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Table of contents :
Introduction: Wandering (πλάνη): Apology
1. Retreat (ἀναχώρησις): Phaedo/Timaeus
2. Power(lessness) (ἀδυναμία): Gorgias
3. Poverty (πενία): Symposium
4. Indebtedness (ὀφείλεια): Statesman
5. Ignorance (ἄγνοια): Protagoras
6. Releasement (λύσις): Republic
Index of Greek Terms
About the Author
The WAY of the PL ATON IC S O C R AT E S
S T U DI E S I N C ON T I N E N TA L T HOUG H T John Sallis, editor Consulting Editors Robert Bernasconi John D. Caputo David Carr Edward S. Casey David Farrell Krell Lenore Langsdorf
James Risser Dennis J. Schmidt Calvin O. Schrag Charles E. Scott Daniela Vallega-Neu David Wood
The WAY of the PL ATON IC S O C R AT E S
S. Montgomery Ewegen
Indiana University Press
This book is a publication of Indiana University Press Office of Scholarly Publishing Herman B Wells Library 350 1320 East 10th Street Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA iupress.indiana.edu © 2020 by Shane Montgomery Ewegen All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences— Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48–1992. Manufactured in the United States of America First printing 2020 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ewegen, S. Montgomery, author. Title: The way of the Platonic Socrates / S. Montgomery Ewegen. Other titles: Studies in Continental thought. Description: Bloomington, Indiana : Indiana University Press, 2020. | Series: Studies in Continental thought | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020013587 (print) | LCCN 2020013588 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253047557 (hardback) | ISBN 9780253047564 (paperback) | ISBN 9780253047588 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Socrates. | Plato. Classification: LCC B317 .E94 2020 (print) | LCC B317 (ebook) | DDC 183/.2—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020013587 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020013588
To Maggie—may gravity never interrupt your grace.
Listening not to me, but to the Λόγος . . . —Heraclitus
Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Wandering (πλάνη): Apology
xi xiii 1
1 Retreat (ἀναχώρησις): Phaedo/Timaeus
2 Power(lessness) (ἀδυναμία): Gorgias
3 Poverty (πενία): Symposium
4 Indebtedness (ὀφείλεια): Statesman
5 Ignorance (ἄγνοια): Protagoras
6 Releasement (λύσις): Republic
Bibliography Index Index of Greek Terms
147 153 156
Preface The sixth-century author Olympiodorus wrote the following about Plato:
“When [Plato] was about to die, he saw in a dream that he became a swan moving from tree to tree and in this way caused much trouble to the bird-catchers. Simmias the Socratic judged from this that he would not be captured by those desiring to interpret him” (Olympiodorus, 2.156–59). The mistake, of course, is trying to capture him at all. Rather, one should let him be: one should let him dance about freely and should be content to watch his magnificent and puckish play. This book is an attempt at precisely such a letting. Middletown, CT Spring 2019
Acknowledgments The creation of this book required a great deal of support from people who,
for whatever reasons, deemed me worthy enough to receive it. I repay them here with paltry words, knowing that my debt to them can never be fully repaid. I thank Maggie Labinski for her patience, her conversation, and her criticism, as well as for her willingness to humor my “insights.” I offer boundless and enduring gratitude to John and Jerry Sallis, both of whom have enriched my life immeasurably; hats off, too, to Dee Mortensen, for her excellent work and remarkable kindness. I also thank Carol McGillivray for overseeing the beautiful copyediting of this book, and Ayesha Malik for help with the index. Ich sende meine herzliche Dankbarkeit an meine wundervolle Kollegin Julia Goesser Assaiante— vielen Dank für unsere Übersetzungen, und für die Kicheranfälle. Ich freue mich auf die bevorstehende Arbeit. For reading and commenting on drafts of chapters, I am extremely grateful to Drew Hyland, Joe Forte, Ryan Drake, Jeremy Bell, Mike Shaw, Robert Metcalf, and Julia Goesser Assaiante. Many thanks, too, to Robert Newman for allowing me to use his stunning photograph for the cover of this book. Love and thanks, finally, to Bailey, Atticus, Baruch, and Artemis for reminding me that no matter how important a project seems, it pales in comparison to the rustling of the wind through the trees, the gleam of the sun across the water, and the smell of summer baking off of freshly cut grass: I hope you know that, in a heartbeat, I would trade my writing for your being, would that I could. Chapter 2 is a revised version of a previously published article, “A Man of No Substance: The Philosopher in Plato’s Gorgias,” published in 2018 in volume 33 of The Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill). Chapter 4 is a revised version of a previously published article, “Where Have All the Shepherds Gone: Socratic Withdrawal in Plato’s Statesman,” published in Plato’s Statesman, edited by John Sallis (SUNY Press, 2016). Both are used here with permission.
The WAY of the PL ATON IC S O C R AT E S
Introduction Wandering (πλάνη): Apology
I am still not able [οὐ δύναμαί] to “know myself,” as the Delphic inscription enjoins, and so it seems laughable for me to think about other things when I am still ignorant [ἀγνοοῦντα] about myself. So leaving those other matters aside, I believe whatever people say these days about those [mythological] creatures, and I don’t inquire [σκοπῶ] about them but rather about myself. For me, the question is whether I happen to be some sort of beast even more complex in form and more tumultuous than the hundred-headed Typhon, or whether I am something simpler and gentler, having a share by nature of the divine. Phaedrus, 229e–30a
Socrates does not know himself—he is ignorant (ἀγνοέω) of himself. Despite
being himself, the precise character of that self remains withdrawn from him. Phrased otherwise: Socrates’s self retreats from Socrates; it retreats from itself; it conceals itself from itself. Moreover, Socrates is not able (οὐ δύναμαί) to know himself—he lacks the ability, the power, the δύναμις, to have knowledge of himself. Owing to this ignorance of himself—an ignorance that belongs to that very self, on account of a certain powerlessness—Socrates looks (σκοπεῖν) into himself, making himself into a question or, rather, letting himself be the question that he, owing to the essentially withdrawn character of his self, always already was. By allowing his essential question-worthiness to come to light, Socrates makes manifest the manner in which his self essentially retreats from him— that is, it essentially retreats way from itself—and remains withdrawn from his (that is, its) grasp. By knowing that he does not know himself, Socrates admits— or, rather, insists with a fortitude and incessancy for which there is no earthly parallel—that the τρόπος of his self, its way, its manner, its mode of being, remains concealed from him. Moreover, insofar as it is the Delphic inscription that motivates him into this state of awareness regarding his essential question-worthiness, Socrates demonstrates an openness to a λόγος outside of himself—in this case, a λόγος belonging to Apollo, to the god whose χώρα (i.e., place) is the sun that lights the open
2 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates expanse of the earth, to the god who gave Socrates to Athens in such a way that he might serve as a measure to the Athenians by leading them to call themselves and their lives into question.1 By receiving this λόγος and living in accordance with it, Socrates indicates that his way—a way that remains elusive to him—is a way of deference, a way of yielding and submitting to a measure beyond himself, which, as such, effaces his self in the face of something other. It is because of such deference and such essential ignorance that Socrates’s way remains withdrawn from him—and, of course, from those who seek to understand his way. This book serves as an attempt to adumbrate, but certainly not settle, the way of the Platonic Socrates. This will be accomplished by following Socrates down a number of his ways—that is, by reading a number of so-called Platonic texts in which the way of Socrates articulates itself. (What precisely a Platonic text is—or if there even is such a thing—is a question to which we will return in the epilogue.) In the dialogues with which this book deals—principally the Apology, the Phaedo, the Timaeus, the Gorgias, the Symposium, the Statesman, the Protagoras, and the Republic—one finds a Socrates characterized by a set of related gestures and qualities, namely, those of withdrawal, retreat, powerlessness, poverty, indebtedness, ignorance, and releasement. While each of these movements has its own contours and nuances that arise from out of the dramatic and philosophical context in which it occurs—nuances that will come to light through the analyses offered within each chapter—all of them share an essential affinity toward what is here being called, employing the following neologism, the anachoratic way of the Platonic Socrates: that is, the way in which Socrates retreats (ἀναχωρέω) and thereby makes a space (χώρα) in which something other may come to pass.2 Of what precisely such retreat consists, how exactly Socrates makes such a space, and what precisely the other is for whom or for which he makes way are all issues that will come to light through the course of the book as a whole. It is owing to their shared expressions of this anachoratic movement that the particular dialogues with which this book deals are grouped together here, a grouping that neither takes for granted nor makes any additional claims regarding the “proper” ordering or arrangement of Plato’s texts or about “Platonic philosophy” as a whole (if there even is such a thing). Although this book seeks to delineate and to clarify the anachoratic way of Socrates as it articulates itself in a number of dialogues, it does not wish to overdetermine that way, with analytic rigor or scientific precision, into a general theory regarding the Platonic Socrates or, even worse, Plato “himself.” Rather, this book, by closely reading a number of so-called Platonic texts, brings those texts together solely by reason of the similar ways in which they depict Socrates’s way as anachoratic, that is, as essentially consisting of gestures of retreat and withdrawal. The texts dealt with here themselves bespeak this gesture, again and again, and the present book is an attempt to listen to and thoughtfully respond to this speaking. Whether and to what
Introduction | 3 extent the anachoratic way of Socrates is to be found in other so-called Platonic texts is a question with which the present study is not concerned.3 Chapter 1, which is meant to set the tone for the book as a whole, offers a reading of the Timaeus and the Phaedo that seeks to illuminate certain structural affinities between these two texts. This chapter argues that the way of the Platonic Socrates is to be understood as a way of the χώρα (as that term is developed in the Timaeus), where this itself must be understood in terms of its essential propensity toward receptivity and withdrawal. As this chapter demonstrates, Socrates, like the χώρα, essentially withdraws from substantiality precisely to make a space in which something other can come to pass. It is this movement of withdrawal and retreat—a movement, therefore, of making space or place (χώρα) for another— that grounds the anachoratic way of the Platonic Socrates, a ground that (as is argued below) must properly be understood as an abyss. Following this meditation on the χώρα, chapter 2 offers a close reading of Plato’s Gorgias, arguing that Socrates therein undertakes a radical inversion of the traditional understanding of power (δύναμις). Whereas Gorgias, Polus, and especially Callicles champion an understanding of power as the ability to dominate others and attain more power, this chapter argues that Socrates conceives of power as consisting of a gesture of submission to the λόγος, a gesture that necessarily includes a moment of self-denigration and self-erasure. Furthermore, both political rule properly understood and philosophical thinking as such are shown to consist of just such submission to the λόγος. This chapter concludes by suggesting that Socrates, owing to his singular ability to enact this gesture—and thus to exercise power properly understood—is preeminently suited for philosophy and, what amounts to the same, genuine statesmanship. Chapter 3 addresses itself to Plato’s Symposium, perhaps the richest dialogue with respect to the anachoratic way of Socrates. By focusing on the appearance (or, rather, nonappearance) of Socrates within the text, this chapter argues that the Socrates of the Symposium is essentially characterized by movements of withdrawal and retreat and that these movements are integral to his philosophical way. In particular, this chapter shows that Socrates, like Eros, bears a special affinity to πενία (i.e., poverty) and that such poverty—which proves to be the most essential aspect of Socratic philosophy—is Socrates’s most enduring and immutable quality, one that belongs to his very being and is, therefore, an ontological poverty. Such ontological poverty is shown to be both the ἀρχή and the τέλος, the origin and the end, of the Socratic way. In light of this meditation on Socratic poverty, chapter 4 turns to Plato’s Statesman, where one sees the political and pedagogical consequences of such ontological poverty. By tracing Socrates’s withdrawal from the conversation at the beginning of the dialogue, and by analyzing such withdrawal in terms of the Stranger’s tale of the two ages, this chapter argues that Socrates is to be
4 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates understood as a kind of philosophical shepherd who tends to those within his flock precisely by withdrawing from them and abandoning them to themselves. By bringing the Statesman into conversation with the Phaedo, the manner in which such abandonment and withdrawal both prepares others for philosophical thinking and constitutes such thinking itself is demonstrated. The ontological poverty of Socrates’s anachoratic way is thus shown to be immeasurably rich in its philosophical and political effects. Chapter 5 offers a reading of Plato’s Protagoras that focuses especially on the interplay between appearance and concealment that animates the text. As this chapter argues, a certain interweaving of concealment and appearance is at the very heart of this text, which, once understood, serves to clarify the question of virtue as well as the question concerning the difference between philosophy and sophistry. By attending above all to the dramatic situation and action of the Protagoras, this chapter shows that the question of the difference between sophistry and philosophy is, for Socrates, essentially a question concerning the appropriate comportment toward concealment (i.e., ignorance) and openness. This chapter further shows that this correct comportment is nothing other than virtue (ἀρετή) properly understood. The chapter concludes by arguing that Socratic ignorance, understood as the foundational movement of Socratic withdrawal, serves to ground the other virtues, and that every other cardinal virtue can thus be understood as an expression or mode of Socrates’s anachoratic way. Chapter 6, which operates as a culmination or conclusion of this study, addresses itself to the so-called allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic in order to suggest that Socrates’s anachoratic way both leads to and gains its essential character from the good beyond being, whose own essential character is itself one of radical withdrawal. The conclusion is followed by an epilogue regarding the place—or, indeed, the placelessness—of that enigmatic figure named Plato and the status of the socalled Platonic texts that are said to belong to him. In short, it is suggested that the very anachoratic gesture that characterizes the way of Socrates also characterizes Plato’s writing of that way, and that such a gesture has seismic effects on our understanding of the nature of the so-called Platonic corpus and the philosophical tradition to which it gave rise.4 In short, it is argued that there is no such thing as a Platonic text, a conclusion that calls the coherence of the history of Plato scholarship—up to and including the present study—into irresolvable question. But this conclusion is still far off and we ourselves are still far away from following the way of the Platonic Socrates. To find this way, we must let ourselves be drawn in by the dialogues discussed herein and in such a way as to give ourselves over to them entirely. Such giving-over comes about through a certain surrendering on our part, a yielding to the texts whereby we let ourselves be led
Introduction | 5 by them rather than forcing them to go where we want them to go. Such a gesture on our part does not preclude the possibility of critical analysis but rather first makes it possible: for it is only by receiving the texts as they are given to us that we might come to a place where reflection on them is possible. In a word, we must let the texts be what they are and let them serve as the measure of us rather than attempting to serve as their measure. It is by first letting the way of Socrates be, thereby letting it show itself as it is in its own terms, that we become capable of being drawn into it, a capacity that thereby shows itself as a kind of passivity— or, perhaps more precisely, a receptivity. In other words, it is only by admitting that we do not yet know the way of the Platonic Socrates that we become capable of encountering it as it truly is. The following book is an attempt at such an encounter. As a preparatory step toward such an attempt, we must first become aware of certain preconceptions that have historically blocked and continue to block our access to the way of the Platonic Socrates. This will be accomplished through a consideration of the so-called Socratic method and the manner in which it differs from and precludes access to the way of the Platonic Socrates. * * * Even those who have never encountered the Platonic Socrates—that is, even those who have never read Plato—have heard about the so-called Socratic method. Indeed, this is probably the most well-known “fact” about Socrates: namely, the fact that he “had” a “method” with which he “taught” his interlocutors. Perhaps the most famous example of the so-called Socratic method occurs in Plato’s Meno, where Socrates, through the asking of questions, draws answers about a mathematical proof from out of an otherwise uneducated slave (Meno 82b–85b). A hasty turn to this scene reveals Socrates employing a pedagogical method in order to teach the slave about mathematical squares. It is this method of teaching that today finds iterations and variations in classrooms the world over. As Scott puts it: “‘Socratic method’ has come to mean any pedagogy conducted through question and answer, as distinguished from pedagogy conducted in lecture form. What is usually signified is thus loosely and generally understood to be virtually any educational strategy involving cross-questioning between teacher and student” (Scott 2002, 1). However, in this regard it is of the utmost importance to note that Socrates insists in the Meno that he himself teaches nothing to this young man but does “nothing other than ask him questions” (Meno 84c). It is through first honestly offering incorrect answers to these questions and then finding himself at a loss (ἀπορία) that the slave shows himself to be able and eager to learn. We see, then, that the Socratic method, at least in this instance, cannot be a method of teaching, despite its common presentation as such: for Socrates claims to teach nothing,
6 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates and the slave does not come into possession of any new content but rather abandons certain presumptions and misapprehensions that would otherwise have blocked his ability to set out on the way of intellectual inquiry (Meno 84c).5 As Socrates himself puts it, “Now do you imagine that he would have attempted to inquire or learn what he thought he knew, when he did not know it, until he had been reduced to the path-lessness [ἀπορίαν] of realizing that he did not know, and had felt a craving to know?” (Meno 84c). Whatever else can be said of Socrates’s efforts here, one sees that they consist preeminently of bringing the slave to the point of ἀπορία, of bringing him to the place of loss and emptiness—what one might call a place of epistemological poverty—from out of which a genuine desire to learn first becomes possible. When one hears talk of the Socratic method in classrooms and on Wikipedia, one learns nothing of the way of Socrates. The danger lies in the overdetermination of the word method following on its use by the sciences who, in their pursuits of the objects of their respective fields, calcified the intellectual wanderings of the ancients into the rigidified tools of modernity. To claim that Socrates has a method in the modern sense is to claim that he possesses some technique, some τέχνη—be this elenchos, maieutics, dialectic, rhetoric, or some combination of all of these—whereby he is able to work toward achieving his preconceived philosophical ends.6 Such a claim—which amounts to the claim that Socrates “has” some kind of knowledge—is immediately belied by Socrates’s own repeated insistences throughout the so-called Platonic corpus that he lacks knowledge, that he, as he says in Plato’s Apology, knows only that he knows nothing (Ap. 21b).7 In this manner, Socrates’s way is fundamentally opposed to method: for any method in the modern sense violates the claim to ignorance that serves as the fundamental tenet of the Socratic way. Through its zealous abandonment of claims to knowledge, Socrates’s way shows itself to be as far as possible from a technique, from a τέχνη, from axioms or the axiomatic, from method and the methodical, and indeed serves to work against such procedures.8 Perhaps the most stunning proof of this is the way in which Socrates’s way refuses to be systematized and successfully emulated: for what characterizes method in the modern sense is imitability and iterability.9 In other words, a method can be taught. But Socrates, as we saw in the Meno, claims to teach nothing. He makes the same claim in Plato’s Apology, where he insists he is no teacher (Ap. 19d), that he has taught no one (Ap. 33a), and that he has imparted nothing to his interlocutors (Ap. 19c).10 To pass these disavowals off as disingenuous, or as “mere” moments of Socratic irony (as does Vlastos, 1971, 7–8), is both to misunderstand the nature of education as Socrates practiced it and to miss the claim to ignorance that stands as the very ground—or, rather, as the abyss—of Socrates’s philosophical way. Socrates teaches nothing because he has nothing to teach.
Introduction | 7 It is in this manner that the way of Socrates differs most of all from modern methods of any kind.11 The modern method is a system, laid down in advance, and followed for the sake of achieving, with the greatest parsimony and efficacy, a predetermined end.12 Whenever one posits an end in advance, one sets out a way toward it: the positing of the end orients the laying of the steps to reach it.13 This means that the path that one follows belongs already to the setting of the end and gains its essential orientation from it; further, it means that one’s movements are constrained by the perimeters of the method. When one proceeds in this way, one foregoes the strange dangers of the inquiry in favor of the security and reassurance that a prefabricated method offers. The well-worn footpath cuts through the woods and decides for the wayfarer what she will see, what she will hear. Such a path learns nothing of the mysteries of the woods. Over against the securities, efficiencies, and linearity of a method, Socrates’s way presents itself as a meandering and sometimes aloof way (see Ap. 17a–e) that gains its essential orientation not from some preestablished end but rather from the contours of the matter itself, as well as from the idiosyncrasies of the specific interlocutors with whom he is engaged.14 In this register it is necessary to dwell on the original meaning of the Greek word μέθοδος, from which the English word method is derived. A μέθοδος is literally a following after (μετά) the way (ὁδός) of a thing, the following after (μετά) a thing as it travels down the road (ὁδός). Rather than following the precepts of a method, Socrates follows the matter at hand and adjusts his way to suit its particularities, sometimes employing arguments, sometimes anecdotes, sometimes myths, sometimes humor, and sometimes silence. The Socratic way is a way of conducting himself or, more precisely, a way of being conducted: for a μέθοδος is above all a way of following after something, of pursuing it in each of its twists and turns. Martin Heidegger, in his lectures on the early Greek thinker Parmenides, speaks eloquently to this point: The ordinary Greek word for “way” is ἡ ὁδός, from which derived ἡ μέθοδος, our borrowed word “method” [Methode]. But ἡ μέθοδος does not mean for the Greeks “method” in the sense of a procedure with the aid of which man undertakes an assault on objects with his investigations and research. Ἡ μέθοδος is to-be-on-the-way [das Auf-dem-Weg-bleiben], namely on a way not thought of as a “method” man devises but a way that already exists, arising from the very things themselves, as they show themselves through and through. The Greek ἡ μέθοδος does not refer to the “procedure” of an inquiry but rather is the inquiry itself as a remaining-on-the-way [das Auf-dem-Weg-bleiben]. (Heidegger 1992, 58–59)
Socrates rarely, when he travels along his way, sets down a predetermined end that he then rigidly and inflexibly pursues; rather, Socrates is wont to follow the λόγος where it will take him. One sees this phrased rather poetically by Socrates
8 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates in the Republic: “I myself really don’t know yet [where the conversation is heading], but wherever the λόγος blows us, that’s where we must go” (Rep. 394d).15 It is owing to this dynamic openness that the Socratic way remains able to sojourn among the self-showing of things in precisely the manner that modern scientific methods cannot. The Socratic way always remains attentive to the topography of the matter under consideration, adjusting and accommodating itself to the contours of the things themselves. The Socratic way is a wandering through the forest that finds its orientation from the forest itself, and not from the paths marked out by the heavy foot traffic of those who have gone before. As Warnek writes, “The peculiar receptivity of Socrates shows itself instead to consist in the way in which he is able to attend to the simple manifesting of speech in its disclosive movement, as it makes possible a certain self-showing, while neither insisting upon a dogmatic attachment to things said nor abandoning speech to the indeterminacy that would render speech a mere means to political advantage” (Warnek 2005, 65; my emphasis). In other words, the way of the Platonic Socrates is not a way of leading but rather a way of reception. Socrates himself intimates this in Plato’s Phaedo. As Socrates there explains, his youth was spent following after the methods of those conducting inquiries into the phenomena of nature, thereby seeking the true causes of things (Phd. 96aff.). However, after finding only disappointment through these methods, Socrates finally comes to develop a different way: “And I no longer admit this method [τῆς μεθόδου], but have thrown together another way [ἄλλον τρόπον] of my own” (Phd. 97b). Here we see Socrates abandoning the constraints, and even the vocabulary, of method in favor of setting out on his own way (τρόπος)—a way not laid down carefully in advance, but rather thrown together (φύρω) in response to the manner by which the things themselves show themselves. In the following passage—one to which we shall have the occasion to return in subsequent chapters—Socrates explains that this new way consists of a certain new orientation toward beings: “I thought this sort of thing over and feared [ἔδεισα] that I might be totally soul-blinded if I looked at things [τὰ πράγματα] with my eyes and attempted to grasp them by each of the senses. So it seemed to me that I should flee into λόγοι [εἰς τοὺς λόγους καταφυγόντα] and look in them for the truth of beings” (Phd. 99e). Socrates no longer seeks the causes of things in the manner by which they show themselves to the senses but rather in the way that those things show themselves in λόγος—in argument, in conversation, and, above all, in dialogue.16 To give just one example: whereas a materialist might say that it is the physical constitution of Ryan Gosling’s face that is responsible for the beauty of that face (for example, his rosy cheeks, his dreamy eyes, his little button nose), Socrates, following on this other way, would say that it is beauty itself— that is, beauty as it shows itself not to the eyes but to λόγος through dialogue and intellection—that is responsible for Gosling’s beautiful face.17 The point is that
Introduction | 9 beings reveal themselves most truly (indeed, finally reveal themselves as beings) through λόγος and that one must follow the λόγοι concerning beings rather than simply the sensible appearances of them if one wishes to learn the truth about them.18 Socrates’s “other way,” his τρόπος, is a way of following after the path of λόγος, a way that for that very reason leads to being.19 As Sallis succinctly says in his Being and Logos: “What distinguishes the way of Socrates is that it is explicitly a way of logos” (Sallis 1975, 38). It is important to note that this way of λόγος is expressly set forth by Socrates as a way of fleeing (καταφυγόντα) in the face of danger. Thus, Socrates’s way is a way of weakness and powerlessness, a way of retreat born out of fear of being overpowered by things as they show themselves to the senses. Above all else, it is a way of reception: for it is by retreating in fear from things as they are given to the senses that Socrates makes possible a reception of their true being as it gives itself to λόγος. It is thus owing to a certain fear about the limitations and consequences of the methods of those who came before that Socrates, in a weak gesture of yielding retreat, turns to this way, a way that he likens to a “second sailing,” that is, the condition of being in a boat when the wind dies down and of thereby being compelled—no doubt fearfully—to set out on one’s own (Phd. 99d). Thus, it is not with the sureties of a tried-and-true method that Socrates sets out but rather with the fear and reticence of one who has lost the securities of a method and who has therefore been brought to the point of loss. It is from out of this loss that Socrates sets out on the following way, which he calls the “safest” (ἀσφαλέστατον), thereby again stressing the weakness of his position: “I set down in each case some λόγος which I discern to be the most viable, and whatsoever seems to me to be agreeable to this I set as being true, whether concerning causes or all the others beings, and whatever is not agreeable to this, as untrue” (Phd. 100a). As Socrates later says, such a λόγος will be followed until it shows itself to be inadequate or until the hypothesis on which it is based begins to take on water (Phd. 101d). We thus see Socrates following a way of λόγος that recoils on itself, calling its own premises into question, thereby demonstrating a protean dynamism that is lacking from calcified methods.20 In the Phaedo, and as noted above, Socrates’s recourse to λόγοι is presented as a retreating gesture made from out of fear: he flees into λόγος as he retreats from the distortions of his senses. In Plato’s Phaedrus, by contrast, Socrates is shown to desire λόγος to the point of excess, longing to move toward it at any cost. During this text’s vivid and beautiful opening scene, Socrates encounters Phaedrus outside of the long walls of Athens, where the former has gone to walk the paths rather than the well-worn streets (τοῖς δρόμοις) of the city (Phdr. 227a). The young and beautiful Phaedrus quickly seduces Socrates into following him farther out beyond the walls, along the roads (κατὰ τὰς ὁδοὺς) leading away from Athens. This he accomplishes by promising—as though with some
10 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates sweet perfume—the recitation of a λόγος by Lysias the sophist (Phdr. 227cff.). It is Socrates who suggests that they turn aside, off the path of even these less-trodden roads, and follow the course of the river (Phdr. 229a). It is by following along the natural turns of this river that Socrates is finally led by Phaedrus to the plane tree that literally makes a space, a χώρα, for the remainder of the dialogue.21 Near the end of this preparatory scene, Phaedrus remarks on the strange way of Socrates: “You, oh wondrous one, appear most strange [ἀτοπώτατός]. For you really do seem exactly like a stranger who is being guided about, and not at all like a native” (Phdr. 230c–d). As we immediately learn, it is owing to Socrates’s custom to stay within the city that he appears out of place in the woods. It is Socrates’s response, however, that gives us important insight into the way of the Platonic Socrates: “Forgive me, my dear friend. You see, I am fond of learning [φιλομαθὴς γάρ εἰμι:]. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, but the people in the city do. But you seem to have found the charm to bring me out. For as people lead hungry animals by shaking in front of them a branch of leaves or some fruit, just so, I think, you, by holding before me λόγους [i.e., words, speeches] in books, will lead me all over Attica and wherever else you please” (Phdr. 230d–e). We see here a Socrates who, far from leading or guiding his interlocutor, follows him along his way precisely to discover a place where a conversation—a receiving of λόγοι—might occur.22 Yet it is not the beautiful Phaedrus himself who leads Socrates wherever he pleases—rather, it is the λόγος, in this case the speech of Lysis’s and the promise of a discussion concerning it, that leads Socrates beyond the city walls. This lovely scene presents us with a Socrates prepared and even eager to abandon his accustomed haunts in pursuit of a λόγος that will lead him where it will. This meandering Socrates is the furthest possible thing from a thinker who sets down in advance a rigidly logical method to be followed assiduously.23 We turn now to Plato’s Apology, in which one can see most vividly Socrates’s strange wanderings and the ways in which they are opposed to modern methods. From the outset of the Apology, Socrates is presented as strange, as a stranger (ξένος), as utterly ἄτοπος or out of place within the setting of a courtroom (Ap. 17c).24 This strangeness manifests itself as, among other things, an inability (or unwillingness) to follow the order of typical courtroom etiquette and as a concomitant tendency to breach the order of the court and the way of speaking appropriate to it.25 Straightaway Socrates insists on this strangeness and indicates that it is tied to a peculiar relation to λόγος. Socrates claims that, unlike the polished and preconceived speeches of his accusers, he himself shall speak “not [with] speeches finely tricked-out with words . . . nor carefully arranged [οὐδὲ κεκοσμημένους], but . . . said with the words that happen to occur to me by chance [λεγόμενα τοῖς ἐπιτυχοῦσιν ὀνόμασιν]” (Ap. 17b–c).26 Socrates’s speech will thus lack a certain order and refinement (κόσμος) characteristic of
Introduction | 11 forensic oratory. More importantly for our purposes, Socrates’s way will proceed “by chance,” by τύχη, using only those words that happen to occur to him (τοῖς ἐπιτυχοῦσιν ὀνόμασιν). Socrates thus makes it clear from the outset that he will not be following a method in any modern sense but will rather be wandering wherever the words, the λόγοι, will take him. Furthermore, this passage indicates the extent to which Socrates, rather than making or constructing a speech of his own, will instead make way for a λόγος that comes about not by means of his own will but rather by means of τύχη: chance, accident, or even necessity. This means that Socrates, out of a posture of weakness or lack of willfulness, will orient himself in such a way as to receive a λόγος regarding the truth of beings. Precisely by avoiding the willful contrivances characteristic of courtroom oratory, Socrates will make way for the λόγος in such a way that the truth will come to pass and show itself to him. In other words, precisely by avoiding an overly technical and willful employment of λόγος (i.e., a method), Socrates, by receiving the λόγος in the manner that it itself will unfold through the operations of τύχη, will speak the truth. Thus, Socrates does not “tell” the truth in the Apology if this means that he takes a truth that is already inside of himself and then expresses that truth to the audience. Indeed, such cannot be the case: for as Socrates has said, it is τύχη, and not his will, that is organizing and expressing the words that he utters, words that are, furthermore, given from out of a posture of acknowledged ignorance. For Socrates, speaking truly entails making way for the unfolding of the λόγος in such a way that the λόγος itself, and not Socrates, can show things as they really are: properly understood, then, it is the λόγος itself, and not Socrates, that speaks truly. The condition for the possibility of such a making way, as the Apology as a whole makes clear, is an acknowledgment that one knows nothing, that one has no truth of one’s own inside of oneself: for it is precisely by acknowledging such a lack that one makes a space inside of oneself wherein the λόγος that unfolds “by chance” can articulate itself. (We shall return to this point in chap. 3.) Thus, “speaking the truth” means revealing beings as the beings that they are, a revealing that takes place through the reception of a λόγος that unfolds as it will. In the case of the Apology, a truth is revealed about the essence of the human being: namely, that the human being is essentially nothing and is worth little or nothing with respect to wisdom (Ap. 23a). This truth is revealed first and foremost through the figure of Socrates, that one who knows himself to know nothing, who thus knows himself to be worth little or nothing (Ap. 23b). Insofar as Socrates is presented within the Apology as a paradigm (παράδειγμα) for the human being as such (Ap. 23b), one may say that Socrates is the site of the revealing of a truth about the human being in general. Socrates, by making way for and receiving the λόγος, makes a space in which a truth regarding the human condition may show itself: Socrates is the place, the χώρα, where such a revealing occurs.
12 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates It is crucial to note that the unfolding of such a truth necessarily entails an effacing of the self that makes possible a reception of such truth: for it is precisely by deferring to the λόγος that Socrates acknowledges that he himself knows nothing and that his self is thus worthless with respect to wisdom. By deferring to the λόγος, Socrates is effectively admitting—or, rather, insisting—that he himself is inadequate to the truth and that he cannot obtain it through any willfulness or technique of his own. Further, it is precisely this lack of technique or contrivance that enables Socrates to let the λόγος come to pass as it will (i.e., “by chance”). A certain effacing or even denigrating of the self is thus requisite to the unfolding of the λόγος whereby the truth comes to pass. (We shall return to this point in subsequent chapters.) It is from out of such a posture of self-effacement that Socrates begins his defense proper. Socrates begins by denying the rumors, prevalent for many years leading up to his trial—and still very much prevalent today—that he has knowledge and can teach this knowledge to others (Ap. 18bff.). He eventually offers a λόγος accounting for the origin of these rumors: namely, that they are a result of a certain sort of wisdom he has, a distinctly human wisdom, which the god Apollo has claimed that Socrates alone possesses (Ap. 20d). Of course, as Socrates goes on to amplify, this wisdom consists of nothing other than a grasp of his own ignorance, the knowledge that he knows nothing. Thus, the rumor that Socrates is wise finds its ground in the fact that Socrates, alone among human beings, truly knows that he is not wise. Phrased otherwise, Socrates’s archeological account regarding the origin of the rumors of his wisdom serves to uncover a lack of wisdom at his very core, a poverty that stands as his very substance or, rather, lack of substance. Socrates’s account—his λόγος about the god and his own relation to the λόγος of this god (as relayed by Chaerephon)—reveals an utter absence, an abyss, at and as his very core. On hearing the god’s pronouncement that he alone is wise, Socrates is dumfounded: “for a long time I was at a loss [ἠπόρουν] as to what [the god] meant” (Ap. 21b). Socrates is “at a loss”—this phrase translates the imperfect form of the verb ἀπορέω. To be in ἀπορία is to be without means, to be wanting of recourse, and to be weak and impoverished in this sense. Literally, it means to have no way (πόρος) available to oneself, to be, therefore, at a no-path, a no-way, without resource. To find oneself in ἀπορία is thus to encounter a vacancy operative within oneself. In the face of the god’s riddle, Socrates, for a long time, had nowhere to go, no road to follow, no way out. He could not walk along (μετά) any road (ὁδός)—he was without μέθοδος, without method. The god’s proclamation regarding the wisdom of Socrates—which is to say the ignorance of Socrates—destroyed any method he may have had and left him powerless at the edge of an abyss. But this abyss is not unique to Socrates. Rather, it is an abyss that lives at the very core of every human being: for, as Socrates has intimated, his wisdom
Introduction | 13 is nothing other than the properly human wisdom (Ap. 20d).27 The ubiquity of this abysmal condition becomes clear to Socrates as he undertakes his wanderings (τὴν ἐμὴν πλάνην) around Athens interrogating those with great reputations for being wise (Ap. 22a). In each case, Socrates finds an abyss at the core of such men: namely, an ignorance, though one veiled by pretense and arrogance. More importantly, through these conversations Socrates discovers the true radicality of his own comportment to this abyss. In lacking the veil of pretense characteristic of those reputed to be wise, the abyss at the core of Socrates manifests itself with a purity and intensity that is truly singular among human beings. In other words, and to modify a well-known statement of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, in knowing himself to know nothing, Socrates gazes steadfastly into the abyss . . . and the abyss gazes back.28 It is the peculiar power of Socrates—a power that shows itself as weakness—to be able to sustain this gaze. One might interject—does one not find a method here? After all, Socrates goes from one person to the next, almost systematically disproving the pretentions of each. But such wanderings (πλάνη) are the furthest possible thing from a method in the modern sense, for they are grounded not in knowledge, axioms, self-evident truths, or even hypotheses. Rather, these wanderings are grounded in ἀπορία, which is to say that they are not grounded at all. Socrates’s πόρος, his way, follows on his ἀπορία, his no-way, in the face of the λόγος of the god. It would be strange indeed to find a method—a μέθοδος, a road, a path—that begins from out of a no-path and leads almost ineluctably to a no-path.29 Socrates most certainly has a “way,” a τρόπος, but it is a way that stumbles, wanders, and follows the λόγος where it will lead him. In this regard, it is important to note that Socrates’s wanderings are “at the behest” of the god. Socrates does not set down a path and then follow it—rather, he follows the λόγος of the god. Indeed, he follows this λόγος so steadfastly and gives himself over in service to the god so completely as to leave himself with no leisure (σχολή) for anything else (Ap. 23b). There is thus a gesture of deference, of deferral, at the heart of Socrates’s “vocation” (ασχολίας). In giving himself over to the god, Socrates suspends his own will, his own wishes, following instead the wishes of the god. Coincident with this suspension of will is a withdrawal of his self and its opinions, a withdrawal that makes possible a genuine reception of the λόγος (i.e., a following of the argument to where it leads, and not simply to where one leads it). One should also note, in this register, Socrates’s daimon, to whose chastening and warnings Socrates faithfully defers (Ap. 40a). Socrates’s way is not a way of leading but rather one of following the λόγος and the voice of the god, despite what one might conclude from the fact that Socrates himself is followed by the many Athenian youths who enjoy watching his performances (Ap. 23c).30 This attendance to the λόγος of the god—this reception of and deferral and submission to the god’s saying—reveals an essential poverty (πενία) at work
14 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates within Socrates. As Socrates says, it is “by reason of this occupation I have no leisure to attend to any of the affairs of the state worth mentioning, or of my own [τῶν οἰκείων], but am in vast poverty [πενίᾳ] on account of my service to the god” (Ap. 23b–c). Thus, owing to his deference to the λόγος of the god, Socrates has nothing τῶν οἰκείων, nothing of his own. Most generally, τῶν οἰκείων means “of the home,” meaning that Socrates, owing to his vocation, lacks the accouterments and conveniences of the home (οἴκος). More philosophically, however, τῶν οἰκείων refers to what is one’s own, to what properly belongs to a thing, is essential and appropriate to it, thereby rendering that thing what it is.31 Socrates has nothing that is properly his own, no property, no substance, no οὐσία: he is poor, not only in an economic sense but in an ontological one. (This ontological poverty will be discussed in greater length in subsequent chapters, especially chap. 3.) For, though he alone among mortals is wise in knowing that he is not wise, this “human wisdom” is “worth little or nothing [ἡ ἀνθρωπίνη σοφία ὀλίγου τινὸς ἀξία ἐστὶν καὶ οὐδενός]” (Ap. 23a): it is of little, if any, value. The one thing Socrates “owns”—the one thing that is his “own,” is essential and appropriate to him, and renders him the being that he is—is a steadfast comportment toward the abyss that stands at the core of human knowledge. There is a void, a nothing (οὐδενός), at the core of Socrates’s being. It is from out of this wealth of poverty (πενία), this essential lack of essence, that Socrates begins and indeed sustains his philosophical wandering (πλάνη): for it is his very emptiness that renders him so hungry for λόγοι. However, it is important to note that Socrates continually finds himself to be empty, to be lacking, despite the many conversations he has with the reputedly wise. His many conversations do not result in the accumulation of wisdom but rather in the demonstration of the god’s saying (as interpreted by Socrates) that human wisdom is worth little or nothing. One thereby sees Socrates’s poverty to be essential and perpetual—it is his enduring (ἀεί) character, his ownmost quality (οὐσία) or, rather, lack of quality.32 As Socrates sets out, therefore, to meet with and interrogate the men of Athens, he brings with him only a lack, an absence, a poverty of essence—which is to say that he “brings” with him nothing at all. What, then, transpires between Socrates and these reputedly wise men? What does Socrates, the great gift to Athens, give to the Athenians? From out of his essential poverty, Socrates can only give to Athens what he has to give: namely, nothing. But this is not to say that there is no result from an encounter with Socrates. Rather, it is to say that Socrates gives nothing—he gives a nothing, a nil, an annihilation. Socrates annihilates and renders unto nothing the pretensions of wisdom held by his interlocutors. However, it does not follow from this that Socrates’s way is purely “negative” in form. Rather, this annihilation is Socrates’s great gift to Athens (Ap. 30d) and is the greatest good (μεῖζον ἀγαθὸν) ever to befall the city (Ap. 30a). Socrates’s
Introduction | 15 great gift to Athens and to us is the giving of this loss, the giving of this nothing whereby our pretensions to wisdom are taken from us. In other words, Socrates gives a taking. Through his conversations, Socrates takes from his interlocutors their pretense, thereby bringing them to the point of loss, to the point where they, like him, are at a loss with respect to wisdom.33 In giving this taking, through which his interlocutor’s pretensions are annihilated, Socrates shows his way to be one of reception. In each case, Socrates receives the ideas of his interlocutors without offering any ideas of his own.34 Socrates’s way is thus a way of pure reception, of taking without giving or, rather, of giving only this taking. It is owing to his gesture of pure reception that the way of Socrates is so difficult to articulate: for such a gesture gives nothing substantial that can be determined and collated but rather, through its pure receiving, retreats from such determination. In this way Socrates is like a black hole, a singularity into which things pour but from which nothing escapes. Yet, from what purely receives, there emanates an excess, and it is precisely this excess that allows one to mark and observe the gesture of pure reception. What purely receives radiates reception; it gives itself as this gesture of pure receiving: reception is thus a power (δύναμις), though a power of a very peculiar sort. (The peculiar δύναμις of Socrates is an issue that will be revisited in subsequent chapters.) The way of Socrates is a way of reception that announces itself as a given reception, a given-taking. It is for these reasons that Socrates remains a strange and uncanny figure: for his very retreat from substance makes determining his essential characteristics difficult, if not impossible. Socrates’s impoverished and receding way flees a straightforward answering of the question of its essence, an answering of the question “What is Socrates’s way?” In this way, Socrates’s way flees the perimeters of the quintessential philosophical question, the “what is” or τί ἐστι question to which Socrates himself gave rise. It is owing to his reception—his giving of this taking—that Socrates’s way flees overdetermination and methodological clarity and escapes the confines of the tradition for which it itself is responsible. It is for these reasons that, above all, the way of the Platonic Socrates must forever evade the rigid assurance of an answer and must rather remain an abysmal and insoluble question. * * * Quite remarkably, the eminence of Socrates’s reception is powerful enough to radiate beyond the sphere of the life of his interlocutors and into our own. In watching Socrates receive the pretentions of his interlocutors—that is, in reading Plato—we ourselves are drawn into this receiving and give ourselves over to the way of Socrates. In other words, Socrates gives us, the readers, a reception. Each so-called Platonic text in which Socrates appears gives a space, a χώρα, wherein
16 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates the reader can enter into the dialogue and philosophical movement underway and can thereby let her pretentions to wisdom be taken from her. Plato’s texts, no less than the Socrates within them, gives this taking. Reading Plato thus often entails—and properly should entail—a feeling of loss. As one reads Plato and strives to give oneself over to Socrates’s way, one lets one’s presumed resources be taken away by him—one lets oneself be led, by Socrates, to a place of ἀπορία. We recall that to be at an ἀπορία, a no-path, is to find oneself without resource and therefore to find a lack or deficiency operative within oneself. To discover such a lack is to discover that one is not what one thought one was—it is suddenly to find oneself questionable. The way of Socrates—the force of Socratic questioning—is such as to call our very selves into question.35 But to find oneself questionable is to be insecure about one’s own essence, about who (or what) one is: it is not to know one’s self and to have the nature of one’s self be withdrawn from itself. (See the passage from the Phaedrus quoted at the beginning of this introduction.) In other words, it is to find oneself in the very condition that Socrates, in the wake of the λόγος of the god, experienced. Reading Plato is thus a matter of following Socrates along his way into a place of no-way, of ἀπορία, where one, like Socrates, comes face-to-face with the abyss at the very core of one’s existence. Are we not thereby taught something by this Socrates or given a method that we might emulate?36 No. Rather, we are given a reception whereby we are brought unto the necessity of finding our own way. Somewhere along the circuitous route of the way of Socrates, somewhere deep in the recesses of Socratic questioning, we find our very selves as questionable, as open for questioning, as objects of a quest. But a quest is an unfolding whose very being depends upon lacking that which it seeks. Reading Plato is thus a matter of coming to recognize that we lack a knowing relation to our selves, that we don’t know our selves in any rigorous sense. The so-called Platonic texts give us nothing and take from us everything, leaving us only with questions. But questions, unlike answers, open a way. Whereas the proscriptions of a method work to settle for us the disquieting questions of existence, Socrates’s way works rather to unsettle our feigned knowledge and to awaken us to the unsettling abyss at the core of human knowing. Truly following Socrates along his way entails the risk, the discomfort, and the exhilarating freedom to set out, in the face of this abyss, to find one’s own way. One receives Plato’s Socrates best not by seeking from him a determinate content or method that might then be taken up as one’s own but rather through following him along his way of questioning into a place wherein one can come to formulate one’s own questions and set out on a way of one’s own. We thus read Plato best when we receive from Socrates his gift of reception, thereby accepting the taking that this strange Socrates gives. When we do so, we follow Socrates, through his withdrawal, into the path of thinking.37
Introduction | 17
Notes 1. The word χώρα has a rich and difficult history of meaning. Principally, it refers to a place or position, even a land or a country, wherein someone or something takes (its) place. In what follows, χώρα will be variously translated as “place” and “space,” though the latter is not to be thought in modern terms as three-dimensional space. As the following inquiry will make clear, χώρα is being thought in terms of its openness, that is, the manner in which it makes a place or space for something other. 2. The neologism anachoratic is being employed here to avoid the conceptual baggage that belongs to the word anachoretic, which refers either to (a) the reclusive habits belonging to a religious hermit or (b) the behaviors of certain microorganisms around cites of inflammation. Whenever anachoratic is used, it is meant to refer to the gesture of retreat or withdrawal (ἀναχωρέω) whereby Socrates makes a space (χώρα) for something other. 3. This is not the first study to address itself to the issue of Socrates’s way of withdrawal. Other authors, each within separate contexts and with differing focal points, have hinted at or even expressly underscored what is here being called the anachoratic way of Socrates. See, for example, Sallis (1975, 1999, and 2007). See also Warnek (2005), which addresses itself specifically to the question (and questionableness) of nature (φύσις) within Socratic thinking. Warnek argues that Socrates, despite the many scholarly attempts to define him, remains withdrawn from definitive determination and that, furthermore, such withdrawal essentially belongs to the very figure of Socrates as the origin of Western philosophy (Warnek 2005, 4ff.). Like Warnek’s own, the present study seeks to understand the withdrawal of Socrates, though it differs in its approach by focusing exclusively on the various anachoratic gestures that constitute and animate the Socratic philosophical practice in a number of so-called Platonic texts. 4. See Warnek (2005, 13). 5. See Scott (2002, 3). 6. See Vlastos (1971, 8). See also Scott (2002, 8n10). 7. See Brickhouse and Smith (1994, 4). 8. See Kirkland (2012, 8, 64–65). See also Brickhouse and Smith (1994, 5–8). 9. See Hampshire (1951, 142): “One thing is common to anything which in this context deserves the name of a method; it is something which can be formulated and applied. It is something more than a personal style of philosophical criticism, which, as a style, cannot profitably be reduced to a formula and makes no claim to be imitated.” Hampshire goes on to say that such methods, employed by various philosophers throughout history, provide posterity with “the comfortable illusion of being engaged on some definite inquiry, with predetermined limits and recognized canons” (142). 10. Indeed, Socrates goes so far as to say that it would be hubristic of him to claim to be able to teach (Ap. 20c). Scott (2002, 26) argues, in a generally convincing chapter, that Socrates’s disavowal applies only to that type of “pseudo-teaching” characteristic of the sophists who were paid for their services and that Socrates does in fact teach something to others, but only if we radically redefine what we mean by “teaching.” However, I have a much broader understanding of Socrates’s statement that any allegation that he “teaches people and accepts money” is untrue (Ap. 19d–e). After all, if teaching and accepting payment were conceptually intertwined as Scott (2002, 24) has argued, there would be no reason for Socrates to say additionally that he does not accept money (i.e., καὶ χρήματα). Socrates is rather
18 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates s uggesting that he does not teach anything at all to anybody, nor does he accept payment for such an act. 11. See Brickhouse and Smith (1994, 10): “But Socrates has no method, if by ‘method’ we mean to identify an orderly procedure which follows patterns that must be learned and mastered before one is able to achieve effective results.” 12. See, for example, Collingwood (2005, 1): “Scientific and historical thought could never go very far unless scientists and historians reflected on their own work, tried to understand what they were aiming at, and asked themselves the best way to attain it. Most of all, this is true of philosophy.” 13. See Carmichael (1948, 142): “Every method has this aim of conducting to a preconceived end or along a preconceived way. We proceed upon some hypothesis or in conformity with some tenet at every step unless we lapse from our purpose.” 14. On this last point, see Scott (2002, 8n10). On the first point, see Heidegger (1961, 171), who touches on this matter during an inquiry into Plato’s Republic: “Method, the manner of inquiry, was never [for Plato] a fixed technique; rather, it developed in cadence with the advance toward Being.” 15. See also Crat. 391a; see also Euthr. 14c; see also Phd. 82d; see also Laws 667a (though, here, it is not Socrates speaking). In an effort to preserve the rich polyvalence of the word λόγος—which can mean speech, argument, statement, story, myth, reason, word, and so forth—it will for the most part remain untranslated throughout this book. 16. This is not, of course, to suggest that Socrates does not relate to things in their nature. On this, see Sallis (1975). See also Warnek (2005). 17. Phd. 100d. 18. See Sallis (1975, 42–43). 19. Sallis 1975, 38, 43. 20. See Corlett (2005, 48), who notes Socrates’s willingness to change his mind. 21. See Plato (2003, 4n13, 6n16). 22. See Warnek (2005, 144). 23. As Sallis (2012, 16) has written, “there is as yet no logic in Plato.” As he further clarifies, this is not to be seen as a deficiency owing to Plato’s “premature” thinking but rather precisely as a fidelity and openness to the λόγος in a broader and truer sense. See also Hayden (2002, 36), who writes: “As a rigorous discipline, logic is in key respects an Aristotelian innovation, and Socrates’ disputational way of life has since Aristotle’s time usually been presented in regard to its contribution to this or an associated discipline rather than in the light of its own proper character.” 24. On the strangeness of Socrates, see Warnek (2005, 12, 28, passim). 25. The strangeness of Socrates is marked throughout the text by the various uproars from the crowd as they shun him, not to mention condemn him, for his strange way. For a more extended meditation on the disorder of Socrates’s speaking, see Ewegen (2014, 87ff.). 26. As Reeve writes, Socrates will “extemporize, speaking as he pleases in the words that comes to him and putting his trust in the truth and justice of what he says rather than in rhetorical niceties” (1989, 6). 27. See Sallis (1975, 42). 28. Nietzsche (1989, 89). 29. See Brickhouse and Smith (1994, 4), who note that nearly all of Plato’s so-called early dialogues end aporetically.
Introduction | 19 30. See Metcalf (2018, 42–43): The passivity conveyed by [Socrates’s] choice of the verb paschein, “to be affected,” along with the repeated use of the verb dokein—a verb that takes as its subject not Socrates, but the one questioned—conspires to suggest that elenchos is not something that Socrates actively and voluntarily does to others, but something that he rather innocently “undergoes.” In fact, as we look closely at Socrates’s account of his mission, it becomes clear that he carefully avoids casting himself as the agent responsible for the process by which he has come to be hated, and repeatedly portrays his involvement in as innocuous a way as possible.
Metcalf (2018, 48) later suggests that Socrates presents himself in this light ironically. The present interpretation takes Socrates’s emphasis on such passivity—or, rather, receptivity—as sincere. 31. See, for example, Phd. 96d. 32. The enduring (ἀεί) character of Socrates’s poverty will be discussed in detail in chapter 3. 33. See Symp. 173a ff., 216aff. See Scott (2002, 11), who argues that Socrates “gave a gift to those with whom he conversed without accepting anything in return.” As has here been argued, Socrates’s gift is nothing other than a taking from those with whom he speaks. But Scott is absolutely right to emphasize the manner in which Socrates’s giving exceeds the perimeters of an “exchange economy” (see Scott 2002, 30). 34. This is not to say that Socrates does not make suggestions, as he clearly and repeatedly does. Rather, it is to suggest that none of these suggestions are Socrates’s own, in the sense of belonging properly to him. (One can see this in the many occasions where Socrates posits a position only through giving voice to some other: for example, Symp. 201d, Crat. 385e, Tht. 152aff., Phd. 66b.) What remains proper to Socrates is an enlightened relationship to his own ignorance—the knowledge only that he knows nothing. 35. See Warnek (2005, 32). 36. See, for example, Nozick (1999, 154), who suggests that Socrates teaches “a method of inquiry . . . by involving others in it, by exhibiting it. Their job is to catch on, and to go on.” 37. See Heidegger (2002, 52): The reason [that we are still not thinking] does not exclusively or primarily consist in the fact that we human beings do not adequately turn toward what properly gives itself to thinking, but rather in the fact that this most thought-provoking thing turns away from us, and indeed has long since turned away from the human being. . . . What withdraws in such a way contains and unfolds its own unparalleled nearness. . . . Once we are related to what withdraws, we find ourselves on the draw of this withdrawing, drawn into the enigmatic and therefore protean nearness of its claim. Whenever a human being is properly on this draw and thus drawn in, he is thinking, even though he may still be far away from what withdraws, indeed, even though the withdrawal may remain continually shrouded. Socrates spent his entire life, up through his death, placing himself into the pull of this draw and maintaining himself in it. (my translation)
For an excellent treatment of this passage, see Warnek (2005, chap. 3).
1 Retreat (ἀναχώρησις) Phaedo/Timaeus
Already at the inception; already, that is, within those texts that gave rise
to the so-called Western philosophical tradition, a tradition that has been little more than an attempt to think through or beyond the way of the Platonic Socrates; already within this beginning—or, at the very least, at one passing moment within it—Socrates’s way of retreat was remarked upon. In the same speech in Plato’s Symposium in which the enduring strangeness of Socrates’s way is emphasized (see Symp. 215dff.)—a speech to which we shall return at length in chapter 3—Alcibiades draws attention to, and indeed emphasizes, the anachoratic way of Socrates: “It was worthwhile to behold Socrates when the army retreated [ἀνεχώρει] in flight from Delium. . . . The soldiers were then in rout, and while he and Laches were retreating [ἀνεχώρει] together, I came upon them by chance” (Sym. 221a). One might say that Socrates’s retreat, his ἀναχώρησις, was such as to make the enemy itself retreat in the face of it, making way for him as he made his way back from danger. Here, one sees retreat as a strategy of warfare, not, however, a strategy of winning a battle but rather of withdrawing from battle in such a way as to preserve one’s self and one’s own, a retreat made for the sake of the self and protecting that self against destruction, a gesture that, though Alcibiades describes it as robust (ἐρρωμένως) (Sym. 221b), nonetheless bespeaks a moment of weakness in the face of something more powerful—a weakness, however, that precisely preserves the integrity of the self. What if such a movement of retreat, such a gesture of ἀναχώρησις, proved to be indicative of more than a military strategy? What if Alcibiades’s underscoring of Socrates’s retreat served to adumbrate or intimate an ἀναχώρησις that served as the very foundation—or, rather, the very abyss—of Socrates’s essence? What if a similar anachoratic gesture proved to be a—or even the—grounding moment of Socrates’s philosophical way, at least to the extent that a retreat (a gesture of backward-moving withdrawal) can serve as a ground? What if the way of the Platonic Socrates, in its most fundamental operations, consisted of weakness in the face of something more powerful? In order to address these questions— questions that, at this stage, can only have the appearance of groundless and preliminary conjectures—the present chapter turns to the Phaedo and the Timaeus, two texts that, despite many salient and irreducible differences, resonate with one
Retreat | 21 another around the theme of retreat (ἀναχώρησις). Throughout these two texts, the figure of retreat shows itself and plays itself out in various ways; most notably, it is seen to play a constitutive role both in the fundamental structure of the looks (εἰδη) of beings and the fundamental structure of the χώρα, which is that without which beings could never be. By reading these two texts alongside one another and following them down their various retreats, the ground will be set for arguing in subsequent chapters that the way of the Platonic Socrates consists of an anachoratic gesture characterized by a certain powerlessness in the face of something other. In other words, by reading the anachoratic movements of the Timaeus and the Phaedo alongside one another, the essentially anachoratic way of the Platonic Socrates will announce itself.
Phaedo During that moment in the Phaedo when he looks back on the way of his life, reflecting on the origin and development of that way (τρόπος) and the manner by which it differs from the methods (τῆς μεθόδου) of those who came before (Phd. 97b)—during, in other words, that moment when an old Socrates looks back and considers the position of a young Socrates—Socrates describes his mature philosophical position, one that consists of nothing other than a kind of retreat made from out of a posture of fear.1 After recounting the danger of looking at things without sufficient mediation—as a spectator looks on a solar eclipse with bare eyes—Socrates explains the gesture of his so-called second sailing, that moment when one is compelled, in the face of the wind’s withdrawal, to take to the oars and propel oneself forward: “I thought this sort of thing over and feared [ἔδεισα] that I might be totally soul-blinded if I looked at things with my eyes and attempted to grasp them by each of the senses. So it seemed to me that I should flee into λόγοι [εὶς τοὺς λόγους καταφυγόντα] and look in them for the truth of beings [τῶν ὄντων τὴν ἀλήθειαν]” (Phd. 99e; my emphasis). The very movement of the second sailing—a moment expressly said to be made out of fear (δείδω)—is one of fleeing in the face of danger, of withdrawing from that danger toward the safety of refuge. Λόγος provided the space—the place, the χώρα—into which Socrates could retreat and in which he could find refuge from the danger of looking at matters solely through the senses; and it is precisely such fearful retreat that allows Socrates to discover the truth of beings (τῶν ὄντων τὴν ἀλήθειαν), the truth, that is, of how things stand with respect to beings in their very being. Socrates then amplifies the character of this fearful retreat into λόγος. Specifically, such fleeing takes place as the setting down (ὑποθέμενος) of a certain account, namely, “that there is some such beautiful itself by itself [αὐτὸ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ] and a good and a big and all the others” (Phd. 100b). This hypothesis is to serve as the explanation of the causes (τῆς αἰτίας) of the many beautiful, good,
22 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates and big sensible things by referring them to some single self-same look (εἶδος) with which they commune (κοινωνία), some nonsensible One (in each case) to which they are gathered. It is to these looks (εἰδη) that Socrates retreats as he withdraws in fear from looking toward beings solely with his senses. Having thus delineated what the retreat into λόγος entails, Socrates exhorts his company (in this case Cebes) to retreat along with him: “If you grant me this [συγχωρεῖς] [i.e., that the beautiful itself and the good itself are], I hope, from them, to show you the cause and to discover how soul is something deathless” (Phd. 100b–c). The Greek word translated above as “grant” is συγχωρεῖς. Socrates is asking that Cebes acquiesce to his hypothesis, that he consent to what his hypothesis sets forth. Literally, συγ-χωρέω is a yielding, a giving way to another. As the root χωρέω suggests, it is a gesture that withdraws in such a manner as to make a space, a χώρα, for something, dis-placing itself to make a place for another. Συγχωρέω, as a granting, is the opening of a space that yields to another’s view or positing, making way for it. Heard in this manner, what Socrates is saying to Cebes is that if he were to yield to his setting down of the hypothesis regarding, for example, beauty itself, thereby making a space for it, Socrates could show him the truth regarding the being that they are seeking (namely, the soul). In other words, Socrates is saying that if Cebes were to retreat along with him into the χώρα of the λόγος, into the safe (ἀσφαλὲς) hypothesis (Phd. 100e) that makes a space for the looks of beings, they would be able to discover the truth they are seeking. Only through such a retreat will the truth be given a space in which to show itself. One notes, too, that such a granting, such a συγχωρέω, structurally contains within itself a moment of deference or concession to another, a yielding that thus implies a certain measure of self-effacement or self-displacement on the part of the person enacting it. In granting something to the other—in yielding to them by making way for that other—one is erasing oneself and one’s position to precisely that extent. So understood, συγχωρέω entails a certain moment of weakness in the face of the other, a weakness by which one recedes one’s self and its position and grants power—rightness, correctness, truth, and so on—to the other. Moreover, in granting a hypothesis regarding the manner in which the truth of beings shows itself through the looks in λόγος, Cebes would be enacting a gesture of deference not to Socrates himself but rather to the λόγος to which Socrates gives voice. Granting the hypothesis would thus entail the receding or erasing of the self and its own perspective whereby the λόγος pertaining to the hypothesis would be given a space—even a refuge—in which it might unfold. A little later there is a break in the narrative action. Echecrates—he to whom the entire story of Socrates’s final hours is being told—comments, not without some irony, on the lucidity of the preceding explanation (Phd. 102a). He then urges Phaedo to continue the account, to which Phaedo responds with the following extended passage:
Retreat | 23 Once all of this had been granted him [συνεχωρήθη], and it was agreed that each of the looks [τῶν εἰδῶν] was something and that everything else that has a share in them gets its name from these very things, here’s what he asked next: “Now if you say yes to all this [i.e., if you grant it, if you make space, a χώρα, for it] . . . then whenever you claim that Simmias is bigger than Socrates but smaller than Phaedo, aren’t you on those occasions asserting that both these things, bigness and smallness, are in Simmias [ἐν τῷ Σιμμίᾳ]?” (Phd. 102a–b; my emphasis)
What is accomplished through the making way for the hypothesis of the looks is the possibility of a reception: namely, the reception of a single, self-same look in (ἐν) a sensible thing, in this case the reception of bigness or smallness in Cebes. This reception in turn allows the function of the look as cause to come to light: for it is precisely through its participation with, or reception of, the single look that the sensible thing is what it is (Phd. 102d). Through receiving the look—by making a place, a χώρα, for it—the sensible thing comes into its own, becoming the being that it is: and all of this only if one first makes way for the hypothesis of the looks, fleeing to them in λόγος in a gesture of a yielding retreat, a retreat made in fear of soul blindness, a retreat that yields in self-effacing deference to the λόγος. What should be observed is that this retreat into λόγος allows for the very communion of being and becoming, of the look of a being and the sensible being of which it is the look. By making way for Socrates’s hypothesis, Cebes grants that Simmias “is” only big insofar as he holds (μετέχω) the big itself within himself. It is the reception of the hypothesis of the looks—which is the very content of the second sailing, the turn to λόγοι—that makes a space (χώρα) for a communion (κοινωνία) of being and becoming. Phrased more directly: it is the retreat into λόγος, made in a fearful gesture of yielding retreat, that makes a space for the manifestation of being within beings. It is by retreating fearfully from the senses and their pernicious allure toward the hypothesis of the looks that, in deferring to such a λόγος regarding the interdependency of being and λόγος, one is able to make a space within oneself for an apprehension of the truth of beings—that is, the being of beings. Moreover, the looks themselves, in their very identity as looks, are characterized by a certain sort of retreat. In order to clarify the movements that characterize the reception of the looks, Socrates describes what happens when two opposing looks seek to occupy the same place at the same time. Within the particular thing (in this case, Simmias), bigness must retreat from smallness as the latter advances. As smallness comes on Simmias, either bigness must “flee and retreat [φεύγειν καὶ ὑπεκχωρεῖν] . . . or it must already have perished by the time that smallness came near it” (Phd. 102d–e). As a result of this fleeing, Simmias— who was big while holding on to, or participating with, bigness—now becomes
24 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates small as bigness retreats and gives way to smallness (say, if someone bigger happens to come and stand next to him). Socrates’s point is that, while Simmias would become smaller on the advancement of smallness, bigness itself—that is, the look of bigness—would be nowise affected. Rather, bigness itself would flee and retreat, not having the strength (οὐ τετόλμηκεν) to become small (Phd. 102e), thus staying the same as itself as it retreats from the body of Simmias. Because it retreats from being overtaken by its opposite, the look of a thing is able to maintain itself as itself, is able to maintain its self-identity and self-sameness. A look timidly retreats, then, into itself, away from the danger of self-corruption: the self-identity of the looks takes place as this retreat, this fleeing, from opposition.2 As the second sailing has shown, λόγος is the place, the χώρα, the refuge wherein this retreat occurs. Such, at least, is Socrates’s safe hypothesis, made in retreat from fear of danger, made on the day of his death while contemplating that which will, in the end, force him to retreat into complete silence.
Timaeus Not long after the beginning of the Timaeus—not long, therefore, after Socrates has welcomed those present (and noted those absent) and has set the scene for the discourses to come by recounting the conversations of the previous day— Socrates withdraws from the conversation: “I, in exchange for my speeches of yesterday, must keep silent and listen in turn” (Tim. 27a). Socrates does indeed keep his silence, uttering only two more brief remarks before yielding the floor entirely to Timaeus, who speaks for the remainder of the text that bears his name. The beginning of the Timaeus thus presents Socrates withdrawing from speaking, making a space in which some other (namely, Timaeus) may make a λόγος, therefore making that λόγος possible by making a space in which to receive it. Stated with a different emphasis, one could say that Socrates, in yielding to Timaeus, defers to him in a self-receding gesture, effectively erasing himself for the remainder of the long conversation that follows; and although Socrates thus erases himself, he precisely thereby presides over the entirety of the discourse that follows as erased, as effaced, as withdrawn and receded. Such self-effacing deference is not, however, the same as agreement: for in deferring to Timaeus, Socrates in no way indicates his enduring consent to everything that Timaeus will then come to say.3 Rather, such deference is of a more structural and fundamental sort, serving as the primordial gesture by which Timaeus’s long λόγος is given the space to unfold and to make manifest (and to conceal) what it will. It is on this gesture of self-effacing deference, of making way for another by getting one’s self out of the way, that the entirety of the remainder of the Timaeus depends. Given that it was Socrates’s reception (ξενίζω) the previous day of those currently present that is the very cause for their meeting together within the Timaeus (Tim. 17b); given, too, that it is his self-effacing yielding that grants Timaeus the
Retreat | 25 opportunity to deliver his speech, one could say that Socrates is that without whom the speeches of the Timaeus would not occur: for Socrates, specifically in his withdrawal from offering up any accounts of his own, makes a space in which Timaeus’s account can come to pass.4 Moreover, given that Timaeus’s speech concerns itself with the generation of the all (Tim. 27c), one might say that Socrates’s retreat, his ἀναχώρησις, from the conversation—very much like the χώρα itself that will be described by Timaeus in the speech to come—makes a space in which the all may show itself. One sees here the causal function of Socrates’s retreat, a function that operates by means of an anachoratic gesture. Socrates, in his silence, gives a reception in which Timaeus’s speech and all that it contains—namely, the all itself—may unfold. After entertaining Socrates with his first discourse concerning the generation of the all, Timaeus voices a necessity, indeed, one pertaining to necessity itself. Having gone through those things that have been crafted through intellect (νοῦς), Timaeus now insists that “one must also set down beside the account the things that come to be through necessity” (Tim. 48a).5 This necessity to account for necessity is owed to the mixed birth of the heavens, a birth brought about by a standing together of both necessity and intellect (Tim. 48a). Thus, it is necessary for Timaeus to begin a new discourse, one that will account for all that he has heretofore taken for granted, namely, those necessary “elements” (στοιχεῖα) out of which the demiurge fashioned the all (Tim. 48b), the basic stuff to which the demiurge had recourse in ordering things: earth, air, fire, and water.6 For the present purposes, two points are of immediate interest. First, this discourse on necessity is explicitly said by Timaeus to take place as a retreat (ἀναχωρητέον) (Tim. 48b). Having now exposed the inability of νοῦς to account for the nature of the “wandering cause,” Timaeus recognizes the necessity of retreating to another beginning if “one is to declare how the all was . . . genuinely born” (Tim. 48a). The recommencement, then, is a retreat from the danger of proceeding in the fashion of the first beginning, a retreat undertaken for the sake of renewing the possibility of λόγος. Second, it is precisely this retreat that will lead to the χώρα. After reiterating that he will be following the path of the likely story—that is, a story that is only a likeness of that about which it speaks— Timaeus jumps immediately into his articulation of the third kind (Tim. 48e). Though the first two kinds—namely, the sensible and intelligible kinds—were sufficient for the preceding noetic discourse, they prove incapable on their own of accounting for the discourse now underway, that pertaining to the so-called elements; and it is in his adducing of the third kind that Timaeus hopes to be able to make such discourse possible. It is thus the χώρα into which Timaeus retreats (ἀναχωρέω). Recalling our analysis of ἀναχώρησις above, we could say that Timaeus’s retreat makes a place for the χώρα, makes a place for that which makes place for beings and is furthermore that without which an adequate
26 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates discourse regarding beings would not be possible. Moreover, it is worth noting that this retreat would not be possible were it not for Socrates, whose retreat from the conversation literally makes a space for Timaeus’s λόγος regarding the χώρα. Socrates’s retreat has made a space in which Timaeus himself may retreat, thereby making a space for a reception of the χώρα. Thus, Socrates’s anachoratic gesture opens a χώρα in which Timaeus himself may undertake an anachoratic gesture, a gesture that itself leads to the discourse concerning the χώρα. Concentric circles, then, of ἀναχώρησις. As Timaeus undertakes his retreat toward the χώρα, he is beset by a certain intractable difficulty. To talk about the χώρα, it seems, one must first raise perplexities regarding those so-called elements that (it will be said) come to pass within the χώρα (Tim. 49b). Specifically, this difficulty pertains to our ability to speak about such things, to offer stable and trustworthy λόγοι about them. Due to their perpetual and fluctuating transitions in and out of each other and their subsequent instability, these so-called elements flee from discourse, retreating from the very grasp of λόγος. The difficulty, then, is the danger of attempting to grasp these perpetually moving elements with λόγος. The safe course that Timaeus proposes as a means around this problem is notoriously difficult to understand. Foregoing here a compendium of the long debate concerning the specifics of Timaeus’s proposed course, let the following remarks suffice to indicate the basic gesture of the proposal.7 Because the so-called elements continually flee into one another, never showing themselves as the same as themselves (Tim. 49c), Timaeus asserts that there is no way to insist that any one of these “is one thing and another without putting oneself to shame [αἰσχυνεῖται]” (Tim. 49d; my emphasis).8 One must rather adopt a different course, a safer one, when attempting to speak about such radically vacillatory elements. The safer course proposed by Timaeus takes place as a positing (τιθεμένους). To avoid the shame of misspeaking, one should refrain from referring to the phenomena as “this” (τοῦτο) or “that” (τόδε), where these terms are understood to denote a stability (βεβαιότητα) in excess of the evident phenomena, but should rather posit that the phenomena are “of this sort [τοιοῦτον] on each occasion” (Tim. 49d). Timaeus reiterates: “We must not say these things of any of them individually, but rather refer to them as ‘of this sort [τοιοῦτον]’” (Tim. 49e). One sees great hesitance on Timaeus’s part here, a reticence—or even fear—about speaking shamefully (that is, in a manner that does not concord with the truth) about these fugitive elements. To help elucidate this difficult passage in terms of the analysis being given here, a brief look back at the Phaedo is instructive. During a discussion concerning the relationship between equal sticks and the equal itself (αὐτὸ τὸ ἴσον), Socrates stresses the essential dissimilarity (i.e., inequality) between the two.
Retreat | 27 Having obtained Simmias’s assent that the equal sticks fall far short of the equal itself in terms of their equality, Socrates offers the following: “Whenever somebody who has seen something discerns, ‘What I’m now seeing wants to be of the same sort [τοιοῦτον] as something else among the things that are, yet it falls short of it and is unable to be like the thing and is inferior to it,’ he who thinks this must of necessity have previous knowledge of the thing which he says the other resembles but falls short of” (Phd. 74d; my emphasis). As Socrates makes clear during his so-called second sailing, the sort—of which the phenomenon is an instance—is nothing other than the look (εἶδος) that is hypothesized, in λόγος, to be the very cause (in the previously elucidated sense) of the instance. Such a hypothesis, as we saw, is undertaken as a safe retreat from a certain danger. The safe retreat into λόγος makes way for the hypothesis that allows for the communion of the look with that appearance that is of the same sort as the look. Likewise, in the Timaeus, the safest course—offered here in an effort to avoid the danger of shame (αἰσχυνεῖται; Tim. 49d)—is to posit the sort to which the transient things temporarily belong. The fire that we observe is not fire itself but is rather of the same sort as fire, is an instance belonging to that which we call “fire,” that one name that articulates the being of that which we see only in becoming. The safest course, then, is to retreat into the supposition—as Socrates did in the Phaedo—that there is some sort, accessible only to λόγος, of which some transient thing is an instance, a look of which the instance will always fall short. And, in the Timaeus, it is the χώρα that offers the space wherein a commingling of the sort and the thing—the being and the becoming—can take place, wherein beings of these sort can show themselves as what they are, if only for a moment. The χώρα is thus a kind of refuge into which Timaeus flees for the sake of allowing a λόγος on the so-called elements to take place. The turn to the χώρα is a safe retreat into a positing—a kind of second sailing—brought about by the manner in which the so-called elements themselves flee and retreat from the grasp of λόγος: and yet the turn to the χώρα is itself a retreat that makes way for the very possibility of the continuation of a λόγος about necessity, a λόγος “not less likely but more so” (Tim. 48d).9 The retreat into the χώρα renews the possibility of λόγος, one now capable of accounting for—albeit incompletely—those bothersome elements. It is ἀναχώρησις, then, that makes λόγος possible here: a moment of weakness that makes possible what would otherwise remain impossible. * * * Why retreat? What brings one into a posture of retreat? Presumably one retreats when one is met with something stronger or more powerful than oneself, such as in the Iliad when Paris retreated (ἀνεχώρησεν) in the face of angry Menelaus: “As soon as magnificent Paris marked Atrides shining among the champions, Paris’s spirit shook. Recoiling [ἐχαζετο] into his friendly ranks, he cringed from
28 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates death as one who trips on a snake in a hilltop’s hollow retreats [ἀνεχώρησεν]” (Il. 3:30ff.). One sees such retreat also in the Phaedo when Socrates, fearful of being overwhelmed by a direct beholding of things in their sensible aspect, fled (καταφυγόντα) into λόγος (Phd. 99e). Retreat would then be a matter of power, of δύναμις; or, rather, it would be a matter of powerlessness, of ἀδυναμία in the face of something more powerful. Retreat would be a matter of what is weaker yielding and making way to the advancement of something more powerful, such as when Socrates and the Athenians retreated (ἀνεχώρει) at the battle of Delium when the Boeotians attacked them (Sym. 221a). Such powerlessness, such inability, forms the very structure of the Phaedo from quite nearly the beginning. Just after Socrates has reemphasized the prophetic and musical character of his inquiry (Phd. 85b; see also 61a–b), Simmias articulates why he has thus far been dissatisfied with Socrates’s ability to offer an account of death: “It seems to me, Socrates . . . , that to know anything sure about such matters in our life is either impossible [ἀδύνατον] or something altogether hard and dangerous [παγχάλεπον]” (Phd. 85c). Nonetheless, Simmias continues, one must be strong: for simply to give up in the face of such impossibility is the mark of “a really soft [μαλθακοῦ] man” (Phd. 85c). Rather, “a man must . . . accomplish one of these things: he must learn to discover what’s the case or, if that’s not possible [ἀδύνατον], he must sail through life in the midst of danger [κινδυνεύοντα], seizing on the best and the least refutable of human accounts, . . . and letting himself be carried upon it as on a raft—unless, that is, he is able [δύναιτο] to journey more safely [ἀσφαλέστερον] and less dangerously [ἀκινδυνότερον] on a more stable carrier, some divine account” (Phd. 85c–d; my emphasis). Though it is impossible (ἀδύνατον) to know anything certain about death or what lies beyond, it is nonetheless necessary that one keep investigating the matter and grasp hold of “the least refutable of human accounts”—unless one is able to grasp some divine account. A space is thus opened up between a human account and a divine account, the former having the character of a raft (barely) floating upon a dangerous, turbulent sea. Or perhaps it is better to say that a space is opened up between no account and a complete account and that this space is nothing other than the human condition. To pursue the matter in a truly human way is to pursue it with the knowledge that, despite one’s best efforts, one will always lack the δύναμις necessary to offer a full account, at least so long as one remains human. Thus, to pursue the matter in a truly human way is to know one’s limits—it is to know oneself as being weak with respect to a full account, that is, with respect to the gods. In other words, it is to know only that one knows nothing, to know that one is ignorant, to know that one is impoverished with respect to wisdom, and to know that human wisdom is “worth little or nothing” (Ap. 23a). To know oneself as human would be to know oneself as being constitutionally incapable of grasping the truth of things, and thereby to enact a deferential
Retreat | 29 gesture toward those who are capable, namely, the gods. Such a gesture of deference would, precisely in yielding to something more powerful, serve to measure oneself against it. Although Socrates himself arguably embodies such a posture in general, it can be seen specifically in the Phaedo as informing his so-called second sailing. After having offered an account of his philosophical education in general and the limits of the teachings of Anaxagoras in particular, Socrates explains the reason why he undertook his second sailing: “But as for the power [δύναμιν] of placing things as they are now—in the best way possible—this they do not search for. . . . Now, for that sort of cause . . . it would be a pleasure to become somebody’s student. But since I was deprived [ἐστερήθην] of this and never became capable of discovering [μαθεῖν οἷός τε] it myself, or learning it from another, do you want me to make a display . . . of the way by which I have busied myself with the second-sailing in search of the cause?” (Phd. 99c–d; my emphasis).10 Socrates does not himself have the power to learn about the power for placing things in the best way possible; he is powerless, therefore, with respect to this particular ability. Precisely because he lacked the δύναμις to discover or learn the nature of the good and binding—precisely, that is, because the nature of the good remained withdrawn from him11—Socrates retreated into his safe hypothesis that sets down in λόγος the “form of the cause” of things (Phd. 100a). The retreat into λόγος is thus made from out of powerlessness (ἀδυναμία). (As will be suggested in chap. 6, it is precisely this weak anachoratic gesture that proves uniquely capable of apprehending the good beyond being, at least to the extent possible.) Moreover, Socrates’s retreat is marked by an additional weakness. Having made his retreat into his safe hypothesis, Socrates is no longer able (δύναμαι) to recognize the causes that certain wise others (such as Anaxagoras) offer (Phd. 100d). Rather, having retreated from such conjectures, Socrates holds simply and artlessly (ἁπλῶς καὶ ἀτέχνως)—that is, openly and without artifice or formalized technique, without, therefore, a method in any rigorous sense—to the hypothesis that nothing is beautiful except through communion with the beautiful itself (Phd. 100d). Rather than claiming to know what he does not know, like those wise philosophers capable of offering such accounts, Socrates, himself incapable, takes the safe course by retreating into the safe hypothesis: “[These others] are so self-sufficient [ἱκανοὶ] due to their wisdom that even though they confound all things together, they themselves are quite capable [δύνασθαι] of being satisfied with themselves. But you—if in fact you are one of the lovers of wisdom [φιλοσόφων]—would, I suppose, do as I say” (Phd. 101e–2a). In other words, as lovers of wisdom, Simmias and Cebes would, like Socrates, say farewell to their pretense of wisdom, of self-sufficiency, knowing themselves to be ignorant and therefore unable to offer a complete account. Rather, as lovers of wisdom— lovers who therefore lack the wisdom that they desire—they would look as far as
30 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates humanly possible into the first hypothesis as articulated in the so-called second sailing (Phd. 107b).12 As lovers of wisdom, they would know their place precisely by giving place to that which is more powerful, electing to measure themselves against the gods and remain within their own human limits. The philosophical course is thus the weaker course, the insufficient course, the human course, that makes a space in which the looks of beings can exert themselves. Such weakness and powerlessness, then, plays a decisive role within the Phaedo and is the very way of the second sailing—a retreat made to avoid soul blindness, a retreat made in fear (ἔδεισα) (Phd. 99e).13 Weakness is no less constitutive of the Timaeus and is emphasized from the very outset. Socrates begins the Timaeus with a reckoning: “One, two, three . . . but now where is the fourth, my dear Timaeus, of yesterday’s feasters and hosts of today?” (Tim. 17a). Timaeus responds: “Some illness [ἀσθένεια] befell him, Socrates—for he wouldn’t have been left out of this meeting willingly” (Tim. 17a). The word translated above as “illness” is ἀσθένεια, which can just as well mean weakness or want of strength. The fourth is absent due to a weakness that befell him unwillingly and held him back from attending the present gathering, a weakness that is therefore necessary, in the sense given to this word within the Timaeus itself. The fourth could not help but be unable to attend: as a result, the fourth has left an absence, a space, which the others will do “everything in their power [δύναμιν]” to fill (Tim. 17b). The very beginning of the Timaeus, then, bespeaks weakness, as does that moment at the beginning of the Phaedo when Plato—in one of only two occasions where he is mentioned in the entire so-called Platonic corpus—is said to have missed the get-together owing to a certain weakness (ἀσθενέω) (Phd. 59b).14 In a certain respect, weakness continues to play an important role throughout the Timaeus, structuring the course of the dialogue as a whole. Just before undertaking his story (μῦθον) about the generation (or production) of the all by the divine demiurge, Timaeus marks the limits of what is to come by saying that it is impossible (ἀδύνατον) to speak adequately of this divine poet and father (ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα; Tim. 28c). Because the all is itself a production—that is, a copy or likeness of the eternal paradigm (Tim. 29c)—the account offered by Timaeus will itself need to be of a likeness, a likeness story (τὸν εἰκότα μῦθον).15 Almost by way of apology, Timaeus states the following: “So then, Socrates, if in speaking [about the god and the all] we become incapable [μὴ δυνατοὶ] of rendering speeches that are always and in all respects in agreement with themselves and precise, do not wonder” (Tim. 29c). Rather, because he is human— because, therefore, he is insufficient and inadequate—his account will be true only to the extent that is possible (Tim. 29d). This trope, which occurs numerous times throughout the text, marks a weakness endemic to the entire undertaking, indeed, endemic to any human undertaking as such. The very attempt at giving
Retreat | 31 a “likeness story” bespeaks a powerlessness over against the power of a complete (i.e., divine) account. Timaeus is by necessity—indeed, by the sort of necessity that belongs to nature—confined to the weaker account.16 Yet it is not only the human being who is constrained by weakness: the divine demiurge is also limited by a certain powerlessness. In his efforts to create the all, Timaeus tells us, the god wished to make all things resemble himself as much as possible (Tim. 29e): “Since he wanted all things to be good and, to the best of his power [δύναμιν], nothing to be shoddy, the god took over all that was visible and . . . brought it into order from disorder, since he regarded the former as superior to the latter” (Tim. 30a). What comes to light through the following pages is that, due to constraints that are beyond the god’s control, the all falls short of the paradigm of which it is a copy. Far from being eternal and self-same, the all, owing to the fact that it is generated, is subject to entropic necessity and will one day perish (Tim. 38b).17 Only able to impart so much of himself into his creation, the god is unable to endow the all with the timelessness characteristic of its paradigm (Tim. 38c). Further, the all is subject to the sorts of distortions characteristic of any copy, of any image. Thus, even the god is constrained by what is possible, as are his admixtures of the so-called elements that comprise the whole (Tim. 32b, 37d). The god’s creation approximates the paradigm of which it is a copy; but no matter how good his creation is, it is still bound by the limitations of imitation (see Tim. 38c, 46c)—for there is no such thing as a perfect copy.18 Neither created beings nor produced artifacts will have the sort of pure, self-sufficient unity characteristic of the look (εἶδος) in which they participate: and Timaeus’s poem of the act of this god will itself mimic this weakness. This inability on the part of the demiurge extends even to the gods—the so-called Hesiodic gods—whom he creates. These gods, too easily taken to be omnipotent, in fact exhibit a certain impotence belonging to their very being. Although called “the deathless ones” throughout Homer and beyond, these gods are, according to Timaeus, only immortal in a derivative sense. Though they are indissoluble (ἄλυτα), they are so only in a way entirely dependent on their maker. Because of the great necessity that “what is bound together can be dissolved” (Tim. 41b), these gods can, like any generated thing, come unto decay; and it is only through the goodness of their poet-father that they continue to perdure. In other words, they are as immortal as possible, given certain necessary and, what amounts to the same, natural constraints. Summarizing the above considerations, one can see that δύναμις within the Timaeus entails weakness in the following way. When Timaeus says that they will do something to the best of their δύναμις, he is saying that their δύναμις is limited—that is, is not equal to what a total fulfillment of the task would require. Due to certain necessary (or natural) constraints, they are all (even the
32 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates demiurge) unable to fulfill the task adequately but may only perform to the best of their δύναμις, just as the gods are immortal only to the best of theirs. Any given δύναμις can thus by limited by things extrinsic to it (such as necessity) and can be thought of as implying a weakness to that extent. Moreover, any human δύναμις, precisely owing to the fact that it is human, ineluctibly entails a degree of inadequacy and weakness (see Tim. 29d); that is, human δύναμις, precisely because it is human, is always characterized by a certain amount of ἀδυναμία. More controversially, δύναμις could be seen to involve weakness insofar as it represents a space where a power that could be exercised is not being so exercised. For example, the power of a city to defend itself is, during peacetime, a dormant ability, one literally out of practice and without application. Yet the power is still there, indeed, is there precisely because it is not in practice: for if it were exercised, it would no longer be δύναμις but ἐνέργεια. Phrased otherwise: δύναμις is depleted through its application. In a word, δύναμις only “is” δύναμις only insofar as it is not ἐνέργεια. In this sense, one sees that δύναμις can be characterized by a kind of lack or absence: it is what it is because it is not actualized.19 This is dramatically indicated at the beginning of the Timaeus: as the fourth person is mentioned to be absent, he is thereby made present as absent. The fourth, unnamed person has what no one who is present has: the pure ability (δύναμις) to become present. Everyone else is present; they are actually (i.e., bodily) present: they thus exercise their power, thereby depleting it to some extent. Only what is absent can have the pure potential—the pure power—to be present. As do, for example, the looks. They themselves are never bodily present as themselves but forever have— indeed, in a way that marks the very character of forever, of eternity, as such—the ability to become present. A look, as having this δύναμις, is always eminently able to appear—it is eminent potency. But this is precisely its weakness—for it is, in actuality, unable to appear as itself. The power of the look consists in its inability to be brought into full presence: its power consists of its weakness. Timaeus observes this weakness, commenting on it in a somewhat different context. During his discussion of the combination of the most basic elements, Timaeus claims that “it is not possible [οὺ δυνατόν] for two things alone to be beautifully combined apart from some third: some bond must get in the middle and bring them both together” (Tim. 31c). Though he is here talking about fire and earth and how they require water and air (Tim. 32b) as their intermediary bond, this line of reasoning applies no less to the looks. A look lacks the ability to make itself present: it needs something in which to appear (see Phd. 74c). Moreover, sensible things lack the stability necessary to come to appearance and require the stability of another, a kind of surrogate stability (Tim. 49e). Both the looks and the sensible things lack the ability to show themselves on their own and depend on some third kind, a kind that has a power that both lack. This third
Retreat | 33 kind is, of course, the χώρα, which as the third kind exhibits a power that neither of the other kinds possess. What is this power (δύναμις) (Tim. 49b)? What is the distinctive δύναμις of the χώρα that makes a self-showing of beings possible? Timaeus answers: “This especially: that it is a receptacle [ὑποδοχὴν] for all becoming” (Tim. 49a). The role of the χώρα was noted above, and the difficulties surrounding it are well known and well argued. What needs to be stressed here is the manner in which the δύναμις of the χώρα—a δύναμις that is unique to it and distinguishes it from the other two kinds—lies precisely in its ability to receive purely, to act as a receptacle for the other two kinds. As Timaeus explains, the χώρα “always receives [δέχεταί] all things and nowhere in no way takes on any shape similar to the ones that come into it” (Tim. 50b–c). Because of this, the χώρα must always be called by the same name: “for it never at all shrinks away from its own power (ἐξίσταται δυνάμεως)” of pure reception (Tim. 50c). Never giving itself, the χώρα always retreats into itself, retreats into a δύναμις that is nothing other than a δύναμις of retreat, holding itself back within its retreat so that something else may come to pass. As Emanuela Bianchi (2014, 90) puts it, situating the issue in terms of a broader Platonic and Aristotelian context, “In Aristotelian terms we might say [the χώρα] will never reach the telos of substance or energeia, actuality; no matter how much entelcheia it might give rise to it will always and forever return to and remain in its own potentiaity, its dunamis qua dunamis.” Phrased in terms of the present inquiry, the χώρα gives nothing other than a return, a retreat, to itself, a retreat that literally makes the space for the world of γένεσις. So understood, the χώρα is the ὑποδοχή for all becoming. The word ὑποδοχή can mean receptacle, in the sense that Socrates himself is a receptacle for Timaeus’s speeches, receiving (ἀπεδεξάμεθα) them without interruption (Tim. 29d). However, ὑποδοχή can also have the sense of refuge, as in a place to which one retreats.20 Insofar as it is a retreat or refuge—a receptacle that takes things into itself and harbors them—the fundamental operation of the χώρα must be understood in terms of reception, δέχομαι.21 To quote John Sallis (1999, 111) here from his Chorology, the definitive book on the indefinite χώρα, “since it is all-receiving, [the χώρα] can have no form, no determinations whatsoever. It can itself receive, be stamped or impregnated by, all those kinds called paradigms or intelligible εἴδη, but it is not itself determined by any of them, cannot itself have any of these determinations, cannot have them as determinations of itself ” (my emphasis). One could say that, in lacking any determinations of its own, the χώρα lacks any being, any οὐσία, of its own.22 The χώρα is, in essence, without essence: for its essence consists only in its pure withdrawal from having an essence. Rather than giving itself, the χώρα instead retreats into itself—or, rather, away from itself, away from having a self at all—holding itself in reserve precisely so that something else may come to pass: a receptive power cast by Timaeus in
34 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates distinctly feminine terms when he refers to the χώρα as “nurse” and “mother.”23 The power of the χώρα thus consists not in the exertion of strength or violence over another but rather in the making way for that other so that that other can come to pass, something like a feminine power (according to Timaeus) that receives and thus makes possible the other. In other words, the χώρα, through its retreat into itself, gives a reception. One sees, then, that the power of the χώρα consists in a kind of powerlessness characterized by a gesture of pure reception. Yet it is this powerlessness that serves as the very condition for the possibility of the other two kinds, a powerlessness without which they themselves could never come to power, a powerlessness that is therefore that which is responsible for their power, that without which they could not have their power.24 Could one not say, then, that the χώρα, whose power consists of a powerless receptivity, is the most powerful, insofar as it is that—or perhaps she—that grants power to the other? The χώρα has the absolute power of making way, the absolute power of weakness. It is the most powerful precisely because it imparts nothing—it is pure potential, holding itself back entirely, holding itself entirely in reserve. Or, more precisely, the χώρα “is” nothing other than this absolute holding in reserve, this absolute retreat.25 Precisely because it is nothing, the χώρα can be anything—it has that potential. Thus is the weak power of the χώρα, a power that it never shrinks from (ἐξίστημι) (Tim. 50b). The χώρα never retreats from its power of absolute retreat—its most fundamental movement is one of pure ἀναχώρησις. * * * The Socrates of the Phaedo retreats in λόγος, fearful of the harm that a sustained engagement with things in their purely sensible aspect would bring, a retreat that makes way for a reception of the looks of beings and therefore a reception of being. Socrates also retreats from the conversation of the Timaeus, making way for Timaeus’s discourse concerning the all, a discourse that will eventually lead to the χώρα, to that whose very nature—if it can even be said to have a nature— consists of a gesture of radical retreat, one that makes possible a reception of being and its conjoining with becoming. In both cases, then, Socrates’s retreat— his anachoratic gesture—makes a space in which being may show itself. Would Socrates, then, be something like the χώρα? Would his power, his δύναμις, mimic that of the χώρα and thus show itself as a kind of powerlessness? Would Socrates’s anachoractic gesture, which is the very gesture that makes a space for the eventual retreat into the χώρα, serve to align Socrates’s operations with those of the χώρα? And insofar as the χώρα is thought by Timaeus as something feminine, would Socrates, then, be something like a woman? It is with these questions in mind—questions provoked by the manner in which both Socrates and the χώρα are characterized by gestures of radical retreat—that we turn to the Gorgias.
Retreat | 35
Notes 1. This encounter between an old Socrates and a young Socrates will be revisited in chapter 4. 2. See O’Brien (1977, 297), who analyzes the language of retreat in these passages from the Phaedo: “something stays as it is . . . by running away.” O’Brien further appropriately employs a military analogy to make this operation clear: “The way to look at it is evidently that if the inhabitants of Alsace are attacked by the Germans and wish to remain French (assuming they were French to start with), then they must run away. Otherwise, they will be overrun by the enemy, and they will ‘perish,’ whether literally or at least in the sense that they will have to give up being French and become Germans instead. What they cannot do is ‘stay behind’ and be Frenchmen and Germans at the same time” (297–98). In other words, “in order to stay as it is, a thing must run away” (299). O’Brien claims throughout that the language of fleeing and withdrawal is metaphorical (297ff.) (See also Burger [1984, 164].) Even if such language is metaphorical, it nonetheless points to the basic anachoratic structure of the looks by which they maintain their self-identity. 3. For a passage where Socrates’s silence does seem to indicate consent, see the Symposium 214eff. 4. There is some controversy over whether Socrates, in his opening comments of the Timaeus, is referring to the events depicted in Plato’s Republic (Tim. 17cff.). (For a helpful summary of the issue, see Sallis [1999, 21ff.].) For the present purposes, all that matters is that the text of the Timaeus makes it clear that the conversation depicted in the Timaeus owes its very being to Socrates’s reception of those present on the previous day (Tim. 17b). 5. As Cornford has shown, “necessity” is not to be thought of in the modern sense as that which, owing to reason or natural law, must occur (cf. Cornford 1935, 165). Rather, the precise opposite is intended. “Necessity” refers to the preexisting, amorphous state that only comes to be ordered through the noetic arrangement of the demiurge (but that proves to be, to a great extent, intractable). 6. Cornford refers to these as the “irrational factors” that stifle Timaeus’s initial attempt to explicate the origin of the all with respect to its rational order (Cornford 1935, 161). Sallis, also practicing the care with which one must differentiate the στοχεῖον from what the sciences today call the elements, refers to them as “fugitives,” thereby stressing the manner in which they flee from rational account (cf. Sallis 1999, 43, 103). For purposes of brevity, they shall herein be referred to as “elements,” always offered with the reserve with which one must use this term. 7. For an excellent summary of this debate, see Sallis (1999, 102n13). In general, I agree with Mohr’s interpretation of the passage in question, though without adopting his fourfold classification. Simply put, I contend that the phrase “of this sort” (τοιοῦτον) refers the fugitive elements to a stable εἴδος. However—and this is what accounts for the fugitive character of the elements—the elements flee from εἴδος to εἴδος, refusing to stay within the orbit of any οne. (See Tim. 49c, where water is said to flee from the look [ἰδέαν] of water and over to that of air.) 8. In other words, the elements flee the self-identity characteristic of the more stable looks, a stability we saw to be characterized by a fleeing from opposition. 9. See Sallis (1999, 47), who notes a second sailing at play in Timaeus’s discourse, though at a different moment.
36 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates 10. When used with an infinitive, οἷός τε can have the sense of ability or capability. See Liddell and Scott (1996, 548). See also Smyth (1920, 43, entry 186a). 11. We will return to the matter of the good’s withdrawal in chapter 6. 12. The constitutive role of lack in the way of Socrates will be taken up in chapter 3. 13. The very notion of a second sailing—of taking to the oars as the wind dies down— bespeaks a kind of powerlessness, a lack of volition. 14. We will return to the matter of Plato’s absence in the epilogue. 15. On this, see Sallis (1999, 51). The expression “a likeness story” has a double sense. First of all, τὸν εἰκότα μῦθον can be “likely story,” as in a story whose veracity is not secured but merely probable. As a poem, a μῦθος, the discourse of the Timaeus is incapable (and undesiring) of the sort of certainty promised by logic and modern science. Secondly, it is important to stress that this likely story has precisely to do with a likeness, with an image. The demiurge, in making the living all, is making an image of the eternal paradigm; and Timaeus, in poetizing this production, is making an image of it. See Cornford (1935, 21, 28). See also Sallis (1999, 55). 16. Even if the account were not of a production but of something eternal and unchanging, it would still be true and certain only to the extent that is possible (Tim. 29b). 17. It is not clear that the all will in fact perish, only that it is capable of perishing. See Tim. 41b. 18. See Crat., 432bff. 19. Aristotle’s Metaphysics, during a mediation on the various significations of δύναμις, raises the possibility of δύναμις consisting of a lack (Metaph. 1019b10). (See Cleary [1998, 33–34].) However, he takes this meaning (and all the other meanings) of δύναμις to reduce to the following definition: “the source of change in something else or as something else” (Metaph. 1020a8). Concerning what is not actualized, Aristotle gives the example of house building, which, as a δύναμις, is not present in the thing that is built (Metaph. 1019a17). 20. See Kalkavage (2001, 142; cf. Liddell and Scott 1996, 842). 21. According to Timaeus, the χώρα “always receives [δέχεταί] all things and nowhere in no way takes on any shape similar to the ones that come into it” (Tim. 50c). See Jones (2012, 252), who calls the χώρα the “quintessential occurrence of receptivity.” 22. See Manoussaskis (2002, 94): “The mirror itself (the khora) suffers nothing. It ‘is’ nothing. As long as the Idea is reflected, [the χώρα] ‘gives place’ to the reflection; once the Idea ‘turns its back and leaves,’ the mirror returns to what always has been an anonymous, amporphous, indifferent surface with no attributes whatsoever.” 23. As Derrida (1997, 23) has argued, the χώρα cannot simply be female as it is beyond any such ontolgoical or gendered classifcation. However, as Bianchi (2006, 131) has noted, it is nonetheless meaningful that Plato is compelled to write about the χώρα in overtly feminine terms. In other words, Plato seems constrained to thinking the χώρα, which is beyond gender, as something like a woman. 24. See Bianchi (2006, 130). See also Sallis (1999, 122–23). 25. On the reserve of the χώρα, see Sallis (2007, 98).
2 Power(lessness) (ἀδυναμία) Gorgias
From the very outset, the Gorgias is concerned with power (δύναμις).1 As
scholars have noted, the very first words of the text—πολέμου καὶ μάχης—seem to foretell conflict and strife; as such, these opening words conjure to mind the sort of gross displays of power characteristic of the battlefield.2 As is clear from even a cursory reading, the Gorgias as a whole entails a certain agon between Socrates and his interlocutors or, more generally, between rhetoric and philosophy.3 However, although it is structurally correct to say that the Gorgias presents an agon between rhetoric and philosophy—or, more precisely, between rhetoric as Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles each understand it, and philosophy as Socrates understands it—such a reading fails to grasp what is most essential about Socrates’s position throughout the text. It is more precise to say that the Gorgias presents an articulation and critique of the understandings of power that animate rhetoric and philosophy and that, furthermore, it presents a radical rethinking of power as such on the part of Socrates.4 Far from seeking to win the agon with rhetoric by overpowering and defeating his opponents, Socrates undermines the very notion of power of which such an understanding of winning would make use, emphasizing instead a radical powerlessness in the face of a higher authority. If there is a battle in the Gorgias—and it is not entirely clear that there is—it is one that Socrates is late for and inadequate to, one from which Socrates, owing to a certain powerlessness whose precise structure will come to light in what follows, retreats. In a way, this is all manifest inchoately at the very beginning of the text. As the Gorgias begins, one finds the character Callicles remarking on Socrates’s lateness, drawing attention to it at the very outset: “War and battle [πολέμου καὶ μάχης]—that’s the way, Socrates, they say, to participate in these” (Gorg. 447a). As Socrates’s response makes clear—“Do you mean, according to the proverb, we have come too late for a feast [κατόπιν ἑορτῆς ἥκομεν καὶ ὑστεροῦμεν]?”— Callicles is remarking that Socrates has arrived late for Gorgias’s rhetorical display, so late, in fact, as to have missed it entirely. Moreover, Callicles is suggesting that Socrates would have disapproved of Gorgias’s speech had he seen it, that he would have found it objectionable enough to contend with it, to antagonize it, to rage against it in πολέμου καὶ μάχης, war and battle. In Callicles’s view, then—a
38 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates view that, as the Gorgias as a whole reveals, is pugnacious and agonistic to the extreme—Socrates has arrived late for battle.5 Yet Socrates’s response—that he has come late for a feast—resists Callicles’s bellicose formulation, though it in no way resists the implication that he is running late. Making use of the second (unspoken) part of the adage that Callicles paraphrased, Socrates reorients his belated arrival away from the polemical and toward the gastronomical.6 In Socrates’s view, it was not a war that he missed but rather a ἑορτή: a feast, a festival, a celebration, even a holiday.7 One might say that, in recasting Callicles’s comment in such terms, Socrates retreats from πόλεμος, from war, toward the civil, the festive, the celebratory. Such retreat is further evident in the fact that Socrates seems to have no interest in fighting Gorgias but rather wishes to converse (διαλεχθῆναι) with him (Gorg. 447c). Socrates’s use of this word διαλέγω here—a word that means “cordial dialogue” or “conversation,” over against conflictual argumentation—suggests that Socrates does not wish to fight Gorgias as an enemy (a prudent posture, perhaps, given Socrates’s association, made in the Symposium, between Gorgias and the monstrous Gorgon) but rather wishes to converse with him as with a friend. Thus, just as the text gets underway, the Socrates of the Gorgias—that text whose very first word seems to orient it toward war—has retreated from such a polemical posture, something that can hardly be said for either Polus or Callicles in the dialogue to come. Phrased otherwise, the Gorgias begins not so much with an enunciation of war but rather with a retreat from war, a retreat from the polemical and the understanding of power that it implies. This retreat is further evident as the conversation continues. After having arrived so late for Gorgias’s rhetorical display as to have missed it entirely, Socrates enunciates his reason for having come to see Gorgias in the first place: namely, he wishes to discover ἡ δύναμις τῆς τέχνης τοῦ ἀνδρός, “the power of the skill of that man” (Gorg. 447c). According to Callicles, Gorgias’s power—which is already at this early stage indicated to be a τέχνη, a technique, a technology— includes the ability to answer any question posed to him (ibid.). By contrast, we see a Socrates who arrives to the get-together armed only with questions.8 The beginning of the text thus paints Socrates and Gorgias in two radically different lights: Socrates as the one who arrives to ask questions (thereby indicating his ignorance) and Gorgias as the one who, being able to answer any and every question, possesses great wisdom.9 Socrates could thus be seen as the inverse of Gorgias and the sort of wisdom that he maintains: and whereas Gorgias may have the power to answer any question, Socrates, as one ignorant of the matter at hand, lacks any such power. As will be seen, this lack will prove central to the notion of power that Socrates will exhibit throughout the dialogue; and by the end of the text, one will find a radical inversion on the part of Socrates of the traditional understanding of power.
Power(lessness) | 39 As he begins to converse with Gorgias, Socrates seeks to understand the power (δύναμις) of rhetoric and wishes to know over what, precisely, it has authority (κῦρος) (Gorg. 450e, 451d). As is immediately revealed, rhetoric in fact consists of nothing other than an exercise of a certain kind of power and authority. Gorgias states that rhetoric has power and authority over that which is “responsible for freedom among human beings themselves and . . . for ruling over others in one’s own polis” (Gorg. 452e).10 Amplifying a bit, Gorgias claims that rhetoric consists in the ability to persuade (πείθειν) others in political matters, further asserting that “it is by means of this power [τῇ δυνάμει] that you will have the physician as your slave, and the trainer as well. As for the moneymaker, he’ll be making all that money for somebody other than himself—namely, for you, the one who has the power [τῷ δυναμένῳ] of speaking and persuading the many” (Gorg. 452e). One sees here that rhetoric is the power of persuading others, of lording over them, by means of λόγος: it is the very power, then, of exerting power over others. Rhetoric is the δύναμις, the κῦρος, of wielding δύναμις and κῦρος over others by means of λόγος. All of this becomes clearer in Socrates’s reply to Gorgias: “You say that rhetoric does nothing more than produce [ποιεῖν] persuasion in the audience” (Gorg. 453a). Rhetoric makes or manufactures persuasion within those at whom it is directed. Much like a demiurge works his hammer upon stone, shaping it into whatever form he wills, the rhetorician works his words on an audience, persuading them of whatever he wishes.11 Simply put, rhetoric is a technique for the willful exercise of power over another, and the rhetorician is the craftsman (δημιουργός) wielding such power (Gorg. 453a).12 In short: rhetoric is a technology of power. Immediately after this view of rhetoric has come to light, Socrates makes a claim to whose precise sense we must attend carefully: for it points to a subtle counter-discourse underway within the Gorgias, both at the level of the conversation (λόγος) and at the level of the action (ἔργον). Socrates says that, although he suspects he knows what Gorgias means by defining rhetoric as the power to persuade, he does not yet clearly know what he means. Owing to this ignorance, Socrates says that he will ask Gorgias to clarify “not for your sake, but for the sake of the λόγος, in order that it go forward [προΐῃ] as much as it can and make clear to us what is being spoken [λέγεται] about” (Gorg. 453c).13 Rather than offering his own opinion on the matter, then, Socrates aims to let the λόγος itself unfold in whatever way it will. Thus, just after Gorgias has defined rhetoric as the power to persuade others and lord over them, Socrates effectively withdraws his self and its opinions from the conversation, making way instead for the λόγος. This gesture of withdrawal serves to distance Socrates from the sort of rhetorical position that Gorgias has just described—for by retreating from making a claim of his own and by instead making way for the λόγος, Socrates makes it impossible in
40 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates what follows for he himself to persuade Gorgias of anything. Thus, in the face of a rhetoric essentially comprised of a will to power over others, Socrates retreats from such willfulness, withdrawing from such a will to power. This gesture of withdrawal continues to unfold as the conversation progresses. In an effort to better understand Gorgias’s definition of rhetoric, Socrates proceeds to articulate certain other arts that also work on others by means of persuasion, namely, any art that is taught: for whosoever teaches, as Gorgias affirms, also persuades (Gorg. 453d). What is especially striking in these pages is the manner in which Socrates offers in deed a counter-definition of teaching, one that does not operate by means of persuasion (as rhetoric does). In keeping with his gesture of withdrawal indicated above, Socrates does not attempt in these pages to persuade Gorgias of anything: that is, he does not attempt to exert his “work” on Gorgias. Instead, Socrates asks questions of Gorgias, questions that allow Gorgias the space in which his own λόγος can unfold. One sees this in the following statement of Socrates’s: “It is for the sake of progressing through the λόγος in an orderly way that I ask, not for your sake—but so we don’t get used to guessing and snatching ahead of time what is said from each other, but so you may progress through your own [thoughts] as you wish [βούλῃ], according to your underlying view” (Gorg. 454c). Thus, precisely in that moment when he is coming to understand Gorgias’s pedagogical approach as a persuasive working of one’s will on another, we see Socrates practicing by contrast a kind of maieutics whereby he withholds his own view so as to allow the λὀγος of the other to come to pass.14 Whereas rhetoric consists in the working of one’s will on another, this other way—the way of Socrates—consists in placing one’s own will in abeyance so that the λόγος can go where it will. Phrased otherwise: whereas rhetoric takes itself to have mastery over λὀγος, Socrates’s way yields to the λὀγος in a receptive gesture. One notes in passing that Socrates learned his maieutic practice from his mother (Tht. 149a). That Socrates is practicing such maieutics becomes clearer as the conversation progresses. Gorgias goes on to maintain that rhetoric is so powerful as to “gather all other powers [ἁπάσας τὰς δυνάμεις] under itself” (Gorg. 456a) and to make the rhetor “have the power [δυνατὸς] to speak against everyone about everything, so as to be more persuasive among the multitude . . . about anything he may wish [βούληται]” (Gorg. 457a–b). In response to this daimonic power of rhetoric, Socrates makes the following statement: You seem to me now to be saying things that do not entirely follow and do not harmonize with what you said at first about rhetoric. And so I am afraid of refuting you, lest you take it as obvious that I am someone who is speaking as a lover of victory, not on the subject, but against you. And so, if you too are one of those men such as I, I would gladly question you thoroughly, but if you’re not, I would leave you alone. And what sort of person am I? One
Power(lessness) | 41 who would gladly be refuted if I should say something not true, and one who would gladly refute if someone else should say something not true, being no less gladly refuted than refuting. You see, I think it is a greater good to be refuted, by as much as it is a greater good for oneself to be released from the greatest evil than to release another. (Gorg. 457e–58b)
Thus, over against Gorgias’s understanding of rhetoric as the imposing of one’s will on the other in such a way as to enslave them, one finds with Socrates a complete surrendering of the will in the face of the λόγος so as to let the truth come to pass.15 Through Socrates’s manner of conducting himself with Gorgias, one finds in deed an epistemological and pedagogical comportment that runs counter to the one being offered in speech by Gorgias, a comportment that suspends the will in the face of the λόγος.16 This comportment, as a complete inversion of Gorgias’s view regarding rhetoric, is grounded in a gesture of self-effacement or self-erasure.17 As Socrates has said, he is happier to be refuted than to refute.18 To be refuted is to withdraw one’s own position in the face of the truth, to yield one’s own opinion to the truth. Motivated not at all by a love of victory (φιλονικοῦντα) but rather by a love of the λόγος (i.e., φιλοσοφία), Socrates is eager to withdraw his own opinion if it means that the truth will come to pass. In other words, rather than loving asserting his power over another, Socrates loves being overpowered by the λόγος. Thus, whereas Gorgias claims to possess a power capable of overpowering anybody on any subject, Socrates here articulates a gesture that weakly yields to the λόγος so that truth can take place, a gesture that makes a space in which the power of the λόγος can come to expression. Insofar as it is an inversion of Gorgias’s position— a position constituted by the will to power—one can say that the way of Socrates consists of a powerlessness in the face of the λόγος. One sees an intimation of such powerlessness at the very outset of the Gorgias, when Socrates mentions the reason why he is late for Gorgias’s display: “Really, Callicles, it is Chaerephon here who is to blame for my lateness, for he forced us [ἀναγκάσας] to spend our time in the agora” (Gorg. 447a). Thus, although Socrates himself wanted to see Gorgias’s display, he was unable to do so owing to the fact that he was forced (ἀναγκάσας), against his will, to spend more time in the agora. (Whether or not this was in fact the case is immaterial: rather, what matters is that Socrates presents himself as being forced to remain in the agora, thereby presenting himself as exhibiting a certain kind of powerlessness.) One sees a Socrates here yielding to Chaerephon’s coercion, a Socrates therefore willing to place his own will (i.e., his wish to hear Gorgias’s speech) in abeyance and follow after the wishes of another, a Socrates who thus allows himself to be inferior to the greater strength of another. Such powerlessness can be further seen in Socrates’s famous predilection for proceeding in an interrogative mode: for when one asks questions, one
42 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates demonstrates that one is in a position of epistemological poverty. To be sure, one sometimes, if not often, finds Socrates speaking in the form of assertions. Indeed, the Socrates of the Gorgias makes any number of apparent assertions, such as the claim, made during his conversation with Polus, that rhetoric is a form of pandering (Gorg. 462b–66a), a claim one might be tempted to take as Socrates’s “own” over against the various assertions made by the other interlocutors. Yet given Socrates’s insistence within the Gorgias that he himself knows nothing about the matters under consideration but rather speaks only as one who seeks (ζητῶ) (Gorg. 506a), by what right could one say that these assertions belong to Socrates or somehow represent or express his views? Indeed, given that such utterances are grounded in ignorance, by what right could one call them “assertions” at all? In making such statements from out of a position of ignorance, Socrates in no way asserts them to be correct: rather, he posits them as positions to be assayed and assessed, tested and considered.19 Even less so does Socrates assert himself in such statements, setting them forth as if they were his views to which others must of necessity adhere, as if he were an expert in possession of σοφός rather than one who, precisely because he lacks such σοφός, longs for it. Rather, by asking such questions from out of a posture of ignorance, Socrates reveals that he does not have a view or, rather, that his view is necessarily one of searching and questioning, which, as lacking the truth toward which it is directed, is in no position to assert itself. Even if one were to attribute such statements to Socrates in a strong sense—something which, for the reasons mentioned immediately above, one cannot do—one would have to grant that they are views to which he does not feel particularly attached: for as Socrates said above during his conversation with Gorgias, he is more than happy to see his statements refuted (Gorg. 458b). But what kind of assertion gleefully abandons its status as an assertion, making way for the ascendency of another? Socrates’s ignorance and his enthusiasm for being refuted are opposed to the very nature of assertions and assertiveness. The statements that Socrates makes—statements that, grounded in ignorance, make no claim and assert no power—are more structurally akin to questions than they are to assertions. Even when he makes a statement, Socrates is posing a question. Socrates then turns to a conversation with Polus, during which one sees an intensification of the inversion of the willfulness that characterized Gorgias’s position. As was the case with Gorgias, one finds with Polus an understanding of rhetoric localized around the issue of the willful exercise of power; and for each point Polus adduces regarding the value and power of rhetoric, Socrates offers an almost caricatured counterpoint, setting forth a starkly inverted notion of the traditional concept of power. For Polus, power is the ability to do whatever one wants (Gorg. 466c); for Socrates, power is the ability to do what is just, where this means the ability to set one’s own wishes aside to follow what the λόγος shows to be just and good. For Polus, it is better to cause injustice than to suffer it (Gorg.
Power(lessness) | 43 469b); for Socrates, it is far better to suffer injustice than to cause it to another. For Polus, it is wretched for the person acting unjustly to be caught (Gorg. 472d); for Socrates, this is the best possible outcome for such a person, since acting unjustly with impunity is the greatest sort of psychic sickness (Gorg. 479c). Thus, for each claim Polus makes regarding the value and power of rhetoric, Socrates offers an almost exaggerated inversion. However, what one must keep in mind in these pages is that, in keeping with his previously exhibited deference to the λόγος, Socrates is not offering his own opinions over against Polus’s. Rather, it is precisely by withholding his own opinions that Socrates is allowing the λόγος to unfold in such a way as to show the inadequacy of Polus’s position. One sees this clearly when, having brought Polus to the brink of contradicting himself, Socrates urges Polus to “present [himself] nobly to the λόγος as though to a physician” (Gorg. 475d). Thus, it is not Socrates who is refuting Polus here: rather, it is the λόγος that, through its unfolding, has brought Polus to the place of contradiction. Socrates is not the doctor—the λόγος is. And it is by submitting himself to the λόγος, giving himself over to it in a yielding gesture, that Polus will be purged of his false opinions. Letting the λόγος unfold to its conclusion, Socrates suggests that power, understood as the unfettered expression of the will, is the worst thing imaginable: for it leads only to the corruption of the soul of the one who possesses it. By contrast, the complete surrendering of such power—that is, the powerlessness that would accompany giving oneself over to the laws to pay for one’s i njustices— would be the greatest good for such a person. Thus, contrary to his initial claim that rhetors possess the greatest power in the polis (Gorg. 466b), Polus now agrees that the only thing rhetoric would be good for would be assisting in the prosecution of oneself if one happened to be acting unjustly (Gorg. 480d). As Socrates puts it, rhetoric could help such a person “shut his eyes and offer himself up bravely as though to a physician for surgery and cautery, pursuing the good and beautiful, not taking into account the pain, and if . . . he has performed unjust actions that deserve blows, to provide himself [παρέχοντα] for a beating, . . . and if deserving of death, to undergo death, being himself the first prosecutor both of himself and of the members of his household, using rhetoric to this end” (Gorg. 480c–d). In other words, if it were practiced in service of the good, the power of rhetoric would lie in its ability to bring one to submit (παρέχοντα) to the laws as to a physician so as to let oneself receive the punishments that the laws require. Moreover, the power of rhetoric would lie in bringing it about that one’s enemies would never stop acting unjustly nor need to pay a penalty: for in this way, rhetoric would help ensure that one’s enemies would forever be in possession of the greatest evil (i.e., injustice). Along these lines, Socrates says the following: “And if [this enemy] has performed unjust actions deserving death, [rhetoric must contrive it] that he not die, absolutely never, but become immortal [ἀθάνατος], always
44 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates being wicked, but if he cannot become immortal, he should live the greatest time possible being evil” (Gorg. 481a–b). Regarding one’s enemies, then, the power of rhetoric consists in ensuring their continued practice of injustice, a practice that, as the greatest evil, progressively corrupts their souls. If possible, rhetoric should strive to bring it about that one’s enemies never escape this practice, not even in death: rhetoric should thus strive to let one’s enemies be as powerful as the deathless gods. One sees, then, that if rhetoric has a power, it lies in ensuring one’s own submission or yielding to the good and beautiful (Gorg. 480c) and of therefore ensuring one’s powerlessness in the face of the laws. Additionally, its power consists in ensuring that those who exercise their will without restraint and without justice—namely, tyrants—continue to do so and that they be permitted to exercise their will to power without interruption or penalty as though they were gods. In other words, were it to be placed in the service of the beautiful and good, the sole benefit of which rhetoric would be capable would be letting oneself avoid the sort of psychic corruption that accompanies the unbridled exercise of power understood in the traditional sense and allowing one’s enemies to be forced to endure the possession of such power forever. The power of rhetoric, then—if used in service of the good—consists in bringing one to a place of powerlessness, a place where the soul is unable and unwilling to exercise its every will and desire, a place where the soul yields to the punishments it deserves, a place of submission. It is in light of these strange consequences—which Polus calls “out of place [ἄτοπα]” (Gorg. 480e)—that Callicles interrupts the conversation: “Tell me, Socrates, are we to take you as serious just now, or as joking? For if you are serious and what you say is really true, must not the life of us human beings be all backwards, and must we not we be doing quite the opposite, it seems, of what we ought to do?” (Gorg. 481c). One must attend very closely to Socrates’s response to Callicles’s question. At its core, Socrates’s reply serves as a disavowal of all that he has said previously: not, however, a disavowal in the sense of an objection, but rather in the sense of an affirmation of the gesture of self-effacement that has been operative throughout and a radical deferral to a higher λόγος. To understand this, we turn to Socrates’s reply: “Do not be surprised at my saying [these things], but make my beloved philosophy stop speaking thus. For she, my dear friend, speaks what you hear me saying now . . . ; philosophy always says the same, and it is her speech that now fills you with wonder” (Gorg. 482a–b). Thus, in response to Callicles’s question about whether Socrates was jesting or being serious during his engagement with Polus, one would have to say neither: for, properly understood, Socrates himself has said nothing during that exchange. Rather, philosophy itself has been speaking. Socrates has retreated behind philosophy, withdrawing his self and its opinions from the conversation so that the philosophical λόγος could articulate itself. Thus, during his discourses with Gorgias and Polus, it was not by
Power(lessness) | 45 means of Socrates’s argumentative power that the traditional view of power got inverted but rather by the power of the λόγος, a power that can express itself only because Socrates yielded his own power in the face of it. Socrates’s suspension of his will, his retreat from offering his own opinions, is the gesture of weakness that made possible a genuine reception of the philosophical λόγος. It is at this point that Callicles begins his ruthless attack on philosophy, a sharp-toothed criticism that orients itself around the apparent powerlessness of the philosopher. Callicles begins by attacking Socrates’s claim that it is better to suffer harm than to exert it on another. Regarding such a situation, Callicles states that “[such suffering] is not even the experience of a man [ἀνδρὸς], but of some man-slave [ἀνδραπόδου], for whom it is better to die than to live—one who, being treated unjustly and treated like dirt, is not himself able to help himself or another for whom he cares” (Gorg. 483a–b). Callicles continues to denigrate such slavishness, noting that it is such people—whom he calls “the weakest sort of people [οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ἄνθρωποί]” (Gorg. 483b) and “unmanly [ἀνανδρία]” (Gorg. 492b)—who formulated laws in the first place, laws that do nothing but seek to restrain those who are by nature more powerful (Gorg. 483b). These laws define the activities of the stronger as unjust, when in fact (according to Callicles) it is this very effort at restraining the strong that is unjust: for “nature itself reveals this: that it is just that the better have more than the worse and the more powerful [τὸν δυνατώτερον] more than the powerless [τοῦ ἀδυνατωτέρου]” (Gorg. 483d). Injustice, according to Callicles, is any attempt to prevent the powerful from being powerful; and justice, for its part, is nothing but the possession of power and the will to further power. With this understanding of justice in mind, Callicles continues his condemnation of Socrates’s philosophical practice, urging him to put philosophy aside: “For philosophy, Socrates, is a charming thing, if someone engages with it moderately while young. But if a human being continues to waste time on it for too long, it will bring that person to ruin [διαφθορά]” (Gorg. 484c). Such a person, Callicles continues, becomes inexperienced regarding the matters and conventions of the polis (Gorg. 484d). Given the discourse on power underway, one may interpolate Callicles’s comments as saying, in effect, that the one who practices philosophy for too long will be rendered politically impotent—a powerlessness that leaves them “laughably ridiculous” in the face of political matters (Gorg. 484e). Callicles continues his denigration of philosophy, again couching his criticism in explicitly gendered terms. As Callicles puts it, “You see . . . it falls to this man, even if he should have a very good nature, to become unmanly [ἀνάνδρῳ] and to flee [φεύγοντι] the affairs of the polis and the marketplaces . . . and cower down [καταδεδυκότι] and spend the rest of his life whispering in a corner with three or four young fellows, and never to utter a free and great and adequate remark” (Gorg. 485d). Given that philosophy is said by Callicles to make one less
46 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates manly, one may presume that it (therefore) makes one more womanly, more feminine, where femininity would stand for the kind of weakness and submissiveness that so disgusts Callicles.20 Owing to this weakness, the philosopher would be unable to protect himself (or herself?) against others dragging him to court, accusing him unjustly, and having him put to death (Gorg. 486a–b): the philosopher, being weak, being feminine, would be at the mercy of those men wielding political power. In light of this, Callicles asks: “And how is this a wise thing, Socrates—any technical skill that takes a man of good nature and makes him worse, as one having the power [δυνάμενον] neither of helping himself nor of saving either himself or any other person from the greatest dangers, but leaves him stripped by his enemies of all his property [πᾶσαν τὴν οὐσίαν] and merely living without rights [ἄτιμον] in his polis?” (Gorg. 486b–c). Philosophy will lead its practitioner to be without property and without rights: much, it should be noted, as was quite nearly the state of affairs for women in Athens.21 The word translated above as “property” is οὐσία, which in its most pedestrian sense means “property,” “estate,” or “wealth.” In its more philosophical sense, however, the word οὐσία means “that which is one’s ownmost,” one’s “substance,” one’s “essence,” that fundamental quality or base of all additional qualities that allows one to be what one most properly is. Understood in this way, Callicles is suggesting not just that philosophy will lead to material and political poverty but, much more severely, to a kind of ontological poverty, a poverty of essence. The prolonged study of philosophy will lead, according to Callicles, to a degeneration of the substance of the practitioner: it will lead them not just to have nothing but to be nothing. Callicles’s use of the word ἄτιμος makes this clear. Translated above as “without rights,” ἄτιμος essentially means “without worth or value.” Callicles is asserting that philosophy renders the philosopher worthless and without value, not just in a material or economic sense but in an ontological one. The philosopher is worthless, is of null value, is, as lacking substance, lacking an ‘is’ and ‘is’ quite nearly nothing. Thus, according to Callicles, far from empowering or emboldening its practitioner, philosophy leaves that person entirely impotent and utterly without value in the polis: it is a degenerative or corruptive practice that robs its user of any οὐσία. To have no οὐσία is to lack any discernable quality or set thereof that belongs to oneself, to possess nothing that could be called one’s own, to lack determinacy, to have no power by which to actualize one’s self. In a word, to have no οὐσία is to be nothing, to lack a self, to lack being. In Callicles’s view, philosophy, if practiced for too long, takes a man of good nature (εὐφυὴς) and renders him without nature: it turns a man into a nonbeing, a nothing, a non-self, a non-man—in Callicles’s view, therefore, something like a woman.22 On the surface, one can hardly imagine a harsher criticism of philosophy: philosophy, the pursuit that most of all concerns itself with true being, renders its
Power(lessness) | 47 practitioner utterly without being. One would of course expect Socrates to object vociferously to such a characterization: and yet, instead of contesting Callicles’s harsh depiction of philosophy, Socrates appears to pay him a compliment: “I now think that having met you I have happened upon a godsend. . . . You see, I think that one who intends to test a soul adequately about living rightly must have three things all of which you have—knowledge, goodwill, and frankness [παρρησίαν]. You see, I run into many people who are unable to test my soul because they are not wise, as you are. And while others are wise, they are not willing to tell me the truth because they don’t care for me, as you do” (Gorg. 487a–c). There is no doubt that Socrates’s response is largely ironic, and it is typical for scholars to treat is as such.23 However, to pass off Socrates’s comment as simply ironic is to miss the larger criticism of the traditional concept of power that is underway within the text. Socrates is perfectly sincere here in his attribution of at least one of these qualities to Callicles: namely, his attribution to him of παρρησία, above translated as “frankness.”24 However, in attributing παρρησία to Callicles, Socrates is not complimenting him but is rather marking the essential limitations of Callicles’s understanding of rhetoric and, indeed, of power. To see how this is so, it is necessary first to meditate on the ancient Greek notion of παρρησία. In its most general sense, παρρησία refers to an openness and directedness in discourse, a license or freedom to say what one wants to say when one wants to say it. Meaning literally a “speaking of all things,” παρρησία points to the sort of liberality in speech that was practiced and prized by the Athenians in particular. However, owing to the ineluctable proximity of liberalness to excessiveness, παρρησία also sometimes had the negative sense of saying too much, speaking too openly and freely, or running one’s mouth superabundantly (see Phdr. 240e).25 In either case, what is pointed toward with the word παρρησία is a willingness to speak, to say what one wants to say, coupled with a confidence in one’s ability to do so. There is perhaps no richer or more prolonged engagement with the Greek notion of παρρησία, its origin and its history, than those offered by Michel Foucault. In his lectures at the College of France from 1981–1982 (published under the title The Hermeneutics of the Subject), as well as in a series of six lectures offered at the University of California, Berkeley in 1983 (titled ‘Discourse on Truth’ and published under the title Fearless Speech), Foucault spoke extensively and insightfully about the role of παρρησία in antiquity and the manner in which it differed from the various extant techniques of rhetoric. Contrasting it especially with the flattery characteristic of rhetoric, Foucault understands παρρησία to be a technique constitutive of philosophical discourse: in particular, it is that pedagogical and psychagogic technique that a master employs on his disciple in order to bring that disciple to the truth.26 Underscoring its connection to freedom of expression, Foucault (2001b, 372) writes:
48 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates What is basically at stake in parrhesia is what could be called . . . the frankness [la franchise], freedom, and openness that leads one to say what one has to say, as one wishes to say it [comme on a envie de le dire], when one wishes to say it [quand on a envie de le dire], and in the form one thinks [l’on croit] it is necessary for saying it. The term parrhesia is so bound up with the choice [le choix], decision [la décision], and attitude [l’attitude] of the person speaking that the Romans translated it by, precisely, libertas. (my emphasis)
Although this was not Foucault’s point in the above passage, what one sees here is that παρρησία is grounded in the desire (envie), the will, of the subject: it is about the subject saying what he wills when he wills it and about the freedom that both makes possible and legitimates that will.27 The person with παρρησία speaks freely, speaks as he wishes, and freely offers his own opinion about the matter. This implies that the person with παρρησία has an opinion of his own, as well as the confidence that his opinion is the truth. It is this confidence in the veracity of his own thinking that empowers the person with παρρησία to speak so directly and in his own name. Furthermore, one sees that παρρησία is a matter of working one’s will on another to convince them of one’s position, a characteristic that Foucault (2001b, 366) casts in terms of the master/disciple relationship: “Just as the disciple [le disciple] must keep quiet in order to bring about the subjectivation of his discourse, so the master’s [le maître] discourse must obey the principle of parrhesia if, at the end of his action and guidance, he wants the truth of what he says to become the subjectivized true discourse of his disciple.” Παρρησία is thus a technique of imposing oneself on another, of the master working his will on the soul of the disciple. One sees this very clearly in the following passage from Foucault, and one would do well to note the gendered terms employed here by Foucault (2001b, 382): “Parrhesia is the naked transmission [c’est la transmission], as it were, of truth itself. Parrhesia ensures in the most direct way this para-dosis, this transfer [ce transit] of true discourse from the person who already possesses it to the person who must receive it, must be impregnated by it [qui doit s’en imprégner], and who must be able to use it and subjectivize it” (my emphasis). Παρρησία entails the transfer of truth from the subject to the object, the master to the disciple, a transfer that is above cast in overtly masculine terms. The master disseminates truth to the disciple who is there to (silently) receive it (Foucault 2001b, 366), a receiving that one could imagine, following the gendered language employed by Foucault, to be feminine in structure. Thus, despite the fact that Foucault goes to great lengths to differentiate παρρησία from rhetoric (2001b, 368, 381), one sees that they in fact share the same essential structure: both are techniques of the will to mastery, the (masculine) will to power. Like rhetoric, παρρησία is a matter of the master exerting power over, or even into, another: it is a technology of the will to power.28 Socrates soon ties such willful speaking to a kind of shamelessness.29 As Socrates explains, Gorgias and Polus, owing to their senses of shame, lacked
Power(lessness) | 49 the παρρησία to say to Socrates what they really thought (Gorg. 487b). In his words, “the two of them, in fact, have come to such a degree of shamefulness that, though being ashamed, each of them was himself daring to say things in opposition to himself while before many people” (Gorg. 487b). In other words, owing to their senses of shame and concomitant lack of παρρησία, both Gorgias and Polus were able to receive the λόγος in such a way that the λόγος could come to pass; both were willing to yield their own positions to this λόγος, allowing it to overpower their wills, despite whatever discomfort such yielding may have caused. By contrast, Callicles—as the remainder of the Gorgias makes clear— lacks the shame required to allow such a yielding to occur.30 His lack of shame and subsequent stubbornness in discourse is related directly to his possession of παρρησία. Owing to his willfulness in speech—owing, that is, to the manner in which his speaking always remains his speaking and thus always remains an operation of his will—Callicles will never come to say anything opposite to what he wills to say. Owing to his παρρησία, Callicles will never abandon his opinions, so certain is he of their veracity. Callicles, stubbornly confident in the truth of his own opinions, will forever speak in his own name,. Παρρησία is thus not the courage to say what is true, as it is often presented; rather, it is a shamelessness that impels one only to say what one thinks is true as if it were the truth, a pretense that precisely prevents one from yielding to the truth.31 In the figures of Gorgias and Polus—and above all in Socrates—one sees moments where such pretense gives way to the λόγος, a giving-way that allows the λόγος to unfold where it will. In the figure of Callicles, by contrast, one finds no such making way, no such reception: one finds instead the discourse of the man without shame, of the master, or, rather, of the feigned master, of the one who thinks himself to be an authority and who therefore has no reason to yield to anyone or anything. At the heart of Callicles’s speaking, then, there is a willful assertion of self that serves as an impediment to truth: and the name Socrates gives to this impediment, at least within the confines of the Gorgias, is παρρησία.32 In the face of this analysis of παρρησία, Callicles’s harsh denigration of philosophy—that denigration that Socrates did nothing to refute—must be read anew. As Callicles said, “It falls to this man, even if he should have a very good nature, to become unmanly [ἀνάνδρῳ] and to flee [φεύγοντι] the affairs of the polis and the marketplaces . . . and cower down [καταδεδυκότι] and spend the rest of his life whispering in a corner with three or four young fellows, and never to utter a free and great and adequate remark” (Gorg. 485d). Were one to inflect this passage differently in light of all that has been said above, one could say that philosophy leads one to become unmanly and thus more womanly—that is, it leads one to drop the pretense and arrogant self-aggrandizement that so characterized Athenian masculinity and that characterizes Callicles’s παρρησία.
50 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Further, philosophy leads one to retreat from political affairs and the business of the agora—a claim that Socrates himself makes in the Theaetetus when describing the philosopher (Tht. 173cff.), as well as in the Apology when describing his own practice (Ap. 36bff.).33 Moreover, philosophy leads one to whisper in a corner with a small group of people—rather than, for example, speaking abruptly and “frankly” within a crowded courtroom while under the pressure of the water clock. Finally, philosophy brings it about that its practitioner never utters “a free and great and adequate remark”: that is, it brings it about that one, knowing oneself to be ignorant, never speaks one’s own opinion as if it were adequate to the truth, as if it were sufficient, but instead withdraws one’s own opinions in the face of a higher λόγος. So understood, one could say that Socrates’s way of philosophy—a way that he has been depicting in both speech and deed throughout the Gorgias—agrees with Callicles’s depiction of it; or, rather, it agrees with the words with which Callicles describes it, while those words must be understood in an entirely different sense based on the inverted understanding of power that the λόγος has brought about.34 In the remainder of the Gorgias, one sees Socrates retreating from the sort of willful speaking that has been depicted, just as one sees Callicles remaining steadfastly within it. For example, while continuing to speak frankly—that is, by continuing to employ his technique of παρρησία—Callicles says that the one living rightly “allows his desires to be as big as possible and not to curtail them, but to be adequate to serve them through manliness [ἀνδρείαν] and prudence when the desires are as big as possible and always to have his fill of them whenever any desire should arise” (Gorg. 491e–92a). In other words, the right sort of life is that life that has a strong will and the power to realize that will (cf. Gorg. 494c): namely, a manly life. Socrates allows this argument to unfold to the conclusion that the best life would thus be the life of one who has excessive sexual desire and who shamelessly sates it (Gorg. 494e).35 To this, Callicles asks disgustedly: “Are you not ashamed, Socrates, to drive [ἄγων] the λόγος to such places?” (Gorg. 494e). Socrates’s reply reveals the extent to which his practice departs from the willful rhetoric characteristic of Callicles: “Well, is it I who am driving [ἄγω] the λόγος there, noble one, or that man who says that those who feel joy in this way without limitation, however they feel joy, are happy?” (Gorg. 494e–95a). It is not Socrates who is willfully setting this argument forth; rather, precisely by withholding his own view, he is allowing the λόγος—in this case, Callicles’s λόγος— to unfold to its own conclusions.36 Socrates continues to interrogate Callicles, granting him the space in which his own view regarding rhetoric, power, and political rule can unfold. After a while, Callicles grows taciturn and is unwilling to continue in the discussion (Gorg. 505c). This unwillingness is owed precisely to his παρρησία: that is, to his certainty of the veracity of his own thinking and his concomitant unwillingness
Power(lessness) | 51 to abandon his will. Unlike Gorgias and Polus before him, Callicles proves incapable of letting himself undergo the shame of being contradicted, an inability that belongs intimately to his understanding of power. Phrased otherwise: Callicles gives up by refusing to give in; he retreats from the λόγος by refusing to submit to the λόγος. Rather than yielding his position to the λόγος, Callicles, insistent as ever that he is right, withdraws from the conversation. Incapable of feeling shame, Callicles cannot surrender his self to the higher measure of the λόγος.37 It is thus precisely his powerfulness—his manliness—that prevents him from yielding to the truth.38 Socrates, by contrast, is able to efface and erase his self and let the λόγος unfold. This is evident in the following pages where Socrates, in the face of Callicles’s withdrawal from the conversation, is forced to finish on his own. In a remarkable and highly comedic scene, Socrates stages a one-person discussion, giving voice to a dialogical back-and-forth whereby the truth of Callicles’s thesis that the good and the pleasant are the same is refuted.39 Prefacing this scene, Socrates says the following: “I shall go through the λόγος as it seems to me to be; but if to any of you I don’t seem to be saying things that agree with myself, it is necessary that you take hold of them and refute me. You see, I am not at all saying what I am saying as one who knows, but I am seeking knowledge in common with you, so that, should the one who speaks discover something, going off in a different direction from me, I shall be the first one to agree with him” (Gorg. 505e–6a). One must note that, in providing this one-person dialogue, Socrates is not replacing Callicles’s position with his own. To the contrary, through staging such a dialogical scene, Socrates places his own voice into abeyance, listening instead to the unfolding of the λόγος.40 As the passage makes clear, this retreat is grounded in his knowledge of his own ignorance: for in knowing that he does not know, Socrates further knows that he himself has nothing authoritative to say about these matters.41 Rather, as one who is ignorant—as one who is therefore impoverished with respect to the truth of things—Socrates withdraws his own opinions so that he might submit to the authority of the λόγος. It is only because he knows himself to be without the truth that Socrates is capable of discovering it: it is thus only because of his lack, his impotency, that Socrates has the power to receive the truth. During his one-person dialogue, Socrates allows the following λόγος to unfold: namely, that the pleasant and the good are not the same, as Callicles had claimed; that only the self-restrained soul is virtuous and good (Gorg. 507a), while the soul that wantonly pursues its every wish is bad (ibid.); that the one wishing to be happy must above all else flee (φευκτέον) wanton self-interest (Gorg. 507d) and strive toward “the power of acting in common” (Gorg. 507e), a power that Socrates calls a “geometric equality [ἡ ἰσότης ἡ γεωμετρικὴ]” (Gorg. 508a). Such geometric equality is, at its core, nothing other than the power of restraining and
52 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates yielding one’s own desires in the face of the good of the polis as a whole, a making way for the desires of the others with which one lives, an acting with a view toward the cosmos of which one is a part.42 Socrates notes that Callicles lacks this power, possessing instead great πλεονεξία: the arrogant and unbridled drive for the possession of more, the will to power of which, as was shown above, παρρησία is an integral part.43 Callicles is unable to live well and to be happy because of this will to power, this πλεονεξία, and the contiguous inability to yield his own desires in the face of the good of the polis as a whole. Only those who can so yield may live a happy life.44 What this means, of course, is that the politically powerful person as Callicles conceives him—that person of great strength and manliness (Gorg. 491b) who wields his power over the weak and does whatever he wills whenever he wills it (Gorg. 492c)—is unable to be happy owing precisely to this abundance of power. More crucially, such a person is unable to rule the city well, owing to his inability to rule himself by restraining his desire for the pleasant in the face of a λόγος regarding the good. Ruling oneself is nothing other than the effacing of the self and its desires in the face of a higher order, a deferential gesture to a larger cosmos ordered by the good and beautiful (Gorg. 507d–e). Somewhat paradoxically, then, the true ruler is the one who most of all is ruled by the truth: it is the one who surrenders authority and power to a greater whole, measuring herself against it. So understood, the one most capable of ruling would be the one with the least power (traditionally understood), the least πλεονεξία, who is therefore most able to receive the truth of things. The power of ruling would consist in submission to the truth. But this means that the most powerful ruler is precisely the most powerless: namely, the one who yields one’s own will entirely to the λόγος regarding what is best and most beautiful for the polis. By contrast, the one with the greatest capacity of exercising his will over others—the tyrant—would be the least powerful, the least capable of ruling well. True political power consists in powerlessness and submission to the truth. In light of this, one can make sense of Socrates’s claim that he is one of the only Athenians currently living who practices the true political art (ἀληθῶς πολιτικῇ τέχνῃ) (Gorg. 521d). Owing to the deferential gesture that stands at the heart of Socrates’s way, Socrates is able to place his own desires in abeyance and make way for a reception of the λόγος, a reception that will bring him into relation with the beautiful, the good, the true. It is this self-erasure—which is nothing other than the anachoratic way of Socrates—that makes possible a true assessment of what is best for the whole, for the ordered cosmos of which he is only a part. It is thus his radical powerlessness—his weakness in the face of the λόγος—that renders Socrates uniquely capable of the true political art.45 Over against this characterization, one perhaps thinks of Socrates the gadfly from Plato’s Apology—that radical provocateur who, through this practice of
Power(lessness) | 53 a novel form of agon, ceaselessly berates and admonishes his fellow Athenians. The Apology seems to give us a Socrates who asserts his self and his will upon others, goading and stinging them against their will. Yet one must remember that Socrates’s entire philosophical exercise (as articulated in the Apology) is grounded in the reception of and subservience to the god Apollo. As Socrates tells it, he was attached to the city by the god (Ap. 30e): he is a gift from Apollo to Athens (Ap. 31a). Thus, Socrates’s philosophical efforts of reproaching and exhorting the Athenians to examine themselves and live well is itself as kind of suffering on the part of Socrates: it is the endurance of a thing being done to him by the god, a vocation that leaves him with no leisure of his own (Ap. 23b).46 In the face of the god’s oracle, Socrates gives up his power and gives himself over to the λόγος in a gesture of powerlessness, following it wherever it will take him. One sees an expression of this powerlessness in the face of the λόγος at the very end of the Gorgias. Having finished his one-person dialogue, Socrates offers Callicles a μῦθος regarding the fate of just and unjust souls after death, a μῦθος that Socrates insists is a true λόγος (Gorg. 523a) to which Callicles ought to submit. With the enunciation of this μῦθος, one sees Socrates completely abandoning his authority in the face of the λόγος so as to allow the truth to become manifest (Gorg. 523a). Here are the closing words of the Gorgias: “And so, let us follow the λόγος as our guiding authority [ἡγεμόνι], the one that now discloses itself, which shows to us that this is the best way of life, to live and die practicing both justice and the rest of excellence. And so let us follow this [ἑπώμεθα] and call on others to do so too, and let us not follow the way that you believe and call on me to follow—for you see, Callicles, it is worth nothing [οὐδενὸς ἄξιος]” (Gorg. 527e). Thus, for Socrates, it is not a human ruler at all who will lead human beings to the best life, and certainly not Socrates himself as some expert who possesses knowledge. Rather, it is the true λόγος itself that will lead them; and only the person who can make way for this λόγος, submitting to it, may live well. With this ending one sees that Callicles’s claim that philosophy renders one powerless and without οὐσία is entirely correct: yet it is this place of nothingness, of pure receptivity, that allows one to make a place for the truth and (therefore) makes possible the genuine pursuit of the good life. By contrast, that position that Callicles set forth—the position of the man with power, with πλεονεξία, with παρρησία, the position of the tyrant—is worth nothing; and this nothingness is simply the final vapid expression of what we typically understand as power. If one yields to the λόγος, one sees that the will to power is powerless: it is unable to attain to truth or realize the human good. The most powerful way, by contrast, is the way of retreat, the way of withdrawal, the way that yields power and authority to the λόγος, a way of pure receptivity. True power consists in such powerlessness.47
54 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates One finds such powerlessness above all in the figure of Socrates, the figure of that one who, in knowing himself to be ignorant, retreats from offering opinions of his own, making way instead for a reception of the λόγος. In the powerless Socrates, one finds only a lack, an absence, a place of withdrawal, not, however, in the sense of an empty vapidity but rather in the sense of an active and potent capacity to suspend his will so to make a place for the truth to come to pass. In Socrates, therefore, one finds the locus of a radical retreat, something like a receptacle or a refuge, something, for Plato, like a woman—something, perhaps, like the χώρα.
Notes 1. As noted by Metcalf (2018, 73), the dialogue’s focus on power is likely prompted by Gorgias’s own writings on the theme. 2. See Doyle (2006); see also Weiss (2006, 71n6); see also Sansone (2009). 3. See Doyle (2006, 599). For a comprehensive and insightful inquiry into the agonistic character of the Gorgias, see Metcalf (2018). 4. See Metcalf (2018, 89). 5. See Doyle (2006, 600), who argues that Socrates is early for the battle (namely, with Callicles). However, it is clear from the context of the opening lines that it is Socrates’s lateness that is being emphasized. 6. See Olympiodorus (1998, 65–66). 7. Ibid., 65. Metcalf (2018), in stressing the agonistic character of the Socratic philosopher, does not comment on Socrates’s shift of emphasis away from conflict and toward the festive. 8. See Schlosser (2014, 91). 9. Metcalf (2018, 104) argues that Socrates arrives to the get-together with a “set speech,” primed and ready to defeat Gorgias. Such an interpretation, it seems to me, does not do justice to Socrates’s claims to ignorance within the Gorgias and elsewhere nor to the various moments of self-erasure on the part of Socrates throughout the text (to which we shall return below). 10. As Saxonhouse (1983, 145–46) astutely notes, Gorgias’s definition of power as cultivating freedom among human beings cannot extend to all human beings, since it essentially depends on certain others being ruled. Phrased otherwise, Gorgias understands freedom as essentially implying slavery—a matter that becomes clarified as the text unfolds. 11. See Haden (1992, 320), who talks about such persuasion in terms of “assimilation.” 12. See McCoy (2008, 90): “Words can persuade others to shift their opinions. Gorgias gives logoi almost unlimited power in this regard: words can change both the emotions and the opinions of those who hear them, essentially enslaving the listener to the power of the speaker.” 13. Metcalf (2018, 77) argues that Socrates, in distinguishing “between aiming at Gorgias in an ad hominem way and aiming at the issue under discussion,” is being ironic, and that his apparent deference to Gorgias is feigned as an argumentative strategy. It seems to me that
Power(lessness) | 55 this explanation misses the crucial manner in which Socrates also, and preeminently, defers to the λόγος, effectively removing his self from the discussion. 14. For a description of Socrates’s maieutic practice, see Tht. 149aff. 15. By contrast, McCoy (2008, 91) sees Socrates as seeking only to win his argument against Gorgias. This seems to me to be in tension with the various disavowals that Socrates makes throughout his conversation, and especially with his claim that he is not a “lover of victory.” 16. Along similar lines, see Saxonhouse (1983, 166): “Rhetoric leads to domination over the opinions of others. . . . The desire for domination comes from a dissatisfaction with what one has, and a supposition that domination will lead to the fulfilment of some of those desires. Polus and Callicles give expression to what is to become the classic twentieth century formulation of politics—who gets what, where, when, and how. Socrates is to question that formulation of politics and the conception of power implicit in it.” 17. For a further meditation on these elements, see Ewegen (2018, chap. 2). 18. Metcalf (2018, 82) claims that Socrates is being ironic here in setting out a distinction between speaking against Gorgias, on the one hand, and speaking about the matter itself, on the other. Such irony, according to Metcalf, serves the function of an argumentative strategy meant to ensnare Gorgias. I suggest that such a view misses the moment of self-erasure that stands at the core of Socrates’s inversion of the traditional understanding of power and that serves as one of the principle moments of the way of the Platonic Socrates. 19. One very important exception is Socrates’s claim, made at Gorg. 523a, that the μῦθος he is about to offer is “true” (ἀληθῆ). However, as argued below, this passage in fact marks Socrates’s deferral to a higher λόγος and thus entails a personal disavowal of knowledge. 20. One might instead suppose that Callicles is claiming that philosophy, in rendering one unmanly, makes that person more childlike. However, the word ἄνανδρος here, as is also the case at Phaedrus 239c–d, has the sense of less manly and less courageous and therefore more effeminate (in the eyes of the Greeks). (See also Tht. 177b.) 21. See Strauss (2004, 31–32), who notes a certain kinship between Socrates and classical conceptions of the feminine. 22. See Warnek (2005, 68): “Philosophy is thus said not only to present a distorting interpretation of nature . . . but to be itself a degenerate form of nature.” 23. See, for example, Bourgault (2014, 72–73). 24. See Monoson (2000, 163). See also Bourgault (2014, 86): “Callicles embodies precisely what characterizes bad parrhesia . . . according to Plato.” Against this, McCoy (2008, 87) argues that it is Socrates who possesses παρρησία and Callicles who lacks it. It is worth noting, however, that in the text it is Callicles, and not Socrates, who is said to possess it. One can claim that Socrates is being ironic here; but such a supposition misses Socrates’s critical attitude toward παρρησία, an attitude elucidated below. 25. See Bourgault (2014, 66), who notes that παρρησία was sometimes used by Plato (as well as others) as a negative term. 26. Foucault (2001b, 155) regards Socrates as such a master, as one who possess the very knowledge that he shows his interlocutors to be lacking (365–66). Such an understanding of Socrates is highly questionable, given the many instances within the Platonic corpus where Socrates disavows having any knowledge and disputes the notion that he teaches such knowledge to others. 27. As Foucault (2001a, 12) writes elsewhere: “in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion” (my emphasis).
56 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates 28. One major difference, according to Foucault’s analysis, between rhetoric and philosophical parrhesia lies in the purpose that animates each technique. According to Foucault (2001b, 379), The final aim of parrhesia is not to keep the person to whom one speaks dependent upon the person who speaks. . . . The objective of parrhesia is to act so that at a given moment the person to whom one is speaking finds himself in a situation in which he no longer needs the other’s discourse. How and why does he no longer need the other’s discourse? Precisely because the other’s discourse was true. It is insofar as the other has given, has conveyed a true discourse to whom he speaks, that this person, internalizing and subjectivizing this true discourse, can then leave the relationship with the other person. The truth, passing from one to the other in parrhesia, seals, ensures, and guarantees the other’s autonomy, the autonomy of the person who received the speech from the person who uttered it.
Despite this difference, one sees that παρρησία still entails a conveyance (transit) of true discourse from one to another, from the master to the subject, a conveyance that implies that the one practicing παρρησία possesses the truth and believes oneself to possess it. Such conveyance, even while oriented toward the eventual autonomy of the receiving subject, remains an operation of the will, of the willful imposition of truth on the other, a technique, therefore, of the will to power. (Over against this, and in passing, one thinks of Socrates in Plato’s Symposium, who ridicules just such an understanding of education as the conveyance of truth from one person to another [Symp. 175d].) In his lectures at Berkeley, Foucault offers a seemingly different view of παρρησία as it relates to the Platonic Socrates. Drawing specifically on Plato’s Laches, Foucault (2001a, 97) argues that “to be led by the Socratic logos [i.e., to be subjected to Socrates’s technique of παρρησία] is to ‘give an account’ of oneself.” The role of Socrates here, rather than being a master who conveys truth to his student, is “to ask for a rational accounting of a person’s life” (ibid.). One thus finds in these lectures, which occurred the year after those that appear in Hermeneutics of the Subject, a more nuanced view of Socrates’s practice. However, one still finds here an emphasis on the “freedom” that characterizes Socrates’s speaking, a freedom that is presently being called into question. 29. For a thorough and insightful inquiry into the role of shame in the Gorgias, see Metcalf (2018). 30. See 495a, where Callicles willfully maintains a shameful position to avoid the shame of contradicting himself. 31. Monoson (2000, 154) states the following: “In the Gorgias on six different occasions, Plato relies on parrhesia to explain the psychological disposition needed of one who is to participate in a serious search for the truth as distinct from a competition for rhetorical victory (487a, 487b, 487d, 491e, 492d, 521a).” However, every one of these instances is mentioned within the context of Callicles’s manner of speaking, a manner that can hardly be said to be concerned with a “serious search for the truth” rather than a rhetorical victory (as is evidenced by Callicles’s unwillingness to carry his conversation with Socrates to its end). 32. As scholars have noted, there is a tension between Socrates’s apparent valuing of παρρησία and his own extensive use of irony, that is, of precisely not speaking freely and openly. See Bourgault (2015, 73). In a fascinating article on Plato’s Republic, Stanley Rosen (2005, 283) makes the following claim: “With all due recognition of irony and concealment, frankness is a necessary attribute of the Socratic, and so too of the Platonic, enterprise.”
Power(lessness) | 57 One wonders, however, what sense “frankness” can have for a person for whom irony and concealment are so integral. 33. See also Gorg. 447a, where Socrates blames his tardiness on Chaerephon’s insistence that they spend time in the agora. 34. See Saxonhouse (1983, 166), who notes the difference between Callicles’s and Socrates’s conceptions of power: “[The differences between Callicles and Socrates] stem from different conceptions of power, power over others as in the master and slave relationships of Callicles’ vision, and power over oneself—as power to distinguish between good and bad passions and to choose the former.” 35. The word Socrates uses is κίναιδος, which is most often translated as “catamite,” meaning a male homosexual who enthusiastically enjoys being anally penetrated. More generally, it just refers to a person who shamelessly pursues the fulfillment of their sexual pleasures, as both the word itself and the context make clear. Arieti translates it as “lewd masturbator.” 36. It is perhaps worth noting in this regard that Socrates is never called a παρρησιαστής (a “frank speaker”) in any of Plato’s texts—a fact of which Foucault was aware (see Foucault [2001a, 23]). 37. As Race (1979, 201) astutely notes, what is truly shameful, for Socrates, is ignorance (i.e., feigned knowledge and thus ignorance of one’s own ignorance). Callicles, in failing to feel shame, fails to see himself as ignorant: he fails to become aware of his own epistemological poverty. 38. See Gorg. 494d: “According to you, Callicles, I dumbfounded Polus and Gorgias and made them feel shame, but you are not dumbfounded and you do not feel shame, on account of being so manly [ἀνδρεῖος].” 39. Metcalf (2018) suggests that Socrates’s dialogical monologue is an effort on Plato’s part to set forth a mode of writing that differs from the typical dialogical form that he employees, one that approximates the monological formalism of a treatise (or syngramma). As Metcalf further suggests, “Plato has written the Gorgias in such a way that it gestures toward a non-dialogical, syngrammatical alternative to his dialogical form of writing, while nonetheless opting for the dialogical format” (133). It is important to note, however, that Socrates’s soliloquy, unlike the extended speech he gives earlier regarding rhetoric, remains dialogical in form: that is, it depicts Socrates as if he were having a dialogue. 40. See Bourgault (2014, 73–75), who offers an insightful and compelling argument regarding Socratic silence and Socratic listening. 41. Cf. Metcalf (2018, 132, 140). 42. For a slightly different take on the meaning of “geometric equality,” see Metcalf (2018, 135–36). 43. See Saxonhouse (1983, 155): “Life for Callicles is the passionate life, a life of constantly seeking more; it is the Hobbesian life where one’s desires can never be fully satisfied, only briefly met and then instantly reignited. . . . The real man is the eternal consumer.” See also Zuckert (2009, 551): “As his disdain for moderation indicates, Callicles believes that the best thing for human beings is to be able to do what they want.” 44. To be sure, Callicles accuses Socrates of a certain willfulness of his own: namely, of seeking only to refute him, of seeking to assert himself over the other interlocutors by dominating the argument (Gorg. 515b) and even of acting violently as he does so (Gorg. 505d). In other words, Callicles accuses Socrates of just the sort of will to dominate and overpower that
58 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Callicles himself possesses. This, however, is as it should be: for Callicles lacks the appropriate context in which to view Socrates’s behavior as anything other than agonistic. For Callicles, for whom exerting power over others is a virtue, refutation is merely a rhetorical means by which one asserts oneself over another and dominates them. The idea that Socrates would be conversing with him for any reason other than victory is unthinkable for him. 45. Though she does not express it in terms of powerlessness, Saxonhouse (1983, 165) reaches a similar conclusion regarding Socrates’s understanding of power: “The conception of power which Socrates proposes in this dialogue is not the power to fill another and satisfy her desires, nor to make another serve one’s own interests. It is a conception of power which can only be understood in terms of making one better, and making one better consists in making one aware of what one lacks—not the dockyards or imports or other such filth—but virtue” (my emphasis). 46. Cf. Metcalf (2018, 42, 48). 47. As Haden (1992, 326) puts it, somewhat differently: “It is by surrendering oneself to the lucidity of reason, which Callicles is unwilling to do, that one makes oneself authentically rational, i.e., an agent who identifies with reason and acts from it. That is Socratic power” (my emphasis).
3 Poverty (πενία) Symposium
Socrates is not present in Plato’s Symposium.
To begin with, Socrates is not present owing to the fact that the words of the Symposium—that is, the words that one reads—are almost entirely those of a character who is not Socrates, though he is one who admits to having been greatly influenced by him (Symp. 172c). Nearly the entirety of the text of the Symposium is a story told by the character Apollodorus to his acquaintances; and the few brief comments made by one of those friends (who remains unnamed in the text) are the only words within the Symposium uttered by a character other than Apollodorus. The text proper—that is, the series of speeches given by Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, Agathon, Socrates/Diotima, and A lcibiades—is relayed by Apollodorus, who himself heard them secondhand from another man (by the name of Aristodemus) who was present at the event (Symp. 173b). The event to which one is privy when one reads the Symposium is Apollodorus’s recitation: one thus only has mediate access to the symposium itself where Socrates and the others drank, lying alongside each other while speaking about Eros, an event that Apollodorus says took place a long time in the past (Symp. 173a).1 Insofar as Socrates only appears within this recollected narrative, one can say that he is only mediately present within the Symposium, which is to say that he is not present at all: rather, Socrates is presented only as withdrawn behind and mediated by the multiple layers of dramatic framing, shown only as he was in the past and on the other side of a secondhand recollection.2 Strictly speaking, then, Socrates is not there in the present of the text of the Symposium and therefore says nothing in it; nor, indeed, does any other character embedded within the body of the narrative. Apollodorus and his unnamed acquaintance are the only characters who say anything within the presentation of the narrative: all of the rest is in the recollected past, the absent present. In this somewhat banal sense, then, Socrates can be said to be absent from the Symposium. Socrates can also be said to be absent in a much more significant and philosophically interesting sense. Socrates cannot be said to be present at the symposium owing to the fact that the Socrates one finds in the Symposium is presented as lacking substance, as lacking substantiality, as lacking, therefore, presence. In other words, Socrates is not present in the Symposium because the Socrates of the
60 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Symposium is depicted as consisting of nothing other than a lack—he is depicted as being, therefore, nothing (if one can permit such a paradoxical phrasing). Only as this “nothing” can Socrates be said to be present, a presence that is therefore not a presence but is rather the very lack of such presence. What one finds through the course of the text of the Symposium as a whole is a series of moments where the emptiness and nothingness of Socrates is emphasized. This emphasis shows itself in various ways, sometimes subtly and sometimes quite explicitly. At times, it is inflected in terms of a fearfulness or weakness said to belong to Socrates; at other times, it is inflected in terms of an ignorance and timidity that belongs essentially to Socrates’s intellectual comportment. In all of these cases, what is revealed is a fundamental emptiness that belongs to the very being of Socrates and his anachoratic way, an emptiness by means of which Socrates is able to come into relation with the truth. In the following chapter, these moments will be traced and charted; and what will be seen is that the “picture” of Socrates given by the Symposium is a picture of emptiness, a picture of a lack, a picture, therefore, of nothing. What the Symposium gives is an empty space where Socrates should be; or, rather, it reveals that Socrates is just such an empty space, an empty χώρα, which the truth itself requires in order to show itself. * * * The emphasis on lack and nothingness is evident from the very outset of the narrative. Just after being told that the symposium in question occurred some time ago, Glaucon asks Apollodorus from whom he himself heard the tale of the events. Apollodorus responds that he heard the account from Aristodemus of Cydathenaeum, “a little man [σμικρός] who always went barefoot” (Symp. 173b). “A little man” translates the Greek word σμικρός, meaning “small” or “slight” in the physical or physiological sense.3 However, σμικρός also means “unimportant” or “insubstantial,” in the sense that one speaks of a “small issue” or a problem of “slight concern.”4 The context makes clear that it is this latter sense that is primarily intended; for, as we soon learn, Aristodemus is so σμικρός, so insignificant, that he was not even invited to Agathon’s party in celebration of the latter’s poetic victory (Symp. 174e).5 Furthermore, as Debra Nails (2002) suggests, Aristodemus was either so unimportant in the eyes of most as to have been disallowed from offering his own speech regarding Eros at the evening’s festivities, or he felt his own contribution to have been so worthless as to hardly bear repeating.6 Even Aristodemus himself, this ardent follower of Socrates, seems to think of himself as small, later referring to himself as φαῦλος (Symp. 174c): simple, low, common, even bad (in the sense of bad stock). Everyone, including he himself, seems to consider Aristodemus σμικρός.7 It is also noted by Apollodorus that this unimportant and self-deprecating man “always went barefoot [ἀνυπόδητος ἀεί]” (Symp. 173b). With this detail,
Poverty | 61 Aristodemus’s enduring (ἀεί) poverty is emphasized. However, it is important to understand his poverty not as something in addition to his smallness but only as a re-articulation of it. Being unimportant and insubstantial—being σμικρός— Aristodemus is such as to lack οὐσία: property, possession, value, and therefore substance and substantiality. Aristodemus’s barefootedness is a symbol for a lack, a worthlessness, a poverty that characterizes not just his economic position but his very being. Insofar as this is the case, one gets with Aristodemus—this follower of Socrates—a little image of Socrates and ultimately of Eros, both of whom will be depicted later on within the text as essentially impoverished and insubstantial (and, indeed, as shoeless).8 Apollodorus’s depiction of Aristodemus foreshadows the presentation of Socrates and Eros as insubstantial, worthless, and impoverished, qualities that will prove to be constitutive of Socrates’s very being (or lack thereof) and his philosophical way. The story of the symposium, then, is a story relayed by a small, unimportant man of no real substance, a man who models himself after Socrates (Symp. 173b). According to his story—or, rather, according to Apollodorus’s retelling of his story—this insubstantial man came one evening upon a Socrates “fresh from the bath and wearing slippers.” He goes on to say, importantly, that these were “quite rare events for [Socrates]” (Symp. 174a), meaning that usually—typically, normally, habitually—Socrates went about unbathed and shoeless. Thus, although this passage is seemingly meant to mark Socrates’s elegance and beauty in dressing up, it in fact points to the manner in which Socrates is usually slovenly and impoverished in appearance (not to mention notoriously ugly). This characterization again serves to foreshadow the equivalence that will later be drawn between Socrates and the shoeless, bedraggled Eros. Having come upon this rare and noteworthy state of affairs—that is, a Socrates clean and shod—Aristodemus asks Socrates where he is going looking so beautiful (Symp. 174a). Socrates’s response is decisive: “To dinner at Agathon’s. I fled [διέφυγον] his celebration yesterday out of fear of the crowd [φοβηθεὶς τὸν ὄχλον], but I agreed to be present today. So I beautified myself, that beauty might go to a beauty” (ibid.). This passage is doubly remarkable. First of all, it is remarkable in the way in which it foreshadows perfectly the very movement that Diotima will describe at the pinnacle of her speech, a movement that consists of nothing other than the passage through beautiful things toward beauty itself. In making himself externally beautiful (to the extent that it is possible for him) and traveling to Agathon’s house—the house of the Good (ἀγαθός)—Socrates dramatically foreshadows the ascent that Diotima will later describe in detail. More remarkable, however, is the manner in which the above passage emphasizes Socrates’s fearfulness (φοβέω) and concomitant fleeing (διαφεύγω). Socrates stayed away from the previous day’s celebration owing to a fear of the crowd, a fear (presumably) of its size and power: in other words, Socrates felt weak and
62 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates vulnerable in the face of the demos. On account of his fear and associated sense of powerlessness, Socrates fled the crowd, only agreeing to see Agathon the following day among a much smaller group. (Here, one sees Socrates engaging in just the sort of activity for which Callicles chastised him in the Gorgias [Gorg. 485d].) Thus, when Socrates is finally presented within the Symposium—even though, again, he is not actually presented but is rather remembered (secondhand) as having been present—his customary poverty is emphasized, as his is fearfulness and tendency to flee. The Symposium does not present a strong, powerful Socrates so much as a weak, fearful, impoverished Socrates. All of these qualities will be emphasized again and again as the dialogue continues to unfold and will be seen in what follows to belong essentially to the way of the Platonic Socrates. Socrates and Aristodemus—the insubstantial man who is an image of Socrates and the man of whom he is the image—set off to Agathon’s for the evening’s festivities. Along the way, Socrates “becomes absorbed in his own thoughts [προσέχοντα τὸν νοῦν]” and urges Aristodemus to go on ahead without him (Symp. 174d). The phrase “becomes absorbed” translates a participial form of the Greek verb προσέχω, which principally means “to attend to” or “to devote oneself to” a thing, but also has the sense of “heeding” or “receiving orders” from another. One notes a certain receptivity that runs throughout all of these senses, a receptivity visible in the root of προσέχω, ἔχω: a taking, bearing, or holding, a receiving or a reception that should not be understood as a passive absorbing but rather as an active receiving and harboring whereby one makes a place for something other and carries it with(in) oneself. In the present case, Socrates makes way for those cogitations that come about through his operation of νοῦς, receiving and harboring these thoughts as they come to him, even when the moment is inopportune.9 One notes in passing that, to receive such thoughts, Socrates must have the space for them within himself. (This matter will be amplified below during Diotima’s genealogy of Eros.) Because he has withdrawn into himself in such a way as to receive and heed the thoughts that have come to him, Socrates remains behind as Aristodemus proceeds ahead to Agathon’s house. When the latter arrives alone, he is met with a somewhat perplexed and extremely gracious Agathon, who pretends as if he had tried to invite Aristodemus the day before. As Aristodemus is welcomed in and seen to by Agathon’s servants—that is, as they are doing their best to clean and beautify this insignificant, impoverished, and shoeless man—another attendant arrives with the news that “Socrates has retreated [ἀναχωρήσας] onto our neighbor’s porch,” where he stands absorbed in his thoughts and is unwilling to come in (Symp. 175a). Thus, in the wake of these thoughts that had come upon him, Socrates was compelled to retreat (ἀναχωρέω)—to withdraw, to step back— onto a porch of one of Agathon’s neighbors. Literally, as we have seen, ἀναχωρέω signifies the making of a space or place (χώρα) for a thing. In retreating into
Poverty | 63 himself to attend to the thoughts that came to him, Socrates found it necessary to retreat onto the porch of Agathon’s neighbor, where he might make a place for his thoughts and bear them without interruption. There is thus a doubling of this movement of retreat that emphasizes Socrates’s ability and inclination to make a space (χώρα) in which something—in this case, the thoughts that have come to him—may come to pass. Learning of this retreat, the beautiful Agathon tells the attendant, “How strange [ἄτοπον]! You must call him again and do not let him go” (Symp. 175a). Literally, ἄτοπος means “out of place,” or “out of sort.” Yet, as Aristodemus immediately makes clear, such retreat is not at all strange or out of place for Socrates. As he says in response to Agathon, “Let [Socrates] alone: for this is a habit [ἔθος] of his. Occasionally he withdraws [ἀποστὰς], anywhere by chance [τύχῃ], and there he stands” (Symp. 175b). It is thus a habit, an ἔθος, of Socrates’s to withdraw (ἀφεστήξω) or retreat (ἀναχωρέω) into himself and to do so while out and about. (One is given another example of just this habit later during Alcibiades’s speech [Symp. 220c].) It would be out of character were Socrates to arrive straightaway, having not withdrawn into himself: for such withdrawal is simply part of his ἔθος, part of his character, part of who he essentially is.10 It is thus customary for Socrates to go about slovenly and impoverished, retreating into himself in order to receive the thoughts that come to him by chance (τύχη), the words (the λόγοι) that come upon him through no overt willing of his own.11 Such behavior may indeed be ἄτοπος for the many (and for Agathon), but it is not at all ἄτοπος for Socrates: rather, his place, his proper τόπος, is precisely one of such poverty, retreat, and reception. Moreover, as we will soon see, Socrates’s habit of retreating into himself so as to receive the thoughts that come to him by chance (by τύχη) is related to and indeed reliant upon his ontological poverty and is a constitutive moment of his philosophical way. Having received and considered the thoughts to his satisfaction, Socrates finally makes his way to Agathon’s home, showing up after the participants have dined—not at all unlike the way in which Πενία (i.e., Poverty) will arrive late to the feast of the gods during Diotima’s story of Eros’s parentage (Symp. 203b). (This dramatic moment points to a special affinity between Socrates and Πενία, one that will be explored in detail below.) Agathon bids Socrates to sit next to him so that he might benefit from the wisdom that he believes Socrates to have discovered during his retreat onto the neighbor’s porch. In other words, Agathon wants to receive Socrates’s wisdom and believes that physical proximity (and sexual innuendo) is sufficient for doing so. Socrates’s response is important and resonates with the previous mentions of his poverty: How fine it would be, Agathon . . . , if wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier [τὸ κενώτερον], by our mere contact with each other, as water will flow through the wool from
64 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates the fuller cup into the emptier. If such is indeed the case with wisdom, I set a great value on my sitting next to you: I look to be filled with excellent wisdom drawn in abundance out of you. My own [wisdom] is meager [φαύλη], as disputable as a dream; but yours is bright and expansive. (Symp. 175d–e)
Although one may be tempted, as is Agathon, to consider Socrates’s response as being ironic (see, for example, Rosen [1968, 28]), it is perfectly in keeping with the previous indications of his poverty, as well as with his many and various insistences on his ignorance that one finds throughout the so-called Platonic corpus. Beyond the surface irony of attributing wisdom to Agathon, what one sees here is an emphasis on Socrates’s part of his own emptiness (κενός) with respect to wisdom and the manner in which he, when it comes to wisdom, is like an empty vessel. It is precisely because Socrates knows himself to know nothing— knows himself to be worthless, φαῦλος, with respect to wisdom—that he inverts Agathon’s image, suggesting instead that it is he who is empty and would be filled by Agathon’s wisdom, were such an understanding of pedagogy accurate. Additionally, Socrates’s use of the word φαῦλος here serves to solidify the connection between Socrates and the meager Aristodemus (as an image of Socrates) (see Symp. 174c), not to mention the impoverished Eros. Socrates’s wisdom is like Aristodemus: small, insignificant, insubstantial—he is an empty vessel (like Eros will soon be shown to be) worth little or nothing. A few pages later, Socrates again reemphasizes his ignorance (and therefore worthlessness), though in a somewhat veiled manner. After the group has made the appropriate libations, Eryximachus eventually suggests that they orient their discussion toward Eros, each in turn making a speech in celebration of the god. To this suggestion Socrates responds with the following curious statement: “No one, Eryximachus, will vote against you. I do not see how I myself could decline, since I claim to know nothing but erotic things [τὰ ἐρωτικά]” (Symp. 177d). Although this statement appears to consist of a claim to wisdom—that is, wisdom about erotic things—it is actually the opposite, namely, a claim to ignorance, as a reading of the entirety of the Symposium makes clear: for Eros comes to be characterized later on as consisting of an enduring and insurmountable lack of wisdom.12 Thus, in claiming that he knows only erotic things, Socrates is simply re-articulating the claim to ignorance that he makes many times throughout the so-called Platonic corpus and that serves as the very motive force of his philosophical wanderings. To know only erotic things is to know that one knows nothing, to know that one is impoverished with respect to wisdom, to know that one is lacking with respect to it. The participants all respond favorably to Eryximachus’s suggestion, and each agrees to give a speech about Eros in turn; and for the next sixteen or so Stephanus pages, Socrates sits and silently receives the speeches, the λόγοι, of the other participants (Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, and Aristophanes),
Poverty | 65 not speaking again until after Aristophanes’s wondrous speech. When he finally does speak again, it is to Eryximachus: “You performed beautifully, Eryximachus: but if you could be where I am now—or rather, I should say, where I will be when Agathon has spoken—you would be very afraid [φοβοῖο] and would be as baffled as I am now” (Symp. 193e–194a; my emphasis). Thus, when Socrates does speak again, it is to emphasize once again his fearfulness, now about competing against the other speakers (Agathon in particular). Again, one might imagine this statement of Socrates’s as being merely ironic: for surely the great Socrates is not at all afraid of Agathon, knowing full well that he will “beat” him (and all the others) and “win” the symposium. On such a view, Socrates’s articulation of his fear is nothing more than a rhetorical device meant to lull his audience and foreshadow his own eventual and triumphant victory. Indeed, this is precisely how Agathon himself takes Socrates’s remark, accusing him of attempting to fluster and bewitch him so as to gain a rhetorical advantage (Symp. 194a). However, such an interpretation misses utterly what is at stake in Socrates’s remark, not to mention his attitude toward the get-together as a whole. As Socrates will soon make very clear, he has no interest in winning the symposium if that means offering the best speech after the rhetorical fashion of the other speakers. Moreover, such an interpretation completely misses the substance of Socrates’s criticism (which he will soon offer) of the sort of rhetorical speaking in which the other speakers have been engaged. Finally, such a view overlooks entirely the fact that Socrates cannot be said to win the symposium in any sense at all, given that he himself does not give a speech of his own at the event, instead deferring to the speech of Diotima (to which we will soon turn). For these reasons, one must take Socrates’s emphasis on his fearfulness—which is the second such emphasis so far in the text but not the last—seriously: for it points to an essential feature of Socrates’s philosophical comportment, one that will come to further clarity as the text continues. Agathon then delivers his speech, a speech in which Eros is presented as being in possession of any number of positive qualities. Indeed, Eros is presented as possessing the most of these qualities, possessing them to a superlative degree beyond the other gods. In general, the picture painted by Agathon of Eros is one where the god is replete with goodness and virtue, wisdom and beauty: he is thus presented as possessing a fullness of being that renders him “the fairest and best” (Symp. 197e). Insofar as Agathon presents Eros as full in this way, he provides a description that stands as the polar opposite of the account that Socrates (as Diotima) will soon give, one where it is the poverty of Eros—that is, his utter lack of things—that is emphasized. Just as he had done prior to its beginning, Socrates again underscores his fearfulness at the conclusion of Agathon’s speech, thereby bracketing Agathon’s speech with self-denigrating comments. Following the applause that Agathon’s
66 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates speech induces, Socrates, throwing a glance at Eryximachus, says the following: “Son of Acumenus, do you really call it an unfearful fear that has all this while affrighted me [ἀδεὲς πάλαι δέος δεδιέναι], and myself no prophet in saying just now that Agathon would make a marvelous speech, and I be at a loss [ἀπορήσοιμι] in face of it?” (Symp. 198a). In this short statement, the word for “fear” is repeated three times, presenting the reader with noticeable graphical emphasis: ἀδεὲς . . . δέος δεδιέναι. Again, one may be tempted to read Socrates’s emphasis here on his fearfulness as mere irony, but such a reading overlooks something essential about Socrates’s philosophical comportment, a comportment that is grounded in an awareness of a lack and a knowledge of ignorance (which is nothing other than knowledge of eros). Socrates is perfectly sincere in pointing to his fearfulness here; and one must come to see this fearfulness as an articulation of an essential nothingness (i.e., ignorance) that stands at the very core of Socrates, one that has already been hinted at through the various mentions of Socrates’s poverty and that will continue to develop as the text unfolds. Socrates’s sincerity becomes clearer as he explains to Agathon why it is that he feels “at a loss [ἀπορήσοιμι]” in the face of his speech. Again drawing attention to his own weakness and fearfulness while at this place of loss, Socrates says the following: But surely, my good sir . . . , I am bound to be at a loss [ἀπορεῖν], I or anyone else in the world who should have to speak after such a fine assortment of eloquence. The greater part of it was not so very astounding; but when we drew toward the close, the beauty of the words and phrases could not but take one’s breath away. For myself, indeed, I was so conscious that I should fail to say anything half as beautiful, that for very shame [αἰσχύνης] I was on the point of fleeing [ἀποδρὰς], had I had any chance. For his speech so reminded me of Gorgias that I was exactly in the plight described by Homer: I feared that Agathon in his final phrases would confront me with the eloquent Gorgias’s head, and by opposing his speech to mine would turn me thus dumbfounded into stone. (Symp. 198b–c)
In this passage, Agathon is presented as a powerful man capable of overcoming the crowd, a man who speaks as capably and alluringly as the great rhetorician Gorgias. By contrast, Socrates presents himself as lacking such courage and feeling instead fear in the face of Agathon’s speech, a speech that was so beautiful that it almost overpowered Socrates and turned him to stone. In the face of this speech, Socrates experienced great shame (αἰσχύνη), a shame that led him to wish to flee (ἀποδρὰς) from the event. Here again one finds a Socrates characterized by weakness in the face of something stronger. Simply to attribute Socrates’s comments regarding his fear and weakness to an irony on his part is again to miss the important delineation of Socrates’s character and philosophical practice underway within the text. What one sees
Poverty | 67 here, beyond any mere irony, is a suggestion that Socrates, owing to the abovementioned character traits, is disinclined toward speaking in the manner of Agathon (and Gorgias). Socrates felt shame in the face of Agathon’s speech, felt overpowered by it, and sought to flee from it. To inflect this slightly differently, one could say that Socrates would be ashamed to stay and speak in the manner that Agathon just did; that is, he would be ashamed to attempt to speak in such a powerful and rhetorical way. By contrast, Agathon evidently feels no shame in speaking in such a manner. But why wouldn’t Socrates wish to speak like Agathon? Or Gorgias, for that matter? Why would Socrates feel ashamed to speak with such power? As the text itself immediately makes clear, it is because such speaking is incapable of bringing one into relation with the truth. As Socrates puts it, still amplifying his fearfulness and shamefulness: And so in that moment I realized what a ridiculous fool [καταγέλαστος] I was to fall in with your proposal that I should take my turn in your eulogies of Eros, and to call myself an expert in erotic matters, when really I was ignorant of the method in which eulogies ought to be made at all. For I was such a silly wretch [ἀβελτερίας] as to think that one ought in each case to speak the truth about the person eulogized; on this assumption I hoped we might pick out the fairest of the facts and set these forth in their comeliest guise. I was quite elated with the notion of what a fine speech I should make, for I felt that I knew the truth. But now, it appears that this is not what is meant by a good speech of praise, which is rather an ascription of all the highest and most beautiful qualities, whether the case be so or not; it is really no matter if they are untrue. (Symp. 198c–e)
Thus, Socrates is ashamed in the face of Agathon’s speech and wants to flee from it because such a speech has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth: indeed, to the contrary, such speaking is just as likely not to be true as to be true. Sensing that such speaking draws one away from the truth, Socrates in turn sought to retreat from such speaking, having enough shame to hold himself back from engaging in it. Phrased otherwise: wanting only to speak the truth, Socrates felt afraid of the sort of speaking in which Agathon engaged and ashamed at the thought of engaging in it himself. Almost in the same way that his daimon occasionally dissuades him from acting in a manner that will harm him, Socrates’s sense of shame here protects him from speaking in a rhetorical, powerful, and false way: his sense of shame is such as to safeguard his relationship to the truth. To generalize this a bit, one could say that one is only able to speak the truth if one runs away from such pretentious, presumptuous speech as Agathon (and Gorgias in the Gorgias) has enacted, if one turns away from rhetoric and the kind of shameless speaking characteristic of it. What is needed instead is a speaking that is afraid of such speaking, that is ashamed of making such a rhetorical
68 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates display. Only such a fearful, shameful speaking would be able to set things out as they really are, set them out in their truth. This becomes clear as Socrates says the following: I am not a eulogist in this fashion [i.e., in the style of Agathon and the others]: I am simply incapable of it [οὐ γὰρ ἂν δυναίμην]. Not that I am unwilling— on the contrary I am willing, if you want, to tell the truth on my own terms, so long as my words are not to be compared with your speeches, lest I be laughed at. Decide, then, Phaedrus, if you have any need for such a speech too, for hearing the truth being said about Eros, even though the phrasing and arrangement of the sentences just fall as they do by chance [ὀνομάσει δὲ καὶ θέσει ῥημάτων τοιαύτῃ ὁποία δἄν τις τύχῃ ἐπελθοῦσα]. (Symp. 199a–b; trans. modified; my emphasis)
Speaking the truth is thus not a matter of arranging things rhetorically—that is, willfully—but rather of letting the words, the λόγοι, fall by chance (τύχη), of letting them fall as they will. In other words, whereas Agathon spoke in a powerful way that entailed arranging words as he willed them and in a way that was therefore untrue (though beautiful), Socrates speaks in a manner that lets words arrange themselves as they will, by chance, a way that is therefore true. Speaking the truth is hereby associated with a certain will-lessness in the face of λόγος, an abandonment or releasement of the will that manifests itself as weakness: for one notes that Socrates insists he simply lacks the power, the δύναμις, to arrange words rhetorically and (therefore) falsely (Symp. 199a). It is owing to this lack that Socrates is able to come into relation with the truth. A lack of ability to speak artfully reveals itself precisely as the ability to make a space in which the truth can come to pass. Such an understanding of truth resonates with a passage from the beginning of Plato’s Apology. Socrates begins his ἀπολογία by claiming that he will not speak after the style of his accusers—that is, rhetorically—but will only speak in his accustomed manner, that is, in the manner in which he usually speaks. Immediately after insisting that he shall speak only the truth, Socrates states, “Not however . . . speeches finely tricked out [κεκαλλιεπημένους γε λόγους] with words . . . nor carefully arranged [οὐδὲ κεκοσμημένους], but . . . said by chance with the words that happen to occur to me [λεγόμενα τοῖς ἐπιτυχοῦσιν ὀνόμασιν]” (Ap. 17b–c). Speaking the truth is a matter of receiving the λόγοι as they come, and not of contriving to arrange them in some willful way: speaking the truth is thus not a matter of mastering a τέχνη (as forensic orators do) but rather of letting τύχη—chance, fate, even necessity—come to pass. It is precisely the person who lacks such a τέχνη who is in the best position to receive the words as they give themselves by τύχη. But in what way is speaking the truth a matter of letting the words “fall as they will”? When one speaks truly, one lets the truth itself come to light. This
Poverty | 69 means first of all that speaking truly depends on the truth of things articulating itself so that it can then be spoken. To begin with, the truth of things must lay itself out as it is—it must show itself to λόγος as it is, thereby “saying” itself as it is. The human being who wishes to utter that truth will utter it as it comes to her, in the way it comes to her, and will not rearrange it in terms of her subjective preferences (aesthetic or otherwise): rather, she will say things as they are (and not merely as they seem to be). The human who takes words and willfully arranges them by means of some τέχνη in such a way as to be most pleasing, most κάλος, does violence to the way in which the truth itself sets itself out: he says things not as they are but as they are not. By contrast, the one lacking such an artful ability—the one who, instead of manipulating words, attends to the truth of beings as it articulates itself—is that person more adept at speaking the truth (i.e., letting the truth show itself in λόγος). It is the person who lacks the ability and the inclination to arrange words artfully—the person who therefore lacks the power of rhetoric—who is best able to receive the λόγος of beings as it comes. Only such a person who lacks the power of artful speaking—only the one who is afraid of speaking in such a way and who is ashamed to do it—can make a space (χώρα) for the truth of things to articulate itself. The one who has the power to rearrange words expertly—the rhetorician, like Agathon and Gorgias—cuts himself off from the truth precisely through that power. It is thus the weak, powerless person in a place of ἀπορία who is best able to make a place for the truth of beings and who is therefore better able to speak it, where such speaking is just the reception of the truth as it shows itself in λόγος. After thus emphasizing his weakness and his commitment to the truth, Socrates engages in a dialogue with Agathon in which the true nature of Eros is set forth. Socrates quickly reveals that, contrary to Agathon’s earlier claims that Eros was in possession of all manner of wondrous things (most notably, beauty and goodness), Eros is precisely the lack of those things, things that Eros therefore desires. Rather than being constituted by beauty and goodness (as, of course, Agathon himself is), Eros is constituted by the lack of those things (as, of course, Socrates himself is): Eros is the desire (eros) for what is not present (μὴ παρόντος) (Symp. 200e). Insofar as it is characterized by desire for what it does not have, Eros can be understood to be nothing other than a lack. A lack, in turn, “is” just an absence, a nonpresence; it “is” thus an emptiness or a nothingness. In other words, Eros “is” an “is not”: its being “is” characterized by a lack of being, by a nonbeing, by a nothingness. The manner by which Eros remains characterized by a lack or a nothingness places great tension on the is of its essence: for when one asks what Eros is, one finds that it is nothing, that it is a not, that its essence is characterized by a non-essence or non-presence. (As we will soon see, this nothingness “belonging” to Eros is essential to his role as intermediary between gods and human beings.)
70 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Insofar as Eros is characterized by a lack or a nothingness, one can already see a certain filiation between him and Socrates, that one who knows himself to lack wisdom, to possess nothing regarding it. Moreover, the description of Eros as nothing more than a lack echoes the various emphases throughout the text on Socrates’s poverty and on the poverty of Aristodemus (the little image of Socrates): indeed, such moments should be read as foreshadowing the eventual identification of Socrates with Eros that will be made explicit in Diotima’s speech when she identifies Eros with the philosophers. Like Eros, Socrates is characterized by a lack, an absence, a nothingness: he is characterized by an is not. In the very being of Socrates, there resides a certain nonbeing, a nothingness, that proves to be essential to his philosophical practice. In light of Socrates’s conclusion—namely, that Eros is not, is a lack, is the absence of an “is”—Agathon says the following: “I am unable to contradict you, Socrates, so let it be as you say” (Symp. 201c). Socrates’s response is decisive: “Not at all, my dear Agathon. It is rather that you are unable to contradict the truth, since it is not at all hard to contradict Socrates” (ibid.). In this response, Socrates indicates, in a manifold way, a special affinity to the lack that has been shown to “belong” to Eros. First of all, one sees here a disavowal on the part of Socrates of his own speaking: for in saying that it is the truth that cannot be contradicted, he is effectively saying that it is the truth, and not himself, that has been speaking. In other words, he is saying that, in what proceeded, he himself has said nothing at all but rather has withheld his own speaking so that the truth itself could speak. There is thus a gesture of self-erasure operative in Socrates’s statement that it is the truth, and not himself, that cannot be contradicted, a gesture that resonates with Socrates’s deference to the speaking of philosophy within the Gorgias that was analyzed in the previous chapter. In addition to this gesture of self-erasure, there is a certain self-denigration at play in Socrates’s comment, one that squares perfectly with the various emphases on his lack of strength and lack of courage throughout the text. Not only has Socrates said that he himself is not speaking but also that, were he himself speaking (rather than the truth), it would not at all be difficult to refute him, given how weak and ineffectual he is. Such a comment again underscores a weakness and inability that belong to Socrates’s character, a lack of an ability or power. What is crucial, however, is the manner in which this lack is precisely what is needed for the truth to come to pass: for it is only because Socrates withholds his own speaking (which would be easy to refute) that the truth may show itself. As was mentioned above, Socrates is only able to speak the truth because he shirks away from speaking in a manner like Agathon (i.e., artfully). Thus, the truth regarding Eros is able to come to pass only because Socrates, lacking the power to speak artfully, lets the λόγος regarding Eros present itself as it itself wills. If Socrates were a rhetorician, he would have covered over or covered up
Poverty | 71 this truth (precisely as Agathon had done—indeed, precisely as we saw Gorgias do in the previous chapter) by failing to let it set itself out as it will. It is only because he occupies a posture of weakness and inability—an anachoratic posture, therefore, of reception—that Socrates is able to make a space for the truth. Given this disavowal and denigration of his own speaking, it is not at all surprising that Socrates now fails to give a speech of his own, immediately deferring instead to the speech of another—namely, Diotima of Mantineia—thereby further engaging in a gesture of self-erasure. It is important to note just how different Socrates’s speech is from the others that have been given: for what is at stake in these differences is a radical understanding of how one is to come into relation with the truth. Whereas every other speaker has spoken in his own name, Socrates here effaces his own voice in order to make way for the voice of another (i.e., Diotima). That Socrates defers to a woman is also significant, given the extent to which women in ancient Athens were themselves figures of selfeffacement and reserve. Furthermore, within his speech—a speech that, owing to the previously adduced characteristic, is not “his” speech at all—Socrates is presented as being refuted again and again: that is, he is shown being overpowered by a superior λόγος (i.e., Diotima’s). In other words, Socrates is shown losing, and to a woman no less—further evidence that Socrates has no intention of winning the symposium in any traditional sense. Whereas every other speaker spoke with the intention of giving the “best” speech (and thereby winning the contest), Socrates delivers the speech of another in which he is depicted as having to abandon his opinions about Eros: that is, he is depicted as learning.13 In delivering such a speech, Socrates is modeling, as some great paradigm, a certain submission to the λόγος for those present (see Symp. 207c) and especially to Agathon—a submitting that, insofar as it stands in opposition to the willfulness characteristic of the other speakers, shows itself as a kind of weakness.14 In other words, Socrates shows that, rather than speaking openly and confidently—that is, rather than speaking with a frankness or παρρησία that would lead one to believe in the veracity of one’s own opinions—one ought to be willing to defer to the λόγος of others, submitting to their expertise and abandoning one’s own opinions in the face of a superior λόγος. Furthermore, such submission is shown by Socrates to be precisely what is necessary to obtain the truth: for it is in withholding one’s own opinions that one makes a space for the truth to come to pass. Phrased most simply: whereas all of the other speakers spoke frankly and confidently about Eros, Socrates, precisely in order to speak truly about Eros, withholds his own speaking, enacting instead a posture of listening, of receiving, that lets the truth unfold as it will. Socrates stages such a receptive posture for the sake of showing those present what sort of epistemological comportment is necessary for coming into relation to the truth; and in so doing, Socrates, through his act of reception, becomes something like a woman.15
72 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates As Diotima’s speech unfolds, one will see this receptive ability of Socrates emphasized through the figure of the impoverished Eros. Moreover, as mentioned above, Socrates here states that in giving his speech—or, rather, in giving the speech that is not his speech but rather the speech of another, an other who is not present at the symposium but is rather absent—he will speak in a manner that lets the words come “by chance,” by τύχη (Symp. 199b).16 Rather than contriving a speech in the manner of a rhetorician, Socrates will let the words come not as he wills but rather as they will: he will let the words, the λόγοι, come as they may. During this speech that is not his speech—a speech by means of which Socrates, by ventriloquizing Diotima, himself becomes something like a woman at a party otherwise exclusively full of men—one learns more about the character of Eros: not, however, what Eros is but rather how precisely Eros is not, how precisely Eros is constituted by a lack and an absence, and how Eros is thus, properly understood, nothing. After disabusing Socrates of the notion that Eros is beautiful and good, Diotima explains that Eros, rather than being either a god or a human being, is something between the two: namely, a daimon (Symp. 202e). In the face of this revelation, Socrates asks what power (δύναμιν) this daimon possesses. Diotima’s response is crucial: “Interpreting and carrying [ἑρμηνεῦον καὶ διαπορθμεῦον] to gods things from human beings and to human beings things from gods, the requests and sacrifices of human beings, the orders and exchangesfor-sacrifices of gods: for it is in the middle of both and fills up the interval so that the whole itself has been bound together by it” (Symp. 202e). The power that Eros possesses is thus to be understood as one of interpreting and carrying, a power that, through such operations, binds together the mortal and immortal realms. In order to understand this power, we must first think in a more focused way about interpreting, carrying, and their relationship as Diotima understands them. Most generally, interpretation consists in taking the words of another and analyzing them so that the meaning intended by that other can be discerned. When one interprets, say, a text, one seeks to let the truth of the original come to light by receiving that truth as it is. To do this, one must, to the extent that is possible, place one’s own perspective, will, ideas, biases, and prejudices into abeyance, lest these pervert or distort the meaning of the text. In other words, if one is to interpret a text correctly—that is, in such a way that the truth of the text can come to light—one must strive to empty one’s head of all of its own preconceptions in order to make a space for the text as it gives itself. (If one does not do this, one’s interpretation could hardly be said to be an interpretation of a particular text: it would in no way belong to or relate to the text in question but would only relate to one’s own will and biases.) Phrased more provocatively: in interpreting, one must try to be as empty as possible so as to make the greatest amount of room within oneself for the original.
Poverty | 73 It is for this reason that Diotima pairs ἑρμηνεύω (interpreting) with διαπορθμεύω (carrying). To carry something, one needs to make sufficient room for it: one needs a vessel with sufficient capacity. Moreover, it is the lack of the vessel in question—the cavity, the absence, the spaciousness—that does the carrying. Properly understood, a vessel meant for carrying “is” nothing other than this lack or absence: it “is” nothing other than the nothingness that makes a space for what is to be carried. Only by virtue of this lack, of this nothingness, can a vessel perform its function of carrying. By pairing ἑρμηνεύω with διαπορθμεύω, Diotima is stating that interpretation is a carrying from one realm to another, a carrying that is only possible by virtue of a lack or an absence. Thus, for Diotima—which is to say, for the absent woman to whom Socrates presently defers—the power of interpreting is grounded on a lack or vacuity: like an empty vessel, the being of interpretation consists primarily of its nonbeing. However, such an interpretive position—namely, one of utter emptiness— is entirely impossible for a human being: for a human being necessarily operates from out of specific historical, cultural, social, linguistic, and personal contexts that thoroughly inform their understanding and thus any interpretive efforts they undertake. Moreover, it is precisely these contexts that give structure and background to meaning, and that therefore make genuine interpretation possible.17 Thus, the sort of emptiness Diotima suggests with her pairing of ἑρμηνεύω with διαπορθμεύω is not possible for human beings: the human being forever interprets from the point of view of her incomplete, finite perspective, at least so long as she remains human. To see this, one need only remember the dramatic situation of the Symposium itself. Apollodorus tells a story that he heard from another (Aristodemus) (Symp. 173b) about a party that occurred some time ago (Symp. 173a). The entire dramatic framing of the text emphasizes the movement of deferral that belongs implicitly and integrally to the act of interpretation, that is, the manner in which interpretation always operates at some distance from the presence of the matter under consideration (in this case, the party at which the speeches concerning Eros were delivered) and thus consists of a mediated presentation. Furthermore, the dramatic framing emphasizes the way in which such deferral necessarily contains the possibility of distortion. Apollodorus is a human being, as are Phoenix and Aristodemus. When they tell their stories, they do so from out of their embeddedness within the various horizon-limiting (but thereby meaning-opening) contexts mentioned above. As they relay their stories, they ineluctably speak in a manner that is informed, filtered, and constrained by their opinions, biases, prejudices, and preconceived notions. In other words, while telling his story, Apollodorus does so while firmly grounded within the world of semblance and opinion, a fact indicated in the very first word of the text, δοκῶ—“I seem,” “I believe,” “I opine”—a word that casts a shadow of semblance and seeming over the entirety of the Symposium. (The veracity of Apollodorus’s
74 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates story is all the more uncertain given that he tells a story about a person he loves [Symp. 172cff.].)18 Whether Apollodorus’s account accords with the “real” events is something that can never be determined. What can be determined, however, is that Plato has created a dramatic situation that calls the precision and veracity of that account into question, thus pointing to the risks that belong to any human act of interpretation. However—and any adequate understanding of Diotima’s views regarding interpretation depends on this—Eros is not a human being but is rather a daimon and is thus part divine. When Eros interprets, he is thus able to do so in a manner that avoids at least some of the existential and ontological limitations that belong of necessity to human finitude. In other words, Eros the daimon is capable of becoming emptier than human beings can. However, this is not to say that Eros operates with no constraining limitations at all: for, as a daimon, Eros is part human and is thus constrained to precisely that extent. Nonetheless, Eros᾽s situation with respect to his abilities of interpretation must be understood as essentially other than and superior to those that characterize the human condition: for as part divine, Eros is especially suited for receiving the truth from the gods and ferrying it to human beings. In saying that Eros is a daimonic interpreter, Diotima is thus saying that, to a superhuman extent, Eros is an empty vessel that, precisely owing to such emptiness, is capable of receiving the words of the gods and carrying them to human beings, and vice versa. The power that Eros possesses is thus the power of receiving λόγοι (from either gods or human beings) in a manner that exceeds the limitations and constraints intrinsic to human finitude, a receiving that as such depends on an essential lack or absence. Without the emptiness of Eros—an emptiness that belongs precisely to his divinity—there could be no such coming together of mortals and the divine and thus no coming together of the human with the true. This emptiness—this lack or absence constitutive of Eros’s being—comes to be emphasized during Diotima’s genealogy of Eros. However, it also comes to be problematized, as it is paired with what at first glance appears to be its polar opposite. Diotima describes the conception of Eros as follows: “When Aphrodite was born, all the other gods as well as Πόρος, son of Metis, were at a feast; and when they had dined, Πενία arrived to beg for something—as might be expected at a festival—and she hung about near the door. Then Πόρος got drunk on nectar—for there was not yet wine—and, heavy of head, went into the garden of Zeus and slept. Then Πενία, who because of her own lack of resources [ἀπορίαν] was plotting to have a child made out of Πόρος, reclined beside him and conceived Eros” (Symp. 203b–c). As she goes on to say, because Eros is the offspring of Πενία and Πόρος, Poverty and Resource, he possesses a mixture of their qualities. This proves to be a peculiar and even contradictory mixture, for
Poverty | 75 in the above passage Πενία is expressly said to be ἀπορίαν, resourceless; however, Eros is also said to be the offspring of Πόρος, Resource. Thus, Eros is characterized by both fullness of and absence of resource. The very essence of Eros appears to be contradictory. To understand Eros, one must understand this contradiction, not, however, in a manner that erases it but rather in one that lets it show itself in its own peculiar light. Diotima amplifies on the character of Eros, beginning with those traits that he inherited from his mother. As Diotima says, because he is the son of Πενία, Eros is “always poor [πένης ἀεί]; and he is far from being tender and beautiful, as the many believe, but is tough, squalid, shoeless, and homeless, always lying on the ground without a blanket or a bed, sleeping in doorways and along waysides in the open air; he has the nature of his mother, always dwelling with neediness [ἀεὶ ἐνδείᾳ σύνοικος]” (Symp. 203c–d; my emphasis). The first thing to note about this passage is the way in which it connects Eros to both Socrates and his image (Aristodemus). In emphasizing his poverty, and especially his lack of shoes, Diotima (through Socrates) is drawing a direct connection between Eros and Socrates. More importantly, however, is the manner in which this passage emphasizes the enduring poverty of Eros (and, therefore, of Socrates). According to Diotima, Eros is “always poor [πένης ἀεί ἐστι]”: his poverty is something that perpetually (ἀεί) belongs to him. Indeed, Diotima emphasizes this again at the end of passage, where she states that Eros is “always dwelling with neediness [ἀεὶ ἐνδείᾳ σύνοικος].” Thus, despite whatever it is that he inherited from his father (to which we shall turn in a moment), it is never the case that Eros overcomes his poverty.19 Rather, such poverty is essential to Eros: it is an ontological poverty, one in which Eros is essentially at home (σύνοικος). But what is poverty? Poverty is nothing other than a lack or absence of something, a lack that Diotima pairs above with “neediness.” To the extent that poverty is characterized by a lack, it “is” nothing other than a certain nothingness: it “is” the absence of things. Eros, always being poor, always has poverty within his being—he always has a lack, an absence, a nothingness within him. Eros thus perpetually “has” a gap or a cavity—a nonbeing—at the core of his very being. It is the perpetuity of this lack and the manner in which it belongs essentially to Eros that makes Diotima’s further description of him so confounding: for, as she goes on to explain, Eros has also inherited various abilities from his father, abilities that at first glance seem to stand in tension with this essential poverty. Continuing her description, Diotima says that, “in accordance with his father, [Eros] plots to trap the beautiful and the good, and is courageous, stout, and keen; a skilled hunter, always weaving devices, desirous of practical wisdom and inventive, philosophizing all his life, a skilled magician, druggist, and sophist” (Symp. 203d–e). In addition to his perpetual poverty and lack of resources (ἀπορία), then, Eros also possesses various and rich resources (πόρος) by means
76 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates of which he is presumably able to overcome his poverty. Again, the very essence of Eros appears to be contradictory. Everything here depends on how one understands the resources that are said to belong to Eros. At first glance, it seems as though he has been given everything he needs to overcome his poverty. However, it is not at all clear from the passage whether Eros ever actually obtains that which he lacks. To begin with, Eros is said “to plot to trap the beautiful and good.” However, to plot (ἐπίβουλός) to obtain something and actually to obtain it are separate things; indeed, one can plot until one is red in the face and still be no closer to obtaining that about which one plots. Secondly, he is said to be “courageous” (or “manly”: ἀνδρεῖος), “stout” (or “bold”: ἴτης), and “keen” (or “earnest”: σύντονος): all fine qualities, to be sure, but they hardly imply or ensure the acquisition of a desired object; for one can surely pursue an object courageously, boldly, and with great keenness and still fail utterly to capture it. Eros is also said to be a θηρευτὴς δεινός, a “skilled hunter”—a description that does indeed seem to suggest an ability to capture what is pursued. However, even this description is unclear: for the adjective δεινός can ambiguously mean “skilled,” “wondrous,” “strange,” “awful,” “terrible,” and even “timid” or “cowardly.” The phrase θηρευτὴς δεινός is thus hardly clear and could just as well be pointing to Eros’s failure as a hunter as it could to his success. Eros is further said to “always be weaving devices (or stratagems) [ἀεί τινας πλέκων μηχανάς].” Here again one sees an ambiguity: for to always (ἀεί) be weaving or contriving devices to catch what one desires seems precisely to imply the continual lack of what is desired. (Eros would be, in this case, the Wile E. Coyote of the ancient world.) This reading is verified by Diotima’s immediate claim that Eros is “desirous [ἐπιθυμητὴς] of practical wisdom”—for, if he is desirous of it (according to her own understanding of Eros as a lack), he must lack that which he desires. More and more, Eros’s inheritance from his father seems to agree with rather than belie the poverty that he received from this mother. The most probable exception to this is where Diotima says that Eros is πόριμος: “resourceful,” “inventive,” or even “capable.” If capable is what is meant, Diotima would be saying that Eros is capable of (or sufficient to) obtaining what he desires. If, however, πόριμος is meant here to mean resourceful or inventive, it is less clear whether his inventiveness or resourcefulness achieves that which it desires. One can have all the resources in the world to help one achieve a desired end and yet continually fail to obtain it, either through one’s own folly or ineptitude or, perhaps more likely, because the object one desires is by its very nature unobtainable. Given what Diotima just said regarding Eros’s inheritance of his mother’s poverty—namely, that Eros is always impoverished, impoverished in his very being—it is more likely that πόριμος here has the sense of inventiveness or
Poverty | 77 resourcefulness. In this case, Eros would possess, in addition to his perpetual poverty, a certain resourcefulness. However, despite this resourcefulness, he would not possess that toward which his desire and resourcefulness is directed: namely, practical wisdom. In other words, his resourcefulness would in no way serve to overcome or allay his poverty but would rather merely stand alongside it as an additional quality. Eros would be both poor and resourceful, always. Eros, while always without resource (ἀπορία), would nonetheless always follow various paths (πόρος) in pursuit of that which he lacks. Even if it is the case that Eros possesses a resourcefulness capable of obtaining practical wisdom—a reading that, given what has already been said, seems doubtful—it is textually clear that such obtaining in no way obviates or eradicates the poverty that belongs to him: for, again, it was said (twice) by Diotima that such poverty remains with him always. Thus, despite whatever practical wisdom he may obtain by virtue of his father’s resourcefulness, it is never enough to overcome the poverty that stands at the core of his very being. The poverty that belongs to Eros is thus an essential quality of his being that cannot be overcome: rather, it is the enduring ground of his character—it is an ontological poverty. This is verified in the remainder of Diotima’s description, where she says that Eros is “philosophizing all his life [φιλοσοφῶν διὰ παντὸς τοῦ βίου]” (Symp. 203d). Insofar as philosophy is soon said by Diotima to be between wisdom and ignorance, thereby indicating a perpetual lack that belongs to the very activity of philosophy itself, her attribution of this activity to Eros only emphasizes the lack that always remains with him. Simply put, because philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom—an activity that therefore implies the lack of what is pursued—Eros the philosopher spends his entire life (παντὸς τοῦ βίου) lacking that which he desires. The poverty that belongs to Eros is thus what is most essential to his being: it is that quality that most belongs to him and cannot be overcome. However, insofar as this poverty is characterized by a lack, one must say that what belongs most to Eros—what is most essential to his being—is the manner in which nothing belongs to him, the manner in which he possesses the very lack of possession. Phrased otherwise, one must say that Eros “is” nothing in his very being: his being “is” thus characterized by nonbeing, by nonpresence, by the not being present of that which is desired. The crucial point here, as Diotima makes clear, is that it is this lack, this absence, that makes possible a genuine reception of the truth. As Diotima goes on to explain, it is the very lack that characterizes Eros that makes the activity of philosophy possible: “No one of the gods philosophizes and desires to become wise—for he is so—nor if there is anyone else who is wise, does he philosophize. Nor, in turn, do those who lack understanding philosophize and desire to become wise; for it is precisely this that makes the lack of understanding so difficult—that if a man is not beautiful and good, nor intelligent, he has the opinion that that is
78 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates sufficient for him. Consequently, he who does not believe that he is in need does not desire that which he does not believe he needs” (Symp. 204a). In other words, an awareness of epistemological poverty—that is, an awareness of ignorance—is primary to the pursuit of truth.20 Without such an awareness—but, above all, without such a lack—truth will never be sought. However, recalling that Eros’s poverty is his most essential and enduring characteristic that always (ἀεί) belongs to him, one must say that, although the awareness of ignorance makes possible the pursuit of truth, it in no way ensures its obtainment. Rather, such a pursuit will last for the entire life of the philosopher, a life that will thus be spent lacking the very thing toward which it is earnestly, keenly, courageously directed. Eros is that one who, because he knows himself to be impoverished with respect to the truth, is in the best position to pursue it but the worst position to obtain it: for his poverty, as an essential character trait, belongs to his very being. Eros can never abandon the nothingness that stands at the core of his being, despite the various resources that are also at his disposal. Regardless of such resource, such πόρος, Eros cannot overcome the lack that serves as his very essence—nor would he want to, given that it is such a lack from out of which the truth can be sought in the first place. If anything, the value of the πόρος that Eros possesses is its ability to disclose the manner in which the πενία that characterizes his being does so enduringly and irrevocably. This emphasis on lack is soon further complicated by Diotima, when she claims that Eros is not simply the desire for (and therefore lack of) the beautiful but is rather the “desire of engendering and bringing to birth into the beautiful” (Symp. 206e). As a desire for giving birth (i.e., for (pro)creating either a physical or intellectual “offspring”), Eros implies a certain bursting fullness that seems to stand in tension with the nothingness previously seen to characterize Eros. To represent such fullness, Diotima makes the startling claim that all human beings, evidently simply by virtue of being such, are always already “pregnant” (κυοῦσιν) (Symp. 206c).21 On Diotima’s account, pregnancy stands not as the culmination of the heterosexual union of one person with another but rather as the condition for the possibility of such a union. It is when we come upon the beautiful that we satisfy our desire (i.e., our “pregnancy”) by “giving birth.”22 What is lacking from such an account is any mention whatsoever of where such pregnancy comes from or of what we were like before being pregnant in such a way or when exactly such pregnancy occurred.23 Despite Diotima’s treatment of pregnancy as a natural and ubiquitous state, the very idea of pregnancy implies and is grounded on a prior state of emptiness: becoming pregnant is only possible on the basis of possessing a receptacle in which a fetus can grow and be housed. Yet, in employing her metaphor, Diotima says nothing of this prior state nor of the emptiness it requires, taking it entirely and fantastically for granted that all human beings, by virtue of being born, are already pregnant.
Poverty | 79 Given the fact that Diotima (through Socrates) was no doubt well aware of how pregnancy works (at least in the abstract), one wonders if this silence regarding the emptiness on which pregnancy depends is deliberate. In other words, perhaps we are meant to meditate on the absurdity of Diotima’s metaphor and to think specifically about the emptiness that is not pointed out or discussed. If one thinks of oneself as being pregnant, one is compelled to think about how one came to be in that state and what one’s situation was prior to it. It also compels one to contemplate the emptiness into which one will eventually pass once one has given birth. By offering the metaphor of pregnancy, which denotes a certain bursting fullness, the text is provoking us into considering the twofold emptiness in necessary relation to which such fullness stands. Stated otherwise, despite seeming on the face of things to belie the emphasis that Diotima otherwise places on the lack and emptiness of Eros, her peculiar use of the pregnancy metaphor serves to intensify such an emphasis, albeit in a somewhat oblique manner. By claiming that all human beings are always already pregnant, without offering any account of the origin of such pregnancy, Diotima is provoking the reader into speculating on their own about the emptiness inside of themselves that allows for such pregnancy to occur. In other words, the pregnancy metaphor provokes one into becoming aware of oneself as a receptacle, that is, as a vessel capable of being filled (and then emptied). In becoming aware of oneself as such a receptacle, one becomes aware of the cavity or vacuity that stands at the core of one’s being that makes union with the beautiful possible. Given Diotima’s use of the pregnancy metaphor and her startling claim that all human beings are pregnant, it is crucial to recall Socrates’s claim, made in the Theaetetus, that he himself is not capable of giving birth—indeed, that he is barren (ἄγονος) (Tht. 149b).24 Although Socrates assists in delivering the ideas of the pregnant young men who come to him, he himself is unable to give birth to any idea: indeed, it is his very barrenness that makes him more adept at assisting in the births of others. However, it is important to note that Socrates was not born barren: rather, he has become incapable of bearing children (Tht. 149c), as he explains in the following passage: For one thing which I have in common with the ordinary midwives is that I myself am barren [ἄγονος] of wisdom.25 The common reproach against me is that I am always asking questions of other people but never express my own views about anything, because there is no wisdom in me; and that is true enough. And the reason for it is this, that the god compels me to attend to the travail of others, but has forbidden me to procreate [γεννᾶν]. So, I am not in any sense a wise man; I cannot claim as the child of my own soul any discovery worth the name of wisdom. (Tht. 150c)
Thus, it may be the case that all human beings are born pregnant, but some— or, at the very least, one—are so no longer, becoming utterly empty inside. It is
80 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates this very emptiness—the possession of “no wisdom,” the possession therefore of nothingness—that enables Socrates to aid in the giving birth of other young men’s souls. However, if this is true, one must say that Socrates, unlike Eros (and, indeed, unlike every other human being), is not in possession of both πενία and πόρος. Rather, in lacking the ability to procreate (i.e., in lacking the ability to “give birth” to wisdom), Socrates is lacking in resources: indeed, he is forbidden from developing ideas of his own. In other words, Socrates has no πόρος: he is always in a state of ἀπορία. Lacking such resource, Socrates has only πενία; he only “possesses” poverty.26 Thus, it is not so much that Socrates is identified with Eros within the Symposium as it is that he is identified with that which Eros received from his mother Πενία—namely, the ability to receive from out of the impoverished lack that enduringly characterizes his being.27 Socrates’s identification with Πενία through Eros articulates, in mythological terms, the enduring epistemological poverty that serves as the primary motive force of Socrates’s philosophical way and that makes possible his receptivity to the truth. As Socrates mentions in the Theaetetus, it is this poverty that allows him to aid in the birth of the ideas of others. Only because he himself is lacking in any ideas of his own—ideas that he claims as his own and insists belong to him—is he able to assist in the carrying to term of the ideas of others. Insofar as Socrates’s maieutic ability depends on the emptiness inside of himself, Socrates is like Eros the interpreter, who, as shown above, is only able to carry the speech of the gods to human beings (and vice versa) owing to the nothingness within him. It is only because of his poverty (i.e., his knowledge that he knows nothing) that Socrates, like Eros himself, can lead his interlocutors away from the human realm (the realm of mere semblance) toward the divine realm (the realm of true being). In other words, it is only because of his own poverty that Socrates can lead his interlocutors to abandon their false wisdom (i.e., their sham πόρος) and come into a knowing relation to their own πενία. In what follows, Diotima solidifies this connection between Eros and Socrates, thereby further elucidating the poverty that stands at Socrates’s very core. According to Diotima, the philosopher is the one who, like Eros, stands between ignorance and wisdom (Symp. 204b). As such a philosopher, Socrates is one who is above all characterized by an ontological poverty, a lack that serves as the very foundation of his being. This lack is never overcome, despite whatever progress is made toward the acquisition of wisdom. Whatever wisdom Socrates does obtain, he does so within the horizon of his awareness of his own lack, that is, of his own ignorance and finitude. Despite his philosophical efforts—or, really, because of such efforts and their essential dependency on the lack that serves as their motive force (i.e., desire)—Socrates only ever obtains human wisdom, which is, as he says in the Apology, “worth little or nothing” (Ap. 23a). Thus,
Poverty | 81 owing to his essential poverty, what Socrates obtains and what he in turn possesses “is” nothing. Philosophy begins from out of and terminates in an awareness of this nothingness. This possession of nothingness—which is nothing other than an awareness of one’s own ignorance and thus an awareness of one’s lack—is the fundamental epistemological moment that makes a reception of truth possible. In being ignorant and knowing it—in being, like Eros, an empty vessel (regarding wisdom)—Socrates is able to receive and safeguard the truth, making a place for it inside of himself. However, owing to the perpetual nature of his poverty, this truth is not his own: it is not his property, his possession; it does not belong to him. The truth the reception of which Socrates’s epistemological poverty makes possible is something separate from and superior to Socrates: it does not come about through Socrates’s will or contrivance. It is only by becoming aware of his perpetual poverty, thus ensuring its endurance, that Socrates maintains a space in himself wherein the truth can show itself. It is this awareness of poverty that makes possible the ascent described by Diotima that culminates in the (momentary) beholding of true being (i.e., the being of beauty) (Symp. 210eff.). Were it not for this lack, one would never be inclined toward nor compelled to attend to beautiful bodies nor be inclined to move beyond them up the stairs of abstraction toward the beholding of beauty itself. In other words, the beholding of the fullness of being—the glimpsing of that which is “always being [ἀεὶ ὂν] and neither coming to be nor passing away”— is only possible on the basis of an awareness of the emptiness that stands at the core of one’s being. It is also only possible, according to Diotima, if one has a suitable guide who leads correctly (Symp. 211a). Socrates is such a guide; and his leading consists of nothing other than a modeling of the poverty necessary to make such an ascent possible. By demonstrating his impoverished posture to others—through, for example, emphasizing his ignorance, fear, and weakness, as well as telling a story in which he is continually refuted and thus disabused of his false wisdom—Socrates models the humility required to rid oneself of the sham wisdom that disrupts one’s ability to desire, from out of one’s true lack, an apprehension of true being. To the extent that such a beholding of being is what makes life worth living for a human being (Symp. 212c–d), one sees that the acknowledging of one’s own essential and enduring poverty is necessary for living a happy life. This says the same as Socrates’s most famous and oft-quoted statement from Plato’s Apology, namely, “the unexamined life is not worth living for any human being” (Ap. 38a). To examine one’s life, as the Apology as a whole makes clear, is to question one’s own beliefs and preconceptions in such a way as to become aware of the extent of one’s own ignorance, that is, one’s own epistemological poverty (see Ap. 21cff.). Such awareness—that is, the knowing only that one knows nothing—is what
82 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates frees the subject for an inquiry into the true nature of things. In the Symposium, epistemological poverty is similarly shown to be that without which a relation to the truth would not be possible. In both the Symposium and the Apology, however, one sees that the poverty that belongs essentially to the human being is never abandoned or overcome: rather, it persists as the most enduring and permanent quality of the human being. In the Apology, such permanence is shown by the fact that Socrates, even after a long life of seeking wisdom, continues to seek it up to the final moments of his life and even considers the possibility of continuing to seek it beyond his time on earth (Ap. 41aff.). In the Symposium, such permanence is shown both by the repetitive use of the word always (ἀεί) when describing such poverty (as discussed above) and by the abrupt arrival of the boisterous Alcibiades, whose sudden appearance immediately following the ascent described by Diotima reminds the reader that such a beholding of the being of beauty is at best temporary and thus must continually be pursued. Even when one glimpses the being of beauty itself, one does not thereby become full: rather, to the contrary, one comes even more aware of the lack that characterizes one’s very being, insofar as one realizes that true being cannot be permanently obtained (at least while living). After arriving to the get-together, Alcibiades, drunk and flirtatious, offers an image of Socrates that captures and reiterates everything that has been said above about Eros/Socrates and the lack that constitutes his very being—not, however, before Socrates once again marks his weakness and fearfulness, now in the face of the abusive Alcibiades (Symp. 213d). Alcibiades first claims that he will only speak the truth in offering his praise of Socrates, beseeching Socrates to interrupt him if he at any point speaks falsely about him.28 Alcibiades then draws the image, again insisting on its truthfulness: “I shall try in this way, men, to praise Socrates, through likenesses. Now he perhaps will suppose it is for raising a laugh; but the likeness will be for the sake of the truth . . . I declare that he is most like those sileni that sit in the shops of herm sculptors, the ones that craftsmen make holding reed pipes or flutes; and if they are split in two and opened up, they show that they have images of gods within” (Symp. 215b). The ostensible point of Alcibiades’s comparison is that Socrates, like the statues of Silenus, is ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside. However, in light of the analysis offered above, one must read the comparison somewhat differently. When one opens a statue of Silenus, what one finds are images of gods, as Alcibiades has said. However, beyond these images—and, indeed, as the very condition for their possibility—what one finds most of all is an empty space, a cavity, a lack, a receptacle: for, in order for there to be gods housed within, there must be an empty space in which to house them, a vessel capable of receiving and containing them. Were it not for such an empty space—were it not, therefore, for such lack and nothingness—there would be no place wherein the gods could show themselves: the gods require a vessel in which
Poverty | 83 to appear. It is thus the nothingness of the statue’s interior—its essential vacuity— that makes possible its presentation of the divine. Thus, Alcibiades’s image points to the way in which inside of Socrates there is an empty space, an open χώρα, a lack, an absence; and, furthermore, it is only because of this absence that one is able to find the gods housed within. To phrase this somewhat differently: inside of Socrates there is nothing that is his own; rather, one finds only the space in which the gods themselves can make a showing, a place where they can be received. In other words, it is only because of the lack that serves as his very essence—the nonbeing, therefore, that serves as the ground of his being—that Socrates can make a place for a reception of the truth. This becomes clearer near the end of Alcibiades’s speech, where he makes a similar claim about Socrates’s speeches: And what is more, I omitted to say at the beginning that his speeches too are most like the sileni when opened up. For if one were willing to hear Socrates’s speeches, they would at first look altogether laughable. The words and phrases they wrap around themselves on the outside are like that, the very hide of a hubristic satyr. For he talks of pack asses and blacksmiths, shoemakers and tanners, and it looks as though he is always saying the same things through the same things. But if one sees them opened up and gets oneself inside of them, one will find, first, that they alone of speeches have sense [νοῦν] inside; and second, that they are more divine and have the largest number of images of virtue in them. (Symp. 221e–222a)
Socrates’s speeches, like Socrates himself, have the gods within: and this, as shown above, is only possible on the basis of a more fundamental and enduring poverty that makes a space for the divine. It is only because of this poverty, this lack, that Socrates’s speeches are capable of making a place for the truth. Insofar as it points to the nothingness that stands at his very core, Alcibiades’s image reinscribes what was said about Eros/Socrates during Diotima’s speech. There, Eros was said to be an interpreter, one who carries messages from human beings to gods and from gods to human beings. As was there argued, such carrying of meaning is only possible on the basis of a cavity or lack in which such meaning can be housed. Similarly, the ability of Socrates’s speeches to house the divine—that is, to harbor the truth and allow it to show itself—is only possible on the basis of a fundamental lack that serves as their foundation. Because Socrates is ignorant and knows himself to be such, his mind is not overfull with opinions and prejudices that block a genuine reception of the truth. Knowing himself to be empty regarding wisdom, Socrates is able to make a space for the speech of the gods—that is, true speech. Phrased otherwise: in retreating (ἀναχωρέω) from holding opinions of his own or speaking in his own voice, Socrates makes a space (χώρα) in which the truth can come to pass. It is Socrates’s anachoratic gesture that makes a reception of the truth possible.
84 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Thus, when Socrates retreated into himself while on the way to Agathon’s house so as to make way for νοῦς, further retreating onto a neighbor’s house, he was like one of those statues of Silenus that, only because it is empty inside, can receive the divine νοῦς. Like Eros the interpreter, Socrates is able to receive the speech of the gods and bring it to human beings owing to the vacancy operative within himself. It is thus Socrates’s nothingness, his nonbeing, that makes possible a reception of the truth: Socrates is, like a statue of Silenus and like Eros the interpreter, an empty vessel. It is precisely this capacity of Socrates’s—that is, his essential poverty that makes possible the truth’s self-showing—that has such a profound effect on Alcibiades. On hearing Socrates’s words—words that Alcibiades compares to those of the very feminine Sirens—the beautiful, wealthy, and accomplished Alcibiades is thrown into turmoil:29 When I listened to Pericles and other skilled orators I thought them eloquent, but I never felt anything like this; my spirit was not left in a tumult and had not to complain of my being in the condition of a common slave [ἀνδραποδωδῶς]: whereas the influence of our Marsyas here has often thrown me into such a state that I thought my life not worth living on these terms. In all this, Socrates, there is nothing that you can call untrue. Even now I am still conscious that if I consented to lend him my ear, I could not resist him, but would have the same feeling again. For he compels me to admit that, sorely deficient as I am [πολλοῦ ἐνδεὴς], I neglect myself while I attend to the affairs of Athens. So I withhold my ears perforce as from the Sirens, and make off as fast as I can, for fear I should go on sitting beside him till old age was upon me. (Symp. 215e–216a)
On listening to Socrates, the resplendent Alcibiades—that one who, like Agathon’s description of Eros, is full to a superlative degree of so many seemingly fine qualities—comes to see himself as no better than a slave; that is, he comes to see himself as essentially impoverished. Through his maieutic procedure, which entails the modeling of his own epistemological poverty, Socrates reveals to Alcibiades that the only life worth living is one in which Alcibiades acknowledges and embraces this poverty, this πενία: for only from out of such an impoverished state can one come into relation with the truth. Socrates strives, in his interaction with young men such as Alcibiades, to help them become the sort of empty vessel that Socrates himself is so that they, like him, might make a space within themselves wherein the truth can come to pass. Near the end of his speech, Alcibiades gives further evidence of Socrates’s way of reception, further underscoring his ability to receive and harbor the thoughts that come upon him by chance. While recounting stories of Socrates’s uncanny endurance while on a military campaign in Potidaea, Alcibiades
Poverty | 85 describes Socrates’s peculiar habit of retreating into himself so as to make way for the truth to show itself: Once, he had gotten a thought, and he stood on the same spot from dawn on considering it; and when he made no progress [οὐ προυχώρει], he did not let up but stood searching. And it was already noon, and the men became aware of it; and in amazement one said to another that Socrates had stood there in reflection since dawn. And finally some Ionians, when it was evening and they had dined . . . brought out their pallets and slept in the cold and watched to see if he would also stand during the night. And he stood until it was dawn and the sun came up; and then having made a prayer to the sun he went away. (Symp. 220c–d)
Here one sees the vacant Socrates who, because of the vacancy within him, is able to receive the thoughts that come to him and consider them. This manner of retreating into himself—a manner that belongs essentially to his character, his ethos—is what renders Socrates uniquely capable of bringing the truth to light. It is this capacity that makes Socrates more than human—something more like Eros the daimon—insofar as it is what brings him into connection with the divine and the true. It is owning to his awareness of his essential poverty that Socrates can, like Eros, serve as the intermediary—and thus the measure—that binds together human beings, who dwell in the realm of semblance, with the gods, who reside among true being. * * * Socrates is not present within the Symposium. When one finds Socrates within the text—that is, when one inquires into the nature of his essence—one finds only a lack, an absence, a non-essence at his very core. This is the non-essence of the philosopher, the one who is most aware of the lack that serves as the very ground—or rather, the very abyss—of her being. Insofar as this lack is what is most essential to the being of the philosopher, the philosopher is the one who must acknowledge that her very being is characterized by an enduring nonbeing, a nonbeing that makes possible a pursuit of and potential communion with being. The only Socrates one finds within the Symposium is one who has retreated into himself, into that vacuity within, so as to make a place for the truth to show itself. Such retreat is the way of the Platonic Socrates—an anachoratic way of nothingness and nonbeing that makes possible a revelation of being.
1. See Hornsby (1956, 37). 2. See Mitchell (1993, 6).
86 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates 3. That Aristodemus was of small stature seems to be supported by Xenophon, who, in his Memorabilia, refers to him as “Aristodemus the tiny [Ἀριστόδημον τὸν μικρὸν]” (Mem. 1.4.2). 4. Rosen (1968, 17) suggests that the epithet σμικρός also indicates Aristodemus’s ugliness. 5. Upon seeing the unimportant Aristodemus arrive to his house alone, Agathon claims that he had attempted to look for him the day before so as to invite him to the party (Symp. 174e). One gets the impression, however, that Agathon is merely being polite. 6. Nails 2002, 52. Nails describes Aristodemus as “a man of apparent low birth and small stature.” See also Mitchell (1993, 5). Rosen (1968, 18), drawing on Xenophon, argues that Aristodemus’s silence at the symposium is a result of his unwillingness to praise a god (i.e., Eros); however, there is no evidence within Plato’s Symposium to suggest this. 7. Strauss (2001, 21), referencing a passage from Xenophon’s Memorabilia where Aristodemus is seen ridiculing those who believe in sacrifice and divination (see Mem. 1.4.2), describes Aristodemus as “a man of hubris” (see also Rosen [1968, 17]). However, such a description in no way resonates with the Aristodemus of Plato’s Symposium, where he is depicted as small, humble, and impoverished. Strauss (2001, 29) himself later seems to acknowledge this: “Aristodemus is the most inconspicuous of all people [at the symposium]. He does not speak. . . . He and his appearance are undistinguished. Aristodemus is in a way the true image of ἔρως. ἔρως is not brilliant. ἔρως is a being in quest—needy. He is the opposite of luxurious, sleeping on hard floors, exposed to all sorts of difficulties.” 8. See Rosen (1968, 17). On the identification of Aristodemus with Eros, see O’Mahoney (2011, 151). 9. Strauss (2001, 30) suggests that it is preeminently the good that Socrates has stopped to consider: an interesting but somewhat unverifiable supposition (see Zuckert [2004, 209]). 10. One recalls, from the previous chapter, that Socrates was also late to the get-together where Gorgias gave his speech. 11. For another way in which Socrates is subject to the power of τύχη, see the Phaedo 58a–58d. 12. Eros is said to be between ignorance and wisdom. However, as I will argue below, this intermediary position entails the perpetual presence of ignorance, a “poverty” or “emptiness” that is therefore enduringly essential to Eros’s being. 13. See Zuckert (2004, 199–200). 14. See Ranasinghe (2000, 162): “Socrates wants Alcibiades’ soul to emulate the feminine Penia in its humility.” See also Irigaray (1989, 33), who suggests that Diotima, for her part, is modeling a certain epistemological openness to Socrates. 15. See Saxonhouse (1984, 13): “Socrates is the hermaphrodite character whom Aristophanes, in his speech, says no longer exists. Socrates, who cultivates a certain femininity, as in his feminine oaths or self-definition as a mid-wife, is not unfamiliar with the abuse that follows the androgyne, but he proudly retains that unity.” 16. On the “other,” see Irigaray (1989, 32); on the role of chance, see Rojcewicz (1997, 108). 17. See, for example, Gadamer (1975, 293ff.). 18. On Apollodorus’s love for Socrates, see Saxonhouse (1984, 11). See also Carson (1995, 48). 19. See Strauss (2001, 194): “ἔρως, I conclude, resembles only his mother and not at all his father.” See also Hyland (1995, 122), who mentions the perpetual “incompleteness” of the human condition. 20. See Hyland (1995, 108).
Poverty | 87 21. See Pender (1992, 74). 22. Socrates’s use here of pregnancy as a metaphor for explaining the desire human beings feel to procreate (in both bodily and intellectual ways) is highly peculiar—and, indeed, conspicuously so. As scholars have observed, Diotima (through Socrates) gives a strictly masculinized account of pregnancy that views the phenomenon as essentially the same as the physical desires of the penis, with birth being the explosive culmination of that desire. See Pender (1992, 74–75). For a more nuanced approach, see Rawson (2006, 146). 23. See Burnyeat (1977, 8). 24. Cf. ibid., 8, who claims that Socrates is the one who is “most fruitfully pregnant,” begetting ideas into the souls of his interlocutors. (See also Bury [1932, xxxviii].) For an excellent refutation of this view, see Edmonds (2000, 265). 25. The word ἄγονος can mean “barren” or “sterile” but also “childless.” 26. Just as Eros inherited a barrenness from his mother Πενία, so too has Socrates inherited a certain barrenness from his mother the midwife. 27. See Saxonhouse (1984, 21). See also Irigaray (1989, 36), who notes that it is owing to his mother in particular that Eros is a philosopher. 28. It is perhaps worth noting that Socrates does not interrupt Alcibiades during his praise, thus tacitly affirming the veracity of Alcibiades’s description. 29. Concerning the Sirens, see Saxonhouse (1984, 13).
4 Indebtedness (ὀφείλεια) Statesman
In the previous chapter, we were given an impoverished Socrates who, from
out of that essential poverty, withdrew from any pretense of wisdom, thereby making a space within himself wherein the truth could show itself. As the abyssal fundament of this poverty—and as belonging to Socrates’s very being and his philosophical way—there endures a gesture of retreat and withdrawal, a selfeffacing gesture that found emphasis in various ways throughout the Symposium. In Plato’s Statesman, one finds a similar gesture of retreat on the part of Socrates, and one no less constitutive of Socrates’s philosophical way. Although these two dialogues are radically different in a number of crucial ways—for example, dramatic setting, temporal moment, and, perhaps most of all, featured dramatic cast—they nonetheless resonate with one another around the gesture of retreat and withdrawal that stands at the very core of Socrates’s (non) being. Through exploring this point of resonance, we will come to further clarity regarding the anachoratic way of Socrates, a way of making way for the truth to show itself. Socrates begins the Statesman by marking his indebtedness to Theodorus for having introduced him to both Theaetetus and the Stranger: “Much favor I owe to you [ἦ πολλὴν χάριν ὀφείλω σοι]” (Stat. 257a). Χάρις—favor, gratitude, kindness, grace—thus begins the Statesman. More precisely, χάρις owed (ὀφείλω), and therefore χάρις now absent and deferred to some future moment where it might be repaid, begins the Statesman. From the very outset of the dialogue, then, we are made aware of an indebted Socrates, a Socrates who owes gratitude, favor, kindness, goodwill, and everything else that this rich and polyvalent word χάρις names. One notes that to be indebted to another—to owe something to that other— is to stand in a relation of deficiency or inferiority to that person. Moreover, it is to stand in a place of inferiority owing to the fact that one has been given something, that one has received something from the other. Curiously, then, indebtedness (ὀφείλεια) is a posture of inferiority or deficiency that comes about from having accrued or amassed something, of having been given something substantial by the other, a deficiency that therefore results from receiving the substance that another gives. It is precisely because he has taken something
Indebtedness | 89 from Theodorus—namely, the veritable feast of λόγοι given by the Stranger and Theaetetus in the conversation depicted in the Sophist—that Socrates now, having taken so much and given only such taking, articulates and emphasizes his indebtedness (ὀφείλεια). Insofar as Socrates begins the Statesman from out of a posture of indebtedness, one finds a Socrates who is operating in the negative— who is, in other words, less than nothing. Immediately after these opening words—words that, in a manner that will become manifest, already voice one of the principle matters of the Statesman— Theodorus insists that Socrates’s debt will be even greater once the Stranger provides him with a definition of both the statesman and the philosopher (Stat. 257a). Socrates’s indebtedness is thereby underscored and intensified.1 Indeed, beyond owing gratitude to the Stranger for his kindness (χαριζόμενος) in these matters, Socrates soon makes it clear that his debt is still even greater. In his final words of the dialogue, uttered just before withdrawing into absolute silence, Socrates mentions a conversation that ought to happen—namely, one between Socrates and the other Socrates—but that will never happen within a so-called Platonic dialogue. Thus, Socrates’s short appearance in the Statesman, which began with an admission of debt, ends with a promissory note: we are owed something that we are not to be given within the Statesman itself, a conversation between Socrates and Socrates.2 Whether one is ever paid anything of this debt is a question that shall be addressed at the end of this chapter. One sees, then, that the Statesman gives us, from its very outset, a Socrates who owes χάρις. This is the very same Socrates who gave so much to the people of Athens that he was forced to neglect those things most proper to himself (Ap. 23b); the very same Socrates who gave his very life to Athens in an effort to improve them by giving them a taking; indeed, the very same Socrates who understood himself to be nothing other than a gift from the god Apollo to Athens (Ap. 30d), a Socrates who thus signified the god’s act of giving, the god’s χάρις. It is this Socrates, who was given to Athens and who gave everything to Athens, who claims here in the Statesman to owe a great debt of χάρις. Just after we are given this indebted Socrates who owes, Socrates withdraws from the scene, making way for the conversation that then takes place between the Stranger and this other Socrates, the conversation that takes up the remainder of the Statesman. Were it not for this withdrawal—were Socrates not to step back, from out of his place of indebtedness, and make a χώρα for the Stranger and his peculiar diaeresis—the conversation between the Stranger and the other Socrates would never occur. As was the case in the Timaeus (discussed in chap. 1), Socrates’s gesture of withdrawal is thus the condition for the possibility of the conversation of the Statesman and serves as its essential ground. In this regard, it is essential to note that Socrates is presented as withdrawing within the Statesman. Unlike the Laws, for example, where Socrates is simply
90 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates absent from the text, the Statesman shows Socrates withdrawing, thus presenting it as a dramatic fact to be observed and considered. (This was also the case in the Timaeus.) It is also significant that, as he withdraws, Socrates does not leave the stage entirely but rather stands in the wings, as at some surveying post, watching the conversation between the Stranger and the other Socrates take place. Socrates thus lingers over the entire conversation that follows as withdrawn. Further in this register, we note that, through the constant presence of this other Socrates— the Socrates too often called “the young Socrates” by scholars but simply called “Socrates” within the Statesman—we are continuously reminded of the absent Socrates, the Socrates who is there but not there, both present and absent, indeed, present as absent, present like a ghost or a phantom hovering somewhere in the background.3 Every time the name “Socrates” is mentioned in the text to refer to this younger man, we are reminded that this present Socrates is not the Socrates with whom we think we are so familiar but is rather some other Socrates, one whose relationship to Socrates is unclear, even to Socrates himself (Stat. 258a); and that, furthermore, the other, older Socrates—the Socrates with whom we believe ourselves to be so close—is standing on the sidelines, withdrawn from the conversation, silently surveying as the λόγος unfolds. The presence of the name “Socrates” within the text of the Statesman thus calls to mind, in each case, the figure of the withdrawn Socrates; and the name “Socrates,” through its association to this figure, comes to signify that very gesture of withdrawal. Socrates’s withdrawal, which opens the Statesman and serves as the χώρα in which the dialogue occurs, becomes more significant as the text continues: for one of the richest sections of the Statesman—namely, the Stranger’s μῦθος of the two ages—centers on a similar gesture of withdrawal. For all of its rich and varied complexity, this μῦθος is, perhaps above all, a story of withdrawal, of absenting, of the departure of a god and the cataclysmic consequences that follow on it. These two moments of withdrawal—the withdrawal of Socrates at the beginning of the text and the withdrawal of the god within the Stranger’s μῦθος—resound together and make something manifest through their resounding. In particular, these two movements of withdrawal reveal something essential about Socrates’s philosophical practice and further intimate its distance from the method of diaeresis that the Stranger comes to demonstrate within the text.4 Socrates’s withdrawal is therefore doubly significant in that it serves at once to reveal an essential aspect of Socrates’s philosophical way and to disclose the extent to which that way differs from—or, indeed, is nearly a reversal of—the Stranger’s method.5 With Socrates having withdrawn—indeed, only because Socrates has withdrawn, thereby allowing the dialogue between the other interlocutors to unfold— the Stranger and this other Socrates set out, by way of the Stranger’s method of diaeresis, to find the definition of the statesman (Stat. 258b). Yet immediately after
Indebtedness | 91 obtaining the initial definition of the statesman as the nurturer of the human herd, the Stranger exposes the inadequacy of the method by which such a definition was reached (Stat. 267c): for, as it turns out, there are many others who would claim to care (ἐπιμελοῦνται) for the human herd in the manner that the Stranger has described (Stat. 268a). Thus, despite being charged with precisely this task, the Stanger’s method has proved to be incapable of isolating the statesman’s art from these many others. It is in order to compensate for this inadequacy that the Stranger tells his μῦθος, a μῦθος that, again, resonates in certain meaningful ways with the withdrawal of Socrates that has set the stage for the dialogue underway. Before telling his μῦθος, however, and just after raising the problem of these potential co-rulers who would care for the human herd in the same manner as the statesman, the Stranger describes one particularly impressive type of ruler, namely, the herdsman (ὁ βουφορβός) in whom the various aspects of care are all unified: “The herdsman is himself the nurse [τροφός] of the herd, himself the physician, himself, as it were, the marriage-broker [νυμφευτής] and, in the case of the births and lyings-in that occur, the single knower of midwifery [τῆς μαιευτικῆς]. And furthermore . . . no one else is mightier than he to soothe them and by enchanting make them gentle, both with instruments and by the mouth alone he handles best the music of his own herd” (Stat. 268a–b). Despite the fact that the Stranger was absent for the conversation between Socrates and Theaetetus within the Theaetetus (which took place on the previous day) and thus missed Socrates’s description therein of his maieutic art, there can be no doubt that the Stranger’s words regarding the herdsman are meant to bring Socrates to mind.6 In the Theaetetus, Socrates describes his abilities as midwife, emphasizing especially his musical and matchmaking abilities. According to Socrates, his peculiar power lies in being able to assist young men in giving birth to ideas in their souls and then measuring the value of those ideas, a power that involves the singing of incantations (ἐπᾴδουσαι) (Tht. 149d). Through his extended description, what becomes most clear is that Socrates practices this art out of goodwill (εὔνοια) and solicitude (θεραπεία) toward those young men who are pregnant in soul. Socrates, like a good shepherd, tends to his flock, singing to them in an effort to ease their labor pains. In light of these pages from the Theaetetus, we imagine a Socrates very much not withdrawn, a Socrates close to and intimately concerned for those dear to him. Yet, when analyzed more closely, Socrates’s maieutic art shows itself to consist fundamentally in a gesture of withdrawal. As Socrates explains in the Theaetetus, and as we saw in the previous chapter, just as midwives are incapable of bearing children (Tht. 149b), so is he incapable of bearing ideas: rather, he is “barren of wisdom,” prevented by the god from generating his own psychic offspring (Tht. 150d). As a barren midwife, Socrates retreats from birthing ideas of his own
92 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates and rather aids in the birth of the ideas of other young men’s souls. This is, in effect, a withdrawal from the act of putting ideas forth as his own, an absenting from conceiving conceptions. Because he knows that he is “not at all wise” (Tht. 150d), Socrates withdraws from claiming wisdom; and it is precisely from out of this withdrawal that Socrates generously helps young men deliver ideas of their own. Phrased more directly, it is through his anachoratic withdrawal from offering ideas of his own—a gesture grounded in ignorance (i.e., barren emptiness, πενία)—that Socrates makes a space (χώρα) in which the ideas of his interlocutors may appear.7 Such a gesture on Socrates’s part—what we might call his generosity, his kindness, his χάρις toward these young men, which essentially entails this movement of retreat and withdrawal—brings about a certain improving, one might even say ordering, of these young men’s souls. As Socrates explains, those who associate with him, “while some of them at first appear to be entirely without understanding, all, as the association goes on, if the god makes way for [παρείκῃ] them, deliver [ἐπιδιδόντες] to a wonderful extent” (Tht. 150d). It is owing to Socrates’s withdrawal (i.e., his retreating from offering ideas of his own) and to his solicitude for others that is grounded in this withdrawal that the young men are able to give forth ideas of their own. The extent to which these young men are ordered through their associations with Socrates is made further evident by Socrates’s description of what happens when they separate themselves from him prematurely, thereby withdrawing from his care: “And after the departure [ἀπελθόντες], they aborted the rest on account of a poor association, and in bringing up badly the things that I midwifed, they lost them, and made more false things and images than of the truth. . . . And whenever they come back, begging for my association . . . , the daimon that comes to me checks me from associating with some and allows me to associate with some, and it is these who once more give forth [ἐπιδιδόασι]” (Tht. 150e–151a). When the flock over which Socrates cares stray from him, they in turn stray into falsehood and foolishness, losing those true images to which Socrates had helped them give birth (Tht. 150e). Withdrawal from Socrates here—from a Socrates who himself withdraws from offering ideas of his own—results in errancy. Such is the description we receive from Socrates, in the Theaetetus, of his maieutic art. The Stranger’s veiled description in the Statesman of the figure of Socrates the shepherd, just before telling his long μῦθος, invites us to interpret the latter through the hermeneutic lens of the former. This is especially true given that, as one immediately sees, the very core of the Stranger’s μῦθος entails similar gestures of withdrawal and with similar disorderly consequences. Just as Socrates stood at the head of the Statesman before withdrawing into silence, so too is the phantom figure of Socrates evoked at the very beginning of a μῦθος whose very focus will be a similar gesture of withdrawal.
Indebtedness | 93 The μῦθος begins by describing the cause responsible for the rotations of the all (τὸ πᾶν) (i.e., the cosmos). As the Stranger tells it, “the god himself at times tarries along with [συμποδηγεῖ] this all, making it circle as it goes along, and at times he just lets go, whenever the circuits have obtained the measure [μέτρον] of the time appropriate to the all” (Stat. 269c). As we later learn, the first of these states corresponds to the age of Cronus, the latter to the present age, the age of Zeus (Stat. 272b). During the age of Cronus, “[the all] sometimes is joined for its guidance by a different divine cause, reacquiring life again and receiving an artificial immortality from the craftsman, and sometimes, whenever it is just let go [ἀνεθῇ], goes by itself through itself [δι᾽ἑαυτοῦ αὐτὸν ἰέναι]” (Stat. 270a; my emphasis). The age of Cronus, then, is the age during which the all is accompanied and cared for by a god, and the age of Zeus—which is to say, the present age—is the age during which the god has withdrawn from the all, thereby leaving it to itself and its own devices.8 The present age, then, is an age of withdrawal, an age in which the god has retreated. One should note the very Socratic language used here to describe the motions of the all during the age of Zeus: namely, that it “goes by itself through itself [δι᾽ἑαυτοῦ αὐτὸν ἰέναι].”9 The Stranger then likens this god of the age of Cronus to a shepherd caring for his flock, a comparison that cannot but bring to mind the Stranger’s earlier veiled description of Socrates (Stat. 268a–b): “A god was himself in charge and grazed them, just as human beings now, being another more divine animal, graze different genera inferior to themselves” (Stat. 271e). The divine shepherd during the age of Cronus, then, is superior to those over whom he cares; and it is precisely owing to this superiority that he cares for them so well, a care that yields an ordered and temperate age of great flourishing and abundance (Stat. 272a) where the disordering effects of decay and death are reversed (Stat. 270e). A divine order and surrogate immortality belong to the all so long as it is under the care of this god, as if his generous concern and favor for it endowed it with a certain divinity all its own (Stat. 273e). However, owing to certain natural constraints greater even than this god, eventually the all becomes as wound up—as ordered and as measured—as it can get.10 Having reached the appropriate measure (μέτρον) of turning (Stat. 269c)— having, therefore, been given a measure by this god—the all is abandoned to itself. According to the Stranger, “it is precisely at that moment that the helmsman of the all, just as if he had let go of the handle of the rudder, stood apart and withdrew [ἀπέστη] to his own surveying post, and a fated and inborn desire reversed once more the order [κοσμόν]” (Stat. 272e). Just as if it were a boat abandoned by its captain, left to itself to take to the oars in some second sailing, the all is left to fend for itself. One notes, however, that the god does not simply disappear but rather withdraws to a surveying post from which he continues to supervise the all, in a manner that will be clarified below.
94 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates A great and painful revolution immediately follows on this god’s withdrawal. These perturbations quell as the shock of the revolution subsides and as the all recalls the lessons it had learned while under the care of the god (Stat. 273b). However, as time advances and as the all assumes the responsibility of “caring for those things in itself as well as itself [ἐπιμέλειαν καὶ κράτος ἔχων αὐτὸς τῶν ἐν αὑτῷ τε καὶ ἑαυτοῦ]”—as it therefore becomes autonomous (τό αὐτόματον) and self-ruling (Stat. 269c)—the all grows progressively less capable of maintaining the order that the god bestowed on it (Stat. 273a–b).11 Eventually, a disorder inherent to the bodily nature of the all dominates, and it falls into terrible disarray (Stat. 273c–d). While with the helmsman, then, the all nourished divine things within itself and was orderly. With the god withdrawn, the all—left to itself to care (ἐπιμέλειαν) for itself all by itself—becomes unraveled and disordered: in other words, the κόσμος becomes ἄκοσμος. The μῦθος is thus a story of abandonment, of divine absenteeism, that chronicles the terrible state into which things fall subsequent to the withdrawal of the god. However, the next part of the Stranger’s story reveals that the god, even in his withdrawal, remains solicitously concerned with the all and remains present in his absence, present therefore as absent: for it is precisely when the all is about to fall into utter entropy that “the god who made it a cosmos [ὁ κοσμήσας], on looking down on its being in perplexities [ἀπορίαις] in anxious concern that in being tempest tossed by perturbation it will be dissolved and sink into the sea . . . , once more . . . takes its rudder, and by a twisting around of the things diseased and sprung in the former circuit by itself, he orders it [κοσμεῖ] and in correcting it, works it up into something deathless and ageless” (Stat. 273d–e). Thus, even while the god has let the all revert into its self-order—an autonomy that eventually falls into anomy—this god remains attentive and concerned from its survey post, observant of the perplexities and anxieties of the all. The withdrawal of the god is thus characterized by an enduring care and concern for the all, a concern that intervenes just as those perplexities experienced by the all threaten to sink it entirely into despair. Here, on a mythico-cosmic level, we are given the very same process that Socrates described in the passages from the Theaetetus mentioned above. There, Socrates described the care he has for those young men, under his charge, who are pregnant in soul. As Socrates explained, so long as these young men remain with him, he is able to allay their labor pains and perplexities and assist in their giving birth to ideas. If, however, these men leave Socrates’s care, they lose those “children” to which they have given birth and eventually find it necessary to return to Socrates in the hope of a renewed association (συνουσίας) with him (Tht. 151a). So long as these young men stay under the care of Socrates, their pregnancies progress in an orderly fashion. It is when they find themselves apart from Socrates that the order (κόσμος) begins to fall into disorder (ἄκοσμος).
Indebtedness | 95 One is perhaps given a vivid description of this process in Plato’s Symposium, where a drunken Alcibiades describes the uncanny and transformative effect that Socrates, extolled for his musical ability, had on him (Symp. 215b). While with Socrates, Alcibiades is made acutely aware of the necessity of attending to the cultivation of himself (Symp. 216a). By contrast, as Alcibiades puts it, “the moment I leave his side, I go back to my old ways: I fall victim to the favors of the crowd” (Symp. 216b). In other words: it is precisely at that moment that Alcibiades leaves Socrates’s favor that he, owing perhaps to a certain innate desire for the favor of the crowd, reverts back to his old ways. Whatever order Socrates brings to Alcibiades’s life dissolves as the distance between them increases; and, without Socrates, Alcibiades becomes the agent of disorder that he proves to be within Plato’s Symposium and, indeed, within history.12 In fact, Socrates’ effect is so great on Alcibiades as to lead the latter to make the most extreme of comparisons: “As a whole, [Socrates] is unique; he is like no one else in the past and no one in the present era [τῶν νῦν]. . . . This man is so strange [ἀτοπίαν], his ways and his ideas so unusual, that, search as you might, you’ll never find anyone else, alive or dead, who is even remotely like him. The best you can do is not to compare him to anything human, but to liken him, as I do, to Silenus and the satyrs” (Symp. 221c–d). Not only is Socrates not like any other particular human being—he is not like a human being at all. Rather, the closest one can get to describing this Socrates is by comparing him to a god: a god who, through his enchanting and music-like speech, completely reorders Alcibiades’s life (Symp. 215e), so long as he is with him.13 Given our analysis of the Symposium in the previous chapter and of the Theaetetus above, one may say that this reordering takes place owing to the manner in which Socrates, because of his essential vacuity, is able to make a space in which Alcibiades may give birth to ideas, taking from him the false ideas that come about and helping foster the true. In other words, it is through his operation of maieutics, made possible by his own barrenness (that is, his essential emptiness, his πενία), that Socrates is able to assist in the reordering—or, one might say, the turning around (περιαγωγή) (cf. Rep. 518d)—of Alcibiades’s soul. Moreover, to relate this explicitly to Diotima’s peculiar mention of pregnancy discussed in the previous chapter, one sees that Socrates’s association with Alcibiades results in the emptying of his fullness, a successful evacuating of his pregnancy. So long as he remains with Socrates, he is empty—he is an open container in which the truth may show itself. Once he leaves Socrates’s side, however, he becomes full again with the opinions of the demos (Symp. 216b). To be with Socrates, then, is to be given a taking in such a way that one’s fullness, one’s pregnancy, is discharged. We return now to the Statesman. As the Stranger concludes his μῦθος, he describes the miserable and disorderly state in which human beings found
96 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates themselves in the wake of the withdrawal of the god. Without this god, human beings fell into great and resourceless perplexities and did not know how to care for themselves (Stat. 274c). It was in the face of these perplexities that human beings were given certain gifts from those gods now operating in the age of Zeus: namely, “fire from Prometheus, arts [τέχναι] from Hephaestus and his coartisan, and in turn seeds and plants from different ones” (Stat. 274c). It is by means of these contrivances (τέχναι) that human beings are able to restore order (συγκατασκευάζω) to their lives, an order that is a mere imitation of the order (κόσμος) that endured for them while they were under the god’s care (Stat. 274d). Once the god has left humans to themselves, it is only by means of such contrivances that they try—perhaps in vain—to bring order to their own lives. One recalls here that Socrates himself has withdrawn to the sidelines of the conversation, having left this other Socrates to contend with the Stranger’s method. In this respect, Socrates is seen to resemble the divine shepherd operative in the age of Cronus, a resemblance solidified by the Stranger’s description of the shepherd offered just before the μῦθος. It is worth noting, too, that this Stranger was supposed by Socrates, at the beginning of the Sophist, to be a god, indeed, to be the very god of strangers, Zeus (Soph. 216a–b).14 Taken together, all of this suggests that one witnesses, at the level of the dramatic action of the Statesman, the moment of transition between the two ages described in the Stranger’s μῦθος.15 One sees, as Socrates withdraws and makes way for the Stranger, the shift from the age of Cronus to the age of Zeus. The age of Cronus is meant to describe that time during which one is with Socrates, during which time, as we saw with Alcibiades’s speech from the Symposium, one is made orderly and measured. During this time, one is cared for by a solicitous Socrates whose full concern is the imparting of order and measure to those over whom he cares. The age of Zeus, by contrast—which is to say, the present age (Stat. 271b)—is that time that follows upon the withdrawal of Socrates, the time that therefore brings about a great disordering. The conversation of the Statesman takes place at that moment that Socrates has withdrawn and has left the interlocutors to care (ἐπιμέλειαν) for themselves, for each to “go by itself through itself [δι᾽ἑαυτοῦ αὐτὸν ἰέναι]” (Stat. 270a; my emphasis). The entire text unfolds within the gap opened by that withdrawal. Given the catastrophic effects of the cosmic reversal from the age of Cronus to the age of Zeus, one is tempted to read the rest of the Statesman as charting the fall into disorder that would follow upon the withdrawal of Socrates and the attempt on the part of those present to supplement or make up for this disorder. With Socrates gone, the Stranger and this other Socrates employ a certain τέχνη— namely, the contrived method of diaeresis—in an effort to imitate the order that Socrates brings, a τέχνη that ultimately yields an essentially Promethean understanding of statesmanship as the τέχνη of weaving (i.e., of protecting human
Indebtedness | 97 beings against the nature to which they, owing to Epimetheus’s mistake, are vulnerable), a τέχνη that is said to belong to the broader class of cosmetic arts (κοσμητικῆς) (Stat. 282a).16 In the age of the god of strangers, the Stranger and this other Socrates are left only with an all-too-human technique, a Promethean fire by which to emulate the orderings possible in the age of Cronus. The various failures of the Stranger’s method, its multiple hiccups and digressions, indicate the extent to which those present have fallen into disorder as a result of the withdrawal of Socrates.17 Indeed, perhaps the very presence of this younger Socrates, who stands in as a pale and merely nominal substitute for the much more philosophically impressive Socrates, serves to measure the distance that those present have strayed from the sort of measure achievable within the company of Socrates.18 Socrates has withdrawn, leaving only a sign, an image, in his place: an image that opens on but therefore also obscures that to which it owes its origin. Following his μῦθος, the Stranger clarifies the reason that it was told: namely, to make manifest the error they had made during their initial diaeresis of the statesman.19 The μῦθος, through its comparison of the two ages, makes it clear that, although they had set out to find the statesman from the present era, they had in fact discovered the divine shepherd from the age of Cronus (Stat. 274e– 75a): “I suspect that this figure of the divine shepherd is still too great . . . , and that those who are statesmen here and now are far more similar in their natures to the ruled than the divine shepherd is” (Stat. 275c). The paradigm of the divine shepherd, then—this paradigm of him who, out of care and superabundant generosity, brings measure to his flock—describes one who is too great (μεῖζον), too grand and too powerful, to serve as a paradigm for the all-too-human statesman (Stat. 275b–c).20 Of course, the paradigm of the divine shepherd, as already demonstrated, is nothing other than the paradigm of Socrates, that daimonic man who has retreated to the sidelines of the conversation of the Statesman. It is thus surreptitiously suggested by the Stranger that it is Socrates who, as such a shepherd, is too great (μεῖζον) to be an all-too-human statesman. One recalls, in passing, Alcibiades’s drunken praise of a Socrates so strange and so grand as to be equal only to a god (Symp. 221d). The subtle suggestion of a Socrates greater than human beings—a superlative Socrates called wisest (σοφώτατός) by the god in the Apology (Ap. 23b) and the most thoughtful and most just (φρονιμωτάτου καὶ δικαιοτάτου) by his friends in the Phaedo (Phd. 118a)—brings to mind a certain other paradigm that arises within the so-called Platonic corpus: namely, the paradigm of Socrates himself as described in Plato’s Apology. It is while describing the god’s oracle that no one is wiser than Socrates, and the Herculean efforts he undertook to interpret and test this oracle, that Socrates asserts his role as a paradigm: “And [the god] appears to say this of Socrates and to have made use of my name in order to make a paradigm [παράδειγμα], as if he would say, ‘That one of you, human beings, is
98 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates wisest, who, like Socrates, has become cognizant that in truth he is worth nothing with respect to wisdom’” (Ap. 23a–b). It is through being used by the god as a παράδειγμα that Socrates serves as the measure of human wisdom by revealing that, precisely when measured against the knowledge of the gods, human wisdom is worth little or nothing (Ap. 23a).21 In serving as such a measure, Socrates measures the wisdom of those who would claim to have it, thereby bringing measure to their pretense and hubris. As a gift from the god Apollo, Socrates is, precisely as a paradigm of a truth that holds for human beings as such, that which gives measure to human beings—and it is precisely this power, which is grounded in his ignorance (i.e., his weakness), that accounts for Socrates’s superiority above or beyond other human beings. Socrates’s superiority consists in his inferiority—his power is his weakness; his richness is his poverty. Such a giving of measure was already seen in Socrates’s description of his maieutic art in the Theaetetus, where Socrates described his ability to assess the value and truth of an image to which a young man had given birth (Tht. 150c), an ability he has received both from his mother and from the goddess Artemis (sister of Apollo). Through his measuring of the worth of these ideas, Socrates brings measure to these youngsters by giving them the ability of “discovering and bringing forth many beautiful things themselves out of themselves [αὐτοὶ παρ᾽ αὑτῶν]” (Tht. 150d; my emphasis). Having brought measure to human beings—having demonstrated to them that their wisdom is worth little or nothing—Socrates leaves them to themselves. In the case of Alcibiades, nothing could have proved to be more disastrous. The beautiful and lascivious Alcibiades proved incapable of maintaining the order that the divine Socrates imparted to him and fell into a shamelessness and disorder without measure. However, not all who part company with Socrates fall into such errancy. At the end of the Theaetetus, we see an example of a young man who seems to have kept the order that Socrates gave rather than reverting back to some inborn and disorderly desire: “If after this [μετά] you ever undertake to conceive other thoughts, Theaetetus, and do conceive, you will be pregnant with better thoughts than these by reason of the present search, and if you remain barren, you will be less harsh and gentler to your associates, for you will have the wisdom not to think you know that which you do not know” (Tht. 210b–d). In other words, Theaetetus, though left to himself, will be able to maintain the order that Socrates gave to him—a truth revealed at the beginning of the text where Eucleides and Terpsion extoll the young man’s accomplishments that followed upon his association with Socrates (Tht. 142c). Note, too, that it is by means of the wisdom “not to think you know what you do not know”—which is nothing other than the wisdom that Socrates himself obtained in the wake of the oracle, the wisdom that he himself is essentially impoverished with respect to wisdom, a wisdom equated with barrenness—that Theaetetus himself, even with Socrates gone, will
Indebtedness | 99 be able to measure the worth of his own ideas. Socrates has therefore done more than deliver a “baby” for Theaetetus and measure for him its worth—he has given him the means by which to self-deliver and self-measure in the time to come. Socrates, as the paradigm for human wisdom properly understood, has brought order and measure to Theaetetus and has left him to measure and order himself, a measuring that takes place through his becoming aware of his own essential epistemological poverty, his own essential emptiness. We see then that Socrates, precisely through the sort of anachoratic gesture that characterizes his maieutic practice, prepares the youth for the time to come when he himself will be gone: Socrates, in helping them deliver ideas, delivers to them also the ability to deliver for themselves, to give a taking to themselves, to empty themselves.22 Socrates demonstrates the sort of anachoratic gesture in which they themselves, once he is gone, must come to engage. In this register, one recalls the dramatic situation of the Statesman, which takes place on the same day that Socrates goes to the stoa of the Archon to answer the charges that have been brought against him. Soon, Socrates will be convicted and executed and will have withdrawn completely, beyond any survey post from which he might return. In the face of this impending and seemingly final withdrawal, one might say that the Statesman, the conversation of which takes place at that moment of reversal from the age of Cronus to the age of Zeus, is a meditation on the questions: What is to be done in the face of the absolute withdrawal of this grand and great shepherd? What is to be done after the death of Socrates?23 * * * There is perhaps no dialogue that addresses itself more pointedly to these questions than Plato’s Phaedo, the very dialogue in which the final withdrawal of Socrates is dramatically presented. But what justifies turning away from the Statesman toward this other dialogue, one whose τόπος and topic are so seemingly far removed from those of the Statesman? One is perhaps justified in turning to the Phaedo owing to its dramatic intimacy with the Statesman—for the Phaedo is the final text within that sequence of eight to which the Statesman belongs.24 One is perhaps further justified in so turning given that the two texts, each within its own context, evoke the very same gesture, namely, the gesture of a second sailing (δεύτερος πλοῦς), an expression whose very sense entails a kind of retreat and regrouping in the face of the wind’s withdrawal. In the Statesman, the Stranger evokes this gesture to describe the recourse that must be had to written laws in the face of the withdrawal of the phronetic lawmaker; more broadly, the gesture points to the manner in which law and politics in general are necessary in the face of the withdrawal of the true statesman.25 In the Phaedo, it is Socrates who evokes the image of the second sailing as he describes his retreat into λόγος undertook out of a fear of soul blindness in the face of certain philosophical
100 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates accounts of causality (Phd. 99e). For all of their many differences, these two dialogues converge around this gesture of the second sailing, a gesture that bespeaks crisis and decision in the wake of some withdrawal; and one is perhaps justified in exploring these two dialogues side by side owing to this point of resonance. There is one further reason why one might turn from the Statesman to the Phaedo. Socrates promised, in the Statesman, to have a conversation with the other Socrates—a conversation that seems never to have taken place and that scholars so often feel as though they are owed. Yet does not the Phaedo, in which old Socrates interrogates the philosophical positions he held as a young man (νέος), give us something of such a conversation? Do we not there have presented a kind of conversation between an old Socrates and a young Socrates, a weighing and measuring of their respective positions? And is it not precisely within this “conversation” that Socrates sets out and delimits the perimeters of his second sailing, a gesture that proves to be nothing other than the very movement most characteristic of the way of Socrates? Does not this conversation, then, finally give us “the philosopher”?26 Regardless of whether this is so, the Phaedo as a whole can do much to address the question, raised by the Statesman, regarding what one is to do in the wake of the absolute withdrawal of Socrates. The bulk of the conversation of the Phaedo takes place in response to Cebes’s and Simmias’s accusations against Socrates that he, in allowing himself to be put to death, is “bearing leaving [ἡμᾶς ἀπολείπων] us so lightly, and leaving those good masters, as you say yourself, the gods” (Phd. 63a). Throughout the text, Socrates tries to defend his decision to abandon his friends and leave them to themselves—an apology given to his loved ones in defense of his way of life, now shown to be a way of death and dying. It is in the face of this abandonment that Cebes admits to a certain fear regarding death: namely, the fear that on dying the soul would waft away like smoke, disappearing entirely. It is in an effort to assuage this fear that Socrates offers the following prescription: “What you should do . . . is to sing [ἐπᾴδειν] [the child within you] incantations each day until you sing away his fears” (Phd. 77e). It is here that Cebes again mentions Socrates’s departure: “Then where, Socrates, . . . are we to get hold of a good singer of such incantations [ἐπῳδὸν], since you are abandoning [ἀπολείπεις] us?” (Phd. 78a). Socrates’s response is decisive: “There is a lot of Greece, Cebes. . . . I suppose there are good men in it—and there are many races of foreigners too. You must ransack them all in search of such a singer [ἐπῳδόν], sparing neither money nor toil, since there isn’t anything more necessary on which you might spend your money. And you must search for him in company with one another, too, for perhaps you wouldn’t easily find anyone more able to do this than yourselves” (Phd. 78a). Now that the singer Socrates is leaving, those who had associated with him should look for such a singer in themselves. Recalling that, in the Statesman, it was that shepherd whom the
Indebtedness | 101 Stranger mentioned who was so accomplished at singing, one might say here that, in the wake of the final withdrawal of Socrates the shepherd, one ought to search oneself for such a shepherd—one ought to look into oneself in an effort to discover such a person. Yet, in searching oneself—in conducting a philosophical inquiry of oneself—one would thereby come to serve as a caretaker of oneself, as, even, a shepherd over oneself: the very search for a singer and shepherd would serve as the accomplishing of the singing and shepherding. In other words, the very inquiry into oneself in pursuit of a singer of incantations would bring about just the sort of ordering of the soul that such a singer would be capable of bringing about. Socrates’s exhortation, then, is to become the shepherd that one already is precisely by undertaking an inquiry of oneself. As one would undertake such a search, one would become the caretaker of one’s soul that Socrates once was but now, owing to his withdrawal, cannot be. This perhaps becomes clear near the very end of the text, not long before Socrates’s utmost retreat. After Crito asks if there is any final favor (χάριτι) that they might give to him before his final gesture of withdrawal (Phd. 115b), Socrates responds by urging them to practice the very sort of activities that he himself has modeled for them: “By caring [ἐπιμελούμενοι] for yourselves you’ll be doing whatever you do as a favor [χάριτι] to me and to mine and to yourselves. . . . But if you’re careless [ἀμελῆτε] of yourselves and aren’t willing to live, as it were, in the footsteps of the things said now [κατ᾽ ἴχνη κατὰ τὰ νῦν] and in the time before, no matter how many agreements you may make at present, and how emphatically, you won’t be doing much” (Phd. 115b). Care for oneself is the greatest χάρις that one can repay to this Socrates who has given so much. Such care would consist of nothing other than a self-ordering in imitation of (i.e., “in the footsteps of”) the ordering brought about by Socrates, a self-emptying whereby one would make an open space within oneself wherein the truth might come to show itself. Socrates leaves his associates, then, by urging them to self-order themselves in the wake of his withdrawal. Socrates’s philosophical practice is therefore seen to entail an essential movement of withdrawal whereby those over whom he cares are left to themselves. Socrates makes this clear at the end of his long μῦθος of the true earth, a μῦθος that has everything to do with the proper place and ordering of the human being and its affairs. After insisting that the μῦθος should not be taken too literally, Socrates again urges his associates to sing (ἐπᾴδειν) such incantations to themselves again and again so as to adorn (κοσμήσας)—that is, to order (κοσμεῖν)—their souls with those orderings (κόσμῳ) proper to the soul, namely, moderation, justice, freedom, and truth (Phd. 114e). Socrates has thus prepared the youth for that time to come, that time when they will be without Socrates, the time during which they will be left to themselves by themselves. Socrates gives
102 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates them the measure that they themselves will use, in the age to come following on his withdrawal, to measure themselves: a giving that takes place as a taking, as an emptying (i.e., a birthing), as, therefore, retreat. Given all that Socrates has given—a generosity attested to by the tears and lamentations of his compatriots—it is startling to see Socrates end his life with an admission of indebtedness: “Crito, we owe [ὀφείλομεν] a cock to Asclepius” (Phd. 118a). Without entering into the extensive scholarly debate over the meaning of these departing words, one may simply note the peculiarity in having Socrates, the gift to Athens from the god Apollo (τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δόσιν) (Ap. 30d), who neglected himself to give Athens everything, including his own life (Ap. 23b), withdraw from the scene by way of an admission of indebtedness (ὀφείλεια).27 What debt could the gift that brings measure to human beings possibly still owe? To answer this question, one might turn to John Sallis’s analysis of the final words of Plato’s Phaedo offered in his Verge of Philosophy. Following on a rich meditation about his various conversations with Jacques Derrida regarding Plato’s χώρα and its place in (and beyond) the history of Platonism, Sallis comes to mention the final words of Plato’s Phaedo, those words that call the superlative Socrates “the most thoughtful and the most just”: “Socrates—ever attendant to his ignorance—had been the most thoughtful regarding what remained in reserve; he had been most thoughtful precisely by being most reserved in thought. And if justice requires rendering to each what is rightfully his, then the superlative can appropriately denote rendering more than the other can rightfully claim, that is, free giving; Socrates had been the most just by being the most generous.”28 One might further suggest that justice is not only giving to the other what is rightfully his, as Sallis has suggested, but that it is (therefore) giving to the other what they are rightfully owed (τὰ ὀφειλόμενα, Rep. 331e); and that, therefore, the one who gives inexhaustibly—the one who, through his generosity, his χάρις, gives and gives and is, in this way, the very expression of pure giving—is the one who thus always owes, who is always indebted, who, precisely because he gives so much, can never be said to have given enough. The one generous in this way is the one who gives beyond all measure, whose giving therefore serves as the measure. Socrates would forever be in our debt precisely owing to this superabundant generosity. The one who gives purely, from out of inexhaustible reserve, never stops owing: they always have more to give. So understood, Socrates’s admission of indebtedness at the beginning of the Statesman—“Much χάρις I owe to you”— would be nothing other than an articulation of his generosity, of his goodwill and kindness, of the χάρις that he, as gift, will forever keep on giving. Here, owing (ὀφείλω) and favor (χάρις) say the same: they both point to the superabundant radiance of the one who, as pure gift, gives. And what does Socrates perpetually give, even after—and indeed, because of—his ultimate withdrawal? Nothing other than a taking whereby he aids
Indebtedness | 103 in the birth of ideas in the souls of others while enabling them to accomplish such birthing themselves. Such a given-taking is grounded in Socrates’s essential movement of withdrawal, an ἀναχώρησις that makes place for others and their ideas, allowing them to come to themselves so as to search themselves. This search of oneself—which, if done in imitation of Socrates’s own self-search, makes visible one’s own epistemological poverty—reenacts the very withdrawal that first made such a search possible, revealing the ignorance that stands at the core of one’s self. In other words, when one searches oneself in imitation of the now absent Socrates, one measures oneself in terms of the withdrawn Socrates, thereby bringing measure and order to oneself, an order that perdures only so long as one follows after—by means of some second sailing—the anachoratic way of Socrates.
Notes 1. Socrates disagrees about how much this debt will increase by pointing out that, contrary to what Theodorus has supposed, the sophist, statesman, and philosopher are far removed and withdrawn from one another in worth (ἀξίας) (Stat. 257b). Yet Socrates’s nitpicking of the mathematician Theodorus’s math does nothing to contest the fact that Socrates soon, after the Stranger’s exposition of the statesman, will owe even more χάρις in return. 2. Since antiquity, scholars have argued that Plato meant for there to be a fourth dialogue, ostensibly entitled The Philosopher, to serve as the capstone to the Theaetetus-SophistStatesman sequence. Some have even supposed that the proposed conversation between Socrates and Socrates would have constituted this exchange. (For example, see Joseph Skemp [1952, 20–25]; see also Cornford [2001, 168–70].) There is thus a certain scholarly perception that we are owed something by Plato—namely, a dialogue setting out the essence of “the philosopher”—which we were never given. (Plochmann calls it “the dialogue that Plato never wrote”—a fascinating and somewhat mind-bending turn of phrase. See Plochmann [1954, 228].) 3. See Sophist 254a, where the Stranger points to the difficulty in seeing the philosopher owing to his proximity to the brightness of being. See also Warnek (2005, 15), who makes a similar point regarding Plato’s presented absence in Plato’s Phaedo. 4. See Rosen (1995, 3), who notes a difference in pedagogical style between Socrates and the Stranger. 5. Rosen (1995, 3). 6. See Benardete (2007, 151). The Stranger, of course, only shows up at the beginning of the Sophist, which takes place the day after the conversation of the Theaetetus. 7. Metcalf (2018, 58) notes the passivity that belongs to Socrates’s maieutic practice, further calling such a depiction “a rhetorical strategy” on the part of Socrates that frees him of responsibility. However, it seems to me that such a depiction is perfectly in keeping with Socrates’s various claims to ignorance offered throughout the dialogues. 8. For an eloquent and interesting summary of the age of Cronus, see Krell (2015, 27–39). 9. See, for example, Phd. 83a–b: “πείθουσα δὲ ἐκ τούτων μὲν ἀναχωρεῖν, ὅσον μὴ ἀνάγκη αὐτοῖς χρῆσθαι, αὐτὴν δὲ εἰς αὑτὴν συλλέγεσθαι καὶ ἁθροίζεσθαι παρακελευομένη,
104 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates πιστεύειν δὲ μηδενὶ ἄλλῳ ἀλλ᾽ ἢ αὐτὴν αὑτῇ, ὅτι ἂν νοήσῃ αὐτὴ καθ᾽ αὑτὴν αὐτὸ καθ᾽ αὑτὸ τῶν ὄντων.” Aristophanes makes fun of Socrates for such language at Clouds 194. 10. Castoriadis interestingly suggests that this is a necessity belonging to “the things themselves,” that is, to every corporeal thing. See Castoriadis (2002, 110). 11. Again, one here notes the characteristic Socratic language: “αὐτὸς τῶν ἐν αὑτῷ τε καὶ ἑαυτοῦ.” 12. Regarding the Symposium, it is following on Alcibiades’s arrival that the otherwise somewhat orderly proceedings (excluding the case of Aristophanes’s hiccups) fall into a Dionysian frenzy (see Symp. 212c and 223b). 13. The effect that Socrates had on people is also seen at the beginning of the Symposium, where Apollodοrus describes Socrates’s transformative effect. See Symp. 172cff. 14. Cf. Benardete (2007, 100), who suggests that the Stranger is more aligned with Cronus. 15. There have been those who have argued that there are in fact three distinct eras, rather than two, at play in the Stranger’s mythos. (See, for example, Lovejoy and Doas [1997, 158].) However, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet (1978, 132–41) has rightly pointed out, such as view is inconsistent with a close reading of the text. 16. On diaeresis, see Rosen (1995, 2). 17. On the failures of the Stranger’s method, see Rosen (1995, 2). 18. See Miller (1980, 50); see also Zuckert (2009, 708). 19. As Hemmenway (1994, 254) further notes, the μῦθος serves to address “young Socrates’ seriously mistaken conception of the nature of politics and hence of statesmanship.” See also Zuckert (2009, 719). 20. Μεῖζον and related cognates are often used as epithets to describe gods: see, for example, Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women, 1052; see also Sophocles’s Oediupus at Colonus, 683c. 21. See Ap. 23a, where Socrates says that the god alone is wise (ὁ θεὸς σοφὸς εἶναι) and that, therefore, human wisdom is worth little or nothing. 22. See Miller (1980, 10): “To become philosophical is to appropriate the Socratic essence—and so to no longer need the elder Socrates’ personal presence.” To phrase this otherwise than Miller does: those who associated successfully with Socrates came to keep him present within themselves even after he left and therefore keep him present as absent. 23. Miller (1980, 116) suggests that Plato may also have been preparing his own students for his own death. 24. Namely, all those texts whose dramatic dates take place within the spring of 399, the year that Socrates died: Theaetetus, Euthyphro, Cratylus, Sophist, Statesman, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. (There is some debate over the presence of the Cratylus in this sequence.) 25. Castoriadis 2002, 114, 128. See also Rosen (1995, 176). 26. See note 2 above. 27. There are many different interpretations of the meaning of Socrates’s final words. See, for example, De Vogel (1966); Dorter (1982); Geddes (1885); Grube (1975); Mitscherling (1985); Tredennick (1954); Sallis (2009). 28. Sallis 2008, 108; my italics.
5 Ignorance (ἄγνοια) Protagoras
Whereas the Statesman traces and delineates the trajectory and effects of
Socrates’s withdrawal from being present—that is, his disappearance—the Protagoras seems to emphasize, from its very beginning, Socrates’s appearance: “From where, Socrates, have you appeared [πόθεν, ὦ Σώκρατες, φαίνῃ]?” (Prot. 309a).1 However, once properly understood, this opening question does not ask so much about the appearance (and thus presence) of Socrates as it does about the source of the appearance—of the “whence,” the πόθεν—from out of which Socrates, who now shows himself, has come.2 In asking about the whence, the speaker (an unnamed friend of Socrates’s) is asking about that absence from out of which Socrates now makes an appearance, that non-presence that, as the absent origin and source of what has now become present, is ineluctably related to it. One might say, in emphasizing at the outset the whence (πόθεν) of an apperance, the Protagoras begins by drawing attention to the withdrawn absence, the concealement, from out of which that which presences arrives and unconceals itself, thus pointing to the intimate relationship between the two. That such considerations are at play at the beginning of the Protagoras becomes clear through a reading of the text in its entirity: for what proves to be at stake in the text as a whole is whether and to what extent the sophist Protagoras will ever appear, that is, will ever show himself as he really is, or will forever keep his true character—and the nature of his art, if it is indeed an art—concealed. Concurrent to this issue is the question of Socrates’s appearance, of whether and to what extent Socrates shows himself and in what ways such a showing differs from Protagoras’s. Most fundamentally, what is at play in this text is the relationship of Socrates to both appearance and concealment and the extent to which the latter in particular belongs structurally to his philosophical way. Finally, what proves to be at stake is the manner and extent to which the explicit theme of the text—namely, virtue (ἀρετή)—finds its resolution within Socrates’s singular and exemplary relation to concealment. Stated most simply, the Protagoras as a whole, through its playful interweaving of appearance and concealment (i.e., withdrawal from appearance), demonstrates that the virtues are unified and held together not by wisdom but rather by Socratic ignorance, which is nothing other than a steadfast and enduring relation to concealment that grounds the
106 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates possibility of coming into a relation with the truth. Socratic ignorance, as the fundamental moment of Socrates’s anachoratic way, is nothing other than virtue properly understood. * * * After posing the initial and guiding question of the dialogue—namely, the question regarding the place of concealment from out of which Socrates has appeared—the unnamed speaker immediately answers his own question: “Ah, but of course you have been in chase [κυνηγεσίου] of Alcibiades and his youthful beauty! It was only the other day that I, while I looked at him, thought him still handsome as a man—for a man he is, Socrates, and with quite a growth of beard” (Prot. 309a). As scholars have noted, this opening serves to draw attention to the state of Socrates’s eros and the manner in which it is powerful enough to incline him to chase after the beautiful Alcibiades, as a hound would chase after its prey.3 As discussed in detail in chapter 3, Socratic eros is nothing other than a lack, nothing other than a nothing, a radical and enduring πενία (i.e., ignorance) whereby Socrates makes a space within himself to receive the λόγος. By emphasizing Socrates’s eros at the outset, the Protagoras foreshadows the structurally important role that Socratic ignorance (i.e., emptiness) and its relation to concealment will play in the text as a whole. Socrates, noticeably annoyed with his interlocutor’s impugning of Alcibiades’s aging beauty, responds with the following: “Well, what of it? Are you not one who praises Homer, who asserted that the most graceful time of life belongs to one who is getting his beard, the age Alcibiades is now?” (Prot. 309b). There are two elements to Socrates’s reply that bear upon the analysis underway and that contribute to a satisfactory understanding of the text and its matter. First of all, Socrates’s statement regarding Alcibiades’s beard echoes the opening of the text and the interplay between concealment and appearance that the opening employs: for a beard growing out of the human face is nothing other than a specific case of the more general phenomenon of something appearing from out of concealment (i.e., hair sprouting out of the enclosed surface of the face) and, thereby, of phenomenality as such. In referencing Alcibiades’s beard, Socrates is calling to mind the image of something emerging from out of the concealment to which it owes its emerging, the absence in relation to which it is present. Both the beginning question of the text and the immediate invocation of the image of a beard serve to draw attention to the matter of phenomenality and its structural connection to and dependency on concealment. Secondly, Socrates, in mentioning Homer, is almost certainly referencing either chapter 24 of the Iliad or chapter 10 of the Odyssey.4 In both texts, it is the god Hermes who is named as having a beard like a young man. As Segvic (2006, 31) has argued, Socrates’s invocation of Homer here effectively serves as an
Ignorance | 107 invocation of Hermes, messenger to the gods and chaperon of the dead to Hades. In other words, Socrates’s opening words of the Protagoras serve to orient the discussion toward Hades, the realm beneath the earth, the region of shades and concealment. (Socrates’s words also, in invoking Hermes, serve to remind us of the sort of vacancy and poverty that is required within those who, like Hermes and Eros, serve as messengers to the gods—see chap. 3.) In multiple ways, then, the beginning of the Protagoras serves to draw attention to the difference and interplay between presence and absence, concealment and unconcealment. As will be seen in what follows, this interplay serves as the enduring structure of the Protagoras as a whole and of the understanding of virtue that it sets forth. Following on this Homeric play, the unnamed friend asks Socrates another question pertaining to his relationship with Alcibiades: “Are you making your appearance now [ἦ παρ᾽ ἐκείνου φαίνῃ], just back from him?” (Prot. 309b). Here, again, it is matter of appearance (φαίνω), of Socrates appearing from out of a whence, from out of, therefore, an absence, a concealment. Socrates claims that, although Alcibiades was indeed present (παρόντος), Socrates paid little attention to him, given the presence of somebody much more beautiful, namely, the sophist Protagoras (Prot. 309c).5 With this, the question of the whence of Socrates, voiced at the very beginning of the text, is answered: Socrates is now making his appearance, his showing, from out of the house where Protagoras was. As will soon become evident, this house was nothing other than the house of Hades, the house of shades and shadows—the house, that is, of radical and enduring concealment. Thus, at the beginning of the Protagoras, Socrates has just returned from a κατάβασις into Hades, a down-going into that place of absence and lack of presence. Socrates begins to tell his story of his time with Protagoras, his time spent in the land of radical concealment. As he does so, he is invited by his unnamed friend (and host) to take the seat of his slave (Prot. 310a). The entire story that follows (i.e., the remainder of the Protagoras) is told from out of this seat, the seat where the impoverished and enslaved sit, the seat in which it is proper for one without property to sit. Given our analyses from previous chapters, one finds it fitting that Socrates—he who is without οὐσία, he who “has” only πενία, by which he gives his taking—would sit in such a seat as he tells his story: a story that, as will eventually be seen, is concerned above all with articulating the virtues, virtues that will be shown to consist of nothing other than a certain kind of epistemological poverty (i.e., ignorance) characteristic of the way of Socrates. As though underscoring his essential poverty, Socrates marks and indeed emphasizes his indebtedness (χάριν) to his auditors as he begins (Prot. 310a).6 The story that follows is a recollection of the events that occurred much earlier in the day, a recollection that, as such, entails a turn away from the sensible present and toward the absent (and therefore largely concealed) past, a turn that
108 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates takes place precisely as a turn toward a λόγος that represents the absent past in such a way as to bring it back into the present as past.7 The events began while it was still dark, while, therefore, the day was still concealed beneath the shroud of night (νυκτός) (Prot. 310a). While still lying in bed, Socrates was awakened by the arrival of his friend Hippocrates, who was so excited that he could not even wait until morning to bring Socrates the news of Protagoras’s presence in Athens. (As it turns out, Socrates was already aware of his presence but was nonetheless able to sleep soundly.)8 As we soon learn, Hippocrates’s excitement stems from his earnest desire to become a student of the renowned sophist (Prot. 310d), despite never having seen him nor heard him utter a single word (Prot. 310e). In other words, despite the fact that the nature of Protagoras’s art remains wholly concealed to Hippocrates (as Socrates will soon make embarrassingly clear), Hippocrates is no less eager to give his soul over to the sophist’s teachings—whatever they may be. Nor is he any less eager to commit his own property or that of his friends’ to this end. It is with the hope that Socrates will introduce him to Protagoras that Hippocrates has come so early to Socrates’s home. To moderate Hippocrates’s enthusiasm, which is at this stage both unbounded and unfounded, Socrates invites him to spend some time out in the open of the courtyard prior to heading over to Callias’s house, where Protagoras is staying: “It is so very early: let us rise and turn to the courtyard here [τὴν αὐλήν] and spend the time strolling there until daylight comes [φῶς γένεται]; after that we can go. Protagoras, you see, spends most of his time indoors [ἔνδον], so have no fear, we shall most likely find him indoors [ἔνδον]” (Prot. 311a; my emphasis). Despite his excitement, Hippocrates is convinced by Socrates to tarry awhile at Socrates’s home, and the two of them move into the courtyard. The movement in this scene is a movement from the enclosure of the home, under the cloak of still dark morning, into the open of the courtyard, where the sun will soon show itself. Socrates thus makes conspicuous efforts here, in his telling of this story to his unnamed friend, to show himself as moving from concealed darkness into the bright open. By contrast, it is said here, with special emphasis, that Protagoras “spends most of his time indoors,” that he remains, therefore, concealed within the confines of the homes of the wealthy young men whom he visits. Whereas Protagoras conceals himself indoors, Socrates is inclined toward the open. And yet one cannot forget that it is Socrates who is brought into the open in this scene, the very Socrates who, through his adamant and continual insistence on his ignorance, bears an essential relation to concealment: for in insisting on his ignorance, as he does throughout the so-called Platonic corpus, Socrates is insisting that the truth, in its full appearance, remains concealed to him (and, indeed, to all human beings as such [see Ap. 23a]). Given that it is this Socrates who comes to stand in the open of the morning courtyard, one might say that what appears here in the open of the courtyard is a very unique kind of concealment, what we
Ignorance | 109 might call “Socratic concealment,” a type of concealment that is nearly synonymous with the name “Socrates.” We shall return to this unique concealment at the end of this chapter. While in the courtyard, it becomes clear that Socrates has brought Hippocrates into the open in order to make something manifest, both about Protagoras’s art and, thereby, Hippocrates’s soul. Through a brief dialogical exchange, Socrates reminds Hippocrates of what he, in his enthusiasm, seems to have forgotten: namely, that Protagoras is what people call a “sophist” (σοφιστήν) (Prot. 311e). Socrates then asks Hippocrates what it is that he hopes to accomplish by studying with Protagoras, to which Hippocrates responds, with a telling blush, “clearly [δῆλον] to become a sophist” (Prot. 312a). Hippocrates’s blush, which coincides with the rising of the sun (Prot. 312a), brings to appearance his previously concealed reticence at presenting himself (παρέχων) as a sophist, despite his boundless enthusiasm to study with one. The blush, like the sun, makes something manifest that before remained concealed— and it is only because they left the dark concealment of the house and entered into the bright openness of the day that the true nature of Hippocrates’s soul could come to light.9 Socrates further makes it clear, with a delightfully paradoxical phrase, that Hippocrates is “manifestly ignorant [φαίνῃ ἀγνοῶν] of what in the world a sophist is” (Prot. 313c), despite his eagerness to become one. Thus, what is also brought into the open, in the open of the courtyard, is the fact that the true nature of Protagoras’s art, at least at this early hour, remains concealed to Hippocrates and that Hippocrates is therefore ignorant with respect to the question regarding the nature of sophistry. It is important to note here that it is precisely through becoming aware of his own ignorance about the art that Protagoras offers that Hippocrates’s desire to study with him becomes moderated.10 Before having examined the matter thoroughly, Hippocrates unreflectively believed that studying with Protagoras would make him wise (Prot. 310d). Now, under the light of the dawning day, Socrates has made clear that this belief was founded on a previously concealed ignorance, which is to say a previously concealed concealment. In other words, Socrates has given to Hippocrates a taking whereby he has revealed to him the lack that stands at his very being. By becoming aware of this lack—by knowing now that he does not know the true character of Protagoras’s art, thereby becoming aware of the concealed nature of that art—Hippocrates’s desire has become tempered (as his willingness to take his time to get into Callias’s house makes clear [Prot. 314c]). One sees, then, a certain connection between awareness of ignorance and moderation—a connection that should be kept in mind during what follows. Much of the remainder of the text consists of an effort on Socrates’s part to bring the true nature of Protagoras’s art into the open and thus to reveal to Hippocrates the true nature of the sophist. This will take place as a largely comic
110 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates agon in which Protagoras and Socrates will square off against one another, the former in an attempt to demonstrate his wisdom to those in attendance, the latter in an attempt to call the legitimacy of that wisdom into question precisely by bringing its concealed nature to the fore.11 What Socrates will ultimately bring into the open is the fact that a certain type of concealment stands at the very basis of the sophistic art, though one that differs fundamentally from the sort that serves as the ground (or the abyss) of the way of Socrates.12 Having thus come into an appropriate relation to the concealment that stands at the core of his knowledge regarding sophistry, Hippocrates sets out, led by Socrates, to Callias’s house, where they expect to find Protagoras concealed indoors. As one soon sees, Callias’s house is depicted as the house of Hades; thus, Socrates, as the one needed to lead Hippocrates to Protagoras (Prot. 310e), plays here the part of Hermes, that guide who leads souls down to the house of the dead. The κατάβασις away from the open of the day and into the realm of radical concealment has begun. However, before reaching the door to Callias’s house, the two men stop on the porch, retreating for a moment into themselves: “And when we arrived at the doorway, we stood discussing some matter [τινος λόγου] or other that had occurred to us along the way [κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν]; so as not to leave it unfinished, but to get it settled before we went in, we stood there and dialogued [διελεγόμεθα] in front of the door until we had come into agreement with one another” (Prot. 314c). One recalls the Socrates of the Symposium (discussed in chap. 3), who stood retreated into himself on the porch of Agathon’s neighbor receiving those thoughts that came upon him. One recalls, too, that such a reception on Socrates’s part was only possible owing to the lack, the vacancy, within himself. Here, one sees Hippocrates engaging in such inward retreat along with Socrates and in such a way as to allow a dialogue—that is, a moving through the λόγος—to unfold. Thus, one sees that, in addition to having his zealous desires moderated through his encounter with Socrates—or, perhaps, as a direct result of such moderation—Hippocrates shows himself as one who is willing to give himself over to a λόγος in pursuit of the truth, making way for its unfolding even to the detriment (or delay) of his previous plans. Were it not for his engagement with Socrates earlier in the morning—an engagement through which he was given a taking of his preconceptions regarding sophistry—Hippocrates would not now have the space within himself to receive such an unfolding of the λόγος. Moreover, one sees here a demonstration of Socrates’s predilection not just for λόγος but for διά-λογος, for a speaking along with another in such a way as to allow a λόγος to come to pass. This predilection will be emphasized in various ways throughout the text that follows and will be seen to stand in stark contrast to Protagoras’s preference for monologue. Once they have received the thought for which they made a space within themselves, Socrates and Hippocrates—after a comedic encounter with a feisty
Ignorance | 111 eunuch—enter Callias’s house, a house that Socrates, as mentioned before, vividly likens to the house of Hades.13 Hades is that enclosed region beneath the earth where the shades of those once living wander their lifeless course, a place, as Odysseus says in Homer’s Odyssey, of “murky darkness” (Od. 11.55), a place where the sun is no longer visible (Od. 11.94). In other words, Hades—the underworld—is that place of radical concealment enclosed beneath the open expanse of the day, that place, as Segvic (2006, 257) puts it, “of εἶδωλα, images, or appearances.” The dramatic movement of the Protagoras has thus so far been one from the concealment of night into the open of the courtyard and then down into the concealment of Hades, the realm of mere appearances, the realm where things fail to show themselves as they truly are. The entirety of the text that follows takes place within the depth of Hades, the realm of shades and shadows, the realm of radical concealment. Given that it was Socrates who conveyed Hippocrates here to the house of Hades, one may say that Socrates is playing the part of Hermes, messenger to the gods—a role for which, given his epistemological poverty elucidated in chapter 3, he is well suited. Now deep within the recesses of Hades, Socrates informs Protagoras of Hippocrates’s desire to meet with him and asks the old sophist whether he would rather speak with the two of them privately or with all of the others in audience (Prot. 316c). In other words, Socrates gives Protagoras the choice to speak out in the open before all who can hear or to keep the nature of the discourse to follow concealed. Motivated perhaps by vain concerns for his own reputation (Prot. 317c), Protagoras elects to speak out in the open, thus making himself conspicuous among those present. In justifying his decision, Protagoras draws attention to a certain political connection between sophistry and concealment. According to Protagoras, the sophistic art is an old one and includes among its practitioners some of the most famous Greek poets and musicians (notably, Homer, Hesiod, Simonides, and Orpheus).14 Fearing for their reputations and safety, these sophists cloaked their true art in other arts, such as poetry, music, athletics, or soothsaying. In concealing their true arts beneath the guises of more respectable arts, they hoped to avoid the enmities and jealousies of others (Prot. 316d). However, despite these concealing efforts, these sophists could not fool the discerning minds of the powerful men of the city (Prot. 317a), presumably to their own detriment. Noting the failures of these other sophists, Protagoras claims to take a different approach in protecting himself against the antipathy of others. As he puts it, “The road I have taken is one entirely opposite to [these other sophists]: I admit that I am a sophist and that I educate men; and I consider this precaution [εὐλάβειαν], of admitting rather than denying, the better of the two” (Prot. 317b). In other words, while other sophists have made a habit of concealing (παραπετάσμασιν) their true arts from those who would persecute them (Prot. 316e), Protagoras has brought his art into the open for all to see.
112 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates It thus appears as though Protagoras, in stark contrast to these other sophists, bears a relation to the open and a preference for openness. Indeed, even the name “Protagoras”—meaning one who holds a place of prominence in the open of the agora—seems to suggest such openness. Seemingly in support of such openness, Protagoras will soon eagerly make a showing (ὲνδείξασθαι) of his sophistic art to all those present (Prot. 316a)—and, as Socrates suspects, precisely in order to make the other sophists present jealous.15 It is important to note, however, that this openness is still a kind of precaution (εὐλάβειαν) against the ill will and hostilities that tend to be brought against the sophistic art. It is not so much that Protagoras, contrary to the many other sophists, brings his art into the openness of unconcealment: rather, it is that Protagoras hides his true art in the open, hides it behind his apparent honesty and candor, using such honesty as a cloak behind which to conceal it.16 It is not immaterial to note that Protagoras’s demonstration to come, far from taking place in the open of the agora (as his name might suggest), will rather take place within the artificial concealment of Callias’s home and only to a select group of men, most of whom are already sympathetic toward sophistry. (Furthermore, in the demonstration of his art that follows, what Protagoras will inadvertently show is the manner in which a certain sort of concealment remains at the very heart of his art, despite his efforts to hide in the open.) In other words, despite the appearance of openness, Protagoras’s demonstration will take place within the concealed closedness of Hades, the realm of mere appearances, among the shades and shadows. Protagoras’s demonstration is very much an indoor (ἔνδον) affair. Protagoras then offers a purportedly open and revealing description of his art to Socrates and the rest of those present within the enclosure of Callias’s home: “If you associate with me, on the day you do get together with me, [you will] go home in a better state; and the same holds for the next day as well. In fact, every day you will continually take steps toward improvement” (Prot. 318a). However, as Socrates is quick to point out to Protagoras, this description is little more than a vacuous tautology: for it is nothing remarkable to say that, by going to Protagoras for instruction, the one who did so would thereby become instructed (Prot. 318b).17 Thus, despite claiming to speak openly about his art, its true character still remains concealed.18 After Socrates makes this clear to Protagoras, the old sophist gives his description greater specificity, ultimately claiming (on Socrates’s reformulation) to teach the “political art” (τὴν πολιτικὴν τέχνην) and to make men good citizens (Prot. 319a). One recalls that, in the Gorgias, Socrates maintains that he himself is the only practitioner of the “true political art” (ἀληθῶς πολιτικῇ τέχνῃ) (Gorg. 521d). As was shown in chapter 2, this art consists of nothing other than a deferential gesture of self-erasure whereby Socrates rids himself of his claims to wisdom, thereby making a space (χώρα) within himself by which he can receive the truth. As was further suggested, this deferential gesture, which is made out of a place of
Ignorance | 113 radical powerlessness in the face of λόγος, is nothing other than Socratic ignorance properly understood. Given all of this, one may only look with suspicion at Protagoras’s claim that he teaches the political art (τὴν πολιτικὴν τέχνην). For, how could Protagoras teach the art that only Socrates, of all living Athenians, possesses? And how could Protagoras—or, indeed, anyone—“teach” ignorance? It is no doubt partly for these reasons that Socrates immediately questions Protagoras’s claim to be able to teach the political art (Prot. 319a–b), an art now simply called by Socrates “virtue” (ἀρετή) (Prot. 320b). Indeed, beyond simply doubting that Protagoras himself can teach virtue, Socrates goes so far as to doubt whether virtue can be taught at all (ibid.). For Socrates to suggest here that virtue cannot be taught is to suggest, with typical Socratic subtlety, what he will later reveal explicitly: that for everybody present (and especially for Protagoras) the precise character of virtue remains concealed. What is capable of being taught is what is capable of being brought into the open before the eyes and minds of those who would learn it. What cannot be taught is that the nature of which remains, to all prying eyes, concealed. It is precisely in an effort to expose Protagoras’s ignorance about the true nature of virtue that Socrates asks him to give a demonstration that it can be taught. In his attempt to demonstrate this, Protagoras offers a μῦθος regarding Prometheus, Epimetheus, and the formation of the human race and its acquisition of the technical arts. By offering a μῦθος, Protagoras immediately belies in deed his previous claim that he, unlike other sophists, operates in the open: for, in offering a μῦθος, Protagoras employs a concealed mode of discourse, a mode that seeks to make certain truths manifest to the initiated through the murky language of myth and allegory, allusion and intimation.19 More so than demonstrating that virtue can be taught, Protagoras’s μῦθος demonstrates his predilection for evasion, for muddying the waters in the name of making them clear. Precisely for the sake of demonstrating his fitness with λόγος, Protagoras obfuscates rather than clarifies the true nature of virtue and the political art. Moreover, Protagoras’s μῦθος, if it demonstrates anything, demonstrates that virtue is not taught but rather belongs to all people equally by nature—or, more precisely, by divine gift.20 As Protagoras explains, the human race, possessing only the technical arts of Hephaestus but lacking the political art, soon brought itself to the point of dissolution and collapse (Prot. 322c). Zeus, fearing for the survival of the human race, commissioned Hermes to ferry the political art down to them and to distribute it equally among them (Prot. 322d). Thus, this μῦθος, though told immediately after Socrates’s request for a demonstration regarding the teachability of virtue (Prot. 320b), in fact speaks in favor of the inherent presence of virtue within the human being and thus its nonteachability.21 In this register, it is worth noting that it was Hermes, at Zeus’s behest, who brought virtue to human beings. As noted above, it is Socrates himself, in
114 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates ferrying Hippocrates to Callias’s house—that is, to the house of Hades—who plays the part of Hermes in the Protagoras. Given what was said immediately above regarding Socrates’s claim in the Gorgias to be the sole practitioner of the political art, one wonders if Protagoras’s μῦθος, despite his own intentions, hints at the manner in which the acquisition of virtue has less to do with teaching in any traditional sense and more to do with the cultivation of the sort of character possessed by Hermes/Socrates: that is, the cultivation of a vacancy or poverty within oneself whereby one becomes capable of receiving the gifts from the gods. (We shall return to this impoverished vacancy below.) In other words, given that it is Hermes who brings virtue to human beings, and in such a way that all of them in possessing it have no need of a teacher in any traditional sense, perhaps Protagoras’s myth, somewhat despite itself, suggests the manner in which virtue comes about through an interaction with Socrates, that one who only knows that he knows nothing, who knows therefore that the truth is concealed. Ostensibly in order to continue to demonstrate his prowess in speaking in multiple modes, but also presumably to account for certain deficiencies in his μῦθος, Protagoras comes to supplement this μῦθος with a proper λόγος, an argument meant to address the question of why parents do not seem able to teach virtue to their children (Prot. 324d). One might expect this λόγος to make clear all that remained concealed in the preceding μῦθος. Yet, as Socrates points out, there is still much that remains concealed about Protagoras’s speech even after he gives his proper λόγος: “Having made a display of this sort and length, Protagoras brought his speech to a close. I was bewitched and was still looking over at him for a long time because I thought he was going to say something else which I wanted to hear” (Prot. 328d). Something has remained hidden in Protagoras’s account, both in its mythological and logical forms, which Socrates longs to hear. As Socrates will soon make clear, what remains concealed is the true nature of the virtues and whether they are disparate or unified in some way (Prot. 329c). In other words, in addressing himself to the question of whether virtue can be taught, Protagoras has left the true nature and character of virtue itself utterly hidden, failing therefore to teach anybody anything. What precisely virtue is remains concealed. Before voicing this specific complaint against Protagoras, Socrates gives an account of the essential manner in which Protagoras’s way of speaking does more to conceal than it does to reveal: If someone should get together with any one of the popular speakers concerning these very matters, he would perhaps hear speeches of just this sort [as Protagoras had just offered]. . . . But if he should ask one of them something beyond that, then, like books, they have nothing to say in reply or to offer as a question themselves. If, however, someone asks them even something small concerning what they’ve said, then like struck bronze that rings for a long
Ignorance | 115 time . . . , so also the orators, though they’ve been asked about small points, stretch out their speech to a very great length. (Prot. 328e–29b)
One would think that, in speaking at length, one would reveal more about the issue under consideration, that one would, by virtue of saying more, bring more into the open. Yet, as Socrates has vividly suggested, it is precisely through presenting his long speeches that Protagoras covers over the questions and comments of others, as a ringing bell covers over any other noise. Further, though he seems to reveal much through his long speeches, there is always more beneath the surface that remains concealed due to his disinclination to allow questions and to respond to them concisely or to ask questions (of) himself. Protagoras’s very way of speaking—his way of carrying on, at length, rather than speaking in short dialogical exchanges—conceals rather than reveals. By contrast, Socrates claims that speaking ought to be conducted conversationally so that what remains concealed within a speech can be brought out into the open through a process of questioning (Prot. 329b, 335a). Socrates thus soon requests that Protagoras proceed in a more dialogical way, a more Socratic way, of intellectual exchange (Prot. 329b) in order to make the nature of virtue manifest. For a time, this is indeed precisely what occurs: and it is through an extended section of Socratic questioning that the topic of the unity of the virtues is first broached explicitly (Prot. 329c). However, Protagoras quickly becomes annoyed with this procedure (see Prot. 332a, 333e), for it is through it that Socrates refutes Protagoras’s claim that the virtues are disparate with distinct powers (δύναμιν), like the features on a face. Soon Protagoras becomes weary with this mode of inquiry—a mode that is quickly revealing to all present that he does not know what he claimed to know (namely, what virtue is)—and is loath to continue the discussion. It is at this point that Socrates threatens to leave the get-together unless Protagoras agrees to proceed dialogically: “But when you want to converse [διαλέγεσθαι] in a way that I’m capable of keeping up with, then I’ll converse with you [σοι διαλέξομαι]. For even you yourself assert, as is said about you, that you’re able to conduct get-togethers with both long and short speeches—for you are wise [σοφὸς γὰρ εἶ]. But I’m incapable [ἀδύνατος] of these long ones, though I would like to be so able. You who are capable of both ought to have yielded to us [ἀλλὰ σὲ ἐχρῆν ἡμῖν συγχωρεῖν], so that the get-together might have come to pass [ἵνα ἡ συνουσία ἐγίγνετο]” (Prot. 335b–c; my emphasis). Whereas Protagoras has the power (δύναμις) for both ways of speaking, Socrates lacks the power of making long speeches. Socrates seems, then, to admit a weakness in the face of his adversary to all those in attendance.22 Yet this weakness—this inability (ἀδύνατος) to make long speeches—is precisely Socrates’s power: for it is by lacking the power of making long speeches that Socrates opens the space wherein a
116 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates dialogue can occur, a space, therefore, in which both Protagoras and Socrates could stand together in common and allow an unfolding of a λόγος regarding the truth of virtue to occur. It is only through this lack that the get-together might come to pass (ἐγίγνετο) (Prot. 335c), a lack, therefore, to be understood as causal. Despite claiming to have the power to dialogue, Protagoras, owing to his inclination toward longer monological speeches, fails to give himself over to this weaker way of speaking, failing therefore to make a space within himself wherein the truth might come to pass. This failure on Protagoras’s part must be understood as a kind of injustice. Socrates has said that Protagoras, in having the δύναμις to engage in both types of speaking, ought (ἐχρῆν) to have yielded to the weaker Socrates. In other words, despite having the power to dominate the get-together by means of monological and thus unidirectional discourse, Protagoras ought to have made way (συγχωρεῖν) for Socrates, openning a space (χώρα) within himself in which Socrates’s λόγος could come to pass. Protagoras’s failure to make such a space indicates the violation of this obligation. The unjust character of this violation becomes clear in the dramatic scene that follows. The host of the get-together, Callias, first suggests that it is just (δίκαια) that Protagoras speak in whichever way he desires and that Socrates do the same. However, Alcibiades quickly speaks up in support of Socrates’s position, claiming that an exchange of question and answer would be more equitable (ἐπιεικέστερα).23 This dramatic exchange indicates that there is a certain injustice and inequality to Protagoras’s mode of speaking, an injustice that no doubt follows on such a mode’s utter exclusion and neglect of any other speaker.24 For Socrates, justice is precisely a matter of making way for the other, for making a space for the position of the other and standing alongside that person in that space.25 Protagoras’s inability to make way for Socrates (i.e., to truly dialogue with him) is thus a matter of injustice so understood. Furthermore, this injustice is intimately related to Protagoras’s wisdom: for, according to Socrates, it is precisely because he is wise (σοφὸς γὰρ εἶ)—or, at least, because he thinks of himself as such—that Protagoras is disinclined toward engaging in dialogue (Prot. 335c). It is owing to his wisdom that Protagoras is inclined toward speaking at length and without dialogical interruption, that he is (therefore) inclined toward acting unjustly in this way. Simply put, it is because Protagoras believes himself to be full, when in fact he is empty, that he fails to enter into a search for wisdom along with Socrates, a failure that presents itself in these pages as a kind of injustice. One sees, then, a certain intimacy between justice and wisdom. More precisely, one see an intimacy between injustice and wisdom, the kind of dialogical injustice that comes about when one believes oneself to be too wise to ask or answer questions or to listen to what the other has to say. By contrast, to speak
Ignorance | 117 as Socrates speaks—to make way for the other in a weak, yielding gesture—is born out of a state of not being wise, a state of epistemological poverty or πενία, a place, therefore, of emptiness and ignorance.26 Socrates asks questions, making way for the other in speech, precisely because he does not know the truth about which he questions (see Prot. 360e). There is thus an intimacy here between Socratic ignorance and justice: indeed, justice is nothing other than making way for the other, receiving the other through an anachoratic gesture by giving them a reception—a reception that, when seen in relation to the power of sophistry, shows itself as a weakness. Yet Socratic ignorance is nothing other than a certain kind of wisdom: namely, properly human wisdom. As Socrates claims in the Apology, the sort of wisdom he possesses consists of knowledge only of his ignorance, a wisdom to be compared with just the sort of superhuman wisdom (μείζω τινὰ ἢ κατ᾿ ἄνθρωπον σοφίαν) that certain sophists (such as Evenus) claim to possess (Ap. 20e). This human wisdom—a wisdom that Socrates cultivates by measuring himself against the λόγος offered by Apollo, a λόγος therefore outside of and beyond himself— consists only of his knowledge that “in truth he is worth nothing with respect to wisdom” (Ap. 23b). In the Protagoras, it is precisely this type of properly human wisdom that is dramatically aligned with justice. By knowing that one knows nothing, one justly retreats in the face of the other, effacing oneself and making a space in which a dialogue can occur. By confidently claiming to be wise in a more traditional sense—by claiming to know, for example, what virtue is and how to teach it—one unjustly cuts the other off (and, indeed, oneself) from inquiry and dialogue. Phrased otherwise, justice consists of nothing other than the anachoratic gesture that has come to light through the preceding chapters. In the text that follows, Protagoras’s injustice proves overwhelming: for much of the text that remains consists of long speeches offered by both Protagoras and Socrates, the latter of whom seems to emulate Protagoras’s style precisely in order to, as Grube (1933, 203) puts it, “outsophisticate the sophists” and beat Protagoras at his own game. After long speeches regarding the nature of the virtues, as well as their sojourn into literary exegesis, Socrates attempts once more to draw the sophist away from prolonged speeches and into a more conversational exchange, even offering Protagoras the courtesy of asking the questions (Prot. 348a). However, Protagoras is unresponsive and keeps which mode of inquiry he prefers concealed (οὐδὲν ἀπεσάφει) (Prot. 348b).27 Through these pages, Socrates tries to bring virtue to Protagoras: not, however, to teach it to him, if teaching means the transference of information from one to another (i.e., the filling of an empty cup from out of a full one). Rather, Socrates, through modeling dialogical discourse, attempts to give to Protagoras a taking, thereby taking from him his false claims to wisdom and thus emptying out his soul so as to make a space in which truth might show itself. However, Protagoras, owing perhaps to
118 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates his concern over his reputation, presently fails to allow himself to be so emptied, and remains stubbornly committed to his preferred manner of discourse. Alcibiades—still, at this point, very much ordered by his associations with Socrates—jumps in on Socrates’s behalf, berating Protagoras for being “unwilling to make an account or to make clear [μὴ διασαφεῖν] that he won’t” (Prot. 348b). As a result of Alcibiades’s comment, Protagoras feels ashamed (αἰσχυνθείς) (Prot. 348c), thus revealing a certain truth about himself: namely, that he holds, somewhere deep inside, a recognition of the troubling character of his own art and his accompanying unwillingness to bring its true form into the open. Here, in the concealed recesses of Callias’s home, in front of all those present, Protagoras feels shame about his insistence on keeping certain aspects of his art concealed. If only the sun shone in Hades, one suspects that one would see Protagoras blushing. From out of this state of shame, Protagoras brings himself with difficulty to continue the conversation in a more Socratic mode (Prot. 348c), offering himself up to Socrates’s questioning. In the face of Protagoras’s shame, Socrates reassures him that he himself is only interested in continuing the dialogue (διαλέγεσθαί) for the sake of examining the perplexities (ἀπορῶ) into which they have fallen (ibid.). With this comment, Socrates both makes it clear that he is not interested in “besting” Protagoras in any way by “winning” the argument and that he himself, mired as he is in ἀπορία regarding these issues, lacks satisfactory knowledge concerning it. In other words, in the wake of Protagoras’s shame, Socrates emphasizes his own ignorance concerning the matters under consideration and underscores his lack of any desire to overpower or master Protagoras. To emphasize this latter point, Socrates quotes a passage from Homer’s Iliad, where Diomedes says to Nestor, “When two go together, one observes before the other” (Il. 10.224), thus suggesting to Protagoras that they proceed forward not as enemies but as comrades (Prot. 348d). As in the Gorgias, Socrates has no interest here in winning the argument in any traditional sense but rather in proceeding together in such a way as to allow the truth to show itself.28 In this vein, Socrates convinces Protagoras to proceed in a dialogical mode, and the two return to a focused inquiry into the nature of virtue. During the dialogical exchange that follows, matters get so twisted that Socrates and Protagoras switch positions, each arguing for a position they previously disputed: for whereas Socrates had begun by claiming that virtue is not teachable, he ends by arguing that it is, while Protagoras, who began by claiming that virtue is teachable, ends by claiming it is not. Although this switching of positions is comedic in tone, it in fact constitutes one of the most significant moments of the text. In openly switching positions—in first suggesting that virtue cannot be taught (Prot. 320b) only to then later claim that virtue is knowledge (Prot. 361b)—Socrates demonstrates the sort of epistemological openness to the λόγος that characterizes his philosophical way.29 Moreover, in bringing Protagoras to switch his positions, Socrates has
Ignorance | 119 taught Protagoras such openness: not, however, by filling him with information or knowledge but rather by wandering with him through the preceding λόγοι in such a way as to take from him his preconceptions and false wisdom—and, ultimately, his arrogant self-assurance—regarding the matter at hand.30 In other words, Socrates, through the preceding arguments, has given Protagoras a taking and has thus brought him to a place where he, in switching positions, now knows that he does not know what he thought he knew. Phrased otherwise, Socrates has brought Protagoras to a place where the concealed nature of the topic at hand— virtue—has been brought into the open and where Protagoras can become aware of his own πενία regarding the issue. Simply stated: Socrates has “taught” Protagoras ignorance. In the face of their vacillations and confusions, Socrates offers the following decisive passage: “So I . . . seeing all of these things in such terrible confusion am altogether eager [προθυμίαν] that they become clear, and I’d like, once we’ve thoroughly gone through these things, to go through also the matter of what virtue is [τὴν ἀρετὴν ὅτι ἔστιν] and investigate once again whether it is something teachable. . . . And should you be willing, then, as I was saying at the beginning, I would very gladly [ἥδιστα] make a thorough investigation of these things together with you” (Prot. 361c–d). In the wake of the day’s long conversation and its inability to bear fruit, Socrates shows himself to be still eager for inquiry. Further, Socrates shows himself to be aware of his ignorance, to see that all is in confusion and to recognize the need for further investigation. This eagerness in the face of ἀπορία is to be understood as a kind of courage.31 Despite the terrible (δεινῶς) confusion of the state of affairs, Socrates nonetheless has courage to continue the inquiry, even at the risk of postponing the appointment (Prot. 361cff.) for which he is already late. We see here, then, an aligning of courage and ignorance: for courage is precisely that drive toward calling everything into question in such a way as to bring oneself to the place of ἀπορία, to that place where one admits that the truth of a matter still remains concealed. Socrates, as always, shows himself as courageous in precisely this way.32 Protagoras, on the other hand, shows himself eager to abandon the inquiry, despite his current state of confusion; and although he ends by lauding Socrates’s eagerness for inquiry, he himself lacks the courage to continue (Prot. 361dff.). The dialogue ends with Socrates running off to meet the unnamed auditor to whom he tells this story. The weaving together of ignorance/courage with which the dialogue ends is just one of several braids that occurred throughout the Protagoras. We also saw a certain weaving together of ignorance and moderation: for it was through becoming aware of his ignorance about the true character of sophistry that Hippocrates moderated his desire to meet Protagoras. We saw, too, a weaving together of ignorance and justice, where ignorance is understood as the peculiarly human wisdom of which Socrates speaks in the Apology. We see, then, that these three
120 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates virtues—moderation, justice, and courage—are sown together, as it were, by ignorance: more precisely, they are held together by that peculiarly human wisdom that knows only that it knows nothing. The question of the unity of the virtues with which the Protagoras is manifestly concerned thus finds its resolution not in the wisdom characteristic of the sophist but rather in the ignorance characteristic of Socrates, where such ignorance must be understood as the fundamental operation of Socrates’s anachoratic way.33 Through the character of Protagoras we are given an unjust orator whose hubris leads him to claim to be wise (and capable of teaching others) but who lacks the courage to continue conversing in the face of the demonstrated fact that the truth remains concealed from him. These vices are rooted in Protagoras’s presumed wisdom: for it is precisely because he believes himself to be wise that he sees no point in having a just, conversational exchange nor sees any reason to continue the discussion once it has led to perplexity. Through Socrates, on the other hand, we are given a moderate (and moderating) soul who yields to the other in just and equitable conversation and who displays the courage necessary to continue the inquiry even when the truth remains stubbornly concealed. It is Socrates’s posture of ignorance that holds these virtues together: or, in other words, each of these virtues is merely a modification or manifestation of Socrates’s anachoratic way. Socratic ignorance is the source—the whence (πόθεν)—from out of which the virtues appear, the concealment out of which they arise. This would be no less true for piety, the other virtue mentioned by Socrates: for one always already finds piety alongside Socratic ignorance. Indeed, one can hardly conceive of Socrates’s ignorance without its connections to the god Apollo and his giving of Socrates to Athens, a giving whereby Socrates—who alone knows that he knows nothing—gives to others a taking. Human wisdom only is human wisdom because it is measured against a greater-than-human wisdom, the wisdom characteristic of the gods.34 There is thus always, for Socrates, a pious element to his posture of questioning, where such piety must be understood as a gesture of deference and concomitant self-erasure in the face of the λόγος of the gods. Thus, piety, no less than the other virtues, finds its ground in Socratic ignorance. In light of all this, one sees that the principle difference between Socrates and Protagoras and their respective relations to wisdom (and ignorance) amounts to a difference in comportment to concealment. Whereas Protagoras is ultimately unwilling to acknowledge his ignorance—to acknowledge, therefore, that the truth of the unity of the virtues remains concealed—Socrates, as always, is quick to reveal his ignorance and to insist on the concealed nature of this truth. Thus, whereas Protagoras keeps his ignorance concealed—that is, keeps the concealed nature of the truth concealed, thereby keeping concealment concealed—Socrates brings this concealment into the open. Socratic ignorance, in this case, is the openness to the fact that the true nature of virtue remains concealed and requires
Ignorance | 121 further investigation: and this openness to concealment is nothing other than virtue properly understood. In other words, precisely in admitting that he does not possess wisdom regarding virtue and therefore embarking on a dialogue in pursuit of it, Socrates demonstrates virtue in its various aspects. Sophistical “wisdom,” for its part, has shown itself to be lacking in virtue precisely because of its false claims to wisdom and accompanying refusal to accept the concealed nature of the truth. By contrast, Socratic wisdom—which is to say, Socratic ignorance—has shown itself to be virtuous precisely because it brings the human being’s relation to concealment into the open. What is at stake throughout the Protagoras, then, is a correct comportment toward concealment, the sort of openness to it characteristic of the Socratic position. This openness to concealment—the bringing of concealment into the light of day, without thereby robbing it of its concealing character—is the sort of concealment peculiar to Socrates: his weak-strength, his yielding gesture through which a relation to the virtues can come to pass. The anachoratic way of Socrates, in its openness to the concealment that serves as its essential ground, is a way of ἀρετή (virtue). If there is an agon in the Protagoras, then, it is not a battle between two wise men over who has the most wisdom and the greatest claim, therefore, to the souls of the young. Rather, if there an agon, it is between wisdom, on the one hand, and Socratic ignorance on the other; it is between those who would claim power and mastery over a matter and who would therefore cut themselves off from learning about it from the λόγος of another and those who would insist about their inferiority and subservience before a matter and who would therefore be in a position to receive a λόγος about it. On the one hand, there is the wise Protagoras, who believes himself to have overcome all ignorance by moving into the possession of wisdom; on the other hand, there is the impoverished Socrates, who knows only that he knows nothing, who knows that the true nature of things remains concealed to him, and who, through an anachoratic gesture away from harboring false opinions, makes way for the truth to come to pass. With Protagoras, one finds the person who, precisely because he thinks that he has left the house of Hades—that is, who thinks that he has found true wisdom—remains all the more firmly embedded therein. With Socrates, by contrast, one finds that person who, precisely because he knows that we never leave the concealments of Hades entirely, is able to open a space within himself wherein the truth might be received. It is only Socrates who leaves at the end of the text, thereby undertaking an ἀνάβασις back to the lighted region beyond the house; Protagoras, for his part, remains in Callias’s house, the house of Hades, immersed in the world of mere appearances, where only man—and not a higher λόγος—“is the measure of all things.”35 However, one must not forget that Socrates, immediately following this ἀνάβασις, reinitiates a κατάβασις in λόγος as he tells the story of his trip to the
122 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates house of Hades to his unnamed friend: a story told from out of the seat of the slave, the seat of poverty, the seat of the one who has (and is) nothing, the seat of the one who defers and submits to a higher measure.
Notes 1. As scholars have noted, the opening question indicates that Socrates is late, as well as a certain impatience on the part of the unnamed speaker. See Denyer (2008, 65). 2. For an interesting interpretation of the “whence” with which the dialogue begins, see Long (2011, 362). 3. See Coby (1982, 141). 4. See Segvic (2006, 28). See also Landy (1994, 302). 5. It is owing to his purported wisdom, and not his physical appearance, that Socrates calls Protagoras beautiful (Prot. 309c). 6. On the matter of indebtedness, see chapter 4. 7. See Prot. 310a: “During this night just past [νυκτὸς ταυτησί]. . . .” 8. See Landy (1994, 303). 9. The passage makes this clear: “He spoke, blushing—for dawn had just broken, so that he became distinctly visible [καὶ ὃς εἶπεν ἐρυθριάσας—ἤδη γὰρ ὑπέφαινέν τι ἡμέρας, ὥστε καταφανῆ αὐτον γενέσθαι]” (Prot. 312a). 10. Compare Gonzalez (2000, 114), who argues that it is Socrates’s eros that is emphasized in this opening scene. It seems to me that we are not so much given a display of Socratic eros in this opening scene as we are a moderating of Hippocrates’s eros and zealousness. 11. On the comedy of the agon, see Arieti and Barrus (2010, 10–11). 12. During his conversation with Hippocrates, Socrates insists that he must be careful that Protagoras himself is not ignorant (ἀγνοοῖεν) of the true nature of his wares and whether they are good or bad for the soul (Prot. 313d). The dialogue as a whole will prove that Protagoras is ignorant of this—indeed, that he is ignorant of his ignorance—despite claiming to know and further claiming to present it without artifice. 13. See Segvic (2006, 257). 14. The mentioning of Orpheus calls to mind his mythologized κατάβασις down into Hades in an effort to retrieve his wife, Eurydice. 15. See Hemmenway (1996, 4–5), who claims that Protagoras wants to display his art in order to gain more customers. 16. See Bartlett (2005, 71): “Protagoras’s openness is only a partial openness and it too is motivated by the need for self-protection. . . .” See also Hemmenway (1996, 4) and Miller (1978, 27). 17. See Bartlett (2004, 71): “As the results of Socrates’ cross-examination of Hippocrates already suggests, Protagoras is frank about the fact that he teaches but not about what he teaches.” 18. See Weiss (2006, 135), who notes Protagoras’s evasiveness. 19. See Gonzalez (2000, 118). 20. See Weiss (2006, 138): “One telling irony of the speech is that it assures a young man who has no desire to be a technician of sophistry (312b3), someone who wishes to learn from
Ignorance | 123 Protagoras only for his own edification (epi paideiâi—312b3–4), as a layman would (hôs ton idiôtên . . . prepei—312b4), that he is already, by virtue of the ongoing ubiquitous instruction in virtue to which he is subject daily, a craftsman in the very virtue that Protagoras teaches (327c7).” See also Landy (1994, 293). 21. Weiss 2006, 139. 22. Alcibiades insists that Socrates is speaking disingenuously. I am suggesting that Alcibiades fails to understand the true power (δύναμις) of Socrates’s weakness. 23. See 309b, where Socrates tells the unnamed auditor that Alcibiades aided him and came to his defense. 24. See Gonzalez (2000, 120–21). 25. Ibid., 124, 126. 26. See, for example, Prot. 348c, where Socrates insists that his desire to speak with Protagoras is born of perplexity. 27. Literally: “not clear.” 28. See chapter 2. 29. See Landy (1994, 306), who notes Socrates’s almost excessive love for speeches. 30. See Protagoras’s shame at 348c. 31. See Gonzalez (2000, 133). 32. On Socratic courage, see Ewegen (2013). 33. Gonzalez (2000, 133) makes a similar argument, though he claims that the virtues find their unity in “the community of dialectical inquiry,” which Socrates, throughout the course of the Protagoras, is seen to push for. I am suggesting here that Socratic ignorance is a more primordial state from out of which the virtues arise: for Socrates’s eagerness for dialectical inquiry is grounded precisely in his ignorance. 34. Ibid., 133. 35. The text does not tell us whether Hippocrates leaves with Socrates or stays to learn from Protagoras.
6 Releasement (λύσις) Republic
Where, then, does the way of the Platonic Socrates lead? What, then, is the
limit to which Socrates’s way takes us—a limit that, precisely in its operation as a limit, serves to demarcate and define the way of Socrates? To what place—to what χώρα—are we transported when we follow, to the best of our power, the anachoratic way of the Platonic Socrates? Perhaps to answer these questions—or, at the very least, to begin to broach an answer to them—one might turn to a certain well-known account offered by the Platonic Socrates regarding a certain way, one that is incontestably an ἀνάβασις, though one that bears an essential relation to a κατάβασις. This way, according to Socrates, is arduous, painful, and revelatory, a way that, though it moves from a place of concealment to a place of openness, nonetheless remains essentially and enduringly related to concealment. It is also a way that, at its very limit—that is, at that moment of its fullest consummation—encounters a figure of the utmost withdrawal, indeed, encounters that which, if it “is” anything, is nothing other than a certain withdrawal or retreat away from being, away from the “is,” a retreat made not out of lack or absence into the vacuity of nothingness but rather one made from out of a powerful excess to which being itself owes its very origin. Insofar as this way culminates with the beholding of an operation of withdrawal, one can say that it is a way of withdrawal in the objective sense of the genitive, a way that, to the extent that it finally finds its orientation and definition from this figure of withdrawal, belongs to that withdrawal and derives its character from it. One may also say that, insofar as it is the way of Socrates that attains to this beholding—a way that, as the preceding chapters have shown, is preeminently a way of retreat and withdrawal—the way that Socrates describes is also a way of withdrawal in the subjective sense of the genitive. A way of withdrawal, then, in a double sense: a way of withdrawal that, precisely owing to that withdrawal, is able to behold the ultimate figure of withdrawal, if only for a moment. Socrates’s way is an anachoratic way that leads to the place, to the χώρα, of radical withdrawal. As is certainly obvious by now, the way in question here is that way described in book 7 of Plato’s Republic, that way set out in the passage that is commonly
Releasement | 125 referred to as “the allegory of the cave.” This is perhaps the most overanalyzed passage of all of Plato’s writings, and any detailed analysis or even summary compendium of the various interpretations of it is utterly impossible here. Equally impossible here is a serviceable interpretation of this passage in light of the Republic as a whole. Instead, a turn to this passage and certain surrounding passages is made here solely for the sake of coming to glimpse something of the way of Socrates precisely by beholding—if only with great difficulty and only for a moment—that figure to which Socrates’s way, at its utmost limit, owes its character: namely, the good beyond being. By glimpsing this good beyond being, and by experiencing something of the manner in which it refuses to be beheld in a sustained and steadfast way, we will in turn glimpse something essential about the way of the Platonic Socrates. * * * In the Republic, Socrates’s way of λόγος—a way that begins as Socrates, out of a certain kind of weakness, yields to Polemarchus’s demand that he stay in Piraeus (Rep. 327cff.)—leads through a conversation regarding the generation of a good city all the way to a discourse regarding the good itself, that idea of all ideas by means of which all other ideas are ideas.1 Or, rather, the way of Socrates leads just up to the edge of the good itself: for just as he is at that moment when a focused and sustained λόγος regarding the good would be appropriate, Socrates retreats in the face of it, insisting on his ignorance of the matter (Rep. 506c): “I’m afraid I won’t be capable [ὅπως μὴ οὐκ οἷός τ᾽ ἔσομαι] to [speak of the good], but would make a fool of myself in my eagerness and pay for it in ridicule” (Rep. 506d).2 Because he lacks this power—because, therefore, of his ignorance and his powerlessness, his ἀδυναμία, with respect to setting out and defining the good itself— Socrates turns toward a discourse regarding the offspring of the good (namely, the sun) (Rep. 507a), again marking his lack of power in the face of the good itself. Glaucon, eager for any discourse that will illuminate the function of the good and its role in the management of the polis, accepts Socrates’s deferral; however, he remarks to Socrates that “some other time you will pay off the balance with a description of the father,” that is, of the good itself (Rep. 506e). It is thus from out of a place ignorance (ἄγνοια), weakness (ἀδυναμία), and indebtedness (ὀφείλεια), and therefore of inferiority, that Socrates will begin—and indeed sustain—his discourse on the offspring of the good. Although Socrates withdraws here away from a λόγος regarding the good, and in such a manner as to note his weakness and indebtedness, his discourse on the offspring of the good nonetheless reveals certain truths about the good itself, truths that, it will be seen, elucidate for us the way of the Platonic Socrates. What is crucial to note is that this revelation of the good itself—though necessarily impartial and incomplete—takes place precisely as a withdrawal, as a retreat in
126 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates the face of something too powerful or difficult. Had Socrates instead insisted on speaking of the good directly (if he even possessed the power to do so), his auditors—and perhaps we ourselves—would be unable to follow (Rep. 533a). Thus, it is only owing to his retreat from such a discourse—a discourse that would require Socrates to stare directly at the good itself, in peril perhaps of incurring some manner of blindness—that Socrates is able to provide a λόγος regarding the good.3 It is only through such a weak retreat that one becomes capable of elucidating what would otherwise remain entirely concealed. Socrates begins his discourse regarding the offspring of the good—a discourse that, insofar as it takes place as a retreat grounded in weakness, by all rights may be considered a second sailing of sorts—by differentiating between beautiful and good things, which are seen but not thought, and the beautiful and the good themselves, which are thought but not seen (Rep. 507b).4 Having thus differentiated sensible things from the selfsame looks of those things, Socrates offers the following statement: “Presumably you are aware that when sight is present in the eyes and the one who has it attempts to use it, and color is present there in things, unless there is also a third kind of thing present, of a nature specifically for this purpose, sight will see nothing and color will be invisible” (Rep. 507d–e; my emphasis). As Socrates goes on to elucidate, it is light to which he is referring, making the simple point that the power of sight and the ability to be seen are “bound together” by the light of the sun (Rep. 508a). The faculty of sight, for its part, derives its power from the sun—that divine body of the heavens (τῶν ἐν οὐρανῷ θεῶν) which Socrates now identifies as the offspring of the good (τὸν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἔκγονον) (Rep. 508b).5 It is just after this identification that Socrates, despite having previously withdrawn from a direct discourse regarding the good, makes the following statement: “The very thing the good itself is in the intelligible realm in relation to insight and the intelligible things, this [i.e., the sun] is in the visible realm in relation to sight and the visible things” (Rep. 508c). Just as, therefore, the sun makes objects visible within its radiant light, so too does the good make things knowable: the good is the bond, the third term, that yokes the intellect and its objects together. As Socrates puts it, “that which endows [παρέχον] the things known with truth, and gives that which knows them its power [δύναμιν], is the look of the good [τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέαν]” (Rep. 508e). This third term, then—which, as a third term, serves as a kind of intermediary—is needed to make knowing possible. The good endows (παρέχω)—it grants, gives, allows, or lets—beings with knowability and human beings with knowing. As Socrates continues, it becomes clear that the good is not only responsible for letting beings shine forth in their truth and endowing human beings with the ability to apprehend that shining, but is also responsible for the very being of those beings. As Socrates puts it, “the things that are known not only
Releasement | 127 get their being-known furnished by the good, but they are also endowed by that source with their very being and their being what they are [καὶ τὸ εἶναί τε καὶ τὴν οὐσίαν]” (Rep. 509b). The good, then, is the very origin of being itself: it is that to which beings owe their being, that to which they owe their ability to shine forth as the beings they are.6 As Heidegger (2015, 148) perspicaciously puts it in Being and Truth (GA 36/37): “The highest idea is the good. Ἀγαθός means for the Greeks what prevails, what stands firm. Being good means to prevail, to stand firm, and thus to take a stand, to provide a place to stand. The essence of the idea corresponds to this: what makes possible that which is and is revealed. The idea as the enabling must be what truly prevails and makes things stand ready. Hence the highest idea is the good.” The good is that to which the standing forth of beings as beings is owed: it is that which enables beings to be the beings that they are, letting them stand on their own as beings. As the origin and enabler of the being of beings, the good must be considered as itself “over and above being [ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας], beyond it in rank and surpassing it in power [δυνάμει]” (Rep. 509b). The good, as over and above (ἐπέκεινα) being, is excessively powerful and is compared by Socrates to a king ruling (βασιλεύειν) over the intelligible realm (Rep. 509d), the realm of true being. The good, then, owing to its rank and power, “is” beyond being, though it itself is the source, the whence, from which beings attain to being. Yet what does it mean “to be” beyond being, “to be” beyond the “to be”?7 This is one of the most confounding moments within the so-called Platonic corpus.8 One of the issues that makes the matter so difficult to address is the fact that λόγος itself—discourse, speaking—retreats in the face of Socrates’s claim: for that which is beyond being is all the more so beyond λόγος, insofar as λόγος is that through (or in) which beings show themselves in their proper being.9 It is no small wonder, then, that one feels at a loss for words, a loss for λόγος, in the face of this claim, for it is a claim that necessitates such loss, indeed, absolutely requires it. Speech cannot help but retreat in the face of the good beyond being. When it comes to the good, one can always say more and never say enough—one is always indebted with respect to the good; one always owes more than what one can give. One suspects that this was the very reason that Socrates himself retreated from a discourse regarding the good itself, turning instead to its (perhaps only slightly) more effable offspring. There have been many attempts within the history of scholarship to elucidate Socrates’s claim here regarding the good; and a full exposition of this remarkable passage, along with a compendium of all of the various attempts to interpret it, would require a book-length treatment of its own.10 For the present purposes, it suffices only to make the following two observations. First of all, one must note in this passage that it is precisely owing to its power (δύναμις)—precisely, that is, owing to the manner in which its power surpasses that of every being or even
128 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates being itself—that the good is beyond being.11 It is owing to this power that it is therefore unable simply to appear, to make itself present, as one being among others or even as being itself. In other words, it is precisely its superabundant power that accounts for the manner by which the good essentially withdraws behind the images (the beings) to which it gives rise, itself being unable to show itself as itself. It is precisely its power, then, that accounts for the good’s withdrawal from our grasp, a power that shows itself as an inability, a lack of power (i.e., the inability to appear as itself). Stated differently, and to draw on the very analogy of which Socrates makes use, the good, like the sun, is too bright to be seen; its excessive radiance is precisely that which places it beyond the realm of what is graspable. In this regard, one remembers the passage from the Phaedo, analyzed in chapter 1, regarding the look of bigness. As Socrates there said, when smallness comes upon something big (Simmias, in his example), either bigness must “flee and retreat [φεύγειν καὶ ὑπεκχωρεῖν] . . . or it must already have perished by the time that smallness came near it” (Phd. 102d–e). Not having the strength (οὐ τετόλμηκεν) to become small, bigness retreats from smallness and into itself, precisely solidifying its selfsame identity through such retreat. One remembers also that passage from the Timaeus where it is said that the looks of things, precisely owing to their selfsameness, are unable on their own to show themselves to human beings, requiring rather some other—namely, a sensible being—in which to show themselves, requiring all the more so the χώρα as a third term by which to be bound to that sensible being. The power of the looks of things—a power that exceeds that of the many sensible things of which, but beyond which, they are the looks—consists in the manner by which they themselves, in themselves, retreat from being sensibly revealed, a power expressly cast by Socrates as a weakness. In light of all this, one wonders: Does the identity of the good beyond being, like those selfsame looks discussed in the Phaedo and the Timaeus, consist of such fleeing (φεύγειν), such retreat (ὑπεκχωρεῖν), such weakness (οὐ τετόλμηκεν)? Insofar as its power surpasses that of any being and even of being itself; insofar, too, that the good is the very source, in some sense of the term, of every other selfsame look—the source, therefore, of the being of every being—one suspects that not only does the identity of the good consist of such retreat, fleeing, and weakness but that it does so to a superlative degree, indeed, to an excessive extent. Phrased otherwise, every characteristic that belongs to the “citizens” of the intelligible realm (i.e., the selfsame looks) belongs all the more so to their king, the good. If this supposition proved to be the case, one could then say that the good, not being able to show itself by itself, retreats excessively behind the images of itself to which it itself gives rise. Fleeing a straightforward revelation of its essence, the good withdraws behind beings to a superlative degree. This withdrawal—this retreat from beings and from being—is precisely how the power
Releasement | 129 of the good manifests itself, a manifestation that, insofar as it consists of withdrawal, is preeminently a concealment. Secondly, and relatedly, it is owing to its excessive withdrawal from being that the good remains largely unknowable. Although Socrates’s withdrawal in the face of the good itself already served to call the knowability of the good into question, Socrates himself (in book 7) states the point explicitly, saying that the good itself, as the last thing to be glimpsed along the ascent beyond the cave, is only “scarcely visible” [μόγις ὁρᾶσθαι] (Rep. 517c). As Sallis (2008, 46) has observed, Socrates’s statement here serves to mark both the difficulty of the process of beholding the good and the manner in which, therefore, the good itself is only barely beheld.12 In other words, owing precisely to its excessive power, the good cannot simply be beheld by human beings but rather withdraws from their noetic vision, even while it gives rise to all other noetic things. As Sallis (2008, 26) puts it, phrasing his observations in an appropriately Socratic (i.e., interrogative) form: “Is it not a matter of granting that this highest idea is such that, in its very advance toward us, it retreats? Must it not be acknowledged that, in its very moment of self-showing, the good withdraws from view?” (my emphasis). In other words and as noted above, the good, precisely in showing itself, conceals itself, showing itself as precisely that which, owing to its superabundant power, must remain concealed. However, as Sallis (2008, 85) has further rightly noted, such retreat is not absolute: for if it were, the good would simply be unknown and unknowable, and there could be no discourse about it at all, direct or indirect, that would in any way bear upon it. Rather, the good is seen in its withdrawal, and we experience something of the good precisely in its retreat from our noetic grasp (ibid., 84)—very much like Socrates at the beginning of the Statesman and the Timaeus is seen to withdrawal from the discourses and in precisely such a way as to make a space for those discourses. As Sallis (2008, 84) writes, marking the withdrawal of the good and casting it in provocative terms: Just as one cannot, except during an eclipse, endure looking at the sun for more than a moment, so, if the analogy is sustained, one could never catch more than a momentary glimpse of the good itself by itself, that is, in its capacity to bestow being and truth upon everything that is. In this case one’s vision would achieve, not an intuition filled with some abiding presence, but rather only an instantaneous opening of the good as it bestows its gift of being, its gift to all beings, its gift of being and truth to all beings. To catch sight of the good in this manner is to gain an intimation of it in its generosity. (my emphasis)
When one comes to know the good, then, what one comes to know is the good’s withdrawal, a withdrawal by which it tenders its operation of generosity. One thereby comes to know that the good, which generously gives (its) images, never
130 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates gives itself, never, therefore, exhausts its giving. One thus comes to know that the good always owes more than it has given, that, despite its generosity—or rather, precisely because of it—the good gives from out of its essential indebtedness, its essential posture of owing, and for precisely this reason remains in excess of any and every discourse. In passing one recalls the indebted Socrates of the Statesman, that teacher who, precisely through his withdrawal, generously gives and gives to the other, though in such a way as to never have given enough. One also recalls the Socrates of the Apology, that gift given to Athens by the god Apollo (Ap. 30d)—the god whose very χώρα is the sun—who gives to his fellow Athenians nothing other than a taking, a given-taking that thus leaves them with nothing and feeling as though they are owed something more. Finally, one recalls the dying and indebted Socrates of the Phaedo, who, because he had given so much to his friends—and thereby taken so much from them—was called by them not good but rather “the best [ἀρίστου], the wisest, and the most just” (Phd. 118a), a series of superlatives marking the extent to which Socrates, through his anachoratic movements, was essentially beyond all other human beings (see Symp. 215aff.) and was thereby the measure of them. * * * Perhaps fearing that his discourse on the offspring of the good has broached the good itself too directly, book 7 begins with a reinscription of the discourse on the offspring of the good, now by way of an image. (In other words, that which would be the very highest point on the so-called divided line is reinscribed in terms of that which is the very lowest.) This reinscription is, for our present purposes, essential: for what becomes clear through these pages is that Socrates himself shares a special affinity to the good—not only, however, because he, as practicing in an exemplary manner the way of withdrawal that has been elucidated in the previous chapters, is especially able to apprehend the good, but also (and indeed preeminently) because he himself shares a basic structural function with the good. It is not just the case, therefore, that the so-called allegory of the cave helps us understand the good (as appears to be Socrates’s intent in offering it): it is also the case that the good, as illuminated through the allegory of the cave, helps us understand the way of the Platonic Socrates. The image begins by describing a cave-like space in which human beings dwell from childhood on, held motionless in place by restraints in such a way as to only be able to see in front of themselves. By means of a certain contrivance whose operations are invisible to them, these human beings are shown the shadows of artifacts cast along the cave wall opposite to them, shadows that these human beings take to be beings themselves, lacking as they do any experience (or measure) to the contrary by which to judge their apprehensions (Rep. 515b). The
Releasement | 131 illusion is so absolute as to be accepted by these human beings, without further ado, as being the truth. Socrates then tells of the release of one of these prisoners: “Then consider . . . what their release [λύσιν] would be like, and their recovery from their restraints and their delusion, if things like that were to happen to them by nature [φύσει]” (Rep. 515c; my emphasis). Socrates goes on to describe the release of one such prisoner, a release that requires that the prisoner stand, turn her head around, and walk toward the light of the fire to whose brightness the shadows are owed. The prisoner is eventually dragged against her will upward along the steep path into the light of the sun outside of the cave, a journey that is exceedingly painful and difficult for the prisoner as she is not accustomed to the lighted region above. The apex of this journey occurs when, having acclimated herself to the brightness of beings beyond the cave, the prisoner would “gain sight of the sun, not its appearance in water or any setting foreign to it, but would have the power [δύναιτ’] to see it itself, by itself, in its own place [χώρᾳ], and contemplate it the way it is” (Rep. 516b; my emphasis). The pinnacle of this upward movement is a beholding of the sun in its χώρα. Thus, beings and finally that which makes them visible (i.e., the sun, which is the offspring of the good) are only finally beheld by the prisoner owing to the fact that someone—presumably the teacher, given the pedagogical context of the allegory—releases her from her bondage to (mere) images and shadows. One suspects, moreover, that it is Socrates himself who is the teacher here and who releases the prisoner from her bondage and helps move her upward toward a vision of the sun, an image of the good.13 And yet everything here depends on how one understands the operation of release (λύσις), of how one understands the process of education by which the prisoner is released from the cave. Everything, too, depends on how one understands teaching, of how in particular one understands the operations of the Socratic teacher, that teacher who, with unparalleled and unceasing stubbornness, insists that he knows nothing, that he is empty, and that the truth never becomes fully unconcealed to him but rather remains forever withdrawn and concealed.14 Given the image as a whole, one must understand the moment of release from the fetters as the inaugural moment toward the prisoner’s being released from her dependence on shadows, that is, on the shadows of beings (mis)understood as those beings themselves: for it is through the movement up and away from the cave that the prisoner comes to see the shadows as shadows, eventually coming to gaze on the beings themselves that dwell in the lighted region above. As is further evident in light of the discussion of the so-called divided line just preceding Socrates’s discourse on the cave, these shadows correlate with nothing other than the opinions and presuppositions about things that the prisoners possess, opinions that, of necessity given their origin, are at some remove from
132 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates the truth (Rep. 509dff.). Being released from the cave, then, brings about a release from one’s bondage to opinions, if not from those opinions themselves. In exiting the cave, one comes to a place (i.e., the lighted region above) where one may let beings show themselves as the beings that they are, finally (after some time) being able to see, if only for a moment, that which lets beings be in the first place. To phrase this more provocatively, one could say that the operation of releasing that takes place within the cave must be understood as the inaugural moment in a process that moves the prisoner to a place of Gelassenheit (releasement), where this term is taken in a Heideggerian sense.15 Gelassenheit, for Heidegger, is a posture of mindfulness reached only through a process of willing oneself toward a will-lessness, of moving toward a comportment whereby one would allow beings to be the beings that they are rather than submitting them to one’s own will to power or will to knowledge.16 As Reiner Schürmann (1973, 101) explains, in Gelassenheit something is set free that was retained within a network of references to things and purposes. A grip is loosened, a contraction of the fingers slackens. Apprehension turns into ease and poise. The eye too is relieved, namely from staring at the same object. Man ceases to possess, and the thing is freed into its own being. It is seen for what it is, not for its usefulness. It is neither handled nor manipulated: no hands wield it, and insofar as utility hides or alters its thing-nature, the object becomes a thing. Its thingness appears. . . . Neither represented nor ready-to-hand, it stands against nothing, it stands on its own.
To bring this into connection with the Republic, one could say that such a posture of releasement (Gelassenheit) brings one to a place where one is no longer guided by one’s opinions and preconceptions but rather lets beings show themselves as they are. Such a place of releasement—that is, of being released from the realm of preconception and opinion—itself releases beings so that they may be the beings that they are. Having been released, the former prisoner may now let beings show themselves as themselves rather than as images.17 Insofar as this releasement consists of the abandoning of one’s false wisdom (i.e., one’s conviction that the images of beings are those beings themselves), it is to be understood as a gesture of poverty, of emptiness, whose very vacuity makes a reception of true being possible. It is only by getting to such an impoverished place—a place characterized by its utter retreat from (mere) opinions—that one can make a space in which the truth may show itself, where beings may show themselves as they are in their truth. So understood, the ἀνάβασις out of the cave would consist of an emptying, a purging, of false opinion. In light of this, one sees that teaching, at least on the part of Socrates, cannot be a matter of simply filling another (i.e., the prisoner) with one’s own opinions or ideas about a matter: for, in this case, the one receiving such “instruction” would
Releasement | 133 in no way be released from opinions and presuppositions but would simply have one set of opinions swapped out for another. Such a pedagogical procedure— if it can even be called such—would in fact strengthen the bonds of imprisonment, insofar as it would be disseminating opinions (i.e., shadows) while passing them off as truths (i.e., true beings). By contrast, the way of Socrates, as a way of releasement, takes the opinions from the prisoner and reveals them to be opinions, thereby revealing that they hardly are at all. Thus, in “teaching” this prisoner, Socrates cannot simply be transferring information or knowledge to her the way that, say, liquid transfers from a full cup into a smaller one by way of a string (see Symp. 175cff.). Rather, through her encounter with Socrates, the prisoner comes to have something taken from her and is indeed given this taking by Socrates. Through such a given-taking, the prisoner is emptied of her false opinions regarding beings and is brought unto a place of releasement where those beings may show themselves unconcealed in their truth. Through her encounter with Socrates, who generously gives this taking, the prisoner comes into greater intimacy with her ignorance and thus with the manner in which her very nature consists of a vacancy, an absence, a lack. But such lack, as we have seen in previous chapters, is the very ground—or rather the abyss—of the sort of receptivity that characterizes the way of the Platonic Socrates.18 Thus, through her encounter with Socrates, the prisoner comes into a place of releasement whereby she becomes, like Socrates, capable of making a space, a χώρα, in which the truth may come to pass.19 One perhaps sees an enactment of such releasing in the telling of the image itself: for through the image regarding the release of the prisoner—a release that moves away from the bondage to images toward the revelation of that of which they are images and ultimately a glimpse of that to which all images and all beings owe their very being—Glaucon himself undergoes that very passage, effectively making the journey along with the prisoner.20 In other words, the allegory regarding the process of education enacts that very process of education on Glaucon, bringing him to a place of releasement, a place where he now has the power to receive a revealing of beings in their truth. Glaucon, through his engagement with Socrates, comes to stand in a place of acknowledged ignorance, a place where he can now turn himself toward beings as such. It is important to observe that Socrates’s “instruction” of Glaucon here—if it can even be called that—proceeds, as is so often the case with Socrates, by way of questions: First of all, do you imagine . . .? (Rep. 515a) And what would they have seen . . .? (Rep. 515b) And what if their prison also had an echo . . .? (Rep. 515b) What do you imagine he would say . . .? (Rep. 515d)
134 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates The allegory unfolds predominantly by way of questions, questions to which Glaucon gives his assent. Furthermore, and appropriately, this interrogative way of proceeding originates from out of Socrates’s ignorance: for as he says just before broaching his discourse on the offspring of the good, Socrates knows nothing about these matters (Rep. 506d); furthermore, just following his telling of the image of the ascent beyond the cave, Socrates claims that “only a god knows whether it happens to be true” (Rep. 517b), thus enacting his characteristic gesture of deference and self-erasure. In emphasizing his ignorance and in demonstrating his ignorance by proceeding in the interrogative mode, Socrates withdraws behind the image that he offers, not taking ownership of it, abandoning it to itself so that it may stand on its own. But this operation that characterizes the way of Socrates here—offering forth an image and withdrawing behind it—is precisely that operation that is said to belong to the good itself.21 Insofar as this is the case, Socrates, as he practices his maieutics, may be said to engage in an activity analogous to that of the good beyond being.22 However, an important difference must be marked between the generative role of the good and the maieutics of Socrates. In the case of the good, it is its own children that are brought about, children who thus owe their being to it, children of the good. The good is thusly the “father” (πατρός) of its images. In the case of Socrates, however, nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely the function of Socrates’s maieutics to distance himself from that which he brings about, to refuse ownership of the offspring that he helps deliver (see Tht. 150c). Whereas the images that the good engenders belong to the good, the ideas that the barren Socrates helps deliver are decidedly not his own, belonging instead to whichever interlocutor in whose labor he has aided. Unlike the good, Socrates is never the father of the ideas he helps birth: he bears no relation to them; they are not his kin; they are not his own. Rather, Socrates, in retreating from offering ideas of his own, makes a space in which the ideas that are not his own may come to pass, a place in which another may himself engender ideas of his own, a kind of receptacle in which another may disseminate his own ideas and thus “father” them there. In making such a space—in being such a χώρα—Socrates’s withdrawal exceeds that of the good beyond being. It is exactly this withdrawal that constitutes the “lesson” of Socrates’s education of Glaucon: for, as the allegory reveals, one’s power to see the good depends on one’s ability to enact a gesture of retreat from opinions, an operation of releasement from the world of δόξα. By withdrawing (in ignorance) behind the image that he offers, Socrates models—as though he were some great paradigm— the movement of withdrawal necessary to free oneself from one’s bondage to the world of mere opinion. Phrased otherwise: Socrates, by modeling his ignorance in the face of a higher truth, serves as a lesson to Glaucon—and to us—that we are, like Socrates, ignorant, though we perhaps think that we know much about
Releasement | 135 the world of shades and shadows. By coming to see ourselves as ignorant—as empty vessels purged of their false opinions—we come to see ourselves as a place, a χώρα, in which true being may show itself in λόγος. Socrates, through his anachoratic movements, releases us into a state of receptivity to true being. Yet it is worth noting that this releasement, while given to us in some manner by Socrates, is already underway within us even before we have encountered him. One sees this intimated in the curious statement made by Socrates at the outset of his λόγος regarding the cave: “Then consider . . . what their release would be like, and their recovery from their restraints and their delusion, if things like that were to happen to them by nature [φύσει]” (Rep. 515c; my emphasis). It is immediately following this statement that Socrates describes the release of the prisoner by another—by, as we have presumed, the Socratic “teacher” himself. Yet how can the release and subsequent ascent be brought about both by a human intermediary—that is, Socrates—and by nature (φύσις)? Moreover, what would it mean to be released by nature, especially when it is precisely by nature—or, at the very least, by birth—that one finds oneself bound in the first place? Regarding this peculiarity, Sallis (2008, 36), in an extended meditation on the good beyond being, offers the following: What would have happened to the prisoner merely by nature would not, it seems, have sufficed to produce the release and the turning away from nature. Rather, for such healing and education the teacher is needed. Nature, it seems, can only have produced in the prisoner a certain receptiveness to the teacher, a receptiveness that nonetheless does not lack resistance. This receptiveness would lie in a certain intimation of a “beyond.” However ambivalent, the prisoner would, from within nature, have gained a certain directedness beyond nature. Within the prisoner the eruption of a certain monstrosity would have made him receptive—even though still resistant—to the Socratic teacher. (My emphasis)
Given that the way of Socrates itself is characterized by a gesture of receptivity (grounded in withdrawal), one could further say that the receptivity of the student would be nothing other than an inclination, present within them by nature, to rid themselves of the opinions they carry within them, again by nature. Thus, the receptivity to the teacher of which Sallis writes, if that teacher were Socrates, would be nothing other than a receptivity to receptivity, an openness to that which opens the space in which the λόγος can come to pass. Insofar as this inclination is present by nature within the prisoner, the prisoner could be said already to be at the precipice of the way of Socrates even before coming into contact with him. Phrased more generally: while living among shadows, as we always already are, we would also always already be on our way toward releasement, toward an anachoratic openness to true being. Such an inclination would belong to our every nature, alongside our inclinations to the contrary.
136 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Even without knowing it, then—even while bound to mere opinions with the most adamantine fetters—we would always already be on the way of the Platonic Socrates. Socrates himself, through his anachoratic way, through his giventaking, would only help us recollect this way—a recollection that releases us to what we already most essentially are.23 In other words, Socrates, operating as a kind of supplement, would help us become the ownmost selves that we always already are. The way of the Platonic Socrates, up and out of the cave toward the unconcealment of beings, would be a journey of self-knowledge. And yet coming to know oneself would consist of coming to know that one’s self “is” nothing other than a void, a vacancy, a nothingness wherein the truth of beings can show itself. Like Socrates, one would come to know oneself by coming to know that one knows nothing—that one is an empty space, an open χώρα, ready, in its weakness, to receive. * * * The prisoner, having followed the way of the Platonic Socrates, is now released: she stands beneath the sun, her eyes finally acclimated to the lighted region above. She stands beneath the sun just as Socrates, in the Apology, stands beneath Apollo, that god whose very province and manner of self-showing is the sun. To stand like Socrates beneath Apollo is to stand resolute in one’s ignorance, to know only that one knows nothing, to know that, therefore, one is an empty vessel, an open χώρα, a space therefore capable, in its poverty, of receiving the truth. From out of this place of ignorance—of empty openness, of withdrawal and retreat, of released releasement—the prisoner, looking up at the sun as it retreats behind itself, speaks: not, however, with the bold assuredness of an assertion but rather with the timid and wonderful uncertainty of a question.
Notes 1. See Friedländer (1969, 63); Hitchcock (1985, 73); Rosen (2005, 262, 267). 2. See Friedländer (1969, 63). 3. On the risk of blindness, see Sallis (2008, 45). 4. Ibid., 82–83. 5. As Rosen (2005, 259) notes, the mention of the divinity of the sun serves here to invoke the god Apollo. 6. As Rosen (2005, 262) puts it, “the Good is a necessary condition for the being of Ideas, but a condition that always obtains.” 7. Curiously, Friedländer (1969, 77) suggests that the claim that the good is “beyond being” does not in fact place the good beyond “the chain of being” but rather places it “so far above everything else that paradoxically it may be called beyond being.” 8. See Rosen (2005, 262): “We are here facing one of those points in Plato that are too cryptic to be amenable to an entirely satisfactory explanation.”
Releasement | 137 9. See Friedländer (1969, 63): “On the one hand, the Logoi, and only the Logoi, are the keys to the world of being . . . ; on the other hand, above this world of being towers that which is beyond everything and, therefore, cannot be grasped even by the Logoi.” See also Brann (2004, 97). 10. See, just for example, Demos (1937, 262). See also Heidegger (2015, 153), who writes: “This means that if we ask about the good as we would ask about a good thing, then we will not find it, we will always run up against the nothing. The good can never be found at all among beings or Being. It requires that we ask in a different way.” 11. See Heidegger (2015, 153), who goes so far as to identify the good with power itself: “With respect to worth and δύναμις and power, the good is superior to everything else; the good is itself also power, the power of empowering. . . . The good is the most powerful, which deploys itself and stands fast before everything else and for everything else.” 12. See also Kirkland (2012, 165–66). 13. The text seems to make this connection clear when Socrates mentions the mortal risk belonging to anyone who releases others (Rep. 517a), thus seemingly prefiguring his own eventual demise. See Friedländer (1969, 68). 14. See Rep. 506c. 15. See Heidegger (1998, 166–67). See also Fleming (2012, 96). 16. See Heidegger (2010, 70ff.). 17. Heidegger (2010, 61) himself—or, rather, the character called The Guide—suggests that releasement involves a “mindfully turning toward” something (sich an etwas kehren). Such a turn reminds one of the turning of the soul by which the prisoner is released from her bondage to images and untruth (Rep. 581c). 18. See Sallis (2008), who also speaks of a certain receptivity at place in this scene. See also Warnek (2005, 111, 148). 19. See Rep. 518b–c: Education is not the sort of thing certain people who claim to be professors of it claim it is. Surely they claim they put knowledge into a soul it wasn’t present in, as though they were putting sight into blind eyes. . . . But the current discussion indicates . . . that this power is present in the soul of each person, and the instrument by which each one learns, as if it were any eye that’s not able to turn away from darkness toward the light in any other way than along with the whole body, needs to be turned around along with the whole soul, away from what’s fleeting, until it becomes able to endure gazing at what is and at the brightest of what is—and this, we are claiming, is the good?
20. See Brann (2004, 150). 21. See Sallis (1975, 405). 22. See Sallis (1975, 412). 23. On the relationship between Platonic recollection and Heidegger’s understanding of Gelassenheit, see Rojcewicz (1977, 120).
But Plato, I think, was ill. Phaedo, 59b
What, then, of Plato? What of the “author” of the so-called Platonic texts?
And what, finally, of those texts themselves? Plato is often said to be “the father of Western philosophy,” the idea being that every other philosophical idea, school, problem, or its solution is in some way traceable back to his original and originating insights. Plato’s influence, the story would go, would be visible in every other philosophical text that occurred after him and to such an extent that one could consider such texts and the ideas they contain as little more than “footnotes” to Plato.1 Every idea and every text, then, is a seed traceable back to this ancient origin, the very irruption of which founded the Western philosophical tradition. What we know as philosophy today, the story goes, is the offspring of this great, though now absent, father. To learn something of this father, one would begin by turning to his texts, the texts that one would (therefore) call “Plato’s texts” or “the Platonic texts.” Yet what is a Platonic text? What would make a particular text such that one would call it “Platonic”? And how would one go about determining if and how a text belonged to the class of things called “Platonic texts”? In other words, which texts are by Plato, and how do we know?2 On its surface, this question has the appearance of being naïve to the point of absurdity: for everybody knows that the texts that belong to Plato are those texts that bear his name. To find these, one need simply visit a bookstore and search alphabetically for the name “Plato” and then buy one of the many books on whose spine the name is printed. Thereupon one could be certain that one was procuring a text known to have been authored and therefore authorized by Plato, a text that, therefore, could be said to be “by” Plato and “belong” to him. Yet, beneath its surface, the question “what is a Platonic text” is much deeper and much more confounding: indeed, if explored directly even for a moment, it shows itself to be abyssal to the extreme. To begin with, there is the unsurpassable
Epilogue | 139 matter of translation. When one goes to the bookstore—if indeed one does—one for the most part discovers texts by Plato written in the native tongue of the country in which the bookstore is found. For example, in the United States or the United Kingdom, one would find (for the most part) English-language editions of Plato’s works. Yet Plato, of course, did not write in English—not even the King’s English— but rather in Attic Greek. When one finds on the shelves of a bookstore those texts written “by” Plato, what one actually finds is a text not as Plato wrote it but as some translator wrote it. (Indeed, what one finds is a text as constructed by, at the very least, a translator and a copy editor, the latter of whose “corrections” are most often made with an eye toward eloquence and readability, and not toward philological or philosophical fidelity.) Such a rendering, as a translation, has been carried over (trans-latus) from Plato’s idiom and into the idiom of the contemporary historical/ linguistic situation in which it is found. As such a carrying over, the text one finds in a bookstore is less a text by Plato and more of a metaphor (μεταφέρω) of a text of Plato’s, one that, as such, stands removed from and at a distance to the source material to which its very existence is owed. Simply put, when one looks for a text by Plato on the shelves of a bookstore, what one discovers is that no such text can there be found. Instead, one only finds pointers to and intimations of an absent text, some “original” whose existence is implied as a necessary ground for the translation but that does not present itself immediately (or even mediately) to the reader. Suppose, however, that one attempted to remedy this situation by foregoing any such translation and sought instead the ancient Greek text on which the translation was based. Though this at first glance seems to be a viable approach, it very quickly reveals itself to be no less abyssal than the former. For even when one procures the “authoritative” editions of Plato’s Greek texts—such as the Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis—one discovers that these texts are anything but Plato’s own, that is, anything but the texts that Plato himself authored and authorized. These volumes, as pristine and well arranged as they are, are replete with edits and interpolations—which often amount to nothing more than interpretations—meant to overcome or solve the many lacunae, errors, omissions, and ambiguities that populate the ancient manuscripts on which they are based.3 Though such editions are invaluable to anybody who wishes to read Plato and are indeed the condition for the possibility of doing so, they are also ineluctably transformative: they literally reconfigure and rearrange the texts as they are found in the manuscripts on which they are based, sometimes making extensive and substantive—and ultimately unverifiable—alterations. Even in the most refined and beautifully preened of these editions, one finds a text radically unlike anything Plato himself ever would have written down. (Indeed, the texts as they appear in these editions would be unreadable, at least in the beginning, to anybody living in Plato’s time.) Thus, here again one fails to find any such text that could rigorously be said to belong to Plato.
140 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates Again, one might attempt to circumvent this issue by leaping over such edited Greek editions and alighting on the “original” manuscripts and papyri themselves. In this maneuver, however, one will again be disappointed: for even in turning to the “original” manuscripts, one finds only facsimiles, images of the absent origin. Not one of the “original” manuscripts in modernity’s possession was penned by Plato himself, a fact that calls into question the legitimacy or even sense of the phrase “original manuscript.” Every one of these manuscripts is a copy—or, in fact, in all cases, a copy of a copy of a copy—made hundreds and hundreds of years after Plato’s life, after his death, after, therefore, his ultimate withdrawal. Even the oldest among these—the so-called Clarke manuscript—is from the year 895 AD, over one thousand years after Plato’s texts themselves were written.4 Even this oldest manuscript differs in some rather obvious and known ways from the original on which it is (mediately) based, most notably in the manner in which it has deviated from the ancient Greek custom of writing in all capital letters and with no spaces between words.5 Moreover, unlike any text in Plato’s time, the Clarke manuscript employs the use of diacritical marks, marks that were added by later grammarians.6 Additionally, this manuscript contains numerous “corrections” and scholia by later scribes. Of course, it is the unknown differences that must ultimately give us pause. Given that even this oldest manuscript is itself only a copy of a copy of a copy, created one thousand years after Plato’s death, there is no way to ensure that it is utterly faithful to Plato’s original text.7 Whether this manuscript deviates wildly from Plato’s texts or not at all is an abyssal question that can never be answered, owing to the absence of the originals and the irretrievable withdrawal of their author. The fidelity of all extant manuscripts to the texts authored by Plato is further disrupted by the fact that every single one of them traces back to a single editor who lived four hundred years after Plato’s death. What we know as the Platonic corpus, and the typical ordering of the texts within it, is based on the editing efforts of Thrasyllus, a Greek astrologist who almost certainly had no access to Plato’s originals.8 (This ordering arguably traces further back to one offered by Aristophanes of Byzantium, a grammarian from the third century BCE.9) Regarding Thrasyllus and the effect that his edition has on our ability to access the “original” Platonic texts, John Cooper (1997, x)—the most notable modern editor of Plato’s complete works—writes the following: It should be frankly emphasized that [the Platonic] corpus—both the works it includes as genuine and the text itself of the works—derives from the judgment of one ancient scholar, Thrasyllus. His edition of Plato’s work, prepared nearly four hundred years after Plato’s death, was derived from no doubt differing texts of the dialogues (and Letters) in libraries and perhaps in private hands, not at all from anything like a modern author’s “autograph.” No doubt
Epilogue | 141 also, both in its arrangement and in decisions taken as to the genuineness of items and the text to be inscribed, it may have reflected the editor’s own understanding of Plato’s philosophy (perhaps a tendentious one) and his views on how it ought to be organized for teaching purposes.
Noting that Thrasyllus’s edition serves as the foundation for his own rendering of the collected works—a rendering, it should be observed, that is unsurpassed in its quality—Cooper (ibid.) concludes that all contemporary presentations of Plato’s works are ultimately “thrown back on Thrasyllus’ judgment” as regards which texts ultimately belong to Plato and regarding the order in which they should appear. In other words, every text we take for granted as belonging to Plato in fact more immediately belongs to an astrologist living in the first century AD. The arrangement and presentation of those texts, which serves as the principle foundation on which all modern editions of Plato’s works rest, can in no rigorous way be said to belong to Plato directly.10 Simply put, there is no immediate access to Plato’s texts.11 Suppose, however, that one could somehow overcome the historical, linguistic, and interpretive distance that separates us from the authentic texts of Plato’s. Suppose, for a moment, that one could access the works of Plato in the original presentations that Plato himself wrote. Surely then one could say unequivocally that one had finally, at long last, located those texts by Plato and could now access, without mediation or distortion, the philosophical insights of the “father of Western philosophy.” Beyond reiterating the now obvious point that such unadulterated access to the originals is impossible, one must note here again that the problem is far more abyssal than it first appears. To begin with, one finds nowhere in any text called “Platonic” the signature of its author, a signature by which the contents of the texts might be authorized. Moreover, as any reader of the so-called Platonic texts knows—and yet as so many readers of these texts continually and almost stubbornly forget—Plato is not present as a speaker in any of the dramatic texts attributed to him. (One suspects that such forgetting is the very ground of the so-called Western philosophical tradition.) What one finds instead is a rich and varying array of characters presenting an equally rich and varying array of philosophical positions. In no instance is any one of these positions offered as Plato’s own and in no case does Plato authorize—from within or from beyond the text—any position or idea found within these texts. (Indeed, if anything, Plato seems to forbid such authorizations—see the Seventh Letter, 341c.) As a result, even a return to the so-called original texts, presented as Plato himself intended, would in no way ensure that such texts would permit immediate access to Plato the author or to “his” ideas: for even in these hypothetical texts, Plato would be nowhere to be found. Here one comes face-to-face with the abyss of Plato scholarship.
142 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates In lieu of Plato himself—Plato the speaker or even Plato the character—one might scour these original texts looking for some other sign of Plato, a sign that could stand in place of his signature and nonetheless guarantee that the text was authored by him: for example, the presence of certain theories believed to have belonged to Plato, such as the so-called theory of forms or the equally nebulous so-called theory of recollection. (For example, one might conclude that, because it presents the theory of recollection, which we all know to belong to Plato, the Meno is a text by Plato.) Of course, such a procedure too quickly loses sight of the labyrinthine fact that any such theories themselves originated in texts already presupposed as belonging to Plato, though texts themselves without a signature, texts therefore without any guarantee of having been authorized by that enigmatic figure named “Plato.” One cannot legitimize a text as being Platonic by referencing certain ideas found in other texts assumed to be Platonic without first settling the matter of whether the latter text itself in fact belongs to Plato: and to do this, one must first settle the question of what precisely it means for a text to belong to an author at all. The gap that stands between Plato the author and the texts that he authored is even more capacious and abyssal than the gap that separates us from the original Platonic texts. Even if we were to overcome the initial gap—which, it must again be stressed, we most certainly cannot—we could in no way overcome the second. The distance between Plato and his own texts is infinite, given the absolute manner in which Plato the author withdraws behind them, dissolving whatever authority over them he might otherwise be said to possess. * * * Beneath these historical questions regarding access to the texts said to belong to Plato, one finds a much more interesting and disquieting philosophical question of what it means for a text to belong to an author at all. What is the manner of such belonging? Of what does such belonging consist? How does a text belong to an author, especially one who took every opportunity to ensure that his name was absent from “his” texts? In the Phaedrus—that text which, more than any other text attributed to Plato, problematizes the attribution of texts—Socrates offers the following: “And once something is written down, every speech is whirled about every which way, picked up as well by those who understand as by those who have no business reading it, a speech having no idea to whom it should speak and to whom it shouldn’t. Ill-treated and unjustly abused, a speech always needs the help of its father because it is unable by itself to defend or help itself” (Phdr. 275e). In his (dis)seminal text “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Jacques Derrida (1981, 143–44) takes up the thread of Socrates’s description (and apparent debasement) of writing and, as was his custom, runs away with it:
Epilogue | 143 [Written discourse] rolls this way and that like someone who has lost his way, who doesn’t know where he is going, having strayed from the correct path, the right direction, the rule of rectitude, the norm; but also like someone who has lost his rights, an outlaw, a pervert, a bad seed, a vagrant, an adventurer, a bum. Wandering the streets, he doesn’t even know who he is, what his identity—if he has one—might be, what his name is, what his father’s name is. He repeats the same thing every time he is questioned on the street corner, but he can no longer repeat his origin.
A text, by virtue of being a text, loses its connection to the source that authored and authorized it; it thus is, by its very nature, unauthorized, illegitimate, without the law of the father who sired it. The immediate and rather vertiginous consequence of the passage from the Phaedrus quoted above is that if one insists, as nearly everyone does, that the text of the Phaedrus belongs to Plato, supposing that it was authored and therefore authorized by him, then one is compelled by virtue of the analysis of writing presented therein to conclude that it does not belong to Plato, that it is not his own, that he did not authorize it. With the very text of the Phaedrus, Plato puts his texts up for adoption. The broader consequence of this passage is this: that the texts that we call “the Platonic dialogues” are bastards, cut off from their dead father, abandoned to fend for themselves in an unkind world wherein others make whatever use of them they will. (This will doubtlessly be an objection raised against the present volume.) This is true to a certain and absolute sense for any written text: for as outlasting the death of the author, the written text is forced to endure the withdrawal of its progenitor. In the case of Plato and owing to the ineluctable progression of time, Plato has withdrawn from his texts into the irretrievable void of the past. However, Plato’s withdrawal from “his” texts is much more extreme: for even while living, even while writing, Plato had already withdrawn from “his” texts, and in a double sense. To begin with, Plato had withdrawn in the way that the passage cited above intends. As the father of the speech, Plato, in writing that speech down, withdrew to the extent that he demanded of “his” texts that they stand on their own, that they take care of themselves, that they serve as their own measure. Furthermore, Plato withdrew by withholding his name from those texts, by not saying anything “of his own” in them, by authoring instead rich and convoluted dramatic dialogues in which he himself is never a principle or speaking character. Even while living, Plato seems to have taken great lengths to ensure that he is nowhere to be found within “his” texts, a disruptive and deconstructive tactic that forces one to reconsider just what it means for a text to belong to an author. To phrase this otherwise: a written text, having been cut off from its father, would disrupt the lineage that would otherwise be said to stand between them. In other words, a genuine bastard—which is something of a contradiction in
144 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates terms—would be that offspring that is no longer seen as an offspring, that (therefore) has no relation whatsoever to the father, to the genuine article. Such a text, as Derrida observed in the passage quoted above, “would not even know what its father’s name is.” As such, it could hardly be said to stand under the authority or the name of that father, of the author who has withdrawn and has left the text, lawless and without rule or external measure, to wander about on its own. Philological and historical research into the history of the dissemination and preservation of the Platonic texts is always a matter of seeking to establish a lineage: such research, forever seeking the “filiation” of manuscripts, is genealogical by design.12 In all such research regarding the dissemination of texts, it is a matter of tracing this lineage backward toward the source, the origin: it is, in other words, a matter of tracing a lineage of filial relations back to the father. Indeed, the very idea of a textual or intellectual “tradition” is equally always a matter of seeking the establishment of a lineage, of seeking to trace the present back to a past source that would serve as the ground or guarantee of the present. Integral to this procedure is the discovery of some original that gives itself over as the inaugurator of this tradition: as such a giving over, tradition (trans-dare) seeks to overcome the disruptive effect of translation (trans-latus) and, what amounts to the same, of metaphor (μεταφέρω). The whole drive toward the establishing of a tradition is nothing other than the longing for the resurrection of the absent father who has cut himself off from “his” texts through the very act of writing them. Insofar as Plato is absent at (and as) this inaugurating source, the tradition collapses just as it seeks to establish itself. At the ground of this would-be tradition there is only an abyss—and one cannot establish a tradition upon an abyss. Thus, the task of seeking the “original text”—that is, the one that can be traced back to the self who authored it—is essentially misguided in the case of Plato. There is no self, no Plato, who stands at the source. On the contrary, at the very site of that source there stands only an absence, a withdrawal of authorship and authority. At the very bottom of the great edifice called “the Platonic corpus,” Plato—that figure on whom the stability of the corpus would depend—remains utterly concealed. As one sets out to read those texts that have been collected under the name “Platonic,” one must proceed with the cautious awareness that these texts, whatever else may be said of them, cannot straightforwardly be said to belong to Plato in any strict sense. To seek such a collection is to assume the presence of the father who, in Plato’s case, has withdrawn and retreated almost absolutely, leaving only the deliberate trace of his withdrawal. In light of all this, one sees that reading Plato cannot be a matter of securing one’s present position by grounding it on a tradition. Rather, reading Plato (now) must entail the discovery of the groundlessness of the present: it must entail the realization that the tradition of which one is a part has nothing secure at its ground. It must entail the anxious realization that if, as has been supposed, the
Epilogue | 145 history of Western philosophy is nothing but a footnote to Plato, that this “Plato” does not exist and that the footnotes thus appear in a text with no author—an unauthorized text—with no index or critical apparatus to make sense of it all. More accurately, it must entail the realization that there is nothing but footnotes, footnotes within footnotes, with no underlying original or orienting idea to which they belong. When one reads the so-called Platonic texts, then, one never finds the father—one only finds the children, the bastards: texts that, as abandoned without their patronymic, must stand on their own.13 For these texts—and for those who receive them—there is no Plato. More so even than the Socrates that one finds within the so-called Platonic texts, Plato has enacted an anachoratic gesture of such purity as to have effaced himself entirely, leaving only the draft of such self-effacement. Plato, then, was always under erasure—he was always already Plato. Plato’s self-castration—that is, his writing—is the founding moment of the Western philosophical tradition, a tradition that, therefore, could be said to have never existed at all.
Notes 1. See Whitehead (1978, 39). 2. On this, see Warnek (2005, 11). 3. See Irwin (2011, 71): “Modern editions of a Greek text do not reproduce the text of any one manuscript; editors and textual critics try to establish the most probable Greek text by comparison of the different manuscripts” (my emphasis). 4. See Irwin (2011, 71): “Our oldest surviving manuscript . . . was copied by John the Calligrapher, who finished his work . . . in 895, on the order of Arethas, a deacon in Patras who later became archbishop of Caesarea.” There are older extant papyri of Plato’s works, but they contain only fragments. 5. Ibid., 72. 6. Ibid., 72. 7. See Irwin (2011, 72): “Since our earliest manuscripts come from about 1,250 years after the lifetime of Plato, we cannot reasonably suppose that they contain all and only the very words that Plato wrote. Copyists make mistakes; later copyists multiply mistakes because of ignorance or inattention or illegible handwriting. Such mistakes were easy with Greek manuscripts.” (Irwin nonetheless concludes that “the text of Plato is generally sound” [Irwin 2011, 74].) See also Philip (1970, 305–6), who, after offering an argument regarding the history of the ordering of Plato’s texts, offers the following hypothetical account of the transmission of Plato’s works: Plato wrote his dialogues . . . not so much with an eye on posterity as for the restricted public of the Academy and other like-minded persons. . . . The dialogues were meant to be read aloud. Plato, who . . . was a literary artist as well as a philosopher, revised and corrected continually. If the tale is true that just before his death he had begun to revise the Republic . . . , we may expect that the manuscripts
146 | The Way of the Platonic Socrates he left were manuscripts with additions, deletions, alternative readings, and word variants. . . . Anyone who possessed a copy of the dialogues had acquired it either by the long and painful process of making a copy, or at the expense of a copyist. . . . We must then imagine as the original source of our traditional papyrus manuscripts either in Plato’s hand or executed under his eye by a scribe. These manuscripts, even if deposited and available in the Academy, may have been subject to further revision by Plato himself. We may assume that they will have been read, copied, and excerpted by the members of the Academy and by other interested persons. The whole . . . is likely to have remained on deposit in the Academy itself, while copies spawned copies, some of them made by conscientious copyists with a respect for the text, some made simply for quick gain.
8. See Clark (1918, 383). 9. See Chroust (1965, 34). 10. Ibid.: “The exact origin of [the ordering] is well-nigh impossible to ascertain.” See also Philip (1970, 296). 11. Further, there is the somewhat abyssal question of whether all of those texts to which we attached the name “Plato” were in fact authored by him. Speaking to this point, Taylor (1908, 30) writes: “The works of Plato, we have reason to believe, have come down to us absolutely entire and complete. . . . It does not follow, however, that everything that our extant manuscripts of Plato contain must necessarily be Platonic. It would be quite easy, in course of time, for works incorrectly ascribed to Plato, or deliberately forged in his name, to be imposed upon the Alexandrian librarians, and to acquire a standing in the library, side by side with genuine writings derived directly from the original manuscripts preserved at first in the Academy at Athens.” 12. For example, see Clark (1918, vi): “The general object of this book is to show how internal evidence furnished by MSS [sic] can be utilized to cast light upon the filiation of codices.” 13. See Warnek (2005, 13): “The text should be read, as far as possible, on its own terms.” However, Warnek (2005, 25) goes on to suggest that despite (or, rather, because of) Plato’s withdrawal behind his texts, they continue to belong to him in a certain sense. Such a view is being rejected here.
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absence, 12, 14, 83, 85, 94, 105–107, 124, 133, 144; and δύναμις, 30, 32, 54; and Eros, 69–70, 72–77 abyss, 3, 6, 12–14, 16, 20, 85, 88, 110, 133, 138–42, 144, 146n11 agon, 37–38, 53, 54n3, 54n7, 58n44, 110, 121, 122n11 Alcibiades, 1, 20, 59, 63, 82–84, 86n14, 87n28, 95–98, 104n12, 106–107, 116, 118, 123nn22–23 anachoratic, 2–4, 17nn2–3, 20–21, 25–26, 29, 34, 52, 60, 71, 103, 124, 130, 136; and ignorance, 92, 120; and the looks, 35n2; and maieutics, 99; and Plato, 145; and truth, 83, 85, 88, 121, 135; and virtue, 106, 117, 120–21. See also ἀναχωρέω Apollo, 1, 12, 53, 89, 98, 102, 117, 120, 130, 136 Arieti, J. A., 57n35, 122n11 Aristophanes of Byzantium, 140 Aristotle, 18n23, 36n19 author/authorship, 138–45, 146n11 authority, 37, 39, 49; and authorship, 144; of the λόγος, 51–53 Bartlett, R., 122nn16–17 beard, 106 beauty, 2, 29, 61, 66, 81–82; and Alcibiades, 106; and Eros, 65, 69; and Ryan Gosling, 8 Benardete, S., 104n14 Bianchi, E., 33, 36n23 blushing, 109, 118, 122n9 Bourgault, S., 55nn24–25, 56n32, 57n40 Brickhouse, T., and N. Smith, 18n11, 18n29 Callicles, 3, 37–38, 41, 44–58 passim, 62 Carmichael, P., 18n13 Castoriadis, C., 104n10 cave (“allegory” of), 4, 125, 129–36 chance, 10–12, 20, 63, 68, 72, 84, 86n16. See also τύχη
Clark, A., 146n12 Collingwood, R. G., 18n12 comedy, 51, 109–10, 118, 122n11 concealment, 1, 4, 24, 105–22 passim, 124–26, 129–31, 144; and beard, 106; and παρρησία, 56n32. See also unconcealment Cooper, J., 140–41 Corlett, J. A., 18n20 Cornford, F., 35nn5–6 courage, 66, 70; and ἀπορία, 119; and Eros, 75–76, 78; and ignorance, 119–20; and παρρησία, 49 deference, 2, 13–14, 22–24, 28–29, 43, 52, 54n13, 70, 112, 120, 134 Derrida, J., 36n23, 102, 142, 144 dialogue, 8, 38; and ignorance, 117; one person, 51–53, 57n39, 69, 110, 116; and Protagoras, 116, 118, 121. See also διαλεχθῆναι Doyle, J., 54n5 Edmonds, R. G., 87n24 education, 6, 56n28, 131, 133–35, 137n19; and Protagoras, 111 emptiness, 6, 14, 60, 63–64, 82–84, 92, 95, 99, 101–102, 106, 116–17; and Eros, 69, 74, 79–81, 86n12; and interpretation, 72–73; and pregnancy, 78–80; and releasement, 131–36 eros, 3, 59–87 passim, 106–107, 122n10; and Wile E. Coyote, 76 fear, 26, 60–61, 65, 81–82, 84, 100, 108, 111, 113, 130; and nothingness, 66; and powerlessness, 61–62; and second sailing, 8–9, 21–24, 28, 30, 34, 99; and shame, 67–68 Foucault, M., 47–48, 55nn26–27, 56n28, 57n36 Friedländer, P., 136n7, 137n9
154 | Index Gelassenheit, 132, 137n23. See also releasement generosity, 92, 97, 102, 129–30 gift: and the good beyond being, 129; and Socrates, 14–16, 19n33, 53, 89, 98, 102, 113, 130 given-taking, 15, 103, 130, 133, 136 good beyond being, 4, 29, 125–35 passim, 136n7, 136n9; and gift, 129 Gonzalez, F. J., 122n10, 123n33 Grube, G. M. A., 117 Haden, J. C., 54n11, 58n47 Hades, 107, 110–14, 118, 121, 122, 122n14 Hayden, A., 18n23 Hampshire, S., 17n9 Heidegger, M., 7, 18n14, 19n37, 127, 132, 137nn10–11, 137n17, 137n23 Hemmenway, S., 104n19, 122n15 Hermes, 106–107, 110–11, 113–14 Homer, 31, 66, 106–107, 111, 118 Hyland, D., 86n19 ignorance: and assertions, 42; and concealment, 1, 4, 108, 120–21; and courage, 119; and fearfulness, 60, 66; and justice, 116–19; and measure, 98, 102; and method, 6; and moderation, 109; and poverty, 12–13, 60, 64, 77–78, 80–81, 86n12, 92, 103, 106–107, 117, 119, 136; and releasement, 133–36; and retreat, 51, 125; and rhetoric, 38–39; and shame, 118; and the virtues, 105, 113, 119–20, 123n33 indebtedness, 2, 88–89, 102, 103n1, 107, 125, 127, 130. See also ὀφείλεια interpretation, 72–74, 80, 83–84. See also ἑρμηνεύω Irigaray, L., 86n14, 86n16, 87n27 Irwin, T. H., 145nn3–4, 145n7 Jones, E., 36n21 justice, 42–45, 53, 101–102, 116; and ignorance, 116–20 Krell, D., 103n8 Landy, T., 123n29 Long, C., 122n2
looks, 21–24, 27, 30–32, 34, 35n2, 35n8, 126, 128. See also εἶδος loss, 5–6, 9, 12, 15–16, 66, 127. See also ἀπορία; see also emptiness Lovejoy, A., 104n15 maieutics, 6, 40, 80, 84, 91–92, 95, 98–99, 103n7, 134 Manoussaskis, J., 36n22 McCoy, M., 54n12, 55n15, 55n24 measure, 5, 93, 122, 143–44; and Protagoras, 2, 121; and Socrates, 2, 29–30, 51–52, 85, 91, 96–99, 102–103, 117, 120, 130. See also μέτρον Metcalf, R., 19n30, 54n1, 54n3, 54n7, 54n9, 54n13, 55n18, 56n29, 57n39, 57n42, 103n7 method: Socratic, 5–21 passim, 29, 67; the Stranger’s, 90–91, 96–97, 104n17. See also μέθοδος Miller, M., 104nn22–23 moderation, 45, 57n43, 101, 108–10, 122n10; and ignorance, 109–10, 119–20 Monoson, S., 56n31 myth, 7, 18n15, 80, 113, 114; of the two ages, 90–94, 104n15 Nails, D., 60, 86n6 Nietzsche, F., 13 Nozick, R., 19n36 O’Brien, D., 35n2 piety, 120 Plochmann, G. K., 103n2 poverty, 2–3, 12–13, 62–66, 70, 80–84; and Aristodemus, 61, 70; epistemological, 6, 42, 57n37, 71, 78, 80–82, 84, 99, 103, 107, 111, 117; and eros, 65, 74–81; ontological, 3–4, 14, 46, 63, 75, 77, 80. See also πενία power: see δύναμις powerlessness, 2, 9, 21, 37, 41, 43–44, 53–54, 58n45, 62; and the divine demiurge, 31; and ignorance, 1, 12, 113, 125; and the likeness story, 30–31; and the philosopher, 45, 53; and political rule, 52; and retreat, 28–30; and rhetoric, 44; and second sailing, 36n13; and true power,
Index | 155 53; and truth, 69; and χώρα, 34. See also ἀδυναμία pregnancy, 78–79, 87n22, 87n24, 91, 94–95, 98; an παρρησία, 48; and χώρα, 33 Race, W., 57n37 Ranasinghe, N., 86n14 receptivity, 3, 5, 8–9, 11–13, 16, 19n30, 24–25, 62–63, 110, 133, 135, 137n18; of Apollo, 53; and femininity, 71–72; and λόγος, 40, 45, 49, 52, 54, 69; and the looks, 23; and poverty, 80; pure, 15, 53; and releasement, 132; and truth, 77, 81, 83–84, 135; and the χώρα, 26, 33–34, 35n4, 36n21; and weakness, 71, 117 Reeve, C. D. C., 18n26 releasement, 2, 41, 68, 131–36, 137n17. See also Gelassenheit retreat, 1–2, 15, 17n2, 20–36 passim, 62–63, 88, 97, 102, 110, 132; and death, 101; and εἶδος, 22–24, 128; and fear, 9; and the good beyond being, 124–29; and ignorance, 51, 54, 117, 136; and maieutics, 91–92, 134; and philosophy, 50; and Plato, 144; and powerlessness, 37–40, 53; and second sailing, 99; and shame, 67; and truth, 84–85; and χώρα, 2–3, 22, 83–84; and weakness, 20, 44–45. See also ἀναχωρέω rhetoric, 6, 37–58 passim, 65–70, 72, 103n7 Rojcewicz, R., 86n16, 137n23 Rosen, S., 56n32, 86n4, 103n4, 104nn16–17, 136nn5–6, 136n8 Sallis, J., 9, 18n16, 18n23, 33, 35n4, 35nn6–7, 35n9, 36n15, 36n25, 102, 129, 135, 136n3, 137n18 Saxonhouse, A., 54n10, 55n16, 57n34, 57n43, 58n45, 86n15, 86n18, 87n27, 87n29 Scott, G. A., 5, 18n14, 19n33 second sailing, 9, 21, 23, 24, 27, 29–30, 35n9, 36n13, 93, 99–100, 103, 126. See also δεύτερος πλοῦς Segvic, H., 106–107, 111 self: and denigration, 3, 12, 65, 70–71; and erasure, 3, 22–24, 41, 51–52, 54n9, 55n18, 70–71, 112, 120, 134, 145
shame, 56n29; and Alcibiades, 98, 118; and fear, 26–27, 66–69; and ignorance, 57n37, 118; and παρρησία, 48–49; and power, 50–51, 56n30, 67–69; and Protagoras, 118 silence, 7, 24–25, 35n3, 57n40, 79, 86n6, 89, 92 Silenus, 82–84, 95 sophistry, 4, 109–22 passim Strauss, L., 55n21, 86n7, 86n9, 86n19 submission, 2, 44, 46, 122; to the λόγος, 3, 13, 43, 51–53, 71; and rhetoric, 44; to the truth, 52 Taylor, A. E., 146n11 Thrasyllus, 140–41 translation, 139, 144 unconcealment, 107, 112, 131, 133, 136. See also concealment Vidal-Naquet, P., 104n15 virtue, 4; and concealment, 107, 113–14, 120– 21; and ignorance, 105–106, 119–20, 123n33; and poverty, 107; and power, 58n45, 57n44, 115–16; and its teachability, 113–14, 118–19. See also ἀρετή Vlastos, G., 6 wandering, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13–14, 64, 119, 143. See also πλάνη Warnek, P., 8, 17n3, 18n24, 19n37, 55n22, 103n3, 137n18, 146n13 weakness, 9–13, 20, 27, 30–31, 41, 60–62, 66, 82, 125; and ἀναχωρέω, 28; and δύναμις, 31–32; and the good beyond being, 125–28; and ignorance, 98; and philosophy, 29–30, 45–46; and releasement, 68; and συγχωρεῖς, 22; and the true political art, 52; truth, 28, 69–71, 81, 115–17; and virtue, 121; and χώρα, 32–34. See also ἀδυναμία Weiss, R., 122n18, 122n20 will-lessness, 68, 132 will to power, 40–41, 44, 52–53; and Gelassenheit, 132; and παρρησία, 48, 56n28 writing, 4, 57n39, 142–45 Zuckert, C., 57n43, 86n9
Index of Greek Terms
ἀδυναμία, 28, 29, 32, 125 ἀνάβασις, 121, 124, 132 ἀναχωρέω (ἀναχώρησις), 2, 17n2, 20–21, 25–27, 34, 62–63, 83, 103, 103n9 ἀπορία, 5–6, 12–13, 16, 66, 69, 74–75, 77, 80, 94, 118–19 ἀρετή, 4, 105, 113, 119, 121 ἄτοπος, 10, 44, 63, 95 δεύτερος πλοῦς, 99 διαλέγω (διαλέγεσθαί), 38, 115, 118 δύναμις, 1, 3, 15, 28–34, 36n19, 37–40, 45–46, 49, 68, 72, 115–16, 123n22, 126–27, 131, 137n11 εἶδος, 21–23, 27, 31, 33, 35n7 ἑρμηνεύω, 72–73 κατάβασις, 107, 110, 121, 122n14, 124 λόγος, 1–3, 7–14, 16, 18n5, 18n23, 21–29, 34, 39–45, 49–55, 68–71, 90, 99, 106, 108, 110, 113–21, 125–27, 135 λύσις, 131 μέθοδος, 7–8, 12–13, 21 μέτρον, 93
οἴκος, 14, 75 οὐσία, 14, 33, 46, 53, 61, 107, 127 ὀφείλεια, 88–89, 102, 125 παράδειγμα, 11, 97–98 παρρησία, 47–50, 52–53, 55nn24–25, 56n28, 56n32, 57n36, 71 πενία, 3, 13–14, 63, 74–75, 78, 80, 84, 87n26, 92, 95, 106–107, 117, 119 πλάνη, 13–14 πλεονεξία, 52–53 πόθεν, 105, 120 πόρος, 12, 13, 74–75, 77–78, 80 προσέχω, 62 σμικρός, 60–61, 86n4 συγχωρεῖς, 22, 115–16 τέχνη, 6, 29, 38, 52, 68–69, 96–97, 112–13 τρόπος, 1, 8–9, 13, 21 τύχη, 10–12, 63, 68, 72, 84, 86n16 χάρις, 88–89, 92, 101–102, 103n1, 107 χώρα, 1–3, 10–11, 15–16, 17nn1–2, 21–27, 33–34, 36nn21–23, 36n25, 54, 60, 62–63, 69, 83, 89–92, 102, 112, 116, 124, 128, 130–36
S. MONTGOMERY EWEGEN is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College, Connecticut. He is author of Plato’s Cratylus: The Comedy of Language (2013), as well as the cotranslator (along with Julia Goesser Assaiante) of Martin Heidegger’s Heraclitus (2018).