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Early Greek Philosophy

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,081 ratings  ·  26 reviews
This anthology presents the early sages of Western philosophy and science who paved the way for Plato and Aristotle and their successors. Democritus's atomic theory of matter, Zeno's dazzling "proofs" that motion is impossible, Pythagorean insights into mathematics, Heraclitus's haunting and enigmatic epigrams-all form part of a revolution in human thought that relied on r ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 26th 2002 by Penguin Classics (first published 1987)
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Glenn Russell

The early Greek philosophers, thinkers like Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles, Leucippus, are foundational for the Western intellectual tradition. I couldn’t imagine a better introductory book then this one on the subject. Below are a few quotes from Jonathan Barnes’s excellent 40 page introduction along with my brief comments:

“First and most simply, the Presocratics invented the very idea of science and philosophy. They hit upon that special way of looking at the wor
Jacob Aitken
This book's shortcomings aren't really its fault. The presocratics weren't systematic thinkers, and even if they were none of their writings survive intact. The editor Jonathan Barnes does a fine job of putting them together, but even he admits that many of the arrangements are arbitrary.


Emerging consensus on the infinite. The "infinite" implies "boundary markers" (216).


If God is infinite, and infinity transcends boundaries, can he even be named and spoken? Did Greek Philosophy lead us to th
Michael Nash
I feel like I'm not really expert enough to rate this book. Obviously, one can't really downgrade the content (this book sucked because Heraclitus was WRONG when he said that the world was made of fire). I found that my reaction to it was the same as my reaction to most non-historical ancient texts; some of it was brilliant, some of it was a fascinating look at where our ideas came from, but most of it was deadly boring. The only thing you can really comment on then, is translation, selection of ...more
I read this book in a class on Early Greek Philosophy, and this book was hard to digest at the time. This book is an excellent reference for philosophy students and maybe classics scholars, but not so much for the general public. This book is focused on the Pre-Socratics (philosophers before Socrates) and therefore does not contain anything by Socrates, Plato or Aristotle. However, I think they added in some Greek philosophers that came after Socrates but were outside his teaching and influence. ...more
Richard Newton
Here is the situation - there were a whole lot of pre-socratic philosophers and we only have fragments of their writings. In some cases, we don't have any of the originals, only people commenting on the originals or even people commenting on others' comments on the originals - and many of those commentaries are a couple of thousand years old. The texts were in ancient Greek, and using a style and references that will be difficult to understand even with the best translator. The result is subject ...more
What exactly is cosmos, the universe of all things, everything, the whole world? Did the universe have a beginning? If so, how did it begin? Why does it move and develop? What are its basic constituents? What is rain, wind, thunder, minerals, plants, animals, and human life?

These profound questions are the subjects of this excellent book. The questions were first asked and answered by early Greek philosophers. The timeline of the book starts at 585 BC when the first Greek philosopher, Thales of
David Withun
Barnes, the editor and translator, offers an insightful and engaging introduction as well as commentary (though, I should note, this is limited enough not to be distracting) throughout the book. It is what it promised to be: an assemblage of the surviving fragments from the writings of the Presocratic Greek philosophers, filled with wit, wisdom, and more than a little quackery. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of philosophy, ancient Greece, and/or the pursuit of wisdom.
Theresa Leone Davidson
Barnes, a British professor of ancient philosophy, writes about the pre-Socratics, men like Democritus, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and Parmenides, who led the way to ideas of philosophy espoused by more famous names, like Socrates. Reading this in a class, with a professor like Barnes, or a professor of ancient Greece, would have been helpful, as I was left with many unanswered questions. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in philosophy, I would recommend.
This is, amazingly, a page turner. Barnes manages to give access to the awakening of the Western intellect 2.500 years ago. It is easy to read the book from cover to cover, and it is equally easy to skip the parts that don't attract you as much - without losing the plot. Most of all, Barnes conveys his own passion for how the Western mind awakened from its slumber, and how all these great philosophers were woefully primitive in one way, and amazingly sophisticated in another way - they actually ...more
Leslie Williamson
I believe book was my introduction to early Greek Philosophy - the first text book I read in my first year Philosophy.
Not giving this book a rating, because by what standards could I rate such a thing?

The pre-Socratic worldview is just so out there, weirder than any religion, weirder than Scientology. When I say that, I am marveling, not dismissing.

To wit, Democritus: "Flavours are sharp if their shapes [i.e. their constituent atoms] are angular and crinkled and small and fine. For because of their asperity they quickly pass through everywhere, and being rough and angular they gather and hold things together. T
Can't speak much to the ideas presented here; much of them seemed very mystical, nonsensical, or made egregious assumptions and went from there. But then again, these guys were working with very, very little (although probably not nothing), and it's nonetheless interesting to see some of these guys explore territory that will come up later, sometimes much later, in more systematic thinkers' works.

The presentation I can speak to: it is first and foremost minimal and nonintrusive. Aside from a bri
Bob Nichols
Western philosophy often appears to be dominated by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Preceding these thinkers are the "Presocratics" whose writings come to us more or less in fragments that preview the primary themes that Plato and Aristotle later systematized in their philosophy: change-stasis, oneness-many, form-matter, mind-passions, appearance-reality. Giants as they were, perhaps Socrates, Plato and Aristotle themselves stood on the shoulders of giants. This book provides a good overview of e ...more
I haven't read many philosophy books, but I thought this was a pretty good compilation of the various pre-Socratic philosophers. The readings were taken from their key ideas and provided a good summary of each of them.
Satoru Inoue
Best part was the intro, where the major themes in early Greek philosophy (like kosmos, phusis) are explained. The main part of the book mostly consists of surviving excerpts from Greek philosophers before Socrates. It's very disjointed, but you probably can't do much better because of how little we have remaining of what these people actually wrote.

So it might be a good reference (there's probably better), and the intro is worth reading. What I got from the rest of the book was mostly some rand
David A. Beardsley
An excellent foundational book for anyone studying the Western tradition before Socrates. Good commentary, but most important, all the known texts of key writers such as Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles, Heraclitus and others. A good companion to have while reading any other history of the times.
You've read surveys of western philosophy, and you think you know something coherent about Parmenides, Zeno, and Heraclitus, and then you actually read what we have left of what they wrote, and it's like a Sappho poem, all half-finished sentences and ellipses.
cryptic, labor intensive, even though short, probably because short, these (mostly) fragments.

lotsa cool ideas come out of the pre-socratics: heraclitus' polemos, anaximander's apeiron, generally aletheia, &c.
Erik Graff
Mar 01, 2010 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philosophers
Recommended to Erik by: Karen Engdahl
Shelves: philosophy
I read this while visiting Walter Wallace and Karen Engdahl in Springfield, Vermont, focusing primarily on the critical apparatus and commentary as I'd already read other translations of the texts.
A marvelous thing to read ... I imagine Thales looking up up the starry sky and trying to make sense of the world. It is the position that serious metaphysicians begin from.
keloy reeves
As your basic approach to the higher step in understanding the modern greek philosophers ~
Charles Pearce
As usual, they were very hung up on air, water, earth, and fire.
Эмпедокл пиздец, Демокрит мужик.
A useful collection of fragments.
Insightful, Profound and Quotable.
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  • Conversations of Socrates
  • The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts
  • Early Socratic Dialogues
  • A History of Philosophy Volume 1: Greece and Rome, From the Pre-Socratics to Plotinus
  • Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle
  • The Origins of Greek Thought
  • Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks
  • The Greeks and the Irrational
  • The Enneads
  • Fragments
  • Hippocratic Writings
  • The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and Sophists
  • The Athenian Constitution
  • The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives
  • The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Discourses and Selected Writings
  • The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-82
  • The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance
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More about Jonathan Barnes...
Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Companions to Philosophy) The Presocratic Philosophers Coffee with Aristotle Greek Philosophers

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