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Classical Philosophers

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Classical Philosophy

The golden age of Greece was an age of thinking, of knowledge, and of the arts. Some of the greatest minds of any time projected their ideas upon the masses. They were called philosophers. These were men whose minds developed some of the most abstract and revolutionary ideas of the time. Some of them were put to death for their ideas and their beliefs and became martyrs for their cause. During this age, three philosophers in particular stood out from the rest.

Socrates

Socrates was the first of the three great philosophers. Before devoting his life to his teachings and philosophies, he was a stonemason and also served as a soldier of some distinction during the Peloponnesian war. He never wrote any of his teachings down, and he preferred to speak about his beliefs and philosophies. He also involved himself with the political workings of Athens. He spent most of his life in discussion with young aristocratic men, unrelentingly questioning their blind confidence in popular opinion, but he never offered them any outlined abstract teaching. He merely conversed and questioned their beliefs. Also, unlike other Sophists of the time, he refused to accept pay for his teachings.

Because he had no texts written by himself on his beliefs, we turn to his followers for information on his beliefs. Plato documents many of Socrates' conversations with the youth of Athens in his book, Plato's Republic. In 405 BC Socrates was convicted (wrongly I might add) of corrupting the youth of Athens, interfering with the religion of the city, and for his intervention into politics. There is a text called `Apology', which documents his unsuccessful defense speech before the Athenian jury. In 399 BC, surrounded by friends and disciples, he drank hemlock (a poison made from the plant with the same name) and died gracefully.

Socrates' beliefs were not only revolutionary, but also controversial. He spoke with disdain about the gods, and refuted the notion that Ð''good' is doing whatever pleases them. Many texts document his beliefs and morals. Most informative of these are in Plato's Republic. The best known out of all of his ideas were ideas about virtue, and doing what is right and good.

Plato

Plato was the next great philosopher, chronologically. It should be noted that Plato's real name was Aristocles, and that Plato was a nickname, roughly translated to mean Ð''the broad', this could have been referring to many things, from the width of his shoulders, to the results of his wrestling training, to his forehead. Comparative with Socrates, before starting his own philosophical career (if that is what one can call it), he served in the Peloponnesian war. After the war was over, he devoted a significant portion of his life to following Socrates and documenting his conversations with the youth of Athens and also learning from him at the same time.

Plato was very interested in a career in politics, but after the death of Socrates and numerous other occasions involving the politicians of Athens, he gave up his ambitions and fled to Egypt, and after that, traveled to Italy. In Egypt, he learned of the water clock and later introduced it to Athens. His trip to Italy was of greater importance. There he met Pythagoras and came to appreciate the workings of mathematics. He also learned with the disciples of Pythagoras, learning from them and developing his idea Ð''... that the reality which scientific thought is seeking must be expressible in mathematical terms, mathematics being the most precise and definite kind of thinking of which we are capable. The significance of this idea for the development of science from the first beginnings to the present day has been immense.'

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