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Does Plato in the Republic restrict to philosophers alone the possibility of achieving happiness in this life and the next? It is often thought so. But if that were the case, the dialogue would fail on its own terms, in its task of persuading the interlocutors Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should cultivate justice, not (as Thrasymachus argues) injustice. They are not philosophers, nor envisaged as likely to achieve the level of rational understanding that is the precondition of happiness. In truth, however, there is plentiful, if scattered, evidence that an approximation to perfect happiness is available for various categories of people figuring in the Republic who have not attained what the dialogue counts as knowledge, ranging from Socrates himself, to trainee philosophers and warriors, to farmers and craftsmen. The requirement to be satisfied is the habit of respect for the law, not from fear of its punitive powers, but internalised as the way to lead a life of justice.
In his Autobiography, John Stuart Mill asserts that in 1813 he read ‘the first six dialogues (in the common arrangement) of Plato, from the Euthyphro to the Theaetetus inclusive’ (he was then seven years old; he means the Greek text). What was ‘the common arrangement’? In which edition of the text did Mill encounter it? Indeed, which editions did his father James Mill possess, and which is the one he would have chosen for his son’s introduction to Plato and Platonic Greek? The Thrasyllan arrangement familiar to modern readers from Burnet’s Oxford Text was anything but common or usual in earlier centuries. The only credible candidate is the one pioneered in Serranus’ edition of 1578, printed by Stephanus and then adopted widely, whose pagination has remained the standard Plato reference system. The Stephanus order is found in the complete Bipont Plato edition of 1781-87, whose volumes James Mill gradually acquired. Though it cannot be proved that he possessed in 1813 its opening volumes, containing the dialogues John Stuart read, these are a much likelier choice than the far less readily legible 1602 Frankfurt edition, which he almost certainly owned by that date.
A passage at 1048b18–35 in chapter six of Metaphysics Book Θ, forging a distinction between activities Aristotle classes as energeia, actuality, and those he calls kinesis, change, has become a favourite subject of discussion by analytic philosophers. This chapter argues that this now celebrated section does not fit into the overall programme of Θ, was not written for Θ, and should not be printed in the place we read it today. It is an isolated fragment of uncertain origin. Although there is good reason to accept that it is authentic Aristotle, its focus is rather different from what it is usually taken to be. Moreover, the distinction is unique in the corpus, and should not be imported into other Aristotelian contexts such as Nicomachean Ethics X or De Anima II.5. The chapter first documents the passage’s anomalous standing within the manuscript tradition. It then argues that Aristotle’s focus here is on verbal aspect, not tense. Next corruptions in the transmitted text are discussed, in light of the hypothesis that the passage was originally imported as a marginal annotation, and a revised text is proposed. Finally, the uniqueness of its philosophical content is established. It is a freak performance.
Plato’s philosophical writings have over the centuries evoked widely differing styles of response. Platonist metaphysical systems have been created, as by his first successors in the Academy, down to Plotinus and later Neoplatonists and beyond; while the questioning spirit they evince was what fuelled the scepticism of Arcesilaus and Carneades in the Hellenistic period, and what most impressed James Mill and George Grote, the nineteenth-century British ‘Philosophical Radicals’. Both types of response agreed, however, in rejecting what the dialogues call ‘opinion’, the metaphysicians because it lacks the security and clarity of true knowledge, the sceptics and radicals because it leaves prevailing norms unquestioned. They all took from Plato the precept: Think for yourself, whatever opinion or the prevailing norms may be. And from the beginning they disagreed among themselves too, with Speusippus, Plato’s nephew and his successor as head of the Academy, already rejecting the dialogues’ theory of transcendent Forms. Where the theory was embraced, it was developed further than its originator ever did himself or perhaps could have done. Plato wrote for eternity, to open minds and encourage independent thought in any reader, whatever their historical circumstances.
Numenius (second century AD), the only witty Platonist after Plato himself, memorably described Plato as ‘Moses talking Attic’. He did not mean thereby to rate Eastern wisdom more highly than Platonic philosophy, as is sometimes suggested, but to recognise in the words ‘I AM THAT I AM’, spoken to Moses by the God of the Hebrews, an anticipation, unique in Eastern lore, of the conception Numenius championed of the Platonic first principle One or Good as Being itself. This paper proposes that his further exploration of that idea shows him to have construed the Timaeus account of such being as an eternal present, or in Boethius’s words ‘the complete possession all at once of an infinite life’, not as timelessness (the Timaeus interpretation advocated by Richard Sorabji). It is argued that this was both a correct interpretation of Plato’s text, and one shared in much subsequent ancient and medieval philosophy, including Plotinus, Augustine, and Aquinas. From our own human perspective, a present tense without past or future connections might be considered ‘a kind of logical torso’, a defective remnant of ordinary time. For Plato that human conception of present time is itself a mere image of eternity.
Since the arguments that Plato provides in the Republic for the thesis that the human soul consists of three parts (reason, spirit, appetite) are notoriously problematic, I propose other reasons for accepting tripartition: reasons that we too could endorse, or at least entertain with some sympathy. To wit, (a) the appetitive part of Plato’s divided soul houses desires and tendencies we have because we are animal bodies programmed to survive (as individuals and as a species) in disequilibrium with a variegated, often varying environment, (b) the spirited middle part houses status concerns that belong to us as social animals, while (c) what makes us rational animals is a faculty of reason, conceived in strikingly non-Humean terms, which determines what is best all things considered. Other psychic tendencies may then be explained in terms of the education and mutual interaction of the three parts we are ‘programmed’ for from birth.
The framework of this paper is a defence of Burnet’s construal of Apology 30b2–4. Socrates does not claim, as he is standardly translated, that virtue makes you rich, but that virtue makes money and everything else good for you. This view of the relation between virtue and wealth is paralleled in dialogues of every period, and a sophisticated development of it appears in Aristotle. My philological defence of the philosophically preferable translation extends recent scholarly work on εἶναι in Plato and Aristotle to γίγνεσθαι, which is the main verb in the disputed sentence. When attached to a subject, both verbs make a complete statement on their own, but a statement that is further completable by adding a complement. The important point is that the addition of a complement does not change the meaning of the verb from existence to the copula. Proving this is a lengthy task which takes me into some of the deeper reaches of Platonic and Aristotelian ontology, and into discussion of whether Greek ever acquired a verb that corresponds to modem verbs of existence. I conclude that even when later authors such as Philo Judaeus, Sextus Empiricus and Plotinus debate what we naturally translate as issues of existence, none of the verbs they use (εἶναι, ὑπάρχειν, ὑφεστηκέναι) can be said to have existential meaning.