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."
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
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