Philosophy in Different Fields and Industries

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The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek word phisophia, which means “love of wisdom” or in simpler terms, “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a relatively complex topic that has shaped today’s mathematics, ethics, politics, science, and language. Philosophy can be broken down into smaller parts or more descriptive types of philosophies. These include; metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of religion, and political philosophy. There are, of course, many other sub-categories. However, the most influential and mind breaking types are the ones that deserve the most attention.

Metaphysics

When discussing metaphysics, the general questions that describe the topic are, “What is reality?” and “What makes something real?” It is essentially the study of all reality, both visible and invisible, the natural and supernatural. Before the first philosophers, metaphysics was seen as “the first cause of things” or “things that do not change”. However, there were philosophers later who disagreed with these definitions. Two of the most influential philosophers who questioned metaphysics were Plato and Aristotle.

The very first philosopher to answer questions about metaphysics was Plato. Plato lived from 428-348 B.C.E. He was born in Athens and was raised into an aristocratic family. He began travelling at a young age, teaching philosophy and eventually founding “The Academy”, the center for philosophical and political training. In terms of metaphysics Plato believed that reality is unchanging. The world around us is open to question; nature, objects and even human life. All of these things are changing and even our own morality can be questioned. However, beyond all these unchanging things, Plato believed that there must be something that is unchanging and perfect. Things such as beauty and goodness are real and are essentially the foundation of all that exists. Ultimate reality is located in The Forms, a separate reality. Everything in this world is based on the unchanging Forms and all of our objects are just copies of the forms. Everyone has a pre-existent soul that was once part of the Forms but is now trapped inside our bodies. Basically, the world in which we live in is just a copy of true reality. In light of reality, Plato’s most significant teaching was his dualism. He split off what really is, the world of eternal and unchanging forms, from the world we currently live in.

The second most influential philosopher who discussed metaphysics was Aristotle. Aristotle lived from 384-322 B.C. He was born in Macedonia and was the son of a doctor. He was a student of Plato and studied at The Academy. Aristotle did not completely disagree with Plato’s Forms, but did incorporate more believable ideas into the theory. Aristotle focused on the idea that everything has an explanation and these explanations were not from a mystical world like the Forms, but from everyday things we observe in the world. Reality is located within this world. He explained his theory through the Four Causes. The types of causes are; material, formal, efficient, and final. The material cause tells us what a thing is made of. The formal cause tells us the shape an object takes. The efficient cause tells us how a thing is made. And, the final cause tells us why a thing is made. All substances have two parts; matter and form. A mere form cannot exist alone without matter. Equally, matter cannot exist alone. Aristotle says that form cannot change but matter must remain. Aristotle did not split reality into two, but rather came up with persuasive arguments to explain why one reality is sufficient and able to comprehend.

Epistemology

When discussing the topic of epistemology, the main questions that have to be asked are, “What is true?” and “How do we believe something is true?” Epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge. Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of particular aspects of reality. Epistemology is important to study because it is required in order for use to determine true and false and gather information about the world around us. Without epistemology, humans could not have the capacity to think. And even more specifically, we would not a reason to believe whether our thinking was correct or not. In philosophy, many great minds tackled the topic of epistemology, but the most influential philosophers to discuss it would be Rene Descartes and Blaise Pascal. Both Descartes and Pascal opened the eyes of man to the introduction of modern philosophy by putting reason as the basis of knowledge, rather than God.

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Rene Descartes is and was known as the “father of modern philosophy.” He was born in France and lived from 1596-1650. He made excellent contributions to math and physics and aimed to also make contributions towards the theory of knowledge. Descartes said that all truth must be built and based on something. He called this his New Foundation. With the New Foundation, Descartes discussed Base Principles and Radical Doubt. His basic principles were ideas and knowledge that cannot be disputed and must be true. For example, a tree is green. It is an idea and principle of an object that cannot be overturned. However, his radical doubt stated that if anything can be doubted, then it is to be doubted. Famously, Descartes defines knowledge in terms of doubt. Things that can be doubted according to Descartes are; authority, senses, the self, and perception of reality. People who are in authority can lie to us, therefore they must be doubted. Our senses and observations lie to us and we can always doubt our perceptions. Even though Descartes seemed to set up experiments for doubt, what he is most famous for is solving the answer to doubt. He gathered together reasonable arguments from Augustine and other medieval philosophers and put them together to make his own. Descartes said that it is true that I can doubt anything, but I cannot doubt that I exist. I am thinking and not doubting, therefore I exist. I am able to think, reason and rationalize experiences and thoughts. God puts thoughts and ideas in my mind and since God is perfect, I can have sure and certain knowledge. This was Descartes’ answer to doubt.

Blaise Pascal however, saw Descartes’ ideas as “useless and uncertain.” Pascal was born in France and lived from 1632-1662. He was an incredible mathematician and physicist. He was an inventor and among all of his creations, he invented the “omnibus”. Pascal was a friend of Descartes and studied his ideas and was doing the same thing as Descartes, only with much different results. He respected Descartes and found his teaching to be helpful but believed that no one can live as a total skeptic. Even skeptics have to believe something in order to live. Rather than having rational knowledge and doubting everything, we can know that the heart is where all ultimate truth comes from. We know truth not through reason, but through the heart. Pascal did not absolutely reject the use of reason, but rather proved its inaccuracy. Just as reason cannot prove knowledge, then neither can it prove the existence of God.

Philosophy of Religion

When discussing the philosophy of religion, it is important to ask the questions, “Who is God?” and “How do we know God exists?” In personal belief, God is everywhere. He is the Creator and Sustainer of our world. We know God exists through his creation and by reading His word, the Bible. Believing in God is something many people try to logically answer, but in reality, the question is much more complex than a simple belief. The world is full of religions and religious norms. Up until modernism in philosophy, most philosophers based their knowledge and understanding on God and his truths. Two philosophers who truly shaped the philosophy of religion were Thomas Aquinas and St. Anselm.

Thomas Aquinas was bornin Italy and lived from 1225-1274. He was a Dominican monk who made a large impact on Western though and is an important figure in the Roman Catholic Church. According to Aquinas, theology relied on authoritative revelation. Aquinas believed that God created all things and his characteristics and attributes are revealed through His creation. In order for us to know more about God, we must observe nature. God created man for Himself, but the world was created for us. Aquinas gave 3 arguments as to why God exists; the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, and Contingency/Necessity. The Unmoved mover argument says that all objects stay at rest until moved and their movements is a chain reaction. Therefore, there must be someone who started this movement, hence God. In the same way, the Uncaused cause says that there is an infinite regress of causes, hence God starting and controlling the causes. And finally, since something contingent depends on something else, we must rely of God, since He is the necessary being. Therefore, Aquinas not only believed in Creator, but a Creator with extraordinary attributes and knowledge.

St. Anselm of Canterbury was born in Italy and lived from 1033-1109. He was an archbishop of Canterbury and wrote many books about philosophy and religion. Anselm believed that when we form a belief we begin to support it, rather that support something and then coming up with a belief. This was faith seeking understanding. Anselm put forth many arguments to defend God’s existence, but the most famous one was his “ontological argument”. First, God is something that which no greater can be thought, meaning that it is impossible to think of something greater than God. Secondly, it is more important for something to exist in the reality rather than in the mind. So, God must exist because an existing God is greater than a hypothetical God. Anslem says that God is unique in his greatness and existence. These two philosophers made a huge difference when it came to proving the existence of God to others.

Political Philosophy

Political philosophy is the study of the politics, justice, liberty, and government. It answers the main questions of, “What is government?” and “Why is government needed?” Government is a system that keeps people in line in society. They influence a person’s actions in order for them to benefit society. Political philosophy had originated in Greece and became more popular, spreading to all of Europe and the Americas. Two philosophers that influenced modern day philosophy are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Both of these philosophers made important discoveries and contributions to our societies today and we still look back to their knowledge to learn more about our governments today.

The first major contributor to political philosophy was Thomas Hobbes. He was born in England and lived from 1588-1679. Not only was he a political theorist, but also a mathematician and physicist. Thomas Hobbes believed that a society cannot function without a form of government. Without a government, there would be anarchy and war. We as people, are savages in our natural state. We try seeking our own happiness and fulfillment, but always ultimately fail. So, the solution is to agree to have a government make rules to follow. The rule of someone higher than us gives humans a sense of purpose and safety. If a population were to be attacked, the government would be responsible for making decisions about counterattacks or morality in general. Hobbes believed that a person could pursue their own interests, but do not have to pursue the interests of others.

The second most important contributor to political philosophy was John Locke. He was born in England and lived from 1632-1704. He was the founder of “liberal” political philosophy, meaning that he believed in limited government and individual rights. This is actually the philosophy on which the American Constitution and all Western political systems are based. Locke believed that it is a person’s duty to follow the law, whereas Hobbes said that following the law was a right. According to Locke, all men are free and independent and that the government must respect an individual’s rights. Even though Locke says that men are free to do as they wish, it must be in the bounds of the law. Also, an individual has to respect the rights of others and help others pursue their own happiness. This is another way in which Locke and Hobbes differ. Ultimately however, John Lock’s philosophy is much more commonly interpreted in government today.

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