Famous Greek philosophers

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Achievements, which made Greece the teacher of whole Europe and then the world, are rich and varied. However there’s one crucial theme emerging from them - growing confidence in rational and aware investigation. If civilization means progress in the direction of letting the reason to control human mind and natural surrounding of the men, then the Greeks went a much longer way in this direction than their predecessors. Their philosophical investigations constituted an element of one of the most important intuition of all times. The Greeks believed that it’s possible to find a consistent and logical explanation of phenomenons. That the world isn’t based on pointless will of gods or demons.

The postulate of rational thinking was one of the biggest achievements in the Greek civilisation.

Thales of Miletus (circa 620 - 540 BC)

He was a Greek philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. He was counted as one of the seven wise men of ancient Greece. He’s considered as the father of Greek mathematics and also the first European scientist and philosopher. There are many geometry theorems attributed to Thales, including the one called today Thales’ theorem. He’s considered as the creator of the Ionian School and as the one who started systematic development of geometric terms and theorems. Philosophical views attributed to Thales are mainly: wording the problem of the principle - the first philosophical assumption, water as a principle, a statement that “the world is full of gods”, calling a soul “a principle of movement” and belief in immortality of the soul.

Pythagoras (circa 582 - 507 BC)

Mathematician and philosopher, born on Island Samos. He was a founder of a famous religious-philosophical school in Croton in Italy. It’s assumed that he started using systematic proofs of geometric theorems. He’s also given credit for introducing the term “similarity of geometrical figures”, a proof of a well-know theorem about right-angled triangles, discovery of irrational numbers and many other achievements.

Heraclitus of Ephesus (circa 540 - 480 BC)

He was called a dark philosopher. According to Heraclitus the reality is all about ever-present change, which is just a constant conflict of opposites.

Heraclitus considered fire as the foundation of the Universe. Fire lives the death of what it burns. The most famous examples of his theory are the sayings “no man stands in the same river twice” and “panta rhei” - “everything flows”. Heraclitus paid a bigger attention to human being. He criticised sensual learning and glorified the mind. He believed that the rational leads not only the man but also the Universe in general.

Epicurus (circa 341 - 270 BC)

A Greek philosopher and a creator of Epicureanism. He was one of the most important philosophers of so called second wave of Greek classical philosophy, in which central problems were considerations about how to achieve real happiness.

Not much is known about Epicurus’ life, because none of his 40 works has remained. The main source of knowledge about Epicurus and his views are works of Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius.

It’s known for sure that he founded philosophical schools in Mytilene and Lampsacus. And in Athens he founded a school called “The Garden”. He gathered a group of similarly thinking philosophers, who started Epicureanism. Its key questions were how to achieve happiness in worldly life and how to live to be happy. Concepts of Epicureanism have influenced philosophers over the centuries. Epicureanism was competing with Stoicism up until the development of christianity.

Socrates (circa 469 - 399 BC)

One of the biggest Greek philosophers. He lived in Athens, where he taught by conducting disputes with occasional passerbys on the streets of the city. This brought him both popularity and hostility. He was sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock, as he was found guilty of impiety and corrupting the minds of the youth.

Traditionally it is assumed that among original ideas of Socrates, which were later adapted by his students, are: belief in the absolute meaning of terms “good” and “virtue”, identity of good and knowledge and creation of educational system called dialectic. Socrates is also the creator of induction method.

Plato (circa 427 - 347 BC)

One of the biggest thinkers of all times. Biographer of Socrates and his most outstanding student. The Founder of the famous Platonic Academy, which lasted about 1000 years.

Plato recognised dualism of the world: the one of ideas, inaccessible to senses, and the material one. The world of ideas is according to Plato the only true one. The rest is fleshly, fleeting and transient. That’s why he was most interested in the human soul as a perfect, imperishable factor, which lasts after death. Before birth a soul spends time in the world of ideas and learns what’s good. The role of a teacher isn’t giving instructions but helping in getting into that knowledge by questions and reflection. Plato is also the author of the concept of a perfect state ruled by philosophers, driven by the ideas of good, truth and beauty. According to him philosophers are on the top of a social ladder because they’ve got a virtue of wisdom. Rest of citizens have their positions in the state accordingly to their achieved perfection. The state is just, when each person cares about their duties, is utterly subordinate to the authority of philosophers-rulers and the state policy serves moral goals. The state should decide about each aspect of its citizens’ lives. Plato’s idea of a perfect state has never been accomplished.

Plato’s philosophy, especially his teaching about a soul and invisible world of ideas had a strong influence on christianity.

Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

For 20 years Aristotle was a student of Plato in his Academy in Athens and earlier Plato was a student of Socrates. In this way Aristotle could extend philosophical effort of his masters, at the same time separating from platonism. In Athens he founded Lyceum were people could study all current disciplines.

Activities of Lyceum reflected Aristotle’s mind. He was a realistic philosopher, who was interested in everything what is said and what is done. His works expands in five main directions:
logic, based on analysis of language in order to learn about the world of ideas, natural philosophy,
metaphysics, in other words “study about being as being”, ethics and politics researching human attracted by the good in friendship and contemplation and cooperating with other people in the state,
poetics and rhetorics concerning a human expressing himself in literary creativity and in speech aiming to convince listeners.

List of famous Greek philosophers

pre-Socratic

Thales of Miletus (6th century BC, first half)

Anaximander of Miletus (6th century BC, first half)

Anaximenes of Miletus (6th century BC, second half)

Xenophanes of Colophon (6th century BC, second half)

Pythagoras of Samos (6th century BC, second half)

Parmenides of Elea (5th century BC, first half)

Heraclitus of Ephesus (5th century BC, first half)

Empedocles of Akragas (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Leucippus (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Democritus (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Zeno of Elea (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Hippasus of Metapontum (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Sophists

Protagoras of Abdera (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Gorgias of Leontini (5th century BC, middle of the century)

Thrasymachus of Chalcedon (5th century BC, second half)

Classical period

Socrates (circa 469-399 BC)

Plato (circa 427-347 BC)

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Hellenistic period

Stoics

Zeno of Citium (circa 335-264 BC)

Cleanthes (331-251 BC)

Chrysippus (circa 281-205 BC)

Epicureans

Epicurus (circa 341-270 BC)

Skeptics

Pyrrho of Elis (circa 365-275 BC)

Sextus Empiricus (3rd century, first half)

Translated from our Polish website by Maria Czekaj.

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