Meaning and Truth in Ancient Philosophy
The course will chart theories of meaning and truth in ancient thought. As a first step, we shall address the background presuppositions about these concepts, as found in ancient epical and lyric poetry. This will present us with a world-view in which truth is the prerogative of the divine, and humans can only resort to conjectures. After this we will discuss, Xenophanes and Alcmaeon, and Heraclitus’ criticism of Xenophanes. This will lead us over to Parmenides – a philosopher who upholds the rift between human and divine cognition and at the same time, stresses that once initiated human cognition can reliably test fundamental truths. After the discussion of this fundamental innovation we will return to an assessment of Parmenides’ account of ordinary human language use and truth in the doxa contrasting it to the presuppositions about language and thought in the alētheia. This contrast will lead over to the discussion of the aporetic argumentative strategy of Zeno.
By the end of the course, students will be expected to be able to assess, in their own context, and also in a comparative perspective, different theories, with special emphasis on their use of, and commitment to underlying presuppositions of theories of meaning and truth. Students will also be expected to be able to assess the implications of alternative modern interpretations of these theories, and to formulate their own interpretation in the context of these options.
- 25% class participation (discussions); 25% presentations; 50% term paper
- Students are encouraged to submit position papers to complement the discussion element of their class participation.