Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is Ancient Western Philosophy?

It can be a tricky thing to explain when something begins and ends. Political era and wars are fairly easily to define. The Obama Administration began in 2008 and most likely will end in 2016. The War on Terror began in the year 2001. But even these can be hard to define. For instance, Wildrow Wilson was virtually incapacitated for his last year in office as president. Can we really say his term ended in ’21 since his wife essentially took the reigns of his presidency? Perhaps its more accurate to say that for two years, the country was run by the First Lady, like many a Empress Dowager of China? Here we are splitting hairs but it goes to show that it can be precise when saying when something began and when something began. Explaining when Ancient Western Philosophy began is of this sort.

On the side, I do defend my decision to not talk about Eastern Philosophy in this series. It is a practical reason. There is not enough time to cover that much material in a summer. On top of a practical reason there is a conceptual one. Eastern philosophy is a whole different ball game then western philosophy. Perhaps, if this goes well, that will be a future project.

So when did Ancient Western Philosophy begin? Most history of philosophies will begin with Thales as the first ancient Greek thinker. This is not to say there was no one before him. I am not saying Thales discovered philosophy like Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity. Rather, the earliest writings we have of western philosophy, aka Greek philosophy, are attributed him. But when does it end? This is where the dilemma really begins.

The resolution is simple. My goal is to reach Neo-Platonic philosophy that began around the 200s A.D. If I get beyond that then I will have more then accomplished my goal. In other words, ancient western philosophy ends when the summer ends and a real answer to the dilemma is forth coming.

An Overview of the Summer’s Postings

The series is broken up into four parts. First there are the Pre-Socratics. These are philosophers who lived before Socrates or were not influenced by him. This will lead us up to the big three: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Then there is Hellenistic philosophy. I am considering breaking these posts up into explanations of philosophical systems rather then philosophers. Readers input here will be quite helpful. Lastly, there will be Roman philosophy. You will see that I have divided ancient philosophy chronologically with the exception of The Big Three. I hope breaking the series down into these sections will help show while highlight how ancient philosophy changes over time yet certain questions remain throughout this rich time in world history.

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