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Anders Wedberg, Stockholm

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C O M - P


s a t LIBRAR5!i

Almqvist & Wiksell / Gebers Forlag A B

Printed in Sweden by Appelbergs Boktryckcri A B Upsaln



This essay was originally written and set in 1949, but various circumstances have delayed publication until now. The plan o f the book may require some words o f explana tion. In chapter II I briefly review certain well-known and rather general facts concerning Greek mathematics o f Plato's time and Platos knowledge o f this mathematics. Chapter III presents in outline the general philosophical outlook with which Plato approached the philosophical problems that mathematics offered him. Most o f what is said in this chapter are likewise well-known facts, although some o f them are perhaps here stated in an unfamiliar manner. Chapters IV and V, which deal with Platos philosophy o f geometry and his philosophy o f arithmetic, are the central chapters o f this essay. In order not to encumber the exposition with the detailed and somewhat laborious discussion o f the relevant passages from Platos and Aristotles works, I have referred that discussion to four appendices. Although chapters IV and V can be read independently o f these appendices, the su b stantiation o f the views expressed in those chapters is largely to be found in the appendices. This method o f exposition has made unavoidable some repetitions with w hich the reader is asked to show lenience. In quoting Plato I have, as a rule, used the translation published in the Loeb Classical Library: Plato with an English translation, vols. 1-10 (London New York, 1921-1929; trans lations by H. N. Fowler, W . R. Lam b and R. G. B ury), and The Republic by Plato, vols. 1-2 (London Cambridge (Mass.), 1935-1937; translation by P. Shorey), except for the Philebus where I have used: R. H ackforth: Platos examina tion o f pleasure (Cambridge 1944). In quoting Aristotle I have used the O xford translation: The w orks of Aristotle, translated into English under the editorship of W . D. Boss, vols. 1, 2, 8, 9

(O xford 1928, 1930, 1908, 1915; translations Jay G. R. G. Mure, W . A. Pickard-Cambridge, R. P. Hardie, R. K. Gaye and W . D. Ross). I have made a few, usually very minor, changes in these translations. For the permission to quote these works I sincerely thank the publishers, W illiam Heinemann, Ltd.. Cambridge University Press and O xford University Press. Finally I wish to thank Mr Stig Kanger for reading a proof o f chapter III and making several helpful suggestions.

Anders W ed berg

CHAPTER I. The problem ..................................................... CHAPTER II. Platos mathematics .................................... CHAPTER III. CHAPTER IV. The theory o f Ideas .................................... The philosophy o f geometry ................... 9 21 26 45 63 84 92 116 122 137

CHAPTER V. The philosophy o f arithmetic ................... APPENDIX A. Aristotles analysis o f Platos philosophy o f geom etry............................................................................... APPENDIX B. The subject-matter of geometry in the dialogues ................................................................................... APPENDIX C. Aristotles analysis o f Platos philosophy o f arithmetic APPENDIX D. ........................................................................... Number in the d ia lo g u e s ............................

N O T E S ............................................................................................



The problem
Plato and the Academ y founded by him played a paramount role in the development o f mathematics as a systematic pure science. The high value that Plato and his followers attributed lo the study o f mathematics led to an intensified mathematical research within the Academ y.1 But Plato not only stimulated mathematical research. In his dialogues he also presented in outline a philosophy o f mathematics w hich has proved to possess an astounding vitality. Although the peculiar form of mathematical Platonism that was probably Plato's own, was abandoned already by Platos ow n pupils within the Academy, yet a type o f doctrines which deserve to be considered as Pla tonic has survived up to the present day.2 It is Platos ph ilo sophy o f mathematics, not his own (probably rather slight) and his follow ers (very important) contributions to the body of mathematical knowledge that we shall here consider. Although, for the sake o f brevity, this essay has been entitled Platos philosophy o f mathematics , we shall, in fact, in vestigate only a part of the doctrines concerning mathematics lhat the sources associate with the name of Plato. Besides Platos own writings (the dialogues and the authentic Platonic letters), the many references to Platos philosophical teaching in Aristotles works are our chief source. There are mainly five groups o f theories about the nature o f mathematics that are either suggested by Plato himself or attributed to Plato by Aristotle: I. Theories which locate the objects o f mathematics within a presupposed division o f the universe; II. Theories concerned with the (non-temporal) generation, within the realm o f Ideas, o f the so-called Ideal Numbers; III. The theory lhat all Ideas are numbers; IV. Those theories which deal with the explanation o f the sensible world in terms o f space


and mathematical notions; V. Views concerning the m ethodo logy o f mathematics. The discussion o f mathematical matters in the dialogues is concerned mainly with problems belonging to groups I, IV and V. Considerations pertaining to I are presented especially in the Phaedo, the Republic, the Philebus, the Theaetetus, and the Seventh letter. The chief source concerning IV is the Timcieus. The Republic is the dialogue in w hich Plato expounds V in the most explicit manner. The two last books o f the M etaphysics are the place where Aristotle gives the amplest inform ation concerning Platos mathematical ph ilo sophy. Aristotle touches, usually in a critical spirit, upon many o f the views on mathematics which are found in the dialogues, and, hence, it is frequently possible to base the interpretation o f Platos views on a comparative study of Pla tos ow n statements and Aristotles critical account o f what he considers to be Platos position. In some cases, viz., groups II and III, Aristotles testimony stands alone without any clearcut confirmation through Platos own publications. Concern ing these groups o f theories, III as well as II, it does not seem possible to arrive at an even moderately certain opinion as to how they should be interpreted.3 The doctrine o f the Timcieus about the constitution of the spatio-temporal w orld is a theory which employs mathematical in particular geometrical concepts but it does not, I think, imply any special view on the nature o f mathematics as such.4 In the present essay groups II-IV, which perhaps offer the greatest problems, will not be investigated. The main purpose o f this essay is to contribute to the understanding of the Platonic theories o f type I, those theories about which the extant sources give us the clearest information. Incidentally this essay will touch also the theories belonging to group V.

In part we can, apparently with great certainty, decide what Platos views in respect to I were. Already a very superficial reading of the dialogues teaches that Plato maintained the existence o f two realms o f entities, the world o f changing and perishable sensible particulars and the world o f eternal intcl-


ligible being, and that he thought o f pure mathematics as con cerned with the latter. The most conspicuous elements and according to som e interpreters, the only elements o f the world o f eternal being are the Ideas. Further, there is no doubt as to the fact that Plato postulated the existence o f certain mathe matical Ideas and that these for him were a part of the subjectmatter o f pure mathematics. Do the mathematical Ideas, in Plato's opinion, exhaust the domain studied by pure mathe matics, or does this domain contain other eternal entities be sides the Ideas? This is one of the most controversial questions in the interpretation o f Plato, and it is, in a sense, the main problem o f the present essay. ("According to Aristotle, the latter is the case. If Aristotle's account is correct, Plato posited two kinds o f number, the Ideal Numbers which are Ideas and the Mathematical Numbers w hich are not Ideas but w hich nevertheless share the m ode o f existence characteristic of Ideas. Similarly. Aristotle says, Plato countenanced two types o f eternal geo metrical entities, the geometrical Ideas and certain ideal geometrical figures which are not Ideas but like the Ideas belong to the realm o f eternal being. The Mathematical Numbers and the ideal geometrical figures are by Aristotle brought together under the com m on name o f Intermediates , or Objects o f Mathematics (m athem atika). The essential charac teristics o f the Intermediates, in Aristotles exposition, are that they are ideal perfect instances o f the mathematical Ideas and that they are the only perfect instances, no perfect instances of such Ideas being found in the sensible world. Aristotles ana lysis o f Platos mathematical ontology can be summarized in the follow ing scheme:
[Domain o f D ia lectic and pure mathematics] Specific domain o f pure mathematics



Mathematical Ideas

Ideal Numbers Geometrical Ideas Mathematical Numbers ideal geometrical figures

^ Mathematical objects j

Outside the domain o f pure mathematics

\ Sensible



Let us designate the hypothesis that this was Plato's view hypothesis A. Aristotles account undoubtedly, in part, goes beyond and, in part, even contradicts what is explicitly stated by Plato himself in anyone passage in his writings. First, the terminology in w hich Aristotle couches the analysis is not found in Plato. Plato employs none o f the technical terms: Ideal Numbers , Mathematical Numbers , Intermediates , Objects o f Mathematics . Second, there is no one place where Plato unambiguously asserts the existence o f ideal instan ces o f geometrical Ideas as distinguished from the Ideas themselves. (According to some Platonic scholars5 whose view, however, I belive to be erroneous nor is the notion that Aristotle refers to by the term Mathematical Numbers explicitly referred to in the dialogues.) Third, although Plato repeatedly speaks o f Ideas o f the several numbers: ( 1 ) , 2 , 3 , . Platos ow n explanation o f the nature o f those Ideas agrees only in some respects with Aristotles explanation: [in other very important respects there is a significant discrepancy between the two explanations. In addition, Aristotles account o f the relationship between the supposedly Platonic notions o f Ideal Numbers and Mathematical Numbers is in itself obscure and, in parts, selfcontradictory. Fourth, Plato usually seems to presuppose a simple ontological dichotom y into Ideas and sensible particulars w hich leaves no room for an intermediate class o f mathematical objects^ In view o f this situation, some Platonic scholars6 have entirely rejected Aristotles interpretation. The upper part o f the com plicated ontological scheme that Aristotle attributes to Plato they wish to replace by the simpler scheme:
Domain o f pure .. mathematics I < Mathematical Ideas I Arithmetical Ideas ! , . i I Geometrical Ideas.

W e m ay call the hypothesis that this scheme renders Plato's view hypothesis B. There are, however, a number o f im por tant facts that do not fit into this simpler scheme. Let us first glance at what Plato has to say concerning numbers and arithmetic. \Although eminent specialists have denied the fact, it is, I believe, clearly proved by Platos own w ords espe-

cially in the Republic and the Philebus that he assumed the existence o f a kind o f numbers which, as he describes them, do not agree with his definition o f an Idea but which, as a matter o f fact, answer to Aristotles definition o f Mathematical NumberS\ Simultaneously, Plato undoubtedly postulated a kind o f numbers that are Ideas. In the Phaedo, where the clearest statement o f the latter postulate occurs, Plato also seems to maintain and explain the difference between the two distinct number conceptions. In the Republic, the introduc tion o f the numbers that answer to Aristotles definition of Mathematical Numbers is heralded by an argument to the effect that the numerical Ideas possess no true instances in the w orld o f the senses. This corroborates one part o f Aris totles assertion that, in Platos opinion, the Mathematical Num- j bers are Intermediates between the numbers that are Ideas and the realm o f sensible particulars. The other part o f the same assertion, viz. that, in Platos opinion, the Mathematical Num bers themselves are perfect instances o f the numbers that are Ideas is, at least, im plied by the line o f argument in the Republic and is further confirm ed by the discussion o f nume rical Ideas in the Phaedo. Thus, as far as Platos philosophy o f arithmetic is concerned, there is much that speaks in favor o f the Aristotelian interpretation/j Platos statements concerning geometry can not as readily be interpreted as evidence for the essential correctness of Aristotles analysis. Before surveying what Plato has to say concerning geometry, let us first consider to what extent the assumption o f Intermediates in general, geometrical as well as arithmetical, can be said to agree with Platos philosophy as presented in his own writings. Aristotle does not merely tell us lhat Plato assumed Inter mediates. He also explains what were Platos reasons for that assumption. Now, the propositions which, according to Aristotle, were Plato's reasons are actually traceable in the dialogues, and, further, they do in fact entail the existence of mathematical Intermediates, geometrical as well as arithme tical. One must, it is true, be cautious in attributing to a philosopher explicit belief in propositions which are only


entailed by propositions in which he has confessed his belief. Clearly, the just mentioned fact does not in itself show that Plato assumed any Intermediates. But if, as I think, Plato actually manifests belief in the arithmetical class o f Interme diates, the just mentioned fact can not be neglected when we consider the question o f the geometrical class o f Inter mediates. Another fact that bears on the problem o f Intermediates in general is the enigmatic and m uch debated simile of the line in book VI o f the Republic. Ostensibly, at least, this simile implies a division o f the realm of ideal entities into two classes: the Ideas, which are the objects o f dialectical investigation, and those not clearly specified objects with which the mathematical sciences deal. Opinions differ as to whether Plato seriously meant to maintain such a division. No doubt Platos language here is obscure: in part it lends itself to an interpretation o f the Aristotelian type, and in part it seems to contradict such interpretation. It m ay fairly be concluded that Plato had not quite made up his mind on the question whether or not there exists a class o f ideal mathema tical objects distinct from the mathematical Ideas: that he, so to speak, hesitated between the two opposite alternatives. It is, however, to distort his view to state that, in the Republic, he did not even consider the possibility o f a separate class o f mathematical objects- ^\s already mentioned, he does, as a matter o f fact, in the Republic, define a type o f numbers which do not conform with his definition o f Ideas and which he assigns to arithmetic. Although, when writing the Republic, Plato seems to have been somewhat muddled in his views on the subject-matter o f mathematics, he was, I think, groping for a mathematical ontology essentially conform ing with the Aristotelian scheme^ The two facts mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs seem to lend a rather high probability to the hypothesis that Plato (sometime, somehow) arrived at the assumption of mathematical Intermediates, geometrical as well as arithme tical. W hen we now turn to look for more direct indications o f the assumption o f geometrical Intermediates, we find some


such evidence, not very rich, it is true, but still clearly positive. The criticism o f the current language o f geometry, that occurs in book VII o f the Republic, logically presupposes the existence o f geometrical Intermediates. There are also passages in some other dialogues, the Euthydem us, the Phaedo and the Pliilebus, which admit or perhaps even invite to an interpretation lhat makes them likewise presuppose the existence o f geometri cal Intermediates. The fact that Plato again and again teaches the exhaustive division o f the universe into the realm o f Ideas and the realm of sensible particulars actually carries little weight as a counter argument to the Aristotelian interpretation. Plato often m ani fests a preference for clearcut dichotom ies even when more com plicated constructions are called for by the substance of his teaching. In the Phaedo, e.g., the ontological dichotom y is maintained although the soul, which is the main subject of the whole discussion, does not find any place in the bipartite universe.7 In the beginning o f the Timaeus the same dichotomy is presented although, at a later stage in that dialogue, space is recognized as a third entity which does not admit classifica tion in accordance with the dichotom y.8 It is by no means inconsistent with Plato's habits as a writer that he should profess the ontological dichotom y even in a work where he had the existence o f mathematical Intermediates in mind.

Thus, an interpretation or a reconstruction o f Plato's phi losophy o f mathematics will here be offerred that, in all main points, agrees with Aristotles exposition. Platos statements on the nature of mathematics are scattered in dialogues which, probably, were written during the course o f fourty or fifty years. The statements are mostly rather brief, and none of them contains the entirety o f the views that shall here be col lected and analysed as Platos philosophy of mathematics . The most complete statements are those in the Republic and the Philebus, but even they would remain exceedingly enig matic unless compared with statements in other dialogues. The method lhat I have em ployed in interpreting Plato could


figuratively be described as one o f projection. The statements in the dialogues w hich originate in different periods o f Platos phi losophical thought, I have, so to speak, projected on a plane of simultaneity. Let us use the term P-propositions for the propositions that belong to the set thus form ed. On the same plane o f simultaneity I have likewise projected those propositions which, according to Aristotle, were part of Platos mathe matical philosophy. Let us call these latter propositions A-propositions . W hen com pared with the P-propositions the A-propositions are seen to fall into four classes: (1) Some A-propositions coincide with certain P-propositions. (2) Some A-propositions are what I should like to call plausible generalizations o f certain P-propositions: they are rather exact statements in a general form of assumptions toward w hich a number o f less general P-propositions seem to point. (3) Some A-propositions are near consequences o f P -propo sitions: they are derivable from P-propositions and the derivation is very short, i.e. involves only a few simple logical operations. (4) Finally, some A-propositions grossly contra dict certain P-propositions: they contradict certain P -propo sitions, and the contradiction is very obvious. The P-proposi tions and those A-propositions that belong to classes (1) - (3) 1 have collected into a system o f propositions that, for the moment, we may designate the system S . This system S is found to exhibit a high degree o f logical unity in the follow ing tw ofold sense: (a) It is highly consistent : it contains only a few contradictions, and the contradictions that it contains are such as Plato might have swallowed ; (b) It is highly connected : all the propositions in S are easily derivable from a small number o f propositions in S. This system S. w hich results from the projection, is what I here prim arily regard as Platos philosophy o f mathematics. Although, to begin with, I discount those A-propositions that belong to class (4), I do not wish entirely to reject them as un-Platonic- A closer study o f the system S reveals that it contains certain contradictions and that, on the basis o f these contradictions, one can easily arrive at opposite conclusions. It is further seen that some o f the A-propositions o f class (4)


and those P-propositions which they contradict represent such possible opposite conclusions. I have envisaged the possibility that the A-propositions o f class (4) o f which this holds are conclusions that Plato actually (sometime, somehow) may have drawn. Apriori it is not selfevident that such a method has any historical validity. It is easy to mention philosophers o f whose thought the method would give an entirely misleading picture. Also Platos ow n thought has many aspects upon which the method is clearly inapplicable. The follow ing are the reasons why 1 assume that the system of beliefs which is obtained by applying the method to Platos statements on mathematics has, as a whole, a historical reality which is not merely the existence o f the separate beliefs at separate dates in Platos life: (1) Ari stotles testimony; (2) The fact that Platos statements on mathematics from various periods overlap in such a manner that a proposition to be found in one dialogue is never sharply isolated from a proposition found in another dialogue; (3) The fact that the core of the system is contained both in the Re public and in the Philebus; (4) The fact that the degree o f logical unity exhibited by the system makes it reasonable to assume that Plato with the perspicacity he often manifests som ehow saw the system as a connected whole. Of course it is incredible that Plato had worked out what 1 shall here call his philosophy of mathematics already at the lime when he began his career as a philosophical writer. Hence, the question is forced upon us: W hen did Plato hold the d oc trine that will here be analysed? Because of an ignorance which the available sources do not allow us to cure the answer will o f necessity be rather vague. (We can merely repeat what has already been said, viz., that the essence of the doctrine is found in the Republic and in the Philebus, and that Plato must have taught the doctrine at the time when Aristotle knew him^ Plato was never a very systematic writer. Important views are often stated in a casual manner, and often Plato is satisfied lo make hints that the reader may or m ay not understand. That the doctrine o f ideal geometrical objects is nowhere unam bi guously slated in the dialogues, therefore, is no decisive ground 2 .4 .

Weil berg


for denying that it was held by Plato. In addition, we have Ari stotles words for the fact that the philosophy o f mathematics did not from the beginning hold the predominant position which it obtained in a later phase o f Platos thought.9 The little we know about Platos famous lecture or lectures on the Good confirm s that the old Plato embraced a mathematizing philosophy which in some respects went far beyond what is even hinted at in the dialogues.10 Once Aristotle quotes as his source Platos so-called unwritten doctrines .1 Hence, it is 1 natural to assume that Aristotles account o f Platos mathema tical philosophy refers particularly to a late period o f Platos thinking, that the mathematical philosophy which Aristotle attributes to Plato attained its definitive form first during Platos later years and that Plato never got around to writing it dow n for publication. W hat we shall call, in chapter III, the fundamental antinomy o f the theory o f Ideas must have tended to obscure the diffe rence between the two alternatives, A and B. In consequence of that antinomy, the Idea o f the Circle itself has two aspects: on the one hand, it is the abstract properly o f Circularity; on the other hand, it is a circle, the ideal perfect standard circle. Hence, the postulation o f geometrical Ideas in itself implies the assumption o f certain ideal geometrical objects. |As long as Plato had not succeeded in solving the antinomy, it must have been difficult for him to see clearly the difference between the two alternatives and to formulate the assumption of ideal geometrical objects as distinct from the assumption o f geometrical Ideas. This consideration lends some further plausibility to the theory ithat Aristotle describes a late and partly unpublished form o f the Platonic philosophy. (The same must, o f course, be supposed to hold for the doctrines belonging to groups II and III, w hich I am consistently disregarding in the present essay.) ^Whether or not Aristotle is telling us the strict historical truth, the mathematical philosophy that he imputes to Plato is the logical com pletion o f the views that are explicitly stated in Platos writings^ W hen read in the light o f Aristotles interpre tation, Platos published statements on the nature o f mathe-


inatics acquire a clearer and deeper meaning. This brings me to a further pointThe aim o f this essay is, not only to ascertain what were Platos views on the nature o f mathematics, but also to clarify the meaning o f those views and the reasons which led Plato to embrace them. The aim is not only historical but also, in a sense, philosophical. The philosophical part o f our task appears to involve a paradox. W e shall endeavour to state, more syste matically and more clearly than Plato himself did, the things that Plato had in mind. If we succeed, our very success may seem to condem n our exposition as historical falsification. If Plato was less clear, our exposition is misleading by being more clear. The paradox, that faces any similar attempt to study philosophically the history o f philosophy, is, however, only specious. The same thing m ay be said with various degrees of clarity. In order to know with precision what it was that Plato said obscurely, we have to restate the same things clearly. The clear statements in themselves, naturally, do not give the com plete historical truth about Platos philosophical beliefs. The com plete historical truth is seen first if we realize what degree o f obscurity or confusion attaches to Platos own manner o f expressing his beliefs. This is a fact lhat the reader is asked to keep in mind throughout the follow ing pages. * The problems discussed in this essay have all been subject to lively debate am ong Platonic scholars. T o say anything radically new is perhaps not possible. But as far as I know, there exists no comprehensive treatment, where those aspects o f Platos philosophy o f mathematics that we shall here examine are investigated from the present point o f view. The present essay is written from the point o f view o f a philosopher, not a philologian. In what concerns the philo logical interpretation o f the texts I have had to rely largely on authorities. Finally, the author owes the reader the confession that all his conclusions are, in his own mind if not explicitly in the


subsequent text, supplied with an index usually showing a rather modest degree o f confirmation. In this line o f research the uncertainties are so many that no theory can be embraced with anything like tranquil conviction. That is probably the reason why so many Platonic scholars seem to be arguing like lawyers before the bar: they make up a case for a chosen thesis by playing up Hie evidence in its favor, belittl ing the contrary evidence and speaking with contagious dog matic assurance. The author is conscious o f the fact that the title o f this essay involves unjustified pretense and that a juster title would be: Perhaps Platos philosophy o f mathematics .


Platos mathematics
Each philosophy o f science is naturally tied to the stand of science itself at the time and, o f course, to the philosophers own degree o f scientific erudition. In order to understand Platos philosophy of mathematics we must, hence, consider what mathematics meant for Plato.1 W hen Plato spoke o f mathematics, he usually thought o f arithmetic and geometry, primarily plane geometry. Sometimes he stressed solid geometry as a separate discipline and added astronomy (celestial kinematics) and the theory o f musical harmony.2 But these disciplines were very im perfectly develop ed as com pared with the first mentioned ones and Plato made little out o f them in his philosophy o f mathematics. In what follow s I shall accordingly concentrate my attention on Platos views concerning arithmetic and geometry. Geometry was for Plato those parts o f what is now known as Euclidean geometry that had been developed in his days. According to Heath, most o f the theories brought together by Euclid in the Elem ents existed already in Platos time:
There is therefore probably little in the w hole compass o f the o f Euclid, except the new theory o f proportion due to Eudoxus and its consequences, which was not in substance included in the recognized con tent o f geometry and arithmetic by Platos time, although the form and arrangement o f the subject-matter and the methods employed in particular cases were different from what we find in Euclid. 3

E en lem ts

Although the method o f exhaustion was sporadically used already before Eudoxus, the systematic employment of this method is likewise due to this mathematician and should be added as a further exception.4 O f course, E uclids own syste matization o f Greek geometry was not written until after the


death o f Plato. W ith a convenient terminological anachronism I shall, however, designate the geometry that Plato had in mind as the Euclidean geom etry . W ithin the field o f what we nowadays designate as arithme tic Plato sometimes drew a distinction between arithmetic and logistic . In a later Greek mathematical terminology this pair o f terms frequently corresponded roughly to a distinction between number theory (in the modern sense )and a practical art o f calculation, operating with concrete numerical problems and taking account also o f fractions.5 jln Plato, however, the distinction must have had another significance. Of arith m etic as well as o f logistic there are, according to the Re public and the Philebus, a popular and a philosophical kind, the former dealing with concrete numbers (such as two armies or two oxen ), the latter with abstract mathematical numbers.0 In the Gorgias arithmetic is said to be knowledge o f even and odd [numbers], how great each o f them are , whereas logistic is said to investigate how great the odd and the even are, both in relation to themselves and in relation to one another .7 Perhaps, according to the differentiation which Plato has here in mind, arithmetic is simply the art o f count ing, while logistic is the theory of the arithmetical relations between numbers. In the Ion Socrates says that it is by arithme tic , scil. counting, that he knows the number o f his fingers to be five.8 But Plato does not seem to adhere very strictly to such a distinction. In the Protagoras Socrates argues for the need of an art o f measurement whereby we shall be able to measure the size o f pleasures and pains without being misled by their appearances that are distorted by the varying distances in time:
W ell now, if the saving o f our life depended on the choice o f odd or even, and on knowing when lo make a right choice o f the greater and when o f the less taking each by itself or comparing it with the other, and whether near or distant what would save our life? W ould it not be knowledge: a knowledge o f measurement, since the art here is concerned with excess and defect, and of arithmetic, as it has to do with odd and even? People would admit this, would they n ot? 9

Apparently Socrates here ascribes to arithmetic also that func-


tion w hich in the Gorgias he attributed to logistic, viz. the function o f com paring the numbers. However that may be, although the Platonic distinction between arithmetic and logistic is o f great importance from other points o f view10, it will not further interest us in the present essay. In what follows, I shall somewhat anachronistically use the term arith m etic to cover the whole field within which Plato sometimes drew the above-mentioned distinction. W hen speaking o f numbers Plato usually, if not always, lias in mind the series o f positive integers: (1 ), 2, 3, . . . The division of these into the two alternating series o f odd and even numbers: (1 ), 3, 5 , . . . ; 2, 4, 6 , , apparently in Platos eyes was more fundamental than any other division. Accordingly he often speaks o f arithmetic as the science of odd and even numbers.1 In a passage in the Parmenides he explicitly states 1 the infinity o f the series of positive integers and even supplies a proof therefor in rather obscure outline, it is true.12 In the same dialogue he gives evidence that he was not completely unfamiliar with the possibility of proving universal arithmetical propositions by what is nowadays known as mathematical induction or p roof b}' recursion.1 3 The position o f the integer 1 appears to have been somewhat ambiguous in Greek mathematics. It was often assumed that 2 is the first number. The reason was that number was thought to be a plurality of units", or the measure o f such a plu rality, and 1 unit of a given kind is not yet a plurality.14 In accordance with this view, Plato speaks o f number and the one , in bookJVTI o f the Republic, as if 1 were not a number on a par with 2, 3 , . . ,15; and in the Phaeclo, he apparently identifies the series o f odd numbers with: 3 , 5 , . . .ir> However, . it appears that the Greeks, including Plato, were not infallibly consistent on this point. In the same chapter o f his Physics we find Aristotle saying both that the smallest number, in the strict sense o f the w ord num ber, is tw o , and that in respect o f number the minimum is one (or tw o ) .1 In book 7 VII of the Laws Plato likewise forgets the doctrine that 1 is not a number, when he discusses m ans fate if ignorant of what is one, or two, or three, or in short the even and the

24 odd, totally unable to count .18^The view that 7 is not a number seems to have remained, on the whole, a philosophical idea without influence upon Greek arithmetic itself. In arithmetical calculations and deductions 1 was usually admitted on a par with the numbers: 2, 3, . . .19\ The number 0 and the negative integers were, of course, unknown to Plato: they were first introduced in European mathematics in a much later age.20 Diophantus was the first to admit fractions as arithmetical entities similar to the positive integers: in earlier Greek mathematics fractions wrere recog nized only in the sense o f relations between integers.21 Although the existence o f incommensurable geometrical magnitudes was known by the Greek mathematicians of Plato's time, they never created a corresponding theory of irrational numbers. The incommensurability was confined to the field of geometry.22 In this matter Plato seems to have follow ed the general trend o f contem porary mathematical thought. In Hie Laws Plato stresses the importance o f understanding the distinction between commensurable and incommensurable lines, surfaces and solids.23 In the Theaetetus the mathema tician from w hom the dialogue has borrow ed its name explains at great length the general notion of square roots w hich are not commensurable with the unit length. The words o f Theaetetus imply a pronouncedly geometrical conception o f the incommensurables. ^The square root of, e.g., the number 2 is thought o f as a line segment such that a square with that segment for its side has a volum e twice that o f the unit square.24] In the Epinomis (a work the authenticity o f which is disputed) there is an interest ing passage in which geometry is said to be a study of numbers which are in themselves dissimilar but are assimilat ed by reference to surfaces .25 A. E. Taylor, who, oil the whole, seems unduly inclined to interpret Platos statements as anticipations o f later developments within mathematics, believes that this passage from the Epinomis assigns an existence independent o f geometrical representations to the incommensurables. But, more probably, Plato was here thinking o f similarity in the follow ing sense. T w o numbers, say a and b, are similar if a is a product a a" and b a


product b' b" and a la" = b'/b". In this sense, e g., the numbers 7 and 2 are in themselves dissimilar . But they can be assimilated by reference to surfaces in the sense that there exists two similar surfaces, e.g. squares, whose volumes are related as / to 2.20 Although Plato often draws a very sharp distinction between arithmetic and geometry, a distinction which we shall later consider in detail, it seems quite obvious that his very concep tion o f arithmetical number retained a geometrical element, not clearly recognized by himself. For the Pythagoreans, whose views exercised a large influence upon Platos entire thought, the numbers: (1 ), 2, 3 , . . . , were probably identical with arrangements o f points in space. Plato opposed this view, and his opposition led him to a radical separation o f arithmetic from geometry. But, nevertheless, something o f the Pythago rean view probably remained with Plato, frhe ideal, indistin guishable and indivisible units , which in his opinion form the basic subject-matter o f arithmetic, seem to be. the ghosts of the Pythagorean points.2 ^ 7)


The theory of Ideas

Platos philosophical interpretation o f the mathematics he knew is intimately related to his general theory o f Ideas. In order to get a clear grasp o f Platos philosophical views on mathematics we must, therefore, first look at the main theses o f this theory. The problem which form s the starting-point for that theory is the problem which ever since it was first formulated by Plato has been the basic issue between nominalists and logical realists. Plato was the first to see this problem, and his theory o f Ideas is the first attempt to solve it. Although the problem is now more than 2000 years old, it has lost none of its original interest and, alas, it has hardly been brought closer to a definitive solution. W e can perhaps now distinguish, better than Plato could, the simple logical kernel of the problem from associated metaphysical questions, and we can accordingly separate that part o f Platos theory o f Ideas which directly answers the logical problem from those parts in which he gave the reins to his speculative imagination. W e shall here take a brief survey of Platos solution o f the logical problem, leaving most o f the speculative superstructure out o f considera tion. The problem can be formulated either in a semantical or in an ontological fashion. Both formulations were actually present to Platos mind. (a) Let us consider a significant subject-predicate sentence such as: Socrates is hum an . Concerning the subject term, Socrates , we know that there is something which it signifies, or designates, or is a name of, viz., the Athenian philosopher Socrates. Now, it seems reasonable to raise the question: Does also the predicate term, the adjective human , designate


something? Is there an entity o f which that term is the name? The same question may be put in connection with any mean ingful subject-predicate sentence o f the same type. If X is (a) Y is a significant sentence with the expression X for its subject and the expression Y for its predicate, then does Y designate an entity of som e kind? In the m odern sense of the term, this is a semantical question, since it is concerned with the relation between linguistic expressions and the things (entities) to which they refer. (b) It is a fact that Socrates, Gorgias, Protagoras, etc., are all human. Does this fact mean that there is an entity, say Humanity, to w hich they are all related in the same manner? In general, if A, B, C, etc., are all Y, is there then some entity, say Y-ness, to which they are all related in an identical fashion? Since here no mention is made o f linguistic expres sions and o f their reference to things (entities), this form ula tion o f the problem m ay be called ontological in contra distinction to the previous semantical formulation. H ow ever, it is easily seen that the two questions are actually equivalent. An affirm ative answer to the form er question implies an affirmative answer to the second, and conversely. The two equivalent questions are here formulated in con nection with what is perhaps the simplest kind o f sentences, subject-predicate sentences. But the same questions can o f course be raised also in connection with more complicated types o f sentences, e.g., relational sentences such as: Socrates is similar to Plato . W e may ask: Does the w ord similar , or perhaps the w hole expression is similar to , designate some entity? Into the fact that Socrates is similar to Plato, does there enter a third constituent, say Similarity, besides the two philosophers Socrates and Plato? Both the semantical and the ontological form ulation o f the problem can be traced in Platos dialogues, and he raised the problem with respect not only to subject-predicate sentences but also to relational sentences. Often the tw o formulations o f the problem are inextricably combined- In the Republic, book X, the issue is stated thus:

28 W e are in the habit o f postulating one unique Idea for each plurality of objects to which we apply a com m on name. 1

Special cases o f the problem are discussed in most o f the Pla tonic dialogues. In the Parmenides the semantical problem is raised concerning the term other :
Must you always mean the same thing when you utter the same name, whether once or repeatedly? The same thing, o f course. The word distinct is the name o f something, is it not? Certainly. Then when you utter it, whether once or many times, you apply it to nothing else, and you name nothing else, than that o f which it is the name. Assuredly. Now when we say that the others are distinct from the one, and the one is distinct from the others, though we use the word distinct twice, we do not for all that apply it to anything else, but we always apply it to that nature o f which it is the name. 2

In the Hippias Major the ontological version of the problem is debated with respect to certain ethical qualifications. The pro position that the just are just by justice is the starting-point for the follow ing discussion:
Then this I mean justice is a certain thing? Certainly. Then, too, by wisdom the wise are wise and by the Good all good things are good? Of course. And these are real things, since otherwise they would not do what they do. To be sure, they are real things. Then are not all beautiful things beautiful by the Beautiful? Yes, by the Beautiful. W hich is a real thing? Yes, for what alternative is there?3

As is well known, Plato the first logical realist in the his tory of philosophy answers the problem in the affirmative. Besides the particulars given in sense experience there is an other type of entities designated by such words as may occur


as predicates in subject-predicate sentences. There is Beauty (designated by the predicate in X is beautiful , or X pos sesses beauty ), Justice (designated by the predicate in X is just ), Whiteness (designated by the predicate in X is white ), and so on. There is also such a thing as Similarity (referred to by the term sim ilar in the sentence X is similar to Y ). For this type o f entities Plato uses the terms Idea , or Form ", or E ssence ,4 Let the letter Y represent adjectival or abstract substanti val expressions, such as just or justice , beautiful or beauty , and so on. Then, for appropriate substitutions for Y", the theory o f Ideas assumes: (1 a) The expression Y is the name o f something, an Idea (or Form , or Essence). The passage from the Parmenides which we just quoted shows that, for appropriate substitutions for Y , the theory further assumes: (1 b) In each context where the expression Y occurs, it is the name of the same thing, the same Idea. Any satisfactory semantical theory o f language, whether it is based on a philosophy o f nominalism or one o f logical realism, must o f course take into account the fact that words are often ambiguous. Although, I think, Plato might have been prepared to agree to the qualifications o f thesis (1 b) which this fact necessitates, he never him self stated them. In connection with the term Idea (and its synonyms) and the names o f particular Ideas Plato introduces a certain further semi-technical vocabulary. He often says that it is by parti cipation in , or by the presence o f , the Idea o f Justice that a thing is just, that it is by participation in , or by the presence o f , the Idea o f Beauty that a thing is beautiful, and so on.5 Using this terminology we m ay state the basic postu late o f the theory o f Ideas also in the follow ing ontological fashion. Let the letter Y represent adjectival expressions, such as just", beautiful , and so on, and let Y-ness repre


sent the corresponding abstract noun. Then, for appropriate substitutions for Y , the theory o f Ideas assumes: (2 a) It is by participation in the Idea o f Y-ness that a thing is Y. Leaving out the specification of the Idea, we may also state that, for appropriate substitutions for Y , the theory postu lates: (2 b) There is something, an Idea, such that it is by participa tion therein that a thing is Y. W e have already quoted a passage from the Republic where Plato speaks of the habit o f postulating one unique Idea for each plurality o f objects to w hich we apply a com m on name . He exemplifies the general m axim by saying that there is exactly one Idea o f Bed and exactly one Idea o f T a b le .53 I believe that we are justified in paraphrasing this passage as follows. For appropriate substitutions for Y (the passage allows any com m on name), the theory o f Ideas assumes: (3 a) There is exactly one Idea such that it is by participation therein that a thing is Y. W hat this statement adds to what has already been said through (2 b) is: (3 b) There are never two distinct Ideas such that a thing is Y by participation in the one as well as by participation in the other. W hat does it mean to say that a thing is Y by participation in the Idea o f Y-ness? From (2 a) we can no doubt infer: (2 c) A thing is Y if and only if it participates in the Idea of Y-ness. If the full meaning o f (2 a) were rendered by (2 c), we could also reproduce the full meaning o f (2 b) and (3 b) by the follow ing statements:


(2) There is an Idea such that a thing is Y if and only if it participates therein. (3) There are no two distinct Ideas such that a thing is Y if and only if it participates in the one, as well as if and only if it participates in the other. If we are at all entitled to transcribe (2 a) in the manner of (2 c ) , we should, I think, at any rate have to add lhat the m u tual implication between being Y and participating in the Idea o f Y-ness is not a factual coincidence but a necessity. If the mutual implication stated in (3) com prised the merely factual and the necessary as specialised cases, (3) would be to the effect that there are no two distinct Ideas with exactly the same participants. Thus, (3) would amount to a principle o f extensionality for Ideas: an Ideti would be uniquely deter mined by its participants, by its extension . If, however, the mutual implication of (3) is necessary, (3) does not exclude the possibility o f two distinct Ideas which, by a factual coin cidence, have exactly the same participants. The passage from the Republic from which we have extracted (3) is rather indefinite on this point. It could perhaps be interpreted as implying a principle o f extensionality. But we are, I think, on safer ground if we read it as a condensed way o f saying that, corresponding to each plurality of objects to which we apply a com m on name, there is a unique Idea which justifies the application o f that name, or that, for each name Y , there is a unique Idea such that being Y and participating in that Idea are necessarily the same. In those cases where Plato postulates the existence o f the abstract entity, he even seems to employ the sentences, X is Y and X participates in Y-ness , as synonym ous expressions for the same proposition. In several places o f his M etaphysics Aristotle gives what seems to be an excellent account o f the doctrine o f Ideas and its origin:
But when Socrates was occupying himself with the excellences of character, and in connection with them became the first to raise the problem o f universal definition ( . . . ; for two things may be fairly ascribed

32 lo Socrates inductive arguments and universal definition, both o f which are concerned with the starting-point o f science): but Socrates did not make the universals or the definitions exist apart; [the Platonists], however, gave them a separate existence, and this was the kind of thing they called Ideas. Therefore it follow ed for them, almost by the same argument, that there must be Ideas of all things that are spoken o f uni versally, . . . For to each thing there answers an entity which has the same name and exists apart from the substances, and so also in the case of all other groups there is a one over many, whether these be of this w orld or eternal. 0


Abstract terms designate abstract entities o f some sort, and to be such and such is to be related in some way to such an abstract entity that seems to be the basic intuition under lying the whole theory o f Ideas. As Aristotle maintains, the theory seems to have grown out o f the Socratic endeavour to give definitions o f abstract terms. In the sequence o f the early Platonic dialogues one can notice how the postulate o f the existence o f abstract entities, designated by the terms to be defined, gradually assumes a more and more prominent place and finally obtains an interest o f its own, independent o f the original interest in definitions. Between extreme nominalism, which denies the existence of any abstract entities, and an extreme realism, which accepts more or less wholesale all significant expressions as designating entities (abstract if not concrete), there is an entire spectrum o f possible positions with regard to the problem o f the exist ence o f abstract entities. Plato did never clearly define where along this spectrum he took his stand. In the critical discussion of the theory o f Ideas that is contained in the Parmenides, one o f the main objections that are put in the mouth o f Parmenides is just this indefiniteness o f the theory.7 The Ideas most often referred to in Platos writings seem to fall mainly into five (not rigidly separate) classes: (i) Ethical and esthetical Ideas, such as the Idea o f the Good, the Idea o f the Just, the Idea o f the Beautiful; (ii) Ideas for certain very general notions, such as the Ideas of Sameness and Difference, Being and Not-being, Likeness and Unlikeness, One and Many;


(iii) Mathematical Ideas, such as the Idea o f the Circle, the Idea o f the Diameter, the Idea of Two, Three, etc.; (iv) Ideas for natural kinds, such as the Idea of Man, the Idea of Ox, the Idea o f Stone; (v) Ideas for kinds o f artefacts, such as the Idea o f the Table and that of the Couch.8 In the Parmenides Socrates professes certainty only as to the existence o f Ideas of classes (i) and (ii). Concerning (iv) he confesses that he has not been able to make up his mind. Simultaneously, however, he confides that he often gets disturbed and begins to think that every general concept is an Idea. From the Republic, book X, we have already quoted a passage, where Socrates apparently maintains a logical realism of an extreme type. Platos theory o f Ideas is dominated by the conception o f an Idea as being to use Aristotles expressive phrase one over m any .10 This conception, no doubt, covers several distinct assumptions. For the moment it is of interest to observe the implied belief that to every Idea there correspond m any objects participating in the Idea. Hence, according to Plato, there are no Ideas in which no objects participate or which have empty classes for their extensions. The conscious recogni tion o f empty concepts and empty classes is the result o f a logical sophistication at wrhich the Gieek philosophers of Platos time had obviously not yet arrived. This is one lim i tation o f his logical realism.1 1 Another such limitation is apparent from the discussion in the Statesman o f the relation between the notions of genos or eidos (or idea) and part (m eros). Socrates explains that, a genos o f things belonging to a given totality o f things is neces sarily a part o f that totality, but that a part o f a totality does not have to be a genos. If, in dividing the set o f all numbers, one were to cut o ff ten thousand from the rest and then give a separate name to the rest-- one would, he asserts, get an instance o f parts of the totality o f numbers none o f which is a genos.12 Like Aristotle Plato seems to assume that there exists a certain privileged natural division o f reality into ge-

3 .1.



nera, and he recognised none but such natural genera as genuine genera, as Ideas. W e have already analysed part o f the significance of Platos view that each Idea is one over m any . Another part o f its significance is that each Idea is above each o f the many objects participating in the Idea, or that the Idea is never one among those objects. The proposition: (4) An Idea is never one among the objects participating therein, is one o f the most characteristic postulates o f Platos theory of Ideas. It is clearly expressed, e.g., in the follow ing passage from the Republic, book V:
Well, then, [Socrates asks] take the opposite case: the man whose thought recognizes a beauty in itself, and is able to distinguish that self-beautiful and the things that participate in it, and neither supposes the participants to be it nor it the participants is his life, in your opinion, a waking or a dream state? He is very much awake, he [Glaucon] replied. 1 3

In discussing the relation between Ideas and particular things Plato frequently makes use o f an assumption which m ay suitably be called the Platonic Principle o f Similarity: (5) W henever two things participate in the same Idea, they resem ble each other in respect of that Idea; and whenever two things resem ble each other, there is an Idea in which they both participate and this com m on participation accounts for their resemblance. This principle is explicitly stated in the Parmenides.14 W hat are the Ideas and what is that relation o f participation about w hich the previously recorded assumptions are made? It is impossible to give a single unambiguous answer to this question. Divergent conceptions o f the Ideas and o f the rela tion o f participation seem to have competed with each other in Platos mind. In modern logic we are accustomed to making a distinction between attributes (qualities, properties, relations) on one hand and classes on the other hand. Obviously, Platos


notion o f an Idea is closely related to these modern concepts. As a matter o f historical fact, Platos notion o f an Idea is the ancestor o f w hich these modern concepts are the refined descendants. A fundamental distinction between attributes and classes, in the m odem sense, is that the latter but not the form er are subject to a principle o f extensionality: whereas non-identical attributes may inhere in exactly the same things, two classes with exactly the same elements are necessarily identical. Usually we assume also a further difference between attributes and classes: the class is a collection, a bringing together (Zusammenfassung, says Cantor), of a number o f objects, whereas an attribute is a principle according to which such a collection can be established or according to which the objects to be collected are chosen. Although proposition (3), which we have recognised as an essential part o f the theory o f Ideas, comes close to being a principle o f extensionality for Ideas, we have not accepted the interpretation that it actually is one. Platos usual manner o f speaking suggests that he thought o f the Ideas as being principles by means o f which particulars are brought together into collections, rather than as being themselves collections.15 In this respect his Ideas are more akin to our attributes than to our classes. As we shall see in a later context, he sometimes thinks o f the Ideas as being, in some sense, m onads or entities not com pounded out o f parts.10 This m ode o f thinking would seem more in agree ment with our intuition o f attributes than with our intuition o f classes. But on the oilier hand he also speaks o f the Ideaspecies as being a part of the Idea-genus.17 This m ode of speaking w ould seem more appropriate to our classes than to our attributes. W e might perhaps say that the Platonic Ideas are something in between what we call attributes and what we call classes but, on the whole, closer to the former than to the latter. The Idea o f Y-ness is almost the same as what w e should call the attribute Y-ness, and to participate in that Idea is almost the same as having that attribute.

This sketchy account o f the theory o f Ideas has to omit

many important aspects o f that theory. The account would, however, be too misleading, if we did not mention the funda mental antimony in the theory an antinomy the absurd consequences o f which Plato himself was conscious of, al though he did not clearly recognize their source. In contradic tion to proposition (4), which is contained in the principle of one over m any , Plato assumes that, e.g. the Idea of Beauty is itself an ideal object which is beautiful (and supremely beautiful), the Idea o f Justice is itself something which is just (and supremely just), and so on. Thus, Plato believed that: (6) The Idea of Y-ness is (a ) Y.1 8 If this proposition is com bined with the previously recorded proposition (2 c), we immediately obtain the corollary: (6) E very Idea participates in itself. To be beautiful is to participate in the Idea o f Beauty, to be just is to participate in the Idea o f Justice, and so on. Hence if the Idea o f Beauty is beautiful, the Idea o f Justice is just, and so on, every Idea participates in itself. But proposition (6) directly contradicts proposition (4). This contradiction, which I choose to call the fundamental antinomy o f the Pla tonic theory o f Ideas, is the greatest logical weakness of that theory. Plato apparently did not see the contradiction; he never saw that (6) and (2 c) together entail (6) which latter proposition lie never formulated. But from the contradiction he drew consequences the absurdity o f which he saw. Assuming that the w ord great is a permitted substitution for Y in (2 a), we find that there exists an Idea o f Greatness, I, participation in which makes a thing great. If C is the set o f all great things, it follow s from (4) that I is not itself an element o f C . By (6), however, V is itself great. Thus, we get a new class o f great things, C , w hich in addition to all the elements o f C contains / as an element. By (2 a), again, there exists an Idea o f Great ness, / , in w hich all the elements o f C participate. By (4), / is not an element o f C and, hence, distinct form / . By (6), 7


itself is great. And so on in infinitum. Thus we obtain an infinite sequence o f distinct Ideas o f Greatness: I, I , I , . .. In the Parmenides Plato lets Parmenides point out this ab surdity to Socrates:
I [Parmenides] fancy your reason for postulating in each case a single Idea is something like this: W hen there is a number o f things which seem lo you lo be great, you thinlk, as you look at them all, that there is a single identical Idea for all ol' them, and hence you think that the Great is one. That is true, he [Socrates] said. But if with your minds eye you regard the Great itself and these many great things in the same way, will not another Great appear beyond, by virtue o f which alt these must appear great? So it seems. That is, another Idea o f Greatness will appear, in addition to the Greatness itself and the things which partake o f it; and again above all these another, by reason o f w hich they are all great, and eaoh o f your Ideas will no longer be one but will be infinitely multiplied. 1 9

The same objection was later stressed by Aristotle in his criticism o f the Platonic theory of Ideas. In contradistinction to Plato, Aristotle shows that he knew exactly how the infinite regress arises, viz. from thinking o f the general Idea as a par ticular partaking o f that Idea. In De Sophisticis Elenchis he discusses the argument o f the third m an , w hich is a form of the argument stated in the Parmenides, and rejects it as a sophism:
Again, there is the p roof that there is a third man distinct from Man and from individual men. But that is a fallacy, for Man, and indeed every general predicate, denotes not an individual substance, hut a particular quality, or the being related to something in a particular manner, or something o f that sort.

The same solution o f the puzzle is emphatically restated:

It is evident then that one must not grant that what is a com m on predicate applying to a class universally is an individual substance, but must say that it denotes either a quality, or a relation or a quantity, or something of that kind. 20

Aristotles constant charge that in postulating the Ideas Plato mistakenly made particular substances out o f universals, seems


in fact to be directed mainly against Platos proposition (6), w hich as we have seen introduces an antinomy in the theory o f Ideas. By rejecting proposition (6) Aristotle definitely advanced the logical analysis o f universal concepts. Postulate (6) entails a new relationship between the Idea and the particulars com prehended under it. By virtue of (6), the Idea o f Y-ness is itself a Y. If now a particular X is a Y, the Idea of Y-ness and X will resemble each other in both being Y. Thus, we obtain the consequence: (7) If an object participates in the Idea of Y-ness, then that object resem bles the Idea (b y virtue o f their both being Y). This is frequently assumed by Plato, and it is, I think, a plausible guess that his adoption o f (6) was one o f the causes for his adoption o f (7). More particularly, Plato often speaks o f the Idea as being an archetype o f which the participants are a sort o f copies or imitations.21 The Idea o f Y-ness acquires for him the status of a kind o f ideal standard: to be Y is to resemble this standard about in the same manner, perhaps, as to be a meter in length is to resemble the standard meter. This view underlies the proof for the doctrine of reminiscence in the Phaedo: to perceive the equality of, e.g., two stones is to perceive that they (imperfectly) resemble the Idea o f Equality, and hence such perception presupposes a previous acquaintance with that Idea, an acquaintance w hich must date from the life o f the soul before birth.2 2 Although assumption (7) is often presupposed in the dia logues, it is rejected in the Parmenides and on excellent grounds! W hen proposition (7) is com bined with (5), we obtain the conclusion, that there exists an Idea I which ac counts for the resemblance between the X that is Y and the Idea o f Y-ness, that we may designate I . According to pro position (4), this Idea I is distinct both from X and I . Now, by virtue o f (7), / resembles I , and hence, by the same argu ment, there exists a third Idea I , and so on in infinitum. Yet, all these Ideas: / , . . ., are nothing but the same Idea o f Y-ness.

I think the most likely view is [Socrales says] that these Ideas exist in nature as patterns, and the other things resemble them and are imita tions o f them; their participation in Ideas is assimilation to them, that and nothing else. Then if anything, he [Parmenides] said, resembles the Idea, can that Idea avoid being like the thing which resembles it, in so far as the thing has been made to resemble it; or is there any possibility that the like be unlike its like? No, there is none. And must not necessarily the like partake of the same Idea as its like? It must. That by participation in which like things are made like, will be the absolute Idea, will it not? Certainly. Then it is impossible that anything be like the Idea, or the Idea like anything; for if they are alike, som e further Idea, in addition to the first, will always appear, and if that is like anything, still another, and a new Idea will always be arising, if the Idea is like that which partakes o f it. Very true. Then it is not by likeness that other things partake o f Ideas; we must seek some other method of participation.2 3

Here, it is clearly pointed out that this form of the infinite regress depends upon acceptance o f (7) and, in view o f the regress, (7) is rejected. Strangely enough, however, Plato ap parently did not see that (7) is in effect equivalent to (6), that the rejection o f (7) logically requires the rejection o f (6), too, and that, if (6) is rejected, the previously studied form o f the infinite regress is likewise eschewed. The basic intuition o f the theory o f Ideas finds its expression in the propositions (l)-(5 ). The conception of the Ideas as archetypes or ideal standards, o f which propositions (6) and (7) are an expression, contradicts the basic intuition and com pli cates the theory as a whole. The theory is com plicated still further by the follow ing feature. W hen speaking o f Ideas, Plato often has in mind a type o f attributes which, with a modern termino logy, we may describe thus: the given attribute is determinable (in the sense o f the English logician W . E. Johnson)24; those attributes which are determinate form s o f the given attribute are arranged in a series as higher and lower degrees thereof; among these degrees there is one which is higher than all the others. Beauty as conceived by Plato is such an attribute: if


something is beautiful, it always has some determinate, higher or lower degree of beauty; and there is one degree o f beauty w hich is higher than all other degrees. In so far as Platos Ideas are general attributes, thought o f in a realist fashion, we would expect Plato to postulate both an Idea of determin able Beauty and Ideas o f each determinate degree o f this deter minable. But as is well know n Plato does nothing o f the sort. Instead he postulates only one unique Idea o f Beauty, but this Idea he associates with the highest degree o f beauty.25 This highest degree, in Platos opinion, is never exemplified in the w orld o f the senses.20 W hen a sensible object is said to partake o f the Idea o f Beauty, this, therefore, means that the object possesses some inferior degree of the determinable attri bute; the Idea o f Beauty itself is either the highest degree o f that attribute or the ideal standard exhibiting that degree.

The metaphysical status o f Ideas is explained by Plato mostly in metaphorical terms, and it is difficult to know in how far bis statements in this respect are meant to be taken seriously. One thing, however, stands out clearly, viz. that the Ideas are eternal .27 The sense in which, according to Plato?s most considered opinion, the Ideas are eternal, is, I believe, explained by the passage 011 eternity in the Timaeus:
The past and the future are created species o f time, which we un consciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that it [the eternal being] was, it is , it will b e, but the truth is that is alone is properly attributed to it, and that w as and will be are only to be spoken o f becoming in time, . . . .2 S

In the same passage everlasting time is said to be a moving image o f eternity, distinct from eternity itself which rests in unity.29 W ith reference to these words in the Timaeus we may, it seems, state as Platos opinion: (8) The Ideas do not exist in time. The statement in the Phaedrus that the Ideas are located in the region above the heaven 30 is a metaphor which itself seems

lo indicate that the Ideas do not exist in space. This impression is confirm ed by Aristotles explicit assertion that, according to Plato, there is no body outside the heaven and that the Ideas, being nowhere, are not outside either.31 Probably Plato believed in proposition: (9) The Ideas do not exist in space. The eternity o f Ideas is for Plato intimately related to an other property o f Ideas, viz. their simplicity: (10) Ideas are not com pounded out of parts. '*

In the Phaedo this proposition is clearly stated. In one o f his attempts in that dialogue to prove the immortality of the soul Socrates takes for granted the follow ing principle:
Now is not that which is compounded and com posite naturally liable lo be decom posed, in the same w ay in which it was com pounded? And if anything is uncompounded, is not that, if anything, naturally unlikely to be decom posed? . . . Then it is most probable that things which are always the same and unchanging are the uncompounded things and the things that are changing and never the same are the com posite things? 3 2

Whereas sensible things belong to the class o f compounded, changing and perishable entities, the Ideas belong to the class o f simple, unchanging entities.33 In the Philebus the Ideas are called m onads , a term which in Platos language usually con notes something simple, uncom pounded.3 4 In contradistinction to the objects o f sense perception the Ideas can be apprehended only by abstract thought: only the eye o f the mind can see them. Sense impressions may remind us o f Ideas, but an Idea is never a part o f the contents o f sense impressions. The specific mental faculty through w hich we apprehend Ideas is designated by various Greek words o f which the best English equivalent is reason .3 5 { > The science w hich investigates the realm o f Ideas is called Dialectic. In the Phaedrus Plato states two principles w hich are


involved in dialectical research. One is that of perceiving and bringing together in one Idea the scattered particulars , the other is that o f dividing things again by classes, where the natural joints are, and not trying to break any part, after the manner of a bad carver .36 According to Platos view, all existing things are eternally distributed into a system of kinds37 and within this system o f kinds he assumes a fixed hierarchy o f genera and species. The dialectician who endea vours to becom e aware o f this hierarchical order m ay start from below, from the particulars, and work his way upwards, classifying the particulars into their lowest species, bringing these species together under their nearest genera and then continuing step-by-step along the species-genus-sequence; or he may start from above and w ork downwards, at each stage dividing the genus at hand into its proper species. It is to these two possible directions o f dialectical inquiry that the two principles o f the Pliaedrus refer. I In the Philebus the particulars are considered as infinitely many and infinitely varied, whereas the number of species of a given genus is thought to be always finite. Also the number o f stages in the hierarchy o f genera and species between any particular and any genus is there, it seems, assumed to be Infinite. The first phase o f dialectical inquiry is accordingly cha racterized as a transition from the infinite to the finite, the second as a reverse transition. The classification of speechsounds which is embodied in the alphabetical transcription o f the spoken language is mentioned as an example of the first phase.38 Some o f the examples by w hich Plato illustrates the second phase are: the division o f the genus sound or utterance into its various species, vowels, sonants, mutes; the division of the genus musical note into its species, low, high and level39; the division o f the genus human being into men and women, or that o f number into odd and even.40 Intimately related to these two phases of dialectical inquiry is the task o f defining each kind, since Plato thinks o f defini tion as being essentially definition by genus proxim um and differentia specifica.41 The two tasks o f Dialectic formulated in the Pliaedrus are


mainly concerned with answering questions o f the follow ing types: to what species does this particular belong? what is the genus proxim um o f this species? w hich are the species o f this genus? To define a given kind involves the further but related problem : what are the differentia specifica o f this species? A third task o f Dialectic becomes apparent in the Sophist, a task which cannot readily be reduced to that o f answering such problems o f classification. Given Iwo kinds , or Ideas, A and B, Dialectic has to investigate also whether A can be truly predi cated o f B or B o f A. Taking the notions o f Being (Existence. Identity), Motion and Best as his paradigms, Plato discusses such questions as: does Motion exist? does Rest exist? is Rest in Motion? is Motion at Rest?42 The same kind o f dialectical investigation is abundantly exemplified in the Parmenides. All the tasks o f Dialectic so far mentioned are probably alluded lo in the follow ing description o f that science from the Sophist:
Now since we have agreed that the Ideas are similarly related to each olher in respect o f their intermixture, must not he possess some science and proceed by means o f reason w ho is to show correctly which o f the Ideas harmonize with which, and which reject one another? And also if he is to show whether there are some Ideas extending through all and holding them together so that they can mingle, and again, in divisions, whether there are not other universal principles o f the divisions? Certainly he needs science, and perhaps even the greatest o f sciences. Then, Theaetetus, what name shall we give to this science? Or, by Zeus, have we unwittingly stumbled upon the science that belongs to free men and perhaps found the philosopher when we were looking for the sophist? W hat d o you mean? Shall we not say that the division according to Ideas and the avoidance o f the belief that the same Idea is another, or another the same, belongs to the science o f Dialectic? Yes, we shall. Then he w ho can do this has a clear perception o f one unique Idea extending over many which are separate from one another, and o f many Ideas differing from one another but included under one unique higher Idea, and again o f one Idea constituted by the union o f many wholes, and o f many Ideas entirely apart and separate. This is the kn ow ledge and ability to distinguish in accordance with the Ideas whether, in each case, communion can take place or not. 4 3

S n tra ger.

T eaetetu h s. S tr.

T. h S tr. T. h S tr.


In the Republic Plato brings out another aspect o f the two phases the ascending and the descending o f dialectical inquiry. In the first phase the m ind gradually mounts to higher and higher principles. The principles are hypothetical only, until the mind has grasped the first principle, which apparently is the Idea o f the Good. But from this moment on the mind is in possession o f a higher kind o f knowledge which is non-hypothetical. It now turns downwards again and derives the previous hypotheses from the first principle. Dia lectical science treats its hypotheses:
not as beginnings but really as hypotheses, as steps and springboards so to speak, in order that it may rise lo that which is not hypothesized and is the beginning o f everything and, having grasped it, may proceed downward to the end, clinging to the things that cling to that, and making n o use whatever o f any object o f sense but only o f Ideas them selves through themselves on themselves, and ending with Ideas. 4 4

Here, too, the two aspects o f Dialectic that were distinguished in the Phaeclrus and the Philebus are probably present lo Platos mind. But, obviously, the scope o f Dialectic is here widened so as to embrace also propositions o f another kind than the classificatory propositions of those dialogues. The pre eminence of the Idea o f the Good is probably connected with the doctrine o f the Phaedo that the ultimate explanation of anything must be the showing that it is best for it to be as it is, and the similar principle which the Timaeus lays down for the explanation o f the physical w orld.45 W hat Dialectic explains in this teleological fashion, can hardly be merely theorems of classification. Actually, Plato envisages the possibility that the theorems o f the mathematical sciences may obtain a foundation in Dialectic.46 Thus, it seems that, in its final stage, Dialectic is here a deductive science which is the logical basis for the entire field o f rational knowledge and w hich derives all its conclusions from a first self-evident principle, expressing the supreme insight into the Idea o f the Good.


The philosophy of geometry

The modern view of geometry is characterized by a com bina tion o f abstraction and empiricism. It is abstract in as much as the fundamental geometrical concepts are thought o f as variables upon which the axioms o f a geometrical system im pose certain conditions. If point, straight line, congruence, etc., are the basic concepts o f a given system o f geometry, these concepts are merely a set o f variables: X ,, X 2, Z g, etc. The axioms of the system express a certain relationship between these variables, and every theorem expresses a further such relationship. The correct deduction of a theorem shows that if any set of concepts: X- , A',,, X a, etc., exhibits the relation expressed by the axioms, then that set will also exhibit the relation expressed by the theorem deduced. It is meaningless to ask whether the axioms or theorems o f the system are in themselves true or false. They are neither, since they are not statements, merely statement functions , something which can be turned into statements by appropriate substitutions for the variables. Only when the variables occurring in these fu n c tions have been replaced by particular concepts, do the func tions becom e statements the truth or falsehood o f which can be inquired into. The same geometrical concepts more co r rectly: variables can occur in many distinct and even mutu ally incompatible axiom systems that are all intrinsically con sistent. In this sense, many distinct geometries involving the same basic concepts are possible. In particular, the Euclidean geometry is only one in a fam ily o f geometries dealing with the notions o f point, straight line, congruence, etc. From the point o f view o f pure mathematics, no system in such a family o f systems has the right to be considered as the correct system about the basic notions involved.


This abstraction of pure mathematical geometry is coupled with a radical empiricism in applied physical geometry. W hen a physicist employs a geometrical system worked out by pure mathematics, he substitutes certain empirical concepts for the variables of the system and thereby transforms the statement functions o f pure mathematics into empirical hypotheses. If, in this manner, he adopts, say, a Euclidean geometry, he does not claim any absolute truth on its behalf. He is satisfied if the chosen system w orks and works better than any other system that he can think of. T o say that the system w orks is to say that from approximately true statements concerning what can be more or less directly observed the system leads to other statements concerning what can be more or less directly observed which are always likewise approximately true. T o say that one system works better than another syslem is to say that the deductive power in this respect of the first system is greater than that o f the second, i.e., that the first syslem gives more, and more accurate, conclusions concerning the directly observable than the second. Distinct and even, in their abstract form , mutually incompatible geo metrical systems can be used in physics. The simplest situa tion in which two systems, incompatible in their abstract form, are simultaneously applied in physics arises when the basic variables which they both involve are replaced by two distinct sets of empirical concepts. Although the two abstract systems themselves are incompatible, the empirical hypotheses into which they are transformed by the replacements, then, are not incompatible. Also from the physicists point o f view there is, v thus, not one unique geometrical system w hich can claim to represent the geometry o f the physical w orld . Thus, m odern science is, so to speak, geometrically rather unpretentious. The pure mathematician claims no truth at all for the axioms and the theorems o f the various geometrical systems w7 hich he investigates. His only claim is that the theorems logically follow from the axioms. The physicist, who applies a geometrical system to physical reality, expects only to establish a very modest pratical kind o f truth of the system.


and he is conscious o f the fact that, under suitable substitu tions, distinct systems may be equally empirically verifiable. * This modern view o f geometry, here roughly indicated, was, o f course, entirely foreign to Plato- For Plato, the Euclidean geometry was not an abstract system, in the m odern sense, but a doctrine w hich is either true or false, the notions of truth and falsehood being understood in an absolute sense. The concepts o f Euclidean geometry are, for Plato, not vari ables, but certain properties and relations intimately related to our sense perception o f space. In the Meno the general notion o f geometrical figure (schem a) is explained in a manner which clearly shows its origin in visual perception. The notion to be defined is first explained as that w hich is com m on to the round and the straight and everything else that is called figure in geometry. If the concept o f colour is already familiar, we may Socrates says define figure as the only thing which inva riably accompanies colour. If the notion o f colour is not con sidered as a sufficiently clear basis for the definition, we may instead make use o f the notions of limit and solid and define figure as limit o f solid. On the basis of -this definition, colour can then be defined as an effluence of figures, commensurate with sight and sensible .1 W hen figure is said to be the only thing that is always copresent with colour, Plato obviously has our visual percepts in m ind: he asserts that, in visual percep tion, colour and figure are always combined. The second method o f definition presupposes a causal theory o f perception and considers the colours perceived as somehow proceeding from the figures inherent in external bodies. [ i f it is asked what concepts Plato had in mind, it is here sufficient to point out that he entirely shared what may be called without any pejorative implications the naive intuitive understanding o f the concepts o f Euclidean geometry, the understanding w hich every scliool-boy receives through the usual procedure o f elementary mathematical instruction. In the Parmenides, e.g., Plato defines the straight line as that


which has its middle in front o f both- its extremities 2, meaning that if you look at a straight line end-on, you will see only its nearest endpoint. Plato was convinced o f the absolute truth of Euclidean geo metry understood in this manner. Mathematics o f which Euclidean geometry was for Plato one o f the two main branches comes next after the highest study, Dialectic, in Platos scientific scheme, and like Dialectic it makes the soul turn its eyes toward eternal truth.3 It was Platos conviction that: (1) Euclidean geom etry possesses absolute and exact truth. Also Platos views on the verification of geometry were dia metrically opposed to the empiricism o f modern geometers. The verification of Euclidean geometry is not, for Plato, a matter o f probable induction starting from particular facts of sense experience. The ultimate verification o f Euclidean geo metry is obtained by logical deduction from a self-evident principle.4 In com parison with modern science Plato was, thus, geometrically very pretentious. He was, it is true, forced to recognize that geometry as applied to the sensible world is only approximately true. But this approximately true geometry lie considered as a popular kind of knowledge, distinct from and inferior to the real philosophical geometry. Let us give the name of Euclidean concepts to the intuitively given spatial concepts with which Euclidean geometry deals, as usually understood on an elementary level. Like other generic concepts these Euclidean concepts are for Plato Ideas , or Form s , or Essences , possessing timeless existence and accessible only for thought. Reflection upon the concepts of geometry was probably one o f the main sources o f the Platonic theory o f Ideas in general. W hen expounding the theory Plato sometimes draws upon geometry for examples of what he means by an Idea.^In the Seventh Letter, e.g., the process by which we becom e aware o f the Idea o f the Circle serves to illustrate the ascent o f the mind to the supersensible world o f Ideas.^ As a second postulate o f Platos philosophy o f geometry we may state:


(2) The concepts o f Euclidean geom etry are Ideas (in the sense of the general theory of Ideas). A spatial object that exemplifies a Euclidean concept or that, in this sense, partakes o f a Euclidean Idea, we shall here designate a Euclidean object . Em ploying this termino logy we may stale one o f the fundamental doctrines o f Platos philosophy o f geometry in the follow ing words: (3) There arc no truly Euclidean objects in the sensible world. The doctrine is never advanced by Plato in this general form . But he often makes assertions which obviously presuppose the doctrine, and he also explicitly asserts particular instances thereof. W hen discussing astronomy, in book VII o f the Republic, Socrates points out that astronomical phenomena ne ver exactly conform with the astronomer's mathematical description o f them:
Thus, said I [Socrates], these sparks that paint the sky, since they are decorations on a visible surface, we must regard, to be sure, as the fairest and most exact o f material things; but we must recognize that they fall far short o f the truth, the movements, namely, o f real speed and real slowness in true number and in all true figures both in relation to one another and as vehicles o f the things they carry and contain.(These can be apprehended only b y reason and thought, but not by sight; or do you think otherwise?^ By no means, he [Glaucon] said. Then, said I, we must use the blazonry o f the heavens as patterns to aid in the study o f those realities, just as one would do who chanced upon diagrams drawn with special care and elaboration by Daedalus or some other craftsman or painter. For anyone acquainted with geometry who saw such designs would admit the beauty o f the workmanship, but would think it absurd to examine them seriously in the expectation o f finding in them the absolute truth with regard to equals or doubles or any other ratio.6

Considering, in the Seventh Letter, the geometrical concept of circle, Plato states:
Every one o f the circles which are drawn in geometric exercises or are turned by the lathe is full what is opposite to the fifth [i.e., the Idea o f the Circle], since it is in contact with the straight everywhere. 7 4 /l. W ed berg


This statement, which should be compared with a view that Aristotle attributes to Protagoras8, clearly asserts that, in the physical world, there is nothing which perfectly agrees with the geometrical definition of a circle. Proposition (3) will, o f course, land us in an absurdity unless it be understood w7 ith certain necessary qualifications. The notion o f circle is a notion w hich falls within the intended scope of (3), and hence, according to (3), there are no exact circles in the sensible world. Given the notion of circle we can form the notion o f non-circle, i.e. o f what is not a circle. Now, if also this notion o f non-circle were com prised within the scope o f (3), we would obtain, as a corollary of (3), also the consequence that there are no exact non-circles in the sensible world. But if there are no sensible things o f which geometrical circularity is truly predicable, clearly geometrical non-circularity must be predi cable o f every sensible thing. If there are no sensible circles, everything sensible must be non-circles. If Plato had been asked to explain exactly o f what geometrical concepts he denied sensible instances, he w7 ould, I imagine, have answered that he had in mind such concepts as point, straight line, triangle, square, circle, equality between distances, and so on . I shall not attempt the difficult nay, I think, impossible task to make explicit the generalization to w hich such a list of examples may point. May it suffice here to observe that Plato can hardly have intended proposition (3) to have a completely unrestricted scope w hich would entail absurdity, and that consequently he must more or less consciously have had some suitable restriction in m ind.9 This restriction whatever it may be should be read into proposition (3) and into the whole line o f reasoning o f which that proposition forms a part. It follow s from (3) that when a physical object is said to partake of a Euclidean Idea, this can imply merely that the object has some inferior degree o f a determinable quality of ('w h ich the Idea represents the highest degree. A wheel, say, will | partake of the Idea o f the Circle merely in the sense that it \ exhibits a certain inferior degree o f the quality roundness, whereof the Idea o f the Circle as defined in geometry represents


the highest degree. Platos geometrical Ideas are beset by the same ambiguity as his Ideas in general. [Although primarily being the attribute Circularity, the Idea o f the Circle is simul taneously itself a circle, the ideal standard circle. In partaking o f the Idea o f the Circle, a physical object such as a wheel, thus, simultaneously manifests a certain resemblance to that

As already mentioned, Plato makes a distinction between a popular and a philosophical geometry. The popular kind of geometry is used, e.g., in house construction or in warfare, in pitching a camp or taking up a position, or extending the line o f an army, or any other military manoeuvre, whether in actual battle or in m arch .1 Popular geometry as understood by Plato 1 is the application o f geometrical considerations to the world of the senses. In particular, Plato refers to popular geometry any statement to the effect that some empirically given phenomenon has a certain Euclidean property and any reasoning in which such statements are assumed. In consequence o f (3), no such statements are absolutely true, and accordingly the following proposition becomes a part o f Platos geometrical philosophy. (4) Popular geom etry, which deals with the world of the senses, contains at m ost an inferior, approxim ate truth. Since it was self-evident to Plato that there is some absolute truth in geometry, geometry must contain a body o f state ments which is entirely distinct from the statements of popular geometry. This body of statements is what Plato calls the philosophical geometry. All knowledge, in Platos opinion, is either about the sensible or about the ideal world. [Thus, he draws the further conclusion that philosophical geometry is concerned exclusively with the realm o f ideal bein g:^
And do you not also know that they further make use o f the visible form s and talk about them, though they are not thinking o f them but of those things o f which they are a likeness, pursuing their inquiry for the sa le o f the square as such and the diagonal as such, and not for the sake o f the image o f it which they draw? And so in all cases. The very things Which they mould and draw which have shadows and images o f themselves in water, these things they treat in llieir turn as

52 only images, but what they really seek is lo get sight o f those realities which can be seen only by the m ind. 1 2

For the moment disregarding the question as to exactly what eternal entities are investigated by philosophical geometry, we may state as Platos opinion: (5) Philosophical geom etry deals exclusively with a province o f the realm o f eternal being If we try to state the argument by which Plato was lead to proposition (5) in an exact and valid form, we shall find that it requires an additional premise which is not entirely selfevident. From (3) it follow s only that statements which imply the existence o f sensible Euclidean objects are never strictly true. In so far as the geometry o f the sensible world includes such existential statements, by virtue o f (3) it can not be exactly true. The question, however, arises whether the geometry o f the sensible w orld is coextensive with a set o f such existential statements. 1I is not a priori obvious that what m ay be called a geometry o f the sensible w orld does not contain, in addition lo such existential statements, a set o f non-existential statements. If it does, these non-existential statements do not com e under the verdict o f (3). Could not the absolute geometrical truth which Plato is looking for be located in such a non-existential geo metrical knowledge about the sensible w orld? In particular, it might be suggested that Plato could have found the truth he seeks in non-existential hypothetical statements. No doubt, Plato never consciously contemplated this possibility, and a fortiori he made no deliberate attempt to disprove it. But, nevertheless, if the present interpretation o f Platos geometrical philosophy is justified, one can trace in Plato a line o f thought w hich could be adduced as a kind o f refutation o f that possibility. This line o f thought will be analysed in connection with the subsequent discussion o f proposition (6).

W e shall now turn our attention to the problem that was stated in the Introduction and that perhaps is the most difficult


and the most controversial question in the analysis o f Platos philosophy o f geometry, viz.: W hat types o f entities are com prised within that province o f the realm o f eternal being which philosophical geometry studies ? On this question there exist two hypotheses which have found advocates am ong Platonic scho lars- They have already been stated in the Introduction, and it may here suffice to remind the reader o f their import. A ccording to _the one, w hich can invoke the authority of Aristotle and which I have given the name hypothesis A, Plato postulated the_existence, not only o f Euclidean Ideas, buF also o f certain ideal Euclidean objects, i.e., ideal spatial objects which exemplify^or partake of, the Euclidean Ideas. To each Euclidean Idea there co rresponds, according to this hypothesis, a plurality of such objects:the Idea o f theTCircle determines a plurality o f ideal circles, the Idea o f the Triangle determines a plurality o f ideal triangles^andjso on. It is assumed that the Euclidean Ideas and the corresponding ideal Euclidean objects together constitute the subject-matter o f philosophical geometry. According, to the other hypothesis, which defies Aristotles authority and w hich I have called hypothesis B, Platos view was that the Euclidean Ideas alQne constitute the entire subject-matter o f philosophical geo metry. In the Introduction I have already briefly surveyed the reasons for and against each one o f these hypotheses. Anticipat ing the argumentation w hich will be produced in this and the follow ing chapter and in the four appendices, I have declared my intention to give a new trial to hypothesis A. Thus, I suggest that Plato assumed proposition: (6) Perfect instances o f the Euclidean Ideas exist in the ideal realm. According to Aristotle, Plato inferred this proposition from two propositions wdiich we have alrealy encountered as elements o f the Platonic geometrical philosophy, viz. propositions (1) and (3).13 If Aristotle is right, Plato argued as follow s: Euclidean geometry is true. (1) There are no perfect instances of the Euclidean Ideas in the world o f the senses. (3)


Hence, such instances exist in the ideal realm. (6). This line o f reasoning is not form ally valid. One further premise, which is immediately supplied by Platos general metaphysics, is the dichotom y o f the universe into the sensible and the intelligible world. But also another premise is required before the argument is rendered form ally valid. [This premise is that the truth o f geometry presupposes the existence som e where, som ehow of perfect instances o f the geometrical Ideas^ If we include these additional premises7T?Ialos argument takes the follow ing form : a) Euclidean geometry is true. (1) b) The truth o f Euclidean geometry presupposes the existence o f perfect instances of the Euclidean Ideas. c) Hence, such perfect instances exist. d) The universe o f existing things is divided into the sensible and the intelligible world. e) Hence, if perfect instances o f the Euclidean Ideas do not exist in the sensible world, they must exist in the intelligible worldf) Perfect instances o f the Euclidean Ideas do not exist in the world o f the senses. (3) g) Hence, such instances exist in the intelligible worldOf the premises o f this argument, a), d), and f) are clearly expressed in Platos own writings. Premise b) is stated nowhere in Platos published writings, nor is it mentioned by Aristotle in his analysis o f Platos reasoning. But there are a number of reasons which make it plausible that premise b) was more or less consciously assumed by Plato. First, from the relatively unsophisticated point o f view frqm which the Greeks of Platos time looked upon science, it would appear self-evident that any science must study a certain class o f actually existing things. Z oology studies the animals o f the earth, astronomy studies the sun and the m oon and the stars, politics the human societies, and so on. Aristotle gave a succinct expression to the generalization to w hich these examples in vite, when he said, in the Posterior Analytics, that every science is concerned with a certain genus o f things.1 4

Also peculiar to a science are the subjects the existence as well as the meaning o f which it assumes, and the essential attributes o f which il investigates, e.g. in arithmetic units, in geometry points and lines .1 5

If there is any truth in Euclidean geometry, there must it would seem, from this point o f view-exist such things as points, straight lines, circles, triangles, squares, etc. A second reason for b) is the manner in which Greek philo sophy of Platos time interpreted universal propositions of the form : All A are B." Aristotles systematization o f logic grewr out of the, naturally vague, logical conceptions that prevailed among Greek philosophers and scientists of the time. It is plausible to assume that his doctrine concerning such universal propositions rendered explicit a preexisting usage familiar to Plato. According to Aristotles logical doctrine, the parti cular proposition, Some A are B, is a logical consequence o f ^ the universal, All A are B .16 Now, Some A are B, clearly states that there exist some objects w hich simultaneously exem plify both the concept A and the concept B. jlf Aristotles doctrine is applied to the universal propositions of Euclidean geometry, these are made to entail corresponding particular y propositions asserting the existence o f Euclidean objects^ A third reason for accepting b) Plato could have found in the general theory o f Ideas. Every Idea we have seen in ch. Ill is one over m any , i.e., it determines a class o f many particulars which partake o f the Idea. Since, in Platos opinion, the concepts o f Euclidean geometry rank as Ideas, they, too, will determine non-em pty classes o f particulars participating in them. Now, the notion of participation has several distinct connotations. In one sense, to partake of an Idea is merely to have some inferior degree o f a quality of which the Idea repre sents the highest degree. In that sense, the many imperfect circles of the sensible w orld by themselves provide the Idea o f the Circle with the supporting class o f particular partici pants. But in another, and that the primary, sense, to partake o f an Idea is to have that very attribute which is the Idea. From this point o f view, the sensible objects that pass for circles do not suffice: the Idea o f the Circle requires the existence of


a multiplicity o f perfect circles w hich as such are not to be found in the w orld o f the senses. A fourth reason is im plied by the logical structure of Euclidean geometry itself. Premise b) is self-evidently justified if the theorems o f the Euclidean geometry themselves assert the existence o f perfect instances o f the Euclidean concepts. If Euclids axiomatization of Greek geometry fulfilled the most severe logical demands upon an axiomatic system, it would be very easy to decide whether or not such is the case. Mere in spection of its basic premises would inform us whether or not these are o f an existential import. Modern axiomatizations of Euclidean geometry such, e.g., as that given by Hilbert in his Grundlcigen der Geometrie do involve explicit existential axioms. But Euclids ow n axiomatization of the geometrical theory presented in his Elements is still very imperfect. The basic premises (axioms and postulates) that Euclid explicitly states do not constitute a sufficient basis for the strict logical deduction o f all his theorems. In deducing the theorems he makes frequent use o f further premises which are not explicitly recognized as such and which are justified only by an implicit * appeal to our spatial intuition. ]Now, E uclids explicit premises do not directly assert the existence o f any Euclidean objects. But, actually, in his proofs, he assumes the existence o f such objects, in a manner which we shall soon characterize some what more closely. The existential axioms occuring in modern formulations o f Euclidean geometry, thus, merely make ex plicit assumptions that were made implicitly already by Euclid.] It is known that E uclids axiomatization o f Greek geometry is only the most successful among many similar attempts and that it was proceeded by several others.17 Probably the g eo metry which Plato knew was m oulded in a form that was essentially similar to that o f the Euclidean Elements. Hence, al ready reflection upon the contents o f existing geometrical theory might have given Plato premise b). * It is interesting to observe that Plato, the idealist, and Pro tagoras, the sceptic, drew som ehow opposite conclusions from

the fact that there are no truly Euclidean sensible objects and that, therefore, Euclidean geometry is not true o f the sensible world. Protagoras, who never envisaged the possibility o f any thing like Platos realm o f ideal entities, concluded probably with considerable mischievous satisfaction that Euclidean geometry, the greatest scientific achievement o f his age, was permeated with error.18 Plato, to w hom the truth o f Euclidean geometry appeared self-evident, saved that truth by postulating a domain o f ideal geometrical objects and identifying geometry proper with the science about this domain. Plato who devoted an entire dialogue to an exposition o f the shortcomings o f Protagoras ethical thought and who in the Theaetetus elaborately criticized his epistemological relativism, cannot have been unaware o f Protagoras attack upon geo metry. It is tempting lo assume that he advanced his idealistic interpretation o f geometry, partly at least, in order to counter that attack. That there is an intimate historical connection between Platos geometrical idealism and Protagoras scepticism is further made plausible by the fact that the two philosophers used almost identical examples in illustrating the non-applica bility o f Euclidean geometry to the sensible world. Aristotle relates, that Protagoras, in his refutation o f the geometers, used to say that a hoop touches a straight edge not at a point.19 In the Seventh Letter, when explaining the distinction between the ideal and the sensible, Plato speaks o f the circles that are drawn in geometric exercises or are turned on the lathe and he states that each one o f them is everywhere in contact with the straight.20 Although geometry was frequently attacked by the later ancient sceptics with arguments similar to those em ployed by Protagoras, Plato was, it seems, successful in preserving the confidence in the scientific value o f the study. A modern mathematician is able to grant Protagoras his point without despairing about the importance of Euclidean geometry. He knows that there is an abstract Euclidean geometry which is completely divorced from our spatial intuition and which, therefore, is not affected by the fact that the Euclidean concepts, as understood on the naive intuitive level, do not possess any


perfect material instances. Further, he knows that the applied Euclidean geometry may have its scientific value, even if it is not endowed with absolute truth. There is a practical truth, described at the beginning o f this chapter, which he is satisfied to achieve. To the Greeks o f Platos time, however, absolute truth was all-important in science. If Protagoras scepticism had won the day, Ihe enthusiasm necessary for mathematical research may very well have languished. In the historical situation which confronted Plato, his idealism must have given new vigour to geometrical curiosity. * Euclid's own form ulation o f Euclidean geometry is dyna m ic . The first three o f his so-called postulates assert the possibility o f creating certain geometrical objects, viz. of joining any two points by a straight line, o f indefinitely extend ing a given straight line, and o f drawing a circle with any given radius and any given centre. In his proofs these postulates enter only indirectly: he assumes that an object the creation of which the postulates assert to be possible has actually been created. The logic of this procedure which Euclid probably took over from older axiomatizations of Greek geometry seems doubtful. The assumption that an object of a certain description has been created and, hence, now exists, is an additional premise which is not yet justified by a postulate to the effect that such an object can be created. can be brought into existence. In modern expositions of Euclid ean geometry (such as Hilberts previously mentioned work) E uclids own postulates have also been replaced by axioms entailing the existence o f the objects in question. In contra distinction to the original Euclidean formulation this modern method o f exposition may be called static . In consequence o f his view that Ihe objects of geometry pertain to the world of timeless being, Plato was driven to anticipate Ihe modern static mode o f formulation. In the Republic he censures the usual language o f the geometers of his day as ludicrous . fThe philosophical geometer does not


square or extend a straight line segment, nor does he apply one figure to another. The objects which he studies are, as eternal, beyond the reach o f human activ ity ^ Plalo does not tell us what, in his opinion, would be an adequate mode o f expressing geometrical truth. But the inference to be drawn from his criticism lies immediately at hand: since geo metry is knowledge o f the eternally existent, instead o f saying that he squares , the geometer ought to say that a square (eternally) exists; instead of saying that he extends a straight line segment, he ought to say that the segment is (eternally) part of a larger segment; and so on.22 Through his idealistic interpretation o f geometry Plato, thus, was m oved to demand the static form ulation o f geometry that modern geometers have been led to by their desire for logical rigour. The static form ulation o f geometry, upon which Plato in sists, implies the actual (eternal) existence o f all the geo metrical objects the creation o f which is possible according to the Euclidean postulates. It implies that all the auxiliary constructions used in Euclids proofs exist in the ideal realm, independently of any activity on the part of the human geo meter. (it also implies the existence o f the actual geometrical infinite, e.g., o f infinite straight lines. Of course, we do not know for certain that Plato was aware o f these implications o f his view on geometrical language. There is, however, one circum stance which makes it probable that he was. Aristotle critizes and rejects both the assumption that geometrical constructions exist independently of the geometers activity and the assump tion o f an actual geometrical infinite. It is, I think, a probable supposition that Aristotle advanced his criticism in conscious opposition to views expressed by Plato.2^ * The idealistic metaphysics in Platos philosophy of geometry is also, it seems, a strongly contributing cause o f his demand for an axiom atic development of geometrical theory. As dealing with a province o f the ideal world geometry is brought inlo close contact with the science o f Dialectic. Geometry becomes

/] 'W.'t .


a continuation o f the deductive dialectical process which takes the first principle, the Idea o f the Good, for its starting-point. The ultimate hypotheses of geometry, which the geometer him self must take for granted without proof, are proved within Dialectic, and the ultimate foundation o f this p roof is supplied by the Idea o f the Good.24 In accordance with this deductive ideal Plato denounced the use o f merely probable arguments in geometry.23 Plutarch has preserved the tradition, that, in the same spirit, Plato criticized certain contemporary mathema ticians for solving geometrical problems by mechanical methods.26 Like our dialectical knowledge o f Ideas our geometrical knowledge about ideal spatial entities is a reminiscence of a knowledge originally acquired before birth when our souls were in direct contact with the realm o f ideal being. In the Meno, where the doctrine o f recollection is propounded for the first time, the solution of a geometrical problem (that of doubling a square) is adduced as an especially convincing proof o f the doctrine, and its validity for all geometry is asserted.2 In the Phaedo the solution o f problems about geo 7 metrical figures is again mentioned as furnishing the clearest instance o f the doctrine.28 W e have already called attention to the fact that, also from an epistemological point of view, Plato's geometrical philo sophy, thus, is in sharp contrast to the empiristic philosophy which to-day prevails among mathematicians and physicists. According to Plato, geometrical evidence, the certainty o f geometrical knowledge, comes from above , whereas, accord ing to the modern empiristic philosophy, it comes from be low . Platos first principle o f Dialectic is thought to possess some kind o f rational self-evidence; we acquire certainty as to the truth o f the hypotheses of geometry by deducing them from , or at least somehow logically connecting them with, this first principle, and finally the theorems derived within geo metry becom e certain through the derivation from the previ ously certified hypotheses. *

W e may now sum up Platos philosophy of geometry in the follow ing propositions: I. There are two kinds of geometry, the popular and the philosophical discipline, (i) Popular geometry makes geo metrical assertions concerning spatial objects given in sense K experience. Since the concepts o f Euclidean geometry are never perfectly exem plified in sense experience, popular geometry can at most attain an inferior approximate truth, (ii) Philosophical geometry, on the other hand, makes no statements concerning the w orld o f the senses. The statements it makes possess a n f absolute and exact truth. If, as we have tentatively done, one accepts hypothesis A. rather than hypothesis B, concerning Platos views, also the follow ing propositions can be stated: II. Philosophical geometry is concerned with two types of ideal entities: the geometrical Ideas or Forms, and what Aris totle calls the intermediate objects o f geometry. (A) The objects o f geometry are particular ideal geometrical figures w hich exem plify the concepts used in geometry, such as ideal points, ideal straight lines, ideal circles, and so on. The essential properties o f the intermediate objects are: (1) They share the m ode o f existence characteristic o f the Ideas. (2) Each such object is a perfect instance of some Euclidean concept. (3) To each Euclidean concept corresponds a multiplicity of such perfect instances. (B) The Ideas o f geometry are the Euclidean concepts, such as point, straight line, circle, understood in the naive intuitive sense and elevated to the rank o f Platonic Ideas. _j III. The ideal geometrical objects are Intermediates be tween the geometrical Ideas and sensible things. This form ula tion which originates with Aristotle seems to express the whole com plex of propositions w hich the follow ing scheme may summarize:


G etrica Id s eom l ea
Perfect exemplification

Imperfect exemplification

Id l geom ea etrical objects

Imperfect resemblance

S sible sp tia en a l objects

IV. The reasoning through which Plato arrived at the d oc trine of intermediate geometrical objects can be rendered in Ilie follow ing explicit form : a) Geometry is true. b) The truth o f geometry presupposes the existence of objects which truly exem plify the geometrical concepts. c) In the world o f the senses there are no such objects. Hence, d) perfect instances o f the geometrical concepts exist outside the world o f the senses, in Ihe ideal realm. V. Since philosophical geometry deals exclusively with tlie domain of eternal being, a geometrical language which suggests that the geometer influences the objects he studies, creates them or moves them, is inaccurate. A correct geometrical langu age must have a static, existential form. VI. Philosophical geometry is a deductive science, proceed ing from certain hypotheses which it takes lor granted with out proving them. VII. The hypotheses o f philosophical geometry must find their justification within the highest o f all sciences, Dialectic, or the general philosophical study o f Ideas. In Dialectic they will be derived from the first principle, the supreme insight into the Idea o f the Good. In philosophical geometry, hence, evidence comes from above : the axioms are, from the point of view o f certainty in knowledge, prior to the theorems deduced.

C H A P T E R V.

Platos philosophy of arithmetic

The modern axiom atic development o f the arithmetic of positive integers has taught us that this arithmetic, like geometry, has two distinct aspects. On one hand, there is the abstract arithmetic whose fundamental concepts are thought of as variables. The axioms in a given axiomatization o f arithmetic impose a certain condition upon these variables, and any set of concepts which satisfy that condition must of necessity also satisfy the condition that any deducible arithmetical theorem imposes upon those same variables. W e know that there are infinitely many distinct sets o f concepts which verify the abstract arithmetic of positive integers. On the other hand, however, among those verifying sets o f concepts there is one set which, so to speak, occupies a privileged position. Or, in other words, among the applied arithmetics, obtained by substituting particular concepts for the variables o f abstract arithmetic, there is one that stands out from the rest. That is the arithmetic which we use, both in everyday life and in science, when we count, when, e.g., we observe that there are 2 cars here and 3 cars there and that together they make 5 cars . In the statement 2 + 3 = 5 , o f everyday arithmetic, the numerals, 2 , 5 and 5 , have the same significance as in such empirical numerical statements. Modern research into the foundations o f arithmetic has shown that no axiomatization can cover more than a portion o f the total arithmetical truth concerning the positive integers as used in counting. Let us call this special applied arithmetic, which eludes complete axiomatization, the natural arithmetic . Concerning the nature o f natural arithmetic there exists no unanimity among present-day mathematical philosophers. The formalists inspired by David Hilbert seem inclined to


consider it as a system o f meaningless, although somehow useful, formulas. Others, w ho follow Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, think it possible to express any proposition o f natural arithmetic in purely logical terms. For them natural arithmetic is a part o f pure logic and, hence, a system o f analytic proposi tions. Finally, the Kantian view o f natural arithmetic as a system o f synthetic apriori propositions is still defended by the so-called intuitionists forem ost among whom is L.E.J. Brouwer. In Platos days arithmetic had not yet been m oulded into an axiom atic form , and Plato knew nothing o f an abstract arith metic. The arithmetic, which, as a philosopher, he tried to explain , was exclusively what we have called the natural arithmetic. T o Plato it was self-evident that the statements of arithmetic are just as meaningful as any other scientific state ments. Further, he never seriously doubted the absolute truth o f natural arithmetic. As a logical realist, he was also convinced that the numerals, 2 , 3 , and so on, designate certain abstract realities, viz. the positive integers themselves, jpiato's main interest was in the problem : W hat kind o f abstract realities are the positive integers? Reflection upon this problem led him if the present interpretation is correct to advance twT different theories, the theory o f Mathematical Numbers o and the theory o f Ideal Numbers^ * Platos philosophy o f arithmetic seems to exhibit a far-going parallellism to his philosophy of geometry. W ithout attempting any deeper analysis o f the significance o f Platos views or the motives for them, I shall here list certain propositions on the nature o f arithmetic that, I believe, can be attributed to Plato. I. There are two kinds o f arithmetic, the popular and the philosophical discipline, (i) Popular arithmetic makes as sertions about sensible objects: it speaks o f such things as two armies, two oxen, two very large things or two very small things .1 Like popular geometry it possesses at most an in ferior approximate truth, (ii) Philosophical arithmetic, on the other hand, compels the soul to reason about abstract


number and refuses to consider numbers o f visible or tangible bodies.2 The statements o f philosophical arithmetic possess an absolute exact truth. II. There are two kinds o f ideal arithmetical entities, viz. those which Aristotle calls Mathematical Numbers and those which he calls Ideal Numbers . II: (A) The Mathematical Numbers are characterized by the follow ing properties: (1) They arc made up o f certain ideal units or V s . The Mathematical Number N is a set of N such units: 2 is a set of two, 3 a set o f three, and so on. (2) Of such ideal units, or V s, there exists an infinite supply. (3) There is no difference between the ideal units: two such units are com pletely indistinguishable. (4) An ideal unit does not contain any plurality of parts, or constituents, or characteristics: from whatever point o f view we consider such a unit, it is One and One only. (5) O f each Mathematical Number there are infinitely many copies. From the infinite supply of ideal units we may choose N units in infinitely many ways, and every choice gives us a representation o f the Mathematical Number N. (6) The elementary arithmetical notions are simple settheoretical notions. (There may be some doubt as to exactly how such funda mental concepts as addition, multiplication and equality were interpreted within the doctrine o f Mathematical Numbers. Concerning addition Platos and Aristotles language often creates the impression that to add two Mathematical Numbers is simply to form their set-theoretical sum.) (7) Mathematical Numbers are the numbers studied by arithmetic. It is for them, and only for them, that the concepts o f arithmetic are defined. ^

II: (B) The Ideal Numbers are characterized by the follow ^ ing properties: (1) They are Ideas, viz. the Ideas o f (Oneness,) Tvvoness. Threeness and so on.
6 A. Wcclbcrr/


(2) As Ideas the Ideal Numbers are simple entities. / (3) In particular, they are not sets o f units like the Mathe matical Numbers. (4) The notions o f arithmetic, which as already men tioned are o f a set-theoretical kind, are not defined for the Ideal Numbers. (Thus, the statements o f arithmetic are not concerned with them. The equation, 2 + 3 - 5 , e.g., says only that the addition o f the Mathematical Numbers 2 and 3 gives rise to the Mathematical Number 5; it says nothing o f the Ideal Numbers, for which arithmetical addition is not defined!) Like wise, the arithmetical statement, 2 < 5, holds only for the Mathematical Numbers 2 and 5. For Ideal Numbers the rela tion < is not defined. (5) However, there is a relation o f priority among the Ideal Numbers, by which they are ordered in a series that runs parallell to the series o f Mathematical Numbers, ordered according to size: (1 ), 2, 3, . . (6) The study o f Ideal Numbers belongs to the general theory o f Ideas, Dialectic. ../ III. The Mathematical Numbers are Intermediates between the Ideal Numbers and sensible things, or collections o f sen sible things. This form ulation which is due to Aristotle seems to express the propositions embodied in the following schematic representation:

Id l N m ea u bers
Perfect exemplification Imperfect exemplification

Mth a l N m a em tica u bers

Imperfect resemblance

C ollection of sen s sible th g in s

IV. Platos reasons for believing in the intermediate Mathe matical Numbers were, at least in part, analogous to his reasons for adopting the doctrine o f intermediate geometrical objects (if he ever consciously adopted it). Plalo was convinced that the


statements o f arithmetic are true but that to quote Aristotles words they are not true o f sensible things.3 Hence, they must be true of something else, and that o f w hich they are true are the Mathematical Numbers. The logic o f this argument can, I believe, be made m ore explicit in the follow ing fashion: (1) Arithmetic is true. (2) The truth o f arithmetic presupposes the existence of objects which truly participate in the Ideas o f Oneness, Tw oness, and so on, i.e., in the Ideal Numbers. (3) In the w orld o f the senses, there are no perfect instances of the Ideal Numbers. Hence, (4) Perfect instances o f the Ideal Numbers exist somewhere outside the world o f the senses. These perfect ideal instances o f the Ideal Numbers are the Mathematical Numbers. V. Philosophical arithmetic, like philosophical geometry, deals with the realm o f eternal being. W hat Plato says about the ridiculous language used in contemporary geometry4, hence, must have been intended to apply also to the language o f arithmetic. In arithmetic we do not, properly speaking, add two numbers and thereby create their sum: the sum o f two numbers has an eternal existence, and we can merely direct the eye o f the mind toward that sum. Thus, Aristotles critique in the Physics o f the assumption o f an actual aiithmetical infinite is probably meant as a critique of a Platonic doctrine. For Aristotle the number series is infinite only in the sense that whatever number is given to us, we can always create a larger number.5 This is just the type o f in adequate arithmetical language that the author o f the Republic would censure. He, it seems, would instead state that for every given number there exists a larger. Also propositions VI and VII in Platos philosophy of geo metry have analogues in his philosophy o f arithmetic. VI. Philosophical arithmetic is a deductive science that proceeds from certain hypotheses (axioms) which it takes for granted without proving them.


VII. These hypotheses are justified by Dialectic on the basis o f the first principle, the Idea of the Good.

Propositions I-VII constitute in gross outline what I believe to be the most probable reconstruction o f Platos philosophy of arithmetic. These propositions raise a number o f problems which have to be solved before we can consider ourselves to have understood Platos thought, (i) The assumption of two parallell kinds o f number appears gratuitous. The Ideal Num bers are the Ideas o f (Oneness), Twoness, Threeness, and so on. If one accepts a logical realism o f the sort which the theory o f Ideas represents, he can also agree with the postulation of these Ideal Numbers. But w hy does Plato in addition assume Mathematical Numbers? One obvious reason has already been mentioned under II, (B), (4): in Platos opinion, the notions of arithmetic are not defined for Ideal Numbers. But again, why does Plato hold that opinion? (ii) W h a t kind of entities are the ideal units out o f w hich the Mathematical Numbers are m ade? The chief inform ation about them is that they are indistinguishable one from the other, and that each one o f them is absolutely One, without any intrinsic multiplicity of parts) This description is obscure, to say the least. W hy, and in what sense, did Plato attribute such characteristics to his units? (iii) Another question concerns II, (A), (6). How, exactly, did Plato conceive such arithmetical concepts as addi tion, multiplication and equality? H ow did he accordingly interpret an arithmetical statement such as, say, 2 + 5 = 5 ? (iv) W h y was Plato inclined to think that only Mathematical Numbers truly participate in the Ideal Numbers? W hy, e. g., does the Mathematical Number 2 have a better claim to exhibiting the Idea o f Twoness than, say, the couple consisting of Socrates and Protagoras? In the case o f geometry it is easy to see why Plato maintained that the Euclidean Ideas are not truly exemplified in any sensible objects. That assertion seems to record an observation o f patent facts. The corresponding

assertion concerning arithmetic, however, seems to be an absurdity^ Let us begin with questions (ii) and (iii). Plato probably conceived the basic arithmetical concepts in a vague intuitive manner, without defining them. If, in the fashion of Greek mathematics, we represent the units by points, we may think o f the numbers 2 and 3 as the two sets o f points delimited by continuous lines:

Their sum may then be thought o f as the .set contained within the dotted line. The follow ing figure illustrates in a similar manner the multiplication o f these numbers:

This is how Euclid understands addition and multiplication (cf. Elements, book VII, def. 15), and there is no reason to believe that Plato thought otherwise. W e may try to make explicit the definitions toward which these intuitive ideas point. Since there are infinitely many Mathematical 2s, 3s, etc., we have to think o f the numerals 2 , 3 , . . . as ambiguously denoting anyone o f the 2s, 3s, . . . A statement such as 2 + 3 = 5 we shall accordingly have to interpret as saying: The sum o f any 2 and any 3 is numerically equal to any 5 . Given the relation o f numerical equality (same number o f units), we could define the sum m + n as any set form ed by joining a set equal to m with a set equal to n, provided these sets have no unit in com m on. The product m x n could similarly be explained as any set obtained by correlating with each unit in m a set equal to n and then joining these n-adic sets, provided that no two o f them have a unit in common.


(The ambiguity o f the definitions is harmless, since the specific choices o f sets are irrelevant to the truth-value of arithmetical statements.) If this explanation corresponds to Platos view, he could reasonably say that the units are indistinguishable in the follow ing sense. The truth-value o f a statement such as 2 + 3 = 5 remains the same whatever dyad, triad and pentad o f units we let the numerals 2 , 3 and 5 denote. If such a statement is true at all, it remains true even if we let distinct occurrences o f the same numeral n , within the statement, denote distinct n-adic sets o f units. Thus, from the point of view o f arithmetic, there is nothing to distinguish one unit from another, or one set o f units from a numerically equal set. It is true that arithmetic presupposes the existence o f infinitely many distinct units. But whatever the difference between one unit and another may be, this difference falls beyond what is expressible in arithmetical terms (supposing the basic arithmetical vocabulary to consist of, say, the numerals and signs for addition, multiplication and equality). Although I believe the above explanation to be a plausible rationalization o f Platos view, it is, o f course, a rationaliza tion. Since Plato cannot have had any clear notion o f an ambiguous name (a variable ), his interpretation o f arith metic in terms o f Mathematical Numbers must have remained rather vague. Since he did not have access to any formalized arithmetical language, he could have no sharp conception of expressible in arithmetical terms , or o f indistinguishable from the point o f view o f arithmetic . I suspect that he did not quite realize the difference between the latter notion and absolutely indistinguishable , and that, hence, he looked upon the infinitely many units as so many manifestations of a single identical one . Any two /xadic sets o f units would then likewise appear as manifestations o f a single identical n, and our previous definitions o f sum and product would tend to degenerate into the simpler (but absurd) definitions: m + n is the set obtained b y joining m and n; m x n is the set obtained by joining n to itself as many times as there are nnits in m. The statement 2 + 3 = 5" would then com e to


mean sim ply: The set obtained by joining 2 and 3 is the set 5. Platos language (especially in the Phaedo), and likewise Aristotles, indicates that he tended to interpret arithmetical statements in this simplified but mystical manner. The simplified m ode of speech will, conversely, entail the impossibility o f distinguishing the units, in an absolute sense. If, for any two units a and b, n increased with a as well as n increased with b coincides with n + 1, then there cannot be any distinction between a and b. It is possible, I think, that Plato assumed his units to be indistinguishable, at least partly, because of his failure to find those (previously stated) defini tions o f the arithmetical concepts which his theory of Mathe matical Number would require. * Platos philosophy o f number must be viewed against the background o f the conception of number which was current in Greek mathematics o f Platos time. If we study this con ception in the light o f the available sources, we immediately find that Greek mathematicians and philosophers generally seem to have regarded a number as, in some sense, a synthesis, or collection, or plurality o f units. It is reported that already Thales defined number in this vein, and similar definitions are later constantly repeated as if they were truisms.6 It is tempting to identify this definition o f number with Plato's definition o f Mathematical Number. However, there is no evidence to the effect that any o f the Pre-Platonic philosophers entertained belief in ideal entities in the characteristically Pla tonic sense. Platos units belong to a realm o f supersensible eternal being, which as far as we know was quite unknown to the Pre-Platonic philosophers. This historical fact is attested b y Aristotle:
His [Platos] divergence from the Pythagoreans in making the One and the Numbers separate from [sensible] things, and his introduction o f the Forms, were due to his inquiries in the region o f definitions (for the earlier thinkers had no tincture o f dialectic). 7

T he definition o f number as plurality o f units , hence, must

have had another and a less sophisticated meaning for the Pre-Platonic philosophers than it had for Plato. Aristotle tells us that it is necessary to distinguish between two senses o f number, viz.: (i) number in the sense o f a col lection o f things which are counted, and (ii) number in the sense o f that by means o f which collections are counted.8 Since Plato (together with his master Socrates) was the first to grasp clearly the distinction between abstract concepts and the things to which they are applied, it is not a very daring hypothesis lo assume that the Pre-Platonic definitions of number referred lo number in sense (i). jwhen the Pre-Platonic philosophers stated that number is a synthesis o f units, they were, I shall assume, speaking o f that o f which number is W hat then did the definition mean? In Aristotles discussion o f number this definition is always taken for granted. But for Aristotle the definition does not in itself imply acceptance o f Platos theory of Mathematical Number. In Aristotle we can in fact find indications o f another meaning of the definition which makes it a rather simple explanation of number in sense (i). Although Aristotles formulations are almost certainly his own and although it is hard to believe that anyone before Aristotle could have achieved his degree of explicitness and preciseness, it is, I think, the usual Greek conception o f number that he makes explicit and precise. According to Aristotle, counting is a kind of measurement, in fact the prototype o f all other measurement.9 Like all measurement counting presupposes that we agree upon a measure. The one is the measure applied in counting. The nature o f this measure he explains as follows:
The measure must always be some identical thing predicable of all the things it measures, e. g. if the things are horses, the measure is horse, and if they are men, man . If they are a man, a horse and a god, the measure is perhaps living being, and the number o f them will be a number of living beings. If the things are man and pale and walking, . . . tho number of these w'ill be a number o f kinds or some such term. 1 0

W e m ay render this doctrine o f Aristotles by saying that c o unting presupposes agreement upon some unit concept. An important consequence o f this fact is that the number counted


depends essentially npon our choice o f unit concept. Suppose lhat we are faced with three married couples. If we are asked lo count, the demand remains indefinite as long as the unit concept is not stipulated. If we are given the unit concept Human Being, the result o f the count will be 6. If, instead, we are given the unit concept Married Couple, the result will be 3. As far as I am aware, this consequence is not stated by Aristotle in its general form . A particular case o f it is that a shift in unit concept may change the result o f a count from one to more than one , or m any , although the count remains concerned with the same thing or things. This corollary which is probably o f importance for the understanding of Platos arithmetical philosophy is asserted by Aristotle, when he expjains that no paradox is involved in the fact that what is one can also be many inasmuch as it combines several pro perties^ orjj>_ajwholej;ont{uning several par Is.1 :1 0 Here, we have one significance o f the word unit , as used in Greek mathematical parlance, which is free from Pla tonic implications. To count the objects within an area or a domain som ehow designated or delimited is to count them with respect to some chosen unit concept. If I say', In this room are 5 m en myr unit concept is Man. If I say, There are 2 ears on m y head , my unit concept is Ear or, perhaps, Ear-on-my-head. W ith this significance of the term one or unit another significance is connected. Each one o f the objects counted is also called a unit or a 1 (relative to the unit concept). If I count, say, Socrates, Protagoras and Gorgias with respect to the unit concept Man, each one o f the three is a unit (relative to that concept). This is a second manner in which the term unit is used in Greek mathematical terminology. In this sense any object whatsoever may be considered a unit, or a 1, in some context. In accordance with this usage. Aristotle says lhat:
xve, for our part, suppose lhat in general and whether the things are equal or unequal, is e. g., the good and the bad, or a man and a horse 1 1

2 ,

1 ,

What, in this sense, is a unit (relative to a given unit con-


cept), is usually also indivisible (relative to that concept) in the follow ing simple sense: what is one man, is not simultane ously divisible into many men; what is one horse, is not simultaneously divisible into m any horses. Aristotle says:
It is natural loo lo suppose that in number there is a limit in the direction o f the m inim um ,. . . The reason is that what is one is indivisible whatever it may be, e.g., a man is one man, not many. Number on the other hand is a plurality o f ones and a certain quantity o f them. Hence number must slop at the indivisible . . . 1 2

I. f

I submit the hypothesis that the definition of number as a plurality o f units , which was current in Greek mathematics already before Platos time, should be understood in the light of these explanations o f Aristotles. Those who assumed that definition were thinking, not of abstract number, but of that of which number is predicated. They maintained that that is a plurality o f objects considered relative to a chosen unit con cept. In relation to that concept the objects counted are them selves units, and usually they are also, in a trivial sense, in divisible units. Besides this rather straightforward conception o f number, w hich probably was com m une bonum within Greek mathe matics, there existed in Platos time also another interpretation o f number, viz. that advanced by the Pythagoreans. (The Pythagoreans could also say that number is plurality o f units. But in their mouth this statement had a more esoteric mean ing. For them the units were a kind o f physical points, or in divisible material particles, and they thought o f numbers as collocations o f such points.1 }

From the point o f view o f Plato's theory o f Ideas both the com m on Greek and the Pythagorean conception o f number appear very imperfect. Since numbers are predicated o f many particular collections o f objects, the numbers themselves must according to the theory o f Ideas be certain ideal entities


above those collections. But the Pythagorean view reduces numbers to material instances of them: it identifies the number 1 with one point, the number 2 with two points, and so on. Although Plato was probably strongly influenced by the Pytha gorean doctrine, obviously he could not accept it as it stands. The com m on Greek definition o f number as plurality o f units tells us merely o f what numbers are predicated, not what numbers are in themselves. Plato cannot have been satisfied with it. In the Phaedo he formulates a criticism which, even if it is not directly aimed at that definition, is at least also applicable to it.14 In the Philebus the definition is unambiguously alluded to, and Plato indicates that he finds it inadequate.15 Platos notions o f Mathematical Number and Ideal Number can be regarded as two attempts to improve upon the existing definitions of number that he found unsatis factory. Although Plato was looking for an explanation o f numbers in the abstract, obviously he could not entirely free himself from the belief that the number 2 is a dyadic set, the number 3 is a triadic set, and so on. Platos peculiar theory of Mathe matical Numbers can, I think, be explained at least in part from the ensuing confusion between the abstract and the con crete point o f view. If 2 in the abstract is a set o f two objects, which two objects constitute that set? It is clearly repellent to say that the number 2 is the set consisting of, say, Socrates and Gorgias, or the set consisting o f any other two designated individual objects, i f we wish to save the abstract nature o f 2. it is natural to answer that it is the set consisting of two abstract T s, or o f two ideal unit^i If this train o f associations led Plato to postulate the infi nitely many ideal units, we can, I think, see an additional cause w hy he considered them indistinguishable. The units are here postulated merely as entities denoted by the numeral 7 in the abstract. By the very nature o f the present line of thought, it is impossible to complete this characterization and individualize the units. Since the Mathematical 2 should be distinct from any pair o f particular things, its units cannot be identified with any designated particulars. Thus, all wre can

7 (5 say about an ideal unit is that it is 1, in the abstract, and no difference between a unit and another is discernible. It is important to notice the difference in significance be tween the w ord unit as defined by Aristotle and, probably also, understood by the Pre-Platonic philosophers, and the same word as used by Plato and his followers. In Aristotles previ ously analysed terminology a unit is either a unit concept, i.e., a concept with respect to which we count, or it is an object counted with respect to a given unit concept. In Platos termioology an idea), unit is anyone among an infinite set of ideal_entities o f w hich each is 1 in the abstract. Platos assumption of ideal units probably derived a certain vague intuitive content from associations to the Pythagorean doctrine. For Aristotle it is self-evident that the ideal units are akin to points in the sense o f geometry or physics. The only difference between an ideal unit and a point is, according to Aristotle, that a unit has no position, whereas a point does:
that which is in no w ay divisible in quantity is a point or a unit that which lias not position a unit, that which has position a point. 16

Sometimes he even characterizes a unit as a point without position .17 It is perhaps not entirely unjust to say that the Platonic ideal units are related lo the Pythagorean points as the grin o f the Cheshire cat to the cat itself the grin which remained some time after the rest o f the cat had gone. Although the theory o f Mathematical Numbers is an im provement in the direction o f a higher degree o f abstractness upon the Pre-Platonic Greek conceptions of number, this theory, loo, fails to conform with the requirements o f the theory of Ideas. The theory o f Mathematical Numbers conceives numbers as ideal entities, it is true, but not yet as Ideas. Since the number 2 is something which we predicate o f various collections of things in a way similar to that in which wT predicate, say, e Humanity o f various individual men, it is, according to the theory o f Ideas, to be expected that the number 2 is an Idea on a par with, e.g., the Idea o f Humanity. If 2 is an Idea, it must,


by virtue o f Ihe theory o f Ideas, be (i) a unique entity, (ii) above all dyadic collections participating therein, and (iii) intrinsically simple. As we explained in the course o f our analysis o f the theory o f Ideas, (ii) means that 2 itself is not something of_which 2 can be truly predicated. Although removed from the world of the senses, the Mathematical Number 2, as defined by ^ -------------j/ Plato, fails lo fulfill these three requirements: (i) It is not a y unique something, since there are infinitely many Mathematical 2s; (ii) It is not an entity above all dyadic collections, since it- 1 T 7 -------' ------ : ~~ " is itself a dyadic collection o f ideal units; (iii) Being an ^ jMJj aggregate o f units, nor is it intrinsically simple. Hence, Plato could not be satisfied with the theory o f Mathematical Numbers as constituting the ultimate truth about number. Above the Mathematical Numbers he had to postulate a unique Oneness, a unique Twoness, a unique Threeness, and so on, i.e., the Ideal Numbers. In the Phaedo we can directly witness how Plato makes the transition from Mathematical Numbers to Ideal Numbers. The fact that the sum o f a unit a and a unit b is 2. can only be explained Socrates says in the Phaedo if we take into account the Idea of Duality or Twoness and observe that the sum o f the units a and b partakes o f that Idea.1 8 In this way we can, I think, understand how Plato was led to postulate his two distinct kinds o f number. W hen advancing from the conception o f Mathematical Numbers to that o f Ideal Numbers Plato took, within the fram ew ork o f his idealistic system, essentially7 the same step which the German logician Gottlob Frege took in the last century, when he rejected the still current definitions o f positive integers as sets o f units and replaced them by a definition according to which the positive integers are sets o f concepts. A similar interpretation o f the positive integers was later advanced by Bertrand Russell who defined them as sets o f sets. It does not matter m uch whether we speak o f a set or o f the concept or property determining lhat set. Thus, the basic intuition underlying the Frege-Russellian interpretation o f the positive integers may also be expressed in the form that theyr are properties o f sets.19 Stated in this form Ihe interpretation is clearly akin lo Platos conceplion o f Ideal Numbers. But Plato failed to realize Ihe


entire bearing o f his discovery. Unlike Frege he did not see that numbers in the sense o f properties o f sets are the only numbers needed and that the relations and operations o f arith metic can be defined for numbers in this sense in such a man ner that the com m only accepted arithmetical statements are verified. As regards the arithmetical relations and operations he seems to have been unable to conceive any other definitions than those which fitted solely his Mathematical Numbers. 'In consequence, he asserted the Ideal Numbers to fall beyond the scope o f arithmetic and to form part o f the subject-matter o f philosophical Dialectic^

As yet we have only explained part of that Platonic philo sophy o f arithmetic which was summarized at the beginning o f this chapter. Above all it remains to be explained why Plato thought that the ideal units, o f which Mathematical Numbers consist, are free from any intrinsic complexity and why he apparently assumed that nothing but Mathematical Numbers truly partake o f the Ideal Numbers. In book VII o f the R e public there is a passage which seems to give us a clue to Platos motives. There are, Socrates maintains, certain sense impressions w hich invite the intellect to look beyond the sensible world for an ideal reality, viz. those impressions which are simultaneous with opposite impressions. The question is asked whether unity and number belong to that category7 o f impressions:
Well, reason it out from wliat has already been said. For if unity is adequately seen by itself or apprehended by some other sensation, it would not tend to draw the mind to the apprehension o f essence, as we were explaining in the case o f the finger. But if some contradiction is always seen coincidentally with it, so that it no m ore appears to be one than the opposite, there would forthwith be need o f something to judge between Ihem, and it w ould com pel the soul to be at a loss and to inquire, by arousing thought in itself, and to ask, whatever then is the one as such, and thus the study o f unity will be one o f the studies that guide and convert the soul to the contemplation o f true 'being. But surely, he [Gluacon] said, the visual perception of it does especially

79 involve this. F or we see tlie same thing at once as one and as an inde finite plurality. Then, if this is true o f the one, I [Socrates] said, the same holds o f all number does it not? O f course. 2 0

Plato here seems to adopt a line o f reasoning which is strong reminiscent o f one o f Zenos paradoxes.21 I believe that we could render his argument in the follow ing more formal manner: a) If any number were truly applicable to a set of sensible objects, then each object in the set would have to be truly one. b) But any sensible object contains a multitude o f charac teristics, or constituents, or parts. c) Hence, no sensible object is truly one. d) Hence, no number is truly applicable lo any set o f sensible objects.22 The argument forgets an insight which, if our hypothesis is correct, is implicitly expressed already in the classic Greek definition of number as plurality o f units , viz. that numbers are always predicated with reference to a given unit concept. In several o f those dialogues which, according to a general present day agreement am ong Platonic scholars, are later than the Republic, Plato him self rejects the argument. In the Par menides Socrates declares that there is nothing perplexing in the fact that he can be shown to be both one and many:
But if he shows that I am both one and many, what marvel is there in that? He will say, when he wishes to show that I am many, that there are m y rigfht parts and my left parts, m y front parts and my badk parts, likewise upper and lower, all different; for I do, I suppose, partake of multitude; and when he wishes to show that I am one, he will say that we here are seven persons, o f whom I am one, a man, partaking also o f unity; and so he shows that both assertions are true.

Socrates adds that such a person is uttering not a paradox but a truism.23 The criticism that Plato here puts in Socrates mouth can, I think, be rendered as follow s: Relative to, e.g., the unit concept part o f a m an Socrates exhibits a number greater than 1, or partakes o f multitude. But relative to Ihe

unit concept man , or man present, Socrates is characterized by the number 1. Although Plato later abandoned the line of reasoning, which he makes use o f in the Republic, it must have been one o f the factors that shaped his philosophy o f number. W hat truly partakes of Oneness, must be devoid of all intrinsic com plexity or plurality; it must, in this sense, be an indivisible unit. W hat truly partakes o f Twoness, must be a set o f two such indivisible units. And so on. Hence, only Mathematical Numbers truly partake o f the Ideal Numbers, and Ihe ideal units, out o f which the Mathematical Numbers are composed, have to be, not only mutually indistinguishable, but also ab solutely simple, indivisible. If an Idea requires the existence o f a multitude o f objects that truly partake o f the Idea (in the sense o f truly having the attribute which is the Idea), an Ideal Number cannot exist unless there exist, between the Ideal Number and the collections o f sensible things, the many corre sponding Mathematical Numbers made out o f intrinsically simple units.

In his criticism o f Plato's arithmetical philosophy Aristotle frequently substitutes for the notion o f Ideal Number, as pre viously described, another notion. Although Aristotle says that the Ideal Numbers are Ideas and Plato asserts Ideas to be uncom pounded entities (hence certainly not sets o f units), in his critique o f Platos doctrine Aristotle nevertheless treats the Ideal Numbers as sets o f units. The only difference between Ideal and Mathematical Numbers which he acknow ledges in his critique is that in Mathematical Numbers all units are associable ( com parable ) and undifferentiated , whereas in Ideal Numbers the units are inassociable ( in com parable ) and differentiated .24 The usual meaning in Aristotle o f the Greek words (symbletos and asymbletos) which associable ( com parable ) and inassociable ( incom parable ) are intended to replace is as follow s: Tw o magnitudes are associable if they are comparable in quantity, or if the one is either equal to or greater or less than

the other.23 Aristotle applies the terms to numbers as well as to units. W hen applied to numbers the terms apparently have the meaning just stated, or a meaning closely akin to that. But in their application to units the terms apparently mean some thing else. W ith reference to units Aristotle employs the terms associable and undifferentiated , and their opposites, as if the}' were convertible. I think that we can best understand what his characterization o f the two types o f units signifies, if we consider first the consequences entailed by the assumption that the units o f Ideal Numbers are differentiated. The units of Mathe matical Number are undifferentiated in the sense lhat they are indistinguishable: the replacement o f one unit by another does not affect the identity o f a given Mathematical Number. The differentiation of the units of Ideal Numbers must, hence, signify that each such unit has its distinct individuality: the identity of a given Ideal Number does not permit the arbitrary replacement o f one unit by another. The hypothesis of dif ferentiated units may, according to Aristotle, take one or the other of two alternative form s. Either (i) it is assumed that all units without exception are differentiated, or (ii) that the units which belong to the same number are mutually undif ferentiated but a unit from one number is always differentiated from a unit from another number.26 According to (i), there exists an infinite supply o f distinct units: a, b, c , , and each number is a definite set o f such units. According to (ii), 1 is a unit a u 2 is a set o f units (u3, u2), 3 (tz3, 3, u3), and so on, where, for identical i, all u.s are indistinguishable, but, for i = j, ut is differentiated from ur Under both form s o f the hy f= pothesis o f differentiated units it follow s that a random selec tion o f units does not always constitute a number: not any units can be brought together into one number. In this sense the dif ferentiated units can be said to be inassociable . T he units entering into Mathematical Numbers are, on the contrary, associable in the sense that any selection of them constitutes such a number. According to Aristotle, the view that the units are different iated in sense (i) had not found any defender.27 But he implicitly suggests that Plato conceived his Ideal Numbers as com posed (! A. Wedberg


o f units differentiated in sense (ii), and most o f his criticism of Platos theory o f Ideal Numbers presupposes that interpreta tion.28 This new definition o f the Ideal Numbers is, o f course, radic ally different from the one which we have previously studied. But the Ideal Numbers in the new sense nevertheless have one important property in com m on with the Ideal Numbers in the old sense: the operations and relations o f arithmetic, as con ceived by Plato, are not defined for them. In this sense, the Ideal Numbers which consist of differentiated and inassociable units are themselves inassociable or incom parable .20 Here the standard meaning o f the term is applicable: no Ideal number is equal to, greater, or less than another. But it is plau sible to interpret the inassociability w hich Aristotle ascribes to Platos Ideal Numbers as im plying also that they are in capable o f being added or subtracted, multiplied or divided .30 Some scholars assume that Aristotle is here guilty o f mis representing Plato. The only sense, in which Plato acknow ledged Ideal Numbers, was, they say, the sense which was stated at the beginning o f this chapter. In criticizing Platos theory Aristotle did not, they maintain, feel bound to employ an immanent method o f criticism. To Aristotle it appeared self-evident that all genuine number is plurality o f units. Since all numbers are of that nature, also Platos Ideal Num bers must be o f that nature if at all there exists such a thing as Ideal Numbers. Hence, when Aristotle undertook to refute Platos theory o f Ideal Numbers, he asked himself, not: Do there exist Ideal Numbers w hich as Plato meant are not sets o f units? , but: Do there exist Ideal Numbers which, then, as numbers, are sets o f units? That Plato himself denied that Ideal Numbers are sets o f units, was irrelevant to Aristotle when it was a question of assessing the validity o f Platos position.3 1 Perhaps this view is correct. But I cannot feel convinced that it is. It is hard to believe that Aristotle would demonstrate such dogmatic blindness in the critique o f his master, and it is easy to believe that Plato him self was not quite clear about the nature o f his Ideal Numbers. Also Platos own thought on


questions o f mathematical philosophy was, as we have seen, very firm ly rooted in the com m on Greek conception o f number as plurality o f units. However, irrespective o f whether the theory o f Ideal Numbers made o f differentiated units was a genuine aspect o f Platos own thought or it was formulated by Aristotle for the sake of the discussion, that theory represents, in fact, another method o f eschewing one of the difficulties inherent in the theory o f Mathematical Numbers, viz. their lack o f uniqueness. The theory does not agree with the funda mental intuition o f Platos theory o f Ideas expressed in p ro position (4) o f chapter II. The Ideal Numbers as sets of dif ferentiated units are themselves something o f which numbers may truly be predicated, while proposition (4) forbids that un Idea be predicated o f itself. But, as we have seen, the Theory o f Ideas involves an antinom y: the Idea is also thought o f as a certain object o f which the Idea can be truly predicated, and the relation between an object partaking o f an Idea and the Idea itself is accordingly interpreted as a relation o f resembl ance or imitation. The new conception o f Ideal Numbers well agrees with this other side o f the theory o f Ideas ex pressed in propositions (6) - (7) o f chapter III. Between a given set o f sensible objects and the Ideal Number that can be truly predicated o f that set, there exists, according to this new con ception o f Ideal Number, a definite resemblance . The ele ments o f the given set can be put in a one-to-one correspond ence with the differentiated units of the Ideal Number: to each element there corresponds exactly one unit, and to each unit there corresponds exactly one element.32 The definition o f the number JV as a certain designated set containing N elements is a reasonable alternative to a defini tion which makes the number N a property predicable o f any set containing N elements. In modern research on the founda tions o f mathematics both types of definitions have been suc cessfully employed. From the point o f view o f abstract mathe matical theory, a series o f sets: (a), (b , c), (d, e, f ) , , may have all the form al properties required o f the series o f positive integers: 1, 2, 3 . . . A definition that identifies the numbers with such sets also seems to do perfect justice to the use o f numbers in

statements such as: Socrates and Gorgias are 2 m en. Instead o f interpreting this statement as meaning: The set whose elements are the men Socrates and Gorgias has the property 2 , we may understand it to signify: The set whose elements are the men Socrates and Gorgias can be correlated one-to-one with the set which is the number 2.

Appendix A
Aristotle s analysis of Plato's philosophy of geometry

It is a well-know n fact that Aristotle attributes to Plato the teaching that there are three fundamental types o f entities, viz. the Ideas or Forms, the intermediate objects o f mathematics, and sensible things:
Plato posited two kinds o f substance the Forms and the objects of mathematics as well as a third kind, viz. the substance o f sensible bodies. 1

In another passage Aristotle refers to the upholders o f the Platonic doctrine as:
those who believe both in Forms and in mathematical objects inter mediate between these and sensible things. 2

The sense in which Plato supposedly assumed an inter mediate realm o f mathematical objects, Aristotle explains in the follow ing terms:
Further, besides sensible things and Forms he [Plato] says there are the objects o f mathematics, which occupy an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal and unchangeable, from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form itself is in each case unique. 3

The natural interpretation of these words o f Aristotles seems to be as follow s: There is only one unique Idea o f the Circle, but between this Idea and the circular objects occurring in the world o f the senses, there exists a plurality o f mathematical circles; and similarly in the case o f any other generic geo metrical concept. That this interpretation is correct, is beyond


doubt. W hen beginning a discussion of the problem of eternal and immovable substances, Aristotle says:
Tw o opinions are held on this subject: it is said that the objects of mathematics i.e. numbers, and lines and the likeare substances, and again that the Ideas are substances.4

The objects o f mathematics are here said to be numbers and lines and the like . The numbers we may disregard for the m oment: they are the intermediate objects of arithmetic, which will be discussed separately in appendices C and D. The phrase lines and the like indicates what are the intermediate objects of geometry: they are lines, triangles, circles, squares, cubes, and so on. That, according to the doctrine o f Intermediates, there are many, nay even infinitely many, Intermediates o f each kind, is clearly stated, e.g., in the follow ing passage:
In general one might raise the question why after all, besides the per ceptible things and the intermediates, we have to look for another class o f things, i.e. the Forms which we [Plalonists] posit. If il is for this reason, because the objects o f mathematics, while they differ from the things in this w orld in some other respect, differ not at all in that there are many o f the same kind, so that their first principles cannot be limited in number (just as the elements o f all the language in this sensible world are not limited in number, but in k in d ,. . . so it is also in the case o f the intermediates; for there also the members o f the same kind are infinite in number) . . . : if then this must be so, the Forms also must therefore be held to exist. Even if those w ho support this view do not express it articulately, still this is what they mean . . . 5

Thus, according to Aristotle, Plato believed in the existence o f certain intermediate objects of geometry having the follow ing properties: (1) They belong to the realm o f eternal unchangeable being; (2) They are instances o f the geometrical Ideas; (3) To each geometrical Idea there answers a plurality o f such eternal instances; (4) They belong to the subject-matter studied by geometrical science. Aristotle does not merely tell us that Plalo held that doctrine.


He also explains embrace it:

But those both exists be true o f arithmetic] magnitudes


were the reasons that led Plato lo

[the Platonists] who make num'ber separable assume that it and is separable because the axioms [of arithmetic] would not sensible things, while the statements of mathematics [here: true and greet the soul ; and similarly with the spatial o f mathematics.6


Ill so far as this statement concerns Platos philosophy of arith metic, it will be explained in appendix C. By implication the statement asserts that Platos grounds for postulating the objects o f geometry were (i) that the statements o f geometry (its axioms and theorems) are true, and (ii) that they are not true of sensible things . Proposition (ii) seems to signify prim arily that there are no sensible things which are perfect in stances o f the Euclidean concepts, or Ideas. That this is what Aristotle meant by (ii), is indicated, e.g., by the following passage from a context where Aristotle expounds the reasons both for and against the assumption o f intermediate mathe matical objects:
But on the other hand astronomy cannot be dealing with perceptible magnitudes nor with this heaven above us. For neither are perceptible lines such lines as the geometer speaks o f (for no perceptible thing is straight or round in the way in which he defines straight and round ; for a hoop touches a straight edge not at a point, but as Protagoras used to say it did, in his refutation of the geometers), nor are the movements and spiral orbits in the heavens like those o f wihich astronom y treats, nor have geometrical points the same nature as the actual stars. 7

Astronomy, Aristotle here presupposes, considers the stars as geometrical points and describes their motions as geometrical curves (e.g., spiral lines). But in actual fact the stars are not geometrical points, nor are their paths such curves as the geometer defines. Hence, astronomy is not really a science dealing with the celestial phenomena that we perceive with our senses. This argument, according to Aristotle, is analogous to the argument by which Plato proved the existence o f the inter mediate objects o f geometry.8 The reasoning which Aristotle ascribes to Plato reveals to us

a new aspect o f the intermediate geometrical objects. They must exist, because no sensible phenomena are perfect instances ol' the Euclidean Ideas. Hence, obviously, the intermediate geometrical objects are thought to be such perfect instances., A fifth property that, according to Aristotle, characterizes the intermediate geometrical objects postulated by Plato, is: (5) W hile no sensible phenomena are perfect instances o f the Euclidean Ideas, the intermediate objects o f geometry are such perfect instances. In Aristotles opinion, Platos reasoning cannot be correct, since, if it were, analogous inferences would be correct with respect to the other mathematical sciences, e.g., astronomy, but in these other cases the conclusion is patently absurd:
For clearly on the same principle there w ill be lines besides the linesthemselves [the Ideas of various kinds o f lines] and the sensible lines, and so with each o f the oilier classes o f things [in the malhematieal scien ces]; so that since astronom y is one o f these mathematical sciences there will also be a heaven besides the sensible heaven, and a sun and a m oon (and so with the other heavenly bodies) besides the sensible. Yet how are we to believe in these things? It is not reasonable even to suppose such a body immovable, but to suppose it is quite im possible. 9

m g ovin

This passage which should be com pared with the other pas sage on astronomy quoted above suggests that, in Aristotles opinion, one might with equal right draw the follow ing in ference concerning astronomy: Astronomy is true. In the world o f the senses there are no things behaving exactly as astronomy says that some things do. Hence: Such things intermediate objects o f astronomy exist in the realm o f eternal unchangeable being. Against the conclusion to which this inference leads Aristotle raises two objections: (i) The conclusion is inherently incred ible: Yet how are we to believe in these things. (ii) The con clusion is logically im possible: It is not reasonable even to suppose such a body immovable, but to suppose it movinq is


quite impossible. Astronomy describes moving objects, and hence, if there were any intermediate objects o f astronomy, they would have to be moving. But as intermediate objects they would belong to the realm of eternal, unchangeable being: hence, they would have to be immovable. An immediate corollary to the doctrine that Aristotle imputes to Plato is that the geometer never, strictly speaking, constructs the geometrical figures with which his proofs are concerned. He may, it is true, draw a physical figure and look at it while executing his proof. But the physical figure is at most a very imperfect imitation o f the eternal geometrical figures with which his p roof is really concerned. In a passage, which seems to be directed against such a (from Aristotles point o f view) Platonic theory, Aristotle emphatically asserts that the geo metrical figures have only a potential existence before they are brought to actuality through the geometers thinking:
It is by an activity also that geometrical constructions are discovered; for we find them by dividing. If the figures had been already divided, the constructions would have been obvious; but as it is they are present only potentially. W hy are the angles o f the triangle equal to two right angles? Because the angles about one point are equal to two right angles. If, then, the line parallel to the side had been already drawn upwards, the reason would have been evident to anyone as soon as he saw the fig u re. . . Obviously, therefore, the potentially existing constructions are discovered by being brought to actuality; the reason is that the geometers thinking is an actuality; so that the potency proceeds from an actuality; and therefore it is by making constructions that people come to know them (though the single actuality is later in generation than the corresponding potency)C 1 0

(Aristotles objection to the assumption, that the geometrical constructions should exist independently o f the geometers ac tivity, would perhaps not be very convincing to one who were inclined to believe in eternal geometrical objects. The objec tion is based on the assumption that, as soon as the appropriate construction has com e into existence, (i) the construction itself is directly seen, and (ii) the proposition to be proved is imme diately understood to be true. Hence, if the construction approp riate for the p roof o f a given proposition had an independent existence, any geometrical problem , Aristotle maintains, would


be solvable at a glance. However, as a matter of psychology, (ii)^ is clearly false, and a believer in eternal geometrical objects would not be bound to grant (i): W h y , he might rejoin, should it be easy to becom e aware o f the things which exist eternally? ) The making o f geometrical constructions , the division (e.g., o f a plane by means o f straight lines), o f which Aristotle speaks, is not a physical activity, a physical division. It is a division carried out in thought only.11 Thus, in criticizing a view which is a corollary to the doctrine he imputes to Plato, Aristotle seemingly anticipates some o f Kants most charac teristic views, viz. (a) that the geometer carries out construc tions in an intuitively given space, and (b) lhat in establishing geometrical theorems the geometer makes essential use both of logical deduction from axioms and direct inspection o f his constructions in the intuitively given space. As far as the latter view is concerned, Aristotles confident words about the evidence o f geometrical theorems even remind us o f Scho penhauers disparagement o f E uclids deductive procedure.1 2 If Plato, as Aristotle says, believed that geometry studies a realm o f eternal geometrical objects, Plato would, o f course, have to maintain the existence o f an actual geometrical infinite. Aristotle, on the other hand, recognized only a potential in finite. Perhaps it is in reply to a supposed objection from a follow er o f Plato that he defends his standpoint with the fo l lowing words:
Our account does not rob the mathematicians o f proving the actual existence of the infinite in the in the sense o f the untraversable. In point o f fact infinite and do not use it. They postulate only that may be produced as far as they wish. 1 3 their science, by dis direction of increase, they do not need the the finite straight line

Just as he denies that there exists an actual infinite in the direction o f increase , he also denies that there exists an actual infinite by division . The number o f times a magnitude can be bisected is infinite, he says, but:
this infinite is potential, never actual: the number o f parts that can be

90 taken always surpasses any assigned number. But this number is not separable from the process o f bisection, and its infinity is not a per manent actuality but consists in a process of coming to be, like time and the number o f time. 1 4

Also this standpoint does not, Aristotle asserts, conflict with the requirements o f mathematical science:
Hence for the purposes o f proof, it w ill make no difference to them [the mathematicians] to have such an infinite instead, while its existence will be in the sphere o f real magnitudes. 1 5

Aristotle here takes account o f and dismisses as invalid a supposed argument which is of the same type as that through which, according to him, Plato was led to believe in the eternal geometrical objects. The argument which Aristotle envisages is as follow s: Geometry is true. The truth o f geometry presupposes the existence o f an actual geometrical infinite. Hence: An actual geometrical infinite exists. Aristotle avoids the conclusion by denying the second premise of this inference. Arithmetic and geometry (with its sister science stereometry) are only two among the mathematical sciences listed by Plato and Aristotle. Both philosophers add astronomy and harmonics (music) to the list, and Aristotle also mentions optics (which is missing from Platos list).10 As will be shown in appendix C, Aristotle represents Plato as assuming intermediate mathema tical objects also with respect to arithmetic. It is of interest to inquire how Aristotle interprets Platos position with respect to the remaining two mathematical sciences, astronomy and har monics, that were recognised by Plato. The Platonic writings offer no evidence for the assumption that Plato postulated a class o f intermediate astronomical entities or a class o f inter mediate musical entities. Whereas the postulation o f intelligible arithmetical and geometrical objects can be presented in such a light as to appear plausible in some degree, a parallel postula

91 tion o f intelligible astronomical or musical objects shocks us as grotesque and must, it seems, have made the same impression on the minds of Plato and his contemporaries. Now, if Aristotle were to interpret Platos views 0 11 astronomy and harmonics in the same manner as he interprets Platos views on arithmetic and geometry, this would throw the gravest doubts upon his accuracy as an interpreter. However, it appears that he makes a distinction between the two groups o f mathematical sciences. Concerning arithmetic and geometry, he states that Plato actually assumed intermediate objects o f these sciences. Con cerning astronomy and harm onics and also a number o f other sciences, never discussed by Plato from this point o f view he states that, if we were to apply Platos mode of reasoning to them, we would arrive at the conclusion that these sciences, loo, have their intermediate objects. This conclusion is, he remarks, absurd, and hence, neither can we accept Platos argument in those cases, where Plato himself originally applied it. The previously quoted discussion o f astronomy had this meaning. That this is Aristotles meaning is further shown by the follow ing passage, where he is attempting to prove to what absurd conclusions the argument for mathematical interme diates leads:
Again, how is it possible to solve the questions which we have already enumerated in our discussion of difficulties? For the objects of astronomy will exist apart from sensible things just as the objects of geometry will; but how is it possible that a heaven and its parts or anything else which has movement should exist apart? Similarly also the objects of optics and o f harmonics will exist apart; for there will be both voice and sight besides the sensible or individual voices and sights. Therefore it is plain that the other senses as well, and the other objects o f sense, will exist apart; for why should one set o f them do so and another not? And if this is so. there will also be animals existing apart, since there will be senses. 1 7

If we com pare the synopsis o f Platos philosophy of geometry at the end o f chapter IV with Aristotles statements, as analysed here, we find that the latter corroborate propositions I IV, and indirectly also V.


Appendix B
The subject-matter of geometry in the dialogues

In (his appendix I shall briefly review the principal passages in Platos dialogues that have a more direct bearing upon the question as to whether, in addition to geometrical Ideas, Plato postulated ideal perfect instances o f those Ideas. (The doctrine of space in the Timaeus will be left out of account here, since, in the authors opinion, it is not relevant to the theme o f the pre sent essay.) 1. E u t h i] d e m u s 290 b-d. In the Euthydemus Socrates establishes what is perhaps the basic proposition o f the Socratic ethics, viz. that wisdom or knowledge is the only thing that is really good for man.1 The question is then raised: W hat kind o f knowledge is it that is the sole g o o d ?2 In attempting to answer this question Socrates inlroduces a distinction between the kind of knowledge which enables its possessor to produce a thing and the kind o f k now ledge which enables him to use it. The two types of knowledge do not always go together, but unless accompanied by the latter the form er is o f no good to us. W hen several arts, such as the arts o f making various musical instruments and the art of speech-making, have been rejected by the help o f this criterion, Socrates suggests to his interlocutor, the young Cleinias, that perhaps the art o f the general is the one which gives its pos sessor the greatest happiness. Cleinias does not agree, since he says generalship is an art o f hunting men.
No part o f actual hunting, he (Cleinias) replied, is m ore important than what concerns chasing and overcoming; and when they have over com e whatever they are chasing, they are unable to use it; the hunts men or the fishermen hand it over to the caterers, and so it is too with the geometers, astronomers, and calculators fo r these also are hunters, since, in each case, they do not make diagrams but discover existing reali ties and so, not knowing how to use their prey, but only how to hunt, I take it they hand over their discoveries to the dialecticians to be used properly by them, if they have any sense in them.

93 Very good, I (Socrates) said, most handsome and ingenious Cleinias; and is this really so? To be sure it is; and so, in the same way, with the generals. W hen they have hunted either a city or an army, they hand it over to the politicians since they themselves do not know how to use what they have hunted just as quailhunters, I suppose, hand over their birds to the quailkeepers. If, therefore, he went on, we are looking for that art which itself shall know how to use what it has acquired either in making or chasing, and if this is the sort that will make us blessed, we must reject general ship, he said, and seek out some other.3

Here Cleinias puts the arts which hunt on a par with the arts which produce and rates both inferior to the art which uses. The art o f the general, w ho merely hunts and captures, is hence inferior to the art o f the politician, who exploits the generals conquests. The same relationship holds between the mathematical sciences geometry, astronomy and logistic on one hand, and philosophical Dialectic, on the other hand. The mathematician does not create diagrams (ta cliagrammata) but merely discovers realities (ta onta); only the dialectician knows how to use the discoveries o f mathematics. The w ord diagramma was capable o f several distinct mean ings in Greek mathematical terminology. It could signify either a diagram in our modern sense, i.e. a geometrical figure drawn for some mathematical purpose, or a mathematical proposition, or a mathematical proof.4 In the present con text the first of these interpretations seems to be the most natural. This brief passage foreshadows a number o f views that were later to be set forth more fully in the Republic: (i) The m athe maticians real interest is not in the figures he draws, (ii) The realities that he studies have an existence independent o f his doings; they are discovered but not created by him. (iii) The merely mathematical investigation o f them is somehow in complete. (iv) It must obtain its com pletion through Dialectic. It seems clear that the philosophy o f mathematics under lying the short statement in the Euthydem us is essentially that o f the Republic5 and that the statement can be fully understood only in the light, o f the latter dialogue. It would, I think, be


vain to try to extricate from the present passage any indepen dent inform ation on the question which here especially interests us, viz. the question whether Plato assumed geometrical Inter mediates. The passage admits the interpretation that the reali ties studied by the geometer are figures which are not drawn by him but exist independently, in the ideal realm, but the passage does not in itself exclude other interpretations.

2. P h a e d o 74 b-c. The second o f the proofs for the immortality o f the soul that are given in the Phaedo is based upon the doctrine o f remini scence. Our present knowledge about the ideal realm is a reminiscence o f what we have learnt before birth, and this reminiscence is occasioned by the perception o f sensible particulars w hich always imperfectly resemble the ideal entities. Probably with an allusion to the Meno6, the doctrine of reminiscence is said to be confirm ed by the fact that if people are questioned in the right manner, they can answer correctly without any previous teaching. This fact is especially obvious if the questions are about geometrical figures. Then follows a more closely reasoned argument for the doctrine. Plato chooses the concept o f equality as an example. It is the perception of such things as equal pieces of w ood or equal stones w hich calls forth the reminiscence o f Equality itself. Any such sensible instance o f Equality is distinct from Equality itself for the follow ing reason:
D o not equal stones and pieces o f w ood, though they remain the same, sometimes appear to us equal in one respect and unequal in another? Certainly. W ell, then, did absolute equals (auta ta isa) ever appear to you unequal or Equality Inequality? No, Socrates, never. Then, said he, those equals [= the stones, etc.] are not the same as Equality itself. 7

A little later Socrates concludes that any pair o f sensible objects w hich form s an instance o f Equality merely aims at being like Equality itself but falls short o f it. The p roof for the


doctrine of reminiscence is continued and completed. In the course o f the p roof we are inform ed that the doctrine is intended to apply, not only to Equality, but also to the greater and the less , and to the Ideas o f Beauty, Goodness, Justice, etc., in short to everything w hich is stamped as absolute being in the dialectic process o f questions and answers.8 Although the doctrine o f reminiscence has this wide scope, its application to mathematics, and especially to geometry, is very m uch in the foreground in the present passage. W hen the doctrine is first introduced, we are reminded of the p roof for it which was previously given in the geometrical passage of the Meno. The new p roof w hich then follow s is conducted at the hand o f a mathematical example, the notion of equality. W hen Plato wants to show that the scope o f the doctrine is not confined to this example but comprehends all absolute being, he first mentions the relations greater' and less which are tied up with the relation o f equality. In the Parmenides these three notions equal, greater, less are em ployed in their mathematical sense, which is there explained in the follow ing manner. Tw o things are equal if they have the same number o f measures. Of two com m en surable things the one is greater than the other if it has more and less if it has fewer measures. In the incommensurable case Plato seems to give the circular explanation that if a is k m and b is k n, then a is greater or less than b according to whether the measure m is greater or less than the measure n. (The explanation is circular, since the incommensurability of a and b implies that o f the measures.) The three notions are clearly intended to apply to any quantities, whether numbers or geometrical magnitudes or o f some other kind, just as they are in E uclids axiom s.9 In the Phaedo the geometrical inter pretation is the most natural in view o f the examples given: one piece o f w ood (geometrically) equal to another, one stone (geometrically) equal to another. In the lines quoted from the Phaedo three things are distinguished: (i) any tw o equal sensible objects, (ii) absolute equals (auta ta isa),


(iii) Equality itself (auto to ison, isotes). (i) is contrasted with (ii) and (iii) on the ground that equal sensible objects are not entirely equal, whereas absolute equals are always equal in every respect and Equality is always distinct from Inequality. W e may first observe that Plato here asserts the non-existence o f perfect sensible instances of Equality, thus a particular case o f his general doctrine that the mathematical Ideas have no perfect sensible manifestations.1 0 But what are the absolute equals w hich figure in his reason ing? Both (ii) and (iii) are thought of as belonging to the realm of ideal being together with the Ideas o f Beauty, Goodness etc. Apparently, thus, Plato is here assuming ideal perfect instances of mathematical Equality. Since the concept of Equality applies to any kind o f quantities, such perfect instances could be, e.g., perfectly equal Mathematical Numbers just as well as perfectly equal geometrical figures. But since these absolute equals are contrasted with imperfect sensible instances o f geometrical equality, the notion o f perfectly equal geometrical figures fits best into the train of thought which is naturally engendered and expressed by Platos words. There is one circumstance, however, which makes it doubt ful whether we are allowed to attach so much importance to the mention o f absolute equals . The mention is made merely in passing, and it could perhaps be explained as necessitated by the form in which Plato wishes to couch his argument rather than as the expression of a well-considered theory. The immediate conclusion which Plato is interested in proving is that (i) is distinct from (iii). One evident way o f proving that one thing is distinct from another is to show that some asser tion is true o f the one while an incompatible assertion is true o f the other. This is apparently the form o f argument that Plato has in mind. But o f the two inferences:


(a) Any two equal sensible objects are in some respect unequal Absolute equals are equal in every respect No two equal sensible objects are absolute equals

(b) d:o

Equality is never Inequality

No two equal sensible objects are Equality

only (a) really conform s with the intended pattern, whereas only (b) leads to the desired conclusion. Actually, Plato draws only the conclusion o f (b) but he uses also the second premise of (a) as if it were relevant for the conclusion which he draws. Perhaps, then, the mention o f absolute equals is introduced by Plato only in an attempt to save logical appearances: the mention makes us (and Plato) think o f the valid inference (a), and if we are not on our guard, we (including Plato) may confound the invalid (b) with the valid (a ). Even if there be some truth in this point o f view, the logic of Platos argument has also another aspect. The present argument should be com pared with a type o f arguments which occurs in several o f Platos expositions o f the theory o f Ideas. In the Hippias M ajor, e.g., Plato brings home the distinction between any particular beautiful thing, such as a beautiful girl or a beautiful pot, and Beauty itself by pointing out that any particular beautiful thing is no more beautiful than ugly, whereas Beauty^ itself is beautiful to all and always.11 The form o f this type o f reasoning is this: Any sensible instance o f A is imperfectly A-ish A itself (the Idea o f A) is perfectly A-ish. Hence: A itself is distinct from any sensible instance thereof. The assertion that the Idea o f A is perfectly A-ish, implies that the Idea is an instance o f itself. Thereby, as was shown in chapter III, it im plicitly contradicts a basic tenet o f the theory o f Ideas and introduces an antinomy into that theory, the

A. W ed berg


antinomy o f which the two types o f infinite regress in the Parmenides are expressions. In the Hippias Major the argu ment is applied to the notion o f Beauty, which is a classconcept, and in the case o f class-concepts it is facilitated by a peculiarity o f Platos Greek language. In Platos Greek Ihe quality o f Beauty can be designated by a phrase which in literal translation becomes the beautiful itself (auto to kalon). This phraseology is a singularly apt expression o f the am bigu ity' in Platos thought, and perhaps il is also a part o f its cause. In the Phaedo the same type o f argument is applied to the concept o f Equality w hich is not a class-concept but a relationconcept. Also this concept of Equality can, in Platos Greek, be referred to by a phrase which literally means the equal itself (auto to ison), and in the Phaedo Plato employs this phrase as a synonym o f equality (isotes). W hen applied to Equality the present type of argument implies that this relalion is conceived as a perfect instance o f itself, just as, when applied to Beauty, it implies that that quality is so conceived. But a perfect instance o f Equality is not one single perfectly equal thing but rather a pair of things that are perfectly equal lo one another. The phrase Ihe equals themselves ^(ciuta ta /.w)^ thus, would be a m uch more adequate expression of the underlying ambiguous thought than the phrase the equal itself , and it would actually be in better logical correspondence with such phrases as the beautiful itself . Perhaps this circumstance ought to be taken into account when we try to understand Platos enigmatic words. Perhaps the equals themselves is, in a way, for Plato the same thing as the equal itself , and as equality , viz. the relation of equality conceived as a perfect instance o f itself. This latter interpretation o f our passage obtains some con firmation through an analogous passage from the Parmenides. In Parmenides 129 a 130 a Socrates says that there is an Idea o f Similarity (eidos ti hom oiotetos) and an opposite Idea o f Dissimilarity, and that things which partake o f Ihe former are similar, things which partake o f the latter are dissimilar, and things which partake o f both are at once similar and


dissimilar to each other. Socrates finds nothing problematic in the third case, but it would, he maintains, be a cause o f w on der if it could be proved that the absolute similars (auta ta homoia) were dissimilar, or Ihat the (absolute) dissimilars (ta anomoia) were similar. Also it is quite acceptable that things can partake at once o f the Idea o f Oneness and the Idea o f Plurality, but it would be a source o f amazement if the Idea o f Oneness could be proved to be many or the (absolute) many (ta polla) could be proved to be one. In general, there is nothing strange in the fact that things may partake o f opposite Ideas, but it would be strange if the Ideas themselves exhibited the same entanglement: if two opposite Ideas such as Similarity and Dissimilarity, Plurality ( pi ethos) and Oneness, Rest and Motion could be at once separated from and com bined with each other. In this passage Plato is obviously interested only in distinguishing between what holds o f things partaking in Ideas and what holds o f the Ideas themselves. The m any is used merely as a synonym to Plurality : both expressions designate the Idea o f Plurality, the Idea o f Many-ness. The absolute similars is likewise used as a synonym to Similarity or the Idea o f Similarity . The only inference that we may draw from his present choice o f terms is, I think, that he treats the Ideas as perfect instances o f themselves.


The simile o f the line in the R e p n h I i c.

In Book VI of the Republic Socrates explains the domain o f human knowledge under the simile of the divided line: A B C D

I---------------------- 1 ------------------ 1 ------------- 1 ----------- 1

A + B, the upper part o f the line, represents the intelligible realm, and C + D, the low er part, Ihe sensible ( visible ). The cognitive faculty, that corresponds to the intelligible realm, is called knowledge (epistem e), and that which corresponds to Ihe visible realm, is called opinion (doxa). Knowledge is divided into reason (noesis) (/I) and thought or understanding


(dianoia) (B), opinion into belief (pistis) (C) and imagination (eikasia) (D ).1 First the intelligible region is distinguished 2 from the visible, and the bisection o f the latter is established:
Conceive then, said I [Socrates], as we were saying, that there are these two entities [the Idea of the Good and the sun], and that one of them is sovereign over the intelligible order and region and the other over the world of Ihe eye-ball, not to say the sky-ball, but let that pass. You surely apprehend the two types, the visible and the intelligible. I [Glaucon] do. Represent them then, as it were, by a line divided into two unequal sections [A and C + D] and cut each section again in the same ratio (the section, that is, o f the visible and that o f the intelligible order), and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you w ill have, as one o f the sections o f the visible w orld images [D]. By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, sm ooth and bright texture, and every thing o f that kind, if you apprehend. I do. As the second section [of C + i.e. C] assume that o f which this is an image, that is, the animals about us and all that grows and the whole class o f manufactured things. I so assume it, he said. W ould you be willing to say, said I, that the division [of in C and D] in respect o f truth or the opposite is expressed by the proportion: as is the opinable + to the knowable [A + fi], so is the likeness [D] to that o f which it is a likeness [C]? I certainly w ould.


[C D , ~\

D ,


[C D ]

Socrates next indicates briefly the principles according to which the intelligible section must likewise be divided into two parts:
Consider then again the way in which we are to make the division of the intelligible section [A + fl]. In what way? By the distinction that there is one section [B] o f it which the soul is compelled to investigate by treating as images the things [C] imitated in the form er division, and by means o f hypotheses from which it proceeds not up to a first principle but dow n to a conclusion, while there is an other section [A] in which it advances .from its hypothesis to an unhypo thesized beginning, and in which it makes no use o f the images [C] employed by the other section, conducting the inquiry solely by means o f Ideas.

It turns out that section B corresponds lo the mathematical


sciences, and Socrates now explains more fully what separates these sciences from the pure science o f Ideas:
I dont fully understand wliat you mean by this, he said. W ell, I will try again, said I, for you will better understand after this preamble. For I think you are aware that -students o f geometry and logistic and such subjects first postulate the odd and the even and the various figures and three kinds o f angles and other things akin to these in each branch o f science, regard them as known, and, stating them as hypotheses, do not deign to render any further account o f them to themselves or others, taking it for granted that they are obvious to everybody. They take their start from these, and pursuing the inquiry from this point on consistently, conclude with that for the investigation of which they set out. Certainly, he said, I know that. And do you not also know that they make use o f the visible forms and talk about them, though they are not thinking o f them but o f those things o f which they are a likeness, pursuing their inquiry for the sake of the square as such and the diagonal as such, and not for the sake of Ihe image o f it which they draw? And so in all cases. The very things which they mould and draw, which have shadows and images o f them selves in water, these things they treat in their turn as only images, but what they really seek is to get sight o f those realities which can be seen only by the mind. True, he said. This then is the class [B] that I described as intelligible, it is true, but with the reservation first that the soul is compelled to em ploy hypothe ses in the investigation o f it, not proceeding to a first principle because o f its inability to extricate itself from and rise above its hypotheses, and second, that it uses as images the very objects [C] that are themselves copied by the class below them [Z)] and that in com parison with these latter are esteemed as clear and held in honour. I understand, said he, that you are speaking o f what falls under geo metry and the kindred arts.

Section A o f the intelligible region, the pure science o f Ideas, is now given its proper name, Dialectic, and ils nature is further explained:
Understand then, said I, that by the other section [.4] o f the intelligible I mean that which reason itself lays hold o f by the power o f Dialectic, treating its hypotheses not as beginnings but as really hypotheses, as steps and springboards so to speak, in order that it may rise to that which is not hypothesized and which is the beginning o f everything and, having grasped it, may proceed downwards to the conclusion, clinging to the

things that cling to lliat, and making no use whatever o f any object of sense but only o f Ideas themselves through themselves on themselves, and ending with Ideas. I understand, he said; not fully, for it is no slight task that you appear lo have in mind, but I do understand that you mean to distinguish the aspect o f reality and Ihe intelligible, which is contemplated by the power o f Dialectic [/l], as something clearer than the object o f the so-called sciences which begin with hypotheses [fl|. And though il is true that those w ho contemplate them [B] are compelled lo use their understanding and not their senses, yet because Ihey d o not go back to the beginning in the study o f them bul start from hypotheses you do not think they possess hue intelligence about them although the things themselves are intelligibles when apprehended in conjunction with a first principle. And I think you call the mental habit o f geometers and their like understanding and not reason because you regard understanding as something intermediate between opinion and reason.

Finally Socrates sums up the simile in the follow ing words:

Your interpretation is quite sufficient, I said; and now, answering lo these four sections, assume these four affections occurring in the soul: reason for Ihe highest [A], understanding for the second [B ]; assign belief lo the third [C], and lo Ihe last [D] imagination, and arrange Ihem in a proportion, considering that they participate in clearness in the same degree as their objects partake o f truth. I understand, he said; I concur and arrange them as you bid. 1 3

The division o f Ihe line into its segments represents some relation between Ihe objects o f the mental faculties as well as some relation between these faculties themselves. That such is the case, is explicitly stated already in the final words o f the above quotation. The proportion between Ihe segments of the line: A +B _ A (1) C


expresses both Ihe follow ing proportion between the facilities: Knowledge Opinion Reason (Dialectic) Understanding (Mathematics) Belief Imagination

and a corresponding proportion between their objects. Although (i) implies that B C, this is obviously an unintended


feature of the mathematical symbolism to which 110 particular significance should be attached. The same relation o f superior ity is, it seems, intended to hold not only between A + B and C + 1), between A and B, and between C and D, but also between B and C. The four faculties, reason, understanding, belief and imagination, are intended to form an (in some sense) descending sequence, and so are their objects, too. Now, what are the objects that Plato correlates with the different faculties? And, in particular, what are the objects o f mathematical understanding? To knowledge Plato assigns the realm o f ideal essence and to opinion the realm o f generation, the visible or more generally the sensible w orld.1 To three of the more elementary faculties he 4 likewise explicitly assigns separate classes of objects, viz. Ideas to reason, visible or sensible things which are not mere images to belief and images o f such sensible things to imagina tion. Plato is strangely reticent, however, on the question as to what are the objects o f mathematics and how these are related to Ihe three just mentioned classes o f objects. W hen, in book VII o f the Republic, Socrates for a moment resumes the simile o f Ihe line, he again explains the meaning of the line in terms o f mental faculties but refuses to elaborate its objective meaning:
Bill the relation between their [the faculties ] objective correlates and the division into two parts o f each o f these, the opinable, namely, and the intelligible, let us dismiss, Glaucon, lest it involve us in discussion many times as long as Ihe preceeding. 1 5

[Actually, it is mainly about the objects o f mathematics that inform ation is being withheld.^The reason Socrates gives for his silence on this point that the discussion w ould becom e too lengthy suggests that Plato him self felt the objects of mathematics as offering an especially difficult problem. In the passage which wre have quoted Socrates says that the mathematicians interest is in the square as such and the diagonal as such , i.e., the Idea o f the Square and the Idea o f the Diagonal. The only difference between Dialectic and mathematics which Socrates explicitly recognises


is a tw o fo ld difference in method: (1) The mathematician makes use o f visible diagrams (which, however, are not the objects proper o f his study), whereas the dialectician conducts his enquiries without reliance on the data o f sense percep tion. (2) The mathematician bases his proofs upon certain hypotheses which he takes for granted without deriving them from a first principle; the dialectician, on the other hand, goes back to a first principle and makes that the basis o f all his arguments. In making this distinction Socrates simultaneously asserts that the superior method o f Dialectic can be applied also to that province o f the intelligible domain which the mathematician studies by his inferior method. This explanation o f the peculiarity o f mathematics suggests two alternative interpretations, (a) Perhaps when wT riting the allegory o f the line Plato held the view that mathe matics as well as Dialectic is a study o f Ideas and that mathe matics is set o ff as a separate branch o f learning only through the fact that it employs an inferior method. Did he think that if mathematics were freed from its methodical inferiority, it would vanish as a separate discipline and becom e a subordinate part o f Dialectic? (b) Perhaps, also, Plato made a distinction between two sets o f Ideas, those which are the proper field of dialectic inquiry, and those which belong to the domain of mathematics. Mathematical studies, as actually conducted, thus, would be set o ff from Dialectic both by the fact that they investigate a set o f Ideas which falls outside the proper scope o f Dialectic and by Ihe fact that they employ an inferior method. Even if the superior method o f Dialectic were introduced into mathematics, this science would still be separated from Dialectic through its separate subject-matter. However, neither o f these interpretations is quite satisfactory. Interpretation (b) seems especially forced, since Plato nowhere shows any tendency to rate mathematical Ideas inferior to other Ideas and to banish them from the field o f Dialectic.1 8 Interpretation (a) leaves many features of Plato's exposition unexplained. Here are some o f the obvious points that might be urged against that interpretation: (i) Plato says that the four faculties reason, understand


ing, belief and imagination are related to each other in respect o f clarity as their objects are related to each other in respect o f truth or reality. Dialectical knowledge is characterized by the highest clarity and then follow , in a descending order, the three other faculties. Similarly, the Ideas studied by Dialectic possess the highest degree o f reality, a lower degree belongs to the objects o f mathematics whatever they m ay be and still lower degrees o f reality are exhibited by the objects of belief and imagination.17 If the objects o f mathematics are less real than Ideas, they cannot be Ideas. (ii) The relation between image and original plays an important role in the simile o f the line. Sensible phenomena in general, the objects o f opinion, are som ehow images o f the ideal entities which are the objects o f genuine knowledge.1 8 The objects o f imagination, the shadows, reflections in water and similar phenomena, are images o f the objects o f belief., animals and plants and other more solid things. Phenomena of the latter sort can in turn be treated as images o f the things in which mathematics is genuinely interested.1 Thus, it seems 9 that the relation o f image to original is part o f the very meaning o f the relationship which the simile o f the line asserts between the various classes o f objects. A part o f what the allegory expresses seems to be the proposition: As the sensible world is an image o f the ideal, so does the domain of mathematics consist o f images o f Ideas studied by Dialectic and so are the shadows etc. images of solid sensible objects. Although there is no exact parallellism between all the details o f the simile o f the line and all the details o f the story o f the cave, which follow s at the beginning o f book VII o f the Repub lic, still Plato himself, in a general way, connects the two allegories. According to one o f his explanations he gives two the cave story should be understood in the follow ing manner. The state o f those w ho are still dwelling in the cave and are aware only o f the shadows on the wall, corresponds to the state o f those w ho are engrossed in opinion and debarred o f true knowledge. W hen anyone leaves the cave, first he is able to look only at the shadows and the reflections in water o f men and other things in the outside w orld; later, when his eyes


have got more used to the sunlight, he can contemplate directly Ihe real things and finally he can turn his eyes toward the sun itself. The mathematician as such is like the one who is still aware onlyr o f shadows and reflections, the dialectician co r responds to him w ho discerns the real things themselves and apprehension o f Ihe Idea o f Ihe Good the consummation of dialectic knowledge- is like seeing the sun itself.20 Here, what the mathematician studies is treated as images o f the Ideas studied by Dialectic. It is true that also in this contexi Plato lays stress on Ihe methodical inferiority o f mathematics. Mathematics is a mere dreaming about being as long as il does not prove its ultimate premises21, and here, loo, the impression that this methodical inferiority is the distinguishing mark of mathematics competes with the impression that mathematics is concerned only with images of the Ideas. (iii) In book V o f the Republic, Plato stales as a general principle that distinct cognitive faculties must be related to distinct classes o f objects. This general principle is adduced as a reason why knowledge and opinion, as distinct faculties, must be concerned with distinct objects, the one with true being, Ihe other with what is intermediate between being and not-being.22 The four faculties, reason, understanding, belief and imagination, would seem to form a case to which Plato w ould apply the general principle, unless, o f course, he had forgotten it, when he came to the writing o f books VI and VII. The circumstances mentioned under (i)-(iii) weigh, I think, heavily against interpretation (a), according to which the distinction between mathematics and Dialectic would be entirely m ethodological. The logic o f Platos exposition requires, it seems, that he assign a separate class o f objects to mathema tics, and he speaks as if he did have some such class in mind. Of course, Platos mode o f exposition might have been inadequate to his real thought , and he might have been mistaken about what he realty had in mind. There are. however, two passages in which Plato, in the one more directly, in the other more indirectly, defines certain mathematical objects w hich are separate both from the Ideas and from sensible phenomena.


W hat Socrates says about mathematics, is intended to apply both to arithmetic and to geometry. Now, as far as arithmetic is concerned, Socrates mentions in book VII o f Ihe Republic a kind o f numbers which do not have the properties which are characteristic o f the Platonic Ideas. In appendix D Ihis definition o f number is analysed, and it is found to agree with other definitions, slated in the Philebus and the Theaetetus. It also agrees with Aristotles definition of Ihe so-called Mathematical Numbers which, according to Aristotle, are Platos intermediate arithmetical objects. In writing the Republic, was Plato aware o f Ihe fact that the numbers there defined could not be Ideas? Perhaps he wras not. But the dialogue Phaedo is generally considered as belonging to the same period o f Platos life as the Republic, and in the Phaedo he shows such awareness. If we assume that he had Ihe same knowledge when writing Ihe Republic, the simile o f Ihe line may be supposed to allude to Ihese numbers. W hen, in hook VII o f Ihe Republic, Socrates passes from arithmetic to geometry, which is the second part o f the future guardians theoretical education, Socrates and Glaucon agree upon the follow ing analysis of this science:
So much o f it. he [Glaucon] said, as applies to the conduct o f war is obviously suitable. For in dealing with encampments and the occupation o f strong places and Ihe bringing of troops into column and line and all the oilier formations of an army in actual battle and on the march, an officer who had studied geometry would be a very different person from what he would be if he had not. But still, I [Socrates] said, for such purposes a slight modicum o f g eo metry and logistic would suffice. What we have to consider is whether Ihe greater and more advanced part o f it lends to facilitate the appre hension o f the Idea of Good. That tendency, we affirm, is lo be found in all studies that force Ihe soul lo turn its vision round to the region where dwells the most blessed part o f reality, which it is imperative that it should behold. You are right, he said. Then if it compels Ihe soul to contemplate essence, it is suitable; it genesis, it is not. So we affirm. This at least, said I. will not be disputed by those who have even n

108 slight acquaintance with geometry, that this science is in direct contra diction with the language employed in it by its adepts. How so? he said. Their language is most ludicrous, though they cannot help it, for they speak as if they were doing something and as if all their words were directed towards action. For all their talk is o f squaring and applying and adding and the like, whereas in fact the real object o f the entire study is pure knowledge. That is absolutely true, he said. And must we not agree on a further point? What? That it is the knowledge of that which always is, and not o f som e thing which at some time comes into being and passes away. That is readily admitted, he said, for geometry is the knowledge o f the eternally existent. 2 3

Here Socrates repeats the assertion that Cleinias made in the Euthydemus and he himself in book VI o f the Republic, viz. that true geometrical knowledge is knowledge o f eternal reality. But from this premise he now draws a conclusion which was not drawn on those previous occasions. Since the subject-matter studied by the geometer is an eternal reality, the usual language o f geometry is inadequate; contrary to the nature o f geometrical reality, it gives the appearance that the geometer acts upon that reality and changes it: all their talk is o f squaring and applying and adding and the like, whereas in fact the real object o f the entire study is pure knowledge . Socrates does not tell us what would be an adequate mode o f expression in geometry. Perhaps he meant that language does not offer any adequate means o f describing geometrical reality: their language is most ludicrous, though they cannot help it . Against this interpretation it can, however, be objected that Dialectic, too, is knowledge o f eternal reality and that Plato apparently did not think an adequate language impossible in Dialectic. In the Timneus Plato was to state in very explicit terms what type of language he considered alone adequate for Ihe description o f eternal reality: o f that which exists eternally we must never say that it was or that it will be but only that it is .24 Let us then ask what the geometer would say if he were to accept this recommendation. Instead o f saying that he squares , i.e. creates a square, he would, it seems, have to


say that there (eternally) exists a square. Instead of say'ing that he adds one thing to another, i.e. creates their sum, he would, it seems, say that the sum o f them (eternally) exists. And so on. W hen, in this manner, geometry has been translated from a dynamic into a static language, it is seen, that geometry itself asserts the existence o f eternal instances o f the geometrical concepts. O f course, we do not know whether Plato, in writing the passage under discussion, was aware o f this implication. Perhaps he was not. But perhaps he was. If he was, the objects of geometry, that were left undefined by the simile o f the line, would be alluded to here. ^Although the doctrine o f Intermediates is not clearly expressed in the Republic, it is, so to speak, striving to com e to the surface. Plato seems to be standing with one foot in the posi tion that mathematics, properly understood, is a study o f Ideas and with the other foot in the position that the specific domain o f mathematics consists in intermediate mathematical objects^ In the surveyr o f the sciences offered in book VII o f the Re public, geometry is discussed along with arithmetic, astronomy and the theory o f musical harmony. To the discussion o f arith metic we shall return in appendix D. Although Platos views concerning astronomy and the theory o f musical harm ony fall outside the narrow scope o f the present essay, a few words must be said about them here. Plato maintains that these sciences, too, which both are concerned with motion, likewise have a double aspect, an empirical and a rational. The empirical part o f astronomy studies the actual motions o f the heavenly bodies which are perceptible by sight. The object o f this study, thus, are sensible phenomena which, however constant and regular they may be, still belong to the w orld o f becom ing and perishing. However closely they may conform with the mathematical description o f them, that description can never attain absolute and exact truth. The rational part o f astronomy ignores the things in the heavens and is pursued by means o f problem s in the same manner as rational geometry. The empirical part o f the study o f musical harm ony is concerned with actual sounds and, therefore, it is in the same situation as empirical

no astronomy. The rational stud}' o f harmony investigates gene ralized problem s and considers which numbers are inherently concordant and which not and why in each case .25 Ostensibly, the distinction maintained between the empirical and the rational method is the same in case o f all Ihe sciences considered in Ihe Republic: arithmetic and geometry, on one hand, and astronomy and musical theory, on Ihe other hand. This ostensible parallellism between Platos views on the two groups o f sciences might be taken as an argument against our interpretation of his philosophy of geometry (and o f arithmetic). If rational geometry (and rational arithmetic), in Plato's opinion, deals with a realm intelligible objects, intermediate between the Ideas and Ihe sensible particulars, then it might be said the same must be true also of astronomy and of musi cal theory. But, then, Platos doctrine would imply Ihe absur dities pointed out by Aristotle. Since these sciences deal with motion, Plato would have committed himself to the assumption o f intelligible, timeless motions. Since this is incredible, and since the distinction between the empirical and the rational method is the same both in case o f astronomy and musical theory and in case of geometry and arithmetic, tlie assumption o f intermediate objects can not be supposed to be a genuine part o f Plato's philosophy o f geometry and arithmetic. ^ However, this reasoning is far from being conclusive. Un doubtedly, Plato did not postulate intermediate objects o f astro nomy and of musical theory. Such postulation would have been too absurd, and there is not the slightest trace of it in anything that Plato says. But why should it be assumed that Plato asserts more than a very general analogy between Ilie division o f geo metry and arithmetic into an empirical and a rational part and Ihe similar division o f astronomy and musical theory? In all cases, the rational study considers general problems, i.e. (we may take it) makes certain assumptions which may or may not be approximately realized in the sensible w orld and investigates what follow s from them, whereas the empirical study limits itself to the description o f sensible facts. This ge neral similarity does not preclude that, in Platos opinion, the rational parts of geometry and arithmetic differ from their


empirical parts also in a manner in w hich the rational parts of astronomy and musical theory do not differ from their em pirical parts.

4. P h i I e b u s 56 c 59 d, 61 < 62 h 1 In connection with the discussion in the Philebus as to what constitutes a truly good life, the various branches of knowledge are arranged in a series according to their degree o f exactness, truth and purity. The upper part of this series turns out as follows: 1. The mathematics of the ordinary man. 2. Pure philosophical mathematics, 3. Dialectic. 1. and 2. are called the prim ary arts or sciences, in contra distinction to such technical knowledge as depends on experi ence and guesswork (e.g., m usic). 2. and 3. together constitute Ihe knowledge that belongs to education and culture, in contra distinction to knowledge that is valued for Ihe sake o f its practical utility. The distinction between the two kinds of mathematics is explained primarily with regard to arithmetic. Whereas non-philosophical arithmetic deals with numbers of sensible objects, philosophical arithmetic is a -study o f numbers, consisting o f absolutely equal units. The distinction between Ihe two kinds o f geometry is said to be analogous but is for the moment not further elaborated. The general distinction between 1. and 2. is summed up as follow s:
And let our statement be that the arts which we have had before us are superior to all others, and that those amongst them which involve the effort of the true philosopher arc. in their use of measure and number, immensely superior in point o f exactness and truth. Let it be as you put it; then relying on you we shall confidently answer Ihe clever twisters o f argument

P rotarchux:. ...

S ocrates: P rot.

Answer what?

S'oc. That there are twT arithmetics and two arts o f measuring, and o plenty o f other kindred arts which are similarly pairs of twins, though Ihey share a single name."2 6


in a later context, when the discussion has arrived at the question as to what form s o f knowledge should enter into the good life, the meaning o f the distinction for geometry is further elucidated:
And knowledge differed from knowledge: one having regard to the things that come into being and perish, the other to those that do not com e into being nor perish, but are always, unchanged and unaltered. Reviewing them on the score of truth, we concluded that the latter was truer than the former. Perfectly right. Then if we were to see which were the truest portions o f each before we made our mixture [the definition o f the good life], would the fusion o f these portions suffice to constitute and provide us with the fully acceptable life, or should we still need something different? My own opinion is that we should act as you say. Now let us imagine a man who understands what Justice itself is, and can give an account o f it conform able to his knowledge, and who moreover has a like understanding o f all else that is. Very well. W ill such a man be adequately possessed o f knowledge if he can give his account o f the divine Circle, and the divine Sphere themselves, but knows nothing of these human spheres and circles o f ours, so that, when building a house, the rules that he uses, no less than the circles, are of the other sort? I am moved to mirth, Socrates, by this description we are giving o f ourselves confined to divine knowledge. W hats that? Are we to throw in alongside o f our other in gredients the art o f the false rule and false circle, with all the lack o f fixity and purity it involves? W e must, if we are going to find our way home when we want it. 2 7

S oc.

P rot. S oc.

P rot. S oc. P rot. S oc.

P rot. S oc.

P rot.

Dialectic, the highest kind of knowledge, is described simply ; the cognition o f that w hich is, that which exists in reality. unchanged .28 It is contrasted with natural science, the study o f the universe around us, how it came to be, how it does things and how things happen to it .29 Natural science has nothing to do with that w hich always is, but only with what is com ing into being, or will come, or has com e ,30 and therefore no exact truth is found in it:
we find fixity, purity, truth and what we have called perfect clarity,

113 either in those things that are always, unchanged, unaltered and free from all admixture, or in what is most akin to them; everything else must be called inferior and o f secondary im portance. 3 1

Although Dialectic is at one moment, in the course o f the discussion in the Philebus, identified with cognition o f eternal being, at another moment the philosophical kind of geometry is likewise considered as a science o f eternal being. | think l we may take it that the philosophical branches o f mathematics are really considered in the Philebus as sciences about an eternal intelligible real it yA The description in the 'Philebus o f the philosophical portion o f arithmetic will be analysed in detail in appendix D. Anti cipating the result o f that analysis, we may say that philoso phical arithmetic, as described in the Philebus, is concerned with a type o f numbers that do not have some o f the essential properties constituting an Idea and that, further, are identical with the numbers o f arithmetic as defined in the Republic and the Theaetetus and with the Mathematical Numbers of Ari stotle. Under the same questionable assumption that we stated when discussing the Republic, viz., that Plato was aware of the distinction between the numbers that he assigns to philo sophical arithmetic and his Ideas, it follow s that in the Phile bus Plato presupposes a class of arithmetical objects that are eternal but nevertheless distinct from the Ideas studied by Dialectic. Concerning geometry we are expressly told that its empirical portion is an art of the false rule and the false circle. The meaning is that 110 apparent straight line in the world of the senses is a straight line, in the exact sense defined in scientific geometry, and no apparent circle is a circle, in the exact sense. Generalising what is said about the concepts sphere, circle, straigt line, we find that, according to the exposition in the Philebus, there are no perfect instances o f the Euclidean con cepts in the world o f the senses and that, hence, empirical geometry, which employs those concepts, is never more than approximately true. What, according to the Philebus, is philosophical geometry
8 .4.

W edbcrg


about? One apparent answer is that it is the science of Ihe divine circle and the divine sphere and similar things, i.e., the science o f geometrical Ideas. But simultaneously Plato seems to contemplate the possibility o f a builder o f houses who were familiar with philosophical geometry only and w ho in conse quence would have to use divine circles and divine straight lines (rules), instead o f hum an circles and lines drawn in the usual w ay with the carpenters compass and rule. Such a man would be in a ridiculous situation for the (implied) reason that no one can, e.g., build a wall along a divine straight line. Although, of course, not too much weight can be attached to this passage, it seems to imply that philosophical geometry is conversant with divine , i.e., eternal perfect instances o f the geometrical Ideas. The whole tenor o f the Philebns passage on mathematics seems to point to the doctrine o f intermediate geometrical objects: (i) W hat is said about Dialectic implies that Dialectic alone deals with the highest type of reality, i.e., the Ideas, (ii) Philosophical arithmetic, which is presented as the p ro to type o f philosophical mathematics, is described as a study of a kind of numbers w hich are not Ideas. And, finally, (iii) the passage contains the just considered allusion half-spoken and ambiguous, it is true to eternal instances of geometrical concepts.

5. The S e v e n t h L e t t e r 342 b 343 b.


In the Seventh Letter Plato enumerates five things which form so to speak a ladder up to true reality. They are in order: the name o f a thing, the definition, sensible instances of it, knowledge and opinion concerning these, and finally the thing itself.
If you wish, then, to understand what I am now saying, take a single example and learn from it what applies to all. There is an object called a circle, which has for its the word we have just mentioned; and, secondly, it has a composed o f names and verbs; for that which is everywhere equidistant from the extremilies to Ihe centre will

nm ae d ition efin ,

115 be the definition o f that object which has for its name round and spherical and circle. And in the third place there is that object which is in course o f being portrayed and obliterated, or o f being shaped with a lathe, and falling into decay; but none o f these affections is suffered by the circle itself, whereto all these others are related inasmuch as it is distinct therefrom. Fourth comes and intelligence and true opinion regarding these objects; and these we must assume to form a single whole, which does not exist in vocal utterance or in bodily forms but in souls; whereby it is plain that it differs both from the nature of the circle itself and from the three previously mentioned. And of those four intelligence approaches most nearly in kinship and similarity to the fifth, and the rest are further removed. The same is true alike o f the straight and o f the spherical form , and of colour, and o f the good and the fair and the just, and of all bodies whether manufactured or naturally produced (such as fire and water and all such substances), and o f all living creatures, and o f all moral actions or passions in souls.32

know ledge

The difference between the first four and the fifth is further explained as follow s:
Every one o f the circles which are drawn in geometric exercises or are turned by the lathe is full of what is opposite to the fifth, since it is in contact with the straight everywhere; whereas the circle itself, as we affirm, contains within itself no share greater or less of the opposite nature. And none of the objects, we affirm, has any fixed name, nor is there anything to prevent forms which are now called round from being called straight, and the straight round ; and men will find the names no less firm ly fixed when they have shifted them and apply them in an opposite sense. Moreover, the same account holds good o f the definition also, that, inasmuch as it is com pounded o f names and verbs, it is in no case fixed with sufficient firmness. And so with each o f the four, their inaccuracy is an endless topic .. ,33

Here two things stand out clearly. First, Plato unambiguously states that there are no perfect instances o f any geometrical Ideas (such as Circle, Straight line, Sphere) in the world o f the senses. A sensible circle is everywhere in contact with the straight, i.e., if we make a straight line touch a sensible circle, the two do not have merely one point in com m on (as they ought to if they conform ed to the definitions and theorems o f pure geometry) but are in contact (in more than one point). Secondly, Plato does not make room in his scheme for any ideal


geometrical objects that are perfect instances o f the geometrical Ideas. Does this prove that, at Ihe time o f Ihe writing of the Seventh Letter, the doctrine o f intermediate geometrical objects, that Aristotle attributes to Plato, was not present to Plato's m ind? In view o f the special purpose of the exposition in the Seventh Letter, we are not, I think, entitled to draw any such conclusion. The concept o f the circle is considered by Plato merely as an example o f a concept in general, and what he says about the example is intended to apply to any concept whatsoever. It would have been misleading if, in discussing the example of the circle, Plato had taken into account such features o f this concept as are not found in all concepts. Now, intermediate objects are associated with mathematical concepts only if with anyr concepts. Hence, even if the author o f the Seventh Letter believed in the doctrine of intermediate mathematical objects, it is quite comprehensible why he does not mention it in the letter.

Appendix C
Aristotle s analysis of Platos philosophy of arithmetic

In this appendix I shall indicate and, in part, quote the passages from Aristotle upon which I have mainly relied when making the reconstruction o f Platos philosophy o f arithmetic found on pp. 64-68. Although Aristotles exposition is rambling, repetitious, often exceedingly obscure and at times obviously inconsistent, cer tain items stand out clearly. In appendix A we have already established the follow ing points (which are generally acknow ledged by Aristotelian sch olars): (1) According to Aristotle, Plato assumes three realms o f entities, viz. the Ideas or Forms, the intermediate objects of mathematics and Ihe sensible things. (2)The objects o f mathematics are ideal eternal enlities like the Ideas themselves. (3) But whereas each Idea is something unique, there are many mathematical objccls o f each kind.


(4) Moreover, Ihe ideal mathematical objects are the only perfect instances o f the mathematical Ideas. In Aristotles exposition of Platos philosophy o f mathe matics, a rather stricl parallellism is maintained between Platos viewT concerning geometry and his views concerning s arithmetic. The above general scheme is applied by Aristotle to both parts of Platos doctrine. According to Aristotle, also arithmetic as conceived by Plato fits into the scheme: there are (i) certain arithmetical Ideas or Forms, Ilie so-called Ideal Numbers or Numbers Ideas , (ii) the so-called Mathematical Numbers which belong to Ihe class of intermediate mathe matical objects, and (iii) the sensible things, or collections of sensible tilings, that we count. That Plato believed both in Ideal and in Mathematical Numbers and that Ihe form er are Ideas, is stated in the follow ing passage, where som e un doubtedly refers to Plato and the description, that which has a before and after , designates the Ideal Numbers:
Some say both kinds o f number exist, that which has a before and after being identical with the Ideas, and Mathematical Number being different from the Ideas and from sensible things, and both being separable from sensible th in gs;. . - 1

That the intermediate objects within the field o f arithmetic are some kind o f numbers is further shown, e.g., by Ihe m an ner in which Aristotle begins a discussion o f the problem of eternal substances:
Tw o opinions are held on this subject; it is said that the objects of mathematics i.e., numbers and lines and the like are substances, and again that the Ideas are substances. 2

That these numbers which are the intermediate objects o f arithmetic are just the so-called Mathematical Numbers, can be concluded already from what has so far been established. It is stated by implication in the immediate continuation of ihe just quoted passage:
Since some [i.e., Plato] recognize these as two different classes the Ideas and the Mathematical Numbers . . . we must consider first the objects o f mathematics . . ,3


It is explicitly stated, e.g., in the follow ing passage:

And those w ho first posited two kinds o f number, that o f the Forms and that which is mathematical, neither have said nor can say how Mathematical Number is to exist and o f what it is to consist. For they place it between Ideal and Sensible Number.4

Let us now consider the synopsis on pp. 00-00, item for item, and see to what extent it is borne out by Aristotles words.

II, (A). The Mathematical Numbers. (1) They are made up o f certain ideal units, or V s. (1) A Mathematical Number is an aggregate o f units.
Mathematical Number is counted thus after 1, 2 (which consists of another 1 besides the form er 1), and 3 (which consists o f another 1 besides these tw o), and the other numbers similarly. 5

I (ii) The units are ideal (eternal) entities. This is not directly stated by Aristotle. It is, however, a self-evident consequence o f Aristotles assertions that the Mathematical Numbers them selves belong to the class o f ideal entities and that these numbers are com posed out of the units. (2) There exists an infinite supply of such units. No direct statement to this effect is found in Aristotle. But it is implied by (5) below, w hich is explicitly asserted by Aristotle. (3) There is no difference between the ideal units: two such units are com pletely indistinguishable.
In Mathematical Number no one unit is in any way different from another.6 Mathematical Number consists o f undifferentiated units, and the truths proved o f it suit this character. 7

(4) An ideal unit does not contain any plurality of parts, or constituents, or characteristics: from whatever point of view we consider such a unit, it is One, and One only. Part o f this statement is corroborated by Aristotle when he contrasts the


Platonic and Pythagorean views on number. The Pythagoreans, too, believed in a kind o f mathematical numbers, but with one important difference:
only not numbers consisting o f abstract units; they suppose the units to have spatial magnitude. 8

W ith this may be com pared a statement such as this:

that which is no way divisible in quantity is a point or a unit that w'hich has not position a unit, that which has position a point.9

(5) Of each Mathematical Number there are infinitely many copies. That there are, so to speak, many copies o f each Mathematical Number follow s from the assertions that Mathe matical Numbers belong to the class o f intermediate objects and that there are many intermediate objects corresponding to each mathematical Idea. It is also stated in more explicit form by Aristotle. In criticism o f the supposedly Platonic view that all Ideas, including the Idea of Man, are numbers and for the moment identifying these numbers with Mathematical Num bers, Aristotle says:
The similar and undifferentiated numbers are infinitely many, so that any particular a is no more Man-himself [= the Idea of Manl than any other 3. 1 0

The reason for (5) is indicated in another passage, where Aristotle says that if one speaks mathematically o f the objects o f mathematics , he is bound to hold that any two units taken at random make 2 .1 1 (6) The elem entary arithmetical operations are simple settheoretical notions. This assumption underlies Aristotles entire discussion of Mathematical Numbers, but it is difficult to quote anyone statement, in which it is com pactly expressed. That a smaller number is a subset o f a larger number, is implicitly asserted in the statement quoted under II, (A), (1), (i). (7) Mathematical Numbers are the numbers studied by arith metic. This is implied by the very designation Mathematical


Numbers . It is Also implied by the train o f thought which, according to Aristotle, led Plato to his belief in intermediate mathematical objects. II, (13). The Ideal Numbers. The analysis o f Platos notion of Ideal Numbers given on p. 00 can only in part invoke Aristotles authority. (1) They are Ideas, viz. the Ideas of Oneness, Twoness, Threeness, and so on. W e have already quoted a passage, where Aristotle states that Plato (referred lo as som e ) considers that which has before and after , i.e., the Ideal Numbers, as identical with the Ideas.1 That the Ideas, which the Ideal 2 Numbers are, are just the Ideas of Oneness, Twoness, Threeness, and so on, is shown, e.g., by this passage, in which Ari stotle takes a'su rvey of various possibilities o f thought:
F or it is possible that any unit is inassociable with, any, and it is pos sible that those in the 2-itself are inassociable with those in the 3-itself, and, generally, that those in each Ideal Number are inassociable with those in other Ideal Numbers. 1 3

(2) As Ideas the Ideal Numbers are simple entities. (3) In particular, they are not sets of units like the Mathematical Numbers. The authority for Ihese items is Plato rather than Aristotle. W hen analysing Platos statements on number in Appendix D we shall find that Plato speaks o f a kind of num bers that are Ideas and that are not sets o f units. Assuming that these numbers are the Ideal Numbers the postulation o f which Aristotle imputes to Plato, I have in the synopsis dis regarded Aristotles contradictory statements. (As a matter o f fact, on the whole, Aristotle treats the Ideal Numbers as^if they were sets o f units, although sets o f differentiated and inasso ciable units. Concerning this aspect of his exposition, cf. pp. 80-84.) W e know that, in Platos opinion, all Ideas are absolutely uncom pounded. \ , (4) The notions of arithmetic are not defined for the Ideal Numbers. Under a certain hypothesis, the truth about Ihe


numbers must rather be what Plato used to say, and the numbers [i.e., Ideal Numbers] must not be associable with one another .14 The inassociability o f Platos Ideal Numbers, which is here stated, seems to mean that they do not stand in arithmetical relations to one another (e.g., the relation less than) and that arithmetical operations (e.g., addition) can not be perform ed upon them.1 3 (5) There is a relation of priority am ong the Ideal Numbers, by which they are ordered in a series that runs parallel to the series of Mathematical Numbers, ordered according to size. W e have already quoted a passage in which the Ideal Numbers are characterized as that which has a before and after . This may be com pared with a passage from the Nicomachean Ethics:
The men who introduced this doctrine [viz., the doctrine of Ideas] did not posit Ideas of classes within which they recognized priority and posteriority, which is the reason why they did not maintain the existence o f an Idea embracing all numbers. 1 6

That the series o f Ideal Numbers, ordered according lo prior ity, is parallel lo the series o f Mathematical Numbers, ordered according to size, is, I think, shown by this passage:
And so while Mathematical Number is counted thus after 2 (which consists of another besides the former and (which consists of another besides these two), and the other numbers similarly, Ideal Number is counted thus after I, a distinct 2 which does not include the first and a which does not include the 2, and the rest o f the number series similarly. 1 7

1 ),

1 ,

1 ,

(6) The study o f Ideal Numbers belongs to the general theory of Ideas, Dialectic. This is nowhere explicitly stated either by Plato or by Aristotle. But neither o f them ever intimates that the arithmetical Ideas should in this respect have a position different from that o f other Ideas. III. The Mathematical Numbers are intermediates between the Ideal Numbers and sensible things, or collections of sensible things. W e have already quoted passages from Aristotle that


confirm this item. According to our interpretation, the inter m ediacy implies the follow ing two propositions: (1) The Ideal Numbers are never perfectly exem plified in sense experience. (2) Mathematical Numbers are perfect instances of Ideal Num bers. In appendix A, I have already quoted a passage confirm ing that these propositions are a part o f Aristotles analysis o f Pla tos views:
But those [the Platonists] who make number separable [i.e., postulate Mathematical Numbers pertaining to the ideal realm] assume that it [Mathematical Number] both exists and is separable because the axioms [of arithmetic] would not be true o f sensible things while the statements o f mathematics [arithmetic] true and greet the soul; and similary with the spatial magnitudes o f mathematics. 1 8

a re

As far as geometry is concerned, we have found that the reasoning which Aristotle thus ascribes to Plato, has the follow ing form : Geometry is true. In the wy orld of the senses, there are no objects that perfectly exemplify the geometrical Ideas. Hence: Perfect instances o f the geometrical Ideas must exist outside the sensible world. These perfect instances, whose existence is thus inferred, are the intermediate objects of geometry. The argument concerning arithmetic which Aristotle ascribes to Plato is analogous. Hence, the quotation must be taken to confirm III, (1) and (2). The consideration o f the last paragraph immediately shows to what extent part IV o f my synopsis o f Platos philosophy of arithmetic is confirm ed by Aristotles authority. Appendix D
Number in the dialogues

In this appendix I shall show what support points II and III in my synopsis o f Platos philosophy o f arithmetic receive


from his own treatment o f number in the dialogues. Points I and IV-VII have, I think, been sufficiently corroborated already in chapter V. The concept o f Mathematical Numbers is apparently as sumed by Plato both in the Republic, the Philebus and the Theaetetus, and in the Phaedo numbers conceived as Ideas are contrasted with numbers conceived as Mathematical Numbers. 1. Republic 525 c 526 b.

In book VII o f the Republic Socrates explains philosophical arithmetic in the follow ing manner:
And, further, I [Socrates] said, it occurs to me, now that the study of logistic has been mentioned, that there is something fine in it, and that it is useful for our purpose in many ways, provided it is pursued for the sake o f knowledge and not for huckstering. In what respect? he [Glaucon] said. W hy, in respect o the very point o f which we were speaking, that it strongly directs the soul upwlards and compels it to discourse about pure numbers, never acquiescing if anyone proffers to it in the discussion numbers attached to visible and tangible bodies. For you are doubtless aware that experts in this study, if anyone attempts to cut up the one in argument, laugh at him and refuse to allow it; but if you mince it up, they multiply, always on guard lest the one should appear to be not one but a multiplicity o f parts. Most true, he replied. Suppose now, Glaucon, someone were to ask them, My good friends, what numbers are these that you are talking about, in which the one is such as you postulate, each unit equal to every other without the sligthest difference and admitting no division into parts? W hat do you think would be their answer? This, I think that they are speaking o f things which can only be conceived by thought, and which it is not possible to deal with in any other way. You see, then, my friend, said I, that this branch o f study really seems to be indispensable for us, since it plainly compels the soul to employ pure thought with a view to truth itself. It most emphatically does. 1

This passage begins as what seems to be merely a descrip tion o f actual arithmetical practice in Platos days. W e have seen in chapter II that fractions were not admitted into pure


arithmetic by contem porary Greek mathematicians (save as relations between integers). But Socrates quickly passes from the description o f practice to a philosophical interpretation thereof. In the numbers of which he is speaking every unit is exactly equal to every other unit and, further, each unit is in itself absolutely without parts. The beginning o f the passage unmistakeably shows that Socrates is here speaking o f the numbers which are used by the arithmeticians themselves. Thus Socrates here alludes to those propositions which we have stated under II, (A), (1), (3), (4), and (7) in the synopsis and which, according to our thesis, are parts o f the theory of Mathematical Numbers. On pp. 78-80, we have already had occasion to consider the argument in book VII o f the Republic which leads up lo the passage here discussed. Socrates argues we have seen that sense experience does not give us any true instances o f Oneness and, for that matter, o f any number. The realm o f ideal units is then presented by Socrates as offering the arithmetician what he looks for in vain within the w orld o f the senses.2 Although it is not said by Socrates in so many words, this line o f argument clearly implies that the only perfect instances o f the number concepts are sets of ideal units or, in Aristotles terminology, Mathematical Numbers. It would be an overstatement to say that this argument of the Republic definitely confirm s also propositions III in our synopsis. The notion o f Ideal Numbers is not explicitly recognized in the Republic and, in default o f that notion, Socrates is here unable to make his argu ment quite clear. W e m ay say, however, that the proposi tions III are present here in an em bryotic state. All that is required to make them explicit is the conscious introduction of the notion o f Ideal Numbers. In the Phaedo, which is generally thought to belong to the same period in Platos development as the Republic, that notion is consciously maintained.


2. P h i l e b u s 56 c-e. In the Philebus we read:

And let us take those arts, which just now we spoke o f as primary, to be the most exact of all. I lake it you mean arithmetic, and the other arts which you mentioned in association with it just now.

S tes. ocra

P rotarch s. u

To be sure. But ought we not, Protarchus, to recognise these them selves to be o f two kinds? W hat do you think? What two kinds do you mean? take first arithmetic, ought we not to distinguish between that o f the ordinary man and that o f the philosopher? On what principle, may I ask, is this discrimination of two arith metics to be based? There is an important mark of difference, Protarchus. The ordinary arithmetician, surely, operates with unequal units: his tw o may be two armies or two cows or two anythings from the smallest thing in the world lo the biggest; while the philosopher will have nothing to do wlith him, unless he consents to make every single one o f his infinitely many units precisely the same as every other. Certainly you are right in speaking o f an important distinction amongst those who concern themselves with number, which justifies the belief that there are two sciences.3

S oc.

P rot. S To oc.

P rot. S oc.

P rot.

This passage cannot, I think, he fully understood unless one keeps in mind the ambiguity of the w ord unit as used in the com m on Greek definition of number. W hen Socrates says that the units of philosophical arithmetic are all absolutely equal, whereas those o f popular arithmetic are unequal, he appears to be using the term unit just in that ambiguous manner. W hen Socrates asserts that the units of popular arithmetic are unequal, he is apparently thinking of two distinct kinds of inequality which he does not clearly keep apart: (a) W hen he considers two armies or two cows or two anythings from the smallest thing in the world to Ihe biggest , Ihe popular arithme tician employs unequal units . In this case the same number, 2, is applied with reference lo distinct unit concepts: arm y, co w , etc. (b) But Ihere is also anolher inequality o f units pre sent in that case. W hen we consider, e.g., two armies, the armies themselves are units, in one sense o f Ihe term


unit , and since they are not the same army, they must be unequal in some respects. The emphasis upon the fact that what the ordinary arithmetician counts m ay be anything from the smallest thing in the world to the biggest , indicates that it is primarily the inequality in sense (a), that Socrates is here interested in pointing out. But apparently he does not sharply distinguish senses (a) and (b). The inequality o f the units considered, which characterizes popular arithmetic, is replaced in philosophical arithmetic by a perfect equality o f units. In what sense are the units of philosophical arithmetic equal? Corresponding to the two senses in w hich the units o f popular arithmetic are unequal, there are, o f course, two senses in which the units o f philo sophical arithmetic might be said to be equal, (a) Philosoph ical arithmetic might always em ploy the same unit concept. The process o f switching from one unit concept to another unit concept (e.g., from arm y to co w ) then would never occur within philosophical arithmetic. This constancy o f the unit concept does not in itself imply that the units in the sense of the objects falling under the unit concept are equal among themselves, (b) However, in contradistinction to the situation within popular arithmetic, the objects subsumed under the unit concept o f philosophical arithmetic might also be equal among themselves. Since, in his characterization of popular arith metic, Socrates especially stressed the inequality in sense (a), one would expect him to put special emphasis on the equality o f units in the corresponding sense (a), when he describes philosophical arithmetic. Undoubtedly, it is Socrates opinion that philosophical arithmetic constantly employs the same unit concept: what the pure arithmetician counts is always ideal mathematical units, and his unit concept, hence, is ideal unit. (Cf. Aristotles words in the Physics: everything is measured by some one thing homogenous with it, units by a unit, horses by a horse. 4). But, curiously enough, it is primarily the equal ity of units in sense (b), toward which Socrates directs our attention when he describes philosophical arithmetic: there, every single one o f the infinitely many units is precisely equal to every other . Obviously, these words do not signify that


every unit concept among infinitely many unit concepts is the same as every other unit concept. \Rather, they mean that, am ong the infinitely m any objects subsumed under the unit concept o f philosophical arithmetic, every object is the same as every other. W hen the pure arithmetician calculates, e. g., the sum of 2 and 3, he form s the sum o f a set o f two units and another set o f three units and counting the units in that sum he finds that they are 5. The units occurring in this calculation are all the same. Thus, the interpretation o f the numbers of phi losophical arithmetic is the same in the Pliilebus as in the Re public. Propositions II, (A), (1), (2), (3), and (7), are clearly implied in the Pliilebus Together, the passages from the Republic and the Pliilebus prove beyond-doubt that the notion o f Mathematical Number as described by Aristotle was familiar to Plato. Of the proposi tions listed under II, (A) we have been able to trace in these dialogues (1)-(4) and (7). W e have not been able to verify the authenticity o f propositions (5) and (6). However, the logical connection between them and the previous proposi tions is so strong that that connection in itself makes it probable that they occurred in Platos thought. Perhaps, pro position (5) is a consequence drawn first by Aristotle from the premises found in Plato. But it is very hard to doubt that Plato thought o f the notions of arithmetic as indicated by proposition (6).

3. T h e a e t e t u s 198 a-cl. In their discussion as to how false opinion may arise, So crates and Theaetetus have arrived at the preliminary result that false opinion belongs to the union o f thought and per ception, i.e., that error means mistaking an object perceived through the senses for a distinct object not perceived but merely thought of. According to this hypothesis, false opinion cannot consist in the confusion o f two distinct objects that both are merely thought of. But here Socrates finds a new difficulty:

128 Then, he [a supposed critic] w ill say, according to that, could we ever imagine that the number eleven which is merely thought of, is the number twelve which also is merely thought o f? Come now, it is for you lo answer. Well, my answer will be that a man might imagine the eleven that he sees or touches to be twelve, but that he could never have that opinion concerning the eleven that he has in his mind. Well, then, do you think that anyone ever considered in his own mind five and seven, 1 do not mean by setting before his eyes seven men and five men and considering them, or anything o f that sort, but seven and five in the abstract, which we say are imprints in the block o f wax, and in regard to which we deny the possibility o f form ing false opinions taking these by themselves, do you imagine that anybody in the world has ever considered them, talking to himself and asking himself what their sum is, and that one person has said and thought eleven, and an other twelve, or do all say and think that it is twelve? No, by Zeus; many say eleven, and if you take a larger number for consideration, there is greater likelihood of error. For I suppose you are speaking o f any number rather than o f these only. You are right in supposing so; and consider whether in that in stance the abstract twelve in the block o f wax is not itself imagined to be eleven. sIt seems so.5

S oc.

T ectet. h

S oc.

T ea h et. S oc.

T ea h et.

In view o f this counter-example the hypothesis that false opinion is confusion of thought and perception is abandoned. As a more satisfactory solution o f the problem Socrates sug gests that mans mind is like an aviary, that to learn something is like putting a bird into the aviary, that to possess knowledge of something is like having a bird therein, and that finally there is a kind o f knowing that is analogous to catching a bird that is already imprisoned in the aviary and holding it in ones hand.6 In the last mentioned process error may arise, since one m ay catch the wrong bird.
Consider then what expressions arc needed for the process of recapturing and taking and holding and letting go again whichever he please o f the kinds o f knowledge, whether they are the same expressions as those needed for the original acquisition, or others. But you will understand better by an illustration. You admit that there is an art o f arithmetic? Yes. Now suppose this to be a hunt after the kinds o f knowledge of all odd and even numbers.

S oc.

T ea h et. S oc.

129 so. is by this art, I imagine, that a man has the sciences o f numbers under his own control and also that any man who transmits them to another does this. Yes. And we say that when anyone transmits them he teaches, and when anyone receives them he learns, and when anyone, by having acquired them, has them in that aviary of ours, he knows them. Certainly. Now pay attention to what follows from this. Does not the perfect arithmetician understand all numbers; for he has the sciences o f all num bers in his mind?

T ea I do h et. S Now it oc. T ea h et. S oc.

T ea h et. S oc.

a man ever count anything either any abstract numbers in his head, or any such external objects as possess number? Of course. But we shall affirm that counting is the same as considering how great any number in question is. W e shall. Then he who by our previous admission knows all number is found lo be considering that which he knows as if he did not know it. You have doubtless heard o f such ambiguities. Yes, I have. Continuing, then, our com parison with the acquisition and hunting of the pigeons, we shall say that the hunting is o f two kinds, one before the acquisition for the sake of possessing, the other carried on by the possessor for the sake o f taking and holding in his hands what he had acquired long before. 7

T ea To be sure. h et. S Then would such oc. T ea h et. S oc.

T ea h et. S oc.

T ea h et. S oc.

Finally, Socrates explains the possibility o f mistakes in pure arithmetic:

For it is possible to have not the knowledge o f this thing, but some other knowledge instead, when in hunting for some one kind o f knowledge, as the various kinds fly about, he makes a mistake and catches one instead o f another; so in one example he thought eleven was twelve, because he caught Ihe knowledge of twelve, which was within him, instead o f that o f eleven; caught a ringdove, as it were, instead o f a pigeon. s

In this passage from the Theaetetus two types o f things are contrasted with each other, viz. numbers in the abstract, or the numbers which the arithmetician has in his mind, and sucli external objects as possess number, e.g., seven men and five men. The numbers in Ihe abstract, o f which Socrates speaks

A W berg . ed


here, are clearly not the Ideal Numbers; they figure in arith metical computations, which Ideal Numbers do not. Although Socrates does not go into any details as to the nature o f these abstract numbers, we can, I believe, safely conclude that he is thinking o f the so-called Mathematical Numbers. W ith hesitation I venture to suggest that Socrates words support this conclusion also in a more direct manner. The arithmetician can, Socrates says, count either abstract numbers in his head or any such external objects as possess number. Counting, he adds, is the same as considering how great a given number is. Here Socrates considers the process o f estimat ing how great an abstract number is as analogous to the p ro cess of counting a set o f external objects. W hen we count, e.g., three objects, A, B, C, we point first at A and say one , then at B and say two , then at C and say three , and finally conclude that they are three. I.e., we create a one-to-one cor respondence between the objects and an initial segment o f the series o f positive integers: A B C



t i

Apparently, Socrates thinks that the arithmetician proceeds in the same manner when he calculates how much 5 + 7 is. If we do not now misunderstand Socrates words, hence, he thinks of 5 + 7 as a set of entities with which wre may correlate one-to-one to an initial segment o f the series o f positive integers. Since 5 4- 7 is 5 in the abstract plus 7 in the abstract, it must be a set o f ideal abstract entities. But to be sets o f ideal entities, viz. of units or l s, is a characteristic property of the Mathe matical Numbers. If the sum o f 5 and 7 is a set containing twT elve units, arithmetical addition seems to be a case of forming the logical sum o f two sets. If this interpretation is correct, the Theaetetus confirm s II, (A), (1), (6), and (7).


3. P h a e d o 101 b-d. The concept o f Ideal Numbers, in the sense of Number Ideas, seems to be a necessary consequence o f the general theory of Ideas. In the dialogues there is, however, only one passage where the concept is discussed at any length.9 That is in the Phaedo. W hen telling his interlocutor, Cebes, how he has arrived at his present philosophical outlook, Socrates ex plains his early puzzles about explanation or causation. Once he thought he knew the w h ys o f the various phenomena, lie thought he knew, e.g., that a great man was taller than a small man by a head :
And, to mention still clearer things than those, 1 thought ten were more than eight because two had been added to the eight, and I thought a two-cubit rule was longer than a one-cubit rule because it exceeded it by half its length. And now, said Cebes, what do you think about them? By Zeus, said he, I am far from thinking that I know the cause o f any o f these things, I who do not even dare to say, when one is added to one. whether the one to which Ihe addition was made has becom e two, or the one which was added, or Ihe one which was added and the one to which il was added became two by Ihe addition o f each to the other. I think it is w onderful that when each o f them was separate from the other, each was one and they were not then tw7 , and when they were brought near each 0 other this juxtaposition was the cause o f their becoming two. And I can not yet believe that if one is divided, the division causes it to becom e two; for this is the opposite o f the cause which produced tw o in the former case; for then two arose because one was brought near and added lo another one, and now because one is removed and separated from another. And I no longer believe that I know by this method even how one is gene rated or, in a word, how anything is generated or is destroyed or exists, and I no longer admit this method, but have another confused way o f my ow n. 1 0

This new method is the method o f explanation made possible by the theory o f Ideas. After a critique o f Anaxagoras, So crates goes on to outline this method:
Well, he said, this is what I mean. It is nothing new, hut the same thing I have always been saying, both in our previous conversation and elsewhere. I am going lo try to explain lo you Ihe nature o f that cause which I have been studying, and I will revert lo those familiar subjects of

132 ours as my point o f departure and assume that there are such things as absolute beauty and goodness and greatness and the like. If you grant this and agree that these exist, I believe that I shall explain cause to you and shall prove that the soul is immortal. You may assume, Cebes said, that I grant it, and go on. Then, said he, see if you agree with me in the next step. I think taht if anything is beautiful besides absolute beauty it is beautiful for no other reason than because it partakes o f absolute beauty; and this applies to everything. Do you assent to this view o f cause? I do, said he. 1 1

The assumption that Ihe greater man is greater by reason of the head is now seen to be a monstruous absurdity. The simple truth is that Ihe greater man is greater by, and by reason of, Greatness and the less is less only by, and by reason o f Smallness .1 2
Then, he continued, you would be afraid to say that ten is more than eight by two and that this is the reason it is more. You would say it is more by number and by reason o f number; and a two-cubit measure is greater than a one-cubit measure not by half but by magnitude, would you not? For you would have the same fear. Certainly, said he. W ell then, if one is added lo one or if one is divided, you would avoid saying that the addition or the division is the cause o f two? You would exclaim loudly that you know no other way by which anything can come into existence than by participating in the proper essence o f each thing in which it participates, and therefore you accept no other cause o f the existence o f two than participation in duality, and things which are to be two must participate in duality and whatever is to be one must participate in unity, and you would pay no attention to the divisions and additions, and other such subtleties, leaving those for wiser men to explain. You would distrust your inexperience and would be afraid, as the saying goes, of your own shadow; so you would cling to that safe principle of ours and would reply as I have said. 1 3

In this passage from the Phaedo two conceptions o f number are contradistinguished. According to the one, w hich Socrates says satisfied him in his youth, numbers are generated by applying such operations as addition and subtraction to given numbers. The number 10, e.g., is obtained by adding 2 to 8: ten is two more than eight , or ten exceeds eight by, and by reason of, tw o . The number 2 is similarly obtained by adding 7 to 1. According to the other, to which Socrates says he has

133 com e through prolonged reflection, there correspond Ideas, or Essences, to all predicates, including the numerical ones. There is an Idea o f Oneness, an Idea o f Twoness, and so on, and like all Ideas these arithmetical Ideas may be participated in by things. The only way in which something can be one is by participation in the Idea o f Oneness, the only way in which two can exist is by participation in the Idea o f Twoness, and so on. In the second conception o f number we obviously have the Ideal Numbers of which Aristotle speaks. Three o f the pro perties which chiefly distinguish Ideal Numbers from Mathe matical Numbers are stated here. First, the numbers o f the second kind are clearly said to be Ideas, which confirm s point II, (B), (1) in our synopsis. Secondly, they are not composed of, or sets of, units. The Idea of Duality, e.g., is not com posed o f two units: its presence is the cause why twoness can be predicated o f any given couple o f entities. This confirm s point II, (B), (3) o f the synopsis. Thirdly, they are not subject lo the operations of arithmetic: as long as one sticks to this kind o f numbers, there is no problem about addition and division. This confirm s point II, (B), (4) of the synopsis. The only item in the synopsis for which we have to rely exclusively upon Aristotle's disputed authority as an historian o f philosophy is II, (B), (5). Since there is nothing in the words o f Plato that contradicts the assumption that he m ain tained II, (B), (5), we m ay perhaps here take Aristotles un controllable statement for good. W hat is that first conception o f number which Socrates rejects as unsatisfactory in the P haedo? There are, it seems, only two possible interpretations, (i) Socrates may be thinking o f numbers in the concrete sense o f sets of which numbers, in the abstract sense, can be predicated. Or (ii) he may allude to the Mathematical Numbers. The fact that Socrates talks of a division o f one may be thought a reason against the latter interpretation. In the Republic, we remember, Plato emphati cally asserts the indivisibility o f the / o f pure arithmetic. The division o f one would seem lo be, not a division o f Ihe 1 o f pure arithmetic, but Ihe physical division of,


say, a heap o f grain whereby the one heap is transformed into two separate heaps. However that m ay be, the p ro blem that Socrates sees in the addition of one to one, clearly applies to Mathematical Numbers just as well as to numbers in the concrete sense. Although the problem o f division occurs only in the case o f numbers in Ihe concrete sense, Socrates criti cism as a whole seems to be directed against any numbers that are sets, irrespective o f whether they are sets o f sensible objects or o f ideal mathematical units. Should Socrates criticism o f Mathematical Numbers in the Phaedo be understood to signify that Plato here entirely rejects the notion o f Mathematical Numbers? If so, we would have an intricate problem on our hands. According to the unanimous opinion o f present-day Platonic scholarship, the dialogue Phaedo is at least as early as the Republic, which in turn is considerably earlier than the Philebus. It would be strange if Plato made his alter ego, Socrates, present, in the Phaedo, the notion o f Mathematical Numbers as a notion which he had once accepted but which he has been forced entirely to aban don, in consequence o f his adoption o f the theory o f Ideas, and if Plato then, in the other two dialogues, of which one is definitely believed to be later than the Phaedo, made Socrates expound the same notion as an integrating part o f a general theory o f science that is dominated by the same theory of Ideas. Of course, it might be said that Plato sometimes takes a certain delight in a kind o f scepticism- that stumbles on logical difficulties which are left unsolved and that neverthe less does not allow them to block the progress o f the argument: the unsolved difficulties merely serve to prevent him and us, his readers, from feeling too large a degree o f confidence in the ultimate outcome o f his reasonings. (The development of the later Academ y toward scepticism was not altogether a matter o f historical accident.) If Socrates does reject the notion o f Mathematical Numbers in the Phaedo, this rejection was, it might be said, merely intended to make us aware o f one such difficulty that should help us from falling into dogmatic slumber. Since all Platos philosophizing was in a way only tentative, the awareness o f this difficulty did not


have to prevent him from continuing to use that same notion o f Mathematical Numbers. I do not wish lo stale dogmatically that such a point o f view is incorrect. As a matter o f fact, Socrates words imply that he finds some difficulty in the very notion o f an addition or a juxtaposition o f units.14 But, as we have already said, Socrates criticism applies (on the whole) with equal force to numbers in the concrete sense o f sets o f sensible objects and to Mathematical Numbers. If Socrates questions the existence o f Ihe latter, he also ought to doubt the existence o f the form er. But is it credible that Plato makes Socrates argue against the existence o f sets o f sensible objects? The point that Socrates is here chiefly interested in making is, I think, a different one. He does not really deny that there is in mathematics a number 2 which is com posed o f two juxta posed units. His point is instead that the problem : W h y is this juxtaposition o f one and one tw o ? cannot be satisfactorily answered by stating that it is a case of addition of one to one. The problem is analogous lo the problem : W hy is a man A taller than a man B ? An unsatisfactory answer lo the latter question is to say that A is taller than B by a head. A does, it is true, surmount B by a head. But this fact is not the reason wliy A is taller than B. The correct explanation would be that A is taller by reason o f participation in the Idea o f Greatness. Similarly, the Mathematical Number 2 does, it is true, consist o f two units added together. But this fact is not the reason why it is two. The true reason is that this Mathematical Number participates in the Idea o f Duality or Twoness. If this interpretation is correct, the passage from the Phaedo which we are discussing not only recognizes the existence o f Mathematical as well as Ideal Numbers, but also asserts that Ihe form er partake o f the latter. Thus, we have found part o f what is stated under III and IV in our synopsis confirm ed by Plato's ow n words. In addition to the proposition that Mathe matical Numbers partake o f Ideal Numbers, III and IV contain the proposition that nothing but Mathematical Numbers truly partake o f Ideal Numbers. This proposition is not found in the Phaedo. It is, however, implied by the passage from the Republic discussed on pp. 78-80.





A reference such as II 12 is to note 12 o f chapter II in the present book while p. 25 is to p. 25 in the text. CHAPTER I 1 There exists a very extensive literature on the history o f Greek mathe matics and Platos position therein. Some o f the more important titles before 1933 are listed by A. Dies in his introduction to t. VI (Paris 1932), p. lxx. Many important articles are contained in vols. 1-4 (Berlin 1931-1938). 2 Speusippus and Xenocrates, who succeeded Plato at the head of the Academy, m odified the original Platonic interpretation in several signifi cant respects, and likewise, o f course, the dissident Aristotle. Cf. W . D. Koss: vol. 1 (O xford 1924), pp. Ixxi-lxxvi. On Aristotles mathematical philosophy, cf. esp. T. Meath: (Oxford 1949), and H. G. Apostle: (Chicago 1952). However, all those interpretations o f mathematics according to which this science is concerned with some kind o f ideal entities som ehow or other divorced from the data of sense experience as well as from physical phenomena are, directly or indirectly, the heirs o f Plato. 3 The two principles from which, according to Aristotles report, Plato generated Ideal Numbers viz. the One and the great and small ( the indefinite dyad ) may belong to the same realm o f thought which is expounded in 23 c 26 (cf. 16 c). But the generation of the mixed class from the Limit and the Unlimited can hardly be supposed to comprise also the generation o f Ideal Numbers. The Ideal Numbers, being Ideas, could not very well be referred to the mixed class. In some passages Plato actually indicates methods o f generating Ilie number series. In 105 c the presence o f Ihe unit is said lo be what makes an odd number odd. The understood method o f genera tion seems to imply that (i) each odd number is created by the addition of a unit to an even number, and that (ii) no even number is created by such addition to a number. The passage contains no hint as to how Ilie even numbers are lo be generated. A plausible guess, however, is that they are supposed to be generated through doubling, through multiplication by 2. If this interpretation is correct, Plato is here thinking o f Ihe number series as generated from Ihe initial number 2 by (i) the operation 71+Z being

P : O vres laton eu com pletes, Q ellen u d S d zu G ich d M th a A u n ta ien r esch te er a em tik, slronom u ci ie n P ysik, A t. B S d , h b : tu ien A ristotles M ysics, etaph

A ristotle m tics a

Mth a in a em tics A ristotle's philosophy of m e ath

a III. d

P ilebu h s

P ilebu h s

P aed h o

(m a on s)

138 applied to any given even and (ii) Ihe operation x being applied to any given I.e., the number series is construed as follow s: 2x2. . . . Although the role which and 2 play in this method o f construction calls to mind the role which the One and the indefinite dyad play in Aristotles report, it would, I think, be a mistake lo identify the generation o f Ideal Numbers spoiken o f by Aristotle with the present generation o f the number series. The identification is forbidden already by the fact that the method relies on arithmetical opera tions and, hence, is applicable only to Mathematical Numbers, not to Ideal Numbers. Also in 143 144 Plato, in a sense, generates the series o f numbers. Cf. II 12. This generation, loo, is arithmetical and therefore incompatible with the nature o f Ideal Numbers. There is no trace whatsoever in the dialogues o f the doctrine that all Ideas are numbers. On the contrary, whenever numerical Ideas are discussed, they are treated entirely on a par with the other lion-numerical Ideas. Cf. B 16. Thus, the theories o f groups and are parts o f Platos unwritten doctrines , and probably they represent a very late development o f his thought. Cf. I 9, 10. Concerning the problem o f generation, cf. W.v.d. W ielen: (Amsterdam 1941), a very thorough study o f the whole problem o f Ideal Numbers, where the sources and previous interpretations are extensively reviewed. On the identification o f Jdeas and numbers, cf. W. D. Ross: (Oxford 1951), ch. 15. 4 Some have maintained that the doctrine concerning the constitution o f the spatio-temporal w^orld is to be interpreted in terms of Ihe theory of mathematical Intermediates. They have in mind especially the passage on how the originally disorderly universe, in which the sen sible qualities are distributed in chaotic fashion, is ordered by means of forms and numbers (53 the forms occurring in space and time being copies o f the eternally existing ones (50 c). One o f the most recent advo cates o f this view is R. Hackforth: (Cam bridge 1944), p. 41. The interpretation is, I think, gratuitous, and a much simpler is close at hand. Platos meaning may be merely that the sen sible qualities, which are characteristic o f the elements (earth, water, air and fire) and which are originally chaotically distributed, are brought together into qualitatively homogenous spatial volumes o f well-defined size and shape: these well-formed volumes are copies of Ideas just as in the terminology o f the theory o f Ideas any participants are copies o f the Ideas in which they partake. If there is any approach to the doctrine o f Intermediates in the it seems more plausible to look for it in the conception o f space itself, which is eternal like the Ideas and yet apprehended only by a sort o f quasi-reasoning or seen only as in a dream (52 If Plato wras ever inclined to think of the ideal geometrical figures, the Intermediates o f geometry, as forming parls o f one coherent

n . 2x2 +1 2x(2+l), ,

n ,

2 n

2 2+1 , ,

P aed h o a

P rm id a en es

a IV d .



v nP a lato

D id e eegeta llen

P latos theory of Id eas

T a s im eu

b ),,

P latos exam ation of pleasu in re

T a s, im eu


139 space, that space would have to be, it seems, rather like the space of the (The characterization o f our apprehension o f space as a mere dream is reminiscent o f the characterization o f mathematics as a dream in 533 ).

T a s. im eu

R blic epu


5 Cf. H. Chorniss: (Berkeley LosAngeles 1915), p. 35, where he interprels away the notion o f Mathematical Number from 526 and p. 76, where he asserts that it has been proved over and over again that Plato does not anywhere in his writings recognize mathematical numbers and figures as entities separate from sensibles on the one hand and from ideas on the other . 8 Cf. Cherniss: p. 76 and the literature there referred to. 7 In 78 79 the universe 'o f existing things is divided into two kinds, (i) the uncompounded, unchanging, invisible essences, the Ideas, and (ii) the compounded, changing, visible particulars wihich parti cipate in the Ideas. The soul is then, 79 stated lo lie more like the form er than the latter, although it belongs to neither. In a later context, 105 the soul is said to be that which brings the Idea of Life to anything just as, 103 105 fire brings the Idea o f Heat and snow the Idea o f Cold, or as each o f the even numbers: brings the Idea of Evenness and eacli o f the odd numbers: 5 ,. . . brings the Idea of Oddness. 8 In 27 29 the universe is divided into (i) that which has an eternal existence, which knows o f no becoming and is the object of true (knowledge, and (ii) that which becomes and perishes, which is never really existent and is the objeet only of likely opinion. In 52 space is introduced as a third kind, which is eternally existing like (i) but nevertheless known only through a quasi-reasoning. In 1078 9-12 Aristotle distinguishes a later form o f the theory o f Ideas, where the Ideas are connected with the nature o f num bers, from the original form , where no such connection is assumed. 1 Concerning this lecture, cf. v. d. W id en : 0 P. Wilpert: (Regensburg 1949). and W . D. Ross: 11 209 11 17.

T e rid le of th early A em h d e cad y a ,

R blic epu

P aed h o

op cit., . b a

b -e,



3 ,

2A , ,...

T a s im eu

a -d

M ysics etaph

op cit., . aristotelisch F h riften iiber d Id e ru sch ie eenlehre P latos theory of Id s. ea P ysics h b


Z ei w

1 Cf. I 1. 2 Surveys o f the domain o f mathematics are given esp. in 522 d 531 819 a 822 990 a 991 Cf. also 450 c 451 274 55 c 57 In 528 stereometry is spoken o f as not yet in existence. 3 T. Heath: vol. I (Oxford 1921). p.

c. L w as c, P aed s h ru

c, E om pin is c-d P , liilebu s


b .

Ru ep blic G s oryia R blic epu a-c

Ah istory of G M th a reek a em tics,


4 Cf.

J. L. Coolidge:

T e m em of grea a a rs ("Oxford h ath atics t m teu


p. 1.

5 Cf. J. Klein: Die griechische Logistik und die Enlslehung der Al gebra , ., B: 3 (1936), esp. pp. 29-36. 524 526 56 57 451 Cf. 166 where logistic is explained in identical manner. 8 537 9 356 357 1 Cf. J. Klein: 0 and 0. Becker: Die Lehre vom Geraden und Ungeraden im Neunten Bucli der Euklidischen Elemente , B: 3 (1936), pp. 548-550. 1 Cf. the passages already quoted from the 1 and the and, in addition, 453 166 104 510 185 198 262 143 144 990 An interesting possible reason why Plato stresses the distinction between odd and even numbers is suggested by O. Toeplitz: Die mathematische Epinomis-stelle , B :2 (1933), pp. 335-336. Cf also O. Becker: p. 545. 1 2 143 a 144 a. The proof starts from the assumption that and 2 exist. By adding them we obtain By multiplication we get 2 x 2 , 2 x 3 and Thus, there exists even-times-even, odd-times odd, even-times-odd and odd-times-even. Hence, the argument concludes, each o f the infinitely many numbers exists. If Plato here admits unrestricted multiplication but addition only in the case o f and 2, this method gives us merely the numbers of the form s , and If addition o f is always permitted, we get all numbers without recourse to multiplication. (For the purpose o f generating the number series the distinction between even-times-odd and odd-times-even is o f no interest.) A method o f gene rating the number series which allows the addition of in the case of any given even but not in the case o f any odd number, is hinted at in 105 c. Cf. I 3. 1 3 149 Plato considers finite linear sequences o f terms touching each other in the follow ing fashion:

Q ellen u d S d .. u n tu ien R blic d epu b P ilebu d a , h s . 1G s oryia a -c. C a n es .h n id a , Ion e. P rotagoras e u . op cit., .


Q ellen u d u n

G s oryia c, T eaetetu h s d , E in is p om c.

e, C a id h rm es a S tesm n , ta a

G s oryia P rotagoras a P aed , h o a Ru -b, ep blic e, P en es d arm id a ,

P rm id a en es 1 x, '13 3x2.

Q ellen u d S d .. .. u n tu ien op. cit., 3 .

2, 3 a a

1 2ax3b.

P aed h o P en es arm id

a -c.

1|2 |3 | ...

| n

| +

n 1\

In such a sequence any two terms that touch each other constitute one contact. Plato considers the relation between the number o f terms and the number o f contacts in any such sequence. If the sequence has only one term, there is no contact, and this case is accordingly ruled out. The m i nimal number o f terms that involves a contact is 2, and the number of contacts is then And if to the two a third be added in immediate succession, there will be three terms and two contacts. . . . And thus whenever one is added, one contact is also added, and the number o f contacts is always one less than Ihe number o f terms; for every succeeding number o f terms exceeds the number o f all the contacts just as much as the first two terms exceeded

1 :

Hie number o f their contacts. For after the first every additional term adds one to the number o f contacts. Let us designate by the number o f contacts corresponding to terms. Plato calls our attention to the facts: (i) (ii) C(n + 1) = C(n) + 1, from which he infers that, for any > 2: (iii) n = C(n) + Since (ii) entails: (ii') If then this is, as a matter o f fact, a regular p roof by recursion. A similar reasoning is found in 42 1-10. Euclid proofs propo sition 8 o f booik IX o f the by an essentially recursive method. 14 Cf. Euclids book VII, definition 2, according to which number is a plurality composed out o f units . Chrysippus is reported by Iamblichus to have considered the number 1 as plurality one , but Iamblichus censures this view as incorrect. Cf. T. Heath: vol. 1. p. 69. 15 524 1 6 104 1 7 220 27-32. Cf. also 1080 where number is said to be counted The predominant view in Aris totle is, however, that is not a number and that, hence, 2 is Ihe least number. Cf. v. d. W ielen: ch. 3. 1 8 818 Cf. also 302 1 Not always, however, v. d. Wielen, 0 p. 14, points out that Euclid proves an arithmetical proposition separately for ( book VII, prop. 15) and for number (book VII, prop. 9). 20 In 215 12-13 Aristotle denies that nothing can bear any ratio to a number, i. e. that a multiple of nothing can exceed any number. (Cf. T. Heath: p. 117). This statement, however, does not involve recognition o f nothing (zero) as a number. 2 Cf. 1 525 and J. Klein: pp. 45-52. 22 That the incommensurable is a specifically geometrical concept is stated in 76 9. 23 820 Incommensurable magnitudes are mentioned also in 303 534 and 140 24 147 148 25 990 26 For Taylors interpretation, cf. his Forms and numbers: a study in Platonic metaphysics , N. S.. vols. 35-36 (1926-27). The interpre tation adopted here is elaborated by O. Toeplitz: Die mathematische Epinomis-stelle". 27 Cf. p. 76.

C) (n

2=C ) + (2 1

1 .

n=C ) +1 .(n ,

n+1=C +1 +1 (n ) ,

P Aa rior n lytics E en lem ts E en lem ts,

m em tics, ath a R blic epu P aed h o P ysics h Lw as

Ah istory of G reek a 3 -3 . 05

d . a. -b a

M ysics etaph 1 2 3.. , , a . op cit., .


op cit., . H p sM ip ia ajor

1 E en lem ts,

P ysics h

Mth a in A a em tics ristotle, d -e,

R blic epu

op cit., .

P osterior A a n lytics b Lw as a. -d H p sM ip ia ajor b R blic , epu d T eaetetu h s d b . E in is d p om -e. Md in ,

P rm id a en es

b -c.

142 CHAPTER III 1 2 3

R blic 596 a. epu P en es 147 d arm id -e. H p s M 2 7 c-d ip ia ajor 8 . id , eid ou , yenos, fysis. ea os, sia

4 Frequently occurring Platonic terms which are com m only rendered by these and similar English words are It has sometimes been argued that the w ord Idea is an appropriate trans lation of such Platonic terms only in contexts where the metaphysical or transcendental aspect o f their connotation is especially stressed by Plato. For Plato himself, however, there was no sharp distinction, or even no distinction at all, between the m ore logical and the m ore metaphysical connotation o f the terminology o f the theory o f Ideas. Cf.. e.g., 249 where the classification o f sensible particulars, the grasping o f their is said to be a recollection o f those things which our soul saw when it was with God. Hence, I think, we are justified in translating the terminology o f the theory o f Ideas in the same manner whether the con text is more logical or more metaphysical in tenor. The term Idea is here used merely as a convenient English substitute for a cluster o f Greek words, and in any given context it is allowed to carry just as much or as little metaphysical significance as those words do. (The initial letter of Idea is capitalized only to call attention to this usage o f the term and to obviate confusion with its current psychological usage). It is especially com m on to draw* a line between those occurrences o f and where they signify Idea and those occurrences where they signify class or kind. It is true that there are occurrences where we find it natural to translate these terms with our words class or kind , and other occurrences where this strikes us as unnatural. But, on the whole, Plato himself made no distinction between these types o f occurrences. (We have no apriori reason to believe that Platos own conceptual distinctions were parallel to Ihe distinctions inherent in modern English.) O f course, Plato uses also in a sense which has nothing in com m on with such a term as Ihe Iheary of Ideas, e.g. in the sense o f concrete sensible shapes. But such usages o f the term are as far as I am aware nowhere confounded by Plato with that usage thereof which belongs to the theory o f Ideas, lo his' logical realism. A phrase such as the Idea o f Beauty likewise translates a number o f different expressions used by Plato. These expres sions do not all contain any o f the Greek w ords for which Idea is our English substitute. The literal translation o f some com m on types o f Plalonic designations for Ideas are Beauty , Beauty itself , the Beautiful or the Beautiful itself . 5 Of course, there is nothing like a fixed technical terminology in Pla tos writings. Some o f the many Greek terms which are com m only trans lated by participation , or presence , or some similar English words, are no doubt used by Plato in a consciously metaphorical manner. Cf. 100 Often Plato says simply that, e.g., good things are good

b-c, eid os,

P a ru h ed s

eid os


eid os

P aed h o

d .

143 by (Ihe Idea of) the Good , or by a com m on Idea . The m ore elaborate terminology referred to in the text occurs prominently in the and in later dialogues.

P aed h o

6 7

M ysics 1078 b17 1079 a4. etaph P rm id 130 b a en es -e.



a29 b1 , 4


a30 b13.

E th em s, H p s M jor, C tylu P u yd u ip ia a ra s, rotagoras, M erio, P a ru P aed R u h ed s, h o, ep blic, P rm id P a en es, liilebu T eaetetu s, h s, S th L even etter. (ii) Such general Ideas play an important role in P rm id a en es, T heaete tu S h and T a s. s, op ist im eu (iii) Mathematical Ideas occur especially in P aed R blic, P h o, epu arm e n es, T eaetetu S tesm n P ilebu and the S th L id h s, ta a , h s, even etter. (iv) Ideas o f natural kinds occur in P arm id T eaetetu S tesm n en es, h s, ta a , T a s, P im eu liilebu and the S th L s, even etter. (v) Ideas o f kinds o f artefacts occur in C tylu P aed R blic, the ra s, h o. epu S th L and the L w even etter a s.
In addition to the five types of Ideas enumerated in the text there occur several other types. In the 103 c 106 Hot and Cold, Life and Death are treated as Ideas, and in the 342 such sensible qualities as colours are said to constitute Ideas. In the 17 18 the musical notes and the types o f speech-sounds for which the letters o f the alphabet stand are given as instances o f Ideas. In the 202 205 the term is applied to the syllable, but perhaps it may be argued that this is an altogether different usage o f the word. Cf. Ill 15. 8 130 An extreme realist position is maintained also in the 342 10 1079 2-4. Cf. the similar mode o f expression in 596 1 Cf. 1 1040 25-27, where Aristotle argues that there can not exist any Idea which can be predicated o f only a single thing, since an Idea is something which is shared by several things. Cf. also 92 4-8, where he says that (i) to know what, e.g., the essence o f humanity is implies iknowing that man exists, and (ii) it is possible to understand the meaning o f the phrase goat-stag but impossible to know

8 (i) The Idea o f Beauty is perhaps that Idea to which Plato refers m ore extensively than to any other Idea. It occurs, together with various ethical Ideas, in and the

P aed h o,

a , S th L even etter,

d ,

d , P ilebu h s,

T ea s, h etetu


id ea

P en es arm id c-d . S th L even etter d . M ph eta ysics a pu blic a . M ysics etaph a Aa n lytics b

R e

P osterior

Ihe essence o f goat-stag. 12 262 263 1 3

S tesm n b ta a b Cf. also ibid 287 c and P a ru 265 e. . em h ed s R blic 476 c-d Cf. also, e.g., E th em s 300 e 301 a (on beauty). epu . u yd u P en es 130 c (on the Idea o f Man). Proposition (4) is an essential arm id
premise for the paradoxes concerning the Ideas stated in Ihe beginning of Ihe Cf. pp. 36-39. Further, (4) plays a role in 597 and 31 Cf. Ill 18.

P rm id a en es. T a s a im eu -b. 1 P rm id 132 d 4 a en es -e.

R blic epu

1-44 1 Cf. 5 249 265 In 202 205 e there is a discussion o f the question how a combination o f given elements is related to the elements entering into the combination. The question is understood in the widest possible sense (204 a), and the relation between a syllable and its letters is considered merely as a concrete example o f the abstract notion o f a combination o f elements. Is the syllable (i) all the letters o f which it consists, or (ii) a single Idea different from all the letters? In particular, is the first syllable o f Socrates (i) all the letters, S and O, or (ii) a single Idea? If (i), then if it is true that S and () both have some characteristic, it appears that the syllable must likewise have that characteristic, a consequence which contradicts certain previously assumed propositions. (It has been assumed that only combinations of elements are knowable, wthereas ultimate elements are unknowable.) If (ii), the syllable must be without parts, since anything which has parts is identical with all the parts; in particular, the letters cannot be parts of the syllable. An attempt is now made to eschew this conclusion by a distinction between Ihe w hole and all (in the plural: The whole, it is suggested, is something which has parts without being identical with all the parts. The whole is then identified with all in the singular and the proposed distinction is rejected on the ground that there is no difference in meaning between all" in the singular and all" in the plural, and also on the additional ground that both the whole and Ihe all are that from which nothing is missing. The upshot o ! the discussion is lhat if (i) the combination of certain elements is all the elements, then the combination will have any characteristic which all the elements have, whereas if (ii) Ihe com bination is a single Idea, then the combination is absolutely devoid of parts and, in particular, its elements are not parts o f it.

P a ru h ed s


d -e.

T eaetetu h s

(eid id ) os, ea

pa ta n ).

(to h ) olon


(to pan ),

If w*e are justified in interpreting this discussion as applying also to that synthesis o f particulars through which we arrive at the apprehension o f the Platonic Ideas, properly so called, the result o f the discussion implies lhat an Idea is either (i) all the particulars belonging to the scope o f that Idea, or (ii) a single entity devoid o f parts. If we were able to ask Plato w-hicli alternative he favours, what would his answer be? The very use of the words and to characterize alternative (ii) seems to indicate that, at least at the moment when he wrote this passage o f the Plato would have chosen alternative (ii). Thus, the passage is one among many others which indicates an intensional conception of the Ideas: the Idea is something else than the set of all the things"

eid os

id ea

, /

T eaetetu h s,

lhat partake o f it. 1 Cf. 6 17 Cf. 263 />, discussed on pp. there are signs that Aristotle was, however toward a m ore elaborate doctrine concerning versus extension. In order to understand what

P ilebu 15 a-b, P aed 78 b h s h o -e. S tesm n ta a

33-44. In the vaguely, groping his way the problem o f intension Aristotle says, we have lo

C tegories a

review briefly some o f bis definitions. By a primary substance Aristotle means simply a concrete individual tiling such as a man, a tree, or a horse. The primary substances are classified in a system o f natural kinds, genera and species. Not any class, in the abstract logical sense to which we are nowadays accustomed, represents such a genus or species, and only those kinds which are genera or species are, in Aristotles terminology, second ary substances". As an example o f a term which designates a secondary substance, Aristotle mentions m an ; his slock example o f a general term which does not designate any secondary substance is white . In the 3 10-23, Aristotle endeavours to explain the difference in semantic function between these two types o f terms. In reading Ihe passage one should observe that Aristotle uses substance(s) as an ellipti cal mode o f referring substance-term(s)

C tegories, a

All substance appears to signify what is individual In the case o f the primary substances, it is indisputably true that they signify what is individual, since their designatum is particular and one in number. In the case o f the secondary substances when we speak, e.g., o f man or animal our form o f speech gives the impression that they, too, signify what is individual. But that is not the case: rather they signify a certain quality for the subject is not one as a primary sub stance is; the words man and animal are predicated of many subjects. Yet they do not merely signify a quality, like white ; white signifies quality and nothing more. But species and genus determine the quality with reference lo substance; they signify substance qualified in a certain manner. The determinate quality covers a larger field in the case o f the genus than in that of the species: he who says animal indicates a larger class than he who says man .

(tod ti). e

(poion ti),

It appears that Aristotle here assumes a tw ofold semantic difference between such terms as man , animal , on the one hand, and such terms as white , on the other hand, (i) Whereas while merely indicates a cer tain quality, man signifies substance-with-a-quality, or a sort o f substance. This aspect o f Aristotles thought could, I think, be expressed more clearly as follows. The statement, is white (or White is present in < ), says merely that V has a certain quality; the statement, is (a) man , likewise says that has a certain quality but, in addition, that is a primary substance, (ii) Aristotle seems lo maintain that such terms as man and animal have an intrinsic reference lo certain pluralities, or classes, o f primary substances, a reference which is absent in the case o f such a term as white , which merely designates a quality. Perhaps it would be justified to say that Aristotle here vaguely envisages a distinc tion between an intensional and an extensional meaning, and that he assumes such expressions as w hile lo have only Ihe former kind o f meaning, but such expressions as man and animal lo have both kinds


o f meaning. 1 8 10

E th em s u yd u AW . cdberg


a -b

(perhaps merely a jok e?),

Ilipp s M ia ajor

146 comparison), (Beauty itself is beautiful from every point of view, at all times, in any comparison, equally throughout, for every beholder), 74 (Equality is absolutely equal), 129 130 (Similarity, the absolute Similars, cannot be dissimilar; Plurality or the (absolute) many, cannot be one), 132 (Greatness is great), 133 134 c (Knowledge itself, the Idea of Knowledge, is knowledge o f Truth itself, the Idea o f Truth). In 597 c proposition (6) is implicitly employed in proving that for each kind o f things there is only one Idea, e.g., that there is only one Idea o f Bed. The p roof is intended as a reductio ad absurdum o f the opposite assumption. If there were, e.g., two Ideas o f Bed, two such absolute beds , there would again appear one which they would have as their com m on and this third would then be the absolute bed, the Idea o f Bed, not the other two. The logic o f this curious argument seems lo be as follows. Suppose per im possible that there were two Ideas o f Bed, say and By (6) each one of these is a bed, an absolute bed . Hence, by the basic postulates of the theory of Ideas, they participate in an Idea of Bed, say From this point on the argument is probably a petitio principii: which accounts for the fact that and are both (absolute) beds, is Idea o f Bed. (If this is the premise to which Plato implicitly appeals at this stage o f the argument, he is obviously presuppos ing the uniqueness that he is out lo prove.) By (4), since and parti cipate in they are distinct from Consequently, neither o f them is the Idea o f Bed, and the assumption that there are two Ideas o f Bed has been refuted/ A reasoning similar lo this is hinted at in 31 288 d 289 c (Beauty itself must be beautiful in any P rotagoras 330 c (justice is just), S posiu 210 e 2116 ym m

P enides' arm

P aed h o a

a -d

Ru ep blic

eid os, B ".

B . B th e

B '

B "

B ,

B .

B '

B "

T a s a. im eu -b P rm id 132 a . (Jowetts translation). a en es -b D soph e isticis elen is 178 6 36 179 a 10. Clierniss (A ch ristotle's criticism of P a d th A em vol. I (Baltimore 1944), pp. 289-300; lato n e cad y, T e rid le of th early A em p. 70) maintains that Plato himself h d e cad y, realized the mistake which underlies the paradoxes of the P rm id a en es.
1 9 20

The essence o f Cherniss argumentation is: since Plato states the paradoxes and yet does not abandon the theory o f Ideas, he cannot have considered the paradoxes as valid objections to the theory; hence, he must have had an answer to the objections, and he must, in fact, have known the right answer. In the elaboration o f this dubious line o f thought Cherniss makes important use o f the assumption that the paradoxes are alluded to also in 597 c and 31 This assumption is, I think, a mistake. Cf. Ill 18. Against Cherniss psychological postulate it can be objected that Plato often musters arguments and counter-arguments on the same question without finding a definitive solution lo Ihe quandary, that much o f his thinking is, essentially and not merely in its literary expression, the menial dialogue o f a sceptic with a faith.

T a s im eu

P en es arm id a. -b

R blic epu

2 The conception of the Idea as an archetype, of which its participants 1

147 are imitations, occurs in besides the P aed and the P rm id h o a en es R blic 402 c, 472 c-d 484 c-d 500 e 501 c, 510 a d 520 c, 540 a epu , , -b, , , P aed s 250 a-b, 251 a T a s 29 b 37 c-e, 39 d 48 e 49 a 50 c, h ru , im eu -c, -e, , 52 c, 92 c, etc. 22 P aed 74 a 75 c. h o 23 P arm id 132 d 133 a en es . 2 Cf. W . E. Johnson: L 4 ogic, vol. I (Cambridge 1940), ch. 11. 25 It is especially in the case o f the notion o f beauty and ethical n o tions that Plato seems prone to adopt this line o f thought. The clearest passage is perhaps 209 212 a (on beauty). On the other hand, in several passages these Ideas come in pairs: beauty ugliness, good evil, etc. Cf. 5 476 246 247 186 Perhaps Plato sometimes thought that there stood Ideas at the opposite poles o f a given scale, but that there were no Ideas for the intermediate points o f it.-In Eudoxus-Studien V B: 3, O. Becker tries to make a case fo r the thesis that Plato sometimes conceived the relation between Ideas and partici pants in analogy to that between pure and mixed colours, and that this conception was further elaborated by Eudoxus. There are passages where Plato seems inclined to the view that to possess a degree o f a quality is to participate to a degree in the Idea. Thus, instead o f there being Ideas o f various degrees of, say, beauty, there will be only one Idea o f beauty but the relation of participation holding between particulars and the Idea will itself be o f various degrees. Cf. 472 c. Perhaps also 101 is to be understood in this sense: the greater niumber is greater by participating to a higher degree in the Idea o f Plurality (or Number), and the greater measure is greater by participating to a higher degree in the Idea o f Magnitude. 26 Cf. 289 292 209 212 a, 74 a 75 250 27 Cf. 78 79 a (the Ideas unchangeable), 500 59 247 28 37 38

S posiu ym m

e, S h op ist

E typh u ro a T eaetetu , h s e.

c-d R blic , epu

a P a ru , h ed s

Q ellen u d S d ..., u n tu ien

P aed h o

R blic epu

Hp s M ip ia ajor d e, S posiu ym m e P aed h o d P aed s , h ru a. -d P aed d h o R blic epu b -c, P ilebu a P aed s d h s -c, h ru -e. T a s e a im eu . 2 T a s 37 d 9 im eu -e. 30 P a ru 247 c. h ed s 3 P ysics 203 a 8 9. Cf. 209 b33 210 a 2. 1 h 32 P aed 78 b h o -c. 33 P aed 78 d h o -e. 34 P ilebu 15 a . Cf., however, P ilebu 16 d where an Idea is still h s -b h s P aed d h o P a ru h ed s d -e. S ist a oph . a R blic , epu b-c, d -e.

considered as a monad but is simultaneously said to be many since it stands at the top o f some section o f the species-genus hierarchy and infinite since infinitely many particulars are comprised under it. 35 Cf., e.g., 78 79 507 511 Cf. B 12. 30 265 37 Cf. 252


P ilebu 18 a . h s -d P ilebu 17 a . h s -d S tesm n 262 c-e. ta a 41 Cf. P aed s 265 d h ru -266 b 277 b e. , S h and the S tesm n op ist ta a . 42 S h 250 a 259 b op ist . 43 S h 253 b-e. op ist 4 R blic 511 b 4 epu -c. 45 P aed 97 c 99 c, T a s 29 a h o im eu . 40 R blic 510 c 511 e, 533 a . epu -d
38 39 40

Cf. also the definitions in the


M o 74 a-76 d en . P rm id 137 e. Cf. a en es S th L even etter a R blic epu a . S th L even etter a . M ysics etaph b

T. Heath:

3 Cf. the passages from the the and the discussed in appendix B. 4 Cf. I ll 46. s 342 343 0 529 c 530 7 343 8 997 35 998 4. 9 It happens that Plato argues in a manner that ignores the necessity o f some such restriction. In the the concept o f (geometrical) equality is first stated to be an Idea which is never perfectly instantiated in any pair o f so-called equal sensible objects (74 75 6), and then the same is said to hold also for the concepts o f greater and less (75 c). This implies the absurdity that, e.g., o f any tw o sensible straight lines the one is neither equal nor greater nor less in length than the other. 10 Cf. 74 75 510 62 343 1 1 56 e 57 526 12 510 13 1059 6-12, 1090 35 6 1. 14 book I, ch. 7. 15 76 6 3-5. 16 Tw o o f the rules o f conversion laid down in book I, ch. 2, are that if all are then some are and that if some are then some are Together they imply that if all A are then some A are 17 Cf. T. Heath: A vol. I, pp. 319-321. 18 Cf. O. Apelt: (Leipzig 1891), pp. 253-287, and S. Luria: Die Infinitesimaltheorie der antiken Atomisten , . .., B: 2. 1 9 998 1-4.

M th a in A a em tics ristotle, p. 92. E th em s, R blic u yd u epu P ilebu h s, e.

P aed h o

P aed a b R blic h o , epu L etter a . P ilebu h s a R blic d , epu . R blic d epu -e. M ysics etaph b a P osterior A a n lytics, P osterior A a n lytics A A B . B ,

d P ilebu -e, h s

a S th -b, even

A ,

A ,

P Aa rior n lytics, B ,

B .

history of G m em tics, reek ath a B ge zu G ich d griech en P ilosoph eitra r esch te er iesch h ie Q ellen u d S d u n tu ien a

M ysics etaph

149 20 2 1

Plato explains that w as and will be are inapplicable to the eternal reality, o f which is alone can truly be predicated. 23 Cf. book III, chs. 4-8. The existence o f an actual arithmeti cal infinite is assumed b y Plato in 143 144 24 W hen Aristotle insists, in on the necessity lhat each science be based on premisses relating to the special genus o f that science, he implicitly rejects the Platonic idea o f founding mathematics upon a general dialectical science. 25 92 26 Cf. A. D. Steele: tlber die Rolle von Zirkel und Lineal in der griechischen Mathematik , . . . , B :3. 27 81 85 28 73

S th L 343 a even etter . R blic 527 a epu -c. 22 Cf. T a s 37 e-38 a where im eu , P ysics, h

P en es a arm id P osterior A a n lytics,

a .

P aed h o

d .

M o a e. en P aed a b h o .

Q ellen u d S d u n tu ien

CHAPTER V 1 56 Cf. 525 819 2 525 Cf. 195 196 3 1090 35-37. 4 527 5 Cf. 207 2-15. 6 Cf. T. Heath: vol. I, pp. 69-70. 7 987 29-33. 8 219 5-7. 9 1052 18-27. 10 1088 8-14. Cf. 220 20-22, 223 13-15. 10a 185 25 186 3. 1 1 1082 16-19. Euclids definitions o f unit and num ber in b ook VII o f the seem to embody the very ambiguity which we have found in Aristotles usage o f the term unit . According to def. 1, unit is that with reference to which each thing is called one here Euclid is probably thinking o f a unit as a unit-concept. According to def. 2, number is plurality com posed out o f units here Euclid seems to apply the term unit to each single object of which a given unitconcept is predicated. 12 207 1-8. 13 (986 20 21), 987 27-29, 1080 16-20; 218 22-29; 300 14-19. The Pythagorean conception of number is the subject o f an extensive literature. Cf. P. Tannery: (2. ed., Paris 1930), F. M. Corn/ford: (London 1939), F. Enriques: La polemica eleatica per il concetto razionale della geometria , 1923, (i. Milhaud: ("Paris 1900).

P ilebu d h s -e. R blic epu b , Lw -d a s a -c. R blic epu d T eaetetu . h s d b . M ysics etaph a R blic a epu . P ysics h b Ah istory of G m th a reek a em tics, M ysics etaph b P ysics h b M ysics etaph b M ph eta ysics a P ysics h b b P ysics b h a M ysics etaph b E en lem ts

P ysics b h M ysics etaph b D caelo e

a a

P ysics h

d la science hellen e e m id en es

P r V lstolrc ou h P to a d P r la n a

P eriodico d m atich i atem e, L ph es ilosoph geom es etres d la G c rice

150 14 Cf. pp. 131-135. 15 Cf. pp. 125-127. 1 6 1 7 1084 26-27. In Die Lehre vom Geraden und Urigeraden im Neunten Buch der Euklidischen Elemente , p. 537, O. Becker calls attention to the connection between this definition o f unit and the Pythagorean custom o f treating mathematical problems with the aid of small stones. If a stone was supposed to represent a point in a geometrical configuration, its position was essential; but if it was used lo represent a unit of a number, its position among the other units o f that number was inessential. Becker also, p. >547, observes that this custom is probably alluded to in 450 and 820 where mathematics and the game of draughts ( from stone) are considered as kind red arts. Cf. also 274 18 Cf. p. 135.

M ysics 1016 b 29-31. etaph M ysics etaph b

G ia org s d L s c-d aw , petteutike, pettos = P aed s c-d h ru .

1 Cf. G. Frege: 9 O xford 1950) and B. Russell: (London 1919). 20

D G n la en d A m (Breslau 1884, reprint ie ru d g er rith etik In u trod ction to m th a l ph a em tica ilosophy Z o of E en lea

R blic 524 d525 a epu - .

2 Cf. text no. 8 in H. D. P. Lee: 1 (Cambridge 1936). 22 A variant o f this form of reasoning occurs in 165 Let us then go back once more to the beginning and tell the conse quences, if the others exist and the one does not. Let us do so. W ell, the others will not be one. Of course not. Nor will they be many; for if they were many, one would be contained among them. And if none o f them is one thing, they are all nothing, so that they cannot be many. This argument from the comes even closer to Zenos para dox than does the argument from the discussed in the text. 137 143 and 245 contain reasonings which, at least verbally, are reminiscent o f this. However, in these passages Plato seems to be discussing the Idea o f Oneness rather than anything which is one. 23 129 Cf. also 251 14 Aristotle criticizes the same sophistical argument in 185 25-34. 24 book chs. 6 8.

P en es arm id


P en es arm id

P rm id a en es

c-d ,

a ,

S ist oph

R blic epu a

P rm id a en es

c-d .

S h op ist

M , op cit., pp. 61-65. . M ph eta ysics, M chs. 6-7. , M ysics etaph b 8-9, 1081 a 35-36. M ysics etaph b 11-14. Cf. also the whole o f book M ch. 7. , 29 M ph eta ysics 1083 a 31-36. 30 Cf. W . D. Ross: A ristotles M ph eta ysics, vol. II (Oxford 1924), p. 31 Cf., e.g., v. d. W ielen: op cit., ch. 7, esp. pp. 87-89. .
25 Cf. v. d. W ielen: 26 book 27 1080 28 1080

M ph eta ysics,

a P ilebu -c, h s P ysics h b



151 32 Obviously Aristotle has in mind some historical basis for his inter pretation o f the Ideal Numbers as sets o f differentiated units. His state ment that no one differentiated the units in sense (i) o f p. 81 implies that someone did differentiate them in sense (ii): if not Plato himself, then some thinker whose views were closely related to Platos. O. Becker: Die diairetische Erzeugung der Idealzahlen , ..., B: 1 (1931), interprets the Ideal Numbers as sets o f Ideas, obtained through a diairetic operation. His interpretation is inspired by J. Stenzel: (2. ed., Leipzig Berlin 1933), and it is further elaborated by J. Klein: Although the evidence for this interpretation is very slight and although it appears impossible to deny that Plato at least, conceived the Ideal Numbers as Ideas, the inter pretation is o f interest as showing a possible way of doing justice to the other side o f Aristotles contradictory treatment o f the Platonic theory o f Ideal Numbers.

Q ellen u d S u n tudien

G lt b P esta ei laton u d A n ristoteles op cit. . a lso,

Zh u d al n


1 1028 19-21. 2 995 16-18, cf. 997 35 3. 3 987 14-18. 4 1076 16-19. 5 1002 12-28. 6 1090 35 1, cf. 1059 6-12. 7 997 6 34 998 a 6. 8 Aristotle achieves a kind o f reductio ad absurdum o f the theory of Intermediates also by making use o f another argument for their existence: Again, there are certain mathematical theorems that are universal, extending beyond these substances [i.e., beyond anyone o f the classes enumerated in the next sentence]. Here then we shall have another inter mediate substance separate both from the Ideas and the Intermediates, a substance which is neither number nor points nor spatial magnitude nor time. And if this is impossible, plainly it is also im possible that the form er entities [the Platonic Intermediates] should exist separate from sensible things. ( 1077 9-14). The universal mathematical theorems which Aristotle lias in mind here are such as are asserted to hold fo r all types o f quantities. Examples o f such theorems are offered by some o f Euclids axioms. Cf. T. Heath: pp. 222-224. The argument which Aristotle implicitly employs and which, he thinks, leads to an absurd conclusion is o f the follow ing form . Let be certain types o f quantities (arithmetical, geometrical, etc.). If now there is a theorem which applies equally to all these types, there must correspond to this theorem a type o f entities intermediate between and the Ideas. There is no trace o f such a queer thought in Platos works. It seems quite possible that Aristotle is here inventing a

M ysics etaph M ysics etaph M ph eta ysics M ysics etaph M ysics etaph M ysics etaph M ysics etaph

b b b a b a

M ysics etaph

M th a in A a em tics ristotle,

A B C... , ,

A B C... , ,

152 reasoning which, he thinks, an upholder o f the doctrine o f Intermediates might use. 9 10 1051 21-33. Concerning this passage and the geometrical proof to which it refers, cf. T. Heath: pp. 29-30, 216-217. 11 W. D. Ross: vol. II, pp. 268-269. 12 Schopenhauer: 15. 1 3 207 27-31. 1 4 207 12-16. 15 207 33-34. 1 6 194 7-12, 1078 14. 17 1076 39 1077 9.

M ysics 997 b 14-20. etaph M ph eta ysics a

op cit., . A ristotles M ysics, etaph D W a W u lV ie elt ls ille m orstellu g, n P ysics h b P ysics h b P ysics h b P ysics h a M ysics etaph a M ph eta ysics b a


1 279 281 2 288 3 290 4 Concerning the term cf. W . D. Ross: vol. I, p. 234, 295, vol. II, p. 268. s Cf. A. Speiser: Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik , vol. 2 (1942). pp. 125 127. 8 73 81 85 7 74 8 75 9 140 Cf. 76 40 76 2, and T. Heath: pp. 53-54. 1 Cf. IV 9. 0 1 1 289 291 292 12 Platos choice o f designations for the faculties is somewhat vacillat ing, and he indicates that he considers the specific choice inessential (533 In 477 or in 508 is contrasted with In 511 is used for the highest o f the four elementary faculties, while in 534 is so used and is opposed to

E th em s u yd u E th em s u yd u E th em s u yd u

b e. d -e. b. -d d gra m , ia m a

A ristotles m y etaph Jh u a rb ch

d sclxw er eizerisch ph en ilosoph en G isch esellsch ft, a P aed a , M o a e. h o -b en P aed h o b -c. P aed h o c-d . P en es arm id b -c. P osterior A a n lytics M th a in A a em tics ristotle, H p sM ip ia ajor a, -d d , e.

n oesis d . oxa 13 R blic 509 d 511 e. epu 14 R blic 479 e, 509 d 534 a epu , . 15 R blic 534 a epu . 1 Cf., e.g., P aed 75 c-d 100 b 101 d 1 3b 104 b P rm id 129 6 h o , , 0 , a en es a 131 a . 17 R blic 511 e ("faculties and objects similarly related), 508 d (know epu ledge above opinion), 511 c (dialectic above mathematics), 509 d 510 a (belief above imagination), 511 d (reason above understanding above -e
belief above imagination). 1 This seems to be implied by 8

d -e). d . oxa

a epistem gn -b e osis, d n -e oesis a epistem -b e

dn s ou

R blic 510 a epu ,

where the object of

153 opinion is said to be related to the object o f reason as the imitation is related to that which it imitates. Cf. besides III 21. 19 509 510 40 532 533 c. 2 1 533 22 477 c 478 23 526 c 527 24 37 38 25 527 d 531 28 57 2 7 61 62 28 58 29 59 30 31 59 c. 32 342 33 343

R blic d epu ad , -e. R blic a epu R blic epu b -c. R blic epu d . R blic epu b . T a s e a im eu . R blic epu c. P ilebu c-d h s . P ilebu d b h s . P ilebu a h s . P ilebu a h s . Ibid em P ilebu h s S th L even etter b. -d S th L even etter a. -b

3 4

M ysics 1080 b 11-14. etaph M ph eta ysics 1076 a 16-19, cf. 991 b 27-31. M ysics 1076 a 19-23. etaph M ysics 1090 b 32-36. etaph M ph eta ysics 1080 a 30-33. 6 M etaph ysics 1080 a 22-23. M ysics 1081 a 19-21, cf. 5-7. etaph 8M etaph ysics 1080 b 19-20. 0 M ph eta ysics 1016 b 29-31. 10 M etaph ysics 1081 a 10-12, cf. 1002 b 12-25. 1 M 1 etaph ysics 1080 b 28-30. 12 M etaph ysics 1080 b 11-14. M ph eta ysics 1081 a 2-5, cf. 1082 a 26 6 1, b 23-32. M ysics 1083 a 31 35. etaph
5 7 13 14

16 Cf. V 25. 1 6 17 1 8

N ach E ics 1096 a 17-19, cf. M ysics 1019 a 1-4. icom ean th etaph M ysics 1080 a 30-35. etaph M ysics 1090 a35 b1. etaph

1 2 8 4

R blic 525 c 526 b epu . R u 523 a 525 a ep blic . P ilebu 56 c-e. h s P ysics 223 b 13-14. h

5 195 196 6. 6 197 7 198 8 199 6. 9 Arithmetical Ideas are, o f course, mentioned also in several other contexts, although there is no parallel to the elaborate discussion in the Cf. 302 103 105 510 524 525 a, 185 129 130 6, 245 262 895 10 96 97 6. 1 1 100 12 100 101 a. 13 101 1 Part o f the problem that Plato pretends to find in the generation o f 4 2 through the addition o f lo he himself resolves in 302 where he observes that 2 is predicated o f Socrates and Hippias collectively, not individually. It is an interesting fact that when the later sceptics looked fo r reasons to distrust arithmetic, they borrowed the arguments first put forward by Plato in the Cf. Sextus Empiricus: IV, 302-309

T eaetetu h s T eaetetu h s T eaetetu h s T eaetetu h s

e a -e. a. -d

P aed h o. Hp sM ip ia ajor a P aed -c, h o e c, R blic epu c, d T eaetetu h s a , P en es -d arm id b S h op ist a , S tesm n d L w -b ta a -e, a s d -e. P aed e h o P aed h o b -c. P aed h o e Pa o h ed b. -d a, -b 1 1 , H p s Mjor ip ia a

A oersu D aticos, d s ogm

P aed h o.