Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates (but includes schools contemporary with Socrates which were not influenced by him). In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi (in English, physical or natural philosophers). Diogenes Laƫrtius divides the physiologoi into two groups, Ionian and Italiote, led by Anaximander and Pythagoras, respectively.

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 was in use as early as George Grote's Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates in 1865. 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.

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

The Presocratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations of the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. These philosophers asked questions about "the essence of things":

  • 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.

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.

Read more about Pre-Socratic PhilosophyHistory, Other Early Greek Thinkers, Legacy, Editions

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... The first man to call himself a sophist, according to Plato, was Protagoras, whom he presents as teaching that all virtue is conventional ... It was Protagoras who claimed that "man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not," which Plato takes to indicate a radical perspectivalism, where some things seem to be one way for one person (and so actually are that way) and to be another way to another person (and so actually are that way) consequently, one cannot in any way look to nature for guidance regarding how to live one's life ...

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