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Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, at a time when the ancient inhabitants of ancient Greece were struggling to repel devastating invasions from the east. Greek philosophy continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world way using reason. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, epistemology, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.[1]

Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since its inception. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato".[2] Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers to Roman Philosophy, Early Islamic philosophy, Medieval Scholasticism, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.[3]

Greek philosophy was influenced to some extent by the older wisdom literature and mythological cosmogonies of the ancient Near East, though the extent of this influence is debated. The classicist Martin Litchfield West states, "contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the early Greek philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation".[4]

Subsequent philosophic tradition was so influenced by Socrates as presented by Plato that it is conventional to refer to philosophy developed prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic philosophy. The periods following this, up to and after the wars of Alexander the Great, are those of "classical Greek" and "Hellenistic" philosophy.

Pre-Socratic philosophy

The convention of terming those philosophers who were active prior to the death of Socrates as the pre-Socratics gained currency with the 1903 publication of Hermann Diels' Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, although the term did not originate with him.[5] The term is considered useful because what came to be known as the "Athenian school" (composed of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) signaled the rise of a new approach to philosophy; Friedrich N

Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since its inception. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato".[2] Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers to Roman Philosophy, Early Islamic philosophy, Medieval Scholasticism, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.[3]

Greek philosophy was influenced to some extent by the older wisdom literature and mythological cosmogonies of the ancient Near East, though the extent of this influence is debated. The classicist Martin Litchfield West states, "contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the early Greek philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation".[4]

Subsequent philosophic tradition was so influenced by Socrates as presented by Plato that it is conventional to refer to philosophy developed prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic philosophy. The periods following this, up to and after the wars of Alexander the Great, are those of "classical Greek" and "Hellenistic" philosophy.

The convention of terming those philosophers who were active prior to the death of Socrates as the pre-Socratics gained currency with the 1903 publication of Hermann Diels' Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, although the term did not originate with him.[5] The term is considered useful because what came to be known as the "Athenian school" (composed of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) signaled the rise of a new approach to philosophy; Friedrich Nietzsche's thesis that this shift began with Plato rather than with Socrates (hence his nomenclature of "pre-Platonic philosophy") has not prevented the predominance of the "pre-Socratic" distinction.[6]

The pre-Socratics were primarily concerned with cosmology, ontology, and mathematics. They were distinguished from "non-philosophers" insofar as they rejected mythological explanations in favor of reasoned discourse.[7]

Milesian school

Thales of Miletus, regarded by Aristotle as the first philosopher,[8] held that all things arise from a single material substance, water.[9] It is not because he gave a cosmogony that John Burnet calls him the "first man of science," but because he gave a naturalistic explanation of the cosmos and supported it with reasons.[10] According to tradition, Thales was able to predict an eclipse and taught the Egyptians how to measure the height of the pyramids.[11]

Thales inspired the Milesian school of philosophy and was followed by Anaximander, who argued that the substratum or arche could not be water or any of the classical elements but was instead something "unlimited" or "indefinite" (in Greek, the apeiron). He began from the observation that the world seems to consist of opposites (e.g., hot and cold), yet a thing can become its opposite (e.g., a hot thing cold). Therefore, they cannot truly be opposites but rather must both be manifestations of some underlying unity that is neither. This underlying unity (substratum, arche) could not be any of the classical elements, since they were one extreme or another. For example, water is wet, the opposite of dry, while fire is dry, the opposite of wet.[12] This initial state is ageless and imperishable, and everything returns to it according to necessity.[13] Anaximenes in turn held that the arche was air, although John Burnet argues that by this he meant that it was a transparent mist, the aether.[14] Despite their varied answers, the Milesian school was searching for a natural substance that would remain unchanged despite appearing in different forms, and thus represents one of the first scientific attempts to answer the question that would lead to the development of modern atomic theory; "the Milesians," says Burnet, "asked for the φύσις of all things."[15]

Xenophanes