Ancient Greece offers a plethora of great thinkers all of whom contributed greatly to understanding the mysteries of natural and unnatural phenomena. From the Pre-Socratic era to the Classical Age of thought, we come across various schools that painstakingly define the workings of the mind, soul, matter and the whole universe. This paper aims to outline the philosophical beliefs of the spearheads of Greek thought and compare their notions in a manner that shows the evolution of rational reason.
Greek thinkers of the pre-Socratic era, were the undoubtedly the first of many thinkers who delved into the mystics of nature and deemed it necessary to think along the lines of life and how it ought to be led. They presented a new rational line of thought whereby a lot of veneration was given to the intricate workings of the universe. These philosophers are singlehandedly responsible for kick starting the Western movement and changing the face of rational thought forever more. From scientific discoveries to sociological advances, these philosophers can be credited for probing into matters that their predecessors never thought about. To this day their contributions to philosophy, politics, biology, metaphysics and arts have helped many successors view the world through an insightful lens. These intellectual pioneers were dedicated to the cause of combining qualitative as well as quantitative analysis to present to us basic information that we take for granted today.
As far as Ancient Greek philosophy is concerned, it all started with the pressing need to unravel the secrets of nature. The original philosophers of this enlightened era that we commonly refer to as the pre-Socratic era scrutinized the workings of the planetary system as well as the basic nature of life. They were then succeeded by Pythagoras whose ideas were more abstract. He emphasized upon the significance of the soul and its development. His mystical opinions were then extended by Heraclitus, whose work covered many metaphysical schools of thought regarding evolution. After this era, came the Eleatic powerhouse Parmenides, who propagated the belief of utmost singularity in all forms of existence; and these ideas, were then reinforced by Zeno as well. According to many contemporary philosophers, this particular school of thought was the primary opposition to pre-Socratic ideology. This epoch was soon followed by the works of Democritus, whose discoveries revolved around the atomic nature of matter. The coming period recognized the efforts of the Sophists, whose main area of focus had by now deviated from unraveling the natural mysteries. The Sophists transcended from their predecessors' schools of thought and dived into sociological perspectives instead. (Baldwin 1902) All in all, we can clearly see how tireless the efforts of these intellectual giants have been and how much they have shaped our modern lives. This paper is based on the basic ideologies of Greek philosophy and the many contenders that made it happen.
We begin the journey along the development of Western philosophy by first establishing that in the time, the driving force behind all this philosophical upheaval was a need to understand the essential elements of the external world. The principles associated with pure sciences were being rampantly discovered and the mere existence of matter was enough to stimulate these great minds. In such a period, the philosophical relay was initiated by Thales (624-546 BC), who by many is regarded as the father of Greek philosophy. (Seyffert 1894) It was a time whereby the Greek civilization flourished and city states strengthened in terms of government and economy. After much progress and prosperity, these city states began to crumble under the weight of corruption and utilitarianism. Thales stepped in the cataclysm to fill the void created by a readily evolving Greece. He first studied the principles of geometry, and during the time acquired unmatched mathematical skills. His empirical capacity stretched to amazing lengths: he could calculate navigational distances, predict the height of a pyramid and even forecast a solar eclipse. (Bielaczyc and Collins 2006). His life was marred by much destitution but the sharpness of his mind never once wavered.
In terms of his philosophical school of thought, Thales is particularly known for claiming that all things are constituted of water. As such Thales can be applauded for presenting the foremost conjecture as to the constitution of matter. His study went deeper than any of his contemporaries because he proposed the quintessential idea of existence and hence ended up explaining all of natural phenomena. He is equally renowned for proposing the theory of the right angles of a triangle as well as angles within the isosceles triangle. By recognizing the properties of geometric figures, he started the mathematical revolution and hence presented various geometry oriented theories that we study today. In a time when all beliefs were ultimately governed by plentiful superstition and inescapable authoritative influence, Thales was the first man to go against traditional opinions and replace mythology with metaphysics. (Knierim 1999)
Furthermore, Thales claimed that all things possessed a soul and animation of a body is the definitive giveaway of an object in possession of a soul. In claiming so, he did not mean to blend his purely mathematical observations with divinity, but in fact explained the perfectly natural course of all existence. In fact there are two central themes to Thales's philosophy: His views were purely naturalistic and concerned with the external world without any impinging superstitious influence and non-dualistic that is they unified the human mind with matter and treated it as a singular entity. (Knierim 1999)
Within the Milesian School of Philosophical Thought, Thales was followed by Anaximander. Anaximander presented great works with regard to cosmology as well was ontology. As a matter of fact Anaximander locked horns with all traditional beliefs pertaining to mythology and divinity, and devoted himself to the quest of finding entirely rational explanations to superstitious phenomena. He disentangled the technicalities associated with wind, rain, lightning etcetera, and affirmed that supernatural elements had nothing whatsoever to do with these. As such Anaximander was the premier meteorologist and can be lauded for being the first man to study whether and its correlates in such vigorous detail. Along with meteorology Anaximander also investigated the fields of geography and in fact his wisdom stretched enough to urge him to sketch the first map of the world. He was equally interested in astronomy and after the milestone of the world map he began charting heavenly bodies and constellations as well. He presented the basic idea of the world and the solar system as we know it today, and determined planetary positions and sizes with great zeal. He calculated the relative sizes of the Sun, the Earth and the moon, along with the basic nature of stars. What is perhaps most striking is Anaximander's scholarly theory of 'apeiron' which postulated that the universe is boundless and there are infinite worlds within the universe. He defined this concept as the origin of every object to where it shall ultimately return. Moreover, Anaximander delved into the properties of the four basic elements (Earth, Water, Air and Fire) and postulated that they can convert into one another and are not infinite in term of their properties. Anaximander's greatest contribution to the great minds of future is perhaps his teasing taste of the theory of gravitation. He believed that the Earth hangs in space and its spatial orientation is governed by mutual forces between the Earth and other objects. Such vast theories surely go on to prove how far sighted and keen this individual was and how much thought he lent to the cause of Greek philosophy. (Kahn 1994)
We now move from the Milesian era to the Ionian era of the pre-Socratic age. The Ionian era is marked with the works of Pythagoras (582-500 BC). Pythagoras is a well-known name in Greek history; however it is imperative to note that unlike Thales, Pythagoras's mind worked in a primarily mathematical direction as opposed to a philosophical one. His name is synonymous with geometry and any individual can easily identify Pythagoras's trademark theorem related to right-angled triangles. Apart from geometry and trigonometry, Pythagoras also portrayed a deep rooted interest in the fields of music and art and even incorporated mathematics into musical notes. His anti-utilitarian ideas about the government led him to form a circle of disciples that upheld the notions of equality and coexistence. As such, it can be seen that Pythagoras's beliefs were not confined to geometry but also catered to sociological aspects of rational thought. He was very influential and imparted decrees to these disciples which they happened to follow religiously. So unlike his predecessors he did not thwart the notions of religious thought entirely, but found a way to balance his rational thoughts along with his traditional beliefs. So much so, that he is said to have strongly believed in life after death and metempsychosis. He wanted to bring forth an amalgamation of scientific and divine thought into Greek philosophy. (Hernandez 2006)
The Ionian period was then followed by yet another…