Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.25


C.C.W. Taylor, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Vol. XI. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Pp. 269. $55.00. ISBN 0-19-824095-3.


Reviewed by Dirk t. D. Held, Connecticut College.

The eleventh volume of the Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy is devoted almost exclusively to Plato and Aristotle: one paper is on Socrates in Xenophon's Apology, two are on Plato, and four on Aristotle. Three review-articles follow, likewise on Plato or Aristotle. No thematic thread links the contents.

1. The longest piece is Paul Vander Waerdt's "Socratic Justice and Self-Sufficiency: The Story of the Delphic Oracle in Xenophon's Apology of Socrates." Vander Waerdt turns to Xenophon as a resource for the recalcitrant Socratic problem. He attacks Vlastos' confidence that he could discern genuinely Socratic elements in the Platonic dialogues. Vander Waerdt holds that there is no way to mark a Platonic dialogue as genuinely Socratic (a status rather strictly construed as "free of Platonic concerns"). He contends that the best we can do is use comparative methods to measure accounts of Socrates, and that the best assessment of Plato's Socrates will be found through comparison with Xenophon.

Vander Waerdt demonstrates how Xenophon's Apology responds to Plato's, including giving a missing rationale for Plato's failure to show why Socrates provoked the jury with his "boastfulness" (megalegoria). Xenophon's Socrates believes justice is a form of benefaction and challenges the jury to judge him in that light. Thus for Xenophon, Socrates' "paramount aim was ... preservation of piety and of his reputation for justice." Vander Waerdt next adduces the story of the Delphic oracle. Through his version, Xenophon rejects Plato's representation of Socrates' ethical attributes and philosophical mission, presenting in its place a Socrates who does not proclaim ignorance or belittle human wisdom, nor reduce the virtues to wisdom.

While Vander Waerdt successfully highlights the differences between the Platonic and Xenophontic Socrates, the results diminish since the approach cannot avoid circularity. An historically reliable assessment of Plato's Socrates vis à vis Xenophon's would require weighing the worth and validity of each. But without agreement on historically accurate characteristics, there is no way to know whether that chimerical figure "the historical Socrates" is better captured by Xenophon or Plato. Vander Waerdt says several times that Xenophon "corrects" Plato's account, and that he can "remedy" impressions left by Plato regarding Socrates' conduct of his defense, thus suggesting a true account in place of a false one. He is usually more cautious, and acknowledges that in the end all a comparison can show is that Xenophon and Plato differ in their accounts -- a conclusion to which no one will take exception.

2. Christopher Rowe's "Explanation in Phaedo 99c6-102a8" is a by-product of his Cambridge commentary. Rowe is troubled by the inadequate account of explanation in the passage describing Socrates' "second voyage." Socrates says he will use the method of hypothesis to apply whatever logos he judges strongest for reaching an aitia. With this method, Socrates can provide the aitiai for particulars in the Forms. To justify each hypothesis, Socrates must introduce the best of the "higher" hypotheses, thereby "giving an account" of the lower one. Rowe objects that Plato doesn't specify how to determine the strongest hypothesis. Rowe proposes to read the Phaedo "as if for the first time," which disallows appeal to the Republic's fuller description of the hypothetical method as well as removing any higher hypothesis that can explain the Form-participation hypothesis in the way the Good does in the Republic. In the Phaedo Socrates acknowledges that particulars can be related to Forms in several ways. Rowe argues that Socrates provisionally adopts whichever version of the Form-particular relationship he regards as strongest on a given occasion.

Rowe concludes that the theory of explanation in the Phaedo "tells us that the aitia for anything's being or coming to be F is that it somehow has or comes to have a bit of F-ness in it." The dialogue doesn't resolve difficulties in the Form-particular relationship, but Rowe thinks the "safe" answer of Socrates' hypothesis does provide sufficient means for fulfilling the overt purpose of the dialogue, to prove the soul's immortality.

3. In "The Philosopher in Flight: The Digression in Plato's Theaetetus," Rachel Rue discusses Theaetetus 172c-177c as it relates to the dialogue as a whole. This generally neglected portrait of the philosopher is presented as a deliberate caricature subservient to the dialogue's larger purpose. Protagoras is presented by Socrates as holding that even opinions count as perceptions, all of which must be true. Divorced from absolute knowledge, Protagorean wisdom becomes the "ability to effect change for the better." Socratic wisdom by contrast will not allow such a divorce from knowledge. But while orators can only bring about what appears good, philosophers searching for knowledge are accused of lacking practical competence and effect.

Rue agrees that the philosopher is as "one-sided and incomplete" as the orator, but denies that it is Socrates being caricatured. Far from having a detached intellect, Socrates is described by Rue as a participant in city affairs and alert to worldly matters. Instead of the philosopher of caricature who lacks interest in particulars, it is "at least in part through intercourse with particulars" that Socrates has learned about virtue and knowledge. Nor is Socrates the sort of philosopher who, eyes raised heavenward, withdraws from the evils of the world rather than fight them. His superiority to this figure lies in his grasp of the connection between philosophical speculations and pragmatic results. He matches Protagoras' success at changing things for the better when he moves Theodorus away from fixation on the eternal realities of mathematics to find salvation (and preserve the integrity of mathematical knowledge) in philosophy by participating in the refutation of Protagoras' assertion of the epistemological equality of all opinions. Socrates as philosopher therefore stands midway between the facile relativism of Protagoras and the self-isolating perspective of abstract knowledge.

4. Protagoras continues as a reference point for Paula Gottlieb's "Aristotle versus Protagoras on Relatives and the Objects of Perception," though her real concern is with developments in Aristotle's accounts of relatives. She invokes the ontologically radical version of Protagoras' homo mensura doctrine (for other interpretations, cf. von Fritz, RE XLV) which entails that nothing exists independently of an individual's perception of it, and asks whether Aristotle avoids such unpalatable consequences. The early appraisal of relatives in Categories 7 holds an asymmetrical relation linguistically and ontologically between perception and perceptibles: while perceptibles can exist independent of the exercise of perception, perception cannot occur without prior perceptibles. A revised account is given in Metaphysics Delta where at least some things, knowledge and perception, are "called relatives by something else being called what it is relative to them" whereas more typically relatives attain their status because they are related to something else. There are many obscurities in Aristotle's second version, and Gottlieb deserves credit for her probing analysis of the difficulties in both argument and text. She concludes that Aristotle's later account maintains the asymmetry between the objects of perception (perceptibles) and perception, but nonetheless she sees him still susceptible to a charge of radical Protagoreanism.

5. Robert Bolton does an excellent job in using Aristotle's codification of dialectic in Topics and Sophistical Refutations to confront long standing problems of Socratic elenchus. "Aristotle's Account of the Socratic Elenchus" focuses on the type of dialectic called "peirastic" which Bolton shows is based upon Socratic practice. Bolton denies any contradiction between peirastic's dependence on commonly held opinions and Socrates' often voiced preference for expert knowledge. Nowhere does Socrates reject the notion that individuals should argue from what is widely and firmly accepted; he privileges expert knowledge only for technical matters such as medicine. Therefore no disparity exists between Aristotle's account of (peirastic) dialectic and Socratic practice.

The problem about the elenchus is frequently seen as whether elenchus establishes new knowledge -- that is, confirms something as true or false -- or simply shows inconsistency within a premise set, without confirming specific premises as false. Bolton formulates it as the question of how Socrates while professing ignorance can refute claims of others likewise ignorant of the subject under investigation. Like Socratic elenchus, peirastic dialectic establishes someone's ignorance of principles with a focus on whether that person is knowledgeable about definitions. Proof of ignorance of principles demands that a person's beliefs be examined, and that these beliefs be the sort known to someone with expert knowledge. The pretender to (expert) knowledge lacks knowledge of grounding principles even while having an (ungrounded) knowledge of what is derived from these principles. Peirastic disabuses a person of the false assumption of genuine (i.e. grounded) knowledge. Here is Aristotle's solution to the Socratic elenchus: Socrates despite professing ignorance can establish some things as certain and some things as false by relying on the type of knowledge widely and firmly accepted -- endoxa -- without reference to the expert knowledge of principles he disavows.

6. "The Primacy of Self-Love in the Nicomachean Ethics" by Vasilis Politis is a close analysis of Aristotle's claim at EN 9.8 that a person should love himself above everything else. Politis labels this the "Priority Thesis" but wonders why Aristotle did not settle for a "Weak Supremacy Thesis" which requires only that one must love oneself as much as possible. The compatibility of self-love and concern for others is at the center of debates about Greek eudaimonism, and the weaker thesis would leave room for loving others alongside loving oneself. Politis believes that Aristotle, while preferring the Priority Thesis, provides adequate reasoning only for the Weak Supremacy Thesis. He further argues that Aristotle commits a fallacy by moving from the Weak Supremacy Thesis to the Priority Thesis for he has not demonstrated any logical incompatibility between a person's self-love (constituted by striving for virtue and practical wisdom) and that same person's loving others as much as he loves himself.

Politis provides a tentative explanation for the logical gap and for Aristotle's move. One should aim at offering excellences to people, but certain excellences, like performing noble actions, can only be offered to oneself. On this reasoning Aristotle is entitled to conclude that one should aim less at excellence for others and more at excellence for oneself (self-love). Even so, Politis admits that difficulties remain because the argument relies on premises not beyond dispute. Why did Aristotle overlook the fallacy, and why does he insist on the priority of loving oneself more than any others? Politis proposes that eudaimonism is the cause on the grounds that it posits one aim of all actions, one's own happiness.

7. John Cooper offers "Rhetoric, Dialectic, and the Passions" as an exploration of whether something approaching an Aristotelian theory of the emotions can be extracted from the Rhetoric. Therefore he must show that Aristotle proceeds beyond a survey of opinions, useful as such knowledge might be for a budding rhetorician. While rhetoric is not a form of knowledge grounded in first principles, Cooper argues that Aristotle nonetheless goes beyond endoxai to a careful study of states of feelings, that is, of the emotions themselves. The analysis focuses on the centrality of lupe and hedone to the emotions. The former is defined as a state accompanied by "psychic turmoil," while the latter connotes "positive mental excitement," both acting as "intrusive feelings" capable of moving people to change their judgments. Cooper further reminds us of the irrationality of emotions, the way in which at times things beyond our control simply "strike" us. And finally he notes Aristotle's association of non-rational desire with the emotions, giving the example of anger as a desire to inflict pain. Emotions are accordingly agitated states of mind, dependent on how things strike one, and are also a desire to do or change something. Cooper acknowledges that while the Rhetoric does not provide this as a systematic assessment of the emotions, still Aristotle has pointed the reader towards recognizing these elements as central to emotions.

Three lengthy review-articles conclude the volume. Lesley Brown discusses David Bostock's Plato's Theaetetus and Myles Burnyeat's The Theaetetus of Plato; Jonathan Barnes trenchantly examines Richard McKirahan's Principles and Proofs: Aristotle's Theory of Demonstrative Science; and Sarah Broadie comments on Terence Irwin's Aristotle's First Principles.