Ancient Philosophy – The First Philosophers
When I was starting this course I had a lot more problems trying to gather the correct background material and overview of the subject matter. I missed some lecture course like Grim’s Philosophy of Mind from the Great Courses. I find also that the Pathways course will assume you have the pre-requisite background and GK asks a lot of questions in each unit, which is to prompt discussion of the relevant subject. One must have a good background of the subject being discussed of course, and it took me a while to get my head around the full story and spirit of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. For this course I decided to just stick with GK’s brief reviews of my essays, as I was, at this stage, happy with their general structure. I got Martinich’s book on Philosophical Essay writing and have read some of it, and plan to come back to it again.
I read in fivebooks.com about Angie Hobbs best five books on the Pre-Socratics. Apart from KRS, which is quite extensive, I do not think they may be apt for this level, especially Kerford. KRS is good though. I got Barnes Ancient Philosophy also, which is a dumbed down version of KRS. In this respect I would read the chapter in Barnes first, then KRS. I found the intro in KRS quite intimidating, as it referenced the old myths as a background to the first philosophers. As a result I looked at the first 4 Yale lectures on the Introduction to Greek History by Donal Kagen. I got the text book on Greek history by Pomeroy also. These were quite accessible and I plan to come back to them as I find this whole subject in itself quite involving. Additionally since then I have listened to Homers Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Cosmogeny, all on Audible.com (a useful way to get through books that you are not used to reading). I also read some background chapters on the Greeks from Russell’s History of Philosophy together with Peter Adams first chapters in the History of Philosophy without any gaps. Only then I got a grasp of how to engage with the ancient philosophers and attempt to look at the world through their eyes.
For my first essay I discussed the theories of how the world stays stable, from the Ionian point of view. KRS, in this instance, proves to be indispensable, as the fragments (the bits of information, mostly incomplete left behind by the Pre-Socratics) can be ambiguous and at times can appear contradictory when read from different sources. My second essay related to Heraclitus’ treatment of the world as flux and his statement that “you can never step into the same river twice”. Again KRS came to the rescue. I also found the questions in Ask a Philosopher were useful and I think that such queries about the exact nature of discussion in philosophy are quite common. It is at this stage one can get quite frustrated with the lack of fragments as one feels there were more there (as there was) , but one is just left to guess about it all, rather than interpret what was said or written (as most of it is gone). GK like the first two and I was quite please with them also.
We moved from Portsmouth up to Harrogate in October and my third essay, which began in September was not finished til January. It is important not to have much change in ones life when doing study as any changes in lifestyle can really interrupt ones thought process. I discussed Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox in the third essay. I bought a book Space and Time by Barry Dainton, which dedicated two chapters to Zeno. I think this was overkill as I did not use much of it in the essay and I think, for a 1000 word essay, one should not go into this much background reading. I am sure it will be useful in the future. Through writing about Zeno and his defence of Parmenides’ theories, I began to realise how significant Parmenides is in ancient philosophy, and until Plato comes along World of Appearance and World of Truth are by far the yard stick by which other theories are measured. I was not that please with this essay.
An appreciation of Parmenides was needed for my next essay, which dealt with Atomism. I found initially reading about this quite frustrating, but then appreciated it for the piece of elegant rational thinking that it is. My final essay also discussed Atomism and its effect on the perspectives of the use of rationalism vs empiricism in philosophical debate and whether Democritus is really advocating scepticism, in pointing out that Ato
mism shows us the limits of the senses.
Along the way I did read Thaetetus in the hope of answering a question on it. I found I wanted to deal with Atomism more, and not spread the net too wide. I have spent enough time on this course and was becoming less interested, most likely because of the move and also because of the lack of any lecture syllabus to adhere to, like I had with Grim in Philosophy of Mind.