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Some Problems about Being and Predication in Plato's Sophist 242-249 WILLIAM BONDESON ONE OF THE CENTRALTASKSwhich Plato sets for himself in the Sophist is to say what being (~ 5v) is. In doing this he makes a variety of philosophical moves. The first is to show that non-being in a very restricted sense of the term (T6 g~qSag~g ~v) is an impossible and self-contradictory concept.1 This occupies the first part (237A ft.) of the central section of the Sophist. After discussing some puzzles concerning deceptive appearances (240 B) and falsehoods (240 D), Plato turns to a discussion of being at 242B. In this section of the dialogue Plato claims to show that the attempts of previous philosophers to define being have failed and he makes his own first attempt in the dialogue to define being (cf. 242C and 247E). 2 In this paper I am concerned only with this section of the Sophist (242-249), and I want to show first that Plato's notion of being here is ambiguous, the term x6 5v shifting between "being" and "what has being," between the form and those things which participate in it. Second, I want to show that the definitions of being at 248C and 249D are not only compatible with one another but also that, when properly understood , they make sense of Plato's use of motion and rest in the Sophist. And finally, I want to show that Plato is caught in the snares of self-predication when he talks about being and other Forms of the same ontological level. This is due to the way in which he formulates the difference between statements of identity and predication in the argument against Parmenides in this section of the Sophist. Plato begins his discussion of being in the Sophist in a quasi-historical way by dealing with his predecessors' attempts to characterize it. The statement at 242C4-6 serves as an outline of the arguments which follow: Parmenides and the other philosophers have attempted to determine the number (~ttoa) and character (~o{a) of the things which are called T& 5wa. Those who have tried to determine the "number" of T& 5wct are the monists and pluralists in 243A-245E; those who have tried to determine their "character " are the materialists and "idealists" in 246A-249D. Plato appears to be arguing that 1 Cf. my "Non-being and the One: Some Connections between Plato's Sophist and Parmenides ," forthcoming in Apeiron. My view is somewhat different from that of G. E. L. Owen's "Plato on Not-Being" in Plato,A Collectionof CriticalEssays, ed. G. Vlastos (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1971), vol. I. 2 Cf. Owen, ibid. p. 229, n. 14. Owen presents a convincing case that Plato is giving a definition (as opposed to a mark or sign) of being. However, Owen also seems to take the view, for example against Moravcsik in Being and Meaning in the Sophist (Acta Philosophica Fennica, XIV [1962]), that little of philosophical significance happens in 242-249. I hope to show in this paper that this is not the case. [1] 2 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY defining or characterizing x&?Jvx&is the same as stating what entites are the proper subjects of discourse. In another way such a characterization is an attempt to determine what things can be said to be. This amounts to a definition of being itself. It seems to be at least part of the purpose of the following arguments to separate out not only the various senses of "is" (in the limited way in which Plato does this), but also to shed some light on the distinction between being (x6 ~v) and things which have being (z& ?Jr-ca). That this latter distinction is not yet made is shown from the double way in which the basic question in this section is raised; i.e., to ask what the number and character of r& ~wa are is not distinguished from asking what the term xb ?Jrsignifies. For the present, a conceptual terminology will serve to state the problem: Plato views his predecessors' work as attempts to define being in terms of a particular concept or set of concepts. Thus the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 1-10
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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