Ancient Models of Mind: Studies in Human and Divine Rationality. Edited by Andrea Nightingale and David Sedley . Pp. ix, 250, Cambridge University Press, 2010, £55.00/$95.00.
Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
© 2013 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 55, Issue 1, pages 136–137, January 2014
How to Cite
Waterfield, R. (2014), Ancient Models of Mind: Studies in Human and Divine Rationality. Edited by Andrea Nightingale and David Sedley . Pp. ix, 250, Cambridge University Press, 2010, £55.00/$95.00. The Heythrop Journal, 55: 136–137. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12064_15
- Issue published online: 29 NOV 2013
- Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
The ancient Greeks had two preferred methods for exploring the human mind. The direct, realistic approach considered what it actually does, its faculties and methods. The ideal approach took as a paradigm the mind of god, or of a supposedly perfected human being (e.g. Socrates), and considered what humans had to do to make up their defects. The title of the book, backed up by the editors’ introduction, suggests that these models inform the essays, but in fact they lie pretty much in the background. The collection started life as a conference in honour of the classicist and philosopher A.A. Long, and ended as a Festschrift for him. Hence, in addition to essays, bibliography, and index, there is also a list of Long's publications. It makes impressive reading.
Relatively unconnected the essays may be, then, but they are uniformly excellent. To the usual discussion of knowledge in the ‘Socratic’ dialogues as expert or non-expert, Nightingale adds self-knowledge, as a constant thread in Plato's works. Self-knowledge differs from other knowledge in crucial ways, such as not being accessible to an outside observer, but also in inevitably carrying ethical baggage. The same goes for aporia: it is not just ignorance, but awareness that one is confused. Claiming to have knowledge one lacks is an ethical fault. The same goes in the middle-period dialogues too, even though Plato's ideal there is knowledge, rather than awareness of ignorance. To know Forms is to know truth, but it is also part of a journey towards self-knowledge, as Phaedrus makes particularly clear. ‘The philosopher attains self-knowledge by moving back and forth between his particular life on earth and his contemplation of eternal realities’ (25).
In an essay that has little to do with the mind, Sara Ahbel-Rappe argues for a novel interpretation of the ethics of Plato's Socrates. He was not an egoistic eudaimonist, but developed an ‘ethics of wisdom’ (44), in which wisdom involves other-regarding action as well as egoism. Since the orthodoxy against which she is tilting is well entrenched, the thesis might better be developed at book-length, taking account of all the relevant passages, if it is to be convincing.
In a very useful study, Kathryn Morgan reads Phaedrus as a radical work in several respects, above all in religion. Inspiration for a philosopher is recollection; the divine that intrudes and informs his life is not the Olympic pantheon, but rationally accessible Forms, on which the divinity of the traditional gods also depends.
Sedley floats the idea that Theaetetus is actually an ethical dialogue, because its subject is knowledge, which is regarded by Plato as a virtue. In the digression (172c-177b), the man who has most fully assimilated his mind to that of god is also the most moral man. Sedley reminds us that the Greek virtue of sophrosyne was also simultaneously moral and intellectual, and points out that sophrosyne is highlighted in the closing words of the dialogue: moral and intellecutal progress go hand in hand.
Both Plato and Aristotle held out the ideal of assimilation to god as a description of the goal of human life. Surprisingly, as Allan Silverman argues, Plato's version of that ideal does not involve flight from the physical world as much as Aristotle's. Then Alan Code shows (following an insight of Long's) the profitable use Aristotle made of his predecessors’ sceptical arguments to develop his own ideas about the first principles of knowledge. In particular, the very existence of epistemological puzzles, so far from acting as an impediment, may spur one to further investigation, because Aristotle held that proof was not always necessary in epistemology.
The next five essays all focus on Stoicism, in which Long was a pioneer. Stephen White re-interprets the mental act of ‘selection’. It has been seen as an impulse to pursue one of the many ‘preferred indifferents’, but White argues that it has less to do with conduct than with value: it is the mental act that determines preference. Richard Bett explores the Stoic conception of beauty. They seem to distinguish physical beauty and moral beauty more than Plato did (with his assumption of the univocality of kalon), but closer investigation reveals more overlap and greater reliance on Plato. Luca Castagloni teases out the meagre evidence to argue, controversially, that the early Stoic understanding of dialectic was the same as Socrates’, in that it relies on interpersonal interrogation, rather than just being a blanket term for philosophy in general. James Ker shows how at the end of De vita beata Seneca uses ‘Socrates’ as a paradigm suitable for his own purposes and historical context. Gretchen Reydams-Schils also considers Seneca (Long wrote a ground-breaking book on him) and his dependency on Plato. She points out that he adopted wholesale Plato's antitheses between human and divine reason, between the material and immaterial worlds (an un-Stoical separation), and between body and soul, while in each case giving the idea a distinctly Stoic twist.
A final essay considers Plotinus. Kenneth Wolfe shows how Plotinus combined the Platonist distinction between human and divine with Aristotle's view of the intellect to create a unique blend, in which to know an individual is not just to know his physical appearance, or even his personality, but his individual essence, his divine and rational self.
It should be clear that some of these essays have fundamental aims – to establish a new foundation for further studies – while others are more focused on particular interpretive problems. In either case, every essay in this collection will provoke responses in the future.