Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy
Volume LI, Winter 2016
Archelaus on Cosmogony and the Origins of Social Institutions
The paper argues that joining a narrative about the origins of social institutions to a narrative about the origins of the cosmos and of living organisms was not a customary feature of Presocratic accounts, but an innovation introduced around the time of Socrates. There is, moreover, some evidence to the effect that Archelaus of Athens, who is usually presented as belonging to the circle of Anaxagoras and as a companion and teacher of Socrates, was one of the first authors to offer such a unified narrative. The paper offers reasons why the conjunction of the two narratives could have been seen by contemporaries as posing a particularly strong threat to traditional theological conceptions. The paper then examines two key texts, Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Laws 10, in which these new types of account are attacked for their deleterious effects. It is suggested that Archelaus’ theory has a more important role in these texts than is generally recognized.
Archelaus of Athens; Socrates; Anaxagoras; Plato; Aristophanes; Democritus; Antiphon; nomos–phusis; cosmogony; origins of culture; ancient atheism
Understanding epistēmē in Plato’s Republic
This paper reconstructs the conception of epistēmē advanced in Plato’s Republic and defends the claim that epistēmē of perceptibles is impossible from two long-standing objections: that it is philosophically implausible and that it undermines Socrates’ argument that philosophers should rule. The paper argues that epistēmē consists in grasping how a fact either is a fact about or is grounded in facts about natures. It was thus natural for Socrates to rule out epistēmē of perceptibles, since the fact (as he sees it) that predicates apply to perceptibles only in certain circumstances plausibly entails that facts about perceptibles are not appropriately grounded in facts about natures. Nevertheless, philosophers’ opinions (doxai) concerning perceptibles are authoritative because they are informed by their epistēmē of intelligibles (in an analogous way, it is here suggested, to how doctors’ medical opinions concerning particular matters of health are authoritative because they are informed by their understanding of health).
epistēmē; doxa; knowledge; understanding; opinion; expertise; authority; Two-Worlds; epistemology; Plato’s Republic
The Knowledge Unacknowledged in the Theaetetus
Knowledge, says Hypothesis 3 of the Theaetetus, is true judgement with an account. Socrates explicates this additively: true judgement is the base, and something called ‘an account’ the addendum. The formula is additive not because it shows knowledge entailing true judgement while being something more. Additivity implies something stronger: that the true judgement that amounts to knowledge if combined with something else would have been available on its own in the absence of this something else, hence in the absence of knowledge. The paper explores what the Theaetetus and Sophist show about this additive theory of knowledge. It argues that (at least for some cases of knowledge) the theory is rejected in the Sophist, and has already been called into question in connection with Hypothesis 2 of the Theaetetus.
Plato’s Theaetetus; knowledge; judgement; account; additivity; teach; persuade; eyewitnesses; method
Justification ‘by Argument’ in Aristotle’s Natural Science
Aristotle frequently justifies substantive theses in his natural treatises ‘by perception’. However, he often goes out of his way to show that what is clear ‘by perception’ is also clear ‘by argument’ (kata ton logon). This paper argues that in such contexts the latter phrase introduces a particular mode of justification, which justifies substantive scientific theses by appeal to argument (logos). The arguments implicated by this mode of justification support theses by subsuming the immediate subjects of investigation under general principles about the wider kinds to which they belong. This mode of justification is superficially similar to other modes of argument deployed by Aristotle, e.g. dialectical and logikos argumentation, but it is here argued that we must not identify it with dialectical or logikos reasoning. The paper also discusses the evidential status of this mode of justification and Aristotle’s use of it in empirically obscure domains.
Aristotle; natural science; logos; argument; justification; dialectic; logikos; generality; methodology
John M. Cooper
This paper offers a comprehensive interpretation of Aristotle’s theoretical account of the infinity of such infinite things as he holds actually exist in nature: number, time, and spatial magnitudes. On the interpretation presented, number and time for Aristotle are infinite not because there exists an actual infinity of numbers or of past or future times in relation to any ‘now’, but rather because, given the nature of the physical world, as he argues it actually exists, nature is such that for any number of things or any stretch of past or future time, however large/long, another finite one, precisely one unit larger/longer, can always be generated by some well-defined process of division.
Aristotle; infinity; nature; number; time; space; divisibility; past; future; now
Chrysippus often talks as if there is a third option when we might expect that two options in response to a question are exhaustive. Things are true, false, or neither; equal, unequal, or neither; the same, different, or neither; and so on. There seems to be a general pattern here that calls for a general explanation. This paper offers a general explanation of this pattern, preserving Stoic commitments to excluded middle and bivalence, arguing that Chrysippus employs this trichotomy move when he wishes to argue that apparent contradictories are only contraries, and wishes to endorse a third option. This general explanation of the pattern of trichotomies sheds light on a number of interpretative puzzles, including Chrysippus’ response to Democritus’ paradox of the cone. The purpose of these trichotomies is also discussed, and it is suggested that they originate from the dialectical context in which philosophical problems were posed.
Chrysippus; Stoics; law of excluded middle; dialectic; cone paradox; Democritus
Christopher Isaac Noble
Plotinus’ Unaffectable Soul
In Ennead 3. 6 Plotinus maintains that the soul is unaffectable. This thesis is widely taken to imply that his soul is exempt from change and free from emotional ‘affections’. Yet these claims are difficult to reconcile with evidence that Plotinian souls acquire dispositional states, such as virtues, and are subjects of emotional ‘affections’, such as anger. This paper offers an alternative account. In denying affections to soul, Plotinus is offering a distinction between the soul’s self-actuated motions (or activities) and the passive motions (or affections) of bodies (cf. Phaedrus 245 C–E and Laws 10, 896 A). But this distinction does not imply the soul’s changelessness, since Plotinus takes psychic motions that result in the acquisition of new psychic states to be changes. As for emotional ‘affections’, these (as activities) are merely homonymous with the affections denied to soul, and so do not violate the ban on soul’s affectability.
Plotinus; Neoplatonism; soul; motion; change; activity/passivity; affection; alteration; emotion; desire
The Seventh Letter: A Discussion of Myles Burnyeat and Michael Frede, The Pseudo-Platonic Seventh Letter
Burnyeat and Frede argue that the seventh of the letters ascribed to Plato is no more genuine than any other letter purporting to be from a philosopher before Epicurus; that its true author is far too remote from Plato for it to give any reliable evidence about Plato’s thoughts and activities; and that it is to be appreciated as a fine tragedy in prose. This review criticizes some of the details of their arguments, while endorsing and amplifying their conclusion.
Plato; epistles; VIIth Letter; pseudo-Plato; pseudepigraphy; Burnyeat; Frede; Speusippus