2: Origins of Philosophy

Lesson Objectives

Pythagoreans greeting the Sun

Key Terms

Pre–Socratic Philosophy
Socratic Method

  • Read, analyze, and critique philosophical texts
  • Articulate key conceptual distinctions between the Pre–Socratics
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the Socratic Method and the concept of living the examined life

I. Thought Before Philosophy

  • Philosophy begins 3,000 years ago in Ancient Greece
  • Before this, the world is explained through superstition and ad hoc stories
    • Ad hoc: "just so." An critical explaination for something that "just is"
  • Sicknesses and death are results of the gods’ will or bad spirits
  • Hesiod’s Theogony and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey illustrate moral lessons from the gods
  • Some of the values stressed line up with values in philosophy: 
    • independence of thought
    • strength of character
    • developing the intellect
    • living honorably


If you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me.

II. Pre–Socratic Philosophy

  • A. Materialists
    • Thales of Miletus - water is core element
    • Anaximenes - air is core element
    • Empedocles - four elements (earth, air, fire, and water)
  • B. Atomists
    • Anaxagoras - small particles make up all things
    • Leucippus and Democritus - reality consists of indivisible "atoms"
  • C. Key Pre–Socratics
    • Pythagoras - Musical theory, mathematics, ethics
    • Heraclitus - 2 separate universes, ours is in constant change
    • Parmenides - reality is unchanging, change is an illusion
  • D. What Makes Them pre–Socratics?
    • Illustrates the importance of Socrates
    • Lived around the same time (600-500 BCE) but believed different things
    • What beliefs did the Pre–Socratics have in common?
      • Not many beliefs held in common...
      • Ad hoc stories are insufficient explanations of the world
      • They focused on the nature of reality
      • They used reason and observation

III. Socrates

  • A. What we know about Socrates
    • Teachings recorded by students, Plato and Xenophon
    • Didn’t focus on nature of reality
    • Focused on the state of one’s soul, or psyche
    • Taught in the marketplace, or agora, for everyone, not the elite
  • B. Most famous teachings
    • Seeking happiness (eudemonia) through the pursuit of what is best
    • No one knowingly does evil
    • Virtue and excellence (arête) of the soul is the consequence of knowledge (episteme) and wisdom (sophia)
  • C. Put on trial at age 70 for corrupting the youth of Athens and not believing in the gods
    • Plato’s Apology is the account of this trial
    • Socrates compares himself to a gadfly, stinging the lazy citizens of Athens to improve
      • Picture a mosquito nipping at a horse—it makes the horse move
      • Likewise, Socrates' describes his questioning as moving Athens forward
    • Convicted and sentenced to death
      • His students offered him escape, but Socrates didn't want to break the law
      • Instead, his example stirred up the population—who quickly brought down the people who had convicted their beloved Socrates

IV. Living the Examined Life

  • A. The unexamined life is not worth living
  • B. Know Thyself

V. The Socratic Method

  • The Socratic Method, also called the Dialectical Method
  • Question and answer
  • Use of irony (LINK)
  • Reductio ad absurdum

Logic Week 2: Modus Ponens