Monday, June 01, 2015

The Greatest Possession

Today is the feast of St. Justin, Martyr. Justin's account of philosophical disagreements, from Chapter 2 of the Dialogue with Trypho:

"I will tell you," said I, "what seems to me; for philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honourable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy. What philosophy is, however, and the reason why it has been sent down to men, have escaped the observation of most; for there would be neither Platonists, nor Stoics, nor Peripatetics, nor Theoretics, nor Pythagoreans, this knowledge being one. I wish to tell you why it has become many-headed. It has happened that those who first handled it, and who were therefore esteemed illustrious men, were succeeded by those who made no investigations concerning truth, but only admired the perseverance and self-discipline of the former, as well as the novelty of the doctrines; and each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher: then, moreover, those latter persons handed down to their successors such things, and others similar to them; and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine...."

I have previously discussed the Middle Platonist background to St. Justin's ideas.


  1. Enbrethiliel10:00 AM


    It's a little like the Tower of Babel! And like the degeneration of the kallipolis into a timarchy! (Oh, dear. Where are we now?)

    I can see how the philosophical schools that St. Justin would have been familiar with could easily be brought under a single Catholic umbrella. But what about those that came later, like nihilism and existentialism and all the other -isms I throw around so casually as if I really knew what they mean? =P They seem, somehow, more mistaken than Platonism, Stoicism, et. al. How do we deal with these heads of the beast?

    (Of course as soon as I ask that, the many-headed Hydra came to mind . . . But I'm just the Iolaus to your Hercules, and I await further instructions!)

  2. branemrys10:26 AM

    I think there's definitely something to the comparison. We currently live in the Age of Ten Thousand Schools of Thought, so the many-headed Hydra seems about right. And the underlying explanation seems quite similar -- the philosophical schools fail to realize their inner unity because they are concerned with seeming wise rather than being wise; but they still put an immense amount of emphasis on at least seeming wise. But philosophical schools now don't seem hugely concerned even with seeming wise, and they go every which-way, just like the Hydra of passions (and democracy, according to Plato's parallel) -- superficially pretty in its sheer variety of colors, but as far from wisdom as you can get and still be called, however loosely, 'philosophy'.

    Unfortunately, the Platonic answer to how one would fix this situation is just to be wise, in the same way that one corrects the errors of democracy by acting as if you were already a citizen of the kallipolis. I suppose that isn't any more formidable than being virtuous, but somehow sounds like an even more formidable task.


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