2: The Pre-Socratics

Lesson Objectives

Pythagoreans greeting the Sun

Key Terms

Pre–Socratic Philosophy

  • Read, analyze, and critique philosophical texts
  • Articulate key conceptual distinctions between the Pre–Socratics
  • Articulate key conceptual distinctions between Relativism and Absolutism
  • Demonstrate knowledge of 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

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, the logos
    • Parmenides - reality is unchanging, change is an illusion, Rationalism vs. Empiricism
  • 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. Illustrating Cultural Relativism

Ruth Benedict

Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits.

  • A. An Historical Glance
    • King Darius and the Funeral Practices Test
    • Customs of the Eskimos
  • B. The Position of Cultural Relativism
    • There is no universal truth
    • To call a custom correct or incorrect would be impossible
    • Challenges objectivity and universality in moral truths
    • 5 claims made by cultural relativists
      • Different societies have different moral codes
      • A society’s moral code determines what is right and wrong
      • There are no objective standards to judge moral codes
      • The moral code of our society has no special status
      • It is arrogant to judge other cultures; we should be tolerant
    • These claims are independent of each other
    • #2 and #5 contradict each other
    • Cultural Relativism’s response to the contradiction is that the norms of a culture apply within the bounds of the culture itself.
    • When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
  • C. Cultural Differences Argument
    • Premise: Different cultures have different moral codes
    • Conclusion: Therefore there is no objective truth in morality. Right and wrong are matters of opinion
    • Is this sound?
    • No, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise.
    • It is possible that something is objectively wrong and the culture is simply mistaken in their belief that it is right.

IV. What Follows from Cultural Relativism?

  • 1) We cannot say the customs of other societies are morally inferior
    • This applies in matters of opinion and human rights
    • What about governments that suppress free speech?
  • 2) We could no longer criticize the code of our own society
    • Each society can do no wrong
    • But few people think our society is perfect. We see room for improvement
  • 3) The idea of moral progress is called into doubt
    • Cultural changes cannot be seen as progress
    • Revolutions and social changes for women and minorities contradict this conclusion

V. Subjectivism: Ethics are my personal opinion

  • Moral judgments are based on one’s opinions
  • Simple Subjectivism was revised into Emotivism in the 1900s
  • Criticized for failure to include reason
  • People have different opinions
  • There are no “facts” in morality
  • No “right” or “wrong”
  • Moral opinions are based on feelings and opinions
  • Similarities to Cultural Relativism
    • Right and wrong dependent on culture
    • Right and wrong dependent on individual opinion

VI. Absolutism

  • A. Absolutism in Shared Values
    • Most cultures are protective of their children
    • Most cultures favor truth telling
    • Most cultures prohibit murder
    • Universal moral values are necessary rules for a society to exist
    • What is frequently at odds are exceptions to the moral rules
  • B. Absolutism in Ethics
    • Ethics are based on something outside the culture or individual
    • Divine Command Theory - will of God
    • Theory of Natural Law - reason
    • Utilitarianism - Greatest Happiness Principle
    • Deontology - Categorical Imperative
    • Virtue Ethics - Golden Mean

Logic Week 2: Modus Ponens