History of philosophy I: ancient philosophy

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Reading: Plato, Gorgias (trans. Benjamin Jowett), the opening dialogue:

CALLICLES: The wise man, as the proverb says, is late for a fray, but not for a feast.

SOCRATES: And are we late for a feast?

CALLICLES: Yes, and a delightful feast; for Gorgias has just been exhibiting to us many fine things.

SOCRATES: It is not my fault, Callicles; our friend Chaerephon is to blame; for he would keep us loitering in the Agora.

CHAEREPHON: Never mind, Socrates; the misfortune of which I have been the cause I will also repair; for Gorgias is a friend of mine, and I will make him give the exhibition again either now, or, if you prefer, at some other time.

CALLICLES: What is the matter, Chaerephon — does Socrates want to hear Gorgias?

CHAEREPHON: Yes, that was our intention in coming.

CALLICLES: Come into my house, then; for Gorgias is staying with me, and he shall exhibit to you.

SOCRATES: Very good, Callicles; but will he answer our questions? for I want to hear from him what is the nature of his art, and what it is which he professes and teaches; he may, as you (Chaerephon) suggest, defer the exhibition to some other time.

CALLICLES: There is nothing like asking him, Socrates; and indeed to answer questions is a part of his exhibition, for he was saying only just now, that any one in my house might put any question to him, and that he would answer.

SOCRATES: How fortunate! will you ask him, Chaerephon —?

CHAEREPHON: What shall I ask him?

SOCRATES: Ask him who he is.

CHAEREPHON: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: I mean such a question as would elicit from him, if he had been a maker of shoes, the answer that he is a cobbler. Do you understand?

CHAEREPHON: I understand, and will ask him: Tell me, Gorgias, is our friend Callicles right in saying that you undertake to answer any questions which you are asked?

GORGIAS: Quite right, Chaerephon: I was saying as much only just now; and I may add, that many years have elapsed since any one has asked me a new one.

CHAEREPHON: Then you must be very ready, Gorgias.

GORGIAS: Of that, Chaerephon, you can make trial.

POLUS: Yes, indeed, and if you like, Chaerephon, you may make trial of me too, for I think that Gorgias, who has been talking a long time, is tired.

CHAEREPHON: And do you, Polus, think that you can answer better than Gorgias?

POLUS: What does that matter if I answer well enough for you?

CHAEREPHON: Not at all—and you shall answer if you like.

POLUS: Ask:—

CHAEREPHON: My question is this: If Gorgias had the skill of his brother Herodicus, what ought we to call him? Ought he not to have the name which is given to his brother?

POLUS: Certainly.

CHAEREPHON: Then we should be right in calling him a physician?


CHAEREPHON: And if he had the skill of Aristophon the son of Aglaophon, or of his brother Polygnotus, what ought we to call him?

POLUS: Clearly, a painter.

CHAEREPHON: But now what shall we call him — what is the art in which he is skilled.

POLUS: O Chaerephon, there are many arts among mankind which are experimental, and have their origin in experience, for experience makes the days of men to proceed according to art, and inexperience according to chance, and different persons in different ways are proficient in different arts, and the best persons in the best arts. And our friend Gorgias is one of the best, and the art in which he is a proficient is the noblest.

SOCRATES: Polus has been taught how to make a capital speech, Gorgias; but he is not fulfilling the promise which he made to Chaerephon.

GORGIAS: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: I mean that he has not exactly answered the question which he was asked.

GORGIAS: Then why not ask him yourself?

SOCRATES: But I would much rather ask you, if you are disposed to answer: for I see, from the few words which Polus has uttered, that he has attended more to the art which is called rhetoric than to dialectic.

POLUS: What makes you say so, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering some one who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was.

POLUS: Why, did I not say that it was the noblest of arts?

SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, but that was no answer to the question: nobody asked what was the quality, but what was the nature, of the art, and by what name we were to describe Gorgias. And I would still beg you briefly and clearly, as you answered Chaerephon when he asked you at first, to say what this art is, and what we ought to call Gorgias: Or rather, Gorgias, let me turn to you, and ask the same question—what are we to call you, and what is the art which you profess?

GORGIAS: Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art.

SOCRATES: Then I am to call you a rhetorician?

GORGIAS: Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call me that which, in Homeric language, ‘I boast myself to be.’

SOCRATES: I should wish to do so.

GORGIAS: Then pray do.

SOCRATES: And are we to say that you are able to make other men rhetoricians?

GORGIAS: Yes, that is exactly what I profess to make them, not only at Athens, but in all places.

SOCRATES: And will you continue to ask and answer questions, Gorgias, as we are at present doing, and reserve for another occasion the longer mode of speech which Polus was attempting? Will you keep your promise, and answer shortly the questions which are asked of you?

GORGIAS: Some answers, Socrates, are of necessity longer; but I will do my best to make them as short as possible; for a part of my profession is that I can be as short as any one.

SOCRATES: That is what is wanted, Gorgias; exhibit the shorter method now, and the longer one at some other time.

GORGIAS: Well, I will; and you will certainly say, that you never heard a man use fewer words.

SOCRATES: Very good then; as you profess to be a rhetorician, and a maker of rhetoricians, let me ask you, with what is rhetoric concerned: I might ask with what is weaving concerned, and you would reply (would you not?), with the making of garments?


SOCRATES: And music is concerned with the composition of melodies?


SOCRATES: By Here, Gorgias, I admire the surpassing brevity of your answers.

GORGIAS: Yes, Socrates, I do think myself good at that.

SOCRATES: I am glad to hear it; answer me in like manner about rhetoric: with what is rhetoric concerned?

GORGIAS: With discourse.

SOCRATES: What sort of discourse, Gorgias?— such discourse as would teach the sick under what treatment they might get well?


SOCRATES: Then rhetoric does not treat of all kinds of discourse?

GORGIAS: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: And yet rhetoric makes men able to speak?


SOCRATES: And to understand that about which they speak?

GORGIAS: Of course.

SOCRATES: But does not the art of medicine, which we were just now mentioning, also make men able to understand and speak about the sick?

GORGIAS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then medicine also treats of discourse?


SOCRATES: Of discourse concerning diseases?

GORGIAS: Just so.

SOCRATES: And does not gymnastic also treat of discourse concerning the good or evil condition of the body?

GORGIAS: Very true.

SOCRATES: And the same, Gorgias, is true of the other arts:— all of them treat of discourse concerning the subjects with which they severally have to do.

GORGIAS: Clearly.

SOCRATES: Then why, if you call rhetoric the art that treats of discourse, and all the other arts treat of discourse, do you not call them arts of rhetoric?

8 – Plato’s most important student: Aristotle. The life and development of Aristotle’s career: experience (εμπειρία) of nature as the root of philosophical science; departure from the Academy; elaboration of a new philosophical method based on observation and demonstration: the Organon; establishment of a “Peripatetic” school in the Lyceum for the application of logic (analytics) and epistemology to all the disciplines of human knowledge and experience.
9 – Outline of Aristotle’s science of philosophy (επιστήμη): the treatises. Foundation of Aristotle’s philosophical realism in the investigation of nature (φύσις); division of knowledge: knowing (speculative, or theoretical philosophy—θεορία), doing (practical philosophy—πράξις), making (applied philosophy—ποίεσις); the corpus of Aristotle’s treatises, their composition, and subsequent history.
10 – Theoretical philosophy. First philosophy (ontology, metaphysics), being and existence, permanence, causation (material, formal, effective, final), the first (uncaused) cause (God); the created universe: inanimate beings (physics and cosmology), change; animate beings (biology and psychology), soul.
11 – Practical and applied philosophy. The human being, as individual and as communitarian (ethics and politics): the good for man; virtues, vices, and the mean; a new science of the polis; making persuasive and beautiful speeches (rhetoric and poetics).
12 – The Aristotelian Legacy. His successors at the Lyceum (beginning with Theophrastus); history of the Peripatetic school in the ancient world; Aristotle’s principal contributions to the history of philosophy (especially in the Middle Ages)—“Aristotelianism.”
Reading: Aristotle, Metaphysics (trans. W. D. Ross), I, i and ii:


ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.

By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation, and from sensation memory is produced in some of them, though not in others. And therefore the former are more intelligent and apt at learning than those which cannot remember; those which are incapable of hearing sounds are intelligent though they cannot be taught, e.g. the bee, and any other race of animals that may be like it; and those which besides memory have this sense of hearing can be taught.

The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasoning. Now from memory experience is produced in men; for the several memories of the same thing produce finally the capacity for a single experience. And experience seems pretty much like science and art, but really science and art come to men through experience; for ‘experience made art’, as Polus says, ‘but inexperience luck.’ Now art arises when from many notions gained by experience one universal judgment about a class of objects is produced. For to have a judgment that when Callias was ill of this disease this did him good, and similarly in the case of Socrates and in many individual cases, is a matter of experience; but to judge that it has done good to all persons of a certain constitution, marked off in one class, when they were ill of this disease, e.g. to phlegmatic or bilious people when burning with fevers-this is a matter of art.

With a view to action experience seems in no respect inferior to art, and men of experience succeed even better than those who have theory without experience. (The reason is that experience is knowledge of individuals, art of universals, and actions and productions are all concerned with the individual; for the physician does not cure man, except in an incidental way, but Callias or Socrates or some other called by some such individual name, who happens to be a man. If, then, a man has the theory without the experience, and recognizes the universal but does not know the individual included in this, he will often fail to cure; for it is the individual that is to be cured.) But yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than to experience, and we suppose artists to be wiser than men of experience (which implies that Wisdom depends in all cases rather on knowledge); and this because the former know the cause, but the latter do not. For men of experience know that the thing is so, but do not know why, while the others know the ‘why’ and the cause. Hence we think also that the master-workers in each craft are more honorable and know in a truer sense and are wiser than the manual workers, because they know the causes of the things that are done (we think the manual workers are like certain lifeless things which act indeed, but act without knowing what they do, as fire burns—but while the lifeless things perform each of their functions by a natural tendency, the laborers perform them through habit); thus we view them as being wiser not in virtue of being able to act, but of having the theory for themselves and knowing the causes. And in general it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does not know, that the former can teach, and therefore we think art more truly knowledge than experience is; for artists can teach, and men of mere experience cannot.

Again, we do not regard any of the senses as Wisdom; yet surely these give the most authoritative knowledge of particulars. But they do not tell us the ‘why’ of anything—e.g. why fire is hot; they only say that it is hot.

At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste was allowed to be at leisure.

We have said in the Ethics what the difference is between art and science and the other kindred faculties; but the point of our present discussion is this, that all men suppose what is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things; so that, as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist wiser than the men of experience, the master-worker than the mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes.


Since we are seeking this knowledge, we must inquire of what kind are the causes and the principles, the knowledge of which is Wisdom. If one were to take the notions we have about the wise man, this might perhaps make the answer more evident. We suppose first, then, that the wise man knows all things, as far as possible, although he has not knowledge of each of them in detail; secondly, that he who can learn things that are difficult, and not easy for man to know, is wise (sense-perception is common to all, and therefore easy and no mark of Wisdom); again, that he who is more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser, in every branch of knowledge; and that of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of Wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results, and the superior science is more of the nature of Wisdom than the ancillary; for the wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not obey another, but the less wise must obey him.

Such and so many are the notions, then, which we have about Wisdom and the wise. Now of these characteristics that of knowing all things must belong to him who has in the highest degree universal knowledge; for he knows in a sense all the instances that fall under the universal. And these things, the most universal, are on the whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses. And the most exact of the sciences are those which deal most with first principles; for those which involve fewer principles are more exact than those which involve additional principles, e.g. arithmetic than geometry. But the science which investigates causes is also instructive, in a higher degree, for the people who instruct us are those who tell the causes of each thing. And understanding and knowledge pursued for their own sake are found most in the knowledge of that which is most knowable (for he who chooses to know for the sake of knowing will choose most readily that which is most truly knowledge, and such is the knowledge of that which is most knowable); and the first principles and the causes are most knowable; for by reason of these, and from these, all other things come to be known, and not these by means of the things subordinate to them. And the science which knows to what end each thing must be done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing, and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature. Judged by all the tests we have mentioned, then, the name in question falls to the same science; this must be a science that investigates the first principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of the causes.

That it is not a science of production is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.

Hence also the possession of it might be justly regarded as beyond human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that according to Simonides ‘God alone can have this privilege’, and it is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge that is suited to him. If, then, there is something in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this knowledge would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous (nay, according to the proverb, ‘bards tell a lie’), nor should any other science be thought more honorable than one of this sort. For the most divine science is also most honorable; and this science alone must be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are more necessary than this, but none is better.

Yet the acquisition of it must in a sense end in something which is the opposite of our original inquiries. For all men begin, as we said, by wondering that things are as they are, as they do about self-moving marionettes, or about the solstices or the incommensurability of the diagonal of a square with the side; for it seems wonderful to all who have not yet seen the reason, that there is a thing which cannot be measured even by the smallest unit. But we must end in the contrary and, according to the proverb, the better state, as is the case in these instances too when men learn the cause; for there is nothing which would surprise a geometer so much as if the diagonal turned out to be commensurable.

We have stated, then, what is the nature of the science we are searching for, and what is the mark which our search and our whole investigation must reach.


13 – Eclecticism of Greek philosophy: IV to II centuries B.C. Xenocrates and the Old Academy; Antisthenes and Diogenes (Cynics); Aristippus (Cyrenaics); Epicurus and Socratic Epicureanism; Pyrrho, Arcesilaus, and the Skepticism of the Middle Academy.
14 – Attempts at Renewal: First Century B.C. Zeno, Cleanthes, and the subsequent development of Stoicism; Chrysippus, Carneades and the Third, or New Academy; Rivalry of Academics and Peripatetics; Andronicus of Rhodes and the editing of Aristotle’s treatises; the shift of philosophy from Greece to Rome.
15 – Hellenization of Roman intellectual life. Roman Epicureanism (Lucretius); Roman stoicism: its influence in the thought of Cicero; its development in Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius; the scepticism of Sextus Empiricus.
16 – The Neo-Platonic Movement. Impact of Platonism on Jewish thinkers in the Roman world: Philo of Alexandria; mysticism and religious thought in the system of Plotinus; the Neo-Platonic schools of Porphyry and Proclus.
17 – The impact of Greco-Roman philosophy on early Christian thought. The mixed reputation of philosophers among the first Christians: St. Paul, Tertullian, St. Justin, Origen; steering a course between Judaizers and Hellenizers; the challenge of rival cults, mystery religions, and gnostic influences.
JOHN PAUL II (paraphrased), continuation:

FIDES ET RATIO, CHAPTER FOUR: The Relationship between Faith and Reason

A. Important Moments in the Encounter of Faith and Reason
36. Because of errors about God which are endemic to cosmic religious myths and mystery cults, St. Paul and the first Christian evangelists--and later the Fathers of the Church as well--drew upon the Greek philosophers who had sought to cleanse from the natural knowledge of God the polytheism, idolatry, and superstition found in popular beliefs of the time. By searching for a rational foundation for their belief in the divinity, the ancient philosophers had brought to light for the first time the link between reason and religion.

37. St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, among early Christian thinkers, were also careful not to confuse authentic philosophy with a presumed higher knowledge reserved for the select few--a subordination of revealed truth to Gnostic interpretations (unfortunately still widespread today among believers who lack a proper critical sense).

38. St. Justin and St. Clement of Alexandria pioneered this cautious discernment of the early Christians’ positive engagement with Greek philosophy for the purpose of defending and deepening faith in the risen Christ and leading their listeners to conversion of heart. Today’s Christian apologists continue to reject, as the Fathers did, a philosophical elitism that would impede equal access to the truth for all men and women, and they continue to embrace any philosophical paths that can prepare for the Revelation of Christ.

39. Another outstanding example of early Christian thinkers who made use of philosophy while distinguishing it from contemporary intellectual currents is Origen, who adopted Platonic arguments in countering attacks and constructing an early form of Christian theology--a term (rational discourse about God) which already signified the summit of philosophy for Aristotle. Now it came to mean reflections that express the true doctrine about God. In the minds of the first Christian theologians, Platonic thought began to undergo significant changes.

40. The Christianizing of neo-Platonic thought was led by the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil and the two Gregories), Dionysius the Areopagite, and especially St. Augustine, who found the philosophers he had studied powerless to lead him to the whole truth. After his conversion, he went on to produce the first great synthesis of philosophy and theology that was to sustain the West for many centuries, and to presage future developments in several philosophical currents.
Benedict XVI (digested)

GENERAL AUDIENCES: On the Early Fathers of the Church

Mar. 21 to May 2, 2007
…For a long time he searched for truth, passing through the various schools of traditional Greek philosophy. Finally—as he himself says in the first chapters of his “Dialogue with Trypho”—a mysterious stranger, an old man he met on the beach—initially unsettles Justin by showing him that it is impossible for a person to satisfy the desire for the divine with human powers alone. Then this man pointed to the ancient prophets as the ones who could show Justin the path to God and “true philosophy.”… The story symbolizes a crucial moment in Justin’s life: At the end of a long philosophical journey in search of truth, he found Christianity. He then established a school in Rome, where (without charge) he initiated students into the new religion, which he considered the true philosophy. In this religion he had found the truth and, therefore, the way to live rightly….

His two “Apologies” and the “Dialogue with Trypho” are his only works still extant. In them Justin aims above all to show the divine projects of creation and of salvation brought about by Christ, the “Logos” (that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason: λόγος). Everyone, as a rational creature, participates in this “Logos,” carrying within himself a “seed,” and can perceive glimmers of truth. In this way, that very “Logos,” who had revealed himself as a prophetic image to the Jews in the Old Covenant, had also partially revealed himself, as “seeds of truth,” in Greek philosophy…. If the Old Testament tends toward Christ, in the same way…Greek philosophy tends toward Christ and the Gospel…. Justin adds that these two (the Old Testament and Greek philosophy) are like two roads leading to Christ, the “Logos.”

This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to evangelical truth, and Christians may confidently draw from it, as if it were their own…. On the whole, the person and work of Justin mark the ancient Church’s decisive option for philosophy instead of pagan religions because it is based in reason…. Justin harshly criticized the pagan religious myths, which he considered diabolical “disorientations” on the path to truth. Instead, philosophy was the privileged meeting place for paganism, Judaism, and Christianity…. For Justin, and the other Christian apologists, Christ was the God of the philosophers, not the false pagan gods. It was a choice for the truth of being versus the myth of traditions…. In an age such as ours, marked by relativism in the debate on values and on religion…this is a lesson that should not be forgotten. I will conclude with the words of the mysterious old man Justin found by the sea: “You, above all, pray that the doors of light be opened to you. For no one can see nor understand if God and his Christ do not give him understanding” (Dial. 7,3).


Though he was born in Smyrna (Asia Minor), where he attended the school of the bishop, St. Polycarp, he is associated with the first development of the Christian community of Gaul, for by 177 he was among the priests of Lyons. After a sojourn in Rome, he was chosen to replace the martyred bishop of Lyons, and is himself believed to have been a martyr. Though primarily a pastor and man of faith, he wrote to expound the true faith and to defend it from the attacks of heretics. His two works still extant correspond to those objectives: “The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching” and five books “Against the Heresies.”

The second-century Church was threatened by Gnosticism, an intellectual elite (“the initiated”) that claimed to possess privileged, secret, knowledge behind the “symbolism” of the faith as it was taught by the Church to the many. Among the errors the “Gnostics” taught was a Manichean dualism that attempted to explain evil; this was accompanied by a pessimism that devalued corporeal realities. But Irenaeus goes far beyond refuting error to establish the internal coherence of the faith…. Truth and salvation are not the privilege of a few, but accessible to all through the preaching of the bishops of the Church, above all, the Bishop of Rome….

The faith must be preached in such a way that it appears outwardly to all, that is, in public as a teaching that is one and spiritual. From these characteristics, one can discern the authentic transmission of the faith in the Church today, as in the time of Irenaeus. More particularly, human dignity—body and soul—is firmly rooted in divine creation, in the image of Christ and in the permanent sanctifying work of the Spirit. This teaching is like a “main road” that makes clear to everyone of good will what are the object and limits of dialogue, and to give an ever new impulse to the strengthening of truth which is the source of all value.


Clement was born in Athens, where he acquired a keen interest in philosophy that would make him one of the great promoters of dialogue between faith and reason in the Christian tradition. While still a young man he moved to Alexandria, the “symbolic city” of this fruitful nexus between cultures that characterized the Hellenistic age…. During the persecution of 202-203, he took refuge in Caesarea (Cappadocia), where he died. The most important of his works still extant are “The Exhortation,” “The Instructor,” and “The Stromata” (a Greek word meaning “miscellanies”). These constitute a trilogy on the spiritual maturing of a Christian. In the first, it is the Son of God himself who exhorts the beginner searching for the path of faith on his journey toward truth. Later it is also Christ who instructs him, who teaches the one who is moving toward the deepest truths. These are collected in Clement’s third work, a collection of various arguments from his teaching. Taken together these three works, on the two “wings” of faith and reason, lead to the Truth, who is Christ, the Word of God…. Authentic knowledge (“gnosis,” in Greek) can only be found by coming to know the Person of the Truth. This is the edifice built by reason under the inspiration of a supernatural impulse. Thus authentic “gnosis” is a development of the faith, drawn forth by Christ in the souls of those united to him.

Further on, Clement defines two levels of Christian life. At the first level are believers who live the faith in an ordinary way, although with their horizon always open toward sanctity. At the second level are the proficients, those who aim to lead a life of spiritual perfection…to arrive at knowledge of the Truth and the truths that make up the content of the faith—not simply as a theory, but as lived reality, a life force, union with a transforming love,…a love that opens the eyes, transforms the person, and creates communion with the “Logos,” the divine Word that is truth and life. In this manner the proficient Christian eventually reaches contemplation of God and union with him…. The objective of life’s journey, a person’s final destiny lies in making himself like God. This is made possible by our con-naturality with him received at the moment of our creation; the person is already an image of God. This con-naturality enables him to know divine realities….Above all, it is by living the faith and practicing the virtues that a person can grow until he reaches the contemplation of God.

On this journey to perfection, Clement gives the same importance to moral requirements as to intellectual ones. The two go together because it is not possible to know the truth without living it, nor to live the truth without knowing it. Rational knowledge is not sufficient in making oneself like God and contemplating him; it is necessary to live according to the “Logos”—that is, according to truth. Thus good works must accompany intellectual knowledge, as a shadow accompanies a body.

Two virtues in particular adorn the soul of a proficient Christian: freedom from passions; possession by love—the true passion—which is accompanied by perfect peace and the ability to make the greatest sacrifices, even the supreme sacrifice. In this way, the ethical ideal of ancient philosophy—freedom from passions—is redefined and complemented by love on the unending journey that leads to being like God.

Clement thus promoted the second great opportunity for dialogue between the Christian message and Greek philosophy. St. Paul, in the Areopagus of Athens, had made the first attempt, for the most part a failed attempt. Now Clement takes up this dialogue again, greatly ennobling it in the tradition of Greek philosophy. He even affirms that God had given philosophy to the Greeks “as their own Testament” (Strom 6,8, 67,1). Almost like the Law for the Jews, it is their context for “revelation.” [The Law for the Hebrews and philosophy for the Greeks] are two currents that lead definitively to the very “Logos.”

Clement can serve as an example for Christians, especially for the catechists of our time. We conclude with an expression from his famous “Prayer to Christ, the ‘Logos’” at the end of his “Instructor”: “Show favor to thy children;…grant that we may live in peace to arrive at thy city…transported with serenity by the Holy Spirit, ineffable Wisdom…to the Son, our Instructor and Teacher” (Instr 3,12,101).

TERTULLIAN (155-230)
Tertullian, a Roman African who received a solid formation in rhetoric, philosophy, law, and history from pagan teachers in Carthage, was converted by the example of the martyrs, and inaugurated Christian culture in the Latin language. His work bore fruits…on many levels: recovery of classical culture, articulation of a common “Christian soul” in the world, and formulation of new proposals for the moral conduct of social life.

He began publishing the results of his research into the truth in 197. The originality of his thought and its incisive linguistic expression give Tertullian a high place in early Christian literature, even if an excessively rigorous and intemperate character led him to join a sect of Montanism later in life. Most noteworthy are his vigorous defense of the faith and his missionary outreach in communicating it to his contemporaries, emphasizing the rational foundations of the faith, which he presents in a systematic manner.

In his principal work, “Apologeticus,” he lists the main philosophical currents of the time, but his chief contribution is as a witness to the first centuries of the faith when Christians found themselves subjects of a “new culture,” blended of the classical heritage and the Gospel message. By stating that the human soul “is naturally Christian” (Apol 37), he brings out the perennial continuity between Christianity and authentic human values.


The few surviving works of his immense output still make Origen the most prolific author of the first three Christian centuries. His interests extended from exegesis to dogma to philosophy to apologetics to asceticism to mysticism—a global vision of Christian life. The core of his work is the “three-pronged reading” of Scriptures… First, the literal, or historical, reading: to know what is actually written and what the text wanted to say intentionally, in itself, in the original languages. In order to compare translations, he prepared a six-column (“Hexapla”) synopsis.

The second reading is analytic, or systematic, and includes the commentaries and explanations he gave his students (in Alexandria and later in Caesarea). Philological and doctrinal notes are appended…. The aim is to understand more fully what the authors wanted to say—reaching now to the moral sense—what we must do to live the Word—not apparent in the “literal” reading…. Then the third reading encompasses the unity of Scripture in its diversity as it seeks to discern the spiritual sense—“the meaning of the mysteries, where the souls of the saints are fed in this life and in the next” (Hom Num 9,7)…. Origen reminds us that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in a coherent way of life, the Church is rejuvenated.

But reading alone, a purely academic treatment, is never sufficient; it is always to be founded on experience, on the experience of prayer, on contact with God. Origen is convinced that the straight path to knowledge of God is love, and that one cannot arrive at an authentic “scientia Christi” without falling in love with him…. It is the same with human relationships: One only really knows the other if there is love, if one opens his heart to the other. He illustrates the significance of the Hebrew verb “to know”: It is love that procures the most authentic knowledge….

This path of perfection, dedication to “lectio divina” and living a pure and virtuous life, “is for everyone,” bringing “the eyes of the heart” to contemplate “the Wisdom and Truth, who is Jesus Christ” (Hom Lk 32:6). This is Origen’s most important lesson for us.

Brother of St. Basil the Great and associate of St. Gregory Nazienzen (collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers), Gregory was a man of meditative disposition with a great capacity for rhetoric and philosophical reflection [notably in the Platonic tradition], and a lively intellect that was open to the culture of his time. Those qualities combined to make him an original and deep thinker and important figure in early Christian history. He contributed to the victory of orthodoxy over heretical currents by teaching and writing, exercising pastoral leadership and preaching, and persuasively defending the faith….

Gregory’s commentaries on Scripture center on God as Creator, and man as creature, who finds his path to God by studying the reflections of the Creator in himself and his fellowman. In a commentary on the creation of man he shows how God, as “the best artist, forges our nature to make it suitable for the exercise of royal power” (De hom op 4: pg 44, 136b). Debased as we are by sin, we would do well to meditate on Gregory’s praise of man so as to find our way back to that original greatness and achieve our end in the contemplation of God….

The most important lesson Gregory leaves us is that our total fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived with God that becomes luminous for others and for the world. The lofty dignity of man results from “stretching ourselves out” to become like God through love, knowledge, and virtuous acts. This expression means that perfection is not achieved once and for all; it is a continuous journey. We are always on the way (Hom in Cant 12: pg44, 1025d), open to ever new horizons and capable of ever greater good. Every initiative comes from God, who “polishes and scrubs our spirit, forming Christ in us” (In Ps 2:11: pg44, 544b). Advancement toward perfection requires that we turn to God in faith-filled prayer (De orat dom 1: pg44 1124a-b)….

Gregory’s teaching remains valid: that we not only speak about God, but also bring Him into us through prayer, and live the spirit of divine-human love. Many of his works are still extant—Scriptural commentaries, homilies, catechetical guides, biographies, short treatises, and letters.

The Fathers of the Church found themselves faced with different philosophies of a Platonic type, in which a complete vision of the world and of life was presented, including the questions of God and religion. In confronting these philosophies, they elaborated a complete vision of reality, starting from the faith and using elements of Platonism, to respond to the essential questions of man. They called this vision, based on biblical revelation and elaborated with a correct Platonism in light of faith, "our philosophy." The word "philosophy" was not, therefore, the expression of a purely rational system and, as such, different from faith, but it indicated a comprehensive vision of reality, constructed in light of faith, but thought out by reason; a vision that, it is true, went beyond the capacity proper to reason, but as such, was also satisfying for it.
18 – The Legacy of Ancient Philosophy as it has come down to us. Its reception and adaptation by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinkers; preview of the synthesis of Christian revelation and Greco-Roman philosophy achieved by medieval thinkers; the European Renaissance.

Review questions for the final exam

Important note: Do not “look up” and try to memorize “answers” to these questions; think through them and approach them in your own words. Look for the main point: not specific details but the broad overview. According to Jacques Maritain, history’s role in philosophical education is to provide concrete illustrations of the process of trial and error. So let the trials and errors begin!
1. Are there historical reasons why philosophy originated in the Mediterranean basin at the time it did rather than in the East?
2. What does it indicate about the human mind that the history of philosophy began as a search for the ordering principle of all things?
3. What is most characteristic about philosophy in its first millennium? Focus on unity rather than diversity, continuity rather than disparity.
4. Explain the continuities that occurred in the early history of philosophy; illustrate with an example.
5. How does the study of ancient philosophy help us understand why the pursuit of truth is controversial?
6. How does it make us conscious of the importance of method and its relation to content?
7. How does the study of ancient philosophy illuminate the pursuit of truth about God, the universe (cosmos), nature, change, life, man. What were the principal achievements of the ancients in the following areas of philosophy:

--philosophy of reason (logic, or analytics)

--philosophy of God (natural theology, or theodicy)

--philosophy of being (ontology, or metaphysics)

--philosophy of knowledge (epistemology, or gnoseology)

--philosophy of number (mathematics)

--philosophy of nature (physics, or cosmology)

--philosophy of beauty (aesthetics)

--philosophy of body (biology)

--philosophy of soul (psychology)

--philosophy of value (ethics)

--philosophy of community (politics)

8. Explain St. Augustine’s summary of ancient Greek philosophy: “May you seek God, may you find God, may you love God.” In other words, why would the “question” of God be the center of philosophical inquiry?
9. What is a “monist” view of reality; what philosophical schools held it? Likewise, a “pluralist” view of reality? Were any ancient philosophers able to harmonize those two views?
10. How was the question of causation clarified during the first millennium of philosophy? What were some of the principal developments along the way?
11. How was the relation between body and soul dealt with in the ancient period? Why is this question particularly instructive in our attempt to understand the first philosophers?
12. In what way did Academics and Peripatetics constitute the main channels through which philosophy took its most positive steps during the ancient period? What alternatives did they offer in understanding reality?
13. What are the most important works left to us by the ancient philosophers, and what makes them significant today?
14. What is the consensus among later historians and philosophers (especially St. Thomas Aquinas) on the contributions of the ancient Greek and Roman schools and of individual philosophers to the ongoing task of pursuing and clarifying the truth?
15. If one looks at ancient Greek and Roman philosophers from the perspective of divine revelation, how do they help us understand the role of providence in preparing the mind to accept a source of truth above reason?
16. Name some authoritative historians of ancient philosophy.
17. Do all he errors and false starts in the history of philosophy weaken its fruitfulness in trying to reach the most important truths?

Chronology of Ancient Philosophers

* indicates founders of schools

Precursors (VIII-VII centuries B.C.):

1. Hesiod of Boetia (c.775-725) Eighth Century

Theogony; Works and Days

Pre-Socratics (VI-V centuries B.C.):

* 2. Thales of Miletus (c.624-580) – Ionian School Sixth Century

3. Anaximander of Miletus (c.611-547) – Ionian

The Boundless [one fragment]

4. Anaximenes of Miletus (c.570-502) – Ionian

* 5. Pythagoras of Samos (c.570-500) – Pythagorean School

* 6. Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570-478) – Eleatic School

7. Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535-475) Fifth Century

On Nature (πέρι φύσιος) [fragments]

8. Parmenides of Elea (c.510-445) – Eleatic

On Nature [fragments]

9. Anaxagoras of Clazomene (c.495-435)

10. Empedocles of Akragas (Agrigentum) (c.484-424)

On Nature; Purifications [fragments]

11. Zeno of Elea (c.490-415) – Eleatic

12. Melissus of Samos (c.485-410) – Eleatic

On Nature [fragments]

*13. Protagoras of Abdera (c.481-411) – Sophistic Movement

Truth; On the Gods [fragments]

14. Antiphon of Athens (c.481-411) – Sophist

Orations [fragments]

*15. Leucippus of Abdera (c.480-410) – Atomist School

The Great World Order [fragment]

16. Diogenes of Apollonia (c.465-415)

On Nature [fragments]

17. Georgias of Leontini (c.483-377) – Sophist

18. Prodicus of Ceos (c.470-404) – Sophist

Contemporaries of Socrates (V-IV centuries B.C.):


20. Democritus of Abdera (c.460-370) – Atomist Fourth Century

The Lesser World Order; Golden Sayings [fragments]

21. Thucydides of Athens (457-401) – Historian

The Peloponnesian War

22. Aristophanes of Athens (445-388) – Poet

The Clouds

*23. Antisthenes of Athens (c.445-365) – Cynic School

*24. Aristippus of Cyrene (c.435-356) – Cyrenaic School

*25. Isocrates of Athens (436-338) – Rhetorical School

Antidosis; Against the Sophists; The Panegyric

26. Xenophon of Athens (426-354) – Biographer

Memorabilia [Recollections of Socrates]

Contemporaries of Plato and Aristotle (IV century B.C.):

*27. PLATO OF ATHENS (428-347) – Academic School


28. Speucippus of Athens (407-339) – Academic

29. Diogenes of Sinope (c.405-325) – Cynic

*30. ARISTOTLE OF STAGIRA (384-322) – Peripatetic School


31. Theophrastus of Eresus (c.371-287) – Periptetic

Inquiry into Plants; Characters; Metaphysics; Physical Opinions

32. Xenocrates of Athens (c.339-314) – Old Academic

33. Crates of Thebes (c.365-285) – Old Academic/Cynic

Later Socratics (III-II centuries B.C.):

*34. Pyrrho of Elis (c.365-275) – Sceptic School Third Century

*35. Epicurus of Samos/Athens (341-270) – Epicurean School

Letters; fragments

*36. Zeno of Citium (c.344-262) – Stoic School

On the Nature of Man [fragments]

37. Arcesilaus of Pitane (315-241) – Middle Academic/Sceptic

38. Cleanthes of Assos (331-232) -- Stoic

On Pleasure [Hymn to Zeus]

39. Cyrysippus of Cilicia (280-207) – Stoic

[fragments] Second Century

40. Carneades of Cyrene (213-129) – Middle Academic/Sceptic

41. Panaetius of Rhodes (185-110) – Stoic

42. Antiochus of Ascalon (c.130-68) – New Academic

43. Poseidonius of Apamaea (135-51) – Stoic First Century B.C.

Roman Hellenists (I century B.C.-III century A.D.):

44. Titus Lucretius Carus of Rome (96-55) – Epicurean

De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things]

45. Marcus Tullius CICERO of Rome (106-43) – Eclectic

Speeches, Dialogues, Letters

46. Marcus Terentius Varro of Rome (116-27) – Eclectic

47. Andronicus of Rhodes (c.65-15) – Peripatetic

48. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (20 B.C.-50 A.D.) First Century A.D.

49. Lucius Annaeas Seneca of Cordoba (4 B.C.-65 A.D.) – Stoic

Dialogues, Epistles

Appearance of First Christian Writers (I – III centuries):

50. St. Paul of Tarsus (8-67)


51. Plutarchus of Chaeronea (c.50-135)


52. Epictetus of Hieropolis (55-138) – Stoic Second Century

Enchiridion; Discourses (ed. Arrian)

53. St. Justinus, Martyr (100-165) – Academic/Christian

Dialogue with Trypho; Apologies

54. Marcus Aurelius (121-180) – Stoic


55. St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215)

Exhortation to the Greeks

56. Tertullian (155-230)


57. Sextus Empiricus (c. 175-225) – Sceptic

Outlines of Pyrrhonism; Adversus Mathematicos

58. Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 175-225) – Peripatetic

59. Origen of Alexandria (185-254) Third Century

On First Principles

60. Diogenes Laertius (c. 200-250)

Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

*61. Plotinus of Alexandria (204-270) – Neo-Platonic School


62. Porphyry of Tyre (232-305) – Neo-Platonic

Isagogue; Vita Plotinii

63. Lactantius (240-320)

Divinae Institutiones

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