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How did Modern Philosophy Come About?

Updated on November 29, 2015
Jenny Talaver profile image

Jenny is a Philosophy Major from Ateneo de Zamboanga University. She has been an online writer for three years now.

Philosophy is an ever-changing field of the exploration of the human mind into understanding the world and the ultimate meaning of things around the human person, owing to the fact that humans and their civilizations change in the passing of time.

  • Ancient times saw philosophers focus on the cosmos, especially the Greeks who believed that man is a microcosm in the macrocosm (the cosmos). In this sense, man is made up of Matter (Body) and Form (Soul) just as the Universe has these two main parts.1
  • Plato defined the soul as something that is immortal and separating from the body when the human dies, in contrast of the ancient Greek religious belief that the psyche (Greek word for soul) is a spirit without any consciousness once the body is dead.2



Ancient Philosophers

Ancient times saw philosophers focus on the cosmos, especially the Greeks who believed that man is a microcosm in the macrocosm (the cosmos).
Ancient times saw philosophers focus on the cosmos, especially the Greeks who believed that man is a microcosm in the macrocosm (the cosmos). | Source

Ancient Philosophy - Western

  • Ancient philosophy fell out of favor when Christianity became the State religion of the Roman Empire.
  • What happened during the Transition from Ancient to Medieval Period were dark and bloody events that even showed the ironic cruelty of the Christians – in defense of their faith, against pagans – during that time.3 Hypatia, head of the Platonist school at Alexandria and the last philosopher of the Ancient times, was murdered by Christians who felt threatened by her scholarship, learning, and depth of scientific knowledge.4
  • Despite its bloody beginnings, Medieval Philosophy flourished in the Theocentric Approach, replacing the Cosmocentric Approach of Ancient Philosophy.
  • Medieval philosophers, starting from St. Augustine of Hippo up to St. Thomas Aquinas, focused on philosophizing about the existence of God.
  • Man is understood as from the point of God, as a creature of God, made in his image and likeness.5
  • Christian, Jewish, and Islamic philosophers all argued on how and why God is the Highest among all, and a Being of Perfection, even citing biblical accounts in doing so.
  • Thomas Aquinas presented a synthesis of medieval philosophy which is evidenced by his book, Summa Theologica wherein the first part, Aquinas gives five proofs for God's existence. He argues for the actuality and incorporeality of God as the unmoved mover and describes how God moves through His thinking and willing.6

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo (353-430 AD)
St. Augustine of Hippo (353-430 AD) | Source

Medieval Philosophy

  • The world was spurned by another change of perspective in human thinking that began around 1400 in Italy.
  • Europe experienced a dramatic intellectual movement called the Renaissance, which emphasized the resurgence of science and culture through classical influences.7
  • With the onslaught of science and the significant growing way of thinking that debunks religious beliefs over scientific basis, philosophers then turned to question, “Do we really need God in our lives and why?”
  • The Age of Reason of the 17th Century and the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th Century, along with the advances in science, the growth of religious tolerance and the rise of liberalism which went with them, brought about modern philosophy.
  • During this period, the field of philosophy is divided between two opposing doctrines, Rationalism (the belief that all knowledge arises from intellectual and deductive reason, rather than from the senses) and Empiricism (the belief that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience).
  • French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes sparked the revolution in philosophy thought when he pioneered Rationalism, especially with his methodological skepticism.8
  • In this sense, no longer was Philosophy considered simply “the Handmaid of Theology”, as St. Thomas Aquinas and all other medieval philosophers believed, but modern philosophers live that the discipline is “Handmaiden of Science."9

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Engraved by W.Holl and published The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1833.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Engraved by W.Holl and published The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1833. | Source

The Birth of Modern Philosophy


1 Cohen, Mark. "Plato's Cosmology: The Timaeus."

2 Gods and Goddesses. USA: A & E Home Video :, 2006. Film.

3 Agora. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar. Performed by Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac. Lions Gate Films, 2010. Film.

4 O'Connor, J.J., and E.F. Robertson. "Hypatia of Alexandria." Biographies. Accessed November 12, 2015.

5 "The Concept of "Image of God" in Christianity and Islam." Accessed November 12, 2015.

6 "Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed November 12, 2015.

7 Fieser, James. "Philosophy 110 Syllabus." 2008. Accessed November 12, 2015.

8 Mastin, Luke. "A Quick History of Philosophy." The Basics of Philosophy. 2008. Accessed November 12, 2015.

9 Ross, Kelley. "The Beginning of Modern Science." Beginning of Modern Science & Modern Philosophy. May 1, 2015. Accessed November 12, 2015.


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    • cheaptrick profile image


      3 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      Modern philosophy came about through the evolution of critical thinking applied to the time and circumstances the philosopher lives in.

      Philos (love of) Sofia (wisdom) is an ongoing endever to understand the true nature of reality which does not exist in and of its self.Subjective perception creates each individual reality of the environment and social conditions one experiences.

      Still.philosophy is invaluable in that it serves as the Carrot at the end of the stick which keeps us plodding along toward higher knowledge and higher levels of confusion.Without philosophy we would be living in caves and gathering food from natural sources...hmmm...not a bad idea actually...

    • Oztinato profile image

      Andrew Petrou 

      3 years ago from Brisbane

      A good quick summary.

      It is educational to note (as you have) that all philosophy evolved from a spiritual impetus even if in recent times some of it has branched off. The roots are always spiritual for all philisophy, art and even science.


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