A.    A brief review of some philosophical roots of the Pre-Socratics of Hellenistic Greece. Establishing themes from the Cosmologists and the Sophists.


1.      Definitions

a.       Cosmology—the study of the universe

i.         physical—by observation, obeys fundamental physical laws

ii.      metaphysical—intuitive conclusions

b.      Ontology—the study of the nature of being, existence, or reality


2.      Change vs. Permanence— Cosmological/Ontological views

a.       Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 544-484 b.c.): “The entire substance of the world is in a ceaseless process of change [Becoming]. ‘All things flow, nothing abides.’” [S} “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.” Heraclitus, DK22B12 “In other words, though the waters are always changing, the rivers stay the same. [iep]

b.      Parmenides of Elea (c. 540-470 b.c.)— “Held to the opposing theory that the ultimate substance (Being) is unchanging and unchangeable, permanent.” [S] How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown.” [wg]


3.      Observable Reality; Hidden Reality: the Sophists— “If people cannot transcend their historical and social circumstances, the Sophist conclude, then whatever people can know must also be context-bound. Human knowledge is limited by the limits on human nature, whether circumstantial or perceptual. [bh p. 23]

a.       Antiphon the Sophist:— “Argues that ‘mind’ finds its ‘starting point’ in ‘the senses.” Our experience of the world is limited to what our senses convey. Moreover, attempting to communicate these experiences in languages poses a further limitation.[He} observes that ‘when we speak, there is no permanent reality behind our words, nothing in fact comparable to the results of seeing and knowing.’ “[bh p. 23-24]

b.      Gorgias of Leontini (c. 483-375 b.c.)— “Nothing exists; or if it does, we cannot know it, or if we can know it, we cannot communicate it.”  [Gorgias] “Gorgias argues that language, in the sense of reasonable discourse, here called logos, ‘arises from external things impinging upon us, that is, from perceptible things.’ We are moved to speak by our sensory experiences. But this makes language, as it were, caused by reality. Language is logically posterior to reality and hence incapable of encompassing and communicating it. The ‘substance’ of logos differs from that of things we can see, taste, hear. Hence we exchange words, not realities. At this point the argument of ‘ON the Nonexistent’ can be read as inverting itself, from a focus on progressively narrower human limitations to one on progressively broader human possibilities: If language is all we have to shared the importance of understanding how language in sue articulates and communicates knowledge.” [bh p. 24]


4.      Social Theory and the Relativity of Truth

a.       Protagoras of Abdera (c. 481-411 b.c.)—“He based his entire philosophy on the concept of the relativity of truth, expressed in the statement, ‘Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, and of things that are not, that they are not.’ Not only did [he] thus proclaim the relativity of truth (that what is true for you in true only for you and what is true for me is true only for me) and the relativity of morals (that right and wrong are matters of personal opinion and choice), but also, as a most remarkable corollary, he derived the opinion from this principle the doctrine of equal rights for all mankind, including women and slaves. The doctrine that each individual must decide for himself as to the validity of any proposition became a principle of social reform, for it placed all persons on an equal footing as judges of the truth. . . The doctrine . . . implied  . . . the assumption that human character can be improved by education. . . Plato compared the Protagorean doctrine of the relativity of knowledge to the Heraclitan assertion that physical objects are in a state of constant flux—with both the objects of knowledge and knowledge itself ever changing; neither of them is permanent or absolute.” {S pp. 26-27]” [S]

b.      Anonymous author (probably a student of Protagoras) of Dissoi Logoiformulated the “doctrine of kairos, pointing to the contingent relationship between truth and circumstances. . . .the implications of this doctrine not only for sexual politics (many of the examples concerning seemly or disgraceful behavior deal with the control of female sexuality) but also for economics and diplomacy. . . [The] insight derived from comparison of customs and political goals may have contribute to the pan-Hellenism frequently advocated by Sophists. They saw the possibility of communities uniting on ground not of a common humanity but a common recognition that humanity could express itself in many ways, not subject to ranking by an absolute standard that could mark some human expressions or customs for annihilation. [bh p. 23]

c.       Antiphon the Sophist—“When [he] says ‘live the life each day brings’ and then ‘‘hand over to others who come after,’ this can be construed as a reminder, that each person is placed in time and history. There are no gods to guarantee an ahistorical, transcendent element in individuality, . . “ [bh p. 22]



Bhagavita (ca. 500 B ). Editions by Maharishi, Prabhupada, radhakrishnan, and Probhavananda & Isherwood: chapter II: Verses 45, 64, 66, 67, & 69.

Bizzell, P., & Herzberg, B. (1990). The Rhetorical Tradition. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s. [bh]

Sahakanian, W.S. (1968). History of Philosophy. New York: HarperCollins. [s]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_philosophy [wg]

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [w]

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/ [iep]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/ [sep]


Common Reading:

Sahakanian, Chapter 2. (or equivalent on early Greek cosmologists)

Bizzell & Herzberg, General Introduction,  pp. 1-8; From Introduction to Classical Rehetoric: 19-24; ; Gorgias pp. 38-39



1.      Pick relevant topic, find additional material write very short paper on it.

2.      Report any first 6 steps from Googling.

3.      Write what you can make of the following aphorism:

“Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”





21 January 2009