18 October 2005


I had missed this review by David Sedley of the first volumes of Rhizai, a new journal in ancient philosophy and science, which contains the following fascinating remark:

This blossoming of specialist periodicals has, it can scarcely be disputed, enabled the subject to advance by leaps and bounds. Ancient philosophy is a discipline which brings into fruitful partnership the skills of the classical philologist, the philosopher, the intellectual historian, the palaeographer, the historian of science, the theologian, and the literary critic -- skills typically spread across a number of university departments. Scholars' readiness to communicate with and learn from each other across these traditional divides is one of the subject's great strengths, but it does require the choice of an appropriate forum, ideally one located outside the territory of the individual component disciplines.
I had never seen theology included in a list of the skills relevant to ancient philosophy, and yet that seems right.


Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised that he, of all persons, should be aware of that. He's one of the very few Platonic scholars to have stressed the importance of 'likeness to God' as part and parcel of Plato's ethical project (cf. his paper "The Ideal of Godlikeness" in Fine (ed.)"Plato 2"). The fact that some (most?) writers on Plato's ethics can straightforwardly ignore these considerations is troubling, especially considering that most Platonists afterwards (including Aristotle, but cf. the relevant chapters of the Didaskalikos and Plotinus for more obvious statements of this view) have thought it fundamental.


Posted by Julien Villeneuve

Anonymous said...

Sedley is probably also especially sensitive to theology's contributions to scholarship on ancient philosophy, not to mention ancient philosophy's contributions to theology, given his recent Sather lectures on 'creationism' in ancient thought. I'm looking forward to the published version of those lectures, and I wonder whether it will have any kind of effect on the recent 'intelligent design' debates. I don't know too much about the details of that debate, but in my limited experience I've always been surprised that pre-Christian 'natural philosophy' hasn't had a greater role to play. As far as I can tell, a refusal to admit anything beyond efficient causation into explanation makes it difficult to explain even fairly quotidian phenomena, let alone the interaction between divine intelligence and the natural world. Are there any natural theologians working these days who could be said to follow in the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, or have most of them left it behind as dusty medieval stuff?

Stephen Menn said...

My guess would be that Sedley just meant that some of the relevant texts, most obviously the NT and writings of the Church Fathers, tend to be taught and studied only in faculties of theology or divinity or whatever they may be called, not in faculties of classics or philosophy. It might be better if (at least some) classicists would study these texts too, but failing that, cooperation across academic units is the best alternative. And at least NT scholarship is so specialized these days that it may be unrealistic to expect classicists to be more than amateurs here.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Of what importance, do you think is the study of medieval philosophy, and its component of philosophical theology, for ancient philosophy? Clearly, one needs to know ancient for work in medieval, but does it help to know medieval for work in ancient? If so, what would be specific examples of this?