Learn about three major ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In this exploration we’ll give some information about each of them, about Greek philosophy in general, and about how to teach kids about the philosophers. We also made a printable page on the ancient Greek philosophers to add to a notebook.
The ancient Greeks were the first to come up with systematic systems of philosophy, or logical ways of thinking about the world.
The First Philosopher
The first person to call himself a “philosopher” didn’t make the cut as one of the big three, but he was important and worth a mention nonetheless. His name was Pythagoras. You might remember him from math class. He’s the one who came up with the Pythagorean Theorem having to do with triangles. You know, a2 + b2 = c2.
Pythagoras was indeed very into math, but like a true Greek he sought out knowledge in every area he could. To learn more, he traveled the world – Egypt, Babylon (where he probably picked up his triangle theorem), and maybe even as far east as India.
Philosopher means lover of wisdom. And that is definitely what Pythagoras was. He wasn’t part of our big three mostly because he was so early in Greek history that we have very few of his writings. He set the stage of scholarship for the Greeks who came after him though.
Socrates is the first of the big three ancient Greek philosophers. He lived several hundreds of years after Pythagoras, but we know he admired Pythagoras greatly. If Socrates wrote anything, it’s been lost. We don’t have any of his writings. What we do know of him comes from his students, in particular, Plato.
Socrates went around Athens teaching the young men to think for themselves, to discard everything they knew, and examine it all afresh. Socrates believed in the power of reasoning but also thought that no one can ever know much of anything for certain. He taught his students to question everything. This caused problems, and Socrates was officially labeled a corrupter of youth and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock, a poison.
His method of questioning, called the Socratic method, is still popular.
Watch this video about Socrates and some of his thoughts.
Plato was a student of Socrates. He founded the first organized school in the western world and called it the “Academy.” Unlike Socrates, we have hundreds of Plato’s writings, faithfully preserved by the Romans and then the Christian monks of Ireland and Byzantium.
Plato wrote about nearly everything you can imagine from the natural world to math to questions about religion. But he is best known for one particular book called “The Republic” in which he discusses government. He thought the best possible government was an aristocracy of moral and enlightened men and until mankind could achieve such a government we would be more or less miserable. People still debate Plato’s ideas about government.
Watch this video with your kids to learn about Plato and his ideas.
Of all of the big three, Aristotle influenced today’s philosophies most. The medieval churchmen, including Augustine, loved Aristotle. And, of course, our beliefs of the modern day are a direct result of the philosophies of the Middle Ages. Plus Aristotle did have some really good ideas. . . and also some not so good ideas.
Aristotle was a student of Plato’s. He prized natural philosophy, what we call science today. Aristotle never experimented, but he did spend countless hours observing animals and plants and other phenomenon in its natural state. He also believed that people can have good lives if they use reason and have self-control.
Watch this video to learn about Aristotle’s philosophies with your kids.
A Printable Ancient Greek Philosophers Notebook Page
Use this printable Ancient Greek Philosophers page to write down what you’ve learned about these philosophers and their ideas.
Cut out the Greek philosophers and their temple then cut between the philosophers so that you can create flaps. Glue the pediment (triangle at the top) to another sheet of paper or into your notebook. Write under each flap. Younger kids can write facts about the lives of these great men. Older kids can spend more time on the ideas. The sheet would also be a great place to take notes while you watch the videos.
- In our Layers of Learning curriculum we use Socratic questions all the time in the sidebars to help parents and kids think about the important things.
- There were many more Greek philosophers and you will probably come across some in your reading about ancient Greece. Add another page to your notebook to write down their names and their accomplishments. Put them on a timeline of you want to keep track of when they lived.
- The big three philosophers were all from Athens and lived during the “Classical Greek Period.” When most people think of ancient Greece this is the time they are thinking of. This is when the great plays were written, the statues were carved, the urns were crafted, and the Olympics were held.
- Chose one of the philosophies presented in the videos and discuss it. If you were to implement this philosophy in real life, how would it work?
More From Layers of Learning
We made this exploration especially to partner with our Ancient Greece unit. Come take a gander at the whole thing.
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