History of philosophy  

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"The romantic revolt passes from Byron, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche to Mussolini and Hitler; the rationalistic revolt begins with the French philosophers of the Revolution." --A History of Western Philosophy (1945) by Bertrand Russell

"In public he performed all those actions which decency has condemned to privacy."--The History of Philosophy from Thales to Comte (1859) by George Henry Lewes

"Is the preparation of the following pages, the works of the authors themselves, so far as extant and accessible, have been the chief source of authority as to their respective systems. In addition to these, the historical statements of Aristotle, Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, and Cicero among ancient writers—the historical works of Ritter, Tennemann, Fries, Krug, Schwegler and Ueberweg among the Germans—of Cousin, Tissot, Renouvier among the French—of Archer Butler and Lewes in England, have been carefully studied in the preparation of the chapters on ancient philosophy ; of whom Ritter (History of Ancient Philosophy, 4 vols.), Tennemann (Manual of the History of Philosophy), Schwegler (Geschichte der Philosophic), and Ueberweg (History of Philosophy, Vol. i.) have been the chief guides ; while in modern philosophy, Schwegler (as above), Cousin (Histoire de la Philosophie, 2 vols.), Lewes (Biographical History of Philosophy), and Morell (History of Modern Philosophy) have been the principal aids. Damiron (Histoire de la Philosophie en France au XIX. Siecle), Renouvier (Manuel de la Philosophie Moderne), and Hegel (Geschichte der Philosophie, 3 vols.), have also been consulted."-- A History of Philosophy: Ancient and Modern (1876) by Joseph Haven

Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato -- Alfred Whitehead

By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, Spinoza is considered one of Western philosophy's definitive ethicists.
By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, Spinoza is considered one of Western philosophy's definitive ethicists.
Thérèse Philosophe (1748) was the bestseller of the French Enlightenment
Thérèse Philosophe (1748) was the bestseller of the French Enlightenment
Inversions, the first French gay journal is published. Produced between 1924 and 1926, it stopped publication after the French government charged the publishers with "Outrage aux bonnes mœurs". Its full title was Inversions ... in art, literature, philosophy and science.
Inversions, the first French gay journal is published. Produced between 1924 and 1926, it stopped publication after the French government charged the publishers with "Outrage aux bonnes mœurs". Its full title was Inversions ... in art, literature, philosophy and science.

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The history of philosophy is the study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include (but are not limited to): How can changes in philosophy be accounted for historically? What drives the development of thought in its historical context? To what degree can philosophical texts from prior historical eras even be understood today?

All cultures — be they prehistoric, ancient, medieval, or modern; Eastern, Western, religious or secular — have had their own unique schools of philosophy, arrived at through both inheritance and through independent discovery. Such theories have grown from different premises and approaches, examples of which include (but are not limited to) rationalism (theories arrived at through logic), empiricism (theories arrived at through observation), and even through leaps of faith, hope and inheritance (such as the supernaturalist philosophies and religions).

History of philosophy seeks to catalogue and classify such development. The goal is to understand the development of philosophical ideas through time.


Ancient philosophy

Ancient philosophy

Egypt and Babylon

There are authors who date the philosophical maxims of Ptahhotep before the 25th century. For instance, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Will Durant dates these writings as early as 2880 BCE within The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental History. Durant claims that Ptahhotep could be considered the very first philosopher in virtue of having the earliest and surviving fragments of moral philosophy (i.e., "The Maxims of Ptah-Hotep"). Ptahhotep's grandson, Ptahhotep Tshefi, is traditionally credited with being the author of the collection of wise sayings known as The Maxims of Ptahhotep, whose opening lines attribute authorship to the vizier Ptahhotep: Instruction of the Mayor of the city, the Vizier Ptahhotep, under the Majesty of King Isesi.

The origins of Babylonian philosophy can be traced back to the wisdom of early Mesopotamia, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogues, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. The reasoning and rationality of the Babylonians developed beyond empirical observation. The Babylonian text Dialog of Pessimism contains similarities to the agnostic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogues of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates and Plato. The Milesian philosopher Thales is also traditionally said to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.

Ancient Chinese

Chinese philosophy

Philosophy has had a tremendous effect on Chinese civilization, and throughout East Asia. The majority of Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era, during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments. It was during this era that the major philosophies of China, Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, and Taoism, arose, along with philosophies that later fell into obscurity, like Agriculturalism, Chinese Naturalism, and the Logicians. Of the many philosophical schools of China, only Confucianism and Taoism existed after the Qin Dynasty suppressed any Chinese philosophy that was opposed to Legalism.

Confucianism is humanistic, philosophy that believes that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community.

Taoism focuses on establishing harmony with the Tao, which is origin of and the totality of everything that exists. The word "Tao" (or "Dao", depending on the romanization scheme) is usually translated as "way", "path" or "principle". Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos (Template:Lang); health and longevity; and wu wei, action through inaction. Harmony with the Universe, or the origin of it through the Tao, is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices.

Ancient Graeco-Roman

Ancient Graeco-Roman philosophy is a period of Western philosophy, starting in the 6th century [c. 585] BC to the 6th century AD. It is usually divided into three periods: the pre-Socratic period, the period of Plato and Aristotle, and the post-Aristotelian (or Hellenistic) period. A fourth period that is sometimes added includes the Neoplatonic and Christian philosophers of Late Antiquity. The most important of the ancient philosophers (in terms of subsequent influence) are Plato and Aristotle. Plato specifically, is credited as the founder of Western philosophy. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said of Plato: "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them."

The main subjects of ancient philosophy are: understanding the fundamental causes and principles of the universe; explaining it in an economical way; the epistemological problem of reconciling the diversity and change of the natural universe, with the possibility of obtaining fixed and certain knowledge about it; questions about things that cannot be perceived by the senses, such as numbers, elements, universals, and gods. Socrates is said to have been the initiator of more focused study upon the human things including the analysis of patterns of reasoning and argument and the nature of the good life and the importance of understanding and knowledge in order to pursue it; the explication of the concept of justice, and its relation to various political systems.

In this period the crucial features of the Western philosophical method were established: a critical approach to received or established views, and the appeal to reason and argumentation. This includes Socrate's dialectic method of inquiry, known as the Socratic method or method of "elenchus", which he largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice. To solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distill the answer a person would seek. The influence of this approach is most strongly felt today in the use of the scientific method, in which hypothesis is the first stage.

Ancient Indian

The term Indian philosophy (Sanskrit: Darshanas), refers to any of several schools of philosophical thought that originated in the Indian subcontinent, including Hindu philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, and Jain philosophy. Having the same or rather intertwined origins, all of these philosophies have a common underlying themes of Dharma and Karma, and similarly attempt to explain the attainment of emancipation. They have been formalized and promulgated chiefly between 1000 BC to a few centuries AD.

India's philosophical tradition dates back to the composition of the Upanisads in the later Vedic period (c. 1000-500 BCE). Subsequent schools (Skt: Darshanas) of Indian philosophy were identified as orthodox (Skt: astika) or non-orthodox (Skt: nastika) depending on whether they regarded the Vedas as an infallible source of knowledge. By some classifications, there are six schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy and three heterodox schools. The orthodox are Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva mimamsa and Vedanta. The Heterodox are Jain, Buddhist and materialist (Cārvāka). Other classifications also include Pashupata, Saiva, Raseśvara and Pāṇini Darśana with the other orthodox schools.

Competition and integration between the various schools was intense during their formative years, especially between 500 BC to 200 AD. Some like the Jain, Buddhist, Shaiva and Vedanta schools survived, while others like Samkhya and Ajivika did not, either being assimilated or going extinct. The Sanskrit term for "philosopher" is Template:IAST, one who is familiar with the systems of philosophy, or Template:IAST.

In the history of the Indian subcontinent, following the establishment of a Vedic culture, the development of philosophical and religious thought over a period of two millennia gave rise to what came to be called the six schools of astika, or orthodox, Indian or Hindu philosophy. These schools have come to be synonymous with the greater religion of Hinduism, which was a development of the early Vedic religion.

Ancient Persian

Persian philosophy can be traced back as far as Old Iranian philosophical traditions and thoughts, with their ancient Indo-Iranian roots. These were considerably influenced by Zarathustra's teachings. Throughout Iranian history and due to remarkable political and social influences such as the Macedonian, the Arab, and the Mongol invasions of Persia, a wide spectrum of schools of thought arose. These espoused a variety of views on philosophical questions, extending from Old Iranian and mainly Zoroastrianism-influenced traditions to schools appearing in the late pre-Islamic era, such as Manicheism and Mazdakism, as well as various post-Islamic schools. Iranian philosophy after Arab invasion of Persia is characterized by different interactions with the old Iranian philosophy, the Greek philosophy and with the development of Islamic philosophy. Illuminationism and the transcendent theosophy are regarded as two of the main philosophical traditions of that era in Persia. Zoroastrianism has been identified as one of the key early events in the development of philosophy.

5th–16th centuries



Medieval philosophy is the philosophy of Western Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages, roughly extending from the Christianization of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance. Medieval philosophy is defined partly by the rediscovery and further development of classical Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate the then widespread sacred doctrines of Abrahamic religion (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) with secular learning.

The history of western European medieval philosophy is traditionally divided into two main periods: the period in the Latin West following the Early Middle Ages until the 12th century, when the works of Aristotle and Plato were preserved and cultivated; and the "golden age" of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries in the Latin West, which witnessed the culmination of the recovery of ancient philosophy, and significant developments in the field of philosophy of religion, logic and metaphysics.

The medieval era was disparagingly treated by the Renaissance humanists, who saw it as a barbaric "middle" period between the classical age of Greek and Roman culture, and the "rebirth" or renaissance of classical culture. Yet this period of nearly a thousand years was the longest period of philosophical development in Europe, and possibly the richest. Jorge Gracia has argued that "in intensity, sophistication, and achievement, the philosophical flowering in the thirteenth century could be rightly said to rival the golden age of Greek philosophy in the fourth century B.C."

Some problems discussed throughout this period are the relation of faith to reason, the existence and unity of God, the object of theology and metaphysics, the problems of knowledge, of universals, and of individuation.

Philosophers from the Middle Ages include the Christian philosophers Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm, Gilbert of Poitiers, Peter Abelard, Roger Bacon, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Jean Buridan; the Jewish philosophers Maimonides and Gersonides; and the Muslim philosophers Alkindus, Alfarabi, Alhazen, Avicenna, Algazel, Avempace, Abubacer, Ibn Khaldūn, and Averroes. The medieval tradition of Scholasticism continued to flourish as late as the 17th century, in figures such as Francisco Suarez and John of St. Thomas.

Aquinas, father of Thomism, was immensely influential in Catholic Europe, placed a great emphasis on reason and argumentation, and was one of the first to use the new translation of Aristotle's metaphysical and epistemological writing. His work was a significant departure from the Neoplatonic and Augustinian thinking that had dominated much of early Scholasticism.


The Renaissance ("rebirth") was a period of transition between the Middle Ages and modern thought, in which the recovery of classical texts helped shift philosophical interests away from technical studies in logic, metaphysics, and theology towards eclectic inquiries into morality, philology, and mysticism. The study of the classics and the humane arts generally, such as history and literature, enjoyed a scholarly interest hitherto unknown in Christendom, a tendency referred to as humanism. Displacing the medieval interest in metaphysics and logic, the humanists followed Petrarch in making man and his virtues the focus of philosophy.

The study of classical philosophy also developed in two new ways. On the one hand, the study of Aristotle was changed through the influence of Averroism. The disagreements between these Averroist Aristotelians, and more orthodox catholic Aristotelians such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas eventually contributed to the development of a "humanist Aristotelianism" developed in the Renaissance, as exemplified in the thought of Pietro Pomponazzi and Giacomo Zabarella. Secondly, as an alternative to Aristotle, the study of Plato and the Neoplatonists became common. This was assisted by the rediscovery of works which had not been well known previously in Western Europe. Notable Renaissance Platonists include Nicholas of Cusa, and later Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

The Renaissance also renewed interest in anti-Aristotelian theories of nature considered as an organic, living whole comprehensible independently of theology, as in the work of Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Telesius, and Tommaso Campanella. Such movements in natural philosophy dovetailed with a revival of interest in occultism, magic, hermeticism, and astrology, which were thought to yield hidden ways of knowing and mastering nature (e.g., in Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola).

These new movements in philosophy developed contemporaneously with larger religious and political transformations in Europe: the Reformation and the decline of feudalism. Though the theologians of the Protestant Reformation showed little direct interest in philosophy, their destruction of the traditional foundations of theological and intellectual authority harmonized with a revival of fideism and skepticism in thinkers such as Erasmus, Montaigne, and Francisco Sanches. Meanwhile, the gradual centralization of political power in nation-states was echoed by the emergence of secular political philosophies, as in the works of Niccolò Machiavelli (often described as the first modern political thinker, or a key turning point towards modern political thinking), Thomas More, Erasmus, Justus Lipsius, Jean Bodin, and Hugo Grotius.

East Asia

Mid-Imperial Chinese philosophy is primarily defined by the development of Neo-Confucianism. During the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism from Nepal also became a prominent philosophical and religious discipline. (It should be noted that philosophy and religion were clearly distinguished in the West, whilst these concepts were more continuous in the East due to, for example, the philosophical concepts of Buddhism.)

Neo-Confucianism is a philosophical movement that advocated a more rationalist and secular form of Confucianism by rejecting superstitious and mystical elements of Daoism and Buddhism that had influenced Confucianism during and after the Han Dynasty. Although the Neo-Confucianists were critical of Daoism and Buddhism, the two did have an influence on the philosophy, and the Neo-Confucianists borrowed terms and concepts from both. However, unlike the Buddhists and Daoists, who saw metaphysics as a catalyst for spiritual development, religious enlightenment, and immortality, the Neo-Confucianists used metaphysics as a guide for developing a rationalist ethical philosophy.

Neo-Confucianism has its origins in the Tang Dynasty; the Confucianist scholars Han Yu and Li Ao are seen as forbears of the Neo-Confucianists of the Song Dynasty. The Song Dynasty philosopher Zhou Dunyi is seen as the first true "pioneer" of Neo-Confucianism, using Daoist metaphysics as a framework for his ethical philosophy.

Elsewhere in East Asia, Japanese Philosophy began to develop as indigenous Shinto beliefs fused with Buddhism, Confucianism and other schools of Chinese philosophy and Indian philosophy. Similar to Japan, in Korean philosophy the emotional content of Shamanism was integrated into the Neo-Confucianism imported from China.


The period between 5th and 9th century CE was the most brilliant epoch in the development of Indian philosophy as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side. Of these various schools of thought the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta emerged as the most influential and most dominant school of philosophy. The major philosophers of this school were Gaudapada, Adi Shankara and Vidyaranya.

Advaita Vedanta rejects theism and dualism by insisting that “Brahman [ultimate reality] is without parts or attributes…one without a second.” Since, Brahman has no properties, contains no internal diversity and is identical with the whole reality it cannot be understood as God. Brahman though being indescribable is at best described as Satchidananda (merging "Sat" + "Chit" + "Ananda", i.e., Existence, Consciousness and Bliss) by Shankara. Advaita ushered a new era in Indian philosophy and as a result, many new schools of thought arose in the medieval period. Some of them were Visishtadvaita (qualified monism), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism-nondualism), Suddhadvaita (pure non-dualism), Achintya Bheda Abheda and Pratyabhijña (the recognitive school).

Middle East

In early Islamic thought, which refers to philosophy during the "Islamic Golden Age", traditionally dated between the 8th and 12th centuries, two main currents may be distinguished. The first is Kalam, that mainly dealt with Islamic theological questions. These include the Mu'tazili and Ash'ari. The other is Falsafa, that was founded on interpretations of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. There were attempts by later philosopher-theologians at harmonizing both trends, notably by Ibn Sina (Avicenna) who founded the school of Avicennism, Ibn Rushd (Averroës) who founded the school of Averroism, and others such as Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī.

17th–21st centuries

Early modern philosophy

Chronologically, the early modern era of Western philosophy is usually identified with the 17th and 18th centuries, with the 18th century often being referred to as the Enlightenment. Modern philosophy is distinguished from its predecessors by its increasing independence from traditional authorities such as the Church, academia, and Aristotelianism; a new focus on the foundations of knowledge and metaphysical system-building; and the emergence of modern physics out of natural philosophy. Other central topics of philosophy in this period include the nature of the mind and its relation to the body, the implications of the new natural sciences for traditional theological topics such as free will and God, and the emergence of a secular basis for moral and political philosophy. These trends first distinctively coalesce in Francis Bacon's call for a new, empirical program for expanding knowledge, and soon found massively influential form in the mechanical physics and rationalist metaphysics of Rene Descartes. Thomas Hobbes was the first to apply this methodology systematically to political philosophy and is the originator of modern political philosophy, including the modern theory of a "social contract". The academic canon of early modern philosophy generally includes Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, though influential contributions to philosophy were made by many thinkers in this period, such as Galileo Galilei, Pierre Gassendi, Blaise Pascal, Nicolas Malebranche, Isaac Newton, Christian Wolff, Montesquieu, Pierre Bayle, Thomas Reid, Jean d'Alembert, and Adam Smith. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a seminal figure in initiating reaction against the Enlightenment. The approximate end of the early modern period is most often identified with Immanuel Kant's systematic attempt to limit metaphysics, justify scientific knowledge, and reconcile both of these with morality and freedom.

19th-century philosophy

Later modern philosophy is usually considered to begin after the philosophy of Immanuel Kant at the beginning of the 19th century. German philosophy exercised broad influence in this century, owing in part to the dominance of the German university system. German idealists, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, transformed the work of Kant by maintaining that the world is constituted by a rational or mind-like process, and as such is entirely knowable. Arthur Schopenhauer's identification of this world-constituting process as an irrational will to live influenced later 19th- and early 20th-century thinking, such as the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.

After Hegel's death in 1831, 19th-century philosophy largely turned against idealism in favor of varieties of philosophical naturalism, such as the positivism of Auguste Comte, the empiricism of John Stuart Mill, and the materialism of Karl Marx. Logic began a period of its most significant advances since the inception of the discipline, as increasing mathematical precision opened entire fields of inference to formalization in the work of George Boole and Gottlob Frege. Other philosophers who initiated lines of thought that would continue to shape philosophy into the 20th century include

20th-century philosophy

Within the last century, philosophy has increasingly become a professional discipline practiced within universities, like other academic disciplines. Accordingly, it has become less general and more specialized. In the view of one prominent recent historian: "Philosophy has become a highly organized discipline, done by specialists primarily for other specialists. The number of philosophers has exploded, the volume of publication has swelled, and the subfields of serious philosophical investigation have multiplied. Not only is the broad field of philosophy today far too vast to be embraced by one mind, something similar is true even of many highly specialized subfields."

In the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy became the dominant school for much of the 20th century. In the first half of the century, it was a cohesive school, shaped strongly by logical positivism, united by the notion that philosophical problems could and should be solved by attention to logic and language. The pioneering work of Bertrand Russell was a model for the early development of analytic philosophy, moving from a rejection of the idealism dominant in late 19th century British philosophy to an neo-Humean empiricism, strengthened by the conceptual resources of modern mathematical logic. In the latter half of the 20th century, analytic philosophy diffused into a wide variety of disparate philosophical views, only loosely united by historical lines of influence and a self-identified commitment to clarity and rigor. The post-war transformation of the analytic program led in two broad directions: on one hand, an interest in ordinary language as a way of avoiding or redescribing traditional philosophical problems, and on the other, a more thoroughgoing naturalism that sought to dissolve the puzzles of modern philosophy via the results of the natural sciences (such as cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology). The shift in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, from a view congruent with logical positivism to a therapeutic dissolution of traditional philosophy as a linguistic misunderstanding of normal forms of life, was the most influential version of the first direction in analytic philosophy. The later work of Russell and the philosophy of W.V.O. Quine are influential exemplars of the naturalist approach dominant in the second half of the 20th century. But the diversity of analytic philosophy from the 1970s onward defies easy generalization: the naturalism of Quine and his epigoni was in some precincts superseded by a "new metaphysics" of possible worlds, as in the influential work of David Lewis. Recently, the experimental philosophy movement has sought to reappraise philosophical problems through social science research techniques.

On continental Europe, no single school or temperament enjoyed dominance. The flight of the logical positivists from central Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, however, diminished philosophical interest in natural science, and an emphasis on the humanities, broadly construed, figures prominently in what is usually called "continental philosophy". 20th century movements such as phenomenology, existentialism, modern hermeneutics, critical theory, structuralism, and poststructuralism are included within this loose category. The founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, sought to study consciousness as experienced from a first-person perspective, while Martin Heidegger drew on the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Husserl to propose an unconventional existential approach to ontology.

In the Arab-speaking world Arab nationalist philosophy became the dominant school of thought, involving philosophers such as Michel Aflaq, Zaki al-Arsuzi, Salah al-Din al-Bitar of ba'athism and Sati' al-Husri. These people disregarded much of Marx's research, and were mostly concerned with the individual's spirituality which would, in the fight against imperialism and oppression, lead to a united Arab Nation.

See also

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