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From Plato to Platonism

by Lloyd P. Gerson

Publication Year: 2013

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."

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In 2005, I published a book titled Aristotle and Other Platonists. In that book, I explored the idea, virtually ubiquitous in late antiquity, that Aristotle’s philosophy was in “harmony” with Platonism. Although I did try to explicate the harmonists’ account of the nature of Platonism, I had little to say about whether that account was accurate. In short, I largely sidestepped...


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pp. xi-xii

Part 1: Plato and His Readers

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Chapter 1: Was Plato a Platonist?

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pp. 3-33

Was Plato a Platonist? A cheeky question, perhaps. If by “Platonist” we mean “a follower of Plato,” then the question is entirely captious. Plato was no more a Platonist than Jesus was a Christian. The question is only marginally more illuminating if we take it to mean “Would Plato have agreed with one or another of the historical, systematic representations of his philosophy...

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Chapter 2: Socrates and Platonism

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pp. 34-72

In this chapter and the next, I want to consider some of the central hermeneutical issues facing any interpreter of Plato. In particular, I will address the questions of (1) the relation of the historical Socrates and his philosophy to the Socrates of the dialogues; (2) whether the philosophy in the dialogues—Socrates’ or Plato’s—developed in any way; (3) the relation of...

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Chapter 3: Reading the Dialogues Platonically

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pp. 73-96

If we are going to give ownership of all the doctrines in the dialogues to Plato—the elements of UP and the positive responses to them—then we are going to have to face the question of whether Plato’s thought ‘developed’ in any way.1 We have already seen that he may have changed his mind about the possibility of α’ κρασι´α. He also may have changed his mind..

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Chapter 4: Aristotle on Plato and Platonism

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pp. 97-130

Our best source for our knowledge of Plato’s Platonism—apart from the dialogues—is without question the works of Aristotle. In these writings there are extensive reports of Platonic doctrine as well as detailed criticism of these. Aristotle, as we have all been instructed, came to Athens and Plato’s Academy as a seventeen-year-old in 364 and remained there until...

Part 2: The Continuing Creation of Platonism

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Chapter 5: The Old Academy

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pp. 133-162

I propose to consider in this chapter the Old Academy after Plato as continuators of the project he began. That is, I take it that they, like Aristotle himself, are adherents of UP and that the work apparently left undone by Plato at his death was the focus of their efforts. Apparently, this work...

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Chapter 6: The Academic Skeptics

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pp. 163-178

As we saw in the first chapter, one of the elements of UP is antiskepticism. Aristotle’s testimony strongly suggests that Plato was, for virtually his entire career, wedded to the view that knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) is possible and that it is not of sensible but rather of ‘separate’ intelligible entities. It seems a straightforward matter to characterize the Skeptics’ position as the contradictory...

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Chapter 7: Platonism in the ‘Middle’

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pp. 179-207

The term ‘Middle Platonism,’ like the term ‘Neoplatonism’ is an artifact of the predilection for periodization among historians of ancient philosophy.1 The former is typically used to refer to the Platonic doctrines found first in Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 130–c. 68 BCE) especially after his...

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Chapter 8: Numenius of Apamea

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pp. 208-224

Numenius of Apamea, the Syrian city on the bank of the Orontes, probably flourished in the second century of the Christian era. Even this scrap of biographical knowledge is tenuous. It is based on a famous reference in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromates where he quotes Numenius as asking the...

Part 3: Plotinus

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Chapter 9: Platonism as a System

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pp. 227-254

Proclus, in his Platonic Theology, avers that Plotinus is the greatest exegete (ἐξηγητής) “of the Platonic revelation” (τῆς Πλατωνικῆς ἐποπτεíας).1 The coupling of the term ‘exegete’ with the term ‘revelation’ indicates that Proclus is talking about more than a commentary on the dialogues or an...

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Chapter 10: Plotinus as Interpreter of Plato (1)

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pp. 255-282

In this chapter I am primarily concerned with the justness of Proclus’s reverence for Plotinus as an expositor of Platonism. Proclus no doubt thought his view was uncontroversial. The situation looks to many scholars entirely different today. At the extreme, Plotinus’s version of Platonism is taken to...

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Chapter 11: Plotinus as Interpreter of Plato (2)

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pp. 283-304

In the previous chapter, I aimed to present the systematic structure of Platonism according to Plotinus as he found this in the dialogues, in the Aristotelian testimony, and, no doubt, in the oral tradition. It is widely held that what is distinctive about late Platonism and what makes it therefore really ‘Neoplatonism’ is the metaphysics. It is also the case that it is the...

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pp. 305-310

I began with the question: Was Plato a Platonist? My answer to this question is yes, with what I hope to have shown is a reasonable qualifi cation. ‘Platonism’ refers to any version of a positive construct on the basis of UP. For all soi-disant followers of Plato from the Old Academy onward, Plato’s version takes the crown. Nevertheless, recognition of the superiority of...


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pp. 311-328

General Index

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pp. 329-334

Index Locorum

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pp. 335-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780801469183
E-ISBN-10: 080146918X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801452413
Print-ISBN-10: 0801452414

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1