Thursday, April 03, 2014

New books

It's great when our graduate students pass their PhD examinations.  It's better still when the thesis emerges as a book.  And in the last few weeks there have been two of those from our Cambridge ancient philosophy graduates.  Do read them.  Or buy them and read them.  (You could just buy them, but they are a bit pricey...)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Divided Lines II

Another entry for the list of those who make the smaller portion of the divided line correspond to the intelligible:

H. Dörrie and M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike. Bd. IV (Stuttgart, 1996), on pp. 332-3 and 342.

That also put me on to: Iamblichus Comm. math. sci. 8 32.8-37.19 Festa (see below) and his discussion of the views of Bro(n)tinus (Pseudo-Brontinus, even) in his Peri nou kai dianoias and Achytas (Pseudo-Archytas, even) in his Peri nou kai aisthēseōs.  But that, I think, would take me into some very odd territory, where I usually fear to tread.  So I might leave that path alone...


(Click on the tools at the bottom of the window to enlarge or turn the page.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Divided lines

The plan is for us to read some of Plutarch's Quaestiones platonicae at our Thursday seminar next term.  I've been looking at no. 3 (1001C-1002E), in which he wonders whether the smallest of the four segments of the 'divided line' in Republic 6 is supposed to stand for eikasia and its objects (as Proclus has it: In Rem Pub. Plat. or for noēsis and its objects (a view to which Plutarch is at least prepared to give some serious consideration: 1001D-1002B).

I've gone to my bookshelf to see what other people make of it.  Mostly they don't register that there is a decision to be made, though a notable exceptions are: Nicholas Denyer's 'The Sun and Line: the role of the good' in G. R. F. Ferrari (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Plato's Republic (Cambridge, 2007), at 292-4 (Nick turns this into a rather nice point about the nature of this as a diagrammatic representation of something intelligible), and J. Adam's 1902 commentary ad 509d6.  (Adam plumps for eikasia corresponding to the smallest section: see the diagram on p. 65 of vol.2.)

Otherwise, everything I can lay my hands on from where I sit has it that the smallest section stands for eikasia and its objects: 

R. C. Cross and A. D. Woozley, Plato's Republic: a Philosophical Commentary (London, 1964) at 203-5 and 230.
I. A. Richards, Plato's Republic (Cambridge, 1966), at 119.
J. Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic (Oxford, 1981), at 247.
C. D. C. Reeve, Philosopher-Kings: the Argument of Plato's Republic (Indianapolis, 1988), diagram on Frontispiece.
S. Scolnicov, Plato's Metaphysics of Education (London, 1988), at 91.
T. Penner, 'The forms in the Republic' in G. Santas ed. The Blackwell Guide to Plato's Republic (Oxford, 2006), 234-62, at 235.


It's not hard to see why: Socrates says that the ratios track 'clarity and unclarity' (σαφηνείᾳ καὶ ἀσαφείᾳ 509d9) and 'truth and untruth' (ἀληθείᾳ τε καὶ μή 510a9) and so I suppose a natural inference is that this means: the larger the line, the greater the clarity.

But has anyone in recent scholarship gone for the un-Proclan view and assigned eikasia and its objects to the largest section?

UPDATE: On 'clarity' here see J. Lesher,  'The meaning of "saphēneia" in Plato's Divided Line', in M. L. McPherran, Plato's Republic: A Critical Guide (Cambridge, 2010), 171-87.

A Google image search for 'plato divided line' throws up some interesting variants.  Quite a few diagrams do not divide the line unequally.  And although the Proclan version is the most common, there are examples of the alternative.  For example:


I found that one at: http://www.angelfire.com/journal2/farmville/eidisi/philosophy/plato.html (from the 'Eidisi Academy of Higher Learning'...)

Here's another from: http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/~barsp59601/text/101/notes/epistemology/plato.html



And a third from: http://plato-dialogues.org/essay_en.htm


Plato as a poster-boy

This is fun.  A firm in the US, Litographs, produces coloured prints (or t-shirts or bags) of the text of classic works arranged as a poster.  There are lots to choose from, including Plato's Republic (the Jowett translation).  Heffers stocks some of them (though they are quite pricey in £ compared with the $ cost listed on the website).  Here's a quick idea of what they look like.  To get the whole text you have to buy the largest size (30 x 45 inches).

Close-up

Full poster

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Death, humanism, Stephen Fry

Here is one of a series of little films made by the British Humanist Association. This one is about death.  It's pretty good, a bit dogmatic (perhaps polemical), but no more dogmatic than the position it's evidently designed to counter.  For the most part, it's a point of view I think is on the right lines, but this presentation of it cuts corners.  For example, it is true there is no strong evidence for post mortem disembodied survival.  But the observed phenomena don't rule it out.  It should also, I think, have recognised that agreeing that death is annihilation does not necessarily bring with it the idea that death is not harmful.  People can die too soon, lives can be cut short, and some people can die too late.  But there is plenty here that someone like Lucretius might have applauded (or asked to be credited for), including the rather nice argument that reading a book is nice, but reading a book that never ends would not be nice.  Finally, while I quite like Stephen Fry, his voice here does have ever so slight a note of smugness...



Monday, March 17, 2014

Taster Days at the Faculty of Classics

A generous donation enables us to invite you to be part of a new initiative addressed to Schools in the maintained sector. 

Click here to download the flyer.



If you're interested in visiting the Faculty with your school, please get in touch with Jennie Thornber to discuss individual needs. We are very happy to arrange a tour of the Faculty's Museum of Classical Archaeology, and to discuss the possibility of a talk with a Cambridge academic and a visit to one of the Colleges.

Please contact Jennie at or (01223) 767044. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Conference, 21-22 March: Approaching Ancient Philosophy

The ancient philosophy graduates in the Faculty of Classics have organised a conference for March 21st and 22nd.  I think this is the third such event, which is entirely organised and run by the graduate students.  Here is a link to the conference website for more details.  Or click to enlarge the flyer below.


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Williams on Parmenides

I've been dipping into the recently published collection of Bernard William's reviews, lectures and other essays: Essays and Reviews 1959-2002.  (Here's a review of the reviews by Mary Beard in the Guardian.)  There's some strident stuff in there and it's a very mixed bag in all sorts of ways.  But one of the things I like about his writing is that he writes well.  True, this might lend an air of slick superciliousness at times and at other times it's hard to know just what he wants to say because it is either very condensed or just plain suggestive rather than explicit.  ('Add water', you might be advised.)

Here's an example.  He is reviewing Nozick's Philosophical Explanations, which he dubs 'the Great American Novel of philosophy' (that is not an unadulterated compliment), and is wondering  whether any philosophical works have successfully been set out as deductions from a small number of axioms.
At the very beginning of Western philosophy, Parmenides' poem (or half of it) may have tried to do that, but it is hard to tell from its ruins - except that they seem more like the ruins of a temple than of a tower.
That's a marvellously suggestive claim and, typically, nothing more is said to explain just what Williams means by the temple/tower contrast.  I wouldn't let a student get away with writing that in an essay without scrawling a big question mark in the margin.  But it's a thought that lingers and might just turn into another longer and better thought later.  I like philosophical writing that does that.  Plain-speaking and relentless clarity and explicitness is all well and good but it's a chore to read and it leaves you dry-mouthed and gasping for water.




Monday, March 03, 2014

Judging a book

I'm about (at last) to submit my book to CUP.  I've spent the morning trying to chase the last loose ends (just one bit of bibliographica left to tie down) and then completing CUP's 'Marketing questionnaire'.  That asks me to detail any competitor publications on the market and note their strengths and weaknesses.  (Apparently 'I didn't write it' won't count as a good answer to either of these.)  It also asks me to list the major review journals and websites that might be bothered to include the book and their contact details.  I'm pretty sure CUP know how to contact The Classical Review so I left that bit blank.

This is the grim end of publishing, and I'm nowhere near yet the hell of XML indexing...

But all the same I've been cheered along by some of these:


If you're cleverer than I am then you could make them yourself.

The other big task is to try to find a cover.  I didn't have a picture on either of my first two books so I don't have much experience of this.  But I'm pretty sure I don't want just another marble bust of some beardy old philosopher or, perhaps worse, some picture from an ancient pot.  So, what else would do?  CUP might prefer a piccie that says 'ancient stuff' to someone browsing in a bookshop but they have relaxed that requirement before, so perhaps I have quite a free hand (provided the image can be used without exorbitant fees for rights etc.)

Here's something I like, Thinking Ahead by Yasuo Kuniyoshi.  It at least has something to do with what I've written about:

 
 Failing that, perhaps something very abstract would be best.  Any suggestions?
 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Strike!

The UCU strike action coughed up an article that made it into Angry People in Local Newspapers. Do click on the link because it takes you to a page where you can view a beautifully edited video that conveys the desolate fury of the strikers. And they are wearing onesies.

UPDATE: to save your clicking-finger, here is the video: