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Fw: BMCR 2006.06.31, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXVII

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  • Edward Moore
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      Subject: BMCR 2006.06.31, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXVII


      > David Sedley (ed.), Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Volume XXVII
      > (Winter 2004). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. 350. ISBN
      > 0-19-927713-3. $35.00 (pb).
      >
      > Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College, Dublin (dillonj@...)
      > Word count: 1388 words
      > -------------------------------
      > To read a print-formatted version of this review, see
      > http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2006/2006-06-31.html
      > -------------------------------
      >
      > The present volume of this excellent series has the usual spread of
      > stimulating articles by notable contributors. There are ten articles in
      > all, one on Socrates, four on Plato, three on Aristotle, and two on
      > post-Aristotelian philosophy (one on Pyrrho, one on Alexander of
      > Aphrodisias). The titles are as follows (I shall comment individually
      > later): William J. Prior, 'Socrates Metaphysician'; David Wolfsdorf,
      > 'Interpreting Plato's Early Dialogues'; Gail Fine, 'Knowledge and True
      > Belief in the Meno'; Hendrik Lorenz, 'Desire and Reason in Plato's
      > Republic'; James Wilberding, 'Prisoners and Puppeteers in the Cave';
      > David Bostock, 'An Aristotelian Theory of Predication?'; Scott Labarge,
      > 'Aristotle on 'Simultaneous Learning' in Posterior Analytics 1.1';
      > Lloyd P. Gerson, 'Platonism in Aristotle's Ethics'; Svavar Hrafn
      > Svavarsson, 'Pyrrho's Undecidable Nature'' Inna Kupreeva, 'Alexander of
      > Aphrodisias on Mixture and Growth.'
      >
      > The first three articles have something in common, as all concern the
      > early Platonic dialogues. Prior joins the ranks of those taking on
      > Gregory Vlastos for one or another aspect of his view of Socrates
      > (particularly in Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher), by
      > challenging his claim that the 'Socrates' of the early dialogues (or
      > 'Socrates-sub-E' as this character is sometimes denoted) is exclusively
      > a moral philosopher. Prior maintains that, just because a theory of
      > separable Forms cannot be imputed to 'Socrates-sub-E', that does not
      > mean that he did not have a metaphysical position, and that indeed he
      > does hold to the existence of a set of objective realities, knowledge
      > of which can be attained by the elenctic process. Prior argues his case
      > well, and I think I agree with him.
      >
      > Wolfsdorf, secondly, has been concerning himself for some years now, in
      > a series of articles, with the nature of Plato's procedure in the early
      > dialogues, and here makes a number of interesting points about Plato's
      > authorial stance, the audience at which he is aiming, and his use of
      > Socrates as a character. I am not sure that I learned much that was
      > new, but I think that his distinction between Socrates as 'mouthpiece'
      > of Plato and Socrates as his 'favoured character' is a good one.
      >
      > Thirdly, Gail Fine returns yet again to the distinction between
      > knowledge and true belief in the Meno. The issue revolves round what is
      > that element, the aitias logismos (98A), that converts true belief into
      > knowledge by 'tying it down'. It is always enlightening to read Fine's
      > lucubrations on this, as on other subjects, but, were I the Editor, I
      > would be tempted now to say, "this correspondence is now closed." On
      > the contrary, Fine ends her article ominously by declaring that "much
      > more remains to be said."
      >
      > Moving on, we find two stimulating articles on aspects of the Republic.
      > In his critique of the doctrine of the tripartite soul, Hendrik Lorenz
      > most effectively picks apart Plato's analysis of the desiderative
      > element, with illuminating reference to the psychology of the various
      > 'corrupt' forms of soul, such as the timocratic and oligarchic, in
      > Books 8 and 9, but concludes that the desiderative part does not itself
      > use reasoning in the Platonic sense, though it seems hard to deny some
      > form of 'means-ends' reasoning to it. This is again a well-worn topic,
      > but always worth going over.
      >
      > Likewise, one might say, with the issue of the Prisoners in the Cave,
      > but here James Wilberding produces much that I found new and
      > stimulating. It really does seem to make good sense to take the
      > prisoners, not as members of the general public, even if they are
      > described as "just like us," but rather as "political contenders
      > occupied with the struggle for power in the polis" (p. 123), while the
      > general public are the puppeteers, setting the agenda for the
      > democratic politicians, who follow rather than lead.
      >
      > We come now to a series of three articles on aspects of Aristotle, the
      > first two more narrowly logical in topic, the third a most interesting
      > discussion of the essential Platonism of Aristotle's ethical position.
      > David Bostock is concerned with Aristotle's views on predication, and
      > the question whether they amount to a coherent and (reasonably) valid
      > theory. He sets Aristotle most interestingly in the context of the
      > modern logical theory of quantification, and shows that he comes out
      > not too badly, even if his notion of a subject of predication is rather
      > restricted.
      >
      > Scott Labarge turns to the interesting topic of Aristotle's views on
      > the possibility of 'simultaneous learning', as a means of getting round
      > the problem involved in the principle stated at the beginning of the
      > Posterior Analytics, "All teaching and all intellectual learning arise
      > from pre-existing cognition." If this is not to involve an infinite
      > regress--or worse, in Aristotle's view, an admission of antenatal
      > knowledge, as propounded by Plato--one needs some formula to explain
      > how this can come about. The interpretation of An. Pr. 2. 21 is
      > important here, a passage in which Aristotle is dealing with the
      > problem of how, and in what sense, we can come to know and not to know
      > the same thing, and in that connexion makes an interesting reference to
      > the argument for learning as anamne^sis in the Meno, as well as using
      > his own term epago^ge^ in an apparently odd way. Labarge's analysis of
      > this, adopting but modifying the (rather attractive) position of Mark
      > Gifford, I found most enlightening.
      >
      > Lloyd Gerson's assertion of Aristotle's basic Platonism in the area of
      > ethics, and in particular of his position on the role of theôria in EN
      > 10. 6-8, which is an elaboration of one part of his argument in his
      > recent book Aristotle and Other Platonists (Ithaca/London, 2005), is
      > most salutary, and will serve to reinforce our new (or rather, revived)
      > consciousness of the essential Platonism of Aristotle. This does not
      > involve trying to make Aristotle a faithful follower of Plato. As
      > Gerson acutely remarks (p. 221), Platonism should be regarded, not, so
      > to speak, as Catholicism (as opposed to Aristotle's Protestantism), but
      > rather as representing the whole Christian tradition, within which many
      > tendencies may flourish and compete.
      >
      > We move on now to Hellenistic and later philosophy -- though in fact
      > Gerson, in his argument, made much use of Plotinus and other later
      > Platonists, and Pyrrho himself is only a younger contemporary of
      > Aristotle, whom Aristotle may even be criticising in Met. 4. Svavar
      > Svavarsson contributes an excellent study of the sceptical argument
      > that nothing is by nature good, set out by Sextus Empiricus in AM 11.
      > 69-78, but arguably going back to Pyrrho himself, based on the 'natural
      > invariability' thesis: that is to say, the principle that if anything
      > has a certain characteristic by nature, it should be universal and
      > invariable in its effect, like the heat of fire; and this is not the
      > case with 'good'. Since the argument seems to move from the variability
      > of our perceptions (subjective) to lack of a definite nature
      > (objective), it has been judged invalid, but Svavarsson provides a very
      > full and informative defence of it. My own impression of Pyrrho,
      > however, is that he operated very much in the mode of a Zen master, in
      > his effort to induce a state of 'tranquillity' in his disciples, so
      > that subjecting his arguments to a strict logical examination may be
      > hardly appropriate, but Svavarsson undoubtedly produces much of
      > interest along the way.
      >
      > Lastly, Inna Kupreeva provides a fine account of the critique of
      > Alexander of Aphrodisias, both in his surviving treatise On Mixture, in
      > a number of his Quaestiones, and in various of his lost works,
      > preserved in Philoponus and in Arabic sources, of Stoic theories of
      > mixture and of growth. Lurking behind the scientific argumentation here
      > is, of course, a dispute about metaphysics--specifically, the Stoic
      > theory of the total interpenetration of the divine pneuma with the
      > matter of the world, and Kupreeva deals with both these aspects of the
      > subject most learnedly.
      >
      > All in all, this is a very fine collection of articles, but, having now
      > worked my way through them, I am moved to wonder how many of us, unless
      > particularly provoked to do so, ever read through a whole volume of
      > such a journal as this. I may be wrong, but I suspect the answer is
      > very few, if any. This reflection enhances my admiration for David
      > Sedley, who as editor has plainly not simply read through all of these
      > articles, but contributed useful comments on most of them as well.
      > Better him than me!
      >
      >
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