23 October 2006

Reprise of Whiting on Philanthropia

I regard the reasons that I gave in my earlier post as decisive, but it seems the following argument works as well.

Recall that what is at issue is the interpretation of the following passage, and especially the highlighted words:

Again, parent seems by nature to feel it for offspring and offspring for parent, not only among men but among birds and among most animals; it is felt mutually by members of the same race, and especially by men, whence we praise lovers of their fellowmen. We may even in our travels how near and dear every man is to every other (NE 1155a16-22, Ross).

fu&sei t' e0nupa&rxein e1oike pro_j to_ gegennhme/non tw|~ gennh&santi kai pro_j to_ gennh~san tw|~ gennhqe/nti, ou) mo&non e0n a)nqrw&poij a)lla_ kai\ e0n o1rnisi kai\ toi=j plei/stoij tw~n zw|&wn, kai\ toi=j o(moeqne/si pro_j a1llhla, kai\ ma&lista toi=j a)nqrw&poij, o3qen tou_j filanqrw&pouj e0painou~men. i1doi d' a1n tij kai\ e0n tai=j pla/naij w(j oi0kei=on a3paj a1nqrwpoj a)nqrw&pw| kai\ fi/lon.
Recall that Whiting understands Aristotle to be arguing: human beings are by nature "clannish", which is an objectionably egocentric attitude, but they are praiseworthy when they overcome this innate bias and cultivate an affection for all members of the human species.

In contrast I understand the passage as arguing that human beings, like other animals, have an innate affection for any others that they recognize as being of the same stock (toi=j o(moeqne/si), and this innate affection finds expression, also, in our having a natural affection for any human being whatsoever. When we cultivate philanthropia we are not overcoming anything but rather expressing to a fuller extent something similar to familial affection.

The crucial linguistic point dividing these two interpretations is this. For Whiting, the term "members of the same clan" (homoethneis) must refer to a group that falls short of the entire human race--e.g. a clan, tribe, or 'racial group'--since otherwise there could be no question of someone's 'overcoming' affection directed at that group in cultivating philanthropia.

For me, in contrast, the term homoethneis is what is known as a 'functional' term, that is, one that has a different signification depending upon the kind of thing that is being talked about. It means 'of a common stock', and it signifies more narrowly or more broadly, depending upon how far back in common descent one reaches (of the same family, viz. from same parents; of the same clan, viz. from the same ancestors; of the same tribe, viz. from the same founders; etc). If the term works in that way, then there is no reason why it could not also signify members of the human race as a whole, conceived of as of a 'common stock' because they have a shared descent and belong to a single human 'family'.

Now there is no way to settle this point of difference with reference to homoethneis, which is too rare a word. But the term ethnos is not so rare, and we can make a comparable distinction as regards it. On Whiting's view, ethnos must always mean something short of the entire human race; whereas on my view ethnos, as a 'functional' term, could sometimes mean also the entire human race considered as having a common descent.

This point was brought home to me when reading yesterday St. Paul's speech on the Areopagus, which contains these lines:
o( qeo\j o( poih/saj to\n ko/smon kai\ pa/nta ta\ e)n au)tw=| ... e)poi/hse/n te e)c e(no\j pa=n e)/qnoj a)nqrw/pwn katoikei=n e)pi\ panto\j prosw/pou th=j gh=j ... Tou= ga\r kai\ ge/noj e)smen.

The God who made the world and all that is in it ...made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth...For we too are his offspring (Acts 17: 24-28).
And there it is, exactly: ethnos being used in the way that my view would allow (ethnos anthrwpwn, "race of men"), and in the way that Whiting's view would exclude.

It is well known that the Areopagus address is a Hellenizing speech: Paul deliberately weaves it out of ideas and notions from Greek philosophers and poets. The concept of a human family is not uncommon in Greek thought. But how far back does this exact language of a "race of men" go?

No deep research is necessary. A quick look at LSJ suffices to establish that it predates Aristotle, e.g. in Pindar's expressions e)/qnoj bro/teon, e)/qnoj qnato/n ("mortal race").