Greek Philosophers

Greek Philosophers By the term Ancient Greek philosophers, we include all of the philosophers and thinkers of Ancient Greece starting from the 6th century BC through the Hellenistic period and up to the point when the Greek Empire fell under Roman hands.

Ancient Greek philosophers are divided in two main categories: pre – Socratic philosophers and Classical Greek philosophers. Pre – Socratic philosophers, as the name suggests, lived before Socrates or were contemporary with Socrates but were not influenced by him. The term was popularized after Hermann Diels 1903 work “Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker” (The Fragments of the Pre – Socratics), although the term had been in use as early as 1865. The pre – Socratic philosophers were mainly concerned with investigating the basis and essence of the external world, searching for the principle of things and the way they appear and disappear. They were based in rationalizing everything, rejecting any mythological cosmogony. The original texts of pre – Socratic philosophers have only survived in fragments, while other important sources include later accounts by Aristotle, Plutarch and others.

The first pre – Socratic philosophers were from Miletus in Asia Minor. A characteristic example is Thales, one of the Seven Wise Men of Ancient Greece and the father of Greek philosophy; he believed that water is the source of all things. He was later followed by Anaximander and Anaximenes, both of whom made significant contributions to philosophy. When Pythagoras of Samos appeared during the 6th century BC, philosophy made a huge leap, and his doctrines were hugely disseminated all the way to south Italy in the town of Croton. Heraclitus of Ephesus was also another important representative of this category, believing that fire, one of the four classical elements, is the origin and the end of everything.

Classical Greek philosophy is marked by the appearance of Socrates in 5th century Athens. The city was a centre of knowledge and, thanks to Pericles’ guidance, it entered its Golden Age during this period. Socrates, according to Cicero, was the first philosopher who linked philosophy to everyday life, examining morality and good versus evil; he may therefore be considered the founder of political philosophy. He heavily influenced all later philosophers, such as Plato. Plato was also an Athenian, known for his Dialogues, in which he used Socrates as his main interlocutor. He is the main source of information about Socrates’ life. Plato’s dialogues also have to do with metaphysical themes, such as his famous theory of forms. Plato’s student, Aristotle, was born in Stageira but later moved to Athens, enrolling in Plato’s Academy. He was interested in a multitude of subjects, studying botany, zoology, logic, physics, metaphysics, ethics, politics, poetry and many more.

During the Hellenistic years, a number of different philosophical schools were developed and contributed to the beliefs and thinking of the period. Such schools included Neoplatonism, Cynicism, Stoicism and Epicureanism. However, the spread of Christianity in the Roman world soon meant the end of Greek philosophy and the transition to Medieval philosophy, influenced by Jewish, Christian and early Islamic philosophy.

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