22 July 2005

A Philosophical Docudrama?

What Roochnik gives us in Retrieving the Ancients is a kind of television miniseries presentation of [Stanley] Rosen's ideas in the form of a historical introduction to Plato and Aristotle. The book before us is indeed derived from a set of recorded lectures "produced for the Teaching Company" (10 n1). Roochnik's book is plot-driven, rather than technique-driven, and it gives us a lecture-style digest of ideas, without much attempt to tell where his debts lie. Nor does he introduce the reader to the scholarly tools required to wrench these ideas out of the Greek texts.[[4]]

Ouch!!! A fairly harsh judgment by Michael S. Kochin in his review in BMCR of David Roochnik's attempt to give an accessible if schematic overview of the history of ancient philosophy. You may see the review with its other unflattering comments here, or order Roochnik's book and judge for yourself here.

Since Roochnik is a colleague of mine in BACAP, I read the book when it came out last year. I'm puzzled because the book that Kochin describes, and the book that I remember, are quite different.

Here's something that troubles me about Kochin's review. It's a small concern but the sort of thing that, in my mind, casts doubt on his judgment. If one looks to footnote 4, appended to the end of the passage quoted above, one finds:

4. See e.g. p. 17, where Roochnik, discussing Thales, cites a "statement of Aristotle, listed by Diels as an A fragment," though Roochnik nowhere in Retrieving the Ancients explains who Diels is or the distinction between A and B fragments. For a model account of these tools and the philosophical commitments embodied in them, see the beginning of Heidegger's essay on Anaximander, translated in Martin Heidegger, Off the Beaten Track, ed. and tr. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Heidegger's account would not, I think, require much reworking to be presented to an American popular audience.

But this is not true. Roochnik introduces Diels, albeit briefly, and explains the distinction between 'A' and 'B' fragments, on p. 11.


We know that Kochin had the book open to that page, since he refers to Roochnik's footnote on facing page 10. So why the mistake? For my part, I cannot have confidence in a reviewer who, it seems, reads a book so sloppily, while criticizing its author so harshly.

Oh, and we'll be waiting for Kochin's efforts to rework Heidegger's scholarship for American popular audiences.


bjr said...
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bjr said...

"logic, the third field of Aristotelian philosophy alongside physics and ethics"

This is surely wrong, right? I didn't know logic was a field, in the first place. I've never seen this disivion before.

Anonymous said...

BJR is quoting the review. Yes, I suppose an organon is not a 'field', and I'd hesitate to call this division 'Aristotelian'. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

Anonymous said...

The division of ancient philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics is traditional. I'm not sure where exactly it originates, but I'm almost certain it's post-Aristotelian, perhaps Stoic. Maybe 'field' is a bad term, but the division has ancient precedent. It survived into Kant (see the preface to the Groundwork, for instance) and scholars still use it today.

Michael Kochin said...

Thanks for pointing out my blunder on Diels. Sent a correction into Bryn Mawr.

As for the logic, physics, ethics, distinction, I didn't say it was Aristotle's division, but an Aristotelian division; a division made by many sensible Aristotelian philosophers and Aristotle scholars.
It is, for example, the division suggested by Bekker's ordering of Aristotle, if we put the Rhetoric and Poetics back where they belong next to the Organon; see Deborah Black, Logic and Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics in Medieval Arabic Philosophy.