PHILOSOPHICAL FRAGMENTS OF THE PRE-SOCRATICS

The early Greek philosophers are often regarded as only forerunners of Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.), Plato, and Aristotle and their highly developed philosophies. Certainly from the vantage point of some 2500 years, the achievements of the Pre-Socratic philosophers may seem minimal. However, it was from this pinpoint on the philosophical horizon that Western rational thought first developed among the Greeks, who were themselves influenced by Afro-asiatic thinkers. Yet, the classical Greeks themselves claim no predecessorůexcept perhaps the poetic musings of Homer and the lyric poets. Although not consistently scientific, the Pre-Socratics relied on rational, rather than mythological or poetic explanations to solve the problems they confronted. These early Greek thinkers tried to discover universal principles that underlay the chaotic appearance of reality. They did so not only by attempting to uncover what ultimately constituted the essence of natural things, but they looked closely at humanity's place within the cosmos and society. The following fragments are only a small sample of what little remains of their work.

(J. Wilbur and H. Allen, eds., The Worlds of the Early Greek Philosophers, Prometheus Books [Buffalo: 1979], various fragments found on pp. 34-5, 39, 43, 50-1, 56, 64, 66, 69, 74-5, 102-3, 177, 193, 201, 203. )

Thales (fl. 585 B.C.E.)

"Others say the earth rests on water. This, indeed, is the oldest theory that has been preserved, and is attributed to Thales of Miletus. It was supposed to stay still because it floated like wood and other similar physis, which are so constituted as to rest upon water but not upon air. As if the same account had not to be given of the water which carries the earth as of the earth itself."

[from Aristotle, "On the Soul"]

"Certain thinkers say the soul is intermingled in the whole universe, and it is perhaps for that reason that Thales came to the conclusion that all things are full of gods."

[from Aristotle, "On the Soul"]

Anaximander (610?-546 B.C.E.)

". . . .some other aperion nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them. And the source of coming-to-be for existing things is that into which destruction, too, happens, according to necessity [laws of nature]: for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time, . . ."

[from Simplicius, "Physics"]

"[He] said that the first living creations were born in moisture, enclosed in thorny barks; and that as their age increased they came forth on to the drier part, and when the bark had broken off, they lived a different kind of life for a short time."

[from Aetius, "Philosophic Opinion"]

Zenophanes (570-475 B.C.E.)

"Both Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all things that are shameful and a reproach among mankind: theft, adultery, and mutual deception."

[Fragment 11]

"But if oxen and lions had hands or could draw with hands and create works of art like those of men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen, and they would make the bodies [of their gods] in accordance with the form that each species itself possesses."

[Fragment 15]

"Truly the gods have not revealed to mortals all things from the beginning; but mortals by long seeking discover what is better."

[Fragment 18]

"And as for certain truth, no man has seen it, nor will there ever be a man who knows about the gods and about all of the things I mention. For if he succeeds to the full in saying what is completely true, he himself is nevertheless unaware of it; and opinion [what is obtained by the senses] is fixed by fate upon all things."

[Fragment 34]

Heraclitus (fl. 500 B.C.E.)

"Opposition is good; the fairest harmony comes out of differents; everything originates in strife."

[Fragment 46]

"This ordered universe, which is the same for all, was not created by any one of the gods or by mankind, but it was ever and is and shall be ever-living fire, kindled in measure and quenched in measure."

[Fragment 30]

"I searched into myself."

[Fragment 101]

"Moderation is the greatest virtue, and wisdom is to speak the truth and to act according to nature, . . ."

[Fragment 112]

"Character for man is destiny."

[Fragment 119]

"The fairest universe is but a dust-heap piled up at random."

[Fragment 124]

"Cold things grow hot, hot things cold, the wet dries, the parched is moistened."

[Fragment 126]

Parmenides (fl. 500 B.C.E.)

"There is one way left for us to tell of, that Žit is'; many signs in this way point to this, that what `is' is without beginning, indestructible, entire, single, unshakable, endless; neither `has' it been nor `shall' it be, since not it `is'; all alike, single, solid. For what birth could you seek for it? Whence and how could it have grown? I will not let you say or think that it was from what is not; for it cannot be said or thought that anything is not. What need made it arise at one time rather than another, if it arose out of nothing and grew thence? So it must either be entirely, or not at all."

[Fragment 8]

Anaxagorus (fl. 460 B.C.E.)

"Other things all contain a part of everything, but Mind is infinite and self-ruling, and is mixed with no Thing but is alone by itself. If it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it would have had a share of all Things, if it were mixed with anything; for in every thing there is a portion of everything, as I have said. There are many portions of many things. And nothing is absolutely separated off or divided the one from the other-- except Mind. Mind is all alike, both the greater and the lesser. But nothing else is like anything else, but each individual thing is and was most obviously that of which it contains the most."

[Fragment 12]

"It is mind that produces order and is the cause of everything."

[from Plato's "Phaedo"]

Democritus (460-370 B.C.E.)

". . . We know nothing accurately in reality, but [only] as it changes according to the bodily condition, and the constitution of those things that flow upon [the body] and impinge it."

[Fragment 9]

"Nature and instruction are similar; for instruction transforms the man, and in transforming him, creates his nature."

[Fragment 33]

"Democritus and Leucippus say that there are invisible bodies, infinite both in number and in the varieties of their shapes, of which everything else is composed--the compounds differing one from another according to the shapes, `positions,' and `groupings' of their constituents."

[from Aristotle, "On Generation and Destruction"]