Ancient Philosophy

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Ancient Philosophy

A Very Short Introduction
By Julia Annas

Plato’s writing of Republic is a dramatic example of the way a work of ancient philosophy can become, or cease to be in contemporary philosophical terms. It is predominantly read in the light of its brief account of an ideal society. There is complete division of labour between wealth on one hand and political power on the other.

We can start to understand what is distinctive about ancient attitudes to knowledge by beginning with Socrates. His friend Chaerephon, we are told, asked the oracle of the god Apollo whether anyone was wiser than Socrates, and Apollo replied that nobody was.

On being told this, Socreates was surprised and wondered what the oracle would possibly mean, since he was aware that he possessed no wisdom or expertise of his own. So he went round people considered experts, questioning them and their alleged expertise, but always finding either that they could produce no remotely adequate account of what they were supposed to be experts in, or that the expertise they did have was less important than they thought it.

He concluded that Apollo’s meaning must be that the wisest person is the person most aware of their own ignorance.

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