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Battle of Salamis
The Delian League
“Athenian Democracy: The Funeral Oration
of Pericle”s: In the eyes of Pericles, what
are the ideals of Athenian democracy? Was
Pericles correct in his assessment? Why or
why not?
“The Significance of the Great
Peloponnesian War”: Why does Thucydides
consider the Peloponnesian War to be so
important? According to Thucydides, what
was the underlying cause of this conflict?
Sophists: professional educators who prepared students for a political
life. “They taught a man to reason dialectically, to argue back and
forth all sides of a case, to discover the more effective arguments for
which side he needed to present, and then to convert this into a
persuasive speech.” (Nagle, p. 160.)
Nomos vs. Physis
Is morality merely convention (nomos), or is
there a higher sanction to be found in something
else, say, in nature (physis)? Quickly the terms
conventions (nomos) and nature (physis)
became the poles of a great debate that went
on for centuries. (See Nagle, pp. 160-161)
The most noteworthy of the Sophists was Protagoras,
who speculated more about the gods than any
philosopher before him. Protagoras did not believe
that intimacy with God was possible, and concluded
that "I cannot know that they exist, nor yet that they
do not exist." From that he produced the idea that
became the classic humanist statement, "Man is the
measure of all things."
This turned humanity's view of the universe upside down--man now
became more important than God. This was too radical for most
Athenians, and they forced Protagoras to flee because of this
"impiety." However, after the Peloponnesian War ended, they no
longer felt that Athens needed all the moral strength it could get,
and embraced the ideas they had previously rejected. During this
time Socrates would dismiss all myths as irrelevant by simply
saying, "Of the gods we know nothing.“
Another way of interpreting the statement that “Man is the
measure of all things” is that “all human laws and practices are
simply a matter of convention. It is the city-state, its constitution,
and its laws that decide morality. Consequently, there are as many
moralities as there are cities or nations.” (Nagle, p. 162.)
Socrates (470? – 399 B.C.
Unlike the Sophists, though,
Socrates believed that by asking
questions and subjecting the
answers to logical analysis,
agreement could be reached about
ethical standards and rules of
conduct. Consequently he
questioned passers-by about
everything; he felt his purpose in
life was to be the "midwife
assisting in the birth of correct
ideas" (to use his own figure of
speech). Taking as his motto the
famous inscription on the temple
of Apollo at Delphi, "Know
thyself," he insisted that "the
unexamined life is not worth
living." To Socrates, human
excellence or virtue come from
knowledge, and evil and error are
the result of ignorance.
Plato wrote down a collection of these debates in his Dialogues, which probably
didn't really take place, but give us a clear view of Socrates' method of
reasoning. Such a discussion would have gone like this:
"He would go right up to the most prominent citizen, a great orator or anybody,
and ask him if he really knew what he was talking about. A distinguished
statesman, for instance, would have wound up a patriotic speech with a
preroration about the glory of dying for one's country. Socrates would step up to
him and say, 'Pardon my intrusion, but just what do you mean by courage?'
'Courage is sticking to your post in danger!' would be the curt reply.
'But suppose good strategy demands that you retire?' Socrates would ask.
'Oh well, then, that's different. You wouldn't stay there in that case, of course.'
'Then courage isn't either sticking to your post or retiring, is it? What would you
say courage is?'
The orator would knit his brow. 'You've got me--I'm afraid I don't really know.'
'I don't either,' Socrates would say. 'But I wonder if it is anything different from
just using your brains. That is, doing the reasonable thing regardless of danger.'
'That sounds more like it,' someone in the crowd would say, and Socrates would
turn toward the new voice.
'Shall we agree then--tentatively, of course, for it's a difficult question--that
courage is steadfast good judgment? Courage is presence of mind. And the
opposite thing, in this case, would be the presence of emotion in such force that
the mind is blotted out?'“
(Max Eastman, Secrets of the Past, New York, Berkley Books, 1980, pg. 171172.)
Pnyx Hill