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.