An ongoing series of short posts about schools of philosophy and individual thinkers through the ages. Some of them I briefly studied during my psychology degree, others I have considered more recently in retirement and old age. This is NOT a rigorous or academic treatise ….. but it might make you think! And remember, philosophy needs comment ….. not merely “like”! And why not help a fellow blogger by reblogging this post as a guest blog on your own site, just press the Reblog button below and write your own introduction.
3. The Academics
Ask anybody to name one philosopher from Ancient Greece and you could bet that most replies would be one of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. If ever there was a dynasty of Philosophers this is it, Plato was a student of Socrates and Aristotle was a student of Plato. Each one taught, shaped and developed another master who in turn “moved forward” and enhanced what had gone before.
Socrates, unlike his predecessors, was concerned with practical questions of how we ought to live, and what the good life for man might be. Consequently he is often hailed as the inventor of the branch of philosophy known as ethics. It is precisely his concern with ethical matters that often led him into conflict with the city elders, who accused him of corrupting the minds of the sons of the wealthy with revolutionary and unorthodox ideas. Socrates believed that the greatest danger to both society and the individual was the suspension of critical thought, and he pursued this belief by his “questioning technique” he applied with his groups of followers, mostly young people in the city of Athens. “What is beauty, what is good, what is piety” he would ask leading them a merry dance with more questions as he exposed paradox and absurdity of thinking. As you may know he was tried and found guilty of corrupting the young and sentenced to die by his own hand using hemlock. An extreme case of “no platforming I think!”
Plato is best known for his work The Republic. Student of Socrates and founder of the Academy, which was the first reported institution of higher education, and no philosopher has had a greater or wider-ranging influence in the history of philosophy than Plato. His main focus of thought was concerned with “ideal forms” culminating in his work The Republic which was his description of the ideal Society. He began with thinking about the ideal form of justice which led to his ideal Republic led by a set of elite guardians trained from birth and where the ideal citizen is one who understands how best they can use their talents to the benefit of the whole of society. Plato believed that in this way there must be one ideal way to organise society, of which all actual societies are mere imperfect copies, since they do not promote the good of all. Needless to say many modern day philosophers have criticised his views as those supporting a totalitarian society but disguised as socialism. Hmm, that sounds very familiar to me Mr Corbyn and Mr Juncker!
Aristotle, student of Plato, a giant of a philosopher and creator of The Lyceum. Aristotle’s achievements in the history and development of western thought are both stunning and unrivalled. More than just a philosopher, Aristotle was a scientist, astronomer, political theorist and the inventor of what is now called symbolic or formal logic. He wrote extensively on biology, psychology, ethics, physics, metaphysics and politics and set the terms of debate in all these areas right up to modern times. His writings on justice are still required reading for undergraduates reading Law. More than any other philosopher before him, Aristotle made use of observation and data in his studies. For this reason he is often considered as the father of empirical science and scientific method. Unlike his predecessor Plato, he conducted his investigations by considering the opinions of both experts and lay people, before revealing his own thoughts and arguments. Aristotle was a true scientist, measuring, consulting, rigorous, he believed in “different laws and principles” for different fields of study whilst maintaining continuity of thought for concepts such as quality, quantity, substance etc. And is there any thread or common theme? Yes ….. Aristotle believed in teleology … or purpose, and that everything and everyone HAD a purpose or function. It is via this concept of function that Aristotle then ties ethics to physics, claiming that the natural function of man is to reason, and to reason well is to reason in accordance with virtue. And so we entered the philosophy of virtue ethics and I suppose the modern day disease of Virtue Signalling by celebrity protesters!
From a personal viewpoint my own education, career and personal life have been heavily influenced by Aristotle and Socrates. During my PhD in Chemistry in the late 1960s I read about Aristotle and his approach to scientific enquiry. Data, observation, more data, consult, talk to experts and non experts alike, suspend judgement, hold off from early propositions were all concepts and processes I followed. A decade later when training as a psychologist before running my own consultancy business, Socrates sat on my shoulder as I asked questions and more questions often driving CEOs of companies to the verge of insanity as I made them explore their own leadership, their own business strategies, their own views of the quality of their board of directors without giving them any answers of my own. I made many long term friends in business this way as a “trusted advisor”, never forcing my own views on people, always helping them to find the “best way” for themselves. Thank you Socrates, Aristotle, Plato!
Next up, The Atomists …… Democritus and Epicurus.
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