There can be found marked differences between westernized philosophy and the Indian, Chinese, Arabic and African versions. These speculate more about the nature of the world, human existence, offering a solution to the tormenting ills of the day, investigating the scope of rational questioning and super-naturalism.
Western philosophy is calculated to have started six or seven centuries before the birth of Christ, in the Greek-speaking area around the Aegean Sea, also southern Italy. These first western philosophers concerned themselves with enquiring into the nature and origin of all things. They were naturalistic, and managed without recourse to myth or legend. Best remembered are Plato (died in or around 348 BC) and Aristotle (died circa 322 BC). They have proved the most influential, because they delved into every known area of knowledge.
It must be said here that before Christ and His enormously heavy influence, no distinctions were made between theology, science and philosophy.
With the arrival and deep-rooting of Christianity, people like (St.) Augustine of Hippo began creating a synthesis between ancient philosophy (viz. Plato) and the Christian view. This continued with (St.) Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and ambled on throughout the Middle Ages.
Came the scientific revelations and discoveries of the 17th and 18th centuries, and physical sciences began their break with theology and philosophy. The rational philosopher, like Descartes (1596-1650) started assessing the philosophical implications of the new scientific results. The 18th century in particular produced the authoritative stance assumed by John Locke and David Hume. By the end of that century a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism (the notion that all knowledge comes from experience) was being pronounced by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
The 19th century however saw the development of positive philosophy with a firm base in science, as well as American pragmatism, which says that practical consequences are the touchstone of knowledge, value and meaning. Competing with this were the newly minted political philosophies of Marxism and Utilitarianism. And then at the beginning of the 20th century, existentialism was made popular by Jean-Paul Sartre, who in turn showed the heavy influence of Kierkegaard (1813-55). By the time the awful twentieth century was under way however, psychology was established as a discipline distinct from philosophy.
In the mid-twentieth therefore, philosophy had been divided into numerous sections, such as the philosophies of science, of religion, of the mind and so on. Generally speaking, the focus was on analytical or linguistic philosophy, probably due in no small way to the impact on Man’s mind of Ludwig Wittgenstein (died 1951) and Bertrand Russell (died 1970). Both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have also seen the emergence (rather like an infant dragon from the egg) of post-modernism (dreadful architecture and unintelligible art), which is in itself eclectic (selecting from various styles, methods etc.) and iconoclastic (attacking traditional concepts). Oils or watercolours, for example, largely disappeared for a time, replaced by objects such as a decaying shark in a tank or an unmade bed, both presented as valuable and fine art.