The translation problem of Parmenides 132c6-7

My translation of Plato’s Parmenides two years ago was a failure. It has thus joined the ranks of every other translation of this dialogue that has preceded it. Initial self-doubts had been focused on passage 132c6-7 which reads:

Εἶτα οὐκ εἶδος ἔσται τοῦτο τὸ νοούμενον ἓν εἶναι, ἀεὶ ὂν τὸ αὐτὸ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν;

This I translated at the time into:

Thus, wouldn’t eidos be this very object that is thought to be one, always the same over all?

Note that the passage contains the six most crucial words that have borne the full weight of Western civilization’s meaning-discovering function over the millennia: εἶδος (eidos), ἓν (one), ὂν (being), τὸ αὐτὸ (same) and the verbs νοεῖν/(νοούμενον) (to think) and εἶναι/(ἔσται) (to be).

Plato in this dialogue portrays Parmenides as proposing to Socrates the above-cited passage as a conclusion to an argument showing that eidos cannot be a thought (noema, νόημα), contrary to what Socrates had suggested earlier. Socrates agrees: eidos cannot be a thought. This is the same Parmenides that was famous, as Plato well knew, for having said “τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι” usually translated as “to think and to be is the same”.

Obviously, translating the Greek verb νοεῖν into the English “to think” – as every translator of this dialogue has done – needs to be looked into more closely. What νοεῖν means in Greek moves further and further away from the meaning of the English “to think” the closer one examines its use in the surviving archaic and classical Greek texts from Homer to Plato.

The verb νοεῖν denotes the action of an entity called νόος (νοῦς), a very ancient Greek word of unknown etymology whose existence is first attested almost a thousand years before Homer in Linear B tablets as part of the proper name of male persons (Ἰφί-νοος, Αἰγί-νοος). This νόος is usually translated as Mind or Intellect on the untested presumption that the ancient Greeks meant by νόος the same thing that we moderns (and post-Moderns) call Mind or Intellect or Consciousness or Reason or Vernunft.

The set of problems that arise from this modern presumption of the meaning of the ancient Greek νοῦς multiply further once we begin to consider the profound disagreements over Mind and Consciousness engulfing modern cognitive science and its predecessor philosophical epistemologies.

At any rate, the verb νοεῖν expresses the action of νοῦς;  νοεῖν is what this controversial νοῦς does.

Continue reading

Plato Remains “Enigmatic”

Plato’s work was unknown to Western Europe for most of its history. The full body of Plato’s writings first became available to Latin language readers in 1484 A.D. – 1,831 years after Plato’s death. From the time of Cicero until the 12th century only half of the Timaeus was available in Latin, then around 1160 A.D. the Phaedo and the Meno were translated.

Plato started becoming available in modern languages in 1804 A.D. – 2,151 years after his death, almost a quarter century after Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and almost two centuries after Descartes’s Discourse on Method. Other than mystical Neo-Platonic interpretive claims and a bit of somewhat benign gossip from Aristotle, absolutely nothing of Plato’s own thought was known in the West until almost two millennia after his death.

Two millennia later! Let this sink in, then consider if you want to lend credence to Alfred Whitehead’s celebrated quip that “the European philosophical tradition … consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”. Continue reading

A note on Space: Plato and Quantum Physics

Plato argues that space is a consequence, a byproduct of “substance” (Parmenides 145b3-e6): space depends on “substance”.

Immediately afterward, he advances the argument that substance not only generates space but that the space that substance generates is a nested manifold (Parmenides 148d5-149d7).

Subsequently in the Timaeus dialogue he attempts to elaborate the character of this substance-dependent space by employing the following descriptive expressions: imprint-bearer, container, winnowing basket, receptacle, all-recipient, and nurse, nurturer, mother, space, and seat.

(What Plato means by being, substance, the one, or eidos (words that Plato uses interchangeably as signifiers for his usually misunderstood ontological order of incorporeal causes) is another controversial issue to be discussed separately).

Plato’s ontological generation of space is diametrically opposed to the logical construction of the mathematical concept of Hilbert space whose validity depends not on any ontological facts but on the logical consistency of its own a priori axiomatic structure.

It is remarkable that the employment of Hilbert space mathematics by quantum physics appears to have led to certain (still untested) descriptions of the physical world that are more consistent with Plato’s view of reality than they are with Immanuel Kant’s Weltanschauung on which Hilbert’s mathematical achievement is based (here, here, here, here and here). In other words, the mathematical-physics consequences of Hilbert’s mathematics vindicate the ontological suppositions of Plato and not the critical-rational view of Kant, even though Hilbert’s mathematics depend on Kant’s critical rationalism and not on Plato’s ontological realism.

You can read here the relevant passages from Plato in the original Greek side-by-side with my English translations.

Taking the long view of geopolitical developments

In the two and a half years of silence that passed since my last post, I engaged with two colleagues (Marielle Kronberg and my wife Vivian Freyre Zoakos) in a comprehensive, ongoing study of what we believe to be certain critical philosophical problems on whose eventual treatment will hinge the future evolution of Western civilization.  We decided to begin with those of Plato’s dialogues that ought to be regarded, for reasons that will be elaborated in future posts, as the founding documents of western science: the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist and Timaeus. The result of our work thus far has been a new translation of the Parmenides, to be made available on these pages as soon as the supporting footnotes and commentary are completed.

Physics not Political Philosophy drive long-term political evolution

The day to day developments in world politics during these two and a half years of silence validate the view that a colossal civilizational transition is in progress, or rather has been in progress for quite a while and has now reached a critical phase with the processes that have been unleashed in the United States since the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Contrary to the dominant views and practices of modern academia, what drives the longterm political and cultural behavior of a civilization is not the ideological narrative or the political philosophy behind it. Instead, the ultimate driver is that mental image of the physical world that the physical sciences of the civilization impart – by teaching and by osmosis – to that civilization’s general population. Populations understand their lives by situating themselves in a physical world, but they understand that physical world according to what physical science teaches about it. Their judgments and their actions are based on these understandings. Continue reading

The Lawlessness of Globalism

Before commenting on the link between globalism and the ongoing, broad-based assault against police officers and against law enforcement in general, a clarification is required: political globalism is distinct and radically different from the global economic integration we are used to calling “globalization.”

The aftermath of the Brexit referendum has made this radical difference clear and even obvious to any fair and unbiased observer. The United Kingdom’s rejection of the political tyranny of Brussels’ political globalism has in fact improved its prospects of further integration in the global economy outside the protectionist confines of the EU. (See my earlier posts: here and here)

Political globalism is the agenda of promoting global government at the expense of national sovereignty. Political globalism exploits economic globalization as an alibi and an excuse behind which to conceal its true aims. As a political aspiration – namely the destruction of the nation-state – it has an ancient pedigree that long predates the emergence of the recent, post-1992 wave of economic globalization.

Political globalism has as its primary aim the destruction of the legal writ of the sovereign state. The current wave of violent mob attacks against law enforcement personnel and the coordination of those mob attacks with academic and journalistic propaganda against the institutions of law enforcement represent a high point in globalism’s long-standing campaign against the legal writ of the nation state – a campaign that in, effect, is a campaign of lawlessness.

For nearly three decades there has been a proliferation of specialized legal regimes that gobble up legal authority from sovereign states and administer international treaty-based public law in areas formerly covered by the writ of sovereign states such as trade law, environmental law, human rights, etc. Pressured by powerful lobbies and on advice of administrative and academic experts, national legislatures time and again have surrendered their lawmaking function to unelected supranational bureaucracies. They do so by voting vague administrative laws and assigning accompanying rule making and legal interpretation to the “experts” of these bureaucracies.

Unaccountable, globalist rulemaking has thereby replaced large swaths of law that used to be made by national legislators held accountable to the constituencies that voted them into office. The process has been gradual enough to escape the attention of the general public over the last nearly three decades. But the cumulative effects that are being felt today leave little doubt in the mind of the general public that significant portions of public life operate in lawlessness disguised as administrative rulemaking.

Administrative rulemaking is fine and good if the administrators are incorruptible public servants. But when powerful special interests and lobbies take over the administrators and carry out what is technically called “regulatory capture,” then we have a failure of government. Regulatory capture is followed by generalized corruption of public life which, if not reversed, eventually leads to failed states.

If those failed states happen to be former sovereign nation-states, so much the better for our political globalists.

This perspective gives some context to Hillary Clinton’s non-indictment and to the virulent anti-police rhetoric and street-violence of recent days. But, more to the point, it calls for a fresh look at what happened during and after the 2008 financial crisis and the twin doctrines of “too big to fail” and “too big to prosecute” that protected (and keep protecting) the major global banks responsible for that crisis. The first doctrine was promulgated by President Bush’s Treasury Secretary; the second by President Obama’s Attorney General.

The current wave of lawlessness targeting police officers today takes aim at the heart of the legal writ of the sovereign nation state in exactly the same way that Hank Paulson’s “too big to fail” and Eric Holder’s “too big to prosecute” damaged law and order in 2008 and in 2013.

But neither the volatile street rioters nor the more cerebral Paulson and Holder realize that their behavior is defeating their own purported intentions. Without the legal writ of the sovereign nation state there is no rule of law. And without the rule of law there is only tyranny – the tyranny of supranational corporate lobbyists and their administrative experts operating under “regulatory capture.” Neither “social justice” – the purported objective of the street rioters – nor well-regulated markets – the purported objective of Paulson and Holder – are possible in a globalist tyranny.

Murdering cops and shredding banking and securities laws are equally violations of the law. Murder of individual law enforcers is more heinous than financial crime but financial crime on the scale perpetrated destroyed millions of lives, many of them irreparably.

Brexit could wreck EU law across the EU

Following the meeting of the EU’s European Council (heads of state) last night, EU President Donald Tusk confirmed that “there will be no negotiations of any kind until the UK formally notifies its intention to withdraw.” He was referring to Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which London has indicated will not be invoked until October when a new Prime Minister comes in to replace David Cameron. Article 50 is supposed to regulate negotiation for withdrawal. Continue reading

Economic Vs. Political Globalization

The following was published in the current issue (Spring 2016) of the journal The International Economy as my response to a symposium of views on the question Brexit: The Unintended Consequences:

The Brexit referendum will test the veracity of the claim that international economic integration is impossible without supranational governance. This is what the opponents of Brexit claim, while the Brexit proponents argue that international economic integration will be better served with a reassertion of national sovereignty over supranational governance.

Indeed, the EU insists that if a country wants to have access to its markets it must accept the entire body of acquis communautaire, i.e., the entire body of EU legal acts, court rulings and bureaucratic regulations that have nothing to do with free trade and touch on matters ranging from sports team uniform designs and barmaids’ cleavage regulation to speech code, cultural/ education policy and immigration, and politically correct law enforcement. Most if not all of this acquis communautaire serves no purpose other than the assertion of supranational governance and subversion of traditional national sovereignty.

If Britain votes to exit the EU, it will be voting to get rid of the 13,000-plus acts, rules and regulation of the acquis communautaire, but otherwise to continue Britain’s economic relations with the Continent.

One unintended consequence will show up in the reaction of the European Union leadership to a probable British vote to exit the EU. A lengthy period of UK-EU negotiations will follow Brexit, whose purpose will be to redefine UK-EU relations. The European negotiators will have a choice between preserving the mutually beneficial economic relations  (the EU maintains a healthy trade surplus with the UK) even after Britain has rejected the rest of the acquis communautaire, or terminating/curtailing those economic relations in order to punish Britain for its rejection of the EU’s oppressive legal scaffolding.

If the European leadership chooses to preserve UK-EU economic relations, they will be signaling to the other members of the EU that it is not necessary to accept the comprehensive supranational overlordship of Brussels in order to enjoy the benefits of international economic integration and free trade. But if, in order to whip into line the remaining EU members, the leadership decides to destroy the hitherto beneficial UK-EU economic relations, the EU leaders will be signaling that their true institutional interest is not international economic integration but the political power of supranational governance arrayed against national sovereignty and the democratic institutions that underlie that sovereignty.

In opposing Brexit, the ideologues of political Europeanism argued to the British public that their Europeanism is motivated by their solicitous concern to preserve the benefits of international economic integration. If Brexit wins the referendum, these ideologues must either accept that international economic integration can also be served by strengthened national sovereignty without supranational governance, or they must resort to the unintended consequence of demolishing economic integration in order to preserve supranational rule.

Myths of free trade and protectionism

In October 1913, the United States broke with a solid 124-year-old protectionist tradition and enacted the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Reduction Act, lowering import tariffs by an average 5.1 percentage points.  Eight months later, in June 1914, World War One was triggered; but nobody ever thought of blaming America’s flirtation with “free trade” for the Great War.

In June 1930, the United States enacted the Smoot-Hawley Act that raised import tariffs by an average 3.6 percentage points.  The stock market had already crashed eight months earlier, in October 1929, triggering the Great Depression.  Yet there are people who to this day blame the Great Depression on the “protectionism” of the supposedly protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act that took effect long after the Great Depression had begun.

Raising tariffs does not cause depressions, any more than lowering tariffs causes war. Continue reading

Debt, Trade and the Trump Insurgency

May 4, 2016

Donald Trump was propelled to the GOP nomination by the soaring tide of voter opposition to our national bipartisan policies on trade and immigration. Most likely he will be propelled to the presidency of the United States by the same relentless, popular (both Republican and Democratic) opposition to those same policies.

These bipartisan policies, in force without interruption since the 1989 inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, unleashed unilateral free access to US markets for foreign goods, services and workers, while simultaneously permitting our trading partners to preserve and augment their protectionism against US goods and services and to engage in wholesale theft of intellectual property and industrial espionage. Continue reading