Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 8, MT19)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

There have been two major views of the method of collection and division in the literature. Some say that collection is the process of identifying the genus to which a target kind belongs, and that division is in turn the process of dividing that genus into species and subspecies until discovering a definition of that target kind. Others think that collection and division are generally joint procedures for discovering definitions, namely that they operate in conjunction with one another at every point along the way. Both interpretations thus assume that division plays a substantial role in discovering definitions, while collection plays only a trivial or supporting role.

First, I shall critically examine those common views on the procedure of collection and division by drawing attention to the actual illustrations of the method in the Phaedrus. The point is that in both Socrates’ speeches division makes little contribution to identifying the essential features of love: in the first, love is only shown to be a kind of human madness (excess) among many others, including gluttony and drunkenness (cf. 238b3–5); in the second too, division ends simply with the designation of love as a kind of divine madness among many others, including prophesy, mystic rites and poetry (cf. 245b1–2). For, since removing only a few parts from the whole that has many parts is not helpful for revealing the essence of one specific remainder (in this case, love), the outcome of each division is far from identifying the essence of love, especially in the second speech, where, I show, love is defined as the psychological state striving to recollect the Form of Beauty. Next, I shall argue that those definitions of love in the speeches are, in fact, reached by the process of collection (cf. 265d3–5). Collection, in my view, is the process of gleaning information on a target kind by observing various manifestations of its power, and of inductively inferring its nature by speculating what gives a good causal account of those manifestations (cf. 270c10–d8). Division, on the other hand, is not the process of discovering the definition of that target kind but rather of confirming or explaining the pre-determined definition by clarifying its relation to other relevant kinds. Construed this way, I conclude, collection plays a more substantial role in the process of definition than often claimed, and functions as a guide to how one should perform the procedure of division.


If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair by Tuesday before the workshop.

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli 

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