Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Happy birthday NYT

On this day in 1851, the first edition of The New York Times was published. Originally founded as The New-York Daily Times by journalists Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones, it cost one penny... On the front page, Jarvis wrote a lengthy introduction to the paper and its mission. He said, “There are few things in this world which it is worthwhile to get angry about, and they are just the things anger will not improve.” The first edition featured, among other things, news from several foreign countries, notice of President Millard Fillmore’s travels, and a lengthy article on the “New-York State Fair,” in which it was reported that “Poultry forms a grand feature this year, and the display is a very fine one.”

The paper reached 10,000 in circulation within 10 days and 24,000 by the end of the year. By 2015, The New York Times had won 117 Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, more than any other newspaper.

The paper’s famous slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” was the brainchild of Adolph Ochs, who became the paper’s publisher in 1896. The slogan ran above Madison Square in red-neon lights, and once Ochs held a contest to see if a better slogan could be found. Suggestions from the public included, “Instructive to All, Offensive to None,” “A Decent Newspaper for Decent People,” and “Full of Meat, Clean and Neat.” Ochs stuck with the original slogan. WA

A daydream, possibly not a fantasy

As Al Gore said on Monday, we know what we have to do. Bill McKibben spells it out. And NOTE: The "Global Climate Day of Action" is this coming Friday.

The least you can do is register to vote. Do that too.

2050: How Earth Survived
McKibben is the author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? and a co-founder of 350.org

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve reached the middle of the century. It’s 2050, and we have a moment to reflect—the climate fight remains the consuming battle of our age, but its most intense phase may be in our rearview mirror. And so we can look back to see how we might have managed to dramatically change our society and economy. We had no other choice.

There was a point after 2020 when we began to collectively realize a few basic things.

One, we weren’t getting out of this unscathed. Climate change, even in its early stages, had begun to hurt: watching a California city literally called Paradise turn into hell inside of two hours made it clear that all Americans were at risk. When you breathe wildfire smoke half the summer in your Silicon Valley fortress, or struggle to find insurance for your Florida beach house, doubt creeps in even for those who imagined they were immune.

Two, there were actually some solutions. By 2020, renewable energy was the cheapest way to generate electricity around the planet—in fact, the cheapest way there ever had been. The engineers had done their job, taking sun and wind from quirky backyard DIY projects to cutting-edge technology. Batteries had plummeted down the same cost curve as renewable energy, so the fact that the sun went down at night no longer mattered quite so much—you could store its rays to use later.

And the third realization? People began to understand that the biggest reason we weren’t making full, fast use of these new technologies was the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. Investigative journalists had exposed its three-decade campaign of denial and disinformation, and attorneys general and plaintiffs’ lawyers were beginning to pick them apart. And just in time.

These trends first intersected powerfully on Election Day in 2020. The Halloween hurricane that crashed into the Gulf didn’t just take hundreds of lives and thousands of homes; it revealed a political seam that had begun to show up in polling data a year or two before. Of all the issues that made suburban Americans—women especially—­uneasy about President Drumpf, his stance on climate change was near the top. What had seemed a modest lead for the Democratic challenger widened during the last week of the campaign as damage reports from Louisiana and Mississippi rolled in; on election night it turned into a rout, and the analysts insisted that an under­appreciated “green vote” had played a vital part—after all, actual green parties in Canada, the U.K. and much of continental Europe were also outperforming expectations. Young voters were turning out in record numbers: the Greta Generation, as punsters were calling them, made climate change their No. 1 issue... (continues)

Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns

What if the banking, asset-management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?

By Bill McKibben

I’m skilled at eluding the fetal crouch of despair—because I’ve been working on climate change for thirty years, I’ve learned to parcel out my angst, to keep my distress under control. But, in the past few months, I’ve more often found myself awake at night with true fear-for-your-kids anguish. This spring, we set another high mark for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: four hundred and fifteen parts per million, higher than it has been in many millions of years. The summer began with the hottest June ever recorded, and then July became the hottest month ever recorded. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany, which have some of the world’s oldest weather records, all hit new high temperatures, and then the heat moved north, until most of Greenland was melting and immense Siberian wildfires were sending great clouds of carbon skyward. At the beginning of September, Hurricane Dorian stalled above the Bahamas, where it unleashed what one meteorologist called “the longest siege of violent, destructive weather ever observed” on our planet. The scientific warnings of three decades ago are the deadly heat advisories and flash-flood alerts of the present, and, as for the future, we have hard deadlines. Last fall, the world’s climate scientists said that, if we are to meet the goals we set in the 2015 Paris climate accord—which would still raise the mercury fifty per cent higher than it has already climbed—we’ll essentially need to cut our use of fossil fuels in half by 2030 and eliminate them altogether by mid-century. In a world of Drumpfs and Putins and Bolsonaros and the fossil-fuel companies that back them, that seems nearly impossible. It’s not technologically impossible: in the past decade, the world’s engineers have dropped the price of solar and wind power by ninety and seventy per cent, respectively. But we’re moving far too slowly to exploit the opening for rapid change that this feat of engineering offers. Hence the 2 a.m. dread.

There’s good news, too: as the crisis grows more obvious, far more people are joining in the fight. In the year since the scientists imposed that deadline, we’ve seen the rise of the Green New Deal, the cheeky exploits of Extinction Rebellion, and the global spread of the school strikes started by the Swedish teen-ager Greta Thunberg. It seems that there are finally enough people to make an impact. The question is, what levers can we pull that might possibly create change within the time that we need it to happen?

Some of us have begun to change our own lives, pledging to fly less and to eat lower on the food chain. But, whatever our intentions, we’re each of us currently locked into burning a fair amount of fossil fuel: if there’s no train that goes to your destination, you can’t take it. Others—actually, often the same people—are working to elect greener candidates, lobbying to pass legislation, litigating cases headed for the Supreme Court, or going to jail to block the construction of pipelines.

These are all important efforts, but we need to do more, for the simple reason that they may not pay off fast enough. Climate change is a timed test, one of the first that our civilization has faced, and with each scientific report the window narrows. By contrast, cultural change—what we eat, how we live—often comes generationally. Political change usually involves slow compromise, and that’s in a working system, not a dysfunctional gridlock such as the one we now have in Washington. And, since we face a planetary crisis, cultural and political change would have to happen in every other major country, too.

But what if there were an additional lever to pull, one that could work both quickly and globally? One possibility relies on the idea that political leaders are not the only powerful actors on the planet—that those who hold most of the money also have enormous power, and that their power could be exercised in a matter of months or even hours, not years or decades. I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas.

Following the money isn’t a new idea. Seven years ago, 350.org (the climate campaign that I co-founded, a decade ago, and still serve as a senior adviser) helped launch a global movement to persuade the managers of college endowments, pension funds, and other large pots of money to sell their stock in fossil-fuel companies. It has become the largest such campaign in history: funds worth more than eleven trillion dollars have divested some or all of their fossil-fuel holdings. And it has been effective: when Peabody Energy, the largest American coal company, filed for bankruptcy, in 2016, it cited divestment as one of the pressures weighing on its business, and, this year, Shell called divestment a “material adverse effect” on its performance. The divestment campaign has brought home the starkest fact of the global-warming era: that the industry has in its reserves five times as much carbon as the scientific consensus thinks we can safely burn. The pressure has helped cost the industry much of its social license; one religious institution after another has divested from oil and gas, and Pope Francis has summoned industry executives to the Vatican to tell them that they must leave carbon underground. But this, too, seems to be happening in too-slow motion. The fossil-fuel industry may be going down, but it’s going down fighting. Which makes sense, because it’s the fossil-fuel industry—it really only knows how to do one thing.

So now consider extending the logic of the divestment fight one ring out, from the fossil-fuel companies to the financial system that supports them. Consider a bank like, say, JPMorgan Chase, which is America’s largest bank and the world’s most valuable by market capitalization. In the three years since the end of the Paris climate talks, Chase has reportedly committed a hundred and ninety-six billion dollars in financing for the fossil-fuel industry, much of it to fund extreme new ventures: ultra-deep-sea drilling, Arctic oil extraction, and so on. In each of those years, ExxonMobil, by contrast, spent less than three billion dollars on exploration, research, and development. A hundred and ninety-six billion dollars is larger than the market value of BP; it dwarfs that of the coal companies or the frackers. By this measure, Jamie Dimon, the C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, is an oil, coal, and gas baron almost without peer.

But here’s the thing: fossil-fuel financing accounts for only about seven per cent of Chase’s lending and underwriting. The bank lends to everyone else, too—to people who build bowling alleys and beach houses and breweries. And, if the world were to switch decisively to solar and wind power, Chase would lend to renewable-energy companies, too. Indeed, it already does, though on a much smaller scale. (A spokesperson for Chase said that the bank has committed to facilitate two hundred billion dollars in “clean” financing by 2025, but did not specify where the money will go. The bank also pointed out that it has installed 2,570 solar panels at branches in California and New Jersey.) The same is true of the asset-management and insurance industries: without them, the fossil-fuel companies would almost literally run out of gas, but BlackRock and Chubb could survive without their business. It’s possible to imagine these industries, given that the world is now in existential danger, quickly jettisoning their fossil-fuel business. It’s not easy to imagine—capitalism is not noted for surrendering sources of revenue. But, then, the Arctic ice sheet is not noted for melting... (continues)

A better way to move

How I Learned to Cycle Like a Dutchman
In the bike-friendly Netherlands, cyclists speed down the road without fearing cars. For an American, the prospect is thrilling—and terrifying.
By Dan Kois

...For cyclists used to being second-class citizens, watching bikes navigate the Netherlands is revelatory. It’s not just that Dutch train stations all house massive underground bicycle garages, with thousands of bicycles, or fietsen, locked up on tiered racks. It’s not just that every busy street has a handsome bike lane, paved in dark-red brick. It’s that on Dutch streets, bikes rule the road. They take priority in design and traffic flow. Traffic circles are laid out so that cyclists need never stop for cars. Busy intersections often have overpasses or underpasses, so that cyclists never have to slow down.

The 18 million residents of Holland own more than 22 million bicycles

Most important, drivers look out for cyclists, cede the right of way, and are rarely surprised by them. After all, nearly all those drivers are cyclists themselves. The eighteen million residents of the Netherlands own, in total, more than twenty-two million bicycles. Dutch kids ride in child seats practically from birth, are on balance bikes by two, and are cycling unaided by four. Old people continue to cycle, too: when pedalling gets too difficult, they switch to battery-assisted e-bikes, which now outsell standard adult bikes in the Netherlands.

When you’re biking on a Dutch street, the person next to you in a Renault Clio is driving today only because she broke her arm or has to cart furniture home from the store. Most days, she’d be biking next to you, unprotected from cars except by custom, respect, and the forethought that comes from being able to think like a cyclist. In the Netherlands, drivers don’t turn right without checking their blind spots. They don’t park in bike lanes, not even just for a minute, to drop something off. And no Dutch cyclist ever half-waves at a driver for making a required stop—they assume that drivers will see them and obey the law.

Even if something goes wrong, a biker will still likely emerge unscathed. Dutch transportation designers strive to create what Wim Bot, an official in the Dutch cyclist’s union, calls “forgiving infrastructure”—systems that allow users to make errors without causing a crash. Studies have demonstrated that when a car hits a cyclist at speeds in excess of thirty kilometres per hour the cyclist is not likely to survive. Therefore, Bot told me, “thirty kilometres is the maximum speed in every living area in the Netherlands.” This consistent speed limit means that “it’s safe to have shared space between users of different forms of mobility.” Even though nobody wears bike helmets in the Netherlands, the fatality rate there is six times smaller than that of the United States... (continues)

Monday, September 16, 2019

"This is Water"

Speaking of Thales and water...

...There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
...the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about...
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too...
Full transcript

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Freeland: Chapters 6, 7 & Conclusion

Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Cynthia Freeland

Cognition, Creation, and Comprehension
According to the Expression and Cognitive theories of art, feelings and emotions or ideas and thoughts are communicated through art. Interpretation is the key to understanding how art does this. Dewey believed that art provided a window into another culture while Arthur Danto saw it as strictly in the context of the "artworld." Danto's artworld consisted of the museums, galleries, and other institutions which connected art to the public. 

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950–52
Interpretations are most accurate when they factor in both style and content. One can't merely rely on biography and other areas of context, but they can't be ignored, either. Art can be understood as nuanced and complex like language under the cognitive theory or simply emotive in the expression school of thought. In the nudes of Willem De Kooning, it's fairly evident that the artist saw women as both alluring and terrifying. Mark Rothko's dark canvases portray a sense of depression and despair. These meanings may be a result of how the work is composed rather than the emotions of the artist at the time. After all, a work of art is not simply a snapshot of time but the result of many months, sometimes, years, of effort.
Mark Rothko, No. 61 (Rust and Blue), 1953

Sigmund Freud postulated that art communicated unconscious and universal desires. He saw art as a substitute for other satisfactions we all seek. Suzanne Langer, a proponent of the expression theory, maintained that art's "symbolic presentation of subjective reality for contemplation is not only tentatively beyond the words we have; it is impossible in the essential frame of language." Art can express more than mere words can ever do. R.G. Collingwood, another member of the expression theory's school, felt that as viewers experienced art, they also became part of the process of self-discovery. 

More recently, the role of the artist has been downplayed by theorists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. They argue that the artist's intended meaning is irrelevant and that what the observer discerns is of utmost importance. 

Digitizing and Disseminating

Mass reproduction has robbed art of much of its mystic, a development that philosopher Walter Benjamin finds welcome. He believed this had made art more democratic and accessible. Even so, there's nothing quite like standing in front of an art masterpiece, in my view. Seeing evidence of the artist's hand is an awe-inspiring, almost reverent experience. 

French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, often called the "high priest of post-modernism," felt that by the 1980s, artists had been reduced to merely repeating themselves at ever-increasing rates. It seems to me that while art may return again and again to the same themes, there are always new ways to approach these topics. Baudrillard does seem prophetic in his vision of a world sitting in front of computer screens that has been so overwhelmed by information that it short-circuited and lost its critical defenses. 

Freeland closes the book with a look at how the artists of the present seek to expand our awareness with attempts to shock the viewer or explorations of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Art's not done yet, and there is still fresh work being done which requires the continued efforts of art theorists to help explain and interpret.

Maria Popova

Yesterday on Live From Here with Chris Thile, author/blogger Maria Popova ("brainpickings.org") read the opening and closing lines of her brilliant book Figuring (as well as a passage on Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring kickstarted the modern environmental movement). Popova's work marries cosmic philosophy to the atomism of Democritus, the happiness wisdom of Epicurus, and the naturalism of Darwin. Highly recommended.


In honor of tonight's premier on pbs of Country Music, a film my Ken Burns,

A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country
by Barbara Ras

Because those cows in the bottomland are black and white, colors
anyone can understand, even against the green
of the grass, where they glide like yes and no, nothing in between,
because in country, heartache has nowhere to hide,
it's the Church of Abundant Life, the Alamo,
the hubbub of the hoi polloi, the parallel lines of rail fences,
because I like rodeos more than golf,
because there's something about the sound of mealworms and
leeches and the dream of a double-wide
that reminds me this is America, because of the simple pleasure
of a last chance, because sometimes whiskey
tastes better than wine, because hauling hogs on the road
is as good as it gets when the big bodies are layered like pigs in a cake,
not one layer but two,
because only country has a gun with a full choke and a slide guitar
that melts playing it cool into sweaty surrender in one note,
because in country you can smoke forever and it'll never kill you,
because roadbeds, flatbeds, your bed or mine,
because the package store is right across from the chicken plant
and it sells boiled peanuts, because I'm fixin' to wear boots to the dance
and make my hair bigger, because no smarty-pants, just easy rhymes,
perfect love, because I'm lost deep within myself and the sad songs call me out,
because even you with your superior aesthetic cried
when Tammy Wynette died,
because my people
come from dirt.
"A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country" by Barbara Ras, from One Hidden Stuff. © Penguin Poets, 2006. Reprinted with permission. WA

Saturday, September 14, 2019

"This is what art is about"

A cache of previously unknown Dr. Seuss illustrations has turned up...
This is the original Dr. Seuss sketch for a page in “The Horse Museum.” Andrew Joyner’s interpretation of this sketch is at the top of the story.
And this week on the TED Radio Hour,

How Art Changes Us

Art can evoke powerful feelings. But can it do more? This hour, TED speakers share ideas on the transformative nature of art and its ability to shape the way we see ourselves and the world around us... LISTEN

Friday, September 13, 2019


Superfans: A Love Story
From “Star Wars” to “Game of Thrones,” fans have more power than ever to push back. But is fandom becoming as toxic as politics? 
...“Fan” is short for “fanatic,” which comes from the Latin fanaticus, meaning “of or belonging to the temple, a temple servant, a devotee.” The vestal virgins, who maintained the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home, were the Beyhive of their day. But “fanatic” came to be associated with orgiastic rites and misplaced devotion, even demonic possession, and this may explain why fan behavior is often described using religious terms, such as “worship” and “idol.” (One Trekker at Comic-Con told me that the show “replaced religion for a lot of people.”)
“Lisztomania,” coined in 1844, described the mass frenzy that occurred at Franz Liszt’s concerts, where audience members fought over the composer’s gloves or broken piano strings. Charles Dickens’s readers in New York were so anxious for the final installment of “The Old Curiosity Shop,” in 1841, that they stormed the wharf where it was arriving by ship and cried out, “Is Nell dead?” In 1893, Arthur Conan Doyle, sick of writing Sherlock Holmes stories, flung the detective off a cliff in “The Final Problem,” which ran in the magazine The Strand. (“Killed Holmes,” Conan Doyle wrote in his diary.) After readers cancelled their Strand subscriptions by the thousands and formed “Let’s Keep Holmes Alive” clubs, Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect him. Sherlock fandom persists today, thanks to the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, whose admirers, sometimes known as the Cumberbitches, have swarmed location shoots in London and filled the Internet with Sherlock-Watson slash fiction.
Newspaper writers started using the word “fan” around 1900, in accounts of baseball enthusiasts. The rise of professional sports leagues had produced a new class of spectators who didn’t necessarily play the game but pledged allegiance to a team. The word was also used, more pejoratively, about “matinée girls,” young women who attended theatre not for the plots but to gawk at favorite actors. As the movie industry blossomed, in the nineteen-tens and twenties, so did fan magazines, such as Photoplay. After the matinée idol Rudolph Valentino died, in 1926, some hundred thousand fans mobbed the streets of New York during his funeral, smashing windows and clamoring to get a last glimpse of his face.
Science-fiction fans, who have always been at the forefront of fandom, started meeting at conventions in the nineteen-thirties. The World Science Fiction Convention, which began in 1939, in conjunction with the World’s Fair, still exists, as WorldCon. (The 2019 edition was just held, in Dublin.) “Star Trek” fandom, in the late sixties, was a breakthrough. When NBC threatened to cancel the show, fans organized a letter-writing campaign and kept it on the air. The show ended after its third season, but it had aired enough episodes to qualify for syndication, allowing the viewership to expand throughout the seventies. The first major “Star Trek” convention was held in 1972, when some three thousand Trekkers gathered at the Statler Hilton hotel, in New York, under a banner that read “Star Trek Lives!”
Rock and roll dragged Lisztomania into the twentieth century, as Elvis Presley fans swooned and screamed—a phenomenon immortalized in the title of his 1959 compilation album, “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.” Beatlemania further crystallized the image of the screaming female fan. An underappreciated aspect of the band’s appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1964, is that it spotlighted not just the Beatles but the hysterical audience. The “screaming teen” stereotype has often inspired hand-wringing or contempt, a way of policing adolescent-female libido. The fan scholar Mark Duffett has suggested that “fan screaming may be a form of ‘affective citizenship,’ ” a communal defiance of ladylike behavior...
Is Superfandom a good thing? An escapist fantasy? An excuse for toxic incivility? All of the above?


Quiz Sep 18/19

Democritus, Diogenes, and the Sophists; Trevelyan, "Walking" (JW); FL 11-12. [NOTE: Don't confuse that Diogenes with either the biographer Diogenes Laertius, or Diogenes the Cynic-"How To Be A Cynic," Philosophy Now]... Democritus and the Sophists @dawn-LISTEN.

George Trevelyan has "two doctors, my left leg and my right"... Atoms (Democritus, Maria Popova, Alan Lightman... "restlessness & empty space")... "Ask an Atheist Day"

ALSO RECOMMENDED: Democritus: Empirical Rationalist (Philosophy Now); The Sophists (SEP)

1. Democritus said everything is constructed of what?

2. Democritus' theory involved a "strong distinction between" what?

3. Diogenes of Apollonia (not to be confused with the Cynic) was said to be the last of what?

4. What evidence did Diogenes offer for his rejection of pluralism in favor of "one single thing?"

5. What pre-Socratic project did the Sophist Protagoras doubt?

6. The wide range of pre-Socratic thought includes what topics? 

7. What's the reward for "an honest day's walk"? 

8. What comes in every person's youth and is best met with a "grim" walk?

FL 11-12
9. What did Arthur C. Clarke say about technology?

10. What's the upside of homeopathy?

11. Who invented a religion that said pain, suffering, and disease are not real? What is that religion?

12. What pseudoscience based psychological traits on "topographical details of a person's skull [felt] through the scalp?"

13. How did the California Gold Rush alter Americans' view of reality?

14. What job category can be traced to the inception of America?

15. How are Americans like ants and grasshoppers? 

"For Democritus all of life was to be enjoyed and understood; understanding and 
enjoyment were the same thing. He said that “a life without festivity is a long road 
without an inn.” Democritus may have come from Abdera, but he was no dummy..."

  • If everything is composed of atoms, does it follow that there is no life after death? (100)
  • Does atomism "liberate [us] from superstition, fear of death, and the tyranny of priests"?
  • If thought consists in the motion of mind-atoms, can we freely think our own thoughts? Or are we passive spectators of "our" minds?
  • What difference does it make, if particles are inseparable from forces and fields and bundles of energy and thus cannot be proved to be "unsplittable" (as the ancient atomists said)?
  • Is it "reasonable to suppose that every sort of world crop[s] up somewhere"? (109)
  • Comment on Dawkins' "selfish gene" statement about meaning and design. (110)
  • What do you think of Democritus's view of children (112)?
  • What do you think of Democritus's "preaching"? (112)
  • By Pericles' definition, do we have a democracy? (115)
  • Was Socrates a Sophist? 
  • Was Protagoras a relativist?
  • What magical practices or forms of pseudoscience do you see today?
  • Sometimes, pseudosciences like phrenology have worked to reinforce racism. What other instances are there of pseudoscience's involvement in supporting bigotry?
  • Entrepreneurism is essential to many understandings of the American economy (consider the emphasized importance of small-businesses and self-starters). What do you think of Andersen's criticism, that there are the "forgotten millions of losers?"
  • Have you ever taken a "grim" walk in response to life's stubborn difficulty? How does it compare to what the author describes? Do you think there are critical life-moments that harden a person's character into "some lifelong shape of good or bad?" 
  • [Add yours]

8. Presocratic Atomism

The pluralism of Anaxagoras and Empedocles maintained the Eleatic strictures on metaphysically acceptable basic entities (things that are and must be just what they are) by adopting an irreducible pluralism of stuffs meeting these standards that could pass on their qualities to items constructed from them. Ancient atomism responded more radically: what is real is an infinite number of solid, uncuttable (atomon) units of matter. All atoms are made of the same stuff (solid matter, in itself otherwise indeterminate), differing from one another (according to Aristotle in Metaphysics 985b4-20=DK67A6) only in shape, position, arrangement. (Later sources say that atoms differ in weight; this is certainly true for post-Aristotelian atomism, but less likely for Presocratic atomism.) In addition, the Presocratic atomists, Leucippus and Democritus (Democritus was born in about 460 BCE in Abdera in Northern Greece, shortly after Socrates was born in Athens), enthusiastically endorsed the reality of the empty (or void).[11] The void is what separates atoms and allows for the differences noted above (except weight, which could not be accounted for by void, since void in an atom would make it divisible and, hence, not an atom) (Sedley 1982; see also Sedley 2008).
Like Anaxagoras, the atomists consider all phenomenal objects and characteristics as emerging from the background mixture; in the case of atomism, the mix of atoms and void (Wardy 1988). Everything is constructed of atoms and void: the shapes of the atoms and their arrangement with respect to each other (and the intervening void) give physical objects their apparent characteristics. As Democritus says: “By convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and void” (68B125 = B9). For example, Theophrastus says that the flavors differ according to the shapes of the atoms that compose various objects; thus “Democritus makes sweet that which is round and quite large, astringent that which large, rough, polygonal and not rounded” (de Caus. Plant. 6.1.6 = 68A129). Simplicius reports that things composed of sharp and very fine atoms in similar positions are hot and fiery; those composed of atoms with the opposite character come to be cold and watery (in Phys. 36.3–6 = 67A14). Moreover, Theophrastus reports that the atomists explain why iron is harder than lead but lighter; it is harder because of the uneven arrangements of the atoms that make it up, lighter because it contains more void than lead. Lead, on the other hand, has less void than iron, but the even arrangement of the atoms makes lead easier to cut or to bend (de Sens. 61-63 = 68A135).
Adopting a strong distinction between appearance and reality, and denying the accuracy of appearances, as we see him do in the above quotation, Democritus was seen by some ancient sources (especially Sextus Empiricus) as a sort of skeptic, yet the evidence is unclear. It is true that Democritus is quoted as saying, “In truth we know nothing; for truth is in the depths” (68B117). So for him, the truth is not given in the appearances. Yet, even Sextus seems to agree that Democritus allows for knowledge...

9. Diogenes of Apollonia and the Sophists

In the last part of the 5th century, Diogenes of Apollonia (active after 440 BCE) revived and revised the Milesian system of cosmology, claiming that “all the things that are are alterations from the same thing and are the same thing” (64B2); he identified this single basic substance with air, like Anaximenes more than a century before (Graham 2006, Laks 2008, 2008a). Diogenes takes care to give arguments for the reality and properties of his basic principle. In B2 he says that only things that are alike can affect one another. If there were a plurality of basic substances, each differing in what Diogenes calls their “own proper nature,” there could be no interaction between them. Yet the evidence of the senses is clear: things mix and separate and interact with one another. Thus, all things must be forms of some one single thing. Like Anaxagoras, Diogenes claims that the cosmic system is ordered by intelligence, and he argues that that “which possesses intelligence (noēsis) is what human beings call air” (B5). Humans and animals live by breathing air, and are governed by it —in them air is both soul and intelligence, or mind (B4). Moreover, Diogenes argues, air governs and rules all things and is god (B5). Thus, like Anaxagoras, Diogenes has a theory grounded in intelligence, although Diogenes is more fully committed to teleological explanations, insofar as he states explicitly that intelligence (noēsis) orders things in a good way (B3). In presenting his arguments, Diogenes fulfills his own requirement for a philosophical claim. In B1 he says, “In my opinion, anyone beginning a logos (account) ought to present a starting principle (archē) that is indisputable and a style that is simple and stately.” He notes that his theory that air is soul and intelligence “will have been made clearly evident in this book” (B4).
Theophrastus says that Diogenes was the last of the physical philosophers, the physiologoi, or “inquirers into nature,” as Aristotle called them; Diogenes Laertius gives that title to Archelaus, saying that he was the teacher of Socrates (Lives II.16-17). There was also another group of thinkers active about this time: the Sophists. Many of our views about this group have been shaped by Plato's aggressively negative assessment of them: in his dialogues Plato expressly contrasts the genuine philosopher, i.e., Socrates, with the Sophists, especially in their role as teachers of young men growing into their maturity (youths at the age when Socrates, too, engaged with them in his discussions). Modern scholarship (Woodruff and Gagarin 2008, Kerferd 1981, Guthrie 1969) has shown the diversity of their views. They were not completely uninterested in the theoretical problems that concerned others of the Presocratics. Gorgias of Leontini questioned the possibility of the certainty that Parmenides sought. In his On Nature, or On what-is-not, Gorgias claims that nothing satisfies Parmenides' requirements for what-is (Mansfeld 1985, Mourelatos 1987b, Palmer 1999, Caston 2002, Curd 2006). Protagoras, too, doubted the possibility of the strong theoretical knowledge that the Presocratics championed. The Sophists raised ethical and political questions: Does law or convention ground what is right, or is it a matter of nature? They traveled widely, sometimes serving as diplomats, and they were both entertainers and teachers. They gave public displays of rhetoric (this contrasts with Diogenes of Apollonia's comments about his book, which seems to imply a more private enterprise)[12] and took on students, teaching both the art of rhetoric and the skills necessary for succeeding in Greek political life. With the Sophists, as with Socrates, interest in ethics and political thought becomes a more prominent aspect of Greek philosophy. SEP

10. The Presocratic Legacy

The range of Presocratic thought shows that the first philosophers were not merely physicists (although they were certainly that). Their interests extended to religious and ethical thought, the nature of perception and understanding, mathematics, meteorology, the nature of explanation, and the roles of matter, form, causal mechanisms, and structure in the world. Almost all the Presocratics seemed to have something to say about embryology, and fragments of Diogenes and Empedocles show a keen interest in the structures of the body; the overlap between ancient philosophy and ancient medicine is of growing interest to scholars of early Greek thought (Longrigg 1963, van der Eijk 2008). Recent discoveries, such as the Derveni Papyrus (Betegh 2004, Kouremenos et al. 2006, Janko 2001, Laks and Most 1997), show that interest in and knowledge of the early philosophers was not necessarily limited to a small audience of rationalistic intellectuals. They passed on many of what later became the basic concerns of philosophy to Plato and Aristotle, and ultimately to the whole tradition of Western philosophical thought.
This granular life
That the world is not solid but made up of tiny particles is a very ancient insight. Is it humanity’s greatest idea?

According to tradition, in the year 450 BCE, a man embarked on a 400-mile sea voyage from Miletus in Anatolia to Abdera in Thrace, fleeing a prosperous Greek city that was suddenly caught up in political turmoil. It was to be a crucial journey for the history of knowledge. The traveller’s name was Leucippus; little is known about his life, but his intellectual spirit proved indelible. He wrote the book The Great Cosmology, in which he advanced new ideas about the transient and permanent aspects of the world. On his arrival in Abdera, Leucippus founded a scientific and philosophical school, to which he soon affiliated a young disciple, Democritus, who cast a long shadow over the thought of all subsequent times.

Together, these two thinkers have built the majestic cathedral of ancient atomism. Leucippus was the teacher. Democritus, the great pupil who wrote dozens of works on every field of knowledge, was deeply venerated in antiquity, which was familiar with these works. ‘The most subtle of the Ancients,’ Seneca called him. ‘Who is there whom we can compare with him for the greatness, not merely of his genius, but also of his spirit?’ asks Cicero.

What Leucippus and Democritus had understood was that the world can be comprehended using reason. They had become convinced that the variety of natural phenomena must be attributable to something simple, and had tried to understand what this something might be. They had conceived of a kind of elementary substance from which everything was made. Anaximenes of Miletus had imagined this substance could compress and rarefy, thus transforming from one to another of the elements from which the world is constituted. It was a first germ of physics, rough and elementary, but in the right direction. An idea was needed, a great idea, a grand vision, to grasp the hidden order of the world. Leucippus and Democritus came up with this idea.

The idea of Democritus’s system is extremely simple: the entire universe is made up of a boundless space in which innumerable atoms run. Space is without limits; it has neither an above nor a below; it is without a centre or a boundary. Atoms have no qualities at all, apart from their shape. They have no weight, no colour, no taste. ‘Sweetness is opinion, bitterness is opinion; heat, cold and colour are opinion: in reality only atoms, and vacuum,’ said Democritus. Atoms are indivisible; they are the elementary grains of reality, which cannot be further subdivided, and everything is made of them. They move freely in space, colliding with one another; they hook on to and push and pull one another. Similar atoms attract one another and join.

This is the weave of the world. This is reality. Everything else is nothing but a by-product – random and accidental – of this movement, and this combining of atoms. The infinite variety of the substances of which the world is made derives solely from this combining of atoms.

When atoms aggregate, the only thing that matters, the only thing that exists at the elementary level, is their shape, their arrangement, and the order in which they combine. Just as by combining letters of the alphabet in different ways we can obtain comedies or tragedies, ridiculous stories or epic poems, so elementary atoms combine to produce the world in its endless variety. The metaphor is Democritus’s own.

There is no finality, no purpose, in this endless dance of atoms. We, just like the rest of the natural world, are one of the many products of this infinite dance – the product, that is, of an accidental combination. Nature continues to experiment with forms and structures; and we, like the animals, are the products of a selection that is random and accidental, over the course of aeons of time. Our life is a combination of atoms, our thoughts are made up of thin atoms, our dreams are the products of atoms; our hopes and our emotions are written in a language formed by combinations of atoms; the light that we see is composed of atoms, which bring us images. The seas are made of atoms, as are our cities, and the stars. It’s an immense vision: boundless, incredibly simple, and incredibly powerful, on which the knowledge of a civilisation would later be built.

On this foundation Democritus wrote dozens of books articulating a vast system, dealing with questions of physics, philosophy, ethics, politics and cosmology. He writes on the nature of language, on religion, on the origins of human societies, and on much else besides. All these books have been lost. We know of his thought only through the quotations and references made by other ancient authors, and by their summaries of his ideas. The thought that thus emerges is a kind of intense humanism, rationalist and materialist.

Democritus combines a keen attention to nature, illuminated by a naturalistic clarity in which every residual system of mythic ideas is cleared away, with a great attention to humanity and a deep ethical concern for life – anticipating by some 2,000 years the best aspects of the 18th-century Enlightenment. The ethical ideal of Democritus is that of a serenity of mind reached through moderation and balance, by trusting in reason and not allowing oneself to be overwhelmed by passions.

Plato and Aristotle were familiar with Democritus’s ideas, and fought against them. They did so on behalf of other ideas, some of which were later, for centuries, to create obstacles to the growth of knowledge. Both insisted on rejecting Democritus’s naturalistic explanations in favour of trying to understand the world in finalistic terms – believing, that is, that everything that happens has a purpose, a way of thinking that would reveal itself to be very misleading for understanding the ways of nature – or, in terms of good and evil, confusing human issues with matters that do not relate to us.

Aristotle speaks extensively about the ideas of Democritus, with respect. Plato never cites Democritus, but scholars suspect today that this was out of deliberate choice, and not for lack of knowledge of his works. Criticism of Democritus’s ideas is implicit in several of Plato’s texts, as in his critique of ‘physicists’, for example. In a passage in his Phaedo, Plato has Socrates articulate a reproach to all ‘physicists’. He complains that when ‘physicists’ had explained that Earth was round, he rebelled because he wanted to know what ‘good’ it was for Earth to be round; how its roundness would benefit it. How completely off-track the great Plato was here!

(Carlo Rovelli, continues)
Bertrand Russell on Democritus:  Their [Leucippus' & Democritus'] point of view was remarkably like that of modern science, and avoided most of the faults to which Greek speculation was prone. They believed that everything is composed of atoms, which are physically, but not geometrically, indivisible; that between the atoms there is empty space; that atoms are indestructible; that they always have been, and always will be, in motion; that there are an infinite number of atoms, and even of kinds of atoms, the differences being as regards shape and size. Aristotle ‡ asserts that, according to the atomists, atoms also differ as regards heat, the spherical atoms, which compose fire, being the hottest; and as regards weight, he quotes Democritus as saying "The more any indivisible exceeds, the heavier it is." But the question whether atoms are originally possessed of weight in the theories of the atomists is a controversial one... (continues)
Russell on Protagoras: There is a story about Protagoras, no doubt apocryphal, which illustrates the connection of the Sophists with the law-courts in the popular mind. It is said that he taught a young man on the terms that he should be paid his fee if the young man won his first law-suit, but not otherwise, and that the young man's first law-suit was one brought by Protagoras for recovery of his fee. However, it is time to leave these preliminaries and see what is really known about Protagoras... (continues)
Physicist Alan Lightman on the Illusion of Absolute Rest
The beautiful and disorienting science of why we are mostly restlessness and empty space.

...Millennia after the ancient Greeks first hypothesized the atom as a perfect and indivisible entity — atomos, Greek for uncuttable — a cascade of discoveries unveiled the true nature of matter, and of us: The atom is not a unit of stuff, but a tiny center of matter swarmed by nearly weightless electrons orbiting at a great distance and a great speed. We are mostly restlessness and empty space.

Lightman frames the ancient conception of matter as a vessel for the illusion of the absolute:

Atoms were the ultimate Oneness of the material world. Perfect in their indivisibility, perfect in their wholeness and indestructibility. Atoms were the embodiment of absolute truth. Atoms, along with stars, were the material icons of the Absolutes.
Atoms prevent us from falling forever into smaller and smaller rooms of reality. When we reach atoms — so the thinking went — the falling stops. We are caught. We are safe. And from there, we begin our journey back up, building the rest of the world.

He contrasts this with the modern understanding of material reality, accelerated by the discovery of the electron in 1897 (the year of the disastrous expedition to the North Pole by air balloon):
The hard nut at the center of each atom, the “atomic nucleus,” is a hundred thousand times smaller than the atom as a whole. To use an analogy, if an atom were the size of Fenway Park, the home stadium of the Boston Red Sox, its dense central nucleus would be the size of a mustard seed, with the electrons gracefully orbiting in the outer bleachers. In fact, 99.9999999999999 percent of the volume of an atom is empty space, except for the haze of nearly weightless electrons. Since we and everything else are made of atoms, we are mostly empty space. That vast emptiness is perhaps the most unsettling consequence of dividing the indivisible.
With an eye to the menagerie of subatomic particles discovered in the century-some since — quarks, pions, kaons, rhos, sigmas, xis — Lightman adds:
Are we falling and falling without end? Are there unlimited infinities on all sides of us, both bigger and smaller?
This question, and its myriad fractal implications reaching into every nook and cranny of existence, is what Lightman explores in the remainder of the wholly fascinating and enchanting Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. Complement this particular portion with Pico Iyer on stillness and the art of presence, then revisit Lightman on our yearning for permanence in a universe of constant change, the psychology of creative breakthrough in art and science, and his poetic ode to the unknown, illustrated by a self-taught teenage artist in Bangalore. Brain Pickings


Another side of Democritus

Democritus was a native of Abdera in northeast Greece. He supposedly lived to 90, from 460 to 370 BC. The amazing thing about Democritus is his anticipation of modern science. He promoted the idea that everything is made of atoms, indivisible and indestructible – not unlike Parmenides’ One, except for their plurality and motion. Democritus believes that there are an infinite number of atoms, and they are always in motion – always have been and always will be. The atoms move and collide, and can combine and interlock if they have compatible shapes. Whole worlds can be created through this long process, some with suns and moons. (I would be remiss if failed to stress that Leucippus, the mentor of Democritus, is actually considered the founder of atomism. Historians say it is difficult to disentangle the pair, but Democritus is thought to have greatly elaborated the atomic theory.)

Democritus says that every world has a beginning and an end. This runs somewhat counter to Heraclitus’s idea of things never reaching being but always becoming. Democritus goes further: he says life arose from a primordial soup, consciousness developed gradually, and thought is a kind of motion that may cause motion. To Democritus, both perception and thought are physical processes. He believes that morality, the soul and mental life are made of material and imperceptible atoms. So his atomic world view takes into account emotions and ethics. Think about it: perception and thought are physical – made of atoms. This idea is astounding to me!

Democritus is clearly a materialist, yet his atomic theory is obviously a metaphysical construct, for in his time there was no empirical evidence for atoms. It took over 2,000 years and the development of sophisticated technology, the atomic theory of John Dalton around 1800 and the development of the Periodic Table by Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907), to prove their existence. Russell says the atomists were simply lucky with their theory; but I think Democritus came to the theory through a fusion of luck, thought and perception, and in so doing gave the first clue to the blending of empiricism and rationalism. To be sure, he was suspicious of sense perceptions: still, he thought that once the sense data were sifted and examined, conclusions could be drawn regarding their patterns and relationships. So he used inductive reasoning in his thinking. William S. Sahakian’s History of Philosophy (1968) offers support for this. Sahakian says that the atoms of Democritus, while not detected by the senses, are apprehended by the intellect. And, as the imperceptible atoms collide and interlock, they form substances which are manifest to the senses and so subject to empirical investigation. Philosophy Now

The Sophists

The Greek word sophistēs, formed from the noun sophia, ‘wisdom’ or ‘learning’, has the general sense ‘one who exercises wisdom or learning’. As sophia could designate specific types of expertise as well as general sagacity in the conduct of life and the higher kinds of insight associated with seers and poets, the word originally meant ‘sage’ or ‘expert’. In the course of the fifth century BCE the term, while retaining its original unspecific sense, came in addition to be applied specifically to a new type of intellectuals, professional educators who toured the Greek world offering instruction in a wide range of subjects, with particular emphasis on skill in public speaking and the successful conduct of life. The emergence of this new profession, which was an extension to new areas of the tradition of the itinerant rhapsode (reciter of poems, especially of Homer), was a response to various social, economic, political and cultural developments of the period. The increasing wealth and intellectual sophistication of Greek cities, especially Athens, created a demand for higher education beyond the traditional basic grounding in literacy, arithmetic, music and physical training. To some extent this involved the popularization of Ionian speculation about the physical world (see Presocratic Philosophy), which was extended into areas such as history, geography and the origins of civilization. The increase in participatory democracy, especially in Athens, led to a demand for success in political and forensic oratory, and hence to the development of specialized techniques of persuasion and argument. Finally, the period saw the flourishing of a challenging, rationalistic climate of thought on questions including those of morality, religion and political conduct, to which the sophists both responded and contributed. It is important to emphasize the individualistic character of the sophistic profession; its practitioners belonged to no organization, shared no common body of beliefs and founded no schools, either in the sense of academic institutions or in that of bodies of individuals committed to the promulgation of specific doctrines. In what follows we shall illustrate the diversity of sophistic activities, while considering the extent to which we can nevertheless identify common themes and attitudes... 

Protagoras is the only sophist to whom ancient sources ascribe relativistic views, and even in his case the evidence is ambiguous. A key text is the famous ‘Man the Measure’ sentence, the opening sentence of his work entitled ‘Truth’, which runs ‘Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are that they are and of the things that are not that they are not’ (Plato, Theaetetus 151e, Sextus Against the Mathematicians VII.60 (=DK 80B1)). In the Theaetetus (our principal source for this aspect of Protagoras' teaching) this is interpreted as a claim of the relativity of the truth of all judgments to the experience or belief of the individual making the judgment, i.e., as subjectivism. On that interpretation, the way things seem to an individual is the way they are in fact for that individual. First illustrated by Socrates, who quotes this sentence, as a claim concerning sensory appearances, e.g., that if the wind feels cold to me and warm to you then it is cold for me and warm for you, in the course of the dialogue Socrates expands it to apply to all judgments, including itself, yielding the result that every belief is true for the person who holds it (and only for them), and hence that there is no objective truth on any matter. That this subjectivist interpretation was current in antiquity is shown by Aristotle's attribution to Protagoras of the view that ‘it is equally possible to affirm and to deny anything of anything’ (Metaphysics 1007b20–22) and by Sextus’ evidence of Democritus' critique of Protagoras mentioned above; Sextus reports Democritus (and Plato, see Theaetetus 170e–171c) as having argued that, given Protagoras' thesis that every appearance (phantasia) is true, the thesis that it is not the case that every appearance is true, ‘which is itself in accordance with appearance (kata phantasian huphistamenon)’ is true; hence Protagoras' thesis is self-refuting. But elsewhere in the Theaetetus (167c) Socrates explains Protagoras' view by claiming on his behalf that ‘whatever things seem to each city to be fine and just are so for that city, so long as it maintains them (heōs an auta nomizēi)’: i.e., the truth about what is fine and just (which appears to indicate the truth of moral judgments generally) is relative not to the judgment of the individual, but to that of the society to which the individual belongs. If the wind feels cold to me, and I consequently believe that it is cold, there is no objective fact of the matter by reference to which that belief can be false; but if I believe that infanticide is wrong, whereas infanticide is sanctioned by the laws and customs of the state of which I am a citizen, then my belief is straightforwardly false, though of course it would come to be true if the state of which I am a citizen changed its laws and customs so as to condemn infanticide. Within a single Platonic dialogue, then, Protagoras is represented as maintaining both universal subjectivism and limited social relativism, though those two versions of relativism are mutually inconsistent. And there is a further twist. In the very passage of the Theaetetuswhere, according to Socrates, Protagoras maintains the social relativity of moral judgments (167b–c), he gives a pragmatic justification of the role of the expert, both in the individual and in the social context. In the individual case, while no appearance is truer than any other, some appearances are better than others, and it is the role of the expert (for instance, the doctor) to produce better appearances instead of worse (as those appearances are then judged even by the patient); while in the case of cities, some judgments of what is just etc. are better than others, and it is the role of the expert (in this case the expert orator) to persuade the city to adopt the better judgment. (He adds (167c7–d1) that the sophist improves those whom he educates in the same way, implying that not merely collective judgments but also individual judgments (about what?) may be better or worse.) This account of the role of the expert may imply that there are matters of fact of what is better and worse independent of the judgement of those whom the expert persuades. E.g., a city might initially judge it right to pursue its individual interest without any consideration of obligations to other cities, but then be persuaded that it was more in its long-term interest to respect treaties. That persuasion presupposes that the question of what is in the city's long-term interest is a matter of fact, not merely a matter of how it now seems to the city... (SEP, continues)
TPM Philosophy Quote (@tpmquote)
Man is the measure of all things: of those which are, that they are; of those which are not, that they are not.--Protagoras of Adera
"How To Be A Cynic," Philosophy Now

Diogenes the Cynic (c.412-c.323 BCE) lives on in folk-memory as the ancient Greek philosopher who lived in a barrel (actually a kind of storage-jar), and who supposedly told Alexander the Great to move out of his sun. In his own time his fame was such that Aristotle in his work on rhetoric could refer to him simply as ‘the Cynic’ without need of further identification. For Plato he was ‘Socrates gone mad’, on account of his having taken Socrates’ simple way of life to extremes. To posterity he seems something of an eccentric, or an exhibitionist, the subject of numerous anecdotes, many of them of highly dubious historical worth. No writings of his remain, if there ever were any – only numerous records of his ‘sayings’ and deeds, some in mutually contradictory versions, and many of questionable accuracy.

Yet if Diogenes remains by far the most famous of the Cynics, he wasn’t the first of his line. That honour belongs to his teacher Antisthenes, who had in turn been influenced by Socrates, whom he knew. In general the Socratic inheritance of Cynicism lies in an indifference to wealth, comfort, and convention, and the emphasis on living one’s life in the single-minded pursuit of virtue. Diogenes took over this inheritance and remade it as his own. Socrates, after all, may have had little taste for material comforts, and may have gone barefoot, but, like most people, he lived in a house not a barrel; he had a wife and children: he even had a profession, although he rarely seemed to practise it. The Cynic, by contrast, has no family, no ties to kith and kin, thumbs his nose at all social conventions, is averse to work except in times of extreme necessity, and revels in his freedom from constraints.

Diogenes was no isolated eccentric, simply the most famous exponent of a philosophical movement that lasted (with intermissions) close to a thousand years. Saint Augustine in his City of God (426 AD) reports with a certain distaste that “Even today we still see Cynic philosophers” although by then they were beginning to be a diminishing species: the last known Cynic, Sallustius of Emessa, expired at the beginning of the following century. Cynicism was a serious issue to early Christian apologists, and Diogenes was the subject of a surviving work by Emperor Julian of Rome (332-363 AD, known as ‘the Apostate’ because he tried to reintroduce paganism to the Roman Empire). In it Julian praises Cynicism in general as “a type of philosophy – not the worst or meanest either, but one of the best” and sets Diogenes up as an exemplar of how to live, comparing him with the decadent Cynics of his own times. (It should be said that Julian’s Diogenes is a somewhat sanitised version.) In general, it appears that Cynicism enjoyed less popularity among the Romans than the Greeks – perhaps because it offended too much against reverence and custom – and flourished best in the Hellenized cities of the Eastern Provinces. In these cities Cynics – recognized at once by their ‘uniform’, consisting of a single cloak (folded double when it was cold), a walking-staff, and a travelling-bag, and by their matted hair and unkempt beards – were, it seems, a familiar sight, anticipating hospitality in return for a display of wit and wisdom: that is, for their satirical tongues and their unlicensed telling of home truths... (continues)

Quiz Sep 16/17

Pre-Socratic philosophy, 1-2; Dickens, "Night Walks" (JW); FL 9-10. NOTE: I encourage your attendance at the Constitution Day panels Monday in Tucker Theater at 3 pm, & Tuesday at 2:30. Section #13 will NOT meet in class on Monday... but everyone should still post pertinent comments, questions etc. prior to our scheduled class time.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: *Some Pre-Socratic Ideas of Change and Permanence (Philosophy Now)...

LISTEN: Pre-Socratics (SEP)... Philosopher Scientists (BBC)... Pre-Socratics In Our Time (BBC)-Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Zeno's Paradoxes... Pre-Socratics on History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcasts... Fantasyland ch10 excerpt-Joseph Smith (read by the author)... Milesians & more... Anthony Gottlieb on Thales & the Milesians, in Dream of Reason

1. The Pre-Socratics were recognized in antiquity as the first what?

2. What's inaccurate or problematic about the term "Pre-Socratic"?

3. What later philosopher identified the Pre-Socratics as his predecessors both chronologically and thematically?

4. Compared to Hesiod and Homer, what was different about how the Pre-Socratics saw the world?

5. Name the three Milesians along with their respective "first principles."

6. As material monists, the Milesian Pre-Socratics believed what about the "stuff" of reality?

FL 9-10
7. Charles Finney thought the main point was not Presbyterian doctrine but for people to what?

8. How did Thomas Jefferson characterize the religiosity of the South?

9. What "legend" about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence did Ronald Reagan report as fact?

10. What was the 19th century "Woodstock for American Christianity"?

11. What French observer said no country in the world was as fanatically Christian as America?

12. The most interesting thing about Joseph Smith is what?

13. What does Dickens finish through an "amateur experience of houselessness?"

14. What disease leads to "a trembling of the limbs, somnolency, misery, and crumbling to pieces?"


  • Do you think it does a disservice to anyone to identify him/her in terms of those whom they precede or follow? If your mother is famous and accomplished, for instance, does it in any way harm you to be known as X's son or daughter?
  • Do we risk distorting our understanding of either Socrates or his predecessors and successors by using his name as a milestone? If I'm a post-Jamesian, does that then imply that I'm necessarily concerned with the same questions and motivated by the same interests that James was? 
  • Do you think the Pre-Socratics were as continuous with Aristotle, or as interested in the kinds of questions he raised, as he seemed to think they were?
  • Is water truly at the core of everything? [Here would maybe be a good place to consider David Foster Wallace's disquisition on the subject.]
  • What do you think of Ronald Reagan's re-telling of the Declaration legend? (58) Was it a harmless & charming anecdote vindicated by its patriotic intent, or a disturbing foreshadowing of the  current"fake news" environment of our time?
  • COMMENT: "What is most interesting about Joseph Smith is that people believed him." 71 Why does anyone ever believe someone else's first-person account of an extraordinary event, in the absence of extraordinary supportive evidence?
  • Dickens describes an important kind of learning that happened through his late-night walks. Have you experienced anything similar? What might be learned about life through walking and encountering/observing others?
  • When Dickens talks about "dry rot," what do you think he means? Is this description true to life or is it his creative invention?
  • Do you find anything resonant or relevant about Dickens' mentioning of poverty-related imprisonment? How do you think poor people are treated by today's legal systems?
  • [Add your DQs]

Joseph Smith-RationalWiki... Mr.Deity and the Hat (satiric video-"Joseph Smith Junior teaches Mr. Deity how to translate ancient languages")...

The Best Books on The Presocratics | Five Books Expert Recommendations-Angela Hobbs


The Presocratic Philosophers 
by and M. Schofield, G. S. Kirk & J. E. Raven

Let’s begin by saying who the Presocratics were.
Well, of course, they didn’t think of themselves as the Presocratics. In most cases, obviously, they came before the life of Socrates, they didn’t know he was going to be born. We’re talking about thinkers from about 585 BC, which is when the first one, Thales, was flourishing on the coast of Asia Minor, up to thinkers who were roughly contemporaneous with Socrates, like Democritus, who was born around 470 BC, and then some of the Sophists such as Protagoras — a bit older than Socrates but still in the fifth century. So, for the most part, these are thinkers of the sixth and fifth centuries BC. They weren’t a group in any sense of the word, they mostly didn’t know each other. Heraclitus is from Ephesus on the coast of Asia Minor, Parmenides and Zeno from southern Italy, Democritus from northern Greece. They’re mainly from the fringes of the Greek world, which I think is important because they’re right in the trade routes. They’re where the major Greek cities are setting up colonies. In other words, they’re thinkers who live in places where they’re coming into contact with a lot of other cultures. They are people who can see that there are other ways of thinking and living and worshipping and so on than those common in the mainstream Greek world.
So, why do we now call them philosophers?
They wouldn’t have seen themselves as that — the word ‘philosophy’ probably only emerges in the fourth century anyway — or possibly in the mid-fifth century when the verb starts to be used. They would have seen themselves as natural scientists, on the whole — as physikoi. I think two things make us consider them the founding fathers of philosophy: one, they’re asking these very basic huge questions such as ‘What is the cosmos made of? What are its constituents? Is it made of water or fire or air or a mixture? What are the origins of the cosmos?’ ‘How does it come to be? Does it even come into being? Has it always been?’ ‘What’s the place of humanity within the cosmos?’ ‘Can we trust appearances? Or do appearances deceive us? What’s the relationship between appearances and reality? How much can we trust our sense data and our sensory organs? Are our sensory organs the best way of understanding and getting to reality, or should we be using reasoned deductive argument? ‘Is everything fixed and stable, or is everything actually flowing and changing and always in motion even if we can’t see it like that all the time?’
“Of course, they didn’t think of themselves as the Presocratics, they came before the life of Socrates, they didn’t know he was going to be born.”
These are huge questions which have remained at the core of western philosophy ever since. But it’s not just because of them asking these, because clearly a number of these questions are also indirectly being raised by Homer and other poets, particularly those concerning humanity’s place in the cosmos: it’s because they are using particular rational methods to try to explore these questions — particular kinds of inductive and deductive arguments; particular kinds of conceptual analysis. So, it’s the combination of these huge basic questions with reasoned argument for trying to explore the questions, which allows us to think of them as philosophers... (continues)
* ...Now the earliest known thinkers in this era took for granted the common-sense view of the universe: that in it, over time, things come into existence and then pass away. To explain this they postulated that the cosmos is entirely composed of a basic “stuff” which contains its own power of generation. From this, they surmised, there could separate out the developing objects of the world, receiving them again into its mass in due time. Such generations and returnings would happen repeatedly. So here the permanent feature in all things is their composition: this self-generating “stuff”. And the changes in it are the recurring items that dividing off come into existence and then return to the massed whole to enable further “changes” to take place. There is, however, a limit to the extent of these “changes”. There must not be too many of them nor too few. There must be sufficient to guarantee the living nature of the universe but not so great a number that it loses balance. The universe to be as it is cannot be devoid of such transience, nor can it be composed solely of separated things.

Following this train of thought, further thinkers turned to this need for balance in the living universe. It was this rather than the constituent “stuff” that they thought gave permanence, that kept in harmony, in working order, as a whole the conglomeration of items that come in and out of existence. The right balance of the universe was maintained, they thought, by everything existing in “right proportion” both in itself and in relation to its position in the entire cosmos. In their eyes size and the actual constituency of all things did not matter, so long as the arrangement of all parts kept to a certain form. It was this form of arrangement within the whole universe and within its parts that must persist if permanence is to be shown. The number and the composition of the “stuff” of all things may change as they come into and pass out of daily life but always according to the need to maintain their right arrangement within and as part of the cosmos.

A criticism of both these outlooks rose. This was that they, depending on the common-sense view of a world of separate objects, failed to understand the right way of looking at their experience. The living world is a developing world and postulations about permanent constituents in it fail to emphasise this. For, this view held, the permanence of the world lies in the perpetually unfolding process of change itself. This unifies the striving of seeming opposites, reconciles generation and decay, attunes the continuous movement of all creation to the need for a balanced and harmonious world. Without the ever-moving course of change there would only be a set of inert disconnected objects...
From The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb (the first physici... water was not a bad candidate... Anaximander called his basic stuff to apeiron... Why was Anaximenes so interested in air...)

Thales was surely not the first western philosopher, but he may be the first we have (barely) enough legendary hearsay to make a case for. He may (but probably didn't) predict an eclipse, fall into a well, or corner the olive market. And he may or may not have said:

  • “Nothing is more active than thought, for it travels over the universe, and nothing is stronger than necessity for all must submit to it.” 
  • “Time is the wisest of all things that are; for it brings everything to light.” 
  • “If there is a change, there must be some thing that changes, yet does not change” 

Thales of Miletus (c. 620 B.C.E.—c. 546 B.C.E.)

thalesThe ancient Greek philosopher Thales was born in Miletus in Greek Ionia. Aristotle, the major source for Thales's philosophy and science, identified Thales as the first person to investigate the basic principles, the question of the originating substances of matter and, therefore, as the founder of the school of natural philosophy. Thales was interested in almost everything, investigating almost all areas of knowledge, philosophy, history, science, mathematics, engineering, geography, and politics. He proposed theories to explain many of the events of nature, the primary substance, the support of the earth, and the cause of change. Thales was much involved in the problems of astronomy and provided a number of explanations of cosmological events which traditionally involved supernatural entities. His questioning approach to the understanding of heavenly phenomena was the beginning of Greek astronomy. Thales' hypotheses were new and bold, and in freeing phenomena from godly intervention, he paved the way towards scientific endeavor. He founded the Milesian school of natural philosophy, developed the scientific method, and initiated the first western enlightenment. A number of anecdotes is closely connected to Thales' investigations of the cosmos. When considered in association with his hypotheses they take on added meaning and are most enlightening. Thales was highly esteemed in ancient times, and a letter cited by Diogenes Laertius, and purporting to be from Anaximenes to Pythagoras, advised that all our discourse should begin with a reference to Thales (D.L. II.4)... IEP