Archive for the ‘the ancient greeks’ Category


In critical rationalism, empiricism, the ancient greeks, xenophanes on 05/10/2011 at 4:27 am

The imagination has made more discoveries than the eye. (Joseph Joubert)

We make a conjecture, a guess. We make tentative proposals, and then see how they work. If they don’t withstand criticism, we try again, either making an iteration on the initial theory, or making a drastic revision that explains why the initial theory was mistaken. If they withstand criticism, this says nothing about their truth or falsity. What happens, though, before the criticism?

Anaximander, the first scientist, said the Earth was unsupported in space. From the modern point of view, we do not understand that at the time this was a highly controversial supposition, one that went against the firm foundation of the senses. It is obvious (and I rarely use the word, for very few things are truly obvious) that this was something Anaximander could not possibly have observed. Here we have one of the most revolutionary conjectures, for while it happened to be true (or at least approximately true), it is the first known case of an individual going against the assumption that the senses were the final arbiters of the truth.

Anaximander deduced that if the Earth was supported on pillars, or the back of a turtle, or four elephants, or water, that the pillars, turtle, elephants, or water would themselves require some support. And this new support would require a support as well, and so on, in an infinite regress of supports. So Anaximander did away with the whole notion of support entirely and said that the Earth did not rest on anything.

The eye and the ear are notoriously unreliable, but more importantly, they do not give us any interesting theories. Cosmology does not come from the senses; cosmology is created from the mind. Here we have the first scientist acting — unwittingly, and centuries before the 18th century — as a Kantian, not an empiricist. Science began without empiricism, for empiricism in science is unnecessary and possibly unproductive.


In Defense of Plato

In the ancient greeks on 23/08/2011 at 12:32 pm

I recall reading, I don’t know where or when, a book analyzing Plato’s call to outlaw poetry. If I can reconstruct their striking conjecture as a pale ghost-image, it amounted to the following: within Ancient Greece, all societal problems were solved by performing a ‘biblical’ exegesis of The Odyssey. If two parties were in disagreement, Homer was called to the fore, and each side would make their case that their position best sided with Homer. Plato, then, was not out to forbid the high school production of King Lear or the publication of Yeats, but the dismissal of a way of life that was antithetical to his own. Problems could not be solved by appealing to an authoritative text, and with no view of precedent, but through universal law.

I do not know if this interpretation was correct, and I suspect that it is mistaken; however, it is still quite interesting, and in its defense, there are historical parallels: in The Eumenides, Aeschylus ends the ancient blood feud between the Furies and Orestes by way of a hung twelve-person jury. The Greeks show their progress towards unification of modern law and abandoning the ancient ways by way of an allegory. It may be wrong, but it gives a reading that makes far more sense to modern ears than the initial modern reaction to Plato.



In skepticism, the ancient greeks on 16/08/2011 at 7:11 am

I turn everything inside out/ looking for new solutions/ to the problems of today,/ always critical, giving/ suggestions for gracious living/ and they come away from seeing a play/ in a questioning mood, with “where are we at?,”/ and “who’s got my this?,” and “who took my that?.” (Euripides, in Aristophanes, The Frogs, trans. Richmond Lattimore, Four Comedies, 1969, 62)

In Euripides’ Electra, Electra receives evidence of the secret arrival of Orestes, offering three signs that correspond to the three signs offered to Electra in Aeschylus’s earlier Libation Bearers. The ‘older’ Electra rejects the possibility that the hair could be anyone’s but Orestes’s (520 – 23), but Euripides’s Electra is unwilling to make such a leap of faith, methodically rejecting the very same arguments given by Aeschylus’s Electra. She rejects the possibility of her brother would return in secret, for she assumes that he would return openly (524-26) and then she goes on (527-29) to note the inherent differences between the lock of hair from a woman and a man and the irrelevance of foot-size in determining relatives. Many unrelated people also have, obviously, similar hair. This here is the new faith in the capabilities of reason, and yet this faith is repeatedly undermined, not just in literature, but in our everyday lives.

Read the rest of this entry »

You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are

In fallibilism, induction, the ancient greeks on 25/07/2011 at 3:06 am


The Five Tropes

In skepticism, the ancient greeks on 23/07/2011 at 2:24 am

I mentioned in a earlier comment that I think Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Phyrronism is the greatest book ever written. Of course, this is hyperbole on my part, but it gives a good indication of how strong the skeptical position has been for millennia.

Agrippa’s five tropes, published in Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Phyrronism, stand today as the greatest assault on all justificationist theories of knowledge. They are the following:

5-1 Diaphônia:
The mode that argues from disagreement. With respect to some matter that presents itself, there is undecided (anepikriton) conflict, both among the views of ordinary life and the views held by philosophers. Due to this, we are unable to choose or reject one thing, and must fall back on suspension.

5-2 Eis apeiron ekballonta:
Arguments that throw one into an infinite regress. That which is brought forward to make a given matter credible needs yet something else to make it credible, and so on ad infinitum. Since we thus have no starting point for our argument, suspension of judgment follows.

5-3 Pros ti:
Arguments from relativity. X only ever appears such-and-such in relation to the subject judging and to the things observed together with it. Suspension on how it really is follows.

5-4 Hypothesis:
Someone makes an assumption without providing argument. A dogmatist, if thrown back into an infinite regress of arguments, just assumes something as a starting-point, without providing an argument (anapodeiktôs). We suspend over mere hypotheses—they could be false, opposite hypotheses could be formulated, and so on.

5-5 Ton diallêlon:
Arguments that disclose a circularity. This mode is used when that which ought to confirm a given investigated matter requires confirmation (pistis—credibility) from that matter. We are unable to assume either in order to establish the other. We suspend judgment on both. (Vogt, Katja, “Ancient Skepticism“)

The three most popular objections–insofar that I have heard them said repeatedly, and without a sense of irony, in response to the skeptical challenge–have been the following. I now give you my worst of the worst:

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow-Up to Derveni

In the ancient greeks on 19/07/2011 at 7:52 am

With background on the Derveni papyrus available, what else can we conclude? Science (natural theology) and philosophy began as mutations of religious and magical cosmogeny and cosmology, respectfully for the empirical and metaphysical realms: one may have more direct knowledge than others through a particular incantation, secret ritual, or method. So I conjecture, mainstream philosophy continues that practice to this day.


The Derveni Papyrus

In the ancient greeks on 15/07/2011 at 11:51 pm

The Derveni papyrus, found in 1962 among the remains of a funeral pyre at Derveni near Thessaloniki, may be perhaps Europe’s oldest surviving Greek manuscript, written some time in the fourth century B.C.E. The manner in which the author of the Deverni papyrus opposed competing Greek religions and mystery-cults on the one hand provides a glimpse into the understanding of magic during ancient Greece: the text offers a novel defense of a particular mystery-cult by simultaneously elucidating a cosmogony and theology eerily close to the cosmogony of several influential Presocratic sophist philosophers.

While Kouremenos notes that “attempting to identify the Derveni author in light of the available evidence seems to be an exercise of rather low epistemic value” (1), it is valuable in-itself to examine the attitudes of the author, the cosmological theories the author advances, and how the theories and attitudes relate to Presocratic sophists of the era. Thus, the Deverni papyrus may indicate that the sophists might have been heavily influenced by ancient Greek religion and magic. In departing in the conventional interpretation of the gods, the sophists may have instead offered a reinterpretation or re-imagination of Greek religion and mystery-cults, claiming to have discovered a deeper or hidden secret by means of allegory, rather than engaging in a full-scale rejection of the traditional Greek understanding of magic and religion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gardner’s Misstep

In carnap, critical rationalism, empiricism, experiments, fallibilism, gardner, holism, justificationism, popper, the ancient greeks, wittgenstein on 28/06/2011 at 10:33 am

Martin Gardner wrote A Skeptical Look at Karl Popper back in 2001. I decided to give it a read then put down some provisional comments …

Read the rest of this entry »


In fallibilism, the ancient greeks on 24/06/2011 at 9:28 am

At the start of Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus is now old, blind, led around by a child. He cannot act out into the world, at least not in the way he once acted.

The young Oedipus once impressed his will on to the world. Who I am depends on creating myself through action. He understood himself as product of exertions, as acting out into world, creating a new self that will not kill his father and sleep with his mother. Not anymore.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Chaos Monster

In fallibilism, skepticism, the ancient greeks on 22/06/2011 at 9:28 am

In Jungian terms, the uncanny breaks down our expectations for how the world is to operate. When we attempt to understand things, we can only see them through our own filter. If you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail. Our preconceived notions of what is normal break down, and when they are violated, we realize how fragile our epistemic assumptions are: the world isn’t full of nails. We’re left disturbed, unsettled, or shaken. We’re confronted with the irrational and the breakdown of fundamental order of the world. Without something to hold on to, we’re left fumbling in the dark.

Read the rest of this entry »

Two Greeks

In borges, the ancient greeks on 15/06/2011 at 4:02 pm

Two Greeks are conversing; perhaps Socrates and Parmenides. It is best that one never learns their names; history will thus be more mysterious and more tranquil.

The subject of their conversation is abstract. At times they allude to myths in which neither believes. …

They do not argue. And they desire neither to persuade nor to be persuaded, they think neither to win nor to lose. …

Free from myth and metaphor, they think or try to think. We shall never know their names. This conversation between two strangers in some unknown place in Greece is the capital event of History. They have forgotten prayer and magic. (Jorge Luis Borges, “The Beginning”)


The Sphinx

In irrationalism, skepticism, the ancient greeks on 15/06/2011 at 2:30 pm

Most everyone knows the story of Oedipus meeting the Sphinx — how he bests it by solving its riddle, goes off to Thebes, nails his mom, and ruins his life. So what?

The Sphinx is four things in one: the body of a lioness, the torso of a woman, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a serpent — she is part of the primordial world of chaos, full of monsters and those dark scary things that are hiding just behind you when you’re in the dark, born before the first gods came. Ooga booga!

Read the rest of this entry »