Lectures MP handouts
Handouts of the lectures
for Kostanay Social-Technical University
named after Academician Zulharnay Aldamzhar
15. – 19. April 2019
Ass. Prof. Matúš Porubjak, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy and Applied Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, Slovakia
Table of Contents
Lecture 1. Thales and Anaximander – the Founders of Natural Sciences
Lecture 2. Empedocles – the Union of the Moral and Natural Philosophy
Lecture 3. Socrates – the “Socratic Problem”
Lecture 4. Socrates – the Philosopher of Practice
Thales and Anaximander – the Founders of Natural Sciences
Miletus – one of the largest and most prosperous Greek cities of the 6th century B.C., situated in Ionia (today western coast of Turkey).
Thales of Miletus
Described by the biographers as a wise man, sunk in his thoughts and theories, but at the same time a practical person, extremely ingenious, experienced and self-confident, with strong interests in public affairs.
1) Prediction of the eclipse of the sun (28 May 585, B.C.)
2) Correct interpretation of a solar eclipse, considering it to be caused by the shadow thrown by the moon, lighted by the sun, upon the earth
3) First who maintain that the sun and other stars are composed of the same ‘earthly’ stuff, and that “the moon is lighted by the sun”
Founder of theoretical geometry
1) The diameter bisects the circle
2) The angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle (so called Thales’ theorem)
3) The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal
4) The opposite angles of two intersecting straight lines are equal
5) Based on the properties of like triangles, he determined the height of the pyramids, comparing the length of their shadow with that of staff of known height, just as he calculated from shore the distance of a ship at sea
Arche – the water
In Greek Arche means: ‘origin’; ‘beginning’ or ‘starting point’; ‘originating cause’ or ‘the original state out of which the manifold world was developed’; ‘primary element’ or ‘substratum’; ‘first principle’ or ‘permanent constitution’; also ‘sovereignty’ ‘magistracy’.
“Thales … says the principle is water (for which reason he declared that the earth rests on water), getting the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it (and that from which they come to be is a principle of all things). He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics 983b)
Anaximander of Miletus
Arche – the Apeiron
Anaximander named the arche of existing things the apeiron (the boundless, the unlimited). Things perish into those out of which they have their being according to necessity; for they make just recompense to one another for their injustice according to the assessment of time. (12A9, B 1)
Cosmology and mathematical astronomy
The heavenly bodies come into being as a circle of fire separated off from the fire in the world, and enclosed by (foggy) air. There are breathing-holes, certain pipe-like passages, at which the heavenly bodies show themselves; accordingly eclipses occur when the breathing-holes are blocked up. The moon is seen now waxing, now waning according to the blocking or opening of the channels. The circle of the sun is 27 times the size of the earth, the circle of the moon 18 times the size of the earth; the sun is highest, and the circles of the fixed stars are lowest. (12A10)
The earth is cylindrical in shape, and its depth is a third of its width. Its shape is curved, round, similar to the drum of a column; of its flat surfaces we walk on one, and the other is on the opposite side. The earth is on high, held up by nothing, but remaining because of its similar distance form all things. (12A10, 12A11))
Man was born at first in the fish and having been nourished like sharks and proved themselves capable of supporting themselves, emerged and walked on land. (12A30)
Anaximander introduced for the first time in the history of philosophy and science the concept of the ‘infinite’, of ‘opposites’, of ‘necessity’, of ‘symmetry’ in time and in space, of ‘dynamic balance’, of ‘relationship’, and of ‘evolution’.
Empedocles – the Unification of the Moral and Natural Philosophy
Lived in fifth ct. BC. Born in Acragas (today’s Agrigenti) in southern Sicily.
A renowned physician, poet and speaker, as well as a seer who would lead the people on the road to salvation. The founder of the Italian school of medicine and (according to Aristotle) the inventor of the art of oratory.
Tradition attributed to him two writings On Nature and Purifications. On Nature focuses on cosmogony, cosmology, zoology and epistemology. Purifications focuses on issues of ethics, morals, and religious life.
The core of Empedocles’ thought on nature is formed by the doctrine of the roots (rhizomata) – the everlasting four elements (fire, air, water, and earth), which are mutually aggregated and segregated by the influence of Love (Filotēs) and Strife (Neikos).
Real matter is a mixture of the four elements in a certain proportion, which we normally do not perceive. For example, if we see a tree, on the “macroscopic” level we see the wood as a result of the mixing proportion of the elements in a mixture that is indistinguishable to us on the “microscopic” level. The tree may disintegrate or dissolve what we perceive as destruction, but the basic elements that compose the mixture persist.
Love acts as a harmonizing force leading to perfect mixture, Strife leads to separation, differentiation, and conflict. Under the rule of Love cosmos is unifying to the Sphairos – the divine and all-embracing being, where the individual elements are so mixed that they are indistinguishable from one another. Later Strife starts to manifest and through a whirl (dinē), it disrupts Sphairos, whereby the cosmos is formed and consequently zoogony takes place. Later the Love gains superiority over Strife and cosmos heads toward the re-creation of Sphairos.
Souls (daimon), originating from an initial state of supreme unity, love, blessedness and innocence, fall through the influence of Hate-Strife, into the sin of bloodshed and destruction of one another. The consequence of this fall and its resulting punishment is a tortured wandering of souls in hostile regions within a series of reincarnations. Gradually, according the degree that they retrieve the sense of their divine origin and observe certain rules of purification, they reach the stage of total liberation from the cycle of reincarnations, regaining the company of the gods.
Empedocles represents a very old type of personality, the shaman, who combines the undifferentiated functions of magician and naturalist, poet and philosopher, preacher, healer and public counsellor.
The two poems of Empedocles are fundamentally compatible with one another. His conjunction of natural philosophy and mystic religion is effected by his own notion of Love or Harmonia as a complex reality, at once physical and spiritual, inherent in the symmetrical mixture of unlike compounds. This is Empedocles’ great discovery: the recognition of the Rational and Spiritual as distinctive and dominant elements in Nature.
Socrates and the “Socratic Problem”
“Socrates, however, was the first who called philosophy down from heaven, and placed it in cities, and introduced it even in homes, and drove it to inquire about life and customs and things good and evil.” (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations V.10)
The question of modern historiography of philosophy: what shall we do with Socrates – the founder of western philosophy, who did not write a single text, and whose philosophical thinking remains hidden in the works of those who wrote about him?
The “Socratic problem”
There is only two unambiguous facts on Socrates: 1) Socrates was sentenced to death at the age of 70 in 399 BC; 2) Socrates never wrote anything himself.
Who was the historical Socrates and what was his philosophical doctrine?
Do we judge our conception of Socrates by what we find in the ancient sources, or do we judge the sources by what we think we already know about Socrates?
Two methodological problem with evaluation of the sources on Socrates
Statement: If two sources are in opposition with regard to the same subject, one of them must be untrue. Contrary statement: Mentioned sources could refer to another period of Socrates’ life, or to a different context, so both should be true.
Statement: The consistency of multiple sources must reflect the view of the historical Socrates. Contrary statement: We cannot retroactively guarantee the mutual independence of these sources, and/or they should not correspond with the views of Socrates himself.
Five main sources on Socrates
Author of the comedies Aristophanes pictures Socrates as the examiner of the physical universe (physis); the non-traditional religious attitudes holder; a sophist teaching how to outwit the inferior i.e. unjust argument over the superior i.e. just argument. His Socrates is a utilitarian eclectic and a syncretist of the older natural philosophy and the new ethics of the sophists prone to mysticism.
Historian and philosopher Xenophon pictures Socrates as traditionalists in religious affairs; as refusing the practices of the sophists; as a person not concerned with the theoretical examination of nature; less ironical and more ‘down to earth’ than Plato’s; as a person ready to voicing his own views. His Socrates is moralist and a philosopher solving the practical problems, and giving useful advice.
Philosopher Plato shows Socrates as a tireless debater and an adroit thinker questioning dominant opinions; using the elenchos – logical refutation of fellow debaters’ opinions; accenting his ‘ignorance’ (cannot teach anything to anybody); expert in midwifery (he helps others to deliver their own thoughts); person who constantly exploring himself and his fellow citizens. His Socrates is intellectual, ironist, sceptic, and moral philosopher.
Plato´s pupil Aristotle shows Socrates as a person investigating the moral virtues (ethikas aretas); searching general definitions of virtues; disregarding the study of the physical universe; asking questions but not answering them (know nothing); showing contradictions in the claims of opponents (elenchos); holding position of ethical intellectualism. His Socrates is moral philosopher, the founder of analytical ethics, and a proponent of strong ethical intellectualism.
The rest of the authors of Socratic dialogues (so-called “Minor Socratics”) and the authors of the later Hellenistic period shows Socrates as a person critical to the ‘metaphysical’ speculations of the Plato and Aristotle type; focused on matters of practical ethics; giving an example of good life by his own life; founder and motivator of later philosophical schools. Their Socrates is typical practical philosopher.
Preliminary conclusion: There is a variety of different pictures of Socrates and none of them should be considered as exclusively accurate and correct. It seems, that the philosophical thinking of these many ‘Socrateses’ is impossible to combine into a consistent image of one and only Socrates. This has led many scholars to claim that Socrates was not the author of any philosophical doctrine and therefore he cannot be considered a philosopher.
Socrates – the Philosopher of Practice
Who was the historical Socrates and what philosophical position did he hold?
Was he Aristophanes’ sophist, utilitarian eclectic, and mystic? Or Xenophon’s moralist? Or Plato’s ironists and sceptic? Or was he Aristotle’s creator of ethical intellectualism? Or the practical ethicist of Aeschines and many other Socratics?
Each of these images offers a Socratic doctrine, or rather a certain set of philosophical attitudes that he adopted. At the same time, each of these images has its own relevance and is defensible. It seems, however, that the philosophical thinking of these many “Socrateses” is impossible to combine into a consistent image of one and only Socrates. This has led many interprets to claim that Socrates was not the author of any philosophical doctrine and therefore he cannot be considered a philosopher. However, it resulted in a paradox – the non-writing philosopher propelled many of his contemporaries and followers into philosophical writing, teaching and living.
Two important features of Socrates’ personality
1) The claim that Socrates believed that he had no (theoretical) knowledge. This claim is unambiguously corroborated by Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle, and neither is it dismissed by other Socratics. The only exception is Aristophanes whose Socrates is inundated with various doctrines (which can be understood as comic hyperbole).
2) Socrates’ predilection towards practical questions and the practical dimension of his work. This feature is most evident in Xenophon, the “Minor Socratics”, and the Hellenistic tradition. Socrates of Plato’s “early” dialogues – albeit more sophisticated and more skeptical – deals primarily with practical questions, while Plato raises no doubts of the power and importance of his activities. Aristotle’s Socrates has no theoretical knowledge too, and when he describes Socrates as the first person to look for the general definitions of ethical skills, he actually makes him the founder of the part of philosophy, which he calls practical. In this case, not even Aristophanes is an exception; in his comedy Clouds, Strepsiades attends Socrates’ lessons for purely practical reasons (to get himself rid of debts).
Socrates as a hero and founder of practical philosophy
When Homer, in the second Book of Iliad, invokes the sisterhood of Muses to reveal the names of the leaders and the number of ships fighting under Troy, he says that they (the Muses) are omnipresent and omniscient, while we mortals know nothing except through kleos, and we have no real knowledge (Iliad 2,485–486). These verses should spot on the Socratic problem. Unlike Homer, however, we have no access to Muses who would reveal the ‘truth’ about Socrates. What has ensued after Socrates is kleos – in both meanings of the word; kleos as rumor or report, and kleos as fame or glory. Why should we not understand the legacy of Socrates as reports and rumors left behind by Socratics, their followers and critics, on the actions of their hero? The reports whose task is to inspire (or caution) their contemporaries and next generations to do similar acts, and follow a similar way of thinking and living.
The history of philosophy does not only have to be the history of theories and doctrines, but also the history of reflected life practices which inspire followers in their own practices as well as reflect on them. From this point of view, we could perceive Socrates’ philosophy as the mission of a certain (philosophical) type of life lived to inspire his contemporaries. They, afterwards, each in their own way, initiated the entire ensuing tradition. Consequently, the historical Socrates could be view as a philosopher of practice and the paradigmatic figure of practical philosophy.