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Carlo Natali, Cristina Viano (éd.), Aitia II. Avec ou sans Aristote : le débat sur les causes à l’âge hellénistique et impérial

Anna Marmodoro
p. 226-228
Référence(s) :

Carlo Natali, Cristina Viano (éd.), Aitia II. Avec ou sans Aristote : le débat sur les causes à l’âge hellénistique et impérial, Louvain-la-Neuve, Peeters, 2014 (Aristote. Traductions et études, 33), 254 p., ISBN : 978-90-429-3093-3.

Texte intégral

1Given how central causality is in ancient as well as in modern philosophical thought, it is surprising that the number of existing studies on the way the topic was theorized on in antiquity are still too few. This is one of the reasons why the present volume is a very welcome addition to the literature on ancient theories of causation. This volume also has the special merit of covering a period in ancient Western thought that, as a whole, has been so far less investigated than others: the Hellenistic and Imperial period, roughly from the times of flourishing of the Peripatetic school until Plotinus. (In covering this period, this book complements Aitia I. Les quatre causes d’Aristote : origines et interprétations, coedited by C. Viano, C. Natali and M. Zingano and published in 2013, also by Peeters.) Another special feature of Aitia II is that its domain of investigation covers both Greek and Roman sources; additionally, it features interesting new angles on the material under consideration (for instance in the chapters about the Skeptics, and in the one about Alexander of Aphrodisias).

2The present volume is coedited by Cristina Viano and Carlo Natali, who authored the preface and the introduction, respectively. The introduction provides a helpful summary of the book’s chapters; additionally, it makes an interesting point that I take it the editors see the volume as a whole providing evidence for. Before presenting in some more details the interpretative thesis that the volume as a whole puts forward, I will briefly introduce the individual chapters, some of which are in English and some in French.

3Luciana Repici analyses the concept of causality in early Peripateticism, demonstrating that Theophrastus and Strato both genuinely cohere with Aristotle on causes, and that Theophrastus developed Aristotle’s concept of cause in an aporetic direction.

4Francesca Masi argues that, for Epicurus, multiple causes are not just cogs as it were in a mechanistic causal chain, but natural powers operating variously depending on the context to produce the same causal effect.

5Jean-Baptiste Gourinat argues that Stoic causality was framed in terms of efficient causes producing dynamic effects and that Stoics categorized causes partly by asking whether a cause is self-sufficient or acts collaboratively.

6Lorenzo Corti explores the idea of ‘‘evident causes’’ in medical and Skeptic Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic texts, showing that Skeptic doctors reject the reality of causal relations, whilst Galen accepts it.

7Maddalena Bonelli and Jean-Louis Labarrière analyze Alexander of Aphrodisias’s concept of efficient cause and his attack on the Stoic concept of ‘‘containing cause’’, arguing that the systematization of causes found in imperial Peripateticism draws more fully on Aristotle than is often thought.

8Stefano Maso addresses Roman Stoic interaction with Peripatetic causal categories, focusing on Seneca, who isolated Aristotle’s concept of efficient cause from both Aristotle’s other causes and its wider Aristotelian context, and adopted it, in this modified form, as his own concept of cause.

9Franco Ferrari explores middle Platonic attempts to create an exhaustive picture of the causes of the universe in response to Aristotle, focusing particularly on Alcinous, Atticus, and Plutarch.

10Riccardo Chiaradonna analyses ideas about causes in Plotinus, arguing that he confined causes to the intelligible realm and, relatedly, gave an un-Aristotelian description of formal cause.

11The book’s introduction provides the framework within which the editors invite us to read the individual chapters. Natali identifies two stages in the philosophical reflection on causation during the period the volume covers, separated, as it were, by the re-discovery, or resurgence of interest, in Aristotle’s works in the first century B.C. (roughly half of the essays in the book concern the first stage so identified, and half the second.) Natali’s claim is that during the first stage, in the Hellenistic period, various groups of thinkers (the so called ‘‘schools’’ of the Peripatetics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics) appear to develop original and independent lines of inquiry on causation, leading to different theories not in dialogue with each other. By contrast, when Aristotle’s works came back to the forefront of philosophical discussion, in the Imperial period, comparisons among different systems of causes began to be felt necessary. In this second stage the prominent philosophers of the time (exemplified in this volume by Alexander of Aphrodisias, later Stoics such as Seneca, and later Platonist thinkers, including Plotinus) became aware that they needed to position their own views in relation to Aristotle’s account of causation.

12Aristotle’s account, with its ambition to be an exhaustive causal analysis of reality, motivated the philosophers of the Imperial period to produce either alternative but equally comprehensive systems, or complementary ones to it. Thinkers of this time thus engage in re-interpreting, each in their own terms, alternative systems of causes that their contemporaries or even predecessors had developed. Their overall goal is to look for a theoretical reconciliation, as it were, and a single comprehensive theory that could incorporate systems of causes that were originally different and remained difficult to fit together. But the exercise was fruitful, in that it gave raise to much philosophical thinking that is still for us to fully explore. And this is one of the points that I take the editors want to make : looking at this period in the history of philosophy is exciting and this stimulating book is intended to open up many further avenues for research that will take forward the work done so far.

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Anna Marmodoro, « Carlo Natali, Cristina Viano (éd.), Aitia II. Avec ou sans Aristote : le débat sur les causes à l’âge hellénistique et impérial »Philosophie antique, 16 | 2016, 226-228.

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Anna Marmodoro, « Carlo Natali, Cristina Viano (éd.), Aitia II. Avec ou sans Aristote : le débat sur les causes à l’âge hellénistique et impérial »Philosophie antique [En ligne], 16 | 2016, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 12 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Anna Marmodoro

Corpus Christi College, Oxford

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