The Sources for Presocratic Philosophy

David T. Runia

in The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780195146875
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199892112 | DOI:


The Sources for Presocratic Philosophy

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Between about 2,600 and 2,400 years ago, a group of men lived whose thought formed the beginning of the discipline of philosophy. All contemporary material records of these men have disappeared, with the possible exception of a piece of a statue and some likenesses on early coins and vases. The very notion that these philosophers can be best understood as Presocratics is redolent with interpretative interventions. Although this view is not without ancient precedents, the driving force behind its dominance in the twentieth century was the great achievement of the German classical scholar Hermann Diels (1848–1922), which exercises authority to this day. The aim of this article is to examine the sources for Presocratic philosophy. It commences with the dominant legacy of Diels. Thereafter, it examines various strands of transmission streamlined by Diels. Finally, it reaches some tentative conclusions on what should be the way forward in future research.

Keywords: philosophy; Presocratics; ancient precedents; German classical scholar; Hermann Diels

Article.  13686 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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