The intellectual and artistic peaks of the ancient Greek civilization and our epoch are over two thousand years apart. Much has changed in the political, technological, and religious spheres. However, the intellectual advances of ancient Greece continue to shape and influence our worldview to a significant degree. One of the examples of such ongoing influence is the Greek philosophy. Alfred North Whitehead, a prominent British mathematician and philosopher, once said: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
Indeed, almost all contemporary currents of the philosophical thought may be retraced to one or another Greek philosopher. For example, materialism that powerfully entered the European philosophical discourse with Marxism is already present in teachings of such ancient thinkers as Democritus (circa 460-370 BCE) and Epicurus (340-270 BCE). Materialism refers to the opinion that only material and tangible objects really exist, while the sphere of ideas, thoughts, emotions and the like is merely a projection of our mind and that those things do not exist objectively apart from the material world. Obviously, materialism is a natural opponent of religion, since religion believes in the independent existence of spiritual reality (God, angels, demons, grace etc). Democritus summarized the essence of materialism as a philosophical current in the famous, albeit laconic, statement: “Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
Epicurus, who lived about a century later, is best known for Epicureanism, a philosophy and lifestyle that considers happy life and absence of suffering and discomfort as the highest value humans should strive to attain. Epicurus’ approach to life is evident in his well known declaration: “Not what we have, but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.” However, his most famous saying, emphasizing his philosophical materialism and atheism, is, perhaps, this one: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” So, Epicurus, not unlike many philosophers of modern times, denied the existence of souls, afterlife and, in fact, the reality of anything beyond what we can perceive and feel.
Of course, philosophical materialism is not the only current of thought we can track back to ancient Greece. Among the Greek philosophers we find mystics (Pythagoras and Plotinus), proponents of dialectics (Heraclitus and Socrates), followers of philosophical idealism (Plato) and so on. Greece of the classical period was the cradle of the Western civilizations, and its philosophical and intellectual heritage still remain relevant for us. Please let us know if you have any questions about the history of ideas or any other aspect of philosophy. We at 24HourAnswers.com are here to help!
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