By Claudia Fazio
Giovanni Reale was born in Candia Lomellina (Pavia) the 15th of April 1931. He attended Ginnasio at “Liceo Classico” in Casale Monferrato (AL). Then he studied at Catholic University of “Sacro Cuore” in Milan, where he achieved his degree with Francesco Olgiati. Afterwards he improved learning in Marburg and in Munich. After teaching in secondary schools, he won a chair at University in Parma, where he used to teach “Moral Philosophy” and “History of Philosophy”. Then he moved to Catholic University in Milan, where he used to teach, for a long period, “History of Ancient Philosophy” and where he also founded “Research centre of Metaphysic”. Since this year, he is teaching at the new faculty of philosophy of “San Raffaele” in Milan, where he wish to base a new International Centre of Research about Plato and about the Platonic roots of thought and Western civilization. His main thesis is: Greek philosophy created some categories and that peculiar way of thinking that allowed science and Western Technical to born and to develop. His scientific interests are related to all the ancient pagan and Christian thought, and his biggest contributions involve Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Socrates and Augustine. He learned those philosophers in a new way: the interpretation that Reale gave about Aristotle attacked the consolidated interpretation of Werner Jaeger: according to him, the written of Aristotle follow, in a positivistic way, a historical-generic trend that starts with theology, it pass through metaphysic and it reaches, at the end, science; Reale, instead, pointed out the fundamental unity of metaphysic thought in Aristotle. As far as Plato is concerned, Reale attacked the Romantic interpretation of Plato himself, that is related to Friedrich Schleiermacher, and it revalued the sense of the so-called “not-written doctrines”, that means the teachings that Plato gave just orally inside the Academy and that we know just from the evidences of his disciples; in this sense, Plato is the most genius witness and performer of that peculiar moment of Greek civilization that passed form the oral culture to the written culture. As far as Plotinus is concerned, Reale attacked the main thesis of Eduard Zeller who used to see in the great neoplatonic the biggest theoretical performer of pantheism and immanentism; Reale, instead, interpreted Plotinus as the champion of transcendent metaphysic of One. The interpretation, that Reale gave about Socrates, solved the difficulty of the so-called “Socratic question”, that started with Olof Gigon who affirmed that about Socrates we can not learn anything exactly; Reale inaugurated a new way of interpreting Socrates, not just solving from inside the conflicting evidences of his disciples, but, above all, looking at the context of Greek philosophy before and after Socrates: in this way, it easy to see the Socratic discover of concept “psyche” as thinking essence and nucleus of the man. Finally, as far as Augustine is concerned, the researches of Reale tend to relate him in the neoplatonic context of the old antiquity and, therefore, during the impact with Christianity and Greek philosophy, scrapping off all the later interpretations of medieval philosophy of Augustine. Beside the field of ancient and old-ancient philosophy, Reale took care of general history of philosophy, too: for instance, for the drafting of famous manual for secondary school, together with Dario Antiseri and, also, he was director of philosophic collections “Classical of Philosophy” and “Front texts” of Bompiani. Reale translated an commented in Italian many works of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus. His main works are: “The concept of philosophy before and the unity of Metaphysic of Aristotle” (1961); “History of ancient philosophy in five volumes” (1975); “For a new interpretation of Plato” (1991); “Ancient wisdom” (1996); “Eros mediator demon” (1997); “Plato. Searching the secret knowledge” (1997); “Body, soul and health” (1998); “Socrates. Discovering the human knowledge” (1999); “The ancient thought” (2001). Among the many honours he received, we should remind the degrees “honoris causa” from the International Academy of philosophy in Liechtenstein, from Catholic University in Lublin, from University of State in Moscow; the Prize “Roncisvalle” of University in Navarra, the honour citizenship in Siracusa. Giovanni Reale believes that the spiritual basis of occidental thought is formed by Greek philosophy. Actually, it was the Greek “Logos” that characterized the two main components of occidental thought and, precisely, to offer the conceptual instruments to elaborate the Christian Revelation and to create the peculiar mentality from which came the science and technique. But, if we can not understand the occidental culture without Greek philosophy, the Greek philosophy is not understandable without the metaphysic as a research of the entire. The work of Reale, learning the outstanding philosophers of the past, intends to reach a comparison between ancient and modern metaphysic. The preference towards Plato is because he is the first to create this problem with the “second navigation” he talks in “Phaedon”. Giovanni Reale, the greatest researcher of ancient philosophy in the world, is spokesman of “a meditated return at the roots of our culture” through the revaluation of the classical thought, particularly Plato. About Plato, Reale – in harmony with the school in Tubingen - gives a revolutionary interpretation, pointing out the importance of “not-written doctrines” of which we learn from the disciples of Plato (Aristotle in primis). In his famous work “For a new interpretation of Plato” (1997), Reale shows a different Plato: an “oral” Plato even dogmatic, in fact Plato, himself, says that we should search for his philosophy somewhere else than the written works. Even the “corpus” of his works, that reached us entirely (unique case in the history of thought), does not introduce that systematic unitary that we should expect: again, this is to confirm the thesis that the real Plato is to search somewhere else and, precisely, in the “not-written doctrines”. Very careful researcher of Metaphysic of Aristotle, Reale attacked the thesis of Jaeger who believed that the work does not present an unitary, but it is rather a sort of “philosophic hotchpotch” (particularly the XII book, for his high theological interest, should go back up to his youth): far to solve them in a big amount of works that go back up to different periods and contexts, “Metaphysic” of Aristotle, Reale says, is a deeply unitary work and his centre is the definition of metaphysic which is:
a) science of the causes and basic principles;
b) science of the being as being;
c) science of substance;
d) theological science;
e) science of the truth;
In his work “Ancient wisdom” (1995), Reale affirms that “all the pains, of which all today people suffer, find their roots in nihilism” and therefore “a vigorous treatment of those pains would involve their uproot, which means the victory on nihilism, through the rescuing of ideals and supreme values and the overcoming of atheism”. But what he is proposing “is not the acritical return to some ideas of the past, but the assimilation and use of some messages of the ancient wisdom, that can, even if not heal the pains, at least soothe them” (“Ancient wisdom”). In such a prospective, it can have a great philosophic value the Seneca’s thought: in “Philosophy of Seneca as a therapy of soul’ s pains”, Reale goes back up to the idea that the ancient philosophy can be a medicine for the distressed soul of the modern man. Among the brightest disciples of Reale, we should remind Roberto Radice, expert of Philo of Alexandria thought and Greek age (particularly stoicism) and Giuseppe Girgenti, biggest connoisseur of Porphyry's thought – “The strong thought of Porphyry” (1995), “Introduction to Porphyry” (1997) - and careful researcher of Neoplatonism, beside that translator of many works of Porphyry.