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A distinguished Platonic scholar discusses the impact of the Greek discovery of the cosmos on man's perception of his place in the universe, describes the problems this posed, and interprets Plato's response to this discovery. Starting with the Presocratics, Vlastos describes the intellectual revolution that began with the cosmogonies of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes in the sixth century B.C. and culminated a century later in the atomist system of Leucippus and Democritus. What united these men was that for all of them nature remained the inviolate, all-inclusive principle of explanation, precluding any appeal to a supernatural cause or ordering agency. In a detailed analysis of the astronomical and physical theories of the Timaeus, Vlastos demonstrates Plato's role in the reception and transmission of the discovery of the new conception of the universe. Plato gives us the chance to see that movement from a unique perspective: that of a fierce opponent of the revolution who was determined to wrest from its brilliant discovery, annex its cosmos, and redesign it on the pattern of his own idealistic and theistic metaphysics. Washington Press. It includes a new Introduction by Luc Brisson.
did discover the notion of a cosmos ‘‘that is presupposed by the idea of natural science and by its practice.’’ In fact, the early Greeks had ‘‘the perception of a rational universe.’’ This is why the first chapter of this book is devoted to the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.—that is, to the physiologoi—and is titled ‘‘The Greeks Discover the Cosmos.’’ After giving the background of the Timaeus, Vlastos turns his attention to ‘‘Plato’s role in the reception and transmission of the discovery of the
intersolstitial intervals are strictly equal and that both equinoxes fall at their exact midpoints—assumptions so very plausible in themselves and so seductive in their own time and place, given the Greek obsession with symmetry. Banking on these assumptions, Euctemon and Meton might have spared themselves the trouble of reaching by observation figures for equinoxes and winter solstices: they might have got these by simply counting days between successive summer solstices and dividing by
they have theoretical INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW EDITION xvi significance, providing answers to questions posed by theory; and 3) they are shared and corrigible, the common property of qualified investigators who are aware of possible sources of observational error and are in a position to repeat or vary the observation. To be sure, Plato reintroduces supernatural forces into his cosmos, but these forces cannot intervene against the regularity of phenomena and even constitute an absolute
planets were ‘‘not all at the same height,’’ i.e., at the same distance from the earth. From the fact that APPENDIX: SECTION G (TO P. 46) 105 he wrote a treatise on the planets we may safely infer that he devoted serious investigations to the topic; and from the title of one of his other treatises, ejkpetavsmata, ‘‘Planispheres,’’ i.e., presumably plane projections of the celestial sphere (cf. Ptolemy, Geog. 7.7), we may infer that he constructed celestial maps. That he must have known the
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973. Von Fritz, K. Philosophie und sprachlicher Ausdruck bei Demokrit, Plato, und Aristoteles. New York: Steckert, 1938. . Grundprobleme der Geschichte der antiken Wissenschaft. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971. Index of Greek Words ajhvr, 87 aijqhvr, 114 aijtiva, 99 ai[tio", 16 ajnaivtio", 16 ajnakuvklhsi", 106 ajponevmw, 109 ajplanhv", 102, 103 ajrchv, 68 ajsthvr, 103 a[th, 13–17, 22 dhmiourgov", 26 diaqighv, 67 diavzwsi", 39 dovxa, 94 eijkwv", 93 ejkpevtasma, 105