Monday, October 31, 2011

Movember 2011

I shall not be repeating my brave 'tache-growing exploits this November.  In part, this is because I have to give a paper next week and I don't think the audience would appreciate being presented with a nine-day old fuzzy upper lip.  But it is still a good idea and a good cause.  If you fancy donating, perhaps donating again this year, then you can do so here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I've been asked to write a (very) brief foreword to a new edition of Guthrie's The Greek Philosophers.  I should confess I hadn't really spent much time with the book before but I'm enjoying reading through it now.  It certainly rattles along.  And he is a wonderfully opinionated writer.  I like (but don't really approve of) his dislike of Parmenides and 'tiresome' Eleatic logic and some of the comments here and there are also good fun.  Here he is rejecting the idea that Anaxagoras' Nous might be material.  After all, doesn't he call it 'katharos' and 'leptos'?
‘In reply to this it is surely pertinent to ask what other epithets were available to the poor man?  It is a clear case of thought having outrun the resources of language.’ (55 n.1)
Other things are more jarring, however.  Guthrie regularly resorts to explaining deficiencies or oddities in the early philosophers by pointing out that the poor chaps were still too close to 'primitive' magical or superstitious ideas.
 ‘One idea which the Greeks at this stage found it difficult to absorb was that a word might have more than one meaning. Their difficulty no doubt had something to do with the proximity of the primitive magical stage at which a word and its object formed a single unity’ (47). 
Worse, he sometimes supports this by noting that anthropologists have found similar notions in modern 'savages'....)  For example, when wondering about Anaximander and the implication that according to him the whole cosmos is alive, Guthrie comments that this is a notion ‘to which anthropologists have found parallels among savage people all over the world’ (30–31).  Oh dear.

Monday, October 17, 2011


No posts for a bit.

ἡδὺ πανταχόθεν ἡ φίλου μνήμη τεθνηκότος.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Rude health

Leiter comments on the strength of ancient philosophy in the US here.  I'm not sure we can say the same thing about the UK, unfortunately, perhaps as a result of a decline in publicly-funded graduate places and also as part of a more general slide.  But I'd need to think about that.  

I also wondered about Leiter's comment:
It's an interesting question when the profession will come to realize that the kind of revolution in scholarship on ancient philosophy wrought by Owen and Vlastos fifty years ago has been going on in scholarship on 19th-century European philosophy for a generation now, and that the fruitful philosophical connections with many areas of contemporary interest are at least as plentiful there.
It's undeniable that Owen and Vlastos made a difference to the way ancient philosophy was perceived by philosophers and to the way it was done.  Does anyone think they still have a strong direct influence on the work being done now or are we already two generations on?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Lectures, day 1

The Cambridge peloton was much worse than this this morning, mostly because of an influx of students who don't really know where they are going and haven't ridden a bike since they were nine.

Monday, October 03, 2011

At the deep end

We start term a bit later than most UK universities, and the term only lasts for a full eight weeks of lecturing, but once it starts it gets going very quickly.  Yesterday, the new first years arrived at the college and within two hours were all gowned up and photographed.  Three hours later they were in the hall having a formal matriculation dinner (with pudding in kilner jars...  yum).

And this morning they have to run around sorting out all they need to get going with work tomorrow.  So we don't really do 'freshers' week'.  Or, if we do, we pack it into two days.  It's all a bit manic and I really don't know how anyone gets through it intact.  But perhaps because there really is no time for anyone to sit in a corner of an unfamiliar room and get lonely most people do fine.

As for me, I've seen about half my tutees, my philosophy students get going tomorrow, and the MPhil seminar begins on Wednesday.

So, I've mostly been fielding emails for the last week.  And haven't had much time for my own research.  But I've been thinking quite a lot about Philebus 41e-42d.  It all seems very complicated or perhaps I've just confused myself about something that is much more straightforward than I think.  But I have signed up to do a little talk at a new discussion group with some of the college's other fellows; we realised that we spend a lot of time together, mostly arguing in meetings about the cost of various things, but don't really have much of an idea what the others get up to in the secrecy of their own office or lab.  I'm going to introduce the argument against weakness of will at the end of the Protagoras, with marshmallows.  It's not quantum physics (that's slated for next term) but it's a start.