Hellenistic philosophy

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

Hellenistic schools of thought


Pythagoreanism is the name given to the system of philosophy and science developed by Pythagoras, which influenced nearly all the systems of Hellenistic philosophy that followed. Two schools of Pythagorean thought eventually developed; one based largely on mathematics and continuing his line of scientific work, while the other focused on his metaphysical teachings, though each shared a part of the other.


In Ancient Greece, the sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê—excellence, or virtue—predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.


The Cynics were an ascetic sect of philosophers beginning with Antisthenes in the 4th century BC and continuing until the 5th century AD. They believed that one should live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, or celebrity, and living a life free from possessions.

  • Antisthenes (445–365 BC)
  • Diogenes (412–323 BC)
  • Crates of Thebes (365–285 BC)
  • Menippus (c. 275 BC)
  • Demetrius (10–80 AD)


The Cyrenaics were a hedonist school of philosophy founded in the fourth century BCE by Aristippus, who was a student of Socrates. They held that pleasure was the supreme good, especially immediate gratifications; and that people could only know their own experiences, beyond that truth was unknowable.

  • Aristippus (435–360 BCE)
  • Anniceris (flourished 300 BCE)
  • Hegesias of Cyrene (flourished 290 BCE)
  • Theodorus (c. 340 – c. 250 BCE)


Platonism is the name given to the philosophy of Plato, which was maintained and developed by his followers. The central concept was the theory of forms: the transcendent, perfect archetypes, of which objects in the everyday world are imperfect copies. The highest form was the Form of the Good, the source of being, which could be known by reason. In the 3rd century BC, Arcesilaus adopted skepticism, which became a central tenet of the school until 90 BC when Antiochus added Stoic elements, rejecting skepticism. With the adoption of oriental mysticism in the third century CE, Platonism evolved into Neoplatonism.


The Peripatetic school was the name given to the philosophers who maintained and developed the philosophy of Aristotle. They advocated examination of the world to understand the ultimate foundation of things. The goal of life was the happiness which originated from virtuous actions, which consisted in keeping the mean between the two extremes of the too much and the too little.

  • Aristotle (384–322 BC)
  • Theophrastus (371–287 BC)
  • Strato of Lampsacus (335–269 BC)
  • Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 200 AD)


Pyrrhonism is a school of philosophical skepticism that originated with Pyrrho in the 3rd century BCE, and was further advanced by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BCE. Its objective is ataraxia (being mentally unperturbed), which is achieved through epoché (i.e. suspension of judgment) about non-evident matters (i.e., matters of belief).

  • Pyrrho (365–275 BCE)
  • Timon of Phlius (320–230 BCE)
  • Aenesidemus (1st century BCE)
  • Sextus Empiricus (2nd century CE)


Epicureanism was founded by Epicurus in the 3rd century BC. It viewed the universe as being ruled by chance, with no interference from gods. It regarded absence of pain as the greatest pleasure, and advocated a simple life. It was the main rival to Stoicism until both philosophies died out in the 3rd century AD.

  • Epicurus (341–270 BC)
  • Metrodorus (331–278 BC)
  • Hermarchus (325-250 BC)
  • Zeno of Sidon (1st century BC)
  • Philodemus (110–40 BC)
  • Lucretius (99–55 BC)


Zeno of Citium (333–263 BC), the founder of Stoicism

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC. Based on the ethical ideas of the Cynics, it taught that the goal of life was to live in accordance with Nature. It advocated the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions.

  • Zeno of Citium (333–263 BC)
  • Cleanthes (331–232 BC)
  • Chrysippus (280–207 BC)
  • Panaetius (185–110 BC)
  • Posidonius (135–51 BC)
  • Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
  • Epictetus (55–135 AD)
  • Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD)


Eclecticism was a system of philosophy which adopted no single set of doctrines but selected from existing philosophical beliefs those doctrines that seemed most reasonable. Its most notable advocate was Cicero.

  • Varro Reatinus (116–27 BC)
  • Cicero (106–43 BC)
  • Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD)

Hellenistic Judaism

Hellenistic Judaism was an attempt to establish the Jewish religious tradition within the culture and language of Hellenism. Its principal representative was Philo of Alexandria.


Neopythagoreanism was a school of philosophy reviving Pythagorean doctrines, which was prominent in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. It was an attempt to introduce a religious element into Greek philosophy, worshipping God by living an ascetic life, ignoring bodily pleasures and all sensuous impulses, to purify the soul.

  • Nigidius Figulus (98–45 BC)
  • Apollonius of Tyana (40–120 AD)
  • Numenius of Apamea (2nd century AD)

Hellenistic Christianity

Hellenistic Christianity was the attempt to reconcile Christianity with Greek philosophy, beginning in the late 2nd century. Drawing particularly on Platonism and the newly emerging Neoplatonism, figures such as Clement of Alexandria sought to provide Christianity with a philosophical framework.

  • Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD)
  • Origen (185–254 AD)
  • Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD)
  • Aelia Eudocia (401–460 AD)


Neoplatonism, or Plotinism, was a school of religious and mystical philosophy founded by Plotinus in the 3rd century AD and based on the teachings of Plato and the other Platonists. The summit of existence was the One or the Good, the source of all things. In virtue and meditation the soul had the power to elevate itself to attain union with the One, the true function of human beings. It was the main rival to Christianity until dying out in the 6th century.

See also

  • Alexandrian school
  • Ancient Greek philosophy
  • Ancient philosophy
  • Hellenistic period
  • Hellenistic religion
  • Hundred Schools of Thought
  • Platonic Academy


    • A. A. Long The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vols, Cambridge University Press, 1987)
    • Giovanni Reale, The Systems of the Hellenistic Age: History of Ancient Philosophy (Suny Series in Philosophy), edited and translated from Italian by John R. Catan, Albany, State of New York University Press, 1985, ISBN 0887060080.
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