A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

16

THE LATE DIALOGUES: KNOWLEDGE AND BEING

The years after c.370 saw the last phase of Plato's work. In this period the dialogues are more 'technical' than the classical ones, and surely they reflect more clearly the debates at the Academy. Without surrendering his basic philosophical position, Plato undertook in these dialogues a series of profound analyses going beyond the conclusions arrived at or suggested, for example in the Phaedo or the Republic. The dialogues signal renewed interest in the Presocratic tradition-primarily the Eleatics and the Pythagoreans-and gradually Socrates ceases to be the leader of the debate, although his authority remains unchallenged.

The Parmenides and Theaetetus can be thought of as roughly contemporary, although the Theaetetus, judging from a 'reference' in it to the Parmenides (183 E), seems to have been concluded later. Each of the dialogues deals with one basic problem. In the Theaetetus the question is: what is knowledge? In the Parmenides the question is about the basis of metaphysics, the One and Being. In both cases the discussion is about concepts which Socrates has presupposed throughout-or which have been lost in ambiguity. What is the precondition for existence? How can knowledge be known? We cannot expect the two dialogues to solve insoluble problems but rather to analyze the implications of the questions.


THEPARMENIDES

The Parmenides is Plato's most cryptic dialogue. To the Neoplatonists it was a bible, and owing to Neoplatonic interpretation it has exerted considerable direct and indirect influence. There is no consensus among modern scholars, and the reason lies in the text itself. Plato has carefully plotted the difficulties in this dialogue-a discourse between the ageing Parmenides, his student Zeno, and a Socrates only about twenty years old. It is concluded by Parmenides conducting a strict dialectical demonstration, which with all its riddles is left without commentary.

In chronological terms the discussion might have taken place, but of course it is fictional from beginning to end. The principal characters are Plato's two great teachers, a Parmenides who apparently has become a Platonist in his old age and a

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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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