The lives and opinions of Socrates and Stilpo as defended by Plutarch against the insidious yet ignorant attacks of Colotes
Dans les chapitres 17 à 23 de l’Adversus Colotem, Plutarque défend Socrate et Stilpon contre les critiques de Colotès. J’examine l’insertion de cette section dans le contexte plus large de l’œuvre, les liens entre la section sur Socrate et Stilpon, les critiques de Colotès et les contre-arguments ainsi que les stratégies polémiques de Plutarque. Ce faisant, je tente de démêler les différentes couches de ce texte complexe. Socrate est présenté comme un imposteur et un sceptique par Colotès. Plutarque affirme que la philosophie de Socrate implique certes une méfiance radicale à l’égard des sens, mais que cela n’empêche ni Socrate ni ses disciples de vivre leur vie quotidienne. La philosophie socratique doit être préférée de très loin à l’épicurisme. Stilpon, un mégarique, appartient également à la tradition socratique. Plutarque apporte son soutien à la bonne réputation morale de ce philosophe à l’esprit vif contre le mauvais traitement que Colotès lui avait infligé. Ce dernier avait aussi attaqué le rejet par Stilpon de toute prédication, à l’exception de la prédication d’identité. Plutarque affirme que l’argument de Stilpon est un pur exercice dialectique et ne menace aucunement nos vies quotidiennes. Plutarque lance en outre une contre-attaque contre la philosophie épicurienne du langage, et plus particulièrement la suppression du niveau intermédiaire – celui des significations. Le fameux argument de Stilpon, tel qu’il est présenté par Plutarque, revient à nier la relation ontologique à laquelle correspond la prédication ordinaire. La conclusion de Plutarque – selon laquelle Stilpon nous invite simplement à abandonner l’usage du verbe « être » comme copule – ne convient pas à l’argument tel qu’il le présente. La meilleure explication de ce décalage est l’hypothèse que Plutarque a copié l’argument de manière assez fidèle sans l’analyser dans le détail. Cela expliquerait également le fait que l’argument ne fasse aucun usage de la théorie platonicienne de la prédication dans le Sophiste.
Mots clés :Socrate, scepticisme académique, apraxia, connaissance de soi, mégariques, Stilpon, philosophie épicurienne du langage, lekta, prédication
Keywords :Socrates, Academic scepticism, apraxia, self-knowledge, Megarics, Stilpo, Epicurean philosophy of language, lekta, predication
Parole Chiave :Socrate, scetticismo dell’Accademia, apraxia, consapevolezza di sé, megaresi, Stilpone, filosofia epicurea del linguaggio, lekta, predicazione
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Notes de l’auteur
I wish to thank Dr. David Butorac for help with the English.
1In this contribution I analyse Plutarch’s defence on behalf of Socrates and Stilpo in chapters 17 to 23 of the Adversus Colotem. First I examine how this section is embedded in the larger argument of the book and argue that Plutarch may have had several reasons for treating Socrates and Stilpo in sequence. Then I briefly discuss the polemical strategies used and explain the complexity of the polemic by distinguishing several layers in the text. This is then followed by an analysis of the two sections, where I first discuss Colotes’ criticisms and then Plutarch’s counter-arguments.
- 1 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, Oxford, OUP, (...)
2In Colotes’ work On the fact that according to the doctrines of the other philosophers it is impossible even to live the chapter on Socrates was not immediately followed by the section on Stilpo. With the notorious exception of Democritus, Colotes respected the chronological order: after Socrates he discussed Plato and his followers, and this section was followed by the polemic against Stilpo (Adv. Col. 22, 1119C4-5). Then he moved on to his contemporaries, whom he attacked without naming. It is clear, however, whom they were: the Cyrenaics, on the one hand, Arcesilaus and the Academy, on the other (Adv. Col. 24, 1120B11-C9). The absence of Aristotle and the Peripatetics in this sequence has worried scholars. Plutarch suggests that Colotes regarded them just as followers of Plato (Adv. Col. 14, 1114F4-1115A4), but maybe, as Eleni Kechagia recently suggested, Colotes thought that Aristotle was just not liable to the main charge, or at least not obviously enough.1 The absence of Aristotle’s followers is probably a natural consequence of the omission of Aristotle himself.
- 2 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A lesson in history of philosophy, op. cit., p. (...)
- 3 This is the result of a double reversal. Besides the one already mentioned, Plu (...)
- 4 On the thorny issue of the Megarian school, see D.N. Sedley, “Diodorus Cronus and Helleni (...)
- 5 Cic. De or. 3, 16.61-17.62. See also Plato, Phaed. 59B-C. The testimonies on the (...)
- 6 Cic. De or. 3, 17.62; Diog. Laert. 2,47.
- 7 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. (...)
- 8 The position of Stilpo in the sequence poses a problem for R. Westman, Plutarch gegen Kol (...)
- 9 It is not impossible that Plutarch knew Aristotle’s report (Met. 1.6, 987B1-7) on the dif (...)
- 10 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. (...)
- 11 See Lampr. cat. 63 ( “On the unity of the Academy from Plato onwards”); P. Donini, “L’ere (...)
- 12 P. Donini, “L’eredità academica e i fondamenti del platonismo in Plutarco”, op. cit., p. (...)
3Plutarch offers a section by section refutation of Colotes’ charges, but explains that his own treatment deviates from the original sequence. He had good reasons for his reorganisation of the material, as becomes clear from what he says. It is impossible to assign priorities to the different reasons he may have had – that may even have been so for the author himself – but it is obvious that the sequence adopted by Plutarch has several advantages, the general aim being a greater thematic coherence.2 Plato is now grouped together with Parmenides,3 which makes sense given the fact that their ontologies, as perceived by Colotes and Plutarch, are not unrelated. As Plutarch understands them, both posited a distinction between sensible and intelligible reality, and were criticised by the Epicureans for similar reasons (Adv. Col. 13, 1114E10-F3). More importantly for the present purpose, in Plutarch’s sequence Socrates is immediately followed by Stilpo. Not only are there striking similarities between those two, we now also have a larger section that runs from Socrates to the Academics. The philosophers discussed in this section – Socrates himself, Stilpo, the Cyrenaics, the Academics – are in some way Socratics. Surely Socrates was not a follower of himself, but no-one would contest that his way of engaging in philosophy was Socratic. As for the others: the Megarians,4 with whom Stilpo belongs, and the Cyrenaics are traditionally grouped under the name “Socratics”;5 and Arcesilaus, a member of Plato’s Academy, has Socrates as one of his philosophical heroes, as becomes abundantly clear in the Adversus Colotem (and as a follower of Plato, he could be considered as “officially” a Socratic6). This may not have been the primary thematic criterion Plutarch had in mind, though. E. Kegachia argues persuasively that the reorganisation of the material carried out by Plutarch was based on the traditional distinction between physics and dialectic: Plutarch thus distinguishes a first group of “physicists”, consisting of Democritus, Empedocles, Parmenides, and Plato. These are here treated as physicists because their views singled out for criticism were all considered to pertain to physics, at least by Plutarch. We would call them ontological theses, concerned with the existence and the nature of things such as the world, ordinary objects and human beings. The second group consists of Socrates, Stilpo, the Cyrenaics and Arcesilaus. The views attacked were held to belong to dialectics or logic (or “canonics” according to the Epicurean terminology). The issues at stake have to do with what beliefs we can form about things, what we can know and what we can express about them.7 It is certainly no coincidence that the dialectic group coincides with those one could regard as Socratics.8 For dialectical questions, such as what beliefs we can hold about things and what we can express about them, were linked to the Socratic mode of philosophy. One could object to this equation of the Socratic with the dialectical by saying that Socrates stood for many other things besides this, especially if one looks beyond the convenient modern figment of the “early dialogues”. The Socrates of the so-called middle and late dialogues as well as the Socrates portrayed by Xenophon expresses strong ontological views. And overall, Socrates is primarily an ethicist. The latter aspect is certainly important in Plutarch’s text, the ontological views somewhat less.9 E. Kechagia points out that Plutarch elsewhere uses the epithet “… the Socratic” to identify philosophers such as Antisthenes, Aristippus, Euclid, and Xenophon, but does not apply the term to Plato.10 She also refers to an ancient historiographic tradition that testifies to a hostility between Plato and the other Socratics and suggests Plutarch may be aware of that opposition. Yet it is unlikely that Plutarch would have seen a strong opposition here. After all, he clearly regards the spirit of Arcesilaus’ philosophy as Socratic and at the same time considers him to be a true follower of Plato. Plutarch probably even wrote a separate treatise in which he defended the thesis of the unity of the Academic tradition,11 which expressly includes Plato himself. It is also clear from many works that he sees a unity of inspiration between Plato and Socrates. Moreover, as P.L. Donini has shown, the polemical framework of the Adversus Colotem is such that Plutarch in his treatment of Socrates and Arcesilaus needs to stress the affinity of Plato and Socrates, at the expense of another tradition that emphasises the Pythagorean provenance of Plato’s philosophy and which makes Aristotle rather than Arcesilaus the true heir of Plato. In that light, Plutarch’s own philosophy may be understood as an attempt to reconcile both traditions.12 Be that as it may, in the organisation of his text Plutarch groups Plato together with Parmenides and discusses their ontological views, whereas the treatment of Socrates is here very close to that of Arcesilaus. However, he does not make an opposition between Socratic epistemological concerns and the philosophy of Plato. And as we shall see, Plutarch suggests that Socrates’ critical stance regarding sense-perception is reconcilable with, and explainable by, a Platonic epistemological and ontological framework, more precisely with the dichotomy between the sensible and the intelligible.
- 13 I adopt this useful threefold distinction from E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A (...)
- 14 M.F. Burnyeat, “The Sceptic in his Place and Time”, in R. Rorty, J.B. Schneewind, Q. Skin (...)
- 15 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., (...)
4Colotes’ polemic can be reconstructed from the quotations (direct speech), reports (indirect speech) and echoes contained in Plutarch’s text,13 and also from Plutarch’s replies, which to some extent mirror Colotes’ attacks. His pamphlet was a mixture of arguments and sneers. Many of the arguments were perceived as insulting and preposterous, and from a scholarly point of view they indeed often are just that. Plutarch’s counter-arguments are somewhat better, but they too do not always meet present-day scholarly standards. But then, they were not meant to fulfil these standards. Colotes argued that if one were to take the views of the non-Epicurean philosophers seriously, even life would become impossible, let alone a pleasurable life. In other words, one cannot really live by what these philosophers claim. If it were truly impossible to tell the difference between a door and a wall in a reliable way, we would not be able to enter or leave buildings, except by pure luck, and would probably die from starvation and thirst. If all we could express in language were tautological statements, communication through language would become totally impossible, again with devastating consequences. These two cases in essence correspond to the views that Colotes imputes to Socrates and Stilpo, respectively. Colotes’ argument seems outrageous from our perspective: how could any philosophical theory constitute a direct threat to our capacity for surviving or even for our capacity to live a life in conformity with human values? Apparently, insulation of philosophy from life (and vice versa) is a modern phenomenon.14 Moreover, the Hellenistic conception of philosophy as therapy entails the conviction that philosophical positions can have direct consequences for our way of life.15
- 16 There are some exceptions, but not in our section: E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes(...)
5In most cases,16 Plutarch defends the victims of Colotes’ polemic by showing that their philosophy does not make it impossible to live. He can do so by conceding that Colotes’ opponents are indeed committed to the views that Colotes imputes to them but denying that the alleged disastrous consequences follow, or by simply showing that Colotes’ opponents do not hold the views that Colotes maliciously or ignorantly attributed to them. So the strategy consists in showing that Colotes misrepresents his opponents and/or that his reasoning is fallacious. By doing so Plutarch not only vindicates the other philosophers but moreover shows Colotes in a bad light.
- 17 See Ar. Rhet. 2.23, 1398A3-4; 12-14, cited by E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A (...)
6Plutarch’s defence of the other philosophers is invariably coupled with a counter-attack. Almost always Plutarch turns the tables on Colotes, that is, he tries to show that Colotes or the Epicureans in general are guilty of the very charge that they are making. We can call this an overturning argument.17 This can even turn into a full-scale attack on Epicurean views in a way that goes beyond the preceding criticisms. Plutarch wants to show that Epicurean philosophy is fundamentally false and misguided and that it has undesirable consequences. A strategy related to, compatible with but not necessarily identical to, the overturning strategy consists in pointing out an inconsistency between the criticism voiced by Colotes and some other view to which he is committed. Finally it should be said that the polemic does not just play at the level of philosophical argumentation: Colotes is frequently abusive of his opponents, and Plutarch gleefully returns the insults and sneers.
- 18 The best example is De sera 1, 548A1-B5.
7I consider it unlikely that Plutarch wrote with primarily an audience of contemporary Epicureans in mind. He rather addressed his own circle and other like-minded people, but possibly also adherents of other currents more or less congenial to Platonism (as were the Stoics in some respects). In the dialogical settings of some of his works people with different philosophical leanings are still present, although the Epicureans usually leave the discussion at an early stage.18 Plutarch probably wants to indicate that, contrary to Stoics for instance, Epicureans are simply not able to participate in advanced philosophical debates. Their rejection of certain fundamental tenets (the existence of providence, the immortality of the soul) disqualifies them from the kind of philosophical debate envisaged by Plutarch. Stoics, with whom there was much more common ground, are, on the contrary, allowed full participation in Plutarch’s fictional dialogical settings.
- 19 See L. Van Hoof, Plutarch’s practical ethics. The social dynamics of philosophy, Oxford, (...)
8To what extent the situations portrayed by Plutarch correspond to the realities at the turn of the first to second century is hard to tell. Plutarch’s dialogues are of course idealised. We can only guess about the real presence of serious Epicureans offering themselves as sparring partners in the educational setting of Plutarch’s “school”, or rather of Epicureans that could expect themselves to be treated as equal partners in a civilised philosophical conversation. Their real-life existence, even in provincial towns, is beyond doubt, as the inscription put up by Diogenes of Oenanda shows. Even so, Plutarch’s tract probably does not address contemporary Epicureans with the aim of converting them, it seems to me. My main reason for thinking so is that Plutarch does not engage with Epicurean views in such a way as to convince those who hold them: one cannot reasonably expect any Epicurean to be persuaded by Plutarch’s arguments. This is simply not the function of polemical tracts such as Plutarch’s, or Colotes’ for that matter. What the historical person Plutarch wanted to achieve is impossible to establish with certainty; probably not even the author himself had a clear view of all of his goals and motives and how they relate to one another. Part of it will have been to reassure himself and his disciples of the correctness of their philosophical perspective and of the wickedness of the competition (both historical and contemporary opponents). Plutarch may also have hoped that others – prospective students and cultivated people in general – would see why the Academic-Platonic position is superior to the Epicurean.19
9Disentangling this intricate web of polemic and counter-polemic is a tricky business. In principle, it is possible to distinguish at least the following levels:
I. Philosophers attacked by Arcesilaus ( “the other philosophers”)
(1) the original views of the other philosophers
II. Colotes (Epicureans)
(2) Colotes’ interpretation of the philosophical views of the other philosophers;
(3) (a) Colotes’ own views and (b) Epicurean views in general
(4) Colotes’ criticism of the other philosophers, whether this criticism be (a) internal or (b) external to their position
(5) Plutarch’s understanding of (1)
(6) Plutarch’s understanding of (2) (Plutarch does not always look for a distinction between (1) and (2))
(7) Plutarch’s understanding of (3)
(8) Plutarch’s understanding of (4)
(9) Plutarch’s own philosophical views
(10) Plutarch’s criticism of (a) Colotes and (b) the Epicureans in general, based on (7) and (8), informed by (5) and (6) and (9)
(11) Plutarch’s general criticism of the Epicureans (dependent upon (7)), independently of their attack on other philosophers.
- 20 For the use made by the Academics of presocratic philosophers, see C. Brittain, (...)
- 21 See M. Isnardi Parente, “Plutarco contro Colote”, in I. Gallo (ed.), Aspetti dello stoici (...)
- 22 J.M. Dillon, “Plutarch and Second Century Platonism”, in A.H. Armstrong (ed.), Classical (...)
10In principle one could try to make a further distinction between what Plutarch really believes and the way he presents his views and criticisms. Also, the understanding of other philosophers’ views (see 5, and also 2) may be mediated by other sources, such as compilations, commentaries or doxographical sources. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Colotes’ criticism of some of the other philosophers probably served a further purpose, namely to attack one or one group of them in particular. It is indeed believed, as we will see shortly, that the criticism against the predecessors of Arcesilaus, including the Cyrenaics, was primarily directed at Arcesilaus and his fellow Academics, who had cited and appropriated them.20 In other words, the Academics had claimed the authority of their predecessors for their own philosophical project, which in most cases involves an additional bias. Colotes appears to have been well aware of this strategy and counters it. Indeed, this may very well have been his main reason for writing his pamphlet. That should not mean, however, that the entire polemic is reducible to an anti-Academic polemic.21 Plutarch, in turn, was very well aware of this whole situation, considers himself to stand in the tradition of Arcesilaus, at least to a large extent, and in this spirit counters the challenge posed by Colotes’ text. Thus, once more a level of possible bias is introduced. Plutarch may think he appreciates the situation in largely the same way as Arcesilaus, but given the changed philosophical context additional shifts are likely. And indeed, as I have already briefly indicated and as I and others have argued elsewhere,22 Plutarch wants to underline the unity of the Academic tradition, starting from Plato up to his own day, and incorporates developments from later Hellenistic and Post-Hellenistic times, without always being fully aware of the various historical shifts. His brand of Platonism was indeed influenced more particularly by the later Hellenistic Academy, more specifically by the thought of Philo of Larissa, by “Middle Platonic” Pythagoreanising tendencies and attempts to systematise Platonic philosophy. Hence he will not have assessed this already ancient polemic from a fully detached point of view.
- 23 Compare E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. c (...)
11Plutarch’s interpretation of Colotes’ own views and his criticism could, in particular cases, be honest and plausible, or biased (without him being aware of it), or involve deliberate distortions. These questions are hard to decide: the evidence needs to be weighed in every individual case. Nor will it be practicable to examine all possible levels for every point. Such a procedure would be tedious. For reasons of convenience, I will not discuss (1) in the case of Socrates, in order to avoid a quagmire and the traps set up by the Socrates industry. More fundamentally, it is impossible to get a neutral assessment of the views of ancient philosophers; we always run the risk of setting up our own biases as standards by which ancient interpreters should be measured. For sure, to an extent this risk is unavoidable, but it should be minimised.23
12Plutarch discusses three charges directed against Socrates:
131) Adv. Col. 17-18, 1116E9-1117E9: Colotes called the oracle delivered to Chaerephon according to which no one is wiser than Socrates a “sophistical and vulgar story”.
142) Adv. Col. 19-20, 1117E10-1118C2: Colotes criticised Socrates disavowal of sense-perception as dishonest and accordingly called Socrates a “braggart” or “charlatan” (ἀλαζών). If one were to live without relying on the senses, life would be impossible, so the argument appears to be; but although Socrates professed not to rely on his senses, in everyday situations he did trust them, hence there is a disagreement between his words and his deeds. Colotes apparently added other examples of behaviour qualifying as “boasting” (ἀλαζονεία).
153) Adv. Col. 20-21, 1118C2-1119C3: Colotes criticised Socrates’ quest for self-knowledge as preposterous, absurd, and vulgar. The idea is that he who is searching for knowledge about who he is, does not yet know himself, pretends not to know himself, or ignores that he already knows. But not to know oneself would make life impossible.
- 24 See M.T. Riley, “The Epicurean view of Socrates”, Phoenix, 34, 1980, p. 55-68; (...)
16These charges correspond to different sections in Plutarch’s defence that one may presume to correspond to sections of Colotes’ text. In fact, they amount to two lines of criticism: (A) the first directed at Socrates’ character, alleged to be dishonest, vulgar, and sophistical; (B) the second pertaining to views attributed to Socrates that make life impossible: the disavowal of the senses and the ignorance concerning his own nature. In order to live a life it is necessary, so Colotes argues, to know what one is – a human being, with all that entails – and to be able to rely on what one perceives through one’s senses. The arguments that aim to show that it is impossible to live in accordance with Socrates’ expressed philosophical views are in line with the core idea of Colotes’ general polemic. To this is added an attack of Socrates as a person that is more outspoken and villainous than in the case of the other victims of Colotes’ attacks. Slander against Socrates was a wide-spread phenomenon in the Epicurean tradition,24 and here we witness one of its earliest appearances.
17The different charges are unmistakably intertwined. The accusation of dishonesty and braggery is related to the story about the oracle, which can in turn be connected to the quest for self-knowledge and knowledge in general. This quest presupposes an initial lack of knowledge, which is again associatively linked to ignorance regarding sense-objects, even though the ignorance in the two cases stems from different sources. The sceptical claims about the sensible world are again evidence for Socrates’ dishonesty.
- 25 See Adv. Col. 17, 1116E11-F1.
- 26 Xenophon’s Apologia deserves a special mention here: Plutarch defends Socrates (...)
- 27 See G. Vlastos, Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cambridge, Cornell University Pr (...)
- 28 See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth. Academic Tendencies in Middle Platonism, Brussel, (...)
18The modern reader may wonder about the sources on which Colotes’ criticism is based. The story about the oracle was of course well-known in Antiquity25 and has come to us from many sources besides Plato’s Apology.26 But what to make of the claim that Socrates distrusted the senses? I guess that for an ancient reader, unaware of Gregory Vlastos’ definition of what Platonic dialogues count as Socratic,27 the answer is pretty obvious: in the Theaetetus Socrates shows that sense-perception does not produce knowledge. This argument was seized on by Arcesilaus and followers in support of their brand of scepticism. The Theaetetus indeed played an important role in the Hellenistic epistemological debates.28
- 29 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D6-7; E3-4; E8. Inconsistency between one’s views and one’s c (...)
- 30 It is called thus at Adv. Col. 26, 1122A9-11.
- 31 J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, op. (...)
- 32 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D2-7.
- 33 Adv. Col. 19, 1117F5-1118A10; 2, 1108B4-5.
- 34 Adv. Col. 27, 1122E4-F1, with J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 88, (...)
- 35 A bath also figured prominently in polemical arguments issued by Epictetus agai (...)
- 36 E.g. see P.H. De Lacy, B. Einarson, Plutarch. Moralia, Volume XIV, Cambridge (M (...)
- 37 See C. Brittain, J. Palmer, “The New Academy’s appeals to the Presocratics”, op. cit., es (...)
19Colotes attacks Arcesilaus for foisting his ideas about (universal) suspension of judgment and the impossibility of attaining self-certifying impressions upon Socrates and others (Plato, Parmenides, and Heraclitus are mentioned by name), blaming him for a lack of originality (Adv. Col. 26, 1121E9-1122A4). More importantly he attacks the sceptical position attributed to Socrates and Arcesilaus in virtue of the same argument, that of apraxia, and using very similar examples that are meant to show that these philosophers did not in fact live in accordance with their principles.29 The apraxia argument30 holds that certain philosophical principles make life impossible: if we are denied conviction in our senses for our every-day decisions we will as it were be paralysed.31 But since those who advocated these principles continued to live pretty normal lives, there seems to be an inconsistency between their views and their conduct. Plutarch quotes Colotes arguing against Socrates that we eat edible food, not grass; that we cross rivers by foot when they are fordable, but by boat when the river is high, and concludes that Socrates’ words are impostorous (ἀλαζόνας) because of the incongruence between what is said and done.32 From Plutarch’s reply we may infer that Colotes added further examples: Socrates wraps his cloak around himself, not around a pillar, and keeps out of the way of snakes and wolves. This shows that Socrates was perfectly able to identify cloaks, food, snakes, wolves, but also – although Plutarch does not point this out – knew the difference between himself and a pillar (which would connect the argument nicely with the point about self-knowledge), and knows the difference between his mouth (where he puts the food) and his ear (no distinction yet between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description).33 The arguments against Arcesilaus are very similar: suspension of judgment seems to be irreconcilable with Arcesilaus knowing the difference between a chamber-pot and a bath and between a wall and a door.34 Also Plutarch’s reply will be basically the same in the two cases, as we shall see.35 Most scholars36 think that the rivalry between Epicureans and Academics may very well have been the main reason for Colotes to attack the older philosophers. This would explain the many similarities between the attack on Arcesilaus and other philosophers. This is obvious in the case of the philosophers explicitly named as predecessors of Arcesilaus, but also for the Cyrenaics and their claim that our senses do not give us access to the external world (chapters 24-25) or for Democritus who allegedly abolished all knowledge of our own human nature by denying that there is such a nature (8, 1110E7-F1).37 Moreover, in his reply Plutarch associates Democritus’ dictum “no more so than so” with the inability to distinguish between opposite sensory qualities (4, 1109B1-C4). But nowhere is the similarity with the account of Arcesilaus so obvious as in the case of Socrates.
20Plutarch’s reply on behalf of the other philosophers is clearly motivated by his high opinion of them but also by his commitment to the Academic tradition and its roots in the philosophy of Socrates and Plato. Let us now look at his counter-arguments more closely.
- 38 The meaning of Epicurus’ reaction is complex and not entirely clear. For a brief bibliogr (...)
- 39 See Adv. Col. 2, 1108B2-4.
- 40 Earlier on in the treatise Plutarch had already anticipated this line of attack. At Adv. (...)
21(1) Against the criticism of Chaerephon’s oracle as vulgar and sophistical, Plutarch at first counters with an argument ad populum, appealing to the general respect enjoyed by famous people. If Colotes were right, then Plato, who wrote down the story, would be just as vulgar and sophistical, and the same would be true for Lycurgus and the Spartans, Themistocles and the Athenians, and the legendary law-givers, who all appealed to oracles. But in fact Socrates was divinely inspired and driven toward virtue (17, 1116F3-1117A4). By this last remark Plutarch vindicates Socrates, but also prepares the counter-attack. For Plutarch now contrasts the previous examples with Colotes himself, in the form of a tu quoque argument: if Socrates is vulgar, what to say of Colotes’ slavish worship of Epicurus? Contrary to Socrates, who was directed by god towards virtue, Colotes is directed by Epicurus toward pleasure. Plutarch quotes from a letter of Epicurus in which the latter literally recommends pleasure, calling virtue futile and foolish. He adds a quotation from Metrodorus testifying to the religious worship of Epicurus by his followers. Then Plutarch relates an episode in which Colotes falls to his knees in worship of his master, only to be rewarded with what is probably a mixture of acknowledgment and a disdainful ironic reaction from the latter, which is again literally quoted by Plutarch.38 The conclusion, which ties in with his general criticism of Colotes,39 is that the latter is himself boorish and pathetic, and projects his own shortcomings upon others (17, 1117A4-C11). Plutarch’s reply is just as much ad hominem as was Colotes’ attack.40
- 41 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D7-8. See E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History (...)
- 42 Plutarch repeats the point in the epilogue: Adv. Col. 32, 1126B6-9.
22Having turned the tables on Colotes, Plutarch returns to the accusation of braggery (ἀλαζονεία), quoting a passage from Colotes’ text that connects this accusation with an attack on Socrates’ alleged scepticism regarding sense-perception through an implicit use of the apraxia argument (18, 1117D1-E9). This is the passage where the examples of the food and the river, mentioned above, are used and where Colotes also makes it clear that the accusation of braggery follows from the perceived inconsistency between words and deeds: the one who declares that the senses cannot be trusted but acts in full reliance on them is just showing off (1117D2-7). Colotes’ words receive the ironic depreciatory label “clever remarks about sense-perception” (1117D1-2) but it is the braggery to which Plutarch turns first. His reply is again a mixture of vindicating Socrates and redirecting the accusation at Epicurus himself. Plutarch begins by ironically echoing Colotes’ criticism in his own description of Socrates – one of the Chaeronean’s favourite tactics.41 A quotation from Epicurus is then given in evidence of the latter’s self-glorification and is subsequently qualified as boorish (1117D9-E3). Colotes’ criticism therefore applies to Epicurus himself, not to Socrates, for how can there be boasting if all Socrates did was to learn and search for the truth (1117D7-8)? To prove Socrates’ consistency Plutarch cites a number of well-known events showing Socrates to stand by his principles in the face of danger: he even died for his principles.42 Plutarch concludes that Socrates’ conduct was fully consistent with his deeds. He adds a clever and scornful remark: if Socrates’ guiding principle had not been virtue, but pleasure, then and then alone could his conduct be said to be inconsistent with his view. This is a sneer at the Epicureans, implying that their end – pleasure – does not produce heroic deeds (1117E6-9). At the end of this section Plutarch is convinced to have vindicated Socrates’ character: “So much in reply to the slander” (1117E10).
- 43 See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 104. See also Quaest. Plat. (...)
23It is striking that Colotes’ scolding of Socrates is not only mirrored in Plutarch’s criticism of the Epicureans, but also reflects Plato’s assessment of Socrates’ opponents, which in turn returns the ridicule to which Socrates had been subjected by his detractors, for instance in Aristophanes’ Clouds. The various sides accuse each other of the same vices: insincerity, sophistry, boasting, and arrogance.43
- 44 Adv. Col. 27, 1122E4-F5. See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. (...)
- 45 The expression and the idea are borrowed from J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism i (...)
24(2) The discussion of the second charge starts, once more, with a tu quoque argument: it is Colotes who should not be able to trust his senses. For, as Plutarch shows through another quotation from Epicurus, only the wise can rely infallibly upon their senses, and Colotes is not a wise man, despite his flattery directed at Epicurus (again a sneer). Yet Colotes does not fall prey to apraxia (19, 1117E10-1118A4). This shows the way to the solution: in order for us to live our daily lives our senses do not have to be infallible, they should merely be reasonably reliable, or as Plutarch puts it: we can live by trusting what appears to us (1118A4-5). From an attack on Colotes Plutarch has turned to the defence of Colotes’ victim: if the opinion resulting from sense-perception (ἡ περὶ τῶν αἰσθήσεων δόξα, 1118A6, obviously considered to be equivalent with τὸ φαινόμενον, 1118A5) is in practice sufficient for Colotes, then it should also be sufficient for Socrates. For practical purposes appearance, i.e. what is given to the senses, will do very well. The senses are indeed inaccurate and fallible, but nonetheless things appear to us in a certain way (1118B2-8). This is basically the same solution as that offered in defence of Arcesilaus.44 Whether Colotes should be impressed by it, is an entirely different matter. Colotes could insist that Socrates and his adherents need some account making it plausible that the senses, unreliable as they are, nonetheless can guide “consistently reasonable action”.45
- 46 Adv. Col. 13, 1114C4-D2; J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, (...)
- 47 This issue is brought up in a rather provocative way by H. Tarrant, review of T (...)
- 48 Compare Quaest. Plat. 1, 1000D10-11.
- 49 Compare M. Isnardi Parente, “Plutarco contro Colote”, op. cit., p. 76.
25Plutarch concludes his vindication of Socrates by alluding to another type of knowledge, desired by the soul, for which the senses do not suffice (1118B9-10). This remark ties in with an earlier passage, where Plutarch attributes to Socrates the ontological and epistemological dichotomy between the fleeting objects of opinion (τὸ δοξαστόν) and the stable and ungenerated objects of intellection (τὸ νοητόν), thus associating him with the ontology of Parmenides and Plato.46 This corroborates my previous observation that Plutarch’s image of Socrates includes aspects that most Socrates scholars nowadays blend out as not corresponding to the Socrates of Plato’s “Socratic” dialogues.47 The knowledge desired by the soul to which the present passage refers is presumably supposed to be the knowledge of intelligible truth.48 Plutarch thus ascribes to Socrates the view that the senses are not just fallible, i.e. that our sense-impressions may sometimes be deceptive, but rather that they never provide true knowledge.49
- 50 Compare Gellius 11.5.6; Sext. Emp. PH 1.7.
- 51 Compare Quaest. Plat. 1, 1000E2; Adv. Col. 20, 1118C9-10.
26The argument is as usual combined with rhetorical flourishes: an ironic echo of the accusation of braggery and an equally ironic remark that the writings of Epicurus may be useful for the wise but not for us, ordinary people. We are indeed on equal footing with Colotes as far as the reliance on appearances is concerned (1118A9-B2). This remark may be intended as indirectly confirming Socrates’ disavowal of wisdom: he is not the kind of sage addressed by Epicurus’ precepts. At any rate, Socrates’ distrust of the senses, which Plutarch does not contest, is rather interpreted in what we would call a Platonic framework, i.e. in the light of the distinction between knowledge and opinion, probably linked to a distinction between ontological realms. The outlook of his philosophy is not so much sceptical in the modern sense, but zetetic.50 Plutarch himself explains that philosophy as practiced by Socrates consists in learning51 and searching for the truth (18, 1117D7-8).
27Plutarch concludes the section with an internal reference to later sections of the text: there will be more opportunity to speak on the same issue (20, 1118C1-2), i.e. about the senses and Colotes’ attack on those who hold them to be unable to provide knowledge of the external world. The reference is to the sections on Arcesilaus (certainly) and the Cyrenaics (probably).
- 52 See also De ad. et am. 25, 65E8-F3; Cons. ad Ap. 28, 116D8-D1; De E 2, 385D2-7; (...)
28(3) For the third charge against Socrates, Plutarch does not give a quotation from Colotes’ tract, but merely a report. Colotes ridicules Socrates for his search (ζητοῦντα) into what a human being is and for his closely related claim that he does not even know himself. This is the silly behaviour of a youngster (20, 1118C2-5). Plutarch replies that Colotes’ mockery is due to immaturity: he has not even reached the stage where he would see the point of the quest for self-knowledge. Yet that it is important is shown by an appeal to authority: Heraclitus and the Delphic oracle ( “Know thyself”) proclaim it to be of primary importance. Moreover, Aristotle locates the beginning of Socratic aporetic and zetetic practice in this oracle.52 “But Colotes finds this ridiculous” (1118C11). It is the authority of the ancients against that of Colotes. Guess who wins…
29Next Plutarch overturns the argument: Colotes should mock his own master, for in searching for the nature of the soul he was looking for the nature of man. Plutarch quotes Epicurus (1118D9-E5) and adds that this shows that not just the “impostor” Socrates, but also the “wise people themselves” regard the quest for self-knowledge as something important (20, 1118D6-8) – a double, ironical, sneer, one directed at Epicurus, the other at Colotes for his slander. Plutarch moreover uses the quotation to criticise Epicurus’ materialistic conception of the soul, which fails to account for our reasoning power. For when it comes to explain thinking Epicurus can no longer invoke a mixture of heat, gas and air, but has to resort to an “unnameable” constituent. This is no more than a confession of ignorance, Plutarch comments: it is indeed not an easy thing to discover the nature of our faculty of reason. Hence, Plutarch concludes, Socrates was no fool when he decided he had to look for just this before all other things. Those, on the contrary, like the Epicureans, who talk about all kind of things before having looked into the highest part of our soul have embarked upon a futile enterprise (1118E5-F7).
- 53 This position is comparable to the harmony hypothesis put forward by Simmias in the Phaed (...)
- 54 The lost treatise Περὶ τοῦ γνῶθι σαυτὸν καὶ εἰ ἀθάνατος ἡ ψυχή (Lamprias Cat. 177) appear (...)
- 55 For the metaphors used, see J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 98 (...)
- 56 See De Is. et Os. 49, 371B3-4: Τυφὼν δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς τὸ παθητικὸν καὶ τιτανικὸν καὶ ἄλογον (...)
30Apparently Colotes had not just mocked Socrates for searching his true nature, he had also argued that this endeavour makes life impossible. Therefore Plutarch now addresses this second part of the accusation and grants for the sake of the argument that Socrates’ quest is “cheap” and useless (21, 1118F8-1119A3). Plutarch pictures a fictional self-dialogue of someone going through the different possibilities (1119A3-B2): my true self could be (i) a blend of soul and body; (ii) the soul using the body (an instrumentalist position); (iii) the leading part of the body, principle of thought and action (a different instrumentalist position); (iv) no substance at all, but just a blend of the body (a form of eleminitavism or epiphenomenalism).53 This short self-dialogue is meant to show that many philosophers, notably the natural philosophers (1119B3), have asked themselves this question without thereby endangering their lives. It would be much more dangerous indeed to take the irrational powers for our true self. As long as these are not recognised for what they are and held in check, they can throw our lives into chaos (1119B2-8). The question Socrates asks in the Phaedrus (230A3-6), whether he is “a beast more intricate and puffed up than Typhon” or rather something divine54 and free from infatuation,55 does not threaten our lives, but merely the worst part of ourselves. And this deserves to be threatened. It is indeed irrationality that we should get rid of. It is dangerous, as can be seen in the case of “your leader”, i.e. Epicurus, who has implanted plenty of Typhon (i.e. irrationality56) in his disciples by waging a war against gods and godlike men (1119B8-C3). With this last reference to Epicurus’ alleged atheism and his blasphemous criticism of Socrates Plutarch concludes the section on Socrates.
- 57 Sen. Ep. 1, 9.1; 9.18 (fr. 173-175, in H. Usener, Epicurea, Leipzig, Teubner, 1887). (...)
- 58 Tranq. an. 17, 475C7-10; Demetr. 9, 9-10.
- 59 Sen. Ep. 1, 9.18; De const. sap. 5.6.
- 60 Plut. Demetr. 9,9-10.
- 61 See Chrysippus, ap. Plut. Stoic. rep. 10, 1036C2-5.
- 62 Tranq. an. 6, 467F5-468A10. It is probably no coincidence that Stilpo figures twice in a (...)
31As with Socrates, Colotes was not the first of his school to have criticised the Megarian philosopher Stilpo. Epicurus himself had already rebuked Stilpo for his view according to which the sage is completely self-sufficient and does not need friends.57 A well-known anecdote, cited elsewhere by Plutarch,58 illustrates this conviction of his. When Demetrius had pillaged Megara and his soldiers had stolen Stilpo’s material goods (according to Seneca Stilpo also lost his wife and children59) Stilpo replied to Demetrius, who had asked whether he had by any chance lost anything: “I still have all my goods with me.” In one version, cited by Plutarch, Stilpo specified that they had not taken his knowledge.60 Recounting another famous anecdote, Plutarch tells his readers that Stilpo was not disturbed by the licentious life led by his daughter and explained that this had nothing to do with him. By an elegant rhetorical (some might say sophistical61) argument, playing on the polysemy of words (amphibolia), Stilpo fends off his Cynic detractor.62 In De prof. 12, 83C3-D3 Plutarch tells another story which shows that Stilpo was so composed and undisturbed that even in his dreams he remained calm when an angry Poseidon appeared to him.
- 63 This is suggested by De prof. 12, 83B6-C3.
- 64 See G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section (...)
- 65 Even his proverbial womanising and alcoholism were cited in his favour. See Cic. Fat. 5.1 (...)
- 66 For a more careful interpretation than my hasty remark, see G. Giannantoni, Socratis et S (...)
32Plutarch’s references to Stilpo in his other works thus make up a consistent portrait: Stilpo was a philosopher who believed in the self-sufficiency of virtue and lived accordingly. Through training63 he had managed to control the irrational element of his soul, so that he could enjoy a very high degree of tranquillity. This, one should add, made him a worthy Socratic and moreover a philosopher who was perfectly able to live in accordance with his principles. Other sources confirm his gentle and upright character and unpretentiousness.64 Diogenes Laertius, for instance, offers a remarkably sympathetic portrait of the Megarian. He also mentions the agility of his mind, his argumentative skill and creativity, his subtility and conversational elegance (2.113; 115),65 but is strikingly silent about his views. He merely tells us that Stilpo rejected the theory of Forms (2.119).66
- 67 Some of these tenets can be derived from the anecdotes. Iamblichus (ap. Simpl. in Cat. 40 (...)
- 68 See Diog. Laert. 2.114 (ἦν δὲ καὶ πολιτικώτατος); 6.76. See K. Döring, Die Megariker. Kom (...)
- 69 See Diog. Laert. 2.115-116. See K. Döring, Die Megariker, op. cit., p. 140.
33It is from this overall positive image of Stilpo that Plutarch starts his discussion (while reminding us that in Colotes’ pamphlet the sequence was Socrates-Plato-Stilpo: Adv. Col. 22, 1119C4-5). We do not really learn what kind of abuse was heaped upon Stilpo, but Plutarch censures his opponent for not mentioning the many good things there are to say about Stilpo: his true doctrines and words by which he brought distinction to himself, to his country, his friends, and those kings who valued him, his “high spirit (φρόνημα) joined with gentleness (πραότης) and restraint over the passions (μετριοπάθεια)” (1119C5-10). The doctrines that Plutarch expressly calls “true” are probably the ethical principles that Stilpo embraced.67 The fact that he mentions friends is not without consequence, given Epicurus’ criticism of Stilpo regarding his views on the use of friends: although Stilpo maintained that someone in complete possession of virtue does not need friends, he himself obviously had friends and was good to them. This is no contradiction: Stilpo presumably held the moderate view that while the wise person enjoys having friends, (s)he does not require them in order to be happy. Stilpo was moreover active in politics68 and indeed on close terms with kings (Ptolemy Soter and Demetrius Poliorcetes).69
- 70 As argued by K. von Fritz, “Megariker”, in Paulys Realenzyklopädie der classisc (...)
- 71 R. Muller, Introduction à la pensée des Mégariques, op. cit., p. 193-197; G. Giannantoni, (...)
- 72 K. von Fritz, “Megariker”, op. cit., p. 719.58-64.
34The ethical principles to which Stilpo appears to be firmly committed need not be attributed to Cynic influence.70 There is no reason for thinking that they were not indigenous to the Megaric school71 and part of its Socratic heritage.72
- 73 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. (...)
- 74 See also 23, 1120B4, reading ἐξέπαιξε with B. Einarson and P.H. De Lacy.
- 75 Adv. Col. 22, 1119C9-10: ὧν δὲ παίζων καὶ χρώμενος γέλωτι πρὸς τοὺς σοφιστὰς λογαρίων προ (...)
35Plutarch does not here say much about Stilpo’s character, presumably because there was no need to do so. This time, contrary to the case of Socrates, Colotes had not attempted a character assassination. What he had done instead was fasten on one of Stilpo’s logical arguments, make fun of it, and claim that it makes life impossible. The argument in question amounts to a rejection of all predication except identity predication: it is ruled out that one thing is predicated of another (1119D1-2: ἕτερον ἑτέρου μὴ κατηγορεῖσθαι – I shall call the predication of non-identicals ordinary predication). If predication were not possible, daily life would indeed become difficult.73 Plutarch, however, seems to think that this does not present a philosophical tenet to which Stilpo was seriously committed. He suggests that the argument, like other similar arguments, was offered by way of play, “in order to tease the sophists” as it were.74 It is no more than a dialectical exercise. Plutarch further intimates it was rather foolish of Colotes not to have understood this, but to have used it instead to start an invective. He should rather have spotted the fallacy and benefited from this little dialectical exercise.75 Plutarch is clearly not convinced of the seriousness of the argument, which in any case fits well with the eristic image of the Megarian school. He is probably right in thinking that Stilpo did not really believe that ordinary predication is impossible: Stilpo continued to use ordinary predication, and it is even indispensible for other philosophical points made by him. Yet this does not necessarily mean that the Megarian did not see himself confronted with a genuine puzzle.
36Colotes makes a theatre of it (1119C12: τραγῳδίαν ἐπάγει τῷ Στίλπωνι) and protests that the rejection of ordinary predication makes life impossible. Plutarch quotes a passage in which Colotes says that life becomes impossible if we can not say that “(some) man <is> good” or “(some) man <is> a general” but merely “man man” or “general general”, or if we cannot speak of “ten thousand horsemen” or “a strong city”, but can only say “horsemen horsemen”, or “ten thousand ten thousand” and so on (1119D2-6 – the Greek examples all consist of just two words, without copula, articles, or quantifiers).
37Plutarch replies that this does not make life impossible: it is just a dialectical exercise. His rhetorical questions have the added effect of showing that Colotes is actually quite stupid for failing to understand this (1119D6-9). Immediately following upon this remark Plutarch resorts to counter-attack, at first merely by throwing in a red herring. What makes life really impossible is the kind of predication used by the Epicureans. Plutarch refers not to the form, but to the content of the predication: what is grave is to refuse to say or believe (or the inability to do so) that god is god (τὸν θεὸν μὴ λέγειν θεὸν μηδὲ νομίζειν, 1119E1-2) or to attach the usual predicates to each individual god, for instance “Demeter Thesmophoros” (“Demeter-Lawgiver”). Plutarch vituperates the Epicurean in strong moral terms, thus switching the subject to the alleged Epicurean atheism and their repudiation of religious practice. These are real, momentous problems for our lives, he claims, unlike the dialectical issue raised by Stilpo or indeed unlike dialectical issues in general, i.e. problems about some vocables, the syntax of “meanings” (lekta) and the accepted usage of words. The epithets of the gods and the religious practices mentioned were indeed relevant for aspects of daily life, such as agriculture, marriage, and family (22, 1119D9-1119F2).
- 76 See A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. II, Cambridge, CUP, 1987, (...)
38Whatever one might think of Plutarch’s diversionary tactics – they were not uncommon in ancient polemical writings – his next move brings us closer again to the centre of the current battle by returning to the philosophy of language. If a theory of language can threaten life at all, then the Epicureans are worse off than Stilpo.76
- 77 Plutarch fails to discriminate between these types of entities, but he probably thinks in (...)
- 78 For another example of terminological syncretism, see Quaest. Plat. 10, 1009C9-D1, (...)
- 79 Later Platonists understood the Stoic “affections of the mind” in this context as “though (...)
- 80 See Sext. Emp. AM 8.11-12 = SVF II 166. See D.M. Schenkeveld, J. Barnes, “Language”, in K (...)
- 81 See A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1, translations (...)
- 82 It is probably no coincidence that in Sextus Empiricus the Epicurean two-tiered (...)
- 83 A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1, op. cit., p. 101. (...)
- 84 For Epicurus’ view in this respect, see the analysis in D.M. Schenkeveld, J. Ba (...)
- 85 A similar “translation” of Stoic concepts can be found in Adv. Col. 15, 1116A9-B10.
- 86 It is quite un-Stoic to say that the sayables are that which provides substantiality, as (...)
39Plutarch attacks the Epicurean philosophy of language, more precisely the fact that they discard the level of meanings, intermediate between signifiers (sounds: φωναί) and extralinguistic states of affairs, events or things77 (τὰ τυγχάνοντα). The Epicurean elimination of this intermediate category makes life impossible, more so than the dialectical issues mentioned above (vocables, the syntax of meanings and the accepted usage of words), for the very existence of meanings lends substance to discourse. Plutarch refers to the class of entities abolished by the Epicureans as “the genus of lekta” (τὸ τῶν λεκτῶν γένος) or as “the intermediary [class of] things signified” (τὰ δὲ μεταξὺ σημαινόμενα πράγματα), and claims that these are the means of learning, teaching, preconceptions, thoughts, appetition, and assent (1119F2-1120A2). With this claim Plutarch has overturned the argument: Epicurus’ philosophy of language rather than Stilpo’s makes life impossible. Plutarch uses a number of terms that stem from Stoic and/or Epicurean philosophy (λεκτόν, πρόληψις, ὁρμή, συγκατάθεσις), but that are here presumably considered as part of the philosophical koinê and that therefore can be made part of a (primitive) Platonic theory of language too.78 This is even true for the Stoic lekton, which is here stripped of its ontological connotations and used in the general sense of “what is signified”. These “intensions” are considered as connecting the extensions (extralinguistic entities) to the words. This is comparable with the three-level model of Aristotle’s De interpretatione (for the sake of convenience I leave out the fourth level, that of the written signs), with meanings taking the place of “thoughts” or “affections of the mind”.79 The three levels actually correspond closer to the Stoic three-tiered model that distinguishes between the signifiers, the signified, and that which obtains (the external item).80Lekta can indeed be considered as the contents of these soul-affections, if one has a materialistic view of the soul. The Epicurean materialistic view of the soul and the mechanistic account of thought is indeed what worries Plutarch most. That is why he suggests to reintroduce the intentional counterparts of those states of the soul.81 He uses the Stoic concept of the lekton, an entity subsisting in accordance with a rational impression, in order to show what is missing from the Epicurean theory.82 Anthony Long and David Sedley argue that his criticism is misguided, as the preconceptions “can be taken to serve as the meanings of words in the Epicurean theory.”83 I agree that Plutarch does not do justice to Epicurus’ naturalistic theory of language. But it is also understandable that he fails to see what, on the Epicurean view, would make words be about things.84 For a Platonist it is only natural to require that there be something – incorporeal – linking the two, i.e. fixing the reference of words. Plutarch makes a clever use of the Stoic model,85 which he probably understands as matching the Aristotelian and Platonic account, but also as having the advantage of showing the need of an incorporeal level of meaning even in a materialistic system.86
40One can also understand why Plutarch thinks the Epicurean theory is a problem for our lives as human beings: if there are no meanings, there are no connections between words and things; words would refer to nothing, they would just be sounds; we would not be able to communicate nor to think (understanding thinking on the model of a conversation with oneself). No such problems are attached to Stilpo’s theory, however (23, 1120A3), as Plutarch will now attempt to show.
41After the counter-attack against the Epicurean theory of language Plutarch finally turns to Stilpo’s theory of language in order to examine whether Colotes’ criticism is justified. He first explains Stilpo’s view at some length (23, 1020A3-B8), and then very briefly concludes that Stilpo’s argument does not make life impossible (23, 1020B8-9).
- 87 Whether the example contains a form of “to be” depends on whether one accepts the conject (...)
- 88 It would be more correct to put “human being” as a translation of ἄνθρωπος, but I use “ma (...)
42Let us first take a closer look at Plutarch’s presentation of the argument. He begins by explaining that for cases where we say “S is P”, Stilpo says that S is not identical to P, i.e. what is predicated is not the same as what it is predicated of, but something different (1120A4-6). Examples are: “(to) run” said of “horse”; “(to be?) good”87 said of “man”.88
- 89 X is substitutable by S or P or anything that is an S or a P.
43Now why are S and P different? Plutarch explains: because the account that explains what-it-is-for-X-to-be-X (ὁ λόγος τοῦ τί ἦν εἶναι)89 is different for S and for P. Indeed, if we ask what S is and what P is, e.g. what horse is and what to run is, we will give different accounts (1120A9-10). So far, so good. It is the account expressing the essence of both terms that is different, hence the meanings of the words substitutable for S and P are different.
44The next step is to say that therefore those who predicate one thing of another make a mistake (1120A10-11). After this striking claim there is a blank of 26 characters in one manuscript, of 30 in another. Editors have supplied “or they are not the same”, “for they are separate and not the same”, “as if the essence of both were the same”. Unfortunate as this lacuna may be, it does probably not seriously hamper our understanding of the rest of the argument. Plutarch explains why it would be wrong according to Stilpo to predicate P of S. The argument apparently takes the form of a dichotomy (εἰ μὲν γὰρ ταὐτόν, 1120A11 – εἰ <δ’> ἕτερον, 1120B2). The first part of the argument presupposes that predicating P of S amounts to saying that P is identical to S. But then the predication of the same P of different S’s (S1 and S2) results in a contradiction. Assuming that
1) S1 ≠ S2
and predicating (understood as asserting the identity)
2) S1 = P
3) S2 = P
one can only conclude
4) S1 = S2 (from 2 and 3),
which contradicts 1.
45To use Plutarch’s examples: if we say that good and man are the same, and food and good are the same, and drug and good are the same, then man = food = drug. Or if we say that horse and to run are the same, and lion and to run are the same, and dog and to run are the same, horse = lion = dog. A paraphrase of the argument that stays closer to the text would be: If <by predicating good of man it is implied that> good is identical to man, how could we still predicate good of food and medication as well?
46The second part of the dichotomy is based on the premise that by predicating P of S, the identity is not implied, or even that it is implied that P is different from S (i.e. not just “not implied that S is identical to P”, but “implied that S is not identical to P”). Or to put it simpler: in the first part of the dichotomy, S = P, in the second part S ≠ P. In the case of non-identity, Plutarch explains, it is simply wrong to assert “S is P”. We are wrong to say “man (is) good” and “horse runs”. Note that in the Greek none of the two examples contains the verb “to be”. Why would one draw that conclusion?, one may ask. The answer can only be that the silent assumption here is that “S is P” simply means “S is identical to P”, and in case S is not in reality identical to P (i.e. in case the real entity signified by S is not identical to the real entity signified by P, whereby the real entities in question are essences), the truth value to be assigned to the proposition “S is P” is “false”.
47Note that on this reading the second part of the dichotomy is not simply self-refuting and hence a non-starter. It would be if the assumption explicitly made at the beginning of this part of the argument (<εἰ> δ’ ἕτερον, 1120B2) pertains to the meaning of the expression “S is P”, which would be in direct contradiction with the hidden assumption on which the argument rests, namely that “S is P” means “S = P”. As I read the argument, however, the explicit assumption is about whether P can be truly predicated of the substituend for S, more particularly whether man is in fact good, regardless of the value of “is”. On that reading, Plutarch says that if man is not in fact identical to good, which as we know already is to be understood actually as “what it is to be man” is not identical to “what it is to be good”, it is wrong to predicate good of man by saying “man (is) good”.
- 90 K. Döring, “Sokrates, die Sokratiker und die von ihnen begründeten Traditionen” (...)
- 91 While defending Plato against Colotes’ criticisms, Plutarch apparently refers to the Soph (...)
- 92 See also Soph. 255B8-C5.
48The fallacy in this argument seems obvious: it is the hidden assumption. Predication does not amount to expressing identity. This is something Stilpo should have learned from Plato’s Sophist,90 and is certainly something the Platonist Plutarch may be supposed to know.91 In reply to certain young men and to the late-learners among the old, the Visitor in Plato’s dialogue argues that we do not restrict our language to saying that man is man, but also say he is good and indefinitely many other things. This, he warns, is a feast for those paradox-mongers who claim that the many cannot be one and who allow only assertions like “good (is) good” and “man (is) man” (Soph. 251A8-C6). The solution is given when the Visitor explains that sharing in something does not imply identity, but involves difference (259A7-8). When A participates in B, we can of course say that A is B. But this predication is no assertion of identity.92 The similarity of Plato’s account of the eristic paradoxes with Plutarch’s account of Stilpo’s is striking, even the example is identical to one of Stilpo’s. So one can wonder why Plutarch does not point to Plato’s solution. I will make a suggestion about that below.
- 93 The same chapter contains the examples “horse” (1B4) and “running” (1A18). Συμπ (...)
- 94 See ps.-Arch. Katholikoi logoi deka, 3.19-20 Th.; T.A. Szlezák, Pseudo-Archytas über die (...)
49Plutarch instead comments that Stilpo is just provoking his audience: he has produced a biting piece of mockery. More importantly for our present purposes, Plutarch adds an explanation about what is rejected in the argument, i.e. about what is its silent assumption: Stilpo disallows the combination (συμπλοκή) of the subject (τὸ ὑποκείμενον) with “what is in the subject and said of the subject” (τῶν ἐν ὑποκειμένῳ καὶ καθ’ ὑποκειμένου λεγομένων, 1020B4-6). The terminology appears to be taken straight from the second chapter of Aristotle’s Categories,93 and refers to the combination of the subject with universal non-substance items, i.e. the case of ordinary predication of accidents of a substance. This is then prohibited according to Stilpo. Unless it is straightaway identical with that of which it is an accident (εἰ μὴ κομιδῇ ταὐτὸν ᾧ συμβέβηκε λέγεται), Plutarch adds, each of these non-substance universals should not be said about the subject, not even as being its accident (μηδ’ ὡς συμβεβηκὸς οἰόμενος δεῖν περὶ αὐτοῦ λέγεσθαι, 1120B6-8).94 The term “accident” is here used in the sense of that which belongs to a category other than substance and is at the same time attributable to a subject. One could object to Plutarch’s phrasing that if something is identical with that of which it is “an accident”, it is not an accident of that thing. And if it is the essence of the thing, it should not be predicated of it as its accident. Be that as it may, the meaning of Plutarch’s final comment seems to be more or less clear: either there is identity, in which case you can say P of S, or there is not. In the latter case there is no combination of the substrate/subject with the non-substance universals (which in that case are no “accidents” either) and no predication of P to S is allowed. I suggest to take Plutarch’s reference to a combination of subject and accidents (συμπλοκή) in an ontological sense. If that is correct Stilpo’s argument as explained by Plutarch would amount not only to a rejection of ordinary predication, but also to a denial of the ontological relation to which ordinary predication corresponds.
- 95 The expressions Plutarch uses at 22, 1119F1-2 could confirm this reading: φωνάς τινας cou (...)
- 96 This agrees in part with the interpretation proposed by B. Einarson, P.H. De Lacy, Plutar (...)
50At the very end of the section on Stilpo Plutarch addresses the question whether Stilpo’s view makes life impossible (23, 1120B8-10). Of course, that is not to be feared. Stilpo is supposedly merely opposed “to the use of certain words and to common usage”. So we can live on as we do, but should merely speak in a different way. In what way? If I understand his remark correctly,95 Plutarch means that Stilpo would object to nothing but the use of the verb “to be” in its function as copula.96 For the expressions repudiated by Stilpo can hardly be the technical Aristotelian terminology used in the preceding argument. Stilpo clearly takes issue with everyday predication, not with a meta-discourse about predication. The only case where it is admissible to use “to be” for linking two words would then be that in which one wants to express the identity between the two terms, more precisely the identity of what they stand for. If we can rely on Plutarch’s account of Stilpo’s argument, it is clear that he wants the intensions to be identical, not just the references (Plutarch of course does not make the Fregean distinction, but presumably he would be inclined say that the meaning fixes the reference, without of course having a precise theory about that).
- 97 P.H. De Lacy, B. Einarson, Plutarch. Moralia, Volume XIV, op. cit., p. 267, n.c
51According to Benedict Einarson and Phillip De Lacy, Stilpo does “not deny the connexion that exists between an accident and its substance, but objects to expressing it by means of ‘certain vocables’, that is, the verb ‘is’, which is properly restricted to the predication of essential attributes.”97 I am tempted to agree with the middle part of this quotation, but not quite with its beginning or its end. If I am right about the preceding argument, one part of its conclusion is the rejection of any ontological connection between substrate and accidents. And as for the last part of the sentence quoted: there is no mention in the argument of a distinction between essential and non-essential attributes. It is unclear whether Stilpo would allow the predication of essential attributes (in some sense they are identical with the substance – they are invariably the same in substrate –, in another sense not). The argument is not about those kinds of attribute, but prohibits ordinary predication and allows identity predication of the type “man man” and “good good”, where there is absolute identity between S and P.
- 98 This would be the view that Aristotle, Phys. 1.2., 185B25-32, ascribes to the sophist Lyc (...)
- 99 In addition to misjudging its playful tone.
52If it is really merely the verb “to be” that is repudiated by Stilpo in the absence of identity between subject and predicate, Stilpo would still allow ordinary predication, provided that it is accomplished without expressing the copula.98 Plutarch probably thinks that Stilpo would be satisfied if we perform ordinary predications by merely juxtaposing subject and predicate. If that is indeed Plutarch’s interpretation in the final lines of the section, however, it should be said that Colotes’ criticism in the literal quotation given by Plutarch (22, 1119D2-6) shows that according to the latter Colotes must have misunderstood Stilpo’s argument99 completely, for in his examples of expressions that are allegedly declared illegitimate by Stilpo Colotes never uses the copula. In other words, Stilpo would have had no objection to them at all. The same is true of Plutarch’s own examples in his initial reply (1119D9-E4). It is of course possible that Plutarch’s interpretation of Stilpo is wrong and that Stilpo would not just object to the use of “is” in these cases, but to ordinary predication as such, with or without expressed copula. In that case, Colotes’ examples would be correct after all, as expressing exactly those cases declared illegitimate by Stilpo.
53Something other is odd as well if we compare Plutarch’s presentation of Stilpo’s argument (23, 1020A3-B8) with his final remarks, if indeed I have interpreted the latter correctly so far. The examples discussed mostly do not contain an expressed copula. What is more, the argument is obviously more radical than what Plutarch presumably claims in his concluding comment: according to the argument, it is not just the use of the copula that is objectionable; the predicative relation itself is the problem, as there is no ontological foundation for ordinary predication at all. What is usually called the substrate/subject and the accident are completely separate entities.
- 100 See K. Döring, Die Megariker, op. cit., p. 154.
- 101 Adv. Col. 3, 1108D9-10: ἴστε δήπου παντὸς μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς, ἔφην, τὰ συγγράμματα τῶν (...)
54In analysing the argument I have mostly referred to Plutarch as if he were its author. As a matter of fact, the provenance of the argument is contested. Klaus Döring claims that the whole refutation of Colotes’ criticism, including the explanation of what Stilpo meant, stems from Plutarch himself: the argument against the possibility of ordinary predication cannot be based on Stilpo’s writings, to which Plutarch could certainly have had no access100 (I fail to see why not). Hence the Aristotelian vocabulary would stem from Plutarch too. I am not convinced by these arguments. First, it is not so unlikely that Plutarch had access to Stilpo’s original argument. After all, he censures Colotes for not having consulted the works of the ancients. Moreover Plutarch says that the writings of the ancients are available to his own audience.101 Second, the vocabulary used in the argument is quite untypical of Plutarch.
55I suggest that we accept that the account given in 1020A3-B8 is a more or less reliable paraphrase of Stilpo’s own argument and that the mild conclusion added by Plutarch himself (which cannot be Stilpo’s, as it replies to Colotes’ criticism) fails to do justice to the force of the argument. Or to put it more sharply: Plutarch failed to see that his conclusion does not fit the argument. The idea that the argument is essentially Stilpo’s would moreover help to explain why Plato’s solution is nowhere mentioned: Stilpo had no interest in mentioning it (or maybe he did not even know the Sophist and its views). Plutarch’s own contribution would then be found probably in the sentences preceding and following this argument: the idea that Stilpo was just jesting and merely proposed a dialectical exercise and the view that the argument was merely directed at the explicit use of the copula. This hypothesis moreover explains why the examples used in the quotation from Colotes and Plutarch’s initial reply to the criticism contain no expressed copula.
- 102 See L. Montoneri, I Megarici. Studio storico-critico e traduzione delle testimo (...)
56Stilpo’s reasons for arguing against the predication of non-identicals remain somewhat of a mystery: The argument was certainly not original, and had moreover already been refuted, so it would seem. Maybe it was indeed not meant to be taken that serious. Maybe it was just a playful eristic exercise, one of the topical arguments of the school.102
- 103 My paraphrase of the passage is based on the translation by P. Huby, C.C.W. Taylor, Simpl (...)
57A passage from Simplicius may throw some more light on this issue. Simplicius introduces his testimony (In Phys. 120.12-17)103 by claiming that the Megarians ignore Plato’s account of predication, which was designed to overcome difficulties raised by Parmenides. Because of their ignorance about Plato’s solution they assume “that things of which the accounts differ differ themselves and that things that are different are separated the one from the other.” This led them to conclude that musical Socrates is different from white Socrates and that therefore Socrates is separated from himself.
58Although it is clearly a different argument, the similarities with our argument can hardly be overlooked: both arguments appeal to different accounts (λόγοι) of the essence to establish that the things in question differ. The argument in Simplicius states, the one in Plutarch implies, a separation between non-identicals, and hence between substrate/subject and accident/predicates. And most importantly, like the argument in Adv. Col. the argument reported by Simplicius uses the assumption that every predication amounts to a statement of identity. It concludes that every thing and every person is separated from itself/herself, based on the reasoning: if S is P and S is Q; and P ≠ Q; then S ≠ S. This piece of reasoning is very close to the reasoning in the first part of the dichotomy of the argument reported by Plutarch.
1 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, Oxford, OUP, 2011, p. 130.
2 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A lesson in history of philosophy, op. cit., p. 137.
3 This is the result of a double reversal. Besides the one already mentioned, Plutarch also switched the sections on Empedocles and Parmenides, in order to emphasise the thematic similarities between Democritus and Empedocles (Adv. Col. 13, 1113E8-F1; and 10, 1111F3-4).
4 On the thorny issue of the Megarian school, see D.N. Sedley, “Diodorus Cronus and Hellenistic Philosophy”, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 203, 1977, p. 74-120; G. Cambiano, “Il problemo dell’esistenza di una scuola Megarica”, in G. Giannantoni (ed.), Scuole socratiche minori e filosofia ellenistica, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1977; K. Döring, “Gab es eine Dialektische Schule?”, Phronesis, 34, 1989, p. 293-310.
5 Cic. De or. 3, 16.61-17.62. See also Plato, Phaed. 59B-C. The testimonies on the Socratics in general are collected in G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, Naples, Elenchos, 18, 1990, section I, H. See K. Döring, “Sokrates, die Sokratiker und die von ihnen begründeten Traditionen”, in H. Flashar (ed.), Die Philosophie der Antike 2/1 : Sophistik, Sokrates, Sokratik, Mathematik, Medizin, Stuttgart and Basel, Schwabe, 1998 (p. 139-364), p. 179-181; P.A. Vander Waerdt, “Colotes and the Epicurean Refutation of Skepticism”, GRBS, 30, 1989 (p. 225-267), p. 228.
6 Cic. De or. 3, 17.62; Diog. Laert. 2,47.
7 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 139-150.
8 The position of Stilpo in the sequence poses a problem for R. Westman, Plutarch gegen Kolotes: Seine Schrift “Adversus Colotem” als philosophiegeschichtliche Quelle, Helsingfors, Finnische Literaturgesellschaft (Acta Philosophica Fennica 7), 1955, p. 124, which only shows R. Westman’s classification to be unsatisfactory.
9 It is not impossible that Plutarch knew Aristotle’s report (Met. 1.6, 987B1-7) on the difference between Socrates and Plato and was influenced by it, whereas Colotes may not have known this. According to this report Socrates was interested in ethical definitions, but, contrary to Plato, unconcerned with the ontological status of their objects. It is unclear whether Colotes could have had access to this text, and if we are to believe Plutarch, unlikely that he would have bothered. See Adv. Col. 3, 1108D5-11; 14, 1114F4-1115C4 (even without the conjecture by Bernays at 1115B11). As for Plutarch’s own knowledge of Metaphysics A: although we know he draws upon authors, probably Eudorus, who studied this work, P. Donini has expressed doubts about the issue of Plutarch’s own knowledge of it. Yet given Plutarch’s own insistence on the necessity to read the original works of Plato (in the passage from ch. 14 cited above), I would be inclined to be less sceptical. See P. Donini, “Testi e commenti, manuali e insegnamento: la forma sistematica e i metodi della filosofia in età postellenistica”, in ANRW, II, 36.7, Berlin and New York, De Gruyter, 1994 (p. 5027-5100), p. 5075-5080, esp. 5079, and also J. Mansfeld, Heresiography in context. Hippolytus’ Elenchos as a Source for Greek philosophy, Leiden, New York and Köln, Brill, 1992, p. 274-290.
10 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 149, n. 33 with references. Of course this constitutes no proof that Plutarch denied the Socratic nature of Plato’s philosophy.
11 See Lampr. cat. 63 ( “On the unity of the Academy from Plato onwards”); P. Donini, “L’eredità academica e i fondamenti del platonismo in Plutarco”, in M. Barbanti, G.R. Giardina, P. Manganaro (ed.), Ἕνωσις καὶ φιλία. Unione e amicizia. Omaggio a Francesco Romano, Catania, 2002 (p. 247-273), p. 249-250; J. Opsomer, “Plutarch’s Platonism Revisited”, in M. Bonazzi, V. Celluprica (ed.), L’eredità platonica. Studi sul platonismo da Arcesilao a Proclo, Naples, Bibliopolis (Elenchos 45), 2005 (p. 161-200), p. 169-171.
12 P. Donini, “L’eredità academica e i fondamenti del platonismo in Plutarco”, op. cit., p. 262-263, 267.
13 I adopt this useful threefold distinction from E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 87-88.
14 M.F. Burnyeat, “The Sceptic in his Place and Time”, in R. Rorty, J.B. Schneewind, Q. Skinner (ed.), Philosophy in History. Essays on the Historiography of Philosophy, London, New York and Cambridge, CUP, 1984, p. 225-254.
15 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 116-119.
16 There are some exceptions, but not in our section: E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 172. My account of Plutarch’s argumentative strategy is based on E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 172-178.
17 See Ar. Rhet. 2.23, 1398A3-4; 12-14, cited by E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 176. R. Westman (Plutarch gegen Kolotes, op. cit., p. 112) calls this the “Zurückwendungsmethode”.
18 The best example is De sera 1, 548A1-B5.
19 See L. Van Hoof, Plutarch’s practical ethics. The social dynamics of philosophy, Oxford, OUP, 2010, p. 265: “A text such as Against Colotes, for example, may have been primarily intended to defend the Platonic position against Epicurean philosophers, yet it also showed Plutarch scoring as a fully fledged philosopher at the expense of a competitor – an incitement to educated politicians to associate themselves with him rather than with another philosopher.” I am in overall agreement with this statement, especially when the reference to “politicians” is taken in a sufficiently broad sense or replaced with a reference to educated people in general. I find the attention paid to the social dynamics of philosophy helpful, but the focus on self-presentation, motivated by the perceived closeness of Plutarch in general to the epideictic rhetoric of the Second Sophistic, somewhat one-sided. Philosophical truths – and a life lived in accordance with it – would be more important to an ancient philosopher like Plutarch than his mere image as a philosopher, at least if “what is important” is determined on the basis of how philosophers can be presumed to have envisaged their own practice, according to what they say about this (while their psychological motives remain of course opaque).
20 For the use made by the Academics of presocratic philosophers, see C. Brittain, J. Palmer, “The New Academy’s appeals to the Presocratics”, Phronesis, 46.1, 2001, p. 38-72.
21 See M. Isnardi Parente, “Plutarco contro Colote”, in I. Gallo (ed.), Aspetti dello stoicismo e dell’epicureismo in Plutarco. Atti del II convegno di studi su Plutarco, Ferrara, 2-3 aprile 1987, Ferrara, Quaderni del Giornale Filologico Ferrarese, 9, 1988 (p. 65-88), p. 66; A.A. Long, “Socrates in Hellenistic Philosophy”, in Classical Quarterly, 82, 1988 (p. 150-171), p. 155-156; P.A. Vander Waerdt, “Colotes and the Epicurean Refutation of Skepticism”, op. cit., p. 230-231; J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, Elenchos, 23.2, 2002 (p. 333-356), p. 334-335.
22 J.M. Dillon, “Plutarch and Second Century Platonism”, in A.H. Armstrong (ed.), Classical Mediterranean Spirituality. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, London, Routledge (World Spirituality, 15), 1986, p. 214-229; P. Donini, “Plutarco, Ammonio e l’Academia”, in F.E. Brenk, I. Gallo (ed.), Miscellanea Plutarchea. Atti del I Convegno di studi su Plutarco, Roma, 23 novembre 1985, Ferrara, Quaderni del Giornale Filologico Ferrarese, 8, 1986, p. 97-110; P. Donini, “Lo scetticismo academico, Aristotele e l’unità della tradizione platonica secondo Plutarco”, in G. Cambiano (ed.), Storiografia e dossografia nella filosofia antica, Turin, Tirrenia (Biblioteca storico-filosofica, 2), 1986, p. 203-226; J.M. Dillon, “Plutarch and Platonist Orthodoxy”, ICS, 13, 1988, p. 357-364; P. Donini, “Testi e commenti, manuali e insegnamento: la forma sistematica e i metodi della filosofia in età postellenistica”, op. cit.; J.M. Dillon, “Plutarch’s debt to Xenocrates”, in A. Pérez Jiménez, J. García López, R.M. Aguilar (ed.), Plutarco, Platón y Aristóteles. Actas del V Congreso Internacional de la I.P.S., Madrid-Cuenca, 4-7 de Mayo de 1999, Madrid, Ediciones Clásicas, 1999, p. 305-311; P. Donini, “Platone e Aristotele nella tradizione Pitagorica secondo Plutarco”, ibidem, p. 9-43; P. Donini, “L’eredità academica e i fondamenti del platonismo in Plutarco”, op. cit.; P. Donini, “Socrate ‘Pitagorico’ e medioplatonico”, Elenchos, 24.2, 2003, p. 333-359; J. Opsomer, “Plutarch’s De animae procreatione in Timaeo: Manipulation or search for consistency?”, in P. Adamson, H. Baltussen, M.W.F. Stone (ed.), Philosophy, Science and Exegesis in Greek, Arabic and Latin Commentaries, I, London, University of London (Bulletin of the Institute Of Classical Studies Supplement 83.1), 2004, p. 137-162; J. Opsomer, “Plutarch’s Platonism Revisited”, op. cit.; J. Opsomer, “Plutarch on the One and the dyad”, in R. Sorabji, R.W. Sharples (ed.), Greek and Roman philosophy 100 BC to 200 AD, 2, London, University of London (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 94), 2007, p. 379-395; G. Karamanolis, “Plutarch”, in E.N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2010 edition [URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plutarch/], retrieved 2013/01/03.
23 Compare E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 169-171.
24 See M.T. Riley, “The Epicurean view of Socrates”, Phoenix, 34, 1980, p. 55-68; K. Kleve, “Scurra Atticus. The Epicurean view of Socrates”, in ΣΥΖΗΤΗΣΙΣ. Studi sull’epicureismo greco e romano offerti a Marcello Gigante, Naples, Gaetano Macchiaroli, 1983, p. 227-253. Socrates’ epistemology, too, had already been the object of Epicurean criticism, notably by Epicurus himself. See Cic. Brut. 292, and K. Kleve, “Scurra Atticus. The Epicurean view of Socrates”, op. cit., p. 231.
25 See Adv. Col. 17, 1116E11-F1.
26 Xenophon’s Apologia deserves a special mention here: Plutarch defends Socrates by pointing out similar oracles, notably a famous oracle about Lycurgus, in which Lycurgus is exalted even more than Socrates (17, 1116F4-6). This is probably inspired by Xenophon who lets Socrates make the same remark (Ap. 15). Other sources for the oracle of Chaerephon are listed by G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section I, C, p. 9, 73-77.
27 See G. Vlastos, Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cambridge, Cornell University Press, 1991, ch. 2. From Adv. Col. 1119B4 it is clear that the Phaedrus too counts among the dialogues that provide essential information about Socrates and his thought. The distinction between the sensible and intelligible attributed to Socrates in Adv. Col. 13, 1114C4-D2 could be derived from the Republic or many other dialogues. See J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, op. cit., p. 339; A.A. Long, “Socrates in Hellenistic Philosophy”, op. cit., p. 152: “In general, it seems, neither Hellenistic philosophers with an allegiance to Socrates, nor biographers and doxographers, addressed the ‘Socratic problem’ of modern scholarship.” A. Long argues that by the end of the Hellenistic period there was an awareness that Plato in many cases foisted his own ideas upon Socrates (p. 153). Even so, there is no trace of an attempt to keep both thinkers apart by distinguishing Socratic from other dialogues.
28 See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth. Academic Tendencies in Middle Platonism, Brussel, KAWLSK, 1998, ch. 2.
29 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D6-7; E3-4; E8. Inconsistency between one’s views and one’s conduct is probably the most favoured form of accusation in Greek philosophical polemics. See also DeStoic.rep. 1, 1033A1-B6; Numenius fr. 26, 96-98 Des Places.
30 It is called thus at Adv. Col. 26, 1122A9-11.
31 J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, op. cit., p. 347-349.
32 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D2-7.
33 Adv. Col. 19, 1117F5-1118A10; 2, 1108B4-5.
34 Adv. Col. 27, 1122E4-F1, with J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 88, n. 26. Cleanthes points out that this leads to a pragmatic inconsistency: ἄλλα μὲν λέγειν, ἕτερα δὲ ποιεῖν (Diog. Laert. 7.171 = SVF I, 605).
35 A bath also figured prominently in polemical arguments issued by Epictetus against the Academics. Apparently Favorinus regarded this as an attack on Plutarch and came to the latter’s defence. See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 222-235.
36 E.g. see P.H. De Lacy, B. Einarson, Plutarch. Moralia, Volume XIV, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 156: “The book is an attack on Arcesilaüs. The other philosophers are singled out because the sceptics of the Academy regarded them as predecessors.” See also J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 84-105; P.A. Vander Waerdt, “Colotes and the Epicurean Refutation of Skepticism”, op. cit., p. 231, 257.
37 See C. Brittain, J. Palmer, “The New Academy’s appeals to the Presocratics”, op. cit., esp. p. 62.
38 The meaning of Epicurus’ reaction is complex and not entirely clear. For a brief bibliography see G. Roskam, A Commentary on Plutarch’s De latenter vivendo, Leuven, Leuven University Press, 2007, p. 94, n. 32, to which should be added R. Piettre, “La proscynèse de Colotès: Une lecture de Plutarque, Moralia 1117B-F”, LALIES, 18, 1998, p. 185-202. On the relation between Colotes and Epicurus, see E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 22-23, 51-52.
39 See Adv. Col. 2, 1108B2-4.
40 Earlier on in the treatise Plutarch had already anticipated this line of attack. At Adv. Col. 2, 1108B6-7, he mentions Socrates’ gentleness and charm, contrasting his with Colotes’ character.
41 Adv. Col. 18, 1117D7-8. See E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 88, n. 19. See also, e.g., 20, 1118D7-8. If we may interpret the passing reference to braggery at 29, 1124C6-8 in this sense, Colotes had also levelled the same accusation of being a braggart at Arcesilaus.
42 Plutarch repeats the point in the epilogue: Adv. Col. 32, 1126B6-9.
43 See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 104. See also Quaest. Plat. 1, 999E2-10.
44 Adv. Col. 27, 1122E4-F5. See J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 87-88, 100.
45 The expression and the idea are borrowed from J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, op. cit., p. 349. See also J. Annas, “The Heirs of Socrates”, Phronesis, 33, 1988 (p. 100-112), p. 110.
46 Adv. Col. 13, 1114C4-D2; J. Warren, “Socratic Scepticism in Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem”, op. cit., p. 341. For the question whether “Socrates” embraced the theory of the Forms, see G. Vlastos, Socrates. Ironist and moral philosopher, op. cit., p. 58-59. It cannot be excluded that Plutarch was familiar with Aristotle’s remark about Socrates at Met. I.6, 987B1-2, but it is not clear what he would have made of that. See supra, n. 9. The prevailing view in Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic times seems to have been that Socrates was concerned with ethics alone, but that did not prevent at least some authors from attributing the theory of Forms and “knowledge about divine realities” to him. See Aristocles fr. 1 §2 in M.L. Chiesara, Aristocles of Messene: Testimonia and Fragments, Oxford and New York, OUP, 2001 (ap. Eus. PE 11.3.2, p. 510C); Aspas. in Arist. Eth. Nic. 2.4-9. Galen sees things differently: PHP 9, 799.16-800.16 Mueller = 588.25-32 De Lacy. His remark may be influenced precisely by the New Academic reception of Socrates: see Diog. Laert. 2.92.
47 This issue is brought up in a rather provocative way by H. Tarrant, review of The philosophy of Socrates by T.C. Brickhouse and N.D. Smith (Boulder, Westview Press, 2000), Ancient Philosophy, 20, 2000 (p. 473-478), p. 478. An important point is that the key concept for Socrates’ way of doing philosophy is probably ἐξέτασις. See also H. Tarrant, “Naming Socratic Interrogation in the Charmides”, in T.M. Robinson, L. Brisson (ed.), Plato: Euthydemus, Lysis, Charmides. Proceedings of the V Symposion Platonicum, selected papers, Sankt Augustin, Academia Verlag, 2000, p. 251-258.
48 Compare Quaest. Plat. 1, 1000D10-11.
49 Compare M. Isnardi Parente, “Plutarco contro Colote”, op. cit., p. 76.
50 Compare Gellius 11.5.6; Sext. Emp. PH 1.7.
51 Compare Quaest. Plat. 1, 1000E2; Adv. Col. 20, 1118C9-10.
52 See also De ad. et am. 25, 65E8-F3; Cons. ad Ap. 28, 116D8-D1; De E 2, 385D2-7; 17, 392A4-9; 21, 394C1-7; De Pyth. 29, 408D10-E5; and other texts cited in J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 185.
53 This position is comparable to the harmony hypothesis put forward by Simmias in the Phaedo or to the position usually attributed to Dicaearchus. One could also think of the view attributed to Heraclides in Plutarchus De libidine et aegritudine 5 (Heracl. Pont. fr. 72 Wehrli), but as V. Caston (“Dicaearchus’ philosophy of mind”, in W.W. Fortenbaugh, E. Schütrumpf (ed.), Dicaearchus of Messana. Text, Translation, and Discussion, New Brunswick and London, Transaction Publishers, 2001, p. 175-193), points out p. 185, Heraclides cannot have held this theory, as he thought the soul consists of light and travels through the galaxy (fr. 96-100 Wehrli; fr. 92). V. Caston surmises that Heraclides in the book refered to by Plutarch presents the theory of a contemporary in order to criticise it. Another possibility would be that the book cited by Plutarch was not by Heraclides, a possibility which Plutarch himself suggests.
54 The lost treatise Περὶ τοῦ γνῶθι σαυτὸν καὶ εἰ ἀθάνατος ἡ ψυχή (Lamprias Cat. 177) appears to have connected the knowledge of the true self with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
55 For the metaphors used, see J. Opsomer, In Search of the Truth, op. cit., p. 98, 103, with n. 107.
56 See De Is. et Os. 49, 371B3-4: Τυφὼν δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς τὸ παθητικὸν καὶ τιτανικὸν καὶ ἄλογον καὶ ἔμπληκτον. See also 2, 351F1-3: “Typhon is conceited (τετυφώμενος), as his name implies (τυφόω: to be crazy, demented), because of his ignorance and self-deception.”
57 Sen. Ep. 1, 9.1; 9.18 (fr. 173-175, in H. Usener, Epicurea, Leipzig, Teubner, 1887). See also Diog. Laert. 10.27 (Πρὸς τοὺς Μεγαρικούς, from the catalogue of Epicurus’ works, see H. Usener, op. cit. p. 85); E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 99.
58 Tranq. an. 17, 475C7-10; Demetr. 9, 9-10.
59 Sen. Ep. 1, 9.18; De const. sap. 5.6.
60 Plut. Demetr. 9,9-10.
61 See Chrysippus, ap. Plut. Stoic. rep. 10, 1036C2-5.
62 Tranq. an. 6, 467F5-468A10. It is probably no coincidence that Stilpo figures twice in a treatise on tranquillity.
63 This is suggested by De prof. 12, 83B6-C3.
64 See G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section IV, p. 100; R. Muller, Introduction à la pensée des Mégariques, Paris et Bruxelles, Vrin (Cahiers de philosophie ancienne, 6), 1988, p. 58-59.
65 Even his proverbial womanising and alcoholism were cited in his favour. See Cic. Fat. 5.10.
66 For a more careful interpretation than my hasty remark, see G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section IV, p. 105-106.
67 Some of these tenets can be derived from the anecdotes. Iamblichus (ap. Simpl. in Cat. 403.17-19) commented on Stilpo’s dictum “they have not taken away my knowledge” by explaining that it refers to the inalienability of psychic goods that depend on rational choice. In line with this are Stilpo’s ideas on exile: see Teles ap. Stob. 3.40.8 (III, p. 738.7-739.18 Hense). Teles also reports on other practical advice given by Stilpo (ap. Stob. 4.44.83 [V, p. 989.10-990.9 Hense]). For the extent of the dependency of Teles on Stilpo (mere speculation, as far as I am concerned), see G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section IV, p. 102-103. For a reconstruction of Stilpo’s ethics, see L. Montoneri, I Megarici. Studio storico-critico e traduzione delle testimonianze antiche, Catania, Università de Catania (Symbolon, 2), 1984, p. 220-224.
68 See Diog. Laert. 2.114 (ἦν δὲ καὶ πολιτικώτατος); 6.76. See K. Döring, Die Megariker. Kommentierte Sammlung der Testimonien, Amsterdam, Grüner (Studien zur antiken Philosophie, 2), 1972, p. 144.
69 See Diog. Laert. 2.115-116. See K. Döring, Die Megariker, op. cit., p. 140.
70 As argued by K. von Fritz, “Megariker”, in Paulys Realenzyklopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Supplementband V, 1931 (p. 707.6-724.56), p. 721.2-4.
71 R. Muller, Introduction à la pensée des Mégariques, op. cit., p. 193-197; G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., section IV, p. 104.
72 K. von Fritz, “Megariker”, op. cit., p. 719.58-64.
73 E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 115.
74 See also 23, 1120B4, reading ἐξέπαιξε with B. Einarson and P.H. De Lacy.
75 Adv. Col. 22, 1119C9-10: ὧν δὲ παίζων καὶ χρώμενος γέλωτι πρὸς τοὺς σοφιστὰς λογαρίων προύβαλλεν αὐτοῖς. D7-9: τίς δὲ τὸν λόγον ἀκούσας οὐ συνῆκεν, ὅτι παίζοντός ἐστιν εὐμούσως ἢ γύμνασμα τοῦτο προβάλλοντος ἑτέροις διαλεκτικόν;
76 See A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. II, Cambridge, CUP, 1987, p. 103-104: “For good measure, he throws in the remark that if linguistic violations do matter too, none are guiltier of them than the Epicureans.”
77 Plutarch fails to discriminate between these types of entities, but he probably thinks in the first place of “things” (the grammatical subject of τυγχάνοντα), substances or substance-like entities having certain properties. Compare Quaest. Plat. 10, 1009D4-8.
78 For another example of terminological syncretism, see Quaest. Plat. 10, 1009C9-D1, 1011E10-12.
79 Later Platonists understood the Stoic “affections of the mind” in this context as “thoughts”: see Ammonius in De int. 17.20-30.
80 See Sext. Emp. AM 8.11-12 = SVF II 166. See D.M. Schenkeveld, J. Barnes, “Language”, in K. Algra, J. Barnes, J. Mansfeld et al. (ed.), Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, Cambridge, 1999 (p. 177-225), p. 193-194.
81 See A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1, translations of the principal sources, with philosophical commentary, Cambridge, CUP, 1987, p. 101: “Plutarch’s criticism (…) (which looks Stoic-inspired […])”.
82 It is probably no coincidence that in Sextus Empiricus the Epicurean two-tiered model is presented as a modification of the three-tiered Stoic model, with the intermediate level left out: AM 8.13 and 8.258 (the first passage also mentions Strato, the second heterodox Stoics, followers of Basilides, as holding the same view as Epicurus). Possibly Plutarch made use of a doxographic template that is the same, if not necessarily from the exact same source, as the one used by Sextus.
83 A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1, op. cit., p. 101. For the Epicurean preconceptions, see D.K. Glidden, “Epicurean Prolèpsis”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 3, 1985, p. 175-217.
84 For Epicurus’ view in this respect, see the analysis in D.M. Schenkeveld, J. Barnes, “Language”, op. cit., p. 195-197.
85 A similar “translation” of Stoic concepts can be found in Adv. Col. 15, 1116A9-B10.
86 It is quite un-Stoic to say that the sayables are that which provides substantiality, as Plutarch does: 22, 1119F5. Earlier on Plutarch makes the observation that although the Stoics claim that sayables are not real beings, they still treat them as real enough in their practical life and in their philosophy (15, 1116B7-C2).
87 Whether the example contains a form of “to be” depends on whether one accepts the conjecture by J.N. Madvig <οὐδ’ εἰ περὶ ἀνθρώπου τὸ ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, ἀλλ’ ἕτερον> (1120A6-7) which makes perfect sense and is explained by haplography of ἕτερον. But it is not necessary to have εἶναι in the restored text. Moreover, J.N. Madvig’s conjecture is not strictly necessary: we can leave the text as it is. In that case, too, there is no “to be” in the example.
88 It would be more correct to put “human being” as a translation of ἄνθρωπος, but I use “man” because it is just one word (and unequivocally a substantive, contrary to “human”) so that the extreme brevity of the examples is preserved, with apologies to the female members of our species. As in the previous examples, Plutarch does not use articles, demonstratives, or any other particles that could be interpreted as quantifiers.
89 X is substitutable by S or P or anything that is an S or a P.
90 K. Döring, “Sokrates, die Sokratiker und die von ihnen begründeten Traditionen”, op. cit., p. 233: “Die Frage, wieso Stilpon eine solche Ansicht im letzten Drittel oder gar Viertel des 4. Jahrhunderts noch vertreten konnte, nachdem Platon deren Verkehrtheit doch schon Jahrzehnte vorher im Sophistes erwiesen hatte”.
91 While defending Plato against Colotes’ criticisms, Plutarch apparently refers to the Sophist, more precisely to the discussion about non-being (254B-259C): Adv. Col. 15, 1115D4-9; E. Kechagia, Plutarch “Against Colotes”. A Lesson in History of Philosophy, op. cit., p. 227-229.
92 See also Soph. 255B8-C5.
93 The same chapter contains the examples “horse” (1B4) and “running” (1A18). Συμπλοκή is of course also a key word from Plato’s Sophist, in the same context of predication (262C6).
94 See ps.-Arch. Katholikoi logoi deka, 3.19-20 Th.; T.A. Szlezák, Pseudo-Archytas über die Kategorien : Texte zur griechischen Aristoteles-Exegese, Berlin and New York, De Gruyter (Peripatoi, 4), 1972, p. 162: “καθόλου συμβεβηκός ist der in der Kategorienexegese übliche Ausdruck für καθ’ ὑποκειμένου τε λέγεται καὶ ἐν ὑποκειμένῳ ἐστίν.”
95 The expressions Plutarch uses at 22, 1119F1-2 could confirm this reading: φωνάς τινας could refer to the copula, λεκτῶν σύνταξιν to the way in which subject and predicate are joined. Only the expression ὀνομάτων συνήθειαν cannot be explained in this way, as the verb “to be” can hardly be called an ὄνομα. Possibly Plutarch has already his solution in mind, but is somewhat imprecise and refers to linguistic usage in general.
96 This agrees in part with the interpretation proposed by B. Einarson, P.H. De Lacy, Plutarch’s Moralia in Fifteen Volumes, XIV, op. cit., p. 267, n.c.
97 P.H. De Lacy, B. Einarson, Plutarch. Moralia, Volume XIV, op. cit., p. 267, n.c.
98 This would be the view that Aristotle, Phys. 1.2., 185B25-32, ascribes to the sophist Lycophron. “Socrates is white” should merely be changed into “Socrates white”.
99 In addition to misjudging its playful tone.
100 See K. Döring, Die Megariker, op. cit., p. 154.
101 Adv. Col. 3, 1108D9-10: ἴστε δήπου παντὸς μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς, ἔφην, τὰ συγγράμματα τῶν παλαιῶν διὰ χειρὸς ἔχοντες.
102 See L. Montoneri, I Megarici. Studio storico-critico e traduzione delle testimonianze antiche, op. cit., p. 213; G. Giannantoni, Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, op. cit., p. 105; K. Döring, “Sokrates, die Sokratiker und die von ihnen begründeten Traditionen”, op. cit., p. 233.
103 My paraphrase of the passage is based on the translation by P. Huby, C.C.W. Taylor, Simplicius. On Aristotle Physics 1.3-4, London, Bristol Classical Press (Ancient Commentators on Aristotle), 2011.
104 This thesis about predication is often linked to Antisthenes, but see A. Brancacci, Antisthène. Le discours propre, Paris, Vrin, 2005, p. 204.Haut de page
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Jan Opsomer, « The lives and opinions of Socrates and Stilpo as defended by Plutarch against the insidious yet ignorant attacks of Colotes », Aitia [En ligne], 3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 mai 2013, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://aitia.revues.org/677 ; DOI : 10.4000/aitia.677Haut de page
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