Philosophy in annOld Keynby E. Christian KopffnA Parliament of Souls: Limits andnRenewals, Volume IInby Stephen R.L. ClarknOxford: Oxford University Press;n208 pp., $49.95nIn the ancient world no one could talknor read too much about philosophy.nWealthy Athenian nobles, Plato andnXenophon, for instance — even Romannemperors, like Marcus Aurelius — livednfor the hours they could devote tonphilosophical discourse. The pagan’snconversion to philosophy was as importantnto him as conversion to Christ wasnfor a Christian. When his political careerncame to an end, Cicero composednmasterful Latin versions of Greeknthought and considered his time wellnspent.nThings are different now, of course.nReligion has replaced philosophy for thenaverage person. Philosophers are academics’andnby concentrating on techniquenhave managed to turn a subjectnthat could excite a normal, healthynyoung aristocrat like Xenophon into an”field” as quibbling and repellent asnAristophanes’ famous parody of Socrates’nschool in The Clouds. Professionalnphilosophers know something is amissnand have tried to get back in touch withna wider public. One result has been ansplit between those who “do philosophy”nand those who “do history ofnphilosophy,” i.e., discuss the texts thatnhand down what thinkers of yorenthought. Is it possible to make annoriginal contribution to today’s intellectualnand moral problems by readingntexts written hundreds, even thousandsnof years ago?nStephen Clark, professor of philosophynat the University of Liverpool, saysn”yes.” In 1973, his Aristotle’s Mannawoke us to the many insights thenMaster of those-who-know still has tonoffer our world. Since then, Clark hasnwritten books on the moral status ofnanimals and on “animals’ rights,” asnwell as his brilliant Gifford Lectures onnnatural theology, From Athens to Jerusalemn(1984). He is now involved in anthree volume series, Limits and Renewals,ntrying to open up the closedn36/CHRONICLESnshop of contemporary academic philosophy.nA number of academic disciplinesnhave advanced by narrowing and concentratingntheir vision, by excludingnthe role of purpose. Modern linguisticsnand physics would not exist withoutnthat heroic and successful asceticism.nSelf-control, however, is one thing;nstarvation, something quite different.nPhilosophy’s historic mission has beennto understand the world, and that missionncannot succeed by refusing tonthink about great chunks of that world.nSome disciplines have profited fromnrelegating God and purpose, devils andnangels to a neighboring room. Philosophynhas been reduced to debatingnwhether other minds even exist.nBerkeley’s John Searle has been subjectednto ridicule for suggesting thatnthere are rational reasons for believingnthat our language refers to an objectivenreality outside itselfnStephen Clark tells us in Civil Peacenand Sacred Order (1989) and A Parliamentnof Souls that it makes no sensento talk about politics and what humannbeings do and are without talkingnabout God and an objective moralnorder. Philosophers should not onlynread the great philosophers of the past,nand that means Plotinus as well asnPlato and Aristotle; they should alsonread great literature, and even prettyngood literature, ranging from Gerard’nManley Hopkins to Rudyard Kiplingnand on to Olaf Stapledon, who wrotenscience fiction in the 30’s and 40’s.nThe enemy is reductionism. Humannbeings are much closer to othernanimals than Utopian “fantasies allownfor. (Testosterone lives!) At the samentime, human life and achievementnmake no sense unless we posit a spiritualnlevel. The individual is no selfcontainednreality, but a Platonic form,nfilled with forces from below andn•above. The Greeks were right to thinknof violence and lust, Ares and Aphrodite,nas powers that can and do take overnmortals and use them as they will.nHomer’s picture of Aphrodite orderingnHelen into Paris’s bedroom after henhas run away from battle is a truernpicture of the human condition thannthe image of the rational decisionmakernof modern individualism. (Clarkneven promises us in volume three andefense of Marcus Aurelius’ speculationnthat this world is but a dream and annndelusion.)nHarvard’s John Rawls wants us tondetermine what is just by working outnlaws that will seem fair to any set ofnindividuals not prejudiced by historicalnbackground, socioeconomic status, andna crippling early family life. There are,nhowever, no individuals that are notnthe result of genes, history, family,nreligion, and language, to name just anfew factors. Yet the individualist wantsnto make an absolute out of his passingnfancies for war or for peace, for anbizarre misinterpretation of a poem, ornfor another person’s wife. The individualnis real. The “outside” worid is onlynhis interpretation. Even something asncommon as the colors that clothe thenworld are cultural agreements, with nonbasis in nature. (The ancient Epicureansnknew this, of course.) We mightnanswer that just because the Greeksncalled blood purple and the sea “winefaced”nwhile we call them red andnblue, does that mean that there is nonsea, no blood?nThe same individualist who assertsnthe impossibility of getting beyondnhimself to Wordsworth’s intentions inn”The Idiot Boy” or to the devinen”Thou shalt not commit adultery” hasna touching faith in the clarity andnvalidity of the conclusions of modernnscience and technology. He is notnbothered by the fact that science andntechnology are not cultural universals,nbut the result of a definite and limitednhistorical tradition, not unlike our moralsnand religion, our literature and ournart. In fact, we have more confirmingnevidence for the incest taboo and thentext and meaning of Wordsworth’snwords than we do for the Theory ofnRelativity or the Neo-Darwinism Synthesis.nIf the tradition that supports allnthese cultural formations collapses,nhow long will any part of it survive?nHow long can philosophy itself survivenas an academic game, once it hasnbeen severed from its historical roots innreading and commenting on the canonicalntexts? Stephen Clark writes sonwell and so playfully, quoting a poetnhere, indulging an aesthetic or religiousnwhim there, that the reader maynlose sight of the profound seriousnessnof his long, three-volume essay. Mostnof us realize that our lives would benchaos if we could not remember whatnwe had done in college, as youngnadults, even the day before yesterday.n