BMCR 2006.03.10

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Volume XXVI, Summer 2004

, Oxford studies in ancient philosophy. Vol. 26, Summer 2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 320 pages ; 22 cm. ISBN 0199272492 £21.00 (pb).

This volume of OSAP contains eleven articles and two discussion pieces, and a comprehensive Index Locorum of ancient texts discussed in the articles. As one expects from the series, the articles are of varying length (some much longer than a regular journal article) and span the history of Greek philosophy from Heraclitus to Proclus. For those bereft of Greek, all Greek words and quotations are transliterated/translated either parenthetically or in place of Greek. The collection as a whole is extremely valuable as an indicator of current trends and developments in ancient philosophy, and those working in ancient political philosophy and ethics will find much grist for the mill of their own research in the very competent and insightful pieces here presented. What follows below are brief synopses/comments on each of the pieces in turn.

Herbert Granger, “Argumentation and Heraclitus’ Book”

Granger argues against Jonathan Barnes’ contention that the fragments of Heraclitus may have been taken from a book of continuous prose. Barnes opposes the orthodox picture of Heraclitus as a writer of aphorisms and contends that the use of logical connectives (mostly γάρ) provides evidence of philosophical argumentation instead of mystical or aphoristic presentation. What we now know as Heraclitus’ aphoristic style may be the result of the imperfect preservation of isolated quotes from a continuous text of Heraclitus’ book. Against Barnes, Granger suggests that Heraclitus’ book, if there was one, was a collection of independent passages, some aphoristic, others more extended in argumentation. Granger shows a sound grasp of the literature on Heraclitus and incorporates research on the recently discovered Derveni Papyrus. The essay is a very good introduction to some of the issues surrounding Heraclitus’ style and provides a useful Bibliography of 32 key texts on Heraclitus.

John Palmer, “Melissus and Parmenides”

Palmer does some careful work in distinguishing Parmenides’ monism from that of Melissus. He suggests that far from being derivative of Parmenides, or putting forth the same position, Melissus should be regarded as a much more independent and original thinker than he usually is. Palmer brings in distinctions implicit in Aristotle’s treatment of Parmenides and Melissus, and suggests that the idea of a common Eleatic position originates with Gorgias, who is really responding to Melissus and not Parmenides. Palmer suggests, without taking a line on how Parmenides should be interpreted, that Melissus was more influential as a representative of Eleaticism than is commonly recognized and points to the danger in letting one’s interpretation of Melissus color or influence one’s reading of Parmenides. That is, one should not interpret Parmenides on the assumption that Melissus is defending or expounding the same position as Parmenides. Palmer’s bibliography is reasonably full, although conspicuously absent is any reference to Patricia Curd’s The Legacy of Parmenides: Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought, Princeton University Press, 1998.

Gabriela Roxana Carone, “Calculating Machines or Leaky Jars: The Moral Psychology of Plato’s Gorgias”

It is impossible here to do justice to this rather lengthy piece, which is a very rich and at the same time careful analysis of key moves in the Gorgias regarding Socrates’ stance on the relationship of reason to desire. Carone argues that, far from departing from intellectualism, one may read the Socratic stance in the dialogue as a consistent extension of the position. Carone also brings in important passages from the Republic, most notably the oft-ignored “channeling” passage at Rep. 485d, in support of her argument, suggesting as well that although there may be other developments in Plato’s moral theory in the Republic, it too may be seen as consistent on the point of intellectualism. The title of Carone’s essay derives from the passage in the Gorgias (493a-b) in which the location of the desires in the soul is compared with a leaky jar, suggesting that some part of the soul is always akolastos and subject to aplêstia, a concept that Carone finds consistent with Socratic intellectualism insofar as akolasia can be accounted for by lack of reason. But we are not leaky jars, that is we are not ultimately ruled by insatiable desires, nor are we dry calculating machines — viz. Socrates’ psychological eudaimonism is not a dry intellectualism either, but does take account of the role of emotion and desire in his moral theory.

Raphael Woolf, “The Practice of a Philosopher”

This essay focuses on Socrates’ remark in the Phaedo that philosophy is a preparation for death and asks whether the remark should be taken as implying an evaluative stance or an ascetic stance. According to Woolf, an ascetic reading would involve separating the soul from the body as much as possible in life, whereas an evaluative reading would suggest that one approach the body with indifference. Of course Socrates as depicted by Plato does not appear to be wholly ascetic — he dines, drinks, jokes, etc. — yet he does sometimes suggest that true philosophical knowledge can come only with the complete separation of body and soul. Woolf offers an in-depth analysis of arguments for and against both readings of Socrates’ remark, suggesting that ultimately we need to give “interpretive space to both”. I think that this is correct, but I suspect that Woolf ‘s argument would benefit from considering how Plotinus interprets the relationship between soul and body rather than using what he calls a “Kiplingesque” stance as a touchstone. The third section of the paper causes the most concern, since it attempts to resolve the discrepancy between Socrates’ attitude towards death in the Apology and his attitude in the Phaedo, suggesting that the discrepancy might be accounted for by the fact that the audiences are different in each case (viz. jurymen vs. Pythagorean philosophers). To make this case it would be necessary to ignore the fact that Socrates’ ideas about death in the Phaedo are bound up with Plato’s theory of Forms and recollection, and it would seem rash to foist these onto the Socrates of the Apology, a point of which Woolf is well aware. At the same time, however, one might bear in mind that Plato suggests he was present at Socrates’ trial, but absent for the execution. The latter fact, as well the indirect reporting of the Phaedo gives Plato a certain literary license that he does not have in the Apology.

Rachana Kamtekar, “What’s the Good of Agreeing? Homonoia in Platonic Politics”

In this clearly articulated piece, Kamtekar examines the relationship of the citizens’ agreement to be ruled by the philosopher-king in the Republic to their happiness. The notion of homonoia is problematized by initial forays into the Clitophon and First Alcibiades, without any commitment to their authenticity (on the customary grounds that they are indicative of a Socratic point of view — whether the argument then requires that the Republic too be taken as a Socratic point of view and how far this bears on the argument is left unclear). In the Clitophon, concern over the danger of homonoia is stressed, and Kamtekar allays this concern by suggesting that true belief removes this danger, the kind of true belief instilled in the lower classes by the Republic‘s programme of education. I agree wholeheartedly with Kamtekar ‘s explanation of the necessity of education to produce virtuous souls; while I agree with Kamtekar ‘s critique of Bobonich, the critique of Reeve leaves some doubt. Against Reeve, Kamtekar argues that what remains questionable in his account is that the phulakes and demiourgoi still value honor or money, and it is not clear how these bring happiness or virtue. However, in Kamtekar’s argument, the importance of money and virtue are pointed out, and one may recall that in the Apology Socrates says that from virtue comes money and all good things (30a). Could not education place desire for money — a recognized good — in a subservient and instrumental role with regard to virtue, both as a result of and in the service of homonoia ? Kamtekar emphasizes Rep 581b-c, which, taken a certain way (and it is unclear how committed to that way Kamtekar is) would suggest that phulakes and demiourgoi are unjust precisely because reason does not rule in their souls. But if we take account of the fact that justice is doing one’s own internally, as Plato suggests at Rep 443c-d, it is not clear that one can be just by submitting to someone else’s reason, as Kamtekar (and previously Jonathan Lear1) would have it. I point this out not to be contentious, but rather to show how evocative Kamtekar ‘s essay is. The essay is rounded out by comparisons of the functionality of homonoia in the Republic and Statesman, and a concluding section that bears on the implications of homonoia for Plato’s opposition to contract theory and contemporary approaches to agreement in contract theory. It is not clear to me how “recent social contractarians, where consenting is nothing other than rationally endorsing a social or political arrangement” (167) is any different from James I or Hobbes, or for that matter Glaucon’s position, which is said to be like swearing an oath or signing a contract. K is right, however, to distinguish Platonic homonoia from this kind of hypothetical contract. This paper should be read by anyone interested in the Republic. It might benefit from a deeper analysis of Plato’s psychology.

John M. Armstrong, “After the Ascent: Plato on Becoming Like God”.

Armstrong suggests that, while Plato’s ancient interpreters emphasized Plato’s escapism or otherworldliness, the importance that Plato placed on separating soul from body lies instead in one’s becoming like a god. Armstrong points out that in Plato’s later philosophy, esp. Timaeus, Philebus and Laws, there is a second sense in which one can be like god, imitating the “ordering” nature of the divine by using one’s intelligence to impose order on the changing world. This is something that Armstrong claims the ancient interpreters ignored. Armstrong does not want to claim that Plato changes his mind regarding the escapism, for Plato still holds to this even in the later dialogues, but rather wants to emphasize that the Ancients seem to ignore this aspect of Plato’s idea of homoisis thei.

Mehmet M. Erginel. “Non-substantial Individuals in Aristotle’s Categories.”

This essay argues against the traditional view that for Aristotle a non-substantial individual (i.e. a property) can only exist in one individual substance. The essay primarily concerns a passage in the Categories (1a25) in which Aristotle says ‘by “in a subject” I mean what is in something not as a part, and cannot exist separately from what it is in.’ On the traditional view the sentence has been taken as a definition of what it is for a particular property, x, to be in a particular substance, y. On this reading Aristotle is saying

‘x is in y’ if

(i) x is in y

(ii) x is not part of y

(iii) x cannot exist independently of y. (p. 187)

The third clause of the definition implies that a property cannot exist in more than one substance because then its existence would not depend on the existence of the substance. Erginel argues that the passage is explaining what it is for x to be a property in general rather than for x to be a property of a particular substance, y. While Erginel’s interpretation is similar to Frede’s, he departs from Frede in thinking that the sentence is not intended as a definition. Erginel’s view is that “The sentence provides only necessary conditions for being a property” (p. 192). Thus he takes the sentence to mean:

x is ‘in’ a subject only if there is (at least) a subject y such that

(i) x is in y

(ii) x is not a part of y

(iii) x cannot exist independently of y. (p. 192)

In other words, the minimum requirement for something to be a property is that it is in at least one substance. However, it can be in many substances and there is no privileged substance in which it must exist.

Michael V. Wedin, “On the Use and Abuse of Non-Contradiction”

This is a very engaging article concerning Aristotle’s claim in Metaphysics Book IV that the theses of Protagorean relativism and Heraclitean flux not only deny the principle of non-contradiction, but imply its contrary — that every thing both has and does not have every property. Aristotle’s arguments for this claim are notoriously brief and opaque and there are few that think an intelligible argument can be made in support of the claim. Wedin offers accounts of the arguments which are deductively valid and provides reasons for thinking these are indeed the arguments Aristotle had in mind. Wedin does a particularly nice job of reconstructing Aristotle’s argument regarding Protagorean relativism. Very roughly, Wedin shows that a Protagorean (or at least Aristotle’s version of a Protagorean) is committed to accepting either one necessary truth or the contrary of the principle of non-contradiction. However, to accept any necessary truth “is to hold that there is some fact of the matter that makes it [the case]” (Wedin, 221). This is clearly unacceptable to a Protagorean relativist. Having worked through Wedin’s reconstruction, if one then returns to IV.5, the argument is almost intuitive.

Michael Pakaluk, “The Meaning of Aristotelian Magnanimity”

In this important essay, Pakaluk suggests that megalopsuchia in the Nicomachean Ethics has been misread and misconstrued by many commentators. Pakaluk wants to maintain that far from being a free-hand character sketch after the manner of Theophrastus’ Characters, or a negative characteristic, or a virtue that presupposes a non-egalitarian society, the concept of megalopsuchia, understood correctly, is actually consistent with Aristotle’s approach to the virtues in the Ethics, and indeed an admirable trait. In order to get clear on how we ought to understand and approach megalopsuchia, Pakaluk offers an analytic translation of Ethics 1123a34-1125a15, followed by a discussion of and commentary on the translation that shows how he reads the passages, and how others have misconstrued them. Pakaluk points out seven points of disanalogy between Aristotle’s “portrait” of the megalopsuchos and the approach of Theophrastus’ portraits, in addition to taking issue with certain aspects of translations by Ross and Rowe. Most interesting is Pakaluk’s analysis of the presentation of the megalopsuchos in tandem with the order and structure of other parts of the Ethics. This essay broaches questions of Socrates’ contempt for the court, and I suspect there is much fertile ground here for a deeper examination of Socrates’ attitudes towards his jury and his life, ideas already discussed in the article by Woolf in the present volume.

Erik J. Wielenberg. “Egoism and Eudaimonia Maximization in the Nicomachean Ethics.”

Wielenberg attributes to Aristotle the following principle: “AE: An ethically virtuous person will always choose a course of action that he believes promotes his own eudaimonia at least as much as any other course of action he could have chosen”. (p. 278) Wielenberg does not want to commit himself to the claim that the “eudaimonia-promoting” action is performed because it is eudaimonia-promoting. The analogy he uses here is weak if not disanalogous. Wielenberg suggests that I move and oxygen molecules always move, but I do not move to cause oxygen molecules to move. A bit more work needs to be done to show why one chooses eudaimonia-promoting actions; one suspects that the actions that do not promote eudaimonia are avoided precisely because they are not eudaimonia-promoting. If things are eudaimonia-promoting merely accidentally, one wonders what relevance such actions have to Wielenberg’s claim of egoism. More needs to be said here. Wielenberg responds to Kraut’s claim in Aristotle on the Human Good.2 that Aristotle is not an egoist on the grounds that it is inconsistent with AE, which suggests the maximization of eudaimonia. Further examination of the texts that Kraut examines shows that they are not in conflict with AE, and on these grounds Wielenberg suggests that Kraut is wrong. I suspect the essay would be more fruitful if Wielenberg would expand on what kind of egoist he takes Aristotle to be, and what is at stake here (he bows out of the argument at this stage), and why he would not commit to the stronger claim that one performs eudaimonia-promoting acts because they are eudaimonia-promoting.

Dirk Baltzly, “The Virtues and Becoming like God: Alcinous to Proclus.”

Perhaps some evidence that some later Platonists/Neoplatonists do recognize the earthly value of homoisis thei can be found in Baltzly’s exploration of Proclus’ development of the philosophy of Plotinus. According to Baltzly, whereas Plotinus is almost wholly otherworldly (what Armstrong above calls “escapist”), Proclus finds some aspects of divine virtue that are not purely intellectual but something akin to human virtue, and thus allows for a non-escapist understanding of the virtuous life. One of the upshots of both this article and Armstrong’s article (although neither author takes a strong stand on the issue) is that there is room for something like “virtue ethics” in Plato, insofar as one can see the possibility of a non-escapist ethic in Plato and some of his later interpreters. One suspects that these concerns line up with the questions of Socratic asceticism/evaluationism in Woolf’s treatment of philosophy as a preparation for death in the Phaedo; interesting results would follow from an examination of how these issues relate. That is, a closer examination may well reveal that Woolf’s two readings of Socrates’ remark in the Phaedo engage an interesting tension between Plato’s two senses of homoisis thei.

Paul Woodruff, “Antiphons, Sophist and Athenian”

Woodruff’s piece is a discussion of two recent books on Antiphon: M. Gagarin’s Antiphon the Athenian: Oratory, Law and Justice in the Age of the Sophists (Austin: 2002), and G.J. Pendrick, Antiphon the Sophist: The Fragments (Cambridge: 2002). Woodruff begins by reviewing the Corpus Antiphonteum, and then goes on to address Antiphon’s identity, pointing to a distinction made by a minority of ancient scholars who distinguished between Antiphon the Rhetor and Antiphon the Sophist (this might have been a better title for the essay). In contemporary commentary on Antiphon, we find separatists who believe that the “Rhetor” and the “Sophist” are different authors, and unitarians who believe that the author is the same. Pendrick is a separatist and Gagarin is a unitarian. While there is no conclusive evidence on either side, and we need to account for both perspectives, Woodruff says that whether the texts in the Corpus Antiphonteum are the work of one man or two makes a difference. If the unitarians are right, the corpus would present a single author’s work on speeches, forensics and theory, whereas for Gorgias we have only rough summaries of his theory, and no forensics, and for Protagoras’ work only fragmentary remains. The latter half of this short essay is dedicated to the interpretation of “On Truth” and variant translations leading to variant interpretations in F44; Woodruff points out that both Gagarin and Pendrick agree with most scholars that Antiphon is not an advocate of natural justice as once thought (perhaps he has Barker in mind3). The essay does some justice to Gagarin and Pendrick, and while it is a discussion, not a book review, Woodruff’s enthusiasm successfully inspires the reader to want to investigate the texts under discussion.

Charles Kahn, “From Republic to Laws

Kahn offers a review discussion of Christopher Bobonich’s Plato’s Utopia Recast. Among Kahn’s compliments for this important new book is the concluding claim that Bobonich offers the “best account we have of the ethics and political philosophy of the Laws” (p. 362). Much of Kahn’s discussion focuses on Bobonich’s central thesis, namely that there is a change in Plato’s attitude towards non-philosophers from the writing of the Phaedo and Republic to the writing of the Laws, suggested by optimism stemming from Plato’s abandonment of the tripartite theory of the soul. Kahn’s criticisms center on Bobonich’s failure to take account of how the literary and contextual aspects of the dialogue-form bear on our interpretation of Plato, a criticism with which I wholeheartedly agree. The most valuable part of the discussion comes with Kahn’s analysis of the tripartite soul, and the strongest criticism of Bobonich’s thesis is that, given the focus of the discussion of the Laws, and the retention of the tripartite theory of the soul in the temporally close Timaeus, there is no strong evidence that Plato ever abandoned tripartition. Just as recollection is absent from the Republic but still present in the Phaedo, the absence of a discussion of the tripartite soul in the Laws is not conclusive evidence that Plato abandoned it. Kahn is surely right that to claim, as Bobonich would, that non-philosophers are incapable of being just in the Republic would run counter to the intention of the Republic. Kahn’s discussion is valuable not only as a survey of Bobonich, but as a sound analysis of important aspects of Plato’s psychology as well, and should be read by anyone interested in the psychology and class division in the Republic.


1. Lear, J., “Plato’s Politics of Narcissism,” Apeiron (1994).

2. Kraut, Richard, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton: 1989).

3. Barker, E., Greek Political Theory: Plato and His Predecessors (Methuen: 1947), 67.