Ancient Greek Philosophy

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Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Ancient Greece was part of the Roman Empire. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics. Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since its inception. Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers to Early Islamic philosophy, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.

Pre-Socratic philosophy

Socrates (as presented by Plato) influenced so much subsequent philosophic tradition that it is conventional to refer to philosophy developed prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic philosophy. These philosophers were primarily concerned with cosmology, ontology and mathematics. They were distinguished from "non-philosophers" insofar as they rejected mythological explanations in favor of reasoned discourse.

Thales of Miletus, regarded by Aristotle as the first philosopher, inspired the Milesian school of philosophy and was followed by Anaximander and then Anaximenes.

Pythagoras, who is said to have been a disciple of Anaximander, founded an influential school that sought to reconcile religious belief and reason.

Heraclitus was also an influential pre-socratic, whose philosophy was famously contended by Parmenides, the founder of the Eleatic philosophy. Empedocles and Anaxagoras were important philosophers influenced by Parmenides.

Protagoras was, according to Plato, the first man to call himself a "sophist." Prodicus, Gorgias, Hippias, and Thrasymachus are sophists that appear in various dialogues by Plato.

Classical Greek philosophy

Socrates marks a watershed in ancient Greek philosophy. Cicero credits him as "the first who brought philosophy down from the heavens, placed it in cities, introduced it into families, and obliged it to examine into life and morals, and good and evil." Numerous subsequent philosophical movements were inspired by Socrates or his younger associates:

  • Plato casts Socrates as the main interlocutor in his dialogues, deriving from them the basis of Platonism.
  • Plato's student Aristotle in turn criticized and built upon the doctrines he ascribed to Socrates and Plato, forming the foundation of Aristotelianism.
  • Antisthenes founded the school that would come to be known as Cynicism and accused Plato of distorting Socrates' teachings.
  • Zeno of Citium in turn adapted the ethics of Cynicism to articulate Stoicism.
  • Epicurus studied with Platonic and Stoic teachers before renouncing all previous philosophers.

Hellenistic philosophy

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, many different schools of thought developed in the Hellenistic world and then the Greco-Roman world. There were Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Syrians and Arabs who contributed to the development of Hellenistic philosophy. Elements of Persian philosophy and Indian philosophy also had an influence. The most notable schools of Hellenistic philosophy were:

  • Neoplatonism: Plotinus (Egyptian), Ammonius Saccas, Porphyry (Syrian), Iamblichus (Syrian), Proclus and Hypatia.
  • Academic Skepticism: Arcesilaus, Carneades, Cicero (Roman)
  • Pyrrhonian Skepticism: Pyrrho, Sextus Empiricus
  • Cynicism: Antisthenes, Diogenes of Sinope, Crates of Thebes (taught Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoicism)
  • Stoicism: Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Crates of Mallus (brought Stoicism to Rome c. 170 BCE), Panaetius, Posidonius, Seneca (Roman), Epictetus (Greek/Roman), Marcus Aurelius (Roman)
  • Epicureanism: Epicurus (Greek) and Lucretius (Roman)
  • Eclecticism: Cicero (Roman)