My paper on Woodbridge’s reading of Aristotle entitled “The Natural History of the Soul” has been accepted for the 2008 meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. The paper is part of a panel with Daniel Brunson, a graduate student here at Penn State and Rose Cherubin of George Mason University. The panel is entitled American Philosophy and the Legacies of Greek Thinking. The panel abstract is below:
Greek thinking has historically been engaged by American philosophers in at least three (not always mutually exclusive) ways. Roughly speaking, the first involves the discussion and interpretation of specific Greek texts. The second involves the development, often in new contexts, of ideas inspired by or rooted in Greek ideas, but not necessarily identical to them. The third way is the apparently independent development of ideas and ways of thinking that parallel those found in Greek thought, where there is no evidence of direct influence. The papers in this panel illustrates all three modes by which Greek thinking has been engaged by American philosophers.
The first paper, entitled The Natural History of the Soul, takes up the first and second modes by focusing on a set of lectures Fredrick Woodbridge gave in 1930 on Aristotle’s De Anima in which he reads Aristotle as concerned primarily with the being and meaning of nature. The paper is divided into three sections. The first considers Woodbridge’s innovative account of Aristotle’s method, which is guided by Aristotle’s own theoretical practice of attempting to put the natural phenomena he encounters into words. This methodological commitment to the articulation of things suggests the importance of Aristotle’s own ontological orientation toward language, which is the focus of the second section of the paper. Finally, drawing on Woodbridge’s account of how, for Aristotle, it is natural for things to go into language the paper will conclude with a discussion of Aristotle’s understanding of the intelligibility of things that links Aristotle’s naturalism to both Woodbridge’s conception of cooperation and Dewey’s understanding of transaction.
Illustrating the first and third modes, Peirce’s Account of Pythagoras explores the speculative biography of Pythagoras written by Peirce on multiple occasions. Primarily, Peirce offers it as a methodological example of abduction based upon meager evidence, and which offers few predictions regarding possible future experience. Peirce considers his method both distinctive and superior to others because it demands an explanation of all the evidence, even, or especially, known falsehoods. That is, one should explain why a false testimony would be asserted as true, and why in one way rather than another. More broadly, Peirce implicitly argues that we should engage with the ancients seriously, rather than assigning them to the “infancy” of thought. In fact, Peirce’s account concludes with an intriguing hypothesis as to the secret behind Pythagorean “mysticism,” based largely on a supposition regarding Pythagoras’ travels outside the Greek world.
The final paper of the panel, Inquiry, Truth, and Normativity in Parmenides and Peirce, addresses the second and third modes of the American engagement with Greek thinking by drawing Peirce’s conception of philosophical inquiry into dialogue with that of Parmenides. In his search for alternatives to aspects of modern philosophy he found to be misguided, Peirce often independently took up Greek notions also used by Parmenides. The thematic study of inquiry was central to Peirce’s conception of philosophy. In this his closest philosophical precursor was Parmenides. Both investigated what it is that inquiry might enjoin and require, and what its success might consist in and imply. Both also explored the normative or evaluative dimensions of the search for truth. This paper looks at these two areas of common interest. The paper examines the convergences and divergences between Peirce and Parmenides on the theme of inquiry, with the aim that the reflection of each on the other might illuminate both and further our understanding of the questions they addressed.