Documentary Sources in Philosophy

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in Philosophy

Anonymous, The Dialogue of a Man with His Ba (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—This philosophical text describes a man debating suicide with his own soul. It gives a clear indication of Egyptian belief in a soul and the consequences of suicide. The text breaks off before the end so the result is not clear.

Anonymous, The Eloquent Peasant (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—In this philosophical study, a corrupt official falsely imprisons a farmer. The farmer's pleas for justice amount to a treatise on maat ("right conduct").

Anonymous, Teachings for Merykare (c. 2130–1980 b.c.e.)—An unnamed king writes advice for his son, the future king Merykare of the Tenth Dynasty. Perhaps the oldest of the royal instructions, it is directed to the enemy of the Theban family that reunited Egypt in the Middle Kingdom.

Anonymous, The Teachings of a Man for his Son (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—A man of lower station advises his son to be loyal to the king in order to succeed in life. It is one of the Egyptian philosophical texts that deals with issues of loyalty and the importance of the king to his people.

Attributed to Amenemhet I, The Teachings of Amenemhet (c. 1919–1875 b.c.e.)—Probably composed in the reign of Senwosret I, the ghost of Amenemhet I advises his son not to trust any courtiers. This is a good example of a royal philosophical teaching.

Attributed to Amenemope, The Teachings of Amenemope (c. 1539–1075 b.c.e.)—Amenemope, a high agricultural official, advises his son in this philosophical text on pursuing the way of truth as well as career advice.

Attributed to Any, The Teachings of Any (c. 1539–1975 b.c.e.)—Any, a low-level scribe, gives his son advice on marriage, managing a household, and the virtuous life. This is the first example of philosophical teachings that came from a person who was not royalty and not of high office.

Attributed to Hordjedef, Teachings of Hordjedef (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—Written in the Twelfth Dynasty but set in the Fourth Dynasty, Hordjedef offers practical advice for career advancement. It is clearly a philosophical teaching text, but not enough of the maxims included in it survive to be clear on the message it holds.

Attributed to Ipuwer, The Admonitions of Ipuwer (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—Written in the Twelfth Dynasty but set in the preceding First Intermediate Period, the author laments the social chaos around him. This is one of the Egyptian pessimistic writings and points to the philosophical idea of the existence being either ordered or chaotic.

Attributed to Kagemni, The Teachings of Kagemni (c. 1938–1759 c.e.)—Set in the reign of the Third-dynasty king Huni but probably composed in the Twelfth Dynasty, only the end of this advice survives. Much like The Teachings of Hordjedef, this text is clearly philosophical, but its tenets are unknown.

Attributed to Khakheperre-sonb, The Complaints of Khakheperre-sonb (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—Written in the Twelfth Dynasty, the author laments social conditions but mostly speaks of the difficulty of finding the right words to describe the situation. This is one of the few surviving examples of Egyptian complaint literature and speaks on the Egyptian philosophy of order as a necessary tenet to a proper society.

Attributed to Khety, The Teachings of Khety (c. 1938–1759 c.e.)—This Twelfth-dynasty text stresses the value of education. It is one of the only surviving texts to speak philosophically about education as a matter of pleasure instead of as a necessity.

Attributed to Neferty, The Prophecy of Neferty (c. 1938–1909 b.c.e.)—Probably composed in the reign of Amenemhet I, the prophecy is set in the reign of Sneferu nearly 700 years earlier. The text describes a period of anarchy followed by peace restored by Amenemhet I. This text is philosophically concerned not only with the necessity of order, but of the connection between the king and maat.

Attributed to Ptahhotep, The Teachings of Ptahhotep (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—Written in the Twelfth Dynasty but set in the Fifth Dynasty, the prime minister shares his wisdom gleaned from a long career. This is the most complete ancient Egyptian teaching to survive and is the best example of a royal teaching.

Attributed to Sehetepibre, The Teachings of Sehetepibre (c. 1938–1759 b.c.e.)—This philosophical text stresses loyalty to the king as the primary way of establishing justice in the world.