Philosophy [X], random notes – history of philosophy focusing on the beginnings of Greek philosophy…

Note: I’m following a series of downloaded 1992 lectures on the ‘History of Philosophy’ by the late Dr. Arthur F. Holmes, Professor of Philosophy, Wheaton College. These are my notes after listening to the first lecture with a few added internet resources on related terms, etc at the end…

Lecture 1 – The beginning of Greek Philosophy

Western philosophy actually begins in the area of the Aegean Sea (Asia Minor/Greece), this being at the crossroads of the East and West. The first known philosopher being Thales of Miletus. Early philosophers were pre-scientific focusing their questions on the natural world/order/processes, and considering basic elements and causal processes which account for the variation of things and the changes that occur. This early philosophy of nature questioned the cosmos, with early Greek poets believing that cosmic order was also moral order, like a notion of cosmic justice, i.e. physical cosmos and a moral order existing in natural processes.
Note: This is the Pre-Socratic period with philosophers identified in one of two groupings
1. Monism. One basic element accounting for everything
2. Pluralism. Many elements existing
Thales conjectured that water is the basic element.
Pythagoras considered mathematical order, and shapes being represented numerically.
Heraclitus considered fire and logos as basic elements.
Both and Pythagoras and Heraclitus considered a double aspect theory, two aspects of everything natural,

  • Everything is in a process of change
  • There is order, regularity, uniformity of nature, predictability

From the above-mentioned therefore, there is an orderedness to nature for all change processes and therefore amidst change one should live a rationally ordered life…

Parmenides, the founder of the Eleatic school considered change and motion as illusory, as a self contradictory thing. This was supported by Zeno of Elea who was best known for his paradoxes in favour of Parmenides’ doctrines…
Empedocles, known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements (earth, air, water, fire), considering integration and disintegration of the cosmos…
Anaxagoras expounded on the existence of basic elements comprising all cosmic things regardless of differences, due to ‘seeds’. Therefore, all things contain seeds, whether, skin, hair, blood, whatever… To account for the ordered unity of the body or at a greater scale, the universe, he introduced the concept of Nous (Mind), a supreme being. This concept formed the beginnings of theology…
Democritus, known for his formulation of an atomic theory of matter a mechanistic to pre of materialism, all things composed of infinitesimal pellets or atoms…
This Pre-Socratic period (appropriately 200 years, 600BCE – 400BCE) formulated the philosophical agenda that developed western philosophy, western thought, and later on, other sciences. Natural philosophy being the basis of empirical and mathematical sciences.
So philosophy encompasses many branches/questions:
Metaphysics – nature of reality. Natural world (mechanistic or teleological), if matter is real or not, if mind and body is different, freewill and determinism, cosmic order, existence of god… (mainly Pre-Socratics)
Epistemology – theory of knowledge. Empiricists (sense experience eg. Thales, the pluralists), Rationalists (abstract logical thought eg. Parmenides, Zeno)
Ethics/Social Philosophy – what is the good life, what must we do to pursue it. Pythagoras & Heraclitus stating that we should live rationally ordered lives in a rationally ordered universe. Democritus, stating that a life guided by reason is of value in a mechanistic materialistic universe.

Key words/terms/philosophers:
Pre-Socratic period
Eleatic school – founded in the early 5th century BCE
Thales (624-546 BCE)
Pythagoras (570-495 BCE)
Heraclitus (c. 535 – c.475 BCE)
Zeno of Elea – known for his paradoxes supporting Parmenides Zeno
Empedocles (c. 494 – c.434 BCE)
Anaxagoras (c.510 – c.428 BCE)
Democritus (c. 460- c.370 BCE)

Read other philosophy notes here on ‘FMD’:


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