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Homework answers / question archive / Homo sapiens sapiens have probably had pretty much the same "wiring" in their brains for 50, 000 plus years

Homo sapiens sapiens have probably had pretty much the same "wiring" in their brains for 50, 000 plus years


Homo sapiens sapiens have probably had pretty much the same "wiring" in their brains for 50, 000 plus years. It was around that time that the first fully "modern" humans are evidenced. The assumption that humans from earlier societies than our own were less intelligent is largely false. This assumption is commonly made because earlier people had technology that was less advanced than contemporary people. However, this is because innovation, technological and otherwise, is accumulative. Later innovations are based on earlier innovations over the broad arc of time. 


Further, humans have long had deep and sophisticated thoughts. Humans have always had "world-views," if not by thorough reason or intentional indoctrination, then simply by the incidental fact of being thinking humans with personal observations and cultural assumptions about their world. Deep religious thinkers, dare I say spiritualists, abounded in the ancient world even before the Hellenes. Yet, the ancient Hellene philosophers are generally said to be the first Western Philosophers. 


Setting the Hellene philosophers apart from previous deep thinkers was their insistence upon rigorous, even harshly analytical reasoning and observation. The earliest Hellene philosophers rejected common-place mystical explanations for physical events, instead using observation and reason to hypothesize physical causes for physical events. Even when some philosophical types partially re-embraced mysticism in later generations of Hellene philosophers, that re-embrace was by-and-large very measured. They continued to attempt analytical thinking when approaching spiritual concepts, and continued to often challenge conventional religious assumptions.


A special note before moving forward: Many modern persons imagine the ancient Hellenes to have been a highly rational, logical group of people because of their philosophers. It isn't true. The ancient Hellene philosophers were a small and intellectually elite minority. The average ancient Hellene was highly emotional -- passionate, they respected their traditional religious norms, and they were as given to supernatural assumptions as most other ancient people. If anything, the ancient Hellene philosophers can be seen as an elite reaction to the common character of their broader societies.  


"Philosophy" comes from Hellene, "Philos" meaning love (one of many words indicating different kinds of love among the Hellenes) and "Sophis," meaning wisdom. "Philosopher," therefore, means "one who loves wisdom." The philosopher Plato said that true philosophers recognized their ignorance but despised it, and proactively sought wisdom as the common man seeks the love of women. 


A well-known story about Plato's teacher, Socrates epitomized the first leg of that formula. It was said that the Athenians sent a messenger to the Oracle of Delphi to ask the god Apollo who was the wisest man in all of Athens. The messenger returned from his journey to report that Socrates was the wisest man in all of Athens. Upon hearing this, Socrates was baffled. Though he loved wisdom, Socrates considered himself to be more ignorant than wise and observed that he was a man constantly asking questions. A second messenger was dispatched to Delphi to ask the god Apollo why Socrates was the wisest man in all of Athens. The Oracles response? Because Socrates was the only Athenian who knew that he did not know.


On whole, I'm not going to go into a lot of detail on the ancient Hellene philosophers. For the most part, I will leave students to the exceedingly rudimentary and scattered introduction available in the general reader/ textbook. Here, however, is an exception. I do want students to have a good deal more familiarity with Socrates-Plato. They represent both an important culmination of the Hellenic philosophical revolution up to their own time, as well as a sea change, approaching philosophical doctrines that attempted to be simutaneously more comprehensive, more detailed, and more sophisticated. Modern historians customarily divide the ancient Hellene philosophers between "Pre-Socratics" and "Post-Socratics."



Socrates (469-399 BCE) wrote nothing down himself, nothing that moderns have anyway. Our chief ancient sources on Socrates come from Xenophon and one of Socrates' students, Aristocles (better known by his nickname, "Plato," indicating "broad shoulders" or "big guy.") Our predominant ideas of who the historical Socrates was and what he said come from Plato.


Plato (approximately 428-348 BCE) ultimately founded his own school called the Academy, and wrote numerous dialogue-based books throughout his long life as a teacher. (Moderns have twenty-four.) Known as the Platonic Dialogues (these are *not* required readings,) they feature Socrates as a philosopher-protagonist engaging in argumentative dialogue with other persons. (The one exception is a Late Dialogue known as The Laws, wherein the "Old Athenian" is the protagonist.) These discussions and arguments revolved around concepts -- ethical concepts, as an example, such as "Justice." Socrates (purely literary or historical?) would generally insist upon his own neutrality of opinion and ignorance, drawing the other more sophisticate (and often arrogant) participants into logical contradictions, which Socrates then pointed out to them. 


In this way, Plato's Socrates illustrated that persons often do not really know what they imagine themselves to know. Inaccurate assumptions act as a sort of anti-knowledge, preventing humans from pro-activley seeking out true Wisdom. Logic and a desire to reason out falsehoods and truths are key, and Socrates is acting as a clever physician, delivering his bitter medicine to the sick (the ignorant.) After all, how can a person *know* that they are just or good, or how to act just and good, if they don't really *know* what "Justice" or "Good" are? So went "Socratic Refutation" (or "Elenchus.")




Realistically, it is difficult to pull Socrates and Plato apart because Socrates wrote nothing himself, and virtually everything written by Plato is put into the mouth of Socrates as a literary character. Plato wrote dialogues over the course of his life, well into his own old age. Modern scholars speak of the Early Platonic Dialogues, the Middle Platonic Dialogues, and the Late Platonic Dialogues. Among other things, the dialogues evidence the growing cynicism of an aging Plato. It is commonly held that the Early Dialogues reflect the historical Socrates better than those written later. The Late Dialogues, by contrast, are suspected of reflecting the character and thinking of Plato, and perhaps not at all that of the historical Socrates. The majority of scholars seem to accept these ideas, yet a significant minority still hold these ideas to be controversial.


The required reading for our third class discussion engages with the issue of pulling Socrates apart from Plato. Can modern people really know what the historical Socrates said or did? Or, would it be best to simply treat Plato's Socrates as a purely literary Being? What is the best way to parse one from the other, even assuming that it is feasible? Please read Socrates and Plato by Daniel F. Graham.

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