Sources and Traditions
for the Practical Philosophy Introductory Course
The introductory philosophy course draws inspiration from a broad range of teachings which we consider have much wisdom to offer for philosophy students seeking happiness and truth in their lives. We do not try to cover all philosophers or traditions or offer a potted history of philosophy. The following list provides further information on many of the people and traditions quoted or referred to.
1. Advaita. One of the most influential schools of Vedanta philosophy. Advaita (literally, ‘not two’, or non-duality) is a system of thought which refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman). Recognition of this identity leads to liberation. See Shankara below.
2. Bhagavad Gita (composed 200-500 BC). A 700–verse Hindu scripture containing a conversation between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna on a variety of philosophical issues. Faced with a war against those he loved, a despondent Arjuna turns to his charioteer Krishna for counsel on the battlefield. Krishna, through the course of the Gita, imparts to Arjuna wisdom, the path to devotion, and the doctrine of selfless action. The Gita upholds the essence and the philosophical tradition of the Upanishads. The Gita forms part of the ancient Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata.
3. William Blake (1757 –1827). English Romantic poet, painter, and printmaker.
4. Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (ca 400-500 BC). Indian spiritual teacher, whose teachings form the basis of Buddhism
5. Sir Winston Churchill (1874 –1965). British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century.
6. Confucius (551–479 BC). Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher. His philosophy emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity and his principles were based on common Chinese tradition and belief. He espoused the principle "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself".
7. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). American poet. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality.
8. Albert Einstein (1879-1955). German-born theoretical physicist, father of modern physics, developed general theory of relativity.
9. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement. Followers believed in the inherent goodness of both man and nature.
10. Epicurus (341BC-270 BC). Ancient Greek philosopher. Founder of Epicurean school of philosophy. For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life. He believed pleasure to be the greatest good. The way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquillity and freedom from fear.
11. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. Has been called "the Father of Modern Science”.
12. Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). Lebanese-American artist, poet and writer. Author of The Prophet (1923). Said to be the third best-selling poet of all time.
13. Jesus (ca. 3 BC-33 AD). Jewish teacher from Galilee in Roman Judaea. Central figure of the Christian religion; worshipped by Christians as the incarnation of God.
14. Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882 -1927). Indian Sufi writer and musician; founder of The Sufi Order in the West (London) and teacher of Universal Sufism. His message of divine unity focused on the themes of love, harmony and beauty.
15. Rudyard Kipling(1865-1936). Indian-born English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
16. Jacques Lusseyran (1924-1971). French author, and political activist, blind from the age of eight. French resistance fighter in WW2. Spent time in Buchenwald concentration camp.
17. Plato (424-348 BC). Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician and student of Socrates, founded the Academy in Athens. “The safest general characteristic of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” (A. N. Whitehead)
18. Rumi (1207-1273). 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.
19. Chief Seattle (1780-1866). Leader of the Duwamish Tribe of Washington State, USA.
20. Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist. Tutor and advisor to emperor Nero. Enjoyed a good reputation among the early Christians and remains one of the few popular Roman philosophers from the period.
21. William Shakespeare (1564- 1616). English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist.
22. Shankara (ca. 788-820 AD). Indian philosopher who had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when chaos, superstition and bigotry was rampant. Shankara advocated the greatness of the Vedas and was the most famous Advaita philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of advaita vedanta. His teachings are based on the unity of the Atman and brahman.
23. Shree Shantananda Saraswati (1913-1997). Indian Swami, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math 1953-1980 and one of the great spiritual leaders of India. The School made contact with Maharaja Shri Shantananda Saraswati in 1965 and was introduced through this connection to Advaita philosophy.
24. Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC). Classical Greek Athenian philosopher. A founding father of Western philosophy. His life and words are known chiefly through the dialogues of Plato. Plato refers to Socrates as the “gadfly” of the state: just as a gadfly stings a horse into action, so Socrates stung various Athenians, confronting people to consider justice and the pursuit of goodness. His attempts may have led to his trial and execution. Socrates' life as the "gadfly" of Athens began when a friend asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates; the Oracle replied that no-one was wiser. Since Socrates believed he possessed no wisdom whatsoever, he proceeded to test the riddle by approaching men considered wise in order to refute the Oracle's pronouncement. What he discovered, however, was that, while each man thought he knew a great deal in fact they knew very little. Socrates came to realise that the Oracle was correct, in that while so-called wise men thought themselves wise and yet were not, he himself knew he was not wise at all; paradoxically, this made him the wiser one, since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance.
25. Stoicism. School of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century BC and popular throughout Greece and the Roman Empire. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgement, and that a wise person would not suffer such emotions. To the Stoics, their philosophy was a way of life: the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved. Because "virtue is sufficient for happiness", a sage was immune to misfortune. Stoics included Seneca and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
26. The Upanishads. A collection of philosophical texts, passed down orally over thousands of years and forming the theoretical basis for the Hindu religion. They are also known as Vedanta.
27. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Indian Hindu monk, instrumental in bringing Vedanta and yoga to the West.