Greek Philosophers and Their Influence on Modern Beliefs

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Greek philosophy is the most important and influential philosophy to have existed, as it taught not only finding answers to questions but how the questions are asked and how they are answered. These methods of thinking made sense of the world without resorting to the old ways, which relied mostly on gods; instead, they focused more on logic, reasoning, and leading a meaningful life. Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales of Miletus, Socrates, Plato, and Democritus formed the sciences and ideas we are so familiar with now. Science and philosophy are extremely important because they unlock truths in the world. Modern-day science and philosophy stem from those of ancient Greece in the 6th-century BCE. , and without it, Western forms of thoughts and science would not have been possible.

Thales of Miletus, the first Western philosopher who was able to correctly predict a solar eclipse, opened numerous windows for science. He pondered on the origins of the world and its natural occurrences; even though most of these questions could be referenced to the Olympian gods, Thales tried to gather factual information nonetheless. Thales was acclaimed for contributing to science in many ways, the most important being how he brought together superstition and reason. He was the first philosopher after multiple pre-Socratic philosophers, and tried to characterize nature with terms of itself only- he rejected mystical theories. Thales asked many fundamental and 'pure' questions, not wasting time with the superficial and trivial.

From this is where most of the modern science and thought comes from: by combining the supernatural and logic, he was able to create a powerful way of thinking. He was the first recorded Milesian to try and define nature in terms of nature itself, influencing many to follow. According to Alex Priou’s “The Origins and Foundations of Milesian Thought, ” he notes that “Thales traveled at some point to learn from the Egyptian priests their knowledge of mathematics and, perhaps, some philosophy...Beyond astronomy, Thales had a keen interest in cosmology and is noted for claiming that the earth rests in water, as though it were a ship. ” Although modern science proves this idea to be false, his thoughts were still advanced for his age. He was also very passionate about the world and its physics, especially water. He understood that water was not only the principle of astronomy but of physics as well. Thales' original ideas about the earth, its physics, and cosmology drove other philosophers to think the same in the future. His work was so incredibly versatile that some people even questioned him, yet he shaped western forms of thought, being the extraordinary, novel thinker he was. Along with his contributions to physics and cosmology, Thales also developed geometry and “discovered” the Ursa Minor and the seasons. It’s evident how much he gave to the evolution of science. Without Thales of Miletus, it’s difficult to conclude where modern day science would be; he gave science a push, influencing many people to try and look at the world in the same perspective as him.

Socrates is one of the most famous ancient Greek philosophers of all time, and often credited as the founder of Western philosophy (as well as laying down the basis of logic). Socrates was an open-minded and distinctive philosopher who set a trail for other philosophers to come. Unlike many others, Socrates was not afraid to combine his private life with his public career of philosophy. He transcended all other philosophers when it came to being able to combine the two worlds, and based a lot of his philosophies on his own personal life. His strong adherence to truth, virtue, and knowledge proved that he, like no other philosopher before, changed the course of philosophy. Socrates brought philosophy down to earth, and he guided people towards focusing on themselves instead of earthly and universal philosophies. On his well-known thoughts about virtue, Socrates said that to become good at something, one should learn under a professional of that field.

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For example, if one wanted to become a good chef, he should work under a good chef, a good doctor under a good doctor, etc. However, Socrates brings up the point that the 'good men' of their city did not have any teachers- or any students, of that matter. As Socrates states and was recorded by his student Plato in Plato Complete Works, “ it isn't profitable for [good men] to have many rivals or to live among many similar professionals” (Cooper 1695). It's fruitless for these righteous men to live with a bunch of other good men just like them because it can water their virtuous deeds down, which is why they do not share their goodness. Much of Socrates’ work was on the topic of love as well. In the Great Dialogues of Plato, Socrates describes love by stating that “a base man is that common lover who loves the body rather than the soul; for he is not lasting since he loves a thing not lasting. For as soon as the flower of the body fades, which is what he loved, ‘He takes to the wings and away he flies, ’...but the lover of a good character remains faithful throughout life” (Denham 126). Socrates is saying that true love lasts forever; it is not naive or immature. A man who loves something for its physique rather than the true soul is a facade because when all the good parts of his beloved are erased and she is herself, he will leave and find another to quench his thirst of the body. However, good men do not look for bodily appearances but instead focus on the individual, which is why they are more faithful. Modern thoughts are still in accord with Socrates’ beliefs on faith, virtue, and love, proving the lasting impact of his ideas. Also, he himself did not write any books or publish any of his written lectures but instead led group discussions called 'Socratic Seminars, ' which included him asking his followers questions about life. Socratic Seminars are an important and effective teaching strategy even in modern days, as it deals with rapid questioning and strives to achieve a deeper understanding of a text.

These dialogues generally followed- and still do- the same pattern: A subject talks about a topic he is very confident in, and Socrates (or the teacher) shoots back with a question that seems very innocent. However, it is that seemingly simple question that stumps the speaker; they may give an example of what Socrates is asking for, but if he does not truly understand the meaning and relationship between the definition and the example he is providing, then he doesn't fully grasp the concept. This type of teaching style is still practiced today, and numerous teachers followed in the footsteps of Socrates and his ways of thinking. Normally, Socrates’ seminars had a moral concept. They inspired more and more people to write fables and stories that revolve around teaching a lesson. As said in Great Lives from History, “It is sometimes noted that in the dialogues, Socrates refuses to suggest any positive ideas but only questions others and destroys their views. ” (Magill 1951). Instead of wanting to preach and accept everything that the speaker believes in, he strived to put those thoughts to the test and see if he could change the speaker's way of thinking. This way, he could open the eyes of all his supporters and then all of Greece. It is evident from Socrates’ strong belief in individual thoughts and actions that he was, indeed, one of the first existential philosophers. Socrates is so important to history and modern life because of how far his ideas of education spread and were preserved for so long. This man’s theories of the human soul’s virtue and the embracing of reasoning were all part of his lasting legacy to the world.

Another philosopher that modern-day ideas would not be possible without is Plato. Socrates’ favorite and most well-known student, his theory of anti-democracy greatly influenced the world. Plato tried to separate elite, high-class status from wealth. The way he wanted to set stable economic tiers for his 'perfect city' was very informative when it came to the problems modern democracies have faced. Plato's dislike of the Athenian Democracy helped slowly move people away from it as well. As stated in “Plato’s Criticism of Democracy in the Republic, ” “...he thinks that democracy prizes freedom far too much and knowledge far too little” (Gerasimos). Plato believed that this type of government system praised giving people independence so much that they failed to take a step back and ponder on their consciousness. Many philosophers, people, and scholars ignored his theories on social justice in the Republic. Even so, Plato's ideas on democracy and the republic were filled with meaning and originality; his criticisms teach people how to try and become better and improve from the past. Plato's criticisms of democracy in the Republic opened many windows to modern governments today, especially in America. America is a Democratic Republic, meaning its concept comes from both democracy and the Republic. In Plato’s dialogues, he expanded on the thoughts of his teacher Socrates; without him, much of Socrates’ life work would have been lost. Not only did Plato preserve Socrates’ dialogues, he created a school called 'The Academy” when he was older. The Academy taught many students who came out to become famous philosophers. Plato's Academy stayed alive for more than nine hundred years but was forced to close by a Roman emperor, claiming that it was offensive to his attempts of spreading Christianity (Magill 1651). In it’s time, however, his beliefs spurred new thoughts on society and regime. Without Plato, modern ideas on the government would be much different, and Socrates’ teachings would have been lost. Plato influenced many other students under his teachings and was very avid about spreading his ideas.

Philosopher and scientist Democritus is most notable for his formulation of the theory of atoms. He studied under Leucippus, who can be credited as the founder of ancient Greek atomism, but very little is actually known about him. This is why the credit goes to Democritus, who spoke out, wrote profusely, and developed a well-rounded theory on atomism. He also liked to travel both so he could widen his thoughts and ideas of the world, and learn from wise sages in different places. Atomism is the theory that minute, invisible elements are the ultimate components of life. The Atomic Theory is so important because much of science is based off of it, and without it, physics and chemistry would be impossible. Democritean atomism believed that nothing existed except for atoms and the void. Atoms were thought of as the smallest units of matter. The void was thought of as technically not 'alive, ” yet it was just as real as atoms. To Democritean atomism, the two do not die out of existence, but do not come into existence either. Democritus' thoughts and beliefs definitely helped shape modern science, such as predictions for chemical reactions and quantum mechanics (Magill 612). Without him, it might have taken much longer for the world to think about these atoms. Democritean atomism focused on the fact that atoms were always in motion, but do not need any sort of 'mind' or kinetic force to make them move around. He also believed that away from the tiny part of the universe accessible to the naked human eye, there must be other universes that contain life, stars, and planets as well. Democritus' thoughts were very sharp for his time, as this is exactly what scientists after him have also uncovered and confirmed. Democritean atomism helped shape the way astronomy and chemistry are viewed today. In Great Lives from History, Democritus is described as having approached all kinds of scientific questions when thinking of his theory. Democritus believed that “the soul...is made up of highly mobile spherical atoms, which disperse at death…. Eventually, in a real death, the atoms in the body begin to lose their connections with one another…. Then, as the atoms lose their connections, the entire body decays” (Magill 612).

According to Democritus atomism, after death, the atoms in the void disperse and the person ceases to exist. Because of this, Democritus believed that people should not fear death and that they should value their life as they live it. To him, death was part of life, and life a part of death. This is very similar to a general motivational thought of modern times: to focus on living a happy life. “You Only Live Once” came from this; Democritus believed that people should live life to the fullest and not worry about death. His philosophy certainly did not die out. In fact, at the start of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many of the philosophies and sciences related to Democritus' beliefs in more ancient times. There are many ideas and concepts that are in an accord between ancient Democritean atomism and modern science. Democritus is highly responsible for the wake and influence of modern sciences revolving around atoms- any scientist after him would agree that atoms are the basic unit of matter and that physical objects operate according to laws of nature.

Modern-day sciences and philosophy were born from those of ancient Greek. The history of science stems predominantly from philosophers like Thales of Miletus, Democritus, Plato, and Socrates. The parallel lines can be easily seen and drawn between these ancient philosophers’ ideas and those of modern day scientists- they’re all the same. Without ancient Greek philosophers, the science we are so familiar with now would not be possible. From these geniuses in ancient Greek who shared their ideas came along sciences in the Renaissance, and then now in modern days.

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