From Plato to Platonism
Lloyd P. Gerson
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Was Plato a Platonist? While ancient disciples of Plato would have answered this question in the affirmative, modern scholars have generally denied that Plato’s own philosophy was in substantial agreement with that of the Platonists of succeeding centuries. In From Plato to Platonism, Lloyd P. Gerson argues that the ancients were correct in their assessment. He arrives at this conclusion in an especially ingenious manner, challenging fundamental assumptions about how Plato’s teachings have come to be understood. Through deft readings of the philosophical principles found in Plato's dialogues and in the Platonic tradition beginning with Aristotle, he shows that Platonism, broadly conceived, is the polar opposite of naturalism and that the history of philosophy from Plato until the seventeenth century was the history of various efforts to find the most consistent and complete version of “anti-naturalism."
Gerson contends that the philosophical position of Plato―Plato’s own Platonism, so to speak―was produced out of a matrix he calls “Ur-Platonism.” According to Gerson, Ur-Platonism is the conjunction of five “antis” that in total arrive at anti-naturalism: anti-nominalism, anti-mechanism, anti-materialism, anti-relativism, and anti-skepticism. Plato’s Platonism is an attempt to construct the most consistent and defensible positive system uniting the five “antis.” It is also the system that all later Platonists throughout Antiquity attributed to Plato when countering attacks from critics including Peripatetics, Stoics, and Sceptics. In conclusion, Gerson shows that Late Antique philosophers such as Proclus were right in regarding Plotinus as “the great exegete of the Platonic revelation."
esset. Cf. Plato, Symp. 211B1–2. 17. Cicero, Acad. 1.33. See Barnes 1989, 95–96, arguing against Dillon (1977, 93) and Donini (1982, 95, n. 4), that it is doubtful that Antiochus had any allegiance to a theory of Forms even though he recognized the role of such a theory in the history of Platonism. Considering Antiochus’s recognition that Aristotle did not “undermine” the necessity of stable objects for the possibility of knowledge, what Antiochus probably meant by Aristotle’s undermining Ideas
claim is nonsense and, more to the point, without force as a protreptic device. But, of course, there is a metaphysical backing provided in Phaedo for this view. It is irrelevant that one might well find this backing inadequate. It is, however, utterly gratuitous to claim that Plato exhorts the reader to the philosophical life, having a definite idea of what that is, but that the reasons found in the dialogue for pursuing that life are not attributable to him. By contrast, if we accept the
or the historical Socrates. Sedley (2004, 10) assumes that Aristotle’s testimony, especially in Meta. N 4, about the views of the historical Socrates must have been taken from the so-called early dialogues. But I see no evidential basis for this assumption. Indeed, the context of this chapter is clearly a historical account of the views of Aristotle’s historical predecessors, including Socrates, Plato, Democritus, and the Pythagoreans. When Aristotle goes on, N 4, 1078b27–29, to give Socrates
credit for ‘inductive arguments’ and ‘universal definitions,’ it is extremely unlikely that he is referring to the literary character. 26. See Ap. 36C5–7: ε’πιχειρω ˜ ν ‛ε´καστον υ‛ μω ˜ ν πει´θειν μη` πρ´οτερον μη´ τε τω ˜ ν ε‛ αυτου ˜ ‛ ς βε´λτιστος και` ϕρονιμω´ τατος ε’´σοιτο μηδενο` ς ε’πιμελει˜σθαι πρι`ν ε‛ αυτου ˜ ε’πιμεληθει´η ‛ο´πως ω (trying to persuade each of you not to care for any of your possessions before you care for yourselves in order that you should become as good and wise as
at best questionbegging and at worst unsustainable. To put this in other terms, one of the principal justifications for maintaining UP is that there is something like a correct or defensible systematic first philosophy. Without this, the claims that constitute UP seem less impressive. This is so because the need to posit immaterial entities seems real only if they are a necessary part of a systematic explanatory framework, that is, first philosophy. If it should be necessary to situate the Good