Philosophy was born in Greece in two divergent ways, on the left and right: the mortal and the immortal. Logically, the second quickly crushed the first.
Despite the diversity of Neolithic cultures that emerged independent of each other, human thought was reduced in all of them to mythical stories of gods that enslave humans. And, later, to mythical stories of heroes who rebel against their gods and die tragically; although they manage to live forever in the memory of mortals.
The stories of these heroes set the stage for the difficult path to free themselves from the yoke of the gods and their priests. As Prometheus in this image in which he steals the fire of the gods. The Greeks called the gods “immortal“; and from the mythical stories of heroes they drew a conclusion, which seems simple, but it was transcendental: What sets us apart as humans, is that we are not immortal, but mortal. In that way the Greeks defined themselves, applying to their existence the logical operation of denial (1): –Who are we?: Those who are not gods. That is, non-immortals. We are mortals. And that before there was Logic as a branch of philosophy.
We can’t be surprised. We have already seen what to “say not” is how human language is born.
And so were the first human beings to be proud of their ephemeral existence. For they discovered that the greatness of humanity is based on this declaration of humility: I am mortal, neither god nor slave of the gods; and that is why I respond to my actions. For them I will be recognized and remembered beyond my death. That is the sense of transcendence that the Greeks left us.
Too bad this declaration of humanity was not universal; For those proud mortals had slaves, who were even less than mortal: they were only things.
In spite of everything, the new way of thinking, from the artistic imagination and the use of logic, before the Academy was founded, moved away from the thinking of the priests who, at that time, still sought in some liver the intentions of the gods . The Greek punishment prepared the way for philosophy: the search for knowledge without the help of immortals.
Philosophy was born only in Greece, in the second half of the last millennium a. C. He was born of the human subject in search of the objective knowledge of the world around him and of which he himself is a part. They were a new class of heroes, like Prometheus. But philosophers did not steal the knowledge of the gods: they sought it by their own means.
Philosophy was born as a dialectic, as a dialogue with nature, with others and with oneself. A pregnant and difficult knowledge of everything that affects and deeply concerns the human being.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (540-480 BC) He was known as “the dark one“. He discovered that everything is subject to change and in permanent struggle. Because in everything that exists there is opposition and contradiction; Everything becomes its opposite. In such a way that everything is and at the same time is not. No wonder they called him “the dark one“.
Although he also found that there is order in the chaos. To the change Heraclitus called becoming. And to the order in that change he called Logos. He said that life is like a river in which we cannot bathe twice, because the second time is no longer the same river. And yet it remains the same river. That is why we must seek the Logos, the meaning of everything that changes by remaining and remains changing, including our existence.
What a task for philosophy, even today, 25 centuries later. And if that challenge were small, then Democritus arrived.
Democritus of Thrace. (460-370 BC) sought the composition of the world and ourselves and found that everything that exists is composed of two causes (or elements): the what it is: the smallest parts, homogeneous and indivisible are the atoms; and what is not: the void, which makes the movement of atoms possible by leaving them room.
Today we know that even atoms – which we thought were smaller – are divided into even smaller particles, which we call subatomic; and we continue investigating the energies that unite and keep them apart. As well as the nature of space in the cosmos.
We know that, although emptiness and non-being are invisible, the human mind is able to remember what it is no longer and also to imagine what it is not yet; moving in a foggy where the possibilities of the new play: both of the being and the non-being.
Thus Democritus and Heraclitus come together in the same thought: the Democritus emptiness is not an icy and inert void, but rather presents the becoming as what it is not yet. And it is that emptiness of the new possible that is not yet, that humans are able to imagine and get involved in making it a reality by making it habitable; or or prevent it from happening.
In this essay I defend (1) that we can move in that foggy on the left, because we have inherited from the mammals a brain divided into two parts, each dedicated to one half of our body; and that in this way, on our left, we are able to intuit the new, which is not, but can become, even as a misty possibility; and that it is thus presented to the other side (the right), to be determined through material action and interpreted (2) through rational thinking.
The tasks posed by Heraclitus and Democritus are still there before us as a pending challenge. Because the following philosophers chose the easy path of the right hand exclusively. It took 2,000 years until Francis Bacon pushed away the accumulated litter.
Metaphysics replaces the dialectic
All philosophers did not think like Heraclitus or Democritus. Parmenides opened a path contrary to theirs. What he called – how not – the “way of truth“, which would turn the world upside down.
Parmenides of Elea (530 BC) described as the first principle that “The Being is“. Eternal and immovable; and everything that contradicts this principle can only be the opinion of mortals. Immortality was returning, and this time to stay.
About seven centuries earlier, the Judeo-Christian sacred writings tell us that Moses asked God his name, and that God present as a burning bush answered: “I am who I am“. The new philosophy founded by Parmenides cleared the way back to that theology, which would later become dogma.
Although Democritus lived after Parmenides, neither his ideas nor those of Heraclitus were able to continue, especially with the emergence of Plato.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
Socrates (Athens, 470-399 BC) had Plato (Athens, 427-347 BC) as a disciple; and this one had Aristotle (Estagira, 384-322 BC) as a disciple. The three based their philosophical proposals on Parmenides and their doctrine of Being.
Plato is the author of the theory of forms or theory of ideas. He separate the world in two: that of things that can be perceived by the senses and the world of ideas. Ideas, like the concept of Being, are eternal, true and immutable. They exist by themselves. While sensitive things are like confusing and changing shadows cast in the bottom of a cave.
It did not occur to Plato that this dark and changing characteristic could be the initial phase of any process of determining a concept by the human mind, including his. The sensitive should not have been considered disposable, but essential for productive, material or intellectual work.
How did Plato not realize that? Because it would have been to recognize the fundamental role of work as support of Athenian society. And that was a slave thing.
The drastic social split in masters and slaves – and in men and women -, which had begun in Sumer, and independently in many other places in the world, had the same consequences on thought. Slaves did not count, nor was their work, knowledge and creativity recognized. Nor did women belong to the visible part of society, except for some other exception, almost always decorative.
The only one that counted was the man who held the sword or the whip, made the decisions and wrote and pointed out the important thing with his right hand. The right hand (as in this image of Plato. While his left is occupied in holding a book containing the “truth” written). The rest was lost in the dark, in the invisibility, did not exist for the social intelligence of the community.
With Plato, idealism and formalism took shape, which still remain today. For example, among formalistic scientists, who still try to make robots talk by teaching them words. Easy roads usually lead to large traffic jams.
Aristotle (384-322 BC), a disciple of Plato, was not only a philosopher, but also a scientist (with prejudices that limited him). He wrote about astronomy, physics and biology, as well as philosophy, ethics and metaphysics.
Although he supported the metaphysical doctrine of Being, he did not completely despise Heraclitus’ dialectic as Plato did.
His idea of women is that of a slave and sexist society. He thought women should eat half as much as men. Also that, in procreation, the male part was the one that generated the soul and inserted life into the female passive element.
While for Plato the important and immovable idea was the idea in general, the unchanging being of Parmenides, Aristotle put the emphasis on the reality of each particular object, which is what can be observed in reality. This was decisive for the importance that Aristotle would have in the future. We will see it later in chapter 22 (3). Averroes and Tomás de Aquino. Aristotle resurfaced from his ashes every time rational thinking was crushed by religious fanaticism, but it was also used by that same fanaticism to close the path to science and free thinking (4).
What the doctrine of Being became
The Academy created by Plato displayed all the possibilities of Greek thought within the limits of a society of slavery. But the germ of theology that included, grew to devour philosophy.
A century later, Greece was invaded by the Roman army. And a few years later a Roman citizen Pablo de Tarso (St. Paul for Christians) arrived at the Athens forum and said to the audience: “I come to speak to all of you of a God, whom you worship without knowing him.” The Being of Parmenides and Plato, become now the only God.
The Logos of Heraclitus had no better luck. The Christian Gospel of St. John was written in Greek and began like this: “In the beginning was the logos. The logos was with God and the logos was God. ” Later it was translated into Latin and the “logos” was translated by the “verbum“. Today it is read in the Catholic churches in Spanish: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, the Word was God”. That is what is called a thorough cleaning.
The dialectic disappeared, first denied by metaphysics; and now, by the power of God. Only He could create and change things, interpreted by priests, as always.
Years later, Christian priests destroyed the Academy, burning all the philosophy books they found. Many were lost forever. Of the 200 treaties written by Aristotle, 31 were saved, thanks to Muslim scholars who translated them into Arabic and thus they could survive until us.
The blinding light of Christianity dropped a very black shadow over human thought. But in the darkest, it dawns. That is also dialectic. It was taught to me by my mother, who learned it without studying philosophy, but by being a woman.
Next chapter: One God to unite a divided empire
Europe, unified culturally and politically by the Roman Empire, came to have only one God throughout the fourth century. But still the Empire could not last long.
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Current chapter NOTES
(1) The hominins had discovered logical denial in practice, by building their tools. See: Determination on the right
(2) Michael Gazzaniga, a researcher with Sperry of splinted brain patients, defends the thesis that the left cerebral hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body) acts as an interpreter for the other hemisphere, eventually inventing, if necessary, some missing item to complete a story.
(3) See: Averroes and Thomas Aquinas
(4) In the Renaissance (15th century), the Inquisition condemned Galileo based on Aristotle’s ideas that the Earth was the center of the universe.