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The basic unit of politics in Ancient Greece was the polis, sometimes translated as city-state. "Politics" literally means "the things of the polis". Each city was independent, at least in theory. Some cities might be subordinate to others (a colony traditionally deferred to its mother city), some might have had governments wholly dependent upon others (the Thirty Tyrants in Athens was imposed by Sparta following the Peloponnesian War), but the titularly supreme power in each city was located within that city. This meant that when Greece went to war (e.g., against the Persian Empire), it took the form of an alliance going to war. It also gave ample opportunity for wars within Greece between different cities.
Two major wars shaped the Classical Greek world. The Persian Wars (500–448 BC) are recounted in Herodotus's Histories. Ionian Greek cities revolted from the Persian Empire and were supported by some of the mainland cities, eventually led by Athens. The notable battles of this war include Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea.)
To prosecute the war and then to defend Greece from further Persian attack, Athens founded the Delian League in 477 BC. Initially, each city in the League would contribute ships and soldiers to a common army, but in time Athens allowed (and then compelled) the smaller cities to contribute funds so that it could supply their quota of ships. Secession from the League could be punished. Following military reversals against the Persians, the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens, further strengthening the latter's control over the League. The Delian League was eventually referred to pejoratively as the Athenian Empire.
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Contemporary academic studies of the term further characterize its usage in philosophical discourses. In "Aporetics: Rational Deliberation in the Face of Inconsistency" (2009), Nicholas Rescher is concerned with the methods in which an aporia, or “apory,” is intellectually processed and resolved. In the Preface, Rescher identifies the work as an attempt to “synthesize and systematize an aporetic procedure for dealing with information overload (of ‘cognitive dissonance,’ as it is sometimes called)” (ix). The text is also useful in that it provides a more precise (although specialized) definition of the concept: “any cognitive situation in which the threat of inconsistency confronts us” (1). Rescher further introduces his specific study of the apory by qualifying the term as “a group of individually plausible but collectively incompatible theses,” a designation he illustrates with the following syllogism or “cluster of contentions”:
1. What the sight of our eyes tells us is to be believed.
2. Sight tells us the stick is bent.
3. What the touch of our hand tells us is to be believed.
4. Touch tells us the stick is straight. (2)
The aporia, or “apory” of this syllogism lies in the fact that, while each of these assertions are individually conceivable, together, they are inconsistent or impossible. Rescher’s study is indicative of the continuing presence of scholarly examinations of the concept of aporia and, furthermore, of the continuing attempts of scholars to translate the word, to describe its modern meaning.
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