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FROM PLATO TO THE PRESENT - A BRIEF HISTORY OF WESTERN KNOWLEDGE

FROM PLATO TO PRESENT

Anybody picking up this book can readily perceive from the major line in the title that it encompasses the centuries of our civilisation. 

The second line indicates that it is brief, brief indeed, less than 100 pages; and that it is the record of accumulated wisdom and understanding in the West and the West only – nothing about other spheres such as the Incas or India or even the 40,000 years of aboriginal culture in the author’s home continent of Australia. 

The third line shows that the history is not simply a linear sequence through the centuries. There were three phases of about 800 years each, with the first culminating in the achievements of St Augustine known as “Transfiguration” and those of St Thomas Aquinas concluding with his “Summa”. The third shows the way in which knowledge increased until there is a torrent of expansion into so many fields at the present time.  

Readers may know want to know more about the many individual subjects touched on. Details can be found elsewhere in encyclopaedias and the internet; but in doing so they may continually refer back to the way in which the several phases developed and provided themes to be followed.

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ISBN: 978-1-921919-95-4   
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:110
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Peter Rudge
Publisher:
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English

 

 

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

 

Peter Rudge, born in 1927, began his search for knowledge at a very early age. Two factors assisted him: the encouragement of his parents; and the fact that in this somewhat remote rural area on the north-west coast of Tasmania he had access to a private hydro-electricity scheme which gave him light to read by, whereas other children in the neighbourhood had only candles and kerosene lamps. 

One book that particularly interested him was an atlas, the extensive knowledge of which more than compensated for the fact that until the age of 18 he had not travelled more than 50 kilometres from his home. Then things changed. In his student days he hitchhiked to many parts of Australia; and later for study, work, and holidays he travelled extensively in the British Isles and Western Europe, on a grand tour of North America, to the eastern side of the African continent, all over India, and out into the Pacific. 

His early schooling was at a 13-pupil country school from where his knowledge enabled him to more than match his fellow-students in High School at Burnie and then at the University of Tasmania. His reading did not take him far beyond the set texts at either place. However, his high school introduced him to poetry and Shakespeare though the extensive reading and appreciation of them did not take place until much later; and at university there were two books which might make it into the top 500: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and R H Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. 

He first met Plato at a theological college in Adelaide where he trained for the ministry of the Anglican Church. The college was distinctive in that it did not have set text books or exams but it gave students like Peter the opportunity to read very widely within and beyond the main themes of Bible, spirituality, philosophy and history. Fortunately the college had a very extensive library. 

His wide search for knowledge continued throughout the remainder of his life in his several vocational areas. It showed up particularly in his years as a book reviewer with some 80 reviews presented in his book Reviewing the Times for The Canberra Times.  

Then, late in life at the age of 87, he traced his span of awareness by setting out the way in which knowledge had moved from Plato to the present day in 800-year phases which he called “Octospannes”: from Plato to St Augustine, from St Augustine to St Thomas Aquinas, and thence to the current situation.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

 

Biblical quotations: 

Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Quotations from the Authorised Version of The Holy Bible: as advised by Oxford University Press, the material is now out of copyright in Australia and may be used without obtaining anyone’s permission.

  One-liners:

There are many one-line quotations in the text. Most are in common use, even on the internet, so much so as to provide evidence that they are in the public domain. No evidence has been found to attach them to one specific owner of the copyright. Well-read people will recognise that many of them are indicative of the identity of the particular person: Archimedes and his lever, St Thomas Aquinas’ reflection on his vision, Rousseau's perception of the plight of humanity, Galileo's under-his-breath rejection of the judgement in his trial, Einstein's imagination (not yet 70 years from death but available on the internet), Descartes' assertion of his existence.

There are others. Two ancient Greek authors Leucippus and Protagoras each provided a one-line indication of his respective field of interest; both died more than 70 years ago. That attributed to Thomas Merton presumably came from his book Clement of Alexandria but it has not been possible to check the copyright with the publisher of the book. Permission is awaited as it is not 70 years since his death. One quotation has never appeared in writing before: it was a comment about the Asian perception of Europe made by the author’s Sri Lankan colleague, now deceased, in conversation with him. 

 Short quotations but more than one line: 

Quoted lines from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” IV i 179-180: Shakespeare died more than 70 years ago. 

Quoted lines 49-50 from “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats: he died more than 70 years ago. 

Quotation from Jan H Negenman’s New Atlas of the Bible; permission awaited from Harper Collins. 

Three short quotations by the Church Fathers: Tertullian, Justin, and Clement. They are taken from Documents of the Christian Church published Oxford University Press for which documents it obtained permission from copyright holders; but, in a list at the end of the book, no exact indication is given as to who holds the copyright of these quotations from whom permission might be sought. The quotations were provided by writers who died more than 70 years ago. 

The first two lines of a hymn by Prudentius -- No.64 in The BBC Hymn Book, Seventh Impression 1969; he died more than 70 years ago. 

Short quoted lines from the poem “Memorials of a Tour of Italy 1838 – XIV The Cuckoo at Laverna”, lines 70-71, in The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Ed. Thomas Hutchison. Reprinted London 1964; the poet died more than 70 years ago.     

 Longer quotations, at least several sentences: 

Quotations from Jane Austen’s novel Emma in the Preface: as advised by Cambridge University Press, it is in the public domain. 

There are several passages from what Sir Ernest Barker wrote in his “Introduction to the Everyman’s Edition” of St Augustine's The City of God. As advised by Random House, New York in relation to an earlier usage of the same quotations: “The material you wish to use is, to the best of our knowledge, in the public domain”.  

There is a lengthy quotation from the writings of C S Lewis in a book by Alan Jacobs entitled Christianity and Fantasy. The book has been traced to Wheaton College in Illinois in the United States of America. It is understood that the college has acquired the whole catalogue of the writings of C S Lewis, leading to the assumption that it holds the copyright. An approach has been made seeking permission to use this quotation since C S Lewis died less than 70 years ago; but no reply has been received thus far. However, the text was discovered on the internet. 

Several sentences are quoted from The Prince by Machiavelli who died more than 70 years ago. 

There is an extensive paragraph by Bonhoffer who was executed on April 9 1945, less than 70 years ago. Permission requested but a reply not yet received. 

A vote of thanks: 

The author thanks the holders of copyright for their readiness to allow his use of quoted material. Readers will see how much such contributions enrich the text of the book. 

He recognises that permission is not required once the person has been dead for a minimum of 70 years; nor is it required if the quote is in the public domain -- on the internet, for example. 

Every reasonable care has been taken to locate the owners of copyright. Should any be overlooked, the author apologises and will make amends in any future edition of the book.

 

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR 

 

Ministry and Management

Management in the Church 

Order and Disorder in Organisations 

One Hundred Hints on Designing Home Gardens (with Tom Cahill) 

Seeing the Science in Croquet

The Human Sciences in Croquet

Croquet and Other Ball Sports

Body Language in the Laws of Croquet

Croquet: Fun and Games

Croquet: Variations on a Theme

The Basics of Competitions in Croquet

The Basics of Refereeing in Croquet 

Reviewing the Times for The Canberra Times 

Preaching the Gospel

PREFACE

 

At the beginning of the second term at my theological college after the preliminary trial term, the principal said to me: “Read Plato’s Dialogues”. 

I did and a new world opened to me. In the five years at college and in later years I have read many of the most important books ever written. The Bible from cover to cover and likewise Shakespeare were essential. As the saying goes: “If you want to know about God, read the Bible: if you want to know about human nature, read Shakespeare”. Add to those, books ranging from Plutarch’s Lives to the novels of Jane Austen. 

(Why include her novels? Apart from their quality, the ability to quote from one of her novels was the saving grace at a funeral service I conducted for a little girl of six years, Emma, struck down with leukaemia. Here is part of what I said: 

Let me begin with borrowed words …

First, from that delightful novel by Jane Austen bearing the name Emma

I’ve always felt that the two Emmas had a lot in common

In one place, one of the characters in the novel said of her:

“If Emma comes away early, it will be breaking up the party”

I won’t tell you what Mr Woodhouse said in reply

But in another place, again with a touch of irony,

he said to the Emmas of this world:

  • Young ladies should take care of themselves
  • Young ladies are delicate plants
  • They should take care of their health and their complexion

 

And it seems that Emma

  • for all her tenderness of years
  • for all her bodily frailty she saw life this way
  • she wanted to meet clients, called them “Mr Client”
  • at school and at play, she was the life of the party
  • at hospital in Sydney and here, always talking to others, bringing – as Bob said to me last night –”a ray of sunshine to others”

That was her greatest pleasure

And if it appears strange to you, then it only serves to illustrate the words that Jane Austen put into the mouth of her namesake:

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”)

 

I had some form of education prior to college in the form of high school for five years and university for four years. But maybe only two books would achieve a worthy ranking. They were R H Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. 

(At high school we had a text book on Modern European History; it began with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Much later on in life I realised that this book had hidden from me the marvellous book by Edward Gibbon entitled Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which concluded with the fall of Constantinople in 1453!) 

So it began with Plato. That was when I was about 20 years of age. Had I lived elsewhere, there might have been a different starting point and a different content. Had I been a Jew, I would have had to go back maybe a further thousand years. If it were in China or India, several thousands of years; it could have been many millennia in indigenous Australia but I would have missed out on the invention of the wheel. Had it been Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, it would have begun about a thousand years later than Plato. But I have lived in the Western tradition – born and brought up and educated in Australia and studied in England – and so I begin with Plato. 

Now that I am in my eighties I qualify as an octogenarian. As a leisure pursuit I have been working my way through Michael Miller’s study guide; for me, appropriately named The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, and in the process I use my xylophone. In the music I learn about octaves. The number eight for the music; 80’s is the decade for me; but what is the term for a span of 800 years? It is more than a century, less than a millennium. I’ve tried all sorts of words beginning with “octo” and many suffixes dealing with a period of time; I picked one based on the Latin word for year: “annus”. Hence I have opted for “Octospannes”. It flows readily from the tongue and is easy on the ear. 

Why am I concerned with 800 years? I began my quest for knowledge with Plato 427-347 B, whose Dialogue opened for me a new world. Who was the next person I met in my search? St Augustine 354-430 AD. His major book was called The City of God. How far on was that from Plato? About 800 years. After St Augustine, who was the next person I encountered? It was St Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274, who produced his Summa theologica. Another 800 years. And as I tried to bring my quest for knowledge up to date, I found that I had to explore yet another 800 years, or octospannes, as I have called such periods of time. 

Follow me in tracing the characteristics of these three octospannes and then share with me in what might be ahead in the 800 years from this time onwards. Note that what is said is my personal reflection on the several octospannes; and they are impressions, not exact quotations. If I had to be as rigorous as that, it would take me another 80 years of my life to substantiate my commentary. 

Please note above the insertion of what might be called an aside; it is set in Monotype Corsiva to distinguish it from the main body of the text. Likewise the same device is used from time to time in other places to provide comments that illustrate from personal experience the major points of the chapters. It is especially noticeable in Chapter 2 where virtually the whole presentation is derived from such external sources.

 

Peter F Rudge

The Gold Coast

Australia

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