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  • Desire, Identity and Existence, Essays in Honour of T.M. Penner
  • Anna Greco (bio)
Naomi Reshotko, editor. Desire, Identity and Existence, Essays in Honour of T.M. Penner Academic Printing and Publishing 2003. xi, 310. $74.95, $29.95

The articles in this collection were originally produced for a conference held in 2001 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in celebration of Terry Penner's sixty-fifth birthday. A Canadian by birth, educated in Oxford, with a brilliant career in the United States, Terry Penner is one of the most distinguished scholars of ancient philosophy today, best known for his work on Plato's early and middle dialogues.

Since the early 1970s, Penner has contributed novel insights into textual interpretations, developed bold philosophical theories to accommodate those insights, and articulated complex and rigorous arguments in support of those theories. On the basis of both stylometry and Aristotle's evidence, Penner has been a strong advocate of developmentalism, according to which Plato's dialogues progress through roughly three chronological phases. He also argued that the early-phase dialogues provide us with a coherent and defensible philosophical position attributable to Socrates. Penner defended the philosophical viability of Socrates' intellectualism - defined by such paradoxical claims as that virtue is knowledge or that all wrongdoing is involuntary - and of Socrates' egoism, ensuing from the view that all desire is for the good, where this is understood as what is beneficial to oneself. Penner is also well known for explaining Plato's introduction of the theory of Forms in the middle dialogues in terms of an opposition to nominalism, i.e., the general view that all that exists are concrete spatio-temporal objects and that terms such as 'beauty' and 'justice' are only names that don't correspond to anything real.

The articles in the collection are organized along the themes of Penner's research, but they are a varied lot: some build on Penner's views (Christopher Rowe, Scott Berman, Patrick Mooney), others critically discuss some of his arguments (Paul Warren, Gerasimos Santas, George Rudebush, Mariana Anagnostopoulos, Melinda Hogan, Alan Code), and some are contributions with looser ties to Penner's research (Sandra Peterson, David Estlund, James Butler, Michael Taber, Antonio Chu). Although many of the essays are accessible to non-specialists, some involve exegetical analyses of specific texts and/or are philosophically very technical (Peterson, Butler, Anagnostopoulos, Hogan, Chu, Code).

Penner's account of Socrates' intellectualism is built into Rowe's own defence of developmentalism, is a backdrop to Peterson's exegesis of a controversial passage in Plato's Phaedo, and is assumed by Warren as he argues against Penner that Socrates accepted political obligation, rather than holding to a posture of apolitical individualism.

Taber, Berman, and Rudebusch tackle Socratic egoism: whereas Taber shows how Plato's texts support thinking of Socratic egoism as compatible [End Page 220] with concern for others, Berman and Rudebusch take opposite sides on the general question of the philosophical viability of psychological egoism as such. Strong of the analytical tools provided by Penner's theory of human motivation, Berman defends psychological egoism, whereas Rudebusch argues that a better ethical theory to ascribe to Socrates is a form of 'agent neutral perfectionism.'

On the general theme of desire in motivating action, Anagnostopoulos criticizes Penner's (and Rowe's) attempt to reconcile Plato's Meno and Gorgias on the question of whether it's possible to pursue something bad believing it to be good, whereas Butler discusses the relationship between desire and happiness in the Philebus.

When explaining Plato's metaphysics as anti-nominalist, Penner elaborated on a parallel between Plato and Frege. This parallel is the object of Hogan's and Chu's essays, whereas Penner's theory is directly used by Mooney in his account of Plato's disparagement of poetry in Republic x.

Plato's Republic is also the focus of Santas's essay. Ever since Sachs in 1963 argued that Plato commits a fallacy of irrelevance in his account of justice in the Republic, many scholars have put forward different ways to clear Plato of that charge. Santas argues that Penner's discussion (in a work as yet unpublished) of Sachs's charge...


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