If you’re interested in learning more about the great Greek thinkers, you might enjoy reading this article about Socrates, Democritus, Anaxagoras, and Pythagoras. These philosophers studied ethics, virtue, justice, and human behavior. In doing so, they inspired the next philosopher, Aristotle, who studied different sciences and developed the study of logic. The four philosophers’ contributions to society are numerous and diverse.
Socrates was born in Athens in 469 B.C.E. His parents, Sophroniscus and Phaenarete, were modestly wealthy but not very affluent. He spent his early years as a hoplite, where he displayed great courage and physical endurance. At a young age, Socrates acquired the writings of the philosopher Anaxagoras. After his military service, Socrates returned to Athens, where he became a beloved figure of the young Athenians. His nonconformist views led to his being called “the wisest of men” by Plato.
Although Socrates did not write any works, his life is remembered through the writings of his contemporaries, followers, and student Plato. Socrates’ life was not an easy one, and he was eventually condemned to death at the age of 70. His execution was based on his impiety and his corruption of the youth, but his trial has received equal treatment amongst classicists and historians.
Socrates is best known for his rigorous questioning style. His goal in life was to arrive at a defensible definition of virtue. Unfortunately, the Athenians were not too happy with his efforts. Nevertheless, he influenced Plato, who wrote a number of dialogues and letters. These dialogues and letters are among the primary sources of modern scholars. He argued that a state of complete equality is not possible and that uneducated individuals should not be allowed to make important decisions.
Socrates is considered the founding figure of Western philosophy and is credited with the development of the idea of the ethical ideal. Despite this, he did not write any texts, and so his knowledge and influence are known through the posthumous accounts of classical writers. These writings give rise to the Socratic dialogue literary genre. Socrates’ teaching method involves asking questions to clarify understanding.
Socrates believed in the existence of a daimon, a divine agent. Often interpreted as a spirit or quasi-divine entity, daimons were not formally defined in ancient Greek religion. But it is a form of supernatural activity, and Socrates claimed to have heard a voice or sign in his childhood. Socrates’ daimon, in fact, was his guide to the ethical path.
In the first century BCE, Democritus traveled extensively across the world, utilizing his inheritance to study mathematics and travel to many parts of Asia, Egypt, and Ethiopia. He also wrote extensively about Egypt, Babylon, and Meroe, which is now in modern-day Sudan. His works were incredibly influential, and remain largely relevant to our understanding of ancient Greece. While there is much debate over the precise date of his birth, most sources believe that he was born in Abdera, Thrace, in 460 BCE.
Democritus’s life was filled with citations to previous works, including Plato, who disliked the philosopher, so much so that he wanted to burn his works. Yet Aristotle was familiar with Democritus’ works and was able to draw from them. His works were particularly helpful in teaching us the importance of examining the origins of our ideas. For instance, Democritus’ work on the nature of our senses can be understood through a series of fragments, each one citing other works of other philosophers.
While Democritus used the term “psyche” to describe a distinctive feature of living things, he did not acknowledge the existence of a soul or spirit. He considered the existence of atoms to be entirely mechanical, and thought to be caused by their physical movement. Despite this, Democritus argued that a person is responsible for his actions, and that free will determines his life path.
In addition to being known as the laughing philosopher, Democritus is also considered to be one of the early founders of the ancient atomist theory. He refined the systems of Leucippus, another philosopher of the same name. This theory posited that everything in the universe is made up of atoms that are infinitely small. By definition, the universe is made up of atoms, which are all the same but are “hooked” together in different ways.
Democritus’ view of reproduction is based on the idea that all parts of the body contribute to seed material. Both parents contribute seed material, which explains how organs develop. When the contributions of one parent are more prominent, the offspring is either male or female, according to the contribution of the other. Although this theory was a great leap forward in philosophy, it does not account for the fact that species are indestructible.
Located on the west coast of Turkey, Anaxagoras was the son of Hegesibulus. According to Diogenes Laertius, he abandoned his inheritance to study philosophy. He was a protege of Pericles and became his friend. In 500 B.C., Anaxagoras moved to Athens and is credited with creating the first philosophical school in Western civilization.
Anaxagoras’ metaphysics is based on three principles: the Eleatic requirements and the No Becoming. Anaxagoras also rejected the idea that God is the cause of the cosmos, which he referred to as personified gods. Both of these principles are the basis of Anaxagoras’ account of the natural world.
Curd offers an excellent introduction to Anaxagoras’ philosophy. Curd’s work is comprehensive and organized, with English translations on the pages facing the Greek text. His translations are both accurate and consistent, and the overall style is clear and readable. He emphasizes the importance of Presocratic thinking. His scholarly work offers a rich resource for students and scholars studying ancient philosophy.
Anaxagoras was an influential Presocratic natural philosopher. He lived in Athens for thirty years, and he was famous for his ideas on the nature of matter. Though he was imprisoned for his beliefs, he was eventually freed and spent the rest of his life in exile. His two major theories are cosmology and the theory of eclipses.
Aristotle rejected the idea that heavenly bodies were created from the combination of opposites. However, he did support the idea that the heavenly bodies are natural constructions. He stated that the heavenly bodies are “like-parts” of one another, and that they can be compared and contrasted. He called this the Principle of Predominance.
According to Plato, Anaxagoras did not address the nature of Nous, the principle of mind. He instead attributes cause to natural elements, leaving out the Mind. Though he may have been criticized by Plato, he was respected by Aristotle, and the concept of the Prime Mover is directly related to his ideas. Therefore, this philosopher should not be overlooked.
Born in Samos, Pythagoras traveled to Egypt, Babylon, and Phoenicia. He settled in Croton, Greece, where he taught his disciples. Pythagoras was renowned for his strict lifestyle, which included dietary restrictions and religious rituals. His teachings are still considered essential for improving our lives today.
He studied the nature of sound, the frequency of which varies with the length of strings. He also observed that shorter strings produce higher pitches than longer ones. He observed that the ratio of the length of strings yields the fifth and fourth intervals of sound. The higher the tension on the string, the higher the pitch. His students eventually learned to apply the principles he taught, including the nature of time and space.
Although Pythagoras probably did not write books, his influence on philosophy can be seen in the work of Pythagoras’ followers. His theories on the functional importance of numbers in the objective world and in music are cited frequently. The Pythagorean school also developed the Pythagorean theorem for right triangles. However, the bulk of Pythagoras’ intellectual legacy relates to mystical wisdom.
Besides being a famous mathematician, Pythagoras also played an important role in modern philosophy. He regarded the world as a harmonious whole, which he sought to communicate to others. He is also credited with teaching that the Earth is round. He believed in the immortality of souls and reincarnation, as well as the sanctity of mathematics.
Ancient Greek philosophy provided the roots for the Western intellectual tradition and culture. They were among the first to question the conventional way of understanding life, and their works continue to influence modern thinking. In fact, the Greeks used the methods of logic, reason, and mathematics to address questions and to understand life. Ultimately, their work formed the foundations for modern thinking. These philosophers are now regularly quoted in discussions on human nature and mathematics.