Ancient Philosophers and what we can learn from them today.
Chinese Philosopher and the Father of Personal Development
(551 BC – 479 BC)
Confucius is known as the originator of the “Golden Rule” he believed that “no one should do to another what they would not want done to them” he referred to this rule as reciprocity. Confucius philosophy was simple and centered on personal morality, correctness of social relationships, sincerity and justice. He believed that humans and human well being should be the primary focus of other humans. He believed that core values such as family loyalty and respect for ones elders should be adhered to at all times. Confucius taught that an individual should live more in line with their moral compass than within a set of rules or laws. His teachings were vast but I think it is safe to say the Confucius was the first documented personal development expert.
Greek Philosopher, Personal Growth and Ethics Advocate
(469 BC – 399 BC)
Socrates is known as the father of ethics and he is credited with Socratic Theory which is essentially a line of questioning asked of an individual designed to not only generate an answer but to also stimulate thought in order to gather and spark insight. Eventually the series of questions would boil down the ultimate answer. His favorite philosophical discussions were based around what is good and just.
Socrates teachings are considered the cornerstone of western philosophy. Oddly enough it is widely believed that Socrates did not have a job. He claimed that his only purpose was to discuss, what he considered to be, the most important topic of his time, Philosophy. Socrates was ultimately put on trial and executed as a heretic for doing what was described by his prosecutors as basically “poisoning the minds of children”. During his trial Socrates put forth a very defiant and argumentative defense to the jury; he claimed that he would be better off dead, dying as a martyr in order for his philosophical beliefs to be carried on by others.
Socrates favorite saying was “I only know that I know nothing” which is an interesting statement coming from such an intelligent man. Socrates primary belief was that individuals should concentrate on self-development (personal development) rather than on material wealth. Socrates is known as an educator and not a writer because most of his philosophies were disseminated via his students, one of which was a well known philosopher by the name of Plato.
Greek Philosopher, Self Help Master, Father of Contrast
(428 BC – 347 BC)
Plato is credited for opening the first school of higher learning in western civilization known simply as “The Academy” in Athens, Greece. Plato’s writing skills were quite advanced for his time and this was evidenced by his writing of the Socratic Dialogues a series of 32 dialogues and 13 letters. Plato was actually sold into slavery by his brother in-law and was only set free when an admirer paid for his freedom.
Plato’s primary beliefs were that a person must study themselves in order to determine their level of character. He believed that personal development and personal insight is the only way to uncover the gifts that God has given you. Plato was best known for his “allegory of the cave” this work basically claims that only when a person climbs out of the metaphorical cave will they be enlightened enough to rule. This was not only his political view but a viewpoint he believed all people could benefit from.
Plato was known for a form of discussion he called contrast and he was known for contrasting knowledge vs. opinion, perception vs. reality, nature vs. custom and body vs. soul. Plato was known for his discussions on the topic of reality, he believed that everything was based in perception and the physical world is the lesser world in every way. He believed that most of the greater world was not graspable and he scorned people who put all their faith in their physical senses and not their intellectual senses for the purpose of gathering insight. The weight Plato put on the intellectual faculties certainly makes him one of the original personal development authorities. The “Academy” where Plato taught had a historically significant student by the name of Aristotle.
Greek Philosopher, The Original Genius, Father of Classification
(384 BC – 322 BC)
Aristotle is widely known for his classification of all living things, not living things and beliefs. He classified everything he could find to study or think about. Aristotle is considered to be one of the most, if not the most knowledgeable person in history. It is commonly agreed upon that he literally knew everything about everything and he proved this often by being able to speak in great detail on virtually every topic known to man at that time. His study and teachings on physics were the basis for all western science until Isaac Newton “rewrote the book”. Aristotle was well known for developing an understanding of the first “elements” fire, earth, air, water and he proposed a fifth element he referred to as “aether”.
Aristotle’s contributions to the principles of personal development are vast however his study of ethics is particularly noteworthy. He believed that, in very basic terms, a person should be good and do good simply for the sake of being good. He believed (this is why he is mentioned here) that one must have a purpose or an optimum activity designed specifically for a human being. This activity can only be designed for humans and if an animal can do it then it is not optimum. He also thought that a person must go through a growth process of education and experience then at some point the act of doing good will simply “be” the norm as though it was a law of nature. I find this a fascinating take on personal development.