This synthesis is a summary of the philosophical movements between the 7th century BC and the present day. It has associated links that point to the corresponding chapters which describes in detail the relevant events and characters. In turn, every chapter ends with a list of links to websites where you can expand the topic.
Philosophy can be defined as the love (philo) of wisdom or knowledge (sofia).
Its natural reflective method makes it turn to its own knowledge to ask itself what and how we know.
According to Aristotle, it was Zeno of Elea in the 5th century who proposed the paradigm for later philosophical discourse: dialectics.
Aristotle fine-tuned Zeno's prototype in his theory of dialectics where he confronts terms from two different premises to deduce a synthesis.
Hegel put it clearly: thesis> <antithesis = synthesis (= new thesis)> <antithesis ...
Philosophical thought starts with questions that generate an answer, then this answer is contradicted and finally the oppositions are synthesized to return to the beginning.
This philosophical tradition of questioning what is known through opposition is the basis of the evolution of philosophical thought because the different historical theories on how and what we know influence the way of investigating and interpreting knowledge itself and the construction of models that shape our beliefs. .
Aegean cultures before the 7 B.C.
Minoan culture was established on the island of Crete, flourishing during the Bronze Age (2500
- 1450 B.C.). Its decline is probably due to natural disasters and a lack of material to make bronze.
Mycenaean culture (1450 - 1100) dominated the Aegean during the Iron Age. Homer tells of the Mycenaean-Trojan war and the journey of the exemplary hero, Ulysses, a model of self-made man with a horizontal vision without reference to the gods. On the other hand Hesiod wrote the genealogy of the gods. Thus the double paradigm of the Greek philosophical tradition was formed: the earthly and the heavenly.
After the fall of the Mycenaeans invasions announced the Greek Dark Age (1100 -
900 B.C.) and the population dispersed, founding micro-states on the Aegean coast.
The Presocratics (7 - 5 B.C.)
The Persian empire invaded the eastern Aegean islands in 547 B.C. importing new ideas about geometry and calculus. The Greek micro-states of the coast with their culture of rivalry and self-sufficiency speculated on and applied these imported mathematics to their world, gradually becoming independent of the gods for their knowledge. That is, they followed the Homeric tradition.
They began to investigate the physical structure of their 'Cosmos', without metaphysical references, and established a proto-scientific vision of nature. They sought the essence of nature as a cosmic explanation: Thales believed it to be water; Anaxímedes declared that the essence was the air; Pythagoras thought that numbers were the essentials. (Today at Cern we are still searching for the essential basis of matter.)
However, the metaphysical tradition was not lost and Pythagoras himself was part of a secret sect resembling a religion. This tension between the physical and the metaphysical will remain engraved in the DNA of Western philosophical thought.
The Socratics (5 - 4 B.C.)
Socrates, according to his biographer Plato, used a method of thinking that consisted of dialogues with incisive questions similar to modern reporters or lawyers. His primary interest was the ethical issues related to coexistence in the polis. Following the Homeric tradition, of a rationalist nature, the Socratics built a new form of political coexistence: democracy.
Diogenes of Sinope, founder of the Cynics, followed the Socratic quest to find the keys to ethical life.
For his part, the Stoic, Zenón de Citio, turned Socrates' ideas into dogmas, affirming that happiness was achieved by living in agreement with oneself and nature.
Plato raised the fundamental question: what is knowledge? He reflected on the limits of the senses to know reality. The mathematics of the Aegean tradition pointed to a reality beyond sensory perception. According to Plato, Ideas and Forms are separate realities from the world we perceive. Plato's Allegory of the Cave proposes that the world of the senses is only a shadow and that ideas are reality. It is the beginning of idealism in western philosophy.
Aristotle proposed a correction of Plato: he bases the certainty of knowledge on the physical world. It is an attempt to reconcile the partial truths of the physical and the metaphysical. As a biologist, he described this relationship in terms of classification into genus and species.
Socrates and his tradition sought a policy for coexistence; Plato began research on knowledge.
Hellenism (3 B.C. - 1 A.D.)
Alexander the Great ascended the Macedonian throne in 336 B.C. and undertook a territorial expansion that in 13 years conquered the Persian empire and reached India to the east and Egypt to the south. The already established commercial flow and excellent communication channels left by the Persians generated a great exchange of commerce, texts and ideas within the Hellenistic empire.
The two intellectual centers were the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum that incorporated philosophical ideas, especially from the eastern part of the empire. Mathematics was beginning to be imposed on the abstract speculation of the earlier tradition. Thus Alexandria attracted Euclid who went to develop concepts of geometry; Archimedes went as an astronomer and mathematician; Eratosthenes who calculated the circumference of the earth was there; Claudio Tolomeo, mathematician, geographer and astrologer, too; as well as Diophantus of Alexandria, father of algebra. At Pergamum, Galen was trained in medicine and Hipparchus of Nicea investigated texts from Babylon.
The Hellenistic age established the two fundamental references of Western culture: the Greek tradition and Christianity (the Gospels were written in Greek and influenced by their culture).
Roman (1 B.C. to 5 A.D.)
In 197 B.C. The Romans conquered Macedonia and in the year 27 B.C. colonized Greece: the Greco-Roman era was established. With it, the ethical systems of Greek philosophy expanded: stoicism and epicureanism, together with its tradition of abstract reflection: Neoplatonism.
Stoicism dates from the 4th century B.C. as a Socratic search for virtue and order. It is a philosophy of common sense that is based on the sensorial. Seneca embraced it in Rome just like Cato the younger. Both were advisers to the powerful and died at their hands.
Epicurus gave his name to epicureanism that propounds simple pleasures as the basis of happiness and their tastes were that of a hermit. Lucretius introduced epicureanism to the Roman world.
Skepticism was another philosophy of the time. Its philosophical doubt stems from the belief that the truth cannot be known with certainty. So they preferred not to judge. Cicero, the Roman consul, was skeptical in thought.
Gnosticism, of Jewish and later Christian roots, was sectarian because it believed in secret knowledge to know God.
Neoplatonism, founded by Plotinus and brought to Rome from Egypt, was the most accepted philosophy in the Greco-Roman period. It was a synthesis of Greco-Roman philosophy. Hypatia was a Neoplatinist who taught in Alexandria fostering philosophical and scientific discussions. When Hypatia was murderd on the street, this philosophy of synthesis died with her and was replaced by Christianity.
Agustine of Hippo, father of the church, worked on a new synthesis between Neoplatonism and Christianity.
Middle East (6th - 12th c.)
At the fall of Rome Christianity was the predominant Mediterranean faith, but from the 7th. century Islam prevailed and by the end of the century it dominated North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
Beginning in the 8th century the Arabs established research institutions in their territories: libraries and educational centers in Baghdad, Damascus and Cordoba. Cordoba attracted many European researchers who thus helped Europe emerge from the post-Roman dark ages.
The Cordovan, Averroës (Ibn Rushd), made translations from Greek to Arabic and commentaries on
Aristotle that served as the basis for the further development of Scholasticism in Europe.
Moisés Maimonides, a Jewish-Spanish philosopher in Córdoba, set out to reconcile Neoplatonism with the Jewish Torah. This influenced, among others, the scholastics Aquinus and the Scotsman Duns Scotus.
The revival of Greek culture in Europe was possible because Muslim Spain shared knowledge with Christian Spain and passed on the traditions of Greek and Eastern civilizations.
Western Middle Ages (6th - 13th c.)
The Roman Empire came to an end in the 4th century and its territory was invaded by a chaotic migration of Goths, Visigoths, Arabs and Huns.
The Christian reconquest began in Tours , France in 732 and continued on the Iberian peninsula, but Cordoba remained an Arab cultural capital, where European scholars rediscovered the Greek tradition lost in the West. Their objective was to harmonize the Greek knowledge, saved and translated by the Arabs, with Christianity. Among them are Michael Scot, Alfonso X the Wise, Thomas Aquinus, Dante Alighieri and Ramón Llull.
Renaissance Italy (13th - 14th c.)
This Italian period that began in the 'quattrocento' saw the rise of the arts and humanism, understood as the study of the Greco-Roman tradition. It was a renewed search for identity after the fall of the Roman Empire and the loss of references during the Middle Ages. Italian literati and artists found the answer to their identity in politics, the literary vernacular and in pagan, Christian and Greco-Roman art.
Dante stood out as a precursor to this artistic renewal and laid the foundations for the use of the vernacular instead of Latin, an example that was followed by Petrarch and Boccaccio. A new civic vision was inaugurated to replace the medieval ecclesiastical model. The wealthy Florentine merchants and the Popes invested funds in works of art that stimulated artists such as Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Brunelleschi.
Civic life saw political swings. Savonarola started a religiously based social revolution and proclaimed a republic in Florence. When Savonarola fell, the Medici seized power and appointed Machiavelli Minister of Foreign Affairs. His experience allowed him to write his famous work on different models of managing the state.
Renaissance: Rest of Europe (14th c.)
The Renaissance in the rest of Europe came late, in the High Middle Ages, as a new beginning.
The writers wrote in the vernacular. William Langland, John Gower, and Geoffrey Chaucer, in Anglo-Saxon; Jean Froissart, in French.
There was interest in the civic and social uses that are reflected in works of literature and in Jan
Hus, a Czech theologian and forerunner of Lutheranism.
Modern Age: Northern Europe (15th. - 16th. c.)
After expelling the Arabs from the peninsula, the Spanish united the Eurasian continent with the American by sea. A period of cultural instability began, characterized by a desire for reform and an interest in the vernacular.
Nordic religious humanism wrote preferably in Latin. This movement was led by Erasmus of Rotterdam who followed the philological tradition to influence a social change that the established religion was unable to lead. In England Thomas More paid the ultimate price for confronting Henry VIII and his new creed, Anglicanism. In Holland Thomas à Kempis was the author of a very influential book, The Imitation of Christ, which advised on moral ethics.
Martin Luther rebelled against corruption in the church of Rome and began the Protestant Reformation. He inspired the translation of the bible in the vernacular and thus removed from the priesthood the power as the book's sole interpreter. In Switzerland Zwingli and Calvin, in Scotland Presbyterianism, in England Anglicanism, in France the Huguenots and in Holland Calvinism followed the Protestant tradition. The Catholic Church responded with the Council of Trent, the Jesuits, mysticism, and the Inquisition.
In science Francis Bacon stands out. He envisioned a scientific reform released from the Aristotelian procedures and the biblical beliefs of the Mediterranean world to base knowledge on empirical research. Copernicus drew a new heliocentric world.
In this uncertain period, Shakespeare developed in his plays the relationship between fiction and reality, the concept of life as an illusion.
Modern Age: Southern Europe (15th. - 16th. c.)
At this time the truth was religious and scientists accepted it or died at the stake.
In science Versalius introduced human dissection into Europe by improving on Galen. Giordano Bruno rejected the traditional geocentrism of the earth and died at the stake. Galilei made planetary checks with his telescope, but had to retract because they did not correspond to Aristotelian astronomy.
The pictorial art of the time depended on its rich or religious patrons: Titian painted for the kings and Popes; Raphael and Michaelangelo painted for the church in Rome; El Greco worked on orders from the Spanish king.
The writers wrote critical works but their main theme was doubt. The characters created by Calderón and Cervantes doubted reality and Lope de Vega's plots criticised social rules. Montaigne used his essays to criticize dogmatism.
Age of Reason Northern Europe (17th. c.)
The focuses of thought that prevail in this era are rationalism, empiricism and political philosophy.
British philosophers like Hobbes and Locke followed the empirical tradition influenced by contemporary deterministic scientific movements based on mathematical calculation. Their political ideas arose from their experience of the English Civil War. Hobbes opted for the autocratic king; Locke sided with parliamentarism and the separation of powers.
Espinoza was a rationalist, but he rejected the Cartesian division of mind and body, just like Leibniz. Espinoza embraced a deterministic pantheism and Leibniz affirmed that God is the cause of everything and denied causality. Both philosophies have a religious parallel in Luther's deterministic predestination.
In ethics Espinoza searched for the philosophical way to happiness within the tradition of the old skeptics.
Age of Reason Southern Europe (17th. c.)
Thought in southern Europe was divided between knowledge by revelation and knowledge by reason.
Pascal was an opponent of rationalism and empiricism proposing the alternative of revelation within faith.
Descartes took the philosophical power out of the hands of theologians of the medieval tradition by questioning it and redirecting it towards reason-based analysis.
Malebranche adopted rationalism, opposing empiricism. He attempted to synthesize Cartesianism with Augustinian thought to explain divine activity in the world. In epistemology he theorized about the relationship between universal divine ideas and the human sensory experience. This influenced thinking about knowledge of Berkeley, Leibniz and Hume.
The Enlightenment Northern Europe (18th c.)
In the north of the continent empirical vision predominated and philosophers faced a culture of materialistic perception of the world. So they reframed the basic question of knowledge: how do we know?
George Berkeley with extreme empiricism affirmed that our perception of the world is built up through mental ideas that have their roots in God. By ourselves we only know the sensory, not the external reality.
David Hume argued two concepts of knowledge: ideas based on reason; calculation and facts based on the sensory. In religion he discarded the argument of the Great designer by asking who had designed the Designer?
Emmanuel Kant distinguished between rational truths, explainable by words, and truths of facts that need further explanation. He also proposed 'a priori' concepts, rational deductions, and 'a posteriori' knowledge resulting from experience. Starting from the notion that it is not possible to know the objects themselves, he theorized in an innovative way that the mind is active in its representation of reality because it is stimulated by the objects and is not subjected to knowing them in themselves.
Adam Smith was interested in the traditional theme of coexistence and morality applying them to the economy. His thinking is based on two factors that regulate human interactions: empathy motivated by personal interest and the invisible hand.
The Enlightenment: Southern Europe (18th c.)
The French revolution was the trigger for enlightenment in southern Europe. Efforts focused on going beyond the traditional separation between empiricism and metaphysics.
Voltaire positioned himself between the rational materialism of emerging science and the prevailing theological significance. He argued in favor of free will and at the same time for recognizing the weight of natural laws. In ethics he trusted reason as a guide.
Montesquieu wanted to find some rules for political governance with a historical analysis of how different ways of managing power had worked. His model of separation of powers, based on Locke and the British Constitution, was highly influential.
Denis Diderot used the Encyclopédie to change the political status quo by demonstrating that rationalism would bring progress. He radicalized the empirical vision to build a metaphysical materialism.
Jean Le Rond d'Alembert distinguished between minority, reason and imagination in knowledge. His goal was to synthesize metaphysical rationalism and sensory empiricism, which he did not achieve.
Contemporary Age: USA (19th. & 20th. c.)
Three contemporary movements influenced American philosophical thought at this time: romanticism, Darwinism, and pragmatism.
Ralph Waldo Emerson belonged to the romantic influence. He claimed that knowing nature was self-knowledge. In epistemology he is evolutionary when he argues that knowing is an endless process.
Henry David Thoreau was another nature lover which he compared to an improved religion. His pragmatic side made him tune the physical with the spirit. His epistemological search was also practical and Kantian in the sense of relating the known with the knower. Contrary to science, he observed that there is no objective observation.
Charles Sanders Peirce defends the superiority of the scientific method and pragmatism. He criticizes determinism in philosophy by claiming that it is not scientific because measurement depends on inaccurate instruments.
William James makes an attempt to synchronize faith and fact when he argues that scientific research also requires faith. He claims that ethics is not sensorial but relieves from the heart, a romantic reasoning.
John Dewey was heavily influenced by Darwinism. He rejects Cartesian dualism for its statism and defends change with the romantic argument that nature shows a process of change. This evolutionary vision allowed him to affirm a metaphysics that included the evolving human experience and that was characterized by precariousness, history and purposes. Dewey became part of the American pragmatic movement in experimental research.
Willard Van Orman Quine proposed a philosophical systematization that united naturalism, pragmatism and behaviorism. He based his epistemology on the sensory and advocated an empirical psychology. He adopted behaviorism as a learning theory also claiming that no theory could really describe the world.
Contemporary Age - Northern Europe (19th. & 20th. c.)
The obvious advances in science encouraged philosophers of this age to solidly ground their theories. Some like Bentham, Marx and Engels, in social transformation, others, like Fichte and Mill, and Ayer in an empirical approach to philosophy, others, like Hegel, in philosophical systematization. A majority like Husserl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Schopenhauer are supporters of skeptical perception as a starting point. They were all looking for certainties, but many found themselves facing self-doubts about identity.
Jeremy Bentham was interested in moral and social philosophy, a philosophical question from the time of the ancient Greeks. He proposed three bases for social reform: greater happiness, universal selfishness and the interrelation of personal with social interests.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also sought their touchstone in social change through economic analysis by claiming that humans are producers of goods and that society can only have cohesion as long as productive technology is developed. The Marxist prediction is that when productivity fails capitalism will fall under a revolution. There does not appear to be empirical data to support the theory.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte maintained a concept of philosophy as a rigorous science based on the truth. He found it in the act of building a self to rationally explain ourselves to ourselves . Fichte is considered as a transitional philosopher between Kant and Hegel.
John Stuart Mill favors a radical empiricism that creates generalizations from experience that must be verified later. Mill took Socratic inductive positions against the deductism of the Platonic Kantians. Utility was the basis of his ethic had happiness as a reference and that was also subject to verification by experimental observation.
Alfred Ayer starts out being a positivist and anti-skeptical but changes to admit that experimentally based theories are valid. As a synthesis, he recognizes the uncertainty of knowledge and its constant evolution based on experimentation.
Hegel proposed a systematized explanation of the universe based on faith and functioning as a dialectic: thesis, antithesis and a synthesis (that produces another antithesis and thus continuously ...) His system argues that the abstract idea is the thesis that contrasts with the antithesis of the particular. The reason that acts as an intermediary between the universal abstract and the individual, between 'Man' and 'Pedro' makes the synthesis 'concept': the concrete universal. The system is presented in three parts: Logic, Nature and Mind. Logic is the pure thought of God that is being and nothing and culminates in the spirit as an end in itself. Nature contrasts with the spirit and is resolved with human reason, physical time and spirit. Mind has its consciences and a will that produce creations of the spirit, spirits in action. Nothing exists but a spirit that is pure activity.
Edmund Husserl founded the phenomenology that consists of examining consciousness introspectively in the flow of experience. It is based on transcendental phenomenology, a derivation of Kant.
Arthur Schopenhauer believes that reality is a representation constructed by the human mind with the constructs of space, time and causality. The liberation of the will can be achieved individually by aesthetics (arts) and ethics (empathy) that help coexistence.
Søren Kierkegaard opts for wonder against Cartesian doubt and does not accept German objective knowledge either. He finds his certainty in belief as a basis to reflect on.
Friedrich Nietzsche, like Kant, denies the possibility of knowing true reality without transcendental information from divine sources. It is based on the will to perceive order in the world. We can impose meaning and control by our will, but we still only see part of reality. We create our reality.
Bertrand Russell acknowledges that philosophy seeks certainty, but is skeptical of the possibilities based on the problem of change. We have to doubt our senses because they depend on perspective. If this changes, the information changes. Observing leads us to doubt certainty.
Ludwig Wittgenstein distinguishes between certainty and knowledge. Something is certain when the community acts on that budget: the joint action decides the certainty, not the other way around. Skepticism itself is based on assumed beliefs and self-destructs if it is total. A doubt has to be contextualized, not generalized.
Martin Heidegger raises the question of 'being' in contradiction with the Cartesians, stating that thinking supposes first existing. It also reverses Aristotelianism by synthesizing thinking and being as two sides of the same coin and uniting positivism and idealism. It radicalizes phenomenology by maintaining that its concepts are not empirical. He affirms that we live in a permanent crisis of identity.
Contemporary Age - Southern Europe (19th. & 20th. c.)
The philosophers in the south of the continent looked for their certainties in the synthesis of opposite currents.
Auguste Comte was a didactic synthesizer. From Hume and Kant he incorporated positivism, from the church his discipline and from the Enlightenment the concept of progress. He summarizes the evolution of human thought in 3 stages: theological, metaphysical and positivist. However, he rejects the idea of absolute truth and relies on science to establish the facts.
Jean-Paul Sartre based his thought on Heidegger's phenomenology and his descriptive ontology. His morality was to accept individual freedom and the personal responsibility that it implies. This implies absence of God that would be the negation of human freedom.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty proposed understanding the sensory experience outside traditional perceptions: empiricism or intellectualism. He synthesizes the dualism between subject and object in the ontological concept of Being, existence itself, using linguistics, structuralism and phenomenology.
Claude Levi-Strauss used structuralism to analyze cultural facts. He questions the scientific presupposition of objectivity by using different forms of knowledge to discover specific truths. This links the cultural and scientific approaches in a unified vision.
Michel Foucault points to the cultural nature of scientific truths, for example in the treatment of madness for social, not psychiatric, reasons; the mental representation of reality as a cartography influenced by ideas and not territories; language as an autonomous system of representation not a reflection of reality; the Kantian idea of the mind as creator of perceptions. Foucault formulates the modern identity crisis with its roots in the paradox of the human as originator and origin. It is a union between object and subject.
Jacques Derrida argues that traditionally we think in a binary manner through oppositions, and proposes the deconstruction of this epistemology by the method of corrupting dichotomies or introducing a disturbing element into them. His goal is to deconstruct classic oppositions in order to undo the system. His starting point is the interference between observer and observed but thus deconstructs his own system in order to achieve synthesis.
Contemporary Age - Quantum Mechanics (20th. cent)
The story of Quantum Theory is one of a revolution in the philosophical view of reality.
In 1900 Max Planck’s observation of light filaments led to the formulation of the inexplicable link between light colour and temperature.
In 1905, Albert Einstein proposed a theory to explain Planck's question plus another one about the link between lights and electricity. He introduced the idea that light was not a wave but a series of particles. This was confirmed experimentally in the 20s but scientists were unable to explain it theoretically.
In 1927 Heisenberg and Bohr presented a reinterpretation of the problem stating that wave equations informed where electrons might be in a wavelike overlay but their existence was caused at the moment of observation. In 1935 Schrödinger invented a thought experiment to demonstrate that this was illogical.
The classical philosophical theory of knowledge was seriously challenged by quantum mechanics since it posited that we can only know where particles are if there is an observer and even then only probabilistically.
Einstein maintained the classical view and declared that the theory was incomplete since the natural world was observer independent, and not probabilistic but deterministic. Niels Bohr believed the opposite and saw no reason why classical physics should apply in the different quantum domain. This is the usual development of philosophical discussion: thesis versus antithesis. Bohr's vision was random and microscopic; Einstein's was deterministic and macroscopic. Both are based on philosophical beliefs about how we know reality.
After 1945 metaphysics was put to one side and scientists took a pragmatic approach by applying the quantum physics ideas. This lead to advances in semiconductors, electronics and nuclear energy.
In the 60s, John Bell designed an experiment to rule out Einstein and others' theory that quantum physics is incomplete as an explanation. Bell was able to put his conclusions into a mathematical description published in 1964.
However, to date there is no complete theoretical explanation for the strange results of quantum mechanics and we are still waiting for a synthesis.
Aristotle had already proposed the paradigm of western philosophical thought in his dialectical model: the permanent opposition between the different philosophical currents of the West that normally ends in a dialectical triad.
There is a first historical moment in which a theory appears that explains a certain idea of reality, an affirmation, proposal or thesis; another explanation is inevitably presented against it, an opposite vision, an antithesis or negation of the previous one. Between the first proposal and its opposite something new appears, another theory, that, like a child, is a compound or a synthesis of the previous ones and which leads to the overcoming of the two theories that have caused it.
In summary, it seems that the course of Western thought has been marked by Aristotelian philosophical theory and follows this path: opposition, agreement then advance.
The apparent objective of philosophical reflection has been none other than to clarify human identity itself: who are we? where did we we come from? where will we end up? That returns this synthesis to its starting point: the Minoans. A summary of the later philosophical search was already pre-announced in their time by the inscription left on the first temple of Delphi (VII B.C.): "Know thyself."