What did ancient Greek philosophers believe

Ancient philosophy

The sophists

Around 450 BC In BC Athens became the cultural center of the Greek world and the place of life and work of the three most important philosophers of antiquity. A prerequisite for the emerging democracy in Athens was the enlightenment and education of the people. These lessons, the focus of which was the art of speaking (rhetoric), was given by wandering teachers and philosophers - the so-called sophists.

The sophists rejected all unnecessary philosophical speculation, since man, with his limited possibilities, could not find really sure answers to the riddles of nature and the universe. In this respect they can be called skeptics and - since they did not consider the existence of God to be provable or refutable - as agnostics.

Is representative Protagoras (approx. 487 - 420 BC), who regarded man as the measure of all things. Right and wrong, good and bad, must be assessed in relation to people's needs. Since the human being and his place in society was a central concern, it was discussed what was given by nature and what was given by society. The sophists showed, among other things, that there is no natural sense of shame, and finally asserted that there are no absolute norms of right and wrong.


In response to the Sophists, Socrates (470-399 BC) tried to prove that some norms were really absolute and universal. In order to recognize this, we need knowledge, because the ability to distinguish between right and wrong lies in reason and not in society. According to Socrates, conscience, our inner divine voice, gives us the right knowledge that should lead to the right action.

Because it is only possible to become happy if we act according to our convictions. When Socrates, like many a philosopher before or after him, was sentenced to death by the authorities for his publicly represented views, he was therefore ready to die for his convictions.

Socrates - incidentally an opponent of the death penalty - believed as a rationalist that the foundation of our knowledge lies in human reason. At the same time, his much-quoted saying “I know that I know nothing” shows his humility as a philosopher, as a lover of wisdom who - in contrast to the sophists - did not allow himself to be paid for his teaching work. Centuries later, Cicero said, "Socrates brought philosophy from heaven to earth, let it take up residence in cities and houses and forced people to think about life and morals, about good and bad." (Gaarder, 85)


A long-time student of Socrates and author of the dialogues with his teacher was Plato (427 - 347 BC). He opened a so-called academy for the first time, teaching philosophy, mathematics and gymnastics - the former mostly in the form of lively conversations.

Plato tried to fathom an eternal and unchangeable reality, which he saw behind the world of the senses and which he made clear in his allegory of the cave. His doctrine of ideas says that in the world of ideas - about which we can only gain knowledge based on reason - there are eternal archetypes for the phenomena that we perceive in the world of the senses. The latter cannot really be fathomed because of our imperfect senses, it only contains impermanent things that arise and fade in the flow.

The human being, as a two-part being, also has a transitory body and a non-material soul, the abode of reason. The soul can remember the world of ideas as its home and wants - if the person does not cling to the mirror images of the ideas in the world of the senses - to be freed from the dungeon of the body and the imperfect world of the senses due to the longing for love for their actual origin.
Plato also developed his ideas of an ideal, rational, just state and showed that women can have the same reason as men "if only they received the same training and otherwise would be exempt from childcare and housework." (Gaarder, 113)


The last great Greek philosopher and Europe's first great biologist was Plato's student Aristotle (384 - 322 BC). In contrast to the views of his teacher, for him the highest degree of reality does not lie in reason, but in what we perceive or feel with the senses. Nature is not a reflex of the world of ideas, but the human soul reflects nature. Our consciousness is thus formed by sensory impressions, which we classify by means of reason as the most important characteristic of man.

Aristotle stated that “reality consists of various individual things that represent a unity of form and matter. The substance is the material of which the thing is made, while the form denotes the special properties of things. ”(Gaarder, 132). The form says something about the possibilities of all living and dead things.
Aristotle established logic as a science and believed in expediency in nature. Everything has some kind of cause or purpose: the rain nourishes the plants, which in turn nourish the people.

All things in nature belong to different groups and subgroups. He also saw a hierarchy in nature, which led from inanimate things to the kingdom of plants and via animals to man with his divine spirit spark. This order is based on the nature of things, what they can or what they do. At the top of this hierarchy, Aristotle placed God or the first mover as the cause of all movements in nature.

“People only become happy when they can develop and use all their abilities and possibilities” (Gaarder, 140). According to Aristotle, a happy life includes a life of pleasure and pleasure, life as a free, responsible citizen and life as a researcher and philosopher, all in a balanced and measured relationship, the golden mean that he recommended. Ironically, Aristotle's image of women as the woman as an incomplete man, in the context of the importance of his teachings in the Middle Ages, led to the derogatory image of women in the church.

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Published by Doerr Frank

Born in 1963, qualified social pedagogue, former lecturer at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, journalist (bdfj), author. Publication of specialist books and CDs in Germany, the Czech Republic and the USA. Managing director of an online marketing agency, organizer of the Reiki Convention and editor-in-chief of Reiki-land.de.