Plato, Statesman 267d4-5

Ἐγὼ νῷν πειράσομαι τοῦτ᾽ αὐτὸ ὃ διανοοῦμαι νῦν ἔτι μᾶλλον δηλῶσαι.

After having defined the statesman as having an art of caring for human beings, the anonymous stranger from Elea suspects that young Socrates’ conclusion, that it is altogether and entirely (παντάπασι) thus, is overstated. Indulging his interlocutor’s request for elaboration, the stranger prefaces his argument with the above sentence, which we can preliminarily translate as follows:

(1) “I will attempt to clarify still more for the two of us this very thing that I am now thinking.”

This straightforward rendering fails to do justice to the actual complexity of the text, which proves much more difficult to translate – and interestingly so.

First, there is the issue of reflexivity. In the active, πειράω means “to attempt” or “to try.” In this sentence, it is in the middle, which does not change the sense, though it does emphasize the importance of the attempt to the one attempting, namely the stranger. The stranger seems to underscore his role by including the unnecessary, and thus emphatic, nominative pronoun ἐγώ. But in addition to the reflexivity built into the verb itself, the stranger includes the first person, dual pronoun νῷν as the indirect object either of πειράσομαι or of δηλῶσαι. These features thus refine the translation, and into two possibilities:

(2) “I will attempt for myself to clarify for the two of us still more this very thing that I am now thinking.”

(3) “I will attempt for myself for the two of us to clarify still more this very thing that I am now thinking.”

Second, there is the problem of the adverbs found between διανοοῦμαι and δηλῶσαι. Normally, an adverb modifies the verb that follows it. But if we group all three adverbs with δηλῶσαι, we get the following, quite odd translation of the two main verbs:

(4) “I will attempt to clarify now still more.”

The oddity is that a future attempt leads to a present clarification, as though the accomplishing of the thing attempted preceded the attempt itself. Thus it seems necessary, and really quite reasonable, to pair νῦν with διανοοῦμαι, so that the stranger makes a future attempt to clarify what he is presently only thinking. Young Socrates’ exhortation, Λέγοις ἄν, certainly confirms that he takes the stranger to be saying something of the sort. But, if we are willing to pair νῦν with διανοοῦμαι, what prevents us also from including ἔτι, or even also μᾶλλον?* Such a reading is supported by the choice of διανοέω over ἐννοέω, since the former emphasizes the process of thought and the latter the possession of a completed thought. That is, the stranger is still in the process of thinking. On this reading, we get the following translation of the subordinate clause:

(5) “this very thing that I am now thinking through still more.”

The implication of this translation is that the stranger emphatically remains in the process of thinking through his suspicion about their prior definition of the statesman. Even as he speaks to young Socrates, the stranger reflects within himself. Thus the very complexity in the sentence’s reflexivity is reflected in the ambiguity regarding the role of the adverbs in the larger syntax of the sentence. Just as the attempted clarification was to be both for the stranger privately and the two of them together as a pair, so too now the clarification for the two of them is to occur in tandem with the stranger’s continued and private thinking-through of his suspicion.

While the complexity of this sentence is something of a surprise, certainly the substance is less so. Readers of the Statesman are familiar with such an understanding of thinking from elsewhere in the trilogy. In Plato’s Sophist, the stranger defines thinking as “a dialogue that comes to be without voice within the soul with itself” (Sophist 263e3-5). They are likewise familiar with it from Socrates’ similar statement in the Theaetetus, namely that soul, “when thinking, appears to me nothing else than to be conversing, it asking and answering itself, asserting and not asserting” (Theaetetus 189e8-190a2). If we reflect on the ambiguous role of νῷν in our initial bit of text, we note that the stranger can only clarify something for young Socrates if he somehow dramatizes young Socrates in his mind. He must try to address young Socrates, and so not just the explicit clarification is shared, but also the implicit, more personal attempt (albeit on an internal and necessarily imitative level). With thinking, the middle voice always implies νῷν.

In contrast, the Statesman is the only dialogue in this trilogy that does not offer us a definition of thinking. Rather, with its awkward combination of long digressions and terse abbreviations, it seems more than the others to dramatize thinking. Such is perhaps to be expected of a dialogue with the purpose of making its speakers more dialectical (Statesman 285d5-8). Accordingly, what sets the stranger’s statement apart from those earlier definitions is precisely its dramatic character – it occurs in time, as all thinking and conversing must, and as no definition ever could. This makes the translation proposed in (4) quite interesting. For if the stranger is in the process of thinking his suspicion through, the suspicion stands both at the beginning and at the end of the process. In this way, the attempted clarification precedes its own attempt: “I will attempt my present clarification.”**

Perhaps this is why Plato chose to dramatize the attempt to become more dialectical through an analysis of the statesman. For if anything arouses suspicion, it is the failure of laws to anticipate all circumstances. The laws – the statesman’s second sailing (Statesman 300c2) – are the philosopher’s first sailing.


* When ἔτι precedes a comparative, the two usually go together.

** The stranger thus seems to be reflecting on young Socrates’ earlier, eager anticipation that the animal, to which the statesman tends, is man, as opposed to beasts. In the stranger’s correction of what he portrays as an erroneously hasty jump, he never denies that young Socrates’ suspicion is incorrect. While they know where they are headed, they aren’t sure how they will get there.

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