Plato on knowledge and morality

Morality to Plato meant in the first place eternal and metaphysical values as infinite and finite, good and evil, as opposed to and more important than temporary practical everyday knowledge on craftsmanship, arts, medicine, trade and other tangible activities of people. There was a ranking between eternal philosophy and everyday practical skills. Infinite versus finite, ignorant versus educated, (the higher) love for the mind versus (the more vulgar) love for the body, just-unjust, black-white, sheep-wolf, but everything is also composed of complementing pairs. Fishing consists of net fishing or angling and hunting of hunt for land- or water animals. From Protagoras: ‘If, therefore, you have understanding of what is good and evil, you may safely buy knowledge of Protagoras or of any one; but if not, then, O my friend, pause, and do not hazard your dearest interests at a game of chance. For there is far greater peril in buying knowledge than in buying meat and drink: the one you purchase of the wholesale or retail dealer, and carry them away in other vessels, and before you receive them into the body as food, you may deposit them at home and call in any experienced friend who knows what is good to be eaten or drunken, and what not, and how much, and when; and then the danger of purchasing them is not so great. But you cannot buy the wares of knowledge and carry them away in another vessel; when you have paid for them you must receive them into the soul and go your way, either greatly harmed or greatly benefited; and therefore we should deliberate and take counsel with our elders; for we are still young-too young to determine such a matter.’ Sophistry was a hazardous trade in Plato’s days, it had no good name and involved political risk. Protagoras was secretive about his trade. We may wonder how different that is today, with it’s many secretive gatherings of sophists, freemasons and others.

Perhaps Plato’s most important work is Politeia, a work on governance and politics and is a record of Socrates’ discussions on the subject. What should a perfectly administered society look like? It is a society striving towards universal goodness the way God the Creator, in Socrates’, Plato’s words the ultimate Goodness, wants it. Goodness can only be achieved through knowledge of the principles behind everything that grows and exists. Principles that can be found through reason and uncompromising honesty rather than experience. Only philosophers who really deserve that name and have received an intensive education are capable to lead a society that is based on true goodness. Craftsmen, the military, artists, and other workers usually have skills needed in everyday life and miss the overview. They can’t look beyond practicality and therefor miss what’s needed to rule society towards justice and goodness.

In Politeia book I Socrates says that justice is giving each person what you owe them. We owe it our body to feed it properly, doctors owe it people to cure their bodies or mind. Helping others properly is justice. Just leadership can only flourish on a voluntary basis; only then the most virtuous people will step forward for it.

From Politeia book II & III: ‘People are not just from their own free will, but only if they have no other option. Justice is, after all, not seen as something good by itself, for if a person thinks to have the opportunity to deal unjustly, he will not leave it. Every person is inclined to think that false play is much more advantageous to himself than fair play. Proof: if a man possesses a ring that can make him invincible, he will gladly use it occasionally, for intstance if he wants intercourse with the neighbors’ wives, kill who he wants to, steal from the market what he likes or break out of prison. He could live among people like a god. Plato then narrates of a man who found two dissapearance-rings: a just and an unjust ring. The owner of the just ring would by no means show more discipline than the owner of the unjust copy and both would act the same way.’ The reason for this is that justice lies in the intention behind actions, according to Plato, and not behavior. Unjust people tend to embellish their behavior with socially approved actions and just people leave this because of their need for honesty. Therefor both the just and the unjust man usually refrain from stealing from the market stall.

Goodness is always benevolent and leads to well-being. God is goodness itself and causes good things that befall man. Evil lies not in Him, but in other things. Poets like Homer make foolish mistakes when they say that the gods divide good and evil among people’. We don’t know what God looks like and how He may change appearance if at all. God is not the cause of all things, only of good things and goodness. He is simpel, doesn’t lie or bewitch people and is no cause of disaster. Evil doesn’t come from God, but elsewhere. Poets and other artists should legally be forced to make truthful works that stimulate virtue and goodness.The relation between this one Deity and the traditional polytheistic pantheon is a difficult and unknown one, which man will never find out. A spoken lie (or truth) is only an expression of a real lie (or truth) and therefor not the real lie (or truth) itself, according Plato. Plato strongly believes that education and the example from others shape young people into good or evil character and that human nature has two sides, a strong fiery side where passion and physical wants reside and a curious intellectual side where the mind reigns. On the other hand, each man has a character of his own and the ranking of society should be based on the moral height of personalities. Those with leadership qualities form the golden class that should run the country, those fit for guardianship make the silver class, the military, and those who are good at gathering property and food are the copper and iron classes, respectively business- and craftsmen and farmers. The military must stay deprived of property and land, as that would turn them into farmers and business men. Both the arts, especially music, and athletics are important elements of education; young people learn to balance their fierce physical traits with their gentle spirit and builds them into ambitious yet orderly and mild people. Self restraint, honesty and positive role models are important; authors and poets in the past have unjustly portrayed the gods with human misbehavior and passions. Most musical instruments, however, may divulge people from this path of self restraint, intellect and strength. A weak society, says Plato, shows an over-abundant presence of medical and judicial professionals. However, judges and doctors are vital to society and their upbringing needs extra care. A future judge must dwell among decent high standard people and a doctor must have seen the face of illness. Having been ill himself is a pre, considering that cure comes from the mind and not from the body or purely physical treatments, according to Plato. Overcoming of suffering builds strength and especially a doctor needs it. A weak society, however, has no need for weak sickly or morally deprived people and such people needn’t be spared.

Politieia IV: The four most important virtues according to Socrates are wisdom, courage, moderation and above all justice. Socrates had a strong belief in community-oriented society where each class played its role, the three main classes being salesmen, craftsmen and peasants, then the military and, last but not least, the philosophers as society’s leaders. The individual plays his or her harmonious role in a society that has moderate difference between extremes like very rich and very poor. A society also characterized by a strong moderation in legislation, rules and regulation, as an overflow of those leads to a neglect of core tasks in society. Sanctioning of corruption and injustice is also possible without a series of laws, as long as wisdom, sincereness and evidence exist. Elaborate presence of legislation and medical workers, however, also indicate a flight behind rules and problem solving after a problem has arisen, whereas society’s focus should lay on avoiding problems and disease by morality and healthy living. A healthy society should therefore possess only a small legislation and few doctors. Plato uses the octave of eight law, medium and high sounds as a metaphor for the balance a good society should have between ‘the high youthful voice of justice’ and ‘the law and mature voice of moderation’. Eight also forms the basis of each three-dimensional space, namely two times four and two times two and again two times. Orpheus worshipped divine justice by its eight forces: fire, water, earth, heaven, moon, sun, day and night, resembling an ancient Egyptian obelisk erected in honor of justice and displaying eight deities: Evander, Saturn, Ra, Osiris, Spirit, Heaven and Night-and-Day. In early Antiquity the eigth sphere was assumed to represent divine justice.

Politeia V: Men and women receive diffferent education, men are expected to be guardians of mankind, yet we see that men and women can be equally suited for any profession or task, though men usually are stronger. Yet, both genders are seperated in education. Socrates suggested that men and women should ‘share’ the same education, jobs and also together raise their children equally therefore, though this may entail problems. After all, in practice a female watchdog has to protect her masters, like a male. This entails that men and women should not confine themselves to one and the same partner. If public life can be shared, then private life will inevitably be shared too, in a communal housing setting, an opinion considered unusual in mainstream Greece. However, the best men and women should get together for procreation and leaders should have a big say in the selection. Living with close relatives in the straight line must be prohibited and efforts to procreate outside the acceptable age ranges too. A man must then consider all children born between seven to ten months after intercourse as his. Joy and pain must be shared in the community likewise, because it fortifies ties. Greeks shouldn’t enslave each other, not even in periods of civil war. It must be prescribed not to destroy land or homes of other Greeks. Women must be part of the armed forces, which is even more justified. The fact that it may not be possible to realize this perfect society, doesn’t make this model any less perfect or desirable. Further Socrates explains the difference between appreciation of beauty itself in its core and of pretty things and objects. Beauty itself is seen as dialectic opposite of beautiful stuff. Knowledge of truth is in this same fashion opposite of opinion. We can consider non-being equal to ignorance and being with knowledge when we applied to the validity of an opinion: it’s not possible to hold an opinion on nothing. We may place opinions somewhere in the middle of knowledge and ignorance. Is anything in the middle between being and non-being? There may be qualities between being and non-being: someone who denies the existence of the one unchangeable concept ‘beauty’ may very well appreciate beautiful objects and just actions can appear unjust. Some people can see beautiful things, have many opinions, yet not grasp the essence of beauty or truth. Others do see the essence of beauty and may become artists, or gain true knowledge and thus wisdom.

Politeia VI: Goodness ranks higher than truth, wisdom, morality and pleasure; pleasure stands at the lowest rank of these principles. Legislation is not as important as the leader’s character, but good governance is extremely rare, if not non-existent.  It consists of both philosophical qualities as wisdom and truthfulness and practical qualities as initiative and care for a community’s welfare. Necessary qualities for a philosopher are truthfulness and good memory, qualities supported by sense for beauty, inner balance and kindness. Philosophers however miss leadership qualities and social skills needed to govern a society. A kaptain doesn’t ask his men at the middle of sea if he may lead them and a teacher doesn’t study his pupils in order to adjust to them. The pupils are like a monster that has to be taught good from bad, high from low, just from unjust and therefor a teacher can’t obey them by teaching them the things they like in spite of their absolute qualities. Not many people have the strength and determination to teach absolute truth and beauty instead of small truths and pretty things in favor of the masses. The sophist claim that absolute truth doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter has been harmful and has also led to opportunism. The few people who combine the truthloving nature, good breeding and leadership qualities, and gain a high position, will soon be corrupted by the flattering and lack of honesty by the mainstream of society. Their own vanity and opportunism will develop, they will be dissapointed with the lack of result gained by true philosophy. Those who lack the talent for true philosophy then step into their place and ruin it. And people rush into philosophy, as it has kept its high appreciation, even when there’s a lack of persisting talented philosophers. There’s no other possibility than that philosophy and perfection in a society derive from God, everything else, being less perfect, is human. Another problem is that philosophy is now taught at too late an age, the age when young men start a carreer and a family and have no time anymore to ponder and discuss absolute truth. Young children should receive philosophy lessons in a fashion suited for their age. Devine grace   only makes philosophers love absolute truth AND makes them suitable leaders for mankind, fulfilling public service. Mankind should be guided by philosophers, if it ever wants to achieve some truth. Knowledge of truth is vital, yet even more vital is goodness. Yet nothing is more difficult to define than goodness. Knowledge and truth are apparitions of goodness, yet they aren’t goodness itself. Socrates mentions geonometrics, algebra, arithmetrics and such disciplines as examples of knowledge we already possess. They are the axioms, hypotheses from which we start to continue the search for what’s behind: ultimate absolute truth and then goodness. Fysical objects are a reflexion of knowledgeable axioms. Because of its obvious clarity, we owe the visible world our full respect. The visible world holds another aspect when supposed hypotheses that aren’t axioms but reasonings. Suppositions of which we can’t visibly, empirically, but through reason prove truth. Visual observation isn’t the method, understanding and thinking lead to knowledge of essentials. Knowledge has four levels: the highest is absolute truth, then comes understanding, then faith and imagination comes last. The mind gains clarity the more it reaches truth. (to be continued)

Works by Plato, The Internet Archive
Plato’s Politeia



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A quick comparing glance into Qur’an


… Allah knows that ye cherish them in your hearts… Q:2:235

… Come not nigh to indecent deeds whether open or secret… Q:6:151

And (He has created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and as an adornment; and He has created things of which ye have no knowledge. Q:16:8

And We made some of the Prophets to excel others and We gave to David the Psalms. Q:17:55

Not for sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between! If it had been Our wish to take a pastime, We should surely have taken it from the things nearest to Us, if We would do. Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood doth perish! Ah! woe be to you for the things ye ascribe. Q:21:16-18

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between you verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know. Q:30:21&22

So set thou thy face truly to the religion being upright, the nature in which Allah has made mankind: no change in the work by Allah: that is the true Religion. But most among mankind know not. Q:30:30

We bestowed Grace aforetime on David from Us ‘O ye Mountains! echo ye back the Praises of Allah with Him! and ye birds (also!) Q:34:10

Glory to Allah, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own kind and things of which they have no knowledge. Q:36:36

We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them merely in sport. We created them not except for just ends, but most of them do not know. Q:44:38

We created not the heavens and the earth and all between them but for just ends, and for a term appointed. But those who reject Faith turn away from that whereof they are warned. Q:46:3

O ye assembly of Jinns and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass! Q:55:33

He Who created the seven heavens one above another, no want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of the Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw? Q:67:3

‘Whether all this which they call the universe is left to the guidance of unreason and chance medley, or, on the contrary, as our fathers have declared, ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and wisdom.’ This is what Socrates said to Protarchus, according to Plato. Protarchus: ‘Wide asunder are the two assertions, illustrious Socrates, for that which you were just now saying to me appears to be blasphemy; but the other assertion, that mind orders all things, is worthy of the aspect of the world, and of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars and of the whole circle of the heavens; and never will I say or think otherwise.’

The idea of a realistic and systematic plan for creation was familiar to the ancient Greeks; much of their philosophical effort to find logical explanation behind the regular forces of nature are inspired by the need to understand a universal cause behind it all and they found that much of their effort stranded on its unreachable quality. The Greeks, however, had perfectly well noticed that some things are naturally and logically impossible and Qur’an appears to support this idea. Not without reason Qur’an says: ‘but most of them do not know’ and ‘no want of proportion in creation, seest thou any flaw?’ The idea of duality in creation is mentioned in Qur’an in several verses, sometimes referring to gender, sometimes, like in verse 36:36, also other opposing or complementing forces may be understood. Love as an emotion and primarily blissful divine gift is mentioned in Qur’an too, see above, like music, see verse 34:10, if worship of Allah is not forgotten and not if used for harmful or abusive purposes. Dawud’s, or King David’s Psalms, are important lyrical works. They are not quoted in Qur’an al Kerim, but mentioned only. However, legal restrictions on music and unchastity in Islam are better known to most people. These verses mention the importance of knowledge in general and how knowledge may lead to thinking and eventually to faith; they are incentives to gather knowledge, even to develop oneself into science and arts, rather than scientific treatises.

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Eid mubarak


Eid mubarak, happy holidays, hajj mubarak to all of you,


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Plato ( ca 427 – 347 BC) belongs to the world’s best literary authors and philosophers and one of the most influential thinkers in Western tradition. Plato was not his real name; his real name probably was Aristokles and Plato was a nickname referring to his athletic figure, the shape of his front and his wide eloquence. Plato carefully recorded his teacher’s and role model’s words Socrates and his works are testimony of his indignation and struggle against Athens’ rulers when they had Socrates and other philosophers executed. Plato likewise struggled against professional philosophy of his days, of which Protagoras was an important representant: sophism. Plato thought it unworthy to ask money when you teach your students that it doesn’t matter what truth is as every person has his own truth and nothing can be proved. ‘For if truth is only sensation, and no man can discern another’s feelings better than he, or has any superior right to determine whether his opinion is true or false, but each, as we have several times repeated, is to himself the sole judge, and everything that he judges is true and right, why, my friend, should Protagoras be preferred to the place of wisdom and instruction, and deserve to be well paid, and we poor ignoramuses have to go to him, if each one is the measure of his own wisdom? Must he not be talking ad captandum in all this? I say nothing of the ridiculous predicament in which my own midwifery and the whole art of dialectic is placed; for the attempt to supervise or refute the notions or opinions of others would be a tedious and enormous piece of folly, if to each man his own are right; and this must be the case if Protagoras’ Truth is the real truth, and the philosopher is not merely amusing himself by giving oracles out of the shrine of his book.’

Dialectic relations are leading principle of his thinking in the sense of opposing or differing forces leading to another outcome. The mingling of opposites leads to a third outcome: creations in all their variations. Infinity and finiteness are the first two classes, then comes the third class of temporal result, which is only possible through a fourth class of causality. Abstract concepts like hot and cold or wisdom and pleasure, but also high and low tones, are infinite concepts. They are limited by finite concepts as measures and degrees: 30 Celsius, but also bigger than, higher than, therefor temporary states of being. Grammar and linguistics belong, like other human knowledge, to the infinite, as its system is self-existing, like tones and concepts like hot and cold. This leads to an offspring: a result in form of an individual creation with certain qualities. It owes these qualities to a fourth class, namely the cause of its mixture and generation. Socrates’ and Plato’s philosophy stood at a psychologically high level of describing emotions, desires and thoughts that accompany events in the universe and individual creatures. They made a difference between either observation or moral judgement leading to knowledge, emotion or opininion. An erroneous opinion is not necessarily the same as an immoral one, as it doesn’t have the same cause, that is respectively observation and memory versus valued appreciation. Plato did not consider physical causes of pain, he restricted his research to psychological logic. A good illustration is this dialogue between Socrates and Protarchus, written in the Dialogue with Philebus:

Plato on dialectics between infinite and finite, pleasure and wisdom:
Socrates said in a dialogue with a young man named Philebus and Protarchus: ‘The sound which passes through the lips whether of an individual or of all men is one and yet infinite. And yet not by knowing either that sound is one or that sound is infinite are we perfect in the art of speech, but the knowledge of the number and nature of sounds is what makes a man a grammarian. And the knowledge which makes a man a musician is of the same kind. Sound is one in music as well as in grammar. But when you have learned what sounds are high and what low, and the number and nature of the intervals and their limits or proportions, and the systems compounded out of them, which our fathers discovered, and have handed down to us who are their descendants under the name of harmonies; and the affections corresponding to them in the movements of the human body, which when measured by numbers ought, as they say, to be called rhythms and measures; and they tell us that the same principle should be applied to every one and many; when, I say, you have learned all this, then, my dear friend, you are perfect; and you may be said to understand any other subject, when you have a similar grasp of it. But the, infinity of kinds and the infinity of individuals which there is in each of them, when not classified, creates in every one of us a state of infinite ignorance; and he who never looks for number in anything, will not himself be looked for in the number of famous men. Some god or divine man, who in the Egyptian legend is said to have been Theuth, observing that the human voice was infinite, first distinguished in this infinity a certain number of vowels, and then other letters which had sound, but were not pure vowels (i.e., the semivowels); these too exist in a definite number; and lastly, he distinguished a third class of letters which we now call mutes, without voice and without sound, and divided these, and likewise the two other classes of vowels and semivowels, into the individual sounds, told the number of them, and gave to each and all of them the name of letters; and observing that none of us could learn any one of them and not learn them all, and in consideration of this common bond which in a manner united them, he assigned to them all a single art, and this he called the art of grammar or letters.’

Protarchus answered: ‘That seems to be very near the truth, Socrates. Happy would the wise man be if he knew all things, and the next best thing for him is that he should know himself. Why do I say so at this moment? I will tell you. You, Socrates, have granted us this opportunity of conversing with you, and are ready to assist us in determining what is the best of human goods. For when Philebus said that pleasure and delight and enjoyment and the like were the chief good, you answered-No, not those, but another class of goods; and we are constantly reminding ourselves of what you said, and very properly, in order that we may not forget to examine and compare the two. And these goods, which in your opinion are to be designated as superior to pleasure, and are the true objects of pursuit, are mind and knowledge and understanding and art and the like. There was a dispute about which were the best, and we playfully threatened that you should not be allowed to go home until the question was settled; and you agreed, and placed yourself at our disposal. And now, as children say, what has been fairly given cannot be taken back; cease then to fight against us in this way.’

Socrates answered to that: ‘I remember to have heard long ago certain discussions about pleasure and wisdom, whether awake or in a dream I cannot tell; they were to the effect that neither the one nor the other of them was the good, but some third thing, which was different from them, and better than either. If this be clearly established, then pleasure will lose the victory, for the good will cease to be identified with her:-Am I not right? And there will cease to be any need of distinguishing the kinds of pleasures, as I am inclined to think, but this will appear more clearly as we proceed.’  Soc. ‘Is the good perfect or imperfect?’ Pro.: ‘The most perfect, Socrates, of all things.’ Soc: ‘And is the good sufficient?’ Pro: ‘Yes, certainly, and in a degree surpassing all other things.’ Soc: ‘And no one can deny that all percipient beings desire and hunt after good, and are eager to catch and have the good about them, and care not for the attainment of anything which its not accompanied by good. Let there be no wisdom in the life of pleasure, nor any pleasure in the life of wisdom, for if either of them is the chief good, it cannot be supposed to want anything, but if either is shown to want anything, then it cannot really be the chief good. Reflect; would you not want wisdom and intelligence and forethought, and similar qualities? would you not at any rate want sight? But if you had neither mind, nor memory, nor knowledge, nor true opinion, you would in the first place be utterly ignorant of whether you were pleased or not, because you would be entirely devoid of intelligence. Soc. Let us divide all existing things into two, or rather, if you do not object, into three classes.Were we not saying that God revealed a finite element of existence, and also an infinite? I say that a fourth class is still wanted. Find the cause of the third or compound, and add this as a fourth class to the three others. I want to know whether such things as appear to us to admit of more or less, or are denoted by the words “exceedingly,” “gently,” “extremely,” and the like, may not be referred to the class of the infinite, which is their unity, for, as was asserted in the previous argument, all things that were divided and dispersed should be brought together, and have the mark or seal of some one nature, if possible, set upon them-do you remember?’ Pro: ‘Yes’. Soc: ‘And all things which do not admit of more or less, but admit their opposites, that is to say, first of all, equality, and the equal, or again, the double, or any other ratio of number and measure-all these may, I think, be rightly reckoned by us in the class of the limited or finite; what do you say?’ Soc: ‘The class of the finite which we ought to have brought together as we did the infinite; but, perhaps, it will come to the same thing if we do so now;-when the two are combined, a third will appear.’ Pro: ‘What do you mean by the class of the finite?’ Soc: ‘The class of the equal and the double, and any class which puts an end to difference and opposition, and by introducing number creates harmony and proportion among the different elements.’ Pro: ‘I understand; you seem to me to mean that the various opposites, when you mingle with them the class of the finite, takes certain forms.’  Pro: ‘Yes, I think that I understand you: you mean to say that the infinite is one class, and that the finite is a second class of existences; but what you would make the third I am not so certain.’ Soc: ‘That is because the amazing variety of the third class is too much for you, my dear friend; but there was not this difficulty with the infinite, which also comprehended many classes, for all of them were sealed with the note of more and less, and therefore appeared one.’ Soc: ‘Yes, indeed; and when I speak of the third class, understand me to mean any offspring of these, being a birth into true being, effected by the measure which the limit introduces.’ Soc: ‘Still there was, as we said, a fourth class to be investigated, and you must assist in the investigation; for does not everything which comes into being, of necessity come into being through a cause? Then the first I will call the infinite or unlimited, and the second the finite or limited; then follows the third, an essence compound and generated; and I do not think that I shall be far wrong in speaking of the cause of mixture and generation as the fourth. And therefore the infinite cannot be that element which imparts to pleasure some degree of good. But now-admitting, if you like, that pleasure is of the nature of the infinite-in which of the aforesaid classes, O Protarchus and Philebus, can we without irreverence place wisdom and knowledge and mind? And let us be careful, for I think that the danger will be very serious if we err on this point. … when I asked the question to what class mind and knowledge belong? Yet the answer is easy, since all philosophers assert with one voice that mind is the king of heaven and earth-in reality they are magnifying themselves. And perhaps they are right. But still I should like to consider the class of mind, if you do not object, a little more fully. Let us begin by asking a question. Whether all this which they call the universe is left to the guidance of unreason and chance medley, or, on the contrary, as our fathers have declared, ordered and governed by a marvellous intelligence and wisdom.’ Pro: ‘Wide asunder are the two assertions, illustrious Socrates, for that which you were just now saying to me appears to be blasphemy; but the other assertion, that mind orders all things, is worthy of the aspect of the world, and of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars and of the whole circle of the heavens; and never will I say or think otherwise.’ Soc: ‘Shall we then agree with them of old time in maintaining this doctrine-not merely reasserting the notions of others, without risk to ourselves,-but shall we share in the danger, and take our part of the reproach which will await us, when an ingenious individual declares that all is disorder?’ Pro: ‘That would certainly be my wish.’ Soc: ‘We see that the elements which enter into the nature of the bodies of all animals, fire, water, air, and, as the storm-tossed sailor cries, “land” [i.e., earth], reappear in the constitution of the world.’ Soc: ‘Only a small fraction of any one of them exists in us, and that of a mean sort, and not in any way pure, or having any power worthy of its nature. One instance will prove this of all of them; there is fire within us, and in the universe’. Pro: ‘True’. Soc: ‘And is not our fire small and weak and mean? But the fire in the universe is wonderful in quantity and beauty, and in every power that fire has’. Pro: ‘Most true’. Soc: ‘And is the fire in the universe nourished and generated and ruled by the fire in us, or is the fire in you and me, and in other animals, dependent on the universal fire?’ Pro: ‘That is a question which does not deserve an answer’. Soc: ‘But is our body nourished wholly by this body, or is this body nourished by our body, thence deriving and having the qualities of which we were just now speaking?’ Pro: ‘That again, Socrates, is a question which does not deserve to be asked’. Soc: ‘And whence comes that soul, my dear Protarchus, unless the body of the universe, which contains elements like those in our bodies but in every way fairer, had also a soul? Can there be another source?’ Pro: ‘Clearly, Socrates, that is the only source.’ Soc: ‘Why, yes, Protarchus; for surely we cannot imagine that of the four classes, the finite, the infinite, the composition of the two, and the cause, the fourth, which enters into all things, giving to our bodies souls, and the art of self-management, and of healing disease, and operating in other ways to heal and organize, having too all the attributes of wisdom;-we cannot, I say, imagine that whereas the self-same elements exist, both in the entire heaven and in great provinces of the heaven, only fairer and purer, this last should not also in that higher sphere have designed the noblest and fairest things?’ Pro: ‘Such a supposition is quite unreasonable.’ Soc: ‘Then if this be denied, should we not be wise in adopting the other view and maintaining that there is in the universe a mighty infinite and an adequate limit, of which we have often spoken, as well as a presiding cause of no mean power, which orders and arranges years and seasons and months, and may be justly called wisdom and mind?’ Pro: ‘Most justly.’ Soc: ‘And wisdom and mind cannot exist without soul?’ Pro: ‘Certainly not.’ Soc: ‘And in the divine nature of Zeus would you not say that there is the soul and mind of a king, because there is in him the power of the cause? And other gods have other attributes, by which they are pleased to be called.’ Pro: ‘Very true.’ Soc: ‘Do not then suppose that these words are rashly spoken by us, O Protarchus, for they are in harmony with the testimony of those who said of old time that mind rules the universe.’ Pro: ‘True.’ Soc: ‘And they furnish an answer to my enquiry; for they imply that mind is the parent of that class of the four which we called the cause of all; and I think that you now have my answer. And let us remember, too, of both of them, (1) that mind was akin to the cause and of this family; and (2) that pleasure is infinite and belongs to the class which neither has, nor ever will have in itself, a beginning, middle, or end of its own.’  Soc: ‘I wonder whether you would agree with me about the origin of pleasure and pain.’ Pro: ‘What do you mean?’ Soc: ‘I mean to say that their natural seat is in the mixed class. … I say that when the harmony in animals is dissolved, there is also a dissolution of nature and a generation of pain. And the restoration of harmony and return to nature is the source of pleasure, if I may be allowed to speak in the fewest and shortest words about matters of the greatest moment. Let us next assume that in the soul herself there is an antecedent hope of pleasure which is sweet and refreshing, and an expectation of pain, fearful and anxious.’ Pro: ‘Yes; this is another class of pleasures and pains, which is of the soul only, apart from the body, and is produced by expectation.’  Soc: ‘If I remember rightly, when the lives were compared, no degree of pleasure, whether great or small, was thought to be necessary to him who chose the life of thought and wisdom.’ Pro: ‘If so, the gods, at any rate, cannot be supposed to have either joy or sorrow.’ Soc: ‘Certainly not-there would be a great impropriety in the assumption of either alternative. But whether the gods are or are not indifferent to pleasure is a point which may be considered hereafter if in any way relevant to the argument, and whatever is the conclusion we will place it to the account of mind in her contest for the second place, should she have to resign the first. The other class of pleasures, which as we were saying is purely mental, is entirely derived from memory. Let us imagine affections of the body which are extinguished before they reach the soul, and leave her unaffected; and again, other affections which vibrate through both soul and body, and impart a shock to both and to each of them. When I say oblivious, do not suppose that I mean forgetfulness in a literal sense; for forgetfulness is the exit of memory, which in this case has not yet entered; and to speak of the loss of that which is not yet in existence, and never has been, is a contradiction; do you see? Instead of the oblivion of the soul, when you are describing the state in which she is unaffected by the shocks of the body, say unconsciousness. And the union or communion of soul and body in one feeling and motion would be properly called consciousness? And memory may, I think, be rightly described as the preservation of consciousness? And do we not mean by recollection the power which the soul has of recovering, when by herself, some feeling which she experienced when in company with the body? And when she recovers of herself the lost recollection of some consciousness or knowledge, the recovery is termed recollection and reminiscence? I want to attain the plainest possible notion of pleasure and desire, as they exist in the mind only, apart from the body; and the previous analysis helps to show the nature of both. Do we mean anything when we say “a man thirsts”? We mean to say that he “is empty”? Then there must be something in the thirsty man which in some way apprehends replenishment? And that cannot be the body, for the body is supposed to be emptied? The only remaining alternative is that the soul apprehends the replenishment by the help of memory; as is obvious, for what other way can there be?’ Pro: ‘I cannot imagine any other.’ Soc: ‘But do you see the consequence?’ Pro: ‘What is it?’ Soc: ‘That there is no such thing as desire of the body.’ Pro: ‘Why so?’ Soc: ‘Why, because the argument shows that the endeavour of every animal is to the reverse of his bodily state.’ Pro: ‘Yes.’ Soc: ‘And the impulse which leads him to the opposite of what he is experiencing proves that he has a memory of the opposite state.’ Pro: ‘True.’ Soc: ‘And the argument, having proved that memory attracts us towards the objects of desire, proves also that the impulses and the desires and the moving principle in every living being have their origin in the soul. Let me make a further observation; the argument appears to me to imply that there is a kind of life which consists in these affections. I mean when a person is in actual suffering and yet remembers past pleasures which, if they would only return, would relieve him; but as yet he has them not. May we not say of him, that he is in an intermediate state? And has he not the pleasure of memory when he is hoping to be filled, and yet in that he is empty is he not at the same time in pain? But when a man is empty and has no hope of being filled, there will be the double experience of pain. You observed this and inferred that the double experience was the single case possible. Would you say that no one ever seemed to rejoice and yet did not rejoice, or seemed to feel pain and yet did not feel pain, sleeping or waking, mad or lunatic?’ Pro: ‘So we have always held, Socrates.’ Soc: ‘But were you right? Then, how can opinion be both true and false, and pleasure true only, although pleasure and opinion are both equally real? And if rightness attaches to any of them, should we not speak of a right opinion or right pleasure; and in like manner of the reverse of rightness? And if the thing opined be erroneous, might we not say that opinion, being erroneous, is not right or rightly opined? And if we see a pleasure or pain which errs in respect of its object, shall we call that right or good, or by any honourable name? We agree-do we not?-that there is such a thing as false, and also such a thing as true opinion? And pleasure and pain, as I was just now saying, are often consequent upon these upon true and false opinion, I mean. And do not opinion and the endeavour to form an opinion always spring from memory and perception? An object may be often seen at a distance not very clearly, and the seer may want to determine what it is which he sees. He asks himself-“What is that which appears to be standing by the rock under the tree?” This is the question which he may be supposed to put to himself when he sees such an appearance. To which he may guess the right answer, saying as if in a whisper to himself-“It is a man.” Or again, he may be misled, and then he will say-“No, it is a figure made by the shepherds.”‘ Soc: ‘Well, now, I wonder whether, you would agree in my explanation of this phenomenon.’ Pro: ‘What is your explanation?’ Soc: ‘I think that the soul at such times is like a book.’

Socrates talked with a young man, Phaedrus, about the nature of passionate desire: ‘Every one sees that love is a desire, and we know also that non-lovers desire the beautiful and good. Now in what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton-I the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be called;-it will be the name of that which happens to be eluminant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred-that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love. Consider this, fair youth, and know that in the friendship of the lover there is no real kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you. As wolves love lambs so lovers love their loves.’ Love is the fourth form of madness, after the ailment, prophetic inspiration and artistic inspiration, which demonstrates not all madness is evil, evil meaning both harmful and immoral. The prophetic gift comes from the divine and is therefor perfect. Prophecy is a glimpse on man’s future as planned by the divine and thus benificial. Another form is madness is a soul being possessed by ‘the Muses’: they ‘inspire a delicate and virgin soul with the frenzy to produce lyrical and other numbers’ which are preserved for posterity. The sane man is no match for the artist consumed by artistic madness, according to Socrates. Love as fourth madness has a harmful and beautifying nature, depending which of the two forces dominate the human soul. Plato pays much attention to the human soul and describes it as a ‘charioteer on a wagon guided by two winged horses, the right one white, healthy, obedient and noble, the left one grey-brown, unhealthy, reddish eyed and rebellious, the more earthy, less ambitious souls loose their wings on the road and stay earthbound in humble abode. These two often clash and struggle and it is up to the charioteer’s mastery which horse prevails. Plato strongly believed in reincarnation of the soul and mentions several periods for good, highly esteemed souls and evil or smaller minded souls.


Works by Plato, The Internet Archive




As we see, exact empirical science on for instance the human body and how it functions has yet to come, however, psychological knowledge, an important field of human knowledge too, flourished at a high level, as did technical artisan mastery and knowledge of the arts. Plato gives detailed descriptions of tones and other aspects of music in his book Politeia that prove a solid musical education.

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Socrates is the first well-documented Greek philosopher, no thanks to his own writing activity; he is known to have lived from 470 to 399 BC and his student Plato was the one to carefully document his words and methods. Socrates’ method was a radical breach with the past. Until then philosophy’s interest was into explaining the cosmos through reason. Philosophers wanted to know our origine and made rational theories on the origin of matter, the celestial bodies and life. Sophism was the first school of thought to bring Greek philosophy to earth and teach people to form themselves a theory and propagate it to others with the use of convincing reason. Sophism lifted philosophy to a professional scholastic level and skipped the in their eyes unanswerable question concerning creation. Socrates was the first to make man center of philosophic interest. The main question for man to solve is how to live a proper and responsible life. Important knowledge therefore is knowledge on man and society. Man has to ask himself firstly: how can you know anything when you don’t know yourself?’ ‘Know yourself’ was his first rule, for other knowledge comes from self-knowledge and who knows after all. Wisdom is acquired self-knowledge and an important aspect of that is knowing your own boundaries: awareness of your own ignorance and the fields where knowledge is missing. Self-knowledge is the starting and reference point for any other gathering of knowledge and you must ask yourself questions and test the answers’ validity first. Further knowledge comes from communicating with others as a way to exchange your knowledge with other people’s knowledge. Your and other people’s knowledge must be mirrored and tested on its truthfulness and durability. His second rule was that ‘the only thing I know is that I know nothing’ and from many detailed facts it is possible to work towards knowledge, a search method we call induction. Exchanging and thus gaining knowledge is made possible by asking the right questions through encouragement to carry on or to stop and sideway pushing with the right remarks. Socrates called this communication technique the midwive’s technique, maieutike techne; his mother and wife Xantippe both were midwives. Knowledge, according to Socrates, had to be authentic and his questions were only meant to test the solidity of acquired knowledge. Finding truth is possible by asking the right questions and in the process digging deeper into the subject by a new question following the answer. His technique of questioning people to test their knowledge has become known as the dialectic or Socratic dialogue. Socrates not only teached his students, he could be found in the open air having his dialogue with an audience too. Socrates’ favorite topics were justice, self restraint, piety, bravery and wisdom. It is possible to find a general truth and ethical standards for human behavior, the ‘essentials’, by research on other people’s knowledge and behavior and gathering the answers.

Through insight and knowledge it is possible to find virtue and virtue being a matter of intellect, everyone can achieve it. This thinking is called ‘ethical intellectualism’. Virtue is not necessarily obedience to a good public rule, virtue mainly is knowledge. When a person knows and understands what true virtue is, he may act within general principles instead of self-interest. Socrates tried to make his students aware of their actions being self-interested, even though everybody agrees that the general interest has priority over self-interest. Goodness and virtue aren’t built on nice words by a clever spokesman but on goodness and virtue being shared by everyone. It is on the field of morality that people have the least self-knowledge and the word artists (the sophists!) have an easy job here in convincing others of their moral standard. Goodness and virtue come from a life of learning and teaching and good people never stop learning and studying. Another part goodness is made of, is beauty. Masculine beauty and its benefits lead to intellectual wisdom, feminine beauty similarly leads to a good body and thus to procreation, according to Socrates.

The ultimate goal of all action is, according to Socrates, finding happiness. If a student has gained enough knowledge of a desired goal, he or she bound to act virtuously. Incorrect action is a consequence of insufficient knowledge of virtue. Virtue is for both the state and the individual the only way to happiness. Socrates did not believe in deliberate evil. Evil action comes from ignorance and everyone at least has the will to find out what is truly good for him or her and truth is the same as goodness. The state must strive towards justice, not power and wealth and knowledge is the only guidance for just actions and power without knowledge can only lead to unhappiness. ‘Ideals belong in a world only the wise man can understand’. Socrates finds it therefore necessary to elect leaders for their knowledge, not for their wealth of descent, and the ordinary civilian lacks the knowledge to elect competent leaders. Socrates disapproved of any state system, all of them giving no answer to who might possess the most intellectual baggage for leadership. Philosophers should govern the state.

Athens those days experimented with democracy, however, a true democracy it was not. Women, slaves and foreigners (they might be Greeks from outside Athens) were excluded from the right to vote in the general assembly (the Ekklesia), an institution which existed since it was founded by statesman Clisthenes (ca 570 – 507 BC). Men and women leaded secluded lives and erotic relations between boys and young men were more or less approved of, as finding beauty and wisdom among men had educational intellectual worth, provided a man was not ‘enslaved’ by his physical ‘passions’. After marriage, men had to find physical beauty in women and procreation was seen as an important part of that. Homosexual relations among adult men met more disapproval, however, pederastic relations between adult men (eromenos) and boys (erastes) were commonplace and considered a patronage relation, but nowadays in modern standards we would recognize aspects of prostitution in them. Socrates and his students lived in this world and are known to have made approving comments on homosexuality. Sexuality, even masturbation, were displayed more openly in Ancient Greece than people did and do after the arrival of Christianity. Slavery was another part of a natural and ethical world order. A slave could be as noble as a free man, but human relations are naturally determined by dominance: some people are braver and stronger and therefore able to provide patronage to others. In Classical Greece slavery gained a formal absolute status. Socrates and Aristoteles both made acquiescenting comments on the phenomenon. Freedom of religion only went so far. The state religion allowed for non-dogmatic and equal worship of several deities, mostly ancient traditional deities, among whom important leaders and thinkers, to be allowed into the ‘pantheon’, the temple for all religions, but it was not allowed to reject either any deity or introduce a new one without official consent, or reject the pantheon itself and many a philosopher was put to trial and banned or executed. This fate also fell on Socrates. He was accused of rejecting the city’s gods, introducing new deities and rejecting Athens democratic institutions. Socrates was not the man to run from civil law he had paid allegiance to and as a straight thinker he saw it as his moral duty to undergo the verdict, which he could have avoided through many legal channels, and he finally was executed.

Socrates’ sayings were recorded by his students, mostly Plato, but also Xenophon, Aristotle and Aristophanes. It is uncertain how reliable their accounts are, it is said that some writings reflect the ideas and admiration or criticism of the authors rather than Socrates’ exact words.

Universities and European institutions still like to work from this principle and use the name Socrates in their programs; the Socratic dialogue is anything but obsolete. Institutions say it can bring awareness that learning should last a lifetime and never finishes, an attitude greatly appreciated also nowadays. A new note, however, is democratisation of knowledge. A quote on the site of a teacher of Amsterdam Polytechnic school says: ‘Socratic method is not the art of teaching philosophy but of teaching how to do philosophy, not the art of teaching about philosophers but to make pupils into philosophers’ (Leonard Nelson) This teacher, Kristof van Rossem, offers training courses in Socratic Dialogues on many institutions over Europe, as many others do. Van Rossem thinks that the Socratic dialogue is a good tool at school, even primary schools, as it stimulates citizenry in young people: a good citizen actively participates in a society based on knowledge and professionalism. A teacher as leader of a Socratic dialogue is rather a stimulating, democratic facilitator than an expert who brings dogmatic knowledge. Van Rossem mentions several differences between a discussion and a dialogue, the first being ‘aimed at shaking out, it is rhetoric, aimed at decisions and actions, judging, attacking and defending, going for your own right, convincing, taking a standpoint, defensive or offensive in attitude, answering, speed and individually oriented’. A dialogue would be ‘aimed at knowing through, be dialectic, aimed at insight in the value of judgements, suspending judgements, investigating and checking, wanting to know the truth, investigation, listening to yourself and others, attitude of taking the other’s point of view, questioning, slowness and community oriented’.

Sources:,,, Socrates Fase II,, Kyle, Education and Pederasty in Ancient Greece, What is a Socratic Dialogue? Hogeschool van Amsterdam

A next question could be: is any part of Islamic revelation suited for the Socratic approach? Investigating a text without immediate aim of giving simple straight answers but with the aim to approach an issue from a different angle and then finding alternative answers through logic and exchanging views could be a good approach to better understanding of Qur’an al Kerim. Perhaps it is not the first way to understand ahadith, as these transmit sayings, actions and decisions of the Prophet saws, plus that many scholars have classified and interpreted them and channeled them into jurisprudence. That doesn’t mean it is not worth trying in a time where technology has changed living conditions deeply and literally shrunk distance between people globally. What could a Socratic dialogue on Qur’an al Kerim sound like?

A: What is man’s main task in life?
B: To serve Allah swt.
A: Firstly, what is serving?
B: It is performing actions to please the one who is being served.
A: Why is it necessary to serve Allah swt?
B: A believer loves Allah swt and wants to reach His reward
A: If there would be no reward, would you still find it necessary to love Allah swt?
B: Yes, because loving Him for Him alone is part of serving Him and serving Him is done out of love.
A: What is love for a Muslim, try and describe it please.
B: Love is not just a positive caring emotion for someone or something, it’s also an action.
A: What action?
B: Caring and sharing. You do nice things for them that they like.
A: How do you care and share for, with Allah swt?
B: You do the things that He asks in His Book.
A: What things?
B: You pray, perform the other rituals, you do good works.
A: Tell us something of these good works. What good works do you do out of love for Allah swt?
B: You treat other people, animals and other creatures well, you worship Allah swt.
A: Why is it necessary to treat others well out of love for Allah swt, is it not enough to do it for them?
B: Allah swt wants us to be caretakers of His creation, it is part of our duty to Him.
A: Now I look into your Qur’an. What doest ALM mean?
B: No-one knows, they are just letters.
A: Why are they there?
B: It is said that they are meant as a sign that man doesn’t know everything and He does.
A: What do you say they mean?
B: I say that it is not allowed to speculate on things we don’t know.
C comes in now: We should leave it to the scholars, they have better knowledge, also of things with double and obscure meanings.
A: Who says that you and I are ignorant?
C: You didn’t study fiqh.
A: Can you prove or assess my credentials?
B: Every believer has the duty to find knowledge, even if it were in China.
A: So is it allowed to search and share knowledge?
B: Yes, but you must back up your statements with evidence.
A: Did any scholar know the exact meaning of ALM?
B: I don’t thinks so.
A: Is it allowed to form your own opinion on three letters?
B: As long as you make clear that it is your opinion, why not.
A: Must you ask consent to think and speak at all?
And so forth.

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The Seven Sages and Philosophy of Nature


The first Greek philosophers of nature were Thales, Anaximander, his student Anaximenes (appr. 570 BC) and in turn the latter’s assumed students Anaxagoras (appr 500 – 428 BC) and Diogenes. They were the first to distance themselves thoroughly from mythological thinking and enter theoretical thinking. They started the tradition of trying to explain the universe and general phenomena. Their school of thought is called the Miletan School. Thales believed in one material first substance to everything else, Anaximander believed in the indinite, apeiron, as the primary substance and Anaximenes believed that air was the primary substance to everything in the cosmos. Fire had to be thin air, water was thickened air, from further thinkening earth emerged and finally that must have become stone. This must have been a gradual two way process, depending on dominance of cold or heat. Also the human soul was made of air, according to Anaximenes. Planet Earth must have come into existence the same fashion, as a flat round disk, floating on air currents encircling her. Anaximander, his teacher, assumed that the Earth had the shape of a barrel floating in space. Anaximenes proclaimed ‘like our soul, consisting of air, keeping us together, thus breath and air keeps the entire world in place’. Similar condensations of air should have led to the birth of the Sun and stars. These bodies’ fiery nature would be caused by the speed of their motion, according to Anaximenes. Planet Earth had to be centre of the cosmos, with the stars as its most remote objects. The Moon was Earth’s most proximate object, then came the Sun, then the other planets. The Sun would not turn around the Earth, she would disappear every night behind the horizon and return every morning to her usual point of rising. Anaximenes thought that the Moon itself casts no light but thanks its rays of light to the Sun.

Anaxagoras believed that everything is infinitely divisible and that even the smallest portion of matter contains some of each element. The differences in form result from different portions of the elements and their seemingly endless numbers of possible combinations. Unlike Democritus he apparently did not believe in smallest particles, atoms, that form a material. Both the big and the small are infinite. Anaxagoras believed that the mind is the supreme ordering principle, it is infinite and self-controlling, it is mixed with nothing and is itself by itself. Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to introduce an abstract philosophical concept: Nous. Nous is the thinking, omnipotent, but impersonal Spirit or Mind. Thanks to this mind a well-ordered cosmos arose from the original chaos. This Nous seems to have been a first mover that left the universe to its own devices after initial creation, in Anaxagoras’ view. In everything there is a share of everything, except mind, and mind is present in some things too. Everything is in everything, all qualities are present in even the smallest core and this enables a smooth transition from one material into another and makes birth and destruction of matter just false appearance. Living creatures possess, unlike dead creatures, Nous. This same Nous gives men and animals their soul. Men seems superior to animals, because he has hands. Visible differences in intellect are consequence of physical differences. Being an astronomer, Anaxagoras observed vortexes and spiral phenomena in nature and he believed that the universe was created through the rotary motion of a spiral, where initially all mass was united in the center and driven by a centrifugal force driven by ‘mind’, celestial bodies and other things came into being through seperation of mass. Today some say, that if the mass of a galaxy was concentrated at its center, it would have created a black hole and gravitation would be too strong for anything to escape from it. Stars and the Sun are fiery stones, but we can’t feel the heat because of their distance, according to Anaxagoras. He thought to recognize mountains and living creatures on the Moon and the Sun had to be bigger than the Peloponnesos. Anaxagoras proved that air was no vacuum but material substance by blowing up utters and a pipet that enclosed air by water and he concluded that sound had to be movement of air. Anaxagoras was highly respected in Athens, not in the least by statesman Pericles, but later he was accused of Persian sympathies and heresy when he taught that the Sun was a fiery stone and the Moon only earth. He had to leave Athens, in spite of Pericles’ protection, and return to Ionia.

Diogenes, who was a doctor, believed as well that air was the source of all Being from which all substances can be produced; the only difference between air and other Beings is its thickness. Diogenes, however, accredited air, as the first matter, intelligence. ‘The air swirling within him not only supported, but directed also. Air as source of all things is necessary as perpetual and indestructible matter, but as a soul it is also equipped with a conscience’. Diogenes also believed in an indefinite number of worlds and supported the idea that the Earth is a round ball supported by air. Diogenes, however, did not follow Anaxagoras’ dualism. Diogenes probably had atheist sympathies, which may have cost him popularity in Athens.

Fragments and quotes of the ancient philosophers’ works, no more, have been preserved and quoted by later authors, such as passages from Diogenes’ most important work ‘De natura’. Other works from his hand are possibly ‘Against the sophists’, ‘Against the philosophists of nature’, ‘On Meteorology’ and ‘On the nature of man’. Anaxagoras has written one book, of which quotes have been preserved by Simplicius. Pythagoras left us no writings. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) was the first author to use the name ‘Presocratic’ philosophy for the ancient Greek philosophers before Socrates. Orpheus lyrics have been preserved, however, Aristotle denied their originality. Diogenes Laertius, 3rd Cent AD, wrote an extended biography on Greek philosophers. The work of these philosophers, however, meant a turning point from mythical and traditional religious thinking towards theoretical thinking and observation, even though many philosophers suffered disapproval to downright persecution in Athens. Not just devine explanations behind the univers were narrated and taught, from now on thought was given to processes and characteristics in nature and man themselves.

From Orphism to Gnosticism, Dionysos,, The Philosophy of Anaxagoras, The Philosophy of Pythagoras, Wolfram MathWorld

And thus we arrive at a man who was among the first to introduce religious skepticism and gained unrivaled status in philosophy when sophism was at its height of popularity: Socrates.

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The Seven Sages and Orphism


Greece is not the only country that had, as tradition wills, seven founders of philosophy, yet we are going to start with them. Twenty-two philosophers may have belonged to this group of seven: Cleobulus (whose daughter Cleobulina was a well-known philosopher with a political cloud too), Chilon, Periander, Miso, Aristodemus, Epimenides, Leophantus, Pythagoras, Anacharsis, Epicharmus, Acusilaus, Orpheus, Pisistratus, Pherecydes, Hermioneus, Lasus, Pamphilus and Anaxagoras, however, about four thinkers classical sources are unanimous: Thales from Milete, Bias from Priene, Solon from Athens and Pittakos from Mytilene. The latter three are known for their statesmanship, legislation and poetry. Prince Orpheus, probably son of a Thracian king, early 6th century BC, gained a mythical status for his singing and poetic skills; he was said to be a son of the Greek god Apollo. Even lions laid down at his feet to listen to his voice, according to tradition.

Orpheus’ philosophical teachings, Orphism, had no little influence on mainstream beliefs, but a it appears to have had a great influence on later philosophers as Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Plato, even on Christianity. Orphism emphasized the human nature in man and thus his immortality and continuance after death. Postmortem punishment may be expected, therefore a proper life and self-denial are necessary: an ascetic, sternly disciplined way of life. Orphism believed in re-incarnation and according tradition Orpheus had released the mysteries of Egypt to the Greeks. Orphism separated in the 6th century BC from an even older mystic cult: Dionysianism. Religion in ancient Greece was polytheistic and Dionysianism evolved mainly around the illusive god of wine, madness, theater and vegetation. These two mystery movements are anti-dogmatic, esoteric, strongly personalized and, last but not least, festive. Some currents knew violent rites, some others sexual and transcendental rituals. Dionysianism believed contrary to Orphism, in one Cosmos, without dualism or ranking. Female figures were important in Dionysianism. Orphism had a rational speculative nature and was more popular among philosophers; Pythagoras modified it into a form of Logical Mysticism and the Ophic theories of Cosmic Law, Harmony and Sympathy can be traced in Pythagorism, which, however, never became a proper or mainstream Orphic sect. Greek mysticism has ancient roots, perhaps in the Bronze Age and is influenced by ancient Buddhist thinkers in India, Thracian and Minoan traditions. Judaism, Nazareanism also left their strong traces on Orphism, also in the later Roman Mystery tradition. Various deities from different creeds appear in Orphism: the Egyptian gods Sakla (of the Dead), Ptah, Seraph, and even the Jewish deity Iao (Yah) and Kabbalistic concepts like Jehovah Tzabaoth. It was a complicated and heterogeneous mixture of concepts and characters. Empedocles, an Orphic philosopher may have held concepts resembling those of Tantric Bodhisattva with its reincarnation concept of ‘conscious incarnation of the illuminated’. Empedocles said he had passed through successive incarnations from fish to man into living god. To prove his immortality Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna, never to be seen again. The final stage of Orphism was the Platonic, from the 4th Cent BC, with two main currents, one being libertarian, spiritual and moderately hedonistic, the other unworldly mystical, logical, paternally authoritarian and ascetic, however, Orphism remained intelligent, ethical and progressive, until the end, when corruption and elitism entered. This corrupt elitism led to the successful rise of the modern Judeo-Christian current. The Roman Empire made an end to the mainstream Millennium of Mystery cults, though Orphism was one of the last of the ‘Pagan’ Mysteries to survive in the West until the late 5th Cent AD, as were Mithracism, Iseanism, Serapeanism and some others. It had its influence on especially the isolated Celtic cultures on the British islands. Some say that Pauline Christianity was a rewriting of late Orphism and that Gnosticism was even more so. In Asia Minor sects existed around the 3rd, 2nd Cent AD, that combine Orphic and Christian imagery.

Logic was an important focus of ancient Greek philosophy. An example is Epimenides’ Paradox, Epimenides of Knossos being Cretan, 6th Cent BC: ‘All Cretans are liars… One of their own poets has said so’. This is not a true paradox, since the poet may have knowledge that at least one Cretan is honest and so be lying when he says that all Cretans are liars. It may therefore be no self-contradiction in what could be a false statement by a lying person. Epimenides was a poet and considered a prophet of perhaps Central Asian shamanic descent. In ancient Greece this kind of philosophic reasoning led to highly respected status in the public debate. It shows that the thinker understands how certain relations may be differently connected to each other than at first superficial consideration appears and that deductive thinking leads to the proper answer of a puzzle or problem with unusual or unexpected starting positions. The liar paradox dwindled from people’s attention, until the twelfth century AD, when its variations were studied under the name of insolubilia. Anacharsis, early 6th Cent BC, Scythian philosopher to be become the first ‘foreigner’ to receive Athens citizenship, is seen by some as the very first Sceptic and Cynic. Philosophical skepticism is searching wheather one may find truth from one’s own convictions and scientific skepticism is searching wheather other people’s sayings have scientific value, that is are falsifiable and reliable, based on hypotheses and critical thinking. Philosophical skepticism says that the human mind is naturally uncapable of certain knowledge. Scientific skepticism is part of empirism: it says that observation leads to forming and testing a theoretical model. No theory can have a truth claim without systematic observation. Cynicism appeared only after Socrates and was founded by one of his students, Antisthenes. It taught that ascetism and denial of luxury and property was the only way towards true wisdom. It persisted until late in the Roman period.


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