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Early Greek Philosophy

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  865 ratings  ·  21 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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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
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
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
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.
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.
A useful collection of fragments.
Insightful, Profound and Quotable.
Oct 18, 2013 Aashi marked it as to-read
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  • Conversations of Socrates
  • A History of Philosophy 1: Greece and Rome
  • Early Socratic Dialogues
  • The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts
  • The Enneads
  • Fragments
  • The Discourses
  • De Anima (On the Soul)
  • Hippocratic Writings
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle
  • The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance
  • The Origins of Greek Thought
  • On the Good Life
  • The Greeks and the Irrational
  • Essays
  • Untimely Meditations
  • Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous
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More about Jonathan Barnes...
Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Companions to Philosophy) The Presocratic Philosophers Greek Philosophers Coffee with Aristotle

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