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Overview of Philosophy - EGYPTIAN CONCERNS., ATTRIBUTES., RELIGION., MISUNDERSTANDINGS.

greek maat egyptians questions

CATEGORIES.

Philosophy was originally a Greek category of knowledge. It sought the answers to questions concerning the nature of knowledge itself (meta-physics), the core of goodness (ethics), and the essence of beauty (aesthetics). Greek philosophers also raised questions about politics and methods of persuasion (rhetoric). Only some of these questions have relevance to Egyptian categories of thought. Though the Greeks credited the Egyptians with the beginnings of philosophy, the Greeks often interpreted Egyptian data to yield thoughts similar to their own, causing modern scholars to wonder about the true nature of Egyptian philosophy.


EGYPTIAN CONCERNS.


Egyptian philosophers were intensely concerned with questions of proper conduct and justice. Many Egyptian texts advise the reader on how to act properly. Egyptian philosophers did not discuss the nature of knowledge in itself but they did have opinions on the proper way to teach justice. Egyptian thinkers did not write about the political system, but some pessimistic literature considered the results when there is no legitimate king. A few documents also contain advice for princes who someday would be kings. Methods of persuasion, as in Greek rhetoric, were not an Egyptian concern. It is from these basic ideas that scholars have built a true structure of Egyptian philosophy and have deciphered Egyptian thoughts on certain standard philosophical questions.


ATTRIBUTES.


The three main attributes that all Egyptian philosophies share are flexibility, pragmaticism, and attention to emotion. The Egyptologist Erik Hornung stressed that Egyptian answers to philosophical questions were flexible. He asserted that the Egyptians never offered final and definitive answers to philosophical questions. Rather Egyptian philosophies tended to be pluralistic, offering, for example, several possible explanations for the origins of the world that were all equally true. Hornung believed that the Egyptians knew there was no single answer to a question, hence Egyptian thought avoided stressing one cause to the detriment of another. Egyptians did not believe in absolutes. Egyptian philosophy is also pragmatic. Egyptian teachings considered concrete life situations without generalizing to abstract laws. The Egyptian notion of maat (“justice”) stressed solutions to real-life problems. Abstract thought was not as important as finding a practical solution to a specific problem. The wisdom that older men offered to their children spoke directly to specific situations they expected would occur in the course of any career or life. Finally, Egyptian thought recognized the lure of emotion, but advised against submitting to transitory feelings. It might seem odd to modern Western cultures that the Egyptians believed that the heart was the organ of thought. Yet Egyptian philosophers advised that the silent man who ignored his emotions and who thought before he acted was the ideal. The opposite of the silent man was the heated man, one who immediately submitted to his emotions without giving adequate thought to his actions. Much of Egyptian philosophy counseled against impulsive action without thought.


RELIGION.


It is difficult to separate Egyptian philosophical ideas from religion. Maat stood at the center of all Egyptian life, including both philosophy and religion. Maat itself was a goddess and in some periods had a temple. Maat was also part of the god’s food, a way of stating that all the gods’ survival depended on maat’s existence. Establishing maat also was essential to the world’s creation by a god. When the god created order from chaos, the god established maat. In the same way, the king maintained maat in the world and thus kept chaos from overcoming the Egyptian way of life. Finally, individuals obeyed the king and thus established maat in the world. A person’s success in life completely depended on following and creating maat. Thus religion, politics, and philosophical concerns were bound in an intricate web of concepts.


MISUNDERSTANDINGS.


The ancient Greeks were the first people from a Western culture to write about the ancient Egyptians, beginning in the fifth century B.C.E. Greek perceptions of Egypt dominated Western understanding of the culture, especially before J.-F. Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs in 1822 C.E. Because the Egyptian pictoral language was unavailable to Western scholars for hundreds of years, Egyptologists were completely dependent on Greek and later Roman writers to form an opinion of Egyptian culture. Even after modern Egyptology allowed the ancient Egyptians to speak for themselves, Greek notions continued to influence modern perceptions of Egyptian philosophy. Nowhere is this more obvious than in modern approaches to Egyptian thought, science, and spirituality. Many modern people still credit the Egyptians with secret knowledge, both technical and spiritual. Many believe that the Egyptians perfected astrology and alchemy. These ideas stem directly from ancient Greek notions of Egyptian thought. The popularity and survival of such ideas into the twenty-first century C.E. is a testament to the power of Greek writing and its constant repetition. In fact, some Greek ideas have a basis in certain Egyptian traditions, but the interpretations of those traditions are purely Greek.

Overview of Religion - COMPONENTS., MEANING OF NETJER., CHARACTERISTICS., MULTIPLICITY OF APPROACHES., SPOKEN WORDS AND NAMES., EVIDENCE., TEXTS., NEW KINGDOM. [next] [back] Overview of Music - VALUE OF STUDYING EGYPTIAN MUSIC., SECULAR ISSUES AND MUSIC., RELIGIOUS ISSUES AND MUSIC HISTORY.

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