Philosophy in the Age of Pericles

Sun Apr 5 23:56:12 2009
Philosophy went in a new direction during the age of Pericles. Previous philosophy created by the Ionians, Eleatics, Pluralists and Atomists were all concerned with problems of physis (what is the basic stuff of the universe?) plurality (if there is a basic stuff why do we see so much variety) and maintenance (what keeps it going and holds it together?). Athenian politics and society created demands for people who could speak convincingly. Sophists and teachers of Rhetoric came to Athens from all over the Greek world. The convergence of people from all over and a concern with the basic mechanics of argument led to a different way of looking at philosophical questions, in fact led to different philosophical questions themselves.

The sophists like Protagoras, Gorgias and Isocrates were teachers of Rhetoric therefore emphasized questions of logos (the function and power of discourse) and taught that excellence does not come from noble lineage but rather is a techne, an art or skill that could be taught and learned. As they came from all over the Mediterranean they had a tendency toward relativism and skepticism. Where earlier thinkers looked at physis, the physical constituents of the universe, the sophists looked at nomos, the socially constructed conventions that varied with culture and geography.

Eventually the word “sophistry” would develop strong negative connotations and in later generations Plato and Aristotle would once again look at basic problems of physis, but they way they approached it—and the questions and problems they would look at—would be dramatically different than the generations of Pre-Socratic philosophers.

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~ by severalfourmany on April 5, 2009.

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