PHI 201: ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY
ARTICLE PRESENTATION EXAMPLE 2: PROTAGORAS AND XENOPHANES

DR. DAVE YOUNT

 

A. PYTHAGORAS:

 

1.   Bearings:

 

Pythagoras, pp. 14-16.

 

Pythagoras’ life: Born in Samos, between 580 and 572 BCE, died between 500 and 490 BCE. He is often revered as a great mathematician, mystic and scientist; however, some have questioned the scope of his contributions to mathematics and natural philosophy. Herodotus referred to him as "the most able philosopher among the Greeks"; Iamblichus tells the story that the Pythia prophesied that his pregnant mother would give birth to a man supremely beautiful, wise, and beneficial to humankind. As a young man, he left his native city for Croton, Calabria, in Southern Italy, to escape the tyrannical government of Polycrates. According to Iamblichus, Thales, impressed with his abilities, advised Pythagoras to head to Memphis in Egypt and study with the priests there who were renowned for their wisdom. He was also discipled in the temples of Tyre and Byblos in Phoenicia. It may have been in Egypt where he learned some geometric principles for the Pythagorean theorem, which bears his name and is the discovery for which he is most famous. Pythagoras established a secret religious society similar to an Orphic cult (vegetarian diet, oath of silence for a number of years, couldn’t see Pythagoras face to face for several years, etc.) – they studied mathematics and music, exercising and having meals in common. His school was still in effect 150 years after his death and heavily influenced Plato. Known as "the father of numbers", Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BCE. Because legend and obfuscation cloud his work even more than with the other pre-Socratics, one can say little with confidence about his life and teachings. We do know that Pythagoras and his students believed that everything was related to mathematics and that numbers were the ultimate reality and, through mathematics, everything could be predicted and measured in rhythmic patterns or cycles. According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras once said that "number is the ruler of forms and ideas and the cause of gods and demons." He was the first man to call himself a philosopher, or lover of wisdom, and Pythagorean ideas exercised a marked influence on Plato. Unfortunately, very little is known about Pythagoras because none of his writings have survived. Many of the accomplishments credited to Pythagoras may actually have been accomplishments of his colleagues and successors. He was a teacher of Empedocles, according to the Wikipedia entry; we’ll see what Empedocles believes later in the semester.

 

2.   OVERVIEW:

 

[What are the main points of Pythagoras?]

[1] BIO: Apparently Pythagoras had a slave named Salmoxis?

[2] BIO: Aristoxenus says that Pythagoras left Samos for Croton at the age of 40 due to the tyranny of Polycrates.

[3] BIO: He had 300 followers/students, bound to each other like a brotherhood, living apart from the citizens, and brought their city [Croton] under their control.

[4] Ten is the nature of number. Greeks and even non-Greeks count up to it and then start over again, reverting to the unit. The power of 10 lies in 4 [the tetrad], because if you add 1 – 4, you get 10. So the Pythagoreans had “tetractys” in their oath, as containing the fount and root of eternal nature.

[5] Gives the Pythagorean theorem; Pythagoras apparently sacrificed an ox in honor of his discovery.

[6] Xenophanes [one of Pythagoras’ pupils] attests that Pythagoras once said to a person whipping a puppy, taking pity on it and saying, “Stop, do not beat it; for it is the soul of a friend that I recognized when I heard it giving tongue.”

[7] The Egyptians were the first to claim the immortality of the soul, and that upon the body’s perishing, enters into another animal that is being born at the time, becoming every creature on dry land, then in the sea, then in the air, and then a human again [reincarnation]. This cycle takes 3000 years to complete. Some Greeks have adopted this view but have pretended to have discovered it for themselves (I won’t mention names).

[8] The soul is immortal; it changes into other living things; it recurs in certain cycles, and nothing is ever absolutely new; all living things should be regarded as akin. Pythagoras was apparently the first Greek to bring these ideas to them.

[9] If one were to believe [as Pythagoreans do] that, given arithmetical cycles, “I shall be talking to you again sitting as you are now, with this pointer in my hand, and everything will be the same as it is now”, then it is plausible to suggest that the time now will be the same as well.

[10] – [29]: Here I’ll only mention the ones particularly interesting to me and/or in order to add something to them: [26] abstain from beans: Do you know why? Because they create gas when eaten; this proves that they “breathe”, which implies that they have a soul, because souls cause breath. So beans might be reincarnations of other beings. [28] Pythagoras turned geometrical philosophy into a form of liberal education by seeking its first principles in a higher realm of reality. [29] Life is like a festival: Some come to compete some ply a trade, but the best people come as spectators; so in life, the slavish men go hunting for fame or gain; the philosophers for the truth.

 

[What is at issue?]

Is the soul immortal? Are we reincarnated? Do beans have souls?

 

[What assumptions is Pythagoras making?]

That souls exist, that souls are immortal and reincarnate; that they reincarnate in a cycle and not based on karma; that math somehow holds higher truths in it other than mathematical truths.

 

3.   CLARIFICATION:

 

No questions: I’ll do my best to answer yours.

 

4.   PRAISE/CRITICISM/ANALYSIS:

 

PRAISE:

 

CRITICISM:

 

 

B. XENOPHANES:

 

1.   Bearings:

 

Xenophanes, pp. 17-18.

 

Xenophanes’ life: Lived from c. 570 – c. 480 BCE, from Colophon; Greek philosopher, poet, and social and religious critic. Our knowledge of his views comes from his surviving poetry, all of which are fragments passed down as quotations by later Greek writers. His poetry criticized and satirized a wide range of ideas, including the belief in the pantheon of anthropomorphic gods and the Greeks' veneration of athleticism. He is the earliest Greek poet who claims explicitly to be writing for future generations, creating "fame that will reach all of Greece, and never die while the Greek kind of songs survives."

 

2.   OVERVIEW:

 

[What are the main points of Xenophanes?]

[1] BIO: Xenophanes was expelled from his native land [for some reason] and went to Zancle in Sicily and in Catana. He wrote poetry [epics, elegiacs, and iambics] against Hesiod and Homer, reproving them for their statements about the gods [anthropomorphizing thereof; see [3]-[5] below]. He disagreed with Thales, Pythagoras, and Epimenides. He lived around 92 [67 + 25, at least] years!

[2]  Homer/Hesiod ascribed to the gods what is infamy and reproach among men: theft, adultery, and deception.

[3]  Mortals suppose that gods are born, have clothes, voices, and shapes just as their own.

[4]  If oxen, horses, and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create art as men do, horses would paint horse-like images of gods and oxen ox-like ones, etc.

[5]  The Ethiopians consider the gods flat-nosed and black; the Thracians blue-eyed and red-haired.

[6]  There is one, greatest, god [among gods and men], not at all like mortals in body or mind.

[7]  God [I think!] sees, thinks, and hears as a whole.

[8]  Without toil, God moves everything with the thought of his mind.

[9]  God always remains in the same place, not moving at all, nor is it fitting for him to change his position at different times.

[10] Everything comes from the earth and returns to the earth in the end.

[11] No man knows or ever will know the truth about the gods and about everything I speak of; even if one spoke the complete truth, he wouldn’t know it; “seeming is wrought over all things.” [I will explain more about this in class.]

[12] The gods have not revealed all things to mortals, but by long seeking, men have found what is better.

 

[What is at issue?]

Does God exist? Can we know God? Does God resemble us, and if so, how could we know that? Can God move anything and all things with God’s mind?

 

[What assumptions is Xenophanes making?]

God exists and is a he [see criticism below].

Gods exist.

God[s] is/are nothing like humans.

God[s] cannot ever steal, commit adultery or deceive.

[7] and [8] – seeing, thinking, hearing as a whole, and moving everything with mind’s thought.

God always is at rest/non-moving.

Everything comes from and returns to the earth.

We can’t know God/gods.

 

3.   CLARIFICATION:

 

No questions: I’ll do my best to answer yours.

 

4.   PRAISE/CRITICISM/ANALYSIS:

 

PRAISE:

 

CRITICISM: