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Been checked out lately, but…

Posting has been difficult lately – apologies!  It’s been a torrent of work at the beginning of the academic year in Durham, including talks in Milan (on Pseudo-Archytas’ On Wisdom) and Venice (more on Aristotle on Philolaus), plus another half-talk in Durham at the Ancient Republics Workshop (Part 1) this week, and another talk in Milan in mid-December at the second part of the Durham-Milan workshop on Platonism and Hellenistic Philosophy (on ancient ‘Italian’ philosophy).  Jeez, I just can’t keep still.

Not quite *that* busy, though...Tintoretto, c. 1550 (Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice)

Not quite *that* busy, though…Tintoretto, c. 1550 (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice)

Since the last post, several reviews of Plato and Pythagoreanism have surfaced (one by Federicco Petrucci (Wurzburg) in the Journal of the History of Philosophy, another by Joseph Miller (Illinois Institute of Technology) in Hopos: the Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy and Science, another by Michael Weinman (Bard College Berlin) in Archai: Revista de Estudos sobre as Origens do Pensamento Ocidental, and some reactions by Carl Huffman (Depauw) in his ‘Pythagoreanism’ entry on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  Happy to see that the work is generating debate, and also happy to announce that the book will be coming out in paperback next year – Oxford’s even allowing me to make some minor corrections!

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Nussbaum Conference 2014 – St Mary’s College, Durham (23-24 May 2014)

Overcoming Intolerance: Nussbaum and Her Critics conference

Martha Nussbaum, by John Springs

Martha Nussbaum, by John Springs

23-24 May 2014
St Mary’s College, Durham University

Conference speakers include: Thom Brooks (Durham), Clare Chambers (Cambridge), Maria Dimova-Cookson (Durham), Phillip Horky (Durham), Peter Jones (Newcastle), Maleiha Malik (KCL), Mozaffar Qizilbash (York), Martha Nussbaum (Chicago), Sara Protasi (Yale)

Overcoming Intolerance: Nussbaum and Her Critics is a two-day event that brings Professor Martha C. Nussbaum to Durham University. Professor Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago and one of the leading political and legal philosophers today. She is the author of nearly 20 monographs, including The Fragility of Goodness (1986), Sex and Social Justice (1999), Women and Human Development (2000), Hiding from Humanity (2004), Frontiers of Justice (2006) and Creating Capabilities (2011) among many others.

This event examines these topics under the umbrella of ‘Overcoming Intolerance’ with a first day interrogating her recent The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (Harvard University Press, 2012). Nussbaum argues that we can rise about the politics of fear and toward a more open and inclusive future by expanding our capacity for empathetic imagination and establishing a consistent ethic of decency and civility building off of her past work. Conference speakers include Thom Brooks (Law, Durham), Clare Chambers (Philosophy, Cambridge), Peter Jones (Politics, Newcastle) and Maleiha Malik (Law, KCL). Martha Nussbaum will reply to each paper before the floor is opened for questions.

The second day is organized into two panels. The first focusses on the topic of ‘Capabilities and Political Liberalism’ which will be led by Mozaffar Qizilbash (PPE, York) and include Maria Dimova-Cookson (Government, Durham) with Martha Nussbaum. The second on ‘Civic Emotions and Combatting Intolerance’ which will be led by Sara Protasi (Philosophy, Yale) and include Phillip Horky (Classics, Durham) with Martha Nussbaum. Each roundtable discussions aimed at linking key themes in Nussbaum’s work to these broader issues and their wider implications.

Together, this two-day event brings together leading academics from across a diverse range of academic subjects to engage one of the most significant public intellectuals working today.

Conference registration includes lunch and teas/coffees for both days. (Delegates must make their own accommodation and dinner arrangements.)

The Conference Programme and Registration information can be found here:

The conference is generously funded by Durham Law School and several of its research groups (including the Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Centre; the Islam, Law and Modernity Group and the Law and Global Justice Group), the Institute of Advanced Studies, the Department of Philosophy and the School of Government and International Affairs all based at Durham University as well as Harvard University Press.

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Plutarch’s Son Autobulus and Pythagorean Geometry

I’m drowning in marking right now, but I thought I’d update with some recent work I’ve been doing on Aristotle and Plutarch on the geometry of the Pythagorean Philolaus of Croton.  This working paper (comments welcome) is for a volume edited by Arnaud Macé on Physis/Historia Peri Physeôs, and derived from a series he has been co-organizing with Luc Brisson and Olivier Renault on ‘Plato and his Predecessors’.  As often happens, however, one cannot really discuss ‘Plato and his Predecessors’ without treating Plato’s successors too.   Case in point is Plutarch’s Table-Talk, where the only surviving reference to Philolaus’ conceptualization of geometry is preserved:

‘Geometry being, according to Philolaus, the origin and mother-city of the rest (?)…’

γεωμετρία κατὰ τὸν Φιλόλαον ἀρχὴ καὶ μητρόπολις οὖσα τῶν ἄλλων…

 (T A7a Huffman = Plutarch, Table-Talk 8.2, 718e; translated after Huffman)

The original context for testimonium A7a is remarkable: it is a staged debate in Plutarch’s Table Talk that takes place between Plutarch and several speakers (Diogenianus, Tyndares, Florus, and Plutarch’s son Autobulus) on Plato’s birthday.[1]  Apropos of the day, the topic set for the symposium is to discover what Plato meant when he allegedly claimed that ‘god is always doing geometry’ (ἀεὶ γεωμετρεῖν τὸν θεόν).[2]  The first speaker, the youthful Tyndares of Sparta, develops a mystical response rooted in his unique interpretation of Plato’s Republic and Phaedo, and in the midst of this he elaborates on the relationship between γεωμετρία and other scientific studies.[3]  Notably, Tyndares believes that geometry – not arithmetic, as one would see in Plato’s Republic and other Platonist traditions that descend from it – is first in pride of place among the mathematical sciences.

Plutarchus Geometricus

Plutarchus Geometricus

Philolaus’ reference to γεωμετρία as the ‘origin’ and ‘mother-city’ implies some sort of generative capacity, as Aristotle in F 203 thought of the Pythagoreans’ ‘unit’ (διὰ τοῦ γεννητικὴν αὐτήν), which generates odd numbers when added to even and even numbers when added to odd.[4]  Aristotle’s assumption seems to be that a unit, when applied to (προστιθεμένη) an odd or even number, produces differentiation between those types of number.

But how could the objects of geometry, e.g. shapes such as triangles and squares, conceivably produce numerical kinds, such as ‘odd’ and ‘even’?  Interestingly, a few chapters after he has quoted Philolaus’ enigmatic geometry testimonium T A7, Plutarch presents a speech, given by his son Autobulus, which appears to feature adaptations of Philolaic ideas in a Platonist vein, including a discussion of how the limit gives definition to the unlimited.[5]  There, Autobulus refers to the cosmological theory of the ‘men of old’ (οἱ παλαιοί), a rather certain reference to Philolaus even in Plato’s work[6], that involves the generation of numbers through the imposition of the limit on matter, which is unlimited (περατοῦντα τὴν ὕλην ἄπειρον οὖσαν):

Τhe form and shape is a limit of everything that is shaped and arranged (ἡ μορφὴ καὶ τὸ σχῆμα πέρας ἐστὶ μεμορφωμένου καὶ ἐσχηματισμένου παντός), in the absence of which everything is, by itself, shapeless and unarranged.  Once the numbers and ratios have been generated in it (ἀριθμῶν δὲ καὶ λόγων ἐγγενομένων), the matter is shackled, as it were, and encompassed by lines and by the figures which are generated by lines, i.e. the solids…

(Plutarch, Table-Talk 8.3, 719d)

This description of how the geometric shape, as limit, comes upon the unlimited and generates numbers is surprisingly unusual in antiquity, despite the fact that it forms the basis for some modern interpretations of the relationship in Pythagorean philosophy between limiters and unlimiteds.[7]  The generation of number is initially obscure in Autobulus’ account.  A little later, however, Autobolus returns to the topic and explains with greater precision how he thinks ‘numbers and ratios’ can be generated in matter:

Reason (λόγος)[8] seizes upon [matter], circumscribes it, and marshals it into types and differentiations (τοῦ δὲ λόγου καταλαμβάναντος αὐτὴν καὶ περιγράφοντος καὶ διανέμοντος εἰς ἰδέας καὶ διαφοράς), from which all things that grow possess generation and structure (ἐξ ὧν τὰ φύομενα πάντα τὴν γένεσιν ἔσχεν καὶ σύστασιν).

(Plutarch, Table-Talk 8.3, 719e)

This is a remarkable passage, since it does not, in fact, reflect Plutarch’s own views about the first principles, but nevertheless seems to represent a reputable opinion that comes to contribute to Plutarch’s own formulation.  For Plutarch himself in the speech that follows (Table-Talk 8.2, 720a-c) gently rebukes his son and explains, echoing the Timaeus, that the three first principles are in fact the One/God, Matter/Indefinite Dyad, and the Form, not simply the limit and unlimited.[9]  Although Plutarch does not refer to Philolaus as the authority behind Autobulus’ speech, he appears to be thinking of the Pythagoreans (‘men of old’) – and quite possibly he is deriving this information from Aristotle’s lost works on the Pythagoreans, which understood the first principles as limit and unlimited (πέρας ἄπειρον) and as equivalent to odd and even.[10]

I suggest that Autobulus’ speech can therefore help us to conceive of how Aristotle’s Pythagoreans might have conceived of the ‘unit’ as generating odd and even numbers.[11]  If the ‘unit’ in Aristotle’s language stands in for the ‘limiters’ (περαίνοντα) in Philolaus’ presentation, and ‘reason’ (λόγος) in Autobulus’, then the ‘unit’ would be thought to interact with a limitless continuum in such a way as to produce numerical types (i.e. ‘odd’ and ‘even’), which could thereby be differentiated from one another epistemologically.  In this scenario, Aristotle would be attributing to the Pythagoreans’ ‘unit’ the role of the formal cause, which, in its modality as limiter, would give definition to the unlimited, in its modality as matter.[12]  In fact, Aristotle has more to say about this process elsewhere.   In the context of discussing Philolaus’ student, the mathematical Pythagorean Eurytus of Metapontum, and his theory of defining natural objects through number, Aristotle attacks some anonymous Pythagoreans who (a) equivocated number with harmony and (b) thus absurdly supposed that number could be formal cause[13]:

Nor yet has it been determined in what sense numbers are the causes of substances and of being, whether as boundaries (ὠς ὅροι)[14] (for example, as lines are to magnitudes – in this sense Eurytus assigned which number belongs to which thing, e.g. this number for man, that for horse; just as those who arrange numbers into geometric figures like the triangle and the square, so he [sc. Eurytus] assimilated the shapes of natural objects to pebbles), or because harmony of numbers is a ratio [of numbers] (ἢ ὅτι λόγος ἡ συμφωνία ἀριθμῶν)[15], and likewise so is man and everything else?

How could the attributes white, sweet, and hot, be numbers?  And it is clear that numbers are neither a substance nor formal causes[16], since the ratio is the substance, whereas the number is matter.  For example, the substance of flesh or bone is a number [only] in this sense: it is three parts of fire, and two of earth. Again, number, whichever it is, is always a number of things, either of portions of fire or earth or units, whereas substance is the proportion of one quantity to another in a mixture.  But this no longer remains a number, but a ratio of the mixture of numbers, whether corporeal or otherwise.  So number – whether number in general or number that consists of abstract units – is neither an efficient cause, nor matter [sc. material cause], nor ratio and form, of things [sc. formal cause] (οὔτε…ὕλη οὔτε λόγος καὶ εἶδος τῶν πραγμάτων).  Nor again is it the final cause.

(Aristotle, Metaphysics 14.5, 1092b8-25)

Aristotle seeks to identify the proper ontological status of numbers by reference to, I suggest, mathematical Pythagoreans in general, and Eurytus and Philolaus in particular.  He associates the definitional activities of Eurytus with the geometry of some anonymous others, whose activity of arranging numbers into geometrical shapes Aristotle sees as anticipating Eurytus’ assimilation of numbers to objects in nature, such as human beings and horses.  If we are in doubt to whom Aristotle is referring, one possible clue comes at the end of the passage, where he notes that it would be absurd to think that number (of any sort) could be the formal cause, i.e. the ‘ratio and form of things’ (λόγος καὶ εἶδος τῶν πραγμάτων), a phrase which recalls Philolaus’ appeal to the ‘being of things’ (ἁ ἐστὼ τῶν πραγμάτων) as an entity prior to limiters and unlimiteds, and which, so I have speculated elsewhere, Philolaus probably identified with harmony (ἁρμονία).[17]  If the ‘things’ to which Philolaus appealed when he referred to ‘limiters’ and ‘unlimiteds’ were to be thought of as numbers, as Aristotle seems to have assumed in his reformulation of Fragment 1 of Philolaus[18], then the ‘limiters’ would likely be odd numbers, and the ‘unlimiteds’ even numbers.  The position Aristotle seems to be attacking, then, is one which conflates a formal cause like ‘ratio’, ‘harmony’, or ‘proportion’, which Aristotle considers a legitimate candidate for such an activity, with ‘number’, which is not a legitimate candidate for formal cause, on the grounds that number is that which is acted upon by the formal cause, which in this case is ‘ratio’ (λόγος); this in turn would function as the limiter that acts upon number, which is here figured (at least provisionally) as matter that is acted upon.

[1] For a biographical discussion of these figures, see Cartledge and Spawforth 2002: 166.

[2] Plut. Quaest. Conv. 8.1, 718c.

[3] Plut. Quaest. Conv. 8.1, 718c-f.

[4] ] Arist. F 203 Rose = Alex. Aphr., in Metaph. p. 40.15–20 Hayduck: ‘…they thought the unit to be the origin of numbers, since it was composed out of the unlimited and the limited; for the unit was simultaneously even-odd, which he [Philolaus?] demonstrated by way of the unit’s being generative of both the odd and the even number. For the unit added to an even generates an odd, and the unit added to an odd generates an even.’

[5] I suspect we are dealing with a Platonized version of an Aristotelian description (probably from the lost works of Aristotle on the Pythagoreans) that predates the 1st Century BCE (since Autobulus does not actually attribute this cosmology to the Pythagoreans, and it does not resonate particularly well with other 1st Century BCE accounts of Pythagorean philosophy, e.g. the account of Alexander Polyhistor).  But it preserves a skeleton of a Philolaic original, which cannot be accounted for by its antecedents in Plato’s works (the discussion of limit and unlimited in Philebus – see the next note – and the cosmogony of mathematical objects and elements in the Timaeus).  Moreover, Autobulus’ account does not bear the marks of an Early Platonist reinterpretation of the Timaeus or with Eudorus of Alexandria’s adaptation of those ideals, since it does not posit the One and the Indefinite Dyad/Multiplicity as first principles.  Finally, it shows no strong correlation with Stoicism whatsoever.

[6] This term is directly borrowed from the Philebus (16c5-d4), where Socrates says that the ‘men of old’ passed down the tradition from Prometheus that holds that ‘the things that are said to be eternal have come from the One and the Many, but they had limit and unlimited innate in themselves.’  For a discussion of how this term is a coded reference to Philolaus, see Horky 2013: 224-227.  Autobulus’ version interestingly removes the reference to the One and the Many.

[7] See, for example, Huffman 1993: 52, who imagines that Philolaus ‘is approaching something akin to a distinction between form and matter’, although Huffman does not believe, as Barnes (1982: 387-389), that limiters are only shapes, and he says nothing about how numbers are generated. Also cf. Huffman (2005: 70), where he strengthens his resolve somewhat by claiming that ‘limiters and unlimiteds are very broad categories, but one of the primary things that Philolaus is referring to is the imposition of shape and structure on indeterminate continua including stuffs.’  Huffman, however, finds it difficult to know where number fits into this formulation (ibid.): ‘However, even in Fragment 1 we were warned that number was coming.  For the limiting shapes and the unlimited stuffs are “fitted-together” by the principle of harmonia, which is numerical for Philolaus.’

[8] I translate ‘reason’ here, so as to establish the difference between logos (singular) and logoi (plural), which occurred earlier on in the passage and clearly means ‘ratios’ there.  But if Autobulus is describing Philolaus’ own cosmogony, he could be referring to ‘ratio’ insofar as ‘harmony’ in Philolaus’ fragments is a type of ratio.

[9] This is by contrast with his position elsewhere that there are two first principles, namely God/the One and the Indefinite Dyad (on which, see Dillon 1977: 199-206).

[10] As they are called at Metaph. 1.5, 986a23 and 1.8, 990a8-9; elsewhere (Metaph. 1.5, 986a18-19), by reference to the properties of their first principles, Aristotle describes the odd as πεπερασμένον and the even as ἄπειρον.

[11] Note that the appeal to ‘types and differentiations’ in matter corresponds with Aristotle’s description of how in the Pythagorean cosmogony, the void, by being breathed in, causes ‘separation and distinction of the series of things’, which Aristotle says is especially applicable to ‘numbers’, on the grounds that ‘their nature was first defined by the void’ (Phys. 4.6, 213b23-29; also see Aristotle F 201 Ross).

[12] For Pythagorean ‘number’ as formal cause, see Zhmud 2013: 334 n. 38.

[13] It is worth bringing to bear another passage, from Pseudo-Alexander of Aphrodisias (in Metaph. p. 512.23-36 Hayduck), which is relevant here: ‘Some people – Aristotle is referring to some Pythagoreans – are confused about the circle and the triangle, as well as the line, since, as they say, one should neither define these things in terms of lines nor say that ‘a circle is a plane figure circumscribed by a single line’, or ‘a triangle is a plane figure circumscribed by three lines’, or again, ‘a line is a continuous length extended in one dimension.’  For a line underlies a circle or triangle as its matter (ἡ γὰρ γραμμὴ τῷ τε κύκλῳ καὶ τριγώνῳ ὠς ὕλη ὑπόκειται), and likewise continuity underlies a line as its matter (ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὸ συνεχὲς τῇ γραμμῇ), just as flesh and bone do for a man, and bronze for a statue…For this reason, viz. their saying that the line and the continuous are, as it were, the matter for the triangle, etc., they [sc. the Pythagoreans] reduce all these things to numbers, on the grounds that numbers are neither material, nor have any substratum as a matter, but they are themselves in themselves (αὐτοὺς καθ’ αὑτούς).’  I suspect that Pseudo-Alexander is not referring to Philolaus or Pythagoreans like him, but more likely to Speusippus, perhaps from his lost treatise On Pythagorean Numbers (F 28 Tarán).  For Speusippus’ doctrine that numbers are separately existing individuals, see Tarán 1981: 35-36.

[14] For a discussion of how this might be conceived, see Schofield 2012: 165.

[15] Accepting Bonitz’ excision of the definite article before λόγος.

[16] Literally, ‘causes of the form’, which I take to be periphrasis for the ‘formal causes’, although it is also possible that he means ‘causes of the shape’.

[17] For ‘being of things’ as ‘harmony’, see Horky 2013: 146 with n. 86 (identifying the chiastic presentation in Philolaus’ Fragment 6).  For a discussion of ‘the being of things’ and its relationship to harmony in Plato’s reception of Philolaus, see Horky 2013: 153-158.

[18] One possible counterargument to my analysis would lie in Aristotle’s wavering about whether numbers are material or not.  Aristotle initially seems to accept the proposition that ratio is the formal cause that acts upon the material, i.e. numbers; but he later contradicts himself by adding that number is not matter.  Aristotle seems to waver on the issue of whether numbers can be considered material causes (cf. Primavesi 2012: 260 n. 84).

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Lost Dialogue of Plato Found

What a wealth of riches!  On the heels of the recent discovery of two lost poems of Sappho, I am honored to be able to notify the world that a papyrus with a previously unknown dialogue of Plato has been found!  Scholars are currently calling it On Dirt.  It solves the prickly problem of the Forms of Hair, Mud, and Dirt, as expounded by Socrates and Parmenides in Plato’s Parmenides (130b-d).  Click on the link below for a translation of the *astonishing* new dialogue!

Socrates image

Click on the image for a translation of the newly discovered Platonic dialogue ‘On Dirt’


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Empedocles the Democrat? Some thoughts…

A puzzling fragment, possibly from Aristotle’s lost treatise On Poets (F *71 Janko), appears to associate the great poet and Presocratic philosopher Empedocles of Agrigentum with, of all things, democracy:

Aristotle too says that he [sc. Empedocles] was a free man, and estranged from every sort of rule, if indeed it is true that he declined the kingship when it was offered to him, as Xanthus claims in his work on him [sc. Empedocles] – obviously because he was more content with simplicity.  Timaeus also said these things, at the same time adding the cause for his [sc. Empedocles’] being a man of the people.

φησὶ δ’αὐτὸν καὶ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐλεύθερον γεγονέναι καὶ πάσης ἀρχῆς ἀλλότριον, εἴ γε τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτῷ διδομένην παρῃτήσατο, καθάπερ Σάνθος ἐν τοῖς περὶ αὐτοῦ λέγει, τὴν λιτότητα δηλονότι πλέον ἀγαπήσας.  τὰ δ’ αὐτὰ καὶ Τίμαιος εἴρηκε, τὴν αἰτίαν ἅμα παρατιθέμενος τοῦ δημοτικὸν εἶναι τὸν ἄνδρα.

(Diogenes Laertius 8.63 = FGrHist 566 F 134)

The external cover text here, Diogenes Laertius, couches the discussion of Empedocles’ democratic leanings between two passages of the late 4th Century historian Timaeus of Tauromenium, who wrote extensively about the political activities of philosophers, including Pythagoras and other ‘Pythagoreans’, in his Sicilian and Italian Histories.  Aristotle’s testimony has received surprisingly little discussion.

Empedocles the Democrat?

Empedocles the Democrat?

Let’s begin, then, with Aristotle’s take on Empedocles’ political orientation.  Diogenes claims that, according to Aristotle, Empedocles “was a free man[1], and estranged  from every sort of rule” (ἐλεύθερον γεγονέναι καὶ πάσης ἀρχῆς ἀλλότριον).  Diogenes quotes Aristotle here in order to show agreement (καί) with Timaeus of Tauromenium, who seems to have previously ‘quoted’ (summarized?) Empedocles’ criticism of the Agrigentines’ proclivity to luxury (τρυφή).[2]  There is, of course, no reason for us to associate Timaeus’ criticisms of luxury with Aristotle’s evaluation of Empedocles’ political character, especially given Timaeus’ apparent fixation on luxury.[3]  Instead, we would do better to seek, from Aristotle’s other works, a better sense of what he may have meant when referring to Empedocles as “free” and “estranged from every sort of rule”.[4]

As Mogens Herman Hansen has argued, the standard meaning of the word eleutheros in Greek prior to Plato and Aristotle is simply being “free”, as opposed to being “slave”.  There is no specific implication of political liberty in the writings of Homer, but sometime in the fifth century BCE, at the latest, eleutheros and eleutheria began to take on political semantics, and to be associated specifically (in various ways) with democracy.  Hansen associates this change with the semantic expansion of these words to include more ‘metaphorical’ senses, which leads to the association of freedom with citizenship, and, in the context of debates concerning the best form of rule, with the democratic ideal.[5]  This can also imply the right to participate in decision-making within the polis, or the right to live as one pleases, as opposed to being ruled by someone else, e.g. by a tyrant or an oligarchic group.[6]  As Hansen convincingly shows, all of these senses are apparent in Aristotle’s use of the terms, which is primarily relegated to his Politics and not, perhaps surprisingly, to his Eudemian or Nicomachean Ethics: in the first two books of the Politics, we see Aristotle use the term eleutheros conventionally, by reference to the opposition between “free” and “slave”, and of citizens; but in books 3-6 of the Politics, “the opposition between free and slaves disappears from the discussion”, and these terms refer univocally to refer to adult male citizens of the polis and their possession of political rights.[7]  It is entirely possible that Aristotle was referring in such a way to Empedocles, but this would not account for the information that glosses the word eleutheros, namely, that Empedocles was “estranged from every sort of rule”.  We would assume that Aristotle is referring not, in particular, to tyrannical or oligarchic rule, but rather, to “every” kind of rule (πάσης ἀρχῆς), which would render Empedocles some sort of anarchist.

In Book 6 of the Politics, we see Aristotle elaborate further on this sort of person.  In seeking to describe eleutheria as the “principle” (ὑπόθεσις) of democracy, by which he seems to mean something like its final cause[8], he differentiates two indicators[9] of eleutheria that can be discerned from what the proponents of democracy themselves say:

Well, then, a principle of the democratic constitution is freedom. For this is customarily asserted, on the grounds that people have a share of freedom only under this sort of constitution, since, as they say, every sort of democracy aims at this.  One indicator of freedom is to be ruled and to rule by turns…Another indicator, however, is to live as one likes.  For this, they say, is the function[10] of freedom, insofar as to live not as one likes is (the function) of someone who has been enslaved.  So, then, this is the second definition of democracy.  From it has come [the claim of] not being ruled, preferably not by anyone, or, failing that, (being ruled) by turns; and, in this way, one engages in freedom in accordance with equality.

(Aristotle, Politics 6.1, 1317a40-1317b17)

Aristotle introduces the two ‘indicators’ of freedom in order to expound two diverging definitions of democracy, both of which link freedom essentially to democracy.  But two modalities of freedom too are distinguished: one in which people rule and are ruled by turns, also said to be “in accordance with equality” (κατὰ τὸ ἴσον)[11], and one in which there are no stated contingencies.  It thus becomes possible that, by elaborating on Empedocles’ status as a free person that he was “hostile to every sort of rule”, Aristotle was really describing Empedocles as a sort of extreme anarchic democrat, one who simply believed that he should do whatever he wishes, at any given time.

If this is the case, then Empedocles’ peculiar type of democratic ideology cannot be seen as praiseworthy by Aristotle.  He discusses this in several passages.  In the context of describing the sort of extreme democracy that is opposite to what is expedient, i.e. a democracy which lacks majority rule, he says “freedom appears to be doing precisely what one wants; so that everyone who lives in these sorts of democracies lives as he wants – ‘as he fancies’, as Euripides says.  But this is bad; for living in conformity with a constitution should not be considered slavery, but preservation.”[12]  Aristotle’s commitment to political participation reveals a fundamental criticism of this sort of democratic anarchy, that living autonomously is dangerous and does not guarantee personal safety.  This claim in bound up in Aristotle’s commitment to the notion that human beings are naturally disposed to political participation, on the grounds that self-preservation is a function of all nature.[13]  In fact, this claim takes us back to a fundamental proposition of Aristotle’s Politics, as adumbrated in the first book:

From these things, then, it is clear that the city-state is one of the things that exists by nature, and that the human being is by nature a political animal, and that anyone who is by nature, and not simply by chance, citiless, is either less, or more, than a human being.

(Aristotle, Politics 1.1, 1253a1-4)

If a human being does not participate in a city-state, then, he is assumed to be either less, or more, than human.  Aristotle goes on to explain what he means a few passages later: anyone who does not participate in the city-state, either because of incapacity to do so, or because of self-sufficiency, is respectively either a beast, or a god.[14]  A human being who refuses to, or cannot, participate in political life simply isn’t by nature a human at all.

This information, I think, is key to understanding Aristotle’s description of Empedocles as “a free man, and estranged from every sort of rule”, and it forces us to reconsider whether Aristotle was referring to Empedocles as an anarchist of a democratic sort, or as a different kind of anarchist altogether.  While it is possible, as I argued above, that Aristotle sees Empedocles as an extreme democrat who simply does what he wishes, I submit instead that Aristotle is more likely to be criticizing Empedocles for being a sort of person who does not participate in society at all, and who fails to obtain the conditions of being a political animal whatsoever.  David Keyt has sought to associate the implicit criticism of the apolitical proto-anarchist in Politics 1.1-2 with Diogenes the Cynic[15]; but the case for Empedocles is no less, and possibly more, convincing, especially given Aristotle’s extensive analysis of Empedocles’ poems and their underlying meaning throughout his corpus.[16]  Under this hypothetical scenario, Timaeus of Tauromenium appropriated Aristotle’s description of Empedocles as a “free man” (ἐλεύθερος) to his own purposes, making Empedocles into a proto-democratic hero whose character and actions reveal his wisdom and who identified luxury as the vehicle of tyranny and oligarchy among the Agrigentines.  Even so, however, Timaeus managed to preserve a nugget of Aristotle’s original description, in which Aristotle imagined Empedocles to assume a sort of self-sufficiency that only gods possessed. 

Why might Aristotle think this way?  Empedocles’ well-known fragment B 112 provides the likely reason:

O friends, who dwell in the great city of the yellow Acragas,
Up in the high parts of the city, concerned with good deeds,
<Respectful harbours for strangers, untried by evil,>
Hail! I, in your eyes a deathless god, no longer mortal,
Go among all, honoured, just as I seem:
Wreathed with ribbons and festive garlands.
As soon as I arrive in flourishing cities I am revered
By all, men and women. And they follow at once,
In their ten thousands, asking where is the path to gain,
Some in need of divinations, others in all sorts of diseases
Sought to hear a healing oracle…
(Trans. by Inwood)

[1] There is simply no indication that we should as Hicks, take ἐλεύθερον to mean ‘champion of freedom’.

[2] The passage given, lines 126-130 in Dorandi’s edition, is not included in Jacoby’s fragments, but Battier’s 1705 edition emended the text to included Timaeus’ name, on the assumption that there is a lacuna.  See below.

[3] It is true, as Gorman and Gorman have observed (2007), that authors such as Athenaeus overemphasized, perhaps playfully, the significance of τρυφή.  Yet we should not be so hasty to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Gorman and Gorman do not take account of the evidence from Diogenes Laertius and dismiss other crucial evidence from Diodorus Siculus (Timaeus’ F 26a and F 164, which is not discussed) without substantial argument (2007: 59 n. 81).  Nor is it compelling, in the light of Timaeus’ well-documented critiques of Aristotle’s appeal to historical causation (on which, see Horky 2013: 109), that he would accept Aristotle’s argument that Sybaris fell because of the mythological co-colonization by Acheaeans and Troezenians and subsequent expulsion of the Troezenians (Pol. 5.2, 1303a24-33, cited by Gorman and Gorman 2007: 59 n. 82).

[4] It is of course possible that the words themselves are not Aristotle’s, but there is nothing obviously un-Aristotelian about them, and indeed they do demonstrate strong affinities with Aristotelian political thought, as I will argue below.

[5] Hansen 2010: 2-3.

[6] Hansen 2010: 9.

[7] Hansen 2010: 10.

[8] Arist. Rh. 3.2, 1404b15-16.

[9] He refers to them as σημεῖα.

[10] The manuscripts, followed by Ross, have ἔργον, but Richards postulated ὅρον, which would render ‘definition’.

[11] If, that is, we admit the phrase καὶ συμβάλλεται ταύτῃ πρὸς τὴν ἐλευθερίαν τὴν κατὰ τὸ ἴσον, which Bonitz thought was interpolated.  There are two sorts of equality named in the portion I have excised, namely ‘according to number’ (sc. arithmetical) and ‘according to value’.  The anarchic aspect of freedom evidently shares in neither.  On arithmetical equality and equality according to value, see Hansen 2010: 14-15.

[12] Arist. Pol. 5.7, 1310a31-36.

[13] On self-preservation in Aristotelian teleology, see Leunissen 2010: 93-95.

[14] Arist. Pol. 1.1, 1253a25-29.

[15] Keyt 1993: 135-136.

[16]A simple glance at Bonitz’ listing for Ἐμπεδοκλῆς ὁ Ἀκραγαντῖνος in the Index Aristotelicus, which comprises in total almost two whole columns, reveals Aristotle’s deep and continued engagement with Empedocles throughout his works.  By contrast, Diogenes receives only one mention (Rh. 3.10, 1311a24-25).

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Hard at work on a bizarre passage that scholars have tended to overlook, a portion of the biography of Empedocles preserved by Diogenes Laertius (8.63-64) that associates him with democratic ideology.   I’ll update on it as soon as I can figure out what the Zeus is going on.  So that means it’s intermission time, until I have that luxury.  Meanwhile, I thought I’d notify readers that another commentary on Aristotle has been located in a medieval manuscript, thanks to multi-spectral imaging.  Click on the image below for access to the story.

Aristotle Commentary

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Where are all the (Pythagorean) women gone ?

Sandrine Berges has posted an excellent critique of some recent trends in scholarship on Pythagorean philosophy which do not account for the presence of women among the Pythagorean communities. This is an important issue in the history of philosophy, since the Pythagoreans are likely to have been the first philosophical community to include women (Plato’s Academy included them as well). What she says about the texts ascribed to Perictione, Theano, and Myia also applies to the other texts collected under the umbrella of the ‘Hellenistic Pythagorean’ corpus (a term that I now prefer to Pseudopythagorica). I hope people will heed Sandrine’s call and get to work!

Feminist History of Philosophy

     Until recently my doing ancient philosophy meant writing about Plato and Aristotle with a side helping of the Stoics. Then I decided to look into ancient women philosophers and discovered, among others, Perictione I, the author of a short text called « On the Harmony of Women ». Looking around on the internet for something to read to bolster my so far meager research on Perictione, I was delighted to come accross two brand new titles on Pythagorean women writers : Annette Bourland’s Huizanga’s Moral Education for Women in the Pastoral and Pythagorean Letters , and Sarah Pomeroy’s Pythagorean women : their History and Writings.This adds to a non-negligeable existing literature on the topic, counting the first four chapters of volume I of Waithe’s History of Women Philosophers , and Plant’s anthology Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome.


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