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March 7, 2012


Stephen Menn

I thought Amo was just a Privatdozent, not a professor. My dim memory was that Amo made sensation just an act of the body, to avoid the soul being affected; which doesn't sound very Leibnizian. But it was a long time ago I last looked at him. I got interested in him after reading Paulin Hountondji's article on him in the early 90's, then I chased down some of his writings. At the time, his law dissertation on the rights of blacks ("Mauri") in Europe (arguing against the modern slave-trade on Roman law grounds) was thought to be lost, although an abrégé of it survived. I wonder if anything turned up with the opening of the DDR libraries. But there were certainly things of interest in his philosophical or philosophical-medical texts.


Could Erasmus be the source of crocodilitis?


Stephen Menn

The Erasmus reference is good. Starting from that I've traced it back further: it's in Lucian Vitarum auctio 22, put in Chrysippus' mouth. Some other ancient sources call it "crocodilitis" and attribute it to the Stoics, although without spelling out exactly how it works. The Lucian is at von Arnim Stoicorum veterum fragmenta II,287, and there's a reference from Syrianus just above, II,286. The crocodile, having seized someone's child, says "if you tell me the truth, I'll give back your child," then if the parent says "you won't give him/her back," then demands the child, the crocodile can say that if it gave the child back, the parent wouldn't have spoken the truth. So Amo wasn't newly inventing the crocodile-sophism as a memento of Africa. On the other hand, Amo's example seems rather different, and it might be that, as Justin suggests, the concern about who one's real friends are was distinctively Amo's. But you might say that, in the original sophism, the crocodile was pretending to be friendlier than it was. And it wouldn't surprise me if many different subtypes of crocodile-sophisms had developed by Amo's time, some of them perhaps involving friends and enemies.

Justin Smith

Well, I was wrong, and it was perhaps too facilely deconstructionist of me to float the idea. Syrianus's example does seem quite a bit different from Amo's. The latter describes crocodilitis as setting up a pair of responses in anticipation of two possible, opposite answers. What would Syrianus's crocodile say if the parent says 'You will give me back my child'? Syrianus doesn't seem to have an answer to that planned out. Also, Erasmus seems to be using 'crocodilitis' as though it were an ablative plural ('Crocodilitis, aut sortis ceratinis'), which suggests at least that this is something very rare, if there's disagreement as to its declension.


The BBC's REITH LECTURER (OCT/NOV 2016) on Radio 4, references Amo's journey from West Africa to the academic
community in Germany.

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