01 October 2007

The State of the Question, For Me

Some rules of thumb for the interpretation of a 'pre-Socratic' philosopher:

1. The interpretation of a fragment or attributed view should be the most economical interpretation of that fragment or attribution which is consistent with the following:
2. The philosophical view (taken to be) expressed should be such as earlier views might naturally have led to it directly (that is, the view might serve as a development, correction, application to a new domain, generalization, etc., of an earlier view).
3. The philosophical view (taken to be) expressed should be such as it might naturally have led directly to a later view (by way of development, correction, application to a new domain, generalization, etc.).
4. The philosophical view (taken to be) expressed is inherently interesting, clever, or profound.
I don't claim that this list is complete, but it is a good start.

Note that 2. and 3. serve to place a philosopher in a sequence of thought.

I state these rules of thumb because they capture what I think is wrong with the usual interpretation of the Anaximander 'fragment' -- which, it seems to me, offends against all four.

The usual interpretation goes much beyond what the fragment says (contrary to 1.); it does so with reference to a general view about cyclical change in nature which any philosopher at any time in the 6th-4th centuries BC might have thought (contrary to 2. and 3.); and, when given precise content in relation to the actual words of the fragment, the view is hardly coherent and seems actually to contain a contradiction (contrary to 4.).

This by way of summary.

But it's easy to be critical. Someone might challenge me to come up with something better, and I'll try to do that tomorrow or the next day.


Micah Tillman said...

Your criteria seem to be in perfect keeping with the Pritzlian view. Though Fr. Pritzl takes the Atomists as instituting a major disjunction.

Or perhaps they would fit under the "reaction to" category. Hegelian dialectic as process and all that.

Not that I have any expertise on the subject, but I approve of your list :-)

JIW said...

I think I would need some better guidance about what it is for one philosophical view to lead or follow 'naturally' from another. Can you expand a bit?

Michael Pakaluk said...

Hi James,

For the moment, I was willing to let 'natural' have the content of the list: a correction, new application, development, and generalization would each constitute a 'natural' sequence-- the sort of change that would plausibly come from an intelligent person's (i.e. situated in a certain way, and viewing the matter in a certain way) reflecting on that view. We're not unfamiliar from the history of philosophy with what these might be.

Also, I regard this as a matter of antecedent likelihood, not of a criterion which is absolute, viz. we should prefer and find more likely an account like that rather than one which was not.