28 May 2005

Cambridge May Week Seminar

I've arrived in Cambridge for the May Week seminar and write this from Jaffa Cafe on Mill Street, where I've stopped en route to Mike's Bikes, to hire a bicycle for the week.

I've got digs in Darwin College, a perfect location, essentially across the street from the Classics library, and in a lovely part of the city.

Here's the schedule for the seminar:

Aristotle, De Somno, De Insomniis, De Divinatione per Somnum

Monday 30 May
10.30-12.30: Introduction & De Somno 1 , Geoffrey Lloyd
4.30-6.30: De Somno 2 , Stephen Menn

Tuesday 31 May
10.30-12.30: De Somno 3 , Philip van der Eijk
4.00-6.00: De Insomniis 1 , Catherine Osborne

Wednesday 1 June
10.30-12.30: De Insomniis 2 , Michael Pakaluk
4.00-6.00: De Insomniis 3 , Richard King (with commentary on
461b8-31 by Pierre-Marie Morel)

Thursday 2 June
10.30-12.30: De Insomniis 3 (continued): further discussion as
necessary, led by Malcolm Schofield; followed by Bob Sharples: Aristotle
on divination, in De Divinatione and elsewhere.
4.00-6.00: De Divinatione 1 , Walter Cavini (NB: depending on
progress in the previous session, Bob Sharples' remarks may be deferred to
the beginning of this session)

Friday 3 June
10.30-12.30: De Divinatione 2 , Brad Inwood
4.00-6.00: Concluding session, led by David Sedley

BACAP, 2005-6

The Program Committee of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy only recently decided upon the program for the forthcoming academic year. Dates are still be to determined, but lecturers, topics, and host institutions are as follows:

Kevin Flannery (Gregorian)
at Clark University
Force and Compulsion in Aristotle's Ethics

Ed Halper (Georgia)
at Holy Cross College
Aristotle's Paradigmatism

Eric Perl (Loyola Marymount)
at Boston College
The Togetherness of Thought and Being:
A Phenomenological Reading of Plotinus' Doctrine
'That the intelligibles are not outside the intellect'

Suzanne Stern-Gillet (Bolton Institute)
at Boston College
Introspection Plotinian and Augustinian

Deborah Modrak (Rochester)
at Boston University
Aristotelian Substance, Functional Unity, and Embedded Matter

Pierre-Marie Morel (Sorbonne)
at Brown University
Method and Evidence (enargeia): The Epicurean Prolepsis

David Reeve (North Carolina)
at Dartmouth College
Plato's Goat-Stags: Philosophers and Cities in the Republic

27 May 2005

It's a Book!

This creation, or monster, came to be in the early hours of the morning, with the help of a laser printer, a paper cutter, and rubber cement, from which I assembled a very passable 'proof' copy--which I then vetted, leading to some slight changes. When I finish this post, I plan to send the PDF of the corrected file to the press, by ftp drop.

It's called Understanding Accounting Ethics, ISBN 0-9765280-0-2.

26 May 2005

Postscript on the Vehicle

In case you were wondering: it is a '98 Suburban 4X4. In 'mint' condition, as they say.

I'm in the lucky position of actually needing to drive such a thing. And they're going cheap now (under $10K for a truck with only 80K miles).

Yes, post hoc propter hoc does work in this case: buy a truck, write a book.

(Would I set off a vicious causal circle if I next bought, say, a Boxter in order to finish that translation?)

You Won't Believe....

I shan't be posting-- (did you know that that's a Rawlsianism?)--I shan't be posting tonight because, incredibly (yes, for me also), I'm finishing a book tonight.

I mean, really finishing it. I mean, preparing a print-ready PDF file of a book, to send to a printer tomorrow. (Someone once said: work every week as if you were leaving for vacation on the weekend.--Yeah, but who could stand to live with you?)

I don't figure I'll be sleeping tonight. It's hard enough to write a book, never mind design and format one. First I had to learn about Postscript Type 1 fonts (I picked Caslon--beautiful!); then I had to get them to install properly for MS Word; then I needed to get a PDF creation program that actually recognized them consistently. (Inexpensive ScanSoft, recommended by the printer--even--didn't work. I had to download the trial version of Adobe Acrobat Pro.)

So what is this book, you may wonder? I've written it with one of my best friends, who happens to be a very skilled forensic accountant. We're calling it Understanding Accounting Ethics. It's a 'virtue based' approach to the subject. After an introductory chapter about how all accounting rules are open-ended and require judgment to interpret (yes, that's consistent with my paper on 'moral absolutes'!), we distinguish the 'distinctive task' (ergon) of an accountant, and then show how, from this, one can arrive nicely at the Code of Ethics of the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). The whole thing is illustrated with cases from law and practice, and we end up with detailed studies of Enron and WorldCom.

Eventually we may go the usual route of seeking an academic or professional publisher. (Thompson is king in the accounting world.) But we wouldn't gain anything from that now. We can distribute the book well enough through my colleague's contacts in the business. (He's the Founder and CEO of AuditAnalytics.com.) And, if we publish the book ourselves, we control the rights and keep 100% of the royalties.

Now, if only I could finish that translation of the Nicomachean Ethics....

Response by Kuklick (via Steve Austin)

Steve Austin posted the following, which does not, however, show up on the side bar, because the original post is no longer on the 'front page' of the blog. I wanted to call attention to it:


Both your original post and your final comment deserve response. While I have my own answers to your questions, most of which seem unfounded upon a careful reading of the review, I thought the best thing to do would be to get Kuklick's own reaction and response. He was nice enough to provide me with such a reaction via email, and has given me permission to post it as a comment on your blog. So, in the name of giving your readership the whole story, I paste it here:

"On reflection I certainly don’t like the ugly phrase 'reinforcement of the stultification' either. But I don’t think what I said is hard to parse or bizarre. White wanted Oxford to get logic, and Harvard to get an interest in the ordinary world. Instead, the experience with logic may have turned Oxford further from it; and, similarly, seeing the commitment in England to ordinary usage may have made Harvard more interested in logic.

"Do I think that’s stultifying? Well, I was searching for an ambiguous phrase in 'what some would call.' Maybe I should have said what I believe more exactly: philosophy at each institution became more problematic after the 1950s. Ordinary language philosophy did not go anywhere. And yes, I find Quine after 'Two Dogmas' stultifying. He never did much, to my mind with the holistic epistemology hinted at in that essay and some other pieces, and I don’t think much of the epigoni. This opinion may be eccentric – I would prefer 'independent' – but I don’t think it’s bizarre."

25 May 2005

Johansen on Inner Sense and the 'Structure of Consciousness'

(Is it because I'm composing this from a borrowed Mac--my %#**!@% PC being once again on the blink--or that Blogspot is not fully up and functioning today? In any case, I still cannot compose in html or introduce formatting, and the font seems different. So apologies for that.)

I had attempted, in a sense, to split the difference (or preserve the endoxa), in saying that Johansen seemed right about the 'capacity' reading, but perhaps Caston was right, after all, about the nature of an act of perception. But Johansen has sent me thoughtful comments, challenging this approach. I'll post them all at once, because, although without doubt they are fascinating and deserve a full discussion, that should perhaps be left to graduate students writing dissertations on the subject, or to a blog devoted entirely to De Anima 3.2 (and are there really 7,999,999 subjects more interesting than that?). Also, I don't want to take away all of the drama from the publication of Johansen's paper in the Proceedings of BACAP!

Here then are my comments in quotation marks, followed by Johansen's rejoinders in square brackets:

"I should perhaps explain why I think that Caston's view of the 'structure of consciousness' still matches better what Aristotle says in DA 3.2 than the 'inner sense' view of Johansen. As I understand DA 3.2, Aristotle is claiming that every sense, by its nature as a sense faculty, carries with it the capacity to monitor its own activity."
[As you know I agree, given a certain understanding of this nature.]

"We should stress, with Caston, that this 'monitoring' is not merely propriaceptive, in the sense that it is not merely a sensing that the sense is 'on'. The sensing is somehow a sensing, too, of the content of what is sensed."
[Again I agree. This is implied by Aristotle's saying that there will be a sense both of sight and of colour.]

"Now consider the conditions under which any sense operates. It operates if its object is present, if the medium (if any) is unobstructed, and if the sense is in working order. As regards sensing that we sense, all of these will necessarily be in place, when we sense. Hence there will be no sensing, without sensing that we sense,"
[Again I tend to agree. There is a long section in my paper based on the admission that we sense that we sense whenever we sense. The question is what are the implications for the relationship between those two sensings. However, you go on, apparently, to agree with Caston]
"and any act of sensing will have just the structure that Caston ascribes to it."
[But that does not seem to be a necessary consequence. The second-order act of sensing can follow necessarily from the first-order act without the implication that the second-order activity is tokened by the same activity that tokens the first-order activity, and specifically without the implication that the contents of these two activities form a complex content with the particular reflexive structure that Caston identifies. The second-order act can follow necessarily from the first-order act if the latter provides sufficient causal conditions for the second-order act to occur - in fact, that seems very similar to to the sort causal story I thought you were suggesting when you said above 'It operates if its object is present, etc.' I develop at some length in the paper a story which would make second-order perception causally but not conceptually necessary given  first-order perception, though I concede that the story is not watertight given our evidence. I don't think, then, that there is any need to accept Caston's specific proposals about the 'two types in one token' and the reflexive structure of this token perception (which you have not discussed in the blog - as yet?), as if this followed from saying that there is a necessary conjunction of first and second order perception. As I read it, Caston's fascinating proposal is a specific way of making sense of this conjunction, but by no means the only possible one, contrast your claim 'any act of sensing will have *just* the structure that Caston ascribes to it'. Even on a capacity reading, as I tried to show, there is a possible explanation of the conjunction.]

"Johansen ascribes sensing that we sense to a distinct 'inner sense', but I don't see that there is warrant for this in DA 3.2." [That all depends on what you mean by 'distinct'. Again in the paper I am very keen to maintain that it is sight that is responsible for perceiving that we see, but that we should take this to mean sight as integrated with the other senses. That was the way in which I tried to make DA III.2 consistent with De Somno. In fact, I don't think I have any stronger notion of 'inner sense' in mind than the one I thought you agreed with, namely a capacity which we have to perceive the workings of our senses. It seems meaningful to call this 'inner' in two ways: it is a capacity to perceiver the workings of the senses themselves (as opposed to the external objects) and it is a capacity that is internal to the external senses insofar as it relies (as De Somno in particular shows) on the integration of the external senses in the common sense. But 'inner' here decidedly does not mean distinct from (and it shouldn't, because we'll then get into the regress territory of DA III.2)]

"Also, Johansen needs to speculate that there can, in principle, be a sensing, without a sensing that we sense. He takes David Armstrong's example of a truck driver who drives 'on automatic pilot' to be in fact an example of this. But I think this is incorrect. The truck driver, in my view, senses that he senses: he simply doesn't think about what he is sensing."
[Ok, we can dispute whether the truck driver example in fact illustrates what Armstrong wants it to illustrate; I don't think Aristotle can agree with Armstrong's reading of the example either, since  I agree that Aristotle probably does mean to say that we perceive that we see whenever we see, whereas Armstrong wants to say that the truck driver is not aware of seeing the traffic lights, etc. Yet the example is suggestive of a structure of perceptual consciousness that Aristotle on my reading would agree with, namely that being aware that one sees is a matter of a further act of perception, delivered to you by an inner sense, which for Aristotle is not distinct from the special senses but is not identical with the special senses as special either.]

"Johansen might deny this and say that, no, the truck driver isn't aware that he is seeing the road, hearing traffic noises, etc. This seems wrong to me. But in any case the crucial question is: how do we decide which description is correct? Not, it seems to me--if we accept the 'capacity' reading of DA 3.2--through phenomenological analysis, or through introspection. Rather, it seems to me that Johansen is obliged to say how a sense faculty, as Aristotle understands it, could ever sense, without sensing that it senses."
[I did try to say this in the paper, though perhaps not succinctly enough in those terms. The account I developed here was in terms of the different contents, and consequently different truth conditions, of first and second order perception: perceiving colour is an act of special perception, perceiving that one sees colour is an act of accidental perception, which could be wrong in ways in which first order perception could not. Of course, since I agree that Aristotle probably thinks that we perceive that we see whenever we see, you wouldn't expect me to give actual (Aristotelian) examples of how first-order perception sometimes happens without second-order perception; all, I take it, you can expect me to show is how first-order perception is sufficiently different as a type of perception from second-order perception for it to be intelligible how the one might occur without the other; moreover you might also expect me, given Caston's alternative reading, to indicate reasons why first and second order perception ought to be tokened by different acts: here my suggestion was that since the truth conditions for first and second order perception differ (by virtue of their different contents) it was difficult to see (pace Caston) how they could consistently be tokened by the same act of perception.]

"The account has to be given in terms of the nature of a sense faculty. If Johansen can't do this, then he has to concede that Caston's account is more accurate."
[This was what I tried to in the paper by saying that since second-order perception involved accidental perception of a content that seemed deliverable only by virtue of the special senses' integration with each other in the common sense (cf. De Somno's parallel between perceiving that we see and hear, on the one hand, and perceiving the difference between white and sweet, on the other), we needed to understand the relationship between our abilities to engage in first and second order perception in terms of the relationship between the capacity of sight and the common sense.]

24 May 2005

Rawls and Aristotle

I'm traveling again today, this time to Long Island, to buy a replacement vehicle (found on the internet) for the family's '98 Astrovan, which at 180K miles has finally bit the dust. But before I leave, I thought that I'd post these passages from my SFU lecture on religion in a liberal democracy, where I draw comparisons between Rawls and Aristotle:

(I can't seem to get formatting to work on Blogger, so these paragraphs which follow, although quotations, will not be indented or preserve italics, etc.)
The basics of Rawls’ view are easy to state, and, in a sense, the basic ideas are all that concern us, since these are what even more advanced students will typically carry with them into practical life. In essence, Rawls is concerned with two ideas: political society, as a distinct form of association; and civic friendship, as a distinct form of resolving disagreements. Rawls’ philosophy is largely an attempt to get clear about these two things.

Let’s return to the notions of political society and civic friendship. First, political society. By ‘political society’ I mean basically what Aristotle meant by koinonia politike—that there is a mode of association (a koinonia), distinct from relationships within a family, or clans, business partnerships, voluntary associations, and religious groups, which is a ‘complete association’, in which we relate to one another as distinct persons who are free and equal. (It is complete because it provides the ‘basic structure’ for human life, as Rawls puts it.)...

If you have read Aristotle’s Politics, you may remember that he complains that Plato made the mistake of treating all associations as if they were the same in kind, differing only in degree—that being a king was just the same as being a father, except the former involved more subjects. Aristotle also objects that Plato takes the relationship between the best of friends, for whom ‘all things are in common’, as a paradigm of the sort of unity that would prevail in an ideal state. But that sort of closeness, Aristotle says, would effectively destroy the state, because a state is essentially composed of diverse elements. Distinctively political association is destroyed if the state is analogized to a single organism.

Rawls’ philosophical career began with his putting forward a similar objection to utilitarianism. At that time, in the 1960s, utilitarianism held sway as a theory of both personal action and public policy. As Charles Taylor has pointed out, utilitarianism was the dominant view because of its apparent rigor: it seemed to be the only ‘scientific’ theory of ethics which employed methods similar to those of the natural sciences. Rawls’ objection, in effect, was that, whatever the merits of utilitarianism as a theory for personal action, it failed as an account of deliberation in a liberal society, because, as he put it, utilitarianism ‘denies the distinctness of persons’. In aggregating, for purposes of calculation, the weal and woe of distinct members of society, and particularly in allowing the weal of one person to compensate for the woe suffered by another, utilitarianism treats those persons as if they were parts of a single body.

21 May 2005

The Flu Out of the Fly-Bottle

Okay, I'm exhausted. This will be my last post for today.

Occasionally I google 'Dissoi Blogoi', just to find out how the blog shows up on the web. What I've found is that Google seems to tilt dramatically toward calling up mentions of words that appear in blogs. If I use a relatively uncommon word or phrase in a post ('Third Man', 'recollection') it will typically appear on the very first page of a Google search for that word or phrase.

Not quite an example of this, but frightening nonetheless, is that if you google 'differential diagnosis', then on the 9th Google page you find:

Bone Tumours - Differential Diagnosis... Certain bones in the body can be considered "epiphyseal equivalents" for purposes of differential diagnosis. These include the patella, the calcaneus, ...www.orthoteers.co.uk/Nrujp~ij33lm/Orthtumdd.htm - 26k - Cached - Similar pages

Dissoi Blogoi: Differential Diagnosis of 'Approximation'... This is an analogue of what physicians call 'differential diagnosis. ...serve to make the differential diagnosis between approximation and analogy. ...dissoiblogoi.blogspot.com/ 2005/04/differential-diagnosis-of.html - 42k - Cached - Similar pages

Differential Diagnosis of ColicAdvance the critical thinking skills and knowledge of nurses regarding thedifferential diagnosis and treatment of colic.www.nursingknowledge.org/ Portal/Main.aspx?pageid=36&SKU=41858 - 25k - Cached - Similar pages


Frightening, isn't it? Imagine someone turning to Dissoi Blogoi to deal with a disease. But come to think of it, since I am a Wittgensteinian...

Philosophising on a Mountain

Do you remember the story of Wittgenstein walking through the streets of Cambridge and seeing a bookstore in which there were three posters, in a row, of two great thinkers from the past (I forget who they were--Goethe and Kant??) and then a poster of Bertrand Russell; and Wittgenstein shuddered and almost wept to think that Russell, so shallow in comparison, was now being placed in line with these others?

I came across something this evening that evoked a similar reaction in me.

After the conference, the participants met for dinner at the Water Street Cafe in Gastown. Following the dinner, I bought a fine Cuban cigar in a Water Street shop and smoked it while walking the promenade at Canada Place, watching the sunset. Canada Place is a pier that juts out into Vancouver harbor. It has an exhibition hall with tent-like structures reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House.

Along the promenade were various placards which explained the sights one can see in the harbor and in the distance. One in particular caught my attention, about Mount Baker. I copied it out to post here on this blog:

On a fine clear day, visitors to Canada Place may glimpse he snowy peak of Mount Baker in Washington State. At 3285 meters, it is the highest peak in the immediate area. Snow covers the summit all year.

Its appearance inspired Westcoast Indian names which translate as 'white shining steep mountain' or 'Great White watcher.' In 1790, the Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper called it 'Gran Montana de Carmello' for its resemblance to the type of white robes worn by Carmelite monks. The Lummi Indians called it by a name meaning 'shot at the point', apparently referring to the fact that Mount Baker is an active volcano.

However, it was Captain George Vancouver's name, chosen to honour his officer, 3rd Lieutenant Joseph Baker, that was charted onto the maps with which we are now familiar. Baker described it as 'a very high, conspicuous craggy mountain...towering above the clouds; as low down as it was visible, it was covered with snow.'

Now why--I thought--if you had the chance to call a mountain 'Great White Watcher' or 'Shot at the Point', would you call it, instead, Baker Mountain? Why ever would you name it after someone who could say no more than that it was 'a very high, conspicuous craggy mountain'?

I shuddered, and to me that this summed up much of what someone might lament about 'secularization' in Western society.

Looking Back

The conference--very high quality--kept me busy today. If I don't get sleepy, I'll try to post something later, more detailed, on ancient philosophy. But if I don't post later, let the following remarks suffice.

(1) I've been wanting to say that it's been difficult for me to post criticisms of Victor Caston's excellent paper. I've been able to do so only through saying constantly to myself, as if repeating an incantation, ... amica magis veritas.

(2) I said that the dispute over 'activity' and 'capacity' readings seemed a red herring. I should perhaps explain why I think that Caston's view of the 'structure of consciousness' still matches better what Aristotle says in DA 3.2 than the 'inner sense' view of Johansen. As I understand DA 3.2, Aristotle is claiming that every sense, by its nature as a sense faculty, carries with it the capacity to monitor its own activity. We should stress, with Caston, that this 'monitoring' is not merely propriaceptive, in the sense that it is not merely a sensing that the sense is 'on'. The sensing is somehow a sensing, too, of the content of what is sensed. Now consider the conditions under which any sense operates. It operates if its object is present, if the medium (if any) is unobstructed, and if the sense is in working order. As regards sensing that we sense, all of these will necessarily be in place, when we sense. Hence there will be no sensing, without sensing that we sense, and any act of sensing will have just the structure that Caston ascribes to it.

Johansen ascribes sensing that we sense to a distinct 'inner sense', but I don't see that tehre is warrant for this in DA 3.2. Also, Johansen needs to speculate that there can, in principle, be a sensing, without a sensing that we sense. He takes David Armstrong's example of a truck driver who drives 'on automatic pilot' to be in fact an example of this. But I think this is incorrect. The truck driver, in my view, senses that he senses: he simply doesn't think about what he is sensing.

Johansen might deny this and say that, no, the truck driver isn't aware that he is seeing the road, hearing traffic noises, etc. This seems wrong to me. But in any case the crucial question is: how do we decide which description is correct? Not, it seems to me--if we accept the 'capacity' reading of DA 3.2--through phenomenological analysis, or through introspection. Rather, it seems to me that Johansen is obliged to say how a sense faculty, as Aristotle understands it, could ever sense, without sensing that it senses. The account has to be given in terms of the nature of a sense faculty. If Johansen can't do this, then he has to concede that Caston's account is more accurate.

Does this make sense? I sense that it does.

19 May 2005

Not Ancient Philosophy, in Vancouver

I write this from Vancouver, British Columbia--cold, blustery and overcast Vancouver--where I am participating the next two days in a conference at Simon Fraser University (downtown campus) on "Citizenship and the Common Good: Secularism or Inclusive Society". It's not ancient philosophy.

I'm giving the keynote address this evening on the theme, "Religion in a Liberal Democracy: Foundation or Threat?" (That's what I've working on the past couple of days, hence the sparseness of posts.)

The very interesting purpose of the conference is to consider two questions:

(1) Is there a viable, fuller conception of 'secularity' according to which a religious view can also be a secular view? (The standard view is illustrated perhaps by the French constitution, which identifies France as a republique laique--usually rendered 'secular'--precisely to exclude government endorsement of any sort of religious outlook. But Canadian jurisprudence, in contrast, in affirming the 'secular' character of government, is concerned more with whether a view endorsed by the government is 'sectarian' or 'partisan'--which potentially allows a view to be both religious and secular.)

(2) Is it always (or ever) possible, in matters of justice or fundamental fairness, to find a position or policy which is 'neutral' as regards competing religious and philosophical views?

The two questions are related, because in matters in which a neutral policy is a will o' the wisp, then presumably it would be desirable to have recourse to a fuller, and therefore more inclusive, notion of the secular.

In my talk, I consider these questions first in relation to the arguments of Joseph Weiler (NYU, law) that the European Constitution should have included in its preamble an invocatio Dei, and then through an examination of John Rawls' notion of 'public reason'.

And that's why I can't be in Dartmouth today to hear the paper of my friend, Anthony Price.

17 May 2005

Topics and Issues for May

Since this Thursday, May 19, is Anthony Price's lecture at Dartmouth, the final event for BACAP for the year, on whether Aristotle was a 'particularist' in ethics, I'll plan to shift discussion then to that topic. (I've already mentioned that my own view--I've just written a paper on this--is that Aristotle believes that some sorts of actions are not to be done, whatever the consequences.)

At the end of next week, on May 27, I travel to Cambridge University for participation in the May Week seminar on the Parva naturalia and plan to give reports 'from the front.'

But today and tomorrow I hope to post a few more comments on whether, if we accept a capacity reading of DA 3.2 (as we should), we should take Aristotle to be an 'inner sense' theorist, as Johansen believes. Although I've been critical of Caston's 'activity reading', it's not clear to me that his account of the 'structure of consciousness' isn't closer to Aristotle's view in the end.

16 May 2005

A Difficulty for the Activity Reading

I said earlier that the difficulty for the capacity reading was explaining how the regress in DA 3.2 got started, and the difficulty for the activity reading was explaining how it stopped. Let me explain the latter. It has to do with whether the activity reading can account for Aristotle's "we ought to posit this in the first instance" ( e0pi\ th~j prw&thj tou~to poihte/on).

Consider the following argument.

Everything chosen, is chosen for the sake of something. Something is chosen either for the sake of something else that is chosen, or for the sake of itself. Suppose an action is chosen for the sake of something else that is chosen. Either this proceeds to infinity, or some action is chosen for its own sake. We ought to posit, then, that each action is chosen for its own sake.
The conclusion doesn't follow. It doesn't follow, from the fact that 'chains' involving choices must terminate in something chosen for its own sake, that all such chains are just one link long.

A similar difficulty affects the activity reading, in its construal of the regress argument. I'll state the activity reading using a distinction between, as I shall call it, perceptions and perceivings. A perception is a particular act; a perceiving is a relation involved in that act. According to Caston, Aristotle's view is that each perception of the sense of sight involves two perceivings: a perceiving of a color, and perceiving of itself (of that perception itself). Using this language, we can state the activity reading's construal of the regress argument in the following way:
For each perception, there is a perceiving of that perception. That perceiving is accomplished either by some other perception, or by that perception itself. Suppose the perceiving is accomplished by some other perception. Then either this proceeds to infinity, or there is some perception, the perceiving of which is accomplished by that perception itself. We ought to posit, then, that the perceiving of each perception is accomplished by that perception itself.
The conclusion no more follows in this case than in the analogous argument given above. It doesn't follow, from the fact that any 'chain' involving perceiving that one perceives, must terminate in a perception which is a perceiving of itself, that all such chains involve no more than one perception. On the activity reading, then, when Aristotle says "we ought to posit this in the first instance" ( e0pi\ th~j prw&thj tou~to poihte/on), he's committing a fairly gross fallacy.

This difficulty is effectively conceded by Caston. Near the end of his article, he considers the objection of whether a regress doesn't break out among perceivings ('types', he calls them), if not among perceptions ('tokens', he calls them). Caston replies that:
the premiss used for the earlier regress, namely,

B. Whenever we have a perception, we have a perception of that perception.

is satisfied even if every perception were to instantiate only two contents, at the first- and second-orders. (797)

That is to say (using the language of 'perceptions' and 'perceivings', as above) the premise that There is a perceiving of every perception (as we put it) is not contradicted (it's 'satisfied') if it's true that The perceiving of each perception is accomplished by that perception itself. But that's not to say that the latter is implied, given the former. Caston's fudge term is 'satisfied'. He needs to say that the view he favors is implied by the regress consideration, not simply that it 'satisfies' it.

A defender of the activity reading might say that Aristotle from the start has been presuming that there is no more than one level of reflection built into each perception, and that it's obvious that our experience contains no chains of perceptions of perceptions, involving more than one link. This is something clear from instrospection. But if this were obvious, no regress argument would be necessary to establish it. Nor could the regress argument establish it, since it would have no more force than that initial introspective observation.

On the activity reading, Aristotle is investigating the 'structure of consciousness'. He's not entitled, then, to say "we ought to posit this in the first instance", unless that's how things are. And if his reason for saying "we ought to posit this in the first instance" is in the end simply a conviction that that's how things are, then the regress argument becomes otiose.

Note that this difficulty does not affect the capacity reading. On that reading, as we have seen, Aristotle is investigating whether additional faculties need to be posited to account for the ability of a sense to monitor whether it is operative or not. Aristotle's "we ought to posit this in the first instance" is a reasonable appeal to parsimony, exactly as one would expect.

I (provisionally) take this to be a decisive consideration against the activity reading. Or does anyone disagree? Have I missed something (entirely possible, given the difficulty of the subject matter)?

14 May 2005

Johansen v. Caston: Round 3

I distinguished three questions, giving us three 'rounds.'

Round 1: Is the default meaning of opsis in DA 3.2 a 'faculty' or 'capacity'? Johansen claimed yes; Caston claimed no.
Decision to Johansen.

Round 2: Are there insuperable obstacles to reading the term opsis in that passage in that way? Johansen claimed no; Caston claimed yes.
Decision to Johansen

("Who makes these decisions?" I do, on the grounds presented, unless I am refuted, on better grounds, by Dissoi Blogoi readers. If I've decided wrongly, show me how.)

("But isn't it contentious to set up things in this way? Isn't it the case that what is most important for us is the truth, not 'who wins'?" Indeed, but I take it that Caston and Johansen each views himself as a servant of the truth, eager to be refuted if wrong--as Socrates says in the Gorgias--and therefore, by the nature of the case, eager to be exposed to refutation, which is precisely what a contest of this sort implies.)

Round 3 now commences. At issue is whether opsis should be read in that way, and whether we should adopt the 'moderate capacity' reading, taking Aristotle to be investigating faculties or capacities, albeit through attention to the actualization of these faculties or capacities.

On Johansen's behalf, one might urge that the matter has already been settled. Recall that we approached DA 3.2 accepting the 'antecedent probability' that it would be an investigation of faculties. Aristotle's language in the passage, we found, is consistent with that; moreover, if we take him to be conducting that sort of investigation, we can give a plausible and even elegant interpretation of the passage. Thus we should read the passage in that way.

On Caston's behalf, one can no longer argue against the 'moderate capacity reading' but must simply argue for the strength, power, and attractiveness of the 'activity reading'. Here, I think, Caston must insist that his view is on the merits superior, because on his reading, as he says, "Aristotle's views cut down the middle of an apparent dichotomy, in a way that does justice to each set of intuitions, while avoiding their attendant difficulties" (751).

And yet there is a loose thread--a remaining, niggling concern. In our examination of this debate, we have so far largely been looking at how the 'moderate capacity reading' might respond to objections raised against it. This was understandable, because our discussion took its start from Johansen's paper, which followed upon Caston's. Caston's was a powerful and visible attack; Johansen wanted to be able to pursue his larger project of studying the De Anima as work in 'faculty psychology'; and therefore he was bound to defend this project against Caston's arguments.

Johansen's maneuvers, then, were largely defensive; he was not concerned with examining Caston's view, except to defend his own.

But that, however, leaves a question still unexamined: Is the 'activity reading' of DA 3.2 itself sustainable? Are there not, perhaps, difficulties that can be raised against it, precisely when we are considering it 'on the merits'?

And here I think I do see a difficulty, perhaps serious, which I'll share with you in a subsequent post.

13 May 2005

Now There's a Fudge!

A bizarre conclusion to a paragraph from Bruce Kuklick's otherwise thoughtful review of Morton White, From a Philosophical Point of View (in NDPR here):

Some of this material is historically significant or is still interesting in itself. In his connection to Goodman and Quine, White was also essential to the link that grew up between Oxford and Harvard in the middle of the century. Much more an ambassador than the first two, he first visited Oxford in the early 1950s, and established connections -- with G.E. Moore, Isaiah Berlin, and H. L. A. Hart -- that brought Oxford philosophers back to Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are several indications of this link in the volume, including a charming "Impressions" of English philosophy at mid-century. Several of the essays now stand out as failed attempts to attract some of the English and American philosophers of the period to employ analytic techniques to wider issues of culture. Ironically, White's desire to embolden Anglo-American thought by joining Harvard and Oxford may have led to what some would call the reinforcement of the stultification of each.
Now look at the fudge term 'what some would call'. I ask Kuklick: Has there been a 'reinforcement of a stultification' or not? If so, then say that. If not, or even if perhaps not, then there can't be anything ironic here.

And how is it that a major historian of philosophy subordinates his judgment in this way to nameless others?

Go and Stop

The problem for a 'moderate capacity reading' is whether it can explain why the regress gets going at all. The problem for other readings is whether they can explain why it should stop.

First, let's look at the text. Here is the argument once again, and the two translations:

e1ti d' ei0 kai\ e9te/ra ei1h h( th~j (15) o1yewj ai1sqhsij, h2 ei0j a1peiron ei]sin h2 au)th& tij e1stai au(th~j: w3st' e0pi\ th~j prw&thj tou~to poihte/on.

And furthermore, if indeed the sense of sight were different [b15], then either it will go on to infinity or some sense will be of itself, [b16] so that we should do this in the case of the first [sense].

Further, if the perception of seeing is a different [perception], either this will proceed to infinity or some [perception] will be of itself; so that we ought to posit this in the first instance.
Small points on the translations:
1. Presumably Caston should really want to have 'if the perception of the seeing'.
2. Also, Johansen's taking e0pi\ th~j prw&thj to refer back to 'sense' seems correct, so Caston might help himself to 'we ought to posit this in the case of the first [perception]'.

Now can the moderate capacity reading explain why a regress gets started? At the BACAP seminar, Kosman raised the worry that it couldn't. If we suppose--Kosman said-- that, if we actually perceive something, then we must actually perceive that we perceive, then an obvious regress results of actual perceptions. But why, he wondered, must there be an infinite regress of mere faculties or capacities?

Johansen, I thought, had an elegant response. A faculty or capacity, he said, is an explanatory construct in Aristotle's psychology. Roughly, if an activity of a certain sort is performed, or even if in principle we may perform it, then a capacity needs to be postulated to account for it (that is, assuming that considerations of economy cannot account for that activity in some other way, which is precisely at issue in DA 3.2). So then, assume that, for any perception, we are capable of perceiving that perception. Assume that this capacity always needs to be explained by a faculty distinct from that which is responsible for the original perception. (Assume also no 'loops'.) Then an infinite series of faculties needs to be postulated. As Johansen put it:
Note that Aristotle is not committed here to saying that any act of perception, pn, must itself be perceived; only that any act of perception may be perceived, and if it is to be so perceived, then ... it must be explained by the stipulation of a further sense.
This seemed to me an entirely adequate way of handling the argument and Kosman's concerns.

I would simply add that the argument seems even more elegant if one adopts Osborne's interpretation. Suppose that when Aristotle begins the passage with, 'since we perceive that we see and hear', what he means is (as I think): that we are seeing or hearing (rather than not) is something that we sense as well. What he is supposing then is: no faculty of sense, without the capacity to monitor whether that sense is operative. His concern in the passage is then over whether one can intelligibly attribute this capacity to the sense itself. Suppose one cannot. Then another sense needs to be postulated. But there is no faculty of sense, without the capacity to monitor whether that sense is operative, and then, using the same idea that this capacity must be attributed to another sense, we are off on an infinite regress.

In either case, it seems clear that a 'moderate capacity' reading can give a good account of the regress argument, its motivation and form.

Friday Recap

Recall where we are. We judged that the 'default meaning' for the term opsis in DA should be the faculty or capacity of sight, and now we are investigating whether that term can intelligently be read at 425b12-17 as having that sense. Strictly, we want to know whether what Johansen and Caston agree to call the 'moderate capacity' reading can be sustained, viz. that Aristotle in the passage mentions activities or actualizations, precisely in order to investigate capacities or faculties.

Caston claims that in the phrase au)th_ au(th~j, 'it is of itself', the referent of 'it' must be the same as the referent of 'itself'. If the one stands for a faculty, then so must the other; if the one stands for an activity, then so must the other. And yet--Johansen and Caston both agree--the 'moderate capacity' reading has to take 'it' to refer to the faculty and 'itself' to refer to the activity or actualization of that faculty. Caston claims that this disqualifies the moderate capacity reading. Since (as Johansen and Caston again both agree) the 'pure capacity reading' is not sustainable, that would leave, as the only alternative, Caston's 'activity' reading.

Johansen's reply, in sum, is that Caston presents a false alternative. It's not quite correct, Johansen insists, to say that a reference to the activity or actualization of vision cannot be, at the same time, a reference to the faculty, if the actualization is an actualization of that faculty--and he gives Aristotle's own manner of arguing, at b17-20, as an example.

One also might have a doubt as to whether the sharp distinction between activities and capacities which Caston insists upon, and even the language of 'perceptions' (as he renders aistheseis), isn't more at home in the tradition following Locke, where perceptions are treated as in principle detachable, and indeed it becomes problematic (especially in Hume), why they should be traced at all to faculties or to 'substances' in which they might be thought to inhere.

I argued, along somewhat different lines, that it seems to be Aristotle's usual procedure to analyse what might seem to be a 'simple reflexive claim' (as we might call it), ostensibly holding between an unity and itself, into a claim about the relationship between parts of that thing, and that this indeed seemed to be Aristotle's procedure here as well. In that case,
au)th_ au(th~j, 'it is of itself', would serve merely to block out something for further analysis--which, it seemed, Aristotle provided in his resolution of the aporia affecting that expression.

Let's assume that these replies are adequate. Then the next question is whether the 'moderate capacity reading' can make sense of Aristotle's regress argument.

12 May 2005

Reflexive Expressions in Aristotle

Consider the following:

1. Aristotle analyzes 'self-movement' as one part of a thing moving another part, or the whole.

2. Aristotle understands 'self-love' (NE 9.4) as one part of a person loving another part, or the whole, or itself but at different times.

3. Aristotle is reluctant to understand even identity as a relation between a thing and itself, or, at least, he says, it involves our treating the same thing as if it is two things (h( tauto&thj e9no&thj ti/j e0stin h2 pleio&nwn tou~ ei]nai h2 o3tan xrh~tai w(j plei/osin, oi[on o3tan le/gh| au)to_ au(tw|~ tau)to&n: w(j dusi\ ga_r xrh~tai au)tw|~. Met 1018a7-9).

So why shouldn't we understand au)th_ au(th~j, 'it is of itself', as perhaps allowing for an analysis into two parts or aspects, not itself committing Aristotle to any strict claim of identity between the referent of 'it' and that of 'itself'? After all, Aristotle takes the phrase to indicate something puzzling: he has to prove, he thinks, that the result is unavoidable; and he concedes that the view needs to be teased out, since it brings with it an aporia.

And then, the second half of the passage, where the aporia is teased out, actually uses this language of two aspects or parts: Aristotle speaks of to_ o(rw~n, 'the part [sc. of the faculty of sense] that sees', which presumably stands in contrast to the part of the faculty of sight that perceives this seeing (cp. ti to\ ai)sqano/menon, NE 9.9.1170a31). So Aristotle's own interpretation of au)th_ au(th~j, it seems, would be: part of the sense senses the actualization of another part.

Johansen on 'Itself of Itself'

Thomas Johansen wrote in with these follow up remarks:

I wonder what relevance Victor ascribes to the claim (425b22-3) that 'to_ o(rw~n is in a way colored, for the sense-organ is in each case receptive of the sensible without the matter'. If this point is going to help us with the aporia that to_ o(rw~n will have colour (b17-20), then surely this o(rw~n (the b22 one) has to refer to refer to the same thing as in b19. But at b23 to_ o(rw~n is explained in terms of the sense-organ. So if the solution is going to work, there has to be a way of saying that to_ o(rw~n can refer to the sense-organ as well as to the sight or seeing that is of itself back at b16. It has to be possible to say that since the sense-organ becomes (in a way) coloured in seeing, what sees can itself be seen as coloured, and so we can say that this thing (the act or the faculty) is 'of itself'. If to_ o(rw~n did not refer to the same thing in b23 as in b19 then the claim at b22-3 would not present itself as an answer to the problem of a) how what sees can have colour and therefore not as an explanation of b) how we can say that there is a sense or activity that is of itself. Perhaps Victor would want to separate b) from a), i.e. perhaps he would say that it is one thing to explain how what sees has colour; it is another to parse the expression au)th_ au(th~j. But the aporia does seem to be generated by saying au)th& tij e1stai au(th~j: the claim that sight or seeing must have colour seems to be a consequence of sight (or seeing) seeing itself, so it is surely assumed that when sight or seeing sees the colour received by the sense-organ it is also, in a relevant sense, seeing itself. So what would be the relevance to the overall argument of saying that the sense-organ becomes in a way coloured if Aristotle was only interested in the way in which the activity can see itself as an activity? My point is, then, that Victor's insistence that au)th_ au(th~j refers strictly to the activity sits uncomfortably with the admission that to_ o(rw~n refers to the sense-organ in a context that reads as if meant to explain how sight or seeing can be of itself.

Now in the paper I put a similar point as an objection to my own reading, which took to_ o(rw~n at b19 to refer to the faculty. So I said in no.26:

'To the objection that there is now another problematic shift of reference in the notion of the sense perceiving itself, this time between the sense faculty and the sense organ, I reply by referring to the above answer: just as there need be no problem in accepting that the sense faculty can see itself insofar as it is actualized, so there should be no problem in admitting that the sense faculty sees itself insofar as it materially realized. Aristotle’s idea that the sense-organ is the sense faculty at a lower level of potentiality, whilst the actuality of perception is the sense faculty at a higher level of actuality serves after all to emphasize that these are three different states or aspects of the same thing.'

It seems then to me that Aristotle in the theory that sense-organ, faculty, and actuality of sight are related as potentiality, first actuality and second actuality has an answer to the kind of worry one might have when asking 'Well, you say that the sense of sight sees itself but in fact it is just seeing an activity of sight, not the sense itself'. The answer is that the sense of sight is seeing itself in its own state of actuality but that is thereby importantly seeing itself since this state of actuality is the very actuality of sight: indeed, it is the actuality that defines the faculty of sight as the potentiality it is, cf. 415b16-20. Note also 'into itself' at DA II.5 417b5-6: 'what has knowledge becomes a contemplater, which is either not an alteration (for the transition is into itself [eis hauto] and to actuality) or it is another kind of alteration).' Of course if you expect Leibnizian identity within reflexive expressions, you're not going to find it even on this account of the relationship between sense-organ, faculty and actuality. But my point in the case of the man seeing himself was that to insist on this kind of identity within reflexive expressions is generally to ask for too much.

11 May 2005

Johansen v. Caston: Round 2

Recall that I set down the differences between Johansen and Caston in this way:

Johansen claimed in his BACAP seminar (i) that the 'default meaning' for the term opsis in DA should be the faculty or capacity of sight, (ii) that the term can intelligently be read at 425b12-17 as having that sense, and therefore (iii) that the term should be read as having that sense (the 'capacity' interpretation').

Caston maintains, as against (i), that the term in DA can just as well mean an act of seeing; as against (ii) that it cannot intelligently be read at 425b12-17 as meaning anything other than an act of seeing; and as against (iii) that the term therefore should be read in that way (the 'activity' interpretation).
On the first point, I judged (without dissent from Dissoi Blogoi readers) that Johansen was correct, although I emphasized that it was unclear whether (i)-(iii), however decided, could determine whether Aristotle held to an 'inner' or 'common' sense view, or a 'structure of consciousness' view. But let's continue in any case and look at (ii).

Once again, for your convenience, I post the relevant texts below.

Here's a criticism of the capacity reading that Caston gives. It is a clever argument, which hinges on the nature of a reflexive expression. (Note that Caston takes the criticism to be directed against what he calls a 'moderate capacity reading', viz. an interpretation--which Johansen accepts--which takes Aristotle to be talking about and investigating faculties, but by reference to the typical actualizations of these faculties--for how else would one investigate them?)
As a reading of the Greek, however, the moderate version is strained. It requires us to take activities and capacities to be referred to in rapid alternation: o(rw~men and a)kou&omen at b12 signify activities; then h~| o1yei, e9te/ra and h( au)th/ at b12 signify capacities;th~j o1yewj follows again in the very next line at b14, but this time it signifies an activity; and then we switch back again to capacities with du&o and au)th/ at b14-15. This alternation reaches its nadir in the argument's very last phrase. According to the moderate capacity reading, the conclusion should be that the sense in question is itself the sense for its own perceptual activity. But the Greek simply reads: 'it [will be] of itself' (au)th_ au(th~j, b15; cf. b16). To read an alternation within this phrase would be too harsh; and the reflexive pronoun precludes it entirely. In this argument, then, Aristotle must be speaking either solely of capacities or solely activities.
Johansen replies to this as follows:

On the reading I have given, the expression ['it will be of itself'] should imply that the sense of sight is of itself in the sense that it perceives itself. But, as Victor Caston and others have pointed out, what is seen is strictly speaking not the sense of sight but the activity of seeing a colour. So, Caston argues, to avoid a change of reference between the pronoun ‘it’ and the reflexive ‘itself’ we had better take Aristotle to mean that the activity of sight sees itself. Having a change of reference within the phrase would be ‘too harsh’, as he puts it. This point in turn supports Caston’s overall argument that the passage as whole does not, as traditionally thought, concern the question ‘by which capacity do we perceive that we see and hear?’ but rather the question ‘by which activity do we perceive that we see and hear?’ I think Caston’s point relies on an artificially narrow idea of how to read reflexive expressions such as ‘seeing oneself’. When we say, for example, that ‘I see myself’, we do not necessarily mean that the respect with which I see is the same as the respect with which I am seen. I may see my arms with my eyes and we would still be right to say that I see myself because both the eyes and the arms belong to the same thing, me.

But is this an adequate reply? Couldn't Caston say that in 'I see myself' (when looking in a mirror) both 'I' and 'myself' have the same referent, namely, an embodied human being? But identity of referent is denied, it seems, on the moderate capacity interpretation.


And here once again are the texts. (On the internet, one doesn't waste paper by giving them multiple times!)

)Epei\ d' ai0sqano&meqa o3ti o(rw~men kai\ a)kou&omen, a)na&gkh
h2 th~| o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai o3ti o(ra~, h2 e9te/ra. a)ll' h( au)th_ e1stai
th~j o1yewj kai\ tou~ u(pokeime/nou xrw&matoj, w3ste h2 du&o tou~
au)tou~ e1sontai h2 au)th_ au(th~j. e1ti d' ei0 kai\ e9te/ra ei1h h( th~j (15)
o1yewj ai1sqhsij, h2 ei0j a1peiron ei]sin h2 au)th& tij e1stai au(th~j:
w3st' e0pi\ th~j prw&thj tou~to poihte/on.

Since we perceive that we see and hear, it is necessary [b12] that one perceives that one sees either by sight (opsis) or by some other [sense]. But the same [sense] will be [b13] of sight and the underlying colour, so that either there will be two [senses] [b14] of the same thing or it [the sense] will be of itself. And furthermore, if indeed the sense of sight were different [b15], then either it will go on to infinity or some sense will be of itself, [b16] so that we should do this in the case of the first [sense].

Since we perceive that we see and hear, it is necessary either by means of the seeing that one perceives that one sees or by another [perception]. But the same [perception] will be both of the seeing and of the colour that underlies it, with the result that either two [perceptions] will be of the same thing, or it [sc. the perception] will be of itself. Further, if the perception of seeing is a different [perception], either this will proceed to infinity or some [perception] will be of itself; so that we ought to posit this in the first instance.

Simple Gifts

One of my favorite aphorisms from Wittgenstein--favorite because I find I actually use it often--goes something like, 'Simply to pick the books off the floor and place them on the shelf is already to introduce order in them.' How many times I've applied that not simply to boxes of books but to other things as well.

As, for instance, Victor Caston's paper. I had placed it on a chair while I took a break, and, while I was gone, my 1 1/2 year old, Gregory, came by and evidently thought it would be good fun to pull the 65 pages down onto the ground and play in them like a pile of snow. This happened about three days ago. Citing Wittgenstein to myself, I simply picked up the separate pages and made a stack out of them, all the pages facing the same way and in the same orientation. Simply to do this, I thought to myself, is to introduce order into the pages.

It actually proved useful to read the paper in this scrambled way for a few days. One notices things, since they are not looked at in context. It's like proofreading by reading backwards, or practicing a piece of music by--as some teachers recommend--picking 4 or 8 bar units of a larger piece and learning to play them perfectly out of the normal order.

Anyway, I've spent the last hour finally putting the pages in number order as well. How very convenient that is, I realize, to have pages in order. And now, let's see if I have time to post something. I've been wanting to comment on the infinite regress argument of DA 3.2.

10 May 2005

Quick Quiz: The John Locke Lectures

1. Since the founding of the John Locke Lectures in the University of Oxford, two philosophers have lectured on topics in ancient philosophy. Who are they, and when did they lecture?

2. Who delivered the first John Locke Lectures? (I was very surprised. But perhaps the 1950-51 date will serve as a clue.)

No googling allowed!!

Awareness, Propriaception, Noticing

I'm increasingly convinced that the following are independent questions:

1. Is DA 3.2 425b12-7 about capacities or activities?

2. Does Aristotle think that our perceiving that we see is 'built into the structure of consciousness' or that it is the work of a separate aspect or part of the faculty of sight (an 'inner' or 'common' sense), the activity of which is in principle separable from the seeing of color?
Here's why. Suppose DA 3.2 425b12-17 is about capacities. Then it's claiming that we do not need to postulate any faculty besides vision to account for our perceiving that we see. But then consider a particular act of seeing, a particular actualization of this faculty: must this actualization include the perceiving that one sees? --The question is not answered by our simply accepting the capacity reading.

Again, suppose DA 3.2 425b12-7 is about activities. Then it's claiming that each act of perceiving a color includes also an act of perceiving that one sees that color. But are those two acts, or a single act? Furthermore, is the latter acquired (habitual, typical) or inherent? --The question is not answered by our simply accepting the activity reading. (I was suggesting in my post yesterday that it looks as though the question gets answered, because of a particular choice in translation that Caston adopts, which seems far from required or even natural.)

Here's another way of putting the point. The passage under consideration begins: "Since we perceive that we see and hear". As Kosman pointed out, everything hinges on what you take this to be. That's the explanandum. And then:
  • If you take Aristotle to be saying "since we are aware that we see and hear, always, whenever we see and hear..", then you get Caston's view. (And, indeed, in his article, Caston sets up this understanding by first discussing Physics 7.2 244b12-245a2, which he takes to be a reference to 'perceptual awareness.')
  • If you take Aristotle to be saying "since that we are seeing or hearing is something that we sense as well" (i.e. instead of infer or believe), then you get Osborne's view.
  • If you take Aristotle to be saying, "since we are capable of noticing that we are seeing or hearing", then you get Johansen's view.
But all of these views are consistent with an 'activity' or 'capacity' reading, because they depend, rather, on how one takes the line that motivates the inquiry in the first place. So the dispute over these two readings ends up being something of a red herring. Caston might concede all of Johansen's points and still hold out for his 'structure of consciousness' view.

Readers of Dissoi Blogoi who have been following this controversy so far: What is your sense of the matter? Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Let me know.

A.W. Price at Dartmouth College, May 19

Here's the last BACAP event of the year. I'm looking forward to it, especially since I've just written a paper arguing that Aristotle recognizes 'moral absolutes'. I'm pleased that Bridget Clarke of Williams College will be giving the commentary.

"Was Aristotle a Particularist?"

Anthony W. Price

Reader in Greek Philosophy, Ethics and Metaethics
University of London, Birkbeck

Thursday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Rockefeller 1
Dartmouth College

Aristotle seems to hold that ethical principles are uncodifiable: concrete and positive principles are made true only 'for the most part', and even the ban on adultery, theft, and murder is acceptable only because the application of those terms is contestable at the margin.
Is Terence Irwin correct, then, to describe him as a particularist?
Do ethical principles merely remind us of the importance of various aspects of our particular situations, without determining choice?
How, in fact, does Aristotle's 'person of practical wisdom' know what to do on any given occasion?

Commentator: Bridget Clarke
Department of Philosophy
Williams College

Also a seminar:
"Practical Reasoning"
Thornton 103
12-2 pm

553a55? Yes, That's Right

I was able finally to look at Bonitz yesterday. Recall that I was puzzled about Caston's citation of Bonitz on Aristotle's use of opsis to mean the act or actuality of visual perception. I wrote:

[Caston] cites Bonitz as an authority but oddly gives impossible Bekker numbers for the relevant text: his note 26 on p. 762 reads "Against Horn 1994, p. 29. See Bonitz (1870) 1955, 553a55-554b7, esp. 553a55-b30." (Bekker page 553 has only 32 lines.)
I confess I was misled because at the Brown BACAP seminar last week, someone had said that, for opsis meaning an 'act of seeing', Caston "cites a text in the 500s"--at which point we all turned to Historia Animalium 553a, a discussion of bees, not finding anything there in support Caston's claim.

As it turns out, Caston's citation is in order. The page number, 553, refers to the Index Aristotelicum, not to Aristotle's works, and on that page the entry for opsis begins on line 55 in the first column.

(To be perfectly precise, however, Bonitz' listing of instances of opsis as meaning ipsa actio videndi is found at b16-30, whereas a 55-b16 concerns the acceptation, facultas videndi.)

09 May 2005

A Concern About the Activity Reading

Something's been troubling me about the activity reading. Since this is a blog, I'll put down this half-formulated worry, and either I'll follow up on it later, or someone else will do so for me.

My worry is whether the activity reading can say what Caston needs it to say. Consider the opening lines:

'Epei\ d' ai0sqano&meqa o3ti o(rw~men kai\ a)kou&omen, a)na&gkh h2 th|~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai o3ti o(ra~|, h2 e9te/ra.
Caston construes this as:
Since we perceive that we see and hear, it is necessary either by means of the seeing that one perceives that one sees or by another [perception].
Attend to Caston's 'by means of the seeing' (not 'by means of seeing', or 'by means of a seeing'.) That is, Caston takes th|~ o1yei to indicate the very same reality indicated by o(ra|=: "Which seeing? --Namely, the very same seeing that one perceives, when one perceives that one sees."

Caston needs to read the phrase in that way, in order to have the line express his view that one and the same act of perception (a 'token identical act') is both of a perceptible and of itself. (If it were just 'a seeing', then Aristotle would have to provide an additional argument, that that seeing was one and the same seeing as the original one. And one might naturally take 'by means of seeing' to mean the faculty.)

But can the definite article alone do that work, referring forward to something not yet said? (What would be an analogue of this elsewhere in Aristotle?) And if Aristotle meant to say 'by this act of seeing, namely, the seeing (of the color)' wouldn't we expect a qualification like that to come after o(ra|=? Moreover, as we saw, if Caston were correct about this, then a few lines later the very same phrase, th|~ o1yei, would be used, not simply with a different meaning (to indicate now a capacity rather than an actuality) but also in an entirely different grammatical role (as an ordinary definite article).

I'll have to investigate this more. Comments from philologists are welcome.

Meaning of OPSIS in DA 3.2: MP's Resolution

Is the 'default meaning' of opsis at DA 3.2 425b12-17 a capacity or faculty of sight, as Johansen claims, or can the term just as well mean an act of seeing, as Caston maintains? (Why is this important? Presumably: if Johansen is correct, then we should want to read the passage as talking about whether we need to postulate an additional faculty, to explain our ability to perceive that we see, and it seems that the passage is less plausibly taken to be concerned about the structure of consciousness, as Caston holds.)

It seems to me that Johansen is correct on this point:

1. Although Caston and Johansen both agree that opsis can by used by Aristotle to mean an 'act of seeing', they also both agree that, when used in contrast with horasis, the term means the faculty of sight. Yet it is clear that opsis is used by Aristotle in contrast with horasis throughout DA and especially in DA 3.2. This is shown not merely by the passages that Johansen cites, but also by a consideration of the usage of opsis in DA generally: a TLG search shows that of the approximate 30 occurrences outside the passage in dispute, the term is used consistently by Aristotle to mean the faculty of sight.

2. Even apart from the particular context of DA, it seems too strong to say, with Caston, that opsis for Aristotle "remains unmarked and can signify either a capacity or activity". It is unmarked syntactically, to be sure, but Aristotle typically uses the term for a capacity. Again, a TLG search reveals some 400 occurrences in the corpus. I won't be able to check Bonitz until later, but a correspondent wrote:

Bonitz lists for opsis as 'ipsa actio videndi' 369b9, 1118a3,16, 1167a4, 1230b26-1231a17, 503a34,b1, 872b13, 1011a28, 494b33, 680a3, 478a35.

It's not even clear that all of these are accurately classified, e.g. 1118a3 is the discussion in NE as to whether the virtue of moderation deals with pleasures derived from the sense of seeing (dia_ th~j o1yewj, as peri\ th_n a)koh&n at a7, means 'in the field of hearing', as Broadie and Rowe have it); likewise also the parallel from EE. 872b13 can be dismissed as from the Problemata. Etc.

A correspondent furthermore pointed out that opsis is used in contrast with horasis, as if a stock example of the distinction between an actuality and a capacity, to be taken for granted, in the following passages:
Met 1050a24-25. e0pei\ d' e0sti\ tw~n me\n e1sxaton h( xrh~sij (oi[on o1yewj h( o3rasij, kai\ ou)qe\n gi/gnetai para_ tau&thn e3teron a)po_ th~j o1yewj)...

EE 1219a17. tw~n me\n ga&r e0stine3tero&n ti to_ e1rgon para_ th_n xrh~sin, oi[on oi0kodomikh~j oi0ki/a a)ll' ou)k oi0kodo&mhsij kai\ i0atrikh~j u(gi/eia a)ll' ou)x u(gi/ansij ou)d' i0a&treusij, tw~n d' h( xrh~sij e1rgon, oi[on o1yewj o3rasij kai\ maqhmatikh~j e0pisth&mhj qewri/a.

3. Although Aristotle does say in DA that words for the senses and sensibles admit of being used either for the capacity or for the actualization, it seems incorrect to conclude from this, as Caston does, that DA 3.2 itself "contains a fundamental ambiguity in its terminology" and that therefore we may take a term like opsis as a capacity or actuality, as it suits us. The reason is precisely that Aristotle castigates his predecessors for using these terms without appropriate qualifications (ou) kalw~j e1legon, a)ll' e0kei=noi a(plw~j e1legon peri\ tw~n legome/nwn ou)x a(plw~j); and he draws attention to horasis as a word that exists precisely to avoid that sort of inaccurate and misleading ambiguity in the case of sight: o3rasij ga_r le/getai h( th~j o1yewj e0ne/rgeia. So Caston would have Aristotle not paying attention to any of this, precisely in the midst of Aristotle's warnings to pay careful attention. It doesn't follow from the fact that others use the terms without due care, that Aristotle does.

4. Johansen's Bayesian argument seems to me unanswerable. Given that Aristotle has been careful to draw a sharp distinction between the actuality and the capacity of vision; given that he has draw attention to a word (horasis) that exists precisely to distinguish the actuality; and given that he has made point (as we have seen) to reserve opsis for the capacity; then, if he had wanted to talk about the actuality, as Caston claims--in a context where he has been otherwise been investigating faculties of sensation, as Caston admits--he would have used the word for the actuality (horasis) or other phrases, such as verbs or infinitives, more clearly suggestive of the actuality. (On this last point compare NE 9.9.1170a33-b3, where Aristotle wishes to talk about activities, not faculties.)

5. And then there is an additional consideration, not raised in my earlier posts: Caston agrees that in 425b17-20 (the second half of the passage on 'perceiving that we perceive'), opsis should be understood as referring to the capacity or faculty. (That is why Caston has no distinctive translation for those lines; he is in basic agreement with Johansen there.) But the parallelism between the first and second half of the passage, and a back-reference, seem to require that both halves should be read in the same way.

Here is the argument, spelled out:
(i) At 425b18, 'to perceive by vision' (th~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai) means 'to perceive by the sense of sight.
(ii) But 425b18 states an aporia meant to affect the conclusion just reached.
(iii) Therefore, 425b18 is meant to express the same thing as what was just considered (indeed, that is why the construction is exactly the same as at b13).
(iv) Thus at 425b13 too, 'to perceive by vision' (th~ o1yei ai0sqa&nesqai) means 'to perceive by the sense of sight'.

Of course, if we accept this resolution, then this is just to say that one would naturally take opsis in 3.2 to be about the faculty.

But Caston claims that the passage simply cannot be read in that way--that the regress argument and Aristotle's use of reflexives make no sense if the passage is taken to be about the faculty. And in that case maybe we have to say that Aristotle does, after all, fall prey to the same confusion of which he accuses his predecessors.

I'll have to turn to these arguments of Caston, and Johansen's rejoinders, next.

07 May 2005

Caston on OPSIS

1. Caston concedes that when a contrast is drawn with horasis, then opsis means a faculty. Yet he says that "by itself... [opsis] remains unmarked and can signify either a capacity or activity." He cites Bonitz as an authority but oddly gives impossible Bekker numbers for the relevant text: his note 26 on p. 762 reads "Against Horn 1994, p. 29. See Bonitz (1870) 1955, 553a55-554b7, esp. 553a55-b30." (Bekker page 553 has only 32 lines.)

2. He refers to the first passage from DA that Johansen cites (2.1.412b27-413a2) but seems to suggest that it counts for rather than against his interpretation:

Earlier in the treatise, Aristotle employs an analogy with vision and perception in order to clarify his definition of the soul (2.1, 412b17-413a1): the soul, like sight, is what a natural body capable of life first attains (412a21-28; cf. 2.2, 413b11-13), namely, a capacity for certain activities, in contrast with the activities themselves, like seeing, which constitute its higher attainment.
3. Caston points out that aisthesis can mean either a capacity or an actualization, and he maintains that terms for sensation, including opsis, behave in the same way: "The word 'hearing' (a)koh/), [Aristotle] notes, can be understood in both ways, as can all the words used for perceptions an perceptibles (426a7-9)." The passage Caston cites is this, which I'll give in the Hicks translation:
DA 3.2.426a7-9. The actuality of the resonant, then, is sound or resonance, and the actuality of that which can hear is hearing or audition, hearing and sound both having two meanings. The same account may be given of the other senses and their objects.
h( me\n ou}n tou~ yofhtikou~ e0ne/rgeia& e0sti yo&foj h2 yo&fhsij, h( de\ tou~ a)koustikou~ a)koh_ h2 a1kousij: ditto_n ga_r h( a)koh&, kai\ ditto_n o( yo&foj. o( d' au)to_j lo&goj kai\ e0pi\ tw~n a1llwn ai0sqh&sewn kai\ ai0sqhtw~n.
(Note that this passage occurs just before the third passage which I said Johansen could have used as evidence of his view.)

Another passage which seems to apply the point exactly to opsis is just a little further below, 426a20-26, which Caston also cites:
DA 3.2.426a20-26. On this point the earlier natural philosophers were in error, when they supposed that without seeing (opsis) there was neither white nor black, and without tasting no flavor. Their statement is in one sense true, in another false. For the terms sensation and sensible thing are ambiguous. When they mean the actual sensation and the actual sensible thing, the statement holds good: when they mean potential sensation and potential sensible, this is not the case. But our predecessors used terms without distinguishing their various meanings. [Again, Hicks.]
a)ll' oi9 pro&teron fusiolo&goi tou~to ou) kalw~j e1legon, ou)qe\n (20) oi0o&menoi ou1te leuko_n ou1te me/lan ei]nai a1neu o1yewj, ou)de\ xumo_n a1neu geu&sewj. th|~ me\n ga_r e1legon o)rqw~j, th|~ d' ou)k o)rqw~j: dixw~j ga_r legome/nhj th~j ai0sqh&sewj kai\ tou~ ai0sqhtou~,tw~n me\n kata_ du&namin tw~n de\ kat' e0ne/rgeian, e0pi\ tou&twn me\n sumbai/nei to_ lexqe/n, e0pi\ de\ tw~n e9te/rwn ou) sumbai/nei. (25) a)ll' e0kei=noi a(plw~j e1legon peri\ tw~n legome/nwn ou)x a(plw~j.
So now we have, I think, all the arguments pro- and con- on the table. Readers of Dissoi Blogoi: your reflections, comments, criticisms, additions, or qualifications are hereby solicited. I'll give my views on the matter tomorrow (late).