Sunday, December 4, 2011


Frans A. J. de Haas, Mariska Leunissen, Marije Martijn (ed.), Interpreting Aristotle's Posterior Analytics in Late Antiquity and Beyond. Philosophia antiqua, 124. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xxiv, 269. ISBN 9789004201279. $153.00.

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

Version at BMCR home site

The present volume comprises the proceedings of a conference on the topic 'Interpretations of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, held in Leiden in June 2004, covering the influence of this work not only in late antiuquity, but in the Byzantine, Arab, and Mediaeval Latin worlds as well. As the editors point out in their introduction, the APo. is not in fact much commented on as such, or in its totality, but its contents (especially II 19) were widely influential, particularly in connection with the questions of concept formation and the foundations of scientific knowledge, so that one must look much further afield than commentaries on the work itself.

These are not entrely lacking , however. There are important ones by Alexander of Aphrodisias (only surviving in fragments), Themistius (a paraphrase rather than a commentary, but significant nonetheless), John Philoponus (and a possible pseudo-Philoponus on the second book!), and, in the later Byzantine period, Eustratius of Nicaea, Pediasimus, and Prodromus, of whom the first is the most important. In the Arab world, Avicenna's Book of Demonstrations is a direct interpretation of the APo., and Averroes comments on it in his middle and great commentaries on the Organon. In the Latin mediaeval world, the most important commentators would be Robert Grosseteste and Albert the Great, but James of Venice performed the initial service, in the twelfth century, of translating both the text and a commentary (perhaps that of Alexander or of Philoponus – only one fragment remains!).

The influence of the work, however, as I say, far transcends commentaries upon it, and many of the essays in this volume concern other types of source. There are ten essays, divided into three sections (the division being not merely chronological, but thematic as well), as follows:

Part I: Concept Formation in Posterior Analytics II 19

1. Richard Sorabji, 'The Ancient Commentators on Concept Formation'.

Sorabji here gives an excellent survey of the reception of APo. II 19 as a theory of concept formation, linking it to DA III 5, and expounding Aristotle's equating of experience, or a succession of memories, with the development of universal concepts. He shows how later commentators slightly distort A.'s theory, by neglecting the role of the succession of memories in favor of sense-perception in general as a kind of perception of universals. His contribution is rounded off with a most useful anthology of relevant texts.

2. Christoph Helmig, 'Proclus' Criticism of Aristotle's Theory of Abstraction and Concept Formation in Analytica Posteriora II 19'.

Helmig presents Proclus' criticism of A.'s theory of abstraction and concept formation in In Parm. IV and in the Euclid Commentary, asserting that mathematicals and universal concepts cannot be derived from sensible particulars, and denying that such 'later-born' (husterogenes universals can be objects of science – though, as Helmig notes, Proclus does not reject them altogether. Proclus never actually mentions the APo., but since he is attested to have written a commentary on it, Helmig argues reasonably that his arguments there must have been much the same as these.

3. Katerina Ierodiakonou, 'Eustratius' Comments on Posterior Analytics II 19'.

Ierodiakonou presents an evaluation of the commentary of Bishop Eustratius of Nicaea, at the beginning of the 12th century, concentrating on his account of knowledge of first principles, and showing how he seeks to harmonize the positions of Plato and Aristotle in the familiar Neoplatonist manner, while introducing a Christian perspective as well. Of particular interest, as she points out, is his defence of physics as a cognitive science.

4. Pia A. Antolic-Piper, 'Roger Bacon on Experiment, Induction and Intellect in his Reception of Analytica Posteriora II 19'.

Antolic-Piper gives a most lucid account of Roger Bacon's use of APo. II 19 in the interpretation of Met. I 1 contained in his Quaestiones supra libros Prime Philosophie, showing among other things his subtle differentiation from Aristotle on the role of intellectus (nous), and his promoting of the role of 'experiment'. She also emphasizes his dependence on such authorities as Grosseteste and Alhazen.

Part II of the collection, 'Metaphysics as a Science', focusing on the role of the APo. in the reception and evaluation of Aristotle's metaphysics, comprises just two papers:

5. Maddalena Bonelli, 'Alexander of Aphrodisias on the Science of Ontology'; and 6. Angela Longo, 'Les 'Seconds Analytiques' dans la commentaire de Syrianus sur la 'Métaphysique' d'Aristote'.

Bonelli, in a paper based on her doctoral thesis, published as Alessandro d'Afrodisia e la metafisica come scienza dimostrativa, Napoli, 2001 , shows how Alexander, by applying the doctrine of the APo. to his exegesis of Met. IV, is able to present the science of 'being qua being' as a demonstrative science, a move which had considerable influence on later interpreters of Aristotle. Longo, in turn, presents an interesting study of the varying ways in which Syrianus is able to use the APo. in different parts of his commentary on the Metaphysics, to support Aristotle in the commentary on III-IV, and to confute him in XIII-XIV, where Aristotle is himself polemicizing against the Platonists.

In Part III, 'Demonstration, Definition and Causation', we are presented with four studies in the reception of A's theory of demonstration, definition and causation, as formulated in Book II of the APo..

7. Miira Tuominen, 'Alexander and Philoponus on Prior Analytics I 27-30: Is there Tension between Aristotle's Scientific Theory and Practice?'

Tuominen actually focuses on the logic of this section of the APr., to show how it is designed to facilitate the discovery of premises for the construction of scientific syllogisms in all four modes, but by adducing Alexander's and Philoponus' exegeses of this, she shows how they, by connecting this with APo. II, can argue that the syllogistic schemes may be used for both dialectical demonstrations and for strictly scientific ones.

8. Owen Goldin, 'Two Traditions in the Ancient Posterior Analytics Commentaries'.

Goldin was not able to contribute his original paper to the conference, as that was being published elsewhere, but this substitute will do very well. Focusing on APo. II 1-10, which concern demonstration and definition, Goldin discerns a difference between two traditions in the ancient commentators, one based on the lost commentary of Alexander, the other exemplified in that of either Philoponus or pseudo-Philoponus, which see Aristotle as trying to achieve different objectives in this part of the work. Philoponus' interpretation was primarily influential among mediaeval commentators, whereas that favoured in modern times Goldin sees as going back to Alexander.

9. Mariska Leunissen, 'Aristotle and `Philoponus on Final Causes in Demonstrations in Posterior Analytics II 11.'

Leunissen, who has since produced a fine book in this area, Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle's Science of Nature' (Cambridge 2010), here studies Philoponus' interpretation of a rather troublesome passage of the APo., where Aristotle, in dealing with his four causes, seems to get into difficulties with treating final causes as middle terms in demonstrative syllogisms. John Philoponus, concerned for his consistency, tries to save him from himself, but Leunissen shows that Aristotle never really intended this, so no such saving is required.

10. Inna Kupreeva, 'Aristotle on Causation and Conditional Necessity: Analytica Posteriora II 12 in Context.'

In the final paper, Kupreeva deals with the very interesting ch. 12 of Book II, where Aristotle addresses problems to do with causation, specifically whether demonstrative validity is preserved in the case where cause and effect are not simultaneous, but are separate in time. Kupreeva gives a fine account of the complexities of Aristotle's reasoning, introducing a distinction between 'causal' and 'modal' senses of necessity, in elucidating the positions of Alexander and Philoponus.

All in all, this is a fine and useful collection of papers. One is reminded to what an extent the ancient commentators were concerned to vindicate the consistency between Aristotle's theory and practice, whereas modern interpreters are more interested in probing the discrepancies between them.

1 comment:

  1. Not all of us "are more interested in probing the discrepancies between [Aristotle's theory and practice]. See my forthcoming *Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology* (OUP January 2012), chs. 7 and 8.


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