Ancient philosophy definition/features/Historical context/Periods

Ancient philosophy is the period between the rise of philosophy in the seventh century BC and the fall of the Roman Empire. Ancient philosophy definition

Ancient philosophy marks the first form of existing philosophical thought . Its beginning took place in Greece, about 600 years before Christ, as a way of questioning the church’s dogmas, myths and superstitions.

The thoughts developed at the time were the basis for the construction of critical reasoning and the Western way of thinking. Before, there was no preference for rational and logical explanations for the phenomena of nature. With the first philosophical reasonings (based on empirical analyzes of reality), the first forms of science appeared.

Main features of ancient philosophy

The most important features of ancient philosophy:

  • It was the first stage of Western philosophy;
  • It appeared in Ancient Greece in the 17th century and lasted until the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century;
  • It served as the basis for the Western way of thinking and resulted in the emergence of the first forms of science;
  • It is divided into three periods: pre-Socratic, Socratic and Hellenistic;
  • Its main schools are: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, Cynicism;
  • Among its main representatives are Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Thales of Miletus and Socrates.

Historical context

The ancient philosophy began in the 7th century BC in the Ionian region of Greece. The cities that made up the region were moved by the mercantile hubs of the Mediterranean Sea, therefore, they had a large concentration of intellectuals. Ancient philosophy definition

It was precisely in the city of Miletus that the first three philosophers emerged: Thales , Anaximander and Anaximenes . His ideas rejected traditional explanations based on religion and sought to present a cosmological theory based on observable phenomena.

In historical terms, ancient philosophy extends to the fifth century after Christ, when the fall of the Roman Empire and the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages takes place.

Periods of ancient philosophy

Ancient philosophy is divided into three distinct periods, each dominated by different themes and issues:

Pre-Socratic Period (from the 7th to the 5th century BC)

It occurred during the so-called Archaic Period of Greece. Philosophical studies at the time sought to explain nature and reality itself. During this period there was a great advance in astronomy and the birth of physics, with emphasis on the philosopher Thales of Miletus.

Socratic Period (from the 5th to the 4th century BC)

Also called the classical period, it dealt with issues related to the human being, being concerned with issues related to the soul, vices and virtues. It was during this period that democracy was established in Greece. The highlights of the time were Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. Ancient philosophy definition

Hellenistic Period (4th century BC to 6th century after Christ)

It is a less defined period of ancient philosophy, with less categorical ideas and solutions than earlier periods. In addition to issues related to nature and man, the Hellenistic philosophers studied the ways in which human beings can be happy, regardless of circumstances beyond their power, such as government, society, etc. Some highlights of the Hellenistic period are Epicurus, Aristotle and Zeno of Citium.

schools of ancient philosophy

The schools of ancient philosophy only begin with Plato in the 5th century BC, thus not encompassing the pre-Socratic period. This is because, before, philosophy was not taught by text and very few notes by pre-Socratic philosophers such as Pythagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus and Thales were recovered.

The schools of ancient philosophy were formed from strands of reasoning that gained more strength and adherents than others. Among the main ones are:


Plato (427–347 BC) was the first ancient philosopher whose work can be accessed in large numbers. Among his contributions, his political studies and the concept of universals stand out (everything that is present in different places and times, such as feelings, colors, etc.).
Plato established a school in Athens called the Academy, which remained in operation until the year 83 AD, which contributed to the spread of his ideas even after his death. Ancient philosophy definition


Aristotle (384–322 BC) is one of the most influential philosophers in history. His teachings were essential for the advancement of several areas such as logic, ethics, rhetoric, biology, etc.
Aristotle’s work exerted an extreme influence not only on the Western tradition but also on the Indian and Arabic ones.


Stoicism was a philosophical school started in Athens by Zeno of Scythius, around 300 BC For the Stoics, the objective of philosophy was to bring the human being to a state of absolute tranquility, independent of factors external to the individual.

Stoicism focused on the study of metaphysics and the concept of logos (universal order), defending that everything that happens happens for a reason.


Epicurus (341 to 270 BC) argued that the only decent way to live is through moderate pleasures that are not confused with vices. His ideas turned to the cultivation of friendships and artistic activities such as music and literature.

Epicurus also defended that everything happens by chance and that the reality in which we live is only one among several possible ones. Ancient philosophy definition


Skepticism was a philosophical school started by Pyrrhus of Élis (360 to 270 BC) that advocated a constant questioning of all aspects of life. Pyrrhus believed that the absence of judgment was enough to lead human beings to happiness.


The philosophical school of Cynicism was started by Antisthenes (445 to 365 BC). The current believed that the meaning of life was to live according to one’s nature. Thus, virtue would consist in rejecting the desires for wealth, power and fame and seeking a simple life.

leading ancient philosophers

Among the main philosophers of antiquity are:

Thales of Mileto (623-546 BC) : considered the father of philosophy, he lived in the pre-Socratic period. He presented the first empirical questions and believed that water was the primordial substance from which everything came to life.

Anaximander (610-547 BC) : like Thales, he believed in the existence of a substance that founded life and all things. For him, this substance was called apeiron (infinite, eternal and immortal), and it gave mass to everything in the universe. Ancient philosophy definition

Anaximenes (588-524 BC) : disciple of Anaximander, believed that the primordial initiating substance of all things was air.

Pythagoras of Samos (570-490 BC) : presented a mathematical point of view to explain the origin of things. His thinking was fundamental to the advancement of exact sciences.

Heraclitus (535-475 BC) : believed that fire was the fundamental substance of nature. His metaphysical reflections held that the processes of change and the constant flux of life were the result of opposing forces exerted by the universe.

Parmenides (510-470 BC) : contributed to the advance of ontology (studies of being).

Zeno of Elea (488-430 BC) : his thoughts were turned to the elaboration of paradoxes that made theories in which he did not believe unfeasible. Among the main themes tackled were divisibility, multiplicity and movement, which, according to the philosopher, are just illusions.

Empedocles (490-430 BC) : he argued that the world was structured on four natural elements (air, water, fire and earth), which would be manipulated by forces called love and hate.

Democritus (460-370 BC) : creator of atomism, according to which reality was formed by invisible and indivisible particles called atoms. Ancient philosophy definition

Socrates (469-399 BC) : contributed enormously to the studies of being and its essence. His philosophy made constant use of maieutics, a method of critical reflection aimed at deconstructing prejudices and generating self-knowledge.

Plato (427-347 BC) : contributed to basically all areas of knowledge and defended the concept of universals.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) : his philosophy served as the basis for logical and scientific thought. Like Plato, he wrote numerous works on metaphysics, politics, ethics, the arts, etc.

Epicurus (324-271 BC) : he defended that the purpose of life was moderate pleasure, that is, healthy and free from addictions.

Zeno of Citius (336-263 BC) : founder of Stoicism, he understood that happiness was independent of factors external to the individual.

Diogenes(413-327 BC) : a fan of cynicism, he defended that happiness lay in self-knowledge and away from material goods. Ancient philosophy definition

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