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Greek Philosophy Essay Research Paper Greek PhilosophyPhilosophy

Greek Philosophy Essay, Research Paper

Greek Philosophy

Philosophy, the use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality. Throughout history man has searched for the origins of his existence, both on an outward and inward level, seeking truth and understanding of his world. The first culture to actively explore this idea of philosophy was the Greeks. Because their civilization placed less emphasis on religion and the masses didn’t have to constantly answer to religious figures man had time to explore other things. Not only did Greek philosophy play an important role in Greek society, but it’s voice and influence has and will continue to reverberate throughout the ages.

Modern philosophy has it’s roots in a small city called Miletus, which was controlled by Greece but was not part of Greece proper, in fact it was on the western coast of Asia Minor. The first philosopher was known as Thales and he was from Miletus. The period that he began was known as the Presocratic period and it lasted from c.600 to c.400 BC. Philosophy, at that time, was still part of the other sciences. The main goal at this time was to achieve a rational understanding of the external world of nature, because of this is sometimes known as “natural philosophy.” This is not what we know of philosophy today “Instead, philosophers searched for the basic substances from which all known objects were made up and for the processes which transformed these substances into the great variety of things around today. Yet all of these early philosophers explored the mystery of the cosmos rather than the problems of human existence” (Breisach, pg 9)

Miletus produced many of the first philosophers, including Anaximanter and Leucippus, the founder of Atomism. The fundamentals of Atomism is that everything in the universe was either composed of atoms or was the void (the space between atoms.) The opposing view was that of the Eleatic school, who argued that reality was one whole, motionless, uncreated and limited and that not being was impossible.

One of the most important thinkers of the time and of history was Pythagorus, who not only was a philosopher but a mathematician and a poet. He was born at Samos, an island off the coast of Ionia. He spent most of his life at Crotan, in Southern Italy, where he eventually founded the brotherhood of thinkers. He was very secretive and left very little writings, most of what he said was documented by his followers. He believed that the soul was immortal and that once it’s body died it moved on to another sort of living creature. He believed that nothing was absolutely new and that all animate things were akin. He was also a vegetarian because if you killed an animal he believed that you could be killing a dead relative or a close departed friend. He also believed that numbers were the principles of all things. Another thing he came up with was the Pythagorean theorem, a way to determine the hypotenuse or diagonal of squares.

Socrates is often considered to be the father of modern philosophy. He wasn’t interested in the course that philosophy was taking and he decided rather to investigate human nature. He was the first philosopher to live in Athens where he often held public debates with the Sophists. His chief form of philosophical reasoning was elenchus, which was the questioning of common beliefs in order to establish truths and reveal inconsistences. The oracle at Delphi once declared that no man living was wiser than Socrates. He met his demise at the hands of Greek courts on the grounds that he tainted youth and because he refused to leave Athens he was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock.

The next in a long tradition of great philosophers was Plato. He was born a nobleman and throughout his life he had planned to be a politician or a lawyer. But, one day he joined the sophists to improve his public speaking, which is where he first encountered Socrates. He was immediately enchanted with philosophy and became his student. He believed that there was a realm of perfect forms, of which the ever- changing world of material objects is an imitation.

Aristotle was Plato’s pupil from the age of 18 when he enrolled at Plato’s academy. After he left school he was invited to Macedonia to tutor the boy that would be Alexander the Great. He suggested that philosophy was the primary science because it dealt with being.

Greek philosophy has and will continue to affect us. Providing uncanny views into our being. This has helped man understand himself so he can try to understand other things. The voice of Pythagorus rings out when we measure a right triangle, as well as when Socrates is credited by modern day thinkers.


Selected Bibliography

Breisach, Earnst. Historiography Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983

Collinson, Diane. 50 Major Philosophers A Reference Guide. London: Routledge, 1987

Hamlyn, D.W. A History of Western Philosophy. New York: Viking, 1987

Honderich, Todd, et al., eds. Studies In Presocratic Philosophy. Vol 2. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Hamilton Press, 1975.

Luce, J.V. An Introduction to Greek Philosophy. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992.

McGreal, Ian P.. Great Thinkers of the Western World. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Starr, Chester. A History of the Ancient World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965