Goetia Niflheim
12 min readOct 26, 2020


I. Conditions and prerequisites for the emergence of philosophy in ancient Greece. Its place in the historical and cultural development of mankind

The first stage in the development of European philosophy is ancient philosophy (Greek and ancient Roman). The appearance of philosophy in ancient Greece is called the “Greek miracle”, since the transition from a mythological worldview to a philosophical one was not predetermined.

The following premises contributed to the emergence of philosophy:

  1. The presence of policy cities.
  2. Slaveholding democracy.
  3. High prestige of knowledge and culture.
  4. The crisis of mythological consciousness as a consequence of economic
    development of Greece.

Each culture has its own dominant features that determine its identity. The following ideas were the dominants of antiquity:

Space is the idea of ​​a harmonious, perfect, unchanging world order. Logos (the term Heraclitus) is the idea of ​​an eternal order, harmony, law.
These dominants determined the entire culture of antiquity, the entire social and political structure of Ancient Greece (art, philosophy, education, Greek democracy, the educational system, the Olympic Games, etc.). The ancient Greek felt himself a resident of this harmonious Cosmos, the social expression of which was the city-polis (for example, Athens, Sparta, etc.). The idea of ​​Cosmos and Logos is reflected in all ancient Greek teachings: all philosophers try to express the idea of ​​order, reflect the order of the world.

II. Periodization of ancient philosophy

  1. The period of the origin and formation of ancient philosophy — VII-V centuries BC. It is characterized by the study of nature, space, the search for the source, the sources of existence.
  2. The classical period — V-IV centuries BC. It is characterized by the flourishing of ancient Greek democracy, interest in knowing the essence of matter, human nature, social life and knowledge.
  3. The period of extinction and decline of philosophy — III century BC — VI century BC (Hellenistic period). It is characterized by a crisis in the polis structure of social life, the conquests of Alexander the Great and the creation of the Roman Empire, a variety of schools and schools. This stage of late antiquity coincides with the beginning and development of a new medieval Christian culture.

III. The formulation and solution of the fundamental principle of the world

The task that arose before the first philosophers was to explain nature, the cosmos. What is everything, i.e. what underlies the world is the first philosophical question. How does the one (the beginning of the world) relate to many (things, objects of the world). The first attempts to answer this question are given by Greek natural philosophers who explain the world through a natural substance (Miletus school, etc.):

  • Thales (representative of the Miletus school): believes that everything is water (water is a universal substance, the beginning of the world). From water comes earth (by condensation), fire (glow above water), air (by evaporation), and from these substances — everything else (many, various things). Thales first raised the question of the relationship between the One and the Many, but expressed his thoughts not in the form of concepts, but in images (water is an image, not a logical concept, on the basis of which one could make judgments and conclusions).
  • Anaximander (representative of the Miletus school): the beginning of everything is apeiron, i.e. infinite, indefinite, indestructible, all-embracing and governing substance to all (something abstract). 4 substances (earth, fire, air, water) come from the apeiron, but Anaximander cannot explain how this happens. Later, the German philosopher Hegel called Anaximander the first philosopher who tried to think abstractly.
  • Anaximen (representative of the Miletus school, student of Anaximander): simplified the idea of apeiron as an infinite beginning to the element of air (also unlimited, in his opinion). In philosophy, this step is called the “grounding” of the apeiron. Air is the first principle of the world, it is also an image, but not a concept.
  • Pythagoras founder of the Pythagorean school, combining philosophy, science and mysticism. According to Pythagoras, the basis of things is not some natural principle (water, air, etc.), but a number, to know the world means to know the numbers that govern it. By studying numbers, the Pythagoreans developed numerical relationships and found them in all areas of human activity. Numbers and proportions were studied in order to know and describe the soul of a person, and having known, to control the process of moving souls with the ultimate goal of sending the soul to a certain higher divine state.
  • Anaxagoras the creator of the doctrine of the eternal elements of the world — “seeds” (or “homeomeries”, that is, homogeneous particles), which include the entirety of world qualities and are controlled by the cosmic Mind. Anaxagoras in his philosophy reflected the idea of the Logos, order (Mind), which orders the world (elements of being).
  • Empedocles — the creator of the doctrine of the four elements that form the “roots” of things, the so-called arche (primary principle, primary matter, primary element of which the world consists). These roots are fire, air, water and earth. The source of the movement that occurs in nature is not the “roots” themselves, since they are unchanged, but two opposite forces — Love (Filet), personifying unity and good, and Hatred, personifying many and evil. From the struggle of Love and Hatred, things arise and are destroyed, thus explaining the world.
  • Heraclitus — founder of the first historical or initial form of dialectics. Dialectics is first of all a statement and fixing of eternity of the changes taking place in the world. The symbol of movement is fire. “Everything flows, everything changes, it is impossible to enter the same river twice,” said Heraclitus. Another dialectical idea is the struggle, the “enmity” of opposites. Heraclitus was the inventor of the idea of ​​the struggle of opposites as a constructive philosophical principle. In the image of Heraclitus, struggle, contention, war are deeply related to birth, appearance, flowering, i.e. to life itself. “You must know that war is generally accepted, that enmity is the usual order things … and that everything arises through enmity and interchangeably. “ The idea of ​​the formation of Heraclitus still does not diverge from the idea of ​​an unchanging Cosmos, because movement and change exist only within the framework of an unchanging whole (Cosmos).

ELEAN SCHOOL: Parmenides (6th century BC), his pupil Zeno (6–5th centuries BC).

Merit: discovery of conceptual thinking, philosophical logic.

Before Parmenides, Thales and others thought of the world as semantic images, not concepts. There is no logic in the semantic, it is impossible to deduce the consequences from it. A concept is the primary brick of logical thinking. On the basis of the concept, it is possible to build a judgment, from conclusions to infer conclusions, then hypotheses, theories. All this is the basis of science. Therefore, Parmenides is the progenitor of scientific thinking in its conceptual form.

Parmenides ideas

  1. The basis of true knowledge is reason, logic, and not feeling and opinion (opinion is ambiguous, often deceptive, logic is strictly unambiguous).
  2. There is only that which is conceivable. That which cannot be conceived cannot be conceived (it is impossible to conceive abracadabra, which means that it does not exist). Hence the conclusion of Parmenides: there is being, but nonexistence. Parmenides first deduced the identity of being and thinking: only that is is conceivable.
  3. Genesis is the first abstract logical concept expressing the idea of ​​the one and excluding the multiplicity of things, phenomena, states. Just as formal logic is abstract and does not take into account the diversity of things, their states, so the concept of being Parmenides is extremely abstract. The only thing that can be said about him is that being is “there”, and since there is no non-being, then being, by definition, is holistic, eternal, unchanging, homogeneous. Parmenides represented his being in the form of a perfect superdense ball, each of its points equidistant from the center.
  4. Apart from being, there is nothing, not even non-being, since non-being implies emptiness, heterogeneity, change, movement.
  5. Movement is impossible, since there is no non-existence and emptiness. Aporia of Zeno (intractable problems) prove the impossibility of movement:
    A) “Flying arrow”: a flying arrow is motionless, because at each moment of time it occupies an equal position, that is, it is at rest; since it rests at every moment of time, it rests at all moments of time, that is, there is no moment in time in which the arrow makes a movement.
    B) “Dichotomy”: to overcome the path, you must first overcome half the path, and to overcome half the path, you must first overcome half the half, and so on to infinity.
    Dichotomies express the contradiction between logical (conceptual) thinking and the world itself, between the “path of truth” and the “path of opinion.” All arguments that the movement is, that we walk, move, according to Parmenides and Zeno belong to the “path of opinion.” Logically, the world looks like a single, indivisible being.

Parmenides discovered the possibility of conceptual, theoretical thinking, and strictly following logic, he came to a contradiction: the denial of the real world with its movement and development.

Atomism of Democritus (5–4th century BC).

Merit: returned the movement to the world, overcame the abstractness and lifelessness of the Parmenides system.

Democritus ideas

  1. There are the smallest, further indivisible, homogeneous, eternal material particles — atoms (from the word — indivisible).
  2. There are many atoms, they are of different shapes (with hooks, concave, curved, rough, etc.).
  3. In addition to atoms, there is a void, a space in which atoms are bonded and separated. Just because of the absence of nothingness, the emptiness of Parmenides was impossible movement, the diversity of the world.
  4. The movement of atoms is not random, but
    strictly according to the laws of necessity (determinism). Democritus — the first creator of the deterministic doctrine (the doctrine of the certainty of existence, the world, the relationship of cause and effect).
  5. The quantitative and qualitative ratio of atoms makes up the diversity of the world. The cohesion of atoms leads to the emergence of things, separation — to destruction. Atoms do not disappear anywhere, they simply go into interaction with other atoms. Atoms are similar to the elements of the Lego constructor: they are eternal and indestructible, any thing can be assembled from them (ship, plane, car, etc.).
  6. All things, even soul and thought, are explained materialistically — by the movements and bonds of certain atoms.

Democritus took as a basis the concept of a single being of Parmenides, calling it an atom. Only these atoms are many, they are in space and interact with each other. Thus, Democritus was able to explain the interaction of the One and many, without losing the real world in this explanation. He is considered the first materialist and creator of deterministic teachings.

IV. From the philosophy of nature to the philosophy of man

The development of democracy in ancient Greece required the ability to prove one’s own point of view, to convince others, and led to sophistry — paid training in logical fraud, tricks in conducting public disputes, debates.

The Sophists (Protagoras, Gorgias) taught to achieve not truth, but victory, they believed that our knowledge is relative, that there are only opinions, not truth: each person makes a judgment based on his own experience, without any possible objective assessment (in philosophy) this is called philosophical relativism, i.e. the doctrine of the relativity of truth). The sophists knew how to prove anything using a game of ambiguity of words and the substitution of one term for another.

“What you have not lost, you have. You have not lost the horns, so you have them”.
“A half-empty bucket is the same as a half-full one. So an empty bucket is the same as a full one”.

According to Protagoras, “man is the measure of all things”, which in itself is a great truth. However, the continuation of this phrase is the following: “… existing, that they exist, and not existing, that they do not exist”. This means, in the opinion of the sophists, that a person himself, not based on any objective fact, measures the truth. It turns out that “death is good for the undertaker and evil for the dying man”! Sophists, indeed, made a turn to the problem of man, drew attention to human activity, the ability to use reason, logic in their interests. However, the profession, selfish interest, and not a person as the highest value, acts as a measure for them. And therefore, for each truth will be his own, which means the impossibility of universal universal values ​​and the inability to agree on some issue. Sophistry erodes all the stable principles of being and truth, all moral absolutes, and therefore it is a dangerous tool in the hands of deceitful politicians, officials, lawyers, seeking to achieve their goals by any means, even the most immoral.

Socrates — the founder of ethics as a doctrine of morality, behavior in society, opposed this.

He discovered the ideal world of moral absolutes that are objective, independent of the will and consciousness of an individual person: this is the world of eternal ideas of Good, Truth, Justice, Good, etc. All vices and evil on earth, in the world of people are created by ignorance, ignorance of these ideas, and therefore knowledge moral absolutes — the key to morality. Socrates called: “Know thyself!” He developed the method of birth of truth from within man himself — the method of mayevtics (the method of “midwife”). In the dialogue of Socrates with a passer-by, by means of correctly posing the question, clashing opposing opinions, a person finally got the right decision, the right assessment of the situation, event. Cognition should be preceded by a methodological doubt: “I know that I don’t know anything”, which allows us to doubt the volume of my knowledge and strive to expand it.

V. The world of Plato’s ideas or objective idealism

The student of Socrates Plato (V-IV centuries BC) — the founder of idealism and his own school — the Academy.

The main ideas of Plato

  1. There is a supermundane, objective, super-existent world of ideas (eidos), it is outside of space and time, always exists and never changes. For example, there is a beautiful thing, a flower, but there is beauty in itself (the idea of beauty). Unlike the world of ethical absolutes of Socrates, the world of Plato’s ideas includes all ideas (good, horse, man, tree, etc.).
  2. The highest idea is the idea of the Good — the source of truth, proportionality, harmony, kindness and beauty.
  3. Things of our world are “involved” in ideas, i.e. are carriers of ideas. To know a thing, our mind must turn to the knowledge of the idea of a thing.
  4. The matter of which the thing consists — non-being, a beginning that takes any form, is a source of evil, variability.
  5. Matter and idea are connected by the World soul — a creative force that contributes to the birth of things. Sensual things, born from the combination of matter and idea, however, are a miserable semblance of ideas. Things are only temporarily, until their destruction, are “involved” in ideas. So beautiful people are temporarily involved in a single essence of beauty.
  6. The theory of knowledge of Plato (epistemology) is based on the recollection (recall) of those ideas to which the human soul was once involved before its conclusion to the body. The idea of each of us was in an ideal world and was attached to it. When we incarnate in the body, we only remember what was known. Plato is characterized by the eastern idea of the transmigration of souls, for our physicality is in no way connected with our soul. And the soul doesn’t care what physicality to associate with.
  7. The theory of the state of Plato (social philosophy): the essence of the state is the pursuit of good and justice. The most fair is a society where everyone performs the function that is closer to him by nature: peasants, artisans, merchants create wealth (food, clothing, housing); warriors — guard and protect city-states; rulers (philosophers) — manage social processes. In such a state there is a rigid hierarchy, the general subordinates the individual. Such an idealistic theory of Plato is often called utopian, i.e. impossible in terms of implementation.

VI. The teachings of Aristotle as the pinnacle of the philosophical thought of antiquity

Aristotle — a student of Plato, the great encyclopedist of antiquity, the creator of formal logic, the teacher of the great commander, conqueror of Alexander the Great.

The main ideas of Aristotle

  1. Criticism of natural philosophers (Thales, Anaximenes, etc.) for the inability to explain why precisely these things are generated from this very beginning.
  2. Criticism of Plato for doubling the world (the real world and the ideal world), which interferes with the knowledge of surrounding things.
  3. The world is a sensually concrete world filled with life and activity.
  4. Movement is the main characteristic of the world. The reason for the movement is the prime mover (this is the form of forms or God). He is motionless and indifferent.
  5. To explain the origin and destruction of things, Aristotle introduces the category of the possible and the real. Form is reality, being. Matter is an opportunity, an intermediate state between being and non-being. A brick acting as a building material is just an opportunity at home.
  6. Man is a political (public) being, this distinguishes him from an animal. Politics is a necessary form of government.
  7. The best forms of government are aristocracy, monarchy, polity, the worst are oligarchy, tyranny, democracy.
  8. The doctrine of four reasons (determinism):
  • Formal reason: the essence of the thing.
  • Material reason: the substrate of a thing, that of which it is made.
  • Driving, active reason: the work of building things, the force that brought it to life.
  • Target reason: destination, the ultimate goal of the thing.