Special Sub-Topic: Pre-Socratic Philosophers
|The only one of the Pre-Socratics to be one of the "Seven Sages". He is considered by many to be the first scientist. Many stories are told about him, but most are probably untrue. It is hard to believe that someone smart enough to corner the olive-pressing business is dumb enough to fall into a well while star-gazing.|
Thales of Miletus. Another famous story about Thales is that he predicted the year of an eclipse. This is not so remarkable-the Babylonians had been doing this for years. The Milesian school of philosophy were the first to question WHY the universe is the way it is. It is for this reason they are considered the first scientists.
|His poem has a chariot taking him to a goddess at the Gates of Night and Day to explain the nature of being and non-being. For this philosopher, thinking and being are the same - therefore non-being cannot exist, since if it existed, it could be talked about and is therefore being. Since non-being cannot exist, being is undifferentiated - therefore there is no such thing as change.|
Parmenides of Elea. Although his idea that there is no change may sound foolish today, it formed a basic idea in Greek philosophy for centuries.
|This philosopher founded a school between 530BCE and 500BCE that later became a secret society. Although his school is associated with mathematics, his philosophy included more. For example, he believed that souls were reincarnated and advocated vegetarianism since all living animals are related. |
Pythagoras of Samos. The Pythagoreans sought to explain the universe in terms of mathematics. The story that they killed a mathematician that discovered irrational numbers is probably untrue.
|The LOGOS forms the basis for this philosopher's ideas. This is one guiding principle and hence everything is related. This philosopher's Kosmos consisted of fire, water, and earth - but surpisingly not air!|
Heraclitus of Ephesus. It is very difficult to read Heraclitus since it is unclear what exactly LOGOS is. Some equate it with fire, some with a god, some with the nature of change. Bishop Hippolytus considered Heraclitus the original heretic although he was born over 500 years before Christ.
|Possibly one of the most misunderstood of the Pre-Socratics, this philospher came up with four paradoxes to reveal the inherit contradictions in the concept of movement. Aristotle attacked the problems as a physics/mathematics problem (a tradition continued to this day), thereby ignoring the issues raised by the paradoxes.|
Zeno of Elea. Although many mathematicians consider his paradoxes resolved, no one had adequately explained the nature of infinity and infintesimals that Zeno discusses. It is also thought that Zeno's paradoxes are unresolvable philosophically since two assume that distance is infinitely divisible and the other two assume time is discrete - thus resolving one paradox will validate the other paradox.
|This philosopher felt that the universe was made of "apeiron" that is infinite in extent and in nature. He also felt that Earth was a cylinder and that the stars were closer to the Earth than the moon and sun.|
Anaximander of Miletus. Anaximander was one of the first philosophers to ascribe the creation of the universe to natural forces instead of deities. He was also the first Greek cartographer.
|This philosopher is considered a Pre-Socratic although he lived until the time of Plato. Along with his teacher Leucippus, he developed the atomic theory with indivisible atoms of different sizes and shapes.|
Democritus of Abdera. It is easy to assume that Leucippus and Democritus were ahead of their time and the founders of modern day atomism. The truth is less remarkable. Their work was simply a response to those who thought matter could be infinitely divided. They instead explored the idea of matter as discrete.
|One of this philosopher's poems was found in an Egyptian mummy in the 1980's! For him, the basic forces are Love and Strife which causes the combination and separation of the 4 basic elements.|
Empedocles of Acragas. Empedocles felt that Love (creation) and Strife (destruction) occurs in cycles. Since he lived in the decline of the Golden Age, Empedocles felt we were in the time of increasing Strife.
|Another Milesian philosopher, this one believed that the basic element of the universe was air. It is not clear if this is a response to his teacher whose basic element was left undefined or a response to an earlier philosopher who felt the basic element was water.|
Anaximenes of Miletus. Anaximenes' teacher was Anaximander from question 6. Later commentators indicate that he tried to link the air to the Greek gods, If so, this would be a de-evolution of Milesian thought.
|This philosopher was the first to develop a teleological philosophy about the universe which is used later by Thomas Aquinas to prove the existence of God. In other ways, his philosophy echoes earlier thought. Being cannot come from non-being yet he does accept the void of the atomist. He also believed the universe is made of air. |
Diogenes of Apollonia. The combination of void and air is what create differentiation and change. Diogenes' work seems to be a synthesis of work of the Pre-Socratics before him.
Did you find these entries particularly interesting, or do you have comments / corrections to make? Let the author know!
Send the author a thank you or
Submit a correction