Category Archives: Philosophers

Pythagoras the Philosopher


Pythagoras was born on the Aegean island of Samos, Greece around 580-569BC to parents Mnesarchus a merchant from Tyre (Lebanon) who dealt in gems, and his wife Pythias a native of Samos.  His early childhood was spent in Samos, until he reached an age to accompany his father on trading ships.

Pythagoras was educated as an athlete, but all that changed, and he abandoned his chosen education and devoted himself to the study of Philosophy.  He learnt much from Chaldea and Pherecydes of Syros.

Aged eighteen, Pythagoras met with Thales, an accomplished master of mathematics and astronomy.  The aged Thales is said to have put the young student on the road to understanding science, mathematics and astronomy.  Pythagoras studied with Anaximander a former student of Thales.

In 535BC Pythagoras took advice from Thales and journeyed to Egypt, to be tutored by Temple Priests.  This was at a time, when he needed to escape the tyranny of Polycrates, the then ruler of Samos.  He lived in Egypt for ten years and during his time, completed the rites which gained him admission to the “Temple of Diospolis” and acceptance into the priesthood.  It is believed he also studied under Oenuphis of Heliopolis, an Egyptian priest.

In 525BC, Emperor Cambyses II of Persia conquered Egypt.  Pythagoras was taken prisoner and taken to Babylon.  It was here he associated himself with the Persian priests known as the Magi, and begun studying mathematics, mathematical sciences and music under them.

In 522BC, Cambyses II of Persia died and Polycrates, tyrannical ruler of Samos was killed.  These events gave Pythagoras the chance to return to Samos.

Upon returning to Samos in 520BC, he opened a school called “The Semicircle” and his teaching methods appealed to only a few.  In 518BC he moved his base to Croton, gathering a band of loyal followers.  Later he set up a brotherhood, which developed into a religious/philosophical school with much political influence.

The Pythagoreans, followers of Pythagoras were divided into two sects.  Those who lived and worked at the school were referred to as the Mathematikoi or Learners.  Others located outside the school were known as Akousmatics or Listeners.  Pythagoras was master of both sects.

The Mathematikoi followed strict rules, which defined what they ate, wore or even spoke.  They had no personal possessions and were followers of vegetarianism.  On the other side the Akousmatics were allowed to have their own personal belongings, eat non-vegetarian foods, and attend school during the day only.

The society practiced strict secrecy about rites, rituals and teachings.

Pythagoras made contributions to mathematics…  Today, he is best remembered for his concept of numbers.  He believed everything could be reduced to numbers and each had their strength and weaknesses.  He believed 10 was a complete number because it was made up on the first four numerical digits (1+2+3+4) and when written in dot notation, formed a triangle.  He further believed geometry as the highest form of mathematical studies, through which one could explain the physical world.

Pythagoras’ belief stemmed from his observations of mathematics, music and astronomy.  He noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tone only when the ratios between the lengths of the strings are whole numbers.  He later realized that these ratios could be extended to other instruments.

He also propagated that the soul is immortal.  On death of a person, it takes up a new form and it moves from person to person and even to smaller animals through a series of incarnations until it becomes pure and such purification could be undertaken through music and mathematics.

Pythagoras a believer of mysticism, held the belief that certain symbols have mystical significance and that interaction between the opposites was an essential feature of the world.

He taught that Earth was a sphere at the center of the Cosmos.  He held the belief that all other planets and stars were spherical because the sphere is the most perfect solid figure.

Pythagoras is remembered for his concept of geometry. His belief being that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles and that for a right-angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.  Although the theorem had been discovered previously by the Babylonians, Pythagoras was first to prove it…

Pythagoras was very outspoken and as such attracted many enemies.  It is believed; one of those instigated a mob which set fire to his school of learning at Crotana, where forty of his followers were burnt to death.

Pythagoras escaped with his life, and fled to the Locrians who denied him access, and was forced to seek asylum from his enemies at the “Temple of the Muses.”  It is believed he died of starvation around 506BC.

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Socrates the Philosopher

Socrates, AC Grayling
Socrates the Greek Philosopher

Socrates was born in 470BC in Athens, Greece.  His father Sophroniscus was a stone mason and sculptor, and his mother Phaenarete was a midwife.

He did not come from noble stock, and therefore would receive basic Greek education, and from there trained under his father as a stone mason.

Socrates married Xanthippe, who blessed him with three sons; Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus.

Socrates had devoted much of his time to what became his second profession, that being a philosopher, much to the disgust of his wife, who complained philosophy could not put bread on the table… could not support his family.

Athenian law stated all able bodied men, had to serve as soldiers between the ages of 18-60 and be on call.  Socrates participated in three military campaigns as an infantry man, in the Peloponnesian War at Delium, Amphipolis and Polidaea.  Socrates was known for his courage in battle, and stepped in saving the life of General Alcibiades an Athenian leader.

Socrates was of the belief that the ideals of philosophy should achieve practical results for society.  He went on to point out human choice was a desire for happiness.

He believed his thoughts could be used in the political forum, being neither tyranny nor democracy, instead a government ruled by individuals.

Athens to him was an open styled classroom, where he could ask questions from the men of learning and the common man, seeking to arrive at answers on political and ethical truths.

During the life of Socrates, Athens had recently been defeated by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.  For Athens and its people it had entered a period of doubt, questioning their identity, their place in the world … They clung to past values.

Socrates attacked these values, many admired him for speaking out and challenging Greek conventional wisdom, but other’s believed he threatened their way of life.

Socrates was convicted for threatening the political stability of Greece, and found guilty.  The jury proposed he should be exiled, but Socrates proposed he should be honoured for his contributions to Athens, and be duly paid for his services.

The jury were not amused by his outburst, and they sentenced him to death; Death by Hemlock poison.

Plato describes Socrates execution:  “Socrates drunk the hemlock mixture without hesitation.  Numbness slowly crept into his body until it reached his heart.  Shortly before his final breath.  Socrates described his death as a release of the soul from the body.”

Socrates died in 399BC by Hemlock poison in Athens, Greece.

Aristotle the Philosopher

Aristotle the Greek Philosopher

Aristotle was born in 384Bc in Stagira, a former seaport on the northern coast of Greece.  His father Nicomachus, was a court physician to King Amyntas II of Macedonia, and mother; Phaestis.

Proxenus of Atarneus, was married to Aristotle’s sister Arimneste, and he became Aristotle’s guardian when his father died.  Aged seventeen Aristotle went to Athens and was enrolled in Plato’s Academy and the two became great friends.

After Plato died, Aristotle attended the court of King Hermias of Atarneus and Assos in Mysia.  During his three year stay met Pythias, they were married, and had one daughter; Pythias named after her mother.

In 338BC Aristotle returned to Macedonia and tutored King Phillips son; Alexander the Great.  In 335BC, when Alexander succeeded his father and conquered Athens, Aristotle went to Athens.

Plato’s Academy was now being run by Xenocrates, a leading influence on Greek thought.

With Alexander the Great’s agreement, Aristotle opened his own school in Athens; the Lyceum, and spent his time as teacher, researcher and writer at his centre of teaching.

Aristotle life was shattered when Pythias his wife died, the very same year the Lyceum opened its doors.

Herpyllis formerly from Stagira, the place of his birth and a slave presented to him by the Macedonia court.  He freed her, then married her, and she bore him a son; Nicomachus after Aristotle’s father.

When Alexander the Great died in 323BC the pro-Macedonian was overthrown and Aristotle was charged with impiety.  He fled to Chalcis on the island of Euboea rather than be prosecuted, where he remained till his death.

Aristotle believed knowledge could be obtained by interacting with physical objects.  He recognized human’s play a part in understanding.  He focused much on the concept of logic, and the process would allow man to learn much about reality.  His philosophy provided man with a much needed system of reasoning.  He believed matter was the physical substance of things, whilst form was a unique nature, giving it, its identity.

Plato the Philosopher

Plato the Philosopher
Plato the Greek Philosopher

Plato the Greek Philosopher was born between 424 and 423BC, to parents from the Greek aristocracy.  Ariston his father was a descended from the Kings of Athens and Messenia, whilst his mother, Perictione was related to the 6th century Greek statesman; Solon.  Plato was one of four children, having two full brothers and one half brother.

History tells us that Plato was educated in Athens, and would have studied the works of Cratylus, Pythagoras and Parmenides.  These would have provided him with the base to his studies in Metaphysics (Study of Nature) and Epistemology (Study of Knowledge).

Ariston, his father died whilst Plato was still young, and his mother remarried Pyrilmapes her uncle a Greek politician and ambassador to Persia.

His direction in life came by way of memorable events, first was meeting Socrates a well known and Greek philosopher, and serving in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta between 409 and 404BC.

Plato considered a career in politics, but his world was shattered when one he looked up to; Socrates was executed in 399BC for speaking his mind.  He turned away from politics to a life of study and philosophy.

For twelve long years, following the death of Socrates, he travelled through the Mediterranean region, studying mathematics with the Pythagoreans in Italy, geometry, geology and astronomy in Egypt.

Shortly after Socrates death he wrote “The Apoloogy of Socrates” and from their wrote many texts including Protagoras and Euthyphro amongst others, aiming to convey Socrates’s philosophy and teachings to the reader.

His middle writings during his life saw Plato write down his own beliefs, not based on others works.  He wrote of justice, courage, wisdom and moderation, based on the individual within society in his works “The Republic.”

His later writings showed Plato taking an in depth study into his own thoughts of metaphysical ideas.  Exploring the role of art, music, drama along with ethics and morality.

“Plato wrote that the world of ideas is the only constant and that the perceived world through our senses is deceptive and changeable.”

Around 385BC Plato founded an Academy which he ran until his death in 348BC.  This academy offered learning, until it was closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I who feared it be a source of paganism and a threat to Christianity.

One of the academy’s students, was none other than Aristotle, who would join his thoughts with that of Plato, thus creating new thoughts … new ideas.

Plato left an impact on his home of Greece, and far beyond, showing that mathematics in education was essential if one wanted to understand the universe.

His works, give reason in the development of a fair and just society which led to the foundation of the modern democracy.