Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.6.27


C. C. W. Taylor, ed., Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. 15. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 296. $68.00 ISBN 0-19-823760-X.

Review by Brad Inwood, Classics, University of Toronto, Inwood@chass.utoronto.ca

This volume of Oxford Studies contains nine contributions. Five are free-standing articles on topics ranging from Heraclitus to Aristotle's conception of justice, and four are critical notices, discussions, or explorations of recent books. There is perhaps rather more critical or 'reactive' activity than usual, and indeed there is an air of conservatism about many of the contributions. Still, it is all discussion at a very high level and this year's Oxford Studies demands the same attention from specialists that it always merits.

In 'Heraclitus' Criticism of Ionian Philosophy' Daniel Graham brings the Presocratics back to Oxford Studies with a lengthy reassessment (fifty pages) of this most enigmatic philosopher. An impressive mastery of the copious literature on Heraclitus underlies a critical reassessment of his basic philosophical character. His aim is to present a philosopher who is more consistent than the Heraclitus identified with the doctrine of radical flux and at the same time more revolutionary than the proponent of constancy amid change promoted by G.S. Kirk, among others. In method, the reader quickly senses an affinity between Graham and Popper's 'Back to the Presocratics'. In substance, the revolutionary philosopher whom Graham elegantly constructs resembles the Heraclitus outlined by Cherniss in 'Characteristics and Effects of Presocratic Philosophy'. Graham reserves for an appendix his candid admission of what he owes to these two classic studies from the 1950s, and his argument is completely independent of Popper and Cherniss, being based on a careful and insightful assessment of the primary evidence. (One might wish for a more self-conscious scepticism about what counts as a fragment of Heraclitus, but this is a minor and perhaps idiosyncratic cavil.)

Graham builds his new-and-old Heraclitus on a careful description of the implicit Ionian metaphysics against which he reacted, a metaphysics based on the primacy of substance-powers which generate and/or transform. Heraclitus, Graham argues, saw the flaws in Ionian metaphysics, in particular its reliance on the notion of an underlying generating substance. His own theory, articulated with the dark paradox familiar to all, eliminates that substance and abandons the Ionian quest to specify its nature. Instead, Heraclitus presents us with a metaphysics of processes, with the proposal to see the world as a stability built upon change rather than as a set of changes imposed upon stable substances. The special role of fire, then, is as a symbol for this basic truth; paradox is necessary to drive home the novelty of his insight. This is a very attractive proposal for interpreting Heraclitus, and Graham's criticisms of Barnes and Kirk are usually on the mark. I would have appreciated rather more engagement with Mourelatos' 'Heraclitus, Parmenides and the Nai+ve Metaphysics of Things' -- a work which Graham says (6 n.21) 'has particularly influenced my thought on Heraclitus, though I have come to dissent from key points in it'. Mourelatos' article is one of the fundamental works in the field and Graham tantalizes the reader rather unkindly in his allusion to it.

Jane Day ('The Theory of Perception in Plato's Theaetetus 152-183') argues for two important claims about this crucial passage of a dialogue central to Platonic epistemology. First, in a discussion of nearly twenty pages she argues that the theory presented is neither cleanly phenomenalist nor clearly causal in character but a mixture of the two. Perceptions are made to depend on the subject and object (as in a causal theory), but equally the subject and object are made to arise from perceptions (69). The theory is, alas, incoherent. But that, Day argues, is no reason not to accept the most obvious interpretation of the text. Her second claim is made more compactly (70-80). This theory was worked up by Plato on the basis of his own views about what was entailed by Protagoreanism, in order to show that knowledge could not be properly understood as a form of perception. It is an example of Plato's dialectical exploration at its best, rather than a bizarre or problematic theory to which Plato was at one point committed.

Istva/n Bodna/r ('Movers and Elemental Motions in Aristotle') tackles the difficult problem of the nature of the motion of the heavenly bodies. Notoriously there are two views in Aristotle: that the heavens and the heavenly bodies are made of a special stuff whose natural motion is circular rather than up or down; and that they are moved by the attraction of an unmoved mover which is both ultimate and non-physical. Beginning from the observation (82) that these two theories are not known to be strictly incompatible, Bodna/r attempts to show how the two views can work together in Aristotle's theory. Physics 8, Metaphysics Q, and the De Caelo are the principal texts, but argument on such a central problem in Aristotle inevitably ranges more widely. If Bodna/r is right (and I am inclined to think he is) then at least on this topic there is no need to resort to the familiar hypothesis of doctrinal development to account for 'tensions' within Aristotle's thought. Bodna/r is more interested in understanding the underlying assumptions and motivations which lead Aristotle to adopt the sometimes problematic positions that he holds. This is wholly admirable, and suggests a more plausible way to account for apparent contradiction within Aristotle's corpus. For if apparently contradictory views are shown to be ones which Arisototle (for reasons of his own) could well have believed to be compatible, then we do not need to be puzzled at how those views could have been left standing side by side in his works.

In Jiyuan Yu's 'Two Conceptions of Hylomorphism in Metaphysics ZHQ' we find internal tensions put to exactly the opposite use. Here, the relation of form and matter in the central books of Aristotle's Metaphysics is shown to be deeply problematic. Not only is there a tension between the notion that form and matter are conceptually distinct components of ordinary substances and the view that matter just is the potentiality for the actuality which is form; these two views are incompatible with each other and represent two conceptions which, Yu thinks, Aristotle could not have combined in a single theory. In Yu's favour is the chaotic and rather desperate history of scholarship on the central books of the Metaphysics. It is safe to say that there has yet to be a generally satisfactory account of the way Aristotle handles the relationship of form and matter in them. If an account of the kind Bodna/r offers were possible, we probably would have had it by now, for (much more than the question of the motions of the heavenly bodies) these books and this very question have been the focus of a staggering volume of scholarly and philosophical ingenuity. Yu has built a very strong case for the view that Aristotle has two different views and that ZHQ cannot be regarded as a unity. Yu argues that the consequences of this fact affect our understanding of how the theological and ontological conceptions of metaphysics are related, but does not (unfortunately) explain how he thinks our version of the Metaphysics could have come to contain such unresolved contradictions. The argument is incomplete until integrated into a broader interpretation either of Aristotle's development (on the model of Daniel Graham's Aristotle's Two Systems) or of the complexity of his motivations and presuppositions (on the model of Bodna/r's study in this volume).

Lindsay Judson explores 'Aristotle on Fair Exchange', analysing an important passage of Aristotle's book on justice (NE 5.5, 1132b21-1133b28). In addition to distributive and rectificatory justice, Aristotle deals with 'reciprocity', TO/ A)NTIPEPONQO/S. This is not, Judson argues, to be subordinated to either of the forms of justice, but needs to be treated as distinct, justice as found in 'exchange relations' (what we might call commercial transactions). This passage has often been treated as foundational for economic theory, since in it Aristotle has seemed to be recognizing 'demand' as a key concept in the analysis of economic transactions. But the term in question is actually XRE/A, and Judson argues that it should be understood as 'need' in a very concrete sense, rather than as the more abstract concept familiar from economic theory. After a painstaking analysis of the form of proportionality which Aristotle sees as the key to this form of justice, Judson shows that his concerns are primarily ethical rather than economic. It turns out (169) that the kind of exchange Aristotle has in mind here is the sort Plato envisages when he outlines his primitive city (Rep. 369 ff.). In a world where each craftsman has but one product to contribute and their various products (shoes, houses) are of unequal usefulness to citizens, some means of deciding fairness must be found if there is to be the sort of exchange which makes a city possible. Aristotle's achievement, then, is to have worked out a structure for reasoning about this kind of problem. It is of particular interest to contemporary moral theory that Aristotle's conception of human need is objective but not numerically measurable (173). In recent years Martha Nussbaum and others have frequently argued that conventional economic theory pursues 'objectivity' at the cost of a procrustean notion that objectivity entails quantifiability but that the ancients had a conception of human well-being which escapes this limitation. Judson has confirmed that Aristotle's objectivism about human needs does not rely on a false requirement that they be numerically quantifiable; and he has shown this with the best kind of argument, demonstrating that only on this interpretation can fully satisfactory sense be made of the details of a problematic text. This kind of close textual exegesis provides certainty which outlasts intellectual and political fashions.

The remaining four contributions can be outlined more briefly. Dirk Baltzly ('Plato, Aristotle, and the LOGOS EK TWN PROS TI') works through Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions of relations and relational entities, especially as they relate to arguments for the theory of Forms in Plato and against it in Aristotle's On Ideas. In so doing he engages closely with Gail Fine's Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Theory of Forms (Oxford 1993), and makes an important contribution to our understanding of homonymy. Tad Brennan ('Aristotle's Modal Syllogistic') mounts a vigorous and acute attack on R. Patterson's Aristotle's Modal Logic (Cambridge 1995). It would be both arrogant and tedious to review a review, so I limit myself to observing that Brennan's argument for the standard interpretation of Aristotle's modal syllogistic (which holds that it is properly formal, i.e., "a topic-neutral, non-essentialist theory" and that its failures can be fully described by invoking the familiar apparatus of de re and de dicto necessity) is wonderfully clear. Brennan displays a blunt candour in philosophical polemics which serves the reader (though perhaps not the author targeted) well. David Charles's critical notice of the recent Cambridge Companion to Aristotle ('Method and Argument in the Study of Aristotle') provides an informative and engaging assessment, but for all its acuity the review never quite rises to the general consideration of methodology which its title seems to announce. Finally, Dirk Obbink ('The Mooring of Philosophy') offers a warm and expansive review of G. Indelli and V. Tsouna-McKirahan's edition of [Philodemus] On Choices and Avoidances (Naples 1995). This edition is clearly part of the current flood of ground-breaking work on philosophical papyri from Herculaneum, and Obbink wisely chooses to describe more than to criticize. By the end of the review I felt eager to read the book but wondered whether I still needed to!

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy continues to give its readers an engaging view of important developments in the field. Volume 15 contains more critical work and less new argument than I would like, but it would be ungrateful to complain when the reviews and notices are so acute and the five substantive contributions are uniformly important contributions to the field.