Category: Ancient Philosophy

Ancient Philosophy

Ancient philosophy is philosophy in antiquity, or before the end of the Roman Empire. It usually refers to ancient Greek philosophy. It can also encompass various other intellectual traditions, such as Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, and Iranian philosophy. Ancient philosophies are generally deeply rooted in religious traditions. Accordingly, ancient philosophies have a comprehensive outlook as opposed to modern or contemporary philosophies, which tend to have more narrow methodologies and areas of focus. In the Western tradition, ancient philosophy was developed primarily by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Ancient philosophy, however, also includes the Pre-Socratics, Hellenistic philosophy, and Roman philosophy. Ancient philosophy...

Murderous Rage: The Story of Achilles

Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, is one of the most famous Greeks: He is the exemplary warrior who leads the Greeks to victory against Troy, but he is also emotionally unbalanced. He falls in love, he is easily angered, he becomes passive-aggressive, and finally he is so enraged that he goes on a killing spree. Is it his anger that makes him a great warrior, or is he a victim of his own emotions? Should we call a man who is engulfed in rage “a hero?” The emotions of Achilles are at the center of the story in the Iliad. What...

Cicero

I recently added some texts from the ancient Roman politician and philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 BC) to this blog. Cicero rose to the highest political offices in Rome, and he defended the Roman Republic, a limited version of democracy within an oligarchy, against various attempts by individuals and small groups to usurp power. He saw the rise of Caesar, and was present at his assassination in the Senate, but he was not one of conspirators. In the volatile political situation after Caesars’ death, he gave speeches in which he tried to defend the Senate and the Republican System against the revenge of Mark Antony,...

Cicero on Just War

The conditions for Just War have been debated for centuries: it must be fought by a legal and recognized authority, eg, a government. The cause of the war must be just. The war must be fought with the intention to establish good or correct evil, and there must be a reasonable chance of success. The war must be the last resort (after all diplomatic negotiations have been tried and failed), and only sufficient force must be used. Civilians should not be involved or targeted. One of the first philosophers discussing the conditions for just war is Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43...

Cicero: In Verrem

In Verrem (“Against Verres”) is a series of speeches made by Cicero in 70 BC, during the corruption and extortion trial of Gaius Verres, the former governor of Sicily. The speeches made Cicero famous. This is the only known case where he acted as prosecutor. Verres basically plundered Sicily as governor, and he went into exile before the case came to a verdict. Thus Cicero, who opened the prosecution by simply presenting the witnesses and their damning stories, never got to make his speeches, but he published them later anyway. Here are some excerpts of the text:   In Verrem, I, 1-6 I think...

Antigone

“Antigone” is a tragedy by Sophocles, written on or before 441 BC. It is the third of a trilogy of Theban plays, but it was written chronologically first. The play expands on the Theban legend that predated it and picks up where Aeschylus’ “Seven Against Thebes” ends. The Theban plays consist of three plays: Oedipus the King (also called Oedipus Tyrannus or by its Latin title Oedipus Rex), Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. All three plays concern the fate of Thebes during and after the reign of King Oedipus. They have often been published under a single cover. Sophocles, however, wrote the...

Cicero: A Remarkable Life (106 – 43 BC)

The following description of Cicero’s life is mainly quoted from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There is also a short description of his life in the context of ancient political philosophy at the Stanford Encyclopedia. The ancient historian Plutarch wrote a long biography of him in 75 CE, which you can find at the MIT Classics Archive.  Cicero’s political career was remarkable. In his times, high political offices in Rome, though technically achieved by winning elections, were almost exclusively controlled by a group of wealthy aristocratic families that had held them for many generations. Cicero’s family was aristocratic, but did...

Cicero: First Speech against Catilina

The speech was given in 63 BC before the Roman Senate. The following quote from the Perseus Digital Library first summarizes the political background, then reprints the text of the speech.  THE ARGUMENT. Lucius Catiline, a man of noble extraction, and who had already been praetor, had been a competitor of Cicero’s for the consulship; the next year he again offered himself for the office, practicing such excessive and open bribery, that Cicero published a new law against it, with the additional penalty of ten years’ exile; prohibiting likewise all shows of gladiators from being exhibited by a candidate within two...

Cicero: On the Best Style of Orators

This little piece was composed by Cicero as a sort of preface to his translation of the Orations of Demosthenes and Aeschines de Coronâ; the translations themselves have not come down to us. I. THERE are said to be classes of orators as there are of poets. But it is not so; for of poets there are a great many divisions; for of tragic, comic, epic, lyric, and also of dithyrambic poetry, which has been more cultivated by the Latins, each kind is very different from the rest. Therefore in tragedy anything comic is a defect, and in comedy anything...

Presocratic Fragments and Testimonials

The Presocratics were 6th and 5th century BCE Greek thinkers who introduced a new way of inquiring into the world and the place of human beings in it. The history of the texts is complicated; the standard collection of texts for the Presocratics is that by H. Diels revised by W. Kranz (always abbreviated as DK). Good introduction to Presocratic philosophy can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia. The following selection of quotes is based on passages in John Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophy. (Burnet, John. 2014. Early Greek Philosophy. Edited by Paul A. Boer Sr. 1 edition. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.)...

Plato and Aristotle

Plato lived from 428/427 or 424/423 BCE  to 348/347 BCE. He was born and died in Athens, and reached 80. He was a student of Socrates, and started a school of philosophy, the Academy, when he was around 40. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was born in Stagirus, northern Greece. His father died when Aristotle was a child. At eighteen, he joined Plato’s Academy in Athens and remained there until he was 37. He then went to Lesbos, married, and had a daughter. In 343 BCE, he became the tutor of Alexander the Great. In 335 BCE, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his...

Plato: Laws. Book 1. Written in 360 B.C.E

This dialogue is about the nature of law. the persons in the dialogue: An ATHENIAN STRANGER (possibly Socrates?); CLEINIAS, a Cretan; MEGILLUS, a man from Lacedaemonia.  Athenian Stranger. Tell me, Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to be the author of your laws? Cleinias. A God, Stranger; in very truth a, God: among us Cretans he is said to have been Zeus, but in Lacedaemon, whence our friend here comes, I believe they would say that Apollo is their lawgiver: would they not, Megillus? Megillus. Certainly. Ath. And do you, Cleinias, believe, as Homer tells, that every ninth year Minos went to converse with his Olympian sire,...

Thucydides: Pericles’ Funeral Oration

Pericles’ Funeral Oration is a famous speech from Thucydides’ book History of the Peloponnesian War. The speech was delivered by Pericles, an famous Athenian politician, at the end of the first year of the war, which lasted from 431 to 404 BC. It was a part of the annual public funeral for the war dead, and the speech defines the character of the Athenian democracy.  “Most of those who have spoken here before me have commended the lawgiver who added this oration to our other funeral customs. It seemed to them a worthy thing that such an honor should be given...

Aristotle: On Memory and Reminiscence. 350 B.C.

This is a short treatise by Aristotle, written approximately around 350B.C. It was originally published in: Ross, W. D. (Ed.) (1930). The works of Aristotle (vol. 3). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Translated by J. I. Beare. Part 1 We have, in the next place, to treat of Memory and Remembering, considering its nature, its cause, and the part of the soul to which this experience, as well as that of Recollecting, belongs. For the persons who possess a retentive memory are not identical with those who excel in power of recollection; indeed, as a rule, slow people have a good memory, whereas...

Aristotle – Metaphysics

This text is a foundational text of Western philosophy; it was written in 350 B.C.E. In it, Aristotle defines the nature of philosophy in relation to scientific knowledge. He starts with human curiosity – the desire to know does not need any further explanation.His approach differs from Plato: knowledge starts with the senses, but the senses do not tell us the “why” of anything. Wisdom is not just experience or knowledge about things in the world, it is knowledge about the principles and causes of things. Here is the beginning of Metaphysics: Book I: Part 1 “ALL men by nature...

Plato – Overview

Plato is perhaps the most influential philosopher of all times. This page contains his biography and some web links for further study. I quote his biography from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Biography Birth It is widely accepted that Plato, the Athenian philosopher, was born in 428-7 B.C.E and died at the age of eighty or eighty-one at 348-7 B.C.E. These dates, however, are not entirely certain, for according to Diogenes Laertius (D.L.), following Apollodorus’ chronology, Plato was born the year Pericles died, was six years younger than Isocrates, and died at the age of eighty-four (D.L. 3.2-3.3). If Plato’s date...

Plato: Meno Dialog

 Meno is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato.In this dialog, Socrates and his partners philosophize about the nature of virtue. In the second part of the dialog, Socrates introduces the ideas of the immortality of the soul, and the theory of knowledge as recollection (anamnesis). The dialog ends with a distinction between knowledge and true belief. PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Meno, Socrates, A Slave of Meno (Boy), Anytus. MENO: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor by practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or...

Plato: Euthyphro Dialog

Plato’s Euthyphro is a dialogue between Socrates and the young Euthyphro outside the court in Athens just before Socrates goes to trial. As Socrates has been charged by the Athenians with ‘impiety’, and as Euthypho claims to understand piety perfectly (5a) Socrates, sarcastically, asks the younger man to explain “what is piety and what is impiety?” Having at first stated that he can easily define ‘piety’ as well as “many other stories about divine matters”(6c) it soon becomes clear that Euthyphro has no idea what piety is and no clear idea about “that accurate knowledge” (14b) of the will of...

Thucydides – Melian Dialog

431 BC HISTORY OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR by Thucydides CHAPTER XVII. Sixteenth Year of the War – The Melian Conference – Fate of Melos THE next summer Alcibiades sailed with twenty ships to Argos and seized the suspected persons still left of the Lacedaemonian faction to the number of three hundred, whom the Athenians forthwith lodged in the neighbouring islands of their empire. The Athenians also made an expedition against the isle of Melos with thirty ships of their own, six Chian, and two Lesbian vessels, sixteen hundred heavy infantry, three hundred archers, and twenty mounted archers from Athens, and...

Plato: Parmenides Dialog

Translated by Benjamin Jowett, from Project Gutenberg. Here are some links that will help to understand the text better:  Plato’s Parmenides (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Parmenides (dialogue) – Wikipedia The symbolic structure of Plato’s Parmenides   PARMENIDES PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Cephalus, Adeimantus, Glaucon, Antiphon, Pythodorus, Socrates, Zeno, Parmenides, Aristoteles. Cephalus rehearses a dialogue which is supposed to have been narrated in his presence by Antiphon, the half-brother of Adeimantus and Glaucon, to certain Clazomenians. We had come from our home at Clazomenae to Athens, and met Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Agora. Welcome, Cephalus, said Adeimantus, taking me by...