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GREEK PHILOSOPHY

From Myth to Logos


"From the beginning, wonder

The Beginnings
of Philosophy

Classical
Antiquity

has made

language of stories of gods and heroes

the

on the one hand, and strict argument on

pal

the other. Instead of using gods to explain

th

ab/

men philosophize, and it still does." This

rational form of coming to terms with it.

arg

saying of Aristotle's, which goes back to

Aristotle clarifies this distinction as follows:

The

Plato, is still valid today. Aristotle takes

"Mythologists only thought in the way they

en

"philosophical wonder" to mean our amaze-

could understand, and paid little attention to

ment

at

inexplicable

phenomena.

the

world,

men

increasingly

sought

This

us. For when they raise gods to the status

amazement gives rise to asking questions

of principles, have gods create everything,

about causes, but it also addresses the

and assert that everything that does not

an

problem

of

feed on nectar and ambrosia is mortal, it

sto

philosophy itself. It is not only academic,

of the origin and beginning

is clear that they are stating something

the

professional philosophy that contains philo-

comprehensible

of

sophical knowledge, but also myth, because

something totally incomprehensible for us

hist

myth too is motivated by wondering,

when

it comes to the effects of these

are

questions searching for explanations. Indeed

causes. But we do not need to give any

So

the boundaries between myth, pre-philo-

serious thought to mythical insights. On the

Eth

sophical thinking and philosophy are less

contrary, we must seek information from

the

clear-cut than one might assume from the

those who argue with proofs." The origin of

by

to

them,

while

saying

chapter headings of histories of philosophy.

philosophy in the narrower sense is the

The

The material with which each is concerned,

discovery of argument.

The

in other words the question of the origin of

Greek philosophy did not arise on the Greek

the universe, and the explanation of natural

mainland (it only arrived in Athens in the

phenomena and social norms and institu-

second half of the 5th century B.C., and

tions, is common to both philosophy and

never really settled in Sparta at all), but in

of

myth. However they do differ in the way in

the Greek colonies of Asia Minor (Miletus)

the

ical

which they deal with these matters, or to be

and southern Italy (e.q. Croton and Elea).

wor

more precise, in the particular way each

This is because in these places the con-

god

verbalizes these things. The much-quoted

frontation with new questions and problems

re-in

transition from myth to logos

is marked

and with other ways of thinking was more

between the narrative

conducive to theoretical discussion than in

by the difference

no
CLASSICAL
The origins of Western philosophy are to be found in Ancient
Greece. The Greeks began to
express thought in philosophical
terms in c. 600 B.C This period
was characterized by far-reaching
economic and social change,
which led to a crisis of the
aristocratic state and finally to
new forms of rule (tyranny,
democracy).

These changes were accompanied by what is known as the


transition from myth to logos.
In other words, mythological or
religious interpretations of the
world (e.g.stories of the gods
which told of the origin and
course of the world and its contents) were increasingly replaced
by a philosophical. scientific, and
rational explanation of the world
This transition was only very
gradual, however, so that myth i-

cal influences are still apparent in


many ancient thinkers.
Ancient philosophy begins with
the Presocratics (c. 650500 B.C.l. including the Milesians (lhales. Anaxirnander), the
Pythagoreans, the Eleatics (xenophanes, Parmenides) and the
Atomists (Leucippus, Democritus)

the

ANTIQUITY
Presocratic philosophy centers
on the question of the basic
principle permeating the world
and the primal substance from
which the world and the things
in it arose.
The succeeding classical period
(c. 480-c.
320 B.C.) was the
heyday of Greek civilization, in
which the Greeks produced their
highest achievements in the
visual arts (enlargement of the
Acropolis under Pericles; important sculptors: Myron, Phidias,
Polycletus); literature (period of
the greatest representatives of
Attic tragedy: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides); and philosophy
(Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) Athens

Pythagoras, Engraving,
16th century,
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

nal
became the center of philosophy
at this time, and it was here that
the new form of state, the polis
or city-state, attained its highest
expression.
The Hellenistic period (323c. 1st century B.C.) was the age
in which a mixed culture arose
as the result of the absorption of
oriental elements. The Greek
influence, however, remained
paramount During this period,
the Greeks ruled over large areas
of the Middle East as far as
northern India. Science, scholarship and trade flourished The
centers of culture were Alexandria and Pergamon. Characteristic
of Hellenistic art and architecture
was the juxtaposition of different
styles. Literature and philosophy
were marked by a cosmopolitan
attitude. New philosophical
schools arose (Stoics, Epicureans).

basi
worl

scie
and
whic

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

the motherland.
particularly

and

did indeed

linguistic

themes

encompass

the

(the theory

of

forms

of

included

not

)t

and movement

it

stood as the study

the observation
of philosophy

JS

historical

;e

are

1y

Socrates

Greek

philosophy

areas

of

Ethics,

and

three

the earth, natural

Ig

of

nature),

),

only

the

phenomena,

Physics
Logic.

stars

of the gods

as

Plato

1e

Ethics, and

the study of Logic.

the

Aristotle

areas to

Presocratics

creators
as

of

the

on

historians

three

so that

the

and

these

under-

based

of nature. Ancient
assign

and

time, space,

but also theology,

periods,

seen

of

new, reli-

and communication.

central

Physics

demand

transparent

argumentation
The

and

trade far beyond the confines

the city-state
able,

The needs of transport

Physics,

founders

of

inventor

of

as the

of
he

The Presocratics
The transition

lek

from

myth

logos was a

to

gradual process. One group

of thinkers, for

example, the Orphics - named after the myth-

ical singer Orpheus - employed the language

in

of myth to ask philosophical

questions about

and

about

a uniform

the

basis of the

names

of

theoretically

way,

themselves

Seven

Liberal Arts. Both

us)

the origin of things

ea).

world principle, while

on-

gods in a recognizably

ms

re-interpreting the myths allegorically.

cal problems, and thus created a philosophi-

ore

These questions also form the core of Ionian

cal focus which was taken up again explicitly

~ in

natural philosophy, based in Miletus, which

only

using

the

metaphorical

now turned its back uncompromisingly

on

the language of myth to seek a strictly rational explanation of the world. For Thales. the
basis of creation - the origin

(arche) of the

world - resided in water, for Anaximander

in

and

practically,

they concerned

intensively with ethical and politi-

later,

by the

Sophists,

and

then

by

Socrates and Plato.


The basis of every insight

for Heraclitus,

lone figure among the Presocratics, was the


empirical

observation

things, which

of the

multiplicity

led him to the conviction

of
that

the quality-free and eternal infinite, and for

the whole world consisted

Anaximenes in the air, which

as

father of all things was war, in other words

divine,dynamic and life-giving. Common to all

the battle of opposites. These, however, would

these thinkers, whom

eventually be subsumed

he saw

Aristotle

regarded

the founders of Greek philosophy


rower sense, is a concern

as

in the nar-

to find a single

unity

in the

eternal

in an all-embracing

reason

One shall become All."

Pythagoreanssaw number

One

radical

of custom

especially

natureof things seemed to them to be based

the gods, was Xenophanes,

on numbers.It was number which gave order

epistemological

defining the undefined.

The

and

thus

Pythagoreans

of

critic

both of the material world and of society. The

to the cosmos, by demarcating

of the

world

(togas). "All shall become the One, and the

explanation for the origin of the world. The


as the principle

of opposites. The

and tradition,

anthropomorphic

skepticism.

of the unity, motionlessness

notions

of

the founder

of

With

his thesis

and eternity of

the universe, he can be seen as the pioneer

establishedthe canon of the four Pythagorean

of Eleatism, whose

sciencesof arithmetic, geometry, astronomy,

Elea (critically turning

founder,

Parmenides

of

and acoustics (the rational study of harmony),

developed

which later, as the quadrivium, was to form

of existence) on the basis of the following

his back on Heraclitus)

a static, Monistic

ontology

Group of Philosophers,
Roman mosaic from Pompeii.
1st centu ry AD,
Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Naples
The "Seven Wise Men: in fact
comprising far more than seven
statesmen in changing configurations in
the 6th and 7th centuries
were
regarded in Greek tradition as the
founders of a rule-based, and
altogether practical. form of thinking
and acting that was only later
systematized in philosohpical terms.
Handed down from them we have
such proverbial expressions as: "Know
thyself," "Nothing in excess: "Master thy
desires," "Everything in its proper time:
"Most people are bad"
Whether the Pompeian mosaic, which
is probably based on a Hellenistic
model. really does depict the "Seven
Wise Men" is questionable, but not
completely impossible, for
representations of this motif are known
from classical Antiquity (e.g. in Cologne).
The mosaic has also been seen as a
depiction of the Platonic Academy In
that case, Plato would be the seated
figure beneath the tree. drawing in the
sand with a stick or pointing to a ball
which might be construed as an
armillary sphere (a heavenly sphere with
the orbits of the planets) Whatever the
case, the lively picture, of a group of
sages in conversation demonstrates the
ongoing interest among educated
Romans in the philosophy which they
had originally inherited from Greece.

Be

(theory

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

strictly
His

logical

basic

thinking

and

being

always

the preceding

that
implies

to imagine,

exist

As statements

imply

the

about

non-existence

or subsequent

of

situation, there-

separation

about

mechanistically

through

or

the cosmos. Anaxagoras


infinitely

many,

by

not

come

chance,

and

invisible

whose

mixing

action

by the

mind-spirit

is guided

and

intertnous)

The Atomists Leucippus and Democritus

cannot

be

imagined,

nor

even

uttered. So being can only be


as an

unchanging

unity

which

attempted
the

but

posits not four, but

unchanging

basic substances,

to overcome

positions

also

the contradiction

taken

by

Heraclitus

in
and

has not begun and will not cease (Monism).

Parmenides, albeit without

invoking a mental

This gives rise to a paradox,

or metaphysical

which

because

our

principle

everyday experience is that things do change,

universe. They postulated

all the time. Parmenides resolves this paradox

basic particles, atoms, which

by viewing

form and arrangement.

perception

as appearance, decep-

tion and mere opinion


thought.

Thus thought

idoxe)

in contrast to

and empirical

experi-

Empedocles'
a

theory

of the elements

compromise

between

of empirical

portions.
the

Empedocles
of

by interpreting

explains
obviously

and

in

come

about

by chance,

which

philosophy. The focus of interest shifted from

different

results from

being mixed in different pro-

phenomenon

change

objects

It is the changes
which

The Sophists ushered in a new era in Greek

of earth, fire, air and water. The

multiplicity

mechanically

indivisible

differ in their

repre-

sists in the end of the qualitatively

these elements

purely

minute

Heraclitus

and Parmenides. Being is not unitary, but con-

elements

configurations,

guides the

cause the changes we see in the world.

ence are kept strictly apart.

sents

these

and

rescues

observable

it as the separation,

as the case may be, of elements.

natural philosophical,

cosmological,

and onto-

logical issues to ethical and social questions.


It was

they

Athens,

provoking,

extensive

who

brought
not

influence,

philosophy

least

the

by their

to
very

and Aristotelian

philosophy, which was motivated primarily by


the epistemological

and ethical skepticism

rise
subj
"rna

counter-movement

we know as Socratic-Platonic

of

that
are

g~

the Sophists. From the pragmatic

experience

of

that perceptions

are relative

Plat

and subjective,

Museo delle Terme, Rome

general

In the famous thought-experiment in


which he had Achilles race a tortoise,
leno of Elea pointed to the difficulties
in the conceptual understanding of time
and movement Achilles gives the
tortoise a head start it starts at point A
When Achilles reaches point A the
tortoise is at point B. When Achilles
reaches B, the tortoise is at C, and so
on. Hence, even though the distance
between them gets ever shorter,
Achilles can never catch up. leno
wanted to show that our experience of
variety and movement is based on
appearance and therefore contradicts
logic. Reason should lead to the
realization that the True is only the
One Immutable. The discus thrower
is shown at a precise moment of
motionlessness, a transition from the
preparatory movement to the final
fling. But for every beholder, this
moment contains within it the
preceding and succeeding movements.
This dynamic conception of time and
movement, in which a point of time
is only a transition and not a real,
isolated moment, leads beyond
Zeno's paradoxes.

for knowledge

ANTIQUITY

does

love and strife, the two forces ruling

The Discus Thrower by Myron,


c. 450 Be.. Roman copy,

CLASSICAL

union

existence

or union

or

which controls the whole universe.

imagined

The name "Socrates" and a


quotation from his last dialogues
as handed down by Plato are
chisleled into the lower part of
this herm. Thus the sculptor has
enabled us to identify numerous
other examples of the portrait,
whose original was probably
commissioned by Socrates' pupils.
The quotation refers to the power
of rational arguments and the
moral responsibility to follow
them. With his patient and
thorough discussion of this
attitude, Socrates created a new
emphasis in contrast to the
predominantly natural
philosophical approach of
earlier philosophers.

same,

This

fore there can be no change, because non-

meaningfully

Socrates, 470 - 399 B.C.,


Portrait bust, Marble,
So-called Farnese herm,
Museo Archeologico, Naples

principle,

are the

is impossible

it cannot

change

argumentation.

epistemological

and

that if something
then

linguistic

and judgments
the Sophists

position

consequence,

that

arrived

at the

no secure foundation

was achievable. As a logical


they abandoned

philosophy's

claim to truth, seeking no longer to convince


by argument.

but

rather

to

persuade

by

rhetorical skill.
The

Socr

399
drin
was
with

development

philosophy

Socr

and

expansion

of communication

of

the

to th

is due to this

whic

priority given to rhetoric. The Sophists were

nott

teachers

who

traveled

true

teaching

the

politically

the cities of Greece


ambitious

younger

The

generation, especially the art of public speak-

Socr

ing, with

is in

the

promise

that

in litigation

or

political

dispute they could thereby turn the

point

weaker

position

revise

into the stronger. (For these

services they charged

fees which

in some

tions

cases were enormous,

a practice vehemently

grant

criticized

by Plato and Socrates)

best-known

Among

the

Sophists is Protagoras, who gave

foun
moral

particular emphasis to the relativity of things.

Socra

In his opinion,

the

a statement

could

be true in

one situation and false in another. This gave

order

Socrates and his Pupils,


Engraving after a painting by Pinelli
In 399 B.C Socrates was condemned
to death after being accused of atheism
and corrupting the young. He turned
down an opportunity to flee, arranged
by his friends, because he regarded
this as an admission of guilt The last
hours of Socrates are reported by Plato
in his dialogue Phaedo. As this is an
idealized picture, it is difficult to test the
historical truth of the account There is
little doubt. however, that Socrates met
his death calmly, and that he spent his
final hours in prison in the company of
his friends and pupils. It was in line
with Greek custom that friends took
priority over family responsibilities
Socrates was executed by being made
to drink hemlock It is reported that he
took the cup of poison without fear and
with a cheerful countenance. He did
not even lose his sense of irony,
because before downing the draft he
asked whether he should not sacrifice
a few drops to the gods.

e
e
e

rise to his famous

dictum

asserting

human

subjectivity as the

basis of all knowledge:

Socrates

locutor to adopt

of things

that

into

conversation

of targeted

questioning,

succeeds

in persuading

under

a great influence on the succeeding

logue as useful even if it does not produce

Greek

philosophy

period

(Socrates,

discussion.

Socrates was

's

399 B.C.and executed

condemned

to

by being

drink hemlock; his principal


was to have corrupted

death

made to

alleged

the youth

with his sophistic philosophy.

in

crime

of Athens

His response

to the Sophists' art of disputation,

the aim of

which was solely to win the argument,

but

notto discover the truth, was his concept


truedebate, of philosophical
The foundation

of

his

of

dialogue.
dialectic

the

discussion

partners,

Socrates
teacher,

pointed out to him, to

revisethe theoretical and practical

reflect

upon

and

convic-

me

tions which

ntly

granted;and thence to work out a properly

he

had

hitherto

he

taken

for

knew

He said

only

thing

nothing.

the

is known
works

great.
their

of

his

to
Plato

Plato the Academy,

Antisthenes
hedonistic

Cyrenaican

Main Features of his Philosophy

ngs.

Socratesstarts out by presenting

Plato often

the ignorant seeker after

knowledge,
might

have

in
no

he

writings

and

other

was

extraof

his

the Cynics,
version,

the

school.

moraland political life. In these dialogues,

orderthat his interlocutor

knew

of philosophy:

founded knowledge of himself

ave

ironically
he

pupils

schools

and Aristippus

the

us primarily

influence

Numerous

own

as

Although

the

himself as

not

easing the birth

ave

and about

recognized

himself

the

contemporaries),
ordinarily

ese

that

(his philosophy

founded

the

some

nearer.

off many

was the author of no philosophical

is induced, through

contradictions

but

self-reflection.

that

dia-

value.

understood

himself

was

a solution

frightened

but as a midwife

of critical
of

SocraticQuestion, by which the interlocutor


having

and brings

of dialogue

its educational

sees this

result, but merely clarifies

This form

through
is

Socrates

any unambiguous
the problem

al

in

his inter-

a critical view of the topic

are not that they are not." Sophistry exerted

Socrates

or

entering

that are that they are, and

Plato,Aristotle).

ak-

about

him. By dint

"man is the measure of all things, of things

of classical

er

shyness
with

Plato

used a critical

his predecessors
Heraclitus,

disputation

- in particular

Parmenides,

with

Pythagoras,

and the Sophists

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

to help him arrive at his own philosophical

Parmenides' concept of being - are seen

position. His dialectic approach to philoso-

as immutable,

phy meant that he largely avoided repre-

to the changing empirical world) as inac-

senting

cessible to perception by the senses and

material

knowledge.
contrast

as' assured

Methodological

whether

insights,

epistemological,

by

logical

only knowable through

(in contrast

intellect. Anyone

who has recognized these ideas (which,

or linguistic, he did as a rule present as

incidentally, Plato never claimed to have

permanent.

done himself) has immutable, permanently

Among

\.

statements

eternal and

the

knowledge

presented

as

assured knowledge, in contrast to mere

assured, we find general assertions of the

opinion

kind that there must be ideas, in particular

masses are content and which represents

with

the idea of the Good, that doing wrong is

the most that can be achieved in the whole

worse than suffering wrong, that the possi-

sphere of perception.

bility of learning and of knowledge must be

There are ideas for the whole range of

recognized, and that a life of reason is to

knowable things: for the things of nature

(doxe),

which

the

broad

be preferred to its opposite. A conspicuous

(e.q. animals

feature of Platonic philosophy is the way

tables), for ethical

or trees), for artifacts (e.g.

it freely uses myths and parables; these

(e.g. virtues or forms of government), and

or political

concepts

do not however represent a relapse into

not least for the objects of geometry (e.g.

mythical thinking - they serve to illustrate,

circles or triangles). Above all in respect of

explain and supplement the argumentation,

the last-named, on the pattern of which

not to replace it and do not contradict it.

Plato obviously conceived his theory, but

His philosophy centers on ethics. His main

also in respect of social structures, it is

concern

of

immediately plausible that empirical reality

assured knowledge. While Socrates' ethical

never corresponds to the ideal, for which

disputes

related to

reason they almost cry out for an a priori

problems of individual ethics, Plato empha-

ideal construction. In this way, Plato's theory

is to
were

prove the

possibility

predominantly

sized the comprehensive aspect of social

of ideas creates a critical apparatus with

ethics, in which

which to consider the prevailing conditions

context the question of

proper upbringing and education played an

relating to morals, tradition and the state.

important role.

In order to make plausible the possibility


of knowing these ideas, Plato relates a

Plato's Theory of Ideas

myth, according to which souls, assumed

The purpose of Plato's theory of "ideas"

to be immortal,

(sometimes known in English as "forms")

state, seen all ideas; birth dissipates this

was to establish a philosophical platform

knowledge, but it can be re-activated by

from which

10

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

For him, learning

of a blank sheet

but

was

progress into recollection. Psychologically,


the road to the knowledge of ideas begins

objective

knowledge

of truth

erations was the epistemological

./

recollection (anamnesis).
is not the filling

possible. The starting point for his consid-

that

The Platonic solids assigned to


the ancient elements from:
Johannes Kepler, Harmonices Mundi:
libri V, Linz, 161 9, Bayerische Akademie
der Wissenschaften, KeplerKomrnission
In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato sets out
his picture of the origin and properties
of the cosmos. Even before the physical
existence of the five elements fire, air,
water, earth, and ether, matter structured
itself while taking on form, as Plato
claims, according to ideal geometric
solids, whose faces are identical regular
polygons and whose vertices lie on the
surface of a circumscribing sphere.
There are precisely five polyhedra which
fulfill these conditions. The mathematical
relationships of these solids and the
relationships of the elements to one
another allowed numerous speculative
attempts at analogy.

to oppose the subjectivism

and relativism of the Sophists by showing

have, in their pre-natal

axiom

with

different

perceptual

impressions of

that like is only recognized by like, that is

the same kind (e.g. of beautiful objects or

to say, that the objects of knowledge cor-

people), until finally the all-embracing and

respond to the capacity for knowledge (and

unitary

vice versa), which means in particular that

Plato describes the epistemological

the assurance of knowledge depends on

as a succession of five steps: 1) naming;

the objects concerned, for which

reason

2) definition; 3) image; 4) insight and sci-

the changing objects of the empirical world

ence; 5) spontaneous, sudden illumination

can never lead to permanently

assured

of the idea. The final step, the vision of

knowledge. In order to show that perma-

ideas, is only attainable after one has pro-

nently

possible

gressed through all the others, and it is only

nonetheless, Plato postulates the existence

manifested to those who have practiced a

of "ideas" as objects of knowledge of a

philosophical

particular kind, which - by analogy with

association with others.

assured

knowledge

is

idea

of

beauty

itself

appears.
road

life over a long period in


oth

e
d

:s
e
of
re
.g.

Its
ld
~.g.
of
ch
Jut
is
Ility
ich
'iari
lory
'lith

Ontology, the theory of different kinds and

Plato's Ethics and Political PhilosophV


The guiding light of all individual and social

ons

spheres of existence, derives immediately

:e.

from the theory of ideas. At the pinnacle of

action, and also of every theoretical effort. is

lility

the hierarchy of existence are the ideas. Only

the idea of the Good, which stands at the

s a

theyare, in the true sense of the word, exist-

pinnacle of the cosmos of ideas, or, put

med

ing. They serve as original patterns for the

another way, stands out above all other

iatal

world of the senses. By contrast. the empiri-

ideas. It should be noted in passing that

this

calworld, the physical, perceptible, transitory

Plato nowhere provides a closer definition of

by

thingsof the senses, Plato regards as having

this concept of the Good. As the overarching

'ning

no independent existence, but only existing

idea, it is responsible for securing the exis-

but

byvirtue of their "participation" in the ideas,

tence of the other ideas and thus of the

of which they are mere copies or images.

whole world, to guarantee the usefulness of

Thisdivision of the spheres of existence is

the ideas in science and action, to prevent

rsgi:~

reflected in the division of capacity for

the misuse of knowledge and skills, and to

ks

or

knowledge into intellect and perception.

determine the proper relationship between

and

However,in his late work, Timaeus, Plato

ends and means in concrete instances. The

cally,

sci-

blurs this strict separation of the different

analyses developed in the early dialogues of

spheresof existence and knowledge, in part

various social virtues (bravery, justice, etc.l

at least,by introducing undefined space or

hold up a model idealized picture in oppo-

featureless material,

sition to actual social practice, which

or

(derived

from

in

ation

Pythagoreantradition) the ideal numbers, as

Plato's eyes was totally corrupt. This picture

of
r:sonpro-

mediatinginstances between the ideas and

was at the same time to serve as criticism

theworld of the senses, and introducing the

of prejudices and widespread

is only

notionof correct or true opinion, which lies

particular the opinions

:iceda

betweentruth on the one hand, assigned to

politicians. The thesis of the teachability of

tod in

intellectand ideas, and mere opinion on the

virtue, put forward in the dialogue Meno, is

other,which relates to the empirical world.

based on the presupposition that virtue is a

values, in

of Sophists and

The School of Athens,


Fresco by Raphael. 1508-1511.
Vatican Museums. Rome
In its symphonic variety. Raphael's
fresco appears to depict not just many
philosophers, but philosophy itself. and
to illustrate the abstract halls of thought
through an architectural analogy.
Knowledge of Antiquity at the time of
the Renaissance was in fact
fragmentary, but few beholders would
suspect this in view of the artist's casual
and virtuoso assemblage of characters
and movements into a panorama of
visualized topics, investigations and
positions. Raphael was aware of course
that not all the philosophers shown
were alive at the same time; he was
not depicting a historical scene.
Relatively few of the figures can be
unambiguously identified In the middle,
Plato, with the Timaeus under his arm,
points casually to the "heaven of ideas"
above, while his pupil Aristotle holds his
arm stretched out horizontally before
him. He did not believe, and this is the
symbolism here, in the Platonic ideas;
for him, the Universal and the Particular
were both conveyed through earthly
things. Socrates, with his back turned to
both, is counting arguments on his
fingers. In the left foreground,
Pythagoras sits and writes, a tablet in
front of him showing the harmonic
numerical ratios. Diogenes lies halfdressed but unembarrassed on the
staircase, while on the far right Ptolemy,
as a crowned king, holds a globe.

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

11

form of knowledge and that no one can

Like his teacher Socrates, Plato


thought that truth could not be
reduced to formulas and then
trotted out at any time regardless
of context Rather. it had to be
discovered by each person for
himself, but not in isolation partners in discussion were
indispensable For this reason all
his writings are in the form of
dialogues, in which two or more
persons converse.
For Plato, however, true insights
are not concemed with the
sphere of the contingent Things
that come into being and pass
away are separated by a basic
gulf from the timeless sphere of
ideas, which, independently of
whether they are in anyone's
mind or not exist as real entities
and as originals for empirical
objects

Plato's simile of the cave, Engraving


by Jan Saenredam, after Comelis van
Haarlem, 1604, Albertina, Vienna
Plato's "simile of the cave" is to be
found in his dialogue The Republic
People chained up for life in a cave
constantly see in the firelight the
shadows of things which they cannot
see, and they regard the shadows as
the things themselves. However the
things themselves are mere images of
an ideal existence. represented by the
sun shining outside the cave. Plato uses
this simile to describe the path to
recognition of the ideas, which, as real
originals, are superordinate to the world
of concrete, visible things which are
mere copies of them.
The engraving reproduced here was
commissioned by a scholarly humanist
in Amsterdam, who also prescribed the
outlines of the content It thus demonstrates the way in which memorable
classical images can be adapted to the
changing spirit of the age.

12

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

solidarity and the

act against his better. knowledge. A similar

mutual relationship of the virtues and the

argumentation underlies Plato's ethical and

social classes. For the first two estates,

political theory as a whole. 'Given one's

Plato postulates that goods, women and

human

as a reasonable

children be regarded as common property.

being, no one of sufficient insight. faced

Only in this way, in other words by total

with the choice of leading a reasonable or

renunciation of private property and other

self-awareness

unreasonable life, can possibly decide on

private claims, can the worst evils for the

the

goal of

state - namely acquisitiveness and its result-

thus

to

ing disputes - be avoided. By virtue of their

enlighten people about themselves.

all-round education, which serves not only

In his wide-ranging

work, The Republic,

to impart knowledge but should also lead

latter. The most

upbringing

Plato, 427 - 347 B.C.,


Portrait bust Roman copy
of Greek original, Marble,
Louvre, Paris

estates, by regulating

and

important

education

is

Plato worked out a comprehensive educa-

them to the Platonic ideas, the Guardians

tional, social and constitutional theory. He

acquire the right and the duty to serve the

breaks down the state into three classes or

state as philosopher-kings, an office that

estates. 1) The ruling class of Guardians,

Plato expressly holds open for women

charged with administering the state. They

too. In the context of the discussion on

are required to have a high standard of

educational theory, Plato draws up a harsh

education

critique of poets. He would ban poets from

in every area of knowledge.


of

his republic, because they 1) lie, in other

the Guardians in gymnastics and music

words neither know the truth nor dissemi-

Plato discusses in detail the training


(in
and

the

wider

sense

rhythm), as well

including
as

in the

poetry

nate it; 2) lead children and young people

four

astray with false notions and keep them

he adds

away from the knowledge of the ideas; and

stereometry. This comprehensive education

3) present and copy not the ideas, nor even

in preparation for govemment is not con-

the images of the ideas, but images of the

cluded until the age of 49. 2) The Soldiers,

images (i.e. artifacts).

Pythagorean sciences, to which

a combination

of police and army. Their

responsibility is internal and external secu-

Plato's Natural Philosophy

rity. 3) The General Population. They are

The theory of causes and the explanation

responsible for providing food, for trade

of the origin of the world are the main

and for crafts. For each of these estates,

themes

the appropriate virtues are understanding,

He lists the causes necessary for a com-

bravery, and moderation respectively. The

plete explanation of the events in the world

of

Plato's

natural

philosophy.

fourth cardinal virtue, justice, comprehends

as: 1) the material of which

all the others and thus extends to all the

consists; 2) the physical cause, which brings

something

about an effect; 3) the purpose an event


or process is supposed to serve; 4) the
ideas, according to which - in the end every event in the world unfolds. This is
the basis of the classical four-cause doctrine
(material, formal, efficient and final, discussed in more detail by Aristotle). Cause
in the true sense is for Plato the idea of
the best. or in other words the form of
the Good.
He portrays the origin of the world in a
mythical manner. An architect of the world
(demiurqe) arranges the primal chaos into a
cosmos, in other words an ordered unitary
whole, and in such a way as to assemble
the best of all possible worlds from the preexisting material, while keeping the ideas
constantly in view. This notion was later to

detail the theories of other philosophers. His

be seized upon by Leibniz. We are not talk-

work is thus a treasure trove of the other-

ing here of creation from nothing (creatio ex

wise largely lost works of the Presocratics.

nihilo); such a notion is alien to all Greek

Aristotle has adopted only the linguistic and

philosophy, because the demiurge has to

logical theoretical approaches from Plato,

work with existing forms and material.

along with a thoroughgoing

To explain the

only of actions but also of natural phe-

structure

of the

world,

teleology not

Plato has recourse to Empedocles' four-

nomena. He uncompromisingly

element theory. As a preliminary stage he

theory of ideas, dismissing

postulates immaterial

forms,

words and poetic metaphors. In the place

to be precise the five regular polyhedra

of the transcendental ideas as the basic

(tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedron, cube

principles of the world, he postulates ideas

geometrical

rejects the
it as empty

and dodecahedron,

Platonic solids), which he reduces to two

A further important difference from Plato is


Aristotle's

later known

as the

immanently acting in things.

y.

primal triangles. Prior to these it is numbers,

1-

and prior to them it is the ideas which

research into nature, in particular in the

Id

determine the world, so that we have the

analysis and explanation of the problem

19

following ontological hierarchy of the cos-

of change and becoming, in the context

:Js

mos: ideas, numbers, geometrical

of which

solids,

elements, concrete objects.

decided

interest

in

individual

he developed the famous and

historically important distinctions

between

matter and form and between actuality and


Aristotle

potentiality.

Main Features of his Philosophy

Aristotle's philosophy

covers

an

extra-

Logic and Linguistic

Philosophy

ordinarily broad and encyclopedic

range

Aristotle's

on logic

of themes. For the first time in the history of

writings

are usually

differentiation

("instrumenf). His greatest achievement in


the area of logic is the discovery of the

establishment of the various branches of

syllogism, and with it the insight that partic-

learning (e.q. psychology, logic, zoology).

ular conclusions can be regarded as valid

A careful, strictly thought-out

internal

methodology

solely on the basis of their form. A syllogism

can be discerned in every area, using the

consists of two premises and a conclusion.

consistent terminology

For example: major premise, "All men are

and

definitions

whichAristotle introduced. He can be seen

mortal"; minor premise, "All kings are men";

as the founder

conclusion, 'Therefore all kings are mortal."

of the historiography

of

philosophy,because on almost every theme

"Men" in this example is the middle term,

he quotes, criticizes and reconstructs

which disappears in the conclusion. The

in

The "symposium" in ancient Greece was


an all-male dinner and drinking party.
Each symposium was presided over by
a svmposierch, who dictated the
subjects of conversation (often a matter
of controversy) and decided at what
moment how much of the customary
mixture of wine and water should be
drunk and in what proportions.
Doubtless love (including the love of
boys) was often a topic, and eras was
also one of the subjects of the most
famous work of the literary symposium
genre, namely Plato's description of
such an event He, however, treats eros
'l.s a demonic power, mediating
between the human and the divine.
Following an impressive raising and
.' deepening of the persuasiveness of
successive arguments, eros here
appears as a ribbon holding the
cosmos together, and as a condition for
recognizing the idea of the Beautiful,
which merges with the supreme idea of
the Good. For philosophical reasons,
Plato disliked interpreting the world
through myths, but in his Symposium
he expounds views which would be
difficult to represent otherwise in the
form of mythical tales related by
Socrates. Thus, perfectly in keeping with
the theme of the dialogue, poetry is
also given a place.

brought together under the term Organon

can be discerned, which later led to the

philosophy, some

Symposium, Greek vase-painting,


c. 460-450 Be, Outer surface
of a dish, Louvre, Paris

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

13

movement

so

and rest. and includes not only physical


bodies but also the four elements. His pri-

gn
lo(

mary problem therefore is to analyze and

ad

the

Philosophy (Plato and Aristotle),


Depicted in a relief by Luca delia
Robbia, c 1437-1439
Plato and the Sophists, no less than
Aristotle after them, had attempted to
classify the various spheres of
knowledge. They were predominantly
concemed with practical questions of
teaching science and philosophy Late
Antiquity and the Middle Ages saw the
development of a canon of liberal arts,
according to which the curriculum at
schools, and eventually at universities,
was organized. These liberal arts were:
grammar, rhetoric, dialectic (logic),
geometry, arithmetic, music and
astronomy This relief. from the belltower of Florence Cathedral, is one of a
series of depictions of these arts, and
shows philosophy, or to be precise,
log ic. in the form of an ani mated
dispute between Plato and Aristotle.

principle

(the origin)

of

of movement.

(This includes not just locomotion, but every

or

form of change.) Parmenides had asserted

th

explain the

phenomenon

conceivable.

be

Aristotle refutes this opinion by introducing

Ar
(k

that

"movement"

the distinction
existence
which

not

between the negation of

and

opens

was

negation
up the

of

ge

predication,

possibility that in

statements about motion, it is not existence,


but merely the attribution of a predicate
that is negated.
In this way, he obtains the following analysis of movement. 1) There is something
conclusion is necessarily true if the premises

constant, which outlasts the whole move-

are true. Syllogisms of this kind Aristotle calls

ment process: matter (hyle); 2) in addition,

apodeictic, or proofs. If the truth of the

there are two definitions of form, one for the

premises is not provable, as is usually the

beginning of the process and one for the

In

case in ethical or rhetorical argumentation,

end. As Aristotle believed that all natural

the

he calls them dialectic, or probable conclu-

changes were teleological (i.e. had a pur-

oth

sions. With regard to the basic problem of

pose), the initial state is a not-yet, a lack,

un

the syllogism, namely establishing the non-

a deprivation of the final definition; the final

im

derivable true premises, Aristotle refers to

stage by contrast marks the attainment of

(an

our ability, in simple and direct perception,

a goal (or intermediate goal as the case

ity

to recognize something as something, for

may be). Put another way, the beginning

It

example to recognize an object as the man

is the

Callias. and to formulate this recognition as

potentiality); the end is the state of reality

a perceptual judgment.

(energeia,

state of the

possible

(dynamis,

actuality), or of fulfillment

Aristotle explains this by refering

In his linguistic philosophy, Aristotle takes

elecheia/

to the sentence "A man is being educated,"

definite truth-value as consisting of subject

whose

and predicate from Plato. In addition, in his

the elements mentioned. An uneducated

complete

formulation

reveals all

work, The Categories, he develops a theory

(definition of form as deprivation; poten-

according to which all expressions possible

tiality) man (matter) becomes an educated

in statements of assertion can be sub-

(definition of form as goal; reality) man

divided into the following

(matter).

relation,

place, time,

predicate types
quantity,

position,

quality,
situation,

Aristotle's

Metaphysics

action and affection. In the case of sub-

Aristotle

recognized

stance, he distinguishes between primary

entities such as Plato's ideas. The Platonic

substance, which relates to concrete individ-

dualism between idea and real object is

no

transcendental

ual things, and secondary substance, which

something he wants to overcome. For him,

expresses the essence (or the definition) of a

the essence of things lies in themselves,

thing. In contrast to Plato's ontology, priority

whereby this essence is only potentially

is given to primary substance, because

within them. The essence achieves actuality

without

through

its presence, nothing else could

either exist or be expressed.

a definite form, in other words

matter and form combine to create a unity


in the object. He distinguishes

Aristotle's

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

ient-

over the definition of a sentence with a

(categories): substance,

14

una

Theory of Nature

between

animate and inanimate as different forms of

Aristotle defines nature as the sphere of

being, and further differentiates the animate,

those things which contain in themselves

according

to different

capacities of the

';

soul, into plants (capacity for feeding and

political) has a goal which determines the

growth), animals (in addition, capacity for

respective activity as a guiding principle, he

locomotion and perception), and people (in

defines the Good as the goal of action

addition, capacity for thought).

(and not, like Plato, as a transcendental

Metaphysics, the general theory of wisdom,

concept). The question of a general good

or the "original philosophy:'

embracing all goals of action leads him to

is the basic

theory of the first causes and principles of

divide actions into those we undertake in

being and of thinking. In respect of being,

the pursuit of further goals, and those we

Aristotle discusses the four-cause theory

perform for their own sake. Only the latter

(known to us from Plato) and the most

can serve as general purposes of action,

general characteristics of existent things,

and only happiness, or bliss, fulfills the con-

such as unity, identity, substantiality, poten-

ditions of a supreme goal pursued for no

tiality, reality, materiality and formal purpose;

other purpose.

these basic definitions are, at the same

Aristotle arrives at a material definition of

time, characteristics of things and principles

happiness by inquiring after the activities

of thought

and capabilities specific to human beings

Pursuing the chain of causes of events in

as human

the world further and further would lead to

conditions of the soul which raise human

the risk of falling into the methodologically

beings above animals. Hence we have the

unacceptable situation of infinite regress.

following

In order to avoid this, Aristotle postulates

activity of the (human) soul by reason of

the existence of a being, the cause of all

its specific capacity, namely reason. In the

beings. They

reside

in the

definition of happiness: it is an

other things, but not itself caused: the

process, Aristotle does not forget to point

unmoved mover. This

out that a minimum

being

is eternal,

of outward features

immutable, unmoved, the object of striving

of happiness (such as property and health)

(andthus causing movement), pure actual-

is indispensable

ity (without potentiality), immaterial, reason.

perfect happiness.

It is a philosophical

basic principle

for

the

attainment

of

to

The activity of reason can be related to

explainthe world; but while Aristotle calls

the sphere of practical action or to that of

this entity "God:' it did not create the world,

theory, giving rise to a division of the virtues

nor does it guide the world now or take

into ethical and dianoetic. The ethical virtues

any part in it

(alongside the four cardinal virtues, Aristotle


analyzes a whole series of further practically
related forms of behavior) consist in the

II

Ethics and Political Philosophy

Aristotle'sethics is an ethics of happiness

pursuit of the golden mean between two

and virtue. Starting from the fact that all

extremes: bravery, for example, is the mean

action (whether theoretical,

between cowardice

1-

practical

or

and recklessness. By

Aristotle, 384-322 B.C., Marble,


Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Vienna
Aristotle was a member of Plato's
Academy for twenty years before
becoming tutor to Alexander the
Great. and subsequently founding
a school of philosophy of his
own in Athens. What he criticized
in Plato's philosophy was the
unbridgeable gap between the
ideas and the world of experience, between the essence and
the actual object For him, the
essence of things lay in themselves, and not in some transcendental idea of them. The Platonic
theory of the vision of ideas was,
for him, knowledge of the universal, which formed a supplement
to experience, or knowledge of
the individual. Aristotle is regarded
as a great systematizer of
philosophy. A major concem of
his school was to classify the
muttiplicity of phenomena.

The School of Aristotle, Fresco by


Gustav Adolph Spangenberg,
1883-1888. University of Halle

al
lic
is
m,
es,
lily
lity
rds
lity
ien
; of
ate,
the
CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

15

Attalos Stoa, Built 159-132 Be,


Reconstructed 1952-1956, Athens

The stoa was a covered public


promenade found in classical sacred
buildings and large public spaces. The
best-known example in Athens was the
staa paikile ('painted hall'), which was
decorated with pictures by famous
painters and used as a meeting place
for the Stoic school of philosophers
named after it As the founders of the
Stoics did not have enough money to
buy land. they used this public building
for teaching purposes.
According to the Stoics. all of nature is
imbued with the principle of divine
reason. Only those who live in harmony
with this principle can achieve bliss. A
life in harmony with oneself and nature
can be achieved by liberating oneself
from feelings of fear and desire. which
disturb the desired impassivity Freedom
from these emotions (apathia) was one
of the Stoics' highest ideals.

s
n

es
Ii

the

dianoetic,

or intellectual, virtues he

is referring to the five kinds of scientific

Alongside the Academy founded by Plato,

activity, which

and the

is why he also discusses

a
a

are not defined in terms of a mean, but

Porch or Stoa, were the main schools of

at

of the attainable optimum.

classical philosophy.

Ethics. They

political theory, in contrast to

In addition there were a few other schools,

of

e.g. the

goods and women he emphatically rejects,

Socrates'

is pragmatic in conception. He too dis-

Pythagorean, Diodoros of Aspendos. But it

cusses problems of upbringing

Plato's

utopia,

whose

community

Cynics, who
pupil

looked

Antisthenes

or

back to
to

the

in detail,

was only with Diogenes of Sinope (nick-

in particular musical education, but devotes

named kynikos, doglike, because of his out-

a major part of his Politics to questions

rageous behavior, hence the name "Cynic")

of economics, civic rights, and the division

that the school itself was established; it

of offices. Anticipating the modern notion

survived into the 5th century AD.

of the separation

Characteristic of philosophical Cynicism was

of powers, he distin-

guishes between the legislative, the execu-

a mordant

cynical criticism of customs,

tive and the judiciary as elements of state

institutions and religious opinions, coupled

power. He defines the state in terms of

with a withdrawal into a private sphere, free

its ethical goal as a self-sufficient autono-

of social constraints, where one could live

mous community of equals with the pur-

in accordance with one's convictions. The

pose of achieving the best possible life,

supreme goal in life was happiness, which

in other words to make possible the happi-

could be obtained by avoiding misfortune

ness of the citizens. The best form

and by leading a life of self-realization,

of

state or constitution, in other words the

understood as a life led according to "back

one most beneficial to the

to

majority

of

nature" principles, and thus as self-

people with the least danger of misuse

sufficient

for selfish ends, he sees -

pragmatically

outward measures of happiness such as

and applying his principle of the golden

honor, wealth and health. This attitude was

mean -

made possible by training the faculty of

in a mixture of democracy and

in

contrast

to

the

prevailing

extreme poverty and

reason, by reducing needs (asceticism) and

excessive wealth are both avoided, and the

avoiding the main causes of misfortune,

most rights assigned to the middle class

namely ignorance, pursuit of luxury, and

of citizens.

unthinkino pursuit of desires.

oligarchy, in which

ANTIQUITY

by

Aristotle's

CLASSICAL

Peripatetic School founded

Aristotle, the Garden of Epicurus, and the

these in his Nichomachean

16

The Philosophy of the Hellenistic Age

lato,

Epicurus founded his school in Athens in

until the middle of the 3rd century AD. Early

about 307 B.C. as a rival to the Academy

Stoicism

and the Peripatos, as Aristotle's

school

Cynicism, and likewise saw itself as a suc-

was known. Epicureanism is also a philos-

cessor to Socrates, and in critical, at times

showed

some

affinity

with

ophy of individual happiness, which con-

polemical, opposition to the Academy and

sists of a life of joy and pleasure from

to the Peripatetics.

which pain and worry are absent. The basic

Like Socrates, Zeno sought. in a world of

condition is ataraxia, unwavering intellectual

political and social instability and of episte-

detachment, which can be attained above

mological uncertainty above all due to the

all by philosophical

insight and a life of

skepticism of the Sophists, to construct an

withdrawal. The widespread charge that the

intellectual edifice which would ensure the-

Epicureans were devoted to unrestrained

oretical certainty and practical reliability. His

pleasure is without

Under-

main concern was to establish a philosophy

standing the processes of nature imparts

which would help individuals to run their

notjust theoretical knowledge, but also, and

own lives, and unlike that of the Epicureans

especially, practical enlightenment.

which

and Cynics, one that tended to political

liberatesman from the fear of the gods and

stability. Happiness, the goal of humanity,

the fear of death.

consisted in living a life of harmony with

According to Epicurus' epistemology, which

oneself and with nature, and this could be

goes back to the Atomists and Democritus'

achieved by investigating the laws of nature

theory of perception, sensory impressions

and orienting oneself consistently to reason,

are due to emanations from objects, which

by overcoming false prejudices and inclina-

foundation.

by

are composed of atoms. The human soul,

tions, and the striving for purely outward

the

which disappears at death, also consists of

qualities; virtue alone should be the guide

s of

atoms. Gods are understood as immortal

of action. The basis of knowledge is per-

configurations of atoms.

ception,

Dais,

The Stoic school was founded

by Zeno

mental images, from which, with the help

: to

of Citium in the Stoa Poikile, a brightly

of logic, further firm conclusions can be

painted roofed promenade

in Athens, in

drawn. He interprets the world, the cosmos,

about 300 B.C. It remained in existence

as a unitary living organism, which is totally

the
lut it
nickoutynic")
ld; it

iwas
toms,
upled
I,

free

d live
'. The
hich

nme
ration,
'back
selfailing
h as
was
Itv of
land
ortune,
, and

which

provides

infallibly

true

Epicurus, c. 342-271 Be,


Hellenistic bust. Louvre, Paris
The philosophy of Epicurus centered on
the doctrine of blissful life. The principle
of pleasure, which forms the basis of
happiness. was defined by Epicurus as
the absence of physical and emotional
pain The ideal of Epicurean philosophy
consisted in a simple life. which would
allow people to satisfy basic needs and
face crises with equanimity. The
pleasure praised by Epicurus has
nothing to do with sensual pleasure
and indulgence: a man should also
avoid experiences which guaranteed
momentary pleasure but could have
painful and unfortunate consequences

Diogenes in his tub, receiving a


visit from Alexander the Great.
Outline engraving after a Roman relief
Diogenes of Sinope. here depicted in
his shelter (a tub or maybe a large clay
pitcher), must not be confused with
Diogenes Laertios, the author of the
only extant classical history of
philosophy, who lived five hundred
years later. The "message" of the man
from Sinope, who spent many years in
Athens, consisted in his lifestyle and in
the witty answers and aphorisms which
he uttered and demonstrated in real
life. He confronted the Athenian
establishment with an existence which,
free of possessions, strove for
equanimity and contentment It was
provocatively designed to reveal human
vanity and demonstrate natural
humanity. He went around the marketplace in daylight with a buming lantem.
saying he was looking for an honest
man (i.e. not grubs absorbed in the
constraints of social convention). Legend
has it that Alexander the Great offered
to fulfill a wish. "Move a little out of my
sunlight." he replied Disparagingly, but
altogether to his approval. he was
nicknamed kynikos ("doglike");
accordingly, he and those contemporaries who shared his attitude
became known as "cynics."

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

17

imbued
and

Chrysippus,
Ma rble statue, 3 rd centu ry Be.,
Louvre, Paris
Chrysippus was the third head of the
Stoic school in Athens. Like the other
StOICS,he divided science into physics,
ethics and logic, and believed that the
whole of nature emanated from one
rational principle. He systematized the
theses of his predecessors in numerous
writings. The statue shows in highly
impressive manner the individualizing
realism of Hellenistic art It represents a
moment of concentration, suggested
especially in the eyes and the
"speaking" hand. At the same time the
generalized, typical aspect of his
posture, the general formula of a
thinking man, is not neglected. This
formula, which also relates to the
situation of the teacher in front of
listeners, became standard for the
representation of philosophers. When
certain Roman emperors later had
themselves portrayed thus, they
underlined their claim to be
philosopher-rulers

with

fire as its general

by the divine

logos,

and

also

divine

providence.

logos

also

breath

(pneuma)

is totally
As the

determines

principle,
of the

determined
universal

political

worldlife,

application

of the system to political

necessarily

demands

the

polis

Greek

broader

a turning

("city-state")

philosophical

away from

in favor

and

of a

systematized

position, Chrysippus

ed as the second

founder

basic

mentation,

science
which,

encompassed
mology

of

is regard-

Rationalism.

impression
part

of

develops

soul

an idea (phantasia),

definitions

which
with

that

reason

gives rise to

we

form

me

the

of

which

lead to

an

Chrysippus

relates

to

of living in harmony

ac

man. Although

tho

ple

subject

human

to the

beings are in princi-

all-determining

logos, they nonetheless


to maintain

self-determination

the founder

Greek
to

physics,

the

interest,

than

imperial

aspects.

sion

of

the

of

urges,

and

goods.

extremely

well

intellectual

the

Stoicism's

sp

its suppres-

me
In
ity

Stoic

with

co

political

put a positive

In contrast

duty,

as

and the possession

he developed

political

ser

ethics,

and

ethics, with

unworldly

hitherto,

of

earlier

on pleasure

and

predecessors'

problems

rejected

of natural

of outward

his

to

thought

dialectics

its pragmatic

ascetic

judgment

began

Roman

of

with

He

rigorously

of the middle

with

centers

especially

tic'

philosophy

He is less concerned

res
co
br

the exercise of free will.

Panaetius,

and

world-

have the possibility

self-sufficient

itself

fallible)

In

by reason.

with nature directly to the rational nature of

orient

Empiricism

abstract,

the basic Stoic maxim

this

and the capacity

and concepts.

period,

episte-

before

examined

tested ideas into experiences,

Stoic

(potentially

endowed

and

With

of the senses, from

the

compare

logic,

he combined
The

to

argu-

Stoic logic

not

With the help of memory,

and

semantics,

but

idea itself has been

formal

is due largely to him.

and

knowledge,

through

and rhetoric. The famous

In epistemology,

and

understood

logic

alongside

linguistics,

its

of Stoicism. The

focus of his interest is dialectics,


a

the

theory

cosmopolitanism.

As he re-formulated

as

by

truth

to the ideal

sage

co

prevalent

all

doctrine

pr

a practical
which

went

down

Rome's

political

and

elite (Cicero, Scipio).

mE

c
S
p
co

ROMAN PHILOSOPHY

ve
or

Preservation
The

of the Greek Heritage

philosophy

of

Ancient

St

Rome

heavily on that of Greece, without


inality

worthy

of the

characterized
schools.

As far as the

by Rome

the
to

philosophical

the

philosophy

major

thought

and to develop

formation

historical
service

philosophy

any orig-

and was

by any ongoing

concerned,

formed

name,

leant

was

tri

of

sh

is

performed
to transmit

to the Roman Empire


which

basis for the dissemination

a didactic

of

Ages.
poem, Oe rerum

St

he combined

to

work

the teaching

Atomism

of

is imbued

consistently

of Epicurus with

Democritus.
by a concern

rational

explanation

The

whole

to provide a
of natural

processes, and thus to liberate people from


the fear of death, priests and the gods.
CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

et

natura ('On the Nature of Things"), in which

the

18

ev

not

legacy

a Latin terminology

in the Middle

Lucretius wrote

this

In his work, Cicero combined the various

Late Antiquity

son.

philosophical trends of Antiquity. In episte-

Classical philosophy experienced a major

acity

mology, he adhered to the skeptical variant

revival in the form of Neoplatonism (3rd-

the

of the Academy; in ethics, anthropology

6th century), which, from its inception until

Idto

and theology, he adhered to Stoicism. It is

the rediscovery of Aristotle's writings in the

lates

to him that Greek philosophy

owes its

Middle Ages, was the dominant intellectual

nony

acknowledgment by the Romans, whose

force, almost totally displacing all the other

re of

attitude to philosophizing was one of less

philosophical schools and trends. Its founder,

rinci-

than wholehearted approval. He deserves

Plotinus, constructed a unitary explanatory

orld-

respect above

model embracing all spheres of existence

ibility

conveyor of

having

and thought; based on Plato's ontology, but

ation

brought Greek theories of ethics and poli-

differing in significant ways, it divided the

all

as a translator

Greek

philosophy,

and

tics to the Roman world. As a thoughtful

world into a hierarchy of levels of being

iddle

and at the same time pragmatic politician,

(hypostases):the One, Mind tnous). and Soul.

In to
lught.

he saw the ideal life in a synthesis of

Each level emanates from the one above,

philosophy and rhetoric, and always in the

without the latter undergoing any diminu-

and

serviceof the state, which he defined as an

tion of its being. The ground and origin

ssors'

association based on legal consensus and

of all that exists is the One, which he also

nhics.

community of interest. In order to prevent

called the Good or the Divine. It transcends

llitical

the misuse of rhetoric, he required that

all being and thought.

.sm's

speakershave not just rhetorical skills, but

and without

)pres-

moraldignity too.

nous (variously translated as "mind," "spirit"

ositive

In his epistemology, he denied the possibil-

or "intellect"), constitutes the location of

sssion

It is incorporeal

qualities. The second level,

ity of absolutely assured knowledge, and,

plurality and ideas, and thus of what truly

ideal

consistentwith this view, spoke out against

exists. The third level, Soul, is thought of

valent

all dogmatism. He did however demand

in part as the soul of the world, in part

ictrine

precise examination

as the

down

mentsby carefully weighing up all possible

being, animal, and plant. By imbuing the

II and

counter-arguments.

whole world, it shapes the cosmos into a

Senecawas also actively involved in Roman

single organism. Below these three come

politics.Nero's teacher and tutor, he later

the imperfect hypostases of the world of

committedsuicide at his pupil's behest. He

material things, which Plotinus disparaged,

vehementlyrejected the Atomist theory, and

equating material with evil. In so doing,

oriented himself

early

he laid the foundation for a long tradition

of one's own judg-

primarily

toward

individual

soul of each human

Stoicism,Cynicism and Epicureanism. His

of hostility to the body. The highest ethical

leant

mainphilosophical concern was a practical,

and spiritual goal of man consisted, he

ly orig-

evenfolksy,ethics, based on the Stoic doc-

said, in transcendental

(as not

trine of goods. One's role model, he said,

One; this presupposed a detachment from

nion of

should be the imperturbable

Stoic sage,

everything to do with the body, a state

gacy is

characterizedin particular by control of the

which in its turn could only be achieved

formed

passionsand composure

by strict asceticism.

.ransmit

death.Like Lucretius, he placed scientific

Like many Neoplatonists, Boethius regarded

Empire

researchat the service of enlightenment

the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle as a

andethics.

unity; he saw it as his main task to trans-

Marcus Aurelius, the "philosopher on the

late their works into Latin and provide them

which
ation of

in the face of

union

with

Imperialthrone," generally adhered to the

with a commentary. With his writings on

ethical and political philosophies

of the

Aristotle's Organon he became the channel

which

Stoics.His linking of ethics and religion led

by which the logic of the Ancient World

uswith

to the thesis that unreasonable behavior

was transmitted to the Middle Ages. After

was tantamount to disobedience to God.

being condemned

rovidea

Fromthe rational identity of all people he

treason, he composed the Consolation of

f natural

derived a cosmopolitan

ideal,

Philosophy in his cell; in it, he described all

piefrom

which also formed the ideological legitima-

earthly goods as worthless, and praised

jods.

tion of Rome's imperial claim.

God as the highest good.

political

The beginning of the 19th century saw


the discovery of the only known portrait
of Seneca to bear an inscription with
his name. It has very little similarity to
the bronze head depicted here. which
also exists in numerous marble versions.
and had been regarded as a portrait of
Seneca since the end of the 16th
century. As there was a sort of Seneca
renaissance in the 17th and 18th
centuries. numerous art collections
acquired plaster casts or paintings of
this head.
The Roman philosopher and poet was
admired not only as a paragon of virtue
on account of his ethical attitude. but
also as an important dramatist whose
tragedies exercised a certain influence
on the French and German literature of
the Baroque.

the

rerum

f whole

Pseudo-Seneca,
Roman copy of Greek original, Bronze,
Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Naples

by Theoderic for high

CLASSICAL

ANTIQUITY

19