Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.06.15

C.C.W. Taylor, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Volume XII. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. 269. $55.00. ISBN 0-19-823527-5.

Reviewed by Lloyd P. Gerson, Philosophy -- St. Michael's College, University of Toronto (

The most recent volume in this distinguished series of studies in ancient philosophy contains eight new essays ranging over material from the Pre-Socratics to the late Neoplatonists as well as three reviews of new and important books. I begin with a brief synopsis of the contents of each of the articles.

Lesher in "The Emergence of Philosophical Interest in Cognition" challenges some standard interpretations of Pre-Socratic accounts of cognition. He argues that between Homer and Plato there is very little evidence to support the contention that there occurred an evolution or development in the meaning of the key terms for cognition. He seeks to show both that the non-philosophical uses of cognitive vocabulary are more sophisticated than is often supposed and that the Pre-Socratic philosophers, especially Xenophanes, Heracleitus, and Parmenides, drew upon distinctions that were rooted in an already long tradition. This essay includes a wealth of textual support as well as some subtle analysis of the import of some well-known philosophical texts.

Patricia Clarke in "The Interweaving of the Forms with one Another: Sophist 259e" addresses the problem in an intensely studied and pivotal text in Plato. The questions here are how Plato supposed Forms to be related to each other and how an interweaving of Forms is supposed to explain a statement like "Theaetetus sits". Against Ackrill, Peck, Moravcsik and others, Clarke argues that the interweaving of Forms refers to their coinstantiation in some sensible entity. Thus, "Theaetetus is sitting" depends upon Theaetetus partaking of a Form of Sitting as well as such other Forms that are simultaneously present in him. At least one of these Forms would be the Form of Man. The bulk of the essay is taken up with detailing the problems with alternative interpretations and showing how Clarke's own solves various philosophical problems in the text including that of how Plato's is supposed to understand the difference between a true statement and one that is merely intelligible.

Daniel T. Devereux in "Separation and Immanence in Plato's theory of Forms" argues that Plato's separation of Forms, as indicated in the middle dialogues and testified to by Aristotle, means the ontological independence of all Forms from the sensible world. He argues further that Forms and "immanent characters" are distinct types of entities. The primary target of the critical aspect of Devereux's paper is a recent interpretation of Gail Fine rejecting unequivocal separation of Forms. Devereux takes the first part of the Parmenides as indicating Plato's commitment to separation.

Paul Thom in "Interpreting Aristotle's Contingency-Syllogistic" revives the interpretation of Alexander of Aphrodisias of Prior Analytics 1.14-22 over against modern interpretations of A. Becker and J. Hintikka where the theory of contingency-syllogisms is developed. The issue here is an ambiguity, noticed by Aristotle himself, between saying that for everything that is B, A is contingent (unampliated sense) and saying that for everything that could be B, A is contingent (ampliated sense). According to the interpretation of Alexander, defended by Thom, chapters 14-22 of book one of the Prior Analytics actually work out two systems of contingency syllogisms according to whether there are ampliated or unampliated predications.

Roger Crisp in "Aristotle's Inclusivism" takes up an issue that has been at the forefront of work on Aristotle's ethics for the last generation, namely, whether Aristotle's conception of happiness is "inclusive" or "exclusive". That is, does Aristotle identify happiness with one activity, contemplation, or with all the activities that can be shown to be intrinsically desirable by the good person. Systematically surveying the evidence in books 1 and 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Crisp argues for what he terms "aretic inclusivism," the view that happiness for Aristotle is not improvable by the addition of other goods (hence, the inclusivism) but that it is dominated by a supreme activity. As Crisp puts it, the happiness of a good person can be improved by only one thing, more happiness.

Richard Bett in "Aristocles on Timon on Pyrrho: The Text, it's Logic, and it's Credibility" focuses in minute detail on the central text extant for an understanding of the basic position of the putative founder of Skepticism, Pyrrho of Elis. This text, preserved in Eusebius' Preparatio Evangelica, purports to be from an account of Pyrrho's philosophy by his pupil and biographer, Timon of Phlius. It is a puzzling text in many respects. Bett argues that the first of Pyrrho's three famous questions "what is the nature of things" is to be understood as a question expecting an ontological rather than an epistemological answer. Pyrrho is most likely to have held, according to Bett, that things are indeterminate in their nature, and therefore we are unable to have true (or false) beliefs about them. As Bett argues, if this is correct, then later so-called "Pyrrhonian Skepticism" from Aenesidemus to Sextus Empiricus diverges rather sharply from the basic inspiration of the founding father.

Kimon Lycos in "Olympiodorus on Pleasure and the Good in Plato's Gorgias" explores the relatively unfamiliar terrain of late Neoplatonic interpretations of Plato. He displays both the general style of these interpretations and attempts to show the illumination possible when one looks at Platonic texts from the very different perspective of the 6th century A.D. He argues that, for Olympiodorus and for the Neoplatonists generally, the issue in the argument Socrates has with Callicles is what Plato is telling us through Callicles, that is, where his view of virtue is to be located on a scale of virtues ranging from the lowest to the highest. Lycos contrasts the approach of modern interpreters who focus on particular arguments to determine their strength and weaknesses from that of Olympiodorus who is most concerned with the overall aim of the dialogue and how the arguments fit in to that aim. Thus, the arguments cannot be understood apart from their purpose.

Robert Heinamann in "Kosman on Activity and Change" attacks the thesis of the well-known paper of L.A. Kosman in which it is argued that the potentiality actualized in change is destroyed or "consumed" at the end of the change. The issue here is to understood the difference between change and activity as well as the change that is involved in activities. There is the further issue of how the actualization that occurs in a change is related to an activity. Heinamann discusses the relevant texts from the Physics, showing that on Kosman's interpretation Aristotle is faced with a number of insurmountable difficulties, especially regarding entities that have at the same time potentialities for opposites. The central point of Heinamann's own interpretation is that potentialities that differ in being can nevertheless be one in number. Thus, it can be said without contradiction that the potentiality to be healthy is the same as the potentiality to be ill and also that to be potentially healthy and to be potentially ill are different.

Completing the volume are three substantial discussion-reviews of recent books in ancient philosophy.

Mary Margaret McCabe reviews The Cambridge Companion to Plato edited by Richard Kraut. Charles Young examines two recent works on computer assisted dating of Plato's dialogues Gerald R. Ledger's Re-counting Plato: A Computer Analysis of Plato's Style and Leonard Brandwood's The Chronology of Plato's Dialogues. Finally, Daniel Frank discusses Miriam Galston's Politics and Excellence: The Political Philosophy of Alfarabi. The last piece may seem to fit oddly in this volume but as Frank explains, Alfarabi was an important expositor and continuator of both Platonic and Aristotelian themes. I think Young's essay deserves special mention as an exceptionally acute and clear criticism of the problems faced by the use of stylistic criteria in general in dating the dialogues of Plato. The use of the computer in this regard has not substantially altered the issue.

In sum, a rich variety of fare. It is unlikely that anyone in ancient philosophy will not profit from at least some of the essays here. The articles by Bett and Lycos are perhaps the most original and thought-provoking, those by Devereux and Crisp the most thoroughly and persuasively argued. It is difficult, though, to believe that many individuals will not be deterred by the steep hardcover price of this eclectic volume. Why is this series not published in paper?