Primitive Technology but Sophisticated Philosophy

Have there been any societies who embodied this combination? Or the reverse?

[Note: primitive/sophisticated is relative to other societies of that era.]

Well you could argue that United States practices the reverse. Sophisticated technology like predator drones with satellite surveillance and world class entertainment options while not having a sound energy or healthcare system. Nepal on the other hand is fighting a philosophical war against China in a very low tech way (burning themselves up in protest).

Of course this question is more of a IMHO or GD type question as I fail to see that there will be a “correct” answer.

To clarify a bit, when I wrote “sophisticated philosophy” I did not mean “a prevailing philosophy that you agree with”.

I think there is considerable sophistication of thought in the US (though obviously it would vary by person - OTOH, most people are not inventors either).

Classical Greece would be the obvious example. Even in their own time their technology probably did not equal that of the Egyptians and mesopotamians (although it overtook them in the later, Hellenistic era), but their best philosophy still holds up by modern standards, and is still read and taken very seriously.

Some anthropologists would claim that many, if not all, “primitive” (pre-literate, small-scale, and culturally isolated) societies have “sophisticated” philosophical systems, but not everybody might be convinced. It all depends on what you man by words like “philosophy”, “sophisticated”, “Primitive”, etc., and how you measure sophistication.

Define your scale for “sophistication” please.

Ancient Greece? I don’t think they were very technologically advanced.

Duck Dynasty followers, now that’s a sophisticated society. Sophisticated enough to convince millions of people to watch them and give a shit about who they are.

I don’t think we’ll find many examples. Philosophy and technology both derive from the same things, namely, literacy and academic freedom. If you have the latter, you’ll get the former.

Since “sophisticated philosophy” is a matter of opinion, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

This is what first sprang to mind for me.

Technology is a lot more cumulative than philosophy, so at least in some senses the further back in history you go the more primitive the technology gets, but you can still find some pretty sophisticated philosophy.

Native Americans? Technologically inferior to the Europeans yet very spiritual people. The Amish? I’m not sure I understand the OP.

The whales.

It seems that the OP has an implicit premise that technological advancements should correlate positively with philosophical thought. Is this really true?

I would propose that, as technology advances, so with it comes a myriad of ways to keep ourselves distracted from deep, philosophical thought. Why question our culture’s assumptions about the nature of “what is” when we have at our fingertips an unending stream of immediately satisfying entertainment? Why look up to the sky, and ponder our place in the cold expanse of the universe, when we can sit inside under fluorescent lighting, with the heat on, and watch television? Why go inward to examine the true nature of happiness or joy, when the pressing of a button can soon inspire temporary fits of laughter?

I would suggest that this develops into a vicious cycle. The longer we go without entertaining deeper thoughts, without questioning the commonly accepted nature of “what is,” the more absurd such questions seem on their face. We eventually come to accept that life is nothing more than a series of distracting events, book-ended by birth and death. To suggest otherwise might would just be fanciful and speculative.

Further, technological advancements permit us to distance death from day-to-day life. If anything could serve as a wake-up call to this habituated, materialist way of thought, it would be a close, introspective look on the nature of death–and by proxy, life. Yet, it seems that we, as a culture, have “successfully” quarantined any real consideration of death to those few, brief times in our lives when a loved one passes. In more “primitive” days, sickness and death permeated daily life. Illnesses that are now easily cured and vanquished would quickly kill. Parents would consider children to have lived into adolescence to be fortunate. The threat of death would hang over people in a way that we could not possibly relate with today, living in a first-world country with modern medicine. And, as great as these advancements are, with regard to extending life and improving our quality of life, by distancing death from day-to-day life, I would argue that we diminish or remove perhaps the most powerful motivator of deep, philosophical thought.

Ancient India and China both developed extremely complex, rigorous systems of philosophical thought over thousands of years. By modern standards one can argue these societies were “primitive” but in their heydays they were world-leading innovators and surpassed contemporary civilizations in both technical knowledge and philosophical thought.

“Native Americans” is a very broad group, this sounds a lot like the “noble savage” stereotype. Yeah, they had their own religions that were very different compared to many of the contemporary European ones, but they were simply different not “more” or “less” spiritual.

I would say the Roman Catholic Church.

You don’t have to worship at the shrine of Noble Savages to properly regard Native American groups as sophisticated in non-technological ways. Yes, they were a very diverse bunch – talking about “Native Americans” that way is like taking about “Europeans”, without taking regard for the differences between cultures. Nonetheless, you can make generalizations about both groups.

Native American groups had highly developed oratory. There are lots of collections of Indian speeches. They had long trade routes and highly developed social structures. I’m not sure what else is involved in “Sophisticated Philosophy”. There’s evidence that they knew about variable stars and their periods. I suspect a lot of their knowledge and philosophy was not recorded, so we can’t really say. Father De Landa rather famously illustrated the original European attitude:

It’s easy to dismiss this as the negligent attitude of long ago, but even recent scholarship has, I think, not paid sufficient attention to Native American knowledge and interests. I look a lot at knowledge of astronomy and astronomical myths, and have gone back to the original sources where I can, and our knowledge of what the Native Americans knew is woefully small. I think even experienced anthropologists didn’t ask the right questions, or enough of them. And that applies to all areas of Native American knowledge and philosophy.

You could argue that maybe they didn’t have an active philosophy or extensive body of knowledge to get recorded, but I find that more difficult to buy. They were human, with insatiable human curiosity. We credit Greek shepherds with watching the skies and observing them, leading to Greek astronomy. American Indians would have the same incentives.

Well, right, the Inca and Maya had rather good mathematics (including a conception of zero in the Maya’s case) and many had pretty advanced astronomy. I was rejecting the “more spiritual” claim. Whether they were “philosophically advanced” is a bit hard to pin down, both due to how ill defined that term is and the depressing lack of good historical records as you note. Even beyond that, I feel like in many ways it’s an apples to oranges comparison. Comparing civilizations that had at least some contact, however indirect, (say France and China) is hard enough. Trying to compare philosophies and advancements that developed more or less completely independently is going to be even stranger.

To be fair, I didn’t say “more” spiritual but “very” spiritual. I wasn’t trying to make a comparison to the Europeans on the philosophical front - just the technological one.