Greek Philosophy
600 BC ~ 300 AD

Anaxagoras | Anaximandros | Anaximenes | Antisthenes | Aristippus | Aristotle | Democritus | Diogenes | Empedocles | Epicurus | Heraclitus | Parmenides | Plato | Plotinus | Socrates | Thales | Zenos


Thales
Θαλῆς ὁ Μιλήσιος

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624 BC.
Miletus, Ionia
546 BC.
The first Greek philosopher

  • Measured the height of a pyramid in Egypt using shadows
  • Predicted solar eclipse in 585 BC
  • Believed the source of all things is water
  • Said: “all things are full of gods.”

Anaximander
Ἀναξίμανδρος

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610 BC.
Miletus, Ionia
546 BC.
The Boundless (Apeiron)

  • Student of Thales, and teacher to Anaximenes and Pythagoras (570 ~ 495 BC).
  • He believed the world was made of a mystical substance he called the boundless (in Greek, apeiron) or the limitless.
  • Since all other things (matter) decayed and whithered, the eternal substance which gave birth to this universe and many other universes could not be made of them. Instead, the "boundless" was the source of everything.
  • He discovered that rain water came from evaporation.
  • He introduced a Babylonian sundial with a gnomon (a device that measures time and other mathematical calculations) to the Greeks

Anaximenes
Ἀναξιμένης

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570 BC.
Miletus, Ionia
526 BC.
Believing "air" was the primary element.

  • Believed the source of all existence was air (or vapour). For example, he saw that when it rained, water came from air.
  • He explained all natural phenomena (rain, earthquakes, etc.) by the actions of air.
  • He believed the Earth was a flat disc floating on air.

Heraclitus
Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος

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535 BC.
Ephesus, Ionia
475 BC.
"Everything flows"

  • “No man ever steps in the same river twice,” he said. “Everything flows.”
  • He believed in “the flow,” that everything changes. Nothing remained constant.
  • He believed the world was created on the basis of opposites. For example, we only know hunger because we know what it feels like to be full. He believed God was all these opposites combined in one.
  • God is oneness. God is “Logos,” from which everything else comes. He said: “God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, hunger and satiety.”

Parmenides
Παρμενίδης ὁ Ἐλεάτης

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515 BC.
Elea, Italy (Greek colony at the time)
460 BC.
Change is Illusion

  • Founder of the Eleatic philosophy school
  • Eleatic philosophy: the universe had always existed, and always will, in the same unchanged form.
  • He believed that all things remain the same. The changes we sense are illusions. The reality was that nothing changed and never will.
  • Nothing could become anything other than what it is.
  • Transformations in nature are only illusions to our senses.

Anaxagoras
Ἀναξαγόρας

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510 BC.
Clazomenae, Ionia
428 BC.
The world is made of particles.

  • First philosopher to live in Athens
  • Everything can be divided into smaller parts.
  • In the smallest particles (which he called seeds), there is something of everything in everything.
  • What connected these particles with one another he called "mind" or "intelligence."
  • Believed all heavenly bodies were made of the same substance as the Earth (reached this conclusion by studying meteors).
  • Believed the moon reflects the light of the Earth, and that the sun was a red-hot stone (he was banished from Athens for saying that).

Empedocles
Ἐμπεδοκλῆς

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490 BC.
Sicily
430 BC.
The Four Elements

  • Resolved the contradiction between Parmenides and Heraclitus:
  • Everything is a mixture of different ratios of the four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind.
  • What connects the four elements is "love," which he defined as the force of attraction
  • The four elements themselves do not change (which is in line with Parmenides), but when the ratios in the mixtures change our eyes witness the change that Heraclitus talked about.

Socrates
Σωκράτης

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470 BC.
Athens
399 BC.
The wisest philosopher.

  • Spent his life in markets and city squares, talking with people. He didn't lecture. He discussed.
  • Unlike his predecessors, he shifted focus away from nature and onto the human mind; the person and the society he lives in.
  • He believed that knowledge can only come from within. Can't be imposed from outside. He believed he gained wisdom from a divine inner voice.
  • He's famously said: "One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing."
  • He believed that one who knows what good is, will do good. Meaning, those who do wrong do so because they don't know what is good. This is why it was important to learn more and seek truth. Doing the right thing brings us happiness.
  • He was accused of "introducing new gods" and "corrupting the youth," and sentenced to death by poison.

Democritus
Δημόκριτος

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460 BC.
Abdera, Thrace (Ancient Greece)
370 BC.
The Atomic Universe

  • Nothing really changes because everything was made of immutable and eternal atoms. The word "atom" in Greek means "un-cuttable."
  • He believed atoms come in different shapes and textures, with hooks and barbs, but that all were solid. Like lego blocks
  • When one dies, the atoms break apart and join again to form a new body
  • There was nothing other than atoms and void (no spirits or invisible forces the way we think of them). He believed souls were made of atoms too.

Antisthenes
Ἀντισθένης

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445 BC.
Athens
365 BC.
Father of the Cynics (and student of Socrates)

  • He believed that virtue can be taught, that virtue is the the most noble characteristic, and that through virtue one can attain happiness.
  • He was the father of the Cynics, philosophers who believed that happiness cannot be gained from material things. He believed he learned this from Socrates, who once said after gazing at a store: "What many things I don't need!"
  • Happiness cannot be found in material things, and unlike material things, when happiness is attained, it can never be lost, because it is not material.
  • Shouldn't worry about pain and suffering falling upon you or others, but endure.
  • He believed that there is only one "natural" God, who is beyond human comprehension or representation.

Aristippus
Ἀρίστιππος

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435 BC.
Cyrene, Ancient Libya
356 BC.
Precursor to Epicurus and student of Socrates.

  • "The highest good is pleasure. The greatest evil is pain."
  • He believed the aim of life is to seek pleasure to the maximum.
  • Seeking happiness was done through mastering every situation, instead of allowing yourself to be a victim of the situation.
  • He was accused by Plato and Aristotle to be a sophist (because he accepted money for his teaching).

Plato
Πλάτων

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425 BC.
Athens
347 BC.
The Academy and The Republic

  • Student of Socrates and founder of "the Academy," named after the groves where he built it: the Groves of Academus, where Academus was buried, and where Plato used to teach.
  • Theory of Ideas: behind all material things (which flow), there is an immutable and intangible form. He called these perfect eternal moulds that made everything we see as "ideas." So behind the horse, there is the idea of a horse.
  • Since the material world was in flow (it will eventually die or dissolve), our senses cannot be trusted to gain eternal knowledge. Our reason, however, was able to access the real world (the world of ideas) which is behind the material world; the world of the senses.
  • He believed the soul, which was "reason," was eternal because it could recognize the eternal and immutable things in the world of ideas. The soul exists before it enters the human body, and when it enters, it loses memory of everything in the world of ideas. But the world of the senses helps it remember.
  • The immortal soul yearns to return to the world of ideas, and be freed from the body.
  • He believed men and women had equal souls (equal intelligence).
  • Gave a full description of his vision of Utopia in The Republic (a dialogue between Socrates and others), in which a caste system is in place for the benefit of all, and that society must be led by a philosopher king.

Diogenes
Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς

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412 BC.
Sinope, Ionia
323 BC.
Living in a barrel

  • Alexander the Great is said to have asked Diogenes, while he was sitting down next to his barrel enjoying the sun light: "is there anything you want? I will make it come true." Diogenes replied: "Yes, move a step aside. You are blocking the sun."
  • Like Antisthenes, he believed that virtue is the greatest characteristic to achieve in life, and that it is virtue through action that counts.
  • He taught many great philosophers, including Zeno, who later became the founder of the Stoic philosophy.
  • When asked where he was from, he would say "I am a citizen of the world," in Greek: cosmopolitan.
  • Plato described him as "a Socrates gone mad."
  • He believed human beings lived artificially and hypocritically, and that they should learn life from a dog, which Diogenes believed to be more virtuous. The word "cynic" comes from the Greek word "dog-like."

Aristotle
Ἀριστοτέλης

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384 BC.
Athens (originally from Macedonia)
322 BC.
Plato's student; founder of Logic

  • Organized and divided knowledge areas
  • Reversed Plato's "theory of ideas." Aristotle believed the "world of the senses" was the real world. The world of ideas was born out of our innate ability to reason and imagine, but only after we have perceived the real world with our senses.
  • Everything is made of "substance" and "form." But unlike Plato, it was the substance that was real. The form was only in our heads; the way we classify things into species.
  • Substance has potential to come in many (yet limited number of) forms. Change in nature occurs from the potential to the actual.
  • He believed that there are four types of causality for everything: material cause (causality as we know it today), efficient cause (things happen because it is the most efficient way for them to happen in that particular way), formal cause (something acts in a way because of its form), and final cause (the purpose of the thing that happens).
  • He founded Logic; syllogisms (e.g. if A = B and B = C, then A = C).
  • He differentiated between living and non-living things by stating that only living things have the potential to change from within.
  • He believed in God, the "first mover."
  • On happiness: Man can only find true happiness by achieving all three kinds of happiness: (1) pleasure and enjoyment, (2) living as a free and responsible citizen, and (3) living as a thinker and philosopher.
  • Ethics: A harmonious life can only be achieved through balance: not too much, not too little, but in between.
  • Women: are incomplete, because they are passive, whereas men are active. A man sows his seed (and in his seed is the complete form of the human being). A woman was the field which gave substance to the form provided by man.
  • When the torch of philosophy and science is passed to the Arabs and Persians, during the Islamic Golden Age (700 ~ 1250 AD), Aristotilian philosophy is revived and considered supreme, and Aristotle becomes known simply as The Philosopher.

Epicurus
Ἐπίκουρος

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341 BC.
Athens
270 BC.
Father of Epicureanism

  • The purpose of philosophy is to attain happiness and tranquility (ataraxia).
  • He is the founder of the Epicurean school, known as "the Garden" because it was located in a garden. It was the first philosophy school to allow women
  • He believed that when pain is successfully avoided, we no longer need pleasure. The soul reaches ataraxia (tranquility).
  • Unlike the Stoics, he believed a happy life avoids getting involved in politics. He advocated a "life of obscurity."
  • There is no after life. When we die, both soul and body die.
  • He believed in gods, but that they don't involve themselves in human affairs (no reward or punishment). His proof was known later as the Epicurean Paradox: If God is willing to prevent evil but not able, then he's not omnipotent. If he's able but not willing, then he's malevolent. If he's both able and willing, then why is there evil? And if he's neither able nor willing, why call him God?
  • His philosophy led to medical therapies (physical and mental) and treatments that involved massages and diets.

Zeno
Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς

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334 BC.
Citium, Cyprus
262 BC.
Student of Socrates and father of the Stoics.

  • Zeno was a Phoenician (Canaanite)
  • He first joined the Cynics. His followers used to gather under a portico (in Greek: stoa, and hence: Stoics), which is basically a porch with a roof and columns.
  • He divided philosophy into three parts: logic, physics, and ethics.
  • The four stages to true knowledge: perception (open hand with fingers straight), assent (slightly bending fingers), comprehension (a fist), knowledge (hand wrapped around the fist).
  • God is the universe (the Logos). The primary substance is fire; an "artistic" fire, because creation is the work of art. He agreed with Heraclitus that the universe was in flow: goes through the cycle of creation and destruction (constant change).
  • Like Socrates, he believed in natural law (universal rightness that held true regardless of time and place). Stoics were political and concerned with social issues.
  • He believed in fate, and that the only way to achieve happiness (which was the aim of life) was when one's "reason" matches the universal reason "Logos."
  • Cicero (106 ~ 43 BC), Seneca (4 BC ~ 65 AD), and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 ~ 180 AD) were Stoics.

Plotinus
Πλωτῖνος

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205 AD.
Lycopolis, Egypt
270 AD.
The Father of Neo-Platonism

  • Studied philosophy in Alexandria then moved to Rome, bringing with him a competitive theology to Christianity, which only ended up becoming part of Christian thought.
  • Darkness does not exist. It is merely the absence of light, the source of which is "the One," God. Everything is one; everything is God.
  • The immortal soul is illuminated by the light from the One. Matter is the darkness that has no real existence.
  • He believed that his soul experienced merging with God through mysticism.
  • Had a great influence on Islamic philosophy, that the Fatimid dynasty (909 ~ 1171 AD) based in Egypt adopted his views.
  • St. Augustine of Hippo (354 ~ 430 AD), who built upon Plotinus's philosophy, is recognized as an important philosopher in Europe who helped shape Christian theology and philosophy for centuries to come, until St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 ~ 1274 AD) showed up to the scene.

Oday Baddar
Main Source: Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World