Philosophy & Religion

From ancient times onward, humans have pondered not only how we came to be but also why we came to be. The earliest Greek philosophers focused their attention upon the origin and nature of the physical world; later philosophers have theorized about the nature of knowledge, truth, good and evil, love, friendship, and much more. Thus, philosophy involves a methodical assessment of any and all aspects of human existence and experience. The realms of philosophy and religion have sometimes intersected in conducting inquiries such as these. As with philosophy, the study of religion underscores how humankind has long speculated about its origins. The possibility of a higher being (or beings) to which livings things owe their existence has long captived human thought. Many religions also offer their own views on the nature of good and evil, and they may prescribe guidelines and judgment on different kinds of human behavior.

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  • Code of Hammurabi
    Ethics
    Ethics, the discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong. The term is also applied to any system or theory of moral values or principles. How should we live? Shall we aim at happiness or at knowledge, virtue, or the creation of beautiful objects? If we choose…
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius
    Humanism
    Humanism, system of education and mode of inquiry that originated in northern Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries and later spread through continental Europe and England. The term is alternatively applied to a variety of Western beliefs, methods, and philosophies that place central emphasis on…
  • Aristotle
    Metaphysics
    Metaphysics, branch of philosophy whose topics in antiquity and the Middle Ages were the first causes of things and the nature of being. In postmedieval philosophy, however, many other topics came to be included under the heading “metaphysics.” (The reasons for this development will be discussed in…
  • Oracle bone inscriptions
    Historiography
    Historiography, the writing of history, especially the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particular details from the authentic materials in those sources, and the synthesis of those details into a narrative that stands the test of critical…
  • Reclining Buddha, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.
    Buddhism
    Buddhism, religion and philosophy that developed from the teachings of the Buddha (Sanskrit: “Awakened One”), a teacher who lived in northern India between the mid-6th and mid-4th centuries bce (before the Common Era). Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan,…
  • Wilhelm, baron von Humboldt, oil painting by F. Kruger.
    Linguistics
    Linguistics, the scientific study of language. The word was first used in the middle of the 19th century to emphasize the difference between a newer approach to the study of language that was then developing and the more traditional approach of philology. The differences were and are largely…
  • Jerusalem: Western Wall, Second Temple
    Judaism
    Judaism, monotheistic religion developed among the ancient Hebrews. Judaism is characterized by a belief in one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets and by a religious life in accordance with Scriptures and rabbinic traditions. Judaism is the complex…
  • Abu Darweesh Mosque
    Islam
    Islam, major world religion promulgated by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the 7th century ce. The Arabic term islām, literally “surrender,” illuminates the fundamental religious idea of Islam—that the believer (called a Muslim, from the active particle of islām) accepts surrender to the will of…
  • Laozi
    Daoism
    Daoism, indigenous religio-philosophical tradition that has shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years. In the broadest sense, a Daoist attitude toward life can be seen in the accepting and yielding, the joyful and carefree sides of the Chinese character, an attitude that offsets and complements…
  • Sites associated with ancient Mesopotamian history.
    Mesopotamian religion
    Mesopotamian religion, beliefs and practices of the Sumerians and Akkadians, and their successors, the Babylonians and Assyrians, who inhabited ancient Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) in the millennia before the Christian era. These religious beliefs and practices form a single stream of tradition.…
  • optical illusion: refraction of light
    Epistemology
    Epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and accordingly the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge. Epistemology has a long history within Western…
  • Aristotle
    Philosophy of science
    Philosophy of science, the study, from a philosophical perspective, of the elements of scientific inquiry. This article discusses metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical issues related to the practice and goals of modern science. For treatment of philosophical issues raised by the problems and…
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, oil on canvas by Barbara Krafft, 1819.
    Philosophy of art
    Philosophy of art, the study of the nature of art, including concepts such as interpretation, representation and expression, and form. It is closely related to aesthetics, the philosophical study of beauty and taste. The philosophy of art is distinguished from art criticism, which is concerned with…
  • Max Weber, 1918
    Philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind, reflection on the nature of mental phenomena and especially on the relation of the mind to the body and to the rest of the physical world. Philosophy is often concerned with the most general questions about the nature of things: What is the nature of beauty? What is it to have…
  • Pearce, Charles Sprague: Religion
    Study of religion
    Study of religion, attempt to understand the various aspects of religion, especially through the use of other intellectual disciplines. The study of religion emerged as a formal discipline during the 19th century, when the methods and approaches of history, philology, literary criticism,…
  • Two-page spread from Johannes Gutenberg's 42-line Bible, c. 1450–55.
    Biblical literature
    Biblical literature, four bodies of written works: the Old Testament writings according to the Hebrew canon; intertestamental works, including the Old Testament Apocrypha; the New Testament writings; and the New Testament Apocrypha. The Old Testament is a collection of writings that was first…
  • Plutarch, circa ad 100.
    Western philosophy
    Western philosophy, history of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present. This article has three basic purposes: (1) to provide an overview of the history of philosophy in the West, (2) to relate philosophical ideas and movements to their historical background…
  • Confucius.
    Confucius
    Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, whose ideas have influenced the civilization of East Asia. Confucius’s life, in contrast to his tremendous importance, seems starkly undramatic, or, as a Chinese expression has it, it seems “plain and real.” The plainness…
  • Ravana, the 10-headed demon king, detail from a Guler painting of the Ramayana, c. 1720.
    Hinduism
    Hinduism, major world religion originating on the Indian subcontinent and comprising several and varied systems of philosophy, belief, and ritual. Although the name Hinduism is relatively new, having been coined by British writers in the first decades of the 19th century, it refers to a rich…
  • The Hindu deity Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, mounted on a horse pulling Arjuna, hero of the epic poem Mahabharata; 17th-century illustration.
    Indian philosophy
    Indian philosophy, the systems of thought and reflection that were developed by the civilizations of the Indian subcontinent. They include both orthodox (astika) systems, namely, the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa (or Mimamsa), and Vedanta schools of philosophy, and unorthodox…
  • Diorite stela inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi, 18th century bce.
    Political philosophy
    Political philosophy, branch of philosophy that is concerned, at the most abstract level, with the concepts and arguments involved in political opinion. The meaning of the term political is itself one of the major problems of political philosophy. Broadly, however, one may characterize as political…
  • mosaic; Christianity
    Christianity
    Christianity, major religion stemming from the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ, or the Anointed One of God) in the 1st century ce. It has become the largest of the world’s religions and, geographically, the most widely diffused of all faiths. It has a constituency of…
  • Mythological figure, possibly Dionysus, riding a panther, a Hellenistic opus tessellatum emblema from the House of Masks in Delos, Greece, 2nd century bce.
    Myth
    Myth, a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief. It is distinguished from symbolic behaviour (cult, ritual) and symbolic places or objects (temples, icons). Myths are…
  • Edmund Burke
    Aesthetics
    Aesthetics, the philosophical study of beauty and taste. It is closely related to the philosophy of art, which is concerned with the nature of art and the concepts in terms of which individual works of art are interpreted and evaluated. To provide more than a general definition of the subject…
  • Tympanum illustrating the Last Judgment, 1130–35; church facade at Conques, France.
    Eschatology
    Eschatology, the doctrine of the last things. It was originally a Western term, referring to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim beliefs about the end of history, the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, the messianic era, and the problem of theodicy (the vindication of God’s justice). Historians…
  • Aristotle, marble portrait bust, Roman copy (2nd century bc) of a Greek original (c. 325 bc); in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.
    Aristotle
    Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history. He was the author of a philosophical and scientific system that became the framework and vehicle for both Christian Scholasticism and medieval Islamic philosophy. Even after the…
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