from: Early Greek Philosophy, Jonathan Barnes, Penguin Books, Pb, 1987 (1979, 2 volumes).

"Introduction" [9]

          "The present book is concerned with the first of the three periods [first period: 585 - c. 400 B.C.E.; second period: ended c. 100 B.C.E.; "long third period"], with early Greek philosophy. This period is commonly called the 'Presocratic' phase of Greek thought. The epithet is inaccurate, for Socrates was born in 470 BC and died in 399, so that many of the 'Presocratic' philosophers were in fact contemporaries of Socrates. But the label is well entrenched and it would be idle to attempt to evict it.

          The Presocratic period itself divides into three parts. [1] There was first a century of bold and creative thought. [2] Then the early adventures were subjected to stringent logical criticism: the dawn they had heralded seemed a false dawn, their discoveries chimerical, their hopes illusory. [3] Finally, there were years of retrenchment and consolidation, in which thinkers of very different persuasions attempted each in his own way to reconcile the hopes of the first thinkers with the rigorous criticisms of their successors." [10].

"'Philosophy' is a Greek word, the etymological meaning of which is 'love of wisdom'. The Greeks themselves tended to use the term in a broad sense, to cover most of what we now think of as the sciences and the liberal arts...." [12].

"the Presocratics were regarded primarily as 'physicists'. There are ethical and logical parts to some of their works, but their chief interest was physics: Aristotle [384 - 322 B.C.E.] calls them the phusikoi and their activity phusiologia; they were 'students of nature' and their subject was the 'study of nature'. To the modern reader that may sound more like science than philosophy—and indeed our modern subject of physics derives its content no less than its name from the Greek phusikoi. But the modern distinction between empirical science and speculative philosophy is not readily applied to the earliest phase of western thought, when academic specializations and intellectual boundaries had not been thought of." [13].

"Scholars both modern and ancient have supposed that there were also connections between the earliest Greek thought and the intellectual concerns of the eastern empires.

          The advanced astronomy of the Babylonians, for example, must surely have become known on the shores of Asia Minor and have stimulated the Ionians to study astronomy for themselves. Thales [Thales of Miletus c. 625 - c. 545 B.C.E.]' knowledge of the eclipse of the sun of 585 BC must have been derived from Babylonian learning. Other, more speculative, parts of Presocratic though have parallels, of a sort, in eastern texts. In addition, there was the Egyptian connection.


The Greeks themselves later supposed that their own philosophy owed much to the land of the Pharaohs. But although some eastern fertilization can scarcely be denied, the proven parallels are surprisingly few and surprisingly imprecise. What is more, MANY OF THE MOST CHARACTERISTIC AND SIGNIFICANT FEATURES OF EARLY GREEK THOUGHT HAVE NO KNOWN ANTECEDENTS IN EASTERN CULTURES.

          The Greek philosophers also had Greek predecessors. Earlier poets had written about the nature and the origins of the universe, telling stories of how Zeus married Earth and produced the world of nature, and offering mythical histories of the human race. There are similarities between certain aspects of these early tales and certain parts of the early philosophers' writings. But Aristotle [384 - 322 B.C.E.] made a sharp distinction between what he called the ''mythologists' and the philosophers; and it is true that the differences are far more marked and far more significant than the similarities.

          Just as the early thinkers sought for the origins of the universe, so later scholars have sought for the origins of these first thoughts about the universe. It would be silly to claim that the Presocratics began something entirely novel and totally unprecedented in the history of human intellectual endeavour. But it remains true that the best researchers of scholarship have produced remarkably little by way of true antecedents. It is reasonable to conclude that Miletus in the early sixth century BC saw the birth of science and philosophy. That conclusion does not ascribe any supernatural talent to Thales [Thales of Miletus c. 624 - c. 545 B.C.E.] and his associates. It merely supposes that they were men of genius.

II First Philosophy

In what did their genius consist? What are the characteristics that define the new discipline? Three things in particular mark off the phusikoi [see 2728] from their predecessors.

          First, and most simply, the Presocratics invented the very idea of science and philosophy. They hit upon that special way of looking at the world which is the scientific or rational way. They saw the world as something ordered and intelligible, its history following an explicable course and its different parts arranged in some comprehensible system. The world was now a random collection of bits, its history was not an arbitrary series of events.

          Still less was it a series of events determined by the will—or the caprice—of the gods. The Presocratics were not, so far as we can tell, atheists: they allowed the gods into their brave new world, and some of them attempted to produce an improved, rationalized, theology in place of the anthropomorphic divinities of the Olympian pantheon. But they removed some of the traditional functions from the gods. Thunder was explained scientifically, in naturalistic terms—it was no longer a noise made by a minatory Zeus. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow, but Xenophanes [c. 560 - c. 478 B.C.E.] insisted that Iris or the rainbow was in reality nothing but a multicoloured cloud. MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE PRESOCRATIC GODS—LIKE THE GODS OF ARISTOTLE [384 - 322 B.C.E.] AND EVEN OF THAT ARCH THEIST PLATO [427 - 347 B.C.E.]—DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE NATURAL WORLD." [15-17].


"The word logos is even harder to translate than arche. It is cognate with the verb legein, which normally means 'to say' or 'to state'. Thus a logos is something said or stated. When Heraclitus [c. 540 - c. 480 B.C.E.] begins his book with a reference to ''this logos', he probably means only 'this statement' or 'this account': my logos is simply what I am going to say. But the word [Logos] also has a richer meaning than that. To give a logos or an account of something is to explain it, to say why it is so; so that a logos is often a reason. When Plato [427 - 347 B.C.E.] says that an intelligent man can give a logos of things, he means not that an intelligent man can describe things, but rather than he can explain or give the reason for things. Thence, by an intelligible transference, logos comes to be used of the faculty with which we give reasons, i.e. of our human reason. In this sense logos may be contrasted with perception, so that Parmenides [fl. 5th century B.C.E.], for example, can urge his readers to test his argument not by their senses but by logos, by reason. (The English term 'logic' derives ultimately from this sense of the word logos, by way of the later Greek term logike.)

          It cannot be said that the Presocratics established a single clear sense for the term logos or that they invented the concept of reason or of rationality. But their use of the term logos constitutes the first step towards the establishment of a notion which is central to science and philosophy.

[this is the first sophisticated discussion of "logos", I have seen. Previous descriptions of "logos", now, appear glib (on, search "logos")]

The term logos brings me to the third of the three great achievements of the Presocratics. I mean their emphasis on the use of reason, on rationality and ratiocination, on argument and evidence.

          The Presocratics were not dogmatists. That is to say, they did not rest content with mere assertion. Determined to explain as well as describe the world of nature, they were acutely aware that explanations required the giving of reasons. This is evident even in the earliest of the Presocratic thinkers...." [21-22].

          "What, then, is the substance of the claim that the Presocratics were champions of reason and rationality? It is this: they offered reasons for their opinions, they gave arguments for their views. They did not utter ex cathedra pronouncements. Perhaps that seems an unremarkable achievement. It is not. On the contrary, it is the most remarkable and the most praiseworthy of the three achievements I have rehearsed. Those who doubt the fact should reflect on the maxim of George Berkeley [1685 - 1753], the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher:

ALL MEN HAVE OPINIONS, BUT FEW THINK." [compare: the colloquial expression: "Opinions are like assholes! Everybody has one!"]. [24].


"III The Evidence

A few Presocratics wrote nothing, but most put their thoughts to paper. Some wrote in verse and some in prose. Some wrote a single work, others several—Democritus [c. 460 - c. 370 B.C.E.], whose works were arranged and catalogued by a scholar in the first century AD, apparently composed some fifty books. All told, the collected works of the Presocratic thinkers would have made an impressive row on the library shelves.

          Of all those works not one has survived intact for us to read. Some of them endured for at least a thousand years, for the scholar Simplicius [fl. 530 C.E.], who worked in Athens in the sixth century AD, was able to consult texts of Parmenides [fl. 5th century B.C.E.], Melissus [5th century B.C.E.], Zeno [Zeno of Elea c. 495 - c. 430 B.C.E.], Anaxagoras [c. 500 - 428 B.C.E.], Diogenes of Apollonia [5th century B.C.E.] and others. But Simplicius himself remarks that Parmenides book was a rarity, and it is not difficult to imagine that by his time many other Presocratic works had actually disappeared. The Presocratics were never bestsellers. Books were easily destroyed.

          Our knowledge of the Presocratics, then, unlike our knowledge of Plato or Aristotle, is not gained directly from the books they wrote. Rather, it depends upon indirect information of two different types.

          First, there are numerous references to Presocratic thought in the surviving works of later authors. Some of these references are brief and casual allusions, mere embellishments to a text whose chief aim was not the transmission of historical information about early philosophy. Many of the references are embedded in later philosophical texts—for example, in Aristotle's Metaphysics and in his Physics. These accounts have a historical purpose and they are written with a philosophical intention; but they are not, properly speaking, 'histories of philosophy'. Finally, there are genuine attempts at the history of philosophy. We can now read such histories in brief handbooks (for example, in the History of Philosophy which goes under Galen's [129 - c 199 C.E.] name), in the ambitious but uncritical Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius [3rd century C.E.] in several works of Christian polemic (such as the Refutation of All Heresies by Hippolytus), in scholarly writings of late antiquity (most notably in the commentary on Aristotle's Physics by Simplicius).

          These histories—or 'doxographies', as they are commonly called—have been the subject of subtle scholarly investigation. In themselves they are of uncertain value. They were written centuries after the thought they chronicle, and they were written by men with different interests and different outlooks. If Bishop Hippolytus, for example, ascribes a certain view to Heraclitus, we should not believe him before answering two important questions. First, from what source did he draw his information? For the channel which winds from Heraclitus [c. 540 - c. 480 B.C.E.] to Hippolytus [c. 170 - c. 236] is long, and we must wonder if the information flowing down it was not sometimes contaminated with falsehood or poisoned by inaccuracy. Secondly, what were Hippolytus' own philosophical predilections, and what were the aims of his own book? For these may have biased him—consciously or unconsciously—in his reporting. The arguments on these issues are intricate. They rarely issue in certainty.

          [Second] In addition to later references and reports, we still possess some actual fragments of the original works of the Presocratics. The word 'fragment' perhaps suggests a small scrap of paper, torn out of a Presocratic book and surviving


by some fluke of time. The suggestion is inappropriate here, where the word 'fragment' is used in a more generous sense: it refers to passages from the Presocratics' own writings—words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs—which have been preserved as quotations in the writings of later authors. These 'fragments' constitute our most precious testimony to the views of the Presocratics. Their number and their extent vary greatly from one thinker to another. Sometimes they are short and sparse. In a few cases we possess enough fragments to form a tolerably determinate idea of the original work. The fuller the fragments, the less we need to rely on the doxographical material. But even in the most favourable cases, the doxographies are of importance: they provide indirect evidence where direct evidence is missing, and they give invaluable aid in the interpretation of the fragments themselves.

For it should not be thought that these fragments are readily extracted from their contexts or readily understood and interpreted. There is a sequence of difficulties of which every serious student of early Greek philosophy becomes quickly aware." [24-26].

          "Readers of this book will, I suspect, be frequently perplexed and sometimes annoyed. It is as though one is presented with a jigsaw puzzle (or rather, with a set of jigsaw puzzles) in which many of the pieces are missing and most of the surviving pieces are faded or torn. Or, to take a closer analogy, it is as though one were looking at a museum case containing broken and chipped fragments of once elegant pottery. Many of the pieces are small, some of them do not seem to fit at all, and it is difficult to envisage the shape and form of the original pot.

          But the vexation which this may produce will, I hope, be accompanied and outweighed by other, more pleasing, emotions. Fragments of beautiful pottery may, after all, be themselves objects of beauty; and certainly many of the Presocratic texts are fascinating and stimulating pieces of thought. Moreover, fragments are challenging in a way that wholes are not: they appeal to the intellectual imagination, and they excite the reader to construct for himself, in his own mind, some picture of the whole from which they came.

          For my part, I find the Presocratic fragments objects of inexhaustible and intriguing delight. I hope that the reader of this book may come to find a similar pleasure in contemplating the battered remains of the first heroes of western science and philosophy." [34-35] [end of Introduction].

"Many of the Greeks themselves believed that philosophy began among 'the barbarians'—in Egypt, in Persia, in Babylonia. They credited the early Presocratics with journeys to Egypt and the Near East, and supposed that they returned with philosophy among their souvenirs.

          It is plausible to suppose that there was some intellectual contact between the Greeks and their eastern neighbours. But in philosophy, or the theoretical approach to science, it is difficult to find a single clear case of influence. (It should be said that where some scholars see striking parallels between a Greek and an eastern text, others see no more than superficial coincidence.) Here, for what they are worth, are two brief passages from eastern creation stories, one from Babylonia and the other from Egypt...." [58-59].




Thales [Thales of Miletus c. 624 - c. 545 B.C.E.], the first of the canonical line of Presocratic philosophers, no doubt had his predecessors, and scholars have speculated on the sources and influences behind him. Two varieties of influence have been discerned.

          First, there are native Greek antecedents. Homer's [8th century B.C.E.] poems, the earliest surviving works of Greek literature, contain occasional references to what were later to become scientific and philosophical topics. The poems presuppose a certain vague conception of the nature and origins of the universe (how could they not?), and that conception finds echoes, both verbal and substantial, in Presocratic thought. More influential, because more explicit, was the view of the universe expressed by the seventh-century [8th century B.C.E.?] poet Hesiod. A short passage from his Theogony ["An account of the origin and genealogy of the gods." (]'The Birth of the Gods'merits quotation.

Hail, children of Zeus, grant a sweet song

and celebrate the holy race of the immortals who exist forever,

those who were born of Earth and of starry Heaven

and of dark Night, and those the salt Sea reared.

Tell how first gods and earth came into being,

and rivers and the boundless sea with its seething swell,

and shining stars and the broad sky above,

and tell how they divided their wealth and shared out their honours

and how first they gained Olympus with its many glades.

Tell me this, you Muses who have your home on Olympus,

from the beginning, and tell which of them first came into being.

First of all came the Chasm; and then

wide-bosomed Earth, the eternal safe seat of all

the immortals who hold the heights of snowy Olympus,

and murky Tartarus in the recesses of the wide-pathed land,

and Love, who is fairest among the immortal gods,

loosener of limbs, by whom all gods and all men

find their thoughts and wise counsels overcome in their breasts.

From the Chasm came black Darkness and Night;

and from Night came Ether and Day

whom she conceived and bore after mingling in love with Darkness.

Earth bore first, equal to herself,

starry Heaven, to veil her all about

that there might be an eternal safe seat for the blessed gods.

And she gave birth to tall Mountains, the graceful haunts of the goddesses—

of the Nymphs who dwell on the wooded mountains.


And she also bore the restless deep with its seething swell,

Sea, without desirable love; and then

she lay with Heaven and bore deep-eddying Ocean

and Coius and Creius and Hyperion and Iapetus

and Theia and Rheia and Right and Memory

and golden-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys.

And after them, the youngest, wily Cronus, was born,

most terrible of her children; and he hated his strong father.

(Hesiod, Theogony 104–138)

All this is myth, not science; but it is, as it were, scientific myth: many of Hesiod's gods are personifications of natural features of phenomena, and in telling the birth of 'the gods' Hesiod is telling, in picturesque form, the origins of the universe.

          The Greeks themselves were well aware of this. The Sicilian comic poet Epicharmus [c. 530 - c. 440 B.C.E.], who wrote at the beginning of the fifth century, presents a mock philosophical criticism of Hesiod's story in a little dialogue preserved by Diogenes Laertius:


    The gods were always there: they were never yet missing; and these things are always there, the same and in the same way always.

    But the Chasm is said to have been the first god to be born.

    How could that be? He had nothing to come from and nowhere to go to if he was the first.

    Then didn't anything come first?—No, nor anything second, by Zeus, of the things we're now talking about: they existed always.

(Diogenes Laeritus [3rd century C.E.], Lives of Philosophers III 10)

A story from a later century is also worth retelling:

The poet who writes

          First of all came the Chasm; and then

          wide-bosomed Earth, seat of all...

refutes himself. For if someone asks him what the Chasm came from, he will not be able to answer. Some people say that this is the reason why Epicurus [c. 341 - 271 B.C.E.] turned to philosophy. When he was still very young he asked a schoolmaster who was reading out

First of all came the Chasm...

what the Chasm came from if it came first. The schoolmaster replied that it wasn't his job, but the job of the so-called philosophers, to teach that sort of thing. 'Well, then,' said Epicurus, 'I must go along to them, if they are the ones who know the truth about the things that exist'.

(Sextus Empiricus [3rd century C.E.], Against the Mathematicians X 18–19)" [55-57].




Leucippus [5th century B.C.E.] is a shadowy figure: his dates are not recorded, and even his birthplace is uncertain. He was the first to develop the theory of atomism, which was elaborated in far greater detail by his pupil and successor, Democritus of Abdera. Democritus overshadowed his master in the later tradition. The Greek historians of philosophy rarely distinguish between the views of the two men: they often refer, conjunctively, to 'Leucippus and Democritus'. We are rarely in a position to separate the contributions of Democritus from those of Leucippus.

          The atomist philosophy, then, will be presented more fully in the next chapter under the name of Democritus. Here it is enough to cite one of the few doxographical passages which speak specifically of Leucippus, and to transcribe the one short fragment which is all that survives of Leucippus writings.

[Simplicius] Leucippus of Elea or of Miletus (both places are mentioned in connection with him) shared Parmenides' philosophy but did not take the same path as Parmenides [fl. 5th century B.C.E.] and Xenophanes [c. 560 - c. 478 B.C.E.] about the things that exist but rather, as it seems, the opposite one. For whereas they made the universe one and motionless and ungenerated and limited, and did not allow anyone even to inquire into what does not exist, he [Leucippus] posited infinite and eternally moving elements, the atoms, and an infinite quantity of shapes among them (because there is no more reason for them to be thus than thus) supposing that generation and change are unfailing among the things that exist. Again, he held that being no more exists than non-being, and both are equally causes of the things that come into being. For supposing that the substance of the atoms is solid and full, he said that it was being and that it was carried about in the void, which he called non-being and which he says exists no less than being.

(Simplicius [fl. c. 500 - 540 C.E.], Commentary on the Physics 28.4–15)

[Stobaeus] Leucippus: everything happens in accordance with necessity, and necessity is the same as fate.

Leucippus: he says in On Mind:

          No thing happens in vain, but everything for a reason and by necessity.

[67 B [B = Diels-Kranz B-Texts] 247] 2]

(Stobaeus [5th century C.E.], Anthology I iv 7C)' [242-243].


"Democritus [c. 460 - c. 370 B.C.E.]"

"IV Moral Philosophy

Numerous purported fragments of Democritus' moral and political philosophy survive. They are puzzling on two counts. First, it is in many cases uncertain whether or not the ascription to Democritus is trustworthy. Secondly, it is not clear to what extent the fragments represent the remains of a systematic moral theory, or to what extent that theory (if it existed) was connected to Democritus' atomism ["For Democritus' most celebrated doctrine, his atomism, we are obliged to rely on second-hand reports." [247]].

          Most of the fragments are preserved in two collections. I shall first set down the remaining scattered fragments and then transcribe the collected items." [263].

          "Stobaeus' [5th century C.E.] Anthology is the source for the first of the two collections of ethical fragments. I cite them in the order in which they appear in the Anthology. I cite all the texts which are ascribed to Democritus (or to 'Democrates' or to 'Democ'): many ascriptions are at best dubious." [265].


"Whatever the body needs can readily be found by everyone without trouble or misery: the things which need trouble and misery and make life painful are craved not by the body but by misapprehension of judgement.


[source for Seneca [c. 4 B.C.E. - 65 C.E.] (and Seneca's sources?)? See: 1615 ("It is the superfluous things for which men sweat." (Seneca)), 1622 ("The things that are indispensable require no elaborate pains for their acquisition; it is only the luxuries that call for labour." (Seneca))] [B 223]

(III x 64–65)" [272].


"To a wise man the whole earth is accessible; for the home country of a good soul is the whole world. [B [B = Diels-Kranz B-Texts] 247]

(III xl 6–7)" [276].




Having children is dangerous: success is full of trouble and care, failure is unsurpassed by any other pain.

(IV xxiv 29 = B 275)



I think one should not have children; for in the having of children I see many great dangers, many pains, few advantages—and those thin and weak. [B 276]

idem [(annoying) Latin. complex. employed in lieu of repeating "Democritus"]:


Anyone who has a need for children would do better, I think, to get them from his friends. He will then have a child of the sort he wishes—for he can choose the sort he wants, and one that seems suitable to him will by its nature best follow him. There is this great difference: here you may choose among many as you will and take a child of the sort you need; but if you produce a child yourself there are many dangers—for you must make do with the one you get. [B 277]" [280].

[Impressed and amused me, when I found this 12/2004. I work in dental offices, these days, "fighting gum disease" (cleaning teeth). For years, when encountering extremely impressive children, I have said to dental assistants—with much enthusiasm and smiles: "Buy this one!, don't risk having your own! Buy this one!"].



All men, aware of the wretchedness of life, suffer for their whole lives in troubles and fears, telling false stories about fear after death [see 2753-2799 (Hell)].

(IV xxxiv 62:cf B 297)" [282].

● ● ● ● ●


from: The Encyclopedia of Unbelief, editor, Gordon Stein, Volume One, A-K, Prometheus, 1985.

"Ancient World, Unbelief in the" [16]

          'Atheism. The fact that charges of atheism could be made against Greeks by other Greeks—even falsely—implies that atheism existed but was not easily tolerated. Moreover, some Greek atheists must have been both outspoken and well-known. However, what makes it difficult to pinpoint them is the probability that the charge of atheism may have been made as loosely as charges of "pinko" and "red" in our times. Nevertheless, we can conclude that there were atheists at this time. In the Laws Plato distinguishes between those who don't believe in the gods at all and those who believe there are gods, but who think the gods are indifferent to the fate of men.


          According to Guthrie ["Guthrie, W.K.C. The Sophists. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1971." [25]], later writers put forth a list of atheists, which included Diagoras of Melos [late 5th century B.C.E.], Prodicus of Ceos [contemporary of Socrates 469 - 399 B.C.E.], Critias [c. 460 - 403 B.C.E.], and (of a later date) Euhemerus of Tegea [Euhemerus of Messana or Messene or Chios or Tegea c. 300 B.C.E.], and Theodorus of Cyrene [465 - 398 B.C.E.]. Diagoras never appears without "the atheist" tacked onto his name. We know nothing of Diagoras' [see Article #24, 514 (Cicero, on Diagoras)] thought since it was not preserved by manuscript copyists of classical literature, who were pious Christians.' [22].

"Angelo Juffras" [25].

_____ _____ _____

Comment: Atheist: commonly a euphemism of ("loving") Christians. The connotation, colloquially stated: "Asshole"!