Monday, January 24, 2011

Reasoning: The Fragility of Goodness

I must take a break for this week from my continuing review of Gregory Vlastos' Socratic Studies, because I on my way up to visit my Alma Mater. When I was interviewing for my current job, an alumnus from my Alma Mater asked me how I could have possibly written my thesis on Plato and tragedy without reading Martha Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness. Remembering this, I switched the copy of Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher for Nussbaum's book. I read the introduction on the first leg of the plane flight. I would have read a lot more, but I was frustrated by the formatting (dratted endnotes!) and am rather tired.
The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy
In her introduction, Nussbaum explains that she is departing from the traditionally Kantian-influence approach to understanding the Greek conception of ἀρετή [1]. She claims to use an Aristotilian approach and will spend the book concerned with the conception of ἀρετή in tragedy, Plato, and Aristotle. She starts her discussion with a quotation from Pindar, about a person being a vine. She posits that the quotation implies that the vine must come from noble lineage to be considered good, but also external conditions determine the goodness of the vine. She sees this as an important distinction, but also a set of principles in tension with one another.

I like Nussbaum's book so far, and I will report more as I continue to move through it.

  1. ἀρετή means excellence. It is often questionably translated as virtue. Although virtue is a fine word, and may be better in some ways than excellence, virtue has been framed as something distinct from the Greek conception by the Judeo-Christian tradition and many philosophers who claim to be Platonic or Aristotilian, but who use the term under a Judeo-Christian blanket. ἀρετή encompasses all of those attributes of a person required to lead a good life.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reasoning: Vlastos' Socratic Studies #2

This is the second installment in a chain of blogposts discussing Gregory Vlastos' book Socratic Studies, which is a series of essays on Socratic philosophy and methodology. It discusses the second essay, "Socrates' Disavowal of Knowledge".
Socratic Studies
In this essay, Vlastos moves on from the the general method of Socrates' questioning Socrates' the profession of ignorance. Specifically, Vlastos tackles the problem that Socrates seems to know so much and is wise, but claims he knows nothing. Most scholars think that he is being ironic or deceitful, but some believe him to be telling the truth (Vlastos 39). Vlastos, rather unusually, argues that Socrates is doing both. he explains that there is a difference between "knowledge-c" or knowledge as truth that is absolutely infallible and "knolwedge-e" which is knowledge justified by elenchus. Socrates can then freely disavow knowledge-c while standing behind knowledge-e, which he does on rare occasion (Vlastos 55-56).

The problem that I see with this theory is that, as Vlastos recognises, Socrates uses a whole host of different Greek words that us moderns translate as "knowledge." Vlastos never states whether there is any correlation between knowledges "e" and "c" and particular Greek words. Moreover, he never articulates a reason why if there is no Greek word correlation between these two particular types of knowledge whether there is some overriding factor that causes Socrates to use the word he does, irrespective of meaning, as well as what makes him confident that two different Greek words could both, for example, stand for knowledge-c. On the other hand, the essay opens up the ability for a lengthy study of those Greek words to answer these questions.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reasoning: Vlastos' Socratic Studies #1

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I recently finished reading Gregory Vlastos' Socratic Studies. I will review the work essay-by-essay, because each one brings up a different part about Socratic methodology (as represented by Plato) that I want to address separately.
Socratic Studies
The first chapter of is entitled "The Socratic Elechus: Method is All." This utilized the most strictly analytic philosophical approach of any of the essays [1]. He begins by refuting the definition of "Dialectic" given "by Rolland Hall in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy" (Vlastos 2). Vlastos explains that elenchus is not the process of eliciting a hypothesis and the cross-examining the person who provided it until there is a contradiction. Rather, "Socratic elenchus is a search for moral truth by question-and-answer adversary argument in which a thesis is debated only if asserted as the answerer's own belief and is regarded as refuted only if its negation is deduced from his own beliefs" (Vlastos 4).

Vlastos believes that there is a great difference between this elenchus and the elenchus of the later versions of Socrates in Plato's works. Like many others before him, Vlastos hypothesizes that this first Socrates is the true historical Socrates that Plato represents, and then Plato in the middle dialogues breaks away to use Socrates to spout Platonic philosophy [2]. As such, Vlastos approaches his project as discovering Socrates' true method of argument.There are two constraints put on any of the interlocutors with which Socrates speaks: a) "to refrain from speechifying" (Vlastos 7) and b) that the answerer must say what he or she believes.

This second constraint is the important one. The reason is that this eliminates the hypothetical premise (Vlastos provides examples on page 8 of Socrates' objections to hypothetical premises), which is something that estranges elenchus from modern methodology.

Vlastos concludes that an internally consistant belief set would contain entirely true beliefs, according to the premise behind Socrates' elentic method. I find the conclusion of the argument to be both reasonable and interesting, although I feel that it probably has no bearing on the actual method of the true Socrates.

  1. It was also the first of the essays that I read and the one of which I have the least recollection. As such, my summery might be less than clear. If it is, let me know in comments and I will try to revise it. I also welcome suggestions by anyone who has read the work.
  2. I disagree with this general viewpoint of the evolution of the dialogues. In my series of blogposts entitled "On Dates in the Platonic Corpus," I have discussed this at length (although there is more to come). I do not, however, deal significantly with the claim about why I do not believe this is the historical Socrates. This argument I must save for another blogpost.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reasoning: Using "All the Greek Verbs"

No matter what I try to do, I seem to end up relying on the Perseus Project to translate texts (at the moment Μήδεια). My resolve seems to falter. However, I have been trying to at least reference All the Greek Verbs, when I run into something tricky or a verb that I know I should remember. Although Herodotus II claims that we have a friend that swears by it, I have found no use in it so far. Maybe it just has a distaste for Euripides.
All The Greek Verbs (Greek Language)
More updates on it as I try to use it more and wean myself off of Perseus.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Appetitive: Biblical Art

There was a display at the Getty about a year ago of Old Testament heroes and heroines. These were depiction from illuminated books of hours. The portraits were fabulous. One heroine who stood out to me among them was Judith, primarily because I find hers to be one of the oddest strong-woman tales of all time.

My mother pointed out to me that AWOL recently posted that a donation to ARTstor (essentially an image equivalent of JSTOR) put up an incredible digital collection of images from the Judith story. I have not browsed it thoroughly, but it looks fabulous.

ARTstor in itself is a fabulous resource. While a student at my Alma Mater, I used it for a variety of papers, including one on Pythia's prologue in the Eumenides. A similar procession of gods and goddesses as she describes appeared on one of the friezes at the now-ruined temple of Apollo at Delphi. ARTstor provided me with the image reconstructed by various artists and a picture of the fragments that remain of the frieze. It was a fabulous resource.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reasoning: A Review of Gregory Vlastos' Essays

While I was proctoring an exam today, I finished Socratic Studies (one of the books I received for Christmas). The book is made up of a collection of four essays by Gregory Vlastos, one of the preeminent Plato scholars of the last century (from the philosophical standpoint). One of Vlastos' main interests is uncovering the historical Socrates and Socratic (rather than Platonic) philosophy from Plato's texts. This second part is the focus of the four essays and post-script in Socratic Studies. In general, I think the latter enterprise is both extremely difficult and not necessarily worthwhile, but Vlastos' essays are, as always, insightful and shed light on Plato's thought at the very least, even if they do not achieve his intended goal of discovering the philosophy of the historical Socrates.
Socratic Studies Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher
I will review each of the essays from the book over the next few days (I will put off my commentary on marriage vows in Μήδεια). I found each essay engaging and clearly written and I believe that Vlastos' ideas deserve attention, even if I do not agree with them.

Part of this, as I mentioned before, is due to Vlastos providing my first favorable introduction to Plato. In my general humanities class on the ancient world, my discussion section was lead by a visiting professor named Edward. When I first saw Edward, I thought I must be dreaming. He was tall and muscular lean with shoulders far too broad for the rest of his body. He had enormous watery-blue eyes set into a long, tanned face with a highly-defined rectangular jaw. His hair was dark and short; it was parted at the side and slicked down in a 1950s style. The first day that I met him he was wearing a grayscale football jersey of some kind that was oddly short-- almost as though it had been altered-- and showed off his muscular shoulders on one end and tapered toward his small waist. below that he wore skin-tight cigarette jeans and enormous black books with a bright orange stripe up the side. His voice was deep and quiet and although his presence was commanding, it was clear from the way he spoke that he did not like the spotlight. He was a philosophy professor to whom I took an immediate shine. When I spent my time raging about how much I hated Plato, Edward asked me to look up the work of Gregory Vlastos and write my Plato paper using Vlastos' work as a resource. In the last four days before the paper was due, I finally picked up Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. My life changed. In the next 48 hours, I read the entirety of the Republic, which I had not been able to finish due to my fury at Plato. In the 24 hours following that, I wrote a 20 page paper into which I poured every remaining ounce of my being. Through the texts of Gregory Vlastos and the encouragement of a philosophy professor, in less than 4 days I had gone from hating Plato to knowing that if I became a classics major, I would write my thesis on Plato.

Oddly enough, I never finished Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. The first few essays were enough to propel me into a love of Plato and Plato scholarship. I have put it on my reading list.

Update 03/20/11: I spend much of today reading Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher and I should finish it within the week.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Appetitive: The Aleppo Codex

I thought I would repost another one of the wonderful discoveries I have made on AWOL. I had never heard of the Aleppo Codex until this post. The codex is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. It appears to have been written in 930 CE by a scribe named Salomon is beautiful Hebrew calligraphy. AWOL posted an incredible website that has a complete text of the Aleppo Codex along with a searchable interface and introductory notes. Absolutely fantastic.

More discussion of the Μήδεια coming tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reasoning: Doctoral Theses

My mother pointed me to a set of theses on AWOL, and specifically one called "Astronomy and Ancient Greek Cult" by Efronsyni Boutsikas. It looks excellent and I am going to download it on my kindle to read.

One of my best friends was in town for the last two weeks (the one with whom I am planning to learn Sanskrit) and I spent a lot of time catching up with her in between relapsing on my horrible cold that I've had all month and talking about classics rather than doing any work. I have been so distracted I even forgot to translate my Μήδεια for tomorrow! Anyway, nose should go back to the grindstone as I translate Greek and review my Latin so I can finally meet with Propertius II again.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reasoning/Appetitive: Illuminated Manuscripts and Socratic Logic

Today I saw the "Imagining the Past in France" exhibit at the Getty. I meant to go earlier-- and had, in fact, been to a lecture on the exhibit already[1]-- but due to various complications did not manage to go until today. The exhibit was amazing and I highly recommend it. When I go into illuminated manuscript exhibits, I often play a game with myself to see whether I can identify the era of a work before I check the plate underneath it. I found this exhibit more difficult that most because there was a greater diversity in artistic style within eras than in other collections I have been. I thought it might be because these were primarily secular and historical texts. There is a great slideshow of images on the Getty website.
 Imagining the Past in France: History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500
The curator did a brief video introduction to the exhibit as well.

Socratic Logic
The book that I decided to read yesterday during the exam I was proctoring is Gregory Vlastos' Socratic Studies. Vlastos' work, Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, was my first introduction to Plato scholarship. Although I dislike some of his methodology and conclusions, I still have a soft-spot for Vlastos' work. I will review it when I am finished (I am about 1/3 of the way through).

  1. The lecture I went to was "How the French Made History: Manuscripts and Images of the Past in Medieval France." I reviewed the lecture on Fragments of Sulpicia.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Appetitive: Marginalia and Things to Come

I have not been feeling particularly well over the past few days and so I have not been as diligent as I had originally planned, in either posting or in working on translating. However, I go back to proctoring exams again tomorrow, and I am going to bring some classically-related material to read in the hope that I might jumpstart my work again.

In the meantime, Got Medieval has started posting again and posted a rather amusing piece of marginalia yesterday. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Appetitve/Spirited: To Learn Sanskrit (and German)?

One of my friends just decided we should learn Sanskrit together. Our plan is to work through William Dwight Whitney's Sanskrit Grammar[1], which Propertius II used two summers ago and possibly the supplement that goes with it (Roots, Verb-forms and Primary Derivatives of the Sanskrit Language) that I discovered as a free Google edition.

Sanskrit Grammar Roots, Verb-forms and Primary Derivatives of the Sanskrit Language
We will probably begin in late January. If anyone has any tips for books or on how to work through a Sanskrit grammar, let me know.

  1. Free Google edition of the Grammar. To get to it, "buy" the book (it's free), click "read it now" then find the "i" (about this book) icon and click on it. Click "read on your device," scroll to the bottom and download the PDF.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Appetitive: The Reconstruction of Babylon

In Iraq, the Babylon site faces challenges both from natural forces, and from the war in Iraq.
I think the video is fascinating. I had never seen pictures of this site before, and it is quite cool. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Spirited: All the Greek Verbs

So it seems my resolutions are not going very well so far as I have done no Greek or Latin as of yet and did not begin my blogpost until now. I also spent much of the day reading a book not on my reading list: Jeff Sharlet's The Family. It's just been one of those days.

However, I have been flipping through a gift I received: Nino Marinone's All the Greek Verbs. I have spoken before of my unintentional reliance on Perseus for the sake of efficiency in translating Latin and especially Greek. Part of this is because I do not know irregular verb conjugations (and sometimes cannot identify regular or common verb conjugations) off the top of my head. All the Greek Verbs is a list of verb forms, which tell you the person, number, tense, voice, and mood of each verb, as well as the verb itself so that one can look up a translation. I think this will help to ween me off of my Perseus addiction, because I can use a book instead of the computer and constantly looking up the verbs in paper dictionary will help not only to ingrain the verb forms but also the meanings in my head. I will update this review when I try it out on the next section of the Μήδεια.
Euripides: Medea (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics) All The Greek Verbs (Greek Language)
Happy New Year, everyone!

Does anyone know if there is a similar book for Latin?