We explain everything about the history of philosophy, its stages and main currents. Also, the most important philosophers.

History of Philosophy
Philosophy is a broad, complex and changing discipline originating in ancient Greece.

Philosophy as we know it, understood as Western philosophy, has its origins in ancient Greece. Being a broad, complex and changing discipline, in many cases it is useful to approach it through its history, which is divided into different periods.

Those who dedicate themselves to the history of philosophy many times they disagree regarding the beginning or end of this or that periodbut, broadly speaking, they all agree on the general division of four large blocks: ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, modern philosophy and contemporary philosophy.

This is the classical periodization of philosophy, from its origins and as it developed, for more than two thousand years, until today.

See also: Etymology of “Philosophy”

ancient philosophy

From Tales de Mileto, around the year 600 a. C., until the Neoplatonists of the 6th century AD. C., the Greek people and other Mediterranean civilizations practiced philosophy as a form of knowledge and also as a lifestyle.

It is considered that the first philosophers were the so-called “presocratics”, for having lived and thought before Socrates. He is known for having taken the step from myth to logos (rational thought), since they sought rational explanations, based on their observations of nature, of the origin of all that is. Among them we find Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Anaxiemenes, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Democritus.

The Presocratics are followed by what is known as the Classical Greek period.. This begins with Socrates, a contemporary of the group of sophists (masters of rhetoric), who was a teacher of Plato, who in turn taught Aristotle. Both Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are considered the most important philosophers of antiquity and are known as the “major Socratics”. All of his works are still the subject of study and discussion today.

The Hellenistic period succeeded the older Socratics. This period goes from the death of Alexander the Great to the invasion of Macedonia by the Romans. At this time the schools of Socrates and Plato coexisted, which were continued by many of his disciples.

ancient philosophy comes to an end with the development of the thinkers of Late Antiquity: the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics and, later, the Neoplatonists. Neoplatonism is the subject of discussion among different historians of philosophy, since it can be thought of as a school of transition between Antiquity and the medieval world.

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Medieval philosophy

medieval philosophy occurred between the 5th and 6th centuries, with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, and VI AD. C., with the rise of the Renaissance. Its main characteristic is the inclusion of classical ideas in the dogmas of the great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam).

This attempt to reconcile philosophy and religion developed over a period of almost a thousand years. After the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth, in the first century, and the subsequent evangelization of the western world by his disciples, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This meant that philosophy was forced into the background of theology: philosophical tools were at the disposal of theological and religious concerns.

The first centuries were the scene of the efforts made by the fathers of the Church, whose doctrine was called “patristics”. The most famous of these was Augustine of Hippo (354-430), better known as Saint Augustine. Augustine incorporated many of the ideas outlined by the Neoplatonists.who brought the saved works of Plato to the Roman Empire.

Aristotle’s work, for his part, was still unknown to most of the Western world. Those who came to read it did so through the Latin translations of Boethius (477-524), who translated Categoriesfrom Aristotle, and isagogewhich is Porfirio’s comment to Categories.

Following the 787 decree of Charlemagne, who established schools in all the monasteries of his empire, what is known as “scholasticism” appeared in the medieval world. The greatest representative of this period was Juan Scoto Eriúgena (815-877), who translated the work of Pseudo-Dionysus.

Scholasticism, which saw its heyday between the 13th and 14th centuries, officially arose after Eriugena, with the work of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). Saint Anselm is known for having written the first ontological argument (based on being) to prove the existence of God.

At the height of scholasticism the main European universities were established in the big cities. The Franciscan and Dominican orders were also founded.. From these religious orders arises the figure of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), known as Saint Thomas. Saint Thomas was the greatest conciliator between Christian doctrine and Greek rationality, and gave rise to what is now known as “Catholic philosophy.”

renaissance philosophy

Renaissance or Renaissance philosophy is one that developed between the 15th and 16th centuries. During this period he worked with greater emphasis on the problems that concern natural philosophy, humanism and political philosophy.

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Its main thinkers were Nicholas Machiavelli, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Thomas More, Michel de Montaigne, Giordano Bruno, Nicolás de Cusa and Francisco Suárez, among others.

This period is considered transitional because it is located between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age.. These periods had not only a greater extension in time, but also a greater radicalism with respect to the issues dealt with and the way in which they were worked on.

modern philosophy

Modern philosophy was characterized as a period in which its thinkers worked autonomously from the political and religious powers. Figures like Hume or Descartes sought to respond to many concerns, separating themselves from the scientific and philosophical criteria of the majority of the Church.

Modern thought developed between the 17th and 20th centuries.. Although there are some disputes about it, it is almost unanimously considered that modern philosophy begins with the thought of René Descartes (1596-1650), father of modernity and rationalism, one of the main modern currents of thought. In this current we also find philosophers of the stature of Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, among others.

Rationalism was opposed by the British current of empiricism. The main figures of him were John Locke, David Hume and George Berkeley (although the latter is sometimes considered a rationalist as well). Unlike rationalism, which advocated a rational explanation of the world, empiricism explained reality from the senses and the sensations that we obtain from the encounter with objects.

Both currents, beyond their differences, were characterized by trying to find a criterion of truth other than the theological, which was given by divine revelation or the opinion of the authorities of the Church. The two schools were contemporary with thinkers whose thought is sometimes difficult to classify, such as Thomas Hobbes or Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

19th century philosophy

The philosophy of the 19th century, like that of the Renaissance, is difficult to classify. With her the thought of Immanuel Kant appearswho reconciled rationalism with empiricism, and also the thought of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, father of German idealism.

Both the works of Kant and those of Hegel absolutely revolutionized the way in which philosophy was done. The critique of pure reasonof Kant, and phenomenology of spiritby Hegel, are works that are exhaustively studied today, and new ways of thinking are found in them, not only how we know reality, but also what it is in itself.

The 19th century also gave birth to the works of philosophers such as Fichte and Schelling., German idealists, or Arthur Schopenhauer, a radical thinker who promulgated the idea of ​​the world as a useless game of images and desires. We also find in this period Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Kierkegaard and Edmund Husserl, among others.

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The 19th century, prolific in its own thinkers and ideas and revolutionary in more than one sense, was also the century in which Friedrich Nietzsche lived, thought and wrote. The figure of Nietzsche, since his appearance, is extremely controversialand has managed to divide philosophy into large groups depending on whether it was its detractor or defender.

Usually Nietzsche is considered to be the one who started contemporary thought: after him one can no longer speak of totalities or foundations of reality (and this is what characterizes post-Nietzschean and contemporary philosophy).

contemporary philosophy

contemporary philosophy began in the 20th century and continues to this day. For this reason, and because it is a living and developing thought, it is difficult to trace its limits or its own characteristics. However, there are a few possible items to mention.

The 20th century was the scene where the most significant philosophical traditions of contemporary philosophy: analytical and continental philosophy. The first took place mainly in the Anglo-Saxon world, while the second occurred in continental Europe. Both currents were contemporaneous with the rise of logical positivism, phenomenology, existentialism, poststructuralism, and philosophical materialism.

All these currents were participants in what is known as the “linguistic turn”, which consisted of an important discussion regarding the relationship between language and philosophy. In turn, this shift occurred in parallel to the publication of the works of Martin Heidegger, in the continental tradition, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is located on the side of the analytical tradition. The figure of Heidegger generated many controversies in the philosophical world for his apparent and suspected adherence to Nazi Nazism in Germany during the Second War.

Among the best-known philosophers of contemporary philosophy, in addition to Heidegger and Wittgenstein, we find Bertrand Russel, Karl Popper, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Paul Preciado, Donna Haraway , Judith Butler, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Simone De Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre and Giorgio Agamben, among others.

Continue with: Hellenistic Period


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  • Reale, G., & Antiseri, D. (2007). History of Philosophy. Editorial San Pablo.
  • Hegel, GWF, & Lump, E. (1971). Indroduction to the philosophy’s history. Aguilar.