Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
13. The Scientific Chracter of the Early Greek Cosmology 1. Plato

From Burnet's Introduction

XIV. Schools of Philosophy
Theophrastos, the first writer to treat the history of Greek philosophy in a systematic way,66 represented the early cosmologists as standing to one another in the relation of master and scholar, and as members of regular societies. This has been regarded as an anachronim, and some have even denied the existence of "schools" of philosophy altogether. But the statements of Theophrastos on such a subject are not to be lightly set aside. As this point is of great importance, it will be necessary to elucidate it before we enter on our story.

In almost every department of life, the corporation at first is everything and the individual nothing. The peoples of the East hardly got beyond this stage; their science, such as it is, is anonymous, the inherited property of a caste or guild, and we still see clearly in some cases that it was once the same among the Greeks. Medicine, for instance, was originally the "mystery" of the Asklepiads. What distinguished the Greeks from other peoples was that at an early date these crafts came under the influence of outstanding individuals, who gave them a fresh direction and new impulse. But this does not destroy the corporate character of the craft; it rather intensifies it. The guild becomes what we call a "school," and the disciple takes the place of the apprentice. That is a vital change. A close guild with none but official heads is essentially conservative, while a band of disciples attached to a master they revere is the greatest progressive force the world knows.

It is certain that the later Athenian schools were legally recognised corporations, the oldest of which, the Academy, maintained its existence as such for some nine hundred years, and the only question we have to decide is whether this was an innovation made in the fourth century B.C., or rather the continuance of an old tradition. Now we have the authority of Plato for speaking of the chief early systems as handed down in schools. He makes Sokrates speak of "the men of Ephesos," the Herakleiteans, as forming a strong body in his own day,67 and the stranger of the Sophist and the Statesman speaks of his school as still in existence at Elea.68 We also hear of "Anaxagoreans,"69 and no one, of course, can doubt that the Pythagoreans were a society. In fact, there is hardly any school but that of Miletos for which we have not external evidence of the strongest kind; and even as regards it, we have the significant fact that Theophrastos speaks of philosophers of a later date as having been "associates of the philosophy of Anaximenes."70 We shall see too in the first chapter that the internal evidence in favour of the existence of a Milesian school is very strong indeed. It is from this point of view, then, that we shall now proceed to consider the men who created Greek science.

Burnet's Notes


66. See Note on Sources, § 7.

67. Theaet. 179 e 4, αὐτοῖς . . . τοῖς περὶ τὴν Ἔφεσον. The humorous denial that the Herakleiteans had any disciples (180 b 8, Ποίοις μαθηταῖς, ὦ δαιμόνιε;) implies that this was the normal and recognised relation.

68. Soph. 242 d 4, τὸ . . . παρ' ἡμῖν Ἐλεατικὸν ἔθνος. Cf. ib. 216 a 3, ἑταῖρον δὲ τῶν ἀμφὶ Παρμενίδην καὶ Ζήνωνα [ἑταίρων], (where ἑταίρων is probably interpolated, but gives the right sense); 217 a 1, οἱ περὶ τὸν ἐκεῖ τόπον.

69. Crat. 409 b 6, εἴπερ ἀληθῆ οἱ Ἀναξαγόρειοι λέγουσιν. Cf. also the Δισσοὶ λόγοι (Diels, Vors.3 ii. p. 343) τί δὲ Ἀναξαγορειοι καὶ Πυθαγόρειοι ἦεν; This is independent of Plato.

70. Cf. Chap. VI. § 122.

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