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Today, there is some debate regarding ancient Egyptian philosophy and its true scope and nature.
Several of the ancient Greek philosophers regarded Egypt as a place of wisdom and philosophy. Isocrates (b. 436 BCE) states in Busiris that "all men agree the Egyptians are the healthiest and most long of life among men; and then for the soul they introduced philosophy’s training…"He declares that Greek writers traveled to Egypt to seek knowledge. One of them was Pythagoras of Samos who "was first to bring to the Greeks all philosophy," according to Isocrates.
Plato states in Phaedrus that the Egyptian Thoth "invented numbers and arithmetic… and, most important of all, letters.”In Plato’s Timaeus, Socrates quotes the ancient Egyptian wise men when the law-giver Solon travels to Egypt to learn: "O Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children." Aristotle attests to Egypt being the original land of wisdom, as when he states in Politics that "Egyptians are reputed to be the oldest of nations, but they have always had laws and a political system."
One of the Egyptian figures who often is being considered an early philosopher was Ptahhotep.He served as vizier to the pharaoh in the late 25th, early 24th century BC. Ptahhotep is known for his comprehensive work on ethical behavior and moral philosophy, called The Maxims of Ptahhotep. The work, which is believed to have been compiled by his grandson Ptahhotep Tjefi, is a series of 37 letters or maxims addressed to his son, Akhethotep, speaking on such topics as daily behavior and ethical practices.
A text for the American Philosophical Association describes the 3200-year-old text "The Immortality of Writers", or "Be a Writer" (c. 1200 BCE), as a "remarkable example of classical Egyptian philosophy."The text, which Dag Herbjørnsrud attributes to the writer Irsesh, states:
"Man perishes; his corpse turns to dust; all his relatives return to the earth. But writings make him remembered in the mouth of the reader. A book is more effective than a well-built house or a tomb-chapel, better than an established villa or a stela in the temple! [...] They gave themselves a book as their lector-priest, a writing-board as their dutiful son. Teachings are their mausolea, the reed-pen their child, the burnishing-stone their wife. Both great and small are given them as their children, for the writer is chief."
Herbjørnsrud writes: "In 2018, projects are under way to translate several ancient Egyptian texts for the first time. Yet we already have a wide variety of genres to choose from in order to study the manuscripts from a philosophical perspective: The many maxims in “The Teaching of Ptahhotep”, the earliest preserved manuscript of this vizier of the fifth dynasty is from the 19thcentury BCE, in which he also argues that you should “follow your heart”; “The Teaching of Ani”, written by a humble middle-class scribe in the 13th century BCE, which gives advice to the ordinary man; “The Satire of the Trades” by Khety, who tries to convince his son Pepy to “love books more than your mother” as there is nothing “on earth” like being a scribe; the masterpiece “The Dispute Between a Man and His Ba” of the 19th century BCE – in which a man laments “the misery of life,” while his ba (personality/soul) replies that life is good, that he should rather “ponder life” as it is a burial that is miserable – recently discussed by Peter Adamson and Chike Jeffers in their “Africana Philosophy” podcast series. Or we can read Amennakht (active in 1170–1140 BCE), the leading intellectual of the scribal town Deir El-Medina, whose teaching states that “it is good to finish school, better than the smell of lotus blossoms in summer.”
Air is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and in Western alchemy.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
Hermes Trismegistus is the purported author of the Hermetic Corpus, a series of sacred texts that are the basis of Hermeticism.
Isocrates, an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. Among the most influential Greek rhetoricians of his time, Isocrates made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works.
Timaeus is one of Plato's dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character Timaeus of Locri, written c. 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings and is followed by the dialogue Critias.
African philosophy is the philosophical discourse produced by indigenous Africans and their descendants, including African/Americans. African philosophy presents a wide range of topics similar to its Eastern and Western counterparts. African philosophers may be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. One particular subject that many African philosophers have written about is that on the subject of freedom and what it means to be free or to experience wholeness. Philosophy in Africa has a rich and varied history, some of which has been lost over time. One of the earliest known African philosophers was Ptahhotep, an ancient Egyptian philosopher. In the early and mid-twentieth century, anti-colonial movements had a tremendous effect on the development of a distinct African political philosophy that had resonance on both the continent and in the African diaspora. One well-known example of the economic philosophical works emerging from this period was the African socialist philosophy of Ujamaa propounded in Tanzania and other parts of Southeast Africa. These African political and economic philosophical developments also had a notable impact on the anti-colonial movements of many non-African peoples around the world.
Critias, one of Plato's late dialogues, recounts the story of the mighty island kingdom Atlantis and its attempt to conquer Athens, which failed due to the ordered society of the Athenians. Critias is the second of a projected trilogy of dialogues, preceded by Timaeus and followed by Hermocrates. The latter was possibly never written and Critias was left incomplete. Because of their resemblance, modern classicists occasionally combine both Timaeus and Critias as Timaeus-Critias.
The Ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself", is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias (10.24.1). In Latin the phrase, "know thyself," is given as nosce te ipsum or temet nosce.
Amenemope the son of Kanakht is the ostensible author of the Instruction of Amenemope, an Egyptian wisdom text written in the Ramesside Period. He is portrayed as a scribe and sage who lived in Egypt during the 20th Dynasty of the New Kingdom and resided in Akhmim, the capital of the ninth nome of Upper Egypt. His discourses are presented in the traditional form of instructions from father to son on how to live a good and moral life, but they are explicitly organized into 30 numbered chapters.
Wisdom literature is a genre of literature common in the ancient Near East. It consists of statements by sages and the wise that offer teachings about divinity and virtue. Although this genre uses techniques of traditional oral storytelling, it was disseminated in written form.
Ptahhotep, sometimes known as Ptahhotep I or Ptahhotpe, was an ancient Egyptian vizier during the late 25th century BC and early 24th century BC Fifth Dynasty of Egypt.
Soli, often rendered Soli/Pompeiopolis, was an ancient city and port in Cilicia, 11 km west of Mersin in present-day Turkey.
Before the spread of writing, oral literature did not always survive well, though some texts and fragments have persisted. August Nitschke sees some fairy tales as literary survivals dating back to Ice Age and Stone Age narrators.
The Maxims of Ptahhotep or Instruction of Ptahhotep is an ancient Egyptian literary composition based on the Vizier Ptahhotep's wisdom and experiences. The Instructions were composed by the Vizier Ptahhotep around 2375-2350 BC, during the rule of King Djedkare Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty. The text was discovered in Thebes in 1847 by Egyptologist M. Prisse d'Avennes. The Instructions of Ptahhotep are called wisdom literature, specifically under the genre of Instructions that teach something. There are four copies of the Instructions, and the only complete version, Papyrus Prisse, is located in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. According to William Kelly Simpson, some scholars debate that the Instructions of Ptahhotep were written during the twelfth dynasty, Middle Kingdom. The earlier copies of the text were altered to make them understandable for the Egyptians of the New Kingdom. The text presents a very good picture of the general attitudes of that period. The Instructions of Ptahhotep addresses various virtues that are necessary to live a good life and how to live accordingly to Maat, which was an important part of the Egyptian culture.
Sebayt is the ancient Egyptian term for a genre of pharaonic literature. sbꜣyt literally means "teachings" or "instructions" and refers to formally written ethical teachings focused on the "way of living truly". Sebayt is considered an Egyptian form of wisdom literature.
In philosophy and rhetoric, eristic refers to argument that aims to successfully dispute another's argument, rather than searching for truth. According to T.H. Irwin, "It is characteristic of the eristic to think of some arguments as a way of defeating the other side, by showing that an opponent must assent to the negation of what he initially took himself to believe." Eristic is arguing for the sake of conflict, as opposed to resolving conflict.
The Instruction of Hardjedef, also known as the Teaching of Hordedef and Teaching of Djedefhor, belongs to the didactic literature of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. It is possibly the oldest of all known Instructions, composed during the 5th Dynasty according to Miriam Lichtheim, predating The Instructions of Kagemni and The Maxims of Ptahhotep. Only a few fragments from the beginning of the text have survived on a handful of New Kingdom ostraca and a Late Period wooden tablet.
The Instructions of Kagemni is an ancient Egyptian instructional text of wisdom literature which belongs to the sebayt ('teaching') genre. Although the earliest evidence of its compilation dates to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, its authorship has traditionally yet dubiously been attributed to Kagemni, a vizier who served during the reign of the Pharaoh Sneferu (r. 2613–2589 BC), founder of the fourth dynasty of Egypt.
Many Plato interpreters held that his writings contain passages with double meanings, called 'allegories' or 'symbols', that give the dialogues layers of figurative meaning in addition to their usual literal meaning. These allegorical interpretations of Plato were dominant for more than fifteen hundred years, from about the first century CE through the Renaissance and into the Eighteenth Century, and were advocated by major figures such as Plotinus, Proclus, and Ficino. Beginning with Philo of Alexandria, these views influenced Jewish, Christian and Islamic interpretation of their holy scriptures. They spread widely in the Renaissance and contributed to the fashion for allegory among poets such as Dante, Spenser, and Shakespeare.
There are no original works of philosophy in the Coptic language. All surviving philosophical passages in Coptic are of Greek origin and many are anonymous. Mostly they deal with ethics and are treated like wisdom literature. Only a few texts have been edited and published.