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Ancient Philosophy

Some basic information about Pythagoras, Eleatics, Eraclitus, Anassagoras and Democritus

Maria Orestina Onofri

on 19 November 2015

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Transcript of Ancient Philosophy

Ancient philosophy
Leucippus of Miletus is known just to be mentioned in Democritus of Abdera's (470-390 bC - ) treatises.
wrote about everything: poetry, military tactis, Babyloniann theology, but we only possess a few fragments nowadays.
He is one of the first significant philosopher to be born in Grece mainland.
He travelled extensevily (from Egypt to Persia) and felt to be a cosmopolic
the matter is not divisible to infinity but comes to an end (against Zeno)
Atom is the smallest part of the matter and neither can be divided any further, nor be detected by senses
Atoms are infinite in number, come into infinitely varieties and have existed forever
Void exists (unlike the Eleatics' theory) and atoms move in it.
Atoms can differ in shapes (as A is different from N), in order (as AN is different from a NA), in posture (as N differs from Z)
They differ among each other only quantitavely not qualitatively
Some atoms are convex, other concave.
In their endless motion they join up with each other while banging in a mechanical way, i.e. they don't need any force-mind-god for moving
He believed in plural worlds as well as Anaxagoras
Atoms and void are the only existing reality, all the other things being just a conglomeration of atoms in the void
He even developped a systematic morality
Anaxagoras (500 BC – 428 bC)
He can be considered ancestor of today's popular cosmology of big bang.
Born in Clazomenae he went to Athens after the Persian wars and became a client of Pericles.
Became a target of popular attack (prosecuted for treason and impiety) he left for Lampsacus where he died after an honorable exile.
A primeval pebble of infinite seeds of infinite smallness (
) started to rotate throwing off ether and air and forming out of them the stars, the sun and the moon.
Seeds are infinitely divisible and differ qualitative among each others
The rotation of seeds causes the separation of opposite (rare from dense; cold from hot; dry from wet, bright from dark) but it is never completed so that we still find elements of “something else” into each thing.
The expansion of the universe is still on and for this reason there might be other worlds different from our (Giordano Bruno claimed the same thing 20 centuries later)
Mind (
) is the force that puts into motion the universe.
The Nous is infinite and separate but doesn't interfere at all with the elements which have a pure mechanicistic develpments
He was the first one including diagrams in his text and even invented the school holidays (he was asked by the authorities in Lampsacus how they could celebrate him, he replied that children should be let off school in the month of his death)
For pythagorians mathematics is the most important code to interpret nature
The number is therefore the ultimate principle of the cosmos and it is identical to a geometrical point.
This is the reason why everything is measurable and explicable through numbers (stars, seasons, vegetables, animals, etc...)
All the opposites derive from opposition of numbers
Tetraktis (number 10) is the perfect number as it has the 4th in each side
The discovery of a relationship between musical intervals and numerical ration lead to think that the real structure of the universe was numbers.
The Pythagorean community was similar to both a modern university and a monastry
According to the theory for which our soul doesn't die with our body but migrates elsewhere (metempsychosis), even within other forms of lives, they were vegetarians.
There is a 3-thousand-year cosmic cycle before a soul may return into a human body
Through science we can free our soul and save it.
Nobody is allowed to change this doctrine (ipse dixit), as it comes from Apollo directly (he was even credited to be his son).

Everything is in motion and nothing stays still
"We can't step into the same river twice"
It means that the world is composed of constantly changing constituents
The element which is a paradigm of constant change is raging, ever-living fire
can turn into any of the elements
Sea and earth are the ashes of this bonfire
Lived in Ephesus, a great metropolis
His fragments are written in aphorisms and paradoxes often obscure and ambiguous, maybe imitating the oracle of Apollo which "niether speaks, nor conceals, but gestures"
His nickname was "the enigmatic one" or "the Obscure"
Socrates is reported as saying about him "... only a deep sea diver could get to the bottom of it" and Hegel in the XIX° century used the same methaphor as well.
Highly criticical of popular religion which he found disgusting (such as the Dionysiac rites)
Parmenides' Way of Truth marks an epoch in philosophy: it is the foundation of a new discipline: ontology or methaphysics, or the science of Being.
Whatever there is, or whatever can be thought is Being
being is:
1) one and indivisible
2) it has no beginning and no end
3) it is not subject to temporal changes (example of the boiling kettle: for Heraclitus, it is the death of water and the birth of air; for Parmenides they are all changes within the Being)
4) but changes don't exist either: being is everlastingly the same, time is unreal as past, present and future are all one.
As opposite to Heraclitus, who was the proponent of the theory that everything is in motion, Parmenides, the head of the Italian school, was the proponent of the theory that nothing was in motion
Heraclitus was known as the “weeping philosopher”, while the atomists as the “laughing philosopher”
Plato and Aristotle struggled to prove that some things were in motion while others weren't
Like Xenophanes, whose he may have been his pupil, Parmenides was a poet
The main assumption is that motions and distances are infinitely divisible
For some successors Zeno's arguments are just sophistical paradoxes; for others (B. Russell) they are responsible of the mathematical renaissance of the 19th century.
Aristotle (who preserved Zeno's arguments for us) solved them by distinguishing between an actual infinity by a potential infinity
Zeno of Elea, another pupil of Parmenides
Arguments against the possibility of motion
1. there is no motion for whatever moves must reach the middle of its course before it reaches the end and this ad infinitum
2. Achilles and the tortoise. "The slower will never be overtaken by the swifter as s/he must first reach the half-way point and so ad infinitum so that the slower must necessarly remain ahead." Each time Achilles makes up a gap, the tortoise opens up a new shorter gap.
He also added two causes for the development and intermingling of the elements,
Love and Strife
(efficient cause, in Aristotle's vision of the substance): Love combines the elements and Strife forces them apart
Ancestors of the 2 forces of attraction and repulsion?
History is a continuos cycle where Love and Strife prevail alternatively.
When Love prevails the elements combine into a sphere (Parmenides' one?)
Viceversa when Strife prevails the elements are split out but love then starts to compose all the animals, human beings, till the next cycle re-start
Only the cosmic cycle and the elements go forever
Evolution theory: at the beginning bones and and flesh grew from the combination of the elements (bones = 2 parts of water, 2 parts earth and 4 parts fire, for instance); then organs were formed and attached without conjuntors (arms with no shoulders, heades with no necks, etc.). They often formed unions which were monstrosities (human-headed oxen, ox-headed humans). Only a few of them managed to reproduce, the large majority being sterile. This is why they changed: because of their fitness to reproduce.

Flourished in the middle of the 5th century
Native from Acragas, now Agrigento
Aristocratic background (his family owned a stud of prizewinning horses).
He had a reputation as a democratic (even foiled a plot for a dictatorship and subsequently refused an offer as king, preferring his frugal life)
However in his poem (like Parmenides' one, written in verses and called On Nature and of which we possess only 1/5) he refers to himself as a divinity, possessing drugs to defeat old age, spells to control wheather, etc...
On one hand his philosophy of nature is a synthesis of the thought of the Ionian philosophers.
Thales privileged water, Anaximenes air, Xenophanes earth, Heraclitus fire. For Empedocles all four substances constitute the fundamental elements or “roots” in his language of the universe. i.e. they are 4 different kind of matters (# with us, for ice, water and steam are different states of the same substance H2O).
They mingle with each other in different proportion so to produce everything, achieving the world variety
Empedocles' quartet of elements (stoicheia, syllables in Greek) lasted till the 17th century's chemistry
Born in Samos, off the coast of Asia Minor, emigrated to Croton, Italy where founded a community
Here he joined political affairs till was banned in 510 bC
Credited with inventing the word "philosopher"
He practised both mathematics and mysticism
Never claimed to be sage but just a lover of wisdom philosopher
This fiery world is not made by Gods or men: it is governed by the


(at the beginning was the Logos...)
Only philosophers are closest to the fierly Logos
The others are sleepers
Human soul is a dry fire as well and must be kept from moisture
He believed in the coincidence of opposites so that:
The universe is divisible and indivisible; generated and ungenerated; mortal and immortal
(statements of the relativity of centain predicates?)
Opposites constantly fight against each-others
"The way up and the way down are one and the same"
"Different things attract different species: sea-water is drinkable for fish but poisonous for humans; donkeys prefer rubbish to gold."
(VI-V sec. b. C.)
divine & eternal reality
Parmenides spent most of his time in Elea, southern of Naples
He wrote a philosophical poem
On nature
of which we possess 120 lines, broken down into a
and 2 parts:
the path of the truth
the path of mortal opinion

The poet is shown riding in a chariot with the daughters of the Suns, leaving behind the halls of night and travelling towards the light.
They reach the gates which lead to the paths of night and day (maybe the truth and the opinion?) where a goddess tells him that he must learn both:
Changes, i.e. the world of apparent changes are described in the 2nd part of his poem
The Way of Seeming
It is a cosmology in the tradition of the Ionaian thinkers. There are 2 truths:
1) The earth is a sphere
2) the Morning Star is the same as the Evening Star (first paradigm of the identity statements)
Aristotle paid tribute to Empedocles for having being the 1st one understanding the biological importance of homologous functions in different living organisms (leaves versu feathers, etc.)
Unfortunately scientists followed Aristotle's theory of teleological change (the final cause) rather than the Empedocles' one of casual changes.
Sense perception is followed because “like is known by like”
Sinners are punished by the Strife but some men are rewarded by the chance of reicarnation.
Accounted for being a sort of God (he even made a dead woman turned into life) he jumped into the Aetna's flamed having heard his name called by heaven.
Pupil of Parmenides
He studied with both Heraclitus and Parmenides and put into prose Parmenides' thinking
Monistic view: the being is unlimited, unchangeable, immovable, indivisible, homogeneous
Two consequencies:
1) pain is unreal as it implies a deficiency of being (impossible)
2) vacuum doesn't exist as it implies a piece of Unbeing. Local motion is therefore impossible for the bodies that occupy space have no room to move into
The Pythagorian community
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