In the foregone unit of Module 2, we have presented you with some of the problems that confront philosophy. We have also made serious effort to highlight the various ways that philosophy approaches those problems. There is no final solution to those problems just as there is no
conclusive answer to every question. You should see yourself now as one of the questing minds for the unveiling of the mystery of being. In this Module and its Units, we set out to give you or to acquaint you with the main epochs of philosophical development. Particularly in this Unit
you will be led to the first period of philosophical beginnings. That is the Ancient Philosophy, a period which ranges from the 8th Century B.C. to approximately 6th Century A.D. Enjoy the interesting development of philosophy.
The aim of this Unit is to: help you to know the formation years of philosophy from its very beginning. You will also become familiar with the thinking pattern of the era.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Ancient Philosophy
The phrase Ancient Philosophy is generally used to refer to the Ancient Western Philosophy from its humble beginning among the Greeks on the Ionian Coast of Asia Minor to its final manifestation in Neo- Platonism. However, the expression is also used to include the Eastern forms of thoughts which while being philosophical, were embedded in morality and religion. By Eastern here is meant the Chinese and the Indians. As Aristotle points out, “Man by nature desires to know.” But this desire to know is fan into flame when man began to wonder at the marvels of nature and so man began to ask deeper questions about the nature of things. Philosophy was born by seeking for reasons or causes of things that men then knew by experience. It became philosophy when the questions and the reasoning of men were free from the traditional, mythological and religious explanations of events and reality. The ancient teachers, no doubt, spoke the truth, but their truth was in the context of belief and not so much of proof by reason. Greek philosophy emerged as a conscious reaction to such dogmatism when rational investigation became the order of the day.
In contrast to the Greeks or the West, the Eastern philosophical thinking was still embedded in religious beliefs and national culture. The Chinese philosophy of Kung or Confucius was contented with transmitting moral teachings of the ancient without rational invocation. Taoism was
perhaps more metaphysical yet under the influence of mysticism. The Indian philosophy as rational as it was, could not be free of mysticism because it was a formulation of the priestly caste primarily as wisdom of solution, a quest for union with the higher being, and as such, it was endowed with the attribute of religion. Buddhism which is a corruption of Bramanism, proposed an anthropocentric philosophy of self-salvation. The Persian Zoroaster dualism on the other hand, was a mixture of religion, mythology and reason in a non-philosophical form.
However, it should be noted that if the Greek quest for philosophical wisdom was a reaction to the uncritical tradition, it did not completely brake away from the general culture of the race.
The Greeks had a great regard for the development of the whole person. Thus in the pre-Socratic the main pre -occupation was to search for the one source, the phusis or the nature from which came the scattered particulars of everyday experience. That was why the Ionian
philosophers looked for principles from which other things evolved. For Thales, it was water, for Anaximander, it was Boundless or Unlimited, Anaximenes posited air while the Pythagorians adopted number, all was a search for the harmony and inner unity of the cosmos.
Then came Heraclitus and Parmenides who inaugurated a more metaphysical turn by penetrating into the nature of reality to know what it truly is. Heraclitus was obsessed with change and for him change was all that there is. Parmenides was on his part overwhelmed with reality – that which is – in opposition to change and illusion in the universe. He raised the problem of being and argued that reality does not consist of what the senses reveal as many and changing, but rather something whole, indivisible, motionless and perfect. Zeno of Elea, the follower of Parmenides even tried to prove that there is no such thing as many.
3.2 Classical Greek Period
None of the above mentioned philosophers lived on the mainland of Greece or even in Athens. But there was a gradual shift with the coming of classical period of Greek philosophy. The emphasis also shifted from the concentration on the world of nature to a more metaphysical interest. It was at this time that the Sophists emerged on the scene, but they were very short lived because their emphasis was rhetoric and eloquence at the expense of truth. In reaction to their ideal of speaking, Socrates came up with the new wisdom, the wisdom of thinking well. This is the wisdom of the inner man who lived what he thought – the true philosopher. Thus Socrates set the stage for Plato and Aristotle, the true lovers of wisdom who sought to penetrate reality and human life to their ultimate.
According to Plato, a true philosopher is one who is liberated from the slavery of the senses and ruled by the rational part of his soul which guides him to attain knowledge of true reality found only in the Forms or Ideas. Such a man pursues virtue and wisdom and so his conduct is not based on opinions but modeled on the transcendent Forms of justice and temperance. True knowledge is not found in sense experience but in the world of Forms and Ideas which lead ultimately to the highest Forms – the Good itself. Aristotle does not believe that philosophy has the final answers to the deepest question but he believed that it spurs the philosopher ever upward to a more perfect vision of the absolute. Aristotle was the philosopher personified. He was more scientific in his pursuit of knowledge. He did not separate philosophy from life, but he was convinced that philosophical knowledge is not concerned with sensible things but with the essences of things and their ultimate causes and principles. He did not believe that the problem of being lies in the separate world of Forms as did Aristotle. But rather, he saw forms within beings as explaining the being attributed to them. He however, posited supra-sensible beings which are actual and imperishable and beyond them is the perfect principle which is pure act. The God of Aristotle is the First Unmoved Mover of the heavenly spheres.
And it is the final cause that produces motion by being desired. The inner life of this god is thought thinking itself, it does not produce, govern nor is it related to the world of nature. The forms in living things he called the soul. He is not very clear whether the human soul survives
the body. His ethics and politics are earthbound and centered on the perfection of the individual within the city-state. Despite his limitations, Aristotle’s philosophy represents the peak of Greek thought. Other philosophers after him whether Greek, Arabian, Christian or Modern, stand in some debt to Aristotle.
3.3 Post Aristotelian Period
The Greek philosophy after Aristotle brought in Greek political outlook. The conquest of Alexander the Great brought Greek thought from the confines of the city-state into the world of Commonwealth. The Cynics became citizens of the world rather than of particular city-state. With their influence, the Stoics and later Chrysippus elaborated a physics whose monistic materialism made the world a harmonious whole activated by a principle called god, fire, mind, fate or logos. The ethical ideal of the Stoic was life in agreement with nature detached from self-love and worldly interests. Then came Epicureanism whose goal was pleasure, peace of mind and freedom from pain. Death is the end of life and the gods have nothing to do with men or with the world. All this was intended to be a step toward happiness. Further witnessing of the spread of Hellenistic culture is found in the Jewish philosophy of Philo Judaeus and the Roman philosophy that appeared in the (book) republic and empire. Philo however, was an exception because Jewish tradition was marked by a distrust of reason
and philosophy. After him there was no speculative thought among the Jews until Avicebron who was neo-Platonic and Moses Maimonides who was mainly Aristotelian. Among the Romans, their philosophy was mainly a reflection of Greek thought though colored by the Roman spirit. Stoicism as expounded by Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius was more of an appeal to the moral formation of the good citizen.
The last great philosophical movement of pagan antiquity was the arrival of Platonism reaching its climax in what is now known as Neo-Platonism. In many instances this movement had a deeply religious coloring because philosophy came to be used as a medium for union with the Divine. Middle Platonism as expounded by Phetarch, Celsus and others accepted the transcendence of God, multiplied intermediaries between God and the world and laid great emphasis on revelation, mysticism and ecstasy. This led to the teaching of Plotinus, the first Neo-Platonist who drew his teaching from Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics to construct a synthesis that was the last stand of intellectual paganism against the growing appeal of Christianity. The school of Plotinus thrived in such disciples as Porphyry and Prochus. These deeply influenced the Patristic culture.
The direct descendants of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus were the proponents of Arabian philosophy. Ancient philosophy came to an end in 529 A.D. when Justinian banished philosophers from Athens and confiscated their schools. By that time however, Ancient Philosophy had left its mark on Christian thinkers and had produced the new movement of Christian Philosophy.
Like the biblical mustard seed, philosophy has grown from its humble beginning to become a force to be reckoned with. The fact that you are studying philosophy today indicates that, you have become part of the web of that development.
The Ancient Philosophy emerged from the confines of religion and mythology and gradually freed itself to the state of independence. Thanks to the power of reason that man can think without depending on influences around him. Ancient Philosophy reached its maturity in Aristotle – The Philosopher.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- Write briefly on two of the major figures of Ancient Philosophy;
- Why does Aristotle receive the pride of place in Philosophy?