Tuesday, March 10, 2009

2009.03.19

Marcelo D. Boeri, Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Éticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Colihue, 2007. Pp. xii, 376. ISBN 978-950-563-404-0. $39.00 (pb).
Reviewed Reyes Bertolín Cebrián, The University of Calgary (rbertoli@ucalgary.ca)

The main goal of Boeri's (B.) book is to show how some of the topics that the ancient philosophers discussed can still be relevant in contemporary philosophical discussions. The author claims in his prologue that the distinction between history of philosophy and philosophy is an artificial one and that any historian of philosophy is somewhat of a philosopher himself. He also claims that scholars of ancient philosophy are in a kind of no-man's land in between contemporary philosophers and classicists. Since I am a classicist and not a philosopher, I believe that this book is intended mostly for other philosophers and students of philosophy at the graduate and senior undergraduate level. B. does a good job explaining the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle in great detail, but not in a manner that would necessarily appeal to students in classics. This is evident already through the bibliography: most of the works cited belong to other scholars in ancient philosophy.

The title of the book might be a bit misleading. It is not about a general discussion on the problems of appearance and reality, but only as these concepts relate to the idea of good. Also, the book is not a survey on all Greek philosophies, but focuses on Socrates and Plato in the first part, while the second part is dedicated to Aristotle and the third to the Stoics. Aristotle gets the lion's share with close to one hundred and forty pages and Plato gets a hundred but all the Stoics are explained in only fifty.

B. argues in the introduction that the opposition of the concepts appearance and reality is already found in the ancient thinkers. Appearance is thought of as an illusion in perception or an error in the cognitive realm. There is no word for reality in ancient Greek. Reality is "that what (truly) is". There is, consequently an identification between reality, being, and truth. B.'s goal is to explain whether the ancient philosophers considered truth only as a theoretical criterion or also practical. In order to discuss the practical side of truth, B. continues his analysis of "Good" from the point of view of appearance and reality. In other words, just like Socrates, B. is interested in the ethical aspect of appearance and reality.

The first part of the book deals with Socrates and Plato, with no distinction attempted. B. examines thoroughly passages in the Republic, Laws, Gorgias, Timaeus, and Theatetus to establish Plato's criteria of Good, the classification of goods and the idea of Good, as well as Platonic epistemology. B.'s analysis is focused on primary texts. Analysis of these sources by other philosophers or historians of philosophy is rarely mentioned in the body of the text or in the footnotes, although the comprehensive bibliography indicates that B. is in fact familiar with other scholarship.

The second part of the book deals with Aristotle's understanding of appearance and reality. Again, the author bases his hypothesis on the study of primary sources, in this case mostly the Nicomachean Ethics. B. points out at length how much Aristotle's ethics were indebted to Socrates. Later, B.'s examination includes the perception theory and the study of "passions".

The Aristotelian passions serve as a link to the third part of the book on the Stoics. B. explains the passions as "apparent good" in Stoic philosophy. B. first links Stoic ideas on the "real Good" to Socrates before describing them in detail. This part is necessarily shorter because sources on Stoic views are not as abundant as for Plato or Aristotle.

The book can be read as three different units. It lacks a general conclusion that would have brought together commonalities and differences between the three studies. It is mostly about B.'s reading of the ancient authors, or, as he calls it, "a critical dialogue with the ancient philosophers". B. wanted to make the study of the ancient philosophers relevant for today's philosophy, however, he established only very few links with contemporary philosophers. The book remains a personal interpretation of some aspects of Plato's, Aristotle's and Stoic philosophies.

2 comments:

  1. COMMENT ON REYES BERTOLIN CEBRIAN’S REVIEW OF MARCELO D. BOERI’S APARIENCIA Y REALIDAD EN EL PENSAMIENTO GRIEGO.

    I have to warn the reader that my comment is strictly idiotic. If the reader is not willing to bear with my idiocy let her or him not read one more word.

    I find many phrases in Professor Cebrian’s review disturbing from the point of view of one who pursues philosophy not as a profession but as a personal mania. A philosopher philosophizes because s/he is haunted by nagging questions about reality and the meaning of life which to think about is constant irritation and to forget about is moral death. How sad it is that philosophy is no longer that holy madness but a respectable trade neatly parcelled out in distinct disciplines and sub-disciplines so that Professor Cebrian can find the book reviewed “intended mostly for other philosophers and students of philosophy” and would not necessarily “appeal to students in classics”.

    I have no intention of belittling the value of the work done in the specialized disciplines of philosophy and classics departments. But the situation in the study of philosophy is as if professors of English Literature were to think that their academic work took the place of original, creative poetry and drama and fiction.

    Professor Cebrian does not state it expressly, but one clearly senses that he finds it a fault that Professor Boeri’s “analysis is focused on primary texts.” Again I must say that I have nothing against engaging secondary literature and filling a book or article with citations of scholars “in the body of the text or in the footnotes”. But when an author explicitly announces it as his purpose to enter into “a critical dialogue with the ancient philosophers”, are we not to permit him to do that? (Personally, I prefer to speak of a creative dialogue rather than a critical dialogue.) How much engagement with secondary literature do you find in Hume or the daunting Kant or even Whitehead? I cannot help sensing the same note of disapproval in Professor Cebrian’s closing sentence: “The book remains a personal interpretation of some aspects of Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Stoic philosophies.” To me that makes it all the more a genuine work of philosophy.

    D. R. Khashaba
    Cairo, Egypt
    http://khashaba.blogspot.com
    http://backtosocrates.wordpress.com

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  2. Boeri on Reyes Bertolín Cebrián on Boeri Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Éticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad.
    Response to BMCR 2009.03.19


    In her review of my book Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Éticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad (hereafter AR), Reyes Bertolín Cebrián (RBC) presents a number of objections and criticisms that appear to me unfounded and clearlypartial.

    Firstly, she claims that, although I have done a good job explaining the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle in great detail, I have presented those authors and their doctrines in a manner that would not necessarily appeal to the students in classics. Honestly, I do not understand the nature of this objection, as I never intended my book for the students of classics (i.e. people dedicated to Greek and Roman literature, history, an so on), but for the classicists who are involved in ancient philosophy; as RBC herself notes, my book is intended mostly for philosophers in general or scholars interested in ancient philosophy.

    Secondly, RBC suggests that the title of AR might be “a bit misleading” since the book is not focused on a general discussion of “the problems of appearance and reality, but only as these concepts relate to the idea of good”. Probably RBC missed to read carefully my chapter 6 (where I discussed with some detail some important issues of Aristotle’s epistemology, with a special focus on the Aristotelian theory of perception and imagination or “appearance”: phantasia); she also seems to have forgotten to study more carefully my chapter 9, where I dealt with the Stoic criterion of truth (the “cognitive presentation”: kataleptike phantasia). This being so, it is untrue that I just concentrated my discussion on the distinction appearance-reality only as related to the idea of good. An important part of my research was to examine the possibility of extending the theoretical criteria, so to speak, to the practical domain. I have tried to do that when discussing Plato (chapters 1-4), but I have found some evidence of that particularly in Aristotle and the Stoics (chapters 5-9). This can be a very debatable suggestion and, in fact, constitutes a central point of my book. Unfortunately, in her extremely general review RBC did not realize that; she just mentions in passing (and in a descriptive manner) that my goal is “to explain whether the ancient philosophers considered truth only as a theoretical criterion or also practical”. RBC also complains that I do not offer “a survey of all theories of antiquity” (italics are mine). Of course, I do not do that, but I never intended to do it: as it is clearly announced in the subtitle of my book (Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Éticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad) and in my Introduction, my survey focused just on “some theories of antiquity” (Algunas teorías de la antigüedad), not on all of them.

    Thirdly, RBC objects me that in AR “Analysis of these sources (sc. Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and Stoics’s texts) by other philosophers or historians of philosophy is rarely mentioned in the body of the text or in the footnotes”. This remark cannot be more unfair: although it is true that I am particularly interested in the primary texts (as any scholar is), it is untrue that other scholars or philosophers are “rarely” mentioned in the body of the text or the footnotes. For instance, in chapter 1 other scholars’ and philosophers’ views, such as C. Kahn, E. Anscombe, A. Gómez-Lobo, R.E. Allen, J. Austin, J. Stuart Mill, I. Vasiliou, D. Davidson, G. Vlastos, T.C. Brickhouse & N. D. Smith, and G. Gadamer are referred to and sometimes briefly discussed. Within the same chapter 1 I have devoted at least one page and a half to discuss a suggestion by E. Anscombe that may be useful to understand a passage in Plato’s Gorgias. In chapter 4, on occasion of discussing some aspects of Plato’s Theaetetus, I have cited or briefly discussed the views by W. Wieland, L. Gerson, D. Bostock, M. Burnyeat, E. L. Gettier, J. Moravcsik, J. Annas, F. Aronadio, A. Nehamas, T. Irwin, C. D. C. Reeve, H. H. Benson, A. Brancacci, D. Sedley, S. Waterlow, G. Fine, J. McDowell, G. Trindade Santos, F. Trabattoni, F. Ferrari, G. Ryle, C. Kahn, E. Spinelli, and others. Something similar might be said of the other chapters of my book, but I omit to list the scholars quoted and discussed there for the sake of brevity (I just would like to briefly mention that at the final section of chapter 7 I offer a discussion where I make Aristotle have a dialogue with J. Searle; the last section of my chapter 2 establishes some links between Plato and R. Rorty, and states why Plato would not agree with Rorty on some important points. In bona fide I must assume that RBC did not read those sections of my book or that she forgot to refer to them).

    Finally, RBC also objects me that AR “lacks a general conclusion that would have brought together commonalities and differences between the three studies”. That is true, but it is also true that each chapter is endowed with partial conclusions. RBC also appears to complain that my book is mostly about my own reading of the ancient authors, which explains that, in her view, I’m not particularly concerned with the modern literature. Despite this, RBC admits at the same time that I am familiar with the current literature; besides the fact that this two statements seem to be in contradiction, it is simply false that I do not discuss the literature. As indicated above, all the chapters of my book state a central thesis and offer some arguments to prove it; in doing so, I refer to a number of papers and books published in the last decades (mostly in English, but also in Spanish, Italian, French, and German), both in the footnotes and in the body of the text. Sometimes I agree with the cited scholars and philosophers, sometimes I disagree; in the latter case, I always try to offer a reason for my disagreement.
    To conclude, my interpretations in AR can be mistaken, my arguments weak or even invalid. But in order to turn down and argument one must present a better argument, showing that, either the premises of the other argument are false or the conclusions do not follow. As far as I can see, neither of these is done by RBC in her review. I am in the habit of receiving criticism and indeed I do share the idea that criticism is a healthy way of recognizing one’s error, so that is not the point here. It just seems to me that the readers of BMCR have the right to receive a little more balanced judgment when reading a critical review. Regrettably, RBC’s review is extremely general (she used 676 words to review a 376 page book), she never cites a page number of AR or gives a precise reference to justify her views. I do not intend to engage in a sterile discussion with my reviewer; she surely had her reasons for doing the job she did. However, I do hope that my remarks in this response are helpful to the BMCR readers, although I do not assume that anyone should agree with my interpretations of ancient texts.

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