The Impact of Ancient Greek Philosophy on Modern Day Thought


Ancient Greek philosophy has arguably played the greatest role in shaping modern thought, particularly the Western culture. It emerged in the 6th century BC and was largely explored in Ancient Greece and the rest of the Roman Empire. It tackled several areas including ethics, politics, rhetoric, mathematics, metaphysics, logic, astronomy, and biology. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are the most influential classical philosophers who have had the greatest impact on modern thought.

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Their contributions to the advancement of art, politics, and science were immense. They pioneered the art of exploring nature rationally and developing theories that explained the existence of the universe. Greek philosophers combined ideas from science, philosophy, art, and politics to form a holistic worldview that moved them away from the then-popular mythological perspective. The application of logic, reason, and inquiry is the main reason why ancient Greek philosophy (pre-Socratic, Classical Greek, and Hellenistic philosophy) has shaped modern thought, both in the East and West.

Contribution to Modern Thought

There is undeniable evidence that parallels exist between ancient Greek philosophy and Modern thought in several fields. However, the Greeks adopted a holistic view of the world, which was developed through the combination of various disciplines that include science, religion, philosophy, and art (Adamson 34). This worldview is different today, even though ancient philosophers continue to influence modern thought in immense ways.

For example, deductive science originated from Thales’ propositions about right angles (Adamson 54). The philosopher argued that the inscription of a triangle in a semicircle formed a right angle. This concept might seem simple and overrated. However, it is used in contemporary society by mathematicians in the field of geometry (Rooney 36). Moreover, deductive reasoning is widely applied as a tool for generating propositions. The idea that all forms of a substance can be broken down into their constituent elements was deeply explored during the Thales’ era than during any other period.

Impact on Education

The influence of Aristotle’s work can be seen in various areas of modern thought. The thinker formulated the concept of true knowledge acquisition. In that regard, he taught that it is only when a thoughtful soul disregards world events that it acquires true understanding (Adamson 65). He argued that the information received through the senses is usually polluted and confusing to people. He believed that any form of education has the ultimate goal of attaining a specific human ideal. Aristotle argued that education is the best way for human beings to achieve their fundamental concerns and develop themselves wholly (Heinaman 52).

These ideas are applied in today’s education system where learning is aimed at developing character, helping students discover who they are, and unravel the possibilities of human potential. The philosopher also taught that only education can enable people to become truly human despite the possession of natural abilities (Adamson 72). Aristotle’s theory of education is widely used in many countries of the world as the foundation for educational policies and practice.

Pythagoras popularized the Pythagorean Theorem, which is still widely used today in the field of mathematics. Many historians argue that it is the originator of the discipline of mathematics in the West (Rooney 43). It is taught as a foundational concept in mathematics in schools around the world. In addition, the theory has been utilized by many researchers in the formulation of other hypotheses that aid in understanding and solving various challenges in the modern world. Aristotle founded a school in 385 B.C.E, which heralded the creation of institutions of higher learning.

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Several fundamental concepts that were developed by Greek philosophers are taught in today’s educational institutions. Examples include materialism, rationalism, metaphysics, idealism, empiricism, and ethics (Rooney 46). These ideologies continue to influence modern thought in the social and political fields. The metaphysical question regarding the origin of the universe and the existence of God had its roots in ancient Greek philosophy (Heinaman 78).

However, modern philosophers and thinkers continue to grapple with it in search of an answer. Epistemological queries of good and evil, right and wrong, as well as true and false were formulated by Greek philosophers in an attempt to understand the world (Adamson 58). These concepts have a great influence on modern thought, particularly in the fields of religion, politics, and sociology. They are incorporated in the curricula of many secondary and tertiary institutions to help students comprehend and resolve complex issues.

The concept of atoms was formulated by Democritus of Abdera and Leucippus of Miletus who postulated that the soul was made up of spherical atoms that could move (Rooney 57). They proposed that all matter comprises tiny particles that are inseparable. This idea formed the basis for most of today’s research and advancements in atomic science. The two philosophers are regarded as the fathers of the modern atomic theory.

Other philosophers believed that atoms were tiny particles that could not be seen or destroyed, and they were entirely solid (Rooney 58). They existed in a wide array of shapes and sizes and lacked an internal structure. These ideas were corrected and developed further by scientists and researchers in the modern world. However, Greek philosophers were a source of such life-changing ideas and theories that continue to influence several fields in present-day society.

Socrates is credited for making philosophy a key discipline that people used to define ethics and question morality in society. His philosophy was primarily founded on the art of asking questions. Human thoughts and opinions were crucial to his teachings. His method of inquiry involved asking a series of questions that led to the unearthing of people’s beliefs and values (Rooney 59). Socrates’ most vivid influence on modern thought can be seen in the field of teaching.

The Socratic Method is widely used by instructors to help students arrive at conclusions by themselves without telling directly the message that is being conveyed (Adamson 87). This teaching method allows individuals to explore and think on their own. This method fosters greater understanding and encourages logical thought that is needed especially in research.

Impact on Religion

Historians maintain that Greek philosophy was not a direct source of spiritual beliefs in the development of Christianity. However, its influence is evident from the systems that are used in Christian teaching and discussion, as well as the understanding of biblical truth. For instance, early Christians such as Paul and John used certain philosophical methods to teach their faith. Christian theology is better understood by the application of philosophical methods that have their origin in ancient Greece.

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The influence of Greek philosophy on modern thought is widely observed in religion. The contemporary understanding, interpretation, and meaning of the human soul would have been impossible without the insights developed by Greek philosophers (Gibson 43). Thales of Miletus was the foremost thinker to propose the concept of the human soul, which was later further developed by Plato. Plato believed that the human soul had three parts: the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive (Gibson 48). He argued that the appetitive part was the reason why people had desires that they wished to fulfill (Heinaman 86).

These arguments had several weaknesses. However, the attempts made by ancient philosophers to understand the universe and explain its phenomena facilitated the proposition of better concepts. Aristotle argued that the soul was the most important part of a human being because of its superiority to the body (Gibson 51). This argument shaped the ideologies of numerous contemporary Christian theologians who believe that the soul is an individual’s most important part.

The development of Christianity was dominated by the incorporation of ideologies from Stoicism and Platonism into its ethics and theology. The fusion of Platonic and Aristotelian teachings with Christianity led to the birth of beliefs such as omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence of God that are the foundations of modern religion (Gibson 60). The religious view of God as an Infinite being has its roots in the Platonic Theory of Forms.

This theory postulated that every physical thing in the world was a shadow of a perfect form, which later became theorized as God (Gibson 63). The modern concept of God was borrowed from Hellenic Christians who had adopted it from ancient Greek philosophy that attributed infinite qualities such as power, knowledge, goodness, and love to God (Rooney 98). His infinite nature meant that He was changeless and immutable. Modern religion is founded on the belief that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and that He is a perfect and infinite being (Gibson 65). Tenets of Greek philosophy led to the development of the various creeds and theologies that churches teach in the modern Christian world.

Influence on Politics

The history of political philosophy dates back to the Plato era. The Greeks’ political structure involved city-states that implemented various forms of political organization that Plato classified as monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny, and timocracy (Rooney 101). The development of democratic states in modern-day society can be attributed to the insights of ancient thinkers. Political ideologies that are used today can be found in the works of Plato (Republic) and Aristotle (politics and Nicomachean ethics). The concepts of politics, justice, and equality were deeply explored by ancient Greek philosophers.

Concepts from Plato’s three dialogues namely, the Republic, the Laws, and the Statesman are used to clarify political concepts in modern-day politics. Issues such as justice, order, proper governance, and equality dominate discussions in both social and political contexts in the same way they did in ancient Greece (Rooney 112). Plato argued that a successful society is distinguished by three main aspects: courage, justice, moderation, and wisdom. Plato suggested that the soul must refrain from engaging in degrading vices such as lust and greed for an individual’s leadership to be effective (Rooney 75).

Corruption is rampant because of people’s involvement in corruption, which is founded on greed for power and wealth. Leaders are admonished to embrace shun corruption because it degrades societies and compromises effective leadership and development. It is important to propagate fairness to serve justice for all. Freedom, justice, and equity are three main ideas that inform political thought in today’s society (Rooney 85).

Civilizations throughout the world aim to create governments and communities that foster these values. Modern liberal democracies are founded on key principles that include freedom, rule of law, and equality. Today’s Western democracy bears a resemblance to the governance system proposed by Plato, whose success depends on the promotion of virtue. The thinker believed that the acquisition of a certain body of knowledge would enable societies to deal with rampant issues such as corruption, immorality, and factionalism. Plato’s concepts that are used in political affairs today include fairness, the mixed constitution, practical wisdom as necessary for good leadership, the rule of law, and the promotion of fairness and justice.

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A thorough study of modern thought shows that ancient Greek philosophy played a key role in its development, both about people’s lifestyles and the advancement of specific disciplines. Ancient philosophers combined knowledge in arts, science, ethics, and logic to offer explanations about the origin of the universe and its various phenomena. Several modern civilizations owe their progress to ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, Thales, and Aristotle. Ancient philosophical concepts are used in education, politics, sociology, and religion. A departure from mythological beliefs to reason and inquiry characterized the development of philosophy in ancient Greece.

Thinkers such as Plato, Socrates, and Plato played a monumental role in shaping modern thought. The modern political theory and the creation of institutions of higher learning are attributed to the works of Aristotle. Plato advocated for the creation of a good political society that was ruled by wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. These ideals are the fundamental principles that guide the prosperity of governments, nations, communities, and societies.

Works Cited

Adamson, Peter. Classical philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. Oxford University press, 2014.

Gibson, John Winslow. The Undisclosed in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Religion: Looking Again at Plato’s Dialogues and the Eleusian Mysteries. Dog Ear Publishing, 2017.

Heinaman, Robert, editor. Plato and Aristotle’s Ethics. Routledge, 2016.

Rooney, Ann. The Story of Philosophy: From Ancient Greeks to Great Thinkers of Modern Times. Arcturus Publishing, 2014.

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