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.

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