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Ancient wisdom

Saluting Anthony Gottlieb's new history of philosophy from 600 BC to the Renaissance

By Jane O'Grady   December 2000

around 600 bc Thales said that everything is water. Anaximander said that it is the conflict of opposites, Anaximenes air, Heraclitus fire. Democritus and Leucippus claimed that it was invisible particles forever connecting and disconnecting. Were these thinkers, or for that matter were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics, and the medieval philosophers, doing metaphysics, epistemology, science, psychology, theology or myth? What is so infuriating and delightful about philosophy is that its practitioners are in perpetual disagreement not just about the philosophical issues but about what philosophy actually is.

Any history of western philosophy has to open with an attempted…

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