Free «Presocratic Philosophy» Essay Sample

According to Stumpf & Fieser (2007), Presocratic (a term denoted before Socrates) refers to the group of earliest philosophers who contributed to the development of the modern philosophy during 5th and 6th centuries B.C.E. in ancient Greece. The thinkers worked tirelessly to establish principles that were not only uniform and consistent but could comprehensively provide answers to all natural experiences as well as events in our life without turning to mythology. These philosophers developed a new way of looking at the universe referred to as philosophy and confined their thoughts within the understanding of cosmogony and cosmology. Socrates later played a central role in shaping the focus of philosopher away from mere cosmology to morality and ethics. While it is argued that some of the presocratic philosophers were Socrates contemporaries, the classification done by Aristotle was meant to identify early Greek thinkers who were never influenced by Socrates.

            One of the major sources of the presocratic philosophy was Orphism. According to Stumpf & Fieser (2007), the Orphics brought their cosmology, which comprised of a belief in ascetic life and reincarnation upon settling in Greece in the 6th century B.C.E. They particularly contributed to the early philosophy by influencing the thoughts of Pythagoras and Pythagoreans. The Orpheusians believed that human soul is immortal and therefore reincarnated and this reincarnation was passed on to Plato through the Pythagoreans. Before settling in Southern Italy where he started a religious group, Pythagoras lived in his native Ionia. His followers, the Pythagoreans had an ascetic life style. They also believed that the soul could be transmigrated, probably influenced by the Orphics.         

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            Another great contributor to the presocratic philosophy was Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras, like other Parmenidean contemporary thinkers agreed with the Parmenides’ thoughts against being and death (as the characterization of what is reinforced by Melissus and Zeno), as well as on what is naturally real. According to Anaxagoras and his contemporaries, the possibility of a rational or metaphorically-based cosmology cannot be ruled out. Anaxagoras confined his works with the framework of Parmenidean arguments while coming up with unique cosmological systems which appealed to his concerns. Anaxagoras claimed that the Greeks had no idea of what of coming-to-be and passing-away is, because there is no such thing as coming to be and passing away, instead a thing is first mixed together before it is dissociated from the rest that are. Thus, he argues that people would be right if they consider coming-to-be as mixing-together while passing-away as dissociating (Curd, 2007). Based on Anaxagoras’ argument, what we may see as generated objects (stars, animals, human being, moon, and plants) are simply mixtures of different kinds of ingredients of flesh, hair, blood, air, earth, water, and many others.

            To Anaxagoras, the world originally existed in a single universal mixture. Operation of the mind later set the mixture in a rotary motion since it is a different cosmic entity which is not part of the mixture. As the rotary motion sets on the huge mass of the indistinctly intermingled ingredients, a splitting or winnowing effect is caused by the rotation, and thus the cosmos that we know comes out of the mixture. Most importantly, all things were not only lumped together in the beginning; they have continued to be together, albeit in different ways even after the split-up of the original mixture. Anaxagoras argued that even after the differentiations, things have always remained together and everything has a piece of the original mixture, however great or small the ingredient is (Curd, 2007).

            Anaxagoras developed a very important argument by attributing the movement of what he considers ingredients to a force that is not only external but also independent and intelligent (something Aristotle and Plato argued was lacking teleological backing. According to Anaxagoras, the rotation can be concluded as solely responsible for causing the creation of the heaven as well as the activities on earth and even the meteorological phenomena. Thus, if we consider the causes of the activities of heavens and the daily phenomena apparent to us as the same both at the micro-and macro-level (that is if we assume the rotations causing the movement of the stars as similar to those causing changes in weather and dictate life and death), then we can deduce reality from what is apparent to us. Anaxagoras provides a legitimate explanation as to why we may not be able to perceive things as being together when he said that due the feebleness of our senses, we may not be able see the truth simply because appearances are mere representation of the unseen (Curd, 2007).

The Allegory of the Cave

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The Allegory of the Cave is the work of Greek philosopher Plato. In the allegory, Plato describe humans as people living in darkness as a result of their bodies as well as what they see and perceive by their eyes. Plato describes in the Allegory of the Cave what he considers would happen if suddenly man comes face to face with the divine light and recognize the “true” reality. In essence, Plato is asking of what would be the scenario if people were to become philosophers and get enlightened by philosophy. The Allegory of the Cave is a depiction of an elaborate and complex model upon which humans are supposed to pass through in their lives and understanding. The progress of our development together with the four phases of thought is a representation of man’s path to full and complete awareness upon which only the most distinguished and virtuous will succeed. And it is only that lucky few that would lead the rest out of the darkness (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).

The story narrated by Glaucon and Socrates provides us with an opportunity to understand how reality determines the way we live as well as our existence. Most importantly, how an individual understands reality would determine whether or not one qualifies to be in government and leadership position. According to Plato, language alone cannot be used to communicate truth since it does not convey belief instead truth should be experienced .Truth as a given element of our existence is a constant theme in the Allegory of the Cave. Plato argues that a spoken word is a mere shadow of what truth really is. Plato’s argument is supported by those who have a strong religious conviction. They believe that faith can only be experienced and can never be given to others. Thus, Plato considers language as inadequate and incapable of not only conveying truth but also of freeing humans from the mental bondage. In understanding the significance of the Allegory of the Cave, it is important to note that the story has two elements: the prisoners’ fictional metaphor as well as the philosophical tenets represented by the story. The constant argument in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is based on the notion that what human perceive by sight are imperfect “images” of the actual forms that subsequently are the truth and reality (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).    

Significantly, Plato’s story demonstrates that we inherently have wrong perception of things around us due to our flawed interpretations of goodness and reality. The overriding point of the allegory thus, informs us that the words in our language used to refer to the physical objects apparent to us are not their actual “names”. Actually, the names refer to objects that we cannot see but can only conceive in our minds. This is what Plato called “imagination” (Stump & Fieser, 2007).



Philosophers as Lawgivers

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Plato’s depiction of released prisoner as a philosopher – someone enlightened by the new-found truth and reality, brings us to the understanding of the true role of philosophers. According to Plato, the sight of truth can be “aching” to the prisoner’s eyes for the first time and thus would naturally be forced to go back and look at what he and others have always perceived as the utter truth. After the “belief” as a stage of thought, the prisoner would have to overcome fear, bewilderment and blindness as he set his eyes on the objects he once perceived as real .According to Plato, the prisoner should be able to naturally identify shadows and reflections. The prisoners would soon see the objects and people as they truly exist after his vision adjusts to the lights from the sun. As the prisoner goes through the cognitive stage of thought and to the last stage of thought where he becomes conscious to the truth and reality around, he would develop a comprehensive “understanding” of truth and reality.  Having come this far, Plato argues, the prisoner would not even contemplate going back to the previous state (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).

However, as Plato notes, having gone through complete transformation and vowing not to go back to the previous life, the prisoner just like philosopher would be obliged to present leadership to other folks immersed in illusionary world. Despite the ridicule from his fellow prisoners, the enlightened prisoner would take it upon himself to lead the rest out of darkness since he is conscious of goodness. According to Plato, every philosopher who is conscious of the forms of goodness is obliged to offer responsible leadership to the rest of the population even if the masses do not share his or her enlightenment. Apart from representing human misconceptions of truth and reality, the allegory also represents what a true leadership is. Since he has a better understanding than all others, the prisoner must return and put into practice his understanding of the forms of goodness (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007). 

Aristotle’s Moral Virtues and Intellectual

Aristotle made a clear distinction between moral virtue and intellectual virtue as two types of virtues possess by man. According to Aristotle, we acquire moral virtues when we develop habits of exercising such virtuous acts .For instance, one can only become honest by acting honestly, or becomes generous by acting generously. In this regard therefore, Aristotle notes that if one lacks the habits of acting virtuously, then such a person may not be able to display any virtue. For instance, an individual may not become truthful if he or she has never acquired the habits of acting truthfully. Similarly, an individual may find it hard to demonstrate generosity if such a person has not developed the habits of acting generously. Based on Aristotle’s understanding of moral virtues, a morally virtuous action must give an individual room to decide on how best to respond to his or her feelings and thoughts. In essence therefore, moral responsibility as a concept must be understood within the realm of free will that it gives an individual the freedom of choice (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).

Aristotle mentions justice, courage, honesty, humility, moderation, truthfulness, modesty, friendliness, temperance, generosity, and self-discipline as some of the moral virtues. On the other hand, he considers injustice, recklessness, untruthfulness, vanity, cowardice, greed, wastefulness, dishonesty and self-indulgence as some of the moral vices. Aristotle also argues that virtue is a principle of moderation and temperance, whereby it is the mean between two vices, that is the vice of deficiency and the vice of excess of a moral value. Thus, courage becomes the mean between cowardice and recklessness while generosity is the mid-ground between greed and wastefulness (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).

Away from the moral virtues, Aristotle has another category of virtues which he calls intellectual virtues. He summarizes intellectual virtues as those associated with practical wisdom (phronesis), scientific knowledge (episteme), intuitive reason (nous), philosophic wisdom (sophia) and technical or artistic knowledge (techne). Practical wisdom is in display when an individual is able to act humanely. Scientific knowledge is the ability to understand the universe and what is necessary in a particular situation. Intuitive reason concerns the establishment of the basic principles of knowledge. Philosophic wisdom is the capacity to combine scientific knowledge and intuitive reason while technical knowledge involves the ability to make or develop things especially of artistic value. Understanding (synesis) as well as good judgment (gnome) may be categorized under the intellectual virtues. Moral virtues and intellectual virtues are sometimes combined. For instance, it is quite common for society or individuals to combine justice and practical wisdom in solving a number of ethical dilemmas or moral truthfulness and artistic knowledge in order to uphold ethical business practices (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).   

Aristotle believed that for one to be complete, he or she has to possess the ability to exercise both moral virtues and intellectual virtues. He argued that all free humans have the potential to demonstrate ethical virtues and to become practically wise. However, to achieve this, each individual must pass through two phases of development: one must develop the right habits during his or her childhood; and acquire practical wisdom after his or her reason has undergone full development (Stumpf & Fieser, 2007).This is not to say that, one has to acquire the moral virtues first before later on acquiring practical wisdom. While the former would be acquired first, it would not be fully developed without practical wisdom.

According to Aristotle both moral virtues and intellectual virtues are central to happiness. He considers happiness (eudaimonia) as a virtuous activity that is directed by our reason and intellect. Therefore, happiness may also be considered as a contemplative activity. To Aristotle, happiness is a combination of our will and action as well as of our reason and intellect. Aristotle argues that happiness can never be equated with mere contentment or pleasure because it is the fulfillment and completion of a man’s soul .In essence; it is an end in itself and not a means to end. Aristotle believed that a happiest man is t guided by reason. Therefore, a philosopher has the happiest life in the universe. And this ideal happiness is achievable when there is unity of philosophic and practical wisdom.


The above discussion clearly shows that Aristotle provided a detailed analysis on how to achieve true happiness. He argued that since pleasure is naturally incomplete, it is never good. However, some of the worthwhile activities we undertake on a daily basis are driven by distinctive pleasures we often associate with such activities. Hence, our choice to undertake pleasant activities and not unpleasant ones is a natural preference. True happiness, however, is found in action that are virtuous because it is only through genuine happiness that we earn true value as oppose to mere amusement. Aristotle thus argued that contemplation which is complete, pleasant, continuous and self-sufficient, is the greatest form of morally fulfilling activity.

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