CHAPTER I. THE COSMOLOGICAL PERIOD.
S. A. Byk, Die vorsokratische Philosophic der Griechen in ihrer organischen
Gliederung. 2 Parts. Leips. 1875-77.
[J. Biirnet, Early Greek Philosophy. Lond. 1892.]
THE immediate background for the beginnings of Greek philoso
phy was formed by the cosmogonic poetry, which aimed to present
in mythical garb the story of the prehistoric ages of the given
world, and so, in the form of narratives of the origination of the
universe, made use of prevailing ideas as to the constant mutations
of things. The more freely individual views developed in this pro
cess, the more the time factor in the myth retreated in favour of the
emphasising of these abiding relations; and the question finally
emerged : " What is then the original ground of things, which out
lasts all temporal change, and how does it change itself into these
particular things, or change these things back into itself ? "
The solution of this question was first attempted in the sixth
century by the Milesian School of natural philosophy, of which
Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes are known to us as the
three chief representatives. Information of many kinds, which had
long been publicly accumulating in the practical experience of the
sea-faring lonians, stood at their disposal, as well as many true
observations, often of an acute sort. They kept in touch, also, no
doubt, with the experience of the Oriental peoples, especially the
Egyptians, with whom they stood in so close relation. 1 Knowledge
from these various sources was brought together with youthful zeal.
The chief interest fell upon physical questions, particularly upon
1 The influence of the Orient upon the beginnings of Greek philosophy has
been overestimated by Glabisch (Die Religion und die Philosophic in ihrer
weltgeschichtlichen Entwicklung, Breslau, 1852) and Roth (Geschichte unserer
abendldndischen Philosophic, 2 Vols., Mannheim, 1858 ff.). In the case of
information upon particular fields such influence is certainly to be recognised ;
on the other hand, the scientific conceptions are throughout independent works
of Greek thought.
28 The Philosophy of the Greeks. [PART I.
the great elementary phenomena, to explain which many hypotheses
were thought out. Besides this, interest turned chiefly to geo
graphical and astronomical problems, such as the form of the earth,
its relation to the sidereal heavens, the nature of the sun, moon,
and planets, and the manner and cause of their motion. On the
other hand, there are but feeble indications of a zeal for knowledge
applied to the organic world and man.
Such were the objects of experience studied by the first "philosophy." It
stood quite far removed from medical science, which, to be sure, was limited to
technical information and proficiency in the art, and was handed down as a
secret doctrine, guarded in priest-like fashion in orders and schools, such as
those of Rhodes, Gyrene, Crotona, Cos, and Cnidus. Ancient medicine, which
aimed expressly to be an art and not a science (so Hippocrates), came into
contact with philosophy when this was an all-embracing science, only at a late
period and quite transiently. Cf. Haser, Lehrbuch dcr Geschichte der Medicin,
I. (2d ed., Jena, 1875).
So also the beginnings of mathematics go along independently beside those of
ancient philosophy. The propositions ascribed to the Milesians make the im
pression of individual pieces of information picked up and put together, rather
than of results of genuine research, and are quite out of relation with their
doctrines in natural science and philosophy. In the circles of the Pythagoreans,
also, mathematical studies were at first evidently pursued for their own sake, to
be drawn all the more vigorously into the treatment of general problems. Cf.
G. Cantor, Geschichte der Mathematik, I. (Leips. 1880).
The efforts of the Milesians to determine the nature of the one
world-ground had already in the case of Anaximander led beyond
experience to the construction of a metaphysical conception to be
used for explanation, viz. the Sjrupov, and thereby drew science away
from the investigation of facts to the consideration of conceptions.
While Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatic School, drew the con
sequences which result for the religious consciousness from the
philosophical conception of the unity of the world, Heraditus, in
hard struggle with ideas that were obscure and religiously coloured,
analysed destructively the presupposition of an abiding substance,
and allowed only a law of change to stand as ultimate content of
knowledge. All the more sharply, on the other hand, did the Eleatic
School, in its great representative, Parmenides, shape out the con
ception of Being until it reached that regardless boldness of formu
lation which, in the following generation of the School, was defended
by Zeno, and softened down in some measure only by Melissus.
Very soon, however, a series of efforts appeared, which brought
anew into the foreground the interest in explanatory natural science
that had been thrust aside by this development of the first meta
physical antitheses. In behalf of this interest more comprehensive
efforts were made toward an enrichment of knowledge ; this time,
more than in the case of previous observations, questions and
hypotheses from the organic and physiological realms were kept in
CHAP. 1.] The Cosmological Period. 29
mind ; and the attempt was made to mediate with explanatory
theories between the opposing conceptions of Heraclitus and Par-
Out of these needs arose, about the middle of the fifth century,
side by side, and with many reciprocal relations, positive and polem
ical, the theories of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Leucippus, founder
of the Atomistic School of Abdera. The number of these theories
and their well-known dependence upon one another prove that in
spite of the distance by which individual men and schools found
themselves separated, there was already a great vigour in exchange
of thought and in literary activity. The picture of this life takes
on a much fuller form as we reflect that tradition, in sifting its
material, has obviously preserved only the memory of what was
most important, and that each of the names remaining known to
us indicates, in truth, an entire circle of scientific activity-
The Pythagoreans, during this same period, occupied a peculiar
position at one side. They also took up the metaphysical problem
given by the opposition between Heraclitus and the Eleatics, but
hoped to find its solution by the aid of mathematics, and, by their
theory of numbers, as whose first literary representative Philolaus is
known, added a number of most important factors to the further
movement of thought. The original purpose or tendency of their
league made itself felt in their doctrines, in that, in fixing these,
they conceded a considerable influence to considerations of (ethical
or aesthetic) worth. They indeed attempted a scientific treatment
of ethical questions as little as did the entire philosophy of this
period, but the cosmology which they based upon their astronomical
ideas, already widely developed with the help of mathematics, is
yet at the same time permeated by aesthetic and ethical motives.
Of the Milesian School only three names Thales, Anaximander, and An-
aximenes have been handed down to us. From this it appears that the school
flourished in what was then the Ionic capital during the entire sixth century,
and perished with the city itself, which was laid waste by the Persians in 494,
after the battle of Lade.
Thales, sprung from an old merchant family, is said to have predicted the
solar eclipse in 585, and survived the invasion of the Persians in the middle of
the sixth century. He had perhaps seen Kgypt, and was not deficient in mathe
matical and physical knowledge. So early an author as Aristotle did not know
writings from him.
Anaximander seems to have been little younger. Of his treatise vepl ^tfo-eojs
a curious fragment only is preserved. Of. Neuhiiuser (Bonn, 1883). Biisgen,
Ueber das lirtipov des A. (Wiesbaden, 1867).
It is difficult to determine the period of Anaximenes. It falls probably about
560-500. Almost nothing of his work irepl 0i/o-eojs remains.
Aside from that given by Aristotle (in the beginning of the Metaphysics) we
owe our meagre information concerning the theories of the Milesians chiefly to
the Commentary of Simplicius. Cf. H. Hitter, Geschirhte der jonischen Philos-
ophie (Berlin, 1821) ; K. Seydel, Der Fortschritt der Metaphysik unter den altes-
ten jonischen Philosophen (Leips. 1861).
30 The Greeks: Cosmological Period. [PART I.
At the head of the Eleatic School, Xenophanes, who at all events was
concerned in its establishment, is generally placed. Born about 570 in Colophon,
he fled in 540, in consequence of the Persian conquest of Ionia, and gained a
living as wandering poet. At last, in Elea, founded by the lonians who fled into
Magna Grsecia, he found a permanent dwelling. He died after 480. The frag
ments of his partly gnomic, partly philosophical, sayings have been collected by
Karsten (Amsterdam, 1835). Concerning him see Fr. Kern (Naumburg, 1804,
Oldenburg, 1807, Danzig, 1871, Stettin, 1874 and 1877) and J. Freudenthal (Bres-
Parmenides, an Eleatic of renowned family, who was not a stranger to the
Pythagorean society, wrote about 470. The fragments of his didactic poem
have been collected by Peyron (Leips. 1810) and H. Stein (Leips. 1864). [Met.
tr. in Jour. Spec. Phil, IV.] The lost treatise of Zeno (about 490-430) was
probably the first which was separated into chapters and arranged dialectically.
He, too, came from Elea.
Melissos, on the contrary, was the Samian general who conquered the Athe
nians in 442. Concerning his personal connection with the Eleatic school nothing
io Known. A. Pabst, De M. j ruyweutiK ^iioiiu, iSb9;.
The unimportant fragments of the Eleatics are in a measure supplemented by
the accounts of Aristotle, Simplicius, and others. The pseudo-Aristotelian work,
De Xenephone, Zenone, Gorgia (Arist., Berl. ed., 974 ff.), which must be used
with great discretion, gives an account in the first chapter probably of Melissos ;
in the second, from confusedly intermingling sources, of Zeno ; in the third, of
Heraclitus of Ephesus ("the Obscure"), about 530-470, disgusted with the
ever-growing power of the democracy, gave up the high position which was his
by birth, and in the moody leisure of the last decade of his life, wrote a treatise
which was pronounced difficult of comprehension even by the ancients, while
the fragments of it which we possess are often very ambiguous. Collected and
edited by P. Schuster (Leips. 1873) and J. By water (Oxford, 1877). Cf. Fr.
Schleiermacher (Ges. W-, III. Abth., Bd. 2, pp. 1-146); J. Bernays ( Ges. Abhand-
Inngen, Bd. I., 1885); F. Lasalle (2 Bde., Berlin, 1858); E. Pfleiderer (Berlin,
1880). [G. T. W. Patrick, Heraclitus in Am. Jour. Psy., I., 1888, contains trans,
of the Fr. ]
The first Dorian in the history of philosophy is Empedocles of Agrigentum,
about 490-430, a priestly and prophetic personality, much regarded in his char
acter as statesman, physician, and worker of miracles. He had, too, relations
with the Sicilian school of orators, of which the names of Korax and Tisias are
familiar ; and besides his Ka.Oa.piJ.oL (Songs of Purification) has left a didactic
poem, the fragments of which have been published by Sturz (Leips. 1805),
Karsten (Amsterdam, 1838), and Stein (Bonn, 1852).
Anaxagoras of Klazomene (500 till after 430) settled, toward the middle
of the fifth century, in Athens, where he made friends with Pericles. In 434
he was accused of impiety and obliged to leave the city, and founded a school
in Lampsacus. Schaubach (Leips. 1827) and Schorn (Bonn, 1829) have col
lected the fragments of his treatise, irepi <j>taew. Cf. Breier (Berlin, 1840),
Zevort (Paris, 1843).
So little is known of the personality of Leucippus, that even in ancient
times his very existence was doubted. The great development of the atomistic
theory by Democritus (see ch. 3) had completely overshadowed its founder.
But traces of Atomism are to be recognised with certainty in the entire structure
of thought after Parmenides. Leucippus, if not born in Abdera, yet active
there as head of the school out of which Protagoras and Democritus went later,
must have been contemporary with Empedocles and Anaxagoras, even though
somewhat older. Whether he wrote anything is uncertain. Cf. Diels, Verh.
der Stett. Philol. Vers. (1886). A Brieger, Die Urbewegung der Atome (Halle,
1884); II. Liepmann, Die Mechanik der leucipp-demokritischen Atome (Leips.
The Pythagorean Society first appeared in the cities of Magna Graecia as
a religious-political association toward the end of the sixth century. Its founder
was Pythagoras, of Samos, who, born about 580, after long journeys, which
probably led him toward Egypt also, made the aristocratic city of Crotona the
starting-point of a reform movement which had for its aim a moral and religious
CHAP. 1, 4.] Conceptions of Being. 31
purification. We are first apprised of the internal relations of the society
through subsequent narratives (Jamblichus, De Vita Pythagorica, and Porphyrius,
De Vita Pythagorce published by Kiesling (Leips. 1815-16), whose trustworthiness
is doubtful. It seems, however, to be certain that already the old society imposed
definite duties upon its members, even for private life, and introduced tlie prac
tice of working in common at intellectual pursuits, especially at music and
mathematics. In consequence of its political position (in regard to which
B. Krische, Gottingen, 1830) the external conditions of the society assumed at
first a very favourable form, inasmuch as, after the plunder of the democratic
Sybaris, 509, Crotona won a kind of hegemonic influence in Magna Gnecia.
In time, however, the Pythagoreans became the losers in the bitter party
struggles of the cities, and often suffered bitter persecution, by which the
society was finally destroyed in the fourth century.
To Pythagoras himself, who died about 500, we can trace back no philosoph
ical writings, although the subsequent myth-making process sought so strenu
ously to make him the idol of all Hellenic wisdom. (E. Zeller in Vortr. u.
Abhandl., I., Leips. 1865.) Plato and Aristotle knew only of a, philosophy of
the Pythagoreans. Philolaus, who seems to have been somewhat younger than
Empedocles and Anaxagoras, appears as the most prominent representative of
this philosophy. Almost nothing is known of the circumstances of his life, and
the fragments of his treatise (ed. by Boeckh, Berlin, 1819 ; cf. C. Schaar-
schmidt, Bonn, 1864) lie under considerable suspicion.
Of the remaining adherents of the society, only the names are known. The
latest representatives came into so close relations with the Platonic Academy
that, as regards their philosophy, they may almost be said to have belonged to
it. Among them Archytas of Tarentum, the well-known savant and statesman,
should be mentioned. Concerning the very doubtful fragments attributed to
him, cf. G. Hartenstein (Leips. 1833), Fr. Petersen (Zeitschr. f. Alterthumsk ;
1836), O. Gruppe (Berlin, 1840), Fr. Beckman (Berlin, 1844).
The reports concerning the teaching of the Pythagoreans, especially in the later
accounts, are clouded by so many additions from foreign sources, that perhaps
at no point in ancient philosophy is it so difficult to determine the actual facts
in the case as here, even if we sift out the most trustworthy, namely Aristotle
and his best taught commentators, notably Simplicius, many dark points and
contradictory statements remain, particularly in details. The reason for this
lies probably in the fact that in the school, which for a time was widely extended,
various trends of thought ran side by side, and that among these the general fun
damental thought first brought forward perhaps by Philolaus, was worked out
in different ways. It would be of great service to attempt such a separation.
H. Ritter, Geschichte der pythagoreischen Philosophic (Hamburg, 1826) ;
Rothenbucher, Das System der Pt/thagoreer nach Aristoteles (Berlin, 1867) ;
E. Chaignet, Pythagore et la philosophic pythaqoricienne (2 vols., Paris,