Philo of Alexandria and Post-Aristotelian Philosophy. Edited by Francesca Alesse
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 4, pages 699–700, July 2009
How to Cite
Ewbank, M. (2009), Philo of Alexandria and Post-Aristotelian Philosophy. Edited by Francesca Alesse. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 699–700. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00501_3.x
- Issue published online: 8 JUN 2009
- Article first published online: 8 JUN 2009
Pp. 291 , Leiden/Boston , E. J. Brill , 2008 , $189.00/£131.70 .
H. A. Harris, a Classics lecturer at St. David's College, Lampeter, also a world renowned historian of athletics in Antiquity, judged Philo of Alexandria to have been a remarkably acute observer of human action and experience during the first half of the first century C.E. This was later complemented by A. P. Bos's encapsulated characterisation of Philo as a Platonist in the image of Aristotle. However, the complex texture of Philo's achievement, the range and depth of his integration of prior sources, as well as his profound influence on subsequent Neoplatonists, many Christian Fathers, and beyond, can only adequately be pondered in light of elucidations offered by scholars such as D. Runia, who contributes to this important collection that includes ten equally substantive studies by other researchers.
F. Alesse's introduction contains a detailed yet comprehensive overview of past efforts to determine the presence of Hellenistic philosophy in Philo's treatises, along with economical synopses of the investigations to follow, each sequenced chronologically according to the diverse schools of thought integrated within Philo's synthesis. These are initiated with D. Runia's careful analyses that depict Philo's portrayal of the Jewish religion not only as right action evidencing devotion to God and obedience to divine law, but also as right thinking. To achieve this, Philo sometimes relied on detailed doxographical material that permitted him to organise and evaluate diverse bodies of doctrine and argument, more often than not without designating specific speculators, since he was not markedly interested in the subtleties of school successions or traditions. Runia's conclusions are complemented by the essay of R. Sharples, who indicates how Philo's references to Aristotelian doctrines are relatively few, with the exception of On the Eternity of the World, thus reflecting his principal concern with developing his own views rather than being interested in Greek learning on its own terms.
G. Ranocchia shifts the focus to Philo's anti-Epicurean polemic, in which he not only attacks the materialism of Atomists and any who reject the theory of ideas, but also the Epicurean classification of pleasures in which, alongside and above kinetic pleasures, there are so-called ‘catastematic’ pleasures that correspond to peace of mind. This position, Philo insisted, contradicts the very nature of pleasure, and his refutation was utilised to associate certain Epicurean doctrines with the first forms of Christian heterodoxy by many early Christian writers, such as Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. C. Levy's reflection pursues Philo's unique mode of scepticism, which he insists is not ‘un dogmatisme négatif’, since it does not accord with any of the categories that structure the history of Greek scepticism. Rather, it finds inspiration in the fact that God is unknowable in that which concerns his being, since only manifestations of divine power are accessible to a sage, and this implies a fundamental problem in the domain and definition of knowledge. In introducing Revelation as a new element within the discussion, Philo shows that systematic doubt and faith are not necessarily contradictories.
The following four studies center on Philo's relation to Stoic sources and doctrines. A. Long concludes that Stoicism is only sporadically present in Philo's work, such as in his contestations to Stoic doctrines of the world's indestructibility and conflagration, and in his adaptive utilisations of Stoic classifications of the soul's powers in allegorical exegesis of Genesis. R. Radice traces Philo's descriptions of man as originally dwelling in wisdom, explicated in terms of Stoic and Platonic explanations of the inter-dependence and derivation of the virtues, to depict man as situated within a living hierarchy of distinctive degrees of intelligence and freedom, the latter proportioned to relational bonding with the necessities of the physical world. These findings are complemented by those of G. Reydams-Schils, who meticulously inventories the range of Philo's considerations of mind, senses, and passions that were bonded with concepts used to explore soul/body dualism prominent in Middle-Platonism and Stoicism of the imperial period. This repertory bequeathed to Philo enhanced his ability to oscillate between Stoic and Platonic psychological models. Equally detailed is the investigation of M. Graver, who explores Philo's assimilation and application of the Stoic doctrine of ‘pre-emotions’. Philo's distinctive treatment of such as highly cognitive, taking them in the direction of involuntary thoughts rather than of involuntary corporeal movements, is carefully contrasted with what is discernable in the analyses of thinkers such as Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, and Chrysippus.
The final two essays recapitulate from distinct vantages themes brought into relief in the prior analyses. In a brief, finely documented reflection, J. Dillon articulates the central contrapuntal emphases that unify Philo's writings by masterfully portraying his ability to combine the Stoicising telos of Antiochus, perhaps assimilated through the medium of Eudorus, with Pythagoreanising considerations that may condition how one understands man's ‘likeness to God’. M. Bonazzi ends this valuable series of reflections by exploring similar matters, with an emphasis on Philo's unique integration of Biblical exegesis and his sources as having been achieved not only due to inherent genius, but also to a propitious appropriation of inherited philosophical notions. These include the eloquent definition of the first principle as ‘hyperano theos’ and others, which served him well in achieving a synthesis ‘whose importance it is impossible to exaggerate, if we think of the significance that Philo's work was to have over the centuries’.