|How Society Influenced the Pre-Socratics
Author: HipstersArePretentious PM
How were Pre-Socratic philosophers, (philosophers living before Socrates)some of the first philosophers we have records of, capable of coming up with the ideas and theories they did? Read this essay to find out. I have included a bibliography, so please don't sue.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 1,567 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 12-12-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3082481
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This is an essay I wrote for my philosophy class. It deals with the Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales, Democritus, Pythagoras and Heraclitus, among others. A Pre-Socratic philosopher is just a philosopher that lived before Socrates, hence the name. When I refer to the nature of reality, I mean the element that is the core of everything the earth is made of. I hope you enjoy reading this, stay tuned for more essays and possibly a historical fiction story coming soon!
How Society influenced the Pre-Socratics
Philosophy is such a complex thing to think about, partly because there are so many elements to the subject, and partly because you are introduced to ideas and concepts that are not necessarily easy to think about. People have always been wondering what the nature of reality is, why we are here, and much more. They're strange ideas to wrap your mind around, especially when thinking about the timelessness of space. Of course, with modern science and technology, we know much more about our world. Even still, the Milky Way is a tiny speck in the immense universe that we haven't even come close to fully discovering. Several philosophers were able to come up with brilliant theories, all living in a fairly small time frame (dating from ca 630-320 BC) and all of them from around the Mediterranean. Something about this era helped generate so many famous and brilliant theories that even built foundations for modern science today. There was something more to the philosophers than just having a high IQ; the Pre-Socratics were greatly influenced by the geographical and political world around them.
The ancient Pre-Socratic philosophers, living as far back as ca 624 BC, came up with some truly great theories on the nature of reality, among several other things, such as Democritus (ca 460-370 BC), who came up with the theory of Atoms, or Pythagoras (ca 569 BC- unknown), who said that . Thales (ca 624-506 BC) said that the nature of reality was water, that water was God, and that God made everything, so therefore everyone and everything was, ultimately, water. Heraclitus (ca 535-475 BC) said that, since everything is always changing and developing, the nature of reality and core of everything was fire, as fire was never still or the same or even a billionth of a second. Anaxemines thought that air was the nature of everything- air condensed into water, which gave life, and started fires, which gave warmth- and said that the planets were held up by upwards floating air. They all, among a few others, lived within the same three hundred years. What was it about those three hundred years, though, that produced so many ideas?
Firstly, there are some similarities in many of the Pre-Socratics. Several of them studied many fields, including mathematics, astronomy, ethics, literature, biology, physics, anthropology and more, particularly Democritus, who studied over eight different subjects. Some of these philosophers, including Parmenides and Democritus, were also very rich and travelled all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. This meant they saw what many different civilizations were like and experienced a wide array of cultures, helping them with certain theories (leading them to believe there was something more to the nature of reality than, say, the Greek Gods; because if each culture worshipped different beings, was it possible none of them really existed?) Presumably, travelling also helped them notice similarities (geographically and otherwise) in the civilizations, which would have helped them draw a common conclusion about the nature of reality that could apply to several different societies. However, does this mean that anyone who travels and studies a few different subjects in school can miraculously come up with some theory as to what the core of everything is? No, there are several other elements to take into consideration.
Evidently, all of these philosophers were smart, but there are certainly many other things that influenced them, from society to geography. Geography is one thing that played a role in several philosophers' theories. Many Pre-Socratics travelled all over the Mediterranean while studying philosophy. They all lived in a time where societies worshipped God(s). They saw several different types of geography and observed how this influenced the culture's religion, what a common conclusion for what the 'nature of reality' could be. A huge example of geographical influences is Thales. Thales said that water was the nature of reality. He was born, raised and lived in Miletus, a port town between the Greek and Persian empires. All the time, he was surrounded by water. He looked out at the coast and saw water. He saw that water helped crops grow. Water was what animals and humans alike needed to survive. To Thales, water was everything. So he said, God was everything, and as it appeared, so was water, God must be water. Since God made everyone and everything, everything must also be made of water. Therefore, water was the nature of reality. Living on the brink of two empires would also give Thales a taste of two religions and two types of Gods- the Greeks, who had thirteen Gods, and the Persians, who had just one. Maybe he wanted to find what the real answer was. However, if Thales had been born inland, and lived inland, he would not see much water. Would he have come up with a different idea as to what the nature of reality was? Thales would never have felt the same way about water's power if he had not been surrounded by it all his life.
One of the other important elements that would have influenced Thales was the society he experienced. This philosopher lived on the brink of two empires that had very different religions, politics, and societies. He would have gotten a taste of both the different cultures. Seeing two societies with such different beliefs pushed him to think, 'what is the real answer?', Which, in the end, resulted in him drawing the conclusion that water was the nature of reality- not supernatural beings living on Mount Olympus.
Another element of society that played a role in Pre-Socratic thinking was literature. Or, to be more specific, Greek plays. Greek plays were performed in large, beautiful theatres and were an important part of Greek society- the stories they told were not only entertaining, but educational as well. Tragedy playwrights began being written around 600-500 BC. A writer named Aeschylus wrote several of these. At the time, they weren't simply plays with unhappy endings. They were meant to tell a moral story. The main character was always one who had big flaws, like hubris (arrogance). These characters often assumed the right to seek vengeance or sidestep their 'fate'. This usually resulted in being cursed by the Gods (the Greek Gods did enjoy cursing people), dying, or having a family member die. These plays had important morals, and Thales, being Greek, was surrounded by them, especially the concept of hubris; He said that hurting other for personal gain was morally wrong. This shows heavy influences from Greek theatre, and particularly the tragic genre of plays.
Six well-known Pre-Socratic philosophers were from Greece, and they all lived in a period when people worshipped the Greek Gods. In this time, the Greeks had no explanation for any basic (and advanced) science that we have today. They saw the sun, they saw a ball of fire in the sky. The Greek's did not understand at that time how exactly that ball of fire moved across the sky. So someone with a good imagination thought up Apollo and said, 'Apollo drives his flying sun chariot across the sky every day'. They saw lightning in the sky, and said, 'Zeus, ruler of the skies, must be angry'. These philosophers believed in Greek Gods, but they were thinking and saying, 'There must be a better explanation. Zeus makes everything, but something must have made Zeus'. It's possible that some people would argue having the explanation of some greater, all-powerful force controlling us as the answer to every question would have stalled the thoughts of philosophers, but those theories pushed them to think harder about what the nature of reality really was.
Every one of these points- literature, society, geography, studying, and mythology were important influences for the Pre-Socratic philosophers. If not for the Pre-Socratics, we would not have the some of the basic science we do today. It is thanks to the Greek philosopher Democritus that we have the theory of atoms, and he may not have been inspired to think outside the box if not for all of the cultural influences pushing him to think harder about life. We owe it to the Pre-Socratics for math, science and literature that built the foundations of our education today, and it is because of the Ancient Mediterranean culture that we were given the stepping stones to an advanced world of learning.
August 22, 2010
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
28 June, 2005
5 May, 2004
Classics 8 Class
Greek and Roman Myths
A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading this. Any constructive criticism is appreciated. Thank you for reading :)