What Is Philosphy?

Philosophy (literally meaning “love of wisdom” in Greek) is the study of general and fundamental queries concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was coined by Pythagoras of Samos (570–495 BCE), an early Greek philosopher known for his founding of the Pythagoreanism movement. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical thinking, rational argument, and systematic presentation of the evidence to back up any and all arguments. Classic philosophical questions include “is it possible to know anything and to prove it? and “what is most real? Philosophers also devise practical and concrete answers pertaining to questions such as the proper way to live one’s life, the nature and extent of free will, and how to be a moral and virtuous person.

 

Metaphysics (Study of Existence)

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy responsible for the study of existence. It is the foundation of a worldview. It answers the question “What is?” It encompasses everything that exists, as well as the nature of existence itself. It says whether the world is real, or merely an illusion. It is a fundamental view of the world around us.

One can argue that Metaphysics is the foundation of philosophy and critical thinking. Without an explanation or an interpretation of the world around us, we would be helpless to deal with reality. We could not feed ourselves, or act to preserve our lives. The degree to which our metaphysical worldview is correct is the degree to which we are able to comprehend the world and act accordingly. Without this firm foundation, all knowledge becomes suspect. Any flaw in our view of reality will make it more difficult to live.

 

Ethics (Study of Action)

Ethics is the branch of study dealing with what is the proper course of action for a person to take. It answers the question, “What do I do?” It is the study of right and wrong in human endeavors. At a more fundamental level, it is the method by which we categorize our values and pursue them. Do we pursue our own happiness, or do we sacrifice ourselves to a greater cause? Is that foundation of ethics based on the Bible, or on the very nature of man himself, or neither?

Ethics is a requirement for human life. It is our means of deciding a course of action. Without it, our actions would be random and aimless. There would be no way to work towards a goal because there would be no way to pick between a limitless number of goals. Even with an ethical standard, we may be unable to pursue our goals with the possibility of success. To the degree in which a rational ethical standard is taken, we are able to correctly organize our goals and actions to accomplish our most important values. Any flaw in our ethics will reduce our ability to be successful in our endeavors.

 

Aesthetics (Study of Art)

Aesthetics is the study of art. It includes what art consists of, as well as the purpose behind it. Does art consist of music, literature, and painting? Or does it include a good engineering solution or a beautiful sunset? These are the questions that are asked in Aesthetics. It also studies methods of evaluating art and allows individuals to make judgments of the piece of art in question. Is art in the eye of the beholder? Does anything that appeals to an individual fit under the umbrella of art? Or does it have a specific nature? Does it accomplish a goal?

Aesthetics is important because art in some form or another has existed through most of recorded human history. It is unique to humans because of our unique form of thinking. Its importance is based on this nature, specifically, man’s ability to abstract. Art is a little-understood tool of Man to bring meaning to abstract concepts. Aesthetics is important because it delves into the reason why art has always existed, the burning need of mankind through the ages to see the world in a different, clear way. It further evaluates art by the standard of human life, and whether it accomplishes the job of satisfying man’s intellectual needs, or whether it tends to hurt or make worse those needs.

Epistemology (Study of Knowledge)

Epistemology is the study of our method of acquiring knowledge. It answers the question, “How do we know?” It encompasses the nature of concepts, the constructing of concepts, the validity of the senses, logical reasoning, as well as thoughts, ideas, memories, emotions, and all things mental. It is concerned with how our minds are related to reality, and whether these relationships are valid or invalid.

Epistemology is the explanation of how we think. It is required in order to be able to differentiate the true from the false, by determining a proper method of evaluation. It is needed in order to use and obtain knowledge of the world around us. Without epistemology, we could not think. More specifically, we would have no reason to believe our thinking was productive or correct, as opposed to random images flashing before our minds. With an incorrect understanding of epistemology, we would not be able to distinguish truth from error. The consequences are obvious. The degree to which our epistemology is correct is the degree to which we could understand reality and the degree to which we could use that knowledge to promote our lives and goals. Flaws in epistemology will make it harder to accomplish anything.

 

Logic (Study of Reasoning)

Logic is the study of reasoning or the study of the principles and criteria of valid inference and demonstration. It attempts to distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning. Logic investigates and classifies the structure of statements and arguments, both through the study of formal systems of inference and through the study of arguments in natural language. It deals only with propositions (declarative sentences) that are capable of being true and false. It is not concerned with the psychological processes connected with thought, or with emotions, images and the like. It covers core topics such as the study of fallacies and paradoxes, as well as specialized analysis of reasoning using probability and arguments involving causality and argumentation theory.

Any logical argument or statement should contain three of the following things:

  • consistency  (none of the theorems of the system contradict one another);
  • soundness (the system’s rules of proof will never allow a false inference from a true premise); and
  • completeness (which means that there are no true sentences in the system that cannot, at least in principle, be proved in the system).

Logic can be divided into Formal Logic, Informal Logic, Symbolic Logic and Mathematical Logic. Formal Logic is what we think of as traditional logic or philosophical logic, namely the study of inference with purely formal and explicit content  Informal Logic is a recent discipline which studies natural language arguments and attempts to develop a logic to assess, analyze and improve ordinary language (everyday) reasoning. Symbolic Logic is the study of symbolic abstractions that capture the formal features of logical inference. It deals with the relations of symbols to each other, often using complex mathematical calculus, in an attempt to solve intractable problems that traditional formal logic is not able to address. Mathematical Logic is a type of formal logic that seeks to apply the principles of formal logic into the field of mathematics and mathematical reasoning.

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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  2. Steven on March 21, 2018

    Matthew Rose, thanks for this article as well. Really thank you! Great.

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