Thursday, July 30, 2009

Welcome to the new age of patronage

You might have thought that twelve years into a Labour government we might have seen a degree of progressive social change. Yes and No. Social mobility is down, for example. This is something that it extremely bad news for universities, particularly ones which are committed simultaneously to admitting the very best and brightest students as undergraduates and also want to ensure a range and diversity of educational backgrounds for its intake. (By the way, the latter of these is something which the university wants to do anyway and it does not need government urging to take this seriously.  What it does need is a government intent on making sure that educational opportunities before 18 are such that students from various backgrounds have a fighting chance of making the necessary standards for admission.)

But now there is something new to make me shout at the telly. Channel 4 is not the most reliable of social indicators, I realise, but a new programme starting tonight, How the other half lives is perhaps the most depressing thing I have heard for some time.  An affluent middle-class family takes on a poor family and helps them out in a series of direct acts of beneficence.  What's wrong with that?  It's just like those scheme where you sponsor a child in the developing world, except now you get to drive up to their flat and see how very very grateful they are.  Aaaargh!  Wrong wrong wrong.  Who chose which family was going to be grateful and deserving enough?  What happened to the notion that poor people are entitled to state aid, free from prejudice and the contingency that it might be taken away on a whim if little Alexandra suddenly fancies horse-riding lessons instead?  The idea should be that certain people are entitled to aid and that other people are required to share some of their wealth to do so.  Making it personalised, while perhaps offering a veneer of direct effectiveness, wraps up what ought to be a matter of principle in a cloak of forelock-tugging and self-satisfied feelings of 'having done something important'.  Just take Christine and Charlie from episode one and tax them more, perhaps just a little bit.  They can keep their gardeners and so on.  They evidently have some money they do not need and are in some sense committed to social change so I don't see why they would mind.  Not much of a human interest documentary in that, I suppose, but I'd rather have blank screen for an hour than be offered this.

Monday, July 27, 2009

From the front line

Things I have learned so far from our holidays:

1. The Roman Baths in, er, Bath are great (I mean the museum is great) and have a nice audio guide with different stories for kids, adults, people who want to listen to Bill Bryson etc.  You can flip between them, which R appreciated when she got fed up with actors pretending to be Romans.

2. Wookey Hole is a lovely and exciting set of caves spoiled by an overpriced and very random not-any-theme-I-can- discern park attached.  It does have a ye olde halle of mirrors, though, which was quite fun.  The 'restaurant' was dire, however, and I get v. annoyed at the assumption in lots of these places in the UK that kids will eat only chips accompanied by some sort of reformed and fried 'meat' product.  We were told we couldn't have anything else in a child's portion.  Why not?

3. What counts as an 'A' road is geographically very variable.  Our sat nav is quite confused and counts as a junction things that are just very big bends in the road.  I swear there was a note of panic in her voice this afternoon.

4. S and I are ploughing through a box set of Mad Men season 1 in the evenings.  I'm loving it; not sure yet if I find Donald Draper totally evil or someone I really want to be.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

O tempora!

This from today's Grauniad had me scratching my head for a bit. It's from an article (well, really one of those 'Point'/'Counterpoint' things[1] about toplessness (the young French are less keen on it than the older generation, apparently):
I'm just saying that it's a bit of a coincidence that a sartorial (or anti-sartorial) habit – a cultural more, if you will – makes them look sophisticated and gets them an all-over tan at the same time. It's all very convenient.

I couldn't construe the aside, '- a cultural more, if you will - ' because I was reading 'more' as the comparative (many, more , most...) It took me ages to work out that it is supposed to be the singular of 'mores' (as in 'o tempora! o mores!). Oh dear.

[1] Of which the best example ever is here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


My birthday today, and I am very much now in the second half of my 30s. A good day, though, because first of all I was given a Lego Darth Vader TIE Advanced to make (as pictured). (I've also just discovered this site which has a pretty comprehensive list of all the Star Wars Lego sets released so far...)

Then I went to town with S to buy a new guitar. I've had a classical guitar since I took lessons when I was at school but I now also have a nice metal-stringed acoustic number/ I will have to build up a repertoire now of tunes with which to embarrass the kids.

Nothing ancient philosophical to report just yet but I have been toying with some of the testimonia on Xenophanes in Aristotle's Rhetoric, mostly on the topic of Xenophanes' notion of piety. I'm still working those ideas through for now but I might have something to post here soon, mostly requests for assistance as usual.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I've just found this interesting entry in the Suda (eta 97):
Ἐκ τῶν Πλωτίνου. Ἡδοναί, λύπαι, θάρρη, φόβοι, ἐπιθυμίαι,
ἀποστροφαὶ καὶ τὸ ἀλγεῖν, τίνος ἂν εἶεν; ἢ γὰρ ψυχῆς, ἢ χρωμένης
ψυχῆς σώματι ἢ τρίτου τινὸς ἐξ ἀμφοῖν. διχῶς δὲ καὶ τοῦτο. ἢ γὰρ
τὸ μῖγμα ἢ ἄλλο τι ἐκ τοῦ μίγματος. Ὅροι ἡδονῆς, αʹ λεία κίνησις,
βʹ ἢ γένεσις εἰς φύσιν αἰσθητή, γʹ ἢ ἄλογος διάχυσις, δʹ ἢ ἐνέργεια (5)
τῆς κατὰ φύσιν ἕξεως ἀνεμπόδιστος, εʹ ἢ τὸ παρακολουθοῦν τέλος
ταῖς τελευταίαις ἐνεργείαις. ἐκ τούτων τῶν ὅρων ἰσχύει τις ἀνα-
σκευάζειν καὶ κατασκευάζειν, ὅτι ἀγαθὸν ἡ ἡδονή, καὶ ὅτι μή. Ἡδονὴ
δέ ἐστι λεία κίνησις, πόνος δὲ τραχεῖα κίνησις. καὶ τὴν μὲν εὐδοκη-
τὴν πᾶσι ζῴοις, τὸν δὲ ἀποκρουστικόν. ἡδονὴν μέντοι τὴν τοῦ σώμα- (10)
τος, ἣν καὶ τέλος εἶναι, οὐ τὴν καταστηματικὴν ἡδονὴν τὴν ἐπ’
ἀναιρέσει ἀλγηδόνων καὶ οἷον ἀοχλησίαν τέλος εἶναι φασί. διαφέρει
δὲ τέλος εὐδαιμονίας. τέλος μὲν γὰρ εἶναι τὴν κατὰ μέρος ἡδονήν,
εὐδαιμονίαν δὲ τὸ ἐκ τῶν μερικῶν ἡδονῶν σύστημα, αἷς συναριθμοῦν-
ται καὶ αἱ παρῳχηκυῖαι καὶ αἱ μέλλουσαι. εἶναί τε τὴν μερικὴν (15)
ἡδονὴν δι’ αὑτὴν αἱρετήν, τὴν δὲ εὐδαιμονίαν οὐ δι’ αὑτήν, ἀλλὰ
διὰ τὰς κατὰ μέρος ἡδονάς. Ἡδονὴ δέ ἐστιν ἄλογος ἔπαρσις ἐφ’
αἱρετῷ δοκοῦντι ὑπάρχειν. ὑφ’ ἣν τάττεται κήλησις, ἐπιχαιρεκακία,
τέρψις, διάχυσις. κήλησις μὲν οὖν ἐστιν ἡδονὴ δι’ ὤτων κατακηλοῦσα,
ἐπιχαιρεκακία δὲ ἡδονὴ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κακοῖς, τέρψις δὲ οἷον τρέψις, (20)
προτροπή τις ψυχῆς ἐπὶ τὸ ἀνειμένον• διάχυσις δὲ ἀνάλυσις ἀρετῆς.
ἔστι δὲ περὶ ἑκατέρου μέρους τῆς ἀντιφάσεως συλλογισμὸς ἔνδοξος.
ὅτι μὲν ἀγαθὸν ἡ ἡδονή, δείκνυσιν ὁ συλλογισμὸς οὗτος• οὗ πάντα
ἐφίεται, ἀγαθόν• τῆς ἡδονῆς δὲ πάντα ἐφίεται• ἡ ἡδονὴ ἄρα ἀγαθόν.
τὸ δὲ μὴ εἶναι αὐτὴν ἀγαθὸν ὁ τοιοῦτος• τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἀγαθοὺς ποιεῖ• (25)
ἡ ἡδονὴ ἀγαθοὺς οὐ ποιεῖ• οὐκ ἄρα ἡ ἡδονὴ ἀγαθόν. ἡ ἡδονὴ τοίνυν
ἐστὶ κίνησις λεία• ἐνέργεια δὲ ἀτελὴς πᾶσα κίνησις• μηδὲν δὲ ἀγαθὸν
ἀτελές• ἡ ἡδονὴ ἄρα οὐκ ἀγαθόν.

This is the translation from the Suda online:

From the writings of Plotinus. [Pleasures,] pains, recklessness, fears, aversions and to feel pain of mind, to what do they belong? For they belong either to the soul or the soul making use of the body or a third thing composed of both. This latter can be understood in two senses, too: for it is either a mixture or some other thing resulting from a mixture. Definitions of pleasure: 1, a smooth movement; or 2, a perceptible process of generation toward nature; or 3, an irrational relaxation; or 4, an unhindered activity of a natural condition; or 5, an end following the complete activities. Taking these definitions as a starting point, one is able to support and to overthrow the thesis that pleasure is a good and that it is not a good. Pleasure is a smooth movement but distress is a rough movement; and while the former is well-pleasing for every animal, the latter is repulsive. They say that the bodily pleasure that is also an end, is not a pleasure pertaining to a state, the one consisting of taking away of pains of mind, such as freedom from disturbance; they say that bodily pleasure is also an end. The end is different from happiness, for the end is particular pleasure but the structure consisting of particular pleasures with which we measure past and future pleasures, is happiness. And particular pleasure is worth choosing by itself, but happiness is not worth choosing by itself but by particular pleasures. Pleasure is an irrational elation over what seems to be worth choosing. Under it are arranged fascination, joy at another's misfortune, enjoyment, relaxation. Now fascination is a pleasure which fascinates one through one's hearing sense. Joy at another's misfortune is a pleasure at someone else's bad things; enjoyment, as a turning, is a certain conversion of the soul towards the dissolute; relaxation is the dissolving of virtue. There is an acknowledged syllogistic argument of the contradictory position concerning each part "of the thesis whether pleasure is a good or is not a good". The following syllogistic argument shows that pleasure is a good: the good is that at which all things aim. All things aim at pleasure. Therefore, pleasure is good. On the contrary, the argument that shows that pleasure is not a good is the following: the good makes men good. Pleasure does not make men good. Therefore, pleasure is not a good. In fact, pleasure is a smooth movement, but every movement is an incomplete activity. However, no good is incomplete. Consequently, pleasure is not a good.

It's clearly a 'bricolage' (is that the term?) of bits and pieces from various authors and the online Suda entry (here) does a good job of pointing to the various places in Plotinus, the Cyrenaic doxography of DL 2, and Aristotle where the various parts can be found in their original context.

What I think is very interesting, however, is this comment after the list of 'definitions' of pleasure:
ἐκ τούτων τῶν ὅρων ἰσχύει τις ἀνασκευάζειν καὶ κατασκευάζειν, ὅτι ἀγαθὸν ἡ ἡδονή, καὶ ὅτι μή.

Taking these definitions as a starting point, one is able to support and to overthrow the thesis that pleasure is a good and that it is not a good.
Perhaps someone out there who knows the Suda better might be able to help me out. It looks to me as if the list of 'definitions', all of which have some decent philosophical pedigree, is being offered as a kind of toolkit for dialectical tussles.

The closest I can find is Aristotle Topics 120a6-31 in which 'pleasure is good' or 'pleasure is not good' are taken as examples of theses which can be rejected because they have not been properly specified. It is not clear immediately whether what is meant is that 'all pleasures are good' or 'some pleasure is good' and so on. The point here, however, does not turn on what the nature of pleasure is taken to be (although in dialectical exchanges this might well turn out to be a relevant piece of information). Also interesting are the arguments in lines 22-26 of the Suda entry which demonstrate that it is possible to argue on both sides of this question.

Pro: What everything aims at is the good; everything aims at pleasure; so pleasure is the good.
Con: The good makes men good; pleasure does not make men good; so pleasure is not the good.

The 'Pro' argument is recognisably Eudoxan (see NE 10.2). The 'Con' argument can be found in Alexander's commentary on the Topics (In Top. 2.26-9 and elsewhere (pp.28, 77, 262).

The closest parallel of all is in Anon. Expos. Ars. Rhet. 743.7-16 Walz. But I don't know anything about this text or its supposed date. Can anyone help? Here it is:
ἔστι δὲ προβλήματα διαλεκτι-
κὰ καὶ ὧν εἰσιν ἐναντίοι συλλογισμοί· ἀπορίαν γὰρ ἔχει,
πότερον οὕτως ἔχει ἢ οὐχ οὕτως, διὰ τὸ περὶ ἀμφοτέρων
εἶναι λόγους πιθανούς. τὴν γὰρ ἡδονήν ἐστι καὶ ὡς ἀγα- (10)
θὸν συλλογίσασθαι, καὶ ὡς κακὸν, καὶ ἀμφότερα διὰ
λόγων πιθανῶν· ὅθεν ἀπορεῖν ἐστι, ποτέρῳ ἄν τις προσ-
τιθείη. καὶ κατασκευάζεται μὲν, ὡς ἀγαθόν ἐστιν, οὕτω.
τῆς ἡδονῆς πάντα ἐφίεται· οὗ δὲ πάντα ἐφίεται, ἀγα-
θόν· ἡ ἡδονὴ ἄρα ἀγαθόν. πάλιν ἐστὶ δεῖξαι, ὡς οὐκ (15)
ἀγαθὸν, οὕτως· τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἀγαθοὺς ποιεῖ· ἡ ἡδονὴ ἀ-
γαθοὺς οὐ ποιεῖ· ἡ ἡδονὴ ἄρα οὐκ ἀγαθόν·

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An allusion in Non posse?

This might be something of a stretch, but I wonder what others make of the following suggestion.

I'm thinking again about Plutarch's Non posse and how he criticises the Epicurean theory of pleasure and happiness from a Platonist standpoint. (I gave a paper on this last year at a conference in Oxford on Plutarch and philosophy and have been revising the paper for --  I hope -- publication in the proceedings.)  I think Plutarch has two general lines of attack: first, the Epicureans mistake the intermediate state of freedom from pain for pleasure itself. They do not see that there is a distinction between being free from pain and experiencing pleasure.  And second, by failing to stress the true pleasure to be had from the workings of the rational soul they therefore reduce humanity to the level of mere beasts.

Both of these criticisms, it seems to me, are driven by Plutarch's understanding of Plato Republic IX.  Some of the points of contact between Non posse and Republic IX are clear and obvious.  But I wonder how far the influence penetrates through the work.  For example, I have been wondering if I can make something of Plutarch's choice of vocabulary at 1091F. At that point of the text he is expanding on the notion that the Epicureans restrict pleasure to mere absence of pain and connects this with the idea that Epicurean pleasure is somehow sub-human; they put joy into a tiny and closed pen where it is forced to twist and turn (ἐν ᾧ στρέφεται καὶ κυλινδεῖται).   I am particularly interested in κυλινδεῖται.  Although this verb is not uncommon in Plutarch, this is the only time he uses this form. Is it perhaps meant as an allusion to the nature of the ‘many beautiful things’ at Plato Rep. 479d4 which 'roll about' between being and not-being?  

The allusion would at least be relevant since one of Plutarch's complaints is that the Epicureans are concerned only with perceptible or bodily objects of pleasure, to be contrasted with the proper objects of true pleasure which are the intelligible objects only accessible by reason alone.  Furthermore, the discussion of pleasure in Rep. IX seems to me to be rather like the famous passages at the end of book V in so far as in both there is both a dialectical argument aimed against some misguided, indeed 'sick', opponents which attempts to reveal their respective mistakes about pleasure and knowledge combined with another argument which makes use of the developed metaphysics of what we can for convenience call 'Forms and particulars' - very roughly: unchanging intelligible objects grasped by reason and changing perceptible objects grasped by perception.

I suppose I am wondering whether there is any other evidence of Platonists of about Plutarch's period getting as interested in the argument at the end of Rep. V as more recent modern interpreters of the work.  In that case, could Plutarch be casually alluding to it here?  On the other hand, the argument with the lovers of sights and sounds is now a staple of our Classics second-year ancient philosophy paper.  So, has the fact that I have spent many weeks every Michaelmas term for the last ten years or more (plus summers spent reading examination answers on the same topic) going through that argument led me to spot possible allusions to it everywhere?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Yet another interesting Cyrenaic claim

Here is another interesting bit of Cyrenaic doxography, from Diogenes Laertius 2.90:
λέγουσι δὲ μηδὲ κατὰ ψιλὴν τὴν ὅρασιν ἢ τὴν ἀκοὴν γίνεσθαι ἡδονάς. τῶν γοῦν μιμουμένων θρήνους ἡδέως ἀκούομεν, τῶν δὲ κατ' ἀλήθειαν ἀηδῶς.

They say that pleasures do not arise from mere sight or hearing alone. At any rate, we listen with pleasure to those imitating a lament but without pleasure to those who are doing it in truth.

The idea seems to be as follows: proof that pleasure is not generated by mere perceptual experience alone is provided by the fact that two identically sounding performances of a song of lament can produce different hedonic results. We might enjoy listening to someone merely performing a song of mourning, that is: someone who is not in fact themselves in mourning. But we do not take pleasure in listening to someone singing who is genuinely in mourning.

This is an interesting claim in itself and is also interesting given other Cyrenaic views. It seems that a lot of weight is carried by the distinction between someone merely 'pretending' to lament and someone doing so 'in truth'.

One question not addressed explicitly here is whether the distinction between the enjoyable performance and the not-enjoyable performance is that the audience is believes that one is being performed 'for real', as it were, and the other is a mere imitation. Presumably so, since the conclusion would seem to depend on the premise that the performances sound identical in order to rule out the possibility that the different hedonic effects are indeed due to hearing alone. There is therefore no difference in the mere audible nature of the performances being compared that might be responsible for one appearing an imitation and another appearing to be genuine.

I imagine also that the compressed report here is not meant to claim that an audience is always either well-informed or even correct in its assessment of the singer. By this I mean that we can imagine someone being mistaken and imagining that a lament is an expression of genuine grief although in fact it is merely an imitation or, conversely, someone imagining that a performance is a mere imitation when in fact it is generated by genuine grief. It would be odd to think that the claim here is that we take pleasure in listening to imitations of lament whether or not we in fact believe the performance to be an imitation or that we do not take pleasure in listening to genuine laments whether or not we think that they are genuine. That would be odd because it would allow the possibility of taking pleasure in something we take to be a genuine expression of grief (but which is not).

In that case, the difference must lie in the fact that one's enjoyment or not of a performance is affected crucially by one's conception of the mental state or perhaps even intention of the performer. In a way, that is rather helpful because given the general framework of Cyrenaic epistemology it would be difficult if not impossible to have an accurate and reliable grip on another person's affective states. Nevertheless, it is an interesting aesthetic claim and perhaps even a true one.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Another Cyrenaic titbit

I'm still puzzling over Plutarch QC 705 A-B mentioned in the last post. Not much progress so far, although I am beginning to suspect that there is an interesting connection between the claim found there that pleasures are somehow circumscribed ('with walls running round') and the metaphor of the Cyrenaics retreating within themselves like besieged townspeople that I discussed before.

But while I mull that over, I found this in Cicero Tusc. 5.112:

Etenim si nox non adimit vitam beatam, cur dies nocti similis adimat? Nam illud Antipatri Cyrenaici est quidem paulo obscenius, sed non absurda sententia est; cuius caecitatem cum mulierculae lamentarentur, 'Quid agitis?' inquit, 'an vobis nulla videtur voluptas esse nocturna?'

Moreover, if night-time does not take away a good life why should a day that resembles a night do so? That is indeed the point made by the Cyrenaic Anipater (admitteldly, he did so a bit too coarsely but the claim is not outrageous.) When some young women were lamenting his blindness he said 'What is the problem? Have you never come upon any night-time pleasure?'

Cicero has been trying to persuade us that blindness is not an insurmountable obstacle to happiness. People don't suddenly lose their good life when it gets dark at the end of the day so why should the permanent darkness of blindness be any different? The Cyrenaic Antipater obviously thinks a good life should be accounted for in terms of pleasure and therefore makes the good point that there is plenty of pleasure to be had in the dark. So his blindness does not prevent him living a good life. This still falls short of the claim in Plutarch that the pleasures of sex are best or more profitably enjoyed in the dark, but I wonder if this anecdote and Plutarch's report may well be connected. It is possible that this bon mot from Antipater became useful to those like Plutarch interested in drawing sharp distinctions between the two Hellenistic hedonist schools, to the detriment of the Epicureans. And since Epicurus appears to have gone into some detail in his Symposium about the right time to have sex (before dinner, it seems) then a handy anecdote about a Cyrenaic who has plenty of fun in the dark would be rather hard to resist.