(Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 341) Gabriele Cornelli - Plato’s Styles and Characters Between Literature and Philosophy-Walter de Gruyter (2016)
part of the argument Plato resorts to the factum of language again. The Monists
say there is nothing else except one. However, the mere proposition ‘one alone is’
cannot be uttered without admitting the existence of two names. Plato alleges
that this would imply that the only thing existing is complex, it consists of
that ‘one’ thing and its existence, i.e., it is not really one. We should notice
that names are not understood here as mere conventions, in which case, the
Monist would not be prevented from accepting them. Parmenides, as we
On the impossibility of thinking of or speaking of something “apart from number” see
Sph. 238b6–8. In Tht. 185c4-d1, unity and numbers in general (as well as being, not being, like-
ness and unlikeness, sameness and difference, and so on) are included among the common
terms (koiná) that apply to everything.
Pl., Sophist: translated by Cornford (1935).
For Cornford (1935, p. 208), in Sph. 237b-239c “Plato is not criticising, but confirming” Par-
menides’ doctrine about not-being (p. 203). The conclusion that the very words ’the non-exis-
tent’ (absolute nonentity) cannot be uttered at all without self-contradiction “is not urged
against Parmenides, and could not be urged without descending to captiousness. In all this sec-
tion on ’the totally non-existent’ Plato is rather confirming Parmenides and accepting his warn-
Argumentative Strategies in Theaetetus and Sophist
know, admitted their existence and that mortals used them in order to express
something that was nothing else than an opinion. But names are viewed here
as an expression of what things really are. That there exist two names, as Crom-
bie (1963, p. 393) explains, must mean something like “that there exist grounds
necessitating the use of two non-synonymous words”, or “that the one substance
contains two aspects”. Furthermore, the Monists cannot even admit the existence
of a name. If the name is the same as the thing, it will not be able to name it, and
if it is different from it, it will be in fact affirming the existence of two things.
Consequently, the Monists are limited to silence or to a mere verbalism (Guariglia
1970, p. 75). As soon as they try to communicate their thesis, they deny there is
only one thing. Once more the Platonic argument shows that a philosopher’s the-
sis can be intrinsically incoherent. Plato focuses on the inconsistency between
the content of what is said and the speech itself, between the thesis that is com-
municated and the language that expresses it. Such a thesis falls apart and,
somehow, the effort made to refute it becomes unnecessary. This is clearly em-
phasized in the next passage of the Sophist that I have selected.
2.3. Sph. 252c6–9 occurs in a context where Plato discusses several alternatives
with regard to the possibility and the extent of combination. The first one is that
“nothing has any capacity for combination with anything else for any purpose”
(Sph. 251e9). Against this view Plato argues that if no combination was possible,
then (i) there would be nothing, as nothing would participate in Being, and (ii)
those who said that e.g. ‘Motion is’ would be saying nothing (légoien àn oudén,
Sph. 252b5).¹⁶ The truth of the separatist thesis would then carry out the ruin of
philosophy, depriving of sense everything that was said by the ancient philoso-
phers reflecting upon Being. In fact, in Sph. 259d9–e2, “the attempt to separate
everything from every other thing” will be described as non philosophical (aphi-
losóphou). Even more, the greatest absurdity involved in the separatist thesis af-
fects those who try to defend it. In fact, (iii) those who say that no combination is
possible, according to Plato, refute themselves in propounding their thesis, be-
in referring to anything they cannot help using the words ‘being’ and ‘apart’ and ‘from the
others’, and ‘by itself’ and any number more. They cannot refrain from these expressions or
from connecting them in their statements, and so need not wait for others to refute them;
Taken literally this means that those who say that Motion is would not make a statement.
But ’say nothing’ can also be understood to mean ’say what is false’. Heinaman (1983, p. 177)
poses the question of what the combination or communion, i.e. the communion of Forms, ex-
plains. It is unclear whether it accounts for the meaningfulness or the truth of statements.
Graciela E. Marcos de Pinotti
the foe is in their own household, as the saying goes, and, like that queer fellow Eurycles,
they carry about with them wherever they go a voice in their own bellies to contradict them
The difficulty evokes the aporia to which the attempt to deny what is not any-
thing at all led us. Just as we could not say it was unthinkable or unsayable be-
cause when doing so we were contradicting ourselves, those who do not admit
any kind of combination cannot express this without refuting themselves, either.
They say that there is no blending, that nothing combines with anything. But if it
actually were so, Plato argues, that nothing combines with anything could not
even be uttered. The sole propounding of this thesis demands the combination
of terms in statements (synáptein en toîs lógois, Sph. 252c5), showing that
some kind of combination is possible.
Once more, the position with which Plato is confronted is condemned to ir-
reparable falseness and his supporters, to silence. The separatist denial of all
blending –as well as the Parmenidean denial of not being, the Monist denial
of multiplicity, and, in general, any position that tries to deny something abso-
lutely– appear as untenable. Whoever supports such a position is forced to re-
main quiet or, if he decides to speak, to contradict himself, because of implicitly
accepting that the thing which, he says, is not anything at all, in a sense is. Plato
can see that no absolute denial can thrive in the field of language, in which it
becomes inconsistent since everything about which we can utter words, even
if we did so to deny it, somehow is (pós eînai). It is possible to deny that some-
thing is so that this denial makes sense and, even more, so that it is true. But we
need to lessen the strength of ‘no’ and admit that when saying that something is
not, we, in fact, say so because it is not obvious that it is not. We do not refer to
what is not in any sense or in any way whatsoever, absolutely and undeniably, in
which case denying it would be unnecessary, but to something about which
there is no lack of reasons in favour of it being, even if we say it is not.
Prm. 160b5–163b6, within the framework of the discussion of the hypothesis
“if unity is not”, is especially clear in this sense. There Plato argues that unity, if
it is not, “must have a share of being in a way” (161e).¹⁷ Since we claim to speak
truly, i.e., to say things which are, “it seems that unity is, if it is not” (162a);
“unity, since it is not, must share in being in order not to be” (162b). We must
provide it with some kind of being and also with the difference with respect
to the other things. Otherwise, saying “unity is not” would not differ from saying
something completely opposite, ‘not unity is not’, or that any other thing is not
Pl., Parmenides: translated by Allen (1983).
Argumentative Strategies in Theaetetus and Sophist
(“largeness is not”, “smallness is not”) (Parm. 160b6–c5). So, although we add
not being to the unity –or rather, just because we add not being to the unity, ex-
pressing that the unity, not any other thing, is not– we are inevitably determin-
ing it. When calling it “unity” we silently and implicitly acknowledge that it dif-
fers from the other things and that these, in turn, differ from it. When ascribing
the difference to it, we ascribe the necessary reality to deny it and not any other
thing. In contrast with the unity that (we say) is not of Prm. 160b5 ss. and in gen-
eral, in contrast with all that of which we can think or say it is, so that what is
thought or what is said makes sense, the absolute not being giving birth to the
aporia of Sph. 237b7–239c3, as well as the multiplicity which the Monist denies,
or the combination that the separatists claim impossible, cannot be denied con-
sistently. The way in which our language is structured prevents that.
In this sense, as we can see, even if the examples of Theaetetus and Sophist
examined here respond to quite a similar refutation strategy, focused on the con-
tradiction between what the opponent says and what is implied in the speech
itself, there are differences between them. The peculiarity of the arguments in So-
phist is that they aim at positions which are explicit and absolute negations,
while, in the arguments offered in Theaetetus, the denial is just implicit.¹⁸ Yet
the target of Plato’s criticism is the same. In all the cases, he tries to show
that the use of language commits us to admitting that all that about which we
speak, even if we do so in order to deny it, is in a sense, and it has certain de-
terminations without which it could not become an object of discourse. We are
also committed to admitting that not everything that we say is similarly true.
Plato believes that no speaker can avoid these commitments that language im-
poses on him. Consequently, as soon as he asserts a thesis whose content is in-
compatible with any of the premises without which nothing could be said, he
gets caught in a contradiction.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize once more that the resource to the
conditions of possibility of language rather than to the thesis of the existence
of the Forms is not a defect of the argumentative strategy displayed in the pas-
sages of Theaetetus and Sophist analyzed here. On the contrary, such resource
gives rise to a special type of argument that tries to persuade every language
user and not only those who defend the Forms. Despite this, Plato’s reader
will inevitably find veiled references to these realities in almost all of them.
When affirming that everything is in flux, the Heraclitean thesis denies any form of perma-
nency, while Protagoras’ thesis about every opinion being true denies falseness.
Graciela E. Marcos de Pinotti
Allen, R E, 1983, Plato’s Parmenides. Translation and Analysis, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Boeri, M, 2006, Platón, Teeteto. Introducción, traducción y notas, Buenos Aires, Losada.
Cabrera, I, 2007, ‘Argumentos trascendentales o cómo no perderse en un laberinto de
modalidades’, in I. Cabrera, I. (comp.), Argumentos trascendentales, México, UNAM,
Cornford, F M, 1935, Plato’s Theory of Knowledge. The Theaetetus and the Sophist, Londres,
Crombie, I, 1963, An Examination of Plato’s Docrines, vol. II, London, Routledge & Kegan
Guariglia, O, 1970, ‘Platón, Sofista 244b–245e. La refutación de la tesis eleática’, Diálogos
vol. 7, nº 19, pp. 73–82.
Heinaman, R, 1983, ‘Communion of Forms’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 82,
Liddell, H. G. and Scott, R. Revised and augmented throughout by Jones, H. S. (LSJ), 1996, A
Greek-English Lexicon.With a revised supplement, Oxford, Clarendon.
McDowell, J, 1973, Plato, Theaetetus. Translated with Notes. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Malcolm, J, 1967, ‘Plato’s Analysis of to on and to me on in the Sophist, Phronesis, 12, pp.
Marcos de Pinotti, G E, 2006, ‘En defensa de Platón. Notas al argumento de auto-refutación
de Protágoras (Teet. 171a–c)’, in M. C. Di Gregori & M. A. Di Berardino (comps),
Conocimiento, realidad y relativismo, México, UNAM, pp. 209–227.
Narcy, M, 1994, Platon, Théétète. Trad., introduction et notes, Paris, G-F Flammarion.
Robinson, R, 1950, ‘Forms and Error in Plato’s Theaetetus’, The Philosophical Review vol.49,
nº 1, pp. 3–30.
Sedley, D, 2003, ‘The Collapse of Language? Theaetetus 179c-183c’, Plato 3 (on line),
pp. 1–11. The Internet Journal of the International Plato Society. URL: http://gramata.
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Ancienne vol. 8, nº 1, pp. 97–118.
Argumentative Strategies in Theaetetus and Sophist
José Trindade Santos
“Reading Plato’s Sophist”
Plato’s Sophist explores a cluster of philosophical interconnected problems,
namely those of truth/falsity and being/not-being. Highlighting some key pas-
sages in Plato’s dialogues in which these problems are approached I come to
the Sophist where they are brought together and solved.
1. The elenctic dialogues
In the elenctic dialogues Socrates uses the elenchos to test the consistency of any
given answer to the “What is X” question he presents his interlocutor with. This
strategy relies on the strong presupposition that infallible epistêmê is granted to
anyone who successfully manages to survive the test of stating what anything is
with a logos¹.
Contrary to some well-established positions on the subject,² I think this
methodological procedure dispenses with a proper theory of truth. Such a con-
ception of dialectics should be understood in an agonistic context, in which,
through question and answer, any candidate comes to be or not to be recognized
as a sophos³.
2. The dialogues on the Theory of Forms
Quite differently, when the method of question and answer is used in a cooper-
ative search for epistêmê the focus no longer lies on the logoi offered by the par-
ticipants in the ongoing search, but on the object of the enquiry.
Epistêmê should be understood as the cognitive state in which one “in the strict sense knows”
something (Aristotle DA B5,417a28–30); or knows “in itself that which is cognizable and true”
(Plato VII Letter 342b1). This perspective dispenses with the alternative between “objective and
subjective knowledge” (Chr. Gill 1996, 284–286), for while our “knowledge” can only be un-
derstood as a dual process, epistêmê is a cognitive state of the soul.
G. Vlastos 1994.
As Ch. Gill (1996, 290) suggests “Socrates” reacts to an incompatibility in his opponents’ po-
sitions by refuting them.
The Phaedo (72e–76e; 100a–103c) and the Republic (VII 523a–525) take pains
to explain how, guided by the hypothesis of Forms and in association with
anamnêsis, epistêmê may be attained. Two different epistemic objects and not
one, according to the cognitive competences involved (R. V 477c–d), should be
considered. One, grasped by intelligence, is the Form or Forms relative to the