Western philosophy encapsulates the philosophical ideas and work of the Western world, beginning with ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The term philosophy, originating from the Ancient Greek philosophía, translates to "the love of wisdom."
During the ancient period, Western philosophy incorporated a variety of disciplines like mathematics, natural sciences such as physics, astronomy, and biology. The pre-Socratic philosophers examined the nature and origin of the universe, emphasizing the arche, the first principle of the world. Notable pre-Socratic philosophers include Thales of Miletus, who posited water as the arche, and Anaximander, who asserted the arche was the infinite. Pythagoras and his followers believed that "all is number," introducing formal accounts that stood in contrast to the previous material of the Ionians.
Influential philosophers like Parmenides and Zeno of Elea engaged in substantial discussions about the nature of the world and the illusion of plurality and change. In contrast, Heraclitus argued that everything is in a state of flux. The idea of atomism, proposed by Leucippus and Democritus, offered a novel explanation for the universe's fundamental nature.
Sophists, teachers of rhetoric, promoted subjectivism and relativism, with Protagoras, a key Sophist philosopher, arguing that "man is the measure of all things," suggesting there is no objective truth.
The Classical period of ancient Greek philosophy centered on Socrates, who spent his life questioning others to examine their views on eudaimonia, justice, beauty, truth, and virtue. Despite making enemies due to his questioning method, he stood by his principles, which led to his execution.
Following Socrates' death, his disciple Plato founded the Platonic Academy. Plato's epistemology revolved around the unreliability of senses, which led to his theory of forms. Several other schools of philosophy, including the Eretrian school, Megarian school, Cynicism, and Cyrenaicism, emerged during this time.
Aristotle, Plato's student, founded the Peripatetic school and wrote extensively on a range of philosophical topics. He proposed a four causes model to explain change and identified eudaimonia as the ultimate good. He saw politics as the highest art, and the state should maximize opportunities for the pursuit of reason and virtue.
During the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial periods, new philosophies emerged, including Pyrrhonism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Neopythagoreanism. Different philosophical schools proposed conflicting methods for attaining eudaimonia. Some advocated internal means, such as calmness or indifference, while others, like the Cyrenaics and Epicureans, advocated for the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The era was characterized by the interplay of various philosophical ideas and approaches to life and knowledge.
In the post-Classical Western period, skepticism emerged as a significant philosophical idea, led by Pyrrho of Elis. Pyrrho, influenced by Buddhist teachings, introduced Pyrrhonism which emphasizes the suspension of judgment to attain a state of tranquility or ataraxia. Platonism, under Arcesilaus, began to incorporate skeptical principles, leading to Academic skepticism which doubted human capacity to obtain truth.
Later, Middle Platonism emerged, incorporating ideas from the Peripatetic and Stoic schools. The philosophy of Neoplatonism, advanced by figures like Plotinus, posited that mind exists before matter and that the universe has a single, divine cause.
Medieval philosophy was characterized by a mix of the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy and the integration of Abrahamic religious doctrines with secular learning. Significant figures like Augustine of Hippo Christianized Plato's thought, significantly influencing medieval philosophy. The problem of evil, the concept of just war, and the nature of time were topics of importance.
The school of scholasticism, emphasizing dialectical reasoning, arose in this period. Figures like Anselm of Canterbury, Boethius, and Peter Abelard grappled with arguments for the existence of God and the problem of universals.
Thomas Aquinas, a major figure in medieval philosophy, sought to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with Christian theology. Other philosophers from the Middle Ages spanned a range of thinkers, from John Scotus Eriugena to Dante Alighieri to John Wycliffe.
The Renaissance period marked a transition from medieval to modern thought, with a renewed interest in ancient Greek philosophical texts and a shift toward inquiries into morality, philology, and mysticism. This period, also marked by the rise of humanism, saw philosophy focusing more on humanity and its virtues.
Modern philosophy varied in its forms and focuses. For example, Thomas Hobbes was considered a modern philosopher due to his systematic approach to political philosophy. In contrast, René Descartes is often seen as a modern philosopher because his work was grounded in problems of knowledge. Modern philosophy is distinguished by its increasing independence from traditional authorities such as the Church and Aristotelianism, its focus on the foundations of knowledge and metaphysical system-building, and the emergence of modern physics from natural philosophy.
The early modern period of Western philosophy, spanning the 17th and 18th centuries, was marked by key discussions on the nature of the mind and body, implications of scientific advancements on traditional theology, and the establishment of a secular foundation for moral and political philosophy. Influential philosophers from this period include Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Notably, Kant's work sought to limit metaphysics, justify scientific knowledge, and reconcile these with morality and freedom, marking the transition to the late modern period.
The late modern period, usually considered to begin in 1781, was heavily influenced by German philosophy, with thinkers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Arthur Schopenhauer shaping the philosophical landscape. Hegel's work, in particular, introduced a dialectical framework for the ordering of knowledge. This century also saw advancements in science that challenged established philosophical notions, most significantly the work of Charles Darwin. Philosophical trends began to favor naturalism, with significant progress made in the field of logic.
The contemporary period, covering the 20th and 21st centuries, can be broadly categorized into three major approaches: analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, and pragmatism. This period grappled with changes brought about by conflicts within philosophical discourse over the basis of knowledge. Seminal figures in the 20th-century include Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
In the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy, with its emphasis on detailed argumentation, semantics, and clarity, dominated the 20th century. It was marked by the influence of logical positivism and the belief that philosophical problems could be solved through logic and language. Prominent figures include Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, who emphasized the legitimacy of analysis, and Gottlob Frege, who initiated the "linguistic turn," implying that philosophical problems arise through misuse of language or misunderstandings of language logic.
Ludwig Wittgenstein's work was influential in developing "ordinary language philosophy." His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus introduced a rigidly logical account of linguistic and philosophical issues. Willard Van Orman Quine, known for his criticism of the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, was also highly influential in the United States.
This passage offers a comprehensive examination of various philosophical schools, focusing primarily on analytic and continental philosophy, with specific highlights on individual philosophical movements and prominent figures within each.
Analytic philosophy, prominent in the latter half of the 20th century, has been typified by a naturalist approach, as exemplified by the works of Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, and Daniel Dennett, among others. It initially faced criticism for its perceived lack of contribution to political debates and aesthetics, but this was refuted with the works of John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and others.
Continental philosophy comprises a diverse range of philosophical traditions from 19th- and 20th-century Europe, with movements like German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, and structuralism. Notable figures include Sigmund Freud, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. This philosophy places emphasis on the human sciences over natural sciences, considers the thinker's experiential conditions, and views philosophy as both practical and theoretical.
Existentialism, a school of thought linked with the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard, places the individual at the center of philosophical enquiry. Existentialists view philosophical thinking as starting from the human subject - the acting, feeling, living individual.
German idealism, with philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Johan Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling, developed from Kant's work and created an idealist philosophy. This philosophy views limits on understanding and asserts that objective knowledge of the world necessitates a conceptual framework imposed by the mind.
Marxism, developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, uses a socioeconomic analysis to scrutinize class relations and societal conflict. It has greatly influenced political ideologies and social movements, as well as a broad range of academic disciplines. Its methodology is also pivotal to the philosophy of the Frankfurt School's critical theory.
Phenomenology, founded by Edmund Husserl, attempts to lay a foundation for the structure of conscious experience. It had a profound impact on continental philosophy, influencing philosophers like Heidegger, Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Structuralism and post-structuralism, represented by Ferdinand de Saussure and others, represent a shift away from humanism towards a focus on systems of signs and the decentering of man.
Pragmatism, originated in the U.S. around 1870, asserts that the truth of beliefs is found in their utility, rather than their correspondence to reality. Neopragmatists like Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, and Donald Davidson further developed this philosophical tradition.
Process philosophy, associated with Alfred North Whitehead, identifies metaphysical reality with change and can be considered as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy.
Influence from non-western philosophies, such as Eastern philosophy and Pyrrhonism, an Ancient Greek philosophy with similarities to Buddhism, are also recognized.