The Legacy of Ancient Greece
Wilhelm Wundt: “founder of psychology”.
What gave rise to human usage of psychology? The need to understand other’s motives.
• We need to be cooperative (e.g., hunting) and competitive (e.g., reproduction)
• Vital skill to interpret motives and hide your own
Parthenon (erected during the rule of Pericles, 495 – 429 BCE)
• Celebrates Athena, the patron goddess ofAthens
“The Greeks were inventing philosophy, science, and history.”
Postmodern (up to the Scientific Revolution) writers wrote enigmatically. They would hide secret
meanings for the more intelligent readers, leaving the public and historians to guess at what their true
sermons were. This is known as esoteric-exoteric style, because esoteric meaning was hidden in the
public (exoteric) words.
• Plato wrote in this style
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• Socrates shunned writing; believed that wisdom came from stimulating discourse
Elitism: idea that not everyone can handle the truth. This has implications for the early philosophers and
for the development of psychology.
• Philosophers had to be careful about disrupting the status quo – not everyone would
comprehend, and therefore embrace, their doctrines
• Fear that new ideas would destabilize society
• Question of whether fithings in psychology should be shared with the public. This is more of a
modern (i.e., from 20 century) problem. You can study objects (e.g., atoms) and publish your
findings without worrying the impact those findings will have on the atoms themselves. This is
not the same for psychology. When we make findings public, we risk changing the way people
think and behave. There are consequences in studying people that do not exist when studying
Plato’s “Republic” put forth the belief that findings on human nature should not be shared with the
public because it could a) destroy society b) relinquish the control scientists had over human behaviour.
The BronzeAge: 3000 – 1200 BCE. Time when the history ofAncient Greece began.
The DarkAges: 1200 – 700 BCE. Time whenAncient Greece collapsed. Little is known about what
occurred during this period in time.
Socrates challenged traditionalAthenian assumptions, and was tried and convicted doing so.
Goal for the Classical Greeks was to achieve eternal honour in service of the city-state.
Transmission of Classical ideas
• Originate in Greece
• Picked up by Romans, who distribute ideas around the Mediterranean and into Europe (France,
Greek Classical era Hellenistic Era Roman Empire
• Greek culture remained, and permeated into the Roman Empire
During the Bronze and DarkAges, the ruling aristocracy of Greece engendered a warrior persona. (See
Ancient Greek men
• Valued strength, fame, and glory
• Despised weakness, despised women
Achilles: personifies the values of Greek warriors during the Bronze and DarkAges. When given the
choice between a long, private life or a short stint of glory on the battlefield, he chose the latter.
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Arête: virtue achieved with a glorious death on the battlefield, and subsequently a proper burial. Only
those who achieved arête would go to Hades and the afterlife.
Tyche: fate, considered a personified force.
Homeric conceptualizations of virtue
• Glory could only come to those who had been in battle (i.e., men only)
• Virtue was something that you achieved in battle, not something that you were born with or
could work on
• Tyche could prevent you from achieving glory; e.g., being born a slave, poor, crippled, or a
• These ideas remained until the HellenisticAge
Modern ideas of virtue
• Established through Stoicism, further taught in Christianity
• Psychological state of being, not an achievement unlocked in battle
• Anyone can be virtuous
Ancient and modern psychology both emphasize the importance of living the “good life”.
• To understand what the good life is requires investigations into human nature
• How do you achieve happiness and virtue? (BronzeAge Greeks believed that these were found
by wining fame and glory on the battlefield)
• What are the limits of human knowledge and happiness?
• Ancient Greeks believed that we could find the answers to this question
The Iliad and the Odyssey are important because they have glimpses into the psychology of Greeks at
that time. What were the values important toAncient Greeks?
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• Insight into motivations underlying human behaviour (e.g., acting the way we do because of
love, loyalty, passion, and battle)
the soul explains why there could be animation in otherwise inanimate shells (i.e., our bodies).ept of
• When the soul departs, the body becomes a lifeless corpse
• Religions introduce the concept that the soul may survive after death
Psuche: the breath of life, the life-spirit that animates the human body. This is referred to in Homer’s
works. When the warrior dies in battle, his psuche leaves him.
What makes the psuche unique from the soul?
• The two concepts are similar but distinct
• Psuche may leave the body during sleep. It is never described as being active while awake. It is
never conceptualized as the origin of motivation into human behaviours.
Origins of behaviour (Bronze and Dark Ages). Behaviour thought to come from various specialized
and localized (soul-like) regions in the body:
• Phrenes: located in the diaphragm; thought to control rational action.
• Thumos: located in the heart; thought to control action driven by emotion.
• Noos: representations of reality though perception and cognition. This contained several mini-
ArchaicAge (700 – 500 BCE): time when written history of Greece appears. It was during this time that
the polis was established.
Polis: political and cultural order of Greece (i.e., a city-state).
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(Ethos: disposition, characteristic.)
The phalanx (formation) was important because it allowed the common citizen to become a warrior. No
longer did the armour cost a fortune, requiring warriors to be of the aristocracy.
Consequences of the new phalanx-style warfare on democracy
• You did not have to be in the aristocracy to be a warrior
• Since ordinary citizens were now on equal political footing with aristocrats, they were able to
take on political roles in the polis
Egalitarian: concept that individuals are equal politically, economically, and socially.
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Consequences of the new phalanx-style warfare on psychology
• Fighting as one whole (as opposed to the one-on-one battles of the BronzeAge) occurred for the
first time, and has remained a critical military strategy
• Self-interest was second in serving the interests of the polis
• Wealth, and displays of wealth, was discouraged
Policies during this time ensured that people dressed the same and did not accumulate quantities of land
Sophrosyne: virtue of self-control and wisdom (to the point of having nothing in excess) valued during
theArchaicAge. Enjoying worldly pleasures but not become consumed by them.
The concept of arête remained, but instead of achieving glory from the battlefield, one now won arête
by servicing the polis.Any citizen could achieve arête (this excludes metics, who were noncitizens).
• Fame and glory still important
• Political glory now, as opposed to glory in battle
Idiots: citizens of the polis who did not participate in public life. Public participation by all citizens was
expected and demanded; private life earned you the title of idiot.
Spartans: men who lived in the polis of Sparta. These men had farms run by slaves, which meant that
they could devote all of their own strengths to serving the polis in battle.
Helots: slaves that served the Spartan men. They were often killed by Spartans who were training to
destroy those who crossed their paths. Since the Helots outnumbered the Spartans 10 to 1, the Spartans
kept their warrior skills sharp in order to prevent a slave uprising.
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Values of the Spartans
• Success in warfare
• Family was of lowest concern; men may be married but still lived in communal barracks to train.
To see their wives they would sneak out in the night.
Many later thinkers (e.g., Plato, Rousseau, and SamuelAdams) believed that Sparta was the pinnacle of
smart social engineering.
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Thales (take a look at the paragraph below).
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Naturalism: science that does not rely on supernatural explanations; idea that the world is a natural
place with ordinary matter than can be understood by ordinary people.
Psychology is tricky as a naturalistic science, because the concept of the soul has a supernatural feel to
it. This means that, although it can be an organic study, inAncient times it was difficult to define
naturalistically. The text states that this is still a problem today.
Pythagoras coined the idea of a (mathematical) proof. The implications of this are that one must show
the progression of their logic step-by-step.
• Body/soul dualism
• The body is a cage in which the soul is trapped. The body slowly poisons the soul. The way to
combat this is through restriction of pleasure (e.g., sex) and diet.
• Plato subscribed to these beliefs
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“Being”: idea that the universe is composed in a permanent, unchanging fashion. “The underlying
permanent reality of the universe is an unchanging substance.” This belief was held by Parmenides,
whose thesis was, “it is.” There can be absolute Truths.
“Becoming”: idea in opposition with “being.” Becoming is the idea of change; it states that the world is
in a constant state of change. When the only constant thing in the universe is that things are always
changing, there cannot be Truths that remain permanent. This belief was held by Heraclitus.
(Aphorism: a terse saying that holds a general observation or astute truth.)
The Being/Becoming debate is one of the first theories in psychology. In modern terms we would
describe it as a debate between appearances and reality.
With the Being/Becoming debate, Ancient Greeks suddenly became aware that what they perceive might
not represent reality. This lead to inquisitions into sensation and perception and cognitive psychology.
Parmenides stated that, since the senses cannot be trusted, logic must be relied upon.
Rationalism: general theory of the universe which states that humans cannot perceive realities because
we are constrained by the way things appear to be.
• Parmenides and Plato
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• Psychology founded as a science in the 19 century
• Originally a form of physiology
Philosophy + Physiology Psychology
Protopsychologists: physician-philosophers who used physiology to explain aspects of psychology (i.e.,
pertaining to the mind and behaviour).
• Alcmaeon of Croton (500 BCE)
• Believed that sensation and thought occur in the brain
• Interested in perception
• Traced optic nerves to the brain
• Empedocles of Acragas (450 BCE)
• Believed that we rely on our senses because they are what provide information to the
processing unit (which he believed to be the heart)
• This is important for psychology because it is a naturalistic interpretation (i.e., no
reference to the soul) of how we come to perceive the outside world
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Atomism: idea that the world is created from atoms.
• Leucippus of Miletus
• Democritus of Abdera
• Items (composed of atoms) give off copies of themselves, and this is what we perceive
Atomism was the last (at least Classical) stab at considering physical realities.After this, philosophers
were more concerned with the ideas of happiness, morality, and knowledge.
Ideas within the atomism paradigm
• Naturalistic science
• No God, no soul
• Tyche (fate) occurs because atomic particles have a preordained structure
• Notice that although fate is a supernatural idea, they brought it back to naturalistic
Because Democritus’ideas rejected a God and a soul, his doctrine inherently promoted hedonism
(seeking pleasure and avoiding pain).
• In the 19 century hedonism is considered to be the motivation human behaviour
The Classical Period (500 – 323 BCE)
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• This time was characterized by wars with the Persian Empire
• Polies were able to hold off the Persians, although they never fully united
• Sparta and Athens were the greatest powers
Peloponnesian War: the pride of theAthenians for beating Persian invaders caused them to intimidate
other poleis. Some poleis sided withAthens, while others joinedAthens’chief rival, Sparta. The
Peloponnesian War was a series of civil wars that resulted from this rivalry.
• Sparta, with the Persians, defeatedAthens
• Greece was crippled
• Set the stage for conquer byAlexander the Great
• Wars betweenAthens and Sparta set the stage for Plato and his philosophies
and political power depended on powerful speech, rhetoric was a vital skill.nceAthens was a democracy
• First paid educators
• First instance of “higher education”
• Although they were not directly philosophers, their teachings marked an increase in humanistic
philosophy, as well as a humanistic approach to theAppearance/Reality debate (siding with the
human experience of appearance)
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• “Man is the measure of all things”
• Truth is relative to the interpreter
• For the first time, the Greeks were taught (by the Sophists) to embrace other cultures. The
term barbarian had previously been used to describe anyone who was not Greek
• If “reality” is unknowable because it depends on the eye of the beholder, so too are the
Gods unknowable – this means that right and wrong are a cultural distinction, not divine
• Science should not focus on proving the reality of the Gods but should focus on human
achievements and human happiness (a very humanistic motive for scientific exploration)
Nomos: human law.
TraditionalAthenians had a hard time accepting the ideas of the Sophists, because they believed that
human nature is inflexible and that reality (e.g., the polis) is suited to be ideal for that group. The
Sophists argued that human nature is malleable and that laws are arbitrary cultural norms.
The Phusis/Nomos debate continues to be important in psychology. What is the role of nature, and what
is the role of the environment? Where does human nature lie in this distinction?
Why Western influence on philosophy?
• Possibly because of the Greek miracle and Socrates
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