Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.11.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.11.12

Brad Inwood (ed.), Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. XLVII, Winter 2014.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2014.  Pp. 308.  ISBN 9780198722724.  $40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (


This volume of OSAP, judiciously edited, once again, by Brad Inwood, contains the usual range of substantial articles, in this case eight, ranging in their subject-matter from Heraclitus to Galen, including two concerning Plato, three concerning Aristotle, and one on Cicero — a good mix.

The volume opens with a paper by Mark Johnstone, ‘On Logos in Heraclitus’ — a topic on which one might imagine that no more could possibly be said: but one would be wrong. The problem is, essentially, that, while in many of Heraclitus’ fragments logos can be taken to have its ‘ordinary’ meaning of ‘a written or oral presentation of things being a certain way’, in Frs. 1, 2 and 50 at least, it must mean something more than that. But how much more? After setting out most usefully the history of the contrasting views, Johnstone comes up with the suggestion that for Heraclitus logos can also mean a self-revelation by the cosmos itself as to ‘how things are’ with it, and it is this that the multitude fail to grasp. This seems to be an attractive proposal, but no doubt it will not put an end to discussion of the question!

Similar is the case with the second paper, Agnes Gellen Callard on ‘Ignorance and Akrasia-Denial in the Protagoras’. Could there possibly be any more to say about Socrates’ argument against akrasia in Prot. 355A-357E? Yet Callard has here composed an article of fully 48 pages on the topic. In fact, despite taking full account of the considerable history of discussion of the topic (e.g. Vlastos, Penner, Santos, Wolfsdorf, Brickhouse & Smith), she has many insights to impart which I found stimulating. Particularly important is her employment of the concept of the simulacrum of belief — that is to say, the interpretation that she draws (p. 52ff.) from Socrates’ remarks at Prot. 356D, to the effect that knowledge renders the phantasmata that people have of states of affairs powerless to effect action, once they have been recognized as such. The adducing of Alcibiades in the Symposium as an example of the akratic personality points up excellently the complexities generated by the theory: how serious is Alcibiades really being? Is he not rather like a hard-driving businessman, say, who likes to unwind by spending occasional weekends in an enclosed monastery, and who can be heard to remark on occasion, wistfully, “I really should have become a monk!”?

Thirdly, we have an attractive article by Damien Storey, ‘Appearance, Perception and Non-Rational Belief: Republic 602c-603a’, focusing on an interesting problem arising from this passage in Book X, where Plato attributes some degree of pistis to what he calls the ‘inferior’ or ‘lower’ part of the soul. Some feel that Plato is here making a different division of the soul, but Storey favours the view, with which I would agree, that Plato is actually prepared to grant a degree of ratiocination, in the form of ‘belief’, to the lower parts of the soul otherwise classed as ‘irrational’. A good summary of his position is given on p. 106. He also adduces the ‘finger’ passage from Book VII, 523a-525a, where some perceptions provoke us to thought, and some not. In general, what he proposes (p. 106) is that “what Plato assumes is a common-sense view of perceptual experiences in which they are, while not beliefs, remarkably similar to beliefs. This similarity is one that I think many will be happy to accept.” I think that I would be among them.

Next, in ‘Between Perception and Scientfic Knowledge: Aristotle’s Account of Experience’, Pieter Sjoerd Hasper and Joel Yurdin team up to present a stimulating account of Aristotle’s doctrine of the role and status of empeiria, or ‘experience’, as opposed to full-blown scientific knowledge. On the one hand, Aristotle speaks of empeiria as concerning particular, as opposed to general, objects, but on the other hand, as forming general judgements on the basis of repeated memories. Once again, there has been much discussion of this topic, but they certainly shed further light on the problem, for this reader at least. I was particularly intrigued by Aristotle’s account of the acquisition of ‘experience’ by irrational animals, as set out in History of Animals, Book 9 — particularly the case of the male glanis-fish (621a29 ff.) which, in defending its mate’s eggs, learns from experience of fishermen’s hooks (general) how to bite through them (particular).

Animals are in fact the main focus of the following paper, by Patricio Fernandez, ‘Reasoning and the Unity of Aristotle’s Account of Animal Motion’ (another blockbuster of 48 pages), where he addresses the problem of whether Aristotle assumes the use by animals of the ‘practical syllogism’ in Book 7 of De Motu Animalium and elsewhere, thus assimilating their purposive actions to those of rational beings (sc. ourselves). Fernandez devotes a very detailed discussion to this difficult question, dealing with the full spectrum of previous authorities, particularly Klaus Corcilius, but also Martha Nussbaum and Deborah Modrak. There is much to be said for most of the views discussed, but I think that his preferred solution of ‘differences in determination’ is in fact the most plausible way to distinguish human action from animal motion. This involves “treating the general account of animal motion as differing in determination from the account of rational action, i.e. to conceive of the common account of animal motion as a generic or determinable account obtained by abstraction from the more determinate accounts of the relevant species of animal motion, which include rational action” (p. 177). This will lead me, I think, to study the purposive activities of my cat, in comparison to my own, with a new interest.

What seems to me remarkable about this sequence of essays on Plato and Aristotle is how they each seem to raise issues that are picked up in the essay that follows them. This may be fortuitous, or it may be a tribute to the artistry of the editor. At any rate, the last in the sequence, a study by Pavlos Kontos, of the University of Patras, on ‘Non-Virtuous Intellectual States in Aristotle’s Ethics’, raises the interesting question, with special reference to various passages of EN VI, of the status of practical and productive intellectual states which are non-virtuous — that is, such phenomena as bad artistry or wicked science, as opposed to complete lacks of such states. For instance, as he says, there is such a thing as the intellectual state of a bad lyre-players, “that is, the intellectual state which renders them capable of playing the lyre while, at the same time, impeding them in different ways and in different dgrees from being fully competent lyre-players” (p. 212). I found his discussion of this most stimulating and persuasive.

For the last two papers, we move to post-Classical philosophy. First, J.P.F. Wynne brings expertise in both ancient scepticism and Cicero to bear in a lively study of ‘Cotta the Sceptic in Cicero’, examining the character of C. Aurelius Cotta in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, to discern if he is intended to represent the ‘radical’ scepticism of Carneades or the ‘mitigated’ scepticism of Philo of Larisa, and settles — I think reasonably — for the former (Carneades’ scepticism, of course, is such as to allow for the acceptance of ‘persuasive’ impressions, on the basis of which one may act).

Lastly, David Kaufman contributes a paper on ‘Galen on the Therapy of Distress and the Limits of Emotional Therapy’. This involves an analysis of the recently-discovered treatise On Freedom from Distress, demonstrating how in it Galen combines Stoic, Cynic and even Epicurean consolatory strategies with a good measure of autobiographical detail (notably his own loss of books and medical materials in the great fire of Rome in 192 A.D.) to construct a most effective composite consolatio. Kaufman is particularly impressed by his taking on board thoughts from Epicurus, but of course Seneca is perfectly prepared to do that in his Letters, if Epicurus has a good point to make in the area of practical ethics, so that is not unique.

I suppose that very few, apart from the Editor and myself, will have the hardihood to read this volume through, but in fact there is much of value to be derived from all the essays herein contained.

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