Philosophic Classics: Volume 1
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Philosophic Classics: Volume 1

Ancient Philosophy

Forrest Baird

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eBook - ePub

Philosophic Classics: Volume 1

Ancient Philosophy

Forrest Baird

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Über dieses Buch

This seventh edition of Philosophic Classics, Volume I: Ancient Philosophy includes essential writings of the most important Greek philosophers, along with selections from some of their Roman followers. In updating this edition, editor Forrest E. Baird has continued to follow the same criteria established by the late Walter Kaufmann when the Philosophic Classics series was first established: (1) to use complete works or, where more appropriate, complete sections of works (2) in clear translations (3) of texts central to the thinker's philosophy or widely accepted as part of the "canon." To make the works more accessible to students, most footnotes treating textual matters (variant readings, etc.) have been omitted and important Greek words have been transliterated and put in angle brackets. In addition, each thinker is introduced by a brief essay composed of three sections: (1) biographical (a glimpse of the life), (2) philosophical (a résumé of the philosopher's thought), and (3) bibliographical (suggestions for further reading).

New to this seventh edition:

Changes in translations:

New translations of Plato's Apology and Phaedo and Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Politics from the acclaimed Focus Philosophical Library Series.

New translations of Plato's Euthyphro and Crito.

New translations of Epicurus's Letter to Herodotus, Letter to Menoeceus, and Principal Doctrines.

New translation of the Parmenides fragments.

Additional material:

Gorgias's model oration, Encomium on Helen, which gives a defense of Helen of Troy.

A selection from Plato's Gorgias on nature versus convention or law.

Additional material from the opening of Plato's Symposium to contextualize the dialogue.

Additional material from Plato's Republic (Book IX) on the tri-partite soul.

Additional material from Aristotle's Metaphysics (Book IV, 1-4, 7) on the nature of being and the so-called "three rules of thought."

A brief selection from Porphyry's Life of Plotinus, giving a sense of the person.

Updated and reorganized bibliographies.
To allow for all these changes, a section of Book V from Plato's Republic has been dropped.

Those who use this first volume in a one-term course in ancient philosophy will find more material here than can easily fit a normal semester. But this embarrassment of riches gives teachers some choice and, for those who offer the same course year after year, an opportunity to change the menu.

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470–399 B.C.
428/7–348/7 B.C.

Socrates has fascinated and inspired men and women for over two thousand years. All five of the major “schools” of ancient Greece (Academics, Peripatetics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Cynics) were influenced by his thought. Some of the early Christian thinkers, such as Justin Martyr, considered him a “proto-Christian,” while others, such as St. Augustine (who rejected this view), still expressed deep admiration for Socrates’ ethical life. More recently, existentialists have found in Socrates’ admonition “know thyself” an encapsulation of their thought, and opponents of unjust laws have seen in Socrates’ trial a blueprint for civil disobedience. In short, Socrates is one of the most admired men who ever lived.
The Athens into which Socrates was born in 470 B.C. was a city still living in the flush of its epic victory over the Persians, and it was bursting with new ideas. The playwrights Euripides and Sophocles were young boys, and Pericles, the great Athenian democrat, was still a young man. The Parthenon’s foundation was laid when Socrates was twenty-two, and its construction was completed fifteen years later.
Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and of Phaenarete, a midwife. As a boy, Socrates received a classical Greek education in music, gymnastics, and grammar (or the study of language), and he decided early on to become a sculptor like his father. Tradition says he was a gifted artist who fashioned impressively simple statues of the Graces. He married a woman named Xanthippe, and together they had three children. He took an early interest in the developing science of the Milesians, and then he served for a time in the army.
When he was a middle-aged man, Socrates’ friend, Chaerephon, asked the oracle at Delphi “if anyone was wiser than [Socrates].” For once the mysterious oracle gave an unambiguous answer: “No one.” When Socrates heard of the incident, he was confused. He knew that he was not a wise man. So he set out to find a wiser man to prove the answer wrong. Socrates later described the method and results of his mission:
I went to … one of the politicians, and considering him and speaking with him, men of Athens, I received an impression something like the following: it seemed to me that this man seemed to be wise to many human beings and most of all to himself, yet he was not. Then I attempted to show him that he thought he was wise but was not. From this I became hated by him and by many of those present. When I went away, I reasoned with respect to myself: “I am wiser than this human being for it is likely that neither of us know anything noble and good, but this one thinks he knows something while not knowing, whereas I, as I do not know, do not think to know. At any rate, I am likely to be a bit wiser than this one with respect to this peculiar thing—that which I do not know, I do not think to know.” (Apology 21c)
As Socrates continued his mission by interviewing the politicians, poets, and artisans of Athens, young men followed along. They enjoyed seeing the authority figures humiliated by Socrates’ intense questioning. Those in authority, however, were not amused. Athens was no longer the powerful, self-confident city of 470 B.C., the year of Socrates’ birth. An exhausting succession of wars with Sparta (the Peloponnesian Wars) and an enervating series of political debacles had left the city narrow in vision and suspicious of new ideas and of dissent. In 399 B.C., Meletus and Anytus brought an indictment of impiety and corrupting the youth against Socrates. As recorded in the Apology, the Athenian assembly found him guilty by a vote of 281 to 220 and sentenced him to death. His noble death is described incomparably in the closing pages of the Phaedo by Plato.
Socrates wrote nothing, and our knowledge of his thought comes exclusively from the report of others. The playwright Aristophanes (455–375 B.C.) satirized Socrates in his comedy The Clouds. His caricature of Socrates as a cheat and charlatan was apparently so damaging that Socrates felt compelled to offer a rebuttal before the Athenian assembly (see the Apology, following). The military general Xenophon (ca. 430–350 B.C.) honored his friend Socrates in his Apology of Socrates, in his Symposium, and, later, in his Memorabilia (“Recollections of Socrates”). In an effort to defend his dead friend’s memory, Xenophon’s writings illumine Socrates’ life and character. Though born fifteen years after the death of Socrates, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) left many fascinating allusions to Socrates in his philosophic works, as did several later Greek philosophers. But the primary source of our knowledge of Socrates comes from one of those young men who followed him: Plato.
* * *
Plato was probably born in 428/7 B.C. He had two older brothers, Adeimantus and Glaucon, who appear in Plato’s Republic, and a sister, Potone. Though he may have known Socrates since childhood, Plato was probably nearer twenty when he came under the intellectual spell of Socrates. The death of Socrates made an enormous impression on Plato and contributed to his call to bear witness to posterity of “the best … the most thoughtful and the most just” person that he knew (Phaedo, 118). Though Plato was from a distinguished family and might have followed his relatives into politics, he chose philosophy.
Following Socrates’ execution, the twenty-eight-year-old Plato left Athens and traveled for a time. He is reported to have visited Egypt and Cyrene—though some scholars doubt this. During this time he wrote his early dialogues on Socrates’ life and teachings. He also visited Italy and Sicily, where he became the friend of Dion, a relative of Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, Sicily.
On returning to Athens from Sicily, Plato founded a school, which came to be called the Academy. One might say it was the world’s first university, and it endured as a center of higher learning for nearly one thousand years, until the Roman emperor Justinian closed it in A.D. 529. Except for two later trips to Sicily, where he unsuccessfully sought to institute his political theories, Plato spent the rest of his life at the Athenian Academy. Among his students was Aristotle. Plato died at eighty in 348/7 B.C.
Plato’s influence was best described by the twentieth-century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead when he said, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
* * *
It is difficult to separate the ideas of Plato from those of his teacher, Socrates. In virtually all of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates is the main character, and it is possible that in some dialogues Plato is recording his teacher’s actual words. But in other dialogues, “Socrates” gives Plato’s views—views that, in some cases, in fact, the historical Socrates denied. The exact order of composition for the dialogues is a matter of considerable debate. Traditionally, they have been grouped into early, middle, and late periods—but much recent scholarship has cast doubt on this dating.
The first four dialogues presented in this text describe the trial and death of Socrates and are arranged in narrative order. The first, the Euthyphro, takes place as Socrates has just learned of the indictment against him. He strikes up a conversation with a “theologian” so sure of his piety that he is prosecuting his own father for murder. The dialogue moves on, unsuccessfully, to define piety. Along the way, Socrates asks a question that has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries: Is something good because the gods say it is, or do the gods say it is good because it is? The translation is by R.E. Allen.
The next dialogue, the Apology, is generally regarded as one of Plato’s first, and as eminently faithful to what Socrates said at his trial on charges of impiety and corruption of youth. The speech was delivered in public and heard by a large audience; Plato has Socrates mention that Plato was present; and there is no need to doubt the historical veracity of the speech, at least in essentials. There are two breaks in the narrative: one after Socrates’ defense (during which the Athenians vote “guilty”) and one after Socrates proposes an alternative to the death penalty (during which the Athenians decide on death). This dialogue includes Socrates’ famous characterization of his mission and purpose in life. The translation is by Mark Kremer.
In the Crito, Plato has Crito visit Socrates in prison to assure him that his escape from Athens has been well prepared and to persuade him to consent to leave. Socrates argues that one has an obligation to obey the state even when it orders one to suffer wrong. That Socrates, in fact, refused to leave is certain; that he used the arguments Plato ascribes to him is less certain. In any case, anyone who has read the Apology will agree that after his speech Socrates could not well escape. The translation is by R.E. Allen.
The moving account of Socrates’ death is given at the end of the Phaedo, the last of our group of dialogues. There is common agreement that this dialogue was written much later than the other three and that the earlier part of the dialogue, with its Platonic doctrine of Forms and immortality, uses “Socrates” as a vehicle for Plato’s own ideas. These ideas owe much to Pythagoreanism, which exerted an ever-increasing influence on Plato’s thought. (See the introduction to the Pythagorean selections, pp. 14–15). The translation is by Eva Brann, Peter Kalkavage, and Eric Salem.
Like the Phaedo, the Gorgias, Meno, Symposium, and Republic may have been written during Plato’s “middle period,” when he had returned from Sicily to Athens and had established the Academy. In the Gorgias, Plato gives Callicles’ argument that nature <physis> makes some men naturally stronger and convention or law <nomos> is established by the weak to keep those men in line. Callicles concludes that pursuing self-interest is true justice. This stands in contrast to Thrasymachus who argues that, yes, we should all pursue self-interest, but it is unjust. Plato tries to refute both positions in the Republic. The translation is by James A. Arieti and Roger M. Barrus.
The Meno gives a fine and faithful picture of Socrates practicing the art of dialogue; it also seems to mark the point at which Plato moves beyond his master. This dialogue answers the question, “Can virtue be taught?” and treats the issues of knowledge and belief. The translation is by George Anastaplo and Laurence Berns.
The Symposium represents the high point of Plato’s literary skill. In this collection of speeches on love, Plato uses several styles of speaking, including some lighthearted banter. The Symposium is a work of art and surely makes no claim to historic accuracy, except for Alcibiades’ speech on Socrates. As for the rest, we need not believe that Aristophanes, for example, really told the fanciful myth ascribed to him here. (Some commentators see Plato paying Aristophanes back for his earlier ridicule of Socrates.) Our selection includes the setting and the key speeches by Aristophanes, Socrates, and Alcibides. While they differ dramatically, all three speeches serve to explicate Plato’s idea that love is the desire for that which we lack. The translation is by Avi Sharon.
Note that when reading the Symposium, a modern reader should keep in mind that among some—but by no means all—Greek intellectuals, homosexuality was not only accepted, but it was considered a superior form of love. Since women were rarely educated, it was thought that only with males could a man move beyond “inferior” physical attraction to reach the heights of love.
There are few books in Western civilization that have had the impact of Plato’s Republic—aside from the Bible, perhaps none. Like the Bible, there are also few books whose interpretation and evaluation have differed so widely. Apparently it is a description of Plato’s ideal society: a utopian vision of the just state, possible only if philosophers were kings. But some (see the following suggested readings) claim that its purpose is not to give a model of the ideal state, but to show the impossibility of such a state and to convince aspiring philosophers to shun politics. Evaluations of the Republic have also varied w...