Theosophical Encyclopedia

Ontology

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 4 Ontology

The main branch in metaphysics that deals with the nature of being or existence, and the properties and relationships of beings. The word was first used in the seventeenth century, but the concept was already treated in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Christian Wolff brought it into popular currency in the eighteenth century, when it was widely adopted to distinguish it from the other branches of metaphysics, such as cosmology and theology.

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Perennial Philosophy

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia, here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 6 Perennial Philisophy

The ageless philosophy about the cosmos and human life that is at the core of all great religious and mystical traditions. The term philosophia perennis was used by Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), who adopted it from the writings of Italian Catholic theologian Agostin Steuco (1496-1549). It was popularized by Aldous Huxley in his book Perennial Philosophy, published in 1946. This worldview is closely similar to the ageless wisdom as propounded in Theosophy, although the latter has a larger scope than the former usually includes.

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Metaphysics

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 8 Metaphysics

A branch of philosophy that includes cosmology and ontology. The term is derived from an untitled work by Aristotle called merely meta ta physica, i.e. “The book after the Physics.” In it Aristotle claimed to discuss Being in an abstract sense. Since his time, the term has been extended to cover cosmology as well as what types of things may be reliably said to exist, i.e. ontology.

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GREEK PHILOSOPHY

TE 8 Greek Philosophy

The beginning of Western philosophy is ascribed to Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE), who claimed that the basic element of the universe, from which all other elements were derived, was water. Exactly what he meant by this is unknown, since only fragments of his writings remain and we are not always sure that later philosophers, such as Aristotle who cited his ideas centuries later, interpreted them correctly. Contemporary historians hypothesize that Thales, observing that water was capable of various conditions: solidification (as ice) and evaporation (as steam or vapor) as well as noting the silting process of rivers, came to his conclusion by induction. But that is not at all certain. Mythology often identifies water (understood metaphorically) as the primary element of creation (cf. Genesis 1.2, Rg Veda x.129, verse 1, etc.) as Helena P. Blavatsky points out when mentioning Thales in The Secret Doctrine (SD 1:345 fn and 2:591 fn). Furthermore, she notes that he (and other early Greek philosophers) were initiates in the Mystery Schools (SD 1:117). If that is so, Thales had not abandoned a mythological account of the universe, as is sometimes believed. But certainly the fragments of his writings that we have do not cite myths as a justification for his belief, so this suggests at least a reasoned, rather than a dogmatic, approach to the creation stories of his day. In any event, cosmological speculation was the initial impetus for Western philosophy.

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PYTHAGORAS

TE 6 Pythagoras

A pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived circa 582-507 B.C. Although the neo-Platonists Proclus (circa 232-304) and Porphyry (410?-484) both wrote biographies of him, little is known historically about his life. He was born on the Greek island of Samos, but migrated to Italy (called Magna Graecia in his day) and founded a school at Krotona, which taught an esoteric doctrine to a group of disciples who revered Pythagoras as a demigod. He and his ideas appear frequently in Theosophical literature, such as The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled by Helena P. Blavatsky, The Masters and the Path by Charles W. Leadbeater, and The Lives of Alcyone by Leadbeater and Annie Besant. In the last two books, Pythagoras is identified as a previous incarnation of Mahātma Koot Hoomi, one of Blavatsky’s teachers.

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PLATO

 

TE 4 Plato

An ancient Greek philosopher (circa 428-348 or 347 B.C.), one of only two whose writings are still extensively studied today (the other being his pupil Aristotle). He is referred to more frequently in Helena P. Blavatsky’s writings than any other philosopher and is identified, as is Confucius, both there and in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, as a “fifth Round man,” far advanced “psychically, mentally and spiritually” of the average person today (SD 1:162; Mahatma Letter 66 [Barker, 14]). His philosophical ideas are presented in a series of twenty-four dialogues, in most of which the main character is his teacher, Socrates. Thirteen letters are also attributed to him, though scholars believe most are forgeries, except the largely autobiographical seventh (and, some believe, at least parts of the third, eighth, and thirteenth). Plato also wrote a funeral oration, Menexenus, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. The speakers are Socrates and Menexenus, who is not to be confused with Socrates’s son of the same name (Wikipedia). The literary quality of his dialogues, especially from the early and middle periods, are unexcelled by any other Western philosopher, although some (notably Berkeley and Hume) attempted to write philosophy in that style.

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ARISTOTLE


TE 2 Aristotle

An ancient Greek philosopher who lived 384-322 BCE, one of only two philosophers from that period whose works are still extensively studied today, the other being his teacher, Plato (427?-347 BCE). In fact, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Aristotle’s ideas, especially in the realm of political philosophy, predominated. He was born in Stagira, Ionia, so is sometimes referred to as “the Stagirite.” His father, Nicomachus, a court physician to Amyntas II, king of Macedon, died when he was just a boy; he was raised by a guardian, Proxenus, who sent him to Plato’s Academy in Athens when he was seventeen. After his studentship, he joined the faculty of the Academy and taught there until Plato’s death. When Plato’s nephew, Speusippus, succeeded as head of the Academy, Aristotle and several others left. During the next few years, he made zoological investigations in various places in the Grecian world.

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