Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.11.13

Malcolm Schofield, Saving the City: Philosopher-Kings and Other Classical Paradigms.   London and New York:  Routledge, 1999.  Pp. x, 242.  ISBN 0-415-18467-3.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Jeffrey Tessier, Religious Studies, McMaster University
Word count: 1741 words

A theory of the good society entails some account of how the various elements of a society are kept in harmony and how strife among citizens and groups of citizens is resolved. Malcolm Schofield's Saving the City examines the ways in which several Greek and Roman political philosophers envisioned the substance and architecture of this social harmony. Through analyses of texts by Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno of Citium, and Cicero, Schofield presents different views of how a political community may be saved from stasis. The prevention and resolution of factional conflict is addressed through Schofield's three main topics of statesmanship, social bonds, and justice. Statesmanship is the topic of chapters on Homer's Iliad and Plato's account of the philosopher-king. Schofield then looks at texts of Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno of Citium to examine their views of the bonds that hold a society together, questioning whether a society is best cemented by virtue, economic reciprocity, equality, or hierarchy. Finally, the substance and function of justice is addressed through analyses of Aristotle's Politics and Cicero's De Officiis and Republic. Each of the ten essays in this volume were previously delivered orally. Eight have been previously published and Schofield has modified or expanded six of these eight essays.

While Schofield describes his project as an attempt "to re-create some intriguing argumentative episodes in Greek and Roman reflection of the nature and preconditions of a just and stable society" (2), the textual analyses in Saving the City also take up an issue external to the texts themselves: the alterity of the ancients. Throughout the volume, Schofield is concerned with addressing the degree to which ancient political thought is "irredeemably 'other'" (2). This ancillary focus leads him to raise fundamental questions about the use of modern conceptual categories in the interpretation of ancient texts. His concern with the alterity of the texts he examines manifests itself in different ways. For example, his readings of Aristotle and Cicero aim in part to demonstrate that classical political theory is incommensurate with a modern rights-based political theory. In another chapter, on Homer's Iliad, he characterizes Moses Finley's claim that the Homeric Greeks lacked practical reason as an overextension of the otherness of the ancients. Alterity is also at issue in Schofield's discussion of Aristotle's theory of slavery. The question with which he is concerned is whether Aristotle's approval of slavery derives more from reasoned reflection on human nature or from social interests peculiar to fourth-century Athenians. He concludes that Aristotle's assumptions about slaves are derived uncritically from his environment, although his theory of slavery illuminates the hierarchical variety of deliberative capacities that always exists among human beings.

The questions addressed by Schofield in Saving the City are usually textual, not political. However, each of the ten essays in this volume examines a political paradigm. The book begins with an analysis of the role of euboulia among the heroes in Homer's Iliad, followed by an amplification of this theme through Plato's account of the philosopher-king. Plato's use of economic structures in the Republic is the subject of one chapter, while another is given to a comparison of Plato and Zeno of Citium on utopianism. Four chapters on Aristotle explore his accounts of citizenship, slavery, friendship, and the place of equality and hierarchy in the city. The book concludes with two discussions of Stoic political theory. The first concerns Diogenes of Babylon's arguments, reported in Cicero's De Officiis, regarding the relation between honor and personal advantage. The second discussion of Stoicism is an analysis of Cicero's definition of res publica and its function in his Republic. Each paradigm is examined to reveal its function in a theory of the good society and, in particular, its place in a vision of how the city might be saved from factional conflict.

In most cases, Schofield's textual analyses are presented as responses to other critics. Finley's work on Homer is criticized at length, while his account of Roman political theory is the stimulus for Schofield's contrary interpretation of Cicero's Republic. Other critics who figure significantly in Saving the City are Julia Annas, whose "challenging and ingenious" essay on Stoic morality is used to set the terms of Schofield's discussion of Cicero and Diogenes of Babylon, and Doyne Dawson, from whom Schofield takes the categories of "low" and "high" utopianism in order to discuss the relation between Plato and Zeno of Citium. Some of the most interesting arguments in this volume stem from Schofield's responses to these and other critics, usually in an attempt to recover a text from what he sees as its obfuscation in the interpretations of others. This project is most successful in the chapter on Homer and in the chapters that question the common tendency to transpose the modern language of individual rights into ancient texts. Schofield's reading of Homer's Iliad challenges Finley's argument that the Homeric hero is not distinguished by or even capable of euboulia. The view that Homer's heroes have only instrumental reason is characterised as a sign of Finley's "primitivist tendency", a tendency shared by "others in the tradition of Geistesgeschichte" (30). Schofield argues against this approach by appealing to the clear evidence of deliberation among Homer's heroes.

Schofield takes a somewhat different tack in reclaiming Aristotle and the Stoics from modern prejudices. While Finley and the Geistesgeschichte tradition assume the anthropological alterity of the ancients, the scholars with whom Schofield is concerned in his chapters on Aristotle and Diogenes of Babylon have read too much of themselves into ancient texts. Specifically, they tend to use the language of individual rights in order to explain or even translate texts that do not in fact admit of the rights-based political vision that philosophy has inherited from the early modern political theorists. Aristotle, argues Schofield, "had within his moral and political vocabulary no expression for the general notion of a right" (142). The recent transposition of rights language to Aristotle's work has resulted in a view of ancient Athenian citizenship that is "not all that unlike citizenship in a modern Western state" (142). Schofield offers a close reading of the Politics without such assumptions and reveals in Aristotle a model of citizenship decidedly not commensurate with modern individual rights, a model in which determinations of hierarchy and inequality are essential to citizenship.

Schofield similarly challenges the use of rights language to resolve the ethical problems presented in the third book of Cicero's De Officiis, in which the claims of morality and personal advantage apparently conflict. The text in question is Cicero's account of a debate between Diogenes of Babylon and his student Antipater regarding the obligation of a seller of goods to reveal facts that would be disadvantageous to himself but advantageous to a buyer. Schofield is particularly concerned with the analysis of this debate by Julia Annas in her article, "Cicero on Stoic moral philosophy and private property" [in Philosophia Togota, ed. M. Griffin and J. Barnes (Oxford, 1989)]. Diogenes' statement that the seller is not obliged to disclose facts that would hinder his ability to make the sale is interpreted by Annas to mean that the prospective buyer has no legal right to such information. Hence, Diogenes may claim that the seller is not obligated to disclose facts disadvantageous to himself, without, however, claiming that this is the course prescribed by moral, extralegal duty. This solution is shown by Schofield to be untenable on the basis of the textual evidence. Aside from the question of whether Diogenes would concern himself only with legal duty, there is a more basic problem in Annas' claim that these Stoics were guided by what amounts to a modern understanding of rights. Schofield "challenge[s] the reader to find a word in Cicero's text about the rights of the buyer" and concludes that "Cicero's Stoic protagonists never adopt this way of talking" (165,166). Instead, they talk in terms of interests, individual and common.

Throughout Saving the City, Schofield's textual analyses are marked by a sense of curiosity and respect for the texts he examines. He tends to look to fine details in interpreting texts and generally does not make broad claims about the texts in which he finds the paradigms he discusses. His interest in the details of a text is typified in the chapter "Plato on the economy", in which he discusses the substance and dialogic significance of the first city in the Republic. This chapter examines the brief episode in the second book of the Republic in which Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus construct in speech a simple city that is described by Socrates as true and healthy, and by Glaucon as a "city of pigs." Schofield demonstrates that an understanding of what is true and healthy in this city is the first, best clue to what is wrong in the city with which the interlocutors are concerned throughout most of the rest of the dialogue. Specifically, the simple market economy of the first city is compared to the acquisitive economy of the second to demonstrate that the second city is immediately and fundamentally afflicted by the political divisions that derive from the desire to accumulate wealth. With this argument, Schofield brings to light the dialogic and dramatic importance of an often neglected episode in the text.

Schofield discusses texts in what he calls a "problem-posing/solving" manner. The only criticism I would make of this approach is that he sometimes allows his problem-posing method to shade into experimental exegeses that often obscure rather than illuminate a text. His work on Aristotle, for instance, has some of the "yes, but" quality that makes Aristotle's work itself so dense and complex. His discussion of Aristotle's theory of slavery is less clear than it could be because of the amount of time he spends giving equal weight to many possible interpretations of the ambiguities of the Politics and Nicomachean Ethics.

The ten textual analyses in Saving the City constitute a worthwhile contribution to the understanding of the ancient vision of the good society. The book has a good range, from Homer to Cicero, and the topics of statesmanship, social cohesion, and justice address three themes central to ancient political thought. Schofield's arguments are insightful and usually precise. His exegeses fulfill his claim to offer "fresh resolutions of disputed issues" in the standard texts of ancient political philosophy and thus his book is particularly useful for its ability to shed such new light on problems and texts that are well-trodden in the history of classical scholarship.

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