But don’t believe that Plato was the most inf luential man in the later ancient world. He had always some influence and his book “The Timaeus” was almost the bible of the later ancient world. But he could not exercise real influence because everything he developed was in the realm of pure essences, and had no historical foundation any more. Here I think in terms of pure economic materialism: if the social and economic conditions do not exist any more; if a civilization has reached a special status; then you cannot influence it and even less transform it with the ideal form of ideas which come from the past. This is very concrete for us today, namely the longing for the Middle Ages, and the daily – or I must say hourly – increasing power of the Roman church has something to do with this situation. But it cannot be done. We cannot go back to the Middle Ages, although this is the hope of every Catholic. So when Plato wrote his “Republic” and later on his “Laws,” and implied in all this all elements of his philosophical thought – which was at the same time his social, psychological and religious thought – then he was in some way reactionary – (if you don’t misunderstand this word, from agein, driving towards something which was a matter of the past, and could not be reestablished any more in the period of the Roman Empire. This produced again a kind of emptiness in which the Cynics and Skeptics and Stoics were much more important than Plato because they were adequate to their situation. Stoicism, not Platonism, governed the later ancient world. But Plato returned in the Middle Ages. We will speak of this later.
Augustine was just in the opposite situation. While in Plato a great aristocratic tradition came to an end, in Augustine a new tradition started. It was, so to speak, a new archaism into which he came, and was brought into it. So immediately he had something which made it possible for him to participate in the new tradition. He had a pagan father and a Christian mother. The pagan father gave him the possibility to participate in paganism – of course, in what was greatest in paganism at that time; what was lowest in it, for him personally, we don’t know – and his Christian mother made it possible for him to enter into another tradition, a new archaism. Thus the simple empirical fact of a man with a pagan father and a Christian mother means almost everything for our understanding of him.
2) He discovered the problem of truth. This was the second step, connected with the fact that he read Cicero’s book “Hortensius”. Here Cicero deals with the question of truth. But this question in Cicero means choosing between the existing ways of truth, between the different philosophies. And Cicero, though a great Roman statesman, answers in terms of a kind of eclectic philosophy, (as I believe every American statesman, if he wrote a book on truth, would answer, showing those elements in philosophy which are most adequate to the political situation in which he finds himself.) So it was truth from a practical point of view. Cicero is not an original philosopher. This was impossible after the catastrophe of Greek philosophy.