PHI-105 - In the fifth century B.C.E the center of Western...

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In the fifth century B.C.E., the center of Western civilization was Athens, a city-state and a democracy. This period of time was some three centuries after the first Olympic Games and the start of alphabetic writing, and approximately one century before Alexander the Great demonstrated that it is possible to conquer the world or what passed for it then. Fifty thousand citizens of Athens governed the city and the city's empire. Athenians did not settle disputes by brawling but rather by discussion and debate. Power was not achieved through wealth or physical strength or skill with weapons; it was achieved through words. Rhetoricians, men and women with sublime skill in debate, created plausible arguments for almost any assertion and, for a fee, taught others to do it too. These rhetoricians, the Western world's first professors, were the Sophists. They were interested in practical things, and few had patience with metaphysical speculation. They demonstrated their rhetorical abilities by "proving" the seemingly unprovable-that is, by attacking commonly held views. The net effect was an examination and a critique of accepted standards of behavior within Athenian society. In this way, moral philosophy began. At the same time in the fifth century B.C.E., there also lived a stonemason with a muscular build and a keen mind, Socrates [SOK-ruh-teez] (470-399 B.C.E.). He wrote nothing, but we know quite a bit about him from Plato's famous dialogues, in which Socrates almost always stars. (Plato's later dialogues reflect Plato's own views, even though "Socrates" is doing the speaking in them. But we are able to extract a
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