introduction to philosophy

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introduction to philosophy


Paul Gerard Horrigan

     COPYRIGHT ? 2002 By

    Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D, All Rights Reserved.

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    free for noncommercial and educational use.


    1. The Nature of Philosophy

    2. Philosophy of Nature (Philosophy of Inanimate Nature)

    3. Philosophical Psychology (Philosophy of Animate Nature)

    4. Philosophy of Knowledge

    5. Metaphysics

    6. Philosophy of God

    7. Ethics




    1.1. The Definition of Philosophy

    According to its etymology, the term “philosophy” means “love of wisdom.” At first, the early Greek thinkers had described themselves as “wise men” but tradition has it that, out of humility, Pythagoras had called himself a “philosopher” (philosophos) or “friend or lover of wisdom.” From then on, the term “philosopher” had replaced that of “wise man.” The tradition which credits Pythagoras for having been the originator and interpreter of the term “philosopher” is usually

    traced back to Heracleides Ponticus. In his Tusculanae

    1[1]Disputationes, the Roman eclectic philosopher and master of oratory Cicero has left us what appears to be the essentials of Heracleides‟ account. He tells us that Pythagoras had once

    visited Leon who was the tyrant of Phlius, and when asked by his host what particular art or skill he possessed, he is said to

     1[1] CICERO, Tusculanae Disputationes, V, 3, 8-10.

    have replied that he was a “philosopher” and thus, did not possess any particular practical skill. Then, Pythagoras gave what is called a “panegyric analogy” to explain what he meant by the term “philosopher”: “The life of man resembles a great festival celebrated....before the concourse from the whole of Greece. At this festival some people sought to win the glorious distinction of a crown; and others, again, were attracted by the prospect of material gain through buying and selling. But there were also a certain type of people, and that quite the best type of men, who were interested neither in competing, applauding nor in seeking gain, but who came solely for the sake of the spectacle itself, and, hence, closely watched what was done and how it was done. And so also we, as though we had come from some city to a crowded festival, leaving in like fashion another life and another nature of being, entered upon this life. And some were slaves of ambition, and some were slaves of money. But there were a special few who, counting all else for nothing, closely scanned the nature of things. These gave themselves the name of „philosophers‟ (sapientiae studiosi) and this is the

    meaning of the term „philosophers.‟ And just as at these festivals the men of the most exalted education looked on without any self-seeking intent, so too, in life the dispassionate

    contemplation of things and their rational apprehension

    (cognitio) or understanding by far surpasses all other


    Philosophy begins in wonder. All men by nature desire

    3[3]to know, and philosophizing begins with an attitude of

    wonder. Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, writes that “it is owing to

    wonder that men both now begin, and at first began, to

    philosophize. They wondered... about the phenomena of the

    moon and those of the sun and the stars, and about the origin of

    the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks

    himself ignorant. Hence, even the lover of myth in a sense is a

    lover of wisdom or a philosopher, for the myth, too, is

    composed of wonders. Therefore, since men philosophized in

    order to escape from ignorance, they were pursuing knowledge

    or science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian

    purpose...Evidently, then, we do not seek this kind of

     2[2] CICERO, op. cit. See also: IAMBLICHUS, De Vita Pythagorica (or, De Vita Pythagorae) XII, 58

    (31, 20-32, 22 ed. Deubner); IAMBLICHUS, Protrepticus, 53, 15 ff. (Pistelli); ATHENAEUS,

    Deipnosophistae, XI, 463DE. One should mention, however, that Diogenes Laertius credits this story to Sosicrates rather than to Heracleides Ponticus (Diogenis Laertii vitae philosophorum, VIII,8) and relates

    (ibid, I,12) that Pythagoras called himself a “philosopher” (philosophos) or “lover of wisdom” rather

    than a “wise man” because “no man is wise but God alone.” This brings to mind the thoughts of Plato, who, in his Phaedrus, writes: “Wise I may not call them (scil., those whose compositions are based on

    the knowledge of objective truth and who can defend or prove their compositions), for this is a great name which belongs to God alone. But „lovers of wisdom‟ is their proper and befitting title” (278D).

    3[3] Cf. ARISTOTLE, Metaphysics, I, 1, 980a 1.

    knowledge for the sake of any other advantage...we pursue it as

    4[4]the only free science, because it exists for its own sake.”

    The philosopher is a lover of wisdom, one who seeks

    wisdom for its own sake and not for any other motive, for a

    person who seeks a certain thing for some other motive loves

    the motive more than the thing sought. Philosophy is, strictly

    speaking, knowledge sought for its own sake, for the sheer love

    5[5]of truth. In the Protrepticus, Aristotle holds that “it is by no

    means strange that philosophic wisdom on first sight should

    appear to be devoid of immediate practical usefulness and, as a

    matter of fact, might not at all prove to be advantageous. For we

    call philosophic wisdom not advantageous in a practical sense

    of the term, but good. It ought to be pursued, not for the sake of

    anything else, but rather exclusively for its own sake. For as we

    journey to the games at Olympia for the spectacle itself for the

    spectacle as such is worth more than „much money‟ – and as we

    watch the Dionysia not in order to derive some material profit

    from the actors as a matter of fact, we spend money on them

     4[4] ARISTOTLE, Metaphysics, 982b 12ff. See also ARISTOTLE, Rhetoric 1371a 30ff: “Learning things

    and wondering about things, as a rule, is pleasant. For wondering implies the desire to learn and to know. In this the object of wonder is an object of desire...” ; PLATO, Theaetetus 155D: wonder is the feeling of

    a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”

    5[5] Philosophy, strictly speaking, is first philosophy, the speculative or theoretical science of


    and as there are many more spectacles we ought to prefer to great riches: so, too, the viewing and contemplation of the universe is to be valued above all other things commonly considered to be useful in a practical sense. For, most certainly, it would make little sense were we to take pains to watch men imitating women or slaves, or fighting or running, but not think it proper to view or contemplate, free of all charges, the nature

    6[6]and true reality of everything that exists.”

    The human person yearns for truth. He is naturally inclined to this end by the fact that he is a rational being. Philosophy is a quest for a profound knowledge about reality that goes above and beyond (but not against) spontaneous, common sense knowledge. A certain knowledge about reality, including certain ultimate truths, can be attained by man even without having recourse to philosophical, scientific reasoning, so long as he is not corrupted by false ideologies and erroneous philosophies that go against the certainties of common sense such as absolute idealism and Marxism which negate, for example, the principle of non-contradiction, a self-evident truth.

     6[6] ARISTOTLE, Protrepticus, now lost except for some fragments (I. Düring designates this “fragment” quoted above as B 44. See: I DÜRING, Aristotle‟s Protrepticus: An Attempt at

    Reconstruction, Göteborg, 1961, p. 67). The fragment is found in a passage in Iamblichus‟ own Protrepticus.

    The natural spontaneous knowledge of man, uncorrupted by such positions and by bad moral habits which tend to blind man from a correct perception of reality, is indeed capable of affirming the existence of the things in the world around him, of being certain of the immortality of his own soul and of the souls of other people around him (whom he affirms as really existing), and of acknowledging the reality of a First Cause of the universe. Some basic convictions of spontaneous knowledge include: the fact that one thing cannot be another thing; the consciousness of one‟s own identity; the fact that there exist other human persons who are similar to oneself ; the fact that there are living beings and non-living beings; that there is such a thing as death, that man becomes old and dies; the fact that there is a distinction between reality and a dream; the fact that there are just actions and unjust actions; the fact that man can tell the truth or tell a lie; that fact that life is a value, something that is desirable; and that fact that man has free will. The list of these convictions can, of course, go on. The various philosophical systems that go against the certainties of spontaneous common sense knowledge (such as the systems of rationalism, monism and idealism) should be held suspect. If a philosopher, for example, tells you to doubt that extra-mental

    reality exists or that a cat and a man are really one substance, he

    should be reprimanded for such a brazen defiance of common


    Philosophy studies the realities affirmed by common

    7[7]sense in a scientific way, giving this pre-scientific knowledge

    greater precision, making distinctions and clarifications, and by

    describing and classifying its certainties. For example, let us

    take the case of the existence of God. It is certain that God‟s

    existence can be arrived at through the sole power of human

     7[7] Daniel Sullivan explains that common sense “refers to the spontaneous activity of the intellect, the way in which it operates of its own native vigour before it has been given any special training. It implies man‟s native capacity to know the most fundamental aspects of reality, in particular, the existence of

    things (including my own existence), the first principles of being (the principles of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle), and secondary principles which flow immediately from the self-evident principles (the principles of sufficient reason, causality, etc.). One of the points that links philosophy and common sense is that they both use these principles. They differ however in the way that they use them. Common sense uses them unconsciously, unreflectively, uncritically.…Philosophy on the

    contrary uses these principles critically, consciously, scientifically. It can get at things demonstratively, through their causes. It can therefore defend and communicate its knowledge. The certainties of common sense, the insights of a reasoning which is implicit rather than explicit, are just as well founded as the certainties of philosophy, for the light of common sense is fundamentally the same as that of philosophy: the natural light of the intellect. But in common sense this light does not return upon itself by critical reflection…Philosophy, therefore, as contrasted with common sense, is scientific knowledge; knowledge, that is, through causes (D. SULLIVAN, An Introduction to Philosophy, Tan Books,

    Rockford, IL, 1992, p. 248). For Antonio Livi, common sense (sensus communis) refers to the “organic

    entirety of certainties of fact and principle that are common to every man and precede every critical reflection…The contents of common sense are basically the universe, the „I‟ as subject qualified by the soul, the moral order or natural law, and God. Such factual certainties imply the intuition of first principles and constitute the rational premises of a possible act of faith in the encounter with Revelation”(A. LIVI, Il principio di coerenza, Armando, Rome, 1997, p. 186). For the best

    comprehensive study on the subject of common sense, see the three books of Antonio Livi: Filosofia del

    senso comune, Ares, Milan, 1990; Il senso comune tra razionalismo e scetticismo, Massimo, Milan,

    1992; Il principio di coerenza, Armando, Rome, 1997.

    reason. But we must make a distinction. Man can arrive at a knowledge that God exists apart from faith either through a spontaneous or pre-scientific knowledge or through a philosophical reasoning which is scientific and metaphysical. Regarding this spontaneous knowledge of God‟s existence, Etienne Gilson writes: “There is a sort of spontaneous inference, wholly untechnical but entirely conscious of its own meaning, in virtue of which every man finds himself raised to the notion of a transcendent Being by the mere sight of nature in its awesome majesty. In a fragment from one of his lost works, Aristotle himself observes that men have derived their notion of God from two sources, their own souls and the orderly motion of the stars. However this may be, the fact itself is beyond doubt, and human philosophies are belatedly discovering the notion of God....As a matter of fact, mankind does have a certain notion of God; for centuries after centuries men without any intellectual culture have obscurely but powerfully felt convinced that the name God points out an actually existing

    being, and even today, countless human beings are still reaching the same conviction and forming the same belief on the sole

    8[8]strength of their personal experience.” The philosophical

     8[8] E. GILSON, Elements of Christian Philosophy, Mentor-Omega, New York, 1963, p. 55.

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