Monday, September 21, 2009

Week Two: Philosophy of Classical Greece


Osborne: 4-22
Penguin: as appropriate
Robinson: 7-36
Supplemental Reading:

Oxford: 1-36, 275-286
Aristophanes: The Clouds

The Greek Way, Chapter VI, “The Athenians as Plato Saw Them”


Thales (625-547?)
Anaximander (610-545)  *
Pythagoras (581-507)
Heraclitus (540-480)
Permenides (515- 445)
Democritus (460-370)
Protagoras (490-420)
Gorgias (483-376)
Hippocrates (460-377)  *
Pericles (490-429)
Socrates (470-399)
Plato (428-348)
Aristotle (384-322)

(or how to create a civilization and then destroy it)
Pericles (490-429 BC): Statesman, soldier, admiral; patron of public works, architecture and drama.

Cleon (d. 422 BC): Vehement in the pursuit of power; unscrupulous deal-maker, political crony and war monger--as characterized by Thucydides and Aristophanes.

a) Aristophanes frequently ridiculed Cleon in his plays. In 426 Cleon attacked Aristophanes' Babylonians as a libel against the State. 

Persian Wars (499-449)
Classical Historical Source: Herodotus
Athens and Greece defeat the empire of the Persian despot Darius, who thought he had a mission from God to impose peace and good order upon the world.
I – The Ionian Revolt (499): The Milesian Aristagoras leads a break from Persian control and organizes a league of rebel cities along the coast of Asia Minor. Various Greek interests support the Ionians. Darius sets his sights and his armies upon Greece.
II – The Campaign of Marathon (492): Sparta and Athens form an alliance to save Athens from invading Persian armies. Victory in the Battle of Marathon insures Athens will survive as a democracy.
III – The Expedition of Xerxes (480): Xerxes, son of Darius and King of Persia (486-465) inherits his father’s task of punishing the Greeks for aiding the Ionians. Xerxes invades with 100, 000 men and 1,000 ships, and with the aid of Carthaginians, who attack the Greek colonies on Sicily. Greece unites to repel the Persians, whose fleet is defeated by the Athenian navy at the Battle of Salamis. Greeks now have command of the sea.
IV – The Campaign of 479: Greeks fight Persians on their own territory. Spartans destroy the Persians, spurring more Greeks along the coast of Asia Minor to rebel against the Persians.
V – The Greek Counter-Attack: In 478 the Greeks clear the entrance to the Black Sea, capture Byzantium and start a rebellion on Cyprus. Delian League formed under the leadership of Athens, consists of liberated Greeks in the Aegean Islands and Asia Minor. In 459 Athens sends a fleet of 200 ships to aid a rebellion in Egypt. The Persians are driven up the Nile. In 449 Pericles concludes a peace with the Persians, which secures the independence of the Asiatic Greeks and closes the Aegean to Persian warships.
VI – Greece is united militarily and culturally through alliances and trade, but internal division will cut short the golden age.

Peloponnesian War(s) (431-404)
Classical historical source: Thucydides
I – Athens was morally the aggressor, but Sparta began the war.
II – Spartans and Boeotians were the finest land soldiers in Greece, but Athens had the superior navy, possessed more colonies, was richer, and safely withdrew inside her walls during the siege. It was Pericles’ strategy to outlast the attackers.
III – Athens and her port were safe, and the navy made things difficult for the Peloponnesians.
IV – 425: The Peloponnesians sued for peace. Pericles’ strategy had won, but Cleon, now the ruler of Athens, refused the peace offering. Fighting continued until 422; a treaty was signed, but once again scheming politicians got the war going again. Athens greatness was eroded by the greed of commercial interests and politicians, who made money from the war.
V – Patriotism was eroded; citizens and generals switched sides for personal gain. The Persians aided the Peloponnesians. Athens’ subject states and colonies rebelled.
VI – 406: Athens won an important navel battle, but yet again the politicians rejected the opportunity for peace.
VII – 405: The last Athenian fleet was destroyed.
VIII – 404: Athens was surrounded and surrendered.
IX – Athens (and Greece) was never the same after the war.
1) The Greeks, who were never gentle to begin with, henceforth treated prisoners and non-combatants with gross cruelty.
2) Further attempts at Greek unity were defeated.
3) An enlightened system of colonies and tributes was replaced by a corrupt and incompetent imperial system.
4) The old autonomy (both political and cultural) was lost forever.


I - Philosophy "love + wisdom," or "devotion to uncommon knowledge."
II - Philosophy is identified with critical and constructive thought about the physical world, the place of gods and souls in it, the relationship between reality and appearance, and the origins and nature of human society, and the principles that ought to govern it.
III - The Greek mind was willing to question conventions, and was receptive to novel ideas from abroad.
IV - Thus philosophy is mixed and diluted by the spread of untraditional doctrines derived not from pure reason but from Oriental myth.

The Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes

Miletus was a town in Ionia on the shore of Asia Minor (Turkey)

I - Left writings, but their primary mode of teaching was through giving discourses.
II - Tried to assemble systematic accounts for all the notable features of the observable world--movements of heavenly bodies, phases of the moon, eclipses, lightning, thunder, rain, snow, hail, rainbows, earthquakes, floods--and from these accounts created explanations for the universe, extrapolating from the visible world that lies outside it.
III - Unable to completely free themselves from the conventions and preconceptions of mythology:
a) Something as complex as the world must have originated from something simple.
b) The Earth is finite, essentially circular, and is supported by something different beneath it.
c) The sky is a physical entity.
d) Immortal sources of energy are the moving or directing forces of the universe.
e) Everything can be explained as a handful of universal processes which emerged from a single original continuum.
f) They didn't seek to eliminate divinity from the world, but they did attempt to eliminate the arbitrary events characteristic of mythical narratives. In effect, they depersonalized their gods--recast them as so-called "laws of nature"--and then identified these laws as unchanging forces that govern the workings of the universe.

Thales (fl. 585 BCE)

I - Left no writings. We know of him through Aristotle, who ascribed to him certain doctrines.
II - The universe and everything in it derives from water, and the Earth rests on water.
III - Similar in most respects to Egyptian and Semitic creation stories in which the original universe of waters is divided from and covered over by earth.

Anaximander (c. 612-545 BCE)

I -Gave discourses and wrote books (among the earliest works written in Greek prose)
II - Taught our world and countless others came into being out of the "Boundless" and will eventually be absorbed back into it.
III - Gave a detailed account of the stages by which the parts of the cosmos were differentiated, and described their shape and arrangement.
IV - The sun, moon and stars are really rings of fire, respectively twenty-seven, eighteen and nine times the diameter of the earth which they encircle, and each is contained by a tube of mist with holes in it through which their fires shines out.
V - The Earth is a drum shaped-body with a depth a third of its diameter floating at the center of the rings.
VI - The universe exists as an "imbalance" or "injustice" in the "Boundless," which must in due course be adjusted back to balance according to the ordinance of Time.
VII - Undoubtedly inspired by Persian cosmology.
a) The sequence of of earth, stars, moon, sun, is distinctively Persian, not Greek.
b) The "Boundless" that lies beyond the sun corresponds to the "Beginningless Lights" which are the abode of Ohrmazd and the highest paradise of the
c) According to the myth, Ohrmazd created the world with the blessing of the ageless god of Time, and a finite of period of 12,000 years was appointed for the duration of the universe.
d) Thus the so-called "Ordinance of Time" in Anaximander's system was not a creation of his intellect, but a borrowing traceable to pagan mythology. Ohrmazd's act of creative will is made by Anaximander into a "law of nature."
VIII - Anaximander is said to have worn extravagant and flamboyant clothing, as did later sophists and rhapsodes).

Anaximenes (fl. c. 545 BCE)

I - Gave discourses and wrote books (among the earliest works written in Greek prose)
II - The world is encompassed by air which has the qualities--much like Anaxamader's Boundless--of infinite extent, immortality, and perpetual motion leading to the formation of worlds. Nature dose not change into something unimaginable at the edge of the cosmos.
III - Motion and movement are properties of air, which is essentially a live substance.
IV - Air surrounds, contains and holds the world together: Everything inside and outside is based on air and its transformations.
V - By the same token, the soul, which is air, surrounds, contains, and holds the body together. Hence, the soul is not separate from the material world, but a natural part of it.
VI - This notion has affinities with Indian mythology and the
Upanishadic doctrine of a universal wind or breath, which forms both the unchanging life-soul of the world and the individual self. The universal wind or breath holds all living things and the world together, and is obeyed by the whole universe.
VII - The Earth is a flat disk supported by air, and from it vapors rise and form fiery disks--the sun, moon, stars, and invisible solid bodies that account for eclipses.
VIII - The dark bodies that can cause eclipses and the notion that the heavenly bodies circle around a mountain in the North seems to be of Persian origin.

Other Pre-Socratic Philosophers

Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570-495 BCE)

I - Part philosopher, part priest, part conjuror. He was reported to have worn splendid and flamboyant clothing, including a gold coronet, a white robe, and trousers.
II - He did not discourse in reasoned prose but affected poetic inspiration and recited verse under the authority of the god Orpheus.
III - He bequeathed to his followers brief maxims, catechisms, dietary rules, and enigmatic sayings which expressed old religious taboos, and recondite cosmological and eschatological dogmas.
IV - Believed in reincarnation. The doctrine, which is of Indian origin, came to Greece in the mid-sixth century, a century or so after it had come to India. According to the Upanishads, souls which fail to pass the moon return to Earth as rain and are reincarnated in whatever animal form is appropriate to their conduct in their last life.
IV - His followers added to the body of his teachings, and composed poems embodying picturesque metaphysics. They also took their inspiration from Pythagoras' mystical interest in numbers and music, and developed the study of mathematics and harmony in a more scientific spirit.
V - It became difficult to disentangle Pythagoras' own ideas from the ideas of his followers.

Xenophanes (c. 570-c. 475 BCE)

I - Earth stretched forever in all directions (length, breadth and depth) with empty air above it (length, breadth and height).
II - The disappearance of the sun and other heavenly bodies over the western horizon was an optical illusion: they were really continuing in a straight line, just getting further away.
III - There were other suns, moons and heavenly objects moving in parallel tracks over other regions of the Earth. These heavenly bodies are formed by rising vapors from clouds which ignite and become incandescent, and this process occurs with strict regularity.
IV - He pointed out that religious beliefs and customs were based on mere convention. Greeks represented their gods as Greeks, Asians represented their Gods as Asians, and Africans represented their gods as Africans. If cows and horses had hands, they would no doubt represent their gods as cows and horses.
V - Xenophanes' god does not have have human shape, and does not behave immorally as the Gods do in Homer. Xenophanes' god has no eyes or ears. Every part of him is sentient. He does not move from place to place, but stays still, effortlessly moving the world around him by the power of his thought.

Heraclitus (fl. c. 500 BCE)

I - Wrote in a haughty and oratorical manner.
II - Unusual for his time because he criticized other philosophers. Named Xenophenes as one of several notable men to whom learning had not taught sense.
III - Believed, like Xenophenes, in many gods, but also looked for an overriding master purpose in a unique intelligence which governs everything. The intelligence "does and does not want to be called 'Zeus.'"
IV - The universe is a fire which has always existed, though not all parts of it are alighted at once. The parts that are not alight exist as other substances, and are convertible with fire.
V - Everything in the world is thus participating in one continuous process, a concept which was to form the basis of Stoic cosmology a few centuries later. The process is likened to strife or war, and is controlled by the divine agent of justice, perhaps given direction and momentum by the thunderbolt.
VII - Underlying cosmic unity: opposites are aspects of the same thing: Hot and cold, wet and dry, living and dead, are not irreconcilable opposites, because things pass from one state to the other. Opposites also reconcile themselves through simultaneous perspective: A road up is also a road down. Sea water is drinkable for a fish, but not for a man. A monkey may appear ugly to a man, but handsome to another monkey. Thus, day and night, summer and winter, war and peace, and famine and abundance are different manifestations of God, and the elements path to reconciliation and balance.
VIII - Heraclitus is uninterested in the physical structure of the universe. The center of his interest is religion, morality, and the destiny of the soul. In respect to these matters, the cosmos is guided by the cyclic transformation of fire into the other elements: Souls die by turning into water, which dies in turn by becoming earth.

Empedocles (c. 495-435 BCE)

I - Believed in reincarnation. The doctrine, which is of Indian origin, came to Greece in the mid-sixth century, a century or so after it had come to India. According to the Upanishads, those souls that fail to pass the moon return to Earth as rain and are reincarnated in whatever animal form is appropriate to their conduct in their last life. Empedocles believed that killing and eating of animals was cannibalism, and implored men to abandon it.
II - Promoted a theory of the soul and the cosmos involving cyclic changes over vast periods of time.
III - Everything in the world is produced by the mixture and the separation of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water.
IV - Rejects Homer's gods as so much prey to love and strife, and regards them as allegories of the conflicts of men in the physical world.
V - The principles of love and strife are elevated into a pair of supreme powers who rule in regular alteration by the terms of a treaty. When love holds sway, the four elements are blended into a homogeneous sphere. When strife enters the sphere, the elements begin to separate and from a cosmos, eventually forming four distinct spheres, one for each element, with earth in the center, surrounded by a sphere of water, then a sphere of air, followed by a sphere of fire. The present universe is proceeding toward this state. Subsequently, the reverse process will operate until the process is completed.
VI - Within this scheme, souls are identified with fire, but if they consort with strife they can be torn away from their fellows, and are forced to consort with the other elements for thousands of years--a soul passing through countless reincarnations as plants and animals.
VIII - Empedocles was another who dressed to attract attention. In addition to lecturing on the nature of the world, he prescribed cures for sickness and old age, and claimed the ability to control the weather, and raise men from the dead. According to his own accounts, he was followed by great crowds, who adorned him with ribbons and garlands, and asked him for oracles and remedies.

Anaxagoras (c. 550-428 BCE)

I - Like Empedocles, but without cycles. Universe begins as a state of perfect mixture which is then unbalanced by the operation of a divine force. No limit to the number of ingredients in the mixture, and separation process is never absolute. There always remains a proportion of every substance in everything. We name each thing according to the substance which predominates in it, as if it were composed purely of that substance.
II - The only thing not mixed with everything else is Mind, the purest element of all. Mind is able to control everything else. Mind is the divine force that gives the cosmos the initial impulse, and supervises the process of creative separation.
III - Anaxagoras falls between the Milesian desire to explain the world as the natural given processes, and the new inclination implicit, perhaps, in Xenophanes and Heraclitus to see it as planned.

Diogenes of Apollonia (5th century BCE)

I - Opens his book on human physiology with a cosmology.
II - Argues that the balanced arrangement of the seasons must be the work of intelligence.
III - Identifies this intelligence with air, which he regards as the single substance from which all others derived. Everything that breaths air partakes of intelligence.

The Eleatic Philosophers: Paramenides, Zeno of Elea, Melissus of Samos

I - Argued that the universe was single and unified in space, time and substance.
II - Argued against change and motion.
III - The divorce between the philosophers’ "reality" and the real world of experience could not be more complete.
IV - But the concept of an unchanging reality beyond the material world survived through Plato.

Paramenides (c. 515-c. 445 BCE)

I - Only Being can exist.
II - Being is finite and spherical.
III - There is no creation or destruction, because these imply non-being.
IV - Thus Reality consists of indivisible, changeless, featureless, motionless, rock-solid BEING.
V- The phenomenal world with its color, movement, change and impermanence must be a sham.
VI - But it is a sham with a pattern, and Paramenides offers this analysis of the illusion:
a) The diversity of the universe is rooted in the basic duality of light and dark, each of which subsumes a range of other qualities. These qualities, because they do not reconcile with the nature of Being, are ultimately false.

Zeno of Elea (fl. c. 450 BCE)

I - Reinforces the case against plurality in nature with arguments and paradoxes of a mathematical nature: The paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise.

Melissus of Samos (fl. 440 BCE)

I - Being is infinite in extent, and is incorporeal; otherwise it would have parts, implying plurality.

Atomists: Leucippus of Miletus, Democritus

Leucippus of Miletus (fl. 450-420 BCE)

I - Non-being (empty space) exists just as much as Being.
II - He reduces matter to minute particles which are indivisible (atoma), indestructible, and qualitatively neutral. The differ from one another only in shape and orientation.
III - Different rearrangements of atoms produce changeable qualities such as color, heat, hardness, form, etc.
IV - There is no guiding intelligence, just the blind mechanical interplay of flying and colliding atoms.

Democritus (c. 460-371 BCE)

I - Appropriates the atomist system to serve as a background for his account of the origin and development of civilization.
II - Primitive man was merely an animal, sheltering in caves and eating whatever grew wild, until gradually he developed skills, built houses and cities, tamed animals, invented language, and so on.

SOPHISTS: Protagoras of Abdera, Gorgias

Protagoras of Abdera (c. 485-c. 415 BCE)

I - Greatest of the Sophists, teacher of rhetoric and politics: Lectured on a range of philosophical and technical subjects, and charged admission.
II - Topics included:
a) Nature vs. custom.
b) Morality.
c) Education.
d) The scientific treatment of subjects like grammar, meter, music, and rhetoric.
III - Demonstrated the adaptability of argument to support any conclusion; or either of two opposite conclusions.
IV - "Man is the measure of all things."

Gorgias (of Leontini, in Sicily) (c. 483-c. 376 BCE)

I - Important figure in the history of rhetoric.
II - Stressed the subjective and relative aspects of opinion and knowledge.
III - Published a lengthy proof that nothing exists.


Socrates (469-399 BCE)

I –Wrote nothing.
II - Represents intellectuality, exquisite taste, immense vitality, mind and spirit in balance--Socrates was Plato’s Greek superman.
III – Important matters weren’t scientific, but instead Socrates represents a dedication to learning and the discovery of the Truth.
IV - Object of Socrates questions (from Plato’s dialogues) was to establish a definition: Virtue, Courage, Temperance, the “Good Life.” However, rather than discovering hard and fixed definitions, Socrates instead established the ignorance of the person he was debating. Socrates demonstrated the vanity and the ignorance of those who sought to force narrow and credulous definitions upon society and the community.
V - Elenchus: Socrates' method of questioning, scrutinizing, and refuting. (Wiki article).

Plato (427-347 BCE)

I – Founder of the Academy.
II – Plato separated the ordinary world and its contents from the supposed otherworld of “intelligible” entities—timeless and unchanging forms, which are the true objects of the philosopher’s contemplation.
III – Early dialogues: Emphasize Socratic inquiry—Socratic dialectic. No direct “message.” We are made aware of a problem, and of the need for argument and thought as tools to gain further understanding--a continuous and continuing process.
IV - Middle and Late dialogues: Long, undramatic, didactic.

Aristotle (384-32BCE2)

I – Nothing otherworldly; Aristotle is concerned with Man’s place in the world.
II – “Forms” are the proper objects of the highest knowledge. But they are not independent or separable from the things of this world. Forms are inseparable from the object they are part of. The material something is made of can’t be distinguished from its particular form. Form can’t exist without matter, and matter can’t exist without form.
III – “Form” is defined as the form some object has, and is not itself a separately existing thing.
IV – Plato was right in the sense that definition is “of the form.” (Socrates attached importance to exact definition.)
V – Aristotle and Science
1) Organization of systematic, comparative research, consisting in an accumulation of facts about the world.
2) Conceptual Approach: Aristotle employed general categories, forms of classification: types of explanation that properly serve as the basis for factual research.
3) Aristotle understood natural objects and phenomena in terms of purpose, for the sake of an end, to fulfill an aim. Thus fire “rises” to achieve an aim. Plants grow in order to achieve a full-grown state. Aristotle was confused here.
VI – Logic: Aristotle employed
deduction. Not flawed but limited. True science and scientific procedure is non-deductive, inductive, and skeptical-empirical.

Source Material:
The Oxford History of the Classical World: Greece and the Hellenistic World
The Oxford Classical Dictionary
Penguin Dictionary of Philsophy

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