Digression is , 177b8-179b9
that of enabling Plato to [claim that,] contrary to the doctrine of 171d-172b, there are
objectively correct accounts of, e.g., what justice is. There is no sign, then, that the Forms
are present in their role as the sole objects of knowledge, strictly so called; and hence no
reason to suppose that_the Digression is meant,to hint at an answe;:,in terms of the Theory of 24a. Summary of the argument of 177b8-179b9
Forms, to the question What is knowledge?.
After the Digression Socrates returns to criticising Protagoras relativism, and
McDowell is, of course, right that the Forms do not seem to be present in the presents his last and best objection to it (objection J). This says that it makes no difference
Digression in their rol,e as the sole objects of knowledge,,strictly, so called. But it is not whether Protagoras* relativism is restricted (n the way proposed in 171c7-172b9, oris left as
clear that Plato ever thought that the Forms weye the sole objects of knowl^ge^ strictly so a completely general thesis. Either way, if Protagoras relativism is true at all, it will have to
called; nor is it cl^ar that, even if he ever did t^iink this, the bqst version 9f the theory of
be applicable to judgements about the futurd. But there is no coherent way of applying it to
Forms would be committed to it. (Cp. section 5.) Further, it is arguable that it would make
such judgements.
nonsense of the Unitarian reading of the Theaetetus if the Forms \i>ere present in tlje
Digression in the role of paradigm objects of knowledge. If you want to write a dialogue
which leads the reader implicitly to the Forms as |)aradigm objects of knowledge, not by 24b. Translation of 177b8-179b9
arguing directly that they have this central role but by showing how little can be done
without giving therh that role, then you do not throw into the middle of that dialogue a series 17.7b8 Socrates. ...But let us step back from the discussion of these topics. It seems to be a
of long speeches where they do occupy that role. That would'be abkd case bf giving away sideline. And if we dont stop, the flood of arguments will rise until they drown our
the plot. So it does not follow, from the fact that fee Fprms do hot obviously play that role original argument. If you agree, let>us return to our earlier subjects.
in the Digression, that it is impossible to ^suppose that the Di^essidn is meant to hint at an 177c3 Theodoras. To me, Socrates, the topics we havfe just been discussing are no less
answer, in terms of the Theory of Forms, to the question What is knowledge?. agreeable. At my age, I find them easier to understand. But if you want, we can go
A different Revisionist tactic might be to say that the Digression does introduce the back to the other topics.
Forms, and that since the Digression is.indeed a digression iTom the dialogues strictly Socrates. Well, wasnt this about where we were in the argument? We were talking
philosophical business, this in itself shows how n\uch Platos attitude to the Forms has about the proponents of being-in-motion, and the proponents# of the view that
changed. Platothis Rdvisiomst would say^has deliberately relegated the Forms to a whatever seems to anyone, also is for him, for as long as it seems. We were saying
rhetorical or literary interlude of minimal philosophical content; the cldar implication is that that they were prepared to insist on their view in most areas of application, especially
Plato now thinks thdt the the'ory 6f Forms is the stuff of rhetoric and poetry. There are hints as applied to cases like justice. About justice, they say that no matter what laws a city
of this tabtic in Ryle. ^ may decree because they-^eem just to that city, those laws also izre just for that city
that decrees them, for as long as they are not repealed. But in the case of the good, no
one is left who is bold enough, to dare to contend that whatever laws a city may
decree because they seem beneficial {dphelima) to that .city, those laws also are
beneficial for that city that decrees them, for as long as they are'not repealed.
177d5 Of course, someone might say that whatever laws a city decrees will always be
calledheneficidX. In.the context of our argument/*! think, that would only be a joke,
wouldnt it?
Theodoras. Yes, it would.
177el Socrates. The person wha said this would need to stop talking about tl^e word
beneficial, and concentrate instead on the thing named by that word: benefit.
Theodoras. He would, yes.
Socrates. Whatever the city calls benefit, that is what the city aims at;\yhen it is
making its laws. All the laws it makes, it designs to be as beneficial to itself as
possible, so far as its understanding and ability run. Would a city look to any other
standard in making its laws?
178al Theodoras. By no means.
Socrates. Now does the city hit on the right law every time? Or does each city often
make mistakes as?well?
Theodoras. I should say they do make mistakes as well.
130 Objection J to Protagoras: Expertise and the future: 177b8-1 79b9 Translation of 177b8-179b9 131

Socrates. From here on, we might more easily get everyones agreemeijt on this Theodoras. Perfectly true.
point by generalising the question, so that it applies to the whole class {eidos) in 179a5 Socrates. Now both the practice of law-making and the notion of benefit are
which the beneficial falls. That class, I think, is the class concerned with the concerned with the future. Moreover, everyone would agree that a city is often bound
/w/Mre.When we make laws, we make them because we think that they will be to fail to hit on what is most beneficial when it is making laws.
beneficial in the times that come after. These are the times that we could rightly call Theodoras. Yes indeed.
the future. Socrates. In which case it will be measure for measure if I say to your master:
178bl Theodoras. Yes, absolutely. Protagoras, you are bound to agree that one person is wiser than another, and that
Socrates. Come on, then; lets put a question of this sort to Protagoras, or to someone the wiser person is a measure. But there isnt the slightest necessity for me, ignorant
else from his school of thought. Man is the measure of all things, according to you as I am, to become a measure: though just now the argument we gave on his behalf
and your disciples, Protagoras. He is the measure of white things, heavy things, light said (167d) that I would have to be a measure whether I liked it or not.
things... there is nothing of these sorts that he is not the measure of. So since he has 179b6 Theodoras. I think Protagoras theory has been completely exposed by this
his yardstick (kriterion) within him, when his views about these things are exactly argument, Socrates. Its also been exposed by the other argument [H], which showed
what he experiences of them, then his views of them are true and are reality for that Protagoras made other views than his own authoritative (kyrias), although, as
him.Isnt this how it goes? became clear, those other views hold that Protagorass views are not true in any
Theodoras. Yes, just like this. sense at all.
178b9 Socrates. Well then, Protagoras, well say, dods the yardstick that he has withih 17^b9
him apply to the future too? Whatever anyone thinks is going to happen to him; is
that always what really does happen to him? Take heat, for instance. Suppose some
ordinary fellow thinks that he is going to get a temperaturethat there will be a heat 24c. Commentary on 177b8-179b9
in the future; but someone else, a doctpr,.disagrees. Whose belief shall we say the
future will fall into line with; the doctors, or the patient s?Or will the future fall into
lineJwith bof/i.their beliefs, so \hdXfor the doctor there will be no heat and no As befits its climactic position, J, the last objection, is the best argument Plato
temperature, whereas for the patient there will be both? produces against Protagoras. (Nonetheless, as Bumyeat p.246 notes, relatively little has beeri
178c8 Theodoras. That would be totally ridiculous. written on J compared with the more dubious objection H (the peritropi).) Sayre PAM p.90
Socrates. What about the sweetness or dryness that will be in a wine* in the future? I rightly calls it perspicuous and conclusive. J puts it beyond doubt that neither restricted
think the wine-farmers belief will be authoritative-about this, and not the lyre- nor unrestricted Protagorean relativism can handle beliefs about the future. .
players. How might Protagoras counter objection J? Bumyeat pp.40-41 offers two P
Theodoras. Obviously. suggestions. The first is about self-fulfilling nrophecies: There are occasions when my
Socrates. Same again with what will be discordant or harmonious in the future. A belief that I will enjoy a feast... brings it about that I do. This idea obviously cannot be
teacher of wrestling will not form more reliablebeliefs about this than the musician, extended to every belief about the future. ^
who may even be able to predict what the wrestler will find tuneful. Bumyeats second suggestion looks more hopeful: We might imagine the\^
I78d7 Theodoras.'Tho.t's'n^i. relativist... exploiting the Heracleitean thought that Mondays and Tuesdays selves are not
Socrates. And again with someone who is going to attend a feast that is being one and the same enduring person. Protagoras has already suggested that the past may now
prepared. If he has no culinary training, then his judgement will be less authoritative be no more than whatever I now remember it to have been (166b). Perhaps he can also
than the cookS about the future pleasure. Let us not yfet-contend at this point in the suggest that the future is now no more than I now believe it will be. No prediction is ever
argument about the pleasure that is already there now for someone, orJias been there proved wrong, just as no memory is ever inaccurate. All that happens is it seems to one self
in the past. We need only ask about the pleasure that will be and will appear for each at one time that something will be true (or has been tme), and seems to another self at
person in the future; whether each person is the best judge of that for himself. Or we another time that something different is tme.
can ask Protagoras himself; Wont you yourself, Protagoras, make more reliable
predictions than any ordinary person, about which arguments will in the future In fact appeals to distinctions between Protagorean selveswhether they concern the
convince any of us in court? future or the pastdo not help Protagoras against objection J. Suppose we grant to
178e7 Theodoras. As a matter of fact, Socrates, Protagoras used to insist most emphatically Protagoras that when I make a claim about how the future will be, then that claim concerns
that he was more of an expert about that sort of prediction than anyone else at all. how things will hQformyfatureself. It is just irrelevant to objection J to add that my future
178e9 Socrates. Of course he did, by Zeus. My dear man! Why else would anyone have self and I are different beings. Claims about the future still have a form that makes them
spent so much money on attending his seminars, except because Protagoras refutable by someone's future experience. If I predict on Monday that on Tuesday my head
persuaded his pupils that no oracle, or anyone else, could have better judgement than will Jiurl, that claim is falsified either if I have no headache on Tuesday, or if, on Tuesday,
he had about what was going to happen, and going to be believed, in the future?
132 Objection j to Protagoras: Expertise and the future: 177b8-l 79b9 133

there is someone who is by convention picked out as my continuant whose head does not
hurt.*^
25. Objection K to Heracleitus: flux and self-refutation:
Similarly with the past. Suppose I know on Tuesday that on Monday I predicted that 179cl-183c2
on Tuesday my head would hurt. It is no help against objection'J for me to-reflect, on
Tuesday, that I am a different person now from who I was then. My Monday-self can only
have meant either that his head would hurt on Tuesday, which was a false belief on his part
if he no longer exists on Tuesday; or else that the Tuesday-self would have a sore head. But 25a. Summary of the argument of 179cl-183c2
if the Tuesday-self has no sore head, then my Monday-self made a false prediction, and so
An eleventh objection is presented to the body of doctrine developed out of Dl. This
must have had a false belief. Either way, the relativist does not escape objection J.
objection is an objection to Heracleitus. After agreeing not to discuss Parmenides and
Moreover, this defence of Protagoras from' objection J does not evade the following Melissus as well as Heracleitus, and hearing Theodoras comipally exasperated description
dilemma. Either wh&t I mean by claiming (to take an example of Bostocks) that The wine of the Heracleiteans, Socrates argues that if Heracleitus doctrine of flux^^is true, then no
will taste raw to me in five* years time is literally that. Or else what I mean is just "It seems statement whatever can properly be made. Therefore(a) Heracleitus theory of flux no more
to me that the wine will taste raw to me in^five years time. hefps to prove that knowledge is perception than that knowledge is not perception, and (b)
Suppose I mean the former assertion. Then Protagoras has no defence from the Heracjeiteans cannot coherently say anything at all, not even to state their own doctrine.
conclusion that I make a false prediction about how things will seem to me in five years. (As
already noted, the appeal to a succession of temporary selves is no defence here.)
25b. Translation of 179cl-183c2
Or suppose I meant the latter assertion. Then I did not make a prediction, strictly
speaking, at all; merely a remark about what presently seems to.me. 179cl Socrates. Yes, Theodoras, and there are plenty of other ways of disproving
So either objection J shows that Protagoras theory is falsified by its account of Protagoras sort of doctrine, and showing that not every belief-that anyone has is
predictions; or else it pl\ows that Protagoras theory is falsified by its disa,bling failure to true. It is harder to [disprove Heracleitus, and] show the falsity of those momentary
offer any account of predictions. In either case, it seems that J is a sound-argument: and so experiences that each person has: the ones from which perceptions, and beliefs in
we havea refutation,of Protagoras. accordance with those perceptions! arise.
But perhaps I am talking nonsense: perhaps the truth is that such experiences are
incorrigible ianaldtoi). If so, then those who claim that these experiences are
instances of immediately evident knowledge (enargeis te einai kai epistemas) would
obviously be describing how things really-are. In which case, Theaetetus did not
make an off-target suggestion when he proposed that perception and knowledge are
identical.
179dl So we must engage more closely with the question, as the argument on Protagoras
behalf told us to. We must consider this being-in-motion. We must tap at it to see if it
sounds hollow, or gives back the ting of truth. Tnily there has been no small battle
over the doctrine, and between no small adversaries.
179d6 Theodorus. Indeed the battle is the opposite of small: in Ionia and thereabouts it is
still'spreading wider and wider. Heracleitus companions are very hardat it,
drumming up support-for this doctrine.
Socrates. All the more reason, Theodoras my friend, for considering the doctrine of
being-in-motion from its first principle, as they themselves lay it out.
179e2 Theodorus. Quite right, Socrates. But it is easier tohold a discussion with madmen
than with the school of Ephesus, or with those who claim familiarity, with the
Ephesian theory, about the views of Heracleitus or (as you would add) Homdr and
even more ancient authorities (cp. 152e). Just as their writings tell you, Heracleiteans
are uncannily mobile. The ability to stick to the point of the argument or the
question, or to keep reliably to their turn at questioning or answering: they have less
than nothing of that iathem. As a measure of how little stability there is in them,
It is also falsified if there is, on Tuesday, no me in any sense. It could be argued that Protagoras is
committed by the Heracleitean metaphysics to holding that there will be no me, and hence to the absurd claim even the words nothing at all, not even the smallest partible seem to- be an
that all predictions are false. If so, then there turn out to be plenty of false beliefs, which of course refutes understatement. No, if you put a ques^on to Heracleiteans, they loose off a series of
Protagoras. cryptic little epigrams like arrow's from a quiver; and if ypu then try to get an account
134 Objection K to Heracleitus: flux and self-refutation: 179cl-183c2 Translation of 179cl -183c2 135

of the meaning of what they have said, you will only be hit by another unheard-of pricelike the people who play the Line Game in wrestling schools, who get caught
metonymy.io You will never get anywhere at all with any of them. Indeed they dont by both sides and are dragged in both directions at once.
even get anywhere with each other, because of the very good care that they t^e not 181 a3 ^at I think we should do first is examine the philosophers we began with, the men
to allow any idea to become definite (bebaion), either in argument or in their own of flux. If we they turn out to be talking some sense, we.will add our own strength to
minds. I suppose they think that definiteness would be something stationary; and their efforts to pull us onto their side, and try to escape from the other side. If the
they fight an unrelenting war against the stationary. They exclude it everywhere they philosophers who stand steady for The Whole seem to be nearer the truth, we will
can. flee to them from the movers of The Unmoved. But if neither side seems to be
180b4 Socrates. You have seen them in battle, Theodorus; but since they are not your saying anything that fits reality, then it will be ridiculous for us.to think that nobodies
colleagues, perhaps you havent been with them when they are at peace. I should like us could have anything to say, after we have seen fit to reject the views of these
think that their stable doctrine is something they explain at leisure to whoever they venerable and all-sapient men. So think, Theodorus,^ whether there is anything to be
want to become like themselves: to their disciples. gained by going forward into such peril.
180b9 Theodorus. What disciples, for heavens sake? People dont become Heracleiteans 181b6 Theodorus. But Sodrates, it would be intolerable to fail to give a thorough
by being taught They spring up spontaneously, each of them solitarily inspired into examination to what both sides say.
his doctrine by whatever may be around him, and each of them thinking that every Socrates. If you are so insistent,'Theodorus, then their views must be examined.
other Hefacleitean knows nothing. Like I was saying, you will get no explanation of Probably the right way to begin our examination of the doctrine of flux is to ask what
their doctrine {logos) out of such people if they dont want to explain to you. In fact, kind of change they have in mind when they say that- Everything is always
even if they do want to explain it, you still wont get an explanation. Sb we will have changing. 1 mean something like this: do theysclaim that there is just one form
to discuss these doctrines among ourselves, in abstraction from their advocates, as {eidos) of change? Or do they claim that there are two? If they saytwo, I think
we do problems in geometry. theyre right; But its not just my view we want. We want your agreement too, so
180c7 Socrates. Yes, thats a fitting proposal. As for the problem, isnt it the one that the that you and I may share whatever difficulties may result from this. So tell me. Do
ancients have passed on to us? They used poetry.to conceal what they were saying you call it change when something exchanges one place for another, or rotates in
from the mob. They said that Oceanus and Tethys, the genesis ,of everything, are the same place?
really flowing streams (152e); they said that nothing stands still. Theodorus. Yes, I do.
180d2 The latest Heracleiteans pass on the same problem to us as well. Except that they are 181c9 5ocmfe^.'Then let that be one form {eidos) of change. What about when a thing stays
wiser, and so express themselves quite openly, so that even workers in leather may in the same place but gets old, or turns from white to black or from soft to hard, or is
hear and learn their wisdom, may learn their doctrine that all is in motion and do altered by any other kind of alteration? Doesnt thistdeserve to be.caUed another
them due honour, while giving up the simple-minded notioni '2 that among the things form of change?
that exist, some move while others dont. Theodorus. Yes, you have to say that.
180d7 But, Theodorus, I was nearly forgetting that there are other philosophers who have 181d5 Socrates. So I propose that there are two forms of change: alteration and motion
declared the very opposite view to the Heracleiteans. They say Thus, unchanging, is {phora).
the Being whose name is All (Parmenides: DK 29'B8.38), and so on: the sort of Theodorus. Your proposal is correct.
things that Melissus and Parmenides insist on in opposing the Heracleiteans. They Socrates. Now we have made this distinction, let us'engage at once with those who
say that all things are one, and that that One is stationary in itself, there being no proclaim that Everything is always changing. Let us ask: Do ,you mean that
place for it to change or move in. everything is always changing in both senses of change, motion and alteration? Or
180e4 What, my fiiend, are we to make of all-these thinkers? Inadvertently, we have inched that some things are always changing in both ways, others in only one way?
our way forward into a position that is right in between their battle-lines. If we 181-e2 Theodorus. Heavens, I have no idea what to say about that.l think they would say
cannot put up a defence and escape from this awkward position, we will pay the in both.
Socrates. Thats right, my friend. For otherwise, things will appear to them to be
both changing and at rest. And then it will be no more correct to say that Everything
'0 With TheodorusV complaints, contrast Cratylus at Cratylus 384a: I keep on questioning Hermogenes [a is always changing than to say that Everything is always at rest.
Heracleitean] b^ause I really want to know exactly what he means. But he makes nothing clear. Instead he
Theodorus. Youre absolutely right.
treats me to a display of irony, making out that he is hiding some special understanding which gives him
knowledge abput the topic [viz. language], and which, if he chose to speak it clearly, would make me agree Socrates. Then since things must be changing, and since no aspect of not changing is
with him and say just the same as he says. So if you have some way of making sense o'f his Delphic allowed in anything, mustnt everything always be changing in every sense of
utterances, Socrates, Id love to hear it. In their cryptic manner the Heracleiteans Theddorus knew were, no change?
doubt, consciously imitating the Heracleitus of the Fragments we know. That the Heracleiteans doctrine by 182a2 Yes, it must.
its own namre prevents clear statement or discussion isnt only the object of Theodoras playful satires. It is
also Platos central criticism of that doctrine.
Socrates. Then consider, please, this point in their theory. DidftH we say that their
Naturally this is Theodoras the geometricians preferred method. view about how heat or whiteness or anything like that corned into being, was
2 This simple-minded notion is of course Platos own view: Sophist 255a ff. something like this? At the moment of a perception of any such thing as .heat or
136 Objection K to Heracleitus; flux and self-refutation: 179c1 -183c2 Translation of 179c1 -183c2 137

whitenessj'thatthing will be in motion between the passive element and the active Socrates. So our answer to the question What is knowledge? mentioned something
element, in such a way that the passive element comes into a state of perceiving that is no more knowledge than it is not knowl^ge.
(though it does not become a perception), while the active element becomes such- 18^al Theodorus. Apparently.
.. and-such ipoion ti), though it does not become a such-and-suchnesj (poiotSta) (153d- Socrates. So much for our attempts to refine our answer to the question What is
knowledge?! The reason we were so avid to demonstrate that everything is always
182a8 Now perhaps you think that such-and-suchness is a verbal monstrosity which you changing was, precisely, because we wanted to show that our answer was coirect:
dont understand in any general way. So listen to some particular uses. The active that knowjed^e is perception. But, what we have shown, apparently, is something
-element ddes not become the such-and-suchness*/ieat, or whiteness. It becomes such- else: that if everything^is always changing, then every answer to every question is
and-such: hot, or whitet^and so on. I say this because of what we said, as I expect just as right as every other answer. So it is just qs,right to describe things as being
you remember, in the earlier part of our discussion (155c-157c): thadthere is nothing thus and so as to describe them as being not thus and so (or becoming us and so, if
at all that is one in its own right, not even the active or passive element. What you want us to avpid fixing things down by our account of them).
happens is rather that the active andrpassive,elements bring forth, from their union Theodorus. YouVe right.
with each other, ^perception which becomes an act of perceiving.something, and a 18?a9 Socrates. Except that I used the*terms thus and so" and not thus and so. But I
perceptible which.comes to be perceived as such-and-such. shouldnt even use these terms. For if you use thus and so", then wh^t is thps pdjo
Theodorus. Naturally I remember. wilj no longer be changing. Nor, again, should you use not thus and, so; for not
182c 1 Socrates. Then let s wave goodbye to questions about the rest ofHeracleitean theory, even this word represents a.changing. The truth is that thQse who uphold the
about what i( says.-on whatever other issue. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the object Heracleitean doctrine are going to need some other vocabulary here. Fqr they have
of our discussion, and ask the Heracleiteans this question. So your doctrine is that no words to express their own hypothesis*^'^; unless perhaps Not like taken
everything is always changing and in flux?" -Is that their doctrine? in its mbst indefinite^ sense, would be a-suitable'Way o'f putting tbeir point.
182c5 Theodorus. Yes. 183b7 Theodorus. Yesthat would certainly be a dialect they'weVd at home in!
Socrates. And everything is constantly changing in both the respects we Socrates. So, Theodorus, we have shaken off your friend ftolagpras, ^d we do not
distinguished, alteration and motion? yet' admit hfs dlafm that every Mail is a measure of every subject. No' man is a
Theodorus. It must be, if we are to have comprehensive change. measure, unless he is'an intelligent man. And we are not going to Mld^ that
Socrates. So if everything was only in motion, and was not altering too, we would Knowledge is perception dn the sense that the theory of flux gives to that claim,
presumably be able to describe how these moving things flow, wouldnt we? ) either.
Theodorus.WQ would. 183c2
182dl Socrates. But that s not how it is; the flowing thing doesnt eyen flow white. That j
very whiteness-in-flow changes too. There is a flux even of the whiteness, a change
into some other colour, lest that whiteness should be caught standing still. But in this 25c. Commentary on 179ql-l3c2
case, is there even a way of speaking about a colour that is an accurate form of
address? Socrates final critique of Heracleitus, objection K, is even swifter and more
Theodorus. How can-there be, Socrates? Indeed how can we ever speak about economical than his,final critique of Protagoras (^p'bjectionstt,!, J). In its bare outline, and
anything like this, since it is forever quietly dissolving away from you'even as you in its essential moves^'tiie argument against,Heracleitus takes less than one Stephanus page
speak about it? (182c2-183a8).'
Socrates. Then what are we to say about the various sorts of perceptions, like those There is ^ome agreement about the broad shape of the argument. There is a gopd deal
that go with sight,and hearing? Can they ever remain in their own states, and go on less about the meaning and plauybility of its key premisses, its cogency, its place \yithin the
being cases of sight or hearing? overall strategy of Me dialogue, and what jn the end it commits Plato to. j
182e2 Theodorus. Evidently not, if everything is always changing.
Socrates. So if everything is always changing in every way, it is no more accurate to Does this conclusion refute Heracleitus? Some philosophers happily admit that their own viewsientail
speak of seeing than of not-seeing, nor of any,other sense rather than of its absence. their own literal unsayability. One who comes close to saying that is Parmenides: see DK 29 B6.1-8.2 for his
Theodorus. No indeed. .( view*that "^at is not is not; for it is not there for you to speak of it. Or, as Hussey (p.59) suggests,
Socrates. But Theaetetus and I agreed that perception is knowledge. Heracleiteans might echo Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.54; My proposition^ serve as elucidations in the
Theodorus. So you did. following way: anyone who under^tandgjne eventually recognises thpm as nonsensical, when he has used
theih^ stepsto climb up beyond them. (lie must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he fias climbed
upit-V '
'13 Plato immediately apologises for his neologism poiotis, a noun back-formed from the indeterminate 'Socrates description of Heracleitean apophasis is eerily reminiscent, for all the obvious differences, of a
adjectivepojon, which yia Ciceros exactly^parallel back-formation qualitas from qualis (Acadernica 1.24) famous Platonist apophasisPlotinuss: The Unity is no one of all things; neither thing nor quantity nor
gives us the English word quality. Plato needs-this inelegant linguistic innovation to reiterate that none of the quality nor intellect nor soul; not in motion, not at-rest, not in place, not in time.. .strictly we should apply
four types of item deployed in the Heracleitean account of perception is thing-like enough to be representable neither this nor.that to it {Enneads 6.9.3).
by a noun: cp. 156e2-3. As Comford p. 100 points out, apeiron here has the same double sense as at Timaeus 55c, Philebusille.
138 Objection K to Heracleitus: flux and self-refutation: 179cl -183c2 Commentary on 179c1 -183c2 139

Roughly, Socrates argument is this: from changing to not changing. This accusation is easily shrugged off The flux theorist can
1. The Heracleiteans say that everything is always in flux, i.e. everything is always harmlessly agree with Bostock that there is one respect in which anything never changes,
changing. viz. from changing to not changing, without ceasing to insist that everything constantly
2. But there are different ways {or: two different ways) in which change can happen. changes in every other respect.
3. So if everything is always changing, then everything must either be always changing in all I move on to step 6. How does Everything is always changing in every way entail
{or both) these ways or in just some (/one) of them. No description of anything is excluded? McDowell pp. 181 -2 finds the missing link in the
4. But if everything is always changing in'only some (/only one) of these ways then it is no impossi^lity of(identificatio^ We cannot (says McDowell) identify a moving sample of
more true that everything is al\yays changing than that everything is stable. whiten^, or of seeing, any longer once ithas changed into some other colour, or
5. So the Heracleiteans must say that their thesis is: everything is always changing in every perception.
way (/both ways).
6. But if everything is afw&ys changing in every way, then nd description of anything is But this only excludes c^identifications. Presumably I can identify the moving
whiteness or the moving seeing wnri/ it changes, even if this only gives me an instant in
excluded.
wfiich to identify it.
7. And if no description of anything is excluded, then in particular, no description'of what
knowledge is is excluded. This point renders McDowells version, as it stands, an invalid argument. If it is on
Sq no definition of knowledge can be preferred by the Heracleiteans to any other. his account possible to identify the moving whiteness until it changes, then it is on his
9.^Indeed no thesis, whatever can be offered by the Heracleiteans; not even the thesis that account possible to identify the moving whiteness. But if that is possible, then his argument
everything is always in flux. contradicts itself: for it goes on to deny this'possibility.
Steps 1-5 of this.argument exclude a position according to which change is common This contradiction is an important and revealing fallacy, which some other accounts
but not universal. This is evidently Platos own position. (Parmenides and Melissus, who of the argument also coinrait\Compare Sayres account (PAM p.94): If no statement, either
deny change as universally as the Heracleiteans affirm it, are briefly introduced into the ^ffirmSive or negaffve, cdn remain true for longer than the time taken in its utterance, then
discussion at 180d 10,183d 1. One reason for introducing them must be to imply that Platos nb'statement can be treated as either true or false, and the cause of communicating with
own position is a,sane compromise between two bizarre extremes.) Vones fellow beings mustbe-given-up-asJiQpeless.^ ----------- - ^
Steps 2-5 indicate two different variants .of the arg4ment. On the first of these Sayres argument aims at the conclusion No statement can be treated as either true
variants, evident inl81c2-el0, Socrates distinguishes just two kinds of flux or process, or false). But Sayre goes via the premiss Any statement remains true no longer than the
namely qualitative alteration and spatial motion, and insists that the Heracleiteans are time taken in its utterance. If there are statements which are true, even if they are not true
committed to saying that both are continual. On the second variant, evident perhaps at for very long, it is not clear why these statements cannot be treated as hue, at feast in
182al, 182e4-5, Socrates distinguishes indefinitely many kinds of flux or process, not just principle (and in practice too, given creatures with the right sensory equipment and sense of
qualitative alteration and motion through spaced and insists that the Heracleiteans are time).
committed to saying that every kind of flux is continual. Robinson p.9s version of the argument commits the same fallacy: The fluxers are
Now the view that e^vefything is always ch^gjng in every way might seem a rather wrong because they must, in order to be genuine fluxers, hold that everything is always
foolishView to take about everyday objects. But, as 182a2-b8 shows, the present argument changing both in its position and also its character, but this view entails that nothing can
is not about everyday objects anyway, n Plato does not apply his distinction between kipds have any description applied tp it, or all answers are equally right, or all existing language is
of change to every sort of object whatever, including everyday objects. He applies it useless except e phrase not so...^^^
specifically to the objects (if that is the wdrd) of Heracleiteanf metaphysics. These items are McDowells, Robinsons and Sayres versions of the argument also face the
supposed by the Heracleitean to be the reality underlying all thlk of everyday objects. It is at following objection. It is obvious how, given flux, a present-tense claim, like Item X is
the level of these Heracleitean perceiving and perceivers that Platos argument against present! can quickly cease to be true, because e.g. Item Y is present comes to replace it.
Heracleitus is pitched. And it is not obviously silly to suppose that Heracleitean perceivings But it isnt obvious why flux should exclude the possibility of past-tense statements like
and perceivers are constantly changing in every way. Item X flowed into item Y between tl and t2", or of tenseless statements like Item X is .
So much for steps 1-5 of the argument against Heracleitus. I turn to the heart of the present at tl, item Y is present at t2. As Bostock pp. 105-6 points out, So long as we do i'
argument, the passage from step 5 to step 9. have a language with stable meanings, and the ability to make temporal distinctions, there is '
Bostock p. 103 thinks that the very extreme thesis of step 5 is self-contradictory: If no difficulty at all about describing an ever-changing world.
a thing is changing at all times, then there is one respect in which it never changes, namely...

Cp. Denyer p.lOl, and McDowell p.l81: The neatest way of interpreting the argument of [182c9- Cp. Crombie EPD p.l 1: A plate cannot said to be white if it is the next moment some other colour.
183b6] is, I think, to regard it as answering a question... about the change which is engaged in by the offspring Ryle 1990 p.23 rightly describes this as a very bad point. Ryle thinks that Plato himself makes it in the
mentioned in the [Heracleitean] theory of perception. Theaetetus, but I deny this.
140 Objection K to Heracleitus: flux and self-refutation; 179cl-183c2 141

"So long as": Perhaps, to make the argument workable, we need to suggest that part 26. Objection L: the final refutation of Dl: 183c3-187a9
of the point of Platos argument against Heracleitus must be that ih&^eaning^sofwoi^ are
exempt from flux. ^^
If meanings are not in flux, and if we have access to those meanings, then nothing
stops us from identifying the whiteness at least until it flows away. Butjfmeanings are in 26a. Summary of the argument of 183c3-187a9
Jux too, then itwill notbe^gossible to identify the whiteness even hp.fnrft it finwg away We
will then have die^esuTTSiat the argument against Heracleitus actually produces at 183a5: After repeating his refusal to discuss Parmenides and Mplissus, Socrates completes
anything at all will count equally weU as identifying or not identifying the whiteness. As his refutation of the thesis that knowledge is perception by bringing a twelfth and final
Comfordp.99_rnitsJtf$Theconclusion?Iatb~means usfo~afaAg'?sthi^m/'ngihicp > objection, L. L is directed against>Dl itself rather ;han its Protagorean or Heracleitean
^ome class of knowable entities .exempt from the Heracleitean flux, and so capable of interpretations. Objection L says that the minR.njakes use of concepts which it could not
s.tanding as the fixed meanings of words, no definition of knowledge can be any more true have acquired, and which do not operate, through toe senses: existence*, sameness,
than its contradictory. Plato is determined to make us feel toe need of his Forms witl^out j difference and so forth. So there is a part of thought, and hence of knowledge, which has
vQiertooning them.^------- - ----- ------- ------ -------- ' ----------^ pojhing to do with perception. Therefore knowledge is not perception.
In sum,:^ accounts of the argument against Heracleitus that (like Sayr^^.and
ultimately McDowells too) focus exclusively on the points it makes about the phenor^ena 26b.'Translation of 183c3-187a9
of change and motion, will tend to Regenerate into seeing the argument as committed to
defending toe utterly implausible claim that we cant talk about things that both change and 183c3 Socrates. So now we have refuted Heracleitus as well as Protagoras; unless perhaps
move, if they change 'and move enough, just because they 'change and move a lot. Theaetetus here will argue otherwise?
Theodoras. Your words are welcome to me, Socrates. For now these issues are
This is a good reason for seeing the argument the way that I recommendXfoIlowing settled, it is time for me to be released from your questioning, as we agreed. After all,
Comford): as concerned to distinguish a realm of changing and moving thines from a rea|pi ' the argument about Protagoras has come to an end.
of unchanging and unmoving meanings. My suggestion is th^t the argument against Theaetetus. Why no, Theodoms: not till you and Socrates have discussed the
Heracleitus impUes a distinction between a perceptible realm of flux, which Heracleitus philosophers who maintain that everything is at rest, as you said you would jusfnow
recognises, and an intelligible realm of stable meanings, whicli Heracleitus crudely, and (181b9).
self-refutingly, fails to recognise*. This suggestion supports Unitarianism. (Though not 183d3 Theodoras. Theaetetus! A young man like you, teaching your elders to do injustice
necessarily two-worlds Unitariamsm; the two realms can perfectly well be'compresent, or and break their contracts? No, no: get yourself ready, so that you can give'Socrates
one immanent in the other.) an account of the issues still outstanding.
A quite differentsomewhat Wittgensteinianinterpretation of the whole argument Theaetetus. Well, I will, provided he wants me to. All the same, what I would hioSl
against Heracleitus comes from Bumyeat. On Bumyeats interpretation, the argument enjoy would be to hear about Parmenides and Melissus.
against Heracleitus is aimed at the following conclusion: on Hdacleitus metaphysics (and Theodoras. Challenging Socrates to argue plays straight into his hands: its like
Protagoras epistemology), every 'statement has the incorrigibility of the' first'-pefson challenging cavalry to fight on the plain. Just ask ydur question, and youll hear an
subjective report. But, according to Bumyeats Platp, such incorrigibility is bought* at the answer all right.
price of vacuousness (p.45): The conclusion Plato argues for is that in naming the colour Socrates. And yet, Theodoms, I dont believe I will comply with Theaetetus
one sees any and every answer is equally correct. It is not, or not in the first instahce, that I request; not at least about Parmenides and Melissus.
see magenta can be wrong, but that T see magenta and T see blue hre both correct, and so 183e2 r/ieodorHs. Indeed? Why not?
is Tm not seeing but hearing... The point is that whatever I say is as wrong as it is right. Socrates. I would be ashamed if our examination of Melissus, and the othef
Bumyeats interpretation is characteristically ingenious. But if Bumyeat were right, philosophers who say that The All is one and unchanging, were ghb and superficial. I
we would expect the moral that emerges from the argument to be that toe Heracleitean can am even more held -back by shame when it comes to the unique and incomparable
neitodr affirm nor deny any report of subjective experience. And instead, the moral that Parmenides. Parmenides seems to me, in Homers words, a dread ahd venerable
emerges is that the Heracleitean can neither affirm nof deny any statement whatever, man {Iliad 3.172). I spent some time with Parmenides when he was veryold and I
subjective or objective. was very young; he seemed to me to have a kind of depth about him, which I found
entirely noble. So I am apprehensive that we will not merely Tail to understand his
doctrines, but that we will be even further from seeing what his purpose was in
proposing any one of them. Above all, I am worried that if we allow any of this
jostling mob of other arguments to break in, then we will never get round to
considering the question th^t we began the argument for in the first place: how to
define knowledge. Apart from anything else, the argument we are now stirring up is
of quite unaccountable vastness. If we look at it in a digression, we will treat it
142 Objection L: the final refutation of D1:183c3-187a9 Translation of 183c3-187a9 143

inadequately; if we treat it adequately, it will stretch itself out until it completely Socrates. Dont you also have the conception that each is different from the other,
I obliterates our discussion about knowledge. Neither of these alternatives will do. but the same as itself?
" Instead, we must try to use our skill of midwifery to deliver Theaetetus of whatever it 185bl Theaetetus. Of coxLV&t.
j is that he is gestating about knowledge. Socrates. And that together they are two things, whereas each of them alone is one
184b2 Theodoras. All right, then: if that is what you think, then that is what.we^hould do. thing?
Socrates. Once more then, Theaetetus, consider this point about what we have said. Theaetetus. Yes, that too.
. Your answer was that Knowledge is perception. Am I right? Socrates. Arent you also capable of examining whether sights and sounds are like or
Theaetetus. Yes. unlike each other?
Socrates. Well, suppose someone asked you; By what means does a man see whites . Theaetetus. No doubt.
I and blacks? By what means does he hear high and low notes? Presumably youd Socrates. By means of what do you form all these conceptions about sights and
^ reply: By his eyes and ears respectively. sounds? For it is impossible to grasp what is-common to sight and sound either by
Theaetetus. I would. : hearing it or seeing-it. Here is a further argument proving this: If it were possible to
184cl Socrates. As a rule, it is good manners to sit loose to the meanings of words and examine sights and sounds as to whether they were salty or not, you know that you
phrases, and not to treat them with parade-ground precision; that seems like a slavish will be able to say what sense would perform the examination. It would be neither
, procedure. But at times it is necessary: now, fgr example. We need to stop and search sight nor hearing, but something else.
' the answer you have just made, for there is something not right about it. Ask yourself 185c2 Theaetetus. Of course; it will be the sensory power exercised through the tongue: the
" " diis: is it more correct to say that the eyes or ears are that in respect ofwhich we see sense of taste.
and hear? Or that through which? Socrates. Quite right. But through what organ does the'^ power operate that makes
Theaetetus. In each case, Socrates, my own view is that we perceive through these clear to you what-is common to al(the senses, including these three? What is the
organs, rather than in respect of them. power by means of which you talk of what is and what is not, and of the other things
184dl Socrates. Yes, my boy. I think it would be extraordinary (deinon) if there were many that we were talking about a moment ago? In the case of such conceptions ^s these,
^ such senses sitting inside us,*like the soldiers in the Wooden Horse of Troy, and if
what bodily organs will you suggest as the means whereby the perceiving part of us
' these different senses did not tend towards some single, unified universal (mia idea): perceives each of them?
a soul or whatever one should call it. So in respect ofthat soul, we perceive whatever 185c8 Theaetetus. You are talking about the application to perceptions of ideas like
I perceptibles come our way, by means of these senses, which are organs existence and non-existence, likeness and unlikeness, identity and difference, and
instruments. oneness and all the other numbers. Also, you are clearly raising a question about
l Theaetetus. Yes, this view seems more plausible than the alternative. oddness and evenness in numbers, and whatever these'ideas entail. You wanf to
^ 184d7 Socrates. I have insisted on this fine point, because it matters for the following know by means of what bodily organ we could possibly perceive such things in the
question. Do wein respect of that one and the same part of ourselvesarrive at soul.
j black and white by means of the eyes, and arrive at other perceptions by means of the 185d5 Socrates. You follow me perfectly, Theaetetus; thats exactly what I want to know.
other senses? If you are asked, will you be able to refer all such organs of sense to Theaetetus. By Zeus, Socrates, I dont think I can answer your 'question; except to
; the body? Perhaps I should rather let you speak and answer these questions, rather say at once that I dont think there is any special organ at all in this case, as there is
j" thap doing everything myself. So tell me: dont you think that the organs whereby in the others. Rather, I believe, the soul in its own right is its own organ in examining
you perceive hot and hard and light and sweet are all parts of the body? Or are they what is in common to all perceptions.
; parts of something else? 185e2 Socrates. Indeed you are handsome, Theaetetus, and not ugly as Theodorus said. For
I 184e7 Theaetetus. No, they are parts of the body. the person who speaks so handsomely must himself hp handsome, and good too.
' Socrates. Now are you willing to agree that what you perceive by means of one , Besides being handsome, you have done me a good turn as well, by releasing me
III perceptual capacity, you cannot perceive by means of any other? So, for example, fj*om a very long argument. For it already appears to you that in some matters the
'J sounds caimot be seen, and sights cannot be heard. soul itself is its own organ, whereas in others'it conducts its examinations by means
185a3 Theaetetus. How could I<refuse to agree to that? ,pf the bodys.powers. That was also what I thought myself; and I wanted you to
Socrates. Then if you ever have a conception of both a sight and a sound together, think the same.
I you cannot have it just by means of the sense of sight; nor just by the means of 186al Well, I do think that.
hearing. Socrates. Then in which of these two [classes]specific to a sense, or common to all
Theaetetus. Clearly not. sensesdo you put being? For it is being, above all, that is always present wherever
Socrates. But about both sights and sounds alike you have this primary conception: anything else is present {malista epi panton parhepetai).
I that both exist. Theaetetus. I put it in the [class] of the common things that the soul reaches after in
Theaetetus. I do. its own right.
144 Objection L: the final refutation of D1:183c3-187a9 145
Translation of 183c3-187a9

Socrates. Would you do the same with likeness and* unlikeness, identity and Socrates. So then, Theaetetus, perception and knowledge can never be identical.
differenqe? Theaetetus. Apparently not, Socrates. And now it really has become perfectly
Theaetetus. Yes. obvious that knowledge is something different from perception.
Socrates: Then what about the honourable and dishonourable, the good and bad? 187al Socrates. But truly, this wasnt what we began our discussion forto find out what
Theaetetus. These too seem to me to be among the clearest examples of things whose knowledge is not. We wanted to find out .what it is. All the same, at least we have
essences, and their relations to each other, the soul itself considers.^ The soul made this much progress: we know not to search for knowledge in perception at all.
calculates in itself about the relation of past and present to future Instead, we will search for knowledge in... whatever word we should use of the soul,
186b2 Socrates. Hold on a minute. The soul perceives the hardness of what is hard, and when the soul itself, in its own right,' occupies itselfwith things that exist considered
likewise the softness of what is soft, by means of touchl as existing.^o
Theaetetus. Yes. Theaetetus. Oh, but surely that is called believing, Socrates; or at least thats what I
Socrates. But the being of hard and soft, the defmition.of each, their opposition to think.
one another, the being in turn of that opposition: it is the soul itself that tries to make Socrates. And you think rightly, my friend.,.
judgements about all of these, reviewing these conceptions and comparing them with 187a9
each other?
186b9 Theaetetus. Yes, absolutely.
Socrates. So even newly-bprn humans, or other animal^, can by nature perceive 26c. Cortimentary on 184b3-187a9
whatever experiences come through the body as far as the soul. Whereas the ability
to calculate about-these experiences, al?put,their reality an4 their usefulness, comes In 26c(i) I shall outline the broad shape of the argument of the passage. In 26c(ii) I
only through exertion and the passage of time, through much labour and education shall discuss its place in the refutation of Dl, and in the overall strategy of the Theaetetus.
if it comes at.all.
186c6, Theaetetus.^ Very true. 26c(i). The shape of the argument
Socxates.ls it possible for someone to hit on the truth when they cannot even manage
The main argument of 184b3-187a9 runs like this:
to hit on being?
Theaetetus. Noit isnt. 1. Our senses are either themselves independent loci of perception, or else
Socrates., "Qui will anyone ever have knowledge about something, if he never instrunients of perception for soipe other,ind^ndent locus of perception. (184cl-9)
manages.to hit on the truth about it? 2. If they are themselves independent loci of perception, then there is no one subject
18641 Theaetetus. How could he, Socrates? of experience which perceives via the senses. (184dl-6)
Socrates. Then knowledge is not to be found in our bodily experiences {en tois 3. But since we are, for instance, capable of comparing the deliverances of the
pathemasin), but in our reasoning (en syllogismdi) about those experiences. For in different senses, it would be extraordinary (Heinon, 184d 1) to suppose that there is po
pur reasoning, it seems possible to lay hold of being and of mith. But in mere such subject of experience. (184dl-6; contrast 157c-160e)
experiences, it is not. 4. So our senses are not themselves independent loci of perception.^ They are
jTheaetetus. Apparently. instruments of perception for some other independent locus of perception: call it the
Socrates. When they differ so widely frqm each other, will you call [experience and 'soul. (184d3-6)
reasoning] by the same name? 5. Now the objects perceived by any one sense are not perceptible by any other
Theaetetus. Not at all; that would hardly be just. sense. (184e9-185a5)
Socrates, '^at name would you givp to the whole of the former class: to sight, 6. So any object that the soul perceives, it perceives in some one sensory modality:
hearing, smell, and the sense that detects cold and* heat? (185b5-c3)
186el Theaetetus. Id call it perceiving. What other name is there? 7. So if the soul is ever aware of any object that it does not perceive in some one
Socrates. So when they are taken together, you call these things perception. sensory modality, then its awareness of that object is not perception. (185c8-el)
Theaetetus. Yes, I have to. 8. But the soul is often aware of objects that it does not perceive in someone sensory
Socrates. By means of which, we have agreed, it is impossible to lay hold of truth, modality: for instance, objects such as existence, non-existence, likeness, unlikenes^
since you cannot even lay hold of being by this means. , identity, difference, etc. (185c8-el) ^
Theaetetus. No indeed.
Socrates. In which case, you cant lay hold of truth this way, either. Ta onto is a frustratingly terse phrase for a translator: "things that are/ existents, "things that are
Theaetetus. No, you cant. real/ realities, and things tl^t are the case/ tniths are all equally good linguistically. My six-word
translation (things that exist, considered as existing) of the two Greek words is less literal to the Gre,ek, but,
I hope, more faithful to the thought. McDowell translates ta onta by the very neutral things that are,
Contrast Protagoras attitude to honourable and dishonourable, good and bad: 171c-172b. The discussion justifying this(p.l74) by explaining that the Greek ra onto may mean no more than things. But things
that Theaetetus tries to begin in the next sentence also seems to recall issues raised in the critique of doesnt,fit the present use of ta onta. After all, the state of the soul that is concerned in its own right with
Protagoras. things could just as well pick out perception as anything else.
Objection L: the final refutation of D1:183c3-187a9 Commentary on 184b3-l 87a9

9. Tile capacity to have knowledge presupposes the capacity to grasp truthfsl of knowledge as perception. Unitarians will suggest that Socrates list of notions common to
(186c9-10) the senses is a list of Forms. They will point to the similarities between the image of the
10. The capacity to grasp truth(s) presupposes the capacity to use the concept is senses as soldiers in a wooden horse that Socrates offers at 184dl ff., and the picture of a
(186c6) Heracleitean self, existing only in its awareness of particular perceptions, that he drew at
11. Since presupposes is a transitive relation, the capacity to have knowledge 156-160.
therefore presupposes the capacity to use the concept is.
Revisionists will retort that there are important differences between the Heracleitean
12. The concept is is one of the objects that the soul is aware of without perceiving I
self and the wooden-horse self, differeilces that show that Heracleiteanism is no longer in
it in some one sensory modality. (186a3)
force in 184-187. They will insisthhat the view of perception in play in 184-187 is Platos
13. Therefore the concept is is one of the objects that the soul is aware of without
own non-Heracleitean view of perception. Thus Bumyeal pp.55-56 argues that, since
perceiving it. (186a3)
Heracleiteanism has been refuted by 184, the organs and subjects dealt with [in the
14. Therefore the capacity to have knowledge presupposes a capacity to have a form
Wooden Horse passage] are the .ordinary stable-kind which continue in being from one
of awareness which is no sort of perception. (186d2-5) moment to the next. But the Wooden Horse with its warrioir-senses is a just representation of
15. Therefore no knowledge whatever is perception, which refutes Dl. (186d6-el2)
what remains of the earlier picture if flux through time is subtracted from it. Each organ or
Some interpreters see 184b3-187a9 as presenting two arguments, the first running sense being an autonomous perceiving subject, the only role left for Socrates... is that of a
from 184b3 to 185e9, the second exactly coinciding with Stephanus page 186. On this view, mere container, like the hollow horse, for the real subjects of these processes.
the first argument uses my steps 1-8 to infer the conclusion that at least some knowledge is
However, there is no clear evidence in Platos depiction of the wooden horse at
not perception. The second argument consists of my steps 9-15, and adds the further 184dl-5 that the organs and subjects it deals with are the ordinary stable kind which
conclusion that no knowledge at all is perception.
continue in being from one moment to the next. Though certainly the wooden horse
So, for instance, Cornford p.l09 takes it that 184-186 is intended to support the abstracts from problems about time, still the picture it gives of perception is perfectly
preliminary conclusion that perception cannot be the whole of knowledge becauSe there are consistent with the Unitarian idea that those organs and subjects are themselves
other objectsthe common termswhich the mind must know if it is to reflect at all. 186- Heracleitean momentary existents.
7 then adds a further inference; Even my direct perception of my own sense-object cannot
Not only is there no good evidence that 184-187's picture of the senses is a new and
be called knowledge, because the object is not a thing which is unchangingly real... To
un-Heracleitean one. There is also good evidence that 184-187's picture of the senses is just
Plato knowledge, by definition, has the real for its object, and [senses] objects have not true
and permanent being. the same Heracleitean one as before.
To see this, notice that Platos equivalent for Bumyeats organs and subjects is the
Cornfords inteipretation seems unsatisfactory for at least two reasons. First:
single word aistheseis (184d2). On its own, the word can meah either senses or
Cornford as just quoted commits the simple blunder of assuming that X changes entails
sensings; but it seems significant that it was the word Plato used at 156bl for one of the
X cannot be known. See my comments on that blunder in section 25c above. Second: no
doubt Plato could have used steps 1-8 to infer the preliminary conclusion that perception two sorts of Heracleitean offspring.
cannot be the whole of knowledge. But in the text as we have it, this is not what he in fact Now Plato speaks of the aistheseis concealed as if within a Wooden Horse as
does. The argument as it stands goes straight to the conclusion that no knowledge is pollai tines (184dl), indefinitely many. But while thereare inderinitely many Heracleitean
perception, without pausing along the way at the lesser conclusion that of, least some sensings, there are not, of course, indefinitely many senses. Indeed even the claint that we
knowledge is not perception. (Cp. Bostock p . 110: It is clear that the conclusion Plato is have many senses (pollai), rather than several (enioi, tines), does not sound quite right;
arguing for is that perception never attains being, and so never attains truth, and hence is either in English or in Greek. This'is perhaps why most translators, assuming that aistheseis
never knowledge.) means senses, put a number of senses for pollai tines aisthiseis. My suggestion is that
this is a mistake: aistheseis here means Heracleitean sensings, and this explains how the
26c(ii). The context of the argument aistheseis inside any given Wooden Horse can be pollai tines.
Unitarians say that Plato accepts that Heracleitus and Protagoras doctrine of flux is If the aistheseis in the Wooden Horse are Heracleitean sensings, not ordinary, un-
true of the objects of perception} but not of -anything else. They tend to think that the Heracleitean senses, this also supports the Unitarian idea that 184-187 is contrasting
Theaetetus is implicitly contrasting the uncertainties of perception of particulars with the Heracleitean perceiving of particulars with Platonic knowing of the Forms (or knowing of
certainties of knowledge of the Forms. Revisionists, by contrast, say that Plato does not particulars via, and in terms of, the Forms).
accept that the flux doctrine is true of anything: not even the objects of perception. They Another piece of evidence pointing in the same direction is the similarity between
tend to think that the Theaetetus is either implicitly critical of the Forms, or else just not very Platos list of the common notions at Theaetetus 186a and closely contemporary lists that
interested in them. (Cp. section 10b.) he gives of the Forms. See, for instance, the rather similar list of Forms (likeness', multitude,
These general orientations lead readers of the Theaetetus into more specific claims rest and their opposites) given at Parmenides 129d, with ethical additions at Parmenides
about the role in the overall argument of objection L, the last argument against the definition 130b. There is*also the list of the megista geni of Sophist 254b-258e (being, sameness,
otherness, rest and change); though whether these geni are Forms is controversial.
748 Objection L: the final refutation of D1:183c3-187a9 Commentary on 784b3-187a9 149

To this McDowell p.l89 objects that the list in 'Theaetetus excludes such that ji.y and w not are equally applicpble to anything, not to the view that ^exists'' and
perceptud Forms as hardness and softness, which Republic 523e3 ff. seems to recognise, does not exist" are equally of everything: epAS6a2. On this Socrates view is, so far as
and includes a Form (if that is what it is) of being, which the Republic would presumably not I can see, authendcally Platonic. It is *allo correct.
recognise. Yet as Cornford points out, it must be significant that in the Parmenides, such a
list is explicitly said to be a list of Forms (128e 10,129d 10,129el 0). It can hardly be that the
similar lists in the Theaetetus and Sophisthavt nothing 19 do with the Theory of Forms. On
the whole it is Unitarianism, not Revisionism, that is supported by the evidence of this list of
common notions. Indeed if is Unitarianism, not Reyisionism, that is supported by the
majority of evidence throughout the discussion of Dl in 151-187, of which we have now
concluded our discussion.
I close this section with three smaller points, which can be passed over by those who
want to stick to the main story. Two are about McDowell, and one is about Bostock;
(1) McDowell p.l93 rightly observes that in 186c7-el2 Plato clearly envisages the
possibility qf knowledge of what bne perceives. But he finds' ^e possibility of knowledge
of what one perceives not easy to square'with the view that Plato has the Theory of Forms
in mind in 186c7ff.: For in typical expositions of the Theory of Forms he seems to want to
reserve the title knowledge for non-discursive contemplation of the Forms.
Thus put, McDowells problem turns on what he counts as typical expositions of the
Theory of Forms. We could ask, pedantically maybe, whether Plato offers Us even one
exposition of the Theory. But no doubt McDowell has e.g. the relevant parts of the Phaedo
and Republic in mind. If so then notice, first, that there are later remarks on the subject, e.g.
Philebus 58d-62d, where Plato states as explicitly as he ever states anything that he is
willing to extend the title knowledge beyond non-discursive contemplation of the Forms.
And second, notice that even in Phaedo and Republic Plato does not restrict the scope of
knowledge as severely as McDowell cjaims. At least part.of the point of the Theory of
Forms, at all stages of its development, is to make the intelligibility of the perceptible world
consist in its instantiating the Forms (cp. section lOq). Jhe Theory is meant to give us a way
of understanding and gaining knowledge, not only about high and abstract matters, but also
about what we perceive.
(2) McDowell p. 186: ;[Theaetetus agrees] that each sense has its own proper objects,
inaccessible to any other sense. (This thesis is perennially tempting, though itinvolves^some
difficulties, e.g. about the perception of such qualities as shape.-It is plausible for such <
qualities as colours and tastes, and it seems to be these that Plato has in mind here.)
But 184e9-185a3 can be read as meaning simply; There is some good sense of
perception in which what you perceive through one sense-cannot be perceived through
another. This claim is not merely perennially tempting for some cases of perception. It is i
very plausible for all cases of perception. Whatever this level and sense of perception may j
turn out to be, this is the level and sense thqt the argument is about. I
(3) Bostockp.129: [Comfordp.lOSsviewisthat everyjudgement involves being
means everyjudgement involves an assertion of some things existence.] But there is a
crushing objection to this view to be drawn from 185c4-7, where Socrates tell us that not
only does is apply... to everything whatever, but so does is not. On Cornfqrds account
this
But must
this ismean thatitabsurd.
evidently is true of everything not only that it exists but also that it does jiot...
' j 1
While remaining agnostic about Cornford, we may be confident that Socrates is not
committed to the absurdity that Bostock describes. Socrates is committed only to the view j