Philosophy comes from the Greek word Philosophia, which means love of wisdom. Today, it is an academic discipline that studies knowledge, reality, existence, and more. Studying philosophy makes you question and learn more about the world around you. The discipline is centuries old and today there are numerous topics to explore. Here we explore a few particularly intriguing examples of philosophy.
The Meaning of Life
Have you ever found yourself wondering: "What is the purpose of life?" or "Why are we here?". These questions are essentially all looking to answer what the meaning of life is. Throughout history, philosophers have asked this question and looked for answers. Several different theories exist to answer this question today. A popular answer is the stoic response. According to the Stoics, the meaning of life is to live according to nature. While you might not agree with this answer, there are several other ideas about the meaning of life. Thinking about the question is important. After all, your conception of the meaning of life will shape how you live it.
Have you ever thought something was beautiful, but somebody else thought it was ugly? Have you wondered why you saw the same thing but came to different conclusions? This is a question that Aesthetics would deal with. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that looks at the nature and appreciation of art and beauty. It is similar to ethics since it looks at the value of judgments. The word aesthetics comes from the Greek aisthetikos which translates to "of sense perception." Aesthetics is sometimes confused with the philosophy of art. However, the two are different. Aesthetic judgments discuss the appreciation of any object. Artistic judgments by contrast discuss the appreciation of a work of art. Some questions asked in Aesthetics include "What is a work of art?", "What makes a certain thing beautiful?", and "How are very different things both considered beautiful?"
Everyone has an idea of how the world can be better. Whether through a better justice system or ensuring equality, we all have a vision of our perfect society. This would be our utopia. The idea of a utopia is a society that is set up in a perfect way for its members. Thomas More coined the term in his aptly named book, Utopia. He describes a perfect fictional island society. Hypothesizing about utopias focuses on equality in categories such as economics, government, and justice. Different philosophers have theorized about what a utopia would look like. Plato shared his vision of a utopia in his dialogue, The Laws. Here, he sketches out the political structure and laws of an ideal city called Magnesia. Thinking about utopias might seem trivial and unrealistic to some people. However, forming a vision of our utopia shows us the ways our society could improve and gives us a vision to work towards.
Happiness is another topic in philosophy that occupies everyone's mind at some point. Everyone wants to have happiness in their life, don't they? What that happiness looks like will be different for each person. Aristotle believed that happiness is something we must nurture. To do this, Aristotle said we had to act with virtue, essentially being what he believed to be a good person. The Buddha's philosophy on happiness emphasizes people finding fulfillment in the experience of living rather than arriving at the destination of happiness. These are only two ideas on happiness, and there are infinite others to pique your interest.
You might simply think that reality is what you can see and touch. However, this isn't always the case; our senses can deceive us. Think of a mirage, when you think you see water that isn't actually there. You might also believe ideas that are false, like in your last dream! These situations might lead us to question reality. Most branches of philosophy deal in some way or another with the question of reality. Ontology is what philosophers call the study of the nature of being. An ontologist would ask whether a physical object is real, or if reality is just in the mind.
There is some overlap between questioning reality and questioning truth. Truth is an integral subject in philosophy and one of the largest. People who work together often depend on sharing certain truths to succeed. For example, a group of activists should hold the same values to work together. Aristotle was one of the first known philosophers to articulate a theory of truth, which is known as the correspondence theory. In this view, truth is a basic concept; if a statement corresponds with the facts, then it's true! Another popular philosopher with ideas about Truth is Rene Descartes who declared famously, "I think, therefore I am." He believed the human mind's ability to reason is an undeniable truth. While not everyone agrees with either of these ideas, most people agree having some understanding of truth is important.
Philosophers want to gain a better understanding of the world around them and gain more knowledge. However, philosophers can't pursue knowledge without questioning it. You might have questions about knowledge yourself. For example, Is knowledge innate, observable, or both? What is knowledge anyway? Are there different types of knowledge? Epistemology is a branch of philosophy dedicated to understanding knowledge. The field explores different types of knowledge and different ways of gaining it.
A branch of philosophy that is often the most difficult to tackle is morality. Questions of right and wrong are personal problems people must face regularly. Different philosophies have different criteria for understanding what is right and wrong. Utilitarians believe the action that results in the most happiness for the most people is the right thing to do. By contrast, deontologists believe the right thing to do is always follow a moral rule. For example, if your moral rule is to never lie, you can never lie under any circumstances. Learning about different ideas can help us make moral decisions in our own lives.
Closely related to questions of morality is the idea of justice. In philosophy, justice has many definitions. We typically associate justice with an idea of fairness. In ancient times justice was one of the four cardinal virtues. Aristotle's philosophy of justice is the foundation for nearly all Western views of justice. Aristotle believed a foundational concept of justice is treating similar cases the same. That way, everybody gets fair treatment. The question of justice is a key concept discussed in political philosophy especially.
The Human Condition
The human condition describes what it means to be human. In philosophical discussions, key events in human life are discussed to understand humanity. These events include birth, learning, emotion, morality, conflict, and death. The human condition considers the positives and negatives of human life. Exactly what this means is open to interpretation and discussion in philosophy. Topics that come up when pondering the human condition include what it means to be human, what emotions are, what death means, and why we are born. All these questions relate back to a component of human life.
One of the most valuable resources to humans is time. Considering this, it's not surprising there have been many philosophical ideas around the concept of time. Some common questions asked about time include: "What is time? Does time have a definite form? Can we trace the origin of time?" An interesting perspective about time is fatalism. This theory of time arose from questions about freedom and determinism. The main conclusion from fatalism is that the future is unavoidable.
Can we really control our fate? Do we have control over our lives? These are both questions of free will. Free will is the ability to decide between two different courses of action. Since the time of ancient philosophers, humans have questioned whether or not we really possess free will. Some people believe people are free and can make choices in their life. However, others do not think free will is possible for humans. This idea is related to determinism. This is a branch of philosophy that states everything in the universe, including human decisions, is inevitable. According to this philosophy, if a person makes a decision, it is impossible that they would have made any other decision. In other words, the philosophy is saying how people act and life is already determined, and people are powerless to change this. Many people believe determinism is incompatible with free will. While some determinists completely deny the existence of free will, there are some who believe determinism and free will are compatible.
Individualism is a political philosophy that stresses the intrinsic moral value of an individual. While the idea may seem simple enough, there are different ways of understanding the philosophy. Some people view individualism as promoting the realization of one's own goals and desires. Going along with this is an idea of valuing independence and self-reliance. Some individualists believe the individual should be more important than the state. This goes into discussion about individual rights and the role of institutions. Individualism is generally seen as the opposite of collectivism.
Philosophy in Everyday Life
While you might associate philosophy with theory and historical figures, this is only a part of the discipline. Philosophy has been criticized for being an old discipline containing outdated knowledge. However, philosophy is really about asking questions and a desire to learn more about the world around us. Without questioning the world around us, we can't progress in our lives. This makes philosophy not only an interesting discipline but an incredible tool for transforming our own lives.