Philosophy before the Greeks
The Pursuit of Truth in Ancient Babylonia
Marc Van De Mieroop
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There is a growing recognition that philosophy isn't unique to the West, that it didn't begin only with the classical Greeks, and that Greek philosophy was influenced by Near Eastern traditions. Yet even today there is a widespread assumption that what came before the Greeks was "before philosophy." In Philosophy before the Greeks, Marc Van De Mieroop, an acclaimed historian of the ancient Near East, presents a groundbreaking argument that, for three millennia before the Greeks, one Near Eastern people had a rich and sophisticated tradition of philosophy fully worthy of the name.
In the first century BC, the Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily praised the Babylonians for their devotion to philosophy. Showing the justice of Diodorus's comment, this is the first book to argue that there were Babylonian philosophers and that they studied knowledge systematically using a coherent system of logic rooted in the practices of cuneiform script. Van De Mieroop uncovers Babylonian approaches to knowledge in three areas: the study of language, which in its analysis of the written word formed the basis of all logic; the art of divination, which interpreted communications between gods and humans; and the rules of law, which confirmed that royal justice was founded on truth.
The result is an innovative intellectual history of the ancient Near Eastern world during the many centuries in which Babylonian philosophers inspired scholars throughout the region—until the first millennium BC, when the breakdown of this cosmopolitan system enabled others, including the Greeks, to develop alternative methods of philosophical reasoning.
Well written; indefensible title
What I’ve read of this book is well written, but can't support the thesis contained in his title. Professor Van De Mieroop writes well enough to make this clear; he himself quotes (p. 5) Hegel's paraphrase of Aristotle: It is not worth while to treat seriously of those whose philosophy takes a mythical form. I've only gotten to chapter 1, but his main example means I can't justify spending more time on it from a philosophical perspective: The hermeneutics of Enuma Elis is less philosophy that folk etymology; it's the opposite of philosophy. (I may finish the book for its assyriology, at least once I've finished _The Sumerian World.)
I have a growing respect for Mesopotamian civilization, and agree that its contribution to Greco-Roman achievements are unjustly minimized. And the mythological and religious blots on Greek philosophy also deserve emphasis. But the Greek philosophers were at least headed in the right direction; even if van de Mieroop establishes his claim it won't justify his title.
- Category: Ancient
- Published: Oct 20, 2015
- Publisher: Princeton University Press
- Seller: Princeton University Press
- Print Length: 312 Pages
- Language: English