Plato as "Architect of Science"

Phronesis 43 (3):211-244 (1998)
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Abstract

The figure of the cordial host of the Academy, who invited the most gifted mathematicians and cultivated pure research, whose keen intellect was able if not to solve the particular problem then at least to show the method for its solution: this figure is quite familiar to students of Greek science. But was the Academy as such a center of scientific research, and did Plato really set for mathematicians and astronomers the problems they should study and methods they should use? Our sources tell about Plato's friendship or at least acquaintance with many brilliant mathematicians of his day (Theodorus, Archytas, Theaetetus), but they were never his pupils, rather vice versa -- he learned much from them and actively used this knowledge in developing his philosophy. There is no reliable evidence that Eudoxus, Menaechmus, Dinostratus, Theudius, and others, whom many scholars unite into the group of so-called "Academic mathematicians," ever were his pupils or close associates. Our analysis of the relevant passages (Eratosthenes' Platonicus, Sosigenes ap. Simplicius, Proclus' "Catalogue of geometers", and Philodemus' "History of the Academy", etc.) shows that the very tendency of portraying Plato as the architect of science goes back to the early Academy and is born out of interpretations of his dialogues

Author's Profile

Leonid Zhmud
Institute for The History of Science and Technology, RAS

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