Philosophy is the oldest academic study. And all academic study, in principle anyway, relates back to philosophy. This is why the person who becomes an expert in any field of academic study, whether it be math, physics, poetry, engineering, or history, gets the final degree of a PH.D, the doctor of philosophy. So what is philosophy anyway? Since this is itself a “philosophical” question, there is no official and final answer to it that all philosophers are going to agree on. This is what many people find to be so exciting about philosophy; and others find to be so frustrating about philosophy. Although philosophers will give us answers to the questions that philosophy poses. Philosophy itself, as a discipline, never gives us a “final” answer. This means that we are not allowed to accept that any question as officially settled, or any answer to simply be taken for granted.
All of us, as students philosophy, must learn to pose the questions of philosophy to ourselves, as if they were brand new, and then to try to work out our own answers. We do this by entering into a dialogue with each other, as well as with some of the famous and influential thinkers that have come before us. We read them not because they have the final word, but because we might find that they have something important to tell us. After we do this for a while, we start to find out that what is essential to philosophy, is the type of thinking process that we enter into. This process has been identified using a variety of terms such as: logic, rationality, critical thinking, reflective thought, critical reflection, scientific method, etc. Anyone who has spent time with philosophy learns that, even more basic then the questions that are asked, there is a way of thinking about those questions that defines what philosophy is, and which holds it together. Philosophers disagree a great deal about the answers to philosophical questions. But they agree about the thinking process required to find the answer. The reading touches on this process is various ways. Some general points about critical thinking are summarized. And there is a brief presentation of some of the key ideas within the study of logic. In a sense, however, all of the readings in the text are trying to show us what philosophical thinking is, by drawing us into the philosophical discussion. This is what we will try open up in these class discussions. As you respond to the questions posed, try to think about your own thinking process. Try to see the way the various dimensions of the thought process (creativity, openness, skepticism, imagination, abstract thinking, etc.) all come together and work together as a unified method we can use to pick apart the question posed and try to form an answer.
Notice also that the questions that I pose should just be a starting point. You should be responding to each others’ ideas, as well as presenting your own ideas, as the discussion gets going. Philosophy is always done in dialogue with others, either face to face or through reading each others’ ideas. We must learn to be open to others’ ideas, but somewhat critical and skeptical as well. In philosophy, everyone has a right to express an opinion. But no one has a right to be “right.” And no one has a right to go unchallenged when he or she express opinions that don’t hold water. Since it is much easier to get wrong answers that it is to get right ones, we can infer that most of what we believe is probably wrong, or at least partially wrong. This is especially true about philosophical questions, since these tend to be the hardest questions we can ask. People who are honest in their quest for truth want to have their ideas challenged. This is the only way we can see where our ideas are going right and where they are going wrong. There is nothing wrong with being critical, and challenging what people say, as long as it is done in a fair and respectful manner. We challenge the IDEAS, not the PERSON. However, when discussing philosophical topics, it is often hard to separate the ideas from the person. Our sense of self and world, are often tied to the conclusions we draw about reality, truth, self, world, politics, morality, religion, etc. Thus, philosophical arguments can often become very heated. This will become especially clear in this Module when we read about the life of Socrates. He was probably the greatest philosophy teacher of all time. And as a reward for his efforts in trying to teach the youth how to think philosophy, he was accused of corrupting the youth, put on trial, found guilty, and executed.
When we think philosophically, we often use the word “reflection” to describe this kind of thinking. We also use the word “reflection” to describe what a mirror does. Is this just accidental, or do you think that there is a connection between these two uses of the word? What do you think it mean to engage in “reflection”? How is this different from other types of thinking?
On Caring and not Caring
In this Module you will read that the word “philosophy” is formed from two smaller words. “philo” which means a kind of “love.” And “sophia” which is the Greek word for “wisdom.” One of the points usually made at the beginning of the study of philosophy, is that traditionally a philosopher is not someone who claims to “be wise,” or to have the answers to the questions of philosophy. Rather he or she claims to be a “seeker” of wisdom, and to be a person who “cares” deeply about finding wisdom. Words like “quest” and “care” are good translations for the type of “love” referenced in the Greek word “philo.” If you think about all the ways that these words are used, then it can help give you a sense of what the attitude toward wisdom was that differentiated a philosopher from a non-philosopher. The word “care” is especially interesting, I think. What does it mean to “care” about something, to be “careful” in the way that you do something, to “take care,” of something, to be a “care giver,” or even to be a “care taker”?
If not everyone is a philosopher, at least in the strong sense in which our text talks about it, then does this mean that not everyone truly “cares” about wisdom? If this is true, it is doubtful that anyone one would admit it — not even to themselves. But refusing to admit something does not keep it from being true.
So, what do you think? What does it mean to really and truly “care” about something? Based on your understanding of the term, what is it that most people really care about in life — at least based on the way people actually live their lives? Based on your observations here, do you think that it is or is not the case that most people really and truly care that much about wisdom?
Imagine that you are in the following situation: You are on a committee that must decide whether or not to release the new drug “FEELGOOD” to the public. The issue before you is not one that concerns a person’s right to make choices for themselves. This is a political question that you need not concern yourself with right now. Rather, you must decide whether or not FEELGOOD is something that should be brought into the world, based on its being consistent with or in opposition to the meaning of life. You have all the power to make this happen or to stop it from happening. Therefore, whatever does happen is entirely within your hands.
Here are the properties of the drug: It does not physically harm your body in any way. It does not make you drunk, confused or dopey. It does not interfere with your ability to do things such as drive a car, play a sport, read difficult material, have a conversation, cook a meal,etc. It does not cost very much to manufacture. It costs about one dollar for a month’s supply. What the drug does is to make you feel absolutely terrific, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Not a pleasure associated with being drunk or high. Something closer to the pleasure of having a complete and total peace of mind. When used on a regular basis it will remove any and all ability to feel depression, anxiety, frustration, or guilt.The manufacturers of FEELGOOD tell us that it is a miracle drug. But the critics claim that it strips us of a fundamental aspect of our humanity, since we would no longer be able to concern ourselves with the struggle to find out how we need to live in order to achieve true happiness.
Question: Should we release the drug FEELGOOD to the public? Why or why not? In response to this question do not merely offer an “opinion.” Anyone can do that. Instead, try to think critically about the question, and make an argument, in the sense in which philosophers make arguments. Refer to the Module’s listed readings for ideas about what it means to think critically and to make arguments.
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