Introduction

Over the last years, the interest in the origin and development of Platonism in the Imperial Period has grown exponentially. This fact is largely due to the acknowledgement that Western philosophical thought has been fundamentally shaped by the way ancient and late ancient Platonists read Plato’s dialogues and how they were transmitted to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, thus triggering centuries of debate that characterise the long history of Platonism. Scholars have investigated in depth the metaphysical and to a certain extent the epistemological and ethical aspects of this reception. However, the correlation between the two last factors, epistemology and ethics, which are usually considered of central importance in the Platonic tradition, has not received the attention it deserves. What roles did epistemology and theory of knowledge play in ethical and political discussions? Is it possible to discuss and solve moral and social questions with the help of epistemology, tracing them back to a cognitive dimension? In other words: how should the relationship between knowing (in all those forms) and acting be conceived? This question certainly attracts great interest in contemporary philosophical and political debate as well. It was definitely a core issue for Plato and his interpreters in Antiquity. An intensely discussed question is the moral or ethical intellectualism inspired by Socrates, according to which science and virtue are unified, whereby the search for knowledge corresponds to a search oriented toward moral action. With all its obvious permutations, this connection has never ceased to attract the attention of Platonic interpreters, who have certainly been compelled to engage with Aristotle’s criticism of Plato and his personal contribution to the definition of ethics as a ‘practical science’.

The aim of this book is to offer a fresh perspective on this issue from both a historical and systematic perspective. In particular, the book addresses the connection between knowing and acting by viewing it from a specific angle, namely conflict or disagreement. There are not only social conflicts, but also conflicts between desires, between reason and necessity, norm, and nature. Up to what point is it possible to analyse and solve conflicts considering them as epistemological issues, i.e., a lack of knowledge, or faulty application of knowledge? This raises further questions: how many forms of knowledge are there? Do different levels of knowledge correspond to different manifestations of practical activity? How important is knowledge of the self for action?

The first part of this book deals with the social, juridical, and theoretical premises of Plato’s investigations, from the ‘early’ to ‘late’ dialogues, with particular attention given to the relation between science and practical action. The last part of the volume focusses on the reception of the topic in the Platonic tradition (from Eudorus to Plotinus). The central part is dedicated to Aristotle, as his criticism of Plato and his foundation of a practical science played a key role in the Platonic tradition. The chapters can stand on their own but, at the same time, they trace a long arc encompassing the issues put forward in the book’s title. Thus any reader would benefit from devoting attention to the entire volume. We hope that this volume will be useful to a broad range of readers: to all researchers working on Plato, Aristotle, Middle Platonism, and Neoplatonism, but also to those interested in epistemological, psychological, and ethical issues.

This book originated as the result of cooperation between the Department of Philosophy of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg and the Department of Philosophy of the Università degli Studi di Milano, which was made possible by the generous financial support of the DAAD (German Academy Exchange Service-Programm ‘Hochschuldialog mit Südeuropa’).

We would like to thank the other participants in our joint meetings for their stimulating contributions to the discussion, in particular Christoph Helmig, who also gave a paper at the first meeting in Freiburg, Klaus Döring, and Jan Opsomer. Our deep gratitude also goes to our colleagues who generously read and commented on various chapters in this book, Rachel Barney, Andrea Capra, Riccardo Chiaradonna, Diego De Brasi, Franco Ferrari, Francesco Fronterotta, Alexandra Michalewski, and Maria Michela Sassi.

We also thank Edwin Zoltan (Zoli) Filotas for his careful and competent revision of the English language of non-native English speakers involved in the project.

Special thanks go to the anonymous referees for their very insightful comments, and to Gabriele Cornelli and Gábor Betegh, for agreeing to publish this book in the Brill Plato Studies Series.

The Editors