It is undeniable that the study of ancient philosophy underwent an important change in the middle of the 20th century, largely through the influence of Ryle, Austin, Ackrill, and Owen, but also, to some extent, of Anscombe and Geach. Maybe it was even invented then. But what was the nature of that development?
According to Julia Annas, in “Ancient Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century”:
In the 1960s, she says, “…philosophers began reclaiming Plato and Aristotle as philosophers with arguments worth examining, rather than as historical figures important only for the influence of their conclusions”. The change, she said, was the result of “the impetus to treat Plato and Aristotle as fellow philosophers”; “the impetus to treat ancient philosophers as contemporary partners”.
Hallowed works by Plato and Aristotle began to be treated as equal partners in philosophical debate, rather than revered authorities. A very 1960s excitement developed as it became possible to argue on level ground with ancient thinkers… (25-26)
To treat Plato and Aristotle as fellow philosophers meant extracting out arguments from them, which were then analysed for validity and soundness. But:
The idea that we can just ignore the differences between us and Plato, and can discuss one of his arguments in a way that concedes nothing to the historical distance between us, leads to a very selective approach to the ancient tradition. In practice, only issues and problems will be discussed which contemporary philosophers can already find relevant. So it is no accident that ancient philosophy as first practiced in the philosophical mainstream centred on a handful of texts, mainly in Plato and Aristotle, in which issues were discussed that lent themselves to treatment in terms of 1950s and 1960s assumptions, in particular assumptions about language and meaning, and the centrality of these themes for the rest of philosophy. Philosophers’ concern with the ancients was for some time very unbalanced, with great overemphasis on Plato and Aristotle, and on those few of their texts which lent themselves to focus on linguistic issues (27).
Yet it seems to me that this rather puts the cart before the horse. It wasn’t that there was an (apparently unmotivated) urge to treat ancients as equals, which led to selectivity in approach. It was rather that it began to seem as if, on certain limited matters at first, Plato and Aristotle might actually have deep and important things to say, so that they should no longer be dismissed or treated with condescension. (Ackrill’s Clarendon volume on the Categories and De Int, for instance, was written as if expecting that a close look at Aristotle would lead to progress in the sorts of concerns emphasized by Frege and early Wittgenstein.) And it wasn’t that Plato and Aristotle went from ‘revered authorities’ to ‘equals’; it’s rather that they were originally dismissed out of ignorance or with contempt (in the analytic movement--not by a Cook Wilson or a Ross), but it then began to seem as if, on select subjects, they might indeed be authoritative and worthy of even 'reverent' attention.