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Genius of the Ancient World

Historian Bettany Hughes travels to India, Greece and China on the trail of three giants of ancient philosophy 

BBC Two BBC iPlayer Available on BBC iPlayer
BBC Two on Saturday
15th May 2021 at 9:00AM
Updated Thursday 14th May 2020

All three philosophers lived between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, during a period of unprecedented and intense intellectual development.

They were trailblazers whose radical ideas signalled a key change in human consciousness. They embodied the shift from a reliance on the supernatural, as the sole way to explain humankind’s place in the cosmos, to one where rational argument and logical reasoning offered new, exciting possibilities.

Their game-changing ideas came about in response to huge changes in society: growing urbanisation, advances in technology, flourishing trade and large-scale wars.

In a rapidly changing world, they were the first people to apply reason to crucial existential and socio-political questions, which are still as urgent and relevant today as they were then:

  • Do material things make us happy?
  • What is justice?
  • How do we live a good life?

Drawing on archaeology and expert opinion, Bettany follows in the footsteps of these great figures, in her quest to unpack their philosophy in the context of their age.

She reveals how, even though their ideas came about two and a half thousand years ago, their thinking still shapes, and continues to provide solutions to, our own lives.

For more information, you can go to the BBC programme page. 

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