History of Philosophy
According to Nichols (2007), “Traditional history of philosophy proceeds by close reading of the texts, by using textual evidence” (p. 262). Philosophy is the mother of sciences. People have always connected it with knowledge. Moreover, it helped people to advance in many fields and gain spiritual satisfaction. Along the history of this science, many bright philosophers offered controversial and eye-opening concepts to the understanding of life, making philosophy the mother of knowledge.
Since the days of ancient Greeks, philosophy established a foundation on which the modern sciences were built. Moreover, nowadays, most theories of sciences are built on at least one philosophical theory. According to Hottecke and Silva (2010), “teaching and learning with history and philosophy of science (HPS) has been […] supported by science educators” (p. 293). The idea is that any educator who wants to gain a scientific achievement must be fully aware of the great influence of philosophy on today’s science and understand how it established the base for further developments. That is why any theory must be built on philosophy, since its main function is to show the way to any knowledge seeker. This essay will discuss the history of philosophy and its unique branches.
From the very beginning, philosophy was connected to knowledge. In ancient times, clergymen were involved in teaching and studying the Scripture. They were the most educated cluster of the society, and that is why philosophy was considered among the people as a sacred concept. According to Lewis (2003), the clergy had “the authority to act as a privileged channel of communication between man and the supernatural” (p. 15). Since philosophy and knowledge were connected to religion, people believed that philosophy practiced by clergy was the key and connection between the normal people and the supernatural powers. That is why philosophy was somehow a religious approach that not all people managed or had the right to obtain. Only specific people in ancient societies had the ability and authority to distinguish between the good and evil, and the ability to influence others.
People thought that those people, through their knowledge, could heal the good people and harm the bad ones. Such beliefs were mostly spread in Asia and North America. They claimed to have supernatural powers that allowed them to communicate with invisible souls. This fact supported the people’s idea the philosophy and knowledge could only be used by clergymen, whom in some societies they called Shamans. Even nowadays, the priests insist that the Christian ideas represent a philosophical depth and that Christianity must be understood through philosophy. Hankins claims (2015), “Socrates’ conduct and beliefs, and by implication true philosophy, were compatible with the teachings of Christianity” (p. 7). Furthermore, many people consider Christianity as a field of philosophy.
There are several philosophical branches with different ideas, but the main two are Naturalism and Humanism. Naturalism suggests that the laws of the nature control the universe, its structure and behavior, and any change in the universe is a product of these laws. For naturalists, the science depends on the natural laws (Wilson, 2005, p. 438). Naturalist philosophers are divided into two groups, such as metaphysical naturalists and methodological naturalists. Metaphysical naturalists suggest that all properties related to consciousness supervene upon nature. While methodological naturalists are concerned with studying the nature and explain all events with natural causes. Among the naturalists, there are many well-known names, for example, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Parrot, Otto Friedrich Muller, and Thomas Blakiston.
The second main branch of philosophy is humanism. It concentrates on the human nature and uses the critical thinking rather than established doctrine of faith. Humanism was a widely spread philosophical stance in many nations. Each nation had its own understanding and approach, but they all followed the very basic rules of this viewpoint. Humanism divides into three types, including renaissance, secular, and religious. Renaissance humanism was common among educated people and writers during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. It showed the equality among all human races (Neblett & Smalls, 2008, p. 191). The main goal of renaissance humanists was to create a civic life inside their communities, and give the women the right to get education alongside the men. Secular humanism rejected the theistic faith and supernatural powers. It concentrated on the human reason and its power to change the society. Religious humanism was categorized under humanism only in the twentieth century. It concentrated on the human needs and abilities. It considered a man as the center of the universe and the purpose of religion is to meet human needs.
One of the greatest founders of the Western philosophy is Socrates (470BC-400BC), who has been the teacher of two other influential philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Nowadays, everything people know about him is based on the stories of his students, since he did not leave any manuscripts. He started with art then turned to philosophy. Later he created a new way of teaching based on questions and answers to make complicated problems of life much easier, thus, he started to discuss and argue many beliefs that were considered unquestionable. In fact, it caused him many troubles and increased the number of his enemies. His new way of teaching is used nowadays in many colleges. Teachers ask their students questions instead of giving them answers right away, and then discuss their opinions, thus using Socrates’ way of teaching. This shows how teachers nowadays follow the Socrates teaching model. According to Howland (2008), the way of criticizing the norms and habits still raises many questions in many philosophers and writers. This shows the exceptional intelligence of Socrates, since his teaching model is did not lose its meaning and application in the twenty-first century.
One of the three greatest ancient tragedians was Sophocles (496BC-405BC). His seven greatest tragedies survived until today, including Antigone, Electra, Ajax, Oedipus at Colonus, The Women of Trachis, Philoctetes and Oedipus the King. Although he wrote more than 123 plays and won many competitions, only these seven plays are available nowadays. Unlike other writers at his time, he kept writing until he became old (Prodovic, 2014, p. 8). Sophocles changed the techniques of tragedies common among his colleagues. He emphasized on the characters instead of the chorus. According to Ormand (2012), “Athenian playwright Sophocles invented the form of tragedy as the West knows it” (p. 23). One of the masterpieces of Sophocles is the Theban plays, which consist of three plays: Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. The tragedy of Antigone speaks about the Theban wars in which Antigone’s brother, Polyneices, dies against his uncle, King Creon, and, thus, he is considered as a traitor and his sister Antigone, the heroin, is forbidden to bury him. Her sister, Ismene, is afraid of her uncle, King Creon, and rejects to help Antigone, but later she changes her mind and decides to help her sister, but Antigone refuses her late help. Ismene is unlike her sister; she takes her time thinking, but this is considered by her sister as a betrayal (Honig, 2011, p. 33). Antigone’s fiancé, Creon’s son, Haemon, supports his fiancée, and tries to defy his father, but the conversation between the two men turns into them insulting each other, and later, Haemon commits suicide. Another character, the blind but reasonable Tiresias, tries to warn King Creon that the future will be dark if he continues to behave this way and that his acts are against the will of gods, but Creon never listens to him.
In general, the tragedy of Antigone gives lessons based on the conflicts between the Patriarchy, represented by Creon, and Matriarchy, represented by Antigone and her fiancé, Creon’s son, Haemon. The play shows how the patriarchal values at some points destroy the kingdom and lead to the death of many people and in the end turn against the representative of the supreme power. It also teaches its readers that human values and virtues can attract people and gain their support more than strength combined with cruelty. Creon considers himself as a supreme person, and no man can reject his orders. It shows that the mighty leader is afraid of his son and a woman, who manage to attract the people of the kingdom and persuade them to support their values. In the end, Antigone is imprisoned alive in a cave to die from thirst and hunger. The chorus mission in the tragedy is to give a last attempt to change the king’s mind and convince him to follow Tiresias’ advice about Antigone and Haemon and to spare Ismene. Another purpose of the chorus in the Athenian tradition is to give a sense of suspense to the play and connect the story with myths. A last character appears toward the end of the play, who is Eurydice of Thebes, Creon’s wife. She knows about her son’s death, Haemon, and she starts cursing Creon and blaming him for her son’s death, she eventually commits suicide.
In conclusion, philosophy represents the source of knowledge the man has been gaining since the ancients’ times. It set the foundation for the variety of branches establishing new sciences and theories. It moved from being a religious knowledge to the knowledge of humanity and nature. The basics of philosophy were established by such great philosophers as Socrates, who set the foundation of the Western philosophy, and Sophocles who wrote Antigone, and many other tragedies that represented the conflict between the civil laws and humanism.
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