Connections 3 : Greek Philosophy
www link :
From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy :    Description of: Sophists
The Sophists
Teachers of wisdom , the sophists, had been training young Athenians in the art of arguing. Speaking well was a necessity for a political career in a democracy, since nothing of importance could be done without first persuading the Assembly of the citizens. As the sophists began to think about speech, they soon discovered that language and argument had rules which could be analyzed. Mastery of the rules of logic prepared them to show how to argue for or against any opinion, regardless of moral considerations.

Socrates 469-399 B.C.

One of the Athenians who was most shocked by the sophists was Socrates, who devoted his life to the pursuit of truth. He was more interested wether an arguments conclusion was true than wether it was convincing and he used the sophists tools of logical analysis to investigate the nature of virtue. He thought the search for knowledge of the utmost importance because he maintained that no man sins wittingly - from which follows, that whoever knows what is good does what is right.

To us such a view seems remote from reality but the close connection between virtue and knowledge is characteristic of Greek thought.

But the Socratic method - this close questioning and answering, not letting any assumption go unchallenged - was crucial for later scientic investigations. One characteristic that distinguishes science from our day-to-day thinking is the requirement for internal consistency. Under close examination many of our common-sense ideas turn out to be contradictionary. One cannot be like that in science. The fact is that the Socratic method really questions what our assumptions are. If we look closely at everything, do any of two assumptions contradict each other?
( The most beautiful example of this method came two thousand years
later when Galileo used the concept of logical consistency to proof the
law of uniformly accelerated motion - a law which by sheer logic turned common-sense ideas upside down. )

www link :
From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Symposium   A conversational drinking party with sophisticated guests.

Socrates from the Biography Center.    The Death of Socrates by Plato

Plato 427-347 B.C.
Plato moved from the Socratic search of ethical definitions to the theory of ideas. He divided the cosmos into two separate regions: the world of being , and the world of becoming . The former he regarded as perfect, unchanging, the essence of what he called Ideas .

All those concepts sought by Socrates - justice, virtue, etc - existed in perfection in the world of Ideas. To Plato, the world of Ideas was the real world; the material world, though seeming real to our senses, was only an illusion. Plato used his famous 'Allegory of the Cave' to make the distinction between illusion and reality. (See www link below).

For example, to tune a muscical instrument, a player adjusts his strings according to arithmetical ratios that define particular notes. These arithmetical relations express harmonic intervals, and never get out of tune. The harmonic relations cannot be heard, but are understood by the mind.
In the material world, the strings of the instruments go constantly out of tune. Therefore Plato said that only the universal ratios or ideas of harmony have true being. The senses are unreliable Plato argued and he had faith only in the intellect, which can be trained to lead us to the truth.

The best preparation, Plato thought, was training in mathematics: the geometer considers not the ill-defined drawing, but the perfect, ideal triangle which truly exists in the world of Ideas. Plato was the first to suggest the desirability of finding a geometrical model for the physical universe.

www link :
From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Biography and Greek Philosophy

Allegory of the Cave from 'The Republic'
Plato from the Biography Center.

Back Next: Science