Thursday, October 26, 2017


Aleš Havlíček, Christoph Horn, Jakub Jinek (ed.), Nous, Polis, Nomos. Festschrift Francisco L. Lisi. Studies on Ancient Moral and Political Philosophy Bd. 2. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag, 2016. Pp. 344. ISBN 9783896656971. €48,50.

Reviewed by Hernán Gabriel Borisonik, Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA); National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This compilation commemorates the Argentinean-born professor Francisco Leonardo Lisi Bereterbide's important studies and works, especially about Plato's Republic and Laws, and Aristotle's Politics. Taking Lisi's path, the book encompasses a number of disciplines such as Ancient History, Philosophy, Political Theory, Philology and even Law, not only in ancient times, but also in dialogue with the present.

The twenty-three essays are quite disparate in style, topic, framework, perspective, methods, and goals. Also, they are written in six different languages (English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Catalan, regardless of the extended Greek references), which makes the reading almost exclusive to a very specific and erudite public. In addition, the immense range of topics only makes sense thanks to the articulating axis of Lisi's work, which also makes this volume a book to be recommended to those who study his legacy.

It is interesting to see, at the very beginning of the Preface, one of the commanding aims of this copious work: to reconnect young students and researchers with the roots of the Western tradition. Lisi himself was very concerned about that disconnection that results in a "lazy" Stimmung and the political danger of "ideological confusion" created by the lack of recognition of the importance of ancient thought for human life as we know it.

The book is divided into six sections, preceded by a foreword (written by one of the editors) and followed by lists and indexes. The first section consists of three essays regarding ancient history and general context in which political philosophy was born. The second section is formed by four papers focused on programmatic and hermeneutical subjects. The third and larger segment addresses some specific themes in the dialogues of Plato. After that, five papers take Aristotle's ideas into consideration. The next group is formed by two contributions that concentrate in the humanistic reception of Aristotle in the 16th century. The compilation closes with a survey of the systemic problem of human rights made by one of the editors. At the very end the book provides a complete list of Lisi's writings.

I would like to single out three of the articles that were of special interest for me, in the order that they appear in the book.

Alberto Maffi's "L'ennemi mis à mort dans l'antiquité grecque" makes an interesting study of the judgments of enemies that relates actions in the 5th century BC with war crime courts of the 20th and 21st centuries AD. Homeric and Xenophonic sources make clear that the actions taken against the defeated was always limited by the beliefs in celestial punishments and the power of public opinion. Dealing with a captive gradually shifted from being a right of the victor to the recognition of a responsibility of acting persons. As a first step in that shift Maffi makes use of Plato's Republic 471a-b, which makes a distinction between war (as a conflict with foreigners) and dissension (among Greeks), and argues that it is necessary to avoid killing in the second case. Maffi then turns to book 3 of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and continues to analyse the transfiguration of the actions taken by the victor, linked to the idea of responsibility and law. At the very end, the text tries to connect this first change of mentality to the processes of war crimes in our time. Although the philosophical approach and the work with historiographical sources is very well organized and accurate, the links with the last two centuries are only briefly touched upon.

In "Les Lois de Platon, une utopie," Luc Brisson follows one of Lisi's main topics, utopia, with the last Platonic dialogue as a case study. Brisson begins by taking up the historical development of the term "utopia", from ancient Greece to Thomas More and tries to comprehend if it can be applied to Laws. He begins by stating that the idea of "utopia" always implies the evocation of a social and political situation that is applied to a place (topos), therefore it operates within a geography and is not a purely theoretical concept. Hence, utopia must contain a critical moment, a descriptive one and one that represents a desire (or fiction) for a better organization. The question is, then, is there a critical and illustrative programmatic instance in Plato's Laws. For Brisson, Plato thought of this book as a series of activities and human principles that are in close relation with philosophical reflection. He also placed it as a proposal for a colonized Crete. There, the program is a noocratic government (one that rules the polis according to nous, intellect, as opposed to a tyrannical, oligarchic or democratic one); his critics in the dialogue point to some existing governments (in Crete, Sparta, Athens) and his description consists of a spatial, economic, legislative, social, political and legal plan, which, in Brisson's eyes, means it is an achievable plan (at least, much more achievable than Republic). Nevertheless, this utopia is very different from the ones that came after it (especially More's), because it is realizable in the short term. The text is maybe a bit too short to for deep argument, but it has an interesting statement and freshens discussion of Platonic thought.

Thirdly, David Hernández de la Fuente intends to connect virtue and justice through the analysis of citizenship as a passage between individual and social experiences in his (predominantly descriptive) text "Virtud colectiva e individual en Aristóteles: algunas reflexiones sobre la Política". Even when is clear that Aristotle held a particular viewpoint about the connections between physis, justice and happiness, the paper proposes that here he follows Plato 'surely more than in any other aspect' to determine and solve the conflict between the individual and the collective spheres through law, education and sociability. That thesis (Aristotle's propinquity with Plato in this field) is probably the most controversial—and, therefore, the most interesting—aspect of the paper, although its brevity does not allow its author to provide important bibliographic foundations. Nevertheless, he describes the Stagirite as more 'pragmatic' and 'realistic' than his teacher and, consequently, as 'less innovative'. Aristotle solves the problem to create an enduring equilibrium by recombining and synthetizing existing elements into a new one: the middle-class government, crafted with monarchic, aristocratic, oligarchic and democratic components. In the end, Hernandez stresses the great value given by Aristotle to skholé as tied to the political functioning of the community, the virtuous behaviour of individuals and the freedom of citizens, and which also endorses a society directed to those who don't need to work to make a living.

In general, the book touches on most of the central topics in Lisi's concern and some of the most important in our time. Many readers will only come to those articles that are most useful for their interests or research fields, but this volume countenances a very broad depiction of ancient thought, which is of immense necessity in these times. Some chapters are more carefully constructed than others, and there is no lack of contradictions between the different authors, but this enriches the volume. Dedicated to a very selected public, it has the potential to be a great stimulus for revisiting and reflecting about some important Greek ideals, and also for further research.

Table of Contents

Preface, by Jakub Jinek
Solon über den wahren Reichtum, by Damir Barbarić
L'ennemi mis à mort dans l'antiquité grecque, by Alberto Maffi
The Flawed Origins of Ancient Greek Democracy, by Edward Harris
Wie lässt sich die antike Ethik angemessen verstehen?, by Christoph Horn
Platon heute, by Barbara Zehnpfennig
Zur Bezeugung nicht verschriftlichter Ansichten bei Platon, by Thomas Alexander Szlezák
Alcune riflessioni sulla gnoseologia platonica, by Maurizio Migliori
La visione dell'idea del bello: Conoscenza intuitiva e conoscenza proposizionale nel Simposio, by Francesco Fronterotta
Tiresia, Socrate e il vero politico: A proposito della conclusione del Menone, by Franco Ferrari
Placing Respect in the Foreground: Plato on Different Kinds of Recognition, by Elena Irrera
Progress or regress? Plato's account of the beginnings of mankind, by Giovanni Giorgini
Zum Problem des Gehorsams gegenüber dem Gesetz bei Platon, by Jakub Jinek
The Relation of Law and Virtue in Plato's Politeia, Politikos, and Nomoi, by Manuel Knoll
Règims, governs i governants: precisions al voltant d'un fragment d'El polític de Plató, by Josep Monserrat-Molas
Les Lois de Platon, une utopie?, by Luc Brisson
Jaeger's Theory on "Development History" and his Aristotelian Studies, by Arianna Fermani
L'animale politico e i suoi rivali: Aristotele e il conflitto delle antropologie, by Mario Vegetti
An Overdose of Justice or The Chimera of alleged "Distributive Justice" in Aristotle's Politics, by Eckart Schütrumpf
Virtud colectiva e individual en Aristóteles: algunas reflexiones sobre la Política, by David Hernández de la Fuente
Le forme di democrazia nella Politica di Aristotele, by Silvia Gastaldi
Wonder and the Irrational. The Invention of Aristotle's Poetics, 1460a11–18, in the Sixteenth Century, by María José Vega
Felice Figliucci interprete della Politica di Aristotele, by Michele Curnis
On the Very Existence of Human Rights, by Aleš Havlíček
Bibliography of Francisco Leonardo Lisi Bereterbide, by Michele Curnis

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