Evaluation and Significance
In what way do these early Greek scientists merit the title “first philosophers”? There are three reasons why the dozen “pre-Socratic” thinkers from 600 to 400 B.C. deserve the title.
One, they looked at and tried to understand the world in a scientific, rational manner. They were convinced that the world was a systematic, orderly place.
Two, because they viewed the world as systematic, they did not think that all events in nature were determined by the will of god. The pre-Socratics were not atheists, but their view of the gods was different from the traditional view. The poets who preceded them, for instance, might explain natural phenomena in supernatural terms. For example, they might describe thunder as Zeus growling or a rainbow as created by the goddess Iris. For the most part, the pre-Socratic gods, like the gods of Plato and Aristotle to follow, did not interfere with the natural world.
Third, these thinkers can be credited with being the first philosophers because they raised the question of where things came from. In answering this fundamental question, they often sought to identify a single substance from which the world would emerge.
The pre-Socratics made a bold start. Their naturalistic philosophy laid the groundwork for Socrates, the most famous philosopher in the history of the West. In the words of Aristotle, Socrates “called philosophy down from the heavens.” Socrates thought that human conduct and how one should live — and not naturalistic speculation — was the true subject of philosophy.