When we talk about Presocratic philosophy, we are speaking about the origins of Greek philosophy and Western rationality itself. But what exactly does it mean to talk about “Presocratic philosophy” in the first place? How did early Greek thinkers come to be considered collectively as Presocratic philosophers? In this brief book, André Laks provides a history of the influential idea of Presocratic philosophy, tracing its historical and philosophical significance and consequences, from its ancient antecedents to its full crystallization in the modern period and its continuing effects today.
Laks examines ancient Greek and Roman views about the birth of philosophy before turning to the eighteenth-century emergence of the term “Presocratics” and the debates about it that spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He analyzes the intellectual circumstances that led to the idea of Presocratic philosophy—and what was and is at stake in the construction of the notion. The book closes by comparing two models of the history of philosophy—the phenomenological, represented by Hans-Georg Gadamer, and the rationalist, represented by Ernst Cassirer—and their implications for Presocratic philosophy, as well as other categories of philosophical history. Other figures discussed include Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Nietzsche, Max Weber, and J.-P. Vernant.
Challenging standard histories of Presocratic philosophy, the book calls for a reconsideration of the conventional story of early Greek philosophy and Western rationality.
André Laks teaches ancient philosophy at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City and previously taught at the University of Lille, Princeton University, and the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Laks and Glenn W. Most edited and translated the Loeb Classical Library’s nine-volume edition of Early Greek Philosophy.
Praise for the French edition: "A work of remarkable subtlety and depth of thought…. This book is densely packed throughout with provocative analyses and a wealth of powerful concepts…. Laks compels us to be more reflective about just what is at stake when we approach study of the Presocratic period as originative of philosophical rationality."--John Palmer, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Praise for the French edition: "André Laks is a hugely respected scholar of ancient Greek philosophy. What he offers here is a highly sophisticated essay on the very idea of Presocratic philosophy. The book is deeply learned in its command both of the ancient evidence and of the modern scholarship on the Presocratics, and it gives particularly rewarding attention to Nietzsche, Weber, Cassirer, Heidegger, and Vernant."--Malcolm Schofield, St. John's College, University of Cambridge
Praise for the French edition: "In this illuminating and distinctive book, André Laks shows that the way in which historians of philosophy conceived of early Greek philosophy was intimately bound up with their own view of modernity. ‘Presocratic philosophy' is revealed to be a precarious historical construct that says as much about our concerns as it does about the intellectual world of the archaic age."--Christian Wildberg, Princeton University