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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Martin J. Klein
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Abraham Pais
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
John Stachel
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Vlatko Vedral
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Gorgias

Gorgias was one of the early "pre-Socratic" philosophers that Socrates labelled as Sophists. Another was Gorgias' contemporary, Protagoras. These two were both the subjects of Platonic dialogues.

It was a commonplace for natural philosophers, the earliest scientists, to give lectures on the nature of things, proving that things exist, that we can have knowledge of them, and that we can communicate that knowledge through teaching.

Gorgias and Protagoras were critics of the Eleatic philosophers, especially Parmenides, who was Plato's inspiration for the idea that Truth must be eternal. Parmenides argued that Being must be unchanging. Being cannot be generated from nothing, nor can it cease to be.

Heraclitus disagreed, saying that everything was constantly changing ("All is flux" and "you cannot step in the same river twice"), but he held there was a "logos" governing change. In that respect, he anticipated the laws of nature.

The Eleatics were pre-cursors of the modern rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz). Thomas Aquinas was a scholastic intermediary. They believed everything about the world could be deduced from first principles, working in an "ivory tower."

They were especially critical of the nature philosophers (physiologoi), who thought that knowledge could be gained by observing the material world. Perceptions of phenomena are unreliable, they said. Such knowledge is merely conventional, relative to each observer, not certain. The goal of philosophy is certain knowledge and truth.

The early materialist/physicalist philosophers Democritus and his teacher Leucippus replaced theological and supernatural explanations of phenomena with natural materialist explanations. They assumed the world was completely made of matter, which they postulated to consist of just a few types of invisible particles that could be combined to make all of the visible objects, their properties, and their behaviors.

The fundamental elements of their time - earth, water, air, and fire - were in turn simply compounds of sub-elementary particles they called atoms (indivisibles) in a void or vacuum between the atoms.

"By convention hot, by convention cold, but in reality atoms and void."
(Fragment 117, Diogenes Laertius IX, 72)

Parmenides had denied the possibility of the void with the simple logical/language argument that if "nothing" was between two bodies, it follows that they must be in contact with one another. Plato and Aristotle generally preferred Parmenides' idea of a continuous filled plenum and opposed the atomists' ideas of discrete particulate objects separated by nothing.

Democritus denied the arbitrariness of phenomena that was implied if they were the free actions of the gods. He replaced that explanation with the idea of deterministic laws governing the behavior of the atoms, and as a consequence explaining all phenomena made of atoms, including human beings and their actions. Leucippus had denied that anything happened at random (μάτην),

"Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity."
(Leucippus, Fragment 569 - from Fr. 2 Actius I, 25, 4)

Gorgias' colleague Protagoras accepted the criticism of phenomena as merely conventional. The same wind might seem warm to one man and cool to another. But their perceptions of the phenomena are equally valid. "Man is the measure of all things," he said, where things (χρημα) refers to physical phenomena.

In his Theaetetus, Plato tells us that Socrates considered, but ultimately rejected, three possibilities for what knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) is and how we come to have it.

The first is perception (αἴσθησις). Our perceptions are "true" (ἀληθῆ), at least to us, a kind of private knowledge. But they may be dreams or illusions. (160D)

The second is true (ἀληθῆ) opinion or belief (δόξαν). Socrates asserts that Protagoras' relativistic argument that "man is the measure of all things," means "what is true is what is true for me." But "myriad" others may properly judge your opinion false (ψευδῆ).(170D)

The third is true belief that had some reasons (λόγος) or justification (συλλογισμῶ), a rational explanation for the belief. True (or right) opinion accompanied by reason is knowledge. (δόξαν ἀληθῆ μετὰ λόγου ἐπιστήμην εἶναι) (202C)

This third possibility that knowledge is "justified true belief" has come down to modern times as the three-part "traditional" theory of knowledge.

Although Socrates' "negative" dialectic never established any certain knowledge, Plato believed that Socrates' method of inquiry (ἔλεγχος) was the way to achieve knowledge.

Nevertheless, the Theaetetus ends with Socrates' utter rejection of perception, true belief, or true belief combined with reasons or explanations as justification. Socrates says:

And it is utterly silly, when we are looking for a definition of knowledge, to say that it is right opinion with knowledge, whether of difference or of anything else whatsoever. So neither perception, Theaetetus, nor true opinion, nor reason or explanation combined with true opinion could be knowledge (epistéme).

Gorgias was in some sense a skeptic, an early post-modern thinker, even a deconstructionist as to the power of language. He expressly used the language, the rhetorical style, and the arguments of the Eleatics to refute their claims about Being (το ον) and their denial of the existence of Non-Being (το μη ον)

He and Protagoras can be seen as attacking the view that thought alone can establish true knowledge. One must look at the world of material things. In this respect they are precursors of the modern empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume). Their medieval predecessor was John Duns Scotus, who insisted that the freedom of God meant that one had to look at the world to understand it. Despite the ancient Stoic dicta that God is Nature and that God is Reason, one can not understand the world with reason alone.

Many ancient physicists (φυσικοι, φυσιολογοι) lectured and wrote on "what there is" in treatises called "Peri Physis" (Περι Φύσις) - roughly, About Nature, or The Nature of the Physical World.

The content of the typical physicist/philosopher lectures was usually in three parts:

  • Things exist
  • You can know what things exist
  • You can tell others about what exists

Gorgias is reported to have dazzled and delighted his audiences by proving the opposites, by using nearly identical arguments:

  • Nothing exists
  • If by chance something did exist, you could not know anything about it
  • If you did accidentally learn something about it, there is no way you could communicate your knowledge to others

Note that the Gorgias claim "nothing exists" is not so extreme when it is seen as an attack on the Platonic/Parmenidean view that only Being really exists. Parmenides denies the existence of the void as Non-Being. Gorgias thus can be seen as providing a logical defense for the ephemeral phenomena that exhibit "Becoming" - coming and going - if all he claims is that "Non-Being" exists.

One (negative) lesson we can take away from Gorgias is that arguments, especially verbal reasoning alone, can be used to prove anything by clever rhetoricians. Logical and linguistic arguments can tell us nothing "true" about the physical world.

This is the problem of knowledge. How can we know - how can we be certain about - what we know? It is related closely to the question of how abstract concepts/thoughts and concrete physical objects (epistemology, ontology, cosmology) exist in the universe - how "ideal" thoughts relate to the material "things themselves." How is what we perceive through our senses related to the physical things and the abstract concepts that our reason tells us lie behind the laws of nature (metaphysics).

But the other lesson from Gorgias may simply be that the phenomena, changing as they do, including the atoms and void of the materialists, are a source of equally valid knowledge.

For Teachers
For Scholars
Notes

1.

Bibliography

Chapter 1.4 - The Philosophy Chapter 1.6 - The Scientists
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