John Burnet (classicist)


John Burnet,
FBAFBA may refer to: * Federation of British Artists * Federal Bar Association * Fellow of the British Academy * Filsports Basketball Association * First Baptist Academy (Houston, Texas), United States * First Baptist Academy of Dallas, Texas, United S ...
(; 9 December 1863 – 26 May 1928) was a
Scottish Scottish usually refers to something of, from, or related to Scotland, including: *Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family native to Scotland *Scottish English *Scottish national identity, the Scottish iden ...

classicist Classics or classical studies is the study of classical antiquity, and in the Western world traditionally refers to the study of Ancient Greek literature, Classical Greek and Latin literature and the related languages. It also includes Greco-Rom ...

. He was born in
Edinburgh Edinburgh (; sco, Edinburgh; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchangeably Edinburghshire before 1921), it is loc ...

and died in
St Andrews St Andrews ( la, S. Andrea(s); sco, Saunt Aundraes; gd, Cill Rìmhinn) is a town on the east coast of Fife Fife (, ; gd, Fìobha, ; sco, Fife) is a council area, Historic counties of Scotland, historic county, registration county and ...

St Andrews

Life and work

Burnet was educated at the
Royal High School, Edinburgh The Royal High School (RHS) of Edinburgh Edinburgh (; sco, Edinburgh; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchan ...
, the
University of Edinburgh The University of Edinburgh ( sco, University o Edinburgh, gd, Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann; abbreviated as ''Edin.'' in post-nominals) is a public research university in Edinburgh Edinburgh (; sco, Edinburgh; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the ...
, and
Balliol College, Oxford Balliol College () is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. One of University of Oxford, Oxford's oldest colleges, it was founded around 1263 by John I de Balliol, a rich landowner from Barnard Castle in County ...

Balliol College, Oxford
, receiving his M.A. degree in 1887. In 1887 Burnet became an assistant to Lewis Campbell at the
University of St. Andrews (Aien aristeuein) , motto_lang = grc , mottoeng = Ever to ExcelorEver to be the Best , established = , type = Public In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the g ...
. From 1890 to 1915, he was a
Fellow A fellow is a broad concept whose exact meaning depends on context. In learned Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviors, skills, value (personal and cultural), values, attitudes, and preferences. The abili ...
Merton College, Oxford Merton College (in full: The House or College of Scholars of Merton in the University of Oxford) is one of the Colleges of Oxford University, constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its foundation can be traced back to the ...
; he was a professor of Latin at Edinburgh; from 1892 to 1926, he was Professor of
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
at the University of St. Andrews. He became a
Fellow of the British Academy Fellowship of the British Academy (FBA) is an award granted by the British Academy to leading academics for their distinction in the humanities and social sciences. The categories are: # Fellows – scholars resident in the United Kingdom # Cor ...
in 1916. In 1909, Burnet was offered, but did not accept, the
Chair One of the basic pieces of furniture Furniture refers to movable objects intended to support various human activities such as seating (e.g., chairs, stools, and sofas), eating (table (furniture), tables), and sleeping (e.g., beds). Furni ...
of Greek at Harvard University. In 1894, he married Mary Farmer, the daughter of John Farmer (1835-1901), John Farmer, who wrote the Preface for a collection of essays published after his death, ''Essays and Addresses''. Burnet is best known for his work on Plato. His interest in philosophy and in Plato in particular seems to have begun during his service as assistant to Lewis Campbell at St. Andrews. Burnet was known for defending novel interpretations of Plato and Socrates, particularly the view that the depiction of Socrates in ''all'' of Plato's dialogues is historically accurate, and that the philosophical views peculiar to Plato himself are to be found only in the so-called late dialogues. Burnet also maintained that Socrates was closely connected to the early Greek philosophical tradition, now generally known as Pre-Socratic philosophy; Burnet believed that Socrates had been in his youth the disciple of Archelaus (philosopher), Archelaus, a member of the Anaxagoras, Anaxagorean tradition (Burnet 1924, vi). Burnet's philology, philological work on Plato is still widely read, and his editions have been considered authoritative for 100 years, as the 5-volume Oxford Classical Texts critical edition of Plato works and spuria (1900–1907). His commentaries on Plato's ''Euthyphro'', ''Apology'', and ''Crito'' and on the ''Phaedo'' also remain widely used and respected by scholars. Myles Burnyeat, for example, calls Burnet's ''Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito'' "the still unsurpassed edition". S.R. Slings, editor of the new 2003 Oxford Classical Texts edition of Plato's ''Republic'', described Burnet as "a superb editor, with a feeling for Platonic Greek that is unlikely to be ever surpassed."

''Early Greek Philosophy''

''Early Greek Philosophy'' is a book by John Burnet. Four editions were published by A. & C. Black, Ltd. in Great Britain. The first edition was published in April 1892, the second in June 1908, the third in September 1920 and the fourth, posthumously, in 1930. From the ''Preface to the Third Edition'' (unchanged in the fourth edition)'':''
''...the main thesis of my book, and the vital point of the argument is my insistence on the derivation of Atomism (which is admittedly materialistic) from Eleaticism, in accordance with the express statements of Aristotle and Theophrastos...''
There are many differences between the first and fourth editions. For example, the quotation below comes from section 33: ''Philosophy as a life''. in the first (1892) edition. In the third (1920) and fourth (1930) editions, the section has been moved to section 35, renamed to ''Philosophy as a way of life.'' and no longer mentions the Neoplatonists . John Burnet noted in his 1892 publication ''Early Greek Philosophy'' :''The Neoplatonists were quite justified in regarding themselves as the spiritual heirs of Pythagoras; and, in their hands, philosophy ceased to exist as such, and became theology. And this tendency was at work all along; hardly a single Greek philosopher was wholly uninfluenced by it. Perhaps Aristotle might seem to be an exception; but it is probable that, if we still possessed a few such "exoteric" works as the ''Protrepticus (Aristotle), Protreptikos'' in their entirety, we should find that the enthusiastic words in which he speaks of the "''blessed life''" in the ''Metaphysics (Aristotle), Metaphysics'' and in the ''Nicomachean Ethics, Ethics (Nicomachean Ethics)'' were less isolated outbursts of feeling than they appear now. In later days, Apollonios of Tyana showed in practice what this sort of thing must ultimately lead to. The theurgy and thaumaturgy of the late Greek schools were only the fruit of the seed sown by the generation which immediately preceded the Persian War.''


The University of St Andrews hall was named in his honour John Burnet Hall.


Major works

*''Early Greek Philosophy.'' London and Edinburgh: A. and C. Black, 1892. 2nd edition, 1908. 3rd edition, 1920. 4th edition, 1930.
An online text of the 3rd edition (1920) of ''Early Greek Philosophy''

Early Greek Philosophy (1892,
*''Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato.'' London, MacMillan, 1914.

2010. *''Platonism''. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1928.
''Higher Education and the War''
1917. *''Essays and Addresses'', 1930, includes
by Godfrey Benson, 1st Baron Charnwood, Godfrey Rathbone Benson.
"The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul"
1916. (British Academy's 1916 Henriette Hertz#British Academy bequest, Philosophical Lecture).
1924. (British Academy's 1924 Henriette Hertz#British Academy bequest, Master-Mind Lecture).

Editions edited and annotated by Burnet

''The Ethics of Aristotle''.
London: Methuen, 1900.
*''Platonis Opera: Recognovit Brevique Adnotatione Critica Instruxit'' (as Ioannes Burnet). Oxford: Oxford Classical Texts, 1900–1907.
''Plato: Phaedo.''
Oxford: Clarendon, 1911. *''Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito.'' Oxford: Clarendon, 1924.


Further reading

*''The Dictionary of British Classicists'', ed. Robert Todd, Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

External links

* * * John Burnet, ''Early Greek Philosophy'', online text
''Aristotle on Education, being extracts from the Ethics and Politics''
''The Socratic Doctrine of the Soul''
British Academy Lecture (1916)
''Greek Rudiments''

(2014), a textbook on diction and idiom of the Attic dialect.
''Greek Philosophy''
an essay published in ''The Legacy of Greece'' (1921) {{DEFAULTSORT:Burnet, John (classicist) 1863 births 1928 deaths People educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh Alumni of the University of Edinburgh Alumni of Balliol College, Oxford Scottish classical scholars British scholars of ancient Greek philosophy Fellows of the British Academy Fellows of Merton College, Oxford