In the Phaedrus (Jowetts translation), Plato writes:

Attained knowledge of mind and the negative of mind which were favourite themes of Anaxagoras

What is meant here by the 'negative of mind'? Is it privation of mind, where mind is not; or is something else meant?

  • @john Am: how else am I suppose to choose except by my own judgement - or would you rather choose for me? It made 'perfect sense' to me in the 'context' of the passage I read in the Phaedrus. I'm sure, though, there are more than one way to read the passage. Jul 29, 2016 at 0:20

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure I entirely agree with John Am's translation, so I'll have my own go at this. The phrase in question is just this:

ἐπὶ φύσιν νοῦ τε καὶ ἀνοίας ἀφικόμενος

Fowler (translator in the Loeb edition) renders this:

taught him the nature of mind and of lack of mind

"Taught" is a bit more of an interpretation than straight translation for ἀφικόμενος, but that's rather beside the point. The key is that it is the nature (φύσιν) of mind (νοῦς) and the opposite of mind (ἄνοια) that are at stake. ἄνοια, although a word in itself, in Greek seems like a composite of ἀ-νοῦς, the ἀ being privative, similar to how an "atheist" as the opposite of "theist" or how "anaerobic" respiration is opposed to "aerobic" respiration. Hence ἄνοια seems to resemble either a "lack" of "νοῦς" or constitute it opposite.

νοῦς, though it is regularly translated as "mind", has a broader extension than the word "mind" in English, meaning something like reason or even good sense. Hence, ἄνοια, its opposite, has the sense of something that is without reason or foolishness, something like a form of irrationality that does not descend to pure madness (μανία).

In this context, I think what Socrates is trying to ascribe to Pericles is a sort of comprehensive knowledge of the soul (cf. 270b-271c ff. where the art of rhetoric depends on knowledge of the soul). He knows not only νοῦς but the opposite of νοῦς---ἄνοια---and, more importantly, the distinction between them, just as (to extend Plato's analogy in the subsequent passage), the physician must be able to analyse (διελέσθαι) the body, to truly know whether it is healthy or unhealthy and how best to go about restoring or keeping it in health. Now, bearing in mind that Socrates is here assuming that Pericles has become the most perfect orator (ὁ Περικλῆς πάντων τελεώτατος εἰς τὴν ῥητορικὴν γενέσθαι), he seems to be suggest that Pericles, knowing both νοῦς and what is not νοῦς---ἄνοια---has a complete grasp of the soul in all of its modes presentation, both the rational and the irrational.

  • Great! Makes perfect sense in the context of the passage. Jul 27, 2016 at 21:50
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    On the issue of madness, I don't disagree with you. This is why I distinguished ἄνοια from μανία. ἄνοια, in my reading, isn't coextensive with "irrationality" but with a type of qualified irrationality. I honestly think that—in the context of this passage—Socrates is under-rating what (might have) been going on in Anaxagoras. Hence his focus on Pericles as renowned orator rather than Anaxagoras himself. In short, there's a bit of Socratic irony at work here too.
    – ig0774
    Jul 27, 2016 at 23:29

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