Philosophy Essay II

What's an "-ISM?"

     So you're not entirely convinced that philosophy applies to everyday life? Well, check this out: Everyone, through each statement he makes, uses philosophical premises! What is a premise? A premise is a statement or assertion that serves as a basis for an argument. In this context, as we have already learned (see the "LOGIC" page) an argument is a group of statements in which one proposition provides support for the truth of another proposition which is claimed to be implied by it. In other words, an argument is reasoning offered for or against something; the bringing forth of facts to support or refute a point.

      Now what the heck was I saying? Oh, yeah: Everyone, through each statement he makes, uses philosophical premises. Depending on how consistent a person is being, these philosophical premises will point to one or more systems of thought undergirding these statements. Often, the speaker himself is not even aware of the logical conclusions to which these systems lead. It's our mission here to examine the fundamentals of some of the more influential philosophical theories impacting our culture, identify their underlying principals, and evaluate their consequences. We're going to hold these ideas up to the light of day and decide for ourselves which of these worldviews express the truth. Logic will be our "mission critical" skill.

      Before we can begin the task of evaluation, we first must recognize and identify the object of our attention, and in our case, a little alarm should go off whenever we see "ism" attached to the end of a word. Let's define that powerful little three letter cluster.

      "ISM": a noun-forming suffix denoting a specific doctrine, theory or system.

      Anytime we add the suffix "ism" to a word, we are indicating a philosophy, a system of thought, a way of looking at the world, a value system. One can be feminine, without embracing "Feminism". One can be humanitarian, concerned with the human condition, without buying into "Humanism"; we can desire to be practical, concerned with everyday affairs, pragmatic, without believing for a moment the tenets of philosophical "Pragmatism".

      The suffix "ism" denotes "Adherence to a system or a class of principles characteristic of a particular doctrine or theory" and should inform us at its appearance that we are now dealing with a particular "Weltanschaaung", a "worldview". Such a system, if it's consistent, will be replete with theoretical truth claims and a metaphysical structure which will lead to an entire value system, which, in turn, if adhered to, will determine our actions and circumstances.

      In order to determine the value, truth or falsehood of an abstract system and discover whether you are dealing with a philosophical masterstroke or a philosophical offense, realize first that such a system has a hierarchical structure. We've already learned that philosophy is broken down into categories; (See Divisions of Philosophy page, if necessary). Particular philosophical schools of thought will also be organized according to this paradigm. By a hierarchical structure we mean that some of these 'pieces' of any given philosophical system will be dependent for their character on other portions of that same system.

      Understanding a given system requires that we distinguish the fundamental from the derivative. Look at fundamentals (foundations) first. Philosophical fundamentals are metaphysical: Ontology and Epistemology.

      The other distinctives of a philosophical system,(Aesthetics, Politics, and Ethics), are all derivative, determined by the nature of the fundamentals.

      Well, I've succeeded in giving myself a headache, so I'm outta here. Chew on this for a while, read it a couple of times, and in our next installment, we'll try to approach how to unpack the fundamentals of any given system.

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