edge and 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

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Robert Elkins - Degrees of Reality in the Republic [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]