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The Ancient Greek Philosophers: The Heritage in Modernity

European and a number of other contemporary societies may be called a direct or indirect product of ancient Greek culture. In ancient Greek philosophy profound ideas about the relationship between knowledge and opinion, truth and logical error, and dialectics as a method of cognition were formulated. These ideas served as a foundation for further development of the occidental worldview. The presence of ancient Greek philosophy in the modern culture is not overtly evident, but upon a closer look, its impact cannot be overstated.

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Thales is considered to be the first ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the first school of thought. One of the essential ideas that belong to this philosopher is that all the diversity of life and nature can be reduced to one substance. Thales believed that everything comes from water and returns to it (O’Grady, 2016). Unlike Thales, the subject of Socrates’ philosophical discussions is the human consciousness, and not the cosmos and nature, as was the case with his predecessor. Socrates insisted on investigating the world by reasoning, trying to find the truth by answering the questions posed by himself and the thinkers that came before him (Cohen et al., 2016). In this way, Socrates is the first ancient Greek philosopher who deviated from the tendency to interpret the nature of the world primarily.

The contemporary state of science, partially, is the result of the ideas presented by Democritus, who is well-known because of his theory of atoms. The philosopher defended the thesis that everything consists of simple, invisible, and indivisible particles, which served as a mechanistic explanation of the world (Cohen et al., 2016). Democritus insisted that atoms are in perpetual motion, which continually connects and disconnects them – this process of joining and dividing produces the appearance and disappearance, and creates all the infinite variety of existence (Cohen et al., 2016). Hence, seemingly basic scientific knowledge is the consequence of long elaboration that started in ancient Greece.

Dialectics (a method that was learned today) was elaborated by Plato and became a part of ancient Greek legacy that shaped contemporary scientific thought. It can act both as a form and a method of reflective theoretical thinking, exploring the contradictions found in its content (Denyer, 2016). Moreover, Plato was one of the first philosophers to elaborate on the concept of a “state,” its forms (democracy, oligarchy, and autocracy) and the notions developed by the philosopher in this regard shaped the political life as it is known nowadays. The democratic state, according to Plato, arises from the natural human need to unite to facilitate the conditions of existence (Cohen et al., 2016). The philosopher advocates moderation, general prosperity, and condemns both excessive wealth and extreme poverty that are embodied in an oligarchy and autocracy.

The ideas of ancient Greek philosophers also had an impact on contemporary production and the theory of art. One of the significant written legacy of Plato, The Republic, contains reflections that act as the basis for current theory of art (Cohen et al., 2016). Plato diverges from the tendency to consider art as the result of the divine will and adheres to the concept of “mimesis,” declaring that it is primarily an imitation of life. This concept is applied to the study and fabrication of literature, films, paintings, et cetera till this day. Hence, Plato’s heritage covers a number of spheres – from political sciences to art.

Dissimilar to Plato, Aristotle explains the origin of public life and the formation of the state by the presence of divine power. According to Aristotle, the state emerges in a natural way to meet societal needs, and the purpose of its existence is to achieve the wellbeing of the vast majority (Cohen et al., 2016). The state acts as the highest form of relationships between people, due to which all other types of human existence reach perfection and completion.

The moral values propelled by the most prominent ancient philosophers (Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato), such as bravery, temperance, and justice, may be called universal human values that are still represented in general media discourse. Even so, the period has its peculiarities in this regard. For instance, Socrates started rationalization of ethical ideas: the philosopher intellectualized the sphere of moral values, and his famous ethical paradoxes demonstrate this principle (Denyer, 2016). Plato went even further in this direction and argued that wellbeing could only be absolute, and therefore there is no difference between the individual good and the good in general. Thus, moral values established by ancient philosophers form the basis of modern ethics.

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On the other hand, the relativity of everything, including moral values, is a principle that was established by sophists and is used not only in applied sciences but also in day-to-day life due to its popularity. In this respect, the ethics of Aristotle were more flexible as the thinker presented a hierarchy of moral values (Denyer, 2016). On top of it was the happiness achieved through the pursuit of intellectual perfection, a life devoted to knowledge, and contemplation of life itself (Cohen et al., 2016). Despite the differences characteristic to a certain period, a clear structure of moral values within ancient Greek society may be built, and it consists of values still relevant in modern occidental societies.

The importance of ancient philosophy for the subsequent cultural development of occidental civilizations is of immense significance. The ancient Greeks created the first example of a developed rational philosophy, which has not lost its appeal and authority to this day. Besides, ancient philosophy has elaborated almost all basic principles that can be found in the philosophy of modernity. It can be argued that philosophy till this day only repeats, deepens, or recombines the patterns of thought developed by ancient Greek philosophers.


  1. Cohen, S. M., Curd, P., & Reeve, C. D. C. (Eds.). (2016). Readings in ancient Greek philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Hackett Publishing.
  2. Denyer, N. (2016). Language, thought and falsehood in ancient Greek philosophy. Routledge.
  3. O’Grady, P. F. (2016). Thales of Miletus: The beginnings of Western science and philosophy. Taylor & Francis.

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