The Topics (Greek: Τοπικά; Latin: Topica) is the fifth work in the traditional collection of Aristotle's logical writings, the Organon. Whereas the Posterior Analytics is concerned with scientific demonstration based on true premises, the Topics focuses on dialectic argument based on premises which are merely agreed by common consent to be true. It's subject matter therefore has a large overlap with that of rhetoric.
In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle moves on from the study of formal rules of reasoning in the Prior Analytics to consider the substantive application of logic to produce scientific knowledge, something which he believes is the product of correct reasoning from true premises. This involves him in addressing Plato's Meno's Paradox, seeking to show how knowledge is possible from a position of former ignorance.
Aristotle's Prior Analytics (Greek: Ἀναλυτικὰ Πρότερα; Latin: Analytica Priora) is a central text of the traditional collection of logical works known as the Organon. it introduces the study of syllogisms, investigating how a given pair of premises can lead necessarily to a conclusion which is not contained in either premise.
If all A are B, and all B are C, then all A are C. This is an argument of a syllogism of the first figure, in which the middle term B is the subject of one premise and predicate of the other. In this example the premises are universal afffirmative propositions (all A are B). Aristotle also discusses universal negative propositions (no A are B), particular affirmative propositions (some A are B) and particular negative propositions (some A are not B).
After discussing the kinds of valid argument that can be made with syllogisms of the first figure, Aristotle goes on to consider syllogisms of the second figure, in which the middle term is the predicate of both premises, and of the third figure, in which the middle term is the subject of both premises.
All of this is, perhaps inevitably, rather dry reading. The historian of logic John Corcoran has described the Prior Analytics as 'dense, elliptical, succinct, unpolished, convoluted, and technical, unnecessarily so in the opinion of many.' However, he goes on to note:
It presupposes no previous logic on the part of the reader. There was none available to the audience for which it was written — even for today’s reader a month of beginning logic would be more than enough. However, it does require knowledge of basic plane geometry, including ability and experience in deducing non-evident theorems from intuitively evident premises such as those taken as axioms and postulates a generation or so later by Euclid (fl. 300 BCE). Especially important is familiarity with reductio ad absurdum or indirect deduction. Aristotle repeatedly refers to geometrical proofs, both direct and indirect. It also requires the readers to ask themselves what is demonstrative knowledge, how do humans acquire it, what is a proof, and how is a proof made?
If Corcoran regards the prose of the Prior Analytics as 'perversely reader-unfriendly', he nevertheless makes clear its importance, stating: 'The origin of logic is better marked than that of perhaps any other field of study—Prior Analytics marks the origin of logic. '
Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) is a unique document of post-Roman Britain. Probably composed some time in the sixth century, it is not so much a work of history, as a polemic against various sub-Roman kings, whose impiety and misrule is blamed for the misfortunes of the Britons and the conquests of the Anglo-Saxons. The paucity of documents from this disturbed period of British history mean it is nevertheless an invaluable source.
Aristotle's On Interpretation (Latin: De Interpretatione, Greek: Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας, Peri Hermeneias) is the second text of the Organon, the collection of short logical works that formed the basis of a traditional philosophical education in much of antiquity and the middle ages.
It begins with an analysis of the basic elements of language, before noting that is only when the parts of speech are brought together to form sentences, that we have propositions that can be said to be true or false. The bulk of the treatise considers the nature of propositions in more detail.
The Odyssey is an ancient Greek epic poem following the wanderings of Odysseus on his return from the Trojan War. As such, it is a sequel to the Iliad, although its exact relationship to the earlier poem is as controversial as the historical existence of Homer, the traditional author of both epics. As with the Iliad, the story opens 'in the middle of things' with Odysseus held captive by the goddess Calypso. His adventures in the ten years since the fall of Troy are recounted as the story advances towards his final homecoming.
Free online texts
Gutenberg: The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope. Multiple formats.
Plato's dialogues were written during the fourth century BC, and set during the lifetime of Socrates, who had died in 399BC. Socrates' suicide after his condemnation to death by the Athenian polis led many of his followers to write about him. Along with works of Xenophon such as the Memorabilia and the Apology, the dialogues of Plato are the only extant examples of this genre.
The dialogues are literary masterpieces which have shaped philosophical debate for centuries, and historical accuracy is unlikely to have been a primary consideration, although some level of versimilitude may have contributed to their effect on Plato's contemporaries. Still less is any dramatic date an indication of the date of writing. Plato's Apology, focusing on the end of Socrates life, likely to have been among his earliest writings, with others focusing on the same period, like the Phaedo, written much later.
What follows is an attempt to order the dialogues in terms of their dramatic date, following the chronology in Debra Nails' Socrates article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and supplementing with internal evidence from the small number of dialogues which Nails does not explicitly mention. Most of the dates below are taken from Nails, to which students of the peer-reviewed literature should refer in the first instance.
The Parmenides c.450 BC - This is marked as an early dialogue by the presence of Parmenides himself, a presocratic philospher of the late Sixth and early Fifth centuries BC. At the opening of the dialogue, the character Cephalus narrates:
[127b] that Zeno and Parmenides once came to the Great Panathenaea; that Parmenides was already quite elderly, about sixty-five years old, very white-haired, and of handsome and noble countenance; Zeno was at that time about forty years of age; he was tall and good-looking, and there was a story that Parmenides had been in love with him. [127c] He said that they lodged with Pythodorus outside of the wall, in Cerameicus, and that Socrates and many others with him went there because they wanted to hear Zeno's writings, which had been brought to Athens for the first time by them. Socrates was then very young. So Zeno himself read aloud to them, and Parmenides was not in the house.
Nails' date of 450 BC puts the the dialogue midway between Parmenides' birth in the late Sixth Century and Socrates' death in 399 BC.
The Protagoras c.433-432 BC. As with the Parmenides, the presence of the sophist Protagoras, thought to have died in around 420BC helps to date the dialogue, in which he is said to be a generation older [317c] than Socrates and the other speakers. The description of Alcibiades [309a] as a youth in the first flush of manhood suggests a date in the 430s.
The Republic c.431-404 BC. In an article in the Classical Journal, Nails argues that the internal evidence for the dramatic date of the Republic is inconsistent, and may reflect several revisions. Among the key points of internal evidence that have to be accounted for are the fact that the dialogue took place during a peaceful summer [Rep I 350d], the recent inauguration of a festival in honour of the goddess Bendis [327A, 354A], and a recent battle in the vicinity of Megara [368A]. The two dates most often proposed are circa 421BC, during the interruption of the Peloponnesian War by the Peace of Nicias, and circa 411 BC, during the turbulent aristocratic regimes of the Four Hundred and the Five Thousand.
The Timaeus takes place the day after a discussion of the ideal city [17a, 17c]. This has often been taken to be a reference to the Republic.
The Critias is a direct continuation of the conversation in the Timaeus [106a]. If the Timaeus is judged to be linked to the Republic, then all three dialogues would be set within a few days.
The Gorgias c.431-404 BC. Like The Republic, The Gorgias takes place at some point during the Peloponnesian War, but contains contradictory evidence as to the relevant period of the conflict. A reference [473e] to Socrates serving as a member of the council during the presidency of his tribe the previous year, has been taken to suggest a date of 404 BC. However, a mention later in the dialogue [503c], of the recent death of Pericles would appear to place it closer to 427 BC.
Charmides c.429 BC. This dialogue's setting during the Peloponnesian War is marked by its opening [153a] with Socrates' return from the Athenian army at Potidea, focus of a key campaign in northern Greece during the early part of the conflict.
Laches c.424 BC. This work is set in the aftermath of the Athenian defeat at Delium in 424 BC where Laches, the title character, was the general in command. in the course of the dialogue, Laches praises Socrates' conduct during the fighting [181b].
Cratylus c.422 BC. Nails dates this work to the aftermath of another Athenian defeat, at Amphipolis. This would be around the time of the death of Hipponicus, father of Socrates' interlocutors Callias and Hermogenes. However, others argue that the crucial passage [391c] could place events some time after Hipponicus' death.
Phaedrus c.418-416 It is strongly debated whether there is any viable dramatic date for this dialogue. A setting before the exile of the historical Phaedrus in 415 BC would seem most likely.
Symposium c.416 BC. This dialogue portrays a celebration at the home of the tragedian Agathon to mark his success in a dramatic competition [175e], and is thought to reflect a historically attested victory in 416 BC.
Ion c.413 BC. Mention of Athenian rule over Ephesus [541c] is thought to date this dialogue to the period prior to the Ionian revolt in 412 BC.
Lysis c.409. Nails infers a date before the Euthydemus from the ages of Socrates' young interlocutors, although Catherine Zuckert argues this order should be reversed.
Euthydemus c.407 BC. Nails suggests that a reference to Alcibiades [275b] links the dialogue to his return to the city in 407 BC.
Meno c.402 BC. The dating of the Meno is thought to be relatively well understood compared to other dialogues. One factor is that it must have been set prior to Meno's death in the Persian expedition recorded by Xenophon.
Menexenus c.401 BC. One indication of the setting of this dialogue may be the reference to a raid by the forces of the restored Athenian democracy on the remnants of the Thirty Tyrants at Eleusis [244a].
Theatetus 399 BC. This work begins the sequence of dialogues dated straightforwardly around the events leading up to Socrates' death in 399 BC [142c]. It ends with Socrates leaving to answer the prosecution brought against him by Meletus [210d].
Euthyphro 399 BC. This work is set as Socrates is on his way to answer the charge against him [2a, 2b].
The Sophist 399 BC. The Sophist appears to be set a day after the Theaetetus, and thus after Socrates answered Meletus' indictment [216a].
The Statesman 399 BC. Like the Sophist, the opening of the Statesman marks the dialogue as a sequel to the Theaetetus [257a].
The Apology 399 BC. Plato's account of Socrates' trial, also the subject of an work by Xenophon.
Crito 399 BC. Set during Socrates' imprisonment prior to his death.
Phaedo 399 BC. Plato's dialogue on the soul gives his account of Socrates' death.
The Enneads of Plotinus represent the surviving teachings of the most influential philosopher of Late Antiquity. Plotinus' synthesis of earlier thought, adapting Aristotle to the study of Plato, has been seen as inaugurating a neoplatonic tradition that was formative for Jewish, Christian and Islamic philosophy as well as later pagan thought.
The Six Enneads are treatises compiled from Plotinus' lectures by his pupil Porphyry, also the author of a biography that makes Plotinus one of the best-known of ancient philosophers.
Free online texts
Bibliotheca Augustana: Ἐννεάδες. Greek text. Html files.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library: The Six Enneads, translated by Stephen Mackenna and B.S. Page. Multiple formats.
Gutenberg: Plotinos - Complete Works Vol I, Vol II, Vol III, Vol IV; translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. Multiple formats.
Internet Archive: Select Works of Plotinus, translated by Thomas Taylor (1895). Reprint of an older partial translation. Multiple formats.
Internet Archive: Plotinus: The Ethical Treatises, volume I, translated by Stephen MacKenna, (Medici Society 1926). First Ennead with Porphyry's life of Plotinus. Multiple formats.
The Categories is the first book of Aristotle's Organon, the collection of writings which founded the discipline of logic, and were central to philosophical education for centuries. Setting out to enumerate all the possible kinds of things which can be the subject or predicate of a proposition, Aristotle comes up with the ten concepts that give the book its title: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, attitude, condition, action and affection.
Free online and downloadable texts
Gutenberg: The Categories, translated by E.M. Edgehill. Multiple formats.
Lucretius' On the Nature of Things (Latin: De Rerum Natura) is an epic poem dramatising an epicurean, materialist view of the world. As such, it is unique in Latin literature, as the later Roman reception of Greek philosophy was heavily influenced by Cicero's rejection of epicureanism.