- The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy
The Cambridge Companions are designed both to introduce and to survey, aims that anyone who teaches introductory courses knows are not fully compatible. The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy is successful because its contributors have kept to a uniform tone of mostly introduction, with some reference to recent developments and controversies in the field. There are sixteen essays, with a judicious mix of chapters on particular figures and on general topics.
A. A. Long provides a helpful introduction, discussing the problems of dealing with the fragmentary evidence for these philosophers, and giving an account of the nature and scope of early Greek thought. (He also argues—not entirely persuasively—that we should give up the nineteenth century name "Presocratics" for these thinkers.) Jaap Mansfeld explains the problems of sources and doxography (the chapter is quite compressed and could be rather overwhelming for the newcomer to the area), while Keimpe Algra surveys Ionian cosmology. Carl Huffman provides a masterful discussion of early Pythagoreanism, attempting to sort out what we can and cannot be justified in claiming about Pre-Platonic Pythagoreanism. The chapters on individual thinkers mostly provide systematic overviews. Edward Hussey contributes an exemplary chapter on Heraclitus, and David Sedley one on Parmenides and Melissus (it is good to see Melissus treated seriously), with Richard McKirahan weighing in on Zeno (mostly on the paradoxes of motion but with some attention to the arguments against plurality). The discussions of individual Presocratics are rounded out with Daniel Graham's treatment of Empedocles' and Anaxagoras' responses to Parmenides, and C. C. W. Taylor on the Atomists. Sarah Broadie considers rational theology and James Lesher early Greek epistemology, while André Laks surveys ancient theories of soul, sensation, and thought. Paul Woodruff and Fernanda Decleva Caizzi provide chapters on the Sophists, the former discussing Protagoras and Gorgias, the latter, Protagoras and Antiphon. Mario Vegetti undertakes an examination of the notion of causation in early Greek thought, and Diskin Clay explores the poetics of the Presocratic philosophers. The book opens with short discussions—three paragraphs devoted to life, sources, and works for each of the thinkers who figure in the period (in alphabetical rather than even roughly chronological order), a chronological chart, and a map. There is a large and useful—though necessarily selective— bibliography (supplemented in the notes to some chapters by references to articles that are not included in the main bibliography), an index locorum, and an index of names and subjects that [End Page 429] includes modern scholars "only if their views are cited in the main text or discussed in footnotes" (which makes it difficult to use in tracking down references). Unfortunately, as in all the Cambridge Companions, notes are at the end of articles rather than at the foot of the page, making necessary a fair bit of flipping while reading.
How well do the contributors succeed in meeting the needs of the intended readers of the series? For the most part, very well; the novice reader will find this an accessible guide to Early Greek philosophy. The various discussions are solid and well-informed, and the authors have indicated issues and interpretations that are controversial (for example, Taylor takes time to consider objections to his earlier criticism of Vlastos on the connection between atomistic metaphysics and ethics, and Hussey is careful to note the traditional flashpoints of disagreement in Heraclitus interpretation). It is also good that some of the Sophists are included (it is worth considering how viable the traditional distinction between the Sophists and the Philosophers really is), and inclusion of both the medical tradition and the issue of poetics is very welcome. Further chapters considering in more detail the cosmologies of post-Milesians (including Parmenides) and on the philosophical uses made of the early Greek thinkers by Plato and Aristotle would have rounded things out, but these would have made an already big book bigger. As perhaps befits an introductory survey, most of the interpretations lean to the traditional - someone looking for...