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Open Access Thomas Taylor’s Dissent from Some 18th-Century Views on Platonic Philosophy: The Ethical and Theological Context

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Thomas Taylor’s Dissent from Some 18th-Century Views on Platonic Philosophy: The Ethical and Theological Context

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Abstract Thomas Taylor’s interpretation of Plato’s works in 1804 was condemned as guilty by association immediately after its publication. Taylor’s 1804 and 1809 reviewer thus made a hasty generalisation in which the qualities of Neoplatonism, assumed to be negative, were transferred to Taylor’s own interpretation, which made use of Neoplatonist thinkers. For this reason, Taylor has typically been marginalised as an interpreter of Plato. This article does not deny the association between Taylor and Neoplatonism. Instead, it examines the historical and historiographical reasons for the reviewer’s assumption that Neoplatonic readings of Plato are erroneous by definition. In particular, it argues that the reviewer relied on, and tacitly accepted, ethical and theological premises going back to the historiography of philosophy developed by Jacob Brucker in his Historia critica philosophiae (1742-44). These premises were an integral part of Brucker’s Lutheran religiosity and thus theologically and ethically biased. If these premises are identified, articulated and discussed critically—which they have not been so far in connection with Taylor’s reception—it becomes less obvious that the reviewer was justified in his assumption that the Neoplatonic reading was erroneous by definition. This, in turn, leaves Taylor’s Plato interpretation in a more respectable position.

Affiliations: 1: University of Copenhagen catana@hum.ku.dk

Abstract Thomas Taylor’s interpretation of Plato’s works in 1804 was condemned as guilty by association immediately after its publication. Taylor’s 1804 and 1809 reviewer thus made a hasty generalisation in which the qualities of Neoplatonism, assumed to be negative, were transferred to Taylor’s own interpretation, which made use of Neoplatonist thinkers. For this reason, Taylor has typically been marginalised as an interpreter of Plato. This article does not deny the association between Taylor and Neoplatonism. Instead, it examines the historical and historiographical reasons for the reviewer’s assumption that Neoplatonic readings of Plato are erroneous by definition. In particular, it argues that the reviewer relied on, and tacitly accepted, ethical and theological premises going back to the historiography of philosophy developed by Jacob Brucker in his Historia critica philosophiae (1742-44). These premises were an integral part of Brucker’s Lutheran religiosity and thus theologically and ethically biased. If these premises are identified, articulated and discussed critically—which they have not been so far in connection with Taylor’s reception—it becomes less obvious that the reviewer was justified in his assumption that the Neoplatonic reading was erroneous by definition. This, in turn, leaves Taylor’s Plato interpretation in a more respectable position.

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2013-01-01
2017-10-23

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