A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Friday, 11 December 2015

Intellectual Joys at the Princeton Classical Philosophy Conference 2015

I attended the annual Princeton conference last weekend. It had been very highly recommended to me as one of the ancient philosophy conferences (most) worth attending on this side of the ocean. The papers were three, as always, Gail Fine's paper on "Phaedo on Perception", Henrik Lorenz and Ben Morison's paper on "Aristotle's Empiricist Theory of Doxastic Knowledge" and Rachel Barney's "Giving Up and Going On: Sextus, Socrates, Apelles and the Sceptical Search of Truth". I had my favourite paper, but the most favourite part was the stimulating discussion after the paper and during the breaks. Here I will point out what I will be happy to remember later...

I loved the following two features in Gail's paper: she opened up options in the Phaedo; how often don't we fixate (or so were hope) Plato's view, even when things are not clear at all, as they are not in the Phaedo with regard to perception; the bone of contention mostly being whether it is propositional or non-propositional. The second feature I admired, furthermore, was her way of dialectics with other researchers: how often, in all quarters of research, don't we tend to caricature the "opponents' view, instead of attempting to understand their motives and their background? Gail was doing the latter, instead. By now, and in all places I have been so far, I have not experienced these two virtues exemplified to such an extent in a paper. So, hats off. It could only be a lady, if you ask me, that is thereby so successful, and, needless -or, not needless - to add, in Plato's spirit! Of course, we can disagree with this or that...Verity Harte wonderfully led the way as Gail's commentator, pressing on the deceiving and bewitching perception: isn't falsehood propositional? We can draw upon the Timaeus: with due respect to Schleiermacher and everyone following his example, in or without their awareness, the philosophical unity of Plato's work weighs more than the literary unity of each and every dialogue as an artistic product, for sure. And so we can restrict some of the openness argued for in the Phaedo etc etc. But first things first: let's learn how to admire paradigms for what they are and what they do offer.

In a very neat paper, Henrik and Ben depicted Aristotle's doxastic knowledge (practical thinking and the one related to crafts) as empiristic: their "game" (the wording stems from Richard Bett's question) was to shed more light on both Aristotle and the empiristic philosophers/doctors, to whom philosophers like Galen had been very sympathetic. In order to see what was at stake, we definitely needed some "German virtue" (pardon me and my love of types!) and we got exactly what we needed in Klaus Corcilius' commentary: for, this undertaking, not at all simplistic (a la Aristotle was an empiricist tout court! Oh dear, how bad!!), has resulted into nothing less than a very high claim about the nature of practical rationality in Aristotle. The greatest problems I had concerned the distinction between empeiria and techne at the beginning of Metaphysics.

Rachel shed light -light in abundance- on the Sceptics' (including Sextus and other "smart and energetic" people, as Cooper has translated μεγαλοφυεῖς in Sextus, and Rachel welcomed as an accurate characterisation of the Sceptics, in particular) investigation, which remains an investigation oriented at the truth throughout. I was glad that, for her part, Rachel did not give up before explaining the analogy of Apelles' endeavour to paint the foam of the horses' mouth, and his unexpected and incidental success. A very clear and excellent paper, including clarity about her "game" (I like this wording!), followed by an excellent comment given by Whitney Schwab: after all, we are all Sceptics, it seems (or, we'd better be Sceptics).

There was plenty of beauty in logoi: invigorating in deed to turn from the Siegfrieds (at least three, or, is it one Siegfried? oh dear!) to Marcus' and Nietzsche's amor fati and Günter Figal's Heidegger over to incidental pleasures in Aristotle.

Weighing and Measuring Pleasures. This photo was not taken at Princeton, but at the Toronto Ontario Museum (their Pompeii Exhibition, in particular). This is an image of what I am doing these days...First, I am completing a review of a marvellous book by James Warren on the Pleasures of Reason, who, perfecting Gosling and Taylor on pleasure in ancient philosophy, very meticulously  turns the Protagorean weighing and measuring pleasures into a model: not of Plato's critique of hedonism, but of prudential (calculating) reasoning. This is not "my" Plato (to be more precise, not my narrative in Plato), but this is a great book without any doubt. Second, we will discuss, among other views, utilitarianism in a coming WT class. I anticipate that I will go for a weird marriage between Kant and Nietzsche in order to find something more positive than my anti-utilitarianism, not a libertarian or a Marxist either (great! Self-irony here), but this pleasure is postponed as it suits to a more thorough reflection. Postponed is not abandoned.

Or, is it the following photo the one I'd better end the year 2015 with, sent by a dear friend who gave the title "A Canadian Cup of Tea", tea tossed in Nunavut Canada in -40 C? Not my cup of tea anyway nor my weather, but a beautiful photo: