- Early Greek Philosophy, Volume I: Introductory and Reference Materials trans. and ed. by André Laks and Glenn W. Most
The Loeb Classical Library has released a major new edition of early Greek philosophy, selected, edited, and translated by André Laks and Glenn W. Most. This review essay will offer an overview of the project, starting with some methodological and historiographical background, moving on to a guided tour of the contents, and ending with a brief assessment. This treatment will necessarily be somewhat impressionistic, given the extent of the work and the aim of offering a timely notice. I have read through the whole of the translation and have spot-checked translations but have not made a detailed study of the latter.
The discipline of philosophy begins, according to Aristotle, with the first thinker to take a serious historical interest in his subject, namely Thales. But the earliest philosophers, or proto-philosophers, had no special name for their new kind of inquiry. The most characteristic feature of the earliest philosophers was an interest in cosmogony and cosmology, theories explaining how the world as we know it arose and stabilized into its present configuration. Similar speculations are found in mythographers such as Hesiod and Homer; but what made the philosophers different was an effort to establish cosmology on a naturalistic rather than mythological basis. The philosophical cosmologists developed a robust tradition of speculation that flourished in the sixth and fifth centuries b.c. and continued into the fourth.
The early philosophers have come to be known as the Pre-Socratics, a rubric meant to distinguish them from followers and spiritual descendants of Socrates, who famously turned philosophy from cosmological to humanistic and ethical concerns. But the term seems to demote these creative thinkers to the role of unwitting forerunners to the "real" philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. And it tends to encourage a narrow view of the project of early philosophy, as if the Pre-Socratics were limited by their inevitable historical role. Furthermore, "Pre-Socratics" such as Democritus were contemporaries of Socrates, and indeed some of the tribe of Pre-Socratics lived in the mid- and [End Page 433] late-fourth century, long after Socrates' death. Because of such considerations, Laks and Most avoid the term "Pre-Socratic" as much as possible (1: 6–7), thinking of their subjects as Pre-Platonic, and (as we shall see) including Socrates within their purview.
One practical problem is that the texts of early Greek philosophy have been lost (with the exception of a few short texts), so that all that remains of the writings consists of fragments and testimonies extracted from later ancient writers whose works are preserved. The bible of early Greek philosophical texts is Diels's Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, edited in its later editions by Walther Kranz (hereafter, DK).1 DK divides the texts into an "A" section for testimonies and a "B" section for fragments for each author (for whom there are both testimonies and fragments), so that...