What is Ancient Philosophy features Historical context and Periods

Ancient Philosophy

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

Ancient philosophy marks the earliest extant form of philosophical thought . It began in Greece, around 600 years before Christ, as a way of questioning church dogmas, myths and superstitions.

The thoughts developed at the time served as a 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 reasoning (based on empirical analyzes of reality), the first forms of science emerged.

Main features of ancient philosophy

The most important features of ancient philosophy:

  • It was the first stage of Western philosophy;
  • It emerged 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 Western 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 of Ancient Philosophy 

Ancient philosophy began in the 7th century BC in the Ionia region of Greece. The cities that made up the region were busy mercantile centers of the Mediterranean Sea, therefore, they had a large concentration of intellectuals.

It was precisely in the city of Miletus that the first three philosophers emerged: Thales , Anaximander and Anaximenes . His ideas rejected traditional religion-based explanations 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 occur.

Periods of ancient philosophy

Ancient philosophy falls into three distinct periods, each dominated by different themes and questions:

Pre-Socratic Period (7th to 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 (5th to 4th century BC)

Also called the classical period, it was concerned with issues related to the human 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.

Hellenistic period (4th century BC to 6th century AD)

It is a less defined period of ancient philosophy, with less categorical ideas and solutions than previous periods. In addition to themes related to nature and man, 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 begin only with Plato in the fifth century before Christ, not encompassing, therefore, the pre-Socratic period. This occurs because, before, philosophy was not taught by text and very few notes of 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 supporters than others. Among the main ones are:


Plato (427 to 347 BC) was the first ancient philosopher whose work can be accessed in large quantities. Among his contributions are his political studies and the concept of universals (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 after Christ, which contributed to the dissemination of his ideas even after his death.


Aristotle (384 to 322 BC) is one of the most influential philosophers in history. His teachings were essential for the advancement of several areas such as scientific method  and the way in which we can make conjectures. However, it is sometimes difficult to understand the logic, ethics, rhetoric, biology, etc.
Aristotle’s work was extremely influential not only in the Western but also in the Indian and Arabic traditions.


Stoicism was a philosophical school started in Athens by Zeno of Citium, around the year 300 BC For the Stoics, the goal of philosophy was to lead human beings to a state of absolute tranquility, regardless of factors external to the individual.

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


Epicurus (341 to 270 BC) defended that the only dignified way to live is through moderate pleasures that should not be confused with vices. His ideas turned to the cultivation of friendships and artistic pursuits such as music and literature.

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


Skepticism was a philosophical school started by Pyrrhus of Elis (360 to 270 BC) that advocated a constant questioning of all aspects of life. Pirro believed that the absence of judgments was enough to lead human beings to society . For this reason, the individual’s 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 own nature. Thus, virtue would consist in rejecting the desires of wealth, power and fame and seeking a simple life.

Major Ancient Philosophers

Among the leading philosophers of antiquity are:

Thales of Miletus (623-546 BC) : considered the father of philosophy, 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 underpinned life and all things. For him, this substance was called apeiron (infinite, eternal and immortal), and it gave mass to everything in the universe.

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 thought was fundamental to the advancement of the 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 advancement of ontology (studies of being).

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

Empedocles (490-430 BC) : 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.

Socrates (469-399 BC) : contributed enormously to the study 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 a foundation for logical and scientific thinking. Like Plato, he wrote numerous works on metaphysics, politics, ethics, arts, etc.

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

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

Diogenes (413-327 BC) : a follower of cynicism, he defended that happiness was in self-knowledge and away from material goods.

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