CLS 150-01

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
  • fifth century Athens a center for intellectual inquiry

  • 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?
  • Sophists at Athens

  • 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
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