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  • Calling Philosophers Names: On the Origin of a Discipline by Christopher Moore
  • Patricia Curd
Christopher Moore. Calling Philosophers Names: On the Origin of a Discipline. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. Pp. xxi + 411. Cloth, $45.00.

What does a philosophos do and what is a philosophos anyway? Christopher Moore explores these questions in his intriguing book, examining the history of the word philosophos and considering the development of the discipline that came to be known as philosophia. Moore's account "begins around 500 BCE with the coinage not of a self-lauding 'love of wisdom' but with a wry verbal slight, and concludes a century and a half later, in the maturity of an institution that is continuous with today's departments of philosophy" (1). The story moves between analysis of the word philosophos, comparing it and its history with that of other phil- compounds, and a wide-ranging discussion of the activities of those to whom the name was applied over the chosen period, and the attitudes of those who used the name to characterize themselves and others.

According to Moore, the evidence suggests that it was the Pythagoreans (Pythagoras and those who associated themselves with him and his views) who first came to be called philosophoi. The name was not clearly laudatory. Moore examines the development and uses of other phil- compounds at this time, and argues that, more often than not, a phil-x was a person taken to be obsessively, overly, or dangerously dedicated to x or x-ing or to being thought to be x or an x-er (whatever x might be). This dedication was not seen as a good thing: the relevant practice was often taken to be of ambiguous status or absurd; thus, as Moore observes, the philaitios is a litigious character perhaps best avoided. In the case of our word, the sophos was usually taken to be a sage or wise person (as in the traditional list of the Seven Sages); Moore says that Pythagoras and those around him "were, in effect, sophos-wannabes" (7). A central text for Moore is Heraclitus DK.B35/LM.D40 (in Moore's translation): "For philosophical men really quite ought to be researchers into much." The important words here are 'philosophical' (from philosophos) and 'researchers' (from historia). Rejecting other recent interpretations, Moore sees B35 as dismissive rather than as encouraging of inquiry and argues that the phrase 'philosophical men' is a slur. He links it with Heraclitus's contempt for Pythagoras in B40/D20, B81/D27, and especially B129/D26, where Heraclitus claims that Pythagoras "practiced historia most of all men … and made his own wisdom, polymathy, fraudulence." According to Moore, "Only later could processes of abstraction liberate the term philosophos from its archetype" (7). Calling Philosophers Names is his account of why this is so and how the liberation happened.

Aside from the introductory chapter and an epilogue, the book contains three sections comprised of three chapters each. These address (1) the earliest uses of the term philosophos and a lexical analysis of it along with a discussion of Pythagoreanism; (2) the fifth-century history of those called philosophoi (including the Sophists and Socrates) and the appearance of what Moore calls "Non-Academic philosophia"; and (3) Plato's and Aristotle's defense of the name and the practice in the face of the ambivalence expressed by nonphilosophers. The volume concludes with a collection and summaries of versions of the story of Pythagoras as a philosopher, classical uses of philosoph- terms, a list of the phil-prefixed words discussed in the book, a capacious bibliography, an index, and an index locorum. [End Page 327]

The book's reasoning is dense. Moore begins with key texts and discusses them throughout the book, bringing in more interpretations of the passages as the arguments they provoked developed chronologically. In the chapters on Socrates and Plato, Moore's order of discussion tends to follow the dramatic dates of the dialogues, which can be disconcerting when what can reasonably be taken to be Platonic (rather than Socratic) views are taken as evidence of Socrates's own commitment to philosophia. This is particularly striking in the treatment of...


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