What is philosophy?
Philosophy is an academic discipline that works on a series of theoretical-practical problems through the use and invention of concepts and other interpretive, critical, and transcendental tools.
The problems that philosophy deals with revolve around knowledge, being, existence, language, morals, life, art, truth, reason, the existence of God, the mind, politics, and animals, among others. Each of these problems is worked from a specific branch of philosophy. For example epistemology, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, ontology, philosophy of language, politics, aesthetics, logic, philosophy of mind, theology, and philosophy of animality.
Thanks to this methodological division, and because philosophy is a problem in itself, it is difficult to characterize it decisively. A philosopher defines his practice according to which philosophical current he ascribes to.
However, and in its diversity, philosophy always embodies its own way of problematizing existential concerns, whether through free reflection, a systematic methodology, conceptual analysis, speculation, or even through dialogue and discussion. as particular philosophical exercises.
Due to its own particular methodology, philosophy is distinguished from other forms of knowledge such as mysticism, religion, science, and mathematics. Even so, it is considered the basis of all sciences, since it has been the root and origin of the emergence of many other disciplines. Many philosophers have dedicated themselves to more than one branch of philosophy, or even to disciplines other than theirs.
From philosophers and scientists, such as Aristotle and Descartes, to theologians, such as Augustine of Hippo, or politicians, such as Massimo Cacciari (former mayor of Venice), philosophers have taken their research and knowledge to different scientific disciplines and practical life, even expanding what philosophy is in itself.
The etymology of the term “philosophy”
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philosophia (φιλοσοφία) and is usually translated as “love of wisdom”. This word is made up of two parts: – phílos (φίλος), which means “friend” or “lover”, and – Sophia (σοφία), whose most common meaning is “wisdom”.
The root of –phílos is the verb phileîn (φιλεῖν), “to love”. There are numerous discussions about how this verb should be understood in conjunction with -Sophia. It is generally translated as lover or friend and, depending on which one is chosen, how philosophy is understood.
The history of Western philosophy is divided into the following periods:
- Ancient Philosophy. From the 6th century BC C. to 5th century AD C., this period of philosophy is divided as follows:
- Presocratic Philosophy. Philosophy begins in the sixth century BC. C. This is the period before Socrates. His representatives are Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Thales of Miletus, and Anaximedes.
- Classical Greek Philosophy. It is the period of the great Greek thinkers. Its representatives are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
- Hellenistic Philosophy. It takes place after the death of Aristotle and amid the Hellenistic wars, which marked the decline of the Greek polis. Its representatives are Epicurus and Zeno of Citium.
- Late Antique Philosophy. It is the last period of Antiquity, in it, we find the Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics, and Neoplatonists. Their representatives are Proclus and Plotinus.
- Medieval Philosophy. It takes place from the fall of the Roman Empire to the European Renaissance and is characterized by a marked religious emphasis (Christian, but also Jewish and Islamic) in its doctrines. Its representatives are Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, and Peter Abelard.
- Renaissance Philosophy. It is the period of transition from the medieval world to modernity and occurred between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its representatives are Erasmus of Rotterdam, Thomas More, Michel de Montaigne, and Francis Bacon.
- Modern Philosophy. It takes place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its main debates revolved around epistemology. Its representatives are René Descartes, David Hume, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibnitz.
- Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. This period can be considered part of modern philosophy. The most prominent thinker of the time was Immanuel Kant who wrote the Critique of Pure Reason.
- Contemporary Philosophy. It is the most current aspect, initiated in the 20th century. Its representatives are Bertrand Russel, Karl Popper, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, among others.
Branches of philosophy
Philosophy works with different objects of study, each one with one or several questions of its own. Depending on the concern with which one works, it is considered philosophy is divided into different branches. These are:
- Metaphysics. Study reality, existence, and being. Depending on which tradition one adheres to, one speaks of continental or analytical metaphysics.
- Epistemology. It studies how we constitute knowledge and experience of the world. From it follows, for example, phenomenology.
- Logic. It studies the rational procedures and modes of proof and inference, that is, the thought processes by which conclusions can be drawn from premises.
- Ethics. It studies moral problems, virtue, duty, happiness, and human behavior codes. It is divided into three levels: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.
- Aesthetics. Study beauty and art, trying to find its meaning and its rules of behavior.
- Political Philosophy. It is dedicated to the theoretical study of human relations in society: power, structures, forms of government, etc.
- Philosophy of Language. It studies language as a phenomenon: what it is, what its nature is, and if it has one, what its meaning is.
- Philosophical Anthropology. Study the human being from a philosophical point of view. Although she is discussed accusing her of being trained in machismo, her main question is “what is man?”
- Epistemology. It studies what knowledge is, its origin, and how it is obtained.
- Philosophy of Mind. It studies mental parameters and behaviors in an interdisciplinary way with some hard sciences such as mechanics or physics.
- Philosophy of Law. He studies law and justice from a philosophical point of view, often crossing paths with political philosophy and ethics.
- Philosophy of Animality. It is a recent and young branch, whose work is oriented to animal studies and thinking of non-violent ways of coexisting with non-human natural diversity.
Main philosophical questions
Philosophy deals with different general problems whose analysis often depends on the historical and geographical context. Philosophy is not done today in the same way as it was two hundred years ago, just as philosophy was not done then in the medieval world or Greece. However, there are some questions whose answer has not yet been formulated satisfactorily, and for this reason, they transcend the time in which they were formulated. These are some of them:
- The question of being Why there is something and not rather nothing is a question as old as philosophy itself. Since the beginning of philosophy, philosophers have wondered about the origin and reason for everything that is. Among the many unknowns that the question about being awakened, is the polysemy of the word itself. As Aristotle says in Book VI of Metaphysics, “the being is said in many ways”, and although after this statement, thinkers like Heidegger have said that the being fell into oblivion (confusing the being with the entity ), the question of being continued to be debated until today.
- The question of causality. The relationship between cause and effect is also the question of time, the origin of being, about the phenomenon. Causality holds that every event X in time is preceded by an event Y. This is what is known as the “principle of causality”: every event is the effect of a cause. The one who inaugurated the formal study regarding causality was Aristotle with Analytical Seconds, one of his treatises.
- The question for the truth. The question of truth carries with it endless questions and concerns. What is the truth? Does the truth exist? Can we identify her? Under what criteria? What does it mean for something to be “true”? Do we say that something is “true” in the order of language or the order of events? Can an event not be true? All these questions are studied and discussed a long time ago. Disciplines such as logic, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of language, or epistemology study each of the edges of this question.
- The question for the good. Asking for the good is one of the most important philosophical questions. Thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, or Levinas have wondered over and over again what it means to do good, what is its relationship with evil, and what is moral and immoral, among other things. The question evolved in such a way that it went from being a concern for perfection and virtue to being linked with the existence of God and, finally, with the behavior of the human being in society, whether or not there is a God behind it.
- The beauty question. Asking about beauty is difficult and necessary. For Plato, beauty had to do with the realm of ideas and perfection. As time went by, the question of the beautiful moved to the field of the arts, mainly thanks to the works of German idealism and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Aesthetics is the discipline that is responsible for studying what is beautiful, how it can be known, and if, perhaps, it can be created.
- The question for God. To ask about God is to ask about the creation of the universe, to ask about its existence and its meaning. Does the world exist forever? How was it created? Is there an absolute power outside the world? Or is that power with us and inhabiting the world? Aristotle called the idea of God the “first mover” because it was what gave impetus to existence. Along with metaphysics, theology is the discipline that studies what God is and what are his possible characteristics of him. However, other branches are also dedicated to working on the idea of God. An example of this is ethics since it is possible to think of the idea of God as if it were a regulatory entity, a way of standardizing social behavior, a way of giving it direction.
There are other problems and philosophical questions. The problem of evil, dualism (the mind-body division), death, language, or time, are topics addressed by various philosophical disciplines simultaneously, and many of the questions that each problem raises are as old as philosophy itself…
Throughout history, many people have devoted themselves, in one way or another, to philosophy. This is a list of those whose contributions had a substantial impact on this discipline.
- Thales of Miletus (624-548 BC). A pre-Socratic philosopher, Thales is considered by many to be the first Western philosopher. He held that the origin of existence was in the water.
- Heraclitus of Ephesus (540-480 BC). Natf of Ephesus, Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, postulated the idea of becoming governed by the Logos, as well as fire as an original matter.
- Pythagoras (569-475 BC). Philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras is considered the first pure mathematician in history. He founded the Pythagorean school and influenced Plato and Aristotle.
- Parmenides of Elea (6th-5th century BC). Considered by many to be the founder of Western metaphysics, Parmenides is thought to have been the first to open the way to the question of being.
- Socrates (470-399 BC). Classical Greek philosopher, Socrates is one of the most important philosophers in all of history. He was Plato’s teacher and inaugurated dialectics as a philosophical method.
- Plato (427-347 BC). A disciple of Socrates, Plato forever changed the history of philosophy. He formulated the theory of ideas, the allegory of the cave, and many other philosophical works that are still discussed today.
- Aristotle (384-322 BC). Philosopher, polymath, and scientist, Aristotle was trained in the Academy of Plato, along with whom he is considered the father of Western philosophy. His philosophical treatises continue to be studied and rediscovered year after year.
- Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Theologian and Christian philosopher, Augustine is one of the fathers of the Church. He is considered the “doctor of grace” and was the greatest thinker of early Christianity.
- Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). The main representative of scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas is an obligatory reference for systematic theology, as well as the person responsible for reintroducing Aristotle to the West.
- Rene Descartes (1596-1650). A French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, Descartes is famous for having discovered hyperbolic doubt as a method, as well as for having written Discourse on Method and Metaphysical Meditations.
- John Locke (1632-1704). Locke is one of the most important philosophers of English empiricism, as well as the father of classical liberalism and one of the first empiricists influenced by Francis Bacon.
- Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). A Dutch-born philosopher, Spinoza is one of the three great rationalists of the 17th century, a critical heir to the ideas of René Descartes.
- Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). German theologian, mathematician, logician, and philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz is known as the “last universal genius”. The idea of metaphysical monads is his, as well as some considerations of the infinite.
- David Hume (1711-1776). An English philosopher, Hume is the leading figure of English empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. He discussed the idea of innateness, as well as causality, and the idea of rationalism as a way of knowing.
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). A German thinker, Kant is known for having reconciled rationalism and empiricism in his three great criticisms: Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Judgment, and Critique of Practical Reason.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Father of German idealism, Hegel is sometimes called the “consciousness of modernity.” He postulated, among other things, absolute idealism and the dialectic of master and slave.
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). German philologist, musician, poet, and philosopher, Nietzsche changed the way of doing philosophy definitively. Probably one of the most impetuous philosophers in history, he was in charge of overthrowing myths and philosophical totalities that dragged along for centuries.
- Gottob Frege (1848-1925). Father of analytical philosophy and mathematical logic, Frege’s work became known thanks to the popularization work of Giuseppe Peano and Bertrand Russel.
- Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). A disciple of Brentano and Carl Stumpf, Husserl discovered the path to phenomenology, a new way of thinking and knowing the phenomenon that changed the way of constituting knowledge.
- Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Probably the most important thinker of the 20th century, Heidegger is an inescapable point of contemporary philosophy. He rediscovered the question of the meaning of being and brought philosophy closer to its peak.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). An Austrian linguist, logician, mathematician, and philosopher, Wittgenteins is known for his two major works: the Tractatus logical-philosophical and his Philosophical Investigations of him.
- Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Known as the father of existentialism, Sartre, a fervent reader of Heidegger, capitalized on the thought of an era and an entire generation and made philosophy a new way of living.
- Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995). A Lithuanian philosopher and writer based in France, Lévinas is known for his rereading of Heidegger’s work and for having put the philosophical magnifying glass on the figure of alterity.
- Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995). One of the most prominent French philosophers of the 20th century, Deleuze combined philosophy with politics, cinema, painting, literature, and history.
- Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Father of deconstruction, Derrida is probably one of the most important and outstanding philosophers of the 20th century. His work continues to be published posthumously, especially the courses he taught at the College de France.
- Michel Foucault (1926-1984). A French philosopher, historian, sociologist, and psychologist, Foucault was a renowned French thinker who dedicated his life to research and teaching. His work is taken up in many sciences outside of philosophy.
Women in Philosophy
Like many other disciplines, philosophy has a history narrated mainly by men. The works we have are by philosophers and very few names of female philosophers are known.
This does not mean, however, that women have not done philosophy. On the contrary, there are many testimonies, through letters and written comments, of the philosophical works of different women who wrote and thought on par with the great philosophers of the West.
Here’s a rough list of some big names to watch out for:
- Hiparchia of Maronea
- Areta of Cyrene
- Aspasia of Miletus
- Mary Wollstonecraft
- Margaret Fuller
- ayn rand
- Susanne langer
- Hannah Arendt
- Simone de Beauvoir
- Mary Zambrano
- Julia Christeva
- Susan Hack
- Celia Amoros
Many other philosophers, and some thinkers belonging to groups whose identity is identified as non-binary, continue to write and think to this day. Philosophy is not exclusive to the male gender, but its history has been told mainly by men.
What is the philosophy for today?
The question about the usefulness of philosophy is as frequent as the difficulty in answering it. Most people imagine philosophers according to a romantic, preconceived idea, where they appear as lonely strangers living isolated from society, often spending hours in silence and meditation.
However, philosophy is a formal science as studied and applicable as any other. It serves to understand the phenomena of the social, political, and economic life of people. Where science often cannot give a clear answer, philosophy emerges as a discourse that helps to ask questions and think about possible answers.
It is not easy to say why philosophy is useful, any more than it is easy to say what art is for. Even so, this serves as an example for us, since it shares with philosophy the fact that it is not only important but also necessary for the survival and development of humanity. After all, the way we think about ourselves is often the way we live. What more useful discipline, then, than the one that, deep down, helps us understand how to live?
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