Ancient Philosophy

Movement: Ancient Philosophy
Dates: c. 1500 b.c. - c. 600

This page lists some links to ancient philosophy, namely philosophical thought extending as far as early post-classical history (c. 600 CE).


Genuine philosophical thought, depending upon original individual insights, arose in many cultures roughly contemporaneously. Karl Jaspers termed the intense period of philosophical development beginning around the 7th century and concluding around the 3rd century BCE an Axial Age in human thought.

In Western philosophy, the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire marked the ending of Hellenistic philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of medieval philosophy, whereas in Eastern philosophy, the spread of Islam through the Arab Empire marked the end of Old Iranian philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of early Islamic philosophy.

Ancient Chinese philosophy

Chinese philosophy is the dominant philosophical thought in China and other countries within the East Asian cultural sphere that share a common language, including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Schools of thought

Hundred Schools of Thought

The Hundred Schools of Thought were philosophers and schools that flourished from the 6th century to 221 BCE, an era of great cultural and intellectual expansion in China. Even though this period known in its earlier part as the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period in its latter part was fraught with chaos and bloody battles, it is also known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy because a broad range of thoughts and ideas were developed and discussed freely. The thoughts and ideas discussed and refined during this period have profoundly influenced lifestyles and social consciousness up to the present day in East Asian countries. The intellectual society of this era was characterized by itinerant scholars, who were often employed by various state rulers as advisers on the methods of government, war, and diplomacy. This period ended with the rise of the Qin Dynasty and the subsequent purge of dissent. The Book of Han lists ten major schools, they are:

  • Confucianism, which teaches that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. A main idea of Confucianism is the cultivation of virtue and the development of moral perfection. Confucianism holds that one should give up one's life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi.
  • Legalism. Often compared with Machiavelli, and foundational for the traditional Chinese bureaucratic empire, the Legalists examined administrative methods, emphasizing a realistic consolidation of the wealth and power of autocrat and state.
  • Taoism (also called Daoism), a philosophy which emphasizes the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos; health and longevity; and wu wei (action through inaction). Harmony with the Universe, or the source thereof (Tao), is the intended result of many Taoist rules and practices.
  • Mohism, which advocated the idea of universal love: Mozi believed that "everyone is equal before heaven", and that people should seek to imitate heaven by engaging in the practice of collective love. His epistemology can be regarded as primitive materialist empiricism; he believed that human cognition ought to be based on one's perceptions one's sensory experiences, such as sight and hearing instead of imagination or internal logic, elements founded on the human capacity for abstraction. Mozi advocated frugality, condemning the Confucian emphasis on ritual and music, which he denounced as extravagant.
  • Naturalism, the School of Naturalists or the Yin-yang school, which synthesized the concepts of yin and yang and the Five Elements; Zou Yan is considered the founder of this school.
  • Agrarianism, or the School of Agrarianism, which advocated peasant utopian communalism and egalitarianism. The Agrarians believed that Chinese society should be modeled around that of the early sage king Shen Nong, a folk hero which was portrayed in Chinese literature as "working in the fields, along with everyone else, and consulting with everyone else when any decision had to be reached."
  • The Logicians or the School of Names, which focused on definition and logic. It is said to have parallels with that of the Ancient Greek sophists or dialecticians. The most notable Logician was Gongsun Longzi.
  • The School of Diplomacy or School of Vertical and Horizontal [Alliances], which focused on practical matters instead of any moral principle, so it stressed political and diplomatic tactics, and debate and lobbying skill. Scholars from this school were good orators, debaters and tacticians.
  • The Miscellaneous School, which integrated teachings from different schools; for instance, L Buwei found scholars from different schools to write a book called Lshi Chunqiu cooperatively. This school tried to integrate the merits of various schools and avoid their perceived flaws.
  • The School of "Minor-talks", which was not a unique school of thought, but a philosophy constructed of all the thoughts which were discussed by and originated from normal people on the street.
  • Another group is the School of the Military that studied strategy and the philosophy of war; Sunzi and Sun Bin were influential leaders. However, this school was not one of the "Ten Schools" defined by Hanshu.

Early Imperial China

The founder of the Qin Dynasty, who implemented Legalism as the official philosophy, quashed Mohist and Confucianist schools. Legalism remained influential until the emperors of the Han Dynasty adopted Daoism and later Confucianism as official doctrine. These latter two became the determining forces of Chinese thought until the introduction of Buddhism.

Confucianism was particularly strong during the Han Dynasty, whose greatest thinker was Dong Zhongshu, who integrated Confucianism with the thoughts of the Zhongshu School and the theory of the Five Elements. He also was a promoter of the New Text school, which considered Confucius as a divine figure and a spiritual ruler of China, who foresaw and started the evolution of the world towards the Universal Peace. In contrast, there was an Old Text school that advocated the use of Confucian works written in ancient language (from this comes the denomination Old Text) that were so much more reliable. In particular, they refuted the assumption of Confucius as a godlike figure and considered him as the greatest sage, but simply a human and mortal.

The 3rd and 4th centuries saw the rise of the Xuanxue (mysterious learning), also called Neo-Taoism. The most important philosophers of this movement were Wang Bi, Xiang Xiu and Guo Xiang. The main question of this school was whether Being came before Not-Being (in Chinese, ming and wuming). A peculiar feature of these Taoist thinkers, like the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, was the concept of feng liu (lit. wind and flow), a sort of romantic spirit which encouraged following the natural and instinctive impulse.

Buddhism arrived in China around the 1st century AD, but it was not until the Northern and Southern, Sui and Tang Dynasties that it gained considerable influence and acknowledgement. At the beginning, it was considered a sort of Taoist sect, and there was even a theory about Laozi, founder of Taoism, who went to India and taught his philosophy to Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism was far more successful in China than its rival Hinayana, and both Indian schools and local Chinese sects arose from the 5th century. Two chiefly important monk philosophers were Sengzhao and Daosheng. But probably the most influential and original of these schools was the Chan sect, which had an even stronger impact in Japan as the Zen sect.


  • Taoism
    • Laozi (5th4th century BCE)
    • Zhuangzi (4th century BCE)
    • Zhang Daoling
    • Zhang Jue (died 184 CE)
    • Ge Hong (283 343 CE)
  • Confucianism
    • Confucius
    • Mencius
    • Xun Zi (c. 312 230 BCE)
  • Legalism
    • Li Si
    • Li Kui
    • Han Fei
    • Mi Su Yu
    • Shang Yang
    • Shen Buhai
    • Shen Dao
  • Mohism
    • Mozi
    • Song Xing
  • Logicians
    • Deng Xi
    • Hui Shi (380305 BCE)
    • Gongsun Long (c. 325 c. 250 BCE)
  • Agrarianism
    • Xu Xing
  • Naturalism
    • Zou Yan (305 240 BCE)
  • Neotaoism
    • Wang Bi
    • Guo Xiang
    • Xiang Xiu
  • School of Diplomacy
    • Guiguzi
    • Su Qin (380 284 BCE)
    • Zhang Yi (bef. 329 309 BCE)
    • Yue Yi
    • Li Yiji (268 204 BCE)
  • Military strategy
    • Sunzi (c. 500 BCE)
    • Sun Bin (died 316 BCE)

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy


Pre-Socratic philosophers

  • Milesian School
Thales (624 c 546 BCE)
Anaximander (610 546 BCE)
Anaximenes of Miletus (c. 585 c. 525 BCE)
  • Pythagoreans
Pythagoras (582 496 BCE)
Philolaus (470 380 BCE)
Alcmaeon of Croton
Archytas (428 347 BCE)
  • Heraclitus (535 475 BCE)
  • Eleatic School
Xenophanes (570 470 BCE)
Parmenides (510 440 BCE)
Zeno of Elea (490 430 BCE)
Melissus of Samos (c. 470 BCE ?)
  • Pluralists
Empedocles (490 430 BCE)
Anaxagoras (500 428 BCE)
  • Atomists
Leucippus (first half of 5th century BCE)
Democritus (460 370 BCE)
Metrodorus of Chios (4th century BCE)
  • Pherecydes of Syros (6th century BCE)
  • Sophists
Protagoras (490 420 BCE)
Gorgias (487 376 BCE)
Antiphon (480 411 BCE)
Prodicus (465/450 after 399 BCE)
Hippias (middle of the 5th century BCE)
Thrasymachus (459 400 BCE)
  • Diogenes of Apollonia (c. 460 BCE ?)

Classical Greek philosophers

  • Socrates (469 399 BCE)
  • Euclid of Megara (450 380 BCE)
  • Antisthenes (445 360 BCE)
  • Aristippus (435 356 BCE)
  • Plato (428 347 BCE)
  • Speusippus (407 339 BCE)
  • Diogenes of Sinope (400 325 BCE)
  • Xenocrates (396 314 BCE)
  • Aristotle (384 322 BCE)
  • Stilpo (380 300 BCE)
  • Theophrastus (370 288 BCE)

Hellenistic philosophy

  • Pyrrho (365 275 BCE)
  • Epicurus (341 270 BCE)
  • Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the younger) (331 278 BCE)
  • Zeno of Citium (333 263 BCE)
  • Cleanthes (c. 330 c. 230 BCE)
  • Timon (320 230 BCE)
  • Arcesilaus (316 232 BCE)
  • Menippus (3rd century BCE)
  • Archimedes (c. 287 212 BCE)
  • Chrysippus (280 207 BCE)
  • Carneades (214 129 BCE)
  • Clitomachus (187 109 BCE)
  • Metrodorus of Stratonicea (late 2nd century BCE)
  • Philo of Larissa (160 80 BCE)
  • Posidonius (135 51 BCE)
  • Antiochus of Ascalon (130 68 BCE)
  • Aenesidemus (1st century BCE)
  • Agrippa (1st century CE)

Hellenistic schools of thought

  • Academic skepticism
  • Cynicism
  • Cyrenaicism
  • Eclecticism
  • Epicureanism
  • Middle Platonism
  • Neo-Platonism
  • Neopythagoreanism
  • Peripatetic School
  • Pyrrhonism
  • Stoicism
  • Sophism

Early Roman and Christian philosophy

See also: Christian philosophy

  • School of the Sextii

Philosophers during Roman times

  • Cicero (106 43 BCE)
  • Lucretius (94 55 BCE)
  • Seneca (4 BCE 65 CE)
  • Musonius Rufus (30 100 CE)
  • Plutarch (45 120 CE)
  • Epictetus (55 135 CE)
  • Favorinus (c. 80 c. 160 CE)
  • Marcus Aurelius (121 180 CE)
  • Clement of Alexandria (150 215 CE)
  • Alcinous (philosopher) (2nd century CE)
  • Sextus Empiricus (3rd century CE)
  • Alexander of Aphrodisias (3rd century CE)
  • Ammonius Saccas (3rd century CE)
  • Plotinus (205 270 CE)
  • Porphyry (232 304 CE)
  • Iamblichus (242 327 CE)
  • Themistius (317 388 CE)
  • Ambrose (340 397 CE)
  • Augustine of Hippo (354 430 CE)
  • Proclus (411 485 CE)
  • Damascius (462 540 CE)
  • Boethius (472 524 CE)
  • Simplicius of Cilicia (490 560 CE)
  • John Philoponus (490 570 CE)

Ancient Indian philosophy

The ancient Indian philosophy is a fusion of two ancient traditions: the Vedic tradition and the Sramana tradition.

Vedic philosophy

Indian philosophy begins with the Vedas wherein questions pertaining to laws of nature, the origin of the universe and the place of man in it are asked. In the famous Rigvedic Hymn of Creation (Nasadiya Sukta) the poet asks:

"Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knowsor maybe even he does not know."

In the Vedic view, creation is ascribed to the self-consciousness of the primeval being (Purusha). This leads to the inquiry into the one being that underlies the diversity of empirical phenomena and the origin of all things. Cosmic order is termed rta and causal law by karma. Nature (prakriti) is taken to have three qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas).

  • Vedas
  • Upanishads
  • Hindu philosophy

Sramana philosophy

Jainism and Buddhism are continuation of the Sramana school of thought. The Sramanas cultivated a pessimistic worldview of the samsara as full of suffering and advocated renunciation and austerities. They laid stress on philosophical concepts like Ahimsa, Karma, Jnana, Samsara and Moksa. Crvka (Sanskrit: ) (atheist) philosophy, also known as Lokyata, it is a system of Hindu philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference. It is named after its founder, Crvka, author of the Brhaspatya-stras.

Classical Indian philosophy

In classical times, these inquiries were systematized in six schools of philosophy. Some of the questions asked were:

  • What is the ontological nature of consciousness?
  • How is cognition itself experienced?
  • Is mind (chit) intentional or not?
  • Does cognition have its own structure?

The six schools of Indian philosophy are:

  • Nyaya
  • Vaisheshika
  • Samkhya
  • Yoga
  • Mimamsa (Purva Mimamsa)
  • Vedanta (Uttara Mimamsa)

Ancient Indian philosophers

1st millennium BCE

  • Parashara writer of Viu Pura.

Philosophers of Vedic Age (c. 1500 c. 600 BCE)

  • Rishi Narayana seer of the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda.
  • Seven Rishis Atri, Bharadwaja, Gautama, Jamadagni, Kasyapa, Vasishtha, Viswamitra.
  • Other Vedic Rishis Gritsamada, Sandilya, Kanva etc.
  • Rishaba Rishi mentioned in Rig Veda and later in several Puranas, and believed by Jains to be the first official religious guru of Jainism, as accredited by later followers.
  • Yajnavalkya one of the Vedic sages, greatly influenced Buddhistic thought.
  • Angiras one of the seers of the Atharva Veda and author of Mundaka Upanishad.
  • Uddalaka Aruni an Upanishadic sage who authored major portions of Chndogya Upaniad.
  • Ashvapati a King in the Later Vedic age who authored Vaishvanara Vidya of Chndogya Upaniad.
  • Ashtavakra an Upanishadic Sage mentioned in the Mahabharata, who authored Ashtavakra Gita.

Philosophers of Axial Age (600185 BCE)

  • Gotama (c. 600 BCE), logician, author of Nyaya Sutra
  • Kanada (c. 600 BCE), founded the philosophical school of Vaisheshika, gave theory of atomism
  • Mahavira (599527 BCE) heavily influenced Jainism, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.
  • Pini (520460 BCE), grammarian, author of Ashtadhyayi
  • Kapila (c. 500 BCE), proponent of the Samkhya system of philosophy.
  • Badarayana (lived between 500 BCE and 400 BCE) Author of Brahma Sutras.
  • Jaimini (c. 400 BCE), author of Purva Mimamsa Sutras.
  • Pingala (c. 500 BCE), author of the Chandas shastra
  • Gautama Buddha (c. 480 c. 400 BCE), founder of Buddhist school of thought
  • Chanakya (c. 350 c. 275 BCE), author of Arthashastra, professor (acharya) of political science at the Takshashila University
  • Patajali (c. 200 BCE), developed the philosophy of Raja Yoga in his Yoga Sutras.
  • Shvetashvatara Author of earliest textual exposition of a systematic philosophy of Shaivism.

Philosophers of Golden Age (184 BCE 600 CE)

  • Valluvar (c. 31 BCE), wrote the Kural text, a treatise on secular ethics.
  • Dignga (c. 500), one of the founders of Buddhist school of Indian logic.
  • Asanga (c. 300), exponent of the Yogacara
  • Bhartrihari (c 450510 CE), early figure in Indic linguistic theory
  • Bodhidharma (c. 440528 CE), founder of the Zen school of Buddhism
  • Siddhasena Divkara (5th century CE), Jain logician and author of important works in Sanskrit and Prakrit, such as, Nyyvatra (on Logic) and Sanmatistra (dealing with the seven Jaina standpoints, knowledge and the objects of knowledge)
  • Vasubandhu (c. 300 CE), one of the main founders of the Indian Yogacara school.
  • Kundakunda (2nd century CE), exponent of Jain mysticism and Jain nayas dealing with the nature of the soul and its contamination by matter, author of Pacstikyasra (Essence of the Five Existents), the Pravacanasra (Essence of the Scripture) and the Samayasra (Essence of the Doctrine)
  • Nagarjuna (c. 150 250 CE), the founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Path) school of Mahyna Buddhism.
  • Umsvti or Umasvami (2nd century CE), author of first Jain work in Sanskrit, Tattvrthastra, expounding the Jain philosophy in a most systematized form acceptable to all sects of Jainism.

Ancient Iranian philosophy

See also: Dualism, Dualism (philosophy of mind)

While there are ancient relations between the Indian Vedas and the Iranian Avesta, the two main families of the Indo-Iranian philosophical traditions were characterized by fundamental differences in their implications for the human being's position in society and their view of man's role in the universe. The first charter of human rights by Cyrus the Great as understood in the Cyrus cylinder is often seen as a reflection of the questions and thoughts expressed by Zarathustra and developed in Zoroastrian schools of thought of the Achaemenid Era of Iranian history.

Schools of thought

Ideas and tenets of Zoroastrian schools of Early Persian philosophy are part of many works written in Middle Persian and of the extant scriptures of the zoroastrian religion in Avestan language. Among these are treatises such as the Shikand-gumanic Vichar by Mardan-Farrux Ohrmazddadan, selections of Denkard, Wizidagh- Ztspram ("Selections of Ztspram") as well as older passages of the book Avesta, the Gathas which are attributed to Zarathustra himself and regarded as his "direct teachings".


  • Zarathustra
  • Jamasp
  • Ostanes
  • Mardan-Farrux Ohrmazddadan
  • Adurfarnbag Farroxzadan
  • Adurbad Emedan
  • Avesta
  • Gathas


Pre-Manichaean thought

  • Bardesanes


  • Mani (c. 216 276 CE)
  • Ammo


  • Mazdak the Elder
  • Mazdak (died c. 524 or 528 CE)


  • Aesthetic Zurvanism
  • Materialist Zurvanism
  • Fatalistic Zurvanism

Philosophy and the Empire

  • Political philosophy
    • Tansar
  • University of Gundishapur
    • Borzouye
    • Bakhtshooa Gondishapuri
  • Emperor Khosrau's philosophical discourses
    • Paul the Persian


  • Pahlavi literature

Ancient Jewish philosophy

See also: Jewish philosophy

First Temple (c. 900 BCE to 587 BCE)

  • Joel (9th5th century BCE)
  • Amos (8th century BCE)
  • Hosea (8th century BCE)
  • Micah (8th century BCE)
  • Proto-Isaiah (8th century BCE)
  • Ezekiel (7th century BCE)
  • Habbakuk (7th century BCE)
  • Jeremiah (7th century BCE)
  • Nahum (7th century BCE)
  • Zephaniah (7th century BCE)

Assyrian exile (587 BCE to 516 BCE)

  • Deutero-Isaiah (6th century BCE)
  • Haggai (6th century BCE)
  • Obadiah (6th century BCE)
  • Trito-Isaiah (6th century BCE)
  • Zechariah (6th century BCE)

Second Temple (516 BCE to 70 CE)

  • Malachi (5th century BCE)
  • Koheleth (5th 2nd century BCE)
  • Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira (2nd century BCE)
  • Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BCE 10CE)
  • Philo of Alexandria (30 BCE 45 CE)
  • Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 BCE - 33 CE)

Early Roman exile (70 CE to c. 600 CE)

  • Rabbi Akiva (c. 40 c. 137 CE)

See also

  • Index of ancient philosophy articles


Further reading

  • Luchte, James, Early Greek Thought: Before the Dawn, in series Bloomsbury Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2011. ISBN978-0567353313

External links

  • Ancient philosophy at the Indiana Philosophy Ontology Project

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