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AP101: (6) Greek Philosophy

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Mark Moser

on 5 October 2013

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Transcript of AP101: (6) Greek Philosophy

Greek Philosophy
The Milesian School
The Sophists
Why study this?
Philosophy of Plato (1)
The Forms
How is it we know what a perfect circle is, even if we haven't seen one? Same for humanity, justice, tree-ness, etc.
Our reason connects us with the world of the Forms, where the Form/Idea of "circle" exists, which is perfect, immaterial, eternal...
Our senses aren't reliable, but our reason is.
Somehow things in this world "participate" in the Forms.
The highest Form? The Good. Higher than the gods (see Euthyphro). Every Form participates in it to some extent.
Recollection: we used to live in the world of the Forms, before being born in this imperfect world, so we remember the Forms (see Meno). Here Plato accepts reincarnation, just as Pythagoras did.

A catalyst for skepticism: democracy (!)
The Athenian democracy needed many people who could make speeches and listen to them (e.g. legal proceedings)
Rhetorical skills become important, not the least for personal advancement
The Sophists are skilled instructors in rhetoric, teaching students to be able to argue any position. (And who knows what position you might need to argue?)
Attacking philosophy
Philosophers can't agree! Isn't this evidence that we really can't discern reality, that all is mere opinion?
And how we do know that thought and being are correlated? (e.g. Heraclitus' logos, Parmenides "way of truth")

a.k.a. "The obscure", "The dark one", "The weeping philosopher"
Heraclitus lived in Ephesus, an important city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), not far from Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy
All ancient biographies of him consist of inferences or imaginary constructions based on his sayings
(Apparently) thought fire was the most fundamental element.
Philosophy of Heraclitus
Heraclitus sees a constantly changing world. (The Milesians didn't account for change adequately.)
The element that best represents this feature of reality is fire.
But if change is constant, is knowledge of things possible? For what you knew would be false once things changed.
The Logos makes knowledge possible:
Logos = "word", "reason", "rational account"
Logos = the principle of rationality governing change. Things do not change in random ways, but in certain patterns.
Heraclitus is probably the first to philosophize about the Logos
So what can Heraclitus specifically tell us about the Logos? Unfortunately, not much. His philosophy is not easy to understand, being dark and enigmatic.

Thales is considered the first Western philosopher
Clever guy:
How to measure the height of the pyramids? Thales: Simply wait until the time of day when the length of a man’s shadow is equal to his height. At that moment, measure the length of the pyramid’s shadow.
He is also perhaps the first scientist. The argument? "Thales is the first person that we know of to attempt to explain [all?] natural phenomena in purely natural terms."
For example, Thales supposed that the reason the Nile River dries up in the winter and floods in the summer was due to the desert winds.
Why water? Possible reasons:
Aristotle conjectured that Thales reached his conclusion by contemplating that the "nourishment of all things is moist and that even the hot is created from the wet and lives by it."
Other possibilities:
Water takes the shape of its container (adaptability)
Water falls from above us (rain), yet it is beneath us also: dig a hole into the ground and its fills up with…water.
Delta formation suggests that river water becomes earth.
The formation of dew every morning also suggests that earth can return to the form of water.
Freezing water turns to ice, suggesting that water can become earth perhaps?
Evaporation suggests that water can turn into air.
Everything is made of water
Everything is made of air
Everything is made of 'fire' (always changing)
Anaximander's philosophy
Anaximander agreed with the monism of his predecessor, Thales. He could not, however, accept that any of the four basic elements could give rise to all that there is, especially things that are opposites.
For example, how could water give rise to the dry dusty cliffs of the desert?
Instead, Anaximander believed that the underlying stuff of all things must not have any definite characteristics at all, but have the potential to take on all characteristics.
The "apeiron" (= indefinite boundless) could become hot and dry but it could also become cold and wet.
Since we never directly experience anything indefinite, but the indefinite boundless explains where all that we do experience comes from, it is the first theoretical entity in Western science and philosophy.
Everything is made of the
"boundless" (apeiron)
Philosophy of Anaximenes
Anaximenes did not accept the existence of Anaximander’s indefinite boundless – something never seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched.
Instead, he reverted to the four basic elements to find his candidate for the stuff of all reality.
Ultimately, Anaximenes chose air as the ultimate element.
According to Anaximenes, if air is compressed, it will become water. Compressed even further, it will solidify into earth. If air is rarified, it changes into fire.
Everything is made of air
What about this is new in world history?

"Using reason..." Not Olympian myths, tradition, etc.
"...to explain everything." Goes well beyond the earlier wisdom tradition, to be found in Proverbs, Egypt, etc.
Note also: explanations given were in terms of natural phenomena. (Beginning of science?)
Using reason... to explain everything.
Originals by Lars Lentz, MarcusObal, Jorgebarrios & Omniii. This version by Ischa1 at nl.wikibooks
(coming later)
Four Traditional Elements:
which one is the source of everything?
*But if all is water, then that includes our minds. But can water think? Doesn't this rationalistic scheme undermine rationality itself?
==> it suggests irrationalism, which is not Thales' intent
Bold intellectual endeavor...
or arrogance?
"Here I am, just sitting in my chair thinking hard, and I can tell you that everything is made out of _________. This includes trees, stars, all things under the earth, and any god that may exist."
"You cannot step twice into the same river."
Philosophy of Parmenides
Opposing the views of Heraclitus in a startling manner, Parmenides taught that change is an illusion.
NOT a common sense philosophy! Very rationalistic.

Key thoughts:
If you say, "It is not" (i.e., nothing exists), then you've proved that "It is," for if nothing exists, it's not nothing; rather it is something. Thus IT IS. Being is.
“Being is” means that nothing can change from what it “is” to what it “is not.” Red cannot change to green, for then red would be changing into non-red, or non-green would be changing into green. But where does the green come from, if the previous state is non-green? So change must be illusory.
Only what can be thought can exist, according to Parmenides. Since "nothing" cannot be thought (without thinking of it as something), there is no nothing, there is only Being.
Being is uncreated, indestructible, eternal, indivisible. (Hmmm, sound familiar?) Plus, it is spherical, because only a sphere is equal in all directions.
Zeno (a disciple of Parmenides) offered paradoxes in support of the Parmenidean notion that motion is impossible
Being is.
If all is flux, then can we know anything?
Let's reflect...
Q: If all is flux, then can we know anything?

Heraclitus: "Indeed all is in flux, but the Logos orders change in a rational manner. But I can't tell you much more about the Logos."
Parmenides: "All is NOT in flux. In fact there is no flux at all. Our senses deceive us, but reason can deliver us truth."
Rationalism AND Irrationalism
Note how we started with Thales' question "What is ultimately there?" (metaphysics) to the question "How can we know what is there?" (epistemology)
Many philosophers think these two branches plus a third, ethics, constitute the three main branches of philosophy.
*Warning: Palmer defines metaphysics differently, as a complete worldview, and uses the term ontology in its place. We will *not* follow Palmer in this!
= Worldview
Simplified definition:
Wait... isn't this impractical stuff?
What we have described Parmenides calls the “way of truth”
So far from common sense that it gives us no help in living in the world of our experience.
But there is a “way of belief”:
It includes an elaborate cosmology, complete with 'change'
Most likely, Parmenides regards the “way of belief” as an error to be rejected.
But he may also have intended for us to use the “way of belief” as a practical guide, as a way to think about the world that our senses present to us.
The fact that the branches of philosophy are dependent upon each other is an uncomfortable fact for secular thought.
Especially after Kant, when metaphysics is considered embarassingly speculative by many philosophers.
Key lesson: When God, creation, and revelation are omitted/denied, comprehensiveness of thought becomes impossible.
Cornelius Van Til noted that in unbelieving rationalist thought, irrationalism could not be avoided; likewise in unbelieving irrationalist thought, rationalism could not be avoided.

Irrationalism: all is flux, everything is changing. Blooming, buzzing confusion.

Rationalism: the mysterious "Logos" structures change in a rational manner, otherwise we couldn't know anything, and Heraclitus couldn't argue. (Yet is this principle of reason a mere leap of "faith"?)

Rationalism: reason can prove something as counter-intuitive as all motion and change is an illusion.

Irrationalism: do we not rely on our senses nearly every moment? - yet Parmenides says they are unreliable at a most basic level. And if there is no change, then how can the human mind learn? Is this not chang, from ignorance to knowledge? (And is his "way of belief" a suggestion that irrationality is needed, practically speaking?)
"In the Beginning was the Logos..." (John 1:1)
Completing or correcting Heraclitus? Or...?
The Pluralists
skepticism, relativism...
-- why?
Gorgias refutes Parmenides
1) Nothing exists;
2) Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
3) Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others.
4) Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.
"Of all things, the measure is man..." -Protagoras
= there is no criterion or standard by which to judge, except ourselves.
One catalyst: increased depth of knowledge of non-Greek cultures
'Gee, non-Greeks aren't just a bunch of stupid barbarians after all.'

What we think is "natural" or "the way things are" is just mere custom!

What evidence do we have that life is more than 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'?
Let's reflect...
Answering Relativism
Skepticism: hard to shake off?
Wait, the Great Conversation? What does that title admit?
No objective truth, only relative truth?
Is that statement objectively true?
No? I'll ignore you then.
Yes? Then it's self-refuting.

How about building a bridge according to one's own personal 'physics'? Wanna drive your car across that bridge?
Yet some things *are* relative, however, such as what constitutes punctuality (culturally relative). But yet absolutes underlie why punctuality is important, however it is quantified!
Irrationalism: "Man is the measure" - there is no rationality to the universe, but reality is what anyone thinks it is.

Rationalism: Protagoras implicitly argued that his position was TRUE. Plus, how would he *know* that humans are the final criterion of truth and falsity? He asserts rational autonomy arbitrarily.
Rationalism AND Irrationalism again
After 2500 years of labor, Western philosophy is still riddled with disagreements.
Some of the most revered contemporary philosophers were profoundly skeptical (Hume, Kant)
Great Philosophy text
Perhaps we should conclude something else...
Where revelation is not taken into consideration (and worse yet, suppressed), confusion will reign.
(Can't figure it all out without God, creation, revelation, etc.)
Parmenides was a monist, and his disturbing conclusions led others to reject monism.
Reality: "four roots" of fire, air, earth, water
Motion: caused by two forces, Love (which unifies) and Strife (which destroys)
Reality: "infinite seeds"
Motion: controlled by Nous ("mind"), creating objects out of seeds. Nous controls organic world from within, inorganic world from without.
Concept of Nous excited Socrates and Aristotle at first, but then proved empty and arbitrarily employed.
Thought Anaxagoras' view was too anthropomorphic, too mythical.
Reality: indivisible, indestructible, eternal atoms (materialistic)
Motion: atoms move through empty space according to deterministic natural laws
Maybe all isn't one?
- And Socrates? Hard to say...
This imperfect world was created by the Demiurge (a lesser god, see Timaeus), who modeled it after the Forms but was constrained by the limitations of the pre-existent matter that he employed... A defective end product.
Some question whether we should take this story literally?
Ethics and life
The highest part of the soul is the rational, which seeks knowledge for its own sake
Doing wrong always stems from ignorance
Advocates a totalitarian state
Rule by philosophers... Upper classes share women communally... Children raised by rulers... Art is restricted

Wait, why all this?
One big reason: Plato is trying to put human knowledge on a firm footing:
This world: Heraclitean flux. Admits the problem.

The Forms: Parmenidean stability. Refutes Sophists.
Philosophy of Plato (2)
- And Socrates? Hard to say...
Christianizing Plato?
Put Plato's homeless Forms in God's mind!
Many Christians have appreciated Plato's reliance upon another, higher world and that knowledge is accessible within us
Easy targets
Ignorance the only cause of vice? Naive.
His ideal state? A totalitarian hellhole.
Other problems
Are there Forms for mud, hair and filth? Or a Form for imperfection? If not, the Forms fail to account for all qualities in this world.
"Third Man" objection
Relationship between the Forms and this world just isn't clear
The Forms, reincarnation, the Demiurge... lots of speculative baggage!
Plato's Problems
"Any time we try to define Goodness in terms of specific qualities (justice, prudence, temperance, etc.) we have descended to something less than the Form of Goodness. The Form of Goodness serves as a norm for human goodness, because it is utterly general and abstract. Any principle that is more specific is less normative, less authoritative. Such is the consequence of trying to understand goodness as an abstract Form rather than, as in biblical theism, the will of a personal absolute... Plato's good was empty..."
Philosophy of Aristotle (1)
Metaphysics of "substance"
Substance = form + matter (Aristotelian metaphysics).
The form is brought back to earth, part of *this* world!
A substance is an individual thing: a cat, a rock, a human.
Matter is what a substance is made of. For instance, the ingredients that make up bread, or the clay that makes up a brick.
Form is the "whatness" of a thing, the qualities that make the thing what it is. Bob and Joe share the same form, but not the same matter.
For a 2X4 wooden beam, wood is matter and the form is beamness (the qualities that make it a beam rather than something else). But when the beam is used to build a house, the beam becomes matter and the form is houseness.

Philosophy of Aristotle (2)
Teleology (purposiveness)
The acorn has the form oak-treeness
The acorn has the potentiality to be an oak tree, but its actuality is still an acorn
So a form implies a purpose, a goal. The form directs the matter towards this purpose.
Remember how previous philosophers were bewildered by change and motion, but this is Aristotle's answer.
But let's reverse this to the smallest possible particle. What would it be made of? "Prime matter" -- apparently something without form, that is, without qualities. But how is this different from *nothing*?

(Aristotle said that prime matter did not exist in this world, only substances, but the problem doesn't seem to go away.)

Q: What is the form of a human body?
Aristotle: the soul.

Whoa, this is not Plato's answer, who believed the soul existed quite apart from the body. But Aristotle's answer suggests that when the body dies, the soul dies.

(Some interpreters disagree, however, thinking that Aristotle's epistemology implicitly affirms the immortality of the soul.)
Philosophy of Aristotle (3)
Epistemology (theory of knowledge)
Two things we need to know anything:
The first is the “first principles,” principles of logic, as well as general propositions like “the whole is greater than any part.”
The second given is the substance, presented by sense experience.
Two aspects to the intellect:
The passive intellect receives data from the senses.
The active intellect abstracts the form from the substance, examines, analyzes, etc.
Philosophy of Aristotle (4)
Movement from potentiality to actuality needs a 'mover'
But the chain of causes can not be infinite, so a "prime mover" is needed
Aristotle believed in an eternal universe, so the prime mover doesn't create and act at the beginning of time. Rather, the state of affairs at every moment is ultimately explained by him.
The prime mover is pure form. No unrealized potentiality; he does not move. The unmoved mover.
The prime mover moves by the universe being attracted to him, like a magnet. But the prime mover is an unpeturbed state, pure thought only thinking of itself. Sorta like a philosopher!
Aristotle's thought: one god or multiple gods?
Apparently, multiple gods.

Although Aristotle speaks of one Prime Mover as explaining all motion in the universe, he also maintains that every concentric sphere revolving around the earth requires an unmoved mover. He postulates that there is an unmoved mover for each.
Philosophy of Aristotle (5)
The four "causes":
Material cause: determined by the material which the moving or changing things are made of. For a statue, the material cause might be bronze or marble.
Formal cause: caused by the form, what the substance is. The formal cause of why Bill is thinking is that Bill is a man.
Efficient cause: the agent of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter.
Final cause: the aim or purpose being served. That for the sake of which a thing is what it is. For a sailboat, it might be sailing.
Philosophy of Aristotle (6)
Ethics and the good life:
Each being should act in accordance with its form, that is, its nature and purpose. (==> natural law)
Human beings are rational animals, so for Aristotle, as with all the Greek philosophers, the good life is the life of reason.
Reason tells us that the goal of human life is happiness, which is not pleasure, but general well-being.
Seek moderation in all things, the mean between two extremes.
For example, a buffoon makes a joke out of everything; a boor takes everything too seriously. But wit is the “golden mean” between these extremes.
Virtues are important. We need to have virtuous dispositions to perform virtuous acts; but we need to perform moral acts in order to form the habits that produce virtuous dispositions. Chicken and egg problem. Aristotle advises that we begin the process by doing things that “resemble” virtuous acts, but how this changes into true virtue is left unanswered.
"By all accounts, Plato and Aristotle were two of the greatest thinkers of all time. It becomes quite important, therefore, to note that they believed in God. Plato taught that this world was created, being patterned after ideas (= "Forms") that could easily be equated with God's thoughts. He also spoke of the highest idea as "The Good", in which all things participate, just as the Bible speaks of God as absolute Goodness, in whom we "live and move and have our being." As for Aristotle, he spoke of a "Prime Mover" (i.e. God), a personal, thinking God who moves the world yet He Himself is not moved."
By the "Demiurge", who had to work with faulty matter (not creation ex nihilo)
But Plato himself did not do this
"The Good" is an impersonal Form. And it's not the Demiurge god who fashioned this world.
It's not clear why Aristotle suddenly describes him in a personal term. "Thought thinking itself" is strange, and this completely self-absorbed being is far from the God of the Bible.
But he does not create. The universe is eternal, uncreated according to Aristotle.
A good Christian apologetic?
Intelligence = likelihood of being a Christian? Is that a claim Scripture makes?
Be frank: Plato and Aristotle got it wrong.

Who and what is the true God? Absolute Personality.
These two words constituted Van Til's basic characterization of God. The biblical God is both absolute (a se, self-existent, self-sufficient, self-contained) and personal (thinking, speaking, acting, loving, judging).

What philosopher describes God this way?
None -- except for those philosophers impacted by the Bible (e.g. Aquinas)
Startling evidence of the suppression of truth in Romans 1!
The desire for rational autonomy is strong among philosophers
A Van Tillian Apologetic (1)
A Van Tillian conviction:
Without God (the absolute personal being) as the foundation of one's thought, intellectual failure is guaranteed.

Specific example of this: Plato's "The Good"

A Van Tillian Apologetic (2)
John Frame
"Greeks Bearing Gifts"
Stoics and Epicureans
"Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with [Paul]..." (Acts 17:18)
They accepted the Socratic/Platonic equation that virtue equals knowledge
They sought the cognitive state, achieved through knowledge and wisdom, that would result in behaving dispassionately. This would guarantee complete well-being.
Considered as a whole, reality is perfect. Humans become perfect if they learn to live in harmony with this plan.
The only way to be free is to want what the universe wants
The emphasis is not on getting what you want but wanting what you've got
Be freed from worldly demands, especially those of the emotions and pleasure seeking
Duration of life doesn't matter. (Suicide is an option if need be -- and better to die well then live in an agitated state.)
Act in accordance with one's nature
i.e. like Aristotle, the Stoics become a source of natural law thinking
Marcus Aurelius
Zeno of Cyprus
The similarities are often noted:
For instance: "...both philosophies share the doctrine of resignation, the disdain for attachment to earthly things, and the concern with conforming to the will of divine Providence." (Donald Palmer)
Stoicism: similar to Christianity?
Marcus Aurelius
Zeno of Cyprus
Question: how correct is Palmer here?
"Resignation": if the Stoic constitutes this as an ideal dispassionate state, this hardly matches up with the dynamic emotional life of Jesus! -- yet his life was ideal (sinless) by Christian standards.

"Conforming to the will of divine Providence": Perhaps, the use of "Providence" masks the difference of Christianity's monotheism vs. Stoicism's pantheism.
Stoic ethics claims to move from human nature to natural law. Is this legitimate?
Can you logically move from an IS to an OUGHT?
Like Stoicism, Epicureanism is primarily known for its view on achieving a good, happy life
And Epicurus wasn't grossly debauched like many have thought!
The good life has less political orientation than Aristotle described
Like Aristotle, Epicurus believed goal of life was happiness
But unlike Aristotle, happiness = pleasure

So what kind of desires to we have that might be satisfied/pleased?
Natural desire
A. Necessary (e.g. food, sleep)
B. Unnecessary (e.g. sex)
Vain desire (e.g. exotic food, decorative clothing)
Epicurus would advocate moderate, sustainable and less risky pleasures. For pleasure is the absence of pain.
Following Democritus, Epicurus was an atomist.
Epicurus affirmed the reality of gods, but denied they caused anything on earth.
His atomism banished his fear of death, for death terminates pain.
Democritus and Epicurus were “quantitative atomists", meaning that atoms, or elements, all had the same qualities, except for size and shape (Democritus) or weight (Epicurus).
These atoms moved through space and collided with one another to form objects. On this view, reality consists entirely of atoms and empty space.
Atoms fall in one direction, “down”, typically in lines parallel to one another. How, then, did they ever collide to form objects? Epicurus posited that occasionally an atom would “swerve” (without cause) from the vertical path.
Swerves also accounted for (libertarian) human free choice

An uncaused "swerve"?
Doesn't this destroy moral responsibility?
"I killed him because an atom swerved without cause."
Develops critical thinking skills.
Greek philosophy addresses issues that overlap with Christian theology. Its scope is huge and important.
Science, for instance, can't match its scope.
Why Western philosophy?
Quite relevant.
Don't know Eastern philosophy.
Why "the history" of it?
Seems to be an effective way to study it - and more so than the history of science, by comparison.
Q: What will we emphasize?
A: Apologetical observations, insights, and counter-arguments.
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