Early Greek Philosophy

Early Greek Philosophy

Edited by Joe McCoy
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  • Book Info
    Early Greek Philosophy
    Book Description:

    The philosophy of the Presocratics still governs scholarly discussion today. This important volume grapples with a host of philosophical issues and philological and historical problems inherent in interpreting Presocratic philosophers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2122-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxviii)
    Joe McCoy

    This volume arose from a lecture series, “Early Greek Philosophy: Reason at the Beginning of Philosophy,” hosted at the Catholic University of America during the fall of 2007, and it represents a series of reflections on the “Presocratics,” a group of thinkers who were a primary occasion for the emergence of what is often referred to as the “Greek miracle.” We can date this naissance of culture and multifaceted flowering of the arts and sciences among the Greek-speaking peoples around the Mediterranean from the birth of the first wise man of the Western world, Thales, c. 624 b.c.¹ until the...

  5. 1 The Achievement of Early Greek Philosophy: A Drama in Five Acts: From Thales to the Timaeus
    (pp. 1-17)
    Charles Kahn

    I want to survey with you the achievement of early Greek philosophy in the period from Thales to the Timaeus. I am old fashioned enough to believe that this was a unique and momentous event, the like of which has never happened elsewhere, before or since. The event in question is nothing less than the creation of Western science and philosophy as we know them. The closest parallel, perhaps, is the creation of modern science and philosophy in the seventeenth century, beginning with Galileo and Descartes. What is distinctive of philosophy in the West, from the sixth to fifth centuries...

  6. 2 Anaximander’s apeiron and the Arrangement of Time
    (pp. 18-35)
    Kurt Pritzl

    For Anaximander, the first philosopher of the West, there is extant only one passage in his own words.¹ It is a precious legacy, the oldest piece of Greek prose.² We turn to it immediately to set up the problem that preoccupies this essay.

    What I have to say, in its pieces, is not so daring. Scholars have argued for these individual positions before, as others have argued against them (I have learned from all sides). The way the pieces are put together and the lessons to be learned from the organization of the whole is where I may have something...

  7. 3 The Problem of Evil in Heraclitus
    (pp. 36-54)
    Kenneth Dorter

    The frequent quotation of Heraclitus by later philosophers resulted in an unusually large number of surviving fragments, but the fragments are brief—even the longest is only three sentences, while in some cases the later writers quoted only a single word. According to the Diels-Kranz edition about 120 fragments survive, but they add up to only about 1,000 words. The brevity of even the longest ones suggests that Heraclitus wrote in a terse epigrammatic style, but there is no independent evidence for it. And since we do not know the order in which they appeared in his writings, we do...

  8. 4 Reason and Myth in Early Pythagorean Cosmology
    (pp. 55-76)
    Carl A. Huffman

    Scholarship on the emergence of rationality in early Greek thought has focused on two main topics. First, there is the movement from the explanation of the natural world in terms of persons, i.e., gods, to explanation in terms of impersonal natural materials, i.e., elements such as water and air. This movement is also accompanied by a shift from explanation in terms of the irrational and often inscrutable desires of the gods, particularly the desire for reproduction, to explanation in terms of unbreachable regularities, i.e., natural laws, which are completely accessible to reason and supported by appeals to experience. This first...

  9. 5 A Systematic Xenophanes?
    (pp. 77-90)
    J. H. Lesher

    To what degree was Xenophanes of Colophon a systematic thinker? That is, to what degree were the different aspects of his philosophy interconnected? In what follows I argue that Xenophanes achieved a unified understanding on three broad fronts—on the physical makeup of the cosmos, the nature of the divine, and the prospects for human knowledge—and that, in at least some respects, his findings in one area linked up with those in others. This seems to me a point worth making, partly because Xenophanes stands so early on in the Western philosophical tradition, barely two generations after the first...

  10. 6 Parmenides, Early Greek Astronomy, and Modern Scientific Realism
    (pp. 91-112)
    Alexander P. D. Mourelatos

    “Doxa,” the second part of Parmenides’s metaphysical and cosmological poem, is expressly disparaged by Parmenides himself as “off-track,” “deceptive,” and “lacking genuine credence.” Nonetheless, there is good evidence that “Doxa” included some astronomical breakthroughs. The study presented here dwells on fragments B10, B14, and B15 from the “Doxa,” and especially on the term aidēla, interpreted as “causing disappearance,” in B10.3. The aim is to bring out the full astronomical import of Parmenides’s realization of four related and conceptually fundamental facts: (i) that it is the sun’s reflected light on the moon that explains lunar phases; (ii) that it is the...

  11. 7 Where Are Love and Strife? Incorporeality in Empedocles
    (pp. 113-138)
    Patricia Curd

    Empedocles insists that the forces of Love and Strife are necessary for the mixtures and separations that produce the visible cosmos (B17; esp. lines 19–20); he also seems to give them distinct and different spatial locations in the different stages of the cycles between their triumphs (B35, B36). If we analyze the local mixtures that constitute sensible things, we will find various ratios of earth, water, air, and fire (B73, B98), but Love (and, apparently Strife) cannot be discovered by this kind of empirical analysis, and this is not because they are too small to be seen (B17.25). So...

  12. 8 Anaxagoras: Science and Speculation in the Golden Age
    (pp. 139-156)
    Daniel W. Graham

    On February 17, 478 b.c., shortly before noon, the sky in Athens began to grow dark. The winter sun became dim and its bright disk narrowed to a crescent. Suddenly it went completely dark, except for a narrow ring of fire at the circumference. The eclipse could be seen clearly only in reflections from water or pinhole projections, but it was visible to those who looked. The people of Athens were witnessing a rare solar eclipse; this one an annular eclipse in which the sun is not completely obscured. Traditionally, such an event was understood as a dire portent from...

  13. 9 Bacon’s Third Sailing: The “Presocratic” Origins of Modern Philosophy
    (pp. 157-188)
    John C. McCarthy

    Notwithstanding his legendary interpretations of Aristotle and his protracted engagement with Plato, Heidegger was not in any obvious sense of the word a dialectical thinker. His philosophizing does not typically proceed, zigzag fashion, in an ascent from and descent back to that which Socrates and his successors regarded as first for us, philosophers and non-philosophers alike, namely, the twilight world of common or reputable opinion. From the heights or depths of the Seinsfrage, in truth, the starting point of classical dialectic is hard to distinguish from Uneigentlichkeit, das Gerede, and das Verfallen des Daseins. And yet the philosopher from the...

  14. 10 Primal Truth, Errant Tradition, and Crisis: The Presocratics in Late Modernity
    (pp. 189-208)
    Richard Velkley

    The thought on the Greeks in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger has been the inspiration for much original and penetrating philosophic scholarship in the twentieth century. Assuming that Heidegger is the foremost re-thinker of Nietzsche’s legacy (an assumption that needs to be tested), Nietzsche’s writing and Heidegger’s teaching and writing began a movement that now includes numbers too great to count. Certainly not all who might be named are philosophically Nietzschean or Heideggerian; they are, however, variously indebted to the new questioning of the tradition. The readings by Nietzsche and Heidegger of the early philosophers have not...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  16. Contributors
    (pp. 221-224)
  17. Index of Sources
    (pp. 225-228)
  18. Index of Names
    (pp. 229-232)
  19. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 233-238)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)