Guide to the Pre-Socratics

Guide to the Pre-Socratics

Melesian School – Starting the Conversation

1.    Thales (624-546 B.C.) – The “Father of Greek philosophy”. All things are water

2.    Anaximander (610-546 B.C.) – The first principle is an undefined, unlimited substance without qualities, out of which the primary opposites, (e.g. hot and cold, moist and dry) are differentiated.

3.    Anaximenes (585-525 B.C.) – All things are air – as air “thickens” it becomes fire, cloud, water, earth.

By the way, the first known philosophic critique: Anaximander critiques Thales regarding water.

Pythagorean School – Harmony and Numbers

4.    Pythagoras of Samos (582-496 B.C.). All is number and harmony. He had a cult following.

Ephesian School – Fire and Flux

5.    Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 B.C.) – He said that all is fire. Fire is always in flux and so all things are always changing in an unending process.

Eleatic School – The Doctrine of the One

6.    Parmenides of Elea (510-440 B.C.) – All is one and change is only apparent.

7.    Zeno of Elea (490-430 B.C.) – A disciple of Parmenides (not the same Zeno who was the founder of the Stoics). Zeno listed a number of celebrated paradoxes (e.g. Achilles and the Tortoise).

Atomist School – All is Small, Little Things

8.    Leucippus (5th century B.C.) and Democritus of Abdera (460-370 B.C.). All is atoms. Moving along an infinite void, atoms “swerve” and “crash”, thereby generating things.

The Sophists – Wise Guys

9.    Protagoras (490-420 BC) – He is regarded as the “First Sophist”. Diogenes Laertius wrote that Protagoras—a sophist—invented the “Socratic” method. Protagoras said things appear differently to different persons. He creates a system of relativism. Things are and are not.

10.    Gorgias (487-376 BC) – emphasizes the persuasive power of logos or language. He wrote an Encomium of Helen. He defends Helen. She had not power to resist the words convincing her to go to Troy. Language is all powerful for those who are skillful.

11.    Hippias of Elis (485-499 BC) – He was a younger contemporary of Protagoras and Socrates who claimed to make his own clothing. He also claimed to be an authority on all subjects, and lectured on economics, politics, poetry, grammar, history, archaeology, mathematics and astronomy.

12.    Prodicus (465-390 BC) – He carefully distinguishes the meanings of words. Aristotle actually outdoes him because Aristotle classifies the different meanings of a single word.

Remember the Sophists tend to be focused on langauge and rhetoric. They seem to be disillisioned with the cosmologies of earlier thinkers.

About the Author

Taylor Marshall is the Adjunct Instructor in Philosophy at the University of Dallas.