Seers, Sages, Philosophers: an Introduction to the Pre-Socratics
Our inquiry will begin with a consideration of Pythagoras, the inventor (according to Plato) of the “philosophical way of life”; we will give particular attention to Pythagoras’ legendary role as a law-giver and as the founder of a short-lived utopian community in South Italy in the second half of the sixth century BCE. Following the violent break-up of the Pythagorean cities about a generation after their founding, we will follow the itinerant tracks of those sages who were associated with Pythagoras and who also contested central aspects of his teaching: Empedocles, Parmenides, Anaximander, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus.
Throughout our study, we will locate these thinkers within a context in which religious thought was not yet sharply distinguished from philosophical thought and in which mystical experience was not yet separable from the idea of the philosophical life; we will also give attention to comparative traditions of metempsychosis, shamanism, and theories of astral and cosmic immortality, as well as to a few fragments of the Greek interpretative tradition. Through close reading and discussion of the principal fragments of the Pre-Socratics, we will seek to elucidate the central ideas of a group of thinkers who have been foundational within the history of western philosophy, but whose ideas also stand at a great critical distance from subsequent formulations of “reason” or of “the philosopher.