What Is Philosophy? Universal and Rational

Presentation to The Philosophy Forum, March 22, 2007

1.1 The word itself is of Greek origin: philosophía is a compound of phílos (friend, or lover) and sophía (wisdom). Major historical traditions include Classical philosophy, Religious Philosophy and Modern Philosophy.1

1.2 All definitions of philosophy are controversial and applications are always historically grounded. Some principles however include:

- Universal scope. Philosophy is concerned with principles and methods which are independent of particular circumstances, cultures etc.
- Rationalist. Philosophy makes no unexamined assumptions and does not accept propositions or methods on the basis of analogy, revelation or authority. Philosophical statements require verification.

1.3 Historically, philosophy concerns itself with how one should live (ethics); what sorts of things exist and what are their essential natures (metaphysics); what counts as genuine knowledge (epistemology); and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic).

1.4 Metaphysics in philosophy is derived from rational argumentation. It may be either transcendent (what really exists lies beyond experience) or immanent (the entirety of reality is within experience).2 The main study of metaphysics (and arguably the only one) is ontology,3 which includes issues of mind and matter, the properties of objects, space-time, probability and necessity, and identity and change.

1.5 Epistemology is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, and whether knowledge is possible at all. It is challenged by radical scepticism. It includes practical-knowledge (knowledge how), propositional-knowledge (knowledge that). It is widely acknowledged that empirical knowledge comes from sense-perception or induction and a prori knowledge from reason and deduction.

1.6 Ethics is popularly considered to be a part of philosophy. Meta-ethics is the most philosophical contribution, which debates whether particular ethical systems, which prescribe principles of good behaviour, have any means of comparison.

1.7 Logic is the study of inference from abstract axioms in a systematic manner.4 It is strongly tied to the discipline of mathematics.5 The main contributions are propositional calculus (truth functions) and predicate calculus (quantification). The main challenge comes from mathematical paradoxes. The latter may be described in sense of

1.8 The historical incorporation of ethics within philosophical discourse explicitly presupposes the unification of moral judgments with the universe as whole (i.e., a theological presumption) and as a metaphysic; modern philosophy, especially through the contributions of linguistics and pragmatics ("ordinary language philosophy"6) no longer makes such a claim.

1.9 Modern philosophy qua philosophy is therefore limited to ontology, epistemology and logic. only.

1.10 Critical questions that remain within modern philosophy include the debate between realism and nominalism, materialism and idealism, and the relationship between existentialism, phenomenology and hermenutics.

1.11 The application of these epistemology to pragmatic linguistics leads to a philosophically-derived studies of "truth", "justice" and "beauty"7. The application of ontology with pragmatic linguistics leads to philosophically-derived studies of the "physical world", the "social world" and the "personal world".

1.12 Some statements from these complexes are verifiable, others are not.8

Orientations/Worlds 1. Physical 2. Social 3. Personal
1. Statements of Truth Scientific facts Social facts Unverifiable
2. Statements of Justice Unverifiable Legal Norms Moral Norms
3. Statements of Beauty Aesthetic Expressions Unverifiable Sensual Expressions

1.13 Restrictions and causes for failure in philosophy and in the verification of statements include modal confusion, cognitive dissonance and ignorance; in summary - the lack of an "ideal speech situation".

1) Classical philosophy (Greco-Roman) is so defined due to the relative independence of investigative and contemplative thought to religious censorship. Religious philosophy includes scholastic endeavours within various scared cultic traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Judiaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism.
2) One can see how transcendental metaphysics leads to theological claims and the popular conception that 'metaphysics' refers to those things that lie "outside reality".
3) Aristotle's "Metaphysics" consisted of three parts; Ontology, Theology and Universal Science (i.e., Logic). However, theology is founded on non-philosophical principles, logic is a separate branch of analysis and epistemology was only coined in the 19th century (although Plato's contribution as "true belief" is not dismissed).
4) Aristotle's syllogisms were very systematic, but not axiomatic. They were so comprehensive however they effectively obstructed further development in logical for almost 2,000 years.
5) It is noted here that universities almost invariably offer a degree in mathematics as either a B.A. or a B.Sc. in recognition of this.
6) Noted here in particular are the contributions of George Moore, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Austin, John Searle and Jurgen Habermas.
7) This three-fold comparison was initially made by Socrates after his trial in Crito (c.f., Plato's The Trial and Death of Socrates)
8) This table is derived from Jurgen Habermas' "rationalisation complexes" from volume I of The Theory of Communicative Action (1984)