The true meaning of the term ‘Philosophy’ according to its creators, the ancient Greeks

This post is dedicated to the revelation of the true -original- meaning of the term ‘Philosophy‘, as created by the ancient Greeks, its ‘fathers’.


We shall examine a number of excerpts from the work of  Iamblichus “On the Pythagorean Life”, which show what Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans – and, in general, the ancient Greek, genuine Philosophers as we will steadily prove ongoing- meant with the term ‘Philosophy‘.

While reading, one undoubtedly realises how much this has been distorted during the last centuries of Humanity’s History, at such a point that we have ended up very often considering an…Atheist, or a  voluptuous/sensual person or someone whose thinking is not in accordance with Nature (κατά Φύσιν-in accordance with the Natural, with Nature, as the ancient Greeks said) or is not even Logical/Rational, as a possible…’Philosopher’, just because he writes down a series of words and thoughts. But, let us now see the evidence from Antiquity:

First excerpt: “The purest type of human is the one who chooses the observation of the finest, which he calls a philosopher. It is good to observe the whole sky and the stars moving on it, if one can distinguish their order. And this is such with the participation of the First (Πρώτον) and the Thinkable (Νοητόν).

(NovoScriptorium: It has to be noted that there is not an exact translation about ‘Νοητόν‘ in English; more or less, it means ‘the one that can be realised only through ‘νόησις’/noesis, meaning ‘mind-nous’)

And this First, he said, is the essence of  numbers and words, according to which all these have been carefully arranged and organized as it should and wisdom, the true science, is the one dealing with the fine, the first, the divine and undefiled, who always remain the same and as they are, with the participation of which one could say the rest/the other ‘nice’, too. Philosophy is the pursuit of such an observation. It is good as well, said Pythagoras, this care for education (‘Παιδεία’ is the actual word which has a broader meaning than ‘education’), which contributes to the improvement of people ”

(NovoScriptorium: It is rather clear that ‘First and Thinkable’ (Πρώτο και Νοητό) refers to the Divine, to God, the Creator of everything. Wisdom and true Science is to have Him as a primary occupation, learning about His energies and idioms. The pursue of such an observation, which is a ‘life stance’/way of living indeed, is named ‘Philosophy‘)

Second Excerpt: “Everything that determines what to do and what not to do is defined with God as a basis, and this is their starting point; and whole life is organized to follow God and this is the proclamation of this philosophy. For it is ridiculous what people do, to seek for the good from somewhere else rather than the gods; and it seems like one of the citizens of a royal country serves an official and neglects this ruler of all. People are thought to act like this. Since there is a god and is a master of everything, it is generally accepted that from the lord one must ask for the good. Because everyone gives the goods to the ones whom they love and enjoy, and the opposite to those who oppose them ”

(NovoScriptorium: The whole life of a Philosopher has God as an epicentre, with all else one can think implied due to this. On the other hand, people that live against this approach are named ‘ridiculous‘)

Third excerpt: “It is therefore obvious that we must do what pleases the gods. But it is not easy for one to have this knowledge unless he hears it from someone who heard god or from god himself, or finds it through some divine art ”

(NovoScriptorium: The Philosopher understands and practices what pleases God, which, as a simple reading of ancient Philosophers convinces us, is basically what is Logical and according to Nature, plus Justice, Continence, Goodness, Mercy. He informs us here that man can be taught about God by another man but, at the same time, he can learn about God through personal revelation. God is the Creator of all and speaks personally to each and every person; the truths He reveals are common to all. Therefore, it is clear that the Philosophers believed in an interventional God  that communicates with each person individually. They believed, quite clearly, in the –personalized, religious- experience, which they attract from above, so it seems, because of their general life attitude)

Fourth excerpt: “(Pythagoras) He was the first to use the term ‘philosophy’ and said that this is an appetite and something like a friendship/love for wisdom, and wisdom is the science of the truth of beings. As beings, they recognized and said the intangible and eternal and the only ones that act, that is, the bodiless, while the rest only by synonymity are beings, because they participate in the other, the physical and material forms, which are born and die in reality, and were never beings “

(NovoScriptorium: The ‘True Being‘ or ‘Actual Being‘ of the ancient Philosophers (‘Όντως Όν) is nothing else rather than the Creator and Father, God. Philosophy is the occupation with the ‘Actual /True Being’, the only true being, according to the definition given in the above excerpt)

Fifth excerpt: “They often encouraged each other ‘do not rupture the god within yourself.’ All of their care for friendship/love (φιλία), through words and acts, was aming towards some mixture with god, to the unification with him and in some communion of the mind (νους) and the divine soul

(NovoScriptorium: The goal of Philosophy is the everlasting communion with God, at the levels of mind-nous and soul. This requires care in thoughts, in words and acts/deeds)

Important note: ‘Φιλία’ or ‘Φιλότης’ may be translated as ‘friendship’ today, but in ancient greek, especially in the texts of Philosophers, has the meaning of ‘the binding-coherence-force’ or ‘love’ or ‘creative force’. The exchange of terms ‘god’ and ‘gods’ should not surprise the reader. The term ‘θεός-θεά’ (god-godess) in ancient greek means ‘the watcher’. Whenever though they wanted to refer to the Creator of all, they either called it simply ‘god’ or ‘Actual/True Being’. This is more clear in the texts we have from the Philosophers until Plato.


Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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