Low Philosophy

William D. Desmond

in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199286140
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

Low Philosophy

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  • Classical Philosophy
  • Ancient Greek History



Philosophy in an Aristotelian vein speaks a language almost of its own making, with unusual words such as substance, accident, matter, form, actuality, potentiality, entelechy, and the like. The ideal here seems to be that philosophy speaks directly to the mortal devotee, who loses himself in that higher music. And yet there are other dimensions to ancient thinkers, even the systematic ones, which sit uneasily with such a high philosophy. This article sketches its opposite and calls a philosophy ‘low’ when it tends to focus not on a completed architectonic, but on the living thinker; not on necessary or universal thoughts, but on the lived particulars that inspire, ground, and transcend them; not on the eternal and objective, but on the immediate and subjective. What a thinker is, does, and says is more important than books, formal arguments, and system building. In brief, a low philosophy concentrates upon character and its perfection.

Keywords: Socrates; Plato; Aristotle; ancient thinkers; high philosophy; universal thoughts

Article.  5665 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Philosophy ; Ancient Greek History

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