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Necessity, Cause and Blame: Perspectives on Aristotle's Theory by R.

Review by: R. W. Sharples
The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 103 (1983), pp. 176-177
Published by: The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies
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comprehensible terms, and who rejects some of the arguments which lead to those conclusions, his picture
glorious excesses of Platonism without making it of'Aristotelianism' is incomplete. Another consequence
dull-or rarelyso. Towards the end of the book, in the of his approachis to make Aristotle tidier than he is. He
long final chapter on 'The philosophy of human life', argues strongly for the identification of 'active reason'
there are traces of a certain impatience with Aristotle. with god, so repairinga gap left by Aristotle himself-
On pp. 368-9, for example, we find the following: and perhapsfor good reason;there is surely something
'Reading the Ethicsone sometimes has the impressionof in these parts of the corpus of Sir Thomas Browne's
taking a lesson in Greek lexicography rather than in Aristotle (Guthrie,p. 92), 'who in matters of difficulty,
moral philosophy.... I doubt if even Socrates and and such as were not without abstrusities,conceived it
Plato, with their insistenceon definitions, or a modern sufficientto deliver conjecturalities'.On the other hand,
upholder of the intimate connexion between philoso- maybe Guthrieis right;and it is good in any caseto have
phy and language, would insist on our following into the arguments laid out so fully.
detail the shadesof meaning in the Greek works which But of course there is plenty in the book which is
we translateas liberalityand prodigality, over-ambition valuable both for the student, whom Guthrie has
and proper ambition, buffoonery, wit and boorishness, primarilyin mind (p. x), and in whose propereducation
and so on.' Such an unsympathetic and curiously he was always keenly interested,and for the rest of us.
question-begging remark betrays none of the excite- He sets out clearly the landmarksin the literature;he
ment which Guthrie confesses to having felt on first writes with his characteristicconcern for scholarship
reading Aristotle. But that excitement is certainly in and for his subject;and he presentswith forthrightness
evidence elsewhere; and especially when he is dealing and vigour a view of Aristotle of a type which is
with Aristotle's conceptions of the nature of the historically more important than any other. (Of the
universe, god and mind. He revealshis hand alreadyon relatively few typographical errors, proportionately
p. 13. '[Aristotle's]philosophy can still be regardedas in more occur where Greek is involved; the Greek goes
outline at least a unitary system, a brilliant synthesis especially wrong in n. 5 on p. 254.)
culminating in the extraordinary conception of the C. J. ROWE
Divine Intellect which is the ultimate cause of the Universityof Bristol
universe, while remaining completely indifferentto its
existence or non-existence.9
This is an intensely personalview; and indeed from SORABJI (R.) Necessity, cause and blame: perspec-
the beginning the book is explicitly a record of tives on Aristotle's theory. London:Duck-
Guthrie'sown personal'encounter' with Aristotle. It is worth. 1980. Pp. xvi+326,
not intended to be the kind of encyclopaedicaccount of [I] plate. C24.00.
Aristotle and Aristotelian scholarshipwhich readersof This is an important,learned,and exciting book;
earliervolumes of the Historymight have expected and, importantfor our understandingof Aristotle,and
perhaps, hoped for. It would be churlish, though, to importantfor the historyof the wide rangeof topicsit
complain about not getting what we were never covers,includingthe natureof causationandexplana-
promised. In any case, Guthrie'sspecialcommitment to tion, the relationof necessityto time, the place of
certain partsof the corpus does not radicallyunbalance purposein biology,the distinctionbetweena prioriand
the book. Nor need one object too strongly to his a posteriori,and the analysisof voluntaryandinvolun-
somewhat pietistic image of Aristotle the man (though tary action with its implicationsfor legislatorsand
some of us may dubiously find Diogenes Laertius' penologists.Anyone of theseissueswouldmakea book
beringed, dapper Aristotle more suggestive). A more in itself;but they are all linked by their relationto
reasonable objection will be to the degree to which Aristotle'sthoughton the centraltopic of necessity.
Guthrie appearsto suggest that Aristotle's conclusions Thisis a topicwhichProfessorSorabjidiscussed some
are already determined.'Like the importance of form, years ago in his 'Aristotleand Oxford Philosophy'
[the concept of potential being] too was the outcome of (AmericanPhilosophicalQuarterly6 [1969] 127-35). This
a habit of mind fostered by early training, namely the book, too, is distinguishedby the combinationof
teleological' (p. 106). On 'substance',Aristotle's 'diffi- concernwith perennialphilosophical issueson the one
culties' are those of a Platonist 'who cannot bring hand,anda keenhistoricalsenseon the other,thatthat
himself to believe that universal forms, specific or titlewouldsuggest.In thisbranchof classicalstudies,at
generic, exist as transcendententities, but who yet is a least,thecombinationof a synchronicanda diachronic
Platonist and fascinatedby the doctrine of immaterial approachis essential;the philosophical
form as the truest reality' (p. 221). On the material centralinteresttoday, but the assumptionsand the
'cause', 'though Aristotle criticises Plato's conception, conceptualframeworkof an ancientthinkermay well
the influence of the Timaeusappears undeniable' (p. not be thesameasthoseof modernphilosophers (evenif
228). Appealing though such hypotheses may be, their modernphilosopherswere all agreed,which they are
effect is to obscure the importance of other featuresof not).Philosophersof 2 milleniajostleeachotherin S.'s
'Aristotle's mind' which are more immediately in text and footnotes; but he is well aware of the
evidence, and which Guthrie himself stresseselsewhere: importanceof historicalcontext-drawing, for exam-
a fundamentalopenness,and an intense commitment to ple, in his treatmentof Aristotleon voluntaryand
argument. Guthrie's evident delight in Aristotle's involuntaryaction,on SirKennethDover'sconclusions
granderconclusions is an effective rejoinderto Ackrill's in GreekPopularMoralityas to the types of pleasin
statement that 'having to learn a doctrine is a boring mitigation that were and were not acceptableto
task,and speciallydepressingif you know that it is false' fourth-century Athenianjuries.
(Aristotlethe Philosopher,p. 2), but to the extent that he Given this approach,it is naturalthat, even where
underplays the sophistication and intricacy of the ancientphilosophersare concerned,the book is not

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confined to Aristotle, in spite of its title. S. claims (see thinkers, this is not because determinism as a thesis had
below) that Aristotle'sapproachesto certainissueswere not yet been formulated, but because he regarded the
superior to those which have prevailed in subsequent difficultiesas being in the determinist'sposition rather
philosophy, and which were already,he argues,those of than in his own. In the course of his analysis of
the Stoics (see for example pp. 64-7). This in itself is Aristotle's treatment of the voluntary, he provides
sufficient to refute the old-fashioned idea that there is reasons for thinking that parts at least of the 'common
little of philosophicalinterestin ancientphilosophy after books' belong with the EudemianEthicsratherthan with
Aristotle. There is thus a whole chapter in S.'s book the Nicomachean, and also for regardingthe Nicomachean
devoted to the Stoic treatment of necessity and Ethics as the later work.
possibility. The book does not claim to give a complete Some other particularpoints. Pp. 9-Io. The point
account of the history of the problem of determinism about the eclipse tomorrow being accidental(Metaph.K 8
and human responsibilityin antiquity; but it will be of Io65ai6) would be clearerif what Aristotle hadin mind
fundamentalimportancefor all futurework in this area, was the occurrenceof an eclipse at a particularcrisisin
both for its contents and also for its excellent and events-like the one foretold by Thales (Herodotus
extensive bibliography. 1.74.2) or the one which delayed the Athenian depar-
The foundation and startingpoint of the book is the ture from Syracuse (Thucydides 7.50.4).
discussionof causationand necessitationin the first two P. 67. It should perhapsbe stressedthat the libertar-
chapters. Both for Aristotle and for S., coincidences as ians, in appealingto internalcauses,were notjust saying
such have no causes;and for S., though not for Aristotle, that our actions are not necessitatedby external factors
S. argues, coincidences can be necessitated without alone, while allowing that they may be necessitatedby
being caused. Conversely, and even more importantly, the combination of these and factors internal to us; for
both for Aristotle and for S. things can be caused the determinist Stoics could, and did, argue this much
without being necessitated;the answer to the question (pp. 79-83). (Alternatively, one could say that in a
'what caused so-and-so?', S. argues, depends on the deterministsystem no factorsare truly internal,for they
context, and not all answers will be causes that render can all be tracedback to ones existing before the birth of
the result necessary.(For the Stoics, on the other hand, the agent; see p. 230.)
everything is the necessitated result of one or more P. 70 nn. 2, 3. I have now discussed some of the
causes, and there are no true coincidences. It might be passages which S. uses to challenge my view here in
added that later on Boethius interpreted Aristotle's 'Necessity in the Stoic doctrine of Fate', Symb. Osl. 56
example of the finding of buried treasurenot as true (1981) 81-97.
coincidence, but as the working of divine providence; P. 108. Cleanthes'motive in denying the necessityof
Consolationof Philosophy5 pr. 1.55-8.) all that is pastcouldhave been to restrictthe term to what
However, if 'cause' is relative to context, it might is always so, as opposed to what is sometimes so and
seem that to speakofthings just as 'caused'or 'uncaused' sometimes not (as a result of fate in either case).
will be an oversimplification;anything indeed may be P. 147 n. 8. Perhaps it would be better to say that
said to be 'caused'from somepoint of view, but this may Aristotle does not hold that rain fallsjust becauseof the
not be very significant. The determinist's claim that condensation in the clouds; cf. An. Post. 2.12 96a3
everything is causedin everyrespectmay well bejust an Those of us who have been privileged to see partsof
act of faith, as S. argues, but it may still be the case that this book in the course of its development, at various
free human actions must be uncaused in certain seminars organised through the hospitality of the
important respects. S. holds that to describe human Institute of Classical Studies of the University of
action as a 'beginning', archi, does not mean that it is London, and at conferenceselsewhere, will find all our
uncaused(227 ff.); but it does seem to imply that there is expectations realisedin the completed work. S. tells us
somethingabout it that cannot be caused or explained. that he is now working on a book on ancienttheoriesof
S.'s example is that of a student who goes to a lecture time (p. 124 n. 14); the presentbook shows that this too
nine times out often, but failsto go on the tenth; thereis is to be eagerly awaited.
a cause or explanation, S. argues, of his going when he R. W. SHARPLES
goes (desire for knowledge) and of not going when he UniversityCollegeLondon
doesn't (laziness),but there is no causeof his going rather
thannot going, or vice versa,on any specificoccasion (p.
30; cf. p. 232). ARISTOTLE. A commentary on the Aristotelian
Moreover, while it may be that these are the most Athenaion Politeia. By P. J. Rhodes. Oxford:
typical cases of human actions, one does wonder Clarendon Press. 1981. Pp. xiii+795. C45.00.
whether Aristotlewould have thought so. S. at one point
describes action in pursuit of a conscious policy as With this 'monstrous book' (his own words) P. J.
exceptional (p. 239); but it might seem to be central to Rhodes joins a formidable galaxy of editors and
Aristotle's ethical analysis (cf. also S.'s apt observation commentators, I4EV7rKO~-T7r in a
a';7-o. However,
that freedom need not imply variation, pp. 25o0-1).S. commentary upon so important a source-book as the
expressly rejects the distinction some have drawn Athenaion Politeia comprehensiveness is surely more
between reasonsfor actions and causesof actions (p. 32); desirable than economy, and the only thing I regret
it thus follows for him that any aspect of an action for about this book is its price. I could have wished that it
which there is no cause-such as performing it rather made some concession to the rising generation of
than the opposite, in the case cited--is something for Classical Civilization students-those sans Latin and
which there is no reason. sans Greek-but had it done so it would have had to be
S. well argues that, if Aristotle does not see even bigger and more expensive.
determinism as such a threat to free will as did later Not the least valuable section of the book are the

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