This week we had two fascinating papers by Yung In Chae and Alessio Santoro.
Yung In presented a paper entitled “Simone de Beauvoir and Classical Antiquity.” Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, widely considered the catalyst of second-wave feminism, contains numerous references to ancient Greece and Rome in the course of locating the historical roots of women’s oppression. For example, she references Aeschylus’ Eumenides to illustrate patrilineality, then Pliny’s Natural History when discussing taboos surrounding menstruation. The paper discussed about De Beauvoir’s classical education, contextualised The Second Sex, and examined her use of the classics in the text. More generally, by looking at why she thought that the classics were worth thinking about while addressing a contemporary social justice issue, we were able to re-conceptualise the past as a framework for thinking about the present.
Alessio’s talk was entitled “The one is said in many ways… but how many? On Aristotle, Physics, I.2, 185b5-25.” In the first book of the Physics, Aristotle undertakes an inquiry into the number and character of the principles of nature. After outlining the scope and method of the book, in chapters 2 and 3 he criticises the position of the Eleatics, who claimed that nature has only one unchangeable principle—i.e. that all things are one. One of the arguments against this thesis consists in listing the meanings of ‘one’ and showing that none of them is suitable for making sense of the claim. In order for the argument to be valid, the list of meanings needs to be exhaustive. However, this does not seem to be the case, at least prima facie. Alessio compared this list of meanings with those that are found in books Δ and Ι of the Metaphysics, and showed that the list of Physics I.2 is exhaustive even if it displays fewer meanings of ‘one’ than the corresponding passages of the Metaphysics.
Both papers stimulated lively discussion and, as always, we all had a great time at the Granta afterwards!