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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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2. Parmenides and Zeno


In the history of thought, the founder of the Eleatic school, Parmenides (540/515 – 470/449), represents a radical turnaround. The examination of physis is no longer in the centre of interest, but attention is turned to more abstract problems of existence and thinking, predisposing new horizons of questions that are asked by later thinkers. Subsequent philosophy could either follow Parmenides, or go against him, but never without him. Since he explicitly asks the question about existence, he is rightly regarded as the first ontologist. But we should not forget that the distinction of philosophical sub-disciplines is of a later date, and for the Greeks, problems related to existence inevitably implicated diverse questions of knowledge practically into one package. And so we see that the fundamental distinction ← 31 | 32 → of areas of existence, and the phenomenon established by the Eleatic philosophy, have necessary implications for the criticism of cognition, where we may encounter a dismissive attitude towards experience and its ability to report truthfully. Parmenides’ thought, moreover, makes the first steps towards the discovery of the rules of formal logic, because here he explicitly echoes that thinking has to follow certain rules, which exclude the opposite claims.

Several fragments were preserved of Parmenides’ works and poems, which were later ascribed traditionally the title, On Nature. The treatise had originally more than 800 verses, from which about 160 were preserved. Interpretation is not quite simple, however, especially since they are not written in prose that would be more appropriate...

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