Mythos, Logos, & Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Mythos, Logos,
& the Pre-Socratics
Is Not
• The search for beliefs that
are rationally justified.
• The search for justification for
what we want to believe
• The questioning of the
meaning of basic concepts
and assumptions.
• The process of picking a set of
beliefs to believe in.
• A method, a mode of
1st Principle of Philosophy: Conceptual Clarity
• If the meaning of the
terms of the argument
aren’t clear, then the
argument isn’t clear.
• “The nation’s wealth
should be distributed
among the population
• “Too many entering
college students are not
competent in the
2nd Principle of Philosophy: Consistency
• No contradictions.
• An argument that contains
two statements that cannot
both be true is inconsistent.
• “Everything that happens is
part of God’s plan, and I have
• An argument that contains
statements that deny their
own legitimacy is
inconsistent (i.e. selfreferential inconsistency).
• “It is impossible to be
certain about anything.”
• “There are no truths.”
3rd Principle of Philosophy: Coherence
• The way ideas and claims
“fit” or “hang” together.
• “God is all good and all
powerful. He allows evil
to exist in the world.”
• “I know I have a mind
that exists separately
from my brain, but I can’t
identify where my mind
is, describe its origins, or
explain how it interacts
with my brain.”
4th Principle of Philosophy:
• Good philosophy
explains a wide range of
phenomena; bad
philosophy explains a
narrow range of
• “It’s true for me.”
• “Only scientific facts
What are the questions of philosophy?
• What is the nature of
• What is the “stuff” of the
• What exists?
• What “is” and what makes it
as it is?
• What are the differences
between the way something
appears to be and the way it
• What is knowledge?
• What does it mean “to
• Where does knowledge
come from and how do we
come “to know?”
• What is
• How do we know we know
what we claim to know?
More Kinds of Questions
• What are the relationships
among art, nature, and
• What is beauty?
• What is the nature of the
experience of beauty?
• Does beauty inhere in the
object or is it a projection?
• What are the bases for the
standards of beauty?
• How should I/we/people
• What makes an act right or
• What is value/worth?
• What makes an act “good?”
• Does morality need God?
• To what degree should the
situation or context for an
ethical decision bear on the
Where did philosophy come from?
The Scenario
• You discover today that the
world we live in is not
governed by natural and
physical laws and is not part
of the universe as we know
• The whole thing is an MMO
• You experience
consciousness and feel like
you’re freely making
choices, but you know, too,
that the game designers,
the game platform, and the
gamers determine the ways
things are.
• You are absolutely,
unshakably certain in this.
And then you find….
• Who are you?
• What is the
purpose/meaning of your
The game.
• Why is the world the way it
The gamers.
The history (the story of the
• Why do things happen as
game and the gamers).
they do?
A listing of those who have
• Who has authority in this
contact with the gamers.
A description of the game
• Where does order/harmony
world and explanation of
come from?
why what happens happens
as it does.
The Power of Mythos
• Situated the world within a
supernatural context—
natural events have
supernatural causes (Zeus
and thunder).
• Promotes community—
we’re all in the same story.
• Very stable society: “So
behaved the sacred
ancestors; so must we
• Provides moral code.
What is this
hurricane and why is
it happening?
Theater of Miletus
6th Century BCE (600 BCE-501 BCE); near coast of present-day
Collapse of social and political structures leads to collapse of
Collapse of mythos: You’re still in the game, but it’s not clear in
what sense it’s a game with gamers. The story is in question.
• Greek for “word.”
• Source of English “logic”—
psychology, biology,
sociology, etc.
• Logos refers to speaking or
setting forth ideas in words,
which implies a certain kind
of thinking about, reflection
upon, and evaluation of
those words—LOGICAL
• The force of thought leads to
wisdom (Sophia) & those who
have love (Philo) for wisdom
and devote themselves to its
pursuit are engaged in
“philosophia”—the love of
The “Pre-Socratics”
• The challenge: Find a way to
create order and harmony
without the myths.
• A group of thinkers—
”inquirers”—that assumed
reason and senses (and not
just gods and myths) had
authority to determine the
nature of the universe, its
phenomena, and the place
of human beings in it.
• Began the Western tradition
of “philosophy.”
Idea: “I can create
explanations of what
happens by observing
phenomena and using
reason/logic to draw
Empedocles fragment
Thales of Miletus (@580c. BCE)
• Things seem to change—
bodies decay, plants grow,
• If there is change, there must
be something that changes
AND something that doesn’t
change—otherwise, chaos.
• In other words, there must
be a unity (Oneness)
underneath the plurality of
the world.
• So what is the unifying,
unchanging substance that is
hidden by the appearance of
constant change?
• It changes without
“The first principle and basic
nature of all things is water,”
says Thales.
Rivers turn into deltas….waters turns
into ice and then back into
water….which turns into
steam…which becomes air….which
becomes wind….which fans fire, etc.
• Hogwash? How far is the
leap from the claim that
water is the building
block of everything and
the claim that atoms
• Key insight? Plurality of
the world must be
reducible to one
Anaximander (@610-546 BCE)
• Student of Thales.
• How can water become its
opposite, fire?
• And if water is the
fundamental of everything,
why hasn’t everything
returned to water? (entropy?)
• The source of all things has to
be greater than any of the
• In fact, it has to be greater
than any “thing”—it has to be
a non-thing or beyond-thing.
• The “Boundless” or
“Unlimited” (apeiron).
• The Boundless is opposed
to nothing because
everything is it.
• Boundless originally in
vortex, disrupted,
fragmented into
elements (Big Bang?).
• World will end and return
elements to unified
Anaximenes (@545 BCE)
• Criticism of Anaximander:
An unspecific,
indeterminate, “somethingor-other” is no better than
nothing at all.
• Besides, “Nihilo nihil” (from
nothing comes nothing).
• Air is it. Less dense=fire.
Condensed=cloud and
water. More
condensed=earth and rock.
• Key idea: Differences in
quality are really
differences in quantity.
Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes
• All from Miletus.
• All lived around 550 BCE.
• All desired simple
• All tried to identify the
fundamental “stuff” the
universe is made of.
• All relied on
• All focused on
explaining natural
phenomenon in terms
of other natural
phenomenon and not in
terms of supernatural
Some Pre-Socratics Focused Not on Explanations of the
Material World but on Nature of Ideas
• Xenophanes of Elea
(@570 BCE)
• “But mortals
suppose that the
gods are born (as
they themselves
are), and that they
wear man’s clothing
and have a human
voice and body.”
(fragment 5)
(fragment 6)
Parmenides (@515-440 BCE)
• Shows that the nature of
reality can be
demonstrated through
logic without
• Follow this:
• “It is” is a truth of
reason that does not
depend on observation.
• “It is” cannot be denied
without selfcontradiction: “It is not”
is “It is nothing,” but if
“nothing” exists, then it
is not nothing; it is
something. “It is.”
• Since “nothing” cannot be • indestructible (if destroyed,
thought without thinking
it would turn into nonof it as “something,” there
Being, but there is no
is no nothing, only Being.
• eternal (if it were not
eternal it would eventually
• Being must, therefore, be
become non-Being);
uncreated (if it were
created it would have been • indivisible (if it could be
created from nothing, and
divided, there would be
there is no nothing);
spaces of non-Being
between it parts, but there
is no non-Being).
And, therefore, Parmenides says….
• Motion is impossible.
• For Being to move, it
would have to go from
where Being is to where
Being isn’t (but there
can’t be any such place
where Being isn’t!)
Zeno of Elea (@490 BCE)
• Defended Parmenides.
• Even given the
possibility of motion, it
is impossible to ever get
Parmenides and Zeno
• Force a choice between
sensory observation and
mathematics and logic.
• The senses deceive, so
reason/logic should reign.
• This later becomes the
tension between
empiricism and

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