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What were the 5 great schools of ancient Greek philosophy?

The development of philosophy in ancient Greece extends from the 7th century BC to the 1st century. Five philosophical schools were generated during that period: the Platonic , the Aristotelian , the Stoic , the Epicurean , and the Skeptical . Philosophy in ancient Greece is distinguished from other forms of philosophical and theological theorizing by its emphasis on reason, as opposed to the senses or emotions.

Socrates was a key figure in the development of Athenian philosophy. Plato’s teacher, he lived at the end of the 5th century BC. Previously there were several philosophers who made his contribution to the beginnings of the development of philosophy in ancient Greece. Parmenides, Zeno, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Thales were some of them, but few of the works of these philosophers have been preserved. It was in Plato’s time that the thought of philosophers began to be recorded in written form. The topics they addressed were, for example, reality, goodness and the proper way of seeing and relating, life worth living, the distinction between appearance and reality and the distinction between philosophical knowledge and profane opinion, between others.

The debate between Socrates and Aspasia. The debate between Socrates and Aspasia.

Plato’s school

Plato lived between 427 and 347 BC. He is the first of the central figures of ancient philosophy and the first author whose written work reaches our days. Plato wrote on almost all the topics that philosophy addressed and probably his most important contributions are his theory on universals (a single idea serves to analyze and understand a plurality of realities) and his political teachings. He founded a school in Athens at the beginning of the fourth century BC, which remained open until the year 83. Philosophers who participated in the Academy after Plato contributed to the prestige of that institution, although they did not always contribute to the development of the ideas of he. Under the direction of Arcesilao de Pitane, which began in the year 272 BC, the Academy was the center of academic skepticism, the most radical form of skepticism. For this reason, the relationship between Plato and the long list of philosophers who were recognized as Platonists throughout the history of philosophy is complex and subtle.

Plato and Aristotle. The School of Athens, Raphael Sanzio, 1509. Plato and Aristotle. The School of Athens, Raphael Sanzio, 1509.

Plato wrote his works in the form of dialogue. He developed his philosophical thought through myths and allegories. In his theory of ideas, he maintained that the perceptible world is only a shadow of the real, perfect and immutable world, from which the universal concepts that structure reality come.

Aristotle’s school

Aristotle lived between 384 and 322 BC. He was a student of Plato and a transcendental philosopher in the history of ideas and in science. He made essential contributions to the development of logic, of syllogisms in particular, to rhetoric, to biology and, among others, he formulated the theories of substance and of ethics and virtue. In the year 335 BC he founded a school in Athens, the Lyceum, which contributed to spreading his thought. There are references that Aristotle would have written texts for a very wide audience, that is, informative, but none of them have been preserved. The works that survived to the present day were compiled around the year 100 BC. Aristotle’s thought has had a determining influence not only in the West but also in cultures such as India,

Aristotle. Marble bust Roman copy of the Greek original by Lysippos, year 330 BC. Aristotle. Marble bust Roman copy of the Greek original by Lysippos, year 330 BC.


Stoicism originates in Athens with Zeno de Cito around 300 BC. Stoic philosophy focuses on a metaphysical principle that had already been developed, among others, by Heraclitus: that reality is governed by the logos and that what happens is because it must happen. Heraclitus understood the logos as the unity of reality, the real. He asked to listen to the logos instead of the speech of men, who were based on appearances; it required the reference of the real, of nature. Heraclitus associated the logos with « the intelligence that directs, orders and gives harmony to the evolution of the changes that take place in the war that generates existence itself.». When an entity loses the meaning of its existence, it separates from the logos .

For stoicism, the objective of philosophy is the achievement of a state of absolute tranquility, which is obtained through education that leads to independence from one’s own needs. The Stoic philosopher will not fear any bodily or social condition, no matter how negative it may seem, having trained himself not to depend on bodily needs and passions. This is not to say that the Stoic philosopher does not seek pleasure, success, or lasting relationships, it simply means that he will not live for them.

The influence of Stoicism in Western philosophy has some significance; among its adherents were the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the economist Hobbes, and the philosopher Descartes.

Zeno of Cyto Zeno of Cyto

Epicurus’s school

Epicurus is possibly one of the most mentioned philosophers in non-philosophical fields. His thought was based on the fact that life is worth it if it is spent looking for pleasure. Now, the question is; what forms of pleasure? Throughout history, Epicurus’s philosophy has often been misinterpreted as preaching indulgence in bodily pleasures, whatever they may be. On the contrary, Epicurus himself was moderate in his eating habits, for example. His conceptions were aimed at cultivating friendship and any activity that inspires the spirit, such as music, literature and art. Epicurus’s school was also characterized by its metaphysical principles; among them, the thesis that our world is one among many other possible ones, and that what happens is in the nature of things.From Rerum Nature .

Epicurus Epicurus


The philosopher Pyrrho of Elis is considered the first skeptical philosopher. He lived between the years 360 and 270 BC. The only known written record is an ode dedicated to Alexander the Great, whom he accompanied on his journeys to India, where he met yogis and sadhus . His philosophical thought is preserved through his disciple Timon the Silographer. Skepticism questions every claim. According to Timon the Silographer, Pyrrho of Elis was so radical in his position that he denied that the first principles of Aristotelian deduction could be reached. In its most extreme form, known as academic skepticism and first formulated by Arcesilao de Pitane, there is nothing that should not be doubted, including the very fact that everything can be doubted.

Elis Pyrrhon Elis Pyrrhon


Encyclopedia Britannica. Hellenistic and Roman philosophy: Stoicism . Britannica. Accessed December 2021.

Epicurus . Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2018.

GMA Grube. Plato’s thought . Editorial Gredos, Madrid, Spain, 1988.

Plato. Dialogues IV – The Republic. Translation by Conrad Enggers Lans. Editorial Gredos, Madrid, Spain, 1988.

Sebastian Salgado Gonzalez. The philosophy of Aristotle . Duererías, 2012.