Ancient Greek Philosophy: Materialism vs Idealism
 By  Franz J. T. Lee


    Merida, Venezuela, 2003.
© 2003   Franz J. T. Lee All Rights Reserved.




      BOOK ONE


 1.   Introduction To Philosophy
 2.  Thales of Miletus: What Is The Best? Water
 3.  Anaxinander, Anaximenes:
 4.  Heracleitus of Ephesus:  FIRE
 7.  SOPHISM: Praktiké-Theoretiké, Práxis-Theoría 
 8.  Empedocles: God-Man, Subject-Object
 9.  Anaxagoras of Klazomenai: Nous
10. Leucippus of Miletus, Democritus of Abdera:
      Atoms - Void 
11. Epicurus: Ideology versus Truth

       BOOK TWO

13.  Plato:  Subject of Objective Idealism
14.  Aristotle: Objective-Real Substratum of Práxis-Theory
       Substance and Form: hýle and morphé
16.  The Eclipse of Ancient Greek Materialism: 
       Scepticism, Stoicism 



Dedicated to:
My Philosophy Teacher,

(1885 - 1977)



Thinking is surpassing.
Ernst Bloch.

The Truth is the Whole.

The Truth is Always Concrete.

To think healthy is the greatest perfection;
Wisdom is to tell the Truth, to act according
to Nature, to listen to her.


Quo Vadis? What is to be done?


Whither goest thou? This answering question presupposes a concrete-abstract dialogical trinity: „I“, „Thou“ and a material process. „I“ and ‘‘Thou’’ are related, they change, they move, hence they form a social contradiction. Perhaps „I“ do not know where „Thou“ goest. „Whither” is „going“, is Motion, Change, Movement. And, movement is by Someone or Something, within Something in process.

This Motion has a „whither”, a latency-tendency, a potency-potentiality. On Earth, precisely in this evolutionary-withering, revolutionary-contradictory material process, the questioning answer of „quo vadis?“ lies, as an effluent-affluent reality. In the fatherland, in the patria, in the labour process, this material synthesis, which forever reproduces itself, tends towards Being or Non-Being, to Everything, but not to Not-Being, to  Nothing, and it co-determines the „goest“ of Thou, but, of greater significance is the reality that „I“ and „Thou“, in patrian, universal Society, codetermine the „wither” and withering away of Nature, at least within the ever-extending limitations and horizons, but, as a result of social non-relations, not vice versa.

Ruling Class Man is permanently humanizing, that is, alienating his natural environment, and the result, this „Second Nature“ is perpetually „naturizing“, that is, threatening human society. Within this processual context we encounter the concrete-abstract essence and existence of „Quo vadis?“ and of „What Is To Be Done?“ on Earth, in the Heimat.

 This work is divided into two parts. In Book One, we will surview the hylozoistic philosophic reflections of the ancient Greek naturalists and materialists concerning the arché and the hýle (Aristotle). However, what will concern us mainly are their determinations of phýsis and psyché, of Object and Subject. Within this cosmic-social relation, we will detect their cosmovision about human práxis and theoría, and how it is related to Matter or Spirit, as Being-Becoming and Becoming-Being, but also to Being, Non-Being, Not-Being, and Nothing.


In Greek Antiquity, Science and Philosophy, Práxis and Theory, were born as Materialism, as Hylozoism. Thus the latter is their real matrix, is the alma mater of sophía and philosophía, of materialism-idealism. Consequently, Ancient Greece, Hellas, was also the birthplace of revolutionary-emancipatory Práxis-Theory.


It should be noted, however, that this scientific-philosophic investigation of the evolution, involution and transvolution of the arché, and its reflection in concrete historico-social reality and true, social práxis-theoría, does not claim to be a history of philosophy, or of ancient materialism or idealism. Wherever it is necessary, we will give detailed, scientific data concerning the materialist and idealist philosophers and their social environment, but the above is not our primary analytic motive or motif. Furthermore, chronology is not a necessary requisite, because we are concerned with dialectical and dialogical processes and not with zigzag, tictac, formal-logical „facts“, which are chained consecutively, as if they are in  linear goose-step.


For this reason, we will elucidate the whole hylozoistic-atomistic materialist-philosophic process, beginning from Thales, and ending with Lucretius and Lucian, without analysing in depth the fundamental idealist views and theories. Of course, wherever necessary, we will comment on their opposing, conflictory, endeavours. As such, we will be able to highlight the parts and the relation of the parts to the totality of this historico-philosophic process.

Furthermore, we will be able to spotlight the flowing continuum of the genesis end epigenesis of the various central concepts of ancient materialism, including its dialectics and dialectical conceptions, but also highlighting our Dialogics, Trialogics, Diagories and Triagories.  Hence, Book One will be analysing the negation within ancient Greek philosophy, -- negating mythology, and later Platonism and Neo-Platonism --  will be illustrating hylozoistic naturalism, atomism and materialism. It will elaborate the scientific, materialist basis of Human Práxis-Theory, of which, principally, Theoría was identical with Sophía and the Éros for/of Wisdom, that is, Philosophía, which again had Gnosis and Epistéme as its empirical base.


Book Two will be dedicated mainly to ancient Greek idealism, the affirmation within the dialectical, internal, universal contradiction of Greek Philosophy. It will concentrate on the philosophic doctrines of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, but also on the various Stoic schools. But also, it will expound the ethical and religious views of Theophrastus, Straton, the Neoplatonists and Plotinists. Obviously, centrally what will concern us is their views on to kenón, on diabolical Matter, and their views about Práxis-Theory. Within this context, we will consider the warning of Lenin, that a wise objective idealism, that is, one which contains praxical sophia, is located much nearer to historical dialectical materialism, but also nearer to trialogical Emancipatory Wisdom than a vulgar, ossified materialism, void of any pansophy.


We will not only analyse Socratic dialektiké, but we will also apply dialogics to ancient objective idealism itself, in order to understand its essence within Greek Philosophy, as part of the materialization of materialism itself. We will demonstrate that the father of formal logics was a master dialectician in his doctrine of morphé and hýle. At the same time, we will demonstrate how Cynicism, Scepticism and "Nihilism" had affected the four major ancient philosophic schools: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Epicureanism and Stoicism. And, as such, they also affected Práxis-Theory in the epoch of social transition and transformation from slavocratic societies to absolutist feudalism.

Franz J. T. Lee,
Mérida, Venezuela.

July 1, 2003.
Revised: October 1, 2006.



Like Socrates, Inter alia,
we know that we know nothing.

Labour, Patria and History

Before we blaze the fiery, archaic Ancient Greek trail of the  "History of Wisdom", we have to introduce our concept of History, based in the Labour process, developed as a result of decades of investigation, research, scientific acting and action, of philosophic thinking and thought, in brief, of práxis  a n d  theory.  Certainly, at least three major concepts have to be clarified: Labour, History and the Patria. However, formal logically,  it is well-nigh impossible to expound these far-reaching central conceptual processes in a few introductory paragraphs,

Nonetheless, as we continue, in the following chapters, their real meanings, true context and contents will unfold themselves. Hence, we bid the reader to be patient; on reading the texts again and again, eventually the above will become philosophic household words.  What follows now is unusual, is new, original, authentic.  Let us follow this strange logics step by step, there is an important "method" in this seeming "madness" ( See: Franz J. T. Lee, Science and Philosophy. Also: Franz J. T. Lee, Philosophical Dialogues).  

The Pico Bolivar Scientific-Philosophic Perspective: A Simple Approximation of a possible New Man of the Third Millennium

Levels. Degrees and Mensions of Human Knowledge

Looking through the window here in Mérida, outside there, at the foot of Pico Bolivar, everything is still near and clear, warm, essential and identical, simple and easy, level and tangible, only a limited panorama enters our vision. Higher up, things already move to a distance, they are seen in another context, more related, contradictory and complex; they can only be reflected as such in their different degrees of existence. To explain this complex, complicated matter to someone who forever has been living, acting and thinking in a formal logical, flat, limited world, in a binary and bicameral surrounding, is well-nigh impossible. For her/him to understand concepts like Labour, Ideology or Revolution, s(he) must make some intellectual effort, must activate dormant theoretical capacities, must ascend Pico Bolivar, at least to the second station of the "teleférico", of the cable car lying in the middle part.

Who reaches the top, enters new mensions, has an all round view, sees things in the far distance. Everything appears vague, cool. cloudy and intangible, but one can perceive all sorts of relations, contradictions, conflicts, and antagonisms, one gets a global social vision, a transhistoric perspective.

Because we are socially cognisant of all praxical levels and theoretical degrees, have reached the cold, lonely, well-nigh inaccesible trancendental cliffs of snow-capped Minerva, this new sublime mension, void of all ideological slime, can now be discovered by us, by conscious and conscientious students and professors, for precise, incisive and decisive investigation and research work. This newly acquired knowledge and transhistoric perspective enable us to surmount other majestic emancipatory Andean heights and depths, to reach other unknown micro-, meso- and macroscopic spheres of creative, galactic emancipation.

In this way, the New Man of Ernst Bloch and of Che Guevara could regain his lost human trinity: the human being and existence and transcendence.

Without a radical, cultural, creative revolution, without a transcending "exvolution" towards human emancipation, without a "transvolutionary" exodus (Ernst Bloch) out of capitalist and imperialist misery, without casting off the religious and ideological "chains of illusion" (Erich Fromm), a possible new species man can and will not accomplish any true socialism or real communism, in fact, will not even be given any transit to purgatory or any keys to open the gates of earthly paradise or divine heaven.

This has to be kept in mind, in education, in "exformation", in schools and universities, where revolutionary práxis and theory should be developed, studied, applied.  Mixing up the levels, degrees and mensions of things, of relations and processes, of labour reality, as explained above, leads directly to ideological confusion, to reactionary fatalism, defeatism and nihilism.

In short, in our schools, missions, universities and other institutions of "higher" learning, in our educational and socialization institutions, simple things ...  like conserving potable water, by closing leaking taps well, by not singing more than one song under the shower (Chavez) ... that is, tangible realities that can be grasped easily by a still oppressed, manipulated and indoctrinated mind, can and must be expressed straightforwardly as concrete levels, in simple, scientific, praxical terms as human acts. As such the latter can and will be understood precisely by any still thinking mind.

Complex things, like práxis and theory, ... like ideology and practice, like reform and revolution, like Ernst Bloch's scientific and philosophic explanations of the relations between cold and warm currents in revolutionary Marxism, ... cannot be expressed as simplicity, it is not their natural habitat. They presuppose intellectual endeavour, social reflection and philosophic creativity.

Vague things like emancipation, like a possible postcapitalist mode of creation,  ... like the Arab philosophic concepts of Avicenna or Averroes, natura naturata and natura naturans, creative and created nature, ... definitely do include simple and complex issues, but scientifically and philosophically, they can only be grasped radically and rationally with excellent reasoning, with transcendental excellence, that is with emancipatory, creative Wisdom, more precisely, with transcendental immanence and immanent transcendence (with Bloch's principle of hope).

Logically, academic and intellectual issues and questions that concern the very existence and transcendence, the quo vadis of the human species cannot be approximated with political multiple choice tables or by means of mammoth audio-visual manuals and formal logical questionnaires. We should learn to understand  and explain them in an opaque transhistoric fashion. Otherwise, to explain transhistoric wisdom irresponsibly in simple and complex terms, as Mickey Mouse comic strips, as popular hit parade songs, as obsolete catechisms or eternal textbooks for beginners, as liveless things, as absolute truths, that have to be learned by rote, is simply a useless educational venture and a dangerous academic adventure. On the university campus, this kind of academic abuse plays havoc with anything progressive or hopeful, from all directions and tendencies will just call into being student turmoil and devastating professorial typhoons, conspiracy, high treason sabotage and murder, and consequently, will transform the democratic alma mater, the sapient spirit of Minerva, into an ideological factory of the ruling ideas of the ruling classes, into a reformist, reactionary lair for all kinds of social vipers, vices, hoaxes, treachery and corruption.

In the current age, where Hitler's fondest, Orwellian dream is globally becoming true ... "if you want to control a people, control its education" ... more than ever should we defend academic revolutionary práxis and theory, should we create human, transcendental, emancipatory wisdom. Because dialectically absolute truths do not exist in the concrete fields of human science and philosophy, because no objectivity exists without subjectivity, and vice versa, also, in this case we have to choose sides, the side of truth, of humanity, of the billions of "wretched of the earth" (Frantz Fanon) to instruct ourselves and our students cum ira et studio.

We love our erudite professors, we love our diligent students, but the knowable truth and truthful knowledge we love even more.

Building on past scientific and philosophic knowledge, in what historic context can academics and intellectuals support revolutionary práxis and theory in the 21st Century? Let us now concretize the quintessence of our transhistoric quo vadis! What created us? What can we create?

Gnothi seauton: Labour Created Man

To understand our current emancipatory status, to know ourselves, we have to discover the secret "Darwin, Engels and Leakey Code".

Firstly, what did Charles Darwin reveal in "The Descent of Man" (1871)?

He discovered that Man, who calls himself homo sapiens sapiens, the "crown of creation", in reality is a miserable, brutal animal, who descends directly from the apes, across the ape-men and man-apes!  Much later, in our age, genetic science will prove the remarkable proximity of man, chimpanzees and pigs. What a "discovery" my Country Apes, then you and I, and all of us fell, also our religious, delirious fantasies concerning the "Children of God Our Father" and of a "Chosen People"! As Shakespeare wrote: Man is simply the paragon of animals!

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were soberly fascinated by Darwin. Karl (Charles)  Marx even wanted to dedicate Capital, Volume Two, to his "comrade in name", but not "comrade-in-arms"; but this was a bit too much for the "fittest survival" of Charles Darwin!

Secondly, as we know, Friedrich Engels in his work, "Dialektik der Natur" (1882), had elevated Man to the "highest blossom of nature"; this was surely "a step forward", away from the divine ex nihil, nihil fit.  Engels stated that labour was the earthly creator of Man, and not God!  However, what interests us here is the fragmentary work of Engels annexed to his "Dialectics of Nature": The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man.

Concerning human being, in simple terms, let us see what is the very first thing that Engels explains to us:

"Labour is the source of all wealth, the economists assert. It is this – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is also infinitely more than this. It is the primary basic condition for all human existence, and this is to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself."

Engels actually confirms that our Creator is not "Our Father", is not God, also not Mother Nature, but Labour, that is, Alienation itself. According to him, we are the "Children of Labour"; for our social benefit, Labour converts the "material" of Nature into ruling class "wealth".

In the above quotation, there are two more significant things to note: firstly, the "infinitely more than this" principle, and secondly, that Engels speaks about "human existence", and not about "human being". Of course, Engels wrote his article on the transhistoric level of "natural science" of his "time"; many facts, even those which he had used in the "Dialectics of Nature", had become "outdated" and obsolete; yet we are not interested in the simple appearance forms or the phenomenological aspects of his theory. Of greater importance here are the far-reaching epistemological content, the complex philosophical degrees of his revolutionary theories with regard to Labour, to Man, to "History".

Thirdly, now, let us see how the famous British, imperial, bourgeois scientist, Louis Leakey, who probably did not even read this fragmentary article, meets the German, socialist, proletarian Engels in human evolutionary and revolutionary affairs.

Concerning Homo Zinjanthropus or Homo Habilis – The "Black" Adam

It is of great interest what the famous British anthropologist, archaeologist and prehistorian Dr. Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey had to tell us about his discoveries in the Olduvai Gorge of present day Tanzania in Africa, especially about the first primitive tool-user whom he had identified in 1959.

For Leakey, the only way to find the "missing link" between "ape"and  "man", between homo kenyapithecus or homo neanderthal and homo habilis, homo sapiens or homo sapiens sapiens , was to discover which "homo" was working, was labouring. It happened to be homo habilis or homo zinjanthropus who according to radio-carbon dating had evolved in Africa some 2 to 3 000 000 years ago. If this should be true, then, of course, Man -- young or old -- is already ancient, obsolete, moribund, then we could understand his current Thanatos drive, his agonizing self-destruction, his inexorable cosmic, ontic, nihilist transvolution. According to the German philosopher Hegel, everything that comes into existence merits to pass away, thus more than ever, in our time, we should study and understand our current farewell "trilemma", our tendential capitalist, imperialist demise, our possible fascist apocalyptic quo vadis.

But, confronted with a myriad of possibilities, scientifically how did Leakey identify original man, the "black" Adam? How did Leakey recognize himself?

Next to the fossils of these age old ape-men or men-apes tools were found, but only homo zinjanthropus alias habilis alias sapiens alias lupus had developed, had reproduced or improved his tools, in other words, only he had evolved technical skills or productive technology. Hence, Labour was decisive for Leakey to determine when exactly our "forefather", the African Adam, had evolved; in this way, the bourgeois ideologist totally agreed with the scientific socialist, Engels, that Labour had produced Man.

Of course, to develop tools, not only manual labour is necessary; the sine qua non is intellectual reflection. In his manuscript, Engels had formulated this as follows:

"Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. ...But the hand did not exist by itself. It was only one member of an entire, highly complex organism. ...First comes labour, after it, and then side by side with it, articulate speech. ... The reaction on labour and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increasing clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of judgement, gave an ever-renewed impulse to the further development of both labour and speech."

In a complex manner, that is, theoretically, Engels explained to us the origins of physical and intellectual labour and the central role of speech or language as tool to express our consciousness, our "power of abstraction". In nuce: he explained the planetary origin of our thinking, thoughts and intellectual degrees of reflection,  comprehension and understanding of our inner and outer reality, of our objective and subjective relations, of human scientific praxis and philosophic theory.

He also underlined the logic of thinking, the dialectics between "hand"  and "brain", between the two sides of Labour. Obviously, neither Darwin nor Marx, nor Engels, nor Leakey questioned the very quintessence of Labour, of Man. Here Labour, which is obviously Alienation per se  ... in the sense that it progressively becomes an auto-destructive process, a brutal "struggle for the survival of the fittest" of all evolutionary creatures ...  becomes the most glorified thing under the sun, the "Holy of Holies", the "Holy Cow".

However, this is not only a transmutation from ape to man, a revolutionary dialectical leap, it produced and still reproduces a fiendish, perverse, social relationship towards Nature, towards all species on this planet.
Finally, talking in objective- and subjective-real utopian Blochian terms, our contemporary quo vadis, seen from the Pico Bolivar scientific and philosophic perspective, urgently has to be directed towards the creation of a new logic, science and philosophy.

Our experimentum mundi may end in atomic conflagration, however, if the Experiment Man should prevail, should survive, then the following would blaze his creative trail, laden with galactic star dust.

These are fundamental prerequisites for giving birth to a new man, to an authentic human trinity, who has to cross the Rubicon, to transcend all modes of labour, of production, of history, in order to create itself as a species, new worlds, new forms of life, galactic emancipation. For this new species, reality has to be totally different, his multiverse will be "trifferent"; for it, first will come existent production, then transcendental creation; its genesis will be neither at the beginning nor at the end, but will come from all directions, will be in all places and exist at all times. Ernst Bloch, in his major work, The Principle of Hope, calls this emancipatory real utopia "Heimat", Home.

Thales of Miletus: What Is The Best?

Before Plato had developed his summum bonum, the "Highest Good", long before already normative, ethical formal logics was governing Ancient Greece: all polis citizens were talking about the "good" and "non-good"; about the "best" and "non-best"; about "aristos" and "non-aristos". The "Best Man" in Ancient Greece was the Aristocrat, yes, the "best" was already ruling the world.

Everybody was aspiring to be manly, to act aristocratically. Everybody was looking for the aristocratic essence of things. To be aristocratic is to be wise, to be a "Wise Man", and because the Number Seven was the "best", was aristocratic, hence there should always only be "Seven Wise Men", Seven World Wonders, the Chosen Seven.  The "Wise Men", not Women, forgot that Number Seven was the Goddess Diana, Artemis. In any case, Miletus was already a "man's world", a shipping and commercial seaport. Man, the Noble Eagle, was already winning many a "Desert Storm", many a "veni, vidi, vici".

Hence, Thales, himself a "Wise Man", one of the "Seven Chosen Few", was thinking about "What Is?", about Essence, about Quodditas. And, true to the "Zeitgeist", to the "Spirit of His Time", he asked the philosophic question : What Is The Best? His questioning answer was: "ariston men hydor" (The Best is Water). "What Is" is Water, "Water " is  "What Is":  "What Is" is "Water", is "The Best". Thus, the arché, the hyle, cosmos, matter, its non-relation, its slave-master relation, was still slave-aristocratic, not yet slave-democratic. This is the road which "Thou" was still blazing. However, this was already the masculine, patriarchal, patriotic, philosophic "Quo Vadis?"

The "Mythological" Quo Vadis

Long before Thales, all kinds of beings on Earth were acting, were trying to express "What Is" in words, in gestures, in symbols, in rock paintings, in hieroglyphics, in cuneiform writing, in language. Many human beings went further, were already acting and thinking, were asking ontological questions. And they were not only "Human Beings", in other words, not only Male Beings, Ruling, Cratic Beings! "Homo (Man) Kenyapithecus" or the "Neanderthal Man" probably did not even know that they were Men, were Machos.

If it is true what our "modern scientists" say, then among these Beings on Earth were also monkeys, apes and chimpanzees. At least, Charles Darwin already knew this. And, nowadays we know that: " Humans share 98.5 percent of their genes with chimpanzees" .

Actually, the above should be formulated as follows:
"Chimpanzees share 98.5 percent of their genes with humans."
After all, the chimpanzees are our elders, they were born long before the sonorous homo sapiens sapiens saw light on this planet. The above is a typical arrogant manly "scientific" formulation. These are not redundant remarks, also they have nothing to do with sophistry or hair-splitting, they indicate what patrian ideology and hegemony are all about.

Certainly, "Primitive Man" was not only performing "monkey business", (s)he was also asking simple, crucial questions. How did (s)he ask these questions, by what method of communication? This is another topic. That (s)he had a "brain", like millions of other beings on Planet Earth, that (s)he was acting, this is certain, and this is, in the first place, what concerns us here.

Long before Thales, as early as 2000 B.C., when the "Africans" had already "discovered" America, in the slave-owning society of pharaonic Egypt, ruled by "Blacks", where one of the ancient "Seven Wonders", the pyramids, reflected a strong "this-sided" modus vivendi, atheistic crypto-materialistic conceptions were rife. In one of the extant papyrus manuscripts of that remote epoch, we can read: "Man disintegrates and his body changes itself into earth." In the City of Death, "earth" was emphasized as an important archaic element. These ancient Egyptians were very much "down to earth", and for them, "earth" was one of the magical material elements of "What Is", of Essence.

A thousand years later, in faraway "Mother India", the Upanishads, the Sanskrit theosophic and philosophic treatises dealt with cosmic materialist doctrines. Five primordial elements were expounded: water, air, fire, time and space. This was long before Thales declared "water" as being aristocratic, or before Anaximenes of Miletus had declared "air" to be the arché.

The Chandogya-Upanishad stated:

"When water evaporates, then it becomes air, truly, air consumes everything."

Hence we find in ancient India an anticipatory transhistoric fata morgana a priori of the Milesian School. Around 700 B.C., when Ancient Greece was still directed from the Oracle of Delphi, the oriental Samkhya School taught that everything originated from the prakrti, an infinite, eternal, primordial principle. Furthermore, before the dawn of the "Wise Men" in Greece, the Chinese Dschou Jan School also taught about five elements: water, fire, earth, wood and metal. The real philosophic novelty about Thales, who was ushering in the commercial, patriarchal age that until today still underlines aristocratic monotheism -- the religious ideological trend towards the feudalist, absolutist God --  The Father, The Son, and The Male Holy Ghost, towards The Holy Trinity, to the All-In-One --  is that he made Mediterranean "Busiiness", Water, a Hen-Kai-Pan, an Unomnia, a Universal One-And-All.  


CHAPTER ONE : A "Wise Man", Thales of Miletus