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Therapy and Theory Reconstructed: Plato and his Successors

  • Stephen R. L. Clark


When we speak of philosophy and therapy, or of philosophy as therapy, the usual intent is to suggest that ‘philosophizing’ is or should be a way to clarify the mind or purify the soul. While there may be little point in arguing with psychoses or deeply-embedded neuroses our more ordinary misjudgements, biases and obsessions may be alleviated, at least, by trying to ‘see things clearly and to see them whole’, by carefully identifying premises and seeing what they – rationally – support, and by seeking to eliminate the residual influence of premises that we have long since, rationally, dismissed. I don't intend to argue with this account – though of course it may be as well to remember that ‘philosophizing’ may have more dangerous effects. It is not obvious that philosophical argument will always help us ‘see things straight’, and the Athenian democracy was not altogether wrong to think that some of Socrates' followers or pupils learnt quite the wrong things from him.

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1 Eudemian Ethics 8.1249b20.

2 Nicomachean Ethics 10.1177b30ff.

3 Metaphysics 1.983a5.

4 Metaphysics 12.1072b18ff.

5 Magna Moralia 1213b4ff.

6 Ennead V.3 [49].5, 23ff; see my ‘A Plotinian Account of Intellect,’ American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 71 (1997), pp. 421–32.

7 Metaphysics 12.1075a4.

8 Clark, Stephen R. L., Aristotle's Man: Speculations upon Aristotelian Anthropology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), pp. 174-90.

9 Dumoulin, H., History of Zen Buddhism, tr. Peachey, Paul (London: Faber, 1963), p.165, paraphrasing Dogen.

10 Suzuki, D. T., Zen Buddhism, ed. Barrett, William (New York: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 261–3.

11 Aristotle, Metaphysics 12.1072b13f.

12 Consolation of Philosophy 5.6.

13 I John 4.16.

14 Enneads VI.8 [39].15.

15 Ennead V.3.3, 46ff.

16 Deuteronomy 10.12–20. The rather gruesome imagery (for the average male especially) about ‘circumcising the foreskin of your heart’ has been discussed by Clark, Gillian ‘In the Foreskin of Your Flesh: The Pure Male Body in Late Antiquity’, in Roman Bodies, ed. Hopkins, A. and Wyke, M. (Rome: British School at Rome, 2005), 4354.

17 Ennead II.9 [33].15, 33–16.10. Compare James 2.15ff: ‘What use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it? Can that faith save him? Suppose a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, ‘Good luck to you, keep yourselves warm, and have plenty to eat’, but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So with faith; if it does not lead to action it is in itself a lifeless thing.'

18 Psalm 50.12.

19 G. K. Chesterton Heretics (New York: John Lane, 1905), p. 30.

20 Plato, Euthyphro 12c (tr.Benjamin Jowett). Fear for one's reputation, Socrates would certainly acknowledge, may easily work against a proper reverence, in a corrupt society.

21 As Joyce, Richard points out in ‘Theistic Ethics and the Euthyphro Dilemma’, Journal of Religious Ethics 30 (2002), pp. 4975.

22 Euthyphro 10a.

23 Euthyphro 11a.

24 The episode occurred a few years before, when the family was farming in Naxos. We may suspect that they have only recently returned to Athens, and Athens has only recently returned to proper civil life.

25 Plato Euthyphro 9a (tr. Benjamin Jowett). Note that it is not at all clear that the servant is guilty of murder: there was a drunken fight and the man himself was hurt. If the father is as readily excusable as Jowett supposed, why not the servant?

26 See Edwards, Mark J.In Defense of Euthyphro’, American Journal of Philology 121 (2000), pp. 213224.

27 Euthyphro 3a.

28 Talk of his ‘monumental conceit and stupidity’, Homeric fundamentalism, obtuseness and ‘outlandish prosecution of his father’ (as by McPherran, Mark in ‘Piety, Justice, and the Unity of Virtue’. Journal of the History of Philosophy 38 (2000), pp. 299328) seems to me to be quite extraordinary. The tendency of commentators to assume that Euthyphro's concerns are ritualistic, selfish or ‘superstitious’ tells us more about them than about either Euthyphro or Plato.

29 Euthyphro 13b (tr. Benjamin Jowett). For this reason the term ‘therapeia’ is replaced by ‘hyperetike’, but this is only a technical convenience.

30 Euthyphro 14b (tr. Benjamin Jowett).

31 A point not noticed by Rosen, Frederick even in what is an unusually sympathetic treatment of Euthyphro, in ‘Piety and Justice: Plato's Euthyphro’, Philosophy 43 (1968), pp. 105–16.

32 Euthyphro 14a.

33 Plato Gorgias 480bff (tr. Benjamin Jowett).

34 Whitlock, GregConcealing the misconduct of one's own father: Confucius and Plato on a question of filial piety’: Journal of Chinese Philosophy 21 (1994), pp. 113137. Whitlock too considers Euthyphro to be small-minded and censorious, but does not say why. See also Zhu, RuiWhat if the Father Commits a Crime?’, Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (2002), pp. 117.

35 In Cratylus 396d Euthyphro is, by implication, said to have offered much the same sort of allegorized interpretation of these stories as were later endorsed by Plotinus and others: Kronos is the pure mind, created by ‘looking up’ to the heavens. Socrates declares himself inspired by this, though he also hopes, perhaps, to be purged of the idea!

36 Republic 2 38. Rosen op.cit., suggests that part of Plato's purpose in the Euthyphro was to defuse the suggestion of Aristophanes' Clouds that Socrates approved of the stereotypical Greek crime of father-beating!

37 Laws 11.929e. Zhu op.cit. accurately summarizes Plato's judgement by saying that ‘if his filial piety clashes with his religious piety, the latter should always be given the upper hand. Doing otherwise is not only wrong but also useless, for justice always wins against a crime by a mortal. For this reason, the Confucian idea of covering up for a family member is categorically ruled out by both morals and wisdom.’ Oddly, Zhu supposes that Socrates is so radical as to disapprove of this, and so to side with the Confucian ethic in which filial affection displaces civic duty.

38 Wilson, E. O., On Human Nature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), p. 167.

39 Theaetetus 176b.

40 Laws 4.716cff (tr. Benjamin Jowett).

41 Ennead II.9 [33].9, 19ff.

42 Ennead IV.4 [28]. 8.

43 Falkner, John Meade ‘After Trinity’ (1910): Collected Poems (Kings Newton: John Meade Falkner Society, 2008).

44 Blake, William, ‘There is no Natural Religion’ (1788), section 5, in Complete Writings, ed. Keynes, G. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 97.

45 Proclus, In Timaeum 248d: quoted by Cumont, Franz, Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans (New York: Dover, 1960; 1st published 1912), p. 61.

46 Weil, Simone, Intimations of Christianity, tr. Geissbuhler, E. C. (London: Routledge & Kegan, 1957), p. 96.

47 See McPherran, Mark L., ‘Socratic Piety in the Euthyphro’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 23 (1985), pp. 283309.

48 Ennead VI.7 [38].26, 21f

49 Ennead I.6 [1].6, 21

50 Ennead IV.4 [28].44

51 Ennead VI.8 [39].5, 13–21.

52 William Blake, ‘The Human Abstract’ (Songs of Experience), in Complete Writings, p. 217.

53 Aristotle, Politics 7.1324a13ff.

54 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10.1178b7ff.

55 Porphyry, Life of Plotinus 7, Armstrong op.cit., vol. 1, p. 27.

56 Ennead I.6 [1].6, 7–13; see also I.2 [19].5, 6ff. Monos genesthai is better translated ‘becoming pure’.

57 Ennead I.6 [1].9, 4ff.

58 Ennead I.6 [1].9, 13ff, after Plato Phaedrus 254b7.

59 Enneads III.6 [26].5, 23ff.

60 Lash, Nicholas, The Beginning and the End of ‘Religion’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 21. See also Maimonides, Moses, The Guide of the Perplexed, tr. Rabin, Chaim, ed. Guttman, Julius (Hackett: Indianapolis, 1995; original version 1190), Bk.3, ch.29: p. 178: ‘the first purpose of the whole law is to remove idolatry and to wipe out its traces and all that belongs to it, even in memory’.

61 Murdoch, Iris, Acastos (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), p. 101 (‘Plato’ speaks).

62 Ennead I.4 [46].14, 14ff.

63 Ennead II.9 [33].9, 15f.

64 Ennead, I.6 [1].7. I have examined something of the history and significance of this metaphor in ‘Going Naked into the Shrine: Herbert, Plotinus and the Constructive Metaphor’, in Hedley, D. & Hutton, S., eds., Platonism at the Origins of Modernity (Dordrecht: Springer, 2008), pp. 4561.

65 Phaedo 66bff.

66 Phaedrus 263b-c.

67 Sophist 227c, 228a-d, 230d; on the further history of this trope, see Boyle, Marjorie O'Rourke, ‘Pure of Heart: From Ancient Rites to Renaissance Plato’, Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (2002), pp. 4162.

68 Porphyry, Live of Plotinus ch.10.

69 Porphyry, Life of Plotinus ch.23, 18f.

70 Ibid., 30.

71 Plato, Laws 1.624; see Plotinus, Ennead VI.9 [9].7.

72 Plato, Laws 1.631b.

73 Ennead III.2 [47].16, 3ff.

74 Ennead II.9 [33].5, 24f.

75 Ennead III.2 [47].9, 1ff. Or as Nicolo Machiavelli put it, ‘God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us’, The Prince [1513], tr. Paul Halsall; ch.26.

Stephen R. L. Clark is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. His research interests include Plotinus, animals, science fiction and philosophy of religion. Among his many books, the most recent are Understanding Faith: Religious Belief and its Place in Society (Imprint Academic, 2009), Biology and Christian Ethics (Peking, 2006) and G. K. Chesterton: Thinking Backward, Looking Forward (Templeton Foundation Press, 2006).


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