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date: 21 April 2021


  • James I. Porter


Materialism, the belief that matter is a primary constituent of reality, is a constant feature of ancient Greek and Roman thought, and also one of its most contested and productive ideas: matter was a never-ending source of fascination and ambivalence in antiquity, while modernity inherited these same obsessions. Homer is an intuitive materialist. Later philosophers were divided over the definition and value of matter. Because a “pure” definition of matter proved so difficult to maintain in any coherent fashion, cross-overs between materialism and immaterialism, mostly unacknowledged, were the rule in antiquity. Immaterialism gradually gained the upper hand, thanks to the offices of Platonism, then of Christianity, and, from the advent of the secular age, of classicism. But not even immaterialism could rid itself of the lures of matter. Only now are the attractions and complexities of matter and materialism in ancient thought and experience being appreciated once again.

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