18.09.01, Bydén and Thörnqvist (eds.), The Aristotelian Tradition

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Pantelis Golitsis

The Medieval Review 18.09.01

Bydén, Börje and Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist, eds. The Aristotelian Tradition: Aristotle’s Works on Logic and Metaphysics and Their Reception in the Middle Ages. Papers in Mediaeval Studies, 2017. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. pp. viii, 395. ISBN: 978-0-88844-828-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Pantelis Golitsis
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

The twelve essays contained in this volume, originally contributions to workshops held by a Danish-Swedish research network between 2009 and 2011, illustrate the scholarly approach of "the Copenhagen School of Medieval Philosophy," as labelled by the Dutch scholar L. M. de Rijk (1924-2012); it is actually a Scandinavian school of philosophy with a pertaining interest in the history of semantics and logic from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Standing between the analytic and the continental philosophical traditions, and influenced by both, the Copenhagen School is distinctive for its bridging of the gap between the concerns of contemporary Aristotelian scholars with those of their medieval predecessors, while producing thorough studies that reside on solid philological grounds in both Greek and Latin.

The present book is no exception. It provides highly informative, rather historically oriented studies (Hansen, Amerini, Fink, Brumberg-Chaumont, Knuuttila, Thörnqvist, Mora-Márquez, Bydén et alii), as well as scrutinizing analyses (Peramatzis, Bloch, Ebbesen), of logical and metaphysical matters in the Aristotelian tradition, ranging from Aristotle himself (Peramatzis, Bloch) and the ancient commentators (Thörnqvist) to Pletho (Bydén et alii), Suárez (Fink) and contemporary scholarship (Ebbesen) via Averroes (Amerini), pre-Albertine Scholastics (Hansen, Brumberg-Chaumont, Knuuttila, Mora-Márquez) and Thomas Aquinas (Amerini). All contributions reside on solid textual evidence, abundantly quoted and faithfully translated, while Börje Bydén provides, most usefully, a new critical edition of a crucial Byzantine text that shaped the philosophy of the Renaissance. In spite of the subtitle of the volume, which may make the reader expect a comprehensive treatment of the reception of Aristotle's Organon and Metaphysics in the Middle Ages, the volume actually exhibits a thematic diversity, which is brought into some unity only because all contributions are concerned with some historical interpretations of Aristotle's thought in logical and metaphysical matters.

The book is aptly introduced by Sten Ebbesen (1-11), himself a prominent figure of the Copenhagen School, who provides, on the face of it, a panorama over the individual contributions, but in reality an autonomous survey of the Aristotelian tradition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, i.e., from Aristotle's successor Theophrastus to George Scholarios, the first Patriarch of Constantinople (as Gennadios II) under Ottoman rule. I have nothing to remark upon this masterly introduction except for a minor point (which Ebbesen could not be aware of): Alexander of Aphrodisias, Ebbesen says, although holder of the Peripatetic chair in Athens (around 200 A.D.), was not inimical to Plato, whom on occasion he even called "divine." This actually occurs only once, in Alexander's commentary on the Metaphysics (ὁ θεῖος Πλάτων), and it looks like a Neoplatonic interpolation. At any rate, the word θεῖος is not attested in the ms. Parisinus gr. 1878, which preserves readings stemming from an independent branch of the textual tradition of Alexander's commentary, a branch that has been left unknown to modern editors of the commentary (Brandis, Bonitz, Hayduck). Ebbesen also provides, together with Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist, a brief intellectual history of the Copenhagen School (12-15). The two essays that deal with Aristotle mainly address epistemological issues. Michael Peramatzis ("Aristotle's 'logical' level of metaphysical investigation," 81-130) investigates the meaning of the term λογικῶς, as used by Aristotle in Metaphysics Zeta (1029b13). He argues that the term does not aim at introducing an investigation based on linguistic considerations (as believed by W. D. Ross), nor merely (as argued by M. Burnyeat) a non-partisan inquiry based on general principles that are not peculiar to the scientific discipline under consideration, i.e. first philosophy or metaphysics, but that the term applies to a partisan predicational reading (what is said of what and in what way) of the logical level of metaphysical inquiry. David Bloch ("Aristotle on the exactness or certainty of knowledge in Posterior Analytics I.27," 151-161) discusses Aristotle's intriguing claim (87a31-33) that "knowledge what that, at the same time, is knowledge why" (for instance, "what is an eclipse") is a higher kind of knowledge than "knowledge why," and argues that the appropriate rendering of ἀκριβεστέρα (which is the word Aristotle uses) in this context is not, as standardly translated, "more exact" but "more certain." Bloch, following Ross, takes briefly into account Themistius's, Philoponus's, and Zabarella's, presumably false, interpretation of the passage. Plotinus's considerations in Enneads VI 7.2, I may add, might have been helpful in clarifying Aristotle's thought in this passage.

Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist ("Bridging the beginner's gap: Apuleius, Boethius and Porphyry on the categorical syllogism," 228-248) argues that Boethius's De syllogismo categorico does not draw on Apuleius's Perihermeneias, as hitherto believed, but on a lost introduction by Porphyry to categorical syllogistic, which therefore had a considerable influence on the discipline of logic during the Middle Ages. (Boethius, at the same time, was probably not aware of the existence of Apuleius's Perihermeneias). With regard to Boethius, Simo Knuuttila ("Early medieval discussions of modal syllogistic," 214-227) shows that his two commentaries on Aristotle's On Interpretation 12-13 formed the background of the early medieval reception of modal theory, whereas Prior Analytics I 8-22, although briefly discussed in Anonymus Aurelianensis III (the first known Latin commentary on the Prior Analytics, to be dated around 1200), started making an impact on the philosophical culture of Western Europe around the middle of the thirteenth century through Robert Kilwardby's commentary. With regard to On Intepretation, Ana María Mora-Márquez ("Aristotle's On Interpretation 1, 16a3-9: A new perspective on the origin of the debate on signification at the end of the thirteenth century," 249-266) shows in a lucidly argued paper that the masters of arts from the first half of the thirteenth century were unanimous in rejecting a novel view, based on an interpretation of the Categories and considerations about grammar (which was to become predominant in the subsequent decades), namely the view that words do not signify things via concepts but things directly.

Heine Hansen ("Accounting for Aristotle's categories: some notes on the medieval sufficientiae praedicamentorum before Albert the Great," 16-48) deals with the so-called sufficientia proofs for Aristotle's ten categories advanced by pre-Albertine Scholastics, namely Robert Kilwardby (who develops an interpretation put forward in the pseudo-Augustinian paraphrase known as the Categoriae decem [4th cent.]), Nicholas of Paris, and the Ripoll Compendium (essentially grounded on the anonymous twelfth-century work known as the Liber sex principiorum, falsely attributed to Gilbert de la Porrée by Albert the Great).

Fabrizio Amerini ("Averroes and Aquinas on the primary substantiality of form," 49-80) discusses the compatibility of the conceptions of primary substance endorsed by Aristotle in Metaphysics Zeta and the Categories according to Averroes and Aquinas. Amerini shows convincingly, against Galluzzo's interpretation, that, although there is a difference of emphasis, Averroes shares with Aquinas the conviction that the central books of the Metaphysics do not depart from the ontology laid down in the Categories. Rather, Aristotle examines substance in the Metaphysics from a different perspective, namely through its causal relation to what is a substance according to the Categories. Substantial form is designated as a substance in the sense that it is the cause of what counts as a primary substance.

Julie Brumberg-Chaumont ("Form and Matter of the Syllogism in Anonymus Cantabrigiensis," 188-213) explores how an anonymous commentator of the Sophistical Refutations from the early thirteenth century, the "Anonymus Cantabrigiensis" (as dubbed by Sten Ebbesen), applied an enriched version of the form-matter distinction in syllogisms to the analysis of Aristotle's thirteenth fallacies. Sten Ebbesen ("Demonstrative disputation--A contradiction in adiecto? Medieval and recent commentators on Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations, Chapter 2," 162-187) also focuses on the Anonymus Cantabrigiensis, especially on the way this master dealt with the problematic inclusion of the didactic or demonstrative kind among the four kinds of disputation that Aristotle enumerates in Sophistical Refutations 2, 165a38-b11, granted that no questioning procedure occurs in such a case; medieval commentators handled disputatio either as an equivocal or as an analogical term and this, as Ebbesen shows, opens our eyes to exegetical problems that contemporary exegetical works of the Sophistical Refutations have not properly addressed. As already mentioned, the exploration of medieval philosophy not merely as a historical discipline but as relevant to contemporary Aristotelian scholarship is a salient feature of the Copenhagen School.

Moving forward in time, Jakob Leth Fink ("Coming to terms with wisdom: Suárez on Aristotelian wisdom," 131-150) argues that the Disputationes Metaphysicae by the Jesuit scholar Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) can be used to solve a problem purportedly raised by Hermann Bonitz around the middle of the nineteenth century, namely how the more general notion of wisdom, aligned by Aristotle with sense-perception, memory, experience and craft-knowledge in Metaphysics A1, relates to the narrower notion of wisdom as universal science of principles and causes in Metaphysics A2. I am afraid that I have failed to follow Fink's argument. First of all, his analysis starts from the false premise (which Fink himself vainly refutes at the end of his paper) that in Metaphysics A1 "experience, craft, and science are identical with wisdom" (150). But I seriously doubt that any scholar ever held this strange view. Secondly, Fink, presumably misunderstanding Ross, apparently misunderstood what Bonitz's real problem was: Bonitz was not concerned, as Fink thinks, with the question whether the subject-matter of the Metaphysics is wisdom in the broad sense found in A1 or wisdom in the narrow sense found in A2, but whether wisdom tout court, the possession of which is said in A2, 983a11, to be the object of the Metaphysics, is meant by Aristotle in the sense of a universal science of being qua being (explicitly announced in Γ1) or in the sense of first philosophy that studies divine substances (as said in A2 and further confirmed in E1). At any rate, Fink advances the view, on the basis of Suarez's claim that "sapiens fit homo aliquo uso, et habitu aut virtute," that, according to this early modern philosopher, wisdom is "a state in the soul that develops gradually by being exercised" (134). It seems to me that this view rests on the false assumption that usus signifies "exercise"-- say, to disambiguate the word "exercise," Suárez would think that a human being becomes wise gradually, in the way a physician becomes all the better by exercising his medical art. This, however, is an un-Aristotelian thing to say--the intellectual virtue of wisdom, which Aristotle has in mind in A2, cannot consist of grades or stages--and, indeed, Suárez does not appear to accept grades of wisdom; rather, he demarcates a specific sense of metaphysics (the metaphysica specialis as distinguished from the generic sense of metaphysics), which applies to wisdom qua knowledge of divine things, and which a human being can attain thanks to his "natural light."

Finally, Börje Bydén provides a new edition of the first part of Pletho's On Aristotle's Departures from Plato, i.e., sections 0-19, accompanied with an elegant and faithful translation into English and an excellent line by line commentary (due to Bydén himself, Ebbesen, Fink, Hansen, Katerina Ierodiakonou, Mora-Márquez, and Miira Tuominen). Bydén's edition is admirable and no doubt will become the standard edition of the De Differentiis for years; it should perhaps be published (together with the second part of Pletho's work, which is concerned with Aristotle's criticism of Plato's theory of Forms) as a separate volume for practical reasons. With regard to editorial practice, Bydén completely disregards Pletho's punctuation as preserved in his autograph codex Marcianus Z 517 (coll. 886); this is done, at least to my mind, wisely, since, as Bydén thoughtfully says, punctuation should serve the intelligibility of a text according to contemporary usage. The intelligibility of Pletho's treatise is indeed wonderfully served by Bydén's punctuation except for a question mark (possibly, a typo) instead of a semicolon in line 55. A passage on Alexander of Aphrodisias's being responsible for the view that Aristotle believed in the mortality of human rational soul, put between cruces in lines 228-231, seems to me to be a marginal note and relates not only to Philoponus's commentary on On the Soul, as explained in the notes, but also to Simplicius (thus suggesting Ammonius, whose lectures Philoponus published, as the originator of this view). With regard to the translation, it seems to me that the word αἴτιον is implied in line 28, so that the translation should be "if [Aristotle] considers Him to be not the [efficient] cause of the existence and essence of each thing, but only the end of their movement" (and not "if he considers Him to be not an end of the being or the essence of each thing, but only of its movement"). One regrets the absence of an apparatus fontium, which would make the edition itself more profitable; I must stress, however, that Pletho's sources, both direct and indirect, are wonderfully discussed in the notes.

All in all, The Aristotelian Tradition is an excellent scholarly work both for its style and contents and a faithful representative of the achievements of the Copenhagen School of Medieval Philosophy. It is no surprise that the attention that this volume gives to unedited texts of the pre-Albertine era provides a more nuanced picture of the doctrinal developments in Scholastic philosophy than hitherto recognized.

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