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ADVENT OF PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY : A MISFIRED TAKEOFF

Plato is today as much a part of philosophic conversations as in any other epoch, by which I mean that even in the twenty-first century, Plato is still being debated, specifically this occurs in the form of Plato responding to his predecessors, mostly the sophists, but also the pre-Socratics, as both of these have contemporary parallels. From the perspective of the pre-Socratics we can identify the neuro-scientists, the evolutionary biologists, the natural scientists, in other words the materialists of today, as the direct descendents of the pre-Socratics. The descendents of the sophists are the post-modernist.

Socrates turned philosophical investigation away from nature ( physical )and directed it towards virtue - the Greek word is 'arete', also translated as excellence. Socrates turned towards the question : what is an excellent life? how should a human being live? this is a kind of question I can't imagine Protagoras  asking. Socrates was famous for asking questions of the form 'what is it ?' This type of question seems to be an anti-relativistic question because it seems to imply an objective standard of ( seeking ) a universal answer or even an absolute answer - a type of question that Protagoras would not dream of asking. ....TTC.. D. Roochnik

From the Historical perspective as well as for the purpose of the examination of the development of the language of discourse, especially that of the written kind, a classification  is being made here between kinds of writing  - namely : Mythology, Poetry, History and Philosophy and also a classification between two kinds of discourse namely : Rhetoric and Dialectic. ( Homer's work is now classified as History and Mythology intertwined ).

Poetry and Mythology are pretty much closely intertwined, but in Philosophy we find a break from Mythology, firstly in Xenophane as also in Socrates who questioned the validity of the Myths of the Greeks, and this rigorous questioning itself was one of the reasons for the charges of impiety against Socrates and his execution by the Athenian justice system.

Somehow this one man seems almost single-handedly to have transformed a loosely knit set of far-reaching questions about the character and direction of human existence into a discipline with its own distinctive aims and methods. (C. Shields)

Before the first genuine philosopher Socrates, who was the first to take a rigorous, analytic approach to inquire into the most fundamental questions that people can ask, ( with a total absence of the analytic, or reason, there can be no genuine inquiry, no philosophy, was also one of the profound discoveries of Socrates ) there were people who did inquire into the nature of things, into reality, but their utterances were mostly a cacophony of loose ideas or just blanket statements of one idea which tried to encapsulate everything, or one sided writing ( rhetoric ) of one aspect of some idea or concept. Mostly there was an attempt to formulate or make hypothesis of the "outer world", whereas once again in Socrates there was a total shift in emphasis towards the "inner world", which lasted only as far as Plato who tried to relate the two, the "outer world" of ultimate "pure forms", and the "inner world " mostly trapped in a cave of appearances. After Plato, the "inner world" was once again abandoned by Aristotle in favor of the intense observations of the outer, physical reality that would ( he presumed ) finally lead to the ultimate substance or law underlying all of reality ( Metaphysics ). Rhetoric in its abstract was also given the pushover into Aristotelian forms, relegating all talk of virtue or morality into the bin of obscurity. But Rhetoric in practice continued in the politics of all times. One of the earliest example of the extensive use of rhetoric was the rhetoric of the Sophists of the Greek civilization, and the following is a brief summary of the developments before Socrates :

Starting from Thales, all pre-socratic philosophers were merely speculators : if someone said everything is water, another came along to insist that everything is air ; if someone said reality is all  motion and change, another brought a paradox to prove that reality has to be stasis or motionless. ( Even the idea of the atom as a mono substance or singular building block permeating all of reality came from the pre-socratic philosopher ).

What all of them sought was some permanence - some eternal principle, something absolute, which was the primal and ultimate stuff of everything and by which everything could be explained. Their speculations, claims and counterclaims invariably led to paradoxes rather than absolutes, and instead of coming to the conclusion that everything is inherently paradoxical and work from there onwards, they continued to indulge in this naming of the ultimate substance - some even going to the length of calling it all numbers and geometry - incidentally a notion that still persists to this day, only the names keep changing, not unlike religion, where all now agree that there is one and only one God, but their particular name for God and methodology or scripture is the correct one, the rest all are false.

Among the anti-naturalists were : Pythagoras ( for him all was numbers and mathematics.) Heraclites said all is change. Parmenides said exactly the opposite : that all is one, all is Being, all is static ( non-changing ). Heraclites is a pluralist - he says there are the many beings in the world. Parmenides says there are no 'beings' in the world only the Being, with a capital B, and that's all that exists. They have diametrically opposite pre-suppositions about the world..... TTC M Sugrue.

 The Ionian physics - the materialistic, naturalistic, mechanistic physics has led to an ateleologic universe - a universe without gods, without divinity, without purpose, without natural function and what that does is open the door to sophistry, opened the door to clever men that have learned how to talk and not how to think. Greece had a brief flowering of art, science and literature in a tremendous burst of  creativity but that creativity is ultimately destructive. What Plato wants to do is harness this creativity - to bring together mythos and logos - to create a new substitute for the Homeric religion - to be a new teacher for Greece.  He wants to be the reconstituting force in Greek religion, and by this new religion of reason to arrest the centrifugal forces and bring them together back into wholeness, unity and organization of the soul and the city. To organize the psychic, moral and political life by this new force of autonomous reason.. TTC M Sugrue

This philosophy of "everything is this and built up from this and only this" combined with the Aristotelian insistence upon physical verification ( or what can be called empirical observation whereby the  "horseness" or "all that is horse" of Plato can be simply (!) known by the rigorous analytic examination of a "real horse" by taking apart the horse atom by atom ( or whatever is the latest fundamental substance of the universe - these days it is : strings ), led to the development of the physical sciences ( also strangely called natural science, thereby presuming all of nature to be inherently or ultimately physical only )  still looking for theories within which everything can be logically formulated and explained. Even to this day, not even scientists, but also philosophers continue to look for that elusive "one" single substance, formula or theory which is "everything". Mystics have also time and again jumped into this "everything" frying pan, and proposed very definite sounding words for this "everything" - examples abound : Dao, Brahman, God etc, etc... ( All of these must have the first letter in capital to denote its absoluteness, or else - sacrilege has been committed ! )

We hope that this commitment to materialist monism will after all be shown to be justified, if not by water, then by some other stuff whose exact nature continues to elude us. And even if we are skeptical that there will come a time when we identify the basic building block of the universe, we will nevertheless continue to join with Thales, without apology, in seeking parsimonious and law - governing explanations on a more local scale. As the first philosopher, a natural philosopher, Thales set us on a course from whose essential trajectory we have not really deviated. ( C. Shields )

Plato cannot and does not prove that materialism is false and that there is a non-material intelligible reality. Plato believes that the philosopher must over and over again take up the challenge that materialists present, and invite them into dialog and see what happens. In my view, in addition to the enormous and obvious historical influence that Plato has had on western philosophy, this is his greatest legacy - that sophistry and materialism are very basic and powerful intellectual options ( insofar ) as they can't simply be dismissed, for they will always be adopted by someone. Plato teaches us how to argue against such opponents and the many strategies he uses, but even these strategies are limited. We cannot once and for all simply dismiss or refute these opponents. History seems to confirm Plato fully as both the sophists and materialists are still here ( and stronger than ever). The dialog therefore is perennial."
.....TTC.. .D. Roochnik

It should be of considerable interest to any genuine philosopher that this tendency towards "everything is this" was not only restricted to the material monism of science and that of the early philosophers, but also of the non-material monism of  Schopenhauer who made it into "everything is will", as also in eastern philosophy :  "everything is Dao" or the strange monism of Hinduism : "reality is Brahman, rest all is illusion" (the advaitya ( strictly non-dualist ? ) philosophy of  Shankara, now the most popular version of the religious philosophy of Hinduism ) 

There were in Greece, and particularly in Athens, professional teachers ( rather than philosophers ) who held the opposite view to the absolutists : that everything was a matter relative to the person and in the next page this is looked at in detail.