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History of Philosophy I: The Presocratics

Lecturer: David Rathbone

Originally Taught: Summer School 2008

This course looks at the creative ferment of pre-Socratic philosophy as embodied in enigmatic figures such as Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides and Xenophanes. The course has two aims. The first is to think through the historical details and the wider meaning of the rise of philosophy in post-Homeric Greece. The second is to highlight the hermeneutic difficulties and exhilarations of reading the text of pre-Socratic philosophy — something to be achieved by close readings of the textual fragments that have come down to us and by reviewing three of the major interpretations of early Greek philosophy available in the work of three greats of the modern European philosophical scene, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Essentially, our problem will be how to understand what a philosophical point of view is by looking at the cultural conditions under which philosophy first came to be practiced and the range of things it involved, from speculation about the natural world, the propounding of paradoxes and the formulation of ethical injunctions all the way up to religious reflection and the critique of custom and myth.

Recommended Readings:
Nietzsche, Friedrich, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, trans. Marianne Cowan (Chicago: Regnery, 1962)
This text is also available online in an earlier translation at