Greek philosophy is often synonymous with Ancient Western philosophy in which people such as Socrates and Plato developed a great deal of thought and work regarding the nature of the universe. There is no single, unified school of thought that can be referred to as “Greek philosophy” since many different philosophers and schools arose in this area over many hundreds of years. In general, however, these different schools are often grouped together as pre-Socratic, and then by the names of the different schools or teachers that led these various movements. Famous Greek philosophers who established various movements within ancient philosophy include the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
The pre-Socratic era of Greek philosophy typically refers to those Greek philosophers who lived and taught before Socrates. There are a number of different schools and philosophers who belong within this group, though the Sophists may be among the most famous. Sophists were rhetoricians and teachers who often argued that anything beyond personal experience and observation was nonexistent. This type of Greek philosophy largely viewed that there was no overall or comprehensive “truth” in the universe, rather each person experienced the universe individually and had only his or her experiences to draw upon.
Socrates challenged this view, however, and established a school of thought that indicated that certain truths could be asserted as real and meaningful. While Socrates was quite influential among philosophers of his time, his pupil Plato may have provided more meaningful contributions to Greek philosophy. Plato expanded upon the teachings of Socrates, who was put to death by his influential enemies, and began to refine ancient Greek philosophy into a more comprehensive system. The teachings of Plato established “the Good” as the highest reason in the universe, and the purpose of all action and knowledge was in pursuit of this ideal.
Plato’s teachings, which were further refined and expanded upon by his student Aristotle, laid the groundwork for many of the ideas commonly associated with Greek philosophy. The concept of “the Good” and absolute ideals, such as “beauty” and “truth,” that could be understood and aspired to remain influential in much of the philosophical thought that has followed these teachings. Greek philosophy continued to develop beyond the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, as they were then followed by other philosophers such as the Stoics and the Neo-Platonists. Each of these groups further utilized the teachings of earlier philosophers and contributed new ideas or developments within philosophy that are still studied today.