In This Article Middle Platonism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Exegesis of Plato
  • The Other Schools
  • Neopythagoreanism
  • Neoplatonism
  • Metaphysics, Doctrine of Principles, and Cosmology
  • Psychology and Demonology
  • Ethics and Politics
  • Providence and Fate
  • The Religious Traditions
  • Early Christian Thought

Classics Middle Platonism
by
Mauro Bonazzi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0190

Introduction

The term “Middle Platonism” was created in the 19th century CE to distinguish this movement from the later tradition known as “Neoplatonism.” Both terms, however, are misleading and would have been rejected by the ancients; neither “Middle Platonists” would have accepted that they were an intermediate step in the history of Platonism nor would “Neoplatonists” have agreed that they were introducing anything new in the Platonic tradition. However, it is true that Early Imperial Platonism differs in basic ways from Late Antique Platonism, and both labels continue to be used for the sake of clarity. In short, Middle Platonism conventionally refers to a group of philosophers from the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE who may be described as Platonists by virtue of their allegiance to a nucleus of Platonic doctrines. More precisely, this allegiance can be presented as the attempt to develop a systematic and theological interpretation of Plato’s philosophy. This suffices to prove its importance, philosophically and historically, for two reasons: (1) because the commitment to the view that Plato’s philosophy can be reduced to a system proved very influential in the history of philosophy, and (2) because in this period monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity first encountered Greek philosophy, and this confrontation was greatly influenced by the theological speculations of these authors. Unfortunately, most of the works of Middle Platonists are now lost, but the material that remains enable us to reconstruct the basic features of their thought.

General Overviews

From the beginning of the 20th century, a major problem has been to define the nature of the complex phenomenon conventionally called Middle Platonism (the term “Middle Platonism” is simply used to distinguish it from Neoplatonism and from the Early Academy). A pioneering monograph is Theiler 1930, whose characterization of Middle Platonism as a “preparation for Neoplatonism” has been contested by later scholars. From the publication of Dillon 1996 (first published in 1977), it is now commonly agreed that Middle Platonism is philosophically interesting in itself. The monumental collection Dörrie and Baltes 1987–, the definitive reference collection, insists on the doctrinal coherence of the Middle Platonist movement. However, this view is more controversial because, according to Donini 1982, Glucker 1978, and especially Boys-Stones 2018, Middle Platonists disagree on many specific points and often attack each other’s views. That which remains undisputed is that Middle Platonists shared a core of common doctrines, a common methodology, and a firm commitment to Plato’s authority. Bonazzi and Pierluigi-Ferrari 2015 collects a series of updated papers on the most important topics; Riedweg, et al. 2018 offers a detailed overview of the most relevant thinkers, together with an exhaustive bibliography; Zambon 2006 is a useful short introduction. . For advanced studies, the works of Heinrich Dörrie, now collected in Dörrie 1976, still deserve to be given serious consideration.

  • Bonazzi, Mauro-Donini, and Franco Pierluigi-Ferrari. 2015. Sistema, tradizioni, esegesi: Il medioplatonismo. Rivista di Storia della Filosofia, Numero Monografico 70.

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    A collection of papers on the most important topics and an useful and updated introduction to recent studies on Middle Platonism.

  • Boys-Stones, George. 2018. Platonist philosophy, 80 BC to AD 250: An introduction and collection of sources in translation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A challenging attempt to show the philosophical relevance of Middle Platonism and an interesting reconstruction of this philosophical tradition in all its richness, in opposition to the more monolithic accounts of the past years (most notably Dörrie and Baltes 1987–). It contains a remarkable selection of primary sources, a significant number of which appear in English translation for the first time.

  • Dillon, John. 1996. The Middle Platonists: 80 B.C. to A.D. 220. Rev. ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Originally published in 1977. An accessible and exhaustive survey of the major Middle Platonists, the standard introduction for students and for all those who first approach the topic. The second edition ends with a very useful “Afterword,” which contains a critical discussion of some of the most important studies published after the first edition.

  • Donini, Pierluigi. 1982. Le scuole, l’anima, l’impero: La filosofia antica da Antioco a Plotino. Turin, Italy: Rosenberg & Sellier.

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    A survey of Early Imperial philosophy with an important chapter on Middle Platonism; it further shows that the other philosophical schools and intellectual movements of the time (Stoics, Peripatetics, and Christian thinkers) were influenced by Middle Platonist speculations.

  • Dörrie, Heinrich. 1976. Platonica minora. Munich: Fink.

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    A collection of papers. Not for beginners, but indispensable for a correct understanding of Middle Platonism in its historical and philosophical context.

  • Dörrie, Heinrich, and Matthias Baltes. 1987–. Der Platonismus in der Antike: Grundlagen, System, Entwicklung. 7 vols. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog.

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    A collection in progress of the most important testimonies with German translation, running commentary, and selected bibliography. By far the most important reference text for all those interested in Middle Platonism. It argues for a unitarian and systematic interpretation of this philosophical movement.

  • Glucker, John. 1978. Antiochus and the late academy. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

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    A pioneering reconstruction of Early Imperial Platonism. Definitely proves that the Academy ceased to function as a teaching institution in 86 BCE (when Philo of Larissa, the last head of the school, went to Rome). Contains a useful survey of the meaning and employment of the terms “Academic” and “Platonic.”

  • Riedweg, Christoph, Christoph Horn, and Dietmar Wyrwa, eds. 2018. Die Philosophie der Antike. Vol. 5, Philosophie der Kaiserzeit und der Spätantike. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe.

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    A detailed and updated overview of the philosophical doctrines of the most important Middle Platonists with an exhaustive bibliography. The ideal starting point for any research on this topic.

  • Theiler, Willy. 1930. Die Vorbereitung des Neuplatonismus. Berlin: Weidmann.

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    A pioneering study on Early Imperial Platonism. Many of its hypotheses (in particular, the emphasis on Antiochus) are now contested by scholars, but it is still a helpful reference text for any advanced study of Middle Platonism.

  • Zambon, Marco. 2006. Middle Platonism. In A companion to ancient philosophy. Edited by Mary Louise Gill and Pierre Pellegrin, 561–576. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210610.2006.00034.xE-mail Citation »

    A short and very clear overview with a useful selected bibliography. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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