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History of Philosophy I

From Heraclitus to the Sophists

Series:

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

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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...

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