Philosophy

Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom" is the study of general and fundamental problemsconcerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)? Do humans have free will?

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1. Western Philosophy

Western philosophy is the philosophical tradition of the Western world and dates to Pre-Socratic thinkers who were active in Ancient Greece in the 6th century BCE such as Thales (c. 624–546 BCE) and Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE) who practiced a "love of wisdom" (philosophia) and were also termed physiologoi(students of physis, or nature). Socrates was a very influential philosopher, who insisted that he possessed no wisdom but was a pursuer of wisdom. Western philosophy can be divided into three eras: Ancient (Greco-Roman), Medieval philosophy (Christian European), and Modern philosophy.


2. Middle Eastern Philosophy

Middle Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of the Middle East regions, including the Fertile Crescent, Iran, and Anatolia. Traditions include Ancient Egyptian philosophy, Babylonian philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Iranian/Persian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy.


3. Indian Philosophy

Indian philosophy refers to ancient philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The principal schools are classified as either orthodox or heterodoxāstika or nāstika – depending on one of three alternate criteria: whether it believes the Vedas are a valid source of knowledge; whether the school believes in the premises of Brahman and Atman; and whether the school believes in afterlife and Devas.


4. Buddhist Philosophy

Buddhist philosophy refers to the philosophical investigations and systems of inquiry that developed among various Buddhist schools in India following the death of the Buddha and later spread throughout Asia. Buddhism's main concern has always been freedom from dukkha (unease), and the path to that ultimate freedom consists in ethical action (karma), meditation and in direct insight (prajña) into the nature of "things as they truly are" (yathābhūtaṃ viditvā). Indian Buddhists sought this understanding not just from the revealed teachings of the Buddha, but through philosophical analysis and rational deliberation. Buddhist thinkers in India and subsequently in East Asia have covered topics as varied as phenomenology, ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic and philosophy of time in their analysis of this path.


  • Abhidharma
    Abhidharma
    (Sanskrit) or Abhidhamma (Pali) are ancient (3rd century BCE and later) Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras, according to schematic classifications. The Abhidhamma works do not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or abstract and systematic lists.
  • Indian Mahāyāna philosophy
    From about the 1st century BCE, a new textual tradition began to arise in Indian Buddhist thought called Mahāyāna (Great Vehicle), which would slowly come to dominate Indian Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist philosophy thrived in large monastery-university complexes such as Nalanda and Vikramasila, which became centres of learning in North India. Mahāyāna philosophers continued the philosophical projects of Abhidharma while at the same time critiquing them and introducing new concepts and ideas.
  • The Dignāga school of Pramāṇa
    Dignāga (c. 480–540) and Dharmakīrti (c. 6-7th century) were Buddhist philosophers who developed a system of epistemology (Pramāṇa) and logic in their debates with the Brahminical philosophers in order to defend Buddhist doctrine. This tradition is called “those who follow reasoning” (Tibetan: rigs pa rjes su ‘brang ba); in modern literature it is sometimes known by the Sanskrit 'pramāṇavāda', or “the Epistemological School.” They were associated with the Yogacara and Sautrantika schools, and defended theories held by both of these schools. Dignaga's influence was profound and led to an “epistemological turn” among all Buddhist and also all Sanskrit philosophers in India after his death. In the centuries following Dignaga's work, Sanskrit philosophers became much more focused on defending all of their propositions with fully developed theories of knowledge
  • Tantra
    The tradition associated with a group of texts known as the Buddhist Tantras, known as Vajrayana, developed by the eighth century in North India. By this time Tantra was a key feature of Indian Buddhism, and Indian Tantric scholars developed philosophical defenses, hermeneutics and explanations of the Buddhist tantric systems, especially through commentaries on key tantras such as the Guhyasamāja Tantra and the Guhyagarbha Tantra.
  • Tibetan Buddhist philosophy
    Tibetan Buddhism
    is the form of Buddhist doctrine and institutions named after the lands of Tibet, but also found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas and much of Central Asia. It derives from the latest stages of Indian Buddhism and preserves "the Tantric status quo of eighth-century India." It has been spread outside of Tibet, especially due to the Mongol power of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, that also ruled China.
  • East Asian Buddhism
  • Modern philosophy
    In Sri Lanka, Buddhist modernists such as Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) and the American convert Henry Steel Olcott sought to show that Buddhism was rational and compatible with modern Scientific ideas such as the theory of evolution. Dharmapala also argued that Buddhism included a strong social element, interpreting it as liberal, altruistic and democratic. K. N. Jayatilleke wrote the classic modern account of Buddhist epistemology (Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, 1963) and his student David Kalupahana wrote on the history of Buddhist thought and psychology.

5. East Asian Philosophy

East Asian philosophical thought began in Ancient China, and Chinese philosophy begins during the Western Zhou Dynasty and the following periods after its fall when the "Hundred Schools of Thought" flourished (6th century to 221 BCE). This period was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments and saw the rise of the major philosophical schools of China, Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism as well as numerous other less influential schools. These philosophical traditions developed metaphysical, political and ethical theories such Tao, Yin and yang, Ren and Liwhich, along with Chinese Buddhism, directly influenced Korean philosophy, Vietnamese philosophy and Japanese philosophy (which also includes the native Shinto tradition). Buddhism began arriving in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), through a gradual Silk road transmission and through native influences developed distinct Chinese forms (such as Chan/Zen) which spread throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. During later Chinese dynasties like the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) as well as in the Korean Joseon dynasty (1392–1897) a resurgent Neo-Confucianism led by thinkers such as Wang Yangming (1472–1529) became the dominant school of thought, and was promoted by the imperial state.


6. African Philosophy

African philosophy is philosophy produced by African people, philosophy that presents African worldviews, or philosophy that uses distinct African philosophical methods. African philosophers may be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy.


  • Ethnophilosophy School
    This is the foremost school in systematic African philosophy which equated African philosophy with culture-bound systems of thought. For this, their enterprise was scornfully described as substandard hence the term “ethnophilosophy.” Thoughts of the members of the Excavationism movement like Tempels Placid and Alexis Kagame properly belong here and their high point was in the early period of African philosophy.
  • Nationalist/Ideological School
    The concern of this school was nationalist philosophical jingoism to combat colonialism and to create political philosophy and ideology for Africa from the indigenous traditional system as a project of decolonization. Thoughts of members of the Excavationism movement like Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Julius Nyerere in the early period can be brought under this school.
  • Philosophic Sagacity
    There is also the philosophic sagacity school whose main focus is to show that standard philosophical discourse existed and still exists in traditional Africa and can only be discovered through sage conversations. The chief proponent of this school was the brilliant Kenyan philosopher Odera Oruka who took time to emphasize that Marcel Gruaile’s similar programme is less sophisticated than his.  Other adherents of this school include Gail Presbey, Anke Graness and the Cameroonian philosopher Pius Mosima.
  • Hermeneutical School
    Another prominent school is the hermeneutical school. Its focus is that the best approach to studying African philosophy is through interpretations of oral traditions and emerging philosophical texts. Theophilus Okere, Okonda Okolo, Tsenay Serequeberhan and Ademola Fayemi Kazeem are some of the major proponents and members of this school. The confusion however is that they reject ethnophilosophy whereas the oral tradition and most of the texts available for interpretation are ethnophilosophical in nature. The works of Okere and Okolo feasted on ethno-philosophy. This school exemplifies the movement called Afro-constructionism of the middle period.
  • Literary School
    The literary school’s main concern is to make a philosophical presentation of African cultural values through literary/fictional ways. Proponents like Chinua Achebe, Cheik Anta Diop, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka to name a few have been outstanding. Yet critics have found it convenient to identify their discourse with ethnophilosophy from literary angle thereby denigrating it as sub-standard. Their enterprise remarks the movement of Afro-constructionism of the middle period.
  • Professional School
    Perhaps the most controversial is the one variously described as professional, universalist or modernist school. It contends that all the other schools are engaged in one form of ethnophilosophy or the other, that standard African philosophy is critical, individual discourse and that what qualifies as African philosophy must have universal merit and thrive on the method of critical analysis and individual discursive enterprise. It is not about talking, it is about doing. Some staunch unrepentant members of this school include Kwasi Wiredu, Paulin Hountondji, Peter Bodunrin to name a few. They demolished all that has been built in African philosophy and built nothing as an alternative episteme. This school champions the movement of Afro-deconstructionism and the abortive Critical Reconstructionism of the middle and later periods respectively.
  • Conversational School
    This emerging school thrives on fulfilling the yearning of the professional/modernist school to have a robust individual discourse as well as fulfilling the conviction of the traditionalists that a thorough-going African philosophy has to be erected on the foundation of African thought systems. They make the most of the criterion which presents African philosophy as a critical tradition that prioritizes engagements between philosophers and cultures and projects individual discourses from the thought system of Africa. Those whose writings fit into this school include Pantaleon Iroegbu, Innocent Asouzu, Bruce Janz, Jennifer Vest, Jonathan Chimakonam and Ada Agada to name a few. 

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7. Indigenous American Philosophy

Indigenous American philosophy is the philosophy of the Indigenous people of the Americas.


  • Phenomenology
    Native American science and understanding is said to have a basis in perceptual phenomenology, meaning the philosophical study of phenomena. In this context, phenomenology refers to the examination of ones experiences to come to a personal world view. Something is believed to be true when it has been verified by experiences and provides explanations which assist in completing tasks.This worldview is dynamic as new experiences alter this worldview and add to it. There is no belief in a universal worldview which could explain all aspects of reality for a permanent set of time. The world is viewed as infinitely complex and so it is impossible to come to a universal understanding of it. Therefore, Native Americans believe that useful knowledge can only be acquired through individual experience which ,whilst subjective, is valid to that space and time. The method of interacting with the environment is never made fixed and instead, is carried through generations who continuously revise it and add to it. This creates a web of knowledge shaped by the individual experiences of a community.
  • The principle of relatedness
    Brian Yazzie Burkhart, a Cherokee, has described his experience of the story of Coyote:
    • Coyote is wandering around in his usual way when he comes upon a prairie dog town. The prairie dogs laugh and curse at him. Coyote gets angry and wants revenge. The sun is high in the sky. Coyote decides that he wants clouds to come. He is starting to hate the prairie dogs and so thinks about rain. Just then a cloud appears.
    • Coyote says, "I wish it would rain on me." And that is what happened.
    • Coyote says, "I wish there were rain at my feet." And that is what happened.
    • "I want the rain up to my knees," Coyote says. And that is what happened.
    • "I want the rain up to my waist," he then says. And that is what happened.
    • Eventually, the entire land is flooded. Coyote's mistake is not letting what is right guide his actions, but instead acting entirely on his own motivations. This is a reminder that one must be careful about what one desires, and must keep in mind the things around us and how we relate to them. Burkhart terms this the principle of relatedness