Plato's Sophist [243-244]

about philosophers, and what philosophers are, by saying: πάνυ παντοῖοι (d. c4f.), "with much variety, in many different ways," do they show themselves, φαντάζεσθαι. Φάντασμα does not here mean appearance as mere phantasy, over and against real perception, but instead has the original sense of φαίνεσθαι, self-showing, immediate apparition, in which the philosopher manifests himself to the people, to persons of average sophistication. If we ask the person of average culture what he thinks of philosophers, the first thing he will express is some kind of a judgment, either one of denigration or of esteem. To some, philosophers appear to be "of no value," τοῦ μηδενὸς τίμιοι (c7f.), a superfluous type of humanity; to others, however, they are "worthy of the highest veneration," ἄξιοι τοῦ παντός (c8). Hence we have here contrasting judgments which do not so much rest on an actual presentification of the matter at issue, but on an immediate common impression, on the predominating temper and opinion. And indeed the variety of the apparitions in which the philosopher figures results διὰ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων ἄγνοιαν (c4f.), "from the unfamiliarity of the others." Here οἱ ἄλλοι. means the same as οἱ πολλοἱ, the multitude.

In connection with this characterization of the immediate popular view of the philosopher, Socrates provides at the same time a positive indication of the way the ὄντως φιλόσοφος (cf. c6), "the real philosopher," appears. Ὄντως φιλόσοφος stands in opposition to πλαστῶς (c6); πλάστω means to feign, to fabricate, to concoct a figure. In another context, ἀληθῶς replaces ὄντως. The feigned philosopher is thus opposed to the true one. Socrates now determines the true philosophers as καθορῶντες ὑψόθεν, "looking down from above on the βίος of those who are beneath them." οἱ μὴ πλαστῶς ἀλλ᾽ ὄντως φιλόσοφοι, καθορῶντες ὑψόθεν τὸν τῶν κάτω βίον (c5f.). The occupation of the philosopher is therefore ὀρᾶν, to look upon the βίος. Notice that the word here is not ζωή, life in the sense of the presence of human beings in the nexus of animals and plants, of everything that crawls and flies, but βίος, life in the sense of existence, the leading of a life, which is characterized by a determinate τέλος, a τέλος functioning for the βίος itself as an object of πρᾶξις. The theme of philosophy is thus the βίος of man and possibly the various kinds of βίοι. "They look down from above." That implies that the philosopher himself, in order to be able to carry out such a possibility in earnest, must have attained a mode of existence guaranteeing him the possibility of such a look and thereby making accessible to him life and existence in general.6

If we ask more precisely what popular opinion, which is always affectively disposed to the philosophers in one way or another, finds to say about them, the result is threefold. For some, philosophers show themselves

6. AH: outside the cave. Οἱ κάτω. In the cave.