The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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That no one can or should be convicted in a law court on pollution charges is, I suggest, the implicit message of Antiphon’s second Tetralogy. More than a mere rhetorical exercise, Antiphon offers us a rational and compelling critique of religious law and of legal responsibility generally. In so doing, he anticipates modern puzzles in the philosophy of law as well as some of their more sophisticated solutions. A work not only of ingenious skepticism but also of considerable subtlety, the second Tetralogy should be considered the product of a philosopher who made perhaps the most substantial extant contribution to law and legal theory before Plato and Aristotle. It is yet another reminder that philosophy in Greece could take many forms, including not only poems, dialogues, essays, and lectures, but even paired court speeches. If we have failed heretofore to appreciate this fully, then Antiphon is owed the least subtle of apologies, not just by Jonathan Barnes, but by all of us who have complained at some time about the alleged obscurity and imprecision of what appears to have been an admirably sharp and lucid mind.


Joel Mann presented “Causation, Agency, and Law in Antiphon: Some subtleties in the second tetralogy” to the Society at its meeting with the Pacific Division in San Francisco in 2010. A revised version was published in the Journal of the History of Philosophy 50.1 (2012), 7-19. That version is available on Project Muse. there is also an abstract available at:

For information about the author see: