Statuette of a philosopher. Roman copy reduced from a Hellenistic original of the 3rd century B.C.E.

You have read about the Sophists in the Study Guide and we have discussed them in class several times. Following are a few brief notes from the additional information I gave in class on an introduction to Greek philosophy:

Philosophy =

"love of wisdom"; embraced a broad spectrum of disciplines that we would distinguish as natural science, physical science, astronomy, ethics, mathematics, etc.

Where Aristotle thought it all began. . .

"It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greater matters too, about the changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe. Now he who wonders and is perplexed feels that he is ignorant. . .; therefore if it was to escape ignorance that men studied philosophy, it is obvious that they pursued science for the sake of knowledge, and not for any practical utility." (Metaphysics I,2,9)


Thales of Miletus

  • late 7th century
  • theory that the primary substance from which everything came into being and is composed of it water


  • 6th century
  • associated with doctrine of the immortality of the soul and with metempsychoses (reincarnation of the soul)
  • he regarded the body as the prison of the soul
  • may be the first to use "kosmos" to describe the perfect order and arrangement of the universe
  • credited with developments in mathematics and music

Heraclitus of Ephesus

  • 6th -5th centuries
  • believed primordial substance is fire; the world is an everlasting fire which is partly flaring up and partly dying down in equal measure so that a continuous balance is maintained.

Cicero said. . .

. . . that Socrates first brought philosophy down from the skies to the common problems of mankind (Tusc. Disp. V,4,10)

But this development did not come out of the blue; it accompanied a wider spirit of inquiry into the human world; this inquiry can be seen in the histories and on the dramatic stage

Introduction to Socrates

  • Socrates did not write anything; our knowledge of him comes principally from the historian Xenophon and the philosopher Plato.
  • Plato made Socrates the chief spokesman in his dialogues (all written after Socrates' death in 399). How far Plato accurately represents the historical Socrates and to what extent he presents his own ideas on Socrates lips is a matter of debate. Most scholars believe that what the world has come to know as Socrates' philosophy is in reality Platonism.
  • Some features that probably ARE true to the historical Socrates include: the Socratic method [cross-examination = elenchus]; his claim that his wisdom consisted in knowing what he did not know; and the proposition that the wise man who knows what is good will do it (hence it is possible to say that no one does wrong willingly).

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We have met Aristophanes' Socrates; next class meeting, we meet Plato's.