Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
192. Cosmology Appendix

From Chapter X., Eclecticism and Reaction

193. Conclusion
The cosmology of Archelaos, like that of Diogenes, has all the characteristics of the age to which it belonged--an age of reaction, eclecticism, and investigation of detail.39 Hippon of Samos and Idaios of Himera represent nothing more than the feeling that philosophy had run into a blind alley, from which it could only escape by trying back. The Herakleiteans at Ephesos, impenetrably wrapped up as they were in their own system, did little but exaggerate its paradoxes and develop its more fanciful side.40 It was not enough for Kratylos to say with Herakleitos (fr. 84.) that you cannot step twice into the same river; you could not do so even once.41 The fact is that philosophy, so long as it clung to its old presuppositions, had nothing more to say; for the answer of Leukippos to the question of Thales was really final.

It will be observed that all these warring systems found their way to Athens, and it was there, and there alone that the divergent theories of Ionia and the West came into contact. Such questions as whether the earth was round or flat, and whether "what we think with" was Air or Blood, must have been hotly debated at Athens about the middle of the fifth century B.C., when Sokrates was young. On any view of him, it is surely incredible that he was not interested in these controversies at the time, however remote they may have seemed to him in later life. Now, in the Phaedo, Plato has put into his mouth an autobiographical statement in which he tells us that this was actually the case,42 and the list of problems there given is one that can only have occupied men's minds at Athens and at that date.43 All the scientific schools end at Athens, and it was the Athenian Sokrates who saw that the questions they had raised could only be met by making a fresh start from another point of view.

Burnet's Notes


39. Windelband, § 25. The period is well described by Fredrich, Hippokratische Untersuchungen, pp. 130 sqq. It can only be treated fully in connexion with the Sophists.

40. For an amusing picture of the Herakleiteans see Plato, Theaet. 179 e. The new interest in language, which the study of rhetoric had called into life, took with them the form of fantastic and arbitrary etymologising, such as is satirised in Plato's Cratylus.

41. Arist. Met. Γ, 5.1010 a 12. He refused even to speak, we are told, and only moved his finger.

42. Plato, Phaedo, 96 a sqq.

43. I have tried to show this in detail in my notes on the passage in my edition of the Phaedo (Oxford, 1910). It is a remarkable proof of Plato's historical sense that he should have been able to give an account of the state of scientific opinion at Athens some twenty-five years before his own birth, without, so far as I can see, a single anachronism.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion