tiistai 12. toukokuuta 2009

The purpose of the blog

Why would anyone in his right mind want to begin a blog about philosophy and particularly for those who know nothing of it? The easiest explanation is that philosophy is the issue I know best and it is easier to discuss it with those who know nothing of it, because then I can satisfy myself with the mere ABC of philosophy and avoid all the difficulties that would arise in a serious philosophical discussion. A more truthful answer is that I deem philosophy to be a valuable subject of study for anyone, and indeed, one that anyone can grasp at least partly. Furthermore, ignorants are often more open for new ideas than savants who already have a quite fixed notion of how things should go.

What then is philosophy? The question has had almost as many answers as there have been persons who have asked it. In Middle Ages philosophy as a study of world was separated from theology as a study of God. This meaning carried on to the early Modern Age, where philosophy and science were usually identified. Then science begun gradually to separate from philosophy, and this made the role of philosophy even more ambiguous. Was it a sort of “superscience”? Or was it something completely different from science? The question is still open.

Mainly because of the difficulty to even define philosophy I have decided to opt for a historical approach in my blog. I could also explain philosophy in a systematic fashion. Then I would begin from some part or special question of philosophy, detail first its history and then modern attempts to deal with it and perhaps finally state my own views of the issue. This approach has the disadvantage that it blurs the most important question why just these questions and problems have become part and parcel of what is known as philosophy.

Where should the history of philosophy then begin? The traditional answer is that first philosopher was a Greek Thales living around 500 BC. This answer suggests two more questions Why Greece, that is, why should we not begin, for instance, from thinkers of India and China? A traditional answer was that outside Western culture no proper philosophy existed, because e.g. all Indian and Chinese thinking was actually religion. This somewhat Eurocentric answer has two problems. Firstly, if all thinking connected with religion would be discarded as unphilosophy, very large portion of the Western philosophy would face the same fate. Secondly, many Indian and Chinese texts contain philosophical idea quite removed from religion: for instance, certain Indian schools pursued purely logical investigations. The only proper answer then is that the tradition beginning from the Greek philosophy has affected the modern philosophy more than e.g. Oriental philosophy.

Secondly, what is special about Thales? The easy answer would be that he is the traditional First philosopher from which to start. Yet, there is also something special about Thales. True, some histories of philosophy begin even from Homer and Hesiod, but although such beginnings provide some background for Greek culture, Homer and Hesiod are still no philosophers, but poets of epic and religious matters: the content of their poems relies too heavily on tradition. Then again, especially older histories begin their story from the so-called Seven Wise Men, of which Thales was also one. Yet, this wisdom of these men was no philosophy, but more of a practical know-how of statesmen and common people. Indeed, ancient philosophers like Plato distinguished themselves from these wise men by the epithet “philosopher” or “a lover of wisdom: wise men were living wisely, while philosophers were interested in knowing wisdom.

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