Notes on History of Philosophy I -- Phil A211

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 2

The Greeks are credited with starting the western tradition of philosophy. (There are other traditions which may come up in discussion, but this is a course in the western tradition.) I like to discuss what went on before the Greeks to give an idea of how they may have gotten interested in what they did, and to show the relationship to neighboring cultures. In this I take what I consider the correct postmodern approach. I make use of what we now "know" concerning the evolution of man. (You may reference work done in Kenya, genetic codes that indicate a strong association with hundreds of thousands of years of experiences as hunter - gatherer groups, that only recently became "civilized." I also mention current work in the Middle East with regard to Egyptian studies, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. and how these show us wonderful things about the relationships among the various cultures and the convergence of values and interests.) This leads up to the concern with water for all the various communities including the Greek, so it is no surprise that Thales asks what makes the universe tick and answers, "water." What makes it philosophy, from this point onward, is that the question is posed and answered in a manner we would recognize as "scientific" compared to the mythological traditions current before this.


Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis and a review.

Iliad versus Troy

Odysseus turns down a matrilineal offer of marriage three times -- from Nausicaa, Circe and Calypso.

Also see Brian Boyd "On the Origin of Stories"

Thales of Miletus, 6th century BC Water

Anaximenes Air

Anaximander Infinite

Heraclitus Fire (Change)

Anaxagoras Mind (atoms)

Pythagoras Number

    Note Jan Assmann's "Moses the Egyptian" and Pope Benedict XVI's "Truth and Tolerance" that supports Assmann's thesis that the Mosaic Difference creates the view for the first time perhaps that one religion is true - thus making other religions false. Pythagoras teachings seem to indicate that he had this conception of truth in regard to his own religious philosophy. Also note Josephus critique in "Against Apion". Is there also a connection with mathematics in this regard?

Parmenides The One and see aporia


Empedocles fire, air, earth, and water

Democritus Atoms

Sophists "Man is the measure" ex. Protagoras

Explanation: here is a list of some of the most notable along with the "arche" (Greek for "beginning, first cause, origin") they thought was the basis of all things. It is comparable to what theoretical physicists today study when they discuss quarks.

These are notes from the lecture I give associated with Leibniz comparing his theories with those of Stephen Hawking. (At this point in the lecture we may stay on this topic or pass on it until we do Leibniz.) They are a summary of what make up current thought about the "arche":

There are 4 forces in the universe (though two are now considered one!):

Gravity (weakest), Electromagnetic, Weak Nuclear, Strong Nuclear (strongest)

Particles: Atoms are made up of Protons (made up of 3 Quarks -- 2 up, 1 down)

Neutrons (2 down, 1 up)

Electrons ( spin particles)

The name "quark" came from a quote: "Three Quarks for Muster Mark" of James Joyce's in a bar that got picked up, as things often do. There are six Quarks:

Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Bottom, Top

Each has three flavors: red, blue, and green

and a spin: (takes 2 x 360 revolutions to look the same)

0 (looks the same from all directions)

1 (looks the same after 1 revolution of 360)

2 (looks the same after 180 degrees revolution)

Pauli's Exclusion Principle - 2 similar particles can't be in the same position at the same speed.

Antiparticles and spin particles don't follow the exclusion principle. They are the force carrying particles and can be exchanged but have higher mass.

Those particles with less mass go farther.

Gravity -- Gravitons have no mass, spin 2 long range, virtual only

Gravitational waves are so weak we have not yet been able to observe them.

Electromagnetic force -- works only with electrons and Quarks but not with gravitons (no charge) and cause electrons to orbit nucleus. Million to the 7th power stronger than gravity. Spin 1 particles, photons exchanged. (energy is released and visible light can be seen with the naked eye)

Weak nuclear force (radioactive) only acts on spin particles

Spin 1 massive vector bossons W+, W-, Z0 (naught) each mass = @ 100 GigaElectron volts (or 1 thousand million electron volts)

Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking: fast -- then particles are similar

slow -- then symmetry breaks (like balls on a roulette wheel)

Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons together. Spin 1, Gluons.

If time reverses symmetry T changes.

Other particles --- Quarks -- anti-Quarks.

neutrinos, anti-photons, (Top quark is a Preon). Muons? Etc.?

As I said, these are just my notes. I recommend Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time to make sense out of it. We will discuss these theories when we discuss Leibniz. But I bring this up here to show a relationship between how science views nature and how the Greeks did at the beginning of the philosophical tradition. They are of the same frame of mind. They both view the universe as a physical puzzle that we can explore and figure out. There are also remarkable similarities. Are the four forces similar to the arches?

Here are a couple of links you might find interesting with respect to some things discussed last evening at class:  is the PBS site for the programs about Brian Greene (String Theory) for an article discussing current brain research.


This doesn't mean that Greek philosophy was not religious. Far from it, there is a great deal of association between the Greek religions and the philosophical theories that developed.

But one result of the differences of opinion, and the inability of any group to persuade the others, was the development of the last group on the list above - the Sophists.

They conclude that we can never know the answers to these kinds of questions. Instead, they view "Man as the measure" of values and truth. I compare this group with our contemporary views. As Americans we are familiar with a plurality of views concerning what is valuable. In fact, "we" consider it valuable that each person have the right to their own views and to act according to their values as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. We realize a difficulty here in professing a religion or belief in a value as the correct religion or belief by adding "for me" when we discuss it. "That might be the right religion for them, but not for me." Peter Berger points out in his book, The Heretical Imperative, that, as Americans, we view religion as personal preference. "What is your religious preference?" Just as we have a supermarket for all the various kinds of foods to choose from, so we have hundreds of religious institutions put in the position where they have to advertise their service (The Family Church) to attract the right members. How does this square with the view that a religion is instituted by God? How can they all be right? Is Man the measure? If it feels good do it? Is the Warlock just as close to God as the Baptist?

Sophists taught for money. They were hired by wealthy parents to teach their children what would enable them to accumulate wealth, power and prestige. What we consider the virtues had little or no importance among them, winning was all that counted. No matter what was necessary, get that dollar was the goal. Since that is what the people wanted, that is what the Sophists taught, popular opinion was right. In our country, popular opinion directs policy. Presidents lead by polling their constituents and playing to the desires of the people.

Socrates thought this was a horrible way for his community to raise their children.

He engages the wise men of his day in dialogues. He does this for two reasons. One is that he seeks the wisest man. He is interested in doing this because a friend of his had asked the Oracle at Delphi, was there anyone wiser than Socrates and the mouth of Apollo said, "None." Socrates could not believe this, and so, he spent the rest of his life in search for a man that was wiser than he was. The second reason he engages the wise in dialogues is to teach them a lesson. They think they know many things. While they may know much concerning their specialty, they let that fool them into thinking that they know a lot about everything. They have failed to examine themselves. Above the entrance to the temple of Apollo is the phrase, "The unexamined life is not worth living." For Socrates, this is true. He engages those who consider themselves wise in dialogue to examine his own life and to encourage others to examine theirs. We view this, today, as wonderful, engaging dialogue, but for the elite, the wise, the Sophists of Athens, this was insulting and corrupting. They put Socrates on trial and found him guilty of corrupting the youth and not worshipping the gods.

The Socratic Problem

Meet the challenge of sophistry with Socratic method

Socratic method

challenge hasty and popular opinions with tests from everyday life

get others to think for themselves through dialogue

Socratic ethics

Knowledge is virtue - "Know thyself."

Socrates met this challenge so well the elite of his community came to hate him and put him on trial. The charge was that he did not worship the Gods, and that he corrupted the youth. He was found guilty and condemned to death by drinking hemlock.

Aristocles was one of Socrates' students and began a school in a public garden in Athens named the Academy. He became known as Plato which means "broad." (Some say this was because he had a very broad head, others that it was because he had such broad knowledge, still others because he was fat.) His first slide:

Hierarchy of the Sciences

1 Arithmetic 2 Geometry 3 Astronomy 4 Harmonics 5 Dialectic

Doctrine of Ideas

Idea of the Good as source of all the rest (logos)

Forms or Ideas are real entities

Ideas belong to a realm, a "heaven of Ideas"

Ideas are eternal and not dependent on a mind

Ideas are apprehended by reason, not by sense


Nature - Mater is perishable, imperfect, unreal


Demi urge - urge to create order and beauty

Pattern - order and beauty follows the Ideal

Receptacle - source of evil, matter, brute factuality

Good - animates the world soul as our soul animates us, source of all reason and natural order

Psychology - Soul is principle of life, immortal

1 Rational 2 Spirited 3 Lower appetites


Eros - sensuous love and desire for the beautiful and good is the same basic impulse as desire for eternal values and immortality

Ethics - the ideal is a well-ordered soul

body is the prison house of the soul, release and return to Ideal World the goal and end of life

reason rules over the spirited faculty - brave

reason rules over appetites - temperate

Politics - the Republic is "Man writ large"

Explanation: Plato came to conclude that we did know virtue, but that our relationship with the ideas was closest before we were born. Our souls are united with all of the ideas in heaven, where everything is perfect. At birth we enter into a material body. The shock of our entering into the material world causes us to forget much that we knew. By following a well set up program following the hierarchy of the sciences, we can gradually come to remember much of what we forgot. Learning is remembering. Our connection with the material world causes us to experience pain and deprivation because we long to return to where our soul feels at home, in heaven.

Next to the Bible, Plato's Republic has had the greatest impact on western culture of any book. Plato's philosophical position is called Idealism. We will see more about this later.

Next lecture 


This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.