Being and Non-Being part 13

We are now approaching the fundamental part of this long and seemingly difficult to understand dialogue. And it all hinges around how we variously view the world. Some of us see only what we can perceive with the senses and believe this to be true. However true being is on another level and is not perceivable to the physical senses and the challenge we all face is to distinguish what is real (being) and what is unreal (not being) yet this dialogue is proposing that both states partake of being. This is quite a conundrum and will require some flexibility of mind.

The dialogue continues as follows: “May I not say with confidence that not-being has an assured existence, and a nature of its own? Just as the great was found to be great and the beautiful beautiful, and the not-great not-great, and the not-beautiful not-beautiful, in the same manner not-being has been found to be and is to be reckoned one among the many classes of being”.

STRANGER: Do you observe that our scepticism has carried us beyond the range of Parmenides’ prohibition in that we have advanced to a further point and shown him more than he forbad us to investigate.

THEAETETUS: How is that?

STRANGER: Because he says “’Not-being never is, and do thou keep thy thoughts from this way of enquiry”.

THEAETETUS: Yes, he says so.

STRANGER: Whereas, we have not only proved that things which are not are, but we have shown what form of being not-being is; for we have shown that the nature of the other is, and is distributed over all things in their relations to one another, and whatever part of the other is contrasted with being, this is precisely what we have ventured to call not-being.

THEAETETUS: And surely, Stranger, we were quite right.

STRANGER: Let not anyone say, then, that while affirming the opposition of not-being to being, we still assert the being of not-being; for as to whether there is an opposite of being, to that enquiry we have long said goodbye. It may or may not be, and may or may not be capable of definition. But as touching our present account of not-being, let a man either convince us of error, or so long as he cannot, he too must say, as we are saying, that there is a communion of classes, and that being, and difference or other, traverse all things and mutually interpenetrate, so that the other partakes of being, and by reason of this participation is, and yet is not that of which it partakes, but other, and being other than being, it is clearly a necessity that not-being should be. And again, being, through partaking of the other, becomes a class other than the remaining classes, and being other than all of them, is not each one of them, and is not all the rest, so that undoubtedly there are thousands upon thousands of cases in which being is not, and all other things, whether regarded individually or collectively, in many respects are, and in many respects are not.


STRANGER: And he who is sceptical of this contradiction, must think how he can find something better to say; or if he sees a puzzle, and his pleasure is to drag words this way and that, the argument will prove to him, that he is not making a worthy use of his faculties; for there is no charm in such puzzles, and there is no difficulty in detecting them; but we can tell him of something else the pursuit of which is noble and also difficult.

The Stranger now explains how we can discuss these apparently contradictory statements without falling into the trap of universal separation which he sees as barbaric and unworthy of a philosophical mind.

STRANGER: We might be able to assert discourse to be a kind of being; for if we could not, the worst of all consequences would follow; we should have no philosophy. Moreover, the necessity for determining the nature of discourse presses upon us at this moment. If utterly deprived of it, we could no more hold discourse; and deprived of it we should be if we admitted that there was no admixture of natures at all.

THEAETETUS: Very true. But I do not understand why at this moment we must determine the nature of discourse.

STRANGER: Perhaps you will see more clearly by the help of the following explanation. Not-being has been acknowledged by us to be one among many classes diffused over all being.


STRANGER: And thence arises the question, whether not-being mingles with opinion and language.


STRANGER: If not, being has no part in the proposition, then all things must be true; but if not-being has a part, then false opinion and false speech are possible, for to think or to say what is not is falsehood, which thus arises in the region of thought and in speech.

THEAETETUS: That is quite true.

STRANGER: And where there is falsehood surely there must be deceit.


STRANGER: And if there is deceit, then all things must be full of idols and images and fancies.

THEAETETUS: To be sure.

STRANGER: Into that region the Sophist, as we said, made his escape, and, when he had got there, denied the very possibility of falsehood; no one, he argued, either conceived or uttered falsehood, inasmuch as not-being did not in any way partake of being.


STRANGER: And now, not-being has been shown to partake of being, and therefore he will not continue fighting in this direction, but he will probably say that some ideas partake of not-being, and some not, and that language and opinion are of the non-partaking class; and he will still fight to the death against the existence of the image-making and phantastic art, in which we have placed him, because, as he will say, opinion and language do not partake of not-being, and unless this participation exists, there can be no such thing as falsehood. And, with the view of meeting this evasion, we must begin by enquiring into the nature of language, opinion, and imagination, in order that when we find them we may find also that they have communion with not-being, and, having made out the connexion of them, may thus prove that falsehood exists; and therein we will imprison the Sophist, if he deserves it, or, if not, we will let him go again and look for him in another class.

THEAETETUS: Certainly, Stranger, there appears to be truth in what was said about the Sophist at first, that he was of a class not easily caught, for he seems to have abundance of defences, which he throws up, and which must every one of them be stormed before we can reach the man himself. And even now, we have with difficulty got through his first defence, which is the not-being of not-being, and lo! here is another; for we have still to show that falsehood exists in the sphere of language and opinion, and there will be another and another line of defence without end.

STRANGER: Anyone, Theaetetus, who is able to advance even a little ought to be of good cheer, for what would he who is dispirited at a little progress do, if he were making none at all, or even undergoing a repulse? Such a faint heart, as the proverb says, will never take a city: but now that we have succeeded thus far, the citadel is ours, and what remains is easier.

THEAETETUS: Very true.

They now look at language and opinion, whether they are always true and neither ever false. So words which have a meaning when in sequence may be connected and words which have no meaning cannot be connected. To further explain the Stranger uses the example of verbs and nouns. Firstly a succession of words cannot mean cannot mean anything on their own. There is no expression of action without verbs and all nouns need a verb to be intelligible and a noun cannot be sounded without a vowel. These points are often neglected in a language like English that has little in the way of grammar unlike the classical languages. The simplest sentence would be “The cat sat on the mat”, it denotes a subject and object and an act of doing. So every sentence must have a certain quality. Therefore thought, opinion, and imagination are now proved to exist in our minds both as true and false because a number of words put in any order with no subject must be false discourse.

STRANGER: You will know better if you first gain a knowledge of what they are, and in what they severally differ from one another.

THEAETETUS: Give me the knowledge which you would wish me to gain.

STRANGER: Are not thought and speech the same, with this exception, that what is called thought is the unuttered conversation of the soul with herself?

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: But the stream of thought which flows through the lips and is audible is called speech?


STRANGER: And we know that affirmation exists in speech. And then the affirmation or denial takes place in silence and in the mind only, have you any other name by which to call it but opinion?

THEAETETUS: There can be no other name.

STRANGER: And when opinion is presented, not simply, but in some form of sense, would you not call it imagination?

THEAETETUS: Certainly.

STRANGER: And seeing that language is true and false, and that thought is the conversation of the soul with herself, and opinion is the end of thinking, and imagination or phantasy is the union of sense and opinion, the inference is that some of them, since they are akin to language, should have an element of falsehood as well as of truth?

THEAETETUS: Certainly.

STRANGER: Do you perceive, then, that false opinion and speech have been discovered sooner than we expected. For just now we seemed to be undertaking a task which would never be accomplished.

THEAETETUS: I perceive.

STRANGER: Then let us not be discouraged about the future; but now having made this discovery, let us go back to our previous classification being the divided image-making into two sorts; the one likeness-making, the other imaginative or phantastic. And we said that we were uncertain in which we should place the Sophist.

THEAETETUS: We did say so.

STRANGER: And our heads began to go round more and more when it was asserted that there is no such thing as an image or idol or appearance, because in no manner or time or place can there ever be such a thing as falsehood.


STRANGER: And now, since there has been shown to be false speech and false opinion, there may be imitations of real existences, and out of this condition of the mind an art of deception may arise.

THEAETETUS: Quite possible.

STRANGER: And we have already admitted, in what preceded, that the Sophist was lurking in one of the divisions of the likeness-making art?

THEAETETUS: Very good.

STRANGER: You may remember that all art was originally divided by us into creative and acquisitive.


STRANGER: And the Sophist was flitting before us in the acquisitive class, in the subdivisions of hunting, contests, merchandize, and the like.

THEAETETUS: Very true.

STRANGER: But now that the imitative art has enclosed him, it is clear that we must begin by dividing the art of creation; for imitation is a kind of creation of images, however, as we affirm, and not of real things.

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: In the first place, there are two kinds of creation.

THEAETETUS: What are they?

STRANGER: One of them is human and the other divine.

THEAETETUS: I do not follow.

STRANGER: Every power, as you may remember our saying originally, which causes things to exist, not previously existing, was defined by us as creative.

THEAETETUS: I remember.

STRANGER: Looking, now, at the world and all the animals and plants, at things which grow upon the earth from seeds and roots, as well as at inanimate substances which are formed within the earth, fusile or non-fusile, shall we say that they come into existence not having existed previously by the creation of God, or shall we agree with the vulgar opinion about them?

THEAETETUS: What is it?

STRANGER: The opinion that nature brings them into being from some spontaneous and unintelligent cause. Or shall we say that they are created by a divine reason and a knowledge which comes from God?

THEAETETUS: I dare say that, owing to my youth, I may often waver in my view, but now when I look at you and see that you incline to refer them to God, I defer to your authority.

STRANGER: Nobly said, Theaetetus, and if I thought that you were one of those who would hereafter change your mind, I would have gently argued with you, and forced you to assent; but as I perceive that you will come of yourself and without any argument of mine, to that belief which, as you say, attracts you, I will not forestall the work of time. Let me suppose, then, that things which are said to be made by nature are the work of divine art, and that things which are made by man out of these are works of human art. And so there are two kinds of making and production, the one human and the other divine.


STRANGER: Then, now, subdivide each of the two sections which we have already.

THEAETETUS: How do you mean?

STRANGER: I mean to say that you should make a vertical division of production or invention, as you have already made a lateral one.

THEAETETUS: I have done so.

STRANGER: Then, now, there are in all four parts or segments—two of them have reference to us and are human, and two of them have reference to the gods and are divine.


STRANGER: And, again, in the division which was supposed to be made in the other way, one part in each subdivision is the making of the things themselves, but the two remaining parts may be called the making of likenesses; and so the productive art is again divided into two parts.

THEAETETUS: Tell me the divisions once more.

STRANGER: I suppose that we, and the other animals, and the elements out of which things are made—fire, water, and the like—are known by us to be each and all the creation and work of God.


STRANGER: And there are images of them, which are not them, but which correspond to them; and these are also the creation of a wonderful skill.

THEAETETUS: What are they?

STRANGER: The appearances which spring up of themselves in sleep or by day, such as a shadow when darkness arises in a fire, or the reflection which is produced when the light in bright and smooth objects meets on their surface with an external light and creates a perception the opposite of our ordinary sight.

THEAETETUS: Yes; and the images as well as the creation are equally the work of a divine hand.

STRANGER: And what shall we say of human art? Do we not make one house by the art of building, and another by the art of drawing, which is a sort of dream created by man for those who are awake?

THEAETETUS: Quite true.

STRANGER: And other products of human creation are also twofold and go in pairs; there is the thing, with which the art of making the thing is concerned, and the image, with which imitation is concerned.

THEAETETUS: Now I begin to understand and am ready to acknowledge that there are two kinds of production, and each of them twofold; in the lateral division there is both a divine and a human production; in the vertical there are realities and a creation of a kind of similitudes.

STRANGER: And let us not forget that of the imitative class the one part was to have been likeness-making, and the other phantastic, if it could be shown that falsehood is a reality and belongs to the class of real being.

I do apologise for the length of this offering, but I wanted to get the complete arguments settled before we reach the conclusion next week. What is becoming increasingly clear is that we operate in multiple states, neither of which are wrong so to speak, just different. The Stranger will cover this next week in the conclusion to this fascinating dialogue.