Origins of Western Philosophic Thinking
Philosophy is the attempt to give an account of what is true and what is important, based on a rational assessment of evidence and arguments rather than myth, tradition, bald assertion, oracular utterances, local custom, or mere prejudice. As with many of the arts and sciences that make up Western civilization and culture, philosophy was first defined as such by the Greeks around the fifth century B.C.E. However, evidence suggests that many of the problems, concepts, and approaches that became known as philosophy in Greece originated in other places and times. Of these sources, three are particularly notable: “Asian” or “oriental” (including Phoenician, Assyrian, Hittite, and Iranian influences); Hebrew (or biblical); and Egyptian.
The literary remains of oriental, Egyptian, and Hebrew cultures—works such as Gilgamesh, Kumarbi, The Song of Villikummi, Enuma Elish (the Babylonian story of creation), and the Hebrew Bible—display a fusion of what we call science, philosophy, and religion, though it is usually referred to as mythology. Mythology is, in part, a primitive attempt to understand the world. In general, mythopoeic (myth-making) thought has a different logical, imaginative, and emotional character than the kind of speculative thought that has come to characterize philosophy.
In these ancient works, for example, time and space are qualitative and concrete rather than quantitative and abstract, as they are generally considered today. Nevertheless, such religious myths show a concern for the origins and ends of things. They also see the visible order of the world as embedded in an invisible one that is maintained by human customs and institutions. This concept, despite its mythological