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Ebrahim College

Traditional Philosophy

Philosophy 1 – Traditional philosophy Prerequisites Essential: RQF level 2 or higher (18+) and English level B2 [...]

    Philosophy 1 – Traditional philosophy



    RQF level 2 or higher (18+) and English level B2 (CEFR)

    Recommended prior study

    Recommended: general background knowledge of humanities


    24 x 50 min lessons (= 1 double lesson per week for 12 weeks)


    The course will establish a broad reference framework for the historical development of civilisation and ideas in a global context, with emphasis on Asia and Europe, and the development of the Greek philosophical tradition up to the beginning of ‘modern times’. This includes the development of early and medieval Islamic civilisations and their diverse intellectual relations with Christian Europe. The course is completed in module 2 (Modern Philosophy) which provides a broad framework for understanding the intellectual debates of the modern world.
    Content summary

    An introduction to philosophy beginning with the epochal changes taking place in human cultures across the world during the Axial Age when, Jaspers argues, “the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.”

    From China to India and the Middle East to Europe, the world’s great religions all began during this period, as did the great schools of philosophy whose influence is still felt in our time.

    This module includes a study of the most famous Greek philosophers of classical antiquity and parallel developments in Asia. It examines the rise of the ‘religions of the book’ in the Middle East and their encounter with Greek metaphysics, leading to the development of both natural theology (kalam) and mystical traditions. The module concludes with a brief evaluation of medieval religious philosophies and the impact of the Renaissance on Christian Europe, which led to the beginning of modern times and the European colonisation of the Americas, Africa and large parts of Asia.

    Throughout this module, we shall be introducing key philosophical themes and concepts, terminology and methodologies. Students will gain a substantial overview of human history and the history of ideas and cultures. The second module will build on this, beginning with the Reformation and tracing the development of modernity as a challenge to traditional beliefs and practices.

    Module outline Philosophy Module 1 – Introduction to traditional philosophy

    Part 1 The search for world order: ancient philosophy
    Lesson number
    (1-17) The ‘axial period’ and the origins of philosophy
    The ‘miracle’ of Greece
    Philosophy, myth, religion and science
    (17-29) Meaning and creation, cosmogony and the origins of philosophy
    Vedas and Vedanta: early philosophy in India
    The first Greek Philosopher
    (29-43 The pre-Socratics (I): the stuff of the world
    The pre-Socratics (II):the underlying order
    The pre-Socratics (III): the pluralists
    Enter the Sophists
    (43 -67) Socrates
    Plato: metaphysician or sublime humorist?
    The philosopher’s philosopher: Aristotle
    (67-79) A footnote to Plato (and Aristotle)
    Tough times: Stoicism, Skepticism, and Epicureanism
    Mysticism and logic in ancient India: Nagarjuna and Nyaya

    Part 2 God and the Philosophers: religious and medieval philosophy

    (79-99) Religion and spirituality: three philosophical themes
    The wisdom of the East (I): Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism
    The wisdom of the East (II): Confucius and Confucianism
    The wisdom of the East (III): Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu, and Taoism
    (99-114) Deep in the heart of Persia: Zoroastrianism
    From Athens to Jerusalem: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
    The Hebrew people and the origins of Judaism
    Greek Jew: Philo of Alexandria
    (114-129) The birth of Christianity
    The opening of Christianity: St Paul
    Neo-Platonism and Christianity
    St Augustine and the inner-life of the spirit
    The first great split within Christianity
    (129-142) The rise of Islam
    Persia and the peripatetic tradition
    Diaspora, Dialectic, and mysticism in Judaism
    (142-154) Thinking God: Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, and Scholasticism
    Late Scholasticism: Duns Scotus and William of Ockham
    In search of essences: the Alchemists
    Philosophical syntheses outside the West
    (154-163) The Reformation: Luther and his progeny
    The counter-Reformation, Erasmus and More
    (163-175) After Aristotle: Bacon, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and the Renaissance
    Before the ‘Discovery’: Africa and the Americas
    12 End of module assessment

    Learning Outcomes Knowledge:

    All students will have abroad and demonstrable grasp of an outline of the development of religious and philosophical ideas from the beginning of recorded history up to the European Renaissance

    Most students will know and understand how debates arose between different ‘ways of knowing’ across the world and how these influenced each other across the main Euro-Asian continental axis from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age, Classical and Late Antiquity and the Medieval Period, up to the beginning of modern times.

    Some students will know and understand the extent to which these historical periods continue to influence our thinking today


    All students will be able to describe and explain the main ideas that evolved in our thinking about ourselves, the world and the unseen (ghayb) during the historical period studied. They will be able to list the main thinkers involved and their cultural contexts.

    Most students will be able to go further than this and evaluate the main trends in world thought during this period, their significance, strengths and weaknesses.

    Some students will have a full grasp of how, where and when the ancient and medieval worlds developed their ideas about humanity, the world and religion and spirituality. They will be able to explain their own understanding of this using a range of examples and will be able to evaluate the significance of the development of philosophical discourses for our own time.
    Teaching and learning Staff/Student contact time: 65%
    Student private study: 35%

    This module is based around the course textbook: A Short History of Philosophy, by R. Solomon and K.M. Higgins (Oxford University Press, 1996). Students will be expected to read a section of the book (10-20 pages) before each lesson; the lesson will include a presentation of key ideas, questions and answers, and student-centred discussion exercises.

    Resources such as videos and visiting speakers are in the process of development.


    The module will be assessed by an end of term examination lasting 90 minutes

    Indicative resources Course textbook:

    A Short History of Philosophy, by R. Solomon and K.M. Higgins (Oxford University Press, 1996). Available on Amazon.

    (Optional: Philosophy in the Islamic World: a very short introduction, by Peter Adamson (Oxford University Press, 2015)

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