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7 Greek philosophers beyond Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle
You've heard of the big Greek philosophers. Now, read about the ones who inspired them.
The philosophers of ancient Greece were among the greatest thinkers to ever grace humanity. Despite their importance, many people are familiar only with a few names of some of the relative latecomers to the Greek philosophical scene. To correct this, we have collected 7 Greek philosophers you probably haven't heard of... and an introduction to why you ought to know them.
Original Artwork: Engraving by Ambrose Tardieu (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The first philosopher of the western canon, Thales is best remembered for his metaphysics which argued that everything originated from water and that water somehow constituted all other elements. He left no writings, and most of what we know of him is given to us by Aristotle, who may have misinterpreted his viewpoints.
Thales also devoted time to astronomy and was the first person to predict a solar eclipse accurately. He was a noted mathematician and is said to have measured the height of the great pyramid using the length of its shadow. He was credited with discovering magnetism in the west and used it as the basis of his theory of Panpsychism. To top it off, he invented futures contracts to strike it rich in the olive oil business.
While many of his inspirations and sources were mythic, Thales is said to have moved beyond myth and towards naturalistic explanations of the world. This entitles him to the title of the first philosopher. Isaac Asimov was so impressed with his prediction of an eclipse as to declare the event “The birth of science."
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Pythagoras was a Greek mathematician, philosopher, and mystic. He is best known for the similarly named theorem, for which we have no proof that he was the author. He did most of his work in southern Italy and wrote nothing down. Leaving us, again, with the notes and stories of others to go on.
Pythagoras was a sage who founded a small religion of devoted followers. The eating of beans and plucking of garland was banned, among many other things. He preached a doctrine of reincarnation and was well known for his ideas on what happened to us after death. His school praised the contemplative life and the members studied mathematics and esoteric knowledge.
While he probably didn't prove the theorem that bears his name, he is said to have known “the truth of the theorem" and made an enormous sacrifice to the gods in honor of the discovery. His mystical approach to numbers also lead him to discover the relationships between harmonic notes in music and attempt to describe the world regarding math; an activity science carries on to this day.
His influence is difficult to overstate. Plato borrowed several Pythagorean concepts in his metaphysics, and many Pythagoreans were respected thinkers for some time after his death.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A philosopher active around 500 BCE on what is now the Turkish mainland, he was unlike many other philosophers on this list (and many from the Greek era). He wrote a book; fragments of which were quoted by later thinkers. This gives us a direct path to his thoughts.
Like many other pre-Socratics, he developed a cosmology. His cosmos has no beginning or end and is fundamentally made of fire. This fire can transform to become water, earth, and air. It is always in flux but keeps the elements in proportion. This constant change was the way of everything and was needed to keep the world stable. After all, if a river did not flow it would hardly be a river.
Going off of this, he argued that change was good and it was best to recognize that conflict and strife needn't be avoided like most people think.
Plato alleged that Heraclitus denied the possibility of knowledge, as the world would change too fast to allow for lasting accurate information about it. However, Heraclitus did support the idea that attaining wisdom was possible, if difficult. He thought little of his fellow philosophers, saying they knew a great many things of little value.
He also had a rather odd way of going about philosophy. As he felt that wisdom should be earned, he wrote obscurely, so much so that his book was challenging to read, and ancient authors dubbed him The Riddler.
Original Artwork: From Hartmann Schedel - Liber Chronicorum Mundi, Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A philosopher who lived on the southwest coast of Italy, he was one of the most influential pre-Socratic thinkers. In stark contrast to Heraclitus, Parmenides argued that change was an illusion based on our faulty image of reality. He explained that nothing could be created or destroyed and everything was really “one being." That is, all substances are part of the same larger whole.
As he thought that it was impossible to conceive of “nothingness" he also argued that empty space was an impossibility. This lead him to declare motion to be impossible, as any movement would require empty space to move into.
Parmenides' work greatly influenced the philosophers after him, who tried to reconcile his arguments with the world as it seemed to be. Plato would later use him as a significant inspiration in building his cosmology. Plato would also steal his idea that reason alone had access to truth.
Not to be confused with Zeno of Citium, this Zeno was a pioneer of the reductio ad absurdum argument, and Aristotle credited him with co-inventing the dialectic method of philosophy. He is best remembered for his paradoxes. Although only nine of the dozens he wrote survive, they are as famous as they are troublesome.
His best-known paradox suggests that movement is impossible. He asks us to imagine a runner on a track. He notes that before the runner can run the whole length, they must first run the first half, then a quarter, then an eighth, and so on. However, as you can't finish an infinite number of steps in a finite time, he argues that the runner cannot reach the end of the track and movement is impossible. A video introduction to the problem can be viewed here.
Several potential solutions have been put forth to his paradoxes and debate continues to this day. The potential answers to his paradoxes have influenced discussions about time, space, and how we perceive reality.
Diogenes of Sinope
Diogenes Searching for an Honest Man by Johann Tischbein
One of the strangest philosophers ever to live. Diogenes was the epitome of the classical philosopher as a man who practiced what they taught. Diogenes founded the Cynical school of philosophy, a school dedicated to simple living and virtue.
Advocating a simple, disciplined, self-sufficient life, Diogenes lived in a large jar and owned nothing but a cloak and staff. He begged for food and avoided luxuries like the plague. He is said to have written a few (lost) essays but is better known for using actions to educate. He would walk down the street backward in an attempt to make people question why they walked forwards and begged from statues to show that he was not concerned with rejection. When he was presented with Zeno's paradox demonstrating that movement was impossible, he is said to have stood up and walked away.
A famous story relates that Alexander the Great visited him in his pot before setting out to conquer the world. When Alexander asked what the cynic might want from the King of Greece, Diogenes asked him to get out of his sunlight. His teachings would ultimately inspire the Stoic school of philosophy long after the Cynics had vanished.
Zeno of Citium
The founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, Zeno was heavily influenced by the Cynics. Initially a wealthy merchant, he became interested in philosophy during a trip to Athens and grew to be a highly regarded teacher. He wrote many books and essays, though none survive beyond the stray quotation elsewhere.
Stoicism is a philosophy dedicated to helping its students live the good life. The ancient Stoics believed the universe had a rational, perhaps divine, structure to it and held that while the laws of physics dictated what happened externally, we were still free to choose how we would react to it. They argued that a rational man should strive to live virtuously, and devoted a great deal of time to the question of ethics.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.