Is western philosophy simply based on scientific knowledge. Is is only about scientific or Academia knowledge? Why is it called western? Because it has its roots in ancient Greece where western democracy has its roots?

This is a meta question but since there is no philosophy meta site I ask it here.


Western philosophy (as commonly understood) is a set of philosophical systems originating in the Middle East and Europe that are heavily influenced by biblical hermeneutics (talmudic argumentation) and Aristotelean logic. It seeks to discover and establish principles that can be expressed and manipulated in language. As such it always begins at a generalized assertion — whether a theoretical proposition or an element of received wisdom — and works its way down to practical uses in real-world contexts. Scientific reasoning is a pronounced part of this, obviously, but it also includes Hegelian dialectics, Marxist material dialectics, phenomenology and existentialism (where 'being' or 'existence' are expounded as first principles), and critical theoretical approaches (where social principles are exposed and explored).

Eastern philosophy (as commonly understood) is a set of philosophical systems originating in the Indian subcontinent and the Far East, which begin at an understanding that language is insufficient to express the fundamental principles of reality. Such principles can only be understood through direct apperception, and only transmitted indirectly: by implication, not explication. Often this is brushed off (in the West) as religious doctrine, though that categorization isn't entirely consistent or practicable.

Obviously there are elements of 'Western' philosophy that look far more like Eastern methods and elements of 'Eastern' philosophy that look far more like Western methods. The use of 'Eastern' and 'Western' is a prejudicial holdover from the Colonial era: one of the remnants of Orientalism, in Edward Said's sense that Occidental worldviews stereotype Asian cultures as simultaneously backwards and mysterious.

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    It seems to me that phenomenology is where the edges around east and west become blurry.
    – henning
    Jul 5 at 8:58
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    @henning: I think the roots of it go back the Nietzsche: e.g., the idea that morality transcends simplistic, doctrinal notions of good and evil, and must discovered philosophically, not received from authority. It's the break with the (ultimately) Hegelian notion that we can achieve understanding is a purely dialectical fashion. but we even find it in analytical philosophy (e.g., Wittgenstein's later work) which owes very little to N. Tracing it out would make a fascinating dissertation topic, I imagine... Jul 5 at 14:54
  • Do you have an example of a non-religious, eastern philosophical system?
    – T. Sar
    Jul 5 at 19:46
  • @T.Sar: I suppose the most obvious and direct would be Confucianism. I could also argue that the core of Daoism is not particularly religious, though there is a religious folk tradition attached to it. China, Japan, India, and the Muslim world have rich philosophical and scientific histories that were largely overlooked by Western scholarship (because of the preconceived notion that the West was the heart of rationality). Sad, really... Jul 5 at 19:56
  • @TedWrigley While I can appreciate the argument that Confucianism might be human-centric, it certainly is religious - as worship was integral part of it. Daoism is... a weird case. If the core is or not religious is certainly a matter of debate.
    – T. Sar
    Jul 5 at 20:01

The Academy, was literally invented by Plato..! I like Vervaeke's point that Plato took the subversive openess to questioning that got Socrates killed, and mixed it with the Pythagorean math-cult, to create academia - creating a school that could reach the high and low-born, to be financially sustainable, but also a place for anyone that could argue really well.

Philosophy, mysticism, religion, who's boxes are these? Why should people who didn't make those boxes, be expected to sort their traditions neatly into them? Confucianism seriously stretches our definition of 'religion'. Hindu & Buddhist thought have deeply philosophical traditions and movements, and almost purely 'mystical' ones, but because they place primacy on subjective experience, mind, over world, these are not incompatible there. Key insights for Greek mathematics, a derivation of pi, geometry, zero & infinity, are thought to have come directly from Indian religious thought.

I would argue that philosophy, as distinct from general wisdom traditions, schools of logic, ethical systems, schools of jurisprudence, etc etc was made distinct specifically by Socrates, and his 'martyrdom' to it. Plato found roots, aspects, in the pre-Socratics, and their proposals of universal-substances is a kind of physico-materialism precursor, separating minds and intentionality from understanding the natural world. But philosophy depends crucially on Socratic dialogue, as opposed to other modes of engagement pursuasion or practice, like rhetoric, or initiations (eg mystery cults, tantra, Tibetan empowerments), or meditation & chanting. Joint commitment to the pursuit of truth, and wisdom. Without making that explicit, I say you don't have philosophy. It is not that Western thought is entirely scientific and physico-materialist, it's that if you commit to free and open debate, the special-pleading, magic books and miracles, aren't pursuasive. A religious person is an atheist to the god/s of every other tradition.

Does that mean it didn't exist before Socrates? I would describe discourses that move toward wisdom through unscripted question and answer as philosophical, so I'd include Confucius and Buddha, as philosophers. But they were other things too, on spirituality, judicial theory etc. Socrates we remember as a philosopher, because he made doing what he did, be being 'a philosopher'.

Why is it called Western? As part of conscious efforts to create a sense of cultural-supremacy to match the political one, of a resurgent backwater that had been largely lost to religious fanaticism for a millenium and a half: Europe. Fortunately, the Islamic world which stretched from India to Morocco had preserved the texts of Greek thought beyond the few fragments that had survived in Europe, and provided critical commentaries like Avicenna's (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushid), and invented algebra on the side (al jabr, 'reunion of broken parts'). St Augustine, one of the two most important philosophers to Christianity, was from North Africa (from Alexandria, where arguably the library was invented).

For more context-setting on the geographical and political differences that led to different traditions: Western Empiricism in Eastern Philosophy?


The West, that is to say, Western Civilization, is both historical and geographical in meaning.

Typically, most History classes-(even in the age of Political Correctness), tend to begin the History of the West with the Ancient Greeks-(though there are some History classes and Historians who have disagreed with this and say that the West's real origins were in places, such as Egypt and Babylon). Nevertheless, the Ancient Greeks still tend to be largely viewed as the Progenitors of Western Civilization; this includes, the birth of Philosophy.

But, why use the word(s), "West" or "Western Civilization" to characterize the Ancient Greeks?-(After all, they themselves NEVER used such language to describe themselves). The answer, is geographical-(in part). If one looks at a map of Greece, one will see that it is located at the edge of the European continent and is only a FEW miles away from the Anatolian/West Asian coast-(present-day Turkey). And if one looks at the island of Cyprus, it too, is in fairly close proximity to the Phoenician/(present-day Lebanese coast, which is the traditional starting point of The Middle East). In other words, Greek territories, while viewed as the starting point of the West and Western Civilization, was (and is still), in close geographical proximity to the East-(This close distancing of civilizations would play a central role in the early evolution of Greek and even European Christianity).

However, even though Greece and Cyprus were in close proximity to the Greater East, Greek intellectual and in particular, philosophical thought, evolved from a centuries old appreciation for humanism-(or what we today call, "secularism"). This is not to say that the Ancient Greeks were not spiritual, nor in reverence of their Deities; they certainly were-(i.e. Homer, Hesiod, Mount Olympus, as well as The Oracle of Delphi!). It is to say that the Ancient Greek religious system beautified, celebrated and yes even praised, the humanistic within the sacred.

The Ancient Greek Deities were often three dimensional human looking sculptures of Gods and Goddesses-(as well as Demigods and Demigoddesses). It was one of the few Ancient cultures that placed humankind at the Center of nearly all things-("Man is the measure of all things"; a quote that I believe came from either Plato or The Playwright Sophocles). Their Poetry, Statues, Mosaics, as well as their Athletic events-(most notably, The Olympics), were examples of their fascination with the Materialistic-(not a crude association with the Materialistic, such as commercialism and extravagance, but a sincere interest in how the Materialistic functions and why it functions in the way it does). This fascination with the Materialistic also led towards pioneering advancements in Medicine, Geometry and especially, The Philosophy of Science.

The Old Testament stated that Man, was made in the image of God. For the Ancient Greeks, it was the opposite; The Gods were made in the image of Man...and their sculptures proved this. In other words, the Ancient Greek culture was preoccupied with the significance and beauty of humankind, including, the personification and simultaneous praising of their Deities.

It was this original PHILANTHROPY-(or lover of humankind and humanism), that distinguished the Ancient Greeks from their more Mystically oriented and Theocentric Eastern neighbors-(from the Middle East...to India).

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