BMCR 2004.04.12

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Volume XXIV

, Oxford studies in ancient philosophy. Vol. 24, Summer 2003. Studies in ancient philosophy.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 380 s. ; 22 cm. ISBN 0199263434. $29.95.

This volume of the series Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, under the editorship of David Sedley, confirms its remarkably unique value as a collection of outstanding contributions in the area of ancient philosophy. Once again the challenging and innovative character of the arguments presented reflect the depth of thought and expertise of the contributors. As is often felt by the reviewers of this series, no account of its contents can do justice to its theoretical weight. Indeed, this volume requires an analysis that surely exceeds the limits of my competence. I shall, therefore, limit myself to the presentation of the salient features of the articles, enriched by a few critical comments, where these seem appropriate. I hope that the difficulties I had in capturing the essence of such a sophisticated scholarship will not shadow its significance.

Simon Trépanier (hereafter ST) in ‘Empedocles on the ultimate symmetry of the world’, offers a lucid and convincing, new account of the traditional argument in favour of the cosmogonic and zoogonic role of Strife in Empedocles’ cosmic cycle. According to ST, Empedocles’ understanding of the ambiguity of Love and Strife plays on the difference between a more intuitive and a more sophisticated interpretation of the phenomena. In particular, while in passages B 17.19 and 21-6 Empedocles portrays Strife as destructive and negative, and Love as creative and positive, in B 17. 3-5 “both forces participate in the creation and destruction of life” (41). Although the structure of the article could have been simplified so as to avoid some repetitions, and facilitate its reading, ST succeeds in assessing the proper weight of the problem. Having underlined the importance of Fragment 124, where Empedocles unambiguously calls men the products of erides, ST gives a refined interpretation of ensemble d. He shows that the whole passage is concerned with the physical picture of how Strife influences things to arise: if this idea, on the one hand, helps make sense of Empedocles’ pessimism about human beings’ current situation, on the other hand, it helps contextualise Empedocles’ effort to teach a select few to cultivate Love, as their only possibility of salvation. Against Long’s interpretation, ST uses ensembles a (ii) 24 and 30 to understand B 17. 3-5 as a passage that reinforces the ambivalence of Love and Strife with regard to mortals. Separation, similarly to unification, has a zoogonic influence that breaks the equation of separation with death. In Empedocles’ system, men must be understood also as Strife. Only in this way, is it possible to make sense of the line which emphasizes that the coming-together of all things kills. As ST intends: “it destroys the existence of individual creatures by subsuming them into itself” (26). The equation Strife-destruction is also questioned in fragment 22 where Empedocles seems to contemplate a life of the elements which are born through separation. Having supported his argument from a syntactical point of view, the author sustains his interpretation by discussing a number of other fragments (namely, 35, 98, 108 and the zoogonic formula) that stress the enduring presence of Strife in the world. ST devotes the last section of the article to the explanation of an essential distinction in Empedocles’ system. While the philosopher recognises the ultimate symmetry of the world, he illustrates Love’s creation of mortals first, in the anti-world of rising Love, and then the analogous zoogonic activity in our world of Strife. According to ST, this disproportion is due to rhetorical consideration: “the double creation” in fact “freed him (scil. Empedocles) to select those phases more suited to the needs of each exposition”.

In ‘Socrates and Protagoras on virtue’, Denis O’Brien (hereafter DOB) makes a lucid and comprehensive examination of the three theses resulting from the questions that Socrates poses to Protagoras in the homonymous dialogue, namely: ” Protagoras’ thesis. The individual virtues are parts of virtue (1a). They are like the parts of a face, each differing from the other and from the whole (2a). We can have one part without having another part (3a). A first rival thesis. The individual virtues are parts of virtue (1a). They are like pieces of gold, differing one from the other and from the whole only in ‘largeness and smallness’ (2b). We cannot have one virtue without having all the virtues (3b). A second rival thesis. The individual virtues are not parts of virtue; their names are only so many names of one and the same thing (1b). As soon as we have one virtue we have the whole of virtue” (62). The article is structured in three parts. The first part (which could have been shortened) aims to show what Socrates did not believe. DOB explicitly criticises the interpretations of both Penner, who claims that Socrates’ position is given by 1b, and Vlastos, who exonerates Socrates from holding 1b, but distinguishes a new version of the Unity thesis that Socrates seems to favour. In the second part, DOB investigates whether Socrates’ two remarks that temperance and wisdom are one (in 333 B 4-5), and that wisdom is courage (in 350 C 4-5) can help us guess what would have been Socrates’ answers to the questions posed to Protagoras at the beginning of their debate. As DOB correctly stresses, in the dialogue there is no answer. Yet Plato, by pointing out that Socrates aims to make knowledge the ‘whole’ of virtue (361 B 5-7), leads his readers to enquire whether there are parts of knowledge, or whether virtue as a whole has no parts. To explore the possible answer, DOB takes into consideration the comparison between particular virtues and pieces of gold. Here, the problem is to understand how we can distinguish one piece of gold from any other or from the whole since they all display precisely the same qualities. The puzzle on which the Laches ends offers an interesting analogy, since, in arriving at the definition of courage, the reader is guided to a definition of virtue as a whole (195 D 8-199 E 5). In that dialogue, as in the section of the Protagoras under investigation, the notion of part becomes ambivalent. As DOB argues, this idea could explain the need for having the two theses that contradict Protagoras’ claim. The image of the pieces of gold however does not help in illustrating why we cannot have only one part of virtue without having all the others. DOB’s solution, emphasising of what he considers to be the essential characteristics of the pieces of gold, their differing in largeness and smallness (329 D 8), is straightforward: “the pieces of gold, though differing in size, are none the less all gold. For no one virtue brings with it any intrinsic quality that is not already provided by the other virtues, with the implication therefore that we cannot have one virtue without having all the others” (103). In the last part of the article, the most speculative of the three, DOB supports his idea that in the Protagoras there are no clear details of Socrates’ belief on virtue, by discussing Aristotle’s solution to the question found in the dialogue. An analysis of two theses quoted by Plutarch, and attributed respectively to Menedemus of Eretria and to Ariston of Chios, leads DOB to attempt a reading of Diogenes’ account of Eucleides as a guide to Socrates’ thoughts on the subject.

Marc Pavlopoulos (hereafter MP) in ‘Aristotle’s Natural Teleology’ makes an important argument in favour of the metaphysical roots of Aristotle’s teleology. MP structures his thorough discussion of the advantages and limits of teleology in four well-defined sections. In the first section, after a characterisation of Aristotelian teleology as ‘hypothetical necessity’ based on the proposition ‘If E is to be, then x is present’ (136), MP delineates a fourfold model of teleology. Here, teleology is subdivided according to its ontological status (material vs. kinetic), and to its temporal characteristics (diachronic vs. synchronic). In the second section, MP illustrates how teleology, to be explanatory, must fulfil two requirements. First, it has to avoid circularity: in the modus ponens of the teleological model, the end-explanans E should not be defined in terms of the x-explanandum. Second, as a consequence of the previous point, it must be possible to establish that E is to be, independently of whether x is there or not. In answer to the difficulties in fulfilling the first requirement in the case of synchronic teleology, MP explains how the three inclusive levels of complexity in the constitution of organisms (homoiomerous parts and elements, organs and the soul) require conditions that are external to their constituents. The third section of the article is devoted to the three main limits of Aristotelian teleology. First of all, no life activity other than self-maintenance is a necessary condition for the general activity of life to take place. Thus there can be no true conditional premises of the type ‘if life is to be, then this organic activity is to be performed’. More importantly, it is impossible in most cases to infer that any particular organ need be present. As MP correctly points out, it is because of this limit that Aristotle introduces the concept of ‘absolute’ necessity or efficient or material causation, according to which something takes place simply because something is. Again, Aristotle’s teleology cannot account for the variety of parts of animals, and therefore for the variety of animal species. Teleology is based on empirical observations that reveal differentiae between parts of animals that do not have that essential characteristic to become specific differences of genera. This is a limit that allows an evolutionary theory of the origin of species. Finally, Aristotle’s teleology does not provide an account of the formation of the animal’s organs. According to MP, teleology is close to formal causality and, as such, aims to explain why an individual being had to be precisely as it is, and not why such an individual exists. The fourth part presents an investigation of the concept of life in Aristotle’s teleology in order to justify the premise of the teleological model ‘E is to be’. What MP stresses is that life is to be because there has already been life in a certain same matter: “in sum, provided that any living being exists, then this living being qua living being ‘is to be’ in the following moment of time” (175). Under these conditions, life becomes an activity of self-maintenance that, differently from other activities, cannot be exercised on anything other than what is actually living.

In ‘Themistius and spontaneous generation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics‘ Devin Henry (hereafter DH) makes an important, although very concise, re-evaluation of Aristotle’s rejection of the Forms in his theory of reproduction, as criticised by Themistius. Themistius condemns Aristotle’s idea that offspring inherit their forms from their parents by stressing that it does not cover the cases of abiogenesis. From a metaphysical point of view, Themistius is here attacking Aristotle’s overestimation of the role of the particular parents. As DH clearly shows, however, in Metaphysics Z 8, Aristotle does not exclude instances of spontaneous generation, but he considers them as problematic “because it is simply not obvious in this case… that the source of the product’s form pre-exists in the particular” (193). For Aristotle, there is always an identity between the product and that from which the product comes. In the case of spontaneous generation, the matter has the capacity to bring into existence a particular form.

In answer to the title of his contribution, ‘What does Aristotle mean by priority in substance?’ Stephen Makin (thereafter SM) attempts to show how the principle of Independent Condition found in Metaphysics delta 11 can accommodate the examples given in M theta 8, in particular those of an adult being prior in substance to a child, and a human being to a fertilized egg. As SM correctly infers, the principle involves an asymmetric relation of dependence, which can be understood by reference to Aristotle’s concepts of potentiality and actuality. Yet, SM’s interesting analysis of the concepts of priority in respect to actuality and priority in respect to potentiality fails to clarify the examples at stake. A better understanding comes from an analysis of Metaphysics delta 1019a 12-14, where SM introduces the concept of possibility: “What establishes the possibility of there being Fs without Gs is that there is some process which in normal condition results in Fs and not in Gs …; whereas in contrast the way to get Gs and not Fs is to interfere with, interrupt, or hinder that process” (229). The argument is plausible but incomplete. If SM stresses that the process in question is not just any process, he does not continue the investigation of the process itself.

In ‘Chrysippus’ Puzzle about Identity’, John Bowin (thereafter JB) cogently strengthens David Sedley’s reading of the puzzle of Chrysippus as a reductio ad absurdum of the Growing Argument. For Sedley, Chrysippus reduces to absurdity the assumption that matter is the sole principle of identity by refuting its presupposition that the two protagonists of the puzzle, namely Theon and Dion, are related as part to the whole. According to Plutarch’s Comm. not. 1083 a8-c1, however, the Growing Argument concludes by posing that growth is actually ‘generation’ and ‘destruction’. In order to avoid the contradiction, Theon should have perished rather than become a part of Dion. JB attempts to answer the questions of whether within the Growing Argument there are elements against Theon being a living part of Dion. He shows that in both Epicharmus’ fragment 2 and Plutarch’s Comm.not. 1083b 308 “there is nothing to block the inference from matter being the sole principle of identity to the possibility that Theon could be a part of Dion” (246). Again, in exploring whether the above contradiction can be solved, he convincingly argues against Epicharmus’ and Plutarch’s reading of growth as generation and destruction. In the last part of his article, JB stresses that the reductio ad absurdum of the Growing Argument can be tackled without introducing the concept of ‘peculiarly qualified individuals’.

I shall deal briefly with the last four contributions to the book.

In ‘Determinism and recurrence in early Stoic thought’, Ricardo Salles explores the wide and much discussed concept of everlasting recurrence, with a special focus on its relation to determinism. In contrast to some recent scholarship on the subject, Salles makes the important claim that the concepts of regularity-based determinism and predetermination are fully compatible and can both be traced back to early Stoicism. The claims are supported by an analysis of the Stoic arguments in favour of transcyclical indiscernibility.

Gábor Betech, in ‘Cosmological Ethics in the Timaeus and early Stoicism’, re-explores the challenged relationship between physics and cosmology on the one hand, and ethics on the other hand in the Stoic system. The analysis is conducted by focusing on the relationship between Plato’s Timaeus and Chrysippus’ theory of telos and is contextualised in the wider framework of Platonic versus Stoic positions. If, in the Timaeus, astronomical enquiries are instrumental for the achievement of eudaimonia, insofar as they lead to an understanding of the good in the physical world through mathematics and dialectic, for the Stoics the fundamental aspect of a rational ethical disposition lies in the comprehension of the essence of the cosmic divine rationality within its connection to human rationality. As Rachel Barney points out in the beginning of her contribution entitled ‘A puzzle in Stoic ethics’, her aim is to “articulate a puzzle rather than to solve it” (304). By investigating the nature of the selection of indifferents in the case of selfless behaviours, Barney shows how the implications of the seemingly plausible account of Stoic theory of indifferents are problematic. The author develops what she calls a Model of Stoic deliberation and discusses it in the light of some alternative interpretations.

In ‘Sextus and External World Scepticism’, Gail Fine re-evaluates Hegel’s argument in favour of the profoundness and extensivity of ancient scepticism when compared with Cartesian scepticism. After a clarification of the different degrees of scepticism, Fine challenges the objections to the view that Sextus supported External World Scepticism.

This selection of articles presented by David Sedley strongly impacts on the current understanding of fundamental aspects of ancient philosophy. The articles present very inspiring interrelations, e.g. the nature of Aristotle’s biology in Pauvlopoulos and Henry and the essentials of Stoic ethics in Betegh and Barney. I note only that the insertion of at least one contribution on ancient logic would have completed this volume’s comprehensiveness. In conclusion, while I would not suggest this volume to undergraduate students, I strongly recommend it to any expert reader of ancient philosophy as a source of intellectual enrichment.