Monday, August 14, 2006

Contemporary Aristotle scholars

There are many analytics studying Aristotle--at Boston College I can think of at least two (one had his formation at the University of Toronto--close reading of the texts + analytic approach are hallmarks of UoT, I think).

Leiter Reports informs us that there has been a minor brain drain of philosophy professors from the U.S. to the U.K.

[Also of interest at Leiter Reports, "Some Observations on the Philosophy Job Market."]

One of those who have moved is Sarah Broadie, who is now at the University of St. Andrews. However, she did get her education at Oxford and appears to be an UK'er, so it shouldn't be surprising. I believe Sarah Broadie would be considered an analytic. Is there anyone who studies at Oxford who doesn't become one?

Her faculty webpage. (Her old page at Princeton.) Not surprisingly, she's given a lecture at Oxford. (She's also delivered a Foerster Lecture at Stanfurd.)

In her first book (which was based on her dissertation, I believe), Nature Change, and Agency in Aristotle's Physics, she does a 'metaphysical' analysis of Aristotle's account of change. (This book was published under her maiden name, Sarah Waterlow.) She has also written a book on his Nicomachean Ethics.

For the thesis I will be looking at what she and other Aristotle scholars have written on what Aristotle believes to be the highest form of happiness. Is it contemplation? Or something else. These other scholars include Fred Miller, Richard Kraut (cv), and John M. Cooper (cv) plus some minor lights, Julia Annas, Suzanne Stern-Gillet, Lorraine Smith Pagel, and Gabriel Richardson Lear. I don't know how many of these are analytics, I wouldn't be surprised if all of them were.

Some handbook for a course on Aristotelian Ethics.

I talked with one of the other grad students about analytic scholarship on Aristotle, and he was very disappointed by the quality of the work. We both share an Aristotelian-Thomistic viewpoint (though last tiem I asked, he is interested in doing research on various modern and contemporary authors). I haven't talked to him since one of the Bradley lectures early this year. Anyway, it is one thing to not know "out loud"--to put one's doubts and musings on something like a blog--it's another to turn it into a book and have it deemed as current scholarship. Now, a claim of certitude and definiteness will be absent from the words of the book, but one can see the obvious lacunae that should not be there if these people actually got a good education before receiving a degree--and these are the people who now hold jobs. But the deficits of graduate education are old news, as is the weaknesses of academic philosophy. I say again, the medieval intellectual project is dead.

Part of it is an approach to education which is heavily text-based, coupled with a different aim of scholarship. As Sts. Augustine and Thomas point out, we read a text (or learn from a master) not to memorize or know what the author or master think, but to come to learn the truth. One comes to understand a text well, not to find a niche for one's self in academia (nor to become an authority on the text without being an authority on truth), but for the sake of coming to know the truth. Now some of the authors I have mentioned are better than others; from what I have read, Cooper's work is quite good, but I have not seen him go beyond giving an interpretation of Aristotle.

Hence, it is more important to understand the arguments and see the logic of a text (or see where there is a lack of logic), than to fuss over fine details. Of course, how a certain word is be translated can come to have a very significant impact on one's understanding of the text, but does one put one's philosophical speculation on hold until that is resolved? In many cases, authors will be quick to give an appraisal of the work because of perceived ambiguities but more importantly because of its 'flaws,' in accordance with their own thinking on the matter at hand; but how many will actually spell out their own views and justify their own positions, instead of assuming that the reader shares their principles? Some may be content with doing what they believe is "neutral" scholarship, others may intentionally seek to hide behind the 'old man' and use him as a mouthpiece. (It is as much making themselves relevant through the support of an accepted part of the canon as it is making that canonical text relevant today.)

There are very few masters these days, who can lead students to true knowledge.

If I could get away with it, I would write a thesis using the arguments alone, instead of trying to flesh it out as Thomas' view (which I believe it would be)--no more primary texts, no more secondary texts. I suspect the thesis would be rather short, if it were bare-bones, maybe 20 pages at the most? If I completed it with examples and sentences, it would obviously be longer than that.

Rather than reading a lot of bad texts by poor philosophers, I'd rather turn my attention to concrete, and not so-concrete data--especially, for the present moment, history, the financial system, economic practices, and other things pertaining to the development (and decline) of modern nation-states and their relations with one another.

Dr. Michael Pakaluk seems to be an analytic; but as far as I know, he is also a believing Catholic, so he has the faith-reason dynamic to his advantage. I should ask him if he styles himself an analytic... His blog. (Where he reports that he and his family have moved to Cambridge.) He is an active contributor of BACAP (and Opus Dei? His "Opus Dei in Everyday Life." ) He is also a member of the American Public Philosophy Institute, along with Christopher Wolfe, Gerard Bradley, James Kearns, John Finnis, Robert George, John Hittinger and Russell Hittinger. Unlike Finnis and George, I think Pakaluk's understanding of the common good is closer to the Aristotelian-Thomistic one [and properly Catholic one]. No doubt this is due in part to the quality of his understanding of Aristotle and classical Western philosophy. (He has written some blog entries on Cicero, which makes me want to read Cicero and see if Cicero might be too much of an internationalist.)

Some of Dr. Pakaluk's book reviews: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, vo. 17. The Soul of Socrates.

And a review of his Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX by Scott Carson.

Speaking of Aristotelians...
I need to re-examine of the work of Marjorie Grene in the philosophy of biology... her assertion that vitalism is no longer necessary left me scratching my head. After all, Aristotle's account of the soul could be considered a form of vitalism, even if Hans Driesch doesn't seem to follow it faithfully (leading to his own version of vitalism). It is recorded that Maritain learned biology from Driesch, and he was attracted to his work because if it's affinity to that of Henri Bergson.

A short summary of vitalism. One of Driesch.

I just found out Jean Vanier, founder of l'Arche (l'Arche Internationale), has another book on Aristotle, I have one of them, but I've forgotten which one--I'll have to check. Happiness: A Guide to a Good Life plus Made for Happiness.

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