Greek philosophy in the early 4th century BC is inseparable from the personality and teachings of Socrates. Socrates had a strong impact not only on Plato but also on Xenophon and Aeschines and on all the others, the so-called minor, Socratic philosophers. Their personal relationship with Socrates (and especially their first-hand experience of his stance in the face of his indictment, his trial, and the death sentence he received from the polis) left an indelible mark on all of them.

Socratic philosophers and the various Socratic schools flourished from the early 4th century until the mid-3rd century BC. Sharing the life and thought of Socrates as their common fountainhead, each one still followed a different direction. However, all of them were claiming exclusivity of Socratic heritage for themselves (as did Plato and the Academy). Yet all of them endorsed the Socratic link between knowledge and virtue and believed that the practice of philosophy is essential for the attainment of self-control.

To the extent that the sources that we have at our disposal only furnish us with indirect evidence, it is not always possible to draw clear distinctions between the first generation of Socratics and the subsequent Socratic schools. Moreover, when the term “School” does not in fact denote an established institution, but rather refers more generally to a body of teachings that is maintained through an alleged chain of “succession” of teacher-pupil relations (which are certainly the creation of the “doxography” of the Hellenistic period).

Antisthenes (c.446-c.366 BC) was the alleged founder of the “School” of the Cynics, but Diogenes of Sinope (c.403-c.323 BC) was the typical representative of Cynic movement. Most prominent among the early Cynics was Crates of Thebes (c.365-c.285 BC). At the core of Cynisism is an ideal of austere, virtuous self-sufficiency. The Cynics criticized established conventional knowledge, and they adopted a cosmopolitan outlook.

Aristippus the Elder (435-355 BC) was known as the founder of Cyrenaic hedonism. Nevertheless, it is more likely that head (scholarchēs) of the Cyrenaic school was, in fact, his grandson Aristippus the Younger (born c.380 BC). Other well-known later Cyrenaics included Hegesias, Anniceris and Theodorus. Pleasure plays a key role in Cyrenaic ethics supplemented by a subjectivist epistemology.

Elians and Eretrians, Megarians and Dialecticians

Phaedo of Elis founded the Elian school of philosophy. He asserts the essential role of philosophy for attaining virtue and argues for the beneficial influence that philosophy can have on all humans, regardless of their physical or cultural predispositions. After Menedemus from Eretria became scholarchēs, his followers were called Eretrians. Menedemus was especially interested in the Socratic question regarding the unity of virtue.

Euclides of Megara (c. 450-380 BC), founder of the Megarian School, argued for the unity of goodness. The Megarians (like Stilpon) did not shy away from logical inquiries but ethical questions remain at the core of their philosophy. By contrast, Clinomachus of Thurii, pupil of Euclides, developed an independent interest in the theory of dialectics and founded the Dialectical school (Diodorus Cronus, Philo, Dionysius of Chalcedon).

Author: Lampros Spiliopoulos
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