Classical Philosophers

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Classical Philosophy

The golden age of Greece was an age of thinking, of knowledge, and of the arts. Some of the greatest minds of any time projected their ideas upon the masses. They were called philosophers. These were men whose minds developed some of the most abstract and revolutionary ideas of the time. Some of them were put to death for their ideas and their beliefs and became martyrs for their cause. During this age, three philosophers in particular stood out from the rest.

Socrates was the first of the three great philosophers. Before devoting his life to his teachings and philosophies, he was a stonemason and also served as a soldier of some distinction during the Peloponnesian war. He never wrote any of his teachings down, and he preferred to speak about his beliefs and philosophies. He also involved himself with the political workings of Athens. He spent most of his life in discussion with young aristocratic men, unrelentingly questioning their blind confidence in popular opinion, but he never offered them any outlined abstract teaching. He merely conversed and questioned their beliefs. Also, unlike other Sophists of the time, he refused to accept pay for his teachings.

Because he had no texts written by himself on his beliefs, we turn to his followers for information on his beliefs. Plato documents many of Socrates’ conversations with the youth of Athens in his book, Plato’s Republic. In 405 BC Socrates was convicted (wrongly I might add) of corrupting the youth of Athens, interfering with the religion of the city, and for his intervention into politics. There is a text called `Apology’, which documents his unsuccessful defense speech before the Athenian jury. In 399 BC, surrounded by friends and disciples, he drank hemlock (a poison made from the plant with the same name) and died gracefully.

Socrates’ beliefs were not only revolutionary, but also controversial. He spoke with disdain about the gods, and refuted the notion that ‘good’ is doing whatever pleases them. Many texts document his beliefs and morals. Most informative of these are in Plato’s Republic. The best known out of all of his ideas were ideas about virtue, and doing what is right and good.


Plato was the next great philosopher, chronologically. It should be noted that Plato’s real name was Aristocles, and that Plato was a nickname, roughly translated to mean...

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...e city. Here he started his own academy, known as the Lyceum, and here he began to teach Alexander. (Note: This is where the chain ended. Alexander did not become a philosopher, and did not teach anyone else) Not long after Aristotle returned to Athens, the Athenian people revolted against Macedonian rule. Due to his political position (some would describe it as betrayal) and to avoid being executed, he fled to the island of Euboea, where he died soon afterwards.

Aristotle’s works were modern for the time. He had distinguished dolphins and whales from fish, created a classification system quite similar to the one in place today, and formed many astronomical ideas, which were not far from the truth. It should also be noted that in medieval times, he gained a great many followers after some of his preserved works were found, and the disciples of the late philosopher generally believed his works as absolute truth.

These philosophers made a great impact, even thousands of years after their lives. We still look to their works for answers, and there are systems they themselves created that are still being put into use today.
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