The allegoric interpretation did not prevent Stoics from defending divination, a practice that was considered absurd by their opponents.
One could add that this evolution towards a more religious cast of mind was not a distinctive characteristic of Philo, but rather a hallmark of the Middle-Platonist period as a whole. For example, he never mentions Posidonius, one of the greatest names of Stoicism, who was the first to attempt a reconciliation of at least some Stoic and Platonic themes. There are reasons to think Philo read this Rhodian philosopher, but he is silent about Posidonius.
He was clearly acquainted with these Academics, since there are some rather clear allusions in his work to their brand of skepticism. It is therefore curious that he gives the first version of the Skeptical tropes without any allusion to Aenesidemus, who developed them a century before. Leaving aside the contested De aeternitate , we notice that Philo fails to mention Aristotle even once.
While Stoicism plays a leading role in most Philonian treatises, we only find four allusions to Zeno, the founder of the doctrine. They are all in the Probus , a treatise with strong Stoic features. There is only a single mention of Epicurus, in Post. Plato is mentioned twice each in the De opificio and the De uita contemplativa , and once in the Probus.
Only three mentions of Socrates are found, but surprisingly, the presocratic thinkers are quoted much more than one would have thought: fourteen references to Pythagoras with some uncertainties, since some of them are to be found in fragments , six to Heraclitus, and one each to Anaxagoras and Democritus.
Philo of Alexandria
The De aeternitate is striking because Aristotle is mentioned four times. In this treatise, Philo cites a book written by the Pythagorean Ocellos of Lucania, who established the eternity of the world in a way that Philo seems to find satisfactory. This, notably, is the only time when he mentions a specific text and explicitly affirms having read it. Several elements point us toward a more complete understanding. First, Philo evidently prefers indirect allusions to direct citations. Philosophical concepts are necessary to the elaboration of exegesis, but too many precise mentions of philosophers would have presented Philo as subordinate not to the Word of God but to the doctrines of philosophers.
He is still more silent about the great rabbis he would have certainly met in Alexandria and perhaps in Jerusalem. In his philosophical references, it is clear that he prefers to evoke the presocratic thinkers and the classical period of philosophy than the Hellenistic one. This is paradoxical since he was deeply marked by Hellenistic philosophy, which was the natural environment of his education. It must be added that his prose is also generally classical, reluctant to admit neologisms and technical vocabulary.
He certainly wanted to appear in all areas a man of tradition. In recent years, the temptation has been great among some scholars to imagine that he had at least some knowledge of non-Greek thinkers such as Cicero and Seneca. The problem remains that we have no evidence of this hypothesis. Philo never evoked Roman philosophers, so we cannot pass beyond statements of probability. Jewish wisdom surpasses all other wisdom, both Greek and barbarian, because it is the only one inspired by God. In Mos. The Septuagint is implicitly presented as proof that the distinction between Greek and barbarian could be abolished, though for Greek civilization this distinction had great ontological weight.
Even Greek education, despite its exceptional prestige, is unable to provide access to the truth. A learned man according to the criterion of the paideia is no more able than anyone else to say what the world truly is. Philo did not deny that barbarians were able to create sophisticated forms of sciences and culture. Despite his own contempt for the Egyptians, he stresses that Moses himself received an education in which Egyptian sciences were included.
Furthermore, he argues that many barbarians, though untutored in philosophy, have a natural intuition of how to live in agreement with virtue. In Somn. Philo displays a sound knowledge of rhetoric. Sophisteia , sophistry, is in Philo a frequent concept attached to a range of negative meanings. For Philo, rhetoric is neither an activity nor an abstract ideal but a human reality, the nature of which is laid out in the Bible. Moses is the man who saw God in the Sinai, but he by himself would have been unable to speak to Pharaoh and persuade him to let his people go.
Moses needed the presence of Aaron in order to obtain what he sought. Moses represents the metaphysical truth, Aaron its implementation in reality, akin to the two faces of logos : while the logos prophorikos is that of communication, the logos endiathetos is the internal world of thoughts, and each is impossible without the other. It can be added that Abraham is said by Philo Mut. In literary and philosophical texts, it means freedom of speech, frankness, and honesty. Philo had no philosophical affiliation.
To say that he was a Pythagorean, a Platonist, or a Stoic would have been for him to admit that he sought truth in spaces outside the Bible. Was he an Eclectic? The concept of eclecticism is a complicated one. If it means that Philo used different philosophers as sources of inspiration and expression in order to elaborate his work, this cannot be denied.
On the other hand, if one means that he built a specific philosophical identity for himself by associating with different doctrines, that seems far from the truth. It would mean that he was in search of an autonomous ego , a perspective at odds with his denial of the possibility for an individual to exist truly on his own, i.
More exactly, if Philo asserted his own individuality, it was in the free modification and criticism of all philosophical doctrines around him, sometimes using them as their creators would never have imagined possible. This does not mean that the rivalry between Platonists and Aristotelians was over, but rather that Aristotle, who seems to have been largely ignored by Neo-Academic philosophers during the Hellenistic period, emerged again as a reference and a point of discussion.
Philo is full of praise towards the Stagirite in the De aeternitate , a puzzling text. He was himself a Creationist while Aristotle asserted the eternity of the world. This does not mean that his admiration was unbounded, especially if the original treatise had been in the form of an antilogy, a disputatio in utramque partem.
The influence of Antiochus on the Alexandrian philosophical milieu is a controversial question. Despite the efforts of Andronicus of Rhodes first editor of the Aristotelian corpus to organize the corpus, some of the texts used Aristotelian elements in a spirit quite different from what we now understand by Aristotelianism.
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- Philo Supplement II : Questions and Answers on Exodus (The Loeb Classical Library No. 401).
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Antiochus was not the only one to shift the borders between these doctrines. The most probable thesis was put in second position, as we can see in the Ciceronian antilogy on justice in the third book of the De re publica. Another ambiguity is that Aristotle is praised here for having referred to the visible God, while Philo says many times elsewhere that God is invisible. In the desert, there is no way at all—and the desert was the exact place where Israel received the Revelation and achieved its liberty.
The middle way may play a positive role in reining in debauchery, but for Philo, it has no absolute value.
Full text of "Questions and answers on Exodus"
In Leg. In Det. To summarize, Philo could occasionally borrow some elements of Peripatetic doctrine, but he never believed them to be an expression of higher truth. Philo was probably the non-Stoic thinker who most frequently drew upon both Stoic themes and vocabulary. Many scholars have noticed the strong influence of Stoicism on Philo, and he is described frequently as a Platonizing Stoic.
However, matters are a bit more complex. One can add that the specific vocabulary of Stoicism had become a kind of lingua franca of intellectual discourse , used even by those who had no special affinity with the Stoics. At the same time, Philo was aware that the Stoic refusal of transcendence created an unbridgeable gap between his own spiritual identity and Stoicism.
There is a huge debt of Philo towards Stoicism, but at the same time, he could claim to have repaid this debt by bringing Stoicism in the direction of truth. Philo never says exactly the same things as the Stoics. Despite their apparent similarities, there always remains a difference—sometimes barely perceptible, but always highly significant—between his doctrines and those of the Stoics.
These differences can be distributed into four categories:. Doctrinal differences : for the Stoics, logos was equally reason individual and universal , nature, and God, while for Philo, logos is not ultimate reality but merely what we can see and understand of God, who is Himself very far from human comprehension.
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In Stoicism, logos is God; in Philo it corresponds to his specific doctrine of the dunameis , the powers of God who created the world and governs it. An inverse relation between the individual and the universal : for Stoic philosophers, natural law is the logos in its function of commanding what must be done or avoided.
No particular human law corresponds with the natural law, though Cicero tried to demonstrate that Roman religious law could coincide at least partly with the law of nature. The refusal of essential Stoic concepts : Philo only uses the word sunkatathesis twice in his entire corpus, a key term defining the human ability to accept or refuse information given by the senses and the capacity to transform decisions into action.
In the case of mankind, things are a little more complex. The first impulse is, as in the case of all animals, the impulse to survive, but after this comes the impulse toward a rational life, a privilege that human beings alone share with God. All this was unacceptable to Philo, both the idea that human beings could at their birth be submitted to the same law as animals, and the definition of telos , the supreme human good Besnier , as the capacity of making choices in accordance with nature.
Substitutions and additions : It has been correctly observed that psychology, and especially psychology of the passions, is one of the fields in which Stoic influence is most visible in the Philonian corpus. It is perfectly true that he employs many Stoic elements in his psychological commentaries, but in contrast to Chrysippean monistic doctrine, Philo never insists that the soul could be exclusively rational. Because he used these two levels—one metaphysical and ethical, the other descriptive and functionalist—he could give the impression of having avoided the contradictions between the two doctrines.
That assertion is characteristic of an epoch in which these two doctrines were considered to be radically different. More recent studies have demonstrated that things are much more complex. Middle Platonist philosophers like Plutarch, Favorinus, or Alcinoos integrated many elements of Skepticism to their dogmas, especially in order to undermine Hellenistic naturalism and redirect attention to an idea of transcendence.
Philo himself knew the existence of two kinds of Skepticism: New Academic and Neopyrrhonian. The former school seems to have disappeared as a structured institution by his lifetime. The latter came to prominence in the middle of the first century BCE, with Enesidemus criticizing New Academic philosophers, and especially those of his age, on the grounds that they had conceded far too much to Stoic dogma.
Philo seems to have paid little attention to New Academic sceptics, but was acquainted at least with some of their principal doctrines. By contrast, he is the first to have used the tropes, i.
At the beginning of the twentieth century and for many years after, scholars paid great attention to the passage of the De ebrietate where Philo uses these tropes. Today, however, it is commonplace to say that the connection was a weak one, and that Philo had his own interests instead. Of course he did, but Sextus Empircus himself, now considered the most reliable source, had his own interests as well as being a physician, and it is rash at least to neglect the Philonian testimony, closer to Enesidemus from both a geographical and chronological point of view.
Philo uses Sceptic methods to demonstrate that even with the aid of education, the paideia of which he was so proud, human beings are unable to find the truth. Skepticism thus appears as the best means to awaken mankind to its oudeneia and to open the path toward transcendence. There is at least one point of consensus among the scholars, i.