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The Origin of Philosophy: Our Thoughts Come from Somewhere

Updated: Jan 1, 2023

"The Thinker in The Gates of Hell" | Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Wikimedia Commons

It is unknown when the first myths began. But what is known is that they served the communities which believed in them in more ways than simply to pass the time!

It was believed, for example, that gods (who were more like people with superhuman strength) could be influenced or aided by people living below them by conducting rituals that either please or in some other way benefit those superior beings.

These were acts of preservationism and concern for the future as well as having a spiritual significance or cultural benefit.

Therefore, it was not only Thor’s responsibility to bring about the rain and the crops, but also the responsibility of the townsmen to dress up as Thor and re-enact the action of Thor bringing about the rain and the crops - as one example (see Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, pp. 23-29).

Myths provided a frame of understanding for nature and people | Smite HD Thor vs. Hades via Wallpapersden

Using myth, or story, to explain either the erratic or the predictable changes in nature were embraced world-over but were rejected by the philosophers in ancient Greece circa the sixth century B.C. These ancients replaced myth-making and story-telling with heuristic methods of question-asking to arrive at truth and to figure out why nature mysteriously behaves the way that it does.

The idea that people can influence the gods and the gods can influence weather - and that without this human-divine influence good weather just might not happen - is really a notion that belongs to before the Greeks and (what is commonly known as) their first philosophy: natural philosophy. Before this time, you had better have a good sacrifice or a good ritual in order to make life and the universe happen! Fields of study in the sciences were not yet invented.

The early Greek philosophers replaced myth with forces and elemental substances |

Within a couple centuries, the philosophers moved on to talk about societies, art, and anything that separates the sapien from the animal kingdom, anything that distinguishes man from the animal world.

One of the most prominent of all Western philosophers is Plato, a Greek who was born in 428 BC and founded the first academy in 387. Having authored several works of his own as well as preserving the works of his predecessor, Socrates, he has given countless generations of students something to build upon and/or criticize. So influential are his writings that we sometimes say, “All of philosophy is a commentary on Plato.”

Whether if you love him or hate him, you have to speak about the guy!

“All of philosophy is a commentary on Plato” (428-327 BC) | Jordan Kay / Penn Arts & Sciences

But that is the "heart" and "essence" of philosophy. What are the structures behind it? How can we get better at it? How can we sharpen this sword?

In the following entries we will look at several categories of thought that are considered to be the main categories of modern philosophy - some of whose terms we use in everyday life without thinking about it.

Next Entry (to be published)

Modern Categorization of Thought: the 3 Branches of Philosophy

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