History of Philosophy I

From Heraclitus to the Sophists

by Michal Zvarík (Author)
©2016 Monographs 106 Pages
Series: Uni Slovakia, Volume 11


This coursebook addresses key presocratics from Heraclitus to the sophists, who stand at the origin of philosophy as cornerstone of European spirituality. Readers might find that already at this point we encounter timeless and actual questions concerning the human condition in the world, limits of our knowledge, or the problem of adequate articulation of reality. Later thinkers did not philosophised from scratch, but criticised or were inspired by their predecessors. The coursebook thus provides an introduction to presocratic thought as an important field of our spiritual history.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction More or Less Protreptic
  • 1. Heraclitus of Ephesus
  • 1.1 Logos and Unawakened
  • 1.2 Harmony of Contrasts
  • 1.3 Criticism of Cognitive Abilities
  • 2. Parmenides and Zeno
  • 2.1 Prooimion and Ways of Knowledge
  • 2.2 The Nature of Being
  • 2.3 The Way of the Two-headed
  • 2.4 Zeno of Elea
  • 3. Empedocles
  • 3.1 The Principles
  • 3.2 Cosmogony and Zoogony
  • 3.3 Perception and Knowledge
  • 3.4 The Purifications
  • 4. Anaxagoras
  • 4.1 Basic Principles
  • 4.2 Sensory Perception and Cognition
  • 5. The Presocratic Atomists
  • 5.1 Atoms and Void
  • 5.2 Knowledge and Cognition
  • 5.3 The Ethics of Democritus
  • 6. The Sophists
  • 6.1 The Historical Context of Sophists
  • 6.2 Protagoras of Abdera
  • 6.3 Gorgias
  • 6.3.1 Thesis I: “Nothing is“
  • 6.3.2 Thesis II: “Even if it exists it is incomprehensible to man”
  • 6.3.3 Thesis III: “Even if it is comprehensible, it surely cannot be expressed or communicated to another”
  • 6.4 Physis and nomos
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Bibliography

Introduction More or Less Protreptic

Despite the fairly widespread decline of philosophy’s reputation today, no one seriously doubts that its birth in the Greek environment more than 2,600 years ago marked a turning point in history that gradually crystallised into one of the pillars of European culture and education. The year 585 BC is considered the official “birth year” of philosophy, when a solar eclipse occurred as predicted by Thales of Miletus in the Ionian city located on the west coast of present-day Turkey. According to tradition, Thales of Miletus was the first philosopher ever. Since then, philosophy increasingly emancipated from myth as a peculiar way of thinking, it became a means of human reflection of him/herself, nature and its phenomena, or deities and religion. It gives humankind a substance and means of criticism, clarification and explanation of causes, and it increasingly became ← 7 | 8 → a topic and problem of how we can know something and what causes us to be wrong. This textbook aspires to present the reader with at least a small section of this story.

This approach to history has important implications nowadays. We often view the past as a history of mistakes and the present as an epoch that has already managed to largely cope with age-old prejudices and grievances against the truth or the human ethos. From this perspective, exploring the history of philosophy may seem an unnecessary and impractical undertaking. But the task of philosophy consists in asking questions, disputing the established truths that are accepted uncritically rather than screened with responsible criticism, and philosophy’s role in this regard has not lost anything of its topicality. On the contrary, it appears that this is one of the moments that is timeless in our culture, rendering it specific in history. Philosophy does not seek only to provide alternative and uncomfortable opinions. Philosophy also seeks standpoints that may be supported with reason and arguments. Such standpoints often become uncomfortable due to the fact that they make us uncertain, disrupt our normal ways of thinking, and affect very sensitive and painful places. Plato and Aristotle believed that philosophising was born of wonder or amazement (thaumadzein), and Aristotle pointed out that in the state of amazement our ignorance is revealed to us, and therefore the will and willingness to search ← 8 | 9 → for truth. But amazement is no innocent passion that only opens up the unknown before us. In ignorance, we may experience the nothingness of untruths that we previously have not admitted as untruths; amazement may therefore disrupt our customary attitudes.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Presocratics Eleatics Protagoras Presocratic pluralists
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 106 pp.

Biographical notes

Michal Zvarík (Author)

Michal Zvarík teaches ancient philosophy at Trnava University, Slovakia. He is also interested in phenomenology and the idea of university.


Title: History of Philosophy I
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106 pages