Plato’s Parmenides: Forms, One, and Many

14 Oct

The forms being one of the biggest parts of Plato’s philosophy were largely introduced in the Parmenides dialogue between Socrates, Zeno, and old Parmenides. These forms are important metaphysical definitions to proceeding philosophy beyond Plato, and understanding what the forms mean and why Plato presents them is necessary. In Zeno’s book he states that things are not many, and Socrates introduces the forms in addressing Zeno where he ultimately uses the forms to state that things are both one and many.  Thinking about Parmenides’ sail analogy and Socrates’ day analogy of the forms, along with other arguments about the forms is the best way to understand them and the characteristics they have between each specific one. Plato’s definition of the forms allows the things of the world (beyond just forms) to be conceived as one and many simultaneously.

The discussion began in the Parmenides dialogue between Socrates and Zeno, with Parmenides present, concerning Zeno’s book. Socrates brings up during the reading of Zeno’s book about the one or many. Zeno states that if the existent things are many, those things are both like one another and unlike one another at the same time, and that the many things being like and unlike one another makes the possibility of things being many an impossibility (127e).  Specifically, Socrates discusses Zeno’s statement about the many, like, and unlike, by saying: “If it’s impossible for unlike things to be like and like things unlike isn’t it then impossible for them to be many?” (127e). In this explanation it is understandable that the many is impossible because of how like things cannot be unlike and vice versa. Zeno’s book states this because he wants to defend Parmenides’ monism. Socrates begins to think that Zeno wrote this to rip off Parmenides’ monism to make himself look like an amazing philosopher, when really Zeno rephrased it to defend Parmenides. Both Zeno’s and Parmenides’ philosophies believe in a monism of a similar sort, and go against those who think that things are many. After discussing Zeno’s and Parmenides’ monism, Plato (via Socrates) introduces the forms which allow for things to be both one and many in different manners.

Considering whether the things in the universe are one or many, and Zeno’s view on the issue, Socrates discusses the forms. He thinks about forms first in terms of likeness and unlikeness: “… don’t you acknowledge that there is a form, itself by itself, of likeness and another form, opposite to this, which is what unlike is?” (129a).This definition by Socrates defines the forms as entities that group things that have similarities. When Zeno used the like and unlike to prove that things are not many, Socrates refuted him by saying that there exists a form of likeness, a form of unlikeness, and a form of both (129a). With these forms Socrates first states things to be many and has not discussed if or how things are one at this point in the dialogue. After directly defining the forms, Socrates discusses how the forms relate to the fact that things of the world are many: “Don’t you and I and the other things we call ‘many’ get a share of those two entities?” (129a). At this point in the beginning of the dialogue the forms seem to be a similarity between the many things, where each part of the form ‘gets a share’ of what the form is. In the dialogue between Socrates and Parmenides continuing after this point in the dialogue concerns various problems Socrates’ definition of the forms has. This includes the characteristic that a certain form exists ‘itself by itself, the fact that a form is divisible, and that each constituent or representative (by Plato a person or thought) of the form gets a share of what the form is. Parmenides’ sail analogy of a form where a sail of a ship envelops the representatives (people or thoughts) of the form and where the one and the many are both existent, I think, is best understood once these problems of the forms are solved.

These problems that the forms have, as pointed out by Parmenides, continue one after the other as the forms begin to be understood. Parmenides’ sail analogy of how a sail falls over each part of the farm creating the existence of one (included by the whole sail) and the many (each part under the sail) is subject to the problems the forms have. These problems interfere with the forms’ ability to be both many and one. One problem like this is where Parmenides claims the forms to be divisible after Socrates answers him by saying that a part of the sail covers one person or thought of the form: “In that case would the sail be, as a whole, over each person, or would a part of it be over one person and another part over another?”(131c). Parmenides goes on to say that since a part of the sail goes over one person of the form, each person partakes of a part of the form and not the whole form. Parmenides gets Socrates to agree that each form is divided and not one at all. This argument being agreed to, the forms are only many and not one at all. This problem of divisibility in forms leads to another problem concerning what Socrates really means when he says that a thing of the form gets a ‘share’ of the form.

The issue of divisibility of the forms is not exactly solved until the second issue is solved. These problems again are not necessarily problems of forms in general, but they are problems of the forms in their status as being one and many at the same time. After discussing the divisibility issue of the forms, Parmenides compares this to largeness, where parts of largeness can be divided up to the point where the largeness really is not large anymore. Upon this same discussion of parts of the form partaking of one general characteristic the entire form has, Parmenides picks on Socrates’ stating that  each part of the form ‘gets a share.’ Getting a share of an entire large being leads again to the fact that the entire form is divisible. If each part gets a share of it, the form is basically small and insignificant. To these objections to Socrates’ first definition of forms, Socrates again responds: “…what appears most likely to me is this: these forms are like partners set in nature, and other things resemble them and are likenesses; and this partaking of the forms is, for the other things, simply being modeled on them” (132c-132d). This is a clarification of his definition of forms using words and phrases like ‘partaking’ and ‘getting a share.’ A certain ‘pattern in nature’ has constituents or representatives that are like the form. By a person or thought partaking or ‘getting a share’ of a form, Socrates states he means that the thought or person ‘is modeled on’ the form it represents. This clarification of the forms solves the issues of divisibility and a constituent of the form ‘getting a share’ of the form, because with this new definition, the forms are not divided in parts, and each representative of a form does not really ‘get a share’ of it. After this clarification, another revising of Socrates’ forms definition is requested by Parmenides.

The ‘itself by itself’ part of Socrates’ definition of the forms is where Parmenides identifies another issue that poses a problem of making any form one and many at the same time. Parmenides rejects the ‘itself by itself’ characteristic of the forms by creating a scenario of what a form would be like if it were ‘itself by itself.’ He states that if this were true in all forms, each form could not be like anything, and nothing could be like the form (132e). He then states that any form that has things like it, or is like other things, would create a new characteristic with that certain likeness of the first form. This likeness of the form creating new characteristics creates new forms, and this continues on for long periods of time because of the ability that that form has to have likenesses with other forms and things (132e-133a). Parmenides then claims that constituents of a form could not be modeled on the form or partake of the form because that would create bridges to more likenesses (133a). All of these scenarios of a form ‘itself by itself’ show how hard it is for a form to be ‘itself by itself’ and calls for removal or revision of that part of Socrates’ definition of forms. What this leads to is the ultimate understanding that no form can be ‘itself by itself’ because of the constituents (people or thoughts) of the form and the form itself having likenesses with other forms and characteristics of other forms. It is then understood from Parmenides’ scenarios that forms are basically adjacent to other forms because of the numerous likenesses and even that what we cut certain forms out to be are things we cannot be sure of with the forms (133b). More importantly, if a form is to be one and many simultaneously it is impossible for it to also be ‘itself by itself’. The arguments Parmenides has pushed that matter to the forms being one and many have caused Socrates in the dialogue to revise and change the entire definition of the form. The sail analogy of Parmenides and the day analogy of Socrates I think are better understood once a form itself is understood. Because of these arguments a form can assuredly be understood as a metaphysical entity that is one and many at the same time.

Before any real problems occur in Socrates’ first definition of forms, Socrates and Parmenides both create an analogy in dialogue of what a form is. During Parmenides’ asking Socrates if the many are separate from the whole of a form, Socrates responds with his day analogy of a form. Claiming that the many are not separate from the whole, Socrates states that a form is like many places on the same day: “…in many places at the same time and is nonetheless not separate from itself. If it’s like that, each of the forms might be, at the same time, one and the same in all” (131b). In the day analogy, a form being an entire day, each constituent (person or thought) of the form is like a place. At one time, many places are involved which is like a form being similar to a time and a place being similar to one person or thought (constituent of a form). In Socrates’ day analogy, the form and its many parts are one and many at the same time.

Parmenides, complimenting Socrates on his analogy, creates another analogy to compare and contrast: “It’s as if you were to cover many people with a sail, and then say that one thing as a whole is over many” (131b). Socrates then identifying that Parmenides has created a similar analogy, they continue into the three problems to the forms being one and many of divisibility, ‘getting a share of the form’, and the ‘itself by itself’ form. Parmenides’ sail analogy I find is the best way to describe a form. Concerning the people or thoughts that reflect the model of the form is, I find it best to refer to those many as constituents or representatives because each person or thought constitute or represent the form that the sail secures. Parmenides’ sail analogy well shows how a form is one and many simultaneously. A form is one because of how the sail envelops the many into one being. A form is many because of the constituents of the form that the sail envelops. I find the sail analogy the best way to understand how a form, or anything else, can be one and many. Beginning in the dialogue with Zeno’s argument that things are ‘not many’ is how the argument of one and many started, and with Socrates’ and Parmenides’ arguments, forms come out as both. Discussion of forms, and introduction to their nature, I think only refers one back to the argument about whether things can be one, many, or both.

The dialogue begins with the one and/or many argument in Zeno’s position, and continues into forms, but I think that the only thing that forms reduce down to is what is one, what is many, and whether or not anything is both. Since forms can be understood to be both one and many, from what we know now, are things one, many, or both? Since the being of a form boils down to the one or many argument, I think it should be further discussed. If there is a like form and an unlike form, a higher form will be created that has both. Another 2 characteristics like justice (just likeness, and just unlikeness), and injustice will be created and added to the like and unlike forms. From these higher forms, more couples of characteristics can be added to that higher form, and this process can go on forever. Because of the many forms that can be created by this process, it can be seen that there is only many, and not one. Concerning all of the things in the world, there are an infinite number of things, yet there is no obvious way that they are united under one again because of how they are classified (like how things are classified by forms). Thinking of things this way, one would for sure think that things are only many.

From another standpoint, if the like and unlike form is added to justice and injustice creating a like and unlike, and just and unjust form, that is just a bigger form making one that much more constituents of a form. This is just a way to think of things as only one. So the question is if one should go with viewing things as one or many, or both? What I really mean to conclude with these examples is that Parmenides’ sail analogy for explaining the forms can be applied to the ‘are things one or many?’ argument. You might see something as one, but then a ton of other things might lie below the sail the one has made for itself. Ultimately, my opinion about Parmenides’ sail analogy is things (beyond forms) can be understood as one or many depending on how it is comprehended. If this is true, all things in the world are one and many in one way or another.

The forms having come from the one and many debate, they introduced many continuous arguments that led to other philosophies since Plato’s time. From the inconsistencies in Socrates’ first definition of forms to Parmenides’ pushing him to its revision, Plato’s forms end up being one and many simultaneously. From the problem of divisibility and ‘getting a share’, being solved, and the ‘itself by itself’ problem also being solved, the forms were modified to be able to be one and many at the same time. The introduction of the forms and the widespread versatility the forms have makes the Parmenides dialogue a philosophical breakthrough. This alone shows the philosophical accomplishment Plato achieved in his lifetime.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Plato’s Parmenides: Forms, One, and Many”

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  1. Plato’s Parmenides: Forms, One, and Many (via Metaphysic’s Advocate) « Minimal ve Maksimal Yazılar - October 14, 2010

    […] Posted by Cengiz Erdem on October 14, 2010 · Leave a Comment  The forms being one of the biggest parts of Plato’s philosophy were largely introduced in the Parmenides dialogue between Socrates, Zeno, and old Parmenides. These forms are important metaphysical definitions to proceeding philosophy beyond Plato, and understanding what the forms mean and why Plato presents them is necessary. In Zeno’s book he states that things are not many, and Socrates introduces the forms in addressing Zeno where he ultimatel … Read More […]

  2. Parmenides of Elea | Best Philosophy Books - December 12, 2010

    […] Plato’s Parmenides: Forms, One, and Many « Metaphysic’s Advocate – The discussion began in the Parmenides dialogue between Socrates and Zeno, with Parmenides present, concerning Zeno’s book. Socrates brings up during the reading of Zeno’s book about the one or many. Zeno states that if the existent … […]

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