Ancient philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A130-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 23, 2024, from

3. The fourth century bc

Socrates and the Sophists helped to make Athens the philosophical centre of the Greek world, and it was there, in the fourth century, that the two greatest philosophers of antiquity lived and taught, namely Plato and Aristotle. Plato, Socrates’ pupil, set up his school the Academy in Athens (see Academy). Plato’s published dialogues are literary masterpieces as well as philosophical classics, and develop, albeit unsystematically, a global philosophy which embraces ethics, politics, physics, metaphysics (see FORMS, PLATONIC), epistemology (see INNATENESS IN ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY), aesthetics and psychology.

The Academy’s most eminent alumnus was Aristotle, whose own school the Lyceum came for a time to rival the Academy's importance as an educational centre. Aristotle’s highly technical but also often provisional and exploratory school treatises may not have been intended for publication; at all events, they did not become widely disseminated and discussed until the late first century bc. The main philosophical treatises (leaving aside his important zoological works) include seminal studies in all the areas covered by Plato, plus logic, a branch of philosophy which Aristotle pioneered. These treatises are, like Plato’s, among the leading classics of Western philosophy.

Platonism and Aristotelianism were to become the dominant philosophies of the Western tradition from the second century ad at least until the end of the Renaissance, and the legacy of both remains central to Western philosophy today.

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. The fourth century bc. Ancient philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A130-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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