The History of Philosophy, from 600 B.C.E. to 1935, Visualized in Two Massive, 44-Foot High Diagrams

The his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy tends to get might­i­ly abbre­vi­at­ed. The few phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sors I know don’t have much truck with gen­er­al­ist “his­to­ry of ideas”-type projects, and the dis­ci­pline itself encour­ages, nay, requires, inten­sive spe­cial­iza­tion. Add to this glib com­ments like Alfred North Whitehead’s on phi­los­o­phy as a “series of foot­notes to Pla­to,” and the emi­nent posi­tion of the errat­ic and com­par­a­tive­ly philo­soph­i­cal­ly-unschooled auto­di­dact Wittgen­stein, and you have, in mod­ern phi­los­o­phy, a sad neglect of the geneal­o­gy of thought.

But take heart, you who, like me, incline toward minor fig­ures and obscure rela­tion­ships. Ohio State pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy Kevin Scharp is a Lin­naean tax­on­o­mist of thought, com­pil­ing charts, “Infor­ma­tion Box­es,” and hand-drawn dia­grams of the “Soci­ol­o­gy of Phi­los­o­phy,” like that above, which cov­ers West­ern phi­los­o­phy from 600 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. and shows the myr­i­ad com­plex con­nec­tions between hun­dreds of indi­vid­ual philoso­phers and schools of thought (such as Sto­icism, Skep­ti­cism, Neo-Pla­ton­ism, etc.). The sec­ond mas­sive dia­gram cov­ers 600 C.E. to about 1935. Each one is about 4 feet wide and 44 feet tall, with the text at 12-pont font. Both dia­grams are based on Soci­ol­o­gy of Philoso­phies by Ran­dall Collins.

Note: to see the dia­grams in detail, you will need to click the links above, and then click again on the images that appear on the new web page.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy … With­out Any Gaps

The Illus­trat­ed Guide to a Ph.D.

Down­load 90 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es and Start Liv­ing the Exam­ined Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (24)
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  • Rolando Alfaro says:

    fan­tas­tic work! thank you very much

  • Jayarava says:

    A His­to­ry of WESTERN phi­los­o­phy.

    You’d guess from this that no one out­side of Europe ever thought about the big ques­tions in a sys­tem­at­ic way. They did and do.

  • Unnikrishnan says:

    Won­der­ful! But I was slight­ly both­ered by the fact that this arti­cle referred to the dia­gram as a his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy when in fact it was a his­to­ry only of “West­ern” phi­los­o­phy (A fact that the artist remem­bered, the file name clear­ly says so).
    The Hin­du, Bud­dhist & Chi­nese schools of phi­los­o­phy are as old and as rich as clas­si­cal west­ern schools and this is some­thing west­ern audi­ences are most­ly obliv­i­ous to while dis­cussing phi­los­o­phy.

  • Josh Jones says:

    @Jayarava and Unnikr­ish­nan: yes, you’re both absolute­ly right. I should have made clear (as Pro­fes­sor Scharp does) that these dia­grams are strict­ly maps of West­ern Phi­los­o­phy, and do not touch on the rich tra­di­tions of the many, many East­ern schools.

  • Ben says:

    The world “phi­los­o­phy”, being Greek, obvi­ous­ly applies to the Greek tra­di­tion and its ances­tors. Like­wise, call­ing some­thing like the Indi­an Vedas “phi­los­o­phy” lumps a unique and dis­tinct thread of cul­tur­al tra­di­tion in with our West­ern tra­di­tions of syl­lo­gis­tic argu­ment, and espe­cial­ly the neo-Pla­ton­ic dis­cours­es that have until recent­ly dom­i­nat­ed what we call “phi­los­o­phy”. Apply­ing this Hel­lenic appel­la­tion to dis­tinct cul­tur­al tra­di­tions is not only tedious pedantry, it is also an expres­sion of the uncon­scious pater­nal­ism that the mod­ern PC freak is so des­per­ate to avoid.

  • Tom says:

    No, the con­cept of “East­ern phi­los­o­phy” is just fine, despite the Greek ori­gin of the word “phi­los­o­phy.” It does­n’t make any­one intel­li­gent think that the thought tra­di­tions referred to have to con­form to “West­ern tra­di­tions of syl­lo­gis­tic argu­ment” or the like.

  • Alexander Schatten says:

    Thank you very much for these excel­lent visu­al­i­sa­tions! May I only make a remark on a tech­ni­cal­i­ty: JPEG is not a suit­able for­mat for such a vec­tor-based dia­gram. If the soft­ware you are using pro­vides a PDF export (or print as PDF on a MAC) this would be very help­ful.

    Even PNG would be bet­ter than JPEG as it does not blur sharp lines (i.e. text).

  • Mark says:

    You can have sys­tem­at­ic thought which is not philo­soph­i­cal in nature. You can have phi­los­o­phy in the East, but what we refer to as “East­ern phi­los­o­phy” isn’t phi­los­o­phy in a strict sense. It is, it seems, sys­tem­at­ic thought, how­ev­er not all sys­tem­at­ic thought is phi­los­o­phy, and I am unaware of any his­to­ry of philo­soph­i­cal thought out­side of Europe and Amer­i­ca pri­or to 1950. This is because intrin­sic to the notion of phi­los­o­phy is the abil­i­ty to con­verse freely with oth­er philoso­phers, as well as a belief in the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of rea­son. Thus, democ­ra­cy, or at the very least, repub­li­can­ism, is a pre-con­di­tion of phi­los­o­phy. Most states did not have this type of free­dom except in very rare cas­es, and this pre­vent­ed Greek style phi­los­o­phy from ful­ly devel­op­ing. While the Mid­dle East had a pro­to-phi­los­o­phy or pseu­do-phi­los­o­phy, which influ­enced West­ern thinkers and philoso­phers dur­ing the Euro­pean dark ages (where Europe had thinkers, and scribes, but not philoso­phers), it does not ful­ly qual­i­fy as phi­los­o­phy because the thinkers did not believe in the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of rea­son. They believed it was lim­it­ed to only those who spoke Ara­bic. The Greek philoso­phers believed that rea­son was avail­able to all as this was a thought brought to them through Aris­to­tle (Arguably one of the first philoso­phers in this strict sense).

    The Chi­nese had a very advanced sys­tem of sys­tem­at­ic thought, but it is dif­fi­cult to clas­si­fy this as phi­los­o­phy because of it’s reliance on super­sti­tion and the pol­i­tics which made it such that there was no free­dom of the trans­mis­sion of ideas out­side the hege­mo­ny.

    And while we can refer to sys­tem­at­ic think­ing as “phi­los­o­phy” The dif­fer­ence between West­ern phi­los­o­phy, which can hap­pen any­where, and the fact that these con­di­tions of West­ern phi­los­o­phy rarely, if ever, hap­pens out­side of Euro­pean cul­tures, is a con­cern to those who have an inter­est in cul­tur­al inclu­sion and the West­ern idea of uni­ver­sal­i­ty, which begs the ques­tion “Why not?” And since his­tor­i­cal­ly these answers have been linked to racism, although racism goes against the basic ideals of phi­los­o­phy, it has become a near taboo sub­ject in today’s dis­course.

    Phi­los­o­phy as a spe­cif­ic con­di­tion of think­ing matured with Socrates when he intro­duced the “Socrat­ic method”. The pre-
    Socrat­ics were most­ly sys­tem­at­ic thinkers not unlike sys­tem­at­ic thinkers that hap­pen most any­where else in the world (with some notable excep­tions), but what Socrates taught was quite dif­fer­ent from the norms of think­ing, intro­duc­ing doubt and crit­i­cal rea­son­ing, and even­tu­al­ly he was put to death for his teach­ings when the state’s regime changed and his teach­ings went against their moral prin­ci­ples (You can­not doubt them! This is why phi­los­o­phy is so rare!). But phi­los­o­phy in this strict sense, thank­ful­ly, lived on in his stu­dents for sev­er­al hun­dred years, insu­lat­ed by, and thus, part­ly con­tained by the state. After it’s death, it was reborn sev­er­al times. Per­haps first under Charle­magne, then lat­er in the petit renais­sance in 12th cen­tu­ry France. And again as the Ital­ian Renais­sance, which was extend­ed into the Enlight­en­ment, which spread and is arguably still around to some extent (although, post­mod­ernism might be an acknowl­edg­ment of a recent death), which we take for grant­ed, and is now under con­stant check as author­i­tar­i­an prac­tices and severe social pres­sures of con­for­mi­ty under cul­tur­al norms (such as the one which states there must have been an his­tor­i­cal phi­los­o­phy out­side of Europe because there are bright sys­tem­at­ic thinkers every­where) are threat­en­ing the polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment which allows for philo­soph­i­cal dis­course.

  • Mark says:

    No way for me to cor­rect errors?
    Freudi­an slip:
    ‘Aris­to­tle’ is sup­posed to read ‘Archimedes’.

  • Tom says:

    This is superb, but where can I find the dia­gram from 600AD-1935?

  • Donna says:

    What, no East­ern Phi­los­o­phy?!?

    When I read the head­line about two charts, I assumed it would be one for west­ern phi­los­o­phy and one for east­ern phi­los­o­phy. But alas, the sad igno­rance of east­ern phi­los­o­phy in the west con­tin­ues.

    There is far deep­er philo­soph­i­cal insight, sub­tle­ty, com­plex­i­ty and sophis­ti­ca­tion to be found in the philoso­phies asso­ci­at­ed with Bud­dhism, Hin­duism and Tao­ism than one will ever find in west­ern phi­los­o­phy.

    (And yes, I stud­ied both in col­lege; major­ing not only in ‘phi­los­o­phy’ which cov­ered west­ern phi­los­o­phy almost exclu­sive­ly, but also ‘reli­gious stud­ies’ which is where the cours­es on east­ern phi­los­o­phy were placed. It’s real­ly time for uni­ver­si­ties to get over this ridicu­lous west­ern prej­u­dice, and start treat­ing east­ern phi­los­o­phy for what it is: Phi­los­o­phy. And then require all phi­los­o­phy majors to take a bal­anced pro­gram that includes both east­ern and west­ern phi­los­o­phy.)

    • Indian says:

      I com­plete­ly endorse Don­na’s argu­ment. It is time that non occi­den­tal, non anglo-sax­on, non Euro­cen­tric revi­sions of what is termed ‘Phi­los­o­phy’ see the light of day. The dark­ness of nar­row, blink­ered approach­es to the his­to­ry of ideas must come to an end.

  • Donna says:

    Mark: You give no real rea­son for exclud­ing east­ern phi­los­o­phy from the domain of ‘phi­los­o­phy’ — oth­er than the fact that it’s not like west­ern phi­los­o­phy. This is rather like exclud­ing Asians from the cat­e­go­ry of ‘peo­ple’ because they’re dif­fer­ent from Euro­peans.

    The orig­i­nal mean­ing of ‘phi­los­o­phy’ — “love of wis­dom” — says noth­ing at all about the Socrat­ic method, and cer­tain­ly noth­ing about Aris­to­tle. Indeed, the pre-socrat­ic philoso­phers of ancient Greece had much in com­mon with east­ern phi­los­o­phy.

    Mod­ern physics also has inter­est­ing par­al­lels with east­ern phi­los­o­phy; a fact that was not­ed by some of the sci­en­tists who dis­cov­ered quan­tum the­o­ry, such as Schro­ding­er and Bohr. (And also physi­cist James Jeans, who famous­ly said that “The uni­verse begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.”)

    This ten­den­cy of mod­ern physics — rel­a­tiv­i­ty, quan­tum mechan­ics and chaos the­o­ry — to under­mine the cher­ished notions of recent west­ern phi­los­o­phy while giv­ing cre­dence to east­ern phi­los­o­phy may be one rea­son why philoso­phers in the west seem dis­in­clined to take mod­ern physics seri­ous­ly; even though it has been amply con­firmed by exper­i­ment for over 100 years now. Instead, philoso­phers in the west seem to cling des­per­ate­ly to the obso­lete phys­i­cal the­o­ries of New­ton and Descartes, and often seem deter­mined to res­ur­rect Deter­min­ism via fringe physics ideas like those of David Bohm.

    The real irony is that in their mad embrace of onto­log­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, philos­phers imag­ine that they’re adher­ing to what is most com­pat­i­ble with sci­ence; but sci­ence has no proof of mate­ri­al­ism and does not even depend on it. If philoso­phers were will­ing to embrace what is now known in physics, then it might well lead them right into the patient­ly wait­ing arms of east­ern phi­los­o­phy.

    Per­haps that is just what they fear. Per­haps the rea­son why east­ern phi­los­o­phy is exclud­ed from ‘phi­los­o­phy’ in uni­ver­si­ties is the same rea­son why west­ern philoso­phers seem deter­mined to avoid or evade mod­ern physics. Because if they took it seri­ous­ly, a whole lot of west­ern phi­los­o­phy would start to crum­ble.

  • Cris S says:

    The West­ern philoso­phers are open to devel­op and chal­lenge ideas. His­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence shows that con­stant rein­ven­tion and open­ness of the West­ern­ers. As a per­son inter­est­ed and with back­ground in both phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­o­gy, my opin­ion is, that West­ern­ers are least defen­sive when talk­ing about them­selves and/or their cul­ture. Also, West­ern uni­ver­si­ties are open to study diverse reli­gions not only Chris­tian­i­ty, even if the West was built on Greek phi­los­o­phy and Iudeo-Chris­tian­i­ty.
    Those obso­lete phys­i­cal the­o­ries enabled the devel­op­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy that almost all of us are using, and enabled the sur­vival and feed­ing of bil­lions around the world.
    It is inter­est­ing to deny mat­ter, while using com­put­ers, rid­ing cars, being vac­ci­nat­ed against mal­adies, buy­ing the nec­es­sary goods from the super­mar­ket, enjoy­ing a lot of com­fort in our homes and sur­round­ings, etc. …
    Some­times when we “see” (East­ern reli­gions believe it is illu­sion), lets say fear in oth­ers, might be the pro­jec­tion of our own fear.

  • Cris S says:

    @Mark: thank you for the “tour the force” that clar­i­fied rel­e­vant aspects of the top­ic!
    I would like to make an obser­va­tion: I grew up learn­ing about the “Dark Mid­dle Age”, then I met a few pro­fes­sors who dis­agreed that. One of them, Alex Baum­garten studies/teaches the Mid­dle Age and wrote sev­er­al books (despite his young age), on St. Anselm of Can­ter­bury, St. Thomas D’Aquino, Alber­tus Mag­nus, Bonaven­tu­ra, etc. He talks about a “coup d’im­age” per­formed by Voltaire, Diderot, even D’Alam­bert, on the Mid­dle Age, con­sid­er­ing it dark. The image was par­tial­ly retouched by anoth­er French, name­ly Pierre Duhem.
    The Mid­dle Age was not homoge­nous, it gave us the Renais­sance — which can hard­ly be con­sid­ered dark, also it was the cra­dle for moder­ni­ty with a lot of intel­lec­tu­al effer­ves­cence.

  • jkop says:

    @Donna: what we now know in physics” is no rea­son to aban­don mate­ri­al­ism or west­ern phi­los­o­phy for east­ern mys­ti­cisms or reli­gious tra­di­tions. If you stud­ied phi­los­o­phy, then you should known that west­ern philoso­phers do not typ­i­cal­ly “embrace” meta­phys­i­cal doc­trines such as onto­log­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism. Com­mit­ment to meta­phys­i­cal doc­trines is typ­i­cal­ly min­i­mal, because, unlike mys­ti­cists, philoso­phers love jus­ti­fi­able wis­dom.

  • Kenneth LaFave says:

    Won­der­ful, but you have mis­read AN White­head­’s pop­u­lar quote about Pla­to. It is hyper­bole, employed to under­line the cen­tral­i­ty of Pla­to in West­ern phi­los­o­phy. White­head was aware, obvi­ous­ly, of the enor­mous vari­ety of thought in the his­to­ry of ideas.

    • beyondpolitical says:

      And speak­ing of White­head, it’s curi­ous how the dia­gram (and so many the­o­rists of the Ana­lyt­i­cal faith) are so intent on leav­ing out the rad­i­cal­iz­ing influ­ence of Berg­son, help­ing White­head move out of the essen­tial­iz­ing sta­t­ic tra­di­tion of phi­los­o­phy into process. It’s unfor­tu­nate that so many have tak­en the side of Rus­sell in divorc­ing White­head once he put his own the­o­ry into motion.

  • jyanzi says:

    strict­ly speak­ing, it has lim­it­ed link­age to EASTERN WISDOM. The word, phi­los­o­phy has its ori­gin root­ed in the west so lets leave it as a field of west­ern stud­ies.

  • ivaray says:

    I knew that there must be the acupunc­ture chart of merid­i­ans in His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy too.:-)

  • Sevilla King says:

    Any way to print this like on 32 pages? I don’t need 12pt font at 44 ft!

  • chris says:

    the errat­ic and com­par­a­tive­ly philo­soph­i­cal­ly-unschooled auto­di­dact Wittgen­stein?

  • Denys says:

    Great work! This map­ping is only up to Medieval epoch. Is there any oppor­tu­ni­ty to find the whole pic­ture?
    P.S. To crit­i­cal com­ments: sys­tem­at­ic thought required for expla­na­tion. You can­not com­pre­hend many things or will not be able with­out sys­tem­at­i­cal com­par­i­son. Do not shoot the pianist, he is doing his best!

  • Rich Nakane Emmerson says:

    All work like this is appre­ci­at­ed.
    Regard­ing the omis­sion of oth­er non-West­ern philosophies/systems of thought, I think you could clar­i­fy by reti­tling to “The his­to­ry of West­ern Phi­los­o­phy”.

    Just some­thing to notice, accu­ra­cy of word choice is impor­tant. A lot of calls here for the inclu­sion of East­ern thought, but the term is prob­lem­at­ic — where does that begin and end (Con­stan­tino­ple to Japan/Phillipines)?
    What about Africa? What about the Pre-Colom­bian Amer­i­c­as, Poly­ne­sia, Melane­sia, and the First Nation (anoth­er slip­pery term) philoso­phies from around the world — often not record­ed in writ­ten form, but still eas­i­ly accessed through lan­guage, music and cul­ture. Before you dis­count those con­sid­er the 19th Cen­tu­ry Bel­gian anthro­pol­o­gist in cen­tral Aus­tralia who in dis­cus­sion with Arrente peo­ple, found that the was a con­cept and word for 5th, 6th and 7th dimen­sions.

    What sep­a­rates “phi­los­o­phy” from “sys­tem of thought” from “belief”? Is it the desire to engage with new, oppos­ing or mod­i­fy­ing argu­ments and the free­dom and will to expand, dis­cuss, evolve, aban­don the old where nec­es­sary? In that sense we might say that Con­fu­cian­ism is more of a belief or social struc­tur­ing sys­tem, fol­lowed by con­ven­tion by the mass­es as a sys­tem of social and men­tal man­age­ment, much like reli­gion. In con­trast the Tao has phi­los­o­phy, is more agile, allow­ing dis­cus­sion and debate about what is impor­tant and what is not, yet still some­what behold­en to to core (unques­tioned) ethical/moral prin­ci­ple.
    The Vedas have much philo­soph­i­cal con­tent, but have per­haps become a a ref­er­ence for a unchang­ing, func­tion­al, prac­ti­cal belief or sys­tem of thought. Is there debate in this sys­tem of thought? If there is change in this large sys­tems of thought as they are prac­ticed, is it due to phi­los­o­phy (the love of explor­ing ideas and devel­op­ing our lives from that) or is it a large­ly uncon­sid­ered change under the influ­ences of oth­er ideas eg ‘modern”post-modern”Marxist’ ‘capitalist”post-colonial’ etc? If the only ques­tion dis­cussed in the regard to a sys­tems of thought is “To what degree do we allow foreign/modern ideas to water-down our tra­di­tion­al way of think­ing” then this is more about prag­mat­ics and iden­ti­ty than Phi­los­o­phy.
    Sim­i­lar­ly, for the West (par­tic­u­lar­ly the Anglo tra­di­tion) too, phi­los­o­phy might be dead in the pub­lic are­na so much that it is sup­pressed at aca­d­e­m­ic lev­el. Ide­ol­o­gy has now become so entrenched as the main con­sid­er­a­tion in our politi­cians and oth­er pub­lic voic­es that log­i­cal debate (and social progress) is nigh on impos­si­ble in rela­tion to cli­mate change, own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion, equal­i­ty, gen­der, iden­ti­ty, right to choice/life, euthana­sia gun own­er­ship etc etc. Recent­ly an Aus­tralian aca­d­e­m­ic lost his job because he believed cli­mate change was not sup­port by data. I dis­agree with him, but I’m not sure he should have lost his job. In a rare moment, debate start­ed again in Aus­tralia but it was real­ly just a sim­plis­tic ref­er­ence to our estab­lished sys­tem of thought “Free­dom of thought” Free­dom of speech” that got him his job back in the courts.
    Phi­los­o­phy is strug­gling to be heard at a time when we most need log­i­cal debate to address extreme­ly press­ing ethical/philosophical/practical ques­tions for our plan­et and our soci­eties: Our role on this plan­et, our rela­tion­ship with nature, our advances in health sci­ences and genet­ic tech­nol­o­gy, and our advances in AI, robot­ics as well as autonomous mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy. Most pub­lic voic­es are pre­var­i­cat­ing because they only know how to fol­low a sys­tem of thought (eg Marx­ism, Chris­tian­i­ty etc) which gives lit­tle guid­ance on what to do here.
    In Aus­tralia, no phi­los­o­phy was raised in school cur­ricu­lum when I was a kid and I got through an Arts degree requir­ing so much spe­cial­i­sa­tion that I could not take any phi­los­o­phy cours­es, even when study­ing polit­i­cal sci­ences (I gath­er the US and oth­er coun­tries allow a broad­er edu­ca­tion at uni­ver­si­ty). We have a vast library of human thought in all tra­di­tions, but most peo­ple don’t seem to have library cards!
    Imper­fect as it maybe, and deal­ing only with West­ern thought as it does, this jpeg dia­gram is a per­haps use­ful tool for out­lin­ing West­ern phi­los­o­phy to the unini­ti­at­ed, which is a start at least.

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