Category Archives: Contradiction

I call it the Law of Contradiction, though it may be called other things, such as the principle or axiom of non-contradiction. Socrates uses it to analyze the soul, and I wrote my senior essay at St John’s College on what Aristotle has to say about it

On Plato’s Republic, 14

Index to this series

In the tenth and final book of Plato’s Republic (Stephanus 595–621), with the help of Glaucon, Socrates does three things:

  1. Confirm and strengthen the ban on imitative poetry carried out in Book III.
  2. Prove the immortality of the soul.
  3. Tell the Myth of Er about how best to make use of that immortality.


Bernard Picart
Glaucus Turned into a Sea-God, 1731
“Just as those who catch sight of the sea Glaucus would no longer easily see his original nature because some of the old parts of his body have been broken off and the others have been ground down and thoroughly maimed by the waves at the same time as other things have grown on him – shells, seaweed, and rocks – so that he resembles any beast rather than what he was by nature, so, too, we see the soul in such a condition because of countless evils” – Republic 611d

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On Plato’s Republic, 7

Index to this series

We shall define the philosophers, the lovers of knowledge or wisdom, as

τοὺς αὐτὸ ἄρα ἕκαστον τὸ ὂν ἀσπαζομένους,

those-who itself therefore each that-which is delight-in.

This is at Stephanus 480a, at the end of our seventh reading in Plato’s Republic. The reading constitutes, of Book V, the latter part, beginning at 472a.

The meaning of Socrates’s definition of the philosopher is not obvious. Here are five translations; take your pick.

Jowett (3rd edition 1892):
“those who love the truth in each thing.”
Shorey (revised edition 1937):
“those who in each and every kind welcome the true being.”
Cornford (1941):
“those whose affections are set, in every case, on the reality.”
Bloom (2nd edition 1991):
“those who delight in each thing that is itself.”
Waterfield (1993):
“those who are devoted to everything that is real.”

The point is not to find a formula in English, but to understand the meaning that Socrates happens to express in Greek. Socrates offers the definition of the philosopher in the form of a question. Are these the folks that should be called philosophers?

Glaucon agrees that they are, and that they are to be distinguished from the lovers of opinion, or perhaps of reputation. These are the “philodoxers” or “doxophilists,” who may love beautiful sights and sounds,

αὐτὸ δὲ τὸ καλὸν οὐδ᾽ ἀνέχεσθαι ὥς τι ὄν,

itself but the beautiful not bear as something that-is.

This is actually a bit less obscure than the account of the philosopher; here is what the same translators as above do with it.

Jowett
“but would not tolerate the existence of absolute beauty.”
Shorey
“but they could not endure the notion of the reality of the beautiful itself.”
Cornford
“but would not hear of beauty itself being a real thing.”
Bloom
“but can’t even endure the fact that the fair itself is something?”
Waterfield
“but can’t abide the idea that there is such a thing as beauty itself.”

We shall get here after the question of Socrates at 476c, here just with Bloom’s translation:

σκόπει δέ. τὸ ὀνειρώττειν ἆρα οὐ τόδε ἐστίν, ἐάντε ἐν ὕπνῳ τις ἐάντ᾽ ἐγρηγορὼς τὸ ὅμοιόν τῳ μὴ ὅμοιον ἀλλ᾽ αὐτὸ ἡγῆται εἶναι ᾧ ἔοικεν;

Consider it. Doesn’t dreaming, whether one is asleep or awake, consist in believing a likeness of something to be not a likeness, but rather the thing itself to which it is like?

We shall get here because, in the former part of Book V, Socrates told of

  • the service of women with men among the guardians and
  • their being mated with men, and kept ignorant of their children, in a eugenics program run by the rulers.

These two proposals, or laws, were likened to waves, and now we are seeing the third wave, which is the coincidence of political power and philosophy in the city. This needs an explanation of what the philosopher is anyway.

Five dogs at the edge of the sea
Aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 20, 2021

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On Plato’s Republic, 6

Index to this series

Book V of Plato’s Republic features three of what Socrates calls waves or breakers:

  1. That women serve alongside men as guardians.
  2. That women be bred with men like animals and not know their children.
  3. That philosophers rule as kings, or kings become philosophers.

Such outlandish injunctions will have Socrates swept away, though he does not say by whom or what.

Our sixth scheduled reading covers the first two of the three waves, in Stephanus pages 449a–71e. Socrates is induced to spell out details adumbrated in the last reading, Book IV, concerning the sharing of women and children among the guardians.

For dogs at the edge of the sea, or in it
Wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 20, 2021

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On Plato’s Republic, 5

Index to this series

Our fifth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book IV (Stephanus pages 419–45). Socrates speaks

  • with Adeimantus, through the completion of the construction of the city in speech;
  • with Glaucon, after he insists (427d) that Socrates join in the search for justice in the city; they find it and map it back to the individual.

Three dogs sit in the shade of a beach umbrella
Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

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Politics

Index to this series

This is mostly about avoiding things. An early theme of Plato’s Republic is avoiding the deprivations of solitary life through politics. Some of us would rather just avoid politics. Such persons include Henry David Thoreau, Gilbert Ryle, and the inventor of the h-index (he is a physicist called Jorge E. Hirsch, but I know nothing else about him). I mentioned these persons in my last Plato post, “Badiou, Bloom, Ryle, Shorey.” I have some more to say about them here. In “Civil Disobedience” (1848), for example, Thoreau writes, “it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel”; but measures like the h-index are used to hide the human factor in the equations used to judge us.

Lone man walks by sea with mountains beyond and under a cloudy sky
All photos are from Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 21–3, 2021

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Uniformity

For certain reasons, this is something of a follow-up to an earlier article, Interconnectness, in which I quoted myself from December of 1987 as saying,

I came to think that if one understood the law of contradiction, there would be nothing left to understand.

I am going to quote now the person I quote the most, Collingwood, from the fourth paragraph from the end of Religion and Philosophy:

Uniformity, in a word, is relative to our needs; and to suggest that a game of cricket, for instance, would be impossible if we supposed that the ball might suddenly decide to fly to the moon, is no less and no more sensible than to suggest that it is impossible because the bowler might put it in his pocket and walk off the field. We know that the friend we trust is abstractly capable, if he wished, of betraying us, but that does not prevent our trusting him. It may be that our faith in the uniformity of matter is less removed from such a trust than we sometimes imagine. Whether we describe it as faith in matter or faith in God makes, after all we have said, little difference.

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Interconnectedness

Note added January 13, 2019. This essay concerns a letter I once wrote about

  • teaching;

  • the infinitely large and small, as contemplated by Pascal in that one of the Pensées headed Disproportion de l’homme;

  • Zen Buddhism.

Since the ideas of Collingwood often dominate this blog, one may ask why they influence me. My old letter provides some evidence, since I wrote it before I had read anything by Collingwood but The Principles of Art.

The present essay has the first of this blog’s several mentions of the slogan

verba volant scripta manent,

which may not mean what we tend to think today.

The indicated pensée happens to allude to the definition of God as

une sphère infinie dont le centre est partout, la circonférence nulle part;

I have taken up this definition not here, but in later posts, apparently without recollection of its use by Pascal.


When do our thoughts progress, and when do they only confirm what we have always thought?

In December of 1987, I was between college and graduate school. I was living with my mother in Virginia, doing some tutoring at my old high school, waiting for inspiration about what to do next. Inspiration did come in the course of the following year, when I was working at an organic farm in West Virginia. I was going to apply to graduate schools in mathematics or philosophy (earlier I had considered also physics); then, in a dream, I understood that I had to do mathematics.

Meanwhile, among other things, I exchanged letters with college classmates. I am going to quote and examine a letter written by me whose precise date is 13 December 1987. I am able to transcribe my handwritten words, because I kept a photocopy of them. The photocopy sat in a folder in my mother’s house, in my old room in the attic, for more than twenty-six years. Now that I read again what I wrote, I find ideas such as I have found (and agreed with) more recently in Collingwood, especially in his early books Religion and Philosophy (1916) and Speculum Mentis (1924).

books

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Logic (notes on the finger-wagging Cratylus)

The senior essay that I wrote at St John’s College was called something like ‘An account based in Aristotle of the Law of Contradiction’. I do not know now what the point was. I had read the Metaphysics in a preceptorial, so I decided to spend even more time with this book in writing my essay. I remember noting ultimately that humans could indeed be self-contradictory. Hector was an example. To Andromache he described two incompatible expectations: that their son would win renown, and that the boy would die as an infant when the Greeks took Troy. Continue reading