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Recorded pilosophy began with pre-Socratic doubts about a pantheon of anthropomorphic
gods and attempts to solve the key ingredient of the cosmos. Thales’ prediction
of a solar eclipse in 585 BC was the earliest ‘natural philosophy’ and the patterns
of nature were explored in maths and geometry cf. Pythagoras who started a philosophical
school – maths was only part of his exploration into the universe; Roman poet Ovid
would later eulogise him in Book 15 of his epic Metamorphoses.
Socrates questioned everyone around him, to distil ‘the truth’ by mental logic.
He was followed by his pupil, Plato who sought to discern the true forms of reality.
And then Aristotle continued their questioning search for what is Truth and how can
we discern knowledge and how we should strive to a fulfilment of a life of virtue
for the common good, to the best excellence that we can attain;
Major schools of thought were the Epicureans (nothing but matter made of atoms and
voids exists, death is everything), Cynics (we’re animals, let’s not struggle against
that basic nature; human society is artificial) and Stoics (reason can alleviate
the emotions and desires).
The Romans were especially attracted to Epicureanism (Lucretius writing his epic
poem de rerum natura) and Stoicism.
Cicero and Seneca both wrote reams of philosophy, Cicero recording much of Greek
philosophy for us. Both sought and found consolation from philosophy in difficult
and dangerous times).
Neoplatonism would resurrect Plato’s philosophies with many other more moralizing
aspects filtered into it and these philosophies ran alongside Christianity.
That’s perhaps the briefest summary of a millennium of philosophy that you
will ever see!
For more info, why not try these and other Radio 4 Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time episodes