Who were the great ancient Greek philosophers and how have they shaped education today?
What is philosophy in ancient Greece?
Ancient Greek philosophy analyzed and theorized several ideas such as moral and ethical issues, and human nature.
The Ancient Greeks are famous for their contributions to philosophy and culture. Socrates, one of the most well-known Greek philosophers, was a major contributor to early philosophical thoughts around morality, knowledge, and justice.
But it's been said he didn't even come close to understanding the full scope of philosophy in Ancient Greece! There were many other brilliant minds that shaped this era with their philosophical thinking and approaches.
Greek politics and democracy during this period had a major influence on philosophies of the time. Ancient Greek thinkers debated over questions of justice, virtue, knowledge, and truth. They also developed ideas governing governments and social relationships, as well as theories of human nature influencing our modern thinkers today. These debates laid important philosophical foundations for Greece and beyond, helping shape both politics and philosophy in Ancient Greece for generations to come.
In this article we'll discuss some of the key players and themes in Ancient Greece that shaped our world today. I'll dive into the history of how these ideas originated and evolved over time and explore how they've made an impact on modern societies.
The philosophers of Ancient Greece have been classified into the following groups.
The Pre-Socratics (6th and 5th century BCE)
These are the Greek thinkers of ancient Greek philosophy who established original and independent schools of thought from 585 BCE (the period of Thales of Miletus) to 470/469-399 BCE (Socrates).
The Pre-Socratic philosophers denied old mythical explanations for the phenomena around them and favoured more logical explanations. They began asking questions like, how can human nature be described mathematically, why is there such variety, and where did everything come from?
The Sophists were a group of teachers and intellectuals in Ancient Greece who taught rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy. They believed that knowledge was relative and subjective, rather than absolute. This led to the development of their own philosophical system which focused on the practical application of knowledge.
The Sophists argued that there is no absolute truth or morality, but instead that each individual should pursue their own interests and goals.
In terms of antiquity, presocratic philosophers are recognized as the first scientists and followers of western philosophy traditions.
In ancient Greek philosophy they largely analyzed natural phenomena and thought that humans are created from just a single substance which could be air, water, or an infinite substance known as “Apeiron.” Pythagoras was one of the most popular philosophers and mathematicians of this group, who developed the Pythagorean Theorem.
Milesian philosophy (6th Century B.C)
Milesian school of thought is referred to as a group of philosophers from the late 7th BCE to the early 5th century BCE. Three of the most considerable Milesian philosophers include Anaximenes, Anaximander, and Thales, whose philosophy was largely concerned with the nature of change and matter.
The most significant work of the Milesians in ancient Greek philosophy was the introduction of the concept of the fundamental stuff. They were all largely interested in cosmology and the substance and origin of the world. They believed the world is created by a fundamental element referred to as an arche. Thales was one of the most powerful Greek philosophers. Thales established the Milesian School of thought, and his followers eventually taught students such as Pythagoras.
Xenophanes of Colophon (560 - 478 B.C)
Xenophanes of Colophon was a philosophical-minded Greek rhapsode and poet. He was a known precursor and religious scholar of the Eleatic school of philosophy, who paid more attention to unity than diversity and regarded the individual of material things as apparent instead of real.
According to ancient Greek philosophy research, Xenophanes was the earliest Greek thinker who offered a complex and at a minimum partially systematic description of the divine nature.
Pythagoreanism (570 – 490 BCE)
It is the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras's philosophy. Pythagoreanism is characterized by a highly methodical way of human life that gave way to the doctrine of metempsychosis (after death soul's transmigration into a new body).
Pythagoras theorized that everything in this universe is regulated by the rules of mathematics and deemed the discipline as the basic model of philosophy.
Heraclitus (535 – 475 BC)
In ancient Greek philosophy, Herakleitos or Heraclitus of Ephesus is known for his cosmology, where fire shapes the fundamental material principle of a systematic universe. He was associated with the concept that change is the only constant in human life.
His writings are only found in fragments. In one of his writings, he says that nothing stays still everything continues to change and it is not possible to step twice into one stream.
Parmenides and Zeno
In ancient Greek philosophy, Parmenides is known as the founder of the School of Elea, which also included Melissus of Samos and Zeno of Elea. About his political life in Elea, it is told that he wrote the city's laws. His most important student was Zeno of Elea. According to Plato, Zeno was 25 years younger eromenos of Parmenides.
Zeno of Elea (465 BCE) was a Greek philosopher of the Eleatic School of ancient Greek philosophy and a student of the elder philosopher Parmenides ( 485 BCE) whose work influenced the philosophy of Socrates.
Socrates (470 –399 B.C.E.)
Aristotle, Plato & Socrates were the most prominent educational philosophers of this era. These three philosophers are the most widely known of all ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates is well-known for his asking thought-provoking questions and teaching strategies.
Rather than using usual ways to teach his learners, he challenged their underlying assumptions by asking them complex questions, which is a technique still preferred by the present-day law schools. Socrates contends that he is willing to master the courtesan skills so he could attract juniors to accompany his life of philosophy.
He thought that learning was the absolute good and that seeking knowledge was essential to leading a virtuous life. Socrates contended that both evil and good are absolute and knowledge is the only way to learn the difference between the two.
Socrates believed that ignorance is absolute evil. Socrates did not write much about his public life; hence, most of the things we know about him have been told by his student Plato.
Plato (428/427–348/347 B.C.E.)
In ancient Greek philosophy Plato is known for researching justice, virtue, ethics, and other concepts about human behaviour. Plato described the ideal city as one based on virtuous life and justice.
His studies on mathematics, politics and philosophy were very persuasive and laid the basis for Euclid's systematic technique of mathematics. Taking Socrates as a model, Plato became an instructor too and founded an academy in Athens and inspired the next extraordinary Greek philosopher, Aristotle's work.
Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.)
Aristotle studied ethics, as well as other subjects such as astronomy, biology, and physics. Aristotle is frequently credited with developing the basis for modern-day zoology and the study of logic.
Aristotle's ideal city is one with happiness, rather than war, and its customs, laws and education correspond to achieving that aim. Aristotle was also anxious about the primary purpose of things and how people can have a good life.
According to Aristotle, when individuals identify their positive traits, they must use them to seek virtue and attain their potential. According to Aristotle, this may give people happiness and allow them to lead a “good” life.
Post-Socratic (6th - 5th century BCE)
The Post-Socratic ancient Greek philosophers established 4 schools of philosophy:
- Epicureanism, and
The Post-Socratic ancient Greek philosophers remained focused on the individual as compared to societal issues like the nature of Greek politics. For instance, in ancient philosophy main purpose of stoicism is to understand and acquire a specific way of a virtuous life.
Sextus Empiricus was a prominent supporter of an ancient tradition of thinking referred to as scepticism. He was not so extreme sceptic as to reject the possibility of knowledge (which was done by some sceptics).
Sextus Empiricus believed that each judgement must be cancelled, therefore allowing any information can eventually be declined.
Nowadays, teachers of Modern philosophy use the patterns of exploration and thinking founded by the ancient philosophers of Greece such as participating in debate to better communicate philosophical concepts.
Greek philosophers were lovers and seekers of knowledge. They examined their surrounding world through reason and logic. Many people feel that philosophy is close to religion and life, but the great philosophers of the Greek city were scientists too.
They also studied physics and mathematics. Most of them taught the children of wealthy families. Some of them opened their academies or schools. The basic ideas put forward by the brilliant ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, still impact people's understanding of their surrounding world.
These great scholars used logic and reason to unfold the facts of the cosmos. They also examined the delicacies of people's private and public life.