Customer Reviews: The Greek Philosophers: From Thales to Aristotle
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on October 28, 2005
This brief work of 161 pages is an excellent intro or review of the ancient Greek philosophers from the time of Thales to Aristotole. Guthrie focuses most of the work on cosmology/physics and on theology. Ethics and the nature of the soul take comparable place. Other issues are touched on as well.

The first chapter gives an excellent general overview of how ancient Greek thought differs from modern ways of thinking about key issues. The second chapter covers the Ionians and Pythagoreans. The third chapter deals with Heraclitus, Parmenides and the Pluralists. Chapter four concerns the Sophists and the reaction of Socrates. Chapters five and six relate to Plato: his doctrine of Ideas and his response to the Sophists. And chapters seven and eight discuss Aristotle. There is a brief bibliography and index at the back.

I found Guthrie's use of comparisons and contrasts between different philosophers (or groups of philosophers) very engaging and helpful. Guthrie's biases occasionally come through but they do not overwhelm the work. And although Guthrie seems to be running out of creative energy by the time he gets to Aristotle (as he admits himself that here he is falling back on standard approaches to Aristotle), I found even it to be helpful. And because the first six chapters were so excellent and insightful, I heartily recommend this work and give it five stars. (And with so many copies out there, you can't beat the price! By the way, the edition I have is the 1960 Harper Torchbooks edition. The cover is like that pictured.)
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on March 8, 2005
This has been the most lucid and concise book on Greek philosophy that I have so far read. In a short 168 pages, the essence of the pre-Socratic and post eras of Greek thought is revealed in both as a refresher from other sources and in additional clarifying points. Definitely beneficial in gaining the grasp of ancient Greek thought.

Guthrie starts out explaining the division of philosophers into the materialists or matter philosophers and the teleologists or form philosophers. The Ionian or Milesian School attempted at a scientific explanation represented by Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. It was Thales who taught that the world was made from water and moisture, while Anaximander saw it as a warring of many opposites, and unlike Pythagoreans - of no distinctions, no limitations, the earth as a sphere resting on nothing. And Anaximenes.taught the primary substance of the world was air. All had various ideas on explaining movement.

The Pythagoreans came from an Italian school, as opposed to the Ionian, and was a religious brotherhood defining reality as a combination of substances in a harmonious blend based on mathematics, and discovered the mathematics to musical arrangement. The believed in the immortality and transmigration of the soul, the kinship with nature, the earth as an organism, a kind of pantheism. So it was the limit put on the limitless that arranged and harmonized nature by numerical system, a ruling principle, the meaning of the good - a state of harmonia.

The next philosopher in succession was Heraclitus who criticized the others in their search for facts, teaching that the substance of the world was never a still fact, but was fire, that everything must be destroyed to be born, that all things are in constant motion, in flux, rejecting the peaceful and harmonious world of opposites taught by the Pythagoreans. Nothing was constant, universal and eternal, all was in constant temporal states.

Parmenides taught the opposite, in that movement was impossible, for there was no such thing as empty space, and the whole of reality consisted of a single, motionless and unchanging substance. Such reality was non-sensible, only to be reached by thought.

The pluralists consisted of Empedocles, Anaxogoras and Democritus. Empedocles taught similar to the Pythagoreans that the world was a variety of harmonious combinations of the four root substances of earth, water, air and fire. He also included the ingredients of love and strife in a materialistic way. Anaxogoras, using a atomic theory, believed in a moving cause apart from the matter into a collective mind which rules the world, a mind behind the universe which governs and orders its changes. The atomic theory was fully attributed to Democritus and possibly Leucippusa. The atomic view had the problem of movement which needed empty space. While later Epicurus took up gravity as a reason, it was a retrograde step and Democritius was thinking more clearly when he saw that in infinite space the conception of up or down had no meaning.

Next comes the sophists and it was Protagoras that taught pragmatism, that while there is no opinion that is truer, there are those that can be better, better in the sense of the individual in unifying harmony with the majority or collective. However, the sophists endorsed a severe relativity and values became choices of multiple word definitions chosen to each particular argument. Right and wrong, wisdom, and justice and goodness became nothing but names. And so it was Socrates that came up with a method to acquire arete, efficiency and excellence in the trade or occupation one does.This method consisted of inductive argument and general definition, that is exposing the false definitions and replacing them with the common meaning to the particular word or value. It was then that not an absolute was established, but rather an a higher level of reasoning in a continuous, advanced inquiry.

Plato, speaking of Socrates, took the ever moving flux of Heraclitus and the ever still unchanging world of Parmenides into a two world system, the world of the senses and the world of eternal ideas or forms. Thus individualism could be curbed and collective agreement could be established for the survival of the polis or city-state. He also incorporates the ideas of Pythagoreans' immortality and transmigration of the soul and the process of recollection. He taught dialectical thinking but beyond that used myth to provide for regions beyond such explanations. Virtue or efficiency and excellence is knowledge, knowledge needed to fully excel.

Guthrie next goes into an explanation of the Republic and government with the three parts of an individual and three classes of people and then into the Laws. The classes consisted of the ruling party and the soldier party, both with censorship and undemocratic authority but not able to own private property and of a poorer nature. Those that ruled did so out of a service, not out of a luxury or desires. It was the masses or working class that obeyed but the only ones who had the ability to gain riches.

Aristotle is then described in his rejection of the Platonic world of ideas and his idea of the universe, relying on the mental process or reason, common principles, the idea of immanent form and the conception of potentiality applying that to the problem of motion. He arrived at the concept of God as the Unmoved Mover, motionless, yet caused movement from actuality from engagement of eternal thought activity of the pure mind, which is life. This then brought motion and potentiality. More is mentioned on ethics, classes of the good by habits, man being a political animal is the answer over the world of ideas, and paradoxically states that divine reason can not be fully attained by man and yet it is foolish to emulate the gods and poets, but man should aim at his fullest potentiality. The ergon of every creature is to attain its own forma and perform its proper activity. The activity of mind is life.
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on November 9, 2007
One reviewer calls this book "lucid and concise," with which I completely agree. Another credits Guthrie with explaining the important Greek terms well, with which I also agree and consider very valuable in approaching this material. Guthrie also does an excellent job (in a very short work) of helping the reader get some grasp of the ancient Greek world, in which concepts we take for granted weren't yet developed; ideas about virtue, vice, deity and many other things were quite different from our modern nearest equivalents; and gross superstitions remained dominant and formed an important historical backdrop and contemporary background to the first emergence of sustained rational speculation. Some authors of longer works fail to provide this context, potentially leaving us with the impression that the Greeks' conceptual world wasn't much different from that of Descartes or Kant, but Guthrie portrays the chasm vividly in remarkably few pages.

The survey of Pre-Socratics is brief but particularly enlightening, and Guthrie does a very good job of showing their influences on Socrates and Plato, especially showing how Socrates reacted against his predecessors and shifted emphasis away from speculation about the material world to speculation about humans (ethics, political philosophy, and to a lesser extent metaphysics). Socrates and Plato weren't alone in this trend, and Plato in particular was heavily influenced by some of the Pre-Socratics, but placing them in their context and against their background sheds considerable light on the orientation of their thinking and their choices of subject matter. Guthrie also does a good job of sketching the progression from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle, with continuities and developments and well as rejections, departures and new lines of thought.

Other reviewers have given good summaries of the book's content, so I'll just say that Guthrie is clearly more interested in Plato than Aristotle. I can sympathize with this: Plato is one of the greats in world literature, while Aristotle is dry. Even Plato's wilder ideas are fascinating and rich in suggestion, while Aristotle is more comprehensive and systematic, but less fanciful (what would we do without Aristotle's logic? but it's nothing like the jolly romp of Plato's Euthyphro). In all, this book is an excellent brief introduction to Greek philosophy - highly recommended.
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on May 29, 2015
I agree with the other 2 start rater that it is difficult to read. Its hard to logically follow from one paragraph to the next and many parts are written as if the author is trying to sound smarter than they actually are, even though they probably are very intelligent. Many of the parts of written in a way like Yoda speaks, while other parts are clear. Great information - confusingly written and difficult to consume.
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W.K.C. Guthrie, the famous historian, shows us in this book the essence of Greek philosophy, travelling through the minds of the pre-soctratic thinkers and the birth in Athens of what would become the most unique trio of Wisdom-lovers in history. Prof. Guthrie's account is outstanding and far more profound than most of our century's writers.
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on November 28, 2012
I have always had a fascination with philosophy but found it hard to wrap my head around. This book is easy to read and gives a great introduction to the beginning of western philosophy. This book keeps it simple and doesn't introduce complex theories that are hard to follow. If you are interested in a brief introduction to early Greek Philosophy I would recommend this book.
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on July 21, 2013
Although this book consists of undergraduate lectures, it's quite clear that W.K. Guthrie is a first class scholar. This is demonstrated by his explanation of the subject. I have been over this territory before and, yet have learned much from this little book.
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on June 14, 2009
This book arrived in very good condition. It's a small light weight version which makes it easy to travel with and easy to read.It was really all I needed for my course work.
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on December 10, 2014
Hard to read and understand,even though Iam Greek and familiar with the words the author is using.I just read one third of it.The book was as described contition wise and came fast.
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on October 20, 2013
Book is largely AS described, and so a great pleasure! I will look for this Seller again, and if possible, buy from her/them AGAIN. I suggest YOU do the same; based on my experienece, and especially the time and trouble taken for the Description (which largely WAS accurate) by the Seller for an inexpensive book, I WON'T hesitate, will even LOOK FOR this Seller again, with pleasure(!!).

Steve Jones,
Yuors truly
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