Saturday, February 4, 2012

Greek Philosophy

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In the test of time, most philosophies are forgotten and replaced by newer, more modern ones. However, some of the oldest philosophies are still in effect today and are used in everyday living. The ancient Greeks, in particular, created the basic meaning of philosophy and used it to govern their lives. The philosophy of the ancient Greeks has survived the test of time and continues to affect the lives of everyday people with its rules of living, explanations of life, and guidelines of how a person should act.

The basic definition of the word philosophy is, as an intellectual discipline, the study of ethics, metaphysics, physics, the science of knowledge, logic, and politics (Hallsall). A philosopher was an individual who made original contributions, not an individual who knew and discussed the works of philosophers. A goal of many philosophers in the ancient world was to tie ethics, metaphysics, physics, the science of knowledge, logic, and politics together so that ones theory of knowledge determined one’s understanding of the universe, and


individuals understanding of the universe affected how one acted (Hallsall). In the modern era, for the most part, philosophers tend to concentrate on one or two aspects of the subject (Hallsall).

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The first element of philosophy is ethics. Ethics is a system or code of moral values. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics insists on the necessity of earthly goods, to some degree, for the truly happy life, and even so for the philosopher. Aristotle’s scientific training kept him from dictating superhuman ideals and unattainable degrees of perfection. He also considered ethics a large part of his logic (Copleston 70).

The study of metaphysics is, in short, what underlies the existence of the universe. Aristotle’s view of metaphysics came from his interest in Biology (Durant 56). Aristotle’s metaphysics is, to some, Plato diluted by common sense (Russell 16). Plato’s theory of ideas is partly metaphysical, and partly logical. An example of Plato’s metaphysics is as follows the logical part of the sentence “that is a cat” would be very generic, considering there is a difference between every cat. The metaphysics part of Plato’s theory of ideas says that “cat” refers to an ideal cat, “the cat” created by god, and unique of all other cats (Russell 11).


Physics is the study of the workings of the universe. Pythagoras thought the world was composed of molecules composed of atoms arranged in various shapes (Russell 5). With that thought, he hoped to make mathematics the fundamental study in physics. Pythagoras was not a mathematician but a philosopher who believed that all aspects of life could be explained with math.

Next, is epistemology. Epistemology is the study of the science of knowledge, and that is how people know things to be true. Ancient Greeks only considered real concepts to be knowledge, not nature. Only knowledge, to the Greeks, was power and freedom, and permanent happiness was in the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of understanding. The Greeks, in general, attached more importance to deduction as a source of knowledge. Aristotle, like many other philosophers of that time, gave undue importance to deduction in his theory of knowledge (Durant 18).

Logic, how people validated arguments, presided over most scientific beliefs. One of the questions that the ancient Greeks could not grasp was that of voids. The questions of the ancients were voiced even louder with the discovery that where there seems to be nothing, there is air. That is an example of the confusing mix of logic and observation, which was common. One might say, there is the void;

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therefore the void is not anything; therefore it is not the void. To the Greeks, it seemed that they must live in the unchanging world of philosophers or accept the void (Russell 6).

Politics, to the ancient Greeks, was governing a country wisely. Aristotle considered ethics a branch of politics, and, with not much surprise, he considered monarchy the best choice of government and aristocracy the next. Monarchs and aristocrats can be magnanimous, but ordinary citizens would be laughed at if they tried to live up to such a standard. This brings up a new question. Can one expect to live in a community that confines its good things to few and the majority must live with second best (Russell 177)? Plato and Aristotle say yes, and others say no, but they are very different in their opinions on why we cannot confine our good things to few.

Greek philosophers were very different in their views in things, but agreed in many. Philosophy is a controversial topic because of the diverse areas covered, physics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics. Aristotle was the main player in ancient Greece, but many argued with him about everything. Plato fell along the same lines, especially when he wrote Republic. The philosophy of the ancient Greeks has survived the test of time, and continues to affect the lives of everyday people

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with its rules of living, explanations of life and guidelines of how a person should act.

Works Cited

Copleston, Frederick. (1) A History of Philosophy Volume One Greece And Rome. New York. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group.

Durant, Will. (161). The Story of Philosophy. New York. Simon & Schuster, Inc

Hallsall, Paul. Homepage. Brooklyn College. September 18. http//

Russell, Bertrand. (145). A History of Western Philosophy. New York. Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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