Thursday, October 16, 2008

Before and after Socrates by F. M. Cornford

Selected quotations from Before and After Socrates (London: Cambridge, 1932) by F. M. Cornford

p. 1 …the revolution of thought he [Socrates] effected––how he turned philosophy from the study of external Nature to the study of man and of the purposes of human action in society.

2 The kind of reason Socrates wanted was the reason why.

5 The development of Ionian science culminated two centuries later in the Atomism of Democritus, a contemporary of Socrates and Plato.

7 …we see the cosmogonies of the Milesian School [viz., Thales] as the dawn or infancy of science.

8 [three features of the pre-scientific age: 1) progressive discovery of the object vs. the subject; 2) preoccupation with practical use of the researched object; 3) belief in unseen, supernatural powers behind the object of inquiry.]

12–13 In Roman religion we find countless numina––powers whose whole content is expressed in abstract nouns, nomina: Janua is not a fully personal god presiding over doorways, but simply the spirit of 'doorness', conceived as a power present in all doors….

15 The Ionian cosmogonists assume … that the whole universe is natural, and potentially within the reach of knowledge as ordinary and rational as our knowledge that fire burns and water drowns. That is what I meant by the discovery of Nature.

18–19 …the system of Thales' successor, Anaximander, which set the pattern for the Ionian tradition. … The significance of this cosmogony lies not so much in what it contains as in what it leaves out. Cosmogony has been detached from theogony.

22 The Atomists held that the tactile properties are the real ones; the visual properties are not substantial or objective.

23–24 Where scientific Atomism went beyond common sense was in its demand that the atoms of body shall be absolutely indestructible and unchanging. … But ancient science, holding to the principle that nothing can come out of nothing, demanded some permanent and indestructible 'being' behind the screen of shifting appearances. This postulate met the same rational need that has prompted the assertion by modern science of the principle of conservation in various forms: the law of inertia, the conservation of mass, the conservation of energy. … The something––whatever it may be––of which modern science has required the conservation corresponds to the permanent 'being' or 'nature of things' required by the ancients.

27 The Socratic philosophy is a reaction against this materialistic drift of physical science.

30 If Xenophon may be trusted, Socrates rejected the current speculation about Nature on two grounds: it was dogmatic, and it was useless.

31 A fabrication of the reason may be as dangerously false as a fabrication of the myth-making imagination.

32 If I cannot know the beginnings of life in the unrecorded past, I can, Socrates thought, know the end of life here and now. This shift from the search for beginnings to the search for ends naturally coincides with the shift of interest from external Nature to man.

35 Socrates held that happiness was to be found in what he called the perfection of the soul––'making one's soul as good as possible'––and that all other ends which men desire were strictly of no value in themselves.

36 [Such power in the Apology! "…I shall question and cross-examine and test him… I shall reproach him for holding the most precious things cheap and worthless things dear. This I shall do to everyone I meet. … such is heaven's command;… For I have no other business but to go around persuading you all, both young and old, to care less for your bodies and your wealth than for the perfection of your souls…."]

37 Socrates' claim to rank among the greatest philosophers rests upon his discovery of this soul and of morality of spiritual aspiration….

39 …pre-Socratic science as the childhood of the new form of thought. … The normal child… has a power of enjoying knowledge for its own sake, until this enjoyment is killed by what is known as education. …adolescence corresponds to the second phase of Greek philosophy––the age of the Sophists. [rebellion from society as common attraction between Sophists and youthful followers]

45 …Plato himself condemns this practice [i.e., laying traps and arguing just for victory] of 'Eristic'––verbal contention without regard for truth––he cannot have meant to represent it as characteristic of Socrates.

46 [For Socrates] Knowledge of values, in fact, is a matter of direct insight….

48 [Socrates was 'demoralizing' the youth by] undermining the morality of social constraint….

49 [Socrates did not prescribe 'doing whatever you please', but making 'sure that your eyes see with perfect clearness what is really good'.]

50 …the achievement of Socrates was the discovery of the soul.

52 [Socrates argues that] No one does wrong against his true will, when once that will has been directed to its object, the good, by a genuine and clear vision. … 'Virtue', at all times, means conformity to current ideals of conduct. [??]

55 True, the central germ of Platonism… is the new Socratic morality of aspiration; but under Plato's hands this germ has grown in a tree whose branches cover the heavens [as opposed to merely the individual soul].

58 [Plato read the secret of Socrates' inmost thought and formulated its essence in The Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Laches, Charmides, Lysis, Protagoras, and Gorgias.]

62–63 The ancients recognized it [Pythagoreanism] as an independent tradition, off the main track of Ionian science. They called it the Italian philosophy because the chief Pythagoreans were established in Lower Italy. … Pythagorean influence is everywhere traceable in the dialogues of the middle period, centred round the Republic––the Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, and Phaedrus. … Platonism proper, in fact, dates from the confluence of these two streams of inspiration––the Socratic and the Pythagorean. From Socrates Plato learnt that the problems of human life were to be solved by the morality of aspiration and the pursuit of an invariable ideal of perfection. From Pythagoras he learnt how this conception could be extended beyond the field of human concerns into a system embracing the whole of Nature and transforming the scope of science as the Socrates of the Phaedo wished to see it transformed. Unlike that Ionian materialism we considered at the outset, Platonism seeks the key to Nature, not in the beginning, but in the end––not in the mechanical causes impelling from behind, but in the final causes which attract… a movement of desire towards a pattern of ideal perfection.

64 Thus Platonism is a system which extends to the interpretation of all existence the principle of aspiration announced in the morality of Socrates.

65 In spite of certain heretical doctrines, they [Plato and Aristotle] might have been canonised in the Middle Ages, had they not happened to be born some centuries before the Christian era.

67 In Greek 'cosmos' means beauty as well as order, and Pythagoras is said to have been the first to call the universe a cosmos.

69 [Sophrosyne: temperance, self-control, right-mindedness, wisdom.]

74 …no visual image of the Triangle can even be conceived.

82 From first to last, the mainspring of Platonism is its moral and political motive.

86–87 Plato was… an introvert…; a philosophy of withdrawal from the world of common experience. The native bent of Aristotle's mind was in the other direction, towards the study of empirical fact.

90 Aristotle could never cease to be a Platonist. His thought… is governed by the idea of aspiration, inherited by his master from Socrates––the idea that the true cause or explanation of things is to be sought, not in the beginning, but in the end.

94 [Aristotle on natural science: We should approach] "every form of life without disgust, knowing that in every one there is something of Nature and of beauty. For it is in the works of Nature above all that design, in contrast with random chance, is manifest; and the perfect form which anything born or made is designed to realise, holds the rank of beauty." … living tools or 'organs'….

98–99 Matter is not simply like the steel of which the spring is made; it is like the coiled spring in which the latent power of movement is stored. Aristotle defines a natural object as a thing that has a source of motion in itself. … in the act of generation this Form is communicated to the new individual, and, with it, is transmitted the force or power tat will carry the process of development once more from the potential phase to the actual. Thus the specific Form travels through an unending series of individuals. … In this way the Platonic Form of the species is brought down from its heaven of unchanging reality, and plunged in the flow of time and sensible existence.

100–101 [brilliant summary of the arg. for the Unmoved Mover: although substances perish, change and time are not perishable, but enduring, which indicates that a circle––as the form of enduring motion––is the basis for all other cosmic motion; hence it is pure Form, the activity of which must be of the highest conceivable form, namely, intellectual self-contemplation, wanting nothing but being the world's revolving center of desire]

102 God has no operation upon the world, nor even a knowledge of the world.

103 It has always seemed to me unfortunate that the word 'God'… should have been retained by philosophers as the name for a factor in their systems that no one could possibly regard as an object of worship, far less of love.

105 By a curious turn of the wheel, the philosophy of aspiration ends with a God whose function, in relation to the world, is the same as that of the Intelligence in Anaxagoras' system. … It seems to matter little whether the Prime Mover be placed, with Anaxagoras, at the beginning, or, with Aristotle, at the end. The philosophy of aspiration has become an inverted mechanism.

106 Charity is the missing element which Dante and his teachers strove to fuse with the Aristotelian desire in that Amor which moves the sun and the other stars. … The Aristotelian system… is a colossal monument of rationalism…. It is the fate of such a monument to become a cenotaph, not a permanent refuge of the spirit. The Greeks asserted the claims of the head, Christianity, the claims of the heart.

108 The Stoic… [held] to the tradition of Socrates' cheerful indifference to bodily pleasures, but disposed to mistake this indifference for a rather grim and graceless asceticism.

109 …nothing remains but the philosophy of old age, the resignation of a twilight that deepens alike over the garden of [Epicurean] Pleasure and the hermitage of [Stoic] Virtue.

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