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  • Heat, Pneuma, and Soul in Ancient Philosophy and Science ed. by Hynek Bartoš and Colin Guthrie King
  • Rhodes Pinto
Hynek Bartoš and Colin Guthrie King, editors. Heat, Pneuma, and Soul in Ancient Philosophy and Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. x + 380. Cloth, $99.99.

This unfortunately titled volume offers a collection of fourteen essays and two introductions, many of which stem from a 2014 conference, Aristotle and His Predecessors on Heat, Pneuma, and Soul, which is a more honest reflection of the contents, given its exclusion of the Stoics. Of the essays, eight are devoted to Aristotle (mainly to biological and zoological topics), four to Presocratic natural philosophy, one to Plato, and one to the De Spiritu. The poor titling and somewhat oddly circumscribed selection of who and what receives attention, however, do not detract from the quality of the contributions themselves, which is largely excellent.

One highlight is Simon Trépanier's account of soul in Empedocles, the most sophisticated account yet developed. Trépanier argues that soul is a fire-air mix, an early pneuma theory. In animals, this mix is in the blood around the midriff, thus reconciling the reports linking soul to fire or air and to blood while allowing for metempsychosis.

Another highlight is Gábor Betegh's wide-ranging and generally deflationary piece on fire and heat as a source of motion in the Presocratics and some Hippocratics. In particular, his discussion of Democritus constitutes a significant advance in the understanding of Democritus's atomic theory. The piece also features the volume's only discussion of Heraclitus. The understudied Diogenes of Apollonia's ontology receives a dedicated chapter by Bryan Reece, though Reece inexplicably neglects half of the key evidence, namely Diels-Kranz (DK) B5, especially its invocation of tropoi of air and of "what is called 'air' by humans."

Thomas Johansen presents a compelling argument that in the Timaeus the process of nutrition for all living creatures is the causal responsibility of the world-soul (via its rotation and thereby the mixing and separation of the elements). Still, I was left wondering about the teleology. Mortal creatures' nutrition appears not to be an aim of the world-soul, nor is it a stated aim in the Demiurge's crafting of the world-soul. Perhaps the teleological responsibility lies with the visible gods, who form mortals with confining bodies such that nutrition can occur via the world-soul's causation. That fits well with the Demiurge's address to the visible gods (41a–d), though, if correct, it would suggest that the (confining structure of the) body has a slightly greater role in the account of nutrition than Johansen grants.

Several chapters address the motions in sperma within Aristotle's account of reproduction. The interpretation given in Karel Thein's chapter is unlikely to win advocates. Employing a connection suggested at GA II.3, 736b37–737a1, Thein argues that "the motion proper to the seed … is not due to any external mechanical impulse" (193); rather it is, like that of aether in the De Caelo, "due to an inherent animation" (200), which does not involve soul. Hence he asserts that "the state of being animate, ἔμψυχον, is not always and necessarily connected to being a soul or having a soul" (194–95). Even setting aside his claim that Aristotle speaks of aether in the De Caelo as "animate (ἔμψυχος)" (196), for which I find no textual evidence, and the implausible strain on the Greek language, Thein's position leaves problematic how the motion in pneuma is caused. Several remarks—"its power to move itself" (193) and "ongoing self-animation" (196)—evidently treat it as self-motion, while another describes it as "apparently unanalyzable" (196), but neither of those positions squares with Aristotle's understanding of the causation of motion in Physics VIII. [End Page 511]

By contrast, Jessica Gelber's chapter convincingly argues that the motions of heat and cold in the sperma are the "tools" or "intermediate agents" (245) used by—and thus caused by—the nutritive soul of the male parent. Gelber's take dovetails nicely with the following chapter by Patricio Fernandez and Jorge Mittelmann, who find further instances...


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