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PLATONISM . Taken in its broadest sense, Platonism refers to the influence of Plato in Western philosophical, religious, and political thinking. In the Hellenistic world, the vehicle of this influence was the Academy, but from the time of Athens' destruction by the Romans, accomplished by Sulla in 86 bce, the Academy had ceased to exercise any real influence on Platonic thought. Thereafter, Platonic schools were founded in the most famous cities of the Roman Empire, including Pergamum, Athens, and Alexandria. A Platonic (i.e. Neoplatonic) school continued to exist in Athens until 529 ce, when it was dissolved by the emperor Justinian, but it cannot be called "Academy." Conveyed not only by the writings of Plato himself, but also by the works of later disciples and interpreters belonging to the so-called Middle Platonic and Neoplatonic schools, Platonism influenced Christian and Islamic philosophy in the late classical and medieval eras and underwent revivals not only at the time of the Renaissance but also in modern European philosophy.

The Old Academy

The immediate successors of Plato as heads of the Academy were his nephew Speusippus (410339 bce) and Xenocrates of Chalcedon (396314 bce), who carried on discussions held in the last period of Plato's life, when Aristotle was also a member of the Academy. Speusippus denied the existence of the Forms and the numerical Forms, and he reduced Plato's intelligible world to a complex of mathematical entities that represented the lowest level in Platonic metaphysics. He dismissed the opinion that reality depended on a First Principle (The One Which Is the Good), as taught by Plato in his "unwritten doctrines." Both Good and Beautiful exist as a derivation from the First Principle. Xenocrates, however, turned back to Plato, though not without distinguishing his thought from Plato's. He was the first to divide philosophy into physics (which included the so-called metaphysics), ethics, and logic, as later philosophers also did. Xenocrates abandoned Speusippus's mathematical metaphysics and re-proposed Plato's numerical Forms, together with other kinds of Forms. These various kinds of forms (numerical and other) constitute the intelligible world and are the production of the two basic Principles, the One and the indefinite Dyad. Xenocrates called the One "Zeus" (i.e., the highest male god, the father, and the ruler of universe). In contrast, the indefinite Dyad was the female goddess, the mother of All, the cosmic soul. Therefore Xenocrates interpreted in a religious way the highest ontological principles, and his interest in a religious philosophy is manifested also by his demonology. The daimon is an intermediate being between gods and humans. Active in shrines and oracles; he may be either good or bad, like humans, but he is immortal. Xenocrates' demonology and, as a whole, the ancient Academy's doctrines were taken up by second-century ce Platonism. Aristotle might well be added to this list of Plato's direct followers, even though he founded his own school, the Lyceum, in 335, after Xenocrates had succeeded Speusippus. Aristotle was notoriously critical of Plato's way of understanding Form and of his identification of Form with being. Further, he was contemptuous of Speusippus's devotion to Pythagorean number theory. Nevertheless, Aristotle's works pursued, in their own way, the agenda of Plato's Academy, and his account of the First Principle as self-thinking Intellect (nous ) was early adopted in the Platonic tradition, and Pythagorean doctrines continued to be discussed in the Platonic school.

The Skeptical Academy

With the succession of Arcesilaus (d. 241 bce) as its head, the Academy took a fresh turn. The so-called New Academyfrequently labelled "sceptical"maintained that neither Socrates nor Plato had taught any settled, dogmatic system but had pursued arguments on both sides of every question without seeking to reach definitive conclusions. Indeed, Arcesilaus's approach was not completely unsound, since Socrates had taught students to doubt traditional certainties. So, Arcesilaus maintained that the epoche (suspension of judgement) in which this procedure resulted represented the true philosophical position of Plato, but Arcesilaus's devotion to it was largely evoked by Stoic dogmatism, with its assertion of the existence of "indubitable perception" (kataleptike phantasia ). Against this Stoic view the New Academy emphasized the doubtfulness and subjectivity of both perception and judgment. In response to the charge that such a stance left people without guidance for the conduct of life, Carneades (d. 129 bce) developed his theory of pithanon (the "persuasive" or "probable"), holding, as Cicero sums it up (Academica 2.10), "that there is something which is probable and, so to speak, like the truth" and that this provides a "rule both for the conduct of life and for inquiry and discussion."

It was not, however, in scepticism that Platonism was to find its future. Even in the time of Carneades and his successor Philo of Larissa (d. about 80 bce), Platonists were beginning, though solely in defense of their own position, to employ Stoic ideas and terminology; and at the same time, in the teaching of the Stoic Posidonius of Apamea (d. about 51 bce) there are traces of Plato's influence. This incipient eclecticism became stronger in Antiochus of Ascalon (d. about 68 bce), and with it came a repudiation of scepticism and a new, dogmatic Platonismso-called Middle Platonismthat eventually set the stage for the work of Plotinus and his successors.

Antiochus of Ascalon

The split between Antiochus and his teacher Philo of Larissa, a skeptic, had its basis in Antiochus's belief that the authentic tradition of Plato's teaching must be sought in the Old Academy and that this tradition embraced the contributions of Aristotle and the Stoics. Antiochus himself was substantially a Stoic in his assumption of Stoic logos spermatikòs, which he considered quite similar to the Platonic ideas and thus untypical of the later Middle Platonist tradition. Nevertheless his rebellion opened the way for the growth of a school of thought that treated the Platonic corpus as an authoritative text even while it brought other points of viewPythagorean, Aristotelian, and Stoicto the interpretation of that corpus. The influence of Antiochus was overestimated by critics of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century who considered him the founder of Middle Platonism, but now it is thought more probable that Antiochus simply proposed a "return" to the Old Academy (including Aristotle) but was not able to give a new impulse to Platonism.

Eudorus and Philo, the Middle Platonists

According to most authoritative critics, Eudorus and the Jewish philosopher Philo, both active in Alexandria between the first century bce and the first century ce, should be considered Middle Platonists. Eudorus influenced those who, during the first and second century, were interested in the theology of a First Principle, such as Plutarch of Chaeronea and Numenius of Apameia. Eudorus introduced the Pythagorean principle (the One), distinguishing between the absolutely transcendent One and the One that is correlated to the indefinite Dyad. This second One is the principle of limit (understood as form, "eidos ") and is opposed to matter, from which disordered movement originates.

On the other side, Philo, whose imposing bulk of works was dedicated to a Greek exegesis of the Old Testament, employs many of the doctrines that were then considered Platonic, such as the "three principles theology" (Dreiprinzipienlehre, as it is called by German scholars). The first Principles, according to Philo, were not the first or the second One, but God, the Logos, who has in himself the ideas as his thoughts; and matter, out of which the Logos "created" the world, just as the platonic Demiurge "created" the world out of matter by contemplating the ideas. Philo also employed Stoic tenets, such as the doctrine of pathos.

The first and second centuries ce were the heyday of Middle Platonism. Once studied as preparation for Plotinus, the philosophers of the Middle Platonism are now considered worth studying in themselves, and their doctrines must be reconsidered as a more or less "organic building" (a coherent philosophical system). Therefore the word "eclectisism" must be excluded, since it means an assembly of doctrines from various schools, excluding the foundation of a coherent system of thought. On the contrary, the historical development of Platonism involved from its beginning confrontation with other philosophies, such as Pythagoreanism, Aristotelism, and, later, Stoicism, and it must appear neither an oddity nor a mark of eclecticism if Middle Platonists employed (and occasionally rejected) Stoic and Aristotelian doctrines. These philosophers did not by any means represent a uniform point of view but presented various interpretations of Platonic thought. Since the Academy had been dissolved long ago, they didn't represent a continuity, but only a loose "tradition." Platonic doctrines, in their new reassessment, were articulated by Areius Didymus, another scholar of the Augustan Age (like Eudorus and Philo), who was a doxographer more than a philosopher. His collection of Platonic doctrines took up many Antiochean tenets, which reappeared some decades later in the Stoic philosopher Seneca. For all their differences, however, these thinkers had much in common. In particular, they shared the corpus of Platonic dialogues, among which special attention was reserved for the Timaeus. Its interpretation, however, was not unanimous. Plutarch and Atticus took the viewwhich commended them to Christian readersthat the story of the Demiurge's "creation" of the cosmos was to be taken literally. Others, like Albinus and Calvenos Tauros, saw the story as a proper Platonic muthos, a tale intended not to explain how the cosmos came to be but to suggest how it is eternally structured.

In spite of such differences, however, all agreed (against traditional Stoicism) that the First Principle was transcendent and should be equated with the Good of Plato's Republic, the self-thinking Intellect of Aristotle's Metaphysics, or the One of Pythagorean cosmology. The Platonic realm of Forms appeared in Middle Platonism as the content of divine Intellect, and thus as the truth that actuated the World Soul in its work of ordering the visible cosmos. This scheme, in which the ultimate god was sometimes distinguished from a second "demiurgic" Intellect, foreshadowed the Neoplatonic hierarchy of three divine hypostases. At the same time, the human ideal became the contemplative life in which the soul achieves that "likeness to God" (homoiosis theoi ) that Plato had commended in the Theaetetus (176b). Apart from the school philosophers, there are a number of individuals (e.g. the physician Galen, the mathematician Theon of Smyrna, and the rhetor Maximus of Tyre) who, while not quite philosophers themselves, give good evidence for contemporary Platonic schools.

The new form of Platonism appeared in an organic structure for the first time in Plutarch's (before 50after 120 ce) works, and perhaps already in the doctrine of his teacher, Ammonius, who was an Egyptian like Eudorus and Philo. In physics, Plutarch was influenced by Pythagoreanism, whence he took the doctrine of the indefinite Dyad and number mysticism. In his interpretation of the Timaeus he insists on the temporal creation of the world as the result of God's intervention on matter, which is moved by a preexistent, disorderly, bad World Soul. He asserts the existence of the daemons, as Xenocrates had done, and he identifies them with the human soul, bad or good. In ethics, he abandoned Stoicism and, like Antiochus, returned to the peripatetic doctrines of the "moderation of affects." Apuleius (125180), an important Sophist (i.e., orator) in the Latin-speaking West, is similar in some aspects to Plutarch. Apuleius was the author of a novel (Metamorphoseon libri ) and of various orations (Pro se de magia liber; Florida ) that show his interest in other problems, such as magic and literature, though without abandoning Platonic ideas (indeed, he was called philosophus platonicus ). Apuleius followed the "doctrine of the three principles" and, in ethics, the Stoic apatheia and the Platonic "assimilation to god." More interesting is his practice of the Isiac cult, as it appears in the last book of the Metamorphoses, and of many other cults to which he adhered in his youth. So Apuleius's Platonism possesses a kind of henotheistic flavor; besides, he professed, like Plutarch, the Xenocratean daemonology.

Previously confused with Albinus, the author of a handbook of Platonic philosophy (Didaskalikòs ), Alkinoos is not an original thinker, for his doctrines derive in great part from Areius Didymus's doxography. The three principles of Stoic origin (the oikeiosis, the innate ideas or physikai ennoiai, and the distinction between natural and perfected virtues) are also present in Apuleius (For this reason Alkinoos was supposed to be, like Apuleius, the pupil of the little-known Platonic philosopher Gaius). More than other Middle Platonists, Alkinoos represented the Aristotelian tradition, since his First principle is the nous.

As to the "rediscovered" Albinus, he wrote an Introduction to Platonic Philosophy (Eisagoge ), which contains a discussion on nature, as well as characteristics of Platonic dialogues. In other works he was principally devoted to the Timaeus exegesis.

In contrast, Severus and Nicostratus fought against Aristotle and his doctrine of the Categories. Since, it seems, they had friends in Athens, scholars have proposed an "Athenian school," which John Dillon dismisses (like the school of Gaius) as "an empty name" (1977, p. 265). More important, Nicostratus's polemic against Aristotle fits very well with the philosophy of his contemporaries, Calvenus Taurus and Atticus. The first had some kind of school in Athens, and his ethics are akin to those of the Stoics in his doctrine of oikeiosis and his assumption that nothing is good unless virtuous. Taurus was interested in the interpretation of the cosmogony in the Timaeus, which he interpreted as an allegory and not according to the Aristotelian principle of the eternity of the world.

Atticus is distinguished by a lack of toleration, and his interpretation of Aristotle is substantially distorted. His polemic against Aristotle concentrated on cosmogony and ethics. He rejected the Aristotelian exegesis of the Timaeus and, following Plutarch, asserted the temporal creation of the world and the existence of an evil world soul. In ethics, he refused any peripateticism, considering it a moral weakness.

But the most interesting figure of Middle Platonism was surely the Syriac Numenius of Apameia. His doctrine shows an intermingling of Platonism and Pythagoreanism (and therefore he had often been considered as a Neopythagorean); but from Xenocrates and Eudorus onward, Platonic philosophy was often shadowed with Neopythagoreanism. Numenius was interested in Hermetism, Gnosticism, and Zoroastrian and Hebrew cultures. His Pythagorizing Platonism, perhaps through Ammonius Saccas, the master of Plotinus, exercised a powerful influence over Neoplatonism and Plotinus himself. Numenius is a radical dualist, taking the Pythagorean Dyad as the passive principle in opposition to One-god. The Dyad is the origin of matter, which is eternal and unorganized, like the evil Soul of Plutarch and Atticus, though put in an organized state by the Demiurge. As such, the Dyad was not produced by the Monad. Matter is fluid and without quality, but possesses an intrinsic evil force. The Demiurge is the second god. Above him is the first god, called "Father," and under him is the world. So the Demiurge is double, being both the first and the second god, and there is a triad of divine entities, perhaps corresponding to the triad of the second Platonic epistle (312e), which is now regarded a Pythagorean forgery.

The first and second centuries ce saw the growth and diffusion of Gnosticism and Hermetism. Middle Platonic doctrines are present to some degree in these philosophical-religious movements, mingled with and transformed by other doctrines of various origins. This is a large field, which Dillon has defined as "the underworld of Platonism" (1977, p. 384).


The relationship between Gnosis and Platonism should begin with an examination of the concept of dualism, specifically, Platonic dualism. If by dualism we mean a doctrine of two principles, from which the whole universe derives and on which it depends, then Plato's Timaeus, with its doctrine of coeternal Demiurge (at a higher ontological level than ideas) and chora (interpreted as matter), is certainly dualist. However, such a dualism is pre-cosmic, since the created world is characterized by harmony and eternity, and chora is not a negative entity. Besides, Plato's anthropogony in Timaeus 42d and 69c, which describes the intervention of the inferior gods, who, obeying the Demiurge, create the human soul and body in order not to involve God in the responsibility for evil, foreshadows some Gnostic tenets. If the chief characteristic of Gnosticism is its negative depiction of world, Gnostic dualism, though of quite different origin, may be paralleled with Platonic dualism as it is expressed in Plutarch and Numenius. Among Gnostic schools, one of the most representative was that of Valentinus, who was a contemporary of Albinus and Numenius; Valentinus was considered platonicus by Christian writers. Some of his doctrines derive in part from certain forms of contemporary Platonism, where a relatively nondualistic position is present. For Valentinus, the creation of the world is not the result of the struggle between the principle of Good and the principle of Evil, as it is for Barbelognostics and Mani, but is rather the result of the corruption of a previously perfect system, just as for Neoplatonism the existence of evil is the corruption of perfection. Valentinus created an elaborate myth in order to explain the existence of the material world. The basic framework of his system is reminiscent of Pythagorean metaphysics, which had penetrated also into Middle Platonism. It has been supposed that Valentinus had interpreted the aeons of his metaphysics as a kind of Platonic idea. Tertullian was perhaps the first to interpret aeons as the thoughts and motions of the divine Being, whereas Ptolemaeus, one of Valentinus's followers, interpreted them as real persons. From the primordial reality new entities come out in a kind of "emanation" (probole ). The new entities retain, in a depotentiated way, the essence of the original reality, just as in the Neoplatonic system. Initially there are a monadic and a dyadic figure, the latter being subordinated to the former. Their secondary, derived Principle has the titles of the Platonic supreme god, Father and First Principle, while the real supreme principle is called Forefather and Pre-first Principle. The name Ennoia, in the Valentinian system, is reminiscent of Philo's Sophia, which is the same as the Logos of God. Sophia, the aeon who originate last, was a female principle. Her sin is her desire to know her origin and the Forefather's nature, which leads her to try to bear a child without a syzygos, or partner. She has the function of the indefinite Dyad, which introduces evil at the highest level. Horos, the "limit" in the Valentinian myth, perhaps is akin to the Pythagorean peras, and his function is analogous to the regulating activity (for instance, in Philo) of divine Logos.

Before Valentinus lived Basilides (end of first century ce), who held views similar to those of Plotinus. He professed apophatism about divine Being as the natural consequence of the doctrine of divine transcendence. According to Basilides, both original Principles, light and darkness, originally were distinct, but when darkness saw the light, it longed for union with it, just as light desired to see darkness. In the beginning there was the absolute naught, which is perhaps identified with God (Hippolytus says that God was "not existing")such is the conclusion of "negative theology," which was quite common in Platonic and Pythagorean schools. Basilides discussed, as Platonists did, the problem of the creation of the world, which, according to him, is created out of "seeds." These seeds are derived from the Stoic doctrine of logos spermatikos, which states that the cosmic Logos contains the logoi spermatikoi, and in this primordial seed is contained all that will be developed thereafter. Basilides' cosmic seeds also contain all that will happen. Like Plato (Tim. 73c), Basilides employs the word panspermia. God creates the world thanks to his free will, and cosmic seeds don't come out of preexistent matter. Middle Platonists, in contrast, considered God to be a craftsman. So, Basilides was the first Christian philosopher to consider the same problems as contemporary Middle Platonism. Valentinian cosmogony also took up some Middle Platonic doctrines, such as: Matter in itself is not body but possesses the fitness to become every kind of body.


The treatises of the Corpus hermeticum were composed during the second and third century ce. Hermetism was influenced by Middle Platonism, which can be seen, for example, in the first and most important treatise of the Corpus hermeticum, the Poemandres (this name is perhaps a translation from Egyptian). Poemandres describes himself as the nous of the Supreme Power. It is open to interpretation whether the Supreme Power is above the nous, as God is above Mind, or whether nous possesses the Supreme Power. The description of the creation of the world owes something to the concept of the Platonic Demiurge. The Hermetic writer distinguishes between nous and logos in a manner similar to Philo of Alexandria. Like Philo, the Hermetic writer defines Logos as "son of God." The supreme Nous generates another nous demiourgos, who is the creator of fire and pneuma, the seven planetary gods, and other entities, such as the cosmic soul and physis, the archetypal man (borrowed perhaps from Philo). Also in ethic, the ideal of apatheia found its way into Hermetic doctrines.

Christian Middle Platonists

Middle Platonism had a strong influence on Christian thought, beginning in the second century ce. Apologists such as Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, and Theophilus of Antioch identified the Son of God with the Logos, or the second god of contemporary Middle Platonists, while the Father was considered the origin of the Logos and even superior to him, just as first nous is above second nous. Christian Middle Platonism was developed by much more representative thinkers, like Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who went deep into the question of the nature of God and of the relation between the Father and the Son, both being eternal and divine entities, but personally differentiated. In ethics, Clement of Alexandria and Origen recognized the Middle Platonic "assimilation to god" as the ideal implicit in the doctrine that God created Adam "in our image, after our likeness" (Gn. 1:26). The interpretation of Genesis 1:2 that the world was created out of shapeless matter is the Christian accommodation of Old Testament cosmogony to Middle Platonic philosophy. Philo of Alexandria had already proposed this, and it clearly appears in Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, and Irenaeus of Lyon (second century ce). As soon as Apologists considered the biblical narration of the creation of the world, the problem of a philosophical interpretation became cogent, since the text of the Bible was not compatible with Platonic philosophy. The solution was a creatio ex nihilo, which developed at the end of second century ce, but Christian authors who were educated in the Middle Platonic philosophy, such as Justin, Athenagoras, and Clement of Alexandria, found it difficult to accept such a solution, and the contemporary heretic Hermogenes returned to the Middle Platonic doctrine of creation out of existing matter.

Platonism and Neoplatonism

From the beginning of the Plotinian school in Rome (244 ce onward) and the research of Porphyry of Tyros (middle third century ce), we usually speak no more either of Middle Platonism or of Platonism, but of Neoplatonism. Of course, original Platonic doctrine mingled with Neoplatonic elaborations, and their influence can be traced in the writing of Christian and, later, Islamic theologians and philosophers. Plotinus (205270) is normally considered the founder of Neoplatonism, though the evolution of Platonism is not so linear and direct as it was supposed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, such as in Eduard Zeller's strong Hegelian interpretation of the history of ancient philosophy. Plotinus wasn't the "schoolmaster of Neoplatonism," and Platonism from the third to sixth century had many peculiarities not derived from Plotinus. The essays Plotinus wrote for circulation among his pupils were collected by his disciple Porphyry (d. c. 305) in six sets of nine texts known collectively as the Enneads. In these terse and often difficult papers, Plotinus sets out a system according to which all reality issues spontaneously, coordinately, and timelessly from a single transcendent and inexpressible source called the One or the Good. This process of emanation produces a hierarchical world order in which each successive form of reality (hypostasis ) images its superior at a lower level of unity. Thus Intellectthe unity of intuitive awareness with its intelligible objects (the Forms)images the One. Soul, the third hypostasis, images Intellect, although its being and knowing are distended in time, and although, as "nature," it approaches division in space by giving rise to the corporeal, visible cosmos. The limit of this expansion of reality from the One is primal matter, which, Plotinus teaches, is in itself mere privation. To the emanation of reality from the One there corresponds a converse and simultaneous movement of "return" (epistrophe ), by which each level of being seeks itself in its source and original. From this point of view, the structure of Plotinus's cosmos corresponds to the route that consciousness takes in contemplative activity as it moves from dispersion to integration. The highest normal level of consciousness is the unified awareness that belongs to Intellect, but in moments of mystical ecstasy the soulas Plotinus records from his own experienceachieves a loss of particular selfhood in union with the One.

Porphyry was a commentator on Plato and Aristotle and the author of a lengthy treatise titled Against the Christians. In Porphyry's writings the scholastic tone and religious interests of later Neoplatonism are foreshadowed. He produced not only commentaries but also summary interpretations of Plotinian ontology and ethics, as in his Sentences and Letter to His Wife Marcella. Porphyry seems to be responsible for reviving the repute of a late-second-century collection of revelations known as the Chaldaean Oracles. Although sceptical of the claims that this collection made for the ritual-magical practice of theurgy, Porphyry apparently initiated the practice of interpreting the Oracles in the light of a Plotinian metaphysic.

Porphyry's disciple Iamblichus (d. c. 325 ce) wrote a commentary (now lost) on the Chaldaean Oracles and in his treatise On the Mysteries defended theurgy (against Porphyry) as necessary for the soul's union with the divine. He was also a speculative philosopher of great originality, and his system opened the way for the elaborate metaphysics that marked the thought of the later Platonic school at Athens. There, from about 400 until 529, a series of distinguished teachers developed both the philosophical and the religious positions that Iamblichus had defended. Most notable among these was Proclus (c. 412485), whose Elements of Theology and Commentary on the Timaeus are monuments to the learning and dialectical skill of the Academy in its last days. Proclus saw his task as carrying Iamblichus's principles to their logical conclusion and filling any gaps he left in the metaphysical hierarchy. Therefore Proclus admitted within the First Hypostasis a series of Unities (Henads ) in addition to the One itself. He establishes complete symmetry between that Hypostasis and lower orders by extending to it Iamblichus's distinction of Unparticipated and Participated Terms. The Henads thus constitute the Participated intermediaries linking lower realities to the One, which now becomes the First Hypostasis Unparticipated Monad. But the Henads are not simply aspects or attributes of the First Cause, but substantial, self-subsistent entities derived from the One and dependent on it. Hence arise their functionsone metaphysical, the other religious. The former function was that of bridging the gulf between Unity and Plurality. In particular, although the One is absolutely unknowable, the Henads, unknowable in themselves, can be known by analogy from their products. Fundamental is the basic Neoplatonic doctrine that the same attribute can exist under an appropriate mode on successive levels. Proclus emphasizes that such attributes are present perfectly only on the level of the Henads. Each order of reality, even the Henads, represents an appropriate combination of Limit and Infinity, whose cosmogonic roles can be traced back to early Pythagoreanism and to Plato's Philebus.

In the Latin West, Platonism and Neoplatonism were transmitted through Marius Victorinus (end of third century360) and Augustine of Hippo (354430). "Victorinus shows how lively, how original, how pulsating, how stimulating and, yea, how attractive was Platonism in the fourth century. Together with Augustine, Victorinus represents the best example that, for an intellectual, the reception of Christian doctrines was possible only through Neoplatonism, the dominating spiritual trend at the time" (Baltes, 2002, p.125). Victorinus's theology develops a rich metaphysical system, attributing to the Father the majority of the qualifications characterizing the Neoplatonic One, which are, of course, negative ones, according to apophatic trends widely developed by Greek philosophy and Christian culture (oneness, pureness, simpleness, invisibility, unutterability, motion, passions, corruption, and lack of body). Moreover, Victorinus's deep philosophical background shows in the majority of his doctrines. For example, his Trinitarian speculation is an attempt to join the triadic schemes already attested in Platonic texts, particularly in the Enneads. The relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity is in fact explained by means of Neoplatonic schemes, thus equating Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the hypostatical moments of being-life-intellect (or being-intellect-life, in a reversed order), or introducing the more complex concept of predominance, according to which each Person of the Trinity is best characterized by the prevalence of one of these aspects (being-life-intellect), in order to preserve and reassert their mutual relationship. The Son's generative process is described in philosophical terms, such as stillness and movement, form and act, dynamis and activity, to which must be added the conversion, represented by the Spirit.

Augustine's conversion to Christianity accompanied his discovery of Neoplatonic thought, as represented by writings of Plotinus and Porphyry (writings probably translated into Latin by Marius Victorinus). His doctrine was permeated by Platonic themes, however revised and recast in the light of his Christian beliefs. Boethius (c. 480c. 524), a Roman aristocrat in the service of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic, and an orthodox Christian, did as much as Augustine to transmit the heritage of Hellenic philosophy to the medieval West. Aiming to provide Latin versions of the major works of Aristotle and Plato, he succeeded, before his execution at the hands of Theodoric, in rendering certain of Aristotle's logical works as well as Porphyry's Introduction to Aristotle's Categories, the book that originally stimulated medieval philosophical debate. His Consolation of Philosophy, widely read during the Middle Ages, presented a simplified Neoplatonist outlook consistent with the structures of Christian doctrine.

It was largely through Augustine, whose influence is seen in thinkers as diverse as Anselm of Canterbury (c. 10331109), Hugh of SaintVictor (c. 10961141), the School of Chartres, the Franciscan Bonaventure (c. 12171274), and the Dominicans Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274) and Johannes Eckhart (c. 12601327?), that Platonist themes influenced medieval Latin philosophy and spirituality. Of the works of Plato, only the Timaeus was known (in the fourth-century Latin version of Calcidius). Plotinus and his successors were scarcely known at all, save through Boethius's translation of Porphyry's Introduction to Aristotle's Categories. What the Latin Middle Ages eventually harvested from the work of the late Platonists were the writings of Aristotle on natural philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics, which, during and after the thirteenth century, became standard texts in the liberal arts curricula of medieval universities.

Muslim Neoplatonism

Parallel to the Platonic tradition during the Middle Ages is the spread of Platonic thought among Muslims. Indeed, medieval Western interest in, and knowledge of Plato was stimulated and in part made possible by the labors of Islamic philosophers who worked on ninth- and tenth-century Arabic versions of the works of Aristotle, Plato, and their Neoplatonic commentators. But Neoplatonic thought didn't reach the Arabs only through translations from the Greek; Syriac translations of Greek texts were another major source. A major role was played by a remarkable forgery, the so-called Theology of Aristotle, which in fact consists of extracts from Plotinus's Enneads IVVI augmented by supplementary or explanatory material perhaps derived from Porphyry's lost commentary. In 832 ce in Bagdad, Califf al-Mamoun founded the "House of Wisdom," whose direction was committed to famous and clever translaters, including Honayn ibn Ishaq (809873 ce), who was famous for translating Greek books into Syriac and Arabic. Therefore the whole terminology of Arabic theology and philosophy was prepared during the ninth century, and the "hellenistic philosophers" (falasifa is the Arabic word for philosophos ) could use the translation of Aristotle and his commentators, Plato and Galen. The "peripatetic reaction" by Averroes opposed the Neoplatonism of these thinkers. Al-Kindi (796d. after 870) was interested not only in mathematics and geometry, but also in metaphysics, astronomy, and music. He tried to reconcile philosophy with prophetic revelation and distinguished between human science (which included logic, the arts of quadrivium and philosophy) and a divine science, which was the prophetic revelation. He accepted the creatio ex nihilo, which he interpreted as an act of God's will, not as an emanation. God creates the first Intelligence, from which the other are derived, as Neoplatonists taught. The structure of his worldview was essentially that of later Neoplatonism, and his thought derived from John Philoponus's works and the Neoplatonic school in Athens.

This Arab philosophical enterprise was continued by al-Fārābī (872950), a great religious and mystical thinker. He wrote a work to demonstrate the agreement of Plato and Aristotle. In his opinion, wisdom began among the Chaldaeans in Mesopotamia and then spread to Egypt and Greece. According to his teaching, the cosmic Intelligences are derived from the One, but only through the first Intelligence, because ex Uno non fit nisi unum. The works of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna, 9801037), and al-Ghazālī (10581111) were also influenced by Neoplatonism.

Platonism in the Renaissance

It was not until the fifteenth century and the work of Nicholas of Cusa (14011464), Marsilio Ficino (14331499), and others that Plato himself, read through the eyes of his Neoplatonic interpreters, was rediscovered. Nicholas, in On Learned Ignorance, presents a view of the world that owes much to Proclus, as well as to certain Platonic dialogues. Ficino translated Plato and Plotinus's Enneads into Latin and made a start on Porphyry and Iamblichus. Even Aristotle, in this new age, began to be read as the ancient Neoplatonists had read him. Platonic writings and ideas accompanied the spread of Renaissance humanism and went on to influence modern philosophy.

See Also

Dualism; Fārābī, al-; Gnosticism, article on Gnosticism from Its Origins to the Middle Ages; Hellenistic Religions; Hermetism; Neoplatonism; Plato; Socrates.


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Claudio Moreschini (2005)


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A term with a variety of meanings in the history of philosophy. In its original imposition, it refers to the doctrines of plato himself, and by extension includes the teachings of others who developed characteristic Platonic themes such as (1) the teaching on forms or ideas, with its accompanying absolute realism, emphasis on mathematical intelligibility, and mistrust of sense knowledge;(2) the accent on recollection and use of a priori method;(3) the doctrines of a demiurge, participation, world soul, and the relative nonbeing of matter; (4) the notion of the human soul as immaterial and endowed with various powers and virtues; and (5) the concept of the good and its associated ethical idealism, theory of the state, and theory of education.

In more specialized senses, Platonism refers first to the succession of philosophers of the Academy in Athens, and their associates, continuingwith some interruptions and possibly a loss of recordsto the scholiarchate of Damascius, when an edict of the Emperor Justinian in 529 prohibited the teaching of philosophy in Athens. It is also used by some for Neoplatonism, although this is more commonly considered a separate philosophical movement closely related to Platonism. Among patristic, medieval, and modern scholars, the term is generally used to designate currents of thought of Platonic origin that flourished among the Greek and Latin Fathers, among medieval schoolmen, in the Platonic Academy of the Renaissance, or among the Cambridge Platonists. Not infrequently, Platonism has also influenced the elaboration of religious doctrines, and on this account is variously called Jewish, Islamic, or Christian.

This article is concerned mainly with the meaning of Platonism in the more specialized senses and is divided into two parts: the first treats of Plato's disciples and the schools they founded, under the title of Early and Middle Platonism; the second considers the use made of Platonic doctrines by Christian philosophers and theologians, under the title of Christian Platonism.

Early and Middle Platonism

Plato's thought continued to exert its influence after his death, particularly in the Academy he had founded. Although scholars are not unanimous on the status of the Academy's development, they usually speak of the Old Academy and the Middle and New Academies. Doctrinally, the Old Academy more or less maintained Plato's teachings intact, although it placed special emphasis on the Pythagorean elements that it contained. The Middle Academy was given over to skepticism, while the New Academy was more eclectic in its tendencies as it sought to develop a Platonic position in opposition to that of the Stoics (see stoicism).

Old Academy. Speusippus (c. 407339 b.c.), head of the Academy from 347 to 339 b.c., wrote numerous memoirs and dialogues of which only fragments remain. Favorinus related in the second book of his Memorabilia that Aristotle purchased Speusippus's writings for three talents (Diogenes Laertius, 4.5). His successor as head of the Academy was Xenocrates (396314 b.c.), who served from 339 to 314 b.c. Xenocrates's writings were treasured in the Academy and presumed lost when the building was destroyed by fire in Sulla's siege and sack of Athens in 86 b.c. Polemon was then head of the Academy from 314 to 269 b.c.; he and Crantor were fellow pupils of Xenocrates.

A comparison between the teaching of these men and that of Plato is contained in the Metaphysics of aristotle (1028b 1927). There the Stagirite says that Plato posited two kinds of substancethe forms and the mathematicals, and also a third kind, the substance of sensible bodies; that Speusippus posited several more kinds of substance, starting with the One, and assumed that there was a principle for each kindone for numbers, one for configurations, and another for souls; and that other philosophers, presumably followers of Xenocrates, held that forms and numbers have the same nature, and that other things, e.g., lines and planes, and eventually the substance of the world and sensible bodies, are derived from these.

Middle and New Academies. Crates, pupil of Polemon, was head of the Academy in the 3d century b.c. One of his pupils was Bion; another was Arcesilaus, who was also a pupil of Crantor and the first to reject the traditional doctrine of Plato in favor of skepticism, being thereby named the founder of the Middle Academy by Diogenes Laertius (4.28). Lacydes was his successor (c. 242216 b.c.), and, for Diogenes, founder of the New Academy (4.59).

Cicero has given a history of the chief persons in the New Academy (Acad. prior. 2.116). He starts his account with Arcesilaus, teacher of Lacydes, and says that Lacydes taught Evander, and Evander, Hegesinus. Carneades, "fourth in line from Arcesilaus," was then the pupil of Hegesinus, and served as head of the school for a long time, living to be 85 years old. Clitomachus succeeded him as head in 129 b.c. Then came Philo of Larissa (c. 140c. 77 b.c.), and then Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 12868 b.c.), both teachers of Cicero (De nat. deor. 1.6). Among the Roman Academicians, in addition to Cicero, should also be enumerated Atticus and Varro.

cicero (10643 b.c.) himself acknowledged that he was an Academic (De nat. deor. 1.11), and stated that sufficient reason for his allegiance had been given in the four books of his Academics; this survives in two editions, both incomplete, the first known as the Lucullus, and the second as the Catulus, after the leading interlocutor in each. Cicero also named the ambulatio, or place of exercise, in the lower level of his Tusculan villa near Rome the "Academia" (Disp. tusc. 2.9; 3.7). His Tusculan Disputations, On the Nature of the Gods, Concerning the Last Object of Desire and Aversion, Laws, and Republic are his important philosophical writings. At the end of the sixth book of the Republic (6.92.9) is a passage known as "Scipio's Dream," reminiscent of the story of Er at the end of Plato's Republic (614B621D), upon which macrobius commented at the end of the 4th century. Titus Pomponius Atticus (9932 b.c.) was a fellow student and lifelong friend of Cicero; he edited the letters Cicero sent him, and these reflect his own philosophical opinions.

Marcus Terentius Varro (11627 b.c.) also studied at Athens under Antiochus of Ascalon. A voluminous writer, he is reported as saying that up to the day he had entered upon his 12th hebdomad of years he had written 70 hebdomads of books, many of which were lost when his library was plundered at the time of his proscription. Among his books was one called Images or Hebdomads, fragments of which survive. His Logistoricus, a collection of philosophical and historical treatises, is lost.

Both Varro and Cicero were eclectic philosophers. Apart from his concern with the cult of the State, Varro was influenced by the number mysticism of neo pythagoreanism and also by the teachings of the cynics. Cicero himself was hardly an original thinker, but his flair for expression enabled him to transmit a variety of Greek doctrines to Roman readers. His arguments against skepticism were not speculative but practical and based mainly on his personal intuition of moral consciousness. In his ethical teaching, he borrowed elements from the Stoics and from the Peripatetics, while in matters of religion he urged belief in divine providence and the immortality of the soul.

Middle Platonism. The Middle Platonists, as opposed to the earlier members of the Academies, were a group of writers of Greek who flourished from the beginning of the reign of Hadrian in a.d. 117 to the end of the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in 180. They continued the interest of the New Academy in eclecticism, while attempting to effect a fundamental synthesis between Platonism and Peripatetic thought, using Aristotelian logic to this end. Again, they were influenced by the mysticism of the Neo-Pythagoreans. In keeping with the practice of the times, they commented more than their predecessors on the Platonic Dialogues, and in so doing sought to develop an orthodox Platonist doctrine in opposition to the Peripatetics and the Stoics. The resulting tensions between orthodoxy and eclecticism left this intermediate stage of Platonism in a state of flux, from which a true synthesis was to be effected only with the emergence of Neoplatonism at the end of the middle period.

Plutarch of Chaeronea in Boeotia (c. a.d. 46120) is the best known of the Middle Platonists, chiefly for his Parallel Lives of the Greeks and the Romans. His principal philosophical work is the Moralia. The 13th book contains Platonic questions, especially about the origin of the soul as expounded in the Timaeus and arguments against the Stoics. The 12th book includes a short treatise (945E955C) dedicated to Favorinus (a.d. 80150), from the city of Arelatum (Arles) on the Rhone River, who himself wrote on the tropes of Pyrrho.

Tiberius Claudius Herodes Atticus (a.d. 101177), a student and protégé of Favorinus, also studied the doctrines of Plato with Calvisius Taurus of Tyre (2d century a.d.). The latter was scholiarch of the Academy in Athens during the rule of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. His probable successor as scholiarch was Atticus, an Athenian philosopher, who is known to have written a commentary on the Timaeus, and another treatise quoted at length without title by Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea (c. a.d. 260399), both works surviving in fragments.

At Pergamum in the 2d century a.d. influence was exerted by a Platonist named Gaius (b. c. a.d. 75). In a.d. 144 Galen (c. 130c. 200) attended the lectures of a "pupil of Gaius" at Pergamum, and in 151 or 152 went to Smyrna to make the acquaintance of the Platonist Albinus. The catalog in Codex Parisinus Graecus 1962 mentions that Albinus edited the lectures of Gaius on the doctrines of Plato. All Gaius's writings have been lost, although some of his treatises were among those read in the school of Plotinus. Two writings of Albinus survive: a short prologue to the Dialogues of Plato, the introductory lecture of his course on Plato; and a much longer epitome of the doctrines of Plato, entitled Didaskalikos and usually published under the name of Alcinous. An unnamed Platonist, probably another pupil of Gaius, wrote a commentary on the Theaetetus that is extant (Papyr. 9782 ). Characteristic of the school of Gaius is esteem for the logic of Aristotle, in that this offered a respectable alternative to the tropes of Pyrrho.

Diogenes Laertius (3d century a.d.), it should be noted, has been thought an Epicurean because of his life of epicurus, which constitutes Book 10 of the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers and ends with 40 major maxims of Epicurus. However, Diogenes spoke approvingly of "an enthusiastic Platonist" (3.47), devoted Book 3 of the Lives to Plato, and in Book 4 wrote lives, many of high literary merit, of the important persons of the Academy from Speusippus to Clitomachus.

It is impossible to detect any systematic unity in the teachings of the Middle Platonists. Their attempts at synthesis, however, were incorporated into the movement that was later to be known as Neoplatonism, which had its proximate origin in Alexandria during the 3d century a.d. and its more remote beginnings at Apamea in Syria in the writings of the Stoic philosopher Poseidonius (c. 135c. 51 b.c.) and the Neo-Pythagorean Numenius (2d century a.d.). For further details of this movement, see neoplatonism.

Christian Platonism

Neoplatonism, in the view of one historian, "was the last breath, the last flower, of ancient pagan philosophy; but in the thought of St. Augustine it became the first page of Christian philosophy" (F. C. Copleston, History of Philosophy [Westminster, Md., 194675] 1:506). Apart from influences that are now recognized as Neoplatonist, however, Christian writers found much in the older Platonism that helped them in their understanding of Christian theology and much that helped them answer philosophical questions without compromising their theology. They found evidence for the unity of God, preexistence of the forms of things in the mind of God, creation of the world, providence, God the true and highest Good, memory as a way to know God, the virtuous life, and the spirituality and immortality of the human soul. Their main points of criticism, though not the only ones, are doctrines that they found to be irreconcilable with Christian theology.

Each period in history in which there occurs a movement identifiable as Christian Platonism is marked by a confrontation of Christian theologians with some newly available Platonic materials. As already noted, these periin most cases they showed involvement with writings other than Plato's, especially those more recently classified as Neoplatonic. For purposes here, they may be divided roughly into periods corresponding to those of the Greek and Latin Fathers and the Middle Ages, and the special movements of the Platonic Academy, the Cambridge Platonists, and modern Platonism.

Greek and Latin Fathers. The Greek apologists during the reign of the Antonines were educated in the pagan schools of philosophy. They used their knowledge to point out to the emperors, themselves philosophers, that Christian doctrine was reconcilable with philosophy, and therefore not to be condemned, and also to furnish an answer to questions about God, life, and death, to which philosophers had found no satisfactory solution. aristides, a "philosopher of Athens," wrote an apology to Hadrian (117138), while justin martyr wrote one to Antoninus Pius (138161) and another to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (161180) and his imperial partner, Lucius Verus (161169). athenagoras, "the Athenian, a philosopher and Christian," addressed his Embassy for the Christians to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and his son, Lucius Aurelius Commodus (161192). These apologies were written in Greek and are extant.

In Alexandria Christian scholars adapted Platonic thought to religious instruction and scriptural exegesis. Titus Flavius Clemens, or clement of alexandria, taught in the Christian catechetical school. He knew Greek philosophy and considered Plato to be the greatest of philosophers (Paedagogus 2.11). In his Exhortation to the Greeks he showed the acuteness, and yet the limitations, of the teachings of philosophers on the nature of God (6.59P61P; cf. also Miscellanies 1.14). His pupil was origen, of whom eusebius quotes Porphyry as saying that he "was most celebrated, and is still celebrated by the writings that he has left," and that "he was always in company with Plato," but also read works of other philosophers (Hist. eccl. 6.19).

Somewhat more than a century later, after plotinus and porphyry, several of the Greek Fathers in Cappadocia continued the work of instruction in homilies. Thus gregory of nyssa wrote a dialogue De anima et resurrectione, modeled on Plato's Phaedo, in which Gregory's sister on her deathbed states the Christian doctrine of resurrection and of the restoration of the world (13). He said, after Plotinus, that the human mind is capable of direct experience of God, "a divine and sober inebriation" (Beatitudes 6; In Canticum Canticorum 10). About the same time, palladius (fl. 408) modeled his Dialogue concerning the Life of Chrysostom on Plato's Phaedo; and Methodius, the Symposium or A Treatise on Chastity on Plato's Symposium. Methodius wrote an answer, no longer extant, to Porphyry's attacks on the Christians. Under Porphyry's influence, nemesius of emesa (fl. c. 400) wrote the Nature of Man, which was available in the Middle Ages in a Latin translation of Alfanus I, archbishop of Salerno 105885, under the title Prennon Fisicon (Codex Abrincensis Bibl. Municipalis 221, saec. XII).

In the Latin West, the predominant influences on Christian writers were Plato's Timaeus and Porphyry's Isagoge or introduction to Aristotle's logic. Cicero had translated the Timaeus in 45 or 44 b.c. after he had written the Academics. Four centuries later, calcidius translated the Timaeus anew, and wrote an elaborate commentary on it, dedicated to Ossius (c. 256357 or 358), bishop of Cordoba. marius victorinus translated the Isagoge into Latin before 355, the year of his conversion to Christianity late in life, and also parts, if not all, of Plotinus's Enneads. augustine of hippo told the story of Victorinus's conversion as he had heard it from Simplicianus (Conf. 8.25).

The scene of the confrontation of the Latin Fathers with Platonism was in northern Italy: at Milan, where Augustine listened to Ambrose's homilies, and about 20 miles farther south at Pavia, where boethius was imprisoned. Ambrose later worked his homilies into treatises, some of which, notably the Hexameron and the Funeral Orations, indicate the use of Plotinus's "On the Beautiful" (Enn. 1.6). Augustine himself mentions in his City of God some books of Platonists he had read: Apuleius, The God of Socrates (8.14); Porphyry, De philosophia ex oraculis haurienda (19.23) and the letter to the Egyptian Anebo (10.11). In one chapter he lists those whom he means by the term "Platonists" (8.12): Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Apuleius.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius held high governmental positions under Theodoric the Ostrogoth (c. 454526) but fell into disfavor. While imprisoned at Pavia, he wrote the Consolation of Philosophy, which includes autobiographical details. In his commentary on Aristotle's On Interpretation (comm. 3, proem.), he says that it is his intention to make available to his countrymen translations of all the works of Plato and Aristotle and a reconciliation of the seemingly different doctrines of the two. (see patristic philosophy.)

Medieval Platonism. The Benedictine Abbey of saint-denis in the environs north of Paris, burial place of many kings of France, is the site of the next major development in Christian Platonism. Michael Bekkos, "The Stammerer," emperor at Constantinople, sent a copy of the Greek writings of Dionysius the Areopagite (Codex Parisiensis Bibl. Nat. grec. 437 ) to Louis the Pious (778840), son of Charlemagne and emperor in the West, who received it at Compiègne in 827 and deposited it in the Abbey of Saint-Denis, where hilduin was abbot. Hilduin, on orders from Louis, translated the writings into Latin with the help of several collaborators (825835). A few years later, in the reign of Charles the Bald, king of France from 840 to 877, john scotus eriugena made, on the king's order, a new translation (c. 867) from the same manuscript. These writings consisted of four treatises: On the Divine Names, On the Celestial Hierarchy, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and On Mystical Theology, and ten letters, with an eleventh letter that Hilduin wrote and included. Their author, pseudo-dionysius, in effect presented summaries or quotations from proclus (411485): Elements of Theology (2.910), Ten Doubts concerning Providence (4.14), On Providence and Fate (4.1517), On the Subsistence of Evil (4.1835). He also showed the conformity of the doctrines to Sacred Scripture.

In the 12th century an interest in Platonism was maintained in the cathedral schools of chartres, a town about 55 miles southwest of Paris. The chief Platonic document was the Timaeus in the partial translation of Calcidius (17A53C), together with his commentary. john of salisbury was chronicler in his Metalogicon. The sequence of chancellors of the schools in the period was: bernard of chartres, gilbert de la porrÉe, and thierry of chartres. The first named was called by John of Salisbury "the foremost Platonist of our time" (Metalogicon, 4.35); he explained Porphyry (4.35), followed Plato in the doctrine of ideas (2.17), and tried to reconcile the teaching of Plato and Aristotle, "a vain effort to reconcile in death ones who had disagreed in life" (2.17).

william of conches, "most accomplished grammarian since Bernard of Chartres" (Metalogicon 1.5), wrote a commentary on the Timaeus, of which fragments survive. He identified the "soul of the world" with the Holy Spirit. The Timaeus was read in the faculty of arts in Paris, along with explanations from his commentary, until 1255 or earlier, when it was superseded in the official curriculum by the works of Aristotle.

Several Latin translations of Plato and Proclus, from the Greek, were made in Sicily in the middle of the 12th century. Although they survive in a dozen manuscripts, they were known by few scholars before the Renaissance. Their production was a result of the enterprise of henricus aristippus, a Greek in the service of the king of Sicily. Henricus began a translation of Plato's Phaedo into Latin at the siege of Benevento in the spring of 1156 and completed it a short time later at Palermo; he also translated the Meno between 1154 and 1160. These are the only dialogues of Plato that name an Aristippus, and each has the name in the beginning of the dialogue (Phaedo, 59C; Meno, 70B).

Thus, toward the beginning of the 13th century a considerable collection of Platonic writings in Latin had been assembled. It included Calcidius's work on the Timaeus; works by Augustine, Boethius, Dionysius, al-kindĪ, alfarabi, and avicenna; Eriugena's De divisione naturae, the liber de causis, and the Fons Vitae of avicebron. The Phaedo and Meno of Plato and the Elementatio physica of Proclus had also been translated.

This material had been exploited by theologians at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, particularly by suger of saint-denis; at the Abbey of Saint-Victor, by hugh of saint-victor; at Cîteaux, where alan of lille remonstrated with the Albigenses; and at Toledo in the original writings of dominic gundisalvi. The wealth of material and its wide dispersion led to the use of it in a variety of ways. As a result, the Platonism of the 13th century was a many-sided jewel, with facets that were labeled Augustinian, Avicennian, Franciscan, Dionysian, Albertist, and mystical. (see augustinianism; scholasticism.)

An important achievement toward the end of the century was the translation of Proclus from the Greek by william of moerbeke. The latter's translation of the Elements of Theology in 1268 was taken by St. thomas aquinas as the occasion for his commentary on the Liber de Causis and for a treatise De substantius separatis. Aquinas's commentary is practically also a commentary on the Elements of Theology. Before Thomas's death in 1274, William made a partial translation of Proclus's Commentary on the Timaeus, and in February of 1280 he completed at Corinth, where he was archbishop from 1278, the translation of the "three little works" that traditionally were together since the days of Dionysius: Ten Doubts concerning Providence (February 4), On Providence and Fate and That which is in our Power, to Theodorus, the Mechanist (February 14), and On the Subsistence of Evil (February 21). William also completed the translation of Proclus's commentary on the Parmenides just before his death at Corinth in 1285 or 1286 and before he could send a copy to his friend, Henry (Bate) of Mecheln, as he had promised. These translations were in harmony with the metaphysical disposition of St. albert the great. Their influence was felt where his was greatest, among the German Dominicans.

Platonic Academy. In 1439 Gemistos plethon came from Mistra in Greece to Italy to attend the Council of Florence as a representative of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He met Cosimo de' Medici (13891464), leading citizen of Florence, who was so attracted by his enthusiasm for Plato's philosophy that he decided to have young Marsilio ficino, native of Figline near Florence, trained by Plethon in philosophy and Greek with a view to translating Plato's complete works into Latin. Cosimo founded the Platonic Academy in 1459 in Florence and made Marsilio its first director.

Marsilio completed the translation of Plato, a translation of the Enneads of Plotinus, of Albinus's Didaskalikos, and of Proclus's Elementatio physica, Elements of Theology, Hymns, and part of the Commentary on the First Alcibiades. An original work of his, Platonic Theology (1482), was dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici (144992).

Cardinal bessarion was a pupil of Plethon and his defender (In calumniatorem Platonis ), from charges made in George of Trebizond's (13961484) comparative study of Aristotle and Plato, that Plethon's philosophy was unchristian and that it was a new religion, neither Christian nor Muslim, but Platonic and heathen. Bessarion also defended Plethon in De natura et arte against Theodorus Gaza's (c. 140075) De fato.

Giovanni pico della mirandola proposed in 1486 his readiness to defend in a public disputation in Rome 900 theses; he based 55 of them on Proclus's Platonic Theology. Later he came to Florence and joined the Academy. He wrote Of Being and Unity (1492), part of a prospective treatise on the harmony of Plato and Aristotle.

In the early 16th century, a translation into Latin, perhaps the first, of the Theology of Aristotle was made from the Arabic by Francesco Rosi of Ravenna, putting it into Greek at Damascus, and Pier Niccolo Castellani, putting the Greek into Latin in Rome, where the Latin text was published in 1519. Fifty years later, Jacques Charpentier (152174) designated the earlier translation as bad, corrected it, and published the revision with notes in Paris in 1571. A translation by Geoffrey Lewis from the Arabic into English about 1959 was the occasion for Paul Henry's (1906) establishing the work as that of al-Kindī, who excerpted it in large part from the Enneads of Plotinus.

Spiritus Martinus Cuneas made a Latin translation of Proclus's Elementatio physica (Paris 1542). Francesco Patrizzi translated the Elementatio physica and Elements of Theology into Latin (Ferrara 1583). Aemilius Portus (15501612) had his Latin translation of the Platonic Theology and the Elements of Theology published posthumously alongside the Greek text in Hamburg in 1618.

Giordano bruno and Jakob bÖhme were influenced by the writings of the Platonists; the former especially by Plotinus and Raymond lull, the latter by Proclus and nicholas of cusa.

Cambridge Platonists. In the 17th century, a group of Christian philosophers, most of them at the University of Cambridge, united in opposition to corpuscular physics and the mechanism of Thomas hobbes as appropriate foundations for philosophy. They sought to reconcile science and religion in a Platonic framework and to establish ethics as law of nature. Their founder was Benjamin Whichcote (160983). The chief members were Ralph Cudworth (161788), Richard Cumberland (16311718), Joseph Glanvill (163680), Henry More (161487), and John Norris (16571711). see cambridge platonists.

G. W. leibniz developed his philosophy in conscious opposition to the Cambridge Platonists, as he said in his Discourse on Metaphysics (10). He did not thereby accept a mechanist approach but simply pointed out that there was much more to Plato than the doctrines of world soul, subsistence of the ideas, and purification of the soul. He preferred Plato's teachings on virtue, justice, and the state; on the art of defining and classifying concepts; and on knowledge of the eternal verities and the innate principles of the mind.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury (16711713), styled Lord Ashley from January of 1683, was sympathetic to the Cambridge Platonists. In 1698 he published the first edition of the Sermons of Dr. Whichcote, for which he wrote the preface; in The Moralists: A Philosophical Rhapsody, published in 1709, he spoke of Cudworth as "that Pious and Learned man" (2.3).

Jean Le Clerc (16571736), in his capacity as publisher, was in correspondence with Cudworth, Leibniz (whose philosophy he did not approve), Shaftesbury, and John locke. He had great influence through his Bibliothèque universelle et historique (25 v. Amsterdam 168693), begun with J. C. de la Croze; Bibliothèque choisie (28 v. Amsterdam 170313); and Bibliothèque ancienne et moderne (29 v. Amsterdam 171426). In volumes 6 and 7 of Bibliothèque choisie he gave a sympathetic exposition of Cudworth's philosophy.

Modern Platonism. Unique among moderns is the philosophical position of Thomas Taylor, "the Platonist" (17581835). He abjured the Christianity of his day, openly avowed belief in the Greek gods, and wrote as a religious exercise hymns in their worship. He translated the complete works of Aristotle into English; and, with Floyer Sydenham (171087), the complete works of Plato. His chief interest was in the later Platonists, whose doctrine he approvingly designated, in their words, "the Platonic theology." He translated much of Plotinus, Porphyry, Apuleius, Iamblichus, and Proclus.

The Platonism of the recent past is closely related to Platonic studies. Thus Victor cousin published unedited works of Proclus. G. F. Creuzer (17711858) edited Proclus and Plotinus. Clemens Baeumker edited Platonic writings of the Middle Ages. Constantin Ritter (18591936) edited Plato. Edward Caird (18351908) and F. M. Cornford (18741943) were interested in the evolution of theology in Greek philosophy. Charles Huit (18451914) and Ernst Hoffmann (18801952) took a scholarly interest in the history of Platonism.

Other names that must be mentioned are George Burges (17861864), George Grote (17941871), Benjamin Jowett (181793), Eduard Zeller (18141908), Walter Pater (183994), Charles Bigg (18401908), Thomas Whittaker (18561935), Stephen MacKenna (18721934), A. E. Taylor (18691945), William Temple (18811944), Émile Bréhier (18761952), Wincenty Lutoslawski (18631954), W. R. inge, and C. S. lewis.

In the United States, a group of enthusiasts fostered Platonic studies in the Midwest as an antidote to the pre-occupation with science and an alternative to Hegelianism. Their inspiration was Thomas Taylor, whose writings they carefully collected, but the spirit of their philosophy was consciously that of R. W. emerson and the Concord School. Leaders in the group were H. K. Jones (18181903) of Jacksonville, Ill., "the Athens of the West," and T. M. Johnson (18511919) of Osceola, Mo. They associated with Thomas Davidson (18401900), Alexander Wilder (18231908), and K. S. Guthrie (18711940), translators of Platonic writings into English.

At the universities, Paul Shorey (18571934) and P. E. More (18641937) worked mostly with Plato; E. K. Rand (18711945), with Cicero and Boethius; C. S. peirce, Josiah royce, and A. N. whitehead with human values in a universe of science.

See Also: plato; neoplatonism; scholasticism; augustinianism.

Bibliography: f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie (Berlin 193228) 1:341347, 513556, 590655 with bibliog. e. zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, 3 v. in 6 (5th7th ed. Leipzig 192023). f. w. a. mullach, Fragmenta philosophorum graecorum, 3 v. (Paris 188183) 3:51203. h. dÖrrie, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingin 195765) 5:411415. f. w. bussell, The School of Plato: Its Origin, Development, and Revival Under the Roman Empire (London 1896). r. e. witt, Albinus and the History of Middle Platonism (Cambridge, Eng. 1937). p. merlan, From Platonism to Neoplatonism (2d ed. The Hague 1960). t. whittaker, The Neo-Platonists: A Study in the History of Hellenism (2d ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1928). É. h. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955) 11128, 139153, 250294, 327361, 431471 with bibliog. r. arnou, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique (Paris 190350) 12.2: 22582392. j. hirschberger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg 195765) 8:555558. c. bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, ed. f. e. brightman (rev. ed. Oxford 1913). m. p. garvey, Saint Augustine: Christian or Neo-Platonist? (Milwaukee, Wis. 1939). r. klibansky, The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition During the Middle Ages (London 1939). j. koch, Platonismus im Mittelalter (Kölner Universitätsreden 4; Krefeld 1948); "Augustinischer und dionysischer Neuplatonismus und das Mittelalter," Kant-Studien 48 (195657) 117133. e. hoffmann, Platonismus und christliche Philosophie, ed. h. g. gadamer, et al. (Zurich 1961). r. j. henle, Saint Thomas and Platonism (The Hague 1956). m. grabmann, Mittelalterliches Geistesleben, 3 v. (Munich 192656). c. baeumker, "Der Platonismus im Mittelalter (1916)," Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 25.12 (1927) 139179; "Mittelalterlicher und Renaissance Platonismus," ibid. 180193. n. a. robb, Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance (London 1935). f. masai, Pléthon et le platonisme de Mistra (Paris 1956). p. o. kristeller, Renaissance Thought (New York 1961). e. cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, tr. j. p. pettegrove (Edinburgh 1953). p. shorey, Platonism: Ancient and Modern (Berkeley, Calif. 1938). p. r. anderson, Platonism in the Midwest (Philadelphia, Pa. 1963).

[j. o. riedl]


views updated May 14 2018


A principle feature of Platonism, which refers to the doctrines or philosophies influenced by Plato, is the belief in the existence of a distinction between the world that appears to the senses and a real realm that can be grasped only by the intellect. This latter realm contains the transcendental Ideas or Forms which, although existing independently of both the empirical world and human consciousness, may be apprehended through a human capacity of central import to Platonism, namely, that of reason. Reason, however, is not posited solely as a capacity possessed by humans, but is also understood more expansively as an ordering principle that extends throughout the entirety of the universe.

Platonism can be said to begin at Plato's death in 347 b.c.e. when his nephew Speusippus (c. 410c. 339 b.c.e.) succeeded him as head of the Academy (founded by Plato in 386 b.c.e.). Under Speusippus, a Pythagorean metaphysics linking thought and numbers was drawn to the fore. The influence of the Epicurean and Stoic schools eventually superceded the preeminent role of the Academy, which turned toward the tradition of the Skeptics in its attempt to counter Stoicism. Confluent in many ways with the critical stance of Plato's teacher Socrates, the initial turn toward the Skeptic influence is generally associated with Arcesilaus (c. 316c. 241 b.c.e.), while the further amplification of this tendency is associated with Carneades (213129 b.c.e.).

With the decline of the Stoic influence, Neoplatonism, a new and highly significant strain of Platonism, emerged in the third century c.e. The influence of Pythagoreanism, already strongly imbued in Platonist thought, was here combined with features of Aristotelianismalthough with Neoplatonism both the mathematical and quasi-religious features of Pythagorean thought were greatly emphasized. Traceable to Ammonius Saccas (175?c. 242), Neoplatonism was founded by his student Plotinas, the Egypto-Roman philosopher (205270). In its broad fundamentals, Neoplatonism appears as an effort to articulate a relation between the two spheres that comprise the premier division in Platonism, that of the world of sense and that of the transcendent realm of Ideas. In Neoplatonism, the dichotomy between the two spheres emerged as a hierarchy of Being: in descending order, the One, Intellect or Mind, and the Soul, the Soul serving as the mediating functionary. Among those whose writings helped prepare the way for Neoplatonism was Philo (c. 20 b.c.e.c. 50 c.e.), a notable member of the Egyptian Jewish diaspora whose writings on Hebrew scripture were based on Jewish religious revelation and highly influenced by the theory of Forms. Philo located the Forms within the Divine Mind; as preexisting features, these Forms serve as the pattern for the sensible world.

The significance exerted by Neoplatonist thought on Christian theology is traceable to Origen (185?254? c.e.), who took from the Platonist tradition the doctrines of the preexistence of the soul and reincarnation and for whom, as for Philo, reason and revelation were not clearly distinguished. The relation between Neoplatonist philosophy and Christianity is most fully and richly pronounced, however, in the writings of St. Augustine (354430). Augustine, a student of Neoplatonism before his conversion to Christianity, maintained the importance of this influence in his evolution toward the Christian faith. The Neoplatonist features of Augustine's thought emerge in his linking of human knowledge to an illumination by the Divine Mind and the positing of truth as existing in the mind of God. As with Philo and Origen, no absolute demarcation between reason and spiritual advancement exists in the writings of Augustine, for whom the highest level of philosophic knowledge is also at once a state of beatitude.

Neoplatonism exerted an influence not only upon Christianity, but also upon Islamic philosophy. Al-Kindi (c. 801873) was the first of the Islamic philosophers influenced by Neoplatonism; he combined Neoplatonist thought with Aristotelian philosophy. Another significant figure was Avicenna (9801037), who, like al-Kindi, is generally classified as an Aristotelian and was likewise influenced by Neoplatonism in his attempt to combine Platonist and Aristotelian traditions. The Neoplatonist proclivity for melding reason with spiritual insight emerged in the Middle Ages in the writings of St. Anselm (1033?1109) and St. Bonaventure (12211274); the rationalist writings of the former were carried out under the Augustinian motto of credo ut intelligam ("I believe in order to understand").

Despite the fact that by the thirteenth century Aristotle had largely supplanted Plato as the preemininent source of philosophic influence, a revival of Platonism occurred during the Renaissance. Inspired by Plato's Athenian Academy, the Florentine Academy was founded with the support of Cosimo de' Medici (13891464) in the mid-fifteenth century. Among the more influential figures populating the Academy were Marsilio Ficino (14331499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (14631494); Ficino's rendering of Platonic love exerted considerable influence on the literature of the sixteenth century and beyond. In the European literature of successive centuries, both the doctrine of Platonic love and the notion of an unchanging transcendent true world resonated strongly, as, for example, in the sixteenth-century writings of Edmund Spenser (15521599) and in the Romanticism of the nineteenth century as found in the writings of Percy Bysshe Shelley (17921822) and William Wordsworth (17701850).

In the latter portion of the seventeenth century, the Neoplatonist tendency toward religiosity and mysticism emerged again in a group referred to as the Cambridge Platonists, for whom divine authority asserted the transcendent existence of ethical ideas. The premier enemy of the Cambridge Platonists was materialism; particularly that variation articulated in the writings of Thomas Hobbes (15881679). Benjamin Whichcote (16091683) and Henry More (16141687) number among this group, although Ralph Cudworth (16171688) is generally considered to be the most significant figure. Platonism was utilized not only as a counter to materialism but as a means to rethink empiricist philosophy, as found in the response of Richard Price (17231791) to the philosophy of John Locke (16321704). Among the German idealists, a Platonic inflection is found in the writings of Immanuel Kant (17241804), while similar tendencies condition the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a strikingly Platonic metaphysics occurred in the work of the Hegelian John Ellis McTaggart (18661925), for whom reality is a system of spiritual substances that reveal the unreality of both matter and temporality.

The influence of the Platonist rejection of the immediacies of sensible existence is likewise found in the writings of G. E. Moore (18731958). A common-sense realist, Moore rejected both materialism and idealism in favor of a philosophic realism. Moore was among the more energetic critics of idealism at the turn of the century, and his realism maintained a separation between the mental act of knowing and the objects of knowledge, the latter existing as interconnected objects independent of thought. Finally, Alfred North Whitehead (18611947) has been called the last and greatest of the Cambridge Platonists. A critic of positivism who sought a unified scientific religion, Whitehead articulated universal absolutes as eternal objectsand it was Whitehead who famously commented that all philosophy was "a series of footnotes to Plato."

See also Aristotelianism ; Neoplatonism ; Pythagoreanism ; Stoicism .


Cherniss, Harold Fredrik. The Riddle of the Early Academy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945.

Gersh, Stephen, and Charles Kannengiesser, eds. Platonism in Late Antiquity. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

Pater, Walter. Plato and Platonism: A Series of Lectures. London: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2002.

Shorey, Paul. Platonism, Ancient and Modern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938.

Kimberly Sims


views updated May 18 2018

Platonism. The philosophical system found in Plato's writings or derived therefrom. Fundamental to Platonism is the conviction that truth cannot be found in everyday life and sensible reality, but in a (more real) ideal realm (of the ‘Forms’). To attain that, purification, both moral and intellectual (through dialectic and becoming accustomed to abstract thought), is necessary. Middle Platonism (1st cent. BCE–2nd cent. CE) developed a religious cosmology from the Timaeus, whereas Plotinus found inspiration for his doctrine of the One in the Parmenides. In addition to the ideal realm (of intellect) and the realm of ordinary life (of soul), Plotinus posited the One from which all else proceeds, which is unknowable except in ecstatic union. Such Neoplatonism was developed in particular by Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus and had a great influence on later thought, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Pla·to·nism / ˈplātnˌizəm/ • n. the philosophy of Plato or his followers. See Plato. ∎  any of various revivals of Platonic doctrines or related ideas, esp. Neoplatonism and Cambridge Platonism (a 17th-century attempt to reconcile Christianity with humanism and science). ∎  the theory that numbers or other abstract objects are objective, timeless entities, independent of the physical world and of the symbols used to represent them.DERIVATIVES: Pla·to·nist n.

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