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The Presocratic Philosophers (Arguments of the Philosophers)

The Presocratic Philosophers (Arguments of the Philosophers) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Barnes
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description


"This is one of the richest recent contributions to Presocratic studies, and by far the most exhilarating. It also rests on considerable erudition, for Barnes has taken careful and appreciative account of the work of a vast range of other scholars in the field, even those who have followed quite different paths from his own."-"Cambridge Review "Jonathan Barnes . . . has carried out his large enterprise with scholarly skill, philosophical acuteness, and a degree of brilliant, disciplined imagination that will amaze and delight those of us who were inclined to be skeptical . . . All lovers of the Presocratics will welcome this highly personal, vigorous and stimulating survey of the field from a distinctly philosophical point of view."-"Journal of Philosophy

Product Description

The Presocratics were the founding fathers of the Western philosophical tradition, and the first masters of rational thought. This volume provides a comprehensive and precise exposition of their arguments, and offers a rigorous assessment of their contribution to philosophical thought.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1756 KB
  • Print Length: 728 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Routledge; Revised edition (11 Sep 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OI0RR4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #606,394 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Item delivered in perfect condition, great book. 11 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am recommending this to all who have an interest in studying early greek philosophy. This is an essential book.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear, witty, analytic view of the Presocratics 18 Feb 2003
By E. M. Dale - Published on
The Kirk, Raven, and Schofield Presocratic Philosophers tends to be the standard text, but I have to say that Barnes' work is my pick. One can tell from his personal style that he lives with these texts, in much the same way as Barnes' work on Aristotle reveals his affection for the great Macedonian. My "analytic" desciption in the title of this review is a technical term; Barnes' appointment in philosophy at Oxford indicates to the discerning reader Barnes' philosophical committment towards Anglo-American analytic philosophy, and the asides sprinkled liberally throughout the text show Barnes editorializing on these thinkers as only an analytic philosopher with a dry, British wit can. As a matter of fact, in his worse moments he comes across as only slightly less opinionated and certain of his conclusions than does Lord Russell in the latter's often caustic but always enjoyable History of Western Philosophy. Still, it is Barnes' interpretation of these thinkers, more than his style, that ultimately recommends this work. The condition of the Presocratic texts and their profound age allows for nearly any sort of reading (witness Heidegger's important work on Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides in particular), and Barnes tries to situate his subjects within a narrative grouped more around ideas than chronology. The work is in three sections, entitled "Eden" (the earliest of the Presocratics and their ideas about the nature of matte, etc.), "The Serpent" (Parmenides and Zeno), and "Paradise Regained" (Ionian thought, Empedocles, Atomists, et. al.), and there is an "Epilogue" which ties it all together nicely. Since the thing is arranged in terms of ideas rather than names, it can be difficult if one simply wants, say, the chapter that explains Democritus--there is none. Rather, Democritus (for example) shows up throughout the work, whenever his thought becomes relevent to the flow of the narrative. That said, Barnes does go into great detail when discussing the various thinkers, and you come away from the book having thoroughly examined each of the philosophers in a contextual rather than chronological way. The appendices and indexes are exhaustive, and allow for quick location of either a thinker or a specific topic. An excellent book on the Presocratics.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and thought-provoking book. 5 Dec 2003
By Mark Middlebrook - Published on
I cannot claim to have swallowed this entire tome, but I can at least recommend it for sipping. Barnes covers Thales down to Diogenes in a less scholarly and more personal style than Kirk & Raven use in their book of the same name. Barnes is less concerned with philological and historical interpretations than with "whether the Presocratics spoke truly, (and) whether their sayings rested on sound arguments." He also is an entertaining writer. For instance, in pooh-poohing the currently fashionable tendency to stress the irrational side of Presocratic thinking, Barnes writes: "...that even the Greeks had their moments of unreason is not to be denied.... (Nonetheless) the Greeks stand to the irrational as the French to bad cuisine."
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great for fans of the genre, OK to poor for the rest of us... 29 Sep 2007
By Nicolas E. Leon Ruiz - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To begin with, disclosure: I've read large parts of this book, but not all. So, in fairness to Barnes, there may be gems in here that I missed.

All in all, Barnes offers us a wealth of texts and a great deal of commentary. Writing a fairly comprehensive history and analysis of Presocratic philosophy is a big job, and Barnes doesn't shrink from the task.

First off, as a writer, Barnes is extremely skillful and readable. His prose dances with acerbic wit and the confidence of a man who knows how to turn a phrase. This is no dull-as-dishwater academic writing, and there is mercifully little jargon for the sake of jargon.

In terms of translation and interpretation, I find Barnes to be inconsistent. He is certainly a competent translator of Greek--and he occasionally produces a beautiful rendering where others stumble. However, his way of interpreting these translations leads to problems, as he seems unaware of any ambiguity in the material he has translated. To give just one example, he renders Heraclitus B50 as, "Listening not to me but to my account it is wise to agree that everything is one." This is taken by Barnes to be an explicit assertion of monism, which, for Barnes, is material monism: "In some fashion the diversity of appearances is underpinned or colligated by some single thing or stuff (Barnes, 60)." Well...*maybe* this is the meaning of B50. Unfortunately, this isn't as clear or unproblematic as Barnes seems to think--this might be a material monism, or it might not. But Barnes assumes it is without further ado, and so when he begins his interpretation of Heraclitean fire, it is immediately deemed "the prime stuff of the world" in line with his reading of B50--a reading which was never fully justified to begin with. But if the oneness in B50 is NOT indicative of material monism, but some other thing, then perhaps the fire in the other fragments is not a "stuff" at all, but something else--I've been told that Klaus Held's phenomenological reading of Heraclitus suggests that the elements be understood as "domains of appearing," to offer just one alternative. Thus I find Barnes' interpretive methodology and practice highly questionable.

His overall philosophical approach and outlook on the ancients will appeal to some, but it left me cold.

First, Barnes loosely follows what might be called an "evolutionary" model of ancient philosophy, with one philosopher formulating his philosophy in response to a predecessor's challenge. Frankly, I can't buy it. I'm not alone--no less a scholar than M.L. West savages this approach for his own reasons (in an appropriately polite, witty, British way) in Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient. But for me, anyhow, this view of ancient philosophy assumes WAY too much about what those early wise men were up to. Barnes seems to think of the ancient Mediterranean as some kind of Oxbridge debating society or modern academic conference. It wasn't.

Second, Barnes seems to have swallowed Aristotle's reading of the Presocratics hook, line, and sinker. Of course, he may pay lip service to the importance of a properly critical reading of ancient doxographies, and that's fine, but I'm talking about the big picture. Aristotle's basic attitude towards the Presocratics was to say: Thanks for playing; now I'll do to perfection what you merely tried to do in a bumbling, amateurish way. And Barnes seems to buy into this. He talks about the Presocratics searching out the waters over which "the stately galleon" of Aristotle's own philosophy would one day sail. He tells us that the Presocratics drank "the heady potation" from "the springs of reason" and explains that we should excuse the "trembling delirium in their brains" and "their precocious intoxication" because "their tipsy gait taught us to walk more steadily." And so here we are. Gone is any sense that the Presocratics might have understood more than Aristotle. Gone is any inkling that Aristotle himself, blinded by his own sense of superiority, might not have had such a perfect understanding of his philosophical forebears after all. Gone, in short, is any trace of caution and humility. Barnes sums up his own point of view quite well: "Few Presocratic opinions are true; fewer still are well grounded." (Barnes, 3-5)

This, as I see it, is what lies at the bottom of Barnes' truly objectionable approach. For this book is, most fundamentally, seven hundred pages of an above-average scholar putting the words of the Presocratics (which he, like Aristotle, may or may not have understood) into modern logical notation--so that he can refute them. This is where I come to the end, both of my patience with Barnes and of my review. If this sort of thing is your cup of tea and doesn't trouble you...then buy the book, you'll enjoy it. If you, like me, have serious problems with this mentality and approach--look elsewhere. There are more sensitive and perceptive scholars out there than Barnes: Dilcher (Studies in Heraclitus (Spudasmata: Studien Zur Klassichen Philologie Und Ihren Grenzgebieten)), Guthrie (History of Greek Philosophy (Volume 1)), Kahn (The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An Edition of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary), Kingsley (Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition, Reality), and West (Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (Oxford Scholarly Classics)) come to mind. You'll have to buy more than a single book, but if you're interested in the Presocratics as lovers of wisdom and not as target practice for a middling analytic philosopher, it'll be worth it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Re Jonathan Barnes' Presocratic Philosophers 20 Feb 2009
By M. David Todd - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's a highly competent job by an analytic philosopher. The arguments of the Presocratics are reconstructed, sometimes with guesswork: they are presented analytically and indeed sometimes with the help of the apparatus of mathematical logic (to the good, if you ask me: it makes things spellbindingly clear). The negative is that there is nothing, repeat nothing, concerning the inspiration of the Presocratics. Their tremendous insight was that Nature is somehow infiltrated with Reason, that is, with Mind. Look at Socrates' reminiscence of Anaxagoras in Plato's Phaedo for an exact statement of this inspiration: there is none more important for the history the West. But Barnes says nothing about it. The book is simply a catalogue of technical arguments. Barnes might defend himself by saying, "That's all I meant to produce." In which case one has to reply, "You succeeded in that--but you perfectly well could have added a few pages or a chapter on the Presocratics' guiding inspiration."
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars noein . . . 22 Feb 2008
By cvairag - Published on
There is some confusion surrounding this difficult, studied, and rather idiosyncratic masterpiece by a brilliant, post-modern generation, scholar of classical philosophy, and, for a quarter century, Fellow of Balliol College. This book was written early on in Barnes' career, preceding what many feel to be his definitive translation of Aristotle. Few are as schooled and as good in both Greek and Logic as Barnes, and his talents are on full display here. The book is well-written as one would expect, yet regularly delves into technical analysis which is nearly impossible for the general audience (for whom the Presocratics still hold great interest) to penetrate. One of the highpoints of the book for me is his translation of Parmendes' arguments into modal propositional form. Not that it didn't take me a number of readings (over nearly two decades) to come to grips with what Barnes is saying; I did, however, eventually come away with a deeper understanding of those most gnomic of primordial philosophic utterances.
Some explanation to the prospective reader is in order, re: what Barnes' objectives in writing this book were. First, The Arguments of the Philosophers, a project edited by that most foursquare of contemporary academic philosophers, Ted Honderich, is not, at least in the volumes I have looked into, light reading. They involve deep, more or less, technical analyses of the arguments of these thinkers. They do not provide much in the way of historical/cultural context. We're talking epistemology, logic, language analysis, folks, and lots of it. Barnes' early contribution to this illustrious series is in line with its general objectives. In his introduction, he writes, "[the book]. . . was never intended to supply a comprehensive account [or cultural history] of early Greek thought ... my aim was . . . modest: I proposed to analyse some of the arguments of some of the early Greek thinkers; and in doing so I hoped to help celebrate the characteristic rationality of Greek thought."
As Barnes begins the text, he claims: "Logic is a Greek discovery. The laws of thought were first observed in ancient Greece; and they were first articulated and codified in Aristotle's 'Analytics'. Modern logicians surpass Aristotle in the scope of their enquiries and in the technical virtuosity of their style; but for the elegance of conception and rigour of their thought he is their peer, and in all things their intellectual father." And a bit further on: "The Presocratic philosophers had one common characteristic of supreme importance: they were rational . . ." This idea then, the earliest development of rational argument in the Occident, the primal attempts to "self-consciously . . . subordinate assertion to argument and dogma to logic. . .", the book eloquently traces.
Now, there is an exciting strain of scholarship which has emerged of late, notably in the work of Kingsley and McEvilley, disputing the viability of the very traditional approach taken here, on the basis of philological, historical, theological, mythological and geographical reconstruction. Can we properly arrive at the meaning of what the ancients were saying, perceived from the narrow lense of 20th century analytic semantics and logic? And there is no doubt that Barnes abides by what we might call Aristotilean assumptions. But he admits the narrowness of his focus, and that, I think, is one of the strengths of this text, despite serious revisions in our interpretation of what was actually said in that remote era. The fact remains that Parmenides' arguments were founded (as we have them) in logic - and the strength of his deduction (as we measure it) proves to be the turning point in the way we perceive the arguments of his forbears and his descendents.
On the downside, the book is at times an over-the-top Anglo-analytic response to Heideggerian, and other philologically-based analyses. Barnes was a student of the great G.E.O. Owen. Owen's views are provocative, often iconoclastic, and are expanded in this book. One might get the idea that Herakleitos was essentially a monist, and Paramenides, well, not necessarily, or something like that. These speculations make us think, and we can thank Barnes for his efforts to flesh out the arguments, fragmentary as the texts are. Herakleitos did cope with the inherited monistic outlook of some of his prominent forbears and did claim an 'arche' in fire. But does that make him a monist? I don't think Barnes sees him as one, or intends for us to - but the reading here is thick enough to confuse all but the most patient.
Finally, a prospective philosophy major once asked me which is the better book to buy for an overview of the era: Guthrie (Vols 1 & 2) or Barnes? My response was Guthrie, by all means! Barnes, while he opposes Guthrie's ultimate readings of a number of the Presocratics (as more famously did his mentor, Owen), pays homage to him throughout the work. The truth is, Barnes cannot approximate the comprehensiveness of Guthrie. However, his painstaking analtyic depth is singular and invaluable. His focus on the emergence of rational argument in Greece as a single thread is unrivalled. Nor can we fault Barnes, as selective as he is at times, for the degree of breadth he gives us, particularly in a convenient one volume format. Every major argument of the era is at least discussed. There is a neat section on the Sophists and their impact on the stream of Presocratic thought, overlooked in most studies of the period. There is also a useful timeline on page 593. Again, it must be noted that his work on the Eleatics and the fate of their intellectual legacy is among the most careful and deeply thought that the reader will find.
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