CwtC Session 1: Introduction and Pre-Socratic Period

Wednesday, September 9: Coffee with the Classics convened for its first meeting of the semester.  Dr. Mike Kane posed some challenging questions about the universe which we inhabit.  Is it inherently good?  Neutral?  Do we humans make it better? Worse?

He then introduced us to two pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus and Parmenides.  On the surface, they hold two radically different views of the universe.  Heraclitus is often paraphrased as saying “Everything changes” — and perhaps most famous for his aphorism “You cannot step twice into the same river” (Fragment 91).  Parmenides, at the other extreme, thought of nature categorically — that “It is” (as opposed to “It is not”).  Essentially, all things, which our senses tell us are varied and changing, are really just one and the same — without beginning and without end.

Both philosophers hold these three points of common ground:

  • Our view of nature as our senses tell it to us is false.
  • Nature is intelligible, however.
  • Only a select few will ultimately gain access to that truth (of what Nature truly is).

After we spent an hour or so wrestling with these ideas, Dr. Kane left us with one more quote of Heraclitus to ponder in the days ahead: “Your character is your fate” or “ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων” (DK 22B119). He challenged us to pose that question to those around us, besides reflecting on it ourselves.

*Editor’s note: while searching for an image of a pre-Socratic philosopher, I came across this clever and whimsical imagining of Heraclitus as a presidential candidate in 2012.  He is all about change!  But what of the other planks in his platform?

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