Phaedo 100b3-9

in Mnemosyne
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The paper examines a puzzling sequence of verb tenses at Phaedo 100b3-9. It rejects the idea, almost universal among commentators, that the puzzle is to be solved by construing the first verbal expression as if it were equivalent to a future. The paper then offers another solution and explores its implications for understanding the broader philosophical context of the passage. What emerges is that the new solution provides a valuable clue to figuring out what precisely Socrates has in mind when he speaks at 100b4 of the ‘mode of explanation’ with which he is presently engaged. Hence, the tightly focused linguistic discussion at the paper’s outset ultimately takes on a good deal of significance for the interpretation of this difficult but important section of the dialogue.

Phaedo 100b3-9

in Mnemosyne


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See Heindorf 1810191-192and Wyttenbach 1810 264. At an even earlier date the expression ἔρχομαι ἐπιχειρῶν ἐπιδείξασθαι was considered to present a problem. In his commentary of 1770 (p. 158 and 238) Fischer thus argued that ἐπιχειρῶν is simply the standard Attic form of the future participle. As he contended such original Attic futures were in many cases later altered by scribes and the remaining forms have frequently been misinterpreted as vivid presents. Heindorf’s (1810 28) account of the construction is expressly presented as a response to Fischer’s doctrine.


See e.g. Grosse 1828258; Stallbaum 1833 138; Wohlrab 1879 115; Geddes 18852 135.


Archer-Hind 1883ad loc. and Burnet 1911 ad loc. See also Stanford 1834 246. Loriaux (1975 ad loc.) adopts the interpretation but credits it to Burnet.


See J. Cooper 199786. A few translators handle the passage differently but they do so in a way that obscures the grammatical construction. Dixsaut (1991 278) for instance treats it as if the whole sentence were in the present tense and were governed by the initial ἔρχομαι: ‘Car j’en arrive à ceci: j’essaie de montrer l’espèce de cause en vue de laquelle je fais tous ces efforts et aussitôt voilà que je reviens à ces formules cent fois ressassées et c’est en elles que je trouve mes points de départ . . .’ Vicaire (1983 ad loc.) represents the statement as a conditional: ‘Si je me mets à t’exposer la forme de causalité que j’ai péniblement cherchée je vais en revenir à ce que j’ai déjà tant rebattu. Je pars de ce principe . . .’


Kühner and Gerth 1904vol. 2.2 sec. 482.10 (pp. 60-61).


See Létoublon 1982which is in part a criticism of the earlier systematic treatment of verbal auxiliaries in Dietrich 1973. As Létoublon goes on to argue in a related study (Létoublon 1983) the pure auxiliary function emerges clearly only in Latin.


See Létoublon 1982185-186.


See Rowe 1993b52.


Rowe 1993b59.


See Rowe 1993b58along with the preceding remarks on 57.


Rowe 1993b62.


Rowe 1996237. The statement is a summary of the position Rowe develops earlier: Rowe 1993b 52 and 59-60.


Compare Gallop 1975178-179. Similar considerations tell against the translation ‘discourse’ if that be thought to refer to a conversational method involving testing and refutation. One might be tempted to suppose that the idea of such a method finds support in an oft-noted parallel between 99c8-d2 and an earlier passage 85c7-d2. At 99c-d Socrates introduces his ‘second voyage’ by saying with regard to his earlier pursuit of teleological explanation ταύτης ἐστερήθην καὶ οὔτ᾿ αὐτὸς εὑρεῖν οὔτε παρ᾿ ἄλλου μαθεῖν οἷός τε ἐγενόμην. Earlier at 85c-d Simmias declared concerning the matters under discussion: δεῖν γὰρ περὶ αὐτὰ ἕν γέ τι τούτων διαπράξασθαι ἢ μαθεῖν ὅπῃ ἔχει ἢ εὑρεῖν ἤ εἰ ταῦτα ἀδύνατον τὸν γοῦν βέλτιστον τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων λόγων λαβόντα καὶ δυσεξελεγκτότατον ἐπὶ τούτου ὀχούμενον ὥσπερ ἐπὶ σχεδίας κινδυνεύοντα διαπλεῦσαι τὸν βίον. Here however there is no need to take the term δυσεξελεγκτότατον (or the immediately preceding use of ἐλέγχειν 85c5) as involving any specific reference to the ‘Socratic elenchus’. (For an interpretation of that sort see for instance Kanayama 2000 93.) A further caution against too closely associating the two passages is given in Sedley 1995 19.


Compare Sharma 2009esp. secs. iiiv. The present interpretation of 99d-100a also accords with that of J. van Eck (1994 30 and 1996 225-226) who similarly speaks of Socrates’ remarks as being ontological in character. Van Eck holds that such an interpretation licenses a characterization of the ὑπόθεσις Socrates adopts at 100b as being confined solely to the thesis that Forms exist without extending to cover talk of a participation-relation between objects and Forms. (See especially Van Eck 1996 215-216 220.) But if indeed Socrates is concerned with the truth-grounds for statements some general conception of the Form-object relation would have to be a part of his analysis.


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