Why Ancient Greece?
Civilization had been around for thousands of
years, but philosophy doesn’t arise until about
somewhere between 3000 and 700 B.C.E.
Why there? Why then?
There are many theories. Here’s my favorite:
Greece, like all ancient cultures was ruled
primarily by religious authorities.
Religion was the first way of making sense of the
It answered the big questions: where did we come
from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Why
must we die? Why is the sky blue?
The Birth of Philosophy
Ancient Greece was really good at two things: war
They conquered who they could and traded with those
The Greeks started to see the wide variety of
religious ideas in the world.
They were all mutually exclusive, and everyone
thought theirs was right.
So some of them did a dangerous thing: they
started to ask questions.
This was truly revolutionary… It was the birth of
Ch 1: Virtue is Knowledge
Historical Setting: Democratic Athens, circa
445 B.C.E., the Golden age of Pericles.
Pericles supported political rights for all
citizens, rich and poor (but not women or
This is known as “egalitarianism.”
Athens prospered substantially under Pericles,
but lost the Peloponnesian war to the
Spartans, a military dictatorship in 404 B.C.E.
“The Rule of the Thirty”
After the war, an aristocratic group called
“the Rule of the Thirty” (including some of
Plato’s relatives) revolted against the
democratic government, and “conducted a
vicious reign of terror.”
After the Rule of the Thirty was brought to an
end, democracy was restored and Socrates
was tried and put to death.
The Crimes of Socrates
Not believing in the accepted gods
Introducing new gods
Corrupting the youth
Found guilty by a jury of 501
Socrates could escape, but he chooses to
stay and be executed
Why did Socrates stay to be executed?
Believed in his philosophy
Didn’t want to break the law
Idea of the social contract
Didn’t want to act as if he were guilty
Wasn’t afraid to die
Four points of Socrates’ Philosophy
The only true wisdom consists in knowing
that you know nothing
Care of wisdom and truth is the highest
good (higher than care of money, the body,
etc.) All good things come from virtue.
Socrates’ as a gadfly on the sluggish horse
of the state
Virtue is knowledge: (read pg. 16)
Virtue is Knowledge
To know the good is to do the good
“No one does evil voluntarily”
“A good person cannot be harmed by a bad
Evil is done because one thinks it will do
them good, but they do not know what is
good, what will make them happy.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Reason is the primary factor in moral
conduct. If you know what the right thing
to do is, you will do it.
Contrast this with the idea that ethics is
inculcated by habit (Aristotle’s idea).
Death of Socrates: Interpretations:
Society’s hostility towards philosophers
Power of state over the individual
Triumph of Democracy over aristocracy
The Death of Socrates (1787)
by Jacques-Louis David
Ch. 2: Shadow and Substance
Plato leaves Athens, travels to Syracuse, ‘so
Athens won’t sin twice against philosophy.’
Returns to Athens years later and starts
“The Academy” to train potential
What is a philosopher king?
Idea outlined in Plato’s “Republic,” the
foundational book in political science.
Phil King is a wise and learned leader who has
trained his whole life and cultivated his
knowledge of the good.
He knows what is best for his people and wants what is
best for them.
(Is there a tension here? He KNOWS the good,
yet the wise man is supposed to only know that he
Plato’s Criticism of Democracy
Quote on p.20
The masses are too flawed to govern.
Specifically, they are too:
Generally ignorant of state-craft
Are you ready to accept that we should abandon
democracy? If not, what’s wrong about Plato’s
Plato as Socrates’ student
Socrates wrote nothing—like Christ.
Plato writes in dialogue form, with Socrates
engaging his interlocutors.
Socratic Method (Example: Euthaphro)
Socratic Irony (playing dumb)
Use of counterexample.
Inside “The Republic”
Political questions lead to metaphysical ones.
Plato’s primary intentions: Find definitions
of justice and the state
To find these, he delves into metaphysics
To understand why this is, we need to go
back to the Presocratic philosophers.
The problem of substance
Is matter infinitely divisible?
Can you keep cutting things in half
Or will you eventually reach something that is
indivisible (an ‘atom’)?
What is ‘matter’ made out of, anyway?
What are the ingredients that make up
Earth, air, water and fire?
The problem of change:
How are change and identity compatible?
If a thing is defined by it’s parts, then if any of its
parts change, then it’s no longer the same thing.
But that means no thing can ever survive change!
No thing can ever change and be the same thing!
Ship of Theseus
How are knowledge and impermance
If the world is constantly changing, then how can
we ever claim to know anything about it?
Pre-Socratics Solutions: Hereclitus
Fundamentally, nature is change (you’ve heard
people say ‘the only constant is change’? Now
you know where the idea came from.)
Our senses tell us that permanence is just an
Famous quote: “You can’t step in the same river
Because once you try, both you and the river are
Pre-Socratic Solutions: Paramenidies
Fundamentally, nature NEVER changes.
Reason tells us that change is an illusion.
If the world were always changing, then we
could never have knowledge about it
The second we knew something, it would
change and we’d no longer know it!
But we do have knowledge, (we know
2+2=4, right?) so there can be no change.
Terms means, ‘a wise and learned person’ (vs.
Philosopher-one who loves wisdom.)
Teachers of rhetoric and argumentation. (Today,
‘Sophistry’ means plausible but fallacious
Socrates never took money for his teachings.
Skeptics: Reason leads to conflicting claims, (like
Hereclitus and Paramenidies) therefore it cannot
reach the truth.
A New Direction for Philosophy
Relativists: (Protagoras) Reality has whatever
qualities are ascribed to it.
Moral and political principles are relative to the group that
believes them, none are true.
We can never resolve the debate between Hereclitus
So let’s just stop asking questions about the fundamental
nature of reality and focus on practical problems.
Sophists turn Greek philosophy in a new direction,
towards human affairs
Prior to that, most philosophers were ‘natural
Does Might Make Right?
In The Republic Book 1 Thrasymachus argues
might makes right:
Laws only serve to protect the interests of the powerful.
Only a fool obeys them if they’re against his interests.
Refuting this is one of Socrates’ principle
(We’ll come back to this later.)
Answering the Sophists
Socrates and Plato were rationalists; they
though that principles of morality/justice lay
in reason, not in society.
Socrates (and Plato) thought that virtue is
knowledge. How could they rebut the
skepticism of the Sophists?
(How would you? Do you agree with the
Resolving the Hereclitus/Paramenadies
debate: synthesize the positions (remember
synthesis for Hegel)
Their mistake: presuming that either
permanence or change must be fundamental
to all reality. Why can’t it be both?
Reality is two-fold, there are two
fundamental aspects to reality
Physical reality: perceptible, in flux,
The Forms: concepts by which similarity
and difference are tied (idea of “Plato’s
How does this answer the Sophists? Does it
successfully refute their relativism?
The Allegory of the Cave
Glaucon challenges Plato to show that a man
could be happy, even if he was dejected by society
(as Socrates was.)
Socrates replies that a just, balanced nature was
essential for human perfection and happiness. The
Allegory is a way to illustrate that point.
Allegory serves two purposes:
Vindicate Socrates’ life and death,
Expound Plato’s dualistic metaphysics.
Quote on Page 27
Three basic metaphysical
Materialism: only the physical, material
world is fundamentally real.
Idealism: only ideals, minds and mental
representations fundamentally are real.
Dualism: both fundamentally are real.
Two types of ‘knowledge’ in the cave—
perception of images/representations, and
perception of things (belief, not knowledge)
Two types of ‘knowledge’ outside of the
cave—first he is blinded by the light (vague
ideas of the forms), then his eyes adjust
(sharp ideas of the forms.)
Plato’s theory of the forms:
Things ‘participate’ in their forms.
Explanation of similarity and difference.
Anamnesis: You already have the important truths
inside of you, not ‘out there’ to be discovered by
your senses. You just have to discover them
through rational reflection.
Thus, Plato’s epistemology is ‘rationalism’ (we
have innate ideas.)
Sound Far Fetched?
Consider: The Fibonacci Sequence and the
Rationalism vs. Empiricism
Contrast rationalism with ‘empiricism,’ the
idea that all knowledge comes from our
sense perceptions, that we are born a ‘blank
slate’ (Locke) upon which knowledge is
writ by experience.
(Quick poll: which seems right to you?)
Interpretation of the Allegory
What does the allegory apply to?
Our everyday lives
Science (two ways)
The Philosopher King
Despair and hope
Two political questions:
Is there a single, immutable, absolutely true
concept of justice, virtue, the ideal society,
the ideal human?
And are these so complicated that only an
educated few can grasp them?
Would having this knowledge justify an
authoritarian government ruled by this elite?