1
THE PRE-SOCRATICS

INTRODUCTION

Philosophy begins with wonder, and even now it is wonder that causes
philosophers to philosophize. At first they wondered about the obvious
difficulties and then they gradually progressed to puzzle about the greater
ones, for example, the behavior of the moon and sun and stars and the
coming to be of the universe. Whoever is puzzled and in a state of won-
der believes he is ignorant (this is why the lover of myths is also in a way
a philosopher, since myths are made up of wonders). And so, if indeed
they pursued philosophy to escape ignorance, they were obviously pur-
suing scientific knowledge in order to know and not for the sake of any
practical need.1

(ARISTOTLE)

They looked into the heavens and wondered how the universe had come about. They pondered the structure of the world. Is there one fundamental substance that underlies all of reality or are there many substances? What is the really real, and not just a matter of appearance?

The first philosophers were Greeks of the sixth century B.C. living on the Ionian coast of the Aegean Sea, in Miletus, Colophon, Samos, and Ephesus. Other people in other cultures had wondered about these questions, but usually religious authority or myth had imposed an answer. Typically, as in the Hebrews' Genesis 1 or the Greek Hesiod's Theogony the world order was said to have arisen from God or the gods. Now a break occurred. Here for the first time a pure philosophical and scientific inquiry was allowed to flourish. The Great Civilizations of Egypt, China, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, and Persia, not to mention those of the Incas, Mayans, and Africans, had produced art and artifacts and government of advanced sorts, but nowhere, with the possible exception of India, was anything like philosophy or science developed. Ancient India was the closest civilization to produce philosophy, but it was always connected with religion, with the question of salvation or the escape from suffering. Ancient Chinese thought, led by Confucius (551–475 B.C.), had a deep ethical dimension. But no epistemology or formulated logic. Now Greek philosophy, especially from Socrates on, also had a practical bent and was concerned with ethics, but it went deeper and further than ethics, asking for the nature of all things, aiming at knowledge and understanding for its own sake, seeking systematic understanding of metaphysics,

1 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.2 982b.

-3-

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