WHY STUDY PHILOSOPHY?
The study of formal philosophy at first seems like a foreign language, with the reaction taking the form of: "Do people really talk this way, and why?" The answer is, "Yes, they do," and the reasons are complex. Sooner or later, most people, especially in times of trouble ask, "Why me?" or "It isn't fair" or "Why would God allow this to happen to...." Especially after 9-11 and the continuing threat of terrorism, people have come to understand that simply and pragmatically to trust technology without moral and analytical contexts invites tragedy and threatens survival. Further astute commentators such as FBI Agent Coleen Rowley warned that the lack of critical thinking and analytical skills may well have made September 11 inevitable.
"Building subject area expertise or developing an awareness of the potential value of an isolated piece of information does not occur overnight," she said. "It is developed over time."
Testifying before Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Oversight Hearings on Counterterrorism on June 6, 2002, she noted:
Philosophy attempts to answer her concerns, and whether we know it or admit it, we at one time or another have asked these questions and are philosophers. T.S. ELIOT NOTED THAT IF WE ARE MORE INTELLIGENT THAN OUR PREDECESSORS, IT IS BECAUSE WE HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH FROM THEM. ELIOT CORRECT, BUT WHAT IF WE HAVE DECIDED THE PAST IS NOT WORTH THE INVESTIGATIVE TIME? WE HAVE CEASED TO MAKE THE CONNECTIONS NECESSARY FOR PROVIDING SOLUTIONS TO OUR MOST ESSENTIAL GOAL: SURVIVAL AS A SPECIES.
ROWLEY is correct, as the issues she addresses are philosophical, making the discipline NOT a synthesis of abstract irrelevancies, but very much a state of mind needed for our survival. This course will study the past for the purpose of illuminating the present and ensuring the future.
To study philosophy involves learning new vocabulary. After sufficient exposure, you will use it with as much ease as what you know today. The material is abstract, and abstract thinking requires effort and concentration, both in study and in application to the literature.
Philosophy asks ONE QUESTION: "WHAT IS IT REASONABLE TO BELIEVE?"
With most simple questions, the answers are complex. Reasonable to whom? What about faith? Do I have to experience it to believe it? Believe what? What is worth believing etc.?
QUESTIONS SUCH AS THESE DEVELOP A MENTALITY THAT WE WILL CALL A 'PHILOSOPHICAL FRAME OF REFERENCE.'
THUS PHILOSOPHY IS POWER, and power can build a "brave new world." or destroy it just as quickly. Philosophers from Socrates to Tolkien have warned of the horrors of misuse. Perhaps the most perplexing paradox Philososphy confronts concerns pondering how Dr. King and Hitler could have the same human nature.
Power today seems to be focused on the INFORMATION AGE. The INTERNET brings us more information in a second than most of humanity has accumulated in its collective lifetime, but information per se is potential, not wisdom. Our fate depends on how and indeed if we choose to actualize the potentials we discern in a morally coherent context, and how we manage the results: if anything, 9-11 validates the consequences of "misactualization."
Ponder for a moment some paradoxes:
T.S. Eliot noted that if we are in advance of the past, it is because we have learned from it, and Harold Bloom correctly notes that Shakespeare invented personality. Perhaps we need to revisit the past to learn again, and philosophy is the best place to begin as SOPHIE [and we?] will discover.
Initially, philosophy has involved these branches of study:
We have to systematize the material, and traditionally philosophy has involved these branches of study:
Metaphysics: Metaphysical questions are the most fundamental. Essentially, they ask, "What is really real?" " What is the nature of reality?" Of course everything else depends on this, and the answer is not as simple as it may appear. BE PREPARED TO HAVE YOUR COMMON SENSE ASSUMPTIONS CHALLENGED. Plato's dialectical process begins with the notions that intellectual and moral growth depends on the willingness of someone to "treat first principles [deeply held convictions that we never challenge] as assumptions [that must be challenged if growth is to occur.] Words such as "IS" "SUBSTANCE" "ESSENCE" have metaphysical connotations. Metaphysical REALISM suggests that the true nature of reality (the idea) is essentially spiritual. The substantial nature of existence transcends the changing physical world--the Judeo-Christian systems postulate such a view. Metaphysical NOMINALISM argues that the nature of reality is physical. What we observe with our senses is real. Most scientists and philosophers such as Locke accept this view. Some scientists and philosophers are PRAGMATISTS, stating as the sophists in ancient Greece that reality cannot be known with absolute certitude. The individual builds an experiential base by solving problems. The American educational philosopher John Dewey held such a view.
EPISTEMOLOGY: Epistemology deals with knowledge, asking, "How does the mind come to know the nature of reality?" Once again, common sense answers involving what seems to be true may not hold upon closer examination. Words such as "REASON" "FAITH" "PROBLEM SOLVING" "SENSE PERCEPTION" have epistemological connotations. Specifically, the metaphysical idealist would hold that faith determines how we know what the senses cannot determine. A realist would argue that the physical world exists as a matter of common sense. Dr. Johnson, the great 18th Century critic and philosopher stated that he knew darn well the hitching post was there when he banged it with his knee!! For the realist, the universe operates according to fixed laws of nature that the mind is capable of discerning. The skeptic constantly questions. What is true today may be false tomorrow.
AXIOLOGY: We are more familiar with the word ETHICS. Ethical questions ask, "What is good? " What is evil?" "What is beautiful, ugly?" Here the individual is concerned with making value judgments, about the nature of reality and what is worth knowing about it. For a realist, the authority for any action is the word of God made known through Sacred Scripture and revelation. The realist accepts what is reasonable to believe given the norms of the culture. Pope said, "Whatever is is right." The pragmatist argues that whatever solves a problem is correct.
HINTS FOR STUDY:
1. read the material slowly and in small bits more than once. Do not go on if you are confused about a given area.
2. ask plenty of questions.
3. seek additional help from the instructor.
4. don't give up. No one including your instructor learned this immediately or is finished learning it. The study of philosophy is a continuous process.
5. read Sophie's World using the outline guides on this web site, remembering the most unintelligent question is only the one not asked.