Early Philosophy Around The World

World Philosophies

Beginning of Philosophy

Philosophy’s birth, between the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE, is described by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers as the Axial Age (in the sense of a “pivotal age”). It was a period of gradual transition from understanding the world in terms of myth to the more rational understanding of the world we have today. Rational understanding didn’t supplant early folk beliefs and myths so much as grow out of their values and tenets.

Early Philosophy Around the World 

  • The early Upanishads – the foundational texts of Indian philosophy, of unknown authorship – were written between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE.
  • China’s first great philosopher, Confucius, was born in 551 BCE.
  • In Greece the first notable pre-Socratic philosopher, Thales of Miletus, was born around 624 BCE.
  • The Buddha’s traditional birth date places him in the 6th century BCE (although scholars now believe he probably wasn’t born until around 480 BCE, about the same time as Socrates).

Development of Distinct Cultures

These early philosophies have had a profound impact on the development of distinctive cultures across the world. Their values and tenants have shaped the different ways people worship, live and think about the big questions that concern us all.

How the World Thinks
How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy

Julian Baggini

Zen & Written Language

Zen

Origin of Zen

Zen Buddhism originated in Japan in the 12th century as an indigenous version of the Chan school, which originated in 7th century China. The founding myth of Zen is that the Buddha silently held up a flower, twirled it and winked. Zen is the only major religious or philosophical tradition that didn’t begin with an utterance of some kind.

Use of Language

In Zen, language adds to reality in that it creates an extra layer on top of it, and this in turn subtracts from reality by obscuring its fullness. One of the purposes of some paradoxical koans – such as “What color is the wind?” or “When you can do nothing, what can you do?” – is to draw our attention to the inadequacy of words and how apparently perfectly well-formed sentences can be meaningless.

Written Records 

Despite their disavowal of language, Zen teachers have left a lot of written words. Many see this paradox as an imperfect compromise, explaining that if nothing was ever written down, then the ways of guiding people would be lost. Thus the Zen school has resigned itself to publishing the records of the ancients, though this is not what they would have wanted.

How the World Thinks
How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy

Julian Baggini

How Does Philosophy Answer Life’s Questions?

Philosophy

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is a tool by which people can work out how to live, how to endure misfortune, how to think about the world around them, and how to relate to others. Finding “the truth which is true for me” is the business of philosophy – it isn’t a luxury, an abstruse pursuit for those with time to sit in an ivory tower.

Asking Questions

Philosophy is essentially asking questions – the biggest imaginable. Over the 2500-year history of Western philosophy, philosophers have asked, and attempted to answer, questions such as:

  • What is reality?
  • Does God exist?
  • How can we know if something is true?
  • What is virtue?
  • Is something “right” or “wrong” for all people, places, and times?

Philosophical questions are not susceptible to a single, correct or “true” answer. Trying to answer such questions is beset with difficulties, not the least because philosophers don’t agree on what constitutes “truth”, what it means to “know” anything, or even the status of the words used to express the questions and answers.

Dialogue of Philosophy

In discussing philosophical questions, we are continuing the dialogue that began with the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470-399 BC). Yet, as time passes, the world we live in changes and the parameters of the debate shift.

Although the world we live in today is very different from the one that Socrates knew, the questions we ask are very similar. We still seek to live a virtuous life, ask whether or not there is a God, and strive to know what is true about the world around us. However, advances in scientific knowledge, exposure to very different societies and cultures around the world, and shifting social structures have changed the direction of the debate.

Philosophy - How the World Works
Philosophy: From the Ancient Greeks to great thinkers of modern times (How The World Works Series)
Anne Rooney

Background on Anne Rooney

The Give And Take Of Friendship

Friendship

Support and Sharing

We must take advantage of support and sharing in a mutually beneficial way. Whenever we take from another, we should try to give back something. Friends should walk side by side for as long as their journey lasts, without becoming dependent upon one another.

Helping Without Expectation

If you can help someone do something, then you should do so without any hesitation or expectation of reward or debt. If there is something that you need to learn and your companion can show it to you, then you should accept it in humility.

Transience of Life

All encounters have a beginning and end. Transience is what gives life poignancy. Every person is responsible for himself or herself. There is no road to walk but your own.

365 Tao: Daily Meditations
365 Tao: Daily Meditations

Deng Ming-Dao

 

 


Deng Ming-Dao
Deng Ming-Dao

Deng Ming-Dao is a prolific author. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. He studied qigong, philosophy, meditation, and internal martial arts with Taoist master Kwan Saihung for thirteen years.

Books Deng Ming-Dao has written include:

Alchemy – Our Quest for Immortality

Alchemy Transformation

Origin of Alchemy

The name alchemy itself reflects the art’s mysterious origins. We have inherited the word from the Arabic al-kimia, as it was the Islamic world that did most to keep its practice alive during the early Middle Ages. However, the Arabs took the word from the Greek word chemeia, when they occupied Alexandria in the seventh century. And, chemeia, which is also the origin of the word chemistry, meant “those who have knowledge of the Egyptian arts.” As is often the case with the quest for immortality, all roads lead back to the Nile.

Two Goals of Alchemy

The oldest mention of alchemy in history is in the records of the first-century BC Chinese historian Sima Qian. He describes how the royal court alchemist sought to transform cinnabar, a bright red mercury ore, into gold – and that if this was used for eating and drinking it would ensure “you will never die.” Thus, from its earliest days, alchemy has been associated with the pursuit of two goals united by the idea of transformation: the transformation of base metals into gold and of mortal humans into immortals.

Achieving Immortality

Although now more associated with the transformation of base metals into gold, most alchemists would have considered at the very least that they were inextricably linked, and very often, as in Sima Qian’s description, that the production of gold was merely the means to the end of achieving immortality.

When aspiring to live forever, the elixir was whatever helped to stave off aging and death a little bit longer, and its pursuit encompassed what we would now consider to be very disparate traditions, from medicine to magic and science to religion. Yet, despite these many strands, the quest for the elixir has come to be known by one name: alchemy.

Taoism and Life Extension 

In China, at the time of the First Emperor (220-210 BC), alchemy was a vital part of Taoism – the prevalent religious-philosophical system. Taoist practitioners developed life-extension techniques that are now, over 2000 years later, continuing to prosper: meditation, breathing exercises, the gymnastics of tai chi and qigong, and the consumption of tea, ginseng and many other herbs and minerals. One of Taoism’s core texts, known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, remains the central source for Chinese traditional medicine.

Immortality book
Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization
Stephen Cave

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Stephen Cave
Stephen Cave

Stephen Cave is Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge.  Before turning to full-time writing, he worked as a diplomat. He writes regularly for the Financial Times and also contributes to the New York Times.


 The 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death – TED Talk by Stephen Cave