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A Glossary of Terms Important in Ancient Greek Philosophy

By Edited May 17, 2016 1 0

αισθησις - aisthesis: Perception. One of Theaetetus' answers to Socrates question, "What is Knowledge?" in Plato's Theaetetus. Theaetetus' answer differs from empiricism, in which raw perceptions are the basis for reasoning which leads to knowledge. Instead, he asserts that raw perceptions are, themselves, the only knowledge. Socrates argues that if one adopts this position, one is lead immediately to a Protagorean relativism centering on the argument that man is the measure of all things.

αιτιον - aition: Cause. The cause behind particular manifestations of universal truths in Aristotle's theory of knowledge as presented in his Metaphysics.

αληθεια - aletheia: Truth, absolute truth.

απειρον - apeiron: The limitless. In the philosophy of Anaximander, the arche is defined as the limitless. Because all finite beings are limited, and because Anaximander reasoned that the infinite arche, Being, must be completely different from all finite beings, he defined the arche as that without limit, the infinite.

απορια - aporia: Lack of a pathway, an obstruction, an absence of a settled answer. Aporia was, more often than not, the result of Socratic questioning. No definitive answers are reached in Socratic dialogues. The hope, however, exists that something essential is reached in the process of dialogue itself.

αρχη : arche – Beginning, origin, source, ruler, first principle. In early Greek philosophy, especially that of Thales and Anaximander, the arche is the one source, Being, which underlies the entire universe, gives order to that universe, and gives birth to the multiplicity of beings. For Thales, water was the arche, while for Anaximander, the Unlimited was the arche.

αρετη - arête: Virtue. Important in Aristotle's ethical system. Character traits which are always valued as good in and of themselves. Cultivated through habit.

αριθμος - arithmos: Number, count. Implies plurality. In the philosophy of Pythagoras, there is a numerical, mathematical structure to the universe. One is the origin of all plural numbers, and plural numbers give birth to the mathematical structure behind the universe. Thus, for Pythagoras, One is the arche, while numbers represent beings.

ατομος - atomos: Uncuttable, indivisible, atom. In the philosophy of the Atomists, one of the two fundamental constituents of the universe. Atoms were indivisible points which moved through the void and composed all physical beings.

διαλεγεσθαι - dialegesthai: Conversation, rational debate. Socratic dialogue is an example of dialegesthai. So is all human communication. In Plato's Theaetetus, Socrates argues that if one adopts a position of Protagorean relativism, then one must deny the possibility for reasoned debate.

δοξα - doxa: Opinion, appearances, the way things seem to be. The philosophy of Parmenides is paradoxical; that is, his philosophy espouses a viewpoint which is radically different from doxa. Parmenides acknowledges this, but claims that doxa reveals nothing about absolute truth. Experience is misleading, and, for Parmenides, reality may only be discovered through the use of pure reason. However, the truth is not conducive to a practical life. For a practical life, one must acknowledge the sway of doxa.

ελενχος - elenchos: Refutation. A key component, along with the ti esti question, of Socratic dialogue. Socrates was an expert at refutation, or demonstration that another position is incorrect. Following his asking of a ti esti, or "what is it", question, Socrates would proceed to refute his opponent's answers in an attempt to lead them to a more accurate and true answer.

ειδος - eidos: Form, species. In Plato's philosophy, this term is used to refer to the universal, ideal forms in which all particulars participate. In Aristotle's philosophy, the same term is used to refer to the universals which reside in the particulars and is constituted by the characteristics and qualities of all of the particulars.

εμπειρια - empeiria: Experience. Philosophers such as Thales or the Atomists or Aristotle are empiricists, because they believed that true knowledge could only be derived from experience of the world. Empeiria imparts truths to observers, whether about the way the world appears, or the way the world actually is.

επιστεμε - episteme: Knowledge. The Platonic dialogue The Theaetetus consists of an investigation into the true nature and meaning of knowledge.

καθολου - katholou: Universal. In Aristotle's Metaphysics, the universal principles which are manifested in particular instances throughout the world. Understanding of such universal principles is known as techne.

λογος - logos: Rationality, rational enquiry, speech, explanation. The fundamental assumption underlying all of Greek philosophy is that the universe is intelligible through logos. There is an order to the world which may be discovered through rational enquiry. This method of discovery stands in opposition to muthos, or myth-making, which declares that the world is fundamentally irrational.

μυθος - muthos: Myth-making, storytelling, poetry, linguistic artistry. Muthos is a method of describing the world which relies upon irrationality and inspiration. For practitioners of muthos, the world is not rationally intelligible. Because the world is irrational, the best humans can hope for is to become inspired. By this mechanism, people can give poetic, mythological, and metaphorical interpretations of the world

νομος - nomos: Custom. The way people tend to act. In the philosophical thought of Protagoras, the only real judge of what is right. In a given place or time, people's customs determine what is right or true. There is no absolute truth.

νους - nous: Mind.

ουσια - ousia: Being, Substance. Definite beings.

σχολη - schole: Leisure. According to Socrates, leisure, schole, is required for a philosophical life. If one is to be a philosopher, one must have leisure and freedom. Leisure allows one to pursue activities for their own sake. Thus, leisure is a necessary condition for the acquisition of knowledge.

σοφια - sophia: Wisdom. The goal of all philosophical pursuit. An end in and of itself.

τα οντα - ta onta - Plural of Being, beings. A term for all of the finite, discrete physical beings in the world which change and pass from Being.

τεχνη - techne: Art, Technical knowledge, Technology. In Aristotle's Metaphysics, techne is used to refer to the true knowledge of universals. Such knowledge is the highest type of understanding. In Aristotle's picture, sensation leads to memory. The synthesis of many memories leads to empeiria, or practical knowledge of particulars. Understanding the universal principles behind particulars is techne.

τι εστι - ti esti: What is it? The central question of Socratic philosophy. Socrates asked this question concerning values such as Beauty, Truth and Justice. Socrates always demanded accurate definitions of such concepts which accounted for all particular manifestations of the particular value. Thus lists of particular manifestations of a value, which were often the first response to such a question, are insufficient.

τι εστι επιστεμε - ti esti episteme: What is knowledge? The central question of Plato's Theaetetus. In this dialogue, Socrates asks the promising young man Theaetetus to define knowledge.

το τι ην ειναι - to ti en einai: The "what it is to be". The essence of a thing.

το ον - to on: Being. Root of the English world "ontology", the study of being. Another term for the limitless, infinite first principle, the arche.

χαος - chaos: The abyss, emptiness, nothingness. In Hesiod's Theogony, the entity from which Earth, Tartaros, and Eros are born. These three entities went on to give birth to all of creation and all of the gods. Chaos' indescribable nature is perfectly representative of Hesiod's muthos, that is, his reliance upon irrational storytelling and myth-making rather than rational investigation to elucidate the nature of reality.

φαινομενα - phainomena: Appearance, phenomenon. The way in which we perceive things. To Aristotle, the way things appear actually tell us something about reality.

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