The Greek Philosophers And Their Philosophies

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Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was the son of a sculptor, Sophroniscus, and grew up an Athenian citizen. He was reported to be gifted with words and was sometimes accused of what Plato later accused Sophists, that is, using rhetorical devices to “make the weaker argument the stronger.” Indeed, Xenophon reports that the Thirty Tyrants forbade Socrates to speak publicly except on matters of practical business because his clever use of words seemed to lead young people astray. Socrates practiced philosophy openly, did not charge fees for doing so and allowed anyone who wanted to engage with him to do so. Xenophon says: Socrates lived ever in the open; for early in the morning he went to the public promenades and training-grounds; in the forenoon he was seen in the market; and the rest of the day he passed just where most people were to be met: he was generally talking, and anyone might listen. The discussions he had was presumed to be on the philosophical side, and was focused more on morality.

Plato (427-347 B.C.) was the son of Athenian aristocrats. There cannot be a clear certainty as to when Plato met Socrates. But many ancient sources have indicated that he might have become Socrates’ follower at the age of 18. One of Plato’s most famous arguments for the immortality of the soul comes from the Phaedo. This argument rests upon a theory of the relationship of opposites. Hot and cold, for example, are opposites, and there are processes of becoming between the two. Hot comes to be what it is from cold. Cold must also come to be what it is from the hot, otherwise all things would move only in one direction, so to speak, and everything would therefore be hot. Life and death are also opposites. Living things come to be dead and death comes from life. But, since the processes between opposites cannot be a one-way affair, life must also come from death. Presumably Plato means by “death” here the realm of non-earthly existence. The souls must always exist in order to be immortal.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) was born in Stagirus, which was a Thracian coastal city. He was the son of Nichomacus, the Macedonian court physician, which allowed for a lifelong connection with the court of Macedonia. After serving as tutor for the young Alexander (later Alexander the Great), Aristotle returned to Athens and started his own school, the Lyceum. Aristotle emphasizes that the goal of learning about the good life is not knowledge, but to become good. Laws must be instituted in such a way as to make its citizens good, but the lawmakers must themselves be good in order to do this.

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