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A remedy for enthusiasm: why modern science could not be Platonic

Where I grew up, priests were not the least bit interested in philosophy, nor the history of ideas. Then I met the Orthodox. Then I met the Rumanian-trained Orthodox priest Doru Costache, author of Humankind and the Cosmo.

Doru took an interested in my thoughts on why Western science became separated from theology, and why modern science could never be Platonic.

In this video I explain how, paradoxically, the only science permissible in the Middle Ages was atheistic science. I then explain the political threat posed by the revival of the Platonic “enthusiastic” attitude to science during the Renaissance. The story finishes with the Royal Charter won by a society for the advancement of science during the restoration of the British monarchy in the 1660s. This is where atheistic science was successfully re-marketed as a remedy for the religious enthusiasm that was threatening the spiritual authority of the state Church during the civil war. This marketing model was both hostile to Platonism and very successful, and very successful it was when exported onto continental Europe as integral to what we now call “The Enlightenment.”

Winter Term starting soon

Drunken Alcibiades interrupting the symposium as depicted by Pietro Testa, 1648
Drunken Alcibiades interrupting the symposium as depicted by Pietro Testa, 1648 (Source)

Places are still available in our Winter evening classes starting the week of Monday, 21 June, 2021.

If you are new to Plato and philosophy, then we recommend for starters Reading Plato [BOOKINGS CLOSED]. Continuing students are challenged to go deeper into Platonic philosophy by reading Plato’s Sophist [BOOKED OUT]. As both these classes remain online, they will not be affected by continuing uncertainty about COVID restrictions in Melbourne.

Platonic Love [BOOKINGS CLOSED] is on again and hopefully still in the Lonsdale St classroom (otherwise online, we will keep you posted). This begins with reading and partly acting-out the speeches from Plato’s famously dramatic Symposium. The second half of the course takes up the picturesque dialogue set by a cool stream on a hot summer’s day between Socrates and the handsome young Phaedrus.

If the influence of Platonism on Christianity interests you, then join us for Bernie Lewin’s talk Philosophy to Scriptures as the Hellenic Museum, 11 am Saturday 19 June. This co-hosted event is permitted under the new COVID restrictions (i.e., starting 11 June). Alas, numbers will be limited, and so booking is essential. After the talk we can head upstairs and check out the Museum’s wonderful collection.

Platonism & Christianity talk at the Hellenic Museum

Philosophy and Scriptures banner

The Hellenic Museum and the Platonic Academy invite you to a talk on the many and varied ways that Plato and Platonism influenced the development of Christianity.

| 11 am, Saturday, 19 June 2021| Hellenic Museum | 280 William St, Melbourne | Pre-booking necessary | Tickets includes Museum entry |

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The Spiral of Theodorus

Spiral of Theodorus Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spiral_of_Theodorus.svg
The root spiral of Theodorus Source

In Plato’s dialogue, Theaetetus (p. 147d), there is a cryptic description of a complicated geometrical diagram that the geometrician, Theodorus, drew for his students. Down through the centuries there has been much speculation about exactly what Theodorus was supposed to have drawn.

We know that it involved the roots of square areas in the natural number series up the area of 17, and so √17. But then at √17 Theodorus stopped, so we are told, because after that the diagram got ‘entangled’ (enescheto).

What happened after √17?

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Platonism and Buddhism

Ancient Gandhara Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/Gandhara_map.jpg/640px-Gandhara_map.jpg
Ancient Gandhara in the upper Indus valley is where a Hellenistic culture turn Buddhist. Source

Session 4 of Reading Plato comes to the Phaedo’s myth of the soul’s transmigration, where students are often astonished by the similarities with Buddhist doctrine. This raises the question of whether Platonism influenced Buddhism, or whether Plato and Buddhism share a common source.

This question has been raised many times down through the centuries and continues to be asked by modern scholars. Much of the interest centres around the ancient Gandharan civilisation of the northern Indus valley in modern day Pakistan. Gandhara was part of the great Persian Empire until Alexander’s conquest, when it came under Hellenistic influence in its art and culture. But then it turned to Buddhism.

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