Philosophy started when human beings started to ask questions, about how and what things are actually, due to curiosity. The things that caused these questions to come about were the people started to realize that everything isnt exactly what it appears to be.
Philosophy started in the town of Miletus, many early philosophers came from here. The philosophers started their work around 585 B.C. Thales, one of the early Miletus philosophers, left no writings behind, all we know about him is memorable incidents recorded by later writers. He lived between 624 and 546 B.C. His unique contributions to thought was he believed that even though there are differences between various things there is a basic similarity between them all. He thought that some single element, that contained its own principle of action or change, lay at the foundation of all physical reality. This element being water.
Another Miletus philosopher and also a pupil of Thales was Anaximander. Anaximander believed also about some thing at the foundation of all physical reality, but he didnt believe it was water or any specific element. He thought the primary substance that all things come is an indefinite and boundless realm. He differentiates things from their origin by the indeterminate boundless. The last Miletus philosopher was Anaximenes, he was an associate of Anaximander. Anaximenes wasnt satisfied with the thought of the boundless being the source of all things, he thought this was too vague. He combined Thales belief of a definite substance and Anaximanders concept of the boundless in continued motion. Anaximenes declared air as the primary substance from which all things come.
The Miletus philosophers did raise questions about the nature of things and made the first direct inquiry about what nature consist of, but they didnt form their hypothesis the way modern scientists would, nor did they use and experiments to check their theories.
Pythagoras, from the small island of Samos, brought new philosophic theories. Pythagoras followers were called Pythagoreans, they devoted themselves to mathematics. Pythagoreans, while unlike Miletus philosophers, believed everything consist of numbers. Pythagoras biggest philosophical contribution was the concept of form. Form to them meant limit and they saw it best shown in music and medicine. In both of these, harmony is the central fact, and taking into account proportions and limits achieve it. The greatness of Pythagoras and his followers is shown by the influence they had on later philosophers.
Many later philosophers tried to explain change, the first Heraclitus. Heraclitus main belief was that all things are in flux or everything is in constant change. He described this change process as a unity in diversity. He thought the thing changing was fire. He believed fire to be the basic reality and thought he discovered the principle of change itself.
Paramenides, a younger contemporary of Heraclitus, founded the Eleatic school of Philosophy. His major philosophical contribution was a radical interpretation of change. He rejected Heraclitus theory of change as unity and diversity also criticized the Miletus philosophers explanations bout the origin of things. Paramenides rejected the thought of change, believing change is an illusion and that if all things are made up of a single substance than change is logically absurd.
Zeno, of Elea, was Paramenides pupil and his chief concern was defending his master against his attackers. Zeno believed our senses deceived us, and to get at the truth is more reliable to go by thougth than to go by sensation. To prove motion as impossible Zeno came up with four arguments, the racecourse, Achilles and the tortoise, The arrow, and The relativity of motion. Zenos main point was that motion has no clear definition, that it is a relative concept.
Empedocles, deciding arguments for and against motion and change were of some value, combined both points of view on change. He found a consistent way of showing that there is change and also affirming reality is fundamentally changeless.
Anaxagoras started a major development in philosophy when he introduced a novel interpretation of the process which matter takes on the form of particular things. His major contribution was the theory of mind (nous), which he distinguished from matter.
The Sophists were a group of Greek teachers, who were around at the end of the fifth century B.C. They claimed to be purveyors of wisdom, but in reality undertook to show that all true certitude is unattainable, and that culture and preparation are to be acquired by discussion and debate. The way they contributed to philosophy was by calling attention to a problem, this could make them the first Greek skeptics. The three best-known Sophists were Protagoras, Gorgias, and Thrasymachus.
Socrates lived from 469-399 B.C., he was a philosopher of Athens, who is regarded as one of the wisest people of all time. He left no writings, our knowledge of him comes from his most famous pupil, Plato. He is descibed as having neglected his own affairs, instead spending his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens met, seeking wisdom about right conduct so that he might guide the moral and intellectual improvements of Athens. He drew forth knowledge from his students by asking a series of questions and examining the answers, this is known as Socratic dialect. Socrates attributed virtue to the knowledge of ones true self, believing no one knowingly does wrong. In 399 B.C. he was tried for corrupting the moral of Athenian youth and for religious heresies. He was convicted and resisting all efforts to save his life, he willingly drank the cup of poison hemlock given to him.
Plato is arguably one of the best known of all the Greek philosophers. His real name is Aristocles, but because of his broad shoulders his classmates called him Platon meaning broad and it was later shortened to Plato. He lived from 427 to 347 B.C. and was a pupil of Socrates startin gin 409 B.C. Plato started a school in Athens called the Academy, this term has been used for school ever since. His main interest was moral philosophy, he wasnt fond of natural philosophy which he thought of as an inferior and unworthy sort of knowledge. Plato believed knowledge had no practical use, it existed for the abstract good of the soul.
Aristotle, who along with Plato and Socrates is considered one of the most famous ancient thinkers, lived from 384-322 B.C. He studied under Plato at the Academy starting at age 17 and stayed for 20 years, first as a student then as a teacher. After Plato died Aristotle left Athens and counseled Hermias and married his daughter, Pythias. Then he tutored a young Alexander the Great. 355 B.C. he returned to Athens and established his own school, Lyceum.
Aristotle regarded the world as being made up of individuals occurring in fixed natural species. Aristotles most distinct philosophic contribution was a new theory of causality. He thought each thing or event has more than one reason explaining its existence. He proposed four explanatory causes. The material cause, matter out of which a thing is made; the efficient cause, the source of motion or change; the formal cause, which is the species, kind or type; and the final cause, the full development of an individual or the intended function of a construction or invention.
Aristotle explored many fields of thought. In astronomy he proposed a finite, spherical universe, with the earth at its center. To him psychology was a study of the soul and its association with the body. In logic he developed rules for reasoning that included syllogisms. His works were lost in the West after the downfall of Rome. Until the 20th Century logic meant Aristotles logic. In the 20th Century a new appreciation developed for Aristotles thought and its relevance to education, literary criticism, and political analysis.
After Aristotle, four groups of philosophers helped to mold a new direction of philosophy, they were the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics, and the Neoplationists. Unlike their predecessors, who tried to fit individuals into large social and political organizations, the new groups taught people to think of themselves and how and individual could have the most satisfactory personal life. They were, on the other hand, influenced by the old philosophers. Epicurus relied upon Democritus for his atomic theory of nature, the Stoics made use of a fiery substance permeating all things, the Skeptics built a method of inquiry upon the Socratic form of doubt, and Plotinus drew heavily upon Plato.
This ancient period of philosophy shaped the philosophic mind. Many theories were conceived by many great men and most just added on to an original notion. This period also had three of the greatest thinkers ever, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.