Method in Ancient Philosophy

By Miller, Dana R. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Method in Ancient Philosophy


Miller, Dana R., The Review of Metaphysics


GENTZLER, Jyl, ed. Method in Ancient Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1998. vi + 398 pp. Cloth, $72.00--This is a collection of essays, many of which were given originally as papers at a conference on Ancient Method held at Amherst College in 1994. Few directly address the subject of method in ancient philosophy. Readers whose primary interest is this subject and have high hopes for this new volume from Oxford University Press will be somewhat disappointed. Yet those of us whose interests in ancient philosophy are broader will find not a few excellent essays on important questions by some of the leaders in the field.

The collection contains 15 essays on subjects ranging, historically, from Parmenides' criticism of the theoretical bases of earlier thinkers (p. Curd) to the Epicurean theory of inferences (J. Allen). The spread being broad and deep, I shall note only a few of the significant claims made.

T. H. Irwin points out that in the very early dialogues Socrates assumes that certain aspects of his views about the virtues are commonly held by level-headed persons; for this reason Socrates begins from agreements. Socrates then argues that other aspects of his views about the virtues are a reasonable revision of these common views; Socrates does not argue in these dialogues that his revision is preferable to other revisons that challenge his own. This seems odd because we know that opposing views about the virtues were much discussed at the time. The solution to this puzzle, Irwin argues, is that Plato used the technique of allusion, of which he gives compelling examples. For instance, in the Charmides, Charmides' first definition of temperance is quietness. The reader would know that Charmides was later a member of the dreaded Thirty and understand that by "quietness," allusion is made to a quality said by some to be appropriate to the ruled, but not to those who rule. Plato is ever subtle; Irwin's essay is a carefully argued reminder of this important fact.

I. Mueller argues that in the Phaedo Plato claims that the Forms are causes not in the sense that they provide a conceptual explanation of why things are the way they are (a modern interpretation), but in the following sense: "Platonic F-ness causes things to be F in something like the way the sun causes the stone to be warm" (p. 82). In other words, Plato is serious about studying nature in terms of formal, not material, causes. Such causes, Mueller argues, are "anchored in a teleology founded on . …

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