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The Greek Philosophers
The founders of Western Thought
(The Original Dead White Males)
Next slide “The School of Athens” by Raphael'
From the Island of Samos:
• Pythagoras: (569-500 B.C.).
Mathematician and philosopher.
Was to first to believe that the
Earth was a sphere rotating around
a central fire. He believed that the
natural order could be expressed
in numbers. Known for the Pythagorean
theorem which was however known much
earlier (From the Babylonians and perhaps
earlier from the Chinese). Numbers are the true
reality of reality.
(470-399 BC)
• The earliest Greek philosopher widely
• Living in Athens Greece, Socrates' way of life,
character, and thought exerted a profound
influence on ancient and modern philosophy.
• Not how does the world work but how does
one live a moral life?
• Greek philosopher whose way of life,
character, and thought exerted a profound
influence on ancient and modern philosophy.
• Socrates was a widely recognized and
controversial figure in his native Athens, so
much so that he was frequently mocked in
the plays of comic dramatists.
• (The Clouds of Aristophanes author of
Lysastrata, produced in 423, is the bestknown example.)
• Although Socrates himself wrote nothing,
he is depicted in conversation in
compositions by a small circle of his
admirers—Plato and Xenophon first among
The "Socratic Problem"
• As noted earlier, Socrates did not write
philosophical texts.
• The knowledge of the man, his life, and his
philosophy is based on writings by his students
and contemporaries.
• Foremost among them is Plato; however,
works by Xenophon, Aristotle, and
Aristophanes also provide important insights
Socratic Method--Origins
• Based on ideas of Socrates
• Socrates’ actual method was an extended
public dialogue/debate between teacher and
a student (aka “dialectic”). This can be rather
• Therefore, we use a moderated version,
consisting mostly of group discussion.
• Teacher poses questions rather than
providing answers.
• Considered one of the most powerful
teaching tools.
• Socrates stood before a jury of 500 of
his fellow Athenians accused of
"refusing to recognize the gods
recognized by the state" and of
"corrupting the youth."
• He was put on trial for teaching that
there might be other gods other than
the “official” ones.
• He was found “guilty” and he initially
offered the sarcastic recommendation
that he be rewarded for his actions 
• Athenian law stated that the penalty
would be suicide by hemlock.
The Death of
Socrates, by
JacquesLouis David
(428/427 BC – 348/347 BC)
• Plato, with his mentor, Socrates, and his
student, Aristotle, helped to lay the
foundations of Western philosophy.
• Plato was also a mathematician, writer of
philosophical dialogues, and founder of the
Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher
learning in the western world.
• He was originally a student of Socrates, and was as
much influenced by his thinking as by what he saw
as his teacher's unjust death.
• Plato wrote a lot about Socrates since Plato was his
student; he is the source of most of our knowledge of
• His most famous and important writing is called,
“The Republic”
• QUESTION: Would Plato’s writings about Socrates
be a Primary or Secondary? Why?
• Why? Because Plato wrote about what he saw
with Socrates (opinion maybe, but still primary)
Plato (left) and Aristotle
(right), a detail of The
School of Athens, a
fresco by Raphael.
Aristotle gestures to the
earth, representing his
belief in knowledge
through empirical
observation and
experience, while
holding a copy of his
Nicomachean Ethics in
his hand, whilst Plato
gestures to the heavens,
representing his belief
in The Forms
(384-322 BC)
• He was the first to create a comprehensive system of
Western philosophy, encompassing morality and
aesthetics, logic and science, politics and
• Aristotle's views on the physical sciences profoundly
shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence
extended well into the Renaissance, although they
were ultimately replaced by modern physics.
• In the biological sciences, some of his observations
were only confirmed to be accurate in the nineteenth
• His works contain the earliest known
formal study of logic, which were
incorporated in the late nineteenth century
into modern formal logic.
• In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a
profound influence on philosophical and
theological thinking in the Islamic and
Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it
continues to influence Christian theology,
especially Eastern Orthodox theology, and
the scholastic tradition of the Roman
Catholic Church.
• All aspects of Aristotle's philosophy
continue to be the object of active academic
study today.
• Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises
and dialogues (Cicero described his literary
style as "a river of gold"), it is thought that the
majority of his writings are now lost and only
about one third of the original works have
The Cynics
Diogenes searches for a
human being. Painting
attributed to J. H. W.
Tischbein (c. 1780)
They were an influential group of
philosophers from the ancient school of
• Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in
agreement with Nature.
• This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and
fame, and by living a life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures,
people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way
which was natural for humans.
• They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering
was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless
customs and conventions which surrounded society.
• Many of these thoughts were later absorbed into Stoicism.
Diogenes of Sinope
• Defied all
convention lived in a
tub—lived life as an
• Cynic actually
means “dog” which
was a nickname
given to him by
• When Plato defined “man” as a hairless biped,
Diogenes tossed in a plucked chicken and said
here is Plato’s man!”
Diogenes of Sinope
• Spent his life as a pauper; didn’t want anything
to do with material wealth.
• Spent his nights looking for an “honest man”,
but never found one.
• When someone is called a “cynic”, they do not
have a positive outlook on anything or anyone.
They are “glass half empty” kind of people.