PreSocratics | Socrates | Plato | Aristotle | Augustine | Aquinas | Home

 

Pre-Modernism
The Pre-Socratics


 

 

Clip from Woody Allen's Love and Death. Discuss.


The Homeric Worldview

  • As we discussed, Greek Philosophy didn't begin in a vacuum-

    • A response to the worldview in

      • Homer's Iliad and Odyssey,

      • and Hesiod's Theogony

      • both 8th cent. BC or earlier.

    • Greek myth assumed:

      • The world simply is-

        • always has been, always will be,

        • cyclical

        • chaotic (no knowable, reliable order lies behind it)

      • the gods are part of the world, not beyond it, and they are

        • capricious, vain, temperamental, not reliable

          • (i.e., human in character)

        • rather than being moral exemplars, each god rules his/her domain w/ impunity, making the rules.

          • their interaction w/humans is often based on lust, ego.

        • what does this suggest about the relationship between the human and divine?

        • Fate/Fortune controls destiny,

          • it is fickle- sometimes good men suffer, bad ones prosper

        • afterlife, if any, is shadowy and same for all.

          • immortality exists in individual achievement-

            • αρετη, 'excellence' or 'virtue'

            • virtue might bring about reward in the afterlife if the gods are happy, but no guarantees...

    • In such a worldview, where does knowledge (as in, what we can know with certainty) come from?

      • inspiration- the "muses"

      • How can it be trusted?

        • Philosophy was born out of a REJECTION OF THE MUSES,

        • but not a rejection of myth.

          • ...what are they, really? Plato will answer.

 

The PreSocratics

  • Little of what they wrote survives, what does is found mostly in the writings of Aristotle (esp. Metaphysics),

    • who catalogued their beliefs acc to his own concept of the 'Four Causes' for a thing:

      • Material, Efficient, Formal, Final

      • My coffee mug-

        • is composed of a certain arrangement of matter called 'ceramic'= material cause ("what's it made of?")

        • is in that arrangement because a coffee-cup making plant in China made it =efficient cause (who made it? what actualized it?)

        • has a cylindrical shape closed at one end (to hold liquid) of a size that can be held in a human hand= formal cause (how might it be classified or categorized?)

        • enables me to consume a caffeinated beverage that keeps me awake and helps me to give a damn at 9am= final cause. (why is it?)

      • From Aristotle's perspective, the PreSocratics were trying to answer some of these questions...but a total account of a phenomenon required answering them all.

 

The Ionians or Miletians

  • Greek Philosophy began in Miletus, not Athens.
     





    • The Milesian/Ionian philosophers:

      • acc. to Aristotle, they focused on the material cause of the cosmos-

        • they sought an αρχη (archae), or a ruling principle in terms of which all of reality could be explained.

      • referred to them as the φυσιολογοι (physiologoi) or those who study nature.

      • distinguished between 2 types of knowing-

        • μυθος- 'myth,' but not in the modern sense, but allegorical, 'religious' knowledge

        • λογος- 'reason,' knowledge of the intelligibility of nature/reality.
           

        • both were seen as legitimate ways of knowing, but the Milesians were concerned with logos.

          • muthos could lead to truth, but not necessarily.

            • it was 'inspired' by the Muses- Greek goddesses who would 'breathe into' the poets.

            • so, the poet is not responsible or accountable for the content,

            • and the Muses were admitted deceivers.
               

        • Logos was verifiable, and reliable.

        • It was a 'check' on muthos.

           

  • Thales (624-545 BC)

    • a geometer, astronomer, meteorologist-

      • found the height of the pyramids by measuring the length of their shadows at the same time of day that his own shadow was as long as he was tall.

      • accurately predicted an eclipse in 585 BC.

    • two of his sayings survive:

      • "all things are full of gods"

      • "water is the first principle of everything"

    • the problem of 'The One and the Many'

      • Is there a unity that underlies the apparent multiplicity of things in our experience?

        • [is it, in fact a uni-verse, rather than a multi-verse?]

        • Thales proposed water. [Why?]

        • Metaphysical Monism- reality is explained by one principle.

        • Material Monism- the unifying principle is a material substance.

           

  • Anaximander (610-545 BC)

    • possibly, a student of Thales.

      • wrote On Nature- one of the earliest prose writings

    • rejected water as fundamental principle,

    • proposed the Aperion, the 'boundless.'

      • [an indefinable, limitless source of all things, that does not have the specific properties of any of the things we know.]

    • different quantities/qualities of the boundless were hurled out like particles in a centrifuge, creating the universe.

       

  • Anaximenes (?, but contemp. of above)

    • proposed air as fundamental principle,
      [even saw air as identical with soul]

    • accounted for difference with principles of

      • expansion
        [as air expands, it warms, ultimately becoming fire]

      • compression
        [as air compresses, it becomes wind, water, ultimately stone]

      • 1st recorded scientific experiment!
         

  • Pythagoras (570-495 BC)

    • born at Samos, an island near coast of Ionia

    • mathematician, mystic

    • 1st to call himself a philosopher,

      • 'lover of wisdom.'

    • founded a religious community at Croton (in southern Italy)

    • thought by many of his followers to have been divine.
       

    • believed:

      • soul is immortal, migrates into another body at death.

        • to break the cycle, the soul is purified by the pursuit of wisdom,

        • knowing how to live 'in harmony' with the universe.
           

      • mathematical order and unity underlies the cosmos.

        • music points to this-

          • musical tones can be defined as numerical ratios,

            • thus musical harmony is mathematical.

          • the body was seen as being like a musical instrument,

            • healthiest when the parts act in harmony.

          • medicine purified the body,

            • music purified the soul.

            • [even today, music is considered therapeutic for certain disorders]

        • Lying behind music is an eternal mathematical harmony,

          • which actually lies behind everything we sense.

          • So, 'Number' is the αρχη.

            • More specifically, One, which makes αριθμος possible.

            • Number makes measurable dimension possible-

            • it limits, or imposes Form, on matter.

            • thus, number becomes the universal language through which reality can be meaningfully understood and articulated.

   
The Fibonacci Sequence in Lateralus Donald Duck Meets Pythagoras, learns about the Golden Ratio
    • Saw the life of science and mathematics as superior to any other kind-

      • 3 kinds of people (who attend the games):

        • those there to make a profit.

        • those there to compete

        • those there to observe, reflect, analyze

        • he thought the last kind is the best-

          • the life of the philosopher

  • Xenophanes (570-478 BC)

    • Ionian, but from Colophon, north of Miletus.

    • first 'rational theologian.'

    • distinguished knowledge from opinion-

      • doubted that certain truth was attainable,

      • but opinions closely approximating truth could be achieved.
         

    • best known as a critic of the myths of Homer and Hesiod. Three criticisms:

      • saw myth as unnecessary where natural explanation sufficed.

      • recognized that the gods of mythology were immoral by human standards.

      • ridiculed the poets for making gods in their own image.
         

    • believed in a single, eternal god, but not identical with the God of Judaism/Christianity.

      • This God was his first principle,

      • but not anthropomorphic or personal.

      • This God 'shakes all things by the thought of his mind,'

        • but is himself 'always in the same place...moving not at all.'

      • God has unity, not 'parts.'

        • All of him thinks, sees, etc.

        • essentially different from mortals,

        • not complex, not in need of motion.

      • Therefore, only knowable through thought.

         

  • Heraclitus (540-480 BC)

    • an Ionian, but from Ephesus, not Miletus

    • known for his use of paradox and aphorism (short sayings)

    • saw reality itself as a 'riddle,'

       

      • two possible interpretations:

      • Acc to one, he is another metaphysical monist,

        who saw logos as the αρχη by means of which reality was understood-

        • 'word, statement, reason, rational content of what is spoken, rational structure/order of the cosmos.'

        • 'One must follow what is common; but although the Logos is common, most men live as if they had a private understanding of their own.'

        • i.e., wisdom is universally true and accessible, but we prefer to follow our own opinions.

      • But also sometimes understood believing in NO αρχη-

        • literally an anarchist

           

    • the problem of 'Permanence and Change'

      • Milesian philosophers sought the unity behind diversity- the permanent that lies behind the appearance of change.

      • Heraclitus flipped this-

        • It is permanence that is the appearance, change is reality.

        • 'You cannot step into the same river twice'

        • i.e. things that appear to be constant are actually in a state of change.

        • proposed fire as the unifying principle-

          • fire is a constantly changing process, yet it remains the same.

            • is this just another riddle?
               

          • Identified fire with the logos, and the logos with divinity.

          • Like Xenophanes, he disliked folk religion (popular myth), but believed in a single supreme deity.

 



The Eleatics

  • Parmenides (515-450 BC)

    • from Elea, a city on Italy's western coast.

    • founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy.

    • the uncompromising rationalist.

    • [One of Plato's dialogues is named after him.]

    • His claim:

      • 'It is'

        • Being exists, and cannot not be

        • or 'That which exists, exists, and there is nothing apart from that which exists.'

        • Also: Reality is and always has been. it is not created, it did not come to be, it simply is.

        • [Again, things exist contingently, but existence itself is not contingent.
           

    • But see where this leads:

      • (1) anything of which we think or speak either does or does not exist.

      • (2) that which does not exist is nothing.

      • (3) we cannot think or speak about nothing.

      • (4) therefore, we cannot think or speak about that which does not exist.

      • (5) therefore, anything we can think or speak about exists.
         

      • 1 & 2 are non-controversial.

      • what about 3 & 4?
         

        • (3) contains an ambiguous term. What is meant by 'nothing'?

          • Things that do not exist?
            [like unicorns, Santa Claus, talented rap 'artists'?] Do we really mean what we say when we say these things do not exist? Do these things not exist in thought?

          • nothingness itself?
            True! Thought seems to require an object and 'thought about nothing' is just nothing.
             

        • (4) may seem refutable (if I assume that existence only in thought is not really existence) : I can think about things that 'don't exist' [see above, although I can't imagine a talented rap artist]

          • But wait- am I truly thinking of that which does not exist (i.e. nothing), or inaccurately picturing that which does exist?

            • Santa Claus may not exist (sorry), but a chubby bearded guy in a red suit?
               

      • Another statement of Parmenides' position:

        • Anything that can be the object of rational thought exists; anything that cannot be thought cannot exist.

          • [Ex: try to imagine a square circle]
             

      • He says the following about existence/being:

        • being is uncreated. [what could it come from? Existence cannot come from non-existence]

        • being is unchangeable.

        • [what could it change into?]

        • being is one and indivisible. [what could divide being, that is not being itself (does not itself exist)?]

        • being is motionless. [How can it move into nothingness?]
           

      • Was he a nut? Hardly.

        • of the Pre-Socratics, Parmenides is the most uncompromising rationalist- totally denying the validity of knowledge through sensory experience.

      • [More about nothing, from Catholic Philosopher Edward Feser:

  • Zeno (490-430 BC)

    • follower of Parmenides; sought to defend him against critics.

    • famous for his 'paradoxes'- actually attempts to show the absurdity of the arguments of Parmenides' critics (reductio ad absurdum- 'to reduce to the absurd')
       

      • sensory experience: drop one grain of sand on carpet, no noise. Drop a handful, hear a thud. Does sand make a noise when dropped on carpet?
         

      • plurality: take the chalk board, and cut it in half. Now cut one of the pieces in half. In principle, this process could be repeated infinitely, each piece having measurable magnitude yet being infinitely divisible.

        • But this would mean the chalkboard is infinitely large.

        • But this problem applies to everything with positive magnitude, so everything would be infinitely large, which is impossible! (This is why Parmenides thought that "all things are one")
           

      • motion: Mr. Martin wants to run from one side of the room (A) to the other (B). To do so, he must run half the distance from A to B. But before he gets to that point, he must run half that distance, and so on, infinitely.

        • How can he leave the starting point?

        • How can motion be possible? (so Parmenides thought of being as motionless...)

 



The Pluralists

  • Collectively, a school of philosophers who rejected monism (belief in a single unifying principle), and sought some sort of middle way between the extreme empiricism of Heraclitus and the extreme rationalism of Parmenides.

     

  • Empedocles (495-435 BC)

    • Sicilian philosopher, poet, mystic.

    •  agreed w/ Parmenides that there is no absolute creation or destruction of reality,

      • but there is relative change

      • i.e. there is both change & permanence
         

    • 4 permanent things: water, air, fire, earth.

    • change is explained by their combination & separation.

    • but why do these combine, yet combine into separate things?

      • A principle of unity- 'Love'

      • A principle of individuation- 'Strife'

        • both are moral forces, opposed.
           

      • consider his theory in total:

        • The cosmos was at first undifferentiated 'love' (attraction)

        • at some point, 'strife' (repulsion) intervenes,

        • four principles emerge: Water, air, fire, earth.

        • love combines the four 'locally' to form distinct elements,

          • (represented by formulas, i.e. bone is 2 parts earth, 2 parts water, 4 parts fire).

        • organic elements collide to form animal parts (eyes, arms, etc)

        • animal parts mix in random combinations,

          • some work, some don't.

          • Those that work perpetuate through reproduction.

          • Sound familiar?

          • worth noting, as Aristotle responds to him.

           

      • saw the world as existing in an intermediate state between complete unity and total separation. Which way was it headed?

        • Like most Greeks, he believed that the world began perfect and was getting progressively worse.

  • Anaxagoras (500-428 BC)

    • Ionian, but moved to Athens to associate w/ Pericles (495-429 BC),

      • the Athenian statesman and military leader credited w/ sparking the city's Golden Age.

      • Also an advocate of Athenian democracy.

      • led Athens for the first 2&1/2 years of the Peloponnesian wars.

      • Protagoras & Zeno were also associated w/him.

    • Exiled from Athens for declaring that the sun was a 'white-hot stone,' not a god.

    • rather than claiming 4 elements, he believed that each kind of thing had its own element (i.e. an infinite #)-

      • apparent change can only happen b/c that which appears is already in that which changes.

        • put simply, 'everything is in everything,'

          • what we see is that which predominates.

      • Proposed 'Nous' (nouj, or 'mind') as the source of movement and order in the cosmos.

        • This Mind is-

          • not 'in' other things,

          • & does not depend on them.

        • dualism? does Anaxagoras divide reality into 'mind' and 'matter'?

          • not yet- for him, 'mind' is the rarest form of matter.



The Atomists

  • The realm of Being:

    • Explained reality/being in terms of 2 principles: atoms & the 'void.'

    • saw atoms (Gk. atomoj, 'uncuttable') as unchangeable, eternal, and indivisible,

      • see characteristics of being for Parmenides, above. But-

        • they are infinite

        • they differ quantitatively (size & shape)

        • they are qualitatively alike or neutral

    • unlike Parmenides, they affirm the existence of what-is-not...

    • atoms move around/collide in an unlimited emptiness

    • or space, i.e., the void.
       

  • Becoming:

    • Democritus (460-360 BC) claimed:

      • motion is without absolute direction (b/c there is no absolute 'up' or 'down').

      • therefore, atoms do not have absolute weight (true!- proven by space travel)

      • therefore, atoms do not rest- their motion is eternal.
         

      • The world of sensory perception can be explained on the basis of the above:

        • the shape & motion of atoms produces

        • different combinations and interactions between them resulting in

        • all the qualities perceived through sense experience.
           

      • Democritus' epistemology:

        • atoms bounce off of our senses,

        • the impact is transmitted to the atoms that compose our (material) soul

        • the soul 'reads' this information & produces an image of the original object that we experience.

        • Means that the senses do not give direct knowledge of reality,

          • explaining why it is perceived differently by different people.
             

      • He distinguished 2 types of knowledge:

        • subjective, sensory knowledge of 'things as they appear' is inferior to

        • objective knowledge of the true nature of things (atoms) achieved through reason-

          • specifically scientific observation and mathematics.

          • Like Parmenides, his philosophy is paradoxical-

            • it runs contrary to common experience,

            • and posits a theory that is seen as closer to Truth.
               

        • This distinction was crucial to the scientific revolution-

          • which saw the world as understood by science as superior to the world of the poet/artist/senses.
             

        • But Democritus himself saw the problem w/ this:

          • sensory experience provides the materials reason must work with.
             

        • Democritus' ethical theory:

          • based on his physics

          • believed the soul (basically a cluster of very fine atoms) preferred gentle motion (moderation) to the extreme movements of pain and excessive pleasure.

          • At death, our atoms disperse, thus the only life we have is here and now.

          • so, his materialism leads to a 'prudent' hedonism.


             

  • Key points to recognize before we move on:

    • Implications of the quest for a unifying principle (and universals)

      • monism vs. pluralism

        • Is reality reducible to a single unifying principle? to a few? or not reducible?

      • materialism/empiricism vs. idealism

        • Where, if anywhere, does "T"ruth lie? In sensory perception? In theory/idea/intellect?

    • The Ontological Problem

    • What is the really real? What is only apparently real?

    • accounting for permanence and change (real/illusory)

      • what is the relationship between the two?

    • Distinction between 'Being' and 'Becoming';

      • what constitutes knowledge and opinion, how are the two related?

      • what is 'non-being'? Can it be meaningfully spoken of or defined?

      • what is 'mind'? How is it related to matter?

    • The Epistemological Problem

      • How do we know what we think we know? What makes the means by which we learn one in which we can place confidence?

      • Should/must some things be taken as self-evidently true, as intuitive "first principles"?

        • If not, is philosophy even possible?

        • If so, what and why?

    • implications of philosophy for living (ethics)

      • how should one's philosophy impact one's way of life?

      • is life-applicability a valid test of a philosophical system's truth value?

        The Sophists will try to answer...

  • PreSocratics | Socrates | Plato | Aristotle | Augustine | Aquinas | Home