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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

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P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 69
19th October 2003

CONTENTS

I. 'William James's Account of Truth' by Brian Tee

II. 'Can We Trust Plato?' by D.R. Khashaba

III. ISFP Membership Cards

-=-

EDITOR'S NOTE

Just a reminder that the launch of the second Pathways newsletter, 'Philosophy
for Business' is just two weeks away.

If you wish to subscribe to the newsletter, or have an idea for an article,
please e-mail klempner@fastmail.net.

Pass the word on!

In this issue, Pathways Mentor Brian Tee offers a defence of William James'
theory of truth, in a piece described by Professor Christopher Hookway as
"ingenious".

D.R. Khashaba offers an interesting angle on a question of historical truth,
or, rather truthfulness, looking at Professor Enid Bloch's defence of no less a
figure than the philosopher Plato.

Are you a member of the International Society for Philosophers? We are issuing
an ISFP membership card -- yours should be arriving soon.

-=-

I. 'WILLIAM JAMES'S ACCOUNT OF TRUTH' BY BRIAN TEE

1. Introduction: fire at will

"The truth is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of
belief." [1] Many commentators have taken the 'whatever proves itself to be
good' as meaning whatever makes us happy, since they make the (understandable)
inference of thinking that what is good makes us happy. [2] If this is William
James's account of truth, that for a belief, a statement or proposition to be
true, is for it to make us happy, he would not have done any worse if he had
painted a target on his front and shouted at his fellow philosophers: "Here I
am, fire at will"!

It is easy to see what kind of trouble William James is in, if such a view
follows from his theory of truth. Here for example are some shots that hit the
bulls eye: If what is true is what makes us happy then this is false because
(i) Not every belief that makes us unhappy is false. For example, suppose that
some enemy government has launched a nuclear missile, which is directed at my
house and I do not have and time to escape before it hits me, believing this
will not make me happy. (ii) Not everything that makes us happy is true, for
suppose I believe that instead of being a nuclear missile, the rocket is full
of flower petals that will shower my house with beautiful colours and scents.
(iii) Some statements may make me happy and therefore be true, but the same
statement may make you unhappy and so be false, but how can the same statement
be true and false? (iv) The same statement may make me happy at one time and
make me unhappy at a later time, how can the same statement be true then false?

In order to dodge some of these shots James could move the target, and claim
that the true is not what makes us happy as such, but what it is good to
believe all things considered and for the long haul. [3] However could not a
false belief stay with a person and even help them through life indefinitely?
For example, take the belief that the Earth is flat. Many people for hundreds
of years went through life believing this and working their way throughout the
world on the basis of this belief. Indeed there are even some people today who
believe the earth is flat and who live their lives without any unhappy
consequences. But the belief is still false.

These are obvious and yet devastating objections to James and if this is his
theory then we should fire at will, at Will without mercy. Why? Because,
according to critics, James's theory of truth so understood makes truth a
subjective, psychological state that does not have any connection to the world,
but only to people and their wants. James does away with Truth with a capital T.
But this is at odds with what we want from a theory of truth, namely an account
that is independent of anything we think about it, of truth that holds
regardless of our ideas. An account that describes reality not mere appearance.
An account that is objective and timeless, not at the mercy of whims and wants.

This traditional conception of truth is part of what James calls the
"intellectualist" method. It was however in an attempt to overcome this
tradition that James developed his pragmatic or 'instrumentalist' account of
truth [4] and so he would not have been fatally damaged by these shots. He may
have even considered the intellectualist to be firing blanks. And those live
rounds that did hit as mere 'flesh wounds'. Whereas the intellectualists would
have accused James of simply question begging.

It seems then that we have two conflicting philosophical standpoints. I will
not however be concerned in this article to set up a sparing match between the
two (if nothing else it makes uninteresting reading). But instead I will
consider what James actually said, that is what his account of truth actually
is. I will argue that once his theory is properly understood James can easily
be saved from the objection that a belief is true if it makes us happy, once
understood this is not an objection for James. But then I will argue that
because James's theory is internally incoherent we still should not accept
James 's theory. His theory does need to be rescued and can be if James gives
up a fundamental idea in his account of truth, namely the idea of the
verifiability of an idea.

2. Getting the real target in sight

The view that the true is what makes us happy is based on a misreading of
James. He does not say this and in fact he explicitly denies it: "The
pragmatist calls satisfactions indispensable for truth building, but I have
everywhere called them insufficient unless reality be also incidentally led to.
If the reality assumed were cancelled from the pragmatist's universe of
discourse, he would straight away give the name of falsehoods to the beliefs
remaining, in spite of all their satisfactoriness." [5]

Initially then, James agrees with the intellectualists that truth must
correspond with reality, however for James the reality is a mind dependent one.
He says "Realities mean then, either concrete facts or abstract kinds of things
and relations perceived intuitively between them...thirdly as things that new
ideas of ours must no less take account of, the whole body of other truths
already in our possession." [6] 

Does this mean that for James there can be no subjective truth, such as, for
example, that this apple tastes sweet for me, but the same apple can be bitter
for you? Certainly not, but for James they are set against a common background
in which others have the authority to correct me. This is because for James
truth operates in a community of in a social intercourse. [7]

So for any experience of mine to be called true it is to this reality that it
must agree. But what does it mean for the belief or experience to agree? For an
answer we must appeal to the common reality. The reason why the world is
structured as it is, in the first place is because it is more useful to
organise the world this way, rather than some other way. So a belief agrees
with reality by proving useful to those who believe it. 

But how does something prove useful? It should come as no surprise that we need
to refer to the shared world. As said above, it consists of shared beliefs,
concepts, experiences. We test, via verification, our present belief against
this body of evidence. Useful beliefs, James says, are not those that make us
happy, but those that cohere with the other beliefs, allow us to communicate
successfully with others and allow us to make predictions and preserve past
doctrine.

Once this has been accomplished, practical and aesthetic concerns influence the
result: "The pragmatist asks what such agreement may mean in detail. He finds
first that the ideas must point to or lead towards that reality and no other
and then that the pointing and leadings must yield satisfaction as their
results." [8]

For James then there are two aspects of an idea being true. One is
verification, correspondence with the shared world. The second is the degree to
which the believer can derive satisfaction from believing the idea, depending on
his/ her interests. So, in a sense, the kinds of interests and aims we have will
determine (in part) which truths there will be. The objection that for James a
belief is true if it makes us happy is a result of not taking into account what
he has to say about verification.

One important point to add is that for James usefulness, or expediency, is not
limited to our immediate aims or interests, but extends "in the long run and on
the whole". And this means that not just anything that pleases or makes us happy
is true, for it may not pass the tests of time and experience. This is made more
explicit by filling out in full the partial and misleading quote with which I
started this article: "The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be
good in the way of belief", the sentence continues, "and good, too, for
definite, assignable reasons". [9]

Let me illuminate all this with a couple of examples. Suppose I have two
beliefs: One is that the pub will be open tomorrow afternoon. The second belief
is that the universe will end in a few trillion years because of proton decay.
That the first belief is true depends on there being institutions called pubs,
that the consequences of believing this fits into existing beliefs and that my
belief allows me to make useful predictions, for example that I will succeed in
meeting my friend and getting drunk. If the belief were false I could do none of
these things. Therefore for James "True ideas are those we can assimilate,
validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot." [10]

But what about the truth of my second belief? It seems highly unlikely that we
could ever validate, corroborate or verify that the universe will end because
of proton decay. Certainly we can make predictions based on this belief, but
these predictions themselves need to be verified in experience, or do they?
James says that a belief need only have potential or possibility of being
verified. "Indirect as well as direct verification pass muster" and again,
"verifiability... is as good as verification" [11].The idea that protons will
decay in a few trillion years is still true because the idea works. It fits
into our conceptual framework; it allows us to make predictions and the rest.
Because this notion of verifiability James thinks that truth operates on a
'credit system' [12], where so long as nothing comes along to refute the idea
it can be counted as true. 

It is with this background that James can then say that the true is "only the
expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient
in the way of our behaving. Expedient in almost any fashion; and expedient in
the long run and on the whole of course; for what meets expediently all the
experience in sight won't necessarily meet all farther experiences equally
satisfactorily." [13] What are the consequences of this view? 

For one thing James can answer his critics' accusations that for a belief to
make us happy is for it to be true. Because what makes us happy now may not
meet all the pertinent conditions in the future experiences we have. Even if
the belief could be held in the long run, because of the appeal to a shared
reality James can deny that there could be any case in which the belief and the
facts of the world are not in agreement. This is because if facts are themselves
a part of the mental dependent reality, the shared background, which have proved
useful and true beliefs are those that are useful in the sense described then
how can there be a situation in which there is a useful belief that does not
agree with a useful fact.? [14] (In fact James could say that a belief is true
if it makes us happy, but in a sense of being happy that does not refer to
pleasant feelings, but rather in the sense that we find it satisfactory and
useful in the sense described.) 

James can also answer the objection that statements could be true for me yet
false for you. Since true beliefs are those that prove useful a belief can be
useful for me yet not for you without any contradiction. So it seems that the
claim that a belief is true if it makes us happy is based on a naive and
mistaken reading of James' s views on truth. Truth for James is an idea's
agreement with reality and consists in the reference to the possibility of
concrete workings -- what difference the idea would make to our lives and this
does not mean anything so simple as that the belief makes us happy. So now that
we have got the real target in sight, how does James's theory hold up. Can James
maintain that what truth consists in is the beliefs leading to satisfactions?

3. The fatal shot

Most of the objections against James are based on a competing intellectualist
meaning of truth. But James is not working in this tradition. The best way to
attack him us to show that his position is internally incoherent, that it fails
in it's own terms. This can be done I think by showing that James cannot
maintain all the things he says about truth.

As said before, for James truth operates in a community and that for a belief
to be true it must be (i) verifiable and (ii) satisfactory. Now most of the
objections tend to concentrate on showing how satisfaction means that the truth
is simply what makes us happy. I think the most telling point is (i).

I think that James's appeal to verifiability leads him into trouble, before I
say why let me explain why James has to talk about verifiability rather than
actual verification. 

Remember that the reason James rejects the traditional correspondence theory of
truth is that not all our ideas do correspond to reality (the ideas do not copy
the object). A second point is that James thinks that truth works on a credit
system. Our thoughts and ideas 'pass' so long as nothing challenges them. It is
because of these two things, I think, that James prefers verifiability over
verification: 

Verifiability allows for the possibility for an idea to be true even though it
may not copy the object precisely as the object is in the world, because the
idea works. And the credit system allows us to say that the idea is true so
long as nothing counts against it. 

It is because of this that James can say that verifiability is as good as
actual verification. Where 'just as good as' means just as good as in the idea
successfully working, and it is the workings that allow us to say that the idea
is true. 

So for James verifiability is just as good as actual verification for the
purpose of saying which ideas are true. Here is the problem : What does actual
verification add? It either adds something or nothing. If it adds something it
will be in terms of an additional fact, such as, for example, that the idea has
now been proven true. But this is a realist, intellectualist conception, where
'the idea now been proven true' means that the idea corresponds to a fact in
reality. [15]

If actual verification adds nothing then what makes an idea true is our
believing it is true. Our believing that it would be confirmed if we went out
in the world to check it, that is, our belief that the idea is verifiable. But
because the idea is verifiable we don't need to actually go and check. And so
long as nothing counts against it, it is true. But since our belief that the
idea is true is based on it's usefulness and usefulness is understood in terms
of fitting into previous beliefs, and the like, this comes down to saying that
idea x's making us happy, believing X to be good, makes x true.And since James
explicitly rejects this he cannot consistently hold these two opinions; that
verifiability is as good as verification and that, because verifiability means
that for a belief or idea to be true is for us to find it satisfactory.

Perhaps James could reply here that verification does add something, namely
that verification shows a fortiori that something is verifiable. But this will
not do, because it is just a trivial claim that what is verified is verifiable
and does not tell us anything about what is verifiable, that is what makes
something true. 

A second option would be for James to say that actual verification is more
useful. It allows us to be more certain about our ideas, actual verification
provides a greater degree of confirmation, a wider scope of predictability and
so on. But this will not work either, because this is a claim about the
justification of an idea and more concerned with the theory of knowledge,
rather than what makes a belief true. So if verification does add something to
an idea it will be that the idea is true in the realist sense.

Therefore James must stick with verifiability. But this means that James is
committed to saying that a belief or idea is true if we believe it that is if
we find it useful. Here is why.

James cannot appeal to actual verification, but only verifiability. However for
many ideas we will not know what would count even towards it being verifiable
say, for example, that we have two conflicting beliefs that explain one
phenomenon, experience would support either explanation but the two are
incompatible, we could never say which was verifiable. Or suppose that one day
human beings discover alien life, one of the human party forms the belief that
there is a mug on the table, implying that the aliens use tables and place mugs
on the tables. But here we would not even know what would count as verifiable.
Certainly we can see objects that look like tables and mugs, but would we be
correct to say in such a context that they are tables and mugs?

Outside our shared background we cannot say what is verifiable. And perhaps
even inside the framework the same problem exists. For what does it mean to say
that in three trillion years the mass of protons in the universe will have
decayed? Only that it fits into our theories and is useful and not that if we
wait three trillion years we will see this (because we too would have decayed
there would be nothing too witness this, it is not verifiable).

Perhaps James could say that there are some beliefs whose merit is not a matter
of verifiability such as Free Will, fine, but then where does the merit lay?
Only in our believing it to be true because it is satisfactory it fits into our
aims and interests [16]. Therefore for James to say that a belief is verifiable
comes down to saying that it is satisfactory, because this is the only thing
left which James can appeal to as a criterion for what truth consist in. Here
is a summary of the argument:

     (P1) The truth of an idea consists in it's verifiability
     (P2) However verifiability means that the idea works
     (P3) Workings is understood as meaning satisfactions
     (P4) Satisfactions means the ability to makes us happy.

     Therefore:

     (C) To say that the truth is verifiability of an idea means
         that the idea is satisfactory, i.e. that it works, it makes
         us happy. [17]

This is the position that James is in, but is it an objection? In other words
does James need rescuing? It may not appear so if we stay within James's system
and bracket the intellectualist framework, which is working in a different
tradition.

However I think that an inconsistency within James's theory will show that even
confining ourselves to the Jamesian world we should not accept the claim that
happiness is trueness.

The objection is this. James says that verifiability is as good as verification
and that what is verifiable is true, but he also says that truth 'happens' to an
idea. Now we may accept what he says about truth happening to an idea given what
he says about the shared background. But verifiability, as Perkins [18] points
out is a property ideas have for all time. The verifiability condition stays
with the idea even if the truth value changes. But according to James, truth is
verifiability. The two ideas, that truth is the verifiable and that truth is
malleable are incompatible.

Even so, the objection is worse. Because verifiability is a condition that
holds forever James is using it in a manner which he has no right to, because
it involves a notion of truth that holds independently of experience and
immutably [19]. Verifiability is not a property within the experience of the
shared background. It is rather a general condition surpassing any number of
single finite experiences. And so cannot have in James's sense any cash
value.(James's appeal to absolute truth will not help him here because these
too are made, they too are part of the shared background). Further as I said
earlier we would not know what would count as verifiability unless we have at
least some idea of the shared background i.e. of what is already the case. We
would not know if a thing is verifiable unless we know it what would be a
verification. So Verifiability presupposes truth. And because I have said he
cannot appeal to actual verification, he is locked into inconsistency. He is
forced to give up a one of a number of key ideas (verifiability, the credit
system, or the pragmatist idea of workings.) if he is to preserve the larger
theory. The shot has hit now James has to decide which limb to amputate.

So even within a Jamesian framework we should not accept the view that the true
is what is expedient, because to do so would lead to an incoherent system.

So far I have established that James does need rescuing, How can we do this? 

One way would be for James to give up the idea that experience is the basis of
his system. For James truth is an experiential notion, we use it and experience
it in our lives. It is a descriptive tool. If James can accommodate an
explanatory role for truth there may be a life line. James could still allow a
role for pragmatic, practical consequences. The useful would still be true, but
not because the true is defined in terms of the useful, the descriptive, but
rather because the truth provides the best explanation of utility. This would
also clear up the confusion about verifiability, because now we can accept that
it is transcendent of experience without any worry about as to whether
verifiability is the true. James would not even need to give up talk about a
shared world, so long as it is recognised that this to has it's basis in a
notion of truth as an explanatory device also. 

How far does this get James? It may not get him very far at all unless he
develops, as Sprigge [20] suggests a two tier theory. On one level there are
truths that we can take as a feature of the world, what Sprigge calls 'literal
truths' [21]. On the second level we have other truths which follow from these
first level ones that are practically useful, that are true because they are
satisfactory, and which have the qualities James attributes to them, namely of
being malleable, verifiable and half true. This however may be too much of a
concession to the intellectualists, for James to accept.

A second life line for James would be to give up talk about the notion that
causes him the trouble, that is verifiability, and replace it with a theory of
falsifiability, where this means the exact opposite of verifiability. This is
not as drastic a move as it may first appear. In fact because of his notion of
truth as working on a credit system, James's theory would be better described I
think as a theory of falsification any way. Changing to falsification would have
the advantage over verifiability because of the fact that only one contrary
instance would be needed to refute an idea, where as on a verificationist no
finite number of confirming cases could add to the truth value of an idea [22]
This move would rescue James from the objection that for a belief to be true is
for it to make us happy, for this would no longer be an objection. Because on a
falsificationist picture for a belief to be true is for it to work. It would
also answers the objection against pragmatism that a statement becomes true, or
has truth happen to it. Truth does not happen, ideas do not become true, but are
first treated as if true and then become false, in an absolute sense.
Verifications do not increase the degree of truth an idea has or add to the
justification of holding an idea, as James would suggest, but merely means that
the idea has not been refuted, and that we can continue using it in our
explanations and predictions. This move, then, can still preserve the
pragmatists idea that what is true is what works. 

This move towards falsification however, would mean making certain significant
modifications to James's theory. Not only would he have to give up talk about
verifiability, he may even have to abandon the word 'true'. For on a
falsificationist picture we do not look for truth as such, but for the best
explanation of phenomena. There are in a sense no truths, but only ideas that
have not been refuted. 

This would mean James could still retain his idea of the credit system, because
this is basically the falsificationist method and he could still hold happily to
the notions of satisfactions and workings, but now, in terms of falsification
theory, instead of looking for verifications to support or confirm a belief we
should actively look for falsifications of our ideas. A belief would still be
'true' so long as it worked, but we should not be satisfied with it working per
se, we should not settle for that. Rather we should test the belief to see if it
could be false. 

Whether James would be happy with these suggestions is very doubtful. However,
he should be happy because it is the only way I can see to save his theory, in
other words he should be happy because these suggestions work!

---

FOOTNOTES

1. Thayer p.223.

2. For example, Moore and Russell.

3. In fact he does make this move, but it does not have the consequence the
objectors think it does. See section 2.

4. This does not mean however that James thinks that truth was subjective. He
thought that we could get all we want from a theory of truth (objectivity, etc)
from a pragmatist position, but with out the problems or metaphysical baggage of
the intellectualist.

5. 'The Meaning of Truth' p. 195.

6. Thayer p.232. He also says "Realities in themselves can be there for any
one... only by being believed; they are believed only by their notions
appearing true".

7. Thayer p.234.

8. 'The Meaning of Truth' p.191.

9. Thayer p.232.

10. Thayer.p.229.

11. Thayer p.231. Let me make one point clear James uses verifiable to mean
what WOULD be confirmed as true by observation, in terms of workings and
satisfactions. This is not to be confused with the Logical Positivists use of
verifiability as meaning what could be found by observation.

12. Thayer p.231.

13. Thayer p.238.

14. This is pointed out in the article on the pragmatic theory of truth by
Richard Kirkland, in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy vol 9 p.478-480.

15. This is a variation of Russell's objection see 'The Meaning of Truth' p.272.

16. This ties in with James ideas in The Will to Believe. Thayer p.186-209.

17. note that 'Happy' is to be understood in the Jamesian sense noted earlier.

18. Perkins p.577.

19. Mounce p.49.

20. Sprigge p.64.

21. Sprigge p.64.

22. Ayer makes this point. see Ayer p.28.

---

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ayer, A.J. 'The Central Questions of Philosophy' (Penguin 1973 reprint 1991)

James, W. 'The Meaning of Truth' (Prometheus Books 1997)

Mounce, H.O. 'The Two Pragmatisms' (Routledge.1997)

Perkins, M  "Notes on the Pragmatic Theory of Truth" ('The Journal of
Philosophy' August 28 1952. pp.573-587.)

Russell, B. 'Philosophical Essays' (Longmans, Green and Co. 1910.)

Sprigge, T.L.C. 'James and Bradley -- American Truth and British Reality' (Open
Court Publishing Co 1993)

Thayer, H.S. Pragmatism -- The Classical Writings (Hackett Publishing Co. 1982)

Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Routledge 1998)

(c) Brian Tee 2003

E-mail: pip01bmt@sheffield.ac.uk

-=-

II. 'CAN WE TRUST PLATO?' BY D.R. KHASHABA

Apart from Plato's immeasurable value for philosophy, his works are a source of
much incidental information in diverse fields; sometimes they are our only or
our primary source, as for instance, for the major representatives of the
Sophist movement. To what extent can we trust Plato as a witness for factual
matters where we have no means for corroboration or otherwise? Luckily, a
test-case is available in the shape of Plato's account of the last moments of
Socrates' life.

In the closing part of the 'Phaedo' Plato gives us a graphic and very touching
description of Socrates' death. The passage, familiar to all students of
philosophy as it is, is still worth quoting in full.

      He walked about until his legs grew heavy, as he said; then
     he lay on his back, for so the attendant had directed. After
     a while, the man [who gave him the drug] felt him, examining
     his feet and legs; then he pinched his foot hard and asked
     if he felt it. Socrates said he didn't. Then he examined
     also the legs, and moving upwards in this way he showed us
     that he _psuchaito te kai pegnuto_ [usually translated: was
     growing cold and stiff]. Again he felt him and said that
     when it reached the heart he would depart. It had reached
     the region around the groin when he uncovered his face -
     for he had covered it up -- and said (and those were his
     last words), "O Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; don't
     neglect to offer it." "That will be done," said Crito. "See
     if you have anything else to say." To that question, there
     was no answer. After a short while he stirred. The man
     uncovered him and his eyes were set. Seeing that, Crito
     closed the mouth and the eyes. (117e-118a.)
     
This account was subjected to grave doubts, particularly during the past three
decades. Though Plato does not specify the poison administered to Socrates, but
refers to it simply as _to pharmakon_ 'the drug', it was generally assumed to be
hemlock, and Plato's account was challenged on the ground that hemlock poisoning
would have produced effects quite at variance with Plato's description. This was
poised to be established as the standard view. C. J. Rowe, commenting on this
passage in his edition of the 'Phaedo' (1993, Cambridge University Press)
wrote: 

      Phaedo's description of the event in [117] e4-118a14 appears
     to omit some of the more violent symptoms of hemlock
     poisoning (e.g. nausea, vomiting). Burnet (Appendix I),
     supposing the description to be historically accurate,
     relies on the suggestion that the symptoms might vary with
     different individuals; more plausibly, Gill 1973 argues
     that the symptoms have been deliberately selected (a) to
     show S[ocrates]'s physical toughness, (b) for aesthetic
     reasons, and (c) to 'illuminate, in visual form' the
     account of death given earlier in the dialogue, as the
     purification and liberation of the soul from the body
     (hence the stress on the numbness spreading upwards into
     the trunk, the loss of sensation indicating the departure
     of the soul).
     
Professor Enid Bloch, State University of New York at Buffalo, NY, has now
researched the question and has given her findings and conclusions in a
remarkable article, "Hemlock Poisoning and the Death of Socrates: Did Plato
Tell the Truth?"[1] She has in fact performed a wonderful feat of research with
a dedication and thoroughness that are truly admirable, for, as she explains,
"accurate knowledge of hemlock is hard to come by these days, and to discover
it one must navigate a veritable thicket of botanical, toxological,
neurological, linguistic, and historical complexities." 

Bloch explains that there are a number of plants with different properties that
all go by the name hemlock. Two of them in particular, poison hemlock and water
hemlock, have quite different characteristics. Scholars who have cast doubt on
Plato's account had in mind the effects of water hemlock whose toxins attack
the brain and spinal cord, and would produce "a far nastier and more violent
end" than Plato has pictured. Toxins from poison hemlock, on the other hand, as
Bloch has established, target the peripheral nerves, and would induce the
peaceful death described by Plato.

There remained a textual difficulty. Plato says that, beginning with the feet
and legs and then going upwards, Socrates' body _psuchoito te kai pegnuto_,
which is usually translated as "was growing cold and rigid". Now "growing cold
and rigid" runs counter to the effects of a poison which targets peripheral
nerves. Bloch's approach to the problem shows great perspicacity and
imaginativeness. Starting from the insight that "the translation of Plato's
words might be wrong, or... the implications of 'cold and stiff' in English
might not be the same as in the original Greek", Bloch explored Homer,
Hippocrates, Aristophanes, to conclude that, for Plato's contemporaries, the
phrase _psuchoito te kai pegnuto_ carried the sense that "Socrates' legs were
'stuck' or 'congealed', remaining fixed where they were. They were 'cold', that
is, inert, lacking in activity and energy, unable to move and unable to feel. In
other words, Socrates' legs were paralyzed."

I have to quote Professor Bloch's conclusion in full:

     The long, persistent controversy over the death of Socrates
     may finally have reached its end. By moving back and forth
     between the ancient and modern records, by uncovering the
     many layers of botanical and linguistic confusion, by
     learning the lessons of modern neurology, and by entering
     fully into the centuries-old debate, we have been able to
     bring every piece of the puzzle together. After so much
     complexity, the answer is almost simple. Socrates died
     gently and peacefully, just as Plato said he did. For Plato
     not only told the truth, he did so with astounding medical
     accuracy.
     
So it seems we can trust Plato's testimony when it comes to historical and
factual data. This, I believe, has no bearing on the question of whether the
philosophical content of the 'Phaedo' is to be ascribed to Socrates or Plato,
nor in general on the objectivity of Plato's representation of Socrates'
thought. Plato, in my view, fully appropriated Socrates' philosophical thought
and outlook. In presenting and developing that philosophy, it would have been
hard for Plato himself to draw a fine line between what was due to Socrates and
what to himself. Moreover, I believe that Plato must have felt that he would be
untrue to the spirit of the master if he did not present his thought in the
best possible light, which would necessarily be Plato's own light. There is no
question of veracity here, for Plato was not writing a history of philosophy
but, essentially, carrying on a mission. Even if we go so far as to assume
that, in the process, he may have varied, altered, or falsified the original,
he could not be conscious of that any more than Paul of Tarsus could have been
conscious of having falsified the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. For us,
today, it is the philosophy in the Platonic Dialogues that matters. Each of us
is at liberty to say: I conjecture this was what Socrates thought and that was
what Plato contributed; but if we are wise we have to acknowledge that, for
each of us, that conjecture is her or his private myth.

Reference

1. Enid Bloch "Hemlock Poisoning and the Death of Socrates: Did Plato Tell the
Truth?", http://www.nd.edu/~plato/bloch.htm

(c) D. R. Khashaba 2003

Website: http://www.Back-to-Socrates.com
E-mail: dkhashaba@hotmail.com

-=-

III. ISFP Membership Cards

Members of the International Society for Philosophers will shortly be receiving
a (belated) welcome pack.

The pack includes your ISFP membership card together with a copy of Tim LeBon's
recent article on Pathways and the ISFP (Tim LeBon 'Out and About', in 'The
Philosophers Magazine' Issue 24 4th Quarter 2003, p.18). 

Tim LeBon has done us proud. The article is balanced, informative and very
readable. Full marks to 'The Philosophers Magazine' for publishing the article.

The ISFP membership card is laminated for durability, and carries the member's
unique ISFP membership number as well as the URLs of the Pathways and ISFP web
sites. We did consider the possibility of a membership certificate, but decided
to reserve certificates for Pathways students who have gained the ISFP Associate
and Fellowship awards.

If you do not receive the welcome pack with your membership card in the next
couple of weeks, the reason may be that you provided an incomplete or
inaccurate mailing address on the ISFP blue form
(http://www.isfp.co.uk/membership.html). Be assured that your card will be
sent out as soon as we hear from you. (NB When you write your name and postal
address, please avoid accented characters, as these do not show up properly in
web forms or e-mail messages.)

If you joined the ISFP during October 2003, then your welcome pack will be sent
out after the membership database is updated, in the second week of November.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2003

[Philosophers Magazine Web Site: http://www.philosophers.co.uk]

---------------------------------------------------------------
  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net
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