Exoteric Teaching

"Exoteric Teaching," Interpretation, Vol. 14, No. 1 (January 1986).  Reprinted in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism.


The distinction between exoteric (or public) and esoteric (or secret) teaching is not at present considered to be of any significance for the understanding of the thought of the past: the leading encyclopedia of classical antiquity does not contain any article, however brief, on exoteric or esoteric. Since a considerable number of ancient writers had not a little to say about the distinction in question, the silence of the leading encyclopedia cannot possibly be due to the silence of the sources; it must be due to the influence of modem philosophy on classical scholarship; it is that influence which prevents scholars from attaching significance to numerous, if not necessarily correct, statements of ancient writers. For while it is for classical scholars to decide whether and where the distinction between exoteric and esoteric teaching occurs in the sources, it is for philosophers to decide whether that distinction is significant in itself. And modem philosophy is not favorable to an affirmative answer to this philosophic question. The classical scholar Zeller may have believed himself to have cogent reasons for rejecting the view that Aristotle “designedly chose for his scientific publications a style obscure and unintelligible to the lay mind”; but it must be doubted whether these reasons would have appeared to him equally cogent, if he had not been assured by the philosopher Zeller that the rejected view “attributes to the philosopher a very childish sort of mystification, wholly destitute of any reasonable motive.”‘

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