31 March 2007

A Fallacy Noted, and Put Aside

Senn's first argument for his thesis is a fallacy; but the second needs to be taken more seriously.

Here's the first:

There are certainly a number of passages in the Apology in which the good condition of soul is characterized as the greatest good. Consider Socrates' habitual exhortation to everyone 'to attend to neither bodies nor money before--or as vehemently as--[you attend to] the soul in order that it will be best' (30A-B; cf. 29D9-E2, 36C, 39D). He also uses the word 'virtue' to describe that which he exhorts everyone to attend to (31B, 41E; cf. 29E5, 30B3). Socrates' final exhortation in the Apology (41E) makes it clear that he thinks there is nothing that one must attend to before attending to virtue.
But of course this is a fallacy, because from 'virtue is a greater good than external goods and the good of the body' it does not follow that 'no good is greater than virtue.' (And that conclusion even more clearly does not follow from 'attend to no good before virtue'!)

Senn seems not to recognize the fallacy. His next sentence is: "None of this, however, proves that for Socrates virtue is the sole ultimate end", which might suggest that Senn does see the fallacy. But, if he had seen the fallacy, why would he have written, "There are certainly a number of passages in the Apology in which the good condition of soul is characterized as the greatest good"? Also, the fallacy consists in concluding that virtue is an ultimate end, not that it is the sole ultimate end. (Is this a place where Senn gets into trouble from conflating ultimate and intrinsic?)

In any case, Senn puts this argument aside and turns instead to his second argument, viz. that Socrates' remarks about his immunity from harm make sense only on the supposition that he regards virtue as 'the sole intrinsic good'.

But the fallacy is worth noting en passant because it is probably not uncommon.

30 March 2007

The Relation of Virtue to Happiness for Socrates

It wasn't until I read the introduction to Naomi Reshotko's article on the Euthydemus (in Ancient Philosophy, 2001) that I grasped what Senn was getting at with his language of 'intrinsic' versus 'instrumental'.

His concern may be more accurately stated, I think, as: What is the relationship between virtue and happiness for Socrates?

As regards this question, Reshotko begins her article by helpfully distinguishing four views, which she characterizes as having roughly equal representation in the secondary literature (so that none could rightly be called 'The Traditional Interpretation'):

1. Virtue is happiness.
(That is, to have acquired virtue just is to have achieved happiness.)

2. Virtue is distinct from happiness but is alone sufficient for the greater and more ultimate good of happiness.
(That is, to acquire virtue implies acquiring happiness as well.)

3. Virtue is distinct from happiness but necessary as a means to happiness.
(This is the point, I gather, where some commentators have wanted to say that virtue is merely an 'instrumental' good.)

4. Virtue is distinct from happiness, but happiness is not a good, and virtue is indeed the sole good.
I think Senn lumps 2. and 3. together; he counts them both as views according to which virtue is an 'instrumental good'.

Senn seems not to distinguish between 1. and 4. In some passages he seems to argue for 4., as in his conclusion:
...as I have shown, there is according to Socrates a certain condition of one's soul that is the only thing intrinsically valuable for one.
And yet in another, curious passage, Senn seems to favor 1., since he seems to think that this 'sole intrinsic good' should be referred to also as 'happiness'. After Senn discusses the two key passages in the Apology where Socrates suggests that others cannot harm him (30c-d, 41d), he remarks:
It seems reasonable to conclude that, according to Socrates, some have a happiness that cannot be taken away even if all they possess is virtue.
And then in a footnote to this sentence he attempts to justify his introduction of the term 'happiness':
To the typical ancient Greek speaker, good and bad, benefit and harm, are thought of in terms of the 'happiness' (eudaimonia) of the agent in question ... Though Socrates does not in the Apology passages cited use the term 'happiness', there is good reason to understand him as having this in mind.
But this is just to drift without argument from 4. to 1.

29 March 2007

Virtue the Sole Intrinsic Good for Socrates?

The Apology Difficulty is not the main concern in Scott Senn's piece, "Virtue as the Sole Intrinsic Good in Plato's Early Dialogues", but rather Senn's claim, evident in his title.

Now I haven't posted on that yet, because I haven't been clear about what exactly he means. Also, he sets his own view up against what he calls the Traditional Interpretation, which, insofar as I understood it, I could hardly believe was 'traditional'.

Anyway, this is what he says at the beginning:

When Socrates speaks of virtue, he is commonly--now almost universally--interpreted as having in mind a sort of practical wisdom, or some other power or disposition to act correctly. This assumption has led most commentators in recent decades to conclude that for Socrates virtue is simply a highly reliable, if not necessary and sufficient, instrumental means to happiness. The conclusion is expressed most succintly by Terry Penner: 'for Socrates the goodness of a human being is goodness at something, namely, getting happiness'. (I call this the Traditional Interpretation.) This in turn has led most commentators to conclude either that Socrates had no particular view about what constitutes happiness or that he simply fails to express (or to express adequately) such a view.
The Traditional Interpretation notoriously has difficulty making literal sense of some of Socrates' most important and famous claims, particularly in the Apology and the Crito, where he suggests that the person with virtue is self-sufficiently happy and invulnerable to all injury. The Traditionalist's difficulty is not adequately overcome even by taking Vlastos' further step [viz. of saying that, for Socrates, virtue is the major constituent of happiness]. After considering the problematic texts and some of the best attempts to solve the problem, I shall argue that the virtue Socrates speaks of in these passages must not be identified with practical wisdom or a facility for acting correctly and is not valued by Socrates simply or primarily as a means to--or even as the major part of--happiness. The virtue Socrates makes so much of is the sole intrinsic good, the sole constituent of happiness.

A Public Service Announcement

You don't want to step into the same river twice,
if the chemical, dihydrogen monoxide, is flowing through it.

q. v. this educational video.

28 March 2007

The Apology Difficulty--A Resolution I Favor

The distinction crucial for resolving the Apology difficulty, I think, is that between 'someone' and 'what belongs to someone':

I tried to persuade each of you not to place care for what merely belongs to himself over care for himself--viz. that he be the best and wisest he can be--nor to place care for what merely belongs to the city, over care for the city itself; and to show care for others in just the same way (36c).
e0pixeirw~n e3kaston u(mw~n pei/qein mh_ pro&teron mh&te tw~n (5) e9autou~ mhdeno_j e0pimelei=sqai pri\n e9autou~ e0pimelhqei/h o3pwj w(j be/ltistoj kai\ fronimw&tatoj e1soito, mh&te tw~n th~j po&lewj, pri\n au)th~j th~j po&lewj, tw~n te a1llwn ou3tw kata_ to_n (d.) au)to_n tro&pon e0pimelei=sqai
Socrates intends this, I think, as a distinction between the soul (which is what he thinks each person is), and everything that pertains to someone besides his soul. This is especially clear from the way that distinction is wielded in Alcibiades I, 128a-133e. Some exemplary passages from that dialogue:
Well then, what does it mean to care for (epimeleisthai) ourselves? --I'm afraid we often think we're caring for ourselves when we're not. When does a man do that? Is he caring for himself when he cares for what belongs to him? (128a)

Since a man is neither his body, nor his body and soul together, what remains, I think, is either that he's nothing, or else, if he is something, he's nothing other than his soul. (130c)

We were afraid that we might make a mistake about caring for ourselves and unwittingly care for something other than ourselves. ...And the next step is that we have to care for our soul and look to that... and let others take care of our bodies and our property. (132c)
Thus the good or bad of 'someone' is the good or bad condition of his soul, which would consist in his having, or lacking, the virtues; the good or bad of 'what belongs to someone' would be the better or worse state of those things that are commonly accounted good or bad.

Senn is right to notice that Socrates draws an implicit distinction between 'harming' (blaptein) and 'bringing about bad' for someone. The former would involve actions, and especially speech, which are designed to encourage people to be bad: a harm is something that makes 'someone' worse. The latter would involve taking away or preventing good things, or producing or hindering the removal of bad things, as regards 'what belongs to someone': doing bad is doing something that makes 'what belongs to someone' worse (than would have been the case otherwise). (What is important for Socrates is in the first instance what is made worse off, not how this happens; hence Senn's distinction between 'damaging' and 'obstructing' is not to the point.)

Thus the resolutions:

"You would not injure me (blapsete) so much as yourselves" (30c). That is: 'You can make me worse only in what belongs to me, and in doing so you make yourself worse in what you are.'

"It's not permitted that a worse man should injure (blaptesthai) a better" (30d). Suppose someone aiming to be good (a better man) and someone who does not care about being good (a worse): the latter cannot, just by what he does or says, make it so that the former does not care about being good, or make it so that the former is less good.

"Bad people are constantly working something bad in those around them...", and thus bad people are "harmed (blaptesthai) by those they associate with" (25d). Socrates here compares groups of companions who are bad (who encourage corruption in one another), with groups of companions who are good. He actually never talks about the case (fantastical, surely, for him) where a good person is surrounded by bad companions.

"Since I am convinced that I never wronged any one, I am certainly not going to wrong myself (adikein), and say of myself that I deserve anything bad, and propose a penalty of that sort of myself" (37b). Here I think adikein=blaptein. This is a moral injury Socrates will refrain from because he aims to be good.

"Shall I choose instead a penalty which I know to be an evil?" (37), viz. in what belongs to me--it being assumed by him that, all other things being equal, if he were to choose a greater over a lesser evil in what belongs to him, then this would be moral badness, which he must avoid above any badness in what belongs to him.

Varieties of Distinctions in Goodness

I wonder if ancient philosophers shouldn't follow von Wright and try to identify, and employ, a variety of distinctions in goodness. Surely ancient texts support this; it's hardly suitable to discuss Plato or Cicero (say) using simply the mixed distinction, instrumental/intrinsic. Moreover, a distinction is like a tool: presumably it's better to have more rather than fewer to hand, even if they differ only slightly in their function.

And if it were taken for granted that a variety of distinctions were available and could be employed, then an interpreter who insisted on using just one (or a mixture of two) could be challenged (in the spirit of Korsgaard): on what special theory do you hold that just this distinction will suffice?

What other distinctions might we posit? Here are three more. Let me know what others you think should be added.

A good achievable through our own efforts vs. a good not so achievable.
Clearly this cuts across the first two distinctions. There could be final goods not achievable through our efforts (perhaps eudaimonia is a gift of the gods, Aristotle speculates), and there are clearly intrinsic goods that we cannot affect at all by our actions (the beauty of the Ring Nebula). Likewise we might not be able to obtain the sum of money needed to start a business (instrumental, not achievable); and whether a friend joins us to make watching that movie more enjoyable might depend on matters beyond our control (extrinsic, not achievable).

A distinctively human good vs. goodness that is not distinctively human.
In the Apology, Socrates reports that he asked Callias, "Supposing your two sons were colts, or calves--you'd be able to find and hire someone to groom them. But given that they are human beings... who is knowledgeable about that sort of virtue, I mean, the human and civic kind?" (th~j a)nqrwpi/nh te kai\ politikh~j, 20b). The virtue of a calf makes a calf, but not a human, intrinsically good (with distinctively calf-like goodness); the virtue of a calf is, one presumes, a final good for the calf, but an instrumental good for us; that a virtuous person takes good care of his livestock implies, as a consequence, that the goodness of his calves is extrinsic relative to his own goodness; etc.

A good for X vs. a good not good-for-X.
This distinction seems suggested by the possibility of formulating both subjective and objective versions of the intrinsic/extrinsic and final/instrumental distinctions (see previous comment). Say that a good is a good for X if it is valued by X. Plato's worry in the Lysis passage cited earlier seems to require this distinction: Can it be that human beings will value even a very great good only on the condition that they are in need? (It's not the good which is conditional upon that need, but our valuing it.)

26 March 2007

Thi manlynesse [L. humanitatem tuam] shewid to alle men

One might be tempted to call it a 'catfight' if it weren't a dispute over the meaning of 'manliness'.

You might have seen Myles McDonnell's reply in BMCR to Robert Kaster's review and wondered about it. My take on the exchange is that McDonnell poses an apparently good question, which Kaster, for all his small points of criticism, never really addresses. Indeed, Kaster's remarks make the question only more pressing.

The apparently good question is how virtus, a term that signifies at first 'manliness', could come to stand for excellence of character generally. As McDonnell puts it in his reply:

What is unusual is that by the late Republic virtus could be used, on the one hand, by Caesar to mean a non-ethical quality invoked to excuse an ethical failing, and, on the other hand, regularly by Cicero as a quintessentially ethical term. This is remarkable and requires explanation.
N.B. McDonnell is using 'ethical' and 'non-ethical' in a technical sense. What he means in saying that it was 'non-ethical', is that virtus did not originally mean something unconditionally or universally good. Yet he admits that it signified something admired and held up for imitation. McDonnell therefore says that virtus was a 'moral' rather than 'ethical' ideal. (This way of drawing the distinction is unfortunate, but it should not cause confusion once it is explained.)

I don't see that Kaster ever deals with this question. Indeed, he strengthens it when he says near the end of his review:
At the very beginning of his book McDonnell remarks that 'virtus is a notoriously difficult word to translate'; but I do not think that he means quite what he says. In the vast majority of the texts in which it occurs, virtus can be translated, simply yet accurately, as 'manliness'.
Yet at the beginning of the review Kaster had offered the following proxies for 'manliness': 'courage in the face of danger or adversity and self-mastery in relation to either pleasure or hardship', 'a capacity to impose one's will on one's environment, or to resist the determination of one's activities by that environment'. Okay, then, restate McDonnell's question as: How did a word that meant (say) 'a capacity to impose one's will on one's environment' come to mean moral excellence generally?

Kaster criticizes McDonnell for holding that virtus originally meant especially prowess at aggressive actions in warfare, not defensive resistance, and that in the plural it indicated acts or deeds of valor:
If the singular form virtus fundamentally denotes a 'quality or trait entailed in being a vir', one might expect that the plural form fundamentally denotes 'qualities or traits entailed in being a vir'; and that is indeed what it is found to denote countless times. But there can be no such plurality of qualities or traits for McConell: having decided that 'native Roman virtus' is always and determinately one specific thing, he must explain away the not inconsiderable number of places in early Latin where virtutes are mentioned, primarily by claiming that '"deeds of courage" is the regular meaning of virtutes in ... early Latin'
Yet I find it interesting--and a fact that tends by analogy to substantiate McDonnell's claim--that English prowess works in the way that McDonnell thinks virtus did in early Latin. The plural, 'prowesses', usually means 'acts of prowess'. (OED says: Chiefly in pl. = deeds of valour.) Also, the word 'prowess' originally meant specifically active military courage (OED meaning 1. "Valour, bravery, gallantry, martial daring; manly courage, active fortitude"). Like virtus, 'prowess' for a brief while in English comes to mean moral excellence generally. (OED cites Chaucer for this now obsolete use: "For god of his prouesse Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse.") But it did not keep that meaning.

In light of all this, McDonnell's suggestion--that virtus acquired and kept that sense only from its being implicitly likened to the Greek aretē--looks exceedingly plausible.

By the way, did you notice the passage where Kaster ignores the twin distinctions, intrinsic/extrinsic and final/instrumental?
An 'ideal', however, to be an ideal, must be a final good -- a thing one strives to attain as an end in itself -- and it seems obvious that any final good requiring limit or modification cannot be a final good: if virtus just was belligerent aggression of a socially threatening sort, as McDonnell says, it cannot have been the 'ideal of Roman manliness'; if it was that ideal, it cannot have been what McDonnell says it was.
What seems obvious to Kaster is false if we accept the two distinctions. One might easily say in reply that virtus was pursued as a final good but insist (with McDonnell) that its goodness was not universal but rather conditional upon something else.

(By the way, I don't know either Kaster or McDonnell personally. And, as I said, I haven't read the book. This is simply my reflection on where the issue stands, given what I've seen in BMCR.)

24 March 2007

A Distinction Ignored?

In a previous post I asked whether interpreters of ancient philosophy were handicapped when they ignored Korsgaard's distinction of distinctions.

Penner and Rowe ignore it, in their comments on that Lysis passage. But does this affect their interpretation? Here is what they say:

Socrates is not, as some suppose, ignoring his careful distinction between the because of (dia) what and that for the sake of (heneka) which, but rather making use of it. If it were true that the good would no longer be friend if the bad disappeared, then, if there is always something for the sake of which in 'friendship,' that something in this case must be (getting rid of) the bad--hence love is, on this view, for the sake of the bad (p. 134).
A couple of questions:

(1) Socrates twice characterizes the first object of love as that in which all other friendships, so called, terminate (ei0j o4 pa~sai au{tai ai9 lego&menai fili/ai teleutw~sin, 220b, also 220e). And it is clear that he regards the other friendship as only "friendships so-called", precisely because they lead up to something else. But then why should he be presuming, as Penner and Rowe allege, that "there is always something for the sake of which in 'friendship'"? (That is, when A is friend of B, then A loves B for the sake of something other than B.) That would be to hold that the primary object, the object of "real friendship", isn't the primary object at all. (And, notably, Socrates doesn't pull this out as part of his refutation.)

(2) Why are Penner and Rowe compelled to change what Socrates says? They have him claiming that our love for the first object of love is for the sake of getting rid of the bad (something good)--which Socrates does not say. He says it is for the sake of the bad, and he makes a big deal about that: "[other things] are called friends for the sake a friend, but the real friend appears to have a nature completely the opposite of this. It has become clear to us that it was a friend for the sake of an enemy." (Penner and Rowe's shift in their last clause from "for the sake of (getting rid of) the bad" to "for the sake of the bad" is surely unjustified.)

Two Distinctions in Goodness in the Lysis

Do classical authors employ Korgaard's two distinctions? Or do they conflate intrinsic with final, and extrinsic with instrumental?

A passage which seems to give a mixed answer to this question is Plato's Lysis, 218d-220d. There it looks at first as if Plato is clear about the two distinctions; but then he seems to jumble them together.

At first, the distinctions appear to be kept separate:

"Whoever is a friend, is he a friend to someone or not?"
"He has to be a friend to someone," he said.
"For the sake of nothing and on account of nothing, or for the sake of something and on account of something?"
"For the sake of something and on account of something." (218d, Lombardo)
Here, to say that something is loved 'for the sake of' (heneka) something seems to mean its being loved as an instrumental good; and to say that it is loved 'on account of' (dia) something seems to mean its being loved as a good the goodness of which is conditional upon something else, viz. as an extrinsic good. E.g. A sick person loves medicine for the sake of health and because of sickness.

But then, famously, Plato seems to blur the two together. Socrates goes on to argue that, if the 'for the sake of' relation were to terminate in a primary object of love, then, since we would not love that thing if we were free from any deficiency or badness, our love for it would be 'for the sake of' badness:
Suppose ... bad were eliminated and could affect no one in body or soul or anything else that we say is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Would the good then be of any use to us, or would it have become useless? For if nothing could still harm us, we would have no need of any assistance, and it would be perfectly clear to us that it was on account of the bad that we prized and loved the good-- ...(220c)

... Then that friend of ours, the one which was the terminal point for all the other things that we called 'friends for the sake of another friend', does not resemble them at all. For they are all called friends for the sake of a friend, but the real friend appears to have a nature completely the opposite of this. It has become clear to us that it was a friend for the sake of an enemy. Take away the enemy and it seems it is no longer a friend. (220e--Lombardo)
Don't the last two sentences of the passage show a conflation? "Take away the enemy and it seems it is no longer a friend" (ei0 de\ to_ e0xqro_n a)pe/lqoi, ou)ke/ti, w(j e1oik', e1sq' h(mi=n fi/lon) suggest as condition. "It was a friend for the sake of an enemy" (fi/lon ga_r h(mi=n a)nefa&nh o2n e0xqrou~ e3neka) suggests an instrument.

23 March 2007

Distinguished Distinctions

In light of Eric Brown's comment perhaps it would be fruitful to start a thread on the "two distinctions in goodness": What are those distinctions? Are they employed by classical authors, such as Plato and Aristotle? Should the two distinctions be more widely used in interpretations today, i.e. is this a valuable distinction that scholars today ignore to their own detriment?

First, the two distinctions themselves. For this, one cannot improve upon Chris Korsgaard's lucid explanation:

It is rather standard fare in philosophy to distinguish two kinds of this value of goodness, often called "instrinsic" and "instrumental". Objects, activities, or whatever, have an instrumental value if they are valued for the sake of something else--tools, money, and chores would be standard examples. A common explanation of the supposedly contrasting kind, intrinsic goodness, is to say that a thing is intrinsically good if it is valued for its own sake, that being the obvious alternative to a thing's being valued for the sake of something else. This is not, however, what the words "intrinsic value" mean. To say that something is intrinsically good is not by definition to say that it is valued for its own sake: it is to say that it has its goodness in itself. It refers, one might say, to the location or source of the goodness rather than the way we value the thing. The contrast between instrumental and intrinsic value is therefore misleading, a false contrast. The natural contrast to intrinsic goodness--the value a thing has "in itself"--is extrinsic goodness--the value a thing gets from some other source. The natural contrast to a thing that is valued instrumentally or as a means is a thing that is valued for its own sake or as an end. There are, therefore, two distinctions in goodness. One is the distinction between things valued for their own sakes and things valued for the sake of something else--between ends and means, or final and instrumental. The other is the distinction between things which have their value in themselves and things which derive their value from some other source: intrinsically good things versus extrinsically good things. Intrinsic and instrumental good should not be treated as correlatives, because they belong to two different distinctions.
Korsgaard goes on to examine Moore, Ross and Kant: "These philosophers," she writes, "all separated the two distinctions..."

One might wonder whether ancient philosophers did as well--since I believe their interpreters rarely do so and rely, rather, on the conflation that Korsgaard says is "standard fare in philosophy".

20 March 2007

Author's Resolution of the Apology Difficulty

In this post I give Scott Senn's resolution of the seeming contradiction in the Apology. In a subsequent post I'll give the resolution I favor and discuss readers' comments.

Senn attributes the following view to Plato's Socrates. The only "intrinsic good" (read simply: good) is virtue. All other things are instrumentally good at best; and they are instrumental for one thing only, namely, one's growth in virtue. If the jury takes away such instrumental goods, then, it merely prevents Socrates from further growth in virtue (and in that sense it can harm him); but it cannot take away or diminish the virtue that Socrates already has (and in that sense he is invulnerable to being harmed).

The resolution seems new only in its use of a distinction between, as Senn calls it, "damaging" versus "obstructing". Senn gives these definitions:

X damages P =df. X causes P to lose some intrinsic good that P already possessed, or X causes P to gain some intrinsic bad that P did not already have.

X obstructs P =df. X decreases P's ability to gain intrinsic good (or decreases P's ability to be rid of intrinsic bad).
And then Senn explains:
... Socrates thinks he cannot be damaged. On the other hand, when he does allow that he may suffer injury (Ap. 25 D 1) or something bad (25 E, 37 B-38 B), he must (if he is not contradicting himself) be thinking only of the obstructive kind of injury. This fits very well 37B-38B; for clearly being silenced is bad only obstructively: it takes away his ability to discuss and examine (37 E-38 A), the value of which (it is natural to suppose) is instrumental. It is plausible that Socrates would similarly explain the badness of imprisonment and exile: they would take away his freedom to philosophize with whomever he wants, especially those reputed to be wise. Likewise, being fed in the Prytaneion is 'good' because it will help him continue to examine people (36 D). In the whole passage (surrounding and including 37 B-38 B), therefore, it seems that he is discussing things that are bad only obstructively and good only instrumentally. Only these do the Athenians have the power to bring about. We need not think that Socrates has in mind any other kind of injury at 25D-E.
Your views on the successfulness of this resolution?

Thwarted In a Summit Attempt Once More

Mt. Washington in New Hampshire claims "the world's worst weather". We had proof of that yesterday morning, when we had to call off our attempt at a climb because of 120 mile per hour winds on the summit (wind chill of -50 degrees F). We opted instead for a pleasant (and safe) hike with snow shoes below tree line, where it was calm and mild.

That's me with the Huntington Ravine headwall showing in the background.

Mount Adams and Mount Madison.

Mount Jefferson seen from across the Great Gulf Wilderness.
(Believe it or not, this is a color photo. The contrast between the snowfields and the dark ravines seems to have suppressed all the colors.)
One more photo, this one taken on the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
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Have You Had Problems Posting a Comment?

I've never had any. But then again, I'm the author of this blog. A couple of friends have written to say that they've had difficulties. Would you mind letting me know if you've had trouble as well, so that I can determine the best way to correct it? Thanks. MP

18 March 2007

Rachana Kamtekar's Lecture in BACAP

Rachana Kamtekar's lecture in the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy

The Powers of Plato’s Tripartite Psychology

with commentary by Martha Nussbaum

to be held at Brown University

is postponed until

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Slogging, not Blogging

Where I hope to be early Monday afternoon, when with two days left I attempt a winter ascent.

Or see the web cam here.

17 March 2007

An Apparent Contadiction in Plato's Apology

Once again I am reviewing a volume of Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy: and once more I look for it to provide a rich source of discussions and posts. This is volume XXVIII, Summer 2005 (only two years behind!).

The first paper, by Scott J. Senn ("Virtue as the Sole Intrinsic Good in Early Plato"), poses a difficulty that's perfect for a blog. I'll state the difficulty today. How do you think it should be resolved? I'll eventually give Senn's resolution, and then my own.

The difficulty is an apparent contradiction in the Apology. Socrates says at one point that the jury is not capable of harming him; at another point he seems to concede that certain punishments the jury might assign to him would be bad for him. How should we reconcile these statements?

It's a nice difficulty, definite and well-circumscribed. Again: I have my own view, different from Senn's, but how would you deal with it?

You are familiar with the texts which present the difficulty, but here they are, fyi. (They're long, so I'll highlight the most important bits.)

, that the jury cannot harm Socrates:

eu} ga_r i1ste, e0a&n me a)poktei/nhte toiou~ton o1nta oi[on e0gw_ le/gw, ou)k e0me\ mei/zw bla&yete h2 u(ma~j au)tou&j: e0me\ me\n ga_r ou)de\n a2n bla&yeien ou1te Me/lhtoj ou1te 1Anutojou)de\ ga_r a2n du&naito. ou) ga_r oi1omai qemito_n (d.) ei]nai a)mei/noni a)ndri\ u(po_ xei/ronoj bla&ptesqai. a)poktei/neie ment' a2n i1swj h2 e0cela&seien h2 a)timw&seien: a)lla_ tau~ta ou{toj me\n i1swj oi1etai kai\ a1lloj ti/j pou mega&la kaka&, e0gw_ d' ou)k oi1omai, a)lla_ polu_ ma~llon poiei=n a4 ou(tosi\ nu~n poiei=, a1ndra a)di/kwj e0pixeirei=n a)pokteinu&nai (30c-d).
I would have you know that, if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Meletus and Anytus will not injure me: they cannot; for it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should injure a better than himself. I do not deny that he may, perhaps, kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is doing him a great injury: but in that I do not agree with him; for the evil of doing as Anytus is doing - of unjustly taking away another man's life - is greater far (Jowett).
Senn also cites 41d: "nothing bad can come to a good man either when he is alive or after he is dead" (ou)k e1stin a)ndri\ a)gaqw|~ kako_n ou)de\n ou1te zw~nti ou1te teleuth&santi).

Second, that the jury could harm Socrates by assigning certain punishments, including exile, which was specifically mentioned above:
pepeisme/noj dh_ e0gw_ mhde/na a)dikei=n pollou~ de/w e0mauto&n ge a)dikh&sein kai\ kat' e0mautou~ e0rei=n au)to_j w(j a1cio&j ei0mi/ tou kakou~ kai\ timh&sesqai toiou&tou tino_j e0mautw|~. ti/ dei/saj; h} mh_ pa&qw tou~to ou{ Me/lhto&j moi tima~tai, o3 fhmi ou)k ei0de/nai ou1t' ei0 a)gaqo_n ou1t' ei0 kako&n e0stin; a)nti\ tou&tou dh_ e3lwmai w{n eu} oi]da& ti kakw~n o1ntwn tou&tou timhsa&menoj; po&teron desmou~; po&teron desmou~;
(c.) kai\ ti/ me dei= zh~n e0n desmwthri/w|, douleu&onta th|~ a)ei\ kaqistame/nh| a)rxh|~, toi=j e3ndeka; a)lla_ xrhma&twn kai\ dede/sqai e3wj a2n e0ktei/sw; a)lla_ tau)to&n moi/ e0stin o3per nundh_ e1legon: ou) ga_r e1sti moi xrh&mata o(po&qen e0ktei/sw. a)lla_ dh_ fugh~j timh&swmai; i1swj ga_r a1n moi tou&tou timh&saite. pollh_ menta1n me filoyuxi/a e1xoi, w} a1ndrej 0Aqhnai=oi, ei0 ou3twj a)lo&gisto&j ei0mi w3ste mh_ du&nasqai logi/zesqai o3ti u(mei=j me\n o1ntej poli=tai/ mou ou)x oi[oi/ te e0ge/nesqe e0negkei=n ta_j e0ma_j diatriba_j kai\ tou_j lo&gouj, a)ll' u(mi=n baru&terai gego&nasin kai\ e0pifqonw&terai, w3ste zhtei=te au)tw~n nuni\ a)pallagh~nai:a1lloi de\ a1ra au)ta_j oi1sousi r(a|di/wj; pollou~ ge dei=, w} a1ndrej 0Aqhnai=oi. kalo_j ou}n a1n moi o( bi/oj ei1h e0celqo&nti thlikw|~de a)nqrw&pw| a1llhn e0c a1llhj po&lewj a)meibome/nw| kai\ e0celaunome/nw| zh~n. eu} ga_r oi]d' o3ti o3poi a2n e1lqw, le/gontoj e0mou~ a)kroa&sontai oi9 ne/oi w3sper e0nqa&de: ka2n me\n tou&touj a)pelau&nw, ou{toi/ me au)toi\ e0celw~si pei/qontej tou_j presbute/rouj: e0a_n de\ mh_ a)pelau&nw, oi9 tou&twn pate/rej de\ kai\ oi0kei=oi di' au)tou_j tou&touj.(37b-38b)
As I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or propose any penalty. Why should I? Because I am afraid of the penalty of death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good or an evil, why should I propose instead a penalty which would certainly be an evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be the slave of the magistrates of the year - of the Eleven? Or shall the penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none, and I cannot pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty which you will affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life if I were to consider that when you, who are my own citizens, cannot endure my discourses and words, and have found them so grievous and odious that you would fain have done with them, others are likely to endure me. No, indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, living in ever-changing exile, and always being driven out! For I am quite sure that into whatever place I go, as here so also there, the young men will come to me; and if I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their desire: and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me out for their sakes (Jowett).
Senn puts the difficulty in this way (p. 8):

Based on 30C-D, therefore, Socrates would appear willing to assent to
(SN1) Socrates does not risk being injured in any way by his inferiors.
Based on 41D, he would appear similarly willing to assent to
(SNB) Socrates does not risk receiving anything bad from his inferiors.
But given 37B-38B (and 25D-E), Socrates appears not to be prepared to assent to SNI or SNB.

16 March 2007

Goodbye to Heraclitus?

Mindful of the law of diminishing marginal returns, I think that after today I'll move away from Heraclitus. But first a brief word about that passage on "Ontology" from the SEP article, which I had thought I would give fuller attention.

Its main argument is that Heraclitus, in using images of birth and death, is affirming that generation and perishing truly occur, since "[t]he language of birth and death in the world of living things is precisely the language used in Greek metaphysics for coming to be and perishing".

But there is no discipline of "Greek metaphysics" when Heraclitus writes, nor any norms of usage of the sort that this argument requires, nor even--I would say--no clear understanding of what could count, strictly, as generation and perishing, until Aristotle works this out.

Thus, it seems best to interpret Heraclitus' images of birth and death, in terms of what he says about birth and death, and he apparently denies that these are entirely distinct ("as the same thing there exists in us living and dead", "mortal immortals, immortal mortals").

Graham would retort, I suppose, that one must then hold that the change that everything is supposedly undergoing, on the flux interpretation, is "at most a limited kind of change".

But why is that a difficulty? "Limited change" (i.e. not generation or perishing) is still change.

Yet of course addtionally on the flux interpretation fire underlies this "limited" change, and fire, as Graham says is "a better symbol of change than of permanance". --Well, indeed. And, again, what is the problem here for the flux interpretation?

"But fire needs fuel!"-- Does it? Always? But even so: take its fuel to be something that is (in some "limited" way) not-fire, and hold that fire always coexists with not-fire. Call the view that results "paradoxical" if you wish, or say, rather, that it is entirely in the spirit of the flux interpretation.

And I leave with the thought with which I entered upon this topic. Is an encyclopedia article on Heraclitus possible? Or must such a thing be one doubtful interpretation among others?

15 March 2007

"As Old as Heraclitus"--Mystery Passage no. 2

The first Mystery Passage was perhaps a bit difficult. This, I fear, is too easy. But I have independent reasons for posting it. It comes from an author who declares that:

I shall take as chief stalking-horse in the discussion Professor A. J. Ayer's The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge; but I shall mention also Professor H. H. Price's Perception, and, later on, G. J. Warnock's book on Berkeley. I find in these texts a good deal to criticize, but I choose them for their merits and not for their deficiencies; they seem to me to provide the best available expositions of the approved reasons for holding theories which are at least as old as Heraclitus--more full, coherent, and terminologically exact than you find, for example, in Descartes or Berkeley.

14 March 2007

Good and Bad Humour

Q. What's black and white and red all over?
A. A penguin with a sunburn.

(A.) What's most wholesome and most foul?
(B.) Sea water--wholesome to fish and foul to men.

This pair leads to my question. Suppose we take Heraclitus to be inviting us to reason from paradoxes to their resolution (as we saw MM was proposing). Then why isn't he simply making bad jokes?

MM says: because his paradoxes encourage us to work out the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) and the distinction between substance and accident, on which their resolution depends. Thus:
My theme so far has been to show how Heraclitus offers us two different perspectives on the paradoxes, corresponding to the subject on the one hand and the predicate on the other. The solving of the threatened contradiction in the predicate shows us the workings of the law of non-contradiction; and the dialectical effect of this is to make us see, as a general principle, that LNC is true. At the same time, the subject, which underlies the contradiction, is seen to resist disintegration, since the paradox exploits our intuition that the subject is indeed 'one and the same'. The effect of this is to reassure us that there are individuals underlying the opposite properties of the phenomenal world. So the paradoxes, at the object level, have a double metaphysical effect: firstly, they establish LNC elenctically; secondly, they expose and confirm the assumption that there are individuals in the world which are self-identical at a time, which persist over time, and which can be reidentified--rivers, roads, and possets.
But mightn't we claim that the joke does the same? It causes us to reflect that the black and the white cannot really coincide; moreover, it causes us to reflect that one and the same thing, the penguin (a 'substance'), is white on its belly (an 'accident') and black on its wings and back (another 'accident').

Or, if we want to insist that the joke does neither of these things, because it resolves the paradox with which it begins straightforwardly and unreflectively, why wouldn't we say the same about Heraclitus' aphorism--if indeed its direction is really toward the resolution of any sense of paradox?

Of course the following sequence would be interesting:
Sea water is both most wholesome and most foul.
--The complete apparatus of Aristotle's Categories, including especially its discussion of relatives and opposition--
Sea water is wholesome to fish and foul to human beings.
But we find nothing like that in Heraclitus--nothing at all to suggest a deliberate theory of substance and accidents. MM attributes this to him, of course, but to me her conjectures along these lines seem to be no more than ingenius invention--of the sort that no one could supply who had not already studied Aristotle.

12 March 2007

Blogging to Resume Wednesday, March 14

We all like vacations to last as long as possible ...

02 March 2007

On What There Is, and Isn't, in Heraclitus' 'Ontology'

I'll be on vacation this coming week. Although I'll try to post, I can give no guarantees.

What I would plan to look at, if you wish to join me, are the two paragraphs below from the article on Heraclitus in SEP. (I also have a follow up remark about the MM article.)

Consider it a game, to see if you can guess what I'm thinking about. I find almost nothing in the paragraph I can agree with, and have marked with numbers those points I would wish to dispute. (The original is of course here.) Do you see difficulties also?

Now, remember the terms of the discussion: this is meant to be an encyclopedia article, and, therefore--one would presume--authoritative and in its way definitive.

3.3 Ontology

The standard view of Heraclitus' ontology since Aristotle is that he is a material monist who holds that fire is the ultimate reality (1); all things are just manifestations of fire (2). According to Aristotle the Milesians in general were material monists who advocated other kinds of ultimate matter: Thales water, Anaximander the boundless, Anaximenes air (Metaphysics 983b6-984a8). So Heraclitus' theory was just another version of a common background theory (3). There are problems already with Aristotle's understanding of the Milesians: Aristotle lacks any textual evidence for Thales’ view and must reconstruct it out of almost nothing; he sometimes treats Anaximander as a pluralist like Anaxagoras who thinks the boundless is a mixture of qualities; at most Anaximenes might exemplify material monism–but Plato reads him as a pluralist (Timaeus 39 with Graham 2003b; Graham 2003a). In the case of Heraclitus, his own statements make material monism problematic as an interpretation. According to material monism (4), some kind of matter is the ultimate reality (5), and any variation in the world consists merely of qualitative or possibly quantitative change in it; for there is only one reality, for instance fire, which can never come into existence or perish, but can only change in its appearances. Heraclitus, however, advocates a radical kind of change:

For souls it is death to become water, for water death to become earth, but from earth water is born, and from water soul. (B36)

(Here soul seems to occupy the place of fire. (6)) The language of birth and death in the world of living things is precisely the language used in Greek metaphysics (7) for coming to be and perishing. (8) It implies a radical transformation that rules out continuing identity (cf. B76, B62 (9)). Indeed, interpreters of Heraclitus cannot have it both ways: Heraclitus cannot be both a believer in radical flux (the change of everything into everything else (10): fire into water, water into earth, and so on) and an advocate of monism. Either he must believe in a merely illusory (11) or at most a limited kind of change, or he must be a pluralist (12).

One further difficulty remains for the monist reading. In his alleged version of monism, fire is the ultimate reality. Yet fire (as the ancients recognized) is the least substantial and the most evanescent of elemental stuffs (13). It makes a better symbol of change than of permanence (14). Other alleged cases of material monism offer a basic kind of matter that could arguably be stable and permanent over long periods of time; but fire manifests “need and satiety” (B65), a kind of ongoing consumption that can live only by devouring fuel (15). Is not Heraclitus' choice of a basic reality itself paradoxical? At best his appeal to fire seems to draw on material monism in a way that points beyond the theory to an account in which the process of change is more real than the material substances that undergo change (16).

Something Lost in Transmission

Some strange remarks in a review this morning of a collection of essays on Augustine's Confessions --"cutting edge research into Augustinian studies", mind you--which it perhaps falls to a blogger to point out.

About Augustine's reflections on his theft of the pears in book II:

[Scott] MacDonald re-examines the theft and ultimately finds two
reasons for the theft and why it was included. The theft made it seem
like Augustine had 'limitless freedom and power' (p. 65), but in fact
he did not because only God has these qualities. The second reason was
Augustine's clear desire 'to love and be loved' (p. 65).
Okay, if you sit down and read the passage, you find that Augustine gives (roughly) these two reasons. Is that all that MacDonald said? I fear that something's been lost in transmission.

Elsewhere we are told:
Wolterstorff then examines the idea of a nonsuffering, apathetic God
(p. 122) and how this relates to Augustine's idea of emotions. He
spends some time examining Aquinas and his ideas that God cannot
experience emotions as humans do and in fact has no emotions (p. 128).
Augustine, therefore, thought it was a sin to grieve over the physical
death of his mother because 'in God there is no sorrow or suffering'
(p. 108 and p.120).
On that line of thought, of course, to feel any emotion would be a sin! --But I suspect the difficulty here isn't with Augustine or Wolterstorff.

Then again:
In another article by MacDonald ("The Divine Nature") the complex issue
of the divine nature is examined. The idea that God was truly
immaterial was a relatively new one in the fourth century.
Huh? Did Aristotle think that God was enmattered? Or is God bodily in Hebrew and Christian scripture? I suppose in the big scheme of things, maybe on the time scale of a Great Sequoia Tree, 700 or 1500 years can seem like only yesterday.

Toward or Away from First Principles?

Are we heading toward, or away from, first principles? Are we drawing a conclusion, or aiming to support one?

MM's interesting article on Heraclitus raises just these questions. Suppose one finds in Heraclitus a paradoxical assertion coupled with some more general claim:

(A) You would not step into the same river twice.
(B) Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and different waters flow.
Is this meant to be an argument from (A) to (B), thereby perhaps resolving a paradox, or rather from (B) to (A), so as to reinforce the paradox and make it seem inescapable? Clearly, any pair of this sort admits of either interpretation.*

MM recognizes the difficulty and favors the 'resolving' interpretation, on two grounds:
1. Heraclitus would argue from (B) to (A) only if he wished to argue for universal flux. But that's not what he believed.
2. Like any other paradox, (A) invites the listener to respond with a countering 'doxa', which then provides the occasion for (B) to function as a resolution.
But we saw that the first reason may be put aside.

And the second reason seems strained to me. My difficulty? Generally, paradoxical statements do not invite us to counter with a 'doxa'; rather, they invite us to search for the argument, or reason, why someone would want to assert the paradox in the first place.

Test this for yourself with a few Heraclitean paradoxes:
The road up and the road down are one and the same.
Are you tempted to say in reply, "No, they are not. They are different roads"?" Or would you rather be inclined to think, "What do you mean by that strange saying?"
The sea consists of water which is both most wholesome and most foul.
You might even think that true. (Try also: "Pigs like mud", or "Donkeys prefer rubbish". --"Yes, and so ... ?") But I think you are not inclined to contradict it, until you know what it means. And then you are looking for something which supports it.

In fact, I wonder if there is another paradoxical claim in the fragments which has the effect that MM attributes to "You would not step into the same river twice."

*That one sometimes finds ga/r ('for') in the second claim, as in Plutarch's version (which Vlastos follows in his reconstruction), would not be decisive--
di\j ej to\n au)to\n potamo\n ou)k a)\n e)mbai/hj,
e(/tera ga\r kai\ e(/tera u(/data e)pirrei=.
--as ga/r could be either introducing the premise of an inference (reinforcing), or clarifying the proper ground on which one wants to say something (dissolving).