Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cyrenaic assurances

I'm at last back to doing some ancient philosophy and back to the Cyrenaics. I'm starting for now with Plutarch Adv. Col., in which their position is represented as follows (1120C–D; 200 21–26 Westman)
ἐκεῖνοι δὲ τὰ πάθη καὶ τὰς φαντασίας ἐν αὑτοῖς τιθέντες (D.) οὐκ ᾤοντο τὴν ἀπὸ τούτων πίστιν εἶναι διαρκῆ πρὸς τὰς ὑπὲρ τῶν πραγμάτων καταβεβαιώσεις, ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ ἐν πολιορκίᾳ τῶν ἐκτὸς ἀποστάντες εἰς τὰ πάθη κατέκλεισαν αὑτούς, τό ‘φαίνεται’ τιθέμενοι τὸ δ’ ‘ἐστί’ <μηκέτι> προσαποφαινόμενοι περὶ τῶν ἐκτός.

Einarson and De Lacy’s Loeb gives:
The first [sc. group, the Cyrenaics], placing all experiences and impressions within themselves thought that evidence derived from them was insufficient warrant for certainty about reality and withdrew as in a siege from the world about them and shut themselves up in their responses, -- admitting that external objects ‘appear’, but refusing to venture further and pronounce the word ‘are’.

The central distinction at work appears to be between what is ‘inside’ the perceivers and what is outside. Inside are pathē and phantasiai while outside are the pragmata. The basic epistemological task at hand is conceived of as a move from the internal impressions to claims about something external, a move which is, if at all possible, meant to generate sound or reliable assurances (katabebaiōseis).

This is my first question: What exactly is a katabebaiōsis? (Einarson and De Lacy gloss over it as ‘warrant for certainty’; Tsouna’s translation gives ‘assertions’.) The compound noun is not at all common, which might suggest that it is a piece of authentic Cyrenaic vocabulary. Plutarch uses the related compound verb once, at Caes. 46 where it clearly means ‘Livy assures us that this is what happened’. Whether or not that is the case, certainly the verb without the kata- prefix is more common, even is similarly epistemological contexts. Yet again, it is not immediately clear what it means.

The most obvious point of comparison is with Epic. KD 24:
εἰ δὲ βεβαιώσεις καὶ τὸ προσμένον ἅπαν ἐν ταῖς δοξαστικαῖς ἐννοίαις καὶ τὸ μὴ τὴν ἐπιμαρτύρησιν <ἔχον>, οὐκ ἐκλείψεις τὸ διεψευσμένον, ὡς τετηρηκὼς ἔσῃ πᾶσαν ἀμφισβήτησιν κατὰ πᾶσαν κρίσιν τοῦ ὀρθῶς ἢ μὴ ὀρθῶς.

Hicks translates:
If in your ideas based upon opinion you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as that which does not, you will not escape error, as you will be maintaining complete ambiguity whenever it is a case of judging between right and wrong.

This is the second of two injunctions in KD 24 for epistemological rigour. The first injunction requires you never to reject a given impression because of an insufficient discrimination between an opinion and a present impression. The second, given here, advises against overvaluing a given impression to the extent of affirming as secure something which, strictly speaking, still requires sufficient further confirmatory evidence (epimarturēsis).

A similar point appears earlier in Adv. Col., at 1109E (which Körte ascribes to Metrodorus and includes as his fr. 1). Here the Epicurean is trying to explain how even apparently conflicting sense perception must all be accepted as true. One mistake that people often make is to think that they can make more assured (βεβαιοῦν) the truth of their own sense-perception by saying that another’s conflicting sense perception is false.

These texts suggest that the bebaiotēs, so to speak, of an assertion is generated by the evidence supporting it. Just as Livy’s evidence supports Plutarch’s claim in his biography of Caesar, so an assertion about some external pragma is assured to the extent that evidence can be brought to bear in supporting it.

The overall point of this text at 1120C, therefore, seems to be that the standard for reaching a katabebaiōsis (a confident assurance/affirmation) about (external) pragmata is sufficiently high that one’s pathē and phantasiai are insufficient to ground such confident assurances.

Still, we are given no explanation of precisely how they are insufficient. That's the next question.

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