60. Plato’s First Visit to Sicily – The Greatest Philosopher 4

In Sicily, Plato asked Dion to help get his ideas to Dionysius so he could spread his ideas about virtue to the people.
Dion Presents Plato to Dionysius, Anonymous, 1876

This is part four of a fictional dialogue discussing the life of Plato. If you wish to start at the beginning, please see post 57. Young Plato fled Athens for obvious reasons after the death of his teacher Socrates. He spent some time in Cyrene where he learned mathematics, and then he lived in Egypt for about twelve years where he became steeped in metaphysics, Egyptian style. It was there that he was introduced to the concept of Forms.

In this post, Plato leaves the ideal philosophical world and enters the rough-and-tumble world of real-life politics in Sicily. This is apt training for someone about to return to his hometown of Athens.

So, come and join Xenon and the other guests as they once again meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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59. Plato in Egypt – The Greatest Philosopher 3

Plato traveled to Egypt after the death of Socrates and there, he learned from the Egyptian philosopher-priests.
Egyptian Temple Ruins in Luxor

This is part three of a fictional dialogue discussing the life of Plato. In the previous post, Plato fled Athens after the execution of his friend and teacher Socrates (I suggest also reading the first part of the story, if you haven’t already). Plato traveled for almost two decades afterward, his most significant time being spent in Egypt. These years of travel, especially were very significant in forming Plato’s thoughts, which is why it is perplexing to me that not more is written about this when discussing his philosophy.

So, come and join Xenon and the other guests as they meet at the home of Damien for dinner and conversation about the life of Plato….

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58. Plato – The Greatest Philosopher 2

The Acropolis, center of economics and politics for Athenians like Plato and Socrates.
The Acropolis in Athens, by German painter Leo von Klenze, oil on canvas, 1846

After publishing the previous post, not surprisingly I received some email inquiries concerning the virgin birth of Plato. I will comment on that later, but first I would like to finish the dialogue-story about the life of Plato that I started in Post 57. Please see that post if you wish to read this story from the beginning.

Previously, the Athenian businessman/philosopher Damien hosted a visitor from Southern Italy named Xenon at his home. Xenon was in Athens for business and Plato had just died earlier that morning. Others were in attendance at Damien’s home including the poet Antimachus. Damien discussed the circumstances surrounding Plato’s birth and death as an intrigued Xenon listened intently.

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57. Plato – The Greatest Philosopher

Agathon and Philosophers, Plato's Symposium Painting by Anselm Feuerbach
Plato’s Symposium by Anselm Feuerbach, 1869

Plato (428-347 B.C.) is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher who ever lived. He is personally my favorite. I consider myself a Platonist, albeit with some modifications, of course. In this regard, I consider the previous 56 posts as simply a prologue to this post. A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947), an English mathematician and philosopher, said the following:

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”1

What made him so great? The heart of the answer to this question lies in a quote by Proclus, a 5th century Neoplatonist philosopher:

“The most peculiar and firm principle of all the dialogues of Plato, and of the whole theory of that philosopher, is the knowledge of our own nature.”2

The ancients talked about this idea of knowing oneself as a starting point for the knowledge of the universe. According to Proclus, this encapsulates the essence of Plato’s philosophy which is why, no matter how esoteric some of his ideas may seem, he has resonated with people throughout time and across cultures. Plato gives us keen insight into our human nature, thus giving us tools to understand the universe.

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56. The Metaphysics of Resurrection

An icon portraying the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ, giving us some hint of what might happen to the body in the afterlife.
An Icon of the Resurrection of Christ by Robert J. Andrews, “America’s Truly Byzantine Iconographer”

In the West, we have three main beliefs concerning the afterlife – materialistic annihilation, reincarnation, and resurrection. Before continuing with this post, stop briefly for a moment and consider what your view is of the afterlife, if indeed you have given it much thought. Please leave your comments below.

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55. Man Is the Measure of All Things

Protagoras posited a universal truth that is not in conflict with natural law nor legal positivism.
da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Is man the measure of all things? And what does Protagoras mean by this exactly? Some have called him the father of relativism, but we will see in this article that Protagoras actually meant something very different by his famous statement. Read on to see how this relates to issues such as the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the debate over abortion.

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54. Protagoras the Sophist

The philosophy of the most well-known Sophist, Protagoras, included a phrase 'man is the measure.'
Protagoras

“Man is the measure of all things.”

This famous dictum is familiar to most of us, yet I imagine that most people have no idea who uttered those words. You can probably guess by the title of this post that it was none other than the philosopher Protagoras. But what did he mean by it and why are there different interpretations of such a simple phrase?

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53. The Sophists

The Sophists changed the course of Athens in history, elevating rhetoric and education. They must have had great influence on future philosophers, despite there being only 30 Sophists in the record.
Allegory of Rhetoric oil on canvas painting by Laurent de La Hire, 1650

For those familiar with philosophy, the word “Sophist” brings to mind a highly articulate snake oil salesman who, through eloquence and smoothness of speech, is able to manipulate people into doing what he wants. In the ancient world, it was said that the Sophists could convince people it was night when it was day. This reputation is partially deserved, but there is much more to Sophists than this ancient stereotype.

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52. The Atomists

Democritus, one of the Atomists, among the Abderites
Democritus Among the Abderitans, oil on canvas by François-André Vincent, c. 1790; in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Atomic theory has a long, rich life in human history. It’s gone from a metaphysical theory developed by the Presocratics – namely the Atomists – to explain the idea of change vis-à-vis Parmenides’ idea of constant Being, to the modern scientific application of nuclear energy and nuclear warfare.

The dynamic duo of atomism was Leucippus and Democritus. Leucippus, who was from Miletus, was the founder of the atomist school.1 He started in the school of Parmenides, being a disciple of Zeno of Elea. Democritus, who came a little later, was a pupil of Leucippus. As such, of the corpus of work left behind by these two men, it is difficult to know which man wrote what.

Their monumental contribution to philosophy and science is their atomic theory, which states that all matter is made up of infinite, indivisible, eternal, unchangeable, and imperceptible entities.2 The only thing that changes is their position in space.

The question is how did we get from the Atomists’ simple but profound theories to the nuclear technology we have today that can potentially give us an infinite energy supply…or obliterate the world?

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51. Heraclitus of Ephesus 2

Heraclitus and his thoughts on Universal Flux would eventually lead to Hegel developing his dialectic...and Marx spinning it toward materialism.
Heraclitus

This article is a repost of Post 32. This repost was prompted by some very interesting comments and challenges left by an perceptive reader named Al. Below is one of his comments:

“Your statement, “Heraclitus did not believe in universal flux” is not accurate at all. You take away Heraclitus’s major contribution to philosophy. Precisely, Heraclitus has been characterized as the father of Dialectic – the constant undergoing change. According to it, the only permanent thing is change itself. This concept of dialectic was the basis of Hegel and Marx’s philosophies.”

– Al Amao, Ph.D

Dr. Amao is a published author with an interesting bio which I have included below as well as a link to his Amazon and personal websites.

As always, I welcome any feedback from my readers, especially disagreements, for it is through debate in philosophy that we arrive closer to the Truth. In fact, I am writing this introduction after finishing this post and I must say that I am grateful for readers like Al who take time to write and comment. In this case, his comments have prompted me to take a much deeper dive into Heraclitus and Universal Flux than I previously did.

I use a capital “T” for Truth because a premise of this blog is that there is objective truth that undergirds and permeates the universe. Not only is relativism not true, but it is untenable when put into practice as we can see from the disaster that permeates the West today.

Based on the premise that objective truth exists, it follows that disagreement and debate are mechanisms by which we attempt to move closer to that Truth. In short, this blog is about seeking the Truth and not winning an argument. This is the true spirit of philosophy.

Having said all of that, I invite any of you to weigh in on any of my posts in order to engage in lively and informative discussion. I may have guest bloggers in the future and even podcasts. Philosophy should be a community endeavor and not just a solo exercise. My vision is for this blog to become a forum where people can hash these ideas out in real time.

Please enjoy the post below and my interactions with Al’s comments. And be sure to add some of your own! I advise you to have read Al Amao’s original unedited comments, posted below the original post in the comment section. I will interact with his ideas in the addendum at the end of the post.

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