BMCR 2014.08.48

Politeia in Greek and Roman Philosophy

, , Politeia in Greek and Roman Philosophy. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xv, 399. ISBN 9781107020221. $110.00.


Malcolm Schofield, the honorand of this Festschrift, needs no introduction to scholars working in classics and ancient philosophy. The volume includes a six-and-a-half-page bibliography of his works over the last 42 years: his books, translations, edited collections, and articles range over all subsections and periods of ancient philosophy, from the pre-Socratics through Hellenistic Greek and Roman philosophy. His two most recent books— Plato: Political Philosophy (Oxford, 2006) and an edited volume of Plato translations ( Gorgias, Menexenus, Protagoras, Cambridge, 2010)—have focused on aspects of classical political philosophy, and such is the main (although not exclusive) focus of the volume. Harte and Lane, two of Schofield’s most distinguished students, organized a Mayweek conference at Cambridge in 2011 honoring Schofield; fifteen of the seventeen papers in the volume derive from the conference, and many of the papers refer to what must have been spirited discussion at the conference (book chapters also make reference to relevant discussions). Each editor contributed a paper to the volume (neither presented at the conference), and together they have produced a superbly and flawlessly edited collection that includes a general introduction which discusses the ample connections between Schofield’s work and the volume’s papers. (There are many expressions of gratitude to the editors from individual authors for improving their contributions.) In addition to a bibliography of Schofield’s published writings, the volume concludes with a general index and index locorum. The quality of both the contributors and their contributions is very high—a testament (were it needed) to Schofield’s towering influence on the field of ancient philosophy.

The editors organized the conference and volume around the notion of politeia, and in their introduction they map the four areas into which the volume is subdivided based on the various senses of the term touched on by Socrates at the close of Republic 9 (591e1-592b5), namely as something that exists in writing or speech, as an institution which provides political structure to a city, as a pattern within one’s soul, and (even) as a pattern “laid up in heaven” (592b2). Although Plato’s writings receive the most extensive treatment in the volume (10 of the 17 chapters include extended discussion of his dialogues), three papers focus on topics in Aristotle, two are devoted to aspects of Roman philosophy, and Xenophanes of Colophon, Alcmaeon of Croton, Thucydides, Plutarch, and Proclus each receives a chapter-length treatment. (Several chapters cover more than one author.) As an edited collection of papers deriving from a conference, it seems a bit of an overstatement to characterize the volume as a sustained treatment of the notion of politeia (individual papers often did not identify those strands explicitly even when that is what they were discussing). The volume’s introduction points to a more telling sense of unity when it notes that “much of the terrain covered in this volume by the collective efforts of a team of scholars has been surveyed by the individual efforts of a single man,” namely the honorand (3). Since each member of that team is a major scholar, it seems only fair to say a word about each contribution.

The first section of the volume is grouped around the “vocabulary of politics” and is perhaps the most heterogeneous section in the book. Alexander Long’s “The political art in Plato’s Republic ” explores the ways in which the Republic displaces the “political art”—viz. knowledge of politics based on experience and practice, perhaps of the sort offered by a Protagoras—with philosophy. Cynthia Farrar’s “Putting history in its place: Plato, Thucydides, and the Athenian politeia ” expands on a question found in Schofield’s Plato: Political Philosophy, namely whether Plato places value upon historical material (she answers in the affirmative) and how his view of what one might call “historical reality” (or even “realism”) contrasts with and responds to the views of Thucydides. In “Platonizing the Spartan politeia in Plutarch’s Lycurgus,” Melissa Lane first surveys the contest between rule of written law (or more generally, the problem of writing) and the rule of the virtuous person in Plato’s Republic, Statesman, Phaedrus, and Laws; she then contrasts Plutarch’s extraordinary (and most likely imaginative) claim that Lycurgan Sparta was an actual polity that eschewed written law, which she views as a response to the Platonic elevation of the rule of law. Jaap Mansfeld’s “The body politic: Aëtius on Alcmaeon on isonomia and monarchia ” argues that the metaphorical use of those political terms in the medical writings of Alcmaeon derive from Herodotus’ discussion of the best regime (3.80-3). Finally, Miriam Griffin’s paper “Latin philosophy and Roman law” turns the table, as it were, on the relationship between law and philosophy: although scholarship has traditionally explored the impact of philosophy on Roman jurists, her paper examines the ways in which Roman legal discourse (especially in its use of similes, metaphors, analogies, and examples) influences Latin philosophy (especially in the cases of Seneca and Cicero).

The second section of the volume focuses on “the practice of politics” and begins with a fascinating note in its first paper, Robert Wardy’s “The Platonic manufacture of ideology, or how to assemble awkward truth and wholesome falsehood.” Although references to Schofield’s scholarly influences are frequent through many of the papers, Wardy notes (in his paper’s dedication) that “those unacquainted with the political Schofield might look askance at the suggestion that committee time could be better than a painful duty; but their natural skepticism would swiftly evaporate, were they to experience his deft negotiations of the business, as he sifts the essential core from distracting triviality and unerringly plots a skilful course equally eluding the Scylla of feeble capitulation and the Charybdis of inflexible rectitude” (119). (As the book’s introduction notes, p. 6, “the political Schofield” was integrally involved in professional and institutional bodies, including in the Classical Association, the British School at Athens, the Classics Faculty at Cambridge, and numerous scholarly journals and symposia.) Both Wardy and also Verity Harte, in her “Plato’s politics of ignorance,” take their lead from Schofield’s “The Noble Lie” (published in G. R. F. Ferrari, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic Cambridge, 2007, 138-64). Whereas Wardy explores the sense in which the Noble Lie is a sort of ideology, Harte focuses on the extent to which the Noble Lie relies on ignorance rather than falsehood. Nicholas Denyer’s “The Political Skill of Protagoras”—the paper most frequently referred to by the other papers in the volume—reconstructs what Protagoras’ technê consists in; prominent are the sort of institutional arrangements that allow for the specification of what is just without the invocation of non-democratic leadership. Example: the “distributive procedure” by means of which two persons sharing a cake specify that the person dividing the cake allows the other person the choice over which share he or she gets (Protagoras is reported to have made use of a similar procedure for the determination of his wages). The final paper in the section, Jonathan Barnes’ “Proclus and politics,” is a spirited critique of the claim that Proclus (or later Platonism more general) had a serious or substantive political teaching.

The editors entitle the third section of their volume “The Politics of Value”. It focuses on politeia in one’s soul—or ethical questions more generally. In “Relativism in Plato’s Protagoras,” Catherine Rowett aims to resolve some of the more puzzling features of that dialogue (for instance, its qualified endorsement of hedonism) by arguing that Socrates employs tactics similar to Protagoras, and thus is “more savvy, more of a political animal, and more able and willing to harness the methods of sophistry and rhetoric” (193). Myles Burnyeat engages the problem at the heart of the Republic ’s city/soul isomorphism in his “Justice writ large and small in Republic 4”; he refines the nature of the request which Glaucon makes at the beginning of Republic 2 and defends Socrates’ account from the claim that it fallaciously argues from psychic harmony (what David Sachs entitled “Platonic justice”) to a disposition not to wrong others (so-called “vulgar justice”). More modest in scope is Richard Kraut’s “An aesthetic reading of Aristotle’s Ethics,” which argues that there are instances of Aristotle’s use of the term kalon in the Nicomachean Ethics that cannot be reduced to a “quasi-moral” or beneficial characteristic; rather, he thinks, sometimes (although not always) Aristotle intends by the term kalon the aesthetic notion of “beauty.” The section concludes with Mary McCabe’s ambitious “The Stoic sage in the original position.” McCabe takes up the question of whether one can locate the notion of impartiality in the doctrine of the Stoic sage; through an analysis of the theory of oikeiôsis (or the development of an individual’s attachment to the world beyond him or herself) she reconstructs a notion of justice that is based “on our recognition of the identity and the interests of others as humans with their own points of view, their own subjective self-perception, within some kind of joint activity” (265). The paper concludes with the favorable contrast of such a position both with that of Rawls’ original position and that of Hare’s Archangel or ideal observer.

The final section of the volume assembles four papers that take up the notion of “cosmic” politeia, namely the relationship between humans and the cosmos as a whole, including the gods. Geoffrey Lloyd’s “Aristotle on the natural sociability, skills and intelligence of animals” examines in Aristotle’s zoological works the attribution of “social” (or perhaps anthropomorphic) characteristics to animals—viz. the way that they are called political, skilled, intelligent, capable of praxis, and so forth—and concludes that “officially his moral and intellectual preoccupations dictate a ‘by analogy’ account: yet the zoological studies recognize plenty of instances of animals with cognitive capacities that are, on the face of it, just like ours, even though no doubt less fully developed . . . a ‘more and less’ account” (291). In “Gods and men in Xenophanes,” James Warren takes up the question of what piety looks like for Xenophanes, a philosopher critical of theological anthropomorphism; whereas many other philosophers (Plato and Aristotle included) liken human perfection to “becoming like gods,” Xenophanic piety emphasizes an unbridgeable divide between gods and humans. The object of Eudemian Ethics 8.3 is the subject of Christopher Rowe’s “Socrates and his gods: from the Euthyphro to the Eudemian Ethics ”; Rowe argues persuasively that Aristotle’s discussion of “service to god” ( ton theon therapeuein, EE 8.3.1249b1) is a verbal echo of Plato’s Euthyphro, one which suggests that in the EE Aristotle is aligning himself with Socratic and Platonic thought about what constitutes proper pious behavior towards the gods. David Sedley concludes the volume with his “The atheist underground,” which illuminates the object of Plato’s criticisms of atheism in Laws 10 by reflecting on the so called “Sisyphus fragment,” a fragment—presented in the voice of the character Sisyphus (variously attributed to both Euripides and Critias)—which claims that religion is a human construct established solely for political purposes.

Single-sentence summaries can hardly do justice to the philological nuance and philosophical richness of many of the papers presented in honor of Schofield. Scholars working on Plato’s ethical and political thought will definitely benefit from engaging the rich contributions thereupon; although the offerings on Aristotle and other classical authors are more selective, the papers by Rowe and McCabe (among others) will, I suspect, become landmark works within their subfields. The volume as a whole presents a chorus of sorts, one in which a multitude of stellar voices are inspired to greater accomplishments by what the editors (borrowing from Schofield’s own description of Zeno of Citium) describe as “a distinctive voice” (12). We scholars of ancient thought are much richer for the work of Malcolm Schofield, both from his own pen and from those of others whom he has influenced and inspired.