Modernity and Plato

Modernity and Plato: Two Paradigms of Rationality

ARBOGAST SCHMITT
TRANSLATED BY VISHWA ADLURI
CHRISTINE MELCHART
JOYDEEP BAGCHEE
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 640
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x7336
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  • Book Info
    Modernity and Plato
    Book Description:

    Modernity's break with the Middle Ages is distinguished by a comprehensive turn to a world of individual, empirical experience, a turn that was a repudiation of Plato's idea that there is a reality of rationality and intellect. Yet already in the Renaissance it was no longer thought necessary to seriously confront the 'old' concept of rationality that emanates from Plato. Arbogast Schmitt's book sets itself this until-now-unfulfilled task, comparing the arguments for a life based on theory and one based on praxis in order to provide a balance sheet of profit and loss. Showing that the Enlightenment did not, as often assumed, discover rationality, but instead a different 'concept' of rationality, the book opens one's view to other forms of rationality and new possibilities of reconciliation with one's own - that is, Western - history. 'Modernity and Plato' was hailed upon its publication in Germany (2003, revised 2008) as 'one of the most important philosophy books of the past few years,' as 'a book that belongs, without any doubt, in the great tradition of German philosophy,' and as 'a provocative thesis on the antiquity-modernity debate.' It is a major contribution to synthetic philosophy and philosophical historiography, in English for the first time. Arbogast Schmitt is Honorary Professor at the Institute for Greek and Latin Philology at Free University, Berlin and Emeritus Professor of Classical Philology and Greek at the University of Marburg, Germany. Vishwa Adluri teaches in the Departments of Religion and Philosophy at Hunter College, City University of New York.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-769-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. FOREWORD TO THE ENGLISH EDITION
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    In many modern societies, there is a widespread tendency to associate the consciousness of modernity with a consciousness of superiority. Naturally, there is also admiration for many of the distinctive features of premodern societies. Indeed, it is not unusual to find nostalgia for what seems to have been lost in the course of progress, even as, beyond that, every modern society considers tolerance toward what is foreign and other than it to be one of its basic obligations. Nevertheless, even this demand already implies a separation from the non-modern, because it is itself part of a consciousness of having reached...

  4. FOREWORD TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)

    In spite of much admiration and the high regard Plato has always been held in, there is a break in the relationship of early modernity and modernity toward him.¹ The resultant distancing from Plato is not incidental to modern thinking. It is virtually a dogma of all critical thinking that something like an independently existing essence of objects cannot exist and that, were it to exist, it certainly could not be recognized. This, however, is precisely what Plato stands for: he is the real exponent of a precritical dogmatic philosophy that could still be of the view that there exist...

  5. TRANSLATOR’S ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  6. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  7. TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xxxi-xlii)

    Although I have made every effort to present Arbogast Schmitt’s thought as simply as possible, there is no evading the fact that this book unfolds a massive and highly complex argument, one that touches not only upon the different concepts of rationality present in antiquity or modernity in the narrow sense but upon these concepts as they manifested themselves in all areas of life in antiquity and modernity. I therefore would like to use this introduction to preview the main thesis of this book briefly and to clarify the order of the chapters and sections and their relation to each...

  8. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-72)

    There are few concepts with such positive associations in both everyday and scientific language as the term “modern.” In contrast, “not modern” normally has a negative association without any further clarification being needed. When someone discovers characteristics and traits of modernity in a work by Dante, he thereby claims to have proven its historical significance, indeed, its artistic rank. Conversely, if one can show that Descartes had in certain respects not “as yet” fully executed the turn toward modern thinking and hence still retains certain aspects of the old thinking, it no longer appears necessary to engage his thought under...

  9. Part I: Abstract Thinking versus Concrete Sensation: The Opposition between Culture and Nature in Modernity

    • CHAPTER ONE DO FREEDOM AND INDETERMINACY MAKE MAN A CULTURAL BEING? OR, WHY ANTIQUITY SEEMS ANTIQUATED
      (pp. 75-115)

      Contemporary cultural studies, from whose concepts the traditional humanities have increasingly distanced themselves, understand themselves as an anthropological expansion of the humanities, which have until now been more philologically oriented, in two respects: the gap between the natural sciences and the humanities should be bridged through returning to their common basis, and Cartesian modernity’s “logocentric concepts of identity,” its formal abstractness and its technical will to power should be restrained through a return to sensual, empathic, and “holistic” forms of human experience. This latter aim has been the motivation behind the rediscovery of earlier forms of holistic and corporeal thinking....

    • CHAPTER TWO “HEALTHY COMMON SENSE” AND THE NATURE/CULTURE ANTITHESIS
      (pp. 116-198)

      Hopefully, this brief overview of some of the attempts at defining the cultural being “man” in terms of his indeterminacy will already have made the beginnings of such a critique plausible. Manifestly, it was a desire for a “scientificization,” that is, for a scientific rationalization and justification of the perspective of common sense, that was instrumental in the development of the classical philosophies of consciousness.¹ This is so even today. This absolutization of a mode of thinking in conformity with the common sense view is the real root of all these problems in defining this new image of man. Yet,...

  10. Part II: “Concrete Thought” as the Precondition of a Culture of Ethics, Politics, and Economics in Plato and Aristotle

    • CHAPTER THREE THE INTERPRETATION OF “ANTIQUITY” FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF MODERN RATIONALITY
      (pp. 201-207)

      From the perspective of the self-determining and self-creating subject whose history we traced with respect to some important traditions in the preceding chapters, a number of basic judgments about antiquity emerged. I would like to briefly summarize and recapitulate these once again.

      From this perspective, antiquity as a whole appears as an age characterized by an untroubled faith in a comprehensive, “natural” order to the world. This “naïve” faith is the enemy that is criticized in the most varied areas and from various standpoints in early modernity. The starting point for this opposition is the view that this idea of...

    • CHAPTER FOUR THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF DISCRIMINATION
      (pp. 208-262)

      As has become clear from several aspects by now, the basic conviction that destroys the faith in the possibility of recognizing the substance of something, to say nothing of an “ontological order,” is the conviction that only the world of individual objects is accessible to our cognition. Thus, while we can represent their properties to us as representational features, their substantial being in itself is only objectifiable in concepts that we ourselves construct. For, what is thought to be “really” given to thought is merely a plurality of ever new forms of appearances. The recognizably identical unity of these diverse...

    • CHAPTER FIVE ABSTRACT CONSCIOUSNESS VERSUS CONCRETE THOUGHT: OVERCOMING THE OPPOSITION BETWEEN FEELING AND REASON IN A PHILOSOPHY OF DISCRIMINATION
      (pp. 263-276)

      According to the Platonic-Aristotelian view, as was shown in the preceding chapters, the fundamental act of thought is not the representation of data received through intuition, but discrimination of something definite.¹ If one makes this understanding of thought as the basis of judgment, it becomes clear that the system of science Plato derives from a reflection on the conceptual content of the concept of determinacy is important not only because it makes the criteria of rational judgments explicit and thus provides a foundation for rational methodological thought, but also because this Knowledge of the criteria of judgment of rational thought...

    • CHAPTER SIX THE SOUL IN A PHILOSOPHY OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND IN A PHILOSOPHY OF DISCRIMINATION
      (pp. 277-287)

      If, in contrast to modern philosophy of consciousness, one does not set out from consciousness and the certitude of the “I think” as the fundament of cognition, but, instead, recognizes this fundament in the act of discrimination, a completely different picture of our different psychic activities emerges. For Plato, these activities do not simply represent different states, “modifications” of a consciousness that underlies all of them in the same uniform way. Rather, they represent either different types of discrimination or complex activities built up on the foundation of one or more acts of discrimination — activities of the one soul...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF VOLITION AND THEIR DEPENDENCE UPON COGNITION
      (pp. 288-332)

      This introduction to the Platonic and Aristotelian doctrine of knowledge and the position accorded to feeling in their psychological theory already shows see that striving and the will presuppose a complex interaction between different psychic acts. According to this view, desire or volition is neither an absolute nor an original principle in itself that could be contrasted with cognition and would be in competition with the latter in some manner. The contrasting view holds that one can only explain why action at times only arises when the will dominates over thought, and at times only when thought dominates over the...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT THE AESTHETIC, ETHICAL, AND POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF A CULTURE OF FEELINGS IN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
      (pp. 333-371)

      One would have to consider significantly more aspects than those discussed so far, for an accurate presentation of the Platonic-Aristotelian analysis of what in contemporary language is called feeling or emotion. However, a basic evaluation of the individual aspects that have been discussed thus far has already become possible; one that, I hope, will also be able to counter the objection that a rational analysis such as that proposed by Plato and Aristotle can never do justice to the richness of the world of feeling.

      If one approaches the Aristotelian arguments as he presents them (for example in the central...

    • CHAPTER NINE THEORY AND PRACTICE: PLATO’S AND ARISTOTLE’S GROUNDING OF POLITICAL THEORY IN A THEORY OF MAN
      (pp. 372-451)

      The step toward political and economic theory is already presaged in the distinction between the different and varyingly free forms of striving for something that the individual judges to be good for himself. A wholly different justification of the need to organize human activity in forms of political community arises from this as compared to those advanced in the great modern political theories and, above all, in those beginning with Hobbes. Our attention will initially be focused on this distinct starting point.

      In spite of all their differences in individual details, most early modern and modern conceptions of the state...

    • CHAPTER TEN EVOLUTIONARY AND BIOLOGICAL CONDITIONS FOR SELF-PRESERVATION AND RATIONAL CONDITIONS FOR MAN’S SELF-REALIZATION: AN APPEAL FOR A NEW EVALUATION OF RATIONALITY
      (pp. 452-516)

      Someone who reads Bernard de Mandeville’s famous fable of the bees first published in 1705 (the fable is famous as it established Mandeville as one of the earliest radical advocates of amoral egotism) will understandably read the description of the dissolute rogues who only seek their own advantage and nonetheless succeed in creating a prosperous whole with greater pleasure and assent than the description of how an over-enthusiastic moralist transforms the gay life of the bees into a life of good, decent, upright, and abstemious citizens, whose community nonetheless regresses to a state of prehistoric primitivity.

      One of the main...

  11. Conclusion:: A Comparison of Two Fundamental Forms of European Rationality

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN THE CONTRAST “ANCIENT” VERSUS “MODERN”
      (pp. 519-529)

      Among the many turns, transformations, and changes of paradigm that European intellectual history knows or claims for itself, early modernity’s break with the Middle Ages takes on a special significance: it is exceptional in its radicality and not only had an unusual and unusually wide effect in its immediate context, but also led to consequences that continue to influence the present.

      Since roughly the middle of the fourteenth century, one finds a large number of statements among philosophers, scientists, artists and even among theologians that give voice in almost identical terms to the conviction that the period between antiquity and...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE CHARACTERISTIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PLATONIC-ARISTOTELIAN AND THE HELLENISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF RATIONALITY
      (pp. 530-548)

      I would like, finally, to recapitulate some of the most important distinguishing features of a philosophy of representation and of a philosophy of discrimination. The concepts “philosophy of representation” and “philosophy of discrimination” which I suggested as a characterization of the two differing attitudes of thought are perhaps still in need of a brief elucidation. “Philosophy of representation” is not intended as a description of an attitude of thought that orients itself naively according to given representations, but rather, of a philosophical and critical attitude to our representations of objects in the world. The Stoics already distinguished between representations that...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 549-580)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 581-592)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 593-593)