Folks, I probably should've hung a shingle for these last couple of weeks:
I've been on vacation. My work, when I've worked, has been that of cultivating my own garden-- weeding, clearing, pruning, chopping and planting.
I've avoided the near occasion of the sin of blogging by generally living away from a computer screen.
But, no fear, 'As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.'
27 June 2005
Folks, I probably should've hung a shingle for these last couple of weeks:
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 22:59
14 June 2005
It's fair to say that Dissoi Blogoi has so far been concerned largely with ethics and psychology. For this reason I especially wish to comment briefly on a review published today in NDPR, which raises questions of epistemology.
The review--you've probably seen it (if not, you may see it here)--is of a collection of essays edited by Walter Sinnott-A(a Festschrift? I don't know) of Robert Fogelin's work. The collection is divided into half a dozen historical essays and roughly the same number of non-historical essays --although, as I've argued, I'm doubtful that that distinction is coherent (and just look at the title of the anthology!).
If I were asked to summarize that main point of the lively and vigorous review by Jose Comesaña, I would say it's that skepticism, although appearing to take reason seriously--to be clever, steeped in argument, sophisticated in argument, savvy of all the dialectical moves, etc.--at some point simply has to walk away from reasoning. Skepticism is in this sense, by the nature of the case, unreasonable.
Comesaña's ostensible position, in a nutshell, is that one either argues for skepticism or not. If not, it's unreasonable. If so, then one must affirm the conclusion of the argument and therefore not suspend judgment. If the conclusion is that no arguments are justified (not even this one), then, still, one affirms that no arguments are justified. If one says (as does Fogelin) that a true pyrrhonian skeptic merely wishes to affirm the conditional claim, that if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows (leaving it to dogmatists to affirm that the premises are true), still, as Roy Sorensen points out in his contribution, a conditional claim is still a claim (or judgment).
Given that this is his position, I wish that Comesaña had given more attention to Gisela Striker's contribution to the volume, which he describes in one sentence only:
In "Historical Reflections on Classical Pyrrhonism and Neo-Pyrrhonism," Gisela Striker argues that, unlike the Neo-Pyrrhonism of Fogelin, ancient Pyrrhonists did not suspend judgment on epistemological grounds, but rather, they welcomed suspension of judgment as a side-effect of their inability to resolve the epistemological disputes: the relation between that inability and the suspension of judgment was for them, so to speak, merely causal, not rational.But this seems exactly the right strategy for a skeptic, in the face of Comesaña's critique: admit outright that one's skepticism isn't the conclusion of an argument but rather something accidental, which one came to value, not as an inference from reasons. (Whether this in turn is 'reasonable' then becomes a concern without any force: "It's something I want. Don't you want it as well?")
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 22:00
13 June 2005
Anything that David Konstan writes, I read with great interest. He has a review now in BMCR of Simo Knuuttila, Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Oxford, 2004): see it here. Konstan's general judgment is that, for classical and medieval thought, Knuuttila's book is now the most thorough and comprehensive handbook on the emotions. But Konstan finds the book weak on analysis and, especially, he thinks that Knuuttila is insufficiently sensitive to deep discontinuities of thought which might underlie superficial or verbal agreement. For instance:
There is no doubt that mediaeval Christian thinkers were deeply indebted to classical discussions of the soul and its faculties, and K. sets out the lines of descent clearly, including the role of Avicenna and other Arab scholars in transmitting ancient views. Perhaps the greatest question concerning the continuity of the ancient and mediaeval traditions, however, derives from the Christian focus on sin. From this perspective, appetites are like any other impulse, whether pleasures and pains or love for our fellow creatures, that distract a person from the love of God. Thus, K. writes of Augustine: "Augustine's description of the different philosophical theories of the emotions is not very satisfactory... Augustine's own view is compatible with the Platonic distinction between an emotional and a rational part of the soul, but he is more interested in conceptualizing emotional matters by means of the concept of will, which was also central in his theology of sin" (160). K. observes that the role of the will is new in Augustine, although he adds: "The tasks of the will are not, however, very different from that given to the dominant part of the soul by later Platonists" (168). But the connection with sin invites a radically new approach to the whole question of the emotions, which may not lend itself so easily to a chronological survey.
Augustine introduces specifically Christian affects, such as love of God, that pertain to the highest part of the soul. K. explains that "The feelings which are immediately associated with these attitudes differ from the movements which Augustine calls passions," and he adds that, besides these religious emotions, "Christians can have non-standard mystical experiences and feelings" (161). Here again, I found myself wondering whether, despite some terminological overlap, we are really in the same world as classical theories of the emotions, even if there are reminiscences here and there of Plotinus.
But here is a difficulty for Konstan's concern. Either sin exists, or it does not. Either human nature exists, or it does not. Suppose human nature exists, but sin does not exist. Then whether Augustine or others believed that there was such a thing as sin, would make no difference to what the emotions in fact are, or to what emotions were for Augustine (how they arose within him, how they affected him). The best approach to interpreting Augustine, then, would be to take him to be describing and talking about the same emotions that everyone else has and which those who don't believe in sin were trying to describe.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 07:42
A review of a reissuing of Patricia Curd's The Legacy of Parmenides in BMCR (see it here) concludes with this assessment:
Surely some of her claims cannot be accepted as they stand, partly because they highly complicate our perception of the early philosophical tradition.Is this really the best one can say? I want to know what the reviewer's reasons are (the crucial or decisive ones) for rejecting Curd's view.
What do readers of Dissoi Blogoi think of Curd's reinterpretation of Parmenides?
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 07:29
Since this comment 'cuts through all the nonsense', it seems good to give it greater prominence. Who'd like to take a shot at answering it?
(1) Does NE X.vii , even if we grant its claims, strike anyone as even beginning to carry the thesis that theoria is (self)sufficient for a desirable life lacking nothing? The obvious objection is that theoria is the perhaps the least autarchic activity, dependent on phronesis and many of the practical excellences ( and goods ) to give it a viable real-world existence in which theoria is an affordable leisure activity. A life of theoria is radically un-self-sufficient and non-viable for human beings ( as NE X vii-viii go on to concede ). Perhaps Aristotle came to appreciate this criticism, and so
(2) EE plumps for a happy life of arete teleia, which EE VIII.3 identifies with kalokagathia, many virtues( including theoria) practiced for their sake because they are kala. Now autarcheia has disappeared as a formal criterion of eudaemonia in EE, but isn’t a life aimed at kalokagathia self-sufficient in just the way that theoria by itself cannot be?
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 06:41
10 June 2005
I noted that Destrée's review devotes much time to criticizing Cooper's rejection of an inclusivist account of eudaimonia in Aristotle. (By the way, he describes Cooper as adopting the view that "the reason a moral action is worth choosing is not that it is a means to contemplation (according to some intellectualistic interpretations), but that it is a way of approximating contemplation or understanding oneself, 'practical truth' being interpreted as an approximation or imitation of the attainment of the truth which itself determines the 'theoretical life'"!)
I also said that his Destrée's arguments couldn't stand on their own, outside the context of a review. Here are a couple of examples. Destrée argues:
[T]here are two details Aristotle gives in that chapter I, 7, which is the focus of JC's analysis, which, I think, are very difficult to interpret in the framework of such a reduction. The first runs as follows: "We do always choose happiness because of itself and never because of something else, while as for honour, and pleasure, and intelligence (noûs), and every excellence, we do choose them because of themselves . . . , but we also chose them for the sake of happiness" (1097b1-4). Whatever the exact status may be of those subordinate goods, the evidence of the text doesn't suggest that the activity of the noûs, which cannot but be contemplation, is what Aristotle means by happiness.
But nous can easily be something other than contemplation: as for instance a good in the category of substance (just as the virtues, also mentioned in that passage, are goods in the category of quality), see 1096a25.
Destrée next argues:
The second detail is that the good which constitutes happiness must be self-sufficient, i.e. absolutely or unqualifiedly choiceworthy, "not for oneself alone, for the person living a life of isolation, but also for one's parents, children, wife, and generally those one loves, and one's fellow citizens, since man is by nature a civic being" (1097b8-11). If Aristotle had meant to say that the highest good constituting happiness is contemplation as the final end chosen for itself, this is, to say the least, a very strange remark, since contemplation doesn't constitute the good that fulfills the political nature, as such, of human beings; and a little further, in chapter 10, Aristotle clearly says, by way of summarizing all his research thus far, that political science, whose "end is the best", is "dedicated above all to making citizens of a certain quality, that is good and doers of fine things" (1099b30-32). Of course, contemplation may be (and eventually can, as I think) be part (and perhaps the best part) of such "fine things". But if Aristotle had wanted to present a very intellectualistic or 'dominant' version of happiness, would he not have been better off not insisting so much on our political nature and the moral actions it requires?
This puts much weight on Aristotle's use of polites at 1097b11. (I apologize for this and will correct it later. I'm writing now from someone else's computer, without SPIonic.) Yet it's far from clear that every time Aristotle uses that word in NE he's bringing in our 'political nature' (is that its import at 1165a31?), and Cooper could easily handle the remark from chapter 10.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 11:22
I much enjoyed reading the review in NDPR by Pierre Destrée (Louvain) of the second volume of collected papers of John Cooper, Knowledge, Nature, and the Good: Essays on Ancient Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 2004 (see http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=2721)--although the review seems marred by Destrée's going on at too great a length, offering his own arguments in favor of an inclusivist view of eudaimonia in Nic. Eth.. (Yes, a review should engage the arguments of a book, if possible, but not so that the book serves as a mere launching pad for arguments of the reviewer which should appear elsewhere, or which perhaps would not even get a hearing, in the form in which they are presented, unless they were included in a review of someone else's work.)
Destrée reports that a major concern of the volume is correct method in the history of philosophy: In the preface, Cooper says that his aim is "to understand and appreciate the ancient philosophers' views in philosophical terms drawn from the ancient philosophical tradition itself (rather than bringing to them, and interpreting them in terms of, contemporary philosophical concepts and debates)". But one might wonder: is the approach that Cooper describes a method for history of philosophy, or simply philosophy (or even, 'good sense')? For instance, if I have been reading Quine (or is he now history?) and then turn to Korsgaard, isn't my goal "to understand and appreciate Korsgaard in philosophical terms drawn from her work"? I don't see that time of composition is important, especially insofar as a philosopher deals with matters which, presumably, either cannot or haven't changed in time. And why ever should one have thought that the best way to understand N. (at least at first) is to read him in terms of M.? (Read Hume in terms of Plato. Read Berkeley in terms of Hegel. Read Bergson in terms of Abelard. Read Carnap in terms of Austin. Clearly, these are all wrongheaded. Likewise, read ...... (fill in the name of an ancient philosopher) in terms of _______ (fill in the name of an analytic philosopher).)
Destrée then says that "The second major concern is [Cooper's] respect of the global context of the doctrine of such and such a philosopher or philosophical movement." But how does this differ from the first methodological point? (Unless perhaps the first one is meant to be negative--don't choose an alien context!--and the second is meant to be positive--choose the proper context!)
Destrée adds that a condition of historical investigation's not being mere antiquarianism, is that it 'engages creatively' (Cooper's term) with the text, which Destrée glosses as "the art of reconstructing arguments by linking concepts or texts which are not explicitly linked by the author himself, but also, and more importantly, the art of interpreting an author by asking him questions he doesn't himself raise, but that are pressing for us, and by trying to answer them with the resources of his own concepts and commitments." Yet, again, I can't see how this marks out some special method for the history of philosophy. One might, similarly, have an 'antiquarian' (that is, sterile, not concerned with the truth) interest in a living philosopher, or, in contrast with this, 'engage creatively' with a living philosopher's thought.
Doesn't it in the end all boil down to truth, and what we can take to be true? As a graduate student I used to hear reported an exchange (did it ever occur? but it could have) between Burt Dreben and Tim Scanlon. Dreben pointed to some recent dissertation on Kant and saidsomething like, "Why don't more philosophers spend their time thinking about this sort of thing?", and Scanlon would reply with, "And what's so shabby, Burt, with being concerned with the truth?" History versus problems (or 'systematics'). But the difference of opinion presupposes, wrongly, that one cannot study Kant as true (now, as much as in the 18th c), and that one must study, say, problems in consequentialism with a view to truth (rather than, 'what I've found others have been thinking about', 'what (I think) others find an interesting problem', or even 'what will position me nicely for a good job', etc.)
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 10:35
09 June 2005
To keep my renewed resolve to post everyday, I'm afraid that today I'll have to offer yet another 'chatty' post, since I was occupied for most of the day, with a commencement. My second son, Maximilian, was graduated today from Harvard, magna cum laude in philosophy, with a citation in Greek. (Yes, I have sons out of college. But I was married for the first time when I was 20 years old.) He wrote a senior honors thesis under Rafe Woolf, on Aristotle on perception (!). He also received a citation in Greek, since he took 6 courses in the language (all A's, until a B+ in a final semester course with Gisela Striker on Aristotle's Poetics. But even Homer nods).
Please know that I did nothing to steer him in this direction! (Well, almost. It's true that I tried to teach him Greek when he was about 10 years old, but we didn't get very far.)
My first son is a musician. Max wants to work for a couple of years before applying to graduate school in philosophy or political philosophy. My next son also talks of going on to graduate studies in philosophy...
(Will one of them --please!--become an investment banker and help support all the rest of us musicians and philosophers? Please? Or write a book on, say, accounting ethics at least.)
I look back with much gratitude over the last four years, thinking of the many times we met in Harvard Square to talk about, say, David Hume's philosophy, or J.L. Austin. Or the times we read closely through chapters of Nic. Eth. or De Anima. How many fathers can spend time in this way with their sons? It was very, very fine.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 23:34
08 June 2005
I've had to be busy today checking proofs for Understanding Accounting Ethics (which, I must say, turned out very respectably, both in its formatting as simply as a book) and will return to the Parva Naturalia tomorrow.
But, in the meantime, here's something to appreciate and admire. Nick Denyer, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (and author of an excellent new commentary on the Alcibiades, well-known I am sure to many Dissoi Blogoi readers), is a tutor in a summer intensive Greek course for high-school students and particularly beginners, run by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT) of Britain. A link to the web-page is here.
Here's a fascinating excerpt from the report posted there on the 2003 session (nothing on 2004):
It sounds like something I'd love to send some of my own children to. Does anyone, I wonder, know of anything similar in the United States?
Report By The Director And Director Of Studies On The JACT Greek Summer School Held At Bryanston School 27th July - 9th August 2003
There were 271 students enrolled for the Summer School this year, the second largest ever. Of these 19 were undergraduates or postgraduates, including two from the Charles University in Prague and one from the Institute of Classical Studies, Warsaw. The remainder were school students, of whom 65 had attended maintained schools in the UK.
There were 104 Beginners (a record number) in eleven groups, 46 Intermediate (pre-GCSE) students in six groups, and 121 Advanced students (immediately post-GCSE to undergraduate level) in fourteen groups. The Beginners' and Intermediate groups studied appropriate sections of the Reading Greek course and its continuation volumes. Favourite texts among Advanced Groups were///ad 3, 9 and 18, Odyssey 6, Sophocles' Trachiniae, Euripides' Alcestis, and Thucydides 2.
There were 31 Tutors, 12 from universities (Bristol, Cambridge, Dublin, Glasgow, Harvard, Manchester and Oxford). One Tutorship was again generously sponsored by Trinity College, Cambridge. We were again very fortunate to have Mrs Jean Pollard as Matron: no time seems to be too late or early for her, and no trouble too great. Charles Sykes was Director's Assistant for the second year, joined now by Charlotte Ralph. They made a superb team. Visiting lecturers were Malcolm Schofield, Jasper Griffin, David Raebum and Tom Buckney; the home team was represented by Catherine Steel, Philomen Probert, John Berts and James Morwood. Subject-matter ranged from the Linear B tablets to Polybius. There were seminars on scansion and accentuation. There was a large and talented orchestra and an accomplished choir as well as many smaller groups and soloists to make the concert go well. The middle Sunday was marked by an amazing production of Knights in translation, directed by Judith Affleck, choreography by Regine May, music by David Carter, special effects by Clare Sharp and Jean Lee. This writer has never seen a more entertaining presentation of the play. At the end of the fortnight Judith Mossman and Holly Eckhardt presented Trachiniae on a balmy evening as a near-full moon rose above the Greek Theatre. It was a striking production with much imaginative and attractive use of the chorus and many moments of strong drama. Overall the sense of a huge amount of Greek being read, understood and enjoyed, and of everyone being involved in the course as a whole, was as great as or greater than it has ever been, and the lectures were so well-attended as to strain the seating resources of the Edwin Evans Room....
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 21:37
06 June 2005
I said that Geoffrey Lloyd began the May Week Seminar. He did so by first drawing a contrast with an Symposium Aristotelicum that had he had attended and which met almost exactly 30 years earlier to discuss the Parva Naturalia, and which was generally preoccupied with arguments about which 'strata' from periods in Aristotle's development were evident at different places in those works, with Nuyens' theory supplying the context of the discussion. Lloyd said that developmentalism in this area was out of fashion now, in part because the best theories, such as Nuyens', had all been exploded, and in part because it had since become clear (if it wasn't always so) that a philosophical understanding of the texts (for instance, whether there truly is a difference of outlook in different parts of the text, and, if so, what this amounts to, and what might be the reasons for someone's changing from the one outlook to the other) is properly prior to developmental considerations. He added, however, that perhaps the initial problems which motivated developmentalism have not been explained satisfactorily. (In fact, Menn in the seminar seemed to be suggesting that, since these problems were all very much alive, developmental considerations simply could not be put off until later, even if in some sense philosophical understanding is prior.)
Lloyd then posed two sets of questions. The first have to do with Aristotle's relationship in the De Somno, De Insomniis, and De Divinatione to what might be called the endoxa, and are as follows:
- Why does Aristotle tackle questions in the way that he does? What is his approach?
- What is Aristotle's relationship with antecedents as regards sleep and dreaming, for instance, the medical literature, or Plato?
- Why does he omit certain subjects found in the 'lay' literature? What does he dismiss? Why does he select the order of discussion that he does?
- What is the role of the common sensorium in cognition and in vital functions generally?
- What is the role of perception as opposed to nous as regards images?
- How do we square the doctrine that thinking is not a faculty of an organ of the body with the doctrine that it is not without phantasmata or aisthesis?
- How does physiology affect thought? The activities of the proton aistheterion are interrupted by sleep to preserve us, Aristotle says, but why can't we think continuously?
- How does thinking involve waking?--since Aristotle believes that thinking can occur in beings who do not sleep at all.
- Phantasmata are 'non-paradigmatic phenomena' (Schofield). But how come? What does this mean? Is it failed perception? Clearly not. Or is an analogy (perhaps) the way in which, according to Aristotle, a male parent produces a female child who resembles her mother?
- There are illusions in phantasmata. But this seems to threaten Aristotle's notion of (what might be called) a 'cognitively friendly universe' for human beings.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 05:43
Perhaps it's because I've just finished Understanding Accounting Ethics that I'm very sensitive even to the appearance of fraud these days, but it was in just that regard that I've been wondering about the use of Aristotle's Protrepticus in classroom instruction.
A protreptic to philosophy, it is often said, is an exhortation to philosophy. But to say just this is not to say enough. It is, more properly, an exhortation, with reasons, aiming to convince someone to put aside everything else to which one is devoted, and to devote one's life instead to the study, and practice, of philosophy. Since such an exhortation comes with reasons, it comes with conditions: if the conditions are not met, then the exhortation fails, or perhaps is even fraudulent.
I've heard it said that Hutchinson and Johnson have had great success in using Aristotle's Protrepticus, and also Plato's Alcibiades (see how easy I am in attributions), in introductory courses in philosophy--which stands to reason, some have remarked, because these texts proved their worth in this regard in the ancient world.
It's not important for my purposes that I talk about Hutchinson and Johnson, even if they do intend their edition of the Protrepticus to be used in that way. Let's talk instead about M. & N., taking these to stand (like free variables) for anyone who might take this approach (perhaps even myself, at times).
Here's my argument. If M. & N. use the Protrepticus and Alcibiades only to convince students to major in philosophy, then they've, incongruently, used those texts not according to their intended purposes. (It would be like, say, reading D'Arcy's proposal from Pride and Prejudice to a woman, in order to get her to sleep with you.) If, however, they use those texts to convince students to leave everything and devote themselves to philosophy, then they do this without fraud, only if philosophy has the character that these texts claim for it. But both these texts claim that philosophy is something divine, and they promise or intimate a kind of divinization from studying philosophy. So M. & N. do not defraud, only if philosophy is like this.
Again, in the ancient world, one did not exhort young men to study just any 'philosophy', but what one took to be true and correct philosophy--the alternatives being not simply false and incorrect, but also harmful and to be avoided. So doesn't M. & N.'s use of the Protrepticus and Alcibiades also imply their commitment to arguing, too, that it would be a calamity to become misled by (say) Nietzsche's philosophy, or Quine's? Wouldn't it imply a commitment to setting up a distinct 'school' where only sound, divinizing philosophy is pursued? Without these things, again, isn't there fraud--or, at least, corrupting youth?
"I was intending to become a physician, or an investment banker, and you convinced me to study this worthless stuff instead!" would be a just complaint for someone to make (wouldn't it?) if philosophy is no more than (say) the clarification of concepts from science, or the most abstract aspect of a conceptual web constructed for coping with experience.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 05:12
05 June 2005
If a popular work of Aristotle gets popular treatment in our media, does it thereby become doubly popular, or extra-exoteric? You tell me. Here is a story in today's (Toronto) Globe and Mail, about Doug Hutchinson and Monte Johnson's new work on the Protrepticus.
I must confess the story disturbs me, because it seems to attribute to Hutchinson and Johnson, the credit for a discovery that belongs to Bywater (not even mentioned by name in the article). Or is it that the Protrepticus is not really discovered, until it can be confirmed that it was discovered? But did anyone doubt this until Rabinowitz? And even then, who was sufficiently convinced by Rabinowitz' arguments to doubt the fact of the discovery? (I don't know of many scholars who will not rely on Protrepticus fragments, when that's useful.)
Of course, too, if the advance now is one in confidence, then we must examine the arguments in the forthcoming OSAP piece, to see whether they really do justify a more solid judgment (which I haven't yet done).
If it's that we should reject Duering's reconstruction, and simply read the portions in order, then, again, aren't we back to Bywater? Or is it that the Hutchinson-Johnson effort is supposed to underwrite the use of the Protrepticus in classroom instruction, since now the work somehow definitely, or without fail, gets included in the canon (as Bobonich's comment seems to imply)? (But won't it always have an 'asterisk' next to it, as a reconstruction, no matter how successful that reconstruction is?)
In short, shouldn't the tone of this piece be: "We're simply confirming the work of Bywater and seeing that it's recognized that his discovery was real"?
Hiding in plain sight
Would an Aristotle by any other name seem as smart? As JOHN ALLEMANG
reports, a Canada-U.S. scholarly team is bringing attention to an
ancient Greek masterpiece long considered 'lost' -- but actually just
By JOHN ALLEMANG
An original work by an ancient Greek philosopher would be a priceless
thing, if you could dig one up. And if that work was a seminal
masterpiece on the very nature of philosophy by the fourth-century BC
teacher Aristotle, surely few discoveries in the history of intellectual
thought could rival such a find.
So when Douglas Hutchinson of the University of Toronto and Monte
Ransome Johnson of St. Louis University say with complete confidence
that they have identified a long-lost published work of Aristotle, it's
not surprising that a fellow scholar can describe their discovery as
The surviving texts from ancient Greece are woefully few, occupying only
a few scant library shelves, and Aristotle is especially
underrepresented -- all we have from the pupil of Plato and the teacher
of Alexander the Great are unpublished lecture notes intended for his
inner circle, as brilliant and influential as they are.
What Prof. Hutchinson and Prof. Johnson are unveiling to the world is a
considerable part of Aristotle's long-lost Protrepticus, the great
man's very own introduction to philosophy.
"This is a work with real power," Prof. Hutchinson says. "It's brilliant
in content, written in beautifully polished Greek, and it's a
masterpiece that people will go to."
The Protrepticus (the Greek title translates as "exhortation") can lay
claim to being Aristotle's most famous and most popular work in
antiquity -- a contemporary of Aristotle's describes it being read out
in a humble cobbler's shop. And thanks to these two scholars, the
Protrepticus should now enjoy a long-overdue renaissance in the modern
"If it is in future accorded its proper recognition by Aristotelian
scholars, as they have shown it deserves," says David Sedley of Christ's
College, Cambridge, "it will make a real difference to our understanding
of Aristotle's ethics, his philosophy of nature and his metaphysics."
Now here's where the discovery gets a little complicated, as any claim
to recovering an ancient Greek text must necessarily be: As much as
those who thrill to the discoveries of ancient texts would like them to
turn up out of the blue and fully formed, the real world of classical
scholarship doesn't usually work that way.
Even seasoned academics have enough of the Indiana Jones spirit to hope
the preserving sands of the Egyptian desert or the stratified muck of
Vesuvius will suddenly reveal Aristotle's personal library or dozens of
Sophocles's missing dramas. But meanwhile, Aristotle's Protrepticus
has been staring them right in the face, if only they had known where
-- and how -- to look.
"It's been covered in a shroud of uncertainty," Prof. Johnson says.
"This was the most inaccessible and arcane Greek artifact, and we want
to turn it into the most popular introduction to Greek philosophy --
which is what Aristotle intended it to be."
The pages of Aristotelian Greek that the two scholars have isolated were
enclosed like a vein of ore within a later philosophical work -- which,
just to make matters worse, is also known as the Protrepticus --
compiled by a Neoplatonist teacher named Iamblichus, who taught in Roman
Syria in the third and fourth centuries AD.
Iamblichus was a borderline plagiarist, and didn't identify the authors
from whom he wove together his own exhortation to the study of
philosophy. But since the standards of acknowledging your sources were
looser in the ancient world, it may be fairer to say that what he did
was to put together a "greatest hits" study guide for his students with
his own narrative added to smooth the bumps from one unattributed
excerpt to another.
As long ago as 1869, a classical scholar intimately familiar with the
workings of Aristotle's mind spotted the presence of the master in
Iamblichus's compilation. The fact that Iamblichus's work bore the same
title as Aristotle's apparently lost work reinforced the suspicion. What
allowed the deduction to be made with even more assurance was that
Iamblichus had also lifted material from Plato -- philosophical
dialogues that still survive independently.
If classical scholarship had proceeded as it should from 1869 forward,
Aristotle's Protrepticus soon would have emerged with its own identity
and aspirations to greatness.
Instead, it remained a work hidden in the murky shadows of doubt and
disbelief. The magisterial Oxford Classical Dictionary, for instance,
does little more than mention its existence, and even then refers to it
It may as well have been, to judge from the way generations of scholars
have fiddled with Iamblichus and ad-libbed his text -- in one case, even
adding a pastiche of pseudo-ancient Greek -- to produce bits of
bargain-basement Aristotle that have inevitably been banished to the
"Fragments" section of the philosopher's Collected Works.
No one reads fragments, if they can help it, particularly when their
pedigree is so murky. And so it has come to pass that Aristotle's
Protrepticus has been effectively concealed from the wider world.
Prof. Johnson compares it to the way some books of the Bible became
canonical and others were banished to the Apocrypha, "just because
certain councils of people got together early on and said, 'This doesn't
But much the way a cut-rate Italian painting later can be revealed to be
a valuable work of Titian -- or an unlabelled dress in a second-hand
shop can be recognized, and reappreciated, as a Chanel -- all the
Protrepticus needed was to be seen for what it was.
The patterns began emerging six years ago when Prof. Hutchinson and
Prof. Johnson (who was then a graduate student) studied the presumed
Aristotelian chapters of Iamblichus's Protrepticus with the
Greek-philosophy reading group at the University of Toronto. They
resolved to make a serviceable translation for university students.
They decided to study the techniques Iamblichus used to cut and paste
his Plato -- since we still possess the dialogues Iamblichus borrowed,
it was possible to determine his exact work habits. They discovered that
Iamblichus added very little to the text, except for a sentence or so of
over-enthusiastic introduction, a conclusion and an occasional passage
to bridge over the brief dialogue elements in Plato's original.
Otherwise, Plato flowed along on his own, faithfully in order.
"Iamblichus was incredibly precise," Prof. Hutchinson says. "He didn't
change a single word when he didn't have to."
To their surprise, no one ever had studied Iamblichus so methodically.
And when they turned to the Aristotelian section, they recognized
exactly the same compilation technique at work: Instead of trying to
sift out bits and pieces of Aristotle, all they needed to do was remove
the small (and easily predictable) contributions of Iamblichus and
voila -- pure gold.
Other issues remained: Were they certain all the material came from the
original Protrepticus? Was the treatise a dialogue in its
pre-Iamblichus form? How much was missing?
But the most persuasive proofs had been carried out with a rigour that
will be hard to match.
The detailed results are to be published this year in the Oxford Studies
in Ancient Philosophy, with a translation and full commentary due out
next year. In the strictest sense what the two scholars have done isn't
the same as turning up a papyrus scroll in the desert, but to scholars
in the field, the effect isn't so different.
"Their research comes very close to being a rediscovery of a lost work,"
says Chris Bobonich of Stanford University. "Only now will the
Protrepticus be studied by more than a handful of scholars."
And studied with greater respect -- a confident attribution to Aristotle
carries a lot more cachet than the name Iamblichus, in the
brand-conscious world of classical scholarship.
John Allemang is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 21:12
Geoffrey Lloyd led the first session of the Seminar and set down some basic questions that guided much of the discussion of the week. Later, I'll give a summary of that. Here I want to raise what I think are four interesting questions about the texts we looked at.
Again, we studied On Sleep and Waking (De Somno), On Dreaming (De Insomniis), and On Divination in Dreams (De Divinatione). These treatises at first glance look to be much less interesting than others in the Parva Naturalia. But I think they raise in a striking way some important philosophical questions. Here I'll state them--briefly, but in enough detail I hope so that you see the point. Later perhaps I can post some texts relevant to them.
1. Call this 'The Problem of Magnification.' Aristotle thinks that the following sort of thing helps to explain dreaming: there are movements in the sense organs that are very slight, which in dreaming we take to be very large. For instance, a gnat is flying near your ear while you are asleep, and it seems to you as if it's thundering. (Aristotle uses an example like that.) Now, does Aristotle think that the motion that takes place in your ear when you 'dream' the thunder (I use scare quotes because this is not strictly a dream, in Aristotle's technical sense) is exactly the same as the motion: (a) when you are awake and hearing a gnat, or (b) when you are awake and hearing thunder? The text would suggest the former. But then, if it's not the motion in the sense organs that is actually magnified, when it sounds as if it is thundering (but it is not), what gets magnified? Another way of putting the point: physicalism holds that there is no mental difference without a material difference, but (b) looks incompatible with physicalism.
2. Call this 'The Problem of Representation.' Aristotle says that, in the above example, it's crucial to taking the motions in your ear to be thunder, that you do not recognize that you are asleep. If you do recognize this, then you make a correction: you in some sense take the buzzing to be thunder, but 'some different thing within you contradicts this' (Aristotle puts it in this vague way), and you say to yourself 'it is like thunder, but that is not thunder'. But then does Aristotle think that, when one is in normal conditions and awake, then to recognize thunder is to reason, 'it is like thunder (viz. what I am experiencing), and therefore, because I'm in normal conditions, that is thunder'--that is, does he think that we make an inference from an appearance to an external object? Is he some kind of representationalist?
3. Call this 'The Pascalian Question'. Perhaps you recall from Pascal's Pensees that, somewhat like Wittgenstein, Pascal in many passages warns us against using physical analogies for understanding spiritual things (e.g. thinking of mind or spirit as a kind of fluid), or using spiritual analogies for material things (e.g. thinking of matter as having desires or even powers). There's something of this outlook in Aristotle's reluctance to speak straightforwardly of 'parts' of the soul (whereas he has no difficulty with 'parts' of the body). Now, in the Parva Naturalia, and especially in the books involving sleep and dreaming, does Aristotle rather, and deliberately, engage in just this sort of analogizing? That is, does he think that we can, and should, explain the soul by the intelligent use of analogies taken from physical processes? In De Sensu he defines perception as 'a motion (kinesis) of the soul through the body (dia tou somatos)'; he repeats the definition at the beginning of the De Somno. But then are his discussions of motions involved in sensation and dream phenomena, then, meant to be discussions of (a) motions in the soul, or (b) motions in the body, or (c) motions in the soul as analogous to the body?
4. Related to this is what might be called the 'Problem of the Glassy Essence'. To motivate this problem, it will be necessary to post some texts, which I'll do. But for now, I simply observe that in various places Aristotle speaks as though he thinks that the motions in the sense organs associated with sensation 'register' (phainetai) only when they reach the central sense organ, in the area of the heart. He likens this appearing to someone's seeing his reflection in standing water. That may be the reason why, as well, he has recourse to an analogy involving mirrors in De Insomniis 2. But then how seriously does Aristotle take this? Does he think that sensation really involves something like a mirror or a reflection, and is it (as before) (a) a physical mirror, (a) a mirror in the soul, or (c) a mirror in the soul analogous to a physical mirror?
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 06:20
I must apologize to readers of Dissoi Blogoi for not posting during the May Week Seminar.
A large part of the explanation of why I was unable to post last week, is why I am able to post now, the first morning I'm home. It's 5:30 a.m. stateside (the time I usually wake up, at the latest); everyone I'm interested in spending time with is asleep; and I have a computer ready to hand, with a wireless internet connection. In Cambridge, I never really adjusted to the different time zone, and would usually only just have enough time in the morning before the 10:30 seminars began; and when I did have some free time, in the evenings, there were lots of people I was interested in spending time with, still very much awake; and in any case, there weren't then computers on the internet readily available, because those were in the Classics library, which closed soon after the last session of the day ended.
Last time I was in Cambridge I spent many evenings hanging out at CB 1 until closing, at midnight. But that was too far away (and also CB 2), because I never did hire a bike. Mike's Bikes was out of bicycles when I stopped in there, and I decided to try to do without one--and indeed nearly everything one could want (library, restaurants, pub, newsagent) was just around the corner from my room in Darwin.
But something else to be taken into account, and very real, I believe, was the way in which being in England effected a kind of adunamia of the blogging impulse, which perhaps, in contrast, comes about most readily and vigorously in melancholic types (as perhaps I am), while in the United States. The British still are marked by an admirable circumspection and discretion, which, I found, made blogging appear from the start something of a suspicious enterprise. A conversation I had more than once about blogs began, "Oh, a blog--Is that where something happens to you and you immediately and foolishly write it up so that the whole world can read it? ...Saying that your employer is a nasty so-and-so, and things of that sort of thing?"
It is true that I, in contrast, would have only good things to say about those around me. But even then, that would be awkward. I didn't want to say "N. spoke today, in my view one of the most erudite men in the world" (which is true of N.), but then have to associate in friendship with N. the next day. Or what might be a natural expression of admiration and gratitude after the fact, would seem inappropriate during the seminar. (Conversation overheard at a gathering outside the Seminar: "So where would you think is the best place to study ancient philosophy now?" "Here, obviously. And then, a long, long way below, in second place, ..." --this because of the esteem which I am not alone in having for the Cambridge ancient philosophy commmunity.)
And then too, the Seminar was simply exhuasting. I don't mean merely that I had to use all extra time in preparing for my own presentation on Wednesday morning. I mean also, as others there expressed to me also, that participation in the May Week Seminar leaves little extra time or mental energy. A two-hour morning session; another two-hour afternoon session (but these are more like 2 1/2 hour sessions, because always the discussion carries over to little gatherings afterwards, outside the seminar room); then studying the text for the sessions; and then time spent with colleagues and hosts over lunch or dinner. The sessions themselves are exhilirating, and demanding, because of the high standards that prevail, and the high caliber of the participants. One might say it would simply be good sense after all that to spend the evening drinking an ale or two with a colleague at the pub, rather than blogging on one's own.
And there's no reason that one cannot blog afterwards. I took fairly careful notes (except when I was thinking through an argument or point I wished to formulate). I hope to make something of a report of the sessions, some fuller and some less so, in the days that now follow.
Posted by Michael Pakaluk at 05:58