Sundays, October 27 – December 15, 2019
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. (six sessions)
Guide: Bennett Gilbert
The Pre-Socratic thinkers lived from about 650 to about 450 B.C.E. in the towns along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, and many of the Greek islands, throughout Thrace and Pelopenesos on the Greek mainland, and in the Greek colonies of Sicily and southern Italy. Their world included the heroes of Homer and the hard virtues of the archaic life of farming, warfare, and trade, as well the arts and music of the Greek peoples. A precious group of fragmented passages from the first thinkers in what became the Western tradition of philosophy and science have survived as an inspired and marvelously varied set of views on human life and ethics, on nature, on the gods, and on the question of what reality itself is. Their authors were curious about what made the world move as it did and where it fit into the cosmos; they reflected on the questions of what we know and of what is right and just; and they wanted to know what lay behind and within all things.
A great many of these texts are quotations of passages by or reports on the ideas of these philosophers in the work of later philosophers. The fragments hint at systems, at deep thoughts from a pre-scientific point of view, and at a vision of the world and life that most of us sympathize with but from which we are far removed by our technology and society. The work of the pre-Socratics contains the seeds of nearly everything philosophers have done since then, continuing to demonstrate the emotional, speculative, and even mystical core of our most logical approaches to reasoning on the great questions of life.
In our Delve seminar we will try to re-connect with this pre-philosophical view of nature and life. We will read selected fragments of the pre-Socratics, ranging from a single line to a few score lines, and ancient reports about these thinkers from Plato and Aristotle and their successors and from ancient historians. We will also read some short pieces from Hesiod, Theognis, and other pre-classical Greek authors.
The First Philosophers: The Pre-Socratics and the Sophists, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford)
Before the first session, participants should read pp. 3-21 (“The Milesians”) and pp. 22-31 (“Xenophanes”)
Bennett Gilbert teaches at history and philosophy Portland State University. He has written A Personalist Philosophy of History (Routledge, 2019); academic papers on the history of ideas, philosophy of history, and the history of the book; and other essays.