Method in Ancient Philosophy

Method in Ancient Philosophy

Method in Ancient Philosophy

Method in Ancient Philosophy

Synopsis

Method in Ancient Philosophy brings together fifteen new, specially written essays by leading scholars on a broad subject of central importance. It is characteristic of human beings that they direct their activities by reasoning, but methods of reasoning, even towards the same ends, vary. Self-conscious reflection on the methods of reasoning marks the beginning of philosophy in the West; and the views of the ancient Greeks have had considerable influence upon our own assumptions about the demarcations between different kinds of enquiry and the sorts of methods that are appropriate for them. For this reason, examination of how the ancients reasoned, and how they thought about methods of reasoning, helps us to see how they came to hold the views they did, and how we have come to think as we do. Most of the essays focus on Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, but earlier and later ancient philosophy is brought into the picture by essays on Eleatic and Epicurean thought.

Excerpt

We have found, then, that the human function is the soul's activity that expresses reason or is not without reason.

(Aristotle, en 1098a7-8)

Whatever one might think of Aristotle's claim to have identified the human function, it does seem characteristic of human beings that they direct their activities by reasoning. Among other things, reasoning guides our inquiry, deliberation, refutation, story-telling, and even our emotional responses. Methods of reasoning vary at least in part because of the diverse goals at which they aim. But methods vary even in cases where the goals pursued are broadly speaking the same--say, knowledge of the way things are. the method of inquiry that is suitable for ethics may not be suitable for physics. Different people reason about the same issue in different ways, and the same person may reason about distinct issues in different ways. These facts about our practices of reasoning raise the question of why some methods of reasoning are appropriate for some activities and not for others. It would be convenient if our assessment of methods of reasoning could begin with a clear picture of the goals of a particular sort of activity. We could then ask what sort of method of reasoning is likely to move us toward those goals. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious what our goals are or should be. To determine the nature of an activity, it is sometimes fruitful to look at the methods that are involved in actual practice, even if these methods are not optimal. Philosophical reflection on methodology requires us to render congruent our various, and often inconsistent, pre-theoretical views about the nature of various activities, and our views about what sorts of methods of reasoning are appropriate to each sort of activity.

Self-conscious reflection on methods of reasoning marks the beginning of philosophy in the West. It is thus useful to focus our attention on the origins of this tradition, to see how the ancients thought about methods of reasoning and how they themselves reasoned. in this way, we can see not only how the ancients influenced our own views about the demarcation between different activities and the sorts of methods that are appropriate for them; we can also see what sort of considerations led them to hold the views they did, and whether these considerations are compelling.

The papers collected in this volume contribute to this general project. Many of them began as papers read at a conference on Ancient Method . . .

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