Essays on Plato and Aristotle

Essays on Plato and Aristotle

Essays on Plato and Aristotle

Essays on Plato and Aristotle

Synopsis

J. L. Ackrill's work on Plato and Aristotle has had a considerable influence upon ancient philosophical studies in the late twentieth century. In his writings the rigour and clarity of contemporary analytical philosophy are brought to bear upon ancient thought; in many cases he has provided the first analytic treatment of a key issue. Gathered now in this volume are the best of Ackrill's essays on the two greatest philosophers of antiquity. Here he examines a wide range of texts and topics -- from ethics and logic to epistemology and metaphysics -- which continue to be the focus of debate today.

Excerpt

The Cratylus is a curious dialogue, and it is perhaps not surprising that it has not been a favourite among scholars or among philosophers, at least until recently. About half of the dialogue, a great chunk in the middle, speculates about the etymology of Greek words in a manner that is sometimes amusing, but often just boring. The arguments in the other half used to be interpreted in a rather narrow way, as concerned with the origin of language, or with the suitability of particular names to particular things. More recently, serious and complicated philosophical issues have been found to be raised by these argumentative parts of the Cratylus, though there remains dispute as to how many of the issues were in Plato's own mind, and also as to how the various parts of the dialogue hang together. The typical modern approach will regard the etymological section of the dialogue as only mildly interesting, but will discover in the rest of it material relevant to a number of important topics in the philosophy of language, philosophical logic, and metaphysics--topics carried forward in the Theaetetus and Sophist. As usual with Plato, fundamental ideas are presented in a very simple way; but it is often instructive to get back from sophisticated modern discussions to the basic essentials.

The Cratylus opens with a confrontation between Hermogenes and Cratylus, who hold opposed views on a linguistic question, whether names are purely conventional or have some natural correctness; and the dialogue mainly consists in an examination of the two rival answers to these questions. But it ends with a confrontation between two ontological theories, the Heraclitean doctrine of flux and the Platonic doctrine of Forms. It is not obvious that there

First published in 1994.

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