Man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not.Note: These are the only two sentences of Protagoras known today. His treatise On the Gods, beginning with the second of these sentences, so infuriated his Athenian compatriots that all his writings were burned in a public bonfire. Protagoras was forced to escape abroad, and while in flight he is said to have died in a storm at sea.
As to the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or do not exist. For many are the obstacles that impede knowledge, both the obscurity of the question and the shortness of human life.
Diagoras, named the Atheist, was once asked by a friend, "You who think that the gods disregard men's affairs, do you not remark all the votive pictures that prove how many persons have escaped the violence of the storm, and come safe to port by dint of the vows of the gods?" "That is so," replied Diagoras; "It is because there are nowhere any pictures of those who have been shipwrecked and drowned at sea."Note: Diagoras was accused of impiety because he threw a wooden image of a god into a fire, remarking that the deity should perform another miracle and save itself. Charges were pressed against him for this misconduct, and he fled Athens to avoid trial and the possibility of execution.
During a storm at sea Diagoras was told by the crew that they had brought it on themselves by having taken him on board their ship. He pointed out to them a number of other vessels making heavy weather on the same course, and inquired whether they supposed that those ships also had a Diagoras on board.
I believe that a man of shrewd and subtle mind invented for men the fear of the gods, so that there might be something to frighten the wicked even if they acted, spoke or thought in secret. From this motive he introduced the conception of divinity. There is, he said, a spirit enjoying endless life, hearing and seeing with his mind, exceedingly wise and all-observing, bearer of a divine nature. He will hear everything spoken among men and can see everything that is done. If you are silently plotting evil, it will not be hidden from the gods, so clever are they. For a dwelling he gave them . . . the vault above, where he perceived the lightnings and the dread roars of thunder, and the starry face and form of heaven . . . With such fears did he surround mankind, and so by his story give the godhead a fair home in a fitting place, and extinguished lawlessness by his ordinances . . . So, I think, first of all, did someone persuade men to believe that there exists a race of gods.
I deny that we know whether we know something or know nothing, and even that we know the mere fact that we do not know (or do know), or know at all whether something exists or nothing exists.
[Reason as the basic principle of the universe]: For it is not likely either that fire or earth or any such element should be the reason why things manifest goodness and beauty both in their being and in their coming to be, or that these thinkers [Heraclitus, Xenophanes, etc.] should have supposed it was; nor again could it be right to entrust so great a matter to spontaneity and chance. When one man [Anaxagoras] said, then, that reason [nous] was present--as in animals, throughout nature--as the cause of order and of all arrangement, he seemed like a sober man in contrast with the random talk of his predecessors.Note: Aristotle was charged with atheism by fellow Athenians upon the death of his student and protegé, Alexander the Great. He was forced to escape the city and died a year later in exile.
[Induction as the final source of truth]: Such appears to be the truth about the generation of bees, judging from theory and from what are believed to be the facts about them; the facts, however, have not yet been sufficiently grasped; if ever they are, then credit must be given rather to observation than to theories, and to theories only if what they affirm agrees with the observed facts.
Men, believing in myths, will always fear something terrible, everlasting punishment as certain or probable. . . . Men base all these fears not on mature opinions, but on irrational fancies, so that they are more disturbed by fear of the unknown than by facing facts. Peace of mind lies in being delivered from all these fears.Note: Epicurus was perhaps the most prolific author in ancient Greece, but only three letters survive intact, to be found in Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers.
You should accustom yourself to believing that death means nothing to us, since every good and every evil lies in sensation; but death is the privation of sensation. And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but it takes away the craving for immortality. For there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living.
Posidonius cited by Cicero: Epicurus does not really believe in the gods at all, and . . . said what he did about the immortal gods only for the sake of deprecating popular odium.
Cicero: "In [Strato's] view the sole repository of divine power is nature, which contains in itself the causes of birth, growth and decay, but is entirely devoid of sensation and of form."Note: Strato devised simple laboratory equipment--the first of its kind--in one instance a vacuum jar to investigate the properties of a vacuum with the expectation of resolving the choice between Democritus' atomism and Aristotle's theory of spatial continuity. Strato was notorious as an atheist, and all of his fifty-five texts listed by Diogenes Laertius were either lost or destroyed.
Cicero: "He [Strato] declares that he does not make use of divine activity for constructing the world. His doctrine is that all existing things of whatever sort have been produced by natural causes . . . "
Cicero: "he [Strato] . . . teaches that whatever either is or comes into being is or has been caused by natural forces of gravitation and motion.
Gomperz: "The soul [for Strato], as we have already been told by Aristotle, is 'something of the body.'"
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