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Ο Τζων Άντον, εξέχουσα προσωπικότητα της Ελληνικής Ομογένειας στις Η.Π.Α., και αντεπιστέλλον μέλος της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών, κατέχει, σήμερα, την έδρα της Φιλοσοφίας και του Πολιτισμού στο Πανεπιστήμιο της Νότιας Φλόριδας, στις Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες και ταυτόχρονα διευθύνει τα κέντρα Ελληνικών Σπουδών και Νεοπλατωνικής Έρευνας του ίδιου Πανεπιστημίου. Το έργο του, στο σύνολό του, ακτινοβολεί τον δυναμισμό και το πάθος της αρχαίας ελληνικής σκέψης και κυριαρχείται από την οικουμενικότητά της. Το άρθρο, που ακολουθεί, με τίτλο «η επίδραση της Ελληνικής Φιλοσοφίας στην Αμερική», πρωτοδημοσιεύθηκε στην «Εγκυκλοπαίδεια της Αμερικανικής Φιλοσοφίας», στις αρχές του τρέχοντος έτους. Στόχος του να καταγράψει και να καταδείξει τον ρόλο και την θέση της Ελληνικής Φιλοσοφίας στην ανάπτυξη της σύγχρονης Αμερικανικής σκέψης και διανόησης. Και αν αυτός ο πρώτος και κύριος στόχος επιτυγχάνεται, παραμένει ανοιχτό, όπως παραδέχεται και ο ίδιος ο συγγραφέας, το ζήτημα της επίδρασης της Ελληνικής σκέψης στον Αμερικανικό τρόπο ζωής.

  

Η «Νομοσοφία» επιθυμώντας να αποδώσει πιστά τα επιχειρήματα του καθηγητή Τζων Άντον, αναδημοσιεύει σήμερα το εν λόγω άρθρο στην γλώσσα στην οποία αυτό συντάχθηκε και δημοσιεύθηκε για πρώτη φορά.

  

Ι.Λ.

 _________________________________________

 

 

Published in American Philosophy, an Encyclopedia. Eds. J. Lachs and R. Talisse. New York: Rutledge, 2008, pp. 340-46.

 

GREEK PHILOSOPHY, INFLUENCE OF.

 

[340, col. 1] The case of the influence of Greek philosophy in America is somewhat similar to that of the European Enlightenment in selecting strands of classical thought relevant to current cultural interests. In general, the classical tradition in America, less conspicuous during the Colonial period, grew more appreciative and useful in the decades preceding and during the revolutionary years. After the mid-point of the nineteenth century, when philosophy became an independent academic discipline, Greek philosophy gradually gained recognition with the rise in the universities of different philosophical trends and especially with the development of American Pragmatism. However, the question of influence has to be treated with a note of reservation. Gradual assimilation of select ideas borrowed from the classical philosophy had a slow start, almost hardly noticeable during the first three centuries of the new nation. The more positive—“creative” might be a better word—phase became manifest at the end of the nineteenth century and continued through the first half of the twentieth and later under a different guise. More precisely, the [340, col. 2] question of influence in the sense of being a factor in the way that philosophy was taught and written in America remains a controversial, if not debatable theme.

 

Colonial period

The place of Greek philosophy in the communities of faith in the early life of the Colonies was restricted to the education of the seminarians and mainly as preparation to Biblical studies and learning New Testament Greek. Before proceeding with issues of influence, a distinction is needed between usefulness of the classics in the Colonies and the limited interest in philosophical ideas. On the whole, philosophy as a systematic discipline was not cultivated in colonial America although the classics were taught in the established schools. The early interest in Greek subjects was limited mainly to the language and to a lesser extent to rhetoric and poetry, usually imported by scholars educated in England. Smatterings of philosophical ideas, when considered acceptable to the religious culture in the Colonies, only occasionally found a serious place in the mainstream of the values the Puritans held. Whatever presence such ideas enjoyed is better understood as limited extensions of the English response to the European renaissance movement. Classical political philosophy, for instance, became an object of interest in the pre-Revolutionary period, mainly in the modern form it took through the writings of Cicero and Seneca.

A distinction can be made between the modes of responding to the classical tradition that mark the earlier period on the one hand and the transition to the responses, on the other, that characterize the second half of the eighteenth century and after. The intellectuals in both periods proved quite eclectic in what they found in the classics as useful to their cultural, religious and political needs. The dominant religious interests in the Colonies exercised considerable restraints over what could be beneficial to the believers and contribute to stabilizing their faith. Whatever of the classical tradition was successfully absorbed after the middle of the eighteenth century was actually limited to the features of the European Enlightenment that helped promote new political ideas. Aristotle’s social thought, for instance, was read only in the way it was accepted in the writings of Locke. Platonism, on the other hand, found its place in Puritanism through the seventeenth century Christian Platonists of Cambridge University, Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, Henry More and [341, col. 1] others. In sharp contrast, the Americans while using the doctrines of the Cambridge Platonists to accommodate religious interests, made no scholarly attempt to study Plato himself apart from their puritan credo.

A note of caution is perhaps needed at this point. Whatever was absorbed from the classical tradition during that period and later had already undergone serious changes during the late Hellenistic and Roman periods of intellectual history, and the end result was that the classical tradition in general became available to modern times primarily in Roman dress. This historical change is particularly important to understanding the limited presence of Greek philosophy in America during the colonial and post-colonial periods. The same reservation holds true for the reception of other features of the classics, from language and rhetoric to poetry and architecture. With regard to philosophy, the Greek thinkers that eventually held the interest of American intellectuals were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and to a lesser degree the Stoics and the Epicureans. Again the preference for special classical philosophers differs from one period of American thought to another. For instance, the works of Aristotle during the colonial period were virtually ignored and not solely because of lack of texts and translations, in contrast to the influence that Greek philosophy was exerting in England.

Viewed in retrospect, the cultivation of the Classics in the Colonies played a significant albeit inadvertent role in the intellectual preparation of the political outlook of the Revolution, although initially such a role was not intended. Once the Colonies passed the initial phase of settlement and communities were made adequately secure, the educational needs led to gradual enrichment for the cultural advancement beyond the outlook of the frontier fighter. The nine pre-Revolutionary colleges, mainly educational institutions for men, required all entering students to be trained in Greek and Latin. In New England the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635, contributed largely to this preparation, and Harvard College, founded in the next year, added in 1723 to its curriculum, besides Greek, Latin and Hebrew, courses in logic, ethics and metaphysics. Princeton, closer to a classical curriculum than Harvard, taught philosophy in the second year and moral philosophy in the third; added to these were lectures on Aristotle’s theory of the mixed form of government. In various combinations of courses the same pattern was followed in the curricula of other sprouting colleges, from William and Mary to Cornell and Yale. [341, col. 2] Adding to the quality of teaching was the continuous exchange of students between the Colonies and England in addition to the influx of teachers from the standard institutions of Cambridge and Oxford and ones in Scotland. Stated in another way, philosophy in the Colonies was not a special preoccupation of teaching in the colleges. In the popular use of the term, “philosophizing” as an activity was also pursued in the other walks of life, from the farmers and the clergy to the holders of office in the governing of the land. Whatever the agent, the wisdom sought after was not an original system but a personal account of lively affairs meant to throw light on events of the affairs of public life in an environment of constant expansion and novel opportunities.

The importation of ideas from Europe, especially from England played a significant role in the area of practical thinking, especially as these ideas had an impact on the already highly organized religious communities. While it may be incorrect to speak of a “philosophy” of the Puritans or of other religious groups, it would be correct to speak of the use of philosophical ideas for the elucidation of their religious commitment. Basically, in all religious congregations, the faithful members exhibited unquestionable confidence in the unshakable truth of their beliefs and their ultimate dependence on the providence God had granted to humanity.

Philosophy as a subject matter, however, was mainly taught in the courses of colleges but in a somewhat different way than as ideas in support of the beliefs held by the religious communities. A special feature of Protestant thought related to the classical tradition was the religious individualism whereby the salvation took the form of personal attainment. This was an important feature as it entered the set of beliefs that proved influential for the political developments in the next century. It was a type of individualism that gained further support when it was combined with the doctrines of John Locke. The Puritans, through their adherence to Calvinism, expected the lessening of the impact of individualism to prevent heresies. But it was not a philosophy of individualism as it was an extension of their theology of revelation in the sacred confirmation of faith. What might have been an unacknowledged indebtedness to Greek philosophy, namely the place of reason in community life, was accepted only as a principle to confirm the truths of faith, as in the case of God’s covenant with human beings. The religious employment of reason asserted the acceptance of human knowledge primarily as knowledge of nature to show its harmonious connectedness with [342, col. 1] the Will of God and the divine rule. This blending of faith and reason, non-Hellenic is essence, once again brought reason under the dictates of religion, re-asserting the medieval priorities, which was another way of accepting not philosophy but the faculty of reason within the frame of religious faith. To be sure, the individualism that sprouted under the cover of Protestantism was quickly tempered by the religious community to prevent misinterpretations of the biblical truth.

Interest in science was accepted as the study of God’s work. However, no significant contribution was made to science. Locke’s theory of knowledge made inroads in the outlook of the Puritans just as did Newton’s work as “natural philosophy,” not physics. Both thinkers were contemporaries: John Locke (1632-1704), Isaak Newton (1642-1727). Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding published in 1690 soon found its way to New England. Jonathan Edwards read it at the age of fourteen in 1717. In 1695 Locke published his The Reasonableness of Christianity in which he claimed that Christianity deriving as it does its teachings from biblical sources contains nothing contrary to reason, thus making it the most reasonable institution for the benefit of humanity. Equally appealing was Locke’s theory of tabula rasa, a doctrine he nowhere admitted as having its original source in Aristotle. Jonathan Edwards absorbed in his own way Locke’s views and formed his theological outlook by bringing it in line with his Neoplatonism as a Trinitarian theology while leaning on a reconstruction of Ramus.

Greek philosophy began to make its presence felt in the decades before the Revolution. It made its appearance within the set of the political ideas of the Enlightenment. Classical models of freedom and constitutional rights were made stronger through the study of antiquity. However, no systematic study of either Plato or Aristotle was done in preparation for the impending social change. American leaders, when they referred to the ancients, did so by way of prudence and common sense rather than a carefully phrased new political philosophy. When the American Philosophical Society was founded in 1742, with Benjamin Franklin being one of its founders, its purpose was to promote “Useful Knowledge.” Besides exchanging information by “physicians, botanists, mathematicians, chemists,” the clause stating the inclusion of “a natural philosopher” had nothing to do with Greek philosophy. The same was true of a similar society founded in 1748 in Charleston, S.C. During this phase an emigrant Presbyterian minister, James Wilson, with a love for Aristotle, [342, col. 2] and James March, a professor at the University of Vermont, who taught Plato, Aristotle and Kant, did much to keep Greek philosophy alive.

 

American Revolution

Locke’s theory of natural rights was far more influential in America than any aspect of Greek political thought, Platonic or Aristotelian. The classical conception of political government exerted only a mild appeal. Actually it was Cicero’s conception of government that influenced the Americans. This conception had already been influential in Locke’s thought. Francis Bacon and John Locke were the two thinkers who instructed the Americans what to value in Greek political philosophers. Bacon and Locke were convinced that everything of value in classicism had already been revived, a view the Americans readily accepted while articulating the “practical” wisdom of happiness including the “pursuit power” (Hamilton) and “the taming of power” (Madison). Jefferson thought about happiness as “a dynamic balance between power and morals” (Koch 1961: 22). The more certain the Americans became of their political success in forming a constitution of states, the more independent they felt from ties to historical traditions. They had not “suffered a blind veneration for antiquity” (Madison). Actually, the founding fathers reached back to Athens via Rome by adopting the political ideal of Cicero’s concordia, not Aristotle’s homonoia. Intentionally left out of the revival of classical ideas were the ethical doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, which explains the vagueness that was allowed to linger in the part of the Declaration of Independence that stated “the Pursuit of Happiness” as an unalienable Right, endowed by the Creator. In fact, no theoretical foundation was provided to specify the precise meaning of happiness. Jefferson appealed to “common sense” rather than consult what the Greek philosophers had to say about the theory of happiness as eudaimonia in its ethical and political context. Thus, the use of the idea of happiness in the literature of the period as a Right remained undefined while it continued to suit the pursuit of the new freedom and whatever fruits it could yield. John Adams came closest to the Greek view as he mixed his borrowing from Locke and Aristotle to conjoin his ideas of power and morals. In preferring monarchy to aristocracy he conveniently distorted his Aristotle to fit the Lockean-Hobbesian view of the common good. Briefly stated, the American leaders put definite limits to the wider use of the political wisdom of [343, col. 1] classical humanism. In their view, ancient democracy had certain merits but could not adequately serve the goals of the Revolution, as Jefferson admitted in a letter to Isaak Tiffany written in 1816 that representative democracy made every political structure, including Aristotle’s Politics, “almost useless.” The eclectic approach to Greek political philosophy should not be overlooked although Thomas Paine did not hesitate to declare that he saw no reason why Americans should go “two thousand years back for lessons and examples. In a comparable vein, John Taylor of Virginia insisted that the political perfection of the Greek government and thought was irrelevant to America. The distance between the “present” and the “tradition” increased after the early post-revolution era only to be gradually modified after the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

Nineteenth century and the rise of academic philosophy.

Two movements around the middle of the nineteenth century deserve mention for their efforts to relate to the study of Greek philosophy and its pertinence to the intellectual life of the new nation: the Hegelian movement of St. Louis that led to the programs of the Concord Summer School of Philosophy, and the Transcendentalists of New England. Much in these new trends was due to an encounter with German philosophy and the advanced classical scholarship of the German universities as the latter continued during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early ones of the twentieth.

The Transcendentalists’ criticism of utilitarianism and their attack on commercialism bear no relation to the type of Platonism they espoused. As a movement, Transcendentalism is best understood as a different expansion of idealism vacillating between a reasonable theology and philosophical inspiration. As such, its post-revolutionary stance aimed at strengthening the confidence in the new freedom for the spiritual gains of the common citizens. It may be said that it was an offspring of the Romantic Movement, but with a twist of its own. What is of special interest about its role as an intellectual attitude is the way it understood a connection between the Kantian theory of pure reason and a special interpretation of Plato. Although Transcendentalism did not succeed nor did it try to become a technical philosophy, it attracted followers who thought that with its help they could discern the continuity from the rationalized faith of Jonathan Edwards’ puritanism to [343, col. 2] Emerson’s way of receiving in the soul’s reason the flow of the divine. Emerson was confident in his effort to blend into a harmonious unity the Bhagavad-Gita and the Platonism of Plotinus in a vision of idealism that would provide the democratic individual with a solid basis for rational faith and a new universality. Once again, the movement, dominated as it was by the metaphysics of Kant, as siphoned through Coleridge, had only limited room for Greek philosophy beyond what Plotinus’ Plato could render appealing. Emerson could hold Plato and Plutarch in high esteem, yet the ancients never occupied a respectable place in the foreground of his thinking or his goals anymore than did the recent growth of the experimental science of nature. Still, Emerson set the tone for the transcendental understanding of progress as advancing humanity to a higher plateau of freedom, beyond nature, history and science. In the closing part of his famous “The American Scholar” address he confidently exclaimed: “in yourself slumbers the whole Reason; it is for you to know all; it is for you to dare all.” The Greeks remained luminaries in the background, a view that had already become firmly established in the American intellectual outlook.

The other movement, the Hegelianism of the Philosophical Society of St. Louis, established formally in1866, worked out a different philosophical program. Its members launched the Journal of Speculative Philosophy and while advocating German Idealism, the group also promoted the serious study of Aristotle. Two of its members, Denton J. Snider and Hiram K. Jones, organized a “Plato Club.” Another group created in 1879 the Concord School of Philosophy. It included W. T. Harris, A Bronson Alcott and Thomas Davidson, who abandoned Hegel in favor of Aristotle. Among the younger teachers who lectured at the Concord School was John Dewey. It can be argued that it was the vigorous and open philosophizing of these thinkers that broke the rigid pattern of text-book teaching, mainly by ministers at the colleges. The activities of this group should be credited with alerting the younger generation of students to the outstanding work of the university professors at the leading universities of Germany, France and England that were doing advanced research in classical philology and philosophy. The influence of the Greek philosophy in America was in large measure due to the fresh interpretations of the Greek mind in Europe. While we cannot speak of a direct Greek influence in the case of the St. Louis thinkers, their way of pursuing philosophy left its mark on the next generation.

[344, col. 1] The contributions of classical philology during the second half of the nineteenth century were due to American scholars who had studied in German Universities. Lane B. L. Gildersleeve and others received their doctorates from Göttingen, and so did M.W. Humphies, H. W. Smyth, and Paul Shorey during the 1880s. Their work was strictly methodical and scientific with no explicit concern for the development of a new cultural character. As such, ethical philosophy was left outside the scope of philological research. In his Presidential Address “The Province of the American Philologist” before the American Philological Association in 1878, Gildersleeve outlined its goals as dealing with the texts and aiming at understanding the wisdom of the ancients. The evaluation of the ancient wisdom was better left to those philosophers who were qualified to meet the demands of the task. The volumes of the American Journal of Philology from1880-1919 provide a fair picture of the limited interest of the philologists in philosophy. In fact their interest deepened after the philosophers had made Greek thought a respected field of studies. The Platonic studies of Paul Shorey are an exception, as are those of Harold Cherniss in later years. Both had responded to the philosophy of humanistic values of the Greeks and were followed by the contributions of F. Solmsen and Philip Merlan, also in the twentieth century.

Parallel to the philological studies was another encounter with German philosophy during the second half of the nineteenth century, contributing to a trend that coincided with the establishing of graduate studies in American universities. A number of gifted American students went to Germany, among them Josiah Royce, who after receiving his B. A. in 1875 with a graduation thesis on “The Theology of Aeschylus’ Prometheus,” immediately went to Germany to study philosophy for two years. Upon returning, he went to Johns Hopkins and received his PhD in 1878. Greek philosophy, however, remained peripheral to his religious idealism. Others who went to Germany were G. S. Morris from Johns Hopkins, G. Santayana from Harvard, and F.J.K. Woodbridge from Columbia, They were deeply affected by the new interpretations of Plato and Aristotle. Upon his return, Morris brought back with him an Aristotle radically different from that of the scholastic version. Developed as a dynamic idealist, Morris following the model of his teacher F. Trendelenburg, It was Morris who later influenced John Dewey to modify his Hegelianism in favor of Aristotle, a move that was reinforced through Dewey’s association with Woodbridge at Columbia.

 

Twentieth century [344, col. 2]

A preliminary note is needed on the extent and power of “influence.” What happened in the twentieth century is not much different from what took place early in the intellectual history of America. For instance, the philosophical trends that reached America from Cambridge and Oxford, or Paris, Berlin and Heidelberg, were conveniently absorbed in revised form through critical reconstruction and adjustment to the American established needs. As importations, the currents of value theory, existentialism, phenomenology and other winds of doctrine, were influential but not converting forces. In a similar way, though not as powerful as in the past century, the same mode of receiving the currents of English and European trends, continued. The influx of the classical tradition and especially Greek philosophy, rather than being a catalytic force, generated a creative response that at best may be called one of creative accommodation. In this respect, the power of influence bears the signs of a mild effect rather than a revolutionary beginning in a new direction. The Greek philosophers were available to whatever purposes the American intellectuals thought proper. The “living” past entered the scene mainly as a fertile reservoir of ideas than a relevant “present” doctrine. In this sense, the mild acceptance of Greek philosophy is better viewed in the fashion in which the trends of rationalism and empiricism were treated in the nineteenth century.

Of all the new philosophical currents in the late nineteenth century, it was the naturalistic side of Pragmatism that made extensive use of Greek philosophy, Aristotle in particular, and felt a strong attraction to it. The affinity can be explained as resulting from the naturalistic strand that soon was to become the dominant feature of Pragmatism. The early Santayana and the mature Woodbridge are the two American philosophers who came close to building their work in response to Aristotle. Dewey, although a leading pragmatist, was freely using the Aristotelian tradition together with the Socratic dialectic within the spirit of his naturalistic humanism. In all three cases we see an adjustment of Aristotle’s most usable principles to the contemporary cultural and theoretical problems. If we can speak of “influence,” we find it here in the most creative features of the school.

Santayana, who taught courses on Plato and Aristotle at Harvard, was the first to present a defense and espouse advocacy of Greek philosophy as a rational mode of life in the five volumes of his The Life of Reason (1905-1906). The work was [345, col. 1] inspired by a blending Hegelian phenomenology and Plato with Aristotelian ethics and aimed to project the full story of the progress of the human mind. Still, Santayana’s intellectual position owed more to James’ Principles of Psychology than to Aristotle’s De Anima. It was the closest any American thinker had ever come to understanding the naturalism of the Greeks, especially at a time, as he stated, when “the philosophical and political departments at Harvard had not yet discovered Plato and Aristotle.” Woodbridge, after studying with Paulsen in Germany, returned to America and used Aristotle’s ontology to liberate his thinking from the last strains of idealism. Like Santayana but more persistently, he contributed largely to the study of Greek philosophy as the reliable model for the new naturalism. Still, Woodbridge’s indebtedness was not only to the ancients but also to Spinoza, Locke and Santayana. Although neither he nor Santayana were members of the emerging Pragmatism, both helped build the bridge that made Greek thought understandable to students working on either side of Pragmatism. Their work was continued by the students who wrote dissertations at Columbia, among them Herbert W. Schneider, John Herman Randall, Jr., Sterling Lambrecht, Richard McKeon, Irwin Edman, and A. Edel.

John Dewey’s affinity to Greek philosophy was a blend of critical reservations and fruitful engagement. He borrowed an expression from T. Veblen to characterize the Greek epistemology as being a case of the “spectator’s theory of knowledge.” At the same time he came closer to the Greek view of philosophy as a way of life, a thesis he was eventually to posit within the context of social life. Dewey brought philosophy under the banner of democracy. Actually, of all the pragmatists it was Dewey who succeeded in making use of the Greeks while trying to transform the educational norms through the rational understanding of the changing cultural conditions. Dewey’s instrumentalism prevented him from appreciating the Greek view of reason in the full meaning of its humanistic value. But like the Greeks, he still sought to transform experience and raise it to a heightened understanding of the pressing problems of life. His response to Plato took the form of an urgent recommendation to adopt the Socratic command for relentless inquiry without the dualism of the Platonic theory of transcendent Forms. Dewey found it impossible to accept what he believed was the Greek confidence in ultimate values. As a result he dismissed this essential part of the philosophy of the Greeks at the critical turning point of his [345, col. 2] own thinking. It was this view he passed on to the next generation of naturalists, some of whom wrote sustained works on Greek philosophy. Dewey wrote none; Woodbridge wrote at least two, among them The Son of Apollo (1929), which delighted Dewey and irritated Paul Shorey.

By the middle of the twentieth century the scholarly interest in the ancient Greeks had reached a high plateau of productivity. A great number of books and articles had been published expounding on select themes and offering full treatments of the philosophies of the ancients. However, it is difficult to speak of Greek influence in the mode of philosophizing of the Americans comparable to the way Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and Hegel had exerted. Critical studies of Greek philosophy abounded, but few tried to place the Greeks within the scope of their own intellectual loyalties, as did P. E. More, for instance in the case of Plato. Far more interesting proved the historical approach of Dewey’s student, John Herman Randall, Jr. who as a leading historian of philosophy wrote books on Plato, Aristotle, also the Hellenistic thinkers by applying the principles of his naturalistic cultural relativism. What distinguishes Randall’s reading of the ancients is an open and critical discussion on the role of the ancient philosophers in effecting changes in ideas, methods and objectives. The results, though not generally accepted, were nevertheless illuminating as, for instance his seeing Plato’s theory of Forms as imaginative perfections, or Aristotle’s ethical excellences as special cultural responses to changing conditions. Randall himself remained confident that he understood both Dewey and Aristotle while deepening the historical evaluation of their contributions. Much different were the studies on ancient philosophers that R. Demos, R. McKeon, A. Edel, M. Greene, J. Owens, John Wild, R. Brumbaugh, Charles Kahn, Reginald Allen, and others worked out, always seeking to come close to the substance of the original.

A cross between philosophy, philology and analysis began by the mid-point of the twentieth century with the creation of the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy in 1954 with G. Vlastos as its first president. Vlastos’ publications on Plato and the Presocratics bear the marks of the application of the analytical tools to the evaluation of philosophical arguments in the philosophical texts of the Greeks. The analytical movement succeeded mainly as an interpretive undertaking rather than one seeking to reach beyond the perimeter of professional expertise. On the other hand, the cultural impact the pragmatic naturalists sought to bring [346, col. 1] gradually lessened during the latter part of the twentieth century. The only exception seems to be the approach of the existentialists deriving from their study of Nietzsche a different intensity to reach the mind of the ancient thinkers of Greece, poets as well as philosophers.

Understanding philosophy as a way of life was a Greek achievement and grew out of the conditions of that particular cultural setting. The primacy their philosophy assigned to reason survived in a variety of ways after the decline of the classical world. They viewed philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom, at once a personal affair and a political concern. Still, it was reason as the method the Greeks had developed for the pursuit of wisdom, including science, which proved adjustable. As a distinct “way of life,” however, the original conception of philosophy remained non-transferable to alien conditions. Thus, recasting the methods of philosophy did not entail the incorporation of the original Greek “way of life” despite efforts to claim its applicability and relevance. The meaning of “influence” in the case of American philosophy calls for special evaluation when discussing the continuous interest in the study of ancient thought. The closest, it seems, the American thinkers came to being influenced by the Greek philosophers were initially certain members of the St. Louis Hegelians and the naturalistic pragmatists in their attempts to see philosophy as a way of life. Both were cases of imitations of a model that did not aim at bringing about wider public acceptance. The Greeks have been studied, often very seriously, but more often than not without any explicit intent to grant their “way of life” a leading role of substantive influence in culture.

 

Postscript

A complete picture of the place of Greek philosophy and its role in the development of American thought is still a vast subject for investigation. Without such a close study it is difficult to specify with precision what may be called, even in a loose sense, “influence.” Be that as it may, the academic interest has grown to the point where American scholarship in this field is now internationally recognized. As for the cultural role of Greek philosophy and its influence as “a way of life,” that remains an open issue.

 

Further Reading.

Anderson, Paul R. Platonism in the Midwest. Temple University Publications, distributed by Columbia University Press, 1963.

Anton, John P. American Naturalism and Greek Philosophy. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2005.

Eadie, John W., ed. Classical Traditions in Early America. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1976.

Koch, Adrienne. Power, Morals, and the Founding Fathers: Essays in the Interpretation of the American Enlightenment. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1961.

Reinhold, Meyer. Classical Americana. The Greek and Roman Heritage in the United States. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press. 1984.

Schneider, Herbert W. History of American Philosophy. Columbia University Press, 1946.

Sleeper, Ralph W. The Necessity of Pragmatism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986.

 

JOHN P. ANTON

——————————————-

Ευχαριστούμε θερμά τον καθηγητή Τζων Άντον, καθώς και τους εκδότες του J. Lachs και R. Talisse, για την ευγενική παραχώρηση του άρθρου αυτού.

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Written by nomosophia

12 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2008 στις 14:58

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