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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A104-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Pythagoreanism refers to a Greek religious-philosophical movement that originated with Pythagoras in the sixth century bc. Although Pythagoreanism in its historical development embraced a wide range of interests in politics, mysticism, music, mathematics and astronomy, the common denominator remained a general adherence among Pythagoreans to the name of the founder and his religious beliefs. Pythagoras taught the immortality and transmigration of the soul (reincarnation) and recommended a way of life that through ascetic practices, dietary rules and ethical conduct promised to purify the soul and bring it into harmony with the surrounding universe. Thereby the soul would become godlike since Pythagoras believed that the cosmos, in view of its orderly and harmonious workings and structure, was divine. Pythagoreanism thus has from its beginnings a cosmological context that saw further evolution along mathematical lines in the succeeding centuries. Pythagorean philosophers, drawing on musical theories that may go back to Pythagoras, expressed the harmony of the universe in terms of numerical relations and possibly even claimed that things are numbers. Notwithstanding a certain confusion in Pythagorean number philosophy between abstract and concrete, Pythagoreanism represents a valid attempt, outstanding in early Greek philosophy, to explain the world by formal, structural principles. Overall, the combination of religious, philosophical and mathematical speculations that characterizes Pythagoreanism exercised a significant influence on Greek thinkers, notably on Plato and his immediate successors as well as those Platonic philosophers known as Neo-Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists.

Citing this article:
Schibli, Hermann S.. Pythagoreanism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A104-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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