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             14 May, 2021

Category:  Articles » Reference & Education » Philosophy


The Meaning of Life - What the Earliest Ancient Greek Philosophers Knew

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2007-10-11 12:44:18     
Article by Neil W Smith

Over two and a half thousand years ago, at a time when human beings were just beginning to think about the world they lived in, an extraordinary concept was being articulated by the very earliest philosophers of Ancient Greece. Ever since that time this idea has been emphasised by many great philosophers including Socrates, the Buddha, Jesus and Gandhi. Yet we still haven't understood the secret that has the power to change our lives - simply by changing the way we think about life.

It's the secret of the meaning of life.

These earliest philosophers lived in Ancient Greece around 600 BC, first the Milesians who came from Miletus in Ionia (present-day Turkey).

It's founder was said to have been Thales who was born (c.624 BC) about a hundred and fifty years before Socrates. He is regarded as the founder of Greek philosophy, therefore of Western philosophy. All we know about him are a few passing remarks made by his contemporaries. The later Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that he speculated on the properties of the soul, that it was endowed with the power of motion. There are various stories of his travels in Egypt which may have been the source of his ideas. According to Aristotle, some Milesians believed that the real, the underlying substance of the world, is an unchanging, unified reality.

The secret was out.

It seems that Thales was a brilliant astronomer for his time. Apparently he was the first to predict a solar eclipse in 585 BC. Plato tells the story that "a witty and attractive Thracian servant-girl is said to have mocked Thales for falling into a well while he was observing the stars and gazing upwards; declaring that he was eager to know the things in the sky, but that what was behind him and just by his feet escaped his notice." 1

Another leading member of the Milesian school was Anaximenes who regarded air as the first principle of all things. His 'air' was rather more than the kind we breathe. The Greek word he used was pneuma which referred to 'the breath of the cosmos.' The equivalent Latin word is spiritus in which case he clearly meant what we call 'spirit', that is, 'the spirit of the cosmos.'

As Yale physics professor Lawrence Krauss writes, "Anaximenes' pneuma was more than mere atmosphere; it had the germ of all creation and was therefore divine. As air gave breath to life, so pneuma maintained the stable pattern of existence." 2

Empedocles was born about 494 BC and at an early age made his home in Sicily. There he was regarded almost as a god and many miracles were attributed to him. The following brief quote from his writings speaks volumes: "For before this [life] I was born once a boy, and a maiden, and a plant, and a bird, and a darting fish in the sea." 3Clearly he was talking about pre-existence (of the soul) and reincarnation.

Here, then, from the very dawning of rational (and written) thought, from the world of Ancient Greece, I found my first three clues to the meaning of life:

- the idea of a true unified, unchanging reality of all things;

- pneuma as the divine pattern permeating all existence;

- and the pre-existence of the soul.


1. Plato, 'Theaetetus,'

2. Krauss, Lawrence, 'The Fifth Essence,' page 11.

3. Smith, T.V. (ed), 'From Thales to Plato,' page 33.

The author has studied "The Meaning of Life" for the most part of his life not to mention untold "meaningful" experiences which were by far the best Teacher on the matter. Discover YOUR life's purpose and more at http://www.squidoo.com/thatslife - lots of useful resources for you to follow up.

Specialized in: Aussie Blogger - Aussieblogger - Follow Your Dreams - Life - Philosophy - Purpose - Purpose Of Life - Purposeoflife - Self-improvement - Spiritual - Squidoo - Success - The Purpose Of Your Life
URL: http://www.squidoo.com
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