Socrates: Socrates was born in Athens about 470 BC and lived until 399 BC, he was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher and is credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. An accurate picture of the man, his life, and viewpoints are problematic because he did not write any philosophical texts, everything we know is based on writings by his students and contemporaries… this is what is known as the Socratic problem. Socrates was later tried and put to death for “corrupting the youth and impiety”.
Throughout his life Socrates never wrote anything down because he believed knowledge was a living interactive thing and not to be written in a static writing (I bet the internet would have really appealed to his love of interactive discussions), so his typical method of philosophical inquiry consisted of questioning people on their positions and working them through questions until they reached a contradiction, thus proving to them that their original assertion was wrong.
Socrates most famous philosophical ideas: The necessity of doing what one thinks is right even in the face of universal opposition, and the need to pursue knowledge even when opposed, which he did end up paying the price for these ideas in the end. Socrates was unconcerned with physical or metaphysical questions; the issue of primary importance for him was ethics and living a good life. During his trial and written in Plato’s “The Apology” he gave the idea that truth needs to be pursued by changing your position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas.
It is THIS idea of the truth being pursued, rather than discovered, that characterizes Socratic thought and much of our “Western” philosophical thought today. Plato: Plato was born in around 428 BC and lived until 348 BC, he was a classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy of Athens… which was the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Plato was a student to Socrates and was a teacher to Aristotle and was instrumental in laying the groundwork of Western philosophy and science.
He was a brilliant writer and one the most influential authors in the history of Philosophy. The fundamental aspect of Plato’s thought is the theory of “ideas” or “forms”. Plato believed the world that appears to our senses is in some way filled with error, or defective. He believed there is a “perfect realm”, populated by entities otherwise known as “forms” or “ideas” that are eternal, changeless and in some sense related to the structure of our world. Plato urges us to transform our values by taking to heart the greater reality of the forms and the defectiveness of the living world.
He says we must recognize that the soul is a different sort of object from the body; it does not depend on the existence of the body for its functioning. This says that the soul can then grasp the nature of the forms far more easily when it is not encumbered by its attachment to anything in the physical world. In Plato’s most influential dialogue called “The Republic” he deals with his thoughts about “forms” in a passage discussing prisoners of the cave and his abstract presentation of the divided line.
Humans live in a world of visible and intelligible things. The visible world surrounds us… what we see, hear and experience, this place is a world of change and uncertainty. The intelligible world is made up of unchanging products of human reason such as mathematics; this is the world of reality. This intelligible world contains eternal “forms” of things. For example the form or idea of a dog is abstract and applies to all dogs; this form never changes. If all the dogs in the world were to vanish the form still would not change.
A dog is a physical changing object and can change or easily cease to be, but the “form” or “idea” never changes. Aristotle: Aristotle lived from 384 BC to 324 BC, was a Greek philosopher and student of Plato and teacher to Alexander the Great. His writing covered not only philosophy, but physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, linguistics, ethics, biology and the list goes on. Together with Plato and Socrates, Aristotle is known to be one of the most important founding fathers of Western philosophy.
His writings were the first to actually create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Aristotle studied under Plato, but he fundamentally disagreed with him on just about everything it seems. He could not think of the world in such abstract terms as Plato did, he believed the world could be understood through detailed observation and cataloging of phenomenon. As a result of this belief, he wrote about everything from politics to poetry, from anatomy to physics.
Greek philosophy up to this point mainly dealt with the study of knowledge and questions of certainty (i. e. suppose nothing is real? ). Aristotle approached the question by categorizing based on their objects and the approx. certainty you could know those objects. For instance, certain objects permit you to have a knowledge that is true all the time, let’s use geometry as an example, when we say a triangle is a polygon with three corners, it always has that description and is true all the time, this type of knowledge is based on certainty and precise explanations.
Other objects such as normal human feelings don’t permit certainty, for example if you were to insult someone you don’t know if they would be angry with you or not. This type of knowledge is based on probability and imprecise explanations. As Aristotle put it, “One cannot expect the same level of certainty in politics or ethics that one can demand in geometry or logic”.