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THE FAMOUS THREE
The three most famous and influential Greek philosophers were Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They have contributed a lot in the development and advancement of knowledge and thought. These three figures will be introduced briefly in order to gain vivid picture on Greek philosophy era.
Biographical Background. Socrates was born around 470 BC in Athens and died in c. 399 BC. He raised up basic questions of morality and politics, as well as certain fundamental questions which people didn’t think to ask about that such as “what one ought to do?”, “what is justice?”, “what is friendship?” or “what is courage?” He went around Athens raising these basic questions. Interestingly, many people especially the eager youngsters gathered around him and joining the discussions. Might be, he have had an early interest in cosmology as the result of the influence of philosophers prior to him, but if so, means that he abandoned it. He wrote nothing but he was credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. This enigmatic figure was known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes. He embraced poverty and although youths of the city kept company with him and imitated him, Socrates consistently insisted he was not a teacher and refused all his life to take money for what he did. Socrates was usually to be found in the marketplace and other public areas, conversing with a variety of different people - young and old, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor - that is, with virtually anyone he could persuade to join with him in his question and answer mode of probing serious matters. Indeed, the most important facts about Socrates were that he lived uncompromisingly, for philosophy. He was sentenced to death by the anti-intellectuals with the charge of deviating and corrupting the youth of Athens.
|The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)|
Works. As stated above, Socrates wrote nothing. He was known through the account of later writers such as Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes that give widely divergent pictures. The Plato’s description of Socrates is the most common one which illustrates the historical Socrates, even though some scholars tend to put it as the Platonic Socrates. Through his portrayal in Plato's dialogues, Socrates has become renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics, and it is this Platonic Socrates who also lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic Method, or elenchus. Socrates' lifework consisted in the examination of people's lives, his own and others', because “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”.
Socrates’ Dialectic: Elenchus. In Plato's dialogues and other Socratic dialogues, Socrates attempts to examine someone's beliefs, at times even first principles or premises by which we all reason and argue. Socrates typically argues by cross-examining his interlocutor's claims and premises in order to draw out a contradiction or inconsistency among them. According to Plato, the rational detection of error amounts to finding the proof of the antithesis. However, important as this objective is, the principal aim of Socratic activity seems to be to improve the soul of his interlocutors, by freeing them from unrecognized errors.
For example, in the Euthyphro, Socrates asks Euthyphro to provide a definition of piety. Euthyphro replies that the pious is that which is loved by the gods. But, Socrates also has Euthyphro agreeing that the gods are quarrelsome and their quarrels, like human quarrels, concern objects of love or hatred. Therefore, Socrates reasons, at least one thing exists which certain gods love but other gods hate. Again, Euthyphro agrees. Socrates concludes that if Euthyphro's definition of piety is acceptable, then there must exist at least one thing which is both pious and impious (as it is both loved and hated by the gods) — which Euthyphro admits is absurd. Thus, Euthyphro is brought to a realization by this dialectical method that his definition of piety is not sufficiently meaningful.
Biographical Background. Plato was born around the year of c.427BC and he was died in the year of c.347BC at the age of 80 years old. Plato was an aristocratic Athenian, descended on his father’s side from one of the early kings of Athens, and on his mother’s side from the famous statesman of Solon. Socrates was a friend of his close relatives Critias and Charmides, and Plato must have known him from boyhood on and thus Plato become the student of Socrates.
From c. 409 B.C Plato would have been liable for military duties, and he probably served with the cavalry in the closing years of the war against Sparta. Later then which around c. 404/403 B.C he was invited to join in the oligarchic rule of the ‘thirty tyrants’ (who included his close relatives Cristias and Charmides), but the junta fell from the power while he hesitated. Then he indulged in authorship and desultory travel. When he turned forty, he set out on a trip to western Greece. His first port of call was Taras (Taranto), where he made friends with remarkable man called Archytas. Archytas was a successful general and statesman, and also a mathematician of genius
Plato also pretties much interest in politics but he found that philosophical studies were not inconsistent with the political influence. If he could not enter the politics himself he would make his ideas felt through his pupils or students. All these considerations now come together in his mind, and resulted in the decision to found in Athens a permanent teaching institution called the Academy.
The Academy, during that time was the references and become the prototype of all subsequent colleges and universities. Plato acquired a property there, including a gymnasium, and opened a school designed as a philosophical seminary for the training of a new type of leader for the Greek world. Academy was facilitated with lecture rooms, residences, and a common dining hall. Plato was the first principal of that school, thus attracted all people. Plato’s purpose in founding the Academy was practical and statesmanlike. He wanted to provide more rigorous and principled alternative to sophistic or rhetoric training, and there is plenty of evidence that many of his students did go out to provide better and effective leadership to the citizens in the city states. It was a very tragic end of Plato life. He was intellectually productive to the end, and died with ‘pen in hand’, working on a revision of his last dialogue, known as the Laws in c. 347 B.C.
Works. All that Plato wrote and published is still extant. His authorship extended over about fifty years, and during that time he produced a constant stream of works of great variety and charm, as well as high philosophic important. The Laws act as the final book or as his final masterpieces. Thus Plato works can be divided into three period or group. There were ‘early’, ‘middle’, and a ‘late’ group, but the method is not sufficiently precise to establish the exact ordering within each group. Apology and Crito are among the works of Plato in the ‘early’ group. It is also included the shorter dialogue about the definitions of various virtues which have been deduce inconclusively.
The main target or the objective of the ‘early’ group works is simply to pay attribute to his teachers Socrates and in order to make the thought of Socrates immortalize. The ‘middle’ group works consist of the famous writing of him. Plato’s single most important work, the Republic  have give the great impact not just to the Greece society on that time but also influenced the idea of establishing state in modern world. After the Republic come more strictly philosophical works, like the Parmenides and the Theaetetus. The ‘late’ group consists of the Sophists, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias and Laws. Nearly all of his works has been written in the dialogue form, and the named characters who appear in them are real historical individuals. This fact combined that Plato himself does not overtly appear.
Thought: Theory of Form. Plato used the theory of form to confront the skepticism of his time with an unwavering belief in the possibility of real knowledge. The condition that he thought should be satisfied for the knowledge to occur is that: the object of the knowledge must be an unchanging object, and it must be directly grasped by the mind. To Plato mind is nothing could be more real and more important than ideal beauty and absolute goodness. Then come to him the concepts of ‘Ideas’ which basically means ‘forms’ in the Greek word. Besides, two important subsidiary doctrines buttress the central arch of the theory of Forms are: opinion is totally different from the knowledge, and: the present of the degree of reality.
Plato’s View of justice: State and the Individual in the Republic. Based on that thought is that Plato aiming to demonstrate against the Sophists. Sophists sated that the state is based only on conventional basis. Thus Plato refuted that the state has the natural basis along with the conventional basis. He found that the fundamentals of the human needs or wants, like food and shelters, which cause human beings to associate together for mutual protection and help. Plato hints that it will be difficult to realize the pattern of the actual city state. The ideal of the state stands as an ideal limit at which reform should aim. It also has an important role in the ethical argument of the Republic, providing the large scale of module of the human personality and how it should function in governing the city states.
Plato on the Soul: Reincarnation and Recollection. It is clear that Plato believed in the pre-existence of the soul, as well as in the life after death. He fully accepted the Pythagorean views of reincarnation, and he is able to add some new philosophical dimension to it with own theory of recollection. He said that in the striking phrase: ‘Learning is recollecting’. In the learning process, we recollecting such data an information in order to aid us get the general concepts of what we have learn. Plato used the dialectic (the art of discussion) as the philosophical method to deduce his thought.
Biographical Background. Aristotle was a native of Stagira, an obscure little city in eastern Macedonia originally colonized by Ionians. He was born on c.384 B.C and died on c.322 B.C. He lives for almost 62 years. His family was wealthy one, and his father Nicomachus held the post of physician to Amyntas, the king of Macedonia. His father’s profession helps to account for his special interest in biology, and the connection with the Macedonian court brought Aristotle into contact with the dynasty that was destined to dominated Greece and transform world history.
At the age of 17 he went to Athens to study at the Plato institution, the Academy. He resided there as a school member for 20 years. Plato showed his appreciation of Aristotle’s intellectual powers by calling him ‘The Brain’. Aristotle becomes the student of Plato then later Aristotle not has the same influence on his teacher. But he always respected Plato as a man and as his teacher even though come to criticize and reject the theory of Plato. He said that, “Friends and truth are both dear, but it is a sacred duty to prefer the truth”. Based on that Aristotle has to criticize and correct some theory of his good friends. After the death of Plato in c.347 B.C Aristotle left Athens, and resided for the time in Assos and then in Lesbos, where he conducted zoological research. Later then he become the teacher of the famous warrior Alexander the Great. So Socrates taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, undoubtedly the most famous names ever to be linked in such a relationship.
Later then Aristotle started the Lyceum in Athens in c.335 B.C, soon after Alexander’s accession to the Macedonian throne. Just like the Academy, the Lyceum is well equipped with the gymnasium. Aristotle stressed the need to form collections of materials as a basis for systematic study of any kind, and the Lyceum collections included manuscripts, maps, and zoological specimens. Alexander helping by ordering fishermen and hunters throughout his empire to send in any rare specimens captured. He died in c.322 B.C at Chalcis, having been forced to leave Athens by an outburst of anti-Macedonian feeling after the death of Alexander the Great.
Works. In the early stages Aristotle published a series of philosophical dialogues which basically covered the ethical aspects. These works gained him reputation as a popular writer with an elegant style. Aristotle also works on logic, natural sciences, psychology, biology, metaphysics, ethics, politics and literary criticism. A lot of Aristotle works has been published and become as the references in every field of study which indirectly help the people during that time to reconstruct a better city state and much better life.
Thought: Perception and Knowledge. Aristotle said that “If we did not perceive anything we would not learn or understand anything”. Aristotle is indicating his strong belief that sense-perception is the basis of knowledge. Meaning that when we want to gain knowledge it is important to have a very good perception regarding the knowledge want to that we acquire. We also should have a good observation on some issues or knowledge so that the interpretation that we do will be correct and wise. For Aristotle, a creature endowed with the capacity of sensing is able to perceive particular facts about real objects and is thus able to discriminate features of the external world. But mind must come into play if knowledge is to result. What we perceive must be retained in the memory for comparison with future perceptions.
Philosophy as the Knowledge of First Causes: The Four Types of Cause. “All human beings have a natural desire for knowledge”. Aristotle explains that how philosophy arose from the curiosity or the eager to know something especially about the world, and states that the knowledge which will satisfy this sense of wonder is desired for its own sake. Cause can be divided into four. There were: (1) material cause; (2) efficient cause; (3) formal cause; and (4) final cause. The four types together make a complete analysis of all the conditions necessary for the coming into existence of an object or event, and so provide scientific knowledge of it. It is an analysis of static elements as well as moving factors, to get the complete answer why a thing is what it is.
The Conceptual Basis of Knowledge. The conceptual basis of knowledge can be divided into three main aspects. There were: (1) particular and universe – for Aristotle particulars such as God, Alexander, and animals are the only entities that have the separate and substantial existence; (2) potentiality and actuality – potentiality is a necessary concept for explaining how change occurs, but change cannot be explained by it alone, and the actual is the realization of the potential, exhibiting a perfection which supervenes on imperfection; (3) matter and form – form, like matter is found at various level of complexity, and has corresponding range of meaning.
CHALLENGE OF THE SOPHISTS
|Sophists love to debate, but not for the sake of truth rather for their personal interest|
The Sophists were the new breed of educators who began to appear in many parts of the Greek world. The Greek words sophos, sophia, usually translated ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’. To practice sophia ones suffered a parallel development until it meant to trick or deceive, or to be over-subtle. Probably it was assumed that a sophistes would be a teacher. The word sophistes used to designed people who were both wise and skilled. But then it comes to the wandering ‘professor’ who travelled from city to city offering courses of variety of subjects and expected to be well paid for their lectures. In addition, sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving someone. In Ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching arete – excellence, or virtue – predominantly to young statesmen and nobility. The practice of charging money for education (and providing wisdom only to those who can pay) led to the condemnations made by Plato (through Socrates in his dialogues). Plato regarded their profession itself as being 'specious' or 'deceptive', hence the modern meaning of the term.
The oldest and most famous sophist was Protagoras of Abdera. He was lived during c.490 B.C – c.420 B.C. Protagoras is said to be the first to accept fees for his class or tuition. Plato and Aristotle altered the meaning again, however, when they claimed that professional teachers such Protagoras was not seeking the truth but only victory in debate and were prepared to use dishonest means to achieve it. The most important sophists were Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, Prodicus, and Thrasymachus. All of the sophists provide a training rhetoric and the way to speak well to the citizens or the students which give great impact in the enhancement of the rhetorical theory and the style in oratory.
According to Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, there are three major groups of Sophists: al- la adriyah (the agnostic), al- ‘indiyah (the relativist), al- ‘inadiyah (the sceptic). Al- la adriyah or the agnostic is one who maintain the position of ‘ignoramus’; claiming that all that one can say is simply “I don’t know”. They doubt whether a thing has real existence and denying the possibility of any knowledge. Consequently, they also have to doubt their own doubt. Meanwhile, al- ‘indiyah or the relativist is one who subscribe to relativism, who like to ‘relativise’ all claim of knowledge. For them, knowledge is subjective and truth is relative and they claim everybody is right and nobody is wrong. Al- ‘inadiyah or the sceptic is one who uphold skepticism, calling everything into question, always in the state of doubt and distrust. For them, knowledge is impossible and they continuously throw doubt to confuse others. To sum them up, Sophists do not and cannot establish their own positions; their only aim is to ‘deconstruct’. They denied knowledge and certainty about anything from simple experience to the ultimate spiritual realities.
 Bryan Magee (2001), The Story of Philosophy, London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, p. 21.
 J.V. Luce (1992), An Introduction of Greek Philosophy, London: Thames and Hudson, p.94
 J.V. Luce (1992), An Introduction of Greek Philosophy, London: Thames and Hudson, p.97
 Ibid., p.98
 Ibid., p.110
 W.K.C. Guthrie (1991), The Sophists, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, p 27.
 J.V. Luce (1992), An Introduction of Greek Philosophy, London: Thames and Hudson, p.80
 Wan Mohd Nor wan Daud (1998), The Educational Philosophy and Practice of Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas; An Exposition of The Original Concept of Islamization, KL: ISTAC, p. 84.
to be continued - Part 4