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Category Archives: Philosophy

Plato’s Symposium: Always Change For Love
By Van Bryan So, that’s probably a strange thing to say, right? Plato’s Symposium After all, the popular opinion today
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The Theory of Recollection: Immortal Soul Required
By Ben Potter The Phaedo takes places in 399 BC at the scene of the final days of Socrates’ life.
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Aristotle’s Poetics – The Science of Tragedy
Aristotle probably would have liked Titanic. He might have even compared it to Sophocles’ Theban Plays, celebrating Jack and Rose
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Plato’s Phaedo: The Spirituality of Socrates
“Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don’t forget.” – the Last words of
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Socrates Justice – Law and Disorder
by Anya Leonard Somewhere between the words of Socrates and the thoughts of Plato lies the profound question of what
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Aristotle and the Myth of Political Justice
Are there warring factions in any political society? We wonder. Is that where all our problems stem from? The idea
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Four Important Lessons from Aristotle’s “The Politics”
Viewed as a whole, Politics is a rather intimidating piece of work. No mere political treatise, it is an examination
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Socrates the Prophet?
By Van Bryan I originally thought of this article idea some time ago. I remember standing in the basement of
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Introducing Plato and the Theaetetus
By Samuel Gren Contributor from Noet, a Classical Wisdom Weekly partner A.N. Whitehead once characterized Western philosophy as “a series
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Aristotle and the Art of Friendship
How many friends do you have? Are they really your friends? Is it possible that your friends are using you
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Socrates and Euthyphro: The Nature Of Piety

by October 24, 2018

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
As a general disclaimer, it is important to remember that “Euthyphro” was written by the philosopher Plato. While Socrates is used as a character in this dialogue, it is unknown if Socrates himself would have held such ideas. Although it is very possible that many of these thoughts were Socrates’ it is also possible that the philosophy originated from Plato. However, because this is an early Platonic dialogue, it is largely considered to be an accurate reflection of the philosophy of Socrates.
Statue of Socrates

Statue of Socrates

At the opening of “Euthyphro” we find Socrates meeting with the young Euthyphro on the porch of the King Archon in Athens, several weeks before the events of “Apology“. Socrates has been required to visit with the King Archon before he is put on trial for impiety. Euthyphro appears to hold much respect for the elderly philosopher, and is shocked that any man would find reason to prosecute him. Socrates explains that he is being hounded by Meletus, a man “…with a beak, and long straight hair, and a beard that is ill grown”.
Not being one to enjoy talking about himself, Socrates asks what has brought Euthyphro to the court of Athens. Euthyphro explains that he is there to put his own father on trial for murder. Socrates is shocked to hear this news and inquires about the nature of the man’s crime. Euthyphro explains that his father held a farm laborer in chains after the worker killed a slave in a drunken fight. Euthyphro’s father, unsure about what to do with the man in chains, had sent a messenger to Athens to consult with the various religious officials.
However before the messenger could return, the shackled man dies from exposure and dehydration. Euthyphro now views his father as a murderer, albeit an accidental one, and will pursue punishment for his father’s crimes.
Rather than believing that his actions are a betrayal, Euthyphro claims he is perfectly justified. The boy seems to believe that he has uncovered the true nature of piety, and that by prosecuting his father he is honoring the will of the gods. It is at this point that Socrates begins his philosophical inquest and slowly begins to explain why Euthyphro is actually a bumbling idiot.
Vase of Zeus

Zeus depicted on a Vase

Socrates, in a manner which I can’t help but think is sarcastic, congratulates Euthypro on his wisdom and intellect. For if he truly understands piety and can interpret the will of the gods so easily, then he must be among the wisest of men in all of Greece. Socrates then asks Euthyphro, very plainly, “what is piety, and what is impiety?” Euthyphro welcomes these questions and explains that piety is doing as he is doing, prosecuting murderers regardless of their relations.
Socrates points out that while that action might be considered pious, it is merely an example of piety not a general definition of piety itself. Socrates again asks: “What is piety?” Euthyphro then gives the definition that that which is dear to the gods is pious, and that which the gods despise is impious.
Again, Socrates has a relevant counter argument. The gods of ancient Greece would often disagree. They regularly fought amongst each other and would engage in bickering and senseless quarrels. This is all to point out, obviously, that the gods do not always love the same things. Which would lead us to several conflicting definitions of piety.
Euthyphro concedes this point, although it is now clear he is beginning to be annoyed with Socrates. The two men continue their discussion, and after some twists and turns, they conclude that that which is pious is loved by all the gods and that which is impious is hated by all the gods. This seems like it would be a worthy definition, however Socrates has a nasty habit of systematically destroying every knowledge claim he comes in contact with. And so he proposes this fundamental question, that has been repeated for centuries to come.
“The point that I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved by the gods.” – Plato, from “Euthyphro”
And it is this question that philosophers ever since have been wrestling with. It is perhaps one of the first profound examples of western theological philosophy. In the context of the dialogue, Euthyphro seems rather taken aback by the question.
After some gentle prodding, the young man seems to conclude that that which is pious is loved by the gods because it is pious. And while this seems like a good answer, Socrates of course disagrees. Socrates points out a rather fatal contradiction in this line of thinking. It goes something like this…
Socrates Illustration

Drawing of Socrates

“But, friend Euthyphro, if that which is holy is the same with that which is dear to God, and is loved because it is holy, then that which is dear to God would have been loved as being dear to God; but if that which dear to God is dear to him because loved by him, then that which is holy would have been holy because loved by him. But now you see that the reverse is the case, and that they are quite different from one another.” -Plato, from “Euthyphro”
This can be a rather perilous examination, so let’s take baby steps. Something would be dear to the gods because it is pious in nature, rather than being pious in nature because it is loved by the gods. Euthyphro concedes this point. However, Socrates points out that that which is pious is dear to the gods because it is loved by the gods.
This is similar to the example that something is being carried because somebody carries it, and we would NOT say that somebody carries something because it is being carried. The state of being carried (being dear to the gods) is a direct result of somebody carrying it (the god’s action of loving something).
This would suggest that the adjective (god loved) is contingent upon the gods loving whatever it is. And we would not say that the thing is loved by the gods because it is god loved. We would say that that which is god loved (pious action) is only so because the gods love it. So, in essence, Euthyphro has conceded that that which is pious is pious because the gods love it AND that the gods love that which is pious because it is pious… Did any of that make sense?
To be fair, it is a remarkable feat of intellectual acrobatics. And if it is all just too confusing, then I would again suggest you allow the funny robots to elucidate you.
Painting of Socrates

Aspasia and Socrates

And if that does not help, and you feel so compelled to throw up your hands and storm out of the room, then rest assured you are not the only one. Not long after Socrates makes this baffling claim, he offhandedly insults Euthyphro and essentially informs him that his argument is entirely useless.
Socrates then circles back and asks again (because apparently he won’t be satisfied until the young man is driven completely mad) ‘what is piety?’ It is at this time that Euthyphro tells Socrates he really must go and makes a hasty retreat, presumably while scratching his head and thinking to himself ‘jeez, no wonder they want to kill that guy’.
As you may or may not have realized, there are some very serious implications to these questions proposed over two thousand years ago, questions that might reduce even the most dedicated theologian to a whimpering, cowering wreck. For instance, if morality and goodness is only so because God commands it to be then we are faced with a potential problem. What if God were to, hypothetically, command us to torture and kill each other. It would then stand to reason that those actions would be pious or moral.
If we examine the other side of that coin, we become equally confounded. If God commands us to do that which is moral because it is moral or pious in the first place, then God is no more than a messenger boy. His role as divine creator has been dramatically undercut. If morality exists out there in the universe, independent of God, then we no longer need divine inspiration to seek a moral, virtuous life. We can cut out the middle man, so to speak.

How should you lead your life? A look at ethical Philosophy that you can ACTUALLY Use…

by July 19, 2018

It is human nature to wonder how best to live our lives. No doubt you have lost sleep over this notion, perhaps staring at the ceiling contemplating the very nature of your existence and what is the proper way to live. How do we know what constitutes a good or bad life? Most people would assume that they have a pretty good handle on what is good and bad, they learned it in preschool or it was told to them by their mother as children.
And that might be good enough to live by. However philosophers have a nasty habit of complicating things, kicking up dust and then complaining they can’t see. And if that isn’t your cup of tea then I would encourage you to disregard this letter and perhaps go read a book about literature or history, or any other subject that doesn’t require you to ask the fundamental question: what is the essence of “good”.
Still here?
Wonderful, then let us begin by keeping in mind this very fundamental question: How should we be living? Keep your chin up and your mind open to new possibilities. We are going to explore two philosophers who posed two very different answers to that very quandary. And when it is all said and done, it will be up to you to make up your mind.
Epicurus: enjoying the little things
Epicurus was a philosopher that began flexing his intellectual muscles only a few decades after the death of Aristotle. Born on the island of Samos, Epicurus would spend his life traveling across much of Greece before winding up in the philosophy headquarters of the world, Athens.
Epicurus Bust
Epicurus is often wrongly accused of being a hedonist. Hedonism, as you may know, is a type of ethical philosophy that tells us that any action that is pleasurable is good. A strict hedonist would live his or her life in search of the next pleasurable thing with no regard for attaining any higher purpose for his or her life. This may seem well and good, perhaps lounging on a couch eating grapes from a silver bowl would be a fun way to spend your weekend. However strict hedonists often find that their way of life is unattainable and unrealistic. And you always run the risk of running out of grapes.
Epicureanism, the philosophy developed by Epicurus, is actually quite the opposite. It tells us that we should not continuously look for sensual pleasures, but that we should look for ways to avoid unpleasurable things such as pain and fear. Epicurus believed that by limiting anguish in our lives we could better appreciate the smaller pleasures like friendship and family. By avoiding pain and striving for tranquility, we can be fulfilled in our lives.
Epicurus believed that the main obstacle standing in our way of enjoying life, was the fear of death. The people of ancient Greece lived in constant fear of death. After all, they believed if they lived without honoring the gods, they would be cast down into the pits of Hades and tortured for all eternity. Sounds pretty bad, right?
Epicurus took the view that the entire universe is composed only of atoms and empty space, similar to the scientific thinking of today. He concluded that the human soul must therefore be made of atoms, and would logically disintegrate at the time of death along with the rest of your body.
Epicurus quote death
Remember, Epicurus believed that something was bad if it brought pain or anguish. He concluded that at the time of our death we are incapable of feeling any form of pain, physically or mentally. Death is not a painful, frightening thing, it simply is the end of our mortal sensations. Therefore we should not fear death. Most importantly we should not let it distract us from finding happiness in this life.
This is a nice way of looking at things. Don’t worry about death, because it won’t cause pain or fear. Just find your happiness and enjoy your life with friends and family.
Despite this nice sentiment, Epicurus was rather unpopular during his time. His teachings made most believe that he was an atheist. He was more or less disregarded by much of Athens for his non traditional beliefs. However he did retain a close group of devout followers who practiced this philosophy and did the honor of preserving his work for future generations.
Zeno of Citium: virtue of Stoicism
Zeno of Citium, like Epicurus, was also an ethical philosopher. Like Epicurus, he would eventually find himself in Athens, studying alongside cynics like Diogenes of Sinope. Zeno would become known as the father of Stoicism, a philosophy that would find great favor in late Hellenistic Greece as well as the Roman Empire.
Epicurus believed that happiness, through subtle pleasures, was the point of life. Zeno came to a different conclusion. Zeno and the other stoics believed that the universe was crafted by a supreme lawgiver, rationally and with balance. Therefore the universe around us was beyond our control. The only thing we were capable of controlling was our own thoughts and desires.
That is where Stoicism really kicks in. It is not in our power to control the universe or even control what happens to us. Instead we should focus on how we react to the universe. Our sadness and anguish is our own design. And it is usually brought about by possessing unrealistic desires and inevitably being disappointed.
Stoics would teach you not to pursue your every desire, but rather to eliminate those desires in the first place. This they considered was the highest form of logic. Stoics believed that it was most rational to deny ourselves unrealistic desires and pleasures in exchange for a more tranquil existence that flows in tune with nature.
You could go drinking tonight, it would be fun for a brief period. However in the long run you would be unhealthier, poorer, and undoubtedly hungover. The stoics believed this to be the highest form of wisdom. Denying ourselves these superficial pleasures was a form of virtue. And pursuing virtue was the best way to live our lives.
Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Marcus Aurelius

One very notable follower of stoicism is the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would write extensively about the philosophy in his essay The Meditations. It is rather remarkable that Marcus Aurelius would find contentment by following the modest lessons of stoicism. After all, he was a man who could have had any of his earthly desires fulfilled, and yet he resigned himself to a life of virtue and ethical stability.
Stoicism is often compared to Buddhism, perhaps rightfully so. Both philosophies tell us to become one with nature, accepting the universe and living peacefully within it. The similarities give currency to the belief that ethics is a universal concept. Everybody is looking for a way to live contently.

Ancient Bickering: The American Founding Fathers and the Classics

by July 4, 2018

By Spencer Klavan
The American Founding Fathers knew a thing or two, and one of those things was how to read the Classics. By this I don’t mean that their Latin was good (it was), or that their knowledge of ancient history was infallible (it wasn’t).
JeffersonI mean that they didn’t use Classical writing the way modern thinkers often do, as an Ultimate Authority to be unerringly obeyed. Instead, the statesmen who founded America treated those who founded Athens and Rome as equal partners in an ongoing debate. They challenged their ancient forbears like college roommates haggling over a philosophy paper. That dialogue is the one that built America.
Take Thomas Jefferson: he hated Plato. Hated him passionately, almost with relish, the way beleaguered high school readers often hate him. The Republic, Jefferson wrote, was…

“the heaviest task-work I ever went through,” full of “whimsies . . . puerilities, and unintelligible jargon.”

He was shocked “that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense.” I remember a few kids in my 11th grade Civics class expressing similar opinions.
Jefferson preferred Epicurus, whose philosophy survives through the Roman poet Lucretius. Lucretius wrote that only knowledge and science could redeem humanity, which “lay crushed under religion” and irrational superstition. Those words appealed to Jefferson, an amateur scientist who mistrusted the Bible and would eventually re-write it to excise any mention of the supernatural: “I too am an Epicurean,” he enthused. He proved it by arguing forcefully and effectively for a controversial new doctrine — the separation of church and state.

Now, Jefferson’s enduring legacy is the epoch-making Declaration that “all men are created equal.” Of course the man who wrote those words abhorred Plato, who advocated brainwashing the lower classes to believe their souls were made of inferior material, destined to subservience.

This kind of open élitism repulsed the radically populist Jefferson. Epicurus, Jefferson thought, had it right: different souls are just different arrangements of identical atoms, uniform matter recombining in endless structures. No one is born to rule: we’re all made of the same stuff, quite literally “created equal.”

But we might never have heard of those words — might never have broken away from England — if it weren’t for John Adams and Marcus Cicero. From boyhood, Adams treasured a copy of Cicero’s Orations. Rome’s great statesman became Adams’ confidant, his lifelong friend, and most of all his role model. He worked hard to emulate Cicero’s iron-willed integrity and compelling rhetoric.

XXXThat came in handy: when Jefferson’s Declaration came down to a nail-biting vote, it was the powerful oratory Adams learned from Cicero that tipped the scales in favor of independence. In a two-hour speech, with Ciceronian flair, Adams convinced the Continental Congress to vote for revolution. Colleagues called Adams “the man to whom the country is most indebted for . . . independency.”

For the country that was born in Philadelphia that day, we have Adams — and Cicero — to thank.

Later, as Adams advised the writers of the new constitution, he turned to his tried and true mentor for advice. Cicero gave Adams the idea of “a mixed constitution of three branches,” each restrained by a delicate equilibrium of checks and balances. Adams adopted that concept in his Defence of the Constitutions, which guided the framers as they wrote their own founding document — the one America upholds today.
These days, modern thinkers tend to put the Ancients on an untouchable pedestal, hailing them from afar without really engaging. Politicians from Obama to Palin use quotes from Plato and Aristotle as indisputable maxims, truths they can cite to support their agenda.
That leaves listeners with an all-or-nothing choice: either you agree with this lapidary, monolithic authority called The Classics, or you don’t. That choice is an illusion. There’s never been any such authority. There’s only ever been a motley crew of gifted, contentious intellectuals, arguing tirelessly, contradicting one another — and sometimes themselves — with vehemence and urgency. The history of Greco-Roman thought is a history of incessant bickering. That’s what makes it great.
By doing some bickering of their own, the Founding Fathers picked up where the Greeks and Romans left off. Early American thinkers treated Classical writers as interlocutors, as adversaries — most of all, they treated them as old friends.

Old friends don’t tiptoe around each other or pretend to agree unconditionally: they mix it up. They debate. Old friends speak their minds and hash it out. The early Americans kept the ancient conversation alive — they used it to found a nation. The beauty of the Classical canon is that it makes us part of that conversation, puts modern readers face-to-face with discussion partners across thousands of intervening miles and years. It’s not our job to revere them. It’s our privilege to argue with them.

Why Does Stuff Exist?

by June 22, 2018

If that title seems a bit vague, not to mention all-around weird, then there is probably a reason for that. The subject matter we are tackling today tends to be so head-scratchingly confusing that any attempt at explaining it via a brief title just falls short.
ParmenidesThat’s right everybody. This week we are looking at one of those grand and profound questions that philosophy has blessed us with over the centuries; it’s one of those real nitty-gritty, what-does-it-all-mean sort of questions that tends to infuriate amateur philosophers and causes first year philosophy students to consider pursuing a degree in art history instead.
So…why does stuff exist? How did it get here? Did it come from nothing? Or did it always exist? We are going to get to all that in just one moment.
First, believe it or not, I actually do get quite a bit of reader mail. After my article a few weeks ago, I woke up to a flurry of emails in my inbox.
“Outstanding newsletter, thank you.”, read one such letter.
“Interesting stuff, keep it coming!”, read another.

Some of our readers turn out to be philosophers themselves and wasted no time in sharing their views.

“…Religion and metaphysics seek to understand the source of it all. Science said it all started with the Big Bang which created Space, Time, Energy and Matter, Location and such. Since there was no Space until the Big Bang- what did it go Bang in?

In religion they say it all started with God saying “Let there be light and there was light”. Since the word “let” is a request or command, who was he aiming that communication at?
Both explain how ‘something’ came into being. Since the laws of nature, God and physics say all words to exist must have its opposite. (check any thesaurus). SO the opposite of something is NOTHING. What NOTHING created all the somethings?”

An interesting idea, I think to myself. It is an idea, however, that is slightly flawed.

For starters, the Big Bang theory does not state that matter and energy suddenly appeared from nothingness. Rather, it tells us that the universe once existed in an incredibly dense state and then BANG, it rapidly expanded. As a cosmological theory, the Big Bang does not necessarily promote the idea that something (the universe) came from nothing (all physicists reading this should feel free to write in and correct me if I’ve made some unforgiveable mistake).
Ignoring the religious explanation for the creation of being, because I am simply not up for more theology this week, we are still left with that final, dangling question: What nothing created all the somethings?
Believe it or not, that is a question that has been puzzling philosophers for centuries, and it brings us back to our topic of the day: how does stuff come into existence?
parmenides statueThis question of the origin of existence was of supreme importance to the Greek philosophers. There was perhaps no philosopher who better explained the confusion behind “coming into being” than Parmenides.
Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic philosopher who lived either in the late sixth or early fifth century BC and is often considered to be the founder of the Elatic school of ancient philosophy.
Parmenides is best remembered for his critiques on change and motion. He makes the seemingly baffling claim that all matter is incapable of change. Moreover motion, insofar as it is a type of change, is also impossible. How exactly is change impossible? His argument goes something like this:
Change consists of coming into being (the philosophers used the Greek word, genesis). If something changes, comes into being, then it came into being from something else. What did it come into being from? There are only two options as far as Parmenides can see.

1. Being comes from nonbeing

2. Being comes from being

If #1 is correct, then it would tell us that being (existence) springs from nothingness. This is a logical impossibility since nothing can come from nothing (not even the Big Bang).
If #2 is correct and we conclude that being comes from being, then that would imply that there existed a state of non-being at one point. However, we know this to be impossible.
We cannot say that B came to exist from A, because that would imply that there was once a time that B partook of non-existence, and we have already shown that that which does not exists does not exist out of necessity and nothing can come from nothing.
Put very frankly, so long as a thing can be thought of or expressed, it can be said to exist. More importantly, it can be said that that thing ALWAYS existed and will always exist. Change is impossible and the entire universe is indivisible and eternal.
If this seems like a rather tricky argument, then that is because it is. It is an argument that would seem to contradict our own empirical observations, our perception that all things are changing all the time.
Our senses, according to Parmenides, are actually an illusion. The way of perception is the way of opinion, and only be adhering to strict rational thought can we arrive at the way of the truth, namely that all of existence is One and cannot partake of change.
protagorasThe ideas of Parmenides would actually have implications for the field of ethics as well as philosophy. This “parmenidean problem” would be hijacked by some unscrupulous figures of ancient Greece and used to justify a relativistic view of morality and ethics.
The sophists, specifically Protagoras of Abdera, would make the claim that, since perception is illusion and only being truly exists, there was no true standard of goodness based on human nature.
Each idea is just as good as the next, both equally valid and invalid at the same time. In short, there is no standard for morality. Man is the measure of all things. The sophists would use these ideas while defending their plaintiffs in court or when teaching the subject of ethics and morality.
Men like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle believed that an acceptance of ethical relativism was the worst thing that could happen to an individual. Philosophy ought to lead us to a better understanding of virtue, not deprive us of any standard with which to judge the goodness of our life.
To counteract the claims of the sophists, and to dispel some serious teleological, metaphysical, and even theological concerns, a proper counter argument must be made against Parmenides.
Enter Aristotle.
Aristotle lays out his argument against the Parmenidean problem in book 1, chapter 8 of his Physics. Aristotle first lays out the problem of change as expressed by Parmenides.
“What is cannot come to be (since it already is), while nothing can come to be from what is not.” –Aristotle (Physics)

To avoid the Pamenidean dilemma, the philosopher does something uniquely Aristotelian. He draws an important distinction.

And here we come back to our reader mail briefly. Our subscriber wrote into us suggesting that, perhaps, some thing comes to be from its opposite. And in a way, Aristotle agrees.
Change consists of a pair of contrasting or opposite properties and a subject that gains one property while losing another. Change consists of three things: an underlying subject, a form (a positive property), and a lack or privation of that form.
Aristotle uses the example of…

A. An unmusical man who becomes musical

B. A shapeless pile of bronze that becomes a statue.

In the case of A, the subject is the man, the aristotleform is “musical” and the privation of the form is “unmusical”. In the case of B, the subject is “bronze”, the form is “statue” and the privation is “shapelessness”.
Change occurs when the privations (unmusical and shapelessness) are replaced by the forms “musical” and “statue”. Throughout this process, the subjects of “man” and “bronze” remain in existence. They simply partake of different accidental (non-essential) properties.

Parmenides might ask us, “Where did the musical man come from? From being or nonbeing?” Aristotle might respond that he came from both, and at the same time neither.
The unmusical man has a potential to become the musical man. However, until the privation of “unmusical” is destroyed and replaced with the form of “musical”, the musical man subsists in a state of potential existence, not actualized existence.

If this topic still seems a bit hazy, then don’t worry. It’s not necessarily the easiest topic to grasp. I would encourage you to write in and we can discuss it more. Until next time, keep philosophizing my friends. We will speak soon.

Ten Things the Ancients Did Better than Us

by June 20, 2018

Just a couple of decades ago, the people of ancient civilizations were viewed as simple, primitive people. However, numerous discoveries since then have revealed a number of surprising facts about ancient cultures, namely that many of them possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and more. With this knowledge they forged steel stronger than anything else seen until the Industrial Revolution, created a recipe for concrete so durable that their buildings would endure for millennia longer than the constructions of today, cut stones and assembled walls so precisely that attempts at modern-day replications have failed. Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient civilizations. Here we feature ten of them.
1. Aqueducts and hydro technology

Old Canals

Who would have thought that 21 st century governments would be looking to 1,500-year-old technology for guidance on how to solve water access problems? But that is exactly what is happening in Lima, Peru.
Peru has been facing a severe water crisis as chronic problems, such as polluted water supplies, and environmental change combine to undermine the water security of the entire country. However, a new plan has been put forward by Lima’s water utility company, Sedapal, to revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the Wari culture as early as 500 AD, in order to supply the population with clean, unpolluted water.
The Wari built an advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season via canals. The canals transported the water to places where it could feed into springs further down the mountain, in order to maintain the flow of the rivers during the dry season.
Many ancient civilizations are known for their advanced construction of cisterns, canals, aqueducts, and water channelling technology, including the Persians, Nabataeans, Romans, Greeks, Harrapans, and many more.
2. Steel
Over 2,000 years ago, ancient people in the Levant were forging swords made of steel so advanced that blacksmiths would not come close to creating anything of equal quality until modern times. The metal was so strong that the swords could slice straight through objects made of other metals.
The steel, known as Damascus steel, was produced out of a raw material, known as Wootz steel, from Asia. Other materials were added during the steel’s production to create chemical reactions at the quantum level. It was first used around 300 BC, but was produced en masse in the Middle East between 1100 and 1700 AD.
The secret of making the Middle East’s Damascus Steel only re-emerged under the inspection of scanning electron microscopes in modern laboratories.
3. Concrete

Roman Concrete

Today’s concrete structures are typically designed to last between 100 and 120 years. However, the Romans built structures from concrete 2,000 years ago that have maintained their structural integrity to this day. So what was their secret?
The Romans made concrete by mixing lime, volcanic rock, and seawater. The combination of the three instantly triggered a chemical reaction in which the lime incorporated molecules into its structure and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together. The ancient seawater concrete contains the ideal crystalline structure of Tobermorite, which has a greater strength and durability than the modern equivalent.
As well as being more durable, Roman concrete was also more environmentally-friendly compared to today’s concrete. Conventional modern cement requires heating a mix of limestone and clay to 1,450 degrees Celsius which releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. In contrast, Roman cement used much less lime and made it from baking limestone at 900 degrees Celsius, requiring much less fuel.
4. Road-building

Ancient Road

These days, we’d be lucky to get a decent highway built within a year. But it was not always this way. Ancient people recognized the importance of roads and networks linking together cities and settlements across regions and countries… and they built them fast!
Qhapaq Nan, otherwise known as the Main Andean Road, is a huge network of roads once used by the mighty Inca Empire that extends over more than 30,000 kilometres. It was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power, connecting production, administrative, and ceremonial centres of pre-Inca Andean culture. The Incas of Cuzco achieved this unique infrastructure on a grand scale in less than a century, extending their vast network across what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The Romans too are known as expert road builders. About 1.7 million square miles of territory was covered by the Roman roads, which were made with gravel, dirt, and bricks made from granite and hard lava. Many ancient roads are still used today.
5. Stone Cutting

Stone Cutting Marvels

Around the world, we can find numerous examples of ancient stone-cutting so precise that they rival creations of the modern day produced with advanced machinery. One prime example can be found at Puma Punku, an ancient archaeological site in Bolivia – dated by some historians to 15,000-years-old – that contains such incredible stonework that it looks as if the stones were cut using a diamond tool. Enormous blocks weighing up to 800 tons, consist of perfectly straight edges that lock perfectly into each other and contain no chisel marks. Attempts to replicate the precision of the stonework have failed.
6. Agriculture

Floating Gardens

Human sacrifice is typically the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think about the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures. However, there is much more to these civilizations than this practice. One of their innovations was the chinampa agricultural system, the so-called ‘floating gardens’ which can be found on the shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico.
A chinampa plot was constructed by staking out a rectangular enclosure into the marshy lakebed. The enclosure would then be fenced in by joining the stakes with wattle. After that, the fenced in area would be filled with mud and decaying vegetation. In order to prevent the roots from becoming water-logged, it was important that the fill brought the chinampa plot above the lake level. Canals surrounding the chinampa plots formed an illusion that these agricultural lands were floating on water, hence its misattribution as ‘floating gardens’. To further stabilise these plots of land, willows were planted around the perimeter. This is due to the dense root system which, over time, anchored the retaining walls of the structure and reduced the effects of erosion. In order to ensure that the chinampas produced good harvests throughout the year, it was vital that the supply of water was well managed. During the rainy season, flooding would have been a problem. Hence, a sophisticated drainage system, which included dams, sluice gates and canals, were put in place to counter this problem. By using human excrement to fertilise the crops, the Aztecs were also able to create a healthier living environment as the city’s wastewater would have also been treated.
The system of agriculture and waste water treatment seen in the floating gardens of Mexico, was so advanced that there have been attempts (unsuccessfully) to implement it in modern times.
7. Walls

Ancient Incan Walls

The Inca civilization is well-known for its advanced masonry work, much of which can still be seen today in Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman in Peru. Their large dry stone walls display huge blocks that had been carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar and with levels of precision unmatched anywhere else in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward (to prevent damage in the event of an earthquake) have puzzled scientists for decades. The method used to match precisely the shape of a stone with the adjacent stones is still unknown and attempts to recreate the technique have all failed.
8. City planning
In the last century, numerous ancient cities have been unearthed that have astounded scientists and urban planners alike.
When archaeologists discovered the 5,000-year-old site of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, what they found was unprecedented in the region – the city demonstrated an exceptional level of civic planning and amenities. The houses were furnished with brick-built bathrooms and many had toilets. Wastewater from these was led into well-built brick sewers that ran along the centre of the streets, covered with bricks or stone slabs. Cisterns and wells finely constructed of wedge-shaped bricks held public supplies of drinking water. Back in its day, the city would have been home to around 40,000 inhabitants.
In the same era, but on another continent, another great city was being constructed – Caral. Located in the Supe Valley in Peru, Caral is a 5,000-year-old city that consisted of huge monuments, including pyramids, plazas, amphitheatres, temples, and residential areas. They had extensive agriculture, ate a varied diet, developed the use of textiles, used a complex system for calculating and recording, built water supply, and developed an intricate irrigation system.
Architects are currently looking to Caral for inspiration in city planning. Japanese architects intend to incorporate building designs that they implemented to protect their people from earthquakes. The people of Caral suspended their houses in baskets filled with stones that dissipated earth movement and prevented collapse.
9. Astronomy
From star constellations painted on ancient Greek ceramics to Native American rock art depicting solstices , star charts in ancient Japanese tombs , Australian Aboriginal dreamtime stories reflecting known astronomical events , and a 10,000-year-old megalithic calendar in Scotland, there is no doubt that ancient civilizations around the world possessed an extraordinary understanding of the cosmos and its movements. But just how they were able to so precisely and accurately record cosmological events without the technology we possess today still eludes scientists in many cases.
What is certain is that recent discoveries have revealed just how advanced ancient cultures were when it came to astronomical knowledge, and that they were far from the primitive people they were once thought to be.
10. Weapons
While there is no doubt that modern-day weapons are far more superior to their ancient counterparts in their ability to unleash mass death and destruction, there exist a number of powerful ancient weapons that still elude scientists as to their construction and capabilities.
Greek mathematician, engineer, inventor, and astronomer, Archimedes (287 – 212 BC) is reported to have created a heat ray weapon (sometimes called the ‘death ray’) to defend against ships attacking Syracuse, an historic city in Sicily. According to 2nd century AD author Lucian and centuries later, Anthemius of Tralles, the weapon was made of large reflectors (possibly made from polished bronze or copper), which were used to focus sunlight onto approaching ships, causing them to catch fire.
Although its existence has been hotly debated among historians, a number of tests have accurately proven that such a weapon is possible. In 1973, the Greek scientists Ioannis Sakkas set up 70 mirrors with a copper coating, which were pointed at a plywood model of a Roman warship at a distance of 50 meters. When the mirrors were focused accurately, the ship burst into flames within seconds.
By April Holloway, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins

Plato’s Symposium: Always Change For Love

by May 1, 2018

By Van Bryan
So, that’s probably a strange thing to say, right?
SymposiumPlato’s Symposium
After all, the popular opinion today is that you shouldn’t change for love and that your spouse shouldn’t make you change. I am who I am and that’s all that I am!
That certainly seems to be the mindset these days; at least that’s what my single friends tell me. They spend their evenings swiping left on their smart phones and making connections with total strangers on Tinder or J-swipe or…whatever.
“Never change for love.” That’s the battle cry.
Besides, if you just be yourself, surely you will find somebody just like you and you will inevitably fall in love.
“Wrong!” says Plato.
The problem with never changing who you are for love, or never letting your spouse change who you are, is that who you are might very well be a terrible person. What if who you are is an inconsiderate sociopath? Or worse, what if you are a sophist?
What I’m trying to say is that maybe a bit of change wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps we really should let our lovers change us. Who knows? Maybe they will make us better.
That seems to be Plato’s line of thought at least. Our particular topic of interest comes from Plato’s Symposium, that unique piece of philosophical literature that asks the question: “What’s love?”
Plato is a giant in the field of philosophy. He was easily one of the most, if not the most, influential philosopher in the Western tradition. His Symposium, for those of you who don’t already know, sounds more like the setup for a particularly funny joke than an actual piece of philosophical literature.
“Okay, okay, so a philosopher, a comic playwright, and a politician walk into a bar…”
See what I mean?
A symposium was like a dinner party in the days of ancient Greece. Except, instead of casually drinking beer and playing charades, the participants of a symposium would get rip-roaringly drunk off of wine and then commence to discuss some central topic of philosophical interest; although, that does sound pretty fun too.
Plato’s Symposium, by Anselm Feuerbach
In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates, Plato’s teacher and the man dubbed “the Father of Western Philosophy”, is joined by a handful of important Athenian figures of the age, the most notable of which are the general Alcibiades and the comic playwright Aristophanes. They all gather to discuss the topic of love.
For the more initiated of you, you will recall that there are no shortage of interesting ideas to discuss in Symposium. However, today we are looking at the speech of Pausanias and the assertion that we ought to let our lover change us.
Pausanias first notes that love is the only thing that can justify some questionable behavior. Under normal circumstances, we might look strangely at a man who lies all night on a front porch. However, when we learn that this man is doing this in pursuit of his lover, then his behavior not only becomes somewhat acceptable, but even admirable.
“And in the pursuit of his love the custom of mankind allows him to do many strange things, which philosophy would bitterly censure if they were done from any motive of interest or wish for office or power. He may pray, and entreat, an supplicate, and swear, and lie on a mat at the door, and endure a slavery worse than that of any slave…” –Plato (Symposium)
Heck, Pausanias tells us that even the gods will forgive you if you commit some transgression whilst in pursuit of your love, and we all know how unforgiving those gods can be.
So love seems to be something of great power and importance. However, Pausanias tells us that, just like anything, there can be good and bad love.
It all comes down to your motivations. Why do you love somebody? It may very well be that you love somebody because they are beautiful or wealthy. This, however, is not true love, and is actually quite dishonorable.
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account. To love either of the latter is truly a base thing, because both of these things are temporary. The beauty of youth invariable recedes, and misfortune may befall any rich man and reduce him to a peasant. Where will your love be then? It will take wings and fly!
“Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable…” –Plato (Symposium)
So don’t love your spouse’s beauty and don’t love their account balance. What do you love? Their virtue!
“There remains only one way of honorable attachment which custom allows in the beloved, and this is the way of virtue.” –Plato (Symposium)
Okay, so Plato isn’t telling us that, come next Valentine’s Day, we write on the card, “Dear Honey, I love your virtue.”
Instead, he is telling us that we ought to be drawn to a person for their inner qualities. We should fall in love with the beauty of their soul and its capacity for virtue and goodness.
Pausanias tells us that we ought to love our lover’s soul, not their beauty or their bank account
Moreover, we should, ideally, find somebody who has different virtues than us. This is where the whole “let your lover change you” thing comes into play.
Find somebody who has different qualities than you. Perhaps they are brave when you are timid. Maybe they are organized while you are messy. Whatever the situation, you should find somebody who possesses qualities that you yourself lack, and then let that person seduce you into becoming a better version of yourself.
True love does not mean loving your spouse for who they are right now. True love means that two people are committed to educating each other in the ways of virtue and enduring the stormy seas that result of such a union.
“This is that love which is the love of the heavenly goddess, and is heavenly, and of great price to the individual and the cities, making the lover and the beloved alike eager in the work of their own improvement.” –Plato (Symposium)
Make sense?
So the next time you think your spouse is trying to change you, just remember that they probably are, and you really ought to let them.