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Encyclopedia > Presocratics

Pre-Socratic philosophers are often very hard to pin down, and it is sometimes very difficult to determine the actual line of argument they used in supporting their particular views. While most of these thinkers produced significant texts, we have no complete versions of any of those texts. All we have are quotations by later philosophers, historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

The pre-Socratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations for the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. They asked:

  • Where does everything come from?
  • What is it really made out of?
  • How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?
  • Why are we able to describe them with a singular mathematics?

Nearly all of the various cosmologies proposed by the early Greek philosophers are demonstrably false. Later philosophers rejected the answers they provided, but continued to place importance on their questions.

List of Philosophers

This article is a part of the
History of Philosophy series.
History of Western philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Ancient philosophy
Medieval philosophy
Renaissance philosophy
17th-century philosophy
18th-century philosophy
19th-century philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Postmodern philosophy
Contemporary philosophy
Eastern philosophy

Notable Movements

  Results from FactBites:
Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.01.32 (3056 words)
Presocratic philosophy is, for Laks, a dialectic -- a dialectic, moreover, which continues with Socrates, the Sophists, Plato and even Aristotle.
However, in general there simply is not sufficient reliable evidence for us to determine who constituted the Presocratics' adversaries and audience -- the author struggles at times with the three that she has selected, and the problem would be worse with many of the other Presocratics.
Patricia Curd ("The Presocratics as Philosophers") seeks to defend some of the earliest philosophers from some recent attacks which have suggested that they should not be considered philosophers.
Rush Rhees - In Dialogue with the Greeks, Volume I: The Presocratics and Reality; Volume II: Plato and Dialectic - ... (1915 words)
A dialogic mode of philosophizing is inherently more complex than one proceeding systematically to develop a theory or argue a case, for to enter into dialogue with a given philosopher's thinking is always to enter into a whole network of dialogic relationships.
The Presocratic philosopher who seems to have grasped this insight most clearly is Heraclitus, whose "ethical pronouncements intertwine with his account of the natural world" (I, 39).
One of Rhees' chief concerns as he moves from the Presocratics to Plato is how to achieve this understanding so that the transformational patterns constituting our own lives can be viewed generatively rather than degeneratively.
  More results at FactBites »



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