The Panorama of Philosophy: The Greek Philosophers

Philosophy is for most of us a body of works full of difficult ideas. But intrinsically, these doctrines are schooling for thought. They rest on the belief that we are rational creatures, that reason is our defining attribute, and that this capacity helps us to understand truth and falsehood. Therefore it is possible for us to demonstrate some things “beyond reasonable doubt”, and to build coherent theories about life and the world even without knowing everything about them. We look at Philosophy in the context of Greek history, culture, politics, art and science. Part I isn’t a requirement.


  • “Ionian Enchantment”. Ionia in the Aegean Sea was the cradle of philosophy. Its foremost city was Miletos; here Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes laid the foundation stones of science with their enquiries into the structure of the cosmos. It was the inception of an agenda that remains central to all our philosophical and scientific enquiries.
  • The Mystagogue. Some men cast a shadow so long, that we don’t see it any-more because it has become part of the way we understand the world. Pythagoras was such a man. Strictly speaking, the scientific revolution began with him. His schools endured for close to 2000 years, but his spirit still lives, as he was also the man who determined that thinking and philosophy are the signatures which define us humans as rational creatures.
  • The Great Confrontation. Dialectics and disputation form the basis of reasoned debate. But sharp-witted logical discourse is not the royal road to wisdom. When Parmenides and Herakleitos ignited their dispute over phenomena and reality, they opened a never-ending dispute about the meaning of existence.
  • Healers, Atheists and Atomists. Startling projections into the future occurred as philosophers wrestled with the implications of the static vs dynamic point of view. See the invention of molecules (Anaxagoras); a nascent theory of evolution (Empedokles) and a doctrine of the ultimately atomic constitution of the universe (Demokritos) emerging in this period.
  • Sokrates and the Sophists. The Athenian Socrates opened up a new domain of philosophical enquiry: Psychology, mind, soul, consciousness. It was political in its intentions and designed to defuse the doctrines of the sophists who flooded Athens at the time. Socrates became the first martyr of philosophy, paying the ultimate price of his life for his belief in the truths he taught.
  • Plato. One of the great luminaries in the history of mankind, he drew together all the many strands of philosophy. In over 30 dialogues, he examined every facet of human life, from politics, justice, beauty and passion to science, the origin and fabric of the cosmos. Without too much exaggeration, Alfred North Whitehead said that modern philosophy could be seen a series of footnotes to Plato, meaning that Plato constructed almost the whole agenda for philosophy.
  • Aristotle. This arch-realist among philosophers had the uncanny knack of extracting the philosophical core of every piece of knowledge that came to his notice. He was a one-man Encyclopaedia; the scholastics called him “The Philosopher”. The rediscovery of his works in the 11th century started western civilisation on its own autonomous course.
  • The Epigones. After Alexander the Great died, the Mediterranean and the Near East plunged into horrifying bloodbath as tyrants battled for power and supremacy. Philosophy went into hiding. This is the era when thinking became more concerned with the few pleasures left to life (e.g. Epicureanism). But one of these doctrines, Stoicism, infected the Romans, who took it on as a quasi-religion and passed it on to the Christian Empire, as one of its three philosophical cornerstones.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the value of philosophy in civilisation.
  2. Evaluate philosophical principles and the philosophical metier.

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.