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Greek Philosophy

Updated on November 15, 2010
Plato and Aristotle by Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – 1520)
Plato and Aristotle by Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – 1520)

Philosophy is...

  • The study of the truth or principles underlying all knowledge.
  • Study of the most general causes and principles of the universe.
  • An explanation or theory of the universe, especially an explanation or particular system arranged by a philosopher.
  • A system for guiding life, as a body of principles of conduct, religious beliefs or traditions.
  • The broad general principles of a particular subject or field of activity.
  • The love or pursuit of wisdom in the broadest sense.

Philosophy is the study of the truth or principles underlying all knowledge, an investigation into the nature of reality. The word 'philosophy' derives from the Greek philosophos which means "a lover of wisdom.

Western philosophy is considered to generally to have begun in ancient Greece as speculation about the underlying nature of the physical world. In its earliest form it was indistinguishable from natural science.

Philosophy in its widest sense, came into being from the day man first began to wonder at the world, to question its workings, and to refuse to take what he saw for granted.

Philosophy began during the first quarter of the sixth century BC in the Greek colony of Miletus in Asia Minor. The first Greek philosophers mostly developed their teaching at a number of trading centers in the eastern Aegean from about 600 BC onwards. The first of the major Greek philosophers offered different theories on what was the basic matter of the universe.

For Thales, water was a common principle. Thales held that water is the primary material and that everything is made of water in various states. eg: ice is water in a frozen state, clouds are water in an evaporated state.

Anaximander sought also for the primary material of all things, but decided that it could not be an one element like water, because water itself is a determinate thing and made from something else. The primary stuff them. Anaximander concluded, must be completely indeterminate. ie: capable of giving rise to every determinate thing.

Anaximenes held that air being the principle of life, is the primary material, and becomes different things by condensation and rarefaction. Anaximenes' notion of air suggests (a) that the primary material, though invisible itself, can give rise to visible things, and (b) that ultimately things are all the same and differ only in their shape or extension, ie: that there are only quantitative differences between them. The importance of the Ionians lies in the fact that they raised the primarily philosophical question, "What is the ultimate nature of things?" and not so much in their attempted solutions of that question.

For Heraclitus, it was fire. Another group, disciples of the mathematician Pythagoras, sought to explain the world in terms of numbers.

In its earliest days, philosophy embraced all subjects. Aristotle for example, wrote on biology, zoology, physics, literature, astronomy and psychology, as well as on the topics that are now defined as 'philosophical'.

Others offered increasingly complex theories, incorporating two or more views. These culminated in the theories of Leucippus and Democritus, who believed that the ever-changing nature of the world was due to rearrangement of innumerable but unchanging particles. These particles were christened atoms, the 'uncuttable things'.

Branches of Philosophy

Philosophy is not simply one single branch of knowledge, but covers a number of distinct branches which are all concerned to know the ultimate cause of things.

There is...

  1. the philosophical investigation of the change and motion of the physical world: Cosmology or Natural Philosophy
  2. the philosophical investigation of the principle of life, the "psyche" or "soul", and especially of the mind or intellectual "soul" proper to man: Philosophical Psychology
  3. another and more universal investigation into things considered simply as things, ie: why and how things exist or have being and what is involved in being a thing or an existent: Metaphysics

Metaphysics itself is usually divided into Ontology, the investgation of "being" and the laws governing "being".

  • Critical Philosophy, whether we can know "being" or things existing outside the mind.
  • Epistemology, how we can know "being".
  • Natual Theology or Theodicy, the investigation of the cause of the "being" of things.
  • Logic is the investigation of the laws which govern our thinking and reasoning in general.

Apart from these branches of philosophy, which have for their object the knowing of things just for the sake of knowing, there are branches of "practical philosophy" which are concerned with the knowledge for the sake of directing man in his actions, so that he will act rightly both in his moral conduct and in his "making" or "artefaction".

Each philosopher developed their own ideas and beliefs, we'll look at each school of philosophy...

The fresco School of Athens was painted in the Papal apartments of the Vatican by Raphael. Aristotle, who stands right of center, is leading, with Plato on his left, all of the ancient philosophers of Greece.
The fresco School of Athens was painted in the Papal apartments of the Vatican by Raphael. Aristotle, who stands right of center, is leading, with Plato on his left, all of the ancient philosophers of Greece.

The Ongoing Influence of Greek Philosophy

Greek philosophy continued as a single entity until AD 539 the year in which the Roman Emperor, Justinian, suppressed the schools of philosophy in Athens. Of course while it brought about the formal close of the teaching of the subject, it did little to dimish the role played by Greek philosophy or the influence that it exerted upon the whole of Western culture.

Greek Philosophers Capstone Series


  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, 1954
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 5, 1954
  • Early Greek Philosophy, 4th Edition, 1964, Milton C. Nahm
  • The World Book Dictionary, Volume 2 L-Z, 1971, Thorndike Barnhart
  • Library of Essential Knowledge, Volume 2, Readers Digest, 1980
  • New Knowledge Library - Universal Reference Encyclopedia, Volume 2, Bay Books, 1981


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    • jackie_fish profile image


      8 years ago

      this is really good help me in my own thinking

    • sligobay profile image


      8 years ago from east of the equator

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge which is suited to my interests.

    • Joy56 profile image


      9 years ago

      hey a capstone hub, now i know what it is, was brought here by the forums.... so much information, you like your history, and you sure tell about it well. I so enjoyed reading this.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I thing that it is the picture of Aritotil&Plato

      look there action it is the simbol of there thought

      about of Earthily things and Heavenly things

    • profile image

      Henrietta Anyasodor 

      9 years ago

      This is an awesome work am glad to benefit from these bag of wisdom.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      wow!thanks,this article help me in my philosophy subject....

    • dipless profile image


      10 years ago from Manchester

      This is a really interesting group of articles :) Thanks darkside

    • LyrialZander profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent! I can't wait to read this series entirely.

      I thought I'd let you know that your series is so nicely put together that HubPages recommended that I read it as an example when I was approved for the Capstone program. Congratulations!


    • Sufidreamer profile image


      10 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Fair play Darkside - I look forward to reading through your series when I have a little time.

      If you are interested, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato are amongst the 'Ten Greatest Greeks.' The final voting takes place in May - my vote is for Aristotle :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      thank for the great resources just be aware of the unnessessary words but all was nice

    • SusanVillasLewis profile image


      11 years ago from Texas

      Just amazing!! I'm quite impressed with the work you've put in. Great job here. Almost makes me wish I was back in school.

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      11 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Congratulations on your capstone hubs....this is indeed a great resources for students and teachers alike.....and to anyone who is interested in Philosophy and Greek philosophers....well done.


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