The serial Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy (OSAP) is fairly regarded as the leading venue for publication in ancient philosophy. It is where one looks to find the state-of-the-art. That the serial, which presents itself more as an anthology than as a journal, has traditionally allowed space for lengthier studies, has tended only to add to its prestige; it is as if OSAP thus declares that, since it allows as much space as the merits of the subject require, it can be more entirely devoted to the best and most serious scholarship.
OSAP was for twenty years since its founding published just once a year; six years ago it began to appear biannually. Here I review the Winter issue of Volume XXV, 2003, edited by David Sedley, who is rightly recognized as having contributed signally to the field of ancient philosophy through his remarkable and longstanding service as editor of the series.
Papers in an OSAP volume are placed in an order corresponding to the chronology of the philosophers or texts they consider. This volume opens with a paper by Mark McPherran on Plato’s Euthyphro, “The Aporetic Interlude and Fifth Elenchus of Plato’s Euthyphro“. McPherran is perhaps the leading authority on Socratic religion; as one might expect, his paper is filled with valuable scholarly comments on the dialogue, and the paper would be worth consulting simply for its many references to the best and most recent scholarship on the dialogue.
McPherran’s main thesis is that Socrates’ two brief comparisons involving the mythological figure of Daedalus are philosophically important and shed light on the arguments of the dialogue. The first comparison occurs at 11c-e, when Socrates jests that, in his various refutations of Euthyphro’s definitions of piety, he seems to have shown even more skill than his ancestor Daedalus, “inasmuch as [Daedalus] made only his own works move, whereas I, as it seems, give motion to the works of others as well as to my own.” The second occurs at 15c, after Socrates has apparently shown that Euthyphro’s last attempt to define piety is circular. Socrates quips, wryly, that now it is Euthyphro who seems more skillful than Daedalus, since Daedalus could merely make his statues walk, but Euthyphro makes his definitions go in circles.
McPherran argues that the first comparison is important for its various allegorical suggestions and allusions; and the second, he claims, with its mention of ‘going in circles’, is meant to provide a hint to the reader to go back and rework the definition that had just been rejected. In effect, McPherran argues that, in the Euthyphro, subtle literary details complement philosophical argument, just as much as in dialogues such as the Phaedo, that are taken to represent Plato’s mature mastery of the dialogue form.
People will differ in their judgment as to whether a supposed allusion is no more than supposititious. For my part, I found McPherran’s suggestions frequently strained and implausible. Consider for instance McPherran’s proposal of the following chain of association. Socrates’ mention of Daedalus, he says, is meant by Plato to bring to the mind of his Athenian audience the father-son pair, Daedalus and Icarus; but then Euthyphro, since he has been associated too with Daedalus, by Socrates’ comparison, therefore becomes, as it were, a ‘relative’ of Daedalus, and so he begins to stand symbolically for the young son, Icarus; but then (McPherran’s conjecture continues) once Euthyphro stands for Icarus, then Euthyphro’s father stands for and may be identified with Daedalus. McPherran then proposes that Plato, through this elaborate chain of association, is among other things hinting to us that Euthyphro “has acquired his penchant for religious perfectionism and iconoclasm (for risky heavenly ascent, if you will) from his father” (16). Such interpretations strike me as unconvincing and ultimately unhelpful; I do not regard Plato as artful to such a degree and am inclined to attribute to the comparisons with Daedalus no more content than they have on their playful surface.
C. D. C. Reeve’s “Plato’s Metaphysics of Morals”, the next essay in the volume, is a pleasingly elegant and synthetic paper which aims to give, in a short span, an insightful overview of Plato’s philosophy.
Reeve’s thesis is that, when Plato began to think philosophically, he adopted craftsmanship ( techne) as his paradigm for philosophy, because craftsmanship at that time “constituted the paradigm of knowledge” (39). According to Reeve, Plato went on to develop, as is especially evident in the Republic, a conception of philosophy as occupying “the pinnacle of an allegedly unique craft hierarchy”. In the late dialogues, too, this “craft paradigm” continues to exert its influence, especially in the Philebus. Since, as Reeve claims, it is inherent in the notion of a craft that one imposes, from the outside, ‘form’ upon some antecedently existing ‘stuff’, Plato’s adherence to the craft paradigm leads him, in the end, to identify goodness with form. But then this identification, Reeve says in conclusion, threatens to undermine one of Plato’s “central projects”: it “forces Plato away from eudaemonism towards a metaphysics of morals much more like Kant’s” (57).
Clearly, there are various passages in Plato in which philosophy (or perhaps ‘wisdom’, phronesis), is likened to a craft; and Plato of course maintains that reality has a hierarchical structure — as shown in the ‘ascent’ passages of the Lysis, Symposium, and Republic. It is the combination of these two ideas which is controversial, viz. that Plato regarded the ascent of these hierarchies, as a matter of the acquisition and exercise of a craft which is at the pinnacle of all other crafts.
It would seem that everything hinges on what one counts as a ‘craft’; yet Reeve’s paper lacks an explicit definition. In his penultimate paragraph, perhaps with the Timaeus in mind, he says that “central to craft … is the notion of giving shape or form (
One wonders, too, why Plato’s pressing of the notion of craft should lead him, as if unwittingly, to ‘undermine’ eudaemonism, as Reeve claims, since Plato takes pains to develop in Republic the view that a craft is inherently non-eudaemonistic and aims necessarily at the good of someone other than the craftsman.
But perhaps the chief difficulty in Reeve’s thesis is that there is little evidence that Plato accepted a unitary hierarchy of crafts along the lines of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics I.1-2. Reeve notes, correctly, that Republic X speaks of the products of some crafts being used by other crafts, and to that extent Plato acknowledges partial orderings, to be sure. But a single ordering? At this most crucial point in his paper, Reeve says, “On the admittedly controversial assumption that there is a single such hierarchy of crafts, and a single superordinate craft, we may speak of the craft hierarchy” (45). One might object that what Reeve refers to here as an assumption of his paper is supposed to be, rather, its central conclusion.
From Plato we move on to Aristotle, with “Aristotle’s Definition of Nature” by Sean Kelsey, which gives an interpretation of Aristotle’s claim in Physics II.1 that something has a nature ( phusis), if it has within it a principle ( arche) of change and rest. This cannot mean, Kelsey points out, that a thing’s nature is an efficient cause of the changes it undergoes, because the passive potencies of a thing belong to its nature, yet clearly these do not affect something in the manner of an efficient cause: e.g., the nature of water as a liquid is to take the shape of the container in which it is placed, yet one can hardly count the water as the efficient cause of that change.
Neither is it correct, Kelsey maintains, to say that a nature is a ‘principle’ of change because it is an ‘origin’, in the sense that, when we are explaining changes in the natural world, we trace these back until we arrive at some form, present in a natural substance, which is responsible for that change — with explanation properly stopping there (Why does the water boil? “Because fire was applied to it, and fire is hot.” Why is fire hot? “That’s just the sort of thing that fire is. That’s the nature of fire.”) Kelsey points out that this view fails to distinguish natural substances from artifacts, which also initiate change as they do, or are the subjects of change, in virtue of their form. Indeed, that they are like natural substances in this regard underlies the Aristotelian idea that art imitates nature.
A slight revision, indeed, would apparently save this second interpretation: simply add that, for an artifact, the form that is in it, which is responsible for the changes it produces, is accidental relative to its constituents, whereas in a natural substance this is not the case (see Met. VIII.3.1043b19-23). But Kelsey takes a different way out, arguing that, “when Aristotle says that natural things have in themselves a principle of movement, he means that they have a kind of ‘authority’ over their movement, title to which comes …with being its proper subject”(84-5). Kelsey seems to prefer this approach as part of a distinctive and intriguing interpretation of natural teleology in Aristotle, according to which to classify something just is to regard it in a normative way.
It becomes clear from the examples Kelsey gives that by the ‘proper subject’ of an action, he means those whom the action is principally meant to benefit: in a tyranny, he says, the ruler rules for his own benefit and is therefore the ‘proper subject’ of the activities of governance; in a kingship, in contrast, the ruler rules for the benefit of the citizens, who therefore in this case are the ‘proper subjects’. A first difficulty, then, for Kelsey’s interpretation is to see how one could say that an inanimate thing such as fire would have a nature, since these seem not to be possible objects of benefit (see Nic. Eth. 1155b29). But this could perhaps be handled by appealing to central versus analogous senses.
A more serious problem is that Kelsey’s use of the ‘proper subject’ and ‘authority’ is apparently difficult to square with what Aristotle says elsewhere, especially in his theory of authority. Distinguish the authority that a person has over distinct others (call this ‘political authority’) from the authority that someone might have over others who are, as it were, parts of himself (call this ‘kinship authority’, and see Nic. Eth. 1134b8-17 for the distinction). As regards the former, Aristotle is clear that the authority which a ruler enjoys is meant to be exercised for the benefit of the ruled. That is, the ‘proper subjects’ of authority are precisely not those who have the authority. Hence, being a ‘proper subject’, in the sense explained, could never establish a ‘title’ to this sort authority.
As regards the latter, it may indeed be the case that the person who has the authority also is meant to benefit from it, and therefore is the ‘proper subject’. A very clear example of this, for Aristotle, would be the master-slave relationship. However, Aristotle also holds that a master may have legitimate authority only over someone who has the nature to be slave. That is to say: the slave, precisely as acting in accordance with his distinctive nature, takes someone else, the master, to be the ‘proper subject’. But then this seems a counterexample to Kelsey’s interpretation: a slave has a nature, but this nature is not a matter of his having an ‘authority’ which comes of his being a ‘proper subject’. And this will not be an isolated case, since any articulated natural substance would also be a counterexample: its natural parts, precisely as natural, would not be ‘proper subjects’. In fact, it seems that we would need to appeal to the ‘nature’ of those parts in order to explain the authority that the principal part has over them. That is, the notion of ‘nature’ would seem to be presupposed by this sort of authority and therefore could not be explained in terms of it.
One wonders, too, why the view which, according to Kelsey, is implicit in Physics II.1, never becomes explicit elsewhere in the corpus, even in texts where one would naturally expect it to make a showing — as for instance Metaphysics VII.17, where Aristotle takes up the question, whether the substance of a thing is perhaps what serves as its ‘principle and cause’ (
Next is Frank Lewis’ provocative and highly dialectical paper entitled, “Is There Room for Anaxagoras in an Aristotelian Theory of Mind?” This examines how it is possible to reconcile Aristotle’s seeming endorsement of Anaxagoras’ view, that ” nous is simple and impassive [
Lewis puts aside, on rather weak grounds I think, the view that Aristotle regards Anaxagoras as correct only as regards material objects: that mind is indeed unmixed with matter, and thus with material objects insofar as they are objects of thought; but that mind is and can be mixed with immaterial forms. (This has been defended by J. Driscoll, M. Wedin, and D.W. Hamlyn.)
Lewis also rejects the related view, probably the received view here, according to which Aristotle thinks that Anaxagoras is right only as regards mind ‘in potentiality’, that is, before it thinks anything; but that once the mind begins to think something, then, in its actually thinking that thing, the form of that thing is mixed with mind (see 429b29). Lewis objects that this view cannot account for what he calls ‘bounce back’, that is, for the mind’s capacity to think things anew and repeatedly: on this view, according to Lewis, once the mind starts thinking something, it must always continue thinking of that thing; it cannot revert to an unaffected condition.
In reply one might point out that Aristotle in fact remarks, as regards the solution that he himself offers in the text (whatever it is), that it raises the difficulty of why the mind does not think always (430a5). That is, Aristotle seems to recognize that the view he is proposing is open to something like a ‘bounce back’ objection. And then one might wonder whether there really is a difficulty, ultimately, in an actualized thing’s returning to a condition it was in before its being actualized: that is, why should we not explain ‘bounce back’ simply as the cessation of its actualization?
Furthermore, it seems that far worse difficulties than ‘bounce back’ beset Lewis’ own proposed view. According to Lewis, Aristotle holds that Anaxagoras is correct even as regards the mind when actualized — that the mind remains unaffected even when it is thinking and is actualized in a purely extrinsic way. On this view, the mind prior to its thinking is “both extrinsically and intrinsically unaffected by its object”, and then when it thinks it is “extrinsically affected but intrinsically unaffected by its object” (100). Since it is only extrinsically affected, Lewis proposes, the mind can easily ‘bounce back’ to the intrinsically unaffected condition it had before it was thinking of the object.
A minor difficulty with this view is that Aristotle does not use anything like the language of ‘extrinsic’ versus ‘intrinsic’ in his solution, even though such language is available to him ( kath’ auto versus kata sumbebekos). As we have seen, he uses the language of potentiality and actuality.
A more serious difficulty is that it is not clear what sense the distinction between ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ could bear in the case of the mind. How could something exist within the mind only ‘extrinsically’? Lewis says that this would be something ‘adverbial’ to the mind’s actualization. And yet, clearly, not everything that pertains to the way in which something is done is plausibly understood as ‘extrinsic’ to the action: if someone changes from relaxed to vigorous walking, is his walking only ‘extrinsically’ changed? Moreover, the mind for Aristotle is presumably naturally adapted to receive forms and to think, and it seems strange to say that, for Aristotle, a faculty receives only extrinsically what it is naturally adapted to receive.
But perhaps the most serious difficulty is that the actualization of the mind in its thinking, on Lewis’s view, is something so extrinsic to the mind, that it is unclear how this actualization counts as the mind’s itself being acted upon by something else. In the final pages of his essay, Lewis acknowledges this difficulty: “If this picture of Aristotle’s view is correct, how can it be appropriate to suppose that when S thinks O, S’s NOUS somehow ‘receives or ‘reflects’ a ‘foreign admixture’ from O…?” (126).1 Lewis’ solution is that: “…the particular way in which nous is enhanced on a given occasion…depends on the identity of the object of thought O corealized with nous on this occasion” (127). But this leaves unexplained how the actualization thus ‘depends’ on an object. Lewis seems to say only that the two are correlated, but ‘correlation is not causation’, as the saying goes.
Kyle Fraser’s “Seriality and Demonstration in Aristotle’s Ontology” comes next in the volume. It is commonly thought that Aristotle distinguishes just two ways of classifying things: genus-species hierarchies; and pros hen or ‘focally related’ analogues. Fraser considers whether we might take Aristotle’s mention, at Met. IV.2.1005a11, of classification “with reference to a serial ordering” (
Fraser gives a useful Appendix, where he supplies a standard neoplatonist classification of the categories, and also F. Brentano’s systematization (from On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle) — although one might have liked to see included here also Aquinas’ two rationalizations of the categories ( In V Met., lect. 9, n. 892, and In III Phys. lect. 5, nn. 310-320).
Daniel Devereux’s essay, “The Relation between Books Zeta and Eta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics“, is the next in the volume. This is a big and ambitious paper, aiming to give a new account of the development of Aristotle’s thought in the central books of the Metaphysics.
The sensus communis among scholars is that H is later than Z and is little more than a hodgepodge of various observations, developing some strands of thought provisionally set down in Z. Devereux argues, rather, that two crucial chapters in Z, namely, Z 3 and Z 17, were written after the bulk of H was written and therefore represent Aristotle’s ‘last word’ on those topics. Devereux postulates, speculatively, a rather extensive revision of Z carried out subsequent to the composition of H; and he considers that, in general, where Z and H are similar or overlap, it is Z that has the more sophisticated argument, not H.
Devereux thesis rests crucially on his interpretation of Z 3 and 17. He maintains that, in these chapters, Aristotle is implicitly presupposing that a concrete substance is predicable of its underlying matter. Such a view (which Devereux calls the ‘New View’) is at odds with anything we find in H. Devereux tells a philosophical story according to which Aristotle’s adoption of this view would be a later development and a more sophisticated position — and thus those parts of Z would have been revised after the bulk of H was written.
To my mind there are two, interrelated difficulties in Devereux’s thesis. First, the thesis is antecedently implausible, because, as Devereux admits, nowhere else in the corpus do we find Aristotle saying that a concrete substance is predicable of another thing. (Devereux’s thesis is so unusual, that Devereux himself, in an incidental discussion, at one point apparently slips and appeals to its contradictory, as though to an obvious truth: “…it is generally agreed that a concrete substance is not predicable of its matter or its form, or indeed of anything else” (165).2 ) Indeed, it is not easy to see even what it would mean for a concrete substance to be predicated of something. If a concrete substance is the sort of thing that is indicated by a proper name, then to predicate a concrete substance of its matter would involve a claim such as “[blank] is Socrates”, where this is not asserting identity. This is simply not clarified.3
But the antecedent implausibility of this view, and Devereux’s acknowledgment that Aristotle adopts this ‘New View’, if at all, only implicitly, puts enormous interpretative strain on Devereux’s favored interpretations of crucial but obscure passages Z 3 and 17. Devereux must in effect claim that those passages cannot satisfactorily be understood other than as presupposing the New View.
But this observation leads to the second, related problem, which is that Devereux’s interpretations of Z 3 and 17 are simply not convincing enough to bear the enormous burden placed upon them. In fact, they are extremely problematic and, in my view, hardly plausible. His interpretation of Z 3 seems based on an understandable but incorrect translation of the crucial text 4. His view of Z 17 is that, unless we allow that the concrete substance is predicable of the underlying matter, then, in saying how it is that the form of a thing is an explanatory principle for it, we are unable to distinguish adequately the explanandum of our account from the explanans. But his discussion seems to neglect entirely Aristotle’s remark about how attention to the form of a thing leads us to look without, to some efficient or final cause, intimated by the form (1041a29), which seems to resolve the difficulty Devereux poses. Moreover, Devereux’s interpretation is weakened by an inconstant attitude he adopts toward Aristotle’s remarks on explanation in Posterior Analytics (2.1-2 and 8-11). On the one hand, Devereux says, we have to understand Z 17 as attempting to put into practice those remarks, and, if we do so, we naturally arrive at Devereux’s intended interpretation; on the other hand, Devereux admits, the Z discussion is so different as to require us to understand it apart from Posterior Analytics and on its own terms. In light of this kind of vacillation, Devereux’s interpretation, although it is suggestive, hardly has the inevitability that it ought to have.
Marguerite Deslauriers’ essay is next in the volume, “Aristotle on the Virtues of Slaves and Women”. This carefully circumscribed piece, an exegesis of Politics 1260a7-14, aims to establish two things: first, that, according to Aristotle, the virtue of women, and that of slaves, differ from that of men, in that women and slaves have a phronesis which is ‘borrowed’ from that of men; second, that, although a slave for Aristotle is a ‘part’ of his master, no woman is a ‘part’ of a man, but rather both husband and wife are equally ‘parts’ of the household that they form. That is why, she says, on Aristotle’s terms, although both women and slaves are subordinated to men, a husband and wife have an equality that is not enjoyed by a master and slave.
Deslauriers’ metaphorical claim that, for Aristotle, slaves and women ‘borrow’ their virtue of practical reasoning ( phronesis) from men, seems obscure and goes unexplained. If, for instance, we say that to ‘borrow’ another person’s virtue is to follow the lead of the other’s virtue, or to be somehow subordinated to it, then we explain subordination as subordination. There are apparently no analogues of ‘borrowed virtue’ anywhere in Aristotle (she cites, in a footnote, only an indirectly related passage from Plato’s Republic, 590c-d); whereas other distinctions, neglected by Deslauriers, seem better grounded in the text, such as the two ways in which someone might ‘have’ reason ( NE 1.13 1102b29-1103a3), or the distinction between acting ‘with’ and ‘in accordance with’ reason ( NE 6.13 1144b25-27).
In her appeal to Aristotle’s language of part and whole to explain why women, for Aristotle, are ‘without authority’, Deslauriers’ opts for explanations which seems to run in a direction opposite to Aristotle’s discussions would require. She explains a woman’s being ‘without authority’ in terms of the different social roles taken by males and females, saying, for instance, that “… the subjection of women to men is natural not because women are part of men, but because women and men are both part of some whole, and men are the better part of that whole” (225). But for Aristotle it seems that the difference in roles is a consequence of a difference in natural powers; so it is presumably some difference in natural powers that enables a male and female to constitute a single, natural whole in the first place.
Gregory Scott’s “Purging the Poetics” aims to draw together into a single, decisive argument, everything that can be said in favor of athetizing the last clause of Aristotle’s famous definition of tragedy in the Poetics (1449b24-28), so that the treatise no longer contains any reference to the purgation of the emotions of fear and pity. His arguments are basically two: (i) Aristotle regards his definition as pulling together threads of discussion introduced earlier, but fear, pity, and catharsis were not discussed until that point; (ii) nothing else is explained later in the treatise about catharsis, and fear and pity are not considered by Aristotle as essential to tragedy — although Scott concedes that they are essential to good tragedies and to some species of tragedy. Scott maintains that removing the clause would entail no contradictions or tensions with other texts; he interprets the reference to catharsis at Politics 8.7 1341b36-38 as a reference to a lost book or treatise, not the Poetics.
Scott’s first argument hardly seems strong enough to justify the extreme solution of athetizing. There are other examples in the corpus Aristotle patiently assembles the materials for a definition and then throws at last into his definition something without obvious precedent: for instance, the definition of eudaimonia in NE I.7, which is developed very carefully, and then at the end, unexpectedly, Aristotle puts in an entirely new condition: “…furthermore, in a complete life” (1098a18). Another example would be Aristotle’s definition of a courageous man: Aristotle adds that he acts for the sake of the kalon, even though this was not part of the patiently developed preceding discussion (1115b21-2). Indeed, the manner of presentation of the Poetics definition seems almost characteristic of Aristotle and far from aberrant.
Scott’s second argument seems at least partially undermined by his own concessions. Scott admits that, throughout the Poetics, Aristotle uses a tragedy’s capacity to evoke emotions of fear and pity as a standard of its excellence. From this Scott reasons that a tragedy’s capacity to evoke of fear and pity should therefore not be included in the definition of a tragedy: since, if not everything called a tragedy succeeds in doing this (he argues), then clearly this cannot be essential to a tragedy, and so should not be placed in a definition. Yet one should presumably draw the conclusion from this, instead, that the evoking of fear and pity is a ‘function’ of tragedy: Aristotle holds that a thing is good or bad if it has those traits that enable it to carry out its function well; if a good tragedy is one that is so constructed as to evoke these emotions, then the evoking of such emotions must be the function of tragedy. It would be natural to go on to ask why it would be good to evoke these emotions — which the appeal to catharsis (whatever that means) seems precisely designed to answer.
Next Keimpe Algra, in “The Mechanism of Social Appropriation and its Role in Hellenistic Ethics”, argues that it was a common, traditional outlook, in the classical world from Plato through to the Hellenistic period, to regard ethics as involving, crucially, some process of identification or solidarity with others. This is to be contrasted with the view that ethics means adopting an ‘impartial point of view’, or acting from the standpoint of pure reason, which then underwrites genuine altruism (as in Kantian theories). It is also to be contrasted with a view that construes social cooperation as some sort of rationally defensible reciprocity (as in social contract theories). On the ‘social appropriation model’, our solidarity with others, although it may have a prior basis (e.g. all of us share in reason), nonetheless is an achievement: it is a ‘virtue’ of sorts. We can fail at it, and we can be more, or less, successful at it.
Algra argues — in my view successfully — that it is fruitful, both from the point of view of philosophical analysis and historiography, to presume a common commitment to the social appropriation model in the ancient world. For then, from the point of view of philosophy, what becomes interesting are the various ways, precisely, in which different thinkers or schools understood the different aspects of this model: not whether they do so, but how. From the point of view of historiography, one becomes less interested in such questions as, for instance, to what extent the Stoics were indebted to Aristotle in their theory of oikeiosis, and more interested in such phenomena as how later Stoics might easily have construed their own social ethics as in harmony with Aristotle’s.
Inna Kupreeva’s “Qualities and Bodies: Alexander against the Stoics” examines a battery of arguments developed by Alexander of Aphrodisias against the Stoic claim that the soul is corporeal. These arguments are detailed, dialectical applications of Alexander’s maxim that “Bodies act upon bodies by means of incorporeals.” Alexander’s arguments are fascinating not least because Aristotle himself says relatively little about incorporeality. If Alexander represents an authentic development of Aristotelian doctrine about form and matter, in the face of the Stoic insistence that only corporeal reality can act or be acted upon, then — Kupreeva argues — this may call for some scepticism, on our part, as regards recent attempts to harmonize Stoic “peculiar qualities” with Aristotelian “individual forms”, or with interpretations of Aristotle which claim that his theory of the soul is broadly compatible with materialism.
Margaret Graver’s “Not Even Zeus”, on its face a discussion of A. A. Long’s Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life (Oxford, 2002), fills out and completes the volume. After giving a brief overview of the Long’s book — its scope, character, and aims — Graver turns to a consideration of Epictetus’ use of the term prohairesis, rendered ‘volition’ by Long. This term is of course prominent in Aristotle’s ethics, perhaps as indicating primarily a particular act (a ‘decision’ or ‘choice’) rather than a faculty. In Epictetus it clearly stands for a faculty; moreover, it is important as the locus of personal freedom and autonomy: “You can fetter my leg, but not even Zeus can conquer my volition” ( Diss. I.I.3).
Graver briefly considers the question of the consistency of such an affirmation of personal freedom with the Stoic doctrine of fate. There is little evidence, she points out, that Epictetus took care to develop a version of ‘compatibilism’ or ‘soft determinism’. In the end, Graver says, “Epictetus’ view of the matter is clear enough: it is, simply, that humans are autonomous in a causally continuous world by virtue of their rationality, just because that is the kind of capacity rationality is” (355). And yet, one might think, such a position is, upon consideration, hardly satisfactory, because one still wants to know why rationality is apparently the only corporeal thing in the universe which cannot be manipulated or influenced by the action of other bodies, no matter how powerful, including ‘Zeus’.
Graver then asks why prohairesis seems absent from Stoic thinkers before Epictetus, and why, and how, if it is absent, Epictetus chose to revive its use and make it central to his thought. In doing so, did he conceive of himself as reaching back to Aristotle, perhaps? Graver engages in a sensitive and delicate examination of sources and indirect evidence on this point. She concludes, suggestively, that prohairesis was likely never absent from expressions of Stoic thought, and that Epictetus simply reinvigorates the term rather than revives it. In particular, then, there is no need to hold that he is especially influenced by Aristotle rather than some common tradition. In this respect Graver’s contribution is similar to Algra’s, imparting a pleasing stamp of finality on the volume, since she in effect aims to do for prohairesis what Algra had attempted for oikeiosis.
1. The capitals are original with Lewis. At this point in his essay, Lewis adopts the convention that ‘NOUS’ in capitals stands for the actualization of nous, whereas lowercase ‘nous’ stands for the faculty of nous.
2. He immediately takes it back in a footnote; but, still, the contradiction is there, and it is odd.
3. On p. 177 Devereux notes: “One might object that it is difficult to make sense of the view that a concrete substance is predicable of its matter, and if there is no support for the view outside of Z 3, we should resist building it into our interpretation of Aristotle’s argument. But, as we will see shortly, this view is not restricted to Z 3 — it also plays an important role in the argument of Z 17.” Yet he never responds to this objection.
4. The details cannot be taken up here. I discuss the problems in Devereux’s translation, and how that translation contributes to the appearance of plausibility in his interpretation, on Dissoi Blogoi at “A Substantial Point” and “The Translation Matters”.