Plato's Theology

Plato's Theology

FRIEDRICH SOLMSEN
Volume: 27
Copyright Date: 1942
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 210
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.cttq445k
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  • Book Info
    Plato's Theology
    Book Description:

    Friedrich Solmsen's book is a thorough exploration of Plato's ideas about God and religion. Solmsen focuses on Plato's theology primarily as it is presented in Book 10 of the Laws, a work previously neglected as a source of Plato's conception of religion because of its problematic place within fifth-century discussions of new legal provisions concerning offences against the gods. The author, by way of introduction, outlines the role religion had played in the old Greek city-states, emphasizing the fact that there had been no religion of a nonpolitical character, and describes the way the old religion had been destroyed by the "Enlightenment" of the fifth century. Solmsen then traces the development of Plato's religious ideas, addressing such topics as Plato as the expurgator and reformer; his theological approach; the philosophy of movement; and the role of the Soul as the source of all movement.

    Plato's later religious philosophy, Solmsen shows, is marked by a more lenient attitude towards popular and poetic religion. He characterizes Plato's later thinking on religion as a revival of the old idea of a city religion. The content of this new Civic Religion, however, would be remodeled in accordance with Plato's own theological conceptions. Solmsen calls this attitude both archaic and Hellenistic. As to the Hellenistic element, the author points to the influence of the mystery cults and of Persian religion, the latter revealing itself most clearly in Plato's conception of the two antagonistic World-Souls. He also discusses at length such issues as Plato's ideas of a divine justice, his tendency towards monotheism, and the influence of his theology on later Greek philosophy and on Christian thought, especially Origen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6669-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ix)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. x-x)
  3. THE BACKGROUND

    • CHAPTER I RELIGION IN THE CITY-STATE
      (pp. 3-14)

      Plato’s theology developed in close alliance with his philosophy of nature, but his final and most comprehensive discussion of the subject forms a part of the Laws, a work devoted to political philosophy. The reader who looks in the twelve books of the Laws for the last formulation of Plato’s thought on the State, law, communal life, and political education may well be astonished to find side by side with these subjects a number of very important theological propositions supported by an extensive inquiry into the different kinds of movement and by speculations about the nature of the heavenly bodies....

    • CHAPTER II THE DESTŔUCTION OF THE OLD RELIGION
      (pp. 15-37)

      The Greek city, sure of the wholehearted devotion of its citizens and supported by the full authority of the divine powers whom it had attached to itself, may well convey the impression of an impregnable fortress, but in the second half of the fifth century cracks and breaks begin to appear in its ideological bulwarks. The religion of the city-state could continue unquestioned as long as there was no doubt that the morality of the gods completely corresponded to the official morality of the city and as long as the individual citizen’s morality fell in with it as well. The...

    • CHAPTER III THE DEFENSE AND RECONSTRUCTION OF RELIGION
      (pp. 38-60)

      We need not doubt that many Athenian citizens remained perfectly unimpressed and unaffected by the daring and revolutionary new views which we have studied in the preceding chapter. In fact, these people are likely to have formed the majority. Those who lent their ear and opened their minds to the new ideas—not only in religion but in other fields as well—henceforth constituted a kind of intellectual class, not separated by any clear line from the bulk of their fellow citizens, but none the less palpably different from them. This cleavage is a new feature in the life of...

  4. A VARIETY OF APPROACHES

    • CHAPTER IV PLATO’S FIRST APPROACH: EXPURGATION
      (pp. 63-74)

      The first Platonic dialogue in which religion is made a subject of discussion is Euthyphro. This is generally included in the earliest group of Plato’s writings. It is certainly close in form and method to such works as the Laches and Charmides, and, just as in these, so here Socrates makes it his task to expose the weaknesses in, and lack of basis for prevalent notions about an important ethical concept. The concept actually under discussion in Euthyphro is piety (εύσέβεια), but a few other concepts closely related to it also come in for examination and criticism. In particular, Socrates,...

    • CHAPTER V THE SECOND APPROACH: PHILOSOPHY OF MOVEMENT
      (pp. 75-97)

      Plato’s first approach to religion shows his thought dominated by the concept of ethical perfection. To rediscover the basic moral norms, and to indicate their relationship and intrinsic connection with one another, and especially with true Knowledge, had been his object from the very beginning. It was his conviction that there could be only one ‘Form’ of true justice, true courage, temperance, beauty, and the like, and that no physical object or human activity could embody to more than a limited degree any of these Forms. It was in pursuing this line of thought that he came to set up...

    • CHAPTER VI THE TELEOLOGICAL APPROACH
      (pp. 98-122)

      We understand Plato’s concept of the divine World-Soul as an attempt to establish continuity between Being and Becoming, to link the world of Flux with that of Sameness and to combine both into an integrated theory of Reality. But while Plato knows only one concept of Being, the synthesis of Being and Becoming may be achieved in several different ways. Becoming itself is a chameleon-like thing; the Many are shadowy and fluctuating, and when they enter into communication with the One the synthesis that results is bound in some measure to partake of their unstable nature and to reflect their...

    • CHAPTER VII THE INFLUENCE OF THE MYSTERY-RELIGIONS
      (pp. 123-128)

      To assert that Plato in some phases of his philosophy is indebted to the mystery-religions is merely to translate his own plain and unequivocal acknowledgments into the language of scholarship. That his debt is to the Orphies in particular was not very long ago disputed by an eminent authority, but may nevertheless be regarded as a well-founded assumption.¹ Plato certainly remoulds whatever he borrows, and I think that his refashioning of Orphic doctrines may be studied with some degree of accuracy, especially in Phaedo. However this may be, an attempt to connect Plato’s philosophy of religion with earlier movements of...

  5. THE COMPREHENSIVE PICTURE

    • CHAPTER VIII NATURAL EVOLUTION AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOUL
      (pp. 131-148)

      We have in the preceding chapters satisfied ourselves that Plato approaches the problem of the nature and activities of the Deity in a variety of ways. Strictly speaking, however, he did not in the passages which we have examined ‘approach’ the religious problem as such. He discussed other subjects, such as the nature of Being, the nature of the Universe, the status of Soul. Indeed, the diversity of his views concerning the Deity is largely determined by this very variety of contexts and subjects. But the diversity itself remains worthy of note. ‘The father and maker of all this Universe...

    • CHAPTER IX GOD AND THE INDIVIDUAL. TELEOLOGY AND PROVIDENCE
      (pp. 149-160)

      The second item in Plato’s program was to prove that the gods concern themselves with human affairs. We remember that what prompted him to embark on such a proof was the denial of divine Providence, which had struck him as one of the basic forms of atheism. His own new concept of the Deity in terms of the World-Soul and his deification of the stars would hardly seem to lead by a direct path to a discussion of this problem. And if it is true that his theology took shape in connection with an inquiry into the nature, status, and...

    • CHAPTER X THE STATE AND THE COSMOS. THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURAL LAW
      (pp. 161-174)

      The various contributions to the problem of the Deity which we have studied in earlier chapters are combined in the theology of Laws 10. We have observed that the theory of Soul’s cosmic status which is developed in the first part of the book is presupposed in some later sections; but beyond this, no attempt is discernible to coördinate the different aspects of the theological problem in a comprehensive and unified theory. On the contrary, each of the three or four principal approaches has been preserved with its characteristic features. We should recognize each of them as an attempt to...

  6. CONCLUSION

    • CHAPTER XI INFLUENCE AND TRANSFORMATIONS
      (pp. 177-196)

      It would be difficult to name a later theological system that is not in some way or other, directly or indirectly, indebted to Plato. This fact is all the more remarkable since Plato had wisely refrained from lifting the veil from the final secret and had only indicated directions in which to look for it. On the other hand, as we have seen especially in the last chapter, the bearing of Plato’s suggestions is by no means confined to theology in the strict sense of the word. The remoulding power of his revolutionary ideas extends far into adjoining fields, leaves...

  7. Index
    (pp. 197-201)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 202-203)