So the Greeks got their myths from the Egyptians, but the Egyptians never had an Aristotle (that we know of). Why? As Sassi argues, something unique happened with the naturalistic thought of the early Greeks. The “real significance and innovation” of their thought, she argues, is in developing a notion of nature that “pivots around the idea of an internal regularity independent of the intervention of supernatural forces.” In other words, the Greeks were the first to think about the world and nature as things that can be explained without reference to mythology or religion. They were, Sassi argues, the first secular thinkers.
In this, Sassi would seem to agree with Aristotle, who called Thales (625 BCE-546 BCE) the “father of philosophy” because he was the first to break from a purely mythical recounting of the origins of the cosmos, theorizing that the universe derived from water and not from the will of an anthropomorphic force.
But the question Sassi seems to be really asking with this book is, “What is philosophy?” To her credit, she herself notes “the inseparability of the issue of the beginnings of philosophy and that of the nature of philosophy itself.” But then, she narrows her sense of what philosophy is, defining it as thought with “critical intent directed toward traditional, or at any rate established, points of view” and discourse written in “an argumentative” mode. Does that describe philosophy? Sure. But it’s not inclusive enough. Lying outside of Sassi’s bandwidth would be philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote in an aphoristic mode, and Thomas Aquinas, who tended to support rather than criticize tradition. It seems that what Sassi is really looking for are intimations not of philosophy but of a kind of secular, post-Enlightenment worldview.
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