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In order to obtain an accurate appreciation of Pythagoras' achievement, it is important to rely on the earliest evidence before the distortions of the later tradition arose.
Pythagoras succeeded in promulgating a new more optimistic view of the fate of the soul after death and in founding a way of life that was attractive for its rigor and discipline and that drew to him numerous devoted followers.
Following such an approach, Walter Burkert, in his epoch-making book (1972a), revolutionized our understanding of the Pythagorean question, and all modern scholarship on Pythagoras, including this article, stands on his shoulders.
For a detailed discussion of the source problems that generate the Pythagorean Question see 2. The problems regarding the sources for the life and philosophy of Pythagoras are quite complicated, but it is impossible to understand the Pythagorean Question without an accurate appreciation of at least the general nature of these problems.
It remains controversial whether he also engaged in the rational cosmology that is typical of the Presocratic philosopher/scientists and whether he was in any sense a mathematician.
The early evidence suggests, however, that Pythagoras presented a cosmos that was structured according to moral principles and significant numerical relationships and may have been akin to conceptions of the cosmos found in Platonic myths, such as those at the end of the .
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It is best to start with the extensive but problematic later evidence and work back to the earlier reliable evidence. 234–305 CE) each wrote a , which includes some biography but focuses more on the way of life established by Pythagoras for his followers.