The First Philosophers The Presocratics and Sophists (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 26 Mar 2009
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About the Author
Robin Waterfield, whose many translations include works by Plato, Plutarch, and Aristotle, currently resides on a farm in Greece. His career spans both academia and publishing.
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Top Customer Reviews
The Presocratic philosophers are so called because they lived before Socrates, although the last of them was his contemporary. The initial period of Presocratic philosophy is from 580 - 430 BC. The Presocratics are considered together but do not, as a whole, form a specific school of thought although Parmenides of Elea did have followers. What we know of them is what was recorded by later writers, known as doxographers. We also know that those records reflect the philosophies of the writers themselves. Hence Aristole, using his four causes analysis, suggests Thales believed everything was made out of water, a suggestion from which Waterfield dissents. Similarly Plato in defending Socrates' memory disparages the Sophists. As Plato is the main source of information about the Sophists the need for critical appraisal is imperative.
The Presocratics were not scientists in the modern sense of the word. They did not carry out experiments to prove theories and where observation and theories clashed they tended to prefer theory. The Presocratics retained a strong degree of mystical thought. At the time of Homer the primary attribute of religion was anthropomorphism.Read more ›
But as with any kind of madness, there’s some sanity to be got at here too. Waterfields’ The First Philosophers offers the reader a view of both the reason and the ridiculous in each thinker, ranging from Thales at 580 BC to Critias et al around 410 BC.
The philosophers are set out chronologically and each is given two sections; a narrative summary followed by their collected fragments and testimonia. It took me a while to get used to this set-up. Most other editors tend to place the fragments within their narrative account, as if it’s some kind of essential scaffold without which our understanding of Pre-Socratic thought would resemble nothing more than a pile of unseemly rubble. But actually, reading the fragments all together helps each writer’s voice stand out more clearly. Heraclitus sounds like a grumpy curmudgeon, Parmenides does a great impression of Homer, and Protagoras sounds like a friendly old head-teacher who’s seen it all before and is keen for everyone to just get along.
The biggest eye-opener is the section on the Sophists, who, with their emphasis on relativity, are portrayed as proto-Postmodernists (and, yes, hypocritical money-grabbing leeches). The idea that truth is a matter of convention rather than something absolute was a major advance in a society where natural disasters and the cycle of the seasons so dominated people’s lives and livelihoods.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Purchased as a gift. All arrived on time and as described. Good introduction to an interesting area of study.Published 8 months ago by Nigel Barron
I was obliged to read the first hundred pages of this as recommended reading for a course on Ancient Greek philosophy however I soon discovered Jonathan Barnes excellent book on... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Richard