Beware Greeks (the Pre & not quite so Pre-Socratics)

  By Paul
By Paul


Cosmology is the oldest and most ambitious field of philosophy. Largely it tries to answer all the questions the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy throws up. It however does suffer from one major flaw…… it can’t. Hence it is largely obsolete and such tedious questions as ’mummy why is the sky blue’ and ‘if an infallible god created nature, why do governments outlaw cannabis’ are nowadays best left to religious cults, low budget sci-fi series, Stephen Hawking and other assorted cranks.
The Pre-Socratics is the name given to the first philosophers who appeared around the 6th century BC. They are lumped together for several good reasons. They all came from the Greek world, they all occupied the time period before Socrates - hence the handle, no complete text survives from any of them, just fragments, and they all philosophised in a single area of philosophy - Cosmology.

Handle? - Thales, first recorded philosopher.
- Active around 580s BC.
Gaff? - Miletus, Asia Minor (Turkey).
Occupation? - Civil Engineer. He diverted the river Hylas to allow king croesus to pass. Moses did it in mythology, he did it for real! (Philosophy 1, Religion 0).
Feats? - Predicted the eclipse of the sun in 585 BC, but completely failed to realise the financial exploitation potential of being able to do this when living among a bunch of yokels, unlike in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Sophistry? - Asked the question. What are things made of? And came to the conclusion, because they all have three states, solid, liquid and gaseous, and are reducible to energy. They must all ultimately be made from a single element. Then blew it by saying it was water because he saw water as the most abundant substance on earth and it being essential to all animal and plant life.
Hardcore? - When the locals taunted him that his predilection for philosophising was leading him to be poor, he responded by just before harvest time using all his remaining wealth to hire every olive press in the area. He then rented them out at inflated rates to his taunters.
Hooligan Rating? -   Took the p**s out of a load of carrot crunchers but missed the opportunity to become a local god.
Bollocks Rating?
   Wet behind the ears.
Handle? - Anaximander, student of Thales
When? - 610 BC to 546 BC
Feats? - Made the first map of the world.
Sophistry? - Declared all creatures emerged from water and men were evolved from fish. Also asked the question if people rest on the earth, what does the earth rest upon? And if the earth does rest upon something, what does this something rest upon? Seeing this as a problem of infinite regression he surmised the world couldn’t possibly be resting upon anything and must be floating in space supported by nothing.
Hooligan Rating? -    Sent hundreds of sea explorers to their death by the laughable inaccuracy of his maps.
Bollocks Rating?

Handle? - Anaximenes, student of Anaximander.
Sophistry? - Thought Anaxiander’s idea of the world just floating there in space was daft. Instead suggested it floated on hot air as a lid on a saucepan of boiling water.
Hooligan Rating?    The whole world believed him not Anaximander till Newton. So has the rare distinction of screwing possibly more scientists than any other thinker in history.
Bollocks Rating? -    
Handle? - Heraclitus
When? - Early sixth century BC
Gaff? - Ephesus, Asia Minor (Turkey).
Occupation? - UFO cult guru
Sophistry? - Copied the Chinese idea of Yin and Yang asserting opposites the driving force of the cosmos, declaring ‘God is day and night, winter and summer, hunger and fullness’ pre-empting the appearance of Tony Blair by twenty-five centuries. Heraclitus never used reason and hated rational thought, again somewhat like the Labour Party.
Hooligan Rating? -  
Bollocks Rating?  

Handle? - Pythagoras
When? - 570 BC to 497? BC
Gaff? - Samos, Asia Minor (Turkey), went to Egypt and moved to Italy.
Occupation? - Sex maniac and Mathematics Cult Guru.
Feats? - Invented the words Philosophy, Theory and Cosmos. Deduced musical scales. Created numerous mathematical equations including squares and cubes. Cooked a mean Vindaloo.
Sophistry? - Thought the mechanisms of the universe from galaxies to atoms could be deduced by mathematics but had a girlfriend, so unlike Newton didn’t bother to work them out.
Hardcore? - Created a cult of mathematics based upon keeping mathematical secrets such as Surd triangles, not eating beans and having regular orgies.
Hooligan Rating?  A mathematician with a sex life, now how many can say that?
Bollocks Rating?
Handle? - Xenophanes
When? - Late 6th century BC
Gaff? - Colophon, Ionia, Asia Minor (Turkey) moved to Southern Italy.
Sophistry? - Coined the idea man made god in his image. Pointed out Ethiopians believed god is black, Thracians he’s red headed and blue eyed and that if cattle could speak they would insist he’s a black and white patched bovine with four hooves. Also thought everything changes in light of what we learn, so man could not be absolutely sure of anything. We can build and build knowledge up over many years, continually modify our views to get closer to the truth but even the surest scientific fact contains some conjecture.
Hardcore? - World’s first Anglican Bishop.
Hooligan Rating? -   
Bollocks Rating? -
Handle? - Parmenides pupil of Xenophanes
When? - 1st half of the 5th century BC
Gaff? Elea
Feats? - Appeared as a character in Plato and invented Determinism the idea that everything is pre-destined to happen.
Sophistry? - Believed nothing could cease to exist it just changed from one state to another. So deduced everything must be eternal, with nothing coming into or going out of existence. The universe wasn’t created but must have always existed, it is a static entity. A bit like the conservative party manifesto really.
Hooligan Rating? -  Bring back birching.
Bollocks Rating? -    
Handle? - Zeno disciple of Parmenides
When? - 5th century BC
Gaff? - Elea
Occupation? - Creator of Paradoxes, proving conclusively that some people just have too much spare time on their hands.
Sophistry? - Zeno wanted to prove there is not basic irreducible founding material such as the unsplitable atom. He argued no-matter how small you go there’ll always be some smaller. For example if you cut something in half then take one of the halves and cut that in half and repeat the process, you will go on forever. Zeno wanted to show because everything in the universe is equally infinitely dividable, it couldn’t be divided into differing sets natural divisions and so must be seen as a whole.
Hooligan Rating? -
Bollocks Rating?  
Handle? - Empedocles
When? - Early 5th century BC
Gaff? - Agracas
Occupation? - Politician
Feats? - Invented the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Built a brass water clock.
Sophistry? - Opposed Parmenides views by arguing the universe is changing and sensory experience can prove this. Thought the world was round and plants had sex lives.
Hardcore? - Leaping into a volcano and swimming in lava however couldn’t prove it. Happily this fact didn’t stop from trying it and  he went high diving into Mt Edna.
Hooligan Rating?  A shining example to all politicians the world over. Direction to active volcanoes around the world can be found on! I’m sure for once for this little trip the tax payers won’t even mind footing the bill.
Bollocks Rating? -
Handle? - Democritus
When? - Late 5th century BC
Gaff? - Thracia
Occupation? - Backpacker on hippy trail
Feats? - Predicted the stars were other suns, that may have other worlds with life on them
Sophistry? - Believed that all things were made of atoms and nothing. Theorised if things were solid we would not be able to cut an apple in half. But we can which proves the apples is made of atoms with space between.
Hardcore? - His ideas annoyed Plato so much, Plato wanted to burn all his books.
Hooligan Rating?   Exposed Plato as a polyester suit nazi.
Bollocks Rating? -
Summary So there we have it in a nutshell. Pre-Socratic philosophy, everything is made up of atoms and can have three states, solid, liquid and gaseous. Matter doesn't cease to exist but changes to another form. Man lives on a round planet in space, in a universe of many suns also with planets and life on. Creatures evolved from lower forms originally emerging from the ocean. God doesn’t exist and instead mathematics can be used to deduce the rules of the universe. Yep pretty much like a science class a school but we didn’t get to play with a Bunsen Burner. So far so good you may be thinking. So how did philosophy go so wrong? Keep reading.
A little bit before and lasting long enough to be contemporary with Socrates, a new bunch of philosophers gatecrashed the scene, calling themselves Sophists. Unlike the Cosmologists who used reason to try to answer the questions of creation, Sophists were only interested in how reason could be used by people to their own advantage within society to shaft others. They went around the Greek world challenging every so-called truth as irrelevant and encouraged people to replace impractical grand ideals with useful opinions in their own interest.
Handle? - Protagoras
When? - 5th Century BC
Gaff? - Delivers to your home.
Occupation? - Spin Doctor.
Feats? - Inspired the word Protagonist. Used as a character in a Plato book.
Sophistry? - Originated Relativism, the idea everything is the subjective opinion of the individual. So there’s no true or false, moral or immoral, too hot or not hot enough vindaloo, just differing individual opinions on the matter. When people do something they should not look for the greater good in it, just there own personal interest. In fact everything out there already is for the personal interest of someone and if something different is better for you, do it.
Hardcore? - Sold his teaching talents to anybody who would pay him. Taught a generation of Greeks to lie, cheat, manipulate and connive, especially in politics and business to get there own ends.
Hooligan Rating?    Without doubt the father of western liberal democratic tradition.
Bollocks Rating? -  
Handle? - Thrasymachus non-existent ranter
Gaff? - Athens
Occupation? - Fictional Character in Plato’s Republic.
Feats? - Spoke the only sensible words in the whole of Plato’s Republic.
Sophistry? - Represented the views of the Sophists in Plato’s Republic. When Socrates asked ‘What is Justice?’ he put forward the Pragmatic argument that Justice is simply whatever is in the interest of the stronger in society. The government, the rich and powerful can make and change laws, ordinary people can’t.
Hardcore? - Got angry, shouted at Socrates and called several eminent philosophers idiots and stormed out.
Hooligan Rating? -      Admittedly we Philosophy Hooligans haven’t yet quite achieved the high standard of excellence of our Footballing comrades but with talent of this calibre coming up through the youth team ranks we still hold out hope yet.
Bollocks Rating? -

Ontology is a great departure in Philosophy. Previously Cosmology had tried to understand the universe. Ontology concerned itself with simply trying to understand Man and anything to do with him, such as thoughts, feelings, drives, desires, social interaction with others and morality. To answer your next question. Yes it is that bleedin load of woolly Hippie bollocks that they talk about on the Late Show.
Ontology survives to the present day and it’s most popular variety, Existentialism, which for over two centuries now has given students endless potential for insufferable pretentiousness and irate locals reason to deservedly to beat them up in pubs.

The Athenians
One minute Philosophy was going so well, the next minute disaster. It was all the Athenians fault. Previously the Pre-Socratics had kept philosophy in largely irrelevant areas, but trust the bloody Athenians not content with screwing up Greece, to come along and screw up Philosophy too. Their refocusing of philosophy on Ontology and man, and even worse, morality, of course brought out the narcissism, conceit and arrogance in man. And for the next 2300 year with few exceptions until in the 19th century morality was finally snuffed, philosophers were to produce nothing but worthless crap.

Handle? - Socrates
When? - 5th century BC.
Gaff? - Athens.
Occupation? - Former soldier, Social Security Scrounger.
Feats? - The ugliest philosopher of all time, could make a girl throw-up at forty paces just by looking at her. Even uglier than Cher. Three times winner of Hello magazine worst dressed man competition. Said ‘All I know is that I know nothing’ and got declared the wisest man alive by the Oracle of Delphi for saying it. A bit like being declared the man with the most knowse at a showbiz awards show.
Sophistry? - He asked what’s the point of Cosmology. The knowledge whether the earth floats upon nothing or air or whether there are one or four elements has no practical value to us. What we need to know are the answers to the questions that concern us like. What is right and wrong? How can we make our lives and society better? Unfortunately he had one small problem, he didn’t know the answers. Luckily he surmised nobody else did either but they were too arrogant to realise it. So Socrates set off around Athens asking people the meaning of various abstract terms in the context of it having a universal meaning, such as Goodness, Justice, Bravery and then broke down their fatally flawed explanations by interrogation and finding exceptions.
Socrates was encouraging people to question everything, something that worried the political authorities in Athens a lot, who responded by sending him some Hemlock to drink. Unfortunately for Socrates they really did know nothing for they’d have undermined him much better by encouraging his victims not to give their explanations within a context set by him, because he was setting them up as straw targets.
Hardcore? - Got sentenced to death for ‘Corrupting the Youth’ of Athens. Which lets face it, after their parents had put Sophists in charge of their education, is a bloody difficult thing to do.
Hooligan Rating? - The Sex Pistol of Athens, never wrote a word but as Johnny Rotten said “The only notes that matter come in a wad”.     

Bollocks Rating? -   Never Mind the Bollocks.

Metaphysics from the Greek word ‘Meta/Beyond’ quite literally translates to ‘ridiculous crap'. Astrology, Religion, UFO spotters and the hope of winning the National Lottery by millions are all forms of Metaphysics. Metaphysics is the search for meaning outside the human or physical realm. Amnesty International declares Human Rights to be ‘Universal’ (then changes them every year), the American Declaration of Independence holds truths to be ‘Self-Evident‘. Serial killers are told they must do it by ‘Divine Revelation or the Word of God‘. At worst Metaphysics is an excuse for not thinking and at best an apology for the answer being too complex to work out.

Morality and Ethics are usually associated with Metaphysics. Though numerous systems of working them out without the use of Metaphysics exist within Philosophy. In the real world the anti-war/abortion protester is a Metaphysician, the question of how they know what they believe to be right or wrong simply is not an issue. Metaphysics built up popularity throughout history and peaked in the 18th century but suffered a strong backlash in the 19th and 20th. It is largely dead in the Philosophical world but seems to be more dominant than any other Philosophy in the real world and getting stronger. As the world becomes more complex, fragmented and relative, many are turning to simpler and more concrete explanations.

Handle? - Plato student of Socrates
When? - 530 to 449BC
Gaff? - Athens.
Occupation? - University Lecturer and Pederast.
Feats? - Created the Platonic Relationship (Gee thanks!).
Sophistry? - If Socrates was trying to get philosophy to produce a moral ideology and failed. Plato unlike Socrates wasn’t going to let small fact like reality get in his way. Plato sought to answer the two questions Socrates addressed. Firstly answering the meaning of abstractions, but like Socrates’ victims he didn’t question the premise of the question. Secondly how can we apply these answers to our lives. To the problem of abstractions he created a notion called Dualism. That an ideal of everything exists outside of the physical world. We all recognise a human being when we see one. But all human beings are different, male/female, short/tall, fat/thin, black/white and so on, but we still recognise one and don’t confuse them with an ape. Plato hypothesised this was because an ideal of a thing must exist within us which is how we distinguish between and recognise things. Of course the problem then arises where do we get the ideal from? Which Plato answers we are innately born with it. This of-course refutes Socrates argument that all we know is nothing. With this answer to Socrates, Plato was effectively retrograding philosophy back to what Socrates had criticised about Cosmology. What’s the point of knowing this, what possible effect could it have on our lives? Having mugged Socrates first question Plato then went on to try his second and Political Philosophy was born. Plato disliked the Athenian Democracy and instead admired the Spartan Timarchy. Plato hypothesised an ideal state, his Republic, a Timarchy with the military aspects replaced by philosophy. Plato was canny enough to realise nobody with half a mind would believe the crap he was turning out, so pretended he didn’t write it, but was just reporting what Socrates said through having Socrates as the lead character in his books.
Hooligan Rating? -  Created probably the largest libel suit in history with his defamation of Socrates character.
Bollocks Rating?
Plato in many ways was really the death of philosophy taking it from the streets and imprisoning within the effete minds of universities. Greece was no more to produce any philosophers, just academics. Where as early philosophers tried to answer the questions that people turned to religion in lack of the answer to. Post-Socratics drove philosophy into a smug and distanced clique that wasted in it’s own complacency, where it remains to this day.
Fuller's, London Porter
Wacky baccy