Volume 6, 2011
Α Ι Τ Ι Ο Σ and Cognates: the Cart and the Horse
This article discusses some methodological issues concerning the nature of the study of ancient philosophy, and especially the relation between the precise historical and philological reading of the ancient texts and the philosophical speculation about what these texts mean, or (as is often the case) what one thinks that they should, or must, mean. I take as a specimen of the ‘more philosophical’ approach two articles by Michael Frede, both from his Essays in Ancient Philosophy. In his Introduction, Frede seems to base what he regards as the proper study of the ancient philosophical texts on the detection in these texts of what he calls “good reasons”, which he identifies with “what we ourselves would regard as good reasons”. This would imply – in this particular case – that the criteria employed by a contemporary analytic philosopher should serve as the acid test of the validity of any historical reconstruction of what an ancient philosopher – who had no idea whatsoever of analytic philosophy (or of any other modern philosophical fashion) – really meant. Purely historical considerations, according to Frede, should only serve in the last resort, in cases where we have failed to detect “good reasons”. To illustrate the consequences of such an approach, I discuss some of the features of the other article, ‘The Original Notion of Cause’, showing that, while it makes some very useful contributions to elucidating Stoic concepts of causality, it sheds no light on the earlier meanings of αἴτιος and αἰτία as two of the main, and original, Greek concepts of causation. This is demonstrated through a brief (and very basic) survey of the development of these two concepts from Homer to the early fourth century.