Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cutting and burning

I’m now looking at the section on the Cyrenaics in Aristocles ap. Eusebius PE 14.19. Here is 14.19.1 (F5 Chiesara):

Ἑξῆς δ’ ἂν εἶεν οἱ λέγοντες μόνα τὰ πάθη καταληπτά· τοῦτο δ’ εἶπον ἔνιοι τῶν ἐκ τῆς Κυρήνης. οὗτοι δ’ ἠξίουν, ὥσπερ ὑπὸ κάρου πιεζόμενοί τινος, οὐδὲν εἰδέναι τὸ παράπαν, εἰ μή τις παραστὰς αὐτοὺς παίοι καὶ κεντῴη· καιόμενοι γὰρ ἔλεγον ἢ τεμνόμενοι γνωρίζειν ὅτι πάσχοιέν τι· πότερον δὲ τὸ καῖον εἴη πῦρ ἢ τὸ τέμνον σίδηρος, οὐκ ἔχειν εἰπεῖν.

This is Chiesara’s translation:
Next will be those who say that the affections (pathē) only are apprehensible; some of those from Cyrene affirm this. As if oppressed by a kind of torpor, they insisted that they knew nothing at all, unless someone standing by struck and pricked them; they said that, when burnt or cut, they knew that they were affected by something, but whether what burnt them was fire, or what cut them iron, they could not tell.

The point I’m interested in is at the end: ‘...whether what burnt them was fire, or what cut them iron, they could not tell’. This seems unusual. It does not say, for example, ‘...whether fire burns or iron cuts, they could not tell’. The difficulty, in other words, is not in assigning certain properties to particular kinds of external object – the familiar sceptical worry about whether fire burns ‘by nature' – but is rather the difficulty of identifying just what external item it was that caused a particular pathos.

Compare the report in Anon. in Plat. Theaet. 65.18–39 (Bastiniani–Sedley):
Ἔ]στιν τι τὸ ποι|ῆ̣σ̣[αν, ἔσ]τ̣ιν τι τὸ πά|[σ]χ̣ο̣ν̣· ε̣ἰ̣ δ̣ὲ̣ ὑπεναντί|20[α ὑ]π̣[ὸ τοῦ] α̣ὐτοῦ πάσ|[χ]ο̣υ̣σ̣ι̣, [ὁ]μ̣ολογήσου̣|[σ]ι μὴ εἶναι ὡρισμέ|ν̣ην τὴν τοῦ ποιή|σ̣α̣ντος ἰδιότητα· οὐ|25κ ἂν γὰρ τὸ αὐτὸ ἐν τῶι | α̣ὐ̣τῶι χρόνωι διάφο|ρα [ε]ἰργάζετο πάθη̣. | ὅθ̣εν οἱ Κυρηναϊκοὶ | μ̣όνα τ̣ὰ πάθη φασὶν |30 κ̣α̣ταληπτά, τὰ δὲ ἔ|ξωθεν ἀκατάληπτα.| ὅ̣τι μὲν γὰρ καίομαι, | φασίν, καταλαμβά|ν̣ω, ὅτι δὲ τὸ πῦρ ἐσ|35τιν καυστικόν, ἄδη|λον· εἰ γὰρ ἦν τοιοῦτο, | πάντα ἂν ἐκαίετο ὑ|π’ αὐτοῦ.

The interesting lines for comparison are 32–9: ‘For that I am burned, they say, I grasp, but that the fire is something that burns is unclear, for if it were such, then everything would be burned by it.’ [1]

There are, as expected, some very useful comments in Voula Tsouna’s book (pp. 68–72). It is certainly true that Aristocles – and other critics of the Cyrenaics – want to insist that they are wrong to refuse to move from pathē to pathē-causing properties in external objects. And it is certainly true that the Cyrenaics will likely insist that the pathē of pleasure and pain alone are what is necessary from practical decision-making. But I still wonder if Aristocles’ criticism is somewhat different; after all, he notes not that they refuse to say that fire is has the property of burning but that they refuse to say that this thing that burned them is fire. Is this a significant difference?

If it is, then my next question is: Has Aristocles garbled things here? Perhaps not, at least not unwittingly, since he goes on in PE 14.19.4 to point out the absurdity of a person not knowing what he is affected by. People know one another, roads, cities, food; craftsmen know their tools and so on. Generally, this way of casting the Cyrenaics’ position makes them appear even more absurd. Perhaps it also makes the Cyrenaics more like the absurdly sceptical Pyrrhonians of PE 14.18 – who don’t even know whether they are cut or burned (14.18.24) – whose general metaphysical outlook, says Aristocles, would prevent them from identifying, naming, and indeed saying, anything determinate.

[1] Commentary ad loc. ‘Il confronto con i Cirenaici è limitato al loro uso della prima premessa (ὅθεν, 29), cioè che lo stesso oggetto taloro impressione contemporaneamente in modo differente due soggetti percipienti. Cfr. S.E. M. VII 191–193. Per il principio (cfr. Pl. Phdr. 263s) che una cosa è F in sé dove esserere F per tutti, si veda Polistrato, De contemptu XXIII–XXIV.’

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