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Philosophy Questions Essay

1) Explain (the main ideas and views) and evaluate (by giving arguments) the view of Heraclitus regarding the nature of reality? Heraclitus was one of many pre-Socratic philosophers, and he’s considered to be the most important and influential. I don’t know why, I find him a bit contradictory. His way of thinking was the result of perception and intuition. He despised rational, logical, conceptual thought. His pronouncements were purposely self-contradictory. “We are and at the same time are not.” “Being and nonbeing is at the same time the same and not the same.” (I’m totally confused) He posed two main ideas –

1- The Heraclitean doctrine of “flux” or “Everything is Flux” This doctrine of flux (or as I understood it “Everything flows”) says that the whole cosmos is in a constant state of change. He expressed this view with his famous remark “You cannot step in the same river twice”. This remark raises an important philosophical problem of identity or sameness over change. This question doesn’t apply just to rivers, but to anything that change over time: plants, animals, it applies to people too, the problem of personal identity – you are not the same person today as you were yesterday. 2- Things change. (Even though I find him contradictory, I do have to agree that everything is in a state of constant change).

Heraclitus wasn’t just looking for the primary substance, he believed that everything was constantly changing and he was looking to explain these constant changes or transformations. He didn’t believe change was random, instead, he saw all change as determined by a cosmic order he called the Logos (Greek for “word”) According to Heraclitus, all is fire. Fire, whose nature is to ceaselessly change, is the fundamental substance of the universe, even more than water because fire transforms solids into liquids and because it was always in motion. He was also a materialist (all objects are physical or material). I didn’t understand him well, in my opinion I think he just wanted to contradict Parmenides, for the heck of it.

2) Explain and evaluate the view of Empedocles?

Empedocles was another major Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, also a materialist. His Pluralistic views declared that everything is made of four elements (or roots, to put it in his own terms) air, water, fire, and earth. His philosophy is best known for being the originator of the four-element theory of matter. He diplomatically sided partly with Parmenides (being is unchanging) and partly with Heraclitus (being is ceaselessly changing). He thought that true reality is permanent and unchangeable, yet he also thought it absurd to dismiss the change we experience as mere illusion. Because of this he was possibly the first philosopher to attempt to reconcile and combine the apparently conflicting metaphysics of those before him. Although he stated that true reality is changeless, objects do appear to change and this apparent change is brought about by the variation of the relative proportions of the four elements.

Empedocles also recognized that an account of reality must explain not merely how changes in the objects of experience occur but why they occur. In other words, he attempted to provide an explanation of the forces that cause change. He taught that the basic elements enter new combinations under two forces or agents — love and strife– which are essentially forces of attraction and decomposition. He was a competent scientist; regarded variously as a materialist physicist, a shamanic magician, a mystical theologian, a healer, a democratic politician, a living god (proclaimed himself a god), and a fraud.

3) Explain and evaluate the view of Anaximander?

The second of the Milesians, a pupil of Thales, sought the primary substance. In my opinion, Anaximander was way ahead of his time, he thought that all dying things return to the element they came from. He believed that it wasn’t an element like water, fire, earth, and air, but that the beginning is endless and unlimited and does not age or decay and that it is what all things come from. A primordial mass, containing everything in the cosmos, does it sound familiar? Big-Bang Theory, maybe? Anaximander maintained that the basic substance out of which everything comes must be even more elementary than water and every other substance of which we have knowledge. He thought the basic substance must be ageless, boundless (Greek: “apeiron”, that is, “that which has no boundaries”) or infinite, changing, undefined, and indeterminate. He doubted whether any fundamental or primary substance would exist in an observable pure form.

In a sense he was correct, as we today know that we don’t observe the primary substance anywhere in the world; even atoms are composed of smaller particles that normally don’t exist anywhere by themselves. 4) Explain, evaluate and compare (by stating how they are similar or different) the views of Parmenides and Heraclitus. They both agreed that the world could be reduced to one thing, but never agreed on what that one thing was. Even though their philosophies were in direct opposition, they were both named by Plato to be among the wisest of the early Greek philosophers. Heraclitus (H) thought everything was made out of fire, because fire was ever changing. Parmenides (P) disagreed; he thought the entire idea of change was impossible. H– Maintained everything is constantly changing and becoming something else. P– States, everything is constantly staying the same.

H– Thought reality is ceaselessly changing, permanence is an illusion. P– Being is unitary, an undifferentiated whole, eternal. All of us, although we seem individual, are part of one great unity or whole. This view is known as monism. Parmenides arrived at his truths through pure logic. He calculated and deduced his doctrine of Being, he did not care about finding the primary substance, or in looking for the features of reality. His methods were completely different that of those before him. While Milesians, Heraclitus, and the Pythagoreans looked around at the world to find answers and tried to figure out its primary substance, Parmenides, simply assumed some very basic principles and attempted to deduce from these what he thought must be the true nature of being.

(This guy was simple and logic) He based his philosophy on “principles of reason”, which just means that they are known prior to experience. For example: if something changes, it becomes something different. Thus, he reasoned, if being itself were to change, then it would become something different. But what is different from being is nonbeing, and nonbeing just plain isn’t. Thus, he concluded, being does not change. Question #1 explains Heraclitus in detail.

I would’ve love to see these 2 up close and personal debating, what a pair!!! 5) Explain and evaluate the views of Protagoras. A sophist, and an expert in rhetoric, was best known for 3 claims. a) That man is the measure of all things (which is often interpreted as a sort of radical relativism) “Man is the measure of all things. Of the things that are, that they are of the things that are not, that they are not” b) That he could make the “worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)” Protagoras was a relativist about knowledge; the question is what type of relativist? Is knowledge relative to the species, or culture, or the individual?

The species relativism view claims that truth is relative to our species, or relative to humanity as a whole. Cultural relativism view claims that ethics is determined by each culture. What is right and wrong ought to be determined by culture. Individual relativism (Subjectivism) claims that each person ought to determine what is true for themselves. As long as you do what you think is right, then you have acted correctly. Whatever you believe to be true, is true. Descriptive relativism says that as a matter of empirical fact, different cultures have different beliefs about what is true, this seems to be true. c) That one could not tell if the gods existed or not.

Protagoras was agnostic (undecided about God’s existence) He said –About the gods, I am not able to know whether they exist or do not exist, nor what they are like in form; for the factors preventing knowledge are many; the obscurity of the subject, and the shortness of human life– 6) Explain and evaluate the views of Pythagoras.

Not much is known about Pythagoras because he wrote nothing, and it is hard to say how much of “his” doctrine is “his”. He was the founder of The Pythagoreans Cult or Club, (Pythagoras followers), they kept their written doctrines pretty secret, and controversy remains over the exact content of these doctrines. Pythagoras is said to have maintained that all things are numbers, numbers are ideas, ideas are immaterial, therefore; all things are immaterial (Idealist) “Everything is composed of numbers”, could mean, all things take up space and have measure. He was also a Dualist, dualism states that some objects are physical and some objects are not physical. The Pythagorean combination of mathematics and philosophy helped promote an important concept in metaphysics, one we will encounter frequently. This is the idea that the fundamental reality is eternal, unchanging, and accessible only to reason. 7) Explain and evaluate the views of Anaxagoras.

Anaxagoras introduced philosophy to Athens, where it flourished; he also introduced into metaphysics an important distinction between matter and mind. Unlike Empedocles, he believed that everything is infinitely divisible. He is known best for two theories. First, he held that in the physical world everything contains a portion of everything else. The second is the theory of Mind (Nous) as the initiating and governing principle of the cosmos. He postulated that the source of all motion is something called nous. This Greek word is sometimes translated as “reason,” sometimes as “mind,” and what Anaxagoras meant by nous is apparently an equation between mind and reason. Mind, according to him, is separate and distinct from matter in that it alone is unmixed. He believed, the universe was an infinite, undifferentiated mass. Mind did not create matter but only acted on it. 8) Explain, in your opinion, which, if any, of the early Greeks had a reasonable conception of the nature of reality.

I might be wrong, but Anaximander seems to have been a pretty down to earth guy, his explanations and theories of the universe, and his believes in the existence of new and older worlds make me think of the constant expansion of the universe (…some coming to be), the evolution of our entire universe since the Big-Bang, and how many planets, stars, galaxies, etc, have already “passed away”. Anaximander, another Milesian thinker, rejected Thales, and argued instead that an indefinite substance — the Boundless — was the source of all things. According to Anaximander, the cold and wet condensed to form the earth while the hot and dry formed the moon, sun and stars. The heat from the fire in the skies; which we see as the stars and other heavenly bodies, through holes in the mist; dried the earth and shrank the seas. The seasons change as powers of heat and cold and wetness and dryness alternate. It’s a rather fantastic scheme, but at least Anaximander sought natural explanations for the origin of the natural world. He believed that the origin of all things was what he called the “apeiron” – an unlimited or indefinite indestructible substance, out of which individual things were created and destroyed.

He appears, like many pantheists, to have believed that there were many worlds or universes, some coming to be, others passing away. As you can see, he proposed a theory of the universe that explained things in terms of natural powers and processes. 9) Explain and evaluate Plato’s criticism of the views of Protagoras and others that argue that knowledge is relative. Protagoras, an early agnostic, was one of the few Greek thinkers who did not believe in the pantheon of Greek gods. While it would have been difficult politically for him to just come right out and say, “these gods aren’t real”, he expressed that feeling in his “homo-mensura” doctrine, “man is the measure of all things”; that the only thing that matters is the actions of a person, that the gods are irrelevant and have no influence on a person’s life. Or it can be interpreted the way Plato did, that there is no absolute knowledge: one person’s views about the world are as valid as the next person’s.

Plato thinks that because this world is constantly changing, that truth in this world is impossible, truth for him is something, eternal. Plato also believed objects in this world are not eternal, so are beliefs about them, cannot always be correct and we cannot have truth. Plato argued strenuously against this theory. In the Theaetetus dialogue, Plato pointed out that, if Protagoras is correct, and one person’s views really are as valid as the next person’s, then the person who views Protagoras’s theory as false has a valid view. Protagoras did get in some trouble for his philosophy, and he was also frequently criticized for “inciting social disorder” by encouraging people to ignore the gods and live rational lives. In the Theaetetus, Plato also tried to show that another popular idea about knowledge is mistaken. This is the idea that knowledge may be equated with sense perception. Plato had several reasons for thinking that this equation was false.

One reason for thinking that knowledge is not just sense perception is the fact that knowledge clearly involves more than sense perception. Another reason is that you can retain knowledge even after you are no longer sensing a thing. Finally, and even more important, in Plato’s view true knowledge is knowledge of what it is. The objects of sense perception are always changing; sense perception and knowledge cannot be one and the same (Heraclitus). According to Plato, the highest form of knowledge is that obtained through the use of reason because perfect beauty or absolute goodness or the ideal triangle cannot be perceived. Plato was certain that true knowledge must be concern with what is truly real. So this means that the objects of true knowledge are the Forms because the objects of sense perception are real only to the extent that they “participate” in the Forms. 10) Explain and evaluate how Plato claims people can know the Forms.

Perfect Intelligence- Knowledge of the Forms.

Our thoughts become knowledge. Plato claimed that all physical objects copy the original, unchanging Form or Forms. Physical objects are imperfect copies. Like Heraclitus, he held that this reality is constantly changing and shifting. What is true today may be false tomorrow in this world. In the realm of the Forms- truth is eternal. Let’s say I want to make a dress for my daughter, so I have to think of a kind of dress, her size, what color, all the materials I’ll need in general, and how to sew it together. So the dress idea is going to be born before I sew the actual dress. After I sew it, based on my original idea/pattern, it’s not going to be as perfect as I thought it originally. Because she’s going to wear it, it might get torn, it’ll get old, and at the end it will no longer look even similar to my original design, but my original idea of the dress will remain with me in my head, even if the dress isn’t physically there anymore, my perfect dress idea is immortal, unchangeable. Plato’s metaphysics is known as the Theory of Forms is also called the Theory of Ideas. In other words the nature of reality is a physical realm and a Platonic realm of the Forms.

The truth is that the ideas or Forms are what “really” exist! The Republic, the most famous dialogue, gives Plato’s best-known account of the Theory of Forms. According to the theory, what is truly real are not the objects we encounter in sensory experience but, rather, Forms, and these can only be grasped intellectually. All physical objects are copies of these original entities. The Forms exist in another plain of reality- in an immaterial realm. In Plato’s similes of The Cave and The Divided Line, he argues that to gain knowledge of the Forms, a person must be “re-oriented”, away from being concerned and caught up in the world of the senses: “the mind as a whole must be turned away from the world of change until its eye can bear to look straight at reality, and at the brightest of all realities which is what we call the good”.

Beauty is another example of a form, there is only one Form of Beauty, but many things can be beautiful. Characteristics of forms according to Plato: ageless, eternal, unchanging, unmoving, and indivisible. Note: For some reason I’m very confused with questions 9 & 10, I’m not able to separate properly between Plato’s theory on Knowledge and Forms, I tried my best and because I wasn’t able to express my views correctly I had to copy some stuff from the book and the slides. 11) Explain and evaluate Aristotle’s notion of the 4 causes. Four Causes refers to an influential principle in Aristotelian thought whereby causes of change or movement are categorized into four fundamental types of answer to the question “why?” Aristotle held that there were four kinds of causes:

1- Formal cause: What is the thing? In other words, what is its form? This cause determines what a thing is. It is akin to the essential property or form. 2- Material cause: What is it made of? This cause determines what a thing is made of.
3- Efficient cause: What made it? This cause determines how an object is made or created.
4- Final cause: What purpose does it serve? This cause determines the purpose of function of an object, person or state of affairs. That is, for what end was it made. 12) Explain and evaluate Aristotle’s 10 categories.

Aristotle thought that there were yet other ways that humans use to think about things; so he developed ten basic categories of being. These categories allow us to comprehend various aspects of any thing’s being. Not only do we want to know that a thing is; we want to know what it is and how it functions. These are the 10 categories or predicates to distinguish one object from another.

1. Substance
2. Quantity
3. Quality
4. Relationship
5. Activity
6. Passivity
7. Date/ Time
8. Place
9. Posture
10. Constitution/ Possession

Note: I wasn’t able to come up with an explanation other than just naming the categories by reading the book and slides only. I searched the internet and found several articles which I saved, but I couldn’t get myself to write anything here based upon them. 13) Explain and evaluate Aristotle’s third man argument and theory of forms. This was actually formulated by Plato as a way of criticizing his works on the Theory of Forms. The Third Man Argument (TMA) is one of the most compelling arguments against the Theory of Forms. Aristotle thought that Plato’s theory was metaphorical and meaningless. His own views are that the Forms are universals—something that more than one individual can be. Plato says what connect two coins together is circularity. Aristotle says, what connect the individual objects with the “form” of circularity? Some other form? What connects that form to the form of circularity… this will result in an infinite progression of forms… It was Aristotle who actually developed the ‘man’ example. It’s designed to highlight the problem of infinite regress in Plato’s work on Forms.

For example, a man who is described as a man because he has the Form of a man, then a third man (or Form) would be needed in order to explain how the man and the Form of the man are both classed as man. This leads to an infinite regress, as to explain how the third man and the form of the third man are classed as man, you would need a fourth man and so on. The Third Man Argument isn’t simply infinite regress, but that each particular form would regress infinitely based on the definition of “participation.” 14) Compare and Contrast Plato’s view of Forms with Aristotle’s view of forms. Their views were different, but to some extent similar. Aristotle does not agree with Plato about the nature of ideas, forms for Aristotle exist only in the objects, not in some separate reality, it makes no sense to talk about participating in some immaterial essence in a separate realm. I’m going to take a long shot at this and say, Plato was an idealist, and looked to the skies and other worlds for his answers, while Aristotle was focused on the world around him.

Aristotle was more of a realist, he liked more scientific studies and practical philosophy, and came up with some practical everyday logic which we use today without even realizing it. He disliked theories for which there was no proof or reason, and criticized Plato’s theory of forms. 15) Aristotle says “Everything which comes into being is brought about by something [else]” if that were the case, would existence not be a paradox as Gorgias points out? Explain. If this were true, then how or what caused the Big-Bang? Personally, I’m a big believer of the Big-Bang theory (as you can probably see from my answers in previous questions), even though I have to admit is mysterious, and confusing; it intrigues me, the fact that we are here, how did we get here? I find it to be sort of mystical, and fantastic.

I used to be atheist, but always had that little pinching feeling that there’s got to be another explanation to “ALL” these, so I have to agree with Aristotle “everything comes into being from/by something else”. Just look at the DNA molecule, such a meticulous process, and happening constantly in every living thing, ever since…when? The beginning of times, how did it began?, when did it began?, how does DNA knows what to do, in which order and when to do it? So, yes, Aristotle was on the right track, in my opinion, and the only paradox I see is, the who or what started it all, just like what came first, the chicken or the egg? “You can’t get something from nothing, as such, there must be a being that is pure actuality which sets into motion the world, the world of potential and perishable things.” On the other hand, Gorgias proposed:

•That nothing exist
•That if anything does exist, it is incomprehensible
•That even if it is comprehensible, it cannot be communicated Gorgias’s propositions are said to be logical contradictions, how can they be logical if they contradict each other? How is it that “nothing exists”? I’m definitely puzzled, and if it does exist, it’s incomprehensible? Was he questioning his/our own existence? How can something be comprehensible but cannot be communicated? I have no explanation for Gorgias’s propositions; as a matter of fact I don’t really understand or know how to even try to make sense of them.


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