Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.06.02

Reichardt on Asper on Reichardt.   Response to 2004.05.01



Response by Tobias Reichardt

I would like to make some remarks on the review of my book ("Recht und Rationalität im frühen Griechenland") written by Markus Asper. In this study, I try to show various connections between Greek law and the origins of philosophy. I find these connections, in different forms, mainly in the poet, political thinker, and lawgiver Solon, in the presocratics, and in the sophists. Although A. partly agrees with my fundamental arguments, he utters aggressive criticisms which need clarification.

1) According to A., I should have made more use of inscriptions, which would have opened the view to areas of Greece other than Athens. This could certainly be a useful task, but I would consider it as a complement to my work, not an essential ingredient. As I am interested in the birth of philosophy and its social background, it is very reasonable to examine the Attic sources (Solon, the sophists) and the presocratic texts. I doubt that the inscriptions mentioned by A. have much direct significance for philosophy, the centre of which Athens soon became. The "comparisons with other cultures" which A. wanted me to undertake (while at the same time being more thorough regarding the Greeks themselves) do not strike me as necessary, either.

2) One major objection, often repeated, is my use of allegedly "unnecessarily anachronistic" concepts (like "reason", "individualism", "enlightenment"). In contrast to A., I think that these concepts are not always anachronistic. As scholars, we cannot avoid using general, often modern concepts to understand history from our inevitably modern point of view. Their usefulness depends on the way they are used. For instance, there can be little doubt that the political theories of the sophists have to be seen as forms of individualism (criticised by Plato and Aristotle, who defend the primacy of the collective). Of course, I know that there are great differences between eighteenth-century enlightenment and other epochs that nevertheless might have known forms of thought somehow analogous to modern enlightenment. I think -- and tried to show -- that the concept of enlightenment as developed by Horkheimer and Adorno is not altogether wrong, though it needs qualification.

3) One of the words which, according to A., I should not have used is the term "progress". A. thinks that a scholar who uses this word must be an ignorant, old-fashioned, nineteenth-century idealist. I disagree. Here, again, all depends on the way the concept is understood. I certainly do not believe in "a teleology of increasing rationality in world history". A. could have known this from my introduction where I write it explicitly. But surely there are forms of progress in history. As a philosopher, I cannot help seeing the development of philosophy and science out of mythology as a kind of progress, a step towards more truth, more adequacy, more self-consciousness. Of course, A. will not understand that, as long as he rejects all general concepts of mythical or scientific thought as such on the grounds that they do not "designate ... individual acts of thinking".

4) According to A., my book has "overtones of Marxist terminology", although he admits that I do "not adopt a Marxist stance". Apparently, A. is not familiar with Marx's theory, which he condemns with the arrogance of ignorance. Therefore, he has to judge from formalities. As if the Cold War were still going on, he criticises the fact that I quote Marx ("a modern scholar can do better"). I think that the mere fact of reading and quoting Marx should not be subject to criticism. Marx is a classic of social theory and still helps significantly to understand modern society (as well as the differences between ancient and modern society).

In sum, I think that A. tends to isolate certain words or concepts I use and, by omitting explanations, often renders my views incorrectly. Much of his rendering of my thoughts is evidently based on fundamental misinterpretations. In some cases, these might be due to A.'s distance from philosophy and theoretical questions in general.

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