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"There is nothing so absurd but that it may be found in the books of the philosophers" ~ Cicero

  The Definition and Relevance of Philosophy

~ aut disce aut discede ~

"Life has meaning...To find its meaning is my meat and drink" ~ Browning

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        Looking at the word "philosophy" and breaking it down into its component parts, we find that the term is an English word that comes to us from the Greek. It's a compound word, the first part of which is one of the four Greek words for "love": the word "phileo", having to do with brotherly love. (You may recognize it from its place in another compound word: "Philadelphia", the City of Brotherly Love).

       The second component is another Greek word, "sophe", which means "wisdom". So etymologically speaking, the word "philosophy" literally means the "love of wisdom".


      One short definition of philosophy states that it is "Thinking about thinking", and while this is so, such a simplistic definition fails to relate the pervasiveness and importance of philosophy in its effect on the life of each and every one of us. We come closer to the core of the matter when we speak of the analysis of concepts and presuppositions. Following an idea to its logical conclusion can be a surprising exercise. Ideas have far-reaching consequences, impacting our emotions, actions and interactions in a manner inescapable and definitive of the experiences of every-day life.

      Most people know very little about the subject. Some think it goes beyond practical concerns, others are intimidated, thinking the topic out of their intellectual reach. The apparent daunting nature of the subject matter and the mistaken perception of impracticality may seem reason enough for dismissing the investigation of philosophy.

      Philosophy, however, is not a senseless parade of abstractions, but is the basic force that shapes our character and actions in a way that affects our day-to-day experience. Rather than exempting us from the consequences of ideas, failure to be aware of them makes us their unsuspecting prey.

      In a sense, philosophy is more the development of a skill than an acquisition of a body of knowledge, in that it evaluates arguments and assesses presuppositions and truth claims.

      The components of philosophy are the building blocks of our "world-view", our belief system. The foundational concepts of how people view the world, how we interpret the world around us...how we understand the particulars of art, music, politics, economics, law; all of these things are elements that are inseparably related to our ultimate understanding of life and the world: and that is called a "Weltanschauung", or a life and world view. (Try throwin' that into your next conversation!) Here's Webster's definition:

"a comprehensive, especially personal, philosophy or conception of the universe and of human life."

      We have, after all, no choice in whether to have a belief system, but the choice, rather, is what to believe, and how cogent a system we are to have. The choice is not whether to be involved in philosophy, or whether to have a philosophy, but only which philosophy to have.

      We must strive to identify and understand our own presuppositions, and have the courage to call them into question. A suggested formula for intellectual honesty in performing this perhaps most difficult of all tasks (self examination) is to ask ourselves the following questions:

"Do I believe   X-Y-Z   ?" <--well, ...click on it!
"What is the evidence either for or against this proposition?"
"Is my conclusion a reasoned response to the evidence, or am I evading the issue, using some undigested slogan in a convenient dismissal?"
      Is our philosophy going to be one of which we are aware? One that is explicit and logical, or is it going to be largely unconscious and random, unidentified and contradictory?

      What are the hidden premises at work behind our own presuppositions?

      Exactly what ideas make up the "lenses" through which you view the world? And where did you get them?

      These are the questions that are necessary to achieving a conscious philosophy. The answering of them will take us a long way on the path to "philosophical ataraxia", or peace of mind, and will serve to resolve many of our most perplexing personal problems. The neglecting of the asking of them only results in proving Socrates' famous pronouncement: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Comprehension of material on this page, the next page (Divisions of Philosophy) and the Logic page will be necessary to pass the Philosophy Quiz # 1.

Divisions of Philosophy is Next