- from Greek, by way of Latin, philosophia, “love of wisdom” – love is an unconditioned feeling, it has no aim out of itself, it is very strong, it cannot be ignored; philosophers are not the wise, they love wisdom, seek it,
- the critical examination of the grounds for fundamental beliefs
- analysis of the basic concepts employed in the expression of such beliefs.
- philosophical inquiry is a central element in the intellectual history of many historical civilizations.
It would be difficult if not impossible to find two philosophers who would define philosophy in exactly the same way. Throughout its long and varied history in the West, philosophy has meant many different things. Some of these have been:
- a search for wisdom;
- an attempt to understand the universe as a whole;
- an examination of humankind’s moral responsibilities and social obligations;
- an effort to fathom the divine intentions and the place of human beings with reference to them;
- an effort to ground the enterprise of natural science;
- a rigorous examination of the origin, extent, and validity of human ideas;
- an exploration of the place of will or consciousness in the universe;
- an examination of the values of truth, goodness, and beauty;
- and an effort to codify the rules of human thought in order to promote rationality and the extension of clear thinking.
Even these do not exhaust the meanings that have been attached to the philosophical enterprise, but they give some idea of its extreme complexity and many-sidedness.
The same truth is expressed in different ways (science, religion, myth, art and philosophy).
Philosophy originates from the doubt and the sense of wonder.
Philosophical problems and disciplines
Philosophical problems evolved over centuries, from ancient Greek questions about the origin and nature of cosmos, validity of sensual impressions, possibility to obtain certain knowledge; over eternal questions about beauty, art, science, politics, values; to contemporary issues, such as finding a new basis for common values, new basis for social identification, mind-body problem, freedom of the will in the era of highly developed science, distinguishing good from bad information, intellectual property, collective decision-making and collective rationality, what exactly is a human person when its every aspect can be manipulated at will, humans and environment and global justice.
Main philosophical disciplines are: ethics, logic, aesthetics (is beauty objective or subjective), philosophy of science, political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology (nature and grounds of knowledge and its limits and validity) and the history of philosophy.
There are three main eras of Philosophy:
Ancient, Medieval and Modern
Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy can be divided into:
- The pre-Socratic period
- The seminal thinkers (influential, formative, ground-breaking, pioneering, original, innovative; major, important)
- Hellenistic and Roman philosophy
The pre-Socratic period can be divided into:
- Cosmology and the metaphysics of matter
- Epistemology of appearance
- Metaphysics of number
- Antropology and relativism
Cosmology and the metaphysics of matter can be divided into:
- Monistic cosmologies (Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Parmenides and Heracleitus)
- Pluralistic cosmologies (Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus and Democritus)
Ancient Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy opened doors to a particular way of thinking that provided the roots for the Western intellectual tradition. Here, there is often an explicit preference for the life of reason and rational thought.
The history of philosophy in the west begins with the Greeks, and particularly with a group of philosophers commonly called the pre-Socratics. This is not to deny the occurrence of other pre-philosophical rumblings in Egyptian and Babylonian cultures. Certainly great thinkers and writers existed in each of these cultures, and we have evidence that some of the earliest Greek philosophers may have had contact with at least some of the products of Egyptian and Babylonian thought. However, the early Greek thinkers added at least one element which differentiates their thoughts from all those who came before them. For the first time in history, we discover in their writings something more than dogmatic assertions about the ordering of the world – we find reasoned arguments for various beliefs about the world.
An analysis of Presocratic thought presents some difficulties. First, the texts we are left with are primarily fragmentary, often in quotation from other sources, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to attribute with certainty a definite position to any one thinker. Moreover, “Presocratic” has been criticized as a misnomer since some of the Presocratic thinkers were contemporary with Socrates.
Presocratic thought marks a decisive turn away from mythological accounts towards rational explanations of the cosmos. Indeed, some Presocratics openly criticize and ridicule traditional Greek mythology, while others simply explain the world and its causes in material terms. This is not to say that the Presocratics abandoned belief in gods or things sacred, but there is a definite turn away from attributing causes of material events to gods, and at times a refiguring of theology altogether. The foundation of Presocratic thought is the preference and esteem given to rational thought over mythologizing. This movement towards rationality and argumentation would pave the way for the course of Western thought.
Thales (c.624-c.545 B.C.E.), traditionally considered to be the “first philosopher,” proposed a first principle (arche) of the cosmos: water. Aristotle offers some conjectures as to why Thales might have believed this. First, all things seem to derive nourishment from moisture. Next, heat seems to come from or carry with it some sort of moisture. Finally, the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and water is the source of growth for many moist and living things. Some assert that Thales held water to be a component of all things, but it is more likely that Thales held water to be a primal source for all things. Thales seems to be the author of the saying γνῶθι σεαυτόν (gnothi seauton – know thyself; Latin: Nosce te ipsum or Temet nosce) which was inscribed in the pronaos of the temple of Apolo at Delphi.
Like Thales, Anaximander (c.610-c.545 B.C.E.) also posited a source for the cosmos, which he called the boundless (apeiron). He did not, like Thales, choose a typical element (earth, air, water, or fire) which shows that his thinking had moved beyond sources of being that are more readily available to the senses. He might have thought that, since the other elements seem more or less to change into one another, there must be some source beyond all these – a kind of background upon or source from which all these changes happen. Indeed, this everlasting principle gave rise to the cosmos by generating hot and cold, each of which “separated off” from the boundless. How it is that this separation took place is unclear, but we might presume that it happened via the natural force of the boundless. The universe is a continual play of elements separating and combining. In poetic fashion, Anaximander says that the boundless is the source of beings, and that into which they perish, “according to what must be: for they give recompense and pay restitution to each other for their injustice according to the ordering of time”. („What must be“ is the destiny or Ananke)
Like Anaximander, Anaximenes (c.546-c.528/5 B.C.E.) thought that there was something boundless that underlies all other things. Unlike Anaximander, Anaximenes made this boundless thing something definite – air. For Anaximander, hot and cold separated off from the boundless, and these generated other natural phenomena. For Anaximenes, air itself becomes other natural phenomena through condensation and rarefaction. Rarefied air becomes fire. When it is condensed, it becomes water, and when it is condensed further, it becomes earth and other earthy things, like stones. This then gives rise to all other life forms. Furthermore, air itself is divine. For Anaximenes, air is God. Air, then, changes into the basic elements, and from these we get all other natural phenomena.
Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism
ἀθάνατος ἡ ψυχή (athanatos he psyche – the soul is immortal) Little is known with certainty about Pythagoras of Samos (c.570-c.490 B.C.E.). The Pythagoreans believed in the transmigration of souls. The soul, for Pythagoras, finds its immortality by cycling through all living beings in a 3,000-year cycle, until it returns to a human being. Indeed, Xenophanes tells the story of Pythagoras walking by a puppy who was being beaten. Pythagoras cried out that the beating should cease, because he recognized the soul of a friend in the puppy’s howl. What exactly the Pythagorean psychology entails for a Pythagorean lifestyle is unclear, but we pause to consider some of the typical characteristics reported of and by Pythagoreans.
Plato and Aristotle tended to associate the holiness and wisdom of number – and along with this, harmony and music – with the Pythagoreans. Perhaps more basic than number, at least for Philolaus, are the concepts of the limited and unlimited. Nothing in the cosmos can be without limit, including knowledge. Imagine if nothing were limited, but matter were just an enormous heap or morass. Next, suppose that you are somehow able to gain a perspective of this morass. Presumably, nothing at all could be known, at least not with any degree of precision, the most careful observation notwithstanding. Additionally, all known things have number, which functions as a limit of things insofar as each thing is a unity, or composed of a plurality of parts.
τῷ σοφῷ ξένον οὐδέν (to sopho ksenon ouden – to the wise one nothing is strange) Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.540-c.480 B.C.E.) stands out in ancient Greek philosophy not only with respect to his ideas, but also with respect to how those ideas were expressed. His aphoristic style is rife with wordplay and conceptual ambiguities. Heraclitus saw reality as composed of contraries – a reality whose continual process of change is precisely what keeps it at rest.
Fire plays a significant role in his picture of the cosmos. No God or man created the cosmos, but it always was, is, and will be fire. At times it seems as though fire, for Heraclitus, is a primary element from which all things come and to which they return. At others, his comments on fire could easily be seen metaphorically. What is fire? It is at once “need and satiety.” This back and forth, or better yet, this tension and distension is characteristic of life and reality – a reality that cannot function without contraries, such as war and peace. “A road up and down is one and the same”. Whether one travels up the road or down it, the road is the same road. “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow”. The cosmos and all things that make it up are what they are through the tension and distention of time and becoming. The river is what it is by being what it is not. Fire, or the ever-burning cosmos, is at war with itself, and yet at peace – it is constantly wanting fuel to keep burning, and yet it burns and is satisfied.