- Metaphysics and Method in Plato's Statesman
In his most recent book on Plato, Kenneth Sayre argues that the Statesman is, first and foremost, a dialogue on dialectical division, the aim of which is to produce better dialecticians (Statesman 285d5–7). The author guides the reader through a rigorous analysis of several dialectical instruments (collection, division, paradigm) deployed in Plato's late dialogues (part I, "Method"), before turning to a scrupulous examination of the Stranger's remarks concerning the two kinds of measurement by which length and brevity, and Excess and Deficiency in general, are to be determined (Statesman 283c3 ff.) (part II, "Metaphysics").
In what is often considered a digression, the Stranger divides the art of measurement into two parts: first, that in which Great and Small are compared to one another; second, that in which they are assessed relative to "due measure." Observing the infrequency of the expressions 'huperbolç kai elleipsis' and 'to mega kai to smikron' in the Platonic corpus, and the paucity of recent commentary on these expressions (140), Sayre provides evidence from ancient sources (Aristotle and the Greek commentators) that 'the Great and the Small' is, in fact, an equivalent expression for 'Excess and Deficiency' (149–53). According to his interpretation, both expressions refer to a general form of contrariety (143). This would shed light on Aristotle's references (in particular, in the Physics and the Metaphysics) to Plato's dual principle of Great and Small. Sayre also furnishes a catalogue of equivalent expressions (the Indefinite Dyad, the Unlimited, etc.) for the Great and the Small in Aristotle and his commentators (Appendix). It is no mere accident, Sayre convincingly argues, that the discussion of due measure—that standard between excess and deficiency on which all arts depend—occurs in the exact middle of the dialogue. Rather, the structure of the Statesman reflects one of its important themes: "the precise marking of beginning, middle, and end in the conversation of the Statesman symbolizes its central concern with Limit in the second kind of measurement" (183).
Sayre considers that the enigmatic reference to the part of measurement said to be "according to the being necessary for generation" (283d8–9)—the same part which is identified [End Page 168] in subsequent formulations with measurement relative to due measure—can be explained in light of the discussion in the Philebus of the factors involved in the coming into being of things, namely, the Unlimited, Limit, and the cause of their mixture (26d9–10) (177). Of these factors, Limit appears to be the one that corresponds to "the being necessary for generation" (177–78). Indeed, in the Philebus, Socrates identifies due measure as a limit on the unlimited comparatives, "more" and "less" (24c8). And as Sayre pertinently points out, "[w]ith regard to human action, a central form of Limit is that of due measure, which marks the difference between good and bad in that domain" (178) (see Statesman 283e).
Another fruitful suggestion concerns the reference to the need for an exhibition of exactness itself (Statesman 284d). This allusion seems to correspond to the discussion of accuracy in the arts in Philebus 55e–59c (146), in which dialectic is said to be the most exact art concerned with the truest knowledge. Dialectic is also associated with the philosophers in the Philebus, just as it was in Sophist 253e4–5 (84)—hence Sayre's conclusion that the veritable subject of the Statesman is not statesmanship but dialectic, or philosophy itself (84, n. 6). His treatment of division according to forms (ch. 11) is an important step in gaining access to the content of the philosophical activity. A key element of that treatment is a clarification of the Stranger's suggestion to "cut through the middle" in order to "hit upon forms" (Statesman 262b7): this kind of division is meant to yield sub-classes of the beings that can be described independently. Sayre provides a salient analysis of the difference between dividing the human race into Greeks and barbarians, as opposed to male and female (Statesman...