Notes from: The Great Conversation, by Norman Melchert

Image result for painting the philosophers

The School of Athens by Raphael c. 1511, the Vatican

Web Resources


  • Why Study Philosophy?
    • Philosophers – lovers of wisdom
    • Examine opinions, think about crucial matters clearly and rationally.
    • Good views and trash – think well or poorly – believe for good reasons, or mercy of accident
    • Philosophers aim at the truth about fundamental matters and in doing so they offer arguments
    • Believe for good reasons – search for argument – offering reasons to believe, or for thinking we can’t answer these questions
    • Apprentice with the masters and improve with practice
  • The Issues
    • Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Human Nature
    • Relativism – most of Western philosophy can be thought of as a series of attempts to kill skepticism and relativism –today most people are relativistic – but is this view adequate?
  • This Book:
    • Historical, interactive conversation
    • NOT like reading a novel, research report, or history
    • Philosophers argue with each other, try to convince each other, and don’t make pronouncements in the dark, there is always something that bugs each thinker
    • Philosophers introduce novel terms, or use familiar terms in novel ways
    • Use cross-references in footnotes, index of names, terms at back of the book, terms in boldface, list of key words at end of chapter, and glossary
  • Argument structure – conclusion and premises
    • Aim to understand the argument and discover how good the argument is. Look at the:
      • Truth or acceptability of the premises (ideally known to be true)
      • Whether the premises actually support the conclusion (reasons must be at least plausible)
        • Deductive, valid, sound
        • Inductive, strong, cogent
      • Philosophers evaluate the arguments of other philosophers:
      • Philosophers criticize the presuppositions of other philosophers:
      • Philosophers dispute the conclusions of other philosophers:
      • You can’t be a passive observer – concentrate, focus, and be actively engaged – it’s not easy but it’s not impossible – make a good effort and have fun.
        1. Have an open mind as you read
        2. Write brief answers to the questions in the chapters as you read
        3. Use key words to check understanding of basic concepts
        4. See how arguments of philosophers bear on your own current views of things



Chapter 1 – Before Philosophy: Myth in Hesiod and Homer

  • Philosophy begins against Homeric background – Greek Religion and Culture of 6th and 5thB.C. who first began to ask the questions that led to philosophical thinking. Why believe the myths? How do we know they are true? Creates tension and conflict, e.g. Socrates 399 B.C.
  • Myths – What is the nature of myth? What are today’s myths? Early answers – told, retold, elaborated and embroidered
    • Older Greek culture: religions of fertility, earth, ecstatic communion with gods, purification rites cleansing adherents from sin, and promising immortality, some of them merging with newer cults; end of classical period in 4thB.C., reawakens cults

Hesiod (8th c.B.C.): Theogony (written end of 8th c.B.C.) “origin/birth of the gods”, beginnings of all things; partly a synthesis of older traditions; claimed he was divinely inspired:

  • Stories backed by authority of chief god embody remembrance of events long past, and are considered the truth
  • Characteristic Greek theme: violating the rule of justice brings consequences
  • Zeus rules sky, Poseidon sea, Hades Tartarus. Earth shared by all three. A stable natural moral order in the universe, and though each is powerful and guards something dear to humans,
  • They quarrel, lie, commit adultery, pick favorites, are jealous, but some evils are beneath them.
  • Huge difference from humans: gods are immortal,
  • Gods are interested in humans as entertainment, but deserve and demand honor from them, or we are guilty of arrogance or hubris, thinking we are gods, forgetting our finitude, limitations, and mortality, and will be punished.

Homer (ca. sometime between 12th-8thc.B.C.):  The Iliad and The Odyssey dominated Greek life, for centuries the Bible or Koran of Greece and Rome – takes for granted Hesiod’s Theogony.

  • Iliad – long, mostly fictional poem about a brief period during the 9 year Trojan War (near end of 13thB.C.) written 500 years after fall of Troy, and offers formulaic descriptions of Greek life.
    • Achilles and Agamemnon, sail to get Helen to restore their honor, glory, and plunder. Patroclus, Achilles friend killed by Hector. Achilles turns on Trojans killing Hector, but gives up Hector’s body, and Priam and Achilles weep together.
    • What happened was in accordance with the will of Zeus (see page 5 for quote)
    • Theme: Rage—specifically the excessive irrational anger of Achilles) – moral aspect/Human side of the story – the tragedy that excess and pride lead to and of the humanization of Achilles. Moral: use moderation which Achilles lacked, which led to disaster.
    • Celebrates “heroic virtues”: strength, courage, physical prowess, and cleverness + moderation = Homeric model of excellence
    • Counterpoint of the gods who look on, are appealed to, take sides, and interfere
      • Homer’s heroes did not believe in or want immortality, they know they will die, and death is the end of any life worth living. The quest for honor is paramount, not life.
      • Pindar, 6th poet: mortal thoughts are for mortals “use the full resources that are at thy command”, never worship living men. Be moderate.
      • Traditions of Zeus, Athena, and Apollo celebrate clarity, order, mastery over chaos, intellect and beauty, and a culture of conquerors
      • Neither monotheism nor polytheism, but Zeus is at the top, creating a just order, but even Zeus is under the domination of Fate, what will be. Not designed with human beings in mind. Homeric justice: honor and glory, each person receiving the honor due them, given their status and position (Greek Gods Family Tree, and Questions, page 4, and page 9)


Chapter 2: Philosophy before Socrates


Founder of Philosophy: Thales of Miletus (c.625-547 B.C.): The One as Water

  • A different thought-world than Hesiod and Homer: Points 1 and 2 below both assume: Account for what you can see and touch in terms of things you can see and touch. To understand the world, look to it, and not to another.
    1. The cause and elemental of all things is water
      • There is some one thing that is the origin and underlying nature of all things
      • Water occurs naturally in the world of our experience, is essential to nourishment, changes its state
      • Does not explain how water accounts for everything, or how it is able to create its opposite
    2. All things are filled with gods
      • In all things is an immortal principle, and of their behavior within themselves.
      • Suggests that things of experience don’t need explanations from outside of themselves as to why they exist, nor why events happen.
      • Contrast Greek gods’ essential features: immortality and the principle/source of action


Anaximander: The One as Boundless

Problem with Thales: How does water produce the many things of our experience?

First appearance of a form of reasoning used to justify belief in God

  1. Given any state of things X, it had a beginning.
  2. To explain its beginning, we must suppose a prior state of things W.
  3. But W also must have had a beginning.
  4. So we must suppose a still prior state V.
  5. Can this go on forever? No.
  6. So there must be something that itself has no beginning.
  7. We can call this “the infinite” or “the Boundless”, from which all things come.
  • Aristotle looks back and reports Anaximander’s views (p.12):
    • Argument: The boundless is the unbeginning beginner. If it had a beginning it would be limited. But it is unlimited, so it has no beginning, nor end: it is the Divine.
    • Key features of the Boundless:
      • Greek Gods: immortal, and so is the Boundless.
      • Encompasses and steers all things (cf. New testament: Paul says that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
      • Undifferentiated, Indefinite, neither this nor that, or else it would exclude something, a chaotic containment of everything
    • Criticism of Anaximander’s views
      • Aristotle’s: Those who use this language “do not recognize other causes besides the infinite.” It is too abstract to account in detail for the nature and behavior of the many beings we find in the world. We need many little causes, not just big one.
      • By what process does the Boundless produce the many individual things of our experience?
      • No differentiation between heat as a property of a thing and a thing that is hot, i.e. Earth is the cold, fire is the hot, air is the dry, and water is the wet.
        • Anaximander solves this problem with an analogy:
          • Fill a circular pan with water, add materials of varying size and weight, then swirl. What starts as chaos becomes orderly. This explains the origin of the many.
          • If the boundless were swirling in a vortex motion, then what was originally indistinguishable would become separated by nature.
            • You might ask: Why should we think that the Boundless is a vortex?
            • Anaximander: Look up.
Fire (hot, light)
Air (dry, light)
Water (wet, not so heavy)
Earth (cold, heavy)
  • All in a continuous vortex motion that produces and sustains order
    • This explanation seems plausible and fits the observable data.
  • Anaximander also gives non-Zeusian explanations of natural phenomena
    • Suggests humans originated from other animals – fish
    • Claims that existing things (opposites) “make reparation to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time”
      • You might ask: how?
      • Anaximander presupposes a principle of balance in nature that must be ultimately served – reparation is made in turn when each gets its due (e.g. the seasons Winter and Summer)
        1. An extension of the Homeric view requiring moderation. Too much of anything brings the wrath of the gods, in the human world and in the universe.
        2. This principle is not imposed on reality from without; it is not applied by the gods. It is immanent in the world process itself. This is how the world works. – Faithful to Thales in departing from Homer, in that explanations are framed impersonally, making the gods superfluous.
      • Enter cultural crisis between followers of Homer and the new thinking.

The Father of Epistemology – Xenophanes: The Gods as Fictions

  • Poet from Colophon, Ionian Greek; fled in 546 B.C., when Colophon was taken by the Persians, and then lived in Sicily until his death at around age 92.
  • First to state clearly the religious implications of the new nature philosophy.
  • Criticizes the traditional conception of the gods:
    • Hesiod and Homer depict gods unworthy of admiration or reverence – Homer invented stories, making gods in our own image
    • Not a disbeliever in the divine: There is “one god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or mind.” Except that both are intelligent.
    • For the ancient Greeks: Where there is order there is intelligence. Intelligence is necessary for order. (not argued for or supported, just assumed, and it is not self-evident)
      • Seems supported (e.g. the stuff on your desk)
      • Modern Math: there is always mathematical order
    • In The Iliad, Iris is identified with the rainbow, taken as a sign from the gods, while Xenophanes says there is a natural explanation for rainbows, a natural phenomenon.
    • Unity between nature philosophy and criticism of Homer’s gods, posing a threat to Greek culture. Poets appealed to the Muses for inspiration and seemed literally in-spired by them, but do these experiences guarantee the truth of what is said?
    • Xenophanes says no. (p.17 quotes).
    • We should form our beliefs by “seeking”, in a process of moving toward truth, looking to ourselves and the results of our seeking.
    • It may be that we know some truth But even if we did, how could we be sure? Xenophanes says we can’t. (Plato disagrees.) There is no such thing as certainty for limited beings.
    • It does not follow that all beliefs are equally good. Some beliefs are better or more “like the truth”, but he doesn’t say how to tell which are which.
    • New direction for thought – upon itself. How much can we know? How can we know it? Can we reach the truth? – Epistemology, the theory of knowledge.
    • The one god knows the truth. “sees all over, thinks all over, hears all over” – keeping the gulf between gods and humans

Pythagoras (b. 570 B.C.)

  • First to call himself a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, “No one is wise, except the god.”
  • From Croton, Italy, , Set up a pattern for ideal community, influenced Plato;
  • Combined math and religion, developing geometry as abstract discipline, rather than practical applications; math valued as means to purify the soul, and disengage from body; “Pythagorean Theorem”, “all things are numbers”;
  • Mathematical ratios of musical intervals: octave, fifth, and fourth, and “music of the spheres”;
  • The soul is distinct and immortal entity “entombed” in body, and after death migrates into other bodies, include animals; Vegetarian.


Heraclitus: Oneness in the Logos (ca. 500 B.C.)

  • Ionian Greek from Ephesus, influenced Plato and Stoics
  • A riddler, “Heraclitus the obscure” – wrote in short epigrams, short pithy saying that condenses a lot of thought into a few words.
  • Unified view of the world and man’s place in it
  • Reality is in flux – “Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters”
  • Fire is eternal, divine “world order”(logos that stands in place of Zeus and his lightning will)
    • As substance has no priority over other things
    • As pattern has priority – eternal and divine
  • Oneness of things that are different; “all things come into being through opposition” – Without opposition there would be no music, no river, and no sculpture, for example. Themes:
    • Wheel Image
    • Society and Justice
      • Homeric contrast between gods and men
    • Solution to the Problem of the One and the Many: Logos (no precise English equivalent)
      • There is one world, a uni-verse, with many apparently different and often conflicting things in it, made one by the logos, and conflict is a necessary condition of its existence.
      • Logos: verb, “to speak”; “message” or “discourse”; the thought expressed, “rationale” or “argument”; rational “structure” or “pattern”.
      • ‘Argument’
      • All things are in process of change and tension between opposite forces, structured by a divine world order.
      • There is a logos by which “all things come into being”.
      • The many do not understand this. Why? They are at variance with it, and it appears alien to them.
      • What is wisdom? To understand the nature and structure of the world, that all is and must be ever-changing, to grasp the logos; “Thunderbolt steers all things.”
      • Discerning the logos is difficult. It is like a riddle. How should we interpret it? How can we learn the secrets of the logos? Using our senses critically.
        • Xenophanes: by “seeking” we improve our opinions.
        • Heraclitus advances our understanding a bit: “Those things of which there is sight, hearing, understanding, I esteem most.” This is an EMPIRICIST idea, although, “Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men if they have souls that do not understand their language.”
        • Conclusions about how to live:
          1. It’s hard to stop indulging our impulses once we start, and we pay with our souls to satisfy them – and why wisdom is difficult.
          2. Human happiness not just from physical pleasure
  • “Moderation is the greatest virtue” and “It is not good for men to get all they wish”
  1. Act according to nature (which is moderate) and heed it
  2. Ethics tied to the nature of things
  3. Speak the truth
  • The wise few are exalted over the many fools (on field of virtue, versus Homeric value “seeking everlasting fame” on the field of battle)


Lao Tzu [Laozi]: Tao Te Ching [Dao De Jing]

  • Changeable feelings drive us this way and that, losing the way, THE TAO.
  • Individual person in 6thB.C., older contemporary of Confucius, or many people from 3rd c.B.C.
  • Tao”: the way, the path; the origin of all things, can’t be completely named nor described (necessary)
  • Te”: nature, power, virtue – the way Tao manifests itself in human life,
  • Ching”: sacred text
  • The One and the Many
  • Opposites
  • In life non-action is the key.
  • Still, sometimes we lose.


First Rationalist, The Monist Parmenides: Only the One

  • There is no “many”, only “the One” MONISM
  • 515 B.C. – ca. 450B.C., in Elea, Greek colony, now Southern Italy; once talked with Socrates.
  • Claims a goddess spoke to him, saying, “…learn all things—both the unshakable heart of well-rounded truth and the opinions of mortals in which there is no true belief.” Revelation is an argument, and goddess admonishes him to “judge by reasoning [the key feature of philosophy] the much-contested argument that I have spoken”.
    • Two ways
      • The opinions of mortals (which deal with appearance) (“The Way of Opinion”)
      • The truth (“The Way of Truth”)
        1. Parmenides’ starting point: he thinks it is impossible to deny:
          1. “Thinking and the thought that it is are the same… “For thought and being are the same.” “Being” is the concept of “what is”, as opposed to “what is not”. “It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not.”
          2. Implications: all beliefs about the many are false. There is only one thing.
            • Change is impossible.
            • rely on reasoning alone. Go wherever the argument takes you, RATIONALISM
            • Time is an illusion.
            • What is must be indivisible; So “all is full of what is”.
            • There cannot be a vortex motion. Because there is no nonbeing, there can’t be a “many”. There is no problem of the one and the many.
            • Being must be uncreated and imperishable, without beginning or end.
            • What is: one, eternal, indivisible, unchanging
            • Parmenides brings into the foreground one of the basic philosophical problems: The Problem of Appearance and Reality – the world is not as it appears.
              • Plato treats Parmenides with respect – because he
                • Follows reason wherever it leads.
                • If his conclusions are uncongenial, then his arguments must be examined carefully for any errors.
                • Provides the first coherent, connected argument—something with which you must wrestle.


Zeno: the Paradoxes of Common Sense

  • Sense experiments don’t prove Parmenides wrong, since they are just appearances. But common sense makes us feel there is still something wrong with his argument.
  • Student of Parmenides, and in support of him, Zeno argues that common sense is not only false (conflict with reality), it is contradictory (internally inconsistent).
  • Change and Motion
    • Common sense: “Motion is real” (is this an internally consistent statement?)
    • Zeno’s arguments/paradoxes:
      • Achilles v. the Tortoise: common sense leads to: one runner both catch up and not catching up to the other. This is self-contradictory. [Also reconsider a stick in water.]
      • Arrow in Flight: common sense leads to: either an arrow moves in the space where it is, or it moves in some space where it is not—but neither is possible. This is self-contradictory.
      • Reductio Ad Absurdum (RAA): valid and powerful arguments; Zeno’s are rigorous, and must be imitated to refute – another push toward RATIONALISM, and force reconsideration of space, time, and motion (still alive in physics).:
        1. Common sense belief: You can move
          1. You can move from where you are now sitting to the door of the room.
          2. Suppose that is true. But first you (Or the arrow, or Achilles) will have to get through all of the midpoints in between.
          3. If that is true, then you will never leave your seat.
          4. If common belief in motion is true, then it is in conflict with itself.
          5. Therefore, this common sense view is false.
        2. Common sense belief: The arrow can move
          1. The arrow can move
          2. Deduces consequences of that assumption
            • It must move either where it is or where it is not
            • It can do neither
          3. Draw the conclusion
            • The arrow cannot move
  • Display the contradiction
    • The arrow can move (by 1) and cannot move (by 3)
  • Draw final conclusion:
    • Motion is impossible because assuming it yields a contradiction (in 4) and no contradictions are possibly true.


Atomism: the One and the Many Reconciled: Several thinkers try to reconcile Parmenides and Zeno with sense experience, including Empedocles and Anaxagoras, who fail. But the Atomists provide a satisfactory answer.

  • Idea of atomism attributed to Leucippus, who might or might not have existed.
  • Democritus, of Abdera, Thrace, Northern Greece, 5thB.C., wrote many books


The Key: An Ambiguity

  • In Of Generation and Corruption (on coming into being and passing away) Aristotle summarizes Parmenidean arguments against these changes, and
  • Shows Leucippus’ arguments against and in response to Parmenides, which shows that sense perception is consistent with both and the many:
  • Melissus: Does not accept a “many”
    • If there were a many, they would have to be such as the one is.”
    • Leucippus accepts this principle and says there are many “ones”: “atoms
  • Leucippus:
    1. The “many” are appearances;
    2. For Monists, there is no motion without void
    3. But there is not one being, rather infinitely many, so small they are invisible, and which move in the void, “and, by coming together and separating, effect coming into being and passing away.”
    4. It does not follow from monism that there is no empty space. It can contain no things or bodies but still have being. “The void” is not the same as not-being. It only seems to if you don’t distinguish being from body. But being a body or thing might be just one way of being something. Does not contain any body ≠ what is not at all. Parmenides equivocates the two. Some of what is can be separated from the parts by the void, so there can be a many. The void is the kind of being in which no body exists.


Being is

Not-being is not


Thing (body)


No-Thing (Void)


Not-being is not


  • A breakthrough in struggle to develop language adequate to describe reality, with necessary distinctions, that doesn’t deny sense evidence, and is rational (non-contradictory).


The World

  • Reality:
    • The Void – provides a place for a body to move
    • Atoms – “not cut-able”, indivisible, indestructible, exist eternally, in constant motion in the void, they move themselves, it is their nature to move, not all alike but each is homogenous. They differ in shape, size, arrangement, and position, and form visible composite bodies that make up the world of experience
    • This explains coming into being and passing away, compatible with older nature philosophy
    • Structure of the universe is explained by a vortex
    • Anaximander, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus all think of the principle of unity as divine, but Democritus leaves no room for intelligent direction; atoms and void just do what they do, without intention or purpose. “Nothing occurs at random, but everything occurs for a reason and by necessity.” [by ‘reason’ is meant ‘cause’] If we are asked why something happened the proper answer will be to cite previously existing material causes.
    • Final destination of pre-Socratic speculation about nature. Begins by casting out Homeric gods, and ends by casting out intelligence and purpose from governance of the world. Mind and intelligence have no place.
    • Serious consequences for view of human life, and free will:
      • We think we are free and in control of our lives, that our decisions are up to us.
      • But if everything occurs by necessity, then each decision is determined by mechanical laws reaching back to movements of atoms since before our birth.
      • Democritus does not solve this problem but is the first to clearly lay it out.


The Soul

  • Still, it is obvious that mind plays a role in human life, so Democritus must account for it, and so must we, as the problem still is not solved.
  • An atomist account of soul and mind must be explained in terms of the material.
  • Democritus’ Soul: composed of tiny spontaneously moving material atoms, and in this way soul interpenetrates whole body. The soul is material. Soul-atoms replace Heraclitus’ fire logos
  • Living things: experience sensation, some capable of thought, humans have capacity to know. How can the material explain these with atoms and void?
  • Sensations are the result of differently shaped atoms in contact with the tongue or nose or skin or eardrums. Sight contacts its objects indirectly, through material atomic images or “effluences” striking and stamping the eye, and registered in soul-atoms throughout the body.
    • Acceptable paradoxical consequence: our senses do not give us direct and certain knowledge of the world.
    • Vision and other sense experience is the outcome of complex interactions, depending on a lot of things happening between the world and the perceiver. Whatever impact the real has on us is in part a product of our own condition. Some sensations exist only in us: hot, cold, sweet, bitter, red, blue, and by convention, not in nature.
    • Existence by Convention: its existence depends on us, and is not found in nature
    • If sense experience is conventional, then we can’t rely on it to tell us what the world is really like. So, in a way Parmenides was right! Later skeptics capitalize on this, doubting that we can have any reliable knowledge of the world at all! But Democritus does not think this conclusion leads to total skepticism.
      • Two forms of knowledge
        1. Bastard: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch
        2. Legitimate: finer form employed when the bastard form is unclear [reasoning] – product is the knowledge that what really exists are atoms and void. But can reasoning itself be explained in terms of atoms? Democritus does not say. (maybe now we can explain it with computers)



Chapter 3 – The Sophists: Rhetoric and Relativism in Athens

Greek Culture –from southern parts of Italy and Sicily in west to the Ionian settlements on shores of Asia Minor and Thrace to the north. 5th and 4th centuries B.C. Greek culture gained prominence in Athens. Story comes mostly from Greek historian Herodotus


Key elements of the rise of Athens

  • Around 500 B.C. – no unified Greek state yet – many city-states (polis) an area with natural boundaries with one dominant city, most prominently Thebes, Corinth, Argos, Sparta, and Athens, often quarrelling with each other.
  • 2 key events around beginning of 5th
    • Beginnings of democracy
    • Persian wars



  • For nearly 100 years, since constitution of Solon, common people had a voice in Athenian govt. Powers of govt. divided among:
    • The Council (“the best men” the aristocrats) made important decisions
    • The Assembly (all free men) power of veto
  • Most of 6th Athens ruled by “tyrants” or “boss” or “chief” – applied to non-hereditary ruler who seized power, some respecting Solon’s reforms; one was killed to restore democracy.
  • 508 B.C. large influx of immigration causes Aristocrats to try to purge citizen rolls, while Assembly extends citizenship. Three-day siege of Acropolis by the people causes aristocrats to give in, and citizens have control for the next 100 years or so.


Persian Wars

  • In 499 B.C. Greek cities rebelled against paying taxes to Persia, sending 20 ships and burning Sardis, but Persia ended the rebellion, and Greek anxiety grew.
  • 490 B.C. Persians retaliate at Marathon, but the Greeks, under Ionian general Miltiades, defeat the Persians killing 6400 of them. Persia doesn’t give up and Xerxes, son of Darius, takes revenge.
  • 480 B.C. while Xerxes leads 200,000 men over a bridge made of ships, and takes over Thrace. Athenians seek advice from the Oracle at Delphi, who says something vague and in need of interpretation: “That the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children.”
    • Wooden wall: Walls on hills of Acropolis will withstand aggressor? Wooden ship-bridge, so abandon Athens and defeat Persians at sea?
    • Most follow Themistocles to sea. Spartan king Leonidas takes force to Perisans at Thermopylae, but was defeated, and Perisans take Athens and burn the Acropolis. Themistocles destroys Xerxes navy at Salamis
  • 479 B.C. Persians reoccupy Athens, and Athens and Sparta expel them forever.
  • Results of victories:
    • Athens becomes preeminent city-state, forming league for future defense of Greece, which became the Athenian empire.
    • Athens becomes very wealthy, from allies tributes, control of sea trade growing a merchant class, and
    • Athens becomes center of cultural life.


Pericles, most influential leader in 5th c.B.C. Build temples on Acropolis, encouraging art, and the new learningHistorian Thucydides represents Pericles’s tribute speech to fallen soldiers (p.41) and which represents the spirit of the Golden Age of classical Athens:

  • Our system of govt. … a model to others … power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole peopleeveryone is equal before the law
  • In positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but actual ability which the man possesses. No one … is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. …
  • Free and open [in our] day-to-day life in our relations with each other. … do not get into a state with our next-door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor … give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still hurt people’s feelings. … tolerant in our private lives;
  • But in public affairs we keep to the law. … because it commands our deep respect. … obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority,
  • and we obey laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break. [?]
  • Enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits … contests and sacrifices … beauty and a good taste … all the good things from all over the world flow into us … foreign goods.
  • Attitude toward military security … our city is open to the world … no periodical deportations … rely, not on secret weapons, but on our own real courage and loyalty.
  • Love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of things of the mind does not make us soft.
  • We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than something to boast about. … poverty… the real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it.
  • A man who takes no interest in politics … has no business here
  • General good feeling … make friends by doing good to others, not be receiving good from them
  • In my opinion each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person … with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility
  • Our adventurous spirit has forced an entry into every sea and into every land; and everywhere we have left behind us everlasting memorials of good done to our friends or suffering inflicted on our enemies.


The Sophists:Sophist” – negative connotation. A sophism is a fallacious argument that looks good but isn’t; and sophistry is verbally fooling someone. Greek Sophos (wise) formerly applied to wise men.

  • Social situation in 5thB.C. Athens calls for innovations in education beyond basic skills (replacing Homeric teachings) to increase ability in leadership and public responsibility, leading to professional class of wandering paid teachers or tutors
  • In Plato’s Protagoras, Hippocrates tells Socrates of arrival of Protagoras, the only wise man, and asks Socrates to recommend him. Socrates says Protagoras will make him wise for a fee and some flattery, and asks Hippocrates if he knows what he is in for, which he doesn’t. They meet Protagoras to ask him what they will get for his fee. Protagoras claims that his student Hippocrates will each day become a better man. Socrates asks how this will happen. Protagoras says he teaches “proper management of one’s own affairs, how best to run a household, and management of public affairs.”
  • Sophists claim to teach the things that foster personal and political success, but may specialize in math, science, and music. Most are committed to the new learning, are self-consciously modern, believing they represent progress and enlightenment as opposed to ignorance and superstition.
  • They claim to teach arête – (excellence or virtue) skills and abilities and traits of character that make one competent, successful, admired, and wealthy – this disturbs Socrates.



  • Principles and practice of persuasive speaking
    • Civil and criminal defense in court
    • Persuade Assembly to change in city laws
  • What rhetoric means to the sophists
    • Using the principles of persuasive speaking, one can make a case for any position at all
    • Able to present persuasive argument for any side
  • Humorous Protagoras story: Student would not have to pay his teacher until he won his first case. He never entered into any cases, so Protagoras sued for payment.
    • The student argued:
      • if I win, I won’t have to pay, according to the court
      • If I lose, I won’t have to pay, according to the agreement
      • So whether I win or lose, I won’t have to pay.
    • Protagoras responds with a counter-argument:
      • If he loses, then he must pay.
      • If he wins, then he will have to pay.
      • So either way he will have to pay.
    • Technique: Present opposite logoi (what can be said) on both sides.
      • Notorious phrase, seeming to express Sophist’s boasting to teach others how to make the weaker argument into the stronger. The principles of rhetoric can make a weak argument seem stronger, through persuasion.
    • Skeptical implications: raises doubt about ability to discern reality, confined to appearances, truth beyond us, so things are as they seem, and all we can talk about.
      • Heraclitus believes there is one logos “common to all” uniting the many changing things of the world into one world-order. The wise are those who “listen to the logos” and order their lives according to it;
        • Sophists: How can one tell is one is in accordance with it? There is not one logos.
      • Parmenides hold opinion distinct from the way of truth and “thought and being are the same”;
        • Sophists:
          • How do you tell the difference between opinion and the truth?
          • thought and being are not the same – no necessary connection, thought can represent or misrepresent reality
          • natural philosophy – probabilities at best
          • all we can ever have are opinions
        • Protagoras is agnostic on existence and character of gods, saying the only reasonable thing to do is to suspend judgment, angering believers.
      • Sophists agree with Democritus that we are “cut off from the real” by conventional nature of experience, but disagree that we still have reasoning, and conclude there is no other way to truth.




  • First appearance of relativism, which most philosophers since oppose or make concessions to: Protagoras: On Truth, “Of all things the measure is man: of existing things, that they exist; of non-existing things, that they do not exist.”
  • “Measure” – standard to appeal to when deciding what to believe. But if man is the measure of all things then there’s no standard by which to judge except ourselves. As things appear to us, so they are. Whether the wind is cold or hot has no answer.
  • Also geographic expansion and exposure to many, not inferior, just different cultures. Herodotus: “Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best. …”
  • Implications of Relativism
    • Well-meaning citizens will disagree, but persuasive speech could convince them. Judge which of two logoi is best by which seems best, the generally accepted opinion. It may differ by culture, time, and person, so there’s no truth independent of what seems true. Custom is king. So teach how to adapt to society. Antiphon: “Victory to the best speaker.”
  • Physis and Nomos [Nature and Custom]
    • Physis – what nature philosophers study – characteristics of the world, things in general, independent of what human beings impose on it; not up to us to decide, we can’t change the pattern if we want to; we have no choice – it is necessary.
    • Nomos custom or convention – human beings have decided that it should be so; by agreement can be changed, possible to go against; “ought”, “right”, “appropriate”, “good”, “normal”.
    • Do the gods (and other stuff) exist by physis or nomos? Skeptical relativist Sophist says…?

If you want to know what is right or just, consult the laws. For matters not covered by law, look to customs of the people, no universal appeal. Conventional Justice – whatever the conventions (the nomoi) of a given society lay down as just.

  • Cf. with Heraclitus’s Natural Justice – “All human laws are nourished by the one divine law. For it governs as far as it will, and is sufficient for all things and outlasts them.” Human laws don’t justify themselves, are insufficient, and may diverge from the ” There is a court of appeal from a possibly unjust human law, and humans can know what divine law requires.
  • Sophocles’ play Antigone – Antigone defies decree not to bury dead brother, Polyneices, opposition leader against Thebes in civil war, to let his spirit enter Hades. She defends: “not Zeus who published this decree, Nor have the Powers who rule among the dead imposed such laws as this upon mankind; Nor could I think that a decree of yours—A man—could override the laws of Heaven Unwritten and unchanging.” It is permissible to violate convention. Justification for civil disobedience.
  • Some sophists agree there is a natural justice but disagree about what it is. Natural justice is the enemy of conventional justice.
    • Antiphon: “Life and death are the concern of nature, and living creatures live by what is advantageous; and the advantages which accrue from law are chains upon nature, whereas those which accrue from nature are free.”
    • observe, and see natural law; the law of self-preservation
    • It is a natural law because the punishment of death necessarily follows for those who violate it
    • restraints of conventional justice placed on human behavior are “chains upon nature”. “most of the things which are just by law (nomos) are hostile to nature.” It is natural or just (physis) to pursue what is advantageous.
    • Antiphon’s advice: (p.50) In public –follow nomos, in private – follow physis. You’re only wrong if someone sees you and disagrees with you, since otherwise there is no disadvantage to you. Necessary and natural law of self-preservation overrules conventional laws.  [See 1st and 2nd eps. of Last Man on Earth:
  • Sophist theory of origin of conventional justice is represented by Callicles, in Plato’s Gorgias:
    • The superior person shall dominate and have more than the inferior person
    • making war … acts in conformity with natural essence of right, and conforms with natural law, even though they violate man-made ones.
    • We naturally have passions and desires, and it is natural and just to satisfy them. The really happy man is the one strong enough to satisfy his desires to the fullest extent without fear of retaliation. Negation of self-restraint. Bold, innovative, serious critique of traditional Greek ethics, like Heraclitus’ moderation, and Delphic “nothing too much”.
    • Why shouldn’t we be Sophists?

Athens and Sparta at War (431 B.C. – 404 B.C.) as told by Thucydides

  • Now we can understand Socrates and Plato. Why was Socrates brought to trial? We need to know about the Peloponnesian War, Sparta v. Athens. Long war caused by Spartan fear of Athenian power, leading to defeat of Athens and end of Golden Age of Greece.
  • Sparta: land power, had allies in the area, non-democratic warrior class, austere, rigorous physical training and discipline, supported by large Helot slave population, and tributes.
  • Athens: sea power, created an empire, democratic for 80 years
  • War also intensifies internal tension in Athens between aristocracy and common people, including horrifically violent events in Corcyra after the victory of the democratic side over the oligarchs (story p.52), a denigration of moderation, and changing of the meanings of the words for ‘right’ and ‘virtue’ changed leading to confusion, and moral thought and criticism become impossible.
  • Athens seeks alliance with neutral island of Melos: Reconstruction of discussion between ruling oligarchs of Melos and Athenian commanders, which seems to represent the spirit of the times, each side attempting to present the most persuasive
    • Athenians: We don’t appeal to our rights or harm done to us, just think of what you can get. Justice depends on equality of power to enforce it, and the strong do what they can, while the weak have to accept it. You will be our allies
    • Melians: it is not in your interest to conquer us. The gods will protect us because we are standing for what is right.
    • Athenians: We can appeal to the gods too. It is a general and necessary law of nature to rule whatever one can, and we are acting in accordance with it, and so can you.
    • Melians refuse to surrender, and the Athenians take over, kill the men of fighting age and sell the women and children.
  • Pericles dies early in the war, and leadership flows to persuasive speakers or “demagogues” (agoge – those who can lead the demos, the democracy) leading to inconstant policy, and dissatisfaction with democracy, especially in the aristocracy.
  • 404 B.C. Peace Treaty – Athens must receive returning exiles, have same friends as Sparta, and accept provisional government by a Council that came to be known as “The Thirty”, who break promise to write new constitution, instead killing roughly 1500 “criminals”, those against surrender, dissidents, and people they didn’t like, taking their property, and claiming to enforce virtue, involving as many Athenians as possible to avoid implication later, a one year Reign of Terror.
  • Socrates is summoned to arrest Leon of Salamis, but he refuses.
  • Exiles, and democratic forces in the city attack and defeat the Thirty, killing their leader Critias, restoring Democracy, but bad feelings remain for many years.
  • Athenians lost confidence in their ability to control their own destiny, in a chaotic world. They always believed humans were not complete masters, since gods intervene in human affairs for their own ends, and none of us escapes our fate, but now these notions are tinged with new sense of bitterness and despair.
  • Euripides, great Greek tragedian, expresses new mood in Hippolytus (devoted to Artemis (the Roman Diana) goddess of the woodlands, the hunt, and chastity. Hippolytus’s step-mother Phaedra falls in sick to death in love with him (under the influence of Aphrodite/Venus, goddess of love), and
    • Her rhetorician nurse (constructing a logos to suit her hearer) says, “… The ways of life that are most fanatical trip us up more, they say, than bring us joy. They’re enemies to health. So I praise less the extreme than temperance in everything. The wise will bear me out.”
    • Then she finds out who Phaedra is in love with and says, “In this world second thoughts, it seems, are best. … The tide of love, at its full surge, is not withstandable … Zeus once loved the lovely Semele … Yes all these dwell in heaven. They are content, I am sure, to be subdued by the stroke of love … We should not in the conduct of our lives be too exacting.
    • Phaedra replies: This is the deadly thing which devastates well-ordered cities and the homes of men–…this art of over-subtle words. It’s not the words ringing in the ear that one should speak, but those that have the power to save their hearer’s honorable name.”
    • Nurse says that Phaedra is moralizing, when she just wants a man, and Phaedra calls her “wicked”. The nurse agrees but says it’s better than moralizing. ““The Deed” is better if it saves your life: than your “good name” in which you die exulting.”
    • Morality takes second place to life itself, contradicting Homeric morality
    • Hippolytus rejects Phaedra and she kills herself, leaving a note accusing him of rape (to save her good name), and Theseus reads it and curses his son, who dies in a chariot accident, and then Theseus learns Hippolytus is innocent.
    • Play is framed by speeches by Aphrodite who vows to take vengeance on Hippolytus for despising her and worshipping chastity, and Artemis who vows to avenge Hippolytus by destroying some favorite of Aphrodite. Humans are mere pawns in the hands of greater powers in opposition to each other that make no sense, and have no reason or unity of purpose. Led by uncontrollable passion we are bound for destruction. We would like to believe that there is a wise plan to our lives but there is no reason to believe it.


Aristophanes and Reaction

  • Sophists were popular, hated, feared, depended on and fostered democracy: a direct democracy where decisions were made by citizens present in the Assembly. Masses at the mercy of those possessing rhetorical skills to sway them in the direction of their own interests “demagogues”.
  • First performed in 423 B.C. Aristophanes comedy, The Clouds, expresses unhappiness with the state of the city. This satire on the new education of the Sophists, caricatures the main character, Socrates, misrepresenting him as the leading Sophist, who runs a school called the “Thinkery” which charges fees. It opens with Socrates suspended by a basket in the air (see p.56-59), spouting attractive nonsense.
  • Socrates did share Sophist’s interest in human affairs but he was a severe critic of their ideas. Socrates’s students are misrepresented as engaging in silly scientific studies, but the main interest in the play concerns Strepsiades, who sends his son to the school to learn how to argue his way out of his looming debts.
  • Aristophanes Deplores and mocks vortex principle, mechanical nature, and the banishing of Zeus and intelligent purpose from natural causes. Old methods are farcically confronted by means of two characters wearing fighting cock masks, called the “just logos” (philosophy) and the “unjust logos” (sophistry) (p.57-59)
    • Philosophy argues for discipline, decorum and duty, and is applauded by the chorus
    • Sophistry argues for subversion of established social beliefs, and undermining morality, and argue that you are just a man if you err.
  • Climax: son turns what he has learned on his father, beating him with a stick, arguing he’s right to do so, and right to beat his mother too. Strepsiades decides it is better to admit he was wrong for trying to cheat his son’s creditors, and that the new education is the “corrupter and destroyer” of the youth, and burns down the “Thinkery”.
  • Moral: A chorus of Clouds representing the goddesses of the new thought says, “This is what we are, the insubstantial clouds men build their hopes on…dishonest dreams of gain…schooled by suffering, they learn at last to fear the gods.”
  • Clouds: an unfair traditionalist antagonistic caricature, but poses serious questions.
    • Is there a way to distinguish between logoi independently of their persuasiveness? If not, is an argument just a contest that the most persuasive must win? Are arson and violence the only answer? How is that a superior answer to rhetoric? Is there any way for people to discuss and agree on important matters that does not reduce to a power struggle? Is there something that can be identified as reasonable, as opposed to merely persuasive? Can we come to know the truth, or is it just a matter of who wins? These are the questions that interest Socrates.

Chapter 4 – Socrates – To Know Oneself

Important for his personality and character, wrote nothing; look to other writers for knowledge of him – Aristophanes (farce), Xenophon (philosophically unsophisticated), and Aristotle (born after Socrates’ death), but mostly Plato (younger companion and admirer of Socrates) through dialogues with Socrates as the central figure, but all written after Socrates’ death. Later dialogues Plato uses Socrates as his own mouthpiece.

  1. Early dialogues include: Euthyphro, Crito, and Apology; believed to accurately represent Socrates and his views and method:
    1. participant claims to know something,
    2. Socrates question them about the nature of it,
    3. participant is forced to admit ignorance about it learning how little they know,
    4. no agreed upon solution is reached
    5. but the ground is cleared of some false beliefs
  2. Middle dialogues include: Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, and Republic; Socrates asserts positive doctrines, supported by argument. Plato is working out his own solutions to Sophists’ problems, and to go beyond negative outcomes of Socratic questioning. (ch6)
  3. Late dialogues include: Timaeus, Critius, and Laws; further developments, and explore difficulties encountered in the middle dialogues, Socrates playing a lesser role.

Socrates, (470/469 B.C.–399B.C.)

  • Father a stonemason, mother a midwife;
  • Calls himself a “midwife of thought” in that he can help deliver the ideas of others and determine their truth, by “examining” them, trying to discover their resemblance or consistency with other ideas expressed in the conversation.
  • Do the answers to Socrates’ questions fit with the original claim that was said is true?
  • Said to be ugly, but proves he’s beautiful with argument; this story shows:
    • He was not sought as a companion for his looks
    • Humor – directed at himself, could also be sharp and biting
    • Socratic Method of question and answer
    • Identifies the good and beautiful in terms of usefulness or advantage
    • Served in the army with courage and distinction
  • Alcibiades testimony in Symposium:
    • No one better than him in the whole army at enduring hardship,
    • At drinking proved more than a match for everyone…no one has ever seen him drunk…
    • Went out in cold wearing only a cloak and no shoes…
    • Standing all night deep in thought
    • Socrates saved his life and in retreat was the coolest man around
    • No human being from past or present who can match him
    • “Ignoramuses and fools are bound to find his arguments ridiculous. But if you could see them opened up, if you can get through to what’s under the surface, what you’ll find inside is that his arguments are the only ones in the world which make sense. … abound with divinity and effigies of goodness. They turn out to be extremely far-reaching, or rather they cover absolutely everything which needs to be taken into consideration on the path to true goodness.”


Is Socrates a Sophist?  No. His attitudes and aims are the opposite

  • Similarities: social scene; interests, subject matter: human affairs, esp. areté, natural philosophy, and arts of communication and argument and techniques of persuasion; young men associate with him and consider him their teacher.
  • Differences:
    • Socrates:
      • does not claim to teach or even know what areté is,
      • gave up natural philosophy for ethics,
      • has no school, takes no pay from those who associate with him;
    • Sophists consider the art of rhetoric like strategies in battle to enable their user to win with no concern for truth, which is inaccessible, revealing character of lust for fame, wealth and satisfaction of desires; taught for pay, and grew wealthy
    • Socrates uses communication, argument, and persuasion with the goal of advancing toward truth that we are capable of moving toward and shaping our opinions with; could never agree that an action is right just because one thinks it is; not a relativist, nor a skeptic. He asks questions, insists his listeners answer sincerely and say what they truly believe.
    • Socratic Method: Dialectic [Falsity Detection Tool]:  question and answer; proposal-questions-difficulties-new proposal-questions; question and answer used to improve opinions and come to know the truth (or detecting errors). An antagonistic procedure, not always understood or appreciated, one of the things generating hostility toward him.
    • Dialectic Attitude [Incredulous, Honest and Modest]: Progress in coming to understand the truth is as much a matter of character as intelligence.
      • Speak for yourself. Say what you sincerely believe. Don’t be wishy washy.
      • Be open to revising your belief on the basis of good reasons; Do not be determined to hang onto it “no matter what”; be objective about your own opinion, not dogmatic;
      • Together identify inadequate answers to important questions about it; aim is not victory over the other speaker, but progress toward the truth; each assists the others by raising objections to what the others say. Ask questions that make us think again, make us uncomfortable and inclined to be defensive. Cooperative enterprise, not a competition; Communication is not one way, or a sermon or lecture; anyone can ask the questions.
      • What remains unrefuted might be true, but we can’t guarantee it;
      • Confess your ignorance. Be happy to lose a false opinion, and escape a great evil.
    • Socratic Method:
      1. Someone asks the “What is it?” question, (usually seeking a definition of a word used or essence of a thing discussed.)
      2. An answer is given. (Sincerely say what you believe)
      3. Given answer is examined and found inadequate.
      4. Another more specific answer is put forward, examined, and also found inadequate.
      5. Pattern repeats until the one claiming originally to know realizes that he has an inconsistent set of beliefs and that he can’t accept the whole set, and even if he is not sure which part he has to give up, has to admit that he does not understand the topic.
        • Yet Socrates says they are liberated by this, because they are closer to the truth (E.g. that they knows they don’t know what they are talking about, or that they know the presented answers are inadequate) because all are things we can be certain about.
        • Like Xenophanes, Socrates does not think that truth is evident or obvious; he does not agree that wide acceptance is a good reason to believe something [cf. Antiphon]
  • Euthyphro: topic is piety
  • Gorgias: topic is rhetoric/art of persuasion – Socrates: “I’m happy hove a mistaken idea of mine proved wrong, and I’m happy to prove someone else’s mistaken ideas wrong. … there’s nothing worse for a person… than holding mistaken views about the matters we’re discussing.”

What Socrates knows

Claims not to know (in the sense which implies that you can’t be wrong), usually begs to be instructed, and they learn they don’t know either.

In part ironic role of ignorant inquirer about large questions never answered fully satisfactory, even in areas in which he might be confident, the next conversation might raise new unsurmountable problems

“Only the god is truly wise” (Apology).

Still there are things that are as good as known for Socrates, things he is so confident about that he is willing to die for them.

A good man cannot be harms

Certain affirmations survive all scrutiny – what stands fast – come to look so much “like the truth” that it becomes almost inconceivable that they should turn out to be wrong in the future.

  • We ought to search for truth
    • Meno
      • One proposition that I’d defend to the death…as long as we think we should search for what we don’t know we’ll be better people—less fainthearted and less lazy—than if we were to think that we had no chance of discovering what we don’t know and that there’s no point in even searching for it.
      • Context of an argument that the soul is directly acquainted with truth befor it enters a human body; we may hope to recover it.
      • Sophists lurk: claim that knowledge of truth is not possible for human beings, each of us being the final “measure,” or judge of what seems so to us. Socrates believes that relativism will make us worse persons, faint-hearted and lazy. If we can dismiss any criticism by saying “it is true for me” then our present beliefs are secure, so why should we undertake the difficult and dangerous task of examining them? To Socrates the Sophist is intellectually idle and cowardly – worse
      • One thing that stands fast for Socrates is that we ought to search for the truth and not despair of finding it.
    • Human excellence is knowledge
      • What sort of knowledge?
      • Techne – a kind of competence in some applied knowledge. What distinguishes the expert from a mere novice is the possession of knowledge, not just having abstract intellectual propositions in your head – knowledge of what to do and how to do it. (v. the amateur)
      • Human excellence is a techne – knowledge of human nature, how it functions, and wherein its excellence consists
      • Those who wish to live well must understand themselves and what the point of living is.
      • Georgias: like building, music, and medicine, morality is also a techne
      • Knowledge in this techne sense is a necessary condition and a sufficient condition for human excellence.
      • Meno: human excellence is beneficial, but beneficial things need not be so, depends on whether they are used wisely or foolishly, including the virtues.
        • “Qualities, sometimes harmful and sometimes beneficial”
        • “Mental endeavor and persistence always end in happiness when they are guided by knowledge, but in the opposite if they are guided by ignorance”
      • Problem: if it is knowledge, then it is teachable
    • All wrongdoing is due to ignorance
      • Corollary to the claim that virtue is knowledge
      • We always act out of a belief that what we are doing is good, and will produce good
      • If to know the right is to do the right, then failing to do it must be due to not knowing it, i.e. believing what is evil to be good, believing what is false to be true
      • Importance for moral education of young
      • Compare Euripides’ Hippolytus’ Phaedra who says we know the good but fail to do it
    • The most important thing of all is to care for your soul
      • It is better to suffer an injustice than to commit injustice
      • A good person cannot be harmed in either life or death
    • Socrates identifies with his soul
    • The most important task is to care for one’s soul
    • Nothing is more crucial to this than self-knowledge
    • For a human being “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology)
      • We need to know what we do know and what we don’t so we can act wisely
      • Foolishness is based on false opinions
      • Delphic Oracle: “know thyself”


Chapter 5 – Plato: Knowing the Real and the Good

Socrates dies 399 B.C. – Plato 30 leaves Athens, travels, studies with Pythagoras, returns to Athens to found the “Academus”, lives to age 82, and sets the foundation stone for all philosophy to come.

Plato’s Philosophical Goals:

  • Refuting skepticism and relativism, demonstrating that there is a truth about reality and that it can be known, and that it has moral and religious values. Goodness is a matter of physis, and constructs a dialectic/logos to support it, and on how to know it.
  • In Republic – attempt to define the ideal state – one in which a good person can live a good life. Socrates is his example of a good person.
  • In Laws – possible constitution

What’s the difference between knowledge and opinion? Is what you believe true? The Sophists are relativistic about it. All beliefs are true from the perspective of the person speaking them.

Plato’s Epistemological and Metaphysical Solutions:

  1. Clarify the distinction between knowledge versus opinion
    1. Opinion: changes, can be true or false, is not supported by reasons, is the result of persuasion

You can believe falsely, but not know falsely; accidentally true beliefs do not count.

  1. Knowledge: endures or stays put, is always true, is supported by reasons, is the result of instruction. Knowledge stays put because it involves the reason why; belief is implanted by persuasion knowledge by instruction; Instruction that is an explanation of the reason why. If you believe something but don’t understand why, you can be overcome by persuasion.
  1. Demonstrate that we do have knowledge
    1. Truths of mathematics – The Meno – instruction through recollection. The truth is not a matter of how it seems to someone, but how it is. Relativism and skepticism are wrong.
      1. But what is it that we know? Plato’s solution is the key to his philosophy.
      2. Can this kind of knowledge be extended to morality?
    2. Explain the nature of knowable objects
      1. Sense objects are not objects of knowledge – unclear, inaccurate, changing (Heraclitus is right)
      2. Objects of reason are objects of knowledge – clear, accurate, eternal – Rationalist here. (Parmenides is right.) What is the truth about the square of? The essence of not just a particular square, but of The Universal Square/Square-ness itself, which can only be apprehended through reason, is an object, a reality, a public object (even more than sense objects), since you and I can know the same truths about it, and agree about it. Particular squares participate in the FORM of Squareness, (as pious acts in Piety).
      3. A Form is an object of knowledge. The essence of a thing, a universal, or definition.

Plato’s Epistemological Argument for the Forms:

  • Knowledge is enduring, true, rational belief based on instruction
  • We do have knowledge
  • This knowledge is not about the world revealed through the senses
  • It must be about another world, one that endures.
  • This is the world of Forms. (Not just one, but many, reflected in part in math)

Plato’s Metaphysical Argument for the Forms:

  • Consider two things that are alike – they have a certain character in common.
  • What they have in common cannot be the same as either one,
  • Nor identical with the two of them together,
  • So what they share must be a reality distinct from them,
  • Whatever it is in the Form itself.

Plato’s Semantic Argument for the Forms:

  • Any given plurality of things which have a single name constitutes a specific type [Form].
  • How do general words get their meaning? They are the names of Forms.

A single answer (The Forms) to three problems:

  1. What is knowledge about?
  2. How do we explain common features?
  3. How do we understand the meaning of general words?

The Reality of the Forms and the 2 Worlds Theory

  • To suppose they are not real just because they can’t be sensed is a bias. You can’t know what is not. If you know something, then it is The forms are more real than sense objects
  • “Something completely real is completely accessible to knowledge, and something utterly unreal is entirely inaccessible to knowledge”, and about the unreal we are ignorant. There are
    • KnowledgeOF WHAT IS, and always about something, unchangeable, eternal (original Forms)
    • OpinionOF THE WORLD OF EXPERIENCE, things that change and both are and are not, come into being and pass away (many sense object copies), and
    • Ignoranceof what is not, the unreal

The World and Its Forms, and how they are related

  • Diagrams p.129 and 132
  • Shadow Analogy – shape of shadow depends on shape of thing casting it – Physical world is like the shadows, and the forms are the original shapes
  • Divided Line – The visible world and the intelligible world
  • Lower and Higher Forms – the forms make sense objects intelligible
  • Dialectic – giving a reasoned account of things, an intellectual discipline, a search for ultimate presuppositions of all hypothetical explanations and proceeds upward through awareness of Forms, coming to the “starting point for everything”, and certainty or self-evident truth seen with the minds eye.

The Love of Wisdom and What Wisdom Is progress from imagination, to opinions, to science, to understanding is progress toward wisdom; the wise understand everything in light of the forms especially the form of the Good. The aim of education is to produce wise individuals.

The Form of the Good – the starting point – surpassing all other forms, it is goodness which gives the things we know their truth and makes all other knowledge and existence fpossible. Knowledge, truth, and beauty all participate in the form of the Good.

The Myth of the Cave and the Analogy of the Sun – Represents the process of dialectic and reaching understanding through the form of the Good. Education – “the capacity for knowledge is present in everyone’s mind…the art of orientation…properly aligned and facing the right way…” Republic

 SymposiumIn Socrates’s speech in praise of love he claims to have learned about love from a wise woman named Diotima: his teacher in method of question-and-answer, speaks as to a love cult initiate. The Ladder of Love – p.139-140, and 141 – progression upward from one beautiful body to beauty itself

The Immortality and Structure of the Soul

  • Socrates in Apology: Either death is a blessing or a dreamless sleep
  • Two kinds of things – self-moving (immortal souls), and things moved by other things (mortal bodies)
  • The soul is immortal, proven in Meno’s recollection of truth. Intellect is a capacity of the soul; To be wise pursuing philosophy, loving wisdom, freeing the soul from bondage of the body; “those who practice philosophy aright are cultivating dying, and for them least of all men does being hold any terror” Phaedo
  • Emphasis on practical this-worldly usefulness of acquaintance with the Forms, with a drive toward otherworldliness.
  • Myth of the Charioteer: the soul in three parts in conflict – the appetitive (desires), spirited (animates) and the rational (guides) – into which people are also divided into types – workers, soldiers, and guardians/rulers.

Morality in the Republic

  • Thrasymachus – might makes right – morality is conventional; the unjust life is the good life.
  • Socrates – everyone wants to be happy – natural morality
  • Glaucon and the Ring of Gyges – the worst person is happiest
    1. If being good is worthwhile only because of the consequences, then removing the consequences diminishes the worth of doing good.
    2. If being moral is the true good, then it would be better not to be unjust
  • Socrates – what is it to be moral? The whole soul is excellent when in harmony, balancing desire, spirit, and reason, each performing its function with excellence. The source of unhappiness is lack of internal harmony. Happiness is not feeling happy (satisfying desire), but being happy (internal harmony). Lack of internal harmony is an injustice to the soul. The wise seek harmony. Justice in the soul and morality in the community are connected. To do wrong t others is to allow the beast to rule within. Disharmony is unhappiness. The best life is moderate, rational, self-controlled, and moral.
  • Summary – We can have knowledge of the practical:
    1. Moral actions flow from a soul in harmony
    2. A harmonious soul is a happy soul
    3. Happiness is a natural good.
    4. So, morality itself is a natural good
    5. So acting morally is not good simply for its consequences but is good in itself (the Form of the Moral participates in the Form of the Good.)

The State

  • Parallel between the soul and the community
    1. Productive types (appetitive) – laborers
    2. Protective types (spirited) – soldiers
    3. Governing types (rational) – Philosopher Kings – the wise few

Problems with the Forms

  • Parmenides and the Third Man Argument leads to a vicious infinite regress of forms. For any stage to exist there must be an infinite set of stages of reality on which it depends.



Chapter 6 – Aristotle

  1. 384 B.C. a Northern Thracian royal Macedonian, studies at Plato’s Academy roughly age 18-38 ‘till Plato’s death in 347 B.C.; does marine biology around the islands, then tutors Macedonian prince Alexander, and in 335 returns to Athens to found the Lyceum until 323 when he flees lest, the Athenians “sin twice against philosophy”, and becomes the “second father of Western philosophy”.

Plato v.  Aristotle

  • Plato – Aristocles – aristocratic, politically active; rational mystic wrestler?
    • Plato’s One Big Problem: refuting Protagorean, sophistic, relativist, and skeptical beliefs, on which he blames the unjust death of Socrates, and seeking a physis/natural basis for right and wrong (Forms, Form of the Good, moral dialectic, ideal State).
    • Objects of knowledge: Other-worldliness
    • Reality is rational, yet reason alone is insufficient, and eventually you just have to “see with the mind’s eye” the truth of forms, the true objects of knowledge.
    • Human Nature: The real person is the soul, not the body. Only those who seek knowledge through dialectic can know with certainty the right rules of human behavior.
    • Knowledge must be of certain, enduring, timeless, unchanging Forms. (Math. Essences/types/originals versus participants/tokens/copies.)
  • Aristotle – his father was a doctor;
    • He’s not that bothered by relativists because he knows some opinions about the physical world are obviously better than others. The ordinary citizen is able to make good decisions in practical matters by looking into the situation and responding appropriately.
    • Aristotle’s Many Little Problems: Analyzing the processes by which we form our opinions and knowledge, discriminating between good and bad arguments, and setting out the basic features of reality discovered through direct observation.
    • Objects of knowledge: This-worldliness
    • language is capable of expressing the truth of things, the sensible world, known empirically
    • The senses are not enough and should be used with caution but are basically reliable for telling us about the changing world around us.
    • Human Nature: the “rational animal”
    • Knowledge must be of certain, enduring, timeless, unchanging Forms. (Biology. Genus and species.)

Logic and Knowledge

Metaphysics:  Everyone wants knowledge, and delight in the senses is sought for its own sake (is good or an end in itself), and the senses enable us to know the differences between things. Animals have senses, memory which produces experience from which one can learn. In humans universal judgments can be framed in language based on this experience, and build knowledge, regarding as wise who understand the general causes of things, allowing them to develop various practical arts, and to teach them to others how and why things are the way they are. So wisdom is or involves knowledge. Knowledge involves statements that things are some way or other and reasons why they are, but they must be true.

Inventing/Discovering (?) Categorical Logic, Aristotle must:

  1. Explain the nature of statements—how they are put together out of terms
  2. Explain how statements can be related to each other so that some give “reasons why” for the others
  3. Give an account of what makes statements true or false

Terms – Basic elements or classifications that combine to make statements; is, or is of something.

Statements – assertions with subject and predicate, the predicate being about the subject. Every statement is either true or false.

Categories – general ways of being

  • Substances (particular subjects only, never predicates; “neither asserted of nor present in a subject”)
    • Primary Substance – Species/Token – some particular individual about which we say all these things, which (may) be true; the basic way a thing can be; “subjects to everything else and that all other things are either asserted of them or are present in them” Categories; Rejects Platonic Forms in favor of particular individual entities, which are not shadows of the more real.
    • Secondary Substance – Genera/Type – general categories; derivative; is predicated and predicates other terms.
  • Quantity – all, some, or none?
  • Quality – positive or negative?
  • Relationship – connection between this and the other?
  • Place – where?
  • Time – when?
  • Posture – what position?
  • State – in what condition?
  • Doing something – acting on?
  • Undergoing something – being acted upon?

Classical Truth:  Correspondence Theory – expressed in statements, which are true when representing things as they are.

Logic – study of reason-giving [The basis for logic is “P or not P”, the law of non-contradiction, and the syllogistic fallacy of the excluded middle.]

Argument – saying what is true, and offering reasons to support it.

Immediate Inference – an argument with only one premise and one conclusion

Reasons Why: The Syllogism (diagrams p.164-166)

  • Square of Opposition –assuming S exists, what follows logically
  • Claim – same as declarative sentence/statement/assertion
  • Subject term – the noun subject of a statement
  • Predicate term– the noun predicate of a statement
  • A- All men are mortal. Universal assertion/positive.
  • E – No men are mortal. Universal denial/negative.
  • I – Some men are moral. Particular assertion/positive.
  • O – Some men are not mortal. Particular denial/negative.
  • Contrary – relation between A and E, can’t both be true, but can both be false
  • Contradictory – relations between A and O, and E and I
  • Subcontrary– relation between I and O, can’t both be false, but can both be true
  • Subalternation – relations between universals and particulars
  • Implication –universal truth implies the particular true, particular falsity implies the universal false.
  • Syllogism – an argument with two premises and one conclusion
  • Premises – support the conclusion; already known.
  • Major premise – contains the major term (also the predicate term of the conclusion) and should be written or spoken first.
  • Minor premise – contains the minor term (also the subject term of the conclusion) and should be written or spoken second.
  • Major term – the predicate of the conclusion
  • Minor term – the subject of the conclusion
  • Middle term – the connecting term in the premises
  • Quantifier – term indicating how much – universal or particular (‘all’, ‘some’, ‘none’)
  • Universal – natural kinds of things that exist
  • Copulum (sing.)/Copula (pl.) – (‘is’, ‘are’, “are not”) existential action asserting connection between the subject term and the predicate term (Socrates IS a wise man. No Athenians ARE)
  • Conclusion – supported by the premise; follows logically from the premise; a logical inference
  • Deduction – necessary inference
  • Valid – If the premises were true, then the conclusion is necessarily true/could not be false.
  • Invalid – an argument form allowing true premises to lead to a false conclusion
  • Sound– valid with true premises
  • Unsound – may be valid, but has one or more false premise
  • Substitution instance/counterexample – if you can find another argument with the same form, but with true premises and a false conclusion, then the form is invalid.

Knowing First Principles

If our premises support our conclusions, what supports our premises? Can everything knowable be demonstrated? Can we give reasons for everything? No. There cannot be an infinite regress if we are to have knowledge.  “It is impossible for there to be proofs for everything.” Metaphysics

But where do we stop? Socrates – the soul is immortal and we recollect truths known before birth.

Aristotle doesn’t believe this. How do we come to know that which cannot be demonstrated? “The starting point is an immediate premise, which means there are no other premises prior to it.” We stop at immediate premises or first principles, for which there is no proof, and which are more certain than our conclusions. “All instruction and all learning through discussion proceed from what is known already.” Is this paradoxical? What does it mean to know?

Knowledge develops from implicit to more and more explicit forms. Perception is not knowledge but where it begins. The subject of a perception is an individual thing, but knowledge is of the universal; perception can be wrong but knowledge can’t. Experience is the source of a universal, a unity of the things encountered. It must be by induction that we acquire knowledge of the primary premises, because this is also the way in which sense-perception provides us with universals.” Induction from sense perception:  

  • Nous/mind/”intuition”– the ability to grasp first principles by abstracting what is essential from many particular instances present to our senses.
  • Induction – drawing an inference, from a particular sample to a probable, universal conclusion. [Or simply an argument in which the premise does not guarantee the conclusion with certainty.]
  • Inductive arguments are strong if the conclusion is highly likely to follow from the premises, and weak if the conclusion is unlikely to follow from the premises.
  • Strong Inductive arguments with true premises are cogent, and uncogent if weak or false.

The World:  Aristotle clears the ground showing that his predecessors go wrong by not observing closely enough, giving excessively general explanations for things, or by concluding there is no intelligibility in the world at all.  He thinks the principles of intelligibility are within the things of the world. To explain them, pay close attention to them. The world is made up of things and that are ordered, with internal principles that can be known to us through observation of them.

The World: Artifacts and Nature

  • Artifacts – things intentionally made/moved by people (& some animals) for various purposes
  • Nature facts – “has in itself a source of movement and rest”; a locus of change; apart from accidents (chance events) are inherently purposive (cf. with Democritus)

The Four “Becauses” – Why are things what they are?

  1. Material cause – matter from which something is made
  2. Formal cause – both the shape of something and its definition; having the characteristics that make it what it is
  3. Efficient cause- the proximate mover, what explains its coming to be, what caused it
  4. Final cause – the purpose or ends satisfied by it

Is there a purpose of nature? Aristotle’s arguments:

  1. Chance
    1. Close observation of nature reveals that, “all natural objects either always or usually come into being in a given way, and that is not the case with anything that comes to be by chance.”
    2. Chance only makes sense against a background of regularity.
    3. Since everything must occur either by chance or for a purpose, it must happen for a purpose.
  2. Art (excellent skill)
    1. Art either completes nature or imitates nature.
    2. But there is a purpose in art, so there must be purpose in nature also.

Teleology – natural substances are for something, serve a purpose, end, or goal (p.173)

  • Entelechy – an indwelling goal; the purpose in natural things; development or determinate pattern of a thing that happens “always or usually”
  • Time – natural things look back to earlier forms (which contained the later forms potentially) and forward to still later forms (which they contain potentially)
  • Science can grasp nature of static thigs, but also universal natural laws of development.
  • Knowledge – is always of the universal forms, but the forms are not outside the natural world, they are within it.
  • Primary substances are form and matter moving from potentiality to actuality.

First Philosophy or Metaphysics  – the of first or primary independent things – “being qua being”

First come the basic necessities of life, then pure divine wisdom, delight in knowing for its own sake, freeing us from bondage

Not Plato’s Forms

  1. Plato does not explain how “participation” works.
  2. They multiply entities beyond necessity
  3. How can they be what things have in common (universals), and also be individual realities (particulars)? If they are substances then they can’t be predicated of other things. If they are universal then they are not separate from individual things.
  4. They don’t account for change

Math provides most convincing arguments for existence of independent forms, but we can conceptually separate attributes from things without supposing they must exist independently of them.

Substance and form – to be, is to be a substance. Matter is nothing without form responsible for the essence, the very substance of substance itself. Actualities embody form, the principal cause of of things (e.g. the matter versus the form of ba). Are there pure substance forms? If there are then knowledge of them would be divine knowledge. If there were any, then they would be eternal, the best most fully actualized things, Pure Actualities. But are there any and if so what are they like?

 God – Unmoved mover – a final cause – without being moved, moves all intermediate movers,

  • Not a creator, but an ideal, inspiring each thing in the world to be its best
  • Not the origin, but the goal, the ultimate purpose, or end, the unifying principle of reality
  • An ideal, immaterial, unchanging, eternal, independent, actually existing, living being, living a life of perfect thought.

The Soul – The wise dissociate from obscure harmful bodily influences, practicing philosophy to purify the soul.  Beings reproduce to share in eternity and divinity of the universe.

  • Levels of Soul
  • Nutritive soul (plants)
  • Sensitive soul (animals)
  • Rational soul (humans)

Soul and Body – A naturalistic explanation

  • “a formal substance … the essence of a body of a particular kind.”
  • “… a substance inasmuch as it is the form of a natural body that potentially possesses life; and such substance is in fact realization, so that the soul is the realization of a body of this kind.”
  • how the body functions, dependent on bodies, cannot survive death of the body

Nous – thinking

  • passive mind – perceives and adapts, acted upon, perishable
  • active mind – impersonal, pure, unchanging, immortal, eternal, immaterial, and separable (because he doesn’t know what the brain does)
  • seat of sensation and emotion is the heart, the brain is for cooling the body

The Good Life

  • Unlike Plato, does not think ethics is something to be known with scientific certainty
  • Ethics is a practical art, not a science
  • What counts is experience and the youth are inexperienced


  • Eudaimonia – human flourishing
  • Things and their excellences are defined by their function

Virtue or Excellence (Areté)

  • Goodness is one, but there are many virtues – dispositions to choose; by which we are praised or blamed, not for our passions or attributes; learned through copying, and practice
  • Practical wisdom/practical sense – phronesis developing judgment through trial and error
  • Habits form character
  • Virtue leads to happiness

The Role of Wisdom

  • Aim for the mean between extremes of deficiency and excess


  • “Excusing conditions” – involuntary acts of compulsion or ignorance of the circumstances involved in what one is doing, that is one would have acted differently had one known.
  • We must be held responsible for what we do

The Highest Good

  • Contemplation – and end good in itself and cannot be easily taken from us


Chapter 8 – Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics – Happiness for the Many

  • 3 schools trying to solve problems of the time, not answered by Plato or Aristotle
  • The end of Lyceum and death of Aristotle mark the start of the Dark Ages.
  • Hellenism – further study and application of Greek ideas especially of Plato and Aristotle
  • Philip and Alexander of Macedon conquer and unify a vast territory
  • Rome dominates and stabilizes Mediterranean basin
  • Romans – change the names of the Gods to shift power and attention to their authority; laws
  • Altered social and religious climate: in the new hostile brutal out of control world, city-states fade into power struggles, military rule, and war,  or lose faith in city life and failed gods, and create smaller power units (e.g. Epicureans with their small non-citizen volunteer community)
  • Desperate for stability, guidance, and answers people turn to ancient nature cults, new star cults, and initiations into sacred secret mysteries, saviors, gurus, esoteric experts promising oneness with god, fortune tellers, astrologists, and divine mediators.
  • Politicians also use religion for their own ends, likening themselves to gods
  • The unpopular traditions of rational criticism started by Thales are powerless to stop all of this.

Epicurus (341-270 B.C.)

  • Happiness – absence of fear through science
  • Hedonism
  • Beliefs about gods and death
  • Atomism
  • Lucretius
  • Desire – natural, necessary (life, ease, happiness), non-necessary
  • Virtues
  • Friendship


  • Stoicism
  • Happiness
  • Nature
  • Logos
  • God
  • Pantheism
  • Equanimity
  • Virtue
  • intention
  • Duty
  • Natural law


  • Skepticism
  • Pyrrho
  • Indeterminable
  • Sextus Empiricus
  • “suspend judgment”
  • Dogmatic
  • “infinite regress”
  • Circular reasoning
  • Criterion
  • Appearances


Chapter 9 – Christians – Sin, Salvation, and Love

  • Prophesy proclamation, not philosophical discussion.
  • Judeo-Christianity has influenced philosophers, who either absorb or refute it.
  • God
  • Creation
  • Kingdom of God
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Exodus
  • Moses
  • Law (Torah)
  • Jesus and his meaning
  • Gospels
  • Neighbor
  • Humility
  • Pride
  • Word


Chapter 10 – Augustine – God and the Soul

  • (A.D. 354-430) during “late antiquity” North African Augustine is a Historical Turning Point consolidating Christian doctrine and Greek philosophy, especially Plato, passionate search for happiness, powerful mind
  • At age 43 writes Confessions: Christian mother and converted pagan father. Educated in Latin, literature, rhetoric and law. As a youth in college he had sex a lot, stole some pears and threw them to some pigs and doesn’t know why, and notices in the courts that no one is satisfied until the motive is produced – gaining good or avoiding evil. Why is doing the forbidden pleasurable? It’s an imitation of God, an attempt to use a liberty reserved for God alone, of being unconstrained by anything outside:  pride.
  • He says he wouldn’t have done it alone, but would have been ashamed not to follow his friends, and he enjoyed the approval, and belonging, and feared being perceived as a coward, illustrating the power of the group to incite evil deeds.
  • Augustine is not prude, just seeking the true path to happiness
  • He takes a mistress, has a son, completes his education and teaches rhetoric and literature and at 19 reads Cicero. “The only thing that pleased me in Cicero’s book was his advice not simply to admire one or another of the schools of philosophy, but to love wisdom itself, whatever it might be, and to search for it, pursue it, hold it, and embrace it firmly.” (Confessions)
  • Bible he found lacked polish compared to writings of Roman philosophers, and found its ideas of God crude and naïve, and lead to:

The Problem of Evil”:

Premise 1:  If god is all powerful, all knowing, and perfectly good, there can be no evil, because:

  1. Being all powerful he could do something about it, and
  2. Being all knowing he would know about it, and
  3. Being perfectly good he would stop it.

Premise 2:  But there is evil.

Conclusion:  Therefore, God is:

  1. Not all powerful, and/or
  2. Not all knowing, and/or
  3. Not all good.
  • This argument is valid, but is it sound? Is either premise false?
  • 3rd Babylonian Manicheanism – Mani, synthesized Persian Zoroastrianism (astrological natural “science” and religion) with Christianity, but was martyred A.D. 277 by Christian religious establishment for heresy, as church is still sorting out orthodox view of revealed truth.
  • Mani – the reason there is evil is that there is no omnipotent good power. Rather there are two equal and opposed powers, one good and one evil. It has always been this way, and will always be so; this opposition is in each of us and we are battlegrounds of good and evil. Humans are part divine and part demon. The whole earth the province of the evil power, since evil resides in matter as such. [Is he right on any level? Isn’t there anything in the matter of you, which you could consider using some definition of ‘evil’? But what do you/does Mani mean by evil?]
  • We are however essentially souls; and as souls we experience ourselves to be under the domination of a foreign power—matter, the body, the world.
  • Good, God, soul on one hand and evil on the other affect interpretation of Christian scripture.
  • God could not be the creator of the physical world for obvious reasons.
  • Nor could the word literally become flesh as in John’s Gospel
  • Nor Christ die or suffer any evil, he only appeared to.
  • Old Testament with god of wrath and vengeance is dismissed as the product of the evil power, and that the New Testament judgment and punishment are inauthentic Judaic additions. God is unsullied by matter.
  • Nature of the soul (the true person) is not corruptible, saved from the domination of the evil power – matter—if we come to know who we are.
  • 2 Powers Theory solves theoretical problem of evil, denying infinite imperfection of god, and the practical problem since the soul is essentially good, untouched by the evil of the body. [What are the implications of this for our daily lives? Or for moral practices?]
  • Augustine likes this idea – and it becomes his First Wisdom, but finds obscurity and errors in Mani’s other ideas, and in his followers.
  • Augustine is disappointed by both Mani and Christianity in his search for Truth
  • Ambrose
  • Form of the Good
  • Perversity of the will
  • Wisdom: faith must come first, then understanding follows
  • Wisdom, Happiness, and God


Skepticism, Truth, and God

  1. God is (by definition) that to whom there is nothing superior
  2. Truth exists and is superior to us
  3. If nothing is superior to truth, then God=truth, and God exists
  4. If there is something superior even to truth, then God is that thing, and God exists
  5. Either 3 is true or 4 is true
  6. So God exists
  • The Interior Teacher
  • God and the World
    • NeoPlatonism
    • The Great Chain of Being (p.243) (nothingness to God increasing in being and goodness)
    • Plotinus
    • The One
    • Emanation
    • Moral evil v. natural evil
  • Time – what is it?
    • Eternity, past, future, present
  • Human Nature and its corruption
    • Original sin
    • Loves, Disordered love, and the Will
  • Human Nature and its Restoration
    • Pelagius
    • Ordered love, enjoyment, and use
    • Vice, crime, cupidity, and charity
  • Augustine on Relativism
  • The Two Cities: earthly and heavenly
  • Christians, Philosophers and Authority
  • Intellect and Will
  • Augustine on Epicureans and Stoics


Chapter 11:  Anselm (A.D. 1033-1109) and Aquinas (A.D. 1225)

Anselm: On That, Than Which No Greater Can be Conceived

  • Ontological argument
  • Reductio Ad Absurdum (p.270)
  • Argues from the essence of God to God’s existence
  • Gaunilo’s counterexample

Islamic Middle Ages Transmission of Greek Philosophy through Arabic and Spanish

  • Avicenna (A.D. 980-1037) – Persian
  • Averroes (Ibn Rushd) (A.D. 1126-1198) – Spanish Arab
  • Persian Sufi Mystic not mentioned in your textbook: predates Descartes Meditations method and conclusions about kinds of knowledge by 500 years.  Abû Hâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazâlî “was born in 1058 or 1059 in Tabarân-Tûs (15 miles north of modern Meshed, NE Iran), yet notes about his age in his letters and his autobiography indicate that he was born in 1055 or 1056”]

Maimonides/Rambam/The Hammer – Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (A.D. 1135-1204) Guide for the Perplexed – seeks to resolve conflict between secular and religious knowledge

“Ostensibly a letter written to an advanced student who cannot decide whether to follow philosophy or the teachings of his religion, it is in reality much more: a commentary on biblical terms that appear to ascribe corporeal qualities to God, an uncompromising defense of negative theology, an extended critique of the kalam, a systematic treatment of creation, prophecy, and providence, and a theory of jurisprudence.

According to Maimonides, all of Jewish law aims at two things: the improvement of the body and the improvement of the soul. The former is in every case a means to the latter. The soul is improved by acquiring correct opinions and eventually knowledge on everything humans are capable of knowing. The more knowledge the soul acquires, the more it is able to fulfill the commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) to love God. The biggest stumbling block to love of God is the belief that the only way to remain true to the Bible is to interpret it literally. The result of literal interpretation is a material conception of God, which, in Maimonides’ opinion, amounts to idolatry.”

Thomas Aquinas

  • Philosophy and Theology – combines Aristotle’s ideas with Christianity
  • Truths known by reason and natural experience, truths known by both reason and revelation, truths only known by revelation
  • Existence and essence
    • Hylomorphism
    • From Creation to God
      • Change
      • Efficient Causality
      • Possibility and Necessity
      • Grades of Goodness
      • Guided-ness of nature
    • Nature of God Analogy
    • Human Souls and Angels
    • Human knowledge
      • Intellect and universals, Quiddity and truth
      • Human Good
      • Natural law and eternal law
      • Will, human law and divine law
      • Virtues: Temperance, fortitude, justice and prudence
      • Cardinal virtues and theological virtues

William of Ockham (English, 1280s-1349) and Skeptical Doubts – Again!

  • God’s omnipotence


Chapter 12 – Moving from Medieval to Modern

16th and 17th century intellectual age against tumultuous socio-econo-political background

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) – father or Modern Philosophy, uncovers problems that many generations of philosophers attempt to:

  1. Adapt world-view to discoveries of new sciences (e.g. helio-centrism v. geo-centrism, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo)
  2. Refute Skepticism – (a response to disagreement of scientists, philosophers, and theologians)
  3. Answer epistemological questions before answering metaphysical ones

Medieval World View – The World God Made For Us

The universe is a harmonious and coherent whole created by an infinite and good God as an appropriate home for human beings and for whose sake it was made. Primitive view of the sky as a thing, the roof of the firmament, is a bowl separating land and sea changes in the Middle Ages, except for two things: its thingness, and being defined in terms of its relationship to the earth.

Ptolemy – 2nd c.A.D. – Astronomical observations contradict finite physically and spiritually earth-centered spheres theory, adapted to account for them. Spherical earth surrounded by spheres including heaven/the immovable Empyrean, the place of perfect fire, or light, everything elemental in the universe having its own natural place. Change explained by motions of Celestial Spheres, where for Aquinas live the Angels, comet and eclipses are, omens, astronomers are also astrologers.

Dante is led by Pagan poet Virgil through the levels of Hell, Purgatory, and by Beatrice through Heaven, in his Divine Comedy:  Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Details speak of the creator, and the “right path” is inscribed into the structure of things and the universe; this view is adopted by Christian Church

  • Limbo is populated by the virtuous pagans (including Homer, Aristotle, and Virgil) for whom there is no overt punishment, only lack of hope for blessedness (p.302).
  • Lustful
  • Gluttonous
  • Greedy
  • Wrathful
  • Heretics
  • Violent
  • Fraudulent
  • Traitors – frozen up to necks and guarded by Satan—the arch-traitor—in whose three mouths are the mangled bodies of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius

Climbing down and through the center of the earth up through the other side they climb the mountain of purgatory, where those who will ultimately be saved are purified of their remaining faults. The levels represent the “seven deadly sins”, each populated by persons whose lives are not yet rightly ordered, but who have repented; from top (more bodily sins) to bottom (more spiritual sins farthest from heaven) (p.303):

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride – the root of all sin

At the top, Beatrice, representing Christian love, takes Virgil’s place (since he is not allowed into heaven), transporting Dante through the sphere of fire above to the lowest celestial sphere, that of the moon where she explains the moon’s shadows and the levels of heaven (from outer-most to inner-most, p.303)

  • The Empyrean
  • The Primum Mobile
  • Fixed Stars
  • Other spheres – planets
  • Earth

Motion is imparted from the outer spheres to the inner ones. Universal order, harmony, justice, and love. Ends with Dante’s gives a description of an intelligible and emotional vision of God, drawing Dante’s soul toward itself, but imagination fails to communicate the glory. Everything embodies a purpose set within it by divine love, which governs all. To know is to understand this purpose, gain guidance for life, and see all depends on and leads to God.

The Humanists

  • Rediscovery of Greek and Roman classics model of writing style and lifestyle (neither chaste and otherworldly, nor dry theological disputes) influences humanism and Renaissance arts and letters. Humanist ideals are expressed in art of Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Raphael, Holbein, Durer, and Michelangelo, illustrating ideal form, and natural settings, Madonna and Child, and Greek Gods.
  • Concerned for a full and rich human life – the good and best life; study Greek and Latin classics, languages, grammar, and rhetoric representing the highest level of human development. Ideal person embodies all human excellences: music, art, poetry, science, soldiery, courtesy, virtue, and piety. Leonardo da Vinci is the classic Renaissance man.
  • Pico della Mirandola – 1480s Oration on the Dignity of Man– apotheosis of humanism; we alone have no archetype we are predetermined to exemplify. Everything else has a predetermined nature, while man alone chooses his own nature, either to lower oneself or rise above.
  • Individualism – the idea that there is value to sheer uniqueness, countering Christian uniformity; human failings seen more as foolishness than sinfulness, focusing on ability to achieve great things
  • Some churchmen, and aristocratic leisure arts class find harmony between classics and Christianity, like Augustine and Aquinas, and Erasmus who compares Christian and Greek moderate otherworldly virtues, and who also writes In Praise of Folly.

Reforming the Church

  • Dantean Christianity: Church as keeper and protector of Christian truths and harbor of salvation. But Church had strayed too far from Jesus’ love and humility, corrupted and used it as a means to wealth, prestige and power. Kings torture the body, but priests cast your soul into hell, and lands into “interdiction”. Several attempts made at reform, renouncing wealth and power, but success ensured it.
    • Inquisition – established 1231 under Pope Gregory IX consolidated power, suppressed dissent
      • Heresy- sins against God, the most serious sins.
      • Suppositions:
        • Truth about God and man can be known and is clearly identifiable and available to all
        • It is the Church who is the custodian of truth
        • Whether one affirms these truths or not matters a lot
      • Reformers were dealt with harshly and burned at the stake or hanged and burned
      • Church and Popes become more corrupt

Martin Luther – (1483-1546) – appeal for reform and rights of nations against domination by the Church; also an opportunity for princes to stop wealth from flowing always to Rome, and to think of Papal taxes as exploitation of the German People. Religious views:  Worried about his sins – his motives. Had he done enough to be worthy of salvation?

  • Grace – Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, so only belief is required for Salvation, a gift. – This idea is the birth of the Reformation
  • Indulgence – paid written assurance of remission of penalties (practice traced to Crusades). Prohibited in Wittenberg, but people went out of town to buy them and brought them back, saying they could do what they liked, as their salvation was now assured. This troubled Luther as a mockery of repentance and God’s grace.
  • Ninety-Five ThesesPosted on Eve of All Saint’s Day 1517 on door of Castle Church, for scholarly debate, but were widely disseminated, encouraging prayer, love, and giving to the poor, and claiming that church backing ≠ right, only divine authority: the Bible, words and deeds of Christ, testimony of the apostles, and revelations.
    • But scripture needs to be interpreted. Position of the Church is that proper authority is given to the Church in an unbroken line reaching back from Jesus, to the apostle Peter “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:18), to the Pope.
    • Luther: no one is above scripture, and the Church’s interpretation is not infallible
    • Debate in Leipzig 1519: “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.”
    • 1521 Luther is excommunicated for heresy and destruction of Christian unity, creating split between “Roman Catholics” and “Protestants”

Relevant Lessons:

  • For over 1000 years a basic agreement in West about how to settle questions of truth. Reason and experience.  Main authority was Aristotle called “the philosopher” by Aquinas.
  • Questions about God, the soul, and the meaning of life – were now answered by authority of the Church, not reason.
  • Luther precipitates a form of the old skeptical *problem of the criterion*, one of the deepest and most radical problems of intellectual life. By what criterion or standard are we going to tell when we know the truth? Is there a criterion for the criterion?
    • Catholic Criterion
      • If popes and councils lead to contradictions, who do we believe?
      • Church sanctioned abuses contrary to scripture
    • Individual conscience
      • Consciences disagree and contradict leading to divisions
      • How does scripture speak unambiguously enough to serve as a criterion – seems to suggest the need for an authoritative interpreter; seems supported by current chaotic events
    • Each appeals to a criterion not accepted by the other side, and neither has a criterion for choosing between them.
    • Savage, bloody, quasi-religious wars ensue, securing territory and determining religion
    • with Euthyphro 7b-d. About what do Gods (and men) quarrel?
    • Reformation attempt at unity instead unsettles foundations creating lasting divisions – each side convinced of its own correctness and the wickedness of their opponents
    • Part of the background for Descartes’ search for the foundations of certainty

Skeptical Thoughts Revived

  • 1562-69 first Latin translations of works by Sextus Empiricus are published – Pyrrhonism

Michel de Montaigne

  • (1533-1592) “French Socrates” noble public servant retired at 38 to think and write.
  • Apology for Raymond Sebond among other great essays. Sebond, 15th c theologian exceeded Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas by claiming that the existence and nature of God could be proved by reason, and that rational proofs could be given for all the Christian doctrines.
    • Montaigne’s strategy is “defending” Sebond’s “proofs” through demonstration that they are just as good as the arguments of his critics – that is, not good at all.
    • It examines every reason given for trusting our conclusions and undermines all of them using satire and skeptical arguments.
      • Are we superior to the animals? Obviously not.
      • Have the wise given us insight into the truth about God? Not even Aristotle.
      • What about the senses? Often contradictory and deceived.
      • Science? It keeps changing.
      • What about reason demonstrating truth about right and wrong? Morality is contradictory, asserting different pet ideas and practices as universal.
    • Chief points of skeptical philosophy: circle or infinite regress of reason giving
      • Circular reasoning of sense experience: Knowledge of Sense objects requires an instrument of verification, which needs a demonstration, which needs an instrument of verification.
      • Infinite regress of reason: no reason can be established without another reason and so on to infinity
      • Existence: no constant of existence of our being (judging) or of objects (being judged) which constantly change, so nothing certain can be established.
      • Senses do not just record reality, as Aristotle assumed, so our ideas might not correspond at all.
      • How to live: one must choose, and to choose is to prefer, but preferring requires facts and values. He accepts Sextus Empiricus and Protagoras advice to adapt to prevailing opinions. Defense for the status quo, Roman Catholicism.
        • “The plague of man is the opinion of knowledge. That is why ignorance is so recommended by our religion as a quality suitable to belief and obedience.”
        • It is not knowledge that he decries as a plague, but the opinion that one possesses it.
        • Promotes tolerance

Copernicus to Kepler to Galileo: the Great Triple Play

  • Humanism, Reformation, and Pyrrhonism contribute to sense of chaos, lost unity, and expectation.
  • Printing press, discovery of New World, new wealth, growth, merchant class, new science
  • Copernicus (1473-1543) discovered that certain ancient thinkers thought the earth moved; 1543 book De Revolutionibus; doesn’t abolish epicycles of motion, universe is finite, sun is not in center
  • Copernican Revolution – displacement of earth from center of universe after 1800 years;
  • Retrograde motion of planets is apparent motion, from actual motion of observers on moving earth
  • Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) takes sun to be center as mystical Neoplatonist; the universe is fundamentally mathematical; discovers elliptical paths of planets; varying speeds; relations of speeds of planets in different orbits. First simple mathematical account of the heavens that matches data, and is sun-centered
  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) 1609 looked at sky through a telescope
  • Place (within a hierarchy) is replaced by space (infinitely extended natural mathematical container)
  • Consequences of New Science: size of the universe, no center, made of same stuff, quantitative, without final causes; experience questionable. What is the place of mind, value, freedom, and God?
  • Corpuscularism – atomism
  • Primary qualities: size, figure, number, motion (objective, in things) and secondary qualities: heat, color, taste, (subjective, in us) – agrees with Democritus


Chapter 13 – Rene Descartes: Doubting our Way to Certainty

Rene Descartes Gets a good classical education but doesn’t get clear, certain useful knowledge, only awareness of his own ignorance. So he goes out to get experience and to discover the truth. Joins the army and studies math and the new physics and thinks about solving problems in physics using math – analytic geometry.

His aim is to prove the new physics is true.  Classic physics only makes sense in infinite space and with a moving world, contradicting medieval science.  Bodies are sheer extended volumes, interacting according to mechanical principles that can be mathematically formulated, clearly and certainly (e.g. math versus vague terms like “weight” and “gravity”).  Everything in the material world can be treated in a purely geometrical and mathematical fashion. “The laws of mechanics … are identical with the laws of Nature”. God is excluded from day to day operations of the universe.

The Method (p.324)

  1. Never accept anything as true without evident knowledge of it:
    1. Conditions for accepting something as true: so clear and distinct it’s undoubtable
      1. Clear: “present and apparent to an attentive mind” like seeing your hand in good light
      2. Distinct: “so precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear”; no ambiguity nor vagueness. Like a triangle from a square. [How many of your ideas are this clear and distinct?]
    2. Avoid hasty conclusions and preconceptions
  2. Divide a big problem into several smaller problems
    1. Analysis: complex to simple, obscure to clear
  3. Start with the simplest and easiest known ascending in complexity
    1. Insight or intuition of simple clear distinct natures
    2. Deduction of complex phenomena from simple ones
  4. Completeness: be thorough and don’t leave anything out or unexamined

Meditations: Commentary and Questions

1641– Meditations on First Philosophy in Which the Existence of God and the Distinction of the Soul from the Body are Demonstrated. Published 8 years after condemnation of Galileo. 22 years later placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorium of books dangerous to read. Descartes says he believes in the truth of scripture, but there is a justification problem with knowledge of God and Scripture:

  1. God’s existence is to be believed because it is taught in scripture.
  2. On the other hand scripture is to be believed because God is its source.

It’s circular. To break it Descartes things we need to prove rationally that God exists and that the soul is distinct from the body: his meditations on first philosophy. (p.327)

  • First philosophy – metaphysics – inquires about basic kinds of being
    • Infinite substances (God)
    • Finite substances
      • Thinking substances (minds)
      • Extended substances (bodies)

Meditations on First Philosophy

Meditation I: On What Can Be Called Into Doubt

  1. Senses
  2. Dreams
  3. Evil demon hypothesis

Meditation II: On the Nature of the Human Mind, Which Is Better Known Than The Body

  • Representational theory
  1. We have no immediate or direct access to things in the world, only to the world of our ideas (John Searle calls this the “greatest single disaster in the history of philosophy over the past four centuries”)
  2. “Ideas” include all the contents of the mind, perceptions, images, memories, concepts, beliefs, intentions, and decisions.
  3. These ideas serve as representations of things other than themselves.
  4. Much of what these ideas represent they represent as “out there” or “external” to the mind containing them.
  5. It is in principle possible for ideas to represent these things correctly, but they also may be false and misleading.
  • “Cogito, ergo sum”,  I think, therefore I am, “The Cogito” – This is something self-evident, certain, clear, and undoubtable – knowledge

Meditation III: On God’s Existence

  • Solution to the problem of the criterion:
    1. He is certain that he exists as a thinking thing.
    2. What is it about this proposition that accounts for my certainty that it is true?
    3. The fact that I grasp it so clearly and distinctly that I perceive it could not possibly be false.
    4. Conclusion: Let this be a general principle (a criterion): whatever I grasp with like clarity and distinctness must also be true.
  • Distinguishes between ideas on one hand and volitions, emotions, and judgments on the other. (see p. 332):
    • Contents of the mind
      • Ideas
        • Innate
        • Acquired from outside
        • Produced by me
      • Ideas in action
        • Judgments
        • Volitions
        • Emotions
      • Reality
        • Subjective
        • Formal/eminent
      • Ex nihilo nihil fit
      • Solipsism – Only I exist, and everything else is only real for me.
  • Descartes’ Causal Ontological Argument for God’s Existence
  1. I have an idea of an infinitely perfect substance.
  2. Such an idea must have a cause.
  3. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
  4. So the cause of an idea must have at least as much formal reality as there is subjective reality in the idea.
  5. Though I am not a substance, I am not infinitely perfect.
  6. So I could not be the cause of this idea.
  7. So there must be a formal reality that is an infinitely perfect substance.
  8. So God exists.
  • Descartes’ Causal Exclusion Argument for God’s Existence
  1. I exist.
  2. There must be a cause for my existence.
  3. The cause must be one of the following
    • a. Me;
    • b. I always existed;
    • c. My parents;
    • d. Something less perfect than God;
  4. Not a: I would have made myself perfect;
  5. Not b: existing now doesn’t follow from having existed in the past;
  6. Not c: this leads to an infinite regress;
  7. Not d: couldn’t account for the unity of my idea of God
  8. So, e: God exists.

 Meditation IV: On Truth and Falsity

  • We are susceptible to error
  1. Why did God create me so that I could make mistakes? I don’t know, but if I could see things from God’s perspective, maybe I’d see they are for the best.
  2. We don’t know God’s purposes, among other things. It follows that final causes are not explainable by physics. We can know how things happen, but not why.
  • Understanding versus Will
  • Understanding: having an idea in mind
  • Will: assenting to or accepting a belief

 Meditation V: On the Essence of Material Objects and More on God’s Existence (transition to Meditation VI)

  • Do material things exist independently of me? Some ideas of them are obscure, others clear and distinct: extension, duration, movement, etc. Compare imaginary animal with a triangle. You invent but can’t discover or prove the animal, but can prove a triangle, discover truths, and essences of material (extended) things with these properties, making science of them possible, leading him to another ontological proof of God:
  1. God, by definition, is a being of infinite perfection
  2. Existence is a perfection (no being could be perfect that lacked it.)
  3. So God exists.

 Meditation VI: On the Existence of Material Objects and the Real Distinction of Mind from Body

Essence of material things is to be extended in space in three dimensions, have shape and size, endure, and be movable and changeable in these dimensions. Are there any? We assume they can exist. Can we prove it? Examine our images of them and the imagination produces them by turning “to the body” and looking “at something there”. The imagination looks at a representation of it. Because we can form mental images, it seems as though some things exist—our bodies.

  • Imagining: triangle
  • Conceiving: chiliagon

Proof that The Soul can Exist Independently of the Body:

  1. God can create anything that I can clearly and distinctly conceive—there being no impossibility in it.
  2. If God can create one thing independently of another, the first thing is distinct from the second.
  3. I have a clear and distinct idea of my essence as a thinking thing.
  4. So God can create a thinking thing (a soul) independently of a body.
  5. I also have a clear and distinct idea of my body as an extended thing—its essence.
  6. So God can create a body independently of a soul.
  7. So my soul is a reality distinct from my body.
  8. So I, as a thinking thing (soul), can exist without my body.

Proof that Material Objects Exist:

  1. I have a “strong inclination” to believe in the reality of the material (extended) things that I seem to sense. Their independent reality seems to be one of the things I am “taught by nature.”
  2. God must have created me with this inclination.
  3. If material thigs do not exist independently, then God is a deceiver.
  4. But God is not a deceiver.
  5. So material things exist with those properties I conceive to be essential to them.

Skepticism and solipsism are defeated. Basic structure of reality: God, souls, and material things. Reality is compose of infinite substances and two kinds of finite substances – thinking and extended. Knowledge is possible. Physics is legitimate and has a foundation in metaphysics, with geometric certainty.

What has Descartes Done?  Is Descartes the last of the medievals, or the first of the moderns? Both philosophy and the general world view have been different since. A significant part of philosophy since WWI has been devoted to showing that he was wrong about some basic things.

  • A New Ideal for Knowledge: Individual intellect and deduction; clear and distinct intuition followed by deduction, rather than faith in Church authority.
  • A New Vision of Reality: Secular mechanistic universe; radically free souls
  • Problems:
    • Radical starting point
    • Place of humans in the world of nature; we are not automata: language and flexibility
    • Mind and body: how are they related? Interactionism
    • God and the problem of skepticism: knowledge of the world depends on proofs of God
  • The Preeminence of Epistemology: the heart of philosophy for the next several hundred years.


Chapter 15 – David Hume (1711-1776) (Scottish):  Unmasking the Pretensions of Reason – Part I

18th c. optimistic Age of Enlightenment, progress replacing ignorance, superstition, and blind obedience to arbitrary authority with knowledge and freedom. Many attempted applications of the new science to human nature, mind, ethics, religion, and society.

Immanuel Kant (1784): “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” (p.400) “Sapere Aude!” Have the courage to think for yourself! Difficult but not impossible: e.g. scientific revolution, Copernicus to Newton (1642-1727)

How Newton Did It

Every science is developed on the basis of certain methods and presuppositions that may properly called philosophical.

  1. Analysis
  2. Synthesis
  3. Do not frame hypotheses
    • Hypothesis: a principle of explanation not derived from a close examination of the facts; with “no place in experimental philosophy”. Big mistake: jumping prematurely to an explanation.
    • Instead, principles of explanation are to be “deduced from the phenomena”

Compare with Descartes, who seeks starting points that are so “clear and distinct” as to be undoubtable, and that there are rational first principles that can be known. Newton:  one man’s intuitive certainty is another man’s absurdity (e.g. Malebranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz). Empiricism supplants Rationalism.

To Be the Newton of Human Nature

David Hume aspires to do for human nature what Newton has done for nonhuman nature: to provide principles of explanation both simple and comprehensive. Two motives:

  1. Debunking “popular superstition” and religious certainty leading to war.

Whatever cannot be demonstrated on a basis of reason and experience common to human beings, is necessarily obscure, uncertain, in error, and, “… not properly a science … human vanity … subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding … popular superstitions … unable to defend themselves … [and they] raise entangling brambles to cover and protect their weaknesses …” [We should therefore] “perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret recesses of the enemy?” Hume’s basic strategy:  to show what human understanding is and is not capable of – what a science of human nature should give us. If we can show that “superstition” claims to know what no one can possibly know, then we undermine it totally.

  1. A science of human nature is fundamental, since math, all sciences, and religion, “lie under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and faculties.”

Cartesian mind body dualism allows the soul to remain unaffected by material causation, and so is free. Hobbes thinks the mind just is one function of a human body, and so it is totally causally determined. Hume thinks neither pays close enough attention to the available data, both going beyond experience to frame hypotheses, which neither has warrant to do.  Both fail to perform, “…careful and exact experiments… [and] any hypothesis that pretends to discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature, ought at first to be rejected as presumptuous and chimerical.” “Data”=“perceptions= all the contents of our minds when we are awake and alert.

Hume aims to draw a line between legitimate ideas and those that are confused, unfounded, and nonsensical.

The Theory of Ideas

What is the origin of our ideas?

  • Impressions: sensation; present sense data; “lively” “forceful” “violent”
  • Ideas: “all perceptions of the mind are double” except some complex ideas (e.g. unicorn)
    • Simple ideas: all have simple impressions as a causal antecedent; copies of impressions; no impression, no idea.
    • Complex ideas : mental ideas built up from simple ideas

“All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and obscure … apt to be confounded with other resembling ideas; … employed any term … apt to imagine it has a determinate idea, annexed to it. On the contrary, all impressions … all sensations … are strong and vivid: The limits between them are more exactly determined; nor is it easy to fall into any error or mistake with regard to them. When we entertain … any suspicion that a … term is employed without any meaning … enquire from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion.

The Association of Ideas

What are the principles that bind?

  • The principles of association which correspond in the science of human nature to universal gravitation in physical science. “there is a principle of connexion between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind … with a certain degree of method and regularity.” What are they? Hume thinks these principles can be “deduced from the phenomena”:
    • Resemblance
    • Contiguity
    • Cause or Effect

It is not in our control, this is just how the mind works. We can’t frame hypotheses explaining why. Explanation has to stop somewhere.

Causation:  The Very Idea

  • Relations of Ideas: truth claims discoverable through operation of thought, and analysis of terms,
    • Negation always implies contradiction; g. “5+7=12”
    • Known a priori: without reference to experience.
    • Can be known with certainty.
  • Matters of Fact: truth claims formed from ideas of experience
    • Negation never implies contradiction; g. “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
    • Known a posteriori: via experience
    • Can only be known with degrees of probability and confidence.
  1. 5+7≠12
  2. “The sun will not rise tomorrow”

Both of the claims above are false, but for different reasons: A is a contradiction, claiming something that can’t even be conceived. B is a prediction, and the future can’t be demonstrated through reason, only experience, but the future hasn’t happened yet to experience.

Compare to Plato’s independently existing eternal and unchanging Forms that understanding of leads to knowledge. Hume says math is only certain because it involves relations of ideas, not existing objects. See Wittgenstein and logical positivism for more on this.

But, why then do we talk confidently about things beyond our experience? What is going on in the next room, or on the moon, or what happened before we were born, or Gods, or souls?

In each case a connection is made by the relation of cause and effect, a present impression is associated with an idea. Causation allows us to reach beyond experience. But how do we arrive at knowledge of causation?  “Causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason, but by experience.” (e.g. billiards).

How we argue:

  1. I have seen one ball strike another many times.
  2. Each time, the ball that was struck has moved.
  3. Therefore, the struck ball will move this time.

But premise 3 does not follow. It is possible that something else could happen. The belief that the first ball causes the second to move needs explanation. The argument is invalid and does not give us good reason to believe it. Suppose we add:

1a. The future will be like the past. (uniformity of nature)

But how do you know this is true? Not through by relations of ideas. So, it must be a “matter of fact”, and if we know it, it must be on the basis of experience. But what experience?

1b. I have experienced many pairs of events that have been constantly conjoined in the past.

1c. Each time I found that similar pairs of events were conjoined in the future.

1d. Therefore, the future will (in these respects) be like the past.

But this argument is no better than the first one. The fact that past futures resembled past pasts is no reason to think that future futures will resemble future pasts.  And yet we think it is. But why?

Review: Hume is inquiring into the foundation of ideas about things that go beyond the contents our present consciousness. These ideas all depend on relations of cause and effect: They are effects caused in us by impressions of some kind. But what is the foundation of these causal inferences? Experience. But experience can’t supply a good reason. There is a gap between premises and conclusion. There is no possible reason to fill the gap.

Conclusion: there is no rational justification for the belief in many things independent of our present experience.

Still we can’t give them up. Our survival depends on them. So, these beliefs are not rationally based. But what is their foundation? Non-rational custom or habit.


But try to trace the idea [of a necessary connection] back to an impression. You can’t. We are never able “to discover…any quality which binds the effect to the cause…We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other.” Mental phenomena are no different. All relations of cause and effect must be learned from experience, which can only show us constant conjunction. Hume: “we can never observe any tie between them … conjoined, but never connected … we have no idea of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely without any meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings, or common life.” So why is it so natural? Habit. Two things go into the concept of cause.

Constant conjunction:

  • Cause1: an object, followed by another, and where all the objects, similar to the first, are followed by objects similar to the second.

We form a habit of expecting the second when we observe the first, and we believe the first causes the second. [A fallacy (a type of bad reasoning):  Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. After this, therefore because of this.]It is on the basis of this Subjective experience of habit and expectation that we project a necessary connection into the relation between objective events.

Necessary Connection:  one event must follow every time from the other.

  • Cause2: an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other.

Hume has:

  1. Provided an account of the basis on which we have the idea of cause at all—the observed constant conjunctions between kinds of events; and
  2. Given an explanation of why we attribute a necessary connection to those pairs of eventseven though such necessary connection are never experienced.

The concept of cause is a kind of fiction. As far as experience goes there are no necessary connections anywhere. But we can’t help applying that notion to observed events, even though nothing in our impressions ever gives us a warrant for doing so. All such beliefs are based on habit. We have no reason for belief in an external world, the reality of other persons, or past events. If knowledge is based on reason, there is little we can claim to know. Is this skepticism?


David Hume (1711-1776) (Scottish):  Unmasking the Pretensions of Reason – Part II

The Disappearing Self (p.412) Phenomena of mind seem so different from non-mental phenomena, but…

  • Self – supposedly a substance or thing, simple (not composed of parts), and invariably the same through time. It is the “home” for all our mental states and activities, the “place” where these characteristics are located. This self-same, identical thing—this is Or so the story goes.
    • Locke argues that my identity cannot consist in sameness of soul or self, though he doesn’t find those terms meaningless.
    • Hume: From what impression cou’d this idea be derived? This question ‘tis impossible to answer without a manifest contradiction and absurdity…It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are suppos’d to have a reference…But there is no impression constant and invariable.”
    • There must be a simple impression that is the double of the self. But there is none constant and invariable through life, so we also have no idea. “Self’ is a meaningless noise, it makes no sense to affirm or deny. (Melchert notes that this claim rests on the theory of ideas, and more on this is discussed in later chapters.) Why does Hume think there is no impression that corresponds to the (supposed) idea of the self?
    • Hume says: “for my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.” (p.414) But can you? Hume says the self is nothing but a bundle of perceptions. The self is a fiction, a performance.
  • Buddha: “Nagasena” is merely a convention. There is no substantial What we refer to as “The self” is a process of the 5 aggregates.

Buddha’s Process Ontology Argument

  • P1:   Doctrine of Dependent Origin (DDO):  all that exists is dependent on something else for existence.
  • P2:   If (DDO) is true, then there can be no independently existing things (substances).
  • P3:   If there are no substances, then there are no eternally permanent essences; everything is impermanent.
  • C:    What exists is in constant process

Buddha’s Simile of the Chariot:  “Nagasena” is merely a convention. There is no substantial self. The self is a process of the 5 aggregates:

  • Physical form
  • Sensation
  • Conceptualization
  • Dispositions to act (karmic constituents – causes and effects)
  • Consciousness

Back to Hume:  We have not only no reason to believe in a world of external things independent of our minds, but also no reason to believe in mind as a thing.

Descartes is only warranted to conclude “there is thinking going on” or “there are thoughts” not that he is a self doing it. Descartes and Berkeley go beyond the evidence of experience to frame hypotheses.

Rescuing Human Freedom

Teleology is replaced with explanation by prior causes.

  • Determinism – everything is necessarily part of the great causal chain of being. Everything happens as it must Human actions are no exception to the universal rule of causal law.

But don’t we sometimes feel free to choose, will, or act? Hume thinks we need to define our terms and that we will all agree that necessity and liberty are in opposition.

  • Necessity – what must be the case, or what is the case; part of our idea about a cause, and a kind of fiction written out of habit by the minds when confronted with regular conjunction between events.

Are human actions caused? Hume thinks there are regularities in human behavior and gives some examples (p.416) And if we can all agree that what we mean by “caused” is simply regularly connected, then we can say that human behavior is caused. But why do we resist this conclusion? Hume says it is because:

“… men still … believe, that they [know] the powers of nature, and perceive … a necessary connection between the cause and the effect. {BUT} When again they turn their reflections toward the operations of their own minds, and feel no such connection of the motive and the action; they are thence apt to suppose, that there is a difference between the effects, which result from material force, and those which arise from thought and intelligence ” (p.416)

But in neither case is any necessary connection observed. Human actions are caused in exactly the same sense as events in the material world. How then can we be free?

  • Liberty – “a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will.” An unconstrained will. A person P is free If when P chooses to do action A, then P does A.

It is possible to reconcile our belief in causality with our belief in human freedom. We can have both! They would only clash is freedom entailed exemption from causality. But causes are just regularities, and freedom is not the absence of regularity, rather it is itself a kind of regularity. No Cartesian immaterial mind needed.

  • Compatibilism – everything is caused and there is human freedom; a part of naturalism.
  • Naturalism – the human being is a natural fact

Is it Reasonable to believe in God?

To avoid solipsism Descartes must prove there is not only himself, but that there is also an undeceiving god giving me reason to believe that some of my ideas are clear and distinct. But this depends on it being reasonable to believe in God.

  • Hume’s examination of Arguments made on the basis of Relations of Ideas
  • Descartes’ Ontological Argument 1
  1. Such an idea of God requires a cause.
  2. The cause must be equal in “formal” reality to the “subjective” reality of the idea.
  3. I myself could not possibly be the cause.
  4. The only plausible alternative cause is God himself.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

Hume attacks premise 3. It concerns the origin of an idea which must stem from an impression. But from what impression could be the origin of God? Not from simple impression. It is a complex idea made up of simple ideas of “intelligence” “goodness” and “more and less”.

  • Descartes’ Ontological Argument 2
  1. You cannot think of God without thinking that God exists, any more than you can think of a mountain without a valley or a triangle without three sides.
  2. You do have a thought of God.
  3. You must, therefore, think (believe) that God exists.
  4. Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1 states a set of relations between ideas, the truth of which is independent of “what is anywhere existent in the universe.”  It only concerns relations of ideas, not the way the world is. It is a definition of God, but does not necessarily correspond to a fact. This is valid through premise 3. But the move made from premise 3 to premise 4 is illegitimate. It makes a leap from relations of ideas to a matter of fact. But about matters of fact we must consult experience.

  • Hume’s examination of Arguments made on the basis of Matters of Fact
  • Argument from Design: Just as machines are the effects of intelligent design and workmanship, so the universe is the work of a master craftsman, supremely intelligent and wonderfully skilled.
  1. M is the effect of I.
  2. W is like M.
  3. Therefore, W is the effect of something like I.

First of all it is an argument a posteriori, from experience, but it is also a causal argument, which is also an inductive argument and is a matter of probability, never certainty. Here is what Hume has to say about it as a causal argument:

  1. No argument from experience can ever establish a certainty, and gives us no more than a degree of probability that the “Author of Nature” is actually analogous to a human designer.
  2. Cause must be proportional to the effect. There is not as much goodness in the effect of the world as we ascribe to its maker.
  3. An analog between humans and Gods has other similarities not considered:
    1. Many people cooperate to make machines, so maybe there are many gods
    2. Wicked people make machines, so maybe god is wicked
    3. Machines are made by mortals, so maybe god is mortal.
    4. The best inventions develop over history of small improvement, so maybe this world is one of those lesser experiments.

An analogy is an inductive argument and a matter of probability, never certainty, and is only as good as its analogs are similar. How can we decide which similarities and differences are the relevant ones?

  1. What can we learn from the single case of our world? We have no other cases from which to draw conclusions about regularities. The sample size is simply too small.

Hume undermines all causal arguments for the existence of anything at all beyond our own impressions. We could never have evidence to validate extra-mental claims. But this is exactly what makes faith in God possible, fideism, explored more by Soren Kierkegaard later in the textbook.

Understanding MoralitySince moral judgements are so important to us, we need a science of human morality.  Are moral judgments founded on reason or some other way? Hume wants to prove that:

  1. Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will.
    • Dentist example: The bill alone will not motivate me to pay, only if I want to pay will I do so. The motivator is the want, a
  2. Reason can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.
    • Only passions can oppose one another. A rational proposition can only oppose another when they are contradictory.  It can tell us how to satisfy desires, but not which to have.  Reason is inert, and slave of the passions. (Versus Plato:  reason grasps the good and therefore rules the passions.)

The Origins of Moral Judgment

  • Relations of Ideas?
    • “All murder is wrong.” Is always true if murder means “wrongful killing”. But how do we know which killings are wrongful ones? To answer this we need to appeal to matters of fact.
  • Matters of Fact?
    • Approval, and disapproval, feelings and sentiment are “not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind.” We project onto the facts an idea with an origin that is simply a feeling in the mind. Values are not facts about the world, but facts about feelings. Values are projections onto facts. We approve of what we think is either agreeable or useful.
    • ‘Fact/value’ gap, or the ‘is/ought’ problem: an ‘ought’ cannot be derived from an ‘is’. (This problem is also a consequence of the change produced by the development of modern science.)

Hume: We can take pleasure in another person’s enjoyment, so we’re not totally egoistic. Pleasure we feel on viewing another’s enjoyment is our approval of it.  This is sympathy, which plays a large role in moral judgments, since moral judgments include not being purely self-interested.  Evidence? We make moral judgments about people from the past who have no impact on our interests and tend to approve of benevolent and generous acts, even when not directed toward ourselves. Relativism? Insistence on sympathy as an original passion in human nature works toward a commonality in the moral sense of us all, and does not make moral disagreements between cultures or individuals impossible, but it is a pressure built into us all that explains the large agreement in moral judgment we find.

Is Hume a Skeptic?

Aristotle’s man is the “rational animal”, Descartes’ knowledge is undoubtable through rational insight and deduction, but Hume says if this is true, then there is virtually nothing we should accept as true. (p.425-426)

Descartes uses “antecedent skepticism” – all beliefs are first doubted, then using reason beliefs are built up from nothing, and assented to or rejected only after examination. Hume thinks this is impossible, because beliefs are not totally within our own control, and if it were, there is no way to use reason to get back, because the competence of reason itself in doubt, so using it would be circular.

Hume uses “mitigated skepticism” – an attempt to keep in mind the “strange infirmities of human understanding” and which makes for modesty and caution; it will “abate [the] pride” of those who are haughty and obstinate, teaching us the limits of human ability and not to do metaphysics and theology, but instead to direct our attention to problems of common life. This reflects Enlightenment worries about the consequences of dogmatic attachments to private creeds, or even to what appears rational, even making dogmatism impossible. But don’t believe in nothing. “Nature is always too strong for principle.”

“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in hand any volume of school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” (HU, 211)



Chapter 16 – Immanuel Kant – Prussian (1724-1804): Rehabilitating Reason (within Strict Limits)

  • In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) Immanuel Kant writes, “No event has occurred which could have been more decisive in respect to the fate of [metaphysics] than the attack which David Hume made on it … that … interrupted my dogmatic slumber…”
  • Kant agrees with Hume that it is a problem that people seem to recognize no limits in their thinking, and though their thoughts beyond experience are so varied, people still seem so certain of them.
  • Kant also agrees that math gives us clear knowledge, but it doesn’t follow that we can extend this knowledge beyond experience. Compare this to Plato’s more real intelligible world, which Kant thinks leaves nowhere for the rubber of Plato’s ideas to hit the road of experience. So that’s where to think.

Human thought requires a “resistant” medium to work properly. In a resistance-free environment everything non-contradictory is equally possible, so dogmatic believers will conflict.

  • Kant also agrees that the medium is experience that disciplines reason, the limit within which reason can legitimately do its work.
  • In discovering a science of human nature Kant disagrees with Hume about experience; because if Hume is right that causes are nothing more than projections onto a supposed objective world from a feeling in the mind, then Newtonian science is basically an irrational fiction. But Kant thinks Newtonian science is rationally justified knowledge. So, there must be something wrong with Hume’s analysis. We need a more thorough and accurate critique of reason, which lays out reason’s:
    • Structure
    • Relationship to objects
    • Limits of its legitimate use
  • As Copernicus shows that the apparent movement of the sun across the sky is not real, maybe objects of experience are merely apparent, not independently real, but instead are, at least in part, the result of a construction by a rational mind. If so, then they have no reality independent of that construction. So, concepts like causation which can’t be abstracted from experience, still apply to experience, simply because objects that are not structured by that concept are inconceivable. The rational mind has a certain structure, and whatever is knowable by such a mind must necessarily be known in terms of that structure. This structure is not derived from the objects known. It is imposed upon them—but not arbitrarily, because the very idea of an object no so structured makes no sense. This is Kant’s Copernican Revolution in philosophy.

Critique:  Attempt to get behind knowledge claims and ask, “What makes them possible?”

  • Assuming Newton has shown we can know something, what is the process involved in knowing anything at all? What structure, capacities and concepts must reason have for it to be able to do math?
  • The 4 main classes of objects of human knowledge lead us to an inquiry that constitutes a transcendental critique of reason:
  1. How is mathematics possible?
  2. How is natural science possible?
  3. How is metaphysics possible?
  4. How is morality possible?
  • It is transcendental because it reaches back into the activities of the mind and asks how it produces its results.
  • We can determine the limits of rational knowledge escaping dogmatism (Descartes) and skepticism (Hume).


  1. Epistemological
    1. A judgment is a priori (pure) when it can be known to be true without any reference to experience.


  1. A judgment is a posteriori when we must appeal to experience to determine its truth.

“John F. Kennedy was assassinated.”

  1. Semantic
    1. A judgment is Analytic when its denial yields a logical contradiction.

“All bodies are extended”

  1. A judgment is Synthetic when its denial yields no logical contradiction.

“Every event has a cause.”


A priori (pure) A posteriori


“Every mother has a child.”

All we need is to know the meanings of the terms.

synthetic ???

If these exist, they must be known prior to experience, but their negation does not yield a contradiction.

“There is a Waterloo in both Iowa and Wisconsin”

Judgments of experience, science, and common sense

The solution to past philosophical problems is to see that we possess synthetic a priori judgments. Using the traditional correspondence theory of truth, these are impossible. But if objects are only objects because they are structured by the mind in the act of knowing them, then a priori synthetic structuring principles are possible, and could be known independently of the objects they structure.

  • All judgments of math and geometry.
  • All natural science judgments like “Every event has a cause.”
  • Metaphysical claims: “There is a God”, “The soul is a simple substance, distinct from the body.”
  • In morality, the rule that we should not treat others merely as a means to our own ends.

Implicit in all of these disciplines are judgments that do not arise out of experience, but prescribe how the objects of experience must be. These are constructions or principles for the constitution of objects.

Geometry, Math, Space, and Time

How do we tell the difference between a priori and a posterior knowledge? Two tests, each reveal whether justification is a priori only, and not rooted in experience. “Necessity and strict universality are thus sure criteria of a priori knowledge, and are inseparable from one another.”

  • Necessity Must be the case. “If we have a proposition which in being thought is thought as necessary it is an a priori judgment”, is not rooted in experience.
  • Universality All are the case. “Experience never confers on its judgments true or strict, but only assumed and comparative universality.” And it is not rooted in experience.

Math and Geometry are both necessary and universal, so a priori. But are they analytic or synthetic?

  • Math – “forms its own concepts of numbers by successive addition of units in time.”

Examine “7+5=12” (p.435).  They were believed to be only matter of applying the non-contradiction principle, and quantity. But Kant says it also involves intuition:

  • “unification of two numbers into a single number” but what is this “single number which combines two”?

Do we find the number 12 within addition? Do we find 12 within the concept of 7+5? No. All it tells us is that two numbers are being added.

  • We have to go outside these concepts by resorting to the intuition which corresponds to one of them, our five fingers for instance … and thus adds to the concept of seven, one by one, the units of five given in intuition…” What does he mean by intuition?

Intuition:  The presentation of some sensible object to the mind. 7+5=12 is a process.

We construct math by inscribing it on a background composed of objects or sets of objects. If math were only a matter of experience it could be neither necessary nor universal.

There must be pure intuitions forms of pure sensibility. But what are they? Math, Geom., Space, Time…

Time – the pure intuition that makes math possible.

  • (Euclidean) Geometry– “Geometry is grounded on [or the science of] the pure intuition of space”

(Euclidean) Spacepure space is kind of container in which empirical things can be put. It can be known a priori. Kant says it is not an object independent of our experience, for if it were, we could not know necessarily and universally that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We could only say that for all space we’ve observed it’s true; but this isn’t what Geometers do.

Space is not something out there to be discovered; it is a form of the mind itself, pure intuition providing a structure into which all of our more determinate perceptions must fit.

We don’t abstract the concept of space from experience, we bring it to the experience. So, although “there are bodies outside us”, we can never experience things as they are in themselves independent of our perceptions of them.  We can only know how things appear to us.

Kant has shown that geometry and math essentially involve judgments that are synthetic (because they are constructive and a priori (because they are necessary and universal). Because experience is always in time—and in space if it is of external objects—it is experience of the appearances of things and is a product of both the world and the mind, the objective and subjective. This we can know.

Common Sense, Science, and the A Priori Categories

All of our knowledge will concern how things appear to us. [And knowledge of the categories.] But, how is a pure natural science possible?

  • Sensibilitypassive power to receive impressions; an object is given to us.
  • Understandingactive power to think objects by constructing a representation of them using concepts; an object is thought.

What is it to have a concept?

  • Earlier empiricists think all our ideas are feeble copies or images of more vivid sensations of objects given to us by the world, and both sensation and simple ideas of sensation are received passively.
  • Kant’s idea of a concept is an active power of the mind, using rules to sort intuitions into categories, and which itself is without content. “Intuition and concepts constitute the elements of all our knowledge, so that neither concepts without an intuition in some way corresponding to them, nor intuition without concepts, can yield knowledge.” Those containing intuition are empirical, and without intuition are pure.
  • “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” (CPR, 93)
  • Representation – The contents of the mind. We don’t know if they all actually represent something, but if they do then they must involve intuition. 4 types of Representation:
Representations Pure Empirical
Intuitions (from sensibility) Space and time Warm, red, hard, etc.
Concepts (from understanding) transcendental organizing power Straight, cause, substance, God, the soul Cherry pie, otter, water, the sun, unicorn, etc.
  • Empirical Intuitions – the matter of sensible objects, providing content or filling for concepts; (Locke: sensations, Hume: impressions). An object can only be some particular object if it is some color or other, some size or other, some texture or other, some temperature or other. Our sensations determine which it is. [Contingent.]
  • Empirical Concepts – Of particular sensible objects formed from experience by the understanding.
  • Pure Intuitions – E. g. space and time are projected necessarily a priori onto sense intuitions in order to make them intelligible.
  • Pure conceptsCategories – apply to objects a priori but are not derived from them; we necessarily make use of these whenever we think of any object at all; make it possible for us to experience objects and not just a chaos of impressions; supply the most general characteristics of things, present no matter what the object is; the characteristics it takes to qualify as a thing or object at all.

What is it to think of an object? What is the difference between these two statements?

A:  It seems as if there is a heavy book before me.

B:  The book before me is heavy.

A is subjective and about a mind state. B is objective and about the state of an object. In B we are thinking in terms of a substance with its properties. But these concepts are not in themselves derived from the objects, but they help us make sense of them. So ‘substance’ and ‘property’ must be a priori categories. Kant works out 12 categories. Another one of these categories is ‘causation’. (Hume thinks the idea of necessary causal connection is a non-empirical fiction produced in us by habit.) Kant says nothing could be objective for is if they did not appear in a causal context.  So we can know that every event has a cause.  No degree of failure at finding a cause will convince us that there is none.

Kant “rescues … validity for the universal laws of nature … in such a way that limits their use to experience only.”   This world may be transcendentally ideal (basic features are not independent of the knowing mind) but is empirically real.

Phenomena and Noumena (see p. 444).

There seems to be no barrier to mentally applying the categories beyond the boundaries of possible experience, but these are nothing but forms of thought, and the categories cannot be used apart from sensible intuitions to give us knowledge of objects. Without the sensible intuitions, there are no objects. It can seem as though there are, but this is an illusion. This is entirely contrary to Plato. But our concepts alone are incomplete without content, and so cannot be actually applied to anything without content.

  • We have a concept of things-in-themselves, but it is empty for us. Kant call this idea noumena, (in-itself-ness; unknowable to us)
  • In contrast to the way things appear to us: phenomena. (what appears to us)

Reasoning and the Ideas of Metaphysics:  God, World, and Soul

Transcendent investigations of the noumenal world are impossible.  A transcendental investigation into the knowing subject Kant calls immanent. Kant attempts to explain:

  1. Why the search for metaphysical answers is hard to give up: Aim of reason is to explain why, which can be asked about anything, endlessly; this process seeks the conditions that account for a given truth, until it finds a condition that does not need to be explained, the unconditioned. We search for first principles, or metaphysics, but Kant says we have to stop asking at the bounds of experience or phenomena. God, world in itself, and soul are ideas are Ideas of Pure Reason, useful regulatory principles
  2. The positive uses of the (empty) ideas of God, the world, and the soul.
    1. The Soul:
      1. Rational psychology: what Descartes does; For Kant, is illusory, no knowledge of unconditioned conditions derived rationally. Substance – that which cannot be predicated of something else; a subject of properties. Kant says this is a sophism. Substance is just a purely formal category.
      2. Kant we have no sensation of ‘I’, just a formal marker indicating something relative to circumstances of utterance, like “here” and “now”; “bare consciousness which accompanies all concepts.” The “transcendental unity of apperception,” is transcendental in that it is a condition of experience, a pure form, so cannot itself be experienced, nor given in intuition or brought under categories, so can’t be known to be a substance.
    2. The World and Free Will: Attempts to understand why develop internal conflicts:
      1. Whether the world is finite or infinite both lead to contradictions or antimonies – signs that reason is overreaching its own powers.
      2. Is the world causally ordered? But causation is a phenomenal category.
  • Freedom of will is exempt from causality – spontaneity does not counter causation. An act can be both free and determined. Free in itself (being beyond causation) and causal as it appears to us. We can act freely if we act for a reason and not just in response to non-rational causes. Reasons ≠ causes. Free will is an Idea of Pure Reason.
  1. God: Merely an idea with no ground in intuition. We believe we can know something about it/closure/completeness, but this is an illusion. Experience is open ended.

Where do we get the idea of an unlimited God? Not arbitrary, nor something we might or might not invent, nor a priestly or political trick forced on them to keep them in subjugation. For any being that reasons, it is an unavoidable concept.

Reason asks for reasons why, and eventually asks, “why is there anything at all?” It seems that there must be some being that is the foundation for whatever it is, God, an empty idea, since it is beyond the phenomenal, and since it is supposed to be the foundation for the phenomenal. It would have to be a thing as it is in itself, noumenal, unknowable, just another Idea of Pure Reason. Kant says that, “the dialectical illusion which arises from taking the subjective conditions of our thought for objective conditions of the things themselves” can be easily exposed.

  1. The Ontological Argument: The concept of God is not like the concept of a triangle.
    1. Ontological arguments start with the idea of an absolutely necessary being as “something the non-existence of which is impossible. But this yields no insight into the conditions which make it necessary to regard the non-existence of a think as absolutely unthinkable. It is precisely these conditions that we desire to know, in order that we may determine whether or not, in resorting to this concept, we are thinking anything at all.” (CPR, 501)
    2. “The alleged examples are … taken from judgments, not from things and their existence. But the unconditioned necessity of judgments is not the same as the absolute necessity of things.” One does not “declare that three angles are absolutely necessary, but that, under the condition that there is a triangle…three angles will necessarily be found in it…” Even if we agree “God exists” is necessarily true, it’s simply a fact about our concepts, not the world. And we can simply reject the concept.
    3. “ “Beingis obviously not a real predicate: that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves.” (CPR, 504) We don’t say of things that they have x, y, z characteristics, AND that they exist. Existence is not a property or a predicate like others. Every judgment of existence is synthetic (can be denied without contradiction).

“I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” (CPR, 29) These ideas express an ideal that reason can’t disregard: of knowledge as a complete, unified, and systematic whole. If reason could complete its search it would end with these concepts. Because experience is open ended the search can’t be complete. But these ideas serve a regulative purpose, representing a goal for rational creatures.

  1. Reason and Morality: The practical uses of morality.
    1. Good will
      1. Maxims
        1. Duty
        2. Inclinations
        3. Respect for law
      2. The Moral Law
        1. Hypothetical imperative
        2. Categorical imperative
  • Practical imperative
    1. Things
    2. Persons
  1. Autonomy
    1. Autonomous
    2. Heteronymous
  • Kingdom of ends
    1. Holy will
  1. Freedom
    1. Phenomenal
    2. Noumenal
  • Rational faith





  • What is philosophy? What is it not? What do philosophers do? What are philosophical issues? What are philosophy’s aims and ways? Why study philosophy?
  • What is the “Two Baskets View”? What does it mean to craft clear and rational thought?
  • Textbook – how is it organized and how should you read it? How does Melchert advise reading philosophy?
  • What is an argument? What are the argument types and examples? What are an argument’s presuppositions? How do you evaluate an argument?

Chapter 1

  • What’s it all about? How did Greek Culture and religion differ in approach to this question?
  • What were some early answers given by Greek myths and how do philosophers approach answering differently? Why does this lead to tension and conflict?
  • Who were Homer and Hesiod and what is their importance to the Greeks? What are their themes in the Iliad and Odyssey? What are their moral values?
  • What are the relationships between the Gods and people? Differences? Similarities?
  • What are the most important events in the stories and their effects on Greek people?
  • Reading questions: 4 & 9, and key terms and further thought.

Chapter 2

  • What other traditions besides the Greeks have origin stories?
  • Who were the nature philosophers/proto-scientists of Ionia & what is their importance?
  • When is philosophy born? Which issues arose?
  • Who were Thales, Anaximander, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu/Laozi, Parmenides, Zeno, Democritus, and Antiphon, and how did each advance understanding?
  • What kind of reasoning does each use? Rationalism or Empiricism?
  • How do they “converse” with one another? What are their arguments and their evaluations of each other’s arguments?
  • How does each attempt to answer the questions of “the one and the many”, “appearance versus reality”, “existence”, and “how to live”?
  • Reading questions: 12, 14, 18, 26, 31-32, & 37-38, and key terms and further thought.

Chapter 3

  • The Sophists: What were they? How does their wisdom differ from the wisdom of Socrates? What did they teach? Do you agree that adapting is the best way to succeed?
  • What 5th century events helped Athens?
  • What is rhetoric and what are its pros and cons?
  • What is the logos question and how do Sophists answer it? Do they think we can tell the difference between truth and opinion? Why are they content with opinion?
  • What are empiricism and rationalism?
  • How does rhetoric relate to skepticism?
  • What is relativism and what are its implications? What evidence or arguments work to support it? Which work to disconfirm it?
  • What is the difference between ‘physis’ and ‘nomos’? Which common practices are which, and how do we tell the difference? Why is this distinction important? By which to gods exist? What about virtue, justice, and government? How is it used in practice?
  • Do you agree with the Sophists that right and wrong are simply a matter of law and custom?
  • What’s the difference between Conventional Justice and Natural Justice? Is there a natural justice? What do Heraclitus and Antigone suggest?
  • Do human laws have their justification in themselves or in something common to all? Is there a logos & can we know it? Is there a logos and can we know it? Is there a universal court of appeal?
  • If there is a natural justice, what are its implications for conventional justice? What do the Sophists say?
  • What are the consequences of each view? What consequences does/should it have for education? What should people be educated in, who should educate, and why?
  • Is natural justice the nourishment or enemy of conventional justice?
  • On p.50 – What is Antiphon’s argument about ‘physis’nomos’? Which one is necessary?
  • What are the Sophists theories of the origin of natural and conventional justice?
  • Why does victory go to the best speaker for Sophists?
  • Is Callicles justified? Why does he think he is?
  • Reading questions: 42, 46, 51, 59, and key terms and further thought.

Athens and Sparta at War

  • How should we understand Socrates and Plato in the context of the Sophistic movement?
  • How should we understand the trial of Socrates in context of Peloponnesian War (the war that led to defeat of Athens, weakening of Greece, and the end of the Golden Age of Greece)?
  • What were the differences between Athens and Sparta?
  • “War does things to a people” – What? – Explain the intensified internal struggles between Aristotle and Demos.
  • Who were “the Thirty”? Who was Critias? What did they do?
  • Explain the role of Phaedra in Euripedes’ “Hippolytus”.
  • Explain the role of Socrates in Aristophanes’ “The Clouds”.

Chapter 4

  • Who is Socrates, what did he write, and what was his importance? What is the importance of his death in 399 B.C.?
  • What do we see when we look to Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle, and Plato for clues about Socrates? What are the differences between the historical Socrates and their Socrates?
  • What are the three periods of Plato’s dialogues?
  • What is the character of Socrates?
  • Is Socrates a Sophist? If not, what are the differences and similarities?
  • Compare dialectic with rhetoric.
  • What is dogmatism, and what is its opposite?
  • What does Socrates know? Why does he search for truth, believe human excellence is knowledge, and think that all wrongdoing is due to ignorance? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Reading questions: 71-72, and key terms and further thought.

Chapter 5 – Trial and Death of Socrates

  • Euthyphro: 74-82 text, p.82-87 comments and questions
  • Apology: 87-100 text, p.100-105 comments and questions
  • Crito: 106-112 text, p.113-115 comments and questions
  • Phaedo (death scene): 115-118 comments and questions