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Passions and Perceptions: Studies in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind.

This volume contains substantially revised versions of eleven papers delivered at the Fifth Symposium Hellenisticum in France in 1989. Approaches vary from the philosophical to the historical-philological, and the scholarship is consistently excellent. The three French contributors offer exhaustive historical studies. Best of this lot is Andre Laks's brilliant effort to disentangle threads of the Cyrenaic tradition in Diogenes Laertius 2.86-96. He argues that the later Cyrenaic Anniceris is not an innovator as has been argued recently, but that, despite his emphasis on psychic pleasures, Anniceris upholds the traditional line on the primacy of somatic pleasure. The point at issue, really, is whether considering altruistic feelings like friendship and gratitude as pleasures amounts to innovating. J. -L. Labarriere traces the debates between Stoics and Academics concerning animal faculties, especially phantasia. Carlos Levy looks at how the term doxa was wielded as a polemical weapon by early Stoics, the New Academy, and Middle Platonists. Next come three fine papers on Epicurus. Gisela Striker relieves (somewhat) our perplexity at Epicurus's conception of complete pleasure as the absence of pain, illuminating the Epicurean distinction between "kinetic" and "static" pleasures in Cicero's De Finibus (1.29-42). Epicurus identifies happiness with the greatest pleasure, or complete pleasure, which is complete absence of pain - not the accumulation of particular pleasures. Epicurus's views on free agency, surviving in the fragments of book 3 of On Nature, lead Julia Annas to conclude that (1) rationality is associated with flexibility of response and ability to learn, and that (2) rational capacity may very well develop in ways that are not fixed by our atomic constitutions. One might quarrel with her observation that this simple commonsense view is attractive. Finally, David Furley points out that Democritus doubted the senses' ability to reveal truth, while Epicurus claimed that "all perceptions are true." Yet both atomists deny that sensible qualities exist at the level of primary elements. The explanation? Epicureans accept perceptible qualities as properties of external objects, not merely "affections" of the senses; for Democritus aistheta have no reality independent of us.

Seneca receives excellent treatment by Phillip Mitsis and Brad Inwood. Mitsis begins with the puzzling (to us) Stoic claim that it is better to follow advice than to know for oneself. This counterintuitive view results from Stoic intellectualism, whereby moral development depends completely on a deepening cognitive grasp of more universal moral principles. Mitsis argues, convincingly I think, that the Stoics can meet criticism that moral rules fail to capture the particularity of moral experience. Seneca at least does not adhere to a static conception of moral rules: moral training is flexible and tied to particulars. Inwood demonstrates that Seneca does not adopt psychological dualism and thus does not deviate from Stoic orthodoxy. The literary character of Seneca's method has obscured his philosophical aims, Inwood believes, and he shows how this Stoic's rhetorical presentation and dialectical exploration of certain Platonic theses yield conclusions that Stoics and Platonists can agree upon, for instance, the primacy of reason or greatness of soul. Such agreements do not weaken Seneca's commitment to psychological monism, however. Mind-body relations also dominate R. J. Hankinson's study of Galen's theories of mental life and moral responsibility and David Sedley's of Chrysippus on psycho-physical causality and its function generally in Stoic teleology. Finally, Martha Nussbaum adds another long chapter to her ongoing investigation of Hellenistic proposals for managing the passions. Here she studies why the Stoics, who are committed to the extirpation of the passions, are also avid students of traditional Greek poetry, including tragedy. The Stoics had two views of poetry from which to choose - the cognitive and the noncognitive. The first holds that passions are judgments, assents to appearances; since they are modifications of the soul's rational faculty, the passions are educable. The second, derived from the Platonic tripartition of the soul, maintains that as movements of a separate, irrational part of the soul, the passions can only be modified through nonrational means. The Stoics subscribe to the cognitive view and adopt four rationalizing tactics for dealing with poetry: censorship, writing new poetry, allegorical interpretation, and the concept of the "critical spectator." With the Stoic philosopher in charge of the poetic experience, the literary presentation of pathology fits into a moralizing paideutic program. This is a fine study, though Nussbaum occasionally sounds like a self-help therapist when she complains that the Stoics are not willing enough to learn from their emotions.

This collection can be strongly recommended for all students of Hellenistic philosophy, though the dust jacket misleads when it invites nonspecialists to partake of its riches. They would be better advised to begin with Julia Annas's Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind (1992), which is much friendlier to nonclassicists. - John Bussanich, University of New Mexico.
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Author:Bussanich, John
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1995
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