Gregory Vlastos, 84; Leading Scholar of Greek Philosophy

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Gregory Vlastos, the country’s premier scholar of ancient Greek philosophy and a former professor at UC Berkeley, has died in a Berkeley hospital. He was 84.

Vlastos died Saturday of bone cancer, the university announced.

He spent much of his career analyzing the works of Plato. But in the last decade, he devoted much of his time to studying Socrates.

His book, “Socrates--Ironist and Moral Philosopher,” was published in June. At the time of his death, he was working on a sequel.


“Socrates would be a prime subject for TV talk shows” if he lived today, Vlastos told a Los Angeles reporter last year.

“The most important single thing about Socrates is his insistence on clear thinking,” Vlastos said. “There’s a tremendous amount of fuzzy thinking today, particularly on the topic of morals, which allows ecclesiastical dogmas to be slipped in on us, like the questions of contraception and abortion.”

A colleague, Terence Irwin of Cornell University, said in a review that Vlastos’ book “represents a vivid and compelling account of Socrates’ moral philosophy, and more generally, of Socrates’ moral outlook and attitude toward religion and society.”

Last year, Vlastos became the oldest person to win a MacArthur Award, given to the country’s top scholars and sometimes called the “genius award.”

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Vlastos received his bachelor of arts degree from Robert College, an American university in Istanbul. He went on to receive his doctorate from Harvard University in 1931.

He taught philosophy in Canada, at Cornell, Princeton and then at UC Berkeley from 1976 to 1987, taking one year out to teach at Cambridge in England.

Vlastos is survived by a son and daughter.