Philosophy

Definition

by
published on 02 September 2009
Antisthenes (Trustees of the British Museum)

From the Greek 'philo’, Love, and 'Sophia’, wisdom, Philosophy is, literally defined, “the love of wisdom”. More broadly understood, it is the study of the most basic and the most profound matters of human existence. Philosophy, in the West, began in the Greek colony of Miletus with Thales (who, according to ancient sources, was the first to ask “What is the basic stuff of the universe from which all else comes?”) but spread outward in the works of subsequent thinkers and writers to reach its heights in the works of Plato and his pupil Aristotle. The mathematician and mystic Pythagoras (famed for his Pythagorean Theorem today) was the first to call himself a philosopher.

The branches of Philosophy are:

Metaphysics – The Study of Existence (so named for Aristotle’s work on the subject. Far from being a definitive term in Aristotle’s day, the word 'metaphysics’ was given to the book by his editor who placed it after his work 'Physics’. In Greek, 'meta’ simply means 'after’ and the title was originally only meant to mean the one piece came after the first).

Epistemology – The Study of Knowledge (from the Greek 'episteme’, Knowledge, and 'logos’, word. Epistemology asks how we know what we know, what exactly is 'knowledge’, why do we have it. Plato attempts, in his dialogue of Meno, and elsewhere, to answer these questions by claiming we do not 'learn’ but, rather, 'remember’ what was learned in a previous existence).

Ethics – The Study of Behavior/Action (from the Greek 'ta ethika’, on character, popularized by Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics which he wrote for his son, Nichomachus, as a guide to living well. Ethics is concerned with morality, how one should live and upon what basis to make decisions).

Politics – The Study of Governance (from the Greek 'Polis’, city, Politikos meant 'that which has to do with the city’. Far from simply being concerned with running a government, however, Politikos also has to do with how to be a good citizen and neighbor and what one should contribute to one’s community. This branch, like all the others, was first definitively examined and popularized in the work by Aristotle).

Aesthetics – The Study of Art (from the Greek 'aisthetikos’, sense/sentience, or 'aisthanomai’, to perceive or feel, Aesthetics concerns itself with the study of beauty, perception of beauty, culture and even nature, asking the fundamental question, “What makes something that is beautiful or meaningful 'beautiful’ or 'meaningful’?” Both Plato and Aristotle give answers to this question attempting to standardize objectively what is 'beautiful’ while the famous Sophist Protagoras argued that if one believes something to be 'beautiful’ then it is beautiful, and that all judgements are entirely subjective).



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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • c. 1500 BCE - 1100 BCE
    The Rig Veda written, mentioning the god Rudra (Shiva) for the first time.
  • c. 700 BCE
    Indian scholars codify and reinterpret Aryan beliefs to create the Upanishads texts forming the basis of Hinduism.
  • c. 700 BCE
    Development of the Charvaka school of philosophy in India.
  • 610 BCE - 546 BCE
    Life time of Anaximander.
  • 599 BCE - 527 BCE
    Traditional dating of the life of Vardhamana, according to Jain tradition.
  • c. 585 BCE
    Time in which Thales of Miletus lived.
  • c. 585 BCE - c. 528 BCE
    Time in which Anaximenes of Miletus lived.
  • c. 570 BCE - c. 478 BCE
    Life of Xenophanes.
  • c. 500 BCE
    Life of the Chinese Sophist/Philosopher Teng Shih (probable date of death 522 or 502 BCE).
  • c. 500 BCE
    Probable life of the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, founder of Taoism and author of the Tao-Te-Ching.
  • c. 500 BCE
    Probable life of Sun-Tzu, Military Strategist, author of The Art of War.
  • c. 500 BCE - c. 475 BCE
    Approximate time of Heraclitus' life.
  • 492 BCE - 432 BCE
    Life of the philosopher Empidocles of Agrigento.
  • c. 490 BCE - c. 410 BCE
    The life of Siddhartha Gautama according to modern scholar consensus.
  • c. 485 BCE - c. 415 BCE
    Life time of Protagoras of Abdera.
  • 470 BCE - 391 BCE
    Life of the Chinese pacifist philosopher Mo Ti, founder of Mohism.
  • c. 469 BCE - 399 BCE
    Life of Socrates.
  • c. 460 BCE - c. 370 BCE
    Life of Democritus.
  • c. 450 BCE - c. 370 BCE
    Life of Antisthenes, found of the Cynic school of philosophy.
  • 440 BCE - 360 BCE
    Life of Chinese Hedonist Philosopher Yang Zhu.
  • 430 BCE - c. 354 BCE
    Life of Xenophon of Athens.
  • 427 BCE
    Plato is born at Athens, Greece.
  • 427 BCE - 347 BCE
    Life of Plato.
  • 407 BCE
    Plato meets Socrates, abandons aspiration to be playwright.
  • c. 404 BCE - 323 BCE
    Life of Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope.
  • 403 BCE
    Plato turns away from politics toward philosophy.
  • 399 BCE
    Trial and death of the philosopher Socrates, who taught in the court of the Agora.
  • 384 BCE - 322 BCE
    Life of Aristotle.
  • 380 BCE
    Plato founds his Academy outside of Athens.
  • 372 BCE - 289 BCE
    Life of the Confucian philosopher Mencius (Mang-Tze).
  • 367 BCE
    Plato's second trip to Syracuse.
  • 343 BCE
    King Philip II of Macedon summons Aristotle to tutor his young son Alexander (later 'The Great').
  • c. 336 BCE - 265 BCE
    Life of the philosopher Zeno of Citium.
  • c. 314 BCE
    Zeno of Citium is shipwrecked and stranded in Athens.
  • 213 BCE
    The Burning of the Books and the Burying of Philosophers Period in China.
  • c. 1 CE - c. 100 CE
    The Mahayana movement begins in India with its belief in bodhisattva - saintly souls who helped the living.
  • 89 CE
    Banished from Rome by Domitian with the other philosophers, Epictetus travels to Nicopolis and sets up a school there.
  • c. 108 CE
    The historian Arrian studies with Epictetus, records his teachings.
  • 26 Apr 121 CE - 17 Mar 180 CE
    Life of Marcus Aurelius.
  • c. 380 CE - c. 418 CE
    Life time of Paulus Orosius.
  • c. 500 CE - c. 600 CE
    In India the Tantric expands the number of deities to include helpful demons, contactable through ritual.
  • c. 524 CE - c. 525 CE
    Boethius writes The Consolation of Philosophy while imprisoned by Theodoric in Pavia.

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