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Four Great Revolutions in Philosophy Essay

Throughout the history of the universe, there have been revolutions that shaped the history of the world. However, none have had such a great impact as the four great revolutions in thought and religion. Included, are the philosophy of China, religion in India, religion of the Jews, and Greek Philosophy. They all have many things in common, but each are unique as well.

The four great revolutions occurred in or near original river valley systems, and they were all born through a crisis. Each of the reformations is responsible for much of the cultural history of the world, because once the cultural pattern was set, it endured. Finally, it all began when people started to question their existence.

When the, relatively speaking, “modern” philosophy of the east was created, China was going through a crisis. New territorial states were replacing the traditional city-states. Peasant armies with new technology were replacing old nobility. The old etiquette and old rituals were crumbling. People yearned for a new, peaceful society. Thus, Confucianism was born.

Confucius was born in 551 BCE in northeast China. He was educated and was a member of the lower-nobility. When Confucius was young, his father died, so he knew what it was like to be without. Confucius didn’t believe in an afterlife, and in the Analects, he was quoted as saying, “How can you understand death if you cannot understand life?”

Later in life, he became a traveling teacher, trying to persuade rulers to buy his ideas to return society back to the times of the Chou Dynasty, where everyone in society had a role to play. These roles consisted of five relationships: Ruler to subject, father to son, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. Confucius believed that if everyone stood to their position, society would be in harmony. However, when the well-being of a society depends on individuals living up to their responsibilities, things can go wrong fairly quickly.

It became obvious that returning to the Chou Dynasty was impossible. By the time Confucius died, in 479 BCE, he was unable to find a ruler to accept his teachings, but one thing made sense to the people. The ability to have a good government is dependent on the appointment of good men. This is evident in American society today when we elect a new President every four years.

Another revolution took place about fifty years earlier in India. In 600 BCE, India had a priest-centered, cult dominated upper-class that controlled society. They had elaborate animal sacrifices, and believed in magic. In an attempt to bring more people into participation, a group called the Upanishads began to propose meditation on the meaning of ritual. They had two main emphases: 1) Knowledge was over ritual and immortality was escaping afterlife, and 2) “From the unreal, lead me to the real. From death, lead me to immortality,” which reverts the emphasis back to knowledge. Gods were merely a part of the total scheme.

The Upanishads believed that life was a never-ending cycle between life and death. Life after death was known as samsara. The key to resolving samsara is karma (work or action) in which the goal is to have more good deed than bad deeds. There were two basic ways to achieve this goal. First, one sought to maximize good, and minimize bad. Second, a person should seek liberation from existence, escaping all karmic effects. This, when followed out completely, resulted in escaping action itself.

This brings us to the Jains. An Indian man named Mahavira found and taught “the way” to save the soul from its karmic bonds. Jains believed that there is no beginning or end to existence. They believed that the universe was alive and had infinite souls that were all trapped in samsara. Words and deeds have a reaction, and one must take care of everything. Mahavira’s focus was to eliminate evil thought and act that was especially harmful of others. He isolated himself for twelve years, meditating, until he found true enlightenment.

When thinking of “enlightened ones,” many would think of Buddha. Buddhism was “India’s greatest contribution to religion.” Siddhartha Gautama is the most renowned Buddha. He was born in 566 BCE into an upper-class, if not noble, family. As Siddhartha grew older, he began to think about aging, sickness, and death. He was disgusted by his sensual desires and sensual pleasures he obtained from the material world, so he set out to find an end to the endless cycle of existence. It is said that Siddhartha Gautama sat under a Bodh tree, smoked, meditated, and found the answer. He then devoted the rest of his life to teaching others his findings, known as The Middle Path.

The Middle Path is the core to Buddhist faith and practice, and begins with Four Noble Truths: 1) All of life is suffering, 2) The source of suffering is desiring, 3) The cessation of desiring is the way to end suffering, and 4) The path to the end is eight-fold. The fourth truth is not just metaphorically speaking. The Eight-Fold Path consists of the following: Right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The emphasis on Buddhism was compassion. The goal, through The Four Noble Truths, was to attain nirvana (extinguishing all karmic bonds). To succeed in this, one had to give up many things, so there were very few willing to make the sacrifice. There was no deity. If one just stopped wanting, he or she would stop suffering.

Now we come to the first big difference in thought and religion; the religion of the Jews. The Hebrews tried to create a monotheistic life from a polytheistic society. They believed that there was one universal creator/sustainer of the universe, and that was God. All things were linked to God’s “divine plan.” There were two central ideas to Judaism. First, significance of history on the divine plan. Second, the idea of God (justice and goodness). God was righteous, so he expected humans to be also. He demanded moral behavior.

God’s “divine plan” included a man named Abraham, who is considered the patriarch of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Abraham made a covenant with God that if Abraham and all of his children would worship God alone, then God would protect them.

The final Great Revolution took a central “god” and threw in many different gods. Greek Philosophy offered different approaches and answers to the same concerns as original monotheists. The Greeks were logical. They looked at the universe as a whole. They investigated cures for sicknesses and didn’t rely solely on the gods for healing.

During the mid-fifth century BCE, an influential debate began with professional teachers, called Sophists. They received pay for teaching persuasion and rhetoric, which were very highly valued in Ancient Athenian Society. Sophists preached on the nature of the polis (city-state). This was when the crisis began.

All philosophers were concerned that everything was falling apart, because of outsiders. The Sophists argued that the law was in accordance with nature. If everyone followed the law, the polis would be fine and protected. This sounds much like Confucius’ idealistic belief that people could just stay in one role and be happy in that relationship.

It is quite obvious that there have been revolutions that shaped the history of the world. However, none have had such a great impact as the four great revolutions in thought and religion. Included, are the philosophy of China, religion in India, religion of the Jews, and Greek Philosophy. They all have many things in common, but each are unique as well.

The four great revolutions occurred in or near original river valley systems, and they were all born through a crisis. Each of the reformations is responsible for much of the cultural history of the world, because once the cultural pattern was set, it endured. Finally, it all began when people started to question their existence.


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