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The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts Paperback – 29 Dec 1983

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Product details

  • Paperback: 511 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (29 Dec. 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521274559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521274555
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Book Description

Beginning with a long and extensively rewritten introduction surveying the predecessors of the Presocratics, this book traces the intellectual revolution initiated by Thales in the sixth century B.C. to its culmination in the metaphysics of Parmenides and the complex physical theories of Anaxagoras and the Atomists in the fifth century.

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In this long preliminary chapter certain ideas are examined which are not truly 'philosophical'; they are mythic rather than rational in kind, but may nevertheless appear as significant preludes to the sort of attempt to explain the world that began with Thales. Read the first page
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Office peon on 28 April 2008
Format: Paperback
It's almost uneccessary to review this book: If you are at all interested in Presocratic philosophy, this book is a neccessity, and chances are very good you've already had it recommended by someone (your mentor, professor etc). This volume provides, next to Diels-Kranz: Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, the foundation of Presocratic studies.
As the blurb on the book says, this volume, after initial publication in 1957 "quickly established itself as the standard work on the subject for the English-speaking reader". Which sums it up pretty well.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 31 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an extremely thorough and well-informed book covering almost everything you might need to know about pre-socratic philosophy. However, it is EXTREMELY scholarly and text-book in it's format. If you need something to use for studying then it would be fine. If you want to actually read a book cover to cover then it's not for you. Also, it it is heavily biased towards the protoscientific aspects of pre-socratic philosophy, and is very light on areas such as existence; being and such like.

I have given it 3 stars because it didn't suit my needs, but that's not to say it's not a good book for different needs.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
The definitive collection of pre-socratic philosophy. 4 April 2000
By Craig G Cram - Published on
Format: Paperback
I first read Kirk and Raven's `Presocratic Philosophers' as an undergrad. I was being taught pre-socratic philosophy by a Cambridge Classical Greek philosopher. Since then it has become one of my favourite and most valuable philosophy texts. Kirk and Raven present us with all the credible `fragments' of presocratic philosophy as quoted in later philosophers. They present the original greek and a (most times) definitive english translation and analysis. Although, what I learned through my professor via Kirk and Raven is that you sift or decant yourself through these most ancient and profound fragments - more akin to an approach to the `I Ching' and poetry than contemporary analytic philosophy. Kirk and Raven present us with the `holy' text of western philosophy which never fails to produce the wonder of thinking - a true thinking that is rare and primordial. Even if you usually don't like reading philosophy, the presocratics are really `post-modern' and poetic in their fragmentary and oracular collages of meaning. T.S. Eliot's `The Four Quartets' is soaked with pre-socratic philosophy.
The Pre-socratics deserve more attention because `all', and I mean all, of the basic philosophic and scientific positions are contained within these seeds of the western tradition.
131 of 143 people found the following review helpful
Read the Real Fragments - GET THE 1ST EDITION 7 Feb. 2005
By eurydike - Published on
Format: Paperback
Don't buy this edition. Get the first edition, put together by the original editors, G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven (ISBN 0521091691), which is readily available through Amazon. The current edition has been hopelessly corrupted by M. Schofield, who has edited out crucial fragments in order to support his own "Analytical Philosophy" take on the Presocratics. As an example, he has removed crucial fragments which link Parmenides with the Pythagoreans.

So make sure you acquire the 1st Edition of this crucial sourcebook which was edited in an honest fashion by G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven, and ignore any later edition which has been corrupted and invalidated by M. Schofield.

Also, take a look at Peter Kingsley's trilogy of books on Parmenides and Empedocles: "Reality," "In the Dark Places of Wisdom," and "Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition." These books will give you the real fragments, and provide you with a real take on why scholars with the intellectual dishonesty of an M. Schofield will rewrite and even abandon the original texts in order to further their own misguided agendas.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
First Edition, My first professional Philosophy book 27 Jun. 2005
By B. Marold - Published on
Format: Paperback
'The Presocratic Philosophers' edited by G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven is, on a personal level, dear to me as it is the very first book I bought when I began studying philosophy as my major in college. This trade paperback cost but $3.95. For the philosophical amateurs who may have stumbled over this review while plowing through my cookbook reviews, the most dramatic aspect of this book is how little we actually have of what these great men who invented philosophy actually wrote. For the very first figure, Thales of Melitis (a town on the Asia Minor coast), we have practically nothing except second hand reports from Diogenes Laertius, Herodotus, Plutarch, and others. Also for amateurs is the great introductory essay on the difference between mythical cosmology and the beginnings of philosophy.

If you happen to have a strong amateur interest in the history of ideas and can pick up an inexpensive early edition (I have one from 1962), I recommend you give this a look.

For serious professionals, the most important aspect of this original text is the very scholarly presentation of the fragments in the original Greek with excellent translations and commentary on the sources.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Lost Fragments 2 Dec. 2008
By J. C. Cox - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Because of eurydike's review, I did a little looking around and, indeed, what eurydike states seems to be the case. Based on this review (Thanks, eurydike)), I purchased the First Edition. eurydike is absolutely correct. To knowingly remove precious, important fragments is heinous and inexcusable. I first got this text in the early seventies when I took the class as an elective..... The professor made us work excrutiatingly through (the I Ching method previously referred to in another review) the fragments, and a Greek 101/102/201/202 textbook was required. It was one of the most satisfying classes I have ever taken. Mr. Domino is also correct. This text isn't really for the non major or one without the time requirements to go from scratch. I was in college, had the time and didn't know any better. I don't know where to get the best of both worlds. Perhaps eurydike has an answer for a text that would contain the complete fragments (just absolutely essential, I cannot overstate this) and an honest interpretation. Interpretation is another area that presents the sorts of issues that eurydike refers to. Poor translation lead to poor understanding and mis-guided ideas. Certain carefully crafted and phrased (mis) interpretations (might) support certain academic agendas. I have not read the books eurydike refers to, particularly whether one book contains all of the fragments, the veracity of the interpretations or their timelines.......
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Review of Kirk and Raven's 'The Presocratic Philosophers' 25 May 2009
By Ryan Mease - Published on
Format: Paperback
NOTE: This a review of the original text, NOT the new version with the notorious Scofield editing.

The book is divided into what are roughly two even pieces of scholarship. Kirk has written a long introductory chapter on the "pre-pre-socratic" quasi-rational mythology of Homer, Hesiod and the like, as well as the sections on the early Ionian philosophers. Raven has gathered the information on the Pythagorean, Eleatic and post-Eleatic systems.

Raven is definitely a superior writer. Where Kirk's prose is dense and detail-oriented, covering little information in a myriad of tedious pages, Raven is more straight-forward and his commentary is easier to follow. I recommend the reader skip (as the prologue itself recommends) Kirk's pre-pre-socratic introductory chapter, as this is definitely the least interesting section of the work.

Looking over the whole work, it is an excellent source of information on the presocratic philosophers. It is more detailed and extensive than the Penguin Classics text on the presocratics (by J. Barnes) I had read earlier. That said, it is also much more "professional." The reader with no knowledge of Greek with at times stumble to understand the direction of the text, and certain scholarly tangents seem to drag the reader into the shadows of boredom. In end, its a demanding but rewarding work.
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