What is dialectic and what is it for, in Aristotle? Aristotle’s answer in Topics 1.2 seems surprisingly lacking in unity. He seems to imply that insofar as dialectic is an expertise, it is a disposition to three different kinds of productive achievement. Insofar as dialectic is a method, it is one whose use is seemingly subject to multiple, differing standards of evaluation. The goal of the paper is to resist this problematic “multi-tool” view of Aristotelian dialectic, by explaining how dialectic’s (...) contributions to training, encounters, and the philosophical sciences are of the same kind. What unifies them, I argue, is the kind of reasoning that improves the epistemic position of the person that engages with it. The kind of reasoning-based practices in which dialectic is the expertise are, at heart, tools of inquiry, tools for improving people’s understanding. This is why dialectic is beneficial for persuasive encounters: it is an expertise that enables its possessor to persuade by improving the understanding of their participants. (shrink)
In Nicomachean Ethics III.5, Aristotle argues that virtue and vice are “up to us and voluntary.” Readers have long struggled to make sense of Aristotle’s arguments in this chapter and to explain how they cohere with the rest of his ethical project. Among the most influential lines of complaint is that the argument of III.5 appears to contradict his emphasis elsewhere on the power of upbringing to shape character, beginning in childhood. Scholars have developed two main interpretive approaches to III.5, (...) which I label “libertarian” and “compatibilist.” I argue that neither approach succeeds in removing the appearance of contradiction. I develop an alternative interpretation that reveals the coherence of Aristotle’s commitments, showing that for him the voluntariness of character and the power of upbringing are in reality two sides of the same philosophical coin. Both are grounded in his fundamental idea that virtue and vice are acquired by practice. (shrink)
In her rich and provocative paper, Susan Levin seeks to defend the value of anger against the views of Stoics and transhumanists, both of whom regard anger as irrational and to be eliminated. In her defense, Levin draws on Aristotle, relating his position to contemporary appraisal theorists as well as anti-racism activists and scholars, for Aristotle holds, in contrast with the Stoics, that some cases of anger are justified. The virtuous Aristotelian agent will become angry in response to injustice. I (...) explore the extent to which Levin endorses Aristotle’s account of anger, complicating some of the associations she aims to establish. In particular, while the Stoics and Aristotle disagree about the rationality, morality, and prudential value of anger, they share a very similar conception of the emotion, according to which a desire for revenge partly constitutes anger. By contrast, Levin defends a forward-looking conception of anger, focusing on rectifying current injustice and preventing future injustice. It turns out, then, that Levin’s justified forward-looking anger may have more in common with the spirit of the Stoic response to injustice than with Aristotle’s retributive view. (shrink)
This paper presents Stoicism as, in broad historical terms, the point of origin in Western thought of an extreme form of rational essentialism that persists today in the debate over human bioenhancement. Advocates of “radical” enhancement would have us codify extreme rational essentialism through manipulation of genes and the brain to maximize rational ability and eliminate the capacity for emotions deemed unsalutary. They, like Stoics, see anger as especially dangerous. The ancient dispute between Stoics and Aristotle over the nature and (...) permissibility of anger has contemporary analogues. I argue that, on the merits, this controversy should, finally, be put to rest in Aristotle’s favor. Beyond its philosophical assets, Aristotle’s perspective meshes well with “appraisal theory” of emotion in psychology and corresponding discoveries in neuroscience. What’s more, consideration of the ongoing struggle to achieve full racial equality in the United States supports the view that anger at this ongoing gap between λόγος and ἔργον is legitimate, and has a constructive role to play in furthering liberal democracy. As we are well positioned to retire the Stoics’ legacy regarding anger, all the more should we eschew transhumanists’ proposal to implement their position biologically, at which point debate over the nature and worth of anger would be permanently moot. (shrink)
In her “Saving the Appearances of Plato’s Cave,” Dr. Adriel M. Trott argues that “the philosopher’s claim to true knowledge always operates within the realm of the cave.” In order to probe her claim, I challenge her to make sense of “politics in the cave,” namely, the status and practices of two categories of people in the cave: “woke” cave-dwellers and “woke” puppeteers.
I here examine the underlying order of Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris, following compositional cues the author uses to highlight its themes, in order to draw out distinctive features of Plutarch’s philosophical agenda. After placing the text in the context of Plutarch’s general themes and his other main Platonic-hermeneutical works, I follow the indications of key framing devices to bring to the surface his structuring concerns first with the erotic character of the cosmos, in which human eros is at home, and (...) second with the intentions of ancient lawgivers to civilize human communities, both of which he sees represented in the Isis myth. The text thus exemplifies both Plutarch’s recovery of the unity in Plato of metaphysics and political philosophy and his manner of achieving that recovery through a coordinated threefold hermeneutics of wisdom traditions and human and cosmic phenomena. (shrink)
Jay Elliott considers Aristotle’s view on the voluntariness of virtue and vice in his Nicomachean Ethics III.5 by exploring two rival interpretations. According to Elliott, the libertarian reading emphasizes the freedom that mature agents have to change their characters after rational reflection but neglects the role that upbringing plays in character formation. In contrast, the compatibilist reading stresses the agents’ upbringing in shaping their beliefs and desires. Elliott explains that because compatibilists maintain that agents’ actions stem from their own beliefs (...) and desires, their actions, which reveal their character, are voluntary. Nevertheless, Elliott holds that because the agents, for the compatibilists, lack the power to change their beliefs and desires, the compatibilist account downplays the voluntariness of character in Aristotle’s own view. Elliott criticizes these rival interpretations and focuses on the concept of “practice” to argue that Aristotle’s view of character is both voluntary and subject to one’s upbringing. I discuss Aristotle’s concepts of voluntariness and practice in evaluating Elliott’s interpretation. (shrink)
This article considers Plato’s view of philosophy depicted in his cave analogy in light of Arendt’s distinction between Socratic and Platonic philosophy. Arendt argues that philosophy functions, for Socrates, in an immanent world, characterized by examining and considering—in addition to refining opinions through persuasion about—the currency of politics, which thereby closely associates philosophy with politics. On her view, Plato makes philosophy transcend politics—the world of opinion—when Socrates fails to persuade the Athenians. The cave analogy seems to support Arendt’s view that (...) Plato disparages the immanent philosophical project she associates with Socrates. I argue that Plato depicts in the cave analogy particular difficulties in judging the assertion of the one who claims to have left, since, in the cave, that assertion becomes an opinion among opinions because it cannot be evaluated with reference to a transcendent truth by those in the cave. As a result, those in the cave cannot discern whether the one claiming to have left has the knowledge required to rule justly or is a tyrant claiming to have such knowledge in order to secure power. I conclude that Plato depicts the cave and its difficulties to invite the reader to engage in a philosophical project of judging for oneself, rather than accepting the rule of another who claims to know. (shrink)