The First Philosophers:
Studies in Ancient Greek Society

(Contents & Prefaces)

by George Thomson

Chapter I. Speech and Thought
1. Man and the Animals 21
2. Hand and Brain 24
3. Consciousness 26


5. The Sentence 35
Chapter II. Tribal Cosmology
1. Natural and Social Relations 42
2. Magic and Myth 45
3. The Tribal Order and the Natural Order 49
4. Amerindian Cosmogonies 52
Chapter III. China
1. Greece and China 61
2. The Great Society 63
3. Natural Philosophy 68
Chapter IV. The Near East
1. Agriculture 71
2. The Egyptian Kingship 74
3. The Mesopotamian Kingship 79
4. The Babylonian New Year 86
5. The Primeval Pair 89
6. The Function of the Kingship 91
7. The Hebrew Prophets 95
Chapter V. The Greek Calendar
1. Syria and Crete 105
2. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian Calendars 109
3 . The Greek Calendar: its Ultimate Origin 111
4. The Greek Calendar: its Immediate Origin 114
5. Intercalation 117
6. The Farmer's Almanac 125
7. The Octennium and the Kingship 127
Chapter VI. The Kadmeioi
1. The Origins of Greek Rhetoric 131
2. The Thelidai 135
3. Prehistoric Boeotia 137
Chapter VII. The Greek Theogony
1. The Evidence 140
2. The Birth of the Gods 141
3. Strife between the Gods 143
4. The King of the Gods 145
5. The Hesiodic Cosmogony 148
6. The Separation of Society and Nature 153
Chapter VIII. The Milesian School
1. Ionian Cosmology 156
2. Thales and Anaximander 158
3. Anaximenes 164
4. Burnet and Cornford 165
Chapter IX. The Economic Basis
1. Commodity Production 175
2. Basis and Superstructure in the Bronze Age 179
3. The Phoenicians 181
4. The Growth of Greek Trade 189
5. The Coinage 194
6. Slavery 196
7. The Individual 205
Chapter X. The Democratic Revolution
1. Ancient Democracy 208
2. Oligarchy 210
3. Tyranny 216
4. The Revolution of Kleisthenes 223
Chapter XI. Democratic Ideology
1. Social Justice 228
2. Moira and Metron 231
3. Orphism 234
4. The Origin of Dualism 240
Chapter XII. Number
1. The Pythagoreans of Kroton 249
2. Pythagorean Religion 254
3. Theory of Number 258
4. The Mean 264
Chapter XIII. Becoming
1. Herakleitos: his Political Position 271
2. Herakleitos: and the Mysteries 273
3. The Logos 275
4. Objective Dialectics 280
5. Tragedy 282
Chapter XIV. Being
1. The Eleatic School 288
2. Parmenides and the Mysteries 289
3. The One 291
4. The Second Isaiah 295
5. Parmenides and Herakleitos 297
6. Ideology and Money 299
Chapter XV. Materialism and Idealism
1. Philosophy and Science 302
2. The Atomic Theory 308
3. Subjective Dialectics 314
4. The Battle of Gods and Giants 321
5. The End of Natural Philosophy 328
Chapter XVI. False Consciousness
1. Theory and Practice 336
2. The Illusion of the Epoch 342
I. Egypt 75
II. Mesopotamia 81
III. The Middle East 97
IV. Syria and Palestine 99
V. The Western Mediterranean 185
VI. The Northern Aegean 199
VII. The Southern Aegean 203
VIII. Southern Greece 212
IX. Attica and Boeotia 217
X. Southern Italy and Sicily 250


THIS second volume follows the same plan as the first. It is a further expansion of Aeschylus and Athens, dealing with the growth of slavery and the origin of science.

I have not attempted a systematic study of slavery. That is a task for collective research based on all the material now available. It becomes increasingly clear that such a study will never be undertaken by bourgeois scholars, whose acquiescence in colonial oppression renders them incapable of understanding the degradation either of the slave or still more of the slave-owner. I hope, however, that enough has been said to show that Greek civilisation cannot be understood without it.

Nor have I investigated the technical origins of Greek science. That too is a matter for specialists. My aim has been to examine the ideas underlying the work of the natural philosophers, which forms a link between primitive thought and scientific knowledge. When studying the economic basis of tragedy, with the results given in Aeschylus and Athens, I realised that my conclusions must apply equally to other ideological products of ancient democracy. Accordingly, in the present volume, I have examined the part played by commodity production and the circulation of money in the growth of Greek philosophy.

In this I am greatly indebted to Dr. Alfred Sohn‑Rethel, whose study of Kant had led him independently to similar conclusions, to he published in his Intellectual and Manual Labour. Not only has he permitted me to read his book in manuscript, but in discussing my own he has helped me to appreciate the profound philosophical importance of the opening chapters of Capital.

The chapter on China is a tentative approach to a comparative study of Greek and Chinese philosophy, which I hope to pursue in the third volume. I had intended to say something also about Indian philosophy, but was deterred by the chronological difficulties of Indian history. It is to be expected that, with the spread of Marxism in India, these problems will be solved.

My thanks are due to Professor Benjamin Farrington and Mr. Maurice Cornforth for their criticisms, and also to my colleagues in the Department of Classical Philology at the Charles University, Prague, to whom, after participating with them in many long and lively discussions, I owe more than I can say.

Birmingham, January 1955 GEORGE THOMSON


THIS book has been widely discussed among Marxists, some of whom are not yet convinced of its main thesis, concerning the role of commodity production. Whatever the final conclusion may be on this and other disputed questions, the book has, I believe, drawn attention to the need for a less dogmatic, more dialectical approach to the history of philosophy.

In bourgeois circles, where new ideas are not so welcome, its influence has been less apparent. It seems that most university teachers either ignore it or (less prudently) denounce it; but this has not saved the library copies available to students from becoming dog‑eared. Moreover, in recent discussions on slavery some of the ideas put forward in Chapter IX have been reproduced, albeit without acknowledgement. The preceding volume has been treated in the same way, especially the chapters on Homer. I take this as a compliment.

This edition includes a number of additions and corrections, which have already been incorporated in the Czech, Russian, Spanish and German editions, but not the Japanese.

Birmingham, 1961 GEORGE THOMSON

SOURCE: Thomson, George. The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. (First published 1955, 2nd ed. 1961, reprinted with corrections, 1972.) Contents, pp. 9-12; prefaces, pp. 7-8.

The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society: Chapter XIV: Being (§5 & 6) by George Thomson

The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society: Chapter XV: Materialism and Idealism by George Thomson

The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society: Chapter XVI: False Consciousness by George Thomson

Intellectual and Manual Labor: Contents by Alfred Sohn-Rethel

The Thunderbolt, Interpenetration and Heraclitus by David H. DeGrood

Book Review, Rudolf Wolfgang Müller, Geld und Geist
by Pasi Falk

Geoffrey Clark reviews Heads or Tails: The Poetics of Money by Jochen Hörisch

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

Literature, Race, & Money: Selected Bibliography

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