Pythagoras and His School -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

Pythagoras and His School

No Comment - Post a comment

It is safer to speak of the school rather than of its founder, since it is difficult to disentangle the philosophy of Pythagoras from the myths and obscurantism of his followers. No written fragments of his have survived, and it is doubtful if they ever existed. Even the existence of Pythagoras has been questioned. However, the influence of his school on Greek thought was profound.

Pythagoras is said to have been a native of the island of Samos, a thriving commercial power, like Miletus. Its local dictator ("tyrant"), Polycrates, had overthrown the landed aristocracy and was ruling with the support of the merchant class. Of him, the historian Herodotos reports that he robbed all men indiscriminately, for he said that his friends were more grateful if he gave them their property back than they would have been if he had never taken it! In his youth, Pythagoras apparently worked as a "philo-sophos" (lover of wisdom) under the patronage of Polycrates. He travelled to Phoenicia and Egypt, where he is said to have been initiated into an Egyptian priest caste. In 530 B.C., he fled to Croton in southern Italy to escape from civil strife and the threat posed by the Persians to Ionia.

The luxuriant overgrowth of myth and fable makes it almost impossible to say anything certain about the man. His school certainly was a remarkable mixture of mathematical and scientific investigation and a religious-monastic sect. The community was run on monastic lines, with strict rules which included, for instance: not to eat beans; not to pick up what was fallen; not to stir the fire with iron; not to step over a crowbar, etc. The whole idea was to escape from the world, to seek salvation in a life of peaceful contemplation based on mathematics, which was invested with supposedly mystical qualities. Probably reflecting oriental influences, the Pythagoreans also preached the transmigration of souls.

In contrast to the cheerful worldliness of the Ionian materialists, here we have all the elements of the later idealist world outlook later developed by Plato, and taken over by Christianity, which bedevilled the growth of the spirit of scientific inquiry for many centuries. The moving spirit behind this ideology is aptly expressed by J. Burnet in the following lines:

"We are strangers in this world, and the body is the tomb of the soul, and yet we must not seek to escape by self-murder: for we are the chattels of God who is our herdsman, and without His command we have no right to make our escape. In this life, there are three kinds of men, just as there are three sorts of people who come to the Olympic Games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell, the next above them are those who come to compete. Best of all, however, are those who simply come to look on. The greatest purification of all is, therefore, disinterested science, and it is the man who devotes himself to that, the true philosopher, who has most effectively released himself from the ‘wheel of birth.’" (Quoted in Russell, op. cit., p. 52.)

This philosophy, with its strong elitist and monastic overtones, proved popular with the wealthy classes of Croton, although how many really gave up eating beans, or anything else, may be open to doubt! The common thread in all this is the radical separation of the soul from the body. This idea, with its roots in a prehistoric conception of man’s place in nature, has been passed down in different forms throughout history. It even resurfaces in one of the Hippocratic treatises:

"When the body is awake, the soul is not her own mistress but serves the body, her attention divided between the various bodily senses—sight, hearing, touch, waking and all bodily actions—which deprive the mind of its independence. But, when the body is at rest, the soul wakes and stirs and keeps her own house, and carries out herself all the activities of the body. In sleep the body does not feel, but the soul awake knows everything; she sees what is to be seen, hears what has to be heard, walks, touches, grieves, remembers—in a word, all the functions of body and soul alike are performed in sleep by the soul. And therefore anyone who knows how to interpret these matters possesses a great part of wisdom."

In contrast to the Ionian materialist philosophers, who deliberately turned their backs on religion and mythology, the Pythagoreans took over the idea of the Orphic mystery cult that the soul could free itself from the body by means of an "ecstasy" (the word ekstasis means "stepping out"). Only when the soul left the prison of the body was it deemed to express its true nature. Death was life and life was death. Thus, from its inception, philosophical idealism, in common with its Siamese twin, religion, represented an inversion of the real relation between thought and being, man and nature, people and things, which has persisted down to the present time, in one form or another, with the most pernicious results.

This Post has No Comment Add your own!

Yorum Gönder