WHY PHILOSOPHY?

To teach how to live without certainty
and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation
is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy 
in our age can still do for those who study it.

Bertrand Russell 

Perhaps, it is appropriate to point out that 'philosophy' and 'philosopher' are often abused terms and are little understood by the general public.
I believe, also, that they are often used carelessly by many of those who claim to be philosophers.
Dictionaries offer too many different usages, to the point of a "theory of everything," to cite here.
However I shall offer a few.
Philosophy:
    1) A critical study of fundamental beliefs and the grounds for them.
     2) Sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, practiced law, and theology.
     3) An inquiry employing the accepted tools of critical analysis and evaluation -- of any particular religion.
     4) The general principles under which all facts can be explained, i.e., synonymous with science.
     5) The science of the first principles of being.
     6) Popularly: the sum of the ideas and convictions of an individual or group.
     7) Calmness of temper and judgment.
    8)The art of rational conjecture. (B. Russell)
     9) My own and preferred definition is: the study of abstract ideas and their relation to and effect upon human beings, their beliefs, and behavior.
     10) Many, many more; but most popularly cited by professional philosophers and based on translation: "the love or pursuit of knowledge and wisdom."
Philosopher:
    1) A reflective thinker.
     2) A student of or specialist in philosophy.
     3) One whose philosophical (# 6 or 7 above?) perspective enables him to meet trouble calmly.
     4) One who is devoted to the search for fundamental truth.
     5) One who lives according to reason or the rules of practical wisdom.
     6) There are many more sophisticated usages.
As to number 10, if philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, it is neither when we give realistic credence to ideas and uses of language that cannot be verified or falsified.
History will attest that to do so, too often leads to dire consequences for humanity.
Perhaps it is the recognition of this that leads such a noted pursuer of knowledge, such as astrophysicist, John Bahkall, to state, with some validity, "Philosophy is the kicking up of a lot of dust and then complaining about what you can't see" (i.e., test).

Why, then, Philosophy?

Ignoring the benefits of mental gymnastics, you may wonder what the raising of "analytic dust" of such concepts as language, reality, truth, knowledge, time, space, point, straight line, mind, substance, morality, metaphysical and supernatural constructs, such as gods, heaven, hell, life after death, and too many more to cite here, has to do with you.
      All you may be concerned with are your own areas of interest and/or competence such as subjects in college, hobbies, your profession, political events of the day, your fundamental beliefs and deeply held convictions, whatever.
      It should be realized, however, that if you want to learn to think with a superior degree of clarity and understanding in your own special field, there is much you must learn that appears not to be relevant but is essential to an adequate understanding of it, particularly if you are not to remain within the mold of thought already set by those who precede you.
      Einstein and all the other renowned thinkers of the world became great because of the ability to think critically and analytically in discovering the deficiencies of their predecessors.
      More than this, a study of the methods and subject matter of philosophy should help you to become better people, critically analytical of divergent points of view, but more tolerant and understanding of the frailties and strengths of your fellow man.
      In the end, you will gain a greater sense of self-respect; for you will have lifted yourself above the "common herd" in that you will have become aware of less a need for the crutches with which so much of mankind has shored itself.
      In place of these crutches you will have acquired knowledge and wisdom and a confidence in that one faculty that separates you from the lower animals -- your mind -- with its newly developed abilities to distinguish alternatives in thought that so often are found in different contexts.
      Heretofore, perhaps, you have not known them.
      The path to a true education is the pursuit of their discovery.

It is the wise man who knows the 

limits of his knowledge

and the scope of his 

ignorance.

 

The analytical

mind always reaching

always searching for the good 

of mankind is the essence of humanity.

SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella