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Rational Thinking

Developing the view that people must give reasons to explain what they believe to be true, rather than just make assertions that they expect others to believe without evidence, was the most important achievement of the early Ionian thinkers. Along with the invention of democracy based on citizenship, their achievement gave real distinction to the Greek Archaic Age. The insistence of the Ionian thinkers on rationality, coupled with the belief that the world could be understood as something other than the plaything of divine whim, gave human beings hope that they could improve their lives through their own efforts. As Xenophanes1 from Colophon2 (c. 580 - 480 B.C.), put it, “The gods have not revealed all things from the beginning to mortals, but, by seeking, human beings find out, in time, what is better.” Xenophanes, like other Ionian thinkers, believed in the existence of gods, but he nevertheless assigned the opportunity and the responsibility for improving human life squarely to human beings themselves. Human beings themselves were to “find what is better.”

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