What is Philosophy?
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See what's been added to the collection in the current 1 2 3 4 5 6 weeks months years. Your reader barcode: Your last name:. Cite this Email this Add to favourites Print this page. You must be logged in to Tag Records. What is the point in subtle epistemological investigation when science and technology, not unduly worried about the foundations of their knowledge, increase daily their mastery of nature and man?
What is the point of linguistic analysis which steers clear of the transformation of language ordinary language! What is the point in philosophical reflections on the meaning of good and evil when Auschwitz, the Indonesian massacres, and the war in Vietnam provides a definition which suffocates all discussion of ethics?
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And what is the point in further philosophical occupation with Reason and Freedom when the resources and the features of a rational society, and the need for liberation are all too clear, and the problem is not their concept, but the political practice of their realization. The criticism of Marcuse is a stinging one. Philosophy has no built-in demand that change be the end product of one's thinking. It seems natural that one who is thinking seriously about the problems of man that one seek good solutions.
Philosophy as Profession
It seems natural also that one having good solutions should seek to carry them out. But it is also possible that one have good solutions and only contemplate them without any action. There is no inherent mandate in philosophy for a program of action, although it may be tacitly assumed that some good action will come forth. Philosophy is in contrast generally to a movement like Christianity which has a built-in motivation for changing the world by the conversion of people to its cause. Traditional philosophy has concerned itself more with academic questions.
But there is the underlying assumption: if you know what is right and good, you will proceed to do it. Another view of philosophy with an emphasis on doing, or change, is that of Alan Watts. Watts describes philosophy from the standpoint of contemplation and meditation.
He starts with the conclusion of the language philosophers: all language about philosophy is meaningless. If this is true, then philosophy should be silent and learn to practice oriental mysticism which is characterized as "idealess contemplation. What is the Ground of Being? In a simple way it can be described as the all-pervasive Spirit that is the only basic reality of the world. Everyone is part of the Great Spirit.
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The aim of philosophy is not to think, but to achieve union with the Great Spirit. The idea of change is different between Marcuse and Watts. The Marxist idea of change is to change the material world and man will be better. Watt's view of change is to forsake social change for all change is futile. The real change is to attain oneness with the impersonal world-soul. The world of the material is transient and the visible world is not the real world.
: Professional Philosophers / Radical Philosophy
Even the Ground of Being, or the Great Pervasive Spirit is changing and manifesting itself in various forms. There is a subtle contradiction in Watt's philosophy. The Ground of Being continues to produce human beings who must continually deny their own being to be able to return to the Ground of Being. This denial of one's own being reflects the fact that the Ground of Being is constantly making a bad thing come into being. Another variation on the theme of mystic contemplation--the attempt to attain oneness with God--is seen in the thought of men such as Eckhart or Plotinus.
Their philosophy encourages a contemplative role. While Eckhart or Plotinus are motivated from a religious or quasi-religious motive like Watts, they do not promote the revolutionary social change as advocated by the Marxists. Philosophy has a long list of topics it has been interested in. Some of these are more interesting and up-to-date than others. Is the world of one or more substances? Is it matter, mind, or other? Is man only a body? Is he, or does he have a soul? Does God exist? Many other questions could be incorporated here. Some questions have several proposed solutions.
This is true in trying to answer what the nature of man is. Other questions cannot be answered decisively.
No scientific proof can decide the question either way. Some questions have been answered to the satisfaction of many philosophers for a long period of time only to be raised again.
One example of this is the old question of Socrates' day about man being born with knowledge, called innate knowledge. For centuries this was accepted by a variety of people. But John Locke seems to have solved the matter for many philosophers that man is not given innate ideas at birth.
Hence, he must gain his knowledge through experience. Now in contemporary thought, Noam Chomsky has raised the question again in proposing what he calls "generative grammar. When we learn a language we are able to understand and formulate all types of sentences that we have never heard before. This ability to deal with language is regarded by Chomsky as innate, something we have inherited genetically. So the issue comes anew.
But other questions have not met with the same success for such a long period of time. In summary, it can be said that defining philosophy as a set of questions and answers is not unique by any means. Other disciplines or studies could also be defined by the questions they seek to answer. If this definition is accepted as the only definition, one must set forth the particular kinds of questions that are restricted to philosophy.
Obviously the answers to the problem of pollution are not the kinds of questions one deals with in philosophy. But the relation of man's body to his mind is one of the kinds of questions that philosophers have regarded as their own. Early philosophers attempted to describe the world in its simple make-up.
Thales asserted that water, and Anaximenes asserted that air, were the important materials of the universe. Many other proposals have come from other philosophers. But the main issue concerns the nature of the universe. A world-view is the attempt to come to a total view of the universe as it relates to the make-up of matter, man, God, the right, the nature of politics, values, aesthetics, and any other element in the cosmos that is important. In spite of this definition, James is not one of the better examples of a philosopher who carried on the development of a systematic world-view.
If we accept this definition of philosophy, we are not committed to any pre-arranged conclusions. There are many world-views that are contrary to one another. Look at the following brief examples: l Lucretius, in his essay on nature, developed a world-view based on the atomic nature of all things.
Even the souls of men and gods are composed of atoms.