What is Sophism?

Fifth-century Athens, known as the Golden Age of Athens, oversaw the flourishing of Classical Greek Philosophy, dominated by the teacher-student duo of Plato and Socrates, two men dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, who searched tirelessly for objective knowledge, who wanted to uncover the truth, who planted the seeds of knowledge that would influence ages to come. It was also during this period that a new breed of seekers came, whom Plato despised, whom we today connote with negativity: the Sophist. Nowadays, to call someone a sophist, or to say an argument is sophistic, is to call them deceitful, glib, and a fraud. However, while this figure is buried in stigma by history, there lies a greater story about this controversial lover of wisdom.


Before the word “sophist” acquired its negative connotations, it originally came from the Greek word for wisdom, σοφός, and was used to designate a wise man or sage, such as Thales, who was called one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, or even just a craftsman or artisan who was highly skilled at his trade. It was an honor, then, to be called a Sophist (σοφιστής), so teachers were quick to adopt the name, proud to bear its glory as they spread their knowledge throughout the lands. The Sophists were traveling teachers. They had no place they called home, and they went from city-state to city-state, looking for pupils, stopping at every public festival, where they could gather a crowd and amaze them with their impressive rhetoric, where they could present speeches designed to attract customers and get their name known. To Gomperz, the Sophist reminded him of a “half professor and half journalist,” for he wasted no time jumping upon new opportunities, seeking a new job, a new student in whom he could invest his knowledge.[1] The Sophist was, early in his career, regarded as a true sage, and he was bestowed great honors and respected by his peers for his vast areas of expertise. In public the Sophist spoke through epideixis (ἐπιδεικτικός), a form of oration in which the speaker is able to exhibit his skills or to praise some particular thing; and in private study the Sophist taught through dialectic (διαλεκτική), the same question-and-answer technique made famous by Socrates. Evidently, the Sophist was highly adaptable, and because he was always on the move, he was able to attract a large following and gain a reputation of the same magnitude. paulathenssmall.jpgHowever, the Sophists taught by mouth alone, not pen, and none of their writings were written, as they were made with the intent of being performed in public, in front of an audience, not in private, for the delight of a reader. The fact that none of them established a school, too, contributes to a lack of primary sources regarding the Sophists’ ideas. Further, because no schools were made, and because their students were not permanent, there exist no student records. Other philosophers, like Socrates and Epictetus, despite not writing what they taught, have extant writings, because their students, Plato and Arrian, recorded them; the Sophists, contrarily, had no students to do so. Fortunately for the Sophist, he was able to prosper in a thriving intellectual climate, as Athens was, at the time, the center of philosophical thought, and it experienced a tremendous surge in intellectual pursuits brought forth by the leadership of Pericles. Education was therefore a major focus—perfect for the Sophists.

The targeted audience of the Sophists was select: their primary customers were young, eager-to-learn Athenian men, of whom there were plenty. Central to sophistic curriculum was political virtue, or areté (αρετέ). As Jaeger put it, “[T]he aim of the educational movement… was not to educate the people, but to educate the leaders of the people.”[2] Just as we in today’s education advertise school as a way of training our future leaders, so the Sophists in Athens’ education advertised their tutoring as a way of training their Unknown-1.jpegfuture leaders. Pericles was the paragon of democratic leadership, so it was important that youths were taught to emulate how he ruled. The best way to lead well, the Sophists believed, is through rhetoric, the art of speaking well (ευ λεγειν), of persuasion, of using language to the best of its abilities. Interestingly, the word “politician,” in Ancient Greece, was used interchangeably with “rhetor;” they were perfectly synonymous. Therefore, it was important that a good leader learn rhetoric, especially when he is young. So dedicated were they to their craft that the Sophists considered their teaching a techné (τέχνη), an art. For Sophist to refer to a trained craftsmen, and to have teaching be a craft, is to confirm that education, schooling, was first given its value in Ancient Athens, and for that we owe the Sophists. We find in Athens the idea that teaching is a delicate craft which requires perfecting and which is integral to a culture’s being. In addition to rhetoric, the Sophists tried to teach both practical and theoretical things, of the former day-to-day necessities, the latter liberal arts. So wide was their knowledge that they taught everything from natural science to metaphysics, grammar to poetry. For the most part, the Sophists accepted Pre-Socratic thinking, but they rejected Eleatic thought. Thus, cosmology was a popular subject, and students were taught the essentials, from Thales to Anaxagoras. Since grammar and rhetoric were taught, it was necessary that logic, too, was taught, meaning the Sophists were the inventors of the original trivium comprising grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Their lessons, for example, featured all kinds of logical problems and rules, and Unknown-2.jpegthey also taught about different fallacies and how to avoid them in reasoning. Of theoretical knowledge there were two types the Sophists taught: factual and formal knowledge. Factual knowledge was just as it sounds, consisting of general, wide-ranging facts, encyclopedic in extent; formal knowledge was specific, and its intent was not so much on learning but training, specifically how to use knowledge to think critically and practically. According to the Sophists, who viewed teaching as a craft, virtue was teachable. Political virtue, areté, as well as virtues like temperance and courage, were able to be taught and were not acquired specially. The Appeal to Nature is commonly associated with the Sophists, the argument that whatever is natural is good, whatever is unnatural is bad. While this does not apply to every Sophist, it does capture the essence of their conflicting views regarding Nature. The disagreement was between convention (νομος) and nature herself (φύση), man-made law and natural law. Thrasymachus thought self-interest was morally right and that the stronger is better than the weaker; Callicles thought our self-conscious is what is right; and Iamblichus chose convention, stating that we ought to do whatever state laws tell us.


After the fifth-century, Sophism all but died out, but it was revived again in Rome during the Second Sophistic period, which ranges from approximately 60-230 A.D. The traveling teacher was brought back, and he became a sensation in a Roman-influenced Greece, where philosophy was going strong. However, the importance was shifted from philosophy to rhetoric, and as Will Durant writes, “It [philosophy] had been swallowed up in an ocean of rhetoric, and had ceased to think when it learned to speak.”[3] No longer was philosophy based on systematic thinking and the art of living; it had been replaced by rhetoric, and speech was valued above action, signaling the beginning of the decline of philosophy in the Western world. It was not all bad, though, and some good did come of the Second Sophistic; from it comes, like the value of education, arguably the first advocation of individualism. It was at this time that we saw men, without true homes, without anything to show for their work, traveling land to land, living off of that at which they were good, teaching whoever could pay them; we see true individualism—independent individuals making their way doing what they love, as though it were some kind of ancient American Dream. The Pre-Socratic philosophers philosophized about nature, the cosmos, and produced theories regarding that which was external to them; the Sophists, on the other hand, turned inwards, philosophizing about their fellow men. Consequently, there was a move from the theoretical to the practical, the cosmological to the humanistic, nature to man. The Sophists were “empirico-inductive” in their methods, examining what was before them and producing their theories from there, not from looking up at the stars, but at the society that surrounded them—humanity.[4]

So far, the Sophist seems a respectable figure responsible for the beginnings of higher education, humanism, and rhetoric; however, there is another side of the story, one that paints them in another, more sinister light. Probably the most distinctive thing about the Sophists was how they made money. As a pretty much homeless, traveling teacher, the Sophist had to make easy money, so he placed a fee on his lessons. While some Sophists were fair in their prices, most of them were not, pricing their lessons up to 10,000 Drachmas, equivalent to about $10,000 in today’s money. Because the prices were so high, only rich Athenians could afford lessons, a disadvantage to the poor and underprivileged. To exacerbate these conditions, Athens was the city-state with the most lawsuits, and since only rich men could get lessons in logic and rhetoric, it meant they could easily win. This is not to mention, of course, that it was considered dishonorable, ignoble, in Ancient Greece, to pay for another man’s knowledge. Many also thought professionalism boring and made fun of the Sophists for conducting their lessons accordingly, rebuking them for their private lessons taught in the privacy of one’s house. To say one’s argument is sophistic is an insult, for it means they have used cunning, deceitful, devious, and specious reasoning. This makes sense, because some Sophists could manipulate logic, easily able to win either side of an argument. Commonly, to show off, Sophists and later Skeptics would propose one side of an argument, present their case, then immediately switch to the other side and present an equally balanced argument. For this reason, the issue of lawsuits was even worse, for litigators could be taught unfair logical devices to beat their opponents.


Of the critics of the Sophists, Plato is the worst, evidenced by multiple of his dialogues, which make fun of the Sophists and poke holes in their reasoning. One thing Plato disapproved of was the fact that Sophists discounted objective knowledge, looking instead for relative knowledge, for according to the Sophists, only relative knowledge was possible. What is true for one person may not be true to another. Similarly, he scoffed at them for their phenomenalism. Plato believed in a higher realm, the world of Forms, in which all perfect entities exist, in which object knowledge resides; for the Sophists to claim that the phenomenal, or natural, world was the only existent thing, was, to Plato, distasteful and worthy of contempt. To believe that this imperfect world was the sole reality, thought Plato, is insane and an insult to objectivity. Regarding the lesson fees, Plato joked that if the fees were too low, it meant the lesson was just as worthless; and if they were too high, it meant it was outrageously expensive. One of the reasons Plato was repulsed by the Sophists was because they gave a bad name to Socrates. Socrates was considered a Sophist in its positive sense, and he used the dialectic properly in the search for truth; Unknown-7.jpegbut to compare him to the Sophists of Plato’s time was like comparing God to Satan—unthinkable, a downright insult. Plato blamed the Sophists, in part, for Socrates’ death, seeing as they gave him a bad name, tainting his reputation forever. Plato called the Sophists “anti-logical” and eristic, since they sought not actual knowledge, but argumentation. Like teacher like student, Aristotle, too, following in the footsteps of Plato, turned his pen against the Sophists. He wrote that the Sophists practiced “wisdom which exists only in semblance” and “what appears to be philosophy but is not.”[5] In his Sophistical Refutations, he adds, “[T]he sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom.”[6] For a long time Aristotle waged a philosophical war against the Megarian School (also known as the Eristics), infamous for its paradoxes and logic problems, at one point calling them “sophists,” thus creating the first official usage of the word as a negative one. From that point on, even throughout Imperial times, philosophers began accusing each other of being “sophists.”

The Sophist is a polarizing figure, on one side an educational hero, on the other an anti-logical fraud. Whether he is one or the other cannot be solved by history, as there are always two sides. In the end, while we can frown upon them, laughing at their professional ways, exposing their deceiving logic, we must also be grateful for all that they have done, for making education as important as it is today in our culture, for creating the trivium to which we are dedicated in English, for living the true American Dream, and most of all, for angering Plato and Socrates.


[1] Gomperz, The Greek Thinkers, Vol. 1, p. 414
[2] Jaeger, Paideia, Vol. 1, p. 290
[3] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3, p. 489
[4] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 1, p. 83
[5] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1004b20-27
[6] Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations, 165a22-24


For further reading:
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
A History of Ancient Western Philosophy by Joseph Owens (1959)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy Vol. 1 by Frederick Copleston (1993)
A Short History of Philosophy by Robert C. Solomon (1996)
The Greek Thinkers Vol 1. by Theodor Gomperz (1964)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 3 by Will Durant (1972)
Paideia Vol. 1 by Werner Jaeger (1945)


If Thou Art Pained By Any External Thing, It Is Not This Thing That Disturbs Thee, But Thy Own Judgment About It.

Unknown.jpegIn book 8 section 47 of the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes,

If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now. But if anything in thy own disposition gives thee pain, who hinders thee from correcting thy opinion? And even if thou art pained because thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee to be right, why dost thou not rather act than complain?—but some insuperable obstacle is in the way?—Do not be grieved then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on thee.

Things in themselves are not nuisances, rather we make them so ourselves. Nothing is either good or bad in itself, although we commonly think they have to, and incorrectly. The thing is, though, that our thoughts, unlike external events, are within our power, and so we are able to change our thoughts, judgments, and perceptions to make things bearable. Aurelius tells us that if we are annoyed by ourselves, we oughtn’t blame it on others or on anything; instead, we should take to correcting our opinions, as they belong to us, so we can fix them. No one stops us from changing our way of thinking except ourselves. Further, he points out that when we think things we would rather not think, we often complain to others and to ourselves, ignorant of the true nature of the annoyance; as such, he advises to simply change our thinking when it appears to be straying. When we notice negative thinking, acknowledging it and knowing it is the cause of our problems is one thing—but actually acting on it and changing it, is another, and is what we ought to do. But often times we will impute our misfortune to some external thing, such as the day, leading to remarks like, “Today is not a good day,” or, “Today does not like me”; however, if we attribute our personal torment to something impersonal, something external to us, we should be doing the opposite, really, for if “day” is what is causing our problems, we know that it is a force greater than us, outside of us, and therefore not concerned with us. Because the courses of our days are outside of our power, we can do nothing to change them, so instead of resisting them, we should allow them to carry out as they please, as per nature, and leave our attitude to ourselves. Hamlet expresses this in the same way: “[T]here is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II.ii.265-66.). Therefore, our perception is what affects our attitude, so your life is what you make of it.


For further reading: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2014)

The Wisdom of William Penn

Unknown-1.jpegWilliam Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania, opens his book Some Fruits of Solitude with the following line:

Reader,—This Enchiridion, I present thee with, is the Fruit of Solitude: A School few care to learn in, tho’ None instruct better. Some Parts of it are the Result of serious Reflection: Others the Flashings of Lucid Intervals: Writ for private Satisfaction, and now publish’d for an Help to Human conduct.

Just as Marcus Aurelius wrote his own journal in his free time to solace himself, so Penn has done the same, recording his own wisdom, publishing it in hopes of inspiring others through his wisdom; and just like the former, his advice is for everyone and ought to be looked at.

57. Love Labor: For if thou dost not want it for Food, thou mayest for Physick [physique]. It is wholesom [sic.] for thy Body, and good for thy Mind. It prevents the Fruits of Idleness, which many times comes of nothing to do, and leads too many to do what is worse than nothing.

Qualities of a Friend
111. A true Friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a Friend unchangeably.

Rules of Conversation
131. If thou thinkest twice, before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it.

Temporal Happiness
237. Do good with what thou hast, or it will do thee no good.
239. We are apt to call things by wrong Names. We will have Prosperity to be Happiness, and Adversity to be Misery; though that is the School of Wisdom, and oftentimes the way to Eternal Happiness.
241. Have but little to do, and do it thy self [sic.]: And do to others as thou wouldest have them do to thee: So, thou canst not fail of Temporal Felicity.
249. Too few know when they have Enough; and fewer know how to employ it.

Personal caution
303. Opportunities should never be lost, because they can hardly be regained.
308. Neither despise, nor oppose, what thou dost not understand.

For further reading: Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn (1968)

Who Was Jonathan Edwards?

During the 1740’s in America, there was a massive movement that swept through New England called the “Great Awakening,” in which religious fervor reached soaring heights. As a result, the colonies became heavily influenced by Protestantism, with families going to church to hear the itinerant preachers, leading to the domination of religious feelings. However, the Great Awakening is also responsible for giving rise to one of the first and greatest philosophers in American history: Jonathan Edwards. Despite being strictly Calvinist, Edwards has gone down in philosophical history as one of the greatest minds in America as well as one of the defining figures in the tradition of idealism.

Unknown-1.jpegEdwards was born in 1703, and it was evident he was destined for great things; at the age of 13, he was admitted to Yale. The young Edwards was always curious, nearly as bright and prolific as any professional writer, for he wrote numerous essays before going to college, his interests ranging from biology to philosophy, from spiders to metaphysics. Edwards was introduced to Newton and Locke a year after coming to Yale, diving head first into the most recent groundbreaking thought, committing himself to both men’s ideas. Three years later, when he was only 17, Edwards graduated, and in 1734, he began preaching in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he stayed until 1748, when he was forced out of his position by angry churchgoers, finally becoming a missionary for the Native Americans. From sources we know that Edwards was intensely passionate about his work—so dedicated was he that on summer mornings he would wake up at four, and in winter, at four. It worked out that Edwards became head of the Congregationalist Church since his grandfather was Solomon Stoddard, the former pastor. In 1662 the Half-Way Covenant was put into effect. This rule made it so that only select people could attain church membership, and if they baptized their children, they, too, could be members of the church. Stoddard removed the covenant while pastor, but Edwards had different ideas, so he reversed his grandfather’s decision and made it stricter than the covenant, for he wesley.jpgrestricted church membership to saints and saint alone, reserving communion only for the elects. Edwards was a notorious speaker. His sermons were not traditional, insofar as he ruled through fear. H.W. Brands writes, “[H]is auditors shrieked and moaned, their horror exceeded only by the exquisiteness of their agony…. At least one listener was so moved that he decided to end his life rather than continue his torment.”[1] It is no surprise, then, why his outraged followers kicked him out of the church. And, interestingly, he was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, and the writer O. Henry was a descendant of his. 

Having read Locke at a young age, Edwards’ metaphysics were based on his education. His thought mirrors closely that of George Berkeley’s, but it is generally agreed that Edwards did not read his works but rather thought of his system on his own. Edwards concurred with Berkeley, claiming that secondary qualities—like color, texture, and smell—were conceived in the mind. He reasoned that primary qualities were really just different applications of resistance: solidity was pure resistance, figure is the termination of resistance, and motion is the communication between two resistances. This raises the question of how resistance comes to be, how resistance can exist outside the mind. According to Edwards, resistance is God’s doing, and if resistance is not resisting anything, which, he thinks, is irrational, then it is simply resistance. Therefore, if resistance is external to men’s minds, and if resistance is the work of God, then it must Unknown-2.jpegfollow that this world in which we live is God’s creation—his mental creation, that is. Like Berkeley, Edwards conceived of a unique subjective idealism, since he saw reality as the mental creation of God. A contemporary group at the time, the Cambridge Platonists, spread Platonic thought to America, where Edwards absorbed it, using it in his own philosophy. The corporeal, physical world is imperfect, flawed, illusory, a phantasmagoria, a faulty reflection of the otherwise perfect spiritual reality wherein God resides. Similar to the Allegory of the Cave, Edwards believed salvation was like getting out of the cave: man, rescued from his chains of illusion, sees the magnificence that is God. Regarding the nature of God, Edwards acknowledged the impossibility of there existing any being outside of Being, which Edwards interprets as existence in all that it encompasses. But because God is Being, He is non-solid; and he asserted alongside Parmenides that nothingness cannot exist, so God is space, God is omnipresent. Further, since God created reality, it means that nature is God manifest, and since God is beautiful, nature is beautiful. Edwards adopted Malebranche’s causal theory of Occasionalism, stating that events happen in coordination with God’s will. For example, if an object is dropped, it just happened to drop at the same time God willed it to drop. Edwards took it further and distinguished two causal necessities: natural and moral. Natural necessity is an external hindrance, one that is external, and it must happen; the latter is an internal inhibition, and while it seems out of our control, it really is not. A natural necessity would be hunger, as it is out of power and must happen, whereas a moral necessity might be gluttony, as while feeding ourselves is necessary, overindulging is not. Impulses, therefore, are common moral necessities. Edwards’ most famous sermon is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), in which he says that, because God created this world and us, we owe it to him to be faithful, otherwise he will destroy us all—it also created the strongest uproar:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.

You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment;…

adam-eve5.jpgIn his essay The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1757), Edwards defends the idea that man is, by nature, sinful. Carrying the burden of Adam upon his back, man has fallen from grace. Originally given two motives, self-love and benevolence, man was stripped of the latter when he upset God, meaning man acts purely out of self-interest, which, although some good can come of it and is to some extent necessary, is primarily bad. His next essay, A Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue (1765), draws a connection between virtue and beauty, stating that the former is a form of the latter, particularly in the form of benevolence, which, as Edwards said, was taken away from us. But of beauty he distinguishes two types: natural and divine. Natural beauty is that which occurs in the world, and it comprises unity, harmony, and variety. This beauty is acquired through the senses. When we see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything which has unity, harmony, or variety, we think it beautiful. Harmony, he posits, is proportional to an object’s Being. A nobler object will have more Being than an ignoble object, and thus more harmony. But Edwards does not see beauty as a property that objects have but a relationship between subject and object. An object cannot be beautiful unless it is seen as agreeable by a viewer. Divine beauty, on the other hand, is knowledge of God in nature. Benevolence, the most sought after virtue according to Edwards, is defined as the love Being, of existence, in all its entirety. Benevolence to Edwards is not how it is to us, traditionally, for Edwards sees it as Unknown-1.jpegintransitive rather than transitive; in essence, Edwards thinks of benevolence not as directed toward a person, nor even as being directed, but as openness to everything. Instead of being benevolent toward this person, or toward that tree, we must be benevolent of Being. This is troublesome, though, because Edwards says we do not have the capability of being benevolent, despite its being the highest virtue. Edwards insisted that grace is what enables us to be virtuous, and grace comes from God himself; therefore, only a few people have the fortune of being endowed with grace, and so with benevolence. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746) deals with what Edwards calls the “religious feeling,” which he defines as the total dependence on God. (This view is astoundingly prescient of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theory of Abhängigkeitsgefühl, or absolute dependence). Edwards rejected the compartmentalization of the mind, but he kept the idea that there were two faculties—understanding, or heart, or sensation, and inclination, or volition, or will. In addition to the five senses, Edwards explored the idea of an incredibly rare sixth sense: divination. He did say, however, that we all are given a moral conscience which allows us to share a common view of justice, similar to a collective unconscious. Just as Edwards and Schleiermacher shared views on dependence, so they had in common the idea that emotion is superior to intellect. The religious life was man’s only end, thought Edwards; as such, the religious life could not be lived through the mind but through the heart. Emotion, he claimed, is God-given, so we ought to use.

There was a distinction drawn between goodness and godliness, for Edwards thought the two obfuscated the definition of virtue. Goodness can be achieved by anyone and therefore is not true virtue. Goodness can be viewed as Aristotelian virtues, such as bravery, temperance, and prudence. Benevolence is true virtue, and it is an example of godliness, as it is synonymous with sublimity. Only saints are endowed with grace, meaning only saints can be virtuous, or benevolent. The spiritual life, in addition, is a lifelong commitment, lived until death, so it was up to the saint to take care of his “gracious sincerity.” Edwards was certain that normal people can be good and will be remorseful on Judgment Day; saints, however, can be godly and will repent on Judgment Day. This is the reason Edwards reserved church membership for saints. Saints were predestined to achieve salvation, and they had access to benevolence. Edwards then tackled the Problem Unknown-3.jpegof Free Will in his essay The Freedom of the Will (1754). The difficult thing for Edwards was reconciling Calvinist predestination and Newtonian determinism with Lockean freedom. Edwards began by defining “will” as “choice.” He subscribed to folk psychology, which states that words like will, preference, desire, and inclination all mean the same thing and refer to volition, the will to do things. Will was a passive force, influenced the active force of God. When we are faced with a decision, Edwards said we choose the greatest good, strongest urge at the time. Basically, Edwards took the side of Schopenhauer, who said, “Man can do what he will, but he cannot will what he does,” by which he means that our choices are determined, but we ourselves are free to act upon them. Freedom was synchronicity with God’s will in the eyes of Edwards. This supports his Occasionalism: if what we choose to do coincides with what God willed us to do, then we have done something morally done, but if we choose something contrary to God’s will, we have committed sin. Choices, Edwards thought, were open to praise and blame, as we have our own motives on which we act; a wicked motive, for instance, means a bad choice, so we deserve blame, and vice versa.


[1] Brands, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, p. 147


For further reading: 
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands (2000)
The Growth of the American Republic Vol. 1 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1956)
Men and Movements in American Philosophy by Joseph L. Blau (1952)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 2 by Paul Edwards (1967)
Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)
American Philosophy by Marcus G. Singer (1985)

Battles of the Thirty Years’ War

The 17th century oversaw the modernization of war, from upgrades in weaponry to revaluations of battle tactics, from the replacement of old arms with new ones to the invention of new army procedures and formations. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), in particular, was one of the largest battles of the century, and it was responsible for creating new dynasties and destroying others, with improved weapons of destruction. Commanders thought of creative strategies to outwit their enemies and new ways to up their efficacy in battle. In this blog, I will be looking at 10 of the most decisive battles of the Thirty Years’ War.

Unknown.jpegThe first battle was fought at White Mountain on November 8, 1620, between the Catholic League and the Protestant Union, shortly after the deposition of Ferdinand II. Leading the Catholics was the Count of Tilly (1559-1632), a Catholic at birth who at one point considered becoming a Jesuit. With an army of 20,000 men, he went to White Castle to confront Protestant commander Christian of Anhalt, who had an army of 24,000. Tilly easily defeated the Protestants, banishing anything that was not Catholicism—a major setback to the Protestants.

The next major battle was fought six years later at Dessau Bridge on April 25. Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634), general of the Catholics, was originally a Protestant but converted to Catholicism, quickly amassing a great wealth for his time, his riches in the billions, it is thought. Wallenstein derived his riches from the land he owned, taxing them, contributing to his power, which he used to raise a massive army, taking with him 20,000 soldiers to defeat the Protestants. Having arrived at the bridge early, Wallenstein stored his weapons and ammunition beneath the bridge, hiding his men there, too, so he could launch a surprise attack on the enemy when they crossed. Ernst von Mansfeld (1580-1626) had no idea what he was walking into when he and his 12,000-man army crossed the bridge. Wallenstein ambushed Mansfeld, utterly destroying his army, using his artillery to blast them, then sending his troops to finish them off. When the smoke cleared, Wallenstein gained an effortless victory, the casualties numbering 4,000. Mansfeld, unlike Wallenstein, went from being a Catholic to being a Protestant; yet like Wallenstein, he was a highly requested general, for he was able to muster up an army whenever he wanted. His loyalty to the Protestants was weak, as he joined only for the money.

Magdeburg_1631.jpgSo far, the Catholics looked as though they were going to win, having devastated the Protestants in two major battles without breaking a sweat. This changed, however, on May 20, 1626. Imperial forces were launching a full-on siege at the town of Magdeburg, and for months they hammered at it in vain with their cannons. Eventually they brought down the walls, and the soldiers, drunk, rushed in, brandishing their weapons, slaying every innocent civilian, setting fire to the houses, raping women, killing children, stealing everything they could find, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. The massacre was horrendous, and it painted a bad picture of the Catholics. Tilly, who was on duty at the time, was blamed for the massacre, the event permanently tainting his reputation, labeling him a monster. Deaths are estimated to be between 20,000-25,000. It appeared the tides had changed.

Gustav “the Lion of the North” Adolf II of Sweden (1594-1632) had experience leading battles at a young age; upon taking the throne, he had to defend his kingdom from the Dutch and Polish. During that time, the Swedish army was pathetic, its navy even worse. But Gustav, ever the innovative commander, was able to take the untrained Swedish army and turn it into a war machine, hiring trained mercenaries, cutting down the army so that it consisted only of a select few men who were trained. When Wallenstein stepped foot in the Baltics, Gustav got worried and took action, sailing with his men to Pomerania to assist the townspeople at Magdeburg. The Swedish king liked to assemble his men into squadrons of 1,200-1,500 men, packing them six lines deep, alternating lines between pikes and muskets, backing them up with reserves. His tactics differed from other methods at the time, insofar as he prioritized mobility above all else, using only the lightest cannons, favoring the cavalry charge to break up his enemies. Meeting Tilly and Unknown-1.jpegPappenheim at Breitenfeld on September 15, 1631, Gustav set up two lines of soldiers, his Saxon ally John George preparing alongside him. Tilly commenced a slow yet steady barrage of artillery strikes in order, he hoped, to inflict heavy damage upon the Swedish. His cannons were too far to be effective. Tilly used the Spanish formation of the tercio, which consisted of 1,500 musketeers and pikemen in large blocks. The pike, despite being outdated, was extremely popular, as it allowed soldiers to attack from afar, letting them penetrate armor. Pappenheim was getting anxious, so he and his side charged without Tilly’s consent. Using armored horse riders armed with wheel lock pistols, a recent invention allowing the gun to be charged mechanically, called cuirassiers, Pappenheim forced John George, who barely put up a fight, to flee, leaving Gustav to finish the fight by himself. The Swedish army managed to repel the cuirassier charges with their cavalry and arquebuses, or matchlock muskets, which used lead bullets at the time. After taking out the Swedes’ left flank, Pappenheim charged them seven times in a row, each time being rejected by the highly disciplined forces. Gustav sent in his reserves, wounding both Pappenheim and Tilly, forcing them to surrender. Of the 35,000 Catholics that fought, 8,000 of them perished; and of the 42,000 Swedish, 4,000.

The next year, Tilly was hit by a cannonball and died. It was at this time as well that the Battle of Lützen was fought on November 16. Wallenstein was assigned the task of 300px-Battle_of_Lutzen.jpgdefeating the seemingly unstoppable Gustav, but, come winter, he decided to retreat, 6,000 cavalry on the left, 13,000 footmen on the right. Gustav took advantage of this movement and followed them with his 12,800 men and 6,200 horses. Thick fog had enveloped the area, blinding both forces; Gustav attacked anyway, diving into the battle. About halfway through, Gustav, who always enjoyed leading his cavalry without armor, charged the Imperial forces. The king was wounded during the charge and died, his fellow commander Bernard of Weimar taking over. John Forbes, a soldier who partook in the battle, wrote,

They seing us marching toward them, they advanced likewise toward us, and come so close to an another that joyning battalions together, wee came to pushe of pike and disputed the buysinesse so long, till it pleased God, that we routed them, and gave us the victorie [sic].[1]

The Swedish won the battle, despite losing their king, sustaining 5-6,000 deaths, whereas the Catholics lost 6-8,000 personnel.

Jan_van_der_Hoecke_-_The_Battle_of_Nördlingen,_1634.jpgDemoralized from the last battle, the Swedish lost again at Nördlingen in 1634. The date was September 6, and the Imperial Spanish had already set up their forces, half of them in front of the town, half of them situated on a hill. Their 20,000 men and 13,000 cavalry were to face off against the Swedes’ 16,000 men and 9,000 cavalry. The Swedish forces found themselves held up on a series of lower hills, and their plan was this: at daybreak, the forces would split up and attack through the valley and the town. Not to their aid was a wooded region through which they would have to traverse first. As they went through the woods, the army got confused, leading to friendly fire, the Swedish killing some of their own soldiers in the mix-up. Disoriented and weakened, the Swedish were like fish in a barrel, surrounded and taken out with ease by the Spanish. Friedrich Schiller said in his History of the Thirty Years’ War, “At this unfortunate moment a barrel of powder blew up, and created the greatest disorder amongst the Swedes. The imperial cavalry charged… and the flight became universal.” After the battle, 7,000 Swedes were dead, another 4,000 taken prisoner.

Once more, a reversal came on November 12, 1642 at the Second Battle of Breitenfeld. Catholics Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and Ottavio Piccolomini had 20,000 men, compared to the new Swedish commander Lennart Torstennson’s (1603-1651)  22,000 men. Similar to the first battle, the Catholics began with artillery fire, proceeding to send their cavalry. Torstensson fought off the invading forces in the left but in doing so lost the right side. He then wrapped around, using his remaining forces to strike the center, finishing off the Catholics. Outraged, Leopold court-martialed his commanding officers, decapitated those below them, and did the Roman tradition of decimation, killing every tenth soldier in line.

rocroi-a.jpgThe Battle of Rocroi occurred on May 19, 1643, between French commander Duc d’Enghien (1621-1686) and Spanish commander Francisco de Melo. De Melo attacked the left flank and succeeded, while d’Enghien did the same to de Melo’s right. The French then struck the center, but the Spanish regrouped, resisting all further attacks. Determined to break their defenses, d’Enghien charged the Spanish four times, consecutively, until he finally broke them. Now surrounded the Spanish had no choice but to surrender. As the Spaniards were letting down their weapons, though, a stray gun fired, and the French, startled, slaughtered half of the Spanish soldiers on the spot. The Spanish had 8,000 men and 19,000 horses, of which 8,000 died and 7,000 were held captive; the French had 15,000 men and 7,000 horses. Rocroi proved d’Enghien’s battle skills—it should be noted, too, that he was only 22 at the time when he won the battle. He fought after the Thirty Years’ War, participating in the war against Louis XIV but was then recruited by him.

March 5, 1645 was the Battle of Jankov, where Torstensson beat the Imperial forces in an evenly matched battle of 15,000 men.

Finally, on March 17, 1648, the Battle of Zusmarshausen was fought. Peter Melander and Raimondo Montecuccoli went up against Henri, Vicomte de Turenne, by whom they were outnumbered. While retreating, Melander was killed and Montecuccoli was arrested. Later that year, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, ending the war.



[1] Grant, Battle: A Visual Journey Through 5,000 Years of Combat, p. 151


For further reading:
100 Battles: Decisive Conflicts That Have Shaped the World by Martin J. Dougherty (2012)
Battle: A Visual Journey Through 5,000 Years of Combat by R.G. Grant (2005)
Commanders: History’s Greatest Military Leaders by R.G. Grant (2010)
Weapons: A Visual History of Arms and Armor by Paula Regan (2006)
War: The Definitive Visual History by Saul David (2009)


Overview of the Thirty Years’ War


European history is full of wars, religious and secular, all of which have decided which nations became superpowers and which died out, impacting the course of history. Among the numerous battles fought over religion is the Thirty Years’ War, fought between 1618 and 1648, the result of which would determine the course of history, establishing new nations, weakening others, and undermining the Catholic Church. Fought primarily in Germany, the war saw the rise of new and improved armies and tactics, and it would inflict severe damage upon the Holy Roman Empire.

Prior to the war was the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, after nailing his 95 theses to a church door in 1517, sparked a massive conflict, practically declaring war against the Catholic Church by refuting their practices, with new denominations of Christianity springing up as a result, such as Lutheranism and Calvinism, founded by John Calvin. Soon after, more people began converting from Catholicism to Protestantism, to the dismay of the German Princes, and especially to the Emperor, Charles V. Tensions grew as the map01_1648.jpgcountry was divided, and riots and wars broke out between the provinces. Eventually, in 
1555, the Peace of Augsburg was signed, instating the “cuius regio, eius religio” principle, which allowed each prince to choose what religious sect he wanted to be; whatever religion he aligned with, the citizens would have to as well. However, while many in the North chose Lutheranism and Calvinism, the latter was not officially recognized and thus was not allowed. The Peace of Augsburg worked, until the Protestants felt they were under threat of the Habsburgs, a powerful dynasty that ruled in both Germany and Spain. Worried that their freedom of religion was to be infringed upon presently, the Protestants revolted in 1607. In response, Maximilian I was sent to take care of the rebellion, successfully quelling it and retaining peace. The Protestants were horrified and created the Protestant Union in 1618 to protect themselves against Maximilian’s force; and to counter this new union, Maximilian, a year later, founded the Catholic League. Problems arose once more when the Holy Roman Emperor 
Unknown.jpegMatthias chose Ferdinand II to be his successor. Several emissaries went to Hradschin castle in Prague for Matthias, hoping to negotiate with the Protestants. The Protestants were suspicious of the messengers, whom they knew were not visiting in their favor, and so seized and threw them out the third-story window, although they survived. This “Defenestration of Prague” (another occurred in the 15th century) was one of the catalysts for the war, the other being the election. When Matthias died in 1619, Ferdinand II, devout Catholic king of Bohemia, was made Holy Roman Emperor; the Protestant Bohemians thought otherwise, refusing to bow to Ferdinand, crowning instead Frederick V to retaliate. Ferdinand II was not pleased to hear that he was deposed, so he asked for assistance from the Spanish Habsburg king Philip III.

e5cf89143b21a7739959066bcf1e74e8.jpgOn November 8, 1620, the first battle of the Thirty Years’ War was fought at White Mountain. The Catholic League easily beat the Protestant army. Ferdinand, now having control over Bohemia, completely outlawed Protestantism, imposing Catholicism on everyone. From 1618 to 1625 the war was limited to Germany, where the two leagues were fighting. Sensing that the Protestants were losing, having ended his previous war with Spain, Christian IV of Denmark joined the war, mostly out of commercial and political reasons, not for religious ones. At the same time, Albrecht von Wallenstein was recruited by Ferdinand to lead the Catholics. Albrecht was unbelievably wealthy, so he was able to acquire a large, able army that was loyal to him alone. Despite winning several battles, Wallenstein was dismissed by the Emperor in 1630, for he feared that Wallenstein would turn against him. The end of the Danish phase was 1619, also when the Edict of Restitutions was released. All property of the Church since 1555 had to be paid for by the Protestants, and the Holy Roman Empire got to re-appropriate the land. It appeared as though the Protestants were going to lose—that is, until 1630, when the Swedish phase began. Before Wallenstein was removed, he and his troops had marched on Baltic soil. Unknown-1.jpegGustavus “the Lion of the North” Adolphus II, King of Sweden, took much offense to this, afraid that the Catholics might advance into his homeland. In 1631 he won the Battle of Breitenfeld with his superior army, equipped with modern weaponry and disciplined with brilliant stratagems. He went on to conquer Denmark, Poland, and Finland, destroying any hopes of German unity. The desperate Ferdinand called Wallenstein back to repel Gustav. During the Battle of Lützen in 1632, though, Gus was killed in a courageous feat, yet his army, in the end, won, notwithstanding the tragic loss. Thereafter, the Swedes experienced a stroke of bad luck, losing miserably at Nördlingen in 1634. Wallenstein, who was now conspiring behind Ferdinand’s back, was assassinated when the latter found out. The Peace of Prague was signed in 1635, when Ferdinand offered to repeal the Edict of Restitutions, only if the Germanic princes agreed to help expel the Swedes. Over in France, Cardinal Richelieu disapproved of the Peace, as he wanted to continue the war, hoping to overthrow the Habsburg dynasty and establish France as a superpower; as a result, he decided enough was enough and declared war, both on the Holy Roman Empire and on Spain, initiating the French phase (1635-1648). Also known as the international phase, this period saw the involvement not only of the French but the Scottish and Finnish. The Thirty Years’ War was truly international: Germany, Spain, Sweden, France, Denmark, and Scotland were the main forces. French commander Duc d’Enghien beat the Spanish at Rocroi in 1643; thenceforth, the Spain’s military splendor began to decline. Talk of peace began in 1644. For the first time in 200 hundred years, all the international nations met in one place to discuss peace terms. Negotiations continued for another four years, each nation changing its terms as the war progressed. Finally, in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, concluding the Thirty Years’ War.

Unknown-2.jpegIn the end, Germany got it worst, while the international forces got it best. The Habsburg dynasty lost tremendous land and lost just as much influence in Germany, surrendering most of their power to the local princes; therefore, all central power was lost, along with it the idea of unity, the nation more divided than ever. Calvinism was finally accepted as a legitimate religion, though not too many princes chose it. The decline of the Church became apparent, the war being only the beginning of its fall. Church and state were no longer one, but separate entities, neither influencing the other. It is estimated that about seven million German lives alone were lost. Edward Calamy reported in 1641, “Germany… is a place of dead men’s skulls… and a field of blood.”[1] The German’s experienced a devastating depression, as their agriculture was completely ruined. When the Imperial forces were not busy fighting the Protestants, they were busy getting drunk, massacring towns; when Gus was not busy beating the Imperial forces, he was busy touring Germany, wreaking havoc wherever he went, destroying fields, slaughtering civilians, raiding towns. In my blog about Romanticism, I mentioned that the rise of the movement was inspired by the Thirty Years’ War, particularly the intense hatred the Germans had toward the French, Europe_1648-eng_590.jpgwho invaded and ravaged their land. After the Thirty Years’ War, Germany despised France, understandably. Spain was weakened alongside Germany, and it lost its position as a superpower. France, however, became not quite as strong as England, but perhaps the strongest nation in Central Europe. The warring between France and Spain was perpetuated after the war and continued for several more years during the Fronde, out of which France came victorious. Denmark and Sweden were made independent. Sweden and France, further, could intervene in German affairs and aid princes whenever they felt it was necessary. A result of the Thirty Years’ War that I have touched on was what the Germans called Staatensystem:

Europe was understood to consist in a large number of unconnected sovereigns, free and detached atoms, or states, which acted according to their own political interests, forming and dissolving alliances, exchanging embassies and legations, alternating between war and peace, shifting position with a shifting balance of power.[2]

In the next post, I will be explaining the important battles of the Thirty Years’ War in depth.



[1] Hart-Davis, History: The Definitive Visual Guide, p. 262
[2] Palmer, A History of the Modern World 5th ed., p. 142


For further reading: Western Civilization: Paleolithic Man to the Emergence of European Power by William R. Langer (1968)
 A History of Western Society Vol. B 2nd ed. by John P. McKay (1983)
History: The Definitive Visual Guide by Adam Hart-Davis (2007)
The Western Experience 6th ed. by Mortimer Chambers (1995)
A History of the Modern World 5th ed. by R.R. Palmer (1978)
The Story of Civilization Vol. VII by Will Durant (1961)



No Man is Free Who is Not Master of Himself

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 2.22.11 PM.pngEpictetus said in one fragment, “No Man is free who is not master of himself.” A true Stoic sage, Epictetus urges us all to take control of who we are, whom we want to be, and what we want to do. What higher authority is there, he asks, that is more superior than the self? Therefore, we need not a master above us, as though we need someone to tell us what to do and how to live, but a master within us, to guide us. Freedom, or liberation, occurs not under the shackles of another, nor by the words and opinions of others, but from us—should we decide to take on our own mastery. Epictetus is saying, then, that to be liberated from obedience, we must take our own reigns and free ourselves, both from the chains of others and of ourselves.

What is Humorism?

Unknown.jpegPsychology and medicine, finding their beginnings in Greek culture, have come a long way; and since their speculative foundations, their influence has become larger, more pertinent, and more accurate than ever before, with the invention of prosthetics in the field of medicine and cognitive studies in psychology, for example. It seems as though anything is possible, as though nothing cannot be achieved. One may wonder, then, from where psychology came, from whom modern medicine developed. Small questions, like why, when someone is in a bad mood, we say they are in bad humor; or why, when someone is angry, we say they are hot-blooded, or short-tempered, never fail to come up regarding the origins of either discipline. A glance through history, to the invention of psychology, can show us the foundations of both psychology and medicine—the ancient system of humorism.

The theory of the four humors is derived from the Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles (c. 490-430 BC) who posited the existence of the four basic elements that constituted all of reality: air, fire, earth, and water. Everything in the world, he explained, was a synthesis of all four, each contributing their unique characteristics and properties to create everyday objects. For this reason, early theory in medicine was based on philosophical theory, so the two subjects were closely intermingled, the cause of many a medical error in ancient times. The man whom we ought to credit for the beginnings of modern medicine is the Unknown-4.jpegGreek physician Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC), who is most renown for the Hippocratic Oath, which is still used today. Despite the countless contributions he has made to medicine, there is difficulty when it comes to pinpointing which works he actually wrote and which works were written by either his student Polybus or perhaps even rival doctors of his. Some of his works, furthermore, seem to diverge in content, contradicting earlier theories. Central to Hippocrates’ method was a holistic approach to the body. “Hippocrates the Asclepiad says that the nature even of the body can only be understood as a whole,” remarked Plato [1]. Each part of the body was to be examined against every other part, so as to treat everything as one. He wrote of a popular principle at the time: “Certain sophists and physicians say that it is not possible for any one [sic] to know medicine who does not know what man is.”[2] Such importance placed upon the human body and its composition made the humoral theory possible, as well as the secularization of medicine itself. Apollo and Asclepius, the Gods of medicine, were thought to be the causes of disease up until Hippocrates, who, diagnosing epilepsy—once thought the work of the Gods—said it “appears… to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than any other disease, but has a natural cause from which it originates like other affectations.”[3]

The natural cause of which Hippocrates spoke was the humors. From the Latin word umor, meaning fluid, the humors were four fluids within the body, each aligning with one of the four elements of Empedocles. Hippocrates identified blood with fire, phlegm with water, black bile with earth, and yellow bile air. During the Scientific Revolution, the 16th-century physician William Harvey performed studies on the circulatory system, when he would eventually disprove Hippocrates and Galen. Acknowledging the two physicians and Aristotle (he supported the humoral theory), he wrote in his book regarding animal Unknown-2.jpeggeneration, “And thus they [the Ancients] arrived at their four humors, of which the pituita [phlegm] is held to be cold and moist; the black bile cold and dry; the yellow bile hot and dry; and the blood hot and moist.”[4] According to Hippocrates, one could tell whether the upcoming season would be one of sickness or health by analyzing the weather; if there were extreme conditions, like extreme coldness during winter or heavy rains during spring, then more diseases were to be expected, whereas normal conditions foretold of health and prosperity. Cold seasons exacerbated the cold humors, phlegm and black bile; while warm seasons exacerbated the warm humors, yellow bile and blood. Alchemist Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus (1493-1541), was a notorious physician during his time, often burning the works of Galen in public to disrespect him and his theories. Instead of the four humors, Paracelsus preferred a more alchemical approach, diagnosing based on saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness, adding a fifth property, life. In addition, he gave these elements their own properties, such as combustibility, solidness, fluidity, and vaporousness. The human body has a balance to it, what Hippocrates judged as a body’s krasis (κρασις), or mixture. A healthy body has a good mixture, eucrasia (ευκρασια), meaning it has an even amount of all four humors. Pausanias, a doctor in The Symposium, explains that,

The course of the seasons is also full of both these principles; and when, as I was saying, the elements of hot and cold, moist and dry, attain the harmonious love of one another and blend in temperance and harmony, they bring to men,… health and plenty, and do them no harm.[5]

Unknown-3.jpegWhile one should strive for an ideal balance, eucrasia, one should stay as far away as possible from dyscrasia (δυσκρασια), or bad mixture, for if it is extreme, it can result in death. Too much phlegm (mucus), warns Hippocrates, can clog the throat, choking off airflow, resulting in asphyxiation, for instance. Another Renaissance physician, shortly after Paracelsus, named Santorio Santorio (1561-1636), calculated that between the perfect balance of eucrasia and the imperfect balance of dyscrasia lie 80,000 unique diseases stemming from different combinations of humors. Determined to prove Hippocrates and Galen right, Santorio carried out extensive experiments, measuring the body’s temperature before and after diagnosis with a thermoscope, then measuring it daily thereafter, comparing each new temperature to the healthy one.

“Those diseases which medicines do not cure, iron cures; those which iron cannot cure, fire cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable,” stated Hippocrates confidently [6]. Should some poor soul suffer from dyscrasia, there were several cures with which he could proceed, and there was a cure for each type of imbalance. Hippocrates invested his faith in incisions, stating that iron, by which he means knife, is the next step up from remedies; if surgery does not work, he says one should proceed to cauterize; but if fire does not work, then one is out of luck. Other proposed cures were sweating and vomiting, which would either excrete or purge any excess humors. Of course, then there was bloodletting, the deadly, inaccurate method of making a cut in the skin and cleansing the blood. So popular was bloodletting that by the 1500’s, “[t]reatment was still based on the Hippocratic theory of humors, and bloodletting was a panacea.”[7] Virtually any disease could be cured by bloodletting—that is, until William Harvey. Besides these cleansing methods, there was an easier, more efficient way of handling humoral diseases, one which did not require knives or fire: using opposites to counteract. If there was too much blood, a doctor could counteract it with black bile, opposing the hotness and moistness of the former with the coldness and dryness of the latter; similarly, too much yellow bile could be countered with phlegm, and vice versa. Hippocrates was also famous for prescribing his patients varying diets that would in the same way counter the excess humor, usually advising the replacement of wheat with bread, of water with wine.

This raises the question, though: Why does humorism matter, why is it relevant at all, considering it is outdated and completely incorrect, and why should we be interested? As I said at the beginning, humorism was the foundation for psychology; specifically the foundation for the psychology of personality, a much-studied and much-debated area of research today. Roman physician Galen (c. 130-200) was arguably the first person to attempt a formal study of personality. A studied physician of Hippocratic writings, a learned student of Stoic logic, Galen was an empiricist at heart, emphasizing experience over speculation, what he called demonstrative knowledge (επιστημη αποδεικτικη). Neither Hippocrates nor Galen studied the interior of the human body, as the dissection of humans was taboo; thus, their findings were purely theoretical, which is rather ironic for Galen, who did cut open animals, just not humans. Galen identified two types of passions: irascible passions, those which are negative, and concupiscible, those which are positive [8]. He observed four Unknown-1.jpegtemperaments arising from the four humors. (Temperament, interestingly, translates to mixture!) In fact, “Before the invention of the clinical thermometer and even for some time afterwards, bodily ‘temperature’ was only a synonym for ‘temperament.’”[9] His theory of the four temperaments is so influential that their adjectives have carried over today: too much blood creates a sanguine character who is cheerful; too much phlegm a phlegmatic who is calm; too much yellow bile a choleric who is angry; and too much black bile a melancholic who gloomy; and for the latter two, one can say bilious. Hippocrates noticed these characteristics in his time and attested, commenting, “Those who are mad from phlegm are quiet, and do not cry nor make a sound; but those from vile are vociferous, malignant, and will not be quiet, but are always doing something improper.”[10]

One may dissent again: Why is this relevant? for it is outdated. Although Galen’s theory of the four temperaments is largely out of use [11], it has spawned interest in following Hans_Eysencks_4_Personality_Types.gifpsychologists of personality. The infamous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI (1943), can be seen as a derivative. It utilizes different traits to arrive at a certain personality. Those who wish to know their personality have to decide if they are introvert or extrovert, if they intuit or sense, think or feel, and perceive or judge. Another option, the Big Five, or Big Three (1949), identifies people based on their levels of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Big Three limits the scales to neuroticism, extraversion, and openness. Lastly, the direct descendant is psychologist Hans J. Eysenck (1916-1997), whose method of deducing personality was influenced entirely by Galen. Eysenck created a dichotomy between extraversion and introversion, neuroticism and psychoticism, recognizing several character traits reminiscent of Galen.

[1] Plato, Phaedrus, 270c
[2] Hippocrates, On Ancient Medicine, p. 13b*
[3] Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease, p. 326a
[4] Harvey, Anatomical Exercises on the Generation of Animals, p. 435b*
[5] Plato, The Symposium, 188a
[6] Hippocrates, Aphorisms, §7, 87
[7] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 5, p. 532
[8] This is a very superficial description; for a more detailed one, read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, 1.81.2,ad.1
[9] Boorstin, The Discoverers, p. 341

[10] Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease, 337a
[11] Read Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus for a modern perspective

For further reading: 
Greek Thought: A Guide to Classical Knowledge by Jacques Brunschwig (2000)
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
Anatomical Experiments on the Generation of Animals by William Harvey

An Intellectual History of Psychology by Daniel N. Robinson (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 6 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 3 by Will Durant (1972)
The Story of Civilization Vol. 5 by Will Durant (1953)
The Psychology Book by Wade E. Pickren (2014)
The Story of Psychology by Morton Hunt (1993)
The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin (1983)
On the Sacred Disease by Hippocrates
On Ancient Medicine 
by Hippocrates
On the Natural Faculties
 by Galen

Extra reading for fun: Personality Plus by Florence Littauer (1992)

*Pages referenced to Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 9, 26, by Mortimer J. Adler (1990), respectively