Sunday, July 28, 2013


Rachana Kamtekar (ed.), Virtue and Happiness: Essays in Honour of Julia Annas. Oxford studies in ancient philosophy. Supplementary volume, 2012. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. x, 354. ISBN 9780199646050. $40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Sean McConnell, University of East Anglia (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Julia Annas' groundbreaking work on ancient eudaimonism has been central in bringing it to the forefront of contemporary moral philosophy. This Festschrift is a celebration of her achievements and her intellectual legacy, with all the papers engaging with or building on her work in one way or another.

The content of the volume is quite varied: there are six papers on Plato, one on Aristotle, four on the Stoics, one on Plotinus, and three pertaining to more general issues in eudaimonistic ethics. There are a variety of critical approaches on display: some of the papers focus on exegetical and interpretative issues pertaining to specific ancient texts, and there are some that have a broader philosophical interest, exploring fundamental concerns such as the psychology of virtue. The volume will be of most interest to those working on ancient ethical theories, in particular those of Plato and the Stoics, or on contemporary virtue ethics.

In 'Socrates' Refutation of Gorgias: Gorgias 447c-461b', Mark L. McPherran argues that, as well as logical argument, in certain cases Socrates uses 'extra-logical persuasion', i.e. rhetorical techniques, to arouse interlocutors' emotions so as to produce true belief without knowledge – a method warranted in the case of incompletely rational individuals who have false beliefs that lead to emotions inimical to virtue. The case is well-supported by references to the text, and McPherran highlights some often neglected aspects of Socratic therapeutic practice.

Jonathan Barnes, in 'Justice Writ Large', seeks to make totally clear why the analogy between the justice of the state and that of the soul in Plato's Republic does not work. Barnes examines the scope of key terms, such as 'large' and indeed 'justice', and identifies various fallacies in Socrates' reasoning. He concludes that the argument is a total mess, full of outright falsehoods, and that Socrates' account of the nature of justice is simply hopeless. It is a stark conclusion, but Barnes' case is compelling and it forms a real challenge to those enamoured of the Socratic thinking on display in the Republic.

In 'Plato on the Power of Ignorance', Nicholas D. Smith seeks to pin down the notion of 'what-is-not' that is at play in the fifth book of the Republic vis-à-vis the power of ignorance. (Problematically, the power of ignorance is said to take what-is-not as its object.) Smith moves away from a propositional model, which is welcome, and posits instead a model of 'conceptions' and 'misconceptions'. Knowledge involves having the right conception of what justice (say) is, belief having a more or less right conception of what justice is (something is grasped about what justice is), and ignorance having a misconception about what justice is (nothing at all is grasped about what justice is). In the case of ignorance one does grasp something, in order to form a conception; but one grasps something that is not justice and so forms a misconception about what justice is).The model is plausible and helps align Plato's thinking with commonsense intuitions about ignorance.

C. C. W. Taylor, in 'The Role of Women in Plato's Republic', revisits the issue of Plato's feminist credentials and argues that Plato does in fact share many concerns of contemporary feminists. What really should be inimical to feminists, he suggests, is the insistence that women's eudaimonia can only be achieved in the framework of Kallipolis – with its abolition of the family in particular. The thesis is clearly articulated, but it somewhat unsatisfyingly deflates the specific force and interest of feminist criticisms of Plato. For instance, Taylor has little to say about feminist concerns about Plato's perversion or even destruction of women's nature.

In 'Justice as a Virtue of the Soul', Paul Woodruff explores the tension between justice and fairness in Plato and compares his thinking in the Republic with that of John Rawls. Woodruff highlights the priority in Plato's Republic of the 'ethical' over the 'political' conception of justice – that is, the justice pertaining to the individual soul rather than that pertaining to institutions, which is Rawls' focus. The comparative discussion is informative and helps bring out some of the fundamental differences between liberalism and Platonic thinking.

In 'Injury, Injustice, and the Involuntary in the Laws', Malcolm Schofield explores the distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, and that between injury and injustice, in an attempt to understand better Plato's theory of punishment in the Laws. Schofield argues that Plato posits not just a blunt 'curing' of the sick soul of the perpetrator but also an appropriate recompense of the injured party that takes into account, moreover, the healthy relationships obtaining between members of the political community and its public institutions. The paper helps highlight developments in Platonic thought and an emerging concern with issues surrounding free action that become central for later thinkers such as the Stoics.

Daniel C. Russell, in 'Aristotle's Virtues of Greatness', examines Aristotle's treatment of magnificence and magnanimity and why modern philosophers interested in virtue ethics have largely avoided taking them seriously. A dominant worry is that they are elitist and not much more than an unfortunate cultural intrusion into Aristotle's theory. However, Russell makes it clear just how central and important these virtues are to Aristotle's ethical system. He then questions the ways in which Aristotle's ethics is elitist and concludes boldly that the virtues of greatness are not in fact elitist since they require nothing special that is beyond ordinary human capacities, although they are limited to a select group who are actually in a position to develop and exercise them. The argument is engaging and productively critical of much of the scholarly literature on the topic. It is also provocative: Russell makes a powerful case that virtues of greatness pertaining specifically to those in powerful or prominent public positions are just as relevant and real today as in Aristotle's time.

In 'Did the Stoics Invent Human Rights?', Richard Bett argues against attributing to the Stoics a doctrine of human rights. Such a doctrine, he argues, would be incompatible with some of their core ethical tenets, and there is no reason to think that the Stoics would privilege universal claims to freedom, shelter, and so forth, when they are merely 'preferred indifferents'. Bett's thesis is well-supported by the ancient evidence: clearly the Stoics do stress certain ideas such as the unity of humankind and the universal natural law, which did in fact influence later thinkers who developed theories of human rights, but the modern concept of human rights is quite different to what we find in the Stoic sources.

Rosalind Hursthouse, in 'Excessiveness and our Natural Development', examines Stoic accounts of the development of rationality in childhood and seeks to reconstruct a cogent position that accords both with the ancient evidence and with our current understanding of human development. With this model in hand she then turns to give an account of the Stoics' treatment of 'excessiveness' in pathetic impulses, which she argues is exemplified in particular by the emotional responses of children, which are outside of reason's control. The analysis is perceptive, and Hursthouse is very supportive of the general Stoic account, which she shows accords strongly with commonplace observations of child development and excessive adult behaviour. The article also does a lot to highlight the importance of children in Hellenistic ethical theory, a subject that deserves further detailed study.

In 'Chrysippus and the Action Theory of Aristo of Chios', Anna Maria Ioppolo reassesses the evidence for the views of Aristo of Chios concerning indifferents and human action. She makes the case that Aristo – and Chrysippus too – thought that some indifferents do motivate action as they stimulate impulses of attraction or aversion, although both in equal measure. But it is 'an inclination of the mind', not a spontaneous movement, that is the criterion that determines or motivates an action one way or another with regard to these indifferents. This inclination of the mind is not the same as a spontaneous movement and does not lead to irrational or unmotivated actions with regard to these indifferents, since the agent can provide a justification for, say, awarding the victor's palm to the nearest of two tied runners or taking one of two drachmas. Such actions are, however, subjective, since they rely completely on which way the agent's mind happens to incline – such actions do not recommend any objective rules of behaviour. Ioppolo provides an illuminating reappraisal of the evidence and offers something quite different to the standard Ciceronian account of Aristo's position.

In 'How Unified is Stoicism Anyway?', Brad Inwood questions the extent to which Stoic philosophy is a unified system by analysing a key claim in Cicero's De finibus made by the character Cato (3.72). Inwood challenges the prevailing consensus that Stoicism is a systematically unified philosophy in which logic, physics, and ethics all mesh together. He stresses that we must take properly into account the nature of the dialogue between the characters Cato and Cicero in De finibus, and once we do this the evidential nature of the key claim is undermined. The paper does a lot to highlight the qualities of Ciceronian philosophical writing and to make clear the pitfalls of using discrete, isolated sections of his work as factual evidence for earlier views – an all-too-common practice in the study of Hellenistic philosophy.

In 'Plotinus, Ennead 1.4 as Critique of Earlier Eudaimonism', A. A. Long provides a detailed expository account of Plotinus' ethics and in particular his notion of eudaimonia. Long demonstrates the ways in which Plotinus engages critically with earlier Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurean ideas – borrowing some and rejecting others – while at the same time making original contributions of his own. This lucid paper makes clear the richness and sophistication of Neoplatonist eudaimonism, and it is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to get a handle on Plotinus' ethical thought.

Paul Bloomfield, in 'Eudaimonia and Practical Rationality', addresses the tension between self- and other-concern that lies at the centre of moral philosophy in general and eudaimonistic ethics in particular. Bloomfield first examines what Sidgwick, Hume, and Kant have to say on practical rationality. He argues that eudaimonism offers a more fruitful way forward than the Humean and Kantian perspectives that have dominated so much of Western moral philosophy; it unifies self- and other-concern under one principle of 'living well'. This paper reaffirms some of the motivations underpinning contemporary virtue ethics and offers an uplifting outline of the practical system to which it aspires.

In 'Psychological Eudaimonism and Interpretation in Greek Ethics', Mark LeBar and Nathaniel Goldberg set out to defend the descriptive claim, made in the Platonic dialogues and elsewhere, that all human beings as a matter of fact desire to live well. There is little if any actual argument for this claim in the ancient sources, but by drawing heavily on contemporary work on interpretation and presuppositions of rationality, most notably by Davidson, LeBar and Goldberg make a compelling case.

In 'How (and Maybe Why) to Grieve Like an Ancient Philosopher', Scott LaBarge focuses on the ancient ethical interest in how to deal with death and the loss of those dear to one. The treatment of the long tradition of consolatory literature is quite basic, and those interested in this topic will find more detailed accounts elsewhere. LaBarge's interest lies more in how this aspect of ancient ethics might resonate today. He argues that the ancients, particularly the Stoics, are not as cold or austere on the issue of grieving as they might at first appear. This is a sensitive and personally felt paper that touches on the in many ways positive place of mortality, loss, and grief in the eudaimonistic life as it might be conceived of and pursued today. LaBarge is perhaps overly careful in shying away from confrontation and any perceived offence, but the piece draws attention to a topic of real interest.

Rachana Kamtekar, the editor, provides a short introduction to the collection, and the volume as a whole is a stimulating conversation with the work of Julia Annas.

Table of Contents

1: Rachana Kamtekar: Introduction
2: Mark McPherran: Socrates' Refutation of Gorgias: Gorgias 447c-461b
3: Jonathan Barnes: Justice Writ Large
4: Nicholas D. Smith: Plato on the Power of Ignorance
5: C. C. W. Taylor: The Role of Women in Plato's Republic
6: Paul Woodruff: Justice as a Virtue of the Soul
7: Malcolm Schofield: Injury, Injustice, and the Involuntary in the Laws
8: Daniel C. Russell: Aristotle's Virtues of Greatness
9: Richard Bett: Did the Stoics Invent Human Rights?
10: Rosalind Hursthouse: Excessiveness and our Natural Development
11: Anna Maria Ioppolo: Chrysippus and the Action Theory of Aristo of Chios
12: Brad Inwood: How Unified Is Stoicism Anyway?
13: A. A. Long: Plotinus, Ennead 1.4 as Critique of Earlier Eudaimonism
14: Paul Bloomfield: Eudaimonia and Practical Rationality
15: Mark LeBar and Nathaniel Goldberg: Psychological Eudaimonism and Interpretation in Greek Ethics
16: Scott LaBarge: How (and Maybe Why) to Grieve like an Ancient Philosopher

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