Who is this Greek philosopher

Beginnings of philosophy in Greece

Can it really be said that the history of philosophy began at a certain point in time and in a certain place? "Yes!", Say some, and see in the ancient greeks in the period from the sixth century BC the inventors of at least European philosophy. Today, three Greek philosophers of antiquity are particularly famous, namely Socrates, Plato and Aristotle - the older philosophers are generally simply called "pre-Socratics".

The older human world views, often only passed down orally, were later referred to as "myth" and contrasted with the "logos" of philosophy - both terms come from ancient Greek and are well suited to trace the "birth" of philosophy. Literally translated, "myth" means "narrative", while "logos" refers to written speech and, in general, to reason. The word "logic", which is common in German, is also derived from "logos".

It is assumed that the old myths were able to describe the reality of people, but that they did not get to the bottom of it with a "scientific method". The philosophical logos, on the other hand, is trusted to have critically questioned the human perception of reality. So it is about a completely new attitude of people towards their environment and themselves. Through this new perspective, people striving for "truth" gained new insights - literally translated, "philosophy" means nothing else than "love of wisdom" ("philia" means "love", "sophia" means "wisdom"). The aim of philosophy is to subject one's own self-image and worldview to a critical examination.

In the beginning there was the myth

Before the first Greek philosophers stepped onto the stage of world history, there were two significant and extensive written documents from the time around 800 BC, in which one sees the origin of European intellectual history par excellence: the "Iliad" (it tells of the "Trojan War", in which the Greeks conquer and destroy the city of Troy) and the "Odyssey" (it tells of the adventurous return home of the Greek hero Odysseus after the Trojan War). The blind poet Homer is considered to be the author, which is why one speaks of the "Homeric epics". "Epics" is the plural of "epic", this term stands for a poetic story.

Another important text on Greek mythology comes from the poet Hesiod, who was born in the eighth century BC - for a long time the Greek myth was only passed on orally. His work, the so-called "Theogony", describes the origin of the world and the gods - literally translated "Theogony" means something like "the birth of a god". Accordingly, the world emerged from chaos - the gods of the "Hellenes" (as the Greeks called themselves) with their highest god Zeus finally emerged victorious from the battle with the ancient race of gods, the "Titans".

The Homeric epics embodied the mythical worldview of the ancient Greeks - the fate of the people was controlled here by the overpowering gods who lived on Mount Olympus. The pre-Socratics, i.e. all Greek philosophers who lived and worked before Socrates, opposed the Homeric epics and Hesiod's world of gods with their "natural philosophy" in the period between 600 and 400 BC - in historiography this phase is considered the beginning of European philosophy.

Beginning of philosophy in Greece

The first pre-Socratics lived on the Greek-settled coasts of the Aegean Sea - today these areas are partly Greek and partly Turkish. (At that time Greece was divided into different city-states, which also came into conflict with each other again and again.) Especially the port city of Miletus, which became rich through trade, is considered to be the cradle of early Greek philosophy. The pre-Socratics were primarily interested in nature, which is why they were also called "natural philosophers" or "cosmologists" - "cosmos" means "order of the world".

In general, it was about understanding and explaining what happens in nature. In different ways, natural processes have been traced back to "primordial elements" and "principles" - a principle is that from which something else has its origin. For example, it was believed that a single substance such as water (in Thales, 624 to 546 BC), fire (in Heraclitus, 535 to 475 BC) or air (in Anaximenes, 585 to 524 BC) The core of everything that reveals itself in nature. Anaximander (611 to 546 BC) was also an important early philosopher - he imagined an invisible and conscious substance that he called "Apeiron" to be the driving force of the world.

Heraclitus taught that nature and world events - that is, the whole of "being" - are in constant change. One could speak of Heraclitus and his followers of the basic principle of "becoming". The opposite position was taken by the philosopher Parmenides (520 to 450 BC) - for him the real being is unchangeable, the becoming is merely an illusion. (With Plato these two positions are later combined - he simply assumed that there are two worlds: the changeable world of "appearances" and the changeable world of "ideas".) The idea typical of the early pre-Socratics that everything is in The world is composed of only one element or only follows one principle, is also known as "monism" - "monos" is a word from the Greek and means "only".

The school of the Pythagoreans

A radical new approach took place in the Greek settlement area in southern Italy by the "Pythagorean School", named after its founder, the philosopher Pythagoras of Samos. The determining force within nature was taken here to be something that is not itself part of the material world at all, namely number. Pythagoras lived from about 570 to 510 BC.

For the Pythagoreans, the number symbolized something like a spiritual principle that underlies all natural phenomena. Material reality follows a cosmic principle of order, and this becomes visible and comprehensible in numbers and in mathematics. The Pythagoreans linked their philosophical knowledge with a certain way of life - they rejected the consumption of meat, believed in rebirth and saw men and women as equal.

In the case of the Pythagoreans, the distinction between "obvious" reality (in Greek "phenomenon") and "true" reality (in Greek "noumenon") is very popular in philosophy. The different philosophical schools saw in the "true" reality either something physical (then one speaks of "materialism") or something spiritual (then one speaks of "idealism"). Even today, opposing philosophical positions are often assigned to either the materialistic or the idealistic camp.

Democritus atomic theory

The idea of ‚Äč‚Äčatoms that make up the whole world originally came from a philosopher named Leucippus - he even believed that the human soul is also made up of "soul atoms". His student Democritus von Abdera (460 to 371 BC) took the atomic idea as a principle and based it on a whole philosophical system.

Democritus put forward the theory that human sensations come about when atoms touch the sense organs - an astonishing thought at the time. The later materialistic naturalists did not claim otherwise. Democritus considered the world as a whole to be indestructible, because at most it could be broken down into its individual atoms. The different atoms - round, smooth, crooked or whatever shape - and the respective proportions were responsible for the properties of each substance.

For Democritus there were no gods who could have created the world - according to his world view, the atoms enter into connections with one another for all eternity according to the laws of nature, which then (have to) be released again and again. Democritus saw people's attitude to life ("ethics") touched by his findings - his ideal was the serenity ("ataraxia") that a person attains when he is free from all "false" hopes, such as those found in religion, for example express, made free.

Philosophy as a Profession: The Sophists

The Sophists were a group of philosophers who were often viewed negatively in later historiography. This is because the first really famous philosophers, Socrates and Plato, saw them as an enemy. Most of what has come down to us from the Sophists comes from the writings of Plato.

In the word "sophist" as well as in the word "philosophy" there is the word element "sophia", which means something like "wisdom". The philosopher is the messenger of this wisdom, that is, a teacher. Indeed, the sophists were trained philosophers who offered their services for money.

It was precisely in this that Plato later saw something problematic - he criticized that the sophists were no longer about knowledge itself, but rather about appearance. The sophists instructed their students in the art of speech ("rhetoric"). Plato understood it this way: He who can argue better is right - regardless of whether his knowledge is "true" or not. Those who mastered the art of speech in ancient Greece could hope for a successful career. That is why the sophists were popular service providers even with those who were primarily interested in power and prestige.

The sophists differed from the older pre-Socratics in that they made the human being their object of investigation - "Man is the measure of all things", the famous sophist Protagoras is said to have said. The teachings of the sophists revolved primarily around politics and ethics; they were less interested in natural philosophy than their philosophical predecessors. In their eyes the truth was something that changed from the point of view of man, whereas the older pre-Socratics and also their later "opponent" Plato saw it as something absolute.