To understand Plato and Socrates, we must first understand the philosophers that came before them. At first, I was confused at the difference between the terms “Presocratics” and “Pre-platonics”. Nietzsche coined the term, “Preplatonics” because he posited that Plato was the first philosopher that included components of the other philosophers that came before him in his doctrine. Nietzsche states, “Plato himself is the first mixed type on a grand scale,” (p. 38). Plato incorporated views from Socrates, Pythagoras and Herclitus, into his doctrine thereby helping us understand the history and components of philosophy that led us to where we are today. Nietzsche posits that those who followed Plato had an easier time philosophizing, as those prior to Plato, (Preplatonics), had to drive a path from myth to laws of nature, religion and science, which was more difficult to pave that original pathway. In Nietzsche’s Tragic Age of Greeks,I was surprised at how fond Nietzsche was of Herclitus. He called him the “star devoid of atmosphere” (p. 70) and he also did not believe in the popular opinion that Herclitus was obscure on purpose. Kofman (1987) compared and contrasted the viewpoints regarding Herclitus being named “The Obscure” by his own contemporaries to understand whyhe was this way (p. 39). Kofman (1987) states that the most “simplistic” theory on why Herclitus was obscure is that he is being obscure on purpose because he was a scornful man with a bad temper. Nietzshe, however, disagrees. Nietzsche did not believe that Herclitus was obscure on purpose. He uses the analogy “the ass which prefers straw to gold” (Kofman, p. 41) to articulate that if man doesn’t understand Herclitus, it’s because he’s stupid, not because Herclitus is obscure. Hegel believes that Herclitus is not obscure, but speculative. He thinks that Hegel’s obscurity is pseudo, only to enhance understanding of the being and non-being (p. 43). For Hegel, to translate Herclitus’ work is to “reduce the son’s language to that of the father,” which he calls the Aufhebung(p. 44). He elevates Herclitus’ meaning to “being is becoming”. Aristotle Believes Herclitus is obscure because of his paratactic vs. syntactic style; bad grammar (carelessness of punctuation). He also believes that Heraclitus’ obscurity shouldn’t be attributed to either Herclitus nor to his readers, but rather to the distortion between two types of forces, two points of view, two senses of taste or smell which can’t “stand” (smell) each other. The concluding question is “do we have to choose between those two ears?” Meaning, must we take sides? The difference in ear makes us understand language in a different way. My question is, don’t these different “ears” / perspectives help us enhance our understanding? Maybe there isn’t one single truth. Nietzsche is particularly relevant and one to pay attention to, as he is the first man, and according to Heidegger (1968), the only man, to recognize clearly and think through metaphysically ALL its implications (p. 57). I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure we will explore this assertion in the weeks to come.
Speaking of Nietzsche, he stated something that I think is particularly relevant, which is the fact that we don’t have the full works of many of these philosophers, only fragments (Babich, 1). Nietzsche posits that we often view Plato and Aristotle more favorably because we simply have more of their works. Nietzsche also states that we should read the philosophers work as “what philosophy was for them” versus what seems right to us. I find this particularly interesting because when I read about the “fragments” of work, I was actually quite surprised, as I didn’t’ realize previously that we didn’t have these philosophers works in whole, rather we were literally piecing together fragments of papyrus to form what we think they meant.
I found the book, Parmenides by Heideggar, extremely difficult to read and it took hours for me to just get through a few pages. The phrase, “It’s all Greek to me” popped in my head many times as I tried to decipher the Greek terminology and meanings. I took detailed notes, but since this was the first book I read, I didn’t have much context. Heideggar uses a method of dissecting language to reveal their primordial truth and “dismantling” traditional approaches of metaphysics (Encyclopedia Britannica). Heideggar (1998) explores what Parmenidesmeant by truth, “ἀλήθεια”. His conjecture is that “truth” is unconcealedness. But what “unconcealedness” means can be debated. Heideggar goes full circle with the definitions and interpretations of “truth” all the way from “unconcealedness”, “veiling”, “non-dissemblance”, “masking and covering up”, “conserving”, “preserving”, “entrusting”, “appropriating”, “resistance”, “closing”, “covering” and” justice” (p. 53). Depending upon how one defines “truth” and “unconcealedness” the truth can be any of these things. Heideggarsays, “Unconcealedness suggest “opposition” to “concealedness” (p. 20). But the opposite of unconcealedness is not concealedness but falsity. In today’s society, we consider “false” to be a negative view, but Heideggar states that “not every false assertion is an erroneous one,” (p. 29). I can relate this to conversations I have with my kids. My kids may say, “Fortnight is the best game ever made”. For them, that is an accurate statement and for many kids their age, this is also true. But, given I’m a bit (ahem) older, I believe that Super Mario Brothers is the best video game. If I say, “Fortnight isn’t the best game, Super Mario Brothers is,” that may not be an erroneous statement, but it’s a false assertion. This statement isn’t true for everyone, but it is for a subset of the population.
The other interesting component I learned about Paramedies, was in Rickert’s (2014)Paramedies, Ontologial Enaction and the Prehistory of Rhetoric, in which he posits that Paramedies deserves a significant place in rhetorical history (473). He also discusses how Paramedies was not only a philosopher, but a healer of sorts, who used altered states of consciousness, in caves, in his approach. Rickert also claims that Paramedies was the “first true philosopher” based on his work “On Being” (475). Our very own, VV, is mentioned in this article, along with other scholars, in viewing Paramedies as a logician and “philosophical precursor to Plato and often as a foil for more sophistic figures, such as Herclitus or Gorgias (476).
I particularly like when Heidegger (1998) speaks about “signs” as a mode of concealing. A sign is hiding something. For example, if I put a picture on the wall to hide a hole. But Heideggar makes an excellent point when he says, “The sign, in appearing itself, lets something else appear (p 107). Take, for example, the turning of a leaf from bright green to shades of purple, orange and yellow. This is a sign that the leaves have stopped their food-making process and the chlorophyll has broken down, causing the green color to appear. But the leaves changing colors also is a sign that fall is coming. To me, it’s also a sign that the pumpkin spice latte is coming back to Starbucks, my favorite fall festival is coming up, the apples are ripe for picking at the orchard and it’s almost time to carve our pumpkin. This is also my “truth” (ἀλήθεια), as for those who live in Florida, the same signs don’t appear nor mean the same thing. The essence of truth for “fall is coming” is different and while stating “when the leaves change colors, it means fall is coming” is not necessarily true, it’s not erroneous either.
Reading Heideggar (1998) prepared me for reading about the Preplatonics in Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Osborne. First Osborne (2011) walks us through what is meant by “fragments” which I wasn’t aware of previously. I didn’t realize that the works of these infamous philosophers has literally been pieced together by professionals. Alain Martin, of Brussels University, pieced together fragments from Empedocles papyrus to make sense of his poetry (7). I can’t imagine the amount of work that must have gone into deciphering each and every word that was found, piecing it together, researching who said it and what it meant. But that is exactly what these researchers did to help us understand what the Presocratics meant with their ancient philosophical ideas. Osborne provides us with a timeline of the Presocratic Philosophers and Plato and Aristotle to show the dates of their writing and teaching. This was extremely helpful in helping me understand how each of the philosopher influenced each other and how the ideas expanded upon the other. All of the philosophers ask the fundamental question, “what is the world made of?” The two basic principles are, “everything is in flux” and “infinite plurality of things” They also believe that everything in the world is made up of the same “stuff”, but they disagree on what that “stuff” is. They call this the “arche” (2012, Introduction to the Presocratics). “Everyone wanted to explain, as he thought best, how the world, as we know it now, could have originated from some single undifferentiated matter, (Osborne 29). These Presocratics also had differences in how they thought of the relationship of “being”.
I watched several of the videos by Academy of Ideason the Presocratic philosophers. I greatly enjoyed the videos because, when partnered with the readings, they helped bring some of the philosophers to life. They began the series with a discussion of the “Milesians”, which includes Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. Thales was the first philosopher and he believed the ‘arche’ was water. Anaximander was a student of Thales and believed in ‘Apeiron’ “The unlimited”. Anaximenes believed the arche was “air” (Academy of Ideas, 2012).
Herclitus believed the arche was fire (Osborne 35). He had a reputation for misanthropy and obscurity. He spoke ill of other philosophers and thought people were dumb sheep and stupid like cattle. He said that people basically are sleepwalking through life and have no insight. Which, is seen in today’s time as well. When I think about this statement about “sheep” and “cattle” I think about how society gets distracted from the fundamental issues this world is facing and instead goes along with the crowd on what the “hot topic” of the month is. Whether it’s a political bandwagon or an obsession with Kylie Jenner’s new fashion line, people are sheep and follow the issues that they are told are important. Herclitus believed in a single divine law of universe – logos rules. He also felt that most people are bad, few are good (27). Moving on to another Preplatonic philosopher, Empedocles was the first philosopher to name the four elements (fire, water, earth and air) (13). He was born in Sicily in 492 and followed Paramedies. He was a crazy character and was described as flamboyant and he dressed ostentatiously and claimed magical powers. One time he even jumped into Mt. Etna, claimed he was immortal (Waterfield, 2009).
Paramedies is one of the most controversial philosophers and he believed in “one single undivided whole and nothing ever changes,” (Osborne 31). “Empedocles’ main theme was to proclaim that the world was both many and one, sometimes one and sometimes many in an endless cycle of change, (35). In contrast, Paramedies believes that nothing changes. The different beliefs of the Presocratics Philosophers can best be summed up with Paramedies said that, “opinions are just opinions, and they may differ widely” and “To search for knowledge is to search for access to the truth, not to collect other people’s opinions,” (50). Herclitus talks about how reality varies depending upon perspective. For example, the sea water is both pure and impure. For fish, sea water is drinkable and healthy, but for humans, it’s undrinkable and deadly. Paramedies was a student of Xenophanes but didn’t follow him, he is known for saying, “I searched myself”, indicating that he wasn’t a student of anyone except his own self. He wrote in didactic poem (Waterfield, 2009).
There are three things that really stuck out while reading Presocraticphilosophy: A very short introduction by Osborne (2011). First, the statement that there is no point in being good if no one is looking because society does little to help “goody goodies” Antiphon goes on to say, “it was always better to seize opportunities to act unfairly and steal the advantage,” (120). Wow, that is an impactful statement. I can certainly see that many people in the corporate world feel this way. After almost 20 years in the financial services industry, I’ve certainly seen my fair share of folks who definitely only do good if there is a spotlight on them or if it benefits them in some way. It’s interesting to see that this school of thought has been around for quite some time.
The second thing that struck me was what Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things,” (122). I certainly see this as well. We (humans) are all pretty selfish in my opinion. We all filter everything, what matters, what doesn’t, what is “truth”, what is “false” through our own perception and experience. Reality is all a perception, based on our own human experiences.
The third thing that struck me was what Gorgia said, “You don’t blame a woman for being raped by force. So why blame a person who is convinced by sweet talking?” (126). I found it extremely surprising that a philosopher compared being persuaded in the same camp as a woman being raped. This is a violent comparison, in which he’s basically saying that letting someone persuade you is as invasive as rape. That’s a pretty bold statement.
In conclusion, the readings this week greatly enhanced my ability to better understand the Preplatonic / Presocratic philosophers and their thoughts. They key is tying all of this information together to form a holistic picture of the Presocratic/Preplatonic philosophers. I put together a matrix of the different philosophers to better understand their beliefs and how they influenced each other. It’s challenging to keep al the information straight on the differences between them, so I’m hoping this helps me with the “who’s who” of the Preplatonic philosophers.
A Philology for the Future Anterior.” Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Michelle Ballif. Carbondale: SIUP, 2013. 172-89.
Academy of Ideas. (2012, Nov. 11). Introduction to the Presocrates. [Video file] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkMAx04jDx0&t=14s
Academy of Ideas (2012, Nov. 23). Introduction to Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander. [Video file] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyUWeoPc1wg
Babich, B. (2018, June 17). Nietsche’s Preplatonic Philosophers: Diogenes Laertis, ‘Personality,’ and the ‘Succession’ of Anaxagoras. Fordham University, NYC, USA.
Encyclopedia Britannica, online. “Heidegger, Martin.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Heidegger-German-philosopher (accessed August 28, 2018).
Heidegger, M., Schuwer, A., & Rojcewixz, R. (1998) Parmenides. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Heidegger, M. (1968). What is called thinking. New York: Harper & Row.
Kofman, S., & Lionnet-Mccumber, F. (1987). Nietzsche and the Obscurity of Heraclitus. Diacritics, 17(3), 39-55. doi:10.2307/464834
Osborne, C. (2011). Presocraticphilosophy: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rickert, T. (2014). Parmenides, Ontological Enaction and the Prehistory of Rhetoric. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 47(4), 472.
Waterfield, R. (2009). Thefirst philosophers the Presocratics and Sophists. Oxford: Oxford University Press.