GREEK PHILOSOPHY: ITS IMPACT AND LEGACY
Assignment: For your research project this semester, you will write a formal research paper. You will be able to choose any aspect of ancient Greek civilization. Pick something that looks interesting to you. Read about it in the book and see if there is something that you want to investigate further. I do not want to see a general report on, for example, Athens. I want you to dig deeper into the subject. For example, “The political system in Athens allowed for open participation in the managing of the state for all levels of the socio-economic structure.” You would then conduct research to support your claim and provide specific examples. Look ahead into the text at all of the aspects of Greek History we will be covering, don’t just pick something from the first week unless it is of genuine interest to you.
The paper itself will be a minimum of 1700 words (including footnotes but not bibliography) and no more than 2200 words. Anything less than 1700 will not give you adequate space to provide detailed analysis of the material and over 2200 does not force you to focus your argument and choose your words carefully. If you find yourself going over 2200 words then you need to narrow your focus. Longer papers do not meet the assignment guidelines, the same as shorter papers. For sources, you may not use websites, magazines, or the textbook. You will need to find a minimum of three primary sources and three scholarly journal articles. Popular history books, bibliographies, encyclopedias, and non-scholarly websites are not acceptable sources for this level of research. Upper division classes are meant to focus on good, solid research and writing.
All papers will need to be cited in proper Chicago/Turabian style footnotes or endnotes. I realize that you may not be familiar with this style but do not default into MLA simply because that is what you always use. History uses footnotes for specific reasons, primarily because they are a part of the narrative, they give you a chance to expand upon ideas that may not immediately fit into the body of the essay and they are the only way to cite archive and unpublished sources, which is what historical research is based on.
Your notes do not have to be perfect, but you do need to make a wholehearted attempt at using the proper citation format. All research papers not only need notes but they also must include a bibliography listing all sources that you used in your research, not just the ones that you cited directly. This allows the reader to follow your thinking and your research and to understand where your ideas came from. If you get stuck then ask me for help. That is what I am here for!
All papers will include a bibliography, a coversheet, citations, and will be saved with Last name First Name Class Assignment Name in order to be accepted. Please pay attention to the details and the instructions.
GREEK PHILOSOPHY: ITS IMPACT AND LEGACY
Today’s modern societies, religion, politics, and notions of democracy owe a lot to the ancient Greek Philosophy which began around 600BCE. It is credited for opening the doors to a way of thinking that birthed the western intellectual traditions and the preference for rational thought and reason in all facets of life. In their work, ancient Greek philosophers criticized the traditional way of thinking, believing and even living, occasionally getting into trouble with the authorities. They questioned the idea of human existence, purpose, and pursuit of happiness amongst other issues in both scientific and mystic ways. In this paper, we document the historical chronology of the Green Philosophy and also identify the contribution of some of the main philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The paper also identifies the impact and legacy of these philosophers in modern world systems.
The ancient Greek civilization which was characterized by wealthy cities such as Ionia on the shores of Mediterranean coincided with the birth of Greek Philosophy. Some of the oldest documented Greek philosophers included Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander who came up with a cosmological theory that sought to explain natural phenomena. Their school of thought (called Milesian) approached philosophy through the rejection of all traditionally held explanations of nature based on superstition, myths, religion and dogma. While they agreed that everything in existence came from some substance, they could not agree on what that substance was. Through observation, Thales was able to predict the 585BCE eclipse; Anaximander observed that since at birth humans are practically helpless, then humans must have originated from some other beings that were stronger and fitter. While their philosophy was deemed to be weak compared to science, it encouraged rational observation that continued to be an influence, subsequent thinkers.
Pythagoras, another philosopher who arose during this period combined science with religion, something that would have been frowned upon by the Milesians. He is credited as the originator of mathematics, as the first person to come up with a mathematical formula which is nostalgically called the Pythagoras theorem, used in schools today. In a sense, Pythagoras is also credited to have originated with deductive reasoning from general premises which is seen to draw its methods from the Pythagorean innovations.
Democritus and Leucippus developed a line of thought which is closest to modern scientific innovations. They developed the theory of atomism, based on the belief that everything is composed of atoms that were physically indivisible and indestructible. They strongly believed that everything that happened in this world was in accordance with the laws of nature, disregarding the role of the universe. They made great attempts to understand the universe in the most objective manner, minimizing intellectual deviations and mystic prejudices. However, they still concluded that the universe was only a mixture of infinite atoms.
The Sophists & Socrates
Around 500bce, Greek cities were largely divided, albeit with a common language and culture. Over the period, the city of Athens had implemented what was akin to modern democracy, with all male citizens enjoying
Similar rights regardless of origin or social class. Before the democracy, decisions in the state had always been made by the few rich families, also known as aristocrats and nobles. This form of democracy is also credited with the participation of the citizenry in what was called ‘polis’. During this period, the speech was the most important attribute and the ability to discuss different topics and to convince others was a great advantage. Court hearings, for instance, were characterized by the discussion between the prosecutor and the accused and the acquittal or detention was mostly based on one’s rhetorical skills. This was the beginning of the sophist’s school of thought.
Sophists taught courses that were deemed very useful at the time such as rhetoric. Since they taught their courses for a fee, only aristocrats and nobles were able to afford. At a time when the country was experiencing significant social and political reforms with democracy replacing the old ways of politics and many aristocrats who felt that their interests were injured in the new dispensation tried to destroy democracy. Sophists, therefore, represented a new political period in Athens and were mostly linked to changes in educational needs. Then arose Socrates, who became a very pivotal figure in Greek Philosophy.
Just like the Sophists, Socrates was a teacher, although he never asked for payments in return as was the case with the sophists. Before Socrates, philosophers concerned themselves mainly with the physical world, trying to understand its existence, science, physics, and metaphysics. Socrates, however, approached philosophy from the point of moral and psychological concerns. He sought to answer questions such as what’s morality virtue or patriotism. Etc. Due to the abstract nature of most of these questions, his debates and discussions often ended up in more questions and was often in dispute with others as he proved that most of the words used at the time were just abstract with little meaning. His insistence on challenging conventions and his intolerance for unclear thinking earned him many friends and foes alike, culminating in his trial and condemnation to death. Although he was offered to opportunity to escape from Athens, he chose to stay and was subsequently killed although his teachings and philosophy still play a great role in modern learning and instruction.
Plato & Aristotle
Plato and Aristotle are regarded in modern times as the most important philosophers of Greek Descent, with their work forming the main interest focus for students of philosophy all over the world. This is because, unlike most of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle’s work survived in a form that was accessible and also their influence on modern Christian thought was dominant during the middle and modern ages. As a student of Socrates, Plato was dismayed and disgusted by his (Socrates) death. After traveling to many parts of the world, Plato came back to Athens and established his famous Academy- the first institution of higher learning in the western world- where he continued to teach his philosophical thoughts. So significant was Plato’s influence in Western philosophy that it was at some point declared that the common denominator of European philosophical foundations is that it contained a great influence from Plato.
Plato’s philosophical interests were mainly in politics and ethics although he had a greater impact in physical, epistemological and metaphysical ideas. One of his most famous insights is his insistence that virtues such as goodness, justice, beauty among others were not possible to define or identify unless there was a clear frame of reference. He explained that it’s only through a long and arduous study by philosophers that we can be able to understand the existence of these forms. In his many ‘dialogues’ he generated ideas in the doctrine of Idealism, Essentialism and Realism’ as well as his ‘theory of forms’ and his ‘appearance and reality’ ideas on existence and form of matter. In his most famous work, The Plato Republic, Plato explained that our world view is influenced by our frames of references and our reality of the world is skewed to understand only the shadow world while we do not, in fact, experience the true reality of the world.
Aristotle, a Plato student for about 20 years became the teacher of Alexander the Great. His interests covered wide areas such as mathematics, physics, ethics, biology, astronomy, rhetoric, psychology among others. He is credited as the first thinker to advance the notion of logic. Although some components of his logic were in existence from Socrates argumentative techniques and exact definition and Plato’s dialogues as well as elements of mathematics and law, Aristotle can be said to be the father of logical reasoning. Aristotle regarded logic as the instrument through which it was possible to know anything. Through his ‘organon’ Aristotle proposed rules that aided in correct reasoning as the principles of categorical logic which continued to be universally accepted in the western nations until the 19th century. So important was Aristotle’s logic and ideas that even in the middle ages, a copy of his ‘organon’ could be found in most prestigious libraries.
This philosophical era was characterized by the emergence of four schools of philosophical thought: the Stoics, Cynics, Epicureans and Skeptics. It was also a period when the political power was with the Macedonians, leaving Greek Philosophers to abandon political concerns and major on individual problems. Instead of emphasizing on the societal good, philosophers concentrated on individual interests such as happiness and virtue.
The Cynics were the most drastic in their ideas, rejecting all forms of conventional life such as marriage, housing, decency, manners and even religion. They believed that all these things were not important in life and were unnecessary additions to the mortal journey. The Skeptics on the other hand systemized the existing doubts. They noted that senses often caused trouble to philosophers, save for Plato, who ignored perceptions in pursuit of his world of ideas. Besides the skepticism of the senses, the skeptics also added logical and moral skepticism. Unlike their predecessors, the Epicureans were all about materialism. They believed that life was purely about the pursuit of worldly pleasures which was against the teachings of the Stoics. Stoics believed that nothing happened in the world by chance. They believed in divine providence of the universe and that everything that happened was to be accepted without complaint. They believed that the achievement of happiness was not important, but rather the pursuit of happiness was.
Legacy and Conclusion
The legacy of Greek Philosophy has been felt across nations, regions, continents, and generations. One of the oldest legacies of the Greek philosophy was the influence on the Roman Culture, with the Roman gods being identified with some Olympian deities’ Hellenic art, architecture and even language appealing to most educated Romans. Although Rome was mighty in terms of infrastructural know-how, military tactics and legal codes, their culture, science, art, and philosophy was heavily influenced by the Greek philosophy and tradition.
Given the high esteem and admiration with which the Romans held the Greeks, it’s no wonder that one of Romans philosophers Plotinus (204-270 CE), the founder of Neo-Platonism played a key role in the shaping the appeal for the real world and the other world, which appeared to offer refuge especially during the times of military campaigns and pestilence and great suffering of the Roman kingdom. The notion of ‘the other world’ was adopted by Christians and pagans alike and the idea revolved around the existence of heaven and afterlife. The striking resemblance between Christian and Platonic thoughts is so strong to the extent that theologians and Christian philosophers have used Plotinus ideas to grow their philosophy. Platonism was, therefore, a central theme in the shaping of the Christian theology.
Christianity, which owes its origin to the Roman empire combined Platonism, stoicism, Orphism and esoteric aspects some of which are traceable to the morals and acquired Judaism history. St Augustine, for instance, is quoted as having referred to Plato’s ideas as the ‘purest and brightest in all philosophy’. While Christianity has undergone a lot of reforms over the centuries, it’s notable that its original philosophy revolved mostly around Greek Ideas and philosophy. Even to date, the voices and teachings of the Greek philosophers have continued to shape our institutions, leaders, minds and even civilization. Their various schools of thought have continued to teach us of the possibility of having different solutions to similar problems and the fact that it’s only when we are open to unfamiliar possibilities that we can truly expand our thoughts.
Aside from the influence of religion and civilization, from pre-Socratics to the Hellenists, there is the overbearing preference for reason. The pre-Socratics used reasoned accounts of mythology to establish physical explanations of natural phenomena and the truth about psychology. Socrates, on the other hand, employed reason to realize his own personal and human limitations while Plato identified the life of reason as the best life even with its inability to answer all life’s questions. Aristotle used logical reasoning and other forms of reasoning to investigate the world around him while the Hellenists emphasized on philosophical practice in accordance with reason. In modern worlds, scholars and other intellectually curious individuals still study these Greek works not necessarily for historical purposes, but also as a testament to the intellectual thought contained therein
Graham, Daniel ‘‘The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Pre-Socratic’s’’. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Inwood, Brad, and L.P. Gerson. ‘‘Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings’’. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988. Algra Keimpe, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, and Malcolm Schofield, ‘‘The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy’’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999