Philosophy of Ancient Greece

The philosophy of ancient Greece Greek philosophy in the VII – VI centuries BC. and was essentially its first attempt to rationalize the world around it.

In the development of the philosophy of ancient Greece there are four main stages: I, VII-V century BC. – pre-Socratic philosophy of the II V-IV century BC. – classical stage Outstanding philosophers of the classical stage: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. In public life, this stage is characterized as the highest rise of Athenian democracy of the 3rd IV-II century BC. – Hellenistic stage.

(Decline of Greek cities and the establishment of the rule of Macedonia) IV I century BC – V, VI century AD. – Roman philosophy.

Greek culture VII – V centuries. BC. – It is the culture of a society in which slave labor plays the leading role, although free labor was widely used in certain industries that required highly skilled producers, such as the art craft.


The worldview of the broad masses of the Greek society of the period under review was mainly retained by those ideas that took place in the second millennium BC. Nature still seemed to the Greek inhabited and controlled by various creatures about which folk fantasy composed colorful poetic myths. These creatures can basically be combined into three cycles: supreme Olympian gods, gods with Zeus at the head, numerous minor deities of mountains, forests, streams, etc. and, finally, protagonists, patrons of the community.

According to the Hellenic ideas, the power of the Olympic gods was neither original nor infinite. The predecessors of the Olympians were considered the older generations of gods, overthrown by their descendants. The Greeks thought that Chaos and the Earth (Gaia) originally existed, the underworld Tartarus and Eros were the life principle, love. Gaea-Earth gave birth to the starry sky Uranus, which became the original ruler of the world and the spouse of the goddess of Earth, Gaia. Uranus and Gaia gave birth to the second generation of Titan gods.

The Olympic gods who had seized power over the world divided the universe among themselves as follows. Zeus became the supreme god, the ruler of heaven, heavenly phenomena, and especially thunder and lightning. Poseidon was the ruler of moisture irrigating the earth, the ruler of the sea, winds and earthquakes. Hades, or Pluto, was the lord of the underworld, the underworld, where they dragged out the pitiful existence of the shadow of the dead.

The wife of ZeusGera was considered the patroness of marriage. Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, whose name she wore (Hestia in Greek – hearth).

With the emergence of a new class society and the establishment of policies, a number of gods, especially Apollo, became patrons of states. The importance of Apollo grew even more due to the founding of a large number of new cities. As a result, the cult of Apollo began to push aside the cult of Zeus; He was especially popular among the Greek aristocrats.

In addition to the main gods, personifying the most significant phenomena of nature, as well as the life of man and his social relations, the whole Greek world around him seemed to him abundantly populated by numerous divine beings.

There was a myth about the origin of people among the Greeks, according to which one of the titans, Prometheus, made the first man from clay, and Athena endowed him with life. Prometheus was the patron and mentor of the human race in the early days of its existence. Benefactors of the people, Prometheus stole from the sky and brought them fire. For this, he was severely punished by Zeus, who ordered Prometheus to be nailed to the rock, where the eagle tormented his liver every day until Heracles (the son of Zeus and the earthly woman) freed him.

The places of worship of the Hellenic gods were temples, altars, sacred groves, streams, rivers. Cult rituals among the Greeks were associated with public and private life. Honoring the gods was accompanied by the sacrifice of animals on the altars in front of the temples and prayer appeals to the gods. Special ceremonies were accompanied by the birth of a child, a wedding and a funeral.


Religious and mythological explanation of the origin and development of the world and the reality surrounding the ancient Greeks gradually came into conflict with the accumulated objective experience. Slowly but steadily, the science, still naive, but spontanely materialistic in its natural immediacy, was taking its first steps. New ideas emerged in the Asia Minor Ionia, which was the most economically and socially developed at that time.

In the second half of VII century. BC. in Miletus, Hellenic philosophy was born among merchants, artisans and other business people. The founder of ancient Greek philosophy is Thales (c. 625-547 BC), and its successors were Anaximander (c. 610-546 BCE) and Anaximenes (c. 585-525. AD). Milesian philosophers were spontaneous materialists.

Thales considered the origin of all water, which is in continuous motion, the transformation of which creates all things, eventually turning into water again. The gods had no place in this cycle of states of eternal water. He represented the earth in the form of a flat disk floating on the original water. Thales was also considered the founder of ancient Greek mathematics, astronomy, and several other natural sciences. He is credited with a number of specific scientific calculations. He was able to predict solar eclipses and could give a physical explanation of this process. During his stay in Egypt, Thales first measured the height of the pyramids, measuring their shadow at the time of the day when the length of the shadow is equal to the height of the objects throwing it.

Anaximander, following the path of further generalization of experience, came to the conclusion that the primary matter is an apeiron: an indefinite, eternal, and infinite matter, which is in constant motion. From it in the process of movement stand out its inherent opposites – warm and cold, wet and dry. Their interaction leads to the birth and death of all things and phenomena, which of necessity arise from the apeiron, and return to it. Anaximander is considered the compiler of the first geographic map and the first scheme of the sky for star orientation; he represented the earth in the form of a rotating cylinder floating in the air.

Anaximenes believed that the origin of the whole air, which, discharging or condensing, gives rise to all the diversity of things. Everything arises and returns to the ever-moving air, including the gods, which, like all other things, are certain states of the air.

Materialistic philosophy emerged among the progressive groups of the young class of slave owners in the struggle against the religious-mythological ideology inherited from the past. Representatives of the slave-owning aristocracy, struggling with this ideology, opposed it to philosophical idealism. His first preacher in ancient Greece was Pythagoras (c. 580-500 BC) from the island of Samos. After establishing tyranny on the island of Samos, Pythagoras emigrated to Southern Italy in the city of Croton, where in the second half of the 6th century. BC. founded from the representatives of the local aristocracy a reactionary religious-political union, known as the “Pythagorean”.

According to the Pythagorean philosophy, not quality, but quantity, not substance, but form determines the essence of things. Everything can be counted and thus establish the quantitative features and laws of nature. The world consists in quantitative, always invariable opposites: finite and infinite, even and odd … Their combination is carried out in harmony, which is peculiar to the world.

In the struggle with the idealistic philosophy of Pythagoras, the materialist philosophy of the Milesian school was perfected. At the end of VI-beginning of V c. BC. the largest philosopher of this period, Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 530-470 BC), acted as a spontaneous dialectical materialist. In his writings found the search for Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes.

By origin and political convictions, Heraclitus was a supporter of the aristocracy. He abruptly fell on the “mob”. The pessimistic attitude of Heraclitus to the surrounding reality is connected with the victory of slave-owning democracy in his homeland. Speaking against the victorious democracy, he wanted to show its transient nature. However, in his philosophical constructions he went far beyond this goal. According to Heraclitus, the supreme law of nature is the eternal process of movement and change. The element from which everything arises is fire, which represents a regularly igniting, then a regularly extinguishing burning process. Everything in nature consists of opposites in the struggle that are born from fire and pass into each other and returns to fire. Heraclitus was the first to come to the idea of ​​the dialectical development of the material world as a necessary regularity inherent in matter. The logical necessity of Heraclitus expressed the Greek word “logos”, in the philosophical sense, denoting “law.” The dictum attributed to Heraclitus is well known: “Pant Rey” – everything flows, everything changes, which summarizes the essence of his philosophy. The dialectical unity of opposites is formulated as a constantly emerging harmony of mutually complementary and opposing opposites. The process of self-development of fire was not created by any of the gods or people, it was, is and always will be. Heraclitus ridiculed the religious and mythological worldview of his countrymen.

Against the materialist dialectic of Heraclitus, the philosopher Xenophanes (c. 580–490 BC) and his students began to fight. Expelled from the native city of Kolofon of Asia Minor (near Ephesus), Xenophanes settled in Italy, where he led the life of a wandering singing party. In his songs, he opposed the anthropomorphic polytheism of the Hellenic religion. Xenophanes argued that there is no reason to attribute the human form to the gods and that if bulls and horses could create images of gods, they would represent them in their own image.

Such were the first steps of ancient Greek philosophy, which arose and developed in the struggle against the old religious and philosophical worldview.

V century BC. was a time of further development of Greek science and philosophy, which still remained closely related. During this period, the further development of ancient society and the state, which took place in the conditions of fierce class and political struggle, there are also political theories and journalism.

In the V century. BC. materialistic philosophy in ancient Greece developed extremely fruitfully.

The most prominent philosopher of the classical stage of the philosophy of ancient Greece was Plato (427-347 BC) Plato was a representative of the Athenian slave-owning aristocracy. At the age of 20, chance crosses the roads of the lives of Plato and Socrates. Thus, Socrates becomes the teacher of Aristotle. After Socrates was convicted, Plato leaves Athens and does not move to Megara for a long time, after which he returns to his native city and takes an active part in his political life. Plato creates the first academy.

Up to this time, information has been reached on Plato’s 35 philosophical works, most of which were presented in the form of a dialogue.

He considered ideas as the pinnacle and basis of everything. The material world is only a derivative, a shadow of the world of ideas. Only ideas can be eternal. Ideas are true being, and real things are seeming being. Above all other ideas, Plato put the idea of ​​beauty and goodness. Plato recognizes the movement, the dialectic, which is the result of the conflict of being and non-being, i.e. ideas and matter.

Sensory cognition, the subject of which is the material world, appears in Plato as a secondary, non-essential. True knowledge is knowledge that penetrates into the world of ideas — knowledge is rational.

The soul recalls the ideas with which it met and which it came to know at the time when it had not yet connected to the body, the soul is immortal.

Another prominent scholar of this period was Aristotle (384-322 BC). He left behind 150 works, which were later systematized and divided into 4 main groups: 1) Ontology (science of being) “Metaphysics” 2) Works on general philosophy, problems of nature and natural science.

“Physics”, “About the sky”, “Meteorology” 3) Political, aesthetic treatises.

“Politics”, “Rhetoric”, “Poetics” 4) Works on logic and methodology.

“Organon” Aristotle considers the first matter to be the basis of all being. It forms a potential prerequisite for existence. And although it is the basis of being, it cannot be identified with being or considered as its main part. This is followed by earth, air and fire, which represent an intermediate step between the first matter and the world, which we perceive sensually. All real things are a combination of matter and images or forms, therefore: real being is the unity of matter and form. According to Aristotle, the movement is a transition from the possible to the reality movement is universal. The basis of every phenomenon is a certain reason.

Aristotle also touched upon the themes of logic, contradiction, cosmology, questions of society and the state, morality, etc., and also highly appreciated art.

The representative of slave-owning democracy, the philosopher Empedocles (c. 483-423 BC) from the Sicilian city of Acraganta, put forward the proposition that everything consists of qualitatively different and quantitatively divisible elements or, as he calls them, “roots.” These “roots” are: fire, air, water and earth. His contemporary Anaxogor (500-428 BC) from Klazomene, who lived in Athens for a long time and was a friend of Pericles, believed that all existing bodies were made up of tiny particles similar to them.

Thus, Empedocles, and especially Anaxagoras, tried to study the structure of matter.

The highest development of mechanistic materialism in the classical period reached in the teachings of Leucippus (c. 500-440 BC) from Miletus, and Democritus (460-370 BC) from Adbera. Both philosophers were ideologists of slave-owning democracy and outstanding scientists of their time.

Leucippus laid the foundations of the atomic theory, which was later successfully developed by Democritus. According to this theory, everything consists of emptiness and moving atoms, infinitely small, indivisible material particles, different in shape and size. Earth was presented to Democritus as a flat disk, rushing in the air around which the stars rotate. All organic and mental life is explained to them by purely material processes.

The atomistic materialism of Leucippus and Democritus had a tremendous and fruitful influence on the scientific and philosophical thought of subsequent times.

The complication of social relations in connection with the rapid development of slavery and the social stratification of the free forced a significant part of philosophers, beginning in the middle of the 5th century. BC, pay attention to the study of human activity. The accumulation of diverse knowledge, on the other hand, required their systematization. Sophistic philosophers (so-called wandering teachers, who taught to pay for eloquence and other sciences) were closely involved in these issues. Their appearance was largely due to the political development of democratic policies, so that citizens had to own oratory.

The most famous among the sophists was Protagoras (c. 480-411 BC) from Abdera. He put forward a statement about the relativity of all phenomena and perceptions and their inevitable subjectivity. His doubts about the existence of the gods were the cause of condemnation of Protagoras in Athens for godlessness and led the sophist to death. Fleeing from Athens, he drowned during a shipwreck.

Sophists did not represent any single direction in Greek philosophical thought. Their philosophical constructions were characterized by the rejection of the obligatory in knowledge.

If the sophists came to the conclusion that it was impossible to give a positive answer to the question they posed about the criterion of truth, then their contemporary ideologist of Athenian oligarchic and aristocratic circles, the idealist philosopher Socrates (471-399 BC) considered it possible and even believed that the criterion of truth, he found. He taught that truth is known in controversy. The so-called “Socratic” method of conducting a dispute is known, in which the sage, with the help of leading questions, imperceptibly instills those who argue with his idea. To establish the general concepts of Socrates based on the study of a number of special cases. The goal of man, according to Socrates, should be a virtue that needs to be realized.

Socrates taught verbally. His philosophy has come down to us in the presentation of his students, mainly of Xenophon and Plato.

Philosophy during the Hellenistic period partially changed the content and its main objectives. These changes were due to the socio-economic and political processes in the developing Hellenistic society. They were also caused by the very fact of the separation from philosophy of a number of special sciences. The philosophers of the Hellenistic period turned their main attention to solving problems of ethics and morality, problems of the behavior of an individual person in the world. The two old authoritative schools of Plato and Aristotle gradually lost their face and authority.

In parallel with the decline of the old philosophical schools of classical Greece in the Hellenistic period, two new philosophical systems of the Stoics and Epicureans arose and developed. The founder of the Stoic philosophy was a native of Capra Island, Zeno (c. 336-264 BC). Stoicism was to a certain extent a synthesis of Greek and Eastern views. Creating his philosophy, Zeno in particular used the teachings of Heraclitus, Aristotle, the teachings of cynics and the Babylonian religious and philosophical concepts. Stoicism was not only the most common, but also the most durable Hellenistic school of thought. It was an idealistic teaching. The Stoics all called the body, including thought, word, fire. The soul, according to the Stoics, was a special kind of light body, warm breathing.

For philosophical schools that emerged and developed during the Hellenistic period, the recognition of slaves of their human dignity and even the possibility of their high moral qualities and wisdom is characteristic.

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