Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aristotle NE 1174b31–3

In Nicomachean Ethics 10.4 Aristotle uses a somewhat cryptic analogy as a way of illustrating what he takes to be the proper relationship between activity and pleasure. He is trying to make clear what he takes to be the correct way to understand how pleasure ‘supervenes’ on an activity, and to do so he uses a simile taken from the common rhetoric of praise for beautiful male youths. He writes at 1174b31–3:

τελειοῖ δὲ τὴν ἐνέργειαν ἡ ἡδονὴ οὐχ ὡς ἡ ἕξις ἐνυπάρχουσα, ἀλλ' ὡς ἐπιγινόμενόν τι τέλος, οἷον τοῖς ἀκμαίοις ἡ ὥρα.

Christopher Rowe translates as follows:

Pleasure completes the activity, not in the way the disposition present in the subject completes it, but as a sort of supervenient end, like the bloom of manhood on those in their prime.

Certainly, this has proved to be somewhat puzzling to commentators, and not only because of the difficulty of understanding the claim in the first part of the sentence about the contrast between the ‘disposition present in the subject’ and the proper way in which pleasure completes an activity. What is the force of the simile at the end?

My current hunch is that Aristotle is in all likelihood using this particular analogy because it answers a Platonic ancestor and, in turn, further explains the difference in opinion between Plato and Aristotle on the correct understanding of the nature of pleasure. The Platonic ancestor is an equally cryptic comment at Philebus 53d3–e1:

ΣΩ. Ἐστὸν δή τινε δύο, τὸ μὲν αὐτὸ καθ’ αὑτό, τὸ δ’ ἀεὶ ἐφιέμενον ἄλλου.

ΠΡΩ. Πῶς τούτω καὶ τίνε λέγεις;

ΣΩ. Τὸ μὲν σεμνότατον ἀεὶ πεφυκός, τὸ δ’ ἐλλιπὲς ἐκείνου.

ΠΡΩ. Λέγ’ ἔτι σαφέστερον.

ΣΩ. Παιδικά που καλὰ καὶ ἀγαθὰ τεθεωρήκαμεν ἅμα καὶ ἐραστὰς ἀνδρείους αὐτῶν.

ΠΡΩ. Σφόδρα γε.

ΣΩ Τούτοις τοίνυν ἐοικότα δυοῖν οὖσι δύο ἄλλα ζήτει κατὰ πάνθ’ ὅσα λέγομεν εἶναι.

Soc. Let there be this pair: what is itself, by itself, and what is always aiming at something else.

Prot. What are these two you are talking about and what are they like?

Soc. The one is always by nature the most holy and the other lacks it.

Prot. Be clearer still, please.

Soc. I suppose we have seen beautiful and good young boys together with their brave lovers.

Prot. Certainly.

Soc. So now look for another pair of things that are like these two in all the ways we are mentioning.

There is, I think, at least a prima facie case for thinking that Aristotle’s comment in NE 10.4 is in some way related to Socrates’ comment here in the Philebus. Not only do both texts reach for a comparison rooted in the language of male-male courtship during their explanation of the nature of pleasure, but those two explanations are themselves in any case engaging in a clear dialogue with one another. On the one side, Socrates’ kompsoi are offering a metaphysical classification of pleasure with ranks all pleasure along with processes of coming-to-be while, on the other side, Aristotle is concerned in NE 10.4 to reject the classification of all pleasures as processes (kinēseis) and instead wants to suggest that there is a class of pleasures instead associated with activities (energeiai) which are ends-in-themselves. As he says at 1174b9–10: ‘From these considerations it is clear also that they do not correctly describe pleasure as a change (kinēsis) or a coming-to-be (genesis)’. The people he refers to here as having this mistaken view may not be exclusively the kompsoi of the Philebus, but they are surely included in the group and will in all likelihood be the most prominent and explicit proponents of this thesis.

The contexts of the two remarks are therefore such that we should expect there to be a degree of intertextual significance to Aristotle’s choice of simile. The metaphysical classification of pleasures expounded by the kompsoi and elucidated by this analogy is precisely what Aristotle is arguing against in the passage in which he turns to a simile from a context of male-male sexual relationships. In order to consider in more detail what that significance is we should first try to make sense of what the precise import is of this analogy in the Philebus. Once that is done, it should be easier to see in what ways Aristotle’s counter-analogy is supposed to work in response. That’s my next job.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Plutarch and psychology - again

I have found some more interesting evidence which suggests that it is right to think that at Non posse 1092D Plutarch is ascribing two distinct kinds of activity to the rational soul: one theoretical and concerned with necessary eternal truths and one practical and concerned with particulars. The suggestion would be, therefore, that he thinks that there are ‘rational pleasures’ associated with each kind of activity and that therefore we can take rational pleasure in acquiring knowledge about the contingent and particular facts of history, for example, as well as in acquiring knowledge of Forms and metaphysical principles. The first passages is in De an. proc. which describes reason (λόγος) in terms which suggest that it is a single faculty able to operate on both intelligible or universal and perceptible and particular objects (see 1024E–1025A and 1025D–E). Consider in particular 1025E:

καὶ μὴν θεωρητικῆς γε τῆς ψυχῆς οὔσης ἅμα καὶ πρακτικῆς, καὶ θεωρούσης μὲν τὰ καθόλου πραττούσης δὲ τὰ καθ’ ἕκαστα, καὶ νοεῖν μὲν ἐκεῖνα ταῦτα δ’ αἰσθάνεσθαι δοκούσης, ὁ κοινὸς λόγος ἀεὶ περί τε ταὐτὸν ἐντυγχάνων τῷ θατέρῳ καὶ ταὐτῷ περὶ θάτερον ἐπιχειρεῖ μὲν ὅροις καὶ διαιρέσεσι χωρίζειν τὸ ἓν καὶ τὰ πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἀμερὲς καὶ τὸ μεριστόν, οὐ δύναται δὲ καθαρῶς ἐν οὐδετέρῳ γενέσθαι διὰ τὸ καὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς ἐναλλὰξ ἐμπεπλέχθαι καὶ καταμεμῖχθαι δι’ ἀλλήλων.

Now, as the soul is at once contemplative and practical and contemplates the universals but acts upon the particulars and apparently cognizes the former but perceives the latter, the reason common to both (ὁ κοινὸς λόγος) as it is continually coming upon difference in sameness and upon sameness in difference, tries with definitions and divisions to separate the one and the many, that is the indivisible and the divisible, but cannot arrive at either exclusively, because the very principles have been alternately intertwined and thoroughly intermixed with each other.

(trans. H. Cherniss)

This is clearly a Platonist attempt to make sense of the inter-relation between theoretical understanding and practical reasoning based upon a metaphysical account of the relationship between universals and particulars. (There are also evident Aristotelian influences on this view. Compare, for example: NE 1139a5–15.) What is important for present purposes is that these are most emphatically two related uses of reason.

The second passage is at Virt. mor. 443E, a work with very strong Peripatetic influences, which offers a similar division further identifies the virtue of the theoretical use of reason as wisdom, σοφία, and of the practical use of reason as prudence, φρόνησις.)

ἔστι τοίνυν τῶν πραγμάτων τὰ μὲν ἁπλῶς ἔχοντα τὰ δὲ πῶς ἔχοντα πρὸς ἡμᾶς• ἁπλῶς μὲν οὖν ἔχοντα γῆ οὐρανὸς ἄστρα θάλασσα, πῶς δ’ ἔχοντα πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀγαθὸν κακόν, αἱρετὸν φευκτόν, ἡδὺ ἀλγεινόν. ἀμφοῖν δὲ τοῦ λόγου θεωρητικοῦ ὄντος τὸ μὲν περὶ τὰ ἁπλῶς ἔχοντα μόνον ἐπιστημονικὸν καὶ θεωρητικόν ἐστι, τὸ δ’ ἐν τοῖς πῶς ἔχουσι πρὸς ἡμᾶς βουλευτικὸν καὶ πρακτικόν• ἀρετὴ δὲ τούτου μὲν ἡ φρόνησις ἐκείνου δ’ ἡ σοφία.

Now in the world things are of two sorts, some of them existing absolutely, others in some relation to us. Things that exist absolutely are earth, heavens, stars, sea; things that exist in relation to us are good and evil, things desirable and avoided, things pleasant and painful. Now reason contemplates both of these but when it is concerned merely with things which exist absolutely, it is called scientific and contemplative; and when it is engaged with those things that exit in relation to us it is called deliberative and practical. The virtue of the latter activity is call prudence and of the former wisdom.

(trans. W. C. Hembold)

This passage is, admittedly, a little odd since it would appear to make a grasp of truths concerning the sea, for example, part of theoretical wisdom whereas thoughts about what is good will belong to practical wisdom only. This is perhaps a sign of a very strong Peripatetic influence here. Nevertheless, the general point is clear that Plutarch is not averse to offering reason differing spheres of activity and tends to discriminate these by different kinds of object.

It would be reasonable to think, given this view, that there could be rational pleasures associated with both the cognition of universals and the learning or perception of particulars and that appears to be the view offered in Non posse.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Psychology in the Non posse II

I suggested in the last post that Plutarch may have thought that the rational soul was tasked with both theoretical understanding of things that are necessary and eternal and also various things that could be otherwise, and that therefore the pleasure we take in learning historical facts and the like might still in his eyes be 'rational' pleasures. This was part of an attempt to understand Non posse 1092E.

The case is unfortunately not so clear-cut. On the other hand, Plutarch is evidently also concerned in this work to show that Epicureanism fails properly to acknowledge the natural sense in which humans take pleasure in fame and a good reputation. Much of the discussion from 1098E to 1100D, for example, is designed to show not only that there are examples of men who have taken proper pleasure in their noble achievements but also that there is a general desire for and enjoyment of such pleasures among humans. Indeed, Epicurus himself is criticised as inconsistent on this score: his own concern for a particular reputation is what drove him to disown and then slander his teachers and enjoyed the reverence paid to him by his followers (1100A–C). In the terms of Plato’s Republic, these would appear to be the pleasures of the spirited part of the soul, the thumoeides: see, for example, 581a9–b5. Furthermore, when Plutarch concludes this work he offers a summary of the various pleasures and goods which the Epicureans omit from a human life, he tells us that Epicurus blinds ‘the love of learning of the theoretical part of us and the love of honour of the action-guiding part of us’ (τοῦ θεωρητικοῦ τὸ φιλομαθὲς καὶ τοῦ πρακτικοῦ τὸ φιλότιμον) to their due pleasures (1107C). Here, it seems more likely that the ‘action-guiding’ part, the praktikon, is to be thought of as rather similar to Plato’s thumoeides and not another aspect of the rational part of the soul. Is that what's meant also at 1092E?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Psychology in the Non posse

I’ve been thinking, prompted by the paper I gave at the Oxford Plutarch conference, about Plutarch Non posse 1092Dff. (chapter 9). Plutarch says that the Epicureans fail to include in their account of the good life a whole range of things which are pleasant, and properly pleasant to humans. For the most part, it seems to me that much of Plutarch’s case so far has drawn for its inspiration from Plato’s account of pleasure in Republic 9. But when Plutarch comes to offer his preferred characterisation of the pleasures appropriate to a rational human soul, he seems prepared to soften the restrictive account found in Republic 9. There, it is quite clear that Socrates wants true and pure pleasures, strictly understood, to be focussed only on objects which always are and are always unchanging. Most obviously, this is a reference to the Forms – the objects of knowledge of the true philosopher ruler – but perhaps a case might also be made for pure pleasures of this kind being generated by contemplation of mathematical objects of some sort. Plutarch, however, describes a significantly more expansive notion, including among his list of appropriate sources of pleasure not only mathematics (1093Dff.) but also the study of literature, history and the like. For Plutarch, we take pleasure in learning the truth even if these are truths related to contingent facts, in other words: what might be otherwise (1093A–C). All these, we are asked to agree, are rejected by the Epicureans as part of a blanket rejection of cultural and intellectual pursuits in favour of a concentration on the most basic physical needs.

This brings me to what is troubling me right now. Does Plutarch include here pleasures not belonging to the rational soul, strictly speaking, or is the expansion in the scope of pleasures assigned to the rational soul is licensed by Plutarch’s acceptance of a dual nature of that aspect of human psychology? In other words, does Plutarch have a dual account of the rational soul? At the moment, I think he does. In Non posse, he gives a reasonably clear indication that he sees the working of the rational soul being turned to two separate but related functions. At 1092E he describes the types of pleasure which a human ought properly to pursue, neither of which is grasped by the appetitive and bestial soul emphasised by the Epicureans. Rather the pleasures which we ought to pursue come...

ἐκ τοῦ θεωρητικοῦ καὶ φιλομαθοῦς ἢ πρακτικοῦ καὶ φιλοκάλου τῆς διανοίας...

from the theoretical or learning-loving part or else the action-guiding and beauty-loving part of the mind... [1]

Do the alternatives mentioned correspond to two aspects of the rational part of the soul – one theoretical and the other practical – or do they correspond to the rational and ‘spirited’ parts of the soul more or less on the model of the tripartite soul of Plato’s Republic? In favour of the former option is Plutarch’s preceding comment that the good he is discussing is the good appropriate to the soul, what is truly ‘psychic’, has no mixture of pain and the like – all of which suggests that there are somehow still meant to capture the essence of the pure pleasures which Socrates discusses in the Republic. The former alternative would also appear to give a more satisfying overall coherence to his view, since the pleasures he goes on to list are hard to assign to the thumoeides but are instead, broadly speaking, aesthetic and cultural, concerned with particular stories, works, or occasions. They are therefore just the class of items which it would be hard to assign to the theoretical aspect of reason, if that is concerned with necessary and eternal abstract objects and truths. But they are on the other hand certainly related in some sense to a rational appreciation, a general love of acquiring beliefs and information about particular or contingent facts.

[1] The full context reads: ἃς δ’ ἄξιον καὶ δίκαιον εὐφροσύνας καὶ χαρὰς νομίζεσθαι, καθαραὶ μέν εἰσι τοῦ ἐναντίου καὶ σφυγμὸν οὐδένα κεκραμένον οὐδὲ δηγμὸν οὐδὲ μετάνοιαν ἔχουσιν, οἰκεῖον δὲ τῇ ψυχῇ καὶ ψυχικὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ γνήσιον καὶ οὐκ ἐπείσακτον αὐτῶν τἀγαθόν ἐστιν οὐδ’ ἄλογον, ἀλλ’ εὐλογώτατον ἐκ τοῦ θεωρητικοῦ καὶ φιλομαθοῦς ἢ πρακτικοῦ καὶ φιλοκάλου τῆς διανοίας φυόμενον. Plutarch’s use of the term διάνοια elsewhere is not easy to pin down. It may be used perhaps as simply a synonym for ψυχή, but on other occasions has an apparently more restricted reference to the rational or ‘hegemonic’ part of the soul (Virt. mor. 441C, cf. 451B; De fato 571D; De soll. anim. 960A, 960C, 963D, 969C; Quaest. Plat. 1001D, 1002A).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Troop transport

On the way to Oxford, I shared a carriage on the Cambridge-London train with five students, most - I think - from Anglia Ruskin University, who were on their way to some kind of Army training session. There were probably members of the Officer Training Corps, but in any case they were clearly militarised in some sense: they all had huge camouflaged packs and were speaking the lingo, peppering their chat with acronyms like RSM and swapping stories of 'knocks' taken in previous training sessions. On the other hand, they were clearly not yet fully enlisted. They were all still too relaxed and had the unmistakable air of students with at least a year of a course to go, just at the beginning of a long summer vacation.

In some ways, they were a very modern bunch. All were checking the phones regularly, texting friends, chatting about Facebook-planned events; one even had brought a laptop along with him. But this was also a very old-fashioned scene. They had all received their papers -- via email, I think -- telling them where to muster, which train to catch, what kit to bring, and the like. And when the excitement of meeting up again had worn off, even though they were not - I assume - really off to any genuine conflict zone, an odd quiet came over them all. Nerves, perhaps, as well as an kind of exhaustion.

These men were at most two years away from doing this journey 'for real', should they sign up properly for the army. And in that case they really would have been off to some genuine danger. It's after all not very likely that in the next two years the British Army will not be committed to action in various places across the world. I wonder if they were thinking about that. I wonder what would make someone, right now, join the army. Adventure? Excitement? National pride? Duty? I can appreciate some of these motives, but I certainly felt no envy at all for what they were off to do.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I'm off on Sunday to a short conference in Oxford on Plutarch and philosophy. I've listed the papers below in case you're interested. I'm a bit of an amateur in this company so I shall probably learn quite a lot.

Professor Fran Titchener (Utah State University), ‘Plutarch’s attitude towards history in the Moralia’

Professor Aurelio Perez Jimenez (University of Malaga), ‘Fatalism, providence and liberty in Plutarch’s Lives’

Professor Luc van der Stockt (University of Leuven), ‘Emulation and rivalry: a ‘popular philosophical’ theme in Plutarch’

Professor Frederick Brenk (Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome), ‘Plutarch the theologian and the philosophy of his time’

Professor Judith Mossman (University of Nottingham), ‘Philosophy of language in Plutarch’

Dr Eleni Kechagia (University of Oxford),’ Plutarch on ancient atomism’

Professor Donald Russell, ‘Plutarch and Quintilian- a dialogue’

Professor John Dillon (Trinity College Dublin), ‘Plutarch as an interpreter of Plato’

Professor Heinz Gerd Ingenkamp (University of Bonn), ‘Plutarch’s Aristotelian mood’

Professor Jan Opsomer (University of Cologne), ‘Explanatory principles in Plutarch’s philosophy of nature’

Professor Keimpe Algra (University of Utrecht ), ‘Plutarch on Stoic Theology and Demonology’

Dr James Warren (University of Cambridge), ‘Plutarch and Epicurean pleasure in the Non posse

Dr Mauro Bonazzi (University of Milan), ‘Plutarch on the difference between the Academics and Pyrrhonists’

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

England 2 Columbia 0

Kirsty MacColl's 'best of', Galore, is on rotation in the car at the moment. You should buy it if you don't have it already. This isn't on it, but it's also terrific. Super chorus.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Why no 'soul' in Plato's Crito?

I'm giving some lectures on Plato's Crito next year so I thought I'd better re-read the thing carefully. I don't think I'd been through it properly since I read it as part of my first-year undergraduate Intensive Greek classes. I like it; certainly I like it more than the Ion, which it will replace in the first-year syllabus.

Anyway, I'm intrigued by Crito 47d3-6 and 47e7-48a1. There, famously, Socrates appears to be referring to a relatively familiar -- albeit paradoxical -- idea of his, namely that what matters most to one's welfare is the welfare of one's soul and that the welfare of one's soul is determined by whether one commits just acts -- which benefit the soul -- or unjust acts -- which harm it. However, Socrates does not once refer to the soul in this dialogue and he appears to go out of his way not to do so. Here are the passages:

ᾧ εἰ μὴ ἀκολουθήσομεν, διαφθεροῦμεν ἐκεῖνο καὶ λωβησόμεθα, ὃ τῷ μὲν δικαίῳ βέλτιον ἐγίγνετο τῷ δὲ ἀδίκῳ ἀπώλλυτο.

If we do not follow this, we will destroy and harm that which becomes better by what is just and is destroyed by what is unjust. (47d3-6)

Ἀλλὰ μετ’ ἐκείνου ἄρ’ ἡμῖν βιωτὸν διεφθαρμένου, ᾧ τὸ ἄδικον μὲν λωβᾶται, τὸ δὲ δίκαιον ὀνίνησιν; ἢ φαυλότερον ἡγούμεθα εἶναι τοῦ σώματος ἐκεῖνο, ὅτι ποτ’ ἐστὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων, περὶ ὃ ἥ τε ἀδικία καὶ ἡ δικαιοσύνη ἐστίν;

But should we live with that thing destroyed which the unjust harms and the just benefits? Or should we think this less important than the body whatever part of us this is which injustice and justice concern? (47e7-48a1)

It would be odd, to say the least, if what Socrates is referring to here were not 'the soul'. So why doesn't he come out and say it? True, what matters in this argument is that there is something or other which justice -- specifically the agent's commission of just acts -- benefits and which the agent's own commission of injustice will harm. What this is, precisely, is not so crucial right now. On the other hand, Socrates is not squeamish elsewhere about talking of souls. Why not here too?

I don't think the answer is just that Crito is 'unphilosophical' and would not get it [1]. Crito is an old hand at Socratic conversations, so we learn in the dialogue, and it would be odd if he hadn't picked up something along the line. It would be odd indeed, if he were so 'unphilosophical' that Socrates felt he had to resort to a somewhat obscure circumlocution to get his point across rather than just come out with a psychological thesis.

But there must be some reason. I'm still pondering, but I suspect the answer has to do with two further points [2].

1. The other important part of the dialogue must be Socrates' dream (at 44b) which certainly implies that Socrates is happy with the idea of some kind of survival after death, particularly if what matters here is the idea of a return home 'on the third day', that is: when he dies. Crito doesn't see what Socrates is getting at here either, of course (44b4) but that still doesn't make him 'unphilosophical'...

2. Crito himself is certainly not quite getting the point of Socrates' views in the dialogue, but it seems to me that this is a sign of something rather important that the Crito as a whole is trying to stress. What's wrong with Crito is not (just) that he is invoking the wrong sort of values (the welfare of philoi, family, reputation, money and the like) in putting the case for escape. These are perhaps, in a sense, 'unphilosophical', but that's not really the problem. The real problem is that Crito has followed and agreed to various Socratic arguments in the past, the conclusions of which Socrates still holds true and which are dictating Socrates' decision to remain in prison. Crito, however, seems to be able to follow these arguments only when they are not immediately relevant and applicable to a loved-one. Socrates is willing to reconsider the case, of course, but Crito will need to give the right kind of arguments to make him change his mind. So Crito is not 'unphilosophical' most generally; he is just not philosophical enough in this sense: he finds it hard to remain consistent with his argued principles when placed under the most testing personal circumstances. (It is revealing, then, that Crito cannot respond to Socrates' questions any further when he is explicitly asked to apply a general principle to the current situation: 49e9-50a3, the switch to the first person is marked, I'd say.)

How do these points help with the opening question? Perhaps, and this is perhaps a weak suggestion, Socrates is trying to persuade Crito as gently as he can that he really should just stick to the conclusions they had reached time and time before. Introducing any very strong psychological theses such as the idea of post mortem survival would potentially muddy the waters here when what matters is just the re-affirmation of the ban on wrong-doing and injustice, even in retaliation. Similarly, asserting that doing injustice harms the soul would potentially lead the conversation into unnecessary worries that would not help Socrates' case, nor help Crito deal with his particular and pressing crisis of philosophical faith.

[1] See e.g. R. Weiss, Socrates dissatisfied (Oxford, 1998, 43 and n.12).

[2] I'm particularly benefiting from re-reading V. Harte's 'Conflicting values in Plato's Crito' AGP 81, 117-47, reprinted in this handy collection.

Friday, July 04, 2008

More taxonomy

Another blow for the VAT man: Pringles are officially not potato crisps (for one thing, they are less than 50% potato). They should be less expensive from now on. On the downside, they are clearly made of something very odd indeed: watch this demonstration of how flammable they are. Puts you off.

Probably good news for Pringles, overall, despite making public the precise components of the things and they only just won a court case proving that they are not satanic. Watching them burn makes you wonder, though...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Talent spotting

At an event for teachers in college yesterday I was asked what qualities a teacher might look for in a student as a sign that the student might be suited to a philosophy degree. I don't think I gave a very good answer at the time -- it's not an easy question -- but I've thought a bit more since, so here goes.

Let's first be clear that what is being asked concerns whether a student will be suited to and enjoy a philosophy degree. I'm not interested in wondering how to spot 'philosophical' people more generally, if there are such people, and I'm not going to say anything about what makes someone 'a philosopher', whatever that is. Rather, I'm simply thinking about the course I know best and what the characteristics would be of a student who would enjoy and do well at it.

I suppose first we have to say that they need to be clever and hard-working. Just one of these on its own won't be enough because the material is challenging and there is a lot of it to cover. One thing we try to assess at an interview is whether the applicant will be able to get down to work, sometimes long hours on not-so-exciting things. Just as a football manager needs, proverbially, to know a player will 'give it 110% on a wet February night in Middlesbrough', so too we need students who will do their best for a supervision on a wet Wednesday in Lent on a topic that is not -- at least, on the surface -- the sort to get pulses racing. Swanning around clutching a novel by Sartre won't be enough.

They need also to be able to read well, that is: carefully, thoroughly and sensitively. They will meet a range of writers, some from different cultures and periods, and different kinds of writing. All of it will be challenging and pretty dense. They need to read critically, looking to the overall argument and structure of the piece in question. And they need to be able both to extract what it being said and why but also articulate well-aimed responses to it. They need to be able to express themselves clearly in writing and orally.

So far, lots of this is pretty generic. And that's not a surprise. I imagine lots of people who do well at philosophy could also do well in other similar disciplines should their interest have taken them in that direction, and vice versa. So now the question is: how can you tell if someone might be interested enough in philosophy?

This is less easy. Being someone who 'loves thinking', as many of the UCAS personal statements I read tend to say, isn't enough. Being someone who has read and enjoyed or perhaps read and been annoyed by some recent philosophical writing is a better start (but they need to be able to say why they enjoyed it or found it annoying. Not thinking to ask that question of oneself is a bad sign...) Wanting to appear 'deep' and trying to work out the ultimate nature of reality/the universe/the meaning of life is not good at all.

I reckon a good sign would be if a student is never content with a proposed explanation (in chemistry, or history, or maths, or whatever) until they've circled round it themselves, prodded it, thought about its repercussions, grounds, and further import. It's also a good sign if a student is argumentative -- not, of course, just in the sense of being stubborn -- but in the sense of being able and interested in a give-and-take of argumentative, dialectical discussion. It's important that the student is willing and determined to fight for their view, but within limits. It's not good if what matters is simply winning an argument or discussion, just forcing someone to give in. Being able to recognise when a line of thought won't work, or is flawed, or is no more plausible than an alternative, is extremely important. A kind of intellectual honesty, open-ness, and generosity is a good thing to have.

So that's my second attempt to answer the question. I'll ponder some more.