History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 2


Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 2
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Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Part 1

I. Milesians

A. Thales (624-546 B.C.)

1. Basic stuff (arche) is water.

2. All things are alive (or full of gods).

3. Explanation for magnetism

B. Anaximander (610-547 B.C.)

1. Basic stuff (arche) = "The Boundless" (apeiron)

2. Boundless is neither this nor that; neither here nor there.

3. First known evolutionist, life originated in sea

C. Anaximenes (585-528 B.C.)

1. Basic stuff is air.

2. First to add a principle of motion; condensation and rarefaction

D. Significance of Milesians

1. Scientific attitude

2. Asked good questions

3. Attempted to explain diversity by unity

4. Materialists

5. Search for the arche of the universe

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Dr. Ronald Nash

History of Philosophy and Christian Thought



Lesson Transcript


Now, if you will pick up the outline that I handed out, we're going to use this outline for the first four or five weeks of the semester. Some of the material that will be giving you is available only from the outline that isn't in your textbooks. What I want to do is give you a timeline of the major philosophers between the beginning of philosophy and the death of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages. This would be a timeline of major philosophers between 600 B.C. and, let us say, 1300 A.D.. And the way you get a timeline, of course, is to just draw a straight line. And here we'll put 1300 A.D. in here we'll put 600 B.C.. What I'm going to do with this timeline, if I can find the right color crayon here, the blue one is I'm going to give you, first of all, the names of the four most important thinkers during this period of almost 2000 years and those four and we'll put their names on top of the line and then we'll begin will begin to give you the names of some lesser thinkers. Let's put Plato here. Plato was born in 427 and died in 347 B.C. Somebody I think it was Alfred North. Whitehead said that all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato's thinking philosophy. The second great thinker would be Aristotle, who was born in 386 and died in 322 B.C.. Now, Socrates deserves a place here, so maybe I'll make this the five greatest philosophers, but we're not really going to talk about Socrates in the course because for one thing, we don't have time.


[00:02:32] Which seems criminal perhaps, But we aren't going to talk about Socrates per se, because most of what we know about Socrates is what appears in Plato's own writings. Whether or not the information about Socrates is always historically reliable, a good a good likely date for Socrates birth would be for 70 B.C. We know when he died that would be 399 B.C. So Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and then in subsequent centuries we come to Saint Augustine, born in 354, died in 430 A.D., and then Saint Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225, and he died in 1274 A.D. Now I want to give you a second tier of philosophers by any reckoning. They're a little bit out of a league of these five major leaguers, but certainly they are important as our first representative from the secondary level. We get an interesting thinker named Plotinus and his views are covered in your intro book. Of course, we have separate chapters in your text about Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. But we also throw in a chapter about Plotinus, who died in 270 A.D. Many people think that Plotinus was exceeded in his greatness in the ancient world, in the pre-Christian world, by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. He was that great. But he's not known and his thinking is very difficult. And fortunately, my chapter on Plotinus may well turn out to be the clearest thing ever written about this very obscure thinker. He died in 270 A.D.. Oh, then we get over here about 1100 A.D. and we find a Christian philosopher named Saint Anselm. We want to put his name down here, though he's not quite part of the major leagues. And then what other names do we have here? I'm looking at the chart. Yeah. Actually, we then come to the third tier.


[00:04:52] Okay, we got Plotinus. We got Anselm, the third tier. There's a Jewish philosopher named fellow who really was a kind of minor thinker, but he was certainly the greatest Jewish philosopher outside of the canon, even though he himself didn't pay a whole lot of attention to his. His Jewish Bible final died around 50 a. And then we have people like Epicurus. This is this is third level Epicurus. We're going to talk about him later today. His dates. You'll find his dates somewhere in the intro book. And there's a a a medieval Muslim thinker named a Veronese who will come along, oh, about 1200 A.D. and we'll get the Stoics and some other thinkers like that. Okay, Now let's take a look at your outline, and there is a sentence on your outline that I want to draw your attention to. It's right after the time line. Here it is. I take it from a book by Gordon H. Clarke called Thalis to doing. It says, quote, The history of philosophy began on May 28th, 585 B.C., at 6:13 p.m. Greek Standard Time. They didn't have daylight saving time. You understand that? Now this sentence is true. So who can tell me what happened at 6:13 p.m. Greek Standard Time on May 28th, 585 B.C. That would mark this as the beginning of philosophy. Wow. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Now the people listening by tape may not have heard your voice, so I'm going to quote you in a moment. But notice the wow. See, whenever I say wow, I am quoting Robert Schuller. Okay. And if you get a Robert Schuller wow from me, I'm impressed. Okay. What the students said was somebody you not only mentioned the fact that somebody predicted the first eclipse of the sun, but you gave us a name for that person.


[00:07:23] Okay. Feliz, who is sometimes called correctly, the first philosopher, predicted the first eclipse of the sun on May 25, 85 B.C.. Now, I want to ask you some questions. What did tholins or what does anybody have to know before they can predict an eclipse of the sun? Somebody call off some things that you would have to know to predict an eclipse of the sun. Well, the first thing you'd have to know is when earlier eclipses of the sun occurred. Right. I mean, if you had never heard about an eclipse of the sun, you would never be able to predict the next one. Are you with me? You got to admit, I'm right there. Okay. Ooh, It's getting dark. Think of Mark Twain's book, A Connecticut Yankee and King Arthur's Court. That's a book students used to read in America's public schools. Now they read Dick and Jane go up the hill to get a pail of water. That's what students read in America's public schools. So you'd have to know where when earlier eclipses occurred. Any idea about what and what people and what nation, what present day nation would have accumulated that kind of information? Egypt. You bet. Okay. So there they've got that information. Then the next thing you have to do is make an assumption. And the assumption is you have to believe that the universe has an order to it, a regularity to it. Thus, things happen in the universe according to some kind of regular order. Now, I am going to write on the board the Greek word that is the best word to use for this kind of order in the universe. I am not telling you that Thérese used this word. It'll be a little while, maybe five, 10 minutes before we come to a philosopher who first makes a technical term out of this word.


[00:09:47] But here's the word Lagos. Lagos. Now, I didn't say Thérese used that word in his writings. Oh, incidentally, incidentally, none of the writings of these early philosophers survived. Later on, we will I will tell you when their some of their writings survived in the case of families and his other his other compatriots. What survived were references to some of their ideas and beliefs in later philosophers. And so what the information I'm giving you about theories probably probably appears in some of Aristotle's writings. Aristotle is a great source of information, but all of their writings were lost. I mean, if I had written some of my books back then, they would be gone too. There was no Amazon.com then and so on. Is this an important word for Christians? Well, you bet it is. And when we get to our our first person to use this as a technical term, we will begin we will begin what will turn out to be a course long investigation of the concept of Lagos, not just in Greek philosophy, but eventually in Christian thinking as well. Now the first philosophers are called the My legends or am I l e s i a and s. I'm going to put a map on the screen to show you why they were called the my lesions and where they lived. I'm sure that noise will bring a note of Thanksgiving to the people listening to this on tape. Now I've got to find my map. Where's my map? Here it is. Okay. I drew this map last night, just getting ready for today's class. Now, what you have on this map is, of course, Western Asia minor. It's known today as Turkey, the Greek mainland right here. And off the map to the left, of course, would be the the peninsula of Italy.


[00:12:26] Notice that in what is identified on the map as the Aegean Sea, there are literally hundreds of islands. And the first thing you need to know is that it was on these islands that Greek philosophy really began. I'm pointing now to the city of Athens. Here it is, the city of Athens on my map and, of course, Athens. If if you ask a typical man on the street, where did Greek philosophy begin? They will tell you. Cleveland. Okay. That's what the typical American public school graduate. True story. Shaquille O'Neal. This is true. I wouldn't make this up. Shaquille O'Neal, a year or so ago went to Athens and somebody asked him if he had visited the Parthenon. And Shaquille O'Neal said, Well, we visited so many clubs in Athens, I just can't remember their names. All right. I'm not making that up. So the Parthenon, of course, is not a club. You know that. So philosophy began on these islands in the Aegean Sea, and eventually families lived on one of these islands. Eventually, he made his way right there to the city of Miletus. Now, my lead is still exists, or at least the ruins. I guess it doesn't exist. The ruins exist. But in those days, it was a seaport. Today, Miletus is about 30 miles from the Aegean Sea because all that land has filled in with sediment and something else. But it was a seaport, and the first three philosophers lived in Miletus at different times of their lives. Well, let's look at their names. This is on your diagram. Thérese lived from 624 to 546 B.C. Anaximander followed him and is sometimes identified as a disciple, a student of theses. He lived from 610 to 547 B.C. and then the third one was Anaximander.


[00:14:43] He lived from 585 to 528 BCE. So these guys are called the My Legions because they lived in a city called Miletus. But they also have other names. You see, my latest was the name of a city. But this whole area, the county or the particular territory, also became used as a name. And right now I'm looking on my outline and I cannot find that name. But you will find that happening with me quite often when I can't think of a name. You start counting. And by the time you reach 5 minutes. See, it's right there on the tip of my tongue. By the time I reach 5 minutes, I'll have that particular name. Families and his other compatriots. Maybe we can remove the map now. Families and his three followers used another Greek word to get to a very important notion in their work. The Greek word is archaic. Some of you give me some English words that come from the Greek word archaic. This is real tough question. Archeology, architecture, arch. Arch. Let's just think of the word arch. What is an arch? It is a part of a building that holds the upper structure of the building together. It's kind of even though it's it's not part of the actual foundation, it does serve a kind of foundational picture. When these early Greek thinkers talked about the arc of the universe, what they meant was there is a kind of basic stuff of which everything else is made. There is a kind of basic stuff. Obviously the world contains a large variety of different properties and qualities and substances. But they thought that if you could dig down far enough, you would find that everything in the universe, however much it differs, is made of the same fundamental stuff.


[00:17:09] They call that the arc of the universe. Now, in those days there were it was thought that people thought that there were four basic elements. We now know, of course, what the we have a better idea of what the elements are. But in those days, they thought the elements of the universe were earth, air, fire and water. Okay. Later on, philosophers would think that everything that came into being everything that existed was made of some combination of these four basic elements. For example, some people thought that the favorite beverage of some university professors was W six, F ten fire water, primitive thinking, but nonetheless it conveyed it conveyed the basic idea. Okay. Thérese thought the basic stuff of the universe was water. He thought that everything was made of water. Now that looks pretty primitive. But if you keep in mind the following observations, this begins to make a little sense. Water is the only substance that can assume the three basic forms of liquid, solid and gas. Water when frozen becomes solid, water when melted. When. When the ice melts, you get. You get a liquid. And when water evaporates, as in the case of a fire, when you're boiling water, it becomes a liquid. I'm sorry, a gas. Moreover, if you go into a cave and all of a sudden you see stalactites dripping water, that makes it look as though rock is turning into into water. Or if the water then drips on the floor and builds up a stalactite that looks like water is turning into into something solid. Staley's also said some other things. He said Everything is alive or full of gods. That's a statement that is quite difficult to understand, and I suppose we need not concern ourselves with it.


[00:19:26] He also was the first guy to offer an explanation for magnetism. But we need not go into those details either. Anaximander probably offered the most interesting suggestion about the basic stuff. And the reason I mention it is because this is an idea that will continue to reappear during this course. In fact, we're going to have a number of movie themes, and every time a certain idea reappears, I'll just give you the signal and we'll start whistling that movie theme. In the case of Anaximander basic stuff, the music theme will be the theme, the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars. Okay. Dum dum, dum dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum. All right. Now, if I train you properly, say by train, you properly. And some new students enter the class or some visiting students. They're going to think you're nuts. But that's okay. As long as they think you're nuts. Not me. Now, here is Anaximander an idea. He called the basic stuff the OP wrong. Now, this is a combination of two Greek terms. Are. Our ay is the Greek prefix for negation. Patron is the Greek word for boundary. If you're a Greek farmer and you want to, you want to you want to identify the limits of your land and you put stones out and say, Well, this is the end of my property. This is where my property begins. You would be referring to the patron of your property. Now, when Anaximander described the basic stuff of the universe as as the operon, the translation being the bound less, okay, the bound less. Here's what he meant. He said the basic stuff is neither water nor air, nor fire, nor earth. It's not one of these four basic elements.


[00:21:45] It must be something more fundamental than they are. The reason being this, that if any of these were the basic stuff of the universe, everything that exists would have long ago been reduced to them. Therefore, they to earth, air, fire and water must be made of something more basic. But Anaximander said this basic stuff can have no properties whatsoever. Now, this is this is the reason why we're going to use the Darth Vader theme. Something that has no properties, has no shape, no color, no smell, no taste. In fact, it is as close to nothing as you can get. It is neither this nor that. It is neither here nor there. It is like nothing else that any of us. In fact, it is unknowable. Hmm. Unknowable stuff. Let me just warn you here that before this course is over, we will encounter something very much like Anaximander is boundless at least ten times. Not just in the ancient world, but it shows up. And not just in Plato and not just in Aristotle, but it shows up in modern times as well. Even philosophers, even scientists like Galileo, even philosophers like John Locke, modern thinkers, even Immanuel Kant end up finding a place in their philosophical system for something that is as close to nothing as you can get. Now to just draw this business about the pre-socratic to an m because we have we have bigger fish to fry. There are there are four or five important points to remember about them. First of all, they were not only the first philosophers, they were also the first scientists. If you ever take a course in the history of science, you'll begin with these same guys, the Malaysians also, they were materialists. They believe that everything that exists is physical, is corporeal.


[00:24:12] But that should not surprise you because everybody in the ancient world up to Socrates, with one exception, every body of any every one of those people were was a natural, a materialist. They were also naturalists. That is, they believed that there is nothing beyond the physical universe. There is really no God such as Christians and Jews understand the deity. There was no soul. Everything was a part of a great cosmic materialistic system. They were also modernists. I hope you can find the place on the outline where I'm getting this from. The my lesions were modernists, that is, they explained all of reality in terms of one ultimate stuff, be it water, air, fire, water of earth, or as in the case of Anaximander, the boundless. And they were also halos soloists. Boy, there's some good material here. For our first quiz, define halos or wisdom. This technical word comes from two Greek words Hugh Lee and Zoe. This is the great one Greek word for life. This is a Greek word for matter. So someone who's a halos, those always believes that matter is alive in some way. Matter is alive. And this is one of the ways in which they exchange. They explained changing phenomena in the universe. This is one of the ways in which they explained magnetism. Magnets are attracted to move or point in a particular direction because they are alive or because they're full of gods or whatever this particular language means. Now, what's the significance of these early Mei lesions? I'm looking now down at point four on your outline. Well, first of all, they're important because they manifested the first emerging manifestation of science, their scientific attitude. Of course, most of their conclusions were absurd, but nonetheless they were trying to find order in the universe through their investigation of the data that was available to them.


[00:26:57] Secondly, they're significant because they ask good questions. Let's take the basic question they asked What is the basic stuff for the universe? That question is not all that different from what happens when a contemporary scientist says everything is made up of energy. Energy. They they ask the same basic question that scientists today are asking is what is the ultimate nature of being? Today, we don't regard that ultimate nature as atoms or whatever. We regard that ultimate nature as something like energy. They're also important because they attempted to explain diversity in the world in terms of unity. We live in a universe that is incredibly diverse, full of colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes. Literally billions of different kinds of objects. And yet they were looking for a unifying principle that would give meaning and sense and significance to this diversity in the world. Some philosophers refer to this as the problem of the one and the many. We may encounter that terminology later in the course. And of course, they're also important because they were engaged in the search for the basic arc of the universe. Now, they're also important for one other reason that isn't on your outline, and that I must mention to you, the birthday of philosophy, as I've already told you, is May 28th, 585 B.C.. My birth date is May 27th. However, I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I am Cleveland's greatest philosopher. And if you doubt that, you give me the name of anyone else from Cleveland who's a philosopher, you can't. I'm the only one. Okay? At the time that I was born, on May 27th, 1936. Guess what day it was in Greece? It was May 28th. Walt Disney wants to make a movie about me called Born on the Birthday of Philosophy, and they're trying to get Tom Cruise to play me, but he's not going to shave his hair, so that won't work.


[00:29:59] Okay. Now I want you to tell me next time we meet, I'm going to tell you another astounding fact about philosophy and me. But I'm going to save that until next week. There is no coincidence attached to the fact that I am a philosopher. It's written in the stars. And I'm smiling here. Okay.