Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Philosophy
Pythagoras (c. 570 BCE-495 BCE) was an early Greek philosopher, mathematician and the founder of a religion called Pythagoreanism. Pythagoreanism emphasized a belief in mathematics and that numbers are the ultimate philosophical truth. He is also famous for this eponymous theorem about right triangles: The sum of the areas of the two squares on the legs (a and b) equals the area of the square on the hypotenuse (c).
Little reliable information remains about the life of Pythagoras, to the point that historians some historians attribute some of "his" thoughts to his followers. Whether they were the ideas of the man or a school of thought, the ideals influenced many Greek philosophers (a word said to have been coined by Pythagoras, Greek for a "lover of wisdom") including Plato.
Socrates (c. 469 BCE-399 BCE) is widely acknowledged for laying the foundation for all following Western philosophy. In spite of his importance in the evolution of thought, Socrates remains a largely enigmatic figure to historians. Much of what we know about his life and teachings come from the dialogues of his student, Plato. Even then, Plato perhaps created an idealized figure of his mentor that did not entirely reflect reality. Although, it is widely considered that Socrates was not a fictional character created by Plato, as other Greek writers of Plato's generation wrote extensively about the philosopher, including Aristotle, Xenophon and Aristophanes.
Socrates' life coincided with the decline of Athenian hegemony in the Greek world, exacerbated by the defeat of Athens at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. In the wake of this defeat, Socrates lead the intellectual argument against Athenian democracy. Socrates had long made a reputation of acting as a social critic by questioning almost everyone and everything in Athenian society, including himself, in order to lead to improvement. Socrates held that the wisest men are, paradoxically, the ones that are aware of and acknowledge their own ignorance. In the case of criticizing Athens, he believed that his sharp words would create a more just society.
Socrates got in trouble for his role as a philosophical provocateur and the Athenian state tried him for the corruption of the minds of Athenian youth, as well as for not believing in the Greek pantheon of Gods (debate remains to this day whether Socrates was a monotheist, or if this particular aspect was overemphasized during the medieval era to reconcile Socratic philosophy with Christian theology). Even during his trial, Socrates acted in a way to goad the state: when Socrates was asked to propose his own punishment, he suggested a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spent as Athens' benefactor. Thus, he was convicted and sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing the poisonous hemlock plant. There seems to be evidence that shows that Socrates could have escaped Athens and his own death, however to his end his philosophy guided him. As a provocative philosopher he did not believe he would fare better off outside of Athens, nor did believe in fearing death. Nonetheless, Socrates' intellectual method of asking questions lives on to this day.
The Socratic Method and Philosophy
The Socratic Method describes the dialectical system devised by Socrates to examine moral concepts of "Good" or "Justice". Socrates believed that to understand big concepts such as these, one needed only to ask a series of questions. In essence, Socrates held that one must continually question what one believes and what one assumes to know. Socratic thought holds that ones "knowledge" is never absolute and impervious to faulty assumptions. Better hypotheses to problems are found by eliminating the ones that can be contradicted and falsified.
Socrates' philosophy, though difficult to discern from that of Plato, especially since Socrates was more interested in asking questions than answering them (claiming to lack the real knowledge to do so). In short, one could say that Socrates promoted a philosophy of questioning and self improvement, which went against much of Athenian society's emphasis on the pursuit of material wealth and respecting traditional knowledge, particularly religious.
Plato (424/423 BCE – 348/347 BCE) was the most famous student of Socrates and was the mentor to Aristotle. For many scholars, Plato's importance to the development of Western philosophy was even greater than that of his mentor. Apart from being a philosopher on a wide variety of topics, Plato founded the Academy in Athens, considered the first center for higher learning in the Western world.
Aristotle Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was a student of Plato, as well as the teacher to Alexnder the Great. Aristotle's writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality, aesthetics, logic, science, politics, and metaphysics. Aristotle's views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian physics. In the zoological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the 19th century. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late 19th century into modern formal logic. In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. Aristotle was well known among medieval Muslim intellectuals and revered as المعلم الأول - "The First Teacher". His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle's philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today.
Epicurus Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE) was a materialist philosopher, in the sense that Epicurus placed emphasis on only the tangible things of the Earth. For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends, enjoying the simple joys of life instead of pursuing wealth, fame or power. . Many of his thoughts were groundbreaking for the time. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.