Greek Philosopher: Socrates

Socrates, AC Grayling

Socrates

Socrates was born in 470BC in Athens, Greece.  His father Sophroniscus was a stone mason and sculptor, and his mother Phaenarete was a midwife.

He did not come from noble stock, and therefore would receive basic Greek education, and from there trained under his father as a stone mason.

Socrates married Xanthippe, who blessed him with three sons; Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus.

Socrates had devoted much of his time to what became his second profession, that being a philosopher, much to the disgust of his wife, who complained philosophy could not put bread on the table… could not support his family.

Athenian law stated all able bodied men, had to serve as soldiers between the ages of 18-60 and be on call.  Socrates participated in three military campaigns as an infantry man, in the Peloponnesian War at Delium, Amphipolis and Polidaea.  Socrates was known for his courage in battle, and stepped in saving the life of General Alcibiades an Athenian leader.

Socrates was of the belief that the ideals of philosophy should achieve practical results for society.  He went on to point out human choice was a desire for happiness.

He believed his thoughts could be used in the political forum, being neither tyranny nor democracy, instead a government ruled by individuals.

Athens to him was an open styled classroom, where he could ask questions from the men of learning and the common man, seeking to arrive at answers on political and ethical truths.

During the life of Socrates, Athens had recently been defeated by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.  For Athens and its people it had entered a period of doubt, questioning their identity, their place in the world … They clung to past values.

Socrates attacked these values, many admired him for speaking out and challenging Greek conventional wisdom, but other’s believed he threatened their way of life.

Socrates was convicted for threatening the political stability of Greece, and found guilty.  The jury proposed he should be exiled, but Socrates proposed he should be honoured for his contributions to Athens, and be duly paid for his services.

The jury were not amused by his outburst, and they sentenced him to death; Death by Hemlock poison.

Plato describes Socrates execution:  “Socrates drunk the hemlock mixture without hesitation.  Numbness slowly crept into his body until it reached his heart.  Shortly before his final breath.  Socrates described his death as a release of the soul from the body.”

Socrates died in 399BC by Hemlock poison in Athens, Greece.

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Greek Philosopher: Plato

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Plato

Plato the Greek Philosopher was born between 424 and 423BC, to parents from the Greek aristocracy.  Ariston his father was a descended from the Kings of Athens and Messenia, whilst his mother, Perictione was related to the 6th century Greek statesman; Solon.  Plato was one of four children, having two full brothers and one half brother.

History tells us that Plato was educated in Athens, and would have studied the works of Cratylus, Pythagoras and Parmenides.  These would have provided him with the base to his studies in Metaphysics (Study of Nature) and Epistemology (Study of Knowledge).

Ariston, his father died whilst Plato was still young, and his mother remarried Pyrilmapes her uncle a Greek politician and ambassador to Persia.

His direction in life came by way of memorable events, first was meeting Socrates a well known and Greek philosopher, and serving in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta between 409 and 404BC.

Plato considered a career in politics, but his world was shattered when one he looked up to; Socrates was executed in 399BC for speaking his mind.  He turned away from politics to a life of study and philosophy.

For twelve long years, following the death of Socrates, he travelled through the Mediterranean region, studying mathematics with the Pythagoreans in Italy, geometry, geology and astronomy in Egypt.

Shortly after Socrates death he wrote “The Apoloogy of Socrates” and from their wrote many texts including Protagoras and Euthyphro amongst others, aiming to convey Socrates’s philosophy and teachings to the reader.

His middle writings during his life saw Plato write down his own beliefs, not based on others works.  He wrote of justice, courage, wisdom and moderation, based on the individual within society in his works “The Republic.”

His later writings showed Plato taking an in depth study into his own thoughts of metaphysical ideas.  Exploring the role of art, music, drama along with ethics and morality.

“Plato wrote that the world of ideas is the only constant and that the perceived world through our senses is deceptive and changeable.”

Around 385BC Plato founded an Academy which he ran until his death in 348BC.  This academy offered learning, until it was closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I who feared it be a source of paganism and a threat to Christianity.

One of the academy’s students, was none other than Aristotle, who would join his thoughts with that of Plato, thus creating new thoughts … new ideas.

Plato left an impact on his home of Greece, and far beyond, showing that mathematics in education was essential if one wanted to understand the universe.

His works, give reason in the development of a fair and just society which led to the foundation of the modern democracy.

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Greek Philosopher: Aristotle

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Aristotle

Aristotle was born in 384Bc in Stagira, a former seaport on the northern coast of Greece.  His father Nicomachus, was a court physician to King Amyntas II of Macedonia, and mother; Phaestis.

Proxenus of Atarneus, was married to Aristotle’s sister Arimneste, and he became Aristotle’s guardian when his father died.  Aged seventeen Aristotle went to Athens and was enrolled in Plato’s Academy and the two became great friends.

After Plato died, Aristotle attended the court of King Hermias of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia.  During his three year stay met Pythias, they were married, and had one daughter; Pythias named after her mother.

In 338BC Aristotle returned to Macedonia and tutored King Phillips son; Alexander the Great.  In 335BC, when Alexander succeeded his father and conquered Athens, Aristotle went to Athens.

Plato’s Academy was now being run by Xenocrates, a leading influence on Greek thought.

With Alexander the Great’s agreement, Aristotle opened his own school in Athens; the Lyceum, and spent his time as teacher, researcher and writer at his centre of teaching.

Aristotle life was shattered when Pythias his wife died, the very same year the Lyceum opened its doors.

Herpyllis formerly from Stagira, the place of his birth and a slave presented to him by the Macedonia court.  He freed her, then married her, and she bore him a son; Nicomachus after Aristotle’s father.

When Alexander the Great died in 323BC the pro-Macedonian was overthrown and Aristotle was charged with impiety.  He fled to Chalcis on the island of Euboea rather than be prosecuted, where he remained till his death.

Aristotle believed knowledge could be obtained by interacting with physical objects.  He recognized human’s play a part in understanding.  He focused much on the concept of logic, and the process would allow man to learn much about reality.  His philosophy provided man with a much needed system of reasoning.  He believed matter was the physical substance of things, whilst form was a unique nature, giving it, its identity.

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Atlantis by Plato 360BC

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Atlantis

Atlantis was the domain of Poseidon, God of the sea.  When Poseidon fell in love with a mortal woman; Cleito, he created a dwelling at the top of a hill near the middle of the island and surrounded the dwelling with rings of water and land to protect her.

Cleito gave birth to five sets of twin boys who became the first rulers of Atlantis.  The island was divided among the brothers with the eldest; Atlas being the first King of Atlantis, being given control over the central hill and surrounding areas.

At the top of the central hill, a temple was built to honor Poseidon which housed a giant gold statue of him riding a chariot pulled by winged horses.  It was here that the rulers of Atlantis would come to discuss laws, pass judgements and pay tribute to Poseidon…

To facilitate travel and trade, a water canal was cut through the rings of land and water running south for 5.5 miles to the sea.

The city of Atlantis sat just outside the outer ring of water and spread across the plain covering a circle of eleven miles.  This was a densely populated area where the majority of the population lived.

Beyond the city lay a fertile plain 330 miles long and 110 miles wide surrounded by a canal used to collect water from the rivers and streams of the mountains.  The climate was such that two harvests were possible each year; one in the winter fed by the rains and one in the summer fed by irrigation from the canal.

Surrounding the plain to the north were mountains which soared to the skies.  Villages, lakes, rivers and meadows dotted the mountains.

Besides the harvests, the island provided all kinds of herbs, fruit and nuts.  An abundance of animals, including elephants roamed the island.

For generations the Atlanteans lived simple, virtuous lives.  Over time that slowly began to change, as greed and power began to corrupt them.  When Zeus saw the immorality of the Atlanteans he gathered the other Gods to determine a suitable punishment.

Soon, in one violent surge it was gone.  The island of Atlantis; its people and its memory were swallowed by the sea.

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Plato

The above is a summary of the story told by Plato around 360 BC in his dialogues “Timaeus and Critias.”

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