Before I even properly knew what philosophy was, I knew I wanted to study it. I remember being drawn to it and religion when I first finished school, but my UAI and father’s advice lead me to study Business. I know the world in the 21st century is dominated by business… but is that really what life is about???
Well as you know I’ve moved on from a marketing-money dominated paradigm, and eventually to a situation where here I am blogging my “search for truth”. And would you know it, searching for “truth” is exactly what philosophy is all about!!!
“Don’t go killing yourself,” my dad laughed when I told him now I am studying philosophy. “All the philosophers go around and round in circles, and eventually they kill themselves to put themselves out of the misery.”
I wiki’d it and suffice to say the odds aren’t so bad. Only six high profile philosophers have suicide in the last 30 years, and one (Foucault) died of aids. Before that majority of the deaths of philosophers were from treason, murder or the Inquisition. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_of_philosophers)
Anyway I don’t plan to get too deep into the linguistic word plays so hopefully I will deepen my understanding of the meaning of life, and not lose a sense of the worth of it all. The thing is, I have to study philosophy, I mean, how a “search for truth” not include at least a peak at the great minds of the last few thousand years?
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”. Philosophy is ‘the study of general and fundamental problems, such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. 
If you have been following the journey you have over the last month caught up on some insights from peace and conflict studies. Now I invite you join me as I try to “master” philosophy – something that’s not exactly going to be so easy for someone who has NEVER studied philosophy…
But heck, throwing oneself in the deep-end and forcing yourself to swim (generally) won’t kill you, so porque no?! (Why not?!)
Today just a very quick overview, so you can have some idea of the journey ahead. I’m not going to study all of these categories, or at least I don’t plan to, but it’s good to know what’s out there.
There seems to be an infinite number of branches and types and schools of philosophical thought. Thanks to the web, summaries are easy to find. These (according to wikipedia) are the main branches:
- Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and body, substance and accident, events and causation. Traditional branches are cosmology and ontology.
- Epistemology is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, and whether knowledge is possible. Among its central concerns has been the challenge posed by skepticism and the relationships between truth, belief, and justification.
- Ethics, or “moral philosophy”, is concerned with questions of how persons ought to act or if such questions are answerable. Ethics is also associated with the idea of morality. Plato’s early dialogues include a search for definitions of virtue.
- Political philosophy is the study of government and the relationship of individuals and communities to the state. It includes questions about justice, the good, law, property, and the rights and obligations of the citizen.
- Aesthetics deals with beauty, art, enjoyment, sensory-emotional values, perception, and matters of taste and sentiment.
- Logic is the study of valid argument forms. Today the subject of logic has two broad divisions: mathematical logic (formal symbolic logic) and what is now called philosophical logic.
- Philosophy of mind deals with the nature of the mind and its relationship to the body, and is typified by disputes between dualism and materialism. In recent years there has been increasing similarity between this branch of philosophy and cognitive science.
- Philosophy of language is inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language.
- Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy that asks questions about religion.
Also, most academic subjects have a philosophy, for example the philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics the , the philosophy of logic, the philosophy of law, and the philosophy of history.
Then there’s a range of newer subjects that historically were the subject of philosophy. These include science, anthropology, and psychology.
Then philosophy divides into Western and Eastern, each with their own periodic and geographical categories, and then some main theories including:
- Realism is the doctrine that abstract entities corresponding to universal terms like “man” or “table” or “red” actually exist outside the mind.
- Rationalism is any view emphasizing the role or importance of human reason. Extreme rationalism tries to base all knowledge on reason alone. Rationalism typically starts from premises that cannot coherently be denied, then attempts by logical steps to deduce every possible object of knowledge.
- Empiricism downplays or dismisses the ability of reason alone to yield knowledge of the world, preferring to base any knowledge we have on our senses.
- Skepticism is a philosophical attitude that, in its most extreme form, questions the possibility of obtaining any sort of knowledge.
- Idealism is the epistemological doctrine that nothing can be directly known outside of the minds of thinking beings. Or in an alternative stronger form, it is the metaphysical doctrine that nothing exists apart from minds and the “contents” of minds.
- Pragmatism was founded in the spirit of finding a scientific concept of truth that does not depend on personal insight (revelation) or reference to some metaphysical realm. The truth of a statement should be judged by the effect it has on our actions, and truth should be seen as what the whole of scientific enquiry ultimately agrees on
- Phenomenology was Edmund Husserl’s ambitious attempt to lay the foundations for an account of the structure of conscious experience in general. An important part of Husserl’s phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called intentionality.
- Existentialism is a term applied to the work of a number of late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the acting, feeling, living human individual.
- Structuralism sought to clarify systems of signs through analyzing the discourses they both limit and make possible. Saussure conceived of the sign as being delimited by all the other signs in the system, and ideas as being incapable of existence prior to linguistic structure, which articulates thought – that language is no longer spoken by man to express a true inner self, but language speaks man. Structuralists believed they could analyze systems from an external, objective standing.
- Poststructuralists argued that this is incorrect, that one cannot transcend structures and thus analysis is itself determined by what it examines – hence every attempt to grasp the signified results in more signifiers, so meaning is always in a state of being deferred, making an ultimate interpretation impossible.
Then there’s key philosophers to which the list is endless and debatable… a few can be seen on the map above. This map comes from www.philosophybasics.com which also has details on all of these theories and philosophers and more. Also an amazing resource for comparing similarities and differences and time lines of thought I discovered this one: http://www.wadsworth.com/philosophy_d/special_features/timeline/timeline.html# And of course there’s youtube!
I’m going to leave it there for today. If you are at my level of philosophical training most of these category titles won’t mean so much, but it’s nice to know they are there.
The lines of philosophical thought I will research will be far more narrow than this – my main interests seem to be basics of metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, history and science; and then in more detail something called Process Philosophy and the intersections between Modernism and Post-modernism.
While all this jargon can seem scary (at least it is for me), please don’t let this turn you off – I plan to keep it as practical as possible, applying the lines of thought to everyday life, and (hopefully) avoid a lot of those (almost unavoidable) word games 🙂
For anyone who is interested in academic formalities, I should tell you that a MPhil or “Master of Philosophy” is pretty much half of a PhD or “Doctor of Philosophy” which is not restricted to the discipline of philosophy but is a philosophical argument based on research. So, the MPhil I will write will still be in the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. It is for my own personal integrity, if I am going to carry the label “master of philosophy”, I want to know the basics.
 Wikipedia – “Philosophy” (Apologies to academics)