From Socrates to Enlightenment



9 Questions

What was the aim of Pyrrhonism?

Who founded the Megarian school?

What did the Cynics aim for?

What did the Cyrenaics believe?

Who founded Stoicism?

What did Academic skepticism doubt?

Who wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as the main interlocutor?

What did Epicurus base his ethics on?

What did Neoplatonists argue?


Philosophical Origins and Foundation of Western Civilization

  • Ancient Greek philosophy emerged in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

  • Philosophy was used to make sense of the world using reason, covering astronomy, mathematics, ethics, metaphysics, and more.

  • Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since its inception, with clear lines of influence leading to Medieval Scholasticism, the European Renaissance, and the Age of Enlightenment.

  • Greek philosophy was influenced by older wisdom literature and mythologies of the ancient Near East, but philosophy as it is understood today is a Greek creation.

  • Pre-Socratic philosophy was concerned with cosmology, ontology, and mathematics, rejecting mythological explanations in favor of reasoned discourse.

  • The Milesian school, including Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, searched for a natural substance that would remain unchanged despite appearing in different forms, leading to the development of modern atomic theory.

  • Xenophanes argued that each phenomenon had a natural rather than divine explanation, and that there was only one god, the world as a whole.

  • Pythagoras sought to reconcile religious belief and reason, emphasizing purgation, metempsychosis, and a respect for all animal life.

  • Heraclitus taught that everything flows, and that all things come to pass in accordance with Logos, a plan or formula.

  • Parmenides of Elea argued that the first principle of being was One, indivisible, and unchanging, and that sense phenomena did not reveal the world as it actually was.

  • Pluralists such as Empedocles and Anaxagoras believed that multiple elements set in motion by love and strife or by Mind were not reducible to one another.

  • Sophists taught rhetoric as their primary vocation, with Protagoras famously claiming that "man is the measure of all things."

  • Socrates marks a watershed in ancient Greek philosophy, bringing philosophy down from the heavens, placing it in cities, and introducing it into families.

  • Socrates pursued a probing question-and-answer style of examination, attempting to arrive at a defensible and attractive definition of a virtue, and teaching that all virtue is knowledge.Ancient Greek Philosophy

  • Socrates was a philosopher who claimed that he knew nothing noble and good, which set him apart from his contemporaries who claimed to have knowledge.

  • Socrates' trial and execution led to the development of philosophical movements inspired by him and his associates, including Platonism, Aristotelianism, Cynicism, and Stoicism.

  • Plato was an Athenian philosopher who wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as the main interlocutor. Plato's dialogues explored metaphysical themes such as his theory of forms, which holds that non-material abstract forms possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality.

  • Aristotle was a philosopher who disagreed with his teacher Plato and gave greater weight to empirical observation and practical concerns. He stressed the importance of understanding through first-hand observation.

  • Cynicism was founded by Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates, and Diogenes, his contemporary. Their aim was to live according to nature and against convention.

  • The Cyrenaics were founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, a pupil of Socrates. The Cyrenaics were hedonists and held that pleasure was the supreme good in life.

  • The Megarian school was founded by Euclides of Megara, one of the pupils of Socrates. Its ethical teachings were derived from Socrates, recognizing a single good and the Eleatic doctrine of Unity.

  • Pyrrhonism was founded by Pyrrho of Elis, a Democritean philosopher who traveled to India with Alexander the Great's army and was influenced by Buddhist teachings. Pyrrhonism taught that it is one's opinions about non-evident matters that prevent one from attaining eudaimonia, and placed the attainment of ataraxia as the way to achieve eudaimonia.

  • Epicurus studied in Athens with Nausiphanes, a follower of Democritus and a student of Pyrrho of Elis. He accepted Democritus' theory of atomism and his ethics were based on "the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain".

  • Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium, who took up the Cynic ideals of continence and self-mastery, but applied the concept of apatheia to personal circumstances rather than social norms. Their metaphysics was based in materialism, which was structured by logos, reason. Their ethics was based on pursuing happiness by living in accordance with nature and accepting those things which one could not change.

  • Academic skepticism was adopted by Arcesilaus, who became head of the Platonic Academy. This skeptical period of ancient Platonism became known as the New Academy.

  • Hellenistic philosophy developed during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, with contributions from Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Syrians, and Arabs. Elements of Persian philosophy and Indian philosophy also had an influence. The spread of Christianity and Islam ushered in the end of Hellenistic philosophy and the beginnings of Medieval philosophy.Transmission of Greek Philosophy through the Ages

  • The Academic skeptics doubted that humans had the capacity to obtain truth, based on Plato's Phaedo, sections 64-67, which discusses how knowledge is not accessible to mortals.

  • The Pyrrhonists aimed for ataraxia, but the Academic skeptics focused on criticizing the dogmas of other schools of philosophy, particularly the Stoics. They acknowledged that there was some moral law within, which distinguished the sage from the fool.

  • Middle Platonism absorbed ideas from the Peripatetic and Stoic schools, with Numenius of Apamea combining it with Neopythagoreanism.

  • Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus, argued that the universe had a singular cause that must be a single mind, leading to neoplatonism becoming a religion and having a significant impact on Gnosticism and Christian theology.

  • During the Middle Ages, Greek ideas were forgotten in Western Europe due to a decline in literacy, but were preserved and studied in the Byzantine Empire.

  • Islamic philosophers such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd reinterpreted Greek works after the caliphs authorized the gathering of Greek manuscripts and hired translators to increase their prestige.

  • During the High Middle Ages, Greek philosophy was reintroduced to the West through translations from Arabic to Latin and original Greek manuscripts from the Byzantine Empire.

  • The reintroduction of these philosophies, accompanied by new Arabic commentaries, had a significant influence on Medieval philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas.


Test your knowledge on the philosophical origins and foundation of Western civilization with this insightful quiz. Explore the evolution of Greek philosophy from its inception in the 6th century BC, including the major schools of thought and their influential thinkers. Learn about the impact of Greek philosophy on Western culture and its transmission through the ages, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Put your understanding of ancient Greek philosophy to the test and discover how it has shaped the world we live in today.

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