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Man’s Quest for Political Knowledge

Man’s Quest for Political Knowledge: The Study and Teaching of Politics in Ancient Times

William Anderson
Copyright Date: 1964
Edition: NED - New edition, <NoEdition/>
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Man’s Quest for Political Knowledge
    Book Description:

    Considering the importance of political science as an academic subject in our time, it is surprising that more attention has not been given, until now, to the history of political study and teaching. As Professor Anderson’s book makes clear, an understanding of this history throws light on questions significantly related to basic problems of contemporary political science. By placing in their historical context pertinent developments in ancient times, Professor Anderson shows how the study and teaching of politics may flourish under certain conditions and falter or fail under others. Throughout the book he demonstrates the truth of what Aristotle said about the study of politics: “In this subject as in others the best method of investigation is to study things in the process of development from the beginning.” In early chapters the author examines three literate societies of the ancient Near East -- Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel. He then discusses, in the major section of the book, the accomplishments of the Greeks, who, with their many self-governing city-states and their secular attitude toward politics, opened up the study of politics in a realistic way. Here he gives Aristotle the most prominent role and finds Plato less important than most scholars might expect. Finally, he traces the decline of the political study and teaching in the Hellenistic period and in the time of the Roman Empire. The volume will be of particular interest not only to political scientists but to historians, philosophers, and classical scholars.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6118-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 17-21)

      Ancient men, both preliterate and literate, seem to have had rather vague and fluid concepts in many fields. They were mostly inclined to use only specific words for particular things. They knew about the king and the judge, because these were definite persons, but one looks to them almost in vain for a general word like “politics” or “government.” And even as concerns the king their ideas were, from our much later point of view, ill defined. Was the king a man or a god, or both man and god? Were his functions political or religious? These are the questions...

    • Chapter 1 Mesopotamia
      (pp. 22-44)

      The histories of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, the earliest known of the literate societies of the Near East, begin as they move out of the preliterate, prehistoric stage not later than the fourth millennium B.C. Their eras of greatest political and cultural importance relative to other peoples in the region reach a climax in the third and second millennia B.C. Their importance remains high even longer than this, however, and it begins to wane only when the Persians in the northeast and the Greeks in the northwest become powerful on the Near Eastern stage in the first millennium B.C. It...

    • Chapter 2 Egypt
      (pp. 45-62)

      Geographically ancient Egypt like the Egypt of modern times consisted primarily of the valley of the Nile, reaching from the Delta and the Mediterranean Sea at the north upstream and southward to the second cataract, or to about the twenty-second degree of north latitude.¹ Egypt’s political control also generally extended eastward to include the Sinai Peninsula and the lands along the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea, and westward to some distance into the desert.

      In this area there were many centuries of preliterate cultural development among a population composed of an aboriginal paleolithic stock, the Hamites, and no...

    • Chapter 3 The Israelites
      (pp. 63-98)

      The civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 were basically Near Eastern if not Asiatic. Both reached their highest points culturally in the second millennium before the Christian era, and both continued to be important far down into the following millennium. They had military and cultural contacts with each other, and they suffered as well as benefited—but Mesopotamia more than Egypt—from the inroads of conquering peoples such as the Hittites Assyrians, and Persians.

      The next two cultures to be considered, that of the ancient Israelites in this chapter, and that of the ancient Greeks...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 99-108)

      It is generally accepted that the ancient Greeks were the principal if not the sole originators of the study of politics in the West. Why was it they and, so far as we know, not some other people who were the beginners in this intellectual activity? This is a double-barreled question, or, better, two different questions.

      We have already seen in the earlier chapters that the conditions under which the several important non-Greek peoples lived were not right for the development of such a study. The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hebrews were, for one thing, subjected to the rulers of...

    • Chapter 4 The Delphic Oracle
      (pp. 109-118)

      Starting as a prehistoric settlement just north of the Gulf of Corinth in the district known as Phocis, with Boeotia on the east and Aetolia on the west, Delphi grew into an important city by the seventh century B.C., and continued so through the centuries of the greatness of Greece and on into Roman times, although it apparently never attained a population equal to that of places like Athens and Corinth at their largest, or any considerable commercial growth. Rather, its place in the Greek world was apparently due to its prominence as the seat of a religious organization called...

    • Chapter 5 Pre-Socratic Writers
      (pp. 119-149)

      Through the centuries while the anonymous Pythias and priests in the Delphic Oracle were carrying on their counseling and prophesying, but leaving practically nothing in writing, another group of men were engaging in intellectual pursuits that produced for the study of politics results of immeasurable value to mankind. These men had names and biographies. Most of them showed a genuine interest in communicating their ideas and their knowledge to others. They left behind them written materials in which they stated what they knew or believed, not only about politics but about other matters. In thus initiating the production and accumulation...

    • Chapter 6 Socrates’ Contemporaries
      (pp. 150-202)

      The second half of the fifth century B.C., from 450 to 400, covers practically all the adult life of Socrates. During these years and on through the fifty that followed there flourished in Greece as varied and productive a group of great intellectuals as any country ever produced in an equal period, at least down to recent times. There had been significant beginnings before 450, just as there were important tasks of finishing up and rounding out the work after 350, but the golden age of Greece, intellectually and culturally, was undoubtedly the century from 450 to 350 B.C.


    • Chapter 7 Socrates and Political Education
      (pp. 203-213)

      Socrates (469-3Q9 B.C.), the great but enigmatic Athenian teacher and moral leader, was nearing twenty years of age when the Greeks won their great deliverance from the Persian menace. He was about twenty-five when Pericles came to power; twenty-six when Sophocles’Antigonewas first performed; thirty-one when Phidias’ statue of Athena was dedicated and Euripides’Alcestiswas first performed; thirty-seven when the Parthenon was completed; thirty-nine when Pericles delivered his great funeral oration; and so on through a series of memorable dates. But he also lived to see the plague wreak havoc on the Athenian population; to observe the Athenian...

    • Chapter 8 Plato and Anti-Politics
      (pp. 214-239)

      The facts of Plato’s life are in general well established and widely known.¹ He was born about 428 or 427 B.C. of respectable and wealthy Athenian parents, who on one side could trace their lineage back to Solon’s family. As a boy, Plato evidently had good tutors in reading, writing, mathematics, and other subjects. He early fell under the influence of Socrates and became a devoted follower. One can imagine him in the gymnasium with other boys and young men while Socrates was holding his thought-provoking question-and-answer discussions. Being of the aristocracy, he was not gainfully employed. He no doubt...

    • Chapter 9 Plato’s Contemporaries
      (pp. 240-258)

      When surveying the important eras of the study of politics, it will not do to consider only the greatest luminaries, the truly Olympian figures, such as Plato and Aristotle were in Greece in the fourth century B.C. Just as government and politics affect people of all levels of wealth, power, and ability, so men of all levels of ability, including those with something less than the very best minds, may make important contributions to the study of politics. They may have had practical experiences and opportunities for close-up observations that enable them to see the importance of things overlooked or...

    • Chapter 10 Aristotle
      (pp. 259-280)

      More than any other ancient scholar, Aristotle laid the intellectual foundations for what came to be, many centuries later, the modern study and teaching of political science.¹ Just before him Plato took political studies just about as far from earthly realities as can be conceived. But in Aristotle’s work their secular and humanistic character is firmly established and brilliantly developed. That work is best represented—for students of politics—in his study of “158 constitutions.” No one before him had undertaken research so magisterial and so comprehensive in scope as this, and it is difficult to think of any to...


    • [PART III. Introduction]
      (pp. 281-289)

      Aristotle was the last of the ancient scholars who had any opportunity to make a truly comparative study of independent states and their governments—indeed to make any political study of major significance at all. The study and teaching of politics went into a decline which lasted, for all practical purposes, until the Renaissance. The reason lies in the changed political milieu.

      There were two factors of overriding importance: the loss of independence and power of the city-states and the corresponding rise of monarchically governed states of imperial size. After Alexander’s shortlived empire (which embraced Macedonia, Greece, Egypt, and the...

    • Chapter 11 The Hellenistic Period
      (pp. 290-306)

      The general changes in Greek attitudes and interests described in the introduction to this part did not take place overnight.¹ In the first hundred years or so after Alexander and Aristotle, despite the almost continuous wars and disorder throughout the region, some of the old spirit of independence, self-government, and inquiry lingered on in the city-states, especially in Athens. Men educated under Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and the rhetoricians still carried on their old schools for a time. Then, too, new philosophical schools were established. Zeno came to Athens from Cyprus in about 314 B.C., and by 301 he was teaching...

    • Chapter 12 The Era of the Roman Empire
      (pp. 307-326)

      This chapter covers a period of about six hundred years, from the reign of Augustus beginning in 31 B.C. until after the death of Justinian in 565 A.D. At the beginning of these centuries the Empire dominated the entire Mediterranean basin and much of the adjoining hinterland. By the third century a combination of internal crises, misgovernment, and decay, accompanied by the invasion of hordes of barbarians from the north and Persians from the east, led to a division of the Empire for administration and defense into two parts, western and eastern. The western part crumbled and succumbed under barbarian...

    (pp. 327-338)

    While government in some form, however crude and limited among primitive peoples, has probably been continuous in the history of mankind, time out of mind, the study and teaching of politics—of the formal and informal activities connected with the governing of human communities—have had a strictly limited and partly broken career. It seems obvious that certain minimum conditions are necessary to make such study possible at all, and that the optimum conditions for a true flourishing of this endeavor go far beyond the minimum. By placing into historical context the developments in political study and teaching during ancient...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 339-364)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 365-381)