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Reviewed by:
  • The Aporetic Tradition in Ancient Philosophy ed. by George Karamanolis and Vasilis Politis
  • Lloyd Gerson
George Karamanolis, and Vasilis Politis, editors. The Aporetic Tradition in Ancient Philosophy. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. vii ++ 319. Cloth, $99.99.

This original collection of essays, arising from a conference in Dublin in 2014, explores the concept of aporia in ancient Greek philosophy. As the authors demonstrate, the concept of aporia has a surprisingly prominent role to play throughout the 1,000-year long ongoing conversation that the extant records reveal. Indeed, the Stoics and Epicureans seem to be outliers among the ancient philosophers in having no reliance on aporiai. The authors and the titles of their papers are: John Palmer, "Contradiction and Aporia in Early Greek Philosophy"; Jan Szaif, "Socrates and the Benefits of Puzzlement"; Vasilis Politis, "Aporia and Sceptical Argument in Plato's Early Dialogues"; Verity Harte, "Aporia in Plato's Parmenides"; Lesley Brown, "Aporia in Plato's Theaetetus and Sophist"; Christof Rapp, "Aporia and Dialectical Method in Aristotle"; Friedemann Buddensiek, "Aporia in Aristotle's Metaphysics Beta"; Jessica Gelber, "Uses of Aporiai in Aristotle's Generation of Animals"; James Allen, "Aporia and the New Academy"; John Dillon, "Aporetic Elements in Plutarch's Philosophy"; Luca Castagnoli, "Aporia and Enquiry in Ancient Pyrrhonism"; Inna Kupreeva, "Aporia and Exegesis: Alexander of Aphrodisias"; George Karamanolis, "The Aporetic Character of Plotinus' Philosophy"; and Damian Caluori, "Aporia and the Limits of Reason and of Language in Damascius."

The introduction by the editors sets the stage with a subtle analysis of the two fundamentally distinct senses of aporia and its cognates: a puzzle or problem and the feeling of puzzlement that one has in the face of the puzzle. Numerous questions arise on the basis of this distinction, most of which are variously treated in the following essays. For example, can aporiai define a philosophical method? How is the employment of aporiai connected to dogmatic or doctrinal philosophy? What role do aporiai (in both senses) have in personal philosophical development? How are aporiai most effectively or properly generated? All of these questions and more are raised and answered in a surprisingly diverse, yet unified series of studies. It is, of course, not possible here even to summarize the fourteen contributions. I will limit my self to mentioning some of the most interesting highlights.

One common understanding of the course of ancient philosophy regarding aporiai is that there is a fundamental divide between pre- and post-Aristotelian philosophy. In the former case, aporiai are conceptual "knots" faced by those trying to understand nature, and though these knots arise owing to the complexities of nature itself, they are in principle solvable. In the latter, perhaps beginning in the New Academy or in Pyrrho himself, the aporiai are intended to show that the knots are unsolvable, either because of nature or because of human nature. The paper by Castagnoli demonstrates that, despite this important divide, there is a continuity in the methodological deployment of aporiai in Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand, and Pyrrhonists, on the other. The Pyrrhonists, like Sextus Empiricus and Aenesidemus, and unlike the members of the New Academy, argued that a commitment to insolvability was dogmatic; rather, aporiai are unremovable from inquiry into nature, but not, for all that, useless. On the contrary, a skeptical stance is positively beneficial as a source for the achievement of tranquility.

The paper by Buddensiek is an especially illuminating treatment of the explicitly aporetic Book Beta of Aristotle's Metaphysics. The author shows that, based on Aristotle's account of what knowledge is—grasp of necessary and universal truths—our embodied life and access to nature through sense-perception means that we have to start with what is clearer to us, aiming to achieve what is clearer by nature. How is this to be done? The aporiai of Book Beta belong to a strategy of using endoxai as a heuristic to bridge the gap between empirical data and the principles we seek to know.

The paper by Caluori treats aporiai in the last great work of metaphysics in pagan antiquity, Damascius's Aporiai and Solutions Concerning First Principles, written probably in the first third of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 344-345
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-04
Open Access
No
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