शुक्रवार, 29 फ़रवरी 2008

What is Philosophy?

By Mark I. VuleticLast

The Nature of Philosophy
The word philosophy literally means love of wisdom;1 this tells us something about the nature of philosophy, but not much. How does philosophy differ from other disciplines that seek wisdom? A look at the historical development of the field will help us to answer this question. On the standard way of telling the story, humanity's first systematic inquiries took place within a mythological or religious framework: wisdom was ultimately to be derived from sacred traditions and from individuals thought to possess privileged access to a supernatural realm. However, starting in the sixth century BCE, there appeared in ancient Greece a series of thinkers whose inquiries were comparatively secular. Presumably, these thinkers conducted their inquiries through reason and observation, rather than through tradition or revelation. These thinkers were the first philosophers. Although this picture is admittedly simplistic, the basic distinction has stuck: philosophy in its most primeval form is considered nothing less than secular inquiry itself.2
Philosophy is characterized as much by its methods as by its subject matter. Although philosophers deal with speculative issues that generally are not subject to investigation through experimental test, and philosophy therefore is more fully conceptual than science, philosophy properly done is not mere speculation. Philosophers, just like scientists, formulate hypotheses which ultimately must answer to reason and evidence.3 This is one of the things that differentiates philosophy from poetry and mysticism, despite its not being a science.4

The Branches of Philosophy

The four main branches of philosophy are logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics:
Logic is the attempt to codify the rules of rational thought. Logicians explore the structure of arguments that preserve truth or allow the optimal extraction of knowledge from evidence. Logic is one of the primary tools philosophers use in their inquiries; the precision of logic helps them to cope with the subtlety of philosophical problems and the often misleading nature of conversational language.
Aspects of each branch of philosophy can be studied in isolation, but philosophical questions have a way of leading to other philosophical questions, to the point that a full investigation of any particular problem is likely eventually to involve almost the whole of the philosophical enterprise.

The Demands of Philosophy

Philosophical inquiry is very demanding, suitable only for those who possess a fair degree of courage, humility, patience and discipline.

Doing philosophy requires courage, because one never knows what one will find at the end of a philosophical investigation. Since philosophy deals with the most fundamental and important issues of human existence, and since these are things that most people initially take for granted, genuine philosophical inquiry has great potential to unsettle or even to destroy one's deepest and most cherished beliefs. Genuine philosophical inquiry also carries the risk of isolation among one's peers, both for the unorthodox views to which it may lead one, and for the simple unpopularity of critical thinking. A philosopher must be able to face both consequences.

---------Doing philosophy requires both patience and discipline, because philosophical inquiry requires long hours of hard work। One must be prepared to commit huge amounts of time to laboring over issues both difficult and subtle। People who avoid philosophy often complain that thinking about philosophical questions makes their heads hurt. This is unavoidable: if the answers come easily to you, your inquiries are almost certainly superficial. To do philosophy, one must commit onself to pain. The only difference between one who chooses to shoulder the pain and one who does not is that the former recognizes that there is no shortcut to truth: every advance must be fought for tooth and nail.

The Rewards of Philosophy
But if philosophy is so demanding, why should anyone even bother with it?

In the first place, there is great utility in philosophical inquiry, even for someone who does not innately care about the pursuit of truth. Consider a random handful of classic philosophical questions: What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of justice? What does it take for a belief to be justified? Is the world we see illusion or reality? The answers to such questions cannot help but to have a critical impact on how one ought to live one's life. Surely one should subject one's intuitive beliefs about these things to critical scrutiny, and work hard to come as close to truth as possible. Many philosophical questions are fundamental to human life; the only reason it often does not seem that way is that people simply assume they know what the answers to these questions are, without ever daring to make a serious inquiry.

This leads us to the second reason why one ought to do philosophy: to understand is ennobling. To go through life simply assuming one understands, is not. To be sure, one can be happy if one manages to make it all the way through life without questioning anything. Philosophical inquiry, on the other hand, can be disquieting, offering no guarantee that your hard work will yield the conclusions you hope for. Even worse, philosophy gives you no guarantee that your investigations will yield any conclusion at all: at the end of the day, you may find yourself not only minus the certainties with which you began, but also with nothing else to put in their place. If you do philosophy, you may well have to learn to live with perpetual uncertainty, while others, in their ignorance, happily profess perfect knowledge of things they do not understand at all. But it is clear who has the better life: far better to understand, even if the main thing you understand is the limit of your own knowledge.

And a final reason for studying philosophy is that, for all of the pains and difficulties associated with it, the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge is enjoyable. To be sure, it is a refined enjoyment, and it is often hard to see from the outside what the appeal is. But once you become immersed in it, it carries its own immediate rewards, and it is difficult to resist becoming addicted to it. I have experienced most of the same pleasures everyone else has,6 but in the end, none of them hold a candle to the pleasures of the mind: the sheer pleasure of studying and investigating, and sometimes even understanding.

Copyright © 2006-2007, Mark I. Vuletic. All rights reserved.