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BMCR 2004.10.14, Celluprica/D'Ancona (edd.), Aristotele e i suoi esegeti neopla

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    ... From: owner-bmcr-l@brynmawr.edu [mailto:owner-bmcr-l@brynmawr.edu] Sent: 19 October 2004 10:41 Vincenza Celluprica, Cristina D Ancona (edd.), Aristotele e
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      Vincenza Celluprica, Cristina D'Ancona (edd.), Aristotele e i suoi
      esegeti neoplatonici. Logica e ontologia nelle interpretazioni
      greche e arabe. Atti del convegno internazionale Roma 19-20 ottobre
      2001. Roma: Biblopolis, 2004. Pp. xxi, 282. ISBN 88-7088-461-9.
      EUR 30.00.

      Reviewed by Lloyd P. Gerson, University of Toronto
      Word count: 1684 words

      This volume contains seven papers originally delivered at a
      conference at Rome in 2001 on the topic of the reception of
      Aristotle's philosophy in late antiquity, especially among Greek
      Neoplatonists and Arabic philosophers. The authors and titles of the
      papers are: R. Chiaradonna, "Plotino e la teoria degli universali.
      Enn. VI 3 [44], 9"; F. A. J. de Haas, "Context and Strategy of
      Plotinus' Treatise On Genera of Being (Enn. VI. 1-3 [42-44]); H.
      Hugonnard-Roche, "La constitution de la logique tardo-antique et
      l'e/laboration d'une logique 'mate/rielle' en syriaque"; C.
      Ferrari, "Der Duft des Apfels. Abu l-Farag 'Abdallah Ibn at-Tayyib
      und sein Kommentar zu den Kategorien des Aristoteles"; M.
      Rashed, "Ibn 'Adi et Avicenne: sur les types d'existants"; A.
      Bertolacci, "La ricezione del libro <greek>*G</greek> della
      Metafisica nell'Ilahiyyat del Kitab al-Sifa di Avicenna"; C. Martini
      Bonadeo, "<greek>w(s e)rw/menon</greek>: alcune interpretazioni di
      Metaph. <greek>*L</greek> 7".

      The period of the history of philosophy from, say, Alexander of
      Aphrodisias (2nd-early 3rd century CE) to Anselm of Canterbury
      (1033-1109) remains pretty much frontier territory except for the
      specialist. There are of course certain exceptional nodes of
      interest, including I suppose Plotinus (204/5-270), Augustine of
      Hippo (354-430), and Boethius (ca 480-524). Yet, during the above
      period, philosophy in the Platonic tradition flourished and the
      great flowering of the Islamic appropriation of ancient Greek
      thought began. One can, however, still find -- if not in theory,
      then in practice -- followers of the benighted Will Durant who,
      after writing a chapter on Aristotle in his immensely popular The
      Story of Philosophy (17th printing, 1964), paused only for a few
      desultory and condescending remarks about post-Aristotelian
      philosophy and the philosophy of the Middle Ages before moving on
      blithely to Francis Bacon. Naturally, there are reasons for the
      professional lack of interest, including linguistic and ideological
      ones. Perhaps the greatest scholar of medieval philosophy in the
      20th century, Etienne Gilson, realized only too late in his very
      long life that one could not adequately understand Scholasticism
      without immersing oneself in its roots, especially in Arabic
      philosophy. In addition, as Gilson himself famously demonstrated,
      Descartes' philosophy was itself firmly rooted in Scholasticism. To
      pretend otherwise is to contribute to or to acquiesce in the ongoing
      marginalization of the history of philosophy, particularly its early
      history. The present volume, by, and no doubt primarily for,
      specialists in the field, amply rewards study by those who would
      like to be reminded that the "story of philosophy" is much richer
      and complex than it is usually made out to be.

      Chiaradonna's paper analyzes Plotinus' criticism of Aristotle's
      theory of categories of reality in Ennead VI 3. He aims to show that
      Plotinus, unlike his disciple Porphyry, took Aristotle's account of
      the structure of the sensible world as fundamentally incompatible
      with Platonism. By contrast, Porphyry, according to Chiaradonna,
      began the Neoplatonic project of harmonizing Aristotle with
      Platonism. In particular, for Plotinus, the absolute priority of
      sensible substance is not reconcilable with a hierarchical ontology
      according to which the intelligible is prior to the sensible.
      Chiaradonna demonstrates that Plotinus grasped that the contrast
      between universal and particular does not adequately represent the
      contrast between intelligible and sensible and that it is the latter
      that Plotinus wished to maintain. Chiaradonna argues further that
      Porphyry restores harmony by distinguishing the sort of relative
      priority that sensible substance has from the absolute priority of
      the intelligible to the sensible.

      Against Chiaradonna, De Haas argues that the harmonization of
      Aristotle and Platonism is Plotinus' project, too. He holds that
      Plotinus treats Aristotle's Categories as a "quasi ontology of the
      sensible realm". He rejects the approach taken by Chiaradonna and
      others that Porphyry "saved the Categories from Plotinus'
      devastating attack". The key to De Haas' interpretation of Plotinus
      is the claim that Plotinus saw that Aristotle's categorical schema
      could not be genera of being, since the primary category, substance,
      was itself hierarchically constructed (i.e., form is prior to
      composite and composite is prior to matter). In addition, as
      Plotinus understood, Peripatetics, following those in the Academy,
      denied that members of a hierarchy could be arrayed under a single
      genus. Thus freed of the burden of proposing an alternative to the
      Platonic categorical structure of reality, Aristotle's Categories
      could be seen as an application of the Platonic schema to the
      sensible world.

      Hugonnard-Roche explores the reception of Aristotle's Organon in
      late antiquity, especially Categories. He describes the standard
      approach, found in the enormously influential teachings of the
      Neoplatonist Ammonius (ca 440-after 517) and later in Al-Farabi (ca
      873-950), according to which the demonstration syllogism as analyzed
      in Posterior Analytics is the focus of the work in general and
      Categories, De Interpretatione, Prior Analytics are preliminary
      studies of its elements -- terms, propositions, and formal
      syllogistic structure. Hugonnard-Roche contrasts this approach with
      another, found in the 6th century Syriac writings of Paul the
      Persian and discernable in some later Islamic thinkers. On this
      approach, Categories is not understood as the most preliminary work,
      one dealing with the ultimate elements of demonstration. Thus, De
      Interpretatione does not presuppose Categories. Rather, that work
      explores the modalities of relation between that which is signified
      by predicates and subjects in demonstration, for example, genera and
      species. Accordingly, the sort of division of terms described in
      Categories is irrelevant to the syllogism.

      Ferrari examines how the later Arabic philosophical tradition deals
      with the earlier Greek tradition in respect to a particular logical
      puzzle. The puzzle is that for Aristotle an accident is inseparable
      from a substance, but it seems that, for example, in the case of an
      apple's fragrance, which is an accident of it, is in fact also
      separable from it. Ferrari examines the work of Abul-Farag ibn at-
      Tayyib (d. 1043), a Nestorian Christian philosopher and physician,
      who preserves three of the Greek solutions to this puzzle in his
      commentary on Aristotle's Categories. The first solution rests upon
      a doctrine of physical emanation, according to which the accidental
      scent is defined as a stream of particles streaming out through the
      air. The second rests upon the idea of air as a medium through which
      the accident is perceived. The third solution has the accident
      impressed on the air and the air on the perceiver. It is the third
      solution that Ibn at-Tayyib argues is the correct one, and the one
      endorsed by Aristotle. In fact, Ferrari shows that the Greek
      commentators preferred yet another solution based on temporal
      modalities, according to which Aristotle should be interpreted as
      maintaining that an accident can be separated from that in which it
      was, though not from that in which it is.

      Rashed's article (to which is appended the first translation of
      Yahya ibn 'Adi's (d. 974) treatise on universals) explores in rich
      detail the problem crucial for Neoplatonists and medieval
      philosophers of the ontological status of essences. Rashed explains
      how Avicenna (980-1037) argued against the realism of the
      Neoplatonic tradition, exemplified by Porphyry, and carried forward
      by Ibn 'Adi, according to which essences had an existence of their
      own. Avicenna wanted to insist that while an essence could exist in
      the divine mind, our minds, and things exemplifying it, that did not
      entail that it had its own existence. However, since this makes
      universality extrinsic to essence, the question remains of the
      ontological status of the essence as such. Ibn 'Adi wanted to argue
      that the possibility of an essence existing so diversely entailed
      its having its own unique existence. By contrast, Avicenna held
      that "pure" essence or form was itself non-existent precisely
      because it did not have the complexity required of something that

      Bertolacci examines Avicenna's efforts to apply the account of being
      qua being in Book G of Aristotle's Metaphysics to a unified
      understanding of metaphysics. Avicenna famously claimed not to have
      fathomed Aristotle's Metaphysics until he chanced upon Al-Farabi's
      commentary on that work. This unified understanding depends on
      establishing the scientific character of metaphysics according to
      the strictures of Posterior Analytics. That scientific character is
      manifested in a universal demonstrative science of being qua being
      and being's commensurately universal properties. Metaphysics is thus
      distinguished from dialectic, and theology is subordinated to a
      branch of metaphysics, not identified with it. As a branch of
      metaphysics, theology studies the principle and cause of being, God,
      the necessary self-caused source of being. It is noteworthy I think
      that Avicenna, who here claims to be following Aristotle, actually
      gives a Neoplatonic rendering of the place of a first principle of
      all in relation to universal science.

      Bonadeo explores the Arabic philosophical interpretations of Book L,
      chapter 7 of Aristotle's Metaphysics wherein the prime unmoved mover
      is characterized as "goal" or "end" of the entire universe. The
      contemporary (and traditional) interpretations of God's finality and
      the problems with these are well known. Aristotle distinguishes two
      sense of "end", the "internal" result of the operation of an
      efficient cause and the "external" purpose for which something is
      done. However, neither of these senses of "end" seems to make sense
      when applied to the unmoved mover as the separate and self-
      existing "end" of the entire universe. There is a rich alternative
      tradition of late Greek and Arabic commentary on this passage, and
      the prevailing interpretation within that tradition (perhaps
      deriving from an alternative text), assimilates the finality of the
      unmoved mover, as ultimate good, to a type of paradigmatic
      causality. This paradigmatic status is not adventitious and
      sporadic; it must flow from the efficient causality of the paradigm,
      that is, operate on all that its causal scope embraces. That is why
      the unmoved mover is paradigmatically good. The resistance to this
      interpretation is undoubtedly owing to the assumption that
      paradigmatic causality is resolutely rejected by Aristotle.
      Nevertheless, the general idea that Aristotle's philosophy was
      hostile to Platonism was not an assumption shared by Arabic-Islamic

      This is altogether a welcome and impressive collection, with much
      stimulating material both for the specialist and for the generalist
      willing to explore the vast and intricate terrain situated between
      the classical period and Latin Scholasticism. The greatest benefit
      for the casual reader will be found in the fresh interpretive
      perspectives brought by Arabic philosophers to their reading of the

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