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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.
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.
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.
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 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).
In classical times, these inquiries were systematized in six schools of philosophy. Some of the questions asked were:
The Six schools of Indian philosophy are:
Other traditions of Indian philosophy include:
Some ancient philosophers:
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.
All links retrieved March 19, 2016.
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