Why bother studying ancient philosophy? (2)

Ross asked:

With all the knowledge we have from modern psychology and science do we need ancient philosophy any more? Does it contain any relevant wisdom for us today?

Answer by Peter Jones

In an academic context ancient and modern philosophy are no different. The problems are the same and the thinking is the same. No progress has been made in the interval. Thus Lord Whitehead could characterize the history of Western thought as ‘footnotes to Plato’.

There is a strange idea circulating that modern science has allowed philosophy to make progress but this is clearly not the case. There is no evidence that it is likely to make progress in the next thousand years. If modern psychology and science has led to philosophical progress as you say then I’m sure philosophers would have noticed and reported it. Yet I know of no examples.

Whether we need ancient philosophy will depend on which philosophy we are talking about.  Do you mean the Rig Veda or Socrates, the Tao Te Ching or Democritus? The age of a philosophy is irrelevant to its usefulness and truth. The most ancient philosophy is the Perennial philosophy, and as this is the only philosophy that works and allows us to answer metaphysical questions. I would suggest we need ancient philosophy and do not need the modern kind.  But one has to pick and choose among a host of ancient thoughts and ideas. It is hopeless speaking of ‘ancient’ or ‘modern’ philosophy as if either presents a unified set of ideas.

From a certain perspective your question is sad since nobody with an education should need to ask it, but the faults of our education system are not yours. You need only note that modern philosophy is no more able to explain metaphysics than Plato and possibly less so, while those who claim to be able to do may appear in any age. Those who claim to be able to do so are responsible for the earliest human written texts, the Vedas, the Tao Te Ching and so forth, and modern philosophy has yet to catch up, but these ancient texts and the ideas they contain simply is modern philosophy if we are alive today and endorse their explanation.

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