MODULE IV: WHY GREEK PHILOSOPHY?
The last module discussed the gradual separation between mythology and philosophy in the Greek culture. Mythology had a great influence over the development of philosophy. It provided concepts, images and narratives that were appropriated, criticized or categorically rejected by philosophy. While there may be a “break” between mythology and philosophy, philosophy still relied on the mythological tendency to narrate in a poetic style – that is, in graphic and visual terms that were easily understood. Moreover, the early philosophers still had to turn to the myths in order to further their own concepts about the cosmos and humanity.
But the question is why are we focusing ourselves in Greek philosophy? Are there no other philosophies in the world contemporaneous to the time of the early Greeks?
I. Philosophy – Where Did It Come From?
To say that philosophy originated downright from the Greeks is a mistake. The mere fact that every civilization in the whole world has its own set of mythological narratives implies that there is a possibility for every civilization to develop its own set of philosophy. Another thing, it is also a fact that there are other flourishing philosophies in other parts of the world that precede, almost simultaneous to or contemporaneous with Greek philosophy. We can list Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian philosophies as examples. There are also studies that say Greek philosophy is influenced by or derivatives of the mystical arts of Egypt and other Near East cultures and religions. Whatever the case, there is no definitive answer as to the origin of philosophy itself. There is far too much correlation among cultures, civilizations, religions and myths to just pinpoint the exact location of the origin of philosophy itself.
It is therefore not a question of where. Rather, we must ask: what is special among the Greeks that we readily associate philosophy with them? The influence of Greek philosophy is undeniable. From the time of its inception in the 6th century BCE until the Hellenistic times, its incorporation into the Roman world until today, there can be no equivalent to the massive contribution of Greek philosophy to almost every body of knowledge we have. Much of Western thought may be credited to Greek philosophy, so much so that Alfred Whitehead, a philosopher himself, says that “European philosophical tradition is a series of footnotes to Plato.” While we may say that Greek philosophy itself is a product of both Western and Eastern myths, religion, theology and cosmology, we have to admit that philosophy as we understand it now, is a Greek creation. It seems that the Greeks taught themselves how to reason.
II. What Made the Greeks Different?
A caution must be made when saying “Greek” in describing philosophy. While it is true that the brand of philosophy being discussed here is “Greek”, not every Greek culture/society can be credited with the development of philosophy. Example: the Spartans were Greeks but they never had any strain of philosophical movement. The Athenians and Milesians were Greeks and they contributed to philosophy. The Ionians were Greek people but they were not from Greece itself – they are from modern-day Turkey. What is being referred to here, therefore, are the particular Greeks who have a hand in the development of philosophy itself. So, what was different among these particular Greeks that philosophy flourished among them?
First, those cities where philosophy bloomed were cities with wealth. In the ancient times, most wealthy civilizations were wealthy due to their agricultural advantages. Examples in this case are Egypt, Babylon and Mesopotamia. However, Greek cities like Athens and Miletus are not agricultural lands. Therefore, the wealth of these cities can only be explained by another source – that is trade. But the economic condition of the cities alone cannot explain how...