What is philosophy?

In its simplest form, philosophy is the study of questions about existence, knowledge, morals, values, reason, the mind, and language itself. While the field of general philosophy is broad, it can be broken down into several smaller and more digestible fields of study, including metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics.

Human history is rich in philosophical thought, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, where thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius began to ask questions about our place in the world, and the very world itself. For the ancient Greeks, philosophy was not simply a field of study, but a practical life skill that could lead its practitioners to happiness and flourishing.

Skipping ahead in time to the middle ages, philosophy in Western Europe became heavily influenced by religion, primarily Christianity, and the thinkers at the time, like Thomas Aquinas, went through a great deal of effort to bridge the fields of religion and philosophy.

Moving forward through time again, the 19th and 20th centuries held a great deal of diverse thinking among philosophers, resulting in the creation of brand new schools. For example, existentialism, pragmatism, and logical positivism. These days, many of the ancient schools of thought are still studied alongside schools that have been created between now and then, with scholars and laymen alike trying to find answers to fundamental questions of life.

In summary, philosophy is a field of study that expands across multiple fields of thought, and continues to help us understand who we are, how to live, and how to better understand the world around us. Its practicality may vary from subject to subject, but there are schools that offer real advice and guidance on how to live better, happier, and more resilient lives.

The Philosophy of Metaphysics:

Metaphysics is a field of philosophy concerning the nature of existence and reality. Here, we find questions such as:

  • What is the nature of the universe?

  • How does our mind interact with our body?

  • What are the fundamental rules of time and space?

We look to the discipline of metaphysics, which is frequently credited to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, when we have inquiries concerning the laws controlling the cosmos. For Aristotle, metaphysics is the study is the study of “basic principles”. In his view, everything in the universe has a purpose and a set of governing principles, all of which can be studied to get a deeper understanding of how it works.

In the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas, the Christian theologian, made an attempt to combine metaphysics with religion, proposing that everything in the universe had a purpose and that this purpose was given by God.

More recently, the changes in metaphysics are due to concepts such as dualism, originally put forward by the philosopher René Descartes in the 17th century. This is the idea that the mind and body are two separate entities that interact with one another.

While the branch of philosophy continues to shift and ask new questions, it remains an important area of study, allowing those who approach it to find answers to the fundamental questions of nature and reality itself.

In summary, metaphysics is a discipline that has shifted over the course of human history to include science, mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, and logic. It continues to expand into fields that address questions about the nature of reality, and it continues to help us find answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.

The Philosophy of Epistemology:

Epistemology is the area of philosophy that tackles knowing and belief. Here we find questions such as “What is knowledge?” and “What is a belief?”, or “What can we really know?” and “How do we develop knowledge?”.

Socrates was one of history’s most famous practitioners of epistemology, and his Socratic method has been used for thousands of years, and still is to this day, to challenge what we think we know and why we think we know it.

Socrates was famous for questioning the people of Athens in an attempt to make them question their beliefs and for the value he gave to knowledge of oneself and careful questioning. To many at the time, this was a nuisance, and he was disliked by some because of it. However to modern day psychology his methods were the groundwork for practices like cognitive behavioural therapy.

Further along our historical timeline, in the middle ages, the Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali coined the term “epistemic justification” to explain the process of learning through experience and logic. He maintained that true knowledge must be attained through observation, introspection, and reasoning.

Some philosophers proposed that knowledge can only be gained through sensory experience, and that ideas taught through subjects like metaphysics, if they cannot be felt through the senses, cannot be truly known.

In summary, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that makes us think about what we know, why we think we know it, and how we can know it. In practical terms, this can be very useful when reflecting on limiting beliefs. It allows us to dissolve the foundations of destructive beliefs, if they are not true, and replace them with more realistic and constructive ones.

The Philosophy of LOGIC:

Logic is the study of the natural world, its processes, and the guiding principles of reasoning and deduction. Here we find questions such as “What is a logical argument?” and “What reasoning can lead us to a logical conclusion?”

In ancient Greece, philosophers like Aristotle took some of the first steps toward creating systems of logic, explaining that there are fundamental rules that can lead us to truth and knowledge through reason alone. For example, if children cannot be born without parents, it stands to reason that every child must have a mother, even if we have never seen them.

Aristotle and his contemporaries laid the foundations for the logical systems we use today when creating arguments and using reason to make a point or prove that something must be true. Today, we often use the term “critical thinking,” but the principles are very similar.

Moving into the 20th century, some philosophers proposed that logic is not a set of rules that have objective and unchanging truths. Thinkers like Donald Davidson believed that logic was a system closely linked to how we use language, and that it is simply a tool to help us understand the world around us.

Since the days of Aristotle and Socrates, logic has branched off into a number of different schools of thought, such as formal logic, philosophical logic, and semantics. In our more modern world, we’re tackling the application of logic in the form of algorithms, mathematics, and machine learning, all of which are shaping the world around us.

In summary, the philosophy of logic aims to help us structure the world around us through systems of reasoning and deduction. There are things we can know to be true simply in knowing a few key pieces of information, and we can use this information to construct arguments in support of our hypotheses and conclusions.

The Philosophy of Ethics:

Perhaps the most practical of philosophical branches, the philosophy of ethics addresses morality and questions of how we can live good and just lives. Here we find questions of right and wrong, good and evil, the meaning of human existence, how we can live good and happy lives, and what it means to be a good person.

In ancient Greece, a number of schools were developed with the express purpose of finding the best path to a good and happy life. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and schools like Stoicism all laid the groundwork for our Western view of morality.

Plato argues that morality is set in stone, unchanging, and absolute; we just have to learn what these rules are and follow them. Socrates placed more value on the individual pursuit of maral character, and the premise that to live well and to live a good life, you had to live ethically and morally.

The Stoics believed that a good life is realized when one lives with virtue, the four Stoic virtues being:

  1. Temperance – the ability to moderate our behaviour, delay gratification, and reject altogether behaviour that may be enticing but it ultimately destructive. Essentially this is self control or discipline.

  2. Justice – the ability to act for the good of the community and the good of humanity at large.

  3. Wisdom – the ability to see the world as it is rather than through the lens of our own biases, preconceptions, and expectations about what we believe should be true.

  4. Courage –  is the virtue of facing fear and difficulty with determination and perseverance. It is not just about physical bravery but also about mental and emotional strength. Courage helps individuals to overcome obstacles and to face difficult situations with resilience and grace.

In the past, religions like Christianity have suggested that ethics is less about an internal moral code and more about the strict following of commandments from God. Thinkers like Thomas Aquinas suggested that that humans are inherently sinful and the journey of life, while following the commandments, is about redemption.

More recently, philosophers such as Immanuel Kant put forward an ethical framework grounded in the ideas that morality is driven by reason and logic and that the chief task in life is developing the ability to moderate one’s behaviour so as to align ourselves with reason and steer clear from desire and impulse.

The concept of ethics is also seen in modern fields of business and science. Ethics is called upon when considering the right and wrong of cloning human beings, editing human genetics, testing drugs on animals, moderating aggressive business tactics, and a whole host of other things that raise questions of good and bad.

In summary, the philosophical branch of ethics has changed over the years as humanity’s need for direction in right and wrong has changed. However, it has consistently been used to help us understand the nature of human morality, and how we can live a good life for both ourselves and the people around us.

Brief summary of ancient Greek philosophy:

The ancient Greeks are considered by many to be the grandfathers of modern day philosophy. Stretching from the 6th century BCE all the way up to the 6th century CE, Greek thinkers laid the groundwork for much of the philosophical ideas we enjoy today, from ethics, politics, metaphysics, and logic.

While earlier philosophers such as Thales of Miletus, who is arguably the first Western philosopher, and Pythagoras were influential, there are three names that standout as being the most important figures of the time. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle created much of the foundation on which Western thinking has been laid, each in their own way.

Socrates is known for the way he questioned and inquired about the thoughts of himself and those around him. Through the development of the Socratic method, his philosophy became a practical tool with which a person could examine their own mind and determine the merit or falsity of everything they believed to be true.

Plato is known for his work on forms, and through ideas such as his Allegory of The Cave we’re left with ways to think about what we see. Whether what we observe is a real thing, or an interpretation based on our preconceptions. Plato also left us with ideas on non-material abstract forms like morality and justice, suggesting they are just as real as the material substances we can feel and see.

Finally, Aristotle, a student of Plato, made significant contributions to the fields of logic, zoology, psychology, ethics, and the sciences. His ideas on sciences followed into medieval study and shaped much of how that period viewed the physical world. Aristotle is also believed to have been the first philosopher to have studied a system of formal logic.

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the Hellenistic period saw a rise in new schools of thought, each with their own beliefs about how to live a good life and how to view the world and our place within it. The Stoics believed in living life in alignment with nature, accepting whatever happens, and learning to live with virtue rather than being driven by emotion. The Epicureans believed that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain were the paths to a good and happy life. While the Skeptics viewed their responsibility to question the reality they experienced around them and try to understand it through targeted questioning.

How Can We USe Philosophy?:

Philosophy as a subject of study is an interesting and rewarding one, but it can also be used as a tool for living a happier, less stressful, more resilient, and more effective life.

Through the works of thinkers like Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicureans, and Plato, we can tap into wisdom from more than two thousand years ago and use it to improve the present.

  1. Self-Reflection: The ability of philosophy to aid in self-reflection is one of its most significant contributions. Gaining a deeper awareness of oneself, one’s values, and one’s aspirations can help people make better decisions and lead more fulfilling lives.

  2. Making Judgments: Philosophy can assist people in making better decisions by giving them a framework for considering the moral and ethical ramifications of their choices. A person might, for instance, employ a consequentialist method to analyse the prospective advantages and disadvantages of a decision or a deontological approach to take moral principles into account.

  3. The study of philosophy can be a helpful tool in problem solving. Logic, critical thinking, and rationality are examples of philosophical ideas that can be utilised to examine and solve problems more successfully.

  4. Grief, loss, and suffering are just a few examples of the unpleasant situations that philosophy may help people deal with. People can better comprehend their own emotions and develop a sense of perspective and acceptance by pondering on the nature of these experiences and the human predicament.

  5. Living a meaningful life: Philosophical study can assist people in discovering the purpose of their existence. People can better grasp the meaning and significance of their own lives and acquire a sense of direction and purpose by meditating on the essence of existence.

Similar Posts