From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of by F. M. Cornford

By F. M. Cornford

This exploration of early Western philosophy strains the spiritual roots of technological know-how and systematic hypothesis. Cornford, a unique historian of historical philosophy, combines deep classical scholarship with anthropological and sociological insights to ascertain the mythic precursors of tolerating metaphysical recommendations — corresponding to future, God, the soul, substance, nature, and immortality.

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First of all, much of Plato’s sociology is presented by him in such close connection with his ethical and political demands that the descriptive elements have been largely overlooked. Secondly, many of his thoughts were taken so much for granted that they were simply absorbed unconsciously and therefore uncritically. It is mainly in this way that his sociological theories became so influential. Plato’s sociology is an ingenious blend of speculation with acute observation of facts. Its speculative setting is, of course, the theory of Forms and of universal flux and decay, of generation and degeneration.

First, certain men—the cowards and villains—degenerate into women. Those who are lacking wisdom degenerate step by step into the lower animals. Birds, we hear, came into being through the transformation of harmless but too easy-going people who would trust their senses too much; ‘land animals came from men who had no interest in philosophy’; and fishes, including shell-fish, ‘degenerated from the most foolish, stupid, and .. unworthy’ of all men4. It is clear that this theory can be applied to human society, and to its history.

And like children, they are copies of their original primogenitors. The father or original of a thing in flux is what Plato calls its ‘Form’ or its ‘Pattern’ or its ‘Idea’. As before, we must insist that the Form or Idea, in spite of its name, is no ‘idea in our mind’; it is not a phantasm, nor a dream, but a real thing. It is, indeed, more real than all the ordinary things which are in flux, and which, in spite of their apparent solidity, are doomed to decay; for the Form or Idea is a thing that is perfect, and does not perish.

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