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There are many ancient myths regarding cosmology which have their descriptions of reality including those which are seemingly directly unobservable to us. For example, what is outside of our universe? What was before the universe started to exist? All myths, of course, involve some characters - creators or simply inhabitants of the places described. So, they are stories as well.

But can a myth be considered a part of philosophy? A part of metaphysics? What are they actually considered to be?

  • IIRC (not suire) Bernard Williams called nietzshce's genealogy a just so story, which is like a myth. apologies for my stupidity! – user34654 Aug 25 '18 at 22:57
  • "Plato's Myths" SEP plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-myths – Gordon Aug 25 '18 at 23:48
  • @Gordon, the fact that a philosopher had created myths does answer my question yet. It's not impossible for a philosopher to be a painter as well, for example. That does not make paintings philosophy. – rus9384 Aug 25 '18 at 23:53
  • I would say definitely yes. Consider, for example, the metaphysics of the Grail mythology, It is not difficult to interpret even Spielberg's popular version as a description of the journey to an understanding of Reality and the knowledge of immortality. It is pregnant with meaning for a philosopher. . – PeterJ Aug 28 '18 at 15:04
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Paul Ricoeur considered narrative discourse philosophically as a form of extended discourse. Metaphorical discourse would be another form. David Pellauer and Bernard Dauenhauer contrast metaphor used by Ricoeur with logical propositions.

Live metaphors are the product of sentences, not the result of substituting one word for another for decorative or rhetorical effect. They presuppose a kind of odd predication, a “metaphorical twist”. Unlike logical propositions which say something is or is not the case, a live metaphor says “is” and “is not” at the same time, resulting in a redescription of reality.

The goal of this process is to develop a theme of "philosophical anthropology". Regarding this, Pellauer and Dauenhauer write:

Ricoeur came to formulate this as the idea of the “capable human being”. In it he seeks to give an account of the fundamental capabilities and vulnerabilities that human beings display in the activities that make up their lives, and to show how these capabilities enable responsible human action and life together.

In The Symbolism of Evil, Ricoeur discusses defilement, sin, guilt in the first part and the symbolic function of myths in the second.

Pellauer and Dauenhauer associate Ricoeur with existential phenomenology, Husserl, Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty.


Pellauer, David and Dauenhauer, Bernard, "Paul Ricoeur", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/ricoeur/.

Ricoeur, P. (1967). The symbolism of evil (Vol. 323). Beacon Press.

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    Notable example worth adding: Wilfried Sellars dispels what he calls the "Myth of the Given" by telling a "myth" of his own, i.e. a narrative that can explain what is/was possible and what not and how it all came into being (without any empirical background to support it).Can be found in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. – Philip Klöcking Aug 26 '18 at 17:49
  • Nice aside: He questions whether this really is a myth or how it actually happened (and happens) at the very end of the text, with modern empirical psychology supporting this sentiment. – Philip Klöcking Aug 26 '18 at 17:49
  • @PhilipKlöcking I haven't read Sellars but the very idea of a "myth" of the "given" is intriguing. The link in your second comment didn't take me anywhere. – Frank Hubeny Aug 26 '18 at 18:00
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    Corrected the link in the second comment, linked a PDF of Sellars' text. – Philip Klöcking Aug 26 '18 at 18:04
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I was just reading about gnostic syzygy https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeon_(Gnosticism) This is a kind of cosmic cosmogeny, a how things came to be as they are. That is absolutely a part of philosophy, though more associated with theology. In Hinduism for instance there is https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Yantra which is theological/spiritual, and I think philosophical. Buddhist cosmology is pieced together from various scriptural and commentary mentions, and varies a lot between traditions, but fundamentally aims at a theory of psychological cause and effect that can guide us in living ethically and spiritually well https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology

Plato in the symposium describes various mythological ideas, though they seem more like thought-experiments, like his cave analogy. Plato is usually considered a monotheist, but given Socrates was executed for questioning polytheistic verities you can see why he wasn't totally explicit.

It is often neglected about Greek myths and pantheon, that they can be viewed as quite a sophisticated psychological model, as expounded by Jung & in depth psychology, and extended in understanding by translation of linear B.

There is some line between 'just so' stories, that are primarily entertainments & sources of comfort, and philosophy which eschews those aims. But it is a line with overlap, even now - like Nietzsche's three metamorphesees, ot his thought-experiment of eternal return.

David Deutsch in The Fabric Of Reality points out the need for more than physics in a 'unified big picture'. We must be able to locate ourselves in our cosmology, as well as how the cosmos came to be this way. Whatever we come up with, when it is inevitably supplanted, we will look back on as infused with our psychology - like we look at the four humours or astrology. The line will move. So I think we should be humble, and accept some myth-making in philosophy, and look for it's supply of metaphorical not purely literal truths, and especially how 'imagine if' suspensions of disbelief can yield insights like gedankenexperiments can.

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It appears that there exists a strong link between Hindu philosophy and Hindu mythology.

The following material produced by an important literateur Shri Bankim Chandra Chatterjea , may be of interest.

The relation of Hindu Philosophy to Hindu Mythology.—A sort of hazy perception that Hindu Mythology is in a great measure the parent of Hindu Philosophy is not wanting among those who have bestowed any attention on either. It is again believed on the other hand, that the philosophical systems arose out of that reaction against the mythological religion which culminated in Buddhism, and that while some systems were aggressive and hostile to the national religion, others aimed at its conservation, and attempted to rebuild the fabric of superstition on rational foundations.

How is it that we find a cumbrous mythology and an absurd ritual flourishing gaily side by side with enlightened rationalism and searching scepticism, nay, not only flourishing side by side with them, but riding triumphantly over both?

Again, without questioning the general affiliation of philosophy to mythology, it is of great importance to trace how each individual myth developed itself into a philosophical idea.

We find the principle of triple existence running throughout both Hindu Philosophy and Hindu Mythology. The Supreme Soul has, in philosophy, the threefold attributes of Goodness (satwa), Passion (rajas) and Darkness (tamas).

Next, as separate impersonations of each of these three attributes of the Supreme Soul, we have the Pauranic Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.

This trinity has no existence in Vedic literature, but there we find another trinity as the more primitive representatives of the Pauranic Triad, viz., Agni, Vayu and Surya. (Nirukta VII., 5.)[2]

These, again, in their turn represent the Light. Agni the terrestrial light, Vayu the light of the atmosphere, and Surya the light of the sky.[3] This triple light is traced through the Nirukta (XII., 19) to the three steps of Vishnu in the Rig-Veda. The following is the explanation from the Nirukta:—

"Vishnu strides over this, whatever exists. He plants his step in three-fold manner, i.e., for a threefold existence, on earth, in the atmosphere, and in the sky according to Sakpuni."[4]

The verse in the Rig-Veda which is explained here is as follows:—

"Vishnu strode over this (universe); in three places he planted his step:" etc.[5]

So that here at least we can trace a philosophical idea to its source in a myth in the Rig-Veda.

Philosophy, seeking a loftier ideal and proceeding on a more rational basis, discarded the notion of Sin.

But the same causes were at work. The mighty energies of nature worked with impressive force on every side. With no more than the appliances of primitive life, existence was felt to be a burden in a climate and a country which overpowered human powers and neutralized human energies. What had appeared to the theologian as the vengeful action of offended divinities appeared to the philosopher as the omnipotent but natural causes of human misery.

Hence in philosophy, the sense of Suffering took the place of the sense of Sin. These two notions, the sense of suffering and the sense of sin, run side by side throughout Hindu Philosophy and Hindu Mythology respectively.

The end and aim of the Sánkhya is the Cessation of Pain by the Cessation of all Experience. The Bud­dhist, not satisfied with the Cessation of Experience, aims at the Annihilation of the Experiencing Soul as the only effectual means of securing freedom from misery to man. The Vedanta declines to believe that so much apparent misery can be real and resolves existence into a mass of illusions.

*The Yogin in the madness of despair constructs a fanciful machinery for conquering the powers of nature.

Everywhere the philosopher labours under an overwhelming sense of human misery and directs all his efforts against it. The vast field over which these two leading notions, the notion of sin and the notion of suffering, have spread, giving rise to asceticism, to fatalism, to apathy in politics and to sensuality in poetry, is one of the most interesting subjects of study with which the Hindu can occupy himself.*

ref.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Study_of_Hindu_Philosophy

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Short answer: Plato used mythology as a vehicle for philosophy. You see it as far back as Hesiod in the Greek canon. The Old and New Testaments also fit this mold.

Here's where I find the mythological aspects useful. In regard to the New Testament, where we seem to get into trouble is in interpreting the words of the text (many interpretations can be legitimately constructed.) We're depending on language, which can be fraught. By contrast, if we instead focus on Christ's example, specifically his turning the other cheek, sacrificing himself via an excruciating execution to validate this idea, there's less wiggle room in terms of distortion of the idea.

  • Well, I'm unsure that New Testament can count as a myth. Myth presupposes some kind of explanation why actually something is he way it is. New Testament does not really explain it. That book of genesis shares much with mesopotamian myths is supported documentally. – rus9384 Aug 27 '18 at 21:10
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The analysis of myth belongs to cultural and philosophical anthropology; the elaboration of a unified theory of culture (that is, unifying myth with ritual and prohibition, seeking the root of these forms) has been the object of many theorists, from psychoanalysts like Freud, structuralists like Levi-Strauss, and philosophers such as Girard, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida... The shape of the “demystification” of myth in each case is going to be somewhat different, but suffice to say there are interesting suggestions given by philosophers about the text and meaning of mythologies, as well as the implications of these for human culture and existence, etc.

  • Well, I mean some myths, for example, try to explain how the world has appeared, how does it work, etc. Take sumerians, for example: "The Sumerians envisioned the universe as a closed dome surrounded by a primordial saltwater sea. Underneath the terrestrial earth, which formed the base of the dome, existed an underworld and a freshwater ocean called the Apsû." Does this idea have philosophical meaning? – rus9384 Aug 26 '18 at 15:49

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