The Birth of Philosophy — Thales and Homer

[At the beginning of the new academic year, a re-visiting of the beginnings of philosophy.]

The standard claim is that philosophy begins with Thales.

When I teach this to my students, it’s a hard sell, for here are the founding texts in philosophy — ascribed to Thales by Aristotle:

thales-bust-50x60“The first principle and basic nature of all things is water.”


“All things are full of gods.”

You can imagine how impressed my students are.

Clearly, some interpretation is necessary. Why do historians of philosophy get worked up over these lines?

To see their significance, let’s set a context by going back to the worldview of the awesomely great Homer. So brush up on The Iliad, which I want to use as our pre-philosophy-worldview contrast object.

Homer’s World: The Death of Hector

homer_british_museum-100x126Homer is thought to have lived 800s-700s BCE, a century or two before Thales (born around 624 BCE). Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are magnificent expressions of archaic Greek culture and of incalculable importance to the Greek way of thinking about human life and its place in the universe.

I want to focus on one major event in The Iliad to illustrate a pre-philosophical, yet sophisticated, view of reality.

Why did Hector die?

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FRI’s inaugural event in Buenos Aires — and soon in Miami

Here’s a four-minute video overview of Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual‘s inaugural event in Buenos Aires last month.

Next month, FRI will host its first North American event, in Miami on September 16.  Gloria Alvarez, José Benegas, Marsha Enright, Eduardo Marty, and I will be participating.


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Religion and the Verdict of History [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of my final column in the Theist vs. Atheist debate series at EveryJoe:

“To evaluate religion’s track record we need to specify our evaluative benchmarks and identify whether we are evaluating religion generically or a particular religion.

“A religion is a set of beliefs and practices, and my primary benchmark is this: Does it foster or hinder healthy and happy living in the natural world?

“All of the many thousands of religions are false, but they are not all false in the same way or to the same degree — so the destructive effects of their falsity come in degrees …” [Read more here.]


Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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Free College Tuition is a Moral Issue [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

“Higher education can be a path to a successful life. Yet many successful people did not graduate from college and many unsuccessful people have impressive degrees.

“So who should go to college? And who should pay for it? Let’s start by imagining an average student who wants to go to college but has no money and compare that student’s options in a socialized and a free-market education system.

“In a socialized system, the government pays for it. The student eventually graduates, goes to work, and starts to pay taxes.

“In a free-market system, the student does some combination of working, receiving gifts or scholarships, and borrowing money from friends, family, and banks. The student eventually graduates, goes to work, and starts to pay back the loans.

“So what’s the difference? …” [Read more here.]


Previous column in The Good Life series: The Bhopal Chemical Spill Disaster: Who’s to Blame?

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Douglas Rasmussen to speak at Rockford University


norms-of-liberty-rasmussen On Friday, August 28, philosopher Douglas Rasmussen will speak Rockford University on The Value of Philosophy and on Business Ethics.  Dr. Rasmussen is Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University in New York. He received his Ph.D. from Marquette University and is the co-author of Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics, Liberalism Defended: The Challenge of Post-Modernity, and many other works.

Dr. Rasmussen’s talk is sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

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“What Is Real Education?” — short video from Buenos Aires

I gave a talk in June at a conference sponsored by Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual (FRI), Junior Achievement Argentina, and the John Templeton Foundation. When I was in Buenos Aires, FRI also did three short videos of me addressing questions.

Here is a 6-minute video of me on “What Is a Real Education?”:

More information on Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual can be found at their Facebook page.

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Gatilhos mentais e micro-agressões como estratégias


Em sua vida, quantas vezes você presenciou um consenso geral sobre a significado de um grande fenômeno cultural?

Está acontecendo agora, quando libertários, conservadores, progressistas e radicais de esquerda concordam que a podridão tomou conta do politicamente correto (PC). O inferno está congelando e os porcos agora podem voar. Os sintomas de PC são bem-conhecidos: hipersensibilidade para com pequenos deslizes, ataques verbais pesados contra inimigos ideológicos e vozes dissonantes dentro das fileiras, e o uso de métodos autoritários para impor a conformidade e silenciar os dissidentes.

Então, permitam que a minha contribuição seja uma indicação de como a filosofia estabeleceu as bases para esse fenômeno e como somente a filosofia pode nos ajudar a entendê-lo.

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Has Religion Been on Balance Good or Bad for Humanity? [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of John C. Wright’s final column in the Theist vs. Atheist series debate at EveryJoe:

“The question for this final column of the debate between Catholic and Atheist is this: Has religion been on balance good or bad for humanity?

“Alert readers may have noticed in previous columns that nearly every question contains a hidden assumption, or slant, which must be brought to the surface before the question is answered. It will surprise no alert reader to learn that Mr. Hicks proposed the questions, hence they contain his unspoken foundational assumptions. But fair is fair, and I agreed to answer the question that was asked, as it was asked.

“It is, however, also my part to address any unspoken assumptions or leaps of logic the answer might provoke, hence also to answer the unspoken falsehoods the question provokes.

“The question as phrased is meaningless …” [Read more here.]


Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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