21st Symposium Aristotelicum held at Princeton Athens Center
Julie Clack, Office of Communications, Stanley J. Seeger ’52 Center for Hellenic Studies
Since 1957, the Symposium Aristotelicum has met triennially to discuss a theme in Aristotle’s philosophy or texts. Speakers and participants in the Symposium are invited from countries around the world, including: U.S., U.K., France, Italy and Germany, with a few scholars hailing from countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America.
From July 23-29, 2017, the 21st Symposium convened at the Princeton University Athens Center for Research and Hellenic Studies to present on Eudemian Ethics book II, one of Aristotle’s most understudied texts and the subject of only one previous Symposium in 1969.
“Eudemian Ethics (EE) is considered understudied because it has been upstaged by Aristotle’s other—and better known—comprehensive ethical treatise, Nicomachean Ethics,” said Benjamin Morison, professor of philosophy at Princeton University and co-organizer of the Symposium. “However, EE is beginning to get more attention recently, with the publication of new translations by Sir Anthony Kenny (Oxford World’s Classics) and Brad Inwood and Raphael Woolf (Cambridge University Press) in the last couple of years.”
According to Morison, EE studies the central ethical questions for Aristotle: what is a good character, or “virtue”? How can we obtain it, how can we maintain it, and what are the actions that will flow from that character, which together will bring us happiness? Aristotle’s EE also offers interesting discussions of friendship, philosophical contemplation, and the question of which actions are voluntary and which are involuntary, a question that preoccupied Symposium participants.
“Apart from our conversations on the voluntary and involuntary, one of the most interesting topics of discussion was the way in which Aristotle thinks ethical thinking is informed not just by reason but also by emotion,” Morison said. “The interaction between reason and emotion is a perennial question for philosophers—just think of how heated discussions of ethical or political matters can become!”
The Symposium was comprised of 10 different sessions, several of which were held at the Princeton Athens Center. The 30 participants met in the Center’s conference room, tightly arranged around the table and the sides of the room. “Sessions at the Symposium are traditionally rather long: three hours, with a coffee break,” Morison said. “After six days, with two sessions every day, we were ready to relax, and we did that with a reception on the Center’s rooftop terrace. It was a perfect culmination to the Symposium as a whole.”
After the conference, Morison and Symposium co-organizer Hendrik Lorenz, professor of philosophy, heard from many of the participants that they found the intellectual atmosphere at the Symposium very conducive to discussion and collaborative understanding. “Many observed that this is not always the norm at a philosophy conference!” Morison noted. “Hendrik and I think that this is in no small part because of the relaxed yet serious tone that prevailed at the Symposium. The Princeton Athens Center, with its beautiful location and building, very much enables this kind of intellectual atmosphere.”
“Gregory Vlastos, a professor of Greek philosophy at Princeton, founded the Classical Philosophy program in the early 60s,” said Dimitri Gondicas ’78, Stanley J. Seeger Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies. “Since its inception, Classical Philosophy and Hellenic Studies have worked closely together; the Symposium is one terrific example of this long-term partnership.”