Some Thoughts on the Pre-Socratics

Zeus TempleThe pre-Socratics appear to have come up with quite an interesting array of philosophies that apparently was only rivaled (at the time) by India due to the fact that they were coming up with casual explanations of life and the world (and being) without the use of myth and gods.

Anaximander (c. 612-545 BCE) argued that:

ultimate reality could not be equated with any one material substance, but was neutral between them, yet underlying all matter. (Pojman, 4)

Pythagoras (580-496 BCE) and the Pythagorans, before they were all brutally murdered by the “democrats” had a universal ethic of love and equal sisterhood and brother hood (men and women were equal).

Pythagoras’s fundamental doctrine was that the world was is really not material but made up of numbers. Numbers are things which constitute the essence of reality. (6)

Parmenides (540-470 BCE) theorized that the real world was unchanging (like Pythagoras’s numbers) and change was really only illusory. I guess it can best be described as a stream seems to be constantly changing due to the ebb and flow of the seasons and of rains and snow caps, but in reality the whole essence (sorry, getting a little Kantian and Husserlian here) of the river, over time, is not really changing in the long scheme of themes.

The senses grasped the changing world of unreality or Non-being, whereas reason alone could grasp the real world of Being. Being never comes into existence, nor does it cease to be, for it always is. (7)

Reminds me of Jean-Paul Sartre’s being-for-itself putting negation into a world of unchanging molecules of being-in-itself.

Heraclitus (535-475 BCE) thought most men were inherently bad and evil and hated the idealism of Pythagoras and Parmenides.

Rejecting the notion that Being is, he posited that only Becomming is (“nothing ever is, everything is becoming”). All things are in perpetual flux…and permanence is an illusion. (9)

Kinda like Heidegger saying dasein is never truly complete and always looking toward its death and to its birth and before. Or Sartre saying man is always in the act of becoming what she or he is not in order to fully be what he or she wants to be, etc.

Leucippus (c. 450 BCE) was a materialist whose disciple Democritus (460-370 BCE):

taught that the ultimate constituents of the world were atoms…Materialists were hedonists who believed that the only thing that is good is pleasure and the only thing bad is pain. They did not believe in the gods or immortality. (10)

Ah, now I can see were Derrida gets a lot of his theory on deconstruction and how the pre-Socratics thus influenced Heidegger and in turn Derrida.


Pojman, Louis P. Classics of Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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