Ancient Philosophy


Ancient Philosophy
History of Philosophy Why do People study History of any subject? For
academic people it is a rhetorical question – which does not require an
answer. Any study of any phenomenon should start with history so that
one could see the commencement, go through all the major stages and get
to the point of maturity of the present moment. How different is the
history of Philosophy?
The History of Philosophy can be displayed as the Gallery of Heroes as
many of them did actually make a great contribution to the progress of the
Mankind. History of Philosophy can be lined up as the history of setting
up of the philosophic categories as the lime stones of the entire concept.


Talking of the birthplace of Philosophy we mean first of all Ancient Greece.
It came into being as the conscious creation of knowledge in VII-VI century
before the Christ and lasted for more that a Millennium until the year of 529
after the Christ.
We should come up with some comments on the Ancient Greece as the most
advanced part of the world of that time. It was the era of the slavery with the
loosing rights of own ship, where the democratic trends were making small
but certain steps. It was the place with the strong and well-organized
dwelling with cities with the attributes of a statehood. The Ancient Greek
Polises were the centres of political and cultural life with legality and
security for all the citizens. Those who were exiled from the polisies where
poor people that lost the sense of Life. Centralization of the authority caused
the unification of the Ideology and did away with slavery as the social order.


The first philosophic school that came into being as the base of the European civilization
was the Milet school (Milet – the city on the western coast of the Small Asia). The most
prominent representative was the Philosopher – Fales(640-545 b.c/) by name who came
out to be the first European Philosopher with the profound knowledge in mathematics,
physics and astronomer. It was him who determined the life-time of one year as 365 days
– 12 months with 30 days in average. He also figured out the time of the solstice, solar
eclipse and solar balance. He discovered the Polar Star and constellation that was the
guideline for the marine traveling. In his philosophic contemplations he defined water as
the first cause of everything. Water is everywhere and under everywhere.
As the basic element of the world it is different from the pure water. It is a divine with the
God’s sparkle. All the alive elements are in moisture and even Human’s soul is a sensitive
ethereal substance that has the capacity to sense and be responsive to the God’s will. So,
natural and spiritual have the same source; not mythological explanation of everything,
but knowledge directed to the base of the fundamental element. Fales considers that all
the knowledge should be raised from the same base and cognition is driven by the
perceptive capacities of a Human. Cognition is the privilege of a Human. “Discover
Yourself – is the principle statement of his Philosophy.


One of the outstanding Philosophers of the Ancient Greece was
Heraklitas(520 – 460 b.c.). He came from a very aristocratic family in the
city Efes close to Milet. He lived on his own in the house high in the
mountains. He had a nickname Dark as he was not easy to read. He used
many metaphors and comparisons which were not clear to the people he
talked with. Those who had an access to his book “On Nature” were surprised
with his fundamental ideas on Universe, State and Divine.
Of all the fundamental basic elements Heraclitus singled out Fire which
getting cool converts into air; air into water; water into earth. The fire is
applied here as the universal substance and the basement of nature.
The principle idea of his philosophy is the idea of universal change and
motion. It is his statement that “Everything flows and changes”. Talking of
the river he says: It is impossible to enter the same river twice, as it changes
continuously. The statement on the universal change Heraclitus splits into
double of all substances and processes to the contraries of the opposing parts
which are linked as interacting parts of the whole. Everything is integral and
contains contraries. Harmony is integral consisting of the contraries.


Everything is relative. The sea water is – the purest and the dirtiest. It
is good for fish, but not acceptable for people. The most beautiful
monkey is disgusting for people. Donkeys prefer hay to gold. Illness
causes joy when you are healthy. Fatigue labor makes you enjoy
Summarizing the Philosophy of Heraklitas we should come up with
the comments that a). Fire combined with Logos(intellect); Discovery
of the Universal regulation of Dialectics on “Unity of Contraries and
their struggle”. He hence laid the foundation for the Theory of
Cognition with the difference of the sensitive and rational cognition.


Demokritus (460-370 b.c.) With the inherited wealth he traveled a lot in Egypt,
Babylon and India where he enriched his knowledge on nature and Human
He created more than 70 academic works, but none of them survived in the
complete form.
His greatest philosophic contribution was the idea of atomism. According to his
theory there is uncountable variety of realities; some of them come into being,
others die off. They are composed of atoms and emptiness. Emptiness exists
between the atom and reality. The atoms are not divisible and uncountable.
There are four distinctions that make them different: 1).form; 2). Size;
3).Order; 4).Position. Being in permanent motion the atoms strike against each
other and change the direction. Any substance has a cause as the result of
motion and striking against each other.


He differentiated the sensitive and rational cognition. The former(by
opinion) and latter (by truth). Cognition by opinion was not homogeneous:
color, smell, sound , taste – they are resulted in the impact on the organs of
perception and they are non existent without them. Cognition by truth was
also achievable through the organs of perception.
His other contribution was the in the area of Ethics especially with the issues
of Justice, Honesty, Dignity of a Human being. He was an active advocate of
the democratic social order. He used to say that he would prefer to be poor
under democracy rather than being rich under Monarchy.


Socrates (470-399 b.c.) Resided in Athens and was an active official in the
city affairs. He was confident in his philosophic contemplations that to get to
the bottom of the outer space is not possible cognition wise. There is only
one area achievable for one’s intellect that is Human’s Soul. His requirement
was “Discover Yourself”. He concentrated on the ethical and cognitive
problems the latter ones being supplementary to the former.
Though he was well educated and creative he never wrote or read books. All
his academic efforts were concentrated on live dialogues and discussion. He
achieved a lot with the introduction of some new notions, he indicated the
significance of induction as the method of getting to the essence of the
dialogue. There are different tracks to the truth and he thought that the key
one was “maevtics” – a number of consistent questions that cause the
confusion and create a problem in the logical chain of his partner.
So,”maevtics” was the searching process of the truth that comes into being as
the result of generalizing the common notions. His philosophy was that
revolutionary that appealed to the change of the real state of things in the
social life. He was sewed and sentenced to death.


In conclusion we should come up with the 4(four) basic principles of Socratic
Philosophy: 1. I know that I know nothing. Here he meant that the actual
wisdom and knowledge goes beyond the professional knowledge of some gifted
people – poets, statesmen, craftsmen and others. Like prophets who say many fine
words but understand nothing of what they say. His personal wisdom was that he
knows nothing.
2. Knowledge and wisdom comes with the improvement of “soul”. One should
not be concerned with money and body as the fame and prestige do come with
virtue and not the other way around.
3. One should be careful condemning some other people especially those the
God gave them to you;
4. Virtue is knowledge. One should be knowledgeable of what is good and what
is wrong and he should have a better judgment of what is good in reality. Some
people spend their lives striving for power, money and prestige. But in fact they
do not know what is good. Socrates insists that when one does an evil act, it is
always with the thought that it will bring one some good some benefit. A thief
who steals a diamond ring intends to make his desired woman happy. Here the
achievement never brings happiness.
His philosophy is called rationalistic moral philosophy as it claims the persistent
search for the moral value.


Plato born in 427 b.c. was the student of Socratus. His initial name was
Aristokl which was then changed into Plato as he was physically strong and
looked like an athlete (Playtas means wide in Greek). He was very talented
especially in verse. After he had met Socratus he burnt off all his created
poems and concentrated on Philosophy.
The key area of his philosophy was the world of ideas. He worked out and
differentiated three worlds – Matter as the basic element – World of substances
– World of Ideas. Idea in Plato’s theory is the common, general notion which
is everlasting and never exhausting. The idea of water is different from water
itself as it never gets boiled, frozen or evaporated. The idea is always alive and
never changes its state and condition.
Being idealist he was divorced from the actual life. More than that he quite
consciously alienated himself from the reality. His ideal constructs were
directed at the reconstruction of life according to his ideal suppositions of what
should be done to make life humane.


Respective to his scheme of subordination Plato created the State
composition with the distinct layers of society.
Matter - Peasants, Handy Crafted people, Merchants.
World of Substance – Military Servants, Policemen
World of Ideas – Political Elite, State Leaders should be philosophers.
This time in the history of the Ancient Greece the key issues of Philosophy
were under heated discussion. The main heroes were Heraclitus and
Parmenides. Heraclitus argued that the fundamental character of the reality
is change. It was him who said “One can not step twice into the same
river”. So, everything is in flux, change – nothing stays the same and
identical to what it has been or will be.
In opposition to this stood Parmenides who was an extreme advocate of the
permanence as fundamental character of reality which is one and
unchanging. He denied that anything can change and it is just a mere
appearance to the senses.


The Sophists. This crowd of Philosophers came from different societies
outside Athens. They were and are known as masters of rhetoric with the
art of making persuasive public speeches. They did not care about the
true knowledge and the entire origin of the matter. What they have
achieved was the turning of the direction of search into the human beings
and the moral, social and political life. The Sophists argued that one
should not obey the Laws if they are not to your advantage.
The teaching of the Sophists is still in fashion and operational especially
when there is an obvious conflict of interests. Nowadays they argue that
one should not obey the Laws as they are fixed in favor of the rich and
Plato and Socrates came off against these skepticism and moral
relativism. How could the dispute between Heraclitus and Parmenides be
solved? Plato comes up with the idea of synthesis in the form of the
supposition that neither flux and change or permanence is the true
element of the reality. The synthesis in contrary to the monistic view
makes the reality rich and dualistic which is the key character of the
nature. So, Plato offers dualistic metaphysics.


Metaphysics is the name of that branch of philosophy which reflects and
responsive to the question what is reality?
According to Plato there are two kinds of reality – the one of physical objects
in space and time. They are seen and sensed in flux, change, progress and
decay. This is what makes Heruclitus absolute right, but to a certain extent.
There is also another kind of reality, the reality of concepts, ideas, forms or
essences, which are objects of thought like the idea of a triangle, which
includes for example the property that its internal angles add up to 180 degrees.
This judgment is universal, true and unchanging. This is the realm of eternally
true and unchanging ideas which can be known by reason.
So, Heraclitus and Parmenides are both right in the relative sense.


Aristotle born in the city of Stagir in 384 b.c. joined Plato’s
academy where he stayed for some 20 years. Then he was invited
to Pella – the then capital of Macedonia where ht was the
instructor of Philosophy for the upcoming famous military
commander Alexander. On returning back to Athens Aristotle set
up his own school of Philosophy. It was the school of
“peripatetics” – walking philosophers.
His greatest contribution was the setting up of the systematic
knowledge of that time that was incorporated as philosophic:
Natural Philosophy
Philosophy as Fine Arts


He was a steady follower of the Plato’s as his student, but developed some
of his own creative ideas achieved by him as the result of some persistent
studies. In this regard we should first of all mention his idea of “form”
which is immanent for any thing. Any thing, any individual particular
substance, a frog or dog or man, is a unity, says Aristotle; it is not
something that exists apart from its own essence. A thing, says Aristotle, is
a unity of form and matter. The form of a thing is immanent in it, it is the
universal and eternal form or essence which the thing shares with all other
things of the same type or species, e.g., with all other frogs or dogs or men.
Matter is the physical stuff of the particular substance, which is given the
shape by the substance’s form. Matter and Form are the inseparable aspects
of every individual substance.


In addition to the principles of matter and form, Aristotle introduces the
principles of potentiality and actuality. These two principles enable Aristotle
to account for developmental changes in substances such as the stages of
growth from acorn to young tree to giant oak: the acorn is the potentiality
which is actualized by the oak tree. Aristotle acknowledges the close
relationship of the two sets of principles: matter, he says, is the principle of
potentiality; form is the principle of actuality. We can say, then, that the oak
tree is the form toward which the matter of the acorn moves through its
developmental stages from its potentiality to its actuality as an oak. Moreover,
the oak tree is the actuality of the potentiality of the acorn, but the oak tree, in
turn, may be the potentiality, or matter, of a house, which is its actualization.
In the same way, organisms are the actualization of the potentiality of
inorganic substances and are themselves the potentiality of the rational soul.
For Aristotle, the universe consists of a hierarchy, of individual substances of
the various eternal types and species, related each other as matter and form,
potentiality and actuality.


Matter and form, potentiality and actuality, are constructed by Aristotle as
explanatory principles of things and their changes. To these Aristotle adds his
theory of the four causes. Four principles or types of causes determine the
nature of any individual thing in the cosmos, whether it is a natural substance
such as an oak tree or a man-made substance such as a house:
The material cause (the material of which the house is built);
The formal cause ( the house to be built, the form to be actualized)
The efficient cause ( the work and tools which produce the house as their
The final cause (the purpose for which the house is built).
The validity of all the causes is disputable nowadays. Only two of them are
acceptable – the material and the formal causes. The other two are considered
as something attributing. But nonetheless Aristotle was the pioneering
philosopher who was the first to discover and put forward the causality which
in the course of time and further development had grown into one of the
principle categories – determinism.


Ethical views of Aristotle: Happiness for human beings lies in activity in
accordance with the moral virtues, but only when virtuous activity is
sustained over a lifetime. The capital is needed for some considerable
projects that can change the life for better and not for private own ship.
Political Views: Apart from Plato’s expectations of the “Ideal
Government” Aristotle carefully looked into the Constitutions of the Greek
States with the of the adequate answers to the question – What is the best
and most workable form of rule and governing? He came up with the
appropriate answer – The best political community is formed by the citizens
of the middle class as the numerous group of people holding the balance of
power against the very rich, who “can only rule despotically” and the very
poor, who “are too degraded” to rule.


Issues to be Revised and Consolidated:
• Ancient Greece as the birth place of Philosophy.
• Greek Polis as the first attempt to set up the Statehood.
• The first glimpse of Dialectics undertaken by Heraclitus.
• The first System of Philosophic Knowledge.


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