Working Papers by Subject - Classical Philosophy

091201 Relevant Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Decision-making in a democracy must respect democratic values, while advancing citizens’ interests. Decisions made in an epistemic democracy must also take into account relevant knowledge about the world. Neither aggregation of independent guesses nor deliberation, the standard approaches to epistemic democracy, offers a satisfactory theory of decision-making that is at once time-sensitive and capable of setting agendas endogenously. Analysis of passages by Aristotle and legislative process in ancient Athens points to a “middle way” that transcends those limitations. Relevant Expertise Aggregation (REA) offers an epistemic approach to decision-making in democratic organizations with minimally competent voters who share certain interests and knowledge. REA allows better choices among options to be made by basing choices on expertise in multiple relevant domains, through a time-sensitive process conjoining deliberation with voting. REA differs from a standard Condorcet jury in aggregating votes by relevant domains, based on reputations and arguments of domain-experts.
This paper replaces version 121101 posted in December 2011, version 071102 posted in July 2011, and version 090901 posted in September 2009.

071201 Democracy's Dignity
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Dignity, as equal high standing characterized by non-humiliation and non- infantilization, is democracy’s third core value. Along with liberty and equality, it is a necessary condition for collective self-governance. Dignity enables robust exercise of liberty and equality while resisting both neglectful libertarianism and paternalistic egalitarianism. The civic dignity required for democracy is specified through a taxonomy of incompletely and fully moralized forms of dignity. Distinctive features of different regimes of dignity are modeled by simple games and illustrated by historical case studies. Unlike traditional meritocracy and universal human dignity, a civic dignity regime is theoretically stable in a population of self-interested social agents. It is real-world stable because citizens are predictably well motivated to defend those threatened with indignity and because they have resources for effective collective action against dignitary threats. Meritocracy and civic dignity are not inherently liberal, but may persist within a liberal democracy committed to universal human dignity.
This paper replaces version 011201 originaly posted in January 2012, and 071101 originally posted in July 2011.

011201 Democracy's Dignity
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 071201 entry.

121101 Weighted Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
> Abstract - Decision-making in an epistemic democracy takes into account not only citizens’ interests but also their knowledge about the world. The dominant epistemic approaches to democratic decision-making focus on aggregation of independent guesses and on deliberation, but neither offers a satisfactory means of decision-making that is at once time-sensitive and capable of setting agendas endogenously. Analysis of two passages by Aristotle points to a hybrid “middle way” that transcends these limitations. Weighted Expertise Aggregation (WEA) conjoins diverse forms of expertise in multiple domains through a time-sensitive process of deliberation and voting. WEA differs from a Condorcet jury in aggregating the marginal probability of correct judgments on domain- experts, rather than on the substance of complex issues. Although it requires procedurally competent voters who share common knowledge, WEA offers a realistic approach to decision-making in democratic organizations.
This paper replaced version 071102 originally posted in July 2011. It was revised in September 2012; please see 091201 entry.

081103 The Function of Criticism ca. 432 BC: Texts and interpretations in Plato’s 'Protagoras'
Andrew Ford, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract: Plato’s Protagoras is a unique text in the history of criticism, the only extended example of practical poetic criticism that we have from classical Greece. This long passage (338E-347C) shows a group of fifth-century intellectual luminaries debating the meaning of a dense lyric poem by Simonides: the text is quoted at length and its language examined closely and methodically and wildly. My paper first attempts to pinpoint how this passage — often written off as a parody or a joke or misunderstood as a simplistic polemic against “sophistry” — fits into the work. I argue that Plato is more serious here than is usually supposed, and that the passage gives his best account of uses and limits of literary criticism. In a coda, I consider an analysis of the passage by Glenn Most, which suggests some reflections on recent developments in academic literary criticism.
This paper replaces 120501 originally posted in December 2005.

071102 Weighted Expertise Aggregation: An Aristotelian middle way for epistemic democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 121101 entry.

071101 Four Kinds of Dignity and Democracy
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 011201 entry.

051002 CHAPTER 1 of The City-State Commensurate: Plato and Pythagorean Political Philosophy: “Aristotle’s Description of Mathematical Pythagoreanism in the 4th Century BCE”
Philip Sidney Horky, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract: Scholars of the history of ancient philosophy have been hesitant to attribute particular characteristics to those Pythagoreans called “mathematical” by Aristotle. Aristotle himself,to be sure, not only felt it important to distinguish this type of Pythagorean from the more traditional “acousmatic” type, but he also invested in this distinction the basic tenets of his own philosophical methodology regarding the pursuit of knowledge from first principles. In this chapter, I describe the philosophical system (pragmateia) of the mathematical Pythagoreans by analyzing and comparing the accounts of Pythagoreanism in both the surviving treatises of Aristotle (especially Metaphysics) and the fragmentary works on the Pythagoreans preserved in Iamblichus’ On the General Mathematical Science and On the Pythagorean Way of Life. This is the newest version of the first chapter of a book-length study in which I describe the philosophical and political history of the mathematical Pythagoreans and their influence on Plato’s later thought.

021001 The instrumental value of others and institutional change: An Athenian case study
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A primary motive for certain Athenian rule changes in the direction of increased legal access and impartiality in the fourth century B.C. was Athenian awareness of the increased instrumental value of foreigners. New Athenian rules were aimed at persuading foreigners to do business in Athens. Foreigners gained greater access to some Athenian institutions, and fairness, in the sense of impartiality, was more evident in some forms of legal decision-making. These new rules appear to have worked; Athens became more prosperous by the later fourth century, at least in part because foreigners liked the new rules and so did more business there. Because increased access and impartiality were not prompted by a changed Athenian approach to the ends/means distinction, a Kantian deontologist would deny that the new rules made Athens a better place. A consequentialist might disagree. Written for a Leiden/Penn collection of essays on “Valuing Others,” in progress, edited by R. Rosen and I. Sluiter.

090909 Antonomasia, Anonymity, and Atoms: Naming Effects in Lucretius’ "De rerum natura"
Wilson H. Shearin, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This essay argues that selected proper names within Lucretius’ De rerum natura, rather than pointing deictically or referring with clear historical specificity, instead render Lucretius’ poem vaguer and more anonymous. To make this case, the essay first briefly surveys Roman naming practices, ultimately focusing upon a specific kind of naming, deictic naming. Deictic naming points (or attempts to point) to a given entity and often conjures up a sense of the reality of that entity. The essay then studies the role of deictic naming within Epicureanism and the relationship of such naming to instances of naming within De rerum natura. Through analysis of the nominal disappearance of Memmius, the near nominal absence of Epicurus, and the deployment of Venus (and other names) within the conclusion to Lucretius’ fourth book, the essay demonstrates how selected personal names in De rerum natura, in contrast to the ideal of deictic naming, become more general, more anonymous, whether by the substitution of other terms (Memmius, Epicurus), by referential wandering (Venus), or by still other means. The conclusion briefly studies the political significance of this phenomenon, suggesting that there is a certain popular quality to the tendency towards nominal indefiniteness traced in the essay.

090908 Haunting Nepos: "Atticus" and the Performance of Roman Epicurean Death
Wilson H. Shearin, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper, written for Hedonic Reading, a collection on Epicurean reception I am co-editing with Brooke Holmes of Princeton, reads the famous death of T. Pomponius Atticus (as recounted in Cornelius Nepos) against a backdrop of other Stoic and Epicurean deaths. It develops the figure of “haunting” as a way of speaking about the absent presence of Epicureanism in Atticus, which strikingly never mentions that philosophy by name – despite the fact that Atticus himself was one of the most well- known Epicureans of the Late Roman Republic. Its reading of Atticus’ death suggests that the biography’s greatest Epicurean traces may be found – rather than in the letter of the text – in the ways in which the details of Atticus’ death fail to conform to the Stoicizing interpretation Nepos’ himself offers. That is, the work is anti-teleological (and thus Epicurean) in its resistance to the clear, teleological (Stoic) reading offered within the biography itself. The paper is thus interested in developing “Epicurean” notions of reading, which – if not entirely adumbrated in antiquity – are potentially present in moments such as Lucretius’ comparison of letters and atoms, where the composition of the world and the composition of the text are juxtaposed.

090901 An Aristotelian middle way between deliberation and independent guess aggregation
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
This paper has been revised. See 071102 entry.

120602 Aristotle's Metaphysics M3: realism and the philosophy of QUA
Reviel Netz, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The article provides a new translation and interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics M3, arguing that Aristotle uses there the QUA as a perspective of intellectual action: an operator on actions rather than a filter on objects. Instead of Aristotle’s mathematics being a science of “Objects QUA mathematical”, we should consider it as a science whose manner of action is “QUA mathematical”. A discussion follows as to Aristotle’s view that his QUA account salvages a realist reading of mathematics without invoking special mathematical objects. This view depends on the deceptively compelling assumption that a statement which is true QUA X is also true simpliciter. If this assumption is false – as I believe the experience of modern science suggests – then Aristotle was wrong and we must indeed either deny the reality of mathematics, or invoke special mathematical objects.

110601 Die Katharsis im sokratischen Platonismus (Katharsis in Socratic Platonism)
Christian Wildberg, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - In this paper, written in German, I am exploring the concept of purification (katharsis) in early Platonic dialogues. The evidence suggests that this variant of katharsis, which possesses a marked cognitive dimension, might well have Socratic roots. More importantly, however, its serves as a useful backdrop for an understanding of Aristotle's enigmatic conception of dramatic katharsis as broached in the Poetics. Modern discussions of the latter have so far largely ignored the Socratic-Platonic precursor, with which Aristotle was undoubtedly familiar.

090607 Simplicius und das Zitat Zur Überlieferung des Anführungszeichens
Christian Wildberg, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper was published in a somewhat inaccessible Festschrift for Dieter Harlfinger. Taking the lead from an obscure passage in Simplicius, which can only be understood if the quotation marks in the medieval manuscripts are taken into account, the paper surveys the usage of quotation marks in the medieval in extant papyri and some manuscripts. The evidence suggests that quotation marks and other signs of interpunctuation were widely used in late antiquity, and that it is a mistake of editors of texts written in late antiquity to ignore such marks if and when they appear in the manuscript tradition. The paper observes in passing that the famous "Sentence of Anaximander" is not marked as a direct quotation is the extant Simplicius-manuscripts.

090604 From “Socratic logoi” to “dialogues”: Dialogue in Fourth-century Genre Theory
Andrew Ford, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract: This paper argues that we can only have a just appreciation of the rise and early development of philosophic dialogue in Greece by bracketing the immense influence that the Platonic version of the form has exerted and turning instead to tracing how “Socratic logoi” came to be recognized as a new prose genre in fourth-century Athens. A consideration of the early terms used to name the form suggests that dialogue should not be derived from fifth-century mime or drama but should be understood in the context of the burgeoning rhetorical literature of the period; in particular, dialogue will be shown to be one of many innovative kinds of fictional speech-texts that were proclaiming new and special powers for written prose.

070604 Natural Capacities and Democracy as a Good-in-Itself
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A paper on moral and political philosophy, arguing on Aristotelian grounds, that democracy is not only an instrumental good, but a good-in-itself for humans, because the exercise of constitutive natural capacities is and end, necessary for true happiness (understood as eudaimonia), and democracy (understood as association in decision) is a constitutive natural human capacity of humans. Forthcoming, winter 2006 in Philosophical Studies.

070602 Socrates and democratic Athens: The story of the trial in its historical and legal contexts.
Josiah Ober, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Socrates was both a loyal citizen (by his own lights) and a critic of the democratic community’s way of doing things. This led to a crisis in 339 B.C. In order to understand Socrates’ and the Athenian community’s actions (as reported by Plato and Xenophon) it is necessary to understand the historical and legal contexts, the democratic state’s commitment to the notion that citizens are resonsible for the effects of their actions, and Socrates’ reasons for preferring to live in Athens rather than in states that might (by his lights) have had substantively better legal systems. Written for the Cambridge Companion to Socrates.

050601 Saving the Appearances: The Phenomenology of Epiphany in Atomist Theology
Jacob L. Mackey, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract: In this paper I propose an approach to Epicurean theology that avoids the stalemate of "realist" and "idealist" interpretations. I argue that Epicurean theology is more phenomenological than metaphysical, its purpose less to ground and justify dogmatic commitment to whatever form of existence the gods may enjoy than to account for a prevalent aspect of ancient religious experience, epiphany, and to assimilate that experience to Epicurean philosophical therapeia. In the process I reconstruct and reassess the equally epiphanic theology of Democritus that forms a source for Epicurus' theological thought. His theology has also been unprofitably construed by modern scholars as a reductive dismissal of the gods as mere psychological effects or manifest fictions. Instead, Democritus was at least as accommodating of the phenomena of religious experience as Epicurus: his own theology is likewise founded on epiphany and he too attempts a therapeutic analysis of its attendant effects.

120501 The Function of Criticism ca. 432 BC: Texts and interpretations in Plato’s 'Protagoras'
Andrew Ford, Princeton University
This paper has been revised. See 081103 entry.