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.Continue reading “55. Man Is the Measure of All Things”
“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?Continue reading “54. Protagoras – The First Sophist and Philosophical Revolutionary”
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.Continue reading “53. The Greek Sophists – Authentic Philosophers or Purveyors of Deception?”
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?Continue reading “52. From Democritus to Einstein – Atomists Discover the Secrets of the Universe”
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.Continue reading “51. Heraclitus – Fire as the Universal Principle”
A climate catastrophe occurred in 536 A.D. when an Icelandic volcano exploded and covered the earth with ash so thick the entire earth was plunged into a volcanic winter for the next several years. Nothing like this had ever happened before or since. Day looked like night and the temperature dropped significantly. The repercussions of this natural disaster were felt for several centuries afterwards. This volcanic disaster initiated for the West, not just physical darkness, but a cultural and political one as well. Eventually, when things seemed absolutely hopeless, a great and miraculous rebirth occurred. This post is about nothing less than the death and resurrection of the West.Continue reading “50. The Volcanic Winter of 536 A.D. and the Beginning of the Dark Ages in the West”
Of the various qualities attributed to Empedocles, humility was not one of them. He is quoted as saying:
“I am among you as an immortal god, no longer mortal, honored by you all, wreathed in garlands and crowns.”
As a physician, he earned this reputation by performing some noteworthy feats such as saving the Sicilian town of Selinus from a plague.1 Through sorcery and magic arts, he claimed the power to control winds and storms, to reverse aging, and to ward off evil. He dressed flamboyantly and went from town to town performing his healing arts as well as miracles. He wrote:
“To whatever famous town I go, I am praised by men and women, accompanied by thousands, who thirst for deliverance, some asking for prophecies, and some to be cured by all kinds of diseases.”
Empedocles was born in the 5th century B.C. in Acragas (modern day Agrigento) on the southwestern coast of Sicily to a wealthy aristocratic family. Acragas was founded in 581 B.C. by Greek colonists from Gela, which was about 45 miles to the east.2 His grandfather, who was also called Empedocles, had the distinction of winning the horse racing event of the Olympic Games of 496 B.C.3
Sixth century Acragas was mainly dominated by tyrants, of which Phalaris is most notorious – he enjoyed roasting men alive inside a bronze bull, their tormented shrieks of pain akin to bellowing. Yet Acragas also flourished as a cultural arts center during this time, with artists of sculptures, paintings, metalwork, and mosaics. In summary, it was a city full of diverse activities.
In 470 B.C., Acragas became a democracy. This is the world that Empedocles knew for most of his life for he was about 20 years old when this occurred. Even though he favored democracy, he never gave up his flamboyant, aristocratic ways.
As a philosopher, Empedocles is most known for teaching that the universe was controlled by the opposing forces of Love and Strife. Either he had some profound insight or he was just projecting the state of his marriage onto the universe. Empedocles’ views on Love and Strife had a significant influence on subsequent theories of philosophy, medicine, mysticism, cosmology, and religion.4Continue reading “48. Empedocles – Love and Strife”
According to the Roman historian Valerius Maximus, when Anaxagoras returned to his hometown of Clazomenae, Ionia after an extended journey abroad, he saw that his estate had been abandoned. Rather than become despondent as many people would, he simply said, “Unless they had perished, I would not have been saved.”1
As the story goes, after losing everything, he spent the rest of his life in pursuit of wisdom, thus the story of how Anaxagoras became a philosopher. Valerius Maximus comments:
“For if he had given his time to the cultivation of his property rather than of his mind, he would have remained master of domestic things, among the household gods, and would not have returned to them the great Anaxagoras.”2
After this, he moved to Athens, Greece. Quite by accident, as I write this post in the year 2021, it is the 2500th anniversary of Anaxagoras moving from Ionia to Athens.3
Why is this important? Simply because it was Anaxagoras who put Athens on the philosophical map, eventually making it the philosophical capital of the world. Prior to this, Athens had done little in terms of philosophy or scientific inquiry. He paved the way for the golden age of philosophy characterized by heavyweights like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And according to science historian George Sarton, Anaxagoras, the first Presocratic philosopher to reside in Athens, “introduced the scientific spirit into Athens.”
Anaxagoras was a trailblazer. He was so obsessed with philosophical ideas that he did not have time to get involved with politics. Because of this, someone once accused him of having no affection for his country. Anaxagoras did not miss a beat as he immediately quipped, “But I do have the greatest affection for my country,” as he pointed upward toward Heaven.4Continue reading “47. Anaxagoras – Mind as the Origin of the Universe”
It all started when an art teacher asked me a simple question: “How many colors are there?” Well, it turned out that that this quite simple question sent me on a trek at the end of which I ran into Zeno, of all people.
Of course, Zeno did not give me an easy answer to that question; rather he, as all good philosophers do, caused me to go much deeper into this question than I had ever anticipated, with some surprising results.Continue reading “46. Zeno’s Paradoxes – The Discovery of the Infinite in the Finite”