Monday, April 6, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Response: Boeri on Reyes Bertolín Cebrián on Marcelo D. Boeri, Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Eticos y de Teoría de la Acción en Algunas Teorías de la Antigüedad. Response to BMCR 2009.03.19
Response by Marcelo D. Boeri, Universidad de los Andes

In her review of my book Apariencia y Realidad en el Pensamiento Griego. Investigaciones sobre Aspectos Epistemológicos, Eticos 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 clearly subjective.

First, 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, and 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.

Second, 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 failed to read carefully my chapter 6 (where I discussed in 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 needs 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 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 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 and in my Introduction, my survey focused just on some theories of antiquity (Algunas teorías de la antigüedad), not on all of them.

Third, RBC objects 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 could not 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 and N. D. Smith, and H. 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, in 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.

Finally, RBC also objects 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 why, 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 an 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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    this somewhat aggressive response aroused my interest, so I read the original review and found that half of the things the author considered as "unfair criticism" are in fact neutral comments on his book and its purposes. Sure: the reviewer is not really excited about the book's quality, but she writes in a sober and technical style. It would have probably been better for the author to chose a similar tone in his comment - or to refrain from commenting at all.

    Best wishes from Germany.