An interesting work, though perhaps not more interesting than just going back and pulling some Plato and Aristotle off the shelves. Despite the author’s explicit claim that this is not a book about Neoplatonism… it kinda feels like a book about Neoplatonism. At the very least, a key argument for why we should not view Aristotle as being so much in conflict with his erstwhile teacher, Plato, is that, well, a lot of ancient and late ancient philosopher who wrote after Aristotle, viewed Aristotle as being part of Platonism. Especially the Neoplatonists. And no, calling them ‘harmonists’ (those who believe that Aristotle is, in some ultimate sense, in harmony with Plato, as opposed to the antiharmonists [no hyphen]) does not help and, in fact, that term needs to not become a ‘thing’ and should not be used in that context ever again, because it’s cloying.

His best argument for this actually came very early in the book and was the bit that my mind kept coming back to: he referenced a philosopher named Pierre Hadot (who I had never heard of before) who (he says) proposed that the philosophers of the ancient world and their schools should be viewed primarily as positing a way of life and only secondarily as positing philosophical doctrine. Under this rubric, it does become easier (for me, at least), to see the author’s point.

But Gerson rarely seems to speak for himself. Every time I think that he is offering his own interpretation, I read that sentence more carefully and see that he’s actually paraphrasing what he believes Porphyry or Plotinus or Simplicius or Iamblichus has said. But basically, the thesis is that Aristotle’s ontologies (and epistemology, especially and his and Plato’s are deeply informed by their onologies) are not so different from Plato’s after all.

To briefly give one example, Gerson both recognizes (yet also avoids, in many ways) what is usually taught as the basic and most important distinction between the teacher and his student: Plato’s theory of forms. Plato believed in their reality and Aristotle did not (though yeoman’s work is done to suggest that Aristotle’s theory of the intellect (I am being vague here, because there are several kinds of intellect and much back and forth over what in the name of all that is holy it all means and if you’d like to learn more, I recommend learning Medieval Latin, because a lot mainly, but not exclusively British monks spent several centuries arguing about this and you’re welcome to read it all, I’m sure) could be considered as being compatible with the forms). Plato, through the mouthpiece of Socrates, argues for knowledge as recollection Aristotle makes statements that support that epistemology. Since Plato’s theory knowledge as recollection emerges from the forms and Aristotle can be seen to accept Plato’s theory of knowledge, therefore he implicitly accepts, at least in part, the forms, if not in a so explicitly realist fashion.

My first impression after reading this is that I should brush up on my Plato and Aristotle. More so, Aristotle. I’ve been reading a bit of Plato recently (though no amount of references to it by Neoplatonic philosophers will convince me to read the Timeaus again), but have a copy of Aristotle’s Categories that I started but never finished.

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