J. H. Lesher, ‘The Flourishing of Ancient Philosophy in America: Some Causes and Concerns’

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J. H. Lesher, ‘The Flourishing of Ancient Philosophy in America: Some Causes and Concerns’

(From L. Rossetti and J. Thorp, eds, Greek Philosophy in the New Millennium (Akademia Verlag, 2004), 89-98.)

Historians of higher education may one day look back on the past half-century as a golden age for the study of ancient philosophy in the United States. By various measures the study of ancient Greek and Roman thought has been a growth industry in this county, beginning in the 1950’s and continuing down to the present day. The past half-century has witnessed the creation of four English-language journals and a national society devoted to the study of ancient philosophy.1 Throughout this period there have been numerous regional and national conferences2, various regional reading groups, frequent NEH-sponsored summer seminars and institutes on aspects of ancient thought, successful graduate programs in ancient philosophy at several dozen American universities3, and perhaps most happily, a fairly steady supply of jobs for specialists in the field.4

There is also now a cornucopia of resources available to support instruction at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Today’s instructor can choose from among a range of introductory anthologies and individual selections (Hackett Publishing deserves special praise for its many excellent, low-priced volumes). A number of recent ‘companion volumes’—on the Presocratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers—have also facilitated offering upper-level or graduate-level courses on the leading figures in ancient Greek thought. The Phoenix Series in Presocratic Philosophy, co-edited by David Gallop and Tom Robinson, has made the fragments, fragment-contexts, and ancient testimonia relating to the Presocratic philosophers accessible to those with no knowledge of Greek and no prior training in philosophy. The on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ((http://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html), the Perseus Project (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu), and various philosophy web-sites5 have made an extraordinary amount of information relating to Greek thought available to students everywhere, of all ages, and in all walks of life. How did this happy state of affairs come about?
Alexander Nehamas has recently suggested that one factor contributing to the present level of interest in ancient philosophy is the recognition that ancient Greek thinkers, most notably Plato and Aristotle, explored methodological questions that still interest contemporary philosophers. Identifying G.E.L. Owen and Gregory Vlastos as the two leading figures in this development, Nehamas explained:
Since the analysis of concepts, sentences, or propositions into perspicuous or canonical form required being able to define terms clearly and adequately, as well as knowing when definitions were successful, it also required a clear and adequate account of the nature of definition itself...By exhibiting the strictly logical structure of Socrates’ method for evaluating (and in the end, always rejecting) definitions, Vlastos showed that Plato seemed to be involved in what could easily be recognized as a project that was essential to contemporary philosophy. He was asking our own methodological questions.6

My own view is that it is thanks largely to Vlastos and Owen that every medium to large-sized American philosophy department—at least those within the analytic tradition7--now believes it should have at least one specialist in ancient philosophy among its ranks. So in what follows I would like to try to expand on Nehamas’ remark, by identifying some additional factors that have helped to secure ancient philosophy its present—though by no means inevitable—place in our departments of philosophy. Toward the end of my remarks I will note some worrisome recent developments and offer some suggestions on how the current level of engagement with ancient philosophical thought might best be sustained.

The enormous influence exercised by Vlastos and Owen was to some extent a consequence of their remarkable personal qualities--as scholars, teachers, and mentors. For a whole generation of students, including many of today’s leading figures in our field, it is a pleasure to remember what it was like to observe Gwil Owen in action, teasing out what was philosophically at issue in some ancient text, moving rapidly but surely from one point to others logically related to it, exploring the merits of alternative interpretations, and demonstrating beyond any doubt that ancient Greek philosophical texts could engage one’s interest and philosophical abilities as fully as the works of any modern thinker. Three of Owen’s papers in particular--‘Eleatic Questions’, ‘Aristotle on the Snares of Ontology’ and ‘Tithenai ta Phainomena’—are still widely regarded as classics. Vlastos’ main contribution, in my opinion, lay in a series of studies that raised issues of fundamental importance for understanding the Presocratics, Socrates, and Plato.8 Once Vlastos had brought these issues into sharp focus they immediately became topics of discussion in the professional journals. Moreover, and as it turned out especially importantly, Vlastos was able to articulate those questions in ways that made good use of the techniques of modern analytic philosophy9--perhaps most notably, quantificational logic--so that even philosophers with no prior engagement in the subject found themselves being drawn into the discussion. This was especially true for Vlastos’ famous paper on the ‘3rd man argument’ in Plato’s Parmenides.10 Students of Plato’s philosophy had long been aware of the objections raised in the Parmenides against the existence of Forms, but Vlastos’ analysis of the logic of the argument brought two crucial assumptions--Self-Predication, and Non-Identity—into clearer view. The upshot of the discussion, many articles and notes later, was a better appreciation of some of the most distinctive and fundamental principles at work in Plato’s metaphysics. Many younger scholars also fondly remember Vlastos for the extraordinarily detailed and helpful letters he wrote to them concerning their own work in progress.11 The joint program in ancient philosophy at Princeton University and a major portion of the academic prestige currently associated with our field, should also be credited to him.12
A second factor that has helped to create and sustain interest in ancient philosophy is the recognition of a significant degree of overlap in the concerns of philosophers from antiquity down to the present--beyond the specific interest in definition mentioned earlier by Nehamas. Bernard Williams (a leading figure in 20th-century ethical theory and a specialist in Greek philosophy) once made this point in rather dramatic terms: ‘The legacy of Greece to Western philosophy’, Williams asserted, ‘is Western philosophy.’13 This is no doubt something of an exaggeration, since some aspects of current thought—e.g. philosophical issues relating to artificial intelligence—lack an ancient counterpart. But Williams’ comment does capture one important truth: from the 6th century BCE down to the end of the Hellenistic period, Greek thinkers posed and gave answers to questions that would become focal points of philosophical inquiry in later eras--‘What is the best life for a human being?’, ‘What is nature of reality?’, and ‘What can we know for certain?’
Although it is possible to place too great an emphasis on the extent to which ancient thinkers anticipated philosophical developments of later eras (if in doing so we suggest that their work has value only in virtue of such a connection), there are a number of points at which ancient philosophers anticipated ideas developed at greater length by modern philosophers. It is impossible, for example, to read Plato’s Theaetetus without being struck by the large number of passages in which Plato explores issues that are still relevant to contemporary debates concerning knowledge.14 Roughly the first third of the dialogue is given over to a critique of the merits of empiricism, long before its 18th century heyday. Socrates also anticipates a famous later skeptical doubt when he asks ‘What evidence might be appealed to determine whether at this very moment we were asleep or awake?’ and concludes, as will later Descartes, that ‘there is plenty of room for doubt whether we are awake or asleep’ (158b-c). At 165d-e Socrates argues in the manner of an ordinary-language philosopher when he objects to the identification of knowing with perceiving on the grounds that while we can speak of perceiving as either keen or dim, occurring close up or at a distance, and with greater or lesser intensity, we can speak of knowing in none of these ways.15 When it is asserted (at 185ff.) that the common properties of objects are known not through sense perception but by means of the mind’s own processes of reflection, we appear to have arrived at the Kantian view that not all knowledge arises out of experience, even if all knowledge begins with it. The ‘dream theory’ of knowledge introduced at 201-202 bears a remarkable resemblance to the main tenets of the philosophy of logical atomism developed in the early years of the 20th century by Russell and Wittgenstein. Plato’s use (here in the Theaetetus and elsewhere) of the letters and syllables of the alphabet as a model for understanding how nouns and verbs combine to yield meaningful discourse led Gilbert Ryle to credit Plato with an understanding of the nature of meaning that would be rediscovered in the modern era through the work of Frege, Ryle himself, and others.16 A number of contemporary writers have identified the dialogue’s final definition of knowledge as ‘true opinion plus a logos or rational account’ (201d) as the prototype of the ‘Tripartite’ or ‘Standard’ analysis of knowledge (that S knows that p if and only if p is true, S believes p, and S is adequately justified or evidentially supported in believing that p).17 The ‘regress of reasons’ argument presented at 209-210 also remains a live issue for any account of knowledge that seeks to analyze knowledge in connection with possessing some other form of awareness.
Another important aspect of ancient philosophy has recently been emphasized by the French scholar, Pierre Hadot.18 In his book What is Ancient Philosophy? Hadot credits ancient Greek and Roman thinkers with collectively inventing an activity they called philosophia--roughly speaking, discovering the best way for a human being to live. The fullest expression of philosophia occurred during the Hellenistic period when different schools of thought--perhaps most notably the Stoics and Epicureans--offered advice on how best to achieve peace of mind in an uncertain world, although Hadot finds anticipations of the pragmatic or ‘existential’ approach to philosophy in the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The most distinctive feature of Hadot’s account is the value he assigns to the ancient ‘spiritual exercise’--the various physical and mental techniques devised by ancient thinkers to ward off pain or distress, maintain a sense of personal integrity, or bring oneself into a more spiritual way of life.

As Hadot sees it, modern philosophy has lost touch with its historic identity and mission. Much in the spirit of Thoreau’s remark that ‘There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers’19, Hadot observes a ‘profound difference’ between ancient philosophia and philosophy as it is taught today in our colleges and universities. Today’s philosophers, he claims, see the discipline as a series of thinkers each striving ‘to invent a new construction, systematic and abstract, intended to somehow or other to explain the universe or at the least, if we are talking about contemporary philosophers...to elaborate a new discourse about language’ (p. 2).20

Yet, as a number of recent testimonials to John Rawls have noted, one of Rawls’ achievements was to redirect attention to such questions as ‘What makes a society just?’ and ‘How is social justice connected to an individual’s pursuit of the good life?’21 In recent years Peter Singer has identified duties we have relating to the environment and other living things, and defended a concern for others as part of any adequate conception of the good life.22 Much the same could be said for the philosophers who collectively developed the fields of bio-ethics, medical ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, and the philosophical aspects of public policy. In short, it is not a point of contrast, but additional evidence of continuity that the question, ‘What is the best life for a human being?’ still engages contemporary ethical theorists.
There has also been a significant degree of continuity in the techniques employed in philosophical inquiry, going back at least as far as Parmenides of Elea. In his famous poem, composed at some point in the early decades of the fifth century, Parmenides put forward an account that rested on what today would be called a pair of logical truths: (1) that ‘either it is or it is not’, sometimes termed the Principle of Bi-valence; and (2) that ‘what is not cannot also be’, or the Principle of Non-contradiction. After affirming the obvious truth that one can truly say and think of ‘what is’ that it is, Parmenides next considers whether one might also truly think and say of ‘what is’ that ‘it is not’. In fragment B8 he offers a series of arguments intended, apparently, to establish that ‘what is’ must ‘completely be’, i.e. that whatever else it might be like, what is cannot fail to be in any respect. For example, ‘what is’ cannot have come into being, for if it did it would have to have come from what is not—which cannot be. Nor, for similar reasons, can it be destroyed. Nor can it be divided or discontinuous, nor move about from one place to another, nor develop new qualities over time. The key premise underlying each of these conclusions is that since the only thing other than ‘what is’ is ‘what is not’, any attempt to find some time, place, or respect in which ‘what is’ is not requires us to suppose that there is also some time, place, or respect in which ‘what is not’ is. But this, as was agreed at the outset, is impossible. Thus, whatever else the real world might be like, we must believe that it exists fully, eternally, and completely in every respect. With Parmenides philosophical inquiry begins to operate at a very high level of generality, and with a firm commitment to logical consistency.
In Plato’s dialogues we find Socrates repeatedly asking for guidance from some self-proclaimed expert on moral matters. ‘Tell me’, he typically asks, ‘what it is that all just acts, or all holy acts, or all virtues, have in common that makes them all what they are?’ His interlocutors typically report what Homer and Hesiod have said, or what some Sophist has to say, or what traditional Greek common sense would have one believe. But none of this satisfies Socrates. It is not enough, he insists, simply to know what some person or group of people say what virtue is, we must also examine what we are told to determine whether or not this is correct. The revolutionary character of Socrates’ insistence on this point may be lost on us unless we remember that the main terms of the Greek moral vocabulary--themis and dikê--connoted both ‘what is customarily done’ and ‘what is morally right’. In insisting on the difference between custom and morality Socrates carves out a theoretical space in which individuals can reflect on how they ought to live--no matter what custom, or the family, or some supposed expert might dictate. The American philosopher John Dewey described the importance of Socrates’ thought in this way: ‘That current customs contradict one another, that many of them are unjust, and that without criticism none of them is fit to be the guide of life was the discovery with which the Athenian Socrates initiated conscious moral theorizing.23
Socrates’ approach to moral inquiry—challenging received opinion, exposing falsehoods and hidden contradictions, distinguishing between two items easily confused with one another, and moving toward a general definition of a thing’s unique nature—did not end with his demise. We can see Plato operating in the same way in many of his dialogues, as again in the Theaetetus when he goes through a list of the most obvious candidates for knowledge— from sense perception to belief to true belief to justified true belief—explaining how each of these forms of awareness differs from the others, how each might be plausibly identified with knowledge, but then putting each proposed candidate for knowledge to the test, to determine whether the identification can survive critical examination. Aristotle self-consciously adopts the same approach in his writings. It is the task of the philosopher, he explains, to review current popular beliefs and ideas, often flawed by ambiguity and inconsistency, to distinguish the different senses of the expressions involved, to resolve the inconsistencies, and to select the most plausible views available concerning the object of our investigation—the nature of the good, happiness, pleasure, change, substance, knowledge— whatever it is that we might be seeking to understand.
Aristotle’s discussion of coming-into-being in Book I, chapter 8, of the Physics provides a clear example of his general approach. After Parmenides, of course, the reality of ‘change’ or ‘coming-into-being had become highly problematic. How could anything ever change if changing implied that what that previously did not exist somehow came into being from nothing? But in the Physics Aristotle tries to show that earlier thinkers had been led to deny the reality of coming-into-being because they had failed to be sufficiently clear about the difference between two ways of understanding the phrase ‘coming into being from what is not’. Here, as often elsewhere, Aristotle takes up an old dilemma--‘a knot in our thinking’ as he calls it--and attempts to explain both how this particular ‘knotty problem’ had arisen and how it might best be resolved. His solution to the problem of change is a classic example. It is true, he concedes, that ‘nothing can be said without qualification to come into being from nothing’ (191b13-14). Yet something can ‘come into being from what is not in a qualified sense’--namely, when it comes into being qua a certain kind of thing:
We maintain that a thing may come to be from what is not, in a qualified sense. For a thing comes to be from the privation which in its own nature is not-being--this not surviving as a constituent of the result. (191b15-18).

In other words, change does not require the miraculous emergence of some reality where previously there had been absolutely nothing, but merely alteration in a subject which exists prior to, during, and after the change. To use one of his standard examples, when a person learns to play a musical instrument, a ‘musical person’ comes into being, not qua person but qua previously un-musical person.

The same pattern of analysis shows up in many other areas of Aristotle’s thought. ‘Being is spoken of in many ways’, he affirms in the Metaphysics, and it is the task of the philosopher to distinguish among the different ways of speaking of the things that are, and to determine which one represents the fundamental or most proper sense of the expression and which ones are derivative or secondary. Aristotle’s remarks on the various senses of ‘good’, ‘pleasure’, ‘friendship’, ‘unity’, ‘primary’, ‘cause’, and many other terms, fit the same pattern. The moral of the story, as countless philosophers have noted in intervening centuries, is that before we can give an adequate account of the properties inherent something’s being an ‘X’, we must first distinguish the different ways in which ‘X’ can be thought or spoken of. In his essay on The Greeks and Us W.H. Auden called attention to this aspect of Greek thought when he commented, ‘I can think of no better way of indicating what we owe to Greece than drawing distinctions, for of all intellectual acts, that is perhaps the most characteristically Greek. It is they who have taught us, not to think--that all human beings have always done--but to think about our thinking, to ask such questions as “What do I think?”, “What do this and that other person or people think?”, “On what do we agree and disagree, and why?”’.24 To sum up, ancient philosophers were engaged across a broad front in what might today be described as ‘conceptual analysis’—attempting to identify the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a thing of a certain kind. They sought also to detect ambiguities and inconsistencies in received opinions, and routinely subjected one another’s claims and arguments to critical scrutiny. As a consequence of these and other points of convergence, students who might otherwise have had little involvement with ancient philosophy have been attracted to it by the realization that ancient thinkers posed and had interesting things to say about many of the questions addressed by contemporary philosophers.
There is, however, some reason to believe that the era of expanding interest in ancient philosophy may soon be coming to an end. One reason why departments of philosophy have been able to hire specialists in ancient philosophy during the past half-century is the fact that many of America’s higher-education institutions were expanding their faculty ranks generally. Many of the nation’s research universities benefited significantly from passage of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, originally enacted to stimulate study in science fields in response to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, but later broadened to support graduate study and research in the social sciences and the humanities. Many states have provided dramatic increases in funding for higher education, especially for newly created community colleges.
During the past five years, however, funding for public higher-education institutions in this country has declined sharply. Reflecting a broad national economic decline, revenues in most states have dropped precipitously, requiring state and local governments either to raise taxes or to reduce spending. And since higher education is one of the few remaining items located within the discretionary portion of state budgets, reductions will almost certainly continue to be made.25 Under these adverse financial circumstances departments will quite sensibly look for ways to consolidate their teaching and research resources within a small number of areas in order to continue to attract superior graduate students and maintain their professional standing. In at least some departments, faculty expertise in the history of philosophy may still be acquired in connection with the hiring of new philosophy faculty, but only incidentally as individuals hired to meet what are regarded as the program’s core needs happen to possess teaching (though not necessarily research) competence in some area or figure in the history of philosophy.26
The second reason involves the standing of ancient philosophy relative to other fields and traditions in philosophy. There is some irony in the fact that while it was the use of the tools of analytic philosophy that helped to spark widespread interest in the study of ancient Greek thought, some analytic philosophers have been known to express a dim view of the value of the study of the history of philosophy generally. W.V.O. Quine is perhaps the best-known instance,27 but in my experience many philosophers trained in the analytic tradition feel strongly that in order to become a professional philosopher one need only master a set of skills in philosophical analysis and argument and become familiar with a set of philosophical texts dating back to the beginning of the last century--roughly speaking, to Frege’s Grundlagen der Arithmetik (published in 1884) and Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica (published between 1910 and 1913). Philosophical works of earlier periods, according to those of this persuasion, may possess some antiquarian interest, but have no useful role to play in the training of today’s professional philosophers.
In the face of these developments, several strategies suggest themselves. The first, internal to the department, will be to reaffirm the value of the study of ancient philosophy through the continued offering of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level, recruiting students into the field who show interest and ability, and continuing to share the results of one’s research with one’s colleagues. Enrollment in undergraduate courses in ancient philosophy may continue to be quite strong, fueled in part by interest in the ancient world sparked by recent movies and television documentaries.28 Second, it will be important to establish or maintain close working relationships with philosophers whose teaching and research interests link up with ancient philosophy. I have in mind here primarily specialists in the philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, political theory, and other periods in the history of philosophy. Third, one happy fact about ancient philosophy is that it is of importance not only to many philosophers but also to scholars in many other academic disciplines, both within and beyond the humanities. It will be important to build bridges--or where such bridges exist, to reinforce them—with colleagues in departments of literature, modern and ancient languages, the fine and performing arts, and religion, as well as programs in the history of science. While the allocation of resources within a department is usually up to the department’s faculty, it is typically faculty and administrators from other academic disciplines who determine the reallocation of resources across departmental lines. Some of our best friends may turn out to be scholars from other fields who believe, perhaps more strongly than do some of our departmental colleagues that the study of ancient philosophy deserves to be encouraged and supported.29

J.H. Lesher

Department of Philosophy

University of Maryland

1 Phronesis began in 1955, Apeiron in 1966, Ancient Philosophy in1980, and Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy in 1983. The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy was founded in 1953. A luncheon was held in Washington, D.C., on December 28, 2003, to celebrate the Society’s 50th anniversary, and to honor its founder, Professor Rosamund Kent Sprague.

2 I have in mind the annual Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy at Princeton University, as well as the regularly scheduled conferences in Arizona and Texas, the meetings of the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, and the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. There are also many regular sessions devoted to ancient philosophy at the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association.

3 The current Philosophical Gourmet ranks twenty-eight programs in ancient philosophy as ‘excellent’, ‘good’ or ‘notable’, twenty-one of them located in the United States. There are other successful programs in ancient philosophy in the U.S. not included in the Gourmet report.

4 The most recent issue of the APA newsletter Jobs for Philosophers identifies ancient philosophy as a desired area of specialization for thirty-one U.S. and Canadian schools, and as a desired area of competence by ten more.

5 http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/Philosophy, www.stedwards.edu/ursery/phil-sites.htm, http://users.ox.ac.uk/~worc0337/phil_index.html, www.geocities.com/Athens/6553/biblio.htm, http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320, http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/philosophy/resources.htm, to mention only a few.

6 Alexander Nehamas, Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Aristotle (Princeton, 1999), pp. xxiv-xxv.

7 I do not mean to suggest that the work of Vlastos and Owen was not important for departments that would identify themselves as ‘pluralistic’ in their orientation or more aligned with the continental tradition in philosophy. I also do not wish to ignore the study of Greek philosophy within many Catholic colleges and universities in this country. Rather, my approach reflects the terms of the invitation from the editors of this volume to speak about the current state of the discipline in my ‘local intellectual community’.

8 I have in mind here Vlastos’ excellent early paper on the role of the concepts of justice and equality in Presocratic thought and his review of Cornford’s Principia Sapientiae, his paper on ‘the 3rd man’ argument in Plato’s Parmenides, his discussion of the supposed inconsistency between the views of a citizens’ duty to obey the law in the Plato’s Apology and Crito, his widely read critique of what he regarded as the theory of love as expressed in Plato’s Symposium, his very influential attempt to identify the assumptions underlying the Socratic elenchos, and his attempt to dissolve the tensions in Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge by claiming to have discovered both an ‘elenctic’ and a ‘certain’ sense of ‘know’.

9 Roughly speaking, the analytic tradition in philosophy is characterized by the pursuit of clarity, the use of explicit argumentation, and the exposure of all claims to critical scrutiny.

10 Gregory Vlastos, ‘The Third Man Argument in Plato’s Parmenides’, Philosophical Review, Vol. 63 (1954), pp. 319-49; reprinted in Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics, ed. R.E. Allen (London, 1965), pp. 319-49. Vlastos’ paper provoked many responses, perhaps most notably, papers by Marc Cohen, Peter Geach, Sandra Peterson, Wilfred Sellars, and Colin Strang (see further, R. Kraut, The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 517-18). The expression ‘3rd Man’ actually relates to Aristotle’s version of the criticism; in the Parmenides the argument (from 132a-133a) is couched in terms of the property of largeness.

11 I happen to have been a recipient of one of those letters. While still an un-tenured Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland I had the chutzpah to send Vlastos a copy of a paper I had written on anamnesis in Plato’s Meno. A few days later I received a six-page, single-spaced letter, full of praise and suggesting how my arguments might be strengthened before submitting the paper for publication-- which, according to Vlastos, ‘it surely merited’. I have since learned that the kindness Vlastos showed toward me he showed toward many other younger scholars around the globe. This alone is an extraordinary legacy.

12 I would not claim that the current state of our field of study is due entirely to Vlastos and Owen. During the past half-century many fine scholars have made important contributions to our understanding of ancient thought. To some extent, Vlastos and Owen stand out above the rest not only because of the quality and impact of their published work but also because they held appointments at some of the world’s leading universities and, at least in Vlastos’ case, played leadership roles in the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and other organizations.

13 In M.I. Findley, The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal (Oxford, 1981), p. 202.

14 Myles Burnyeat has written: ‘No other dialogue of Plato’s speaks so directly to the concerns of the working philosopher in modern times…The Theaetetus is not only the first major treatment of the problem of knowledge, a problem which remains central to philosophy ever since; it is a classic treatment in the full sense of a work to which the philosopher can return again and again to find a challenge and stimulus to reflection. (The Theaetetus of Plato, Indianapolis /Cambridge, 1990), p. 2.

15 I do not mean to suggest that Plato was to a significant degree a proponent of ‘ordinary language philosophy’. It is perhaps significant that while Socrates makes these points he also characterizes them as remarks typical of ‘a mercenary skirmisher in a war of words’ (165d).

16 See Ryle, ‘Plato’s Parmenides’, Mind, Vol, 48 (1939), pp. 129-51; ‘Letters and Syllables in Plato’, Philosophical Review, Vol. 69 (1960), pp. 431-51; and ‘Logical Atomism in Plato’s Theaetetus’, Phronesis, Vol. 35 (1990), pp. 21-46.

17 See the accounts in R.M. Chisholm, Theory of Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), p. 5; D.M. Armstrong, Belief, Truth, and Knowledge (Cambridge, 1973), p. 153); D.W. Hamlyn, The Theory of Knowledge (Garden City, N.Y., 1970), p. 79-80; Keith Lehrer, Knowledge (Oxford, 1974), p. 15n.; and J. Dancy and E. Sosa, A Companion to Epistemology (Oxford, 1992), p. 509. I happen to believe that the comparison is badly flawed, since Plato’s account was concerned not with knowledge per se but with ‘knowledge of what a thing is’, and that the Platonic logos does not really function as a justification condition. But that is another story.

18 Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, translated by Michael Chase (Harvard University Press, 2002). Many of the same claims about the achievements of the Greek philosophers appeared in Hadot’s earlier work, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, edited with an introduction by Arnold I. Davidson and translated by Michael Chase (Blackwell, 1995).

19 Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854).

20 Hadot’s account bears some resemblance to the views presented in Alexander Nehamas’ Sather Lectures subsequently published as The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault (Berkeley/Los Angeles/ London, 1998). Nehamas there defends the conception of philosophy as ‘a way or life’ or ‘the art of living’ as expressed by a number of philosophers from Socrates down to the present day. But Nehamas explicitly states, ‘I do not urge a ‘return’ to a conception of philosophy as a way of life, or as I shall often call it in this book, the art of living...’ (p. 2).

21 In a recent assessment of Rawl’s’ legacy to philosophy Martha Nussbaum commented: ‘Initially isolated in a world of Anglo-American philosophy preoccupied with questions of logic and language, Rawls played a major role in reviving an interest in the substantive questions of political philosophy. What makes a society just? How is social justice connected to an individual's pursuit of the good life? By now, the influence of his ideas and his impact as a teacher, first at Princeton, Cornell, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then for many years at Harvard, have made those questions central to philosophy, and our age rich in arguments about justice, respect, and liberty.’ (‘The Enduring Significance of John Rawls’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 20, 2001).

22 Amy Gutmann, for example, has recently described Singer as remaining ‘deeply committed to arguing for the reduction of suffering in the world (through the avoidance of famine and the humane treatment of all sentient beings), the ethical treatment of animals, and the improvement of the environment for the benefit of all. He also has found time to reflect on what it means to live a good life, reviving the time-honored idea that turning away from self-centeredness and towards the urgent needs of others makes for a satisfying life.’ (Princeton Weekly Bulletin December 7, 1998).

23 John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (New York, 1930), p. 78. Essentially the same sentiment had been expressed at an earlier date by John Stuart Mill: ‘[Socrates and Plato] originated the thought that, like every other part of the practice of life, morals and politics are an affair of science, to be understood only after severe study and special training; an indispensable part of which consists in...sifting opinions, and never accepting any until it has emerged victorious over every logical, still more than over every practical objection.’ (J. S. Mill, ‘Plato’ in the Edinburgh Review, April, 1866).

24 W. H. Auden, ‘The Greeks and Us’ in Forewords and Afterwords (New York, 1973), p. 32.

25 The president of my university recently estimated our chance of receiving an increase in state appropriations as ‘less likely than being hit by a comet’. He also stated that during the past five years the percentage of the University’s budget provided by state funds has declined from 34 to 26 percent. According to the most recent issue of its alumni magazine, the University of Virginia--now ranked (along with UC-Berkeley) as the nation’s best public university--state appropriations now represent only 8.1 percent of its total budget.

26 On the grounds that one way to demonstrate possibility is to point out an actuality I would mention that my own department has formally adopted such a policy.

27 Richard Rorty has written: ‘[Quine] was openly scornful about the study of the history of philosophy. In his own student years, Quine had made a point of reading as few of the canonical texts as possible, and he recommended this practice to his students at Harvard. He believed the history of philosophy to be just as irrelevant to current philosophical inquiry as is the history of physics to current research in that field.’(See Rorty’s essay, ‘Analytic Philosophy and Transformative Philosophy’ on his home page (www.stanford.edu/~rrorty/analytictrans.htm).

28 See the recent paper by John Partridge, ‘Plato’s Cave and The Matrix’ (available at http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_partridge.html).

29 I am grateful to Patricia Curd, David Gallop, Chris Morris, and Eleanor Rutledge for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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