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A biography of aristotle one of the most influential greek philosophers

Several of the philosophers we have already discussed considered it the pinnacle of their careers to come and teach in this great city. It began as a collection of villages in some of the poorest agricultural land in Greece. Only carefully tended grapes and olives provided early Athens with a livelihood, that and trade.

The distance between the haves -- the ruling aristocratic trading families -- and the have nots -- peasants working the land -- and the accompanying feudal oppression, grew so great that it looked like the city and its surrounding area would collapse under the weight.

In 594 bc, the leaders of the middle class recruited a merchant named Solon to accept leadership of the city a biography of aristotle one of the most influential greek philosophers restore some peace and prosperity. He began by canceling all debts and freeing all who had been enslaved on account of debt. Then he proceeded to draft a constitution in which the population was divided into four classes based entirely on economic worth, with the highest retaining the greatest power, but the lowest being exempt from taxes.

This, of course, falls short of a complete democracy, but don't judge them too harshly: Slavery would not outlawed until 1814, when Mexico would become the very first sovereign nation to permanently ban slavery. The US wouldn't free its slaves until 1865 with the 13th amendment. And women didn't get to vote until New Zealand gave them the vote in 1893. It would take the US until 1919 and the 19th amendment. Unfortunately, at about the same time the democratic experiment began, the great Persian Empire to the east decided to expand into, first, Ionia, and then Greece proper.

But in 490 bc, 20,000 Greeks defeated 100,000 Persian troops at Marathon, north of Athens. A messenger named Pheidippides ran the 26 miles -- 42. In 481, the Persian emperor Xerxes sent an army of over two million men, assisted by a fleet of 1200 ships, to attack Greece again. The army ravaged the north of Greece and prepared to attack Athens. They found the city deserted. The Persian navy, however, found the Greek fleet waiting for it in the Bay of Salamis.

The Greeks won the day against enormous odds. By 479, the Persians were forced back into Asia Minor. If this seems like just a little piece of history, consider: This victory allowed the Greek adventure to continue to produce the kind of thinking that would set the tone for the next two millennia in Europe and the Mediterranean.

During the time period we are looking at in this chapter, Athens had as many as 300,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world. About half were free, one third were slaves, and one sixth were foreigners metics. The free adult males who could vote numbered about 50,000. He married, but had a tendency to fall in love with handsome young men, in particular a young soldier named Alcibiades.

He was, by all accounts, short and stout, not given to good grooming, and a lover of wine and conversation. It was the truth that he loved, desired, and believed in. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, was for Socrates itself a sacred path, a holy quest -- not a game to be taken lightly. He believed -- or at least said he did in the dialog Meno -- in the reincarnation of an eternal soul which contained all knowledge. We unfortunately lose touch with that knowledge at every birth, and so we need to be reminded of what we already know rather than learning something new.

He said that he did not teach, but rather served, like his mother, as a midwife to truth that is already in us! Making use of questions and answers to remind his students of knowledge is called maieutics midwiferydialectics, or the Socratic method. One example of his effect on philosophy is found in the dialog Euthyphro. He suggests that what is to be considered a good act is not good because gods say it is, but is good because it is useful to us in our efforts to be better and happier people.

This means that ethics is no longer a matter of surveying the gods or scripture for what is good or bad, but rather thinking about life. He even placed individual conscience above the law -- quite a dangerous position to take!

Ancient Greek Philosophers

Socrates himself never wrote any of his ideas down, but rather engaged his students -- wealthy young men of Athens -- in endless conversations. In exchange for his teaching, they in turn made sure that he was taken care of.

Plato reconstructed these discussions in a great set of writings known as the Dialogs. It is difficult to distinguish what is Socrates and what is Plato in these dialogs, so we will simply discuss them together. In 399, he was ordered to drink a brew of poison hemlock, which he did in the company of his students.

The event is documented in Plato's Apology. Socrates' final words were "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius the god of medicine. Pay it and do not neglect it. From a wealthy and powerful family, his actual name was Aristocles -- Plato was a nickname, referring to his broad physique.

His friends raised a biography of aristotle one of the most influential greek philosophers to ransom him from slavery, but when he was released without it, they bought him a small property called Academus to start a school -- the Academy, founded in 386. It was free, depending entirely on donations. True to his ideals, Plato also permitted women to attend! Plato can be understood as idealistic and rationalistic, much like Pythagorus but much less mystical.

He divides reality into two: On the one hand we have ontos, idea or ideal. This is ultimate reality, permanent, eternal, spiritual. Phenomena are appearances -- things as they seem to us -- and are associated with matter, time, and space.

Phenomena are illusions which decay and die. Ideals are unchanging, perfect. Phenomena are definitely inferior to Ideals! The idea of a triangle -- the defining mathematics of it, the form or essence of it -- is eternal. Any individual triangle, the triangles of the day-to-day experiential world, are never quite perfect: They may be a little crooked, or the lines a little thick, or the angles not quite right.

They only approximate that perfect triangle, the ideal triangle. If it seems strange to talk about ideas or ideals as somehow more real than the world of our experiences, consider science. If you believe that there is order in the universe, that nature has laws, you believe in ideas!

Ideas are available to us through thought, while phenomena are available to us through our senses. So, naturally, thought is a vastly superior means to get to the truth. This is what makes Plato a rationalist, as opposed to an empiricist, in epistemology. Senses can only give you information about the ever-changing and imperfect world of phenomena, and so can only provide you with implications about ultimate reality, not reality itself.

Reason goes straight to the idea. According to Plato, the phenomenal world strives to become ideal, perfect, complete. Ideals are, in that sense, a motivating force. In fact, he identifies the ideal with God and perfect goodness. If the world is not perfect, it is not because of God or the ideals, but because the raw materials were not perfect.

I think you can see why the early Christian church made Plato an honorary Christian, even though he died three and a half centuries before Christ! Plato applies the same dichotomy to human beings: The soul includes reason, of course, as well as self-awareness and moral sense. Plato says the soul will always choose to do good, if it recognizes what is good. This is a similar conception of good and bad as the Buddhists have: Rather than bad being sin, it is considered a matter of ignorance.

So, someone who does something bad requires education, not punishment. The soul is drawn to the good, the ideal, and so is drawn to God. We gradually move closer and closer to God through reincarnation as well as in our individual lives. Our ethical goal in life is resemblance to God, to come closer to the pure world of ideas and ideal, to liberate ourselves from matter, time, and space, and to become more real in this deeper sense.

Our goal is, in other words, self-realization. Plato talks about three levels of pleasure. First is sensual or physical pleasure, of which sex is a great example. But the highest level is ideal pleasure, the pleasures of the mind. Here the example would be Platonic love, intellectual love for another person unsullied by physical involvement. Paralleling these three levels of pleasure are three souls. We have one soul called appetite, which is mortal and comes from the gut. The second soul is called spirit or courage.

It is also mortal, and lives in the heart. The third soul is reason. It is immortal and resides in the brain. The three are strung together by the cerebrospinal canal. Plato is fond of analogies. Appetite, he says, is like a wild horse, very powerful, but likes to go its own way. Spirit is like a thoroughbred, refined, well trained, directed power.

And reason is the charioteer, goal-directed, steering both horses according to his will.