Story of Philosophy – The Basics and Beyond the Boundary
“Everything around us is philosophy…”
This profound statement can be perilously branded as completely complex or sumptuously simple…it all depends on how we simplify or complicate our thoughts. The perspective that comes from our perception. It can be viewed in multiple ways as it may appear intriguing or interesting, or posing as invading or confounding, or deflect as compounding or confusing on our psyche, depending on how we painstakingly perceive the statement.
What is the universal truth or is there anything as ‘truth’, or everything is mere ‘matter’ and all that matters to us is what ‘mind’ really perceives, the paradox and the question, is philosophy playing between the rarefied space of perception and relative place of reality. Ultimately, the real need for qualification, what is ‘reality’.
It is just that over prolonged period, parts of this original subject have gradually come apart, though loosely connected and we have managed to much construct newer nomenclature and there after attached myriad connotation to these separated parts.
Science is a philosophy. Art is a philosophy. Mathematics is a philosophy. Religion is a philosophy. Education is a philosophy. Economy is a philosophy. Politics is a philosophy.
Medieval Philosophy was revolving around the community of Christianity in Europe to Muslim & Jewish in Middle East. There was this underlying process that was subtly progressing towards reconciling Christianity/Islamism with Classical Philosophy of Greece. The movement called Scholasticism that combined Logic to Language, Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology into one unified discipline, Scholastic Methods then scanned through the volume of works created by various renowned scholars. St. Anslem, proponent of ontological argument. Thomas More believed in Utopia, development of socialist ideas. Francis Bacon, truth requires evidence from the real world. All these efforts, including (analysis of language and use of formal logic) during the medieval period fostered the faster transition to the early modern philosophy that was then the harbinger of religious tolerance to rise of liberal thoughts and later led the advancement in science.
The confluence of multiple streams and discourse on divergent thoughts transported philosophy into a new world. It was Modern Philosophy with its umbilical cord that is still connected with the rich ancient philosophical thoughts that has manifested into myriad practices from these diverse bodies of knowledge.
The subject of philosophy is fundamentally about the body of knowledge and the love for wisdom.
The questioning of things as they are around us and why they are as they are, and no right and prefect answer to those questions and the answers varies and the answer carries different perspectives when it comes from different set of people. It is their observations, their experiences, their perception, their contemplation and their reflection. The process of thinking that goes behind these people’s perceptive mind. Questioning emerges through the engine of thinking and thinking gets its fodder from the observation senses makes of the multitude of things happening in the surrounding.
Philosophy in a way is thinking about thinking.
Thales of Miletus the pioneer in philosophical thoughts who nurtured these profound ideas led the phenomenal subject to grow as plant of philosophy, and that was seeded way back during the 5th century B.C. The philosophers then thought of things composed of materials and nothing else. Thales thought of the universe composed of different forms of water. Heraclitus thought otherwise of fire not water. Empedocles combined these ideas into theory comprising of four classical components of air, water, fire and earth. Democritus thought of world as a composition of tiny building blocks known as atoms. Parmenides thought there is nothing as change and everything is permanent. Zeno, student of Parmenides put-forth the proposition known as the paradoxes of motion; motion is nothing but an illusion. Pythagoras, the father of mathematics that we know it today literally saw the world of philosophy through the prism of number and essentially believed the of reality governed the rules of number.
As the subject of philosophy evolved the divided parts got classified and categories into well organized and orchestrated into different schools of thoughts.
The aspect of the subject that deals with the study of existence and reality is termed as Metaphysics. The aspect of the subject that deals with the study of knowledge is termed as Epistemology. The aspect of the subject that deals with study of morality and conduct is titled as Ethics. The aspect of the subject that deals with the study of art and beauty is titled as Aesthetics. These two aspects come under the umbrella term titled as “Value Theory” in philosophy.
In other words as we delve deep into the branches of this subject and scan through the finer prints we see the common thread that weaves this branches into a holistic tree preaching and teaching us how to live our life and how to make living much for meaningful and derive the true purpose of landing this very earth.
Philosophy has its origin in the ancient land of Greece. In the 4th and 5th century much like the evolution of the art and literature, science and religion, the subject of philosophy has been subjected to the grind of mind of greatest thinkers of all times.
Socrates, the very name that is synonymous with the word philosophy and has profoundly defined the subject of philosophy. His philosophical system revolved around the proposition of critical reasoning and the difference between right and wrong. We simply cannot debate on philosophy without discussing Socrates. It is therefore stated about the world of philosophy in terms of pre-Socratics philosophy and post-Socratics philosophy. He had touched the pulse of philosophy by putting the art of questioning at the heart of everything we do and we can discover the solution to a problem by possessing the questions and there is art we need to learn to frame and formulate the questions that can fetch us the answers. “Method of Questioning” is the heart of the matter and the matter that makes us and the world around us, and the relation between us and the world around us is what philosophy attempts to study and satisfy our insatiable mind. The complexity of this subject lies in its simplicity of asking the questions.
Two other names that are spoken while discussing philosophy and Socrates are that of Plato and Aristotle. Though there are no written matters of the thoughts of Socrates, it was through his student Plato that the work of his mentor came to wider circulation of the world of philosophy. Phaedo, the most widely read dialogues where he recounts of the conversation that took place on the day of execution of Socrates in the hands of the state of Athens. It is a masterpiece of ancient Greek literature. Plato sets his distinctive philosophical doctrine, the Theory of Forms. One of the most famous works of Plato is The Republic; in this he describes Socrates vision of an ideal state and his method of questioning. It was the Plato Academy that set the stage for organized learning and it was here after studying for 25 years, arrived the next prodigy in the scene of philosophy as student of Plato was another important figure of philosophy we know him as Aristotle and who later started the school Lyceum. He believed that form and matter are inseparable. The term of “Syllogism” by Aristotle, where synthesis is is inferred from thesis and antithesis.
These Greek trio acted as three pillars of the tripod of philosophy triggered a tectonic shift in the planes of understanding and unraveling the intriguing mystery of our life and living.
The subject of philosophy has brought to fore some very intriguing array of terms and terminology and these have their powerful bearing to the proponent of those great philosophers who formulated these doctrines.
Rationalism, the power of intellectual thoughts and deductive reasoning. Empiricism, the origin of knowledge is sense experience. Immanuel Kant showed that “rationalism and empiricism” can be joined, and then later took the debate beyond these thoughts into a unified system of his own known as Kantianism. Epicureanism, is about happiness and harmony through leading a simple life and moderate living, and limiting worldly desires. Interestingly, this term is contrary to the word we use ‘epicurean’. Hedonism, maximizing the power of pleasures the most important pursuit of humanity. Friedrich Nietzsche was proponent of Existentialism. Two other terms contrary to meaning of the parent words cynics and skeptics. Cynicism, postulates life free of all possessions and property to meet Virtue. Skepticism, postulates to suspend judgment from everything to meet Inner Peace. Realism, is the philosophical theory that believes that reality exists independent of perception. Pragmatism was conceptualized by C S Peirce and later popularized by John Dewey and William Blake. Idealism, is the philosophical theory that believes that reality is a mental construct and there exists no object without the observer. Romanticism, as a philosophical movement emphasized the emotional self awareness as necessary pre-condition to improving the society. Arthur Schopenhauer was a part of the “idealism and romanticism” movement. Humanism, humans can solve the problems through reliance on reason and using scientific methods.
Rene Descartes, French philosopher known as the father of modern philosophy postulated the theory of “Methodological Skepticism”. His famous quote; “I think, therefore I am”. Dualism, the mind-body problem. Human body is a kind of machine and mind is a separate entity. And the laws of physics governed both body and mind. Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher believed in self-contained “Metaphysical System”. Monism, mind-body is from a single substance and forms one system. According to him nothing by itself is good or bad and attachment of the meaning good or bad is a subjectively perceived. Gottfried Leibniz, the German philosopher believed in pre-established “Divine Harmony”, real world is a mere phenomena and composed of monads. He coined the term “Monads” which according to him are non-materials and harmony amongst these monads is a will of God.
Just like the trio of Greek philosophers, the trio British philosophers had a sizable contribution to the subject of philosophy in developing into a fascinating body of knowledge what it stands today for us absorb and analyzing for a building a better way of life and living. John Locke, all ideas in its different forms is derived from our experiences. Bishop George Berkeley, reality consists of mind and ideas, and one can know the perception through experiences, and an object exists when one can perceive and sense. David Hume, human experience and observation must be the foundation of any logical postulation, beliefs outside our realm of experience cannot be categorically established by reasoning.
Philosophy has constantly shaped the world around us and the evolution of humanity is intrinsically linked to the way philosophical thinkers of every generation contemplated and constructed path breaking body of practices from seemingly fluid theories and fractured postulation.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, work on inequality, the Social-Contract Theory influenced the French Revolution.
Henry David Thoreau, work on Civil Disobedience movement led a generation of social reformers in America.
Karl Marx the proponent of Marxist Theory led the development of Socialism and Communism.
Adam Smith, his metaphor of invisible hand of the free market led to the modern development of Liberalism and Capitalism.
The subject of philosophy has touched every sphere of our life and different fields of society have been differently influenced and distinctly engineered through the spectrum of evolving philosophical proponents. This doggedly deterministic process plausibly leads to concrete actions, a definitive action from the labyrinthine lanes and by-lanes of abstract thoughts and thematic themes.
There are these western philosophies and there is the eastern philosophies and further the eastern philosophy presented by the Chinese to Indian, Japanese to Korean, African to Tibetan…from Taoism to Confucianism to Buddhism to Hinduism. The Indian philosophy is a world by itself and when we dissect the world of philosophy, then the argument on Western Philosophy vs. Eastern Philosophy opens a Pandora Box in the context of Indian Philosophy from Vedas and Upanishads.
Isn’t the basics itself appears tad complex. Is there anything beyond the boundary of philosophy and if so, and when we do so, are we treading into the fictional world of mythology and realms of cosmology.