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Roots Of Western Thought Primer


Bob Magaw

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What this thread is about: Primarily, philosophy in antiquity, a subject I became more interested in during the second half of this year. It will touch on some important and formative precursors, points of intersection with Christian thought and early medieval influences (rough outline below).

What this thread isn't about: Non-Western Thought, such as the Indian Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist Dhammapada, or Chinese Confucian Analects, Tao Te Ching and I Ching, as that kind of comparative philosophy and religion would be beyond the scope of both the thread and my competence. :) Though I think seminal concepts such as Plato's forms/ideas and Jung's Archetypes and Collective Consciousness (as well as Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy) nicely capture the idea that humanity, in all times and places, has expressed remarkably similar ideas about the nature and structure of reality, life, consciousness, truth, etc., possibly not because of coincidence, but due to being the expression of a core, universal "tributary" that underlies our common experience.

What form will it take: Mostly chronological, with linking commentaries between encyclopedic outlines and synoptic-type overviews, including bibliographies for those that want to explore either general or specific areas covered.

Who for: Anybody interested in how we COLLECTIVELY got to where we are intellectually.

OUTLINE

Preface/Intro - The semi-legendary Homer's Illiad and Odyssey appear based on philological (linguistic and textual analysis) research to date back to approx. the 8th century BC. Some exceptional translations are by Richmond Lattimore in a more traditional and Robert Fagles (outstanding scholarly introductions by Bernard Knox) in a more contemporary vein. Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days have been dated to between 750-650 BC. I find it interesting that just about 400 years after Homer, Plato may already represent the unsurpassed apex of Western philosophical thought/expression to date (arguably retrograde in some senses since). A highly recommended, thought provoking book on The Illiad and Odyssey as an excavation tool to explore the archaeology of the mind and consciousness is The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (partial title borrowed for the finale of Westworld).   

Homer (not Simpson, you knuckleheads :)), works shaped/solidified around 800 BC, lived??? 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer 

Bicameralism and Jaynes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

Hesiod (7th - 6th century BC?)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesiod   

Bible (historical timeline of the component books)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible

1) Pre-Socratics (it is important to remember that all that has survived from this period is in the form of fragments, with in some cases uncertain provenance and attribution - Plato and Plotinus are the only philosophers from antiquity for which we have everything or nearly so). Some classic/standard texts are Ancilla To The Pre-Socratic Philosophers by Kathleen Freeman and The PreSocratic Philosophers by G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven (second edition, there is a greatly revised third edition for which opinion is divided on). More recent collections are Early Greek Philosophy by Jonathan Barnes, The First Philosophers by Robin Waterfield and the just published nine volume Early Greek Philosophy by Andre Laks and Glenn Most (the only series in the over century old history of the prestigious Loeb Classical Library to be released simultaneously), the first significant new presentation of this material reflecting the latest scholarship and research since the last revision of Kirk and Raven over a half century ago. In addition to the library, many of these titles above/below can be found inexpensively new/used, and in some instances are downloadable or even archived online.     

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Socratic_philosophy

Including (but not restricted to)

A) Pythagoras 570? - 495? BC (massively influential on the history of arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy, Plato, later Neo-Pythagoreans and the history of ancient philosophy and western thought). Probably the first scientist in the modern sense, predating Galileo by over a millennium. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras

B) Heraclitus or Ephesian School 535? - 475? BC (champion of flux as the hallmark and signature trait of reality, couched his thoughts in paradoxical, zen koan-like riddles, coining famous phrases such as "No man ever steps into the same river twice" [[or maybe even once!]], encapsulating his concept of the unity of opposites with "The path up and down are one and the same")   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus

C) Parmenides or Eleatic School 515? - ? BC (believed the opposite of Heraclitus, that all change was an illusion of man's sensory apparatus, that unity was the true underlying nature of reality). Zeno of Paradox fame was his greatest disciple, and actually surpassed his master in terms of fame surviving into posterity. Parmenides was extremely important for making what may have been the most fundamental breakthrough of his era into the realm of abstract metaphysics, and had a profound influence on Plato.

D) Other Hellenistic Schools such as Empedocles and the Pluralists, Leucippus/Democritus and the Atomists, and the Sophists. It can be a misnomer to refer to some of these schools as "Pre-Socratics", as in some cases they were contemporary to or even lived after Socrates (not covered here are the Stoics, another famous philosophical school from antiquity originating in Greece, straddling post-Aristotle in around 300 BC to and beyond it's greatest and most enduring expositor in the second century AD, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who famously wrote the Meditations). Unconventional, iconoclastic modern philosopher/thinker Peter Kingsley wrote Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (and along similar lines, In The Dark Places Of Wisdom and Reality). John Dillon wrote The Greek Sophists which is a Penguin Classics companion to Early Greek Philosophy by Jonathan Barnes noted above. The First Philosophers by Robin Waterfield combines the Pre-Socratic and Sophist material into one volume (the recent Barnes and Waterfield works incorporate some of the latest scholarship and research based on relatively newly discovered papyrus finds). See also Hellenistic Philosophy - Introductory Readings by Inwood/Gerson and Hellenistic Philosophy - Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics by A.A. Long. A few extremely rare Histories of Philosophy FROM antiquity can be found in the Loeb Classical Library, Diogenes Laertius: Lives Of Eminent Philosophers in two volumes, as well as Philostratus: Lives of the Sophists with Eunapius: Lives of the Philosophers in one volume (there is also a Loeb two volume work by Philostratus - The Life of Apollonius of Tyana on the legendary, mythical religious figure translated by Conybeare, recently re-translated in three volumes by Christopher Jones).   

E) Greek Mathematicians and Historians. Some of the most famous among the former are Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy (THAT one, from the history of astronomy fame) and Applolonius. There is an excellent two volume Greek Mathematical Works by Ivor Thomas from the Loeb Classical Library which isn't complete but very representative, and the more complete Dover reprint of the classic A History Of Greek Mathematics in two volumes, From Thales to Euclid and From Aristarchus to Diophantus by the preeminent historian of this field, Sir Thomas Heath. Of the latter, Herodotus (born nearly a decade and a half before Socrates, died in 425 about 60 years of age approx. when Plato was born) basically invented the genre with his Histories based on the Persian War, Robin Waterfield has a recent translation with a substantive introduction. Thucydides was a rough contemporary of Socrates and Plato (younger than the former, older than the latter), and his History of the Peloponnesian War documenting the decisive 5th century BC war between Athens and Sparta comes in a handy Penguin Classics edition, translated and with intro by M.I. Finley.                   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmenides

2) SOCRATES 470/469? - 399 BC / PLATO 428/423? - 348/347? BC (arguably the pinnacle of Western thought/expression, 20th Century British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, only slightly exaggerating, was quoted "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."). Almost all of what we know of Plato's teacher Socrates is through the Dialogues. Plato was also Aristotle's teacher for several decades, giving him an absolutely central position in Ancient Philosophy and The Western Intellectual Tradition. He was a sort of culminating point integrating what had come before, as well as a branching off point for much that was to follow. His thinking, system and conceptual architecture may not have been monolithic, but evolved over time, and there is an extensive body of writing devoted to this subject. There are several excellent versions of his Collected Dialogues, including ones edited by Edith Hamilton/Huntington Cairns from Princeton's Bollingen Series and that by the arguably preferred John Cooper (sequenced in the "canonical" order of Thrasyllus). Both come with brief, helpful introductions, fitting for such a critically important and universal thinker. There are also many outstanding commentaries on individual dialogues (a whole, entire sub-field all by itself), with those on the Parmenides and Timaeus by the Neoplatonist Proclus being among the best, as well as modern ones by leading scholars in the first half of the 20th Century, such as J.J. Burnett, A.E. Taylor, F.M. Cornford, R. Hackforth and E.R. Dodds.        

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato

3) Aristotle 384 - 322 BC (Plato's greatest student by far, philosopher and scientist with staggering, encyclopedic range, codified logic, tutored Alexander The Great, with Plato had a massive influence on Medieval thought, especially the Scholastics and among Islamic thinkers). Plato was more of an idealist, Aristotle an empiricist. They are the two greatest Western philosophers from antiquity (probably safe to drop the "from antiquity" qualifier, period), justly, deservedly occupying the central place in the painting School of Athens by Raphael. Classic/standard texts include the one volume, abridged Basic Works of Aristotle by Richard McKeon and more complete two volumes from the Britannica Great Books Series (volumes 8 & 9). The one volume McKeon version comes with the more substantial intro. Possibly his greatest and most important commentator in antiquity was Simplicius, one of the last Neo-Platonists with Damascius (last head of the School of Athens before official closure by decree of the Roman Emperor). Thomas Aquinas was the greatest in the Middle Ages, and his most famous disciple or intellectual heir. British philosopher W.D. Ross was the greatest Aristotelian scholar of the first half of the 20th Century, both editing the monumental (Complete) Works Of Aristotle Translated Into English, in 12 volumes without commentary, as well as writing the preeminent one volume basic intro, titled Aristotle. A more recent undertaking was a Herculean job translating/editing over a hundred volumes of Aristotelian commentators (many appearing in English for the first time) by Richard Sorabji, partially distilled into three volumes - Vol. 1 Psychology (with Ethics and Religion), Vol. 2 Physics and Vol. 3 Logic and Metaphysics.         

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle

4) Plotinus 204/5? - 270 AD (this survey skips over the arcane, marginalia intellectual period/demarcation designated as Middle Platonism, to the most powerful thinker in antiquity in over a half millennia after the death of Aristotle). Plotinus was sufficiently different from his Platonist philosophical predecessors to receive the distinction by later historians of founder of a "new" school, Neo-Platonism, though he (and his philosophical successors) merely thought of himself/themselves as a continuation of the Platonist lineage. He had much in common with Pythagoras (known as a mystic, abstained from eating meat and practiced other asceticisms), and like Plato, as noted above, is the only other philosopher from which his extant corpus (surviving intellectual body of work and writings) is thought to have made the passage through the ages and history largely intact and in a relatively complete state - their dual preservation may not be unrelated, and could speak to their importance and how much they were revered by contemporary and later philosophers and intellectual historians. A belief thought to be commonly held by Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists that followed is that Plato and Aristotle could be reconciled, and apparent differences may have been chalked up merely to differences in emphasis. Later curricula (circa Iamblichus?) referred to Aristotle's teachings as the "lower mysteries" which were a preliminary for a period of several years leading up to graduating to intensive study of Plato and the "higher mysteries" for several more years. He also wrote a scathing, withering indictment against Gnosticism.

The best modern/contemporary translations/commentaries on his Enneads are by 19th century Irish linguist/writer Stephen MacKenna (prone to sacrificing accuracy and rigor for sweeping mythic/poetic feeling) for which there is a good single volume reprint by Larson Publications, a Penguin Classics abridgement of the same translation by the great contemporary Platonic/Neo-Platonist scholar John Dillon, and probably the best translation in the English language by one of the greatest Plotinian scholars of the 20th Century (based on the reference critical edition benchmark in French by Henry and Schwyzer published in three volumes from 1951-1973) is the epic seven volume Plotinus in the Loeb Classical Library by A.H. Armstrong, published from 1966-1988. BTW, the Loeb volumes (Greek classics in characteristic green covers, Latin in red) have original Greek (or Latin) text on the left page, English on the right, the main reason to get the Early Greek Philosophy series noted above or the Plotinus sets is because the former represents the first significant presentation of the latest scholarship and research in over a half century, and the latter is said to be the best (i.e. - most accurate) translation that exists in the English language. All these modern editions contain his disciple Porphyry's biography, The Life of Plotinus, one of the most important we have of any philosopher to survive from antiquity. The least expensive Penguin Classics abridgement of the MacKenna translation has easily the best introductions, by Dillon and Henry (latter the French scholar who co-translated the definitive critical edition of the Enneads by Plotinus which informed Armstrong's peerless English translation). Other recommended secondary and commentary type titles include The Heart of Plotinus by Aldis Uzdavinys, Plotinus and the Simplicity of Vision by Pierre Hadot and Plotinus: An Introduction To The Enneads by Dominic O'Meara.                                  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plotinus

5) Other Neo-Platonists (that followed Plotinus)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoplatonism

A) Porphyry 234 - 305 AD (chief disciple was in some ways to Plotinus as Plato was to Socrates, i.e. - it is through his efforts that his master's thoughts and writing survive, though the relationship is inverted in that Plato superseded Socrates historically because of his original thought and writing, whereas Plotinus towers above all other Neo-Platonists, with Porphyry's intellectual role more subservient as a "mere" archivist/editor). Though notably his Isagoge or Introduction served as a primer on Aristotle's logic for over a millenium, and as translated by Boethius, was instrumental and played an integral role in shaping the debate on the nature and meaning of "universals" in language during the Middle Ages. His Letter To Anebo prompted/provoked Iamblichus to write On The Mysteries in response to and in defense of Egyptian religious rituals and mystery traditions. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED is the title Introduction translated and featuring extensive commentary by Jonathan Barnes.         

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyry_(philosopher)

B) Iamblichus 245 - 325 AD (as noted above, he defended the mystery traditions of ancient cultures such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia, sometimes referred to as Theurgy). Some of the seminal and towering Greek intellects thought of philosophy as a way to lead the mind to contemplate higher planes, such as through the sacred numbers and musical intervals of Pythagoras, the eternal forms and ideas of Plato, and the One/Good, Intellect and Soul of Plotinus. Iamblichus and later Proclus placed greater relative importance on the different tools of theurgy and ritual to these same ends. He (and Proclus) are also extremely important in that to some extent, what we know of the Platonic and Plotinian tradition/s passed THROUGH them into the Medieval period, and the form that made its eventual way into modern times. There is a contemporary edition of On The Mysteries co-translated by Emma Clark and John Dillon.         

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iamblichus

C) Proclus 412 - 485 AD (see above). By consensus the last great Neo-Platonist philosopher. As noted above in the section on Plato, his commentaries on The Parmenides and Timaeus are the best from antiquity (and arguably period). He also did a great commentary on the most important work by the greatest mathematician from antiquity, Euclid's Elements. Along with Iamblichus, reportedly placed a value on the Chaldean Oracles as nearly equal to Plato. One of the greatest and most seminal works of Neo-Platonist scholarship in the 20th century is the translation/commentary on The Elements of Theology by E.R. Dodds, which is a systematically deduced presentation of his system and philosophy that (at least formally and structurally) anticipated the likes of Spinoza and Wittgenstein. Dodds incidentally also did brilliant translations/commentaries for Clarendon Press on The Gorgias by Plato and The Bacchae by the dramatist Euripedes.        

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proclus

The above time frame is bookended by the 6th century BC Pre-Socratics to the closing of a revived Platonic Academy by Justinian I in 529 AD, so a bit over a millennium. Some of the best History of Philosophy type surveys from the Pre-Socratics through Plato and Aristotle are by George Grote (the multi-volume Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates took nearly a decade to finish in 1865, he died in 1871 before completing a planned work on Aristotle), Eduard Zeller (eight volume Philosophy of the Greeks translated from 1868 - 1897), Theodor Gomperz (Greek Thinkers: A History of Ancient Philosophy in three volumes - 1896, 1902 & 1909) and W.K.C. Guthrie (the magisterial A History of Greek Philosophy in six volumes - 1962, 1965, 1971, 1975, 1978 & 1981). Some classic/standard and more modern/contemporary smaller treatments include Early Greek Philosophy AND Greek Philosophy: From Thales To Plato by J.J. Burnett, A Critical History Of Greek Philosophy by W.T. Stace, Pythagoras Revised by Dominic O'Meara, Plato: The Man And His Work by A.E. Taylor, Plato's Theory of Ideas by W.D. Ross, Plato And Platonism: An Introduction AND Plato: The Written And Unwritten Doctrines by J.N. Findlay, Plato's Philosophers - The Coherence Of The Dialogues by Catherine Zuckert, as well as From Plato To Platonism, Aristotle And Other Platonists AND Plotinus by Lloyd Gerson.          

Additional highly recommended works by outstanding classicists are the three volume Padeia: The Ideals of Greek Culture by Werner Jaeger and three volumes by Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way, Echoes Of Greece and The Roman Way (which also includes chapters on somewhat important thinkers not covered here, such as the Middle Platonist Plutarch, who wrote Moralia and was also one of the greatest practitioners of the art of biography in antiquity in The Parallel Lives, as well as the Roman Cicero, said to be one of the two greatest orators ever, along with the Greek Demosthenes). Gregory Vlastos is one of the greatest Socratic/Platonist scholars of the 20th Century, and has many titles. There are also scholarly compilations in the Cambridge Companion series on Plato, Aristotle (edited by Jonathan Barnes) and Plotinus (edited by Lloyd Gerson), Neo-Platonism by R.T. Wallis, as well as explorations of the interpenetration and cross-fertilization of Neo-Platonism with Christianity and Gnosticism, edited by O'Meara and Wallis, respectively.               

6) Some Non-Christian religious influences (more to follow)

A) Orphism (poetry dates back at least to the 5th - 6th century BC?), a great history is Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie, also partly covered in his The Greeks and Their Gods. Coverage of this era (and later) can also be found in two titles by E.R. Dodds, The Greeks And The Irrational AND Pagan & Christian in an Age of Anxiety.   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphism_(religion)

B) Gnosticism (1st - 2nd century AD?), see the recent survey/overview by Stephan Hoeller of the Los Angeles Gnostic Society, Gnosticism - New Light On The Ancient Tradition Of Inner Knowing, as well as related chapters (also on Pythagorean Philosophy, Mathematics and Music) in Manly P. Hall's The Secret Teaching Of All Ages.     

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

C) Chaldean Oracles (traced back to fragmentary texts from the second century AD?), recent translation/commentary by Ruth Majercik published by Prometheus Trust. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaldean_Oracles

D) Hermeticism (attributed to Hermes Trismegistus - "Thrice Great", literature emerges 3rd - 7th century AD?), recent title Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction by Brian Copenhaver.    

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

7) Influence on Jewish/Christian thinkers (more to follow)

A) Philo (25 BC - 50 AD), a pioneer in basically using Greek philosophy in his exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text) of Jewish scripture. Philo was from Alexandria (and rough contemporary of Christ, though he didn't know of him or his disciples), at the time a central nexus of Classical learning, and this trailblazing Hellenized Jewish thinker used Greek philosophy to shed light on Jewish Theology. He didn't leave a lasting impact or impression in Jewish thought, but was influential to later Christian thinkers from the Alexandrian School, especially Origen (see below) and Clement. There is a single volume from the great Classics of Western Spirituality series, also a 10 volume set (plus two additional supplemental volumes) from the Loeb Classical Library.      

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo

B) Origen (184/5? - 253/4? AD), controversial but very important to early Christian thought (extending into later intellectual eras) and some of the Church Fathers. A volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality series, also recommended is History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen by the great French Jesuit writer Henri De Lubac (somewhat densely written, but worth the tough slogging).   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen

C) Eusebius (260/5 - 339/40? AD), another very important early Christian thinker, wrote The Ecclesiastical History (two volume edition in the Loeb Classical Library), Preparation For The Gospel and Proof Of The Gospel, available in PB from Baker Book House publisher's Twin Brooks series in two and one volume editions, respectively. He not only tried to show how the Bible was in accord with Greek/pagan philosophy, but also that in many ways the former ANTICIPATED the latter (this also somewhat anticipated to an extent later work by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas).      

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius

D) Augustine (11/13/354 - 8/28/430 AD), classic works were The Confessions and City Of God. The former included the classic quote ("Lord, give me chastity - but not yet!" :)), one of the two most important Church fathers with Thomas Aquinas. Admired Plato, incredibly his mature and advanced thought on eternity and time remains sophisticated and influential to this day. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo

E) Boethius (480 - executed 524 AD), called variously the last important thinker of Antiquity and first important Medieval thinker, he was an intellectual colossus bestride two eras. He rose to the highest rank of statesmen and adviser in the post-Roman Empire under the "Barbarian" Ostrogothic King Theodoric The Great (NOT the character Theodoric of York - Medieval Barber played by Steve Martin on SNL), along with his sons, but was tragically put to death with his family for falling out of political favor and falling on the wrong side of a dispute involving potential reconciliation with the Roman Republic. While he was in prison awaiting torture/death, he wrote the classic Consolations of Philosophy. Though he didn't specifically mention Jesus in that work (just as some religious authors wouldn't NECESSARILY in all their writing depending on the context and circumstances), he is generally thought to be Christian. There is a one volume Loeb edition which also contains his important Five Theological Tractates. If he had lived, Boethius had an incredibly ambitious intellectual agenda to translate all of Plato and Aristotle's known works from Greek into Latin, and than to demonstrate that they were perfectly in accord with each other. As noted above, his translation of Porphyry's Isagoge or Introduction played an integral role in shaping the most singularly important debate in Medieval Philosophy, that of the problem of universals that raged between the Nominalist and Realist factions (expertly covered in the Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson).              

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boethius

F) Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th - 6th century AD?), very influential in the Middle Ages in part because of a false attribution (thus the Pseudo qualifier/moniker) as a contemporary of St. Paul, the body of work was later discovered to have been written much later, with attribution never conclusively demonstrated. John Dillon, one of the greatest contemporary scholars of Platonism and Plotinian thought, chose as his research focus/emphasis Plotinus, Philo of Alexandria and Pseudo-Dionysius. He represents one of the greatest integrations and hybrids of Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology from Antiquity. There is a volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.    

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Dionysius_the_Areopagite

G) John Scotus Eriugena (815 - 877 AD), has been called one of the greatest thinkers by 200-300 years on either side of his epoch, high praise indeed. He was an Irish monk that came to the attention of the pre-French Carolingian King for his formidable Greek scholarship (translation ability into Latin a very unusual skill set at the time in Western Europe, with the exception of Ireland), first translating a royal gift of a manuscript from the corpus of Pseudo-Dionysius, than work of Maximus The Confessor and one of the Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, and finally promoted to head of the Palace School and Royal Academy. His magnum opus is titled Periphyseon or The Division of Nature, which is hard to find, but there is a good one volume abridged version with some full and partial books/chapters, edited and translated by Myra Uhlfelder (summaries by Jean Potter). He was a brilliant Neo-Platonist influential at the time, but has largely lapsed into criminally underrated and neglected obscurity in modern/contemporary times.      

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Scotus_Eriugena

H) Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 3/7/1274 AD), as noted, with Augustine, one of the two most towering Church Doctors and figures in Catholic doctrine and theology. Augustine was seemingly more partial to Plato, Thomas Aquinas to Aristotle, he was without peer as a Scholastic Philosopher and wrote voluminous Aristotelian commentaries. He is one of four thinkers with the rare distinction of two volumes in the Britannica Great Books series, with Aristotle, Shakespeare and Edward Gibbon (who wrote the monumental The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). Probably the greatest 20th Century Thomistic, one of the greatest Medieval Philosophy scholars and historians of philosophy period was Etienne Gilson. His greatest biography is reportedly St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by prolific 20th Century British Christian writer G.K. Chesterton.      

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas 

* This took a few minutes to compile, I may have a pop tart before the next installment.

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14 minutes ago, Sinn Fein said:

I can't make it through your post - no chance I can read through all the links.  It looks fascinating though.

I get that a lot.

Read a paragraph a month, and you'll be done before you are 70!

* Seriously, if actually interested (because this definitely isn't for everybody, Goober from the Andy Griffith Show and Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies likely wouldn't have been ideal target candidates for this thread), try just a chapter, like founder of the Neo-Platonism school Plotinus (who had the idea that everything was in everything, to the degree it's nature permitted), or even a sub-chapter, like Pythagoras or Heraclitus among the Pre-Socratics, if the OP length is daunting in its entirety. That may pique your interest in other chapters or sub-chapters in the history of ideas (perhaps some that aren't even here)?   

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7 hours ago, Sinn Fein said:

I did notice, while skimming the post, that you have not included Vizzini amongst the great philosophers  - any reason why?

Inconceivable!

* Forgot to mention that he died tragically young of Iocane Powder poisoning before he could publish his magnum opus, On The Dangers Of Spurious Deduction In The Intractable Poison Challenge Problem (Without Advance Knowledge Of The Need For Developing Gradual Tolerance And Immunity).  

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The greatest reading experience of my life was the 12,000 pages of Will & Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization and all the avenues of pursuit and mansions of thought through which it sent your humble servant. Stoicism (which we need now more than ever) v Epicureanism is underepresented here. Pythagorus, Jesus, Epictetus my Big3

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If someone is kind of interested in this topic, but has no interest in reading through dense philosophical text, the novel Sophie's World is a fun and breezy read that covers the history of Western thought through a story about a young girl. 

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I just have a few thoughts up front:

- I read a book quite a few years back called Voltaire's Bastards. It really presaged in my mind a major philosophical trend in western civilization today which is a rebuke of the institutions and even the very means of reasoning we have been following since the Victorian age.

- A current bookend for that concept as it is happening today might be Tom Nichols' The Death of Expertise.

- Romanticism is relevant. In many ways fascism is a romantic ideology in that it looks back at a classic idea of a society. This is often true of nationalism and authoritarianism as well. - Romanticism in and of itself is kind of a cool pursuit but writ large it can be a sort of excuse for nations or people to build a false mythology around themselves to deal with  increasingly difficult circumstances, as a kind of escapism. I think what we see today is not great philosophy driving world events but events driving philosophy. Unfortunately we are in a stage where people are looking for excuses and justifications for recent failures. The best comp I can think of is the pre & post WW1 decadence which gave rise to some very anti-humanistic concepts. Hapsburg Austria is an example of how such philosophies can take root even in the midst of spectacular wealth and power. Not surprisingly Freud also came out of this epoch.

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Couple other thoughts:

- Consider including Pliny and Maimonides.

- You're indeed making a leap by including Philo, Origen, Eusebius, St. Augustine & St. Thomas Aquinas. The lines between theology, philosophy and world history are pretty well blurred here (and IMO really this is what it's all about anyway) but you will certainly have some who wish to sever God from philosophy.

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7 hours ago, Bob Magaw said:

Inconceivable!

* Forgot to mention that he died tragically young of Iocane Powder poisoning before he could publish his magnum opus, On The Dangers Of Spurious Deduction In The Intractable Poison Challenge Problem (Without Advance Knowledge Of The Need For Developing Gradual Tolerance And Immunity).  

Edited/added above

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7 hours ago, Sinn Fein said:

I did notice, while skimming the post, that you have not included Vizzini amongst the great philosophers  - any reason why?

Good post.  He made Plato and Socrates look like morons.

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11 hours ago, wikkidpissah said:

The greatest reading experience of my life was the 12,000 pages of Will & Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization and all the avenues of pursuit and mansions of thought through which it sent your humble servant. Stoicism (which we need now more than ever) v Epicureanism is underepresented here. Pythagorus, Jesus, Epictetus my Big3

I got almost halfway through it (SOC) and was interrupted. That was over two decades ago. Will was a professor, Ariel was his student, they fell in love and he quit his job so they could get married. Great story.

My favorite history book from the 20th Century is Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by William H. McNeill, which won the 1964 National Book Award in History and Biography. Some history books are merely dry recitations of names, places, battles, facts and figures, but he had a very active, prolific intelligence and nearly every page he would make multiple non-trivial/obvious connections I had never heard before. IMO a historian of the first, highest rank. He recently passed four days after Independence Day, "just" two years from the century mark (punch yourself in the ####, 2016!). It was an intentional call back and response to The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. McNeill was a proponent of Cultural Diffusionism, and the international diaspora of knowledge and technology. His Plagues and Peoples ('76) was assigned reading in one of my college history classes.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_of_the_West  

Spengler gave impetus to "Cyclical" theories of history. One of the more interesting ones I've run across was by the Russian American Pitirim Sorokin, who the then president of Harvard personally requested he found the college's Sociology Department. His magnum opus was the four volume Social and Cultural Dynamics (there is a one volume abridgement).  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitirim_Sorokin 

I think Sorokin is no longer in vogue for being a systematic theorist, but his thought stimulated different kinds of social cycle theory.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_cycle_theory  

A related ECONOMIC concept is that of the Kondratiev (or Long) Wave - the elusive goal of attempting to discover identifiable patterns in history.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kondratiev_wave

Jean Gebser's The Ever-Present Origin is an extremely interesting take on types of evolving collective societal/cultural consciousnesses. He was Swiss (like seminal theorists of the mind, Jung and Piaget, that country had it's fair share of big thinkers in the 20th Century).     

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Gebser

Close to on deck on my reading to do list, I want to check out the work of world historian (the study of which also seems to have languished and fallen into disrepute in an era of specialization) Arnold Toynbee. NOT the monumental 12 volume Study of History (though I'm sure it's great), but the two volume abridgement by D.C. Somervell, as well as a new, revised, oversized one volume abridgement (with illustrations for the first time) co-edited with Jane Caplan.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee

20th Century German Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (three volumes with a posthumous fourth) was a legit genius and has been called the last man to know "everything". He was a neo-Kantian + photographic memory + access to diverse and rich myth/religion-related historical materials = his exploration of SYMBOL (man as the symbol making/using animal) in all its dimensions, language, myth/religion and math/science. A metaphor for his take and interpretation of how to think of the history of man's use of symbols to progressively better understand himself and the universe around him was to liken it to a figure in a Rodin relief struggling to free itself from the underlying substratum and matrix it was embedded in. I'm very interested in our mental processes that USE language (like we would use a tractor for a mundane job such as plowing a field). There is a part of the mind that uses language in this way but isn't itself comprised of language (somewhat reminiscent of the zen koan exhorting us to look at the moon, and not the finger pointing at the moon :)). Yet by necessity, we must use language to DISCUSS language (which reminds me, Socrates and Plato were reportedly convinced you learned a lot better/more by interactive engagement discussing with others, NOT by reading from a book). A real pickle. Maybe this touches on ideas such as intuition, Platonism views non-discursive understanding as higher in the hierarchy, and inherently closer to the source and wellspring of insight.    

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Cassirer

Another of my three favorite 20th century philosophers (with historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson) is British polymath and archaeologist R.G. Collingwood. He wrote about the history of philosophy, philosophy of history, science, art and politics, among other things.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._G._Collingwood

Pythagoras was massively influential on Plato and Neo-Platonism (and even to this day). I'm currently very interested in the interweaving of Platonism and Christianity through the centuries. Seems to be traced back PHILOSOPHICALLY to Philo of Alexandria, but after a long absence, I want to go back to reading The Gospel of John and Letters/Epistles of Paul (especially to the Romans) for evidence of familiarity with Platonism. I'm not as well versed on John (other than that his Gospel is textually different from the other three by Mark, Matthew and Luke, and that he also wrote Revelation), but Paul was an educated man and it would be somewhat surprising if he hadn't been exposed at some level to the great philosophers and thinkers of antiquity. Thanks for the correction on Epicureanism. I knew I forgot something, it doesn't resonate as strongly for me as some/most of the other schools (Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus definitely my current favorite thinkers, the latter imo criminally underrated and neglected in modern/contemporary times, but he is very complex and not especially amenable to "popularization"), but I endeavor to be thorough. The school does receive extensive coverage in the two Hellenistic Philosophy surveys cited in the bibliography for 1D Pre-Socratic subsection on Other Hellenistic Schools (by Inwood/Gerson and Long). I also seem to have forgotten the Sceptics, though technically not sure that was even a school?  

Anyway, cheers and thanks for the input/contribution.     

* I'll have to get back to SaintsInDome2006 tomorrow.  

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On December 27, 2016 at 7:08 AM, Sabertooth said:

What are your thoughts on the impact of feminism on western thought in the past 50 years?

I'd be all for it :)

* Seriously, my intention is not to politicize the thread, but I couldn't help but be reminded of the following interview. The woman in question is asked if she would vote for a woman. Her response is no, she is of the opinion they are too "emotional" or hormone driven (?), and would be more likely to start a war. The interviewer completely punctures her "thought process" and stumps her by simply asking, "Don't men start most wars?"  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4Zdx97A63s

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I originally intended for the OP Outline to be a lot briefer and to flesh out the individual sub-sections later on in the thread, but as is, it is a bit sprawling and unwieldly (100+ citations in the bibliography). Below is a greatly abbreviated and more selective listing of some basic works that might be more suitable for preliminary, introduction purposes (bibliography not much more than a dozen books here, most/nearly all not rare and commonly available used for a few dollars).

In fact, some of the below titles are redundant, so this reduced list could even be pared back further to a handful - Before and After SOCRATES by Cornford, Early Greek Philosophy by Barnes, Plato's Collected Dialogues by Hamilton, Basic Works of Aristotle by McKeon and The Enneads: Abridged Edition by Dillon. 

Introduction (progresses from beginner, intermediate to advanced)     

>>>Before and After SOCRATES by F.M. Cornford<<< ($10+ for book at Amazon and AbeBooks, even higher at ebay, but Kindle version $2.51)  

https://www.amazon.com/Before-After-Socrates-F-Cornford/dp/0521091136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482955486&sr=1-1&keywords=fm+cornford

The Greek Philosophers - From Thales To Aristotle by W.K.C. Guthrie (many Amazon alternate used sellers priced $0.01 in "good" condition)

https://www.amazon.com/Greek-Philosophers-Thales-Aristotle/dp/0061310085/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482955306&sr=1-3&keywords=wkc+guthrie

An Introduction To Ancient Philosophy by A.H. Armstrong (Amazon alternate used sellers priced starting $1-$2 range)

https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Ancient-Philosophy-Littlefield-Paperback/dp/0822604183/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482955879&sr=1-1&keywords=a+h+armstrong+ancient

Cornford was one of the great Platonic scholars of the first half of the 20th century. He wrote two of my favorite dialogue commentaries (on the Parmenides and Timaeus, the dominant dialogues for studying Plato's mature epistemology/theory of knowledge and metaphysics/cosmology in the Middle Ages). The above work is only about 100 pages and is written in very plain, simple prose, without compromising insight, he writes with crystalline lucidity. Guthrie wrote the monumental six volume History of Greek Philosophy, and may have been the preeminent historian of that subject in the second half of the 20th century. Weighing in at 168 pages, it represents the distillation of a vast, immense amount of learning. He is masterful at simplifying without OVERsimplifying. Armstrong was maybe the greatest Plotinian scholar in the English language of the second of the 20th century, he did the now classic, standard, seven volume translation with commentary of the Enneads by Plotinus for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard Press - on the recommendation of one of the great Platonist scholars of the first half of the 20th century, E.R. Dodds, who wrote the seminal Neo-Platonist studies translation of The Elements of Theology by Proclus). At nearly 100 pages more than Guthrie, it is more in depth and advanced. Cornford = beginner, Guthrie = intermediate, Armstrong = advanced (a further progression is Armstrong ranges further, beyond Aristotle, exploring Plotinus and Neo-Platonism).

Going further, I would pare down the OP as follows, making it more suitable for introductory purposes:

1) Pre-Socratics (either below, not necessary to get both)

A) >>>Early Greek Philosophy - Penguin Classics, 2nd ed. Edition by Jonathan Barnes<<< (Amazon alternate used sellers starts at $2)

https://www.amazon.com/Early-Greek-Philosophy-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140448152/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482958889&sr=1-1&keywords=early+greek+philosophy   

B) The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and Sophists - Oxford World's Classics, 1st Edition by Robin Waterfield (starts at $5, free shipping from AbeBooks)

https://www.amazon.com/First-Philosophers-Presocratics-Sophists-Classics/dp/019953909X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482959139&sr=1-1&keywords=first+philosophers    

2) Plato (first essential and primary source, Taylor of the secondary/commentary variety, helpful but non-essential)

A) >>>The Collected Dialogues of Plato: Including the Letters - Bollingen Series LXXI co-edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns<<< (Amazon alternate used sellers starts at $2), to be found a lot cheaper than the Cooper edited translations, albeit not in that preferred "canonical" order of Thrasyllus.   

https://www.amazon.com/Collected-Dialogues-Plato-Including-Bollingen/dp/0691097186/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482959463&sr=1-1&keywords=plato+hamilton  

B) Plato: The Man and His Work - Dover Books on Western Philosophy by A.E. Taylor (found under $5 in "good" condition at ebay), may have some wackadoo ideas about chronology/sequence of the dialogues and dated interpretations, not the final word but a good starting point, a classic and standard text on the subject from one of the greatest Platonist scholars (with the likes of J.J. Burnett and F.M. Cornford) in the first half of the 20th century, useful synoptic overview with summaries of the dialogues.   

https://www.amazon.com/Plato-Dover-Books-Western-Philosophy/dp/0486416054/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482961577&sr=1-1&keywords=plato+a+e+taylor 

3) Aristotle (either of the first two are essential and primary sources, not necessary to get both, third by Ross of the secondary/commentary variety, while non-essential, probably more helpful in this case than Taylor for Plato, as Aristotle can be dense and difficult and more in need of a basic and general introductory guide)

A) >>>The Basic Works of Aristotle - Modern Library Classics edited by Richard McKeon<<< (tends to start at $10+ in hard cover or paper back, but found copy in very good condition for $5 on ebay), has a nice introduction, but abridged, not complete

https://www.amazon.com/Basic-Aristotle-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/0375757996/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482959650&sr=1-1&keywords=aristotle+mckeon

B) Britannica Great Books Aristotle two volume set (8 & 9), more typically sold separately, sometimes sold together like below at ebay for $10, compared to McKeon the tradeoff is minimal intro but, while still abridged, more complete.  

http://www.ebay.com/itm/lot-of-2-Britannica-Great-Books-volume-8-9-Aristotle-I-II-1980-hardcovers-/311713660219?hash=item489394fd3b:g:KMoAAOSwxg5XzvAT

C) Aristotle 2nd Edition by W.D. Ross (NOT Selections), I have the version published by Routledge which goes for around $10 at Amazon. Probably the greatest Aristotelian scholar of the first half of the 20th century, edited the monumental 12 volume Works Of Aristotle Translated Into English (pretty unabridged/complete). The below title has been called the best one volume general and basic introduction to the towering, gargantuan corpus or extant body of work by Aristotle (thought to be about one third of what he wrote during his life time). Ross also wrote the highly regarded Plato's Theory Of Ideas (more rare/expensive than above books).     

https://www.amazon.com/Aristotle-David-Ross/dp/0415120683/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482962398&sr=1-3-fkmr1&keywords=wd+ross+aristotle+routledge

4) Plotinus (All different versions of primary sources, vary in being unabridged or degree of abridgement, even if you spring for the complete and more expensive Larson Publications MacKenna translation, the first abridged version edited by Dillon is still essential due to the quality of the introductions, the middle abridgement by O'Brien would be the least essential, though as noted below, some prefer these translations)

A) >>>The Enneads: Abridged Edition, Penguin Classics, edited by John Dillon<<< ($4 at Amazon in "good" and at ebay in "very good" condition). GREAT, outstanding set of introductions is very helpful given the complexity of the subject matter, first a brief bio/sketch of the translator Stephen MacKenna, than on the philosophical system of Plotinus and his cosmological architecture of universe, mind, being and nature (One/Good > Intellect > (World) Soul > Matter/Physical Plane) by French Plotinian scholar Paul Henry, one of the greatest of the second half of the 20th century. He edited the more accurate/rigorous/based-on-latest-research modern translations which supplanted the more loose/poetic interpretation of MacKenna used here (and which informed A.H. Armstrong's seven volume English translation for the Loeb Classical Library). This and the Larson Publications version below (as well as the Armstrong/Loeb set) ALL contain the Life Of Plotinus bio by his chief disciple/editor, the Neo-Platonist Porphyry, one of the most important biographies we have of a philosopher to survive from antiquity.         

https://www.amazon.com/Enneads-Abridged-Classics-S/dp/014044520X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482963295&sr=1-1&keywords=plotinus+dillon

B) The Essential Plotinus - Hackett Classics, 2nd Edition, translated by Elmer O'Brien ($3-$4 at Amazon in "good" to "very good" condition), abridged, some prefer these translations most of all.

https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Plotinus-Hackett-Classics/dp/0915144093/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482964582&sr=1-1&keywords=plotinus+essential

C) Plotinus: The Enneads - A new, unabridged, and definitive edition of the classic translation by Stephen MacKenna (Larson Publications Classic Reprint Series). Mine looks like the below version, but this goes for $30-$35+ used hard cover, which is why imo the above two (especially the first, Penguin Classics version edited by Dillon due to the intros) are more suitable for introductory purposes.   

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Plotinus-The-Enneads-LP-Classic-Reprint-Series-MacKenna-Stephen-Good-Book-/132031465363?hash=item1ebdb04793:g:0DAAAOSwJkJWh0J5

5) Neo-Platonism (starts to get highly specialized, so I won't list separate titles for individual philosophers Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus here, refer to above section/sub-sections in the OP for those bibliographical citations if interested). Plotinus was the first AND greatest Neo-Platonist, although that said, I wouldn't go so far as to say the other Neo-Platonists aren't ALSO essential, but they aren't AS essential (if you only read one Neo-Platonist, let it be Plotinus - the masterful E.R. Dodds translation/commentary on The Elements of Theology by Proclus a fairly easy second choice)

Neoplatonism - Hackett Classics, 2nd Edition by R.T. Wallis, Foreward and Bibliography by Lloyd Gerson (about $13 used at Amazon), not sure even this is an ideal intro, as it is more intermediate/advanced, depending on where you are at, BUT there isn't much to choose from as far as a single author, one volume survey type of treatment. At the time this was the first such in over a half century since that by Thomas Whittaker, the revised edition has an outstanding, (at the time) up to date bibliography, and this probably remains the best contemporary intro, such as it is.    

https://www.amazon.com/Neoplatonism-Hackett-Classics-R-Wallis/dp/0872202879/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482967265&sr=1-1&keywords=neoplatonism+wallis  

* Intellectual hard hats required - THREAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION ZONE

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On 12/27/2016 at 9:49 AM, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Couple other thoughts:

- Consider including Pliny and Maimonides.

- You're indeed making a leap by including Philo, Origen, Eusebius, St. Augustine & St. Thomas Aquinas. The lines between theology, philosophy and world history are pretty well blurred here (and IMO really this is what it's all about anyway) but you will certainly have some who wish to sever God from philosophy.

I forgot to mention, needless to say, many titles are free or can be easily found for $1-$2 in formats like kindle for iPad, etc.

Also forgot to mention a few other history of idea-related titles:

I have (but haven't had a chance to read yet) both The Discoverers and The Creators by Daniel Boorstin, don't yet have part 3 of the trilogy, The Seekers. He was actually THE Librarian of Congress (knew there was a library, obviously, but not a LIBRARIAN :)).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_J._Boorstin

Some excellent docs avail on DVD (also come in separate companion volumes) include...

Civilization by Sir Kenneth Clark '69 (groundbreaking BBC big budget doc series filmed internationally, the best of it's kind ever done up to that time, author/narrator headed the royal gallery and was extremely erudite, it did focus more on the arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, etc., but some politics and broader world history).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilisation_(TV_series)

The Ascent of Man by J. Bronowski '73 (he was a scientist, possibly a chemist or physicist, and after being asked to date a proto-hominid skull became fascinated with the evolution of man - includes the anthropological record, archeology, the history of science, technology, some philosophy, not much on art, so nicely complements Clark's Civilization, also one of the greatest BBC docs on science/history ever). 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ascent_of_Man

Connections by James Burke '78 (HAS to be another one of the greatest BBC docs on science and the history of technological invention ever, traces fun stuff like how we got from the hand axe to atom bomb, each episode shows a different set of connected discoveries/inventions through time). Latter two series are my favorites.     

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series) 

* Your boys

Pliny (I presume you were referring to The Elder, not his nephew, The Younger - somewhat unusual having historic/famous writer relatives, there aren't dozens that come immediately to mind?)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Elder

Moses Maimonides, not to be confused with another philosopher (of the backboard!), Moses Malone. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maimonides           

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On 12/27/2016 at 7:29 AM, Bob Magaw said:

What this thread is about: Primarily, philosophy in antiquity, a subject I became more interested in during the second half of this year. It will touch on some important and formative precursors, points of intersection with Christian thought and early medieval influences (rough outline below).

Thanks for the follow-up.

I have a question on era - when does antiquity end for these purposes? Renaissance? Or is that too late?

I thought I would throw out one more name: Peter Abelard.

His struggles with Bernard of Clairvaux on Reason vs Faith became the stuff of legend.

 

- One other minor point, and I only just heard this so I don't know if it is true, but supposedly silent reading is a pretty recent skill acquired by humans in the general population. For generations to read silently as a means of acquired knowledge was considered almost mystical and even dangerous. I'm guessing this skill may be just a few hundred years old in terms of being held by more than a few.

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7 hours ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Thanks for the follow-up.

I have a question on era - when does antiquity end for these purposes? Renaissance? Or is that too late?

I thought I would throw out one more name: Peter Abelard.

His struggles with Bernard of Clairvaux on Reason vs Faith became the stuff of legend.

 

- One other minor point, and I only just heard this so I don't know if it is true, but supposedly silent reading is a pretty recent skill acquired by humans in the general population. For generations to read silently as a means of acquired knowledge was considered almost mystical and even dangerous. I'm guessing this skill may be just a few hundred years old in terms of being held by more than a few.

I didn't forget about the other post, just been busy, I'll get to it.

As far as how I parse the chronology/timeline for philosophy purposes:

Ancient/Antiquity > Medieval/Middle Ages > Renaissance > Modern > Recent

So I'm really focusing on Plato/Platonism and Aristotle/Aristotelianism (but also the Pre-Socratics as they informed Plato, especially Pythagoras and Parmenides, and through him Aristotle). It is sort of like if a big boulder rumbles down a hill and knocks a few medium-sized boulders down, and they in turn knock dozen of smaller rocks down, which in turn dislodge hundreds/thousands of even smaller pebbles, that is sort of how I'm viewing the Western Intellectual Tradition.

I did include Christian influences in the OP, but more from a history of ideas perspective than for religious purposes. Plato was very influential on Augustine, Aristotle on Thomas Aquinas. Even with the Renaissance, the impetus was in part the rediscovery of Plato by Ficino, the first to translate Plato's extant works into Latin (Boethius hoped to translate both Plato and Aristotle into Latin, but was executed before he could finish). Ficino also translated Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus, as well as Pseudo-Dionysius, and attempted to reconcile Christianity with Platonism. It is interesting to trace the pathways in the West and East by and through which ancient thinkers survived, in some cases by Greek, Latin or even Arabic scholarship, zig zagging through history, re-emerging later in a different time at place, sometimes due to the vagaries of war and conquests, ideas falling into and out of favor for religious reasons, etc.     

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsilio_Ficino      

Thomas Taylor was an important 18th/19th Century Platonist that was the first to achieve the monumental, herculean task of translating the complete works of Plato AND Aristotle into English. He had a big influence on William Blake, Shelley and Wordsworth, the  Transcendentalists in America (Emerson, et al), as well as Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Taylor_(neoplatonist)

The story of Heloise and Abelard was a sad one. Yes, he was very important. Duns Scotus and William of Ockham were also important thinkers in the Medieval debate on Universals. By far the best historian of philosophy I know of in dissecting that period is Etienne Gilson in the masterful Unity of Philosophical Experience, probably the best I've ever read on that subject. A gifted thinker exceeded only by his brilliance as a writer.

Interesting point about silent reading. I'll have to think on that. Sounds important. Marshall McLuhan's main thesis was that evolving media would reshape our collective consciousness and how we viewed the world and ourselves. No doubt there is something to that, though sometimes big thinkers (Alvin Toffler and Future Shock in the early '70s was another possible example) have a tendency to overstate their case if only to stand out against the noise.

Anyway, philosophy not only isn't the only way to organize the history of ideas, it probably isn't even the best way, but it is my way! :) And it can certainly be augmented/complemented by other approaches, some of which we've explored already (religion, scientific and technological discovery, invention and progress, etc.). 

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Different ways to answer your question about the timeline and chronology, @SaintsInDome2006:

A few ways to date the end of Antiquity and beginning of the Medieval Period by important historical persons (and it is hard to pinpoint shifts that take place in some case over a millennia in a matter of mere decades or in some cases centuries :))...

A) Augustine (354 - 430 AD) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo

B) Boethius (480 - 524 AD)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boethius

C) Muhammad (570 - 632 AD)  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad

Some key dates/tectonics shifts that shaped/comprised the demarcation line/s between Medieval and Modern/Recent eras, parsed by events rather than historical persons?

1) Printing Press Invention, Gutenberg (1440 AD)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press

2) Fall of Constantinople* (1453 AD), see below regarding an earlier key fallen city 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Constantinople

3) Discovery of America by Columbus (1492 AD)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyages_of_Christopher_Columbus

4) The Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses (1517 AD) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reformation

* Fall of the Western Roman Empire (Late Antiquity, 476 AD?)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_the_Western_Roman_Empire

ABC - Jackson Five

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho7796-au8U

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Additional history of ideas resources:

The Western Intellectual Tradition '60 by Jacob Bronowski (best remembered for Ascent of Man) and Bruce Mazlish

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Bronowski

A History of Knowledge '91 by Charles Van Doren (separate degrees in liberal arts, Masters in astrophysics and Ph.D. in English, from a family of Pulitzer Prize winners, center of the 50's quiz show scandal and later former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Brittanica) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Van_Doren

The Passion of the Western Mind '91 by Richard Tarnas  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Tarnas

"In 1968 Tarnas entered Harvard, graduating with an A.B. cum laude in 1972. He received his Ph.D. from Saybrook Institute in 1976 with a thesis on psychedelic therapy.[1][2] In 1974 Tarnas went to Esalen in California to study psychotherapy with Stanislav Grof.[3] From 1974 to 1984 he lived and worked at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, teaching and studying with Grof, Joseph Campbell, Gregory Bateson*, Huston Smith, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and James Hillman. He also served as Esalen's director of programs and education."

* Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity '79 by Gregory Bateson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Bateson

Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. In the 1940s he helped extend systems theory and cybernetics to the social and behavioral sciences. He spent the last decade of his life developing a "meta-science" of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in different fields of science.[2] His writings include Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979). 

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The beginning of the Western Canon (to which the Jewish scriptures that would later comprise the Bible should be added).

It would be remiss to not point out that the Iliad (and certain books of the Bible) are the oldest extant LIVING literature. There is certainly older writing, such as in Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian artifacts, but other than perhaps a relative few scholars, not too many people are writing in cuneiform or hieroglyphs or communicating in those ancient languages TODAY (and haven't been for a long, LONG time). :) 

Iliad background

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad

"The Iliad is paired with something of a sequel, the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer. Along with the Odyssey, the Iliad is among the oldest extant works of Western literature, and its written version is usually dated to around the 8th century BC.[2] Recent statistical modelling based on language evolution gives a date of 760–710 BC.[3] In the modern vulgate (the standard accepted version), the Iliad contains 15,693 lines; it is written in Homeric Greek, a literary amalgam of Ionic Greek and other dialects."

Online version

http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.html

Odyssey background

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey

"The Odyssey (/ˈɒdəsi/: Ὀδύσσεια Odýsseia, pronounced [o.dýs.sej.ja] in Classical Attic) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The Odyssey is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second-oldest extant work of Western literature; the Iliad is the oldest. Scholars believe the Odyssey was composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia."

"The Odyssey continues to be read in the Homeric Greek and translated into modern languages around the world. Many scholars believe the original poem was composed in an oral tradition by an aoidos (epic poet/singer), perhaps a rhapsode (professional performer), and was more likely intended to be heard than read.[2] The details of the ancient oral performance and the story's conversion to a written work inspire continual debate among scholars. The Odyssey was written in a poetic dialect of Greek—a literary amalgam of Aeolic Greek, Ionic Greek, and other Ancient Greek dialects—and comprises 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter.[4][5] Among the most noteworthy elements of the text are its non-linear plot, and the influence on events of choices made by women and slaves, besides the actions of fighting men. In the English language as well as many others, the word odyssey has come to refer to an epic voyage."

Online version

http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html

First Pre-Socratic

Thales of Miletus - Some of the main take away points for me are that Thales began the long journey out of myth and religion towards a scientific thought process, he is by consensus acknowledged as the Godfather of the Greek philosophical/mathematical/scientific tradition, and along with his immediate successors, was focused on the underlying MATERIAL (in his case water) that made up the cosmos.

It would not be until Pythagoras (to follow in chronological sequence later) that the Greek philosophical tradition would turn to the more abstract notion of FORM that underlies the structure of the cosmos.    

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thales_of_Miletus

"Thales of Miletus (/ˈθlz/; Greek: Θαλῆς (ὁ Μῑλήσιος), Thalēs; c. 624 – c. 546 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek/Phonecian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer from Miletus in Asia Minor, current day Milet in Turkey and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition,[1][2] and he is otherwise historically recognised as the first individual in Western civilisation known to have entertained and engaged in scientific philosophy.[3][4]

Thales is recognised as having made a break from understanding the world and universe by mythological explanations to instead find explanations for the existence of natural things and phenomena by theories and hypothesis, ergo science. Almost all of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers proceed after him to provide explanations of natural things by way of there being a unity of everything because of the existence of a single ultimate substance, instead of explanation given by mythology. Aristotle reported Thales's hypothesis that the originating principle of nature and the nature of matter was a single material substance: water.

In mathematics, Thales used geometry to calculate the heights of pyramids and the distance of ships from the shore. He is the first known individual to use deductive reasoning applied to geometry, by deriving four corollaries to Thales' theorem. He is the first known individual to whom a mathematical discovery has been attributed."

"Thales predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC.[23] Thales described the position of Ursa Minor, and thought the constellation might be useful as a guide for navigation at sea. He calculated the duration of the year and the timings of the equinoxes and solstices. He is additionally attributed with the first observation of the Hyades and with calculating the position of the Pleiades.[24]Plutarch indicates that in his day (c. AD 100) there was an extant work, the Astronomy, composed in verse and attributed to Thales."

"Thales' most famous philosophical position was his cosmological thesis, which comes down to us through a passage from Aristotle's Metaphysics.[34] In the work Aristotle unequivocally reported Thales’ hypothesis about the nature of all matter – that the originating principle of nature was a single material substance: water. Aristotle then proceeded to proffer a number of conjectures based on his own observations to lend some credence to why Thales may have advanced this idea (though Aristotle didn’t hold it himself)."

"Thales (who died around 30 years before the time of Pythagoras and 300 years before Euclid, Eudoxus of Cnidus, and Eudemus of Rhodes) is often hailed as "the first Greek mathematician".[43] While some historians, such as Colin R. Fletcher, point out that there could have been a predecessor to Thales who would've been named in Eudemus' lost book History of Geometry it is admitted that without the work "the question becomes mere speculation."[43] Fletcher holds that as there is no viable predecessor to the title of first Greek mathematician, the only question is whether Thales qualifies as a practitioner in that field; he holds that "Thales had at his command the techniques of observation, experimentation, superposition and deduction…he has proved himself mathematician."[43]

The evidence for the primacy of Thales comes to us from a book by Proclus who wrote a thousand years after Thales but is believed to have had a copy of Eudemus' book. Proclus wrote "Thales was the first to go to Egypt and bring back to Greece this study."[43] He goes on to tell us that in addition to applying the knowledge he gained in Egypt "He himself discovered many propositions and disclosed the underlying principles of many others to his successors, in some case his method being more general, in others more empirical."

"The most natural epithets of Thales are "materialist" and "naturalist", which are based on ousia and physis. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Aristotle called him a physiologist, with the meaning "student of nature."[50] On the other hand, he would have qualified as an early physicist, as did Aristotle. They studied corpora, "bodies", the medieval descendants of substances.

Most agree that Thales' stamp on thought is the unity of substance, hence Bertrand Russell:[51]

"The view that all matter is one is quite a reputable scientific hypothesis."
"...But it is still a handsome feat to have discovered that a substance remains the same in different states of aggregation."

Russell was only reflecting an established tradition; for example: Nietzsche, in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, wrote:[52]

"Greek philosophy seems to begin with an absurd notion, with the proposition that water is the primal origin and the womb of all things. Is it really necessary for us to take serious notice of this proposition? It is, and for three reasons. First, because it tells us something about the primal origin of all things; second, because it does so in language devoid of image or fable, and finally, because contained in it, if only embryonically, is the thought, 'all things are one.'"

This sort of materialism, however, should not be confused with deterministic materialism. Thales was only trying to explain the unity observed in the free play of the qualities."

"Thales had a profound influence on other Greek thinkers and therefore on Western history. Some believe Anaximander was a pupil of Thales. Early sources report that one of Anaximander's more famous pupils, Pythagoras, visited Thales as a young man, and that Thales advised him to travel to Egypt to further his philosophical and mathematical studies.

Many philosophers followed Thales' lead in searching for explanations in nature rather than in the supernatural; others returned to supernatural explanations, but couched them in the language of philosophy rather than of myth or of religion."

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  • 3 months later...

Platonism by John Burnet a masterful survey. Highly recommended.

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The History Of Philosophy - A Reader's Guide by Donald Verene is an outstanding, relatively short (150+ pages), synoptic overview and summary of the Western Philosophical canon, with an extensive bibliography.

Far broader in scope is the epic, monumental nine volume (sometimes combined in a modern three volume PB edition) A History Of Philosophy, by the Jesuit scholar Frederick Copleston, arguably the greatest of its kind in the English language.

* And old school (seminal 19th Century classic and standard), Outline Of The History Of Greek Philosophy by Eduard Zeller, a condensation and distillation of his eight volume magnum opus.

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@Bob Magaw

After you posted this in the Trump-Russia thread:

Sure you are correct, MoCS (nice avatar).

A case where a cool story bro is actually a... cool story, bro! :)

 

...I wanted to say thanks...and return the avatar respect. And then I checked your "interests" listed below the avatar. I was intrigued enough to search if you had any threads up in relation to them. I found this thread as a result.

VERY nice.

I cannot claim to have read or studied even a majority of your references, but I have perused some over the years. 

In my early days, I was much more inclined to favor Aristotle over Plato in regards to theories, but always preferred Plato in regards to his written works (style, thought provocation, etc.)

However, some recent quantum physicists have been working on theories that favor the Idealist school of thought. While they are still controversial in most physics circles (as far as I can tell; I'm not a physicist), they have given me a greater appreciation in regards to Plato's theories. For example, Robert Penrose has worked with Stuart Hameroff in developing some interesting theories on consciousness that give some new weight and perspective to Plato's side of the debate in regards to consciousness being a (near) foundation piece vs. just being an emergent phenomenon. You may already be up on this, but it was something I thought was interesting.

 

Also, since you reference Hermeticism in your first post, I thought I would ask about the ZoharSefer Yetzirah and other related esoteric Jewish texts. Do they fit into the larger picture you are forming? And, in this case, I am not referring to the modern new age adaptations.

 

Anyways, great layout; I will dig deeper into some of this for sure. Thanks.

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On 6/19/2017 at 6:19 PM, Man of Constant Sorrow said:

@Bob Magaw

After you posted this in the Trump-Russia thread:

 

...I wanted to say thanks...and return the avatar respect. And then I checked your "interests" listed below the avatar. I was intrigued enough to search if you had any threads up in relation to them. I found this thread as a result.

VERY nice.

I cannot claim to have read or studied even a majority of your references, but I have perused some over the years. 

In my early days, I was much more inclined to favor Aristotle over Plato in regards to theories, but always preferred Plato in regards to his written works (style, thought provocation, etc.)

However, some recent quantum physicists have been working on theories that favor the Idealist school of thought. While they are still controversial in most physics circles (as far as I can tell; I'm not a physicist), they have given me a greater appreciation in regards to Plato's theories. For example, Robert Penrose has worked with Stuart Hameroff in developing some interesting theories on consciousness that give some new weight and perspective to Plato's side of the debate in regards to consciousness being a (near) foundation piece vs. just being an emergent phenomenon. You may already be up on this, but it was something I thought was interesting.

 

Also, since you reference Hermeticism in your first post, I thought I would ask about the ZoharSefer Yetzirah and other related esoteric Jewish texts. Do they fit into the larger picture you are forming? And, in this case, I am not referring to the modern new age adaptations.

 

Anyways, great layout; I will dig deeper into some of this for sure. Thanks.

Likewise and thank YOU, MoCS.

A greater appreciation of Plato and Aristotle is a recent development for me. I definitely sense more of a kindred spirit and sensibility in Plato. But interestingly, maybe even more so in Plotinus, who, like most Neoplatonists, thought of them as complementary, with differences chalked up more to differences of emphasis. A great introduction to the subject is a title with the same name by the late R.T. Wallis, he breaks it down with crystalline lucidity and complete command and mastery of the material. 

Some highly recommended Platonist/Aristotle titles are From Plato to Platonism AND Aristotle and Other Platonists, both by Lloyd Gerson. There are philosopher specific essay compilations for P & A in the Cambridge Companion series which offer a well rounded spectrum of viewpoints from different scholars on a comprehensive and systematically organized set of themes. Also, The History of Philosophy - A Reader's Guide by Verene looks like a keeper, I just got it.

I have The Emperor's New Mind by Penrose (famous for a mathematical concept called Penrose Tiles), but haven't read it, thanks for reminding me about him and the additional context about his relation to the thought and system of Plato, I wasn't aware of it. 

I am especially interested in what Platonist and Neoplatonist scholar John Dillon calls The Golden Chain or Great Tradition, about the intertwined systems of Platonism and Christianity - of the two great Church Doctors, St. Augustine was more of a Platonist, St. Aquinas more of an Aristotelian. Because of its background importance, also the schools of Gnosticism and Hermeticism. I am not as familiar with esoteric Judaism, not from lack of interest though, I very much am in a comparitive religion sense.

Thanks again to you as well for the valuable input and feedback, look forward to revisiting the conversation further up the road.

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On 6/20/2017 at 6:33 PM, Bob Magaw said:

I have The Emperor's New Mind by Penrose (famous for a mathematical concept called Penrose Tiles), but haven'read it, thanks for reminding me about him and the additional context about his relation to the thought and system of Plato, I wasn't aware of it. 

I have not read The Emperor's New Mind, but I have read his The Road to Reality...really good book.

Interestingly though, it was The Emperor's New Mind that inspired Hameroff to contact him; and thus lead to their collaboration. Therefore, much of the really interesting work, imo, on this path came after The Emperor's New Mind.

I found a somewhat brief video (1 hour) on the topic, if you are at all interested:

Stuart Hameroff on Singularity 1on1: Consciousness is More than Computation!

As a biology/chemistry guy by training, I tend to get Hameroff's presentation a little better that Penrose's, but YMMV. Many other youtube vids are available, from both men, but this is one of the better ones imo.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Heya @Bob Magaw,

I know that this thread is focused on the history of Western Thought, but before I delved further into your posted content above, I wanted to refresh myself on some of the more recent philosophers. Thus, I found a really nice youtube series on the topic, and listened while I was painting walls, doors and windows...

Part 1 of 2 - The History of Contemporary Philosophy - From Descartes to Derrida

Part 2 of 2 - The History of Contemporary Philosophy - From Descartes to Derrida

The entire series is over 18 hours; so it is not a brief excursion, but it is one of the best explained continued summaries I have experienced since my time in an actual classroom.

Obviously, it is not everyone; but for anyone who would like to take a free semester on such a topic, I highly recommend it.

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On 12/29/2016 at 11:58 PM, Bob Magaw said:

Ancient/Antiquity > Medieval/Middle Ages > Renaissance > Modern > Recent

some interesting stuff Bob. I haven't read the vast majority of it but an old friend actually teaches this stuff so I've had many long conversations with him about some of the topics thru various portions of our lives. I've mostly read the Roman, a few mathematicians, and what appears to fall into your Modern section. 

Anyway, I'm certainly not committing to reading it all but I appreciate the work you've done here and will pop thru a lot of your links from time to time

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3 minutes ago, prefontaine said:

some interesting stuff Bob. I haven't read the vast majority of it but an old friend actually teaches this stuff so I've had many long conversations with him about some of the topics thru various portions of our lives. I've mostly read the Roman, a few mathematicians, and what appears to fall into your Modern section. 

Anyway, I'm certainly not committing to reading it all but I appreciate the work you've done here and will pop thru a lot of your links from time to time

To me, what I have bolded above:

Quote

I've had many long conversations with him about some of the topics thru various portions of our lives.

...is the most important part.

Further, imo, the questions are more important than the various answers provided...

...and that is what quality conversation is about.

:thumbup:

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