Ancient Philosophers: The Sophists: Background Information

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Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of Western Philosophy 


  Ancient Philosophers: The Philosophy of the Early Greek Naturalists, by Jonathan Dolhenty 


  V. The Philosophy of the Sophists: Background Information


The second period of Greek philosophy occupies the entire fourth century before Christ. The problem which claims the interest of thinkers during this period is no longer the cosmological question, but man in his concreteness, namely, in his knowledge, his morality, his rights.

The causes which determined the above passage were many, and the most important of these were the following: (1) The Greek victory over the Persian army, which showed how much a small but cultured people can do against a numberless but disordered multitude of barbarians; (2) Contact with other populations living in different countries and practicing different customs, and the resultant investigation of the real value of morality and justice; (3) The democratic constitution of Athens, by virtue of which every citizen could aspire to some position in public administration and, with this end in view, the necessity of everyone’s developing his personality through culture and education.

These facts determined a crisis in Greek life at the end of the fifth century before Christ. The exponents of this crisis were the Sophists, molders of thought who, distrusting the results of the preceding thinkers, intended to educate youth according to the new exigencies of the times.

The Sophists centered their efforts on the problem of knowledge as well as on the problem of morality and justice. This is why Socrates rose against them and established once and for all the fact that true knowledge means knowing through concepts. Never, perhaps, had the human mind made a greater advance in the philosophical field than that which was achieved after Socrates had shown in what true knowledge consists.

First, Plato developed the Socratic concept, and finally Aristotle systematized the entire body of Greek thought. The results obtained in this period were to influence all subsequent ages.

The teaching of Socrates was to give rise to the Minor Socratic Schools, which in turn were to give origin to Stoicism and Epicureanism. The thought of Plato was revived in the later Academies, and in particular in the last important movement of Greek thought, Neo-Platonism. The philosophy of Aristotle was later enriched by Medieval thought, and is still accepted as the traditional philosophy or perennial philosophy even in this contemporary age.


The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work. “Classic Philosophers: The Great Thinkers of the Western World” was designed and organized by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D. Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in © 2011 -2013 The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).


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