Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In the meantime...

Phew.  Tripos examining finished.  So now there is just the PhD on my desk to read, the interminable college and Faculty meetings and I'll be completely exhausted just in time for the summer 'research period'...  And for some reason at the moment I can't sleep.  Perhaps it's the muggy atmosphere, the noisy birds outside the window or the sheer excitement of it all.  Let's hope it sorts itself out soon.  Still, all that means I have not much interesting to tell you.  So in the meantime here is Moz at Glasto doing one of his old tunes.

If you ever need self-validation, just meet me in the alley by the railway station...

And here it is from 1985, with a much better guitarist and a snazzy hat.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Formatting woes

I've just spent an hour trying to follow the 'consignes de présentation' for a journal.  I'm resigned for now to have to spend a bit of time mucking about with commas and dates and the like for bibliographical things.  I've tried using Mendeley or EndNoteWeb but each time I've tried it has been much more effort to get the stuff into a database and then put in the codes than to just type it in myself.

But this time the annoyance came from having to convert my English formatting of inverted commas and footnote references placed after punctuation to a continental European format with « and » and footnote references before punctuation.  I've probably missed some so I hope my editor will forgive me.  Is there, however, any handy automated way to do all this?  I did the Find-Replace thing for the inverted commas but couldn't work out how to differentiate between them at the end of a quotation and when they are used as a possessive in e.g. 'the Cyrenaics'...' so I had to do much of that manually too.  Groan.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friends like these...

Well, it's good to see my old guys winning praise, but here's Tom Hodgkinson in the Independent...  He ends his article:

Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and the rest can be read with great ease by anybody, and they are just as relevant today as they were 2,300 years ago.
Lets leave the relevance bit for now and think about the first clause.  You can read them, I suppose, with ease even if not with 'great ease'.  There are good translations.  But try Aristotle's Metaphysics.  If you liked his Ethics, you'll love that.  Or the second part of Plato's Parmenides...   I'd like to think there's more to them than what an easy read can give you.  Otherwise, I'm out of a job.

Epicurus and premature death

I’ve just read an interesting paper by Kirk Sanders in a new collection edited by him and Jeffrey Fish: ‘Philodemus and the fear of premature death’. [1] In part of the article, Sanders is interested in whether the Epicureans give a satisfactory response to the fear that one might die prematurely, before one’s life is complete. I discussed this a bit in my 2004 book (ch. 4) but I think there is a gathering consensus that Philodemus certainly did address this concern and may well have said something interesting about it. 

I think there are two general questions here:

1. Did any Epicurean give an account of a complete life which shows that a person has a good reason to continue to live on once a complete life has been attained? What is that good reason?

2. If the Epicureans agree that there is a sense in which it might be bad to die prematurely (however they understood the notion of prematurity), would it not be correct for an Epicurean student therefore to be anxious about this prospect? But if the student is anxious, then he cannot attain ataraxia. And if he has not attained ataraxia then he will not live a complete life. Note that this is no mere empty fear; the student has a reason to fear premature death based on a correct understanding of what constitutes a good human life.

Regarding 1., Sanders has a persuasive case for saying that Philodemus, at least, thought we have reason to continue to live at least as long as it takes to become ataraxic, although he also perhaps thought that it was necessary in addition to live for at least some time in that state before a life could properly be called complete.

Sanders also has an interesting argument against the problem in 2.

‘In response, it should first be noted that Warren’s claim that premature death ‘is not to be feared if and only if one has attained ataraxia' is too strong. While it is true that premature death is only possible for one who has not yet attained ataraxia, not every possible evil is itself a reasonable object of fear. In order for a fear to be rational, it is required that one be justified in judging its object to be not only a genuine harm but also imminent’ (p. 231).

Since it is not the case that the young should think their death imminent they have no justified reason to fear premature death. And, Sanders suggests, this will be true for all but the very aged or infirm.

'Imminent' here does not mean 'impending' or 'near at hand'.  If I know I will be struck down by an agonizing illness in forty years time I think I might reasonably fear that.  (Sanders'  example in the bit following the section I quoted concerns it being irrational to fear dying in a plane crash because such crashes are so infrequent). In that case, the important point is whether it is likely that a person will die in the period between the present and a later attainment of ataraxia.  A young student worried that she is not yet ataraxic but might be struck down tomorrow in an accident will presumably be told that such an event is vanishingly unlikely. Yes, if that unlikely event does happen then her life will be incomplete and her death premature. So she should take care crossing the road and try not to get into dangerous situations. Fortunately, Epicureanism is something that you can work on at any time in your life. And if you’re smart then the Epicurean goal is something relatively quick to attain. This rather special fear of premature death, looked at from another perspective, is just one more reason to want to become a wise Epicurean.

[1] K. R. Sanders, 2011, ‘Philodemus and the fear of premature death’ in J. Fish and K. R. Sanders eds. Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition, Cambridge: CUP, 211–34.

Monday, June 06, 2011


Last week, rather than our usual Mayweek reading seminar, the B Caucus played host to a conference in honour of Malcolm Schofield.  It was an excellent meeting: lots of good papers and lots of good chat in between papers.  I got to meet up with some friends I hadn't seen for a long time and lots of philosophy was done or gossiped about.  The proceedings should make for a really good volume eventually.  (Here is a programme in case you're interested (.doc file).)

But now, after what was an exhausting week, I have to turn to the piles of exam scripts due to land on my desk.  I may be gone for some time...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Bob Sharples Postgraduate Studentship Fund

You may already have seen notice of this elsewhere.  But I hope you don't mind my posting it here nevertheless.

Bob Sharples Postgraduate Studentship Fund

The Department of Greek and Latin at UCL has created a postgraduate studentship fund to honour the memory of Professor Bob Sharples. The fund will offer bursaries to deserving postgraduate students whose special area of interest lies in an aspect of ancient Philosophy (at either MA or PhD level). The Fund has been established in recognition of Bob's scholarship and research interests, and in order to support postgraduates at a time when many are struggling to find the funds to continue their study of the ancient world beyond their first degree.

Anyone wishing to donate can contact the Departmental Office at classicsoffice@ucl.ac.uk (0207 679 7522), or donate online at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/online-giving/giving-to

Select 'Greek and Latin' from the menu, then 'B. Sharples Postgraduate Studentship Fund'. Donors (UK taxpayers) are encouraged to use Gift Aid to increase the value of the donation.

Those who wish to donate through the post can download a UCL Gift form from www.ucl.ac.uk/GrandLat.