Malcolm S. Brown, Ph.D., modern-day Renaissance man, emeritus professor of early Greek philosophy, Brooklyn College, scholar on the works of Plato, and pioneer in renewable energy and community-led public radio.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to medical missionary parents Roswell and Enid Crump Brown, on February [date], 1932, Brown was raised in Buffalo, NY, where he attended the Nichols School. After one college year at Haverford, MA, he attended Amherst College, Amherst, MA, where he began as a pre-med major, but graduated in 1953 with a degree in Philosophy. He pursued graduate work at Columbia University, specializing in Ancient Greek Philosophy and earning a doctorate in 1966. His dissertation was “Plato’s Theory of Knowledge and its Mathematical Background.” A chapter from it won that year’s Dissertation Essay contest.
For the next 20 years, Malcolm taught University level courses in philosophy, mathematics, classics and history of science at a variety of institutions including St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and Reed College in Portland, Oregon. During his time at Barnard College, he was known for getting to class by biking across the George Washington bridge from his home in Leonia, NJ. His final 17 years of teaching and research were at Brooklyn College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. In 1970 he spent a year as a junior fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC enlarging the scope of his research into mathematics at the Old Academy. In the 1970s and early 1980s Brown published and presented papers at scholarly conferences in the U.S., France and England. The subjects were all in Ancient Greek Philosophy and in the History of Greek Mathematics.
In 1992, he spent a year in post-Communist Bulgaria, where he taught philosophy. He and his wife, Anne Larsen, opened The Good Earth health food store on Main street, Jeffersonville, and after several years, moved to Hull, Massachusetts, where Malcolm championed wind power, getting elected to the Light Board on a renewable energy platform. The first commercial-sized turbine on the East Coast, Hull Wind 1, started producing power in 2001, followed by the first turbine on a capped landfill, Hull Wind 2. A portion of the xxx MW, was dedicated to powering the streetlights of Hull, which continue to be illuminated in this manner to this day.] Malcolm was aptly called, the Johnny Appleseed of Wind, due to his indefatigable work spreading Hull’s accomplishment to other Massachusetts towns.(website of Hullwind)
In later years, Malcolm returned to his scholarly work, researching at Harvard University, visiting manuscript collections and scholars in Oxford, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Rome, Florence and often in Venice. In 2004 he returned to his scholarly tasks. He delivered that year’s Rosamond Sprague Lecture in South Carolina, “Theaetetus, the Man and his Work: recovering some fragments of Theaetetus.” In it, he announced his idea of putting up for digital access the A.E. Taylor translation of Plato’s Theaetetus, now in manuscript at University of Edinburgh’s library. His interest in computerized open access led him to facilitate the digitization of Venetus T at Venice’s Biblioteca Marciana. As was often the case, he connected people, asking question and discovering the Library photographer was the Italian nephew of an Amherst classmate.
Three chapters of Brown’s dissertation were published by 1972, one on Meno, one on the definition of “Equal” in Phaedo and one on the paradox-troubled subject of infinite process mathematics, as echoed in Theaetetus. After several years’ work compiling computer-readable texts of Euclid and Euclid’s predecessors within the Old Academy, he published interim results (1987) about a special meaning “dunamis” (“third power” rather than “squared”) and the on text of Politicus 266 AB. This text is where he locates an echo of this advanced (“stereometry”) topic. He also urged various colleagues to continue computer-assisted research on the Old Academy, and to help him to decipher the pseudo-Platonic dialogue, Sisyphus. His scholarship continued to the end, his last posting to his website was in summer 2021. (website address)
A social justice activist, Malcolm put his body on the line repeatedly, including in his 80’s at the massive 2016 anti-Trump Women’s March. He counted among his accomplishments, uncovering deceptive counts of Vietnam-era marches by analyzing the solar angle on a Newsweek cover picture and determining false timestamps.
Malcolm’s scholarship searched for hapax legomena, words or expressions that occur just once, to identify varying authorship in ancient texts. Hapax legomenon is a transliteration of Greek ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, meaning “being said once.”
Brown intended that some space on this website be kept ‘open’, to encourage the ‘wiki’ mode of composition and collaboration. This requires the author pro tem to be willing to yield to his or her successor author, the evolving text being the beneficiary. A specialist term “sunspeiromai” from Plato’s dialogue Symposium captures the spirit of ‘co-seeding in any wind’, first popularized by the Larousse dictionary. This motto is now widely disseminated in our culture. Brown was recently heard to say “preserving this openness makes the remark which Plato puts into the mouth of young Theaetetus. The young man is made to say ‘if I make an error, you will correct me’ ”.