Top 10 Ancient Greek Philosophers

Sacrificing family, life and freedom were just a few events that philosophers in Ancient Greece had to endure in order to study and teach philosophy in ancient times. Learning about the ways in which the soul or reason materializes was practiced by these philosophers for many hundreds of years. They would create schools for others to learn their philosophy even if the opposition attacked them for their beliefs. 

Philosophy was more than mere thoughts; it included aspects of science, math, and music. Incorporating these different facets of life provided support for these philosophers’ beliefs and values to the citizens of Greece.

Yet, obstacles plagued many philosophers during the course of their life including hostility from the opposition as well as having to serve in the military during the Peloponnesian War for many years.

However, their devotion and endurance overcame these obstacles so that people today can experience their philosophies of life.

1. Plato

Plato was not only a philosopher but also a soldier who fought in the Peloponnesian War. However, Plato is primarily known for his work in philosophy. Plato became a great philosopher with the help from his upbringing.

Being the eldest son of a wealthy family, Plato was educated by the top educators in Athens, Greece. His situation was accomplished unfortunately after his father died when Plato was young. This resulted in his mother’s remarriage to her uncle who was directly involved in government business and political affairs.

Having this connection to high officials in Greece enabled Plato’s fine education. Likewise, Plato’s life began to flourish especially after he met Socrates and established a friendship with him. Integrity and righteousness positively plagued Plato.

His life revolved around understanding and thinking about integrity and righteousness. Among Plato’s many works include The Republic which has become quite popular throughout the years. 

2. Aristotle

Aristotle must have been a great teacher since he educated Alexander the Great as a youth. Even though this fact has made him popular in the history books, it would cause some issues for Aristotle later in his life. Aristotle’s own education rightfully began at the age of 17 when he attended Plato’s school. Learning under Plato proved successful for his career in philosophy. 

After finishing school, Aristotle began his own school called Lyceum. Aristotle’s philosophy included science and moral codes of conduct. He believed that thinking by using reason would allow that person to learn anything in life.

Teaching his students about his philosophical beliefs was quite difficult for students in more ways than one. For example, Aristotle made a habit of pacing around his school while he was teaching. This caused the students to remain alert and required them to follow Aristotle around while still taking notes. 

When Alexander the Great died, Aristotle’s connection to him angered many Athenian people whose thoughts had changed over time. With this information, Aristotle decided to flee Athens and lived in Euboea for the remainder of his life.

3. Socrates

Trouble plagued Socrates’s life from beginning to end. It is hard to believe that a great and famous philosopher such as Socrates not only had a family that frowned upon his career of becoming a philosopher but was also condemned to death for his philosophy.

However, Socrates’s life began troublesome too. It is quite surprising that he became such a great philosopher that he did. Unlike Aristotle and Plato, Socrates was not born a rich child, but instead into a working-class family.

He obtained an average education and ended up working with his father as a laborer for several years. After marrying Xanthippe and fathering three children, he studied and practiced philosophy. With all the time spent on philosophy, Socrates had very little time for his wife or sons resulting in anger from his family. Also, during his life, Socrates was required to serve his military duty during the Peloponnesian War as an infantry soldier. Socrates proved his courage throughout his life. 

Socrates’s philosophies included the idea that people should act by reason, not for religious purposes. Also, people should consider their actions and how their actions affect society. These philosophies scared Athenians and they felt threatened. Socrates’s demeanor of being right contributed to being charged and condemned to death. Drinking poisonous hemlock ended Socrates’s life.

4. Plutarch

Despite the fact that Plutarch began his career in a prominent position in Greece, he decided to study and teach philosophy instead. His influence spanned for years after he died. The reason for having such great works is due to the longevity of his life as well as his early years.

Plutarch was born in 46 CE to a family that was very rich. This enabled him to learn from the best educators in Greece. From there, Plutarch secured a position in Achaea as a procurator. This position was highly regarded by the citizens of Greece.

However, Plutarch’s interest lay solely in thinking and philosophy. In his lifetime, Plutarch wrote over two hundred books or essays. Philosophers are primarily known for their writing, so they typically write a lot. Yet, this is a lot of books to write even for a philosopher. Since Plutarch lived to be well over 100 years old, he had plenty of time to put all of his thoughts down. In between his writing, he also taught young students in his home. 

Plutarch’s beliefs included reincarnation and the theories behind actions that are good as opposed to evil. Plutarch’s philosophy was so powerful that some of the great authors and composers were influenced by him including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Beethoven.

5. Pythagoras

Have you ever heard of the Pythagorean Theorem? Students still learn and use this formula in math classes today. It was actually invented by a well-known philosopher, Pythagoras. Like many philosophers, Pythagoras also studied mathematics. Hence, that is where his theorem originated.

However, Pythagoras was a very well-rounded individual who applied many different facets of life to philosophy. Besides math, he would use the rhythm from music to compare ratios in math. One of his philosophical teachings included the soul.

Pythagoras believed that the soul is recycled again and again. This cycle continues until the soul is freed. Many philosophers accepted his philosophy, especially those based on his mathematical and musical studies.

Even though Pythagoras’s theories were popular and he established a school for those who believed in his ideas, there were many people who were obviously against Pythagoras and his ideas. These adversaries of Pythagoras criticized and physically confronted him resulting in a near collapse of his group.

However, Pythagoras was able to continue his practice and teachings throughout his life until he died during the 5th century BCE.

6. Empedocles

Despite being born to an affluent family, Empedocles and his family were known for helping destitute people in Greece. They even went so far as to point out the domineering attitude of the wealthy people.

Needless to say, Empedocles became a very well-liked politician. Besides the popularity of his causes, he would also get attention from the common people by being a brilliant orator and sometimes he would wear outrageous clothes. 

Empedocles believed in the soul, and its resting place for the evil souls could be found in animals. Once someone knew the secret to life, his or her soul would be released from being reincarnated. Therefore, he believed that people should find their purpose in life.

Science also played a role in Empedocles’s philosophy. The most important elements of the world included water, air, fire and earth according to Empedocles.

7. Thales of Miletus

Imagine being asked to measure the great enormous pyramids in Egypt. That would require a lot of skill to accurately measure a structure that is so massive not to mention its shape.

However, that job belonged to Thales of Miletus. He also was believed by some people to predict solar eclipses. Thales’s interest in science also applied to his philosophical ideas including the idea that water lies and is the main physical element under the universe.

A solid connection between myth and reason was also made by Thales of Miletus. Even though none of Thales’s writing survived, it was believed that Thales understood that the Earth is a solid flat surface that drifts on the ocean water. His popularity gained him notoriety as being one of the seven wise men associated with philosophy.

8. Epicurus

 Long after Epicurus’s death in 271 BCE, his philosophical beliefs and influence continued for years even into the Renaissance. The way that Epicurus was so influential was through his beliefs, developments and teachings.

Two areas of Greece that were touched by Epicurus’s beliefs included Mytilene and Lampsacus where Epicurus created two schools there. Likewise, Epicurus created The Garden for his instruction.

Epicurus’s philosophies were included in both the sciences and a person’s thoughts. He knew that the fundamental block of science was the atom. Also, someone’s ideas of value would be narrowed to just one thing and that would be happiness.

According to Epicurus, happiness is the only thing that someone really wants for himself or herself. On the other hand, if someone is not happy, then that is the only time when someone will be fearful in their life. Comfort is drawn from the realization of the connection between death and obliteration. These philosophies of Epicurus remain in his works.

One is titled Lives of the Philosophers. Even though there are probably many more thoughts regarding Epicurus’s philosophy, his writings did not stand the test of time and many were lost.

9. Zeno

Publishing a collection of writing during his early youth would be such an accomplishment for anyone. Zeno wrote a collection, but people believed it was so great that it was published without him even knowing it. Zeno started off his life with such gusto that it is not surprising that he would become a famous philosopher. 

Zeno was born in 495 BCE. Throughout his life, he studied paradoxes. He would distinguish between continuity and infinity. Math also played a part in his philosophy involving logic. Zeno’s philosophy differed from other philosophers during his time.

For example, he believed that an object is more than one thing. It is made up of many things. He would argue this concept with many other philosophers. He would get involved in a dialectic discourse which is a situation where people have different viewpoints about a topic. That is why Zeno became known as the inventor of dialectic. 

10. Ammonius of Athens

Since Plutarch was considered one of the greatest philosophers from Ancient Greece, then Ammonius of Athens must be considered too. The reason is that Ammonius was Plutarch’s teacher. Plutarch respected and revered Ammonius for his philosophical beliefs.

Ammonius taught philosophy in Athens including the differences in the world between the time someone was born and the time he or she died. Before teaching philosophy, Ammonius of Athens held a prominent position in Athens called the office of the strategists.

This was considered a high official position in the city. Even though Ammonius is considered a remarkable ancient Greek philosopher, he was actually born in Egypt. However, he moved to Athens and spent most of his life there.

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