Eastern Philosophy: Key Concepts & Beliefs

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Explore the key concepts and beliefs of Eastern philosophy and philosophical traditions. Discover the history and perspectives of Islamic philosophy, Indian philosophy, and Chinese philosophy, including different traditions within each type. Updated: 12/28/2021

Eastern Philosophy

Until relatively recently, the study of philosophy, which is the discipline dedicated to questioning the fundamental assumptions of reality and knowledge, has been limited in American and European universities to the tradition of Western philosophy. This tradition starts with the ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato and continues through major figures like Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, etc.

However, as our world becomes more globalized and connected, the primacy of this Western tradition has been questioned, and philosophies from other cultures and traditions have begun to be studied in the West. In Western universities, these traditions often get lumped together as Eastern philosophy, but this is a catch-all term for a group of different philosophical traditions that often have little in common with each other. They are just grouped together by virtue of not being Western. These include Islamic, Indian, and Chinese philosophy.

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  • 0:03 Eastern Philosophy
  • 1:05 Islamic Philosophy
  • 2:44 Indian Philosophy
  • 4:35 Chinese Philosophy
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Islamic Philosophy

Islamic philosophy refers to the philosophical traditions practiced in the primarily Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Not all Islamic philosophy is derived from Islam, however. In fact, the role of religion in society and philosophical inquiry is one of the questions often tackled, while Islamic philosophy also often deals with issues not related to religion at all.

Islamic philosophy is the Eastern tradition most closely connected to Western philosophy due to a shared Greek philosophical heritage. Muslim conquests put them into contact with cultures influenced by Greek philosophy and the Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle were translated into Arabic. Much of Islamic philosophy is in the school of Neoplatonism, which follows Plato in arguing that this material world is a pale reflection of a perfect ideal world. Important Neoplatonic Islamic philosophers include Al-Kindi. The philosopher Al-Farabi, meanwhile, followed Aristotle in arguing that the universe is eternal, which would seem to contradict Muslim belief that Allah created the universe out of nothing.

Islamic philosophy also has a long tradition of mystical philosophy. These schools of thought, which include Sufism, the most well-known Islamic mystical philosophy, developed new ways of approaching philosophical questions that incorporated mystical elements. Generally speaking, mystical philosophy advocates for going beyond the intellect, the normal realm of philosophy, and incorporating sensual, emotional, and supernatural.

Indian Philosophy

Indian philosophy is a general term for the philosophical schools of thought that developed on the Indian subcontinent. Due to the subcontinent's ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity, it's no surprise that the term incorporates a wide range of philosophical perspectives. The three most notable are Hindu philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, and Jain philosophy, each associated with a major religion of the subcontinent.

Hindu philosophy is divided into two broad groups: orthodox and heterodox. Orthodox Hindu philosophy take the Vedas, the oldest and most important sacred texts of Hinduism, as their starting point and don't question their authority. Though orthodox schools vary, they are all founded on the idea that the point of philosophy is to analyze and interpret the sacred texts, a philosophical approach known as Scholasticism.

The heterodox schools of Hindu philosophy don't accept the Vedas as authoritative. Many of these schools are materialist in nature, meaning they do not accept questions relating to the spirit or supernatural as valid. Others are more explicitly atheistic, either ignoring or outright denying the existence of the Hindu gods.

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