Guide Plato in Renaissance England

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Contents:
  1. Comparative Drama
  2. Simon Blackburn on Plato's Republic | Books | The Guardian
  3. Medieval Philosophy

This is not the world around us. It is not quite a world of slave-ownership, but capitalism throws up its own drones. An equally shocking thing about it in some people's eyes is that, in writing Republic, Plato utterly betrayed his teacher Socrates. Socrates is the first and greatest liberal hero and martyr to freedom in thought and speech. For writers like John Stuart Mill and George Grote - practical, liberal, utilitarian thinkers - this was the real Socrates, the eternal spirit of reflection, criticism and potentially of opposition to the state itself.

But in Republic he is an out-and-out dogmatist, rather than the open-minded, patient, questioning spirit his admirers love. He is shown as the spokesman for a repressive, authoritarian, static, hierarchical society in which everything up to and including sexual relations and birth control is regulated by the political classes, who deliberately use lies for the purpose. He presents a social system in which the liberal Socrates would have been executed much more promptly than he was by the Athenian democracy. In Republic the liberal Socrates has become the spokesman for a dictatorship.

In presenting this figure Plato even betrayed his own calling, being once a poet, who now calls for the poets to be banned. A work may have many defects yet be forgiven if the author comes through as a creature of sweetness and light, just as Plato's literary creation, the Socrates of the earlier dialogues, does. But there is not much help here. True, there must have been enough sweetness and light in Plato to create the figure of the heroic, liberal Socrates in the first place.

But if that figure evaporates, as it does in Republic, there is not much else to go into the balance. We know very little about Plato, and what there is to know is not generally appealing. If he is put in historical context, we may find an archetypal grumpy old man, a disenchanted aristocrat, hating the Athenian democracy, convinced that the wrong people are in charge, with a deep fear of democracy itself, constantly sneering at artisans, farmers and indeed all productive labour, deeply contemptuous of any workers' ambition for education, and finally manifesting a hankering after the appalling military despotism of Sparta.

But as so often with Plato, there is a complication to that picture, nicely brought out in Nietzsche's reaction to the fact that, on Plato's deathbed, he turned out to have been reading the comic writer Aristophanes: "there is nothing that has caused me to meditate more on Plato's secrecy and sphinx-like nature, than the happily preserved petit fait that under the pillow of his deathbed there was found no Bible, nor anything Egyptian, Pythagorean, or Platonic - but a book of Aristophanes.

How could even Plato have endured life - a Greek life which he repudiated - without an Aristophanes? We are told that Jesus wept, but not that he ever laughed. With Plato, as with Socrates, laughter is often nearer than it seems. This is a good sign. Perhaps the grumpy old man was not quite so grumpy after all.


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But this does not really matter, for it is the concrete, enduring book that concerns us, not its shadowy and departed author. And it is a good dictum that while many books are wrongly forgotten, no book is wrongly remembered. So we need to work harder to come to terms with the unquestioned staying power of Republic. We need to understand something of the hold this book has had and continues to have on the imagination of readers. Topics Plato. Renaissance Thought and its Sources. Paul Oskar Kristeller , Thomas A. Added to PP index Total views 58 , of 2,, Recent downloads 6 months 13 73, of 2,, How can I increase my downloads?

Sign in to use this feature. This article has no associated abstract. Applied ethics. History of Western Philosophy. Normative ethics. Philosophy of biology.

Comparative Drama

Philosophy of language. Philosophy of mind. Philosophy of religion. Science Logic and Mathematics.

Simon Blackburn on Plato's Republic | Books | The Guardian

It may even be that such delightful variety is what chiefly attracts current scholars to studying this genre of philosophical literature. And yet most of these commentaries have not yet been studied by anyone since the Renaissance. There have been some attempts to sort Renaissance Aristotle commentators into groups according to their use of or degree of adherence to pre-Renaissance Aristotle commentaries e.

However, it is doubtful that such a sorting contributes to a better understanding of their texts and contexts.

This is because many authors of Aristotle commentaries—including some who had a particular preference for one or more of the earlier commentators—used the earlier commentaries on a case by case basis. As far as we know, most of these commentaries were written for use in a university setting see below.

As a consequence, the choice of texts commented upon and the degree of detail given to a certain passage is often due, at least in part, to its use in a classroom, a universitarian debate or its relevance for exams. There are no sharp borderlines between commentaries proper, textbooks, encyclopedias, and treatises.

Although most of the commentaries apparently deal with those texts from the corpus aristotelicum that have been the focus of interest from the 13th century to today, the Renaissance is a period where the percentage of commentaries and other texts dealing with the works of Aristotle less frequently read today e.

In general, only some of the fields covered by the corpus aristotelicum were part of any single university curriculum. We do not yet have a survey on what was taught where and when, so we cannot yet give a complete assessment, [ 15 ] but permitting some margin of error, we can say:. This may be due, in part, to the specialization of teachers Melanchthon not agreeing that all knowledge rises from the senses, Cremonini disinterested in moral philosophy and thus not making statements on virtues, ….

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There are a few explicit statements of the reasons for basing the teaching of philosophy at universities on the corpus aristotelicum or works derived from it. Augustinus Niphus died —who probably gave the fullest treatment of this question—gives the following reasons Niphus, , f. But as research progresses and more knowledge is gained about more universities and authors, the image gets more complex and less apt for generalizations.

This adds insight into the diversity of the traditions at each university and the diversity of philosophies taught by teachers at each one. Textbooks and encyclopedias are not necessarily contrasting genres , as sometimes encyclopedias were used as textbooks.

Medieval Philosophy

Commentaries and textbooks are not the only types of texts used for interpreting, discussing, defending, adapting and transforming the doctrines of Aristotle and his commentators in the Renaissance. Specialized treatises cover a wide range of subjects: on the immortality of the soul, on innate heat, on the agent sense, on the regressus , on vapour, on rhetoric imitation, ….

Many printed collections of theses for doctoral dissertations or other purposes can also be considered as specialized monographs — though in the form we have them most of them do not provide us with the argumentations that lead to the assumptions made. And it does not easily fit into any of the sections used here. It is an approach, that is useful to give order to a text that treats a great number of Renaissance Aristotelians. Commentaries on Texts from the Corpus Aristotelicum 2.

Philosophy at Renaissance Universities 3. Textbooks and Encyclopedias 4. Treatises etc. Commentaries on Texts from the Corpus Aristotelicum In no other period of the history of philosophy, as far as we know, have so many commentaries on works by Aristotle been written both per year and in total as in the Renaissance. However, the reasons might include: the rising number of universities probably connected with a rising number of persons in charge of expounding works of Aristotle to their students , enhanced access to existing scholarship on Aristotle and the corpus aristotelicum by the advent of printing [ 9 ] enhancement of propagation and thus broader visibility of commentaries by the advent of printing [ 10 ] changes in the role of philosophy education at universities and a resulting need for new commentaries, advances and new trends in Aristotle scholarship including strong reception of the Greek Aristotle commentaries!

We do not yet have a survey on what was taught where and when, so we cannot yet give a complete assessment, [ 15 ] but permitting some margin of error, we can say: Logic was taught everywhere in some cases with a special stress on the Prior Analytics material and in some cases with special stress on the Posterior Analytics material, and in some cases with a special stress on Topics and argumentation, and in later times—perhaps starting with Antonius Rubius [ 16 ] —also on the Categories.

Philosophy of nature was widely taught: more intensively in universities where philosophy students tended to pursue a medical degree e. Metaphysics was sometimes a niche subject without any relevance for the regular degree examinations e. The stress laid on moral philosophy differed considerably, and generally ethics was far more prominent than politics—let alone economics. Textbooks and Encyclopedias Textbooks and encyclopedias are not necessarily contrasting genres , as sometimes encyclopedias were used as textbooks.

Bibliography Reference Fletcher, J. Transue eds. Lohr, C. Philosophia generalis c, Pars 2. Logica d, Pars 3. Metaphysica e, Pars 4. Ethica et Politica f, Pars 5.