This history of ancient philosophy tries to give a comprehensive but wholly introductory sketch of a difficult and changing historical terrain. We are still learning about the beginnings of philosophy and the scholarly contributions to our knowledge mount almost menacingly, intimidating one who would attempt an over-all simplified presentation. Writing a memo in anticipation of the Libyan battles, Churchill predicted that renown awaited the commander who would restore artillery to its proper place on the battle field: later he seemed as pleased with his phrasing of the claim as of its fulfillment. Perhaps a relieved welcome, if not renown, awaits an introductory history which is not studded with the artillery of footnotes apprising the bewildered neophyte of esoteric studies on the fine points of recent scholarship in the period he is encountering for the first time. It is my feeling that there is little point in cluttering an introductory work with such references: the teacher does not need them and the student is not ready for them. Better unabashedly to popularize the period so as to make it as immediately and painlessly accesible as can honestly be done. The short reading lists at the back of the book will enable the interested reader to begin study in that scholarship on which such books as this are based. Of course, in the narrative, broad divergences of interpretation are mentioned and occasionally even adjudicated, but in every instance the attitude has been irenic and permissive. It is an Aristotelian axiom that we must begin any study with a confused view of the whole and this volume provides only a first step in the study of ancient philosophy.
The present work was not conceived to fill some glaring gap in the works available for classroom use; there is a plethora of good histories of ancient philosophy. This effort differs from some in the manner indicated in the preceding paragraph; it differs from others in being more brief; it differs from all, hopefully, in the style of its approach which may appeal to student and teacher alike. It is difficult to resist the impulse to put what one has learned into his own words even when what he knows is neither a private possession nor a personal discovery. In the course of teaching the history of ancient philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, on campus as well as in Moreau Seminary, I amassed folders of notes, made sketches of chapters, had visions of a volume. When an opportunity came to prepare this book for Henry Regnery Company I was willing if not wholly ready to accept it. The result, being actual, seems almost a betrayal of the shimmering possibility I had cherished. But that is often the way with actualities. I shall now let my imagination play on the possibility that this book will be of some aid to teacher and student in courses in the history of ancient philosophy. That hope, at once modest and immense, is why it was written.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from the dialogues of Plato are taken from the 19th century translation by Benjamin Jowett. Quotations from the letters of Plato are from the L. A. Post translation by permission of The Clarendon Press, Oxford.
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