ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

Chapter I.

Pre-Socratic Philosophy.

(From Thales of Miletus to Socrates, seventh to fifth century B.C.)


3. Characteristics and Subdivision. -- The earliest Grecian philosophers confined themselves to the study of the external world, the non-ego, not yet reaching the psychological aspect of the problems raised. Peri phuseôs is the title of a large number of their works: thence comes the name, Nature-Philosophers, sometimes given to them. Their whole concern is to explain by a few simple principles the inner nature and manifest changes of the Universe.

Before the period of Socrates, Grecian Philosophy had no one common centre. According to the places where it flourished, historians usually distinguish four schools, which differ, moreover, in their teachings: (1) The Ionic School, the first representatives of which were natives of Miletus, and which contained both a dynamist and an atomist section; (2) The Italian or Pythagorean School; (3) The Eleatic School; (4.) The School of Abdera or the Atomist School.

By getting at the inner kernel of the various systems we may be able to establish a more logical division.{1} Two great questions face a philosophy which fixes its attention on external nature: the study of the change or succession of things and the determination of what exactly remains stable throughout this change. Of those two problems it was the second that excited the curiosity of the originators of Grecian Philosophy (seventh and sixth centuries). We find all of them absorbed in a search for the stable, intrinsic principle of things, studying their changes only to arrive at the fixed element which these changes presuppose. Later on, this twofold study recurred in the inverse order: attention was then mainly concentrated upon the manifest succession of things. Heraclitus it was who thus altered the viewpoint of cosmological studies (fifth century).

Taking into consideration this twofold tendency, the schools mentioned above may be re-divided into two groups without interfering with their chronological order. The first group will comprise the earlier Ionians down to Heraclitus, the Pythagorean School and the Eleatic School; the second group will include the mechanicist section of the Ionic School and the Atomist School.{2}

{1} ZELLER, Die Philosophie der Griechen, i., pp. 147 sqq.

{2} Cf. ARISTOTLE, Metaphysics, i., 3-5.

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