A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Ninth IPS Conference on Plato's Republic (Tokyo 2010): Agenda and One Riddle

There were two questions on my agenda for Tokyo: How did the land named Japan give birth to a scholar like Norio Fujisawa? How did Japan produce the film director Akira Kurosawa? The latter is well-known among all cinema lovers. The former has been a very important Platonist (1925-2004) and professor at Kyoto University. He promoted considerably the studies of ancient philosophy in Japan. I have read only one text of his: ἔχειν, μετέχειν and Idioms of "Paradeigmatism" in Plato's Theory of Forms, Phronesis XIX (1974), pp. 30-58. It is admirable how critical he could be when trying to make the best out of the Aristotelian critique of methexis. Moreover he considered it is necessary to unveil the prevailing hermeneutics that is confined to the Aristotelian framework. The Japanese Platonist fulfilled crucial steps upon this path, for the sake of a genuine understanding of Plato. This contribution of his may be a rather small piece, better to say a treasure. There he provides enough evidence for his agreement with the principle of harmony (between Plato and Aristotle), which this blog promotes. Just read his article and you will see my deep appreciation is well-grounded.

Needless to say, I had no illusion I would be able to answer the two above questions in my one-week stay in Tokyo. Still it was important for me to ask these two questions and appropriately direct my attention in search of possible answers.

The organisation of the International Plato Society Conference was absolutely flawless. It was splendid to observe the entire organising team at work and experience the results of the excellent coordination. Pisa (2013) and Brasilia (2016) will have to try pretty hard in order to live up to the high standards Tokyo just set. Every one, myself included, was happy to be a guest in Tokyo.

I learned as far as I could during the conference. Admittedly I was concerned with my own paper until Friday because I should shorten it. Now I know, it is advantageous to give your paper at the beginning of such an international conference. Then you are able to concentrate on the following papers with no distraction. Moreover I had another task to fulfill: I tried to find two words to say on my Plato book. I wanted to say something substantial despite the fact that I was allowed to speak only for two minutes: an almost impossible task. During the conference and thanks to interesting, challenging and encouraging chats, I realised what I will be working on for the written version of my paper and beyond: dunamis-phusis-ananke. To be a little bit more precise, I have to elaborate the meanings of the notion of necessity that becomes crucial for the philosopher’s descent but, nonetheless, has not received the adequate attention in the relevant secondary literature so far as I see it. For the first time in my blog, I shall give it a go and mention a concrete textual riddle that caused my aporia, which I gladly shared with best listeners. The text (R. VII, 540a4-b7) runs (in translation) as follows:

Then, when they are fifty years old, those who have survived (the tests) and gained every highest distinction in every field, both in actions and studies, should now be brought at last to the goal. We should compel them [ἀναγκαστέον] to lift up the bright light of the soul and gaze steadfastly at that which provides light for everything. And when they have seen the good itself, they have [(to be compelled to), ἀναγκαστέον] to order the city, the citizens and themselves using that as a model, throughout the rest of their lives, when the turn comes for each. They can spend most of their life in philosophy, but when their turn comes, then each one must labour at the business of politics and be ruler for the sake of the city. They will regard the task not as something fine but as necessary. And after educating others like themselves in this way, and leaving them behind as the city’s guardians, they have [to be compelled!! ἀναγκαστέον] to live in the islands of the blest after their departure.

In my paper I decided to quote the above passage because it indicates that Plato uses the concept of “necessity” quite often (in the seventh Book and not only). The passage shows that he is not extremely careful when he uses the word ἀνάγκη, which happens to be an especially important concept for the problem of descent. I underline the three infinitives that depend on ἀναγκαστέον (540a8). In the case of the first infinitive, we may understand that the educators of the ideal city compel the philosophers to reach the goal of the program. In the second case, compulsion is also relevant for the philosophers’ coming back to the cave, even if I regard it as derivative in my paper. But what about the third case? How can the dead philosophers be compelled, and by whom, to live in the islands of the blest?
Up to now, there have been two helpful reactions to this baffling passage. At first go, David Sedley tried to save Plato from nonsense in that he suggested the notion of compulsion doesn't really extend all the way through. In English, one may say to a child "I am going to force you to do your homework first, and to watch television afterwards", without meaning that one is going to force her to watch television. Christopher Rowe suggested that in this case Plato playfully alludes to a former instance regarding the islands of the blest. “The philosophers will be compelled to depart for the islands of the blest” means that they really have to be compelled to do so whereas they themselves prefer to do philosophy.
All I intended to do myself was not to blame Plato for such a mindless slip but to utter my reservations toward everyone who bases arguments (and every one does in the framework of the philosopher's descent and not only) on passages in which "necessity" occurs. Now I have to draw and elaborate my picture. Let us try and solve together the above riddle for the start.

Does anyone come up with any suggestion ad loc?



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