This volume is a collection of fifteen essays (seven on epistemology, eight on ethics), all but one of which are articles previously published between 1974 and 1994. The one new essay, “Methods of sophistry”, is the opening chapter. Chapter Two, “
In the preface the author declares that “these essays are first and foremost a contribution to the history of philosophy” (ix), but that they are written from the perspective of a philosopher interested in the merits and weaknesses of the philosophical theories and the arguments designed to support them (x). She proceeds to offer compelling reasons for challenging the common, pat division of philosophical studies into “systematic” and “historical”, making a convincing case that historical exegesis contributes to contemporary philosophical debate by “keeping available the thought of past philosophers as a resource that would otherwise be lost or inaccessible” (xii). Scholars of Hellenistic philosophy will certainly welcome the convenience of having all these important works of a leading scholar in the field under one cover. I will offer sketches of each chapter with some few critical remarks, and I will end with some general comments.
In “Methods of sophistry” Striker reasons that since philosophy and rhetoric were not established as distinct disciplines until the fourth century B.C., the Sophists of the fifth century B.C. ought to be considered neither philosophers nor rhetoricians (3). She argues that “the philosophical part of what the Sophists did, and taught their pupils to do, would be most accurately described by the term “dialectic” in Aristotle’s—not Plato’s—sense, and that recognizing this may help us better to understand the aims and perhaps even the content of the Sophists’ (mostly lost) writings” (3-4). Striker finds reason to agree with Plato that antilogic was the core of the Sophists’ craft (8). She gives two reasons for concurring with Aristotle’s judgment that the Sophists were dialecticians and not philosophers. First, the dialectician will argue from
Now the reader may well wonder why this essay on figures in the fifth century B.C. belongs in a collection of essays on Hellenistic philosophy. The explanation is to be found in the final section of the essay, where Striker judges that “the importance of the Sophists’ activity should be appreciated … not in terms of their alleged theories, but in terms of the enormous and inspiring influence their arguments had on the theories developed after their time” (18). She claims that “it would be a mistake to treat Protagoras as, say, the founder of Skepticism, thereby reading later views back into his arguments” (19), and concludes by trying to illustrate this for the case of the Pyrrhonist Skeptics. Thus this first chapter succeeds, I think, in providing an appropriate kind of historical introduction to the essays that follow it.
The second chapter is one of the longest. Striker argues that the philosophical phrase
In Chapter Three, “Epicurus on the truth of sense impressions”, Striker sets out to do three things. First, she suggests that the usual English formulation of Epicurus’ dictum “All sensations are true” is misleading, and should instead be understood as “All sense impressions are true”. Second, she questions the basis of the standard interpretation of this thesis, which is that the word
Striker opens Chapter Four, “Sceptical strategies”, by characterizing ‘Scepticism’ as “a thesis, viz. that nothing can be known, and a recommendation, viz. that one should suspend judgement on all matters” (92). Here Striker is uncharacteristically careless in attributing a decidedly dogmatic thesis and a dangerously dogmatic recommendation to the Pyrrhonian sceptics, who strictly report that it appears to them that nothing can be known (in the dogmatist’s sense), and so it appears that they should suspend judgment on all dogmatic claims. Thus she is simply wrong to claim that “the more radical Pyrrhonist position … does indeed exclude the possibility of justified belief” (95); Sextus Empiricus is too scrupulous a Pyrrhonist to dogmatically deny the possibility of justified belief. Striker cites PH I 33-4 as evidence that the argument for the isosthenia of contradictory propositions in the fields of sense perception and theory “eventually acquired the paradoxical status of a dogma of Pyrrhonian scepticism” (95n), yet I see nothing in the passage cited that supports such an interpretation. On the other hand, later in the chapter Striker appears to correct herself by remarking that if Carneades presented his epistemological theory “as his own view, he must be considered, at least in Sextus’ sense, as a dogmatist” (108) and that the Pyrrhonist “acts in accordance with what appears to him to be the case without committing himself to the truth of his impressions” (112n).
Striker’s primary concern in Chapter Five, “The Ten Tropes of Aenesidemus”, is the structure of the Tropes as they are presented in Philo Alexandrinus ( De ebr. 169-202), Sextus Empiricus ( PH I 36-163), and Diogenes Laertius (IX 79-88). She tries to show that “there are indeed two forms of argument used in the Tropes, neither of which coincides with the classical argument of modern skepticism based upon the representative theory of perception” (119).
In the sixth chapter Striker tries to justify her impression that the differences between the Academics and the Pyrrhonists are not simply due to the admittedly very different styles of the two authors, Cicero and Sextus Empiricus. She argues that the two ancient movements represent two models of skeptical philosophy, and she thinks it worthwhile to sketch their outlines “quite apart from whether the differences between the epistemological positions of the historical characters involved have been captured” (136). In her judgment both the Academics and the Pyrrhonists were “chiefly concerned to show that the speculative projects of philosophers are hopeless—the Academics, by producing for every thesis an equally well-grounded counterthesis (sometimes both at the same time), the Pyrrhonists, by doing this, of course, and also by rejecting explicitly the dogmatist’s enterprise of discovering the reality behind confused and contradictory appearances” (147). One final point Striker mentions is that the Pyrrhonist skeptic who is practiced in the tropes, and who has thereby reached
Here, I think, Striker does not understand the nature of the Pyrrhonist’s discovery. The dogmatist presumes that
Chapter Seven, “The problem of the criterion”, does not fit well with the other six essays on epistemology. This essay was Striker’s contribution to the volume edited by S. Everson, Epistemology (Cambridge University Press, 1990). Her treatment of the criterion (or criteria) of truth in Epicurus, the Stoics, and the Sceptics here seems more of a shallow survey by comparison with the depth of analysis in other essays in this volume. What is worse, some of the discussion in this chapter overlaps with the more extensive discussions of the first several chapters, and so much of this seventh essay seems superfluous to this volume.
“Greek ethics and moral theory”, the eighth chapter, opens the second half of the volume. Striker observes that ancient Greek ethical theories have been judged superior to modern utilitarian and Kantian ethical theories in three respects. First, the Greek authors were concerned with providing an account of the good life, eudaimonia, as opposed to focusing narrowly on right action. Second, this eudaimonistic approach allowed the Greek philosophers “to treat seriously and without philistine prejudices the question of motives for morality, or reasons for wanting to be good” (169). Third, the Greeks were more concerned with virtues of character, that is, dispositions to act in the right way than with principles of right action. Bernard Williams’ pessimism about the enterprise of moral philosophy, namely that modern ethics is inadequate and that ancient ethics was better but based on assumptions we can no longer accept, is judged to be premature by Striker, and her agenda in this essay is “to take a closer look at the development of Greek ethical theories in the hope of finding out how ancient and modern questions might hang together” (170). She contends that the most fundamental question for modern moral theorists is “the justification of moral decisions or the foundation of moral rules” (170), and that Plato’s and Aristotle’s apparent neglect of this question “need not be seen as a repudiation of the whole problem nor as evidence of some deeper insight” (176). Striker makes the case that the Hellenistic theories of Epicurus and the Stoics addressed the question of justification in promising and illuminating ways. She concludes that “The distinction we ought to preserve is not the contrast between prudence and morality but rather that between planning one’s own life and setting up rules for the life of a community” (182).
In Chapter Nine, “Ataraxia : Happiness as tranquillity”, Striker argues that “tranquillity [ tranquillitas, euthymia, athambia, galene, hesychia, eustatheia ] was in fact not a serious contender for the position of ultimate good in ancient times. Greek theories of happiness from Plato to Epicurus were attempts to spell out what sort of life one would have to lead in order to have good reasons for feeling tranquil or contented; they were not recipes for reaching a certain state of mind” (183). For Epicurus, she observes, tranquillity is itself a pleasure consisting in being free from all troubles or anxiety, “a state of contentment and inner calm that arises from the thought that one has or can easily get all that one needs, and has no reason to be afraid of anything in the future” (187). For the Stoics, tranquillity arises from the knowledge that one has and cannot lose the only real good, virtue. Striker holds that “the main reason for the Stoic sage’s imperturbability lies in his complete indifference to everything bodily or external, and his consequent freedom from emotion, apatheia” (187). Yet her remark about Seneca’s explication of Stoic contentment is even more insightful: “He [Seneca] enthusiastically describes the immense joy and infinite serenity of the person who has finally achieved virtue. The sage will rejoice in a wonderful sense of relief and freedom, realizing that he has reached absolute security—nothing in this world can present a danger for him any more” (188).
Again, I think, Striker misconstrues the meaning of the Pyrrhonian anecdote about how the painter Apelles’ thrown sponge resulted in a successful representation of the foam at the horse’s muzzle, an anecdote crucial for understanding how the skeptic arrives at tranquillity (192-3).
The anecdote is meant to bring out that reaching tranquillity is a matter of lucky coincidence, not an expected result—and indeed the Skeptic was said to have started from the hope of gaining tranquillity by finding the truth, not by discovering that he is unable to find it. Yet the story is slightly odd because it will only serve to recommend skepticism as a way to tranquillity if one is inclined to believe that the unexpected experience can be repeated. And this is indeed implied when Sextus says, repeating a phrase that recurs in other sources (cf. DL IX 107), that tranquillity follows suspension of judgment “as the shadow follows the body.”That, of course, is not a lucky coincidence. The skeptic must in a way expect to find tranquillity at the end of his journey, but it is probably important that he should not set out with that expectation right from the start because then, surely, he would begin to worry about his chances of success (imagine Apelles adopting sponge-throwing as a painting technique). Skeptical tranquillity can only be reached if one does not try for it.
I would contend that the skeptic’s tranquillity results from serendipity, which is not simply a matter of lucky coincidence. What the skeptic learns is that it is not dogmatism, but rather epoche (suspension of judgment), that produces ataraxia. While Striker is right that it is not a lucky coincidence that the shadow follows the body, we should remember that this does not happen on cloudy days, so we need not suppose that tranquillity always or necessarily follows suspension of judgment. Moreover, surely it is only the dogmatist, and never the skeptic, who would worry about his chances of success. Skeptical tranquillity can only be reached if one does not try for it directly. Striker writes that the skeptic “had better not believe that tranquillity itself is a good, lest he begin to worry about that” (193), but of course the canny skeptic would merely say that tranquillity appears to him to be a good. No genuine Pyrrhonian skeptic would hold the dogmatic belief that it is a good. But despite her misinterpretation of this “subtle story” (193) in Pyrrhonism, Striker ends this essay on target. She observes that “the thesis that happiness is just a state of mind leads to the conclusion that neither one’s moral character nor the truth or falsity of one’s convictions has anything to do with one’s happiness” (194); the Epicureans and the Stoics proposed no such thesis since “they saw their task as determining what should count as a real good, and eventually to show that a happy life required virtue” (195).
Chapter Ten contains a discussion of the difficulty of how Epicurus’ position that the highest good is a state of absence of pain and trouble from body and soul is a version of hedonism. Striker carefully studies Cicero De fin. I to set the contrast between the Cyrenaics and Epicurus in a different light and thereby reflect on interesting problems about the role of pleasure as the final good. She convincingly argues that for Epicurus “there were exactly two katastematic pleasures, namely aponia and ataraxia, that together make up complete pleasure” (207). She suggests that he “introduced the notion of katastematic pleasure in order to show that happiness can be the same as pleasure after all, provided that one is willing to accept as pleasures not only episodes of enjoyment, but also those states that, according to Epicurus, make one’s life enjoyable at every moment” (207-8). Striker says that “both the thesis that pleasure is nothing but undisturbed affection and perhaps even more the claim that all mental pleasures are parasitic upon bodily ones are highly implausible” (208), and so she judges the Cyrenaics to be better hedonists than Epicurus since they paid more attention to the complicated and varied phenomena described as pleasures.
Chapter Eleven, “Origins of the concept of natural law”, is one of the shortest, but most lucid, essays in this volume. I believe that Striker succeeds in establishing that the Stoics were the original authors of this concept. She persuasively argues that “The Stoic theory … was meant to be a revised version of Socratic moral theory, one that could be defended against Plato’s and Aristotle’s objections” (215). She poses two questions: why was the theory of natural law introduced, and what problems was it meant to solve? She answers:
It offers a solution to the problem of objectivity by appealing to nature as setting standards that are independent of human conventions or beliefs. It also offers a solution to the problem of congruence by claiming that happiness, or a good human life, will be achieved precisely by organizing one’s life in accordance with the rational pattern provided by nature. Both these solutions are very different from the ones given by Plato and Aristotle. The difference can perhaps be described like this: while Plato and Aristotle start from the notion of justice as a good or right state of affairs, or action apt to produce such a state, and then describe good or just laws as necessarily imperfect prescriptions about how to achieve such a good state, the Stoics begin with the notion of goodness as rational order and regularity, and then define virtue and just conduct in terms of obedience to the laws of nature. (219)
My only criticism pertains to Striker’s discussion of justice in Plato’s Republic. She claims that “notoriously Plato does not give us a definition of this Form in the Republic” (212), and that “Justice is described as that state of soul or city in which its parts are arranged in the right hierarchical order and fulfill their separate functions well” (213). Yet Socrates does, in fact, hint in Book III that justice is ‘minding one’s own business’,
The lengthy twelfth chapter, “Following nature: A study in Stoic ethics”, is a revised version of Striker’s six Nellie-Wallace lectures delivered at Oxford University in 1984 and later published in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy IX (1991). Her aim is to offer a more or less historical sketch of the development of Stoic ethics in order to illustrate how their doctrines on nature, reason, morality, and the goal of life hang together. In the first section Striker addresses the question of why it is good to follow nature. In the second section she investigates Chrysippus’ objections to Aristo’s definition of the goal of life as indifference ( adiaphoria) to what is between virtue and vice, concluding that Chrysippus was probably more concerned than Zeno or Cleanthes about providing a coherent, systematic structure for Stoic doctrine and that his definition of the goal as living in agreement with nature was a conscious attempt to offer a non-circular account of what constitutes virtue (239). In the third section Striker works out the notion of the craft that the Stoics supposed virtue to be:
it is stochastic in the sense that the result of the technical performance depends in part upon external factors not controlled by the craft. Therefore, individual performances are not to be judged by their success, but by their correctness. … its primary goal is not identical with the result pursued through the exercise of the craft. Though every step will be referrable to the intended result, that result is not the ultimate end for the sake of which the activity is performed. The ultimate aim of virtuous action lies in the correct performance itself as being our way of living in agreement with nature. (246)
Another discussion of natural law theory occupies the fourth section of this chapter. In discussing the case described by Cicero ( De off. III 90) in which two men, after a shipwreck, are left with a plank that will carry only one of them, Striker writes, “The point of the argument, which is not fully stated in the text, should be that if the Stoics admit, as they apparently must, that self-love is naturally stronger than benevolence towards a total stranger, then they will have to admit that it is natural, and hence appropriate, to save one’s life at the expense of another’s. But this is clearly not what one would expect from a virtuous person …” (257). This last claim is hardly obvious. At most one of the two men can survive, so it is impossible for the virtuous plank-hugger to benefit both himself and the stranger. Though Striker mentions Cicero’s solution, taken from Hecato, that “the man whose life is more valuable for himself or his country should be allowed to survive” (260), she does not connect this with the virtuous plank-hugger’s non-arbitrary decision to save himself instead of the presumably non-virtuous stranger. Thus it would only be if both plank-huggers were virtuous—a rare circumstance indeed!—that “the lot should decide” (260). In the fifth section Carneades’ moral theory and its influence on Antipater and on Antiochus of Ascalon are treated. The last section addresses the doctrine that the ‘governing part’ ( hegemonikon) of the human soul is unitary reason, and that it is not only possible, but also natural and desirable, to be free from all emotions since they are due to a weakness of reason itself and go beyond or against right reason. Here Striker’s personal preference for an Aristotelian moral epistemology is undisguised. As I explain elsewhere ( Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XIV, 1996), unlike Striker I do not find the manner in which the Stoic sage loves to be “disconcerting” (275). But she does not rest content with honoring the Peripatetic view that eudaimonia ultimately depends upon luck. She ends this chapter by imputing to the Stoics, without evidence or argument, a most uncharitable motivation: “they … misdescribed happiness in order to make it depend upon nothing but ourselves” (280). As Brad Inwood has suggested to me, Striker’s claim harks back to the now embarrassing Zellerian thesis about the essentially consolatory character of Hellenistic ethics. It is more plausible that the Stoics’ unusual ethical views are the result of painstaking, rigorous application of their arguments and theories coupled with the unapologetic adoption of a moral epistemology, inspired by Plato’s Socrates, which was unimpressed by popular (that is, Aristotelian) wisdom.
In Chapter Thirteen, “The role of oikeiosis in Stoic ethics”, Striker seeks to set out what the argument involving the doctrine of
In Chapter Fourteen, “Antipater, or the art of living”, Striker contends that some of the arguments handed down to us from the second-century dispute about the Stoic definitions of the goal of life rely on “the improper use of identity statements, which … the Stoics, by their predilection for such propositions, seem practically to invite” (299). Yet Striker finds a serious dispute between Antipater and Carneades behind the superficial paradoxes that result from their web of sophistical tricks in attempting to define the human telos. I found her discussion of the important and infamous archer analogy in De finibus III 22 to be particularly helpful in understanding her analysis of the telos -formulae of Diogenes and Antipater. One criticism can be made of her treatment of stochastic crafts that are sports. She cites Epictetus’Discourses 2.5.1-23 as the one passage where he compares the art of living to sports or games (315), yet she has overlooked 1.24.20, 1.25.7-8, 4.7.5, 4.7.19, and 4.7.29-31—five other passages in which Epictetus discusses this game analogy.
In her final chapter, Striker argues that the Stoics tried to construct a revised Socratic ethics that would be immune to Plato’s criticisms. She contends that the Stoics defended two Socratic theses that Plato abandoned in his “mature” dialogues: (a) virtue is sufficient for happiness; (b) virtue is a kind of knowledge or craft, namely, knowledge of good and evil. Striker cites Gorgias 471e as “probably the most explicit” statement of Socrates’ thesis that virtue (or justice) is all that is needed for happiness (317). She asserts that Socrates’ arguments in the Gorgias do not really support this thesis, but she provides no substantiation whatever for her assertion. Instead, she simply reports her (again Aristotelian) impression that “Socrates is overstating his case (and that Plato is aware of this—see the reactions of Callicles)” (318). To my mind, such impressionism dodges the task of the requisite philosophical justification.
The discussion then moves to Socrates’ argument in the Euthydemus 278e-282e and 289e-292e that the “kingly craft”, i.e. the knowledge of good and evil, i.e. virtue, is strictly speaking the only good because health, beauty, wealth, power and the like are only useful to those who know how to use them rightly. Striker’s treatment of this thesis in the Euthydemus is substantial, in contrast to her passing remark about it in the Gorgias. She teases out two different interpretations of the craft model, both of which she sees as consistent with it: that the ruling craft is sufficient for happiness (the Stoics’ position), and that it is merely necessary for happiness (Aristotle’s position). Striker thinks that Plato saw two problems arising from Socrates wanting to hold both that virtue (wisdom) is knowledge of good (and evil), and that the good that this knowledge produces is itself wisdom, and so not an object or product distinct from the knowledge or craft. She persuasively suggests that the Stoics followed Plato’s distinction in Philebus 65a between the good human life and goodness. This distinction provided the Stoics a means of solving the first problem. The sage, they explained, understands goodness as rational order and harmony, and the good human life as living in agreement with the order and harmony of nature, i.e. living rationally and virtuously. Just as the skill of a flautist can be distinguished from the performance of playing the flute, virtue is to be distinguished from the activity of living virtuously; happiness, strictly speaking, consists in living virtuously, not in virtue itself. To solve Plato’s second problem of defining the human good in terms of the good itself, Striker observes that the Stoics needed to define what the goodness of a human life consists in. They “notoriously” defined it as “the rational order and harmony displayed most conspicuously by the order of the universe” (324).
These influential essays are excellent scholarly contributions to our understanding of the history of Hellenistic philosophy. Having all of them in one volume will definitely be useful to specialists in ancient philosophy, though a number of the essays—especially several on epistemology—are likely to be rough going for the non-specialist. The inclusion of a name index and an index of passages cited is helpful, but the absence of a bibliography is unfortunate. Proofreading errors resulted in inconsistent spelling of “Sceptic”/”Skeptic” in Chapters One, Four, Six, Seven, and Nine, as well as in an entire passage on page 206 being left transliterated instead of being printed in Greek. What is more disappointing to this reviewer than these minor infelicities, however, is that Striker has not yet embarked on the more ambitious project of writing a continuous, integrated, comprehensive study of Hellenistic ethics and its Socratic, sophistic, Platonic, and Aristotelian antecedents. Such a book would merit even greater celebration than this handy volume.