Ancient Greek Philosophers : Facts, History and Information : Sophists, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle

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Ancient Greek Philosophy or Love of Wisdom

The Ancient Greeks lacked strong religious influences and bureaucracies. There were no inhibitions to free speculation and observations.

Persian oppression sent thinkers westward to other areas.

In 530 BCE, Pythagoras became an early philosopher. He taught speculative life is the  highest good. Individuals must be purified of fleshly evils. The essence of things lies in a number that justifies the quest for predictability. He invented the Pythagorean Theorem.

When, Athens won the Persian War, there was renewed faith in their way of life and an emphasis on learning.

The Sophists

Sophists or teachers evolved into society. These were the first recorded professional teachers. They taught logic that no one questions. The sophists urged examination of each situation. They advanced the concept of relativism. Critics thought the sophists promoted anarchy and atheism.


Socrates did not approve of the Sophists. He encouraged thinking. Used questioning to distinguish prejudices and false assumptions from fact. They assigned definitions to abstract concepts of justice and piety in order to build realities. Turned away from natural world and emphasis on understanding and interpreting natural events. They sought a system of ethics. urged people to reflect on principles of conduct and meaning of one's own life. Socrates was considered a threat to the state and was forced to drink poison in 399 BCE. From Socrates death, emerged the Hemlock society who choose death instead of suffering in a terminal illness.


Plato was a student of Socrates, 429 - 349 BCE. He sought to continue the teachings of Socrates. Established the Academy which was a school with no tuition, building or set curriculum. Wrote dialogues or treatises using Socrates as speaker, some of which are enduring works in literature and the earliest surviving works of philosophy. He declared there to be a higher spiritual realm above what we perceive with our senses. Earthly life is corruptible and delusive. The spiritual realm of ideas are true and eternal and good. Man is to subdue his material side and cultivate intellectual and his spiritual side. Plato never proposed a system of worship.

Plato's dialogue, The Republic is a treatise on political philosophy. It stressed harmony over liberty. Governance to be by intellectually superior guardians. Every man would be first a soldier then those found the most intelligent would be further educated and would become what Plato referred to as philosopher kings. Intellect, no wealth or family qualified one to become ruler. Critics noted that Plato assumed that a person of intelligence was not corruptible.


Aristotle, was Plato' student, 384 - 322 BCE. He hated women. Favored objective reality rather that subjective ideals. Systematic investigation of tangible things and rational inquiry into how they function could yield a comprehension or understanding of nature. He was devoted to logic. Established rules for syllogism, a form of reasoning in which a certain premise leads to valid conclusion. Invented metaphysics, the study of nature and the cause of things free from divine or supranational intervention.

Aristotle's moral philosophy was described in Nicomachean Ethics. It stated the highest good consists of human self realization. Humans differ from animals because they can find happiness. Golden mean is rational conduct free from extremes. Men could only be happiest when philosophizing. Barbarians (non-Greeks) were not quite human. Women belonged in the home. Men are political animals and free men should participate in politics. Reason alone brings knowledge. Senses will lie.

Aristotle believed in the rule of law. It must be written because passions can change people's mind. The laws should not change because of people's whims.


Hippocrates, 460 - 377 BCE, believed that every disease has a natural cause and without natural causes nothing happens. He developed the theory of the four humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) and that illness results in excess amounts of these. This belief led to the practice of bleeding.

Historians gathered knowledge and did not just list events. Characters were human, not gods with explanations found in human decision making. History means inquiring or research.

Medicine developed from the premise that irregularities in human health existed that were apart from supernatural causes.

Other Philosophers

Helodotus, 480 - 420 BCE, is considered the father of history with his recitation of the war with Persia. He also included many tales and legends in his works.

Thucydides, 460 - 400 BCE was the first historian. He rejected gods in history.