13 October 2006

Whiting on Philanthropia

Last time I looked at a text which Jennifer Whiting claimed could not be interpreted in a certain way, yet that interpretation turned out to be (it seems) correct!

Today I'll look at a passage as regards which, according to Whiting, scholars such as W.D. Ross have committed an "error", and yet, on closer examination, it isn't so clear that the error isn't Whiting's.

But first some background. Whiting's interpretation of Aristotle on friendship is, like Meyer on the voluntary, revisionist. From Irwin she inherits a worry about "rational egoism" in Aristotelian ethics: Does Aristotle perhaps think that friendship is no more than an extension of self-love, a "colonization" of others, as a way of more fully realizing oneself?

The antidote she provides is her idea of "impersonal" or "impartial" friends:

Once we accept this distinction [in NE IX.8] between self-love properly construed and self-love as it is usually (but mistakenly) understood, we are supposed to see an important sense in which self-love properly construed is impartial: insofar as self-love properly construed involves the virtuous person's love for herself qua virtuous, and insofar as a genuinely virtuous agent will value virtue as such, the virtuous agent should love other virtuous agents in much the same way that she loves herself (i.e. qua virtuous) (p. 293, Kraut anthology).
Whiting's interpretation effectively turns the NE treatment of friendship on its head. When Aristotle says that "a friend is another self", he might just as well have said, on this interpretation, that "a self is another friend". To form a friendship is not to extend anything (self-love, familiarity), and certainly not to cultivate affection on the basis of "brute" similarities (same home town, same famiy) but rather to act on a recognition of oneself as one among equal others and estimable only insofar as one is virtuous

One might wonder whether this isn't a rather desperate response to a worry that is inappropriately brought to Aristotle's text. At first glance, it might seem that Aristotle is no more in danger of being a "rational egoist" than Thomas Reid is of being a Hobbesian. And one might think that someone who approached the text in order to resolve an alien worry would be almost guaranteed not to arrive at a sound interpretation.

Whiting of course has to deal with all of those texts in the NE VIII and IX which assign some kind of priority to self-love, or that describe friendship as extending outwards to others, from self-love and from affection within the family, often on the basis of similarity and commonality, rather than "impartial" virtue (e.g. the affection of two brothers for each other, simply because they have the same parents)--the texts that have led some scholars recently to argue that the Stoic theory of oikeiosis has its roots in Aristotle. Some of this contrary evidence she ignores in her essay; other passages she tries to explain away or interpret in a novel manner, more consistent with her view.

I'll examine some of her interpretations in subsequent posts, to see whether they withstand scrutiny.

But here's something for today. Whiting writes as follows:

We may better appreciate Aristotle's strategy once we note a common error in recent translations of VIII.1. After saying that philia seems to belong by nature to parents in relation to their offspring, and to offspring in relation to their parents, Aristotle says that such philia (perhaps including natural philia more generally) occurs
not only among human beings, but also among birds and most animals, and [among] those belonging to the same clan [tois homoethnesi], especially human beings; whence we praise those who are lovers of humankind [philanthropous]; for one might see in traveling widely that every human is oikeion to every other and [likewise] dear [philon] (VIII.1.1155a14-22).
Ross (1980) renders tois homoethnesi "members of the same race". Irwin and Rowe each replace this with talk of belonging to the same species. Irwin defends "species" by saying that "the rest of the paragraph shows that Aristotle has species in mind (i.e. friendship among dogs or human beings, rather than friendship among greyhounds or Greeks)" (1999: 273). But this misses Aristotle's point, which is that human beings stand out among animals as especially clannish. We are the most ethnocentric -- or, as Aristotle puts it, the most homoethnic--of animals. That is why we praise those who are (simply) philanthropos: they have managed to overcome this common but regrettable tendency (pp. 290-1).

First of all, as I mentioned, I wonder whether it is wise to charge a distinguished scholar such as W.D. Ross with an "error". Isn't this kind of language likely to be misleading, and provide a poor example, to students? [Note: I retract the highlighted phrase. See appended comment below.] What is at issue, surely, is rather the plausibility of a certain interpretation--how much weight one gives to which considerations; what 'antecedent probabilities' (Butler and Newman) are appropriately brought to bear on the text. And someone unfamiliar with Aristotle generally or with Greek might simply accept Whiting's assertion on her authority.

Second, Whiting's argument appears circular. She argues, in effect: the usual interpretation is not consistent with my interpretation, and therefore those who think otherwise "miss the point". Yet isn't Irwin's reasoning very much to the point? And it is not answered by anything that Whiting says in reply.

For my part, I would render tois homoethnesi as "of the same stock"--no more precision than that is needed, such as restricting the term to species. I would do so because of the order of considerations that Aristotle is presenting, which in my view is the following: (i) natural philia of parents for offspring; (ii) natural philia of offspring for parents; and (iii) natural philia of offspring toward each other. (I'll give the full context below, so that you can see this progession.) "Of the same stock", then, is supposed to refer to a broad range of phenomena that would fall under heading (iii), e.g. affection of siblings for each other; of cousins; of members of a clan; and also of the entire human race, viewed as having a common descent.

The order of reasons in the passage under consideration is exactly the same as in VIII.12. There a natural affection based on common descent, mentioned in the third place, is referred to as affection based on tau0ton ai(=ma kai\ r(i/zan, "the same blood and root" (1161b32). (Note that r(i/za is used to mean "race" or "family", as LSJ indicates. And isn't the older meaning of filanqrwpi/a that of an attitude of the gods toward the human race, taken as a single species?) Of course then Aristotle would be recommending affection not based on "impartial" virtue, and which varies as does the 'distance' someone has from oneself.

It furthermore seems quite unAristotelian to suppose that Aristotle here is suggesting that human beings should aim to overcome natural tendencies to affection--nowhere else in VIII and IX does he suggest any such thing, but just the contrary.

Note, finally, that Whiting's added "[likewise]" is an overtranslation. In the Greek there is only kai, "and". In my view this is meant to express a consequence: each human being belongs somehow to every other, and as a consequence each is naturally dear to everyone else. But it's better, I think, to render this simply as "and" and let the reader judge how that is to be interpreted.

Here's the Greek. I'll mark the progression of considerations:

fu&sei t' e0nupa&rxein e1oike [i] pro_j to_ gegennhme/non tw|~ gennh&santi kai\ [ii] 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\ [iii] 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.


Jennifer Whiting said...

Whether or not it is "wise to charge a distinguished scholar such as W.D. Ross with an error" -- or whether doing so sets a "bad example" for students or whatever -- I think that careful readers with a modicum of sympathy will see that it was not Ross, but rather Irwin and Rowe who were charged with the error in "recent" translations, because they "replace" Ross's 'race' with 'species'. But I fear from the previous episodes of Dissoi concerning my reading of the antecedent of 'such things' (where I was in fact criticizing Ross) that Pakaluk does not feel much constrained to find antecedents of demonstratives such as 'this' in what immediately precedes their occurrence -- not even when the sense of an argument supports the natural presumption in favor of doing so. Since I don't want to set a bad example by accusing anyone of making a mistake, I'd like simply to invite readers to examine for themselves the argument offered there (i.e., just to make myself perfectly clear, in my discussion of the antecent of 'such things') and to assess its plausiblity in the context of my overall argument for a distinction between the defining features of philia and the features that should (but do not always) belong to all cases of philia. And I'd like to thank Dissoi Blogoi for giving me the opportunity to extend this invitation.

Michael Pakaluk said...


I did not think that Ross, translating in 1908, meant by 'race' anything different from 'shared genetic stock', which, when applied to human beings, would mean 'the human race', i.e. the species.


Anonymous said...

But Jennifer's point (in her comment) was that "it was not Ross, but rather Irwin and Rowe who were charged with the error in "recent" translations, because they "replace" Ross's 'race' with 'species'."

Suppose it were a fact that by "race" Ross meant "species" (I don't know if it is). Even so, that wouldn't vindicate the remark that Jennifer charged him (Ross) with an error in translation. 

Posted by Anonymous

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear Anonymous,

There can be errors in translation, and (I would guess) we all make them. Certainly I do. What I was objecting to is calling a difference in judgment an error. If only Irwin and Rowe are the object and not Ross, it doesn't much matter.

The problem is: if you call it an error, then you don't have to give reasons. You can simply say, e.g. that the others have 'missed the point' and leave it at that.

On the very small point: If Whiting meant to say that only Irwin and Rowe, not Ross, had committed an 'error', then she did not express this well. If you look again at the passage, you will see that she says that there is "a common error in recent translations"; she refers to Ross as "Ross (1980)" (that's still recent, isn't it?); and she says that the right sense of the translated term is something like "clannish", which neither Ross, Irwin, nor Rowe have. Add to this that replacing 'race' with 'species' is probably just updating the language. I took her to be criticizing all three scholars equally (and, frankly, in my post mentioned Ross only to stand for the whole).


Anonymous said...

On the very small point, yes, I see now how she could be read that way, as criticizing Ross too along with the others. 

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Michael -

I cannot speak to the substance of your criticisms, but I hope you're aware of the sophomoric tone of your style of argumentation.

I wonder, is it likely to try to trash a distinguished scholar like Jennifer Whiting in an online forum? Isn't it likely to provide a poor example to students?

Posted by Anonymous

Michael Pakaluk said...

Latest anonymous,

I agree with you, that I did go over the top with that one line. I hereby retract it, and I would delete it, except that it's been referred to already several times, and it might seem cowardly or unfair to do so, as if pretending I didn't write it ever.

Your criticism of me on that one point is just.

But I'll stand by the rest of what I wrote, the 'substance of the criticisms', which you do not address.


Liz said...

the texts that have led some scholars recently to argue that the Stoic theory of oikeiosis has its roots in Aristotle 

Interesting - entirely for my own amusement, which scholars are they? 

Posted by Liz

Michael Pakaluk said...

Liz, FYA,

Take a look at Keimpe Algra's article in OSAP XVII, Summer 2004.


Posted by Michael Pakaluk