Classical Philosopher’s from Sophie’s World

by Catherine Chiu

Protagoras (485 – 410 B.C.)

  • ‘Man is the measure of all things.’

Socrates (Athens, 470 – 399 B.C.)

  • Socrates saw his task as helping people to ‘give birth’ to the correct insight, since real understanding must come from within. It cannot be imparted by someone else. And ony understanding that comes from within can lead to true insight.
  • ‘One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.’
  • ‘He who knows what good is will do good.’
  • He believed that the ability to distinguish between right and wrong lies in people’s reason and not in society.

Plato (Athens, 428 – 347 B.C.)

  •  He believed that everything tangible in nature ‘flows’ (or changes). Absolutely everything that belongs to the ‘material world’ is made of a material that time can erode, but everything is made after a timeless ‘mold’ or ‘form’ that is eternal and immutable. He called these forms ideas. He came to the conclusion that there must be a reality behind the ‘material world’. He called this reality the world of ideas; it contained the eternal and immutable ‘patterns’. This view is known as Plato’s theory of ideas (or sometimes theory of forms).
  • We can only have opinions or inexact conceptions about things that belong to the world of senses, tangible things. We can only have true knowledge of things that can be understood with our reason.
  • His ‘ideal state’ or Utopian state, he believed, should be governed by philosophers. He bases his explanation of this on the construction of the human body. According to him, the human body is composed of three parts: the head, the chest, and the abdomen. Reason belongs to the head. will belongs to the chest, and appetite belongs to the abdomen. Reason aspires to wisdom, Will aspires to courage, and Appetite must be curbed so that temperance can be exercised. Only when the three parts of the body function together as a unity do we get a harmonious or ‘virtuous’ individual. Plato now imagines a state built up exactly like the tripartite human body. Where the body has head, chest, and abdomen, the State has rulers, auxiliaries, and laborers.
  • Women could govern just as effectively as men for the simple reason that the rulers govern by virtue of their reason.
  • He considered the rearing of children should be the responsibility of the state. Plato was the first philosopher to advocate state-organized nursery schools and full-time education.

Aristotle (Athens, 384 – 322 B.C.)

  • He was Europe’s first great biologist. He founded and classified the various sciences.
  • Unlike Plato, he thought that the ‘form’ were in the things, because they were the particular characteristics of these things.
  • Plato would have said that there is nothing in the natural world that has not first existed in the world of ideas. Aristotle disagreed by pointing out that nothing exists in consciousness that has not been first experienced by the senses. Our reason is completely empty until we have sensed something. So man has no innate ‘ideas’. But Aristotle did not deny that humans have innate reason.
  • He said that reality consisted of various separate things that constitute a unity of form and substance. The ‘substance’ is what things are made of, while the ‘form’ is each thing’s specific characteristics.
  • Every change in nature is a transformation of substance from the ‘potential’ to the ‘actual’.
  • He believed that there is a purpose behind everything in nature.
  • He founded the science of Logic.
  • Natural world can be divided into two main categories: nonliving and living things. Nonliving things can only change through external influence. Only living things have the potentiality for change. Living things are divided into two different categories: plants and the other creatures. These ‘creatures’ can also be divided into two subcategories: animals and humans.
  • He called ‘God’ or the ‘first mover’ the ‘formal cause’ of the movement of the heavenly bodies, and thus of all movement in nature.
  • Man can only achieve happiness by using all his abilities and capabilities. There are three forms of happiness: 1) a life of pleasure and enjoyment, 2) a life as a free and responsible citizen, and 3) a life as thinker and philosopher.
  • There are three good forms of constitution: monarchy, aristocracy, and polity (or democracy).
  • He believed women are incomplete, passive, and receptive. He saw woman as ‘an unfinished man’. He claimed that the child inherits only the male characteristics and those characteristics lay complete in the male sperm.
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