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Thread: Greek Philosophy

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    Greek Philosophy

    This is something I've been contemplating. Philosophy, as we know it, largely comes from the Greeks. Before them most of what might be considered philosophy is mixed with mythology and theology. This is not to say that philosophy is unique to Greece, but they did do more on the subject than many others.

    I've been wondering why that is, what is special about Ancient Greece that led to this development, philosophy qua philosophy without immediate recourse to theology or mythology.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    This is something I've been contemplating. Philosophy, as we know it, largely comes from the Greeks. Before them most of what might be considered philosophy is mixed with mythology and theology. This is not to say that philosophy is unique to Greece, but they did do more on the subject than many others.

    I've been wondering why that is, what is special about Ancient Greece that led to this development, philosophy qua philosophy without immediate recourse to theology or mythology.
    I would say that there were *parts* of Greek philosophy that were without immediate recourse to theology or mythology. But frankly, it is what is called "Sophist" philosophy - really, pre-Socratic Greek thought - which was most removed from theology/mythology. Plato's philosophy, to my reading, is very, very religious. There is a reason why Catholic theologians were quick to adopt Platonism. And then, too, many pre-Socratic traditions were very, very mystical, e.g. the Pythagorean cult.

    As to what was special about Ancient Greece, typically, the story you hear is that the nature of Greek city-states gave rise to a class of public teachers because there were many young men who required an education on how to be a "virtuous man" so that they could lead lives of public service. Since Athens was famously the birthplace of democracy, and had many young men who were getting ready to enter public, political, life, there was a substantial demand for such teachers, and it was in Athens that we see a flourishing, although clearly this cannot be the whole story. But even in the arts we see a movement away from mythology - the rise of Athenian tragedy as an example, with its emphasis on humanistic themes.

    And as you say, this sort of philosophy was in no-way unique to the Greeks. The Chinese and Vedic traditions have many examples of this sort of thing. I have only a cursory knowledge of non-Western traditions, but my impression is that the Chinese, more than the Greeks or Vedic traditions, produced the most work that was totally removed from theology or mythology. Indeed, Confucianism is one of the oldest schools of thought that continues to be extremely influential, and at the same time, is largely secular. Sure, Confucianism is couched in ultimately spiritual terms, but mostly it concerns itself with practical, secular considerations. The Vedic traditions were a mixed bag in this regard, but there were strong forms of non-theological, non-mythological thought. To my limited knowledge, you would see this most clearly in Advaita Vedanta. Indeed, there were pockets of outright atheism and naturalism in Advaita Vedanta.

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    Veteran Member Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    A number of Greeks, Sophists and Skeptics noticed that each city state had it's own religion, and so did the Egyptians, Persians and assorted Barbarians. Leading them to doubt all such religious ideas. The big divide then was between Skeptics and Sophists who saw little real knowledge was available to man and the naturalists who became materialists. Atomists and physicists.
    Cheerful Charlie

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    If only the incredible progress in philosophy, thought and science during the Classical period could have been maintained.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    I've been wondering why that is, what is special about Ancient Greece that led to this development, philosophy qua philosophy without immediate recourse to theology or mythology.
    John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, and John the Baptist walk into a bar. John Madden says "you're gonna feel that one in the morning." The bartender looks over and says "K- why?"

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    It may have something to do with the fragmented political system, which discouraged the rise of a powerful religious establishment. While the oracles were well endowed, and temples individually powerful, without a unified organization and especially a written canon, there was no basis for the same sort of thought control that came later.

    It can be argued that the state religions of Rome and Persia paved the way for the rise of Christianity and Islam, and their modes of thought control. The missing ingredient was the Book, which Judaism provided. With both state religion and sacred texts, the environment was less favorable. The Greeks remained free of the Persian state religion, only to fall to Rome's. The Roman era tolerated philosophy, but did not see as great a flowering as before.

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    I did some reading on this, and one source blamed the environment as well. To put it simply, Greece isn't exactly a great spot for growing grain, but an excellent spot for growing grapes and olives. This leads to the production of wine and olive oil. This forced the Greek city-states to engage in lots of external trade, which in turn exposed them to many ideas from outside their own culture, exposing them to many new ideas from outside Greek culture. They traded with the Egyptians, much of the Black Sea, a portion of the Mediterranean Sea, and what is now Turkey. Their rivals were the Phoenician empire, which also had extensive Mediterranean trade routes but didn't develop philosophy as such.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    It was all about mi mi mi mi mimimi. Probably had something to do with Uozo.

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    There's a correlation between civilisation and philosophical/religious thought.

    Cities and states with enough money to confer their citizens free time, give them the time to think about their lives and develop modes of thought. These states having money also give them the ability to spread that thought, which is why the world's major religions usually originated from a select few, powerful sources.

    I'd assume that Ancient Greece, in it's time, was one of the more economically advanced locations in the world.

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    I think disorder coming at the end of a period of prosperity is what does it. The prosperity creates an atmosphere ripe for intellectuals, and the transition from prosperity to a more doubtful future gives the intellectuals something to think about.

    We shouldn't talk about "Ancient Greece" being the site of philosophical activity, rather "The period of decline of the Athenian Empire." Likewise, you have Rennaisance Italy, the Spring and Autumn period in China, the interwar period in Europe, etc.

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