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The Tradition of the Topics in the Middle Ages. The Commentaries on Aristotle's and Boethius' 'Topics' (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 25, Number 3, July 1987
pp. 442-444 | 10.1353/hph.1987.0055

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442 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 25:3 JULY I987 style. He assumes familiarity with both the Aristotelian corpus and modern theory of action and thus he plunges into the discussion of technical questions without provid- ing sufficient background for many readers. Equally troublesome is his expropriation of the diverse formulae employed by modern philosophers, which results in the use of a large number of quite different schemas to express Aristotle's thought. Further- more, in order to find modern analogues, Charles ascribes certain positions to Aristo- de which are not likely to bear careful scrutiny. The attribution of equivalence class materialism to Aristotle falls in this category as does the separation of valuational from motivational factors in practical deliberation. At a later stage of the conversation, Charles tends to transform ideas introduced earlier and this too threatens the cogency of some of his conclusions. For instance, the difference between a basic and a non-basic action seems at first to follow from the identification of the former with a process and the latter with an activity, but this line of argument is jettisoned when certain processes are subsequently classified as non- basic acts. Another case in point is the description of the practical syllogism in the second chapter and the explanation of acras/a in the third and fourth chapters. The initial account makes desire a mode of accepting the conclusion of a practical syllo- gism which issues in an action. However, in the case of acrasia, even though the acratic agent has drawn the conclusion that doing X is better than Y, she/he employs a second practical syllogism, concludes that doing Y is good and acts accordingly. To explain the agent's failure to act on the conclusion of the first syllogism, Charles introduces a distinction between "appropriately accepting" (and acting on) a practical conclusion and simply accepting it. This solution undermines his earlier argument that the conclusion of a practical syllogism is a proposition which is acted on and it introduces a distinction between types of desire which is not captured by his analysis of the practical syllogism, Charles has written a comprehensive and thoughtful book. It should stimulate interest in Aristotle's philosophy of action as a viable alternative to recent ap- proaches, and it should foster a deeper appreciation for the use of modern theories to elucidate Aristotle's views. D.K. MODRAK University of Rochester Neils JCrgen Green-Pedersen. The Tradition of the Topics in the Middle Ages. The Com- mentaries on Aristotle's and Boethius' 'Topics'. Analytica. Investigations in Logic, Ontology and the Philosophy of Language. Munich: Philosophia Verlag GmbH., a984. Pp. 458. DM 158, All but dismissed by W. D. Ross (Aristotle, 61) as an obsolete exercise in sophistic, Aritode's Topics has staged a remarkable comeback. Partly because of its importance for Aristotle's thought and partly due to its influence on thinkers from late Antiquity through the Renaissance the Topics remains central to the history of western philoso- phy, science, and theology. The present work proposes: (a) to provide the necessary BOOK REVIEWS 443 background for a fuller examination of the medieval topical literature and (~) to contribute to a survey of its 'genres' so that a "more comprehensive" view of medieval logic may be attained. The study has five parts. (0 "The Sources of the Medieval Doctrine of the Topics" introduces Aristotle's Topics and Boethius' De differentiis topicis. (~) "The Med- ieval Approach to the Sources" examines commentaries on Aristotle and Boethius. (3) "The Doctrine of the Topics in the Middle Ages" surveys commentaries from the tenth through the fifteenth century. (4) "A General Conclusion" summarizes some central ideas of the study. Finally, two appendices contain eighteen previously un- printed texts and list commentaries on the Topics and De differentiis topicis. The Topics including the Sophistici elenchi are Aristotle's chief works in dialectical as opposed to demonstrative reasoning. Demonstration proceeds from a knowledge of first principles to the conclusions formally deducible from them. Dialectic exam- ines the consequences of propositions on any subject matter apart from knowledge of its first principles. Where the former yields the truths of science the latter issues only in the verisimilitudes of...

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