Rise of Western Culture & Philosophy (Classical Greece)

Rise of Western Culture & Philosophy (Classical
Greece)

The notion of “Western” thought and culture began
with Classical Greece. Officially, it was kicked off in 1500 BC, but
western culture was interrupted during the Greek Dark Ages (about
1100-900 BC). It then truly began to soar during the Classical period
beginning around 900 BC, when Greece would enter its most glorious era,
laying the foundation for dominant nations and empires in the centuries
and millennia ahead.

(Continued Below)


Western thought and culture traces its roots to
Classical Greece philosophy, which is based upon reason and inquiry
pertaining to a variety of disciplines, including science, technology,
literature, law, politics, economics, psychology, ethics, art, etc.

Rise of Greece
Through Favored Geopolitical Position

How did Greece become the epicenter of Western
thought and culture? The answer begins with its geopolitical position.
The Greek city-states dotted the northeastern coasts of the
Mediterranean Sea, exposing it to the influence of the advanced
civilizations which cradled the eastern end of the sea, including (at
various times) the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians
and Mesopotamians.

The Mediterranean Sea was the “information highway”
of its time, especially at the eastern section, where three continents
converged together, accessible to one another through the across the
water. Civilizations thrived in this region thanks to its fertile lands,
which supported a collection of large populations. This gave rise to a
collection of diverse societies, which became sophisticated through the
accelerated exchange of ideas.

Greek city-states (a sovereign political entity
consisting of a city and surrounding lands) were not only in relatively
close proximity to these bastions of advanced thought, but their
location also served as excellent trading ports. This provided ample
opportunity for the Greek peoples to be opened to a diversity of ideas
and knowledge from the world’s most sophisticated cultures. Furthermore,
the Greek lands were not as agriculturally productive as other dominant
cultures around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, causing them
to rely even more heavily on trade, especially in city-states such as
Athens. Consequently, it was not surprisingly that Greek thought and
culture flourished the most in city-states like Athens, rather than
inland city-states such as Sparta.

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Greek Philosophy
Becomes Distinct from Eastern Thought and Culture

After centuries of being elevated by the influence
of advanced Asian and North African civilizations, Greek thought and
culture began to take on a life of its own, developing its own distinct
flavor. By the 7th century BC, Greek philosophers began to question the
meaning and nature of life. Greek philosophy would reach legendary
status during the age of Socrates in the 5th century BC.

Socrates revolutionized several areas of western
thought, including ethics (advocating a life of good acts), government
and law (endorsing democracy), and analyzing the nature of knowledge,
and how we gain knowledge. Socrates mentored Plato, who developed his
own brand of philosophy, introducing the idea of a “spiritual” aspect to
the world, or that material things observable in this world had a
“perfect” manifestation in a transcendent existence. Plate attempted to
understand the world with this assumption. Plato’s student, Aristotle,
although advocating belief in a realm or phenomena not observable
through our five senses, criticized Plato’s unsubstantiated assumptions
of a transcendent existence, relying on the senses (empiricism) as a superior methodology for
understanding the world.

Greek philosophy would be projected throughout the
known world (throughout much of Asia) during the Alexander conquests
from 336-323 BC. Upon his death in 323 BC, the Alexandrian Empire would
be splintered, but would remain under “Greek” control and influence.
Further schools of thought would develop, covering many disciplines and
varying perspectives. The main, underlying theme would continue to be
reason and inquiry.

During this time, Eastern thought and culture was
also developing. As Eastern and Western thought collided during the
Greek military adventurisms into the Eastern world, each would leave its
imprint on the other, while also diverging across important fault lines,
establishing fundamental differences between eastern and western thought
and culture.

Perhaps the primary difference between east and
west is that eastern philosophy focuses on empowering the ruling class,
with the masses seen as a synchronized entity, with the parts falling
into place and functioning for the good of the whole. Greek philosophy
focused on individualism, demanding that the ruling class exist to
ensure the rights and privileges of the individual. Eastern philosophy
would foster authoritarian systems over time, ensuring that constituents
support the larger purpose. Western philosophy would cultivate
democratic systems, erring on the side of individual liberties over
“state” interests.

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The Basis for
“Western” Thought and Culture, and Historical Impact

Greek philosophy would go on to have an
immeasurable effect on world history. First, during the Alexandrian
conquests, it would be spread throughout much of Asia, influencing
eastern philosophy (just as western thought was influenced by eastern
culture). Greek thought and culture would become the foundation of the
Roman Empire, dominating Roman life especially after its conquest of the
Greeks.

Judea was under Greek and Roman rule for most of
the time which Judaism and Christianity were developed, lending a strong
Greek philosophical imprint upon both religions, Christianity in
particular. The New Testament was originally written in the Greek
language, and originated and evolved in a Greek-dominated setting. For
example, the New Testament positions God as perfect (and therefore
unchanging) in all ways, consistent with the Platonian and Aristotlian
schools of thought concerning God. On the other hand, Christianity
impacted Greek school of thought by introducing the concept of hope of
happiness beyond this life, something embraced by large numbers of
Greeks.

When Roman Emperor
Constantine elevated Christianity to the status of state religion,
making it the favored religion in the empire, Christianity would become
ever-intertwined with Greek philosophy, adding the important finishing
touches to Western thought and culture. After the collapse of the Roman
Empire in the 5th century, the “Western World” would enter the Dark
Ages, where urbanization would be replaced by decentralized rural
populations, and education and enlightenment would be replaced by
superstition and unquestioning devotion to authority. In which case, the
“Greek” thought and culture would be temporarily lost from the concept
of “Western” thought and culture.

During the
Renaissance (beginning in the 1400s) and Enlightenment (1800s) eras
following the Dark Ages, where advanced Greek thinking would be restored
and built upon, reinventing democracy, scientific discovery, etc. The
British Empire would take upon itself the mantle of Western culture,
becoming the world leader in democracy, technological advancements
(ushering in the industrial revolution) and military might, reminiscent
of the Roman Empire. By the post-World War II era, the United States
would replace the United Kingdom as the world’s most potent power. Like
the British, the U.S. would adopt the legacy of Western philosophies,
being driven by Western ideals such as individual freedoms for its
constituents and Christian ideals.

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