An intro to the topic of Philosophy.
What It IsPhilosophy is most often concidered a field of study in areas of reality, cause and effect, and principles underlying being and thinking. The study of philosophy usualy deals with the collective works of historic and current philosophers. In simpler definitions philosophy has been termed the study or 'love of wisdom.' A philosophy usualy means a certain philosophers approach to life or existence. An answer to some of the questions and/or a methedology for answering others. The field of Philosophy, though some might say has a methodology itself, is about asking the questions. To be curious about life is to be in the realm of philosophy. In the past much of what we concider the modern sciences has its root in philosophy leaving philosophy to mostly deal with the sort of questions which are foundational and abrstract in nature, questions not necessarily amenable to experimental process.
Modern philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to existence. Thus where philosophy deals with all aspects of the Universe that exist, the special Sciences - biology, physics, ect. - deal only with particular aspects of the Universe that exist in which their field focuses. So it can be thought of as such that the special sciences are the children from which grew out of philosophy. Philosophy strives to answer questions of existence such that we can understand its nature. Philosophy also tries to answers those questions of the nature of man or more importantly man's consciousness and character, thus giving rise to the study of man's mind, again more specifically knowledge and how we gain it. Further philosophy takes this understanding of reality - existence - and man and applies them to the studying of man's relationship with existence. To tie them together there are three main questions that respectively each would try to answer: What is existence?, How do I know it?, What do I do?. To a certain extent a Religion is a philosophy because religion tries to answer some of those questions. But where every religion is a philosophy not every philosophy is a religion. Religion's main aspect is not in asking questions but the laws to answers of Metaphysics and Ethics. Philosophy deals in a broader scope with Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Esthetics.
However, philosophy does not tell us the answers to our questions, it gives use the means to finding them. Philosophy's role is to provide us the means to get a comprehensive view of existence in which a person can base their actions. Metaphysics, the basis of theoretical philosophy, deals with the study of existence, thereby learning the nature of the Universe. Epistemology, the second half of theoretical philosophy, is the theory of knowledge, which is the study of man's means of cognition, asking the questions about the nature of man and how we know what we know. Where metaphysics and epistemology deal with all that exists, ethics applies only to man's life. Ethics defines the standards for which to guide man's choices and actions therefore defining man's character. The next branch depends heavily upon ethics, for it is ethics that determines how man treats man. Politics uses ethics to define the principles of a social system where people can come together and make agreed ethics common law. Esthetics, the last branch, is the study of fine arts that deal with the nature and expression of beauty in any shape or form, which is based on the other areas of philosophy.
Philosophy has had a very important impact in our History. This pursuit of answers has shaped our past to the very foundation of who we are today. The philosophers throughout the times have had a great influence in the societies they lived, great wars resulted from disagreements in philosophical and religious ideas, and indeed great discoveries were made because of philosophy. People such as Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, and Socrates have shaped our past. It is these people who asked questions and came up with answers that we perhaps take for granted in our daily lives. The wars throughout our history are perhaps the easiest to see as having influenced the world. Wars like World War I, World War II, and even the regional Crusades were caused because of religions or philosophical contentions. Though power was at the forefront of the World Wars and other wars, behind them were philosophical and religious ideas that drew those people to fight. But not all philosophy is bloody, there have been great advancements in our understanding of the Universe and the sciences that govern it. Philosophy having given us the means of understanding the Universe also gives us the means to apply this knowledge in the sciences. It is this that without philosophy science as we know it today would not have resulted simply because we would not have the tools to understand the way things work.
You may say, and indeed many other people do as well, that you have no need of philosophy, that you don't need to think in such abstract terms as philosophy does. You have real life concrete problems to deal with in your life. But you do need philosophy, you cannot even escape it, so that you can deal with real life concrete problems. Abstract ideas are conceptual integrations of concrete meanings from which we can explain an innumerable amount of individual concretes into one abstract idea. In other words we use abstracts to simplify very complex things. Without abstracts it would be as if every object that came your way would be as a new phenomenon, you would be unable to compare similar objects and integrate them together into a single conceptual idea. So long as you are a living, thinking person you have no choice in integrating your observations, experiences, and knowledge into abstract ideas. These abstract ideas are your principles, and your only choice is what these principles end up being. The whole of these principles, what you use to govern your life, is integrated by the use of philosophy. Man's philosophy is the integration of principles that form a fundamental view of life. This is very important, for a man's view of life determines his values and emotions.
Up above I said that philosophy does not tell us the answers to our questions. This is true, yet there are philosophies that do just that. The subject of philosophy gives you the tools to create a philosophy, and these philosophies in some respect are like religions. However, religions are widely known to deal with specifically an aspect of the creation of reality; our existence. Most religions, if not all, have at least one deity for which the religion revolves around. A philosophy does not necessarily have anything to do with a deity. A philosophy will have some answers to those questions that we have asked. While all this is well and good, why study philosophy? More importantly, first, you should ask why you should study your philosophy? The answer: To gain an understanding of the values you hold. By understanding our values we understand why we have the emotions we do. Emotions are a constant report of our reaction to our surroundings based on the values we hold. Having such a big impact in our lives it is important to understand them. Next, to study a philosophy that is not even our own gives us safeguards from which to protect ourselves against them and also reflect against our own philosophical ideas. You cannot defend your own philosophy or refute another philosophy if you do not know them, and to not know your own philosophy is to leave yourself open to blatantly false philosophical ideas. If nothing else, you reaffirm your beliefs so that you can be secure in them and their affect on you. While it is stressed in this essay the importance of philosophy and why we all must study it at one point in our lives, it is not my goal to show people how to think. I will make a recommendation that it is good to remember that one of your first choices is whether to define your philosophy by your own rational thought or someone else's irrational thought.
posted by dharh 4:31 PM Oct 4th, 2006