44The issue of Plato's meaning and intent with this language is the problem
at hand. Grube, in a footnote in his translation of the Republic,
writes: "Because of the ambiguity of the verb einai ('to be'), Socrates
could be asking any or all of the following questions: (1) 'Something
that exists or something that does not
exist?' (existential 'is'); (2) 'Something that is beautiful (say) or
something that is not beautiful?' (predicative 'is'); (3) 'Something
that is true or something that is not
true?' (veridical 'is'). This ambiguity is the source of our difficulties."
itself is a controversial matter. Vlastos thinks, along with G.E.L. Owen
and against John Ackrill and others, that "the method of analysis by paraphrase in the Sophist which
isolated perfectly the 'is' of identity from its other uses was not pushed far enough to
sort out in the same way the 'is' of existence from that of predication." (Vlastos
"Metaphysical Paradox," 47.) Unfortunately, the space required for a sufficient
treatment of this controversy, and the implications following from it, would far exceed
the scope of this paper. Bringing in a discussion of the Sophist, and its treatment
of the Forms of "being" and "non-being," while certainly
relevant to Republic
Bk. V, would basically involve a comprehensive assessment of Plato's ontology, which,
needless to say, is far to ambitious for the current exposition.
puts forth Politicus 293e as showing this.
47Vlastos, "Metaphysical Paradox" 47.
48Vlastos, "Metaphysical Paradox" 48. This is the exact same conclusion reached by Owen in
"Aristotle on the Snares of Ontology," 71: "he treats 'to be' and 'not to
be' alike as incomplete or elliptical expressions which always call for some completion:
to be is just to be something or other." The problem is, as we will see, that
Plato does not 'complete' this expression in 478e. We can hardly
infer the premise of predication only by appeal to his non-use of a predicate.
478c, 478d, 478e. Grube's translation.
50Vlastos justifies this expansion by referring
to 479c 3-4 in conjunction with 479b 9-10. These further complications
will not be dealt with here, except to say that we can still generate
ontological problems. Cf. 478e: "what participates in both being
and not being." It would be difficult to see in what way
this could be rendered with a predicate that avoids ontological difficulty,
since the noun 'being' can hardly be said to have the multiplicity
of use that 'real' has. Vlastos also indicates that when Plato is using "to
be" in an existential sense he supplements it with locatives like
somewhere, or nowhere. Since he does not do this in the degrees of
reality theory, Vlastos might argue that this further indicates the
predicative use of "to be." There are complications however. One
could argue that locatives would be pointless in this context, since
general issues of being are addressed, not instances of particular existence like
the examples Vlastos gives us.
Sophist is particularly relevant to these speculative questions,
since it is there that Plato
explicitly considers the Forms of "being" and "not-being," which,
it may be argued, is directly applicable to the three formulations Plato
offers us in Republic V: "is," "is and is not," and "is not." If Plato accepts
Forms of "being" and "non-being," as is indicated in the Sophist, then
this poses difficulties for the predicative position, since then the hypothesis that these
formulations are merely ellipses for predicative expression would not seem to be as
accurate as saying that Plato is setting up a serial gradation of distinct ontological
categories. Again, Plato often uses the expression "participate" to
refer to the relation of sensibles and Forms-or, in Aristotle's words,
the relation of
particulars and universals.
this, and taken together with R. 478e ("what participates in being and not-being"), it can be
argued, contra the predicative position, that Plato is setting two distinct ontological
classes (in short, two different Forms) in opposition, and not merely alluding to a
hypothetical predicate F. In short, the existential interpretation, for all its
apparent inconsistency, in the end, seems to be most in keeping with Plato's radical union
of metaphysics and epistemology, wherein the degree to which something may be known, is
directly related to its measure of "reality," and, vice-versa,
the degree of reality of an object necessarily dictates the extent to
which someone may have knowledge
of that object, and ultimately defines the state of mind one adopts with
respect to it (knowledge, opinion, or ignorance).
Timeas 52a. The citation, and Vlastos' use of it, is not contradicted here.
53Vlastos, "Metaphysical Paradox" 49.
same might be said of a thing's spatial location. It would
be difficult to claim that a thing's spatial location has determinative
bearing on its existence, while it is far easier to claim that
time has bearing on a thing's existence. But the spatial
dimension can be incorporated if it is merely for descriptive purposes,
just as time, one could argue, may be mere description. In
any event, temporality will be the focus of the analysis.