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Inventing Socrates is a book about the consequences of knowledge and the coming of age. It is written in knowledge's Western setting, making allegorical as well as literal use of the event known as the 'birth of philosophy' - an event that began in ancient Greece in the 6th-century B.C., when a handful of thinkers first looked at the natural world through the critical eyes of fledgling science.
Very little of concrete fact is known about this first philosophy and its protagonists. Only scant fragments of their writings have survived; and these are nearly always poetical and esoteric, some no more than a single line. They are freighted with meanings that might take one in two different directions at once; and this ambidexterity between ancient and modern has always been their beguiling feature. Altogether these thinkers are known as the Presocratics, because they pioneered the rational methods that Socrates would take to the question of the good life. If Socrates stands today as an icon of Western self-esteem, these pioneers are said to show the emergence of that poise from the fug of myth and religion. Apparently they prove the evolution of Western intelligence and the value of living today - in the secular maturity of its latest, greatest hour. But what if their continuing readability and tactility were actually to become the demonstration against that?
This is not just, then, a book about the foundations of Western thought. It is a book about all that we invest in the ideas of ancient and modern. Left to right is the Western way of learning and growing, but, as Miles Hollingworth shows, the truths of the human condition are subterranean corridors running psychologically and eternally.
The West's first philosophers only birthed philosophy because philosophy appeared to them to be the truer form of religion. This thought is awkward for those who later sought to make a grand distinction between religion and philosophy, myth and science. For after all, philosophy and science are heralded to be the West's interface with the universal and indiscriminate language of truth. And if this language is one paradigm of wisdom and happiness then it is to an extent only intelligible in relation to its counterpart, the revelatory wisdom and happiness of religion.
Miles Hollingworth mounts a powerful and subtle argument for something that is barely appreciated today. This is the idea that the religious impulse may be (historically) indigenous to the scientific impulse in a way that casts doubt on the poise and confidence of the notion that 'all theology is anthropology'.
What if it were possible to tell the real, human story of why philosophy grew out of the religious and mythopoeic outlook? What if it were possible to find the straight line that really does join the Pre-Socratics to all that went before them: and then from them to us? For is it not true that today religion and myth contest as keenly with philosophy and science as ever they did at that intellectual dawn in the sixth century B.C.? And does this not imply that we are probably more alive than we think to the instincts of mind that allowed religion to first see its heart's desire in philosophy?
This book tells the story of the inevitability of what happened in ancient Greece in the sixth century B.C. And in doing so it mounts a fascinating new critical perspective on the Western intellectual tradition.