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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On the Romanization of Greek Philosophy

After the sack of Athens by the Roman soldiers led by Sulla in 86 B.C.E., Greece became a Roman protectorate and the philosophical schools started by the Greek masters began to align themselves with Roman culture. According to Randall Collins, the romanization of Greek philosophical schools led to a new kind of philosophical innovation. Here’s an excerpt from Collins’s book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (Chapter 3, "Partitioning Attention Space: The Case of Ancient Greece”):
In the transition to the Roman base comes an outburst of innovation, which then yields to a different way of intellectual life. Stoicism receives a new system with Posidonius, Epicureanism its classic formulation in Lucretius. Aristoteleanism loses its independence from Platonic Idealism, while Platonism repudiates skepticism and goes back to an emanationist religious ontology, in syncretism with a revived neo-Pythagorean numerology. Skepticism, set adrift by the counterrevolution in the Platonic school, is picked up as the medical schools undergo their own doctrinal realignment, and receives its classic formulation at the hands of Aenesidemus. 
In Greece, the Aristotelian school had moved away from Aristotle’s philosophy virtually from the time of his death and in a few generations the school collapsed. In the Roman environment, the teachings of Aristotle were seen as a modification of the Platonic theory. Randall writes:
The Aristoteleans, who were already fading from intellectual prominence in the previous century, took the typical path of a weakening position and were becoming eclectic, wavering toward Epicureanism and Pythagoreanism. By the time Aristotelean doctrines came into Rome around 70 B.C.E., they were no longer carried by members of the Peripatetic school but by freelance scholars such as Tyrannio and Andronicus of Rhodes. The materialism of the intervening period was forgotten, and Aristotle’s texts were now seen as a modification of the Platonic doctrine of Forms. 
It was only around 1250 A.D., with the work of Thomas Aquinas and Averroes, that interest in Aristotelian ideas was revived and Aristotle became known as “The Philosopher” that we are familiar with today.

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