The Prisca Theologia

The following pages are dedicated to a simple conjecture, summarized as follows:

  1. There was in ancient times a pure or 'pristine' religion (prisca theologia), uncontaminated by modernism.

  2. Ancient Greek sages understood the prisca theologia. Socrates, an inheritor of this tradition, wrote nothing. His teachings were not doctrinal, but relied on eliciting insight by his personal example and by asking questions.

  3. From Socrates there sprung forth diverse philosophical schools: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, Cynicism, etc.

  4. The prisca theologia is latently present in more or less its entirety within these Socratic schools collectively, but not indidivually.

  5. If there is a true and authentic philosophy, it must be discoverable and verifiable by personal introspection and experience. Therefore, philosophical education should not focus on doctrine so much as the raw materials that enable individuals to discover the true philosophy spontaneously.

  6. For this, definitions are especially helpful, because they equip the mind with new concepts. For example, consider how difficult it would be to use ones hand if there were not word, 'hand', which distinguishes the hand from the rest of the arm. This obvious principle is no less true in the area of introspection. If a person has a rich philosophical vocabulary, ones ability to reflect on experience and life's meaning is greatly enhanced.

It should therefore should be possible to teach the essential, experiential meaning of Greek philosophy by suppling key definitions, and de-emphasizing doctrine. Let us then test the conjecture in the following pages, which treat of ten leading Greek philosophical terms.


Hadot, Pierre. What Is Ancient Philosophy? (Michael Chase, trans.). Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 0674007336. (Original: Qu'est-ce que la philosophique antique?, 1995)

Kingsley, Peter. Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition. Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0198150814.

Return to philosophical terms index

Home   >   Psychology and Religion   >   Greek Terms

©2012 John Uebersax PhD