Why All of Us Should Be Philosophers

«From a careful study of the history of thought in our own time it is possible to see that freedom of thought destroyed itself when thought pursued to its ultimate conclusions a self-contradictory conception of its own freedom.»

Polanyi, Michael; Prosch, Harry. Meaning (p. 5). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

In his book Meaning[1], Michael Polanyi gives a marvelous tour de force of the history of philosophy. In a few pages, he gives a precise and concise description of the intellectual forces that have shaped the history of Western Civilization for two and a half millennia. After reading this piece, I could not help but wonder at the enormous impact of ideas on the way we live. Indeed, the recent events that happened in the US Capitol and the political upheavals that began in May all over the United States have shown the relevance of these ideas to this day. Because philosophy is relegated to dark corners of academia and dusty old books in forlorn libraries, the average well-educated person has had cursory contact with it at best and is a slave of ideas that he does not understand or recognize that exist at worst.

I have struggled to come across histories of philosophy that are written for young and well-educated people on the internet. There are, of course, fabulous and profound histories out there for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject. To name two of my favorites: The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell and A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston. Nevertheless, I want to provide people with a map to the history of philosophy rather than embark on a project to narrate the history myself. Not only would the latter be a gargantuan effort for which I am ill prepared and trained but I think that the value that I can humbly provide is to give an outline of the major concepts and where information on them can be found. I hope to summarize and put the idea out there, so to speak. Instead of going back in history and delving into the cracks of the Grecian isles or traipsing the corridors of the charming cloisters where monks travailed, or taking a peaceful stroll in the town where the Prussian giant wrote his famous critiques, crossing the Channel where the venerable Locke expounded on piety and religious freedom, I shall limit myself to telling you, dear reader, what these thinkers thought and why these ideas are important.

If you are looking for such an outline, then I welcome you to Navegante, or mariner in Spanish, and I hope you will enjoy this journey with me.

And so, having stated my goal for these next few posts, I will here give a general outline of what I hope to publish in the next few weeks, time permitting.

The major concepts in philosophy are usually grouped in roughly these categories:

  • Metaphysics: the attempt to understand the underlying reality of being. Aristotle said of it: “There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature.”[2]
  • Epistemology: the attempt to understand the causes of knowledge, its possibility and its effects on the human mind.
  • Ethics: the study of human action and its implications. From the conclusions of metaphysics, philosophers create theories about how people should live their lives.
  • Politics: the study of how societies are formed and the laws that should govern them, given the definitions put forth in metaphysics and ethics.

To put all of this in simpler terms, philosophy attempts to understand what the world and the universe are (metaphysics), whether it is possible to even understand these things and what are the things that we are “wired” to know (epistemology), how we should live our lives given the discoveries or postulates of the former two (ethics), and how all this fits into how governments work and how people should live with each other.

I propose, therefore, to dig a little deeper into each of these four main divisions of philosophy and explain the general ideas that have been put forth by philosophers. My goal is to make you aware of their existence and give you resources to help you understand them better. I may not be the best teacher, but hopefully you’ll forgive me and still manage to get through what I write. I would appreciate your feedback, if you’re so kind as to spare the time to give it to me. I will plead your patience with any mistakes that these pages hold, both in content and in form. I also promise to try to make these posts engaging and easy to read, to produce content that can be read in five minutes. I thank you and I look forward to seeing you here.

[1] THE ECLIPSE OF THOUGHT, Polanyi, Michael; Prosch, Harry. Meaning (p. 3). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle (Modern Library Classics) (p. 963). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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