Plato’s Metaxy

I have several earlier posts about this but the link where I quote this particular essay has gone dead. Searching on a snippet I found the whole (?) item on a Japanese website. I don’t know the author or original source. The old dead link might be a clue:

I now have a Metaxy tag, which should bring up all relevant posts, though search works too.

The whole item follows:

  Plato’s “Theory“ of Metaxy
  Although the term “Metaxy“ is crucial to Voegelin and Weil’s interpretation of Plato, there has been no in-depth analysis of what was meant by the term.(1) Most commentators have been content to recount its usage in a few passages from Symposium, The Republic, and Philebus. This appendix is a first sketch of a detailed analysis of this concept.
  In general usage, metaxy is an adverb which often functions as a preposition taking the genitive case. Infrequently, it is used with the neuter article as a substantive.(2) How was it used in Plato? Does Plato have a theory of the metaxy or was it just another adverb / preposition to him?
   Plato used the term metaxy 99 times in his writings.(3) It occurs most frequently in the middle dialogues, especially The Republic and Symposium, and very rarely in the early dialogues (see, Table 1). Approximately, one-third of its uses by Plato are to describe mundane events. For example, metaxy is often used as an adverb to describe an interruption in the telling of a story or to describe a location. For example, in the Charmides, Socrates tells Charmides to sit between himself and Critias (155c4). Also, in the Timaeus, when describing the creation of the human body, Plato uses metaxy to describe the location of the parts of the soul and body. The neck was placed between the head and the chest to separate the divine and mortal parts of man (69e3). Although these passages can be interpreted metaphorically, such interpretation is beyond the scope of this essay.
  Nevertheless, metaxy is used in some of the most important passages in Plato. It is used; to describe the knowledge of the philosopher-king in Republic V, to distinguish the realm of the spiritual in Symposium, to refute Polus’ “might makes right“ argument in the Gorgias, and is used frequently in the cosmology of the Timaeus. This paper will concentrate on three theoretical uses of metaxy in Plato. The first deals with perception leading to a participation in the ideas. The second concerns ontological relations with and between the ideas. The third considers epistemological questions including the differences between knowledge, opinion, truth, and false opinion.
  Metaxy in Plato’s Theory of Perception
  In the Theaetetus, Plato offers a participatory theory of perception which transcends many of the problems of realism and idealism.(4) Berkeley, the idealist, describes a perceptual relation between object as subject as “I see a white stone.“ The action takes place in the subject and is directed toward an external object. A realist, on the other hand, would say “the stone is white.“ The object possesses intrinsic characteristics which make it white. Plato’s theory of perception involves participation of the subject and the object in the idea of white. We can assume that the idea of white also participates in the subject and in the object. Plato would say white is a mode in which I participate in the stone. The idea of white is born of a mingling between object and subject. Plato describes this as the “seeing eye“ in the Theaetetus. The idea of white participates, “as the vision from the eyes and the whiteness from the thing that joins in giving birth to the color pass in the space between (metaxy), the eye becomes filled with vision and now sees, and becomes, not vision, but a seeing eye.“(156e) Plato, thus uses the notion of metaxy as that which is between the subject and the object. Plato stresses a mingling dependent upon the subject’s condition, the object’s condition and the relation of background stimuli. Further, each individual sees color different in different circumstances. “Color will be in each instance neither that which impinges nor that which is impinged upon, but something between (metaxy), which has occurred, peculiar to each individual.“ (154a) Thus, white is an idea (eidos) which sets the parameters or gathers together the necessary conditions for whiteness.
  But, like the sun which allows sight, the idea of white cannot be observed directly. It is a generator of becoming and seeing. It cannot be seen because that which gives being cannot be being and that which gives intelligibility can’t be intelligible. Thus, we are led to ask what exactly is a transcendental and how do we relate to something that is not of the worldly realm?
  The FORMs (ideas) are Plato’s answer to Protagoras’ dictum “man is the measure of all things.“ Socrates admits in the beginning of Charmides that he did not know how to measure things. However, he knew that Protagoras’ dictum leads to a hedonistic calculus. The FORMs are that which exists in all times and in all places. They are what remains the same through change. The FORMs are a cause in the sense they are responsible (aitia) for the worldly things. “It seems to me that whatever else is beautiful apart from absolute beauty is beautiful because it partakes of that absolute beauty. And for no other reason“(5) The FORMs can be divided into various categories. One category, labelled the transcendentals or universals, are ordering principles with an either/or type of existence. They include rest, motion, one, many, same, other, and being.(6) Another category of FORMs are regulative principles. These include; justice, beautiful, and good. These FORMs can be participated in, to varying degrees. The highest FORM, however, seems to be the good. In Plato’s FORMulation it is beyond being because it is the occasion for being. Man can be drawn toward the good by eros but he cannot know the good. The good is necessary but not sufficient for attaining good. We have to choose good through participation.
  In the early dialogue, Lysis, Plato hints at the participatory and metric quality of the good. “This then, it appears is the nature of good. It is loved on account of evil by us who are intermediate (µ) between evil and good, but in itself, and for itself, it is of no use.“ (220d) Though Socrates is not completely satisfied with this definition of the good or any other offered in this dialogue, it does contain two key points. Man is intermediate to good and bad, and the good must be participated in to have any use.
  In the Republic, Plato uses metaxy to describe that which is between transcendentals. “If a thing, then, is so conditioned as both to be and not to be, would it not lie between (metaxy) that which absolutely and unqualifiedly is and that which in no way is?“ (477b) Further, in the Parmenides he contemplates that which is between motion and rest. “But there is this strange instantaneous nature, something interposed between (metaxy) motion and rest, not existing in any time, and into this and our from this that which is in motion changes into rest and that which is at rest changes into motion.“(156e)(7)
  Metaxy as Epistemological Concept
   Another important use of metaxy is in regards to epistemological questions. In Book V of the Republic Plato uses metaxy to argue for a philosopher king. Socrates convinces Glaucon of the need for such a ruler by reverting back to the theory of ideas and participation. The ideas are that which set the standards or measures of the seen and heard. He convinces Glaucon that opinion is between becoming and being.
  Could you find a finer place to put them than between (metaxy) being and not to be?…. Then we have found, as it seems that the many beliefs of the many about what’s fair and about the other things roll around somewhere between (metaxy) not-being and being purely and simply.(479c-d)
  Since what is best for a country is knowable and not just opinion he who rules should be the one who knows best about the FORMs. The best participant in the FORMs is the philosopher. Plato also uses metaxy to distinguish understanding as between opinion and reason, (Republic, 511d) and opinion as between knowledge and ignorance. (478d)
  Most of the other theoretical uses of metaxy are circumscribed by these three categories. For example, Diotima in the Symposium refers to the spiritual as ontologically between the divine and the mortal. (202e) Also, Diotima says that Eros is between knowledge and ignorance.
  These theoretical uses, perception, relationships between the ideas, and epistemology are intertwined. The philosopher resembles Eros, because he or she is able to “know“ both knowledge and opinion. He / she can know “true knowledge“ because of participation in the ideas. Since he can participate in the ideas of justice, good, etc., the philosopher is even able to perceive the world better.(8) Since the philosopher is also able to participate in the (lesser) FORMs, including justice, good, beauty, he / she will be also be most virtuous. Thus, the theoretical uses of metaxy all band together to FORM a coherent picture of Plato’s philosophy, a philosophy which is between idealism and realism. To conclude, metaxy is used in many important contexts in Plato, but many questions remain. Does the importance of the in-between have some relationship with Plato’s attitude toward the Pythagoreans and the problem of incommensurable numbers? After all, some have argued that the incommnesurables led to Plato’s theory of the FORMs. Second, I have yet to show that metaxy was a “technical term“ in Plato. Yes, the term is used in many key passages, but does it have a unique meaning for Plato, a meaning beyond its use in everyday Greek? A more in-depth analysis of the term, especially in relation to other terms such as “meso“ is needed.
   1. I have yet to track down two possibly helpful articles from Ernst Hoffmann “Methexis und Metaxy bei Platon“ Sokrates 7, Jahrg., LXXIII (1919) 48-78 and “Platons Lehre vod der Weltseele,“ Sokrates 1915 187-211. See also, Peters, F. E. Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon and Urmson, J. O. The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary. The “metaxy“ is also discussed briefly in Friedlander, Plato: An Introduction, p. 41-3.
  2. Smyth, Greek Grammar, 1153, LSJ 950-1.
  3. Brandwood, Leonard. A Word Index to Plato. Leeds: W. S. Maney and Son, 1976. p. 573.
  4. This discussion of perception is heavily indebted to Professor Bigger’s lucid analysis in Participation: A Platonic Inquiry, 135-8 and to several seminars with Professor Bigger.
  5. Phaedo, 100c.
  6. See, the Sophist, 255e-257a. The question of non-being as a FORM or as a regulative principle is much debated (see Bigger, p. 131-6).
  7. Whether the line of reasoning in the Parmenides, can be attributed to Plato, has been the subject of much speculation.
  8. Republic, 584e9, Republic 585a2.

4 Replies to “Plato’s Metaxy”

  1. I believe the fragment is from a version of a presentation called “Plato’s Metaxy in the Thought of Voegelin and Simone Weil” by William Simmons at the 1995 Eric Voegelin Society meeting at the annual APSA conference.

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