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What are the origins of philosophy? The first thinkers

What are the origins of philosophy? The first thinkers

May 28, 2023

Western philosophy has a long history and tradition. Its beginnings are usually attributed to Greek thinkers, who have marked in an important way our way of interpreting the world. In fact, it is largely because of this that Hellenic culture is known as "the cradle of Western civilization".

In this article we will make a general tour of the origins of philosophy, beginning with the pre-Socratic , and going through Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

  • Related article: "How are Psychology and Philosophy alike?"

The origins of Western philosophy

Western philosophy was born in Miletus, Ionia, which was a Greek colony located in Asia. Among other things, Mileto was a cosmopolitan city where people with different religious beliefs coexisted and there was a great cultural diversity. That is to say, there were people with many different perspectives and beliefs.

Likewise, It was in Miletus that religious myths were questioned in an important way for the first time and the first legislations were devised, which finally caused people to move away from magical or supernatural thoughts.

In these moments, leisure (free time) was dedicated precisely to develop this thinking based on the natural, the existing and the concrete. In fact, from this (from the word "leisure", in Greek), the word "school" emerged, although its current meaning is quite far from "free time".

Thales of Miletus is considered the first philosopher of the West, since he was the first to explain the phenomena of the world based on explanations of nature, and no longer through pure mythology . Yes, philosophy was still a task with an important component of speculation, since science did not exist as we know it, and on the other hand the transmission of culture was fundamentally oral.

The philosophers who were formed in the same period as Thales of Miletus they are known as the pre-Socratics . After them, with the arrival of Socrates, there was a very important change in the Western worldview, so it is considered a new stage in the history of philosophy (the Socratic). Finally, they are the disciples of Socrates who close the first stage of ancient philosophy.

1. The pre-Socratics

The pre-Socratics understood and analyzed the origins of the universe through magico-religious stories and myths. At this time, nature was not the terrain of the material that is available to human activity, as if they were two separate elements.

Conversely, nature is closer to the idea of ​​force power or energy, intrinsic to the human being . There was not this radical dissociation between nature and culture, as there was not between body and mind. For the same reason, knowledge of the natural was not given by quantitative and rational explanations, but by an understanding closer to aesthetics, ethics or ontology.

The pre-Socratics are mostly from Asia Minor, with which, Much of his thinking converges with oriental philosophies . In fact, because of the history of mobilization from one territory to another, largely mediated by disputes and wars, the Ionian cities had a great relationship with the East. Part of this relationship was fruit, for example, the development of writing, calculation and astronomy.

2. Socrates

The history of the origins of philosophy is divided mainly before and after Socrates. This is so because with Socrates the magical-religious explanations were finally abandoned and they were searched rational answers about the phenomena of the world . From the myth to the logos (the reason or the word), which is positioned as the basis to create knowledge, to this day.

This knowledge is acquired through questions, because they are what allow rational discussion, and to ask those questions it is necessary to have doubts about everything that happens around us. That is, keep us alert, curious and a little skeptical about the phenomena of the world.

What changes from his philosophy is the way to understand justice, love, virtue (similar to "soul"), ethics and morals, and the knowledge of being . For Socrates, virtue and knowledge are strongly connected, as are ignorance and vice.

The written records we have about Socrates were not written directly by him, but by his best-known disciples: Plato and later Aristotle.

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3. Plato

Plato was actually called Aristocles, was a descendant of an aristocratic family and was a relative of the last king of Athens. But, when the oligarchy condemned Socrates, he soon created an affinity with the idea of ​​democracy. However, they were the same Athenian democrats who culminated the condemnation of Socrates, which is again disappointed.

Between these and other experiences, Plato develops a theory of state based on life and the political affairs of the polis (the city). After moving away from Athens for a long time, he returned to found the gardens of Academos, the first university in the world, which received the name of Academia.

For Plato, knowledge is not only achieved through reason, but through affection, or rather love (to wisdom). He established a series of myths that illustrate how abstract ideas mix with the dimension of the concrete.

His texts are written in the form of dialogues , and some of the most famous are Phaedrus (on love and beauty), Phaedo (on the immortality of the soul), the Banquet, the Gorgias and perhaps the most representative: the Republic, where it expresses a series of social utopias that follow being discussed to this day.

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4. Aristotle

Aristotle is the most popular disciple of Plato in the history of philosophy. He founded his own school, which was dedicated to Apolo Licio, for what was called the Lyceum. Aristotle thought that the elements of reality were singular and were the things themselves. He developed the idea of ​​"substance" and divided it into three types: the sensitive and perishable substance, the sensitive and external substance and the immobile substance.

The philosophy of Aristotle is considered a realistic philosophy, whereas, unlike Plato who developed "ideas", Aristotle I wanted to see things in themselves, as dynamic, individual and concrete entities . For him, the essence of an object is the object itself.

According to this philosopher, all living beings have a soul, which is the power of life, of the body. But the souls are not the same for all, with which there are different types of powers. For example, there is a nourishing soul, a motive soul or a sensitive soul.

Likewise, according to Aristotle, the difference between human beings and other living beings is the active intellect , which reflects on the activity of knowledge before the data it produces, is immortal and is what defines us as rational beings.

The works that we have inherited from Aristotle talk about Logic, Physics, Ethics and Politics, Rhetoric, Poetics and Metaphysics. The first of these is Categories, and among the latter is Rhetorical Art and Poetics.

Bibliographic references:

  • Brun, J. (2002). The pre-Socratics. Publications Cruz: Mexico.
  • Unboxing Philosophy. (2015). Origins of philosophy [Video] Retrieved May 23. Available at //
  • Xirau, R. (2000). Introduction to Philosophy. UNAM: Mexico.

Top 10 Philosophers (May 2023).

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