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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


THE PRESOCRATICS (c. 600-450 B.C.)


Most presocratic philosophers were interested mainly in the oppositions they saw in the universe between change and permanence and between unity and multiplicity.

The earliest thinkers, the Milesians (Miletus was one of the great cities of Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor), are important because they were the first thinkers to try to answer such problems without appealing to myth or religious dogma. They are usually called cosmologists. While understandably they did not distinguish between philosophy and science as we know it today, their 'theories' are nevertheless broadly scientific in the sense that they relied on observation (in the case of astronomy systematically collected) — though they did not engage in any experimentation to 'test' their hypotheses.



General introductions

J. Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy.

T. H. Irwin, Classical Thought.

C. Osbourne, The Pre-Socratics: A Very Short Introduction.

Primary texts

Extant fragments from the writings of most Presocratics together with commentaries are available in the following — though they often differ in matters of interpretation or significance. In the various Profiles reference will be made to the books by McKirahan and by Kirk, Raven, & Schofield, but ideally the other recommended books should also be consulted. The study by Kirk, Raven, & Schofield is particularly useful, and contains extracts in the original Greek as well as English translations.

J. Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers.

E. Hussey, The Presocratics.

G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers.

R. D. McKirahan, Jr, Philosophy Before Socrates.

Secondary material

D. J. Furley and R. E. Allen (eds), Studies in Presocratic Philosophy, 2 volumes.

A. A. Long (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Early Greek Philosophy.

A. P. D. Mourelatos (ed.), The Pre-Socratics: a Collection of Critical Essays.

D. Sedley, The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy.