28 February 2006

I Think, I See

You are at a party, in a room crowded with people, and someone who has just arrived asks you to pick out Simmias for him. You don’t think you know who Simmias is. So he shows you a picture of Simmias. Then you either:

(i) look around the room and, while keeping an eye on the picture, match the picture to someone in the room whom the picture resembles (albeit imperfectly so);

(ii) study the picture, put it aside, and, while keeping it in mind, search for and succeed in picking out Simmias;

(iii) look at the picture and realize that you had met that person before (“Oh, sure, I met that guy once—didn’t know his name was Simmias, though”), and then pick him out.

Only (iii) involves recollection. But note:

(a) it involves phenomenologically having an experience of something as a past experience by you;

(b) there needs to be a third thing besides the picture and Simmias, namely, your thought of having met the man called Simmias in the past; and,

(c) you couldn’t be making use of this past experience in this way, it seems, if Simmias were right before you, since then you would simply do (i), i.e. match the picture to the person.

The memory as intermediary becomes necessary, it seems, only when the person to be identified is not directly perceived.

These considerations, I think, lead to a difficulty in the doctrine of recollection in the Phaedo. There seems to be an inconsistency, in that dialogue, between two distinct notions of how we have access to the Forms. Let us call these: Forms as viewed versus Forms as recollected.

Forms as viewed is the notion which Socrates gives early in Phaedo, when he makes his ‘defense’. There he says that a true philosopher tries to free himself as much as possible from reliance upon the senses, because only then can he think about, view, and ‘touch’ absolute realities (65e-67b, passim). His language here suggests that we encounter the Forms through a kind of intellectual perception. We see them, but with the mind rather than with the senses.

But Forms as viewed cannot, it seems, be regarded as due objections of an operation of recollection. If we have access to Forms simply by seeing them, then sensible particulars, it seems, must play the role of simply picking them out (as in (i) above); the appeal to some additional process of recollection looks to be both unnecessary and impossible.

The point may be summarized with this argument:

  1. To recollect is to call to mind something that one is not perceiving directly.
  2. Thus, anything that one perceives directly is not an object of recollection.
  3. To think of a Form is to perceive it directly.
  4. Thus, no Form is an object of recollection.

27 February 2006

Against Method

I was talking with a friend the other day about the absurd grip that the Leiter rankings now have over the profession and students, which seemed to us much the same as U.S. New and World Report becoming the arbiter of academic excellence. We lamented that Richard Heck's sometime objections had been, as it seemed, not well articulated--and of course they appeared motivated, since their provenance was an institution that was declining in the Leiter rankings.

So I've been giving the matter some thought and have devised this alternative argument.

First, I would ask everyone who participates in formulating the Leiter rankings to produce together a ranking of the 100 greatest philosophers of all time. Place in order, from 1 to 100: Hume, Rawls, Aquinas, Austin, Epicurus, Russell, Malebranche, Carnap, Scotus, Reid, Heraclitus, Spencer, Ferrier, Meinong, Bergson, Plato, Husserl, Plotinus, Abelard, Scheler, Quine, Maimonides, Parmenides, Brentano, et al.

The reason for requiring this, is that surely it is easier to rank figures from history, where time has clarified their thought and importance, than to rank contemporaries; and someone cannot claim competence to do the latter, if he cannot do the former.

Of course, anyone who did attempt such a thing, would show himself incompetent to do so, because, in the first place, he couldn't possibly have sufficient knowledge to make good judgments, since what he would need to know would be so vast, and, secondly, a reasonable person, to the extent that he knew anything about these philosophers, would be disposed to deny that any such ranking could be meaningful.

Let us, however, waive this difficulty, and suppose that those philosophers who participate in the Leiter rankings agree to give us their ranking of philosophers from history.

Next we ask: Would they agree on this ranking, or disagree?

Surely they would disagree. But lack of agreement is a sign of absence of knowledge. So their lack of agreement would show that, collectively, they lack reliable knowledge about philosophical merit, and thus their judgments about philosophical merit today, also, could not be trusted.

But let us waive this difficulty also and suppose that they agree on a ranking. Then: either they rank near the top figures who are the most influential for contemporary anglophone philosophy, such as Frege, Russell, Kripke, Davidson, and Quine, or they rank near the top figures such as Plato and Aristotle, who are not thus influential.

But, if the former, then, once again, we have grounds for doubting that they have sound judgment. And, if the latter, then we may wonder why they rank highly programs in which philosophical attention is focused primarily on philosophers who are not of the highest rank.

Oh, I forgot to say: I would put Feyerabend first.

23 February 2006


20 February 2006

My Mom Might Say

"Just in case you forgot ... this Thursday, Feb. 23, is little bloggy's first birthday."

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?

Do the gods love an action because it is pious, or is an action pious because the gods love it? That old chestnut is of course the 'Euthyphro problem.'

A crucial assumption in Plato's treatment of it, it seems, is that an act or condition of love is for something, and what it is for provides the reason for (explanation, account of) that love. We can therefore distinguish (i) qualities that we attribute to things as a consequence of someone's love for them, and (ii) qualities of things that are prior to the love that someone has for them, and which motivate and explain that love. Euthyphro effectively takes piety to fall under (i), but Socrates thinks he has shown that it falls under (ii), in which case Euthyphro's definition has been refuted.

Isn't Plato concerned that, if we did not grant his assumption, then love--and the gods, too, insofar as they loved--would be irrational? Just as, in the application of a word to a thing, there must be a reason why we apply a word to that thing but not to others (the logos kata ten ousian), so, in our loving some things but not others, there must be a reason, located in the object, why this is so. If there were no such reason, then our love would be something irrational and even apeiron. (Love which doesn't begin because of something in the object of love also won't stop, ever, because of something in the object. It's therefore without any limit.)

We might object to the language (that love should be 'limited') or even to the concept, but that this is the view of Plato and Aristotle, at least, seems clear. We apparently find exactly the same notion in the Symposium--love is motivated by beauty--and in Aristotle's ethical writings--in his presumption that there are three reasons for loving something, its goodness, usefulness, or pleasantness.

I was therefore a bit surprised to find, when I was studying the book recently, that Eros Unveiled by Catherine Osborne reaches something of an opposite conclusion:

There are two main claims that I have tried to defend. One is that the correct way to understand the ancient tradition concerning eros is to see love as inexplicable, in the way suggested by the motif of Eros the god of love with his arrows. In other words we are not to seek the reason why anyone loves another by looking for some quality that is admirable or desirable in the other, but rather to see love as occurring regardless of whether there are desirable features in the beloved. The second claim follows from this, namely that where desire or admiration of fine qualities occurs and is associated with love, it would be a mistake to suggest that the desire or appeciation was itself love, or was the motive that inspired us to love. Rather it makes more sense to see desire, and appreciation of what is good, occurring as a result of love, as the expression of the love that enables us to see such qualities as good and desirable. (219)
What of the Symposium, and what, then, of Aristotle?

Osborne dispatches with Aristotle by saying that he is concerned with a different phenomenon from love altogether: his writings on philia are about 'cooperation' or 'befriending', not love.

As for the Symposium, Osborne points to Plato's personification there of love as daimones who are intermediaries between earth and heaven. What this indicates, she says, is that Plato thinks that we need love even to be turned enough toward beauty, in the first place, as to find it desirable. Thus eros explains our finding beauty attractive; it is not the case that we find beauty attractive and then as a consequence love it.

(There is no discussion of the Euthyphro in the book, understandably enough.)

18 February 2006

The Prophysics

"That which comes after the science of nature comes before it."

A riddle? Yes, but how do we resolve it?

The riddle is Aristotle's. In Metaphysics Gamma, he complains about natural scientists who apparently deny, in one way or another, the principle of non-contradiction (PNC)--xrw=ntai de\ tw=| lo/gw| tou/tw| polloi\ kai\ tw=n peri\ fu/sewj, "Many natural scientists, even, adopt this theory". Heraclitus is reputed to have denied it; Anaxagoras's infinite mixture apparently does so; and so on.

Of course, in reply Aristotle gives us his famous series of dialectical arguments, in Gamma 4, aiming to show that someone who 'says anything at all' is thereby committed to the PNC. These sorts of arguments are a part of metaphysics, as Aristotle tells us: it is the task of the philosopher, he says, who thinks about things simply insofar as they exist, to give this sort of defense of the PNC.

o(/ti me\n ou)=n tou= filoso/fou, kai\ tou= peri\ pa/shj th=j ou)si/aj qewrou=ntoj h(=| pe/fuken, kai\ peri\ tw=n sullogistikw=n a)rxw=n e)sti\n e)piske/yasqai, dh=lon: prosh/kei de\ to\n ma/lista gnwri/zonta peri\ e(/kaston ge/noj e)/xein le/gein ta\j bebaiota/taj a)rxa\j [10] tou= pra/gmatoj, w(/ste kai\ to\n peri\ tw=n o)/ntwn h(=| o)/nta ta\j pa/ntwn bebaiota/taj. e)/sti d' ou(=toj o( filo/sofoj.

Clearly then it is the function of the philosopher, i.e. the student of the whole of reality in its essential nature, to investigate also the principles of syllogistic reasoning. And it is proper for him who best understands each class of subject to be able to state the most certain principles of that subject; so that he who understands the modes of Being qua Being should be able to state the most certain principles of all things. Now this person is the philosopher.
And yet Aristotle also says that if the offending natural scientists had had sufficient training in 'analytics', they never would have gone off the rails the way that they did. That sort of training, Aristotle says, is the sort of thing that someone should acquire before beginning physical investigations at all (or investigations in any particular science).

e)/sti de\ sofi/a tij kai\ h( fusikh/, a)ll' ou) prw/th. o(/sa d' e)gxeirou=si tw=n lego/ntwn tine\j peri\ th=j a)lhqei/aj o(\n tro/pon dei= a)pode/xesqai, di' a)paideusi/an [4] tw=n a)nalutikw=n tou=to drw=sin: dei= ga\r peri\ tou/twn [5] h(/kein proepistame/nouj a)lla\ mh\ a)kou/ontaj zhtei=n.

Natural philosophy is a kind of Wisdom, but not the primary kind. As for the attempts of some of those who discuss how the truth should be received, they are due to lack of training in logic; for they should understand these things before they approach their task, and not investigate while they are still learning.
So apparently clarity about the PNC belongs, now, not to 'the things that are after the physics', but rather to the 'the things that are before the physics'.

Well, which is it? As I said, it's Aristotle's riddle, not mine.

17 February 2006

Aristotle and the Desire to Understand

"Human beings naturally strive for understanding."

Pa/ntej a)/nqrwpoi tou= ei)de/nai o)re/gontai fu/sei.

A question. Of course something like this idea is found, for instance, in Plato's account of eros. But is there a specific Platonic antecedent--some form of words in Plato upon which it might, with some plausibility, be said that Aristotle is building or drawing? I have only Ross' commentary on the Metaphysics to hand, and he refers simply to Jaeger's tracing the view to the Protrepticus.


I'll place suggestions here, since the Greek text may suitably be added.

Thomas Johansen has drawn attention to Timaeus 88a8-b2:

dittw=n e)piqumiw=n ou)sw=n fu/sei kat' a)nqrw/pouj, dia\ sw=ma me\n trofh=j, dia\ de\ to\ qeio/taton tw=n e)n h(mi=n fronh/sewj

"... since there are two desires natural to human beings, one for nourishment, attributable to the body, the other for wisdom, attributable the most divine element in us ..."
I would note Philebus 58d4:

... a)ll' ei)/ tij pe/fuke th=j yuxh=j h(mw=n du/namij e)ra=n te tou= a)lhqou=j kai\ pa/nta e(/neka tou/tou pra/ttein....

"... but if some faculty of the soul naturally desires the truth and does everything for the sake of this..."
But it is the context of this remark that I find strikingly similar to Met. 1.1. Beginning by drawing a comparison with sight, Socrates argues that that there is a kind of knowledge which, although not useful, surpasses all the others in the clarity, accuracy, and truthfulness of its object (the superlative, a)lhqe/staton, is recurrent in the passage): thus, even a small portion of this is more valuable than any amount of useful knowledge. The passage, I think, quite mirrors the argument at the opening of the Metaphysics. But Socrates calls this knowledge phronesis; Aristotle, sophia.

Does Epistemology Drive Metaphysics?

I've wanted to post something on Deborah Modrak's interesting lecture in BACAP last Thursday, "Aristotelian Form, Function, and Definition". Modrak's distinctive approach to the Metaphysics was to see the central books of the treatise as motivated, at least in part, by epistemology.

The objects of perception are concrete particulars. They provide the basis for knowledge even though the objects of knowledge are universals. This sets up a tension within Aristotle’s epistemology. Its resolution depends upon his success in providing an ontology that grounds the universal in the particular. Not only is there a tension between universal and particular, there is also a tension between that which is intelligible and that which is observable and a tension between simplicity and complexity. Aristotle calls our attention to the relation between perception and knowledge in the opening lines of Metaphysics I. In the central books of the Metaphysics, he expends considerable effort to present and explicate an ontology of form, function and composite substance. In light of the many references Aristotle makes to knowledge and definition in these books, it seems likely that he intends to offer an ontology that will resolve the tensions inherent in his picture of knowledge.
My first reaction, however, was to doubt that this is correct. Why? Three reasons:
  1. If Aristotle's metaphysics is supposed to respond to epistemological difficulties, then (unless we invoke developmentalism) he ought to draw explicitly upon that metaphysics, in passages outside the central books of the Metaphysics, which pertain to how we come to know, e.g. Post. An. II.19 or Physics I.1. And yet there are no signs of this. (Or are there?)
  2. It doesn't look as though epistemological problems figure importantly among the perplexities (in Beta) which apparently motivate the Metaphysics.
  3. Generally Aristotle seems to see no 'tensions' where we might think there are such. He seems dismissive, for instance, of the Heraclitean account of the sensible world which, Aristotle thinks, tempted Plato. If epistemology begins with the aporia, 'How is it possible that we have knowledge?', are there signs that Aristotle was ever troubled by this difficulty?
In brief: if, as we might agree, ancient scepticism differs from modern, then mustn't ancient epistemology differ as well? And yet I worry that Modrak is perhaps bringing in a modern notion of epistemology.

15 February 2006

The Florentine Summa Platonica

I wasn't aware of the importance of the Philebus in particular for the Italian Renaissance. From the introduction to Michael J.B. Allen's edition of Marsilio Ficino's commentary on the dialogue:

In 1462 Cosimo de' Medici granted Marsilio Ficino a villa at Careggi and put at his disposal a number of precious Greek manuscripts, including a complete manuscript of Plato. Afterwards two or three dialogues became especially dear to Ficino, among them the Philebus. Like the majority of the Platonic dialogues, the Philebus had been unavailable to the Latin west since antiquity, and it was Ficino who translated it from the Greek for the first time. More than this, he deliberately placed it in the climactic final position of the initial decade of dialogues he prepared for Cosimo's study. Cosimo and his friends discussed the decade culminating in the Philebus and these discussions informally constituted the inaugural meetings of the Florentine Academy. In 1464, as Cosimo lay dying in the last two weeks of July, it was the Philebus that was read to him; and during the reign of his successor, Piero, it was on the Philebus that Ficino first chose to lecture to the city's patricians, including the young Lorenzo. ...The first public articulation of Ficino's "direct acess" to the Plato text was a series of lectures he delivered on the Philebus, a series which later formed the basis of the written commentary. Consequently, the Philebus was in the vanguard of what was both a revival of an ancient academic philosophy, and also a wide-ranging religious, cultural and intellectual movement peculiar to the Renaissance and constituting one of its chief glories, Florentine Platonism.

Plato On Models and Trees

One arbors the thought: What will the topic be? Plato's method of division as tree-age? The ramifications of Plato's doctrine of models? Whatever it is, I am sure Mary Louise Gill will be attacking it root and branch.

34 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA
Fellowship Program

Mary Louise Gill
Brown University, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

"Plato on Models and Trees"

Wednesday, February 22
4 pm

Waiting for the Unmoved Mover

I was looking for a good statement of the problem about the subject matter of Aristotle's Metaphysics--you know, the difficulty about whether it is theology or "the science of being qua being". Turning to the usually reliable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I found S. Marc Cohen's contribution on "Aristotle's Metaphysics", which contained this tantalizing passage:

In Book E, Aristotle adds another description to the study of the causes and principles of beings qua beings. Whereas natural science studies objects that are material and subject to change, and mathematics studies objects that although not subject to change are nevertheless not separate from (i.e., independent of) matter, there is still room for a science that studies things (if indeed there are any) that are eternal, not subject to change, and independent of matter. Such a science, he says, is theology, and this is the “first” and “highest” science. Aristotle's identification of theology, so conceived, with the study of being qua being has proved challenging to his interpreters. We will deal with this issue in §14 below.
But then there is no §14! The entry skips from §13 (so superstition is not to blame) directly to §15. I begin to wonder: Is this perhaps a Straussian moment for the SEP? But then I look again at the index at the front of the entry and see:
§14. Substance Eternal and Immutable [Not yet available]
The article is copyrighted 2003. Perhaps we'll have to keep waiting for the Unmoved Mover to show up. Whatever it's other attributes, it's not disponible.

12 February 2006

Walk With Me

I don't want to worry you with minutiae, nor can I expect you to wish to become immersed in them, but for the sake of efficiency I'll probably need to post largely on Philebus 42c-55b for the next two weeks. You see, I'm preparing to present on that text for the NY Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy on Feb. 25; I know neither that passage nor the dialogue very well; and I haven't much extra time to blog, in addition to preparing.

I'm afraid I haven't gotten very far. In fact, I've made negative progress, stumbling on a passage that precedes the one I am supposed to discuss, 41c. Let me share my difficulties with you. They aren't philosophical but simply, at this point, concern translation. First the Greek, then Dorothea Frede's translation, then Hackforth's.

a)lla\ mh\n ei)/pomen, ei)/per memnh/meqa, o)li/gon e)n toi=j pro/sqen, w(j o(/tan ai( lego/menai e)piqumi/ai e)n h(mi=n w)=si, di/xa a)/ra to/te to\ sw=ma kai\ xwri\j th=j yuxh=j toi=j paqh/masi diei/lhptai.

memnh/meqa kai\ proerrh/qh tau=ta.

ou)kou=n to\ me\n e)piqumou=n h)=n h( yuxh\ tw=n tou= sw/matoj e)nanti/wn e(/cewn, to\ de\ th\n a)lghdo/na h)/ tina dia\ pa/qoj h(donh\n to\ sw=ma h)=n to\ parexo/menon;

D. Frede
SOC.:We did say a short while ago in our discussion, as we may recall, that when what we call desires are in us, then body and soul part company and have each their separate existences.
PRO.: We do remember, that was said before.
SOC.:And wasn't it the soul that had desires, desires for conditions opposite to the actual ones of the body, while it was the body that undergoes the pain or the pleasure of some affection?
Soc. Well now, we said a while back, if our memory is correct, that when we have within us what we call 'desires', the body stands aloof from the soul and parts company with it in respect of its affections.
Prot. Our memory is correct: we did say so.
Soc. It was the soul, was it not, that desired a condition opposite to that of the body, and it was the body that caused our distress, or our pleasure, because of the way it was affected?
1. No one captures the force of a)/ra to/te. Frede collapses both into 'then'. What Plato means is, 'exactly at that time' or 'straightaway it happens that'. He wants to emphasize that the relationship between body and soul is changed by the mere presence of a desire.
2. Where does 'part company' come from? It's odd that it's in Hackforth, stranger still that it is in Frede (who does not say in her 1993 commentary that her translation is indebted to Hackforth's). Hackforth I suppose is rendering \ xwri\j ... diei/lhptai. I can't see what it is supposed to correspond to in Frede.
3. Likewise, Frede's 'each have their separate experiences' has no warrant.
4. 'Undergoes' in Frede for to\ parexo/menon is misleading, as suggesting that the body feels pleasures and pains. Rather: causes, provides, furnishes, provides the occasion of, is the occasion of. So Frede has to explain a supposed looseness in Plato's speech. She adds a footnote to the passage: "That pleasure and pain are also experienced by the body is only a loose way of referring to the immediate feelings of deprivation and replenishment." But Plato doesn't say that.

08 February 2006

The Curs[or] of the Eyes

For a demonstration of how this blog will be affected by recent security measures, click here.

07 February 2006

Rigor Mortis

Commentators compare Aristotle, Metaphysics II.3, in its discussion of limits of accuracy, to Nicomachean Ethic I.3. But I find it interesting that the former contains a 'moral' reason for lack of accuracy, not mentioned by the latter:

Again, some require exactness in everything, while others are annoyed by it, either because they cannot follow the reasoning or because of its pettiness; for there is something about exactness which seems to some people to be mean, no less in an argument than in a business transaction. Hence one must have been already trained how to take each kind of argument, because it is absurd to seek simultaneously for knowledge and for the method of obtaining it; and neither is easy to acquire. Mathematical accuracy is not to be demanded in everything, but only in things which do not contain matter. Hence this method is not that of natural science, because presumably all nature is concerned with matter (Ross, 995a7-16)

kai\ oi( me\n pa/nta a)kribw=j, tou\j de\ lupei= to\ a)kribe\j h)\ dia\ to\ mh\ du/nasqai sunei/rein h)\ dia\ th\n mikrologi/an: e)/xei ga/r ti to\ a)kribe\j toiou=ton, w(/ste, kaqa/per e)pi\ tw=n sumbolai/wn, kai\ e)pi\ tw=n lo/gwn a)neleu/qeron ei)=nai/ tisi dokei=. dio\ dei= pepaideu=sqai pw=j e(/kasta a)podekte/on, w(j a)/topon a(/ma zhtei=n e)pisth/mhn kai\ tro/pon e)pisth/mhj: e)/sti d' ou)de\ qa/teron r(a/|dion labei=n. th\n d' a)kribologi/an th\n maqhmatikh\n ou)k e)n a(/pasin a)paithte/on, a)ll' e)n toi=j mh\ e)/xousin u(/lhn. dio/per ou) fusiko\j o( tro/poj: a(/pasa ga\r i)/swj h( fu/sij e)/xei u(/lhn.

I think sumbolaion here is 'contract', and Aristotle's point, quite perceptive, is that attempts to put too much detail into contracts can seem to display, and perhaps typically do (echei ti to akribes toiouton), an absence of trust and friendliness. (We presume: it is impossible for contracts not to be open-ended; it is impossible to make fully explicit all of the terms of a contract.)

This would seem to imply a reason why rigor beyond a certain extent can be excessive in ethics as well: it would not allow sufficient scope for the good judgment of one's hearer. And yet (I think) that reason seems unstated in Nic. Eth., where we might most expect to find it.

A common view of the search for an ideal of rigor, in Frege and writers who follow him, is that complete rigor eliminates the need for intuition: in fact you can show that nothing like 'intuition' is needed for mathematical reasoning, if you can give a proof with complete rigor. But then presumably in fields in which the elimination of 'intuition' is impossible, or undesirable even if possible--limits to rigor are set primarily on moral grounds, and one offends (lupei) by inappropriate and excessive rigor.

06 February 2006

Davidson and Aristotle

A passage in a recent review in NDPR of some collected papers of Donald Davidson led to a reflection and a thought about Quine. Here is the passage:

One of the characteristic features of much of Davidson's writing from the 1960s and 1970s was that there were only very sparse references to figures from the history of philosophy -- Kant and Hume were two of the few exceptions. It may have been thought, on that basis, that Davidson was a thoroughly ahistorical thinker, with little regard for or interest in the previous history of philosophical inquiry. Such was not the case, however, as the essays included in this volume under the heading 'Historical Thoughts' make plain. Davidson was a historian of ideas, studying under Whitehead, before being persuaded by Quine that the ideas were more important and interesting than the history, and although Davidson's knowledge of the history of philosophy often remained in the background of his writing, it was nevertheless always present.

Davidson's own PhD dissertation was written on Plato's Philebus, and the essay in which Davidson returns to this topic, in connection with the work of Gadamer (the essay was written for Gadamer's Library of Living Philosophers volume), is included here, as are essays on Plato and Socrates, on Aristotle, and on Spinoza. The essay on Spinoza, 'Spinoza's Causal Theory of the Affects' (1993), focuses on parallels between Spinoza's combination of substance monism with attribute dualism, and Davidson's own monism approach in the philosophy of mind. Alongside two other essays included here, 'Thinking Causes' (1993) and 'Laws and Causes' (1995), it provides important elaboration and clarification of the position that has come to be known as anomalous monism.

The reflection was an encounter I had once with Quine. I was conferring with Quine about the lectures he gave in 1946 on David Hume's philosophy and about a paper I had written on the subject. He asked me whether, then, I was writing my dissertation on Hume. I said no, but that I was writing on ... Aristotle. (I said this almost wincing, thinking that, for Quine, Aristotle would have a status slightly above witchcraft.) Quine paused, looked upward briefly, then turned to me and said--as if at last being able to interpret my remark charitably--"Well, Davidson wrote his dissertation on Plato."

The thought was that Quine had lamented the passing, in the turmoil of the '60s, of the strict standards that Harvard used to have, for general examinations in the history of philosophy. They were abolished, I take it, because success in them seemed to some a matter of rote study. ('Rote study', I wonder, or 'concrete expertise'?) And yet, the method did produce not a few Davidsons.

Happiness for the Sake of Something Else

Do you think that the following could have been written by someone who thought that it's a conceptual truth that eudaimonia is the end point of our efforts and striving?

o(moi/wj de\ ou)de\ to\ ou(= e(/neka ei)j a)/peiron oi(=o/n te i)e/nai, ba/disin me\n u(giei/aj e(/neka, tau/thn d' eu)daimoni/aj, th\n d' eu)daimoni/an [10] a)/llou, kai\ ou(/twj a)ei\ a)/llo a)/llou e(/neken ei)=nai:

Similarly the final causes cannot go on ad infinitum,-walking being for the sake of health, this for the sake of happiness, happiness for the sake of something else, and so one thing always for the sake of another.

The passage, which for me falls under the category, 'interesting things I just noticed', is from Aristotle, Metaphysics II.2.994a9-11. It's part of a series of arguments that there must be first principles and causes with respect to each type of cause, material, formal, final, and efficient. These lines of course involve the final cause.

One of John Ackrill's arguments for an inclusivist interpretation of eudaimonia, in his classic paper, was that it was something of a conceptual truth that eudaimonia was that for the sake of which we did every thing else; thus, he argued, eudaimonia had to include everything which someone might reasonably count as an ultimate goal. And thus, too, it couldn't be identified with anything which conceivably could be engaged in for the sake of something else. Thus, in particular, Aristotle could not have identified eudaimonia with any single activity, because no single activity has that sort of status--no single activity is the sort of thing that could not reasonably be engaged in with a view to something else.

Yet here we find Aristotle supposing, as if coherent and conceivable, that eudaimonia is subordinated to something else. His objection to that subordination has to do, not with its absurdity, but with the regress which he thinks would result (as he says later, "if there is no first there is no cause at all").

If Aristotle had held the view that Ackrill imputes to him, he would not, I think, have written these lines. On the other hand, these lines would quite naturally have been written by someone who identified eudaimonia with theoria.

05 February 2006

They Must Perforce Prey Upon Themselves

I am alluding of course to Albany's famous lines in Lear IV. ii:

If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.

It's a passage often used to express a felt disturbance at evil, as some kind of violation of a basic natural order or natural law. Something is wrong if human beings are preying upon other human beings. In our murders, treachery, and betrayals, we must be experiencing the effects of some kind of original catastrophe or upsetting of a cosmic order.

I don't know what someone convinced of metempsychosis would say of lions hunting wildebeasts, but I strongly suspect that, if deeply enough convinced of his outlook, he would view human beings' killing animals in much the same way as Albany views human beings killing other human beings. Something is wrong.

Plato's view in the end, in the Republic, is that justice, social unity, and peace can result only from our following some natural order--each doing what is his own 'work' by nature. That is why, I think, he turns almost instinctively to meat-eating when he wants to express the difference between a city founded on that sort of a natural order, and one whose social life is based upon some fundamental upsetting of that order. "Yes, we are constantly killing one another in wars. Yes, we are afflicted with ceaseless strife. But our way of life requires that. War and strife are an understandable consequence of a way of life based upon something that is fundamentally disordered. We kill and eat, without true necessity, ensouled --that is to say, rational-- beings. Is it any wonder, then, that human social life is beset with so many evils."

Someone other than Plato might have made the introduction of slavery the significant change in the transition between the healthy and luxurious state.

Plato looks at the luxurious state in much the same way that partisans of 'small is beatiful' look at the economies of Northern hemisphere countries.

Small is Beautiful

That the distinction, vegetarian/meat-eating, is important for the transition in Republic II, between the healthy city and the city of luxury, is clear. But why is this distinction important for Plato?

There are two reasons, I think, one proximate and the other remote. I'll explain the proximate here and the remote in the next post.

The proximate reason is that, in Plato's mind, the desire to eat meat is the principal non-necessary desire which is not subject to natural limits, requires land for its satisfaction, and therefore leads to expansionism and war between cities.

The demand for animals used for work, or for warm clothing, is limited. Each family will need only an ox or two for that purpose. The lifespan of an ox is about 30 years; this means that each adult male will need only a single ox for his own lifespan of hard, physical work. Once dead the skin of that ox, if converted to leather, would probably make sufficient leather garments for a single man's lifetime. An ox or two won't need much land for pasture.

But the demand for animals for food is not limited, at least not in any similarly obvious way. Even a small family would need several large animals per year for meat. As their tastes become more refined, they'll be satisfied with fewer and fewer parts of the animal. These animals will need far more land for pasture than would be needed for a family in the 'healthy' city--or land would need to be dedicated to raising grain for them.

Even if the citizens of the luxurious city did not have more children than they should (Plato thinks that they will, perhaps because of the proliferation of 'reciters, actors, dancers, producers' in the luxurious city, who will inflame sexual desire), their habits of eating meat alone will require them to look for more land. This, indeed, is what Plato seems especially to emphasize:

Do we need, then, to carve ourselves a slice of our neighbour's territory, if we are going to have enough for pasturage and ploughing (nemein te kai aroun) ? And do they in turn need a slice of our land, if they too give themselves up to the pursuit of unlimited wealth (chrematōn ktēsin apeiron), not confining themselves to necessities (huperbantes ton tōn anagkaiōn horon)? (373d)
(By the way, this surely is Plato's introduction of pleonexia, and thus 'love of money'. It was not present at all in the healthy city.)

03 February 2006

The Vegetarian City

The transition in Republic II from the healthy city, the 'city of pigs', to the luxurious city, struck me in a new way, now that I've owned and raised a pig. Consider:

  1. When I first got a pig, I was told never to feed him meat: he'd become spoiled and would come to want only that.
  2. In any case, when we acquired a dog, what few meat scraps we had went to the dog, and vegetable matter went to the pig.
  3. The few times we had something to give to him that was originally from the ground--some old potatoes or turnips--it was clear that that was what he really liked. After all, a pig is a rooting animal. He once ate 15 pounds of old yams in under 5 minutes.
So when I read Plato's descriptions of the diet of the citizens of the first, healthy city:
They will live on barley-meal and wheat flour. ...
And for dessert we can offer them figs and chickpeas and beans; and they will roast myrtle berries and acorns in front of the fire (372b-d)
Even before I got to Glaucon's line about a 'city of pigs'--and not thinking of it, as if independently--I was thinking to myself, "That's just the food that my pig would really like."

Scholars debate as to why Plato sketches first a 'healthy' city and then has to change, almost artificially, to talking about a luxurious city. Reeve, following Nettleship, says that the healthy city is meant to isolate one important human motive only, the 'love of money', before another motive, the 'love of pleasure', is added on. White says, unhelpfully, that justice and injustice are not so clear in the healthy city, and thus, in order to display them clearly, Plato had to advance to a luxurious city. (Fine: but then why introduce the healthy city at all?)

But this time reading Plato's account it was clear to me that one important motive, at least, for Plato's first describing the healthy city, is that he wanted to describe a city of vegetarianism.

First the evidence, and then, in a subsequent post, the reason why.

The evidence that the distinction, vegetarian/meat-eating, is an important distinction in the transition between the two cities:

  1. As explained, Plato's description of the diet of the healthy city is meant to be provocative: it mentions foods that his audience would recognize as especially suited to herbivorous animals.
  2. At 370e, when Plato talks about the healthy city's need for people to specialize in herding animals, he is careful to mention only work-related functions of animals: "... so that farmers can have oxen for ploughing, and so that builders as well as the farmers will be able to use animals for carrying materials, as so that weavers and shoemakers can have hides and wool." It's conspicuous that animals are not raised in order to be eaten.
  3. Glaucon, of course, criticizes the healthy city because of its diet. (Griffith has a note: "Pigs were considered slow and stupid...as well as dirty and greedy--the emblem of all that was uncouth." Perhaps so, but that is not to the point in the context. Bloom is correct in saying that Glaucon's main objection to the city pertains to the palate.)
  4. The first new sort of worker Plato mentions in his new city are hunters, who of course cater to exotic tastes: "we must have hunters of all kinds"(373b). (I think of the famous Hunt Mosaic from Antioch in the Worcester Art Museum.) And then Plato concludes his initial description of the luxurious city by emphasizing this point about diet: "And besides those, we shall need people to keep pigs as well. We didn't have them in our earlier city, since there was no need for them. But in this city there will be a need for them, as also for all sorts of other livestock, in case anyone wants them to eat" (373c).
  5. Finally, as Griffith's translation makes clear, Plato carries on this allusion to meat-eating in his account of the expansionist tendencies of the luxurious city:
Do we need, then, to care ourselves a slice (apotmēteon) of our neighbour's territory, if we are going to have enough for pasturage and ploughing? And do they in turn need a slice of land, if they too give themselves up to the pursuit of unlimited wealth, not confining themselves to necessities? (373d).

01 February 2006

Why Didn't It Work?

It should be a good idea: a clearinghouse for syllabi in philosophy. And yet the APA Online Resource Center Syllabus Collection has only a handful of specimens (and only one in ancient philosophy, offered by Richard Bett), and it hasn't been added to in five years.

Why--I wonder--has the idea flopped? Is it that people don't know about it? (I didn't.) Or do philosophers, who resist centralization anyway, find it unnecessary, since it is easy enough to find or post a syllabus already on the net?