Guest Michelle F. Cohen

"Things as they could be and ought to be"

61 posts in this topic

I looked up "protagonist" in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. Here is the definition:

"Originating in early Greek drama, the term was applied to the first actor and leader of the Chorus. The antagonist was the second most important character and the other contender in the agon, the disput or debate that formed part of a Greek tragedy. Protagonist is now used generally to denote the main character of a play or story and is sometimes used interchangeably with hero."

It means that an anti-hero may be the protagonist, as long as he is the main character.

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I looked up "protagonist" in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. [snip] It means that an anti-hero may be the protagonist, as long as he is the main character.

I wouldn't refer to the main characters of Enemy of the State or The Man Who Knew too Much as anti-heroes. They were actually very heroic, even though they didn't intend to be that way. To use an Aristotelian phrase, they didn't start off doing those things "for the sake of" breaking up an espionage ring, but they did eventually do just that. In other words, they were ordinary Americans caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Unlike, say, Matt Helm or James Bond, they didn't make it their life's work to go after the bad guys, but once their lives or loved ones were threatened, they took the appropriate action. This is the American sense of life writ large -- the desire not to be pushed around; and the desire not to be told what to do. They simply wanted to live their lives without interference by others, and when they found their lives being interfered with in a big way, they responded in kind -- and gave the bad guys a run for their money, and eventually destroyed them.

Similar motivations can be found on the more positive side -- i.e. not fighting against an enemy, but by being extraordinarily productive -- in movies like Gung Ho and others like it where the company they work for is about to go under, but they put their minds to use in a productive manner and save the day and their jobs. These individuals didn't go to work in the morning "for the sake of" saving their company, but decide to do so when the circumstances demand it.

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I would also like to point out that the protagonist and the hero can be two different characters. Take for example the movie Psycho. The disturbed son is the protagonist, but the policeman who figures out the mystery is the hero.

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To get back to the original question, is it possible that Miss Rand first encountered Aristotle in a Russian or French translation that rendered the Greek "could" as "might" and/or "ought?"

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To get back to the original question, is it possible that Miss Rand first encountered Aristotle in a Russian or French translation that rendered the Greek "could" as "might" and/or "ought?"

Almost two years ago there was an auction of books and material from Miss Rand's personal library, announced on THE FORUM here. Included in the auction was the English language 1941 edition of McKeon's The Basic Works of Aristotle, and it was described as Miss Rand's "working copy." I perused the book and it had various comments, underlining and the like. I do not own a copy of McKeon's book, but I am almost positive that it contains the Poetics.

Perhaps Miss Rand also read Aristotle at school in Russia, but this 1941 "working copy," complete with notations, would indicate to me that this was her primary source. Perhaps, however, there is more in the Ayn Rand Archives.

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To get back to the original question, is it possible that Miss Rand first encountered Aristotle in a Russian or French translation that rendered the Greek "could" as "might" and/or "ought?"

I have additional insight to add to this, since I am currently studying Attic Greek. There are two moods of the verb "eimi" which can convey those meanings--the subjunctive and the optative. I would be interested to see which was used in the Greek. The subjunctive would usually mean "might be," but somewhat less frequently, it could also be translated as "could be," depending on context and any license taken by the translator. The optative mood could be translated in all three of the above meanings, if the meaning is "might," it would be accompanied by the particle "av," but meanings of the optative mood standing without a particle and in reference to another clause could carry meanings of "could" or "ought."

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It would also be interesting to see if the verb was used in the present tense or the aorist tense, since they have subtly different, although significant in this context, meanings. I think I might have just found a project for myself. :)

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It would also be interesting to see if the verb was used in the present tense or the aorist tense, since they have subtly different, although significant in this context, meanings. I think I might have just found a project for myself. :)

Well, whoever can first lay his hands on the Greek text of Poetics and check this out will earn a place in the annals of Objectivism. I'm rather surprised that nobody seems to have thought of doing this before.

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It would also be interesting to see if the verb was used in the present tense or the aorist tense, since they have subtly different, although significant in this context, meanings. I think I might have just found a project for myself. :)

Well, whoever can first lay his hands on the Greek text of Poetics and check this out will earn a place in the annals of Objectivism. I'm rather surprised that nobody seems to have thought of doing this before.

The Perseus digital library at Tufts University has an online version of Aristotle's Poetics in both Greek and English. So, Dave and other interested Greek-readers, get to work!

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The Perseus digital library at Tufts University has an online version of Aristotle's Poetics in both Greek and English. So, Dave and other interested Greek-readers, get to work!

But it can't have any value, especially any scholarly value; after all, it's on the internet! :):)

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This is really interesting, the verb used wasn't "eimi," which means "be," but a participle form of the verb "gignomai," which means "happen." The participle is the accusative (direct) object of the verb "legei," which means he/she/it tells. The he/she/it in this context is the poet.

I can't tell much more than this without a better dictionary, but I find it puzzling since neither the subjunctive nor optative moods can be used in participles, so it is impossible for its meaning to carry an implication of "might" "could" or "ought," unless something else is adding to it. There are a few words I'm not familiar with.

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But it can't have any value, especially any scholarly value; after all, it's on the internet! :):)

Hah, hah! I can remember when scholars weren't allowed to cite paperbacks -- put a real crimp into science fiction scholarship. Nowadays, all's fair, I suppose, as long as the sources are authentic. Back in 1937 H.G. Wells had an idea for a universal encyclopedia called the World Brain. continuously updated -- only he thought it would be done on microfilm; nobody had a clue about computers then, let alone the Internet. But now we have the World Brain and it's saved me countless trips to libraries -- not that I don't still have to go there to double-check, or consult texts that aren't online. But thanks to Google Search, I've found stuff I could never have found at a library because I wouldn't have known where to look. Just one example: a German sf writer who had a number of novels published in the 1920's, but none thereafter. Was he a victim of the Nazis? Far from it; a Google book search turned up his name in a 1942 memoir by a former German social columnist: seems he turned into a rabid Nazi himself and showed up at his sister's parties in his SS uniform.

For the search in question here, of course, you'd better have a computer with a Greek font!

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Hi you guys,

I addressed the subject of whether Aristotle said that art deals with things as they could be and ought to be, in one of my posts for Burgess' Poetics Study Group. Click here.

Here's the (updated) version, edited for this thread:

In chapter 9 of the Poetics, Aristotle says:

"but (αλλα) in this (τουτωι) is the difference (διαφθρει), in one (τωι τον) to say (λειγειν) the things happening in the past (τα γενομενα, 'genomena'), and in the other (τον οια) ____________ (αν γενοιτο, 'an genoito')."

The question is to figure out what an genoito means. For starters, it's a verb, stemming from the word gignomai, "to become", "to be". The word genoito is similar to the nearby genomena, and that word is a participle in past tense, referring to things that were, happened, became, in the past. genoito is the very same word, but placed in contrast with that past tense, and is a verb in the optative mood. This is the very key here. From Balme and Lawall's Athenaze: "One use of the optative in main clauses is to express wishes for the future, e.g.:

'May the gods help you, son.' or 'May you not fall into trouble, friends.' "

So far so good! Furthermore: "the optative with the particle an in main clauses expresses a possibility or likelihood. This is called the potential optative; compare English statements [that contain] "would," "should," and "may," e.g.:

'I would like to see the doctor.' or 'Perhaps you would come to our aid.' "

So, it now appears utterly appropriate to translate Aristotle's purpose for fiction as depicting things as they might, and ought to be, using two words to convey the same meaning that Aristotle enclosed in his one.

A clunky literal translation of Aristotle's Greek would be:

"But in this is the difference, in one to say the things happening in the past, and in the other the things that might and should happen."

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Hi everyone,

I addressed the subject of whether Aristotle said that art deals with things as they could be and ought to be, in one of my posts for Burgess' Poetics Study Group. Click here. It's a philological issue.

Thanks for a truly excellent breakdown of what Aristotle meant and what he actually said, as best as we can determine, having only what are possibly his own lecture notes, or students' notes of his lectures. The actual texts for the vast bulk of his work were destroyed along with the library in Alexandria.

Another point that escapes an author such as Cox has to do with induction -- both Rand's and Aristotle's:

Aristotle was not a dramatist himself. He relied for his analysis of Aesthetics the best of what was available to him in his own time, the works of the great Greek playrights, especially Sophocles. So it wasn't his choice that Oedipus would have killed his father and married his mother, or that the Greek Gods would demand his self-sacrifice as penance. It wasn't his choice that Antigone would die for her integrity, while lesser men lived. The Greeks were the first flowering of reason and exaltation of Man in their art, but it was not an ideal society by any stretch. I am not a historian, but I'm a theatre person and I've read many of those great Greek plays, as well as most of the contemporaneous mythology. The distinction between Tragedy and Comedy, in my observation of the works I've studied, reflects a sense of life that celebrated life on Earth, but in the context of a malevolent universe, in which the Good are inevitably brought down, the Wicked elevated, and death awaits them all just around the corner. The "serious" drama, for the Greeks, was necessarily tragic, because it was the struggle against tragedy, against impossible forces, that defined the heroic nature of an individual.

Rand created her own art, in her own literary style, Romantic Realism. The 19th Century masters, like Hugo, created much that was great, but retained that Altruistic premise of the Noble Soul struggling valiantly against injustice and the forces of the universe. Others had happy endings, the Comedies, but combining the Hero with the possibility of success and happiness against the massed forces of evil was Rand's creation. If you read The Prisoner of Zenda, you can say that it was a demonstration of the triumph of good over evil, but, then, you have to ignore the sequels -- it's a trilogy -- in which, ultimately, the hero dies in a sacrificial last-stand.

Rand's novels showed that it was possible to have a serious drama peopled with great heroes, who fought for their values and succeeded; A serious work with a happy ending. That is the result of the underlying philosophy. Such an outcome, such a story, would be a contradiction in the context of Altruism. The Altruistic philosophy that underlay the 19th Century Romantic novels, plays, and operas, dictated that self-sacrifice was the highest, most noble goal and the heroes acted accordingly.

So Cox is ignoring the differences in the materials that these two philosophers, Aristotle and Rand, had available to use as examples. And -- most importantly -- he is attacking the philosophy that dictates the kind of heroes we would see resulting from that underlying philosophy, especially in the case of Rand. That this was a lecture to an allegedly Objectivist group is a travesty.

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"but (αλλα) in this (τουτωι) is the difference (διαφθρει), in one (τωι τον) to say (λειγειν) the things happening in the past (τα γενομενα, 'genomena'), and in the other (τον οια) ____________ (αν γενοιτο, 'an genoito')."

This Greek is very, very different than what is posted up on the Perseus Project, and actually makes quite a bit more sense than what they have. My Greek professor has told us that, although it can be a great resource, the Perseus Project contains a lot of errors in the Greek and shouldn't necessarily be trusted as an authoritative source, so I'm inclined to trust this Greek you have posted over what is posted there.

αν γενοιτο is the third person plural form, in the optative mood, middle/passive voice, of the verb "gignomai." Since "gignomai" is a deponent verb, middle/passive forms carry an active meaning. The presence of the particle αν indicates that is translated as a potential occurence, rather than an occurence the speaker is necessarily wishing for. Because of the particle, there is no other possible translation other than "may happen" or "might happen"

This "past tense" you are referring to is actually the aorist tense, which in most moods of the non-participle forms, would carry a meaning of past time with aoristic aspect. In some participle uses, and in the subjunctive and optative moods, however, there is no past-time meaning, and aoristic tense conveys only aspect. The optative mood, as such, is timeless. An aorist aspect is such that the action is viewed as happening on a particular occasion, rather than something that occurs over an extended period of time, or something that happens habitually, which in the optative mood, would be conveyed by the use of the present tense, carrying an imperfective aspect. Thus, a more complete translation would be "might happen on a particular occasion."

τα γενομενα is an aorist participle, and given that it refers to what historians tell us, almost certainly carries a meaning of past time in this context, as well as aoristic aspect.

It is highly significant that the aorist optative was used instead of the present optative. It indicates that it is entirely possible Ayn Rand was mistakenly giving Aristotle credit for an idea which was hers. It is my view that, given the Greek Free Capitalist has provided, Aristotle did not mean that the poet shows us the world as it might be and ought to be, in the sense that Ayn Rand meant the phrase. The use of the aorist carries no implication of "ought to be," which would require the universal, ongoing meaning of the present tense's imperfective aspect. The use of the aorist tense in this passage can only carry a meaning of something which "might conceivably occur." Not necessarily one of "this is the way the universe should be." To me, it emphasizes realism, and says nothing at all about romanticism, whereas Ayn Rand's use of the phrase emphasizes both. There may be other passages in Poetics which do put more of an emphasis on romanticism; not having studied the book, I can't say.

Hi you guys,

Here's the (updated) version, edited for this thread:

A clunky literal translation of Aristotle's Greek would be:

"But in this is the difference, in one to say the things happening in the past, and in the other the things that might and should happen."

A meaning of "should happen" would require the use of the subjunctive mood, or the use of the optative without the particle αν. Since the particle is present, the only meaning it carries is "might happen."

A better translation is:

"But the difference is that one tells us what happening (on a particular occasion), and the other tells us what might possibly happen (on a particular occasion)."

Attic Greek and English are so completely different from one another that a literal translation of just about anything is near impossible, excepting very, very simple sentences. This, in my amateur opinion, is a proper translation given the Greek you provided, however.

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Dave I don't agree with your interpretation: the translation you make is not specific enough to the grammar or the context here. The full section says:

Indeed the writings of Herodotus could be put into verse and yet would still be a kind of history, whether written in metre or not. The real difference is this, that one tells what happened and the other _______.

If we keep your translation, then if Herodotus changed his words around, from "Person A did thing X" to "Person A might have done X", he now becomes a fiction writer (not superficially, but fundamentally). Of course in truth, that change of words does not change Herodotus's nature, nor would it change the phrase into a fictional phrase. Historians are entirely allowed to use optatives in their works to allow potential things, without becoming fiction-writers. Aristotle means something entirely different from a plain optative. I don't have my Greek lexicon with me right now, but consider the examples from my old textbook:

Athenaze:

'May the gods help you, son.' or 'May you not fall into trouble, friends.'

'I would like to see the doctor.' or 'Perhaps you would come to our aid.'

Also a sample search online for "aorist optative":

Bible, Thess. 3:11

"Now may our God and Father

himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you."

link

Clearly what you see here is a goal-directed sort of wish, not just doodling in the sky but a specific directive from the speaker to the hearer. That is what we understand under our word "ought"

"We're not fighting in Iran, but we ought to be". Very different from:

"We're not fighting in Iran, but we might be".

Aorist optatives indicate the former sort of meaning, in all examples of its usage by the Greeks that I have been able to find. Also Ayn Rand didn't translate this herself, which means she must have relied on a translation (a disinterested translation that did not care to translate Aristotle according to AR's wishes). So that's four examples, right there, of "an genomino" as being translated by people with the sense of the writer implying an directive or an imperative, an "ought".

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Well, if dondigitalia and Free Capitalist can't agree on the nuances of Greek, I can hardly comment on them.

But there's another passage, familiar to most here, I suppose. I can't vouch for the translation; I simply Googled for the reference:

<<Part II

Since the objects of imitation are men in action, and these men must be either of a higher or a lower type (for moral character mainly answers to these divisions, goodness and badness being the distinguishing marks of moral differences), it follows that we must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are. It is the same in painting. Polygnotus depicted men as nobler than they are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysius drew them true to life.

Now it is evident that each of the modes of imitation above mentioned will exhibit these differences, and become a distinct kind in imitating objects that are thus distinct. Such diversities may be found even in dancing, flute-playing, and lyre-playing. So again in language, whether prose or verse unaccompanied by music. Homer, for example, makes men better than they are; Cleophon as they are; Hegemon the Thasian, the inventor of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse than they are. The same thing holds good of Dithyrambs and Nomes; here too one may portray different types, as Timotheus and Philoxenus differed in representing their Cyclopes. The same distinction marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.>>

"Better" in this context seems to imply men as they ought to be.

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Also Ayn Rand didn't translate this herself, which means she must have relied on a translation (a disinterested translation that did not care to translate Aristotle according to AR's wishes). So that's four examples, right there, of "an genomino" as being translated by people with the sense of the writer implying an directive or an imperative, an "ought".

I'm virtually ignorant of the Greek language so I cannot judge this myself, but wouldn't it be of value to check the translation that was most likely used by Ayn Rand? In this post I provided some evidence that the appropriate reference to check would be the 1941 edition of Richard McKeon's The Basic Works of Aristotle.

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'May the gods help you, son.' or 'May you not fall into trouble, friends.'

<cut some examples>

Clearly what you see here is a goal-directed sort of wish, not just doodling in the sky but a specific directive from the speaker to the hearer. That is what we understand under our word "ought"

"We're not fighting in Iran, but we ought to be". Very different from:

"We're not fighting in Iran, but we might be".

It is true that all of those meanings can be conveyed with the optative mood, but not while the particle "av" is present. The presence of that particle disqualifies "ought" or "should" as a possible meaning. Without the particle, the optative mood conveys an action someone wishes or hopes for, with the particle, it conveys only that the action is a conceivable one.

From my textbook, From Alpha to Omega, Revised Third Edition, by Anne Groton:

An optative verb may have present, future, aorist, or perfect tense; the tenses show aspect, not time.
Potential optative--An optative with the particle av indicates something that has the potential to happen, i.e., something that may, might, can, should, or would happen [the "should" and "would" here refer to uses of the optative in conditionals, which is a whole other subject I don't have the time or inclination to go into here; the point is this use of should doesn't mean "ought," but is along the lines of "should such and such occur, such and such will follow"]...av generally comes right after the verb, but it may also (and often does) follow an emphatic word like a negative or an interrogative. The difference between present and aorist is one of aspect: [examples of uses from both tenses which I don't have the alphabet to type out correctly]

Unless my textbook is dead wrong (and I have no reason to think it might be, considering its usefulness in translating selections from Plato, Diogenes and Thucydides), the aorist tense is definitely used to convey a potential action in the presence of the particle "av."

Aorist optatives indicate the former sort of meaning, in all examples of its usage by the Greeks that I have been able to find.

That just isn't true. It is the presence of a particle which conveys the difference in meaning. Aorist tense conveys a meaning of aspect, and only aspect with the optative mood in an independent use. If the meaning were one of "ought" or "should," you would often see it introduced by "ei gar" or "eithe," but it is also common to see such meanings conveyed with no particle at all.

As for Herodotus, certainly he could use the optative to convey a potential action, but insofar as he was acting as an historian, it would be as a hypothetical, which is conveyed differently than using the optative mood; it would be conveyed using the subjunctive mood, or possibly as an optative as part of a conditional statement, but that definitely isn't what we see here in Aristotle. The distinction between the meanings of optative and subjunctive moods in Greek can be very subtle, and often can't be succinctly conveyed in English. This is exactly the case with the different shades of meaning "may" and "might" can carry. In these respects, Attic Greek was a more precise and more versatile language than English, but this is also why they had several hundred different verb forms.

Herodotus would certainly be stepping outside the bounds of his role as an historian if he wrote of an action that was potential in the sense of something which might conceivably happen, regardless of whether or not any given circumstances indicated such an occurrence were at all likely. The fiction writer would create the (potential) circumstances that make such (potential) occurrences likely.

Also Ayn Rand didn't translate this herself, which means she must have relied on a translation (a disinterested translation that did not care to translate Aristotle according to AR's wishes). So that's four examples, right there, of "an genomino" as being translated by people with the sense of the writer implying an directive or an imperative, an "ought".

I don't mean to say Ayn Rand misunderstood what she read. I don't know what her translation said, and knowing what I know of her tenacity for understanding things, I would consider it extremely likely that any mistaken attributions to Aristotle were due to a fault in translation.

I also definitely do not deny that the verb can be used (and might have been used elsewhere by Aristotle) to convey a meaning of "ought." It's just not there in that particular sentence, with the Greek you provided.

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I have Richard Janko's translation of Poetics (I really enjoy his notes), and he does not translate the relevant passage as "ought." However, in 4751a30-a36 he does translate "ought" twice. Perhaps it would be helpful to look at that section in the Greek and compare it to the section under discussion. Here is the English text of of the section I noted.

Therefore, just as in the other representational arts a single representation is of a single [thing], so too the plot, since it is a representation of an action, ought to represent a single action, and a whole one at that; and its parts (the incidents) ought to be so constructed that, when some part is transposed or removed, the whole is disrupted and disturbed. Something which, whether it is present or not present, explains nothing [else], is no part of the whole.

(Bold added.)

This is an interesting passage in its own right, but more relevant here is how this translation compares to the original Greek, and how the translated "ought" compares to the section being discussed. (I'm really interested in some resolution to this "ought" issue.)

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Time permitting, I will try to locate a decent copy of Poetics in the Greek in the library of my school's Classics department sometime over the next week or so, so a comparison might be made.

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I just checked my translation of Poetics, which was done by Ingram Bywater, Basic Works of Aristotle, pub. The Modern Library Classics, which is really just selections from The Oxford University Press' Complete Works of Aristotle, and he doesn't translate it as "ought" either. He translates it as "might" only.

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Double interesting: My Basic Works of Aristotle is a more recent edition of the same one Ayn Rand used. It really makes me want to try to locate the 1941 edition to see if perhaps that passage has been changed since then.

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Wow, you know how to use my library better than I do. I always have to go in and ask them for what I want, lol.

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