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Isn't it curious that every member of your family has a different voice, that a baby can recognize their mother's voice from inside the womb, that identical twins have the exact same vocal chords but usually don't sound similar, and teenagers can sense the tone of their dad's voice when he says, I'll think about it even over WhatsApp, I'll think about it.
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But I just still to this day, don't really know what we did. I guess we had to. I thought we had to prepare things to use books and might have dossiers with us. I got a question for you. You can find out the answer in the break that comes in this podcast. But this is one that you can try and look up using your Vodafone Unlimited data. I, Professor Bartlett, on the podcast the other day, and he's identified 27 female monarchs in medieval Europe, 27 queen pregnant women actually ruled in their own right in medieval Europe, but none of them were from Ireland.
None of them appear in the list of high kings or any of the other kings. Guess why? Find out during the break. The other day, I drove from Cork to Dublin, right. And on the fly, using my Vodafone unlimited data, I was able just to plot this itinerary. We checked out these amazing castles. We did care, Castle. We checked out the Rock of Cashel. I mean, that place is unbelievable. And then we went to Don Imus and then my family went completely mad and didn't let me stop anywhere else.
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This podcast is another episode of How and Why History is Our Sister podcast. And this week, when it came to the philosophers of ancient Greece, we've done China now do in Greece. Got it all covered here. We've got a brilliant professor, Angie Hobson, University of Sheffield. If you like this, please go and search for how and why history. Your podcast, please subscribe. There's a new episode every Tuesday and Friday come up this Friday. We're looking at the history of the Boer War in South Africa.
If you like this one, there are, needless to say, thirty more episodes of this on history hit TV. It's like Netflix, but it's all for history and it's got audio. So in fact, it's better than Netflix in many ways. All the history and 800 documentaries, hundreds of podcasts, all there. We've just launched our World Wars podcast. So first and check all the podcast featuring First and Second World War content from this feed are all going on there and that is presented by James Rogers.
Then we got the ancients. Tristan Hughes is doing a podcast on ancient history. I mean, it's seriously hardcore. You love it. You live, eat, sleep, breathe, dream of ancient history. If you're one of those people is this provides all the sustenance you'll need chilaquiles the ancients, whatever happens. In the meantime, let's find out more about some other ancients got Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and all their philosophical friends enjoy.
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Famous words of wisdom from the pens of Socrates and Aristotle, who are among the giants of classical Greek philosophy from the sixth century BCE philosophy was used to make sense of the world, including astronomy, mathematics, politics, ethics, metaphysics and aesthetics. But why did philosophy flourish in Greek culture? How was it used to make sense of the world? How were the philosophers received in their own time? And how did it influence Islam, communism and even the theories of Sigmund Freud?
I'm Rob Weinberg. And to answer the big questions about history's biggest thinkers, I'm talking to Angie Hobbs, professor of the public understanding of philosophy at the University of Sheffield. This is how and why history. Angie, thanks for joining us. Thank you. Wonderful to be here. When did ancient Greek philosophy arise?
Well, I would say it started with Tali's from my on the coast of Asia Minor, who was born in 620 B.C. He argued amongst lots of other things, that the cosmos was all made of one basic stuff, water. So he was the first of what we now call the priest Socratic philosophers, though of course, they had no idea they were pretty Socratic at the time.
Were the Greek philosophers, as we know them, original in their thinking, or did they in turn draw on older wisdom, literature and mythologies?
Well, that's such an interesting question. Poets such as Homer and he see it way back in the 8th century BCE They had certainly explored fundamental questions, such as the nature of the cosmos and humanity's place in it. But what the first philosophers did, I would say, was aim for a grand unifying theory. We've seen families say that was water. And perhaps even more importantly, they employ rational methods of inductive and deductive argument. So it's those two things, the grand unifying theory, but crucially, the rational methods.
That's what sets them apart makes them a bit different. However, the early Greek philosophers themselves had really complicated relationships with the great poets such as Homer and Hesiod, for instance, to other aristocratic Sarich like artisans and Affinis. They were very critical of the poets. They said they just didn't know what they were talking about. But a little bit later in our story, in the fourth century B.C., Plato's stance was much more ambivalent because although in his work, the Republic, which describes an ideological state, although there the poet Homer is reluctantly escorted to the border of the state, it said that he just doesn't know enough about the things that really matter.
Plato has a lifelong relationship with the Iliad and The Odyssey. Homer's great works with their conceptions, for instance, of heroism within them.
So complicated relationships that vary from philosopher to philosopher was philosopher used to make sense of the world as a rebellion against the more traditional religious explanations of existence being considered, say the product of whims and actions of deities.
I really like that use of the word rebellion because I think that's really partly through the priest's Socratic philosophers were, amongst many other things, trying to discover the one basic constituent or constituents of the cosmos. We've seen that it's water for families. It was er four a.m. and these five colitis, for instance, and that trying to give natural explanations for things and events which previously would have been put down, as you say, to the whims of the gods.
And this kind of line of thinking was taken to its extreme by the first proponents of atomic theory who came up with this notion of indivisible atoms in the fifth century B.C. looking and Democritus. And they claimed that everything is composed of atoms and void and is explicable in terms of the movements and the properties of the atoms and the way they collide and hook up and the way those objects then dissolve again. And everything. Everything is material souls, the material, the God of the material, the gods are made up of atoms and voit.
So this is just extraordinary. And though they think they're all gods, they think they have no interest in human affairs, they play no part in what goes on here. However, you could say, well, hang on a minute, haven't they just replaced the sort of chance whims of the gods with the determinism of their materialistic theory? Haven't they just given us a new set of problems? And I think Plato is interesting here, because though Plato, these very religious, very deeply religious, and though his God and his gods, he uses both terms, though they're definitely not material, he always argues for personal human responsibility and agency.
He always says that whether our lives are afterlives go well or ill. That's up to us. It's up to us. It is not the whim of the gods. It's not chance. It's not determined. It's not fate. It's us, or at least our characters are our fate.
What was it about the Greek culture that enabled philosophy to flourish in this way?
I think I'd pick out three features. Firstly, the location of the Greek city states in the eastern Mediterranean, a lot of them on the coast. And that allows, of course, for a lot of trade around the Mediterranean and beyond. So the Greeks were coming into contact with a really rich diversity of cultures and the. You could see that there were other ways of living and thinking, and also as the Greek mainland was relatively poor in natural resources.
I mean, a lot of mountains, they often found it difficult to feed their own people. And so they established a lot of colonies. And again, this brings them into contact with a lot of other different cultures. And these colonies are along the coast of Asia Minor, right up to the Black Sea, southern Italy, Sicily. So they're really kind of spreading out. I'd also mentioned the democratic system of government in Athens, which allows for and indeed encourages up to a point, free speech and the free exchange of ideas in the fifth century B.C. And Socrates himself says he couldn't have done the philosophy he did round the streets of Athens had he not lived in this Democratic city state, though, of course, it only allowed free speech up to a point.
It eventually put Socrates to death. Another really important issue, and Aristotle says that philosophy has its origins and our sense of wonder at the world and also in our ability to have the time to think about it and reflect on the wonders of the world. And Aristotle says it's no accident that pre Socratic philosophy began at a time when the economic means of production and supply of basic material necessities meant that there were at least a privileged, rich few who had enough leisure time to put in the kind of thought needed to do philosophy.
So that, of course, brings us to the uncomfortable truth that a lot of this early philosophical work depended on the work of servants and indeed on the work of slaves. An uncomfortable reality that. What the philosophers treated as heretics and that they challenged the prevailing thinking about creation and existence. Well, yes, I mean, that's another really good question. Quite a few were Socrates was, of course, put to death by the Athenian democracy and three nine nine allegedly for not believing in the city's gods and introducing new divine beings and corrupting the young, although there were almost certainly political motives as well.
I mean, it was a very dangerous profession. And he wasn't the only one in the middle of the 5th century BCE, a priest, Socratic philosopher and Zagros, he tried to give natural explanations for the celestial bodies, but the celestial bodies, such as the moon and the sun, were regarded as divine at the time. So this was a risky thing to do. And he was put on trial for saying that the moon was simply a lump of rock, which reflected the light of the sun.
And according to the story, he was initially condemned to death in the middle of the 5th century BCE. But his friend, the very important politician, quickly stepped in and persuaded the citizens to commute the sentence to exile. And he went off to the coast of Asia Minor and spent the rest of his life there. And a bit later, in the fifth century BCE, we have Protagoras, a sophist travelling teacher of rhetoric and philosophy to rich young men.
And he was certainly an agnostic, possibly a full atheist. And he really created a stir when he said that human is the measure of all things and things that are that they are and are things that are not that they are not, i.e., no, God, humans decide everything. We are at the center of everything. And again, the story goes that a lot of copies of his book on truth were collected up and burned in the center of Athens and that he was banished from the city.
So, yeah, it was definitely dangerous. And a bit later, in the fourth century BCE, in three to three, Aristotle, towards the end of his life, felt it prudent to leave Athens and go and spend the night. It turned out just to be the last year of his life on the island of Cuba. Aristotle had connections with Macedonia. His father had been the doctor at the court of the Macedonian Kings. And Macedonia not, unsurprisingly, became very unpopular in the Greek world because during the fourth century, B.C. had conquered the Greek city states and took control.
And when the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, died in three to three, there was this outpouring of anti Macedonian feeling, and Aristotle felt it wise to beat a hasty retreat. So it was pretty dangerous. Aristotle himself is quoted as saying, I'm leaving Athens to prevent the Athenians committing a second crime against philosophy. And he's thinking particularly of having put Socrates to death.
And though the very first Socratic philosopher Thalia's was not regarded as a heretic, he was regarded as extremely eccentric because he was always wandering around, looking up at the heavens and sort of falling over and things. However, he had the last laugh because his meteorological studies enabled him to predict that there was going to be a bumper olive harvest and he bought up all the local olive presses at a discount. And then when there was a bumper olive harvest, he rented them out at a very high price and he made a packet.
So being a philosopher at this time, it could be very dangerous and it was certainly regarded as weird. You've mentioned Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. Who were they exactly? Socrates was born in Athens and for 70 he came from a modest background. His father was a stonemason and his mother a midwife and supported by his wealthy friends such as Plato. He spent his days going round Athens, engaging in debate, anybody willing to listen, and quite a few who weren't that willing.
And he wanted to debate the nature of such virtues as courage, justice, piety and fundamentally ask how we should live as human beings and what sort of people we should be or his work was. Or he refused to write anything down because he said he didn't know anything and he didn't have the authority to write.
And as we've heard, he was put to death and three nine nine. And it was because he was influenced by these and similar reasons that Socrates neither looked out for anybody to plead for him when he was accused nor begged any favor from his judges, but maintained a manly freedom, which was the effects not of pride, but of the true greatness of his soul. And on the last day of his life, he held a long discourse on this subject.
And a few days before, when he might have been easily freed from his confinement, he refused to be so. And when he had almost actually hold of that deadly cup, he spoke with the air of a man not forced to die, but ascending into heaven. Now, Plato was born into an aristocratic Athenian family, probably in four to eight or to seven, and it's a young man. He was an associate and a friend of Socrates. Socrates was his mentor.
And when Socrates was put to death, he was so aghast. He left Athens for 10 years and went travelling very extensively, but then came back and set up the academy, the Western World's first sort of higher education teaching and research institute, and Aristotle born in northern Greece in 304. He came to study with Plato in Athens when he was 17 or 18, and he stayed there studying with Plato until Plato's death and three, four, seven. Aristotle then went travelling himself for a few years, came back to Athens and set up his own research institute at the Lyceum.
So three extraordinary figures who, you know, there was this line, they influenced each other.
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So the question I posed at the start of this podcast was why in the whole of Europe are there queens regnant during the medieval period, but not in Ireland? And the answer Professor Bartlett gave me is because it was customary for Irish kings take many wives. So there was never a shortage of sons. Whereas over in England, over in France and elsewhere, those those kings, they just had one wife. I mean, the old mistress, like Henry, the first and a lot of illegitimate children, but they were excluded from the line of succession is an island.
Plenty of wives, plenty of sons, no shortage of males. Fascinating. You know what? Use your Vodafone unlimited data. Have a little Google. Prove me wrong. Send me a tweet. I'd love to know if there are any queens. Let your whole family follow their curiosity when you bring everyone's plans together on our multi mobile read family plan. Such Vodafone read family for more. How foundational were their ideas to what followed?
What did they do exactly to change thinking, let's concentrate on the ethical change, because I think that's absolutely fundamental. Socrates was said later by the Roman thinker and politician Cicero that he brought philosophy down from the heavens. So the free Socratic philosophers we've been looking at, they were interested in lots of things, but they were really interested in cosmology, metaphysics. And Socrates is interested in ethics, as we've seen. How should I live? What sort of person should I be?
And his answer is a really, really important one. He says, we want to live flourishing lives and be flourishing human beings. And this, he says, is the same as living a virtuous life and being a virtuous human being. Why does he think that? It's not immediately obvious to us, he says. Well, the most important thing about you is your soul. It's even more important than your body. And crucially, you're the only person who can harm your soul.
Other people can kill or damage your body. They can take away your material possessions, but nobody else can harm your soul. You're the only person who can do that by your own wrongdoing. So he then says this extraordinary thing. He says nobody does wrong willingly because why would you why would you do wrong willingly if you knew it was going to harm you more than it could possibly harm anybody else? And then he says it is not the part of a good person ever to return wrong for wrong.
Don't ever return wrong for wrong, because again, you would be harming yourself more than you could ever harm anybody else. Now, that's an extraordinary thing to say in the 5th century BCE, at a time when it was very much help your friends and harm your enemies, the old code of revenge. So it's absolutely a really pivotal moment in lots of ways. At Prefigures, the Sermon on the Mount and that crucial link between flourishing and virtue is what Plato and Aristotle both pick up.
And Plato says, yeah, the flourishing life is the virtuous life. And the way he gets to that conclusion is through his analysis of the human psyche, the human soul, which he says has three basic constituent parts reason she loves truth in reality, a spirited element which loves success and victory, and the appetite's which love food and drink and sex and so on. And he says that your virtue and your flourishing as a human being consist in the right relations between these parts with reason and control and the kind of harmony that results from that.
And Aristotle takes this idea in a similar direction, slightly different. He also says that you're flourishing and your virtues depend on your inner state of your psyche. It's to do with actualizing or realizing your potential, your faculties as a human being, whether they're intellectual or emotional, physical, you need to actualize them as virtuously as possible. And that way you will flourish. What all three are doing, Socrates and Plato and Aristotle is looking inward and saying how we live and whether our lives go well or ill depends on our inner state of our psyche, the inner state of our soul.
It's up to us. It's our responsibility. It's not just about what acts we do. It's about your inner state as the doer of those acts, as an agent, as we put it. And that is a really, really key turn in Western thought. So there's talk there of the soul, but did the Greek philosophers go beyond metaphysics to subjects such as law or politics?
Yes. So metaphysics, the study of reality that led them to epistemology, the study of knowledge, how do we know things? How do we know that we know them? They were really interested in that. As we've seen, they're hugely interested in ethics. How should we live? What sort of people should we be? And that led them to political theory. Well, how can we best live together? What kind of ways of organizing society are going to be best?
We've seen how interested Plato and Aristotle are in psychology. What's the state of our inner psyche in a personality? So and incidentally, that doesn't necessarily mean belief in an immortal soul. Plato does believe that our souls are immortal, or at least the rational bit of them is. Aristotle doesn't Aristotle doesn't think we have an immortal soul, but he does have theories of the psyche, our life force, if you like. So psychology that gets them into psychology, of course.
And they're also enormously interested in theories about what beauty is. Why do we find some things beautiful? How does beauty relate to goodness? So that gets them into aesthetics. So really everything. And one of the reasons I so love ancient Greek philosophy is because precisely at this time there aren't these strict boundaries between different subject areas. It's all linked up. They're interested in absolutely everything and they can interconnected. And that's what fascinates me.
To what extent, then, have the ideas of the philosophers been borne out by subsequent scientific discovery? Is there anything that they go badly wrong?
Well, yes, certainly the early kippers and Democritus, they've definitely been borne out by modern science. And it is just extraordinary that they came up with a notion of indivisible, unchanging minima of atoms without a laboratory. Just extraordinary. And by the way, Democritus believed that there were other worlds he believed in a multiverse. So there's going to be interesting to see what happens there in the future, whether that's borne out. Certainly not everything is true, for instance, in Aristotle and he trained as a biologist, not surprising, his father was a doctor.
And though a lot of his biological research is in the eastern Mediterranean have actually been shown to be quite surprisingly accurate. For instance, the work he did on the octopus, there were lots of things that we would not agree with. Now, for instance, he thought that species were fixed and unchanging. So what would Aristotle have made of the theories of Darwin if he had known about that and evolution? That's a really interesting debate. Could Aristotle's theories cope with evolution as quite a lot of discussion of that?
And it's possible he could have incorporated it, but definitely work would need to be done by him there. And Aristotle also thinks that human societies are formed from two natural relationships, one between man and woman for reproduction of children, and two, I regret to say. But the relationship between what he calls the natural master and the natural slave. So I think we would certainly say he got that massively, massively wrong.
Did the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world mean that Judeo Christian and even Islamic slants were given to what were essentially Greek ideas? And to what extent did the early Islamic philosophy or medieval scholasticism or indeed the Renaissance and the Enlightenment go to Greek philosophy? Oh, no.
This is an area that completely fascinates me and I'm doing more and more work in it. I would actually start by emphasising immediately what Greek philosophy owes to Islamic philosophers before we get onto the other way round. So the Islamic philosophers who translated Greek philosophical works into Arabic and wrote commentaries on them. If it hadn't been for this work, Greek philosophy might well not have survived throughout the early Middle Ages. So without the work of such luminaries as Al Kindi writing in the 9th century, CE Alpha Rabie ibn Cinar, also known as Apicella and Ibn Richard, who's also known as Averroes, these great Islamic philosophers and thinkers, we just probably wouldn't have a lot of the Greek texts.
Yes, several of these Islamic philosophers and scholars did attempt to reconcile Greek thought with the Koran, even sinner. He was a keen Platonist and particularly Neo Platonist. Ibn Rishard was a devoted Aristotelian. They really tried to see if they could merge. Islamic thought with ancient Greek thought in different ways, and these Islamic thinkers in turn influenced the great 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who also discovered Greek thought through his reading of the work of the Islamic philosophers.
And my monitors tries to bring the whole lot together. Judaism, Islam and Aristotle and Plato in one enormous sort of wonderful melting pot, Mondi said that we can't live our lives fully as human beings without some Aristotelian logic. There are also a lot of Christian writers in the early and late Middle Ages who incorporated a lot of Greek philosophy into their thinking, such as Augustine, who was very keen on Plato in the 8th century. Cetron John Marcus wrote The Divine Ascent, which shows a huge amount to Plato as well, and to Plato's Theory of Divine Erotic Love.
In the symposium, you've got Aquinas later on in the Middle Ages who's of committed Aristotelian. He tries to incorporate Aristotle into his Catholicism and then later on, at the end of the 15th century, see, you've got the Florentine thinker, philosopher, Dr. Magician Fujino, who's again tries to work Platonism and Neo Platonism into his version of Christianity. So massive, massive sort of cross-fertilisation. And then later on in the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, the third US president, he called himself an epicurean Epicurus and his Epicureans school.
They were a little later than Plato and Aristotle. They were part of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy in ancient Greece. And Epicurus had argued that the good life is the pleasant life and the pleasant life is one that is free from care. And he devotes his work to trying to help free us from the fear of death, for instance, or the fear of pain and so on. And so you've got these figures throughout Western history. Absolutely kind of committed to various schools of ancient Greek thought.
So really, really fascinating. I mean, in fact, going back a little bit to the early Middle Ages, they were very interesting debates between some of the early Christian thinkers and the Greek philosophers about all sorts of issues. So very interesting correspondence between the Greek philosopher Oregon and the Christian Clement of Alexandria about Jesus and whether Jesus can be said to be a hero on an ancient Greek sort of heroic model. Or is it kind of new heroic figure, or is that somehow sacrilegious to say that?
So just a fascinating period. And I just so wish we could go back to that open mindedness and willingness to debate with people whose religions and philosophies are different from our own. We've got a lot to learn.
Other ideas still in place today that you think we can trace directly back to the Greek philosophers. Oh, yes.
I mean, for instance, in the 19th century, we have Freud, who was a passionate Platonist, even tried to translate bits of Plato called Plato Divine. And Freud himself says that his theory of the libretto owes a lot to Plato's theory of erotic energy. Eros and Freud says his notion of sublimation, of the redirection of erotic energy onto different objects again owes a lot to Plato's notion of the rechanneling of erotic energy and such dialogues as the symposium and the Republic.
So Freud psychology, enormously influenced by Plato Marx read a lot of Plato. We know that Plato's Republic has been called the founder of both communism and fascism, both a slight exaggeration. But there's something to be said for both theories. Certainly the picture of the ideal state that is described in the republic as totalitarian. That's true. So Marx, as communism, we feel, is influenced by Plato right now. I'm fascinated by the way that politicians are at least talking about notions of well-being a lot more than they were 10, 15 years ago.
They might not always put their words into practice, but we're getting a lot more talk about well-being. Thriving, flourishing conditions need to be in place for individuals and communities to thrive, and specifically the modern interest in mindfulness and in cognitive behavioral therapy. Both the. Those movements owe a lot to another Hellenistic philosophy called stoicism, and both those movements, epicurean ism and stoicism, are about the therapy of desire, about trying to work out what you can and can't change and trying to accept what you can't change for the Stoics.
How do you understand it as part of a bigger picture in which things might be OK if only you could see the bigger picture if you can't change something that's making you unhappy? How do you change your attitude towards it? I think there's a lot of good stuff in the modern stoic movement. I think there are some dangers, too. I think they can always be the danger with stoicism of making us too quick to think that a certain political situation can't be changed.
Some things probably should make us angry and we should be trying to change them. So I would say if you want to be a modern stoic, don't give up the fight too soon to make a better world. However, it is definitely helpful to try to change your attitude towards things that you can't change, like the fact that you're going to die. In fact, what we haven't discussed so far is the enormous effect on ancient Greek philosophy, on not just religion, both Judaic and Christian and Islamic in the medieval period and the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but also now, for instance, platonic theories are still really influential in Greek Orthodox religion.
And recent Greek Orthodox thinkers such as Christoph, CNRS and John were are hugely influenced by Plato and in particular his theory of that rechanneling of erotic energy away from this world towards the divine.
So, yeah, absolutely. It lives on.
The more we find out about this, the more we understand it, the more tools we're going to have in our toolbox to help us cope with what I'm sure we can all agree is really challenging conditions right now. Professor Angela Hobs, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you so much.
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