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Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Academics And The Peripatetics

After the demise of Plato and Aristotle what methods did their followers in Ancient Greece use to safeguard the integrity of the philosophical systems developed by the two philosophers? In The Classical Mind, W. T. Jones offers a few insights into the damage that was caused by the doctrinal orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, “The Late Classical Period”:

“The Academics were centered in the Academy that Plato had founded. For years after the founder’s death—such was the impress of his personality—his views were handed down dogmatically by a succession of hero worshipers. Like the Academics, the Peripatetics (as the members of Aristotle’s rival Lyceum came to be known, because of their master’s practice of walking about while lecturing) showed little originality. For the most part they were content to expound the encyclopaedic learning of Aristotle.”

W. T. Jones suggests that the growth of both Platonism and Aristotelianism was strangulated as the dogmatic followers of Plato and Aristotle focused solely on preserving the purity of the texts that the two philosophers had left behind. A few years after Plato and Aristotle there was sharp decline in the popularity of their ideas as people in Ancient Greece started looking at other schools of thought for solution to their social problems.

When the Greek civilization faded, there was rise of the Roman Empire where certain aspects of Platonism and Aristotelianism appeared in the form of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism.

In the final chapter, “The Late Classical Period,” W. T. Jones points out that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism in the Roman Empire indicated that “this was a tired and discouraged society in which peace of mind, relief from the struggle, had replaced such positive goods as social progress and self-improvement. Now, peace of mind can conceivably be won by the natural means—by science or, alternatively, by suspension of judgment. But this natural peace could not hope to compete with the appeal of that deeper peace—the peace that passeth understanding—that was assured by a transcendent and otherworldly religion.”

The Classical Mind has an interesting description of how the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were used by philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius in Epicureanism; by Cicero, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius in Stoicism; and by Sextus Empiricus and others in Scepticism. The book makes the case that the popularity of Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism contributed to the moral and political decline of the Roman Empire and made it possible for the Dark Ages to takeover Europe.

The point is that the doctrinaire orthodoxy of the followers of Plato and Aristotle could not safeguard the integrity of the ideas of the two philosophers. The efforts of the orthodox followers resulted in the dissociation of Platonism and Aristotelianism from mainstream culture and this paved way for the rise of irrational philosophical systems like Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds familiar, perhaps Piekoff should read Jones' work again.