Ancient History 101: Greece 04 - Philosophy.


Greece chapter 4

The Greeks were big into developing big ideas about how the universe worked and coming up with ways to rationally explain it. After beating back Xerxes and the Persians, the Greek city-states entered into a period of enlightenment and progression of ideas that laid the groundwork for much of Western thought as we know it today.

The three most important early thinkers were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Socrates. 470 - 399 B.C.

Socrates was famous for teaching people to think for themselves, particularly through the use of the Socratic Method. This is a type of active dialogue in which one keeps asking questions and asking the other to define and articulate their position in order to pursue truth.

Eventually he got in trouble with Athenian authorities for disagreeing with authorities and challenging the existence of Greek gods. His punishment was death (how draconian!) and although he could have probably gotten out of it, he stoically and stubbornly accepted the consequences and drank the hemlock poison, surrounded by his followers. He was too busy thinking, talking, and asking questions to write anything down, but fortunately one of his followers, a fellow named Plato did so.

Plato. 428ish - 348ish B.C.

Plato was a student of Socrates and was fortunately a bit better at taking notes than his teacher. He wrote a book called The Republic and outlined his ideas on the ideal society in which he divided people into three groups: workers, soldiers, and philosophers. Guess which one he thought should rule?

He believed in helping teach people ways of ethical living that would help them to lead happy, moral, and virtuous lives. One of his most famous examples is called the Allegory of the Cave that deals with the nature of reality, freedom, knowledge, truth, and ignorance.

He also started a school called the Academy that prepared Athenians for government.

Aristotle. 384 - 322 B.C.

Aristotle was a student of Plato and they shared a few things in common, such as a belief that the key to happiness was examining behavior. He was also one of history’s great organizers: he spent much of his life defining and classifying categories of logic, biology, physics, and other aspects of the natural world.

He loved nature and physical science. Much of the scientific method and classification we use today has its origins in the foundations he set.

He differed from Plato in his political writings. He thought there were three forms of government that worked, or could work: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

He also started a school, the Lyceum, as well as tutoring the famous nation-conqueror Alexander the Great.

A great deal of what Aristotle wrote was held to be true for the next 1000+ years. Much of it was proved to be false, especially his beliefs on astronomy and celestial bodies. But he laid a groundwork of knowledge, theory, and methods of researching for future generations to build on for centuries to come. He is called the Father of Western Philosophy.


Introduction to Ancient History, from the Paleolithic Era to the fall of Rome, and how the lives, cultures, decisions, and actions of these periods affects our modern lives.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.