Philosophy is a Greek word, meaning “love of wisdom”. It is the study of existence, morality, and truth. Philosophy was a way of trying to make sense of the world without guidance through religion. Instead of myths and legends, logic and reason were used to find answers. Through the writings of ancient Greek philosophers and Renaissance humanists, new versions of philosophy were found, and ideas proposed that contributed greatly to the Renaissance.
Philosophy looks into knowledge, reality, life, and the overall aspect of human existence. Miletus, a Greek colony, became the birthplace of philosophy when Thales asked: “What are simple items of the world, where everything else comes from?” He decided that the answer was a solo element, water, more clearly, moisture.
From here he considered himself the first philosopher along with being a mathematician, scientist, and teacher even though his career was engineering. Philosophy spreads into five different branches: Metaphysics, the study of existence, Epistemology, the study of knowledge, Ethics, the study of behavior, Politics, the study of governance, and Aesthetics, the study of art.
Socrates was born 470 B.C.E. in Alopece, a small town just outside of Athens. His father was a sculptor and a stonemason, and his mother a midwife. He worked as a mason for some of his life before becoming a philosopher. Socrates believed that the mind was more important than the body and that all knowledge resided within a person.
He invented the Socratic method of teaching which focused on guided debates between students in order to answer a question and would regularly question the government along with the status quo. This proved to be his downfall.
After the Peloponnesian War, thirty tyrants took control of Athens, and did not appreciate Socrates questioning their style of government and sentenced him to death by way of a draught of poison hemlock, accusing him of corrupting Athen’s youth. Socrates died in 399 B.C.E. at the age of 71.
Plato was born circa 428 B.C.E. in Athens, the capital city of Greece. His parents were Ariston of Athens and Perictione, who were both from the Greek aristocracy. Some scholars believe that Plato was named after his grandfather, Aristocles. Some historians suggest that he was given the nickname, “Platon”, which means “broad”, by his wrestling coach.
Plato strongly believed in justice and equality, as shown in his writings. After his mentor, Socrates died, Plato spent 12 years traveling the Mediterranean region studying mathematics in Italy, and various other subjects in Egypt. During this time, he started his extensive writing, including The Apology of Socrates, Hippias Major & Minor, and the most well-known, The Republic.
Soon after, Plato opened his academy, most known as Platonic Academy, it is there where he taught Aristotle. It is universally accepted that Plato dedicated his final years to spending time at his academy. Although his death ranges from passing in Athens in his early 80s to dying while attending a wedding to peacefully passing away in his sleep.
Aristotle was born 384 B.C.E. in Stagira, a small town on the northern coast of Greece. Both of his parents were members of traditional medical families and died when he was young. At the age of 17, he was sent to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy. In 335 B.C.E he opened his own school in Athens, called The Lyceum. He taught “The Golden Mean”, the desirable middle between excessiveness and deficiency.
Aristotle was a polymath and his writings include many subjects; Ethics, Politics, Poetics, Rhetoric, and metaphysics, and possibly lectured notes. He also aimed to discover the best way to live life and give it meaning. “The supreme good for man” he eventually determined was the pursuit of happiness. His works were compiled into a set of six books called the Organon. Aristotle died in 322 B.C.E. of a digestive issue.
The idea of Humanism originated in the Renaissance period. Humanism is the belief that human life on Earth is important; this differed from the previously common belief that preparing for the afterlife was the most important goal. It was also the belief that human beings had great potential. People looked back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, their architecture and discoveries as proof of this. As a result of humanism, people began to become more curious and again, attempted to create wonderful buildings and use logic and reason to find answers as the Greeks did.
Petrarch was born as Francesco Petrarca on July 20, 1304, in Arezzo, Tuscany. His father was Ser Petracco, and his mother was Eletta Canigiani. With his family, they moved to Avignon, France. Petrarch decided to study law to fulfill his father’s wishes, but his heart was with literature, specifically Greek and Roman literature which he began studying after his father died. He was hired as a cleric, allowing him to pursue his passion.
He started collecting ancient texts. Among these texts were Cicero’s letters to Atticus. Petrarch’s discovery of these letters gave him an insight into Roman life and his fascination turned into envy. He believed that humanity could exceed the heights of past accomplishments. Supporting these beliefs helped to start the Renaissance. His other passion was writing. His most notable compositions were his lyrical poems written to Laura, a woman he fell in unrequited love with, writing poems about her even after her death. Petrarch died of a stroke just before his 70th birthday and was found dead in his library.
Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne was a humanist author, born February 28, 1533. His works, written in short opinion pieces called “essais”, focused mainly on himself instead of using other people as the subject of his works. He thought that before any other education, people should first learn about themselves. As well, he encouraged thinking that did not follow the rules set by authority, discouraging dogmatic thinking (thinking only within a given set of parameters). Montaigne believed that friendship, love, and courage should be the basis for all decisions. His writings became very famous, influencing many authors such as William Shakespeare, Friederich Nietzche, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Montaigne lived until he was 59 before dying due to an infection in his throat. He died on September 13, 1592.
Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Certaldo Italy, on June 16, 1313. He grew up to be a writer, poet, scholar, correspondent of Petrarch, and a great humanist. Giovanni’s books included folk tales, fairy tales, and many poems which he wrote in both Latin and Italian. His most well-known book is Decameron and contains one hundred stories about a group of people fleeing the Black Death from Florence. He was critical to the creation of the novel along with helping to spread writing around the literary world. Boccaccio helped to revive Hellenistic learning in Florence or the study of the ancient Greeks.
Greek Philosophy was a major influence on the Renaissance. The name Renaissance means “The Rebirth”, as after almost 1300 years, Greek philosophy was rediscovered in Europe. People read the works of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and became inspired to look for answers themselves, using logic and reason just as they did. This translated to many professions as people began to observe the world and look for answers rather than accept what was told to them without question, and this was what shaped the Renaissance.
Greek philosophy also had a big impact on humanist ideas and scholars. For example, Michel de Montaigne encouraging thinking outside of societal norms and questioning is extremely similar to Socrates’ belief in challenging the government and asking people to really think about life. In conclusion, both humanism and Greek philosophy had a great impact on the Renaissance.
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