- Reason and Emotion. Essays in Ancient Moral Psychology and Ethical Theory
This collection of essays spans 27 years of John Cooper's career as an interpreter of ancient philosophy. Its earliest essay, "The Magna Moralia and Aristotle's Moral Philosophy," already shows Cooper's distinctive approach; he seeks to discover "a simpler and more natural way" (200) to understand the discrepancies between this small treatise and Aristotle's major ethical works than by the comparatively convoluted theory of Dirlmeier. In seeking this simpler and more natural interpretive route, Cooper attends to "the philosophical content of the work" (202), rather than considerations of style and linguistic usage. He concludes with frank discussion of the problems which his interpretation cannot solve; these are dismissed with characteristic exasperation-italics: ". . . one must not expect to explain everything . . ." (210). He confines his rougher polemical points to footnotes (Dirlmeier "doesn't even face the question squarely" in note 19, hence he is "wildly off" in note 28). [End Page 430]
These characteristics run through all the essays here collected. Only two of the 23 essays are previously unpublished: a reconsideration of Xenophon as a source on Socrates, and a treatment of pleasure and desire in Epicurus. Other essays take up moral problems examined by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and several Hellenistic philosophers or schools. A theme running through most if not all the discussions is the desire (shared by the ancient philosophers and by Cooper equally, it would seem) to develop and defend a viable eudaimonism. The relation between human goodness and human happiness must be shown to be one of extremely close affinity, such that the virtuous are also the happy, even in adversity. Thus though no attempt is made to connect the essays into a coherent argument leading to a global thesis about ancient moral philosophy, the book nevertheless contains the ingredients for such an argument and thesis. The book presenting such an argument and thesis could in some ways be both more elegant and more helpful than this collection; it could spend fewer of its pages in arguing against other interpreters over minor differences (the standard journal-article format for our time), more of its pages awakening the texts, eliciting their message, and presenting it in a form useful for guiding life. Perhaps Cooper will write such a book soon.
But the present volume will certainly be of interest to scholars and students, who will find in it much to enjoy and ponder. Generally what is striking about Cooper's interpretations is their freshness. He is at his best when dislodging some stale orthodoxy. The essay on Xenophon's Socrates is a case in point. The portrait of Socrates which emerges in Xenophon's Memorabilia is usually taken to be far less accurate than that presented in Plato's earlier dialogues. The Memorabilia seldom appear on the required reading lists of Greek philosophy courses, nor does Xenophon's version of Socrates' approach to moral questions receive even a fraction of the scholarly attention devoted to Plato's early work. Cooper convincingly shows this neglect to rest on a prejudice. The Socrates of Xenophon's portrait addresses a different kind of audience than that of Plato; the difference in the style of questioning and in the topics discussed reflects the historical Socrates' sensitivity to his partners in conversation. He addresses them where they live (so to speak), and this makes him "all the more remarkable a person" (14).
Two other strengths run throughout the essays here collected. No matter how intense the exegetical quibble may have become on any given page, Cooper is able to make a sudden soaring flight upward and provide a synoptic view of the broader philosophical terrain, both for any given philosopher and for that philosopher's contemporaries, predecessors, and successors. These flights are sometimes dizzying and often unpredictable, but always refreshing.
In addition, Cooper is able to make connections with large issues in contemporary moral philosophy, relating the ancient controversies to their modern versions (John Rawls, Bernard Williams, Leo Strauss...