November 14, 2005

Plutarch, Plotinus, Petrarch, Pascal

Plutarch (circa 45-125 A.D.)Priest of the Delphic Oracle: For many years Plutarch served as one of the two priests at the temple of Apollo at Delphi (the site of the famous Delphic Oracle) twenty miles from his home. By his writings and lectures Plutarch became a celebrity in the Roman empire, yet he continued to reside where he was born, and actively participated in local affairs, even serving as mayor. At his country estate, guests from all over the empire congregated for serious conversation, presided over by Plutarch in his marble chair. Many of these dialogues were recorded and published, and the 78 essays and other works which have survived are now known collectively as the Moralia. Plutarch's essays and his lectures established him as a leading thinker in the Roman empire's golden age.
Plotinus (204/5-270 C.E.), is generally regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. He is one of the most influential philosophers in antiquity after Plato and Aristotle. The term ‘Neoplatonism’ is an invention of early 19th century European scholarship and indicates the penchant of historians for dividing ‘periods’ in history. In fact, Plotinus (like all his successors) regarded himself simply as a Platonist, that is, as an expositor and defender of the philosophical position whose greatest exponent was Plato himself. Originality was thus not held as a premium by Plotinus. Nevertheless, Plotinus realized that Plato needed to be interpreted. In addition, between Plato and himself, Plotinus found roughly 600 years of philosophical writing, much of it reflecting engagement with Plato and the tradition of philosophy he initiated. The three basic principles of Plotinus' metaphysics are called by him ‘the One’ (or, equivalently, ‘the Good’), Intellect, and Soul.
Petrarch (1304-1374) was regarded as the greatest scholar of his age, who combined interest in classical culture and Christianity and left deep influence on literature throughout Western Europe. The majority of his works Petrarch wrote in Latin, although his sonnets and canzoni written in Italy were equally influential. Petrarch was known as a devoted student of antiquity, who had a passion for finding and commenting on the works of the ancients. Scholar, poet, and humanist, a major force in the development of the Renaissance, he is famous for his poems addressed to Laura, an idealized beloved.
His father died in September 1651 and following this Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote to one of his sisters giving a deeply Christian meaning to death in general and his father's death in particular. His ideas here were to form the basis for his later philosophical work Pensées. Not long after he underwent another religious experience, on 23 November 1654, and he pledged his life to Christianity. He began to publish anonymous works on religious topics, eighteen Provincial Letters being published during 1656 and early 1657. Pascal's most famous work in philosophy is Pensées, a collection of personal thoughts on human suffering and faith in God which he began in late 1656 and continued to work on during 1657 and 1658. This work contains 'Pascal's wager' which claims to prove that belief in God is rational with the following argument. If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.

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