From Plato to Platonism

From Plato to Platonism

Lloyd P. Gerson
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 336
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    From Plato to Platonism
    Book Description:

    Was Plato a Platonist? While ancient disciples of Plato would have answered this question in the affirmative, modern scholars have generally denied that Plato's own philosophy was in substantial agreement with that of the Platonists of succeeding centuries. InFrom Plato to Platonism, Lloyd P. Gerson argues that the ancients were correct in their assessment. He arrives at this conclusion in an especially ingenious manner, challenging fundamental assumptions about how Plato's teachings have come to be understood. Through deft readings of the philosophical principles found in Plato's dialogues and in the Platonic tradition beginning with Aristotle, he shows that Platonism, broadly conceived, is the polar opposite of naturalism and that the history of philosophy from Plato until the seventeenth century was the history of various efforts to find the most consistent and complete version of "anti-naturalism."

    Gerson contends that the philosophical position of Plato-Plato's own Platonism, so to speak-was produced out of a matrix he calls "Ur-Platonism." According to Gerson, Ur-Platonism is the conjunction of five "antis" that in total arrive at anti-naturalism: anti-nominalism, anti-mechanism, anti-materialism, anti-relativism, and anti-skepticism. Plato's Platonism is an attempt to construct the most consistent and defensible positive system uniting the five "antis." It is also the system that all later Platonists throughout Antiquity attributed to Plato when countering attacks from critics including Peripatetics, Stoics, and Sceptics. In conclusion, Gerson shows that Late Antique philosophers such as Proclus were right in regarding Plotinus as "the great exegete of the Platonic revelation."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6918-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part 1. Plato and His Readers
    • Chapter 1 Was Plato a Platonist?
      (pp. 3-33)

      Was Plato a Platonist? A cheeky question, perhaps. If by “Platonist” we mean “a follower of Plato,” then the question is entirely captious. Plato was no more a Platonist than Jesus was a Christian. The question is only marginally more illuminating if we take it to mean “Would Plato have agreed with one or another of the historical, systematic representations of his philosophy?” Naturally, this question, like all questions about counterfactuals in the history of philosophy, is unanswerable. But if the question means “Do we possess evidence that supports the view that Plato’s own philosophy was in substantial agreement with...

    • Chapter 2 Socrates and Platonism
      (pp. 34-72)

      In this chapter and the next, I want to consider some of the central hermeneutical issues facing any interpreter of Plato. In particular, I will address the questions of (1) the relation of the historical Socrates and his philosophy to the Socrates of the dialogues; (2) whether the philosophy in the dialogues—Socrates’ or Plato’s—developed in any way; (3) the relation of the literary form of the dialogue to any putative philosophy found therein; and (4) how two apparently self-revealing passages in the Platonic corpus (Phaedrus274 C–277 A andSeventh Letter341 C–D) impact our understanding...

    • Chapter 3 Reading the Dialogues Platonically
      (pp. 73-96)

      If we are going to give ownership of all the doctrines in the dialogues to Plato—the elements of UP and the positive responses to them—then we are going to have to face the question of whether Plato’s thought ‘developed’ in any way.¹ We have already seen that he may have changed his mind about the possibility of ἀκρασία. He also may have changed his mind about the relation between the philosopher and the statesman, the nature of pleasure, the need for asuperordinateIdea of the Good, the extent of the realm of Forms—indeed, whether separate Forms...

    • Chapter 4 Aristotle on Plato and Platonism
      (pp. 97-130)

      Our best source for our knowledge of Plato’s Platonism—apart from the dialogues—is without question the works of Aristotle. In these writings there are extensive reports of Platonic doctrine as well as detailed criticism of these. Aristotle, as we have all been instructed, came to Athens and Plato’s Academy as a seventeen-year-old in 364 and remained there until Plato’s death in 347. Traditionally, Platonists and Plato scholars have supposed that the Aristotelian testimony is based on both a reading of the dialogues as well as daily, or at least regular, discussion with Plato himself. Although Aristotle frequently refers to...

  6. Part 2. The Continuing Creation of Platonism
    • Chapter 5 The Old Academy
      (pp. 133-162)

      I propose to consider in this chapter the Old Academy after Plato as continuators of the project he began. That is, I take it that they, like Aristotle himself, are adherents of UP and that the work apparently left undone by Plato at his death was the focus of their efforts. Apparently, this work included the matters on which Plato in hisSeventh Lettersaid he was intently working at least late in his life, namely, the first principles of all, the One and the Indefinite Dyad, and the construction of the intelligible world out of them. Naturally, these are...

    • Chapter 6 The Academic Skeptics
      (pp. 163-178)

      As we saw in the first chapter, one of the elements of UP is antiskepticism. Aristotle’s testimony strongly suggests that Plato was, for virtually his entire career, wedded to the view that knowledge (ἐπστήμη) is possible and that it is not of sensible but rather of ‘separate’ intelligible entities. It seems a straightforward matter to characterize the Skeptics’ position as the contradictory of the claim that knowledge is possible. But in fact many things that both Plato and Skeptics actually say about knowledge should give us pause. First, inPhaedoSocrates claims that “if it is not possible to know...

    • Chapter 7 Platonism in the ‘Middle’
      (pp. 179-207)

      The term ‘Middle Platonism,’ like the term ‘Neoplatonism’ is an artifact of the predilection for periodization among historians of ancient philosophy.¹ The former is typically used to refer to the Platonic doctrines found first in Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 130–c. 68 BCE) especially after his break with his mentor Philo of Larissa in the so-calledSosusaffair around 87.² Middle Platonism, by default as it were, is said to end with Plotinus (204/5–270 CE) and the onset of Neoplatonism. Once theterminiand the personages are fixed, the qualifications usually commence: Antiochus was perhaps more of a Stoic...

    • Chapter 8 Numenius of Apamea
      (pp. 208-224)

      Numenius of Apamea, the Syrian city on the bank of the Orontes, probably flourished in the second century of the Christian era. Even this scrap of biographical knowledge is tenuous. It is based on a famous reference in Clement of Alexandria’sStromateswhere he quotes Numenius as asking the question, “What is Plato other than Moses speaking Attic Greek?”¹ Since Clement wrote this work about the turn of the second century, the dating is really only a terminus ad quem, though there are no earlier references to him of which we are aware. If Proclus’s account of the opinions of...

  7. Part 3. Plotinus:: “Exegete of the Platonic Revelation”
    • Chapter 9 Platonism as a System
      (pp. 227-254)

      Proclus, in hisPlatonic Theology,avers that Plotinus is the greatest exegete (ἐξηγητής) “of the Platonic revelation” (τῆςΠλατωνικῆς ὲποπτεíας).¹ The coupling of the term ‘exegete’ with the term ‘revelation’ indicates that Proclus is talking about more than a commentary on the dialogues or an explication de texte. As Plotinus himself says in the course of his presentation of the three fundamental ‘hypostases’ of Platonism:

      These statements of ours are not recent or new, but rather were made a long time ago, though not explicitly. The things we are saying now are exegeses of those, relying on the writings of Plato...

    • Chapter 10 Plotinus as Interpreter of Plato (1)
      (pp. 255-282)

      In this chapter I am primarily concerned with the justness of Proclus’s reverence for Plotinus as an expositor of Platonism. Proclus no doubt thought his view was uncontroversial. The situation looks to many scholars entirely different today. At the extreme, Plotinus’s version of Platonism is taken to be a travesty of the true Platonism of the dialogues. A more moderate position would perhaps allow a core of authenticity in Plotinus’s Platonism while insisting that the consequences Plotinus draws from this core are remote or at least different from anything Plato could reasonably be thought to have held.

      My working hypothesis...

    • Chapter 11 Plotinus as Interpreter of Plato (2)
      (pp. 283-304)

      In the previous chapter, I aimed to present the systematic structure of Platonism according to Plotinus as he found this in the dialogues, in the Aristotelian testimony, and, no doubt, in the oral tradition. It is widely held that what is distinctive about late Platonism and what makes it therefore really ‘Neoplatonism’ is the metaphysics. It is also the case that it is the metaphysics that provides the foundation for the interpretation of Plato’s ethics and psychology. The metaphysical system of Platonism to which Plotinus adheres and which he is continually trying to articulate and defend is supposed by him...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 305-310)

    I began with the question: Was Plato a Platonist? My answer to this question is yes, with what I hope to have shown is a reasonable qualification. ‘Platonism’ refers to any version of a positive construct on the basis of UP. For all soi-disant followers of Plato from the Old Academy onward, Plato’s version takes the crown. Nevertheless, recognition of the superiority of Plato’s version of Platonism did not preclude disagreements—some subtle and some not so subtle—regarding the accounts of the elements of the construct. Nor did it preclude the formulation of responses to the enemies of Platonism...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-328)
  10. General Index
    (pp. 329-334)
  11. Index Locorum
    (pp. 335-346)