Saturday, June 02, 2007


Well, I haven't got around to reviewing that book, or skepticism. I've been too busy reading Theaetetus and Timaeus. I would like to revel in this but I really do regret that I have not properly reviewed the book on early Greek philosophy, because it really needs reviewed.

Well, all right. I'll do it now.

The problems started very soon. The editor of the book, who also (as is the custom with the Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) wrote the first chapter, almost tripped over himself apologizing for saying anything definite. It was all "This is what current scholarship thinks" and "On the whole" and "But others think that perhaps" and it was impossible to get through a paragraph without being reminded that what we really know about the Presocratics is that we know nothing. Well, I've read some fragments. I think that something is true about, say, Thales, and something is false, and some other things are difficult to judge. With a suitable conviction about truth and falsity, one could come to very likely opinions about many of those things in the third category. The editor obviously did not possess the courage to take such stands. This did not bode well for the rest of the book.

However, the rest was actually pretty good. All speculation about meaning was grounded with references to (and full citations of) actual fragments by early Greek philosophers. Thus, if one of the authors said something obviously wrong, the evidence contra would be ready to hand. The major blunder was sacrificing art for PC nonsense. Protagoras' line "Man is the measure of all things, the things that are, that they are, and the things that are not, that they are not" was rendered many times just so, but once as "A human being is the measure of all" &c. I was stunned at the pungency of it. Holy shit. You must be awfully politically devoted to translate a good phrase so poorly.

The book consisted roughly of two parts: surveys of philosophers or schools of philosophy and examinations of themes running between and among numbers of different philosophers. Thus the first part dealt with the monists in one chapter, the pluralists in another, Parmenides in another, and so on. The second part consisted of essays which are to my knowledge original in exploring their respective subjects. There was a chapter on poetics in early Greek philosophy, another on the relation between early Greek history and medicine and the emergence of the concept of causation, and yet another on rational theology.

I would recommend this book. In fact, I do.


At 2:30 AM, June 04, 2007 , Blogger Nick Milne said...

" was impossible to get through a paragraph without being reminded that what we really know about the Presocratics is that we know nothing."



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