Introduction to Philosophy


1. What is philosophy?

Does it seem like a field of study completely foreign to you? Why are you taking this class? Is philosophy only for wild haired professors to sit around thinking abstract thoughts? Or is it only for brilliant visionaries that stand out as intellectual giants among mankind and change the attitudes of society? Or is it just something the  ancient Greeks were known for...

Philosophy is far more than just a classroom subject, philosophy is the greatest force of change in society and human history. Every great societal change comes from a conquest, war, or revolution, usually violent, but not always. And behind every one of them is a philosophy, or a desire to destroy another's philosophy. Philosophy gives birth to new civilizations. Philosophy is dangerous and magnificent, it can tear down and build up. Knowledge is power, power that can be used to benefit or destruction.

So what is philosophy?

The Greek word φιλειν or Philein means love or attraction. Σοφιά or sophia means wisdom. So philosophy is a love of wisdom. Not much help? A philosopher is someone who loves wisdom. A philosopher is not someone who is necessarily wise, or possessing wisdom, but loving it, seeking it, trying to figure it out and obtain it. A lover of wisdom, a philosopher. But what is wisdom? How does one seek it? Do I know what philosophy is yet?

Then what is philosophy?

Originally the term meant all knowledge except the technical arts. All that we now call sciences were originally philosophy, any study of the world or world of men according to causes. That is why any doctorate you get is called a PhD.

As the individual subjects of science developed and acquired their own facts and evidence they became less concept based and became subjects on their own. These branches study their field according to proximate causes. A proximate cause is the cause that immediately precedes the effect one is studying. Subjects that are not studied with facts or hard evidence of proximate causes make up the branches of philosophy. The sciences develop separately with facts and causes discovered by their methods. Philosophy takes the data discovered by other fields and from there studies the concepts and root or ultimate causes. Philosophy is conceptual based knowledge, not based on sensible evidence. If it is sensible or observable, it is for the sciences.

Do I really know what philosophy is now?

Philosophy is not a set of sayings in a book somewhere. Philosophy is an action, an act of the mind, a doing, it is not passive. The result of this action is a philosophy, or a philosophical system once it is written and established.

A Definition

So philosophy is the love of wisdom, an action, by which one seeks wisdom and conceptual knowledge about all of reality both sensible and non-sensible, according to ultimate causes. This is our starting definition, it is sufficient to define it, but that does not mean it can't improved upon...

2.    Why does man philosophize?

What is the motivation for this? At the root of it all is the nature of the human being, the desire of all men to know. We naturally seek knowledge. To seek knowledge is a natural act of our conceptual nature. From our youth we wonder... “I wonder” is the start of all philosophy.

Human nature is an intellectual nature with reason, which needs to seek knowledge in order to perfect itself. Often this quest is clear in a child, but lost as one replaces it with a life of constant work and “busyness”. Leisure time is needed to develop deep thought and many do not have this opportunity. Life or laziness get in the way.

But for many, ignorance is viewed as a challenge to be overcome. Our mind is not static, it is dynamic and seeks out. There is a such a vast diversity in the reality around us. our mind seeks causes, reasons why, and seeks some unifying factors, some underlying meaning or explanation for it. This is how philosophers are born.

3.  So what are these questions of philosophy that people wonder about?

- Why is there anything at all instead of nothing?
- Is there a purpose to life, to the universe?
- Is there a God that guides it somehow or started it?
- What is the human person, why are we different, what is the soul, are we eternal?
- How do we think and learn about the universe, what is thought?
- Do we have a free will?
- How should I act, are there good and evil actions?
- What is truth, can I find it?
- How should society be ordered, what is the best politics?

Many people have these thoughts, but few people become philosophers, why?

There is a difference between regular thought and philosophical thought. Generally a person will have a question that is restless in their mind and will think about it a bit then move on, often feeling it is not worth the effort to really get into it. Or maybe read a book about it, or ask someone who knows to explain it and then they accept the opinion of others. This is fine for many people.

The philosopher takes the question and gives it the time needed, thinks it through from various angles in a disciplined fashion and a technical method. Consults other thought on the subject, tests the theories and comes to an answer, or partial answer, or decides it is not answerable with certainty. Experiments or physical methods of tests are not used, the mind is the tool.

Philosophical questions are not un-answerable questions, although the textbook says so, and some mistakenly believe this about philosophy. No one will study an unanswerable question, it holds no interest. The textbook picks a view that thought that has no facts, but is concept based is uncertain, this is a product of a overly scientific world view. A philosophical proof, done correctly with correct premises based on ultimate causes, is true and certain. The key is building on basic premisses, it is easy to stray.

Based on the questions we listed above we can see basically what are the fields of philosophy. First, how do the questions divide?:
–    Man asks about reality, all of reality, both immaterial and material = object of philosophy materially                 considered.
–    If someone thinks about this in terms of proximate causes = sciences
–    If one thinks about it in terms of first or ultimate causes = object of philosophy formally considered.
–    If one uses religion to seek answers = faith.
–    If one uses reason alone = philosophy.

So a division of the branches would be:
–    About reality and existence = metaphysics, with subgroups:
         Of natural physical world = cosmology.
         Of principles of all reality = metaphysics proper.
         Of the ultimate being, God = natural theology.
–    Of the human being = philosophical anthropology, with subgroups:
         philosophy of religions, of culture, of history, of art, etc...
–    About the mind and knowledge = logic and epistemology.
–    About the choices of the will and proper acting = ethics, with subgroups:
         personal ethics, business ethics, social ethics, sexual ethics, eco-ethics, etc...

4.  So what do each one of these fields deal with?

I. Cosmology – study of the principle causes and explanations of the physical world and matter, such as time, change, quantity, etc.

II. Metaphysics – study of the most basic principles of all reality, non-material and physical, the properties of existence itself, what does “to be” mean.

III. Natural Theology – Is there a God?, can we know, if so, how can we know, what would this God be like?

IV. Philosophy of the human / Anthropology – what is the human nature, how do we sense and feel, how do we know things, what is personhood? Do we have a free will? What is the will, what is the soul?

V. Logic – what are the rules for thinking, the proper way to think and argue in a disciplined way.

VI. Epistemology – Do we know truth, what is truth? How can we know things, how does our mind reach the external world around us?

VII. Ethics – Is there an ultimate good we should seek?, what is the good, how should one act, are there evil actions, what are they? How should society be structured, what is the role of a government, what type of government?

5.  So what is the value of philosophy?

Philosophy may seem like an “extra”, how does it play into real life? Philosophy perfects the intellect and the will, helping us to use them properly and to the full extent. It guides our logical and analytical abilities, for whatever field of study we are think about. Great questions get answered, or if not answered, get clarified, subdivided, or partial answers are discovered.

Also, it does away with the idea that every opinion is as valid as the next, by requiring proofs. An opinion is just something someone thought up, a philosophical position is something that has been thought through with proofs, according to the rules of logic. A philosophical position that is not thought through properly, remains just an opinion.

It does away with the idea that every opinion is equally right, by exposing false logic. Example: Your roommate says it is ok to steal cable tv if you can get away with it, you say it is not. Can both be right? To claim both are equally right is the same as saying, “I think it is wrong to steal cable, but I believe you are completely right when you say it is ok.” This is unintelligible and illogical nonsense. Philosophy requires proofs, and proper logical thinking.

Sounds hard? Yes, it is work, it is not light reading. To read a page of philosophy requires more time and effort than reading 100 pages of a novel. A new language is used, the words are the same as common language, but with very specific meanings, a technical level of language. This is a overview and intro class, so full comprehension is not asked of you, only basic frameworks.

In this class we will follow this order, time permitting:
1.    After the intro, the basics of Logic.
2.    Cosmology
3.    Metaphysics
4.    Natural Theology
5.    The Human Person
6.    Epistemology
7.    Ethics
8.    Politics

We will look often at the early Greeks, since they covered most of the various opinions that have continued throughout the history of philosophy. We will look at some variations on each subject, and we will often refer to Plato's and Aristotle's theories, especially Aristotle since he usually would look at all the variations that came before him and pick a common sense middle approach, and since his philosophy (with Plato's) endured longer than any other and influenced western thought tremendously. The saying goes, "All philosophy is just a footnote to Plato." This does not mean Plato was right on everything, but it means that everything philosophy has thought about since was first considered by Plato.

The core questions and basic premisses of these philosophical positions have been carried through the ages from Greeks to Romans, to the middle ages and to the creation of  modern Europe and into the early modern times, and based often on Plato and Aristotle, have been called the philosophia perenia, or perennial philosophy.

In contemporary times many philosophers have sought to almost deny philosophy as a whole and reduce it only to a type of psychology of the mind, or reduce it to just forms of language and symbolic logic, ignoring the great thought of the past. In this class, we will lay down the basics for your future study of modern trends in philosophy if you are so interested.