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Pre-Socratic philosophy

The Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers were active before Socrates or contemporaneously, but expounding knowledge developed earlier. The popularity of the term originates with Hermann Diels' work Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics, 1903).

It is sometimes difficult to determine the actual line of argument some pre-Socratics used in supporting their particular views. While most of them produced significant texts, none of the texts have survived in complete form. All we have are quotations by later philosophers and historians, and the occasional textual fragment.

The pre-Socratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations for the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. Many of them asked:

  • From where does everything come?
  • From what is everything created?
  • How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?
  • How might we describe nature mathematically?

Others concentrated on defining problems and paradoxes that became the basis for later mathematical, scientific and philosophic study. Of course, the cosmologies proposed by the early Greek philosophers have been updated by views based on modern science. Later philosophers rejected many of the answers they provided, but continued to place importance on their questions.

List of philosophers and schools

The traditional cursus of pre-socratic philosophers and movements (there are minor variations) is shown below:

Thales (624-546 BC)
Anaximander (610-546 BC)
Anaximenes of Miletus (585-525 BC)

Pythagoras (582-496 BC)
Philolaus (470-380 BC)
Alcmaeon of Croton
Archytas (428-347 BC)

Xenophanes (570-470 BC)
Parmenides (510-440 BC)
Zeno of Elea (490-430 BC)
Melissus of Samos (C.470 BC-Unknown)

Empedocles (490-430 BC)
Anaxagoras (500-428 BC)

Leucippus (5th century BC, dates unknown)
Democritus (460-370 BC)

Protagoras (481-420 BC)
Gorgias (483-375 BC)
Prodicus (465-390 BC)
Hippias (485-415 BC)
Antiphon (person) (480-411 BC)
Anonymous Iamblichi

Other groupings

This list includes several men, particularly the Seven Sages, who appear to have been practical politicians and sources of epigrammatic wisdom, rather than speculative thinkers or philosophers in the modern sense.

Solon (c. 594 BC)
Chilon of Sparta (c. 560 BC)
Thales (c. 585 BC)
Bias of Priene (c. 570 BC)
Cleobulus of Rhodes (c. 600 BC)
Pittacus of Mitylene (c. 600 BC)
Periander (625-585 BC)


See also


  • Burnet, John, Early Greek Philosophy, Meridian Books, New York, 1957
  • Colli, Giorgio, The Greek Wisdom (La Sapienza greca, 3 vol. Milan 1977-1980)
  • Kirk, G.S., Raven, J.E. & Schofield, M., The Presocratic Philosophers (Second Edition), Cambridge University Press, 1983
  • Nahm, Milton C., Selections from Early Greek Philosophy, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1962
  • De Vogel, C.J., Greek Philosophy, Volume I, Thales to Plato, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1963
  • Diels, Hermann, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed., rev. by Walther Kranz (Berlin, 1952).

External links

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