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Pre-Socratic philosophy is ancient Greek philosophy before Socrates and schools contemporary to Socrates that were not influenced by him.[1] In Classical antiquity, one set of pre-Socratic philosophers were sometimes called physiologoi (Greek: φυσιολόγοι; in English, physical or natural philosophers).[2] In other instances, some of these thinkers were referred to as sophoi, sages or wise men; Thales was one of the proverbial Seven Sages. Their inquiries spanned the workings of the natural world as well as human society, ethics, and religion, seeking explanations based on natural principles rather than the actions of supernatural gods. They introduced to the West the notion of the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.[3] Coming from the eastern and western fringes of the Greek world, the pre-Socratics were the forerunners of what became Western philosophy as well as natural philosophy, which later developed into the natural sciences (such as physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy).[3] Significant figures include: the Milesians, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Zeno of Elea, Anaxagoras, and Democritus.

Overview

Aristotle was the first to call them physiologoi or physikoi ("physicists", after physis, "nature") and differentiate them from the earlier theologoi (theologians), or mythologoi (story tellers and bards) who attributed these phenomena to various gods.[4][5] Diogenes Laërtius divides the physiologoi into two groups: Ionian, led by Anaximander, and Italiote, led by Pythagoras.[6]

Focus and aims

The pre-Socratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations of the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. Their efforts were directed to the investigation of the ultimate basis and essential nature of the external world.[7] Many sought the material principle (archê) of things, and the method of their origin and disappearance.[7] As the first philosophers, they emphasized the rational unity of things and rejected supernatural explanations, instead seeking natural principles at work in the world and human society. The pre-Socratics saw the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.[3] Pre-Socratic thinkers present a discourse concerned with key areas of philosophical inquiry such as being, the primary stuff of the universe, the structure and function of the human soul, and the underlying principles governing perceptible phenomena, human knowledge and morality.

It may sometimes be difficult to determine the actual line of argument some pre-Socratics used in supporting their particular views. While most of them produced significant texts, none of the texts have survived in complete form. All that is available are quotations, and testimonies by later philosophers (often biased) and historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

These philosophers asked questions about "the essence of things":[8]

  • From where does everything come?
  • From what is everything created?
  • How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?
  • How might we describe nature mathematically?

Others concentrated on defining problems and paradoxes that became the basis for later mathematical, scientific and philosophic study.

Graphical relationship among the various pre-socratic philosophers and thinkers; red arrows indicate a relationship of opposition.

Tradition and modern rediscovery

The knowledge we have of them derives from accounts - known as doxography - of later philosophical writers (especially Aristotle, Plutarch, Diogenes Laërtius, Stobaeus and Simplicius), and some early theologians (especially Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome). Modern interest in early Greek philosophy can be traced back to 1573, when Henri Estienne collected a number of pre-Socratic fragments in Poesis Philosophica (Ποίησις Φιλόσοφος).[9] Hermann Diels popularized the term "pre-Socratic" in Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics) in 1903. However, the term "pre-Sokratic" [sic] was in use as early as George Grote's Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates in 1865. Edouard Zeller was also important in dividing thought before and after Socrates.[10] Major analyses of pre-Socratic thought have been made by Gregory Vlastos, Jonathan Barnes, and Friedrich Nietzsche in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Only fragments of the original writings of the pre-Socratics survive (many entitled Peri Physeos, or On Nature, a title probably attributed later by other authors).[11] The translation of Peri Physeos as On Nature may be misleading: the "on" normally gives the idea of an "erudite dissertation", while "peri" may refer in fact to a "circular approach"; and the traditional meanings of "nature" for us (as opposition to culture, to supernatural, or as essence, substance, opposed to accident, etc.) may be in contrast with the meaning of "physeos" or "physis" for the Greeks (referring to an "originary source", or "process of emergence and development").[12]

Later philosophers rejected many of the answers the early Greek philosophers provided, but continued to place importance on their questions. Furthermore, the cosmologies proposed by them have been updated by later developments in science.

The different schools

Milesian school

The first pre-Socratic philosophers were from Miletus on the western coast of Anatolia. Thales (c. 624 - c. 546 BC) is reputedly the father of Greek philosophy; he declared water to be the basis of all things.[7] Next came Anaximander (610-546 BC), the first writer on philosophy. He assumed as the first principle an undefined, unlimited substance without qualities (apeiron), out of which the primary opposites, hot and cold, moist and dry, became differentiated.[7] His younger contemporary, Anaximenes (585-525 BC), took for his principle air, conceiving it as modified, by thickening and thinning, into fire, wind, clouds, water, and earth.[7]

Pythagoreanism

The practical side of philosophy was introduced by Aristotle was the first to call them physiologoi or physikoi ("physicists", after physis, "nature") and differentiate them from the earlier theologoi (theologians), or mythologoi (story tellers and bards) who attributed these phenomena to various gods.[4][5] Diogenes Laërtius divides the physiologoi into two groups: Ionian, led by Anaximander, and Italiote, led by Pythagoras.[6]

Focus and aims

The pre-Socratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations of the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. Their efforts were directed to the investigation of the ultimate basis and essential nature of the external world.[7] Many sought the material principle (archê) of things, and the method of their origin and disappearance.[7] As the first philosophers, they emphasized the rational unity of things and rejected supernatural explanations, instead seeking natural principles at work in the world and human society. The pre-Socratics saw the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.[3] Pre-Socratic thinkers present a discourse concerned with key areas of philosophical inquiry such as being, the primary stuff of the universe, the structure and function of the human soul, and the underlying principles governing perceptible phenomena, human knowledge and morality.

It may sometimes be difficult to determine the actual line of argument some pre-Socratics used in supporting their particular views. While most of them produced significant texts, none of the texts have survived in complete form. All that is available are quotations, and testimonies by later philosophers (often biased) and historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

These philosophers asked questions about "the essence of things":[8]

  • From where does everything come?
  • From what is everything created?
  • How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?
  • How might we describe nature mathematically?

Others concentrated on defining problems and paradoxes that became the basis for later mathematical, scientific and philosophic study.

traditional mythological explanations of the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. Their efforts were directed to the investigation of the ultimate basis and essential nature of the external world.[7] Many sought the material principle (archê) of things, and the method of their origin and disappearance.[7] As the first philosophers, they emphasized the rational unity of things and rejected supernatural explanations, instead seeking natural principles at work in the world and human society. The pre-Socratics saw the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.[3] Pre-Socratic thinkers present a discourse concerned with key areas of philosophical inquiry such as being, the primary stuff of the universe, the structure and function of the human soul, and the underlying principles governing perceptible phenomena, human knowledge and morality.

It may sometimes be difficult to determine the actual line of argument some pre-Socratics used in supporting their particular views. While most of them produced significant texts, none of the texts have survived in complete form. All that is available are quotations, and testimonies by later philosophers (often biased) and historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

These philosophers asked questions about "the essence of things":[

It may sometimes be difficult to determine the actual line of argument some pre-Socratics used in supporting their particular views. While most of them produced significant texts, none of the texts have survived in complete form. All that is available are quotations, and testimonies by later philosophers (often biased) and historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

These philosophers asked questions about "the essence of things":[8]

Others concentrated on defining problems and paradoxes that became the basis for later mathematical, scientific and philosophic study.

doxography - of later philosophical writers (especially Aristotle, Plutarch, Diogenes Laërtius, Stobaeus and Simplicius), and some early theologians (especially Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome). Modern interest in early Greek philosophy can be traced back to 1573, when Henri Estienne collected a number of pre-Socratic fragments in Poesis Philosophica (Ποίησις Φιλόσοφος).[9] Hermann Diels popularized the term "pre-Socratic" in Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics) in 1903. However, the term "pre-Sokratic" [sic] was in use as early as George Grote's Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates in 1865. Edouard Zeller was also important in dividing thought before and after Socrates.[10] Major analyses of pre-Socratic thought have been made by Gregory Vlastos, Jonathan Barnes, and Friedrich Nietzsche in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Only fragments of the original writings of the pre-Socratics survive (many entitled Peri Physeos, or On Nature, a title probably attributed later by other authors).[11] The translation of Peri Physeos as On Nature may be misleading: the "on" normally gives the idea of an "erudite dissertation", while "peri" may refer in fact to a "circular approach"; and the traditional meanings of "nature" for us (as opposition to culture, to supernatural, or as essence, substance, opposed to accident, etc.) may be in contrast with the meaning of "physeos" or "physis" for the Greeks (referring to an "originary source", or "process of emergence and development").[12]

Later philosophers rejected many of the answers the early Greek philosophers provided, but continued to place importance on their questions. Furthermore, the cosmologies proposed by them have been updated by later developments in science.

The different schools

Milesian school

The first pre-Socratic philosophers were from Miletus on the western coast of Anatolia.

Later philosophers rejected many of the answers the early Greek philosophers provided, but continued to place importance on their questions. Furthermore, the cosmologies proposed by them have been updated by later developments in science.

The first pre-Socratic philosophers were from Miletus on the western coast of Anatolia. Thales (c. 624 - c. 546 BC) is reputedly the father of Greek philosophy; he declared water to be the basis of all things.[7] Next came Anaximander (610-546 BC), the first writer on philosophy. He assumed as the first principle an undefined, unlimited substance without qualities (apeiron), out of which the primary opposites, hot and cold, moist and dry, became differentiated.[7] His younger contemporary, Anaximenes (585-525 BC), took for his principle air, conceiving it as modified, by thickening and thinning, into fire, wind, clouds, water, and earth.[7]

Pythagoreanism

The practical side of philosophy was introduced by Pythagoras (582-496 BC). Regarding the world as perfect harmony, dependent on number, he aimed at inducing humankind likewise to lead a harmonious life. His doctrine was adopted and extended by a large following of Pythagoreans who gathered at his school

The practical side of philosophy was introduced by Pythagoras (582-496 BC). Regarding the world as perfect harmony, dependent on number, he aimed at inducing humankind likewise to lead a harmonious life. His doctrine was adopted and extended by a large following of Pythagoreans who gathered at his school in south Italy in the town of Croton.[7] His followers included Philolaus (470-380 BC), Alcmaeon of Croton, and Archytas (428-347 BC).

Ephesian school