Speusippus - Biography
Speusippus (410 - 348/347BCE) was a prodigious writer and philosopher. He is often identified as a Pythagorean. The first time Speusippus enters history was to join Plato on a third trip to Syracuse. His agile mind and decorous behavior won the favor of the Tyrant Dion. However, his close work with Plato at the Academy also shaped his philosophical leanings. In his time as head of the Academy, Speusippus placed images of the Graces in a temple dedicated to the Muses. In his lifetime, he wrote at least thirty treatises and dialogues. Only a fraction of what Speusippus wrote has been preserved. Some of the preserved work exists only in citation from other writers. For instance, some passages of Iamblichus’s De Communi Mathematica Scientia are thought to be from Speusippus.
Aristotle’s writing also indicates some of what Speusippus espoused. But Aristotle only mentions Speusippus twice and in these passages he does not clearly indicate if there is actual quotation or just a paraphrase. Iamblicus is another figure who has a stronger reputation for quoting without attribution. Some passages in his work also gives us some indication of what Speusippus may have written. According to Russell Dancy, in Iamblichus’s De communi mathematica scientia.
But the elements from which the numbers are produced do not yet belong there as either beautiful or good; but from the combination of the one and the matter that is cause of plurality number exists, and first in these that which is and beauty appear, while next from the elements of lines geometrical substance appears, in which in the same way there is that which is and the beautiful, but in which there is nothing either ugly or bad; but at the extreme in the fourth and fifth levels which are combined from the last elements badness comes-to-be, not directly, but from inadvertence and failing to master something of that which accords with nature.
Many turn to the study of Speusippus as a way of tracking the development of Platonic ideas and as a way of glimpsing how the Academy functioned. The loss of much of his writings has hindered the full investigation of Speusippus’s belief but the trails of his influence remain. Unfortunately not being able to give voice to his own ideas, a lot of the work that is commented on in intrinsically linked to the criticism of those who seek to undermine his work.
Speusippus represents an important stage between the living memory of those who studied at the feet of Plato and those who merely studied these works. His ascendancy also shows some of the tensions involved in the transfer of power in the Academy.
Diogenes Laertius discusses Speusippus character:
And he always adhered to the doctrines which had been adopted by Plato, though he was not of the same disposition as he. For he was a passionate man, and a slave to pleasure. Accordingly, they say that he once in a rage threw a puppy into a well ; and that for the sake of amusement, he went all the way to Macedonia to the marriage of Cassander.
Speusippus diversified the Academy disciplines while maintaining their unity. He built upon the branches of philosophy that his Uncle Plato had given the groundwork for: Physics, Ethics and Dialectics. He believed that definition came from understanding the differences between the things, which separated it from the rest. what separates the thought object and the sense object. Speusippus’s work tried to show how perception transitions into knowledge.
In addition, On Pythagorean Numbers is credited to Speusippus even though it was not included in Diogenes Laertius’s catalog of Speusippus’s work. Plato viewed substances as perceptible and eternal. Speusippus argued that there were more categories: perceptible beings, numbers, magnitudes, and souls. Speusippus uses the concept of the One, that which moves things but that which cannot itself be moved, as the starting point in the development of these categories. Speusippus rejects that the idea that the One could be considered beautiful or good because these qualities emerge at the end of development not at the beginning. In coming to view the nature of the world, Speusippus argues for a type of chaining of states.
In conceiving of the nature of the world, Speusippus put forth a theory in which he discussed plurality as what opposed the One, who is not a being. In his view of the substances, Speusippus acknowledged that although different they possessed commonalities. In rejecting the idea of the originalGood, Speusippus harkened back to the pre-Platonic philosophers—Speusippus believed good manifested from those original principles of existence Aristotle objected to Speusippus’s modification to the philosophy of Plato. He rejects the return to a view which does not place good and beauty as founding existential principles by Speusippus.
The fact that Diogenes does not reference this work should not be given to much import since Diogenes also indicates that Speusippus was a faithful follower of Plato’s theories. However, the evidence indicates that Speusippus abandoned certain core tenants of Plato’s philosophy such as the Theory of Forms. Speusippus rejects in particular the Platonic theory of causality as developed in Phaedo. Speusippus says instead that the original cause, which brings a thing into existence comes from outside it. The sources do not shed much more light on the specifities of his idea. Speusippus also argues that from the inchoate the complete issues.
So much of what Diogenes Laertius presents about Speusippus must be taken cautiously. Diogenes Laertius wrote on Speusippus with the full throated attempts at undermining him as a thinker and a philosopher at one point he even tells the following anecdote to show that Speusippus lacks moral turpetude: “Speusippus said to a rich man who was in love with an ugly woman, "What do you want with her? I will find you a much prettier woman for ten talents." Speusippusis is cloaked in mystery of what has been lost to the Western culture. Speusippus philosophy and his sheparding of the students of the Academy after the death of his uncle have undoubtedly left a significant mark on the development of Western philosophy. If this mark is obscured through time, it does not remove it.
After Speusippus succeeded his uncle Plato as the leader of the Academy, he guided the Academy for eight years until his death (possibly by a stroke or paralysis.) At this point, Xenocrates of Chalcedon became the Academy’s head. Xenocrates had left the Academy when Speusippus was raised to the head of the Academy. One story of the transfer of power says that Speusippus called for Xenocrates; however, another competing stories indicates the transfer of power from Speusippus was not clear and that Xenocrates only succeeded Speusippus by a narrow vote of the students.
Diogenes Laertius claims that the students sent Speusippus, the head of their Academy, with the epigram: “Had I not known Speusippus thus had died,/No one would have persuaded me that he/ Was e'er akin to Plato; who would never/ Have died desponding for so slight a grief.” If this verse was truly penned on the death of Speusippus, then this would lend credence to the view of that Xenocrates came to the Academy during a contentious period. But Diogenes seems to have s palpable enmity for Speusippus.
His numerous commentaries and dialogues are said to include works on Aristippus, on Riches, on Pleasure, on Justice, on Philosophy, on Friendship, on the Gods,; a work for Cephalus, Cephalus, on the Soul, works for Gryllus, Aristippus, on Art, on the Genera and Species of Examples, works for Amartynus, a Panegyric on Plato, on Legislation. There is also, The Philosopher the Mathematician, Clinomachus(Lysias), The Citizen the Mandrobulus; the Lysias; Definitions; and the Test of Art.