Forerunners (Eastern Thought)
Before we begin to talk about the history of Philosophy properly, it is important to state some facts on its origins.
‘Philosophy’, as is widely known, began in Greece in VI B.C. Nevertheless, it is evident that if the people of Greece began to express themselves in a specific manner, which we will call philosophy, it couldn't have happened in an spontaneous way, ‘because’.
Their way of thinking must have had some sort of origin. It must have been based on something the already existed, a seed, from previous civilizations (which we call pre-philosophical): Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, etc.
In civilizations prior to Greece, there was, of course, some type of Thought, not exactly ‘philosophical’, but which allowed men to achieve progress, achieve higher standards in art, architecture and any other form of cultural manifestation.
For example, it is known that the people of ancient Mesopotamia had important breakthroughs in astronomy. Chaldeans had a nearly perfect calendar. This could only be accomplished with thorough knowledge of the position of the stars in the heavens all year long.
In Egypt, on the other hand, advanced tremendously in geometry. Proof of this is the building of pyramids and other architect monuments still standing today. Their construction required a series of complex mathematical calculations.
We could continue mentioning a number of worthy examples, but what we are interested in at this moment is the way of thinking of these ancient civilizations. We can't help but ask ourselves, for example, what were the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia pursuing with their studies on Astronomy. We can only come to one conclusion: they sought to be able to foretell the future by means of the stars, in other words, to create the Horoscope.
Meanwhile, the problem the Egyptians faced was the search for food. We need to bear in mind that this in itself was a problem because the country of that time was exactly as it is today: a desert crossed by a river, the Nile. Consequently, the Egyptians needed their extensive knowledge in Geometry to be able to build irrigation channels for their crops.
As you can see, the purpose of investigating Geometry and Astronomy, from both the Chaldeans and Egyptians, was practical in nature. Thus, these civilizations did not think of knowledge from an abstract point of view, nor they perfected this knowledge just 'because they wanted to know', as we will learn later that the Greeks did.
However, there was one thing which ancient civilizations thought from an abstract point of view: RELIGIOUS SPECULATION. This thought would later give way to philosophical thought. Only through religion could these eastern civilizations find an explanation for topics, which later became 'philosophical' and which did not have an immediate answer through practice or direct experience.
Let's now have a brief look at the constants we find in religions from different civilizations, both modern and ancient. These are:
- The idea of universal unity
- Cosmogony: The origin of the world, how it changed from CHAOS and DARKNESS, which many religions explain through different legends, all of which refer to 3 main points:
- Intrinsic Power of the same original chaotic principle ("Let there be light...")
- The intervention of spirit upon matter ('...and God said")
- The struggle between opposing powers, 'chaos' and 'order':
- Universal connection and sympathy
- Need or ruling law (UNIVERSAL CYCLICAL RETURN: ‘Great Cosmic Year’)
- Dualism between the mortal body and the immortal soul.