The Presocratic Philosophers

The Presocratic Philosophers

The Presocratic Philosophers

The Presocratic Philosophers


The Presocratics were the founding fathers of the Western philosophical tradition, and the first masters of rational thought. This volume provides a comprehensive and precise exposition of their arguments, and offers a rigorous assessment of their contribution to philosophical thought.


Anyone who has the temerity to write a book on the Presocratics requires a remarkably good excuse. The surviving fish from the Presocratic shoal, fortuitously angled from Time’s vast ocean, have been gutted, anatomized, and painstakingly described by generations of scholars; and it might reasonably be supposed that further dissection would be a vain and unprofitable exercise.

The lucubrations of scholars have for the most part dwelt upon the philological and historical interpretation of Presocratic philosophy: the sources have been studied, weighed, and analysed; the fragments have been microscopically investigated, their every word turned and turned again in the brilliant light of classical scholarship; and the opinions and doctrines of those early thinkers have been labelled and put on permanent exhibition in the museum of intellectual history.

Yet if the linguistic expression and the historical context of the Presocratics have been exhaustively discussed, the rational content of their thought has been less thoroughly scrutinized. By and large, scholars have asked what the Presocratics said, and what external circumstances may have prompted their sayings; they have not asked whether the Presocratics spoke truly, or whether their sayings rested on sound arguments.

It is those latter questions with which my book is primarily concerned. My main thesis is that the Presocratics were the first masters of rational thought; and my main aim is the exposition and assessment of their various ratiocinations. The judicious reader will decide for himself the value of that essay and what success it may have achieved: it constitutes my sole excuse for offering this volume to his perusal.

My aim has imposed certain restrictions on the scope and nature of

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