THEOSOPHY, Vol. 84, No. 5, March, 1996
(Pages 139-141; Size: 8K)

ANCIENT AND MODERN PHILOSOPHY

INTRODUCTION: PART I

[Part 1 of a 5-part series]

THE VALUE of a comparative study of ancient and modern philosophy is apparent in such Theosophical works as Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky. These works provide evidence for the existence of an ancient body of wisdom both scientific and religious. The purpose of philosophical enquiry is to identify and express the truth regarding nature and human existence. Hence, the fundamental doctrines of the "Ancient Wisdom Religion" will appear with greater or lesser clarity in all philosophical systems.

Theosophy is the name given to the most recent expression of this ancient wisdom. Fundamental Theosophical axioms are also called universal truths or eternal verities. The aim of genuine Theosophists, whenever and wherever they are working, is to assist all efforts that have as their goal the elevation of the mind and heart of humanity. Such continued attempts to rediscover and promulgate these principles provide fertile ground in which the seed of universal brotherhood may grow. In such a philosophical climate, scientific knowledge and religious devotion can prosper free from materialism, skepticism, dogmatism and prejudice. This remains the aim and purpose of all genuine Theosophists in the twentieth century.

The value of comparative study of ancient and modern science, religion and philosophy has not changed even though this century has been an age of profound transition in these fields. As the final years of this century draw nearer, it seems appropriate to look over the development of both eastern and western philosophies in the light of Theosophy. Philosophy is a barometer that reacts to changes in the climate of the prevailing thought of an age, but it can also be a thermostat that sets the limits of human thought in any age. Ideas still rule the world; therefore, the reigning philosophical world view will inevitably determine the value a society places upon truth, self and morality.

As the twenty-first century approaches, one may be justifiably concerned with the status of the mind and heart of humanity. This includes examining the nurturing or poisoning effects of contemporary philosophical thought. Do our philosophical schemes still echo, in part, the "Ancient Wisdom Religion"? Does their comparative study still afford an opportunity for a "truer realization of the Self and a profounder conviction of universal brotherhood"? Have the social conflicts and the explosion in scientific technological information obscured the recognition of the true, the real, the beautiful and the good? Has there been progress toward synthesizing eastern and western thought?

Western philosophy has not merely been altered in the twentieth century but transformed. This revolution, however, has its bright and its dark side. For twenty-five hundred years, the western philosophical tradition sought to discover the truth respecting Self and Nature. Western philosophers endeavored to respond to some of the larger questions on the meaning, value and purpose of human existence. The actual names of the departments in classical western philosophy -- ontology, epistemology, metaphysics, physics, ethics, politics and aesthetics -- suggest a tradition that places emphasis on knowledge of the Aristotelian philosophy. Throughout the centuries the western world has drawn heavily upon religion, or more accurately theology, to determine the nature of truth and the meaning of life. However, since the age of "enlightenment," western philosophers generally construct their systems on the pure reason of scientific observation or an enlightened idealism born from a reaction to dogmatic religion.

In the early part of our era, the aim of western philosophy was to provide a foundation for specific knowledge regarding the external world along with a suitable medium for its expression. It was a clear attempt to break away from the traditional authority of religion.

Science, mathematics and formal logic were keynotes of the new philosophical disciplines. Western philosophers finally considered themselves to be on the bright path in the pursuit of Truth. Unfortunately their philosophical development has fallen short of their expectations. In this later part of the twentieth century, the predominant schools afford scant enlightenment to the more universal questions of life. They offer no profound insights into the nature of Self nor any clear expression of Truth, and they assuredly fail to provide a basis for Absolute Truth. The prevailing idea of current philosophical thought, then, reveals no certain truth, no real self, no comprehensive ethical standard and no ideal social system. In short, truth has become relative and literal.

The governing thought toward cultural, moral, psychological and ideological relativism characteristic of contemporary western philosophy certainly allows individuals the intellectual freedom to choose their beliefs and values. The price for this intellectual freedom, however, is a deflationary view of the existence of one unifying truth and one real Self. Our present western philosophy has apparently arrived at an impassable chasm. As theosophical thought sheds light upon the contributions of today's western thinkers, a bridge may be constructed. One that leads to Wisdom and Self-knowledge. The intellectual vacuum left by modern western philosophy must be filled.

This vacuum is partially filled by eastern philosophy. Individuals adopt doctrines best suited to address the vital issues ignored by the prominent western schools. The eastern influence is also due to the conscious efforts of authentic philosophers who synthesize the East and the West, the old and the new.


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