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Long time follower, first time asker I deeply identify with the second part Nietzsche's aphorism: 'He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.' (Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.) As it relates to a thirst for knowledge that takes you deeper into the rabbit hole (one -- potentially wrong -- interpretation). I found that sometimes unanswerable questions have obsessed me past the point of healthy living, and that to get out of this mindset I had to... just stop gazing However I do not think this was a novel idea. Are there any examples of this idea in ancient philosophy? Citations & references appreciated Best,

A little more pedantically than you, I would say, regarding that sentence about the abyss, that an adventurous philosopher looks long and hard even where no explanation seems to lie. That's the abyss. Gazing into an abyss feels like a neutral or innocuous desire to know, until you imagine yourself being looked at in the age of looking. The abyss gazes into you, meaning that it spots you looking for something in it. It sees you actively searching for an explanation. In other words, I don't exactly take the sentence as you do, but we're reading it similarly. And I am grateful for your response to it: giving up on gazing when you see you're being gazed at. You can understand Kant's advice to metaphysicians as similar to what you're describing. Stop trying to answer these traditional questions as if they were real questions; learn to diagnose the questions in their unanswerability, down to the human desire to exceed empirical human knowledge. But you wanted to know specifically about ancient philosophers...

I am currently working on an article whose core argument hinges in part on a premise that refers to Socrates'/Plato's take on beauty, and its relationship to justice, truth and goodness. Put plainly, the premise goes as follows: in opposing the Sophists' privileging of art and poetry, for Plato, beauty is nothing but a sign of the truthfulness, justice and goodness of something. Said otherwise, in Plato there is an implicit yet inextricable correspondence between these four realms- only what is just can be good, and only what is truthful can be just and good, whereas whatever partakes of all these qualities can only be deemed beautiful. Is this premise correct? Does Plato's texts support it? My knowledge of ancient philosophy, and particularly of Platonism, is rather partial, and I am deriving this premise from a rather intuitive interpretation of my piecemeal reading of some of his dialogues. Also, can you specifically suggest some of Plato's dialogues where this premise is apparent? Can you suggest...

The terms in which you pose the question are not alien to Plato's dialogues, but in the dialogues his character rarely describe things in such abstract systematic terms. Socrates, for one, is always moving back and forth between the abstractions about what is beautiful and good and specific objects (a fine horse, a golden spoon). If anything it is the neoplatonic tradition that uses the terms found in your question. And although philosophers like Plotinus have brought great insights both to the study of Plato and to our understanding of the world, they are far from the last word on what the dialogues say. So I begin by cautioning you away from these ways of summarizing Plato. The dialogue Hippias Major is the first place to look for what you are discussing, both because Socrates tries to understand "to kalon" (what is beautiful, fair, fine), and because he asks how it might be related to the good. Diotima's speech in Plato's Symposium, and the long speech Socrates makes in the middle of the Phaedrus,...

Why did all the ancient philosophers seem so fascinated by astronomy? Their interest in math and "physics" is understandable, as math can be seen as very similar to certain branches of philosophy in that it is not the study of a particular existence, but, rather, the study of "existence," and physics is the study of the seemingly occult laws that govern everything, which is also very similar to philosophy in a sense, but astronomy is just the extrapolation of those two fields on "arbitrarily chosen" pieces of mass. Math, and even physics to a large extent, are "implicit" (for lack of better term) to existence, while astronomy is wholly explicit.

You are completely right to notice the early absorption with astronomy. I have heard people say “Greek philosophy began on May 28, 585 BC, at 6:13 in the evening” – because of astronomy. Thales, who is often called the first Greek philosopher, predicted a solar eclipse that we now know to have taken place on that date. Not only did Thales thereby establish the credentials of philosophers as “ones who know” by being able to predict a coming natural event; he also thereby proved a point about the natural world that encapsulates early philosophy’s turn away from religion. If astonishing events like solar eclipses are not the capricious actions of mysterious gods but rather quite regular events in the natural world, then the world can be adequately studied through rational methods and without dependence on old stories handed down about divine action. Mind you, this is only one way to understand the earliest philosophers. My point is that interest in astronomy is part of this picture and even one of the...

Milo Yiannopoulos recently resigned from Breitbart amid controversial comments about that a relationship between an adult male and a teenager could be beneficial. Without wishing to imply a defence of his claims, what I wanted to ask is -- didn't Socrates make essentially the same claim 2500 years ago in the Symposium, and what has changed between now and then to make the idea less intellectually respectable?

A lot that Milo Yiannopoulos said about sex calls the Symposium to mind, and for all I know was intended to. He distinguished between relations involving pre-pubescent children and those involving teenagers past the age of puberty, and the latter type certainly existed in Plato’s time. Moreover the relationships discussed in the Symposium take place, with very few exceptions, between males. But let’s subdivide your two questions into three. 1) Did Socrates claim that adult/teenager relationships could be beneficial? (You don’t specify to whom they would be beneficial, but I assume you mean “to the teenager.”) 2) Were relationships of this kind considered normal in Socrates’ time? 3) What has changed since then? It’s worth adding question (2) because Plato presents Socrates attempting to give a philosophical interpretation and clarification of existing practices. What he says makes fuller sense if we recognize what was being done in that time and place. Thus it’s not that Socrates saw people around him...

Did Plato really believe in the plausibility of the "utopia" established in the Republic, or was his goal merely to formulate an argument?

The first thing I’ll say is important. Nothing in my answer will settle this question for everyone. This has long been one of the questions about Plato’s Republic that its readers debate the most heatedly, and it will likely that way. As the question is stated, it has an ambiguity in it and a false dilemma. These are worth clearing up. The ambiguity appears in the phrase “the plausibility of the utopia.” To call a proposed form of government (whether utopian or not) “plausible” could mean 1) that it’s plausible to believe such a form of government could come into existence, or 2) that it’s plausible to believe such a form of government would work well if it did come into existence. (While we are on that phrase, let me gently take issue with your word “utopia.” The Republic describes a utopia in Book 2: a peaceful, vegetarian farming community in which people eat roasted acorns and sleep on straw mats. That would be perfect, Socrates says, but Glaucon doesn’t want to hear another word about such an...

Did Socrates believe that animals possessed souls? I come to a logical contradiction when I apply his teachings to the question.

I would be curious to hear what contradiction you arrive at. It's hard to guess from what you say just which aspects of his teaching imply that animals do have souls and which aspects imply that they don't. But I can summarize some of the things he says in Plato's dialogues and suggest one path to a contradiction. By the way, I say "in Plato's dialogues" by way of making clear that I will talk about the Socrates we encounter in those works, not about a version of Socrates we get from other authors and not about the hypothetical, hard to pin down, "Socrates who really existed." The Socrates in Plato's dialogues says a lot more of a philosophical nature about souls than any other Socrates, so we should begin with him. Although there are many dialogues in which Socrates does not discuss the soul, at some points Plato has him argue at length that it survives a person's death. Plato's PHAEDO is devoted to this question, but we also find arguments for immortality of the soul in MENO, PHAEDRUS, and REPUBLIC....

What might Socrates think of this year's presidential election?

I’ll focus on the Socrates we see in Plato, because that is the Socrates we know of who produces the most extended and theoretical discussions of politics. In general the Platonic Socrates expresses very little affection for democracy. At his trial, as that is reported in Plato’s APOLOGY, he speaks insultingly toward the jury that represents that democracy. At many points he voices his respect for the very un-democratic enemy Sparta. References to “the many” (never in a good sense) appear throughout the dialogues. The distaste for democracy is not merely abstract. Pericles was by far the most successful and talented political leader of the Athens that Socrates lived in, and was repeatedly elected to the post of general; yet in Plato’s GORGIAS Socrates dismisses him as having corrupted the people of Athens and as accomplishing no more than to fill the city with “garbage” – evidently a reference to the Parthenon and other buildings. So before asking Socrates’ opinion about our election, bear in mind...

I wonder how philosophers were dealing with economical issues in ancient Greece: who took care of for instance Plato's and Aristotle's everyday needs: food, clothes etc.

Readers sometimes forget that Plato and Aristotle, and most other philosophers of their time, belonged to the economic and intellectual elite of their society. Even Socrates, despite his reputation for poverty, actually must have been a land-owning Athenian citizen of the hoplite (infantry) class -- not one of Athens' wealthy by any means, but not poor and perhaps not even having to work for a living. But the question doesn't include Socrates, and he's the much more controversial figure to speak of, so let's focus on Plato and Aristotle. Plato came from a prosperous family. He had the resources to offer to pay a substantive fee on Socrates' behalf at Socrates' trial. There is no evidence that he ever worked a profession, let alone that he farmed. (Farming was by far the most common livelihood in ancient Greek cities, yet although many of Plato's dialogues refer often to the professions and the knowledge in them, they rarely include farming. It is an odd oversight.) The ancient tradition that he...

Who is the first philosopher ever? Is it Thales?

Scholars no longer say with the same confidence they used to that Thales was "the first" philosopher, or even the first European philosopher. There was a time when historians could assert, as Gordon Clark did: "Greek philosophy began on May 28, 585 B.C. at 6:13 in the evening." There's some truth behind a statement like that, but it also rests on a number of questionable assumptions. Let's start by separating European philosophy from other traditions of wisdom literature and cosmology. Leaving India and China aside, for instance, does Thales then emerge as clearly the first thinker? He was called one of the "seven sages" of archaic Greece, but that doesn't help, given how little we know about those sages, or how far we are from a canonical list of the seven. The late-ancient author Diogenes Laertius treats Thales as a very early figure in philosophy, but even he considers whether the Persian Magi (Zarathustra and his followers) should count as predecessors to Thales, or the "gymnosophists" or naked wise...

Is perfume an art

There are several ways of taking your question. One might respond by asking "Has our culture treated perfume as art?" -- but the answer there is No; and I assume that you already know that. If you're asking philosophers this question, you might also be asking something historical. "Do philosophers today speak of perfume as an art?" I think the answer there is also No. Traditionally, philosophers of art have required art objects to be more complex things than whiffs of perfume are. But you may be asking a third question, "Should philosophers speak of perfume as an art?" and now things get interesting. A whiff of perfume doesn't inspire the same type of reflective response that paintings, films, and poems do. And yet it can be reacted to as beautiful (or the opposite); it can inspire debates about personal taste and objective value; it figures in complex relations between human beings. In these respects it at least shares several traits with art objects. Is it just the ordinariness of perfume that has...

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