Battle of Salamis, 480
The Greeks and the New Learning
- after Persian defeats, Athens becomes intellectual center
- first philosophers interested in cosmology: what’s the nature of the universe?
- focus in 5th century moves to polis: what is a just city?
- Homer: if born aristocrat, you will always be better than non-aristocrats. education of the masses is a fallacy
- ethical & political norms or standards explored and defined
- nomos v. physis: man-made v. natural law, absolute or relative? (see PHL 204)
- is man the measure of all things, as Protagoras argued?
- wide rrange of views: defend conventional values or do what’s best for you
- Socrates (469-399): saw himself as a gadfly to the noble but sluggish horse of democracy, ie democracy needed critical self examination
- utopias: Plato’s Republic, Xenophon’s Cyropaedia
- inheritors of Milesian philosophers of 7th and 6th centuries, eg Thales
- Pythagorean, Hippocratic and other schools: New Learning = Rationalism
- yet simultaneous widespread belief in superstition, taboos, eg Empedocles a proto-scientist (theory of 4 elements) AND a shaman
- clash between New Learning and old piety: what role for gods if can explain earthquakes, planets’ movements, etc. rationally/scientifically?
- social stresses: new middle class (yeomen) unhappy w/ old gods’ behavior, aristocratic class disliked New Learning’s disruption of old order, yet intellectual movement is aristocratic — had to have leisure to sit and think
- nomos: man-made custom tends to undermine notion of absolute truth; Herodotus compares burial customs: which is “right?”
- physis: natural law
- relativism had to be accepted on some level, yet how avoid reducing everything to subjectivism? Cf. Melian Dialogue in Thucydides: does might make right?
- no public education; father trained son; need for more formal schooling
- Sophists: professional wisemen, taught for a fee; arete (excellence) how to be a gentleman: radical idea — that virtue teachable & not inborn (anti-aristocratic)
- conditions right in 5th cent. Athens: prosperous, demands of democracy: more people playrole; need to speak persuasively in Assembly & courts
fifth century Athens a center for intellectual inquiry
Sophists at Athens