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History of Philosophy I

From Heraclitus to the Sophists


Michal Zvarík

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.


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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 crystal- lised into one of the pillars of European culture and edu- cation. The year 585 BC is considered the offi cial “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 fi rst philosopher ever. Since then, philosophy increasingly emancipated from myth as a  peculiar way of thinking, it became a means of human refl ection of him/herself, nature and its phenomena, or deities and religion. It gives human- kind a  substance and means of criticism, clarifi cation and explanation of causes, and it increasingly became 8a  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 mis- takes and the present as an epoch that has already man- aged to largely cope with age-old prejudices and griev- ances 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, dis- puting...

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