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Thales

[Miletus, 624-546 BC]

Western philosophy begins in the antiquity roughly at the same time when Western historiographers began to record history more or less systematically. This is of course no surprise. We may believe that earlier philosophers have existed, but their works would have been invariably lost. Historiography was supposedly invented by the Babylonians, before the Greeks, but we shall leave this question to the historians and continue with philosophy. Try to picture the early Greek civilization around 600 BC. Imagine yourself in a flourishing commercial town at the sunny coast of Ionia. The Greeks traded intensively with each other and with surrounding nations, thus many Greek city states accumulated considerable wealth and with it came art, science, and philosophy. However, there was trouble. The political climate was afflicting as a consequence of slavery and mercantilism. Greek cities were often ruled by ruthless tyrants - landowning aristocrats and superrich merchants who gave little importance to ethical considerations. Around 585 BC there lived a man in Miletus whose name was Thales, one of the Seven Wise men of Greece. Thales had traveled to Egypt to study the science of geometry. Somehow he must have refined the Egyptian methods, because when he came back to Miletus he surprised his contemporaries with his unusual mathematical abilities. Thales calculated the distance of a ship at sea from observations taken on two points on land and he knew how to determine the height of a pyramid from the length of its shadow. He became famous for predicting an eclipse in 585 BC. In spite of his wisdom, Thales was a poor man. The inhabitants of Miletus ridiculed Thales for his philosophy and asked him what his wisdom is good for if it can't pay the rent. "He was reproached for his poverty, which was supposed to show that philosophy is of no use. According to the story, he knew by his skills in the stars while it was yet winter that there would be a great harvest of olives in the coming year; so, having a little money, he gave deposits for the use of all olive-presses in Chios and Miletus, which he hired at a low price because no one bid against him. When the harvest time came, and many were wanted all at once and of a sudden, he let them out at any rate which he pleased, and made a quantity of money. Thus he showed the world that philosophers can be rich if they like, but that their ambition is of another sort." [from "Politics", Aristotle] Thales was a mathematician rather than a philosopher, but in antiquity there was no differentiation between the natural sciences and philosophy; instead, mathematics, philosophy and science were closely related in the works of the early Greek philosophers. Most people remember Thales for his famous theorem about right angles that says: A triangle inscribed in a semicircle has a right angle

(see figure on the left). Although this might seem a simple observation, Thales was the first one who stated it and thus started what is now generally known as "deductive science", the process of deriving suppositions and mathematical statements from observation by means of logic. Circles and angles were not the only objects Thales was concerned with. Purportedly he also studied magnetism and electrostatic effects, however, since none of his own works has survived, we don't know what he may have found out about them. Thales was surely an exceptional man, but he was not the only thinker in ancient Greece whose thoughts were ahead of his time. For instance, the idea that all forms of substances can be reduced to a few elements and that every form of matter are made of these elements, is essentially Greek, and was conceived around the time of Thales. Thales stated that the origin of all matter is water. Although this sounds a bit odd, there may be some truth in it. As we know today, the largest constituent of the universe is hydrogen, which makes two of the three atoms in water (H2O). The missing oxygen atom was added later when our planet formed. Scientists believe that liquid water is prerequisite to life, and we know with certainty that the first life forms flourished in the oceans, so water is indeed a primordial substance. The Greeks also anticipated a crude version of the concept of modern thermodynamics. Anaximander (546 BC), a Milesian citizen who lived after Thales, expressed the following thought: The elements (air, water earth and fire) are in opposition to each other, each perpetually seeking to increase itself in quantity. Due to the resulting struggle for dominance, all forms of matter are subject to continual change. Thus, the elements are constantly transformed into one another, however, without one element ever gaining preponderance over the others because of a natural balance. Anaximenses (494 BC), the third philosopher of Miletus, refined the theory of the elements later with his original theory of the aggregates: The fundamental substance, he said, is air. The soul is air, fire is rarefied air, when condensed, air becomes first water, then if further condensed, earth, and finally stone. Consequently all differences between different substances are quantitative, depending entirely upon the degree of condensation. You may find these ideas strange, but it has to be considered that the early Greek philosophers lived in an environment where indigenous beliefs and superstitions prevailed in the spiritual world and the rule of thumb was accepted authority. Thales was the first who made a difference by introducing deductive, scientific thought. I would like to end this Thales portrait with a peculiar quote, which shows the spiritual Thales. He said: "All things are full of Gods," and left it unexplained.

naximander like Thales came from Miletus. While our knowledge of Thales is based on uncertain historical accounts, we are in a better position with Anaximander. The later doxographers, including Aristotle, Plato and Theophrastus, had access to Anaximanders original writings and there are plenty of details reported about his ideas, although not much is known about his life. It is very likely that Anaximander was a pupil of Thales. In particular, the treatment of cosmology and ontology which were Anaximanders principal studies shows congeniality with Thales. Anaximander made bold inquiries; he questioned the myths, the knowledge of the old, the heavens, and even the gods themselves. He was wholly rational in his approach and his quest was to derive natural explanations for phenomena that previously had been ascribed to the agency of supernatural powers. Meteorology is a perfect example for this. Anaximander explained the wind as the fine and moist effluvium of air massing together and set in motion by the sun. He explained rain as coming from vapour sent up by the things beneath the sun. He also explained lighting and thunder and he affirmed that it is not Zeus who throws thunderbolts down upon the Earth, but that these phenomena have natural causes. According to Anaximander, they are caused by pneuma, or compressed air, which builds up inside thick clouds, until it breaks out. The forceful parting of the cloud then causes thunder and lightning.

His account of meteorology constitutes a most innovative proposition. Though only partially correct, it is the first recorded attempt of a scientific explanation of the weather in the history of mankind. But Anaximander did not stop there. He also founded the sciences of geography and astronomy. Moreover, he was the first man in Greece who drew a map of the known world, which was later refined by travellers and other scholars. This map places Ionia at the centre of the world. To the East it reaches to the Caspian sea, to the West it ends at the Pillars of Hercules (the rocks of Gibraltar and Mount Hacho in Morocco). In the North we see the landmass of Middle Europe and in the South lies Ethiopia and the lower Nile. As if charting the known the world wasnt enough, Anaximander began to chart the cosmos as well. This was beyond his understanding, as we shall see, but it constitutes one of the first attempts in the Western world of creating a speculative scientific model of the cosmos. Anaximander started by building a spherical model of the world, the planets, and the stars in which the planets lie behind one another. As a rationalist he did this on basis of geometry and mathematical calculations rather than by drawing on mythological accounts. He

attempted to determine the distance of the planets from Earth as well as their size. The circle of the sun is according to Anaximander27 times as big as that of the Earth and the moons circle is 19 times as big. He assumed that the moon shines its own light like the sun. He further proposed that the sun and the stars are fires trapped in globular masses by cooler air. These fires appear to us not directly, but through vents a bit like that of a trumpet or a gramophone. The heavenly bodies come into being as a circle of fire, separated off from the fire in the world and enclosed by air. There are certain tubular channels or breathing holes through which the heavenly bodies appear; hence eclipses occur when the breathing holes are blocked, and the moon appears sometimes waxing and sometimes waning according to whether the channels are blocked or open. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies I) Anaximander believed that the Earth is cylindrical in shape, its diameter being three times its height, and that we are sitting on its flat circular surface on top of it. He held that the Earth is aloft, not supported by anything. Apparently he concluded this from the assumption that the heavenly bodies describe full circles around the Earth. He explained that it stays in that position, because it is at equal distance from all other heavenly bodies and thus does not move in any particular direction. The Earth is therefore in a state of balance and needs no support. This idea was fundamentally new. It contains in its beginnings the idea of gravitation. Anaximanders account of the creation of the universe is likewise innovative: Anaximander maintains that the eternally productive cycles of hot and cold separated off in the generation of this world and formed a spherical shell of fire surrounding the Earth and its atmosphere like the bark around a tree. When this sheath of fire finally tore up and divided into various wheel-shaped stripes, the sun, moon and the stars were created from it. (Pseudo Plutarch, Stromateis 2) While there were many unique aspects in Anaximanders meteorology, geography and cosmology, what he is ultimately known for is his theory of the apeiron. The apeiron is the Boundless or the Infinite. Anaximander held that the universe is boundless and that the number of worlds in it is infinite. Thus the argument develops from the physical model of the cosmos and carries on the idea of cosmic balance into a striking metaphysical argument. The apeiron is not plainly spatiotemporal infinity, but the principle and the origin (Greek: arch) of existence itself. Since very little of Anaximanders own words have survived, we have to turn to Aristotle for a description of the apeiron: Everything has an origin or is an origin. The Boundless has no origin. For then it would have a limit. Moreover, it is both unborn and immortal, being a kind of origin. For that which has become has also, necessarily, an end, and there is a termination to every process of destruction. (Aristotle, Physics 203b6-10). The apeiron is thus the quintessential primordial ground from which everything arises. Although we don't know whether Anaximander defined the apeiron in any precise manner, it was imagined as kind of primal chaos, a formless and limitless mass, from which solid matter forms and to which it returns. In Anaximanders own words: Whence things have their origin, thence also their destruction happens, as is the order of things; for they execute the sentence upon one another - the condemnation for the crime - in conformity with the ordinance of time. (Simplicius).

Pythagoras
[Samos, 582 - 500 BC]

Like Thales, Pythagoras is rather known for mathematics than for philosophy. Anyone who can recall math classes will remember the first lessons of plane geometry that usually start with the Pythagorean theorem about right-angled triangles: a+b=c. In spite of its name, the Pythagorean theorem was not discovered by Pythagoras. The earliest known formulation of the theorem was written down by the Indian mathematician Baudh yana in 800BC. The principle was also known to the earlier Egyptian and the Babylonian master builders. However, Pythagoras may have proved the theorem and popularised it in the Greek world. With it, his name and his philosophy have survived the turbulences of history. His immediate followers were strongly influenced by him, and even until today Pythagoras shines through the mist of ages as one of the brightest figures of early Greek antiquity. The Pythagorean theorem is often cited as the beginning of mathematics in Western culture, and ever since mathematics -the art of demonstrative and deductive reasoning- has had a profound influence on Western philosophy, which can be observed down to Russell and Wittgenstein. Pythagoras influence found an expression in visual art and music as well, particularly in the renaissance and baroque epoch. The far-reaching imprint of his ideas is yet more impressive if we consider that he did not leave any original writings. Instead, all what is known about Pythagoras was handed down by generations of philosophers and historiographers, some of whom, like Heraclitus, opposed his views. In this light it is remarkable that Pythagoras teachings have survived relatively undistorted until the present day. Pythagoras was a native of the island of Samos. During his early life, Samos was governed by the powerful, unscrupulous tyrant Polycrates. Pythagoras did not sympathise with his government and thus emigrated to Croton in Southern Italy. Like the ancient Greek cities in Ionia, Croton was a flourishing commercial city that lived from importing and exporting goods. Obviously it was in Croton where Pythagoras developed most of his important ideas and theories. Pythagoras founded a society of disciples which has been very influential for some time. Men and women in the society were treated equally -an unusual thing at the time- and all property was held in common. Members of the society practised the masters teachings, a religion the tenets of which included the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. Pythagoras followers had to obey strict religious orders where it was forbidden to eat beans, to touch white cocks, or to look into a mirror beside a light. If all of this seems a bit odd, it might lead us to suspect that Pythagoras personality reflects the inseparable blend of genius and madness that we associate with many other great men. It is said that once Pythagoras was walking up a lane in Croton when he came by a dog being ill-treated. Seeing this he raised his voice: Stop, dont hit it! It is a soul of a friend. I knew it when I heard its voice. Spirits, ghosts, souls, and transmigration were obviously things he believed in deeply.

There was an opposition -if not rivalry- in ancient Greece between the gods of the Olympus and the lesser gods of more primitive religions. Pythagoras, like no other, embodied the contradistinctions of the mystical and rational world, which is woven into his personality and philosophy. In his mind, numbers, spirits, souls, gods and the mystic connections between them formed one big picture. The following text tells the legend of his own existences: He was once born as Aethalides and was considered to be the son of Hermes. Hermes invited him to choose whatever he wanted, except immortality; so he asked that, alive and dead, he should remember what happened to him. Thus, in life he remembered everything, and when he died he retained the same memories. [...] He remembered everything - how he first had been Aethalides, then Euphorbus, then Hermotimus, then Pyrrhus, the Delian fisherman. When Pyrrhus died, he became Pythagoras. (Diogenes Laertius, Live of Philosophers, VIII 4-5) Pythagoras believed in metempsychosis and thought that eating meat was an abominable thing, saying that the souls of all animals enter different animals after death. He himself used to say that he remembered being, in Trojan times, Euphorbus, Panthus son who was killed by Menelaus. They say that once when he was staying at Argos he saw a shield from the spoils of Troy nailed up, and burst into tears. When the Argives asked him the reason for his emotion, he said that he himself had borne that shield at Troy when he was Euphorbus. They did not believe him and judged him to be mad, but he said he would provide a true sign that it was indeed the case: on the inside of the shield there had been inscribed in archaic lettering EUPHORBUS. Because of the extraordinary nature of his claim they all urged that the shield be taken down - and it turned out that on the inside the inscription was found. (Diogenes Laertius) After Pythagoras introduced the idea of eternal recurrence into Greek thought, which was apparently motivated by his studies of earlier Egyptian scriptures, the idea soon became popular in Greece. It was Pythagoras ambition to reveal in his philosophy the validity and structure of a higher order, the basis of the divine order, for which souls return in a constant cycle. This is how Pythagoras came to mathematics. It could be said that Pythagoras saw the study of mathematics as a purifier of the soul, just like he considered music as purifying. Pythagoras and his disciples connected music with mathematics and found that intervals between notes can be expressed in numerical terms. They discovered that the length of strings of a musical instrument correspond to these intervals and that they can be expressed in numbers. The ratio of the length of two strings with which two tones of an octave step are produced is 2:1. Music was not the only field that Pythagoras considered worthy of study, in fact he saw numbers in everything. He was convinced that the divine principles of the universe, though imperceptible to the senses, can be expressed in terms of relationships of numbers. He therefore reasoned that the secrets of the cosmos are revealed by pure thought, through deduction and analytic reflection on the perceptible world.

This eventually led to the famous saying that all things are numbers. Pythagoras himself spoke of square numbers and cubic numbers, and we still use these terms, but he also spoke of oblong, triangular, and spherical numbers. He associated numbers with form, relating arithmetic to geometry. His greatest contribution, the proposition about right-angled triangles, sprang from this line of thought:

The Egyptians had known that a triangle whose sides are 3, 4, 5 has a right angle, but apparently the Greeks were the first to observe that 3+4=5, and, acting on this suggestion, to discover a proof of the general proposition. Unfortunately for Pythagoras this theorem led at once to the discovery of incommensurables, which appeared to disprove his whole philosophy. In a right-angled isosceles triangle, the square on the hypotenuse is double of the square on either side. Let us suppose each side is an inch long; then how long is the hypotenuse? Let us suppose its length is m/n inches. Then m/n=2. If m and n have a common factor, divide it out, then either m or n must be odd. Now m=2n, therefore m is even, therefore m is even, therefore n is odd. Suppose m=2p. Then 4p=2n, therefore n=2p and therefore n is even, contra hyp. Therefore no fraction m/n will measure the hypotenuse. The above proof is substantially that in Euclid, Book X. (Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy) This shows how Pythagoras formulation immediately led to a new mathematical problem, namely that of incommensurables. At his time the concept of irrational numbers was not known and it is uncertain how Pythagoras dealt with the problem. We may surmise that he was not too concerned about it. His religion, in absence of theological explanations, had found a way to blend the mystery of the divine with common-sense rational thought. From Pythagoras we observe that an answer to a problem in science may give raise to new questions. For each door we open, we find another closed door behind it. Eventually these doors will be also be opened and reveal answers in a new dimension of thought. A sprawling tree of progressively complex knowledge evolves in such manner. This Hegelian recursion, which is in fact a characteristic of scientific thought, may or may not have been obvious to Pythagoras. In either way he stands at the beginning of it.

Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)


In his use of critical reasoning, by his unwavering Life and Teachings commitment to truth, and through the vivid example of his . . Defining Piety own life, fifth-century Athenian Socrates set the standard . . Methods / Aims for all subsequent Western philosophy. Since he left no . . Civil Obedience literary legacy of his own, we are dependent upon . . Knowing Virtue contemporary writers like Aristophanes and Xenophonfor Bibliography our information about his life and work. As a pupil of Internet Sources Archelaus during his youth, Socrates showed a great deal of interest in the scientific theories of Anaxagoras, but he later abandoned inquiries into the physical world for a dedicated investigation of the development of moral character. Having served with some distinction as a soldier at Delium and Amphipolis during the Peloponnesian War, Socrates dabbled in the political turmoil that consumed Athens after the War, then retired from active life to work as a stonemason and to raise his children with his wife, Xanthippe. After inheriting a modest fortune from his father, the sculptor Sophroniscus, Socrates used his marginal financial independence as an opportunity to give full-time attention to inventing the practice of philosophical dialogue. For the rest of his life, Socrates devoted himself to free-wheeling discussion with the aristocratic young citizens of Athens, insistently questioning their unwarranted confidence in the truth of popular opinions, even though he often offered them no clear alternative teaching. Unlike the professional Sophists of the time, Socrates pointedly declined to accept payment for his work with students, but despite (or, perhaps, because) of this lofty disdain for material success, many of them were fanatically loyal to him. Their parents, however, were often displeased with his influence on their offspring, and his earlier association with opponents of the democratic regime had already made him a controversial political figure. Although the amnesty of 405 forestalled direct prosecution for his political activities, an Athenian jury found other chargescorrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the cityupon which to convict Socrates, and they sentenced him to death in 399 B.C.E. Accepting this outcome with remarkable grace, Socrates drank hemlock and died in the company of his friends and

disciples. Our best sources of information about Socrates's philosophical views are the early dialogues of his student Plato, who attempted there to provide a faithful picture of the methods and teachings of the master. (Although Socrates also appears as a character in the later dialogues of Plato, these writings more often express philosophical positions Plato himself developed long after Socrates's death.) In the Socratic dialogues, his extended conversations with students, statesmen, and friends invariably aim at understanding and achieving virtue {Gk. EVIXL [aret]} through the careful application of adialectical method that employs critical inquiry to undermine the plausibility of widely-held doctrines. Destroying the illusion that we already comprehend the world perfectly and honestly accepting the fact of our own ignorance, Socrates believed, are vital steps toward our acquisition of genuine knowledge, by discovering universal definitions of the key concepts governing human life. Interacting with an arrogantly confident young man in )YUYJV[R (Euthyphro), for example, Socrates systematically refutes the superficial notion of piety (moral rectitude) as doing whatever is pleasing to the gods. Efforts to define morality by reference to any external authority, he argued, inevitably founder in a significant logical dilemma about the origin of the good. Plato's %TSPSKLQE (Apology) is an account of Socrates's (unsuccessful) speech in his own defense before the Athenian jury; it includes a detailed description of the motives and goals of philosophical activity as he practiced it, together with a passionate declaration of its value for life. The /VMX[R (Crito) reports that during Socrates's imprisonment he responded to friendly efforts to secure his escape by seriously debating whether or not it would be right for him to do so. He concludes to the contrary that an individual citizeneven when the victim of unjust treatmentcan never be justified in refusing to obey the laws of the state. The Socrates of the 1IR[R (Meno) tries to determine whether or not virtue can be taught, and this naturally leads to a careful investigation of the nature of virtue itself. Although his direct answer is that virtue is unteachable, Socrates does propose the doctrine of recollection to explain why we nevertheless are in possession of significant knowledge about such matters. Most remarkably, Socrates argues here that knowledge and virtue are so closely related that no human agent ever knowingly does evil: we all invariably do what we believe to be best. Improper conduct, then, can only be a product of our ignorance rather than a symptom of weakness of the will {Gk. EOVEWME [akrsia]}. The same

view is also defended in the 4V[XEKSVE: (Protagoras), along with the belief that all of the virtues must be cultivated together.

Plato (427-347 BCE)


The son of wealthy and influential Athenian parents, Plato began his philosophical career as a student ofSocrates. When the master died, Plato travelled to Egypt and Italy, studied with students of Pythagoras, and spent several years advising the ruling family of Syracuse. Eventually, he returned to Athens and established his own school of philosophy at the Academy. For students enrolled there, Plato tried both to pass on the heritage of a Socratic style of thinking and to guide their progress through mathematical learning to the achievement of abstract philosophical truth. The written dialogues on which his enduring reputation rests also serve both of these aims.
Life and Works . . Socratic method . . Knowing Virtue . . Soul & Form . . Justice . . Social Life . . Specific Virtues . . Good Rulers . . Knowledge . . Value of Justice . . Love Bibliography Internet Sources

In his earliest literary efforts, Plato tried to convey the spirit of Socrates's teaching by presenting accurate reports of the master's conversational interactions, for which these dialogues are our primary source of information. Early dialogues are typically devoted to investigation of a single issue, about which a conclusive result is rarely achieved. Thus, the )YUYJV[R (Euthyphro) raises a significant doubt about whether morally right action can be defined in terms of divine approval by pointing out a significantdilemma about any appeal to authority in defence of moral judgments. The %TSPSKLQE (Apology) offers a description of the philosophical life as Socrates presented it in his own defense before the Athenian jury. The /VMX[R (Crito) uses the circumstances of Socrates's imprisonment to ask whether an individual citizen is ever justified in refusing to obey the state. Although they continue to use the talkative Socrates as a fictional character, the middle dialogues of Plato develop, express, and defend his own, more firmly established, conclusions about central philosophical

issues. Beginning with the 1IR[R(Meno), for example, Plato not only reports the Socratic notion that no one knowingly does wrong, but also introduces the doctrine of recollection in an attempt to discover whether or not virtue can be taught. The *EMH[R (Phaedo) continues development of Platonic notions by presenting the doctrine of the Forms in support of a series of arguments that claim to demonstrate the immortality of the human soul. The masterpiece among the middle dialogues is Plato's 4SPMXIME (Republic). It begins with a Socratic conversation aboutthe nature of justice but proceeds directly to an extended discussion of the virtues (Gk. EVIXL [aret]) of justice (Gk.HMOEM[WYRL [dikaisun]), wisdom (Gk. WSJME [sopha]), coura ge (Gk. ERHVIME [andreia]), and moderation (Gk.W[JVSWYRL [sophrosn]) as they appear both in individual human beings and in society as a whole. This plan for the ideal society or person requires detailed accounts of human knowledge and of the kind of educational program by which it may be achieved by men and women alike, captured in a powerful image of the possibilities for human life in the allegory of the cave. The dialogue concludes with a review of various forms of government, an explicit description of the ideal state, in which only philosophers are fit to rule, and an attempt to show that justice is better than injustice. Among the other dialogues of this period are Plato's treatments of human emotion in general and of love in particular in the *EMHVS: (Phaedrus) and 7YQTSWMSR (Symposium). Plato's later writings often modify or completely abandon the formal structure of dialogue. They include a critical examination of the theory of forms in 4EVQIRMHL: (Parmenides), an extended discussion of the problem of knowledge in 5IEMXLXS: (Theaetetus), cosmological speculations in 8MQEMS: (Timaeus), and an interminable treatment of government in the unfinished 0IKIM: (Laws).