How old is philosophy?

Philosophy, apart from religion, emerged in the East and the West at about the same time—roughly 600 years before Christ (before the common era). It was then that thinkers in Greece began questioning the nature of existence, and it was c. 500 B.C. when Confucianism was formulated in China. Philosophy has long been intertwined with religion, including Hinduism, which developed about 1500 B.C. But as a pursuit of wisdom in and of itself, philosophy is roughly 2,600 years old.

Western philosophy is divided into three major periods: ancient (c. 600 B.C.–C. A.D. 400); medieval philosophy, often called Scholasticism, which also included Eastern thinkers (400s-1600s); and modern philosophy (since the 1600s).

How old is Taoism?

It dates back to the sixth century B.C. when it was founded by Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (c. 550 B.C.–?). Master Lao, as he was known, believed in inaction and simplicity, which he combined with religious practices to form the mystical philosophy of the Tao (Dao), the path of virtuous conduct. Lao-tzu reasoned that since humans face a “cloud of unknowability,” they ought not to react to things at all: He viewed the world as a pendulum, with the Tao as its hinge. Anyone who struggles against the current of life is like an insect caught at the end of a pendulum—swinging back and forth, and suffering with each movement. But by crawling along the hinge (Tao) to reach the top, a place of complete stillness is found. Laotzu advised that people do away with their desires, avoiding that which is extreme, extravagant, or excessive, and steer clear of any competition. Many of these ideas are embodied in a work usually ascribed to him, Tao-te Ching (Classic of the Way of Power). However, modern scholars now believe that tome to be the work of his followers.

Taoism is still relevant to many today. When it was developed some 26 centuries ago, the philosophy filled a spiritual void that was not addressed by the practical doctrines of traditional Confucianism. One legend has it that Lao-tzu rebuked a young Confucius (551–479 B.C.) for his pride. The Tao also contributed greatly to Buddhism, especially in its emphasis on meditation and sudden enlightenment.

One of the great thinkers of the Chinese Taoist school was teacher and philosopher Chuang-tzu (fourth century B.C.), who constructed an nonpolitical, transcendental philosophy that promoted an individual’s spiritual freedom. His self-titled work (Chuang-tzu) is another classic of Taosim.

Confucius was a highly revered Chinese philosopher who believed that the family is the model for all human relationships.

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