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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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3. Empedocles


  Parmenides’ work was a  major breakthrough that con- sisted in separating a single, integral, and eternal exist- ence from the area of appearance where we encoun- ter multiplicity and change. This separation naturally evoked controversy and the pursuit of harmony between them. One of the fi rst signifi cant reactions came from the scholar, Empedocles (492 – 432), in whose person- ality meets the reputation of a  major poet, magician (“thaumaturge”), physician, politician, and soothsayer. He came from Acragas (Argigentum), a Greek colony in Sicily, supposedly from a  wealthy family, and he could aff ord to pay a dowry to the Acragas’ maidens. He is also attributed as having performed miracles, exceptional healing deeds, and pro-democratic political activity. Per- haps most interesting is that in the surviving fragments, he declares himself a god who has committed a sin and 48 fallen from a blissful state to a cycle of reincarnation to be purifi ed. This aspect of his work obviously became the target of legends and anecdotes, especially concern- ing the mysterious circumstances of his death. For our purposes, it is interesting that Empedocles’ fragments point to a  Pythagorean infl uence. In addi- tion, Empedocles draws from Parmenides and responds to Ionian thinking. This tradition attributed two writ- ings, On Nature, and, Purifi cations, to Empedocles. The treatise, On Nature, is usually characterised as cosmo- logical and cosmogonic writing, which also deals with the ontological and epistemological consequences of Parmenides’ thought. In contrast, Purifi cations, should have been more focused on issues...

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