What is Philosophy?
So, what is philosophy? Well, the definition of philosophy is: “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.” Let’s break that down a bit and see if we can understand it. First off, you have to know that philosophy was originally called “the love of wisdom”. This meant that philosophers were people who loved to learn about everything. They tried to figure out how the world worked by asking questions based on their observations. They did not go with what they were told or assumed was true- they questioned everything! This is still a basic trait of philosophers today. Just like scientists try new experiments and ask questions related to their field, philosophers do this as well in order to learn more about the world around us. The “fundamental nature” part basically means trying to figure out WHY things are happening in our lives (since there isn’t always an explanation). Philosophers try to understand why people do things or behave certain ways even though they may not be able or willing at first glance for someone else to explain it very easily. This is a really good philosophy blog I found that I liked, and it has its own explanation of philosophy as well if you’re interested.
A Little History on Philosophy
Philosophy, as we know it today really, started in the Ancient Greek culture. The first philosophers we can look to are Socrates and Plato. Socrates was known for his method of asking questions and challenging the beliefs of others. He asked questions like: What is justice? How do we define right or wrong? These types of questions were controversial at the time, but he made a lot of people think about life differently which was his ultimate goal- to make people think about how they live their lives and whether or not what they’re doing is truly right. Plato (meaning “broad” in greek) came after Socrates, but he had similar methods as well (he wasn’t actually a disciple though, he just followed Socratic thought). Plato wrote many books including “The Republic”, which argued that humans decide what things are well based on society, but internally we know what is good and bad (in other words: morals). This type of thinking influenced Christianity quite a lot through St. Augustine, who was a big Christian philosopher.
Philosophy continued to develop in Ancient Rome, where they started to have different schools of thought. Stoicism is the one I’m most familiar with since it’s taught in our university world religions class. Stoicism was based on the writings of Zeno, and it stressed that happiness comes from living in accordance with nature (living according to your natural impulses). While this may seem counter-intuitive to what we think about today when we hear the word “Stoic”, that isn’t their meaning- being stoic means being calm under pressure or adversity, not wanting things you can’t have, acting virtuously even if no one is around, etc. The other schools included Epicureanism (which believed happiness came from experiencing pleasure instead), Skepticism (which didn’t buy into any dogmatic views about life but preferred not to make decisions until they were sure), and Cynicism which advocated disregarding societal conventions since they didn’t believe society had any interest in helping people be happy anyways. One person especially who has come down through history as a legend for philosophy is Socrates’ student Plato (the same guy whose books I mentioned before). He wrote many books including “The Republic” which argued for reason over emotions and how humans should live by reason rather than emotion- and idea that influenced Christianity greatly through St. Augustine. The history of philosophy has many more names that are important, but these are the ones I feel are most important to know since they’re the most influential to later philosophers.
The Modern Age of Philosophy
Modern philosophy really started in the 1700s and 1800’s when thinkers like John Locke and Rene Descartes helped shape what we understand as modern philosophy today. John Locke was an empiricist (someone who believes we gain our knowledge by sense experience), and he wrote a book called “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” which talked about how all human beings have “blank slates” at birth (meaning we don’t come into this world with any information). He also argued that there is no such thing as innate ideas; you can’t just know things without experiencing them through your senses first. Descartes was a rationalist (someone who believes we gain our knowledge from our own reason), and he believed it was possible for us to be certain about what we think is true because there must exist some absolute certainty in the universe for this method to work.
I hope you have gained something from my post so far. I know I learned a lot while writing this, and that’s all that matters to me in the end! If you have any questions about philosophy or what you’ve read so far, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below! Also, if you want to read more about philosophy, I recommend checking out The History of Philosophy without any gaps course on YouTube. It’s really good, and it helped me a lot with understanding what is going on in our world today regarding philosophies/religions/people, etc. If anyone has any other suggestions for how to learn more about philosophy- please let me know! Thanks for reading!