The primary importance of the Greek Philosophers was that they were the very first to recognise the true power of logic. From this early awakening (around the 6th century BC), developed the tradition of critical thinking that is behind all the spiritual, technological and economical advances that have made us what we are today.
The True Value of Greek Philosophy
The result of adopting the processes of critical thinking and analysis, was that humankind thus aquired the tools to legitimately question the assumptions, values and ethical systems that support, not only their hypotheses, but even those supporting more fundamental beliefs. The legacy (and challenge) of the Greek Philosophers is that we need never be simply be locked in the statis quo, and shouldn’t ever be afraid to welcome change, for we have been given the means to test, modify and expand each and every aspect of our current world view and thus can take control of our destiny
Cause and Effect
The human characteristic of observing phenomena, determining patterns from these observations and then developing hypotheses for cause and effect is a defining trait of mankind and is common to all cultures. This inherent ability is what fundamentally separates the human race from the animal kingdom. However, over time, assumptions and hypotheses can often become ‘canonised‘ and given the status of ‘self-evident truths‘. Many of these explanations were given poetic expression and were incorporated into mythology and religious dogma of various kinds.
The Ancient Greek philosophers’ gift was to create a new tradition of questioning all such ‘truths‘ and then putting both hypotheses and the assumptions that support them to a rigid logical testing, to establish or reject their validity. This methodology or technique of the Ancient Greeks for ‘deductive reasoning‘ and ‘critical analysis‘ and has been of profound importance for the historical development of the scientific method, for the advancement of mathematical theory, for the structuring of modern philosophy and for establishing the methods of testing evidence, used in jurisprudence. Moreover it has strongly influenced the theological direction of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The Pre-Socratic Philosophers
We define the early philosophers as ‘pre-Socratic’, as the huge philosophical impetus that was set in motion, by the teachings of Socrates and his pupil Plato, can be seen as something of a divide. However the contribution of the earlier 6th and 5th century BCE teachers can certainly be said to have formed the springing point for the great Athenian philosophers of the 4th century.
From the earliest times, the Ionian branch of the Ancient Greeks, had a reputation for enjoying vigorous debate and for questioning traditional assumptions. This language group included both the Athenians and also the inhabitants of the Greek city-states of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and most of the Aegean islands. The first philosopher that we know of, was Thales (c.624 – 546 BC), who taught in Miletus, which was on the coast of Anatolia. Thales sought a reasoned explanation for the nature of the Cosmos, as opposed to a mythological one and he developed skills in logic, geometry and astronomy, which gave a firm basis for his philosophical speculations. Thales’ theories were developed and disputed by Anaximander, Anaximenes and Xenophanes, who succeed him as teachers of philosophy in Miletus.
Pythagorus of Samos continued with the cosmological investigations of the Milesian philosophers, but used the principles of mathematics and logic to reconcile aspects of religion and mythology with his philosophical understandings. He created a school of followers in the Greek colonies of Italy that studied philosophy and geometry, but at the same time embraced mysticism and aspects of the occult.
Heraclitus, Parminedes and Zeno brought conflicting views to oppose the conclusions of the early Milesians and these philosophers were particularly interested in the concept of ‘flux‘ or change, the concept of motion and the contrast between the unity and plurality in the form of the universe.
Protagoras, a fifth century sophist, had a marked influence on Socrates and hence Plato. As an outspoken philosopher, he seems to have run into a lot of trouble as his views were taken as agnostic for he alluded that the gods and the universe were ultimately unknowable and therefore irrelevant. He is credited for developing the concept of ‘relativism‘ and is famous for saying that “man is the measure of all things” and for claiming that “he could make the worse seem the better, or vice versa, in any argument” . This sort of play on words and the use of rhetorical tricks to win an argument – became known as ‘sophistry’. Fellow sophists were Georgias, Hippias and Prodicus
Greek Philosophy Explained
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