Greek Philosophical Terms

For the best resource for these terms see F. E. Peter’s Greek Philosophical Terms (New York University Press, 1967). Those terms with the asterisk will be the list from which the first terms exam will be drawn.  The rest of the terms will be the possible candidates for your second terms exam.

*Hyle. Aristotle’s word for "prime matter." Translated by Thomas Aquinas as material prima. Aristotle’s concept arose out of a critique of Anaximander’s notion of apeiron.

*Morphe. Aristotle’s term for form. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics there is a duality between hyle as prime matter and morph‘ as that which forms this matter into the sensible things of the world. Latin translation: forma.

*Apeiron. Anaximander’s concept of the first material or prime matter. Literally translated it means the "unlimited."

*Logos. The Greek term for "reason" for "giving an account" (Plato). The verb lego both to speak and to put together. Thus Plato’s emphasis is on the living dialogue as the only context for the unveiling of logos. Socrates claims that the logos speaks through him in the Platonic dialogues. The Latin translation is ratio, and this had led to a more strict use of reason in the confines of mathematics, science and logic.  For much more click here.

*Sophia. Wisdom. Becomes an intellectual virtue in Aristotle, as contrasted with phron‘sis the intellectual virtue that makes the good life possible. Last stem of our word "philosophy." Used in a derogatory way in naming the Sophists, those pretending to be wise.

Phronesis. Generally used to describe practical knowledge.

Pragmata. Objects seen in terms of practice and not theoretical investigation.

*Episteme. For Plato knowledge that has been derived by justifying an opinion with an argument (logos). Hence the Platonic formula doxa + logos = episteme.

*Kosmos. Order, form, fashion, rule, regulation, or regulator. The world or universe according to its perfect order or arrangement. Non-philosophical use in Alexandrian Greek as known or discovered world.

*On = being. Onta = beings. Root for our word ontology.

*Kosmos Noetos. Plato’s real (transcendental) world of forms.

*Eidos (plural eide). The Greek word Plato used to designate his "forms."

*Eidon. Image. The images of the sensible world, the poor, inexact copies of the perfect eid‘.

*Kosmos Aisthetos. The sensible world for Plato.

*Aisthesis. Sensation, the sensible. Translated into Latin as sensatio.

*Nous, Noesis. Intellect to intellection. Translated into Latin as intellectio. Anaxagoras’ cosmic mind.

*Philo, Philein. Love of and to love. First stem of philosophy.

*Physis. Trans. As natura in Latin. Basic meaning in Greek much more living and active than what we term as physical nature today. Physis could be better translated as creativity or creative coming forth according to a certain logos. Aristotle called the pre-Socratics "physicists" (physikoi).

*Psyche. The soul. First stem of our psychology with logos at the end.

*Atoma. Indivisible. Democritus concept of the basic units of the world.

Energeia. Aristotle’s concept of act or actuality.

Dynamis. The power in things.  Aristotle's concept of potentiality.

*Homo mensura. (Latin). Man is the measure. Protogoras’ theory of epistemological relativism.

Chorismos. Ontological gap between world of forms and world of appearance.

*Ouk on vs. me on. Absolute non-being vs. relative non-being. First mentioned in Parmenides but there is no consistent distinction until the German theologian Paul Tillich defined them as absolute and relative in the first volume of his famous Systematic Theology.

*Dialektike. See essay at this link.

Eros. Love, usually now in terms of passion as in our erotic love vs. Platonic love.

Hypodoche. Plato’s word for the primal stuff or receptacle which is equiprimordial with the perfect forms. According to the Timeaus, the Demiurge (the artisan or creator) impresses the forms on this stuff and the sensible world of appearance (kosmos aisth‘tos) is the result. Aristotle uses his own hyl‘ as a replacement for the Platonic hypodoch‘.

Hypokeimenon. Aristotle’s substance or substratum that which persists throughout all change. Translated as subiectum by medieval philosophers. The original meaning is corrupted in modern post-Cartesian subjectivism but is retained in our subject as a subject of research or investigation or our subjects in school. Click here for the full hypokeimenon story.

*Aporia. No way out, nothingness, or the impenetrable. It is something which is not porous which cannot leak. The interlocutors in the early Platonic dialogues cannot get out of the dead-ends into which Socrates leads them. They are in aporia; hence, the locution "aporetic" dialogues, the early dialogues where there seems to be no positive result.

Ergon. A finished work, as opposed to energeia the work in process, the actuality of the work.

*Axios. Value or worth; hence, our word axiology, theory of value in ethics and political philosophy.

*Nomos. Law, custom, convention. Nomos was referred to as divine law in Heraclitus, the Sophists thought that nomos was only conventional. Our word, antinomians to indicate revolutionary sects like the Gnostics or the Anabaptists who took seriously the idea of going beyond the law as a way of spiritual redemption.

*Hedone. Pleasure, hence our term hedonism.

*Theos. God hence our "theology" or "theophany" the revelation of theos because the "phany" stems from the Greek phainos, to come to light. Ontophany is the revelation of being. Phenomenology is the logos of phenomena, those things that appear.

*Heiros. The sacred, hence our "hierophany," the revelation of the sacred.

Agathon. The Good in Plato’s republic, which is not identified with the theos. This is the Form above all the Forms.

*Arche. The first, or first principle (s).

*Gnosis. Knowledge, hence agnostics, not-knowing, and our word "agnostic."

*Deontos. Law, hence "deontological" ethics, strictly non-utilitarian with strict adherence to the law in all situations.

*Doxa. Opinion, the quasi-knowledge we obtain from the sensible world as opposed to the true knowledge that we get from the realm of Forms.

*Monas. Unit, the one. Hence, Leibniz’s "monads" and the "monadology."

Polis. Originally meant fort or citadel and then came to mean the Greek city states. Out terms "politics" of course stems from this root.

*Telos. End, purpose, or goal. Hence our "teleological" ethics, utilitarian ethics that urges actions according to their end and purpose.

Dike. Law or justice, as in the opposites having to pay for their coming out of Anaximander’s apeiron.

Aletheia. Unveiling, uncovering. The Greek notion of truth. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger maintains that we ought to return to this concept of truth rather than the modern "correspondence" or "coherence" theories of truth.

Elenchos. Scrutiny, refutation, interrogation. Socrates method in aporetic dialogues.

Entelecheia Lit., "having a telos inside."  It is the essence of anything and allows t

Sophrosyne.  Usually translated as "temperance," but it literally means "moral sanity," i.e., a personal stability and integrity that comes from the harmony of the appetites, passions, and reason.

Dianoia For Plato the type of cognition that stands between doxa and noesis. It is that faculty that allows the mind to connection mathematical forms to geometrical and numerical figures in the world of appearance.

Aletheia The Greek word for truth as the uncovering (lit. meaning) or coming forth of a thing's essence.

Anamnesis.  The Greek word used to indicate Plato's theory of recollection.

Arete.  Most generally anything "functioning excellence"; most specifically as phronesis operating to develop the virtues, viz., human functional excellence.

Daimon Lit. "spirit," good, evil, or indifferent.  For Socrates it meant his "conscience," the voice within that told me not to do certain actions.

Demiourgos The creator god of the Timaeus who takes the Forms and impresses them on a primordial stuff (hypodoche) to produce the world of appeance.

Diairesis.  The Platonic method of division found in the Phaedrus and the Sophist.

Eudaimonia Lit. "having a good spirit," usually translated as "happiness," but more accurately "contentment" or "well being."

Theoria For Aristotle the activity of nous that requires a logos, viz., a truth that is demonstrated.  As opposed to nous as phronesis that does not require demonstration.  These practical truths are lived rather than demonstrated.

Megalopsychia. Lit. "great souled," most often translated as "pride," the virtue of knowing one's own worth without falling into the deficient of humility or the excess of boastfullness.

Ousia.  Aristotle's basic words for substance or fundamental being.

Epoche.  Pyrrho's term for suspension of belief.

Ataraxia.  Pyrrho's word for a state of "unpeturbedness" or "quietude."  It is the moral and spiritual end of the philosopher's quest.