28 September 2007

A Contradiction in the Standard Interpretation

On the usual interpretation, the 'fragment' of Anaximander affirms an incessant struggle among opposites, amounting to warfare: one side perpetrates 'injustice' against the other; the other side retaliates by repayment, yet claiming even more ('surfeit', as KRS speculate); this in turn elicits a corresponding counterattack and additional injustice by the other side; and so on, presumably without end.

Kahn, approving of this interpretation, goes so far as to say that:

His words suggest an exchange of crimes like that which Herodotus presents as the antecedent for the Persian War, in which Greeks and Orientals are alternative offenders against one another: "this was the beginning of the wrongs done (adikēmatōn) . . . after this the Greeks were guilty of the secondary wrongdoing (adikiēs)"(Hdt. 1.2.1).
I've pointed out already that, whatever the words of the fragment may suggest to someone, they certainly require no such interpretation.

But here I simply wish to point out that it would be a contradiction to refer to a state of warfare, constituted by alternating injustice, as a taxis (order, arrangement). Warfare is not a taxis, nor can it be correct to speak of it as taking place in accordance with a taxis.

The proper phrase in Greek, I believe, for association under a taxis would be, not "paying dikē to each other" but rather, "paying and receiving dikē" -- the 'receiving' here being the crucial qualification, as it implies a willingness to be subject to arbitration and law. Warfare, in contrast, is precisely the lack of subordination to law.

This point is fudged in some translations by the use of a phrase such as "according to the assessment of time" to render kata tēn tou chronou taxin. By that phrase, the taxis mentioned in the fragment would be simply the rule whereby someone who commits an injustice has to make equivalent repayment (an 'assessment'). But that sort of taxis would exist only within any of the alleged cycles of injustice-repayment (and not even there, if, as KRS have it, the party requiring repayment looks for more than an equal share and attains to a 'surfeit'!). On that reading there would be no taxis that stretched across cycles of injustice-repayment, just as there is no taxis that governs warfare.

The standard interpretation, it seems, glides effortlessly from a putative taxis within a cycle to a taxis governing all cycles -- hiding the contradiction by which warfare is called lawfulness.

Of course one man's contradiction is another man's paradox, and I'm willing to allow that Heraclitus embraced a similar a paradox. But I cannot see any special merit antecedently in an interpretation that would turn Anaximander into Heraclitus.

27 September 2007

Some Thoughts on Interpretation

Suppose that, in an ancient author, one found two clauses in succession, having the following structure:

(Clause A) X and Y, in accordance with Z;
(Clause B) W and V, in accordance with Z'.
where Z' was evidently a gloss upon or rephrasing of Z.

In that case, wouldn't it be antecedently likely that W was meant to correspond to X, and V to Y?

Also, since Clause B were ostensibly proposed as an explanans, and Clause A as the explanandum, an interpreter would antecedently be disposed to understand the meaning of Clause A in terms of Clause B. Clause B would be the more decisive in our determining the meaning of both.

... Or at least this last rule is what would hold in typical circumstances. ...

But suppose in the particular case before us, Clause B were evidently poetical and metaphorical, whereas Clause A employed terms which appeared precise and perhaps even technical. Then, it seems to me, the authority of the clauses would be at least equalized and maybe even reversed. One might in that case be disposed to use Clause A to interpret the meaning of the more metaphorical, and therefore more obscure, Clause B. Clause A would become at least as decisive, or maybe even more so, in determining the meaning of both.

I offer these remarks to explain why I began this series of posts last week by asking whether in "they pay penalty (dike) and retribution (tisis) to each other" two distinct things were meant or only one. It seemed to me that, if two distinct things were meant, then initially we should want to map each of these onto the two items distinguished in the preceding clause. At least, that ought to be our first instinct as interpreters. However, if that were to fail, then we would need to take a different approach. (I think it does fail.)

You might of course point out to me that it is now the standard view, in interpretations of Simplicius on Anaximander, to say that his Clause B has nothing whatsoever to do with his Clause A! The 'fragment' is saying something entirely different from the clause, evincing a 'Peripatetic sentiment', which precedes it.

Well, yes, that's true -- on the usual interpretation of the 'fragment' as affirming incessant cycles in a war among opposites. But I tend to think: so much the worse for that interpretation-- an interpretation which is in any case not implied by or required by the text.

But, to be continued....

26 September 2007

Ancient Greek, To Die For

Seen posted on the Facebook wall of a young homeschooler friend beginning her study of Attic Greek:

Congratulations S.! I love that alphabet! you're right, it is beautiful. The way M. and I taught it to ourselves was by singing it to "I've been working on the railroad" it's really fun, I should show you sometime. I love Greek. and I love Latin. and I'm learning both, so I'm happy!
And later...
OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! are you as obsessed with Greek as I am. I just did some declension and vocabulary memorization today, and that set off the bomb! IT IS SO AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL!!!! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! *spazzzzz* . . . . . . . . . . . *dies*

A "B" or not a "B"?

Today I'm bothered by an argument from KRS which previously seemed just fine.

They say (recall):

Simplicius is undoubtedly quoting from a version of Theophrastus' history of earlier philosophy, and from the section on the material principle, περὶ ἀρχῆς. The concluding clause, a judgement on Anaximander's style, shows that what immediately precedes is a direct quotation.
This is the sole argument for counting the passage from Simplicius as containing a fragment of Anaximander.

For the moment we may put aside the question of whether someone might write, "saying these things in rather poetic (or 'more poetic') words", and aim to be referring simply to something that somewhere precedes, rather than to what immediately precedes.

What bothers me is the claim that "what immediately precedes is a direct quotation", which is ambiguous.

No doubt the clause, "saying these things in rather poetic words" indicates that someone is quoting someone. But who is quoting whom? Or, whose judgment on someone's style is being expressed? In particular, couldn't the phrase have been written by Simplicius?

Here is my reasoning. If the phrase, "saying these things in rather poetic words", were written by Theophrastus, then he would presumably be quoting Anaximander. But if the phrase were written by Simplicius, then he would presumably be quoting only Theophrastus.

If the phrase,
"saying these things in rather poetic words", were written by Theophrastus, then he would be expressing a judgment about the style of Anaximander, presumably from direct inspection of something written by Anaximander, and in that case we would have good grounds for saying that the preceding contains somewhere a direct quotation of Anaximander.

But if the phrase were written by Simplicius, then the judgment would be expressed by Simplicius about the style of Anaximander, but presumably without any such direct inspection, and we would so far only have grounds for saying that the preceding contains somewhere a direct quotation of Theophrastus.

On the latter alternative, our grounds for regarding some words as constituting a genuine fragment of Anaximander would amount to no more than Simplicius' observation (and perhaps ours, by substitution) that a form of words was particularly poetical.

Or the point may be put this way. Remove that phrase from Simplicius (as being by Simplicius and having no real authority) and then from the following what do you say is the "B" passage and genuine fragment?
Of those who say that it is one, moving, and infinite, Anaximander, son of Praxiades, a Milesian, the successor and pupil of Thales, said that the principle and element of existing things was infinite, being the first to introduce this name to the material principle. He says that it is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but some other infinite nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them. And the source of coming-to-be for existing things is that into which destruction, too, happens by necessity. For they pay penalty and compensation to each other for injustice according to the order of time. It is clear that he, seeing the changing of the elements into each other, thought it right to make none of these the substratum, but something else beside these. And he produces coming-to-be not through the alteration of the element, but by the separation off of the opposites through the eternal motion.
But am I missing something here, some reason why KRS have judged that the comment about style simply couldn't be by Simplicius? After all, the passage that follows ("It is clear that he ...") they say is "almost certainly" a comment by Simplicius. Am I overlooking something obvious (which can easily happen)?

24 September 2007

Yale Working Group Series, Fall 2007

The Working Group in Ancient Philosophy at Yale has put together an excellent series for Fall 2007.

The first event is a presentation tomorrow by Adam Beresford, who will also be a commentator in BACAP:

Tuesday 25 September 5:45pm
Adam Beresford, UMass Boston. "Aristotle on Slavery".
Food served; Connecticut Hall Rm 104.

Tuesday 09 October 5:45pm
Ursula Coope, Oxford. Title and location TBA.

Tuesday 13 November 5:45pm
Hendrik Lorenz, Princeton. Title and location TBA.

Monday 26 November 5:45
Justin Broackes, Brown. "Locke on Substance".
Joint meeting of the Working Group in Ancient Philosophy and the Society for Early Modern Philosophy at Yale. Connecticut Hall Rm 104.
Further details for the 9 Oct and 26 Nov events will be made available on the Ancient Philosophy Calendar.

Is There a Need for Recycling?

If I go to market, to buy a loaf of bread, I exchange what is agreed to be an equivalent amount of money for the bread, and then so far my relationship with that merchant comes to an end. He does not approach me, nor do I approach him, unless I have some enduring need for bread. It is need which might make this cycle repeat itself.

If I go to market and steal a loaf of bread, and later the merchant makes me 'pay the penalty' for my injustice, my relationship with that merchant, again, so far comes to an end. The merchant does not take beyond what justice requires from me, and I do not steal again from him, unless one of us has some persisting pleonexia. Only pleonexia would make the cycle repeat itself.

Now Anaximander does not mention either need or pleonexia as pertaining to the elements, opposites, or substances. And that is why the passage about 'paying the penalty' does not itself imply any repetition of cycles of injustice and retribution. KRS must supply something like this on their own, in order to draw out that sort of conclusion from the fragment. Their conclusion is not based on any 'arguments from the [mere] form of the fragment'.

They begin their discussion of the fragment:

The constant interchange between opposed substances is explained by Anaximander in a legalistic metaphor derived from human society;
But the fragment does not itself mention constant interchange, and there is nothing in the context that indicates that constant interchange is the explanandum. (Nor of course does it mention opposed substances--but that's another difficulty.)
the prevalence of one substance at the expense of its contrary is 'injustice', and reaction takes place through the infliction of punishment by the restoration of equality
So far, no repeated cycles would be implied. For example, the prevalence of water on earth at the beginning of the cosmos is compensated for by the prevalence of fiery dryness at the end. Punishment has thereby been inflicted and equality restored. It's like: I steal bread from the merchant, and then I'm punished. That exchange is over.

Thus, to sustain their intended interpretation, KRS must add something:
... reaction takes place through the infliction of punishment by the restoration of equality--of more than equality, since the wrong-doer is deprived of part of his original substance, too. This is given to the victim in addition to what was his own, and in turn leads (it might be inferred) to κρος, surfeit, on the part of the former victim, who now commits injustice on the former aggressor. Thus both the continuity and the stability of natural change were motivated, for Anaximander, by means of this anthropomorphic metaphor.
Their addition, "of more than equality", is entirely gratuitous, as the dash belies.

It cannot be denied that, if we knew ex ante that, in the fragment, Anaximander was intending to describe repeated cycles of change, then the metaphor would need to be interpreted along the lines that KRS suggest.

But if we do not presuppose such an interpretation (which would be to beg the question), then it seems that we cannot say that that is required by the fragment. Such an interpretation does not follow from 'the form of the fragment'.

(You might be wondering: What about the reciprocal term, ἀλλήλοις? Doesn't this imply more than one cycle? No, it doesn't. It certainly implies that there is more than one cycle, but it does not imply repeated cycles over time, or that all cycles have to be repeated over time. If, for example, somewhere fire dominates and is beaten back by water, and somewhere else water dominates and is beaten back by fire, then water and fire will have exchanged injustice with each other, and made each other pay the penalty.)

22 September 2007

Did Anaximander Recycle?

We are familiar with the interpretation of Anaximander as affirming the cyclical character of all natural processes, the result of opposites gaining and losing ground against each other over time--a picture of stability through constant balanced change.

Yet do the reports of Anaximander's views of the natural world paint such a picture? Or does this picture rest solely on the fragment?

Actually Anaximander's most distinctive physical theories seem to be about processes that do not reverse themselves and are not cyclical. He postulates, for instance, that human beings a long time ago were born and lived like fish--with no suggestion that we return to living like fish in the future. Our watery existence was true of us, it seems, solely in an earlier age. He also held that the seas were drying up, and that eventually the entire face of the earth would become dry land.

KRS struggle with this last point:

It is clear that if Anaximander thought that the sea would dry up once and for all this would be a serious betrayal of the principle enunciated in the extant fragment, that all things are punished for their injustice; for land would have encroached on sea without suffering retribution.
Well, the fragment does not say that all things are punished for their injustice; it can, after all, take the interpretation, merely, that any injustice, when it occurs, eventually gets punished.

But in any case, what would be the unpunished injustice? Suppose the world comes into existence with all land submerged under oceans. That would be a gross 'injustice' committed by water against earth. However, over time all the water dries up. At that point earth will have claimed back a portion equal to the unjust portion originally claimed by water (a tisis). Tit-for-tat. Even stevens. A penalty equal to the original injustice. But--nota bene--no need for a new cycle.

KRS continue:
Further, although only the sea is mentioned, it is reasonable to conclude that, since rain was explained as due to the condensation of evaporation, the drying up of the sea would lead to the drying up of the whole earth. But could our whole interpretation of the fragment of an assertion of cosmic stability be wrong; could the drying up of the earth be the prelude to reabsorption into the Indefinite?
I say: 'yes' to both! But KRS disagree. They say that their interpretation of the fragment simply could not be wrong!
This it could not be, since if the earth were destroyed by drought that would implicitly qualify the Indefinite itself as dry and fiery, thus contradicting its very nature; and, in addition, the arguments from the form of the fragment still stand.
Not so: the earth's final perishing from a condition of complete dryness would no more qualify the Indefinite as dry and fiery, than the earth's first origination as inundated with water qualified the Indefinite as watery. The Indefinite, we might imagine, is capable of originating, and being the terminus of destruction for, any of the opposites (that would be just the point).

As to 'the arguments from the form of the fragment' -- that's for another post.

KRS save their theory by attributing to Anaximander a view that we have no evidence that he ever held:
The principle of the fragment could, however, be preserved if the diminution of the sea were only one part of a cyclical process: when the sea is dry a 'great winter' (to use Aristotle's term, which may well be derived from earlier theories) begins, and eventually the other extreme is reached when all the earth is overrun by sea and turns, perhaps, into slime.
A just-so story, it seems to me. And talk about cherry picking! Now a Peripatetic's view has become a very useful source of information about Anaximander!

21 September 2007

Not Likely

Two ways of deciding upon the truth value of P:

1. By the Cartesian Canon: "It's possible that not-P; therefore not-P."
2. By the assessment of likelihood: "Not-P is more likely than P; therefore not-P."
Now which of these do KRS in their arguments below mean to exemplify? They are commenting on an excerpt from the passage in Simplicius:
... ἀλλ' ἑτέραν τινὰ φύσιν ἄπειρον, ἐξ ἧς ἅπαντας γίνεσθαι τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τοὺς ἐν αὐτοῖς κόσμους· ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι κατὰ τὸ χρεών. διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν, ποιητικωτέροις οὕτως ὀνόμασιν αὐτὰ λέγων·
Which they render as:
... some other apeiron nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them. And the source of coming-to-be for existing things is that into which destruction, too, happens, according to necessity; for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of Time', as he describes it in these rather poetical terms.
Their commentary on the excerpt begins:
Simplicius is undoubtedly quoting from a version of Theophrastus' history of earlier philosophy, and from the section on the material principle, περὶ ἀρχῆς. The concluding clause, a judgement on Anaximander's style, shows that what immediately precedes is a direct quotation. Thus κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν, which many have held to be a Theophrastean paraphrase of κατὰ τὸ χρεών, should provisionally be accepted as original. διδόναι -- ἀδικίας is certainly original, and well exemplifies the poetical style noted by Theophrastus. κατὰ τὸ χρεών, too, should probably be accepted as by Anaximander: χρεών retained a marked poetical colouring (except in the special usage χρεών ἐστι) until the expression τὸ χρεών became popular in the Hellenistic period as a circumlocution for death...
So far so good; and the contrast between 'certainly' on the one hand, and 'provisionally' and 'probably' on the other, suggests reasoning by likelihoods. It's the remainder of the argument that worries me:
The preceding words, ἐξ ὧν -- εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι, have been much disputed. The use of the abstracts γένεσις and φθορ, well established in Peripatetic but not (from the other extant evidence) in Presocratic vocabulary, suggests that these belong to Theophrastus.
But although KRS use the word 'suggests', their argument seems too weak to yield a likelihood.

After all, we concede that Anaximander coined a strange word,
ἄπειρον; we do not hesitate to consider that he might have taken a common word, ἀρχή, and used it with a new and technical sense; γένεσις and φθορ were not themselves technical terms over which Peripatetics had a proprietary claim; and Plato (not a Peripatetic) in referring back to early Greek natural philosophy uses the phrase, περὶ γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς, as if this were an already well-established usage then. All of these things and more would need to be evaluated to establish a likelihood.

In short, it seems that this argument alone can 'suggest' something only if the Cartesian Canon is implicitly in force.

Next KRS continue:
The sentiment, too, looks Peripatetic: it is a close restatement of one of Aristotle's basic dogmas about the primary substance of the physical monists, 'all things are destroyed into that from which they came-to-be' (Phys. III.5, 204b33, ...).
Of course it's possible, too, that Anaximander actually said something along the lines of that which Aristotle ascribed to him! KRS' remark can establish only the possibility that the sentence is a Peripatetic interpretation rather than a quotation. It does nothing to establish a likelihood. (Oddly KRS later, on pp. 121-22, propose that
ἐξ ὧν -- εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι is a Theophrastean paraphrase of something that Anaximander actually said. But one can't have it both ways: the clause either conveys Anaximander's 'sentiment' or it does not.)

KRS next add, by way of conclusion:
Theophrastus was given to quoting single words or phrases; thus, he could have quoted the concluding phrase of a sentence, the rest of which he had paraphrased, in order to emphasize the connexion with the following sentence which he quotes in full.
Indeed he could have done so. But similarly he could have quoted an entire sentence. Again, no likelihood is established by this argument (which is masked by the phrase, 'given to').

What would be relevant here, to establish a likelihood, is something like the following: In cases in which Theophrastus quotes an entire sentence, it is more likely than not that he introduces that quotation by leading in with a fragment of a preceding sentence; moreover, he is disposed to do so even when what is contained in that fragment is essentially repeated in the wholly quoted sentence (as in
κατὰ τὸ χρεών / κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν).

Whether that is true or not, I don't know.

20 September 2007

Taking Aim with the Cartesian Canon

Call the Cartesian Canon the principle that whatever one has reason to doubt should be rejected as false. This is a useful principle, perhaps, when one is engaged in foundational epistemology, but its appropriateness elsewhere is disputable.

Now my question is: Do KRS rely on the Cartesian Canon in their conclusion about how far the fragment of Anaximander extends in the passage from Simplicius?

Their view, which I believe is the most widely accepted view, is that the fragment consists only of the words in bold:

ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι κατὰ τὸ χρεών. διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν, ποιητικωτέροις οὕτως ὀνόμασιν αὐτὰ λέγων·

"And the source of coming-to-be for existing things is that into which destruction, too, happens 'according to necessity; for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of Time', as he describes it in these rather poetical terms" (KRS).
Using the Cartesian Canon, one might reason about the passage thus:
The words "as he describes it in these rather poetical terms" mark the end of a quotation, surely. But then how far back should the fragment be counted as going (since obviously it does not go back to the beginning)? It goes back only as far as we are certain that it is a quotation. The words γένεσις and φθορ are stock Peripatetic terms; the thought expressed by ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι is also endorsed by Peripatetics (see Arist. Phys. 204b33). Thus that might have been written by a Peripatetic (Theophrastus). Thus we should not count it as part of the fragment.
Now is this how KRS argue, or is their view, rather, simply that it is most plausible (all things considered) that the quotation extends thus far? After all, one might consider it possible that ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι were the words of a Peripatetic historian, but still ascribe them to Anaximander, all things considered.

To be continued.

19 September 2007

Tisis and Anti-tisis?

My thoughts have turned recently to the famous passage (see below) from Simplicius, depending on Theophrastus, about Anaximander.

The passage raises several interesting questions, which I hope to post on in the week to come. For today, I'll put up the passage in full, and not piecemeal or partially, as one tends to see in collections.

I began thinking about this because of an offhand comment by Kurt Pritzl in his lecture on Anaximander last week (in the Presocratics Lecture Series at CUA) --that διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας perhaps contains two distinct claims, not one.

I hadn't ever raised that question to myself, which is why I began thinking about the passage from this entry point.

For example, Burnet apparently takes δίκην καὶ τίσιν to be a unit, a repetition of the same thing, since he renders, "for they make reparation and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the appointed time". Here reparation and satisfaction amount to the same thing: when one party is making reparation, it is at the same time making satisfaction. Note that on this reading ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας governs both. Note too that on this reading the passage refers only to what each party gives up to the other.

KRS render: "for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of Time".

But here I don't know whether the clauses are supposed to mean the same thing or something different, because "paying retribution to someone" is not idiomatic English. Do KRS take the same view as Burnet, or do they think that διδόναι δίκην and διδόναι τίσιν are correlative: that is, that when the one party is paying the penalty, it's the other which is exacting retribution? On that reading, the passage would be talking both about what each party gives up to the other, and about what each takes from the other.

This seems like a small point, but I'm not sure it is. And, even if there are difficulties, given the importance of the fragment shouldn't we at least be precise about how we resolve them?

For a somewhat extreme version of understanding the clauses differently, consider the following, a translation of Heidegger: "for they let order and thereby reck belong to one another (in the surmounting) of disorder", in which, as Lucid explains, 'reck' means 'esteem'. (Hah, and now I've linked to Daily Kos!)

Τῶν δὲ ἓν καὶ κινούμενον καὶ ἄπειρον λεγόντων ᾿Αναξίμανδρος μὲν Πραξιάδου Μιλήσιος Θαλοῦ γενόμενος διάδοχος καὶ μαθητὴς ἀρχήν τε καὶ στοιχεῖον εἴρηκε τῶν ὄντων τὸ ἄπειρον
, πρῶτος τοῦτο τοὔνομα κομίσας τῆς ἀρχῆς. λέγει δ' αὐτὴν μήτε ὕδωρ μήτε ἄλλο τι τῶν καλουμένων εἶναι στοιχείων, ἀλλ' ἑτέραν τινὰ φύσιν ἄπειρον, ἐξ ἧς ἅπαντας γίνεσθαι τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τοὺς ἐν αὐτοῖς κόσμους· ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι κατὰ τὸ χρεών. διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν, ποιητικωτέροις οὕτως ὀνόμασιν αὐτὰ λέγων· δῆλον δὲ ὅτι τὴν εἰς ἄλληλα μεταβολὴν τῶν τεττάρων στοιχείων οὗτος θεασάμενος οὐκ ἠξίωσεν ἕν τι τούτων ὑποκείμενον ποιῆσαι, ἀλλά τι ἄλλο παρὰ ταῦτα. οὗτος δὲ οὐκ ἀλλοιουμένου τοῦ στοιχείου τὴν γένεσιν ποιεῖ, ἀλλ' ἀποκρινομένων τῶν ἐναντίων διὰ τῆς ἀιδίου κινήσεως· διὸ καὶ τοῖς περὶ ᾿Αναξαγόραν τοῦτον ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης συνέταξεν.

Tabula Rasa, pro and con

About an intersection of ancient and modern, and a contribution from a frequent interlocutor of this blog and colleague:

The second essay, "Locke's Polemic against Nativism," is written by Samuel Rickless. As Rickless notes, "a proper understanding of Locke's polemic serves to deepen one's understanding of the whole book" (66) since, for example, the anti-nativist arguments of Book I lead to the detailed discussion of the origin of every idea in Book II. Rickless begins by identifying the type of nativism (dispositional nativism) that Locke's polemic is directed against and its supporters. This part of the essay is useful inasmuch as it allows Rickless to dismiss the widespread view that Locke was addressing a straw man in his polemic (59). But the most impressive part of the essay consists in identifying and analyzing in detail the various arguments Locke provides against nativism. This is no easy task and Rickless does an exceptionally good job. He argues that although Locke is successful in criticizing the nativist "Argument from Universal Consent", Locke's own arguments against nativism are much less successful. I particularly agree with Rickless that Locke's appeal to memory in the argument that Rickless calls "The Argument from Lack of Universal Consent" "gives solace to the dispositional nativist" (61). Locke's account of memory (E.II.x.2) allows for the possibility that an idea can be in the mind without being brought to consciousness. But "if we say this, then why can't we say, in defense of dispositional nativism, that ideas that are never brought to consciousness but we have the ability to 'paint' on the canvas of our minds without any accompanying perceptions of having had them before [that is, innate ideas] are also in the mind?" (61) In cases like this, in my view, Locke blatantly begs the question against dispositional nativists like Descartes (at least in the case of some ideas). I also concur with Rickless that Locke's "argument from lack of innate ideas" (roughly the argument that there are no innate principles because their constitutive ideas are not innate) rests on the questionable premise that the ideas, for example, of identity and substance are unclear and hence not innate. But unlike Rickless I do not see the force of Locke's argument that it would be pointless for God to give us innate latent principles. "If Men can be ignorant or doubtful of what is innate, innate Principles are insisted on, and urged to no purpose" (E.iii.13), argues Locke. But why should these principles' not being known to us imply that they serve no purpose for us? In fact, in a famous passage where Descartes discusses the innateness of the idea of a triangle in an exchange with Gassendi, he argues that the latent presence of the idea of the triangle allows us to recognize triangular shapes in the physical world although we may never be aware of the true idea of the triangle.

17 September 2007

A Novum Organon

For those unfazed by new technology, much can be learned from the excellent website, Scholasticon, maintained by Jacob Schmutz of the Sorbonne (Paris-IV).
Thus from a footnote to M.W.F. Stone's contribution, "Scholastic Schools and Early Modern Philosophy", in the Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy (ed. Donald Rutherford).

The footnote is a comment on Stone's claim that:
Few students of philosophy recognize that ideas and doctrines advanced by scholastic thinkers made a distinctive contribution to philosophical inquiry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For most, scholasticism is believed to have been eclipsed and subsequently displaced by self-styled "modern" movements in philosophy and science associated with Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Newton.
Stone thinks that a partial remedy, at least, might be found in a general history of early modern scholasticism, but as he points out:
There is no complete or authoritative survey of early modern scholasticism presently available in any language, a fact which is explicable more in terms of the profusion of sources rather than the indolence or disinterest [sic] of scholars.
No one who had perused the vast resources contained simply on Scholasticon could doubt this last claim.

12 September 2007

Two Books Drawn from a Long Queue

I've just finished reading through all of the book reviews that I've allowed to accumulate in my Inbox from summer months. A minor accomplishment.

Which books seemed most appealing to me? I would select two:

Andre/ Laks, Introduction a\ la "philosophie pre/socratique". Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France, 2006. Pp. 172. ISBN 2-13-055663-9.
EUR 16.00,
not least for its attention to Cassirer, and also (one might say "of course"):
Daniel Graham, Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of
Scientific Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Pp. viii, 344. ISBN 0-691-12540-6. $45.00.
If you missed them, reviews are here and here.

And that's all I'll say -- as reading not writing has been my task this morning.

07 September 2007

The Honor of One Redounding to Us All

One thinks that things are going as they should when a philosopher, in the true sense, is honored.

Professor Richard Sorabji
Cyprus Global Distinguished Professor
Inaugural Lecture

"What Zeno of Cyprus Started: Why Stoic Thinking
on Justice is Important"

to celebrate the establishment of the Cyprus Chair in the History
and Theory of Justice at New York University

in the presence of
His Excellency Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos,
President of the Republic of Cyprus

Monday, September 24, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Eisner and Lubin Auditorium
Kimmel Center for University Life
60 Washington Square South
New York City

06 September 2007

The Buk Stops Here

"Ohmygosh," I thought, as I looked at the final paragraph to the preface of a newly published book by Nelson Goodman, "there's a disastrous typo here!"

I simply had to point it out to him. So, somewhat self-satisfied that I had found the error, I approached Goodman and drew his attention to it. "Professor Goodman," I said, "I've been looking at your recent book, and there seems to be an unfortunate typo in the Preface." "What is it?" he said, gruffly. I opened the book and turned to the page, "A 'not' seems to be missing. Look: what it says is that the people who commented on earlier drafts are responsible for any errors that remain in the book, but you wanted to say that they are not responsible."

Goodman looked at me with a deadpan expression and said, "No, that's just what I wanted it to say."

And then I realized, I've had to have a joke explained to me.

You see, by then it had become so perfunctory for authors to add a clause absolving readers from any responsibility for perduring errors, that Goodman had cleverly seen that the point could better be made by pretending to blame them!

Now I don't think that Gabriel Lear is joking when at the end of an admirable and vigorous review she writes:

In conclusion, I want to draw attention to a problem that is not Garver's fault. The University of Chicago Press has done a shoddy job of proof reading this book. I counted nineteen obvious typos in 224 pages of main text; that's roughly one every twelve pages. Most of these were easy to read around, but one was quite confusing. [“Young men with innate hos and love of the noble (philokalon) can be influenced by virtue . . . , and I want to end this chapter by exploring that innate hos and love of the noble,” (p. 116). Hos is the masculine relative pronoun. Eventually I realized that hos should have been êthos.] A book published by a major university press ought to be produced better than this.
But book production is one thing, and proofreading is something else. I guess it's been naive of me to suppose that when the press sends an author final proofs to read, the author is supposed to do proofreading.

05 September 2007

Wanted: Eric Brown!

No, I do not mean Hopeton Eric Brown, who for a long time was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitive list (no longer-- see below), but rather Eric Brown the ancient philosopher.

It was once difficult to find him in cyberspace, because there are literally hundreds of Eric Browns on the web.

However, some time ago Eric Brown the ancient philosopher compiled a helpful web page, a "Guide to Eric Browns on the Web", where one may ostensibly find links to, among others, Eric Brown the author of a pocket guide to numerology, and Eric Brown the magician.

The Guide of course also links you to Eric Brown the assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis. (However, when I click on the link I find it takes me to Eric Brown who is an associate professor at Washington University. Is that like, "The woman drinking gin across the room?")

No matter, it's easy to find the Eric Brown we want, because his meta-web-page, as it collates web pages for all other Eric Browns, is very nearly at the top of any Google search for "Eric Brown". (And if its links were current, no doubt it would be at the very top.)

Thus the distinctive mark of a philosopher: as no other Eric Brown in hyperspace has seen fit to assemble the class of Eric Browns. (We might follow Russell, refer to this process as abstraction, and say that Eric Brown has now identified for us the property, "named Eric Brown".)

As for Hopeton Eric Brown -- alas, you won't be able to find him, either, if you follow the link from Eric Brown's Guide. This dangerous criminal is no longer with us, having been slain in a shoot-out in Jamaica in March 2004.

04 September 2007

Early Greek Philosophy in the District

Since I've posted on the BACAP program for the year, here's a major lecture series on presocratic philosophy in the Washington area...

Fall 2007 Lecture Series
"Early Greek Philosophy: Reason at the Beginning of Philosophy"

September 14

Kurt Pritzl, O.P., The Catholic University of America
"Anaximander’s apeiron and the Arrangement of Time"

September 21

James Lesher, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"A Systematic Xenophanes?"

September 28

Carl A. Huffman, DePauw University
"Reason and Myth in Early Pythagorean Cosmology"

October 5

Patricia Curd, Purdue University
"The Immateriality of Love and Strife in Empedocles"

October 12

Kenneth Dorter, University of Guelph
"'Changing, It is at Rest': Whole and Parts in Heraclitus"

October 19

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

October 26

Daniel Graham, Brigham Young University
"Anaxagoras: Science and Speculation in the Golden Age"

November 2

Georg Wieland, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
"Source and Quotation: Early Greek Philosophers in Medieval Commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics"

November 16

John McCarthy, The Catholic University of America
"Bacon’s Third Sailing: The 'Pre-Socratic' Origins of Modern Philosophy"

November 30

Richard Velkley, Tulane University
"Primal Truth, Errant Tradition and Crisis: The Pre-Socratics in Late Modernity"

December 7

Charles Kahn, University of Pennsylvania
"From Myth to Reason"

All lectures are held at 2:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of Aquinas Hall (formerly the Life Cycle Institute) at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 20064.

For further information, contact the Office of the Dean, School of Philosophy, 202-319-5259, cua-philosophy@cua.edu.

This series is made possible by a generous grant from the Franklin J. Matchette Foundation and the support of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation and the George Dougherty Foundation.

01 September 2007

Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 2007-8

The program for the year, fyi. Lectures are Thursday nights at 7:30 pm.

Oct 25 at Dartmouth College
David Charles (Oxford), “How Aristotle Avoided the Mind/Body Problem”
Victor Caston (Michigan) commenting

Nov. 8 at Boston College
Alvaro Vallejo (Granada), “The Ontology of False Pleasures in the Philebus
Rachel Singpurwalla (CHS) commenting

Nov. 15 at Holy Cross College
Daniel Russell (Wichita State), “Is Virtue Sufficient for Eudamonia?”
Timothy Roche (Memphis State) commenting

Nov. 29, at Brown University
Rachana Kamtekar (Arizona), “The Power of Plato’s Tripartite Psychology”
Martha Nussbaum (Chicago) commenting

Dec. 6, at Clark University
Priscilla Sakezles (Akron), “On the Aristotelian Origins of Stoic Determinism”
Joel Martinez (Lewis and Clark) commenting

Feb. 28, at Boston Univeristy
Helen Lang (Villanova), “Body and the Science of Nature in Aristotle”
Silvia Carli (Xavier) commenting

Mar. 27, at Boston College
Harvey Yunis (Rice), “Dialectic and the Purpose of Rhetoric in Plato’s Phaedrus
Adam Beresford (U Mass, Boston) commenting]

April 10, at Brown University
Heike Sefrin-Weis (S. Carolina), "Pros Hen and the Foundations of Aristotelian Metaphysics"
commentator TBA