21 October 2006

Others Have Missed the Point ...Once More

This is my last post on Jennifer Whiting's essay, "The Nicomachean Account of Philia."

I haven't been focusing on her interpretation, because I do not find it illuminating as an account of Aristotle, and there seem better uses of my time than to quarrel with T. Irwin over "rational egoism".

I have focused, however, on her construction of particular passages. Why? Because I think the flawed character of her interpretation is revealed in her flawed treatment of the texts. And generally good interpretations are based on a skilled use of texts. "There is, of course, no escaping the hermeneutic circle", as Whiting says near the beginning of her essay, but the circle has to be drawn through the right points.

And I've given proportionate attention always: just as much as Whiting gives and even invites. "Note especially my rendering of sunōkeiōtai as 'familiar with' ", Whiting asked. -- And we noted it, especially.

My last comment concerns the sentence highlighted in red below. I give the translation just as it occurs in Whiting's essay. You've seen this before, but I give it again. I'll also restore the second half of the sentence at the end, which Whiting omits. (I'll highlight that in blue, to flag that it is not in Whiting's essay.)

Parents are fond of their children as being something of themselves [hōs heautōn ti onta], and children [are fond of] their parents as [themselves] being something form them [i.e., the parents]. But parents know the things coming from themselves more than their offspring know that they are from them [i.e., the parents]; and the one from which is more familiar with [sunōkeiōtai] the one generated than the one coming to be is with its producer. For what comes from oneself is oikeion to the one from which it comes ... but the one from which [the latter comes] is in now way [oikeion] to it, or less so. And [these phenomena vary] with the length of time [involved]. For [parents] are fond of [their children] immediately upon their coming to be, while children [are fond of] their parents only after some time, when they have acquired comprehension [sunesis] or perception. From these things it is clear why mothers love [their children] more [than their children love them]. Parents, then, love their children as themselves [hōs heautous] (for the ones coming to be from them are like other selves [hoion heteroi autoi], by being separated [from them]) (1161b18-29) [whereas children love their parents as the sources from which they have sprung] (Whiting, trans., in Kraut, ed., p. 289).
Now as regards the sentence in red, other translators have:

Ross: "From these considerations it is also plain why mothers love more than fathers do."

Rowe: "And these points also make it clear why it is that maternal love is greater."

Ostwald: "This also explains why affection felt by mothers is greater [that that of fathers]."

Rackham: "These considerations also explain why parental affection is stronger in the mother."

I don't doubt that dozens of others could be brought in also, as rendering in the same way, viz. understanding Aristotle to be drawing a contrast in the sentence between maternal and paternal affection.

Whiting sees fit to disagree. She explains her disagreement in a footnote:

The point here is not (as Ross and Irwin render it) that mothers tend to love their children more than fathers do: the thrust of this argument (as distinct from that in IX.7) is that parents (at least initially) tend to love their children more than their children love them. If mothers are suddenly singled out here, that may be because Aristotle thinks (for reasons cited in IX.7) that mothers tend to love their children more than fathers do (n. 12, p. 303).

And then it becomes clear that Whiting has missed the word "also" (kai/) in the sentence under dispute (e0k tou&twn de\ dh~lon kai\ di' a4 filou~si ma~llon ai9 mhte/rej) ; she fails to see, then, that this conclusion is additional to one that Aristotle takes himself already to have stated or suggested. And one might guess she was aided in this by her omitting (from her essay--but also from her notes, or in thought?) the last clause of the passage: since she omits this, she casts around to find the conclusion of the passage somewhere else; she thinks it must be in stated in the disputed sentence ("The point here is not.... the thrust of this argument .... is....."); and then this leads her to overlook the "also".

Am I picking on a small point? The point was large enough for Whiting to write an involved footnote in explanation. For my part, I'm willing to allow that Whiting's interpretation is distinguished precisely by what it has to offer in little observations such as this, and that interpreters, when they miss Whiting's point here, are just as wrong when they miss her point everywhere else.


Anonymous said...

This is a good point, and I thank Pakaluk for calling my attention to the 'kai' and its role here. I now think that Aristotle is alluding to the point made in EN IX.7, in connection with the point made here: since mothers tend to be more familiar with their children than fathers are, and in various ways (including that of being more sure the children are their own), mothers tend to love their children more than fathers do. This makes the argument of the passage much neater.

I fear, however, that I cannot accept the points about 'homoethnesi' that Pakaluk makes (yet again) in the blog after this one (which he said would be his last on my essay). If what Ross meant by 'same race' was 'same species', then I will have to include him in my criticism, though I did not originally intend to do so. For in that case he (like Irwin and Rowe) cannot easily explain why Aristotle says that the fact that humans are so homoethnic explains why we PRAISE those who are philanthropos. This is the reason I in fact gave for calling 'same species' an error -- pace Pakaluk's suggestion (in reply to Anonymous) that my point in speaking here of an 'error' was to avoid having to give reasons for what I was saying.

I did not however explain my reason for preferring 'clannish' (or any of the the other alternatives I suggested, including 'ethnocentric') to 'same race': my point was to avoid the psuedo-scientific connotations that talk of 'race' has come to have. But, in an article whose official limit was 10,000 words (though I was in fact allowed a bit more) I could not explain every last decision such as this one. Here, however, I have been blessed with infinite space; so I can add that I doubt that Pakaluk is right to suppose that Ross meant by 'race' the 'human race' (i.e., the species). I think Ross saw the point about our subspecific biases, and that he used 'race' (rather than 'tribe' or some alternative) to express it. If I am right about that, then he did not actually err, as I claimed Irwin and Rowe did. If, however, he did mean what Pakaluk assummes he meant, then I must include him within my criticism, however distinguished a scholar he may be and however bad an example I set for my students, or whatever. . . .

Unforunately, I do not have time to explain in detail why I am not moved by Pakaluk's other criticisms, most of which seem to me motivated by a fundamental misunderstanding of what I mean to attribute to Aristotle in attributing to him (at least in the sphere of character-friendship) an ideal of overcoming various parochial forms of bias. Contrary to what Pakaluk suggests, I (like other scholars) find the roots of the Stoic theory of oikeiosis in Aristotle (as well as Plato) -- in fact I am teaching a grad seminar attempting to trace these roots. But I decided (in attempting to meet word limits) to remove from my article the footnote calling attention to that. The view I attribute to Aristotle is not one according to which filial affection is in itself bad -- for Aristotle often cites mothers as paradigms of those who love others FOR THEMSELVES. The view is rather one according to which similarity as such (even what we would now call genetic similarity, and so blood-ties) is not sufficient basis for a certain kind of preferenctial treatment. As Socrates hints at the end of the Lysis, making a point that I take Aristotle to be developing, it is the good that we should take to be oikeion to all; and (as I argue in my essay) Aristotle himself wants to introduce the ideal of goodness even into philia between blood-brothers. Serious concerns about preferential treatment of family members when they are doing injustice are found in Plato, starting with the Euthyphro, with the question whether it isn't after all right for Euthyphro to prosecute his father. There is, of course, an egocentric twist that can be put on this (making the purity of his own family Euthyphro's first priority). But the main point is that this is a familiar concern in not only in Plato but also in Aristotle; and I do not take anything in Aristotle's criticisms of Plato's Republic (which is no doubt the locus classicus of one account of oikeiosis) to show that Aristotle 's conception of character-friendship is not meant to work against ethnocentric and other objectionable forms of bias.

Once again, I thank DISSOI BLOGOI for giving me this opportunity to respond; and I thank the colleague who called my attention to this discussion, which I (not being a reader of blogs) might otherwise have missed.