Nature Of Philosophy (2)

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Nature of Philosophy, it’s relation with life,Science and culture

Two answers are frequently given to the question ‘What is philosophy?’

One is that philosophy is an activity rather than a subject – in other words, you do philosophy rather than learn about it. The other is that philosophy is largely a matter of conceptual analysis – it is thinking about thinking. Both these suggestions contain more than a germ of truth but are unsatisfactory, giving little or no idea of the content of philosophy. It is all very well to say ‘Philosophize’ or ‘Analyse concepts’, but philosophize about what and in what sorts of ways; analyse what concepts and how? The most direct way of seeing what philosophy is about is to look at the sorts of questions that philosophers think are important and how they go about answering them.

What is common to all such questions is that they are questions that can be answered only by reasoning. In other disciplines, there are various ways of finding out answers to questions – such as by studying.

nature or ancient manuscripts, by conducting experiments or surveys, by building a piece of apparatus or a model or by running a simulation on a computer. By and large, these are what can be termed ‘empirical investigations’. The outcomes of these investigations – new discoveries, new data – will often be relevant to philosophy, but empirical investigations cannot provide the answers to philosophical questions.

There are many ways of dividing up the subject areas of philosophy. None of them is entirely satisfactory, since there will always be topics that cut across or fail to fit neatly into the divisions. None the less, we begin to get a better idea of the scope of philosophy by considering the following three broad areas.

First, metaphysics. This area of philosophy deals with the ultimate nature of reality. Is the everyday world real? If not, what is the nature of the reality that lies beneath the world of appearances? What is the nature of the space–time framework within which we and the objects around us appear to exist? Given that something exists, why that and not something else? Why that and not nothing? Why is there change? How can there also be permanence through change? Do the things that exist fall into different types, such as minds and bodies? If there are minds, are there disembodied minds? Is there a God?

Second, epistemology. Here the concern is with whether and how knowledge of reality is possible. What are the limits to our knowledge? Can we rely upon sense perception to tell us what the world is really like? Is there an unknowable reality lying behind appearances? Does science give us knowledge of a deeper reality? Does science give us knowledge at all? Can our powers of reasoning give us knowledge? Can our powers of reasoning at least correct errors that might arise from the senses? Are there other sources of knowledge, for example, ones that would enable us to perceive values or know the true nature of God?

Third, the areas of moral and political philosophy. These areas deal with how we conduct ourselves within the world. What is there, if anything, to guide our conduct? Should we follow our feelings? Can our reason tell us what is right and wrong? Can reason tell us what political institutions to set up? Do we have obligations to the political institutions that exist in the society in which we find ourselves? Are the only values the ones that we, as individuals, create for ourselves?

Philosophy : It’s relation with life

We have more reason to examine the relation of philosophy  to life than the relation of other sciences to life, because philos-  ophy is specially occupied with questions which have direct  reference to life, or which are on the boundary line between  the life of thought and the other forms of life. Philosophical  problems concern the nature, conditions and limits of knowl-  edge, the nature and worth of evidence, and the principles  which underlie our valuation of human actions and institutions.  It is the task of philosophy to bring together all the facts which  can throw light on these questions and to use them for the pur-  pose of gaining a definite point of view with respect to the  fundamental problems of life and reality. Philosophy is a dis-  tinctive form of mental life which reacts on the other forms of  mental life. The philosophy of the Vedanta has had great  influence on mental development in India; Platonism has acted  powerfully on the development of the Christian Church; and  in the past century the thought of Spinoza and Kant, of Hume  and Comte have had a great influence even on those who cher-  ished the belief that they were beyond the reach of philosophi-  cal influences. Philosophy has a function to perform, without  which the mental life would be deprived of clearness and  depth. To accomplish its task, philosophy ought to be free and  unhampered.

Thought is an element of life which throws light on the other elements, and these other elements have no  right to dictate to thought on the ground that they alone con-  stitute “life.” The materials which thought requires for work-  ing out its problems must be discovered by thought itself. Only  with the help of thought is it possible to distinguish between  real experience and mere ideas or illusions. Philosophy is  nothing but an endeavor to attain the clearest possible concep-  tion of our place in the system of things,

It is difficult, however, to reach this stage of clear conscious-  ness. Behind our clearest consciousness there are always un-  conscious tendencies and dispositions, which can perhaps be  recognized later on, but which for long periods of time can  function as latent coefficients. Our consciousness works itself  out of a dark chaos, and its sporadic elements are combined  through an involuntary synthetical process. Our clearest  thinking has, therefore, its heel of Achilles, namely, that point  where the unconscious and involuntary forces are at work.  This heel of Achilles can be discovered later on, and thought.

can perhaps avoid being wounded again at this point. When  Thetis immersed her son in fire to make him invulnerable, she  grasped him by the heel; she was not clever enough to immerse  him twice and to grasp the other heel the second time. Philos-  ophy acquires this cleverness in proportion to the degree in  which she emancipates herself from dogmatism. Every philos-  ophical work makes use of certain presuppositions, of which the  philosophers cannot be completely conscious, which are effects  of the dependence in which thought, despite all its energy, ever  stands to the other sides of life. But subsequent thought can  draw such presuppositions to the light, and in this consists the  progress of philosophy.

Philosophy vs Science

The touchstone of the value of philosophy as a world-view and methodology is the degree to which it is interconnected with life. This interconnection may be both direct and indirect, through the whole system of culture, through science, art, morality, religion, law, and politics. As a special form of social consciousness, constantly interacting with all its other forms, philosophy is their general theoretical substantiation and interpretation.  Can philosophy develop by itself, without the support of science? Can science “work” without philosophy? Some people think that the sciences can stand apart from philosophy, that the scientist should actually avoid philosophising, the latter often being understood as groundless and generally vague theorising. If the term philosophy is given such a poor interpretation, then of course anyone would agree with the warning “Physics, beware of metaphysics!” But no such warning applies to philosophy in the higher sense of the term. The specific sciences cannot and should not break their connections with true philosophy.

Science and philosophy have always learned from each other. Philosophy tirelessly draws from scientific discoveries fresh strength, material for broad generalisations, while to the sciences it imparts the world-view and methodological im pulses of its universal principles. Many general guiding ideas that lie at the foundation of modern science were first enunciated by the perceptive force of philosophical thought. One example is the idea of the atomic structure of things voiced by Democritus. Certain conjectures about natural selection were made in ancient times by the philosopher Lucretius and later by the French thinker Diderot. Hypothetically he anticipated what became a scientific fact two centuries later. We may also recall the Cartesian reflex and the philosopher’s proposition on the conservation of motion in the universe. On the general philosophical plane Spinoza gave grounds for the universal principle of determinism. The idea of the existence of molecules as complex particles consisting of atoms was developed in the works of the French philosopher Pierre Gassendi and also Russia’s Mikhail Lomonosov. Philosophy nurtured the hypothesis of the cellular structure of animal and vegetable organisms and formulated the idea of the development and universal connection of phenomena and the principle of the material unity of the world. Lenin formulated one of the fundamental ideas of contemporary natural science—the principle of the inexhaustibility of matter—upon which scientists rely as a firm methodological foundation.

The latest theories of the unity of matter, motion, space and time, the unity of the discontinuous and continuous, the principles of the conservation of matter and motion, the ideas of the infinity and inexhaustibility of matter were stated in a general form in philosophy.

Besides influencing the development of the specialised fields of knowledge, philosophy itself has been substantially enriched by progress in the concrete sciences. Every major scientific discovery is at the same time a step forward in the development of the philosophical world-view and methodology. Philosophical statements are based on sets of facts studied by the sciences and also on the system of propositions, principles, concepts and laws discovered through the generalisation of these facts. The achievements of the specialised sciences are summed up in philosophical statements. Euclidian geometry, the mechanics of Galileo and Newton, which have influenced men’s minds for centuries, were great achievements of human reason which played ‘a significant role in forming world-views and methodology. And what an intellectual revolution was produced by Copernicus’ heliocentric system, which changed the whole conception of the structure of the universe, or by Darwin’s theory of evolution, which had a profound impact on biological science in general and our whole conception of man’s place in nature. Mendeleyev’s brilliant system of chemical elements deepened our understanding of the structure of matter. Einstein’s theory of relativity changed our notion of the relationship between matter, motion, space and time. Quantum mechanics revealed hitherto unknown world of microparticles of matter. The theory of higher nervous activity evolved by Sechenov and Pavlov deepened our understanding of the material foundations of mental activity, of consciousness. Cybernetics revealed new horizons for an understanding of the phenomena of information interactions, the principles of control in living systems, in technological devices and in society, and also the principles of feedback, the man-machine system, and so on. And what philosophically significant pictures have been presented to us by genetics, which deepened our understanding of the relationship between the biological and the social in man, a relationship that has revealed the subtle mechanisms of heredity.

The creation and development by Marx, Engels and Lenin of the science of the laws of development of human society, which has changed people’s view of their place in the natural and social vortex of events, holds a special place in this constellation of achievements of human reason.  If we trace the whole history of natural and social science, we cannot fail to notice that scientists in their specific researches, in constructing hypotheses and theories have constantly applied, sometimes unconsciously, world-views and methodological principles, categories and logical systems evolved by philosophers and absorbed by scientists in the process of their training and self-education. All scientists who think in terms of theory constantly speak of this with a deep feeling of gratitude both in their works and at regional and international conferences and congresses.  So the connection between philosophy and science is mutual and characterised by their ever deepening interaction.

Some people think that science has reached such a level of theoretical thought that it no longer needs philosophy. But any scientist, particularly the theoretician, knows in his heart that his creative activity is closely linked with philosophy and that without serious knowledge of philosophical culture the results of that activity cannot become theoretically effective. All the outstanding theoreticians have themselves been guided by philosophical thought and tried to inspire their pupils with its beneficent influence in order to make them specialists capable of comprehensively and critically analysing all the principles and systems known to science, discovering their internal contradictions and overcoming them by means of new concepts. Real scientists, and by this we usually mean scientists with a powerful theoretical grasp, have never turned their backs on philosophy. Truly scientific thought is philosophical to the core, just as truly philosophical thought is profoundly scientific, rooted in the sum-total of scientific achievements Philosophical training gives the scientist a breadth and penetration, a wider scope in posing and resolving problems. Sometimes these qualities are brilliantly expressed, as in the work of Marx, particularly in his Capital, or in Einstein’s wide-ranging natural scientific conceptions.

philosophy and culture

The ability to transmit information across generations and peers by means other than genetic exchange is a key trait of the human species; even more specific to humans seems the capacity to use symbolic systems to communicate. In the anthropological use of the term, “culture” refers to all the practices of information exchange that are not genetic or epigenetic. This includes all behavioral and symbolic systems.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant has formulated an individualist definition of “enlightenment” similar to the concept of bildung: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” He argued that this immaturity comes not from a lack of understanding, but from a lack of courage to think independently. Against this intellectual cowardice, Kant urged: Sapere aude, “Dare to be wise!” In reaction to Kant, German scholars such as Johann Gottfried Herder argued that human creativity, which necessarily takes unpredictable and highly diverse forms, is as important as human rationality. Moreover, Herder proposed a collective form of bildung: “For Herder, Bildung was the totality of experiences that provide a coherent identity, and sense of common destiny, to a people.

In the 19th century, humanists such as English poet and essayist Matthew Arnold used the word “culture” to refer to an ideal of individual human refinement, of “the best that has been thought and said in the world.” This concept of culture is comparable to the German concept of bildung: “…culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.”  In practice, culture referred to an élite ideal and was associated with such activities as art, classical music, and haute cuisine.As these forms were associated with urban life, “culture” was identified with “civilization” (from lat. civitas, city). Another facet of the Romantic movement was an interest in folklore, which led to identifying a “culture” among non-elites. This distinction is often characterized as that between high culture, namely that of the ruling social group, and low culture. In other words, the idea of “culture” that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries reflected inequalities within European societies.

Matthew Arnold contrasted “culture” with anarchy; other Europeans, following philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, contrasted “culture” with “the state of nature”. According to Hobbes and Rousseau, the Native Americans who were being conquered by Europeans from the 16th centuries on were living in a state of nature; this opposition was expressed through the contrast between “civilized” and “uncivilized.” According to this way of thinking, one could classify some countries and nations as more civilized than others and some people as more cultured than others. This contrast led to Herbert Spencer’s theory of Social Darwinism and Lewis Henry Morgan’s theory of cultural evolution. Just as some critics have argued that the distinction between high and low cultures is really an expression of the conflict between European elites and non-elites, some critics have argued that the distinction between civilized and uncivilized people is really an expression of the conflict between European colonial powers and their colonial subjects.

 

 


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