Maintaining that it is impossible to understand the work of a philosopher without understanding the previous history of thought and the contemporaneous developments, this book, originally published in 1932, is an in-depth study of Descartes’ philosophy with a strong emphasis on the historical approach. It covers Descartes’ early life and education, before continuing to discuss his method of doubt, the existence of God, the scientific interpretation of nature, the unity of knowledge, the attributes of God and free-will.
Mr. Brumbaugh gives several accounts in the course of his work of the main purpose of his study, and the emphasis falls now one way and now another. Readers may easily be misled by the opening sentence of the introduction, which suggests that Plato's mathematical illustrations are pointers to "diagrams which Plato had designed, and were intended to accompany and clarify his text." If that is what Mr. Brumbaugh intended, he has failed to make out his case. There is no (...) direct evidence that Plato designed diagrams; and there is some good inferential evidence to the contrary. It would be surprising, for example, if Plato's diagrams had survived that long, that Aristotle should have described the Divided Line in terms of an arithmetical progression and ignored Plato's express indication of proportion between the upper and lower segments. Mr. Brumbaugh himself faces this passage and admits that "no continuous tradition connects the figures of Hellenistic scholars with Plato's original design." But it really does not matter. If we design diagrams in the light of our knowledge of Plato's mathematical imagination, it is most certainly a help to the interpretation of the passages concerned. This, as a matter of fact, seems to be Mr. Brumbaugh's main reason for ascribing the diagrams to Plato, and while the conclusion does not follow, the premiss is correct; and the premiss, not the conclusion, is the main point at issue. (shrink)
There are two mutually indispensable ways of doing it. The first is to study the development of Plato's literary style. The second is to follow the sequence of his thought from one dialogue to another. Neither test is infallible; that is why Platonic scholarship goes happily on and on. In the course of a brilliant article concerning the place of the Timaeus in the order of the dialogues, Mr. G. E. L. Owen has shown how a merely statistical study of (...) stylistic mannerisms may seriously mislead; and as for thought sequences, they notoriously depend on hypothetical intuitions and vary widely from one critic to another. But along both lines a certain advance is possible. Since Owen, mechanical stylometry is discredited; and no one would now do what Schleiermacher did in his time--place the Phaedrus chronologically first among the dialogues on the ground that it contains in brief the whole of Plato's philosophy. There is progress in these matters, if not finality. (shrink)
The three books before us are consolingly conservative. They observe the pieties; they display an unusually acute sense of history; they try to find out what Plato said instead of being angry with him for neglecting to read J. S. Mill and Wittgenstein; and they say faithfully and sympathetically what can be said for him even when he tries them hard. This is true criticism: and it stands out sharply against the spleen of the "detractors," as Professor Levinson has happily (...) called them. (shrink)
It is one of the many merits of the book that the greater part of it--in fact, all of its twenty-five chapters with the exception of XVI-XVIII--can be read by any intelligent reader with the necessary persistence. It has been reconstructed from Gifford Lectures given at the University of St. Andrews, and Professor Paton is one of the few lecturers on this foundation who has adapted himself to Lord Gifford's direction that the lectures "should be open to the whole community (...) without matriculation." There can rarely have been a more successful attempt to speak of deep and difficult things in simple and dignified language. (shrink)
There is a belief among the aborigines of Central Australia that the attributes of the divine ancestor are parcelled out among the component members of the tribe: and there are long periods in the history of ideas in which “divine philosophy” is similarly dismembered. The reason is that all great philosophical systems rest on a balanced tension of contemporary cultural elements, and as these change, and especially if they change rapidly or decisively, the unity of thought under which they have (...) been gathered begins to disintegrate. There follows a period of piecemeal experiment, in which the material of philosophy is too rich and too disorganized to be appropriated in a single conspectus: a period in which there will be no great philosophers, and perhaps little conscious philosophizing, not because philosophic genius is lacking, but because there is no scope for it till the various special tendencies of the age have achieved a certain internal development and a definite sense of direction. (shrink)