Ancient Philosophy

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History of Western philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Ancient philosophy
Medieval philosophy
Renaissance philosophy
17th century philosophy
18th-century philosophy
19th century philosophy
20th century philosophy
Postmodern philosophy
Contemporary philosophy
See also:
Eastern philosophy
Indian philosophy
Iranian philosophy
Chinese philosophy
Korean philosophy
Christian philosophy
Islamic philosophy
Jewish philosophy

Ancient philosophy is philosophy in antiquity, or before the end of the Roman Empire. It usually refers to ancient Greek philosophy. It can also encompass various other intellectual traditions, such as Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, and Iranian philosophy. Ancient philosophies are generally deeply rooted in religious traditions. Accordingly, ancient philosophies have a comprehensive outlook as opposed to modern or contemporary philosophies, which tend to have more narrow methodologies and areas of focus.

In the Western tradition, ancient philosophy was developed primarily by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Ancient philosophy, however, also includes the Pre-Socratics, Hellenistic philosophy, and Roman philosophy. Ancient philosophy in the West is distinguished from Medieval philosophy, which was largely influenced by Christianity and Islam. Ancient philosophies from non-Western traditions, such as Chinese or Indian philosophy, often have strong ethical or religious concerns that continue to be major parts of the traditions today.

General characteristics

The term ancient philosophy encompasses a variety of thoughts that emerged from the early stages of various intellectual traditions. However, not all ideas are considered philosophies since philosophy includes, as its primary component, a rational self-refection and conceptualization of thought.

Major philosophies include: ancient Greek and Roman philosophy in the West, which date approximately from the sixth century B.C.E. through the third century C.E.; Chinese philosophy including Yin-yang philosophy, Taoism, Confucianism; Indian philosophy including Upanishads and Vedic traditions, Jainism, Buddhist philosophy, and Hindu philosophy; and ancient Iranian philosophy including Zoroastrianism.

Each philosophy has some distinct characteristics which reflect intellectual climates, problematics, issues, and approaches; despite these differences, however, these philosophies have some factors in common.

First, ancient philosophy tends to have a comprehensive perspective which includes a wide range of components, including myth, religious beliefs, ethics, literature, cosmology, and theories of nature. The synthetic characteristic of ancient philosophy is different from modern and contemporary philosophies in that modern and contemporary philosophies tend to focus on specific, often narrower, areas and their approaches are accompanied with clearer methodological awareness. Because of its synthetic character, thought processes found in ancient philosophy also differs from those of modern philosophy. For example, the Pre-Socratics in ancient Greek philosophy presented their metaphysical arguments in poetic verse and their arguments are inflected with religious-ethical themes such as divine justice and salvation of the soul. In ancient Chinese philosophy, metaphysics is also fused with natural philosophy, ethics, and is often extended to political philosophy. Because of their comprehensiveness, the interpretation of ancient philosophy requires an understanding of an entire framework of thought.

Second, ancient philosophy is often deeply rooted in religious traditions. Modern and contemporary philosophy tend to develop philosophy as an autonomous discipline independent of religious traditions. This tendency is most evident in the development of modern and contemporary Western philosophy, which is the main stream of contemporary philosophy. For example, Indian philosophy is deeply rooted in Upanishad, Vedas, Hinduism, and others. Even Plato's philosophy is built within the framework that presupposes such beliefs as immortality of the soul, redemption, and divine justice.

Western philosophy

Ancient philosophy in the West refers to philosophies that date from approximately the sixth century B.C.E. to about the third century C.E. and includes the philosophies of the Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and those developed in Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The pinnacle of ancient philosophy is the classical Greek philosophy as developed by Plato and Aristotle. These two philosophers defined the issues, philosophical vocabularies, methodologies, and types of discourses of philosophy as a discipline and influenced the entire tradition of philosophy. Their philosophies are far more comprehensive than those of other philosophers in antiquity.

Presocratic philosophers

  • Milesian School
Thales (624-546 B.C.E.)
Anaximander (610-546 B.C.E.)
Anaximenes (585-525 B.C.E.)
Pythagoras (582-507 B.C.E.)
Alcmaeon of Croton
Archytas (428-347 B.C.E.)
  • Pluralist School
Empedocles (490-430 B.C.E.)
Anaxagoras (500-428 B.C.E.)
Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the elder) (fifth century B.C.E.)
  • Eleatics
Parmenides (515-450 B.C.E.)
Zeno of Elea (490-430 B.C.E.)
Diogenes of Apollonia (460-? B.C.E.)
Philolaus (480-405 B.C.E.)
Melissus of Samos (470-? B.C.E.)
Xenophanes (570-480 B.C.E.)
Leucippus (first half of fifth century B.C.E.)
Democritus (460-370 B.C.E.)
Metrodorus of Chios (fourth century B.C.E.)
  • Pherecydes of Syros (sixth century B.C.E.)
Gorgias (483-375 B.C.E.)
Protagoras (481-420 B.C.E.)
Antiphon (480-411 B.C.E.)
Prodicus (465/450-after 399 B.C.E.)
Hippias (middle of the fifth century B.C.E.)
Thrasymachus (459-400 B.C.E.)

Classical Greek philosophers

Hellenistic philosophy

  • Pyrrho (365-275 B.C.E.)
  • Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.)
  • Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the younger) (331–278 B.C.E.)
  • Zeno of Citium (333-263 B.C.E.)
  • Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.E.)
  • Timon (320-230 B.C.E.)
  • Arcesilaus (316-232 B.C.E.)
  • Menippus (third century B.C.E.)
  • Archimedes (c. 287-212 B.C.E.)
  • Chrysippus (280-207 B.C.E.)
  • Carneades (214-129 B.C.E.)
  • Kleitomachos (187-109 B.C.E.)
  • Metrodorus of Stratonicea (late second century B.C.E.)
  • Philo of Larissa (160-80 B.C.E.)
  • Posidonius (135-51 B.C.E.)
  • Antiochus of Ascalon (130-68 B.C.E.)
  • Aenesidemus (first century B.C.E.)
  • Philo of Alexandria (30 B.C.E. - 45 C.E.)
  • Agrippa (first century C.E.)

Hellenistic schools of thought

Philosophers during Roman times

Chinese philosophy

Main article: Chinese philosophy

Yin-Yang philosophy is probably the oldest among classic Chinese philosophy. It is a comprehensive metaphysics built upon the principle of Yin and Yang, which encompasses both natural phenomena and human affairs. Centuries later, it was applied to various areas and disciplines including medical science, nutrition theory, art, martial art, and others.

Practical orientation is a distinctive characteristic of Chinese philosophy and it has guided its entire tradition since antiquity. Unlike western philosophy, there is a continuity of thought from ancient to contemporary. Ancient philosophy which guided the entire tradition includes Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. These philosophies are all deeply rooted in or fused into religious and ethical thoughts.

Indian philosophy

Main article: Indian philosophy

Vedic philosophy

Indian philosophy begins with the Vedas where questions related to laws of nature, the origin of the universe and the place of man in it are asked. In the famous Rigvedic Hymn of Creation the poet says:

"Whence all creation had its origin, he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not, he, who surveys it all from highest heaven, he knows—or maybe even he does not know."

In the Vedic view, creation is ascribed to the self-consciousness of the primeval being (Purusha). This leads to the inquiry into the one being that underlies the diversity of empirical phenomena and the origin of all things. Cosmic order is termed rta and causal law by karma. Nature (prakriti) is taken to have three qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas).

Classical Indian philosophy

In classical times, these inquiries were systematized in six schools of philosophy. Some of the questions asked were:

  • What is the ontological nature of consciousness?
  • How is cognition itself experienced?
  • Is mind (chit) intentional or not?
  • Does cognition have its own structure?

The Six schools of Indian philosophy are:

Other traditions of Indian philosophy include:

  • Hindu philosophy
  • Buddhist philosophy
  • Jain philosophy
  • Sikh philosophy
  • Carvaka (atheist) philosophy

Some ancient philosophers:

  • Asanga (c. 300), exponent of the Yogacara
  • Bhartrihari (c 450–510 C.E.), early figure in Indic linguistic theory
  • Bodhidharma (c. 440–528 C.E.), founder of the Zen school of Buddhism
  • Chanakya (c.350 - c.275 B.C.E.) , author of Arthashastra, professor (acharya) of political science at the Takshashila University
  • Dignāga (c. 500), one of the founders of Buddhist school of Indian logic.
  • Gautama Buddha (563 B.C.E. - 483 B.C.E.), founder of Buddhist school of thought
  • Gotama (c. second to third century C.E.), wrote the Nyaya Sutras, considered to be the foundation of the Nyaya school.
  • Kanada (c. 600 B.C.E.), founded the philosophical school of Vaisheshika, gave theory of atomism
  • Jaimini, author of Purva Mimamsa Sutras
  • Kapila (c. 500 B.C.E.), proponent of the Samkhya system of philosophy
  • Nagarjuna (c. 150 - 250 C.E.), the founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Path) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism.
  • Panini (520–460 B.C.E.), grammarian, author of Ashtadhyayi
  • Patañjali (between 200 B.C.E. and 400 C.E.), developed the philosophy of Raja Yoga in his Yoga Sutras.
  • Pingala (c. 500 B.C.E.), author of the Chandas shastra
  • Syntipas (c. 100 B.C.E.), author of The Story of the Seven Wise Masters.
  • Tiruvalluvar (between 100 B.C.E. and 300 C.E.), author of Thirukkural, one of the greatest ethical works in Tamil language
  • Vasubandhu (c. 300 C.E.), one of the main founders of the Indian Yogacara school.
  • Vyasa, author of several important works in Hindu philosophy
  • Yajnavalkya (c. 800 B.C.E.), linked to philosophical teachings of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, and the apophatic teaching of 'neti neti' etc.

Old Iranian philosophy

While there are ancient relations between the Indian Vedas and the Iranian Avesta, the two main families of the Indo-Iranian philosophical traditions were characterized by fundamental differences in their implications for the human being's position in society and their view on the role of man in the universe. The first charter of human rights by Cyrus the Great is widely seen as a reflection of the questions and thoughts expressed by Zarathustra and developed in Zoroastrian schools of thought.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Armstrong, A.H. The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy. London: Cambridge U.P., 1967.
  • Brumbaugh, Robert Sherrick. The Philosophers of Greece. New York: Crowell, 1964.
  • Burnet, John. Early Greek Philosophy. London: A. & C. Black, 1930.
  • Duquesne University. Ancient Philosophy. Pittsburgh, PA: Dept. of Philosophy, Duquesne University, 1980.
  • Frede, Michael. Essays in Ancient Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. ISBN 9780816612758
  • Gill, Mary Louise, and Pierre Pellegrin. A Companion to Ancient Philosophy. Blackwell companions to philosophy, 31. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2006. ISBN 9780631210610
  • Guthrie, W. K. C. A History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge: University Press, 1962.
  • Hadot, Pierre. What Is Ancient Philosophy? Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 9780674007338
  • Kenny, Anthony. Ancient Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. ISBN 9780198752721
  • Marietta, Don E. Introduction to Ancient Philosophy. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1998. ISBN 9780585190419
  • Peterman, John E. On Ancient Philosophy. Wadsworth philosophical topics. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008. ISBN 0534595723
  • Reale, Giovanni, and John R. Catan. A History of Ancient Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985. ISBN 9780791405161

External links

All links retrieved July 26, 2023.

General Philosophy Sources


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