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The Acropolis of Athens

The Nature of
Philosophy and

Abstract: The disciplines of philosophy and logic are defined and briefly described with mention of some representative problems.

  1. What is Philosophy?

    1. The derivation of the word “philosophy” is from the Greek roots:

      philo — love of, affinity for, liking of.

      As in the words …

      philander — to engage in love affairs frivolously

      philanthropy — to love helping others

      philately — to “love” collecting postage stamps

      —phile — one having a love for, e.g. an anglophile as one who loves English culture.

      philology — having a liking for words

      sophia — wisdom

      As in the words …

      sophist — one who loves knowledge

      sophomore — one who thinks he's wise

      sophisticated — one who is knowledgeable

    2. A suggested definition for “philosophy”:

      Philosophy is the systematic inquiry into the principles and presuppositions of any field of inquiry.

      1. Psychologically, philosophy is an attitude, an approach, or a calling to answer, or to ask, or even to comment upon certain peculiar problems (i.e., problems such as those usually in the main branches of philosophy discussed below).

      2. Eventually we must despair of an abstract definition and turn to what philosophers do — i.e., explore the practice of philosophy.

  2. The Main Branches of Philosophy are divided as to the nature of the questions asked in each area. The integrity of these divisions cannot be rigidly maintained since many problems encompass more than one area of inquiry.

    1. Axiology the study of value; the investigation of its nature, criteria and metaphysical status.

      1. Characterization of some features of the definition:

        Nature of value: is value a fulfillment of desire, pleasure, a preference, or simply some kind of human interest?

        Criteria of value: is there no accounting for taste
        (de gustibus non (est) disputandum) or can rules and standards of values be set?

        Status of value: how are values related to scientific facts? What ultimate worth do human values have, if any? Would the universe have any value if human beings did not exist?

      2. Axiology is sub-divided into …

        Ethics The study of value in human behavior; the study of moral problems which seeks to discover how one ought to act, not how one does in fact act or how one thinks one should act

        Usually, in philosophy, morals or mores (customs of a society) are viewed as the descriptive practices of a society: what people actually believe about morality.

        Ethics, then, is considered prescriptive or normative: what people really ought to do, apart from what they usually do.

        What is the nature of the life of excellence?

        What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek? (Once you obtain your goals, so what?)

        What specific courses of conduct, in keeping with the goals you seek, will help lead to a life of excellence? What are the roles of pleasure, duty, self-realization, usefulness, goodness, justice, or acting in accordance with your (biological) nature?

        Aesthetics the study of value in the arts — the study of the beauty, sublimity, and principles of taste, harmony, order, and pattern.

        Are beautiful shapes and sounds describable mathematically as Pythagoras thought?

        Does art relate to ethics? Is there a truth in aesthetic representation?

        Is emotion an essential part of artistic appreciation?

    2. Epistemology: the study of knowledge, in particular, the study of the nature, scope, and limits of human knowledge.

      1. Epistemology is the investigation of the origin, structure, methods, and validity of knowledge.

      2. As an example of orders of knowledge, consider the statement:
        “The earth is round.”
        This can be successively translated depending upon context as …

        The earth is spherical.

        The earth is an oblate spheroid (i.e., it's flattened at the poles).

        But what of the height of mountains, the depth of oceans, and so forth? Even if we surveyed exactly the earth's shape, the process of surveying would itself measurably change the shape of the earth — e.g., footprints and indentations formed by our measuring instruments.

        In practice, can the exact shape ever be actually known? (No, but even though we can probably never know the exact shape of the earth at any given moment, we do know the earth has an exact shape.)

      3. Consider two well-known epistemological problems: the first is not solvable, the second is solvable.

        Bertrand Russell First: Bertrand Russell's Five Minute World Hypothesis: Suppose the earth were created from scratch five minutes ago, complete with memory images, history books, geological records, etc. That is, at the moment of creation, the universe would have all the evidence that it was billions of years old already “packed in.”

        How could it ever be known that the creation of the universe did not begin five minutes ago? Russell writes:
        “There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that ‘remembered’ a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.

        Hence the occurrences which are called knowledge of the past are logically independent of the past; they are wholly analysable into present contents, which might theoretically, be just what they are even if no past had existed. I am not suggesting that the non-existent of the past should be entertained as a serious hypothesis. Like all sceptical hypotheses, it is logically tenable, but uninteresting.” [Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind (rpt. 1922 London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), 159-160.]
        Russell states that he is not suggesting that this is a serious hypothesis. As a skeptical hypothesis, he says it is possible, but quite uninteresting.

        Another way of explaining Russell's hypothesis is to consider that there is no way to disprove scientifically that the universe is being created ex nihilio (i.e., from nothing) moment-by-moment by an all-powerful God.

        Second: Suppose everything in the universe were to expand uniformly so that eventually everything in existence was one hundred times larger in size. How could we ever know it?

        At first glance, it might seem that this problem of scale would be unsolvable. As objects proportionally increase in size their volume and mass increase by the cube. So, roughly speaking, if the laws of chemistry and physics remain the same, objects on earth one hundred times greater in size would be crushed by their own weight.

        Size comparison of an average human and a blue whale. Author: Kurzon, Wikipedia, License GFDL 1.2 or later.
        So, on earth, there's a limit to the size animals of animals as well as a limit to the height of skyscrapers. (For example, the blue whale, the largest animal on earth, could not survive without the buoyancy provided by the sea.) If such an expansion of size and weight were possible, then the scientific laws of the universe would have to change.

    3. Ontology or Metaphysics: the study of what is “really” real. Metaphysics deals with the so-called first principles of the natural order or the ultimate generalizations available to the human intellect.

      1. E.g. Since ideas actually have no size shape, color, and so forth, my idea of the Empire State Building is quite as small as my idea of a book.

        Do ideas exist in the same manner that physical objects exist?

      2. Consider the truths of mathematics. How and where do they exist?

        In what manner does a geometric figure exist? — After all, points have no size and lines have no width.

      3. What is spirit or soul made of? Or matter? Or space? Or a vacuum?

  3. To Which of these branches of philosophy do you think logic belongs?

    1. Logic: the study of the methods and principles used in distinguishing correct from incorrect reasoning.

    2. Our knowledge is interrelated by logic. It forms the fabric of the sciences by ensuring the consistency of the statements that compose them.

    3. Hence, logic is usually considered a subdivision of epistemology, although, of course, logic is used in all areas of philosophy.

Recommended Reading

Lee Archie and John G. Archie, “The Nature of Philosophical Inquiry,” in Reading for Philosophical Inquiry (Greenwood, SC: Open Source, 2006). 31 pp. Philosophical questions are characterized, many ways of thinking are discussed, and the main divisions of philosophy are outlined with some some typical philosophical problems illustrated. (This website).

Wikipedia contributors, “Types of Logic,” Wikipedia. Logic is defined and the main types types of logic are characterized. (accessed September 1, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Branches of Philosophy,” Wikipedia. A general overview of a collection of a number of types of philosophy is outlined The branches of philosophy are characterized with examples. (accessed September 1, 2020).

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