From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato -- Alfred Whitehead
Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of western civilization, beginning with Greek philosophy in ancient Greece. The word philosophy itself originated in Greece: philosophia (φιλοσοφια), literally, "the love of wisdom" (philein = "to love" + sophia = wisdom, in the sense of knowledge and the courage to act accordingly). The ancient Greek word for wisdom was probably related to ideas about universal knowledge claims in mathematics, astronomy, natural philosophy, music, and many other subjects as indicated by Plato's and Aristotle's works, along with many other ancient and medieval philosophers.
Western philosophy has had a strong influence on, and has been greatly influenced by, Western religion, science, and politics. Indeed, the central concepts of these fields can be thought of as elements or branches of Western philosophy. To some of the ancient Greeks, these fields were often one and the same. Thus, philosophy is an expansive and ambiguous concept. Today, however, what generally distinguishes philosophy from other Western disciplines is the notion that philosophy is a more fundamental, classical, and universal form of thought than the other disciplines which sprouted from it.
Cornerstones in this tradition include:
Western society may be thought of as following an evolution that began with the philosophers of ancient Athens such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It continued through the Roman Empire and, with the addition of Christianity (which had its origins in the East), spread throughout Europe. During the colonial era, it became implanted in (for example) the Americas and Australasia.
In the early 3rd century the Emperor Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Empire included lands east of the Adriatic Sea and bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. These two divisions - the Eastern and Western Empires - were reflected in the administration of the Christian Church in Europe, with Rome and Constantinople debating and arguing over whether either city was the capital of Christianity (see Great Schism). As the eastern and western churches spread their influence, the line between "East" and "West" can be described as moving, but generally followed a cultural divide that was defined by the existence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the church in Rome. This cultural division was and is long lasting; it still existed during the Cold War as the approximate western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union (with the exception of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania).
There are ideals that some associate with the West, and there are many who consider Western values to be universally superior. For example, the author Francis Fukuyama argues that Western values are destined to triumph over the entire world.
Some point out that advocates of Western values are selective in what they include as Western; for example, they usually include concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights, but not totalitarianism, which was arguably created in the West. Therefore by selecting what values are part of "Western values", one can tautologically show that they are superior, since any inferior values by definition are not Western. See also: No true Scotsman fallacy
A different attack on the concept of Western values comes from those who advocate Islamic values or Asian values. In this view, a coherent set of traits defines the West, but those traits are inferior and are usually associated with moral decline, greed, and decadence. Those who hold this view are concerned about the Westernization of the rest of the world. (The Islamic world of the Islamic Golden Age, with great cultural centers in Baghdad and Bokhara, exemplified the "Western" cornerstones of reason, rule of law, and monotheism.)
Since the countries in the "West" were generally those that explored and colonized outside of Europe and Siberia, the term Western became, to some people, associated with European colonialism. However, many other states have established colonial rules, so colonialism is not uniquely a Western phenomenon.
- Analytic philosophy
- Continental philosophy
- French philosophy
- German philosophy
- American philosophy
- Eastern Philosophy
- Glossary of philosophical isms
- History of philosophy
- List of philosophers
- List of philosophical theories
- Index of philosophy
- List of philosophies
- Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato