Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.19

Marcelo D. Boeri, Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Éticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad.   Buenos Aires:  Ediciones Colihue, 2007.  Pp. xii, 376.  ISBN 978-950-563-404-0.  $39.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Reyes Bertolín Cebrián, The University of Calgary (
Word count: 676 words

The main goal of Boeri's (B.) book is to show how some of the topics that the ancient philosophers discussed can still be relevant in contemporary philosophical discussions. The author claims in his prologue that the distinction between history of philosophy and philosophy is an artificial one and that any historian of philosophy is somewhat of a philosopher himself. He also claims that scholars of ancient philosophy are in a kind of no-man's land in between contemporary philosophers and classicists. Since I am a classicist and not a philosopher, I believe that this book is intended mostly for other philosophers and students of philosophy at the graduate and senior undergraduate level. B. does a good job explaining the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle in great detail, but not in a manner that would necessarily appeal to students in classics. This is evident already through the bibliography: most of the works cited belong to other scholars in ancient philosophy.

The title of the book might be a bit misleading. It is not about a general discussion on the problems of appearance and reality, but only as these concepts relate to the idea of good. Also, the book is not a survey on all Greek philosophies, but focuses on Socrates and Plato in the first part, while the second part is dedicated to Aristotle and the third to the Stoics. Aristotle gets the lion's share with close to one hundred and forty pages and Plato gets a hundred but all the Stoics are explained in only fifty.

B. argues in the introduction that the opposition of the concepts appearance and reality is already found in the ancient thinkers. Appearance is thought of as an illusion in perception or an error in the cognitive realm. There is no word for reality in ancient Greek. Reality is "that what (truly) is". There is, consequently an identification between reality, being, and truth. B.'s goal is to explain whether the ancient philosophers considered truth only as a theoretical criterion or also practical. In order to discuss the practical side of truth, B. continues his analysis of "Good" from the point of view of appearance and reality. In other words, just like Socrates, B. is interested in the ethical aspect of appearance and reality.

The first part of the book deals with Socrates and Plato, with no distinction attempted. B. examines thoroughly passages in the Republic, Laws, Gorgias, Timaeus, and Theatetus to establish Plato's criteria of Good, the classification of goods and the idea of Good, as well as Platonic epistemology. B.'s analysis is focused on primary texts. Analysis of these sources by other philosophers or historians of philosophy is rarely mentioned in the body of the text or in the footnotes, although the comprehensive bibliography indicates that B. is in fact familiar with other scholarship.

The second part of the book deals with Aristotle's understanding of appearance and reality. Again, the author bases his hypothesis on the study of primary sources, in this case mostly the Nicomachean Ethics. B. points out at length how much Aristotle's ethics were indebted to Socrates. Later, B.'s examination includes the perception theory and the study of "passions".

The Aristotelian passions serve as a link to the third part of the book on the Stoics. B. explains the passions as "apparent good" in Stoic philosophy. B. first links Stoic ideas on the "real Good" to Socrates before describing them in detail. This part is necessarily shorter because sources on Stoic views are not as abundant as for Plato or Aristotle.

The book can be read as three different units. It lacks a general conclusion that would have brought together commonalities and differences between the three studies. It is mostly about B.'s reading of the ancient authors, or, as he calls it, "a critical dialogue with the ancient philosophers". B. wanted to make the study of the ancient philosophers relevant for today's philosophy, however, he established only very few links with contemporary philosophers. The book remains a personal interpretation of some aspects of Plato's, Aristotle's and Stoic philosophies.

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