Possibly?

In its article on Leibniz, Wikipedia reports: “No philosopher has ever had as much experience with practical affairs of state as Leibniz, except possibly Marcus Aurelius.” Possibly? Privy Counselor of Justice to the House of Brunswick, trusted adviser to the Electress of Hanover and the Queen of Prussia, and Imperial Court Counselor to the Habsburgs are important positions, beyond the reach of most philosophers, but they hardly compare to being Emperor of Rome.

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3 Responses to Possibly?

  1. Jim says:

    Ahh, this “possibly.” In this case I do not think the author had doubts about M.A.’s practical knowledge. Rather, this is a “possibly” that colors the entire sentence. The situation might be clearer if you remove it, and observe the resulting effect (an exercise we can all recommend to our students in general when doing close readings of rhetoric or poetry):

    “No philosopher has ever had as much experience with practical affairs of state as Leibniz, except Marcus Aurelius.”

    Well this certainly cannot stand: too simple, too sure of itself. Admittedly it would have been better to put “possibly” at the very beginning of the sentence. I have an article in the drawer about the “imprecise” positioning of English adverbs — something that really comes out when speakers of European languages ask where to put that “also,” say, and are confused when I give them three options.

  2. Don says:

    Probably the authors’ doubts were about whether Aurelius and Seneca were truly philosophers, not whether they were truly practical! But even Jacob Klein, who thought there were only twelve “philosophers in the strict sense of the word” with extant writings, included Empedocles in his canon…

    By the way the Kleinian canon is: Empedocles, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Proclus, Plotinus in the ancient world and Leibniz, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger in the modern.

    With a broader definition of philosopher, I would certainly have thrown in a number of Byzantines and a large number of Chinese as pretty strong contenders… not to mention Greeks like Pythagoras and Protagoras… and even Plato’s students like Phocion even if I didn’t take Socrates seriously when he claimed that he alone practiced “practical affairs”…

  3. James Enge says:

    Seneca probably trumps Leibniz, too; he and Burrus actually ran the joint for a decent stretch. And did Leibniz ever write a letter justifying matricide by the monarch? No! Those experience points go to Seneca.

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