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Studying the "Classics"

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aturner
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Aurelia's introduction has left me wondering what she and Free Capitalist mean by the "classics". When I hear this phrase, I associate it with ancient Greek and Roman literature. My understanding is that in the generations preceding my own (I'm 40), studying the "classics" was presumed necessary to qualify as an educated individual. Clearly by my generation, this had all but vanished (I recall Latin being offered in my high school, but not seriously promoted).

In addition to the definition, I am also wondering why an education in the "classics" would necessarily require a knowledge of Greek and/or Latin. I myself have read quite a volume of literature translated from ancient Greek and Latin (Aristotle, Plato, Thucydides, most of the extant Greek tragedy, Pliny, some of Cicero, and several others), but without any knowledge of the original languages. I'm currently reading Decline and Fall by Gibbons, and have been working my way through Durant's History of Civilization - certainly not "classics" in the sense used here, but very thorough studies of the history involved (even with their factual errors).

Have I missed that much due to errors or inability to translate? I have recently had a slight interest in learning Latin, but honestly only because it becomes somewhat tiring to skip over the Latin phrases in some of the various material I find myself reading.

Is there a "practical" reason for learning Latin or Greek? There *is* a practical reason for studying philosophy - of that I have no doubt and have seen the positive effects in my own life. But is a study of the "classics" (other than the philosophical writings) and of these languages at all practical, beyond understanding the history of human thought?

Can either of you further explain the nature of your adoration of the "classics"?

Thanks!

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Although I don't know much about the classics, I do know how latin relates to biology. If one learns latin they educate themselves with the meaning and root of nearly every peice of medical and botanical terminology. The anatomy of plants and animals is in latin, as well as their name and genus. Bacteria, diseases, and other conditions are usually rooted in latin. Now, people usually just take medical terminology as a class though.

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ex_banana-eater makes a good point, a lot of scientific tecnical terminology is latin based. Also, variables in physics and higher calculus are greek letters, so even a rudimentary understanding of the greek alphabet helps.

I don't think the langauges are *necessary* for an understanding in classics, but translators do take a lot of liberties, some not so obvious. An obvious example: in my introductory honors course I was assigned to read a copy of Lysistrata and in it the characters mentioned pizza, and designer jeans. The translator did this grotesque coldwar parody thing. I'm still amazed it was the version choosen to put in our textbooks! There was no mention from the book that it was a modernized parody, it was obvious. It discussed Aristophanes' vulger style but in no way discussed the translator's. which was unfortunate because I was looking forward to a little study at the end "when translators go bad". :nuke:

Anyway, the vast majority of classics, I don't think, are that bad. Please note that I am a freshman and the most I've translated is part of a chapter in the Aeneid. It did help me understand Dido better. My translation plays down her warrior aspect and I didn't get that until I translated myself. But it's not all that important, especially if you read multiple copies.

I define classics as greek/roman art, history, literature, culture, and (but not exclusively) langauge. I do however expand that defintion in my own liabrary to include anything that I read in which I find a connection to greek/roman art, history, etc. soI have shakespeare in there, something by Dryden, The Centaur by Updike, Le Morte D'Arthur, a history of the number zero, as well as mythology, drama, esssays, philosophy, math/science founded by greek, and an archaeological overveiw of manuscripts. So I have a very broad range.

I am not sure what you're looking for so tell me if I completly missed the point.

Aurelia :worry:

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No, Aurelia, you didn't miss my point at all. Your definition matches my understanding quite well. As for the practicalities mentioned, I recognize the biology connection, but for the other sciences I think any connection is either non-existent or no longer relevant. Of course, there are the legal phrases that are still in Latin, and if you are a European lawyer you may want to have a good understanding of Latin to consult older texts.

What I'm still interested in fully understanding is the feeling by Free Capitalist (and perhaps Aurelia) that Objectivists "should" be studying the classics. I can see the interest in studying Aristotle certainly, and perhaps some other ancient Greeks. On the other hand, I've found most of the other material I've read to be less of interest to an Objectivist per se. I have a general interest in history and in understanding the errors of other philosophical schools of thought, but I view this more as a "hobby" of mine, rather than an activity that directly assists in my life.

And so this is my question - is the study of the classics (lets say other than the study of ancient Greek philosophers) a healthy "hobby", or is it important to you in understanding the philosophy that you are living?

I should also mention, for Aurelia's benefit, that I just completed reading Meditations about 3 months ago. I found Marcus to be an excellent student of Stoicism. Very intelligent, insightful, able to connect his life experiences to his chosen philosophy, and ignorant of that philosophy's errors (which is not to damn him, but rather to recognize his lack of knowledge). The brutish nature of the era comes through as well, but I liken his writing to that of some of our better presidents, in their attempts to expound upon the meaning of current events, within their chosen philosophies (not that they were Stoics, however). Jefferson comes to mind.

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And so this is my question - is the study of the classics (lets say other than the study of ancient Greek philosophers) a healthy "hobby", or is it important to you in understanding the philosophy that you are living?

If the "you" here is general, then I can suggest an answer: It depends.

On what? If your ultimate purpose in life is happiness, then the question applies directly to your secondary purposes:

(1) Central purpose in life (career -- paid or otherwise).

(2) Friendship.

(3) Favorite leisure activities (which might include bowling, checkers, and a study of the history of philosophy, as examples).

Each person must decide what he needs to know and do in order to achieve those secondary purposes. Even knowledge of one's own adopted philosophy need not be the same for everyone. Ayn Rand made a distinction between philosophy for Rearden and philosophy for Ragnar. Rearden needed some basic principles made explicit and some serious discussion of one particular issue (nature of sexuality). He didn't need to know as much as Ragnar, a professional philosopher. (Ayn Rand mentions this distinction in her journals, partly reproduced in The Objectivist Forum, August 1984, p. 9.)

Studying classics -- a term/idea which deserves careful definition -- and the languages of the Greek and Roman classics can aid an individual in achieving all three secondary purposes.

First, for one's central purpose in life, as you noted, such languages are an aid in understanding terminology in specialized sciences, as well as one's own language, English.

Second, such a study too might add to friendships if you value friendships with other people immersed in such studies. (Most professional organizations make room in their membership for avid amateurs who love associating with professionals in the field.)

Third, some individuals enjoy studying classics and the associated languages as recreation. At age 55, I studied basic Latin (2 years); one of my fellow students was a professor of mathematics in the same university. He studied classical languages as a hobby: Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Arabic. He was the most intelligent person I have ever met. He was able to learn languages three times faster -- measured by number of hours of study per week -- than I can. I learn languages too slowly for the process to ever be recreation.

The question comes down to this: Does such study fit into my main purposes in life, and does it do so economically? By the latter I mean, is the probable payoff worth the investment of time and effort?

Life is very short. More opportunities exist than any individual can use. Ruthless prioritizing is necessary. Spending thousands of hours learning another language had better pay off big time -- unless you enjoy studying languages as a leisure activity, which means it would be self-justifying.

Of course, one must avoid the false-dichotomy of ignorance vs. mastery. Learning a little Latin or Greek could have disproportionately large benefits for some individuals with certain goals and in certain situations.

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Is there a "practical" reason for learning Latin or Greek?  There *is* a practical reason for studying philosophy - of that I have no doubt and have seen the positive effects in my own life.  But is a study of the "classics" (other than the philosophical writings) and of these languages at all practical, beyond understanding the history of human thought?

Having taught myself Greek and Latin, I can't say there is really any "practical" reason for learning them. The fact is that unless you put some serious time into reading Greek or Latin literature you will always be better off reading a translation.

I wouldn't recommend learning the languages unless you take a great interest in language and style itself. That is if you enjoy a well-crafted sentence or a good poem for its stylistic beauty in addition to its content. In that case there is a certain beauty to inflected languages like Greek and Latin that defies translation into a non-inflected language like English.

This is just a more elaborate version of learning to appreciate various arts by learning more about the art itself and how it is done. As an example I have learned to appreciate pieces of music better by having musicians explain to me what the person was trying to do and the constraints the were working with.

I will say language becomes substantially easier to learn if you've learned one from the ground up to being able to read and speak it reasonably well. But this requires immersion amid native speakers of the language for an extended period of time.

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This is one of those topics which are difficult for me to articulate yet, so I will need some time to figure out how to say what I want to say. In the meanwhile remember that I've not forgotten about this thread.

Burgess,

I'm pretty sure that Classical Languages is a term that refers exclusively to Greek and Latin; modern Classics departments have gone completely post-modern and multicultural by including all Mediterranean languages in this category so as not to offend anyone; however, that's not what the term was originally meant to refer to, as I understand it.

The word "Classical" in the context of history refers to a specific time in history, 9th century BC to 5th century AD, which is sometimes called the Classical Era; this time period starts in the 9th c. BC because that's when Greek civilization started coming into its own with the first Olympic Games and Homer publishing his poems, and ends in 5th c. AD when Rome was sacked and the Western Empire was overrun. During this time period, first Greece then Rome were dominant around the Mediterranean, and thus both Greek and Latin were the two dominant languages for that more-than-a-thousand years time span. Even the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as we have it today was written in Greek.

And finally, the term "Classical era" and "Classical civilizations", implying a time period and a people that set the standard of highest achievement for others to live up to, has only come into serious usage with the Rennaissance and the admiration Europe has discovered for the past. Not just any past, not Mycenean Greece past, not Rome under Etruscan kings past, but specifically Greeks since Homer, until Vandal destruction of Rome.

Ancient languages as such are not the same thing as Classical languages.

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To those who know Greek and read Greek philosophy - to what extent do you think reading in the original language aids your understanding? I realise that for literature and poetry something will always be lost in translation, but does this apply to philosophy also? I ask merely out of curiosity - I have no interest in learning Greek (I don't have that much free time). Heidegger, whose work I find interesting, often uses Greek terms which he claims have no direct modern day equivalents - to what extent would you agree with this? Is it possible to translate words such as logos and aletheia into English without losing most of their original meaning?

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To those who know Greek and read Greek philosophy - to what extent do you think reading in the original language aids your understanding? I realise that for literature and poetry something will always be lost in translation, but does this apply to philosophy also? I ask merely out of curiosity - I have no interest in learning Greek (I don't have that much free time). Heidegger, whose work I find interesting, often uses Greek terms which he claims have no direct modern day equivalents - to what extent would you agree with this? Is it possible to translate words such as logos and aletheia into English without losing most of their original meaning?

Any pair of languages will have words that do not translate well. From German there is "Schadenfreude" which refer to taking a mischievous pleasure in another's misfortune. English doesn't have a good word for this.

For philosophy there is a great problem with words that don't translate well, or have multiple meanings. I think philosophy translations from Greek could do well to leave more words untranslated and have a good appendix defining the word.

Take "logos", this is usually translated as "word" in Christian contexts. A "logos" is more of a complete idea. It can refer to an entire passage, or an entire work or speech. Scientific theories could be considered "logoi", but a single word like "cow" isn't really a "logos". The stoics seemed to use "logos" to refer to all the laws of nature at times. In Heraclitus, sometimes "logos" seems to be a god (Zeus) or above that god, or the laws of nature, or a methodology for doing something.

As for Heidegger, he makes a little too much of this than he needs to. His concern is often to present the "literal" meaning of a word from its roots. This can be as bad as taking the word "butterfly" and going off on an essay pondering the nature of butter and that of flies. The does the same with the German. His usage of Greek and German is rather idiosyncratic.

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The word "Classical" in the context of history refers to a specific time in history, 9th century BC to 5th century AD, which is sometimes called the Classical Era; [...]

"Classical" sometimes refers to the 900 BCE - 500 CE period you mention for the Mediterranean world. But that is an extremely loose usage. Most times I have heard it, it refers to a much narrower period of time, say, roughly 600 BCE to c. 323 BCE for Greek history. Before that would be the Archaic period (especially clear in art history, for example), and after would be the Hellenistic period (which went down to about 200 CE or so in the east). Of course, a variety of authors use the term in a variety of ways.

(Our discussion here, of course, is really only about conventional and unconventional usages; there is no Platonic meaning in the sky attached to any particular term. But you are right to advise, if that is what you are doing, to try to stick to traditional meanings where possible.)

[...]this time period starts in the 9th c. BC because that's when Greek civilization started coming into its own with the first Olympic Games and Homer publishing his poems, and ends in 5th c. AD when Rome was sacked and the Western Empire was overrun. During this time period, first Greece then Rome were dominant around the Mediterranean, and thus both Greek and Latin were the two dominant languages for that more-than-a-thousand years time span.

First Greeks and then Romans were politically dominant roughly in the period you mention, allowing for the eastern "Romans" (Greek-speaking Byzantines) after the mid-300s. However, in the east -- which was vital for the transmission of Greek culture to Western Europe -- Greek-language scholarship dominated on into the 700s, even after the Arabic-Islamic conquest. Then Greek works were translated into Arabic (sometimes through the intermediary Syriac). Latin was never "dominant around the Mediterranean" as a scholarly language. As you know, most western pagan Roman intellectuals were bilingual -- Greek as well as Latin.

Even the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as we have it today was written in Greek.

The Hebrew Bible (OT) was translated from Hebrew into Greek at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, early third century BCE if I recall -- first the Pentateuch and then in the following 200 years or so, the rest of the OT books. That translation has been called the Septuagint, because supposedly 70 Jewish scholars collaborated to produce the translation. Some early western Christian intellectuals -- such as Jerome, if I recall correctly -- learned Greek and Hebrew as well as their own Classical Latin.

FC, I sense that our discussion is floundering because there are so many variables here: Place (Greece, Italia, the whole Mediterranean?), topic (language alone or other cultural elements too?), and scope (all history together or more focused on special histories, such as art history or the history of philosophy, whose historians may have their special sets of nomenclature).

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In my high school years the attitude to Latin was the same as during aturners youth. I chose Latin and was very lucky to have a philosophically inclined teacher. We read Cicero’s work on Greek philosophy and some letters from Seneca. This was about the only philosophical education this school gave, apart from the novels of Sartre and Camus in French-class. :)

Latin and Greek had a reputation of being brain-exercise. Latinists had a reputation of doing very well in universities, regardless which science. Latin was supposed to enhance insight in languages and linguistic intuition, methodical thinking and problem solving skills. I would highly recommend it to young people for this reason + it puts in touch with some of the best philosophers in history.

As to study the classics at a later age, when you have family and professional obligations, BrugessLau summed it up nicely. Don’t forget you can combine pleasures for example; you can study the classics or Ancient history to enjoy more your trips to Italy or Greece or to appreciate Renaissance art. It is also great to see how different people applied their philosophy to life.

I would like to point to a misunderstanding. The interest of European lawyers in the classics has nothing to do with old legal text still written in Latin, but with Roman law. A lot of things that seem self-evident in law, come in fact from Roman law. For example “finders keepers” comes from a Roman principle that if you found a good and the owner didn’t claim it after a year and a day, you where entitled to keep it. The notion that a “home” is more than living quarters also comes from Roman law. When lawyers have to plead about those self-evident things, they refer to Roman law.

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Is there a practical reason for studying Latin and Greek?

As is typical of my culture, I will answer your question with a question: Is making yourself a better human being practical?

Studying Latin not only vastly improves your knowledge and usage of English (learning grammar in a systematic fashion, a luxury most people my age did not have in elementary and high school), but is an excellent point from which to study the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish). As a Romance language speaker, how much more would knowledge of Latin improve your understanding of that language than of English (after all, the Romance languages are but local dialects of Latin)?

But more importantly, there is no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than by studying its language. Rather than read about Rome, read how the Romans perceived themselves. Sure, you can find a good translation of any Latin work, but you will miss all the nuances lost in translation (Its far more elevating to read Hugo in French).

Someone on the thread also asked why the study of Greek and Latin is called "Classics". Simply because it is the oldest scholarly subject. Whereas Science, Medicine, Art, etc. were lost after Rome's fall, the study of Greek and Latin was preserved by the Clergy and continued to be a field of study until our day.

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I should point out one more advantage of studying Greek and Latin.

I love to travel, especially in the Mediterranean (I've been to Italy and Israel), and look forward to making a career of tourism (in Italy, Southern France, Spain, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and Greece). You cannot imagine how much pleasure I derive from standing before a monument built 2000 years ago to celebrate Rome's greatness and be able to read the inscription in the Romans' own tongue.

There are many places around the Mediterranean not fully excavated, if you love Classical history and love to travel you will derive immense pleasure from reading the inscriptions on buildings and monuments you encounter. (For example Libya, a country only now starting to open up to the Western world which is full of Roman and Greek ruins, being on the territory of the wealthy province of Cyrene)

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Is there a practical reason for studying Latin and Greek?

Studying Latin not only vastly improves your knowledge and usage of English (learning grammar in a systematic fashion, a luxury most people my age did not have in elementary and high school), but is an excellent point from which to study the Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish).  As a Romance language speaker, how much more would knowledge of Latin improve your understanding of that language than of English (after all, the Romance languages are but local dialects of Latin)?

Hmmm...

I would contend that Latin grammar has nothing to do with English grammar, and it the attempt to apply Latin rules to English that result in some very odd rules for English that people frequently violate and are told to feel bad about.

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Take "logos", this is usually translated as "word" in Christian contexts.  A "logos" is more of a complete idea.  It can refer to an entire passage, or an entire work or speech.  Scientific theories could be considered "logoi", but a single word like "cow" isn't really a "logos".  The stoics seemed to use "logos" to refer to all the laws of nature at times.  In Heraclitus, sometimes "logos" seems to be a god (Zeus) or above that god, or the laws of nature, or a methodology for doing something.
Wow, I didn't know it had that many diverse uses - I was under the impression that it was normally used to mean 'rational enquiry/discourse'. Thanks.

As for Heidegger, he makes a little too much of this than he needs to.  His concern is often to present the "literal" meaning of a word from its roots.  This can be as bad as taking the word "butterfly" and going off on an essay pondering the nature of butter and that of flies.  The does the same with the German.  His usage of Greek and German is rather idiosyncratic.

Yeah, I know Heidegger is often criticized for his creative approaches to etymology. I'd never really thought about what was lost in word-for-word translations before, unless I read a passage where he tried to explain what he took logos to mean. I don't have it to hand, but he essentially claimed that it meant the 'pointing out' of something in a discourse - something which was always latent or implicit but which might not have been noticed before, since it was so obvious ("the best way to hide something is in full view of everyone" etc). It seemed interesting and there certainly isnt a word in English that corresponds to that idea.

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Punk:

You haven't given me any reasons for believing that assertion.

Do you contest that English, though a Germanic language, is heavily influenced by French (and therefore Latin)?

Sure you will get odd results if you apply Latin syntax (Subject-Object-Verb) to English, but I didn't state that you should do that. I said that knowing Latin improves your understanding of English because Latin grammar is learned systematically, English, at least in Canadian public schools, is not. In Latin one learns the concepts of syntax, parts of speech, principal parts of verbs, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement, etc. etc. Concepts which exist in every language.

The advantages of studying Latin are that you study grammar systematically, whereas modern language courses emphasize verbal communication, cultural mumbo jumbo, proper mannerisms, etc. and that Latin has had a great deal of influence on the English language.

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Punk:

You haven't given me any reasons for believing that assertion.

Do you contest that English, though a Germanic language, is heavily influenced by French (and therefore Latin)?

Sure you will get odd results if you apply Latin syntax (Subject-Object-Verb) to English, but I didn't state that you should do that.  I said that knowing Latin improves your understanding of English because Latin grammar is learned systematically, English, at least in Canadian public schools, is not.  In Latin one learns the concepts of syntax, parts of speech, principal parts of verbs, noun-adjective agreement, subject-verb agreement, etc. etc.  Concepts which exist in every language.

The advantages of studying Latin are that you study grammar systematically, whereas modern language courses emphasize verbal communication, cultural mumbo jumbo, proper mannerisms, etc. and that Latin has had a great deal of influence on the English language.

English includes heavy French vocabulary, but the grammar is still that of a Germanic language.

Latin is a highly inflected language, as such it can be very free of word order (as quite a bit of meaning is contained in morphological changes in words), English has almost no inflections left, and is very much driven by word order.

Often where Latin can have a single word English must have multiple words. Take the infinitive "ire" (I think that is right), for English "to go". Take the expression "to boldly go", this is said in English to be incorrect grammar, but yet it makes perfect sense. The statement that it is incorrect is driven by appeal to Latin grammar. But in Latin "ire" is one word so it would be impossible to insert and adverb into the infinitive.

Another example: "Where are you going to." Grammars require that this really be the stuffy "To where are you going." Again this is by comparison to Latin where "To where" is again one word, so the English form is impossible. In German the equivalent "Wo gehst du hin" and "Wohin gehst du" are both allowed.

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Wow, I didn't know it had that many diverse uses - I was under the impression that it was normally used to mean 'rational enquiry/discourse'. Thanks.

Yeah, I know Heidegger is often criticized for his creative approaches to etymology. I'd never really thought about what was lost in word-for-word translations before, unless I read a passage where he tried to explain what he took logos to mean. I don't have it to hand, but he essentially claimed that it meant the 'pointing out' of something in a discourse - something which was always latent or implicit but which might not have been noticed before, since it was so obvious ("the best way to hide something is in full view of everyone" etc). It seemed interesting and there certainly isnt a word in English that corresponds to that idea.

I remember something like that. Also "aletheia" which is normally translated as "true" meaning "not forgotten", and writing "ek-sistence" for "existence" to emphasize it is "standing away from something".

My understanding of Heidegger's use here was that he believed that there was some profound insights in the initial more folksy usage of the language that somehow got lost (forgotten?) as language became more used for science and technology. That being part of the idea that the advance of technology has distanced mankind from some sort of original relationship to things. In particular Greek was more in tune with original things than other languages, so we can look into its grammar and vocabulary for philosophical insights. What do you think about this?

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I remember something like that.  Also "aletheia" which is normally translated as "true" meaning "not forgotten", and writing "ek-sistence" for "existence" to emphasize it is "standing away from something".

My understanding of Heidegger's use here was that he believed that there was some profound insights in the initial more folksy usage of the language that somehow got lost (forgotten?) as language became more used for science and technology.  That being part of the idea that the advance of technology has distanced mankind from some sort of original relationship to things.  In particular Greek was more in tune with original things than other languages, so we can look into its grammar and vocabulary for philosophical insights.  What do you think about this?

I would agree that the Greeks, as a culture, had a very different view on the world than we do today, and I would expect this to be reflected both in their philosophy, and in their language itself. I don't think this is specific to the Greeks - most cultures have different world-views and break things up in different ways linguistically. So I'm in agreement with Heidegger on this point. What I would disagree with however is the claim that the Greek's understanding was somehow superior to ours, or that their world-view was more primordial.

I also agree that many insights from the Greeks have been lost. I think that the term forgotton is incorrect - it is not that the knowledge of the Greeks has been forgotten - quite the opposite. As Heidegger points out, it has become commonplace to the point that people rarely feel the need to think about it anymore. For instance, look at Aristotle's account of Being in his metaphysics. As Heidegger points out, these ideas, although new and original at the time, quickly became widely accepted and became the general view - it became almost impossible to imagine that others could view the world in any different way. To an extent, it saved people the need to discover these questions for themselves - it had already been done, and the answers were available for everyone. (Think how different a mathematics problem looks once you know the answer to it).

Heidegger distinguishes between the disinterested knowledge that comes from merely being 'told' something, with the knowledge that comes from really grasping it - from discovering it yourself. To take some examples (mine, not Heideggers), consider the proverbs parents often tell their children ("It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" etc etc). Although you will know them off by heart as a child, and might even think they make sense, it's often not until youve grown up and encountered the situations that led to them first being formulated that you actually begin to understand their true meaning. Or as another example - you might read a book by a philosopher like Robert Nozick and appreciate his abstract arguments for capitalism. You might even be persuaded he's correct, and become a supporter of capitalism. But compare this supporting of capitalism with that which is had by a reader of Atlas Shrugged who has, in a very real sense, SEEN what these arguements mean rather than simply being told them in a disinterested way. Heidegger thought that when our knowledge is 'handed down' to us, our grasp of it is always inferior to knowledge we have learned for ourselves. In this way, he thought that the ideas of Greek philosophy have been lost.

If the above is a correct interpretation of Heidegger's general view, I can see why he would think the original meanings of Greek words have been lost. Once we have learned to see the world in one way, there is a tempation to forget that past cultures saw it entirely differnently, and this may affect how we interpret their philosophical enquires and the language they use. This is where I think he brought in the idea of logos. He wanted to 'point out' things that underlie our experiences - the things that in a sense we already know, but are hidden precisely because we know them so well.

(the above is my reading of Heidegger, I find him a difficult philosopher to understand so it's certainly possible I have grasped his meaning wrong. I'm also basing this entirely upon Being and Time since I havent read any of his later work other than "What is Metaphysics", which I found completely incomprehensibe)

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I would agree that the Greeks, as a culture, had a very different view on the world than we do today, and I would expect this to be reflected both in their philosophy, and in their language itself. I don't think this is specific to the Greeks - most cultures have different world-views and break things up in different ways linguistically. So I'm in agreement with Heidegger on this point. What I would disagree with however is the claim that the Greek's understanding was somehow superior to ours, or that their world-view was more primordial.

I also agree that many insights from the Greeks have been lost. I think that the term forgotton is incorrect - it is not that the knowledge of the Greeks has been forgotten - quite the opposite. As Heidegger points out, it has become commonplace to the point that people rarely feel the need to think about it anymore. For instance, look at Aristotle's account of Being in his metaphysics. As Heidegger points out, these ideas, although new and original at the time, quickly became widely accepted and became the general view - it became almost impossible to imagine that others could view the world in any different way. To an extent, it saved people the need to discover these questions for themselves - it had already been done, and the answers were available for everyone. (Think how different a mathematics problem looks once you know the answer to it).

Heidegger distinguishes between the disinterested knowledge that comes from merely being 'told' something, with the knowledge that comes from really grasping it - from discovering it yourself. To take some examples (mine, not Heideggers), consider the proverbs parents often tell their children ("It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" etc etc). Although you will know them off by heart as a child, and might even think they make sense, it's often not until youve grown up and encountered the situations that led to them first being formulated that you actually begin to understand their true meaning. Or as another example - you might read a book by a philosopher like Robert Nozick and appreciate his abstract arguments for capitalism. You might even be persuaded he's correct, and become a supporter of capitalism. But compare this supporting of capitalism with that which is had by a reader of Atlas Shrugged who has, in a very real sense, SEEN what these arguements mean rather than simply being told them in a disinterested way. Heidegger thought that when our knowledge is 'handed down' to us, our grasp of it is always inferior to knowledge we have learned for ourselves. In this way, he thought that the ideas of Greek philosophy have been lost.

If the above is a correct interpretation of Heidegger's general view, I can see why he would think the original meanings of Greek words have been lost. Once we have learned to see the world in one way, there is a tempation to forget that past cultures saw it entirely differnently, and this may affect how we interpret their philosophical enquires and the language they use. This is where I think he brought in the idea of logos. He wanted to 'point out' things that underlie our experiences - the things that in a sense we already know, but are hidden precisely because we know them so well.

(the above is my reading of Heidegger, I find him a difficult philosopher to understand so it's certainly possible I have grasped his meaning wrong. I'm also basing this entirely upon Being and Time since I havent read any of his later work other than "What is Metaphysics", which I found completely incomprehensibe)

I can see that as a reading of Heidegger.

Heidegger definitely feels that modern society has gone astray in some way and needs to return to its spiritual/philosophical roots.

In this type of reading he would be saying that people have substituted mere information for experience. That is we do not love anymore but we take what we have learned of love in books, movies, etc. and try to consciously apply it in situations where we expect we should love. In essence we've become removed from all experience and substitute the experiences we've been told we should have for our own. Movies are more real than life. We don't see water anymore but when we look at water we see what we learned of HOH in chemistry class.

That is more intelligible than the way I've been accustomed to reading Heidegger as saying we need to replace today's airy metaphysical view of the world with an older airy metaphysical view of the world.

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