Acheloios, Thales, and the Origin of Philosophy: A Response to the Neo-Marxians

Oxford: Archaeopress (2022)
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This book presents a new account of Thales based on the idea that Acheloios, a deity equated with water in the ancient Greek world and found in Miletos during Thales’ life, was the most important cultic deity influencing the thinker, profoundly shaping his philosophical worldview. In doing so, it also weighs in on the metaphysical and epistemological dichotomy that seemingly underlies all academia—the antithesis of the methodological postulate of Marxian dialectical materialism vis-à-vis the Platonic idea of fundamentally real transcendental forms. Unbeknownst to many scholars, there are various Neo-Marxian thinkers that position the origin of coinage as the pivotal technological development giving rise to impersonal “metaphysical cosmology,” suggesting that the value of money was more-or-less projected back onto the cosmos in the form of “ideal substances.” While the arguments are incredibly sophisticated and persuasive, their conclusions (either stated or implied) are rather difficult to swallow: the self is merely an illusion, abstract ideas of an ultimate source of value, like God or the Good, are totally delusional (as is the soul, and presumably any notion of inherent human dignity), and essentially everything is reducible to mankind’s enslavement to commodities and the notion of our own objectified labor, which is the true source of all value according to Marx. Not only is this an alarming belief that many scholars (consciously or unconsciously) have adopted, since essentially any action could be “justified,” it is also demonstrably false, since it rests on a misunderstanding of Thales and misconception of philosophy as such. My work rectifies that misunderstanding. In an important sense, it is an attempt at redefining philosophy as a “love of wisdom,” which I argue was accurate even in the Presocratic setting, and it uses the influence of Acheloios on Thales to do so. Throughout its pages I explore the etymology and historical uses of the word ὔδωρ, examine the archaeological context of 7th to 6th century Miletos, consider various aquatic myths Thales encountered, and highlight a hitherto overlooked tradition stemming from Thales and influencing such thinkers as Pythagoras, Empedokles, and Hippo, which culminates in a completely new reading of Plato’s Phaedrus, a dialogue in which Plato responds to the exact type of thinking employed by the Neo-Marxians. It is there that we find Socrates and Phaedrus surrounded by the iconography of Acheloios and the nymphs, all while they lie reclined like river gods (the sinews of Acheloios) on the banks of the Ilisos. And it is in that dialogue that Plato defines philosophy as a love of wisdom—the beholding of a multiplicity of hermeneutical frameworks—and alludes to the fact that it began with the sacrifice of Acheloios, the initial philosophical maneuver which he attributes to Thales. The book ends with a threefold rejoinder to the Neo-Marxian school, corresponding to the λόγος, μῦθος, and ἔργον of Acheloios. It turns out that, (1) the λόγος of Acheloios contained the ideal preconditions conducive to an abstraction to a more refined philosophical worldview in which divine water operated as the One among the Many; (2) the μῦθος of Acheloios actually encouraged the application of the notion of sacrifice to Acheloios himself (thus revealing his essence as divine water); and, (3), the ἔργον of Acheloios, in which he kneels in assent to sacrifice, is found on a coin that was probably designed by Thales. In the final analysis, I suggest that the tradition of Acheloios is reflective of a greater philosophical truth, and that by following Thales’ lead, we transcend the Marxian hermeneutic of doubt and reorient ourselves toward the οὐσια ὄντως οὖσα.

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