Eastern philosophy

Eastern philosophy

Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Chinese philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Indian philosophy and Korean philosophy. The term can also sometimes include Babylonian philosophy and Islamic philosophy, though these may also be considered Western philosophies.



Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Korean philosophy, Arab philosophy and Jewish philosophy. The division is not purely geographic but also stems from general hermeneutic and conceptual differences that lay between Eastern and Western traditions.

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Because of its origin from within the Abrahamic religions, some Western philosophies have formulated questions on the nature of God and his relationship to the universe based on Monotheistic framework within which it emerged. This has created a dichotomy among some Western philosophies between secular philosophies and religious philosophies which develop within the context of a particular monotheistic religion's dogma, especially some creeds of Protestant Christianity, regarding the nature of God and the universe.

Eastern religions have not been as concerned by questions relating to the nature of a single God as the universe's sole creator and ruler[citation needed]. The distinction between the religious and the secular tends to be much less sharp in Eastern philosophy, and the same philosophical school often contains both religious and philosophical elements[citation needed]. Thus, some people accept the so-called metaphysical tenets of Buddhism without going to a temple and worshipping. Some have worshipped the Taoist deities religiously without bothering to delve into the theologial underpinnings, while others embrace the Taoist religion while ignoring the mythological aspects.

This arrangement stands in marked contrast to some recent philosophy in the West, which has traditionally enforced either a completely unified philosophic/religious belief system (for example, the various sects and associated philosophies of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), or a sharp and total repudiation of some forms of religion by philosophy (for example, Nietzsche, Marx, Voltaire, etc.).

Comparative religion

Conceptions of God
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A common thread that often differentiates Eastern philosophy from Western is the relationship[clarification needed]between the gods (or God) and the universe. Some Western schools of thought were animistic or pantheistic, such as the classical Greek tradition, while later religious beliefs, influenced by the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions, portrayed divinity as more transcendent.

Much like the classical Greek philosophies, many Eastern schools of thought were more interested in explaining the natural world via universal patterns; without recourse to capricious agencies like gods (or God). Syncretism allowed various schools of thought such as Yi, Yin yang, Wu xing and Ren to mutually complement one another without threatening traditional religious practice or new religious movements.

Syntheses of Eastern and Western philosophy

There have been many modern attempts to integrate Western and Eastern philosophical traditions.

Arthur Schopenhauer developed a philosophy that was essentially a synthesis of Hinduism with Western thought. He anticipated that the Upanishads (primary Hindu scriptures) would have a much greater influence in the West than they have had. However, Schopenhauer was working with heavily flawed early translations (and sometimes second-degree translations), and many feel that he may not necessarily have accurately grasped the Eastern philosophies which interested him.

Recent attempts to incorporate Western philosophy into Eastern thought include the Kyoto School of philosophers, who combined the phenomenology of Husserl with the insights of Zen Buddhism. Watsuji Tetsurô, a 20th century Japanese philosopher attempted to combine the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger with Eastern philosophies. Some have claimed that there is also a definite eastern element within Heidegger's philosophy. For the most part this is not made explicit within Heidegger's philosophy, apart from in the dialogue between a Japanese and inquirer. Heidegger did spend time attempting to translate the Tao Te Ching into German, working with his Chinese student Paul Hsaio. It has also been claimed that much of Heidegger's later philosophy, particularly the sacredness of Being, bears a distinct similarity to Taoist ideas. There are clear parallels between Heidegger and the work of Kyoto School, and ultimately, it may be read that Heidegger's philosophy is an attempt to 'turn eastwards' in response to the crisis in Western civilization. However, this is only an interpretation.

The 20th century Hindu guru Sri Aurobindo was influenced by German Idealism and his Integral yoga is regarded as a synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. The German phenomenologist Jean Gebser's writings on the history of consciousness referred to a new planetary consciousness that would bridge this gap. Followers of these two authors are often grouped together under the term Integral thought.

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was deeply influenced by his interest in the I Ching. The I Ching (Book of Changes) is an ancient text in China, dating back to the Shang Dynasty (Bronze Age 1700BC-1050BC), and utilizes a system of Yin and Yang which it places into Hexagrams for the purposes of divination. Carl Jung's idea of synchronicity moves towards an Oriental view of causality, as he states in the foreword to Richard Wilhelm's translation of the I Ching (Book of Changes). He explains that this Chinese view of the world is based not on science as the West knows it, but on chance.

East Asian philosophies


Confucianism(儒學), developed around the teachings of Confucius(孔子) and is based on a set of Chinese classic texts.


Neo-Confucianism is a later further development of Confucianism but also went much more differently from the origin of Confucianism. It started developing from the Song Dynasty and was nearly completed in late Ming Dynasty. Its root can be found as early as Tang Dynasty, often attributed to scholar Tang Xie Tian. It has a great influence on the countries of East Asia including China, Japan and Korea as well as Vietnam as well. Zhu Xi is considered as the biggest master of Song where Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming is the one of Ming's. But there are conflicts between Zhu's school and Wang's.


Taoism (or Daoism) is the traditional foil of Confucianism in China. Taoism's central books are the Dao De Jing (Tao-Te-Ching), traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).


Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a sophisticated form of animism which holds that spirits called kami inhabit all things. Worship is at public shrines or in small shrines constructed in one's home. According to Shinto practice, relationship with the kami that inhabit this world is foremost in a person's duties; the kami are to be respected in order that they may return our respect. Shinto further holds that the "spirit" and "mundane" worlds are one and the same. Of all of the tenets of this philosophy, purity is the most highly stressed. Pure acts are those that promote or contribute to the harmony of the universe, and impure acts are those which are deleterious in this regard. As a faith, Shinto bears heavy influences from Chinese religions, notably Taoism and Buddhism.


Legalism advocated a strict interpretation of the law in every respect. No judgment calls. Morality was not important[citation needed]; adherence to the letter of the law was paramount.


Maoism is a Communist philosophy based on the teachings of 20th century Communist Party of China revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. It is based partially on earlier theories by Marx and Lenin, but rejects the urban proletariat and Leninist emphasis on heavy industrialization in favor of a revolution supported by the peasantry, and a decentralized agrarian economy based on many collectively worked farms.

Indian philosophies

Hindu philosophy

Hinduism (सनातन धर्म; Sanātana Dharma, roughly Perennial Moral Duty) is one of the oldest major world religion. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of religious belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in ancient Vedic culture at least as far back as 1500 BC. It is the third largest religion with approximately 1.05 billion followers worldwide, 96% of whom live in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism rests on the spiritual bedrock of the Vedas, hence Veda Dharma, and their mystic issue, the Upanishads, as well as the teachings of many great Hindu gurus through the ages. Many streams of thought flow from the six Vedic/Hindu schools, Bhakti sects and Tantra Agamic schools into the one ocean of Hinduism, the first of the Dharma religions. Also, the sacred book Bhagavad Gita is one of the most revered texts among Hindus.

What can be said to be common to many theistic Hindus is belief in Dharma, reincarnation, karma, and moksha (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas. Still more fundamental principles include ahimsa (non-violence), the primacy of the Guru, the Divine Word of Aum and the power of mantras, love of Truth in many manifestations as gods and goddesses, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine (Atman) is in every human and living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Religious Truth (which Hindus call Brahman). This acceptance of various paths leading to the same truth, is also a foundation of Hindu philosophy. However, since the term Hindu is more of an umbrella term for dharmic traditions arising from the Indian subcontinent, there may be persons who believe in none of the above concepts and yet consider themselves Hindu.

See Also: Hinduism -- Hindu scripture -- Samkhya -- Yoga -- Nyaya -- Vaisesika -- Vedanta -- Bhakti -- Cārvāka -- Indian logic

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism is a system of religious beliefs based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, one whose tenets are not especially concerned with the existence or non-existence of a God or gods. The Buddha himself expressly disavowed any special divine status or inspiration, and said that anyone, anywhere could achieve all the insight that he had. The question of God is largely irrelevant in Buddhism, though some sects (notably Tibetan Buddhism) do venerate a number of gods drawn in from local indigenous belief systems yet this practice has taken on different meanings and has become a skillful mean within the Tibetan Buddhist practice.

Buddhist philosophy has its foundations in the doctrines of:

Most Buddhist sects believe in karma, a cause-and-effect relationship between all that has been done and all that will be done. Events that occur are held to be the direct result of previous events. One effect of karma is rebirth. At death, the karma from a given life determines the nature of the next life's existence. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist practitioner is to eliminate karma (both good and bad), end the cycle of rebirth and suffering, and attain Nirvana, usually translated as awakening or enlightenment.

See also: BuddhismOutline of BuddhismSchools of Buddhism

Sikh philosophy

Diagram showing some of the important Sikh beliefs.
  • Simran and Sewa - These are the Foundation of Sikhism. It is the duty of every Sikh to practise Naam Simran (meditation on the Lord's name) daily and engage in Sewa (Selfless Service) whenever there is a possibility, in Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), in community centres, old people's homes, care centres, major world disasters, etc. "Ek ong kar Satanam" and "Waheguru" are some mantras used for this purpose. "Ek ong kar Satanam" roughly translates to "there is one God un-separate from nature and truth is its name". "Waheguru" is used as a meditative practice on the Lord's name.
  • The Three Pillars of Sikhism - Guru Nanak formalised these three important pillars of Sikhism.
    • Naam Japna – A Sikh is to engage in a daily practise of meditation and Nitnem (a daily prayer routine) by reciting and chanting of God’s Name.
    • Kirat Karni - To live honestly and earn by ones physical and mental effort while accepting Gods gifts and blessings. A Sikh has to live as a householders carrying out his or her duties and responsibilities to the full.
    • Vand Chakna - Sikhs are asked to share their wealth within the community and outside by giving Dasvand and practising charity (Daan). To “Share and consume together”.
  • Kill the Five Thieves - The Sikh Gurus tell us that our mind and spirit are constantly being attacked by the Five Evils – Kam (Lust), Krodh (Rage), Lobh (Greed), Moh (Attachment) and Ahankar (Ego). A Sikh needs to constantly attack and overcome these five vices; be always vigilant and on guard to tackle these five thieves all the time.
  • Positive Human Qualities - The Sikh Gurus taught the Sikhs to develop and harness positive human qualities which lead the soul closer to God and away from evil. These are Sat (Truth), Daya (Compassion), Santokh (Contentment), Nimrata (Humility) and Pyare (Love).

See also Sikhism - Sikh Beliefs - Basic Tenets of the Sikhism - Sikhism Primary Beliefs and Principles


Jain philosophy deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India.[1] It is a continuation of the ancient Śramaṇa tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times.[2][3] The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, denial of creative and omnipotent God, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, accent on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of soul. Jain philosophy attempts to explain the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of bondage and the means to achieve liberation.[4] It has often been described as an ascetic movement for its strong emphasis on self-control, austerities and renunciation.[5] It has also been called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of the rival philosophies.[6] Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal responsibility for one's decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one's liberation.[7]

Throughout its history, the Jain philosophy remained unified and single, although as a religion, Jainism was divided into various sects and traditions. The contribution of Jain philosophy in developing the Indian philosophy has been significant. Jain philosophical concepts like Ahimsa, Karma, Moksa, Samsara and like have been assimilated into the philosophies of other Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in various forms.[8] While Jainism traces its philosophy from teachings of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, various Jain philosophers from Kundakunda and Umasvati in ancient times to Yaśovijaya Gaṇi in recent times have contributed greatly in developing and refining the Jain and Indian philosophical concepts.


Cārvāka, also frequently transliterated as Charvaka or Cārvāka, and also known as Lokayata or Lokyāta, was a materialist and atheist school of thought with ancient roots in India. It proposed a system of ethics based on rational thought. However, this school has been dead for more than a thousand years.

Iranian philosophy

See also Ancient Iranian Philosophy


Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, which originated in Iran. It has a dualistic nature (Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu), with an additional series of six important divine entities called the Amesha Spentas.[9] In modern Zoroastrianism they are interpreted as aspects or emanations of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being), who form a heptad that is good and constructive. They are opposed to another group of seven who are evil and destructive. It is this persistent conflict between good and evil that distinguishes Zoroastrianism from monotheistic frameworks that have only one power as supreme. By requiring its adherents to have faith and belief in equally opposing powers Zoroastrianism characterizes itself as dualistic.

The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE.[10][11] His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy. Zarathustra was the first who treated the problem of evil in philosophical terms.[11][12] He is also believed to be one of the oldest monotheists in the history of religion. He espoused an ethical philosophy based on the primacy of good thoughts (pendar-e-nik), good words (goftar-e-nik), and good deeds (kerdar-e-nik).[13]

The works of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on Greek philosophy and Roman philosophy. Several ancient Greek writers such as Eudoxus of Cnidus and Latin writers such as Pliny the Elder praised Zoroastrian philosophy as "the most famous and most useful". Plato learnt of Zoroastrian philosophy through Eudoxus and incorporated much of it into his own Platonic realism.[14] In the 3rd century BC, however, Colotes accused Plato's The Republic of plagiarizing parts of Zoroaster's On Nature, such as the Myth of Er.[15][16]


Manichaeism, founded by Mani, was influential from North Africa in the West, to China in the East. Its influence subtly continues in Western Christian thought via Saint Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from Manichaeism, which he passionately denounced in his writings, and whose writings continue to be influential among Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians. An important principle of Manichaeism was its dualistic nature.


The religious and philosophical teaching called Mazdakism which was regarded by its founder, Mazdak, as a reformed and purified version of Zoroastrianism[17][18] displays remarkable influences from Manichaeism as well.[17]


Zurvanism is characterized by the element of its First Principle which is Time, "Zurvan", as a primordial creator. According to Zaehner, Zurvanism appears to have three schools of thought all of which have classical Zurvanism as their foundation:

Aesthetic Zurvanism

Aesthetic Zurvanism which was apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind, viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated Time, which, under the influence of desire, divided into reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).

Materialist Zurvanism

While Zoroaster's Ormuzd created the universe with his thought, materialist Zurvanism challenged the concept that anything could be made out of nothing.

Fatalistic Zurvanism

Fatalistic Zurvanism resulted from the doctrine of limited time with the implication that nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe and that the path of the astral bodies of the 'heavenly sphere' was representative of this preordained course. According to the Middle Persian work Menog-i Khrad: "Ohrmazd allotted happiness to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these planets."


The Persian polymath Avicenna wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects. Many philosophical works, among them The Book of Healing, have survived.

Iranian Illuminationism

The Philosophy of Illumination founded by Sohrevardi argued that light operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality. Light produces immaterial and substantial lights, including immaterial intellects, human and animal souls and even 'dusky substances', such as bodies. Sohrevardi's works display extensive developments on the basis of Zoroastrian ideas and ancient Iranian thought.

Transcendent Philosophy

Transcendent Philosophy, developed by Sadr Shirazi, is one of two main disciplines of Islamic philosophy that is currently live and active.

Bahá'í Philosophy

Concepts of Bahai Philosophy are portrayed in the work Divine Philosophy by Abdul-Baha, the eldest son of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh.[19]

Babylonian philosophy

Further information: Babylonian literature: Philosophy

The origins of Babylonian philosophy, in the popular sense of the word, can be traced back to the wisdom of early Mesopotamia, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. The reasoning and rationality of the Babylonians developed beyond empirical observation.[20]

It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek philosophy, and later Hellenistic philosophy, however the textual evidence is lacking. The undated Babylonian text Dialog of Pessimism contains similarities to the agnostic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates and Plato.[21] The Milesian philosopher Thales is also said to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.

Islamic philosophy

The rise of Islam and the influence of classical Greek thought, especially Aristotle, led to the emergence of various philosophical schools of thought. Amongst them Sufism established esoteric philosophy, Mu'tazili (partly influenced by Hellenistic philosophy) reconstructed rationalism, while Ash'ari reshaped logical and rational interpretation of God, justice, destiny and the universe.

Early Islamic philosophy was influenced by Greek philosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Judaism, Christianity and Indian philosophy, and in turn, Islamic philosophy had a strong influence on Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Western philosophy, Iranian philosophy and Indian philosophy, hence many consider Islamic philosophy to be both an Eastern philosophy and a Western philosophy.

Al-Mu'tazilah (المعتزلة) or Mu'tazilite is a popular theological school of philosophy during early Islam. They called themselves Ahl al-'Adl wa al-Tawhid ("People of Justice and Monotheism"). They ascended dramatically during 8th and 9th century due to the support of intellectuals and elites. Later in the 13th century, they lost official support in favour of the rising Ash'ari school. Most of their valuable works were destroyed during the Crusades and Mongol invasion.

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy.[22]

It is said that other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle's concept of place (topos); Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Avicenna, a critic of Aristotelian logic; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, considered the father of the philosophy of history and sociology and a pioneer of social philosophy. However, not very much credible evidence to support such claims is forthcoming, at least in the field of Arabic-English translation methodology, with regards to the exact sciences of semantics and hermeneutics.

See Also: Mu'taziliAsh'ariSufismIlluminationist philosophy

Sufi philosophy

Sufism (تصوف taṣawwuf) is a school of esoteric philosophy in Islam, which is based on the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. In order to attain this supreme truth, Sufism has marked Lataif-e-Sitta (the six subtleties), Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh (spirit), Khafi and Akhfa. Apart from conventional religious practices, they also perform Muraqaba (meditation), Dhikr (Zikr or recitation), Chillakashi (asceticism) and Sama (esoteric music and dance).

See also


  1. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich (1969). (ed.) Joseph Campbell. ed. Philosophies of India. New York: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691017581.  , p.182
  2. ^ Sangave, Dr. Vilas A. (2001). Facets of Jainology: Selected Research Papers on Jain Society, Religion, and Culture. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. ISBN 8171548393. , p. 14
  3. ^ Oldmeadow, Harry (2007). Light from the East: Eastern Wisdom for the Modern West. Indiana: World Wisdom Inc. ISBN 1933316225. ,p. 141
  4. ^ Warren, Herbert (2001). Jainism. Delhi: Crest Publishing House. ISBN 8124200378. http://www.ibiblio.org/jainism/database/BOOK/hwarren.doc. 
  5. ^ Brodd, Jeffery; Gregory Sobolewski (2003). World Religions: A Voyage of Discovery. Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 0884897257.  pp.95-96
  6. ^ Mohanty, Jitendranath (2000). Classical Indian Philosophy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0847689336. 
  7. ^ Carrithers, Michael (June 1989). "Naked Ascetics in Southern Digambar Jainism". Man, New Series (UK: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) 24 (2): pp. 219–235. JSTOR 2803303. p.220
  8. ^ Zydenbos, Robert J. (2006). Jainism Today and Its Future. München: Manya Verlag. http://www.manyaverlag.de/jtaif.html. 
  9. ^ Mary Boyce: "The Origins of Zoroastrian Philosophy" in "Persian Philosophy". Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy: Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam. Routledge, 2009.
  10. ^ Jalal-e-din Ashtiyani. Zarathushtra, Mazdayasna and Governance. 
  11. ^ a b Whitley, C.F. (Sep. 1957). "The Date and Teaching of Zarathustra". Numen 4 (3): 219–223. 
  12. ^ Alan Williams: "Later Zoroastrianism" in "Persian Philosophy". Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy: Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam. Routledge, 2009.
  13. ^ Philip G. Kreyenbroek: "Morals and Society in Zoroastrian Philosophy" in "Persian Philosophy". Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy: Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam. Routledge, 2009.
  14. ^ A. D. Nock (1929), "Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland by R. Reitzenstein, H. H. Schaeder, Fr. Saxl", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 49 (1), p. 111-116 [111].
  15. ^ David N. Livingstone (2002), The Dying God: The Hidden History of Western Civilization, p. 144-145, iUniverse, ISBN 0-595-23199-3.
  16. ^ A. D. Nock (1929), "Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland by R. Reitzenstein, H. H. Schaeder, Fr. Saxl", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 49 (1), p. 111-116.
  17. ^ a b Yarshater, Ehsan. 1983. The Cambridge history of Iran, volume 2. p.995-997
  18. ^ Shaki, Mansour. 1985. The cosmogonical and cosmological teachings of Mazdak. Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, Acta Iranica 25, Leiden, 1985, pp. 527-43.
  19. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 2
  20. ^ Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), p. 35-47.
  21. ^ Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), p. 35-47 [43].
  22. ^ Majid Fakhry (2001). Averroes: His Life, Works and Influence. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1851682694.

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