intermediate existence or some kind of "half" reality. Also, to speak of something being "really real" seems completely redundant. If something is real, it seems as though that is the end of the matterdoubling the predicate would be pointless.
It seems as though one of two things is happening. Either we are completely confused about what Plato could be saying in these instances, and must seek another explanation for the apparent inconsistency of Plato's language, or Plato's thinking is incoherent and misguided in Republic Bk. V, 476a-478e. If we tend towards the former, which we will do, we must then try to see how the apparent incoherence of the degrees of reality theory can be explained away.
Given our brief analysis of the existential and predicative use of "to be," one answer should suggest itself immediately. Our initial naïve reactions43 to Plato's degrees of reality theory were not based on the use of einai that Plato was in fact intending.44 That is, an existential interpretation of einai in this context is not appropriate to Plato's expression. So when Plato says something is "more" real than something else, we would be wrong in thinking that he means it exists more. This recalls our previous discussion of the Greek and English constructions of "to be." Where Greek can form all necessary constructions from the one root einai, English may also use "exists," since the predicate "real" has multiple meaningsit can denote existence or express the correspondence of a particular to a definition or set. Thus, "real" can be used in an ontological sense or a qualitative sense. Given the paradoxical and seemingly contradictory way in which Plato uses "is" in Republic Bk. V, it seems more likely that Plato is using "is" in the predicative, qualitative sense. Take, for example, "that which is and is not." Do we really take Plato to mean that something may exist and not exist at the same time? Certainly the language might indicate this possibility, since that is indeed what Plato says: "is and is not." But surely there is no more perfect example of a logical contradiction than this. Is it likely that this slipped Plato's mind? Or, is Plato advancing a radical ontology that permits such a state of contradictory being? The issue is simple actually: Is Plato's use of "is real" synonymous with "exists"? Some commentators say yes; some say no. Vlastos, for his part, says that there is no good reason for assuming that Plato's use of "is real" and "exists" are synonymous. Just because Plato did not make a formal distinction between the two45 does not in turn imply that he did not distinguish them and that we can then replace "is real" with "exists" in any context. So, if we can specifically identify places in which Plato does distinguish between "is real" and "exists"and Vlastos claims that we canwe should buy Vlastos' argument
that we would not be justified in universally substituting "exists" for "is real."
Unfortunately, things are not this simple. There are philosophical arguments against the predicative position as well. Vlastos, by means of a couple of clear examples, shows that Plato, in certain instances, observed the distinction between "is real" and "exists,"46 and that, therefore, we are not justified in assuming that "is real" and "exists" are synonymous. But it is not necessary to agree with Vlastos when he says that this is the "only question"47 with regards to this issue. Showing that Plato sometimes observed the distinction between the existential and predicative use of "to be" does not, even given our considerations against the existential interpretation, conclusively demonstrate that the predicative meaning of einai is being used in the degrees of reality theory. Two basic problems can be generated: a linguistic and an ontological one.
First the linguistic difficulties. Here is Vlastos' concise thesis regarding the degrees of reality:
The thesis that sensibles "are and are not"which, on first hearing, sounds ominously as though it meant "exist and do not exist"turns out, the moment Plato starts arguing for it, to be an ellipsis for "are and are not F..."48
Vlastos argues that Plato is using einai in the predicative sense. We have already considered the reasons why he thinks this. But there are still difficulties when it comes to determining whether or not Plato actually means einai in the predicative sense since, and this is critical, he does not actually use a predicate here. Plato does not say that something is or is not F; he simply says "what is and what is not."49 The predicate form "X is F," is not observed herethere is no F to speak of.50 R.E. Allen makes this same observation: "We have a theory of predication without predicates."51 How can we readily suppose that in Bk. V Plato intends a predicative usage when he does not explicitly use it? We might assume that, given the context of the argument and Plato's previous use of the predicates beautiful, just, and pious, this is what Plato really means. We can then interject any predicate F and derive the thesis that Plato's degrees are ones of quality, such that expressions like "more real" and other related comparatives serve to categorize and qualify a thing's existence, not to assert its greater or lesser existence. But it seems we cannot do this without taking liberties with the text as it reads, since the text itself is ambiguousthe existential and predicative readings are interpretations. Vlastos maintains that existence is not the issue for Plato, but, rather, the categorization of those things