Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources

By Katerina Ierodiakonou | Go to book overview

2
Basil of Caesarea on the
Semantics of Proper Names

PAUL KALLIGAS

Philosophical literature in both late antiquity and early Byzantine times usually relies heavily on the tradition of which it forms part. This has sometimes been taken as a mark of lack in originality or even in proper philosophical insight, but it also has created the impression that the contribution made by some of the eminent figures of the period is either dauntingly obscure or hopelessly scholastic. However, not infrequently, the disparaging assessment of these philosophers is due to a misunderstanding of both their particular theoretical aims, and their perception concerning their own role as adherents of a given philosophical tradition. The fact that our knowledge of the developments in the history of philosophy during the vast period between Aristotle and Plotinus is based on evidence which is at best second-rate and at worst distressingly fragmentary deprives us of any real hope of realizing fully the complexities of the theoretical environment within which such thinkers found themselves embedded. Sometimes we get a glimpse of a seemingly arid landscape, ransacked by the intense crossfire of disputation between the various schools during the Hellenistic period, but we are rarely capable of discerning accurately the positions entrenched in it and figuring out the communication and supply lines which used to hold them together into often intricate and meticulously articulated theoretical systems. It is only after we have carefully examined the lacunose evidence concerning this long tradition that we can begin to understand and to evaluate properly the attempt of a thinker to contribute something new on an issue which had already been treated extensively by his predecessors—though, obviously, not to his own full satisfaction—while avoiding scores of well-trodden pitfalls. And it is only then that one can appreciate the originality or even the ingenuity of such a contribution, which often amounts to a development or fine adjustment within the confines of an already established broader theoretical network. Furthermore, in some instances, we can thus form a more concrete idea as to the subtlety and the complexity of the issues

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