Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Vlastos, Gregory
from Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Philosophers

American, b: 27 July 1907, Istanbul (Greek/ Scottish parentage; emigrated to America, 1925). d: 12 October 1991, Berkeley, California. Cat: Historian of Greek philosophy. Ints: Political philosophy; philosophy of religion. Educ: Robert College, Istanbul, Chicago Theological Seminary and Harvard University. Infls: Analytic school (A. N.Whitehead and Max Black), Anglo-American liberal political tradition and Christian socialism. Appts: 1931–48, Lecturer, Associate Professor, then full Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada; 1948–55, Professor of Philosophy, Cornell; 1955–76, Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Princeton; 1977–87, Mills Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley; numerous visiting appointments in the USA and Europe;, received many honorary degrees.

Main publications:
  • (1937) ‘Organic categories in Whitehead’, Journal of Philosophy 34:253–63; reprinted in G.L.Kline, Whitehead: Essays in His Philosophy, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963. .
  • (1942) ‘The religious foundations of democracy: fraternity and liberty; fraternity and equality’, Journal of Religion 22:1–19, 137–55. .
  • (1953) ‘Isonomia’, American Journal of Philosophy 74:337–66. .
  • (1954) ‘The third man argument in the Parmenides’, Philosophical Review 63:319–49; reprinted, with addenda, in R.E.Allen (ed.) Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics, 1965, and in the Bobbs-Merrill Reprint Series in Philosophy, PHIL. .
  • (1962) ‘Justice and equality’, in R.Brandt (ed.) Social Justice, Prentice-Hall Englewood Cliffs, NJ; reprinted in J.Feinberg, Moral Concepts, Oxford Readings in Philosophy, : Oxford University Press, 1969, and in J.Waldron, Theories of Rights, Readings in Philosophy, Oxford University Press Oxford, 1984. .
  • (1973) Platonic Studies, Princeton University Press Princeton, NJ; reprinted 1981. .
  • (1975) Plato’s Universe, : Oxford University Press. .
  • (1983) ‘The Socratic Elenchus’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 1:27–58. .
  • (1991) Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, Cambridge University Press Cambridge. .
  • (1994) Socratic Studies, ed. M.Burnyeat, Cambridge University Press Cambridge. .
  • Secondary literature:
  • Kahn, C.H. (1992) ‘Vlastos’ Socrates ‘, Phronesis 37: 233–58. .
  • Lee, E.N., Mourelatos, A.P.D. and Rorty, R.M. (eds) (1973) Exegesis and Argument: Studies in Greek Philosophy presented to Gregory Vlastos, Phronesis, Supp. 1 (contains complete bibliography on Greek philosophy and selection of other writings, up to 1973). .

  • Vlastos is important for work in two related fields. First, he examined the religious and ethical foundations of democracy, for example in his 1942 article and especially in his analytically presented 1962 article (based on a critique of Plato). He argued strongly for a theory of social justice based upon recognition of equal worth of individuals (and gave frequent active support to causes of the liberal left). Second, his major contribution lay in pioneering the application of contemporary analytic philosophical techniques to the exegesis of Plato, notably in his 1954 article, a detailed examination of the apparent self-predication of Plato’s Forms in Parmenides, a study which sparked off many other contributions and to which Vlastos himself frequently returned. In the later part of his career he worked extensively on Socrates and developed an argument (culminating in Socrates, 1991) for a distinct Socratic philosophy within Plato’s early dialogues. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, Vlastos combined analytic rigour with classical scholarship and a strong historical sense, the latter notably in his 1953 article and numerous other contributions to pre-Socratic and Greek historical thought (see bibliography in Lee et al. 1973). He is also significant as a teacher of a distinguished generation of American scholars of Greek philosophy.

    Sources: A.A.Long, obituary, Independent, 23 Oct 1991; M.Burnyeat, obituary, Phronesis 37, 2, 1992; A. P.D.Mourelatos, obituary, Gnomon 65, 4:378–82, 1993; in preparation, D.W.Graham (ed.) Miscellaneous Papers, 2 vols.

    © 1996 Routledge