31 August 2007

I Hereby Say That I Hereby Say It

The smallest of points, but a curiosity.

If you found your way to the end of a recent review of David Velleman's Self to Self, you would have encountered the following as its conclusion:

The papers in Self to Self merit much more detailed engagement than I have been able to undertake here. The volume collects some of the best papers written on the topics of self, moral psychology, and Kantian ethics in the last decade. It almost goes without saying that Self to Self is required reading for anyone who has any interest in any of these topics. But I hereby say it anyway.
I'll say straightaway that I think the claim that "almost goes without saying" is false (required for what?).

But I'm puzzled by the concluding performative. It looks like a conflation between "I hereby require it" (which the author would be conscious he had no authority to say) and "I here say it" (which would be lame and weak).

Isn't merely saying that something is the case eo ipso not a performative? Or, if for someone it must be, and he needs to flag the fact that he is saying something in order to succeed in saying it, then presumably everything else that he says (without the flag) was never said.

In which case the entire review, as it were, goes without saying.

Marshall's Query on the Mouthpiece View

I resume blogging--in August, as promised!--by quoting from a thoughtful letter I had received earlier this summer from Mason Marshall, a graduate student at Vanderbilt, on the so-called 'mouthpiece view' of Platonic dialogues. This was in connection with an earlier thread on this blog.

I quote with Marshall's permission, who solicits readers' reactions to his argument:

In comments attached to that [earlier] post . . . Sam Rickless and others got into a conversation about the so-called mouthpiece view concerning the Platonic dialogues. In part, Rickless pointed out that Aristotle's writings represent strong evidence that Plato meant for Socrates to speak for him, say, in the Republic: Aristotle apparently thought that that was Plato's intention as author, and Aristotle apparently knew Plato personally. I realize that it's common to make the sort of point that Rickless made. And something puzzles me about how heavily he and many other interpreters want to lean on the evidence which Aristotle's writings represent. Terry Irwin, for example (Plato's Ethics, p. 6; The Cambridge Companion to Plato, p. 77), effectively says that in light of that evidence, the "mouthpiece" view should be a default in interpreting Plato: the evidence is compelling enough that the burden of proof rests firmly on opponents of the mouthpiece view.

But I keep wondering whether the Aristotle evidence isn't nearly counterbalanced by certain other evidence, and whether the other evidence isn't close enough to being a counterpoise that the Aristotle evidence isn't enough to make the mouthpiece view a default (even if something else should grant that status to the mouthpiece view).

Here's the other evidence I have in mind. Academic and maybe even some Pyrrhonian skeptics seem to have read Plato as a skeptic: they apparently rejected the mouthpiece view, in effect. Granted, in looking at the Platonic corpus, they seem to have focused far more on early, "Socratic" dialogues than on works such as the Republic. But they also seem to have identified themselves with Plato simpliciter. And at least as long as one of their critics at the time had access to enough of Aristotle's writings, and to versions that were similar enough to the most authoritative editions we now have, the critic could have, in effect, made the point which Rickless and Irwin make---viz., that Aristotle affirmed the mouthpiece view and that Aristotle knew Plato personally. That point about Aristotle seems obvious enough for these skeptics and their critics to have seen it in the 3rd century. Plus, if there was enough reason at the time to think that Aristotle was in significantly better position than the skeptics to tell what Plato's authorial intentions were, then in making the point about Aristotle a critic could have landed a particularly heavy blow against the skeptics' interpretations. And that, too, seems obvious enough for the skeptics and their critics to have seen it. Further, it looks likely that the skeptics had read enough of the Aristotle we're familiar with, and that they would think a potential critic could read enough Aristotle, to be aware that he affirmed the mouthpiece view.

So in short, it also seems likely that if there were enough reason at the time to think that Aristotle was in significantly better position than the skeptics to tell what Plato's authorial intentions were, the skeptics wouldn't have openly implied or claimed that the mouthpiece view is false. And presumably, there's no more reason now than there was then to think that Aristotle was. So all told, the evidence which Rickless and Irwin offer in referring to Aristotle's writings seems to tip the scales toward the mouthpiece view only a little, and too little for the Aristotle evidence to rightly make the mouthpiece view a default.