All great philosophies and philosophers of the world have been those who made man premier of their teachings. The first entity that man encounters in this boundless universe is his own self. Centuries before, Socrates, who was influenced by Sophism, but was not a Sophist’, asserted that the real subject of man’s knowledge is the man himself. As Alfred Weber accentuates:-
“He [Socrates] placed the study of moral man and of the duties of the citizen in the very center of education”’
Despite his bent of mind towards skepticism in regards of cosmogony he was not skeptic towards the knowledge of human self. Thus the phrase “Know Thyself”, as it stands inscribed in the temple of Delphi, reflects the man-centeredness of Socrates. His greatest contribution lied in moving from Protagoras’s individual and subjective man to objective and universal “Human”.
Plato, a disciple of Socrates and the author of “The Phaedrus”, “The Symposium”, “Dialogues” “The Republic ”and others, emerged as the next towering figure in Greek philosophy. He made extensive use of Allegories and expressed his ideas in the form of dialogues. His most important concept is one of idealism. He believes that the universe, as it appears to us is rather an illusion and the reality lies in idea. His philosophy was deeply influenced by geometry and he made extensive use of geometrical facts in formulating his “world-view”. Thus Platonic philosophy is the science of ideas, enshrined in geometrical lexicon. In platonic pyramid, man is the end of nature, and the idea the end of man. In his view, the highest end lies in man’s most perfect likeness to God. But then he resembles God with abstractions like “Absolute Justice” or “Truth”, which spirals the whole issue back to idealism. Thus Plato’s philosophy and his concept of man, despite its own legacy suffered a heavy criticism. It considered man as the measure of everything and rejected the existence of external universe out rightly. This concept could have been an ideal playfield for idealists or for those who held the views of skepticism. But for millions of conscious people who pondered upon this paradox found Platonic claims to be vague. Thus Allama lqbal rightly said:-
Another dexterous philosopher of this period was Aristotle (Born 385 B.C). His works included both theoretical sciences like theology, mathematics as well as practical sciences like ethics, politics etc. One of the nuclear doctrines of Aristotle is quadruple of “Matter”, “Idea”, “Movement” and “Final cause”. In other words his entire system is founded on “Trinity of Potentiality, movement and actuality”. To him every being is a combination of form and substratum or idea and matter. Aristotelian picture of human essence is beautifully encapsulated in following paragraph.
“Nous”, the principle of divine reason makes human soul an intermediate being between the animals and God. In sensibility perception arid memory, it resembles the animal; in reason it is like God. This dual aspect constitutes its originality as a moral being. There can be no morality without the coexistence of animal and intellectual principles. The animal is not a moral being, because it is devoid of intellect. Nor can there be any question of morality in case of God, who is a pure thought. Hence morality is the distinguishing characteristic of human nature, and the end of human life consists neither in one sided development of animal functions nor in changing man into god, but the complete and harmonious expansion of our dual essence’
In this sequence there emerges another figure in the form of Epicurus and his “Epicurean school of thought’, which deemed pleasure (Ataraxy) as the ultimate ideal of life. This system was simple and anti-mystical in nature and formalism. Much of the existing knowledge of Epcureanisrn comes from Lucretius’ poem on “Nature of things” . Epicurus divided philosophy into three parts “Canonic”, dealing with rules for finding the truth, “’physics’, concerned with the nature of world and “ethics”, concerned with malty. As regards his concept of human life, his concept is sublimely contained to the couplet.
“Stoicism’’, which was collectively formulated upon the teachings of number of philosophers like Zeno, Seneca, Chrysippus, Soli and others was not merely philosophy but a theistic system raised upon the ruins of polytheism or a kind of compromise between theism and atheism. Stoicism concerned itself with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom. This triangular philosophy of ‘God, man and universe’ forms the crux of stoic philosophy. They too, like Heraclitus believe that heat or energy is the principle of life. But in stoicism, man occupies a pedestal and he as Mired glibly puts it “Man is to God-universe what the spark is to the flame, the drop to the ocean
Confining ourselves to Greeks, after Stoicism there ensued periods of “Academic skepticism”, and “Sensationalistic skepticism” both of which stressed upon the uncertainty of knowledge resulting from position , distance and other spatial temporal relations existing between the observers and observed.
Amir Suhail Wani is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought.