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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE SOPHISTS / PROTAGORAS


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Anarchic philosophy—Success not truth—Man the measure—All opinions true—Reductio ad absurdum


A certain analogy may perhaps be discerned between the progression of philosophic thought in Greece as we have traced it, and the political development which had its course in almost every Greek state during the same period. The Ionic philosophy may be regarded as corresponding with the kingly era in Greek politics. Philosophy sits upon the heights and utters its authoritative dicta for the resolution of the seeming contradictions of things. One principle is master, but the testimony of the senses is not denied; a harmony of thought and sensation is sought in the interpretation of appearances by the light of a ruling idea.

In Pythagoras and his order we have an aristocratic organisation of philosophy. Its truths are for the few, the best men are the teachers, equal as initiated partakers in the mysteries, supreme over all outside their society. A reasoned and reasonable order and method are symbolised by their theory of Number; their philosophy is political, their politics oligarchic. In the Eleatic school we have a succession of personal attempts to construct a domination in the theory of Nature; some ideal conception is attempted to be so elevated above the data of sensation as to override them altogether, and the general result we are now to see throughout the philosophic world, as it was seen also throughout the world of politics, in a total collapse of the principle of forced authority, and a development, of successively nearer approaches to anarchic individualism and doubt.

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