Socrates and Plato are two famous Greek philosophers whose ideas still impact society today.

Anastasios71 / Shutterstock
  • In ancient Greece, philosophers contemplated and theorized about many different ideas such as human nature, ethics, and moral dilemmas. Ancient Greek philosophers can be categorized into three groups: the Pre-Socratics, the Socratics, and the Post-Socratics.

    Pre-Socratic philosophers mostly investigated natural phenomena. They believed that humans originated from a single substance, which could be water, air, or an unlimited substance called “apeiron.” One well-known philosopher from this group was Pythagoras, the mathematician who created the Pythagorean Theorem. 

    The Socratic philosophers in ancient Greece were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. These are some of the most well-known of all Greek philosophers. Socrates (470/469–399 B.C.E.) is remembered for his teaching methods and for asking thought-provoking questions. Instead of lecturing his students, he asked them difficult questions in order to challenge their underlying assumptions—a method still used in modern-day law schools. Because Socrates wrote little about his life or work, much of what we know comes from his student Plato.

    Plato (428/427–348/347 B.C.E.) studied ethics, virtue, justice, and other ideas relating to human behavior. Following in Socrates’ footsteps, he became a teacher and inspired the work of the next great Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.), while also interested in ethics, studied different sciences like physics, biology, and astronomy. He is often credited with developing the study of logic, as well as the foundation for modern-day zoology.

    The Post-Socratic philosophers established four schools of philosophy: Cynicism, Skepticism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism. The Post-Socratic philosophers focused their attention on the individual rather than on communal issues such as politics. For example, stoicism sought to understand and cultivate a certain way of life, based on one’s virtues, or wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Modern philosophers and educators still employ the patterns of thinking and exploration established by ancient Greek philosophers, such as the application of logic to questions of thought and engaging in debate to better convey philosophical ideas.

    Greek Philosophers

    Socrates and Plato are two famous Greek philosophers whose ideas still impact society today.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Aristotle Noun

    (384-322 BCE) Greek scientist and philosopher.

    astronomy Noun

    the study of space beyond Earth's atmosphere.

    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    communal Adjective

    shared.

    ethics Plural Noun

    beliefs about what is right and wrong.

    justice Noun

    administration of law.

    mathematician Noun

    person who studies the theory and application of quantities, groupings, shapes, and their relationships.

    phenomena Plural Noun

    (singular: phenomenon) any observable occurrence or feature.

    philosopher Noun

    person who studies knowledge and the way people use it.

    physics Noun

    study of the physical processes of the universe, especially the interaction of matter and energy.

    Plato Noun

    (427-347 BCE) Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in Western Civilization.

    skepticism Noun

    doubt or questioning.

    Socrates Noun

    (469-399 BCE) Greek philosopher and teacher.

    zoology Noun

    the study of animals.