Calling Philosophers NamesOn the Origin of a Discipline

Calling Philosophers NamesOn the Origin of a Discipline

Christopher Moore

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780691195056

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Abstract

This book provides a fresh account of the origins of the term philosophos or “philosopher” in ancient Greece. Tracing the evolution of the word's meaning over its first two centuries, the book shows how it first referred to aspiring political sages and advice-givers, then to avid conversationalists about virtue, and finally to investigators who focused on the scope and conditions of those conversations. Questioning the familiar view that philosophers from the beginning “loved wisdom” or merely “cultivated their intellect,” the book shows that they were instead mocked as laughably unrealistic for thinking that their incessant talking and study would earn them social status or political and moral authority. Taking a new approach to the history of early Greek philosophy, the book seeks to understand who were called philosophoi or “philosophers” and why, and how the use of and reflections on the word contributed to the rise of a discipline. The book demonstrates that a word that began in part as a wry reference to a far-flung political bloc came, hardly a century later, to mean a life of determined self-improvement based on research, reflection, and deliberation. Early philosophy dedicated itself to justifying its own dubious-seeming enterprise. And this original impulse to seek legitimacy holds novel implications for understanding the history of the discipline and its influence.