In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Book Reviews Studies in Presocratic Philosophy. Vol. 1: The Beginnings of Philosophy. Ed. by David J. Furley and R. E. Allen. (New York: Humanities Press, 1970. Pp. x+429. $11.50) The essays reprinted in this volume deal with "(1) the nature of Presocratic thought in general; (2) the sources of our knowledge of the Presocratics; (3) the earliest philosophers , up to Heraclitus. A second volume will deal with Parmenides and his successors, as far as the Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus" (ix). Specialists in early Greek philosophy will be familiar with these papers by Cornford, Cherniss, Vlastos and others, already classics in their field. Others may be unaware of the work (most of it published in specialist journals) which has been done on the Presocratics during the past thirty years--work which has done much to transform our knowledge of the period during which the foundations of Greek (and therefore, in general, of European) philosophy were laid. It is to such nonspecialists that the present review is addressed. Cherniss' "The Characteristics and Effects of Presocratic Philosophy" (1948) provides an excellent starting point. It is a rapid-fire survey of early Greek philosophy conceived as a process of development--a series of attempts to deal with problems arising quite inevitably out of one another within a single, unified point of view, in large measure determined by the work of Anaximander. The atomic system was not merely "the last great construction of Presocratic philosophy. In a sense it can be envisaged as the first such construction, Anaximander's, purged of its indefinitness and refined by the logic of Parmenides, the subsequent attempts to overcome the critique of Parmenides, and the rebuttal of these attempts by the Eleatic critics, Zeno and Melissus" (26). But Cherniss is skeptical of the value of the final product. He regards Atomism as "an arbitrary construction unsupported by evidence and containing within itself no possible sign of its own validity" (26). It had, he argues, to reject the senses, yet had no justification for its distinction between genuine and bastard knowledge. Indeed, Cherniss thinks that Democritus showed an awareness of this in B 125. But the genuineness of this fragment has very properly been questioned, and it is not at all clear on what grounds Cherniss holds that there is "no foundation for the intelligence which [Democritus] had to assume" (27). His final claim, that Eleatic logic wound up by overthrowing itself, seems to me to depend largely on how seriously one takes Gorgias' showpiece On Nature. Cornford's "Was the Ionian Philosophy Scientific?" (written in 1942 and subsequently published, contrary to Cornford's intentions, in the Journal of Hellenic Studies) makes an invidious comparison between the methods of medical science and philosophy in ancient Greece. The doctor is an observer of what actually happens in his patients. On the basis of his accumulated experience he generalizes, and on the basis of this generalization makes a prognosis. If he is right he may be led on "to speculate about the fundamental causes of disease and health" and so at last to arrive at "the question [5~] BOOK REVIEWS 501 of man's nature or bodily constitution--the elements and active or passive properties whose equilibrium needs to be restored by suitable treatment from outside" (32). But the philosophers begin at the other end, with speculations about the remotest origins of the world, deducing from these their views of (say) the origin of plants and animals, and so arriving at "a priori accounts of the nature of health and disease" wich they were quite prepared to foist on the practicing physician (33). We may see in the Hippocratic treatise On Ancient Medicine, says Cornford, "the characteristic reaction of the scientific doctor" to this kind of dogmatism (ibid.). Cornford attributes this difference to two opposed notions of the sources of knowledge : the empirical and the non-empirical. The former is set forth (in Meta. A, I) by Aristotle, whose illustrations are taken from medicine. It was the physicians who took the first steps towards "inductive science as understood since the Renaissance" (34). The latter was formulated by Plato and illustrated by him in the Meno; but it was an ancient...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 500-508
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.