School of Athens

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12199

The first question toddlers ask (again and again!) is, "Why?" Philosophers have been asking that for thousands of years! Now that that's stuck in your head, learn how the ancient Greeks tackled it!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Who and where are these people and about what do you think they are arguing?

School of Athens

Image by Raphael, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Argument is usually considered a bad thing.

It causes problems between people, and sometimes even leads to violence! For some people, though, argument can be considered a good thing. In fact, there are some people whose job it is to come up with arguments using their imagination — arguments for and against different ideas. Those people are called "philosophers."

Many places in the world had their own philosophers; places like ancient India, China, Persia, and elsewhere. The most famous place for philosophy in the ancient world, however, was Athens, in the modern country of Greece.

Take a look at some of the important philosophers from Athens, using the [public domain] painting you saw in the opening, School of Athens, by the painter Raphael: 

School of Athens

Find and place your finger on the person labeled, “Pythagoras.” Can you find him? He is in the lower left-hand section of the image, sitting down with a book in his hands. Pythagoras came up with ideas in mathematics, music, and other areas, and was well-known for being a vegetarian! He thought it wrong to cause pain to any living thing.

Now, find and place your finger on the person named, “Euclid.” He is in the lower right-hand corner, and it looks like he is drawing on the ground. That’s because he is considered the father of geometry, the study of shapes and how to measure distances on the earth.

Next, find and place your finger on Heraclitus. He is resting in the lower center of the picture with his head upon his hand. Heraclitus believed the universe was made of fire, and he also famously said, “You never step into the same river twice.” What do you think he meant by that?

Now for the big ones: Find Plato pointing up in the air, and Aristotle motioning to the ground. Even though Aristotle was the student of Plato, they disagreed about a lot of things. About what did they disagree? You’ll have to learn more about philosophy to find out!

Plato and Aristotle were both Athenians; that is, they lived in Athens, and they each had many followers who also became famous philosophers. They together made Athens the home of philosophy in the ancient world.

Discuss the following questions with your parent or teacher:

  • About which of these thinkers above would you like to know more? Why?
  • Why do you think ideas about the world change over time?
  • What do you think are some important questions about life and the world in which we live?

The story of philosophy that specifically began in Athens continues up until the present. If you look at many of the ideas people have today, you can trace those ideas way back to some of the people in Raphael’s famous painting that you examined.

In the Got It? section, take a closer look at some of the ideas of these philosophers.

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