Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy
Volume LII, Summer 2017
Nous, Motion, and Teleology in Anaxagoras
This paper advances a new interpretation of the manner in which Anaxagoras regards nous as producing motion and, in so doing, explains Anaxagoras’ emphasis on nous’s purity and offers a major reassessment of the explanatory value of nous. Based on a fresh examination of the evidence, I argue that Anaxagoras holds that considerable difference between things is itself productive of motion. On account of nous’s purity there is always a difference between nous and the mixture (comprising everything else) such as to produce motion, with the specific sort of motion being determined by nous’s intent (based on its judgement) or affect. Taking into account what nous brings about, including the cosmic vortex that orders the world and the preservation of living things (by being present in them as their soul), Anaxagoras can be recognized as having offered the framework for a wide-reaching teleology with his conception of nous.
Anaxagoras; nous; mind; motion; teleology; causation; soul; cosmogony; Presocratics; principles
M. F. Burnyeat
‘All the World’s a Stage-Painting’: Scenery, Optics, and Greek Epistemology
In the fourth century BCE, Anaxarchus and Monimus compared the world to stage-painting, to express scepticism about sense-perception and the worthlessness of human affairs, respectively. But the comparison traces back to Democritus’ discussion of Anaxagoras’ famous claim, a century earlier, that ‘appearances are a sight of things unseen’. According to Vitruvius, they were influenced by what Agatharchus had written about stage-painting, something that can be assessed properly only by considering the genre of technical treatises and the claims of those who were first to write on a subject. The comparison with phenomenal experience should ultimately be credited to Anaxagoras, though the points that he and Democritus make differ, owing to their different views of how the macroscopic world is related to underlying reality. These texts are thus not about the early history of perspectival painting, but stem from a fifth-century epistemological debate about what, if anything, sense-perception reveals about reality.
Anaxagoras; Democritus; Anaxarchus; Agatharchus; Vitruvius; stage-painting; perspective; epistemology; scepticism; appearances
Identity and Explanation in the Euthyphro
According to many interpreters, Socrates in the Euthyphro thinks that an answer to ‘what is the holy?’ should pick out some feature that is prior to being holy. While this is a powerful way to think of answers to the ‘what is it?’ question, one that Aristotle develops, I argue that the Euthyphro provides an important alternative to this Aristotelian account. Instead, an answer to ‘what is the holy?’ should pick out precisely being holy, not some feature prior to it. I begin by showing how this interpretation allows for a straightforward reading of a key argument: Socrates’ refutation of Euthyphro’s proposal that the holy is the god-loved. Then I address considerations that seem to favour the Aristotelian account. I end by explaining how answers to ‘what is f-ness?’ questions are informative on this account, even though they do not identify anything other than f-ness.
Euthyphro; Socrates; priority; explanation; definition; identity; Plato; holiness; piety
The Third Man and the Coherence of the Parmenides
The ‘Third Man’ in the Parmenides is often reconstructed in terms of unstated background commitments of the Theory of Forms; thus it seems to threaten the internal coherence of that theory. However, the regress can be derived solely from premisses explicitly stated within the dialogue, and blocked simply by giving up one candidate account of participation, leaving the central commitments of the Theory of Forms intact. Consequently, the problem highlighted by the argument is not an infinite regress of Forms, but merely the lack of an adequate account of participation. This reading facilitates a coherent account of the dialogue as a whole, using the ‘scorecard’ approach outlined by Zeno himself, and developed more recently for contemporary metaphysics by Lewis and Armstrong: Part I acknowledges non-fatal difficulties for the Forms which are then eclipsed by more serious issues for Eleatic monism in Part II.
Plato; Parmenides; Third Man; regress; Eleatic monism
A. W. Price
Varieties of Pleasure in Plato and Aristotle
It is a familiar contrast between Plato and Aristotle that Plato identifies pleasure with a process of replenishment, Aristotle with an activity (or quality of an activity) that contains its end within itself. It complicates the contrast that the Philebus does not actually insist on any single account, whereas the Rhetoric invokes the Platonic conception, but then extends it indefinitely. Aristotle’s discussions of pleasure in the Ethics can be interpreted as being of a piece, and as applying to a wide range of perceptions and activities. However, a distinction between being glad to be acting in some way and enjoying so acting would permit a more nuanced understanding of pleasure, and a more plausible view of ethical virtue.
Plato; Aristotle; pleasure; enjoyment; process; activity; perception; action
Going through aporiai: The Critical Use of Aristotle’s Dialectic
This paper challenges a widespread reading of Aristotle’s use of dialectic in the treatment of aporiai. According to this reading, the search for a resolution of an aporia is supposed to proceed by arguing against conflicting theses to refute one of them. I argue that this reading is not satisfactory and propose an alternative, based on an often overlooked distinction between two dialectical procedures, the refutation (elenchos) of a thesis and the resolution (lusis) of an argument. These two terms are employed fairly consistently by Aristotle in the treatises as well. Since an aporia requires not merely conflicting theses, but conflicting arguments for those theses, I contend that the ideal way out of aporiai involves a critical analysis of those arguments, akin to that involved in the dialectical resolution. A relevant implication of this reading is that it expands the critical use of dialectic for philosophy, and points to the specific philosophical utility of the Sophistical Refutations.
Aristotle; puzzles; dialectic; critique; refutation; resolution; diaporein
Aristotle’s Measurement Dilemma
This paper has two main goals: first, it reconstructs Aristotle’s account of measurement in the Metaphysics and shows how it connects to modern notions of measurement. Second, it demonstrates that Aristotle’s notion of measurement works only for simple measures, and leads him into a dilemma once it comes to measuring complex phenomena, such as motion, where two or more different aspects, such as time and space, have to be taken into account. This is shown with the help of Aristotle’s reaction to one of the problems that Zeno’s dichotomy paradox raises: Aristotle implicitly employs a complex measure of motion when solving this problem, while he explicitly characterizes the measure of motion as a simple measure in the Physics.
measurement; measure; motion; time; unit; one; Aristotle’s Physics; Aristotle’s Metaphysics; Zeno of Elea; dichotomy paradox
Karen Margrethe Nielsen
Spicy Food as Cause of Death: Coincidence and Necessity in Metaphysics E 2–3
In this paper I consider Aristotle’s argument involving ineluctable causal chains in Metaphysics E 3, and maintain that it seeks to establish the existence of coincidental causes. The thesis that Aristotle targets for refutation is not, as has frequently been assumed, efficient-causal determinism, but rather the view that everything that happens has a per se cause which produces its effects by way of a teleological process. I argue that Aristotle’s endorsement of coincidental causes is compatible with efficient-causal determinism. While eating spicy food is a coincidental cause of dying from violence, there could still be efficient-causal chains leading from eating spicy food to dying in this way. The paper considers the parallel argument in Metaphysics K 8 in support of this interpretation.
Aristotle; coincidence; determinism; cause; teleology; for the most part; necessity; fate