Being and Non-Being part 12

By Peter Worman

We continue our investigation into being and not being, the corresponding subject of movement and rest and in the process, to fully understand the role of the Sophist and the Philosopher. Furthermore, we will also consider the division of things to see how one form pervading a scattered multitude, and many different forms contained under one higher form; and again, one form knit together into a single whole and pervading many such wholes, and many forms, existing only in separation and isolation. This is the knowledge of classes.

Since, then, we are agreed that some classes have a communion with one another, and others not, and some have communion with a few and others with many, and that there is no reason why some should not have universal communion with all, let us now pursue the enquiry, as the argument suggests, not in relation to all ideas, lest the multitude of them should confuse us, but let us select a few of those which are reckoned to be the principal ones, and consider their several natures and their capacity of communion with one another, in order that if we are not able to apprehend with perfect clearness, the notions of being and not-being, we may at least not fall short in the consideration of them, so far as they come within the scope of the present enquiry, if peradventure we may be allowed to assert the reality of not-being, and yet escape unscathed.

The two protagonists agree that the most important two are rest and motion, which they affirm are incapable of communion with one another but add that being surely has communion with them both. And each of them is other than the remaining two, but the same with itself. They further discuss the two words same and other which they, after some debate agree to add to the other three classes so that we now have being, movement, rest, same and other for example rest could be the same or other then rest. And the fifth class pervades all classes, for they all differ from one another, not by reason of their own nature, but because they partake of the idea of the other.

What follows on from this is a rather tricky to follow debate but hopefully we can stay with the argument:

STRANGER: Then let us now put the case with reference to each of the five.

THEAETETUS: How?

STRANGER: First there is motion, which we affirm to be absolutely ‘other’ than rest: what else can we say?

THEAETETUS: It is so.

STRANGER: And therefore, is not rest.

THEAETETUS: Certainly not.

STRANGER: And yet is, because partaking of being.

THEAETETUS: True.

STRANGER: Again, motion is other than the same?

THEAETETUS: Just so.

STRANGER: And is therefore not the same.

THEAETETUS: It is not.

STRANGER: Yet, surely, motion is the same, because all things partake of the same.

THEAETETUS: Very true.

STRANGER: Then we must admit, and not object to say, that motion is the same and is not the same, for we do not apply the terms ‘same’ and ‘not the same,’ in the same sense; but we call it the ‘same,’ in relation to itself, because partaking of the same; and not the same, because having communion with the other, it is thereby severed from the same, and has become not that but other, and is therefore rightly spoken of as ‘not the same.’

THEAETETUS: To be sure.

STRANGER: And if absolute motion in any point of view partook of rest, there would be no absurdity in calling motion stationary.

THEAETETUS: Quite right, that is, on the supposition that some classes mingle with one another, and others not.

STRANGER: That such a communion of kinds is according to nature, we had already proved before we arrived at this part of our discussion.

THEAETETUS: Certainly.

This might sound like a complete contradiction but understanding what they are getting at here underpins our understanding of the universe. I generally do not like mixing traditions but will make an exception in this case for the sake of erudition. In the Veda, derived from the ancient Indo-Aryan culture of the Indian Subcontinent which began as an oral tradition that was passed down through generations before finally being written in Vedic Sanskrit between 1500 and 500 BCE (Before Common Era), mention is often made of references to that which is lesser then the least, greater then the greatest, though sitting he travels, that which is far away yet near etc. The sole purpose of both the Socratic and Vedic texts is to remove the ignorance that prevents us seeing things as they are. Some things might appear to be at rest but are in truth moving and visa-versa. Central to these teachings is that this entire creation is essentially of one substance. But we will see how the dialogue develops and see where it leads.

STRANGER: Let us proceed, then. May we not say that motion is other than the other, having been also proved by us to be other than the same and other than rest?

THEAETETUS: That is certain.

STRANGER: Then, according to this view, motion is other, and also, not other?

THEAETETUS: True.

STRANGER: What is the next step? Shall we say that motion is other than the three and not other than the fourth, for we agreed that there are five classes about and in the sphere of which we proposed to make enquiry?

THEAETETUS: Surely we cannot admit that the number is less than it appeared to be just now.

STRANGER: Then we may without fear contend that motion is other than being?

THEAETETUS: Without the least fear.

STRANGER: The plain result is that motion, since it partakes of being, really is, and also is not?

THEAETETUS: Nothing can be plainer.

STRANGER: Then not-being necessarily exists in the case of motion and of every class; for the nature of the other entering into them all, makes each of them other than being, and so non-existent; and therefore of all of them, in like manner, we may truly say that they are not; and again, inasmuch as they partake of being, that they are and are existent.

THEAETETUS: So we may assume.

STRANGER: Every class, then, has plurality of being and infinity of not-being.

THEAETETUS: So we must infer.

STRANGER: And being itself may be said to be other than the other kinds.

THEAETETUS: Certainly.

STRANGER: Then we may infer that being is not, in respect of as many other things as there are; for not-being it is itself one, and is not the other things, which are infinite in number.

THEAETETUS: That is not far from the truth.

STRANGER: Let me ask you to consider a further question. When we speak of not-being, we speak, I suppose, not of something opposed to being, but only different.

THEAETETUS: What do you mean?

STRANGER: When we speak of something as not great, does the expression seem to you to imply what is little any more than what is equal?

THEAETETUS: Certainly not.

STRANGER: The negative particles, you and me, when prefixed to words, do not imply opposition, but only difference from the words, or more correctly from the things represented by the words, which follow them.

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: There is another point to be considered, if you do not object. The nature of the other appears to me to be divided into fractions like knowledge.

THEAETETUS: How so?

STRANGER: Knowledge, like the other, is one; and yet the various parts of knowledge have each of them their own particular name, and hence there are many arts and kinds of knowledge.

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: And is not the case the same with the parts of the other, which is also one?

THEAETETUS: Very likely; but will you tell me how?

STRANGER: There is some part of the other which is opposed to the beautiful?

THEAETETUS: There is.

STRANGER: Shall we say that this has or has not a name?

THEAETETUS: It has; for whatever we call not-beautiful is other than the beautiful, not than something else.

STRANGER: And now tell me another thing. Is the not-beautiful anything but this, an existence parted off from a certain kind of existence, and again from another point of view opposed to an existing something?

THEAETETUS: True.

STRANGER: Then the not-beautiful turns out to be the opposition of being to being?

THEAETETUS: Very true.

STRANGER: But upon this view, is the beautiful a more real and the not-beautiful a less real existence?

THEAETETUS: Not at all.

STRANGER: And the not-great may be said to exist, equally with the great?

THEAETETUS: Yes.

STRANGER: And, in the same way, the just must be placed in the same category with the not-just—the one cannot be said to have any more existence than the other.

THEAETETUS: True.

STRANGER: The same may be said of other things; seeing that the nature of the other has a real existence, the parts of this nature must equally be supposed to exist.

THEAETETUS: Of course.

STRANGER: Then, as would appear, the opposition of a part of the other, and of a part of being, to one another, is, if I may venture to say so, as truly essence as being itself, and implies not the opposite of being, but only what is other than being.

THEAETETUS: Beyond question.

STRANGER: What then shall we call it?

THEAETETUS: Clearly, not-being; and this is the very nature for which the Sophist compelled us to search.

We will stop here to give you time to reflect on what has been said so far. What is becoming clearer is that only being exists and the rest of the corporeal world cannot exist if not motivated or empowered by being. So when we assume that an inert substance like water moves we can safely state that the water is moved only by virtue of being, absence of which would render it inert.

I might however be wrong, but we will pick it up again next week.