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Explore the Philosophies
Delve into the philosophies of the three great minds featured in Genius of the Ancient World.Read More
Genius of the Ancient World
The century between 500 and 400 BC was a thought-defining one for mankind. Not only did three of the greatest-ever philosophers live during this period, but each, hailing from different parts of the world, inspired philosophies that are still being taught and practiced two-and-a-half millennia later.
Here, we present a brief look at some of their methods and principles passed down through the ages.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Arguably the most famous Greek philosopher, Socrates would go on to lay the foundation for western philosophy and in his wake, leave a legacy of great minds and thinkers that would change the course of history.
Socrates is best known for his development of the Socratic Method, by which critical thinking and debate is encouraged through a steady flow of questions. By questioning each aspect of an individual’s thought process, flaws in logic — as well as validation — are revealed and hypocrisies are addressed. Today, the Socratic Method remains a valuable tool for dialogue and cross-examination, seen in action in courtrooms the world over.
On top of the Socratic Method, Socrates’ ideas spawned a noteworthy lineage of pupils beginning with Plato, continuing with Aristotle and moving on to Alexander the Great. Due to the record keeping at the time, it’s difficult to discern which beliefs were those of Socrates himself and which were those of his pupils. However, Socrates beliefs were clearly evident when he was on trial for “corrupting the minds of youth”. Socrates argued the jurors were misplacing their values on superficial concerns like politics when they should have been worrying about the “welfare of their souls.”
Socrates was said to claim that he in fact knew very little, and it was the act of self-awareness that was in itself the lesson. He argued that everyone should question everything and believed that people should focus more on refining their personal worth through relationships and community rather than pursuing material wealth.
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, was the inspiration for a set of ideals that would later become known as Buddhism. Like Socrates, The Buddha’s teachings encouraged followers to turn inwards in order to find enrichment and avoid attachment to a materialistic lifestyle. Buddhists were also taught that true happiness could only be achieved after they understood humility and came to terms with their mortality.
While considered by some to be a religion, others view Buddhism more as a life philosophy as it is not centred on any sort of god-like figure.
And while the philosophies of Socrates were loosely defined, the foundation of Buddhism rests upon the following Four Noble Truths:
• All life knows suffering.
• The cause of suffering is ignorance and clinging.
• There is a way to end suffering.
• This is the way to end suffering.
The final Noble Truth refers to what’s known as The Eightfold Path, which is meant to be the road to enlightenment. The Path consists of the following eight principles: Right Understanding, Right Aspiration, Right Effort, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Perhaps the most well-known Buddhist beliefs though, are the concepts of reincarnation and karma. Reincarnation (sometimes referred to as “rebirth”) is the belief that the consciousness of a living being will carry on in another life once the current one has expired. Karma is the idea that your actions — positive or negative — will be reflected in how others treat you, or put more simply, “you get what you give.”
But living a life based on the idea of karma is not the goal of Buddhism. Instead, the final tenet is to reach nirvana, the ultimate state of spiritual enlightenment. Once someone has reached nirvana, it’s believed they have broken out of the cycle of rebirth, achieving the highest state of mind.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Before Socrates and The Buddha, there was Kongzi, also known as Confucius.
Having refined most of his philosophies before Socrates and Gautama Buddha were even born, Confucius developed a pattern of thought that centered on humanity. While spending much of his adult life in politics, Confucius later found himself out of favour with the ruling class and spent his final years traveling China espousing the principles that would later be known as Confucianism. His social philosophies determined that one’s elders should be honoured for creating the world enjoyed by the young, as well as treating everyone, regardless of class and social status, with respect and kindness. This philosophy would also extend to all living things.
Confucianism also gave rise to The Five Constants, a set of moral codes that are still taught and followed today. The Five Constants were deemed to be the path to a virtuous life and were: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and fidelity.
Confucius also encouraged others to question the concept of gain and consider societal benefit of interacting with others, while also recognizing the moral obligation to do good and attain the wisdom to differentiate between right and wrong. He believed that true virtue is achieved by mastering the ability of skilled reason and judgement, rather than blind obedience to rules.