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History of Philosophy I: The PreSocratics

Lecturer: David Rathbone

Originally Taught: Summer School 2005

It was once said that the history of philosophy has been a series of footnotes to Plato. But Plato himself can be understood as a series of footnotes to the preSocratics. The writings of each of the three enigmatic figures forming the focus of this course – Xenophanes, Parmenides and Heraclitus – exist only in fragmentary form. But like shards of a pot, each group of fragments indicate a whole more or less clearly. Although we shall devote one session to the significance of the preSocratics for three modern philosophers, the aim of this course is to attempt first to meet these three thinkers on their own grounds.
(Note: Despite appearances, knowledge of ancient Greek is neither assumed nor necessary. Do not worry: all will be revealed! )


- Memory, imagination and writing: the leap from oral to literate culture.
- The rhapsode in Homeric Greece.
- Metaphysics in Homer and Hesiod.
- Xenophanes’ two basic points:

fr.24: houlos de noei!
fr.34: dokos d’epi pasi tetuktai


Parmenides’ three basic thoughts:

fr.1: ta dokounta chren dokimous einai dia pantos panta perounta
fr.3: to gar auto noein estin te kai einai
fr.7: ou mepote touto damei einai me eonta


Heraclitus’ three basic thoughts:

fr.50: ouk emou alla tou logou akousantas homologein sophon estin hen panta einai
fr. 30: pyr aeizouon haptomenon metra
fr. 49a: we both do and do not step into the same river


- Hegel and the preSocratics
- Nietzsche and the preSocratics
- Heidegger and the preSocratics


- A self-conscious history of self-consciousness
- System and totality, chaos and the fragment
- The future of the preSocratics: postmodernity