Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bone Clocks and early 90s Cambridge

I'm enjoying David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks but I've just got to the bit where the narrative switches to Cambridge in the early 90s and every so often something jars with me. ('You dont know, man.  You weren't there!' Sort of thing.  I was.  Proof: here and (from mid-90s, here).) Simple things that might have been checked quite easily. 

So far:

A band does a gig at the 'Cornmarket'. Wouldn't the Corn Exchange allow its name to be used?

A student says he is studying 'Economics and politics'. I don't think anyone would say that. It would have been Economics or SPS.

A student refers to a college's site as a 'campus'. Would anyone have done that?  Do they even now?

Of course, I could have mistaken these and they are in fact a carefully planted set of indications of an unreliable narrator/author or something.  And, sure, they don't stop me enjoying the book, but they did bother me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I'm reading Donald Davidson's Plato's Philebus, his Harvard PhD dissertation from 1949.  The Routledge reprint just presents the type-written original, complete with hand-written bits of Greek.  So it's all there, warts and all.  Some of those warts are rather nice.  On pp. 18-19, for example,  D. twice writes 'Protagoras' when he means 'Protarchus'.  I noticed because I've just spotted the same slip in something I wrote so it's good to be in good company, at least.  Damn those 'Prot-something' Greeks; nearly as bad as all those 'Anaxa/i-something' Presocratics...

And then there is this in the one-page preface to the 1990 edition: 

It doesn't mangle the sense, of course, and I quite like the word 'phlosophy' (something dentists might advise?) but I it did make me wince (not for the first time) at the price tag.  (And yes, I do realise that I've had a hand in various publications that are far from cheap and yes, they do have typos in them too...) 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Growing apart

Writing lectures for a new course on Aristotle’s ethical and political thought had me this morning reading again through NE 8 and 9. There are all sorts of interesting little observations and musings in there, a lot of them pretty sensible. Here’s Aristotle’s variant of the ‘It’s not you; it’s me’ line.
εἰ δ' ὃ μὲν διαμένοι ὃ δ' ἐπιεικέστερος γίνοιτο καὶ πολὺ διαλλάττοι τῇ ἀρετῇ, ἆρα χρηστέον φίλῳ; ἢ οὐκ ἐνδέχεται; ἐν μεγάλῃ δὲ διαστάσει μάλιστα δῆλον γίνεται, οἷον ἐν ταῖς παιδικαῖς φιλίαις· εἰ γὰρ ὃ μὲν διαμένοι τὴν διάνοιαν παῖς ὃ δ' ἀνὴρ εἴη οἷος κράτιστος, πῶς ἂν εἶεν φίλοι μήτ' ἀρεσκόμενοι τοῖς αὐτοῖς μήτε χαίροντες καὶ λυπούμενοι; οὐδὲ γὰρ περὶ ἀλλήλους ταῦθ' ὑπάρξει αὐτοῖς, ἄνευ δὲ τούτων οὐκ ἦν φίλους εἶναι· συμβιοῦν γὰρ οὐχ οἷόν τε. εἴρηται δὲ περὶ τούτων.
 But if one friend remained the same while the other became better and far outstripped him in virtue, should the latter treat the former as a friend? Surely he cannot. When the interval is great this becomes most plain, e.g. in the case of childish friendships; if one friend remained a child in intellect while the other became a fully developed man, how could they be friends when they neither approved of the same things nor delighted in and were pained by the same things? For not even with regard to each other will their tastes agree, and without this (as we saw) they cannot be friends; for they cannot live together. But we have discussed these matters. (Trans. W. D. Ross)

NE 9.3 1165b23–31
He has a point.  People do, after all, grow apart, although not often we might now think because one ends up outstripping the other in virtue.  He does, however, include a conciliatory note: if you’ve left a former friend or lover behind, as it were, then it’s still appropriate to have some kind of remembrance of the former closeness (μνεία τῆς γενομένης συνηθείας), even though it's not very clear just what that amounts to. 

Anyway, it reminded me of this: Julie Walters being brilliant in a brilliant film.  Because moving apart can be painful on both sides.  Both people lose something, whatever else one of them may have gained.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Diogenes of Oinoanda conference

I'm disappointed not to be able to go to this conference on Diogenes Oinoanda, to be held next month at the universities of Istanbul and Muğla, close to Oinoanda itself. There's a very good set of participants and Diogenes deserves this level of detailed attention. The website has links to abstracts of the papers.

      Université Galatasaray – ISTANBUL

Première Journée – 22. 09. 2014 Lundi
09.00 – 09.45 Accueil des participants
10.00 – 10.20 Ouverture du colloque
10.20 – 11.20 Francesca Masi (Università Ca’Foscari – Venezia) « Pleasure, Virtue and Cause. Diogenes of Oenoanda and the Stoics »[Abstract]
11.20 – 12.20 Voula Tsouna (University of California – Santa Barbara) « Diogenes of Oenoanda on the Cyrenaics and the Sceptics » [Abstract]

12.30 – 14.00 Déjeuner

14.00 – 15.00 Francesco Verde (Università Roma I – ‘La Sapienza’) « Plato’s Demiurge (NF 155) and Aristotle’s Flux (fr. 5 Smith): Diogenes of Oinoanda on the History of Philosophy » [Abstract]
15.00 – 16.00 Michael Erler (Julius–Maximilians – Universität Würzburg Institut für Klassische Philologie) « Diogenes against Plato. Diogenes’ Critique and the tradition of Epicurean Antiplatonism » [Abstract]

16.00 – 16.20 Pause

16.20 – 17.20 Jean-Baptiste Gourinat (CNRS UMR 8061, Centre Léon Robin) « La critique des stoïciens dans l’Inscription » [Résumé]

Deuxième Journée – 23.09.2014 Mardi 
10.00 – 11.00 Dirk Obbink (University of Oxford) « Diogenes of Oenoanda on the Gods » [Abstract]
11.00 – 12.00 Alain Gigandet (Paris) « Diogène d’Oenoanda fr. 9 – Lucrèce, IV, 973-86: un élément-clé de la théorie épicurienne de l’imaginaire »

12.00 – 13.30 Déjeuner

      Université de MUGLA

Troisième Journée – 24.09.2014 Mercredi
09.00 – 10.00 Accueil des participants

Inaugural speech by 
Fahri Işık (Burdur – Mehmet Akif Ersoy University) « The Anatolian Character of the Lycian Civilisation »

10.00 – 11.00 Martin Bachmann (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut – Istanbul) « Framework and Results of the Oinoanda Survey Project 2007-2012 » [Abstract]
11.00 – 12.00 Jürgen Hammerstaedt (Universität zu Köln) « The importance of the site of Oinoanda and its inscriptions for interdisciplinary research, the cultural heritage and the society of the 21st century »[Abstract]

12.00 – 12.30 Pause

12.30 – 13.30 Geert Roskam (KU Leuven – Catholic University of Leuven) « Diogenes’ Polemical Approach, or How to Refute a Philosophical Opponent in an Epigraphic Context » [Abstract]

13.30 – 14.30 Déjeuner

14.30 – 15.30 Pierre-Marie Morel (Université Paris 1 Panthéon – Sorbonne UMR 7219 – Institut Universitaire de France) « Diogène d’Œnoanda et la politique » [Résumé]
15.30 – 16.30 Giuliana Leone (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II) « Diogène d’Oenoanda et la polémique sur les meteora » [Résumé]

16.30 – 16.45 Pause

16.45 – 17.45 Refik Güremen (Mimar Sinan University – Istanbul) « Diogenes of Oinoanda and the Epicurean Epistemology of Dreams »[Abstract]

Clôture du colloque

Comité d’organisation
Pierre-Marie Morel (Université Paris I Panthéon – Sorbonne)
Jürgen Hammerstaedt (Universität zu Köln)
Refik Güremen (Université Mimar Sinan – )
Ömer Orhan Aygün (Université Galatasaray)

Pour toute information :

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hooray for September

It feels like summer is coming to an end.  It's a bit chilly this evening.  It's not light outside after 8.30.  They are announcing the contestants for this year's Strictly Come Dancing.  (Andy Murray's Mum?  Oh dear.)

So what have I managed to do this summer?  Well, the proofs of the book are done, I hope, so I will receive at some point in November or so the first copies.  (Is it a bit sad to be really excited about that?  Well, I don't care.  I am.)  And I've been working on some new lectures for next term: a chance to get back into some of the nitty gritty of the Nicomachean Ethics.  And a lecture for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas in October.  There's the various bits of admin, refereeing, and examining too.  But not a tough summer by any means.

I think I tend to underestimate the time I have before term.   I think it's because the kids will be going back to school in a couple of weeks and it's hard not to feel as if that really is the beginning of term and the end of the vacation.  Anyone who's an academic in the UK and has kids will think of July and September as golden times: term has mostly finished by July and doesn't really get going until October so these are the two months when the children are back at school and the wrangles over childcare go away but the madness of the university term hasn't really hit.

This September, I'll be busy as part of a team arranging and then participating in a conference in Cambridge but it's still, despite Michaelmas looming, one of my favourite times of the year.

Monday, August 04, 2014

AuthorHub PR

I've just received a shiny brochure from CUP about publishing my new book.  It includes a guide to promoting the book and there are, I now discover, videos to help me.  Here is one about making a little film about the book in order to engage readers and attract new 'fans':

I'm off to scout locations. Iceland seems nice.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pleasure and temple-building II

A while ago I was wondering about the example Aristotle uses in NE 10.4 of the various different changes involved in the overall change of building a temple.  He seems to want to insist that although there are various processes that go to make up the building of a temple and although we might, say, complete the fluting of the columns before the whole temple is finished, nevertheless the idea that there can be parts of a change will not help to indentify pleasure with the change rather than the completion of the change.

There are some things I still find puzzling:

 a. There is no need to think that these changes that make up the overall business of making a temple have to happen in a sequence such that we cannot start making a triglyph until we’ve put down the base. True, we certainly can’t put the roof on until the columns are up. But if we think that constructing the Parthenon took a certain length of time to complete, it’s not true that making the base and carving the triglyph are distinct temporal parts in the sense that they are non-overlapping periods within the overall period of constructing the Parthenon. Indeed, it seems possible that the base was constructed and the triglyph was carved at the same time: these processes both took place over the very same duration and lasted exactly the same length of time. So perhaps this is just to say that I don’t find the temple-building case such a clear illustration of the general point he wants to make because I don’t think it is a prima facie analogue of a potential counter-example.

b. What is the motivation for this strange example? Here I wonder if there is just some metaphysical background we don’t have spelled out in full. Later in the chapter we are referred for more information to the Physics so perhaps that is the next place to look. Perhaps he thinks he might be under fire from some smart reader who thinks that if you chop a change up into smaller temporal parts we might say that some parts are complete when the whole is not.

c. What does Aristotle himself say about cases like the pleasures we experience in the process of quenching a thirst? Take a moment or period during the whole change: the whole change is not yet complete. But nevertheless it seems odd to maintain that we are not enjoying removing the thirst. In book 7 Aristotle takes the view that cases such as the pleasures involved in the process of being restored to health ought to be understood as due to the activity of the remaining healthy part. He claims that this sort of thing is pleasant per accidens because there is the ‘activity [energeia] of the underlying condition and nature’ (7.12 1152b33–1153a2; see also 1154b17–20). It's not entirely clear what he means by this but it is evident that he wants to locate an activity somewhere and attributes this to some part of aspect of the patient that is in the healthy state even as health is being restored [1].

Some people restoring a temple.  Note that the columns have been fluted...

What is different between this case and the construction of a temple? Can’t I say that in both there is an energeia of a complete state: in one case part of the person is hydrated and in a natural state and in the other case part of the temple has been completed? In both cases the amount of the person that is hydrated and healthy and the amount of a temple that is completed gradually increases? Is this different from the temple-building case because it is a return to a natural condition? So the analogue between the pleasure of restoring health would be the restoration of a temple (where there is always some of the complete temple present) rather than the construction of a new temple. But in that case, why should it matter whether, so to speak, this is a restoration or a new build?

[1]  J. Aufderheide 2013,‘Processes as pleasures in EN vii 11–14: a new approach’, Ancient Philosophy 33: 135–57  has some important remarks about how we should analyse occasions like the pleasures of being restored to health. When an animal heals or sustains itself, for example, the agent-activity involved is the activity of the residual natural state. (This is doing the job that is performed by the doctor in the case where a patient is entirely passive and is healed solely through the agency of someone else.) It is this activity, in fact, which is a pleasure. It is the activity of this healthy part which is responsible for the pleasure. The person’s undergoing the process is only incidentally pleasant.  See also Frede, D. (2009) ‘NE VII.11–12: Pleasure’, in C. Natali (ed.) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics VII. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 183–208 194-5.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Here is Johan Cruyff explaining his preferred ways of playing:

You don't get Adrian Chiles inviting anyone to do that. Last night's Argentina v. Netherlands game was tactically very sophisticated and interesting but the discussion was very flat: what a shame it wasn't another 7-1 drubbing.... There is some interesting discussion of the English culture of watching, commentating on and discussing football here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Thomas Jefferson, a man of great discernment...

It's American Independence Day.  U! S! A! etc.

Here are some  of Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on ancient philosophy (borrowed from here):

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, July 5, 1814:

…. I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been, that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world, indeed, should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it? And particularly, how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato! Although Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world, and honest. (continues...)

Thomas Jefferson to William Short, October 31, 1819

As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention... (continues...)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Pleasure and temple-building I

I was reading a piece by Christiana Olfert (‘Incomplete activities’) in the most recent Apeiron and it made me think again about a passage in NE 10.4 I have always found puzzling.

 It’s the passage where Aristotle tries to help us to understand the ways in which activities (energeiai) differ from changes (kinēseis) with an illustration from the business of temple building.

The principal point he wants to establish is:

1. Every kinēsis takes time, has a telos, and is complete only when that telos is achieved (1174a19–21).

The illustration here is the kinēsis: ‘housebuilding’. It is complete only when its telos, the building of a house, is reached.

The lines that I find puzzling come next1(174a21–3):

ἢ ἐν ἅπαντι δὴ τῷ χρόνῳ ἢ τούτῳ. ἐν δὲ τοῖς μέρεσι καὶ τῷ χρόνῳ πᾶσαι ἀτελεῖς, καὶ ἕτεραι τῷ εἴδει τῆς ὅλης καὶ ἀλλήλων.

Rowe’s translation: ‘So that will be either in the whole time, or in this. But if it is divided up into temporal parts, the resulting movements are all incomplete, and distinct in form both from the whole and from each other.’

I think that this is supposed to introduce a complication and provokes Aristotle to explain that 1. remains true even in these more complicated cases. The complicated cases have to do with being able to distinguish various parts (merē) of a kinēsis.

 In these cases:

2. All these kinēseis that are parts of a kinēsis (a) are also incomplete in time (b) differ from one another in kind and (c) also differ (sc. in kind?) from the whole.

In the next chapter Aristotle will also have things to say about how energeiai differ from one another in kind. So 2b is not something true of kinēseis but not of energeiai. The most important point therefore seems to be 2a: dividing up a change into various parts is not going to prevent us from saying that all kinēseis are ateleis.

The illustration seems to work as follows. Unlike the simple case of housebuilding now we have a more complicated (and, I presume, more costly and important and laborious and ethically and politically significant) case of building a temple. Building a temple is a change and it has various parts and stages and it takes a period of time. Some of the stages have to be done before others but the temple as a whole is not complete until all of the stages are completed.

Here is a picture of some people building a temple who have already finished various bits of it.  They have made the base of a column, for example, but they have not put on the roof:

Aristotle's illustration uses examples of some of the various different things that have to be done when you build a temple. It illustrates 1 and 2 in reverse order from the order in which they were introduced in a19–23).

3. Placing the stones together (hē tōn lithōn synthesis) is different from fluting a column [illustrates 2b] and both of these are distinct from the making of the temple [illustrates 2c]

Here is a picture of a satyr fluting a column:

4. The construction of the temple is complete (hē men tou naou [sc. poiēsis?] teleia) for it lacks nothing, while the making of the base or the triglyph is incomplete because each is a part.

This is then resumed at a27–9 where Aristotle says that he has shown that these changes differ in kind from one another and are complete, if at all, only in the whole.

 In 4, presumably the idea is that making a base and making a triglyph are parts of making the temple and that is why they are incomplete unless and until the temple is complete.

Perhaps we should think that these parts are to be understood as parts of a temple in the sense that the triglyph on Pheidias’ workbench is not a completed triglyph even if there is no more carving to do because it can be a triglyph proper only once it is in its place in the fully constructed Parthenon. This, I suppose, is how he thinks he can maintain 2a: we can’t identify component kinēseis of a larger whole kinēsis such that those component kinēseis are complete even when the larger kinēsis is not.

If that is what he wants to show then I suppose I get his point. But then I have some questions and puzzles about why he is bothered about this and whether this is a good case for him to use to show why 1 still holds.  Those are for next time, unless someone shows that what I have here is already confused.