Philosophy 41 - 3.1 Indigenous Philosophy

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify challenges in the study of Indigenous philosophies.
  • Describe metaphysical and epistemological ideas explored by Indigenous African philosophies.
  • Describe metaphysical and epistemological ideas explored by Indigenous Native American philosophies.
  • Describe metaphysical and epistemological ideas explored by Mesoamerican philosophies.

Some of the best-known ancient texts, connected to many of the great civilizations around the world, are religious or mythological in nature. Examples include the Vedas of India, the earliest literature of China, and the Jewish Torah. These texts introduce aspects of philosophical inquiry—such as questions concerning the origins of the cosmos and the nature and purpose of human life, morality, justice, human excellence, knowledge, and so forth—in terms of stories and explanations that rely on the supernatural. These stories provide context, meaning, and direction for human life within a framework that assumes that the natural world is infused with supernatural importance. Such texts are a testament to the fundamental and binding nature of religion in human societies.

When humans shift from religious answers to questions about purpose and meaning to more naturalistic and logical answers, they move from the realm of myth to the realm of reason. In Greek, this movement is described as a move from mythos to logos, where mythos signifies the supernatural stories people tell, while logos signifies the rational, logical, and scientific stories they tell. This distinction may lead one to believe that there is a clear transition from religious thought to philosophical or scientific thought, but this is not the case. The earliest philosophers in Greece, Rome, India, China, and North Africa all used mythological and analogical (analogy-based) stories to explain their rational systems, while religious texts from the same period often engage in serious, logical argumentation. Rather than seeing a decisive break between mythological thinking and rational thinking, one should understand the transition from mythos to logos as a gradual, uneven, and zig-zagging progression. This progression teaches that there are close connections between religion, philosophy, and science in terms of the desire to understand, explain, and find purpose for human existence.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax