This article examines the Platonic influence on Ptolemy’s philosophy. It also examines the central role of mathematics in Ptolemy’s philosophy and the relationship between mathematics and other fields of inquiry. Finally, it explores the subversive nature of Ptolemy’s philosophy. It is a complex work, so it requires some background knowledge. However, it is well worth reading in order to better understand the work.
Platonic influence on Ptolemy
Although Ptolemy did not identify himself as a Platonist in his writings, his ideas show a strong influence from Platonic philosophy. Ptolemy did not directly adopt Platonic philosophy, but he does adopt concepts of contemporary schools. In fact, his style draws heavily from Platonic concerns, and it is clear that his philosophy reflects Platonic values. But how much influence did Plato really have on his philosophy?
One of the most obvious instances of Platonic influence in Ptolemy’s philosophy is his Harmonics and Almagest. These works use a similar textual structure as Plato’s, and Ptolemy attaches his work to this frame. The preface to both books uses intricate Platoan textual structures. In the case of Harmonics, Ptolemy’s procedure for relating astronomy to mathematics is a masterpiece, and the detailed description of how he achieved this is comparable to the imitative techniques common to writers of his time.
After the Platonics, Neoplatonism emerged, and a variety of scholars, including Plotinus, took up the ideas of Plato. The Hellenistic school of thought influenced Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic philosophers. As the Greeks tried to make sense of all the competing philosophical systems, they used Plotinus’s ideas to build their own. They reshaped Plato’s philosophy to fit their own worldview.
Proclus was influenced by Platonic philosophy as well. He was drawn to Athens by its fame. He studied under Plutarch, a biographer of the philosophers, and Syrianus, who succeeded Plutarch as head of the Academy. Under Syrianus’ direction, Proclus began to study the Platonic dialogues and come into contact with the older wisdom traditions.
Despite his scientific contributions, Ptolemy’s works have been overshadowed by the modern focus on planetary theory. Only recently have scholars begun to analyze Greco-Roman technical writings in their cultural context and contextually within their intellectual context. Ptolemy’s Canobic Inscription, erected in 146/7 in Canopus, was an example of the influence of Platonic philosophy. Several scholars have compared Ptolemy’s writings with those of Timaeus and Philo of Alexandria to reveal the influence of the latter’s philosophy on Ptolemy’s thinking.
Centrality of mathematics in Ptolemy’s philosophy
Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy lived from 90 to 168 a.d. He developed an elaborate mechanism to calculate the movements of the heavens. Ptolemy wrote his Almagest early in his life. It was originally in Greek, but it was translated into Arabic in the ninth century and Latin in 1410. While it was never completely forgotten, its reappearance in the Renaissance buttressed the Catholic doctrine of the centrality of human creation.
As a result, he identified isomorphisms as being essential to perception. His method of perceiving the earth’s rotational motion differs from that of geokineticists, who believe the earth is in motion. Whether or not the Earth rotates is unclear, but the importance of isomorphisms in human perceptual processes is obvious. The move from visual perception to intuitive geometry seems to be a natural one.
Relationship between mathematics and other fields of inquiry
Hero and Ptolemy portray mathematicians as competitors, and both writers make claims that mathematicians succeed and philosophers fail. The texts argue that mathematical demonstration is indisputable and a superior way of knowing. Both texts emphasize the role of mathematics as knowledge-giving and epistemologically secure. Nonetheless, their conclusions remain contested. We may question whether mathematicians and philosophers can ever achieve consensus.
The philosopher Hero makes two claims about the role of geometry in society. He equates justice with precision and argues that every craft renders roughly proportionate areas of land. By comparing justice with precision, he implies that mathematics is the only way to achieve that goal. This philosophical position is consistent with other ancient works of the time, such as Hero’s Belopoeica.
In the second century CE, the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions were dominant in Greek philosophy, and the study of metaphysics was considered the most important field of inquiry. Ptolemy, however, rejects this view and claims that both theology and mathematics are productive of knowledge. Therefore, the Platonic and Aristotelian systems are largely ineffective for understanding the heavenly bodies.
Ptolemy was an accomplished mathematician, and published significant works in numerous fields of applied mathematics. His philosophy emphasized the use of mathematics as a bridge between conjecture and certainty. He believed that the application of mathematics in the good life brought the soul into contact with the divine. The Platonic ideal of mathematics was to achieve the highest possible degree of knowledge, thereby achieving a sense of wellbeing.
Hero also participated in this meta-mathematical tradition. His discourses are characterized by the use of the same rhetorical devices that Ptolemy used to make them accessible to a wider audience. In the context of the first century AD, mathematics ceased to be an exclusive field of inquiry for the Platonists. Hero and Ptolemy were equally interested in other fields of inquiry, and they had similar philosophical concerns.
The role of mathematicians in the world is crucial to advancing science. While the mathematical sciences may seem unappreciated by the Greeks, they can be a powerful force in philosophical discourse. In addition to making mathematicians clearer, they can also help their followers become aware of and enjoy divine beauty. Therefore, mathematics is fundamental to the success of the ancient world.
Subversive nature of Ptolemy’s philosophy
Feke’s book explains the philosophical innovations of Ptolemy, calling his philosophy “unprecedented and subversive.” He shows that Ptolemy developed his epistemic picture from the Middle Platonist Alcinous, a philosopher who attempted to integrate the critique of a Middle Platonist with Aristotelian empiricism.
Ptolemy’s philosophy has many controversies, but the epistemological position he adopted is unprecedented in the history of philosophy. The philosopher adapted the ancient virtue ethics of Platonic philosophy to his own personal philosophy. He maintained that the best life is an excellent soul, and that the highest goal of human life is to resemble the gods. As such, the subversive nature of Ptolemy’s philosophy has long been a topic of debate and discussion.
The book traces the development of the philosophy of Ptolemy’s time in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods. In the introduction, Feke situates Ptolemy’s philosophy within the context of the Hellenistic and Roman intellectual milieu. His book is illuminating, and Feke’s analysis of the Ptolemaic texts never veers from his arguments. Ptolemy’s philosophy is based on a complex set of principles and concepts. It is important to understand what motivated Ptolemy in his scientific research.
Ptolemy’s philosophy is a critical critique of the epistemological foundations of theology. Yet it bears fruit in the philosophy of mathematics. While he regarded physics as conjecture, Ptolemy formulated criteria for reason and sensory experience that result in mathematical knowledge. This relationship between conjecture and prediction deserves more investigation. In short, Ptolemy’s philosophy challenges conventional epistemology and is a subversive critique of metaphysics.
Ptolemy was one of the most influential and accomplished scientists of his day. His Almagest, the most famous and comprehensive work of ancient astronomy, is an excellent example of his philosophical system. It comprises thirteen books and a geometric model of the heavens. Ultimately, Ptolemy’s ideas about astronomy are philosophical rather than practical. So, what are the implications for the modern world?