Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sneaky peak

I've still not yet set eyes on a physical copy of the Routledge Companion to Ancient Philosophy, edited by Frisbee Sheffield and me.

But if you go to the Routledge site you can get a peak of the contents.  They will even let you browse the first thirty pages which includes such thrills as the list of abbreviations and my very brief introduction.  You can also try out the 'widget' below.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Concern for the post mortem future

I’ve just started reading Samuel Scheffler’s new Death and the Afterlife. Here’s the first thought experiment that drives the discussion of the first part of the book: 
Suppose you knew that, although you yourself would live a normal life span, the earth would be completely destroyed thirty days after your death in a collision with a giant asteroid. How would this knowledge affect your attitudes during the remainder of your life? (p.18) [1]
No doubt this is a horrific thought. In part, it is horrific because the scenario imagines a painful and violent death for all humanity, including one’s own loved-ones. And it is horrific because it is so soon after one’s own death. So the world being destroyed and the people being destroyed are those we ourselves knew. It is also important that the horror is felt even if one’s own life is guaranteed to be full and normal. Only the deaths of the other people are premature. 

Of course, the timing is important. It is true that at some time in the distant future the earth will be destroyed. But that is less horrific since it is so far distant an outcome that it is hard to think we have any investment in the well-being of whatever and whoever will be around then. 

Nevertheless Scheffler concludes, to put it crudely, that the difference such knowledge would make to our pursuits and values during life shows that we in fact care more about various events and states of affairs after our deaths than we do about many events and states of affairs during our lives. And those cares affect our current personality and values. So in many ways there are various aspects of the post mortem future (Scheffler’s ‘afterlife’) that are more important to who we are now and what we care about than are many facts about the present. 

What’s interesting to me is that Scheffler’s argument is a mirror-image of part of Epicurus’ discussion of the fear of death. Scheffler argues from what we value and what we find horrific about the asteroid scenario to a conclusion about the significance of the post mortem future to our present. Epicurus, on the other hand, appears adamant that the post mortem future will not affect us after our deaths and therefore no concern about it should affect us in the present. In that case, it seems to me, Epicurus ought advise us to jettison those cares and concerns that Scheffler’s scenario tends to bring to light. And the more persuaded we are that these concerns for the post mortem future are essential to our living recognisably worthwhile lives, then the less attractive might be an Epicurean life free from all fear of death.

[1] I had a go at an asteroid-based thought experiment some time ago.  That one was intended to think about whether it might be possible to complain that one was harmed by not being born earlier.  Here it is.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Essay competition reminder

If you're at school in year 12 (or equivalent) or a teacher or a parent of someone at that stage, what could be a better way to spend some of the Christmas holiday than thinking about one of the wonderful questions posed in the Corpus Christi 2013-14 Essay competitions? 

There are competitions in Philosophy, Classics, History, and Computer Science and all the details you need for how to enter can be found here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Zenonian cucumber paradox

This is marvellous. It might be my favourite post from the always excellent Angry People in Local Newspapers. A 'Salad enthusiast' discovers that half a cucumber costs more than half the cost of a whole cucumber.  Just head over to the page to savour the true glory of the story.

He's right too.  Here's the proof. A cucumber increases in value by 15 pence (just under a quarter of its original value) just by being divided in two.

Thinking about it made me wonder if there is a Zenonian axio-mereological paradox lurking here: If the value of a 'greenhouse-dwelling profusion' (another gem) increases the more the item is divided, then it should be possible to create a 'cylindrical garden favourite' (another - this reporter's on fire!) whose value tends to infinity just by continuing to divide each of the divisions.

And conversely, if each item in a multi-pack costs less the greater the number of such items in the multi-pack, then will the price of each item tend to zero as the number of items in the multi-pack increases? Should an infinity-pack therefore be free?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Woody Allen's Apology

Apology, that is.  You can read it here.  (In fact, it's more like a Phaedo or Crito...)

My favourite bit:
Allen: Right right (Suddenly dropping all pretense of courage) Look, I'm going to level with you - I don't want to go! I'm too young! 
Agathon: But this is your chance to die for truth!

Allen: Don't misunderstand me. I'm all for truth. On the other hand I have a lunch date in Sparta next week and I'd hate to miss it. It's my turn to buy. You know those Spartans, they fight so easily.

Simmias: Is our wisest philosopher a coward?

Allen: I'm not a coward, and I'm not a hero. I'm somewhere in the middle.

Simmias: A cringing vermin.

Allen: That's approximately the spot.

Agathon: But it was you who proved that death doesn't exist.

Allen: Hey, listen - I've proved a lot of things. That's how I pay my rent. Theories and little observations. A puckish remark now and then. Occasional maxims. It beats picking olives, but let's not get carried away.

Agathon: But you have proved many times that the soul is immortal.

Allen: And it is! On paper. See, that's the thing about philosophy - it's not all that functional once you get out of class.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Second attempt...

It looks like I will be at the ICS in London on 2 December to give the paper on 'The Bloom of Youth' that was derailed by the stormageddon last month.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Heraclitus on the Sugababes

μεταβάλλον ἀναπαύεται.

The Sugababes:

Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan (1998-2001)
Heidi, Mutya and Keisha (2001-2006)
Heidi, Amelle and Keisha (2006-2009)
Jade, Amelle and Heidi (2009-2013)

and now also: Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan (2012-??)

BTW, this site gets it right.  This is their best line-up:


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Souls seeing

Imagine you are the kind of person who thinks that you are composed of a body and an immortal soul. You think that when you die the body and soul separate; the body decays but the soul remains alive. It goes off somewhere and communes with pure intelligible Forms. (So: imagine you are a Platonist.) What do you say the soul does when it is discarnate? More specifically, how do you describe the manner in which the discarnate soul cognises all those pure intelligible Forms? Does it see them? (It certainly doesn’t have eyes as a living person has eyes since eyes are part of the body.)

Well, it seems that it wasn’t always clear what a Platonist should say. I came across this interesting textual variant: Consider Phaedo 67b1, from part of Socrates’ early account of philosophy as a preparation for death and how it is in fact rather a good thing for the soul to be rid of the unfortunate effects of the body. Here Socrates is saying what the soul does once it is freed – indeed what we do once we are freed since as good philosophers we should come to identify ourselves with souls.

In the current OCT (and, for that matter, Burnett’s OCT and Rowe’s Green and Yellow) the line runs (a7–b1):
... ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς μετὰ τοιούτων τε ἐσόμεθα καὶ γνωσόμεθα δι' ἡμῶν αὐτῶν πᾶν τὸ εἰλικρινές, τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶν ἴσως τὸ ἀληθές. 
Grube (in Cooper 1997) translates:
‘... we shall likely be in the company of people of the same kind, and by our own efforts we shall know all that is pure, which is presumably the truth...’ 
When Plutarch cites this section of the Phaedo at Cons. ad Apoll. 108D, however, he writes:
 ... ὡς τὸ εἰκός, μετὰ τοιούτων ἐσόμεθα, δι' ἡμῶν αὐτῶν πᾶν τὸ εἰλικρινὲς ὁρῶντες· τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶ τὸ ἀληθές. 
 Babbitt’s Loeb translates:
 ‘... we shall, in all likelihood, be in the company of others in like state, and we shall behold with our own eyes the pure and absolute, which is the truth.’ 
 This includes an explicit reference to seeing all that is pure that the MSS of Plato omit. (And, as far as I can see, there is no sign in the app. crit. of ὁρῶντες.) The MSS of Plato, on the other hand do include a reference to knowing (γνωσόμεθα) rather than seeing what is pure. Plutarch’s reference to seeing, therefore, is something avoided in the MSS of Plato, perhaps because it sits uncomfortably with the general thrust of the passage and the liberation of the soul from the body. (I know, of course, that elsewhere Plato does use the language of sight to describe the way in which a soul is in cognitive contact with an intelligible Form.  Consider Phaedrus 248a-c, for example.  But there, Socrates is explaining the soul in terms of a charioteer and his horses.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Blocked lines

I was supposed to be giving a paper at the ICS seminar today on 'The bloom of youth'.  (That might sound deceptively interesting.  In fact, I go on for quite a long time about Aristotle, NE 10.4 1174b31–3.)  Unfortunately, I couldn't make it.  Although the weather here in Cambridge has been quite nice -- at least it has been since about 9.30 this morning -- there have been no trains from Cambridge either to King's Cross or to Liverpool Street.  I suppose that the lines have been blocked by trees and other debris from the 'St Jude storm'.  With luck, I will be able to reschedule the paper.  So, I instead got an afternoon in my office trying to catch up on the annoying admin that I would rather have left undone so I could go to London and meet some friends and talk about some ancient philosophy.  Drat.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Keeling Colloquium 2013

This is going to be good.  I'm afraid I won't make it myself because of teaching commitments in Cambridge, but it looks like a very good line-up.  You can find more details if you click on the poster.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can you hear me? Can you see me?

Yesterday, I spent from 2-10.30pm in the Faculty in a video-conference with Columbia and Göttingen.  (It was for a volume on the sections of Diogenes Laertius book 9 devoted to Pyrrhonism.)  It didn't start well: the Faculty's Computer Officer and I had set up a (very) new Skype-enabled Smart TV in one of the Faculty's lecture rooms but it turned out that my electronic key would not let me in to that particular room on a Saturday.  Fortunately, that could be sorted out remotely after a quick phone call.

The Smart TV...

But then, when the call came in from Columbia, we found out that this TV, although it has a Skype application built-in, won't do video conference calls.  Conference calls are OK; video calls are OK but not video conference calls.  Drat.  Another phone call and the Computer Officer rushes in to let us into another room and set up a camera and mic for a computer attached to a video projector.  Now we could in principle do what was needed.  (The TV will be fine, I think, for one-to-one Skype-ing.  We have to do that a lot more now for e.g. interviews for graduate admissions.  And it must be better not to have a couple of us peering down a tiny laptop webcam at a poor student.)

So, at last we had a functioning system.  But then we discovered that Skype-ing like this is fine in principle but difficult in practice.  Over the course of the afternoon and early evening, the service became more patchy.  Perhaps as more people get up at the weekend and turn on their computers, the bandwidth gets clogged; perhaps if one of the participants is on WiFi rather than an Ethernet connection, things are delayed; perhaps the computers just get clogged up with long video calls.  Anyway, there was a regular need to ask people to repeat points or questions, the picture froze every so often, and we ended up having to reboot all the systems every hour or so.

Fortunately, things got better later on.  By 10.30pm, just when I was flagging, the connection seemed to improve.

What did I learn?  When it works smoothly, this is an excellent means of talking to people around the world and not much worse than being in a room together.  But it is not yet reliable or, at least, the connection it requires is not yet fast enough and reliable enough to make long conferences hassle-free.  I did, all the same, enjoy the experiment and I am glad I'm not rushing back from NYC today to teach on Monday.  I did, by the same token, miss out on a trip to NYC, but that's also rather better for my carbon footprint.

Give this a couple of years and I reckon it will be much better.  You might think it a shame if it cuts down on global academic travel, but it will also mean we talk much more to more people in more places.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Polite applause: update

Just a quickie.  After last week's ripple of applause after the first of my lectures to the 1A classicists, after the first of my lectures to the 1A philosophers, some of them banged the desks instead.  (I think this was meant to be a sign of appreciation.)  I hadn't come across this much before.  Is it a disciplinary thing?  (Philosophers bang; Classicists clap?)  A quick google suggests that table-banging is a parliamentary thing.  Or a Germanic thing.  Any other suggestions?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Responsibility and determinism

I was discussing Strawson and Frankfurt with the 1A philosophers this morning. This seems relevant, yeah?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Polite applause

I was on sabbatical last year so didn't do any lecturing.  And this year I get to give the first year Classics 'Introduction to Ancient Philosophy' lectures in the Michaelmas term.  As the timetabling worked out, that meant that this morning at 10am I gave what was for most of the students in the room their first lecture in Cambridge.  *(In this city, weeks begin on a Thursday.  Oh yes.)  Tough gig.  I might have put them off the whole business already.  'Is this what we've gone into life-long debt for?'

There are two weird things about lecturing this early in the term to students who have just started their courses.  First of all, most of them turn up.  There were 90-odd of them there today: not a big crowd compared with what they get in Law or in the Natural Sciences, but about as big as a standard lecture audience in Classics gets.  Second, at the end of the hour, they clapped.  They weren't sure whether they should but once a few decided to clap the others joined in.  Not for long and not without any great enthusiasm, but politely enough.  It was the kind you get at the end of a slightly ropey school assembly performance.  Sort of like this, except it didn't last as long.

I wonder when they will decide not to bother any more?

Monday, October 07, 2013

More death

I received today my author's copy of a new collection of essays from OUP edited by James Stacey Taylor.  It has this on the cover.  An appropriate image for the beginning of term.

I haven't read any of the other essays yet, but they look very interesting.  And, as hardbacks from OUP go, this isn't too expensive.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

ICS Ancient Philosophy Seminar 2013-14

ICS Philosophy Seminar

Senate House South Block 243

All are most welcome.
Alternate Mondays throughout the year at 4.30 pm

Organizer: Shaul Tor (KCL)



28 October  James Warren (Cambridge) The bloom of youth

11 November  Sean McConnell (UEA) Cicero’s cosmopolitanism: imagery and argument in the Dream of Scipio

25 November Anne Sheppard (RHUL) Images of drama and dance in Plotinus

9 December Jenny Bryan (UCL) The painter analogy in Empedocles

13 January Alex Long (St Andrews) Imagery and the criticism of Socratic argument in Plato’s Republic

27 January Thomas Johansen (Oxford) Aristotle on the difference between practical and productive reasoning

10 February Geoffrey Lloyd (Cambridge) Image and argument: some Greek and Chinese comparisons and contrasts

24 February Suzanne Stern-Gillet (Bolton) Images of poetic inspiration in Plato

10 March Robert Wardy (Cambridge) TBA

24 March Fiona Leigh (UCL) Image, appearance and logos in the Sophist

12 May Michael Trapp (KCL) and Claudio Garcia Ehrenfeld (KCL) Up the rocky road to nowhere? The  imagery of sectarian choice in Lucian’s Hermotimus

19 May Giles Pearson (Bristol) TBA

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Res Publica and the rigours of translation

The 'think tank' (What is one of those?  Is it like a 'drunk tank' but the intoxication is purely intellectual?) Politeia has published a pamphlet urging some changes to the place and examination of Latin in British schools.  You can read a press release here and read the pamphlet here.

The authors cannot be held responsible for the comments they provoke.  But, whatever one thinks of the pamphlet itself, some of the comment it has generated seems to me to be unhelpful.  For example, here is Harry Mount in the Telegraph in an article entitled 'The tragic dumbing down of Latin in our schools'.
When you're translating Latin into English, you can busk it: translate the words roughly and then cobble them together into goodish English. With the other way round – English into Latin – there's no busking. You're either right or you're wrong – there's no grey area. That's one of the joys of Latin; precisely because it's a dead language, there's no wriggle room, no negotiating over the correct answer, as there is with the shifting meanings of modern languages.
Um.  Well, it seems to me this is questionable on two counts.  First, there are of course plenty of ways in which a translation from Latin into English can be just plain wrong.  And even 'goodish' English is not what is being aimed at, at least in any of the examinations I'm familiar with.  But there are, to be sure, various ways in which equally accurate translations may differ from one another.  That, I've always thought, is at least part of what makes translating a language like Latin into English an interesting thing to do.  So 'busking' is not a helpful way to put it; it's just that people whose first language is English tend not to make great grammatical howlers in the English of their translation.  But they may of course misunderstand the Latin they are translating.  Or they may understand it perfectly well, but choose to render it in various different ways.

And I really don't understand the contrast between the 'shifting meanings of modern languages' and their ancient counterparts.  Is the implication that there can be no ambiguity (deliberate or otherwise), say, in Latin?  No room for reasonable debate over what is meant?

Similarly, it is surely not the case that there is one and only one correct rendering into Latin of any given phrase in English.  Again, there are various wrong ways to do it: ways of getting the syntax of the Latin wrong, getting the vocabulary wrong  But there are usually a number of equally accurate but different ways of rendering a given English sentence into Latin (or, for that matter, most languages, I reckon).  That's part of what is interesting about this kind of translation too.

So, this is a misleading way of putting things.  Yes, translating from English into Latin is hard.  It requires an active knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary.  But translating from Latin into English is also hard, certainly if one is interested not merely in producing a bit of 'translationese' into 'goodish English'.  ('Caesar, his legion having been arranged into a hollow square, fortified the ditch lest he be surrounded by the Gauls...'.)

There is a danger, it seems to me, that comments of this kind will lead to the impression that there is a 'two tier' approach to teaching and learning Latin in schools: the soft way, for the buskers, of translation into English, perhaps with a bit of ancient history and literary discussion thrown in, and the rigorous road, for those who want to tackle turning English into Latin. 

Harry Mount begins his article with the exclamation: 'o tempora! o mores!'  How would you translate that into English and retain the meaning and force and rhythm of the original?  Try busking it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Essay Competition for Year 12 (Lower Sixth) Students

Corpus is pleased to announce its Essay Competitions for 2013-2014.

Entries are invited from Year 12 (Lower Sixth) students for the following subjects.

For further information follow the links.  Please note that each essay must be accompanied by the Cover Sheet.

Perceval Maitland Laurence Classics Essay Competition

History Essay Competition

Philosophy Essay Competition

Essay Cover Sheet

Computer Essay + Programming Competition and Cover Sheet

The main focus should not be on something that has been or is currently being studied in the classroom or offered as  A level coursework.

Primary and secondary authorities used should be acknowledged and, where quotation is made, cited. Sources may be quoted in the original language or in translation; in the former case all quotations  should be accompanied by an English translation. A list of books, websites, and people consulted should be appended. Printed copies of essays, accompanied by the cover sheet (which must be signed by the entrant and by Head of Sixth Form) should be submitted by schools or colleges on behalf of their entrants to:

The Admissions Office, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge CB2 1RH

to reach the College by 5pm on Friday 14 February 2014.

Regrettably, faxes and email attachments cannot be accepted. Please note that entries will not be returned and entrants may therefore wish to keep their own copy of the essay. Receipt of entries will be acknowledged by email. Winners and other particularly commended entrants will be notified by letter in March 2014 and will be invited to attend the College Open Day on Saturday 12 April 2014.
The College does not enter into correspondence about any aspect of the competition or the results. Feedback on the essays submitted is not provided.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I've been spending so long hunting for missing commas and deleting unnecessary spaces in a big pdf proof that my brain has gone to mush.  But this woke me up.  Beautiful and novel and interesting.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Bad news for shorties

Well, there is if you listen to Aristotle.  He says this in his discussion of the virtue of 'greatness of soul' (megalopsychia):
ἐν μεγέθει γὰρ ἡ μεγαλοψυχία, ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ κάλλος ἐν μεγάλῳ σώματι, οἱ μικροὶ δ' ἀστεῖοι καὶ σύμμετροι, καλοὶ δ' οὔ.
Nicomachean Ethics 4.3, 1125b6-8
Christopher Rowe translates:
For greatness of soul depends on scale, just as a beautiful body must possess a certain scale, and small people are neat and well-proportioned, but not beautiful.
How small is 'small' here?  It's not clear.  Perhaps it's like one of those signs at the fairground: 'You have to be this tall to be beautiful'.  He's consistent, at least.  I suppose this is a bit like him claiming elsewhere that some animals are too small to be beautiful because you see them all at once (and some are just too long to be beautiful).  And I suppose it is true that some pieces of music or some plays might be too short to be properly beautiful since they cannot display the kind of organisation and structure that takes time to perceive (Poetics 7, 1450b35–1451a10 and 23, 1459a17–21).

It's a shame we don't know more about Aristotle's own appearance.  Diogenes Laertius (5.1) says that Aristotle had slender calves ('so they say') and small eyes, wore lots of rings and a conspicuous hair-do.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Routledge Companion

The Routledge Companion to Ancient Philosophy, edited by Frisbee Sheffield and me, now has a cover.  It should be published by the end of the year. 

More details on the Routledge website here.  The hardback price is a bit eye-watering, but I think there should eventually be a paperback version.

Here are the contents and the list of contributors:

Introduction James Warren  
Part I: Before Plato 1. The World of Early Greek philosophy John Palmer 2. The Early Ionian philosophersDaniel Graham 3. Parmenides, Zeno and Melissus Steve Makin 4. Anaxagoras and Empedocles in the shadow of Elea John Sisko 5. Leucippus and DemocritusPieter Sjoerd Hasper 6. Pythagoreans and the Derveni author Gábor Betegh 7. Sophists Noburu Notomi 8. Socrates: sources and interpretations Jenny Bryan 
 Part II: Plato 9. Reading Plato Alex Long 10. Plato on philosophical method: enquiry and definition Raphael Woolf 11. Plato’s Epistemology David Wolfsdorf 12. Plato: Moral psychology James Doyle 13. Plato on virtue and the good life Frisbee C. C. Sheffield 14. Plato: Philosopher-rulers Rachana Kamtekar 15. Plato’s metaphysics Allan Silverman 16. Plato’s Cosmology Andrew S. Mason 17. Plato’s Poetics Gabriel Richardson Lear  
Part III: Aristotle18. Reading Aristotle Michael Pakaluk 19. Aristotle: Logic Ermelinda Valentina Di Lascio 20. Understanding, knowledge, and inquiry in Aristotle Hendrik Lorenz 21. Aristotle: Psychology Giles Pearson 22. Aristotle’s philosophy of nature Andrea Falcon 23. First philosophy first: Aristotle and the practice of metaphysics Christopher Shields 24. Aristotle on the good life Dominic Scott 25. Aristotle on the political life Antony Hatzistavrou26. Aristotle’s aesthetics David K. O’Connor  
Part IV: Hellenistic Philosophy 27. Hellenistic philosophy: places, institutions, characterJames Warren 28. Cynics Eric Brown 29. Cyrenaics James Warren 30. The Stoic system: ethics and nature Thomas Bénatouïl 31. The Stoic system: logic and knowledge Katerina Ierodiakonou 32. Epicurus’ garden: physics and epistemology Tim O’Keefe 33. Epicurus’ garden: ethics and politics Pierre-Marie Morel 34. The Hellenistic AcademyKatja Vogt 35. Early Pyrrhonism: Pyrrho to Aenesidemus Luca Castagnoli 36. The Peripatetics after Aristotle Han Baltussen 37. Philosophy comes to Rome Tobias Reinhardt 
 Part V: Philosophy in the Empire and Beyond 38. Roman Stoics Ricardo Salles 39. Middle Platonism Mauro Bonazzi 40. Galen James Allen 41. Sextus Empiricus Svavar Svavarsson 42. Plotinus Christoph Horn 43. Porphyry and Iamblichus George Karamanolis 44. Syrianus, Proclus, and Damascius Jan Opsomer 45. Commentators on Aristotle James Wilberding 46. Ancient Philosophy in Christian Sources Mark Edwards47. The Arabic reception of Greek Philosophy Peter Adamson

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Research Fellowship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Stipendiary Research Fellowship

Applications are invited for one stipendiary Research Fellowship tenable for three years from 1 October 2014.

The Research Fellowship is open to graduates of any university who on 1 October 2014 will have completed not more than five years of research. Matriculated members of Corpus Christi College engaged in any area of research are eligible to apply. For those who are not already members of the College there is a restriction on the field of study. This year applications will be considered in the fields of Epidemiology, Materials Science, Classics and Enlightenment Studies.

(Note: by 'Classics' is meant the full range of disciplines relating to the study of the history, literature, material culture, philosophy and languages of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.)

Research Fellows are full members of the College’s Governing Body. Stipendiary Research Fellows have access to a limited stock of College flats and sets. If available they are provided rent free or a living out allowance is offered. The estimated stipend will be in the region of £17,800. Research Fellows are allowed to teach up to six hours per week for additional remuneration, and are expected to participate in the intellectual life of Leckhampton, the College’s graduate centre. An annual allowance for research expenditure is available and privileges include free medical insurance, some meals, and a small entertainment allowance.

Applications may be made via You will need a c.v. together with a statement of not more than 1,000 words outlining your present and proposed research (pdf documents only), and the names and contact details of two referees familiar with your work. Applications must be submitted by midday Tuesday 15th October 2013 and the two references should be provided by the same date.  It is suggested that you send the reference requests from the application system to your referees well in advance of the deadline.

More information is available here.

Any enquiries should be addressed to:

The Research Fellowship Competition
Corpus Christi College
Cambridge CB2 1RH.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A reprint request request

In the last week I have received two requests to include things I have published  elsewhere in a forthcoming collection called Classical And Medieval Literary Criticism, a multi-volume thing. I'm not sure how to respond.  On the one hand, I'd rather things I have written are read rather than not, so the more accessible they are the better.  On the other, I wonder if the eventual publication will be like this one covering the nineteenth-century which apparently stretches to some 277 volumes, each of which costs more than $300.  (I imagine these are mostly accessed via an online subscription.)  I'm not sure the world needs this: the articles in question are not hard to access and were published in good journals which I would like people still to read and browse.  But on the other hand, if this makes the pieces a little more accessible than otherwise, why not?

So, should I just tick the box and agree to the reprint?  Given the apparent scale of this enterprise I imagine a lot of people have received similar requests.  Is there a general consensus?

Well, there is potentially one kind of benefit I might receive.  The permission form also includes a box where I can insert a request for a fee for them reprinting the piece.  It seems that the publishers must be making something from the sales of these collections.  So it seems odd to let them have the content for free.  Yes, when I published these articles the first time I did not receive a fee.  But then they were submitted to peer-reviewed specialist journals and I get something out of publishing in those.  Not money, but something nevertheless.  So charging is not something I usually do for this kind of publication, but in this case I wonder whether it would be appropriate.

Still, say I do agree to the reprint request.  Should I specify a fee and, if so, what amount?  Does anyone know the going rate for such things?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bits and bobs

We're just back from a holiday in Athens.  I hadn't been for a few years and lots of the news from Greece recently has not been particularly great but we had an excellent time.  I paid my first visit to the brilliant new Acropolis Museum (and its really nice café).

So I haven't turned my mind properly to much ancient philosophy recently.  But I have just discovered that you can get pdfs of Long and Sedley's The Hellenistic Philosophers if you have access to CUP's online ebooks. 

Here is the link to volume 1 (the translations and commentary). 

Here is the link to volume 2 (the sources in the original Greek and Latin). 

(There are, of course, lots of other things on the site too that you might be interested in, but it is useful to have these texts in a handy pdf format.  It is certainly going to help me while I am writing some new lectures for next term.)  Here is the link to all the ancient philosophy material.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Specials

You hard-working people may well have missed this, but the BBC have begun showing a daytime series about Special Constables.  A lot of it is filmed in and around Cambridge.  In Episode 1 at around 19m 30 you can enjoy watching a student being chucked out of Cindies...  In Episode 2 at 10m 30ish you can watch the policing of an EDL demo and Anti-Fascist march.

Click HERE to find out more:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Another cheer for Cornford

As well as the acute and funny Microcosmographia Aacdemica, F. M. Cornford wrote 'Religion in the University' -- originally presented to a meeting of the Heretics in 1911.  There is a copy here:

Or you can download a pdf of it here.

Interesting stuff.  It's graduation day today at my college and there is an event listed for the afternoon in between tea in the Master's garden and a rehearsal for the graduation ceremony:

4.15pm - 4.50pm: Graduation Service with Master's Address in Chapel

While you are pondering that, here is some Cornford from 1911:
The University ought to stand absolutely clear of all dogmatic systems. The worst thing it can do is to endorse a particular sect, and so bias inquiry either for or against a certain set of beliefs. To do so is to poison and obscure the intellectual atmosphere, and to foster passion where there should be no passion but curiosity.  
And a bit later: 
With regard to Ritual, the Colleges maintain Anglican chapels and officials whose duty it is to persuade or compel attendance at them. To this system all the same objections apply, as well as others peculiar to it. It is not the business of a University or of a College to maintain one form of creed. If they had an Anglican chapel, they ought also to have a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Baptist chapel and so on, with an official attached to each. Either that or none at all. It would be said that there were historical reasons : but there is no such thing. There are historical causes, but they are not reasons. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Philosophers Rejected

There is a new blog collecting rejection letters sent to some of the great and the good.

You can read it here and share the pain.  There is a general call for submissions, so this is an excellent way to vent your spleen against some classic work that you've had to wrestle with and interpret 'charitably' while your own work is being mauled by some anonymous reviewer who feels it is part of his/her job to take the most uncharitable view of everything you have said...

While you are on that subject, here is a collection of rejections sent to people who went on to do quite well.

And then, of course, there is the excellent long-running Journal of Universal RejectionIt also has a blog.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Free Taster Day for Classics and Latin

Saturday 22nd June 2013

The aim of this ‘taster day’ is to give prospective applicants for a Classics Degree at the University of Cambridge the opportunity to experience teaching in a University environment and to decide whether learning Latin is something that they would enjoy.

The day is open to anyone who has never studied Latin at School or 6th Form College.

The day is FREE. At the moment we are placing no limit on numbers. (If a limit has to be imposed, we shall accept students in the order in which they book.)

Venue: Faculty of Classics, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA. Light refreshments will be provided. For lunch, the nearest shop is about seven minutes walk away; but students are welcome (and encouraged) to bring a packed lunch.

Up to 50 travel bursaries of up to £50.00 are available on a first come, first served basis. To apply, please provide details of the cost of your travel arrangements. For those travelling by car, bursaries will be provided only against the cost of petrol. All claims by recipients of bursaries will need to be accompanied by receipts.

10.15–10.45: Registration and coffee
10.45–11.40: Learning Latin I
11.45–12.00 Break
12.00–1.00 Lecture: Preserving Herculaneum (Prof. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill)
1.00–1.45: Lunch
1.45–2.45: Learning Latin II
2.45–3.00: Break
3.00–4.00: Lecture: The Latin language (Dr James Clackson)

Latin tutors:—
Mr Will Griffiths, Director, Cambridge Schools Classics Project
Dr Ailsa Hunt, Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Dr Lyndsay Coo, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
Professor Stephen Oakley, Kennedy Professor of Latin, University of Cambridge

If you would like to attend, please contact Professor Stephen Oakley on If you would like to apply for a travel bursary, please send details of your travel arrangements by e-mail to Professor Stephen Oakley.

Other events for schools and potential applicants are listed here.

Friday, June 07, 2013


Here is some evidence that taking acetaminophen (paracetamol) might lessen the pain of thinking about your own mortality, or at least that it seems to lessen the effects that painful thinking about your own mortality tends to have, or something like that.  Basically, taking a certain kind of pill has an effect on the way you respond to being asked to write about and think about your own death. Interesting, isn't it?  Perhaps it also works against misplaced anxieties about the gods...

Psychol Sci. 2013 Apr 23. [Epub ahead of print]

The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats.


University of British Columbia.


The meaning-maintenance model posits that any violation of expectations leads to an affective experience that motivates compensatory affirmation. We explore whether the neural mechanism that responds to meaning threats can be inhibited by acetaminophen, in the same way that acetaminophen inhibits physical pain or the distress caused by social rejection. In two studies, participants received either acetaminophen or a placebo and were provided with either an unsettling experience or a control experience. In Study 1, participants wrote about either their death or a control topic. In Study 2, participants watched either a surrealist film clip or a control film clip. In both studies, participants in the meaning-threat condition who had taken a placebo showed typical compensatory affirmations by becoming more punitive toward lawbreakers, whereas those who had taken acetaminophen, and those in the control conditions, did not.
You can read the article here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Oh dear

It turns out that I am middle-aged and have been for some time.  At least, I am middle-aged according to F. M. Cornford who, since he was Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy (indeed, he was the first), must have been a wise and sensible person.

This is how he ends his Microcosmographia academica:
I have done what I could to warn you. When you become middle-aged -- on your five-and-thirtieth birthday -- glance through this book and judge between me and your present self.
He is right at least in so far as I did recognise most everything he has to say about the grubby and silly bits of college and Faculty politicking as still holding true.  And, sad to say, while I may at one time have been a Young Man in a Hurry, I have a horrible feeling I might be turining into a Non-Placet...

(You can read the Microcosmographia here.  There is a nice edition with introduction by Gordon Johnson.)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Posidonius and Plutarch

I've spent the last week at the B caucus 'Mayweek' seminar on Posidonius.  This is what it looked like on the afternoon of day 5:

Photo by Victor Caston
While that was on proceedings were published of a seminar which I attended on Plutarch's Adversus Colotem.  The papers are collected in the third issue of the online journal Aitia, which is free.  You can find the whole volume here (papers can be read online or downloaded) and my piece is here.

UPDATE: Here is a snazzy pdf with the contents of the Aitia volume.

And here is the list of contributions and authors:

Le Contre Colotès de Plutarque et son prologue
Pierre-Marie Morel et Francesco Verde

Democritus and Epicurus on Sensible Qualities in Plutarch’s Against Colotes 3-9
Luca Castagnoli

Plutarque contre Colotès contre Empédocle
Alain Gigandet

Parmenide e Platone (e Aristotele) nel Contro Colote di Plutarco
Mauro Bonazzi

The lives and opinions of Socrates and Stilpo as defended by Plutarch against the insidious yet ignorant attacks of Colotes
 Jan Opsomer

Plutarch’s Adversus Colotem and the Cyrenaics: 1120C-1121E
James Warren

Plutarque juge et partie : à propos des débats entre l’Académie, le Jardin et le Portique
Carlos Lévy

Plutarch’s polemic against Colotes’ view on legislation and politics. A reading of Adversus Colotem 30-34 (1124D-1127E)
Geert Roskam

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rejection letters of the ancient philosophers III

I started reading this MS submission to the Academy of Athens press with high hopes. I know and very much admire the work of the author’s (A.) former supervisor and was expecting something in a similar vein. I’m afraid to say I was very disappointed. The topic, after all, is a good one. It is nice to see an attempt to flesh out some kind of account of human flourishing.

However, the format of the MS is not at all what your readers would expect. There is no drama or characterisation; indeed, I had the impression at times that some kind of conversational or dialectical background was being assumed but this is not at all marked in the text. In short, the constant direct mode of address was a chore. No one will enjoy having this read to them. What is more, the style is woeful. I hear that A. is able to write fluid and engaging prose when he wishes, but that was sadly not in evidence here. Sentences are concise to the point of obscurity. Topics are introduced only to be sketchily addressed and then left aside with a careless, ‘Well, that’s enough about X’. Very few clear and novel conclusions are reached.

I am afraid that I cannot recommend publication.

Some specific grumbles.

I am concerned that on the very first page A. presents a school-boy howler of a fallacy. A. infers from the claim that ‘All Xs aim at some Y’ that ‘There is some Y at which all Xs aim’. A. is, I am told, thought to be something of a logician. Oh dear.

The central sections of the MS seem to have been recycled from a previous project. (At least, they are very familiar and I think I may have refereed an earlier submission in which they appear.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did not think they were well integrated into the new work. There are some infrequent references to previous scholars’ work (Solon, Socrates, Speusippus, Eudoxus) but the treatment offered is both at times overly generous (Is it really necessary to try to find some truth in Socrates’ outrageous denial of akrasia? Since the discovering of parts of the soul we have been able to move on from such silliness) and also excessively critical at others.

A. seems to be preoccupied with various topics without making clear their position in the whole project. Some 20% of the work is devoted to the analysis of friendship. This is a worthwhile topic but the coverage seemed rather disproportionate to me. What is more, the central notion of justice does appear but seems to me not to fit A.’s own preferred analysis of a character virtue.

Only at the very end does A. turn to address the essential topic of becoming like the divine. I had almost given up on this being mentioned at all and I think many readers will have given up long before the final pages. What is there is not particularly novel and I cannot shake the suspicion that A. recognises the importance of this topic but hasn’t succeeded in integrating it into his central analysis. So much worse for the preceding account of the good life, it seems to me. A major rethink is clearly in order.

In brief, this may well be a promising young scholar but he seems to have lost his way a little. Perhaps less time dissecting insects would have helped him to cultivate a proper understanding of the central ethical importance of intelligible reality.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Public art

After the wonders of the Snowy Farr memorial liquorice torpedoes and the Goth-rock Corpus clock (I can't say enough how very very sorry I am about that last one), here comes another bit of public art to disturb the retinas of the people of Cambridge.  To celebrate the fact that Parker's Piece in 1863 saw the first playing of football according to the 'Cambridge Rules', the City Council have commissioned a thing.  Here is the initial design as released today.  This is not a drill, people.

It is a really big Subbuteo referee standing on a circle on which the rules will be inscribed.  Oh yes it is.

Here is the press release, if you can bear it.

And I don't know about you, but when I had a Subbuteo set within days all the players (including my prized England team in their 1982 Admiral kit) looked like this:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Adding up in Politics 3.11

At the B Club yesterday, we were discussing an interesting chunk of Aristotle Politics 3.1, 11281a41–b15.  There, Aristotle is offering an argument in favour of the view that the masses might be given authority in elections and audits of public officials even if each individual involved is not a good (spoudaios) person.

The idea seems to be that a collection of individuals, each of whom has some evaluative ability, may, as a group, have overall a greater evaluative competence than a single expert.  (It is important to note that Aristotle is cautious and does not think this always happens.  It just might happen sometimes.)  So there is some notion of there being an additive quality of the relevant skill or character trait.  Provided the individuals in the group are not entirely slavish then you can add them together and sum their respective competences.  This seems odd just because it is not clear that virtue and wisdom (aretē and phronēsis: 1281b4–5) are the kinds of things that can be summed in this fashion according to Aristotle.  Now it is possible to claim that what Aristotle means here is that collective decision-making by a group of individually deficient judges can be effective because the group itself generates a kind of helpful reflection: each learns from the others and overall a good decision is reached. Perhaps that is a plausible idea. [1]

Unfortunately, I am not sure this fits very well with the way the rest of the paragraph is presented and, in particular, the various analogies that are offered.  Aristotle goes on to claim that a good person brings together in one individual the relevant skills and competences but these might be scattered and distributed between a number of individuals, each of whom is worse overall than the good person, but who when combined are better.  This is not a mere additive notion since the idea here is that the group comes together as if to form a single agent (1281b5).  This also seems to make better sense of the analogy of the feast at 1281b2–3: many people bring dishes to a meal.  The feast is better than a single dish, even if that single dish is excellent while each of the many dishes in the feast is not as good as the single dish.  This seems plausible to me only on the assumption that the group of many dishes (deipna) contains a variety of dishes and, what’s more, that variety is such that for example one is a starter, one a main course, one a dessert and they combine to make a feast (dapanē 1281b3).  It is not obvious (though I can see how someone might want to argue for it) that a collection of a large number of mediocre but pleasant chocolate mousses is better than a single really excellent chocolate mousse.   Certainly, I’m not at all convinced that the collection is better in terms of chocolate mousse-ness.  But if each dish brings something different that contributes to the overall meal as a whole then perhaps the collection may be better than the single very good item taken on its own.

Incidentally, this notion of adding together complementary parts into a whole is probably present already at 1281b4–5 where the many individuals each have a ‘part’ (morion) of virtue.  If we think of the parts not merely as ‘a certain quantity’ but rather as parts in the sense that each jigsaw piece is a part of the overall puzzle, then adding together all of these parts is what is needed for a good whole.

If that is right then thinking in terms of collective decision making that involves debate, reflection, learning from one another and so on, might be a more plausible way to defend the idea of the competence of crowds, but it doesn’t fit well with Aristotle’s analogies which are instead put in terms of this ’jigsaw pieces and jigsaw-puzzle’ model.

This idea of a sum of the good parts of a collection of different items, where each item is overall not that great, seems also to be what Aristotle has in mind in the analogy from aesthetic judgement at 1281b8–10: if each person makes a good judgement about a separate aspect of the performance (one is good at flute-playing evaluation, another at evaluating some part of the dancing) then they might add up to a single all-round excellent judge.  It doesn’t matter that the good flute judge has no idea about choreography because it’s only the flute-judging jigsaw piece that he provides.  Similarly, at the end of the paragraph Aristotle seems to have in mind that the collection is a collection of just those positive aspects of each of the individuals.  He compares a single beautiful person with an combination of a set of different beautiful parts from different individuals: Clooney’s jawline, Grant’s eyes, etc. etc.  (1281b12–15).

But that raises is another worry.  It’s just not true that if you bung together a collection of the best bits of different faces the collection is going to be as good as if not better than a single beautiful face.  Here’s the proof:

[1] I think this is the sort of view favoured in R. Kraut, Aristotle: Political Philosophy (Oxford, 2002), 402–6.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Plato's Philebus, reviewed

An 'untimely (deliberately anachronistic) review'  by Ronald de Sousa in Topoi 32 (2013): 125-8.  (Link to the pdf here.)

A snippet:
The work is offered in the form of a dialogue—in that respect, at least, it is not ‘‘trendy’’—between Socrates and an interlocutor called Protarchus. The latter defends a position attributed to one Philebus, a curiously ghostly character who unaccountably ‘‘leaves the field’’ on the first page, intervening again only three or our times to reiterate a simple-minded praise of pleasure as the supreme good. That is not the only one of this work’s quirks of style. Its organization is somewhat confusing. Its central pages contain an analysis and classification of pleasures, in the course of which Socrates attempts to persuade his interlocutor that some pleasures are false, but little is done in the dialogue to relate this claim to the work’s announced topic. One is left to assume, I suppose, that falsity might detract from the claim of any conditions to be life’s chief good. In this review, I shall not attempt to deal with the somewhat messy structure of the whole; neither shall I attempt to canvas all the topics that come up only to be desultorily dropped. I shall concentrate instead on the arguments adduced for the claim that pleasures can be false.
There untimely reviews are an interesting idea.  You can read the editorial here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Could be another wasted afternoon...

 I've ended up this afternoon going back to and fiddling with something I wrote quite a while ago.  To be honest, I was looking for another file on my computer and saw this one as I was scrolling down.  I remembered spending some time on it and so I opened it up to have a look.  I had more or less abandoned it because it was, I came to see, a bit flabby in places and half-baked in others.  But I have now spent the afternoon thinking that maybe, just maybe, with a tweak here and a trim there, there might be something worth salvaging.  Surely it can't all be hopeless?

Oh dear.  I'm not very good at just writing off the work and chalking it up to experience.  After all, it would be odd if a significant proportion of what I type out were not in fact pretty useless.  But arrogance or sheer bloody-mindedness tells me otherwise. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Epicuro Sulla Natura II

I got to my college pigeon hole today for the first time in a while.  Two nice surprises: a book from my friend in Lyon and, entirely unexpected, a copy of Giuliana Leone's new edition of Epicurus' Peri Physeōs Book II (PHerc. 1140/993 and 1783/1691/1010).  Thanks!  It's a hefty thing, so it will take me quite some time to digest it but it looks very interesting.  And it's good to know that it is now available.

Here's a link to order it from

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cambridge 1944

From the UEA East Anglian Film Archive.  You can watch the whole thing here.

Some stills:

Here are some bright young chaps leaving (I think) one of Corpus' staircases in the morning:

And here is a chap off for a bath:

And here is Will Spens, Master of Corpus:

There are also some interesting scenes of the undergraduate ARP services practising out in Trinity's Great Court.  And of the Provost of King's, John Tressider Sheppard, lecturing on Homer, the poetry 'of friendship and freedom'.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The pundit's 'for me': a philosophical analysis

It is not clear what the precise force and implications are of the sports pundit’s qualifier ‘for me’ (hereafter: ‘FOR ME’).  It is extremely common in most forms of pundit-discourse but there is no agreed single account of its force.  This is a brief introduction to some of the principal philosophical options.

Consider the following examples:

1.             ‘Rio, for me, is a world class defender.’
2.             ‘For me, that’s a yellow card at worst.’
3.             ‘That was never a foul, for me.’

Note that in natural language the ‘for me’ qualifier can be placed within, before, or after the clause it governs.  We can nevertheless clarify the three examples as follows:

4.             (FOR ME) Rio is a world class defender.
5.             (FOR ME) That’s a yellow card at worst.
6.             (FOR ME) That was never a foul.

A popular line of analysis notes that in many—perhaps the majority of—cases FOR ME is used in evaluative claims.  This analysis then offers a deflationary reading such that FOR ME is either simply redundant or else simply marks what comes next as being an evaluative claim.  FOR ME in that case makes no independent contribution to the meaning of the clause.

Further, some interpreters take FOR ME to be a marker of the expressivist nature of such claims.  This is more plausible in some cases than others.  For example, it is at least prima facie plausible that there is no fact of the matter whether Rio Ferdinand is a world class defender.  In that case it is sensible to understand §6 above as having the force: ‘Hooray for Rio Ferdinand’s defensive skill and ability!’  FOR ME, in this case, is an explicit marker of the fact that the clause it governs is not truth-apt. [1]

Other interpreters find this unsatisfactory since it would render the many hours of TV punditry in reality no more than a group of men in bad suits shouting ‘Boo!’ and ‘Hooray!’ to one another.  (This is known as the ‘TalkSPORT’ objection.)  Attempts to modify the view, such that punditry expressions may nevertheless stand to one another in familiar logical relations, ‘Quasi-Punditry’, remain controversial. [2]

Alternatively, if FOR ME claims do have a truth value then there are further differences of opinion over how best to account for them.  For example, one view begins with the observation that FOR ME claims are almost always offered in contexts of dissent.  So, ‘§6 (FOR ME) That was never a foul’ is most likely to be uttered on the occasion of an official having decided that an offence has occurred.  Assuming something like FIFA-positivism, the official’s blowing his whistle and indicating a foul is just what it is for a foul to have been committed.  So §6 is false.  The view that all such FOR ME locutions are in fact false is sometimes called the ‘Error Theory’ of punditry or, alternatively, ‘Shearerism’.

A more extravagant line, associated with some rather extreme general accounts of punditry, begins from the premise of Pundit Infallibility [3].  Given Pundit Infallibility, if the pundit utters §1 then it must be true (despite appearances) that Rio Ferdinand is indeed a world-class defender.  But what if another pundit, sitting at the same time on the same sofa, should then utter §7 ‘No, for me, he has lost a yard of pace and won’t any more cut it at the highest level’?  We might initially think that §1 and §7 cannot both be true; but this is just what Pundit Infallibility requires.  In this situation, the FOR ME qualifier relativises the claim to the respective pundit.  So FOR LINEKER Rio is a world-class defender and FOR LAWRENSON Rio is not a world-class defender.  Some critics worry about the plausibility of this analysis since (1) it again threatens to make it impossible for there to be genuine agreement or disagreement between pundits; (2) in cases such as §3 above it seems odd to think in any sense that, granted a foul was in fact awarded, it can be true that there was no foul, FOR WHOMEVER.  In response to (1) some critics simply accept this consequence.  In response to (2) some less parsimonious critics posit that there is in fact some private world for each pundit such that they can remain infallible.  In this case FOR LAWRENSON… has roughly the force of IN LAWRENSON’S WORLD… 

[1]  This view is most commonly ascribed to a line of thought inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment pundit, Alan Hansen.

[2]  Quasi-punditry is often associated with pundits connected with Blackburn Rovers, a club where, it is sometimes said, it is possible to ‘have one’s half-time pie and eat it’.

[3] Historically, this view can probably be traced back to the ancient pundit Jimmy Hill and his claim that ‘The pundit is the measure of all things: of fouls that are that they are fouls, of offsides that are not that they are not offsides’.  The interpretation of this claim is, of course, also rather controversial.