The last module discussed the gradual separation between mythology and philosophy in the Greek culture. Mythology had a great influence over the development of philosophy. It provided concepts, images and narratives that were appropriated, criticized or categorically rejected by philosophy. While there may be a “break” between mythology and philosophy, philosophy still relied on the mythological tendency to narrate in a poetic style – that is, in graphic and visual terms that were easily understood. Moreover, the early philosophers still had to turn to the myths in order to further their own concepts about the cosmos and humanity.
But the question is why are we focusing ourselves in Greek philosophy? Are there no other philosophies in the world contemporaneous to the time of the early Greeks?
I. Philosophy – Where Did It Come From?
To say that philosophy originated downright from the Greeks is a mistake. The mere fact that every civilization in the whole world has its own set of mythological narratives implies that there is a possibility for every civilization to develop its own set of philosophy. Another thing, it is also a fact that there are other flourishing philosophies in other parts of the world that precede, almost simultaneous to or contemporaneous with Greek philosophy. We can list Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian philosophies as examples. There are also studies that say Greek philosophy is influenced by or derivatives of the mystical arts of Egypt and other Near East cultures and religions. Whatever the case, there is no definitive answer as to the origin of philosophy itself. There is far too much correlation among cultures, civilizations, religions and myths to just pinpoint the exact location of the origin of philosophy itself.
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It is therefore not a question of where. Rather, we must ask: what is special among the Greeks that we readily associate philosophy with them? The influence of Greek philosophy is undeniable. From the time of its inception in the 6th century BCE until the Hellenistic times, its incorporation into the Roman world until today, there can be no equivalent to the massive contribution of Greek philosophy to almost every body of knowledge we have. Much of Western thought may be credited to Greek philosophy, so much so that Alfred Whitehead, a philosopher himself, says that “European philosophical tradition is a series of footnotes to Plato.” While we may say that Greek philosophy itself is a product of both Western and Eastern myths, religion, theology and cosmology, we have to admit that philosophy as we understand it now, is a Greek creation. It seems that the Greeks taught themselves how to reason.
II. What Made the Greeks Different?
A caution must be made when saying “Greek” in describing philosophy. While it is true that the brand of philosophy being discussed here is “Greek”, not every Greek culture/society can be credited with the development of philosophy. Example: the Spartans were Greeks but they never had any strain of philosophical movement. The Athenians and Milesians were Greeks and they contributed to philosophy. The Ionians were Greek people but they were not from Greece itself – they are from modern-day Turkey. What is being referred to here, therefore, are the particular Greeks who have a hand in the development of philosophy itself. So, what was different among these particular Greeks that philosophy flourished among them?
First, those cities where philosophy bloomed were cities with wealth. In the ancient times, most wealthy civilizations were wealthy due to their agricultural advantages. Examples in this case are Egypt, Babylon and Mesopotamia. However, Greek cities like Athens and Miletus are not agricultural lands. Therefore, the wealth of these cities can only be explained by another source – that is trade. But the economic condition of the cities alone cannot explain how and why philosophy flourishes in that certain city. In the first place, Egypt and Babylon are far richer than the Greek cities but they have not seen a growth in philosophy. This can be explained by the culture that an agricultural society fosters compared to that of a society that relies on trade. Agricultural civilizations usually become authoritarian societies that value conformity above others. Independence of mind and creativity of thoughts are not tolerated. This is highly seen in Egyptian society – the absolute rule lies on the Pharaoh and those who are not in the Pharaoh’s social class are peasants or slaves coerced or seized for labor and taxes. On the other hand, a city that relies on trade fosters considerable independence – being far away from home and authority, dealing with novel ideas, practices, cultures and peoples. Discovery, curiosity and the independence to process the varying ideas from different cultures allow then for a creative atmosphere that encourages philosophical thinking.
... and the physician Galen. 8. Neoplatonism The closing period of Greek philosophy is marked in the third century CE. by the establishment ... To him belongs the credit of first establishing philosophy at Athens, in which city it reached its highest development, and continued to ... of Athens and for disbelieving in the gods of the city. This philosophical martyrdom, however, simply made Socrates an even ...
Yet again, a trading city alone cannot explain why philosophy can grow in a certain place. There is a much more ancient city engaging in trade than Athens – that is Phoenicia, but philosophy has never taken root among them. However, the Greeks learned something from the Phoenicians – the second reason being the phonetic alphabet adapted by the Greeks from the Phoenicians during their trading days. Unlike that of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Phoenician alphabet was more flexible in its application since it did not require too many pictures to express a thought. Not only that, since the hieroglyphs were also more ritualistic and religious in application, it was exclusively for those purposes only that it was used, unlike the Phoenician alphabet. Ideas recorded through the phonetic alphabet therefore had more chances of being understood, spread, interpreted and preserved for other generations. But not only that, the Phoenicians have also founded colonies all over the Mediterranean throughout their history so that some Greek philosophers actually have Phoenician ancestry. The first philosopher, Thales, is said to have Phoenician ancestry though he resides in a Greek city.
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Again, adapting a phonetic alphabet alone cannot explain why philosophy can develop. There is a unique event in the history of Greece – that is the third reason: the loss of the institution of kingship. This has never happened before in any of the other civilizations. When ancient kings are overthrown, they are simply replaced by other kings. Particularly in Greece, kings have been replaced by the office of the archon (ruler/regent) who is elected to the office with life tenure at first by virtue of his noble birth. But later on, the office of regent was opened by a man named Solon to an annual tenure by virtue of a man’s wealth, rather than noble birth. After a few struggles with some tyrants, a man named Cleisthenes ushered an essentially pure democracy.
The creation of wealth by trade therefore eroded the traditional authority and kingship of Greek rulers. This has given way to a new class in society who chafed at hereditary privileges and has the means to marshal forces against the same authorities. How can a class like this emerge? That is through the development of coined money, the fourth reason. Coinage was invented in Lydia. The Lydians were not Greeks but they worked closely with them, giving rise to wealthy cities such as Miletus, one of the ancient hotbeds of philosophy. Coinage enhanced social mobility but also facilitated political conflicts that further degraded the traditional powers of kings among Greek cities.
The fifth reason why philosophy took root among the Greeks is the topic of the two previous modules: the separation between mythology and intellectual pursuits. Greek mythologies are not simply narratives – they are a vital part of their religion. But ever since Thales and the other philosophers started to undermine the credibility of myths, Greek religion grew steadily apart from philosophy.
III. Why Greek Philosophy – A Conclusion
Although it can be pointed out that the causal connection between philosophy and the above-mentioned reasons is not direct, the correlation between philosophy and cities that have undergone dramatic changes in their commerce and politics is obvious. Ionia is one of the wealthiest and most active cities in Greece – and it is where philosophy has started. From Ionia (where Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus and Xenophanes come from), it spread to Italy (Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno), Sicily (Empedocles), northern Aegean (Democritus, Protagoras), to Ionia again (Melissos) and Athens (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle).
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The commercial democracy that developed in Greece, especially in Athens, provided the social and intellectual context where philosophy can grow. Indeed, even now, whenever we think of philosophy, we think of Greece; and whenever we think of Greece, we think of Athens. Such is the influence of Athens in philosophy (due to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle); and such is the influence of the Greeks in philosophy.
Questions: Answers to the questions must be placed on a whole sheet of paper.
1. Research the economic, political and cultural situation of Sparta and explain, basing from the above-mentioned reasons, why philosophy did not flourish there. (20 points) 2. If philosophy accidentally flourished in the Philippines in the ancient times, what do you think is the central theme/content of our philosophy? Explain. (20 points)