The Basis of Human Rights in Early Ancient Greek Philosophy
July 12,2019   By:
The Basis of Human Rights in Early Ancient Greek Philosophy
BO Zhenfeng*
Abstract: There was no concept of human rights in ancient Greece, but in the depth of ancient Greek thought, we find the germination of human rights in the tradition of natural law. In early Greek philosophy, the beginnings of human rights can be found. According to the early thought of ancient Greece, humans experienced the liberation from the order of God and nature, and then, the sophists liberated human from the nature and turned the object of thinking to human. Legal criticism, free will and self-aware individuals took the historical stage along with the Sophists.
Keywords: Human; deity; nature; liberation
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”1 The history of human society is a history of constantly breaking away from bondage to seek liberation, and persistently pursuing freedom and human rights. The concept of human rights is a product of modern times, but in the depth of ancient Greek thought, the germination of human rights had already taken root in the tradition of natural law, which “can be related to Hugo Grotius, and even goes back earlier to Cicero, the Stoics, the great moralists and poets of old, especially Sophocles.”2 The early ancient Greek philosophy nurtured the substrate of human rights. According to the early thoughts in ancient Greece, human experienced the liberation from the order of God and nature, and then, the sophists liberated human from nature and turned the object of thinking to human. Legal criticism, individual freedom and the self-centered individual took the historical stage together with the sophists.
I. Human and Divine Order
In the early days of all civilizations, “activities which occur in a constant or regu-lar way can only be interpreted by a personal representative.”3 Hence the idea of a deity emerged. People use myths to explain the creation of the universe, the relationship between the universe and people, people’s life in the world, and their social system and political and legal system. In mythological thinking, the world order is part the order of the cosmos. According to the Homeric Epics and Hesiod’s Long Poems in ancient Greek and other myths and epics describing the cosmic and social orders, a rough idea of the divine human relationship and interpersonal relationship built by the ancients can be drawn up. Such early relations already contained the germination of some human rights, which helped sow the seeds for human rights and laid the founda-tion for subsequent rights, human rights and other more specific concepts.
In the myths created in ancient Greece, the universe and deities were not randomly created by a deity but formed in their own movement, based on the homomorphism of deity and human and comparing the generation of nature with the fertility of human beings, which had a direct impact on the cosmogenesis of later Greek philosophy. Ancient Greek mythology has expressed the concept of polytheistic worship of natural deities: Zeus is the lord deity of Olympus, and each deity is responsible for a natural phenomenon, such as the sun, moon, stars, rivers, seas and thunder, as well as those in charge of human activities and representing human characteristics. Such worship of deities has aroused the interest in exploring the mysteries of nature in Greek philosophy, whereas the diversity of deities lays the foundation for the inclusiveness and openness of Greek philosophy. On the one hand, the important feature of the Greek deities lies in their homomorphism with human beings. The deities and human beings have the same physical features and seven emotions and six sensory pleasures, while the deities and heroes also have all the evil doings of human beings. “Deities are definitely human beings with superhuman powers, and they have nothing worthy of praise in morality.”4 In the East and later in Christianity, the deities are perfect while humans are small and sinful. In ancient Greece, people’s belief in deities did not belittle people to the point of insignificance. On the other hand, the deities, for all homomorphism, are the most beautiful, sound, intelligent and powerful models of men. Divinity and human nature are mutually reflected rather than insurmountable. The image of deities was one of vivid perfection but with defects, a perfect model of human beings, embodying the highest level that human beauty and wisdom could reach. From this we can see that the Greeks worship deities, but they also believe in the wisdom and strength of people. Thucydides said in the History of the Peloponnesian War: “Man is the most important thing, and everything else is the fruit of man’s labor.”5 Here, through Pericles, Thucydides expresses a kind of classical humanism that appeared in the early period of Greek civilization. This classical humanism holds that man is the measure of everything and the origin of the world. Therefore, at the beginning of Greek civilization, it showed a certain degree of human worship or humanism. To this day, Westerners are still admirers of the collective power of the human race, especially of their own power to conquer the natural world through the discoveries of modern scientists. This tradition can be traced back to ancient Greek mythology.
In terms of the relationship between deities, there is no despotic god who rules the universe in Greek mythology and epic, and even Zeus, as the lord deity, is not the supreme monarch. The deities each had their own free space and sphere of influence, thus forming the series of twelve main deities, and their relationship with Zeus was not one of command and obedience. The main clue of the deities is compound and collective rather than single and autocratic, among which the spirit of compromise becomes the basic principle for the coexistence of the deities. Therefore, the relationship between the deities is somehow characterized by an aristocratic democracy.6 In terms of the relationship between the deities and man, each city-state had its own protective deity, who is worshipped by the people and has the obligation to fight off enemies with his own divine power to ensure the security of the city-state. The two are in a contractual relationship. The Greek prayer in the History of the Peloponnesian War goes, “Lord, to thou we have often given our service, thou must grant our request today to shoot arrows at the enemy.”7 It’s already contained the original sense of contract, very close to the Hebrew idea of a covenant between man and god.
The Homeric Epics reflect the early Greek concept of justice in the form of myth. In the Universal Order (including the human society and the state order), the deities are the makers and guardians of human justice, and the embodiment of justice as well. What justice secures is “honor”, and the rule area of each deity is the “honor” earned by drawing lots.8 Honor itself means the power to manage affairs and relationships in a certain field.9 And the “honor” of heroes varies, for example, the “honor” of Achilles, the son of the sea-goddess Thetis, ranks higher than that of the mortal Hector. Both deities and heroes fight for their “honor”. On the Trojan battlefield, Agamemnon took the spoils that belonged to Achilles. Achilles believed it hurt his “honor” and thus withdrew from the battle, causing a great loss to the allied forces. When Achilles returned to the battlefield after the murder of his close friend Patroclus, he was concerned not with the latter’s death but with “the weakness shown by his failure to protect his own squire”.10 Hector, prince of Troy, knew he would be defeated, but “he believed that it was only right — and no one disagreed — that he should stand on his own ground for honor and fame, to face Achilles and die unflinchingly.”11 In Homer’s day, the distribution of “honor” was characterized as followed: “In a well-defined and highly deterministic system of roles and positions, everyone has an established role and position. ... A man is known by his role in the system; and by this he also knows what he ought to do, and what the possessors of every other role and position ought to ascribe to him.”12 Each person can only choose within the framework of the established social structure, “but the framework itself cannot be chosen.”13 Therefore, it is clear that certain consciousness of rights had been in existence in ancient Greece, but the right here was just a privilege, since the rights varied from people to people. At that time “not only was there no idea of equality of rights, but there was also no idea of regarding rights as the basis and standard of equity. On the contrary, the meaning of rights in that era was precisely to demand inequality which was not arbitrary inequality but only the inequality that was understood at that time to be consistent with justice and practice.”14
In the order of the mortal, heroes and deities, which is composed of the interacted three worlds of nature, man and deity, Homer tried to seek “unity, law and order, which started an exploration of philosophy and scientific thought that dominated not just Greece.”15 This law “was sort of fated ‘fortune’, ‘necessity’ and ‘destiny’ not only the Olympian deities, but even Zeus had to obey. The ‘fortune’ had a great influence on the whole of Greek thought, and this is perhaps one of the sources from which science derived its belief in the laws of nature.”16 Such “destiny” which dominated the world gradually evolved into a kind of natural law belief like the later supreme good and natural law. This transcendental spirit which contained the concept of justice created an ideal reference system as the basic measure of good and evil among human beings. In addition, both the Iliad and Odyssey had their entire contents dominated by a strong sense of fatalism. The heroes’ identification with destiny reflected the religious emotion of the Greeks, who believed that the will of the deities who controlled the destiny of people was irresistible. Although the heroes knew their own destiny, they couldn’t resist it, the obedience of which showed the fear of and identity with deities’ will. Under this complex view of religion, the Homeric Epics and later the Theogony by Hesiod gave the authority in the beginning of the world to deities. This world view requires no knowledge but only faith, no thinking but only obedience, and people are firmly bound by the will of the deities.
With the development of society and the progress of thought, natural philosophers began to think about the origin of the world on the basis of breaking through the religious worldview, which serves as the starting point of Greek scientific and philosophical thinking.
II. From Deity to Nature
The sixth century B.C. was the time when the Greeks began to awaken to reason. Thales and the philosophers who followed created a new way of thinking that over-turned the Greek myth of the origin of the world and replaced it with a purely rational explanation. They took nature as the object, and explained the origin, structure and organization of the world in a totally different way from the dramatic images of the ancient theogony and the cosmic spectrum. In the origin and composition of the world there are no primordial divine powers or supernatural original driving force; there is nothing but nature, and factuality occupies all existence. Human, deities and the world are parts or aspects of the same nature, all of which are at the same level and constitute a unified and homogeneous universe. They sought to find the single material primordium from which all elements are based and from which they arise, and they called it nature. The “physis” that natural philosophers ponder on is not the natural world as the sum of things as currently referred to by the word “nature”. It specifically refers to the nature of the movement and change of things, with meaning close to the “nature” in modern western language. Therefore, Aristotle defines “nature” as “the origin of movement and change”.17 Natural philosophy is the study of the origin of the world and the whole of the universe.
Freed from the bondage of deities, the Greeks, driven by curiosity and thirst for knowledge, began to explore the origin of the universe and all things. In the eyes of natural philosophers, the prime mover of the universe is no longer the supernatural supreme deity Zeus, while “the great law governing the world is inherent in nature, and it should exist in some way in the original element from which the world is gradually generated.”18 This initial element is the “primordium” from which everything comes and ultimately returns to. The first philosophical school of ancient Greece, the Miletus School, explored the origin of the world from the specific identified entity. Thales, deemed as the first philosopher in the history of Western philosophy, first raised the philosophical question, “What is the origin of the world?” He believed that the origin of all things was water. Later, Anaximander believed that the origin of the world was “endlessness”, that is, an infinite substance stretching in all directions. This primary substance, different from water or other special elements, is more fundamental than these special elements. All special elements are based on this substance, from which all things are born and fall back to eventually. Like Anaximander, Anaximenes also believed that there was a primary substance, “the breath of life”, and different forms of things were produced by the condensation and dissipation of this. The Milesian School’s exploration of the world’s origin marked the birth of philosophy and science, “not because of what it accomplished, but what it initiated. Their reflections may be regarded as scientific hypotheses, rarely showing any improper desires of the deity-human as a whole or moral ideas.”19 Pythagoras believed that “numbers” were the source of all things, measurement, order, proportion and the cycle of consistency can be represented by numbers, and there was no such relationship and consistency or order and law without numbers, so “numbers” were the foundation of everything, and everything was the manifestation of “numbers”. Heraclitus believed the origin of all things was “fire”, and unlike his predecessors, he noticed not only the constituents of all things, but also the issue of “change”. He said everything “was always a burning fire in the past, present, and future, combusting to some degree, and dying out to some degree”.20 According to Empedocles, the universe was composed of four elements, earth, air, fire and water mixed in different proportions to produce various complex and changing substances, which were combined by love and separated by hate. Anaxagoras called the tiny particles that made up everything “seed”, and took “nous” as the origin of initiative beyond elements. Leucippus and Democritus established “atomism”, which held that the origin of the world was atom and void. Everything in the world was produced or disappeared by the collision of atoms in rotation. They were pro-duced by the combination of atoms in the collision, and disappeared by the separation of atoms in the collision.
The explorations of the origin of the universe by natural philosophers, for those who put forward them, were to solve the mystery of the universe. Human beings were part of the universe. “The conclusions about physical and natural elements and their interrelationships contain similar conclusions about human moral elements and their interrelationships.”21 These conclusions apply to human life as well as to life on earth. The construction of the cosmic order by natural philosophers is made in the atom-ism of substance based on the single set of atoms by Leucippus and Democritus. In social psychology, natural philosophers have gradually realized the independence of individual consciousness. In the early days, the water and air (“qi”) of the Milesian school remained as some diffusing stuff and could not be individualized. With the development of philosophy, the constituent elements of the universe became more and more individualized. Anaxagoras criticized the “Four Elements” (air, water, fire and earth) Theory proposed by the Milesian school and Empedocles. He believed that due to the variety of things, the origin of things could not be only four, and that the origin of all things was “seeds”. All things in the world have their own “seeds”, and there are as many kinds of seeds as the kinds of natures of things. The “seeds” reflected the tendency of individualism. Democritus proposed Atomism, in which atoms were arranged and combined in different forms to constitute all things, as the basic compo-nents of the world and independent staff with their own rigid boundaries.
Atoms were scattered in the “void”. They could form everything as long as the mechanical combination was made, and such is the Western mechanical cosmology. That is what nature is, so is society. Nature is made up of atoms, while society is made up of individuals. Every individual is an “atom”, single and independent, which pro-vides the philosophical basis for western individualism and individual consciousness.
The purely rational explanation of the origin of the universe by natural philosophers set up the ladder of philosophy from heaven to earth. The cosmology of natural philosophers is pluralistic, but among all the thoughts, the scientific school dominated by the cosmology of separation of man and heaven is the mainstream. This cosmology separates the material existence from human thinking. In the relations between heaven and man with human as the core, the human mind dominates the whole universe. Parmenides, for example, believed that only by thinking can people realize: “You can’t know what doesn’t exist. There is no access to such knowledge and you can’t speak it; for what can think and what can exist are the same things.”22 Anaxagoras used “soul” (nous) as a pure concept for the simple essence of the world. Anaxagoras “saw subjectivity the basis, though it is still the basis of complete generality”23. The introduction of the concept “soul” (nous) by Anaxagoras marks the beginning of turning towards the soul and human self in Greek philosophy.
Another contribution of natural philosophers to the theory of human rights was the concept of “natural justice”. Through the exploration of nature, natural philosophers have found the intermediary between nature and society, and the authoritative standard to regulate human life and city-state life. As Cassirer put it, “The new conception of nature has become the common foundation of the personal and social life of human beings.”24 Natural philosophers found that the law of nature is balance and harmony, and applied this law to human life, which is natural justice.
The natural philosophers’ grasp of the law of nature and the law of human life is interacted and pervasive. When they observe nature, they naturally project the impres-sion made in observing the social and city-state order they are familiar with into the nature, to form some ideas about the natural order, and express their understanding of nature in terms of politics, law and ethics. Yager has also observed that Anaximander’s concept of cosmic justice extended from the city-state life to the universe. He thought that Anaximander was “legislating” for the universe, that he was making moral laws instead of physical laws of nature, that natural phenomena were governed by moral laws; and that the forces of eternal justice ruled the forces of nature and the universe.25 Therefore, on the one hand, the natural philosophers’ idea about the cosmic justice has reflected their concept of social justice to a certain extent. On the other hand, natural philosophers have applied their grasp of the origin of nature, order and law to their un-derstanding of human life and city-state life. According to Anaximander, the origin of all things is “endlessness”. “The thing from which all things are born is the destination after they are destroyed, since all things compensate each other for their injustices in the sequence of time.”26 “There should be a certain proportion of fire, earth and water in the world, but each element is always trying to expand its territory. However, there is always a necessity or a natural law that is correcting this balance for ever: for exam-ple, as long as there is fire, there is ash, and the ash is earth. This idea of justice, the idea that nothing cannot go beyond the fixed bounds of eternity, is one of the deepest Greek beliefs. Deity is just as much subject to justice as man is.”27 In Anaximander’s cosmic map, he placed the universe in a digital space of pure geometric relationships, thus erasing the mythic image of the hierarchical world. Geometry gave the universe a new structure different from the one endowed by mythology: no element or part of the world has the privilege of damaging other parts, and no natural force can dom-inate everything. “The character of the new natural order is that the forces which make up the universe are equal and symmetrical to each other, and that the supreme power belongs only to a balanced law of interaction. In nature, as in the city-state, the system of ‘equality before the law’ replaces ‘individual rule’.”28 As it comes to Plato, who still attached great importance to the correspondence between the structure of the natural universe and the organization of the social universe, the gate of his school was inscribed with “Geometrists Allowed Only”. He closely linked the understanding of “geometric equality”, the basis of the natural universe, with the political values of “justice” and “moderation”, which were the foundation of the new order of city state. This was also the inheritance and development of Anaximander’s idea of “natural justice”.
Pythagoras believed that the origin of all things is “numbers”, “The whole uni-verse is the cosmos composed of in a certain number of proportions”.29 The proper number of proportional relations constitutes harmony. Pythagoras applied this principle of justice found in nature to human society, making it both a political and ethical principle. The Greek maxims “everything has its place” and “never go overboard” reflected such view of justice. Heraclitus believed that the changing scale of fire determined the fate of the world, which was the eternal Logos that lays the foundation for all things in the world.30 This eternal Logos was also the universal law of the universe. Everything in the world emerged from this Logos, that is, through struggle and necessity. Justice and law exist in order to follow the universally sacred Logos. Heraclitus discovered natural law for the first time in human history, namely, reason or the Law of Nature. Human life is also subject to this reason or Law of Nature. The laws made by man are the “emanation” of reason and are sustained by it, “subject to the will of the ‘Einzige’”, that is, to the reason or laws of nature. The measure of deity, of the universe, and of fire obeyed by the transformation and unity of opposites of eternally changing things is “natural justice”. The ideas of “natural law” and “natural justice” proposed by Heraclitus had a profound influence on later generations. He acknowledged true justice (based on the divine nature of justice and the logos of the world) and the idea that justice could be known philosophically, which was then developed by Socrates and Plato as the source of Western theories of justice.
The rational spirit of natural philosophers made the Greeks change their thinking of nature from myth to philosophy and thus realized the liberation of man from the bondage of the gods. But their thinking about human society “was nothing more than an outgrowth of their cosmology, a fortuitous consequence in their search for the physical substance from which the fluid world originates”.31 Their philosophical thinking lacks humanistic care. They just set their eyes on the natural world, holding that human beings were only a part of nature, so they only analyzed human beings from nature, and bound them in nature. It was only after the emergence of the School of “Sophists” that people were liberated from the bondage of nature and began to think humanely about the meaning of human existence.
III. Free From Nature
Around the middle of the 5th Century B.C., Greece witnessed an intellectual revolution centered on the “Sophists”. It happened when the city-state system of Greece had finally taken shape, and human law had become the main form of law, which means that human beings had finally gained their independence from nature. The change of the relationship between the individual and the city-state led to the rise of the status of the common people to a certain extent, which promoted the movement against the old ideas. Philosophers turned their vision from the study of the material world to the study of man, making the “transformation from the objective synthesis of the deities to the subjective synthesis of the men of phenomena and problems”.32 When commenting on the movement of the “Sophists”, Nerscheshenz said, “They began a useful attempt to see the world through the eyes of men, and drew different con-clusions from their own new methods. The enlightenment function of the Sophists lies in the obvious rationalization of his understanding of the forms and rules of nature, society, state, politics, law, morality, of human society, and man’s status and role in the world, declaring that man is the measure of all things and the fundamental principle of the ancient enlightenment.”33
British scholar Arun Brock has said that, “The greatest charm of ancient Greek thought was that it centered on people rather than God.”34 As mentioned earlier, as early as in Homer’s time there were individual ideas and individual consciousness, whereas Heraclitus kept in mind the inscription on the temple of Delphi: “Know Thy-self” and claimed “I have studied myself”. The ancient Greeks’ reflection on human subjectivity reached a new level when Protegola proposed that “man is the measure of all things, the measure of those who do exist, and the measure of those who do not.”35 As man is the measure of all things, he constitutes the basis of things and truth as well. In front of man, everything is relative, changeable and doubtable, while the individual is the arbiter of truth and value. In this way, man is everything and you are everything. This shift of perspective means that philosophy has turned from nature-orientation about seeking for “what the world is” to society-orientation about “where man is positioned in the world”. The establishment of the subjectivity of man from the rela-tionship between man and object is the beginning of philosophers’ reflection on man’s social behavior and the sign of man’s self-awakening. Some scholars commented that, “Whatever the specific meaning of this doctrine, it is the earliest declaration of hu-manitarian philosophy worthy of attention.”36 That “Man is the measure of all things” is called “a great proposition” by Hegel. The methodological relativism of Protegra is also of great significance for the development of the theory of rights. Relativism is essentially opposed to the absolutism of solipsistic truth, which led to a more tolerant attitude towards different opinions and viewpoints.
Protegola’s “Man is the measure of all things” and Socrates’ “Know thyself” established not only the dominant role of man in objective existence, but also the status and identity of man in city-states and the later countries, which provided the most basic rational basis for human liberation and Western human rights theory.
The Sophists liberated man from nature, and turned the object of thought from physical natural law to moral natural law. The thought of natural law initiated by the natural philosophers had been developed to a new stage through the research of the Sophists on phisis (nature, justice) and nomos (customs, contract law).37 Heraclitus, a natural philosopher who was the first to distinguish between natural law and human law, realized only the unity of the laws of man with those of god or nature but neglected the conflict or deviation between the two. It was Sophocles who first recognized this conflict. In his classic tragedy Antigone, Antigone risked death by defying the king’s decree and buried his brother in a religious ceremony. Bodenheimer noted that the conflict between the two legal orders was therein raised, whose “focus is on the fact that both legal orders try to demand of people the absolute loyalty of their exclusiveness”.38 Unlike the writer of tragedy who revealed the conflict between natural law and human law in a vague way, the Sophists preferred a straightforward way and defined the relationship between the two to be in sharp opposition. The early natural philosophers submitted to the laws of nature and of the state as external necessities and authorities, but seldom questioned the extent of their reliability or the basis of their authority. As Duzner said, “the ancient Greeks made no distinction between law and institutions, and rights and customs. Custom is a super glue that binds family and community together to the point of numbness. Without external standards, it is almost impossible to develop a critique to traditional authority, or doubt about divinity, and slaves remain in groups.”39 The sophists held that law, city-state and other matters related to the human were not natural things but something “man-made” or “agreed” by the participants. In this way, “the relationship in the past is reversed. Nature follows one law, while man wanders among many laws. Natural philosophy and anthropology oppose each other; their opposition leads to the antagonism between natural laws and human customs”.40 In the relationship between nature (justice) and convention (law), there are differences among the sophists. Some believed that man was the measure of all things, and that law and the city state were no longer created by god or granted by nature, but created by wisdom to coordinate social public interests. They said, “Justice is nothing less than what is lawful, what is prescribed by the laws or practices of city-state”, and “If justice is equal to legitimacy, the source of justice is the will of the legislator... The only thing they care about when they make laws is their own interests.”41 Others set “nature” and “convention” against each other. They held a skeptical and critical attitude towards the “man-made” and believed that “nature” represented eternal universal justice, which was inherent in human beings and the universe and was permanent, while “convention” was man-made, changeful, and unreliable. They emphasized that “nature” was the criterion for judging whether the man-made things were right or not.42 At this time, “this contradiction between nature and custom or law is the most representative conceptual structure of the Greek enlightenment”.43 The “nature” mentioned here was not the nature as the object in Heraclitus’ era, nor the eternal natural order revealed by the universe or Logos to human beings, but the “nature” centering on the subject itself, namely human nature.
The sophists used the natural law to express the idea of equality. They set “nature” opposite to “law”. As Sibiah thought, nature was opposed to man-made law, and stood as the only real natural law. Antiphon also developed the idea of natural law, consid-ering that all men had the same natural needs, so all men were equal in nature, and the inequality among them did not come from nature but from man-made laws. He said, “according to nature, we are all equal in every respect, no matter for the barbarians or the Greeks. It is appropriate to note here that the natural needs of all men are the same.”44 In his opinion, the instruction of nature comes from itself, while the law is the product of convention among people. The instruction of nature brings freedom to people, and law (even beneficial law) is the chain controlling human nature. Lycophron believed that everyone was born equal, and the so-called noble birth was just an empty name. According to nature, people are born equal, which also includes their “individual rights”, whereas “law is nothing more than a simple contract”, “a mutual guarantee of individual rights”45. Alkidamar was more radical. He proposed the idea that all men were equal, no matter for free men or slaves. In the name of natural law, he demanded the release of slaves, and said, “God sets all men free, so has not made any man a slave.”46
The sophists turned the vision from nature to man, making philosophy from heaven to earth. They aroused the thought, challenging philosophy, religion, custom, morality, and the institutions on which it was based, to justify itself with reason. They criticized the man-made law, the criterion of judgment of which was the universal nature of man. According to the universal nature of man, all men are free and equal in natural law. The sophists distinguished between nature and the law, “nature is now contrary to the law, and is exalted above the law. The ultimate result of divinizing it to the highest will be the liberation of the individual from the educational watch of the state and the law, since those things are seen as pure bondage.”47 Some necessary concepts of human rights in later generations, such as the free individual consciousness, the equality of nature, and the concept of contract, are now contained in the “nature” of the sophists, when “the judgment of the law, the individual with free will, and the individual centered on the self, together with the sophists, are sent into the arena of history.”48
While acknowledging the role of the sophists in the history of ideas, we should also see the shortcomings of their theories. They exaggerated the differences in the human system but ignored the consistency. Their skepticism and relativism are in-compatible with the tradition of Greek philosophers who love wisdom and seek truth. This relativism has played a quite destructive role in Greek philosophy, especially in the late period. As for human knowledge, people only see the individual but ignore human beings as a whole, failing to realize the universal elements of human. They’ve laid more emphasis on the nature associated with human desire, indulgence and impulse, instead of ration, constraints, and harmony, and their “natural law” is more of a biological nature, rather than a rational natural law. And history has given Socrates and later thinkers the task of discovering rational natural law. The movement of sophists ushered in the major revolution of the Greek philosophy from researching nature to researching human and society, began to shift from the cosmological orientation to the human orientation, and used the wisdom to break the shackles of “destiny”, thus “adding a moral world to the material world in the concept of ‘nature’”49. But the “human” of the Sophists remains only an emotional individual, who takes “my” or “your” likes and dislikes as the standard for value judgments, which will inevitably lead to relativism and eventually fall into skepticism. Therefore, a deeper study of the subject, human, is required, which would be accomplished by Socrates. Socrates regarded human being as the object of rational thinking, which marked the most significant turning point in human history and started the history of “knowing thyself”.
(Translated by XU Chao)

* BO Zhenfeng ( 薄振峰 ), Associate professor in Law School of Chinese people’s public Security University, Doctor of Law.
1. Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. He Zhaowu (Beijing: The Commercial press, 2003), 4.
2. Jacques Martain, Man and the State, trans. Huo Zongyan (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1964), 79-80.
3. Maine, The Ancient Law, trans. Shen Jingyi (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1959), 2.
4. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, trans. He Zhaowu and Lee Joseph (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1963), 33.
5. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Xie Defeng (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1960), 103.
6. Hegel said: “Zeus is the father of the Greek deities, but the deities can act according to their own will; Zeus respects them, and they respect him; ... Zeus, by and large, deals with things to the satisfaction of all deities, making concessions to one and to another.” Hegel, Philosophy of History, trans. wang Zaoshi (Beijing: San-lian Bookstore, 1956), 275.
7. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 361.
8. As poseidon said: “Zeus, I, Hades; Trisecting the world, we each have a share by drawing lots, in which we build our own kingdoms; I shall always rule the stormy seas, Hades the underworld, and Zeus the wide sky between clouds and lightning; the earth and the mountains of Olympus belong to us.”
9. As Ares was in charge of war, Athena in charge of cities’ buildings and guards, Aphrodite marriage, and so on.
10. Terence Owen, Classical Thought, trans. Zhao Fangming (Shenyang: Liaoning Education press, 1998), 9.
11. Ibid., 13.
12. A. McIntyre, After Virtue, trans. Gong Qun and Dai Yangyi etc (Beijing: China Social Sciences press, 1995), 153.
13. Ibid., 159.
14. Neelscheizer, A History of Greek Political Theory, trans. Cai Tuo (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1991), 12.
15. Terrence Owen, Classical Thought, trans. Zhao Fangming (Shenyang: Liaoning Education press, 1998), 17.
16. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 33-34.
17. The original meaning of “origin” is “genesis”. It is Homer who first mentioned the word “nature”. In Odyssey, Odysseus tells his nightmare on an island of the witch Circe, who turned his companions into pigs and put them in a pigsty. On the way to rescue his companions, Odysseus met Hermes, the god willing to protect him. Hermes promised to give Odysseus a supernatural blade of grass to fight against the magic of Circe. “Hermes pulled up a blade of grass from the ground, and asked me to observe its natureits root was black, and flowers milky white, which the deities called Molly. It’s hard for people to pull it off, but deities can do anything.” However, the god’s ability to easily uproot the grass would be of little use if he did not understand its nature — its appearance and power. Hermes is omnipotent, not because he is truly omniscient, but because he knows the nature of things — that were not created by him. Here “nature” refers to the characteristics, appearance and mode of movement of something or a class of things, and also to the fact that something was not created by god or man. Aristotle therefore distinguished the earliest philosophers from those who expound god by referring to them as “men who expound nature”. See Leo strauss and Cropsey, History of Political Philosophy, trans. Li Tianran etc. (Shijiazhuang: Hebei people’s publishing House, 1993), 2.
18. Vernan, The Origin of Greek Thought, trans. Qin Haiying (Beijing: Sanlian Bookstore, 1996), 102.
19. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 54.
20. School of philosophy, peking University, ed. Selected Readings of Western Philosophy (Part 1), (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1981), 21.
21. Ernest Bart, Theory of Greek Politics (Part 1), trans. Lu Huaping (Changchun: Jilin people’s publishing House, 2011), 51.
22. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 79.
23. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, vol. 1, trans. He Lin and wang Taiqing (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1959), 347.
24. E. Cassirer, The Myth of the State, trans. Zhang Guozhong (Hangzhou: Zhejiang people’s publishing House, 1988), 57.
25. wang Zisong et al., History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1 (Beijing: people’s publishing House, 1997), 205.
26. Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 52.
27. Ibid., 53.
28. Vernan, The Origin of Greek Thought, trans. Qin Haiying (Beijing: Sanlian Bookstore, 1996), 109.
29. wang Zisong et al., History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1 (Beijing: people’s publishing House, 1997), 460.
30. The original meaning of “Logos” is “discourse”, which was specially used by Heraclitus to refer to “spoken truth”. In terms of “Logos” being the principle known by people, it can be understood as “reason”, “justification”, etc.; in terms of it being the origin of the world, it can be understood as “Dao”, “tenet”, and “law”. See Russell, The Wisdom of the West, trans. Dai Liqiu and wang Chang (Beijing: China pictorial press, 2012), 40.
31. Ernest Bart, Theory of Greek Politics (Part 1), 59.
32. Neelscheizer, A History of Greek Political Theory, 85.
33. Ibid., 85.
34. Allan Brock, The Tradition of Western Humanism, trans. Dong Leshan (Beijing: Qunyan press, 2012), 15.
35. School of philosophy, peking University, ed. Selected Readings of Western Philosophy (Part 1), 54.
36. Bulcke, History of Western Ethics, trans. Huang weiyuan (Shanghai: East China Normal University press, 2016), 7.
37. “nomos” originally referred to “customs and practices” and “conventions”. The first written law was only a part of custom. Its occurrence is a progressive process, aiming to balance the gap of wealth. “Once laws are publicly promulgated in bronze or stone, they can be known and used by all.” J.M. Kelly, A Brief History of Western Legal Thought, trans. wang Xiaohong (Beijing: Law press, 2002), 9. when the city-state’s legislation became democratic and procedural, the meaning of “nomos” extended to the field of law, which referred to both the customs and practices and the enactment law. Aristotle clearly distinguishes nature from customs and laws in his Nicomachean Ethics, pointing out that “political justice is either natural (phusikon) or conventional (nomikon)”. “which is due to nature, and which is not but is legal, due to the customs, are obvious”, “things out of nature cannot be changed, with the same effect to all, burning as fire, no matter in the persian or in Greece”, “and just at the beginning of the conventional justice, it is either this or that. As long as it was enacted, however, it can only be the case”. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Miao Litian (Beijing: China Social Sciences press, 1999), 109-110.
38. E. Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence, Legal Philosophy and Legal Method, trans. Deng Zhenglai (Beijing: China University of political Science and Law press, 2004), 5.
39. Duzner, The End of Human Rights, trans. Guo Chunfa (Nanjing: Jiangsu people’s publishing House, 2002), 25.
40. Ernest Bart, Theory of Greek Politics (Part 1), 63.
41. Leo Strauss, The History of Political Philosophy, trans. Li Tianran (Shijiazhuang: Hebei people’s publishing House, 1993), 35.
42. Zhan Maohua, Change of the Concept of Natural Law (Beijing: Law press, 2010), 30.
43. windelband, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie (Part 1), trans. Luo Daren (Beijing: The Commercial press, 1987), 104.
44. Neelscheizer, A History of Greek Political Theory, 105.
45. Zeller, Outline of Ancient Greek Philosophy,trans. weng Shaojun (Jinan: Shandong people’s press,1996), 96.
46. Sabine, History of Political Theory, trans. Deng Zhenglai (Shanghai: Shanghai people’s publishing House, 2008), 61.
47. Rousseau, The Social Contract, 72.
48. Duzner, The End of Human Rights, 26.
49. Maine, The Ancient Law, 31.
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