What is Philosophy ?

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Let us attempt to define philosophy a little more adequately. The word is derived from the Greek words, meaning “the love of knowledge and wisdom”. Philosophy is sometimes approached or defined from at least four different points of view, which are supplementary rather than contradictory. Each one of these viewpoints must be kept in mind for a clear understanding of the meaning of philosophy.

  1. Phylosophy is an attitude toward life and the universe.

When a person has gone through some crisis or faced some unusual experience, often someone will inquire, “How does he take it?” or “How does it affect him?” Occasionally the answer is, “He takes it philosophycally”. This means that he sees the problem from a broad perspective or as a part of a larger scheme of things; hence he faces the situation calmly reflecctively, with poise and composure.

The philosophical attitude is a reflective attitude. It involves the attempt to think through one`s problems and to face all the fact involved. Mere knowledge is not understanding, since it does not necessarily train the mind to a critical evaluation of facts or enable a person to live his life according to consistent principles. The mature philosophical attitude is the searching and critical attitude; it is also the open-minded, tolerant attitude expressed in the willingness to look at all sides of an issue. It includes a readiness to accept life and the world as it is, and to try to see it in all its relationships. This does not mean enslavement to the present or the existing, however, because philosophy is willing to look beyond the actualities to the possibilities, with the realization that a thing is not only what it is but what it is but what is may become.

To philosophize is not merely to read and to know phylosophy; it is to think and to feel philosophically. Phylosophy begins in wonder, doubt, and curiosity. It grows out of our developing awareness of the problems of human existence. Consequently, philosophy is in part the speculative attitude that does not shrink from facing the difficult and unsolved problems of life.

  1. Phylosophy is method of reflective thinking and reasoned inquiry.

This is not exclusively the method of philosophy, as will readily be seen; it is the method of all careful or accurate thinking. Philosophy, however, tries to deal with the whole of experience; it is more inclusive or synoptic in its approach than are the sciences.

There are varieties of philosophical methods, as will be seen when the problems of knowledge are studied in greater detail and sources of knowledge are distinguished from the tests of truth. Philosophers differ in the extent to which they emphasize and accept or reject authority, reason, intuition, sense experience, and practical activity.

  1. Philosophy is a group of problems.

There are certain perennial problems which face mankind and for which philosophers have been seeking answers. Some questions raised in the past have been answered in a manner satisfactory to most men. For example, the existence of innate or inborn ideas has been denied since the time of John Locke in the seventeenth century. Many questions, however, have been answered only tentatively, and many problems remain unsolved.

What are philosophical questions? The question “Did John Doe make a false statement on his income tax return?” is merely a question of fact. But the questions “What is truth?” and “What is the distinction between right and wrong?” have philosophical importance.

Most of us stop at times – sometimes because of startling events, often out of sheer curiosity – and think seriously about fundamental life issues : What is life and why am I here? What is the place of life in this great universe? Is the universe friendly or unfriendly? Do things operate by chance, or through some mechanism, or is there some plan or purpose or intelligence at the heart of things? Is my life controlled by outside forces or do I have a determining or even a partial degree  of control? Why do men struggle and strive for their rights, for justice, for better things in the future? What do concepts like “right” and “justice” mean, and what are the marks of a good society?

Recently men and women have been asked to sacrifice their lives, if need be, for certain values and ideals. What are the genuine values of life and how can they be attained? Is there really a fundamental distinction between right and wrong or is it just a matter of one`s opinions?

What is beauty? Should religion still count in a person`s life? Is it intelectually respectable to believe in God? Is there any possibility of surviving death? Is there any way by which we can get an answer to these and many related questions? Where does knowledge come from, and can we have any assurance that anything is true?

These questions are all philosophical problems.

  1. Phylosophy is a group of theories or systems of thought.

Phylosophy also means the various philosophical theories or systems of thought which have appeared in history and which are attached to the names of the great philosophers-men like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Kant, Royce, and James, to mention only a few.

Without these men and their thoughts, philosophy would not have the same rich content it has today. Even though we may be unconscious of the fact, we are often influenced by the ideas which have come down to us in the traditions of society.

Theories such as idealism, realism, pragmatism, humanism, and materialism are a part of philosophy, and some philosophers consider them so important that their whole study of philosophy is built around them.

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