31 December 2007

Washington Area Symposium in Ancient Philosophy

Some details are still to be determined, but the shape of the program is sufficiently set so that I can announce the spring meetings of the newly-formed, and quite informal, Washington Area Symposium in Ancient Philosophy for Spring 2008, organized by Pierre Destrée and myself.


February 8
Athanasios Samaras (George Washington University)
"The Household in Plato's Laws"
at the Catholic University of America, 2 pm, Leahy 100

February 29
Richard Bett (Johns Hopkins University)
"How Ethical can an Ancient Sceptic Be?"
at the Center for Hellenic Studies, 2 pm

April 18
Michael Pakaluk (The Catholic University of America)
"Necessitated Actions and Double Effect in NE III.1"
at the University of Maryland, 2 pm

April 25
Rachel Singpurwalla (Fellow, Center for Hellenic Studies)
“Truth and Freedom in Plato's Republic
at the Catholic University of America
Philosophy Library, Aquinas Hall, 2 pm

May 2
Pierre Destrée (University of Maryland)
"Catharsis in Aristotle’s Poetics"
at the Johns Hopkins University
Gilman 348, 4 pm

28 December 2007

Convention Going, Sat. Dec 29

Readers of Dissoi Blogoi are invited to stop in tomorrow at the Eastern Division APA in Baltimore and say hello (Grand Ballroom, Salon IV, Third Floor) for my session on "Ethical Ends", although I couldn't blame you if you preferred to attend the concurrent session on Aristotle:

VI-D. Colloquium: Aristotle
2:45-5:45 p.m.
Chair: Robin Smith (Texas A&M University)
2:45-3:45 p.m.
Speaker: John Bowin (University of California–Santa Cruz)
“Aristotle on the Order and Direction of Time”
Commentator: Denis Corish (Bowdoin College)
3:45-4:45 p.m.
Speaker: Julie Ponesse (University of Western Ontario)
“Aristotle on Luck and Chance”
Commentator: James Allen (University of Pittsburgh)
4:45-5:45 p.m.
Speaker: Errol Katayama (Ohio Northern University)
“Soul and Natural Sublunary Elemental Motion in Aristotle”
Commentator: Mary Louise Gill (Brown University)

VI-E. Colloquium: Ethical Ends
2:45-5:45 p.m.
Chair: Hilary Bok (Johns Hopkins University)
2:45-3:45 p.m.
Speaker: Danielle Bromwich (University of Toronto)
“A Dilemma for Korsgaard: The Internalism Requirement or the Universal Normativity of Moral Reasons?”
Commentator: Josh Gert (Florida State University)
3:45-4:45 p.m.
Speaker: Thornton Lockwood (Boston University)
“Aquinas on Judging Injustice: Justice in Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics”
Commentator: Michael Pakaluk (Clark University)
4:45-5:45 p.m.
Speaker: Jonathan Garthoff (Northwestern University)
“Structuring Ends”
Commentator: Mane Hajdin (Santa Clara University)

20 December 2007

What counts as a 'dialogue' today


Someone who can teach ancient philosophy like this physics professor at MIT, whose lectures have sometimes been the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes. (Wouldn't Plato have done something like that?)

But a fair warning: he takes 25 hours to prepare each lecture.

16 December 2007

The Philosophers of the White Rose

I posed the question in my last post: Who is the only philosopher quoted in the six leaflets of the White Rose? (Well, there are perhaps two philosophers -- it all depend how one counts.)

The leaflets are extraordinary. I had known about them for a long time, but only recently, through the book I mentioned, did I become aware that they are extant. Consider for instance the following passage from the second leaflet:

The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this 'government' which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty.
Sophie Scholl was a dual major in biology and philosophy. The professor who assisted the students, as I said, was Kurt Huber, a philosophy professor, who was executed himself by guillotine on July 13, 1943. He continued to work on a book on Leibniz when in prison awaiting trial and execution. Huber wrote the sixth and final leaflet; he definitely counts as a philosopher of the White Rose.
But the only philosopher quoted in the pamphlets of the White Rose?

Lao-Tzu is also quoted.

So let us say that the only Western philosopher to be quoted is .... Aristotle. And here is the passage, from the third leaflet, taken from the Politics:
... and, further, it is part [of the nature of tyranny] to strive to see to it that nothing is kept hidden of that which any subject says or does, but that everywhere he will be spied upon, ... and further, to set man against man and friend against friend, and the common people against the privileged and the wealthy. Also it is part of these tyrannical measures, to keep the subjects poor, in order to pay the guards and soldiers, and so that they will be occupied with earning their livelihood and will have neither leisure nor opportunity to engage in conspiratorial acts ... Further, [to levy] such taxes on income as were imposed in Syracuse, for under Dionysius the citizens gladly paid out their whole fortunes in taxes within five years. Also, the tyrant is inclined constantly to foment wars.

14 December 2007

The White Rose

You may recall that C.R. Dodds in the introduction to his 1959 Clarendon Plato volume on the Gorgias, remarks that his experiences in the fight against Nazism in the Second World War convinced him of the timeliness and relevance of Plato's thought in that dialogue.

Recently I found striking confirmation that Dodds was correct, in my studies of the group, Die Wiesse Rose, "The White Rose". The White Rose, as you may know, consisted of students at the University of Munich, all in their early 20s, aided by a philosophy professor and specialist in Leibniz' theodicy, named Kurt Huber, who courageously wrote and distributed flyers in opposition to Nazism in 1942 and 1943.

The leaders of the White Rose were caught and arrested on February 18, 1943, and then were interrogated, hastily tried, and executed by guillotine four days later. These 'final days' are well captured in a 2005 film about one of these executed students, Sophie Scholl: Die letzen Tage ("The Final Days of Sophie Scholl").

After seeing the film and wanting to learn more, I came upon the book, The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943, which contains primary source documents, such as the actual flyers of the group, and a brief memoir by Inge Scholl, a surviving sister of Sophie.

In her memoir, Inge describes how her brother Hans (who was the original instigator and main leader of the group) formulated his idea of resisting through reflecting on Greek philosophy. Here is that passage which provides some confirmation of Dodds: "Hans was aware that beauty, esthetic pleasure in existence, and his passive growth to manhood were no longer enough, that these could no longer insulate him from the dangers of the times. He felt that there was at bottom an acute emptiness and that there were no answers to his difficult, profound, and disquieting questions; not in Rilke and not in Stefan George, not in Nietzsche nor in Hölderin. But he was sure that his honest search would lead him along the right path. Finally, by strange detours, he made the acquaintance of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Socrates..."
And this was the beginning of his turn of thought.

As for the flyers of the White Rose, they make interesting reading. But only one philosopher is mentioned and quoted at length in one of them. Can you guess who?

I'll give you some help. It is neither Marx, nor Heidegger, nor Nietzsche, nor Carnap.

Sophie Scholl

12 December 2007

A Cause of Hope?

It is striking that the most influential instance of philosophizing today, or what is likely to be such, strongly promotes the study of Greek philosophy. This is good news, I think, for the field of ancient philosophy.

To give a baseline for a comparison: John Rawls' Theory of Justice is one of the most influential and widely-read philosophical texts in our time, with 300,000 copies sold since 1971. (Some more recent works may have a chance of being more popular, such as The Simpsons and Philosophy, 200,000 copies sold since 2001, or On Bullshit, 150,000 copies since 2005, yet these have a frivolous aspect and are unlikely to be deeply taken to heart by readers.)

However, in contrast, within 10 days after its release, already 1 million copies have been printed and distributed of Spe Salvi, the most recent encyclical of Pope Benedict, and doubtless tens of millions more copies have been either downloaded or read online. To compare: Theory of Justice's impressive numbers work out to 22 copies per day, or 220 for a similar ten-day period.

Spe Salvi
is pastoral and primarily theological, to be sure. Yet its tone and manner of presentation are philosophical in a broad sense. Indeed, it will surely serve for millions of readers as an example of how to be appropriately thoughtful about matters that are 'philosophical'.

What I wish to emphasize here is that readers who do regard it as an example will draw from it the lesson that classical philosophy and culture, especially ancient Greek philosophy and culture, provide the framework within which a thoughtful person should begin an investigation of deep questions of human life -- since this is the outlook that is presupposed in the encyclical.

To give only a few examples:

Benedict opens by citing a Latin inscription which captures, he thinks, the outlook with which he contrasts 'hope': In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus ("How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing"). The footnote, the very first of the encyclical, refers to Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI, no. 26003 -- and you can bet that thousands of readers (at least) will wish that they were in a position to consult and understand that source.

He then begins a discussion of a sentence in the Letter to the Hebrews and leaves the crucial Greek term untranslated:

In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”.
This then leads to a discussion of how hypostasis should be translated, in which a comparison is drawn between hypostasis and hyparchonta (both left in transliterated Greek): "In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis and hyparchonta—and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms,..." etc. --Once again, there will very many readers who will say to themselves that it would be good if they could understand the significance of these words on their own.

The encyclical continues with other comments on Greek words ("The word hypostole, on the other hand, means shrinking back through lack of courage to speak openly and frankly a truth that may be dangerous. Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to “destruction” (Heb 10:39)"); an endorsement of the early Christian representation of Christ as a philosopher; and even, near the end of the encyclical, a lengthy quotation from Plato's Gorgias:
Here I would like to quote a passage from Plato which expresses a premonition of just judgement that in many respects remains true and salutary for Christians too. Albeit using mythological images, he expresses the truth with an unambiguous clarity, saying that in the end souls will stand naked before the judge. It no longer matters what they once were in history, but only what they are in truth: “Often, when it is the king or some other monarch or potentate that he (the judge) has to deal with, he finds that there is no soundness in the soul whatever; he finds it scourged and scarred by the various acts of perjury and wrong-doing ...; it is twisted and warped by lies and vanity, and nothing is straight because truth has had no part in its development. Power, luxury, pride, and debauchery have left it so full of disproportion and ugliness that when he has inspected it (he) sends it straight to prison, where on its arrival it will undergo the appropriate punishment ... Sometimes, though, the eye of the judge lights on a different soul which has lived in purity and truth ... then he is struck with admiration and sends him to the isles of the blessed”
Again, you can bet that thousands or even millions of readers will conclude from this that they should become acquainted with the Gorgias and other Platonic dialogues.

The encyclical even makes use J. L. Austin's notion of a "performative utterance" -- which we might claim for ancient philosophy also, on the grounds that Austin was trained as a classicist.

Take from this what you will. The observation I principally wish to make here is that, simply viewing the publication of this encyclical, as it were, sociologically, one should expect that it will have a widespread and long-lasting, positive influence in promoting the study of what you and I hold dear.

(Look: Do we think that the classics and ancient philosophy have as central a role in university education as they should have? But why do we suppose that things will remain that way perpetually, or get worse? This is exactly my point -- many readers of Spe Salvi, perhaps especially those who with a technical or scientific training, will implicitly draw a contrast and think that Pope Benedict is better educated -- in important respects-- than they.)

10 December 2007

Eu Prattein, John Ackrill

I promised some reflections on John Ackrill, and here are some chance, idiosyncratic thoughts.

Nearly everything I've ended up deeply committed to, I disliked upon a first encounter. This was true for me as regards Acrkill's Clarendon Aristotle commentary, on the Categories and De Int. My first study was when teaching it as a grad student in a tutorial at Harvard. I think I positively despised it at first, because it neglected almost entirely ancient and medieval commentaries, and it seemed that to me, as a direct result of this, Ackrill's commentary failed to go as deeply as it should. It seemed to adopt a false posture, as if the topics weren't already carefully and intelligently discussed many times, in a way that we needed to take into account. Too much of the spirit of Bertrand Russell, I thought. Yet gradually I came to acquire a different view -- that Ackrill's commentary, for its elegance and economy, and no lack of perceptiveness, may certainly stand on its own, and that others can take up the task of synthesis if they wish. (Certainly it met his own demand, brilliantly so: "If you are translating Greek into English, you must give something which reads on its own as English.")

Eventually Ackrill came to represent for me another tradition, less ancient but not less weighty-- the great Oxford tradition of Aristotelian scholarship of W.D. Ross and before him Cook Wilson, Bywater, and many others. I actually do not know, even now, whether Ackrill regarded himself as a transmitter of any sort of tradition along those lines. It probably does not matter-- inevitably he would do so, as that was the culture in which he studied and taught.

I therefore expected when I met him that he would be someone with a corresponding appearance -- tweed jacket and pipe, spectacles, a kind of amalgam of images in my mind of Gwil Owen and those scholars I mentioned. (But not Cook Wilson's beard!) In fact, when Lindsay Judson first introduced me to him, in an Oxford pub (which, I cannot now remember), he was wearing white tennis shoes, a pastel-colored sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. Oh, so that's the kind of intellectual he is, I thought, and immediately I re-categorized him, as falling in the class of 'boyish, youthful, and childlike' intellect, which I think proved to be correct.

It's an important point that all of us should appreciate, that many students look for greatness and not merely cleverness in a teacher. I had imagined that Ackrill was great in one way; my re-classifying him was the product of an imagination wishing to find him great in another way. And in my dealings with him he did not disappoint. This showed itself in details, which I could easily document, as I have a dozen audio tapes of his comments on Nic Eth VIII and IX -- he suffered from poor eyesight, from cataracts I think, and would prefer to dictate rather than write. I also have a typewritten letter from the same period, a humorous production, Ackrill's first foray into electronic machines, I gather, which for fun I reproduce below. ("And he's your editor?", a friend remarked in jest when I showed it to him.)

Ackrill once introduced me to a former student, who had risen in the academy to the rank of dean. I asked him what Ackrill was like as a teacher. "He was a tremendous teacher, incredibly alive intellectually and curious -- so you became like that also. You were thinking along with him. John was never really happy, I think, after he was promoted to professor. That wasn't what he liked. It took him away from philosophy as he thought one needed to do it."

I saw Ackrill for the last time in his house in 1997. We were deciding some production details of my own Clarendon Aristotle volume, in the series of which he of course was the General Editor along with Lindsay Judson. Almost his last words to me were, "I am very grateful to have gotten to know . . . " -- I thought he would say "you", but rather he said, speaking slowly, ". . . your mind." And in my (ever active) imagination I thought of the story that Plato used to call Aristotle "Nous", and I was pleased that there might be even the remotest analogy. Who knows if that was a standard Ackrillism; I regarded it as one of the most flattering things ever said to me. We exchanged pleasantries after that and then said goodbye.

07 December 2007

"should we not be silent about the need to be silent?"

In case you missed Dale Jacquette's marvelous review today in NDPR of a Festschrift for Cora Diamond, I offer these nuggets. They have little to do with ancient philosophy, but they're wonderful in any case, as the review is a minor masterpiece of effective philosophical rhetoric.

On the apparent self-undermining of 'resolute' readings of the Tractatus:

Pros and cons of resolute or non-chickening-out readings of the Tractatus notwithstanding, I am troubled by the fact that in 6.54 Wittgenstein does not merely say that his propositions up to 6.54 are literally nonsensical, but that his propositions (period, full stop) are such. To my way of thinking, this does not merely suggest but fully implies that it is literally nonsensical for Wittgenstein also to have written that his propositions are literally nonsensical. It is hard for me accordingly to understand how anyone could intelligibly adopt a resolute reading of 6.54. For the passage also pulls the rug out from under itself as equally unsinnig as the rest of the text. A resolute, non-chickening-out reading of 6.54 would have us be firm in treating the Tractatus as totally and thoroughly inexpressible, even non-showable, nonsense, on the basis of a Scheinsatz, a pseudo-proposition that Wittgenstein himself declares is nonsensical. Must not a resolutist, then, trying to be resolute in particular about the implications of passage 6.54, choose which propositions in the text not to chicken out about, while chickening out on the literal meaninglessness of the one key sentence that is supposed to justify their resoluteness? These are mysteries that the resolutists, at least in the present venue, do not venture to resolve.
On the apparent practical inconsistency of such interpreters:
I am amazed, finally, to discover that resolutists who want to be faithful to Wittgenstein's conclusions in Tractatus 6.54 and, especially, 7, seem to have spilled more ink in commentary, polemics, and in-fighting than all of what they consider to be the naïve irresolute writing on Wittgenstein's early philosophy put together and squared. It appears that in order to be resolute, to avoid chickening out in the effort to be consistently loyal to Wittgenstein's insight that 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent', a philosophical commentator must be inexhaustibly prolix. To understand Wittgenstein, one cannot practice what one preaches; the resolute interpreter of Wittgenstein cannot be a consistent committed Wittgensteinian by his or her own lights, but must enter the fray as an outsider, a non- or even anti-Wittgensteinian. If we are convinced that Wittgenstein advocates silence instead of meaningless prattle about philosophical problems, should we not be silent about the need to be silent? Is that not what Wittgenstein did when he abandoned philosophy for primary school teaching in the Alps? Should we not in all consistency then at least acknowledge that loyal Wittgensteinians trying to think and talk resolutely about Wittgenstein's counseling philosophers to be silent are equally engaging in pseudo-propositional nonsense?
On the relevance of the essays in the Festschrift to the understanding of Cora Diamond's work:
Originally written for another occasion, as the final endnote (n. 1, 351) reveals, a conference on literature and ethics at the University of Helsinki, _____'s essay typifies the inclusion of essays in the volume that have virtually nothing to say about Diamond. ______ writes, after a five page foray into a blow-by-blow narration of a novel she curiously enough characterizes as a work in which nothing happens, at the conclusion of her section I:

Thinking about Der Stechlin seems to me a good way to honor Cora Diamond. So often, like Fontane, she asked us all to question assumptions about structure, "plot," and sequence that hobble philosophy as surely as they hobble the novel, asking ourselves what revolutions in style and structure, as well as content, a due attention to life's complexities might require of us. Perhaps, too, Fontane's praise of conversation is an appropriate way of indicating how deeply I value our years of conversation about these and other topics. (331)

A tenuous connection, to say the least. Thereafter, Diamond's name does not appear even once again in the essay. If a classical analogy for this sort of paste-in tribute is appropriate, I am reminded of nothing so much as the statues of a later decadent antiquity, frugally made in two parts -- a full-length body in flowing tunic with an open socket at the neck to be completed by cementing-in any choice of interchangeable sculpted heads. One easily imagines hauling out the same philosophical paper and tacking on a different homage for an entirely different Festschrift, acknowledging the work of any almost any other philosopher, or, potentially, in this case, comparative literary critic.

06 December 2007

The Aristotelian Origins of Stoic Determinism--Today

What promises to be a fascinating lecture...

The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy

Priscilla Sakezles
University of Akron

"The Aristotelian Origins of Stoic Determinism"
commentary by
Joel Martinez
Lewis and Clark College

7:30 pm
Grace Conference Room
Higgins University Center

The lecture will be preceded by a seminar
"Agency in Ancient Greek Thought"
4-6 pm
Seminar Room
Beck Philosophy House
Clark University

05 December 2007

τὰ πολύχροα τῶν ζῴων

For many observers it puts mimesis in an entirely new light.

An archer from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina, 480-490 BC.

"The aesthetic ideal of the Greeks was mimesis: the imitation of life. And it was color that brought their statues to life." Thus Vinzenz Brinkmann, an archaeologist of the Liebieghaus museum in Frankfurt, who has assembled the show, Gods in Color, on display until January 20th at the Sackler Museum of Harvard University.

"Peplos" Kore, Two Reconstructions

According to the Sackler Museum's press release, the reconstructions, achieved with pigments matching that of the originals, were arrived at by the scientific study of the surfaces of the statues together with an analysis of the slight remains of pigments:
Research for Gods in Color included technical examination of the scarce traces of paint that remain on a number of ancient works of sculpture. Raking light--extreme side light--can reveal incised details as well as subtle patters caused by the uneven weathering of different paints on the stone surface. Similarly, ultraviolet light brings out slight surface differences--often all that has survived of the painted decoration. Analysis of pigment remains by various techniques, including polarized light microscopy, X-ray flourescence and defraction analysis, and infrared spectroscopy, provides information on the materials and colors used. The reconstructions were painted with authentic pigments by the archaeologist Dr. Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, with the help of Sylvia Kellner.
A philosopher might wish to see the exhibit in order to appreciate better such comments as Republic 420c:
Suppose that we were painting a statue, and some one came up to us and said, Why do you not put the most beautiful colours on the most beautiful parts of the body — the eyes ought to be purple, but you have made them black — to him we might fairly answer, Sir, you would not surely have us beautify the eyes to such a degree that they are no longer eyes; consider rather whether, by giving this and the other features their due proportion, we make the whole beautiful. And so I say to you, do not compel us to assign to the guardians a sort of happiness which will make them anything but guardians; for we too can clothe our husbandmen in royal apparel, and set crowns of gold on their heads, and bid them till the ground as much as they like, and no more.

04 December 2007

It Seems We Simply Can't Avoid Speaking Nonsense

"The late and superficial conversion of the Baltic lands to Christianity, after the fourteenth century, coupled with the fact that persecution drove pagan faiths temporarily underground instead of eliminating them altogether, allowed the ancient nature-worship to prevail in forms inoffensive to the clergy, as in the guise of outdoor walks. Thus people used to attend Sunday service — before heading out for their Sonntagsspaziergang."

"Typical penalties, next to physical punishment, were what would be called “guilt trips” today. In contrast to Catholicism (where sins are forgiven in confession), Protestant salvation depends on grace. The faithful cannot rely on a ritual for exoneration; non-Catholic Christians steadily collect sins. "

"We can conjecture that Kant, studying the Principia, would occasionally step outside and look up. He was reading about celestial mechanics — and then he would see it. Stargazing put the work in context. Kant's subsequent publications reveal his exuberance about the stars and the laws they display; just as they reveal his grasp of the planetary dance and his recognition of Newton's achievement. There was definitely no better place than the countryside to learn this."

"For creatures, the cosmic phoenix is a problem. Humans are just feathers on its wings. Humans grow only to burn to ashes; they are not exempt from the cosmic law (1:318.17-18). As the pulsing cosmic vector governs everything, beats emerge on all orders of magnitude, from the Bangs of the phoenix to the flares of life to the jiggles of the elements."
Sunday walks in Prussia as nature worship? Protestants accumulating sins without relief? The cosmic phoenix banging to the jiggles of the elements?

One never knows what strange things one will find on the internet. But would you have believed that these bizarre passages are excerpted from the distinguished Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? (You can find them here if you really must check.)

Who is editing that??

03 December 2007

John Ackrill, R.I.P.

As I said goodbye today to a visiting scholar from Japan whom I had met for lunch, I lingered near the door and stood looking for a while at a picture which I have placed on the shelf in a large bookcase. The picture, which sits in one of those plexiglass boxes --I never took the time to get a proper frame--is of my first wife, Ruth, and John Ackrill, taken at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1997.

I don't know why I lingered, looking. The picture is there in my bookcase, always, and I hardly ever pay any attention to it. I think may have reproached myself for not looking at it more often. I did wonder if it was visible enough.

My friends know that Ruth died a year later of breast cancer. The picture was taken during a brief visit to England, for her to visit an old friend in Bury St. Edmunds.

I looked at John's image and wondered how he was doing. We hadn't been in touch for a long time. How was he?

Life I find is filled with little coincidences that seem to point to a larger meaning. Later that day a friend wrote to tell me that John Ackrill had died on November 30th, the Friday before.

I couldn't be sad, since his life was a rich and full one, and he was quite old. But words I had read earlier in the day echoed in my mind:

"In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death;
yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven.
We cannot stop reaching out for it,
and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for."

I promise tomorrow or the day after -- reflections and recollections.

Ruth V.K. Pakaluk and John Ackrill
Christ Church, Oxford
March 1997
Posted by Picasa

29 November 2007

Essential and Vital

Reviews by David Konstan, Christopher Rowe, Margaret Atkins, Catherine Osborne, Richard King, Robert Wardy, James Warren, Andrea Falcon, James Wilberding, Harold Tarrant, John Dillon, Andre Laks, Daniel Graham, C.C.W. Taylor, Luca Castagnoli, and others -- all in the latest issue of Classical Review, "an essential reference tool, vital for keeping up to date with current classical scholarship", edited by Roy Gibson and Neil Hopkinson.

For me, alas, a bitter poena damni for not having made this issue's deadline.

28 November 2007

The Difficulty of What We Are Doing

From the very conclusion of Debra Nails' recent review. We all aspire to this -- don't we?-- but is it true that only two or three succeed?

Ionescu advocates a "holistic approach" to the Meno, combining "examination of dramatic details and logical analysis of arguments" (xiii), but the two desiderata are effectively segregated, and the logical analysis subdued (cf. 141-42, 147-50). Her advocacy does not mention any history of division among approaches to Plato (so, e.g., Ronna Burger and Gail Fine, the two times that they appear, appear together). Rare, however, is the philosopher who can wield both methods without summoning one just when difficulties are becoming unmanageable with the other. Rarer still is the philosopher who has both acute literary insight and razor-sharp analytic skill. I count two or three, and I am not one of them. The two approaches are extraordinarily difficult for any one person to achieve effectively, especially in a single study, and we cannot all be experts at everything. To say that Ionescu, on her first try, does not successfully combine the two approaches she admires, is not damning criticism. Of Lexington Books, however, I shall be twice shy.

27 November 2007

Kamtekar and Nussbaum at Brown

For today, another notice:

The Departments of Philosophy and Classics
Brown University and

The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


Rachana Kamtekar
University of Arizona

Commentator: Martha Nussbaum
University of Chicago

“The Powers of Plato’s Tripartite Psychology”

November 29, 2007
7:30 PM

“Cognitive and Conative Powers in the Timaeus”
Friday, November 30, 1:00-3:00 pm

Both events will be held in Gerard House, Room 119, Philosophy Department
54 College Street

For more information, please contact Mary Louise Gill, mlgill@brown.edu

26 November 2007

Memory and Desire, Stirring

April need not be the cruellest month, it seems.

The posting of this notice, forwarded by SAGP, looks to be a good way to resume blogging, as I am aware that there are many graduate student readers of this blog:


April 12-13, 2008
Princeton University
Submission Deadline: January 15, 2008

Graduate students are invited to submit papers of high quality in any
area of ancient philosophy. Papers should be 4000-4500 words or
45 minutes maximum reading time. Submissions need not include
abstracts. Please do not include any identifying information in the
paper; instead, enclose a separate document providing your name, paper
title, department, institution, and contact information.

Please e-mail submissions to Corinne Gartner: cgartner@princeton.edu

14 November 2007

Daniel Russell, BACAP at Holy Cross, Thursday Nov 15

B. A. C. A. P.
The Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


“Is Virtue Sufficient for Eudaimonia?
By Prof. Daniel Russell
(Witchita State University)


Prof. Tim Roche
(University of Memphis)

Dinand Library Faculty Room, College of the Holy Cross
Thursday, 15 November 2007 at 7:30 p.m.

Prof. Russell’s public lecture will be preceded by a seminar on
Ancient Eudaimonism
Smith 201, College of the Holy Cross
4:00-6:00 p.m.

13 November 2007

Seven Masterpieces in Philosophy

A letter in my box today from Longman announces a new collection edited by Steven Cahn, Seven Masterpieces in Philosophy:

This brief, affordable text presents the seven major works central to any
introductory philosophy course in one convenient volume. Presenting the
most respected and frequently used translations in their entirety, the works are
accompanied by insightful and accessible introductions and annotations written
by noted author and scholar, Steven Cahn.

My suspicion that no collection could live up to the definite articles ("the seven major works", "the most respected and frequently used translations") was confirmed when I saw the actual TOC. But then this raises the question: Which seven would you choose?
  1. Plato, Meno (translated by R.E. Allen)
  2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Bks. I, II) (translated by Martin Ostwald)
  3. Descartes, Meditations (translated by John Cottingham)
  4. Berkeley, Three Dialogues
  5. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  6. Kant, Fundamental Principles (translated by Lewis White Beck)
  7. Mill, Utilitarianism

12 November 2007

Knowledge and Universals in Plato and Aristotle

Here's another excellent conference which one might learn about on the Ancient Philosophy Calendar:

Knowledge and Universals in Plato and Aristotle
a one-day symposium at the
University of Groningen, Netherlands
12 December 2007

For more information, please see the link here.

09 November 2007

An Energetic Group

At Yale University, next week:

"Aristotle on Simultaneously Perceiving More Things than One"
Hendrik Lorenz (Princeton University)
Monday, November 12, 5:45 p.m.
Connecticut Hall, Rm. 104

Food and drinks will be served.

This talk was advertised as part of the "Yale Working Group in Ancient Philosophy", which (perhaps because I was in a slightly peevish mood) got me to thinking ...

... does this mean that "things are working over there" (that is, the group, as opposed to its being dysfunctional); or that the group is admirably hard at work (and they want to let us know); or that they are doing "intellectual work" (instead of enjoying leisure?) and really getting around to something constructive; or that they're working, at least, and maybe some other groups aren't; or that there are lots of working groups over there at Yale, and this is the one in ancient philosophy (in case you were confused); or that the group is sometimes at rest, but when it's sponsoring talks, then it's working?

Dunno -- couldn't figure it out. Not that it isn't an excellent enterprise; but this time the label puzzled me.

07 November 2007

Keeling Colloquium 2007

I don't wish to make the Ancient Philosophy Calendar redundant, only advertise it (see sidebar). Here's another great event posted on it, which begins today. (But isn't 'particular virtues' an homonymy? One might just as well discuss particular theories of generality.)

Seventh Keeling Colloquium: Particulars in Greek Philosophy
Wednesday 7th – Friday 9th November 2007


Wednesday 7th November

Robert Wardy (Cambridge)
Moral vision and legislating for the good in Aristotle
Respondent: Peter Adamson (KCL)

Carlo Natali (Venice)
Particular virtues in the NE of Aristotle
Respondent: Terry Irwin (Oxford)

Thursday 8th November

Morning paper cancelled

Verity Harte (Yale)
What’s a particular, and what makes it so? Some thoughts, mainly about
Respondent: Peter Adamson (KCL)

Friday 9th November

Christopher Gill (Exeter)
Particulars, selves and individuals in Stoic philosophy
Respondent: Angie Hobbs (Warwick)

Marwan Rashed (Paris)
Particulars in Alexander of Aphrodisias
Respondent: Peter Adamson (KCL)

All meetings will be in the Wilkins Old Refectory (almost opposite the
Main Library entrance, in the centre of the cloisters).

There will be a reception after the paper on Wednesday afternoon in the
Wilkins Terrace Restaurant, and a conference dinner on Wednesday evening
(speakers and respondents as guests of the Colloquium; others are welcome
to attend at their own expense).

06 November 2007

Philosophical Meditations

An event I discovered on the Ancient Philosophy Calendar, but too late to buy a reasonable plane ticket! (Yes, such a conference is in my view so valuable that it would be worth traveling across the Atlantic to attend!)

Marcel van Ackeren (Köln), Martin Lenz (Berlin), John Marenbon (Cambridge)

When Descartes called his famous work the Meditationes, he was looking back to a long tradition of philosophical meditations, which historians of philosophy have rarely investigated. The object of this conference is to repair that neglect by examining meditation in ancient and medieval philosophy, up to the sixteenth century. It will take place on the afternoon of Friday 9 November and in the morning and early afternoon of Saturday 10 November, at Trinity College (exact venue to be determined). All are welcome. My e-mail address is jm258@cam.ac.uk .

Friday, 9 November

Welcome & Introduction

Georg Rechenhauer (Regensburg)

Meditative Aspekte im vorsokratischen Denken


Christopher Gill (Exeter)
Stoic Meditations before Marcus Aurelius

Marcel van Ackeren (Köln)
„Say to yourself“ – The written Meditations by Marcus Aurelius


Jörn Müller (Bonn)
Augustine’s Cogito: The Meditative Discovery of the Inner Man

Nadja Germann (Freiburg i. Br.)
Avicenna on Meditation

Conference dinner, G2 Nevile’s Court, Trinity College*

Saturday, 10 November

John Marenbon (Cambridge)
Anselm on Meditation


Lydia Wegener (Köln)
“In meditatione est labor cum fructu” – Richard of St Victor’s Concept of Meditation in His ‘Benjamin’-Treatises

Chris Martin (Auckland)
Self Knowledge and the Limits of Certainty: Some Late Thirteenth Century Thinkers on the Problem of the Mind’s Access to Itself

Lunch ( a sandwich lunch will be provided for all those attending)

Martin Stone (Leuven)
16th Century Jesuits

Martin Lenz (Berlin)
Informal comments on Meditation and Mental Language

Final Discussion

30 October 2007

Question for the Day

Here's a question about translation and meaning. Consider the following passage in bold from NE III.9 (I supply some context):

εἶναι, ἀλλὰ τοὺς ἧττον μὲν ἀνδρείους, ἄλλο δ' ἀγαθὸν μη
δὲν ἔχοντας· ἕτοιμοι γὰρ οὗτοι πρὸς τοὺς κινδύνους, καὶ τὸν
βίον πρὸς μικρὰ κέρδη καταλλάττονται.

Rowe renders:
But presumably it is perfectly possible that the most effective soldiers will not be people of this sort, but rather the sort who while being less courageous possess nothing else of value.
C.C.W. Taylor has:
Perhaps there is nothing to prevent the best soldiers being not people like that, but those who are less courageous, but have not other good in their lives.
What think thee of this? Do you find these renderings satisfactory? Also, as regards the meaning: what do you suppose is meant by ἄλλο δ' ἀγαθὸν μηδὲν ἔχοντας?

For handy comparison, here's Ross with the context:
And so, if the case of courage is similar, death and wounds will be painful to the brave man and against his will, but he will face them because it is noble to do so or because it is base not to do so. And the more he is possessed of virtue in its entirety and the happier he is, the more he will be pained at the thought of death; for life is best worth living for such a man, and he is knowingly losing the greatest goods, and this is painful. But he is none the less brave, and perhaps all the more so, because he chooses noble deeds of war at that cost. It is not the case, then, with all the virtues that the exercise of them is pleasant, except in so far as it reaches its end. But it is quite possible that the best soldiers may be not men of this sort but those who are less brave but have no other good; for these are ready to face danger, and they sell their life for trifling gains.
(Yes, I know I need to say something about De Int!)

25 October 2007

Can Anything Good Come Out of New Haven?

Yes, perhaps a renaissance in music, led by Jay Greenberg (a.k.a. "Blue Jay"), the prodigy whose violin concerto will be debuted by Joshua Bell this Sunday in Carnegie Hall.

If you want to hear something truly amazing, listen to Greenberg's 9/11 Overture, written five years ago, when the composer was 11 years old.

24 October 2007

"falsity and truth have to do with combination and separation"

For those who want to continue thinking with me about this, here's a passage from earlier in De Int which looks to be relevant for understanding the passage quoted below:

ἔστι δέ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ
[16a.10]οὔτε ἀληθές πω. σημεῖον δ' ἐστὶ τοῦδε· καὶ γὰρ τραγέλα-
εἶναι μὴ εἶναι προστεθῇ ἁπλῶς κατὰ χρόνον.
And Ackrill's translation:
Just as some thoughts in the soul are neither true nor false while some are necessarily one or the other, so also with spoken sounds. For falsity and truth have to do with combination and separation. Thus names and verbs by themselves--for instance 'man' or 'white' when nothing further is added--are like the thoughts that are without combination and separation; for so far they are neither true nor false. A sign of this is that even 'goat-stag' signifies something but not, as yet, anything true or false--unless 'is' or 'is not' is added (either simply or with reference to time).
A quibble: I might have put "while some necessarily are one or the other", to avoid the (slight) suggestion that Aristotle has in mind modal truth, rather than bivalence.

That passage seems relevant because:
(i) it shows how Aristotle uses τὸ εἶναι μὴ εἶναι as a stand-in to signify the occurrence of "is" or "is not" in an assertion;
(ii) it suggests that εἰ ἔστιν μή οὔπω σημαίνει (infra) is likely to mean "does not yet signify whether it is or is not truth"; and
(iii) it indicates that by προσσημαίνει δὲ σύνθεσίν τινα (infra) Aristotle likely means precisely that sort of combination that results in an assertion with a truth-value.
(Curiously, in a blog infra is supra!)

22 October 2007

Εφυγε ένας φίλος

August 11, 2007. For those who missed them, memorial notices may be found here, here, and here; and see posts in the Leiter Report.

19 October 2007

Parmenides: The Morning Star is the Evening Star

Today at 2 pm in Aquinas Hall, CUA:

Alexander P.D. Mourelatos
University of Texas at Austin
"Parmenides, Astronomy, and Scientific Realism"

Parmenides of Elea (early 5th century BC) composed a poem in two parts, "Truth," and Doxa, "Opinion." "Truth" offers an a priori deduction of the defining criteria of "what-is" or "the real," including such counter-intuitive criteria as "indivisible, unitary" and "immobile"—criteria no observable entity could possibly meet. Doxa is explicitly branded by Parmenides as a scheme that is "off-track," "deceptive," and "lacking genuine credence." Even though Doxa is considerably more fragmentary in our sources than "Truth," it is clear that Doxa comprised a full-fledged cosmology. Most surprisingly for a doctrine disparaged by its own author, it propounded breakthrough astronomical discoveries—notably, that the Morning Star and the Evening Star are the same celestial object, and that the moon gets its light from the sun; perhaps also that the cosmos and the earth are spherical.

Are there appropriate analogues in modern philosophy for this paradoxical juxtaposition of "Truth" with "deceptive Opinion"? Kant's doctrine of a duality of "things-in-themselves"(or "noumena") and "appearances" (or "phenomena") has been cited in this connection. A better model is found in a twentieth-century doctrine of scientific realism, which holds that ultimate reality is disclosed through the theoretical and postulational schemes progressively worked out by modern science. In accordance with this model, our familiar and empirically-grounded image of the world, conceptually sophisticated and scientific though it is (as was Parmenides' Doxa), is in principle replaceable by, or eliminable in favor of, postulational schemes which (like Parmenides' "Truth") defy familiar and ordinary intuitions.

"It does not yet signify whether it is or not"

Ethics gets a lot of attention on the pages of this blog. But here's a passage from De Int (16b19-25) that might be worth considering:

συγκειμένων οὐκ ἔστι νοῆσαι.
For now, John Ackrill's translation:
When uttered just by itself a verb is a name and signifies something--the speaker arrests his thought and the hearer pauses--but it does not yet signify whether it is or not. For not even [a note says: "Read οὐδὲ γὰρ"] 'to be' or 'not to be' is a sign of the actual thing (nor if you say simply 'that which is'); for by itself it is nothing, but it additionally signifies some combination, which cannot be thought of without the components.
I'll post some questions later. But let this sit and stew.

18 October 2007

David Charles, BACAP lecture, October 25

I was very pleased to have helped arrange this opening lecture for BACAP 2007-8:

David Charles

Oriel College, Oxford

Aristotle’s Psychological Theory

(Commentator: Victor Caston, University of Michigan)

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Rockefeller 2
Dartmouth College

Seminar Topic: “Aristotle on Desire and Action” (12 pm, Thornton 103)

For additional information, please contact Margaret Graver (Margaret.R.Graver@dartmouth.edu) or Christine Thomas (Christine.J.Thomas@dartmouth.edu)

17 October 2007

Wrapping Oneself in Glory

There are just five sentences in the passage I raised for consideration.

(1) τέλος δὲ πάσης ἐνεργείας ἐστὶ τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν.
A goal of each actualization of a state, is that which is in accordance with that state.

(2) καὶ τῷ ἀνδρείῳ δὲ ἀνδρεία καλόν.
But courage is something honorable (kalon) for a brave person as well.

Thus: a courageous man stands firm, and does those actions that are in accordance with courage, for the sake of the honor of it.
I agree with Rowe/Broadie, and commentators on this blog, that the passage explains why the definition of courage must mention the motive of the agent, and, specifically, that he aims to act so as to do something honorable (kalon). But why does Aristotle feel compelled to give such an explanation?

To simplify:
(5) merely states in greater detail that qualification which Aristotle had already included in his definition-- we may dismiss it then.
(4) is merely a reminder, aimed to justify the inclusion of this qualification.
(3) is meant to follow from (1) and (2).

So the real work of the passage is done by (1) and (2). But what are these comments directed at? I propose that they are aimed to correct for what Aristotle has already said.

Consider: He has so far explained courage as concerned in the first instance with military actions, but every time previously that he has mentioned military action in the Ethics, his view has been that its goal is victory. (Victory in fact is a star example of a goal in I.1.) Then, earlier in III.7, when discussing courageous action in particular, all that he says is that a courageous person stands firm given a reasonable assessment of and reaction to dangers: he fears those things that he should; to the degree that he should; when he should; and as reason indicates.

It would be understandable if someone concluded from all this that courage were simply reasonable behavior, and the modulation of the emotions, in the pursuit of military victory -- and that it had no role to play (for instance) when there was no hope of victory. In particular, from what Aristotle had said earlier, there would be no reason to think that a willingness to prefer death over retreat could ever be an expression of courage!

And yet preferring to die in some circumstances becomes for him an index of courage (see 1116b20, καὶ θάνατος τῆς τοιαύτης σωτηρίας αἱρετώτερος, 22, τὸν θάνατον μᾶλλον τοῦ αἰσχροῦ φοβούμενοι, and the suggestion at 1116a12-3, τὸ δ' ἀποθνήσκειν φεύγοντα πενίαν ἔρωτα τι λυπηρὸν οὐκ ἀνδρείου).

I suggest: the way Aristotle wishes to handle this is to build the intention, or willingness, to give up one's life (on behalf of one's friends and fatherland) into the description of what it is to be courageous. This is what talk of the kalon imports.

τέλος δὲ πάσης ἐνεργείας ἐστὶ τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν.
This is directed at the misunderstanding that the goal of a courageous action, when it is effective and victorious, is no more than the victory: Aristotle is insisting, rather, that the particular action needs to be interpreted in relation to the state; and (we are meant to think) in other circumstances someone with that state avoids acting shamefully and keeps to actions which are admirable--that is how the state governs the actions of (τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν) someone who has that state (cp. 1117b1, οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ δόξειεν ἂν εἶναι τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἀνδρείαν τέλος ἡδύ); thus the criterion there exhibited is also a goal of a courageous action that happens to be victorious.

καὶ τῷ ἀνδρείῳ δὲ ἀνδρεία καλόν.
This is directed at the misunderstanding that it's enough for a courageous agent to act reasonably as regards fearful objects and in his feelings of fear and boldness. We don't in fact praise and admire courageous actions simply (or even mainly) for their reasonability--though they must be like that. And those other grounds are available to the courageous agent as much as to us.

16 October 2007

Nobel Laureates in Philosophy

Occasionally the topic turns up among philosophers, especially at this time of year: Suppose there were a Nobel Prize in philosophy, who then might receive it?

And then in hushed tones someone might suggest Kripke, or perhaps Habermas, or just maybe Putnam.

What such a discussion fails to appreciate, is that now it is almost commonplace for two or three laureates to be selected in a field each year. Assume the horizon within which a philosopher might be living and therefore eligible is 40 years. That means there could be as many as 120 living "philosophy" laureates at any one time. Thus there would be no question at all that Kripke, Habermas, and Putnam would have received a prize. But prizes would surely be awarded, too, for a Gettier problem, the Chinese room, Mary's qualia, and speculations about the interior lives of flying rodents.

Which leads me at least to ask a question involving a comparison: Do the discoveries in economics (say) which garner the prize appear to have an equivalent 'weight' (or, more precisely, lack of weight) to experts in that field, as those contributions that would have won a prize in philosophy do to us (or to me, at least), and, if not, should they? (As in: "Mechanism theory has been very indirectly applied to match medical students to residencies. Wow! Amazing!") Or are those discoveries indeed weighty, and the absence of anything of comparable weight in philosophy is further proof that to model the philosophical 'vocation' (as one might call it) on the particular sciences is a mistake?

A Mighty, Twelve Inch Dinosaur?

I couldn't figure out why they had given a newly discovered dinosaur in the titanosaurian class the name, Fut-a-long-kosaurus, until I realized that I had mistakenly switched two letters, and that its name was actually:


I puzzled only briefly over possible Greek roots before I read on and discovered that the name is derived not from Greek but from Mapudungu, a dialect of the Patagonia region of Argentina.

And yet it turns out that the name in that dialect, despite the spelling. is indeed pronounced Foot-a-long-o-saurus!

15 October 2007

My Complaint, Sharpened

Here's a way to sharpen my complaint with how this passage from NE III.7 typically gets handled. Rowe/Broadie say:

"The aim of this passage is clear, although the detail is obscure. ... Aristotle is emphasizing that an action is correctly said to be done from courage only if it is, and is done as, an instance of the fine, rather than, say, because it is useful, or because one will be punished otherwise. This will be the main criterion that distinguishes actions of real courage from ones belonging to the five false types (see below). In four of these the fine is absent, and in one (the first) it is present imperfectly."
All that this commentary says (in three different ways), is that Aristotle wishes to include some reference to the kalon in his definition of courage.


He had already done so! -- Yes, look again at 1115b11-13, a few lines earlier:
φοβήσεται μὲν οὖν καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα, ὡς δεῖ δὲ καὶ ὡς λόγος ὑπομενεῖ τοῦ καλοῦ ἕνεκα· τοῦτο γὰρ τέλος τῆς ἀρετῆς.

"So he will be afraid of those things too, but he will withstand them in the way one should, and following the correct prescription, for the sake of achieving what is fine; for this is what excellence aims at." (Rowe/Broadie).
Thus the point has already been made, and--one would think--sufficiently emphasized. So, then, what is this later passage meant to do? Why does Aristotle revisit the point? Presumably he is now giving an argument for including the kalon in the definition of courage (recall its conclusion: καλοῦ δὴ ἕνεκα ἀνδρεῖος ὑπομένει καὶ πράττει τὰ κατὰ τὴν ἀνδρείαν). The interpreter's task, I should think, is to explain why Aristotle thought he needed to argue for this, and what that argument is -- which the Rowe/Broadie commentary, for all its ample merits and astuteness elsewhere, does not provide.