Anna Marmodoro is Professor of Philosophy at Durham University and concomitantly an Associate Faculty Member at the University of Oxford, where she is a Research Fellow of Corpus Christi College. She has published widely in ancient, medieval and late antiquity philosophy; metaphysics; the philosophy of religion; and the philosophy of perception. She has been the recipient of research funding from the European Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, among other institutions, and with their support, has created and directs a research group working since 2011 on the metaphysics of powers. She is also the editor of a new journal, Ancient Philosophy Today: Dialogoi, which is coming out with its initial issue this year and is now open to submissions.
What drew you to the study of ancient philosophy?
An inspirational teacher in high school. I was educated in Italy; my school’s curriculum was focussed on classical studies, and included philosophy, which we were taught at school for three years. When I “encountered” ancient philosophy in my first year, pursuing it further became my goal and aspiration. I am afraid it is not a very original story. But every time I recall it, I am reminded of the importance (and responsibility) of teaching our subject well, as this can potentially be a game-changer in the life of our students.
What’s the most helpful piece of advice you have received about working on ancient philosophy?
What has been most significant and helpful for me has been the opportunity to interact with scholars who have been fantastic role models with regard to their way of “doing” ancient philosophy. In a way, no explicit advice was passed on; but their example made all the difference to me.
Which texts do you think should be taught more often in ancient philosophy survey courses?
I believe the extant work of the so called “early Greek philosophers” could serve as an exciting introduction to the study of ancient philosophy, and philosophy in general. It should definitely be taught more often! The early Greek philosophers, from Thales to the Sophists included (as per the latest edition of their work by Laks and Most), pioneered most philosophical topics we find of interest today, as well as the very method of engaging in philosophical inquiry. They held a wide variety of views on any given issue of common interest to them, which teaches us a sense of conceptual possibilities within one and the same line of inquiry. Additionally, each of them spanned several research topics, which shows them to be philosophically well-rounded: an intellectual virtue that is important to teach our students. Furthermore, the work of the early Greek philosophers has survived only in fragments, and whilst this is very unfortunate, it is also an opportunity and a challenge for the modern reader: some degree of speculation is necessary to reconstruct their philosophical views. Engaging in such interpretative challenge is formative for our students because it stimulates them to think “actively” about the text.
What is the motivation for starting a new journal when there are already so many out there?
This journal has a unique mission: facilitating publication of work that out classical and modern philosophy “in dialogue”. There is excellent work of this kind produced by senior as well as early career scholars, but it easily falls between the cracks. We want to make such work more “visible” and thus promote one way of doing ancient philosophy that is less mainstream than others today.
What do you think the relationship between ancient philosophy and contemporary philosophy should be?
Mutually enriching. Maria Rosa Antognazza has cogently argued in “The Benefit to Philosophy of the Study of Its History,” for the value for contemporary philosophy of conversing with its history – as she nicely puts it; I would argue that the history of philosophy too would benefit from conversing with contemporary philosophy.
What advice would you give to a specialist in ancient philosophy who wants to learn more about a relevant area of contemporary philosophy but doesn’t know where to start? Should they find a contemporary specialist to talk to? Check out relevant entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? Research and read journal articles?
Talking with specialists seems the best way forward, to get useful pointers within a large and ever growing body of contemporary philosophical literature.
Do you have advice for those starting out in ancient philosophy?
My advice to early career researchers is: don’t work within set boundaries. Read and explore. Resist the modern world’s push toward hyper-specialization.
What are you currently working on and why?
I have just completed the draft of a new monograph on Plato, provisionally titled Forms and Structure in Plato’s Metaphysics. I got fascinated by the question of how Plato accounts, metaphysically, for structure in the world; how he was influenced by Anaxagoras in thinking of this topic; and how in turn he influences Aristotle. Mine is a Plato who begins very Anaxagorean and becomes very Platonic in his metaphysical development. I found of tremendous interest the fact that Plato returns several times to the issue of structure in different dialogues – pioneering solutions, finding difficulties and counterexamples with them, moving forward to new ideas; perhaps never reaching a solution that is problem-free but generating so many interesting ideas on the way.