opinion are different faculties, their respective objects must also be different.26
The problem is, if there are objects of opinion, then how can they both "be and
not be?" But by this point Plato has already decided that there are
objects of opinion. Note: the person who "believes in beautiful things, but doesn't
believe in the beautiful itself...opines."27 He establishes first
that the objects of sensation≠"sensibles"≠are objects of opinion, and then,
that opinion is "set over" that which is and is not, and finally, by the first
two assumptions that sensibles both are and are not.28 Plato's
hypothetical stance, evidenced by "if anything is such as to be and not to
be,"29 "if something could be shown, as it were, to be and not
to be at the same time,"30 "if there is such a thing...as
participates in both being and not being,"31 is, by the time it occurs in
the argument, purely rhetorical, since he has already established one and two (and
therefore three) by this time.32 So it seems we must try to understand what
Plato means by the assertion of grades of "semi-reality." Sensible things
in the world are "endowed with an ambiguous half-reality."33
How are we to understand this?
Einai: Existence Versus Prediction
Vlastos enumerates some linguistic points
about einai.34 The gist of his analysis is that English must
utilize two unrelated etymological groups to express the four forms≠verb, participle,
noun, and adverb≠that einai does. This is not a problem in itself, unless we
lose sight of the fact that "'real' and 'really' are simply the adjectival and
nominal forms of 'to be,' and that 'is' in turn represents the verbal form of 'real' and
'really'."35 This has practical import for understanding what Plato
means by "real" and "reality" in the passages noted. In English we
might tend to forget that the adjective "real" and the noun "reality"
are merely different forms of "to be." We cannot say "isness" or
"beingness," just as we cannot use "real" as a verb. We must use
"reality" or "existence" to get an existential noun form. This
makes for ambiguous constructs of "to be," wherein what is being said is not
entirely clear. The verb "to be," in its various uses, poses formidable
problems of interpretation. Aristotle was aware of the difficulties attendant to the
"arch-deceiver" einai and warned against hasty
"oversimplifications."36 Aristotle observed that einai
has many different senses and uses. Translations have not made things easier in this
area. Aristotle sometimes substitutes the infinitive einai in the "to be"
formula with "to on," which in the singular is translated "being," in
the plural "things that are" or "existing things."37
Keeping in mind Aristotle's disclaimer, perhaps we can better understand Plato's
meaning of "real" and "reality."
What then does
one mean by something being "real" or "not real"? We can divide
this use of "real" into two general headings: its "existential"
use and its "predicative" use.38 A
couple of traditional examples illustrate this.
1. Unicorns are not real.39
2. These flowers are not real.40
In 1, "real" is used
existentially to denote "that which exists." In our example, this happens
to be negative. Unicorns are not real means that nothing exists such that it
has the properties of a unicorn. In contrast to the real (those things which exist),
they are said to be imaginary or fictitious.
But this existential sense of "real" is clearly not the use of "real"
in 2. Here the existence of the "flowers" is not at issue. Rather,
"not real" signifies that these particular "flowers" are not
genuine, which is to say that they do not have those necessary properties that things
must have in order to be real, genuine flowers. These "flowers"
may have some of the properties of a flower, but not its essential ones.
"Real" then describes a thing's correspondence with its definition, i.e.
"real" means that a thing
[H]as those attributes in virtue of which
sentences applying [certain] predicates to [it] are true and would be found to be true if
put to the test.41
The word, or name "flowers,"
denotes a set of objects with certain essential qualities definitive of that set.
Thus, to call something "real" in this context is to say that those
essential qualities that are true of a set of objects denoted by a name X, are also true
of the particular object in question, in this case the "flowers." This
usage is common and not likely to be misconstrued in everyday contexts. As Vlastos
indicates, this "non-existential use" of real "has always been in common
use and is recognized as such in the Oxford English Dictionary":
[T]hat which is actually and truly such as
its name implies; possessing the essential qualities denoted by its name; hence genuine.42
We can now return to the degrees of reality
model. What does Plato mean by such things as "more real," "that
which is and is not," "less real," "really real"? For the
moment, let us approach this naÔvely. On the face of it, these expressions seem obviously
strange. How can something be more or less real? Are we not faced with a true
dilemma when it comes to something being real? Does not common sense dictate that
something either is or is not real? It seems there is no room for