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A BRIEF HISTORY OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY

 
Introductory Paragraph

Early Ionic Natural Philosophers

The Pythagoreans

The Eleatics

Heraclitus

Later Natural Philosophers

General Character of the First Period in the History of Greek Philosophy

The Sophist

Socrates

The Followers of Socrates

The Lesser Socratics

Plato. Life. Works

Plato. Philosophy

The Disciples of Plato

The Old Academy

Aristotle: Life and works

Aristotle: Theory of Knowledge

Aristotle: Metaphysics

Aristotle: Physics

Aristotle: Psychology

Aristotle: Practical Philosophy

Aristotle: Rhetoric and Poetic

Aristotle: Sources

Aristotle: Unity of Plato and Aristotle

Aristotle: result

The Peripatetic School

Three Leading Post-Aristotelian Schools

The Stoics and Stoicism

The Epicureans and Epicureanism

The Sceptics

The Common Ground of the Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics

Philosophy in Rome: Eclecticism

The Later Peripatetics

The Later Academics

The Later Stoics

General Character of the Second Period

Standpoint and Schools of the Third and Latest Period of Greek Philosophy

Jewish-Alexandrian School

Neo-Pythagoreanism

The Eclectic Platonist

Neo-Platonism. Plotinus

Neo-Platonism. Porphyry. Jamblichus

Neo-Platonism. Proclus

 

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY                    

B. C. BURT (1852-1915) - Table of contents                        
         

 

 

GREEK PHILOSOPHY - I. NATURALISM

§ 1- The Hylicists, Hylozoists, or Early Ionic Natural Philosophers

Thales

The earliest of the Greek philosophers was Thales, born at Miletus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor, about the year 640 B.C. Thales was distinguished for political and ethical wisdom, for his knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, and for his Egyptian and Eastern lore. Several propositions in elementary geometry have been attributed to him, and he was reputed to have predicted an eclipse of the sun (1).

 

  He declared the source of all things to be water; having, perhaps, been led to this hypothesis by the observation of the fact that water plays a great part in the economy of nature, or, as Aristotle says, by the idea that the seeds and nutriment of all things have a watery character. Thales held that nature is not merely material and mechanical, but animate; that water, the primal matter, is filled with life or soul. He may have believed in the existence of a world-soul, but probably not in the existence of an independent, world-ordering mind: dualism originated later in the history of philosophy.

Anaximander

Next, chronologically, to Thales was Anaximander, also of Miletus, born 611 B.C., whose work, On Nature (περί φύσεως), was the earliest of many works of the same class written by the early Greek philosophers. Like Thales, he was a "scientist," being a geographer and astronomer. He affirmed that all things arise out of, and return into, an infinite entity, indeterminate in character, which he termed τό άπειρον, the Infinite (indefinite), and άρχή, "first principle". He was, it appears, the first philosopher who employed the term άρχή in this sense. Out of the Infinite, which he called "the Divine" and conceived as an eternal and living, though not immaterial, being, he supposed actual existences to have sprung by the generation, first, of the "contraries," "the warm" and "the cold," "the moist" and "the dry," then, by an eternal motion, of the universe of worlds, in the centre of which is the earth, fixed in position and cylindrical in form. From the original moisture all things were generated by heat. Animals and men were evolved from fishes. The soul he declared to be aëriform. Anaximander may be called the earliest "evolutionist".

Anaximenes

Nearly contemporary with Anaximander was another Milesian, named Anaximenes (588-524 B.C.). He assumed air to be the άρχή of things, conceiving it as infinite in extent and as animate, having within itself, to employ a modern phrase, "the promise and potency of life". From air, he held, fire, winds, clouds, water, and earth were generated by the processes of "thinning" (fire) and "thickening" —rarefaction and condensation.

Result

Aristotle, in the first chapter of his account of early Greek philosophy, —the third chapter of the first book of his Metaphysics, — affirms that scientific knowledge is the knowledge of causes, which he divides into four classes: the formal cause, or that which constitutes the essence of a thing; the material cause; the efficient cause, or "first principle of motion"; the final cause, or the end. He affirms, and rightly, that the earliest philosophers were occupied with the consideration of the material cause of things, i.e., the material source and constitution of the universe. Because of this they have been called Hylicists (ύλη, hyle, = matter); and because they held matter to be, not dead, but living, they have received the name of Hylozoists (ζωή, = life). It should be noted, however, that in the Infinite of Anaximander there is the germ of a principle not merely physical but metaphysical; for the Infinite, as such, cannot be grasped by the imagination or sensuous thought, but must be apprehended by abstract and pure thought, though it is only virtual and negative, not actual and positive, conception. It should be noted, also, that there are in the speculations of Anaximander and Anaximenes the suggestion of processes by which the original world-stuff becomes actual concrete things; though this part of their theories must be regarded as having been of secondary importance in their thoughts. Crude as their speculations must now appear to every one, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes must be looked upon as philosophers, because they sought to determine the universal permanent element in what was for them the universe. They are commonly spoken of as the Early Ionic Natural Philosophers.

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(1) Ueberweg's History of Philosophy (Morris's translation), Vol. I. pp. 34 and 35.

 

 

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