"The Cyrenaics vs. the Pyrrhonists on Knowledge of Appearances" [Read offprint of paper]
In Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus takes pains to
differentiate the skeptical way of life from other positions with which
it is often confused, and in the course of this discussion
he briefly explains how skepticism differs from Cyrenaicism.
Surprisingly, Sextus does not mention an important apparent difference
between the two. The Cyrenaics have a positive epistemic commitment--that we
can apprehend our own feelings. Although we cannot know whether the
honey is really sweet, we can know infallibly that right now we are being sweetened. By contrast, Sextus says explicitly that, as skeptics, Pyrrhonists apprehend nothing whatsoever.
A case can (and has) been made that Sextus does not mention this difference because, on this matter, there really isnÍt an important difference between the two: the skeptic is perfectly able to report how things appear to him, e.g., that the honey seems sweet, and it is crucial for
the skeptic that he not abolish the appearances. But, I argue, what the skeptics are doing when they report how things appear to do is importantly different from the sort of immediate, infallible apprehension of one's own feelings claimed by the Cyrenaics, as the latter involves theoretical commitments to the nature of one's feelings that the skeptic eschews.
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"Clitophon's Unanswered Charges Against Socrates" [Download draft of paper] [Download Acrobat PDF Reader]
The Clitophon is a perplexing dialogue. Socrates isn't its protagonist,
but its defendant. In it, Clitophon accuses Socrates of being a hindrance to
the pursuit of virtue. After Clitophon delivers his indictment, the dialogue
abruptly ends, his charges unanswered.
The Clitophon's authenticity has been doubted, because people can't
believe Plato would level these sorts of unanswered accusations against
Socrates. But this is deeply mistaken. Clitophon expresses Plato's own
serious reservations about Socratic assumptions concerning virtue, and
Clitophon's role in the Republic as a compatriot of Thrasymachus
dramatically illustrates how Socrates' practice of cross-examining people
can corrupt the young.
"The Philosophy of Anaxarchus" [Download draft of paper] [Download Acrobat PDF Reader]
Next to nothing has been written recently on Anaxarchus. There is excellent reason for this: next to nothing is known of him. Nonetheless, trying to reconstruct Anaxarchus' thought is a worthwhile enterprise, although of necessity a rather speculative one. If ancient philosophical genealogies can be trusted, he is a pivotal figure connecting Democritean atomism to Pyrrho's skepticism. Furthermore, our sketchy reports reveal a skepticism that holds intrinsic interest, with a metaphysical basis and a practical upshot quite different from the skepticisms of Pyrrho and of later Pyrrhonism.
This paper is an attempt to glean what we can of Anaxarchus' philosophy. After a brief review of his life and the sources available on him, and some cautionary notes about not expecting more exactness of an inquiry than the subject-matter admits of, it falls into two main sections: a discussion of his epistemology and of his ethics.
- Epistemology. The key text is M 87-8, in which Sextus Empiricus reports that some accuse Anaxarchus (along with the Cynic Monimus) of abolishing the criterion by likening real things (ta onta) to painted scenery and supposing them to resemble the experiences of sleepers and madmen. I argue (contra Bett and Warren) that the analogy should be read as making an epistemological point about the falsity (or perhaps the unreliability) of the reports of the senses regarding the external world, not merely the ethical point that things in the world are not worth caring about or lack intrinsic value. (In part, this is done by looking at the uses of analogies to madness by philosophers such as Plato and Epicurus.) I also argue that there is little reason to think that Anaxarchus anticipates Descartes' dreaming argument in Meditations 1. Instead, the source of Anaxarchus' skepticism is the same as Democritus': the reports of the senses are systematically misleading, because they ascribe to objects properties (such as sweetness, bitterness, heat, and coldness) that the objects do not possess. (Arguing for this also involves arguing, inter alia, that we have reason to believe that Anaxarchus is an atomist.)
- Ethics. I argue for the following points. Unlike Democritus, Anaxarchus extends his eliminativism regarding sensible properties in the external world to axiological properties: we take many things in the world as being by nature good or bad, but this is mistaken, as they are all equally indifferent. And so, like Pyrrho--on at least one reading of Pyrrho!--the ethical doctrine rests upon a broader metaphysical claim, although a different one. And like Pyrrho, Anaxarchus thinks that recognizing the indifference of things (as far as their value is concerned) is liberating and leads to happiness. However, insofar as we can draw philosophical points from spurious anecdotes regarding their conduct, the practical consequences of this position were quite different for Anaxarchus than for Pyrrho himself or later Pyrrhonists, as Anaxarchus (like the sophists) is willing to engage actively with the world in pursuit of what he desires, and to advocate bucking mere conventions.
Epicurus on Freedom
Our attempts to understand Epicurus' theory of freedom have been hampered by anachronistically thinking that Epicurus was the first person to discover our 'problem of free will and determinism' and to offer a libertarian solution to it. Epicurus does think that freedom and determinism are incompatible, but he doesn't care about the 'ability to do otherwise' that some think is necessary for moral responsibility. Instead, Epicurus wants to preserve our ability to act as rational agents--to deliberate among possible courses of action and choose the one that will get us what we all really want, a pleasant life. Like Aristotle in de Interpretatione 9, Epicurus believes that if what is going to happen in the future has been true all along, this would make the future necessary, rendering action and deliberation pointless. He makes the mistake of positing the swerve, an indeterministic atomic motion, to preserve the future's contingency. [View longer description.]
"Socrates' Therapeutic Use of Inconsistency in the Axiochus" [Read draft of paper]
The few people familiar with the pseudo-Platonic dialogue Axiochus generally have a low opinion of it. It's easy to see why: the dialogue is a mish-mash of Platonic, Epicurean and Cynic arguments against the fear of death, seemingly tossed together with no regard whatsoever for their consistency. As Furley notes, the Axiochus appears to be horribly confused. Whereas in the Apology Socrates argues that death is either annihilation or a relocation of the soul, and is a blessing either way, "the Socrates of the Axiochus wants to have it both ways": death is both annihilation and a release of the soul from the body into a better realm. This may be used to construct a valid argument for the conclusion that death is not evil, but at the expense of having a contradiction as one of its premises.
But D. S. Hutchinson has recently proposed that these inconsistencies shouldn't surprise us if we view the Axiochus as "an unconventional version of a very conventional genre--the consolation letter." In this paper I expand on Hutchinson's brief suggestion and argue that the Axiochus can be rehabilitated by paying attention to its genre. Although the Axiochus does display many similarities to the consolation letter, the shift from letter to dialogue does--pace Hutchinson--significantly affect what's going on. Within the dialogue, Socrates behaves toward Axiochus in a way similar to the way the author of a consolation letter behaves towards the letter's reader: he is willing to use inconsistent arguments, borrowed from any source, in order to soothe the patient. However, in depicting this type of consolatory relationship between Socrates and Axiochus, the dialogue itself is not aiming at consoling its readers. Instead, it should be seen as displaying for the reader's consideration a certain type of consolatory argumentative practice.
Socrates notes that Axiochus is "very much in need of consolation" (365a), and he uses any means necessary to accomplish this task. Socrates exhibits many ways in which he is willing to sacrifice argumentative hygiene for the sake of therapeutic effectiveness. These include:
In these respects, I think that Socrates' argumentative practice is best compared to PH III 280-1, where Sextus Empiricus says that the skeptic will deliberately use logically weak arguments as long as they work.
- Use of arguments with inconsistent premises, presented in propria persona.
- Appeals to emotion
- Tailoring arguments to the audience.
- Presenting invalid arguments so as to induce unjustified but comforting beliefs.
Dorothy Tarrant claims that what links the Socrates of the Axiochus to Socrates as he appears elsewhere in the Platonic corpus is his evident care for the welfare of his interlocutor's psyche. But this concern takes a quite different form in the Axiochus than it usually does. As with Sextus, psychic therapy in the Axiochus involves relief from pain. The primary difference between them is that Socrates, unlike Sextus, is not aiming at producing epochê in his patient.
"Aristotle's 'Cosmic Nose' Argument for the Uniqueness of the World" [Read draft of paper]
David Furley's work on the cosmologies of classical antiquity is structured around what he calls "two pictures of the world." The first picture, defended by both Plato and Aristotle, portrays the universe, or all that there is (to pan), as identical with our particular ordered world-system. Thus, the adherents of this view claim that the universe is finite and unique. The second system, defended by Leucippus and Democritus, portrays an infinite universe within which our particular kosmos is only one of countless kosmoi.
Aristotle's argument in De caelo I.9 that the world is necessarily unique is an important contribution to this debate. This argument holds interest because it shows Aristotle wrestling with an apparent inconsistency in his own philosophy, as deeply-held convictions within his cosmology collide with an equally deeply-held conviction within his metaphysics. The following three principles, each of which Aristotle appears committed to, are inconsistent:
In De caelo I.9, Aristotle argues that we can establish the uniqueness of the universe, reject the multiple instantiation principle, yet still retain the distinction between 'this world' and 'world in general,' if the following is true (as it is): the world takes up all the matter that exists. Aristotle illustrates this argument with one of the stranger analogies in his corpus: imagine an aquiline nose that takes up all the flesh in the universe. If this were so, then there could not exist any other aquiline objects whatsoever. (For this reason, we dub the De caelo I.9 argument the 'Cosmic Nose argument.')
- The cosmic uniqueness principle. The world is necessarily unique.
- The cosmic form principle. The world is an ordered, structured unity. As such, the world has a form.
- The possibility of multiple instantiation principle. For all F, if F is a form, it is possible that there exist multiple Fs.
This paper is an interpretation of how this argument is supposed to proceed and an assessment of its success. The first section states the problem Aristotle is confronted with, sorts through Aristotle's various statements of the Cosmic Nose argument, which exhibit some sloppiness, and reconstructs charitably a single argument. We also spend some time examining the significance of Aristotle's example of a gigantic aquiline nose. We argue that, even charitably reconstructed, the argument appears to commit a serious modal fallacy. The remainder of the paper explores whether this modal fallacy can be overcome. We conclude that, although not a cogent argument for the uniqueness of the world (as this would require a significant revision of our current astronomy), the Cosmic Nose argument does succeed on its own terms. However, it should not be regarded as a free-standing argument for the uniqueness of the world. Instead, it depends crucially on the earlier argument in De caelo I.8 for the universe's uniqueness; De caelo I.9 should be viewed as an attempt to extend the conclusion of De caelo I.8 and to show how this conclusion can be made consistent with Aristotle's metaphysical principles about the nature of form.
"The Reductionist and Compatibilist Argument of Epicurus' On Nature Book 25"
Epicurus' On Nature 25 is the key text for anti-reductionist interpretations of Epicurus' philosophy of mind. In it, Epicurus is trying to argue against those, like Democritus, who say that everything occurs 'according to necessity,' and in the course of this argument, he says many things that appear to conflict with an Identity Theory of Mind and with causal determinism. In this paper, I engage in a close reading of this text in order to show that it does not contain any clear statement of either a doctrine of radically emergent properties and "downwards causation" (contra David Sedley) or of the non-reducibility of the mental to the atomic (contra Julia Annas). I argue that Epicurus' main thesis is that we cannot consistently argue against our conception of ourselves as rational agents, and that it is our reason that allows us to reform our own characters, control our actions, and blame and praise one another appropriately. The way that Epicurus describes the development and causal efficacy of reason in On Nature book 25 is consistent both with reductionism and (more surprisingly) with causal determinism.
"Lucretius on the Cycle of Life and the Fear of Death"
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In De Rerum Natura III 963-971, Lucretius argues that death should not be feared because it is a necessary part of the natural cycle of life and death. This argument has received little philosophical attention, except by Martha Nussbaum, who asserts it is quite strong. However, Nussbaum's view is unsustainable, and I offer my own reading. I agree with Nussbaum that, as she construes it, the cycle of life argument is quite distinct from the better-known Epicurean arguments: not only does it start from different premises, but it is a completely different type of argument. However, thus construed, it is deeply problematic. It relies on premises that are much more at home in Stoic than in Epicurean ethics, and Lucretius' appeal to nature in this argument contradicts what he says elsewhere in De Rerum Natura. I consider why Lucretius offers what appears to be such a flawed argument, and I propose a reading on which the cycle of life argument could be offered consistently by an Epicurean. The cycle of life argument, unlike the better-known arguments, does not attempt directly to show that death is not a bad thing. Instead, it targets certain destructive attitudes towards one's life that result in one fearing death. By helping relieve the interlocutor of these attitudes, the argument aims at reducing his fear of death.
"The Cyrenaics on Pleasure, Happiness, and Future-Concern"
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The Cyrenaics assert that (1) particular pleasure is the highest good, and happiness is valued not for its own sake, but only for the sake of the particular pleasures that compose it; (2) we should not forego present pleasures for the sake of obtaining greater pleasure in the future. Their anti-eudaimonism and lack of future-concern do not follow from their hedonism. So why do they assert (1) and (2)? After reviewing and criticizing the proposals put forward by Annas, Irwin and Tsouna, I offer two possible reconstructions. In the first reconstruction, I explain claim (1) as follows: happiness has no value above and beyond the value of the particular pleasures that compose it. Also, there is no "structure" to happiness. The Cyrenaics are targeting the thesis that happiness involves having the activities of one's life forming an organized whole, the value of which cannot be reduced to the value of the experiences within that life. I explain claim (2) as follows: a maximally pleasant life is valuable, but the best way to achieve it is to concentrate heedlessly on the present. In the second reconstruction, the good is radically relativized to one's present preferences. The Cyrenaics assert that we desire some particular pleasure, e.g., the pleasure that results from having this drink now. Thus, our telos-which is based upon our desires-is this particular pleasure, not (generic) 'pleasure' or the maximization of pleasure over our lifetime. As our desires change, so does our telos. I conclude that the scanty texts we have do not allow us to decide conclusively between these reconstructions, but I give some reasons to support the second over the first.
"Why There Are No Fresh Starts in Metaphysics Epsilon or Nichomachean Ethics III 5"
Metaphysics Epsilon 2-3 and Nicomachean Ethics III 5 (1114b3-25) are often cited in favor of indeterminist interpretations of Aristotle. In Metaphysics Epsilon Aristotle denies that the coincidental has an aitia, and some (e.g., Sorabji) take this as a denial that coincidences have causes. In NE III 5 Aristotle says a person's actions and character must have their origin (archê) in the agent for him to be responsible for them. From this, some conclude that Aristotle thinks a person can be the uncaused cause of his actions, (e.g., Hardie, Ross), or at least that there must be some sort of break in the causal nexus, so that the person's character cannot be traced back to an external origin (Furley).
I argue that Metaphysics Epsilon does not show that Aristotle disbelieves in causal determinism, since he is dealing with issues of explanation in these passages, not causal necessitation. Metaphysics Epsilon 2-3 is not irrelevant to the controversy between compatibilist and incompatibilist interpretations of Aristotle, however. I will argue that a proper understanding of Metaphysics Epsilon's doctrine that the sumbebekos lacks an aitia sheds light on what Aristotle means in NE III 5 when he says that the voluntary must have an internal origin, and that it helps to show how one's action and character can have an 'internal origin' even if one's actions and character can be traced entirely to external causes. Finally, I will take this doctrine of the voluntary having an 'internal origin' and use it to illuminate Aristotle's discussion of the different types of excusing conditions in NE III 1.
"Is Epicurean Friendship Altruistic?" [Read draft of paper]
Epicurus is strongly committed to psychological and ethical egoism and hedonism. However, these commitments do not square easily with many of the claims made by Epicureans about friendship: for instance, that the wise man will sometimes die for his friend, that the wise man will love his friend as much as himself, feel exactly the same toward his friend as toward himself, and exert himself as much for his friend's pleasure as for his own, and that every friendship is worth choosing for its own sake. These claims have led some scholars to assert that Epicurus inconsistently affirms that friendship has an altruistic element. I argue that the Epicurean claims about friendship can be reconciled with egoism and hedonism in psychology and ethics. Friendship is valuable because having friends provides one with security more effectively than any other means, and having confidence that one will be secure in the future either is identical to ataraxia, or the grounds on which one has it.
"Would a Community of Wise Epicureans Be Just?"
I begin by considering an argument for why there would not be justice in a community of wise Epicureans: justice only exists where there is an agreement "neither to harm nor be harmed," and such an agreement would be superfluous in a community of wise Epicureans, since they would have no vain desires which would lead them to wish to harm one another. I argue that, if the 'justice contract' prohibits only direct harm of one person by another, then it would be superfluous among Epicureans. However, Lucretius and Hermarchus make it clear that people enter into communities in order to protect themselves from harm from animals and from starvation, and that regulations needed in order for the community to protect the members from these dangers also fall under the purview of justice. Given this more expansive reading of the content of the 'justice contract,' such agreements would be needed in any community, even ones which had only wise Epicureans as members
"The Ontological Status Of Sensible Qualities for Democritus and Epicurus" [Read draft of paper]
One striking oddity about Democritus and Epicurus is that, even though Epicurus' theory of perception is largely the same as that of Democritus, Democritus and his followers draw skeptical conclusions from this theory of perception, whereas Epicurus declares that all perceptions are true or real. I believe that the dispute between Democritus and Epicurus stems from a question over what sort of ontological status should be assigned to sensible qualities. In this paper, I address three questions: 1) Why were Democritus and his followers skeptical? 2) How did Epicurus modify Democritus' metaphysics in order to avoid these skeptical conclusions? and 3) How successful was he?
1) I argue that Democritus allows only the intrinsic properties of atoms into his ontology, and then runs into skeptical difficulties because of the relativity of perception. 2) I propose that Epicurus modifies Democritus' ontology by allowing dispositional and relational properties as real properties of bodies. Sensible qualities are conceptualized as dispositional properties of bodies to cause certain experiences in percipients. 3) I argue that Epicurus does not run into the same problems as Democritus. Finally, I consider how my interpretation of Epicurus' ontology helps to make sense of his claim that all perceptions are alethes--'true' or 'real.'
"Does Epicurus Need the Swerve as an Archê of Collisions?"
The 'swerve' is not supposed to provide a temporal 'starting point' (archê) of collisions, since Epicurus thinks that there is no temporal starting-point of collisions. Instead, the swerve is supposed to provide an explanatory archê of collisions. In positing the swerve, Epicurus is responding to Aristotle's criticisms of Democritus' theory of motion.