The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

Jeremy Barris
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 300
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    The Crane's Walk: Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth
    Book Description:

    In The Crane's Walk, Jeremy Barris seeks to show that we can conceive and live with a pluralism of standpoints with conflicting standards for truth--with the truth of each being entirely unaffected by the truth of the others. He argues that Plato's work expresses this kind of pluralism, and that this pluralism is important in its own right, whether or not we agree about what Plato's standpoint is.The longest tradition of Plato scholarship identifies crucial faults in Plato's theory of Ideas. Barris argues that Plato deliberately displayed those faults, because he wanted to demonstrate that basic kinds of error or illogic have dimensions that are crucial to the establishing of truth. These dimensions legitimate a paradoxical coordination of logically incompatible conceptions of truth. Connecting this idea with emerging currents of Plato scholarship, he emphasizes, in addition to the dialogues' arguments, the importance of their nonargumentative features, including drama, myths, fictions, anecdotes, and humor. These unanalyzed nonargumentative features function rigorously, as a lever with which to examine the enterprise of rational argument itself, without presupposing its standards or illegitimately assimilating any position to the standards of another.Today, communities are torn apart by conflicts within and between a host of different pluralist and absolutist commitments. The possibility developed in this book-a coordination of absolute and relative truth that allows an understanding of some relativist and some absolutist positions as being fully legitimate and as capable of existing in a relation to their opposites-may contribute to perspectives for resolving these conflicts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4671-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Understandings of Plato and a Feature of Truth-Seeking Thought
    (pp. 1-18)

    To try to understand the nature of truth might seem a very arrogant undertaking—and in an important sense, it is. But while not all of us try to understand the nature of truth, we all live as though we have already succeeded in understanding it. We all have ideas of how truth works, and we all act on those ideas, often in active opposition to conflicting ideas of truth. It is perhaps less arrogant, then, and less irresponsible to try to understand the nature of truth and so open our understanding to criticism and correction by ourselves and others—...

    • INTRODUCTORY Internal and External Connections
      (pp. 21-25)

      A very good way to read Plato is, perhaps, the way Jacob Klein stunningly exemplifies.¹ He reads each dialogue as it is presented to us by Plato, and pauses at each ambiguity to identify the different and often incompatible ways of understanding statements and interchanges, until the specific way divergent possible meanings accumulate begins itself to indicate how one should understand the dialogue as a whole.

      This is not the approach I take here. I begin with an idea of what Plato’s standpoint is and try to show that this idea fits. This is more like the approach in Hans-Georg...

    • IDEA 1 Artificiality and Nature (Sometimes Being Is Something Else)
      (pp. 26-36)

      For the presentation of this and the first few basic ideas, I must ask the reader’s indulgence. Aside from the already provisional nature of Part I with respect to Plato’s work, the initial discussion of the first few ideas must necessarily be incomplete. The framework I am presenting coordinates several partly independent lines of thought, and these all need to be presented before they can be coordinated. But there also are ways in which they are dependent on each other, and these can be addressed only after some of them have already been presented. While the initial discussion of these...

    • IDEA 2 Knowledge as Intervention: Difficulties and Solutions
      (pp. 37-52)

      The second idea I want to discuss as basic to Plato involves the relation between two properties or dimensions of knowledge. First, there is knowledge as true description, or an equivalent to true description, of what it is knowledge of. Second, there is knowledge as something that intervenes in what it describes, something that has reality in its own right and therefore has effects on, changes, what it is knowledge of.

      By way of anticipation, let me note that Plato deals extensively with the effects of people’s supposed or actual knowledge on themselves and other people. It will become clear...

    • IDEA 3 A Philosophical Rhetoric
      (pp. 53-57)

      The third general idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the nature of a philosophical rhetoric. All the ways of maintaining descriptive truth through interventive truth have to do with thepresentationof truth or knowledge, including its presentation to oneself. Now, the presentation of truth involves, for example, its orientation to particular audiences or compositional and stylistic choices of sequence, syntax, phrasing, and word type. Even where one is concerned purely with the content of the arguments that are presented, one can—and, I argue, often must—consider the particular choices of issues that are being argued for....

    • IDEA 4 Knowledge as Intervention: Advantages
      (pp. 58-67)

      The fourth idea basic to Plato concerns some simply positive aspects of the interventive dimension of knowledge and truth.

      First, given that truth and having knowledge themselves have effects, knowledge has practical value even before its applications to specific activities. The most purely theoretical knowledge alreadyisconcretely effective just in being what it is, without any extra application. This is not to say that there is no such thing as disinterested, purely theoretical knowledge. On the contrary, as I argued in Idea 2, the interventive property of truthallowsits purely descriptive property. My point is rather that one...

    • IDEA 5 The Variegated Texture of Truth
      (pp. 68-78)

      The fifth idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the nature of truth as a whole, truth considered in general. As I discussed in Idea 2 and Idea 3, if one takes into account the truth of truth itself, the self-incompatibility and self-externality of truth emerge. But a consideration of truth in general must include the truth of truth itself, since truth is one of the “things” that have a truth. Consequently, any statement or thought about truth in general must be self-incompatible and/or self-external. That is, it must contain statements or thoughts that are mutually opposed and/or mutually...

    • IDEA 6 The Artificiality of Rigorous Thought and the Artificial Dimensions of Reality
      (pp. 79-89)

      The sixth idea I want to discuss as basic to Plato is that the more rigorous thought is, the more artificial it is.¹ That is, it is more redundant, adds less with respect to the truth of its subject matter, and to that degree is an unnecessary, artificial addition to what is naturally given. Here I want to elaborate and generalize what I said in section 2.2 about the meaninglessness of radically rigorous thought. By rigorous thought, I mean thought that tries consistently to establish or engage with the truth of its subject matter, and does so consistently enough that...

    • IDEA 7 The Risk of Rigorous Thought
      (pp. 90-94)

      The seventh idea basic to Plato concerns the risk dimension of establishing truth. Because the initial thing to be explained gives the measure for the explaining principles and factors, as I discussed in Idea 6, one can find truth only after encountering the things that need to be explained. But, as Meno points out, even to recognize the facts, one must already know something of the truth about them. The standard of that truth, however, is still given by the things it is the truth of, the things we encounter that it explains. As a result, one finds the truth...

    • IDEA 8 Mixture and Purity
      (pp. 95-114)

      The eighth idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the importance of the confused mixture of considerations, meanings, dimensions, characteristics, and viewpoints in which thinking (and acting) begins. In Idea 6 I argued that rigorous thought is artificial because it departs from the thing it explains or makes sense of and because it focuses on only one aspect of that thing at a time, although any aspect of a thing exists as what it is only in a mixture of many aspects. I argued further that rigorous thought nonetheless gives the truth of the thing. It can do so...

    • CHAPTER 1 What Plato Is About: An Overview
      (pp. 117-145)

      I argued in Part I that what Plato’s works are about is notsimplya content we can describe, but also involves an interventive dimension that we realize (in both senses of the word) by our own thinking, actions, and attitudes. And this interventive dimension will sometimes rightly falsify the descriptive content, including the descriptions I am giving in this chapter.

      With that in mind, I propose that Plato’s achievement lies in showing how to let things be what they are without any explanation or understanding. Since this is a letting-be of what things are, it is a relation to...

    • CHAPTER 2 Charmides: Lust, Love, and the Problem of Knowledge
      (pp. 146-176)

      In this chapter I look at the whole of Plato’sCharmides. In the next chapter I explore some details of the overall structure of the argument of theRepublic, and in Chapter 4, I look similarly at the trilogy of dialogues consisting of theTheaetetus, Sophist, andStatesman. Before I discuss theCharmides, I shall make some comments on the dialogue form of Plato’s work in general.

      Plato’s philosophy is always presented in the form of dialogue, typically with Socrates as one of the participants.¹ This choice of form is not fully explained by saying, for example, that Plato followed...

    • CHAPTER 3 Republic: Justice, Knowledge, and the Problem of Love
      (pp. 177-207)

      In this chapter, I discuss some details of the overall structure of the argument of theRepublic. Like theTheaetetus, which I discuss in Chapter 4, this dialogue is widely regarded as written in Plato’s “middle” period. Together with theTheaetetusI shall discuss theSophistandStatesman, and these are widely regarded as “late” dialogues. While I aim to show, among other things, that these distinctions need not make any important difference, my point is notsimplythat Plato presents the same philosophy in all of his dialogues. Rather, I aim to show that Plato’s philosophy is selfsame partly...

    • CHAPTER 4 Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman: The Tragicomedy of Knowledge, Reality, and Responsible Conduct
      (pp. 208-235)

      In this chapter I explore some details of the general structure of the arguments presented in theTheaetetus, Sophist, andStatesman.¹ In doing so, I leave out a great deal that is both rich and relevant in these dialogues, but the more specific focus should be solid enough to support and illustrate my interpretation. Before looking at these details, I shall make some comments on the context in which these dialogues place themselves, that of Socrates’ trial.² I also return to this context after discussing the arguments.

      The three dialogues are presented as consecutive discussions. TheTheaetetusis named after...

  8. CONCLUSION The Unevenly Even Consistency of Truth
    (pp. 236-246)

    In hisPosterior Analytics, Aristotle argues that knowledge is of universals, and therefore cannot be gained through sense perception: “Nor can oneknow[a thing] through sensation…. [S]ince demonstrations are universal, and since these [i.e. universals … ] cannot be sensed, it is evident that we cannotknowindividuals through sensation.”¹ Of course, since universals are not sensed, we cannot knowthemthrough sensation either.

    But Aristotle also argues that knowledge begins with a kind of induction from sensation:²

    a demonstration proceeds from universals, whereas an induction proceeds from particulars. But universals cannot be investigated except through induction … and...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 247-332)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-348)
  11. Index
    (pp. 349-360)