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What is Philosophy?

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Brain Gears 

Philosophy sometimes gets a bad rap. The philosopher is often stereotyped as an out-of-touch academic, one who can’t really be

sure of anything, one who buries his nose in books that others find torturous. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Philosophy can be a fun and rewarding endeavor, if approached with a bit of curiosity and an open mind.

So what does the word “philosophy” really mean? It simply means “loving wisdom.” Thus, the philosopher is a “lover of wisdom.”

But what is philosophy exactly?  This in itself can be a perplexing question and is one open to much debate. Philosophy, generally speaking, is the study and the analysis of truth, existence and the nature of reality. It is an attempt to understand the exact nature of things, of life, of the world around us and how we relate to it. Philosophy is not only thinking, but thinking about thinking.  Here’s a rather more prescriptive, academic answer: “Philosophy is the critical analysis of fundamental concepts of human inquiry, and the normative discussion of how human thought and action ought to function, as well as the description of the nature of reality.” (Geisler and Feinberg 17).

Philosophy, however, is somewhat different from other areas of study.  Whereas the mathematician may solve a problem or an equation based upon a strict set of predefined rules and well-defined formulas, the philosopher will try to understand, for instance, what numbers really are and what they represent. He/she will attempt to determine how mathematics fit into our lives and into the world in which we live. He will examine the presuppositions that underlie that “thing” called mathematics.  Or take the artist for instance:  she may attempt to create something beautiful or sad or provocative, but the philosopher will try to understand what art really is, what beauty really is and what we mean when we say that something is beautiful.

Philosophy attempts to answer questions such as:

-What is knowledge? How do we really know something as opposed to only believing something? And how do we know that we know?

-What is justice?

-What is faith?

-What is time and how can we define it?  Can we really manage time or does time manage us?

-Are the body and the mind two separate things or just one big singular bundle of nerve, muscle and tissue?

-What is language?  Can we really communicate to one another effectively?  Do we all hold the same definition and the same meaning to every word we speak or write?

-What is the difference between a physical object and the concept of that object?  For example, what is the difference between a car and the thought, or the concept of a car?

So what does philosophy actually do?  What does it accomplish? Is it worth pursuing?
 Socrates, in his famous statement, said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Most of us trudge through life, day after day, living out our routine, doing the same things over and over without really stopping and asking ourselves what is important, really important. What is the best way to live our lives? How should we relate to the world and to those around us? How can we be happy? What is the meaning of it all?

Philosophy can help us answer these kinds of questions. As a field of study philosophy can be exciting, or, if approached in the wrong way can be dry, boring and unattainable. But if we think about the deeper issues of life and of the world around us, we are able to grab onto those issues for what they really are. We can personalize them and actually work them into our lives.  This is called doing philosophy. The result can be exciting as we gain more knowledge, better understanding ourselves and the world in which we live. This can be a rewarding and refreshing  journey as we discover new ways of thinking.  We can develop a keen eye for living out life in a meaningful way.

Sources:

Magee, Bryan.  The Story of Philosophy.  DK Publishing, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L., & Feinberg, Paul D.  Introduction to Philosophy.  Baker Books, 1987.

Morris, Tom.  Philosophy for Dummies.  IDG Books Worldwide, 1999.

 

 

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