During the 6th-4th centuries BC, a rapid flowering of culture and philosophy took place in Greece. During this period, new non-mythological thinking was created, a new picture of the world, the central element of which was the doctrine of the cosmos. Cosmos covers the Earth, man, the heavenly bodies and the firmament itself. It is closed, has a spherical shape and there is a constant circulation in it – everything arises, flows and changes.
From what arises, to what returns, no one knows. Some Greek philosophers (natural philosophers) believe that the basis of things is the sensory perceptible elements oxygen, fire, water, earth, and a certain substance — the apeiron; others (the Pythagoreans) saw it in mathematical atoms; the third (the Eleatics) saw the basis of the world in a single, invisible being; the fourth considered such a basis (Democritus) indivisible atoms; the fifth (Plato’s school) – the globe is only a shadow, the result of the embodiment of the realm of pure thought.
Of course, all these philosophical trends were in many ways naive and contradictory to each other. Not yet completely breaking with mythology, they assigned to the gods, supernatural forces, a secondary, or even third-rate place, trying to get to know the world from itself.
At first, the ancient Greek philosophers did not realize that the basic question of philosophy may have different meanings, but already in the 5th century. BC (for example, Plato, Democritus) clearly defined two opposing lines, the struggle between which runs through the entire subsequent history of philosophy.
The specificity of Greek philosophy, especially in the initial period of its development, is the desire to understand the essence of nature, the cosmos, the world as a whole. It is not by chance that the first Greek philosophers – Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, representatives of the so-called Milesian school (6th century BC), somewhat later – Pythagoreans, Heraclitus, Empedocles were called “physicists”, from the Greek word physis – nature.
The focus of their interests was determined primarily by the nature of mythology, traditional pagan beliefs and cults. And Greek mythology was a religion of nature, and one of the most important issues in it was the question of the origin of the world. But there was a significant difference between philosophy and mythology. Myth told about who gave birth to all things, and philosophy asked what it came from. In Hesiod’s Theogony, we read that Chaos first arose, then Earth, Tartarus (underground kingdom) and Eros – love attraction, Chaos spawned Night and Darkness, Day and Ether arose from their love union. Early thinkers are looking for some origin from which everything has come. At Thales it is water, at Anaximenes – air, at Heraclitus (c. 544-483 BC) – fire. The very same principle was not just a substance, as it is understood by modern physics or chemistry, but something from which wildlife emerges and all animate beings that inhabit it. Therefore, water or fire here is a kind of metaphor, they have both direct and figurative, symbolic meaning.
Already the first “physicists” philosophy is conceived as the science of the causes and beginnings of all things. In this approach, objectivism and ontologism of ancient philosophy (the term “ontology” translated from Greek means “teaching about being”) was reflected. Its central motive is to find out what really is, that is, it remains unchanged in all its changing forms, and that only seems to exist. Already, early philosophical thinking, whenever possible, seeks rational (or so-called) explanations of the origin and essence of the world, refusing (although not at first completely) the personifications characteristic of mythology, and thus the image of “generation”. In place of the mythological generation of the philosophers becomes the cause.
For the early natural philosophers characteristic of a special kind of elemental dialectic of thinking. They view the cosmos as a continuously changing whole, in which the unchanging and self-identical origin appears in various forms, experiencing all sorts of transformations. The dialectic of Heraclitus is especially vividly represented, according to which everything must be thought of as a moving unity and struggle of opposites; It was not by chance that Heraclitus considered the fire to be the source: the fire element is the most dynamic and mobile among the elements of the cosmos. However, the dialectic of natural philosophers, like all their thinking, is not yet free from figurative and metaphorical form, in it the logical processing of concepts has not yet occupied any noticeable place.
Liberation from the metaphor of thinking, characteristic of early natural philosophers, suggested a transition from knowledge, burdened with sensual images, to knowledge of the intellectual, operating with concepts. One of the important stages of such a transition for the Greeks was the teachings of the Pythagoreans (who received this name from the head of the school – Pythagoras, who lived in the second half of the 6th century BC), who considered the beginning of the whole real number, as well as the teachings of the Eleaticists – Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno ( the end of VI – the beginning of the VII century BC), isolating the concepts of being as such.
According to Parmenides, being is something that can be known only through reason, and not through the senses; what is more, comprehensibility by reason is the most important definition of being. The main discovery that formed the basis of his understanding of being is that only the mutable, temporary, fluid, impermanent is given to human sensory perception; and that which is unchangeable, eternal, identical with itself, is accessible only to thinking. This discovery of Parmenides expressed in the form of an aphorism: “One and the same is thought and that about which thought exists,” or, in other words, thinking and being are one and the same.
Parmenides also has another aphorism: there is being, but there is no non-being. The words of Parmenides mean: there is only an invisible, intangible world, called “being”: and only being is conceivable. It turns out, according to Parmenides, nothing of what we see, hear, feel, really does not exist: there is only the invisible, intangible world, because only it can be thought without contradiction.
Here, in the classical form, the rationalistic character of ancient Greek philosophy, its confidence in the mind, was expressed: what cannot be thought without contradiction cannot exist.
For the first time, it was the Eleatic school that so clearly contrasted true being as something intelligible to the sensual world, opposed knowledge to opinion, that is, to ordinary, everyday notions. This opposition of the sensual world to the truly existing (the world of “knowledge”) proceeded as a leitmotif through the whole of Western philosophy.
According to the Eleatics, being is that which always is: it is also one and indivisible, as the thought of it, as opposed to the multiplicity and divisibility of all things of the sensual world. Only that which is one in itself can remain unchanged and immobile, that is, identical. According to the Eleatics, thinking is the ability to comprehend unity, while sensory perception opens up a multiplicity, diversity in things and phenomena. But this multitude, open to sensory perception, is a multitude of scattered signs.
Awareness of the nature of thinking had far-reaching consequences for the thoughts of ancient Greek philosophers. It is not by chance that Parmenides, his pupil Zeno, and later, Plato and his school, the concept of the single is in the center of attention, and the discussion of the relationship between the single and the many, the single and being stimulates the development of ancient dialectics.
The ancient Greek thinker Thales of Miletus expressed the idea that everything comes from water and turns into water. This natural beginning is the single basis of all things, the bearer of all changes and transformations. Although the idea of Thales about the “primary essence” seems to us now naive, but from a historical point of view it is almost revolutionary, because in the position of “everything out of the water” was given “resignation to the Olympic gods”, that is, ultimately – the mythological thinking, and paved the way to a natural explanation of nature. Thaksa’s successor, Anaximander, saw the principle not in any particular substance, but in the first substance – an apeyron (which means “infinite”).
Another ancient Greek philosopher, Anaximenes, believed that the origin of everything was air. The great dialectician of the ancient world is Heraclitus of Ephesus. Everything that exists, he taught, is constantly moving from one state to another: “everything flows, everything changes”; “one cannot enter the same river twice …”; There is nothing fixed in the world: the cold is warming, the warm is getting cold, the wet is drying, the dry is moistened. The emergence and disappearance, life and death, birth and death – being and non-being – are interconnected, they condition and transform into each other. Heraclitus, on the other hand, understood that the current river, “changing, is resting.” According to his views, the transition of a phenomenon from one state to another is accomplished through the struggle of opposites, which he called the eternal “universal logos,” that is, the law common to all existence.
Heraclitus taught that the world, one of all, was not created by anybody from gods or by any person, but was, is and will be forever alive fire, naturally igniting and naturally dying out. The dialectic of Heraclitus, which takes into account both sides of the phenomenon — and its variability and its unchanging nature, was not adequately perceived by contemporaries and, in antiquity, was already subjected to the most varied criticism. Thus, for example, the eleatics — Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Zeno — concentrated their attention on the moment of stability, reproaching Heraclitus for exaggerating the role of variability.
Recognizing that the world of sensory data is unstable and changeable (it is born, then it blooms, then it dies), the Eleatics opposed to this indefinite and unstable sensory world the world of one and motionless being, open to pure thinking, which alone should be recognized as true being. The spontaneity of the Eleatic materialism, their tendency to oppose thinking and the material world led to the fact that, while maintaining the dialectic in relation to the external world, they at the same time proclaimed the ideal world to the kingdoms of metaphysical peace. Eternity was considered by them an attribute of truth. A dramatic situation arose in the development of knowledge: some melted the world in a stream of fire, while others crystallized it in a fixed stone.
So, ancient thinkers already had the beginnings of not only dialectics, but also metaphysics, which was a consequence of the absolute opposition of the world of matter and thinking.
Beginning with Heraclitus, in ancient Greek philosophy materialistic and idealistic tendencies are more distinctly traced. The materialistic tendency was materialistically grounded in the atomistic teachings of Leucipus and especially of Democritus (c. 460 BC). Atomists regarded the world as a single whole, consisting of an innumerable set of tiny invisible, indivisible particles – atoms that move (“rush in all directions”, “shake in all directions”) in the void. Atoms, according to Democritus, are material, they are indivisible due to their absolute density, exceptional smallness and the absence of empty gaps in them.
They are infinitely varied in shape, size and weight: some are rough, others are round, others are angular and hooked. The human soul, according to Democritus, also consists of atoms, but only more mobile, shallow and round. Atoms and emptiness are the only reality; the union of atoms forms the whole diversity of nature, including the human soul. Thus, Democritus was the first in the history of ancient philosophy to overcome the opposition of matter and spirit, while retaining the single, universal nature of matter and thinking. That is why the birth of materialism as a proper philosophical doctrine is associated with the name of Democritus in the history of philosophy.
Atomistic theory explained natural phenomena by natural causes and thus freed people from the mythological fear of mysterious, supernatural forces. Democritus taught that the world was not created by the gods, but exists forever, that everything in it moves and transforms from one state to another thanks to the connection and separation of atoms, all phenomena are subject to causal connections in it. Democritus did not allow a source of movement external to matter.
The atomistic doctrine of Democritus, in which the internal causes of the perpetual motion of matter were revealed, was further developed by Epicurus (341-270 BC). The movement of atoms, said Epicurus, is due to their intrinsic property – gravity. Even more important is, in his opinion, the ability of atoms to spontaneously deviate when moving from a straight line. Self-deviation of atoms is the minimum of freedom in nature, without which it is inconceivable not only an explanation of random phenomena in nature, but also freedom of action of people. Reasonable use of the freedom granted to man, according to Epicurus, consists in achieving physical health in conjunction with a sublime-calm state of mind.
The means for the attainment of the pleasure principle advanced by him as philosophical reflections are the highest good. And since the main sufferings cause the soul to fear death and fears that flow from a mythological belief to supernatural, divine powers, to the immortality of the soul and destiny, in order to be freed from these fears and corresponding sufferings, a reasonable world view is necessary, which would explain everything from natural causes .
While appreciating the elemental materialism of the ancients, it is impossible not to notice that elements of idealistic constructions are also found in the philosophy of Democritus, who recognized the existence of gods consisting of special atoms close to the eternal configurations, and prone to mechanical interpretation of causality to the detriment of dialectics, and Epicurus’ philosophy, which also recognized existence Gods, who, however, did not interfere in the course of the phenomena of nature and the affairs of men, as this would violate their serene existence, and in the philosophy of Lucretius, who, also itsaya intervention of the gods in earthly life, recognized the still presence in the world “some hidden force,” eludes simple principle of causality.
In the struggle against the materialist worldview, philosophical idealism was formed. The ancestor of the consistent philosophical system of objective idealism was Plato (427-347 BC).
According to Plato’s teachings, only the world of ideas represents true being, and concrete things are a cross between being and non-being, they are only shadows of ideas. Ideas are interpreted by Plato as ideal images – patterns for the sensually perceived world of things. Abstracting ideas from the minds of specific people, Plato declared the world of ideas a divine realm, in which his immortal soul dwells before the birth of man. Then she enters the sinful land, where, temporarily being in a human body, like a prisoner in a dungeon, she “remembers” about the world of ideas. Knowledge, according to Plato, is the memory of the soul of its pre-Earth existence.
The relationship between thinking and being seemed in Plato’s philosophy to be turned upside down, and from such a false understanding the philosopher deduced an idealistic interpretation of the process of knowledge. He believed that feelings deceive people, and therefore advised to know the truth, “close your eyes and plug your ears” and confide in the soul that remembers your divine past.
The objective idealism of Plato is connected with the dialectical method of philosophical reasoning: the dialectic of the one and the many, the identical and the other, movement and rest. For the philosophy of nature of Plato, as well as for the Pythagoreans, it is characterized by its connection with numerical symbolism, which is interpreted as the steward of the world of sense data. The dialectic of concepts developed by Plato, despite its idealistic character, was invaluable for the subsequent development of dialectical logic.
Being a source of both materialistic and idealistic lines in philosophy, antiquity created the first attempts to apply them within a single philosophical system. One of the peaks of the philosophical thought of ancient Greece in this respect are the works of Aristotle (384-322 BC), whose views encyclopedicly incorporating the achievements of ancient science contain both deep materialistic and dialectical ideas and elements of idealism. Aristotle began to develop his philosophical views in opposition to Plato’s idealism (he is credited with saying: “Plato is my friend, but truth is more precious!”).
In his early works, Aristotle developed three types of idealism, seeking to bridge the Platonic gap between the world of sensible things and the world of ideas. Based on the recognition of the objective existence of matter, Aristotle considered it to be eternal, indivisible and indestructible. Matter cannot arise from nothing, he said; it cannot also increase or decrease in its quantity. However, in later works he partially returned to the recognition of the world of Platonov’s ideas as the fundamental principles of the world.
By itself, matter, argued Aristotle, is passive. It contains only the possibility of the emergence of a real variety of things, like marble – the possibility of various statues. In order to turn this possibility into reality, it is necessary to give the appropriate form of matter. The function of shaping is performed by the mind – the prime mover. Under the form of Aristotle, he understood the preceding prophetic active, creative factor, thanks to which it becomes real. Form is a stimulus and a goal, an ideal image, the reason for the emergence of diverse things from monotonous matter, and matter is a kind of clay. In order for various things to emerge from it, a “potter” – god (or mind – prime mover) is necessary.
The main engine of the world is God, defined as the form of all forms, as the cause and at the same time the pinnacle of the universe. The late Aristotle, thus, tore the form of things from their things and turned it into an independent substance by analogy with the world of Plato’s ideas.
However, in epistemology, Aristotle consistently defended the materialist position. The study of the world consists in the discovery of forms, but in order to achieve this we must go not from the forms themselves, but from the reality given to us. Single things, he argued, are changeable, and their individual forms are unchanged — in this statement of Aristotle, dialectics and metaphysics merged together.
However, Aristotle was one of the first to develop a detailed classification of forms and methods of rational thinking. His doctrine of the most common philosophical concepts, or categories (quantity, quality, attitude, essence, time, space, etc.), with which he sought to express the dialectic of being and thinking, was a huge contribution to the theory of scientific knowledge. Aristotle – the founder of formal logic, as well as Plato – the founder of the dialectical logic. Ancient philosophy, which contained the prototypes of all the main types of worldview, developed in all subsequent centuries – this is the great work of the human spirit, and therefore it will never lose its high value in the eyes of thinking mankind.