Author of The Dream of Reason - Penguin Books 1995 -2009, Anthony Gottlieb, studied philosophy at Cambridge University and University College London and has been a Visiting Fellow at Harvard. He has been executive editor and science editor of "The Economist" magazine and written regularly on philosophy for the New York Times Book Review.
The Dream of Reason is a two volume set covering the history of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance and then from Descartes to the present. In 2001, Gottlieb was interviewed on New York radio's Paula Gordon Show saying he believes (Philosophy) teaches us how to stand back from everyday styles of thinking and question them. He thinks many adults underestimate themselves when it comes to thinking about philosophy.
Western Philosophy in World of Thinkers
The author goes to great lengths in this work to put Western philosophy in the context of “world thought”. He is convinced that due to the tendency of many disparate branches of study co-opting developments in philosophical thought (which is overarching throughout all branches of knowledge), there is a tendency to believe that philosophy has not progressed.
popular scientists would
do well to study philosophy rather than trying to preempt it
In writing these volumes for a general audience, the Ruth Gordon Show chronicled that the author wanted to provide a …. book that explores the fruits of great minds all the way back to the dawn of Western philosophy.
The journalist-author maximized his distrust of secondary sources. He took more than a decade to read the primary sources. His job of exploration then became one of translation. Gottlieb says that because the distant past is like an alien civilization, he was surprised by the remarkable continuity from that time to this.
Continuity of Thought from Ancient to Present
Gottlieb asks us to consider how the three giants of the ancient philosophical world approached problems:
Socrates was the argumentative,
Plato was the inspirational,
imaginative, creative thinker.
Aristotle was the great
teacher and ultimate academic
who writes the text books.
Examining the Gottlieb Proposition
And so it is that many in
today's day and age
do not realize how a question posed to them has- at it's base - a response that reflects their philosophy
the peculiar stubborn effort to think clearly
The earliest historical records of philosophers and their thinking dating back to 5 or 6 B.C., they are identified as coming out of Greece, Turkey and Italy. Many of their ideas have influenced us up to this very day. Stubborn is an apt way to identify these thinkers. Their knowledge was adopted and adapted by Classical Islam, India and the East, though applied differently than it was by the Romans.
They taught rhetoric, political skills and legal discourse. Their aim, Sophists claimed was to teach political and practical success. Protagoras was known to proclaim that:
“man is the measure of all things.”
material success rather than truth should be
Plato aways referred to the greatest Sophists with respect, The Dream of Reason reports. He almost always disagreed with their doctrines complaining that they could care less about the truth and only cared about teaching their patrons the tricks of winning.
you should demolish your opponent with jestingabout the serious, then become seriouswhen the opponent is jesting.
When, in Chapter Nine, Anthony Gottlieb attempts to extrapolate an explanation for why it is that he feels Plato distanced himself from the Sophists and failed to acknowledge many of their intellectual strengths, Gottlieb contends that the explanation lies somewhere in the sentiment that Plato must have had against the Sophists. In explaining what he means by this, the author writes of many things he believes Plato “would have said”, given the opportunity.
The Effect of Persuasive Speech on the Soul
While Gottlieb's notion about Plato vs Sophists is one based on speculation and “might have saids”, a likely more accurate observation is the one Gottlieb makes that in the end, the Sophists had a more down to earth approach than other intellectual thinkers perhaps believing that reason had been high jacked and common sense itself spirited away.
One such Sophist, Gorgias, we are told was accomplished in rhetoric. He contrived a puzzle that exposed the role of speech on the one hand and that which exists outside us on the other. He wrote of the ability of language to mold one's world view.
The effect of the power of speech on the soul he compared to the effect of drugs on the body. Persuasion - when added to speech - can make any impression it wishes on the soul.
What the Sophists wanted was a philosophy that embraced everyday experience. This is messy, the author contends because just whose life experience will be the guide?
From this notion that reasoning and therefore knowledge was best acquired from everyday experience, the Sophist, Protagoras, held that:
There is no
universal truth. What is true
for me is true for me and what is true for you, is true for you
That is what he meant by saying man is the measure of all things. This is known as Relativism. More modernly, Relativism can be traced as far forward to Emmanuel Kant in the 18th century.
Plato Disagrees with Relativism
This implies there are no false perceptions.
The pursuit of truth is
the philosophy of life
Anthony Gottlieb identifies Socrates as the “Martyr of the Philosophers” in that he was sentenced to death because of his teachings. Socrates did not agree that each man or each group can decide what is the measure of all things. Indeed, Socrates, Plato, and Plato's pupil - Aristotle promoted a directly opposite approach that provides that there are truths which are truths for everybody.
Ancient Philosophical Juxtaposition in Post Modern Jurisprudence
all of Western civilization is merely a
footnote to Plato