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.