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Index by Period

(-600 - 500)

Origin. Greek philosophy first appeared in the Ionic colonies of Asia Minor, and never throughout the course of its development did it wholly lose the marks of its Oriental origin. Whether this influence was as preponderant as Roth and Gladisch contend, [1] or as unimportant as Zeller and others maintain, [2] it is certain that the philosophy of Greece was characterized from the beginning by a spirit which is peculiarly Hellenic. The Greek looked out upon the world through an atmosphere singularly free from the mist of allegory and myth: the contrast between the philosophy of the East and the first attempts of the Ionian physicists is as striking as the difference between an Indian jungle and the sunny, breeze-swept shores of the Mediterranean.
[1] Cf. Zeller, Pre-Socratic Philosophy, Vol. I, pp. 35 ff.

[2] Cf. ibid.
Greek Religion exercised hardly more than an indirect influence on Greek philosophy. Popular beliefs were so crude as to their speculative content that they could not long retain their hold on the mind of the philosopher. Consequently, such influence as they directly exercised was antagonistic to philosophy. Yet it was the popular beliefs which, by keeping alive among the Greeks an exquisite appreciation of form and an abiding sense of symmetry, did not permit the philosopher to take a partial or an isolated view of things. In this way Greek religion indirectly fostered that imperative desire for a totality of view which, in the best days of Greek speculation, enabled Greek philosophy to attain its most important results. In one particular instance Greek religion contributed directly to Greek philosophy by handing over to philosophy the doctrine of immortality, -- a doctrine which in every stage of its philosophical development has retained the mark of its theological origin. Plato, for example, distinctly refers it to the (Bacchic and Orphic) mysteries.[3]
[3] Cf. Phaedo, 69, 70.
Poetry. The philosophy as well as the religion of the Greeks found its first expression in poetry, philosophical speculation, properly so called, being preceded by the effort of the imagination to picture to itself the origin and the evolution of the universe. Homer presents, without analyzing, types of ethical character: Achilles, the indomitable; Hector, the chivalrous; Agamemnon, of kingly presence; Nestor, the wise; Ulysses, the wary; Penelope, the faithful. Hesiod gives us the first crude attempts at constructing a world-system. His cosmogony, however, is presented in the form of a theogony; there is as yet no question of accounting for the origin of things by natural causes. The so-called Orphic Cosmogonies had the Hesiodic theogony for their basis. They did not advance much farther in their inquiry than Hesiod himself had gone, unless we include as Orphic those systems of cosmology to which all scholars now agree in assigning a post-Aristotelian date. Pherecydes of Syros (about 540 B.C.) more closely approaches the scientific method. He describes Zeus, Chronos, and Chthon as the first beginnings of all things. There is here a basic thought that the universe sprang from the elements of air and earth, through the agency of time. This thought, however, the poet conceals under enigmatical symbols, referring the phenomena of nature not to natural agencies, but to the incomprehensible action of the gods.

The beginnings of moral philosophy are found in the ethical portrayals of the Homeric poems, in the writings of the Gnomic Poets of the sixth century B.C., and especially in the sayings attributed to the Seven Wise Men. These sayings are characterized by a tone of cynicism, and exhibit a knowledge of the world's ways which is certainly remarkable if it belongs to the age to which it is generally assigned. [4]
[4] Plato's story (Protagoras, 343 A) of the meeting of the Seven Wise Men at Delphi is totally devoid of historical foundation. Even the names of the seven are not agreed upon. The enumeration which most frequently occurs is the following: Thales, Bias, Pittacus, Solon, Cleobulus, Chilo, and Periander. Cf. Ritter and Preller, Hist. Phil. Graecae (ed. 1888), p. 2, note d.
The Division of Greek philosophy into periods and schools is partly chronological and partly dependent on the development of philosophic thought. The following seems to be the most convenient arrangement:
  • I. Pre-Socratic Philosophy.
  • II. Philosophy of Socrates and the Socratic Schools.
  • III. Post-Aristotelian Philosophy.
In the first period, the era of beginnings, philosophical speculation was largely objective; it busied itself with the study of nature and the origin of the world. In the second period Socrates brought philosophy down to the contemplation of man's inner self; it was a period in which the objective and subjective methods were blended. In the third period the subjective element was made preponderant; the Stoics and Epicureans concerned themselves with man and his destiny, to the almost complete exclusion of cosmological and metaphysical problems.

Sources. The sources of Greek philosophy are:

Primary sources. Besides the complete works of Plato and Aristotle, we have several collections of fragments of philosophical writings; for instance, Mullach's Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Ritter and Preller's Historia Philosophiae Graecae, Diels' Doxographi Graeci, Fairbanks' The First Philosophers of Greece, Adams, Texts, etc. (New York, 1903).

Secondary sources. (1) Ancient writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Theophrastus,[5] in reference to pre-Socratic and Socratic philosophy; (2) Alexandrian authorities, such as Demetrius of Phalerus (third century B.C.), Ptolemy Philadelphus (third century B.C.), Callimachus (third century B.C.), author of the pinakes or "tablets"; (3) Later writers: Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Diogenes Laertius (about A.D. 220); (4) Modern critics and historians. Tiedemann, Ritter and Preller, Zeller, Windelband, Diels, Tannery, Burnet, etc. Diels' Doxographi Graeci (Berlin, 1879) is of great value in determining the affiliation of sources. [6]

[5] On Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, etc., as sources for the history of Greek philosophy, cf. Fairbanks, The First Philosophers of Greece (New York, 1898), pp. 263 ff.; also Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (London, 1892), pp. 370 ff.

[6] Tiedemann, Griechenlands erste Phiosophen (Leipzig, 1781); Ritter, History of Ancient Philosophy, trans. by Morrison (4 vols., Oxford, 1838); Ritter and Preller, Hist. Phil. Graecae (Ed. VII, Gothae, 1888); Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen (fünfte Aufl., Leipzig, 1892 ff.). (References will be made to the English translations by Alleyne and others under the titles Pre-Socratic. Philosophy, etc.) Tannery, Pour l'histoire de la science hellène (Paris, 1887); Windelband, History of Ancient Philosophy, trans. by Cushman (New York, 1899); History of Philosophy, trans. by Tufts (second edition, New York and London, 1901).
To these add Erdmann, History of Philosophy, trans. by Hough (3 vols., London, 1890) ; Benn, The Greek Philosophers (2 vols., London, 1883); The Philosophy of Greece (London, 1898); Gomperz, The Greek Thinkers, Vol. I, trans. by Magnus (London, 1901); Ueberweg, op. cit.; Schwegler, Gesch. der griech. Phil. (dritte Aufl., Tübingen, 1886).
For a more complete bibliography, cf. Weber, History of Philosophy, trans. by Thilly (New York, 1896), p. 8; Ueberweg, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 19 ff.; Erdmann, op. cit., pp. 14 ff.

Patristic Philosophy
Christian writings of the first few centuries

Before Socrates
Period including the Ionian, Pythagorean and Eleatic schools; the Pluralists, the Atomists, and the Sophists

The Golden Age
Highest development of Greek philosophy, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their schools

Hellenistic Philosophy
Skepticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Neoplatonism

Philosophers Related Articles
Euclid of Megara
Various Schools
Eclectics and Sceptics


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