Philosophy Book: Chapter 1 Old guys, old rules, old news, right? Wrong. Philosophy is an important subject, because it helps us understand three big questions; “why are we here”, “what do we do”, and “how do we treat each other”. These are important questions to answer because without them we may end up in a situation much like the Taliban is in right now. Complete chaos created from confusion about those three big questions. These questions are left in a general sense because there are many different ways to look at them.
After all we have many different people with many different ideas and so to come to a more concise understanding of such important topics we need everyone’s viewpoint. This is the purpose of something philosophers call “The great conversation”. For example: Think back to the attack on the US of September 11th. These attacks were caused for a variety of reasons, one of which being that the Taliban believed they had the answer as to the correct way to run a society. Therefore “The Great Conversation” was stopped.
After all if I am the Taliban and I believe I have the answer as to how to run a society because I feel I have answered the three big questions, then why keep discussing? Why include anyone else’s opinions and beliefs? Because if you don’t then things could become violent, just as they did in Afghanistan. So you say you don’t want to be like Afghanistan? Well good! So then how do you determine the answer to those three big questions, and what if there is more than one answer?
That’s the purpose of philosophy and more specifically “The Great Conversation”, to come up with the best possible answer to all questions that may arise without eliminating the possibility that a better answer may exist. Take “Plato’s Cave” for example: People sit in a cave looking at shadows cast on a wall, from the light of a fire behind them. They have been chained to the floor for centuries. They are fed, clothed, and generally stimulated by the shadows, which are those of puppets on a bridge behind them. The people believe the shadows are real. But ponder just for a second; what if you were one of those people?
What if you were released from your shackles and allowed to move about the cave freely. How would you explain to the others that the shadows they are seeing are not real people, but actual shadows made by the puppets on the bridge behind them? Would they believe you? Now switch roles. What if one of the people chained next to you was released and came back to you with this phenomenon that everything you have ever seen and thought was real was actually a lie. How would you react? Would you believe them? This was Plato’s way of getting people to explore what they didn’t know existed.
To question things in life instead of merely accepting what they were told was the truth. To get people to explore the outside world, so they don’t become a “prisoner of ignorance” forced to live a life based on what they are told and not what they experience for themselves. Questioning, and exploring what’s around you and how it affects you is part of getting a more complete answer to those three big questions, which is the task of philosophy. But how does one know what to explore? I mean the world is a huge place and one person can’t possibly explore everything, how do you know where to start?
This is where the “Three Divisions of Knowledge” come into play. Philosophers divided knowledge into three groups: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities. Each focuses on “disciplines” and questions. A discipline is a branch of knowledge or teaching. Basically each “division of knowledge” helps explain certain disciplines for example: The Humanities group focuses on questions like “why are we here”, “what is worth doing”, “how should we treat each other”, and “what should we do”. And helps explain: literature, art theology, history, music and more. Some raging Humanity debates of the past have included: Existence of god?
Post modernity v. enlightenment, and “what is the purpose of art? ” But philosophy helps explain more than just the “Humanities” category and all its smaller questions and disciplines; it also tackles the Natural and Social Sciences as well. Philosophy ties in which the “Natural Sciences” in that it helps to explain things like biology, botany, anatomy, zoology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, ecology, and geology. Philosophy in this category asks the questions: “How can we accurately describe the physical world”, and “what are the laws governing the universe. Some raging debates have included: Cancer; causes, cures, and infections. Intelligence; source of the genes that make one “intelligent”.
Weather; how do we predict it, among many others. And last but certainly not least we move onto the all important Social Sciences. This category consists of questions like: “What are the laws of governing human behavior”, and “Why do people think, act, and feel the way they do”. Major debates here include: causes of crime, can we know how the brain works, and the source of violence.
So there you have 3 categories which cover the 3 divisions of human knowledge, the topics they cover, questions they ask, and how philosophy plays an important role in explaining each one. Now are you starting to see why philosophy is so important? Why it’s more than just “Old guys, old rules, old news? ” Without philosophy we would be left “in the dark” so to speak on so many issues; chained to the floor of ignorance, just like the poor souls of Plato’s Cave. People debate these things all the time, and one of the ways we keep it civilized and logical, non-violent and fair is through the way we have set up our society.
Unlike the Taliban we use a democratic system that works like this: we explore all ideas at hand, give each person a chance to present their argument/solutions to world issues, we determine which issues need to be dealt with and within which order. We then come together and vote on the best person to represent our point of view on the issue. Those voted have a discussion with one another, thus keeping the “conversation” going. Most often times a conclusion is reached and the problem at hand is dealt with.
If those voted to have the discussion and can’t come up with a way to deal with the issue at hand, they agree to keep debating. Although when you have a group of people with different points of view (that’s what keeps the conversation going) you will naturally have conflict. People naturally have different points of view because each mind is different in that everyone has different experiences and whatnot. I will delve into the difference in mindsets between people that believe you are born with knowledge, and people that believe all knowledge comes from experience.
For now let’s just say that when different people, with different ideas and experiences come together, conflict will ensue. That is inevitable. Now there are two ways in which to deal with conflict. You can use force, or you can use reason. If you use reason, as I mentioned earlier with the democratic government analogy, groups A and B come together. Conflict of ideas and interests ensues, and one of three actions takes place, either side A persuades side B, side B persuades side A, or neither side persuades the other and the two sides agree to keep debating the issue.
Your other choice when it comes to conflict is to use force. This is the situation the Taliban is in. One group of people believes they have the answer as to the correct way to run the society, and so since they have “the answer” there is no reason to keep debating. But that doesn’t mean those who oppose the Taliban’s views will take the Taliban’s decision lightly. This is where the force comes in. Since side B (in this case those who oppose the Taliban) are not convinced that the Taliban is doing the right thing, they will have to be forced to follow the Taliban’s views.
In reality this gets the Taliban nowhere, (which is why they are in their current political position) and is extremely dangerous. For those who oppose the Taliban’s views are now in a fight to reclaim the freedoms the Taliban doesn’t believe they should have. This can be a violent situation. Let’s talk about Philosophy! Let’s talk about Socrates! So who is Socrates and what did he do that makes him so damn important? Well take a look at “Crito”. The story of Socrates death, it will show you a little bit more about Socrates life and may help explain what question his death raised.
Socrates has a discussion with a friend (Crito) while sitting in a jail cell. Socrates is condemned to death in two days, for teaching the willing citizens of Athens his beliefs. Crito presents Socrates with a proposition in which he and some friends can help Socrates escape; he explains that Socrates’ staying would only mean the death of a respected icon of the Athens community. Socrates basically tells Crito his escaping without the permission of those who condemned him would go back on all his teaching of the past.
And to revoke all those teachings just to save himself would be unjust. So Socrates ends up dying but his death ends up bringing into question “What is a life lived well? ” more simply “What’s the good’ life? ” Some of us would argue that the “good life” is to be fed, clothed, housed, and mentally stimulated. If that sounds like you, then I think you may be living in Plato’s Cave. Others may argue the good life is to be happy, financially secure, lots of friends, healthy etc. If that sounds like you, then you may be a little closer to another common name in the field of Philosophy.
Aristotle. Aristotle answered this question when he said he believed that the “good life” consisted of health, wealth, friends, happiness and virtue. Now this portion of the good life deals with what is “good” for you, but there are other people in life you have an obligation to, and philosophy says those people include: your family and friends, and the society in which you live. This explains a lot about why Socrates did what he did. His obligation to those he taught was to hold true to his family and friends (those being the people he taught) and to society.
After all they provided him with food and shelter and the same amount of all the “common good” as they did everyone else, and by accepting that “common good” and that food, and shelter and whatnot, he agreed to follow the rules set by the society. He broke the rules by teaching his beliefs on the open streets, and therefore he was condemned to die Socrates realized that he had agreed to a set of rules and he broke them, therefore it would only be just of him to suffer the consequences, and that he did. So back to this “good life” How does one determine what is “good”, and is this “good” true? Is it real?
Philosophers have stumbled upon another set of general questions in which people wrestle with all the time. What is good? What is true? What is real? For example, let’s wrestle with “What is real? ” If you’ve seen “The Matrix” you may remember Morpheus saying “Well if you define real as what you can see, touch, taste, and smell, then real’ is only electrical impulses interpreted by our brain. ” So there is one argument for “What is real? ” What about “What is good? ” I would say what is good is what creates the safest most enjoyable environment for the greatest amount of people. But then again I don’t have the only answer to these questions.
It’s very possible that because these questions are so general they may very well have more than one answer. But how do you determine the answer? That’s the purpose of philosophy and more specifically “The Great Conversation”, to come up with the best possible answer to all questions that may arise without eliminating the possibility that a better answer may exist. Now earlier I introduced to you to the concept of “What is good? ” and “What is real? ” but there is yet another concept. “What is true? ” If I tell you that the sky is red and you think it is blue, then how do we know who is right?
Do we go on what most people believe? Do we go on who has gone to school longer? Do we go on which colors we like best? Well I don’t know the exact answer, that’s why it’s still a debate. I can say I personally believe that here in America we go on a credibility system. We pick the person with the most knowledge and/or experience in a particular field, we use their knowledge for the basis of a debate, and then we argue it out. Sometimes we argue for things that we value. We may argue love at first site is true, because we may swear it’s happened to us. This is where Axiology comes into the equation.
Axiology is the study of values, or stuff we place importance on, and it examines the question; “what is good? ” Now, the stuff we place importance on is broken down into two smaller categories: ethics, and aesthetics. Ethics are our morals, and aesthetics are the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and expression of beauty, as in the fine arts. Now within Axiology we have defined ethics and aesthetics, but what about the debate of “fact versus opinion” within each of them. For example: Is Picasso’s work beautiful? I would say nope. You may say yes. That’s aesthetic subjectivism, opinions on what is and is not beautiful.
On the other hand you have aesthetic objectivism or facts on beauty. For example: Everyone enjoys beautiful things. That is a fact that deals with beauty. The same goes for ethics. I think it is good ethics to treat women as equals of men. You however, depending on where you were raised, may believe that is not good ethics. That’s opinion; both examples of Subjectivism. On the other hand ethical objectivism would say: Here in the United States, women and men are equally free by law. That is a fact. Now we move onto Epistemology or the study of knowledge. Epistemology examines the question; “what is true? Once again we deal with two opposite ends of a debate spectrum. We focus on a few things here.
One of which is where does knowledge come from? Those who believe that the exercise of reason, rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the primary basis for knowledge are called Rationalists. Basically they believe people have revelations, and are born with knowledge (innate. ) On the opposite, those who believe that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge are known as Empiricists. Reason versus experience, you decide for yourself.
For our last and final study we explore Ontology; the nature of being. Is it human nature to fill your space with material goods? Do they bring you happiness? Is that happiness true happiness? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions you may be a “Materialist” while if you answered “no” to any of those questions, there is a chance you may be an “Idealist”; someone who believes that the use of ideas, thinking, questioning, and active mental stimulation are far more valuable in terms of achieving happiness than the passive, vegetable style consumption of goods that plagues many of us.