Philosophy of Religion

Index Next

Introduction to Philosophy

What is Philosophy? paradoxically a philosophical question itself! Different philosophers have different concepts of as to the nature of their chosen subject.

The term philosophy derives from a combination of the Greek words philos meaning love and sophia meaning wisdom. What philosophy is, or should be, is itself a philosophical question that philosophers have understood and treated differently through the ages.

The first thinker to describe himself as a philosopher as such was probably Pythagoras (b. 570 BCE). However, the term is traditionally closely identified with Plato and his subsequent followers. For Plato wisdom is a condition or state which individuals seek to attain as a result of many years education. By achieving wisdom, Plato believed that an individual was able to apprehend Truth or Reality and through it acquire virtue the knowledge of how to live rightly.

Philosophers ponder such concepts as existence or being, morality or goodness, knowledge, truth, and beauty. Historically most philosophy has either centered on religious beliefs, or science. Philosophers may ask critical questions about the nature of these concepts - questions typically outside the scope of science. Several major works of post-medieval philosophy begin by asking the meaning of philosophy. Philosophers are motivated by specific questions such as:

  • What is truth? How or why do we identify a statement as correct or false, and how do we reason? What is wisdom?
  • Is knowledge possible? How do we know what we know?
  • Is there a difference between morally right and wrong actions (or values, or institutions)? If so, what is that difference? Which actions are right, and which wrong? Are values absolute, or relative? In general or particular terms, how should I live? How is right and wrong defined?
  • What is reality, and what things can be described as real? What is the nature of those things? Do some things exist independently of our perception? What is the nature of space and time? What is the nature of thought and thinking? What is it to be a person?
  • What is it to be beautiful? How do beautiful things differ from the everyday? What is Art? Does true beauty exist?
These areas of discussion are traditionally broken down into the following five categories:
  1. Logic - from Classical Greek (logos), originally meaning the word, or what is spoken, but coming to mean thought or reason. It is most often said to be the study of arguments, although the exact definition of logic is a matter of controversy amongst philosophers.
  2. Epistemological - from the Greek words episteme (knowledge) and logos (word/speech) is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, origin and scope of knowledge.
  3. Ethics from Greek, is a general term for what is often described as the "science (study) of morality". In philosophy, ethical behavior is that which is "good" or "right." The Western tradition of ethics is sometimes called moral philosophy. This is closely associated with value theory (axiology).
  4. Metaphysics - from Greek words meta = after/beyond and physics = nature. It is a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of "first principles" and "being" (ontology). Problems that were not originally considered metaphysical have been added to metaphysics. Other problems that were considered metaphysical problems for centuries are now typically relegated to their own separate subheadings in philosophy, such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, philosophy of perception, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science. In rare cases subjects of metaphysical research have been found to be entirely physical and natural.
  5. Aesthetics from Greek meaning percieve (US esthetics) is the philosophy of beauty and art.

Index Next