Most people have heard of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle–but what did they do and why should we care? Keep reading and you’ll totally be convinced:
Socrates was the first of the three great Greek philosophers. He was a great philosopher, but didn’t write down any of his philosophies. The only reason we know of anything he said is because his student and fellow philosopher, Plato, wrote down what his master taught. Xenophon (another contemporary philosopher of Socrates) and the ancient playwright Aristophanes also wrote some of what we have on Socrates, but it mostly comes from Plato.
This leads us to the Socratic Problem, which is what we call the problem that arises from everything we know about Socrates being secondhand accounts of his work. Because Socrates didn’t write anything himself, there is nothing to compare Plato’s work to in order to tell its accuracy. We’ll never know for sure what exactly Socrates said, but for the most part, we consider what we have to be accurate representations.
The Apology is one of the most famous works discussing Socrates’ philosophies. It is written by Plato. It covers the trial and (spoiler) conviction of Socrates by his fellow Athenians after he is convicted for corrupting the youth and being a heretic. The premise of the account goes back to when Socrates goes to the Oracle at Delphi to pray. He asks the Oracle “who is wiser than I?” The Oracle responds that Socrates is the wisest, which confuses Socrates because all he knows is that he knows nothing.
This is called the Socratic Paradox. A paradox is something that doesn’t seem to make sense because it is contradictory. For example, in the Socratic Paradox, if Socrates truly knows nothing, then he cannot know that he knows nothing. Socrates decides to challenge the Oracle’s answer by going around and talking to people he meets. He finds that the Oracle was correct, because no matter what type of person he speaks to, he realizes that they all think they know more than they do. Basically, since they aren’t aware of their lack of knowledge, it makes them unwise, and Socrates is convinced of the Oracle’s prophesy.
Another well known philosophy introduced by Socrates is the Socratic Method, which is a type of teaching device that asks a lot of questions–then answers questions with more questions. It’s meant to create critical thinking and to eliminate ideas that form contradictions. Socrates also taught to focus on self-development rather than becoming wealthy, even seeing himself as ordained by the Oracle to correct these mistakes in Athens. During his trial, he is convicted twice, over the course of two votes and sentenced to death. He dies by drinking hemlock poison.
As we mentioned, Plato was a student of Socrates and wrote down most of the records we now have of his master. With that said, it’s very difficult to discern which philosophies are merely the repetitions of his teacher, or if they are Plato’s own ideas and opinions. Whichever the case, Plato made significant impacts on many areas of philosophy. He founded the Athens Academy, which was the first institution of higher learning in the western world. He explored math, nature, politics, science, and morals.
The Republic is one of his better-known works, wherein he discusses the ideal government led by philosophers and criticizes democracy (the government that convicted his mentor). The Theory of Forms is an idea Plato pioneered, saying “the world of ideas is the only constant and that the perceived world through our senses is deceptive and changeable.” 
Aristotle was a student at the Academy at Athens, where he studied under Plato. During the Medieval time, Aristotle was widely popular–even into the Renaissance. He is credited with writing over 200 works, of which only 31 have survived to modern times. He is the earliest known person to formally study logic, and his observations of how people perceive the world have had major parts in influencing modern psychology.
Aristotle chronicled many species of animals and discussed their anatomy and other characteristics. While some of his claims were wrong by means fairly easy to disprove (such as men having more teeth than women), his claims about the arms of animals like octopi were two thousand years ahead of their time.
He also defined what we call syllogism, which is the conclusion that logically follows a statement of two or more premises.
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