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Leo Catana

Leo Catana

Associate Professor

Primary fields of research

Current Research

My research focuses on ethics and political philosophy in ancient Greek philosophy and its legacy. In particular, I work on Plato’s Gorgias and its reception.  

Please see m profile at


Current Activities

I have set up one interdisciplinary forum for historical studies, The Copenhagen Intellectual History Seminar (2010-), which I now organize together with Associate Professor Sabrina Ebbersmeyer (2014-). I am also the co-founder of The History of Philosophy Research Group (2014-), where PhDs, post docs and researchers at the Division of Philosophy present on-going research and organize workshops with international high-profile historians of philosophy. I am a member of several societies dedicated to the Platonic tradition: Platonselskabet [the Scandinavian Plato society], The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies and The International Plato Society. I have peer reviewed articles for several journals in the field of philosophy and history of philosophy, and I am presently member of the editorial board of Classica et Mediaevalia (2014-).


For activities in the Copenhagen Intellectual History Seminar, please see my profile at


Past Research

My PhD (1998-2002) was dedicated to a key concept in Giordano Bruno’s (1548-1600) metaphysics, namely ‘contraction’, contractio in Latin. The concept denotes important features of the structure of the universe and of the human mind: The universe is understood as a “contraction” of one metaphysical unity to the perceptible multiplicity of the universe. Correspondingly, human cognition is understood as a “contraction” from sensory perception to unity.


After I had been employed at the Division of Philosophy, University of Copenhagen, in 2003, I began to work on issues related to canon formation and method in the history of philosophy. I tried to answer questions like this one: Why is Renaissance philosophy typically marginalized in surveys of he history of philosophy? Through my endeavour to answer such questions I was led to the founder of the history of philosophy, Johann Jacob Brucker (1696-1770), and his history of philosophy from 1742-44, the Historia critica philosophiae. I discovered that one key concept within the methodology of the history of philosophy, ‘system of philosophy’, had been invented by Brucker and employed by him on all past philosophy. Historians of philosophy from the 19th and 20th centuries took over this concept. The problem is that past philosophers had not always intended to work our system of philosophy. In fact, this only applies to the period from ca. 1600 to ca. 1830. Brucker accused Renaissance philosophers for being unable to produce philosophical systems; instead, they were syncretists who did not deserve proper treatment in surveys of the history of philosophy.


In the period 2010-2013 I was directing a research group dedicated to Neoplatonic virtue ethics. The project was supported by the FKK*. Within the last decades modern ethicists have revived ancient virtue ethics, because it seems to offer what the two main positions within modern ethics, Consequentialism and deontology, cannot offer, namely a solid moral psychology. Briefly explained, virtue ethics seems capable of not only accounting for the nature of the ethical good, but also for the motivation that makes a moral agent pursue the ethical good. Modern virtue ethicists, however, have primarily focused on one version of virtue ethics in ancient philosophy, namely the one found in Aristotle. In this research project we intended to bring to light a competing but obliterated version, namely the one found in Plotinus (205-270 e.v.t.).


In addition, I have also been engaged in modern discussions of the aim and method of history of philosophy, and in the relationship between history of philosophy and related historical disciplines, e.g. history of science, history of ideas and intellectual history. The methodological theories which have been advanced in relation to history of ideas and intellectual history, are important to the method practised within the humanities. I have argued that history of philosophy should ideally combine philosophical analysis of concepts and arguments with historical and philological analysis of the meaning and context of philosophical terms.



My most important publications:



Marsilio Ficino, Kommentar til Platons ‘Symposion’, eller ‘Om eros’, Danish translation, introductions and notes by Leo Catana. Museum Tusculanum Forlag: Copenhagen, 2013.

Leo Catana, The Historiographical Concept ‘System of Philosophy’: Its Origin, Nature, Influence and Legitimacy. Brill: Leiden and Boston, 2008

Leo Catana, The Concept of Contraction in Giordano Bruno’s Philosophy. Ashgate: Aldershot, 2005.


Chapters in collective volumes:

Leo Catana ‘From Persona to Systema: Heumann’s Dethronement of Porphyry’s Vita Plotini and the Biographical Model in History of Philosophy’, in Biography, Historiography, and Modes of Philosophizing: The Tradition of Collective Biography in Early Modern Europe, ed. Patrick Baker. Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.

Leo Catana, ‘Philosophical Problems in the History of Philosophy: What are They?’, in Philosophy and Its History: New Essays on the Methods and Aims of Research in the History of Philosophy, eds Mogens Lærke, Justin E. H. Smith and Eric Schliesser. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 115-133.


Journal articles:

Leo Catana, ‘The Ethical Discussion about Protection (boêtheia) in Plato’s Gorgias’: Classical Quarterly (forthcoming).

Leo Catana, ‘Doxographical or Philosophical History of Philosophy: On Michael Frede’s Precepts for Writing the History of Philosophy’: History of European Ideas (2014), pp. 1-8. DOI:

Leo Catana,  ‘The Origin of the Division between Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism’: Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, vol. 46.2 (2013), pp. 166-200.

Leo Catana, ‘Changing Interpretations of Plotinus: The 18th-Century Introduction of the Concept of a ‘System of Philosophy’: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition, vol. 7.1 (2013), pp. 50-98.

Leo Catana,  ‘Tannery and Duhem on the Concept of a System in the History of Philosophy and History of Science: Intellectual History Review, vol. 21.4 (2011), pp. 493-509.

Leo Catana,  ‘Lovejoy’s Readings of Bruno: Or how Nineteenth-Century History of Philosophy was “Transformed” into the History of Ideas’: Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 70.1 (2010), pp. 89-110.

Leo Catana,  ‘The Concept ‘System of Philosophy’: The Case of Jacob Brucker’s Historiography of Philosophy’: History and Theory, vol. 44 (2005), pp. 72-90.


History of philosophy
Methodology of the history of philosophy

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