A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

14

IDEA AND MAN

THE 'CLASSICAL' DOCTRINE OF IDEAS

In a crucial passage in the Phaedo Socrates describes his development as a philosopher (96 A ff.). Apart from the question of the historical veracity of this 'autobiography', what is decisive is that Plato states precisely where and when his Socrates is compelled to make a break with traditional natural philosophy. What is being discussed is the cause for the coming to be and perishing of things. Socrates relates that as a young man he was quite preoccupied with the question of how natural philosophy could provide answers to such questions, and he commences with a standard materialistic explanation, which for example allows 'the hot and the cold' or the elements to be the causes of non-materialistic phenomena such as perception or consciousness. Now, by means of mystifying questions his aim is to show what it is that such a theory fails to provide answers for. To be sure, it may explain how one grows by eating and drinking. But if one man is a head taller than another, is the head then the cause of both greatness and smallness? And why does one plus one equal two? If one adds one and one, the result will be two; but that is also the case if one entity is broken in the middle.

Having achieved the desired confusion, Socrates guides the discussion to another level: now he uses Anaxagoras as his example in order to show what the latter cannot provide answers for (97 B ff.). For Anaxagoras did indeed maintain that reason is the cause of all things, and this appealed to Socrates who was anxious to have it explained to him that everything in this world is arranged rationally, which is to say in the best possible way. It is for example not enough to be told that the earth is the centre of the world; Anaxagoras should also be able to explain why it is best that it is to be found there. Great was Socrates' disappointment when it turned out that Anaxagoras was unable to use his theory for anything and instead took refuge in purely mechanical causal explanations. Socrates is sitting in his prison-and in that situation a mechanical-physical explanation about how to sit is of little use, since the real cause is that the Athenians have sentenced Socrates to die and that he has chosen not to escape. Socrates does not reject a mechanical explanation, but he demands a two-fold causal explanation in which the mechanical explanation is a necessary but insufficient

-173-

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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