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Plato's Sophist Non-Being and the Beard

Plato's Sophist Non-Being and the Beard

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Published by Philip Reynor Jr.
MA Presentation: Classical Metaphysics
MA Presentation: Classical Metaphysics

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Published by: Philip Reynor Jr. on Apr 24, 2011
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03/23/2013

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Plato’s
Sophist 
Non-being and the BeardPhilip Reynor___________________________________________________________________________
Those of us who wish to undertake investigations into Plato’s
Sophist 
must not loosesight of Plato’s
skopos
or aim in writing the dialogue. If we immediately leap into aninvestigation of ‘being’ or the verb ‘to be’, we have taken too great a leap and surpassedthat aim. The purpose of this presentation is to explicate Plato’s encounters withnon-being, focusing mainly on the
Sophist 
, and furthermore to address the notion of,what W.V.O Quine has labelled,
Plato’s beard 
in his landmark paper ‘
On What thereis’ 
, the importance of which, is not only to admit a contemporary view, but to spell outsome misconceptions, and what G.E.L Owen refers to as ‘commonplaces’, in hisinterpretation of Plato’s solution to the problem of non-being. Finally, in staying trueto Plato’s aim in the
Sophist 
it is imperative to keep the unity of the dialogue, alongwith its conceptual unity, intact. Thus, we have set out a four-fold task: firstly, touncover Plato’s
skopos
in writing the dialogue, this first step will ensure we areentering Plato’s house through the door rather then the window; secondly, to engagewith Plato’s investigations into non-being; thirdly, to expound and examine
Plato’sbeard 
and finally, to ensure the unity of the
Sophist 
is maintained, this final themebleeds into and thus can be illuminated alongside our first. In focusing our searchlighton a certain area, let us not allow that everything else be thrown into the darkness of neglect. After all ‘… every 
logos
must be put together like a living thing, as if it had abody of its own, so as not to lack either head or feet, but to have a centre and bothends, so written as to fit each other and the whole’.[1]
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In searching for the
skopos
of the
Sophist,
we can consult the
 AnonymousProlegomena
as our guide. Within this Neoplatonic commentary [2]there are ten ruleswhose purpose is to chaperone us in our attempts to unveil the
skopos
of any Platonicdialogue. Here (following Notomi) we will focus on its two most important rules forestablishing the
skopos
. First, ‘a dialogue must have only one
skopos
, not many (21.13,18 – 28)’; and secondly, ‘the
skopos
must cover the doctrine of the whole work, and notbe confined to the content of one part (21.14, 22. 1 – 20)’.[3]So how do we begin todiscover the aim of the
Sophist 
? Proclus, in attempting to unveil the
skopos
of thedialogue, lays his emphasis on the prologue and from Proclus we shall take our firstclue since the purpose of a prologue is to preface the dialogue with an indication as toits overall project. As a result, Proclus makes the claim that:
Plato thus entitled the Sophist, since this, namely the sophist, was the subject proposed forinvestigation in the dialogue. Although many things are also said about what is and about whatis not, these are discussed for the sake of argument on the sophist. (In Rep. I 8.23-28).[4]
However, Proclus here seems a little short sighted. If we take a look at the beginning of the dialogue, the interlocutors clearly indicate that Plato’s project is to uncover thesophist
and 
differentiate him from the philosopher. We see Socrates raise the issue of the appearance of the philosopher in direct comparison to the sophist:
…thanks to the ignorance of others, these people – I mean, not the sham, but the genuinephilosophers – appear in various disguises, ‘roaming from city to city’, watching the lifebeneath them from their heights. They seem to some people worthless, to others above allworthy. Sometimes they appear to be statesmen, and sometimes to be sophists; and sometimesthere are some people to whom they give the impression that they are completely mad. [Sph:216c2- d2].
This passage indicates that the interlocutors are concerned with the appearance of the
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philosopher both as statesman and as sophist. They call, first and foremost, for adefinition of the sophist [216a1 – 218c1] and, since the
Sophist 
is indeed succeeded by the
Statesman
, we can safely assume that the aim here is not to define the statesman.Furthermore, of the three kinds mentioned here: the philosopher, the sophist and thestatesman, what becomes of Plato’s attempt to define the philosopher? We may argue,as many scholars do, that Plato had intended to write a third dialogue but abandonedthe project;[5]or we can take the line that within the investigations of the
Sophist 
andthe
Statesman
, the definition of the philosopher comes to the fore, thus negating theneed to write the third dialogue.[6]In taking this line, we can then enlarge Proclus’claim to include the philosopher himself and thus the
skopos
of the
Sophist 
becomes anattempt to distinguish the sophist from the philosopher.Now that we have taken the aim of Plato’s
Sophist 
to be the attempt todistinguish the sophist from the philosopher, we can begin to move in the direction of non-being, however, once again we must not be hasty. The central part of the dialoguegives life to some problems and these problems are the result of attempts to snarethe sophist, to capture him in a dialectical net and define his art of imitation. The huntbegins with a question from the Eleatic Stranger:
Stranger:
But about the Sophist, tell me, is it now clear that he is a sort of wizard, an imitator of real things – or are we still uncertain whether he may or may not possess genuine knowledge of all the things he seems capable of disputing about?
Theaetetus:
He cannot, sir. It is clear enough from what has been said that he is one of thosewhose province is play.
Stranger:
Then we may class him as a wizard and an imitator of some sort.
Theaetetus:
Certainly. [Sph: 235a].
In their attempts to differentiate the sophist from the philosopher, the Eleatic Strangerand Theaetetus have come upon an impasse. Thus far, they have only scratched thesurface of the labyrinth of problems to come, which have at their root, these attempts
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